Fallen Angels a Lesson to Fallen Men

By / Jun 22

Fallen Angels A Lesson to Fallen Men

 

“God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” — 2 Peter ii. 4.

 

“THESE are ancient things.” Most men hunger after the latest news; let us on this occasion go back upon the earliest records, and think of the hoar past, before man was made. It does us good to look back upon the past of God’s dealings with his creatures; herein lies the value of history. We should not confine our attention to God’s dealings with men, but we should observe how he acts towards another order of beings— how he dealt with angels before man had become the second sinner. If angels transgress, what is his conduct towards them? This study will enlarge our minds, and show us great principles in their wider sweep. We shall inevitably make mistakes in our judgment as to God’s conduct towards men if we do not remember sufficiently how he has dealt with beings who are in certain respects much superior to the human race. By seeing how God treated the rebellious angels, light may be cast upon his dealings with us, and thereby misapprehensions may be removed.

     We shall go to our subject at once, asking aid from the Spirit of all grace. We will first view the mysterious fact of the fall of the angels, and their casting away, for our warning. Then, secondly, we shall regard the fact of the hopeless doom of the angels that sinned as it stands in contrast to the amazing mercy of the Lord towards men. Thus our second head will lead us to view the text for our admiration: I hope for the increase of our grateful love and reverent wonder.

     I. First, then, let us consider our text FOR OUR WARNING. spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell.” Behold here a wonder of wickedness, angels sin; a wonder of justice, God spared them not; a wonder of punishment, he cast them down to hell; a wonder of future vengeance, for they are reserved unto judgment! Here are deep themes, and terrible. Black as tempest are the facts, and flashes of terrible lightning flame forth therefrom.

     Let us receive a warning, first, against the deceivableness of sin, for whoever we may be, we may never reckon that, on account of our position or condition, we shall be free from the assaults of sin, or even certain of not being overcome by it. Notice that these who sinned were angels in heaven, so that there is no necessary security in the most holy position. We know that they were in heavenly places, for it was from that high abode that they were cast down to hell, by the terrible right hand of the Eternal King. These angels, that kept not their first estate, but sinned against God, dwelt with their brethren in the courts of the Most High; they seemed to be, as it were, walled round with fire to keep out all evil from them. Their communications were only with perfect spirits like themselves; but yet, as they were undergoing a probation, they were made capable of choosing evil if they willed so to do, or of cleaving to good if their hearts were steadfast with their God. There were none about them to tempt them to evil; they were, on the contrary, surrounded with every good and holy influence: they saw God, and abode in his courts, they conversed with seraphim and cherubim. Their daily engagements were all of a holy order; worship and service were their duty and delight. Their company was select; there were no lapsed classes among them to render the moral atmosphere impure. They were not only in a paradise, but in the central abode of God himself. Yet evil entered into the breasts of angels— even envy, ambition, pride, rebellion; and they fell, fell never to rise again,

“High in the bright and happy throng,
Satan, a tall archangel sat;
 Amongst the morning stars he sung,
 Till sin destroy’d his heavenly state.

“ ’Twas sin that hurled him from his throne.
 Grovelling in fire the rebel lies:
 ‘How art thou sunk in darkness down,
 Son of the morning, from the skies!’”

     Beloved hearer, this should teach us not to presume upon anything connected with our position here below. You may be the child of godly parents who watch over you with sedulous care, and yet you may grow up to be a man of Belial. You may never enter a haunt of iniquity, your journeys may be only to and from the house of God, and yet you may be a bond-slave of iniquity. The house in which you live may be none other than the house of God and the very gate of heaven through your father’s prayers, and yet you may yourself live to blaspheme. Your reading may be bound up with the Bible; your companions may be of the choicest; your talk may concern holy things; you may be as if you were in the garden of the Lord, shut in to everything that is good, and every evil shut out from you; and yet you may have no part nor lot with the people of God. As there were a Ham and an ungodly Canaan even in Noah’s Ark, so may it turn out that you may be such in the very midst of all that should make you gracious and sanctified. It is unhappy indeed to read the annals of human life, and to meet with men that have gone from their mother’s side — have gone from where their father knelt in prayer— have gone out from brothers and sisters whose piety was not only unquestionable, but even remarkable,— and they have gone to be leaders in every form of wickedness. Many of the enemies of the cross of Christ have been so trained in godliness that we find it hard to believe that they can indeed be so vile; an apostle must declare it with tears ere he is believed. The sons of God they seemed to be, but they turned out to be sons of perdition after all. Let no man, therefore, arise and shake himself, as though no sins could ever bind him, because he feels himself to be a very Samson through his connections and surroundings. Yes, sir, it may be that you shall fall— fall foully, fall desperately, unless the grace of God be in you— fall so as never to come to God, and Christ, and find eternal life. It was so with these angels. The best natural thing that creation can work is not sufficient to preserve the fickle creature from sin: regeneration must come in— the work of the Holy Ghost, a yet higher work than the material creating power of God, or else you may put the creature where you please, and that creature may be perfect, and yet sin will reach and destroy him. You and I are far from perfect. We are not angels unfallen: we are not angels at all; but we have evil hearts within us; therefore let us not imagine for a moment that the most select position can screen us from the worst of sin.

     The next thought is that the greatest possible ability, apparently consecrated, is still nothing to rely upon as a reason why we should not yet fall so low as to prostitute it all to the service of the worst of evils. Angels are beings of remarkable power. We know that they have amazing intelligence and beauty. We read of one whose face was like that of an angel of God. When a thing is spoken of as being exceedingly good, it is often connected with angels: “men did eat angels' food.” It is supposed that everything with regard to them is of superior order and of refined quality. I suppose that a spirit that is not cumbered with flesh and blood, as we are, must be delivered from much that hampers and beclouds. Oftentimes a clear judgment is dimmed by a headache, or an attack of indigestion. Anything that affects the body drags down the mind; but these angelic beings are delivered from such weakness, and they are clothed with a glory of strength, and beauty, and power.

     Hear then and observe! However great Lucifer was, he degenerated into Satan: the Son of the Morning became Apollyon the Destroyer. However excellent the fallen angels may once have been, they have now become potent only for mischief; their wisdom has curdled into cunning, and their strength has soured into a vicious force; so that no man may say within himself, “I am a clear thinker, therefore I shall never become a blaspheming infidel;” or, “I am gifted in prayer, therefore I shall never become a blasphemer.” You know not what you may become. There is a great difference between gift in prayer and grace in prayer: gift will breed pride, and pride will ensure destruction; it is only grace that can preserve unto eternal glory. There is also a great difference between office and person; therefore, a man may not say, “I am a minister: I shall be kept faithful in the church of God.” Ah me! But we have seen leaders turn aside, and we need not marvel; for if angels fall, what man may think that he can stand? To trust our office as a security is to rest upon a broken reed. The grace of God can keep the least and weakest of us; but apart from that heavenly power how dare any man hope to be preserved to the end? Self-confidence is the beginning of declension. He that reckons that he is past temptation, is already entangled in its net. We must never presume. Angels fell: why should not men? An angel occupies a high position near the throne of God: “Are they not all ministering spirits?” We have evidence in Scripture that they are called on grand occasions to discharge high commissions for the King of kings. And yet these courtiers, these household messengers of the palace of heaven, these domestics of glory, even these went astray, and fell, and turned to devils. Let no man dream that because he occupies an office in the church his salvation is therefore secure: an apostle fell. The arrows of the prince of darkness can reach the highest seats of the synagogue. The high places of the field of service are not free from danger; nay, they are the more perilous as they are the more notable. The powers of darkness make their direst onset upon the foremost soldiers of the cross, hoping to overthrow the standard-bearers, and create confusion throughout the camp.

    Neither, dear friends— to continue my warning— must any of us suppose that we shall be kept by the mere fact that we are engaged in the sublimest possible office. Apart from the perpetual miracle of God’s grace, nothing can keep us from declension, apostacy, and spiritual death. “Oh, but I spend my time,” one may say— “I spend my time wholly in the service of God! I go from door to door seeking the lost souls of men, as a city missionary”; or “I conduct a large class in the school, and I have brought many to the Saviour.” All this is good; but if thou trustest in it for thy standing before God it will certainly fail thee. If any one of us were to say, “But I am a minister, called to offer prayer, and to preach the precious word: my engagements are so sanctified, they bring me into such hallowed fellowship with holy things, that it is not possible that I should fall,”— this would be the height of folly. We need not go beyond the pale of professed ministers of Christ to find specimens of every infamy of which man is capable. After having preached to others there is grave cause for trembling lest we be castaways ourselves. No, there is nothing in the most sacred office in the church to preserve us or our characters. Office, if we trust in it, may even become, as in the case of Judas, a Tarpeian rock, from which we may be cast down to our destruction; for the angelic office in heaven did not keep the angels from being hurled over the battlements of glory when once they dared to sin. Let not the angels of the churches hope to be kept from falling unless he that beareth the seven stars in his right hand shall keep them even to the end.  

     I want you to notice, as a great warning, that this sin of the angels was not prevented even by the fullest happiness. Oh, what a change, dear friends, from the joy they once knew, when they were the servants of God, to being cast down to hell in chains of darkness, as they now are! The devils go about the world tempting men, but they are never released from their darkness. They cannot escape from the prison which they make for themselves— the blackness and horror of God’s judgment which always shuts them in, be they where they may. What a difference between that and the throne of God, and the vision thereof, which was once their joy! The service of God was once theirs, but now the slavery of evil holds them in iron bonds. Once they took delight in the high praises of their Creator, and now they curse him in their heart of hearts. Once, on high days, when the servants of God came together, they sang for joy as they beheld new worlds created by their great Lord and King; now, everything he does is as gall and wormwood to them. They curse him and themselves, and they are busily occupied always in seeking to pull down his kingdom, and to quench his light among the sons of men. Oh, the misery of these old offenders! They once were supremely happy; but this happiness of theirs did not suffice to preserve their fidelity. The most golden wages will not keep a servant loyal to the kindest of masters. The most blessed experience will not preserve a soul from sinning. You may come here and be greatly blessed under a sermon, and sweetly sing, and pray with intense fervour, and seem carried up to the gates of heaven by it; but do remember that no feelings of joy or happiness can be relied upon as sufficient holdfasts to keep us near the Lord. We have seen men drink of the cup of the Lord till they appeared to be full of love to him; and yet they have gone back to be drunken with the cup of devils. We have known men preach the gospel, and yet afterwards blaspheme every truth of revelation, and deny the inspiration of the Book of God. We have known them appear to be among the holiest and the best, and yet they have come at last to be common frequenters of the most evil haunts of the city, and to be ringleaders in folly. Is not this a dreadful thing, and should it not be a warning to every one of us? “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” There is one who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before his presence with exceeding great joy; but if we do not trust in him, and abide in him, we shall perish. If we dare to confide in our position, our ability, our office, our service, or our experience, we shall, sooner or later, discover that we are prone to sin, and that when we sin God will not spare us any more than he spared the angels that sinned.  

     This warning, be it noted, applies itself to the very foulest of sin. The angels did not merely sin and lose heaven, but they passed beyond all other beings in sin, and made themselves fit denizens for hell. When Christ was describing the most wicked of men, he said that he was a devil. “One of you is a devil,” was his expression; for the devil is the wickedest form of existence. Now, is it not singular that after being in heaven it remained possible for an angel to become so dreadful a being as a devil in hell now is? If any of us come very near to the kingdom, and yet the life of God is not in us; if we are joined with the church of God, and perform holy duties, and yet we depend upon ourselves, and so fall into sin, we may fall into the foulest of sins. I do not think that Judas could have been what he was if he had not been an apostle. The best of that which looks like goodness must be used as the raw material with which to make a traitor who will sell his Master. The devils have gone into open war with God: the same beings that once bowed before his awful majesty are now openly and defiantly at war with the God that made them. They once could sing their chorales with delight, and day without night circle the throne of God rejoicingly, but now they blaspheme, and rage, and rave against all that is good in earth or heaven. They go about like roaring lions seeking whom they may devour,—even they who once would have been ministering spirits, eager to save and bless. They were once loyal subjects, but now they are traitors, rebels, seducers. They try to lead the people of God astray; they do their utmost to stir up sin in every human bosom. So bad have they become that their leader actually met the Son of God himself, and tempted him to fall down and worship him. Was ever such infamous, such infernal impudence as for the devil himself to ask the eternal Son of God to do him homage? O base proposal, that the purity of the Most High should bow itself before the impiety of a fallen spirit! Yet, so far have devils proceeded that in them evil has reached its ripeness and maturity. Let this be a lesson to us. I must not for a moment think that apart from the keeping of God’s Spirit I am incapable even of the foulest sin. Recall the story of Hazael. When the prophet told him what he would do, he exclaimed in amazement, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?” He was not only dog enough to seek the Syrian throne, but he was devil enough to suffocate his master with a wet cloth, and then to carry out with eagerness all those terrible deeds of barbarity which the prophet had foretold. We may yet do horrible deeds which we think ourselves incapable of doing. How much of devil there lies within the unregenerate heart no man can tell. O my unrenewed hearer, I would not slander thee, but I must warn thee: there are all the makings of a hell within thy heart! It only needs that the restraining hand of God should be removed, and thou wouldst come out in thy true colours, and those are the colours of iniquity. If it were not for the restraints of society and providence, there would be eruptions of evil, even in the most moral, sufficient to shake society to its foundations. An officer in India had tamed a leopard. From the time when it was quite a kitten he had brought it up, till it went about the house like a cat, and everybody played with it; but he was sitting in his chair one day asleep, and the leopard licked his hand— licked it in all innocence; but as he licked, the skin was broken, and the taste of blood came to the leopard, and from that moment it was not content to dwell with men. It rushed forth to kill, and was no more at ease till it reached the jungle. That leopard, though tamed, was a leopard still. So a man, sobered by moral motives, but unchanged in heart, is a fallen man still, and the taste of blood, I mean the taste of sin, will soon reveal the tiger in him. Wash a Russian, and you find a Tartar; tempt a moralist, and you discover a sinner! The thin crust of goodness, which is formed by education, soon disappears under temptation. You may be everything that looks like good, but except you have been born again you are still capable of the direst evil. It does seem a horrible thing to me that there should stream from a man’s lips the foulest blasphemy, and yet he that utters it was once accustomed to sing in the house of God, and bow his knee with the saints. O God, that ever a creature bidding fair to serve his Maker, should sink to such a depth! Yet such horrors abound! The vessel which adorned the lordly festival is broken and thrown on the dunghill, and even so the excellent and honourable are defiled and cast away. I know what some are whispering, “I never should become an open reprobate!” How know you that? You already question the warnings of Scripture, you may go further before long. He that is the most sure is the most insecure; but he that cries, “Hold thou me up,” shall be made to stand. Be this our confession, “O Lord, I know that I shall become utterly vile except thy sovereign grace prevent!” In humility let us cast ourselves upon the mighty grace of God, and we shall be kept. In fervent earnestness let us cry to the strong for strength, and we shall not be overcome of evil. He that presumes shall fall; he that confides shall stand.

     The text may lead us a little farther before we leave it, by giving us a warning against the punishment of sin as well as against the sin itself. Read this,— “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell.” They were very great; they were very powerful; but God did not spare them for that. If sinners are kings, princes, magistrates, millionaires, God will cast them into hell. If they were commanders of all the forces of the world, he that is a just and righteous judge would not spare them because of their dignities and powers. “God spared not the angels,” why should he spare you, ye great ones of the earth? They were very numerous, too. I do not know how many there were, but we read of legions of devils on one occasion. But God did not spare angelic sinners because there were so many of them: he made room in hell for them all; and set them in darkness and in bonds, every one of them. God will not spare sinful men because of their millions: “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” Be they few or many, sinners must be punished, and God will not turn away his wrath from those who do iniquity. God did not spare the rebel angels because of their unity. I never heard of devils quarrelling: it is very wonderful in Scripture to notice their unanimity— their concord with one another; but “though hand join in hand, yet shall not the wicked go unpunished.” You unbelievers may combine together to hate and oppose the gospel, but it matters not, God will deal with your confederacies and break up your unities, and make you companions in hell even as you have been comrades in sin. “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell.”

     Neither did he spare them because of their craft. There were never such subtle creatures as these are — so wise, so deep, so crafty; but these serpents and all the brood of them had to feel the power of God’s vengeance, notwithstanding their cunning. Men often escape at the bar of their country because of their long-headed ways of evading the law; they keep within legal bounds, and yet are great villains; or if they go over the line they hire a clever tongue to plead for them, be they as guilty as they may, and through crafty pleading they escape from a righteous sentence. Thus is it with men, but no counsellors can pervert judgment with the Most High. He will deal out justice even to a hair’s breadth, and he will by no means spare the guilty. “God spared not the angels that sinned:” why should he spare any guilty son of Adam? Be sure that he will not spare any one of us, if we live in sin. Unless we accept the way of salvation by Jesus Christ our sin will find us out, and God will find our sin out, and he will cast us also down to the place prepared for the devil and his angels. Let the flatterers of to-day preach what they may, the Lord will punish men who live and die in their sins. He spared not the angels that sinned; certainly he will not spare men if they sin. Let this stand as a warning to us.

     II. But now I want to carry you on and ask all your attention to this second point for our ADMIRATION.

     I want you to admire, dear friends, the fact that though angels fell the saints of God are made to stand. The angels sinned fatally; but the saints of God “cannot sin, for they are born of God.” You know the sense in which the apostle means that; not that we do not all sin, but that we do not so sin as to depart from the living God, give up our allegiance to him, and cease to be his loving children. No. “He keepeth himself,” says the Scripture, “and that wicked one toucheth him not.” But what a wonder it is! I tell you, when the tales of God’s people shall be written, and the records of the saints shall be read by the light of glory, we shall be miracles of grace to ourselves and to one another. “Oh,” we shall say, “I had almost gone, but the hand of grace interposed, and snatched me from slipping over the awful precipice. My mind almost consented to that sin, and yet I was able to cry out, ‘How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ There was great stress of weather, and my poor barque was almost on the rocks; but still, though I grazed the bottom, yet I did not make shipwreck.” “Oh, if I had been left at that moment,” one will say, “what would have become of me? Though I had tasted of the heavenly gift, and the powers of the world to come, yet, had I been left to myself at that hour, I should have so fallen that I could never again have been brought to repentance. But I was kept; preserved by as great a miracle as if a spark should fall into the sea and yet burn on, or a straw should be blown into a heated furnace and should not be consumed, or a moth should be trodden on by a giant and yet remain un-crushed.

“Kept alive with death so near,
 I to God the glory give.”

To think that men should stand where angels fall! We are by sovereign grace called to be as near to God as the angels ever were, and in some respects we are nearer still. We are the body-guard of Christ; his chosen ones with whom he communes. We are the table-companions of our Lord; we eat of his bread, and drink of his cup, and are made partakers with him. We are lifted up to be one with him, and are made to be “members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones yet God’s eternal unbounded power keeps us in the day of temptation, and leads us so that if we go through the rivers we are not drowned, and when we pass through the fires we are not burned. O, the splendour of triumphant grace! Neither the glory of our calling, nor the unworthiness of our original, shall cause us to be traitors; we shall neither perish through pride nor lust; but the new nature within us shall overcome all sin, and abide faithful to the end.

     “Now, unto him that is able to keep us from falling, unto him be honour and glory, and dominion and power for ever and ever.” I cannot look back on my past life without feeling the tears rush into my eyes at the remembrance of how I have been preserved in the trial-hour. We could not possibly tell, nor would we wish to tell in public, of those hours of weakness, those times of strong delusion, those moments of foot-slipping and of heart-fainting, which have happened to us. We grieve as we remember our worse than childish weaknesses. And yet we have not stained our garments; we have not dishonoured the holy name by which we are named; we have not been suffered to turn aside from the straightness of our path so as to bring grief to the Holy Ghost and dishonour to the Church of God. Verily this is a wonder. Mr. Bunyan tells us that Christian by the light of day looked back on the Valley of the Shadow of Death which he had passed through in the nighttime, and saw what a narrow path he had kept, and what a quag there was on one side, and what a miry place on the other, and where the hobgoblins were, and all the fiends of hell. When he looked back on it he was lost in admiration and gratitude. So it must be, and will be with you if through a dangerous way you have yet held on in your plain course, and have not turned from your integrity. We shall be brim full of gratitude and love. Grace shall reign unto eternal life. Redeemed men shall stand where angels fall, for God shall keep them. He is able to hold them up, and he will do it even to the end.

     Now, let us learn another lesson full of admiration, and that is that God should deal in grace with men and not with angels.

“From heaven the sinning angels fell,
And wrath and darkness chained them down;
 But man, vile man, forsook his bliss,
 And mercy lifts him to a crown.

 “Amazing work of sovereign grace
 That could distinguish rebels so!
 Our guilty treasons called aloud
 For everlasting fetters too.”

     Now, you that do not believe in the doctrine of election, but kick at it, and bite your lips at the mention of it, listen to this! God gave fallen angels no Saviour, no gospel, no space for repentance, yet he gives these to men: why is this? What reason was there? Can you conceive one? Why did God pass the fallen angels by, and yet look in love upon the sons of men? “Oh,” says one, “perhaps fallen angels were the greater offenders of the two.” I do not think it; certainly many men go far to rival devils in rebellion.

     “Perhaps men were tempted and angels were not.” Stop, let us be clear on this point. Very likely Satan, the first angel that fell, was not tempted; but just as likely all the others were. Their leader tempted them as much as Eve tempted Adam, or the serpent tempted Eve. The mass of fallen angelhood may have been seduced by the example of Satan, the Prince of devils. I do not therefore see any great difference as to that matter. This I do know, that some men are greater sinners than devils. “No,” say you, “how is that?” I answer that the devil never yet rejected free grace and dying love; the devil never yet struggled against the Holy Spirit in his own conscience; the devil never yet refused the mercy of God. These supreme pinnacles of wickedness are only reached by you who are hearers of the gospel, and yet cast its precious message behind your backs. Singular it is that God should deal in mercy with men who act so wickedly, while yet he never discoursed of mercy to the fallen angels, nor set before them terms of peace. They were given over there and then to be bound in chains of darkness until the judgment of the last great day.

     Notice that God gave the angels no respite. He did not wait for them to continue in sin for years; but when they sinned, they fell. The punishment followed hard on the crime. They cast God out of their hearts, and he cast them out of heaven. How different is his conduct to some of you! You have sinned through a series of years. How old are you? Twenty years? Thirty? Forty? Fifty? Sixty? Seventy? Is it eighty years that you have lived in rebellion against God? And yet he has not cut you down! Wonderful patience! The angels he banished from his presence at once. He spared not the angels, but he has spared you. Why is this?

     The Lord never entered into any parley with the angels— never invited them to repentance or to mercy. Oh, but what parleys God has had with some of you! I am not the only one who has entreated and persuaded you, but yet with some of you I have pleaded very earnestly that you would turn from the error of your ways and live— that you would believe in Christ and find eternal life. But why should the Lord treat concerning peace with men and not with fallen angels?

     For the angels God never made a covenant of grace, “ordered in all things and sure.” They broke their covenant of works, and they fell never to rise again. For the angels there was never a sacrifice: no dying Son of God for them: no bloody sweat and wounded hands and feet for them! And yet a great atonement is prepared for men. What sovereignty of God’s grace is here displayed! He opens the golden gates of love for us, and shuts the iron gate on beings nobler than we are. The Spirit of God strives with us, but he never strives with fallen angels. Devils are left to themselves; but concerning man the Lord cries “how can I give thee up?” How justly might God have left us alone, for we have been given unto idols, and yet he follows us with the admonitions of his mercy.

     For the devils there is no pardon, no hope, no gate of heaven; and yet there is all this for men. Oh, dear hearers, do not, I pray you, reject these choice gifts of Almighty love. If God is so specially gracious to the race of men, let not man become singularly ungrateful to his God, presumptuously wanton in his sin. Let us turn unto the Lord with full purpose of heart, seeing that he turns to us with such speciality of favour.

     I am sure that it is a great wonder and a thing for admiration that God should look upon us and not on fallen angels; because, as I have already said, angels certainly are not worse sinners than some men have been. Angels are not more wilful than we have been, for we have sinned against light and knowledge with deliberate intent and purpose.   

     Angels are certainly more valuable: if God had wanted one of the two races to be employed as his servants, the best would have been chosen, and these are not men, but angels. Angels can do more for God than we can: yet he has chosen us. Angels must, surely, be more missed than men: their downfall made a great gap in heaven. We go there to fill the space, and to repair the breach which was made when they were cast down from glory. But, surely, it were easier to restore the angels who came from heaven than to take up inferior creatures who had never been there. If we make a distinction between men in the distribution of our charity, we very properly say, “Let us do good to those first who would be the most miserable without it.” Now, men have never known heaven, and consequently cannot so much feel the loss of it as those who have been there and have fallen from it. We are like people that have always been poor; but the angels have been in heaven, and are therefore like wealthy persons who have -come down to poverty. What a hell to them to be out of heaven! What misery to those spirits to miss the eternal glories which they once enjoyed! One would have thought, therefore, that God would have restored the angels before he upraised the human race. But he has not: he has redeemed us, and left the elder race of rebels unrestored. No man knoweth why, and in our amazement we cry,— How is this? Whence this election of grace?

     Tell me, ye who would leave God no choice, but would deify the will of man, what all this means? Where is your proud theory that God is bound to treat all alike, as if we had a claim on God? I point you to the fallen angels, and what can you say?

     Sometimes princes, when they mean to give pardon according to their will, say to themselves, “We will pardon the man who will be most dangerous if we leave him to be our enemy.” Now, bad as men are, and great enemies of God as they become, yet the devil has more power to harm God than a man can have; and yet God does not pardon the devil. He lets Satan go on with all his dreadful power and do his worst in reviling his Lord; and yet the Lord’s mercy comes to us whose powers are within so narrow a range, compared with the fallen angels; he makes choice of puny man to receive his grace.    

     One would think that to restore an angel was more easy and more agreeable to the plan of the universe than to exalt fallen man. There is nothing to do but to put an angel back in his place; but men must be taken into a new existence. Christ himself must come and be a man; and, to wash away the sin of man, Christ must die; nothing more could have been needed had devils been saved. I cannot receive the salvation of angels to be more difficult than the salvation of men; I rather conceive it to have been the easier thing of the two if the Lord had so willed it. And yet, involving as it did the incarnation of the Son of God and his death to make atonement, the infinitely gracious Father condescended to ordain that he would take up men, and would not take up the fallen angels. It is a marvel: it is a mystery. I put it before you for your admiration. Oh, sirs, do not despise it! Let not such amazing sovereignty of grace be treated with contempt by any one of us. Talk no more about the injustice of the election of certain men, for if you do the devils will bear witness that you are cavilling at the royal prerogative of the great Lord who saith, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

     Now, I think that I see in this a great argument with God's 'people. Has the Lord given up angels and chosen you? It reminds me of that famous text, “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee. Therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. I gave Egypt for thy ransom; Ethiopia and Seba for thee.” See, he has passed angels by, and he has made choice of us; what a height of grace! Behold how he loves us! What shall we do in return? Let us do angels’ work. Come, brothers and sisters, let us glow with such a fire of devotion as might have burned in an angel’s heart. Let us be as intensely zealous as a redeemed angel might have been. Let us glorify God as angels would have done had they been restored and made again to taste divine favour and infinite love. What manner of people ought we to be? What manner of lives ought we to live? What manner of consecration ought to be upon us? Should not our whole being live unto God?

     I have given you this somewhat in the rough, for time flies; but think it over, and profit by it. Think it over, you ungodly ones, and not cast away mercy like this. When you read, “He took not up angels, but he took up the seed of Abraham,” be full of surprise, and fly at once to Jesus. And, O ye saints, as ye read it, say to yourselves—

“For more love than seraphs know
We will like seraphs burn.”

God bless you, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



All or None; or, Compromises Refused: A Sermon with Five Texts

By / Jun 22

All or None; or, Compromises Refused: A Sermon with Five Texts

 

I SHALL have five texts— one of them a good one, the other four bad.The first text is good. It is God’s text. Exodus x. 26:— “There shall not an hoof be left behind.” That is God’s text, and the whole sermon will illustrate it by exposing the compromises with which it was met.

     The other four are Pharaoh’s texts, or, if you like, the devil’s, for that is exactly what the devil says to men. Exodus viii. 25 :— “Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land.” That is his first proposal. Then we find him saying at the twenty-eighth verse," I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away.” That is the second of his compromises. In the tenth chapter, at the eighth verse, you have the third. He said to them, “Go, serve the Lord your God: but who are they that shall go?” Adding, “Go now, ye that are men, and serve the Lord.” And Pharaoh’s fourth and last proposal is in the twenty-fourth verse of that same tenth chapter:— “Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Only let your flocks and your herds be stayed.”

     Satan is very loth to give up his hold on men. He is quite as loth as Pharaoh, and he must be driven to it by force of arms; I mean by force of divine grace, before he will let God’s people go. Having once got them under his power through the fall, through their sin, and through their obduracy of heart, he will not lose his subjects if he can help it; but he will put forth all his craft, and all his strength, if possible to hold them in his accursed sway. Many of Satan’s slaves altogether disregard the voice of God. For them there are no Sabbaths, no Bibles, no religion. Practically they say, “Who is Jehovah that we should obey his voice?” Now, when God means to save men—when the eternal purpose so runs, and the divine determination is to be accomplished, he soon puts an end to this. For some reason quite unknown to the man — it may be quite unguessed by him— he feels uneasy: he is disturbed. He thinks one morning that he will go up to a place of worship; not that he cares much about it, but he thinks that he shall perhaps be a little easier there. He takes his Bible: he begins to read a chapter. A very striking passage comes before his eye. He is not more easy, for the text has fixed upon him. Like a barbed shaft it has stuck into his soul, and he cannot possibly draw it out again. He is more troubled than ever. He begins to enquire a little about the things of God; there is some respect now outwardly to religion; the man is considerably changed.

     But do not imagine that the work is accomplished. Our blessed Master has to fight for every inch of ground which he wins in human hearts. With the matchless artillery of his love he drives the enemy back farther and farther, till at last he conquers; but it is often a long and slow process, and were he not possessed of infinite patience he would give it up. But where it is his resolve that a man shall come out of the world and shall be saved, that resolve must and will be carried into effect; and the man, though he is only brought so far that he begins to think a little about divine truth and about eternal matters, will have to go a great deal farther than that.

     You see him sitting under the word of God, and perhaps Satan says now, “Well, you are a fine fellow. You are beginning to occupy a seat Sunday after Sunday in the house of prayer. You have given up your evil habits to a large extent. You are quite a different man. Now you have done something very pleasing to God. You may rest content with this.” And it is a very sad thing when men do rest content with such a paltry hope as can have come out of poor performances like these. But still they will stop just there if they can, for Satan does not mind where he makes men halt so long as they will stay under the dominion of sin, and refuse to come to Christ.

     Now the Lord begins to deal with the man perhaps in a way of affliction and trouble. His wife sickens: a child dies: he is himself unhealthy: he fears he is about to die, and his fancied righteousness evaporates before his eyes; and he thinks that now surely he must seek after something better. Then will Satan come in and say, “There is time enough yet. Do not be in too much of a hurry.”

     If the Lord drives a man from that by the solemn movements of the Spirit upon his soul, then the devil will say to him, “How do you know that this is all true?” and he has not to go far before he finds infidels to help his unbelief. I am sorry to say that he can find them in the pulpit pretty plentifully, preaching their infidelities as “advanced thought”; and so poor souls get bewildered, and scarcely know their right hand from their left, and they begin again to relapse into a condition of indifference, and remain where they were.

     Blessed be God, if he means to save such, he will, by push of pike, and point of bayonet, carry the day. They shall not rest where they are. The right hand of the Lord is stretched out still, and he will make the Pharaoh of evil yet know that Jehovah is stronger than he. Grace is mightier than nature, and the eternal purpose more sure of fulfilment than all the resolves of case-hardened consciences; so at last it comes to this — that the man is driven to yield to God, and when he is driven to that point Satan comes in again with his compromises.

     We are going to speak about these four compromises to-night. The first compromise is found in the eighth chapter at the twenty-fifth verse.

“Sacrifice to your God in the land.”

 “Yes,” says the devil, “you must be a Christian, that is evident. You cannot hold out any longer, for you are too uneasy in your sins. You will have to be a Christian.” “But,” says he, “stop in the world, and be a Christian. Remain where you are. ' Sacrifice to your God in the land by which he sometimes means this: live in sin, and be a believer. Trust yourself with Christ, and then indulge yourself in whatsoever your heart desires. Do you not know that he is a Saviour of sinners? Therefore stop in your sin, and yet trust in him. Oh, I charge you, by the living God, never be duped by such a treacherous lie as this, for it is not possible that you can find any rest or salvation while you live in sin. My dear hearers, Christ came to save us from our sins, but not in our sins. He has built a hospital of mercy into which he receives the worst possible cases. All are welcome, but he does not receive them that they may continue sick, but that he may heal them, and make sound men of them. When the Lord Jesus Christ takes hold upon a thief, the man is a thief no longer; his inmost heart becomes honest. When the Lord meets with the harlot, he blots out her iniquity, and she is affected with deep repentance for her crimes, and turns unto her Saviour, desiring henceforth to walk in purity all her days. It is impossible that you should serve God and yet continue to indulge in known sin. What a fool that man is who thinks that he may drink and be a Christian, that he may cheat in his business and be a Christian, that he may act like the ungodly world in all respects, and yet be a Christian! It cannot be. Mark Antony yoked two lions together, and drove them through the streets of Rome; but he could never have yoked together the lion of the pit and the lion of the tribe of Judah. There is a deadly hate between these two. The principle of good, if it be yielded to, will destroy the mastery of evil. There cannot be a compromise between them. No man can serve two masters. He may serve two, but not two when each determines to be master. Satan will be master if he can, and Christ will be master, and therefore you cannot serve the two. It must be one or the other. If thou art to have thy sin forgiven thee, thou must leave thy sin. Remember that voice which came to Master John Bunyan when he was playing tipcat on Elstow Green on Sunday morning. He thought that he heard a voice say, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell?” That problem is proposed to you if you are unconverted and undecided. But as to the idea of keeping your sins and going to heaven, shut that out of the question, for it must not, cannot, shall not be: it is a compromise proposed by Satan, but the Lord will not have it.

