To Those Who are Angry with Their Godly Friends

By / Jun 22

TO THOSE WHO ARE ANGRY WITH THEIR GODLY FRIENDS.

 

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”— Genesis iv. 6,7.

 

SINNERS are not all of the laughing sort: Cain’s mind was angry, and his heart was heavy. The short life of the vicious is not always a merry one. See, here you have a man who is utterly without God, but he is not without sorrow. His countenance has fallen: his looks are sullen: he is a miserable man. There are many ungodly people still in the world who are not happy in the condition in which they find themselves. The present does not content them, and they have no future from which to borrow the light of hope. The service of sin is hard to them, and yet they do not quit it for the service of the Lord. They are in danger of having two hells— one in this life, and another in the world to come.

     They have a religion of their own, even as Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground; but it yields them no comfort, for God has no respect to their offering, and therefore they are displeased about it. The things of God bring an increase to their inward wretchedness: it was after a sacrifice that Cain’s countenance fell. Many unrenewed hearts quarrel with God at his own altar: quarrel by presenting what he never commanded, and then by growing wroth because he rejects their will-worship. They attend the means of grace, but they are not saved nor comforted, and they do not like it. They pray, after a fashion, and they are not heard, and they feel indignant at the slight. They read the Scriptures, but no cheering promise is ever applied to their hearts, and they grow fierce at their failure. They see another accepted, as Abel was, and this excites their jealousy, and envy gnaws at their heart. They are wroth with God, with their fellow man, and with everything about them; their countenance falls, and they are in a morose mood, which fits them for any cruel word or deed. Can you not see their sullen looks?

     They would like to have the enjoyments of religion very much, they would like to have peace of conscience, they would like to be uplifted beyond all fear of death, they would like to be as happy as Christian people are; but they do not want to pay the price, namely, obedience to God by faith in Jesus Christ. They would willingly bring an offering to God according to their own choice and taste; but they do not care to come with “the lamb” as their sacrifice: they cannot accept the atonement made by our Lord’s laying down his life for us. They wish to have the reward of obedient faith while yet they have their own way. They would reap the harvest without sowing the seed. They would gather clusters without planting vines. They would win the wages without serving the Master of the vineyard. But as this cannot be, and never will be, they are full of bitter feeling. Since sin and sorrow are sure to be, sooner or later, married together, and since only by walking in the ways of God can we hope to find peace and rest, they quarrel with the divine arrangement, grow inwardly miserable, and show it by their sullen looks and growling words.

     They are in a bitter state of heart, and it is fair to ask each one of them, “Why art thou wroth?” Alas! they are not angry with themselves, as they ought to be, but angry with God; and often they are angry with God’s chosen, and envious of them, even as Cain was malicious and vindictive towards Abel. “Why should my neighbour be saved, and not I? Why should my brother rejoice because he has peace with God, while I cannot get it? Why should my own sister be converted and sing of heaven, and I, who have gone to the same place of worship, and have joined in the same prayers and hymns, seem to be left out in the cold?” Such questions might be useful to them; but instead of looking into their own hearts to see what is wrong there, instead of judging themselves and trying to get right with God, they inwardly blame the Lord, or the persons whom they think to be more favoured than themselves. The blessings of grace are to be had by them; but they refuse to take them, and yet quarrel with those who accept them. They play the part of the dog in the manger, who could not eat the hay himself, and would not let the horses do so. They will not accept Christ, and yet grumble because others have him.

     It is one of the sure signs of the seed of the serpent— that they will always be at enmity with the seed of the woman. This is one of the marks of distinction between those who walk after the flesh and those who walk after the spirit; for as Ishmael mocked Isaac, so the child of the flesh mocks the child of promise even to this day. So soon as the two sons born to Adam were grown up, the great division was seen: he who was of the wicked one slew the man who by faith offered a more acceptable sacrifice. This division has never ceased, and never will cease, while the race of man remains on earth under the reign of God’s long-suffering. By this shall ye know to which seed ye belong; whether ye are of those who hate the righteous, or of those who are hated for Christ’s sake.

     Now, I want to call attention to a very gracious fact connected with this text; and that is, that, although Cain was in such a bad temper that he was very wroth, and his countenance fell, yet God, the infinitely gracious One, came and spoke with him, and reasoned with him patiently. It is wonderful that God should speak with man at all, considering man’s insignificance. Did not the Psalmist say, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” But for the Lord to speak with sinful man is a far greater marvel; and for him to reason with such a man as Cain, a murderer in heart, and soon to be a murderer in deed, impenitent, implacable, presumptuous, blasphemous; this is a miracle of mercy! Shall the pure and holy God speak with such a wretch as Cain, who was angry with his brother without just cause? Why does he not at once cut him off while yet his hate has not issued in murder, and thus at the very beginning show his detestation of envy and malice? Truly his mercy endureth for ever. Behold, the Lord comes to Cain with a question, gives him an opportunity of speaking for himself, and defending, if he can, his state of mind. “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”

     Yet this is no solitary instance of the condescension of God: it is the way of our God to expostulate with sinners, and to let them produce their strong reasons, and justify themselves if they can. It is his fashion to say, “Turn ye: turn ye, why will ye die, O house of Israel?” for he willeth not the death of any, but that they should turn unto him and live. He is greatly patient and waiteth to be gracious. God gives none up until they fatally resolve to give themselves up, and even then his good Spirit strives with them as long as it is possible to do so, consistently with his holiness.

     Often to the very gates of death, and up to the very edge of the bottomless pit, his pity follows obstinate sinners, crying still, “Turn ye! Turn ye! Why will ye die?” Ay, the angry sinner— the Cainite sinner— the sinner whose face betrays the anger of his soul, whose heart is hot with enmity against God and against his Christ, even he is not left to die without divine pleadings which may show him his fault and folly. Still does the Lord handle conscience with skill, and arouse thought with fit enquiries: “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?”

     I pray God that he may speak to any among my congregation who may be in this sad and evil condition. I have felt lately that I may have but few more opportunities of preaching the gospel, and therefore I would try and speak more solemnly every time I preach, and endeavour to strike right home at the heart and conscience, if by any means I may save some. Oh how I long to bring men to Jesus! I could gladly lay down my life to save my hearers. May the Holy Spirit make my words to be full of force and holy fire; and may they meet the case of some here present whom I have never seen before, but whose thoughts are as well known to God as if they were printed in a book and laid open before his eyes! Oh that I may be moved to speak a word which shall fit the case as a glove fits the hand which wears it! May it not merely be the voice of man that speaks to you; but may it be clear that God has commissioned his servant to speak to your hearts, and that by my sermon God himself expostulates with you even as he expostulated with Cain in those ancient times!

     Recollect that the case is that of a man who is angry, angry mainly because he cannot get the comforts of religion. He sees his brother enjoying them, and he grows wroth with him for that reason. With him, and all like him, I would reason with kind words.

     I. I shall take the last sentence of the text first: “Unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shall rule over him” In these words God argues with Cain, and answers the charge of favouritism which was lurking in his mind. He tells him, in effect, that NO DIFFERENCE IS MADE IN THE ARRANGEMENT OF SOCIAL LIFE BECAUSE OF THE ARRANGEMENTS OF GRACE. Notice that he says to him, “Unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt ruleover him”— which I understand to mean just this: “Why are you so angry against Abel? It is true that I have accepted his offering: it is true that he is a righteous man, and you are not; but, for all that, you are his elder brother, and he looks up to you, his desire is toward you, and you shall rule over him. He has not acted otherwise than as a younger brother should act towards an elder brother, but he has admitted your seniority and priority. He has not revolted from you: you rule over him: you are his master. Why, then, are you so angry?” Observe this, then— that if a man shall be angry with his wife because she is a Christian, we may well argue with him— Why are you thus provoked? Is she not a loving and obedient wife to you in all things, except in this matter touching her God? Is she not all the better for her religion? I have known a husband meet his wife at the Tabernacle door and call her foul names all the way home for no other reason than because she joined in the worship of God. Yet she was all the more loving, diligent, and patient because of that worship. Here is your child converted, and you are angry. Are you not unreasonable in this? You are his father, and he yields obedience to you. God has not caused religion to alter the natural position of things: your child, your servant, your wife, all recognize this, and remain in due subservience to you. For what cause are you thus sullen and wroth? Good sir, this is not like a reasonable man. Be persuaded to let better feelings sway you.

     Now, this is an important thing to note, because first of all it takes away from governments their excuse for persecution. In the early days of Christianity, multitudes of Christians were tormented to death because of their faith in Jesus. There was no excuse for it, for they had done no harm to the State. Christianity does not come into a nation to break up its arrangements, or to break down its fabric. All that is good in human society it preserves and establishes. It snaps no ties of the family; it dislocates no bonds of the body politic. There are theories of socialism and the like which lead to anarchy and riot; but it is not so with the mild and gentle teaching of Jesus Christ, whose every word is love and patience. He says, “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” His apostle says— “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands: husbands, love your wives; children, obey your parents in all things: servants, obey in all things your masters, not with eyeservice as menpleasers: masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” Such precepts as these are no injury to government. Paul was no leader of sedition, no destroyer of the rights of property. Cæsar needed not to fear Christ. Jesus did not covet Cæsar’s purple or Cæsar’s throne. Even Herod needed not to tremble for his princedom, for the child that was born at Bethlehem would not have hunted that fox or disturbed his den. “My kingdom is not of this world,” said our Lord Jesus, “else would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” Now, inasmuch as the religion of Jesus Christ does no hurt to social order, teaches no one to be rebellious, takes away from no man his rights, but guards the rights of all from the meanest to the greatest, all excuse is taken away from any government that dares to put out its hand to touch the church of God. As to each disciple of Jesus, the government may be satisfied that he is loyal. “Thou shalt rule over him” is certainly true. Christians will cheerfully submit to all lawful rule and righteous authority. To them it is a matter of joy if they are enabled to lead peaceable lives because the magistrate is a terror to evildoers. They are a non-resistant, peaceable, quiet people, who have from the beginning of the world until now borne burdens and suffered and been content to suffer, so that they might but be true to their Master. They hate tyranny, but they love order: they protest against oppression, but they uphold law and justice. Why, then, should they be persecuted? They ask nothing from the State by way of pay or patronage; they only ask to be let alone, and to be subject to no disability on account of their religion. Let all who are in authority, whether as kings or petty magistrates, beware of wantonly molesting a people who cause them no trouble, lest they be found in this matter to be fighting against God.

     That being so in the broad field of national life, it is just the same if you bring it down to the little sphere of home. There is no reason why Cain should be so angry with Abel because God loves him; for the love of God to Abel does not take away from Cain his right as an elder brother. It does not teach Abel to refuse to Cain the rights of his position, nor lead him to act rudely and wrongfully to him. No: Abel’s desire is unto Cain, and Cain rules over him as his elder brother. Why, then, should Cain be wroth, and his countenance fall? My dear friend, if you are angry to-night about the sovereignty of the grace of God, as seen in the conversion of another, let me ask you what hurt has the grace of God in the heart of the person you envy done to you? Is your eye evil because God’s eye is good? Have you suffered in any sense because that other one is saved? You cannot have your way if you wish to coerce the envied one into giving up his faith: but have you a right to your own way? Is it not the privilege of every man to have his conscience left free to serve God alone? What right have you as an Englishman to take away liberty from another? You say, “Why, I think him very stupid to believe as he does.” Very likely you may think so; but then your judgment is given you for yourself, not for another, and you must not become a tyrant and domineer over others. I thought you were a stickler for liberty? And yet you sneer at others because they think for themselves, or at least do not think as you do! If religion made men false in their dealings with others— if it made the servant careless and indifferent — if it made the husband a tyrant— if it made the wife a tattler and a slattern — if it turned all relationships upside-down— there would be some little reasonableness in the opposition which you offer to it. But if it does nothing of the kind, why are you wroth? and why is your countenance fallen? Why, to me it seems to be a great blessing to a man to have his friends converted— a blessing to be desired and prized. Their conversion may do you good, even if you are not converted yourself. Laban learned by experience that the Lord blessed him for Jacob’s sake. Look at Joseph. The Lord was with him, and we find that wherever Joseph went others were the better, because God blessed them through Joseph. A good man in a house is good store to the family. A converted daughter, a praying son, a holy husband, a gracious wife— why, these are the pillars, the ornaments, the buttresses of the house. Godly people roof in the mansion with their prayers. Who can tell what blessings God gives to unconverted men because of their converted relatives? I do not doubt that, as sometimes the chaff is spared for the sake of the grain which it covers and protects, so, often, the lives of ungodly men are spared for the sake of the children whom they have to bring up— for the sake of those who have to be cherished by them for a while. Had it not been for the grief it would cause the mother whom you mock, the Lord might have cut you down, young man, long ago. Pity for holy relatives may be the motive for the Lord’s longsuffering to many rebels. Wherefore be not wroth with the righteous.

     I could hope, my angry friend, that God means to give a greater blessing still to you— that he means to entice you to heaven by showing your wife the way, or he means to lead you to Christ by that dear child of yours. I have known parents brought to repentance by the deaths of daughters or of sons who have died in the faith. I hope you will not have to lose those you love that you may be brought to Jesus by their dying words. But it may be so: it may be so. It will be better for you to yield to their gentle example while yet they are spared to you, than for you to be smitten to the heart by their sickness and death. Oh that the persecuted one may live to have the great joy of going to the house of God with father, or walking with brother in the ways of godliness, or bringing the thoughtless sister to seek and find the Saviour! Why should it not be so? Let us hope for it. At any rate, I do not see any cause to be angry because grace has visited your family. To say the very least about it, a man who is angry with another for enjoying a religion which he himself does not care for is a poor specimen of good nature. Surely he may allow others to enjoy what he does not himself desire. If you do not wish for salvation, why worry yourself because others possess it? If you do not mean to serve Christ, at least stand out of the road and let other people serve him. There cannot be any gain to you in kicking against the pricks, by resisting the power of divine grace. You will find it hard work in the long run; for the Lord has said that if any shall offend one of the least of his little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the midst of the sea. For prudence’ sake, for your own sake, for reason’s sake, for freedom’s sake, I pray you be no longer wroth, and let not your countenance fall. If we cannot agree in matters of religion, let us not persecute or think contemptuously one of another.

     II. Now let us advance farther into the text. There is no room for being angry, for THOUGH THE DIFFERENCE LIES FIRST WITH THE GRACE OF GOD, YET IT LIES ALSO WITH THE MAN S OWN SELF. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”

     First, then, if you are not accepted, and you are angry because you are not accepted, is there not a just cause for it? If you do not enjoy the comforts of religion, and you grow envious because you do not, you should cool your wrathfulness by considering this question— “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” That is to say, will you not be accepted on the same terms as Abel? You will be accepted in the same way as your brother, your sister, your child. How is it that the one you envy is full of peace? It is because he has come to Jesus and confessed his sin, and trusted his Redeemer. If thou doest this, shalt not thou also be accepted? Has not the Lord said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”? If you, too, come and confess your sin, and trust the Saviour, you are as certain to be accepted as your friend. You are envious because another is full of joy. Where did that joy come from but from this— that he came according to the divine command, and rested himself upon the finished work of Christ, and gave himself up to be Christ’s servant, and asked for the Holy Spirit to renew him and lead him into the way of righteousness? That has been done according to the faithful promise of God, which is sure to all who obey the gospel command. If you come in the same way, and rest on the same Saviour, and yield yourself up to be renewed by the same Spirit, the Lord will not refuse you. Put it to the test and see. Try him. Try him; and if he does refuse you, let me know it; for I am telling everybody that Jesus never casts out any that come to him, and I must not do so any more if I find out that he does reject you or any one else. Come to Jesus confessing your sin and trusting in him; and if he does not save you, let me know it, and I will publish it to the four winds of heaven. We shall be bound to make it known that Christ has broken his word, and that his gospel has become of none effect; for we must on no account cry up a falsehood and lead our fellow men to believe that which is not true. Try the Lord Jesus, I do beseech you; and I know what the result will be. You shall find that the gate of mercy stands wide open for you, and that you will be received as well as others. There is no difference in this matter; whosoever calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved; whosoever will may take of the water of life freely.

     Now, is it not much wiser for a man, instead of being angry with another’s enjoying the comfort of religion, to seek to enjoy them himself? Am I hungry, and angry with another because he has eaten a good meal when the same bread stands before me? Then I am foolish and cross-grained. Do I see another refreshed at the fountain, and do I stand at the freely flowing stream and complain? Do I bitterly demand why his lips are moistened while my mouth is dried up like an oven? What is the use of being angry with the neighbour who has quenched his thirst when the same fountain is free to me? O murmuring friend, why do you not yourself believe? Stoop and drink as your friend has done, and you shall be refreshed as he has been.

     If thou doest well— that is, if thou art obedient to the precious word of the gospel— shalt thou not be accepted? “No,” says one, “I am afraid that I shall not be.” Who told you so? Your fear is without scriptural foundation. “But perhaps my name is not written in the Book of Life.” Who told you so? Who has climbed up to the secret chamber of God to read the mystic roll? Who dares to tell you that your name is not there? Who knows anything about the secret purposes of God? I venture to tell you this— that if you believe in Jesus Christ, be you who you may, your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. “Him that cometh to me,” says he, “I will in no wise cast out.” Any “him” that comes in all the world, while time shall last, if he does but come to Christ, Christ has said that he cannot and will not cast him out. Therefore, come, and you shall find grace in his sight. Instead of being angry with another for believing and rejoicing, taste for thyself the joys which faith secures. May infinite grace lead thee to do so now!

     God’s second word with Cain was, however, “If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." That is to say, “If religion does not yield thee joy as it does thy brother, what is the reason? Surely sin stops the entrance, as a stone blocking the doorway. If you cannot gain an entrance to mercy, it is because sin, like a huge stone, has been rolled against it, and remains there. If the way to God and salvation is, indeed, blocked up, it is only blocked up by your own sin. The door is not locked by a divine decree, nor nailed up by any necessity of circumstances, nor barred by any peculiarity of your case. No, there is neither block, nor bar, nor lock except your sin. Your sin lies at the door, and makes you a prisoner, where else you might be free as air. I desire to press this point home upon any unconverted persons who are somewhat anxious, but yet cannot get peace. A secret something is keeping you from being accepted as Abel was accepted. I am sure it is sin in one shape or another. May I entreat you to see what that sin is!

     Is it unbelief? In most cases unbelief is the damning sin. You will not believe God’s word. You reject the testimony of God concerning his Son Jesus, and thus you put away from you eternal life. You say, “I cannot believe.” But that will not do, for you know that God is true; and if God be true how dare you say that you cannot believe him? If, when I stated solemnly a fact, you told me, “I cannot believe you,” I should understand you to mean that I am a liar. And when you say, “I cannot believe God,” do you not know that the English of such an expression is this— you make God a liar by refusing to believe on his Son? This unbelief is sin enough— sin enough to destroy you for ever. What higher offence can there be against any man, much more against God, than to accuse him of a lie? But every person here who does not now believe in Jesus Christ is guilty of the high profanity and infinite blasphemy of making the Almighty God a liar. This is the huge stone which lieth at the door. May God help you to roll it away, by saying, “I will believe; I must believe. God must be true; the blood of his dear Son must be able to wash away sin. I will trust in it now”!

     Possibly, however, another form of the same stone of sin lies at your door and keeps you back. Is it impenitence? Are you hardened about your sin? Do you refuse to quit it? Is there no sorrow in your heart to think that you have broken the divine law, and have lived forgetful of your God? A hard heart is a great stone to lie in a man’s way; for he who will not own his sin and forsake it is wedded to his own destruction. May God soften your heart, and help you at once to repent of sin!

     Or, is it pride? Are you too big a man to become a Christian? Are you too respectable, too wealthy, too polite? Are you too deep a thinker? Do you know too much? You could not go and sit down with the humble people who, like little children, believe what God tells them. No, no; you have too much brain for that: have you? Now be honest, and own it! You read the reviews, and you like a little dash of scepticism in your literature. You could not possibly listen to Jesus when he says, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” You do not care for such old-fashioned doctrine, for you are too much of a philosopher. Well, I have heard of a Spanish monarch who perished through etiquette: there was too much fire in the grate, and it was not according to state for his majesty to put his chair back from the fire, and so he became over-heated, and died in consequence. I would not care to lose my soul to gratify my loftiness. Would you? One’s pride may carry him far if he is a great fool; but let him not suffer his pride to carry him into hell, for it certainly will never carry him out again.

     Alas! there are some who have another sin, a hidden sin. I cannot mention it: it is a shame even to speak of the things which are done of them in secret. I have been frequently puzzled to know why certain persons cannot attain peace. Do what we may with them they appear to have a tide of disquiet for ever ebbing and flowing and casting up mire and dirt. They have seemed to be in a fair way to salvation, and yet they have never reached it: they have been one day near and the next far off. In one or two instances I have not discovered the reason why the gospel never succeeded with them, till they were dead. When they were gone the sad truth was revealed which accounted for all their uneasiness; but I will not tell you what it was. There was a secret which, if it had been known, would have made their character abhorrent to those who in ignorance respected them. Does any man here carry about with him a guilty secret? Does he persevere in shameful acts which he labours to conceal? How can a man hope for peace while he wars with the laws of morality? What rest can there be while solemn vows are broken, and the purest of relationships are treated with despite? Nay, while there is any uncleanness about a man, or about a woman, there cannot be peace with God: such sins must be given up, or there cannot be acceptance with the Most High. Would you for a moment insinuate that the Lord Jesus died to allow you to sin and yet escape its penalty?

     We have known persons practise dishonesty in business, and this has shut them out from acceptance. Not that they actually pilfer, but they have ways and means of calling things by wrong names, and taking fraudulent advantage. Cheating is called “custom of trade,” and so on. I could not tell why the Lord did not accept certain people when they appeared to be seeking mercy. I understand it now. How can the Lord be gracious to one who continues in dishonesty? Will he choose thieves to be his friends? He will take thieves and make them honest, and so they shall enter his kingdom; but if we abide in transgression of any sort, when it is known to us, we cannot expect to be accepted. My brethren, to be very plain with you, an honest heart and an honest hand must be found in every man who is to be justified at the last great day.

     Some cannot get peace because they neglect prayer. They do not ask, or seek, or knock, and so they do not receive, they cannot find, and the door of grace is not opened to them. Oh, how can you think that God accepts you when you live day after day without prayer?

     Not a few harbour enmity in their hearts towards their brother or neighbour. O angry hearer, God cannot accept your sacrifice until you are at peace with your brother. It cannot be. He might as well have pressed Cain to his bosom as you; for he that hateth his brother abideth in death. “Ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Go home and be reconciled. Go home, and forgive your fellow-servant; for if you do not so forgive your little debts, the great Lord will not forgive you all your great debt. Before you can hope to have peace with God, you must be at peace with those who have offended you.

     Then there are some who keep evil company. They like to come to the Tabernacle, or to some other place where the gospel is preached, and they hope that they may find Christ; but then they also like a lascivious song. They relish those silly, coarse, loathsome ditties which have a touch of “smut” about them. These are disgraceful things, and yet certain people roll them out as choice morsels. While that is the ease, can a man hope that God will accept him? No; it is of no use pretending anything of the kind. You and your sins must part, or God and you cannot be friends. God will accept us and receive us as penitent sinners, but not so long as we open the back door for the devil, and enthrone him in our heart of hearts. If you are not accepted, sin lieth at the door, and shuts yon out of present rest and peace, even as it will ultimately shut you out of heaven.

     I think this word of divine expostulation bears another meaning. “If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” That is to say, not only as a stone to block your way, but as a lion to pounce upon you. It is true that sin is hindering you from peace, but it is also true that a greater sin is lurking at the door ready to spring upon you. What a warning this word ought to have been to Cain! If you are doing ill and God is not accepting you, and that fact is making you angry, there is a worse sin lying like a couchant lion ready to devour you. It was so with Cain. Perhaps at that moment he had not seriously thought of killing his brother. He was angry, but he was not yet implacable and malicious. But God said, “There is a sin lying at your door that will come upon you to your destruction.” May it not be the same with you, my hearer? What if I were to look steadily in the face of some undecided person here to-night, and say, “Friend, art thou not accepted by God, and art thou angry? A sin is lying at thy door which will be thy ruin. Thou wilt go on from being a sinner to become a criminal.” Is Hazael here? Shall I, like the prophet, look you in the face till my tears begin to flow at the sight of you, and say, “I know what thou wilt do. Thou wilt be a terror to all around thee.” You would probably answer me as Hazael did: “Is thy servant a dug, that he should do this great thing?” Many a man would be horrified to be told what yet will be the fact in his case. Dreadful to tell, men that have been melted by a sermon have afterwards grown hard enough to perpetrate crimes that have brought them before the bar of their country. Almost converted, almost persuaded, it looked as if a vista opened up before them leading to endless glory and happiness; but in one sad hour they turned the other way. Like Felix, they waited for a more convenient season, and their life was henceforth down, down, deeper and deeper and deeper, till it ended in the lowest hell. Oh, my dear hearers, I am always fearful about' those who are so near salvation and yet are not decided. Judas who can preach the gospel, Judas who is an apostle, Judas who can say, “Lord, is it I?” — he is the man that at the last sells his Master: for though an apostle in appearance he was in heart a traitor, and a son of perdition. The raw material for a devil is an angel. The raw material for the son of perdition was an apostle; and the raw material for the most horrible of apostates is one who is almost a saint. I say no more than I mean, and than history can prove. There have usually been splendid traits of character about men who have been unfit to live. The question has been in their minds, “Which shall have the mastery?” and for a while the result has trembled in the balance; but when they have decided for evil it has been decision with a vengeance. God gave Cain the clearest warning. He did as good as say— “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? There is an opportunity for thee. If thou doest well shalt not thou, even thou, O Cain, be accepted? And if thou doest ill, sin lieth at the door to spring upon thee and drag thee down.” Oh that he had been capable of taking the caution, and escaping the evil! Be thou warned, O man, to whom these words shall come, lest thy last end be worse than the first.

     But there is yet another meaning which I must bring out here, and that is one which is held by many critics, though it is questioned by others. I am content to go with a considerable following, especially of the old divines, who say that the word here used may be rendered, “If thou doest ill, a sin-offering lieth at the door.” And what a sweet meaning this gives us! God graciously declares to angry Cain, “Thou canst bring a sin-offering, as Abel has done, and all will be well. Thou canst present a bleeding sacrifice, typical of the great atonement: a sin-offering lies at the door.” This should be an encouraging assurance to any one who is anxious, and at the same time greatly afraid that pardon is not possible. My dear friend, why needest thou grow despondent because another enters heaven? A sin-offering lies at thy door also. Thou canst have thy sin forgiven even as his has been forgiven: come and try for thyself.

     “Where can I find Christ?” says one. He standeth at the door: he waiteth for thee. The offering is not far to seek. Thou hast not to climb to heaven to bring him down. He has descended. Thou hast not to dive into the depths to fetch him up. He has risen from the dead. “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth.” So Paul says. What then? If you would have it for your own, and know its virtue, receive it into your soul. “Alas!” cries one, “I am dying; where is the elixir which will restore me?” In thy mouth. Swallow it. You have not even to open the box to get out the pill. It is in thy mouth. Receive it into your inward parts. Jesus crucified is freely presented to thee. All the merit of his death is here at this moment. Accept it. It is yours. A sin-offering lieth at the door; that is to say, the sufferings of Christ, the atonement of Christ, and the righteousness of Christ, are available at this moment. You may have all that Jesus has purchased— have it for nothing, the free gift of God. Repenting of sin and believing in Jesus, you have it all. Eternal salvation is yours if the Holy Spirit has made you willing to have it. “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” Only trust him, and the death of Christ is death for you, and the righteousness of Christ is your righteousness. A sin-offering lieth at the door. God does, as it were, say, “Bring it, I will receive it, and I will receive you, for its sake.”

     Do but take Christ by faith, and bring him before God. Say unto God, “My Father, I have no good works to trust in, but I trust thy Son. I desire to be rid of my sin, and I trust in thee to purify me. I pine to become a new creature, and I trust in thy Spirit to new-create me. Behold the bloody sacrifice offered upon Calvary. I present it unto thee. For Jesus’ sake accept me.” He will do it, dear friend; he will do it. I do not know that I can say any more: I wish that I could have said it better. I would speak right into your heart. May the Spirit of God so speak! Do not be angry because another is saved, but turn your anger on yourself because you have not accepted salvation. Recollect, if you do what other sinners have done, namely, simply come to Christ, you shall be accepted as they have been; and if you are not accepted, it is your sin that is preventing it. A sin-offering is waiting to take away that sin. Oh, reject not the priceless boon! Trifle not with your soul and with your Saviour. Do not incur an eternity of misery! Do not lose an eternity of bliss! “Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die, O house of Israel?” If I never should occupy this pulpit again, what should I wish to have preached? Nothing but the gospel which I have now preached for so many years. I wish I had spoken better, but I do not know that I could have said more. If these kind pleadings do not touch angry hearts, neither would they be affected though martyrs rose from the dead.



A Mingled Strain

By / Jun 22

A Mingled Strain

 

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall he clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” — Psalm li. 7.

 

IN what state of heart should we come to the communion-table? It is no light matter: in what manner shall we come before the Lord in so sacred an ordinance? By the very nature of the sacred supper we are taught that there should be a mixture of emotions. The bitter and the sweet, the joyful and the sorrowful, are here intermingled. The sacrifice of Christ for sin—is it more a subject of sorrow or of joy? Can we look to the cross without mourning for sin? Can we look at it without rejoicing in pardon bought with blood? Is not the most suitable state of heart for coming to the communion-table just this— mourning for our transgression, and joy because of the great salvation? There is a double character about this holy rite: it is a festival of life, and yet it is a memorial of death. Here is a cup; it is filled with wine; this surely betokens gladness. Hearken to me; that wine is the symbol of blood! This as surely betokens sorrow. In my hand is bread—bread to be eaten. Bread which strengthened man’s heart; shall we not eat bread with thankfulness? But that bread is broken, to represent a body afflicted with pain and anguish: there must be mourning on account of that agony. At the Paschal supper, the lamb of the Lord's Passover had a special sweetness in it: yet the commandment expressly ran—with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” So is it at this table. Here we with joy commemorate the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, but with deep sorrow we recall the sin which, though taken away, causes us in the recollection of it to repent with great bitterness of heart.

     Our text is the expression of one who is deeply conscious of sin, and yet is absolutely certain that God can put away that sin. Thus it holds in one sentence a double thread of meaning. Here is a depth of sorrow, and a still greater deep of hopeful joy: “deep calleth unto deep.” I thought that this expression of mixed feeling might guide us as to our emotions at this holy festival.

