The Hairs of Your Head Numbered

By / Jun 22

The Hairs of Your Head Numbered

 

“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” — Matthew x. 30

 

 IT is most delightful to see how familiarly our Lord Jesus talked with his disciples. He was very great, and yet he was among them as one that serveth; he was very wise, but he was gentle as a nurse with her children; he was very holy, and far above their sinful infirmities, but he condescended to men of low estate; he was their Master and Lord, and yet their friend and servant. He talked with them, not as a superior who domineers, but as a brother full of tenderness and sympathy. You know how sweetly he once said to them, “If it were not so, I would have told you”; and thus he proved that he had hidden nothing from them that was profitable to them. He laid bare his very heart to them: his secret was with them. He loved them to the uttermost, and caused the full river of his life to flow for their behoof.

     Now, in this chapter, if you read it at home, you will see how wisely the Lord Jesus deals with their fears. He is afraid lest they should be afraid; anxious that they should not be anxious; so he talks to them as a very tender friend would talk to some very nervous person— some weak-minded brother or sister— and he speaks in such a way that if they were not comforted, surely they must have wilfully resolved to put comfort from them. He says to them, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Brethren, admire the tenderness of our Lord Jesus, and imitate it. Let us try to be equally kind to our fellow-Christians: let us never attempt to show off, or to make ourselves somebody, or to exhibit our strength of faith, for that will grieve the tender little ones, and make them shrink into self-upbraidings. Let us consider their weakness, and the help that wo can render them; their sorrow, and the comfort that we can afford them. Jesus, was himself a Comforter, or he could not have spoken of “another Comforter”; and so let us be comforters in our measure, treading in his steps.

     This reminds me, also, to say how very homely the Saviour’s talk became with his disciples in consequence of this desire to cheer their hearts. Why, he talks, I have often thought, just in the way in which any one of us would have talked to our children when desirous to encourage them! There is nothing about the Saviour’s language which makes you say to yourself, “What a grand speech! What a rhetorician! What an orator he is!” If any man makes you say that of him, suspect that he is off the lines a little. He is forgetting the true object of a loving mind, and is seeking to be a fine speaker, and to impress people with the idea that he is saying something very wonderful, and saying it very grandly. The Saviour quite ignores all idea of beautiful expression in just trying to bring forth his meaning in the plainest possible manner. He sought the shortest way to the hearts of those whom he addressed, and he cared nothing whether flowers grew or did not grow by the roadside. Hence there is no eloquence like the eloquence of Jesus: there is a style of majestic simplicity about him that is altogether his own, and in this lies unsurpassed sublimity. I now and then see in books quotations, and the names of the authors are put at the foot of the extracts. But whenever I observe that the name of Christ is put below a quotation I regard it as a superfluity which ought to be struck out; for there is never any fear of mistaking the language of the Son of God for that of any of the sons of men. He has a style all his own. This, however, is incidental to the design aimed at; for he does not study style of rhetoric in any degree, but simply aims at conveying his thought. Hence he speaks in homely words, such as those of our text — “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Your great and learned men will not talk about the hairs of your head; all their discourse is upon the nebulae and the stars, geological periods and organic remains, evolution and the solidarity of the race, and I know not what besides. They will not stoop to common-place things; they must say something great, sublime, dazzling, brilliant, full of fireworks. The Master is as far removed from all this as the heavens are from the gaudiest canopy that ever bedecked a mortal’s throne. He talks in homely language because he is at home; he speaks the language of the heart because he is all heart, and wants to reach the hearts of those to whom he speaks. I commend the text to you for that reason, though for many others besides. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

     Thinking over these words, they seem to have in them four things at least, and we may take four views of their meaning: and the first is, fore-ordination— “The very hairs of your head have been all numbered.” You will find that to be a more accurate version of the text than that which is before us. The verb is not in the present, but in the pluperfect tense. The very hairs of your head have been all numbered before worlds were made. Secondly, I see in the text knowledge. This is very clear: God so knows his people that the very hairs of their head are all numbered by him. Thirdly, there is here valuation: he sets such a high estimate upon his own servants, that of them it is said, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” You are so precious that the least portion of you is precious; the King keeps a register of every part of you, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” And, lastly, here is most evidently preservation. The Saviour has been telling them not to fear those that can kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul. He speaks of God’s preserving them. In another place he told his disciples, “There shall not a hair of your head perish,” and he intends the same sense in this case; there shall be a perfect preservation of his people. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

     I. Come, then, to the first thought. Here is FORE-ORDINATION. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Most Christian people believe in the providence of God, but all Christian people are not prepared to follow out the truth which that involves. They appear to believe that there is a providence overruling, but they seem to have forgotten that there always was such a providence, and that providence must be, after all, a matter of divine foresight. God must have foreseen, or he could not have provided, for “providence” is, after all, but the Latin for foresight; and the provision which God makes is but the result of his vision beforehand of such and such a thing as needful to us. Foresight must essentially belong to any true and real providence.

     How far does God’s foresight extend? It extends, we believe, to the entire man and all about him. God ordained of old when we should be born, and where, and who our parents should be, and what our lot in infancy, and what our path in youth, and what our position in manhood. From the first to the last it has all happened according to the divine purpose, even as it was ordained by the divine will. Not only the man, but all that concerns the man, is fore-ordained of the Lord: “the very hairs of your head,” that is to say, all that which has anything to do with you, which comes into any kind of contact with you, and is in any sense part and parcel of yourself, is under the divine foresight and predestination. Everything is in the divine purpose, and has been ordered by the divine wisdom: all the events of your life — the greater certainly, the smaller with equal certainty. It is impossible to draw a line in providence, and say this is arranged by providence, and that is not. It must take everything in its sweep, all that happens; it determines not only the movement of a star, but the blowing of a grain of dust along the public road. All this, from the very nature of the thing, is clear. God’s providence knows nothing of things so little as to be beneath its notice, nothing of things so great as to be beyond its control. Nothing is too little or too great for God to rule and overrule.

     All that a man undergoes is also ordained of heaven; the hairs of your head, should they turn white in a single night by grief, will not do so without divine permission. Should you be spared till every hair constitutes a part of the crown of glory of your old age, you shall not be older than God wills. You shall neither die before your time, nor live beyond it. All that concerns you, I say, from first to last, all that is of you, and in you, and around you—

“All shall come, and last, and end,
As shall please your heavenly Friend.”

“The very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

     And this is what I call your attention to: what is the source of this numbering? It is not that they are all numbered by some recording angel who is set to do the work. It may be so, but that is not the thing we have to consider to-night. This numbering is done by your Father, who is in heaven. The ordinances that rule your life are in his hand: unto him belong the issues from death; and this makes it to be such a happy fact. Fate is hard and cruel; but predestination is fatherly, and wise, and kind. The wheels of providence are always high and terrible; but they are full of eyes, and those eyes look with the clear sight of wisdom, and righteousness, and love, and they look towards the good of them that love God, and are the called according to his purpose. Terrible, indeed, it is to think of things as fixed by an eternal plan; but the terror is taken from it when we feel that we are children of this great Father, and that he wills nothing but what shall, in the end, work out our conformity to the image of his Son, and display the glory of his own righteousness, and grace, and truth.

     Dear friend, perhaps you are blind! You will feel sweet content in the dark when you can say, “This blindness was determined of my tender and loving Father; I know it was so, since the very hairs of my head are all numbered.” Or it may be that you have from childhood been the subject of another physical infirmity, which has caused you great loss and pain, and even now it is threatening to bring you suddenly to the grave. Had this cross been laid upon you by an enemy, you might have complained, but it has been ordained for you by him who cannot be unkind or unjust; therefore say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” We are taught to pray, “Thy will be done.” Dare we contradict our own prayers by kicking against that will? Job glorified God, and yet he spake no more than he should have done when he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” I always admire in Job his ascribing all his afflictions to the Lord; because apparently it was the Sabeans that took away his oxen and asses; it was the Chaldeans that took away his camels; it was the wind from the wilderness, raised by the devil, that took away his children. Job does not care so much for Sabeans, and Chaldeans, and devils, as to mention them; but he cries, looking to the First Cause of all events, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” When we can get at the back of visible things, and see, not merely the puppets, but the strings that move them, then we come near to wisdom. Wicked beings act according to their own free will, and therefore the whole of the moral evil of their doings rests wholly and solely with themselves; but the great God, somehow, mysteriously, quite clear of all complicity with human sin, effects his own purposes, which are always good and right. He it is who from evil, either real or seeming, still produceth good, and better still, and better still, in infinite progression. When, I say, we get to this First Force, and real source of power, then we get where we learn wisdom, and we are helped in the struggle of life. When we see that all things are arranged by him who ordereth all things according to the counsel of his own will, then we bow our heads and worship.