     Yes, but then Satan, retreating a little, says, “Well, now, of course I did not mean that you were not to give up your grosser sins; but I mean to tell you of something better. Love the world, and live with worldlings, and find your company and your joy among them, and yet be a Christian. Surely you are not going to throw up everybody, are you? You know you must not be singular. You must not make yourself an oddity altogether. You have many merry companions of yours, keep to them. They do not, perhaps, do you much good. Well, you must not be too particular, and precise.” So he says, “Continue in the world, and be a Christian.” Shall I tell you God’s word about that? “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” That is short, though not sweet. A man says, “Well, I shall be a Christian; but I shall find my chief pleasure and my amusement where the world finds it.” Will you? “I shall be a Christian; but I shall hold with the hare and run with the hounds. I shall be with the church on Sunday; but nobody shall know that I am not the veriest worldling on the week-day. Can I not put my hymn-book in one pocket and a pack of cards in the other, and so go to heaven and keep friends with the world?” No, it is not possible. “Let my people go, that they may serve me,” is God’s word. Not, “Let them stop in the land, and still serve you and serve me too.” It cannot be. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” That text is another sharp, drawn sword cutting to the quick; and there are professors who ought to feel it go to their very hearts, for they are trying all that they possibly can to go as near as ever they can to the borderline, and yet to keep up a hope. What would you think of a man who went as near as he could to burning his house down, just to try how much fire it would stand? Or of one who cut himself with a knife, to see how deep he could go without mortally wounding himself? Or of another, who experimented as to how large a quantity of poison he could take? Why, these are extreme follies; but not so great as that of a man who tries how much sin he may indulge in, and yet be saved. I pray you, do not attempt such perilous experiments. “Come ye out from among them; be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” Shun with horror Satan’s old compromise: dream not that you can love the world, and yet have the love of the Father in you.

     When the enemy cannot get on with that, he harks back a little, and cries, “That is very proper; you are hearing very faithful teaching this time, but listen to me! You can live for yourself, and be a Christian. Do not go out into worldly company, but enjoy yourself at home. You see you want to have your own soul saved. Well, live for that." This is only a subtler and uglier form of selfishness. It is nothing better. “Look,” says Satan, “I do not ask you to be profligate with your money, be penurious with it: be very thrifty. Everybody will pat you on the back, and say, ‘He is taking care of number one, and he is doing the right thing.’ Come, now, and make a good thing of religion. Believe in Jesus Christ, of course, in order that you yourself may be saved, and then live all the rest of your life trying to hear sermons that, will feed you, and read books that will comfort you, and become a great man among religious folks.” Hateful advice! Do you not know, dear friends, that the very essence of Christianity is for a man to deny himself? Self can never properly be the end-all and be-all of a man’s existence. Self is to religion, in fact, nothing but the flesh in a pretendedly spiritual form. If a man lives to himself, he is under the dominion of an evil spirit just as much as if he went out into open sin. So you must come out of that. Selfishness will not do. You must love the Lord with all your heart, and you must love your fellow-men. There must be an obedience to that command that thou “love the Lord thy God with ail thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself,” or else there is no coming out into safety. Thus the first compromise will not hold at all.

     Pushed back from the first compromise, Pharaoh proposes a second, and this is found in the twenty-eighth verse of the eighth chapter :—

“Only ye shall not go very far away.”

Satan says, “Yes, I see your conscience tells you that you must come out from the world, and come out from sin, but do not go very far away, for you may want to come back again. In the first place, do not make it public. Do not join a church. Be like a rat behind the wainscot; never come out except it be at night to get a mouthful of food. Do not commit yourself by being baptized, and joining the church; do not go so very far as that. Just try, if you can, and save yourself from the wrath to come by secret religion, but do not let any one know it. There really cannot be any need of actually saying, ‘I am a Christian.’ ” My friend, this is the very depth of Satan. When a soldier goes to the barrack-room, if he is a child of God he may say, “I shall not kneel down to pray because they might throw a boot at me, as they generally do in the barrack-room. I can keep my religion to myself.” That man will go wrong. But if he boldly says," I will fly my flag. I am a Christian, and I will never yield that point, come what may”; he will stand. The beginning of yielding is like the letting out of water; no man knows to what a flood it will come. This is what Satan would have with some of you, that you may fall by little and little. Therefore defeat him: come out boldly. Take up your cross, and follow Jesus. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”

     The tempter also says, “Do not be so very precise and exact. The Puritanic saints — well, people point the finger at them. You need not be quite so particular.” By which he means this— that you may sin as much as you like so long as you do not violate propriety; and that, after all, you are not to obey God thoroughly, but only to obey him when it pleases you. This is flat rebellion against God. This will never do.

     “Well,” he says, “if you are to be so precise, yet do not be so desperately earnest. There are some of those friends down there at the Tabernacle who are always looking after the souls of others, and trying to proclaim Christ to everybody. You know they are a very dogmatic lot, and they are a great deal too pushing and fanatical. Do not go with them.” Just so. He means, stand and serve the Lord, because you dare not do any other, but never give him your heart; never throw your soul into his cause. That is what Satan says; and do you think that such traitorous service will save you? If Moses had thought that going a little way into the wilderness would have saved Israel, he would have let them go a little way into the wilderness, and there would have been an end of it. But Moses knew that nothing would do for God’s Israel but to go clean away as far as ever they could, and put a deep Ked Sea between them and Egypt. He knew that they were never to turn back again, come what might, and so Moses pushed for a going forth to a distance; as I would in God’s name push for full committal to Christ with everybody who is tempted to a compromise.

     “Oh, but,” Satan will say, “be earnest too. Yes, be earnest. Of course that is right enough; and be precise in all your actions; but do not be one of those people who are always praying in secret. You can keep an open religious profession going without much private praying, without heart-searching, without communion with God. These are tough things,” says he, “to keep up. You will find it difficult to maintain the inward life, and preserve a clean heart and a right spirit. Let these go by default, and attend to externals, and be busy and active; and that will do.” But it will not do, for unless the heart and soul be renewed by the Spirit of God, it little matters what your externals may be. You have failed before God unless your very soul is joined unto him by a perpetual covenant that shall never be forgotten. What a blessing it is when a man can say,— I have done with these compromises; I do not want to serve God and win favour with the world. I do not want to go just a little way from the world. I pray God to divide me from the world by an everlasting divorce, just as it was with Paul when he said, “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Happy man who has come right out under divine guidance to seek the eternal Canaan! His is the path of safety and acceptance; but they that temporize and parley with sin and Satan will find mischief come out of it.

     Pushed back from that, the enemy suggests another compromise in the tenth chapter, at the eighth and eleventh verses:—

     “Go, serve the Lord your God: but who are they that shall go? Go now, ye that are men, and serve the Lord.”

Yes, that is his next point. “Yes,” he says, “we see what it has come to. You are driven at last to this — that you must be an out-and-out Christian; but, now,” he says, “do not worry your wife with it; do not take it home.” Or he says to the woman, “You are to follow Christ. I see you must. You seem driven to that; but never say anything to your husband about it.” Was not that a pretty idea of Pharaoh’s—that all the men were to go, and were to leave the women and children to be his slaves? And that is just the idea of Satan. “You have plenty to do to look after yourself; but your wife— well, leave her to her own ways. Your husband— leave him to his irreligion.” Let us answer him thus,— “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” So said Joshua of old; and so let every man here say. Remember Paul’s words to the Philippian gaoler, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" Let us pray that we may have the whole house for Christ. Up to your measure of influence over your family, say within yourself, “My Lord, I will never rest until I see all my family brought to thy dear feet. Lord, save my wife: save my husband: save my father: save my brothers and sisters! Bring these out of bondage!” You cannot be a Christian unless that is your heartfelt desire. He that careth not for his own house is worse than a heathen man and a publican.

     And then the children. “Oh,” Pharaoh says, “leave the children!” Do you not see he knew very well that, if they did that, they would themselves come back again? What man among us would go away into the wilderness, and leave his wife and children in slavery? Should we not want to come back to them? Should we not think that we heard their cries? Should we not want to look into their dear faces again? Leave them in slavery? Oh, that cannot be! And yet let me sorrowfully say that there are many professing Christians who seem as though they were themselves determined to be the Lord’s, but their children should belong to Pharaoh and to the devil. For instance, the boy is getting of a certain age. Let him be sent to a foreign school, and, preferably, a Roman Catholic school. Will that be useful to his religion? Yet if he should turn out a Papist, his foolish father will almost break his heart. It was all his own doing, was it not? Well, the girls, of course, they must go into society: of course, they must “go into society.” And so everything is done to put them into places of danger, where they will not be likely to be converted, and where, in all probability, they will become gay, and vain, and light. Then a situation is looked out for the boy. How often there is no question about the master being a Christian! Is it a business that the lad can follow without injury to his morals? “Nay, it is a fine roaring trade, and it is a cutting house, where he will pick it up in a smart way. Let him go there.” Ay; and if he goes to perdition? Alas, there are Christian men who do not think of that! The children of some professors are offered up to the Moloch of this world. We think it a horrible thing that the heathens should offer their children in sacrifice to idols, and yet many professors put their children where, according to all likelihood, they will be ruined. Do not let it be so. Do not let the devil entangle one of you in that compromise, but say, “No, no, no; my house, God helping me, shall be so conducted that I will not put temptation in my children’s way. I will not lead them into the paths of sin. If they will go wrong, despite their father’s exhortations and their mother’s tears, why, they must; but, at any rate, I will be clear of their blood, for I will not put them into places where they would be led astray.” I am sure there is a great deal of importance in this remark, and if it cuts anybody very closely, and he says, “I think you are very personal,” that is exactly what I mean to be— the precise thing I am aiming at. I desire to put this thing before every individual Christian, that all may see the right and the wrong of it, and may resolve, “Our women and our children shall go with us to worship God. They as well as ourselves shall leave this Egypt, as far as God’s grace can help us to accomplish it.”

     Now the devil is getting pushed into a corner. Here is the man’s whole house to go right for God, and the man gives himself up to be a Christian out and out. What now? “Well,” says the enemy in the twenty-fourth verse of that tenth chapter,

“Go ye, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed”

Just so. What does Moses say to that? “Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt-offerings, that we may sacrifice unto Jehovah our God. Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not a hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the Lord our God; and we know not with what we must serve the Lord, until we come thither.” This was the divine policy of “No surrender,” and I plead for it with you. Satan says, “Do not use your property for God. Do not use your talents and your abilities; especially, do not use your money for the Lord Jesus. Keep that for yourself. You will want it one of these days, perhaps. Keep it for your own enjoyment. Live to God in other things, but, as to that, live to yourself.” Now, a genuine Christian says, “When I gave myself to the Lord I gave him everything I had. From the crown of my head to the sole of my foot I am the Lord’s. He bids me provide things honest in the sight of all men, and care for my household; and so I shall; but yet I am not my own, for I am bought with a price; and therefore it becomes me to feel that everything I have, or ever shall have, is a dedicated thing, and belongs unto the Lord, that I may use it as his steward, not as if it were mine, but at his discretion, and at his bidding. I cannot leave my substance to be the devil’s. That must come with me, and must be all my Lord’s; for his it is even as I am.” The Christian takes the line which Moses indicated: “I do not know what I may be required to give. I know that I am to sacrifice unto the Lord my God, and I do not know how much. I cannot tell what may be the needs of the poor, the needs of the church, the needs of Christ’s church all over the land. I do not know, but this I know, that all that I have stands at the surrender point. If my Redeemer wants it he shall have it. If Satan wants it he shall not have a penny of it. If there be anything that is asked of me that will not conduce to good morals— that will not conduce to the promotion of that which is right in the sight of God— I withhold it. But if there be anything that is for Christ’s glory and for the good of men, then, as the Lord shall help me, it shall be given freely, and not be begrudged as if it were a tax. It shall be my joy and my delight to devote all that I am, and all that I have, to him who bought me with his precious blood.”

     Now, brothers and sisters, you that profess to be Christians, come you, stand right square out, and own yourselves wholly and altogether the Lord’s.

" ‘Tis done! the great transaction's done;
 I am my Lord’s, and he is mine.”

“My house is his, and my all is his. Whether I live or die— whether I work or suffer, all that I am, and all that I have, shall be for ever my Lord’s.” This is to enter into peace: this indeed is to be clean delivered from the power of Satan; this is to be the Lord’s free man; and what remains but with joyful footsteps to go onward toward Canaan, shod with shoes of iron and brass, fed with heavenly bread, guarded by the Lord himself, guided by his fiery-cloudy pillar, enjoying all things in him, and finding him in all things? This is to be a Christian of the true order. The Lord make you so by faith in his dear Son! Amen and Amen.

    



But a Step

By / Nov 29

But a Step

 

“There is but a step between me and death.”— 1 Samuel xx. 3.

THIS was David’s description of his own condition. King Saul was seeking to destroy him. The bitter malice of that king would not be satisfied with anything short of the blood of his rival. Jonathan did not know this. He could not believe so badly of his father as that he could wish to kill the champion of Israel, the brave, true-hearted young David; and so he assured David that it could not be so— that he had not heard of any plots against him. But David, who knew better, said, “It is certainly so. Your father seeks my blood, and there is but a step between me and death.”

     Now, it was by knowing his danger that David escaped. Had he remained as ignorant of his own peril as his friend Jonathan had been, he would have walked into the lion’s mouth, and he would have fallen by the hand of Saul. But to be forewarned is to be forearmed; he was, therefore, able to save his life because he perceived his danger. It would have been a very unwise person who should have said, “Do not tell David about it. You see that he is very happy in Jonathan’s company. Do not disturb him. It will only make him fret. Do not tell him about Saul’s anger.” But a true and wise friend would acquaint David of his danger, in order that he might seize the opportunity to escape. So also to-night somebody might say, “Many people now present are in great danger, and do not dare to think about death; do not mention the unpleasant subject to them.” Well, sirs, if my object were to please you, if my desire were to seem as one who playeth a merry tune upon a goodly instrument, I certainly should not speak to you of death and danger. But, then, it would be infamous to allow men and women to stand in infinite jeopardy and not to warn them; and it is kindness to speak to those who are carelessly at ease and tell them salutary truth. It will not put them in danger; but it may, God blessing it, be the means of their escaping from eternal ruin. So, I pray you, while I talk upon this theme, which may seem to be a sad one, ask God to make it a great blessing to those who hitherto have been sporting upon the brink, of fate without thinking of the solemnities of eternity.

     It is rather a notable state of things, is it not, for David to be conscious of danger, and to be telling his friend Jonathan that he is in danger? I do not often meet with the case now. If I am the Jonathan, I have to keep on warning David of his danger, and I find it very difficult to wake up my friend to a sense of that danger. I should like to live to see the day in which David would come to Jonathan—I mean in which men in danger would come to me — and say, “There is but a step between me and death.” We love to see care for the soul, and concern about a future state. Whenever God’s Holy Spirit is at work we do see it: sinners begin to be aware of their condition, and they come and tell us of their danger, and enquire for the way of escape. It is the simplest thing in the world to tell the awakened sinner how he may find peace; the difficulty lies in awakening the sinner. To cheer those who are alarmed is such good work that we would sit up all night at it. We can never have too much of it. To bind up the broken in heart when the Master gives us his gospel, is the most pleasant duty out of heaven. The worst of it is, that we cannot persuade them that they need to be broken in heart, or lead them to feel that they are in peril; but still shutting their eyes to all the truth they will go wildly on, determined not to know. Too many act as if it were folly to look a few days ahead, as if it were a work of supererogation to foresee the evil, a needless sorrow to think of eternity.

     To-night I want to press the truth home, as far as it is truth, upon each person here present, that there is, or there may be, but a step between him and death.

     First, in some sense this is true of everybody, “There is a step, and but a step, between me and death.” Secondly, to some it is peculiarly true. There are many persons— and some of them are here to-night— who might say with emphasis, “There is but a step between me and death.” When I have spoken upon those two things, I shall then say, “Suppose that it is not so”; and conclude by saying, “Suppose that it is so.”

     I. First, then, there is a sense in which this text is no doubt literally TRUE OF EVERY MAN— “There is but a step between me and death”; for life is so short that it is no exaggeration to compare it to a step. Suppose that we should live to threescore years and ten, or even fourscore years, or to be, as some few of our friends are here to night, even past their fourscore years, yet life will occupy a very short time. Life is long to look forward to; but I appeal to every aged person whether it is not very short to look back upon. I confess to my own experience that a week is now a hardly appreciable space of time to me. There seems to be very little breathing room between one Sunday and another. One has scarcely preached before one has to prepare again some other word with which to address you. As we grow older time very sensibly quickens its pace. I know that this is an exceedingly trite observation, but I mention it all the more earnestly because the certainty of it should force it home with power upon our minds. You young people look to a month as being quite a period of time, but when you are getting forty, or fifty, or sixty, you will look upon a whole year as no more than a brief interval. Indeed, I do not wonder that Jacob said his years were few. Because he was an old man he thought life short. If he had been a young man he would have said that his days were comparatively many, and would have tried to make himself feel that he had lived a long while; but when a man grows old his days seem fewer than they were, and the older he gets the shorter his life seems to have been. There are many ways of calculating time, and its length or brevity lies more in idea than in fact. I have sometimes noticed it—I dare say you have—that an hour has seemed to me very long indeed. In certain states of mind I have looked to the clock again and again, and I have thought that I never lived such a long hour. But often and often does it occur to me that I sit down to write, and that I go on writing, and when I lift up my head an hour has passed, and I think to myself, “It cannot be. There is a mistake. That clock has made a mistake somehow.” I have even referred to my watch, and I have found that it was even so; but where that hour went I do not know. When one is very busy the hours glide away, so that you say, “Time is, after all, only a dream.” Time may appear to be long while it is short, and it may be really short when according to human calculation it is long. But all men when they come to die confess that their life has been brief— that it was but a step. Yesterday I was born: to-day I live: to-morrow I must die. Ephemera are bom and die in the space between the rising and the setting sun; their life is a fair picture of our own. We are shadows, and we come and go with the rising and the setting sun. Truly “there is but a step between me and death.” O my God, if my life be so short, prepare me for its end! Help me to stand ready for its close, so that I may give in my final account with joy.

     But, in another sense, there is but a step between us and death, namely, that life is so uncertain. How unexpectedly it ends! Strong and hearty men, if I might make a judgment from observation, seem to be among the first to fall. How often have I seen the invalid, who might almost long for death, draw out a long existence of continuous pain; while the man who shook your hand with a powerful grip, and stood erect like a column of iron, is laid low of a sudden and is gone! No man can reckon upon the full term of life: not one among us can be sure of reaching threescore and ten. We cannot be sure that we shall see old age. A bubble is more solid than human life, and a spider’s web is as a cable compared with the thread of our existence. There is but a step between us and death.

     And this is all the more true when we consider that there are so many gates to the grave. We can die anywhere, at any time, by any means. Not alone abroad are we in danger, but at home in security we are still in peril. I am in my pulpit now, but I am not secure in this citadel from all-besieging death. I remember a dear servant of God in a country town, on a certain Sabbath morning, stood up and repeated as the first hymn of the morning, the sacred song which I gave out just now:

“Father, I long, I faint to see
 The place of thine abode:
I’d leave thine earthly courts and flee
Up to thy seat, my God”;

and he fell back and was gone. His wish was granted. He saw the place of God’s abode, I do not doubt. There is no safety from death in the pulpit, nor in your own house. Dr. Gill, who was noted for always being in his study, said one day to a friend, “Well, at least, if a man is in his study he is safe.” Some one had been killed in the street through a falling chimney-pot or tile, and this gave emphasis to the doctor’s pleasantry. But it so happened that, soon after, the doctor went to visit a member of his church, and while he was away a stormy wind blew, and blew down a stack of chimneys into his study, into the very place where he would have been sitting if he had not been called away. So he said to his friend, “Verily, I see I must not boast of being safe in my study, for we are secure nowhere.” In times of battle men may shelter behind trees or walls, and so escape rifle-shot: but where can you get to escape from the arrows of death? Wherever you be, not alone in the crowded, thronging streets, but up there in your own chamber, or on the edge of your bed, you may slip, you may fall, and suffer fatal injury. At your table you may eat and drink and die. Wherever you are, you may well feel, “There is but a step between me and death.”

“Dangers stand thick through all our path
 To push us to the tomb;
And fierce diseases wait around
 To hurry mortals home.”

Therefore, I would say, as I leave this point, let nobody here reckon upon life. Let him never postpone what ought to be done at once to some future time. I do not know whether any brother here recollects old Mr. Timothy East. I knew him well in his old age. He was a man of careful observation and retentive memory, and in his later days he was full of stories which had happened in his pastoral experience; and he used to tell this one:— A certain woman was very much attached to his ministry, but still a very foolish woman. She used to sit regularly on the pulpit stairs, and she did so for many years, while Timothy East preached the gospel. One thing seemed to shut her heart against all his appeals. She told a neighbour that if she had five minutes before she died, she so understood the way of salvation that she would get all right in that time. She told her minister that, and Timothy said to her, “Oh, that will never do. You may not have that five minutes in which to set things right. Be right at once.” Singularly enough, one day, as Mr. East went down the street, a child came to him, and said, “Please, sir, come and see grandmother. Come and see grandmother.” He turned in, and there was grandmother struck for death. She looked at him with an entreating glance, and said, “I am lost! I am lost!” She died there and then, ere Mr. East could say a word to her about her salvation. Dear friend, I do beseech you not to imitate her folly, but rather say to yourself, “There is but a step between me and death. Therefore, now, God help me, I will lay hold upon eternal life, and seek and find in Christ the salvation that shall fit me to live, and fit me to die, and fit me to rise again, and fit me for the judgment-day, and fit me for eternal glory. “There is but a step between me and death”; there shall not be a step between me and Christ.

     II. But, dear friends, I now turn to further remark that TO SOME THIS is SPECIALLY TRUE. Will you bear with me when I remark that to persons who have reached a ripe old age this is most certainly true: “There is but a step between me and death”? It is inevitable in the order of nature that you should not live long. Now, do not object to think about it and talk about it. It is only foolish persons who will not mention death. If you are all right with God, it can be no trouble to you to remember that as your years multiply, there must be so many the fewer in which you are to abide here below. Those also have but a step between them and death who are touched with some incurable disorder. Some are warned that they have a heart complaint. If that be the case I may fairly say, “There is but a step between you and death.” If you are consumptive, and are gradually melting away, you are in like case. What a blessing it is that this form of death gives us notice of its approach, and does not impair the mind, so that a person may calmly seek and find eternal life if that disease has marked him for its own! But there is only a step between the consumptive and death. Those who follow dangerous trades are in a similar condition. The traveller across the deep, the fisherman, the soldier, the miner, and others are frequently at death’s door. I need not go into the details of all those various processes by which men earn their bread, which have so much danger about them that there is but a step between those who follow them and death.

     Besides this, there are some—and probably some in this congregation—who, whether it be by disease or not, will die in the course of a few weeks. The probabilities, if they are calculated, will show that out of six or seven thousand persons gathered here, there are certainly some, beyond all guesswork, who will not see the month of November, who certainly will never pass into the next year. There is but a step between such and death.

     I should like you to be able to think about death. If you do not like to think about it at all, my dear friends, I think that there is something wrong in you, and you ought to take warning from your own dislike. He that is afraid of solemn things has probably solemn reason to be afraid of them. It is greatly wise to talk with our last hours. A man who is going to a certain place should think about the place to which he is going, and make some preparation for it. If he be a wise man he will do so. I should like you to attain to such a state that you could feel as Dr. Watts did. He said to a friend when he was an old man, “I go to my bed each night with perfect indifference as to whether I shall wake up in this world or the next.” That is a beautiful state of mind to be in. Or, as the old Scotch minister said when some one asked him, “ Is this disease of yours fatal”? and he replied, “ I do not know, and I do not wish to know, for I do not think that it can make much difference to me; for if I go to heaven I shall be with God, and if I stop here God will be with me.” Oh! is not that a sweet way of putting it? There is not so much difference, after all, between being with God and God’s being with us. Old George the Third, who, whatever the faults of his early days, was undoubtedly a godly man in his old age, would have a mausoleum prepared for himself and family; and when Mr. Wyatt, the architect, went to see him by his own order he did not know how to speak to the old king about his grave; but George said, “Friend Wyatt, do not mind speaking about my tomb. I can talk as freely to you about the preparation of a place for me to be buried in, as I could about a drawing-room for me to hold my court in; for I thank God that I am prepared to do my duty if I live, and to sleep in Jesus if I die.” There are but few, I think, of his rank who could talk so; but every wise man ought to see to it that, as he must die, he is ready for it— ready for the bar of God. “Ready, ay, ready,” says the sailor as he grinds his cutlass; and let the Christian say the same. Ready, ay, ready, to live to an extreme old age patiently waiting, or to depart out of the world unto the Father, which is far better; in any case finding it heaven enough to do the will of God, and to trust in Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.

     Thus I have mentioned the cases of those of whom it may specially be said, “There is but a step between me and death.” “Oh,” said some one, “you are the wrong side of sixty, Mr. Jones.” “No,” answered Jones, “I am on the right side of sixty, for I am the heaven side of it and that is the way to look at our age. We say,

“Nearer, my God, to thee,”

and then we do not like to grow old: that is absurd. Nay, let us rather rejoice that we are getting nearer the desired haven, nearer our everlasting rest.

     III. I am to close by saying first, SUPPOSE IT IS NOT SO. Young friends, you that are here, suppose it is not true that there is only a step between you and death. Suppose it is not so. There may be some here that will live to a very great age. I may be addressing some persons who will rival Sir Moses Montefiore. Possibly you may. Well, what then? If so, I should recommend you to follow the Scriptural advice, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” The first things should come first: the best things should have the best of our thoughts. A prince who had been warned of assassination, gaily exclaimed, “Serious things to-morrow”; but before to-morrow he was slain. Yet had he not been slain, his speech would have been an unwise one; for, however long we live, we ought not to push serious matters into a corner. If we are to live, let us live to noble purpose. It would be a great pity to lose a single year, much less a long life. If you are going to live a hundred years, begin them with God. If you are going to have long life, why not spend it for him? There was a storm at sea once, and there was a young man on board who was not used to storms, and he fell into a great state of mind. He was not of much use on board the ship through his fears. He crept into a corner and knelt down to pray; but the captain, on coming along, could not stand that. He shouted, “Get up, you coward, say your prayers in fine weather.” He did get up, saying to himself, “I only hope that I shall see fine weather to say my prayers in.” When he landed, the words the captain said remained in his mind. He said, “That is  quite correct, I will say my prayers in fine weather.” I would say to you who hope to live a hundred years, say your prayers in fine weather. The young man was so impressed with those words that he went to hear the gospel, was converted, and became a minister of Christ. One Sunday morning, while he was preaching in one of the most notable pulpits in New York, that captain came into the chapel, and the preacher looked him in the face and said, “Say your prayers in fine weather.” The captain was astonished, as he perceived that the very man who he had addressed as a coward was now preaching from the pulpit, and giving out at the commencement of his sermon the advice which he had given him. I trust the captain took his own medicine. I want to give that advice to all who do not think that they are going to die yet. Say your prayers in fine weather. Begin with God now. Oh, come and give my Lord Jesus the prime of your youth, the best of your days. I came to Christ when I was fifteen. I was a minister of the gospel when I was sixteen years of age. I have gone on preaching Christ ever since. I wish that I could have begun sixteen years before. I do not repent of coming to him too early; but I urge upon you, young friends, while yet the marrow is in your bones, and your brain is clear, and your eye is true; ere yet you have dishonoured yourself, and weakened your body by sin, come and yield yourselves up to Jesus Christ, that you may spend a whole life in that blessed service which is joy and peace. May the Holy Spirit of his great love make it so with many here present!

     Suppose that it is not true that there is but a step between you and death; nevertheless, while death is at a distance, health and strength furnish the best time for coming to Christ. Do not imagine that when you are ill and near to die, it will be the best time to turn. I remember the striking words of Philip Henry, the father of the famous Matthew Henry. When he was dying, his friends stood round about his bed, and he said, “What a blessing it is, Matthew, that I have not to make my peace with God now! My body is full of pain, and my mind is greatly disturbed by reason of it. Oh!” said he, “if that were undone and had now to be done, how could it be done?” What a mercy when that great transaction is complete! Now, come pain or weakness, come long sleep, come broken-down spirit, what does it matter? It is all well; it is all well. That having to make our peace with God when we die is a poor business. I do not like the expression. I like far better the language of a poor bricklayer who fell from a scaffold, and was so injured that he was ready to die. The clergyman of the parish came, and said, u My dear man, I am afraid you will die. You had better make your peace with God.” To the joy of the clergyman the man said, “Make my peace with God, sir? That was made for me upon Calvary’s cross eighteen hundred years ago; and I know it.” Ah! that is it — to have a peace that was made by the blood of Christ all those years ago—a peace that never can be broken. Then, come life, come death, ay, or come a lengthened life, and ripe old age, the best preparation for a lengthened life is to know the Lord. The best encouragement and comfort for the decrepitude of extreme old age is to have a good hope through Christ. There is nothing like it. Why, some old folks that I have known, so far from being unhappy, have been the very happiest people that I have ever met with, and though they have lived long, they have come, not to court long life, but they have been willing to depart. Dr. Dwight, the famous tutor, had a mother who lived to be over a hundred years of age; and one day, when the son heard the bell toll for a neighbour, the old lady said with tears in her eyes, “Won’t it soon toll for me? Will they not soon toll for me?” Dear Mr. Rowland Hill used merrily to say, when he got old, that he hoped that they had not forgotten him. That is how he came to look at death; and he would go to some old woman if he could, and sit down and say, “Now, dear sister, if you go before I go, mind that you give my love to John Bunyan and the other Johns. Tell them that Rowley is stopping behind a little while, but he is coming on as fast as he can.” Oh! it is a sweet thing gradually to melt away and have the tenement gently taken down, and yet not to feel any trouble about it, but to know that you are in the great Father’s hands, and you shall wake up where old age and infirmities will all have passed away, and where, in everlasting youth, you shall behold the face of him you love.

     That is, suppose that it is not so.

     IV. But now SUPPOSE THAT IT IS SO. Suppose that it is so, and suppose, as yet, that you have no good hope. Dear friend, there is a word that I would like to drop into your ear. If there is but a step between you and death, yet there is only a step between you and Jesus. There is only a step between you aud salvation. God help you to take that step to-night. You know the description of the way to heaven: “ Take the first on the right by the cross, and keep straight on.” May you take that step to-night! It is not a step even; it is only a look.

“There is life in a look at the Crucified One.”

Why delay it? Since faith in Christ will put you beyond danger, and will put you beyond the dominion of sin, so that you will live a godly life which shall continue to the end, why not believe in Jesus now? Why not cast yourself upon him now? For suppose it is so? suppose that it is written in the book, “Thou shalt die, and not live”; then is it not your wisdom that you should at once close in with Christ and find eternal salvation in him?

     Suppose that it is so, that you are soon to die; then set your house in order. Get everything ready with regard to your temporal affairs. Mind that. A world of sorrow comes through people not having made their wills. Have everything in order. Trim the ship when a storm is expected. Be ready, for you are about to die. Now sit loose by all earthly things. You must assuredly part with them soon; do not hold them tightly. “Set not your affection upon things on earth,” or you will weep when you lose your idols. If you harbour any anger in your heart, turn it out directly, for you are going to die. If there is any quarrel between you and anybody else, go home and settle it. Whether you are going to live or die, I advise you to do that. Hold no ill-will to any one, for you are so soon to die. I remember well the story of a husband who had grieved his wife. I do not know what had happened,—some little awkward word or deed. He went out of the house. He had to fell timber that day, and he turned back and said, “Wife, I am very sorry. Let us part good friends. Give me a kiss.” Alas, she turned away! All day long 'She sorrowed, for she loved him well, and she grieved to think that he was gone without that kiss of love. He never came back again alive. Four men brought him home a corpse. She would have given a thousand worlds if they had not parted so. Now, do not part with anybody that you love with any kind of tiffs or quarrellings. End all that, for death is near. If there is but a step between you and death— if the Judge is at the door— go and wind up your little difficulties. You that have family quarrels, wipe them out. You that have got any malice in your heart, turn it out.

     Oh, if it is only a step between us and death, then you that are unprepared, it is only a step between you and hell! Escape, I pray you, by the living God. As you love your souls, flee for your lives, and lay hold on Christ.

     But if you are in Christ, it is only a step between you and heaven. You may well desire that you might take that step right speedily. I shall never forget one summer afternoon, when I was preaching in a village chapel about the joys of heaven, that an elderly lady sitting on my right kept looking to me with intense delight. Some people’s eyes greatly help the preacher. A telegraph goes on between us. She seemed to say to me, "Bless God for that. How I am enjoying it!” She kept drinking in the truth, and I poured out more and more precious things about the eternal kingdom and the sight of the Well-beloved, till I saw what I thought was a strange light pass over her face. I went on, and those eyes were still fixed on me. She sat still as a marble figure; and I stopped and said, “Friends, I think that yon sister over there is dead.” They said that it was even so, and they bore her away. She had gone. While I was telling of heaven, she had gone there; and I remember saying that I wished that it had been my case as well as hers. It was better not, perhaps, for many reasons; but oh, I did envy her! I am always looking for the day when I shall see her again. I shall know those eyes, I am sure I shall. I shall recollect that face, if in heaven she is anything like what she was here, or bears any marks of identification. I shall not forget that inward fellowship which existed between a soul that stood with wings outspread for glory, and the poor preacher who was trying to talk of that which he knew but little of compared with her. Well, well, it will soon be my turn. Good night, poor world! It will soon be your turn, and then you shall say, “Good night.” Let us meet in glory. Let us meet in glory, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.