     I. I shall handle the text by making three observations. The first will be this: THERE ARE TIMES WHEN THE LANGUAGE OF A SINNER IS MOST SUITABLE TO A CHILD OF GOD. There are seasons when it is about the only language that he can use, when he seems shut up to it, and he uses it without the slightest suspicion that it is out of place upon his lips; and, indeed, it is not out of place at all. I suppose that everybody will agree that the language of David in this psalm was most suitable to his condition. When he prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and. I shall be whiter than snow,” he prayed a proper prayer, did he not? Surely no one is going to cavil with David over this petition; and yet I cannot be sure. The modern way of handling the Bible is to correct it here, and amend it there; tear it to pieces, give a bit to the Jews, and a bit to the Gentiles, and a bit to the church, and a bit to everybody, and then make it out that sometimes the old servants of God made great blunders. We, in modern times, are supposed to be more spiritual, and to know a great deal better than the inspired saints of the Old and New Testaments. But still, I should not think that anybody would say that David was wrong; and if he did, I should reply: This is an inspired psalm, and there is not half a hint given that there is any incorrectness in the language of it, or that David used language under an exaggerated state of feeling, which was not truly applicable to a child of God. I think that nobody will doubt that David was a child of God, and that, even when he had defiled himself, he was still dear to the great Father’s heart. I gather, therefore— I feel sure of it— that he was quite right in praying the language of this fifty-first psalm, and saying, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions; wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Yet this is precisely the way in which an unconverted man ought to pray, just the way in which every soul that comes to God may pray. It is only an enlargement of the prayer of the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” This language, so suitable to the sinner, was not out of place in the mouth of one who was not only a believer, but an advanced believer, an experienced believer, an inspired believer, a teacher of others, who, with all his faults, was such a one as we shall rarely see the like of again. Yes, amongst the highest of saints, there was a time with one of them, at least when the lowliest language was appropriate to his condition. There is a spirit abroad which tells us that children of God ought not to ask for pardon of their sins, for they have been pardoned; that they need not use such language as this, which is appropriate to sinners, for they stand in a totally different position. What I want to know is this: where are we to draw the line? If, on account of a certain sin, David was perfectly justified in appealing to God in the same style as a poor, unforgiven sinner would have done, am I never justified in doing so? Is it only a certain form of evil which puts a man under the necessities of humiliation? It may be that the man has never fallen into adultery, or any other gross sin; but is there a certain extent of sin to which a man may go before, as a child of God, he is to pray like this? And is all that falls below that high-water mark of sin a something so inconsiderable that he need not go and ask any particular forgiveness for it, or pray like a sinner at all about it? May I' under most sins speak very confidently as a child of God, who has already been forgiven, to whom it is a somewhat remarkable circumstance that he should have done wrong, but still by no means a serious disaster? I defy anybody to draw the line; and if they do draw it, I will strike it out, for they have no right to draw it. There is no hint in the Word of God that for a certain amount of sin there is to be one style of praying, and for a certain lower amount of sin another style of praying.

     I venture to say this, brethren, going farther— that, as this language is certainly appropriate in David’s mouth, and as it would be impossible to draw any line at which it would cease to be appropriate, the safest and best plan for you and for me is this— seeing that we are sinners, if we have not been permitted to backslide so much as David, yet we had better come in the same way: we had better take the lowest place, urge the lowliest plea, and so make sure work of our salvation. It is safest to assume the greatest supposable need. Let us pub ourselves into the humblest position before the throne of the heavenly grace, and cry, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions!”

     But is not a man of God forgiven? Ay, that he is! Is he not justified? Ay, that he is. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Let that all stand true in the highest sense that you can give to it; but, for all that, the sinner’s cry is not thereby hushed into silence. True children of God cry, and let me tell you they cry after a stronger fashion than other children. They have their confessions of sin, and these are deeper and more intense than those of others. Whatever our confidence may be, our Lord Jesus Christ never told us to pray, “Lord, I thank thee that I am forgiven, and therefore have no sin to confess: I thank thee that I need not come to thee as a sinner!” But he put into the mouth of his disciples such words as these: “Our Father, which art in heaven, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” I reckon that the Lord’s Prayer is never out of date. I expect to be able to pray it when I am on the brink of heaven; and if I should ever be sanctified to the fullest extent, I shall never turn round to the Saviour, and say, “Now, my Lord, I have got beyond thy prayer! Now, Saviour, I can no more address my Father who is in heaven in this language, for I have outgrown thy prayer!” Brethren, the notion sounds to me like blasphemy. Never shall I say to my Saviour, “I have no necessity now to come to thy precious blood, or to say to thee, ' Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,.’ ” Listen, brethren: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another,” and what then? Why, even then “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” We still want the blood when walking in the light, as God himself is in the light.  

     While we are here below we shall need to use just such language as David did. Appropriate as our text is to the sinner, it is equally appropriate to the saint, and he may continue to use it till he gets to heaven. Remark, brethren, that when our hearts cannot honestly use such language, we may think that we are upraised by faith, but it is possible that we may be upblown by presumption. When we do not bow into the very dust, and kiss the Saviour’s feet, and wash them with our tears, we may think that it is because we are growing in grace, but it is far more likely that we are swelling with self-esteem. The more holy a man is, the more humble he is. The more really sanctified he is, the more does he cry about his sin, whatever it may be — “Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” When you get the clearest possible view of God, what will be the result? Why, the deepest downcasting in your own spirit. Look at Job. He can answer his wretched accusers, but when he sees God— ah, then he abhors himself in dust and ashes! Was Job wrong in heart? I question whether any of us half as good as Job. I am sure few of us could have played the man as he did under his sorrows. With all the failure of his patience, the Holy Ghost does not call it a failure, for he says, “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” He says not "of his impatience”, but “of his patience”; and yet this blessed, patient man, patient even by God’s own testimony, when he saw God, abhorred himself. Look at Isaiah, again. Was there ever a tongue more eloquent, more consecrated, more pure? Were there ever lips more circumcised to God than those of that mighty evangelical prophet? And yet, when he beheld the glory of the Lord, the train of the Lord filling the temple, he said, u Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Those of you that can do so may come to my Master’s table to-night as saints: I shall come as a sinner. You that feel that you can come there glorying in your growth in grace may so come if you like: I shall come feeling that I am nothing, less than nothing. I shall endeavour to come to the cross just as I came at first, for I find that if I get beyond the position of a believing sinner, I get into a dangerous condition. Safety lies in conformity to truth, and truth will not allow any of us to glory before God. The more I know the Lord, and the more I live in communion with him, the more do I feel happy in lying at his feet, and looking up to him to be my all in all. I would be nothing, and let Christ be everything. Take this from one who has been a preacher of the gospel for more than thirty-five years, and a soul-winner who needs not to be ashamed — I am as entirely dependent upon the free mercy of the Lord this day as ever I was, and I look to be saved in the same manner as the thief upon the cross.

     II. Secondly, let me make another observation. It shall be this: AN EXTRAORDINARY SENSE OF GUILT IS QUITE CONSISTENT WITH THE STRONGEST FAITH. It is a blessed thing when the two go together. David was under an extraordinary sense of sin, and right well he might be, for he had committed an extravagant transgression. He had done a very grievous wrong to man, and committed great lewdness before the Lord; and when the Spirit of God at last aroused his conscience, through the rebuke of Nathan, it is not at all wonderful that he should have bowed down under a deeply humiliating sense of his own guiltiness. He was guilty, deeply guilty—more guilty than even himself knew. You and I, perhaps, may also be by God’s grace favoured with a deep sense of sin. But I hear some people say, “Did I understand you rightly, sir, or did my ears deceive me? Favoured with a deep sense of sin?” Yes, I said that; for while sin is horrible, a thorough sense of it, bitter as it is, is one of the greatest favours with which God blesses his chosen. I am sure that there are some of God’s children whose experience is shallow and superficial, for they do not know the heights and depths of redeeming love, neither are they established in the doctrines of grace, and all because they never were deeply ploughed with a sharp sense of sin. These know nothing of subsoil ploughing, so as to turn their very hearts up under the keen ploughshare of the law. But that man who knows what sin means, and has had it burned with a hot iron into the core of his spirit, is the man who knows what grace means, and is likely to understand its freeness and fulness. He who knows the evil of sin is likely to know the value of the precious blood. I could scarcely ask for any of you a better thing than that you should fully know in your own spirit the horribleness of sin as far as your mind is capable of bearing the strain.

     David was so conscious of his guilt that he compares himself to a leper. The language of the text refers, I believe, to the cleansing of lepers. Hyssop was dipped in blood, and then the sacrificial blood was sprinkled upon the polluted individuals to make them clean. David felt that he had become a leprous man. He felt like one who has contracted the horrible, the polluting, the incurable disease of leprosy. He felt that he was not fit to come near to God, nor even to associate with his fellowman. He confessed that his guilt was such that he ought to be put away, shut out from the assembly of the people. His guilt had polluted a whole nation, of whom he was the representative, and to whom he was the example. Did you ever feel like that? I tell you that you do not know all the pollution of sin unless you have been made to feel yourself to be a polluted thing. If you had fifty leprosies, they would not pollute you like sin, for a poor leper is not really polluted: he may bear a grand and noble soul within that rotting body. Sin alone is real pollution, hellish pollution, abominable pollution. There is nothing in hell that is worse than sin; even the devil is only a devil because sin made him a devil: so that sin is the most horrible and intolerable evil that can fall upon the spirit of man. David felt that dreadful truth. But yet, mark you, though he felt the horror of the disease of sin, his faith was strong enough to make him use the confident language of the text, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” Black as my sin is, filthy as it is, if thou do but purge me, O my God, I shall be clean.

     Yes, David is sure that God can cleanse him. He pleads as one who has no question upon the matter towards God. His prayer is—“Do thou purge me, and I shall be clean! Apply the precious blood of the great Sacrifice to me, O God, and I shall be whiter than snow!” There is about the Hebrew a sense which I could hardly give you, except I were to put it thus: “Thou wilt un-sin me.” As though God would take his sin right away, and leave him without a speck of sin, without a single grain of it upon him. God could make him as if he had never sinned at all. Such is the power of the cleansing work of God upon the heart that he can restore innocence to us, and make us as if we had never been stained with transgression at all. Believest thou this? Believest thou this? Oh, thou art a happy man, if, under the deepest conceivable sense of sin, thou canst still say, “Yes, I believe that he can wash me, and make me whiter than snow!”

     But will you follow me while I go a step farther? The words of our text are in the Hebrew in the future tense, and they might be read, “Thou shalt purge me, and I shall be clean;” so that David was not only certain about the power of God to cleanse him, but about the fact that God would do it: “Thou shalt purge me.” He cast himself, confessing his sin, at the feet of his God, and he said, “My God, I believe that, through the great Atonement, thou wilt make me clean!” Have you faith like that of David? Believest thou this? Beloved, some of us can boldly say, “Ay, that we do; we believe not only that God can pardon us, but that he will, ay, that he has pardoned us; and we come to him now, and plead that he would renew in us the cleansing work of the precious blood, and of the water, which flowed from the side of Christ, and so make us perfectly clean! Yea, we believe that he will do it; we are sure that he will: and we believe that he will continue to cleanse us till we shall need no more cleansing. Hart’s hymn sings concerning the precious blood—

“If guilt removed return and remain,
Its power may be proved again and again.”

This witness is true, and we set our seal to it.

     The Psalmist David believed that, although his sin was what it was, yet God could make a rapid cleansing of it. He speaks of the matter as wrought promptly, and speedily. It took seven days to cleanse a leper; but David does not follow the type when the reality excels it. He says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” It is done directly, done at once;— washed, and whiter than snow. It will not take seven days to wipe out the crimes of seven years; nay, if a man had lived seventy years in sin, if he did but come to his God with humble confession, and if the precious blood of Jesus were applied to him, his sins would vanish in the twinkling of an eye. The two facts come together. “Purge me: I shall be clean. Wash me: I shall be whiter than snow.” It is done at once. Note the rapidity of the cleansing.

     Mark the effectual character of the purgation. “Purge me, and I shall be clean.” Not “I shall think that I am,” but “I shall be. I shall be like a man perfectly healed of leprosy.” Such a man was not purged in theory, but in reality; so that he could go up to the court of the Lord’s house, and offer his sacrifice among the rest of Israel. So, if thou wash me, Lord, I shall be really clean! I shall have access to thee, and I shall have fellowship with all thy saints.

     Once more — David believed that God could give him internal cleansing. “In the hidden parts,” says he, “thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” I do like that about the text. It is “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” Where?— Hands? Yes. Feet? Yes. Head? Yes. All this is good; but what about the heart? There is the part that you and I cannot cleanse, but God can. Imagination, conscience, memory, every inward faculty, the Lord can purge us in all these. u Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” This includes the whole man. And this declaration falls from the lip of a man who knew himself to be as defiled as he could be, a very leper, only fit to be put away into his own several house, and shut up there for fear of contaminating the rest of mankind. He boldly says, “If the Lord wash me, I shall be clean, I am certain of it. I shall be perfectly clean, and fit to have communion with himself.”

     Notice one more remark on this point, namely, that David, while thus conscious of his sins, is so full of faith towards God that he appropriates all the cleansing power of God to himself. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” There are four personal words in one verse. It is easy to believe that God can forgive sin in general, but that he can forgive mine in particular— that is the point. Ay, it is easy to believe that he can forgive man, but to believe that he will forgive such a poor specimen of the race as I am is quite another matter! To take personal hold upon divine blessings is a most blessed faculty. Let us exercise it. Can you do it? Brothers and sisters, can you do it? You that cannot call yourselves brothers and sisters, you far-away ones, can you come to Christ, all black and defiled as you are, and just believe in him, that you shall be made whole? You will not be believing too much the Great Sinners’ Friend. According to your faith be it unto you.

     III. This brings us to our third and last point, upon which I will speak with great brevity. Notice that A DEEP SENSE OF SIN AND A CONFIDENT FAITH IN GOD MAKE THE LORD S NAME AND GLORY PREEMINENTLY CONSPICUOUS. God is the great actor in the text before us. He purges and he washes, and none but he. The sins and the cleansing are both of them too great to allow of any inferior handling.

     “Purge me.” He makes it all God’s work. He does not say anything about the Aaronic priest. What a poor miserable creature the priest is when a soul is under a sense of sin! Have you ever met with a person who has been really broken in heart who has gone to a priest? If so, he has been made ashamed of his looking to man, for he has found him to be a broken cistern that can hold no water. Why, my brethren, if we had this platform full of popes, and one poor soul under a sense of sin to be comforted, the whole lot of them could not touch the sinner’s wound, nor do anything to stanch the bleeding of his heart! No, no, the words of the best of men fall short of our need. As the dying monk said, “Tua vulnera, Jesu!”—“Thy wounds, Jesus !” These can heal, but nothing else can. God must himself wash us. Nothing short of his personal interposition will suffice.  

     Now, notice the next word, “Purge me with hyssop.” We must have faith, which is represented by hyssop. How little David makes of faith! He thinks of it only as the poor “hyssop.” Many questions have been raised as to what hyssop was. I do not think that anybody knows. Whatever it may have been, it was a plant that had many Tittle shoots and leaves, because its particular fitness was that the blood would cling to its many branches. Its use was that it stored the blood, and held it there in ruby drops upon each one of its sprays: and that is the particular suitability of faith for its peculiar office. It is an excellent thing in itself; but the particular virtue of faith lies in this — that it holds the blood so as to apply it. Scarlet wool was used in the ceremony of cleansing, and the scarlet wool was useful because it soaked in the blood, and held it within itself: but the hyssop was still more useful because, while it held the blood, it held it ready to drop. That is how faith holds the great Sacrifice: it holds the atoning blood upon every spray, ready to drop upon the tortured conscience. Faith is the sprinkling hyssop: it is nothing in itself, but it applies to the soul that which is our cleansing and our life.

     David, moreover, seems to me to say, “Lord, if thou wilt purge me with the blood of the great Sacrifice, it does not matter how it is done! Do it with the little hyssop from off the wall. However tiny and insignificant the plant may be, yet it will hold the precious drops, and bring them to my heart, and I shall be whiter than snow.” It is God, you see— it is God all the way through.

     “And I” — there is just that mention of himself; but what of himself? Why, “I shall be the receiver. I shall be clean.” “I.” What about that intensive “I”? “I shall be whiter than snow”;— I shall be the material on which thou workest—the guilty pardoned— the polluted made clean—the leper made whole, and permitted to come up to thy house.

     That is all I ask my Lord to-night— that he will let me come to his table, and be the receiver, the eater, the drinker, the cleansed one, the debtor, the bankrupt debtor, plunged over head and ears in debt to the heavenly Creditor. Oh, to be nothing; to lie at his feet! Oh, to be nothing, but washed— washed in the blood! How sweet it is no longer to ride on horses, but to have God for your all in all; no longer to go forth sword in hand, boasting our strength, and glorying in what we can do, but to sit down at Jesus’ feet, and sing the victory which he alone has won! Come, let us pray from our very hearts, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” God bless you, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.     



Washed to Greater Foulness

By / Jun 22

Washed to Greater Foulness

 

“If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.”— Job ix. 30, 31.

 

I FEEL certain that I am sent on a special errand at this time. Before my mind’s eye I see a soul whose awful reflections are hurrying him to despair. He refuses counsel, and will not listen to direction, for dread has made him desperate. I would have a word in the ear of that worried and wearied one. See ye not the man? He has battled long against a dark temptation, but at last he is beaten. He feels that he can hold out no longer. He can scarcely take breath; the air grows hot and stifling around him, as he faces the question— what next? Accustomed as I am to look down on these crowded aisles and up at these closely-packed galleries, I feel a strange curiosity as I gaze into the mass; for I know that there is one man among all of you to whom I have a private message. I carry despatches from the King of kings to one who is grievously troubled, and is become as a woman forsaken and despised. My Lord and Master described himself in parable as leaving the ninety-and-nine to seek for one lost sheep: I must now copy his example. You will not grudge me for this service, I am sure. I quit the throng that I may find the bewildered one, and bring him safe and sound to the fold.

     Turning to my text, let me say, that as one is startled by a shriek, or saddened by a groan, so these sharp utterances of Job astonish us at first, and then awake our pity. How much are we troubled with brotherly compassion as we read the words,— “If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me”! The sense of misery couched in this passage baffles description. Yet this is but one of a series, in which sentence after sentence reveals a fresh chamber of horrors. The similitudes of grief are here piled up in heaps, with what an old author has spoken of as the “rhetoric of sorrow.” Physical sufferings had produced a strain on Job’s mind, and he sought relief by expressing his anguish. Like some solitary prisoner in the gloomy keep of an old castle, he graves on the walls pictures of the abject despondencies which haunt him. His afflictions are aggravated by vain efforts to alleviate them: he wounds his hand with the rough hammer and nail with which he is engraving his griefs. Of such tortures many of us have had a taste.

     From my experience, as a patient myself, smitten down with soul-sickness; and from my observation as a pastor, into whose ears the woes of awakened sinners are constantly poured, I have somewhat learned to understand the imagery of Job. The sufferer is in double straits. While he is tossed about by Satan, his friends are discharging their arrows at him, and the Almighty troubleth him. To help such a sufferer we must be careful to distinguish between the causes of his sorrow, and divide between his affliction itself and the further sorrows which he has brought upon himself by his unwise efforts to escape from it.

     Such, then, is the line of thought we will pursue. I shall make four divisions; three of them are to be found in the text, and the fourth will follow on, as an important consequence. First, we shall notice that a quickened soul becomes conscious of guilt; secondly, the soul that is quickened makes ineffectual attempts to rid itself of the stain of guilt; thirdly, to deter his people from self-righteousness it pleases God to plunge deeper into the mire those who attempt to cleanse themselves; the fourth point is, that only by severe training are men led to look alone to God for salvation,— it needs omnipotence to teach us that salvation is of the Lord.

     I. At the outset, then, we observe that QUICKENED SOULS ARE CONSCIOUS OF GUILT. They see it; they know it; they feel it; and they blush to find that they are without excuse for it. AH men are sinners: to most men, however, sin appears to be a fashion of the times, a necessity of nature, a folly of youth, or an infirmity of age, which a slight apology will suffice to remove. You will scarcely meet with an Englishman who will not acknowledge that he is a sinner. Is it not the General Confession stereotyped in the book of Common Prayer? But it is one thing to call yourself a sinner, and quite another thing to feel it. I have heard of a lady who owned to her minister that she was a great sinner. He questioned her kindly as to which of the ten commands she had broken. Beginning with the first, he asked her, “Did you ever break this?” to which enquiry she indignantly answered, “No.” In like manner he dealt with the second, and right through the whole ten. She professed in detail to have observed each one, and yet pretended to confess that she had broken them all. By such equivocations multitudes of men and women deceive themselves; and it is unhappily the custom of many a preacher to address his congregation as if they were all good people, and every one of them knew the Lord, from the least even to the greatest. This is pleasing to the flesh, and flattering to pride; but it is most pernicious. How many are being deceived by this want of marking a difference where a vital difference exists!

     Not till men are quickened by divine grace do they truly know that they are sinners. How is this? Some diseases are so insidious that the sufferers fancy that they are getting better, while in very truth they are hastening to the grave. After such manner does sin deceive the sons of men: they think they are saved when they are still unrenewed. How often have I seen a poor girl, whose pale face, sunken eyes, shadowy hand, and languid step have clearly betokened that she was on the brink of death, yet she mistook the flush of consumption for the ruddiness of health. Slowly she waned; but within a day of her departure she planned cheerful projects which proved that she looked for life. Consumption is not, however, so deceitful as sin. Where it has full power over the soul, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” If sin were not so deceitful it would not be half so destructive as it is. How is this, you ask again? Few give themselves the trouble to think about these matters at all. Ours is an age in which men’s thoughts are keen upon politics and merchandize, practical science and economic inventions, financial schemes, and Home Rule, and I know not what beside; but sound doctrine and sincere piety are out of vogue. Few people trouble themselves to think about their souls’ everlasting welfare. Men die at the same rate as of yore, but the mortality is reckoned by a percentage; and as for the life hereafter it is ignored. Friend, have you ever dedicated ten minutes of your time to a consideration of your destiny? Days to your ledger; hours to your amusements; years to your commercial engagements; would it not be wise to reserve some moments for your soul’s outlook beyond the grave? You have made your last will and testament for the world that is fading away, but you have laid up no treasure for the world to come. Is this consistent with your usual prudence? I should have good hope for some of you if I could make you sit for one hour alone, and think of nothing but your souls, your God, and the final judgment. Alas! alas! as the horse rusheth to the battle, so men rush to the heated competition of the hour. They cannot be persuaded to consider. Poor mortals! They concern themselves about everything that does not concern them, but they persistently neglect everything that is needful to their eternal well-being.

     How is this? we enquire once more. To natural ignorance we may attribute much of the ordinary indifference of men to their own sinfulness. They live in a benighted age. In vain you boast the enlightenment of this nineteenth century: the nineteenth century is not one whit more enlightened as to the depravity of human nature than the first century. Men are as ignorant of the plague of their own hearts to-day as they were when Paul addressed them. I know that almost every man you meet with talks as if he were qualified to set up for a doctor of divinity; but is not this the confidence of ignorance? “Vain man would be wise”— or read it, if you please, “vain man is void of understanding— though man be born like a wild ass’s colt.” Until God the Holy Ghost takes him in hand no spiritual light enters the man’s soul. Preaching is an effective means of instructing the mind, arousing the conscience, and impressing the hearts of the people; and faithful preachers are scattered up and down the country within measurable reach of most of your homes. Why, then, is the doctrine of human sinfulness so little understood, and so seldom accepted as an undeniable fact? Many persons seem startled, and try to think that they misunderstand us when we say plainly that in the very best man in the world there is no virtue or grace that can be pleasing to God, unless he has been made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Let me put the truth before you as plainly as I can by speaking of your body in order to describe your soul. You probably imagine that your physical constitution is sound and healthy. I grant you all you ask on that score; yet you are but flesh and blood, like the rest of our mortal race, and therefore you are exposed to every disease which waylays your fellow creatures. Even so, your deceitful heart is capable of as desperate crimes as the vilest of sinners ever committed. The evil propensity lurks within, it needs only the contagion of society, or the temptation of Satan to bring it out. Does not this alarm you? It ought to do so.

     Hardly a glimmer of the humbling truth of our natural depravity dawns on the dull apprehension of the worldly-wise, though souls taught from above know it and are appalled by it. In divers ways the discovery comes to those whom the Lord ordains to save. Sometimes a preacher sent of God lets in the dreadful light. Many men, like the false prophet Mokanna, hide their deformity. You may remember the story. Mokanna wore a silver veil upon his forehead: should he ever remove it the brightness of his countenance would blind the astonished world. In truth a foul disease had cankered his brow. God’s faithful servants are sent to tear off these veils, and expose men to themselves. This duty demands courage. Men veil black villany with self-flattery! Like Jezebel, they paint their eyebrows, and tire their heads, till they think themselves beautiful. It is ours, like Jehu, to cry, “Throw her down.” What have they to do with peace who are the servants of sin? How dare they pretend to comeliness whose hearts are not right with God?

     How comes it to pass, then, that the best of saints on earth are prone to account themselves the chief of sinners? Their sincerity is unquestionable. This discovery is due to the Holy Spirit. He it is who convinces men of sin. By his mysterious but most blessed agency on the hearts of men, a sense of utter ruin is wrought in the chosen, and this prepares them to accept the full redemption provided by the sacrifice of the Redeemer. We cannot explain to you the mystery of the Spirit’s operation. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” But this we do know— the Holy Spirit withers all merely human hope and righteousness, and thus makes room for trust in the work of our Lord Jesus. Man by nature is blindly proud, and proudly blind. The moment the Spirit of God comes into a man, the scales fall from his eyes, and he sees himself in quite a different light. To each saved soul it seems a strange miracle. I have heard the story from simple lips full many a time. The new self talks of the old self with a kind of vacant wonderment. Yesterday our friend was on good terms with himself as a virtuous citizen, an honest trader, a sound churchman; in moral worth all that his neighbours could wish. To-day he is vile in his own sight: his hands are filthy, his heart is foul, his thoughts are loathsome. He perceives that he has been walking in a vain show, and therefore he writes himself down a hypocrite. No name too base by which to surname himself.

     Have I found you out, my friend? Wandering among the motley throng, I am in quest of a soul that seeks the mercy of the Lord. Am I not upon your track?

     Mayhap I am at this moment addressing a person who has been the subject of a mysterious gloom for which he sees no reason whatever. I am right happy to have found him, for I trust I have met with a recruit for the army of truth. But why, you may enquire, do I make such a remark? I will tell you in a moment. There is a vital connection between soul-distress and sound doctrine. Sovereign grace is dear to those who have groaned deeply because they see what grievous sinners they are. Witness Joseph Hart and John Newton, whose hymns you have often sung, or David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards, whose biographies many of you have read. You seldom hear much of God’s everlasting covenant in these modern times, for few men feel that thorough conviction of sin which comes directly from the teaching of the Holy Spirit. In the economy of redemption the effectual operation of the Spirit in enlightening the heart concerning its own sinfulness is sure evidence of the Father’s personal love to his chosen people, and of the special atonement that the Son of God made for their transgressions.

“Ne’er had ye felt the guilt of sin,
Or sweets of pardoning love,
Unless your worthless names had been
Enrolled to life above.”

     You may walk through a dark cellar without discerning by the eye that anything noisome is there concealed. Let the shutters be thrown open! Bid the light of day stream in! You soon perceive frogs upon the cold clammy pavement, filthy cobwebs hanging on the walls in long festoons, foul vermin creeping about everywhere. Startled, alarmed, horrified, who would not wish to flee away, and find a healthier atmosphere? The rays of the sun are, however, but a faint image of that light divine shed by the Holy Spirit, which penetrates the thickest shades of human folly and infatuation, and exposes the treachery of the inmost heart. Then the soul cries out in agony, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” When brought to feel this, we think our doom is sealed, and everlasting destruction is close upon us. But it is not so. This is the way of hope. Through death to life every saved soul must pass. Ask us not to paint the sensations; nor blame us if we usually describe that experience which is most distinct. Sharp conviction, fainting heart, struggling hope, fear that haunts, terror that appals,— an awful fight of fiercely strange emotions! This is the extreme measure of the lite-change. In milder form, with one decisive pang the true heart is born again. The Slough of Despond lies across every pilgrim’s pathway. The years or hours it takes to wade through it must be left an open question. Sudden death is an occasional fact, but more frequently the saints are peacefully welcomed to the realms above; so in the church on earth, sudden conversions happen, but as a rule men pass gradually into the kingdom of God. Between the sensual and the spiritual there is a great gulf, and it must be passed. Of the wind or weather in which you make the passage it is not for me to speak: the voyage may be long or short; but in some sort the gulf must be traversed. Conviction of sin is of the first importance: it cannot be dispensed with.

     You will say, “Why?” Well, we might suggest many reasons. It will make mercy the more precious; it will excite horror of sin in the future— burnt children dread the fire; it will teach you patience, for no future trial will be so severe as this; and it will tend to keep you persevering in holiness. But be the reasons what they may, be you sure of this, that no soul is saved without being made conscious of its own sinfulness.

     II. We pass on to notice that it often happens that AWAKENED SOULS USE MANY INEFFECTUAL MEANS TO OBTAIN CLEANSING. Job describes himself as washing in snow water, and making his hands never so clean. His expressions remind me of my own labour in vain. By how many experiments I tried to purify my own soul! Like all my fellows, I was always foiled in every attempt. See a squirrel in a cage; the poor thing is working away, trying to mount, yet he never rises one inch higher. In like case is the sinner who seeks to save himself by his own good works, or by any other means: he toils without result. It is astonishing what pains men will take in this useless drudgery. They prevent the dawn of day in their anxiety to attend matins or observe mass; they are austere in their fastings; they say prayers without stint and do penance to the full. We should be sorry to impugn their sincerity. With what exemplary zeal many in the Anglican Church go about to establish their own righteousness! They practise ceremonies, with a claim to catholicity which no Catholic will allow. Untiring is their diligence in one department or another of amateur office; they hope for a reward for doing what God never commanded. Without a Scriptural proof of being right in anything, they would fain be righteous overmuch in everything. The labour of the foolish in spinning a righteousness of their own, that is neither accredited by the divine law nor by the holy gospel, is almost incredible; they would rather give their bodies to be burned and their goods to feed the poor, than submit to salvation by grace, though it is the only possible salvation.