     The practical outcome of all this, to every Christian, should be just this, “If it be so, that all things in my life are ordered of God, even to the hairs of my head, then let me learn submission; let me bow before the Supreme Will which ought to have its way. Though it cost me many a tear, and many a pang, yet will I never be content until I can say, ‘Father, thy will be done.’ ” Human nature prompts us to ask that, if it be possible, the bitter cup may pass away from us; but the divine nature, which God has put into his true children, helps them still to struggle after full submission, till at last they are conquerors over themselves, and God is glorified in the temple of their being. I am sure, my brothers, our happiness lies very much in our complete submission to the Lord our God. If you cannot bring your estate to your mind, bring your mind to your estate. The old proverb bids us cut our coat according to our cloth, and he that can clothe his mind with the garments which providence allots him needs not to envy my Lord Mayor in his robes. Joy lies more in the mind than in the place or the possession. He that hath enough, though he hath but a few shillings a week, hath more than the possessor of millions. He that is content is the truly rich man; your money-grubber is always poor, how can he be otherwise — poor in the worst sense of the word? Oh, it is a blessed thing when one can think of all the events of providence that God is ordering them all: then we dissolve our own will into the sweetness of God’s will, and our sorrow is at an end!

     This, I think, should, in addition to teaching us submission, always give us such a degree of consolation in the time of trouble that we even rise into something like joy. I was reading to-day of old Mr. Dodd, who is a person the Puritans are always quoting— a man who did not write books, but he seems to have said things with which other people made their books attractive. This old Mr. Dodd, it is said, had a great trouble, a bodily complaint I will not mention, but it is one of the most painful a man can suffer from; and when he was told that this had come upon him, and that it was incurable, the old man shed a few natural tears at the great and excruciating pain; but at last he said, “This is evidently from God, and God never sent me anything but it was for my good, therefore let us kneel down together, and thank God for this.” It was well said of the old man, and it was well done of him that he thanked God most heartily. Oh yes, let us kneel down together, and thank God for our trouble! Is it consumption, a dying child, a farm that does not pay, a business that is gradually leaking away?— let us firmly believe that our God has never sent us anything but what he meant good by it; therefore, let us kneel down, and thank God with all our hearts. If your child should come to you, and say, “Father, I thank you for the rod; I know it has been for my good,” you would feel it was time to have done correcting him. Evidently he is not so dull and foolish as to need a sharp awakening by chastisement. He sees the evil of his disobedience, and the necessity of chastisement, and now he can be left to follow out the lessons he has learned. When you and I begin to be familiar with affliction, and to thank God for it, we are pretty nearly getting through it. I believe, myself, that there is a period often set to the sorrows of saints, and that the period is usually coincident with their perfect acquiescence in them. When they are content to have all things as God wills, God will be content to let them have it much as they will. When two wills run together, our will and God’s will, then we shall find a sweet double stream of silver peace flowing throughout the rest of our lives. Therefore, let us come to this— if even the very hairs of our head are all numbered, if everything be really ordained of the Most High concerning his people, let us rejoice in the divine appointment, and take it as it comes, and praise his name, whether our allotment be rough or smooth, bitter or sweet. Let us cheerfully say, “If the Lord wills it, and we will it, too; if he hath purposed it, even so let it be; since all things work together for good to them that love God, even to them that are called according to his purpose.”

     I shall not plunge into the slough of difficulties which some of you are sure to see lying in the way; I trip over the mire with the nimble feet of faith. I shall not discuss how fore-ordination can be shown to be consistent with the responsibility of man, and the free-will of man, and all that. I believe in the responsibility of man, and the free-will of man, as much as I believe in predestination. I believe in the responsibility of man as much as you do, and I believe in the free-agency of man as much as anybody living. How can I believe both doctrines? I evidently can believe them both, for I do believe them. I have learned this: that the man whose creed is consistent in the judgment of others usually has a very scanty, poverty-stricken creed; and a good deal of it is rather theory than revelation. When you come to make up your theology into a system, you are very apt to act like a builder, who fills in between the great stones mortar of his own mixing. I am content to pile up the unhewn stones, and put in no cement of my own. I will not shape truth, much less add to it. “If thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” He who takes truth as he finds it in the inspired Book has enough material, and it is all sound. I believe that all the contradictions in Scripture are only apparent ones. I cannot expect to understand the mysteries of God, neither do I wish to do so. If I understood God, he could not be the true God. A doctrine which I cannot fully grasp is a truth which is intended to grasp me. When I cannot climb, I kneel. Where I cannot build an observatory, I set up an altar. A great stone which I cannot lift serves me for a pillar, upon which I pour the oil of gratitude, and adore the Lord my God. How idle it is to dream of our ever running parallel in understanding with the infinite God! His knowledge is too wonderful for us; it is so high we cannot attain to it. Have you never heard of the inquisitive boy who had been forbidden to go into his father’s study. He tried the door, but it was fastened: all proper and safe entrance was out of the question. But he could not be content till he had satisfied his curiosity, and therefore he climbed up to the window. To his father’s horror, up two stories high, stood his little boy, looking in upon him, and crying with childish pride, “Father, I can see you.” What a position of danger for the child! He must be got down, and taught not to climb there again. Shall we imitate this childish folly? Brethren, I will not attempt it. I do not want to endanger my soul, and perhaps even my reasoning powers, by straining after the unknowable. Poor child that I am, I would rather love God and wonder at him, than regard him with cold, intellectual apprehensions, and dream that I know him altogether. I pray to grow in the knowledge of that which the Lord reveals: and I pray for grace to limit my curiosity by the boundaries of his revelation; surely these are far enough apart for the largest researches. As for the difficulty before us, I do not understand it; and what good would it be to me if I did understand it? I know that whatever a man does that is wrong, he does it of his own free-will; and all the sin in the world I believe to be caused by the wilful and censurable choice of the transgressor; but I know that, at the same time, there is a grasp of foresight and predestination so comprehensive that everything accords with the divine fore-knowledge and predestination. Let our hair grow as it will, or let us pluck out what hairs we please, let nothing interfere with our absolute liberty in that matter; and yet the hairs of our head are all numbered. So much for fore-sight.

     II. Now, secondly, here is KNOWLEDGE— God’s intimate knowledge of his people. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Observe what a full knowledge God has of each one of his children. If there were nobody else in the world except you, and God had nothing else to do but to think of you, and there were no objects of his attention beyond yourself, and his eternal mind had no object of consideration but you only, the Lord would not then know more about you than he does now. The omniscience of God is concentrated upon every single being, and yet it is not divided by the multiplicity of its objects; it is not the less upon any single one because there are so many. How it should astonish us, that the Lord knows us at this moment so intimately as to count every hair of our heads! The knowledge which the Lord has concerning his people is most minute, and takes in those small matters which men set down as unconsidered trifles. He knows what you and I hardly wish to know: he knows that which we may be content to leave unknown: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

     He knows us better than our friends know us. Many a man has a kind friend who knows his affairs most accurately, but even such a familiar acquaintance has never counted the hairs of your head. No man’s wife has done that, nor even the doctor who has, by his long attendance upon us, become aware of the condition and health of every part of our body. God knows us better than we know ourselves. Nobody knows how many hairs he has upon his own head; but the very hairs of your head are all numbered by One who knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows matters about us that we could not of ourselves discover. There are secrets of the heart which are unknown even to ourselves, but they are not secrets to him. His penetrating knowledge reaches to the most hidden things of life and spirit.

     Do you not think that a charmingly tender knowledge is intended when we are told that the Lord counts the very hairs of our heads? Does it not intimate how much he thinks of them? There are some who love us very much, and they are always aiming at our good, but God goes beyond them all in a more than motherly care of us, strikingly minute in its thoughtfulness. We see that his love passeth the love of women, for the very hairs of our head are numbered; and that at every period of our lives. Does it not imply a very sympathetic care? When one has a sick child, and watches over it night and day, every little fact about it is known and noted. The darling looks a little pale to-day, or he fails a little in his appetite; the symptom is anxiously noted. You know how easily love can degenerate into foolishness in that direction; but, without any folly, God is infinitely careful and kind towards us, for he knows when we have lost a hair from our head. We cannot make one hair white or black, but he knows when they turn white with grief or age. He understands all about our fading and our growing grey, the little details concerning our body as well as the minute circumstances that try our souls. It seems to me — I do not know how it strikes you— as meaning a very, very, very intimate, tender, and affectionate knowledge of us; and the fact that the Lord thus graciously looks upon us should fill us with joy.