The Preacher’s Last Sermon for the Season

By / Nov 29

The Preacher's Last Sermon for the Season

 

“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”— John vii. 37.

 

THE officers were after our Lord, and he knew it. He could spy them out in the crowd, but he was not therefore in the least afraid, or disconcerted. He reminds me of that minister who, when he was about to preach, was stopped by a soldier, who held a pistol at his head, and threatened that if he spake he would kill him. “Soldier,” said he, “Do your duty; I shall do mine”; and he went on with his preaching. The Saviour, without saying as much in words, said so by his actions. If they were sent to take him, let them take him; as for himself, the time was come to speak boldly, and therefore he stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

     You see, it was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. From the middle of that festival the Lord had been present, and had openly taught the people, and they had seen him in the midst of the throng, lifting up his hands, and proclaiming holy doctrine. But the feast was over; the boughs were cleared away, and the tents, in which they had dwelt for a time, were taken down. It was the eighth day, which was spent as a Sabbath; but the Saviour did not cease to preach because the festival was almost over. Till the last day he continued to instruct, invite, and entreat. How this reminds us of his constant patience! It is but one instance, out of very many, of the Saviour’s pertinacity of loving-kindness. Though the Jews had often refused him, he is still pleading with them. He hath come to his own, and they have not received him; but he waiteth to be gracious, he tarrieth in unwearied mercy; he endureth “even to this last”; and so, on “that great day of the feast,” he has still a note of admonition, and a word of invitation for them. Oh, the patience of God to some here present! You have long heard the gospel, and although you have never given it due attention, still does the good Saviour strive with you, and press you to be considerate of your own best interests. Jesus urges you to live, persuades you to be saved. There are times when it would not be becoming to the honour of a king to press his favours upon those who have distinctly despised and refused them; but it is ever the singular glory of our Lord Jesus Christ that he continues to entreat, even when we continue to resist. Even to our own last hour does the Lord of mercy sweetly cry, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Repent, dear hearer, of all your long delays, and come to Jesus this day, for he still invites you, saying evermore, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

     Furthermore, our Lord did not only preach the gospel till the last day of the feast, but because it was the last day, he manifested an increased ardour in so doing; and whereas his custom was to sit and teach the people who gathered in a ring around him, on this closing day he now sought a prominent place, probably just outside the Temple, or in one of its outer courts, and there he stood, conspicuous before them all, in the attitude of one who has risen from his ease, and has come to meet those whom he invites. He assumed a position more active, more pleading, more earnest, than that of a seated teacher. Behold, he stands and pleads! That pleading is in tones both pathetic and loud: he “cries,” “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

     It is the last time that he will look into some of their faces. They are going back from Jerusalem, where they have kept the feast; they will get back to their farms and to their merchandise, and if he does not strike the iron while he has it on the anvil, he may never have another stroke at it. If at this time an invitation be not pressed upon them, they will forget the teaching they have heard, they will probably never hear any more, and they will die in their sins. I think I see the Master’s face beaming with holy affection, and his eyes streaming with tears, as he pleads as for his life with the throng which is so soon to melt away. It is now or never with him, and with them. He must once more free himself of the blood of them all, and therefore on that “last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

     I think it is noteworthy that, when the Master had gathered up all the forces of his soul, and his whole spirit was moved with intense anxiety for the good of men, then he especially preached the gospel of salvation. I do not know that he had before so publicly declared himself as the great fountain and source of salvation. He had taught this truth to the woman at the well of Samaria with special plainness, and he had spoken of it to different little companies with great distinctness; but now almost for the first time on this last day he brings it all out before the multitude, and cries, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Now is the invitation given most freely: now is the cry sounded forth most loudly. O ye that are perishing, O ye that are lost, O ye that want salvation, here is the place where you can find it— “Come unto me, and drink!” It seems to me that the Lord Jesus was driving only at this one thing— the getting of men to come to himself. At another time he would teach them deeper doctrine, or truth of a wider range; for his ministry dealt with many things for edification and holiness; but now, on this last day, he seems to put other matters on one side, and his one object is to win thirsty souls to come to him and drink. I have deep fellowship in that spirit this morning. I remember that I shall not have another morning’s discourse with you for some time; and perhaps I may never have another. I go from you for a season, and my voice will be silent among you. Therefore I said within my heart that I would preach this morning upon the one subject of coming to Christ, and upon nothing else. If you make mistakes about a thousand things, it will be very sad that you should do so; but not so sad as if you fell into an error upon this matter. If, peradventure, you should not know this or that, it may be greatly to your detriment, but nothing compared with not knowing the Lord Jesus. My brethren, my sisters, if you really come to Jesus, and assuage the thirst of your souls by drinking of that living water, which he so freely giveth, the main thing will be right, the chief thing will be secured. We will hope that all the rest will come right by-and-by, but just now we will look alone to that vital point. O you that thirst, come unto Christ, and drink; and if you do so, our morning’s work will be fraught with untold blessedness to you! In my absence this shall be my solace, that my last word won your souls for Jesus.

     I would further call your attention to this fact, that, while the Lord, on that last day, displayed an extraordinary ardour for men’s souls, and preached the gospel more fully then than ever, he especially drove at this point, that they should come to himself. He spoke more pointedly, clearly, and exclusively of himself than ever; for, just in proportion as he preached the gospel, it was of necessity that he became a witness to himself, since there is no other gospel than that which is wrapped up in his own proper person and work. The more gospel, the more Christ, and the more Christ, the more gospel. So, when our Lord saith, If any man thirst, there is water to be had, he can do no other than say, “Let him come unto me, and drink.” If that word must come forth from our Lord’s own lips, how abundantly it ought to come from ours! Jesus stands up to be himself a centre, not alone for a congregation of people who hear him, but for a crowd of thirsty folk who are to drink of him. Jesus is the central sun of salvation, and from him the true light radiates on all sides. All who will turn their eyes to look unto him shall behold the light of life.

     Beloved hearers, I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God as God has made it known to me; yet I do feel this morning that I would gladly let all other truth sink for the while, if I might but so preach my Lord Jesus that every unconverted person here might see him, and look to him with the glance of faith. I desire also that every converted person may again look to Jesus, and continue steadily to look until the glance of faith on earth shall melt into the vision of felicity in heaven. What a morning this would be if we all hastened to Jesus, and drank from him as from the sparkling fountain of grace! Why should we not? “Jesus stood, and cried,” and his most ardent passion led him to cry concerning himself, that men should come to him, and find in him the supply for all their spiritual need. The more we love our fellow-men, the more we, too, shall tell them of Jesus, and of Jesus only.

     This text I shall try to handle on this last Sabbath among you: may the Spirit of God handle it so as to make it useful to you one and all!

     I. Notice, in the text, THE ENQUIRY FOR THE THIRSTY. Jesus stands amidst that mass of people from every land, the mingled tribes, scattered far and wide, who came up to Jerusalem to keep the feast, and he cries among them, “If any man thirst.” Evidently, he is seeking out needy, restless, longing hearts.

     Observe that he starts with a very wide enquiry: he seeks for any man, and consequently for every man, that thirsts. So does the gospel at this hour come with a generous and wide appeal. Hast thou any desire after God? Hast thou any will to be rid of thy sin? Hast thou any anxiety to escape from the wrath to come? Hast thou any weariness after Jesus, and the rest which he alone can give? Dost thou desire to be made pure? Is there a heart in thee which sighs after better things? Dost thou long after a higher, and holier, and more heavenly life? Well, whoever thou mayest be, Jesus saith, “Come unto me, and drink.” There gathered that day about the Temple, not only men of Judea and Galilee, but Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia. In fact, all sorts of people, even as on the day of Pentecost, came up to keep the feast; and without making any exception whatever in his generous invitation, our good Master stood and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Beneath the arch of heaven that same call sounds out to every thirsty soul of every clime. Wherever the sound of my voice is heard this morning, and wherever the printed sermon will be read, a sincere invitation comes, without exception, to every soul that longs and thirsts after God, and pardon, and mercy, and eternal life, and heaven: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Do not turn away from this honest invitation to eternal life.

     Yet there wails through our text an undertone of grief by which it is anxiously narrowed down. Wide as the invitation is, yet that “If,” spoken in tenderly solemn tones of apprehension, reminds us that many are called, but few are chosen. “If any man thirst”— as if he had said, “The mass of you do not thirst: do any of you thirst? The multitudes do not thirst; only one here and there is doing so.” Our Lord’s glance sweeps over the throng; he reads their indifference, and spiritual death, and in plaintive accents he expresses his fear that none, or at least very few, are thirsting. Alas, the truly thirsty are few as flowers in winter! Self-content possesses the minds of many; and world-content steals over others. They are in a desert; no drop of dew falls about them, and the water-bottle that they carry has long since been dry; but they are mocked by the mirage, and they put aside their thirst with the fond idea that when they will they can drink to the full. An evil spirit has made them mad, and they own not the thirst which devours them. You may tell them of sin, and its danger, but they do not desire to confess it; their conscience is asleep. You talk of hell, and all its terrors, but either they do not believe you, or else they are so callous that they will risk an eternity of woe for the sake of a poor transient pleasure. You speak of Christ, and pardon bought with blood; but what is that to them? They go their way after the trifles of time and sense, and the great realities of eternity do not trouble them. “If any man thirst.” Alas, a spiritually thirsty soul is a choice rarity! Where shall I find him? With what joy will I salute him! He is the man who will gladly receive the tidings of Jesus and his love.

     The mass of the people are bereft of spiritual feeling: they neither hunger nor thirst after righteousness, but they have given themselves up to enjoy the brutish lives of oxen, or of dogs. They live as if the whole of their existence were to be spent amid the shadows of this poor, benighted world, and as if there would never dawn upon our immortal natures an everlasting day. Such brutish men have no expectation of a resurrection, no fear of a judgment to come, no hope of heaven, and no dread of hell. Well doth the weeping Saviour put it, “If any man thirst.”

     The invitation is in itself wide, and is only focused by the deep sorrow of the Preacher. If any man thirst, he is bidden to come to Jesus. If thou, O man, hast stolen in here this morning, discontented with the pleasures of the world, thou art bidden to come to Jesus for rest and satisfaction. If thou art rich and increased in goods, and yet art quite unable to enjoy thy riches, because thine heart cannot be satisfied with the world, thou art he to whom this invitation comes. If thou art heavy with the burden of sin; if thou wouldst give thine eyes to be rid of it; if thou art despairing, and ready to die, because thy struggles after better things have all been failures; thou art he whom the Lord Jesus invites. With loving tenderness he puts it to all of you who want everything, but have no joy of anything, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” O man, if thou hast any sort of spiritual desire, any kind of longing after that which is good and gracious, come thou at once to Jesus, and Jesus will joyfully receive thee.

     The call is painfully clear. “If any man thirst.” The thirsty know what thirst is: it is a self-explaining pain. A man knows whether he thirsts or not. Nobody need take a minute to answer the question, “Do I thirst?” because, as to natural thirst, it is a pain or want which is readily discerned. If, my hearer, thou art really thirsty, thou knowest thou art thirsty. Art thou dissatisfied with thyself? Art thou grieved on account of sin? Art thou anxious to be right with God? Art thou pining to find thy Saviour? Thou art the man, and there is no question about it. Hear thou his voice while he graciously saith, “Come unto me, and drink.”

     Be it remembered that this call is being continually repeated. At this moment, though I speak it, my Master is with me, and is using me as his mouth. Jesus himself saith it, and not I: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Jesus is not standing now outside the Temple at Jerusalem, for he is gone from us, as to his bodily presence; but from yonder lofty place at the right hand of God he still speaketh, and he cries, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Jesus is accessible still. You may come to him at this hour. A prayer will bring thee to him; a sigh will find and reach him; and if, beneath the arch of heaven, in hall or cottage, in palace or prison, in the forest or on the sea, there be a man that thirsts, let him but come unto Jesus by faith, and he shall have all his needs supplied. It is a blessed invitation, standing good at this hour to thee, O friend! Yea, it will hold good even to a man’s dying day; and this may be to thee that very day. Jesus hath not ceased to invite, nor will he cease to receive all that come to him.

     Do you ask me again, “What is this thirst?” Thirst is nothing actual, or substantive; it is a lack, a want, crying out of its emptiness. It is the absence of a necessary. Sinner, thou needest not look for any good thing in thyself; the thirst which is sought for is the absence of a good thing. Thirst is a painful need. Hast thou not needs? Thirst is an emptiness, a vacuum; it is the miss of that which is essential to life. Hast thou not such a miss? Thirst is conscious need, conscious to a painful degree; hast thou not this? This sense of need is thy thirst. The need naturally begets a pain. When our system needs drink, a merciful providence creates a pang so that we are driven to take notice that a requisite of life must be immediately supplied. Thirst rings the alarm-bell, and the mind and body set to work to supply the urgent demand. It were a dreadful thing if the system needed water and yet did not thirst; for we might be fatally injured before we knew that any harm was happening to us. The pain of thirst is a salutary warning that something very important is wanted. Now, soul, if thou art suffering from fear or despondency; if thou endurest heaviness of heart and disquietude of spirit; if thou hast a longing, a sighing, a pining after something better and holier, then thou art thirsty. If thou hast this thirst in any measure or degree, thou art bidden to come to Christ and drink. If thou hast not as yet a burning thirst, nor a fever, but if thou hast any sort of thirst, thou mayest come and drink. If thou dost in any measure long for mercy and renewal, thou art included in this invitation, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Do not look within thyself to find any good thing. Is thirst a good thing? Nay, thirst is an evil thing, to be removed; and if thou seest in thyself only evil things to be removed, thou hast all that Jesus sets forth in this text as the description of those whom he permits to come to himself. He saith so much, and no more— “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

     I wonder whether I have found out the thirsty person this morning, Are you sitting upstairs in the top gallery? Or are you among the thicker company below? Where are you? Find yourself out now. Turn your eye inwardly: look not to your neighbour, but say within your own soul, “Yes, I thirst; perhaps not as I should, but still I do desire; I am uneasy, I have an unrest; there is an absence of good in me; oh, that my thirst were satisfied this morning!” Friend, thou art my man! Before we go further, let me salute thee, and say, “Man, my brother,” or “Woman, my sister, the Lord Jesus saith unto thee, ‘Come unto me, and drink.’”

     Thus much upon the enquiry after the thirsty ones.

     II. Here is, secondly, THE ONE DIRECTION FOR THE RELIEF OF ALL SUCH THIRSTY ONES: “Let him come unto me, and drink.” There is one direction, and that one direction points solely to one source. All who would have their thirst assuaged must come to one fountain, to one Jesus. Observe, that Christy who gives the water which quenches spiritual thirst, directs us to come to himself personally. Do notice this. “Let him come unto me, and drink.” Do you ask, “What creed am I to believe, what doctrines am I to receive?” We will tell you of this by-and-by, but just now he that is set before you this morning is a Person, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. At the time when he spoke this text he had not been crucified, nor dead, nor buried, nor raised from the dead, but the text was spoken with a foresight of all this, as you will see by reading two verses further on, where we are told that what Christ said took for granted his death and resurrection. “The Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” In this verse our Lord speaketh as if he had been dead, and had risen, and had been glorified. So then, O soul, if thy thirst is to be assuaged, thou must come to Jesus the Son of God, who became the Son of man, who lived, who took human sin upon himself, and died for it, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God: who, being dead, was taken down from the cross, and laid in the grave, where he slept a little while, and then arose from among the dead into newness of life, and after forty days ascended on high, leading captivity captive! At this hour he sitteth at the right hand of God, all power being given unto him in heaven and in earth. In his glory he is this day able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him. You must come to him who has finished his redeeming work, and ever liveth to make intercession for us; and if you will come to him, he will give you the full supply of all the great needs of your nature. O, my hearer, whatever thy spiritual desire is, Jesus will grant it; whatever, in fact, thy soul requires between this place and glory, he will give it thee; but thou must come to him for it, and to him alone. Thou must come distinctly to him, and not to ceremonies, or sacraments, or priests, or churches, or assemblies, or creeds, or services, or doings, or feelings. Thou art not to eat or drink of the house, or of the servants; but the Master himself giveth thee himself to be thy bread from heaven. Thy salvation lies in that divine Person, whom by faith I see at this moment, clothed in the splendour of heaven, yet still wearing the marks of his passion. He looks like a lamb that has been slain: he presents a perpetually complete atonement, and continually reconciles sinners to God. There lies thy hope, and there alone. In that Person, I say, and in that Person only there is salvation.

     All that a sinner wants is to be found in abundance in Jesus. The Lord Jesus invites all who feel their thirst to come to him and partake; feeling no diffidence as to his ability to meet all their cases. “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Though thy thirst be like that of a panting ox upon a sultry summer’s day, who putteth down his mouth to the brook, and drinks as though he would leave it dry— thou mayest come, and feel no trembling as to the sufficiency of the living waters. Ay, you may come in dozens, your scores, your hundreds, your thousands, your millions, and your hundreds of millions! There shall never be a time when the Lord Jesus shall bid the thirsty stay away because the current of his grace is exhausted. He said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink,” without stint or measure; there is nothing to limit the draught or question the supply. In Jesus there is such a fulness that it never will be exhausted. Sin may be exhausted, the race may be numbered, time may be finished, and need may be ended, but mercy endureth for ever.

     There is in Christ Jesus a varied supply. The thirst of the soul is not like the thirst of the body, which is readily quenched by any one liquid, for the thirst of the soul is for many things. Whatsoever many things the soul thirsts for, Jesus will supply them all: our wonderful variety of wants is met by his wonderful variety of excellences. Here is a soul that wants peace: “this Man shall be the peace.” “I am unhinged, I am almost driven to distraction, I am sore troubled, so that I cannot sleep.” Thou shalt have rest by coming to Jesus: “he giveth his beloved sleep.” “But I am so guilty, I have sinned past all pardon; I blush to think how grievously I have trespassed.” Thou canst have pardon for all thy sins, though they be as glaring as scarlet, and though for number they be as many as the sands of the sea. In Jesus the penitent finds perfect pardon for all his offences. Believest thou this? It is certainly so. God will cast all thy transgressions into the depths of the sea, if thou believest in the Lord Jesus. How happy is the man who, by faith in Jesus, knows that the Lord has fully and freely forgiven him! “But I want purity,” cries a third. “I am troubled with horrible thoughts. I have a strong passionate nature, which draws me into wrong desires. I have been a drunkard, I have been unchaste, I have been given to the use of foul language; and these things are a source of continued defilement.” Oh, my friend, thou canst get rid of all this, if thou desirest to do so, by coming to Jesus! He will give thee a new heart, and a right spirit; he will change thy nature totally, so that this evil shall never more have dominion over thee; but where sin abounded, grace shall much more abound. Dost thou hear this? All purity is in Christ for thee. “But I,” says one, “desire to make progress. I hope I am right, and I want to be more right. I want to make advances in the divine life, so as to honour God, and bless my fellow-men.” Come, then, to the Lord Jesus, and drink, for he giveth life, and giveth it more abundantly. “But I want,” says a Christian, “power in prayer, and power to convince and convert my fellow-men.” Come then to Jesus for it: concerning this also he saith, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” He will make thee strong upon thy knees, and mighty in holy service, if thou wilt but surrender thy will to him. “But I want perseverance,” cries another; “I can scarcely hold on my way; I am hard put to it; I faint even though I resolve to pursue.” Come to him, then, for persevering grace. “He will keep the feet of his saints.” Find thy strength to stand, and thine ability to endure, in him alone. If any man thirst for anything that is really desirable, let him come to Jesus, in whom all right desires are provided for. All for sinners and all for saints will be found in Jesus our Lord, who is all in all.

     Still remember that it is to Jesus only that thou must come, and thou must bring nothing of thine own with thee. All thou art bidden to do lies in these two things: come, and drink. Christ is accessible; and thou mayest come to him. He does not stand with a gulf between him and thee, mockingly crying, “Come.” No, but he cometh where thou art to-day, in all thy misery and sin, and he sweetly whispers, “Come.” Arise, then, for he calleth thee. He shortens the way for thee; nay, he is himself the Way. He comes to thee, and he saith, “Come to me,” not because there is now a vast distance to traverse, but because there is only a step, and he would have thee take it at once. Do but trust him, and thou hast come to him. This coming is not so much an exercise of power, as the resignation of power. Submit thyself to Jesus, yield to him, be willing that he should be everything to thee; and thou hast truly come to him.

     Then thou art told to drink. That is not a difficult action. Any fool can drink: in fact, many are great fools because they drink too much of poisonous liquors. Drinking is peculiarly the common-place act of sinners. “Drink!” Surely thou canst do that! Thou hast only to be as a sponge that sucks up all that comes near it. To drink is the act of a babe, a sick man, a wounded deer, or even a little chick. Put thy mouth down, and suck up that which flows to thee in the river of Christ’s love. See how a babe newborn drinketh from its mother’s breast; be thou as that weak babe; and take in Christ according to thy capacity. He bids thee receive him; why hesitate? Thou art not to bring anything to Jesus, but to take everything from him, as the thirsty ground opens its mouth, and drinks in the showers, many as they may be. Open wide thy soul, and drink in Christ, as the great northern whirlpool sucks in the sea; Puli up the sluices, and let streams of mercy flow through thee in glorious torrents. It is all he bids thee do; it is, in fact, to do nothing but to receive thy God. If any man thirst, let him receive Christ. This, then, is the one direction for the assuagement of the burning thirst of all sin-sick souls.

     III. Consider, in the third place, THE PERMISSION HERE GIVEN FOR THEIR PARTICIPATION. I have told you where the water is, but the question comes, “May I drink of it?” If thou thirstest, drink. No limit is placed in our text. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” There is no limit as to what thou hast formerly done. “Oh, but I have been so guilty, so hardened; I have uttered bitter words; I have even spoken against God and his Christ; I have denied the deity of our Lord; I have gone aside into all manner of crooked ways I” Whatever thou hast done, if thou hast now any longing after God and thy Saviour, come thou freely, just as thou art, for he bids thee come and drink. “But I dare not say what I have done, sir.” Thou needest not say it to me; it were better thou shouldest not. Confess it unto God alone; and though thou be black as seven midnights, and foul as seven hells, thou mayest come to Jesus just as thou art, and receive from him complete absolution. “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

     Neither is there any limit put as to where thou hast gone before. I remember one who wanted to purchase a certain article, and he called upon one of the chief merchants, and asked his price. When this was given him, he went his way to half-a-dozen other traders, and tried to buy at a cheaper rate. He did not succeed, but, on the contrary, he found that the first had quoted the lowest price. When he walked a second time into that shop, his advances were not welcomed. “No,” said the merchant, “I shall not serve you now: you have been all round the town, and if you could have got it a farthing cheaper you would not have been here. I don’t care for such customers.” It is not thus with our Lord Jesus: he maketh and keepeth a free trade in grace. If thou hast gone to Moses, if thou hast gone to Rome, if thou hast gone to priest or father-confessor; yea, if thou hast gone to the devil, yet still thou mayest come to Christ. Do not fear a refusal. He still saith, “If any man thirst”; though he has been to all the wells on earth, and found them dry, still this well is full, and he is permitted to drink at it. “Let him come unto me, and drink.”

     There, is no limit because of any kind of lack. “Oh,” says one, “I am deficient in tenderness; I am deficient in panitence!” Whatsoever yon are deficient in, so much the greater is your thirst; but the Lord meeteth that thirst in all respects. If any man lack anything, the Lord will supply that lack: if any man be conscious that he has a great and grievous lack of that which is most essential, as when one has need of water which is essential to life, let him come to Christ, and drink.

     “Surely,” says one, “I cannot be intended, for I am in peculiar circumstances; I am very old.” Come and drink, if thou hast any thirst, though thou be as old as Methuselah. “But I am so poor.” The poorer thou art, the more welcome thou art. Come thou, in thy smock-frock, and drink. “But I cannot read.” Never mind: the text does not say, “Read,” but “Drink.” At the polling-booths many are met with who cannot read, but none who cannot drink. I have known some that could not read a letter who could drink a churnful: drinking is an ability which is very widely distributed. The power to receive is scarcely a power, and yet it is the only power needed for salvation. Come along, and take what Christ doth freely give you. “Alas, I am so different from others!” Does the text say that any are shut out because they are different from others? No; Jesus stood and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

     Sorrowfully I notice that some are ingeniously trying to lock the door against themselves with the very key that was meant to open it. “Alas,” one cries, “I am afraid I do not thirst!” Tell me, then, what is the matter with you. “Sir,” I have not such a sense of need as I ought to have”: that is to say, you are sensible that you are more needy than you think you are. If you are conscious that you are not fully aware of all your need, then I urge you to come to Jesus, just as you are, for if ever there was a thirsty soul, you are one. You even need a sense of need, and this proves that you are horribly in need. You are neediest among the needy, and should be among the first to come.

     “I am afraid I do not thirst.” Tell me, would you come if you did thirst? “That I would.” Then come at once, and none will cast you out; because when you come it will be clear that you must have thirsted, for none ever come to Jesus who do not thirst. I am reasoning with you in a roundabout way, as you do with me. “But I want to thirst more.” Then come and drink, and you shall thirst more; that is to say, you shall know more of your need of Christ than you do now, for they that find Christ value Christ more than those who, as yet, have never found him. Come if you do thirst, and come if you think you do not thirst, but wish you did thirst; for that wish to thirst is the very thirst you wish for. The sense that you have no proper sense of need is the very best sense that can be. Your want of a power to feel your want is your greatest want; consciousness of your own unconsciousness is the truest consciousness. Your groaning because you cannot groan is the deepest groaning that ever is groaned. Therefore, come along with you; keep not back through shame or fear, for Jesus will give you a hearty welcome, and supply everything you can possibly require. The more unfit you feel yourself to be, the more are you invited to come: your very unfitness is your fitness for coming to Jesus. It is not what you have that God asks for; but he invites you to bring before him what you have not, that he may meet your pressing need, and give you all things to enjoy. He takes advantage of your poverty in a blessed manner. You know how men do with one another: if they find a man utterly reduced, they grind him down still more. Now, the Lord takes advantage of your poverty to lift you up. The less there is in you that is good, the more you need a Saviour, and the more readily does that Saviour present himself to you. If you are starved to the last extremity, and if there be not a drop of oil in the cruse, nor a handful of meal in the barrel, only look to Christ, and he will spread your table with food convenient for you. Only confess your emptiness, and all his fulness is at your disposal.

     There is one thing I should like you to think of, and that is, when Christ says, “Come unto me, and drink,” nobody else can say you nay; for surely the Lord Jesus is master of himself, and his warrants run in his own kingdom. If he says “come unto me,” who is to keep you away? If you were master of a large estate, and said to a poor man, “Walk round it, go where you please”; and if your bailiff should meet this person and warn him off as a trespasser, would you not expect the poor man to say, “Your master gave me permission, and I will not be shut out by you”? So, if the devil, or conscience, or anything else, says to you, “You must not hope in divine mercy, nor in any other way lay hold of Christ,” you may boldly reply, “Your Master said I might. Jesus himself said, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink!’ I thirsted, I came, and I received, and I will never give up what I have received; for I have Christ’s permit to have it, and keep it I will.” Oh, how I wish these words of encouragement would meet the cases of many before me! I thought I should have a full house this morning, and if it had been fine weather we should have been densely crowded: but when I saw it raining so very heavily I fancied we should have comparatively few, and perhaps it would be better to change the topic? But I said, “Never mind, I will preach the same sermon to the few as to the many,” because I recollect the morning when I found the Saviour myself. It was as wet and miserable a morning as the present one, and, moreover, the ground was covered with a deep snow, sleet was falling fast, and the wind was blowing bitterly. I had intended to go to another place of worship half a mile further on, but I could not reach it through stress of weather, else I would not have turned into the little Primitive Chapel. I do not suppose there were more than twenty people present that morning, but it did not matter. That poor man's morning’s work was satisfactory; for the Lord blessed a youth who has since then preached to many thousands. Among a few the best success may yet be gained. Perhaps, this morning, I am to catch some souls who will be useful to multitudes of others. Yonder young man who has come here, he hardly knows why, is to be decided for Jesus. He would not have been here if it had not been so wet; he is the very man the Lord hath need of, and when he is converted he shall be used for the Lord’s glory. At any rate, from this pulpit rings out the blessed invitation with trumpet-voice, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

     IV. We close with THE ENTREATY FOR THEIR COMING. Jesus pleads with them to come. “Jesus stood and cried.” I cannot picture the enthusiasm of his soul, the passion of his heart, as he spoke that morning. “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” The tones of that pleading voice were both striking and wooing, forcible and tender. When on that last occasion he addressed the people he poured out his whole soul pleading with them that they would come to him then and there. Dear hearts, when I think of Christ entreating us to come, I am astonished that we should need such pleading, and that he should give it. Surely the boot should be on the other foot. Ought we not to entreat him to let us come? Should we not fall on our knees, and plead for permission to receive the Saviour? Instead of that we are cold and callous; and it is he that is eager for us to come. He loves us better than we love ourselves! When a man has charity to give away, does he entreat people to come and accept it? No; but they come, and knock at his door, and beg him to give it to them. How strange is this, that you should be unwilling, and Christ anxious; that you should be backward, and Christ forward; that Jesus should cry “Come,” and you should sit still and decline his calls! Should you not come when Jesus himself invites, and even entreats? Is it not baseness, is it not gross hardness of heart if we do not receive him who speaks from heaven, and cries, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink”? You have not come before— that was wrong; but the times of your ignorance God winketh at, and bids you come now. Oh, that his sweet Spirit would accompany my words, so that you might feel your hearts melting towards the Saviour, and might say, “Yes, we will come, we will trust Jesus, we will receive his grace!” O my brother, if this be thy hearty consent to infinite love, then thy sorrow is ended, thy danger is over, and thy joy is begun. The Lord grant it, for his dear Son’s sake. Amen.



The Dream of Barley Cake

By / Nov 22

The Dream of Barley Cake

 

“And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.”— Judges vii. 13, 14.

 

THE Midianites were devastating the land of Israel. These wandering tribes purposely kept away during the times of ploughing and sowing, and allowed the helpless inhabitants to dream that they would be able to gather in a harvest; but no sooner did there come to be anything eatable by man or beast, than these Bedouin hordes came up like locusts, and devoured everything. Imagine a country like Israel, which had at one time been powerful, so greatly reduced as to be unable to keep off these desert rangers; brought so low that the cities and villages were empty, and the inhabitants were hidden in the hill-sides, in the water-courses, and in the huge caverns of the rocks. God had forsaken them for their sins, and therefore their own manhood had forsaken them, and they hid themselves from enemies, whom, in better days, they had despised.

     In her extremity, the guilty nation began to cry to Jehovah her God; and the answer was not long delayed. An angel came to Gideon and announced to him that the Lord had delivered Midian into his hand, and that he should smite them as one man. Gideon was a man of great faith: his name shines among the heroes of great faith in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews; and you and I will do well if we attain to the same rank in the peerage of faith as he did. But for all that, the best of men are men at the best; and men of strong faith are often men of strong conflicts; and so it was with Gideon. This man’s great faith and great weakness of faith both showed themselves in a desire for signs. Once assure him that God is with him, and Gideon has no fear, but hastens to the battle, bravest of the brave. With a handful of men, he is quite prepared to go against a host of adversaries; but he pines for a sign. Again and again he asks it. The anxious question seems to be constantly recurring to him, “Is the Lord with us? If the Lord is with us, where are all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” Hence his frequent prayer is, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, shew me a sign.” He began with this, and this ill beginning coloured his whole after career. I have known many persons like this son of Joash: they say, “Let me bat know that God is with me, and my fear is gone”; but their repeated question is, “Is the Lord with me? Is Jesus mine, and am I his? Let me but know that I am a true believer, and I am sure that I shall not perish, for God will not forsake his own; but then, am I a believer? Have I the marks and evidences of a child of God?” Hence the practice of severe self-examination, and hence also the weakening habit of craving for tokens and feelings. How many are crying, “We see not our signs”; when they ought to say, “But we see Jesus!” How many are praying, “Shew me a token for good” when the Lord Jesus has given himself for them, and has thereby given the best token of his grace!

     So it happened unto Gideon, that the Lord knowing his hunger for signs and yet knowing the sincerity of his faith, bade him, on the night of the great battle which was to rout Midian, go down as a spy into the camp with his servant, and there he should receive a token for good, which would effectually quiet all his fears.

     I picture Gideon and his attendant creeping down the hill in the stillness of the night, when the camp was steeped in slumber. It was about the end of the first watch, when they were soon to change sentinels. The two brave men, with stealthy footsteps, drew near the pickets, and even passed them. From long habit they had learned to make no more sound with their footfalls than if they had been cats. As they move along they come near to a couple of men who are talking together, and they listen to their conversation. Whether they were inside the tent, lying on their beds, or whether they were sitting by the camp-fire whiling away the last half-hour of their weary watch, we do not know: but there they were, and Gideon remained breathless to hear their talk. One of them told his fellow that he had dreamed a dream, and he began the telling of it. Then the other ventured an interpretation, and Gideon must have been awe-stricken when he heard his own name mentioned, and his own success foretold. Do you not see him with streaming eyes and clasped hands silently worshipping God? His assurance overflows, and motioning to his servant, they steal away through the shadows, and quietly ascend the hill to the place where the little band of three hundred lay in hiding. They look down upon the sleeping camp, and Gideon cries, “The Lord hath delivered into your hands the hosts of Midian.” Obedient to their leader they descend with their trumpets, and with torches covered over with pitchers. At a signal they break the pitchers, display the lights, sound the trumpets, and shout, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Imagining that a vast army is upon them, the tribes of the desert run for their lives, and in the darkness fall foul of one another. Midian is scattered: Israel is free.

     In quiet contemplation let us now play the part of spies. With all our wits about us let us thread our way among the sleepers, and listen to this dream and the interpretation thereof.