     In seeking to obtain absolution of their sins, to establish a righteousness of their own, and to secure peace of mind, men tax their ingenuity to the utmost. Job talks of washing himself with snow water. The imagery is, no doubt, meant to be instructive. Why is snow water selected? The reason probably was, first, because it was hard to get. Far easier, generally, to procure water from the running brooks than from melted snow. Men set a high value on that which is difficult to procure. Whence comes it that the great majority of the so-called Christian world prefer worship conducted with gorgeous ritual and stately ceremonial? Is it not the rarity of the thing which creates a sense of value? Enter a Popish cathedral, and try, if you can, to understand the services. What are all these persons doing dressed in red and white, or those other persons in more sombre colour? Manipulations, genuflexions, prostrations, waving of censers, and elevating of hosts— an array of symbolism which it took ages to conglomerate. What is the value of it all, unless it lies in its complications and expenses? Our Protestant friends have their milder predilections. Organs and orchestras serve them for snow water. In measured accents let me speak of music. For psalms and spiritual songs you all know I have an ardent passion. My spirit wings its way to the very portals of heaven in the words and tunes of our hymns. But for your instrumental melodies I have no mind, when you substitute mere sound for heartfelt prayer and praise. The obvious simplicity of the gospel is the only outward voucher I know of for its inward sincerity. Praise is none the better because of the difficulty of the music; say rather that the more simple and congregational it is the better by far. Forms of worship which are expensive and difficult are greatly affected by many, as snow water was thought in Job’s day to be a bath for kings; but, after all, it is an idle fashion, likely to mislead.

     Besides, snow water enjoyed a reputation for purity. If you would have a natural filtered water gather the newly-fallen snow and melt it. The figure represents the religiousness which is of the most rigid kind— the cream of the cream. Specimens yet remain among us of piety more than possible to men, religiousness above the range of mortals; which piety is, however, not of God’s grace, and consequently is a vain show. Though we should use the purest ceremonies, multiply the best of good works, and add thereto the costliest of gifts, yet we should be unable to make ourselves clean before God. You may wash yourself till you deny the existence of a spot, and yet you may be unclean. You may make rigid rules, and find much content in keeping them, and yet remain in nature’s filthiness. With all your shrewdness you have but practised a human device, and in refusing to trust in the Lord Jesus you have failed to observe a divine ordinance; and therefore you will fail.

     Once again, this snow water is probably extolled because it descends from the clouds of heaven, instead of bubbling up from the clods of earth. Religiousness which can colour itself with an appearance of the supernatural is very taking with many. Some folks are fond of apostolical succession; it professes to come from heaven. No doubt the notion originated in cloudland. Others are fascinated by Popery. His holiness the Pope is accounted to be a great cistern, full of grace, which is distilled in streams, and runs through capacious pipes called cardinals, and then through smaller tubes, styled bishops. At length by the still smaller pipes of the priests it comes to the people. No pretext was ever more paltry than this, and yet many are deceived by it. There h, no peace in it for thoughtful minds. For such your snow water has no solace, because they see no connection between outward acts and the purifying of the heart.

“Not all the outward forms on earth,
Nor rites that God has given,
Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth,
Can raise a soul to heaven.”

     If I “make my hands never so clean,” is an expression peculiarly racy in the original. The Hebrew word has an allusion to soap or nitre. Such was the ordinary and obvious method any one would take to whiten his hands when they were grimy. Tradition tells that certain stains of blood cleave to the floor. The idea is that human blood, shed in murder, can never be scrubbed or scraped off the boards. Thus is it most certainly with the dye of sin. The blood of souls is in thy skirts, is the terrible language of Jeremiah (ch. ii. 34). When ye think that baptism can begin, that confirmation can further, and that other sacraments can complete your purification, ye are mere dupes of your own folly. “Though I wash myself in snow water, and make myself never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” There it stands, it is the testimony of one man, but yet it is true; the Almighty attests it, and all human experience affirms it. These worthless experiments to cleanse yourselves would be ended once for all if you would have regard to the great truth of the gospel: “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” God alone can remove sin, and he does so by the blood of Jesus.

     III. But AS SURE AS EVER QUICKENED SOULS TRY TO GET PURITY IN THE WRONG WAY, GOD WILL THRUST THEM DOWN INTO THE DITCH. This is a terrible predicament. I find, on looking at the passage closely, that it means “head over ears in the ditch.” It is not merely some filthy puddle in which a man treads till he is splashed all over, it is a slough of despond into which he sinks. His eyes, his ears, and his mouth, are filled with pollution; and his very clothes are so foul that he utterly abhors himself. Old Master Caryl, a rare expositor of the Book of Job, says that the original can only be equalled in English by the expression— we would not touch such an one with a pair of tongs.

     Often it happens with those who try to get better by their own good works, that their conscience is awakened by the effort, and they are more conscious of sin than ever. If a chosen man strives to save himself from his sins by his own righteousness the Lord permits him to see his own heart and he ceases from all glorying. The word here rendered “ditch” is elsewhere translated “corruption.” So in the sixteenth Psalm: “Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Language cannot paint abasement, reproach, or ignominy in stronger terms. THOU shalt plunge me in the ditch.” Is it not as though God himself would undertake the business of causing his people to know that by their vain ablutions they were making themselves yet more vile in his eyes? We read, in the second chapter of Jeremiah, of God’s remonstrance with Judah: “Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God. How canst thou say, I am not polluted?”

     May we not regard this as the discipline of our Heavenly Father’s love, albeit when passing through the trial we do not perceive it to be so? Thus, in the apocalyptic epistle to the church at Laodicea, expostulation more severe or more tender it would be hard to imagine— “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked : I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not ^ appear ; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Mark the gentle words, “I counsel thee,” addressed to a people whose lukewarmness excited nausea! Then follows a sentence of encouragement so sweet and enchanting that it almost sounds like an apology for the fierceness of the former censure. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” A revelation of wretched sinfulness ends in a declaration of love and a visit of grace: for the Lord goes on to say, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.” Anyhow, the Lord will end the conceit which is the source of the lukewarmness: he cannot permit his chosen to remain in self-righteous pride; for that his soul hateth.

     Perhaps, my friend, the experience I am trying to describe will come to you through the preaching of the Word. This sermon may dishearten and distract you. Your hope was thriving like a plant. This sermon shrivels every leaf; and though, at the scent of water, the branch of self-righteousness will bud again, the next sermon you hear may wither even the stem of your confidence. If another sermon soon afterwards cuts it down to the very root, the ministry will be profitable to you; for the root of pride must be cut up. Believe me, this is mild treatment: I trust you may not be left to severer methods.

     Frequently our great Lord leaves a poor wayward soul to eat the fruits of its own ways, and this is the severest form of plunging in the ditch. While striving after righteousness in a wrong way, the man stumbles into the very sin against which he struggled. The young man, of whom I am now thinking, resolved, by the help of God, that he would be different henceforth from what he ever had been. His vows kept pace with his devotions. He started them at early morn—

“And felt, good, easy man, full surely
His goodness was a-ripening.”

     To the shop he went, as was his wont; but his thoughts were no longer set on earthly things: he stood, as he supposed, on heavenly ground. Because he had taken snow-water and had washed his hands, he began to think that he was singularly clean. Towards evening a temptation suddenly crossed his path. At first he resisted, but it proved a feeble fight. The argument of another young man, that it was policy to yield, availed to break the covenant he had made with his own conscience. So he was led astray to a place of amusement, where the light of God’s countenance never shines. The wretchedness of his reflections on the morrow could not easily be told. He felt that his feet were fast in the miry clay, and his garments foully soiled. His empty conceit might not have been dislodged from its secret lurking-place in his depraved nature without some such perilous downfall.

     Mayhap, there sits out yonder a good sister who has grown familiar with spiritual straits. Did you ever happen to hear of Mary Huntington, wife of William Huntington, S.S., the famous Calvinistic preacher? When he prayed for her, which he did with much affection, he confessed before God— “O Lord, I beseech thee, hear me on her behalf.  Thou knowest how warmly attached she has ever been to MOSES, and what narrow and vain searches she has made in order to find out his grave, which thou, in infinite wisdom and mercy, hast thought fit to conceal.” That prayer, which was published about a century ago, is worth preserving in your memory. For that “Mary,” like many worthy housewives of these days, was rather fond of collecting the rags and relics of self. If it had been possible, she would have worn at least an apron of the linsey-woolsey of self-righteousness. The Lord will not have his handmaids thus arranged: they must be quit of self altogether.

     Our lives through various scenes are drawn and vexed with petty provocations. Paltry annoyances are the bane of our peace. Some of you, dear sisters, spend your years and your thoughts in a narrow circle, and I deeply sympathize with you therein. Without a wish to be great, or to enlarge your coast, you intensely desire to be good. To do your duty to the best of your ability, is your aim, and therein you are worthy of all honour. The lot of many of you is to pass much of your time in loneliness; your temptations are therefore peculiar. For many a quiet hour you have been busy with domestic employments, distracted by no acute anxiety, but cheered by much quiet meditation. At such seasons you are apt to get on good terms with yourselves. Presently the shades of evening begin to fall. Evening! of which Cowper sweetly sings:

“Come, evening, once again, season of peace, Return, sweet evening, and continue long!”

     You are prepared to welcome home the husband, brother, son, who will look for his repast, and seek his well-earned repose. Possibly, my sisters, this is your season of temptation. His rough word, his needless complaint, his vacant look, when you pine for sympathy puts you about. A sense of injustice stings you. It may be very natural, but all the same it is very fatal to your sense of superior goodness. What more treacherous than one’s temper? In a sudden gust of passion, you utter words of anger. How gladly would you recall them! but they are registered. Down into the ditch of despondency yon sink. For days to come you feel that you cannot forgive yourself. Your rich mantle of righteousness after this tumble in the ditch looks mean enough to provoke your own ridicule.

     Thus do we, in our different spheres, fly from this to that, and from that to the other. Some hope to cleanse away sin by a supreme effort of self-denial, or of miraculous faith. Men dream of being clean without the blood of Jesus; they even boast of it, and yet their sin remaineth. The eye of the judgment may be deceived till we half think we are clean; but no sooner does the scale grow thin, or the light grow strong, than the conscience perceives its error and learns the lesson that no human endeavour can wash out the accursed spot. Let us not play at purification, nor vainly hope to satisfy conscience with that which renders no satisfaction to God.

     Persons of sensitive disposition, and sedentary habits, are prone to seek a righteousness of inward feeling. Let me describe these good folks to you. They aim at a righteousness that renounces every fault, and they cultivate such graces as are naturally lovely, watching from moment to moment their own feelings of joy or grief. Yet these be they who get to know, with the keenest anguish, the plague of their own hearts. How it happens is sufficiently clear. They try to live by their feelings and frames of mind; and what can be more deceitful than these sensations? Treacherous as the sea on which you sail so smoothly on sunny days, but; which, at other times, wrecks your barque without mercy, your frames and feelings are not in the least to be depended on. One day you are all aglow, the flush of fervour is on your face; the next day you feel so dead and cold that prayer would freeze upon your lips. Your evidences are dark. You think you have none, and, seized with despondency, you lament that “there is no hope.” Ah, me! the sin-sick soul, given to watch its own symptoms, is brought into perilous straits; trying one nostrum after another, sometimes feeling a little better, and anon feeling itself much worse. Oh, that it could turn from feeling to faith; and look steadily out of inward sensation to the work finished once for all by the Lord Jesus!

     Poor Job was smitten with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. No doubt he sent for the doctor— though we are not actually told that he did so. It is likely enough that snow water was prescribed to him for a relief. His hands may not have seemed very sightly when he used it; there may, at least, have been some connection between his physician’s prescription and his poetry, when he said, “If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean.” Perfection in any one part of conduct would not secure cleanness for the rest. Washed hands would be a small matter if the boils remained over the rest of the body. This is another aspect of the same unsatisfactory expedient that I am wanting to point out to you. You are under bad treatment until you walk by faith in Jesus. Anything short of grace will prove a mere mockery of your malady. Asa, King of Judah, was diseased in his feet. He sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians. Asa never recovered; but the Lord restored Job to perfect health. The gratuitous advice which the patriarch received in the time of his sore sickness was not worth his gratitude. Of his three friends, he said: “Ye are all physicians of no value.” Then comes back the metaphor which I have repeated so often: “Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” After all is said and done by the wisest of men the poor sinner is worse off than when they undertook his case. All is vanity till God comes in.

     Let us not forget that the man who thus described his own case “was perfect and upright, one that feared God and eschewed evil.” Such a case is a puzzle to those who are not enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Although Job was renowned for righteousness in his generation, a gleam from God’s countenance exposed the faultiness of his soul. Does this prove him to have been a hypocrite? By no means. His friends supposed him to be so, though they had no ground whatever for the suspicion: it was their rough way of solving a hard problem. If the patriarch’s integrity had not been so firm, if his refinement had not been so tender, if his piety towards God had not been so invariably accompanied by his pity for his brother men; if, in a word, his character had not been so complete, his trial and his deliverance could not have exhibited the extraordinary lesson which has interested and instructed every succeeding generation. He appears before us at first in the vigour of health, in the height of prosperity, and in the charm of good repute. But oh, the vanity of man! At a touch of God’s finger, his flesh develops a festering mass of corruption; at a glance of God’s eye, which searched him through and through, the total depravity of human nature at its best estate becomes apparent. “He abhors himself in dust and ashes.” What next? Utter ruin? Nay, friend, it is full redemption.

     IV. By such severe training THE AWAKENED ONE IS LED TO LOOK ALONE TO GOD FOR SALVATION, and to find the salvation he looks for. This is my last point, and I have no time left to enlarge upon it. What I want is that the truth may flash across your mind in a moment. There sits the man who is menaced with despair because every effort to extricate himself from the tangled web of his own strange experience has left him worse than before. Did I attempt to comfort him he would repel my kindest expressions. And why? He knows that it is God who condemns him. In a British court of justice, when the judge sums up against the prisoner, small cheer can he get from the honeyed words of his counsel. But hark— “It is God that justifieth.” Whom does he justify? The ungodly. He first condemns them in their own consciences; and then he justifies them according to his grace. If I receive the sentence of death in myself it is the earnest of deliverance in my Redeemer. My brother, has light beamed on your soul? I hope I have found you, and that the Lord has visited you with his salvation.

     I want you to notice a simple fact which seems to me to have escaped your observation. When the Almighty justified Job he commended him, and pronounced a high encomium on his conduct. Whatever mistakes he made about himself or his circumstances, in one matter he was clear as a bell; He has spoken right of me, saith the Lord. (Job xlii. 7.) Eliphaz and his friends transgressed in this respect. Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek it in yourselves, you are all on the wrong track. You begin below with the whole duty of man, and try to work upward: you are sure to fail. You should begin up yonder, with the righteousness of God; and then you could work downward to righteousness of daily life. God give you knowledge of salvation by grace, to the glory of his own name, and to your own sanctification, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



How to Become Fishers of Men

By / Jun 22

How to Become Fishers of Men 

 

“And Jesus saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”— Matthew iv. 19

 

WHEN Christ calls us by his grace we ought not only to remember what we are, but we ought also to think of what he can make us. It is, “Follow me, and I will make you.” We should repent of what we have been, but rejoice in what we may be. It is not “Follow me, because of what you are already.” It is not “Follow me, because you may make something of yourselves”; but, “Follow me, because of what I will make you.” Verily, I might say of each one of us as soon as we are converted, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” It did not seem a likely thing that lowly fishermen would develop into apostles; that men so handy with the net would be quite as much at home in preaching sermons and in instructing converts. One would have said, “How can these things be? You cannot make founders of churches out of peasants of Galilee.” That is exactly what Christ did; and when we are brought low in the sight of God by a sense of our own unworthiness, we may feel encouraged to follow Jesus because of what he can make us. What said the woman of a sorrowful spirit when she lifted up her song? “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes.” We cannot tell what God may make of us in the new creation, since it would have been quite impossible to have foretold what he made of chaos in the old creation. Who could have imagined all the beautiful things that came forth from darkness and disorder by that one fiat, “Let there be light”? And who can tell what lovely displays of everything that is divinely fair may yet appear in a man’s formerly dark life, when God’s grace has said to him, “Let there be light”? O you who see in yourselves at present nothing that is desirable, come you and follow Christ for the sake of what he can make out of you. Do you not hear his sweet voice calling to you, and saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”?

     Note, next, that we are not made all that we shall be, nor all that we ought to desire to be, when we are ourselves fished for and caught. This is what the grace of God does for us at first; but it is not all. We are like the fishes, making sin to be our element; and the good Lord comes, and with the gospel net he takes us, and he delivers us from the life and love of sin. But he has not wrought for us all that he can do, nor all that we should wish him to do, when he has done this; for it is another and a higher miracle to make us who were fish to become fishers— to make the saved ones saviours— to make the convert into a converter— the receiver of the gospel into an imparter of that same gospel to other people. I think I may say to every person whom I am addressing— If you are saved yourself, the work is but half done until you are employed to bring others to Christ. You are as yet but half formed in the image of your Lord. You have not attained to the full development of the Christ-life in you unless you have commenced in some feeble way to tell to others of the grace of God; and I trust that you will find no rest to the sole of your foot till you have been the means of leading many to that blessed Saviour who is your confidence and your hope. His word is— Follow me, not merely that you may be saved, nor even that you may be sanctified; but, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Be following Christ with that intent and aim; and fear that you are not perfectly following him unless in some degree he is making use of you to be fishers of men. The fact is, that every one of us must take to the business of a mancatcher. If Christ has caught us, we must catch others. If we have been apprehended of him, we must be his constables, to apprehend rebels for him. Let us ask him to give us grace to go a-fishing, and so to cast our nets that we may take a great multitude of fishes. Oh that the Holy Ghost may raise up from among us some master-fishers, who shall sail their boats in many a sea, and surround great shoals of fish!

     My teaching at this time will be very simple, but I hope it will be eminently practical; for my longing is that not one of you that love the Lord may be backward in his service. What says the Song of Solomon concerning certain sheep that come up from the washing? It says, “Every one beareth twins, and none is barren among them.” May that be so with all the members of this church, and all the Christian people that hear or read this sermon! The fact is, the day is very dark. The heavens are lowering with heavy thunder-clouds. Men little dream of what tempests may soon shake this city, and the whole social fabric of this land, even to a general breaking up of society. So dark may the night become that the stars may seem to fall like blighted fruit from the tree. The times are evil. Now, if never before, every glow-worm must show its spark. You with the tiniest farthing candle must take it from under the bushel, and set it on a candlestick. There is need of you all. Lot was a poor creature. He was a very, very wretched kind of believer; but still, he might have been a great blessing to Sodom had he but pleaded for it as he should have done. And poor, poor Christians, as I fear many are, one begins to value every truly converted soul in these evil days, and to pray that each one may glorify the Lord. I pray that every righteous man, vexed as he is with the conversation of the wicked, may be more importunate in prayer than he has ever been, and return unto his God, and get more spiritual life, that he may be a blessing to the perishing people around him. I address you, therefore, at this time first of all upon this thought. Oh that the Spirit of God may make each one of you feel his personal responsibility!

     Here is for believers in Christ, in order to their usefulness, something for them to do. “Follow me.” But, secondly, here is something to be done by their great Lord and Master: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” You will not grow into fishers of yourselves, but this is what Jesus will do for you if you will but follow him. And then, lastly, here is a good illustration, used according to our great Master’s wont; for scarcely without a parable did he speak unto the people. He presents us with an illustration of what Christian men should be —fishers of men. We may get some useful hints out of it, and I pray the Holy Spirit to bless them to us.

     I. First, then, I will take it for granted that every believer here wants to be useful. If he does not, I take leave to question whether he can be a true believer in Christ. Well, then, if you want to be really useful, here is SOMETHING FOR YOU TO DO TO THAT END: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

     What is the way to become an efficient preacher? “Young man,” says one, “go to college.” “Young man,” says Christ, “follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” How is a person to be useful? “Attend a training-class,” says one. Quite right; but there is a surer answer than that— Follow Jesus, and he will make you fishers of men. The great training-school for Christian workers has Christ at its head; and he is at its head, not only as a tutor, but as a leader: we are not only to learn of him in study, but to follow him in action. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The direction is very distinct and plain, and I believe that it is exclusive, so that no man can become a fisherman by any other process. This process may appear to be very simple; but assuredly it is most efficient. The Lord Jesus Christ, who knew all about fishing for men, was himself the Dictator of the rule, “Follow me, if you want to be fishers of men. If you would be useful, keep in my track.”

     I understand this, first, in this sense: he separate unto Christ. These men were to leave their pursuits; they were to leave their companions; they were, in fact, to quit the world, that their one business might be, in their Master’s name, to be fishers of men. We are not all called to leave our daily business, or to quit our families. That might be rather running away from the fishery than working at it in God’s name. But we are called most distinctly to come out from among the ungodly, and to be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing. We cannot be fishers of men if we remain among men in the same element with them. Fish will not be fishers. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man; and, what is more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. If you are of the world, no doubt the world will love its own; but you cannot save the world. If you are dark, and belong to the kingdom of darkness, you cannot remove the darkness. If you march with the armies of the wicked one, you cannot defeat them. I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church. Nowadays we hear Nonconformists pleading that they may do this and they may do that— things which their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated. They plead that they may live like worldlings, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, “Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for yon are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering after such dog’s meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage. Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God’s children you would loathe the very thought of the world’s evil joys, and your question would not be, ‘How far may we be like the world?’ but your one cry would be, ‘How far can we get away from the world? How much can we come out from it?’” Your temptation would be rather to become sternly severe, and ultra-Puritanical in your separation from sin, in such a time as this, than to ask, “How can I make myself like other men, and act as they do?” Brethren, the use of the church in the world is that it should be like salt in the midst of putrefaction; but if the salt has lost its savour, what is the good of it? If it were possible for salt itself to putrefy, it could but be an increase and a heightening of the general putridity. The worst day the world ever saw was when the sons of God were joined with the daughters of men. Then came the flood; for the only barrier against a flood of vengeance on this world is the separation of the saint from the sinner. Your duty as a Christian is to stand fast in your own place and stand out for God, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, resolving like one of old that, let others do as they will, as for you and your house, you will serve the Lord.

     Come, ye children of God, you must stand out with your Lord outside the camp. Jesus calls to you to-day, and says, “Follow me.” Was Jesus found at the theatre? Did he frequent the sports of the racecourse? Was Jesus seen, think you, in any of the amusements of the Herodian court? Not he. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” In one sense no one mixed with sinners so completely as he did when, like a physician, he went among them healing bis patients; but in another sense there was a gulf fixed between the men of the world and the Saviour which he never essayed to cross, and which they could not cross to defile him. The first lesson which the church has to learn is this: Follow Jesus into the separated state, and he will make you fishers of men. Unless you take up your cross and protest against an ungodly world, you cannot hope that the holy Jesus will make you fishers of men.

     A second meaning of our text is very obviously this: abide with Christ, and then you will be made fishers of men. These disciples whom Christ called were to come and live with him. They were every day to be associated with him. They were to hear him teach publicly the everlasting gospel, and in addition they were to receive choice explanations in private of the word which he had spoken. They were to be his body-servants and his familiar friends. They were to see his miracles and hear his prayers; and, better still, they were to be with himself, and become one with him in his holy labour. It was given to them to sit at the table with him, and even to have their feet washed by him. Many of them fulfilled that word, “Where thou dwellest I will dwell they were with him in his afflictions and persecutions. They witnessed his secret agonies; they saw his many tears; they marked the passion and the compassion of his soul, and thus, after their measure, they caught his spirit, and so they learned to be fishers of men.

     At Jesus’ feet we must learn the art and mystery of soul-winning: to live with Christ is the best education for usefulness. It is a great boon to any man to be associated with a Christian minister whose heart is on fire. The best training for a young man is that which the Vaudois pastors were wont to give, when each old man had a young man with him who walked with him whenever he went up the mountainside to preach, and lived in the house with him, and marked his prayers and saw his daily piety. This was a fine instruction. Was it not? But it will not compare with that of the apostles who lived with Jesus himself, and were his daily companions. Matchless was the training of the twelve. No wonder that they became what they were with such a heavenly tutor to saturate them with his own spirit! And now to-day bis bodily presence is not among us; but his spiritual power is perhaps more fully known to us than it was to those apostles in those two or three years of the Lord’s corporeal presence. There be some of us to whom he is intimately near. We know more about him than we do about our dearest earthly friend. We have never been able quite to read our friend’s heart in all its twistings and windings, but we know the heart of the Well Beloved. We have leaned our head upon his bosom, and have enjoyed fellowship with him such as we could not have with any of our own kith and kin. This is the surest method of learning how to do good. Live with Jesus, follow Jesus, and he will make you fishers of men. See how he does the work, and so learn how to do it yourself. A Christian man should be bound apprentice to Jesus to learn the trade of a Saviour. We can never save men by offering a redemption, for we have none to present; but we can learn how to save men by warning them to flee from the wrath to come, and setting before them the one great effectual remedy. See how Jesus saves, and you will learn how the thing is done: there is no learning it anyhow else. Live in fellowship with Christ, and there shall be about you an air and a manner as of one who has been made in heart and mind apt to teach, and wise to win souls.

     A third meaning, however, must be given to this “Follow me,” and it is this: “Obey me, and then you shall know what to do to save men.” We must not talk about our fellowship with Christ, or our being separated from the world unto him, unless we make him our Master and Lord in everything. Some public teachers are not true at all points to their convictions, and how can they look for a blessing? A Christian man anxious to be useful, ought to be very particular as to every point of obedience to his Master. I have no doubt whatever that God blesses our churches even when they are very faulty, for his mercy endureth for ever. When there is a measure of error in the teaching, and a measure of mistake in the practice, he may still vouchsafe to use the ministry, for he is very gracious. But a large measure of blessing must necessarily be withheld from all teaching which is knowingly or glaringly faulty. God can set his seal upon the truth that is in it, but he cannot set his seal upon the error that is in it. Out of mistakes about Christian ordinances and other things, especially errors in heart and spirit, there may come evils which we never looked for. Such evils may even now be telling upon the present age, and may work worse mischief upon future generations. If we desire as fishers of men to be largely used of God we must copy our Lord Jesus in everything, and obey him in every point. Failure in obedience may lead to failure in success. Each one of us, if he would wish to see his child saved, or his Sunday-school class blessed, or his congregation converted, must take care that, bearing the vessels of the Lord, he is himself clean. Anything we do that grieves the Spirit of God must take away from us some part of our power for good. The Lord is very gracious and pitiful; but yet he is a jealous God. He is sometimes sternly jealous towards his people who are living in neglects of known duty, or in associations which are not clean in his sight, He will wither their work, weaken their strength, and humble them until at last they say, “My Lord, I will take thy way after all. I will do what thou biddest me to do, for else thou wilt not accept me.” The Lord said to his disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”; and he promised them that signs should follow, and so they did follow them, and so they will. But we must get back to apostolic practice and to apostolic teaching: we must lay aside the commandments of men and the whimseys of our own brains, and we must do what Christ tells us, as Christ tells us, and because Christ tells us. Definitely and distinctly, we must take the place of servants; and if we will not do that, we cannot expect our Lord to work with us and by us. Let us be determined that, as true as the needle is to the pole, so true will we be, as far as our light goes, to the command of our Lord and Master. Jesus says— “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” By this teaching he seems to say— “Go beyond me, or fall back behind me, and you may cast the net; but it shall be night with you, and that night you shall take nothing. When you shall do as I bid you, you shall cast your net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find.”

     Again, I think that there is a great lesson in my text to those who preach their own thoughts instead of preaching the thoughts of Christ. These disciples were to follow Christ that they might listen to him, hear what he had to say, drink in his teaching, and then go and teach what he had taught them. Their Lord says, “What I tell you in darkness, speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” If they will be faithful reporters of Christ's message, he will make them “fishers of men.” But you know the boastful method nowadays is this: “I am not going to preach this old, old gospel, this musty Puritan doctrine. I will sit down in my study, and burn the midnight oil, and invent a new theory; then I will come out with my brand-new thought, and blaze away with it.” Many are not following Christ, but following themselves, and of them the Lord may well say, “Thou shalt see whose word shall stand, mine or theirs.” Others are wickedly prudent, and judge that certain truths which are evidently God's word had better be kept back. You must not be rough, but must prophesy smooth things. To talk about the punishment of sin, to speak of eternal punishment, why, these are unfashionable doctrines. It may be that they are taught in the Word of God, but they do not suit the genius of the age. We must pare them down. Brothers in Christ, I will have no share in this. Will you? O my soul, come not thou into their secret! Certain things not taught in the Bible our enlightened age has discovered. Evolution may be clean contrary to the teaching of Genesis, but that does not matter. We are not going to be believers of Scripture, but original thinkers. This is the vain-glorious ambition of the period. Mark you, in proportion as the modern theology is preached the vice of this generation increases. To a great degree I attribute the looseness of the age to the laxity of the doctrine preached by its teachers. From the pulpit they have taught the people that sin is a trifle. From the pulpit these traitors to God and to his Christ have taught the people that there is no hell to be feared. A little, little hell, perhaps, there may be; but just punishment for sin is made nothing of. The precious atoning sacrifice of Christ has been derided and misrepresented by those who were pledged to preach it. They have given the people the name of the gospel, but the gospel itself has evaporated in their hands. From hundreds of pulpits the gospel is as clean gone as the dodo from its old haunts; and still the preachers take the position and name of Christ’s ministers. Well, and what comes of it? Why, their congregations grow thinner and thinner; and so it must be. Jesus says, “Follow me, I will make you fishers of men”; but if you go in your own way, with your own net, you will make nothing of it, and the Lord promises you no help in it. The Lord’s directions make himself our leader and example. It is, “Follow me, follow me. Preach my gospel. Preach what I preached. Teach what I taught, and keep to that” With that blessed servility which becomes one whose ambition it is to be a copyist, and never to be an original, copy Christ even in jots and tittles. Do this, and he will make you fishers of men; but if you do not do this, you shall fish in vain.