     This careful, tender knowledge on God’s part is constant. He knows the number of the hairs of our head to-day, to-morrow, and all the days: he without ceasing watches all the processes which even in the least manner affect our lives. So intimate is his knowledge of us, that our lying down and our rising up, our thoughts and our ways, are all continually before him. And what are we to learn from this? Does it not make life a solemn business? Who will dare to trifle with the Lord God so near? Do you keep bees? Have you ever taken out one of the frames from their hive, and held it up to observe what they are doing on both sides of the comb? Or have you looked at them through one of those interesting hives, furnished with a glass, through which the whole business is visible? The bees scarcely notice that you watch them, certainly they are not eye-servers, for they are so industrious that they could not do more even if all eyes in the universe were fixed on them. What manner of persons ought we to be when we know that God is observing us, and noting every movement of our being! What care there should be as to our feeling, our thinking, our resolving, our desiring, our doing, and our speaking, when everything is minutely known to God, even to the counting of the very hairs of our head! What perfect consecration we ought to maintain! If God so values me, so knows me, that he counts the very hairs of my head, ought I not to give to God my whole self even to the minutest detail? Should I not give him, not merely my head, but my hair, as that penitent woman did, who unbound her tresses that she might make a towel of them, wherewith to wipe the feet that she had washed with her tears? Ought we not to consecrate to God the very least things as well as the greater things? Is it not written, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”? “Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price:” and when the inventory was taken, the Lord did not leave a hair of your head out of the catalogue. Certainly he has not left your hair to any of you Christian women wherewith to indulge your vanity and pride; it is every tress of it your Lord’s. He does not leave to you men even a part of your talent, of your mind, or of your body; your whole self is altogether his, and he takes stock of it, and expects you to include it in your practical consecration. He observes what you do with little things: he notes even those minor matters which seem too inconsiderable to come under rule at all. "We are under law to Christ, and that law covers the whole man.

     Should not our belief in this knowledge of us by the Lord, help us in prayer? Do not some brethren pray as if they were informing God about themselves? I think I have heard remarks in prayer which seemed to imply that God was not acquainted with the Shorter Catechism; friends have even gone over the doctrines of grace as if the Lord was not aware of them. I have heard others pray as if God did not know the experience of Christians: as if they have had to explain to him some of their doubts and fears. When we pray we do not need to explain anything, for the Lord knows all about us, even to the hairs of our head. Dear friends, we have no need to explain our difficulties and perplexities to our God. “Your heavenly Father knoweth” — let this be your comfort. He knoweth what things we have need of before we ask him; this is a great help in prayer. It may shorten your prayer a good deal if you go to God with the expression of your desire, and plead his promise, and submit your spirit to his divine discretion. Such a shortening of its length will be an addition to the strength of prayer. You need not be afraid, as if God did not know, but come sweetly to him who knoweth all about you, and will not act upon your faulty information, but upon his own certain knowledge.

     This persuasion will help us to feel that the Lord will deliver us out of all difficulties, for he knows the way out of every labyrinth, he perceives the answer of every enigma. If he counts the very hairs of your head, depend upon it he has a high discretion for greater things, and a matchless pilotage whereby, through waves, and rocks, and quicksands, he will gently steer your way, and bring you to the desired haven.

     There is so much of comfort in this doctrine of the infinite knowledge of God that I wish every poor sinner here would remember that God knows all about him, and consequently can deal with all his sins and fears. If you want mercy, come to the Lord at once; he knows your way, he knows your position, he knows your broken heart, he knows your weary struggles, he knows what you cannot express. The whole of the wrong you have wrought, and the whole of the right you desire, he perceives; for “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

     III. Now, thirdly, and very briefly: Does not this text express VALUATION? “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” It seems, then, that lowly saints are exceedingly precious to their Lord. The whole of Christ’s flock on earth were very poor people; if they had a boat and a few nets, it was all they were worth. If anybody had seen Christ in his little church on earth, he would have said, “There is not a respectable person among them.” That is how we talk nowadays; as if it were respectable to have money; as if respect did not belong to character, but only to possessions. Yet those twelve poor men he picked out, and he thought so much of them that he numbered the hairs of their heads. Yonder is a poor old man in the aisle, and he has a fustian jacket on; never mind his fustian jacket, the very hairs of his head are all numbered. Yonder is a poor old woman just come out of the workhouse, and she loves to hear the gospel; she is such a very poor old woman that nobody likes to invite her into a pew. I speak to the shame of such pride. She is one of Christ’s saints, and saintship is a patent of nobility. If you sold a farm you might count the trees, but not the boughs and the leaves; but if you sold a jeweller’s shop, you would count all the pins, and all the diamond rings, because everything is precious there; now God reckons everything about his people to be so precious that he even takes stock of the hairs of their heads. How precious in the sight of the Master his saints are! I have been trying to work out a calculation: if the hairs of their heads are worth so much that God registers them, what are their heads worth? Who shall tell me that? If their heads are worth so much that the Lord Jesus Christ died to redeem them, who can tell what their souls are worth, or rather what they are not worth? They are worth more than all the worlds put together. Ask a mother what her child is worth. “What will you take for your boy, mistress?” My friends, if she sold him at the price she would consider a fair compensation, we could not all of us make up the money if we put all that we have into one common fund. The Lord set such a value on his children that he gave his Son Jesus Christ to die sooner than he would lose one of them; and Jesus himself chose to die on the cross that none of his little ones should perish. Oh, the value and the preciousness of a child of God! Worlds would not serve for pence to be the basis of the valuation.

     Let us prize the people of God very highly, feeling as the Psalmist did when he said, “O God, thou art my God: my goodness extendeth not to thee; but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent in whom is all my delight.” You please Jesus when you do good unto one of the least of these his children. He reckons that you have done it unto him. If they are so dear to him, let them be dear to you; and as some of those whom Christ has purchased with his blood are still lost—

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

If the hairs of their head are counted, what must their souls be worth? Let us feel that all we can do to save a soul from death is but cheap work compared with the priceless gem we seek. O  come, ye divers, plunge into the sea: the pearls ye bring up shall well repay your utmost risk and toil! Come, ye hunters after souls, there is no such chase as this! Hunt after souls as the brave Switzer chases the chamois upon the mountains, and let no difficulties daunt you, for “he that winneth souls is wise.” There is no more profitable purchase than this, though you should lay down your lives to bring men to Christ. How much doth God value the souls of his people!

     IV. Lastly, here is PRESERVATION. See how carefully God intends to preserve his own people, since he begins by counting the hairs of their heads. I say it, for there is Scripture at the back of my assertion, that none of the people of God shall suffer in the long run the smallest loss. “There shall not a hair of your head perish,” said Christ to his believing people. If I were to lose a hair from my head, I should not know it — should you? But God would know if his servants lost a hair of their heads, and he makes the promise to them of such complete protection that there shall not a hair of their head perish. Remember that other text, “The Lord keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.” Now, a Christian man may break the bones of his body, but in a real and spiritual sense he is free from such danger, God will keep him— ay, keep him to all eternity! “There shall not a hoof be left behind,” said Moses to Pharaoh, and there shall not a bone, nor a piece of a bone of the ransomed be left in the dominion of death and the grave. When the trumpet shall sound, the whole of redeemed manhood shall start into life. When Peter came out of prison, the angel smote him, and his chains fell off, and he came out of prison, but he did not quit till he had put on his sandals. He did not leave even a pair of old shoes for Herod and his jailors. So shall it be with the children of God at last: “from beds of dust and silent clay,” when the angel’s trumpet shall ring out, they shall arise, and they shall leave nothing behind; they shall not leave an essential particle in the tomb. They shall rise, body, soul, and spirit completely redeemed of the Lord. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Christ knows what he has bought, and he will have it; even to the last atom he will have that which he has purchased. We shall not enter into life halt, or maimed, or having one eye. He will preserve his people in their entirety, and present them “without spot, or winkle, or anything.”

     Observe that, in the close neighbourhood of the text, we read of persecution. Beloved, if persecution should come it cannot really harm you. The three Hebrew children, when they came out of the fire, were not scorched or singed; there was not the smell of fire upon their hats, their hosen, or their hair. When God’s people pass through the fires of persecution, they shall not be losers; they shall go through the fires altogether unharmed; nay, they shall win the martyr’s palm and crown, which shall make them glorious for ever, even if they die in the flames. Therefore, fear nothing. Nothing shall by any means harm you; in the end your sufferings shall be your enrichment. Though you count not your lives dear unto you, precious shall your blood be in his sight.

     Besides persecution, there may come to you accident or sudden calamity. Never be afraid. It is half the battle in an accident, to exhibit presence of mind, therefore let the child of God be calm and self -possessed; for although you should suffer in body, your true self will be safe. Though in the tornado, or in the shipwreck, or in cholera, or in fire, you should be placed in outward peril even as others are, yet your real life is insured, by the covenant of grace from all injury. Therefore, rest in the Lord, for you shall be safe though a thousand should fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand. If you lose, your loss shall be transmuted into a real gain. Sickness, if sickness comes, shall work your health. God’s children have often been ripened by sickness. They are like the sycamore fig, which never gets sweet until it is bruised. Amos was a bruiser of sycamore figs, and affliction is God’s Amos to bruise us into sweet ness. Maturity comes by affliction. Alas! you say, “I have lost a dear friend.” Trust in God, and by divine friendship the void in your heart shall be more than filled. Have you lost a child? The Lord will be better to you than ten sons. Should your father and your mother be taken from you, you shall find them both in Christ, and be no orphan. Thus doth the promise stand: “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Trust, then, in the Lord at all hazards. Trust in him in deep waters as well as on the shore. When the waves are raging, trust your God as well as when the sea is as glass. When the sea roars, and the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, trust in Jehovah without the shade of a doubt, for “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Wherefore should you fear? Your vessel carries Jesus and all his fortune. If you are drowned he cannot swim, he sinks or swims with you; for thus has he put it, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” If your Lord lives, you must live. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words, and go quietly, patiently, happily, joyfully through the world, under divine preservation, since “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

     As for you who are not in Christ, I feel for you a great sorrow, because you cannot partake in the joy of this preservation. As for the righteous, the stars in their courses fight for them, and the beasts of the field are in league with them. But as for you, earth groans to bear the weight of such a sinner, and the elements are impatient to avenge the quarrel of God’s covenant by destroying you. All things work together to bring upon you the justice which you provoke. Flee! Flee! Flee! You have but one friend left: flee to him! That friend, “the Friend of Sinners,” entreats you to come to him. Hear him as he cries in tenderest accents, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Come to Jesus; come at once, for his dear love’s sake! Amen.