     I. The first thing that I shall bring under your observation is THE STRIKING PROVIDENCE which must have greatly refreshed Gideon. Just as he and Phurah stealthily stole up to the tent, the Midianite was telling a dream, bearing an interpretation so appropriate to Gideon. It may appear to be a little thing; but an occurrence is none the less wonderful because it appears to be insignificant. The microscope reveals a world of marvels quite as surprising as that which is brought before us by the telescope. God is as divine in the small as in the stupendous, as glorious in the dream of a soldier as in the flight of a seraph.

     Now observe, first, the providence of God that this man should have dreamed just then, and that he should have dreamed that particular dream. Dreamland is chaos, but the hand of the God of order is here. What strange romantic things our dreams are!— fragments of this, and broken pieces of the other, strangely joined together in absurd fashion.

“How many monstrous forms in sleep we see,
That neither were, nor are, nor e’er can be!”

Yet observe that God holds the brain of this sleeping Arab in his hand, and impresses it as he pleases. Dreams often come of previous thoughts; see then the providence which had taken this man’s mind to the hearth and the cake-baking. The Lord prepares him when he is awake to dream aright when he is asleep. God is omnipotent in the world of mind as well as in that of matter: he rules it when men are awake, and does not lose his power when men fall asleep. The heathen ascribed dreams to their gods; we read of one, that

“Pallas poured sweet slumbers on his soul,
And balmy dreams, the gift of soft repose.”

Thin as the air, inconstant as the wind, the stuff that dreams are made of is vanity of vanities; and yet the Lord fashions it according to his own good pleasure. The man must dream, must dream then and there, and dream that dream which should convey confidence and courage to Gideon. Oh, believe it, God is not asleep when we are asleep: God is not dreaming when we are. I admire the providence of God in this; do not you? Is it not specially well ordered that this man shall dream, and therein declare a truth as deep as any in the compass of philosophy?

     Further, I cannot but admire that this man should be moved to tell his dream to his fellow. It is not everybody that tells his dream at night; he usually waits till the morning. We are grossly foolish sometimes, but we are not always so: and hence we do not hurry to tell such disjointed visions as that which this Arab had just seen. What was there in it? Many a time, no doubt, this son of the desert would have cried, “I have had a dream— past the wit of man to say what dream it was.” But this time he cannot shake it off. It burdens him, and he must tell it to his comrade by the camp-fire. Look you into the face of Gideon as he catches every syllable. Now, if this dream-telling had been arranged by military authority, and if it had been part of a programme that Gideon should be present at the nick of time to hear it, there would have been a failure somehow or other. If the man had known that he had a listener, he might not have been punctual with his narrative; but he did not know a word about being overheard, and yet he was punctual to the tick of a clock. God ruleth men’s idle tongues as well as their dreaming brains, and he can make a talkative soldier in the camp say just as much and just as little as will subserve the purposes of wisdom.

     It is remarkable that the man should tell his dream just when Gideon and Phurah had come near. Just think a minute of the many chances against such a thing. We are on the side of the hill, and we glide down among the trees and the great rocks till we are nearly in the grass lands in the valley. Here lie the Midianites in their long lines of black tents, and the hush of deep slumber is over all, save where a few maintain a sleepy watch. Why does Gideon go to that particular part of the camp? Going there, why does he happen to drop on this particular spot where two men are talking? If he was spying out the camp, he would naturally wander along where there was most quiet, in order that he might not be discovered; for if the warriors had suddenly started up and snatched their spears these two men would have had small chance of life. It was singular that out of tents so countless Gideon should alight upon the very one in which were the two wakeful sentinels, and that he should come just as they were talking to one another about Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel. Considering that there were fifty thousand other things that they might have talked of, and considering that there were fifty thousand other persons upon whom Gideon might have lighted, there were so many chances against Gideon’s hearing that singular talk, that I do not hesitate to say, this is the finger of God. If this were but one instance of the accuracy of providence it might not so much surprise us; but, history bristles with these instances: I mean not only public history, but our own private lives. Men sometimes make delicate machines where everything depends upon the touching of a certain pin at a certain instant, and their machinery is so arranged that nothing fails. Now, our God has so arranged the whole history of men, and angels, and the regions of the dead, that each event occurs at the right moment so as to effect another event, and that other event brings forth a third, and all things work together for good.

     I think if I had been Gideon I should have said to myself, “I do not so much rejoice in what this dreamer saith as I do in the fact that he has told his dream at the moment when I was lurking near him: I see the hand of the Lord in this, and I am strengthened by the sight. Verily, I perceive that the Lord worketh all things with unfailing wisdom, and faileth not in his designs. He that has ordered this matter can order all things else.” O child of God, when you are troubled it is because you fancy that you are alone; but you are not alone; the Eternal Worker is with you. Listen, and you will hear the revolution of those matchless wheels which are for ever turning according to the will of the Lord. These wheels are high and dreadful, but they move with fixed and steady motion, and they are all “full of eyes roundabout.” Their course is no blind track of a car of Juggernaut, but the eyes see, the eyes look towards their end, the eyes look upon all that comes within the circuit of the wheels. Oh for a little heavenly eyesalve to touch our eyes that we may perceive the presence of the Lord in all things! Then shall we see the mountain to be full of horses of fire and chariots of fire round about the prophets of the Lord. The stars in their courses are fighting for the cause of God. Our allies are everywhere. God will summon them at the right moment.

     II. But now, secondly, I want to say something to you about THE COMFORTABLE TRIFLE which Gideon had thus met with. It was a dream, and therefore a trifle, or a nothing, and yet he took comfort from it. He was solaced by a dream, a gipsy’s dream, and a poor dream at that. He took heart from an odd story of a barley bannock which overturned a tent. It is a very curious thing that some of God’s servants do draw a very great deal of consolation from comparatively trivial things. We are all the creatures of sentiment as well as of reason, and hence we are often strongly affected by little things. Gideon is cheered by a dream of a barley cake. When Robert Bruce had been frequently beaten in battle, he despaired of winning the crown of Scotland; but when he lay hidden in the loft among the hay and straw, he saw a spider trying to complete her web after he had broken the thread many times. As he saw the insect begin again, and yet again, until she had completed her net for the taking of her prey, he said to himself, “If this spider perseveres and conquers, so will I persevere, and succeed.” There might not be any real connection between a spider and an aspirant to a throne; but the brave heart made a connection, and thereby the man was cheered. If you and I will but look about us, although the adversaries of God are as many as grasshoppers, yet we shall find consolation. I hear the birds sing, “Be of good cheer,” and the leafless trees bid us trust in God and live on, though all visible signs of life be withered. If a dream was sufficient to encourage Gideon, an every-day fact in nature may equally well serve the same purpose to us.

     But what a pity it is that we should need such little bits of things to cheer us up, when we have matters of far surer import to make us glad! Gideon had already received, by God’s own angel, the word, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” Was not this enough for him? Whence is it that a boy’s dream comforts him more than God’s own word. O child of God, how you degrade yourself and your Master’s word, when you set so much store by a small token! Thy Lord’s promise— is that little in thine eyes? What surer pledge of love dost thou desire than the blood of Jesus spilt for thee? When Jesus saith, “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” what more can you require? Is not the word of the Lord absolute truth? What seal dost thou want to the handwriting of God? The Lord may grant us further tokens for good, but we ought not to require them.

     I have said that our gracious God does condescendingly grant us even trifles, when he sees that they will cheer us, and this, I think, calls for adoring gratitude, and also for practical use of this comfort. God grant us grace to do great things, as the result of that which to others may seem a trifle. Let us not make a sluggard’s bed out of our tokens; but let us hasten to the fight as Gideon did. If thou hast received a gleam of comfort, hasten to the conflict before the clouds return; go to thy consecrated labour before thou hast lost the fervour of thy spirit. May the Holy Ghost lead thee so to do.

     III. I have been brief upon that point, because I want you to notice, thirdly, THE CHEERING DISCOVERY. Gideon had noticed a striking providence, he had received a comfortable trifle, but he also made a very cheering discovery; which discovery was, that the enemy dreamed of disaster. You and I sometimes think about the hosts of evil, and we fear we shall never overcome them, because they are so strong, and so secure. Hearken: we over-estimate them. The powers of darkness are not so strong as they seem to be. The subtlest infidels and heretics are only men. What is more, they are bad men; and bad men at bottom are weak men. You fret because in this war you are not angels: be comforted to think that the adversaries of the truth are men also. You sometimes grow doubtful; and so do they. You half despair of victory; and so do they. You are at times hard put to it; so are they. You sometimes dream of disaster; so do they. It is natural to men to fear, and doubly natural to bad men. It must have been a great comfort to Gideon to think that the Midianites dreamed about him, and that their dreams were full of terror to themselves. He did not think much of himself; he reckoned himself to be the least of all his father’s house, and that his father’s house was little in Israel; but the foes of Israel had taken another gauge of Gideon— they had evidently the notion that he was a great man, whom God might use to smite them; and they were afraid of him. He that interpreted the dream made use of the name of “Gideon, the son of Joash,” evidently knowing a great deal more about Gideon than Gideon might have expected. “This,” said the soldier, “is the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.” Notice how his words tallied with those which the Lord had spoken to Gideon. The enemy had begun to dream, and to be afraid of him who now stood listening to their talk. A dread from the Lord had come upon them. Let us say to ourselves, “Why should we be afraid of sinners? they are afraid of us.” A Christian man, the other day, was afraid to speak about his Lord to one whom he met. It cost him a deal of trouble to screw his courage up to speak to a sceptic; but when he had spoken, he found that the sceptic had all along been afraid that he would be spoken to. It is a pity when we tremble before those who are trembling because of us. By want of faith in God we make our enemies greater than they are.

     Behold the host of doubters, and heretics, and revilers, who, at the present time, have come up into the inheritance of Israel, hungry from their deserts of rationalism and atheism! They are eating up all the corn of the land. They cast a doubt upon all the verities of our faith. But we need not fear them; for if we heard their secret counsels, we should perceive that they are afraid of us. Their loud blusterings, and their constant sneers, are the index of real fear. Those who preach the cross of our Lord Jesus are the terror of modern thinkers. In their heart of hearts they dread the preaching of the old-fashioned gospel, and they hate what they dread. On their beds they dream of the coming of some evangelist into their neighbourhood. What the name of Richard was to the Saracens, that is the name of Moody to these boastful intellects. They wish they could stop those Calvinistic fellows and those evangelical old fogies. Brethren, so long as the plain gospel is preached in England there will always be hope that these brigands will yet be scattered, and the church be rid of their intrusion. Ratioinalism, Socinianism, Ritualism, and Universalism will soon take to their legs, if the clear, decided cry of “the Sword of the Lord and of Gideon” be once more heard.

     There is nothing of which a child of God need be afraid either on the earth or under it. I do not believe that in the lowest depths of hell we should hear or see anything that need make a believer in the Lord Jesus to be afraid. On the contrary, tidings of what the Lord has wrought have made the enemy to tremble. Goodness wears in her innocence a breastplate of courage, but sin gendereth to cowardice. Those who follow after falsehood have a secret monitor within, which tells them that theirs is a weak cause, and that truth must and will prevail over them. Let them alone; the beating of their own hearts will scare them. The Lord liveth, and while he liveth let no man that trusteth in his word suffer his heart to fail him; for the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. Our adversaries are neither so wise, nor so brave, nor so influential as we think them to be. Only have courage, and rely upon God, and you will overcome them. David, thou needest not fear the giant because of his size; the vastness of his shape will only make him an easier target for thy smooth stone. His very bulk is his weakness; it were hard to miss so huge a carcase. Be not afraid, but run to meet him; the Lord hath delivered him into thine hand. Why should the servants of the Lord speak doubtfully when their God pledges his honour that he will aid them? Let us change our manner of speech, and say with the Psalmist, “Ascribe ye strength unto God: his excellency is over Israel. Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let them also that hate him flee before him.” We have received a kingdom which cannot be moved. We have believed the faith once delivered unto the saints, and we will display it as a banner because of the truth. Yet shall this song be sung in our habitations— “The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the spoil.”

     IV. Lastly, and most important of all, let us think for a little of THE DREAM ITSELF AND OF ITS INTERPRETATION.

     The Midianite in his dream saw a barley cake. Barley cakes were not much valued as food in those days, any more than now. People ate barley when they could not get wheat; but they would need to be driven to such food by poverty, or famine. Barley-meal was rather food for dogs or cattle than for men; and therefore the barley cake would be the emblem of a thing despised. A barley cake was generally made upon the hearth. A hole was made in the ground, and paved with stones; in this a fire was made, and when the stones were hot, a thin layer of barley-meal was laid upon them, covered over with the ashes, and thus quickly and roughly baked. The cake itself was a mere biscuit. You must not interpret the dream as having in it a large quartern loaf of barley bread, tumbling down the hill and smashing up the tent with its own weight. No, it was only a cake, that is to say, a biscuit, of much the same form and thinness as we see in the Passover cakes of the Jews. It may have been a long piece of thin crust, and it was seen in the dream moving onward and waving in the air something like a sword. It came rolling and waving down the hill till it came crash against the pavilion of the prince of Midian, and turned the tent completely over, so that it lay in ruins. Perhaps driven by a tremendous wind, this flake of barley-bread cut like a razor through the chief pole of the pavilion, and over went the royal tent. That was his vision: an odd, strange dream enough. His fellow answered, “The dream means mischief for our people. One of those barley-cake-eaters from the hills will be upon us before long. That man Gideon, whom we have heard of lately, may fall upon us on a sudden, and break down our power.” That was the interpretation: the barley biscuit the ruin of the pavilion.

     Now, what we have to learn from it is just this, God can work by any means. He can never be short of instruments. For his battles he can find weapons on the hearth, weapons in the kneading-trough, weapons in the poor man’s basket. Omnipotence has servants everywhere. For the defence of his cause God can enlist all the forces of nature, all the elements of society, all the powers that be. His kingdom cannot fail, since the Lord can defend it even by the cakes which are baking upon the coals. Gideon, who threshes corn to-day, will thresh the Lord’s enemies to-morrow. Preachers of the word are being trained everywhere.

     God can work by the feeblest means. He can use a cake which a child can crumble to smite Midian, and subdue its terrible power. Alas, sirs! we often consider the means to be used, and forget to go onward to him who will use them. We often stop at the means, and begin to calculate their natural force, and thus we miss our mark. The point is to get beyond the instruments, to the God who uses the instruments. I think I have heard that a tallow candle fired from a rifle will go through a door: the penetrating power is not in the candle, but in the force impelling it. So in this case, it was not the barley-biscuit, but the almighty impulse which urged it forward, and made it upset the pavilion. We are nothing; but God with us is everything. “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.”

     By using weak means our Lord gets to himself all the glory, and hides pride from men. The Lord had said to Gideon in the early part of this chapter, “The people are yet too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” Their oppression was a punishment for sin, and their deliverance must be an act of mercy. They must be made to see the Lord’s hand, and they cannot see it more clearly than by being delivered by feeble means. Out of jealousy for his own glory it often pleases God to set aside likely means and use those which we looked not for. Now I know how it is to-day: men think that if the world is to be converted it must be done by learned men, men of noble family, or at least of eminent talent. But is this the Lord’s usual way? Is there anything in the Acts of the Apostles, or in the life of Christ, that should lead us to look to human wisdom, or talent, or prestige? Does not everything look in the contrary direction? The lake of Galilee was Christ’s apostolic College. Has not God always acted upon his own declaration that he hath hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hath revealed them unto babes? Is it not still true that the Lord hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are? Are we not on the wrong track altogether when we look to men, and means, and measures, instead of considering the right hand of the Most High? Brethren, let us never forget that out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hath the Lord ordained strength because of his enemies, that he might still the enemy and the avenger.

     The Lord employs feeble means, that so he may have an opening for you and for me. If he used only the great, the wise, the strong, we should have to lie in the corner. Then might the men of one talent be excused for hiding it. But now the least among us may through God’s grace aspire to usefulness. Brothers, let not your weakness keep you back from the Lord’s work: you are at least as strong as barley cakes. I find that the original text suggests a noise, such as might be made by chestnuts or corn when roasting in the fire. The dreamer marked that it was a noisy cake which tumbled into the host of Midian. More noise than force, one would say. It was like a coal which flies out of the fire, makes a little explosion, and is never more heard of. Thus have many of God’s most useful servants been spoken of at the first. They were nine-day wonders, mere flashes in the pan, much ado about nothing, and so forth. And yet the Lord smites his enemies by their feeble means. My brother, perhaps you have begun to make a little stir by faithfully preaching the gospel, and this has opened the mouths of the adversaries, who are indignant that such a nobody as you should be useful. “Why, there is nothing in the fellow: it is sheer impudence for him to suppose that he has any right to speak.” Never mind. Go on with your work for the Lord. Cease not because you are of such small account, for by such as you are God is pleased to work.

     Never are his adversaries so shamefully beaten as when the Lord uses feeble instrumentality. The Lord smote the hosts of Jabin by the hand of a woman, and the hosts of Philistia by the hand of Shamgar the ploughman. It was to their everlasting reproach that the Lord put his foes to the rout with pitchers and trumpets in the hand of the little band who followed the thresher of Abiezer. The Lord will tread Satan under our feet shortly, even under our feet, who are less than the least of all saints.

     Note, next, God uses unexpected means. If I wanted to upset a tent I certainly should not try to overturn it by a barley cake. If I had to cannonade an encampment I should not bombard it with biscuits. Yet how wonderfully God hath wrought by the very persons whom we should have passed over without a thought. O Paganism, thy gigantic force and energy, with Caesar at their head, shall be vanquished by fishermen from the sea of Galilee! God willed it so, and so it was done. Rome Papal met as signal a downfall from reformers rude of speech, and poor in estate. Expect the unexpected. Thus the Lord works to call men’s attention to what he does. If he doeth what men commonly reckon upon, they take no notice of his doings, however splendid they may be in themselves; but if he steppeth aside and doeth that which none could have looked for, then is their attention arrested, and they consider that the hand of the Lord is in it. Then also they admire and feel somewhat of awe of him. For the tent to fall seems nothing, but for the tent to fall by being smitten with a barley cake is something to be marvelled at. For souls to be saved is in itself remarkable; but for them to be saved by some simple child-like evangelist who can scarcely speak grammatically, this is the talk of the town. For the Lord to call out a thief or a blasphemer and speak by his lips, is a thing to make men feel the greatness of God. Then they cry, “How unsearchable are his ways!” For an error to be blasted and dried up is a blessed thing; and yet it is all the more miraculous when this is done, not by reasoning, nor by eloquent argument, but by the simple declaration of Gospel truth. O sirs, we never know what the Lord will do next.  He can raise up defenders of the faith from the stones of the river. I despair not for the grand old cause. Nay, I hope against hope. Driven back as we may be, I see the very dust breeding warriors, and the grass of the field hardening into spears. Courage! Courage! Stand still, and see the salvation of God!

     But the dream hath more in it than this: God useth despised means. This man Gideon is likened to a cake, and then only to a barley-cake; but the Lord styles him “a mighty man of valour.” God loves to take men whom others despise, and use them for his glorious ends. “He is a fool,” they say, “an uneducated man, one of the very lowest class of minds. He has no taste, no culture, no thought. He is not a person of the advanced school.” My dear brother, I hope no one among you will be influenced by this kind of silly talk. The “mashers” in our churches talk in this fashion; but who cares for their proud nonsense? It is time that men who despise others should be themselves despised, and be made to know that they are so. Those who boast their intellect are of small account with God. The whole tenor of this inspired Book is that way; it speaks kindly of things that are despised, but it has no word of reverence for the boastful and pretentious. Therefore, ye despised ones, let the proud unbelievers laugh at you, and sing concerning you their song of a barley cake; but do you in patience possess your souls, and go on in the service of your Lord. They think to render you contemptible; but the scorn shall return upon the scorners. You shall yet by the Lord’s strength have such force and vigour put into you, that you shall put to flight the armies of the aliens. Say you with Paul, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”

     But, then, God ever uses effectual means. This cake of barley-bread came unto a tent and smote it, that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. The Lord never does his work by halves. Even if he works by barley-cakes, he makes a clean overthrow of his enemy. A cannon-ball could not have done its work better than did this barleycake. Friend, if the Lord uses thee for his own purpose, he will do his work by thee as effectually and surely as if he had selected the best possible worker. He lifts our weakness out of itself, and elevates it to a level of power and efficacy little dreamed of by us. Wherefore, be not afraid, ye servants of God, but commit yourselves into the hands of him who, out of weakness, can bring forth strength.

     I have done when I have made an application of all this to certain practical purposes. Brethren, do you not think that this smiting of the tent of Midian by the barley cake, and afterwards the actual overthrow of the Midianite hordes by the breaking of the pitchers, the blazing of the torches, and the blowing of the trumpets, all tends to comfort us as to those powers of evil which now cover the world? I am appalled sometimes as I think of the power of the enemy, both in the matter of impurity and falsehood. At this present moment you seem as if you could do nothing: you cannot get in to strike a blow. Sin and error have so much the upper hand that we know not how to strike them. The two great parties in England, the Puritan and the Cavalier, take turn about, and just now the Cavalier rules most powerfully. At one time sound doctrine and holy practice had sway; but in these days loose teaching and loose living are to the fore. But our duty clearly lies in sticking to the word of the Lord and the gospel of our fathers. God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. By this sign we shall conquer yet. The impurity of the age will never be cleansed except by the prevalence of the gospel; and the infidelity of the period will never die before any assault but that of the pure truth of the living Lord. We must tell of pardon bought with blood, of free forgiveness according to the riches of divine grace, and of eternal power changing fallen human nature, and making men new creatures in Christ Jesus. They call this a worn-out doctrine: let us put its power to the test on the largest scale, and we shall see that it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. As for me, I shall preach the gospel of the grace of God, and that only, even if I be left alone. The hosts of Israel are melting away, and they will melt much more. As in Gideon’s day, out of the whole host twenty and two thousand have gone altogether away from true allegiance to the cause, and many more have no stomach for the fight. Let them go. The thousands and the hundreds. Let the thirty thousand who came at the trumpet call decrease to the three hundred men that lap in haste as a dog lappeth, because they are eager for the fray. When we are thinned out, and made to see how few we are, we shall be hurled upon the foe with a power not our own. Our weapon is the torch of the old gospel, flaming forth through the breaking of our earthen vessels. To this we add the trumpet sound of an earnest voice. Ours is the midnight cry, “Behold he cometh!” We cannot get victory by any might or skill of ours, and yet in the end the foe shall be defeated, and the Lord alone shall be exalted. Were things worse than they are, we would still cry, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” and stand each man in his place till the Lord appeared in strength.

     Another lesson would I draw from the text as to our inward conflicts. Dear friend, you are feeling in your heart the great power of sin. The Midianites are encamped in your soul; in the little valley of Esdrelon which lies within your bosom, there are countless evils, and these, like the locusts, eat up every growing thing, and cause comfort, and strength, and joy, to cease from your experience. You sigh because of these invaders. I counsel you to try what faith can do. Your own earnest efforts appear to make you worse; try faith. Neither tears, nor prayers, nor vows, nor self-denials, have dislodged the foe; try the barley cake of faith. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In him you are saved; in him you have power to become a child of God. Believe this and rejoice. Poor sinner! try faith. Poor backslider! try faith. Poor desponding heir of heaven! try faith. This barley cake of faith will smite the power of sin and break the dominion of doubt, and bring you victory. Remember that ancient Scripture, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Make bold to believe. Say at once,

“I do believe, I will believe,
That Jesus died for me.”

     This seems a very poor means of getting the victory, as poor as the barley cake baked on the coals; but God has chosen it, and he will bless it, and it will overthrow the throne of Satan within your heart, and work in you holiness and peace.

     Once again, still in the same vein: let us, dear friends, try continually the power of prayer for the success of the gospel, and the winning of men’s souls. Prayer will do anything— will do everything. It fills the valleys and levels the mountains. By its power men are raised from the door of hell to the gate of heaven. What is to become of London? What is to become of heathen nations? I listen to a number of schemes, very visionary, and very hard to work out. But I put these aside. There remaineth to believers but one scheme: our Lord hath said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” This, therefore, we must do, and at the same time we must cry mightily unto God by prayer that his Holy Spirit may attend the proclamation of the Word. Let us more and more prove the power of prayer, resting assured that the Lord is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or even think. Let each man stand with the flaming torch of truth in his hand, and the trumpet of the gospel at his lips, and so let us compass the army of the aliens. This is our war cry— Christ and him crucified! God forbid that we should know anything else among men, but the death, the blood, the resurrection, the reign, the coming, the glory of Christ. Let us not lose faith in our calling, nor in our God; but rest assured that the Lord reigneth and his cause must triumph. Where sin abounded grace doth much abound. We shall see better and brighter days than these. Grant it, O Lord, for thy Son’s sake. Amen.



Hagar at the Fountain

By / Nov 8

Hagar at the Fountain 

 

“And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi.” — Genesis xvi. 13, 14.

 

You know the story of Hagar. I am not going to deal with the allegorical meaning of it: that would be apart from our subject this morning. I shall speak of the incident simply as it stands, and even then I shall not use it strictly as a case of sure conversion, for I am not certain that it was such. I suppose Hagar to have been an Egyptian woman, probably one of the maid-servants who were given by the King of Egypt to Abram at that unhappy time when Abram’s faith failed him, and he went down into Egypt, and requested Sarai to conceal the fact that she was his wife. Sin, whenever it is committed by the child of God, is sure to involve him in sorrow. In the long run, the result of any false dealing comes home to the believer; and it does so in very unexpected ways. Hagar became the special maid of Sarai. God had promised to Abram that he should have a son, and that thus he should be the father of nations: that blessing did not appear likely to come to him. for there were no children born to Sarai, nor did there seem to be the possibility of any. Husband and wife were both old and well stricken in years. No special mention had been made of Sarai in the promise as it then stood; and therefore it was not clear to Abram but what some other might be the mother of the expected seed; and when, in her unbelief, Sarai proposed that her maid should become his secondary wife, Abram hearkened to her. According to the custom of the times, and of oriental nations, this act was right enough; but as it was not really right in itself, and showed littleness of faith on Abram’s part, sorrow soon came of it. Hagar began to behave herself proudly towards her mistress, and her mistress finding herself despised, complained to Abram, and began also to behave harshly towards her. The wrong clement would not work in Abram’s family; it might do very well for the Canaanites around him; but in a house where God was feared, it was an evil principle, and could not work for peace or holiness. Hagar’s high Egyptian spirit, finding herself likely to be famous in the house, would not brook the rule of her mistress, nor could Sarai, the quiet, but queenly matron, put up with the insults of her slave. The mistress became hard and harsh to her handmaid. Wrought into a frenzy, Hagar flies from the tent, and makes the best of her, way on the road to Egypt, whence she originally came. But what could a lone woman do in her condition, all alone in the wilderness?

     Wearied with her journey, she spies a fountain, and she sits there. It was the likeliest place for any passing traveller to find her, and she sits her down there in her proud despair. Perhaps they will send for her; Abram may repent his yielding to Sarai, and send for her; she will wait there; and if nothing comes to her help, she will die rather than return. She does not appear at that time to have lifted up her heart in prayer to God. She had lived in a godly household; but possibly, as she thought herself ill-treated, she had conceived a dislike towards the God of her mistress; such harsh treatment as she had received was not likely to incline her towards the religion of those from whom she had fled: she was godless and hopeless. Do you not see her crouching at the fountain, half mad with pride and vexation, and at the same time stricken with a sullen despair? She knows not what she is to do, neither does any way of hope open before her. Alas, poor Hagar!

     But although there was no prayer of hers for God to hear, another voice spake in his ear. The angel who suddenly appeared to her said, “The Lord hath heard thy affliction.” That is a very beautiful sentence. Thou hast not prayed: thou hast been wilful, reckless, and at last despairing, and therefore thou hast not cried unto the Lord. But thy deep sorrow has cried to him. Thou art oppressed, and the Lord has undertaken for thee. Thou art suffering heavily, and God, the All-pitiful, has heard thy affliction. Grief has an eloquent voice when mercy is the listener. Woe has a plea which goodness cannot resist. Though sorrow and woe ought to be attended with prayer, yet even when supplication is not offered, the heart of God is moved by misery itself. In Hagar’s case, the Lord heard her affliction: he looked forth from his glory upon that lone Egyptian woman who was in the deepest distress in which a woman could well be placed, and he came speedily to her help.

     We have not much difficulty in deciding who the angel was that appeared to her. We are sure that this Angel of the Lord was that great messenger of the covenant who was afterwards to appear in actual flesh and blood, but who many a time before he was born at Bethlehem anticipated his descent to earth, and visited it in human form. His delights were ever with the sons of men; and so when there was a message to be brought to men, that blessed One, the Second Person of the divine Unity condescended to be the bearer of it. In the present instance I discern foreshadowings of the Son of man; I perceive sure traces of the Christ who in a later age would dwell among mankind. Read a little before the text, and you will find it written, The angel of the Lord “found her”; it is the deed of the good Shepherd to find a lost sheep. I see before me that Son of man who came to seek and to save that which was lost. Surely this is that great Shepherd of the sheep who goeth after his sheep until he find it! He had come far into the waste after her, and he rested not until he found her. Great gladness filled his heart, as when a merchantman findeth a pearl of great price. I see high joy in the countenance of this angel of Jehovah. We read in verse seven, “The angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water.” Significant place! Can you forget how, when that blessed One was here in flesh and blood, he found another woman at the well. “Jesus being wearied, sat thus on the well. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.” Does not this story of Hagar read like a rehearsal of that Samaritan incident? “He found her by a fountain of water.” 

     This fountain is further said to be “in the wilderness.” Note that. Remember those words of his when he actually became incarnate: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it?” Again we read, “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness.” This wonderful appearance of the Christ before he actually assumed our flesh, has a likeness to his actual incarnation of the most delightful kind. Tis he; we are sure it is he. All the tones of the voice and the modes of the speech are his. That this angel of the Lord was God we also know, for our text says, “She called the name of Jehovah that spake unto her, Thou God seest me.” The all-seeing God had veiled himself in that angelic form. That Divine One, whom we adore as the Son of God and the Son of man, condescended to be the messenger of mercy to a poor slave-woman, who had run away from her mistress. None but God would thus have condescended. The world had no pity in those days for slaves of any kind, much less for those who had left their master’s house. Here the Lord of love found a noble opportunity for revealing his gracious nature to a forlorn one. No eye pitied her, and no hand brought her deliverance; “Now will I arise, saith the Lord.” The angel found her, and it is of that finding, and of what came of it, that I am going to speak this morning. May the Holy Spirit cause the word to be with power.

     I. In speaking of Hagar, I shall first dwell for a little upon HER REMARKABLE EXPERIENCE. I pray that to some daughter of sorrow the like experience may come. May your case be mirrored in that of Hagar, as when one seeth his face in a looking-glass.

     Observe that Hagar had outlawed herself. No doubt she had much to put up with; but she had been insolent and provoking to her mistress, and at last she had in her impatience deliberately quitted the house of Abraham, and left the abode of the chosen family. Whatever that house may have been, it was the best place then upon the earth; it was almost the only spot under heaven where the Lord God was known. You might have said of Abraham’s family, “Ye are of God, little children, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” She, an Egyptian, once benighted by the superstitious worship of her country, had enjoyed the light of the knowledge of the true God for a while; and now she had turned her back on it. She could not but have marked Abraham’s high character and sincere devotion. She must have seen his true and real faith in God, and the way in which he endeavoured to order his household aright. Whatever faults she may have perceived there, whatever errors she may have suffered from, she could not but have noticed that there was a great difference between Abraham’s tent and the abodes of Egypt. Now she quits her place of privilege, she renounces the high hopes which surrounded her, and in her fierce passion she rushes she cares not whither. The untamable spirit which afterwards showed itself in her son Ishmael raged in her bosom. So, too, have we met with those who have deliberately left the ways of God and the people of God, and all semblance of goodness, because they have thought themselves badly used. They have happened to suffer somewhat, and in the bitterness of their spirit they have resolved to stand no more of it. They vow that they will have nothing to do with God, or with his people; they will turn their backs upon everything that is religious, and they will mix with the world in its most ungodly form. They do not, indeed, care what becomes of them: they would flee from the presence of God himself if they could. Friends, relatives, good men, and the circle of blessing they would quit, and roam in a wilderness, hoping to be forgotten. Now their hand is against every man, and every man’s hand is against them, and in their high spirit they are prepared to defy the universe to subdue them.

     While she was there, in the moment of her desperation, she was found by the angel. He had come on purpose to seek her out and find her, and he had not failed in his search, as, indeed, he never does. This was the last thing she thought of. She may have hoped to have been found by some merchants going towards Egypt, or to be picked up by certain of the wandering gipsies of the wilderness, but she had not thought that God himself would come after her. What was there about her that Jehovah should come out of his place to seek her? Yet he came in unexpected grace, as he is wont to do. He remembered the low estate of his handmaiden, and because his mercy endureth for ever, he found her by the fountain in the wilderness.

     When the angel of the Lord found Hagar, he dealt graciously with her. Indeed this was the object of his finding her; he came in pity, not in wrath. His first act was to awaken conviction within her. He said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence earnest thou? and whither wilt thou go?” This language is singularly like the Lord Jesus Christ’s mode of address. The name of the person is mentioned. This forcibly brings to my mind the speech of Our Lord when he said unto the woman, “Mary”; and she turned herself, and said unto him, “Rabboni.” He says, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid”: his word is a personal word, and she cannot mistake it. Is not this the Lord’s way in other cases? Has he not said, “I have called thee by thy name”? He adds her description, and reminds her that whatever else she might be, she was “Sarai’s maid.” How surprised she must have been! She had never seen the august personage before, but evidently he had seen her before, and knew all about her, for his words searched her through and through.

     Then, further to bring her to her right senses, the angel asks her, with touching pathos of tone,—“whence camest thou?” What hast thou left behind thee? What hast thou given up? All thy hopes lie in Abraham’s tent, and thou hast left the place. For thee there is a high destiny, and thou art flying from it. Thou art, after all, a favoured woman, and thou knowest it not; thou art flying away from that which will be thy blessedness! This is the question of the Holy Spirit to every runaway rebel. O wandering sinner, what art thou quitting? In fleeing from goodness, and God, and hope, and grace, dost thou know what thou art leaving?