     I close this head of discourse by saying that we shall not be fishers of men unless we follow Christ in one other respect; and that is, by endeavouring, in all points, to imitate his holiness. Holiness is the most real power that can be possessed by men or women. We may preach orthodoxy, but we must also live orthodoxy. God forbid that we should preach anything else; but it will be all in vain, unless there is a life at the back of the testimony. An unholy preacher may even render truth contemptible. In proportion as any of us draw back from a living and zealous sanctification we shall draw back from the place of power. Our power lies in this word, “Follow me.” Be Jesus-like. In all things endeavour to think, and speak, and act as Jesus did, and he will make you fishers of men. This will require self-denial. We must daily take up the cross. This may require willingness to give up our reputation— readiness to be thought fools, idiots, and the like, as men are apt to call those who are keeping close to their Master. There must be the cheerful resigning of everything that looks like honour and personal glory, in order that we may be wholly Christ’s, and glorify his name. We must live his life and be ready to die his death, if need be. O brothers, sisters, if we do this and follow Jesus, putting our feet into the footprints of his pierced feet, he will make us fishers of men. If it should so please him that we should even die without having gathered many souls to the cross, we shall speak from our graves. In some way or other the Lord will make a holy life to be an influential life. It is not possible that a life which can be described as a following of Christ should be an unsuccessful one in the sight of the Most High. “Follow me,” and there is an “I will” such as God can never draw back from: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

     Thus much on the first point. There is something for us to do: we are graciously called to follow Jesus. Holy Spirit, lead us to do it.

     II. But secondly, and briefly, there is SOMETHING FOR THE LORD TO DO. When his dear servants are following him, he says, “I will make you fishers of men”; and be it never forgotten that it is he that makes us follow him; so that if the following of him be the step to being made a fisher of men, yet this he gives us. ’Tis all of his Spirit. I have talked about catching his spirit, and abiding in him, and obeying him, and hearkening to him, and copying him; but none of these things are we capable of apart from his working them all in us. “From me is thy fruit found,” is a text which we must not for a moment forget. So, then, if we do follow him, it is he that makes us follow him; and so he makes us fishers of men.

     But, further, if we follow Christ he will make us fishers of men by all our experience. I am sure that the man who is really consecrated to bless others will be helped in this by all that he feels, especially by his afflictions. I often feel very grateful to God that T have undergone fearful depression of spirits. I know the borders despair, and the horrible brink of that gulf of darkness into which my feet have almost gone; but hundreds of times I have been able to give a helpful grip to brethren and sisters who have come into that same condition, which grip I could never have given if I had not known their deep despondency. So I believe that the darkest and most dreadful experience of a child of God will help him to be a fisher of men if he will but follow Christ. Keep close to your Lord and he will make every step a blessing to you. If God in providence should make you rich, he will fit you to speak to those ignorant and wicked rich who so much abound in this city, and so often are the cause of its worst sin. And if the Lord is pleased to let you be very poor you can go down and talk to those wicked and ignorant poor people who so often are the cause of sin in this city, and so greatly need the gospel. The winds of providence will waft you where you can fish for men. The wheels of providence are full of eyes, and all those eyes will look this way to help us to be winners of souls. You will often be surprised to find how God has been in a house that you visit: before you get there, his hand has been at work in its chambers. When you wish to speak to some particular individual, God’s providence has been dealing with that individual to make him ready for just that word which you could say, but which nobody else but you could say. Oh, be you following Christ, and you will find that he will, by every experience through which you are passing, make you fishers of men.

     Further than that, if you will follow him he will make you fishers of men by distinct monitions in your own heart. There are many monitions from God’s Spirit which are not noticed by Christians when they are in a callous condition; but when the heart is right with God and living in communion with God, we feel a sacred sensitiveness, so that we do not need the Lord to shout, but his faintest whisper is heard. Nay, he need not even whisper. “Thou shalt guide me with thine eye.” Oh, how many mulish Christians there are who must be held in with bit and bridle, and receive a cut of the whip every now and then! But the Christian who follows his Lord shall be tenderly guided. I do not say that the Spirit of God will say to you, “Go and join yourself unto this chariot,” or that you will hear a word in your ear; but yet in your soul, as distinctly as the Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join yourself to this chariot,” you shall hear the Lord’s will. As soon as you see an individual, the thought shall cross your mind, “Go and speak to that person.” Every opportunity of usefulness shall be a call to you. If you are ready, the door shall open before you, and you shall hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk ye in it.” If you have the grace to run in the right way you shall never be long without an intimation as to what the right way is. That right way shall lead you to river or sea, where you can cast your net, and be a fisher of men.

     Then, too, I believe that the Lord meant by this that he would give his followers the Holy Ghost. They were to follow him, and then, when they had seen him ascend into the holy place of the Most High, they were to tarry at Jerusalem for a little while, and the Spirit would come upon them and clothe them with a mysterious power. This word was spoken to Peter and Andrew; and you know how it was fulfilled to Peter. What a host of fish he brought to land the first time he cast the net in the power of the Holy Ghost! “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

     Brethren, we have no conception of what God could do by this company of believers gathered in the Tabernacle to-night. If now we were to be filled with the Holy Ghost there are enough of us to evangelize London. There are enough here to be the means of the salvation of the world. God saveth not by many nor by few. Let us seek a benediction; and if we seek it let us hear this directing voice, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” You men and women that sit before me, you are by the shore of a great sea of human life swarming with the souls of men. You live in the midst of millions; but if you will follow Jesus, and be faithful to him, and true to him, and do what he bids you, he will make you fishers of men. Do not say, “Who shall save this city?” The weakest shall be strong enough. Gideon’s barley cake shall smite the tent, and make it lay along. Samson, with the jawbone, taken up from the earth where it was lying bleaching in the sun, shall smite the Philistines. Fear not, neither be dismayed. Let your responsibilities drive you closer to your Master. Let horror of prevailing sin make you look into his dear face who long ago wept over Jerusalem, and now weeps over London. Clasp him, and never let go your hold. By the strong and mighty impulses of the divine life within you, quickened and brought to maturity by the Spirit of God, learn this lesson from your Lord’s own mouth: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” You are not fit for it, but he will make you fit. You cannot do it of yourselves, but he will make you do it. You do not know how to spread nets and draw shoals of fish to shore, but he will teach you. Only follow him, and he will make you fishers of men.

     I wish that I could somehow say this as with a voice of thunder, that the whole church of God might hear it. I wish I could write it in stars athwart the sky, “Jesus saith, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” If you forget the precept, the promise shall never be yours. If you follow some other track, or imitate some other leader, you shall fish in vain. God grant us to believe fully that Jesus can do great things in us, and then do great things by us for the good of our fellows!

     III. The last point you might work out in full for yourselves in your private meditations with much profit. We have here A FIGURE FULL OF INSTRUCTION. I will give you but two or three thoughts which you can use. “I will make you fishers of men” You have been fishers of fish: if you follow me, I will make you fishers of men.

     A fisher is a person who is very dependent, and needs to be trustful. He cannot see the fish. One who fishes in the sea must go and cast in the neb, as it were, at a peradventure. Fishing is an act of faith. I have often seen in the Mediterranean men go with their boats and enclose acres of sea with vast nets; and yet, when they have drawn the net to shore, they have not had as much result as I could put in my hand. A few wretched silvery nothings have made up the whole take. Yet they have gone again and cast the great neb several times a day, hopefully expecting something to come of it. Nobody is so dependent upon God as the minister of God. Oh, this fishing from the Tabernacle pulpit! What a work of faith! I cannot tell that a soul will be brought to God by it. I cannot judge whether my sermon will be suitable to the persons who are here, except that I do believe that God will guide me in the casting of the net. I expect him to work salvation, and I depend upon him for it. I love this complete dependence, and if I could be offered a certain amount of preaching power, by which I could save sinners, which should be entirely at my own disposal, I would beg the Lord not to let me have it, for it is far more delightful to be entirely dependent upon him at all times. It is good to be a fool when Christ is made unto you wisdom. It is a blessed thing to be weak if Christ becomes more fully your strength. Go to work, you who would be fishers of men, and yet feel your insufficiency. You that have no strength, attempt this divine work. Your Master’s strength will be seen when your own has all gone. A fisherman is a dependent person, he must look up for success every time he puts the net down; but still he is a trustful person, and therefore he casts in the net joyfully.

     A fisherman who gets his living by it is a diligent and persevering man. The fishers are up at dawn. At day-break our fishermen off the Doggerbank are fishing, and they continue fishing till late in the afternoon. As long as hands can work men will fish. May the Lord Jesus make us hard-working, persevering, unwearied fishers of men! “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that.”

     The fisherman in his own craft is intelligent and watchful. It looks very easy, I dare say, to be a fisherman, but you would find that it was no child’s play if you were to take a real part in it. There is an art in it, from the mending of the net right on to the pulling it to shore. How diligent the fisherman is to prevent the fish leaping out of the net! I heard a great noise one night in the sea, as if some huge drum were being beaten by a giant; and I looked out, and I saw that the fishermen of Mentone were beating the water to drive the fish into the net, or to keep them from leaping out when they had once encompassed them with it. Ah, yes! and you and I will often have to be watching the corners of the gospel net lest sinners who are almost caught should make their escape. They are very crafty, these fish, and they use this craftiness in endeavouring to avoid salvation. We shall have to be always at our business, and to exercise all our wits, and more than our own wits, if we are to be successful fishers of men.

     The fisherman is a very laborious person. It is not at all an easy calling. He does not sit in an armchair and catch fish. He has to go out in rough weathers. If he that regardeth the clouds will not sow, I am sure that he that regardeth the clouds will never fish. If we never do any work for Christ except when we feel up to the mark, we shall not do much. If we feel that we will not pray because we cannot pray, we shall never pray; and if we say, “I will not preach to-day because I do not feel that I could preach,” we shall never preach any preaching that is worth the preaching. We must be always at it, until we wear ourselves out, throwing our whole soul into the work in all weathers, for Christ’s sake.

     The fisherman is a daring man. He tempts the boisterous sea. A little brine in his face does not hurt him; he has been wet through a thousand times, it is nothing to him. He never expected when he became a deep-sea fisherman that he was going to sleep in the lap of ease. So the true minister of Christ who fishes for souls will never mind a little risk. He will be bound to do or say many a thing that is very unpopular; and some Christian people may even judge his utterances to be too severe. He must do and say that which is for the good of souls. It is not his to entertain a question as to what others will think of his doctrine, or of him; but in the name of the Almighty God he must feel, “If the sea roar and the fulness thereof, still at my Master’s command I will let down the net.”

     Now, in the last place, the man whom Christ makes a fisher of men is successful. “But,” says one, “I have always heard that Christ’s ministers are to be faithful, but that they cannot be sure of being successful.” Yes, I have heard that saying, and one way I know it is true, but another way I have my doubts about it. He that is faithful is, in God’s way and in God’s judgment, successful, more or less. For instance, here is a brother who says that he is faithful. Of course, I must believe him, yet I never heard of a sinner being saved under him. Indeed, I should think that the safest place for a person to be in if he did not want to be saved would be under this gentleman’s ministry, because he does not preach anything that is likely to arouse, impress, or convince anybody. This brother is “faithful”: so he says. Well, if any person in the world said to you, “I am a fisherman, but I have never caught anything,” you would wonder how he could be called a fisherman. A farmer who never grew any wheat, or any other crop— is he a farmer? When Jesus Christ says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he means that you shall really catch men— that you really shall save some; for he that never did get any fish is not a fisherman. He that never saved a sinner after years of work is not a minister of Christ. If the result of his life-work is nil, he made a mistake when he undertook it. Go thou with the fire of God in thy hand and fling it among the stubble, and the stubble will burn. Be thou sure of that. Go thou and scatter the good seed: it may not all fall in fruitful places, but some of it will. Be thou sure of that. Do but shine, and some eye or other will be lightened thereby. Thou must, thou shalt succeed. But remember this is the Lord’s word— “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Keep close to Jesus, and do as Jesus did, in his spirit, and he will make you fishers of men. 

     Perhaps I speak to an attentive hearer who is not converted at all. Friend, I have the same thing to say to you. You also may follow Christ, and then he can use you, even you. I do not know but that he has brought you to this place that you may be saved, and that in after years he may make you speak for his name and glory. Remember how he called Saul of Tarsus, and made him the apostle of the Gentiles. Reclaimed poachers make the best gamekeepers; and saved sinners make the ablest preachers. Oh, that you would run away from your old master to-night, without giving him a minute’s notice; for if you give him any notice, he will hold you. Hasten to Jesus, and say, “Here is a poor runaway slave! My Lord, I bear the fetters still upon my wrists. “Wilt thou set me free, and make me thine own?” Remember, it is written, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Never runaway slave came to Christ in the middle of the night without his taking him in; and he never gave one up to his old master. If Jesus make you free you shall be free indeed. Flee away to Jesus, then, on a sudden. May his good Spirit help you, and he will by-and-by make you a winner of others to his praise! God bless you. Amen.



Zealous, but Wrong

By / Jun 22

Zealous, But Wrong

 

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might he saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” — Romans x.1, 2, 3.

 

WE ought to have an intense longing for the salvation of all sorts of men, and especially for those, if there are any, that treat us badly. We should never wish them ill, not for a moment; but in proportion to their malice should be our intense desire for their good. Israel had persecuted Paul everywhere with the bitterest imaginable hate. When he addressed them in their synagogues, they rushed upon him in their fury. When he let them alone, and preached quietly to the Gentiles, they made a mob, dragged him before the magistrates, charged him with causing a tumult, and either stoned him, or beat him with rods. He was “an Israelite indeed,” but his people regarded him as a turncoat indeed, because he had become a Christian. Mad as they were against all Christians, they had a special spite and fury against the apostate Pharisee. Paul’s only reply to all their infuriated malice is this gentle assertion: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved.”

     Brethren, let us pray for men that they may be saved. Simple as the statement is, I feel sure that we shall see more conversions when more people pray for conversions. If, as we went about the street, we made a rule that, whenever we heard a man swear, we would pray that he might be saved, might we not hope to see a great many more saved? If, whenever we saw a case of special sin, or read of it in the newspaper, we were to make it a habit always to offer our heart’s desire and prayer for such offenders that they might be saved, I cannot tell what countless blessings would come from God’s right hand.

     I would bring before you one peculiar class of persons whose conversion some of us should very earnestly pray for. They are the kind of people who are here described by the apostle: Israelites, religious people, intensely religious in their way, although that way is not the way of truth. They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. They are righteous people, self -righteous people, people that have done no ill, but, on the contrary, have laboured to do a great deal of good. They are running, and running well, but they are not running in the right road. They are labouring, and labouring hard, but they are not labouring in the right style; and so they will miss their reward. Many of these people are around us, and very admirable people they are in many ways; but their condition causes us the utmost anxiety. There are a few such persons in this present congregation; and though they are not so numerous among us as in many other quarters, yet they have a peculiar place in our affectionate regard. We esteem them so highly that we should be shocked and grieved that one single person of their character should perish. I say most solemnly, “My heart’s desire and prayer for such is, that they might be saved; for I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”

     Bear with me at this time while I talk about these people. If you do not belong to this order of minds yourselves, I am glad of it. Pray for them if you yourselves are saved. If you know any such, keep on mentioning them to God in prayer, while I am preaching. Use the next half-hour as a time of quiet pleading with God about individuals of whom you will be reminded while I am talking. Say, “Lord, bless her,” or, “Lord, bless him.” If you are not one of those at whom I shall be specially aiming, then help me with your prayers that this sermon may be clothed with power by the Holy Ghost.

     I. And first, WHY ARE WE SPECIALLY CONCERNED FOR THESE PEOPLE? The answer is," Because they are so zealous." They have a zeal of God. I feel right glad to meet with a zealous man nowadays, for zeal for God has become a rare quality in the land. You see plenty of zeal where politics are concerned. Fashion, and art, and society, and literature, each one evokes zeal of a certain kind; but we are not overdone with those who are zealous in the matter of religion. We seem to be pretty nearly gone to sleep as to essentials of creed and worship. Who is zealous? Who burns with holy ardour? Who is consumed with sacred enthusiasm? If anybody comes to be a little zealous above others, he is straightway condemned. The man of fervent spirit is laughed at as “a hot gospeller”: he is called fanatical, and great efforts are made to put him down. I fear that both the wise and the foolish virgins are going to sleep at this present time. There is a dulness in the religious world, as if we had passed into a dull, thick, autumn fog. We want a great and general revival. Meanwhile, when we do meet with people who are zealous, we take an interest in them. Zealous at church, zealous in their ceremonies, zealous in their belief of what they believe— however mistaken their zeal may be, there is something interesting about it. We like to associate with people who have hearts — not dry leather bottles, out of which all the juice has gone; but those who have heart, and soul, and life, and fire, and go. I love to meet with those who believe in something, and who work under the pressure of their belief, and give their strength to the carrying out of what they believe to be the will of God. It does seem a very great pity that any zeal should be wasted, and that any one full of zeal should yet miss his way. We fear that there are some who will do so. If you want to go to York you may ride very fast south, but you will not get to York with all your speed. Unless you turn your rein towards the north, you may ride a thousand horses to death, and never see the gates of the old city. It is of no use to be zealous if you are zealous in a wrong cause; but when we meet with any who are such, I say that they become peculiarly the object of a Christian’s prayers. Pray for the zealous with all your hearts, for it is such a pity that one of them should go astray.

     Again, they should be specially the subject of our prayers, because they may go so very wrong, and may do so much mischief to others. Those who have no life nor energy may easily ruin themselves, but they are not likely to harm others; whereas a mistaken zealot is like a madman with a firebrand in his hand. Persons who are zealous, and are under a mistake, may do such a deal of mischief! What did those Scribes and Pharisees in Christ’s day? They were very zealous, and under the pressure of their zeal they crucified the Lord of glory. What did Saul do in his time? He was very zealous, and under the influence of his zeal he dragged men and women to prison, and compelled them to blaspheme, and when they were put to death he gave his voice against them. I do not doubt that many who burned the martyrs were quite as sincere in their faith as those whom they burned. In fact, it must have taken an awful amount of sincerity in the case of some to have been able to believe that the cruelties which they practised were really pleasing to God. We cannot doubt that they had such sincerity. Did not our Lord himself say, “Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service”? Documents, written by men who stained their hands with the blood of Protestants, prove that some of them had a right heart towards God. In their mistaken zeal for God, and truth, and church unity, they believed that they were crushing out a very deadly error, and that the persons whom they sent to prison and to death were criminals that ought to be exterminated, because they were destroyers of the souls of men.

     Take heed that none of you fall into a persecuting spirit through your zeal for the gospel. A good woman may be intensely zealous, and for that reason she may say, “I will not have a servant in my house who does not go to my place of worship.” I have known landlords, wonderfully zealous for the faith, who have therefore turned every Dissenter out of their cottages, and have refused to let one of their farms to a Nonconformist. I do not wonder at their conduct; if they are zealous, and at the same time blind, they will naturally take to exterminating the children of God. Of course, in their zeal they feel as if they must root out error and schism. They will not have Nonconformity near them, and so they get to work, and in their zeal they hack right and left. They say strong things and bitter things, and then proceed to do cruel things— very cruel things— verily believing that, in all that they do, they are doing God service, not thinking that they are violating the crown rights of God, who alone is Lord of the consciences of men. They would not oppose the will of God if they knew it; and yet they are doing so. They would not willingly grieve the hearts of those whom God loves, and yet they do so when they are browbeating the humble cottager for his faith. They look upon the poor people who differ a little from them as being atrociously wrong, and they consider it to be their duty to set their faces against them, and so, under the influence of the zeal that moves them, which, in itself, is a good thing, they are led to do that which is sinful and unjust. Hence the apostle, after he had felt the weight of the stones from the hands of the Jews, prayed that they might be saved; for if they were not saved, their zeal for God would continue to make murderers of them.

     Another reason why we long to see the zealous converted is this—because they would be so useful. The man that is desperately earnest in a wrong way, if you can but show him his wrong, and teach him what is right, will be just as earnest in the right way. Oh, what splendid Christians some would make who are now such devotees of superstition! Despite their superstition, I look upon many High Churchmen with admiration. Up in the morning early, or at night late, ready to practise all kinds of mortifications, to give their very bodies to be burned, and all their substance in alms, ready to offer prayers without number, and to be obedient to rites without end — -what more could external religion demand of mortal men? Oh, if we could get these to sit at Jesu’s feet, and leave the phylacteries and the broad-bordered garments, and worship God in spirit, and have no confidence in the flesh, what grand people they would make!

     See what Paul himself was, when, counting all he had valued so dear to be but dung, he quitted it, and began to preach salvation by grace alone. While he flew over the world like a lightning flash, and preached the gospel as with a peal of thunder, he loved, he lived, he died for the Nazarene, whom once in his zeal he had counted to be an impostor. Brethren, pray with all your might for zealous but mistaken persons, who have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

     Once more, we are bound to make these people the subject of specially earnest prayer because it is so difficult to convert them. It requires the power of God to convert anybody really; but there seems to be a double manifestation of power in the conversion of a downright bigot when his bigotry is associated with dense ignorance and gross error. “Oh,” says he, “I do that which is right. I am strict in my religion. My righteousness will save me.” You cannot get him out of that. It is easier to get a sinner out of his sin than a self-righteous man out of his self-righteousness. Conceit of our own righteousness sticks to us as the skin to the flesh. Sooner may the leopard lose his spots than the proud man his self-righteousness. Oh, that righteousness of ours! We are so fond of it. Our pride hugs it. We do so like to think that we are good, that we are upright, that we are true, that we are right in the sight of God by nature; and though we be beaten out of it with many stripes, yet our tendency is always to return to it. Self-righteousness is bound up in the heart of a man as folly in the heart of a child. Though thou bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his self-righteous folly depart from him. He will still stick to it that, after all, he is a good fellow, and deserves to be saved. We must, therefore, in a very special manner pray for such, seeing that self-righteousness is a deep ditch, and it is hard to draw him out who has once fallen into it. Prejudice, of all other opponents, is one of the worst to overcome. The door is locked. You may knock as long as you like; but the man will not open it. He cannot. It is locked, and he has thrown away the key. You may tell him, “You are wrong, good friend”; but he is so comfortably assured that he is right, that all your telling will only make him the more angry at you for attempting to disturb his peace. O God! who but thou canst draw a man out of this miry clay of self-righteousness? Therefore do we cry to thee, of thy great grace, to do it. For these and many other reasons those who have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, must have a chief place in our importunate prayers.

     II. And secondly, WHAT IS IT THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE ACCORDING TO OUR TEXT? These people will not like the text, nor yet like me for honestly explaining it. According to our text, it is very clear that these good people are ignorant. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, go about to establish their own righteousness.” Ah! you may be brought up under the shadow of a church; you may sit all your life in a meeting-house; you may hear the gospel till you know every term and phrase by heart, and yet you may be ignorant of the righteousness of God. This is not a very complimentary statement, but as it is made upon inspiration, it behoves us to give earnest heed thereto.

     Listen! There are many who are quite ignorant as to the natural righteousness of God’s character. They do not know how intensely he hates sin, how his anger burns against injustice and untruth. They have never conceived an idea of how pure he is, how infinitely holy. They have never been in sympathy with the angel’s adoration so as to know what is meant by the celestial chant, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” “Thou thinkest,” says God, “that I am altogether such a one as thyself— that if thou art pleased with thy righteousness, I must be pleased with it too; and if thy poor pride and stupefied conscience be satisfied, therefore thy God must be satisfied also.” Those who are satisfied with their own holiness are ignorant of God’s attribute of righteousness.

     Again, they are ignorant of the righteousness of the law. Indeed, there is awful ignorance about that. You may hear the ten commandments read every Sabbath-day, and I think that it is a good thing to have them read, and a good thing to have them posted up where they can be read, but you will not know anything about them by merely reading them. There is a depth of meaning in those commandments, of which self-righteous persons are ignorant. For instance, when they read, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” does it strike most men’s minds that even a lascivious look breaks that commandment? Do they reflect that not only acts of fornication and uncleanness, but indecent words, thoughts, and looks are forbidden by that command? A man reads, “Thou shalt not kill,” and he thinks to himself, “I never committed a murder. I can shake hands with that commandment, and sing a merry song under the gallows-tree.” But Christ says, “He that is angry with his brother, without a cause, is a murderer”; and ill-will is murder at bottom. Murder is but hate ripened into deed; and therefore the least degree of hate is a violation of the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” Who among us has ever measured the full compass of the great law of God? Let me stretch out the line before you for a moment. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself.” Who among us has ever done that? The man who says, “I have kept the law” is simply ignorant of the righteousness which the law of God sets before us as the divine requirement. Could we behold the law in all its full-orbed majesty, we should as soon expect to hold the sun in the hollow of our right hand as to fulfil the law in all its length and breadth.  

     Further than this, dear friends, a man that is self-righteous, and hopes to get to heaven by his works and his religion, is ignorant of God’s righteous requirements with regard to his own heart. God requires not only that thou shouldst do that which is right, but that thou shouldst think that which is right, that thou shouldst love that which is right, ay, and that thou shouldst be that which is right. He desires truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part he would have us to know wisdom. If I could govern my tongue entirely, yet might I be guilty before God, even with that tongue; for there is such a thing as idle silence as well as idle speech. If it were possible to keep the hands right in all things, yet the heart might all the while be willing and anxious to move the hands amiss, and after all it is the way of the heart which is the true gauge of the man’s life. Unless thou be clean through and through in thy very inwards, in the core and centre of thy being, thou hast not reached to the righteous requirements of God. What sayest thou to this? Are not many grossly ignorant of this?

     And then, again, all persons who are self-righteous must surely be ignorant of God’s righteousness in another sense, namely, they are ignorant that God has prepared a better righteousness for us. The Lord God has prepared for man a perfect and divine righteousness, by which he justifieth the ungodly. He has sent his own Son into the world, pure in heart and pure in life, to work out that righteousness. That Son of his has kept the law in every point, and what is more, he has honoured the law by his death, whereby he vindicated its tarnished honour, and gave glory to the Law-giver. Now God says, “Sinner, I can make thee righteous through Christ— righteous by imputation. I will impute to thee what Jesus did for thee. I will accept thee on account of what he is, and of what he did. He shall be thy righteousness. He shall be made of God unto thee thy righteousness.” Now surely, if you say, “No, but I will have a righteousness of my own”; why, man, you must be ignorant of God’s righteousness. Would God have taken the trouble to make another righteousness if thou couldst have made one of thine own? Is not Calvary, with all its griefs, a superfluity of naughtiness if men could be saved without it! The death of Christ upon the tree was an extravagance— a needless extravagance, if men can be saved without it; and if any man can be saved without Christ, saved by his own works, and saved by the principle of the law, then for him is Christ dead in vain. There was no need, in the first place, that Christ should have died for such a man, and to such a man Christ has died for nothing. If thou be righteous, thou hast nothing to do with Christ, for he is a Saviour of sinners. If thou hast a righteousness of thine own, thou art a rival to Christ. Thou art holding up thy twopenny garment of rags, and saying, “This is as good as the divine robe of Christ’s righteousness.” Man, thou art stitching together thy poor fig leaves, and thou, art saying, “This is garment enough for me. I want not to wear the livery of God, the garment of Christ.” But those leaves will wither ere the sun goes down, and leave thee naked to thy shame. Thou art in opposition to Christ, thou art an Antichrist, and thy sin in setting up such a righteousness is, perhaps, greater than if thou hadst lived in open sin. Thou art, at any rate, casting as much dishonour upon Christ, and doing as much displeasure to God by this vain-glorious attempt to set up thine own righteousness, as if thou hadst gone about, like Pharaoh, to ask, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” It is only another form of the same pride. In the Egyptian king it takes one shape, and in thee it takes another. Wherefore, beware!

     Brothers and sisters, are you praying for these zealous but ignorant and vain-glorious people? Go on with your prayer. Now in silence cry, “Lord, of thy great mercy, be pleased to deliver them from their headstrong zeal! Give them light, that they may quit their ignorance, and be no longer enemies to the cross, and grace, of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  

     III. That brings me to my third point, which is this: I have shown you why they should be prayed for. I have shown you that they are ignorant. Now I am going to show you WHAT THEY DO. According to the text they are going about to establish their own righteousness. I do not know whether I can give you the idea which this language suggests to my mind, but it is this: here is a kind of stuffed image, or, if you like, a statue, and they have set it up, and they want it to stand; but it is so badly constructed that it tumbles down. So they set it up again, and over it goes; in other words, they use all manner of plots and schemes to set up their righteousness upon its legs, but it repeatedly topples over. Another figure which may illustrate the expression is this: they have bad foundations for a house, and bad materials, and bad mortar, and they themselves are by no means good workmen. They have built up quite a height of wall to make a shelter for themselves, but it tumbles down. Never mind: they are very industrious, and so they set to work to put it up again. They are perseveringly determined, somehow or other, to build up a righteousness of their own. That is the meaning of this text. They go about to set up, to establish—to make to stand—their own righteousness, and it is such a crazy thing that it falls down of its own weight, and whenever it tumbles down they set it up again. They go about to do it; that is, they invent all sorts of ways; they go to the ends of the earth to find another bit of stone that will just wedge in and help to settle the corner-stone. All their industry is spent in trying to set up this thing, which is not worth a button when it is set up. Alas, that folly should be so desperately entrenched in the heart of man, that he will spend his whole life in a persevering attempt to insult his Maker by preparing a righteousness of his own, when his Maker has already wrought out, and brought in, a righteousness perfect in every respect!

     While I am preaching about this I am thinking of myself, and smiling and yet mourning to think how, in the days of my ignorance, I myself tried this ridiculous pastime. The pictures which I shall paint will be drawn from my own personal experience. At first the man says, “I shall be saved, for I have kept the law. What lack I yet?” Now a very small hole will let enough light into the man’s heart to force him to see that this pretence will not answer. No one of us has kept the law. What saith the Scripture? “They are all gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one.” You have only to read the law over by the light of conscience, and you must say to yourself, “I see that I cannot be saved by the perfect keeping of the law, since I have broken that law already.” When driven from this foolish hope, the man readily sets up another. If he cannot work, then a man tries to feel — and I know I tried to feel. Or else he cries, “I must join a bit of religion to my pure morals. I do not quite understand how the combination is to be made; but we have to maintain a reputation for righteousness, and we must do it by hook or by crook. It is true that I have not kept the law. Well, then, I will pray every morning and pray every night very regularly, and take a good long time over too, when I do not go to sleep, or when I do not wake up too late! And I will read so much of the Bible every day: a grand thing that! And if I can get through the Bible in a certain time, that will score one, will it not? Then I shall attend regularly a place of worship: and then, I think— well, I must be baptized, perhaps, or at any rate confirmed, or I must go to the sacrament; and when I have done all this, do you not think it will come pretty square?” If a man’s conscience is awake, it will not come square: or, to go back to the old figure, the image will not stand upright: it will tumble over. After appearing to stand firm for a while, our poor wretched righteousness grows top-heavy again, and over it goes. The man says, “No, I do not feel righteous after all! There is something amiss.”