*No date is listed for this sermon but it was likely late January of 1888.



The Trial of Your Faith

By / Dec 2

The Trial of Your Faith

 

“The trial of your faith.”— 1 Peter i. 7.

 

IT is a great thing if any man can truthfully speak to you, my brother, about “your faith” for all men have not faith, and wherever faith is found, it is the token of divine favour. True faith is, in every case, of the operation of the Spirit of God. Its nature is purifying, elevating, heavenly. It is, of all things that can be cultivated in the human breast, one of the most precious. It is called, “like precious faith,” and it is styled “the faith of God’s elect.” Wherever faith is found, it is the sure mark of eternal election, the sign of a blessed condition, the forecast of a heavenly destiny. It is the eye of the renewed soul, the hand of the regenerated mind, the mouth of the new-born spirit. It is the evidence of spiritual life: it is the mainspring of holiness: it is the foundation of delight: it is the prophecy of glory: it is the dawn of endless knowledge. If thou hast faith, thou hast infinitely more than he who has all the world, and yet is destitute of faith. To him that believeth it is said, “All things are yours.” Faith is the assurance of sonship, the pledge of inheritance, the grasp of boundless possession, the perception of the invisible. Within thy faith there lies glory, even as the oak sleeps within the acorn. If thou hast faith, thou needest not ask for much more, save that thy faith may grow exceedingly, and that all the promises which are made to it may be known and grasped by thee. Time would fail me to tell of the powers, the privileges, the possessions, and the prospects of faith. He that hath it is blessed; for he pleases God, he is justified before the throne of holiness, he hath full access to the throne of grace, and he has the preparation for reigning with Christ for ever.

     So far everything is delightful. But then comes in this word, which somewhat startles, and, if we are cowardly, may also frighten— “The trial of your faith.” See you the thorn which grows with this rose! You cannot gather the fragrant flower without its rough companion. You cannot possess the faith without experiencing the trial; nor eat the lamb without the bitter herbs. These two things are put together— faith and trial; and it is of that trial of your faith that I am going to speak at this time, as God shall help me. It may be, my brother, that words said at this good hour shall comfort you while you undergo the sorer trial of your faith. May the Holy Spirit, who nurtures faith, and preserves and perfects it under its trial, help our thoughts at this hour!

     I. And, first, let me say of it, YOUR FAITH WILL BE TRIED SURELY. You may rest assured of that. A man may have faith, and be for the present without trial; but no man ever had faith, and was all his life without trial. That could not— must not be; for faith, in the very nature of it, implies a degree of trial. I believe the promise of God. So far my faith is tried in believing the promise, in waiting for the fulfilment of the promise, in holding on to an assurance of that promise while it is delayed, and in continuing to expect the promise, and to act upon it until it is in all points fulfilled to me. I do not see how that can be faith at all which is not tried by its own exercise. Take the very happiest and smoothest lives; there must, at any rate, be the trial of faith in taking the promise and pleading it before God in prayer, and expecting the fulfilment of it. Be not mistaken. God never gave us faith to play with. It is a sword, but it was not made for presentation on a gala day, nor to be worn on state occasions only, nor to be exhibited upon a parade ground. It is a sword that was meant to cut and wound and slay; and he that has it girt about him may expect, between here and heaven, that he shall know what battle means. Faith is a sound sea-going vessel, and was not meant to lie in dock and perish of dry rot. To whom God has given faith, it is as though one gave a lantern to his friend because he expected it to be dark on his way home. The very gift of faith is a hint to you that you will want it; that at certain points and places you will especially require it, and that, at all points, and in every place, you will really need it. You cannot live without faith: for again and again we are told— “the just shall live by faith.” Believing is our living, and we, therefore, need it always. And if God give thee great faith, my dear brother, thou must expect great trials; for, in proportion as thy faith shall grow, thou wilt have to do more, and endure more. Little boats may keep close to shore, as becomes little boats; but if God make thee a great vessel, and load thee with a rich freight, he means that thou shouldest know what great billows are, and should feel their fury till thou seest “his wonders in the deep.” That God, who has made nothing in vain, especially makes nothing in the spiritual kingdom in vain; and if he makes faith, it is with the design that it should be used to the utmost and exercised to the full.

     Expect trial, also, because trial is the very element of faith. Faith is a salamander that lives in the fire, a star which moves in a lofty sphere, a diamond which bores its way through the rock. Faith without trial is like a diamond uncut, the brilliance of which has never been seen. Untried faith is such little faith that some have thought it no faith at all. What a fish would be without water, or a bird without air, that would be faith without trial. If thou hast faith, thou mayest surely expect that thy faith will be tested: the great Keeper of the treasures admits no coin to his coffers without testing. It is so in the nature of faith, and so in the order of its living: it thrives not, save in such weather as might seem to threaten its death.

     Indeed, it is the honour of faith to he tried. Shall any man say, “I have faith, but I have never had to believe under difficulties”? Who knows whether thou hast any faith? Shall a man say, “I have great faith in God, but I have never had to use it in anything more than the ordinary affairs of life, where I could probably have done without it as well as with it”? Is this to the honour and praise of thy faith? Dost thou think that such a faith as this will bring any great glory to God, or bring to thee any great reward? If so, thou art mightily mistaken. He that has tested God, and whom God has tested, is the man that shall have it said of him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Had Abraham stopped in Ur of the Chaldees with his friends, and rested there, and enjoyed himself, where had been his faith? He had God’s command to quit his country to go to a land which he had never seen, to sojourn there with God as a stranger, dwelling in tents; and in his obedience to that call his faith began to be illustrious. Where had been the glory of his faith, if it had not been called to brave and self-denying deeds? Would he ever have risen to that supreme height, to be “the Father of the faithful,” if he had not grown old, and his body dead, and yet he had believed that God would give him seed of his aged wife Sarah, according to the promise? It was blessed faith that made him feel that nothing was impossible to God. If Isaac had been born to him in the days of his strength, where had been his faith? And when it came to that severer test, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of”— when he rose up early, and clave the wood, and took his son, and went three days’ journey, setting his face like a flint to obey the command of God; and when at last he drew the knife, in faithful obedience to the divine command, then was his faith confessed, commended, and crowned. Then the Lord said, “Now I know”; as if, even to God, the best evidence of Abraham’s faith had then been displayed, when he staggered not at the promise through unbelief, reckoning that God could restore Isaac from the dead if need be, but that it was his to obey the supreme command, and trust all consequences with God, who could not lie. Herein his faith won great renown, and he became “the Father of the faithful,” because he was the most tried of believers, and yet surpassed them all in childlike belief in his God. If God, then, has given to any one of us a faith which is honourable and precious, it has full surely been submitted to its own due measure of trial; and if it is to be still more precious, it has yet more trials to endure.

     We remember also two reasons for the trial of faith. The trial of your faith is sent to prove its sincerity. If it will not stand trial, what is the good of it? That gold which dissolves in the furnace, and disappears amid the flame, is not the gold which shall be current with the merchant; and that faith of thine, which is no sooner tried than straightway it evaporates, art thou not well rid of it? Of what use would it be to thee in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment? No; thou canst not be sure that thy faith is true faith till it is tried faith. Thou canst not be certain that it is worth having till it has been fitly tested, and brought to the touchstone of trial.

     It must also be tested to prove its strength. We sometimes fancy that we have strong faith when, indeed, our faith is very weak; and how are we to know whether it be weak or strong till it be tried? A man that should lie in bed week after week, and perhaps get the idle whim into his head that he was very strong, would be pretty certain to be mistaken. It is only when he sets about work requiring muscular strength that he will discover how strong or how weak he is. God would not have us form a wrong estimate of ourselves. He loves not that we should say that we are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, when we are the reverse; and therefore he sends to us the trial of our faith that we may understand how strong or how weak it is.