     Again, he asks her, “Whither wilt thou go?” Her crouching form is before him; she lifts up her eyes, all red with tears, and she weeps anew as he says, “And whither wilt thou go?” “Wilt thou go into the wilderness further, and die there of thirst and hunger? Wilt thou go down into Egypt, back to all the cruelties of that benighted land? Whither wilt thou go?” It is thus the Lord meets runaway sinners that are bent upon their own destruction, and he calls to them by name, and says, “Whence earnest thou? What art thou leaving? What art thou losing? What art thou rejecting? What art thou turning thy back upon? And whither wilt thou go? What can be the end of such a life as thine? Whither can it carry thee but to destruction? Whither wilt thou go by this course of desperate sin? Canst thou face the Eternal, and the judgment-seat, and the curse that withers the ungodly? Whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?” It is thus, I say, that the covenant Angel met with many of us, when he aroused our consciences and made us pause in our headlong rush of sin. Some of us heard the warning voice long years ago, and we can never forget it: the call rings in the chambers of our memory even now. It is thus that the Lord met with some of you a short time since; and you are at this moment filled with gratitude for the interposition. I believe that this morning the Lord will thus meet with some who are in this congregation, whom I know not, but whom he knows right well; for his eye is resting on them now, and his voice is speaking to them through my voice. Like as he said of old, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence earnest thou? and whither wilt thou go?” so doth he speak at this hour, and ask you why you are bent upon destroying your own souls.

     This wrought in her mind conviction, after a certain sort; and where the Son of God spiritually speaks to the heart, a deep and piercing conviction is felt: his word lays sin bare and open, and makes the guilty conscience feel that nothing is hidden from God, but that all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. As when the butcher hangs up the body of a beast, and with a stroke lays bare the heart and inwards of the creature, so with a single word the Angel of the covenant reveals the heart of Hagar. Thus also the convincing Spirit deals with the sinner, and lays him bare even to the backbone, till all the secrets of his soul are revealed, and he cries, “Thou God seest me.” The Word of the Lord, by revealing the thoughts and intents of the heart, proves its own divine origin to him who feels its operation, and thus God himself is made known as speaking by the Word.

     When he had thus wrought conviction in her, the angel who had found Hagar next gave her an exhortation. He said to her, “Return unto thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.” A hard message, as it seemed to her in her pride, no doubt. “Return,” however hard the way; “Submit thyself,” however humiliating the deed. Hagar is not spared; the angel puts his words very plainly. If it were kindness to say, “Return,” it is still greater kindness to say severely, but truthfully, “Return to thy mistress.” Mark, not to thy master only, but “to thy mistress.” He says also, “Submit thyself under her hands,” to show that the submission must be entire and absolute. Put thyself back into thy right place, and then grace can deal with thee. When the covenant Angel deals with any man or woman among us, he will say, “Return, return, return. Repent, and be converted. Turn ye; turn ye, why will ye die?” The gospel does not spare the sinner the pangs of repentance. It calls him to sorrow after a godly sort. You must abhor your sin, and flee from it, or your sin will be your ruin. You must so repent of your sin as to make such restitution as may be possible. You must replace stolen goods, and recall false words. You must humble yourself wherein you have been insolent; you must bow yourself down before God, and submit to man also, so far as you have wronged him. God the Holy Spirit, when he deals with a proud, unrighteous heart, lays justice to the line and righteousness to the plummet, and sweeps away as with hail every refuge of lies. He cries, “Return! Submit!” and puts the matter so closely home that there is no misunderstanding it. He bids the man confess, and forsake his sin; and gives him no hope of mercy, unless he will do so. God has not met with you, friend, if you go on in your sin. God in mercy has not met with you if sin remains sweet to you, and repentance is unknown to your heart. You must go back to the place from whence you came, and you must submit yourself, or nothing will go right with you.

     When the angel of the Lord had thus spoken with Hagar, calling her by her name, and working conviction in her heart, and pointing out her duty, he then added rich promises— promises which to her mind must have been very unexpected and consoling. She was a runaway slave girl, but he says to her, “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude, and thou shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael.” That name signifies, “God heareth me,” because the Lord had heard her affliction. The angel went on to tell her what this child should be who would be the joy of her heart. Little does a sinner know what blessings are in store for him, if he repents and submits to the Lord’s will. He is come to the borders of the wilderness of death, but God intends to bring him back to peace, and joy, and happiness. Oh, did the proud sinner know what God’s grace will do for him, he would break his heart to think he had been so rebellious! Oh, did the obstinate know what a place there is at the Father’s board and in the Father’s heart for the returning prodigal, and how much he is still beloved, notwithstanding all his naughtiness, he would quicken his footsteps, and wish to have wings upon his heels, that he might fly back to his Father’s house and his Father’s bosom! O soul, I do pray that Jesus Christ may find thee out this morning, and say to thee, “Return unto me, for I have blotted out thy sins like a cloud, and like a thick cloud thine iniquities. Return unto me, for I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

     So you see, Hagar’s experience was a very remarkable one, although by no means peculiar to herself. Blessed be God, it has happened to tens of thousands, that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. When they have run away, and outlawed themselves, grace has followed them, grace has convicted them, grace has admonished them, and grace has made large promises to them. Their proud heart has yielded, and their spirit has become gentle as that of a little child, as Hagar’s spirit was, and they have returned to the great Father’s house, and submitted themselves, and rich blessings have become theirs. Is it not written, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land”? Though Hagar had banished herself away from the house of divine favour, yet the Lord devised means for restoring her, and she was restored. Thus much on her remarkable experience.

     II. Now, I want you to notice HER DEVOUT ACKNOWLEDGMENT. When that which we have described happened to her, she acknowledged the living God. My text says, “She called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me.” She spake to him that spake to her: after this fashion do we all begin our communion with God. Oh, when God speaks to you, you will soon find a tongue to speak to him. I do not mean when I speak to you in his name; for what am I? You ought to hear us if we truly speak for God, since it is of his kindness that he sends his servants to speak to you: but if the covenant Angel comes himself, and if he speaks to the heart, then he unstops the deaf ear, and looses the dumb tongue. Men soon speak to Christ when Christ speaks to them. Did you but know the power of the Almighty word of grace, you would understand that as darkness gave place to light when he said, “Let there be light,” so do men’s hearts quit their sin when Jesus speaks to them in tones of effectual grace. Hagar knew no speaking to God till God spake with her; but after he had spoken to her there was no silence.   

     What did she say? She acknowledged him to be God. “She called the name of the Lord that spake to her, Thou God seest me.” It is one thing to believe there is a God, but it is quite another thing to know it by coming into personal contact with him. They give you books to prove that there is a God— ail well and good; be convinced by them. They tell you to walk abroad and see God in his works. Do so. You cannot better employ yourselves; for God is everywhere. His breath perfumes the flowers, and his pencil paints them. But you will not learn God in this fashion, if you use this method by itself. To go from nature up to nature’s God is a long step for broken legs: we are so mangled by our fall that we never take that step without divine help. But, oh, if the Lord meets with you! If he reveals his own self to your heart! What assurance! What certainty! Think not I am talking now of things that are not: I speak what I have myself felt. God has met with some of us as surely as ever one spirit has met with another. Men have so spoken to us at times, that we can never forget their speech; but never has human voice come with such force as that of the Lord of hosts, the accents of whose words we shall hear as long as memory holds her place and reason sits on her throne. We may forget the word of father, mother, wife, or friend, but not the voice of the God of love. “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” None doubt the existence of God when God has come into contact with their spirit. When we have felt his power and tasted his love, and known his overwhelming influence, then have we said, “Jehovah, he is the God,” and we have bowed in solemn worship before him. I do not know that Hagar had ever thought of God before; but she discerns him now and speaks wisely. No doubt she had heard of Jehovah, for she had joined in the devotions of Abrahams family; but now for the first time in her life she recognizes in deed and of a truth that the Lord lives for her, and therefore she speaks to him, and calls him, “The God that sees.”

     Observe, dear friends, that she acknowledged his observant love. She could not help acknowledging it, for it flashed before her eyes. I do not think when she said, “Thou God seest me,” that she meant merely that God is omniscient and therefore that he saw her; but she meant this, “Thou seest me, with a special observation. Thou seest me with eyes of tender concern and loving care. Thou knowest me in my adversity.” She felt in her inmost soul that eyes of thoughtful love were fixed on her. “Hagar, Sarai’s maid,” knew that she was specially under watchful care. Those holy eyes had noticed all her sin, which had been brought to her remembrance; those eyes had seen her duty, which she was now willing to resume; those eyes had spied out the promise for her, which promise had brought a warm comfort to her poor, chill spirit. “Oh,” said she, “what a God thou art— the God who sees, who knows, who considers, and thinks of me!” Now she has a God, not in theory, but in fact. You that only know God as one who made the heavens and earth, do not indeed know him at all. He must be personally a God to you, or he will not be your God at all. To us the true God is the God who seeth us. Doth not his law begin, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”? His special care is the mark by which we know him. It was so in Hagar’s case; God’s watchful care towards her made him real to her. She knew that he must be God; she could not doubt it, for she had been so strangely found out by him. In the extremity of her lost estate, when she had gone to the uttermost of sin and sorrow, he had found her out, and so she calls him, “the God that sees me.”

     In the presence of that God she felt overpowered and ready to yield. She was so overwhelmed, that no rebellion remained within her. She girds her garments about her, and she makes the best of her way home to the tent of Sarai. Her mistress is hard; but sin is harder. She will go back and bear the reproach and rebuke, for she has a promise hidden in her heart to sustain her; she shall yet be the glad mother of a father of nations who shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. She returns surrounded with God. Bathed in the sense of the divine oversight, she resigns herself to her work. Though Abram should not encourage her, and Sarai should not acknowledge her, yet the Lord’s eye would be upon her, and God’s favour was preparing great things for her. Her heart was light within her, because of the divine favour, and in that spirit she was subdued unto the will of God. That is what I want to happen to many a poor soul this morning in a still fuller and more spiritual sense. Pray, you people of God, that it may be so. If you are here this morning, Mistress Sarah, let me put in a gentle word for your poor maid. If she does come back to you, do not treat her harshly again; do not drive her away again; but receive the runaway and make the best of her. Let the past be buried. Say, “If an angel has appeared to thee, and taught thee to know the Lord, I will gladly receive thee, and show the kindness of God unto thee.”

     III. Let me now call to your notice THE MANIFEST AMAZEMENT of this woman; for in her glad surprise she uttered a sentence which runs as follows: “Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?” This is a sentence very hard to be understood; not because it is hard to make out a meaning, but because it is so full of meaning. It reads like an oracle. Expositors will tell you that as many senses may be given to this sentence as there are words in it; and each one of these senses will bear a measure of decent defence. I shall not go into them all, but I think I see clearly that she was amazed that God should care for her. “Thou God seest me. Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?” Does he see me? Do I see him? If I had loved God when I was in Sarai’s tent, I could have understood his following me here; if I had sought him when I was with Abram, and had known my master’s God in Canaan, I could have understood that he should remember me now: but I was a wild Egyptian; I would not bow my knee to Jehovah; no, I had no wish nor thought for the living God; yet hath he looked after me, the slave girl, for whom nobody cared! He hath spoken to me concerning things to come.” Brethren, it is a great wonder to me this day that ever my God should think of me. Brothers, sisters, do you not share that feeling, each one for yourself? Do you not say, “Why me, my Lord? Why me”? Sit still in holy wonder, and adore and bless the Lord.

     I think her next amazement was that she should have been such a long time without ever thinking of him who had thought so much of her. She says, “Have I also here looked unto him that seeth me?” “What! Have I been these years with Abraham, and heard about the God who has been looking at me in love, and have I never glanced a thought to him?” Her ungodliness astounds her. Brother, when you are brought to God it will strike you as though a dart went through your flesh, that you should so long have done despite to God and heavenly things. Then will you say, “Have I forgotten Christ? Have I forgotten God? Has he had designs of love to me, and purposes of grace for me, and yet have I rebelled against him? Did he die for me, and did I refuse to live for him? Did he bleed his life away on the cross for me, and have I been all these years thoughtless and careless of him?” It will stagger you; you will feel ready to sink into the dust when you once feel the folly and meanness of your course. You can bluster, you can be proud and careless, when you know not God; but when you once fully meet with him, you will be ready to bite your tongues to think you could have lived so long in ignorance and neglect of your God. Hagar was evidently startled as she remembered that she had never up till that time looked to the observing One.

     But next, she is amazed still more to think that at last she does look unto God. In effect she cries, “What! Has it come to this? Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Is Hagar at last converted? When I had bread to eat I never looked after God, and now that I have come into this wilderness, do I seek and find him? No creature can hear my call, and do I now call upon my Creator? I am alone, alone, alone; there is nothing here but this well, and lo! the angel of Jehovah has found me and spoken with me, and now in this wild place I for the first time look after the Lord who has looked after me. Is this the place, the spot of ground, where I must needs close in with my Maker and know that there is a God, and believe his promise, and begin to live in expectation of its fulfilment?” It might well astound her. Perhaps somebody has come into this service this very day, almost driven to desperation: you have acted so wrongly— I cannot tell how wrongly— and now you are smarting from the consequences of your foolishness. If God is meeting with you this morning you will cry out in astonishment, “What! Have I come hither to find God? Have I come into this miserable condition that I might be driven to look after him? This is surprising grace!” An old man in the country was a gracious father, and brought up his children in the fear of the Lord; but his son while yet a youth must needs see life in London, and therefore he came to the great city, and plunged into all sorts of sin. He cared nothing for the Sabbath, but even felt glad to escape from the weariness of the meeting-house to which he had been taken from his infancy. It was no design of his ever to find God, but God found him in the most unlikely of all the places in the world, namely, in a low play-house. A scene occurred in which a mutinous sailor was to be hanged, and asking for a glass of spirits he was represented as drinking his own health in the words— “Here’s to my immortal soul.” “Immortal soul,” thought the foolish youth, “Immortal soul.” He had almost forgotten that he had an immortal soul. It was a shot fired at the centre of the target: it struck him home; he was ready to drop: he sought the open air and a place wherein to weep. The next Sabbath morning found the young scapegrace at a prayer-meeting, seeking his father’s God, and before long he found peace through the blood of Jesus, and began preaching the gospel which lie had so grievously abused. God knows how to get at the heart of sinners. Remember Colonel Gardiner about to commit a foul offence; he made an assignation, and reached the spot an hour too soon, and while he waited he saw, or thought he saw, his Saviour, and heard a voice accusing him of ingratitude. He fled the place of his temptation, sought for pardon, and became eminent as a saint. What a surprise it must be to rebels to be thus seized in the arms of grace and transformed into friends of the King! I ask God that such a surprise may await some who are here to-day. May you also enquire in amazement, “Have I here also looked after him that seeth me?”

     One other surprise Hagar had, and that was the surprise to think that she was alive. It was the common conviction of that age that no man could see God and live. She knew that she had seen him in angelic form, and she marvelled that she found herself alive and able to look up with hope. The awakened sinner, when he is met with by the God of grace wonders that he has not been cut down as a cumberer of the ground. If the Lord had met with me in a way of vengeance, and caused me to wither away from the root like the fruitless fig-tree, I could not have wondered; but to bless me in infinite compassion is a wonder indeed. If he had sentenced me to depart to the lowest hell I could not have complained; but to meet me in love, to pardon, relieve, and save me— this is a miracle of grace. Does the Lord say, ‘I receive thee to my heart, and I intend to bless thee henceforth and for ever’? Then does he act like a God. Who but he would speak thus? His grace awakens an amazement which is not soon forgotten or easily expressed. The soul cries in surprise and delight—

“Depth of mercy, can there be
 Mercy still reserved for me?
 Can my God his wrath forbear?
 Me, the chief of sinners, spare?
 I have long withstood his grace,
Long provoked him to his face.
 Tell it unto sinners, tell,
 I am, I am out of hell!”

     IV. My time has fled, or I should have asked you to notice HER HUMBLE WORSHIP. Her humble worship was expressed by her using an expressive name for the angel of the Lord. She worshipped God heartily and intelligently, according to her knowledge. She did not use the first word that came to hand, but she spake fitly, thoughtfully, and well. She knew that the Lord was the seeing God, for he had seen her; and so she worshipped him under that title, “Thou God seest me.” We cannot worship “The Unknown God”; at least, such worship lacks eyes and light, and is fitter for owls and bats than for man.

     Yet be it observed that she worshipped beyond her knowledge, according to her apprehension; for she said, “Have I here also looked after him?” as if she knew that she had not fully seen the Lord, but had only looked at him as he retreated from her. Like Moses, in a later day, she had only beheld the back parts of God, the skirts of his garments; his face she had not seen. The Hebrew has that force. Hagar felt there was much more of God than she had seen, and in that belief she worshipped and adored with lowliest reverence.

     Her worship was wonderfully personal. It is not “God sees,” but “Thou God seest me”; and it is not, “Has God looked after his creature?” but “Have I here also looked after him that seeth me?” True religion is always personal, but it becomes wonderfully so when a man is specially arrested by sovereign grace; for then he adores as if he were the only man in the universe, and beholds God as if no other eye throughout all the ages had ever beheld him. Oh, it is wonderful to feel alone with the Lord, while the Lord is searching you through and through.

     Remark again, that her worship proved itself deeply true, for it was followed by immediate practical obedience to the command of the Lord. Obedience is the best of worship. She returned unto her mistress, and was ubject unto her. Oh for grace this morning, if God meets with us, not to tarry a single minute in rebellion, but to return at once to subjection to the Lord! Oh, to cry with Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” and then to live henceforth as in his sight! It were well to keep the finger for ever in the print of the nails, that we might never lose our fellowship with Jesus, nor our joy in the great Father, nor our subjection to the ever-blessed Spirit of all grace.

     V. We will conclude by glancing for an instant at the well which became THE SUGGESTIVE MEMORIAL of this special manifestation and singular experience. That well— we do not know what it had been called before—but that Beer, or well, was henceforth called Beer-lahai-roi, or the well of him that liveth and seeth. Will we not all at this time drink of that well? It was a very happy thought to attach a holy name to a well, so that every traveler might learn of God as he refreshed himself. When a person comes to drink at certain fountains, he reads, “Drink, gentle traveller, drink and pray.” The inscription is most suitable. It is fit that men should pray when they receive so precious a refreshment as pure water. It was specially meet that travellers should henceforth and for ever pray at a spot where the Lord himself had been, and had called to himself a wanderer who had felt compelled to cry, “God lives, and God sees.”  

     Brethren, there is a God, and we know it. He is not an abstraction far away; but he is a reality, and sees and observes, and takes care of men and women. Many of us have proved this to be a fact. Now, next time you eat, worship him that lives and sees; next time you drink, worship him that lives and sees. Let our tables and our wells remind us of him who removes our hunger and quenches our thirst.

     Better still, let this very name of God— “the living and the seeing One” — be as a well of water to you, for the comfort of your hearts. By this may your griefs be assuaged. Mother is dead!” What a loss is the death of a mother to many a girl, and to many a young man! “Mother is dead” is the token of temptation without defence. Such a stay and holdfast mother often is, that when she is gone Satan gets a dire advantage over a young soul. Yet if mother be gone, the Lord lives, and all the gentleness and kindness of a mother are treasured up in him. God lives: think of that, and be comforted. This well is never dry. Your father is dead, or your dear, kind brother is dead, and you are left alone to bear the buffetings of a cruel world. Never mind. Let not your heart fail you. Do not run away. God lives and sees. He in whom is all fatherhood, and all friendship, and all kindness, still stands near you watching for your good. Come and drink at this well. The waters are cool and clear. Drink, and live. Did I hear you cry out in anguish, “Nobody cares for me”? Do you say, “Nobody knows me in this terrible city. Here I am in this great London as much deserted as Robinson Crusoe on his lone island”? I know what you mean. London is worse than a wilderness to many: a man may lay himself down and ide in these streets, and nobody will care for him. The millions will pass him by; not for want of kindness, but from want of thought. There is no such horrible wilderness as a wilderness of men. Yet, take comfort: the living God sees thee! He seeth not as man seeth, with a mere gaze of cold notice; but his heart goes with his eye. You have not prayed yet, but he hears your affliction. Oh, begin to pray, and he will speedily deliver! Spread your case before him, and he will regard your petition. I would encourage you to get alone, if you are in sorrow and sin, and tell it all out before God, and see if he does not deliver you. Some of us have gone to him in plights as terrible as yours, and we have ordered our cases before him, and lie has answered us. We can truly say, “He hath delivered us”; and therefore encourage you to seek his face in like manner. May the Lord bring you to seek him at once, for his great love’s sake, and then to him shall be glory for ever and ever. Amen.



Death and Life: The Wage and the Gift

By / Nov 1

Death and Life: The Wage and the Gift

 

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”— Romans vi. 23.

 

IN the fifth chapter of this Epistle, Paul had shown at considerable length our justification from sin through the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Our apostle goes on to speak of our sanctification in Christ; that as by the righteousness of Christ we have been delivered from the guilt and penalty of sin, so by the power and life of Christ in us we are delivered from the dominion of sin, so as not to live any longer therein. His object is to show that true servants of God cannot live in sin; that by reason of our newness of life in Christ, it is not possible that we should continue to yield our members instruments unto iniquity. We have passed out of the realm of death, we have come into the domain of life; and, therefore, we must act according to that life; and that life being in its essence pure, holy and heavenly, we must proceed from righteousness unto holiness.

     Whilst he is driving at this argument, our apostle incidentally lets fall the text which may be regarded as a Christian proverb, a golden sentence, a divine statement of truth worthy to be written across the sky. As Jesus said of the woman who anointed him to his burial, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached, in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her”; so I may say, “Wheresoever the gospel is preached, there shall this golden sentence, which the apostle has let fall, be repeated as a proof of his clearness in the faith.” Here you have both the essence of the gospel, and a statement of that misery from which the gospel delivers all who believe. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

     First, it will be my painful duty to dwell for a while upon death as the wages of sin; and then, more joyfully, we shall close our morning’s meditation by considering eternal life as the gift of God.

    I. First, DEATH IS THE WAGES OF SIN. The apostle has in his mind’s eye the figure of a soldier receiving his pay. Sin, the captain, pays his hired soldiers a dreadful wage. The original word signifies “rations,” or some translate it "stipend.” It means the payment which soldiers receive, put in the plural as wages, because pay can be given in different forms: soldiers might be paid in meat, or in meal, or in money, or in part by their clothing, or by lands promised when the time of service came to an end. Now that which sin, the grim captain, pays to those who are under him, is comprehended in this terrible term “death.” It is a word as full as it is short. A legion of terrors are found around this “king of terrors.” Death is the rations which sin pays to those who enlist beneath its banner.

     Now “sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of the law of God.” Sin is that evil power which is in the world in rebellion against the good and gracious power of righteousness which sits upon the throne of God. This evil power of unholiness, untruth, sin, contrariety to the mind of God, holds the great mass of our fellow-men beneath its sway at this hour. The rations with which it rewards the most desperate valour of its champions is death.

     To set forth this terrible fact, I shall make a few observations. First, death is the natural result of all sin. When man acts according to God’s order he lives; but when he breaks his Maker’s laws he wrecks himself, and does that which causes death. The Lord warned Adam thus: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Dying does not mean ceasing to exist, for Adam did not cease to exist, nor do those who die. The term “death” conveys to me no such idea as that of ceasing to exist, or how could I understand that word in 1 John iii. 14: “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death”? How could a man abide in annihilation? A grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies; but it does not cease to be; nay, rather, it bringeth forth much fruit. That Adam did die in the day when he ate of that fruit is certain, or else the Lord spake not the truth. His nature was wrecked and ruined by separation from God, and by a fall from that condition which constitutes the true life of man. When any man commits sin, he dies to holiness and purity. No transgression is venial, but every sin is mortal, and gendereth death.

     The further a man goes in lust and iniquity, the more dead he becomes to purity and holiness: he loses the power to appreciate the beauties of virtue, or to be disgusted with the abominations of vice. Our nature at the very outset has lost that delicacy of perception which comes of healthy life; and as men proceed in unchastity, or injustice, or unbelief, or sin of any kind, they enter deeper and deeper into that awful moral death which is the sure wage of sin. You can sin yourself into an utter deadness of conscience, and that is the first wage of your service of sin.

     All desire after God, and all delight in him, die out where sin reigns. Death is the separation of the soul form God. Alas, this death hath passed upon all men. Can two walk together except they be agreed? Man may continue to believe in the existence of God, but for all practical purposes God to him is really non-existent. The fool hath said in his heart, “No God” — he does not desire God; indeed, he wishes there were no God. As for seeking after God, and delighting himself in the Almighty, the sinner knows nothing thereof; his sin has killed him towards all desire for God, or love to him, or delight in him. He is to God dead while he liveth. “To be carnally minded is death.”  

     As there is through sin a death to God, so is there a death to all spiritual things. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The man doth not perceive and discern spiritual things, for he is dead to them. Talk to him of the sorrows of the spiritual life, he has never felt them, and he despises them as mean cant. Speak to him of the joys of the spiritual life, and you will soon discover that you are casting your pearls before swine: he has never sought such joys, he does not believe in them, and he thinks you a fanatic for talking such nonsense. He is as dead to spiritual realities as a mole is blind to astronomy, or a stone is dead to music. To him it is as though there were neither angel, nor spirit, nor God, nor mercy-seat, nor Christ, nor holiness, nor heaven, nor hell. Giving himself up to the dominion of sin, the sinner receives more and more the result of his sin; even as the apostle says, “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” “He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.”  

     Inasmuch as in holy and spiritual things dwells the highest happiness of our manhood, this man becomes an unhappy being; at first by deprivation of the joy which spiritual life brings with it, and afterwards by suffering the inevitable misery of spiritual death. God has justly appointed that if a man will not be conformed to God he shall not taste of happiness; and if a man will follow after that which is evil, that evil shall of necessity bring with it sorrow and unrest: Romans ii. 9. Since sin as naturally brings spiritual death upon men as fire brings burning, death is spoken of as the wages of sin.

     I would observe next, that the killing power of some sins is manifest to all observers; for it operates upon the body and the mind as well as upon the spirit. This spiritual death of which I speak may not strike some of you with fear: you may think it a small matter, though to me I do confess that hell, however painted, is never so terrible a thing as the death which fills it. Some sins are murderous to a degree which is clear to all. For instance, if a man takes to drunkenness, or if he indulges in lasciviousness, it is manifest even to the unspiritual that the wages of sin is death. See how by many diseases and deliriums the drunkard destroys himself: he has only to drink hard enough, and his grave will be digged. The horrors which attend upon the filthy lusts of the flesh I will not dare to mention; but many a body rotting above ground shall be my silent witness. All know, or ought to know, the mischief which is occasioned to men and women by the violation of that law which commands us to be pure. I spoke the other day to an aged brother who feels the result of natural decay, but is in all other respects sound and healthy, and I congratulated him upon retaining so much vigour at such an age. “Yes,” he replied, “I owe it to the grace of God that I never abused myself in my younger days, and hence I have a store of strength in my old age.” How many, on the contrary, feel the sins of their youth in their bone, and in their flesh. We have all known that sins of the flesh kill the flesh; and therefore we may infer that sins of the mind kill the mind. Death in any part of our manhood breeds death to the whole. Death drags man down from the power, beauty, and joy of life to the wretched existence, the feebleness, the abominableness of death. The man is no more a man, but the wreck of a man; and his body is not the house of his soul, but a ruin, in which his poor spirit seeks in vain for comfort. A withered heart, a blinded mind, a blasted being; such is the death which comes of sin. The wage of sin is openly death when it assumes certain forms, and i is always really so, take what form it may.

     Now this tendency is in every case the same, “the wages of sin is death” everywhere to everyone. It is so not only where you can see it operating upon the body, but where you cannot see it. I may perhaps startle you when I say that the wages of sin is death even in the man who has eternal life. Sin has the same deadly character to one as to the other, only an antidote is found. You, my Christian brother, cannot fall into sin without its being poison to you, as well as to anybody else; in fact, to you it is more evidently poison than to those hardened to it. If you sin it destroys your joy, your power in prayer, your confidence towards Cod. If you have spent evenings in frivolity with worldlings, you have felt the deadening influence of their society. What about your prayers at night? You cannot draw nigh unto God. The operation of sin upon your spirit is most injurious to your communion with God. You are like a man who has taken a noxious drug, whose fumes are stupefying the brain, and sending the heart into slumber. If you, being a child of God, fall into any of the sins which so easily beset you, I am sure you will never find that those sins quicken your grace or increase your faith; but on the contrary, they will work you evil, only evil, and that continually. Sin is deadly to any man and every man, whoever he may be; and were it not for the mighty curative operation which the indwelling Spirit of God is always carrying on upon the believer’s nature, not one of us would survive the deadly effects of even those sins of infirmity and ignorance into which we fall. I wonder not that Paul cried aloud, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” If a man takes poison, if it does not absolutely kill him, it injures him, and thus proves its killing tendency. In certain places the air is pestilential, and though a very healthy man may pass through them and seem none the worse, yet this does not disprove the general deadly tendency of the malarious district, nor does it even prove that the healthy person is not secretly but really injured by having been there. Evils caused by sin may be too deep to be at once visible, just as the most serious of diseases have their periods of incubation, during which the person affected has no idea of the ill which is hatching within him. Sin is in itself an unmitigated evil, a root which beareth wormwood. Sin is death. Wonder not therefore that the apostle saith, “the wages of sin is death.” As the sparks fly upward, and as the rain falleth to the ground, so sin leads to death. As the river takes its leap in the thundering cataract, so must the stream of sin create the fall of death.

     Moreover, when we read of anything being a wage, what does it mean? It means that it is a reward for labour. Death is sin's due reward, and it must be paid. A master employs a man, and it is due to that man that he should receive his wages. If his master did not pay him his wages, it would be an act of gross injustice. Now, if sin did not bring upon man death and misery, it would be an injustice. It is necessary for the very standing of the universe that sin should be punished. It must be so. They that sow must reap. The sin which hires you must pay you. Wrong cannot produce right. Iniquity, transgression and sin must, in the nature of things, become darkness, sorrow, misery, death. Every transgression and disobedience must receive its just recompense of reward. There is no use in attempting to alter it so long as God and justice reign: those who do sin’s work must receive sin’s wage, and “the wages of sin is death.”

     Now, observe, that this death, this wage of sin, is in part received by men now as soldiers receive their rations, day by day. It is a terrible thing that they do so receive it. The Scripture saith, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die” — such a life is a continued dying. Again, it is written, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” The wrath of God abideth on him that believeth not on the Son of God; it is there already. I would that men here who are not converted would recollect where they now are— they are “dead in trespasses and sins.” O men, you are not merely sick, but you are “dead in your sins”! You are already dead to the highest spiritual enjoyments, and can never know them except by passing from death unto life. You cannot rejoice in God, you cannot know spiritual truth, you cannot taste of spiritual bliss, for your sin deadens you to these things every day that you live in it To all that which is worthy of a man, to all that which is the true life of manhood, you are dead through sin.

     But then a Roman soldier did not enlist merely for his rations; his chief pay often lay in the share of the booty which he received at the end of the war. He expected to share in his captain’s triumph, and to be a partaker in the spoil. Death is the ultimate wage of sin. The death which is here intended is the eternal loss and wreckage of the soul, the destruction of all about it that is worth having, the drifting of the guilty being for ever upon the full tide of those evil tendencies which caused his sin, and were further increased by sin. When all comes to all, this is where sin will drive you: it will perpetuate itself, and so for ever kill the soul to God, and goodness, and joy and hope. You will enter upon a world in which the highest enjoyments which even God himself can provide for men will be revealed, but they will be hidden from your eyes because you will be utterly incapable of knowing, appreciating, and enjoying them. Being under the ever-growing power of sin, it will become more and more a hopeless thing that you should escape from the death which thus settles down upon you. All the agencies which could have recovered you from the clutch of death have failed to bless you in the life which has come to an end; and now in eternity neither the death of Christ, nor the Holy Ghost, nor the ministry of the word, will ever again operate upon you. Till your last moments you chose sin, and through eternity you will still choose it; for this death is the reward of your sin. Our Lord himself said, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment.” Then you shall come to know to the full what that awful word “death” really means as God intends it. Meanwhile, if you would escape this dreadful doom, read your Bible and see how the result of sin is expounded. As our Saviour taught, that future death includes within itself the fire which never shall be quenched, the worm that never dieth, the outer darkness, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the departure into everlasting fire which begins with a curse from the lip of love. Alienation from God is death, and can never be otherwise. The Holy Ghost, speaking of the ungodly, saith, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” This will be the ultimatum of sin. As surely as rivers run into the sea, so surely must sin run into death; there is no help for it. This hard and impenitent heart heaps up for itself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Sin inevitably pays to all who are its servants the death by which bondage to its power is sealed for ever. O my God, grant us grace to see what a wretched service this is which pays such terrible rations now, and gives such a terrible dividing of the spoil in the end.

     I shall not longer dwell upon it, the subject is so distressing to me; save that I must add a few solemn words. The- misery of the misery of sin is that it is earned. Every pang that shall fall upon the ungodly either in this life or in the life to come will have this for its sting,— that it was duly earned. The sinner may well say, “I worked for this; I laid myself out to earn this; I now feel the misery of what I wilfully did.” Death is the result of being out of gear with God. But the sinner puts himself into that condition. If men in the world to come could say, “This misery of ours has come upon us by an arbitrary arrangement on the part of God, quite apart from its just results,” then they would derive from that fact some kind of comfort to their conscience, some easement of their biting remorse. But when they will be obliged to own that all their woe was their own choice in choosing sin, and is still their own choice in abiding in sin, this will scourge them indeed. Their sin is their hell. The worm which gnaws at the heart of the lost soul is its own wilful hate of God, and love of evil. O lover of sin, you are under the power of this death— this worse than death! You are dead to God, and dead to holiness, and dead to love, and dead to true happiness; and you have brought this death upon yourself, every part and particle of it. You have chosen that which has made you a wreck and a ruin, and that in the teeth of many warnings and admonitions. It must be so, that “the wages of sin is death,” and the terror of that death is that it comes as a wage. Why will you die? Why will you earn death? Why will you choose your own delusions? Have you wickedly determined to prove what outer darkness means? Have you turned your back on God just to see how a man must fare who wars with his Maker? Have not enough dashed themselves to pieces on the rock of sin? Why will you do the same? If you will do so, this shall be the misery of your misery: that you brought it on yourselves, and that you rejected the one remedy provided of the Lord in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.