     Conscience begins to call out, “It will not do.” Peradventure, the man is taken ill. He thinks that he is going to die, and he says, “Alas, I could not die with so poor a hope as this! This boat would never carry me across the river Jordan. I can see that it leaks very terribly. There are a hundred points in which my hope utterly fails me. What shall I do?” Well, then, he must keep his wretched pretence afloat somehow; and so he cries, “At length I must go in for something thunderingly good. I will give a lot of money away.” If he is a rich man, he says, “I will endow an almshouse. You see I need not give the money till I die. That will do very well. I had better keep it while I am alive, and then leave it when I cannot keep it. Won’t it be a splendid thing? And if I put a painted window in a church, surely that will go a long way; or I will give a lump sum to an hospital. To build a bridge, or mend the common roads, used to be the way in which a man who wanted to bid high for heaven made. his offers in olden times; or else the monks and friars promised to sing him into glory for the small consideration of ten thousand a year. And so men go into that line, and seek salvation by purchase. And they hear about saints who fast. Well, then, they say, “Oh, I shall fast!” Then they say, “I have not prayed long enough. I must pray twice as long.”

     According to the church to which he belongs, the zealous person becomes a determined partizan of his sect. Remember how Mr. Bunyan says that, when he was a godless man, he could have kissed the earth on which the clergy walked, and he thought that every nail in the church door was sacred. Among Dissenters, the man who is trying to save himself usually thinks that every practice of the little community with which he is united is infallibly correct. He has no real love to Christ, and has no trust in Christ’s righteousness; but how he will work at his favourite self-salvation! And you will have to work at it, sirs, if you are going to heaven by your works! To work your fingers to the bones is nothing. You might as well try to climb to the stars on a treadmill as to get to heaven by your good works; and, certainly, you might more easily sail from Liverpool to America on a sere leaf than ever get to heaven by works and doings of your own. There is more wanted than will ever come of yourself. You want a Saviour. You must be born again from above. You want a salvation that shall be a gift of infinite charity, a benison of the boundless mercy of the eternal God; and nothing else will save you.

     But, oh, men will go about to set up their own righteousness; and I will tell you what some of them will do to-night! “Ah!” they will say, “quite right, Mr. Spurgeon. Quite right. I cannot bear that work-mongering and self-justification; but I hope that I shall be saved because I feel so deeply my sinnership, and I groan so heavily under a sense of guilt.” You trust to that, do you? It is only another form of trusting to your own works. I must rout you out of your feelings, as well as out of your works. You may just as well trust in the one thing that comes of you, as in the other thing that comes of you. Your salvation lies absolutely outside of yourself, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not in what you do, but in what he is. If you add to that foundation stick or stone of your own— thought, feeling, or work of your own—by way of trusting in it, you have spoiled the salvation of Christ. It shall never be “Christ and Company.” Hence be sure that if Jesus is to save you, you must let him do it, and you yourself must stand out of the way. “What! am I not to work?” Oh, yes! Work as hard as ever you like if he has saved you; but as to the salvation itself, that is with him. “But we are to work out our own salvation.” Certainly you are, after he has worked it in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure. But you cannot work out of yourself what is not in yourself; and you cannot put it into yourself, the Lord Jesus must put it there for you, and then you must with diligence work it out in your life and conversation. The inner and spiritual work is all his doing, from first to last.

     I know that you do not like this doctrine, sir. You are sitting very uneasily, and looking towards the door; I thought I saw you seize your stick just now. Have patience a few minutes longer. Suppose that you were to get to heaven in your way, what would happen? I am afraid that sacred place would become more than a little mixed. Whenever I get to heaven, I will sing to the praise of the glory of his grace to whom I shall owe it all. When you get there, you cannot sing with me. You must needs have a new tune. You will throw up your cap, and say, “I have managed it after all!” This will lead to a very speedy contest and quarrel. You will glorify yourself, and depend upon it, sinners saved by grace will glorify Christ. Our jealousy for his glory will not suffer us to tolerate you in the realms of the blest. Our Lord is not going to have any discord in heaven; you shall all sing his praises there, or never sing at all. There will be no divided praise; but the strain shall be set to the tune of Salvation ail of grace. “Salvation to our God that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.”

     IV. Lastly, dear people of God, are you praying about these zealous, mistaken people all this while? Let me entreat you to renew your supplications. Shall we stop a minute while you do so? Remember that you also were once in the dark, and that you foolishly hoped to be saved in the same proud and selfish manner which has such charms for them. Pray about them that the Lord will fetch them out of their self-righteousness— “O Lord, of thine infinite mercy, bring to thyself and to thy dear Son, those earnest persons who have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge! O thou, who doest great marvels, enlighten the darkness of those who are prejudiced against the day!”

     The fourth thing is, WHAT THEY WILL NOT DO. “Going about to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”

     “They have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Why, there are some that have not submitted even to hear it! Possibly, I address to-night one who never came here before, and has always said, “No, I should not think of going to such a place.” You are only one of a numerous band of people of that character. Our law does not judge any man before it hears him, but these people both judge and condemn the gospel without giving it an hour’s attention. If you speak to them about it, they are wrapped up in an idea of their own righteous perfectness, and they really cannot endure to hear themselves talked to as if they were common sinners. Are they not good enough of themselves? What can you tell them better than they know already? They do not want to hear the gospel. I think that I would recommend them, at any rate, to hear what it is, because the next time they speak against it, they will speak with more knowledge. It is always a pity not to know even that which we most despise. Even contempt should have a rational foundation. It will not hurt you, friend, to know. And yet there is such prejudice in the mind of some that they refuse to acquaint themselves with the verities which God has revealed. “Sinners saved by grace!” they say: “Salvation by faith! It is all very well for the commonalty; but it does not do for ladies and gentlemen like us. We were always so good.” Very well, then; if that really is the case, you know there is a heaven for the commonalty, and it is highly probable that you ladies and gentlemen are too good to go there. Where will you go? There is but one way to heaven, and that way is closed against the proud; and if you choose to be so proud, you will close it against yourself, and we cannot help you. But we will pray— pray God that prejudice may yield, and that to-night, and at other times, those who have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, may, at least, be willing to hear what the gospel is. How many have been brought to Christ in the old times by reading Martin Luther upon the Galatians! That is a book in a rough enough style. What sledge-hammer words Martin uses! Only the other day I met a man who came to me like one of the old Puritans, and he said to me that he had traversed the line of the two covenants. He began to converse with me in that antique, majestic style which comes of Puritanic theology. I thought— Bless the man! He has risen from the dead. He is one of Oliver Cromwell’s grey Ironsides. He will be able to tell me of Naseby and Marston Moor. So I said to him, “Covenant and law, where did you pick that up, friend?” “Not at any church or chapel,” said he. “There are none round about where I live who know anything at all about it. They are all in the dark together— dumb dogs that cannot bark.” “How did you stumble on the true light?” I asked. The man replied, “In the good providence of God, I met with Master Martin Luther on the Galatians. I bought it for sixpence out of a box in front of a bookseller’s shop.” Oh, it was a good find for that man! Six pennyworth of salvation, according to the judgment of men; but infinite riches, according to the judgment of God. He had indeed found a jewel when he learned the truth of salvation by grace through faith. I recommend persons, whether they will read Martin Luther or any other author, to be especially careful to read the Epistle to the Galatians itself. Paul hammers there against all hope of salvation by the law, and puts salvation on the basis of grace, and grace alone, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Still there are many who will not incline their ear, and come unto Christ; they will not even hear that their souls may live. Do not they deserve to die who are too proud to hearken to the way of life?

     And then there are others who, when they hear it, will not admit that they need it. “What, sir! Must I go down on my knees? Must I confess that I am a sinner, a real sinner? Must I come before God as if I had been a criminal? Must I stand in the dock, and plead guilty?” Yes, you must, or else you will never be saved. “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.” Off with that helmet of obstinacy! Down with the plumes of pride! Thou must come to God on thy bended knees, with a rope about thy neck, as one who is only fit to die, and to be cast into hell, for he will never save thee on any other terms. He must extend to thee the sceptre of his absolutely sovereign grace, and save thee as an undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving sinner, or else thou canst never be saved at all. What sayest thou to this? Dost thou reply, “I will never submit to such a humiliation”? God will never alter his terms to please you. Some will not submit to accept salvation. It is freely offered, without money and without price, but men would like to pay for it at least a something, and they turn upon their heel. They will not have it as a free gift.

     Again, there are others who will not submit to the spirit of it— to the influence of it, for you must know that the spirit of free grace is this — if God saves me for nothing, then I belong to him for ever and ever. If he forgives me every sin simply because I believe in Jesus, then I will hate every sin, and flee from it. If he grants me forgiveness on no ground but that of his own absolute mercy and good pleasure, as he has put it, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion;” then I will love him with all my heart, and soul, and strength, till time shall be no more. Now, for the love I bear him, I will lead a holy life. I will serve him with every power of my being. The virtue I aimed at before, in my own strength, I will now ask for from his Holy Spirit. The goodness that I thought I had, but never had, I will seek to have as a gift of his grace wrought in me; and I, because of his great goodness to me, will live to him, and will not henceforth serve myself or serve sin, but will serve him who has bought me with his precious blood. Many will not submit to that; yet they can never be saved from sin unless they yield themselves as the blood-bought servants of Christ. Christ comes to save his people from their sins, and from their sins he will save them; they shall no longer be in bondage to the powers of evil. The Lord Jesus accomplishes this salvation by freely forgiving them, and then moving their hearts to such a love of him that they become in love with everything that is pure and holy, and are filled with hatred of everything that is unjust, and wrong, and wicked, and their life becomes totally changed. What the principle of law talked about doing, but never did, the principle of grace actually does. It puts a new mainspring into the man; and when the works within are right, then the hands without soon move according to right rules. I most earnestly pray that many of you may submit to the righteousness of Christ. Yield yourselves up; trust in Christ; believe in him who died for sinners; take him to be your Saviour to-night. Do not go to sleep till this is done, lest you wake up in the bottomless pit.

     With my whole soul I offer the prayer of my text this night; and do you also, dear friends, keep on praying. I ask all of you Christian people to insert a special petition into all your prayers, and to keep it there— “O Lord, save by thy grace those who have a zeal for thee, which is not according to knowledge! Grant that they may not go about to establish their own righteousness, but may submit themselves unto the righteousness of God!” Amen and Amen.  



Holding Fast Our Profession

By / Jun 22

Holding Fast Our Profession

 

“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised).” — Hebrews x. 23.

 

THE apostle is drawing certain inferences from the covenant of grace, upon which he has been enlarging. He shows that God has made a covenant with his people by which they are effectually preserved. “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” He shows that by this covenant the fear of returning to our old sin is removed, and the guilt of our sin is for ever put away. He bids us, therefore, be bold in our approaches to God. As pardoned men, upon whom there is no sin, he bids us exercise the freedom of near access to God, who has accepted us in Christ. Then he tells us that since we are put in such a blessed position— a position which is altogether unique— it becomes us to hold fast to what we have received. Since the glorious gospel has done so much for us, let us never quit it. Since it has brought us into a condition which angels might envy, let us never think of leaving it. Let us not dream of giving up that divine principle which has wrought us such blessedness; but “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”

     I pray God the Holy Spirit to bless these words as we shall think them over. May he make this evening’s meditation a means of establishment to us, that, while we hold fast the profession of our faith, the blessed truths of that faith may also hold us fast as an anchor holds a ship! Never was there a time in which this was more needful. That exhortation, “Let us hold fast,” might well be written on the cover of every Christian’s Bible. We live in such a changeful age, that we need all to be exhorted to be rooted and grounded, confirmed and established, in the truth.

     I shall call your attention, first, to this point—what we have. We have faith, and according to the second rendering, which is adopted by the revisers, we have hope. Then, secondly, what we have done. We have made a profession of that faith— a confession of that hope. Then, thirdly, what we are now to do—to hold fast that profession of faith and hope; and if you ask me, in the fourth place, why we are to do it? I shall in closing give you this reason— because “he is faithful that promised.” If God is faithful, let us be faithful too. Since hitherto he has proved himself most true, let us pray that we may be true also.

     I. First, then, dear brothers and sisters, let us think of WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE by the grace of God.

     If we read the text according to our present authorized translation, we have faith. We have made a public avowal of our faith. We can lay our hands upon our hearts, and say, “Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that we have faith in Jesus Christ thy Son.” Yes, we have obtained what the apostle calls “like precious faith”: it is a rare jewel, and he is rich that possesseth it.

     If we have not this faith in possession, let us pause here and ask for it; and let us confess to God the great sin of unbelief in not believing in such a one as the Son of God, who cannot lie, whose life is so transparently true, that to doubt him is a superfluity of naughtiness, a wilful insult to the majesty of his faithfulness. Yet it would not be true for us to say— some of us— that we do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, for we do. We have no other confidence. Where could we find any other? He is the rock of our salvation. We could not invent another trust, however hard we were put to it, or however much we wished to do so. If Jesus were to say, “Will ye also go away?” we should be compelled to answer, “Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” If the question be whether we have perfect holiness, we must answer it in the negative, to our great sorrow. If the question be whether we are highly advanced in divine grace, we should not dare to say that we are. It would be immodest if we put forth such a pretension; but if the enquiry be, “Dost thou believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?” then without hesitation we reply, “Lord, we trust thee with undivided faith.” Trembling though it be, our faith is true; and though it does not always work in us all the fruit we would desire, yet it does operate in a very blessed way upon our walk and conversation. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, and our trust for eternal life is in him alone.

     It is not a matter of question with you, dear friend, is it, as to whether you know Jesus to be the Son of God, very God of very God? It is past all question with you that Jesus bore your sins in his own body on the tree. You have no doubt about his wondrous death and his marvellous resurrection from among the dead. You believe that he has offered a sacrifice once, which once offered has ended the sin of his people, and that he has gone into his glory, and is now sitting at the right hand of God, expecting till his foes be made his footstool. You have no more doubt about that than you have about your own existence. You also believe that he will shortly come to be our Judge— that he will gather the nations before ‘him, and that he will reign King of kings and Lord of lords. Your faith, then, in the Lord Jesus Christ is not a matter of “if” and “but”: you stake your salvation on it. I can truly say that if what I preach be not true, I am a lost man. I have invested all that I have in Christ. If this barque sink I drown, for I cannot swim, and I know no other life-boat. Christ is all in all to me: without him I can do nothing, I have nothing, I am nothing. Jesus in the matter of salvation is everything from beginning to end to me. And you can say the same, I know.

     You have faith; nor does your faith confine itself to the belief in the person and work of Christ, and to a simple trusting of yourself to him; but you believe all that is revealed in relation to Jesus. All the stars which make up the southern cross shine with clear brilliance for you. Every truth which is revealed in Holy Scripture is embraced by your faith, and held tenaciously. To you I know, beloved, it is only sufficient to prove that it is so written in the Bible, and you believe it. A truth may sometimes amaze you because of its greatness; but that does not stagger your faith; for your faith deals with mysteries, and is familiar with sublimities which it never dreams of comprehending. Yes, we openly own that we believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the triune God; and we believe in the election of grace; and we believe in the eternal purposes of God, and in the working out of all those purposes to the praise of the glory of his grace. If God tells us anything, we accept it as sure, unquestionable, infallible truth. If he veils anything, we desire to leave it veiled; for the limit of revelation is the limit of our faith. We may imagine this or imagine that; but we think nothing of our imaginations. Our faith deals with what God says, not with what learned men think. What the Spirit of God has written in this inspired Book is truth to us, and we allow no human teaching to rank side by side with it. Well, then, we have faith — faith that believes, faith that learns, faith that reclines, faith that trusts herself entirely in the love of God, faith that can say, “Father, into thy hand I commit my spirit.” We have it, and we know that we have it. If any of you here do not know it, do not rest until you do know it. Unbelief calls God a liar: do not live a moment in such a horrible God-provoking sin. Not to trust Christ is to abide under the wrath of God. “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” May we never remain in such a state as that, but come to a knowledge of the truth and to a sound faith in that truth; for this is the faith of God’s elect.    

     But another reading—and a very good reading, too—runs thus: The Confession of our hope.” Oh yes, beloved, if we have faith we have hope. We will take both renderings; for they are both correct in fact if not in the letter. We have a blessed hope, a hope most “sure and steadfast, which entereth into that which is within the veil.” If I begin to describe our hope, I must begin with what, I think, is always the topmost stone of it—the hope of the second advent of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; for we believe that when he shall appear, we shall also appear with him in glory. We know that he has gone up into heaven. His apostles saw him as be ascended from Olivet, and we believe the words which the angels declared soon after his departure to remind us of his coming again: “This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” We expect him to descend in person, and we hope ourselves to behold him in that day. We expect him to stand in the latter day upon the earth, and in our own flesh risen from the dead, we expect to behold our Saviour and our God. This is the glorious hope of the church. This is how she expects to be victorious over the world: the Lord shall come and end her conflict in complete triumph. As his first coming has laid the foundations of his empire, so his second coming shall bring forth the corner-stone thereof with shoutings of “Grace, grace, unto it.”

     Wrapped up in that hope, we have personal hopes of our own, which hopes are, first, that our spirits, when we depart the body, shall be with Christ. We have been with him here, and we believe we shall be with him there. Though in some sense while we are present in the body, we are absent from the Lord, yet in another sense he is with us even now. We expect ere long to be absent from the body, and in a fuller sense present with the Lord. Such is our joyful hope and expectation: glory, millennium, heaven, eternity, all lie within the circle of our hope. Ours is not the larger, but the largest hope.

     We expect that after a while the trumpet shall sound, and our bodies shall be raised from beds of dust and silent clay; and that thus we shall be perfected in our manhood as spirit, soul, and body. The day of our Lord’s appearing will be the day of the redemption of the body from the dust with which it mingles. We expect, then, as perfect in Christ Jesus, made in the image of him who is the Firstborn among many brethren, to live for ever and ever in eternal blessedness, enjoying the life of God at his right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore. We have a joyful, glorious, blessed hope which purifies, and comforts, and strengthens, and sustains us, and this hope is in us now.

     As the pastor of this church, I can say joyfully of the most of those who are here present, that you have a good hope through grace. That hope gilds the darkness of the present: it is your candle through the long and weary night. You are not always to be sickly, and poor, and suffering. This hope sheds its light upon the future, and reveals glories brighter than imagination could invent. At times when you realize that hope, you almost feel the crown of life settling down upon your brow, and removing your throbbing pain once for all. In the power of that hope you put on the sandals of light and the garments of immortality, and take your place among the celestial throng. Many a time by faith you walk along those streets which are paved with pure gold, like unto transparent glass, and as you tread the shining way you hold converse with the shining ones who dwell in the New Jerusalem. Hope already hears with her quick ears the songs of the redeemed, and her eye beholds the Lord whom you love enthroned in the highest. Oh, how near does hope bring our Well-beloved, whom, having not seen, we love; in whom, though now we see him not, yet believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory!

     We have faith, and we have hope, and we know that we have them. Are we not enriched with the grace of God? Where faith and hope are found, love cannot be far off; for the three divine sisters are seldom separated. Let us love the Lord who has given us the first two.

     II. Secondly, we have gone a step further than the silent possession of faith and hope. We have made A PROFESSION OF OUR FAITH, AND A CONFESSION OF OUR HOPE. I am not going to say much about this, but to remind you of certain joyously solemn facts.

     You remember the time, dear brothers and sisters, when first you made a profession of your faith. It may do many of us good to go back to those early days. We are getting on in years, some of us, but we do not wish to feel old; at least, we want to keep as, much of the freshness and joy of youth as we well can. Cheerfulness is most becoming in Christian men: we have a life within us of later birth than that which our mothers gave us, we will therefore measure our age from our second rather than our first birth. I like to see the old man grow young when he talks of Christ; let him on that point become enthusiastic, even as in his boyhood. When he speaks of the lovingkindness of the Lord to him, he should show the mellowness of years and the energy of youth in happy combination. Perhaps some of you remember the place, the spot of ground, where Jesus met with you. If you do not, at least you recollect when you first whispered to your own heart with trembling hope, “I think I know the Lord.” You were almost startled at the echo of your own words. You were afraid that you had been presumptuous. There was great tenderness of conscience upon you then, and you would not have professed what was not true for all the world. You said within yourself, “I half said that I was a believer; but I do not think I dare say it again.” Yet within a short time it oozed out again, when you were in company and felt forced to defend your Saviour. It was true of you in a blessed sense, “Thy speech bewrayeth thee. Thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.” At last it grew so warm round about you, that you thought you might as well come out for Jesus and derive help from the confession. The adversaries were ferreting you out, and you thought you had better come out and say, boldly, once for all, “It is even so.” Well do I recollect going to speak to the minister, and telling him that I hoped I had found the Saviour, and begging him to ask me such questions as he thought fit to test me. The true pilgrim never wishes to enter the house Beautiful if he has not a right to be there; he is afraid that he may be guilty of intrusion, and he therefore hopes the porter at the gate will only admit him when he feels quite sure that he is a pilgrim such as the Lord of the way would permit to enter his house. It was a day of great trembling, but of great joy, when first we avowed our faith in Jesus! What we said we meant. We salted our words with our tears; but oh! we felt it such an honour to be numbered with the people of God! If we had been promised a seat on the floor, or had been allowed only to hear the gospel in the draughtiest corner of the building, we should then have been fully content. We sang and meant it:

“Might I enjoy the meanest place
 Within thy house, O God of grace!
Not tents of ease, nor thrones of power,
 Should tempt my feet to leave thy door.”

We want soft cushions now; we cannot stand to hear a sermon now, nor yet travel very far, especially in damp weather. It is very strange that we should have become so delicate; but it is so. How many miles we could walk when first we knew the Lord: the miles have grown much longer lately, or else our love has grown much shorter! Those were blessed days— changeful, showery, with little more than the dusk of dawn about them; but still there was a morning freshness about them upon which we look back with supreme delight, and somewhat of regret. Then was it a time of love, a season of buds and flowers, and song-birds, and overflowing life and hope.

     Thus early in my discourse I would most earnestly say to you: Hold fast the profession of your faith. By the memories of the day when you made that profession, be firm in it to the end. If you were not false then, if you were not deceivers then, hold fast the confession of your hope without wavering, for “he is faithful that promised.” To me it is a solemn memory that I professed my faith openly in baptism. Vividly do I recall the scene. It was the third of May, and the weather was cold because of a keen wind. I sec the broad river, and the crowds which lined the banks, and the company – upon the ferry-boat. The word of the Lord was preached by a man of God who is now gone home; and when he had so done, he went down into the water, and we followed him, and he baptized us. I remember how, after being the slave of timidity, I rose from the liquid grave quickened into holy courage by that one act of decision, consecrated henceforth to bear a life-long testimony. It was by burial with Christ in baptism that I confessed my faith in his death, burial, and resurrection. By an avowed death to the world I professed my desire henceforth to live with Jesus, for Jesus, and like Jesus. Oh that I had been more faithful to that profession! But there it was, and I am not ashamed of it, nor wishful to run back from it. Ah no! I bear in my body that water-mark, that fulfilment of the Holy Scriptures, which saith, “Having your hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and your bodies washed with pure water.”  

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

     Let us remember also the many times in which we have repeated that profession of faith, that confession of hope; for instead of retracting it, we have gone on to repeat it. We have been marked anew with the King’s name. If you ask how you have renewed your vows, I reply: you have done it many a time at the table of communion. You have sat there and feasted with your Lord, and you have not been ashamed of being there, I am sure ; nay, you have often feared that it was too good to be true that such a one as you should be eating bread with the children, when not long ago you begged for the crumbs which fell from their table. You have sat at the banquet of bread and wine, and in so doing you have borne witness to the death of Christ until he come. Thus you have in frequent feasts of love confessed your joyful hope.

     And beside that, in many a prayer-meeting you have been present, and by your very pretence have expressed your belief that it is not a vain thing to wait upon God. You have also joined in the prayer, and this is no mean profession of faith. In many a service, when Christ has been preached, you have been there, not merely to assist by your presence, but because you have agreed with it all. Your heart has at times so burned within you, that you have thought it proper to say “Amen.” You longed to cry “Hallelujah”; and it was almost a pity you did not do so, for the outburst would have done no hurt to anybody. Perhaps, sometimes, you have done it, and you have startled yourself and many others: by such an exclamation you have renewed the profession of your faith.

     You have repeated your profession in the shop, and in the market, and in the place of business, and among your friends, and in your family, and to the partner of your life. Those around you know you to be professedly an heir of heaven, a child of God: it is well that they should. Why should not the children of light be as well known as the children of darkness? Why should you conceal yourselves?

     As for me, and such of us as stand prominently out to preach the word of God, how many times have we made a profession? I hope our preaching has not been done “professionally,” but certainly we can neither preach, nor lead the devotions of a congregation without professing our faith and declaring our hope.

     I again break in upon the latter part of my discourse by saying— after all these times in which we have worn our Master’s livery, shall we desert him? After those many occasions in which we have borne his mark upon our foreheads, can we think of becoming apostates? Christ has been confessed by us in the most solemn forms over and over again— shall we be doubly forsworn? Shall we become sevenfold traitors? No, by his rich and sovereign grace, I would say to you, believing that the Holy Ghost will help you to keep the command, “Hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised.”  

     We have considered how we began this profession, and we have also seen how often we have made it since. Let us think for a minute what it has cost us. Has it been worth while to be on the Lord’s side? Religion has cost many of its disciples somewhat dear; but it has cost nothing compared with its worth. What bashfulness it cost you to make the first confession of your faith! What a struggle it then appeared! You were weeks, some of you, before you dared to come and see such an awful person as the minister, to speak of your conversion to him. It had taken you weeks even to tell it to your wife, or to your husband. The dear soul, for once, seemed to grow into a very dragon when you wanted to tell him that you had found the Lord. I have known parents terribly afraid to let their children know of their conversion. They were never half so afraid of sinning as they became afraid of being charged with repenting. You surmounted that difficulty; did you not? You cried to God about it and you obtained courage; and now you wonder how you could have been so foolishly timid. Do not in future fall into the same fears.   

     But perhaps some of you lost the friendship of many by becoming disciples of the Lord Jesus. I know one who became a member of this church: she had moved in high and fashionable circles, but she said to me, “They have left me— every one of them.” I said, “I am very thankful; for it will save you the trouble of quitting them. They will do you no good if they profess to be your friends; and they will do you less harm by giving you the cold shoulder.” It is about the best thing that happens to a Christian man when worldlings cut his acquaintance. “Come ye out from among them,” is to many a severe command; but all difficulty is removed when the world turns out from us, and casts out our name as evil. Still, it has cost many a tear, and many a sigh for the first believer in certain families to take up his cross and come right out and follow Christ. “Canting hypocrite,” “snivelling pretender”— such titles, and worse, they are quick to throw at It is but natural that the world we leave should give us a parting kick. We, of course, are everything that is bad, as soon as we forsake the ways of The world to follow after Christ. It is the old fashion; after this manner they dealt with our fathers. I do not suppose that any true man after a while counts it at all a hardship, or mourns as though some strange thing had happened to him. Did they not swim through seas of blood in the old times? Did they not fight with beasts at Ephesus, and reach to heaven by the way of the stake? We suffer so little compared with the persecutions of our forerunners, that it is hardly worth a thought; but yet to some very tender hearts it is a costly business to make a profession of faith; and I say to them— Have ye suffered these many things in vain? Will ye now go back? Will ye turn again to the beggarly elements of the world, after having confronted persecution, and borne the enmity of men? No, by the grace of God you will “hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering.”

     “But what good does our profession do?” says one. I do not know that we need ask that question, or answer it either. If a course of action is commanded of God, it is ours to obey, whether we can see any use in it or not. It is put continually in the word of God, “He that with his heart believeth, and with his mouth maketh confession of him, shall be saved,” or, in other words, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Faith in the truth and an open profession of that faith are constantly put together in the Scriptures. There must be the confession of Christ outwardly, as well as the believing in Christ inwardly; and the Lord Jesus himself has said, “Except a man shall take up his cross and follow me, he cannot be my disciple.” It is not the Lord’s will that we should go in the dark to heaven along some private road of our own. We are to come out and follow him in this evil generation, or else he will be ashamed of us when he comes in the glory of his Father. If the question be asked again, “What is the good of an open profession?” I would say: Much every way. It is in itself a grand thing for his manliness for a man boldly to say, “I am a Christian.” It is good for a soldier of the cross to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard by being openly known to be a Christian. The world then ceases to urge its coarser temptations. The enemies know whereabouts you are, and do not raise that question again. Your profession becomes a confirmation of your purpose to lead a better life. You say, “I have lifted up my hand unto the Lord, and how can I go back? How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? The vows of the Lord are upon me:” all this is a protection to you in the hour of trial. To show your colours may not appear to be a great thing, but to many it is half the battle.

     Besides, the open confession of our faith has a good influence upon others. How could there be a Christian church at all if every Christian man concealed his faith in his own bosom? Without the Christian church as an organization, how would all the good work that has to be done in the reclaiming of sinners be attended to? Where would be our public proclamation of the gospel? Where our missions and ministers? If you love your Lord and have faith and hope in him, do not delay to come forward and own his name and cause. Say boldly, “Where are his people? I will join with them. Do they meet with any reproach for obedience to him? I will share that reproach. Have they any work for Christ on hand? I will take my share of that work. Thine am I, thou Son of David, and all that I have, and I give myself to thee to be thine for ever and ever.”

     It will be to your lasting honour and enduring joy to be found wearing the livery of the Prince of Peace, marching in the ranks of the saints, contending earnestly for the truth and advancing the kingdom of your God.

     Thus have I spoken upon the profession of our faith and hope.

     III. The third point is to be, WHAT ARE WE NOW TO DO? I have entrenched upon it already, and I have done so intentionally. The answer is— we are called upon to hold fast the profession of our faith.