     And besides that, dear friends, the trial of our faith is necessary to remove its dross. There are many accretions of sordid matter about our purest graces. We are apt ourselves to add to the bulk of our graces without adding to the real value of them. We mistake quantity for quality; and a great deal of what we think we have of Christian experience, and Christian knowledge, and Christian zeal, and Christian patience, is only the supposition that we have these graces, and not the real possession of them. So the fire grows fiercer, and the mass grows smaller than it was before. Is there any loss therein? I trow not. The gold loses nothing by the removal of its dross, and our faith loses nothing by the dissipation of its apparent force. Faith may apparently lose, but it actually gains. It may seem to be diminished, but it is not truly diminished. All is there that was worth having. “Why, a week ago,” says one, “I used to sing, and think that I had the full assurance of faith; and now I can scarcely tell whether I am one of God’s people or not.” Now, you know how much faith you really possess. You can now tell how much was solid, and how much was sham; for had that which has failed you been real faith, it would not have been consumed by any trial through which it has passed. You have lost the froth from the top of the cup, but all that was really worth having is still there. It must be so, for as faith is not born of earthly things, neither can earthly things kill it, nor even take from it one true particle.

     Understand, then, dear friends, that for many necessary purposes there is a needs be for trial. Peter says here, “If need be” that there should be a trial of your faith. You will get that trial, because God, in his wisdom, will give faith what faith needs. Do not be anxious to enter into trial. Do not fret if temptation does not come just now. You will have it time enough. Between the day of our new birth and the day of our entering into our inheritance, we shall have quite sufficient trial of our faith. We need not be uneasy if for a while we are at ease, for there are months enough left to the year to give winter its full measure of frosts and storms.

     II. Now, secondly, YOUR FAITH WILL BE TRIED VARIOUSLY. trial of our faith does not come to all persons in the same way. There The are some whose faith is tried each day in their communion with God. They pray this prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.” That prayer is heard constantly; the visitations of the Lord are granted to them, and as the Lord comes, he tries them; for, believe me, there is no surer trial of our souls than the drawing near of God to our souls. Apart from any outward affliction, that searching thought, that inward feeling, which is somewhat more than thought; that holy, secret trembling, which comes upon our spirit when God draws near, is God’s constant trial of our graces. If you walk away from God, and live without fellowship with him, you may retain in your heart much falsehood, and fancy that you are full of spiritual gifts and graces; but if you draw near to God, and walk with him, you will not be able to retain a false opinion of yourself. Remember what the Lord is. Our God is a consuming fire. I have often reminded you of the way in which people try to improve upon the Scripture when they say, “God out of Christ is a consuming fire.” The Bible does not so speak. It says, “For our God is a consuming fire.” That is, God in Christ, who is our God, is a consuming fire; and when his people live in him, the very presence of God consumes in them their love of sin and all their pretentious graces, and fictitious attainments, so that the false disappears, and only the true survives. The presence of perfect holiness is killing to empty boastings and hollow pretences. You need not ask for any of those various forms of trial which God sends in the order of providence: you may rest quite satisfied with his presence, as the most effectual purgation; for “his fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor.” Whenever Jesus abides with us, “he shall sit as a refiner.” Whoever he may leave alone in their defilement, “he will purify the sons of Levi.” It is the Lord himself that will be as a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap. Who may abide the day of his coming? Who that loves holiness would wish to escape it? Our prayer should be—

“Refining fire go through my soul.”

Ay, let the devouring flame go through me, and through me yet again, till this earthly grossness shall begin to disappear. As Moses soon put his shoes off from his feet when he beheld God at the burning bush, so shall we put off the superfluities of our supposed spiritual experience, and come to the real, naked foot of truth, if we are permitted to stand before God in accepted sincerity. Thus you see there is a constant trial of our faith, even in that which is its greatest joy and glory, namely its power to make us see the Lord.

     But the Lord uses other methods with his servants. I believe that he frequently tries us by the blessings which he sends us. This is a fact which is too much overlooked. When a man is permitted to grow rich, what a trial of faith is hidden away in that condition! It is one of the severest of providential tests! Where I have known one man fail through poverty, I have known fifty men fail through riches. When our friends get on in the world, and have a long stretch of prosperity, they should invite their brethren to offer special prayer for them, that they may be preserved: for the thick clay is heavy stuff to walk upon, and when the feet slip into it, and it adheres to you, it makes travelling to heaven a very difficult thing. When we do not cling to wealth, it will not harm us; but there is a deal of bird-lime in money. You that have no riches may yet find a test in your daily mercies: your domestic comfort, that loving wife, those dear children— all these may tempt you to walk by sight instead of by faith. Ay, and continued health, the absence of all depression of spirit, and the long abiding of friends and relatives, may all make you self-contented, and keep you away from your God. It is a great trial of faith to have much for sight to rest upon. To be in the dark— altogether in the dark— is a grand thing for faith; for then you are sure that what you see is not seen of the flesh, but is in very deed a vision of spiritual faith. To be under a cloud is a trial, truly; but not one-half so much a trial as it is to have continually the light of this world. We are so apt to mistake the light of carnal comfort for the light of God, that it is well to see how we fare without it.

     One form of this trial is praise. You know how Solomon puts it: “As the fining-pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise.” A Christian minister may go on preaching very earnestly, and God will help him, though everybody opposes him; but when the world comes and pats him on the back, and pride whispers, “You are a fine fellow; you are a great man!” then comes the test of the man. How few there are that can endure the warm atmosphere of congratulation! It is dangerously relaxing to the spirit. Yea, nobody can keep himself right under it, unless the almighty grace of God shall sustain his faith. When the soft winds blow they bring with them the temptation, “Now preach the doctrines that tickle men’s ears!” “Go in to be scientific, and learned, and clever! Get the approbation of the great ones of the world, and the leaders of advanced thought in the church.” And unless you say, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God,” such a trial of faith may be too much for you. “Oh,” says one, “that will not fall to my lot.” No, no; you will not be a popular preacher, perhaps; but then, you may be very acceptable in the company wherein you move, and worldly people may flatter you to the verge of ruin. You sing very nicely, do you not? Well, they may want you to sing them a song that is not one of the songs of Zion. Because of your natural attainments, and the amiability of your temper, you may become a great favourite with ungodly people; and that is an intense trial to the faith of a child of God. The friendship of the world is as much enmity with God as it used to be in apostolic times. It is a bad sign when a courtier is in great favour with the king’s enemies. Stand up, and stand out, as the servant of God, and in whatever sphere you move, make it your one and only business to serve my God, whether you offend or please. Happy shall you be if you survive the trial of your faith which this will involve!

     Another trial of faith is exceedingly common and perilous nowadays, and that is, heretical doctrine and false teaching. There be some who are carried away with this wind of doctrine, and others carried away with the other; and blessed is he who is not offended in Christ; for, naturally, the cross of Christ is offensive to the minds of men. There are temptations that rise out of the gospel itself, yea, out of its very depth and breadth. There is a trial of faith in reading the Scriptures. You come across a doctrine which you cannot understand, and because you cannot understand it, you are tempted not to receive it. Or, when a truth which you have received appears to be hard, and speaks to you in an unlovely fashion, so that your natural feelings are aroused against it; this is a trial of your faith. Remember how our Lord Jesus lost quite a company of disciples on a certain occasion. He had taught a doctrine about eating his flesh and drinking his blood; and from that hour many went back, and walked no more with him, till the Saviour had to say, even to the twelve, “Will ye also go away?” Truth is not always welcome to our ignorance, or to our prejudice, and herein is a trial of faith. Will we believe ourselves or our God? Do we want to believe God’s truth, or do we wish to have the Lord’s message flavoured to our taste? Do we expect the preacher to play our chosen tunes, and speak our opinions? Beloved, it does us good to be well rasped sometimes; to have a word come to us, not as a sweet wine, but as a purging medicine, that shall search us through and through, and make us enquire before God, “Are we true men, or are we aliens?” If we run in the same line with God’s truth, we are true; but when we run counter to the truth of God, we are ourselves untrue. It is not the Book that is to be altered: our hearts want altering. Happy is that man whose faith can endure the trial of the Book. “Is not the word of the Lord like a fire or a hammer?” This is so even to the Lord’s own people.

     But the trial of our faith usually comes in the form of affliction. Our jealous lover uses tests that it may be seen whether he has our heart. The trial of your faith comes thus:— You say, “Lord Jesus, I love thee. Thou art my best beloved.” “Well,” says the heavenly Lover, “if it be so, then the child that nestles in thy bosom will sicken and die. What wilt thou say then?” If thou be indeed true in what thou hast stated concerning thy supreme love to Jesus, thou wilt give up thy darling at his call, and say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Lord is very jealous of our love. I do not mean that he is so towards all of you: I speak of his own people. The more he loves us, the more he tests us. Whatever it may be with us poor creatures, it is always so with Jesus, that his love goes with his jealousy, and his jealousy with his love. Sometimes he says, “Good woman, I shall take away thy husband, on whom thou leanest, that thou mayest lean the more on me.” I remember Mr. Rutherford, writing to a lady who had lost five children and her husband, says to her, “Oh, how Christ must love you! He would take every bit of your heart to himself. He would not permit you to reserve any of your soul for any earthly thing.” Can we stand that test? Can we let all go for his sake? Do you answer that you can? Time will show.