     Note, next—and I speak with the truest compassion—that it will be the folly of follies to go on working for such a wage. Hitherto they that have worked for sin have found no profit in it. What fruit have you had, any of you, in the things whereof you have cause to be ashamed? Has sin ever brought you any real benefit? Come, now, and let us reason together:— up till now has doing wrong ever worked for your health, or your happiness ? Are you the better for hate, or greed, or lust, or drink? Has sin ever developed your inner self into anything worth calling life? You know it has not. It has rather destroyed you than improved you, and you know it. Why, then, will you go further in sin? Have you not learned enough already of the deadly nature of evil? Why will you press further into this barren region, which will become more and more a howling wilderness to you as you advance into it? Why will you go where it will be more and more difficult to return? Oh, may God’s infinite mercy prevent our being such madmen as to labour in the very fire to earn nothing else but death! God forbid that we should plunge from sin to sin by an inventiveness of rebellion, only to discover more and more what it is to be dead for ever to God, and heaven, and hope, and everything that is to be desired.

     Let me add, it ought to be the grief of griefs to each of us that we have sinned. Oh, misery, to have wrought so long in a service which brings such terrible wages! Though I have known the Lord now those six-and-thirty years, I still regret most deeply every sin that I have ever committed against the perfect law of the Lord. I take it that repentance is not the temporary act of a certain period of time, but it is the spirit of the whole life after conversion. When we know we are forgiven, we repent all the more that ever we loved that sin which is so abominable unto God, and so evil in every way. Evil seems most evil when we have the clearest sense of divine goodness. Its constant wage is death, and only death; and our lamentation is that we harboured this assassin, yea, even became its slave. Let us humble ourselves before God, because we have played the fool exceedingly by sinning against him; we have wounded, injured, and destroyed ourselves, and all for nothing— our only wage being a still deeper destruction.

     Oh you that have never repented, but are still abiding in this spiritual death, how I long that the voice of Jesus may echo in that sepulchre of sin in which you now lie asleep: may it arouse you, and make you dread the death that never dies! Oh that you may turn over, as it were, in your grave, and begin to moan, “O God, deliver me!” If there be such a thought as that in your soul, I shall hope that the Spirit of God has begun to bring life into your spirit. But what an awful thing it is to have spent all these days— and some of you are getting grey— in only doing that which is your undoing, in giving life to that which is your death! The sole wage that some of you have yet earned is death. Is not this a poor reward for all the risk, labour, and perseverance with which you have served sin? God help you to see your folly, and repent of it.

     One thought more ere I leave this point, and that is, it must certainly be a miracle of miracles if any sinner here does not remain for ever beneath the 'power of sin. Sin has this mischief about it, that it strikes a man with spiritual paralysis; and how can such a palsied one ward off a further blow? It makes the man dead; and to what purpose do we appeal to him that is dead? I have tried to describe what a dreadful thing it is to be dead to God, and purity, and happiness; but the dead man does not know or care for these things. Our preaching may well be called foolishness, since it is addressed to ears that cannot, or, rather, will not, hear. What a miracle of miracles it is when the, Divine life comes streaming down into the heart that sin has chilled into death! What a blessedness it is when God interposes and finds a way by which the wage most justly due shall not be paid! It is a necessity, that every transgression should have its recompense; but in the person of the Lord Jesus such an expiation is made, that sin pays its wage of death to him who did not earn it, while those who did earn it go free. O sinner, none can save you but the God who made you! You, as dead in sin, are in such a state that you will rot into corruption, and go on for ever rotting into a yet fouler and filthier corruption throughout the ages; and none can prevent it but Almighty God himself. Only one power is capable of affording you the help you need; and that power worketh through the Lord Jesus, who is at this moment mighty to save. Oh! that the miracle of miracles might be wrought upon you: for if not, there it stands, “The wages of sin is death.” Alas! I fear that sin will pervert even the ministry of the word, and make it a savour of death unto death. This is the first teaching of the text, and I pray the Holy Ghost to impress it on every conscience!

     II. And now I am glad to pass into liberty and joy while I speak on the second subject: ETERNAL LIFE IS THE GIFT OF GOD.

     Note well the change: death is a wage, but life is a gift. Sin brings its natural consequences with it; but eternal life is not the purchase of human merit, but the free gift of the love of God. The abounding goodness of the Most High alone grants life to those who are dead by sin. It is with clear intent to teach us the doctrine of the grace of God that the apostle altered the word here from wages to gift. Naturally he would have said, “The wages of sin is death, but the wages of righteousness is eternal life.” But he wished to show us that life comes upon quite a different principle from that upon which death comes. In salvation all is of free gift: in damnation everything is of justice and desert. When a man is lost, he has earned it; when a man is saved, it is given him.

     Let us notice, first, that eternal life is imparted by grace through faith. When it first enters the soul it comes as God’s free gift. The dead cannot earn life; the very supposition is absurd. Eternal life enjoyed on earth comes to us as a gift. “What!” saith one, “do you mean to say that eternal life comes into the soul here?” I say yes, here, or else never. Eternal life must be our possession now; for if we die without it it will never be our possession in the world to come, which is not the state of probation, but of fixed and settled reward. When the flame of eternal life first drops into a man's heart, it is not as the result of any good works of his which preceded it, for there were none; nor as the result of any feelings of his, for good feelings were not there till the life came. Both good works and good feelings are the fruit of the heavenly life which enters the heart, and makes us conscious of its entrance by working in us repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “Eternal life is the gift of God in Jesus Christ.” By faith we come consciously into Christ. We trust him, we rest upon him, we become one with him, and thus eternal life manifests itself. Has he not said, “I give unto my sheep eternal life”; and again, “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life”? O beloved, you that have been quickened by the Spirit of God, I am sure you trace that first quickening to the grace of God. Whatever your doctrinal views may be, you are all agreed in the experimental acknowledgment that by the grace of God you are what you are. How could you, being dead, give yourself life? How could you, being the slave of sin, set yourself free? But the Lord in mercy visited you as surely as the Lord Jesus Christ visited the tomb of Lazarus; and he spoke with his almighty voice, and bade you come to life, and you arose and came to life at his bidding. You remember well the change that came upon you. If any man here could have been literally dead, and then could have been made to live, what a wonderful experience his would have been! We should go a long way to hear the story of a man who had been dead, and then was made alive again. But I tell you, his experience, if he could tell it, would not be any more wonderful than our experience as quickened from death in sin; for we have suffered the pains that come through the entrance of life into the soul, and we know the joys which afterwards come of it. We have seen the light that life brings to the spiritual eye; we have felt the emotions that life brings to the quickened heart; we have known the joys which life, and only life, can bring to the entire man. We can tell you something about these things; but if you want to know them to the full, you must feel them for yourselves. “Ye must be born again.” We bear our witness that eternal life within our spirit is not of our earning, but the gift of God.

     Beloved, since we received eternal life, we have gone on to grow, and we have made great advances in the divine life; our little trembling faith has now grown to be full assurance; that zeal of ours which burned so low that we hardly dared to attempt anything for Jesus has now flamed up into full consecration, so that we live to his praise. Whence has this growth come? Is it not still a free gift? Have you received an increase of life by the law, or has it come to you as the free gift of God? I know what you will say; and if any of you have so grown in grace that you have become ripe Christians; if any of you have been taught of God so that you can teach others; if any of you have been led by the Holy Spirit so that your sanctification is known unto all men, and you have become saintly men and women; I am sure that your holiness and maturity are still gifts received, and not wages earned. I will put the question to you again: Did this abundant life come to you by the works of the law, or by grace through faith which is in Christ Jesus? Your instantaneous answer is, “It is all of grace, in the latter as well as.in the earlier stages.” Yes, in every degree the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.

     Yes; and when we get to heaven, and the eternal life shall there be developed as a bud opens into a full-blown rose; when our life shall embrace God’s life, and God’s life shall encompass ours; when we shall be abundantly alive to everything that is holy, divine, heavenly, blessed, and eternally glorious; oh, then we shall confess that our life was all of the grace of God, the free gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord ! I am sure that our heavenly education will only make us know more and more fully that while death is the well-earned wages of sin, eternal life is form the beginning to end the gift of infinite grace.

     Beloved, observe gratefully what a wonderful gift this is,— “the gift of God ”— the gift which Jesus bestows upon every believer; for “to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” How express is our Lord’s statement: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him”! What a life this is! It must be of a wonderful sort, because it is called “life” par excellence, emphatically “life,” true life, real life, essential life. This does not mean mere existence, as some vainly talk. There never was a greater blunder than to confound life with existence, or death with non-existence; these are two totally different and distinct ideas. The life of man means the existence of man as he ought to exist— in union with God, and consequently in holiness, purity, health, and happiness. Man, as God intended him to be, is man enjoying life; man, as sin makes him, is man abiding in death. All that man can receive of joy and honour the Lord gives to man to constitute life eternal in the world to come. What a life is this! The life that is imparted to us in regeneration is God’s own life, brought into us by “the living and incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever.” We are akin to God by the new birth, and by loving union with his Son Jesus Christ. What must life mean in God’s sense of it?

     Moreover, we have life eternal, too, never ending. Whatever else may end, this never can. It can neither be killed by temptation, nor destroyed by trial, nor quenched by death, nor worn out by the ages. The gift of the eternal God is eternal life. Those who talk about a man having everlasting life, and losing it, do not know the force of language. If a man has eternal life, it is eternal, and cannot therefore end or be lost. If it be everlasting, it is “everlasting”; to lose it would prove that it was not everlasting. No, if you have eternal life, you can never perish; if God has bestowed it upon you, it will not be recalled, “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” This eternal life is evidently a free gift; for how could any man obtain it in any other way? It is too precious to be bought, too divine to be made by man. If it had to be earned, how could you have earned it? You, I mean, who have already earned death. The wage due to you already was death, and by that wage you were effectually shut out from all possibility of ever earning life. Indeed, the earning of life seems to me to be from the beginning out of the question. It has come to us as a free gift; it could not come in any other way.

     Furthermore, remember that it is life in Jesus; the “through” of our version is “in” in the original. We are in everlasting union with the blessed Person of the Son of God, and therefore we live. To be in Christ is a mystery of bliss. The apostle felt that this was an occasion for again rehearsing our blessed Master’s names and titles of honour— “in Jesus Christ our Lord.” I noted to you on a former occasion how, at certain seasons, the various honours and titles of great men are proclaimed by heralds with becoming state; and so here, to the praise of the Lord Jesus, Paul writes his full degree— “Eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” He writes at large the august name before which every knee shall bow, and he links our life therewith. Here we read the cheering and precious name of Jesus. By that name he is nearest to man; when he was born into our nature he was named Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” The life which comes in connection with him is salvation from sin. In this Saviour is life. The next name is “Christ,” or anointed, by which name he is nearest to God, being sent forth and anointed of God to treat with us on God’s behalf. He is the Lord’s Christ, and our Jesus. Next he is called “Our Lord.” Herein lieth the glory of our anointed Saviour: we through grace becoming servants participate in the life and glory of our Lord. He reigneth as our Lord, and by his reigning power he shows himself to be the Lord and giver of life. “All live unto him.” Our Lord hath life in himself, and breathes it into us. What a life this is,— a life saved from sin, a life anointed of the Holy Ghost, a life in union with him who is Lord of all. This is the life which is peculiarly the gift of God.

     Thus I have set forth this doctrine, and I desire to apply it by adding a little more of practical importance. First, let us come at this time, one and all, and receive this divine life as a gift in Christ Jesus. If any of you have been working for it by going about to establish your own righteousness, I beseech you to end the foolish labour by submitting yourselves to the righteousness of God. If you have been trying to feel so much, or to pray so much, or to mourn so much, forbear from thus offering a price, and come and receive life as a free gift from your God. Pull down the idol of your pride, and humbly sue fur pardoning grace on the plea of mercy. Believe and live. You are not called upon to earn life, but to receive it; receive it as freely as your lungs take in the air you breathe. If you are dead in sin at this moment, yet the gospel of life has come nigh unto you. With that gospel there comes the life-giving wind of the eternal Spirit. He can call you out of your ruin, and wreckage, and death, and make you live. This is his word, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee life.” Will you have it as a gift? If there be any true life in you your answer will be quick and hearty. You will be lost if you do not receive this gift. Your earnings will be paid into your bosom, and dread will be the death which will settle down upon you. The acceptance of a free gift would not be difficult if we were not proud. Accept it— God help you to accept it at once! Even that acceptance will be God’s gift; for the will to live is life; and all true life, from beginning to end, is entirely of the Lord.

     Beloved, have we accepted that free gift of eternal life? Let us abide in it Let us never be tempted to try the law of merit; let us never attempt to live by our earnings. No doubt eternal life is a reward in one sense, but it is always a reward of grace, not a reward of debt. The Lord shall give us a crown of life at last as a reward; but even then we shall confess that he first gave us the work by which the crown was won. The Lord first gives us good works, and then rewards us for them. The labour of love is in itself a gift of love. Grace reigns all along; not only in removing sin, but in working virtue.

     Finally, are we now abiding in eternal life, trusting in the Son of God, and clinging to his skirts? then let us live to his glory. know that because he lives, we shall live also? If so, let us show by our gratitude how greatly we prize this gift. We dwell in a world where death is everywhere manifesting itself in various forms of corruption; therefore let us see from what the Lord has delivered us. Let no man boast in his heart that he is not subject to the vile influences which hold the world in its corruption. Let no pride because of our new life ever cross our spirit. Chase every such thought as that away with detestation. If our life be of grace, there is no room for boasting, but much space for soul-humbling. When you walk the streets, and hear the groans of the dead in the form of oaths and blasphemies, thank the Lord that you have been taught a more living language. Think of drunkenness and lust as the worms that are bred of the putridity of the death which comes of sin. You are disgusted and horrified, my brethren; but these things would have been in you also but for the grace of God. We are like living men shut up in a charnel-house; wherever we turn we see the dreary works of death; but all this should make us grateful to the sacred power which has brought us out of death into spiritual life.

     As for other, let us anxiously ask the question—“Can these dry bones live?” Then let us be obedient to the heavenly vision when the divine word saith to us, “Son of man, prophesy upon these bones.” We must cherish the faith which will enable us to do this. Moreover, a sight of the universal death of unrenewed nature should drive us to prayer, so that we cry, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” This prayer being offered, we should live in hopeful expectancy that the Lord will open the graves of his people, and cause them to come forth and live by his Spirit. Oh for grace to prophesy believingly upon these bones, and say, “O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones, Behold I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.” Beloved, we shall yet see them stand up an exceeding great army, quickened of the Lord our God. He delights to burst the bonds of death. Resurrection is one of his chief glories. He heralds resurrection work with trumpets, and angels, and a glorious high throne, because he delighteth in it. The living Jehovah rejoices to give life, and especially to give it to the dead. Corruption flies before him, grave clothes are rent, and sepulchres are broken open. “I am the resurrection, and the life,” saith Jesus; and so he is even at this hour. O God, save this congregation to the praise of the glory of thy grace, wherein thou hast made us to live, and to be accepted in thy well-beloved Son. Amen and Amen.



Jubilate

By / Oct 25

Jubilate

 

“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him.”— Exodus xv. 1, 2.

 

THIS is the first song unto the Lord which is recorded in holy scripture. In Jacob’s blessing of his children there are verses which may be regarded as songs; but they are mere fragments, and can scarcely be said to be sung unto the Lord. There are other couplets in the Book of Genesis, but this is the first connected song upon record. I should think that Abraham often sang unto the Lord; but we have no record of it. We can hardly doubt but that Isaac had his quiet psalm, as Enoch had, and Noah, and others who called upon the name of the Lord; but none of these hymns are left to us. This is the very first of those sacred songs preserved in Scripture, and in some respects it is first in in merit as well as in time. At any rate, its august occasion lifts it into the highest place among patriotic hymns.

     The song of Moses appears to have been chanted by an exceeding great multitude. Miriam, the prophetess, took her timbrel and led the strain, all the daughters of Israel going forth with her with their timbrels and dances, and the whole multitude of the people taking up the strain. Never had the shores of the Red Sea, or any other sea, heard such a song. There were at least six hundred thousand men, beside women and children. What an assembly! Millions made up that choir! Though their voices were little tuned to music, yet as they lifted them up, each one throwing his whole strength into the strain, it must have sounded like the noise of many waters, especially when they repeated the refrain, “Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.”

     We saw just now, in our reading in the fifteenth chapter of Revelation, that the Song of Moses, the servant of God and of the Lamb, will be sung toward the close of this dispensation, when those who have gotten the victory over the beast and his image shall stand on the sea of glass, having the haps of God. Before the seven last plagues shall be poured out upon the earth, and God shall overthrow the hosts of Antichrist once for all, then shall this song be heard, sung, not by the Israelitish nation, but by that higher Israel who have escaped by the grace of God from the power of the spiritual Pharaoh, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. How sweetly will they together take up the song, “Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously! Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty.”

     It is obvious, then, from the plentiful allusions to this song in holy scripture, that it is full of deep spiritual significance. It teaches us not only to praise God concerning the literal overthrow of Egypt, but to praise him concerning the overthrow of all the powers of evil, and the final deliverance of all the chosen. It is God’s intent that from the day of Moses downward, even to the hour when flames of fire shall lick up the works of men, and the heavens themselves shall be dissolved with fervent heat, that this shall be the song of the chosen people everywhere, “Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.”

     The first verse of this song was quoted by David. I think you will find it in almost the same words three times in the Psalms, but especially in the hundred and eighteenth Psalm you have the exact words, “The Lord is my strength and song; and is become my salvation.” As if the Holy Spirit, when he furnished Isaiah with his noblest minstrelsy, could not excel the earlier strains of Moses, Isaiah himself, in chapter twelve, has the same words: “Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” It is evident that this patriotic song was interwoven with the life of Israel, and that when good and gracious men would express themselves in praise at their very best, they fell back upon this song of Moses, and they sang unto the Lord who had triumphed gloriously. So full of significance then as this song is, there is something for us to learn from it this morning. May God the Holy Ghost, who dictated this song to Moses, now write it afresh upon his people’s hearts! Breathe on us, Holy Spirit, that we also may be filled with the praises of Jehovah.

     First, I shall want you to notice the time for singing this song. The text begins, “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song.” Secondly, I shall want you to observe the tone of this song; it is worthy to be sung in heaven itself. High and lofty indeed it is. And thirdly, we will consider the first clauses of the song itself: “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”

     I. It will be instructive to notice THE TIME OF THE SINGING OF THIS SONG. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: there is a time of the singing of birds, and there is a time for the singing of saints. “Then sang Moses.”

     It was first of all at the moment of realized salvation. “The Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore; and Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses. Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.” There was no singing in Egypt; sighing, and crying, and groaning, and lamentation abounded there, till the Lord said, “I have surely heard the cry of my people.” There was no singing that I know of even at the celebration of the paschal supper, on that dreadful night when they ate the lamb in haste with their loins girded, and their staves in their hands. Its first observance was upon a night almost too solemn for song. I do not read that they sang when they came to Succoth, or reached their first encampment; I doubt not that they sang snatches of songs when they found themselves free from their daily tasks, and from the Egyptian rod. No doubt there were individual songs, but the masses did not unite in concerted music: they were too hurried and too much in fear of pursuit. No poet, as yet, had arisen to write a lyric in which all would join. The hour of their complete deliverance had not yet fully come. They marched on steadily, but they had hardly reached the time for timbrels. When they had crossed the sea, and the waters thereof rolled between them and the house of their bondage, “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.” Their previous lives had been one long-drawn sigh, or one discord of anguish and fear and woe; but when their slavery was altogether a thing of the past, then sang Moses. The depths have covered the Egyptian host; there is not one of them left; “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.”

     You will have noticed, perhaps, in reading the previous chapter, that Moses had said to the people (xiv. 14): “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” But now that God has fought for them, they are not commanded to hold their peace any longer. The battle is fought, and the victory is won, and “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.” How could they help it? Surely “if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”

     What does that teach us, brothers and sisters, but that we cannot sing in the land of bondage while under the dominion of sin and Satan? How shall we sing the Lord’s song in that strange land? We do not even sing in the first moments of our spiritual life, when our question is how to escape destruction through the sprinkling of the blood Nor do we, perhaps, sing in those first hurried steps when we fly from the power of sin and Satan, endeavouring to escape out of bondage. But, oh, when we see that Christ has saved us, when we understand that he that believeth in him hath everlasting life, then we sing! When we learn that “he that believeth is justified from all things from which he could not be justified by the law of Moses,” and hear the Word of the Lord declaring, “To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” then we sing unto the Lord. Who could stop us? It would be unnatural for us to be silent after sin is put away. When we are reconciled to God by the death of his Son the dumb devil is cast out of us. “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.” Our early days, when first we saw how complete was the redemption of Christ, were days of constant praise; and I think to-day if we see afresh how perfect is the righteousness of Christ, how fully accepted is the great atonement, how secure is our standing by virtue of our union with the Son of God, we shall return to our music and make this house resound with grateful psalms. When we doubt our salvation we suspend our singing; but when we realize it, when we get a grip of it, when we see clearly the great work that God has done for us, then we sing unto the Lord who hath for us also triumphed gloriously. I say again, how can we help singing? How can our joy of heart any longer be pent up? It must pour itself forth in floods of harmony, in tunes of realized salvation.

     So is it also in times of distinct consecration. You may not see this at first, but I would remind you that the apostle assures us that all Israel were “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” When Pharaoh and his hosts had been destroyed, Israel stood for the first time, as a nation separated from Egypt. The Red Sea was a most effectual division; Israel became a distinct people, a race redeemed from among men: they would never again feel the yoke of Mizraim, they would not return unto Egypt, nor would Pharaoh again pursue them. They were now a distinct people consecrated unto Jehovah; to them God would reveal himself, and among them he would dwell. That passage through the Red Sea was the type of their death, their burial, and their resurrection to a new life; it was their national baptism unto God: and therefore they sang as it were a new song. Do you wonder that they did so? It is the happiest thing that can ever happen to a mortal man, to be dedicated to God: it is the grandest posture in which a creature can stand, to be fully consecrated to his Creator: it is the sweetest and happiest condition in which a heart can be, when it feels that it is redeemed of the Lord, and henceforth is not its own, but bought with a price. No song among sweet pastorals can exceed in sweetness that heavenly Canticle, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” There is no greater joy than to know that the Lord has chosen us unto himself to be his peculiar heritage. Conscious of redemption by blood and separation unto Jehovah, their God, “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.” Oh you that hope that you are Christians, but have never yet taken the distinct step to avow yourselves to be wholly the Lord’s; oh you that have never come clean away from Egypt, and made the waters to roll between you and a guilty world— you have delayed a joy which I trust you may not longer miss, lest that dreadful text be fulfilled in you, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” “Then,” in the day of realized salvation, “then,” in the day of distinct consecration, they sang this song unto the Lord.

     Brethren, it was also a day of the manifest display of God's power. Our hearts are heavy; at least, mine is so, when God seems to put his right hand into his bosom and not to vindicate his own cause. I am most sad because I see error prevalent everywhere; falsehood reigns, and Jannes and Jambres withstand Moses, and the prince of this world disdainfully demands, “Who is Jehovah?” Plagues many are upon us: the earth swarms with errors as if the dust were turned into lice throughout all the land. Heresies like frogs are croaking everywhere; they have come up into the King’s chambers. The Lord hath sent a thick darkness over all the land, even darkness that may be felt. The people loathe to drink of the waters of our sanctuaries; for a curse is upon them in many a place. Our heart feels bowed down, and we go mourning, and say, “Why hast thou made us to drink the wine of astonishment?” But when we hear of conversions, when we see God blessing the work of the Sabbath-school, when we hear of sinners turning to Christ and seeking mercy, when we notice the children of God diligent in service, when we see the work of the Lord wrought with vigour, then is our heart exceeding glad, and then, like Moses and the children of Israel, we sing unto the Lord. How can we be silent when God's arm is made bare? A revival is our joyous holiday. If we had our choice of all the benedictions that God can give us on earth, it would be to see the church revive, his truth prevail, and his kingdom come. It is not with some of us a matter of indifference whether the truth is preached or error is proclaimed; no, it is our life to see the gospel conquer. Now we live if ye stand fast in the faith; but our spirit distinctly sickens in proportion as the church of God decays; and when the church is strong, and God is with her, then is our heart revived, and our song bursts forth, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he is become my salvation.”

     But this song may be sung at all times throughout the life of faith.

     I want to put it to the people of God here whether it is good to save up our songs for special occasions of great joy, or for times when we have something visible to sing about. Should not the believer sing by faith as well as live by faith? Do you not think that the song of Moses and the children of Israel at the Bed Sea was, after all, a poor affair as far as faith is concerned? The bulk of the Israelites had very little faith indeed; and loud as was the song, there was more noise than faith in it; for within a day or two they began to murmur against God. Sing in fine weather! Any bird can do that. Praising God when all goes well is common-place work. Everybody marks the nightingale above all other birds because she singeth when the other minstrels of the wood are silent and asleep; and thus doth faith praise God under the cloud. Songs in the day are from man, but God himself giveth songs in the night. O come, let us sing unto the Lord under the clouds; let us pour forth his praises in the fires! Let us praise him under depressions; let us magnify him when our heart is heavy. Faith believes in God when there is nothing to support her but the bare promise. That man was highly commended who did not despair of the Roman Republic; let us never despair of the Redeemer’s kingdom. That is the true Christian who can say, when everything grieves him, “Nevertheless, with joy will I draw water out of the wells of salvation; for I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live.” “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” I ask to-day from every heavy heart and every downcast spirit, from every man that contendeth earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and trembles for the ark of the Lord, that in the midst of his trembling and grief, he should burst into song. Rob not God of his glory, but let it be said this day, “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

     Thus we have spoken upon the time for singing. That time is NOW, I think. Let your hearts begin to ring all their bells, and let not their sweet chimes cease for evermore.

     II. Notice, secondly, THE TONE OF THIS SONG. “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord.”

     Note, first, that the tone is enthusiastic. There is not a dull line, there is not a dreary sentence, all through; it is full of force, life, power; it is Luther’s Old Hundredth psalm, and more; it rises to a height of intense enthusiasm which cannot be excelled. The words are, “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously”; and the singers endeavour to sing gloriously, too.

     The tone is also congregational, being intended for every Israelite to join in it. Though Moses began by saying, “I will sing unto the Lord,” yet Miriam concluded with, “Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.” This is a hymn for every child of God, for ail that have come out of Egypt. Should not there be praise from every one of you? You in the back settlements, you that bear the mark of Egypt’s lash, and smart from wounds still unhealed; you that remember well the taskmaster, and the iron furnace; yet sing ye unto the Lord. From Egypt lately come, sing ye unto the Lord! There should be sent up unto God by his church a perfectly unanimous harmony of praise. “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness!” Let all the redeemed of the Lord say so. “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” Let the song be enthusiastic and unanimous.

     Yet please to notice how very distinctly personal it is. It is strikingly so. “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation; he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Do not lose yourself in the throng. It is no egotism to resolve that if nobody else will sing, you will say with David,“I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live.” The fact is, that unanimity cannot become fact if each mind is not active in praise. We cannot have a perfect accord unless each child of God feels that he must make his own distinct music melodious in the ears of the Most High. I tell you, brethren, if you will not praise the Lord this day, I will. Do you not say the same? Does not each brother and sister here say, “If no others feel bound to gratitude, yet I have such reason for thanksgiving that I will praise the Lord while I have any being”? In my case the Lord hath “triumphed gloriously”; and if others will not take him to be their God, yet this God is my God for ever and ever; he shall be my guide even unto death. I like the personality of this song, and would urge you to follow it. Some of you cannot sing unto God because you have no personal enjoyment of grace from him, and do not know God for yourselves. Oh, if this be your case, do not let yon sun go down until you do know this God, and so can offer your own peculiar song to him.  

     Note, again, the tone of this song is exceeding confident. There is not a shadow of doubt in it: it is all the way through most positive in its ascriptions of praise. The lip does not quiver, the mind does not waver. It begins, “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.” It declares a fact, about which there can be no doubt: “the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea”; and it goes on to make statements which are not qualified with hopes, and desires, and “ifs,” and “buts,” but are bold assertions which cannot be challenged. “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he is become my salvation.” That is the kind of singing. I do not mind occasionally singing with Cowper, when he is down in the dumps; for some of his dreary hymns admirably express the experience of the weaker members of the family; but I would not always keep to the minor key. Oh no! let us sing songs of joy and victory. Doubts and fears ill become the children of God. The full assurance of understanding is our privilege and our duty, and why should we not have it? When we come before God, why should we bring him such broken-legged worship? No, let us bring him perfect praises, the firstlings of our bullocks, even as David says, “Then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.” God should be worshipped with the best we have; his mercy is so sure, so true, that he ought to have our fullest faith. Where is room for doubt? Let us sing with confidence unto the Lord.

     And this song is exceeding comprehensive. It sings of what God has done, and then of what God will do in bringing his people into the Promised Land; nor does it finish till it rises to that loftiest strain of all: “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.” I think I hear them repeating that verse again and again: “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever. Hallelujah.” Sing to the Lord, not only of the past, but of the present and the future. Sing of the second coming; sing of the glory to be revealed; sing of high heaven and the city that needs no candle, neither light of the sun; sing of the victories of Christ when the armies of heaven shall ride forth on their white horses, and he shall lead them whose name is written on his vesture and on his thigh— King of kings, and Lord of lords. There is matter enough for eternal music if our hearts are right with God.

     Note, too, all through, that this song is immeasurably joyous. The Israelites were slaves enjoying new liberty; children let out to play. How merrily did they disport themselves! They did not know how to be glad enough. Let us give to God our unlimited joy. David said, “God is my exceeding joy.” I know of no greater word than that word “exceeding”; because, however far you go, if your joy is “exceeding,” it is above the highest; and however brave the description, if your joy be “exceeding,” it surpasses all language. Believers ought to be unutterably happy. Men redeemed with the precious blood of Christ ought habitually to be almost too happy to live: men that are children of God, and heirs of the covenant, and are soon to be where Jesus is in the ineffable splendour of Jehovah’s light, ought to feel their soul overflowing with delight. The pulse of the believer should beat hallelujahs; every heaving of the lungs should raise a Te Deum. Oh, if our minds could but rise into the heavenlies, where we ought to be, we should not only be happy as the days are long, but we should enjoy the days of heaven upon the earth!

     Yet I must say, however enthusiastic that song was, and however full of joy it was, it was only such a song as was due unto the Lord. If those people on that day had sung to the Lord some dull, heavy tune, I think if I had been there I should have said, “Change that note. Rouse ye to ardour! Awake, awake, put on strength.” of the present age are constructed upon the principle of “Let us sing and rattle through the words as hard as we can go.” I like weightier music; moving swiftly, but yet grandly. Such was the song of Moses, full of solemnity, but full of heart; a tune into which every one could throw the full volume of his voice without fear of spoiling the delicacy of tone. But, brethren, the tribes of Israel did not even then praise the Lord half as he should be praised. If all the angels in heaven had left their seats and descended to the Red Sea shore, and if cherubim and seraphim had joined the lofty song, it had not been more than meet for the occasion. So to-day, if we could arouse all on earth, and all in heaven, as well as all that is within us, to bless and magnify the Lord, the song would not be equal to the majesty of the divine goodness; it would be but a faint expression of what God deserveth from each one of us. Therefore, let us sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.

“Sound the loud timbrel o'er Egypt’s dark sea!
 Jehovah has triumph’d, his people are free.
 Sing— for the pride of the tyrant is broken,
 His chariots, his horsemen, all splendid and brave,
 How vain was their boasting! The Lord hath but spoken,
 And chariots and horsemen are sunk in the wave.”

     III. We are to dwell fora few minutes upon THE FIRST CLAUSES OF THIS SONG. “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”

     Notice, the song is all of God; there is not a word about Moses. Read this song through, and neither Moses, nor Aaron, nor Miriam are in it: God is all in all: “I will sing unto Jehovah.” That is blessed praise when self lies with the Egyptians at the bottom of the sea, and when everything that is in us that is commendable is traced to the grace of God, and the Lord is magnified for it. Oh for the glorification of Jesus, and none but Jesus! Brothers, we spoil our music by diverting our thoughts to man. Let us forget men, forget earth, forget time, forget self, forget this mortal life, and only think of our God. The song shall be all for thee, O Lord, for thou art all in all; and if we have one note that is determined to go astray we will this day bind it with cords, even with cords to the horns of thine altar, O Jehovah.

     Observe, the song dwells upon what God has done: “The horse and his rider hath he thrown into-the sea.” There is nothing concerning the deeds of Moses and Aaron, or the pride of Pharaoh, or the craft of Jannes and Jambres. No, the whole is consecrated to the doings of the Lord. Let us trace all the mercies we get to our God, for he hath wrought all our works in us; he hath chosen us, he hath redeemed us, he hath called us, he hath quickened us, he hath preserved us, he hath sanctified us, and he will perfect us in Christ Jesus. The glory is all the Lord’s. Let us sing of what the Lord has done. When you read human history, read it to see the finger of God in it; trace all along through human story the silver line of covenant working; observe how the Lord casts the horse and his rider into the sea when they come out against him or his people.