     Of course this includes the holding fast of your faith. The things which you have believed, continue to believe. There may be an advance—there ought to be an advance—in politics, because the basis to begin with was wrong; and as you advance you only approximate a little more nearly to that which is perfectly just, and honest, and righteous. It is a far cry from feudalism to a righteous commonwealth. But there can be no advance in true religion. If it be true at the first, the same things are true still, and must be true for ever and ever. We feel that there can be no progress in the foundation-truth of Christianity when we remember such a text as this, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” Revelation comes from the mind of God, like Minerva is fabled to have sprung from the brain of Jove, full grown, full armed. Nothing may be taken from it; nothing may be added to it. I, for one, am perfectly satisfied with an apostolic faith. If any one can go beyond the apostles, let him go: I shall not attempt to do so. I am satisfied to believe what Paul believed. Oh that I were worthy to unloose the latchet of his shoes! Though Paul is not my Lord and Master, yet I reverence the Holy Ghost as he speaks through Paul’s epistles. I am perfectly satisfied with what Jesus revealed by his own teaching, and by the teaching of his apostles; and going beyond that seems to me to imply that the revelation is imperfect. But imperfect it is not. It is plain, clear, finished, and they that add to it, or take from it, will incur the plagues with which the Book is closed and guarded. God shall take away from such their names out of the book of life, and out of the holy city. Hold you fast to the old truth. The ships in yonder port are swinging with the tide just now. Please God they will swing back to the same place when the tide turns. They have done so before. There came a day when our dissenting churches almost all went round to Socinianism, and then their chapels were empty, and their day of power was gone. Earnest men rose up and preached the old gospel again, and there was a grand revival. Now they are going off again, turning every man to his own error, save that the Lord has a faithful company that hold fast the faith, and will not let it go, and these will live to see a great revulsion of feeling yet. If they do not, that is a small matter to them; to be faithful to their God is their first and their last business.

     Hold you next to your hope. Hope you in Christ, and in his coming, and in the victory of the truth. If the storms lower, believe that there is fair weather yet ahead; and if the night darkens into a seven-fold blackness, believe that the morning cometh despite the darkening glooms. Have you faith and trust in him that liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore? Let your hope begin to hear the hallelujahs, which proclaim the reign of the Lord God omnipotent; for reign he must, and the victory shall be unto him and to his truth. Hold fast your faith. Hold fast your hope.

     But that is not the text. It is hold fast your profession of faith, your confession of hope; that is to say, stand to what you have done by way of open avowment of these things. Constantly keep up your confession. You made it once. Renew it. Often and often say,

  “I’m not ashamed to own my Lord,
Nor to defend his cause;
Maintain the honour of his Word,
The glory of his cross.”

You are Christians, not for time, but for eternity. Your new birth is not into a dying existence, but into life everlasting. You are born again of a living and incorruptible seed, that liveth and abideth for ever. Wherefore, quit yourselves like men and be strong. Stand fast, “Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Continue your confession, and never conceal it. There are times when you will be inclined to put your flag away into the canvas case, and hide your coat of arms in the cellar. Then you may fitly judge that the devil is getting advantage over you, and that it is time that you ceased to be beguiled by his sorceries. Tear up the wrappings, throw the bag away, and nail your flag aloft where every eye can see it. Whenever you feel inclined to be ashamed of Christ do not deliberate, but say, “This is wrong. There is coming over me something that I must not endure. If I were in a right state of mind I should never feel like this.” Never yield to shameful cowardice; scorn such detestable meanness. Out with it, man! Out with it! If you might have gone on peaceably, and said nothing about your religion, yet whenever you feel at all afraid to do it, then say, “Now I must do it. I cannot allow my principles to remain in question. I will in some way make a demonstration of the faith that is in me, lest I prove a coward and a castaway after all.” Perhaps you may have to go into a certain company where you do not want to have it known that you are a Christian. It is imperative that you break through that snare, and put the case beyond debate. If I were you I would make my profession known in that very company, because the idea that you must not be known to be a Christian will be very dangerous to you. I cannot exactly tell in what way it may endanger you, but it will surely do so, and therefore whenever the thought of concealment crops up, down with it, and come out clear and straight for Jesus. Only when you are out-and-out for Jesus can you be in a right condition. Anything short of this is full of evil. Since Satan tempts you to hide your faith, feel that he seeks your harm, and therefore come out all the more decidedly.

     Beloved friends, may God help us never to do anything contrary to the confession of our faith. I have heard of such a thing as a Christian man making a confession of his faith by paying sixpence in the pound in the Bankruptcy Court. They say that he is making a good thing out of his failure. He is making his own damnation sure if he is robbing his creditors and yet professing to be a Christian. Here is a man making a confession of his faith. He is a very good Christian man in his own esteem, but he also knows a good glass of wine, and is most fluent when he is getting far into the bottle. Have drunkards any hope of eternal life? Look at yonder professor, he is going across to the public-house to stand at the counter and drink with those who blaspheme. That is his way of confessing his faith, I suppose. It is not mine. Havel not seen Christian women become noisily angry, and say harsh things to their servants? That is showing your Christianity, is it? I do not want to be sarcastic, but I want you not to tempt me to be so. If you love the Lord, live as if you loved him. Let us all try to do so; and let us watch that we never undo with our hands what we say with our tongues. I heard in Lancashire of some people who preached with their feet. It is the best way of preaching in the world. By your walk and conversation you will preach twice as well as by your talk. Your tongue is too soft a thing to influence dull minds, you must influence such by your lives.

     When we come to die we will gather up our feet in the bed, and bear another and more solemn testimony to the Lord our God. We will set up one Ebenezer more on Jordan’s brink, and bear one more witness for him that loved us, and that washed us from our sins in his blood. I recollect what Whitefield said of himself. Some one said, “Dear Mr. Whitefield, I should like to be present with you when you come to die. What a testimony you will bear in your parting moments.” “No,” said that eminent servant of God, “I do not think I shall bear any testimony in death; because I have borne so many testimonies in my life that my Lord will not want any from me when I die.” So it came to pass. He stood at the top of the stairs the night before he died and preached his last sermon, and then turned in and went to heaven. Perhaps that is how some of us will write the finis to our life-work. At any rate, let us bear our testimonies while we can. Let us speak up for our Master while we may, and by-and-by we shall see him whom our soul loves, and rejoice in him for ever.

     IV. I may not detain you many more moments; and therefore let me answer the question WHY ARE WE TO DO THIS? We are to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, because he is faithful that has promised.

     Have you found him faithful? Has the Lord failed you? Has the Lord been untrue in his promises to you? If he has, then do not hold fast your profession. If, after all, it has been a mistake and a delusion, then give it up. But if he is faithful that has promised— if he has kept his word to you, and helped you in your trouble, sustained your heart under burdens, comforted you in the dark hour of trial— if till this moment you have proved the power of prayer, the wisdom of providence, and the truth of the sacred word, then deal with my Lord as he has dealt with you. Be not faithless to the Crucified. Oh! be not Judas to him who is Jesus to you. He gave his heart for you, and even after death it poured out blood and water for you: give your whole heart to him. If it be so that these truths are firmly established, and that God keeps his covenant, then let us come at once to the feet of the blessed Lord, and say, “Lord, we do not regret that we entered thy service; on the contrary, we are ready to begin again.” If we had our lives to live over again, we that began to be Christians as lads would begin earlier. We that have served the Lord desire no better Master, and no better service; but we would wish him to find in each one of us a better servant. Lord, we have been happy with thee. When we have been unhappy, it has been our own fault, not thine. We would return to thee and say, “Permitus still to serve thee. We would be thy servants for ever.” I have heard of a husband and wife who felt their love for each other to be so strong, that they almost wished to go through the wedding ceremony again, to show how content they were to bear the easy yoke of married love. Many of us could say the same. We would also be joined anew to our Lord. Let us afresh take upon us his yoke. Let us put our shoulder down to the cross again, and commence again to serve the Lord Jesus with the love of our espousals and the freshness of our earliest days. May the Lord bless us to that end. While we are doing this, I hope that others who never did love him before will now say, “We will come with you and begin a new life from this good hour.” It will be a happy, happy circumstance if this should be the case. God grant it may be so with many, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.



Exhortation- “Set Your Heart”

By / Jun 22

Exhortation—“Set Your Heart.”

 

“Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God,”—1 Chronicles xxii. 19.

 

THIS exhortation may be most fitly directed to those who are already saved. It was first given to the elders of Israel, and we would fain hope that they were already good men and true; but, secondly, the language might be very fitly addressed to the unconverted. There may be a little straining in this latter case; for we can hardly call the Lord their God as yet, but still we shall venture to say to the unconverted who have come up with God’s people, “Set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God.”

     Let us take it, first, in ITS REFERENCE TO GOD S OWN PEOPLE. You have already found the Lord. There is a sense in which you have not to seek him, for you already know him: but in another sense you are still to seek him, for seeking the Lord is a description of the whole of the believer’s life. After he has found God as his salvation, he has to seek him as his Friend, as his Sanctifier, as his Example. Until they come to that glorious perfection which belongs to the better world, Christian men have something still to seek.

     Our first enquiry is, “What are they to seek?” Beloved friends, I say to you, as David said to the princes of Israel, “Seek the Lord your God.” Do it by endeavouring to obey him in everything. Let it be our study to test everything that we do by God’s Holy Word. Let us not wilfully sin, either in commission or in omission. Let us be very particular to seek out the will of the Lord, so as to fulfil not only commands which are plain, but those about which there is a question. In the service of God nothing is little; and loyalty to the great royalty of God comes out in tenderness of conscience concerning little things. He that carelessly offends in trifles shall fall by little and little. The greatest catastrophes in moral life come not usually upon a sudden, but by slow degrees. The dry rot enters the under timbers of the house of human character, and when it has silently worked its mischief, the house falls with a shock. It is not the wind of temptation that brings it down: that may be the apparent instrument; but the sly, secret rot, that has all the while been going on, is the real destroyer. Therefore let us pledge ourselves unto God to live more and more watchfully, seeking the Lord with our heart and soul in everything— in private, in the family, in business, and in the house of God. He that walks hastily without consideration will assuredly err; but he that takes counsel of God, and watches to know what the will of the Master may be, shall walk uprightly and surely. O Christian, set your heart to this, that the Lord Jesus is your absolute Lord and Master; and that, at every point, you will scrupulously endeavour to do his will, yielding a cheerful obedience as the fruit of the Spirit within your soul!

     Seek the Lord also especially, as David wanted these princes to do, in the building up of his temple. He says, “Set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God. Arise therefore, and build ye the sanctuary of the Lord.” Beloved, it ought to be the main business of the life of every Christian to build up the church. It ought to be mine, and I trust that it is. I know that this is the main business of many of my brethren and sisters here, since for its sake they forego many an hour of leisure, and to it they give the best of their faculties. We are sent here on purpose to build the city of God, which is his church. The foundations thereof have been laid in the fair vermilion of our Saviour’s precious blood. Stone upon stone the walls have risen. It is ours to help onward the building, in quarry or in forest, with saw or with axe. If we cannot do great works, we must weave the hangings, or fashion the pins, or twist the cords. It should be the main object of our life to seek the Lord by building up his church. Oh, how I wish that all Christians thought so! Alas, many fancy that the work of the church is to be left to a dozen or two of us— that the minister is to do his best with a few friends, but the bulk of the people are to be excused the glorious liberty of the service of the blessed God. Come, my brethren, one and all, seek the Lord with all your heart and soul in the building up of his church. Let nothing be lacking to the church of God in the Tabernacle, which is as a city set upon a hill.

     Let all you do, whether it be of personal obedience or in connection with the church, be done with a single eye to God’s glory. O Christian men and women, what have you to do with worldly honour? What have you to do with ease? The target towards which your life’s arrow should speed is the glory of him who made you, who hath redeemed you with his precious blood, and hath created you a second time, that you may be for him, and for him alone. Know ye not that the Lord’s portion is his people? Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. How heartily we ought to respond to the Lord’s choice of us by glorying that we are Christ’s chosen servants, and that now the one thing for which we live is to reflect the glory of his blessed name! To this are ye called, O ye elect and redeemed of the Most High! This is your high destiny. Answer to it on earth, as you hope to fulfil it in heaven. Seek ye the Lord. That is what is intended in the text— to render obedience, and to labour for the building of his temple, and the honour of his name.

     Next, let us enquire, how are they to seek?  Here is the text: “Set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God.” Does not that intend a fixity of purpose? “Set your heart and your soul.” There are plenty of flimsy creatures about— whose manhood has long ago evaporated, who are “everything by turns and nothing long.” These fritter away life; like fluttering butterflies of the garden, they stay not long enough in any place to gather sweetness even from the choicest flowers. The genuine man of God, who is going to serve the Lord, puts his foot down; and you might as well hope to pluck up the North Pole as to move him from his chosen sphere. He has looked ahead, and he sees on what tack he ought to steer, and he will hold the tiller to that point; over mountain waves, or through the trough of the billows, he still will speed his way; he has looked to his chart, and settled his course, and he, is not to be turned aside. Ye who are men must now serve your God with a determination that cannot be shaken. Resolve that you will glorify God by holding fast his truth, and by following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus; for the times are flippant, and only the resolute can master them.

     You see that David says, “Set your heart”; that is, have an intense affection towards God’s service and glory. A man never does a thing well if his heart is not in it. No painter has attained to excellence unless he has mixed his colours, not only with his brains, but with the life-blood of his heart. Success comes not to heartless efforts. Certainly it is so in the service of the living God. He will not accept a sacrifice which lacks the life-blood of a warm, affectionate intent. Brethren, nobody is good by accident. No man ever became holy by chance. There must be a resolve, a desire, a panting, a pining after obedience to God, or else we shall never have it. Set your heart, then, to seek the Lord your God.

     There are other parts of your nature besides your heart. Your soul has in it, among other things, an intellect. I would that all who serve God would serve him with their intellect, for many seem to jog on in the service of God like old horses that have gone their round so often that they now crawl over the road in their sleep. Alas, the first big stone in the road throws them over! Let us resolve neither to leave our heads nor our hearts at home when we come into God’s house. The whole man should be present, and energetic, when God is to be honoured. We ought to plot and plan how to win a soul as earnestly as we contrive to make a profit in our trade. We ought as much to speculate and scheme to glorify God as we meditate how to advance our business. Our inventive genius should be more concerned to set jewels in the Redeemer’s crown than to perfect the most beautiful work of art. Let our motto be,— “All for Jesus”; for he has redeemed us altogether. Every thought of throbbing brain, every affection of beating heart, every movement of cunning hand, all should be for him at its best, and kept well at work for his royal service. The yoke of Christ should be laid not merely on the shoulder, but on every part, and power, and passion of our entire manhood. So should it be. God grant it may be so!

     And then if I am again asked the question, “How ought we to seek the Lord?” I answer,— by the union and concentration of all our faculties. Our life should be comparable to sunlight; and holy zeal, like a burning-glass, should focus it upon a given spot, and cause it to burn its way to success. He will never do much for God who attempts to serve a dozen masters. I have been called upon this week by several persons to give my aid in trifling matters of politics, finance, and social arrangement. “Why,” I said to the applicants, “there are hundreds of people who can attend to these matters quite as well as I can.” “Yes, sir, but we want your weight and influence.” I replied, “My weight and influence belong to Another. I am very willing to help you in any good thing if I can do it without diverting my attention from the service of my Master; but my time is not my own. I have to preach the gospel; you can get any blind fiddler to canvass for your candidate. I must attend to my Master’s business, and let the dead bury their dead.” I would have you Christian people, while you attend to everything that is just, and right, and kind, and proper, and of good repute— everything that can benefit your fellow-men, or help the cause of liberty and righteousness; yet, still, keep your souls undivided and entire for the service of your God. Throw your life into your religion. Do not be like the man, whose child at Sunday-school was asked, “Is your father a religious man?” “Yes, sir,” she said, “father has religion; but he has not done much at it lately.” I am afraid there are many of that sort. They have not taken their coats off at it; they have not thrown their whole souls into it. Brethren, if you follow Christ, follow him fully. If you mean to be Christians, be Christians. If you are worldlings, give your hearts to the world, or you will make nothing of it: it would be a pity to halt between two objects so as to miss both. If Jehovah be God, serve him with your heart, with the concentrated energy of your entire nature at its best. See, Christian people, to what you are called.

     But the text also tells us when we are to seek the Lord. It has a little word in it—a golden monosyllable it is. It is a word which comprehends the whole almanack, every day in the week, all the year round. “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God.” Now is the only time worth having, because indeed it is the only time we ever have. While I speak it is gone, and another “now” has come up. Take your moments on the wing, and use them as they fly. Now, now, now, let us give ourselves, heart and soul, to the service of the Lord our God.

     When did David mean by his “now”? I think he meant, first, when the people had an efficient leader. “I am dying,” said he," but there is Solomon, my son. He is a man of peace, and God has said that he shall build his temple; therefore arise, and seek the Lord.” It is a grand thing for any church when God sends them one who can lead them, about whom they are united in judgment, and with whom they can hopefully march to the conflict. Alas! I know several churches that have been sadly troubled by the deaths of faithful ministers. I pray you, if you are members of a church which has a God-sent minister still alive, and at its head, now set your heart and your soul to serve God. While he spares his servant to lead you on to success, take care that you follow with holy enthusiasm. “Now” is the time for activity.

     He means also, when God is with you. Read the eighteenth verse, “Is not the Lord your God with you?” When God is with you, get to work. What can you do if God be gone? And how soon you will drive him away unless you work while you are in his company! God never came upon earth to live among sluggards, and to have communion with drones. Two cannot walk together unless they be agreed, and one thing they must assuredly be agreed on, and that is the rate at which they mean to walk; they cannot walk together except at the same pace. Jesus Christ never travels slowly. It is quick marching with him. Ho, ye laggards, quicken your steps, or he will leave you far behind! Serve the Lord with greater diligence, or you will lose delight in his ways. While God is with you, O gracious men, set your hearts and your souls to seek him!

     Note again, that he says, “Hath he not given you rest on every side?” That is another set time when we ought to serve the Lord with all our might. When we have rest from care, then our care should be to please the Lord. You, my brother, are released from all that affliction which wearied you a few weeks ago; therefore praise the Lord. Your enemies are quiet, your anxieties do not harass you as they used to do; therefore extol your God. Serve God with all your might when he deals out his favour to you. When there has been dull weather and no wind, how eagerly the mariner hails the first breath of air! If there is but a capful of wind, he labours to make headway with it. He uses every movement that would flutter a handkerchief. So it ought to be with God's people; they should turn the least favour to advantage, and much more the greater. When God gives us rest, and joy, and peace, let us make a Sabbath of it, and consecrate the gladsome hours to his highest glory.

     But, indeed, this “now,” as I have said, is of general acceptation. Now, you young men in the prime of your vigour, set your heart and your soul to the service of God. We want more men for our Evangelists' Association. We are very short of preachers— preachers to go to rooms, and mission-halls, and suburban villages, to declare Christ to the people. Now, then, set your heart and soul to the service of God while you are young. Sunday-schools around us are pining for want of teachers. Young men and women, you are the people to undertake such service as this. Do not stand back. There is nothing like serving God in your youth. As soon as you are saved yourselves, seek to rescue others. The Christian man who does not give God the morning of his days is not very likely to give him much of the evening. He who does not rise with the lark is not likely to sing like him.

     If I speak thus to the young, I would speak with equal force to the middle-aged. Now, my brethren and my sisters, we have had some experience: we are no longer children: we know a little of the good way, and some of that little was learned in a painful school. I have had my knuckles rapped very often to make me learn how to make simple up-strokes and down-strokes; and now I desire to fill my page with my Master’s name. If we have learned anything, let us set our heart and our soul to serve the living God with all the wisdom and experience which grace has given us.

     You, upon whose heads I see the snows of many a winter— you, whose bare heads show how often the rough winds of age have swept over your brows— surely with so short a time to live, it becomes you to set your heart and your soul to serve the Lord. If men knew how brief their time is, how much would they quicken their service, if they really loved Christ as he ought to be loved! At this hour this is my one message to old and young, to myself and to you: let us be up and doing. Beloved brethren and sisters, you who have been with me these many years, and you who have lately come among us, let us begin again. Let us set our hearts and our souls with dogged determination to serve the Lord. If the work be difficult, a hard thing can always be cut with something harder. You can cut a diamond with a diamond. Oh, to have a divinely hardened resolution that will cut through anything for Christ! Comrades, we will win souls for Jesus, or we will break our hearts over it! God help us, for his name’s sake!

     II. Brethren in Christ, I have done with you now. You can sit still, and pray, while I talk to the others. I have now to SPEAK TO THOSE WHO ARE UNCONVERTED, just whispering to you, dear friends, that I should like to spread the big net, and take many in it; and they will be taken if the Holy Spirit be here in answer to your prayers.

     To you who are unconverted, I would earnestly say, set your hearts on true religion, and be not content with the outward form of it. Observe that David had gathered these noblemen and gentlemen around his bed to urge them to build a temple; but he was a spiritual man, and he knew that temple-building was not everything, although he valued it highly. He knew that there was something better than outward service, and so he said to these men, “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God.” By all manner of means attend the house of God, though you are not a Christian: but do go with the desire that God will bless the word, and make you a Christian. While you diligently attend to the outward ordinances of God’s house, I pray you do not trust in them, but seek the Lord your God himself. Baptism is the duty of every believer, but it is not the duty of anybody except a believer: I pray you do not put the sign in the place of the thing signified. Do not trust in baptism. Why, if you were not only immersed, but immersed in a thousand seas, this would not help you to salvation! You must be born again. You must seek the Lord. There is no salvation in an outward ceremony. If any of you come to the Lord’s table, I pray you do not come with any view of getting grace by coming, or finding salvation in the eating of a morsel of bread, and the taking of a sip of wine. The elements upon the table cannot help you. The communion will be injurious to you, if you are not a true believer. Examine yourself whether you be in the faith, and so eat of that bread; but do not dare to eat of it unless in your very heart you have first known the Lord, and are feeding upon him. I put this to every person who is not yet converted. Do not rest in hymn-singing, church-going, chapel-going, bending your knee in private prayer, or in anything else that comes of yourself Your salvation lies outside of yourself in Christ Jesus. Fly away to Jesus! Tarry not in any outward signs or symbols. Build the temple by all means; but first of all set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord. 

     Now observe that the end which we would persuade you to, by God’s good Spirit, is that you seek the Lord himself. Do not merely seek to know doctrine, or to learn precept. Seek the Lord. There is such a person as Jesus Christ the Lord. Seek him. The key-note of the gospel is from the lip of Jesus, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” Seek not to your minister, your hymn-book, your prayer-book, or even to your Bible; but seek the Lord. Some think to find salvation in the Bible, and fancy that Bible-reading is the way of salvation: but it is not. “Ye search the Scriptures,” says Christ, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” If you put Bible-reading in the place of coming to Christ by faith, you will miss the mark. You must come to a personal Saviour in your own person, by putting your trust in him. Trust in Jesus; not in a doctrine, nor in a command, but in him; and then you will be saved. You must trust in him of the five wounds, in him of the bloody sweat, in him of the thorny crown, in him of the deadly cross. Trust in him at once. This alone is the way of salvation. “Set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord,” for he says to you by my mouth, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and beside me there is none else.”

     But now observe— for I want to force this home, as God shall help me— that you must seek him at once with all your heart and soul. That is to say, I believe that when a man is awakened, the first thing he ought to do is to find assured salvation. I have heard of a man who went upstairs to seek the Lord, with the desperate resolve that he would do no business till he was right with God. He did not take down his shop-shutters, for he had resolved to find a Saviour before he took another penny across the counter. I cannot judge that man to have been unwise in the reckoning of God and the holy angels; for the first necessary of life is a renewed heart. If I thought that I was struck with a serious disease I would not wait until it grew incurable; but I would go to a physician, and have the matter attended to before it went further. Would not you? Act with the same speed as to your souls. Oh, men and women, there is but a step between you and hell, unless God’s mercy shall interpose! How can you trifle! It is no trifling matter. A lost soul — what mourning can equal the sorrow of it? Hang the heavens in sackcloth; darken the sun; extinguish the moon. Silence all mirth! Hush all music! Ye harps of heaven, be still! Ye angels, cease your sonnets! The funeral of a lost soul is the most awful solemnity that can be conceived. Such a funeral may be needed for you within an hour. What did I say? There may not remain a minute. Your breath fails, and you are lost. Oh, sirs, I pray you make short work of your rebellious delays! Put everything aside, and seek the Lord with heart and soul.

     And does not that mean that, if anything hinders your finding salvation, you must have done with it? Does certain company hinder your religious thought? Do not go into such society. Is an allowable pursuit detrimental to your finding Christ? Do not follow it. It might be death to you, though it is sport for others. You must have Christ: see that you do have him. That prayer of our hymn—

“Give me Christ, or else I die,”

ought to be in your heart and on your lips. Put everything else away until you get an answer to that petition. Follow after everything that may help you to find Christ. When I was seeking Christ, I was in the house of God whenever the doors were opened. I heard a preacher, who did not speak home to my heart, and therefore I went to hear another. I did not; care who the preacher was, or what he was, if I could but find Christ under him. Neither was I particular whether I stood or sat, or whether I had a soft cushion to sit on, or none at all. I wanted Christ, and I protest that if I had been forced to sit on the gallery-front, I would not have minded where I was so that I could have found the Saviour. Any hayloft would have done for me, if I could have found forgiveness. Prayer-meetings, little gatherings of godly people,— why I was sure to be at them if I knew of them, for I wanted to find the Saviour. You will have the Saviour when your whole heart and soul are after him. Remember, the Lord will not save you while you are dreaming or dancing. He took Eve out of the side of Adam when Adam slumbered, but he will not take sin out of you when you are asleep. You must be roused up in some way or other. You must be startled, if not with thunderbolts, yet with the sweet heart-searching love of Christ. You must be thoroughly awake, and when you are so, then, seeking the Lord in that fashion, you shall not be long before you find him.

     Lastly, when are we to seek him? The text says “now." I forget what day of the month this is. It does not matter. You will never forget the day of the month in which you seek the Lord and find him. Who among us ever forgot his natural birthday? Yet you are more likely to remember the day in which you begin to live unto God. A friend writes to me, and says, “Dear sir, my birthday was on such a day and such another day.” For the minute I thought, “Dear man! Has he been born twice?” Then I guessed his meaning. Is not the second birthday much the better of the two? Bom to sorrow the first time: born to bliss the second time. Born in sin the first time: born in Christ the second time. Bom in depraved nature at first: born in the image of Christ Jesus at last. Oh, how happy the men who have that better birthday! May it come to you at this good hour! There is never a better time in which to seek the Saviour than just now. Stay not for anything. “I must get better,” cries one. Must you? Is that what you do when you seek a surgeon? Do you say, “I must get a little better before I go”? You will never go at all if you wait to be better, for when you feel better, you will say. “I need not go now.” Is not that the style? No time is like time present.

     There is an old saying that “Half a loaf is better than no bread”; but that saying is not true spiritually. A man who has half a loaf of his own never seeks the bread which came down from heaven. The man who has no bread at all is in a better case, for he is more likely to come to the banquet of divine grace. Come, ye starving ones, and eat of the bread of heaven. Believe and live. Faith brings God to you, and you to God; therefore believe and seek; seek and believe.

     The Lord send all of you home with my text ringing in you ears, “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God.”



Prospect—”He Will Keep”

By / Jun 22

Prospect—“He Will Keep”

 

“And now I am no more In the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” — John xvii. 11, 12.

 

WHAT a wonderful intercommunion and fellowship exists between the Father and the Son in the matter of redemption! It is the Father who gave the Son: it is the Son who gave himself It is the Father who gave us to the Son: it is the Son who has bought us with a price, and has kept us by his hand. Here, in the text, the Father who gave receives back from the Son; the Son praying to him in these terms, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.” We cannot doubt the personality of the Father and of the Son; nor their essential unity. There are not three Gods, but one God. The Father and the Son, though twain in one sense, are one in another. I delight to see the traces of the Trinity in every act of grace. From the first transactions of covenant love, even to the ingathering of the whole election of grace, and the introduction of the chosen into glory, we hear the sound of that voice which of old said, “Let us make man.” The three divine Persons work together in absolute union for the production of one grand result. “Glory be unto the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end! Amen.”

     Observe that our text is all about keeping. Three or four times over we have some tense or other of the word “keep” “Holy Father, keep those whom thou hast given me.” “While I was with them in the world, I kept them.” Greatly do we need keeping. You have been redeemed; but you must still be kept. You have been regenerated; but you must be kept. You are pure in heart and hands; but you must be kept. You are quickened with the divine life, you have aspirations after the holiest things, your love to Christ is intense; but you must be kept. You have had a deep experience, and you know the temptations of the enemy; but still you must be kept. The sunlight of heaven rests upon your honoured brow; you are near the gates of glory; but you must be kept. The same hand that bought you must keep you; and the same Father, who hath begotten you again unto a lively hope, must keep you to his eternal kingdom and glory. All glory be unto him who is able to keep us from falling! Let all those unite in the song who are kept by the power of God. Here lies our topic, and we will not wander far from it.

     First, we will notice a choice pastorate which was enjoyed by some of God’s people. Secondly, we shall observe that this choice pastorate, was, after all, but a temporary privilege; and, thirdly, we shall see that those who enjoyed it were brought by-and-by to the exact place where we must always be, and therefore were made the objects of a blessed prayer “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.”

     I. First, here is A CHOICE PASTORATE. Our little children sing:—  

“I think when I read that sweet story of old,
 When Jesus was here among men,
 How he called little children like lambs to his fold,
 I should like to have been with them then!"

and so forth. Might not you and I well wish that we had been numbered with the twelve, or that we had been among the Marys? It was certainly a choice privilege to be one of the apostles, who were the intimates of Christ, the bodyguard of Jesus. These men saw him in his privacy, understood his dark sayings, and read his heart. That privilege cannot be ours. Let us think of them without envy, and learn somewhat from them.

     You notice what the Saviour did for the twelve who were round about him — “While I was with them in the world, I kept them.” This care was continuous. It looks as if he did this above everything else. He kept them. He was a guard to his people. He made this the chief employment of his life. While he went about doing good, and reclaiming the wandering, yet he never diverted his care from his people. Loving them as his own, he loved them to the end. In this chapter you have “the ruling passion strong in death.” He has kept them in life, and now he says, “I am no more in the world but these are in the world, and I come to thee”; and the one thought of his heart is, “What is to become of them? While I was with them, I kept them. What will they do now that I am taken from them? They will have nobody to resolve their doubts, nobody to abate their discords, no one to answer their adversaries, no one to cheer them into holy confidence. What will the poor bairns do when their Nurse has gone? what will the hall-instructed scholars do when their Teacher shall be taken up from among them?” He closes his life on earth by commending them to the keeping of his heavenly Father.  