     My Lord sometimes comes to me in this fashion. He says, “I have made thee to trust me these many years. I have supplied the wants of thy work by liberal friends. I am about to remove a generous helper.” I go to the grave of my friend, and the suggestion dogs me, “Who is to provide for the Orphanage and the College, after other dear friends are buried? Can you trust God then?” Blessed be the name of the Lord, this fiery trial has never even left the smell of fire upon me; I know whom I have believed. Then a dear brother, our best worker, our heartiest helper, comes to me, and says, “Goodbye, dear Pastor; perhaps I may never see you again on earth.” He is very ill, and about to lie under the surgeon’s knife, and the fear is that he may not rally. I go home, and say to myself, “What shall I do without this useful man?” And then I have to say, “Why, do? Do what I have done before— trust in the living God.” If you once get to walk the walk of faith, the Lord will often try you in this way, to see whether you come up to your own confession— whether you really trust in the Lord, and have your expectation from him alone. Can you truly say,

“Yea, shouldst thou take them all away,
Yet would I not repine”?

     If every earthly prop were knocked away, could you stand by the lone power of your foundation? God may not send you this or that trial, but he will send you a sufficient amount of trial to let you see whether your faith is truth or talk, whether you have truly entered the spiritual world, or have only dreamed of doing so. Believe me, there is a great difference between a diamond and a paste gem, and the Lord would not have mistaken at the last. So, you see, the trials of faith are very various.

     III. In the third place, YOUR FAITH WILL BE TRIED INDIVIDUALLY. The text says, the trial of your faith. O dear friend, it is an interesting subject, is it not, the trial of faith? It is not quite so pleasant to study alone the trial of your faith. It is stern work when it comes to be your trial, and the trial of your faith. You have not gone much into that particular department, perhaps. Well, I say again, do not wish to do so. Do not ask for trials. Children must not ask to be whipped, nor saints pray to be tested. There is a little book which you will have to eat, and it will be bitter in your mouth, but sweet in your bowels: that book is the trial of your faith. The Lord Jesus Christ has been glorified by the trial of his people’s faith. He has to be glorified by the trial of your faith. You are very obscure, perhaps, dear brother. You have but few talents, my dear sister. But, nevertheless, there is a particular shape and form of trial that will have to be exercised upon you rather than upon anyone else. “Oh,” say you, “I know it, sir; I know it.” Well, then, if you know it, do not complain of it; because, when you have your own trial, and the trial of your own faith, you are only treated like the rest of the family. What son is there whom the father chasteneth not? You are only treated like the Head of the family. You are only treated in the way which the great Father of the family knows is necessary for us all. God had one Son without sin, but he never had a son without trial, and he never will have until he has taken us all home out of this world. Why should we expect that God should deal better with us than he does with the rest of his chosen? Indeed it would not be better, after all, because these trials are the means of working out our lasting good. But if it were not so, who am I, and who are you, that God should pamper us? Would we have him put us in a glass ease and shield us from the trials which are common to all the chosen seed? I ask no such portion. Let me fare as the saints fare. I only wish to have their bread and their water, and love their Father, and follow their Guide, and find their home. We will take our meals with them, whatever God puts upon the table for them, will we not? The trial of our faith will be all our own, and yet it will be in fellowship with all the family of grace.

     IV. YOUR FAITH WILL BE TRIED SEARCHINGLY. It will be no child’s play to come under the divine tests. Our faith is not merely jingled on the counter like the shilling which the tradesman suspects, but it is tried with fire; for so it is written, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” The blows of the flail of tribulation are not given in sport, but in awful earnest, as some of us know who have been chastened sore, almost unto death. The Lord tries the very life of our faith; not its beauty and its strength alone, but its very existence. The iron enters into the soul; the sharp medicine searches the inmost parts of the belly; the man’s real self is made to endure the trial. It is easy to talk of being tried, but it is by no means so simple a matter to endure the ordeal.

     V. Let me yet further observe, that YOUR FAITH WILL BE TRIED FOR AN ABUNDANTLY USEFUL PURPOSE. The trial of your faith will increase, develop, deepen, and strengthen it. “Oh,” you have said, “I wish I had more faith.” Your prayer will be heard through your having more trial. Often in our prayers we have sought for a stronger faith to look within the veil. The way to stronger faith usually lies along the rough pathway of sorrow. Only as faith is contested will faith be confirmed. I do not know whether my experience is that of all God’s people; but I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. What do I not owe to the hammer and the anvil, the fire and the file? What do I not owe to the crucible and the furnace, the bellows that have blown up the coals, and the hand which has thrust me into the heat? Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library. We may wisely rejoice in tribulation, because it worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and by that way we are exceedingly enriched, and our faith grows strong.

     The trial of our faith is useful, not only because it strengthens it, but because it leads to a discovery of our faith to ourselves. I notice an old Puritan using this illustration. He says, you shall go into a wood when you please, but if you are very quiet, you will not know whether there is a partridge, or a pheasant, or a rabbit in it; but when you begin to move about, or make a noise, you very soon see the living creatures. They rise or they run. So, when affliction comes into the soul, and makes a disturbance and breaks our peace, up rise our graces. Faith comes out of its hiding, and love leaps from its secret place. I remember Mr. William Jay saying that birds’ nests are hard to find in summer-time, but anyone could find a bird’s nest in winter. When all the leaves are off the trees the nests are visible to all. Often in the days of our prosperity, we fail to find our faith; but when our adversity comes, the winter of our trial bares the boughs, and we see our faith at once. We are sure that we believe now, for we feel the effect of faith upon our character. “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” said David, “but now have I kept thy word.” He found that his faith was really there by his keeping God’s Word in the time of his affliction. It is a great mercy, then, to have your faith tried, that you may be sure beyond all manner of question that you are a true believer.

     Besides, when faith is tried it brings God glory. Oh, how it honours God when a man can say with a smiling face in prospect of death, “Good-bye, dear sir, I may never see you here again, but we shall meet above”! We who are in health envy the brother who has such joy amid sharp pain. I went the other day to see a dear brother who has since then gone above. He was swollen with dropsy, and was close to the brink of the grave; but to hear the song of assurance, and the utterances of his joy was most sweet and cheering. It made me feel how good God is to his servants. He never leaves nor forsakes them, when they come to their most painful times.

     This trial of our faith does good to our fellow-Christians. They see how we are supported, and they learn to bear their troubles bravely. I do not know anything that is better for making us brave than to see others believe in Christ and bear up manfully. To see that blind saint so happy makes us ashamed to be sad. To see content in an inmate of the workhouse compels us to be thankful. Sufferers are our tutors; they educate us for the skies. When men of God can suffer— when they can bear poverty, bereavement or sickness, and still rejoice in God, we learn the way to live the higher and more Christly life. When Patrick Hamilton had been burned in Scotland, one said to his persecutors, “If you are going to burn anymore, you had better do it in a cellar, for the smoke of Hamilton’s burning has opened the eyes of hundreds.” It was always so. Suffering saints are living seed. Oh, that God might help us to such faith, that when we come to suffer in life, or to expire in death, we may so glorify God that others may believe in him! May we preach sermons by our faith which shall be better than sermons in words.

     My time has gone, and I have much to say to you. I wanted to say to you about the trial of your faith, dear friends, that SOME ARE TRIED VERY SPECIALLY. Some endure many more tests than others, and that is because God has a great favour to them. Many men God does not love well enough to whip them. They are the devil’s children, and the heavenly Father does not trouble them. They are none of his, and so he lets them have a happy life, and perhaps an easy death: “there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” But they are to be pitied, and not envied. Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall weep! Woe unto you who have your portion in this life, for it shall go ill with you in the world to come! God’s children are often much chastened because they are much loved. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Men take most trouble with that which is most precious. A common pebble will be let alone, but a diamond must be fretted on the wheel till its brilliance is displayed.

     Some persons are also much tried in their faith because they are very fit for it. God has fitted the back for a heavy burden, and the burden will be sent. He has constituted them on purpose that they should be helpful in filling up “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, for his body’s sake, which is the church.” Men build strong columns because they are meant to carry great weights. So God makes great Christians, on purpose that they should bear great afflictions for his glory.

     He does this also because he would have some men do him a special service. What an honour it is to do the Lord a special service! When some man in our army behaves himself very grandly, and wins a battle, what will her Majesty do? Why, she will send for him next time a war arises. If any of you are brave in bearing affliction, you shall have the honour of enduring more affliction. Does not every soldier court the opportunity of service? He that looks over his soldiers says of a certain one, “I shall not send him; he is feeble and faint-hearted; yonder veteran is the man for me.” Do not think that you would be honoured by being allowed to ride to heaven on a feather bed. True honour lies in being permitted to bear and suffer, side by side with him of the bloody sweat and of the five open wounds. This is the guerdon of the saints— that they should on earth be decorated with

“Many a sorrow, many a tear.”