     The song also declares what the Lord will yet do. It is not about what evil men are doing, or what we are afraid will happen through their malice; but of what the Lord alone will do. He says, “Thou wilt surely bring them in”; he pictures the whole affair finished, and Israel settled in the Promised Land, and this is his song. Come, brethren, let us sing the music of the future, the music of what God will do. Do you believe that the Lord will be defeated in the long run? Do you fear that at the end Jehovah’s everlasting purpose will fail— that Christ will have died in vain? Think you the eternal truth promulgated in this book will be driven out of the earth by modern thought? or that our old Christianity, for which our fathers bled, will become extinct ? By no means. We shall conquer yet in the great name of Jehovah. Therefore let us take heart of hope to ourselves, and sing of what the Lord hath done so often; for again and again, “The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.”

     Take up the first note: “The Lord is my strength” What a noble utterance! Poor Israel had no strength! She had cried out by reason of her sore bondage, making bricks without straw. Poor Israel was weakness itself! but Jehovah drew near in power. The Lord is my strength when I have no strength of my own. By the strength of the Lord, Israel came forth with a high hand and an outstretched arm; Egypt was glad when they departed, and the Egyptians gave them jewels of silver and jewels of gold that they might wish them well in departing; for God had given them honour in the sight of the people. Thus the Lord is our strength when we are at the extremity of weakness.

     The Lord was also Israel’s strength against strength. Pharaoh was exceeding mighty. The kings of the earth trembled at the neighing of his war-horse; the rattling of his chariots made the very heavens to resound; but God was more than a match for him. When strength comes out against God’s people, God meets it with his omnipotence. What is Pharaoh’s strength when matched against Jehovah’s might? A paper pellet thrown against a wall of brass. The enemy said, “I will pursue; I will overtake; I will divide the spoil,” and so on; but Jehovah had only to blow with his wind, and the sea covered them. Thus will the Lord be our strength when the mighty are against us.

     It is well to say, “The Lord is my strength” when we are weak and the enemy is strong; but we must mind that we say the same when we are strong, and our enemies are routed. Suppose Israel had stood on the shore and cried, “The Egyptian power is broken by the sons of Jacob. Israel hath cut Rahab and wounded the dragon.” Suppose the nation had boasted itself, it would have been guilty of a treasonable attempt upon God’s glory. Lo! Israel is strong enough to make the dukes of Edom tremble, and the mighty men of Moab to be afraid; but she must not sing unto her own honour. “Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.” Let this, then, be our song when we are weak, and our song when we are strong: “The Lord is my strength.”  

     Note, the word is not “The Lord gives me strength,” but “The Lord is my strength”! How strong is a believer? I say it with reverence, he is as strong as God— “The Lord is my strength.” God, the infinite Jehovah, in the infinity of his nature, is our strength.  

     The next is, “The Lord is my song” that is to say, the Lord is the giver of our songs; he breathes the music into the hearts of his people; he is the creator of their joy. The Lord is also the subject of their songs: they sing of him and of all that he does on their behalf. The Lord is, moreover, the object of their song: they sing unto the Lord. Their praise is meant for him alone. They do not make melody for human ears, but unto the Lord. “The Lord is my song.” Then I ought always to sing; and if I sing my loudest, I can never reach the height of this great argument, nor come to the end of it. This song never changes. If I live by faith my song is always the same, for “the Lord is my song.” Our song unto God is God himself. He alone can express our intensest joy. O God, thou art my exceeding joy. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, thou art my hymn of everlasting delight.

     “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation.” The Father in his eternal purpose is my salvation; the Son in his complete redemption is my salvation; nay, not in his redemption only, but in his life, his death, his resurrection, his intercession, his second coming, he has become my salvation. And the Holy Ghost indwelling in me, quickening me, instructing me, illuminating me, perfecting me, keeping me— he is become my salvation. Triune God, it is not alone that thou dost save me, but thou art my salvation. I look for nothing but what is in thee, and if thou givest thyself to me, thou hast given me a perfect salvation, salvation from bondage, salvation from worldliness, salvation from death and hell, salvation into light, and liberty, and love, and joy, salvation that shall culminate in eternal glory. A full salvation is God to his people.

     Next “He is my God.” Perhaps this is the most joyous note of all. “He is become my salvation”—this is very sweet: “He is my God”— this is the sweetest of all. “He is my God,” I choose him to be my God, but I choose him of necessity; I can do no other. Who else can be my God? In the Revised Version it is, “This is my God,” and a very proper translation, too; as if Israel saw what God did at the Red Sea, and then exclaimed, “This is my God.” This God of justice, this God of vengeance and power, is my God. Beloved, choose Jehovah to be your God: whom else can you choose? Let your hearts cling to him.

     But then comes the added word, “He is my Father's God” that is to say, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; a God by covenant, the God who has given himself to us by his own purpose and promise, and therefore is our God, not by any right of merit on our behalf, but solely by the gift of his free, rich, covenant grace. Let us praise the triune God of free grace, for he belongs to each one of us. There is nothing in God that is not mine; there is no high and lofty attribute that is not mine; there is no deep and dark decree that is not mine. Thou hast neither cross nor crown, O Jesus, which is not mine. He hath given himself over to us to be our God for ever and ever. Come, let us exult in his name. Have you lost your goods? You have not lost your God. Have you nothing on earth? Yet can you say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” This is a holy portion, a happy portion, a heavenly portion, a sure portion, an endless portion, a portion which makes us feel rich to all the intents of bliss. This God is our God for ever and ever. Let us praise and bless his name.

     Note, once more, that as Moses said, “He is my strength, my song, my salvation, my God,” now he adds, “He is my praise” The text in the Old Version is, “I will prepare him an habitation.” This jars a little on my ear; it rather sinks the majesty of the infinite for Israel to think so soon of Jehovah as One for whom she could prepare a habitation. Building a habitation was rather the idea of David in his hour of decline, than of Israel in the day of her astonishment and victory. The Revised Version of the Old Testament, which is infinitely superior to the Revised Version of the New Testament, renders it: “This is my God: I will praise him.” The fact is, there are two words so nearly alike that it is hard to tell which is correct — “habitation” or “praise.” Some of the oldest versions of all have it, “He is my praise.” I never like meddling with the Old Version, however; so we will take them both, and make sure that we do not miss the meaning. Doth not the Lord inhabit the praises of Israel? We will prepare him a habitation of praise. As soon as Israel had got clear of the Red Sea, clear of Egypt, clear of Pharaoh, by the power of Jehovah, then she said, “I will praise him.” O God, it shall be the business of thy people henceforth to praise thee! We have no bricks to make, but we will praise thee; we have no whips to fear, but we will praise thee freely; we are not slaves now, but we are bound to thee for ever, and we will praise thee. Then the people seem to say, “We will praise the Lord by regular and abiding worship.” Inasmuch as in order to worship, a place is needed, the thought comes up, “We will prepare him an habitation.” We will habitually praise our God for this great deliverance. Let us build our God a house of praises; let us lay the deep foundations in love, set up the pillars with gratitude, and roof in the whole with joyous hallelujahs.

     The thought of care comes before me in the Authorized Version: “I will prepare him an habitation,” as if Israel said, “I will take pains to praise God, I will do it intelligently, and with my best powers; he shall have the best I can give to him. My best is poor compared with his deserts, but the preparation of my heart shall be his; I will lay myself out that everything shall be done decently and in order for the praise of this most High God; I will prepare him an habitation of praise. Does it not look as if Israel said, “The Lord hath come hither to this Red Sea to fight my enemies, and I pray that he may abide with me. I will prepare an habitation that he may remain. Lord, be not as a wayfaring man that tarrieth but for a night: let thy presence be ever with me, and I will praise thee always.” To have abiding fellowship with God is the natural desire of every redeemed soul. O brothers, let us import our own desires into Israel's words. Let us say,

“Come, dearest Lord, descend and dwell
 By faith and love in every breast;
Then shall we know, and taste, and feel
 The joys that cannot be express’d.”

Never leave us, nor even hide thy face from us, O Lord, our God. Dwell in us, that we may dwell in thee. Reside in these bodies, and make them thy temples. Abide with us. Manifest thyself to us as thou dost not to the world.

     The verse closes with, “He is my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” How can we exalt him who is already high above all thought? We cannot make God really greater, but we can make him greater in the estimation of our fellow-men. Let it be the business of our lives to magnify him. Let us tell to our friends that which will make the Lord appear more glorious in their estimation. Let us lay ourselves out, by pen, and tongue, and life, to make our Lord Jesus Christ more honourable among those who surround us. Say, “I must and will exalt him. Perhaps I have groaned too much over my trials; perhaps I have been too depressed and heavy in spirit; but from this day I will exalt my Lord, and sound forth his praises. If he will permit me, I will make the glory of the Lord the one object of my being.” Come, ye young men and maidens, ye old men and fathers, let us praise the Lord on the high-sounding cymbals, and spend the rest of our days in crying, “Sing ye unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.” Amen.



The Sunday-School and the Scriptures

By / Oct 18

The Sunday-School and the Scriptures

 

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”— 2 Timothy iii. 15.

 

How very remarkably the times repeat themselves! As I said just now, in the reading of the chapter, the warning which Paul gave concerning his own times is quite as needful for this present age. Again darkness thickens, and the mists hang heavily around our footsteps. Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, and very many have turned away their ears from the truth to hearken to fables. Nor do we wonder that it is so. History must repeat itself so long as we have the same human nature to deal with, the same sins to ensnare mankind, the same truth to be trifled with, and the same devil to stir men up to the same mischief.

     But, brethren, when the same evils come, we must apply to them the same remedies. When a disease appears which has done deadly mischief in past times, physicians enquire for medicines which on a former occasion curbed the enemy. We are bound to do the same in spiritual matters. We must see what Paul did in his day when the malaria of false doctrine was in the air. It is remarkable how very simple, as a rule, everything is that is really effective. If a discovery is made in science or machinery, it is complicated at first, and that for the very reason that it is imperfect; but all improvements are in the direction of simplicity. It is just the same with spiritual teachings. When we get at reality we cut off superfluity. Let us not talk of inventing wise measures for the present distress in the spiritual world, but let us use the great remedy which was so effectual in Paul’s day. Paul taught young Timothy the gospel himself: he made him not only hear his doctrine, but see his practice. We cannot force truth upon men, but we can make our own teaching clear and decided, and make our lives consistent therewith. Truth and holiness are the surest antidotes to error and unrighteousness. The apostle said to Timothy, “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.”

     He then dwelt upon another potent remedy which had been of great service to the young preacher, namely, the knowing of the holy scriptures from his earliest childhood. This was to young Timothy one of his best safeguards. His early training held him like an anchor, and saved him from the dreadful drift of the age. Happy young man, of whom the apostle could say, “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”!

     Brethren, to be prepared for the coming conflict, we have only to preach the gospel, and to live the gospel; and also to take care that we teach the children the Word of the Lord. This last is specially to be attended to, for it is by the mouth of babes and sucklings that God will still the enemy. It is idle to dream that human learning must be met by human learning, or that Satan must cast out Satan. No. Lift up the brazen serpent wherever the fiery serpents are biting the people and men shall look to it and live. Bring the children out, and hold them up, and turn their little eyes towards the divinely ordained remedy; for still there is life in a look— life as against the varied venoms of the serpent which are now poisoning the blood of men. There is no cure after all for midnight but the rising sun; no hope remains for a dark world but in that light which lighteneth every man. Shine forth, O Sun of Righteousness, and mist, and cloud, and darkness must disappear. Brethren, keep to the apostolic plans, and rest assured of apostolic success. Preach Christ; preach the Word in season and out of season; and teach the children. One of God’s chief methods for preserving his fields from tares, is to sow them early with wheat. Upon that I am going to speak this morning as the Holy Spirit shall help me.

     In tracing the gracious work of God upon the heart of Timothy, and upon others who are favoured as he was, I shall notice that this work commenced with early instruction— “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures”; and secondly, it was quickened and made effectual by saving faith— “The holy scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Then we shall notice that the effect of this early teaching upon Timothy was that it created a solid character, and, furthermore, that it produced great usefulness.

     I. The work of God’s grace in Timothy COMMENCED WITH EARLY INSTRUCTION— “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures.”

     Note the time for instruction. The expression, “from a child,” might be better understood if we read it, “from a very child;” or, as the Revised Version has it, “from a babe.” It does not mean a well-grown child, or youth, but a child just rising out of infancy. From a very child Timothy had known the sacred writings. This expression is, no doubt, used to show that we cannot begin too early to imbue the minds of our children with scriptural knowledge. Babes receive impressions long before we are aware of the fact. During the first months of a child’s life it learns more than we imagine. It soon learns the love of its mother, and its own dependence; and if the mother be wise, it learns the meaning of obedience and the necessity of yielding its will to a higher will. This may be the key-note of its whole future life. If it learn obedience and submission early, it may save a thousand tears from the child’s eyes, and as many from the mothers heart. A special vantage-ground is lost when even babyhood is left uncultured.

     The holy scripture may be learned by children as soon as they are capable of understanding anything. It is a very remarkable fact, which I have heard asserted by many teachers, that children will learn to read cut of the Bible better than from any other book. I scarcely know why: it may, perhaps, be on account of the simplicity of the language; but I believe it is so. A Biblical fact will often be grasped when an incident of common history is forgotten. There is an adaptation in the Bible for human beings of all ages, and therefore it has a fitness for children. We make a mistake when we think that we must begin with something else and lead up to the Scriptures. The Bible is the book for the peep of day. Parts of it are above a child’s mind, for they are above the comprehension of the most advanced among us. There are depths in it wherein leviathan may swim; but there are also brooks in which a lamb may wade. Wise teachers know how to lead their little ones into the green pastures beside the still waters.

     I was noticing, in the life of that man of God whose loss presses very heavily upon many of our hearts, namely, the Earl of Shaftesbury, that his first religious impressions were produced by a humble woman. The impressions which made him Shaftesbury— the man of God, and the friend of man— were received in the nursery. Little Lord Ashley had a godly nurse who spoke to him of the things of God. He tells us that she died before he was seven years of age; clear proof that early in life his heart had been able to receive the seal of the Spirit of God, and to receive it by humble instrumentality. Blessed among women was she whose name we know not, but who wrought incalculable service for God and man by her holy teaching of the chosen child. Young nurses, note this.

     Give us the first seven years of a child, with God’s grace, and we may defy the world, the flesh, and the devil to ruin that immortal soul. Those first years, while yet the clay is soft and plastic, go far to decide the form of the vessel. Do not say that your office, you who teach the young, is in the least degree inferior to ours, whose main business is with older folks. No, you have the first of them, and your impressions, as they come first, will endure last: oh that they may be good, and only good! Among the thoughts that come to an old man before he enters heaven, the most plentiful are those that aforetime visited him when he sat upon his mother’s knee. That which made Dr. Guthrie ask for a “bairn’s hymn” when he was dying is but an instinct of our nature, which leads us to complete the circle by folding together the ends of life. Childlike things are dearest to old age. We shuffle off a portion of the coil that doth surround and hamper us, and go back again to our more natural selves; and therefore the old songs are on our lips, and the old thoughts are in our minds. The teachings of our childhood leave clean cut and sharp impressions upon the mind, which remain after seventy years have passed. Let us see that such impressions are made for the highest ends.

     It is well to note the admirable selection of instructors. We are not at a loss to tell who instructed youthful Timothy. In the first chapter of this epistle Paul says, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” No doubt grandmother Lois and mother Eunice united in teaching the little one. Who should teach the children but the parents? Timothy’s father was a Greek, and probably a heathen, but his child was happy in having a venerable grandmother, so often the dearest of all relatives to a little child. He had also a gracious mother, once a devout Jewess and afterwards also a firmly believing Christian, who made it her daily pleasure to teach her own dear child the Word of the Lord. O dear mothers you have a very sacred trust reposed in you by God! He hath in effect said to you, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” You are called to equip the future man of God, that he may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. If God spares you. you may live to hear that pretty boy speak to thousands, and you will have the sweet reflection in your heart that the quiet teachings of the nursery led the man to love his God and serve him. Those who think that a woman detained at home by her little family is doing nothing, think the reverse of what is true. Scarcely can the godly mother quit her home for a place of worship; but dream not that she is lost to the work of the church; far from it, she is doing the best possible service for her Lord. Mothers, the godly training of your offspring is your first and most pressing duty. Christian women, by teaching children the holy scriptures, are as much fulfilling their part for the Lord, as Moses in judging Israel, or Solomon in building the temple.

     Nowadays, since the world has in it, alas! so few of Christian mothers and grandmothers, the church has thought it wise to supplement the instruction of home by teaching held under her fostering wing. Those children who have no such parents the church takes under her maternal care. I regard this as a very blessed institution. I am thankful for the many of our brothers and sisters who give their Sabbath-days, and many of them a considerable part of their week evenings also, to the teaching of other people’s children, who somehow grow to be very much their own. They endeavour to perform the duties of fathers and mothers, for God’s sake, to those children who are neglected by their own parents; and therein they do well. Let no Christian parents fall into the delusion that the Sunday-school is intended to ease them of their personal duties. The first and most natural condition of things is for Christian parents to train up their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Let holy grandmothers and gracious mothers, with their husbands, see to it that their own boys and girls are well taught in the book of the Lord. Where there are no such Christian parents, it is well and wisely done for godly people to intervene. It is a Christly work when others undertake the duty which the natural doers of it have left undone. The Lord Jesus looks with pleasure upon those who feed his lambs, and nurse his babes; for it is not his will that any of these little ones should perish. Timothy had the great privilege of being taught by those whose natural duty it is; but where that great privilege cannot be enjoyed, let us all, as God shall help us, try to make up to the children the terrible loss which they endure. Come forward, earnest men and women, and sanctify yourselves for this joyful service.

     Note the subject of the instruction, “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures”: he was led to treat the look of God with great reverence. I lay stress upon that word “holy scriptures.” One of the first objects of the Sabbath-school should be to teach the children great reverence for these holy writings, these inspired Scriptures. The Jews esteemed the Old Testament beyond all price; and though unfortunately many of them fell into a superstitious reverence for the letter and lost the spirit of it, yet were they much to be commended for their profound regard to the holy oracles. Especially is this feeling of reverence needed nowadays. I meet with men who hold strange views, but I do not care one-half so much about their views, nor about the strangeness of them, as I do about a certain something which I spy out at the back of this novel thinking. When I find that, if I prove their views to be unscriptural, I have nevertheless proved nothing to them, for they do not care about Scripture, then I have found out a principle far more dangerous than mere doctrinal blundering. This indifference to Scripture is the great curse of the church at this hour. We can be tolerant of divergent opinions, so long as we perceive an honest intent to follow the Statute-book. But if it comes to this, that the Book itself is of small authority to you, then we have no need of further parley: we are in different camps, and the sooner we recognize this, the better for all parties concerned. If we are to have a church of God at all in the land, Scripture must be regarded as holy, and to be had in reverence. This Scripture was given by holy inspiration, and is not the result of dim myths and dubious traditions; neither has it drifted down to us by the survival of the fittest as one of the best of human books. It must be given to our children, and accepted by ourselves, as the infallible revelation of the Most Holy God. Lay much stress upon this; tell your children that the Word of the Lord is a pure Word, as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Let their esteem for the Book of God be carried to the highest point.

     Observe that Timothy was taught, not only to reverence holy things in general, but especially to know the Scriptures. The teaching of his mother and his grandmother was the teaching of holy scripture. Suppose we get the children together on Sabbath days, and then amuse them and make the hours to pass away pleasantly; or instruct them, as we do in the week-days, in the elements of a moral education, what have we done? We have done nothing worthy of the day, or of the church of God. Suppose that we are particularly careful to teach the children the rules and regulations of our own church, and do not take them to the Scriptures; suppose that we bring before them a book which is set up as the standard of our church, but do not dwell upon the Bible— what have we done? The aforesaid standard may or may not be correct, and we may, therefore, have taught our children truth or have taught them error; but if we keep to holy scripture we cannot go aside. With such a standard we know that we are right. This Book is the Word of God, and if we teach it, we teach that which the Lord will accept and bless. O dear teachers— and I speak here to myself also— let our teaching be more and more scriptural! Fret not if our classes forget what we say, but pray them to remember what the Lord says. May divine truths about sin, and righteousness, and judgment to come, be written on their hearts! May revealed truths concerning the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the work of the Holy Ghost never be forgotten by them! May they know the virtue and necessity of the atoning blood of our Lord, the power of his resurrection, and the glory of his second coming! May the doctrines of grace be graven as with a pen of iron upon their minds, and written as with the point of a diamond upon their hearts, never to be erased! Brethren, if we can secure this, we have not lived in vain. The generation now ruling seems bent on departing from the eternal truth of God: but we shall not despair if the gospel be impressed upon the memory of the rising race.

     Once more upon this point: it appears that young Timothy was so taught as a child that the teaching was effectual. “Thou hast known the holy scriptures,” says Paul. It is a good deal to say of a child that he has “known the holy scriptures,” You may say, “I have taught the children the Scriptures,” but that they have known them is quite another thing. Do all of you who are grown up know the Scriptures? I fear that although knowledge in general increases, knowledge of the Scriptures is far too rare. If we were now to hold an examination, I am afraid that some of you would hardly shine in the lists at the end. But here was a little child who knew the holy scriptures: that is to say, he had a remarkable acquaintance with them. Children can get that: it is by no means an impossible attainment. God blessing your efforts, dear friends, your children may know all of Scripture that is necessary to their salvation. They may have as true an idea of sin as their mother has: they may have as clear a view of the atonement as their grandmother can have; they may have as distinct a faith in Jesus as any of us can have. The things that make for our peace require no length of experience to prepare us for receiving them; they are among the simplicities of thought. He may run that readeth them; and a child may read them as soon as he can run. The opinion that children cannot receive the whole truth of the gospel is a great mistake; for their child-condition is a help rather than a hindrance: older folk must become as little children before they can enter the kingdom. Do lay a good groundwork with the children. Let not Sunday-school work be slurred, nor done in a slovenly manner. Let the children know the holy scripture. Let the Scriptures be consulted rather than any human book.

     II. Our second head was to be that this work was QUICKENED BY A SAVING FAITH. The Scriptures do not save, but they are able to make a man wise unto salvation. Children may know the Scriptures, and yet not be children of God. Faith in Jesus Christ is that grace which brings immediate salvation. Many dear children are called of God so early, that they cannot precisely tell when they were converted; but they were converted: they must at some time or other have passed from death to life. You could not have told this morning, by observation, the moment when the sun rose, but it did rise; and there was a time when it was below the horizon, and another time when it had risen above it. The moment, whether we see it or not, in which a child is really saved, is when he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps for years Lois and Eunice had been teaching the Old Testament to Timothy, while they themselves did not know the Lord Jesus; and, if so, they were teaching him the type without the antitype— the riddles without the answers: but it was good teaching for all that, since it was all the truth which they then knew. How much happier, however, is our task, since we are able to teach concerning the Lord Jesus so plainly, having the New Testament to explain the Old! May we not hope that even earlier in life than Timothy, our dear children may catch the thought that Christ Jesus is the sum and substance of holy scripture, and so by faith in him may receive power to become the sons of God? I mention this, simple as it is, because I want all teachers to feel that if their children do not as yet know all the doctrines of the Bible, and if there be certain higher or deeper truths which their minds have not yet grasped, still children are saved as soon as they are wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Faith in the Lord Jesus, as he is set forth in Scripture, will surely save. “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest,” said Philip to the eunuch; and we say the same to every child: thou mayest confess thy faith if thou hast any true faith in Jesus to confess. If thou believest that Jesus is the Christ, and so dost put thy trust in him, thou art as truly saved as though grey hairs adorned thy brow.

     Notice, that by this faith in Christ Jesus we continue and advance in salvation. The moment we believe in Christ we are saved; but we are not at once as wise as we may be, and hope to be. We may be, as it were, saved unintelligently; I mean, of course, comparatively so; but it is desirable that we should be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and so be wise unto salvation. By faith children become little disciples, and by faith they go on to become more proficient. How are we to go on to wisdom? Not by quitting the way of faith, but by keeping to that same faith in Christ Jesus by which we began to learn. In the school of grace faith is the great faculty by which we make advances in wisdom. If by faith thou hast been able to say A and B and C, it must be by faith that thou shalt go on to say D and E and F, until thou shalt come to the end of the alphabet, and be an expert in the Book of Wisdom. If by faith thou canst read in the spelling-book of simple faith, by the same faith in Christ Jesus thou must go on to read in the classics of full assurance, and become a scribe well instructed in the things of the kingdom. Keep therefore close to the practice of faith, from which so many are turning aside. In these times men look to make progress by what they call thought, by which they mean vain imagination and speculation. We cannot advance a step by doubt; our only progress is by faith. There are no such things as “stepping-stones of our dead selves”; unless, indeed, they be stepping-stones down to death and destruction; the only stepping-stones to life and heaven are to be found in the truth of God revealed to our faith. Believe God, and thou hast made progress. So let us pray for our children, that constantly they may know and believe more and more; for the Scripture is able to make them wise unto salvation, but only through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Faith is the result to aim at; faith in the appointed, anointed, and exalted Saviour. This is the anchorage to which we would bring these little ships, for here they will abide in perfect safety.

     Observe, that the text gives us a plain intimation that by faith knowledge is turned into wisdom. Exceedingly practical is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. See it in the text, “From a child thou hast known”; but it is faith, faith alone, that turns that knowledge into wisdom; and thus the holy scriptures are “able to make wise unto salvation.” “Knowledge is power,” but wisdom is the application of that power to practical ends. Knowledge may be bullion, but wisdom is the minted gold, fit for circulation among men. You can give your children knowledge without their having faith; but they must have faith given them of the Holy Ghost before that knowledge can become wisdom. Scriptural knowledge is wisdom when it influences the heart, when it rules the mind, when it affects the daily life, when it sanctifies the spirit, when it renews the will. O teachers, pray for your dear children, that God would give them faith in Christ Jesus, that so the knowledge which you have given them may turn to wisdom! Go as far as you can go with the teaching; but ever cry mightily unto the Lord, that his Holy Spirit may work regeneration, create faith, impart wisdom, and give salvation.

     Learn yet again, that faith finds her wisdom in the use of knowledge conferred by the Scriptures. “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith.” Faith never finds her wisdom in the thoughts of men, nor in pretended revelations; but she resorts to the inspired writings for her guidance. This is the well from which she drinks, the manna on which she feeds. Faith takes the Lord Jesus to be her wisdom. The knowledge of Christ is to her the most excellent of the sciences. She asks only— What is written? and when that question is answered, her difficulties are ended. I know it is not so with this unbelieving age; and this it is which causes me to go mourning and lamenting. Alas for a church which rejects the testimony of the Lord! As for us, we abide by the Word of the Lord, and from it we will not stir an inch.

     See then, my hearers, what is wanted for all of you who are unconverted. The holy scriptures must be made the means of your salvation through faith. Know the Bible, read the Bible, search the Bible; and yet that alone will not save you. What did our Lord himself say? “Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me; and ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” If you come not to Jesus, you will miss eternal life. Searching the Scriptures is able to make you wise unto salvation “through faith which is in Christ Jesus”; but not without that faith. Pray, ye Sunday-school teachers, that ye may see this faith wrought in the children whom you teach. What a blessed ground-work for faith your teaching of the holy scriptures will be; but never mistake it for the building itself, which is of faith alone.

     III. Time fails me; I cannot dwell as I would upon other points; but I beg you to notice, in the third place, that sound instruction in holy scripture, when quickened by a living faith, CREATES A SOLID CHARACTER. The man who from a child has known the holy scriptures, when he obtains faith in Christ will be grounded and settled upon the abiding principles of the unchanging word of God. I wish it were so with the bulk of those who profess and call themselves Christians. In these days we are surrounded by unsettled minds, “ever learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” These are carried about by every wind of doctrine. What numbers of professors I have known who go into one place of worship and hear one form of doctrine and apparently approve it because the preacher is “a clever man!” They hear an opposite teaching, and they are equally at home, because again it is a clever man!” They join with a church, and you ask them, “Do you agree with the views of that community?” They neither know nor care what those views may be; one doctrine is as good as another to them. Their spiritual appetite can enjoy soap as well as butter; they can digest bricks as well as bread. These religious ostriches have a marvellous power of swallowing everything; they have no spiritual discernment, no appreciation of truth. They follow any “clever” person, and in this prove that they are not the sheep of our Lord’s pasture, of whom it is written, “A stranger will they not follow; for they know not the voice of strangers.” We desire to build up a church with those who know what they do know, and can give a reason for what they believe. The true believer’s great reason for his faith is, “It is written.” Christ our Master met the tempter in the wilderness with, “It is written.” Though he was himself inspired, yet his teaching was full of the Old Testament; he was always quoting the words of the inspired Book, and therein setting us an example. If you and I would contend with Satan, and with an evil world, so as to overcome in the conflict, we must take care to take our stand squarely and firmly upon the Scriptures. Let us treat our opponents to volleys of Scripture. Let us fire point-blank with sacred texts. These are arguments which wound and kill. Our own reasonings are mere paper pellets; but scriptural proofs are bullets of steel. Our opponents will find it useless to try to lead us away from the old faith when they perceive that we will not budge an inch from holy scripture. We are bomb-proof when we shelter beneath the Word of the Lord. The cunning craftiness of deceivers is foiled by the clear simplicity of “Thus saith the Lord.”

     Those who know the Scriptures, and so believe in Jesus, are pillared upon a personal acquaintance with the foundations of their faith. “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures they were not treated with an ignorant reverence, but with an intelligent homage. How much I desire that each one of you may be a personal student of the holy scriptures! We need to know' them for ourselves. Personally grasping them as a revelation to himself, the godly man loves them, studies them, feels them, lives upon them, and so knows them. By this means he becomes independent of other men. Paul is to die. Poor Timothy! Yes, it will be “poor Timothy!” if he carries his faith in Paul’s bosom, and has none in his own heart. But Timothy’s Bible is not going to die. Timothy’s knowledge of Scripture is not going to be taken from him; nor is the Holy Spirit about to depart from him. Look at some of our churches: while a well-instructed gospel minister leads the way, the brethren abide in their steadfastness. The good man dies, and where is the church? No doubt, those who are instructed in the Scriptures remain in their places, but the more ignorant are scattered like chaff. There are numbers now in this part of London wandering about, who were once zealous for the faith, but are now almost indifferent to it. I will not mention names, but I could do so readily enough— I mean the names of esteemed brethren who gathered an earnest following about them; but they are gone, and with their going, numbers of their followers have gone, too. I fear there could not have been a sound knowledge of the Word, or these people would have survived the great loss of their teacher. Oh, to have a good personal building up upon the solid Word of God! then you will know what you do know, and you will hold fast to it, and there will be no driving you away from the standards of the faith. I labour for this among you, and I pray that I may not labour in vain.

     The man that has been taught the Scripture from his youth is anchored by the divine influences of that Scripture. It has so operated upon him that he knows for himself its divine power. He knows the difference between truth and error by the effect produced on his heart and life. Without any boasting, he is able to discern between things that differ; because about scriptural truth there is a strange, mysterious unction, which does not attend the teachings of the most learned of men. I cannot explain to you what this unction is, but every child of God knows it. When I read a text of Scripture, even if I do not know it to be a text of Scripture by memory, I perceive its divine origin at once by a mystic influence which it exerts over my heart. The most striking passages of any sermon are texts well placed. A sentence from the mouth of God will have more permanent power over a Christian man, than the best composed of human statements. God’s word is living, and powerful, and has a power to enter the heart beyond that of any other word. The words of the Bible strike and stick, they enter and abide. He that has been taught in Scripture, steeped in Scripture, saturated with Scripture, is conscious of its permeating influence, and it gives him permanence of conviction. Like the crimson dye in cloth, the tint of Scripture is not to be got out of the soul when once fixed there; it is dyed ingrain, it enters into the very nature of the man. Bible truth influences his thoughts, words, and deeds: it is all-pervading; he begins to eat, and drink, and sleep holy scripture. The man’s heart is fixed on God, fixed in the truth, fixed in holy living. He will stand fast, however evil the days. Though all the rest should apostatize, this man cannot; for the divine Word through faith has bound him to the altar of the Lord, and in the truth he must and will both live and die, come what weathers there may.

     Besides, a man that has once been taught in the Scripture, and to whose soul the Spirit has blessed that teaching, has come to yield himself to the supremacy of Scripture, and this must operate to the shaping of his character. I confess that sometimes I come across a text which does not at the first blush agree with other teachings of Scripture which I have already received, and this startles me for the moment. But one thing is settled in my heart, namely, that I will follow the Scripture wherever it leads me, and that I will renounce the most cherished opinion rather than shape a text or alter a syllable of the inspired Book. It is not mine to make God’s Word consistent, but to believe that it is so. When a text stands in the middle of the road I drive no further. The Romans had a god they called “Terminus,” who was the god of landmarks. Holy scripture is my sacred landmark, and I hear a voice which threatens me with a curse if I remove it. Sometimes I say to myself, “I did not think to find this truth to be just so; but as it is so, I must bow. It is rather awkward for my theory, but I must alter my system, for the Scripture cannot be broken.” “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” We want our children to have this deep reverence for Scripture, even as we have it ourselves. There it stands: the eternal pen has written it: we accept it. If God has said it, we have no desire to question it, lest the Scripture should say to us, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” We must bow before the infallibility of the Holy Ghost, and say, “Lord, teach me what this means. What I know not, teach thou me.” He who goes through the world with an intense reverence for Scripture will be a man indeed. The Lord will make good in him that word— “Them that honour me I will honour.” Angels and men ere long reverence the man who reverences the word of God. Feed your mind on the pulse of Scripture, and, like Daniel and his comrades, your countenance shall appear fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children who eat the portion of the king’s meat from the philosophic tables of the world.