     Surely, brethren, this teaches us that this care is ever needed. Sheep never outgrow the necessity for their being kept by the shepherd. If the eleven always required keeping, I am sure that you and I do. We are not better than Thomas, or Peter, or John. We have among us many a Thomas, who will not believe without a superfluity of evidence; many a Peter, rash and impetuous; and many a John, who would call fire from heaven upon the adversaries of the cause. We are full of flaws and failures, are we not? We shall crumble to the dust if the Lord do not keep us. Is there one man among us that can live unless the eternal life shall continue to flow into him? I am sure there is not.

     We are all so greatly dependent upon the continual keeping of our Lord, that I look with joy to a care ever personal. I read with pleasure that the Lord himself, all the while that he was here, kept those whom the Father gave him: those eleven priceless gems were ever in his own custody. I bless his name that they enjoyed a ministry so tenderly personal: “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name.” He lays stress upon his personal care— “I kept them.” The Good Shepherd kept the sheep, not by proxy, but by his own hands. There is no nourishment for the child like that which comes from its own mother’s breast; and a child of God only thrives as he lives upon Christ himself. Those of us who are under-shepherds exercise a very poverty-stricken ministry compared with that of our Lord: but we would at least give the best we have. We would be willing, night and day with tears, to the utmost of our strength, and even beyond it, to help the feeble and cheer the faint, if by any means we may preserve the flock of God committed to our imperfect charge. Do you not wish that you had Christ for your pastor? You may well wish it. But it cannot be, for he has ascended. Truly, it was a choice privilege to the eleven that Christ could say of them, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name.”

     What must have been the effect of the personality of Christ upon those eleven? There are some men whose influence upon others has, for want of a better word, been called “magical.” History tells us of warriors who have been courageous and skilful in the marshalling of battalions, and these have inspired their soldiers with boundless loyalty, grappling them to themselves with hooks of steel. Certain heroes have been absolutely supreme over their fellow-men: a willing homage has been rendered to them. The influence of the Christ upon those who actually lived with him must have been superlative. Think of it. There were but eleven of them, but he so moulded them that the little handful of seed brought forth a harvest, the fruit whereof did shake like Lebanon. They were nothing but peasants when they came under his hand; but when they left it they were the fathers of a new age. They were the patriarchs of twelve tribes of a new Israel. The apostles, after they had been with Jesus, were men of a superior mould. Though they had little human learning, they were the best educated men on the earth. Each man of them was more than a prince, in having touched the skirts of Deity, in bearing upon his face the brightness of the eternal Godhead, in speaking with a word which, like the Word of God himself, was utterly irresistible. They were men anointed above their fellows, men to the fulness of manhood, men beyond the utmost height to which the schools could have trained them. What a privilege to have had Jesus himself for one’s own private Tutor!

     Our Lord's care was most successful. Of the eleven not one was lost. I should not have marvelled at all, apart from what we know of our Lord’s gracious power, if the whole eleven had gone back. They were very fickle at first, and extremely ignorant; and, at the same time, they were strongly tempted. Influences which made some go back, and walk no more with Jesus, would naturally have had the same power over them if Jesus had not kept them: yet of those whom the Father gave him not one of them was lost. His marvellous pastorate was so successful that he could say, “Of those whom thou hast given me I have lost none.” Thomas, John, Peter, James: they are all kept. The training of the Master has qualified each one for his lofty office. Oh, that you and I may be helped by divine grace to keep with us all the souls God has given to us, that we may at last say of all our hearers, “Here am I and the children that thou hast given me”! Our Lord’s was a wonderful pastorate, was it not?

     But, nevertheless, it was attended with an awful sorrow, for he says, “None of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Our Saviour never meant us to understand that Judas was one of those whom the Father gave him. He never made a mistake about that. Very early he said, “I have chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil” He had spoken distinctly about the character and doom of Judas. Some have asked, “How could Jesus have all knowledge, and yet permit a man like Judas to be one of the twelve?” Brethren, he did it advisedly, with wisdom aforethought, for he knew that often, in the ages to come, people would say, “Can this Christianity be true which has such false-hearted traitors in its midst, which has such sellers of the Master, even among its leaders?” He allowed that objection to come up at the very first, and suffered a covetous traitor to be one of the twelve. The Saviour seemed sometimes to speak of Judas as if he were one of his, but then he was speaking popularly, and according to the method of common conversation. He permits the Evangelist to call him “one of the twelve,” as if he would let us feel that men may go very far on the way to heaven, and have everything except the essential matter, and yet may perish. When Judas cast out devils, and in Christ’s name did many wonderful works, it would have been impossible for any but the omniscient God to have seen any difference between him and any other of the twelve. In some respects Judas excelled others of the apostles: probably he had not half the faults of Peter, nor half the doubts of Thomas. There were fine qualities within him, but they were all leavened by that supreme covetousness which mastered him, and made him the son of perdition. He seemed very near to being all that he should be, yet the Master described him in this prayer, not as one that would be lost, but as one that was already lost. “None of them is lost but the son of perdition.” He calls him “the son of perdition”; and you may be sure that he did not give him that name without great sorrow. The Watcher over the sons of men could not lose even Judas, without deep regrets. He sighs, “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Among the bitter herbs of his passover none was more like to wormwood and gall than that word: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, one of you shall betray me.” As there is inexpressible sweetness in the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, so there is an unutterable horror in other doctrines which guard it, such as that which our Lord lays down in the words, “if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Final perseverance is a rose of heaven’s own garden, but it is set with thorns, and those thorns are such cases as those of Judas and of others that drew back unto perdition.

     See then in this choice pastorate of our Master the great need there is of keeping. Let us pray for him to keep us to the end.

     II, Secondly, and very briefly, let us speak of A TEMPORARY PRIVILEGE. The eleven were not to have Christ with them always. He was to ascend unto his throne, and then they were to fall back on another mode of living, common to all saints.

     Now, why was Christ with them at all? It was because they were very weak. They wanted fostering and nurturing. Look ye, brethren; you had great joys in your early days; you then enjoyed raptures and transports. You have not had them lately, it may be; for you have travelled to heaven at a steadier pace. My mother dandled me upon her knee when I was a babe, but she never thought of nursing me when I became a man. Certain spiritual joys are the privilege and the necessity of our religious babyhood, and we outgrow them. The Lord took the eleven when they were in their infancy, and he was with them in the world, and kept them. Why then did he go away? Why, for this reason, that they might grow to spiritual manhood! If he had always remained with them, working miracles, and teaching them by his personal presence, they would always have been mere children; but it was expedient for them that he should go, for then the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they rose into the full vigour of manhood. While Jesus was with them, they were little children, but in his absence they became men in Christ, quitting themselves valourously through faith in his name. Many joys of sense are allowed to trembling saints, which are taken from them when they become strong in the Lord.

     You also, dear friends, have enjoyed a profitable pastorate, and you are now about to lose it. You have not been under Christ’s personal teaching, that could not be; but you have been under the teaching of some man whom God has very greatly blessed in the ministry of his Word. Alas, you are now going far from the much-loved means of grace! I pray God that you may now grow stronger. Now that the plant is put out into the cold, may it have strength and vigour enough to bear the frost! I see my gardener hardening off young plants, and it may be the Lord is about to do the same with you. A boat in the builder’s yard has been gradually fashioned to perfection, and beautified with abundant care; but it must be launched, it must be washed by the rough sea, it must know the wear and tear of tempest. Israel must not always fatten in Goshen; the tribes must be led into the wilderness, and must be conducted over stony places, for thus the Lord brings his chosen to their promised rest.   

     Please note that, choice as the privilege was of having Jesus himself to be their pastor, apart from the grace of God, this special boon had no power in it. The Lord Jesus Christ might preach, but he could not touch the heart of the son of perdition. He looked on Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly; but the Lord might have looked till Doomsday at Judas, and there would have been no tears of penitence in Judas’s eye. Alas! Judas heard every sermon that Christ preached, saw all the mighty deeds that he did, even saw the bloody sweat upon his face in the Garden of Gethsemane, and kissed that face with traitorous lips! No ministry of itself can turn a heart of stone into flesh. “Ye must be born from above.” Though the Son of God himself be the preacher, yet when the congregation goes out, eleven in whom there is the grace of God are blessed, but the son of perdition remains just what he was— hardened even to the end. Let this be a warning to such as are not profited under the word when faithfully preached. Beware lest ye perish under the gospel, and so perish with a vengeance. If, however, a choice ministry is about to be removed from any of you, let this fought minister a measure of comfort to you, that, after all, the essential thing is not to be taken from you; for even in the absence of the best outward ministry the Spirit of God can bless you; but without that Spirit of God even the ministry of Christ himself, in the days of his flesh, could not have been effectual to you.

     III. So now I come, in the last place, to show you where the Master left his disciples, where we all are, where we may well be content to be. We are all the objects of A BLESSED PRAYER. “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Beneath this divine petition we all find shelter.

     Notice how he begins— “Father” Oh, yes, it is the Father who keeps us! Children of God, who can be a better keeper for you than your Father? To whom can you cry with such certainty of being heard as to your Father in heaven? Whose bowels will so soon be moved, whose ears will be so quick to hear, whose feet will be so swift to save as your Father’s? The Lord Jesus was tender to us when he selected that title of the great God, and did not say “Jehovah,” or “Elohim, keep thy people,” but “Father, keep them.”

     And then he puts it “Holy Father”; and why that? Why, just because the keeping means, keep us holy; and who can make us holy but the Holy God; and who can keep us holy but he who is himself holy? Who will have such an intense interest in our growing holiness as One whose name is the Holy Father? Beloved, I love well this title: it commends itself to my faith, and breeds assurance in my soul. If the blessed hand of Jesus has put me into the bosom of the Holy Father that I may be kept, why, the keeping is sure and certain! The Holy One will never suffer us to be polluted or defiled.

     Carefully note that the prayer is still— “Keep them: keep them.” What keeping do you and I require? I was thinking of the various forms of keeping that we as a church might seek for. We need keeping from discord. “Holy Father, keep them that they may be one.” It is a very wonderful thing when a dozen people agree for a dozen weeks. We are such an odd lot of people—I did not mean you in particular, but I mean all members of Christian churches—that is really no wonder when we disagree. The wonder is that we have been so long and so heartily united. I praise and bless God for our years of spiritual harmony. Knowing that despite our imperfections, and our tendencies to self-exaltation, and the easiness of misunderstanding one another, and the readiness with which we provoke, and are provoked without cause, it is very wonderful to me that we should have had no strifes or divisions. “Holy Father, keep us.” Let us pray that prayer very often. We do not know how soon we may be all sixes and sevens. Let us pray God that we may not fall foul of one another through the entrance of some serpents of discord into our happy paradise.

     But, brethren, to be kept in unity is not enough: we need keeping from error. The world swarms with false doctrines, like Egypt with frogs in the day of her plague. You cannot put your head outside the door without having a flight of heresies buzzing around you. As some cities on the Continent have been full of cholera, so has this city been full of “modem thought”; and I will not attempt to decide which is the worse of the two. But it is a great mercy to be kept from the silly love of novelties, and to be helped to adhere to the old faith, to cling to the old cross. Happy is he who is determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. “Holy Father, keep us.” We have seen some go to the east, and some to the west, some to the moon, and some to the stars, some to perfection, and some to licentiousness. Keep us, Holy Father; keep us staunch in thy truth even to the end.

     But it would not be enough for us to be kept united and firm in the truth: we need also to be kept from sin. Saints must be kept, or they will soon be sinners. How have I seen the brightest men tarnished with the foulest lusts! How have I mourned as I have known those who preached holiness with wondrous power to practise unholiness in their private lives! You and I are so ready to be overset by a sudden squall of temptation, especially such as carry much sail and little ballast, that we have need to pray each one for himself, and then for all his brethren, “Holy Father, keep us: keep us from all evil”

     Nor would that be enough; for there is such a thing as being kept perfectly moral, outwardly proper and decorous, and yet our hearts may gradually subside into spiritual death. Have you never seen it? It was not putridity: it was not even ghastliness. The corpse was washed— washed with rose-water, and there were touches of paint on the cheek and lip that almost veiled the work of death. Fitly draped, and with a smile upon its countenance, it looked a welcome to you, yet it was a corpse. Could you have thought it? O church of God, beware of accepting the semblance of life. In the battles between the Spaniards and the Moors, when the Cid, Rodrigo Diaz, had fallen in the fight, the Spaniards set his body upright upon his milk-white steed, and went forth to battle with his corpse at their head. How often had his presence made victory secure to his comrades! Until the Moors discovered that the mighty arm was palsied by death, they fled before the sword of the great Cid; but when once they knew that the uplifted falchion was held in a dead hand, they recovered spirit. And so you can make a dead church sit upright in the saddle, wearing all its harness of war, and you can make it bear aloft the great sword of the Lord; and for a time its death may be unsuspected: but once let the world find out the dreadful secret, and its hour of defeat has come. A dead church, like a dead lion, is sport for children. A church devoid of spiritual life is the laughing-stock of devils. God keep us that we never fall into the condition of spiritual decay! Pray from the bottom of your hearts, my brethren, in unison with the sweet prayer of our living, loving Lord, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”

     Observe, further, that our Lord Jesus Christ asks that we may be kept through God's own name. It requires the very name of God to keep a Christian.

     By the word “name” is sometimes meant the whole character of God, the whole royal power and prerogative of God. Frequently power is meant by the word “name.” There is no keeping one of us, much less the whole ship’s company, except the sacred name of God shall exert all its power to keep off our foe. The Saviour concludes with this plea, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.” I do not know whether it will strike you, but it strikes me as very touching. He seems to say, “Father, thou didst give these to me; they are very precious to me; they are my jewels. Now I am going away, and therefore I must leave them. O my Father, keep for me the sweet tokens of thine own love to me! These are thy forget-me-nots, and I have valued them; therefore I ask thee, while I go up to yonder bloody tree and die, and when afterwards I come to thee, and enjoy my eternal rest, take care of these whom thou hast given me.” It is like a husband who has obtained his bride, but now finds that he must needs go away from her. He gives her back to her father who originally gave her to him, and says, “Take care of her for my sake. As thou lovest me, take care of her.” We are talking about you, you believers in Christ; hearken, therefore, with diligence. “The Father himself loveth you.” The Father gave you to Jesus because he loved Jesus. He wanted Jesus to have that which would give him most delight, and so he gave you to him; and now that Jesus cannot be with you by his corporeal presence, he gives you over to the great Father, from whose loving hand he first received you, and he says, “Holy Father, keep them.” Do you think the Father will answer the Son’s request? I am sure that he will. I feel safe in that Almighty hand in which Jesus has placed me.

“I know that safe with God remains,
 Protected by his power,
 All that to Jesus appertains,
 Till the decisive hour.”

     Remember that double-handed safety of which Jesus speaks in John x. 28, 29: “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

     Do you belong to Christ, dear hearer? You are not alone in being owned by that royal Proprietor: many of us are the sheep of his flock, and the children of his love. We are going to gather around our Lord’s table. Will you go away, or will you come with us and say,” We belong to him, and we would share his banquet of love”? If you must go away this once, hasten to put yourself right, that you may obey your Lord in future. End this forgetfulness of your dying Lord, I pray you. Give yourself to Jesus, and that shall be the best evidence that the Father gave you to Jesus; for never did a heart give itself to Jesus except as the result of the eternal purpose of God, and the work of the Spirit within. Beloved hearer, yield yourself to the Well-beloved, whose love shall henceforth be your joy, your safeguard, your perfection, your bliss! Yield yourself now without an hour’s delay!

     Let the Lord’s people now come, and keep the feast with joy and gladness, singing praises unto the name of the Great Keeper of Israel, who doth neither slumber nor sleep.



Retrospect—“The Lord Hath Blessed”

By / Jun 22

Retrospect—“The Lord Hath Blessed”

 

“Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto.”— Joshua xvii. 14.

 

IT is not an easy task to divide land amongst different claimants. Joshua divided Canaan with strict impartiality. He was a man of God, and he was also shrewdly wise, as you may gather from many of his speeches. But, for all that, he could not satisfy everybody. He who would please all attempts the impossible. God himself is quarrelled with. If it be the design of providence to please men, it is a melancholy failure. Do we not find men everywhere dissatisfied with their portions? This man would like his lot if it were not where it is, and that man would be perfectly satisfied if he had a little more. One would be contented with what he has if he could keep it always, while another would be more pleased if life could be shortened. There is no pleasing men. We are like the sons of Joseph in the chapter before us, ready to complain of our inheritance. It should not be so. We who have pined in the wilderness of sin should rejoice that we have entered the land of promise, and we ought to be glad to have a portion among the people of the Lord. Contentment should be natural to those who are born of the Spirit of God; yea, we ought to go beyond contentment, and cry, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits.”

     Brethren, the best advice that I can give to each man among you is, that he should endeavour to make the best of the portion which God has given him: for, after all, Joshua had not arbitrarily appointed Ephraim and Manasseh their lots, but they had fallen to them by the decree of God. Their portions had been marked out by a higher hand than Joshua’s long before. You and I ought to believe that—

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
 Rough-hew them how we will.”

     Let us fall back upon predestination, and accept the grand truth that “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” An all-wise God disposes his people according to his sovereign will. Let us not seek to alter our destiny, but let us try to make the best of our circumstances. This is what Joshua exhorted Ephraim and Manasseh to do. “You have a hill country crowned with forests: hew them down. You have fat valleys occupied by Canaanites: drive out the present inhabitants.” O sirs, if we would but thoroughly enjoy what God has freely given us, we should be happy to the full, and even anticipate the joys of heaven. We have a deep river of delights in the covenant of grace, yet we are content to paddle about its shores. We are only up to our ankles, the most of us, whereas the waters are “waters to swim in.” A great sun of everlasting love shines upon the globe of our life with tropical force, but we get away to the North Pole of doubt and fear, and then complain that the sun has such little heat, or that he is so long below the horizon. He who will not go to the fire ought not to complain that the room is cold. Did we heartily feed upon what the Lord has set on our table, accept the ring which he has prepared for our finger, and wear the garments which he has provided for our comfort, we might here on earth make music and dancing before the Lord.  

     I am going to speak upon my text thus: First, here is a confession, which I think many of us will be very happy to make: “Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” Secondly, here is an argument, which is stated after the manner of logic: “Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto, therefore,” so and so.

     I. We look at our text, then, first of all, as A CONFESSION—“The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.”

     I will not at present speak to those of you upon whom the blessing of God has never rested. Remember, my dear hearers, that every man is either under the curse or under the blessing. They that are of the works of the law are under the curse. Those upon whom their sin is resting are under the curse, for a curse always attends upon sin. Though we read no commination service though we do not speak to you from Ebal and Gerizim, with the blessing and the curse; yet rest assured that there is before the living God a separation of the precious from the vile, and each day there is a judgment which, apprehension, puts some upon the right hand with the “blessed,” and others upon the left hand with the “ Depart, ye cursed.” This will be finally done in “that day of days for which all other days were made.” At this hour, my hearer, if you are not the blessed of the Lord, you are resting under the dark shadow of a curse from which I pray God you may at once escape. Faith in him who was made a curse for us is the only way to the blessing.

     But I speak to as many as have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the Lord saith, “surely, blessing I will bless thee.”

     You can say at this time, “God hath blessed me hitherto” He has blessed you with those blessings which are common to all the house of Israel. Ephraim and Manasseh had received a blessing when God blessed Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, seeing they were in the loins of Abraham. You and I, who are in Christ, are partakers of all covenant blessings in Christ Jesus. “If children, then heirs”; and if we are children of God, then we are heirs of all things. I like to think of the old Scotchwoman, who not only blessed God for the porridge as she ate it, but thanked God that she had a covenant-right to the porridge. Daily mercies belong to the Lord’s household by covenant-right; and that same covenant-right which will admit us into heaven above also gives us bread and water here below. The trifles in the house, and the jewels of the house, equally belong to the children. We may partake of the common mercies of providence, and the extraordinary mercies of grace, without stint. None of the dainties of the royal house are locked up from the children. The Lord says to each believer, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” “Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s,” and therefore “all things are yours.”

     Can you not say— “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto”? Has he ever denied you one of the blessings common to the covenanted family? Has he ever told you that you may not pray, or that you may not trust? Has he forbidden you to cast your burden on the Lord? Has he denied to you fellowship with himself and communion with his dear Son? Has he laid an embargo on any one of the promises? Has he shut you out from any one of the provisions of his love? I know that it is not so if you are his child, but you can heartily exclaim “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” “Such honour have all the saints.” By his gracious past of love the Lord guarantees to his redeemed a future of equal blessedness, for his loving-kindness never departs from those on whom it lights.

     But then, dear friends, besides this, Ephraim and Manasseh had special blessings, the peculiar blessing of Joseph, which did not belong to Judah, or Reuben, or Issachar. In the end of the Book of Genesis, you will see how Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph, and you will observe with what prodigality of benediction he enriched them amongst his sons. “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall.” Moses also, ere he died, seemed to glow with a divine fervour when he came to the tribe of Joseph, and blessed him in some respects above his brethren. Now, I think that many of you may say, “Though I am least of all his saints, yet in some respects the Lord hath specially blessed me hitherto.” I believe that every flower in a garden, which is tended by a wise gardener, could tell of some particular care that the gardener takes of it. He does for the dahlia what he does not for the sunflower; somewhat is wanted by the rose that is not required by the lily; and the geranium calls for an attention which is not given to the honey-suckle. Each flower wins from the gardener a special culture. The vine has a dressing all its own, and the apple-tree a pruning peculiar to itself. There is a blessing of the house of Manasseh, and a blessing of the house of Ephraim; and so is there a special benediction for each child of God. All the names of the tribes were written on the breastplate, but there was a different colour in the jewel allotted to each tribe; and I believe that there is a speciality of grace about every child of God. There is not only an election from the world, but an election out of the elect. Twelve were taken from the disciples; three were taken out of the twelve; one greatly beloved was taken out of the three. Uniformity of love does not prevent diversity of operations. As a crystal is made up of many crystals, so is grace composed of many graces. In one ray of the light of grace there are seven colours. Each saint may tell his fellow something that he does not know; and in heaven it will be a part of the riches of glory to hold commerce in those specialities which each one has for himself alone. I shall not be you, neither will you be me; neither shall we twain be like another two, or the four of us like any other four, though all of us shall be like our Lord when we shall see him as he is. I want you each to feel at this hour— “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” Personally, I often sit me down alone, and say, “Whence is this to me?” I cannot but admire the special goodness of my Lord to me. Sister, have you never done the same? Have you not said to yourself, in deep humility, “Surely, I have been a woman highly favoured”? Do you not, my brother, often feel that the name given to Daniel might be given to you, “O man greatly beloved”? Perhaps you are greatly tried; but then, you have been graciously sustained. Perhaps you are free from troubles; then you are bound to bless the Lord for a smooth path. A peculiarity of love colours each gracious life. As God is truly everywhere, yet specially in certain places, so does he manifest his love to all his people, and yet each one enjoys a speciality of grace. “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.”

     I think, besides this, that these two tribes which made up the house of Joseph, also meant to say that, not only had God blessed them with the common blessings of Israel, and the special blessing of their tribe, but also with actual blessings. As far as they had gone they had driven out the Canaanites, and taken possession of the country. They had not received all that was promised; but God had blessed them hitherto. Come, brethren, we have not driven out all the Canaanites yet, but we have driven out many of them. We are not what we hope to be, but we are not what we used to be. We cannot yet see everything clearly, but we are not blind, as once we were. We have not overcome every sinful propensity, but no sin has dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace. We do not know all that the Lord will yet teach us, but what we do know we would not lose for ten thousand worlds. We have not seen our Lord as he is, but we have seen him; and the joy of that sight will never be taken from us. Therefore, before the Lord and his assembled people, we joyfully declare that “The Lord hath blessed us hitherto.”

     Let us expand this confession a little, and speak thus:

     First, all the blessings that we have received have come from God. Do not let us trace any blessing to ourselves, or to our fellow-men; for though the minister of God may be as a conduit-pipe to bring us refreshing streams, yet all our fresh springs are in God, and not in men. Say, “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” Trace up every stream to the fountain, every beam to the sun, and say “I will bless the Lord as long as I live, for he has blessed me. Every good gift which has come to me has come from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Trite as the thought is, we have often to recall God’s people to the confession—that all the blessings of the covenant come from the God of the covenant.

     The Lord has given each one of us a great multitude of blessings. He has blessed us in his promises. Oh, that we did but know how rich we are! He has blessed us in his providence,— in the brightness and in the darkness of it, in its calms and in its storms, in its harvests and in its famines. He has blessed us by his grace. I shall not dwell upon these themes; I should want a century for my sermon, if I did. But he has blessed you, beloved, who are in Christ, with all heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus, according as he hath chosen you in him from before the foundation of the world. Never will you be able to reckon up, even in eternity, the total sum of the benedictions which God has bestowed upon you in promise, in providence, and in grace. He has given you “all blessings” in Christ, and that is the short way of putting it. He has given you more than you know of, more than you have asked for, more than you can estimate. He has given you not only many things, but all things, in Christ Jesus, and he has declared that “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” The Lord hath, indeed, blessed us hitherto.

     And, mark you, there has been a continuity of this blessing. God has not blessed us, and then paused; but he has blessed us “hitherto.” One silver thread of blessing extends from the cradle to the grave. “He hath blessed us hitherto.” When we have provoked him; when we have backslidden from him; when we have been making an ill use of his blessings; yet he has kept on blessing us with a wondrous perseverance of love. I believe in the perseverance of the saints, because I believe in the perseverance of the love of God, or else I should not believe in it. The Lord himself puts it so— “I am God, I change not; therefore, ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” There is an unconquerable pertinacity in the love of God: his grace cannot be baffled or thwarted, or turned aside; but his goodness and his mercy follow us all the days of our lives.  

     In addition to that continuity, there is a delightful consistency about the Lord’s dealings. “The Lord hath blessed us hitherto.” No curse has intervened. He has blessed us, and only blessed us. There has been no “yea” and “nay” with him; no enriching us with spiritual blessings, and then casting us away. He has frowned upon us, truly; but his love has been the same in the frown as in the smile. He has chastened us sorely; but he has never given us over unto death.

     And, what is more, when my text says, “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto,” there is a kind of prophecy in it, for “hitherto” has a window forward as well as backward. You sometimes see a railway carriage or truck, fastened on to what goes before; but there is also a great hook behind. What is that for? Why, to fasten something else behind, and so to lengthen the train. Any one mercy from God is linked on to all the mercy that went before it; but provision is also made for adding future blessing. All the years to come are guaranteed by the ages past. Did you ever notice how the Bible ends? It closes with that happiest of conclusions, marriage and happiness. The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his bride hath made herself ready. Infinite felicity closes the volume of revealed history. Earthquakes, and failing starts, and the pouring our of vials, follow with terrible speed; but it all ends in everlasting bliss and eternal union. Even thus shall it be with us, for the Lord hath blessed us hitherto.

     Hitherto— hitherto—he has blessed us; and it implies that he always will bless us. Never will the silver stream of his love cease to flow. Never will the ocean of his grace cease to wash the shores of our life. He is, he must be, to his people the blessed and blessing God. “Surely blessing I will bless thee,” is a word of Jehovah that stands fast for ever and ever. Thus far is our confession of gratitude.

     II. Now we come to THE ARGUMENT, which I wish to press home upon all my dear brethren and sisters in Christ. The tribe of Joseph says, “Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto.”

     What is the inference from that fact? The argument that, the sons of Joseph wanted to draw was peculiarly Jewish; it was the inference of business. It was the pea that they should have more because they had so much: because they had one lot, therefore they were to have two portions in the promised land. I want no man to infer that, because God has blessed him in providence, he is to expect to have still more riches, and still more pleasure. Ah, no! Do not wish to have your portion in this life, lest you get it; for then you will be as the ungodly.

     Their argument, again, was one of grumbling. They said, “God has blessed us hitherto”; as much as to say, “If we do not get two portions, we shall not say that God is still blessing us; but we will draw a line, and say hitherto” God has many very naughty children; they fall into quarrels with their heavenly Father. “Ever since that dear child died,” says one, “I never felt the same towards God.” “Ever since my mother was taken away,” cries another, “I have always felt that I could not trust God as I used to do.” This is shocking talk. Have done with it. If you quarrel with God, he will say to you, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” There is no happiness but in complete submission. Yield, and all will end well; but if you stand out against the Most High, it is not God’s rod that makes you smart; it is a rod of your own making. End this warfare by saying, “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good.” Do not say, “He blessed me up to a certain point, and then he changed his hand.” This is a most slanderous falsehood.

     Let us say rather, “The Lord has blessed me hitherto, and this is cause for holy wonder and amazement. Why should the Lord have blessed me?”

“Pause, my soul! Adore and wonder!
 Ask, ‘Oh, why such love to me?’
 Grace hath put me in the number
 Of the Saviour’s family:
 Hallelujah!
 Thanks, eternal thanks to Thee.”

We read in 2 Samuel vii. 18, 19, “Then went king David in, and sat before the Lord, and he said, Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And is this the manner of man, O Lord God? “Thus let each one of us be amazed at the great loving-kindness of the Lord.

     Be fall of holy gratitude. Do not say, “I will look on the bright side.” Beloved, the Lord’s ways to us are all bright. Do not say, “I will trust God where I cannot trace him,” but rather trace God everywhere. Get into the state of that poor man who was so greatly blessed to pious Tauler. He wished the man a good day. The man replied, “Sir, I never had a bad day.” “Oh, but I wish you good weather.” Said he, “Sir, it is always good weather. If it rains or if it shines, it is such weather as God pleases, and what pleases God pleases me.”

     Our sorrows lie mainly at the roots of our selfishness, and when our self-hood is dug up, our sorrow to a great extent is gone. Let us, then, utter this text to-night, “Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto,” with hearty gratitude for all his holy will. Summing up gains and losses, joys and griefs, let us say with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.

     Say also, with holy confidence, “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” Speak as you find. If any enquire, “What has God been to you?” answer, “He hath blessed me hitherto.” The devil whispers, “If thou be the son of God”; and he then insinuates, “God deals very hardly with you. See what you suffer. See how you are left in the dark!” Answer him, “Get thee behind me, Satan, for surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life; and if God takes from me any earthly good, shall I receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall I not receive evil?” He who can stand to this stands on good ground. “In all this Job Binned not, nor charged God foolishly.” But he that gets away from this drifts I know not where. Come, let us each one bless the Lord, and say, “If he should treat me hardly in the future, I will still praise him for what he has done hitherto.” I remember saying to myself, when I was in sorrow for sin, that if God would only forgive me my sin, and give me rest from my despair, if I had to live in a dungeon on bread and water, all the rest of my life, I would do nothing else but sing to his praise.” I am afraid that I have not fulfilled that promise; but I confess my wrong in not having done so. You, my brethren, I dare say, made much the same spiritual covenant with God, and you have not stood to it Let us unite our sincere confessions, and say, each one, “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto; therefore blessed be his name.”