They shall walk with their Lord in white, for they are worthy.

     Yes, dear friends, the Lord often sends us greater trials than others, because he means to qualify us for greater enjoyments. If you want to make a pool capable of holding more water, you dig it out, do you not? And many a man has been dug and enlarged by affliction. The enlargements of trial enable us to hold more grace and more glory. The more a gracious man suffers, the more he becomes capable of entering into fellowship with Christ in his sufferings, and so into fellowship with Christ in his glory by-and-by.

     Come, let us be comforted as to the trial of our faith. There is no hurt in it. It is all for good. The trial of our faith is entirely in the hands of God. Nobody can try us without God’s permission. He will try us just as much as we ought to be tried, and no more. While he tries us with one hand he will sustain us with the other. If he gives us bitters, he will give us sweets in full proportion. A dear sister said to me this week, “When I used to be in poverty and in trouble, the Word of God was much more sweet to me than it is now that I am prospered.” I do not wonder at it. I have made a similar remark when I have been long without an illness. Some of us have cried, “Take me back to my sickness again. Take me back to slander and rebuke again.” A Scotch saint said that when they met in the moss, or by the hill-side, and were harried by Claverhouse and his dragoons, Christ was present at the sacraments in the heather much more than he ever was afterwards when they got into the kirk, and sat down quietly. Our worst days are often our best days, and in the dark we see stars that we never saw in the light. So we will not care a pin what it is that may befall us here, so long as God is with us, and our faith in him is genuine. Christian people, I am not going to condole with you, but I congratulate you upon your troubles, for the cross of Christ is precious.

     But you that do not love my Lord and Master, if you roll in riches, if your eyes stand out with fatness, I mourn over you. Bullocks fattened for the slaughter, your joys are but the prelude to your woes. Oh, that God would have mercy upon you, and that you would have mercy upon yourselves, and flee at once to Jesus, and put your trust in him! Faith in the work, offices, and person of the Lord Jesus is the way of salvation. May he help you to run in it at this hour, for his name’s sake! Amen.



“On His Breast”

By / Nov 18

"On His Breast"

 

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.”— John xiii. 23— 26.

 

PICTURE the Lord and his apostles at the holy Supper. A world of interest centres here. Two figures strangely different met in this scene— met, shortly afterwards to part, and never to meet again. To look upon them, they seemed equally disciples of Jesus, and from the position which one of them occupied, as leaning on the Lord’s bosom, and the other as the treasurer of the Master’s little store, they seemed to be equally trusted and honoured followers of the great Lord. You might not have known, by mere sight, which was the better man of the two— John or Judas. Most probably you would have preferred the gentle manners of John; but I should suppose— for our Lord never chose a man to an office unless he had some qualification— you would also have admired the calm prudence of Judas, and his quiet business tact.

     No doubt you would have thought that he made an excellent treasurer, and you would have been glad that your Master, with so little to spare, had lighted upon so vigilant a guard and so prudent a manager. They sat at the same table, engaged in the same exercises, and looked much the same kind of men. None of us would have guessed that one of them was John the divine, and the other was Judas the devil. One of them was the seer of the Apocalypse, the other was the son of perdition. No doubt there are strange mixtures of character in this very house to-night. There will come to this table the disciple whom Jesus loves. Him we will welcome, saying, “Come in, thou blessed of the Lord.” Alas! there may come here a son of perdition. Him we cannot chase away, for we cannot read his heart. For a time both may act and even feel alike; they may even wear well for years. Apparently they may be equally sincere; and yet the day will come when to the right, in his love and his integrity, the faithful disciple will wend his way up to his Master’s bosom for ever; and to the left, the hypocrite will go to his dreadful end, and to that hell which must receive such traitors as he. There is something very solemn about this meeting of such strangely different characters in one common act, and in the society of the same divine Lord. John is here; is Judas here? Let the question be started and passed round, “Lord, is it I?” He is the least likely to be the traitor who is nearest to his Lord’s heart. He who occupies such a place as John did is not the betrayer. Oh that we might be fired with a loving ambition to be the disciple whom Jesus loved, leaning on Jesus’ bosom! for then, though we ask the question, “Lord, is it I?” it will not linger long upon our hearts ; for his love, shed abroad within them, shall answer every question of self-examination, and we shall cry, “Lord, thou knowest all things ; thou knowest that I love thee.” Let that stand as an introduction. Glance at yourself and your brethren at the table, and say— How far shall we be like our Lord and the twelve? Will Peter, and James, and John, and Judas all live over again in the assembly of to-night for the breaking of bread?

     And now our remarks will be very simple.

     I. And the first is this— SOME DISCIPLES ARE SPECIALLY LOVED OF THEIR LORD. We believe in the doctrine of election, but the principle of election goes to be carried farther than some suppose. There is an election in the midst of the election, and another within that. The wider circle contains the inner, and a still more select circlet forms the innermost ring of all. The Lord had a people around him who were his disciples. Within them he had twelve. Within the twelve ho had three. Within the three he had one disciple whom he loved. And I suppose that what took place around his blessed person on earth takes place on a larger scale around his adorable person which is the centre of his church both militant and triumphant. Probably our Lord’s attachment to John was partly a human one; and so far as it was human, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now after the flesh know we even him no more. Any merely human affection which our Lord Jesus bore for John may have passed away. There may, also, have been such affection in Jesus toward John as there would be in any eminent Christian towards another Christly believer— in anyone whom the Lord made to be a leader of his church, towards such and such a member of that church in whom he could see most of the lovely characteristics of Christ. I cannot but think that it was so. But it strikes me that our Lord Jesus loved John in some measure more than the rest, in the entirety of his character, as Jesus Christ, the Son of God as well as the Son of man. We know that he loved all his disciples; for when my brother read the chapter just now, how like music did those words sound, ‘‘Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end”! He loved not some of his own; but all of them. He loved all his own then, and he loves all his own now. There is infinite love in the heart of Jesus towards all his people; and if there be any degrees in that love, yet the lowest degree is inconceivably great. The very least member of the divine family may say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” He loves us beyond all human expression, because beyond all human conception. The great heart of the eternal Father, the great heart of the eternal Son, the great heart of the everblessed Spirit, the great heart of the Trinity in unity, beats with love, with love to all the elect, to all the redeemed, to all the called, to all the sanctified people of God. We are quite sure of this. Yet that love has this difference about it, that it is more enjoyed by some on earth than by others.

     It is clear, as a matter of fact, that the divine love is manifested to some more clearly than to others. My beloved brethren, you must know this to be the case; for there are those among us who walk with God, who enjoy the light of Jehovah’s countenance at all times, who, if depressed, have the art of rolling their burden upon the Lord, and soon are delivered from it. You know them, they are the brethren who feel like singing all the while, for Jesus is their friend, and they rejoice in him. There was one in the Old Testament who was called “a man greatly beloved,” and there are Daniels on earth even now. Christ has among women still his Maries, whom he loves. He loved Martha, too; but still there was a special place for Mary. Jesus has still his Johns, whom he peculiarly loves. He loves Peter and Nicodemus, and Nathanael, and all of them; but still there are some who know his love more than others, live in it more than others, drink into it more than others, reflect it more than others, and become more conformed to it, and saturated with it, and perfumed with it, than others are. There are first as well as last. All may be of Israel, but all the tribes are not Judah, and in Judah all the men are not Davids. Who shall deny that there are degrees in grace? Have we not among us babes, and young men, and fathers? Have we not first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear? It is so; and though I will not argue for degrees in glory, and, indeed, deprecate the spirit in which the doctrine of degrees in glory is often set forth; yet we are sure, for we see it with our eyes, that there are degrees of grace, and especially degrees in the enjoyment of the love of Jesus. Amongst those who do really love their Lord, and are really loved by him, one star differeth from another in the glory of that love.

     Why was John made “that disciple whom Jesus loved”? Certainly it was not because he was naturally higher in rank than the others, for he was a fisherman, like the most of them; and James was certainly equal in birth, for he was his brother. Our blessed Lord did not love John because of any excess of talent; for albeit that John’s Apocalypse and his Gospel are, in some respects, the highest parts of revealed Scripture, being both the simplest and the most mysterious portions of Holy Writ; yet we should not say that John betrayed evidence of so great a mind in itself, naturally, or by education, as Paul had. He had as much talent as his Lord gave him, but there was nothing about him so special that he should for that cause have been loved; and to dismiss the thought with a word, Jesus never loves men on account of talent, and we should be unwise if we ourselves did so. These things are external to the man. Our Lord loved John, specially, for a better reason than that.

     Why did our blessed Lord love John better than others? I can only reply that he exercises a sovereignty of choice, and it is not for us to ask the why and wherefore of the movements of the sacred heart. Surely, nothing should be left so free as the love of the Son of God. Let him love whom he wills; he has an unquestionable right to do so.