     While on this point I would also say, that this kind of instruction will hold a man fast against the differing seductions of the age. Here I go into one place of worship, and I see a pretty little dolls’-house at the further end, and people are bowing down before some paper flowers and candlesticks. Around the building I see pictures of virgins and saints; but he who has read his Bible enters not into this modern idolatry. A priest once said to a poor Irishman, “There will be no good come of your reading the Bible.” “Why,” replied the man, “it is written, ‘Search the Scriptures.’ Please, your Reverence, I was just reading ‘Ye shall read it to your children/ and the priests have no children: how can you account for that?” “Ah!” replied the priest, “the like of you cannot understand the book.” “Well,” said the man, “if I cannot understand it, it will do me no harm; and if I can understand it, it will do me great good.” Just so: the Bible is a very dangerous book to superstition, but to nothing else. Spread it, then, to the winds of heaven; and read it, every one of you. To the law and to the testimony; if we speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in us. He that holds to the Bible will be equally free from the dangers of rationalism which are now so abundant; and he will keep himself clean from the ravings of anarchy which now sound like the cries of dragons from the dark places of the earth. People are beginning to forget the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” and they are planning various methods of political thievery, by which the foundations of society will be shaken. Love of holy scripture will be the sheet-anchor of the State as well as of the Church. If men are thoroughly grounded in holy scripture, we shall undergo political changes with great advantage; but if not, there is mischief brewing. That book is the corner-stone of our future hope.

     IV. Now, lastly. As this early teaching creates a fine solid character, so will it PRODUCE GREAT USEFULNESS. I will say nothing more than just this. Thus Timothy became above all others a choice companion for Paul, one upon whom Paul looked with love, and remembered with joy. Companions for apostles are only to be produced in the school of holy scripture. Those who have communed with Moses, and David, and the prophets, are fit to associate with an apostle. It is something to produce out of a child a comrade for a veteran servant of the living God. Let a man of God get side by side with a youth who knows the Scriptures, and he feels, “This is fit company for me.” Paul, worn with years of persecution, strokes his grey beard, and his eyes light up with joy as he looks on that young Timothy! What is there about him more than about any other? Why, only that he knows the Scriptures, and they have made him wise unto salvation. There were, no doubt, fine young fellows to be found who gloried in preferring the advanced thought of philosophers to the stereotyped teachings of holy scripture; but had they begun to talk to the apostle upon their new theories, Paul would have dismissed them with words of warning. He knew nothing of them or of their “other gospel,” except that they troubled him and the churches. Without a scriptural training a convert has no grit, no backbone, and no soul in him. But when Paul looked on a gracious youth who knew the Scriptures, and held fast to them, he thanked God, and took courage.

     This young man became a minister and an evangelist. He was a preacher of such a sort that we should have been glad to have heard him. God send us many such! Perhaps we might have said, “The young man’s opinions were rather crude, and his expressions were somewhat rough; but we can put up with that from so young a man. On the other hand, what a richness of Scripture there was in him! What depth of thought! Did you not notice he had not got through a dozen sentences before he had quoted a Scripture? and when he came to prove his point he did not give half-a-dozen rationalistic arguments, but he brought out a single word from the Lord, and the point was settled.” You must agree with a man who is at home with his Bible. This is the kind of preacher that we need more of. Instruct your children well, beloved teachers, that they also may become scriptural teachers in due time.

     Timothy became, also, a great champion for the faith. He came forward, and in the midst of all those who were preaching false doctrine he stood firm to the end; steadfast, unmovable, courageous, because as a child he had known the Scriptures. O teachers, see what you may do! In your schools sit our future Evangelists. In that infant class sits an apostle to some distant land. There may come under your training hand, my sister, a future father in Israel. There shall come under your teaching, my brother, those that are to bear the banners of the Lord in the thick of the fray. The ages look to you each time your class assembles. Oh, that God may help you to do your part well! We pray with one heart and one soul that the Lord Jesus Christ may be with our Sunday-schools from this day and till he cometh. Amen and Amen.



The Nobleman’s Faith

By / Oct 11

The Nobleman's Faith 

 

“There was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. And as ho was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.”— John iv. 46— 53.

 

THIS narrative illustrates the rise and progress of faith in the soul. While I try to speak of it, I pray that we may experimentally follow the track, desiring that such faith may have a rise in our hearts, may make progress in our spirits, and may become even stronger in us than it was in this nobleman. The point, my brethren, is not to hear about these things only, but to have them repeated in your own soul. We want to come to real business, and to make the things of God matters of downright fact to ourselves: not only to hear about this nobleman from Capernaum, or anybody else, but to see in our own souls the same work of grace as was wrought in them. The same living Christ is here, and his help we as greatly need as ever did this nobleman. May we seek it ns he sought it, and find it as he found it! Thus will the Holy Spirit, who inspired the narrative before us, be found writing it over again, not upon the pages of a book, but upon the fleshy tablets of our hearts.

     Observe then, at the commencement, that trouble first of all led this courtly personage to Jesus. Had he been without trial, he might have lived forgetful of his God and Saviour; but sorrow came to his house, and it was God’s angel in disguise. It may be, dear friend, that you are in trouble this morning; and, if so, I pray that affliction may be the black horse upon which mercy shall ride to your door. It is a sad, sad thing with some men that, the better the Lord deals with them in providence, the worse return they make. On the other hand, there are hearts that turn to the Lord when he smites them. When they drift into deep waters, when they can scarcely find bread to eat, when sickness attacks their bodies, and especially when their children are smitten, then they begin to think of God, and better things. Blessed is the discipline of the great Father in such a case. It is well for the troubled if their tribulation bruises their heart to repentance, and repentance leads them to seek and find pardon.

     The particular form of trial which visited this nobleman was the sick ness of his child. A little son he had, whom he dearly loved, and he was down with a deadly fever. The father appears to have been a naturally kind and affectionate person. His servants evidently took a great interest in him, and in the domestic affliction which grieved him; for you observe with what eagerness they came to meet him, to tell him of the recovery of his child. The father’s heart was sadly wounded because his dear boy was at the point of death. No doubt he had tried all the remedies known to the times, had sent for every physician that could be found within miles of Capernaum; and now, having heard of one Jesus of Nazareth, who at Cana had turned water into wine, and at Jerusalem had done many mighty works, he resorts to him with eager petition and desperate hope. He might never have thought of seeking Jesus if it had not been for that dear dying boy. How often does it happen that children, though they are not angels, yet are used to do better work than angels could accomplish; for they sweetly lead their parents to God and heaven! They twine themselves about our hearts, and then, if we see them sicken, and mark their pains, our sympathetic hearts are wrung with anguish, and we cry, “O God, spare my child! Lord, have mercy upon my little one!” The first prayers that come from many hearts are, under God, fetched forth by grief for little ones most dearly loved. Is it not written, “And a little child shall lead them”? It was so with this man; he was brought to Jesus by trouble; brought to Jesus by anxiety about a child. I have it strongly upon me at this moment that I am speaking to certain persons who are not converted, but they have come hither because they are in great sorrow: possibly a dear little one is pining away, and their hearts are crying to God that, if possible, the precious life may be spared. In the house of prayer they feel somewhat comforted; but their hearts are ready to break because of the loss they so much dread. How much I pray our Lord to make this trouble a means of grace!

     Trial was the occasion, the preface to the work of divine grace. We will now proceed to look upon the saving part of it, namely, the faith which was born in this nobleman’s heart. We will first spy out the spark of faith; then the smouldering fire of faith— much heaped over and damped, so as to be rather smoke than fire. Then, thirdly, we will look upon the flame of faith, or faith at length showing itself decidedly; and fourthly, the conflagration of faith, when faith at last blazed up in the man, fired his whole nature, and spread to his whole house— “And himself believed, and his whole house.” Again, I say, let us try to follow in fact as well as in meditation.

     I. I want you carefully to mark THE SPARK OF FAITH, all the while saying— I am going to look and see if I have such a spark of faith; and if I find it, I will prize it much, and pray the Holy Spirit to breathe softly upon it, that it may rise to something more permanent and powerful.

     The faith of this nobleman rested, at the first, entirely upon the report of others. He lived at Capernaum, down there by the sea; and amongst the newsmongers it was common talk that there had arisen a great prophet who was working great wonders. He himself had never seen Jesus, nor heard him speak; but he believed the report of others; and he was right in doing so, for they were credible persons. No doubt many are in the early stages of faith: they have heard friends say that the Lord Jesus receiveth sinners; that he puts away sin; that he calms the conscience; that he changes the nature; that he hears prayer; that he sustains his people under trouble: these things they have heard from persons of good repute, whom they esteem, and therefore they believe them. Friend, are you saying to yourself, “I have no doubt it is all true; I wonder whether it ever would be true to me. I am in trouble this morning: will the Lord Jesus help me? I have a present pressure upon my spirit: will prayer to him relieve me?” You cannot say that you know, from anything you have ever seen of him, that Jesus would thus bless you; but you infer that he will do so from what friends have told you. Well, faith often begins in that way. Men believe the report which is brought to them by well-known persons who have experienced the power of divine love, and thus at first, like the Samaritans, they believe because of the woman’s report. In future time, they will come to believe because of having heard, and seen, and tasted, and handled, for themselves: but the beginning is good. This faith which comes of a report by others is a spark of true fire. Take care of it. May God grant you grace so to pray about it, that that spark may increase into a flame!

     Observe that this faith was such a little faith that it only concerned the healing of the sick child. The nobleman did not know that he needed healing in his own heart; he did not perceive his own ignorance of Jesus, and his own blindness to the Messiah; he did not perhaps know that he needed to be born again; neither did he understand that the Saviour could give him spiritual life and light. He had little knowledge of the Saviour’s spiritual power, and thus his faith had a very narrow range. What he did believe was that the Lord Jesus, if he would come to his house, could prevent his child from dying of the fever. He had reached as far as that; and such faith as he had, he turned to practical use at once. Friend, you do not as yet know how great my Lord is, and what wonderful things he doeth for those who put their trust in him; but you are saying, “Surely he could help me this morning in my present trial, and deliver me out of my present difficulty.” So far, so good. Use what faith you have. Bring before the Lord the trial of the hour. Let me encourage you to do so. If you cannot come to him for heavenly things, you may, for the present, begin with the sorrows and trials of earth: if you cannot come to him for an eternal blessing, you may come to him for a passing favour, and he is ready to hear you. Though your prayer should only be about worldly things, and be nothing more than a merely natural prayer, yet pray it; for “He heareth the young ravens when they cry,” and I am sure they do not pray spiritual prayers. All that ravens can ask for will be for worms and flies, and yet he hears them, and feeds them; and you, a man, though you may but pray at this time for a very commonplace mercy, one of the slighter blessings, yet you may pray with confidence if you have any faith in the gracious Lord. Though that faith will be only a spark, and nothing more, I would not blow it out; nor will the Lord Jesus do so, for he hath said that a smoking flax he will not quench. If you have any desire towards him, and any degree of faith in him, let it live, and lead you to the dear Master’s feet.

     The nobleman’s faith was so feeble that he limited the power of Jesus to his local presence. Hence his prayer was, “Sir, come down ere my child die.” If he could but induce the Lord Jesus to enter the room where the sick child lay, he believed that he would speak to the fever, and the fever would be allayed; but he had no idea that the Lord Jesus Christ could work at the distance of twenty-five miles: he had no notion that the word of the Lord could operate apart from his presence. Still, it was better to have that limited faith than to have none at all. You, children of God, when you get limiting the Holy One of Israel, are guilty of gross sin; but if those who are seeking the Lord, through ignorance and weakness of faith, are found limiting him, it is far more excusable in them. The Lord Jesus treats it graciously, and removes it by a gentle rebuke. It is not the same thing for a beginner to be weak of faith as for you, who have enjoyed long experience of God’s goodness, to fall into mistrust of him. Therefore I say to you, in whom the Lord is beginning to work, if you have no more faith than just to say, “The Lord Jesus could heal me if he were here: the Lord would help me, and answer my cry, if he were here”— it is better to have such a faith than to be unbelieving. Your narrow faith limits him exceedingly, and shuts him up in a very close place; and therefore you may not expect him to do many mighty works for you: and yet up to the measure of your faith he will go with you and bless you. As a matter of unpromised sovereign grace, he may even do exceeding abundantly above what you ask or even think. Therefore I would treat your faith like a little babe: I would nurse it until it can stand alone, and hold out my finger to help it till its tottering steps become firm. We will not blame the babe because it cannot run or leap, but we will cherish it, and urge it to greater strength; to which strength it will come in due time. Our Lord Jesus Christ deserves the largest faith from each one of us. Grieve him not by suspicions of his ability. Give him what faith you have, and ask for more.

     His faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, though it was only a spark, yet influenced this nobleman. It led him to take a considerable journey to find our Lord. From Capernaum he went up the hills to Cana, that he might plead with Jesus. And he went personally. This is the more remarkable because he was a man of rank and position. I do not know whether he was Chuza, Herod’s steward. I should not wonder if he was, because we do not hear of any other noble family being on the side of Christ; but we do hear of the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, as amongst those that ministered to our Lord of their substance. We hear also of Manaen, foster-brother to Herod. It may have been one of these; we do not know: but noblemen were scarce birds in the church in those days; as, indeed, they are now. We naturally expect, therefore, to hear of such a person as this again; and as we have honourable mention of those two, we are not very rash in conjecturing that this nobleman may have been one of them. Now noblemen do not, as a rule, think of taking journeys themselves while they have so many servants at their disposal; but this nobleman came himself to Christ, and personally besought him that he would come and heal his son. If your faith is weak in some respects, and yet strong enough in others to drive you personally to Christ, personally to pray to him, it is faith of an acceptable order. If it leads you to pray to our Lord with all your heart, beseeching him, then your faith is of the right sort. If it leads you to beseech Christ to have mercy upon you, it is the faith which saves the soul. It may be little as a grain of mustard-seed, but its importunity shows that there is pungency in it— it is true mustard. Dear sir, are you beginning to pray at this time because of sorrow? In the silence of your soul are you crying, “O God, save me to-day! I have come up to London to see other things, and I have dropped in here this morning; oh, that this may be the day in which I shall be helped out of my trouble, and myself be saved”? If your faith brings you to prayer, it is the acknowledged child of grace; for true-born faith always cries. If your faith helps you to lay hold of Jesus with a resolute grip, saying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me,” it may be little faith, but it is true faith. It is wrought in your soul by the Spirit of God, and it will bring a blessing with it. You shall be saved by this faith, to our Lord’s glory, and to your own comfort.

     I notice that this man’s faith taught him how to fray in the right style. Notice the argument he used; he besought him that he would come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. He urged no merit, but pleaded the misery of the case. He did not plead that the boy was of noble birth— that would have been very bad pleading with Jesus; nor did he urge that he was a lovely child— that would have been a sorry argument; but he pleaded that he was at the point of death. His extremity was his reason for urgency: the child was at death’s door; therefore his father begs that mercy’s door may open. When you, my friend, are taught by grace to pray aright, you will urge those facts which reveal your own danger and distress, and not those which would make you appear rich and righteous. Remember how David prayed. “Lord,” he said, “pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.” That is evangelical pleading. Most men would have said, “Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it was excusable, and by no means reached to the heinousness of my fellow-men.” David knew better. His cry is, “Pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.” Plead with God, poor sinner, the greatness of your necessity, the direness of your need; say that you are at the point of death, say that the matter about which you plead is a matter of life and death: this will be an argument calculated to move the heart of infinite compassion. Any tint of goodness that your pride would tempt you to throw into the picture would spoil it: lay on the black colours thick and three-fold. Plead with God for his mercy’s sake, for mercy is the only attribute which you can hopefully address while you are a sinner unforgiven. You cannot ask the Lord to bless you because of any desert or merit you have, for you have no trace of any such thing; but you will be wise to plead your necessities. Cry, “O God, have mercy upon me, for I need mercy!” State your child’s case, and say, “For he is at the point of death.” This is the key which opens the door of mercy.

     Do you follow me, dear hearers, you that are not yet converted? Is there, at any rate, in you some desire to come to the Lord Jesus Christ, though it be only because a temporal trouble is pressing you sorely? A horse does not want a dozen spurs to make it run. The one which now wounds your flank is sharp enough, and it is plunged in so deep that you must feel it. Yield to it, lest there should be need of whip as well as spur to make you stir. If you are the Lord’s chosen, you will have to come, and the more readily you do so the better will it be for you. Come at once. Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding; but come to Jesus while he gently draws. Though it be with such a feeble faith that you fear it is rather unbelief than faith, yet draw nigh to him. Come just as you are, and look up to Jesus, and pray; for in that prayer shall lie the hope, nay, the certainty of relief. The great heart of Jesus will feel your prayer, and say, “Go in peace.”

     II. Thus have we seen faith in the spark: we will now look at THE FIRE OF FAITH, struggling to maintain itself, and gradually increasing. Let us see how the fire smoulders, and the heap begins to smoke, and thus betrays the inner fire.

     This man’s faith was true as far as it went. That is a great thing to say. He stood before the Saviour resolved not to go away from him; his only hope for his child’s life was in this great Prophet of Nazareth, and therefore he did not intend to leave him till his request was granted. He does not at first get the answer that he wants, but he perseveres, and pleads on. This showed that his faith had heart and vitality in it. It was no whim, nor sudden impulse, but a real persuasion of the power of Jesus to heal. What a mercy to be delivered from all sham faith! Better to have little faith, and that faith real, than to possess a great creed, and give the Lord Jesus no hearty credit. Tell me, my hearer, have you any real practical faith in the Lord Jesus?

     His faith was true as far as it went: but it was hindered by a desire for signs and wonders. Our Lord therefore gently chided him, saying, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” Now I know that many of you believe that the Lord Jesus can save, but you have fixed in your mind the way in which he must do it. You have been reading certain religious biographies, and you find that such a man was driven to despair, had horrible thoughts, and so on: therefore you settle it in your minds that you must have similar horrors, or you will be lost. You lay it down as a programme that you must be saved in that way, or not at all. Is this right? Is this wise? Do you mean to dictate to the Lord?

     Perhaps you have read or heard that certain eminent persons were converted through singular dreams, or by remarkable movements of providence, and you say to yourself, “Something equally singular must happen to me, or I will not believe in the Lord Jesus.” In this you err like the nobleman. He expected the Saviour to come down to the house, and perform some act peculiar to his prophetic office. In fact, this nobleman is the New Testament reproduction of Naaman in the Old Testament. You remember how Naaman said, “Behold, I thought, he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.” Naaman had planned it all in his own mind, and had no doubt arranged a very proper and artistic performance; and, therefore, when the prophet simply said, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times,” he could not receive so simple and bald a gospel: it was too common-place, too free from ritual. Many persons, by their mental prejudices, would bind down the Lord of mercy to such and such a way of saving them; but our Lord will not be thus laid under constraint; why should he? He will save whom he wills, and he will save as he wills. His gospel is not, “Suffer so much horror and despair, and live”; but, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” He comes to many, and calls them effectually, by the soft whispers of his love: they do but trust him, and they enter into immediate rest. With little striking feeling, either horrible, or ecstatic, they quietly exercise a childlike confidence in their crucified Lord, and they find eternal life. Why should it not be so with you? Why should you keep yourself out of comfort by laying down a programme, and demanding that the free Spirit should pay attention to it? Let him save you as he wills. Away with foolish prejudices!

     Yet this is to be said of the nobleman’s faith: it could endure a rebuff. Think of the Master only saying to this poor anguished father, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” It was sadly true, but it sounded honestly sharp. Oh, the dear lips of Jesus; they are always like lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh! Myrrh, you know, is bitter to the taste, and there was a seeming bitterness about this speech to the nobleman; yet the father did not give up his suit, and turn on his heel, and say, “He treats me hardly.” He said within himself, “to whom should I go?” and therefore he went not away. He was like that woman for whom the Lord’s lips dropped a far more pungent morsel of myrrh, as he said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” Yet she found a sweet smell in that myrrh, and perfumed her prayer with it as she said, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fail from their masters’ table.” This man answered our Lord by still greater importunity. He would not go away; not he. Oh, dear heart, may you have such faith in Christ that, though he should rebuke you, you will not leave him! Jesus is your only hope; therefore do not turn away from him. Imitate Bunyan when lie spake words to this effect:— “I was driven to such straits that I must of necessity go to Jesus; and if he had met me with a drawn sword in his hand, I would sooner have thrown myself upon the edge of his sword than have gone away from him; for I knew him to be my last hope.” O soul, cling to thy Lord, come what may!

     Then see how passionately this man pleaded. He cried, “Sir, come down ere my child die”; as much as if he had said, “Lord, do not question me just now about my faith. O my Lord, I pray thee do not think of me at all, but heal my dear child, or he will be dead! He was at the point of death when I left him: do hasten down and save him.” Limited was that faith, for he still asks Christ to come down, and seems to think it essential that our Lord should make a journey to Capernaum to work the cure; but note how intense, how eager, how persevering was his pleading. If his faith failed in breadth, it excelled in force. Dear anxious friend, keep close to the example now before us. Pray, and pray again; hold on, and hold out; cry on, and cry out; never cease till the Lord of love grants you an answer of peace.

     III. We come to a higher stage, and watch THE FLAME OF FAITH. The spark increased as a smouldering fire, and now the fire reveals itself in flame. Observe that Jesus said to the petitioner, “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” And the man truly believed, and went his way.

     Here note that he believed the word of Jesus over the head of all his former prejudices. He had thought only that Christ could heal if he came down to Capernaum; but now he believes, though Jesus remains where he is, and only speaks the word. Friend, wilt thou, at this moment, believe the Lord Jesus Christ on his bare word? Without laying down any rules as to how he will save thee, wilt thou trust him? Thou hast prescribed dark convictions, or vivid dreams, or strange sensations; wilt thou cease from such folly? Wilt thou believe in Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Scriptures? Wilt thou believe that he can and will save thee now upon thy simple trust? Hast thou not heard of his passion, and death upon the cross for the guilty? Hast thou not heard it said that all manner of sin and of iniquity shall be forgiven unto men if they believe in him? Dost thou not know that he that believeth in him hath everlasting life? Wilt thou have done with thy nonsense about “Come down, and save me,” or “Make me feel this, and I will believe thee”? Wilt thou believe in him now, despite all thy former thoughts, and pretensions, and desires, and just say, “I will trust my soul with Christ, believing that he can save me”? Thou shalt be saved as surely as thou dost thus trust.

     The next thing this man did to prove the sincerity of his faith was that he at once obeyed Christ. Jesus said to him, “Go thy way”; that is, “Go home”— “thy son liveth.” If the man had not believed the word he would have lingered there, and kept on pleading, and looking for favourable signs; but as he has believed, he is satisfied with the word of the Lord, and goes his way without another word. “Thy son liveth” is enough for him. Many of you have said, when you have heard the gospel preached, “You tell us to believe in Christ; but we will continue in prayer.” That is not what the gospel commands you. Do I hear you say, “I shall continue to read my Bible, and attend the means of grace”? That is not the precept of the Saviour. Are you not satisfied with his word? Will you not take that word, and go your way? If you believe in him, you will go your way in peace: you will believe that he has saved you, and act as if you knew it to be true. You will joy and rejoice in the fact that you are saved. You will not stop to cavil, and to question, and to follow after all kinds of religious experiences and feelings; but yon will exclaim, “He tells me to believe him, and I believe him. He says, ‘He that believeth on me hath everlasting life and I do believe in him, and therefore I have everlasting life. I may not feel any peculiar emotion, but I have eternal life. Whether I see my salvation or not, I am saved. It is written, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.’ Lord, I have looked, and I am saved. My reason for believing it is that thou hast said it. I have done as thou hast bidden me, and thou wilt keep thy promise.” This mode of reasoning is due to the Lord Jesus. He deserves to be taken at his word, and trusted in real earnest.

     Now, the nobleman’s faith has flamed up indeed. He believes not upon mere report, but upon the word of Jesus. He does not wait for a sign, but he hears the word, and on that word he hangs his confidence. Jesus said, “Thy son liveth; go thy way”: and he goes his way, that he may find his son alive. O seeking soul, may God, the Holy Spirit, bring you to this state at once, that you may now say, “O Lord, I will wait no longer for any sort of feeling, or evidence, or sign, but on the word thy blood hath sealed I will trust my everlasting all, for I do now accept thy promise, and since I believe it, I will go my way in peace.”

     Still, I am bound to say concerning this man’s faith at this stage, that it still fell somewhat short of what it might have been. It was a great thing for him to have come so far; but he had farther yet to go. He expected less than he might have expected, and therefore, when he saw his servants, he asked them when the dear child began to amend. He was overjoyed when they virtually said, “He never did begin to amend; the fever left him all at once; at the seventh hour he recovered.” You see he expected a gradual restoration. He looked for the ordinary course of nature; but here was a miraculous work. He received far more than he reckoned on. How little we know of Christ, and how little we believe in him even when we do trust him! We measure his boundless treasure by our scanty purses. Yet the faith that saves is not always full-grown: there is room for us to believe more, and to expect more, of our blessed Lord. Oh, that we would do so!

     But one thing I want to mention here, though I do not quite understand it; perhaps you can make it out. The father travelled with the leisure of confidence. It was about twenty-five or thirty miles to Capernaum, and I have no doubt the good man started off directly the Master said, “Go thy way.” No doubt he would go at once in obedience to such a command, and make progress on the road home. But we read that the servants met him. Did they start as soon as the child was cured? If so, they might meet him half-way, or thereabouts. It was uphill: say, therefore, that they came ten miles; and that fifteen, or even twenty, remained for the nobleman to travel. The servants said, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The seventh hour was about one o’clock in the day, and that day was “yesterday.” I know that the day closed at set of sun, yet one would hardly talk of “yesterday” without a night between. Did he take fifteen or sixteen hours for that part journey? If so, he did not travel with any excessive speed. It is true that twenty-five miles was a good day’s journey for a camel, for in the East the roads are execrable; but still it does seem to me that the happy father moved with the ease of a believer rather than with the hurry of an anxious parent. A nobleman’s usual progress through the villages was slow, and he did not alter the usual pace, because he would not even seem to hurry now that his mind was believingly at rest. He felt quite sure that his son was all right, and therefore the fever of anxiety left the father, even as the fever had left his child. Anxious minds, even when they believe, are in a hurry to see; but this good man was so sure that he would not allow parental love to make him act as if the shadow of a doubt remained. It is written, “He that believeth shall not make haste”; and in him it was literally fulfilled. He journeyed on in such style as a member of the royal household would be expected to travel in accompanied by a fitting retinue, and thus all saw that his mind was at ease about his son. I like this consecrated restfulness; it befits a solid faith. I want you all, when you believe in Jesus Christ, to believe right up to the hilt. Give him not a half faith, but a whole faith; whether about a child, or about yourself, believe in earnest. Say, “‘Let God be true, but every man a liar.’ On his bare word my soul reposes. I will ‘rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.’ What though no amazing joys flash through my spirit? God hath said, ‘He that believeth on me hath everlasting life’; and therefore I have everlasting life. What if I do not rise up, and dance for joy? yet will I sit still, and sing within my soul, because God has visited his believing servant. I will wait until high joys shall come to me, but meanwhile I will trust, and not be afraid.”

     Dear hearer, are you accompanying me in all this? Are you ready in this manner to exercise a substantial, restful confidence in Jesus.

     IV. So far the nobleman’s faith has grown, but now we shall see it become THE CONFLAGRATION OF FAITH. As he went home, his servants met him with good news. In the quietude of his faith he was exceedingly delighted when they said, “Thy son liveth.” The message came upon him like the echo of the word of Jesus. “I heard that,” said he, “yesterday, at the seventh hour; for then Jesus said, ‘Thy son liveth.’ Another day has come, and, behold, my servants salute me with the same word, ‘Thy son liveth.’” The repetition must have astonished him. I often notice about the preaching of the word, how the sentences strike you as to their very words when God blesses them. People say to me, “You said, sir, the selfsame thing that we were talking of when we were on the road: you described our cases even to our thoughts, and you mentioned certain expressions which had been used in our conversation; surely God was speaking through you.” Yes, it is often so; Christ’s own word finds many echoes from the mouths of his commissioned servants. The Lord’s providence rules words as well as deeds, and makes men say the right words without their knowing why they say them. God is so graciously omnipresent that all things reveal him when they are bidden to do so.

     Now the nobleman’s faith is confirmed by the answer to his prayers. His experience has come in to the aid of his faith. He believes in a more assured sense than he did before. He has proved the truth of the Lord’s word, and therefore he knows and is persuaded that he is Lord and God. The faith of a sinner coming to Christ is one thing; the faith of a man who has come to Christ, and has obtained the blessing, is another and stronger matter. The first faith, the simpler faith, is that which saves; but the further faith is that which brings comfort, and joy, and strength into the spirit.

     “My prayer is heard,” said he; and then he spoke to the servants, and after enquiry his faith was sustained by each detail. He cried, “Tell me all about it: when was it?” When they replied, “At the seventh hour the fever left him,” he remembered that at that very moment, when over there above the hills at Cana, the Lord Jesus Christ had said, “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” The more he studied the case the more wonderful it became. The details were singularly confirmatory of his confidence, and by their means he rose to a clearer and firmer faith. Brethren, how many such confirmations some of us have had! Doubters attempt to argue with us about the simplicities of the gospel; and they want to fight with us upon their own ground of mere speculative reasoning. Dear sir, this is hardly fair to us. Our own ground is of quite another kind. We are not strangers to the business of faith, but adepts in it; and you ought to allow something for our personal experience of the faithfulness of the Lord our God. We have a thousand treasured memories of happy details which we cannot tell you. We do not call you swine, but at the same time we dare not throw our pearls before you. We have a host of things laid by; but we cannot repeat them, for to us they are too sacred: thus we are not able to use those reasons which to our own hearts are the most convincing. We have other arguments than we choose to bandy in open court. Be not surprised if we seem obstinate; you do not know how intensely sure we are. You cannot argue us out of our secret consciousness; you might as well try to argue our eyes out of their sockets. We know, and are sure; for we have seen, and heard, and tasted, and handled of the good Word of the Lord. Certain things are so intertwisted with our lives that we are anchored by them. “Coincidences,” you say. Ah well! say what you please; to us they are other than to you! Our soul has cried out, time after time, “This is the finger of God.” A man who has been helped out of a very severe trouble cannot forget his deliverer. Do you reply, “You were fortunate to get out of it”? O sir; this seems a very cold-blooded remark!

     If you had been where I have been, and experienced what I have experienced, you would own that the Lord stretched out his hand, and saved his servant: you would have the same solemn conviction as I have that God was there, working out salvation. I know that I cannot create those convictions in you by telling you my story. If you are determined not to believe, you will not accept my testimony, but will think me a deluded person, though I am no more apt to be deluded than you are. However, whether you are inclined to believe or to disbelieve, I am in no such hesitation. I am forced to believe, for the more carefully I examine my life, the more I am convinced that God must have been at work with me and for me.

     At the same moment that Christ said, “Thy son liveth,” the nobleman’s son did live; the same word that Jesus used to the father was used also by the servants who had been thirty miles away; and, therefore, the father felt that something more than human had crossed his path. Do you wonder at it? Besides, that dear boy, whom he found sound and well, was a potent argument. You could not argue the happy father out of a faith which had brought him such joy. The child was at the point of death till faith received the word of the Lord Jesus, and then the fever fled. The father must believe: would you have him doubt?

     Strengthened in his faith by his experience, after having believed the bare word of Jesus, the good man now sees that word fulfilled, and he believes in Jesus in the fullest sense; believes for everything; for his body, and for his soul; for all that he is, and for all that he has. From that day forth he becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus. He follows him, not as a Healer only, nor as a Prophet only, nor as a Saviour only, but as his Lord and his God. His hope, his trust, and his confidence are fixed upon Jesus as the true Messiah.

     What follows is so natural, and yet so joyous, that I pray it may be true to all of you: his family also believe. When he gets home, his wile meets him. Oh, the delight that sparkles in that woman’s eyes! “The dear boy is well,” she said, “he is as well as ever he was in his life. He did not need to lie in bed for weeks to recover his strength after the weakening influence of the fever; but the fever is all gone, and the boy is well. Oh, my dear husband, what a wonderful Being this must be who has heard your prayers, and at all that distance has spoken our child into health! I believe in him, husband; I believe in him.” I am sure she would speak in that fashion. The same processes which had been working in her husband had been working in her. Now, think of the little boy. Here he comes, so happy and cheerful; and his father tells him all about his fever, and his going to see that wonderful Prophet at Cana, and how he said, “Thy son liveth.” The little boy cries, “Father, I believe in Jesus. He is the Son of God.” Nobody doubts the dear child’s faith: he was not too young to be healed, and he is not too young to believe. He had enjoyed a special experience, more personal than even that of his father and mother. He had felt the power of Jesus; and it was no marvel that he believed. Meanwhile, the father is rejoicing to find that he will not be a solitary believer, for there are his wife and boy also confessing their faith. But we are not at the end of the matter, for the servants standing around exclaim, “Master, we cannot help believing in Jesus, also; for we watched the dear child, and saw him recover, and the power which healed him must have been divine.” One and all, they emulate their master’s faith in Jesus. “I sat up with the dear boy,” says the old nurse; “I would not go to sleep, for I felt that if I did sleep I might find him dead when I awoke. I watched him, and just at the seventh hour I saw a delightful change come over him, and the fever left him.” “Glory be to Jesus!” shouted the old woman, “I never saw or heard of such a thing; it is the finger of God.” All the other servants were of the same mind. Happy household! There was a grand baptism soon after, when they all went to confess their faith in Jesus. Not only was the child cured, but the whole household was cured. The father did not know, when he went pleading about his boy, that he himself needed to be saved; the mother, also, probably thought only of her son; but now salvation has come to the whole family, and the fever of sin and unbelief is gone away with the other fever. May the Lord work such a wonder as that in all our houses! If any of you are groaning under a burden of grief, I trust you will be so relieved that, when you tell your wife of it, she will believe in Jesus too. May the dear child of your care believe in Jesus while yet a child; and may all who belong to your domestic circle also belong to the divine Lord! Grant, at this time, thy servant’s desire, O Lord Jesus, for thy glory’s sake! Amen.