     Furthermore, if this be true, let us resolve to engage in enlarged enterprises. If the Lord has blessed us hitherto, why should he not bless us in something fresh? I want to say somewhat to you as a church, dear friends, for the text is a church-text, and the “me” here comprehends all the tribe of Joseph. Let us joyfully say as a church, “The Lord hath blessed us hitherto.” Strangers will excuse us if we have a little mutual joy in what the Lord has done for us during a considerable period of time. Those who have been with me from our earliest days, when we were a mere handful of people, may well rejoice that the Lord taught us to pray, and to trust, when we were so few and feeble, and then he visited us with favour, and greatly multiplied us; and since then he has continued to bless us without pause or stint. These thirty-three years he has been with us, we have never been without conversions, never without fresh labour for Christ, and fresh projects, and never a failure, never a schism, or a division of heart I am amazed and humbled by the Lord’s goodness. We have gone from strength to strength in the Lord’s work. I have been feeble, and I fear I may be so still; but the Lord has not ceased to work by you who are with me. Well, what then? College, Orphanage, Colportage, Evangelists, Mission Halls—thirty-four of them, Sunday-schools, and so forth. What then? “Stop,” says the devil. You would like us to stop, would you not, foul fiend? But we shall do nothing of the kind. Wherever you are, O fiend, in this city, it is our business and our desire to fight with you, and drive you out! We cannot cease to be active; for the Lord has blessed us hitherto. “You will get meddling with too much, and get too many irons in the fire.” None of them in your fire, O Satan I Brethren, we must have more fire, and more irons in it! I beseech you, do not slacken in any way, but press on. Let us do more. Have I an alabaster-box anywhere? Is it lying by? Perhaps the odours may begin to ooze out. It is not safe in the drawer. It may get cracked and broken. Let me have the privilege of breaking it myself, and pouring it on my Master’s feet, that I may anoint them with the most precious thing I have. Can you not think of something you could do for Jesus, each one of you personally? Cannot the whole church say to itself, “We must keep our institutions going at a greater rate for Christ’s sake”? The world is very dark, and wants more light; the poor are very hungry, and need bread; and the ignorant are very faint to know more.

     Did you say, “Now, do not project anything”? I do not know that I shall, but at the same time, I am not sure that I shall not. If the Lord has blessed us hitherto, let us go a little further. When certain brethren raise a stone of Ebenezer, they sit down on it. That is not what the stone is meant for. I have a commission to put spikes on the top of those stones. You must not dream of sitting down upon,— “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” The voice from the throne saith, “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” Though the sea roll before you, forward! Forward, in God’s name! Amen.



One More Cast of the Great Net

By / Nov 14

One More Cast of the Great Net

 

“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.”— Joel ii. 32.

 

I THOUGHT within myself, “What shall be the topic for the last sermon before I depart to my quiet resting-place?” Peradventure my sermons for the last day of this long stretch of work may be my last altogether, for life is very frail. When I hear of first one and then another in strong health being suddenly taken away, I am made to know the uncertainty of life in my own case. It were wiser to trust a spider’s cobweb than the life of man. Brethren, we live on the brink of eternity, and had need behave ourselves as men who will soon face its realities. We may have to do so far sooner than we think. So I said within myself, “Shall I feed the flock of God in the rich pastures of choice promise?” Truly it would have been well to have done so; but then I bethought me of the stray sheep; must I not go after them? The ninety and nine are not in the wilderness, and, therefore, I shall not be leaving them in any danger. They are well folded, and the Chief Shepherd will not forget them. God has given them to have life in themselves, and the green pastures are with them in plenty; they can afford to be let alone better than the perishing ones. But as for the wandering ones, can I leave them among the wilds and wolves? I have tried to bring them to the great Bishop and Shepherd of souls, but they have not yet returned; how can I forget them? How can I endure to think of their being lost for ever?

     So I thought I would go out once more after the lost ones hoping that the Lord would help me to find them, even now, and bring them to himself! I earnestly ask your prayers that a very simple gospel address may be blessed of God to the immediate conversion of those among us who have long halted, and are hesitating even unto this day. I could not have chosen for such a purpose a more suitable text: it is one of the broadest declarations of gospel doctrine that could be found in Holy Scripture.

     I shall handle it in the plainest manner. In a book of practical surgery you do not look for figures of speech: all is plain as a pike-staff: such will my sermon be. I hand out the bread of heaven, and you do not expect poetry from a bakehouse.

     When the apostle Peter was preaching what I may call the inauguration sermon of the evangelical era, he could do no better than go to Joel for his text. See the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. He explained the wonders of the Pentecost by a reference to this prophetic passage. When Paul, in his famous Epistle to the Romans, would set out the gospel in all its plainness, he could not do better than quote in his tenth chapter, at the thirteenth verse, this same text: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” If apostles found this passage so suitable for the expression and confirmation of their gospel message, what can I do but follow their wise example? How greatly do I hope that a blessing will rest upon all here present while I preach upon this precious portion of Scripture; even as a blessing rested upon the motley crowd in Jerusalem when Peter spoke to them! The same Spirit is with us, and his sacred power is not in the least diminished. Why should he not convert three thousand now, as he did on that occasion? If there be a failure, it will not arise from him, but from ourselves.

     Look at the connection of our text in Joel, and you will find that it is preceded by terrible warnings: “I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.” Nor is this all; this broad gospel statement is followed by words of equal dread. “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.” It was true of the prophets as of the apostles that, knowing the terrors of the Lord, they persuaded men. They were not ashamed to use fear as a powerful motive with mankind. By the prophet Joel the diamond of our text is placed in a black setting, and its brilliance is thereby enhanced. As a lamp is all the more valued when the night is dark, so is the gospel all the more precious when men see their misery without it. To remove from men’s minds the salutary fear of punishment for sin is to draw up the flood-gates of iniquity. He who does this is a traitor to society. If men are not warned of the anger of God against iniquity, they will take license to riot in evil.

     Certain modern teachers pretend that they are so delicate that, if they believed in the Scriptural doctrine of eternal punishment, they could never smile again. Poor sufferers! One is therefore led to suppose that they are persons of superior piety, who are so deeply in love with the souls of men that they weep over them day and night, and labour to bring them to repentance. We should expect to see in them a perpetual agony for the good of their fellows, since they judge themselves to be so qualified to instruct others in the art of compassion. But, my brethren, we have not been able to discover in these sensitive persons any very hallowed sympathy with the ungodly; nay, we have heard of their having communion with the worldly in their sports rather than in their sorrow for sin. I have not seen in these men who forswear the use of the terrors of the Lord any remarkable powers of attracting men to Jesus by love. I have not noted any special zeal in them for the conversion of men, either by tender arguments, or by any other means. I question if they believe in conversion at all. On the other hand, the seraphic evangelists who have journeyed around the earth to preach the gospel, and have worn themselves down with evangelical earnestness, are, in all cases, men who feel the pressure of the wrath to come. These, though sneered at by the superfine delicates, have shown a tender love to which their judges are strangers.

     He who speaks honestly concerning the judgment to come is the man of the tenderest heart. He who pleads with sinners, even to tears, usually does so because he believes that they will be everlastingly ruined except they repent. I do not believe that this modern zeal to conceal the justice of God and hide the punishment of sin is accompanied by an overflowing compassion for souls; I fear that, on the contrary, it is little other than an incidental form of a flippant unbelief which treats all doctrines of God’s Word as antiquated notions, deserving to be jested at by men of advanced views. My brethren, the love of Jesus did not prevent his warning men of future woe. He cried aloud, amid a flood of tears, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together!” and he did not withhold the dreadful fact— “Your house is left unto you desolate.” The knowledge of the coming destruction of the city aroused his sympathy; and he showed his pity, not by concealing the dreadful future, but by warning men of it. I venture to say that, so far as I have observed, no man ever preaches the gospel at all unless he has a deep and solemn conviction that sin will be punished in a future state in a manner most just and terrible. Preachers gradually get further and further away from the gospel, and its atoning sacrifice, in proportion as they delude themselves with the idea that, after all, sin is a small matter, and its punishment a questionable severity. Those also who look for a future opportunity for the impenitent may well consider it to be of small consequence whether men now believe in Jesus, or remain in unbelief. Such a taking of things easy cannot suggest itself to me, for I believe in everlasting punishment. O my hearers, if you do not fly to Jesus, you will be eternally lost, and this urges me to entreat you to be saved! That blood and fire, that darkening sun and crimsoned moon, of which Joel speaks, arouse me to exhort you to seek deliverance. That great white throne, and the dread sentence of him that shall sit upon it, when he shall say, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” all move me to persuade you to flee to Jesus. Therefore it is my delight to come to you with a free, broad, blessed, gospel promise, in the earnest hope that those of you who are now in danger may at once escape for your lives, and flee from the wrath to come.

     With that preface I come to the handling of my text, moved by a burning desire that God may bless it. First notice that it contains a glorious proclamation— “It shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” But this is accompanied with an instructive declaration, to which we shall give a measure of attention as time permits— “In mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.”

     I. Listen, first, to THE GLORIOUS PROCLAMATION. AS we have no time to spare, we will proceed at once to our theme.

     The blessing proclaimed in our text is precious.— “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered,” or “shall be saved.” Salvation is a very comprehensive blessing; it is, in fact, a constellation of favours: a mass of mercies condensed into a word. It is a boon which reaches from the door of hell to the gate of heaven. The salvation which we have to preach to you at this time is salvation from sin in all senses of that term. It is a diamond with many facets. You who dread the eternal consequences of iniquity will be glad to learn that there is salvation from the punishment of sin— complete and eternal salvation. This is no small matter to a soul crushed beneath a consciousness of guilt, and the certainty that the necessary consequences of sin must be overwhelming. The results of sin are not to be thought of without trembling. Verily, dismay may well take hold of the stoutest heart while reflecting upon the judgment to come. We preach salvation from the unutterable woe which follows on the heels of sin. Whatever may be the terrors of that tremendous day, for which all other days were made, we proclaim in God’s name salvation from them all. Whatever may be the gloom of that bottomless abyss, into which the guilty shall sink for ever, we are enabled to proclaim complete deliverance from that endless fall— salvation for every soul that believeth in Jesus Christ the Lord. No form of accusation shall be drawn up against the believer. No sentence of condemnation shall ever be uttered against him. Salvation sends the prisoner out of court completely cleared. All the penal consequences of all sin shall be turned aside from all who by divine grace are led to call upon the name of the Lord.

     Salvation also delivers from the guilt of sin. The Lord is able to justify the ungodly so that he shall be numbered with the righteous. Through the blood of Jesus he makes the filthy whiter than the snow.

     He will not merely put away the sin itself, but all the defilement that has come of it to your moral manhood. O my hearer, all the injury which you have already inflicted upon yourself by sin, the Lord can repair! Sin, even if it led to no penal consequences, is a disease which destroys the beauty of your manhood, and makes us loathsome to the eye of God— ay, and shocking to the view of our own conscience, when we see ourselves by the light of God’s Spirit in the glass of his Word. O ye, on whose foreheads the leprosy is white, we preach perfect healing for you, a salvation which shall renovate your nature, and make your flesh even as the flesh of a little child; as Naaman’s was when he came up from the washing, having been obedient to the prophetic command. Brethren, the salvation of the Lord removes every injurious result of sin upon heart and mind. Is not this a joy?

     We also preach salvation from the power of sin. Sin finds a nest in the carnal nature, but it hides there as a thief; it shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law, but under grace. O slaves, whose fetters clank in your ears, at this moment you may be free! Whether the bonds be those of drunkenness, or licentiousness, or worldliness, or despair, the Lord looseth the prisoners. Jesus has come to break the manacles from your wrists, the fetters from your feet. If the Son shall make yon free, you shall be free indeed. He has come to set you free for holiness, for purity, for peace, for love. He will bless you with newness of life: he will cause grace to reign in you unto eternal life. Salvation from the power of evil is a gift worthy of a God. This is the salvation that we preach: we proclaim immediate deliverance from the curse of sin, present rescue from the power of sin, and ultimate freedom from the very being of sin. To every man of woman born is this salvation proclaimed, provided they will obey the gospel command, which saith— look unto Christ, and live. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Happy herald who has such a proclamation to make! The boon is incalculably precious.

     Further, notice, in the next place, that the time of this proclamation is present; for Peter tells us that the time spoken of by the prophet Joel began at Pentecost When the rushing, mighty wind was heard, and the flaming tongues sat upon the disciples’ heads, then was the gospel dispensation opened in all its freeness. The Holy Ghost, who then came down to earth, has never returned; he is still in the midst of the church, not working physical wonders, but performing moral and spiritual miracles in our midst, even to this day. To-day, through his power, full remission is preached to every repenting sinner; to-day is complete salvation promised to every one that believeth in Jesus. This day the promise stands true, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

     I put aside as altogether unscriptural the notion that the day of grace is past for any man who will call upon the name of the Lord. If you will call, you shall be heard, be the day what it may; yea, though it wane to the eleventh hour. The day of grace is never past to any soul that lives, as long as it is willing to believe in Jesus. I am not told to go and say there is grace for men up to a certain point, and beyond that point there is none. No, there is no limit set to the willingness or ability of Christ to save those who call upon his name. Who dares to limit the Holy One of Israel in the deeds of his grace? As long as faith is possible, salvation is possible. I have my Master’s order to preach the gospel to every creature. He has said to his servants, “As many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.” We are bound to say to every one, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Whether you are a child of ten, or a man of fifty, I have the same message for you. If you have lived to be a hundred, the gospel promise still holds good, despite the lapse of years. The times of your ignorance God has winked at; but he now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. He graciously declares of all who seek him, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Day of grace past, indeed! It is a whisper of Satan. Have nothing to do with that falsehood; for still the Saviour bids you come to him and live. Even at the ebb of life he cries, “Come now, and let us reason together.”

“Life is the time to seek his face:
Through life he freely gives his grace,
And while that lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner may return.”

Whoever returns to the Father’s house shall find a glad reception. If this very day, this 14th of November, you will call upon the Lord, you shall be saved. God speaks by ray mouth to you at this moment, and declares that to-day, if you will hear his voice, your soul shall live. The proverb saith, “there is no time like time present,” and it speaks the truth. The present moment is the best moment in your possession. What other moment have you? Whosoever, at this passing hour, calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. This is a gospel well worth the preaching: blessed are our ears that we hear the joyful sound!

     Next, notice that, as the boon is precious, and the time is present, so the range of this proclamation is promising. It is full of good cheer to all who hear me this day. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Whosoever! I am afraid lest anything I should say to express the width of this word should only narrow it; just as the man who tries to explain eternity always makes it seem much shorter than we thought it to be, and so defeats his own purpose. “Whosoever.” There is in this word no fence, or ditch, or boundary line. You are out upon the open mountains of grace. In riding through Switzerland you will find gates put up here and there along the road, for no reason that I could see but to tax and worry travellers: many of the limits which are set to the gospel proclamation answer no other purpose. Down with these toll-bars on the road to heaven! We cannot and dare not discourage any man from calling on the name of the Lord: the promise is to you, and to your children; but it is also to all “that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” In this matter there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. “Whosoever” includes the slum people, even the poorest of the poor; but it does not exclude the carriage people, not even the richest of the rich. “Whosoever” beckons to the educated, and looks favourably upon the cultured and the refined: but none the less does it invite the illiterate, to whom all learning is an unattainable mystery. “Whosoever” has a finger for babes, and an arm for old men; it has an eye for the quick, and a smile for the dull.

     Young men and maidens, whosoever offers its embrace to you! Good and bad, honourable or disreputable, this “whosoever” speaks to you all with equal truth! Kings and queens may find room in it; and so may thieves and beggars. Peers and paupers sit on one seat in this word. “Whosoever” has a special voice for you, my hearer! Do you answer, “But I am an oddity”? “Whosoever” includes all the oddities. I always have a warm side towards odd, eccentric, out-of-the-way people, because I am one myself, at least so I am often said to be. I am deeply thankful for this blessed text; for if I am a lot unmentioned in any other catalogue, I know that this includes me: I am beyond all question under the shade of “whosoever.” No end of odd people come to the Tabernacle, or read my sermons; but they are all within the range of “whosoever.”

     “Alas!” cries one, “I am dreadfully desponding, I am too low-spirited to be intended by the promise of grace!” Are you? I do not believe it. “Whosoever” goes to the very depths of despair, and up to the heights of glory. “Alas!” murmurs another, “I am not sad enough on account of my sin. I am of too frivolous a nature!” Very likely, but “whosoever” includes you; if you call on the Lord, you shall be saved. You may go round the whole Tabernacle this morning, and “whosoever” will include all the thousands in it: after that you may hasten down the streets, and tramp from end to end of London’s mighty area, and never find one left out. You may then take a tourist’s ticket, and travel through Europe, Africa, and Asia, till you have even traversed China and Japan. You may sweep the southern seas, and search Australia, and then come home by way of San Francisco, and in all that circular tour you will not have met man, woman, or child, whether white, or black, or red, or yellow, or blue, or green, but what is encompassed by the circle of this word “whosoever.” “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I hope I have not diminished the range of the text; certainly I have not intended to do so. Mind that none of you shut the door in your own faces. I want each one to come in, and find salvation at once. For the time being you may forget the Negro, the Red Indian, and the “heathen Chinee but I beseech you do not forget to come to Jesus yourself. Come, for you may come, you should come, you must come.

“None are excluded hence but those
Who do themselves exclude;
Welcome the learned and polite,
The ignorant and rude.
While grace most freely saves the prince,
The poor may take their share;
No mortal has a just pretence
To perish in despair.”

     There is the text “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered,” or “saved.” Believe it, and obey it. It is a gracious gift; take it, and be rich for ever.

     Furthermore, the requirement is very plain. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord.” You do not need a library to explain to you how you can be saved. Here it is— “Call on the name of the Lord.” This is “The Plain Man’s Pathway to heaven.” You will not need to go to the Sorbonne at Paris, nor to the University of Oxford, to be tutored in the art of finding salvation. Believe and live. Is not that plain enough? “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” What does calling upon the name of the Lord mean? To call on the name of the Lord means, first, to believe in God as he reveals himself in Scripture. His revelation of himself is his “name.” If you make a god of your own, you have no promise that he will save you: on the contrary, if you make him, he will be good for nothing, for he will be less than yourself. If you are now willing to come to the light, and see the Lord as he displays himself in his own Word, then you shall know a great God and a Saviour. You are not merely to believe in a god, but in the living and true God: in Jehovah, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If you accept him as being what he states himself to be, in him you shall find salvation. The pity of it is that the most of people in these days worship a god or their own invention. They do not make an image of clay, or of gold, but they construct a deity in their minds according to their own thoughts. They proudly judge as to what God ought to be, and they will not receive God as he really is. What is this but a god-making as gross as that which is performed by the heathen? What can be more wicked than to attempt to imagine a better god than the one true and living God? As the deity of your fancy has no existence, I would not recommend you to trust in him. There is one living and true God, and that living God has revealed himself in the two Books of the Old and New Testament. In these he is more clearly seen than in his works of creation or of providence. In this God you must trust; and if you trust him, he will not deceive you. “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” If you trust in “thought,” or “progress,” or any other deity of your own making, you will perish; but if you rely upon the living God, he will not, cannot, forsake you. Trust in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and you shall be delivered. “He that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” A simple, child-like trust in God as he reveals himself in his Word, and especially as he unveils himself in the blessed person of the Lord Jesus Christ, will save you. In the Lord Jesus dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; trust in him, and you are saved.

     To call on the name of the Lord also means to pray. That is the idea which naturally arises to the mind at the first sound of the word. You are lost in a wood. What are you to do? You are to call for help. “O God, hear my cry! Deliver me, for my trust is in thee!” If I compare you to a wandering sheep, what can you do? You cannot find your way back to the fold; the brambles hold you fast, and tear your flesh. Well, you can bleat, and thus call for the Shepherd. Prayer,— real, sincere, believing prayer will never fail. The Lord has said, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.” 

     I recollect, in the time of my soul-trouble, how I lived on this text for months. It only looks like a lozenge, but it is made of the essence of meat, and it will sustain life for many a day. Try the power of it. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I said to myself,— “I do call on his name, and I will continue to call on his name: yea, if I perish, I will pray, and perish only there!” Nor did I call upon the Lord in supplication in vain. He heard me, and saved me. Blessed be his holy name! Praying, believing, trusting, none can fail of salvation. The requirement is very plain,— “Trust and pray.”

     And when you have done this, then remember that to call upon the name of the Lord means also to confess that name. We read in the Old Testament, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” Not that they then first prayed, but they then began to meet together avowedly to worship Jehovah. They came out from among men, and named the sacred name as that of their God and Lord; declaring that, whatever others did, they would serve him. The Lord requires all saved ones to do this. You must confess that the Lord is your God, and Jesus is your Saviour. You must say, “This God is our God for ever and ever.” Our Lord put it, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Paul saith, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” You must, in some way or other, confess your faith; and the best way is that which the Lord has himself ordained, saying, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” No longer wishing to live without God, no longer trusting to what you can see, and hear, and do, you must henceforth place your whole reliance upon God alone, and own the Lord as your God and Father. No man doing this shall be left to perish. Out of temporal and eternal troubles you shall be delivered. God will help you all your life long if you trust him. “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust, his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” Whosoever trusts, prays, and avows himself to be on the Lord’s side, shall be saved.

     This requirement is simple enough, and I do not see what less could be asked of any man. Would you have a man saved who will not trust his God? Would you have a man forgiven who will not obey his Lord? Has Christ come into the world to pander to our sin, and save us while we continue in rebellion? God forbid! His grace is manifested to make us own God in everything, and walk before the Lord in the land of the living. This also the Holy Ghost works in us to will and to do.

     I will spend a minute or two in reminding you that, as the requirement is plain, so the assurance of blessing is positive. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered,” or “saved.” In this there are no provisos and peradventures. The text is not a bare hope, but a solemn assertion. If thou believest, poor soul, though thou art altogether a mass of sin, thou shalt be saved! Do you not see how sure it is? God, who cannot lie, pledges his word to you: risk your soul on it. Indeed, there is no risk. The only hope I have this day is in the promise of my faithful God which he makes to those who call upon his name. I dare not rest anywhere else, but on his bare word I gladly venture my eternal all. How can it be that a sincere trust in God’s own promise can ever be rejected of the Lord? Sitting by the bedside of a dying man, who was resting in Christ even as I am, I said to myself— Suppose we, who trust alone in Jesus, should perish, what then? Why, it would be to the everlasting dishonour of the Lord in whom we trusted. We should lose our souls certainly, but he would lose his honour. Think of one of us being able to say in hell, “I trusted in the boasted Saviour’s aid, and rested myself on God, and yet I am lost.” Sirs, heaven itself would be darkened, and the crown jewels of God would lose their lustre, if that could once be the case! But it cannot be. If you trust in the Lord God Almighty, he will save you as surely as he is God. No one shall ever think better of God than he is. Open your mouth as wide as you will, and he will fill it.

     And now, to wind up as to the proclamation: remember that, although it is so far-reaching as to embrace a wide world of believers, yet it is a personal message to you at this hour. “Whosoever” includes yourself; and if you see it from the right angle, it peculiarly looks at you. You, calling upon God, shall be saved; you, even YOU! Friend, I do not know your name, nor do I need to know it; but I mean this word for you. You shall be saved if you call upon the name of the Lord. “Ah!” you say, “I wish my name was written down in the Bible.” Would it comfort you at all? If it were written in the Scripture, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon shall be saved,” I am afraid I should not get much comfort out of the promise, for I should go home, and fetch out the London Directory, and see if there was not another person of that name, or very like it. How much worse would it be for the Smiths and the Browns! No, my brethren, do not ask to see your name in the inspired volume; but be content with what you do see, namely, your character! When the Scripture says, “Whosoever,” you cannot shut yourself out of that. Since it is written, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” call on that name, and grasp the blessing. Despair itself can scarcely evade the comfort of this blessed text. O Holy Spirit, the Comforter, seal it upon each heart!

     But perhaps you have not called upon the name of the Lord. Then begin at once. Cry, “Lord, have mercy upon me!” and cry after that sort immediately. If you have never prayed, pray now. May God the Holy Spirit lead you to call upon the name of the Lord at this exact moment, without waiting to go home, or to get into another room! Though you have never believed in the Lord Jesus before, believe in him now. If this be the first breath of faith that you have ever breathed, the promise is as sure to you as it is to those of us who have known the Lord these forty years. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” is a word to a careless fellow who has never prayed in his life.

     O my hearer, the text speaks to you. How I wish I could get at you, and take you by the hand, and hold you till I had made you think! I remember when Mr. Richard Weaver preached at Park Street Chapel, in his younger days, he came down from the pulpit, and ran over the pews to get at the people, that he might speak to them individually, and say, “you,” and “you,” and “you.” I am not nimble enough on my legs to do that, and I do not think I should try it if I were younger; but I wish I could, somehow or other, come to each one of you, and press home these glad tidings of great joy. You, my dear old friend, it means you! You, young woman, over there to the right, it means you! You, dear child, sitting with your grandmother, it means you! “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” O Lord, bless this word to every unconverted person to whom it comes!

     II. I could almost wish to close with this soft music, but I dare not maim a text. I will deal with the second part of it with exceeding brevity, but I dare not silence it altogether. The second portion of the text contains AN INSTRUCTIVE DECLARATION. “It shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” That was abundantly fulfilled at Pentecost, for on that day a great multitude believed, and were baptized, and were saved: thus those who called on the name of the Lord were delivered. But listen, “In mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance.” This also was literally true: the first preaching of the gospel was to the Jews at Jerusalem itself. Salvation came to mount Zion, and to the city of the great King. The fountain for sin and for uncleanness was opened at Jerusalem.

     There is something about that fact which strikes me very solemnly this morning; for though this deliverance came to some, yet the city was totally destroyed. The kingdom of heaven came near them, but they put it away, and they were overthrown with a fearful destruction. The Jews had long been outwardly the Lord’s chosen people, but in a measure he had cast them off, for the Romans ruled the land, and they in their wilful blindness crucified their King. The favoured nation nailed the Messiah to the tree; and yet to Jerusalem sinners, salvation was first preached. Salvation was of the Jews, and by Jews it was brought to us Gentiles. Sad calamity that they should bring us life, and yet as a nation sink down to spiritual death!

     Notice that the prophet says, “In mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said.” He promised deliverance, and he sent it according to his word: if they would not have it, he sent it as he said, and their blood was on their own heads when they refused it. The Lord went to the full length of his mercy in sending salvation to those leaders of iniquity, who with wicked hands had crucified their own Messiah.

     As a result of the Lord’s goodness, a remnant was saved. Notice it, “and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” A remnant did call upon the Lord and live. Those eleven that stood up at Pentecost, and bore witness to the resurrection, were all Jews; and those who met in the upper room, when the Holy Ghost came down, were Jews: this was the remnant. But the solemn thought is that it was only a remnant of God’s favoured people. Centuries of visitations, prophets, miracles; yet only a remnant saved! God’s Shekinah shining out among them; and yet only a remnant obedient! The very Christ of God born of their nation; and yet only a remnant saved! To this day we utter the truth when we sing—

“Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
A remnant weak and small.”

The Jewish church is a very insignificant portion of the Jewish people. The apostle tells us that “at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace”; and Isaiah says, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.” Poor Israel, poor Israel! Most favoured for many an age, and yet only a remnant brought to call upon the saving Lord! Many come from distant lands, and sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God; but the children of the kingdom are cast out into outer darkness,— all but a mere remnant.

     To my mind it is most instructive to notice that even that remnant never called upon the name of the Lord until the Lord called upon them,— “The remnant whom the Lord shall call.” We all of us need a miracle of grace to make us perform the simple act of calling upon God. This was manifestly true in the case of Israel, for as a nation it rejected Jesus of Nazareth, and only a few were converted by the power of the Holy Ghost. But whether Jews or Greeks, we are similarly depraved; and unless effectual calling shall call us out of our natural state, the very last thing that we shall ever do will be to come to Jesus, and to rest in him. Unhappy condition, to refuse the highest good!

     Believing Jews are a remnant to this day, and only here and there is one called by grace. You say, “What have we to do with that?” We have much to do with it. Let us pray for our Lord’s own countrymen. Let us labour for them. This also let us do: let us learn from their fall. O you that are children of godly parents, you that habitually attend places of worship, you who sit in this house of prayer year after year— you are much in the same position as Israel of old! Yours are the outward privileges, will you reject the hopes which they

set before you? My fear is lest you should get so accustomed to hearing the gospel that you should think that mere hearing is enough. I tremble lest you should grow so habituated to the externals of religion that you should be dead to all the internal parts of it, and only a remnant of you should be saved. Think of the multitudes in England who hear the gospel, and of the comparatively few who are called by grace to come and believe in Jesus Christ. It is sorrowful to think of the breadth of gospel grace and the narrowness of man’s acceptance of it. The feast is great; the guests are few. I see an ocean of mercy without a shore; and on it there floats an ark wherein but few are saved. Shall it be always so? Oh, come, and receive the gift of free grace! Alas! I see men sunk in the darkness of unbelief, and only a remnant rising to the light of faith! Altogether, in this London, out of four or five millions, we have not half a million at worship at any one time! Out of that half million, how many do you think are real Christians? Truly, it is a remnant still. Oh, that you and I may be of that remnant!

     Let us further pray the Lord to gather in the multitude, and so to accomplish speedily the number of his elect. Oh, that he would not only magnify the sovereignty of his grace, but reveal the largeness of it! Oh, that he would give the well-beloved Jesus to see of the travail of his soul till he is satisfied! O Lord, the oxen and the fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; let it not be again reported that those who are bidden are not worthy! Or, if it be so, enable us to go out into the highways and hedges and compel the outcasts to come in, that the wedding may be furnished with guests! Go forth, ye messengers of Christ, into all the world! Rise up, my brothers and sisters, from this service, and go forth, every one of you, to call in as many as you find; yea, to compel them to come in! May the Lord cause that in London, and in Britain, there may be deliverance; yea, may his salvation be made known unto the ends of the earth! Amen.