     But if we venture reverently to look into the familiar love of Jesus, we shall not fail to see that there was about John, through grace, a most loving spirit. Men love those that are like them, and Jesus, as man, loved John because the processes of grace had developed in John the image of Jesus. John, like his Lord, had much love. He may have lacked some qualities in which Peter, and James, and others excelled, but he towered above them all in love. He was full of tenderness, and therefore his Master at once selected him to be his choicest companion and his dearest friend. You know the way, then, to the heart of Christ. Let your own heart be full of love, and you will know his love. He loves you, you know, altogether apart from anything that is in you, of his own rich and sovereign grace; but for the special manifestation of that love, for your personal enjoyment of it, to fit you for such enjoyment, you must have much love to him. You greatly need, not a great head, but a great heart. You must have, not more knowledge, but more affection; not a higher rank in society, but a higher rank in the power to love Jesus and to love your fellow-men. Less of self, and more of Jesus, and then you shall enjoy more of his love.

     This being the case, that John had this loving spirit, and our Lord Jesus Christ loved him more than others, it led on to the fact that John was the recipient of confidences from Christ which others had not. I will show you that farther on; but certainly it seems to me that John was made by Jesus his executor, and he left him in his will all his earthly possessions. You will say to me, “And pray what possessions had the Master?” Well, he had one possession of which he was very fond, and he could not die until he had disposed by his last will and testament of that one earthly possession. It was his mother. He loved her, and must care for her; and there passed a little word, a kind of sign, between him and John at the last moment. Do not think that John would have understood what Jesus meant when he said: “Woman, behold thy son,” and, “Son, behold thy mother!” if there had not been a quiet talk about that matter some time before. But Jesus, I doubt not, had told John that the only earthly care he had, as man, was that while he was away slumbering in the grave he would have his mother cared for still, and so he left her in John’s charge. If you love Jesus Christ very much, he will leave something in your charge, depend upon that; and the more you love him, the more will he trust, you with some loving commission which he would not trust with anybody else. I have known him leave a dear child of his, some dear old saint, for a favoured believer to look after, whom he never would have had to look after if Jesus had not said: “I love this dear old saint, and I shall commit him— I shall commit her— to the custody of such a one, because he loves me, and he will take care of this poor one for my sake.” Some of you have nobody to care for. Little know you of Christ’s trustfulness towards you: he has not trusted you with anything. Do you not grieve to think that you lack this token of his special love? As sure as ever there is any intimate love between Jesus and any soul, he trusts that soul with something to be done, to be endured, to be guarded, to be mourned over, or in some way to become a sacred trust. Thus love has occupation, proof, and expression, and this she ever longs for. I know my Master loves me, and I rejoice in his love; and sometimes, when I think of all this great church, and the College, and the Orphanage, and the many cares the whole service brings into my heart, I have said, “Have I begotten all this multitude, that I should carry all of them in my bosom, and bear their griefs, and be troubled with their troubles?” and the answer has always seemed to come to me, “Thou lovest me, and I trust thee to look after these souls, to help them, and care for them, for my sake.” It is so with you that have classes to look after, or families to care for: attend to them, for Jesus’ sake. If it be only one little one, hear Jesus say, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” You have a charge, each one; and if you have none, I should be afraid you may be Judas, for I cannot think you are John. Had there been the love between you and the Lord which existed between John and Jesus, Jesus would have whispered into your ear about somebody of whom he would say, “Care for him; care for him for my sake”; and you would have answered, “Lord, that I will: the more thou givest to me to do for thee, the more happy will I be, because I love thee, and because this trust proves that thou dost love mo.”

     There is the first head: we perceive Jesus loves some of his disciples more than others.

     II. Now, secondly, we note that THE BELOVED ONES COUNT THIS TO BE THEIR GREATEST HONOUR. This is evidently in the text; for John, who wrote these words, called himself “one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved”; and I think three times besides he speaks of himself as “that disciple whom Jesus loved.” He took his name from his Lord’s love, which he evidently counted to be his greatest honour. This was John’s most notable title. As a servant of the Queen, having distinguished himself in the service of Her Majesty, becomes the lord of such and such a town, and he takes the name of the place as a name of honour, so John drops his own birth-given name, as it were, and takes this title instead of it— “that disciple whom Jesus loves.” He wears it as a Knight of the Garter, or of the Golden Fleece, wears the mark of his sovereign’s esteem. He took it for his honour; and yet, beloved, there was not a grain of boasting in it, nor even an approach to glorying in the flesh. A sense of love makes us happy, but not haughty. How can I proudly boast that Jesus loves me? If you are loved of him, you will feel that you so little merit it— indeed, that you so altogether demerit it— that you will be amazed to think that he loves you, and it will never enter into your head that his love is your due. You will take the title of love, but you will give the honour back to Jesus, and often you will say,

“And when I shall die, ‘Receive me,’ I’ll cry,
For Jesus has loved me, I cannot tell why.”

You will not be able to tell why the Lord loves you so specially. This will be the wonder of eternity. But there will be no pride in the experience of being dear to the Lord, nor anything to excite self-laudation. You will feel that it would be a wicked thing to deny his matchless love, but yet you will not carnally triumph over others because of it. There would be pride in the affectation of a modesty which would doubt the love of Jesus, but there is no pride in the reception of that love, since you yourself are so evidently, so conspicuously undeserving, that no one will dream that Jesus could have loved you because there was anything good in you.

     Now, had John been proud he would have altered the title thus. He would have said, “That disciple who loved Jesus.” This would have been true, though not modest. There was, as far as his heart was capable of it, a reciprocity of love between John and Jesus. If Jesus loved him, he loved Jesus; but John never called himself “That disciple who loved Jesus.” No, for he felt as if his own love was altogether unworthy of mention in the presence of the love of Jesus.

     Then notice also, as if to show us that there was no pride in taking the title, that he does not say, “John was the disciple whom Jesus loved.” We gather from other facts that it was John. All the traditions and beliefs of the early church went to testify that it was John. We have not, any of us, any doubt about the fact that it was John. It has, as it were, leaked out; but John nowhere says that he was the man. All that he has said is, “That disciple whom Jesus loved”; and thus he makes the love more conspicuous than the person who received it. We know that it must have been John, for many reasons; but still he does not say so. He hides John behind the love of Jesus, which proves that John gloried in the love of Christ, but did not boast of it egotistically. Bengel tells us, that John’s name means “the love of Jehovah.” If you look at Cruden’s translation, in the list of the meanings of names in the Concordance, he puts it “the grace of God,” the grace of Jehovah. Bengel reads it “the love of the Lord”: so John just altered the name a little, and paraphrased it when he wrote, “whom Jesus loved.” It would go into shorter compass if he put it in the Hebrew, and would need but little alteration. Sometimes when men succeed to estates, it is a condition that they shall change their names: in this case the name was very little altered from “the loved one of God” into the “loved one of Jesus Christ”; and there is no alteration (is there?) in the real meaning of it. When he said, “That disciple whom Jesus loved,” it was John “writ large.” That is all. It was John a little altered under the New Testament dispensation, the old name sweetened and perfumed by bringing it near to the sweeter name of Jesus Christ his Lord. So precious has its nearness to Jesus made it, that perhaps next to the name of Jesus no name is sweeter than that of John. As Ivan, or Evan, it has a most evangelical, gospel sound. It is common in many forms throughout Christendom, and many of the noblest disciples have worn it, from John Chrysostom to John Calvin, and from John Bunyan to John Wesley, and John Newton. In any case the honour of being loved by Jesus is greater than the name John; and happy are they who can claim it!

     There are some, then, whom Jesus loves more than others, and these men always count that love to be their highest honour.

     III. A step farther. A third remark— that THIS SPECIAL LOVE BRINGS SUCH MEN SPECIAL PRIVILEGES. It brought to John the first privilege of being very near to Jesus, his Lord. At that supper he was nearest to the place which Jesus occupied. You know they lay along at the supper somewhat in this fashion— leaning upon the left arm, so as to have the right with which to help themselves to each dish. Now, John lay here, and Jesus Christ lay just there; so that, when John turned a little backward there was the bosom of Jesus for him to put his head upon; and I suppose that when John asked the question, “Lord, who is it?” he turned his head over, and said into his very ear, “Lord, who is it?” Nobody heard what he said. It was just whispered into the ear of his Lord when his head was in that sacred bosom; and the answer was not heard by anybody except John. But his position of being nearest was brought about by his being best loved. He was nearest in fellowship because dearest in love. Now, beloved, if you are best loved by Christ, you live nearest to him. I am sure of it. If you love him best, and he loves you best, you will be more in prayer than others; you will spend more time alone with Jesus than other Christians do. You will abound in petition and praise. You will read his Word with greater diligence; you will drink it in with greater delight. You will live for him, too, with greater consecration. Your whole time will be spent in his company. When you are at your work in the house, or the field, or the shop, you will still be with him. If you are better loved than others, your daily song will be—

“The day is dark, the night is long,
Unblest with thoughts of thee,
And dull to me the sweetest song,
Unless its theme thou be.”

“He feedeth among the lilies,” and keeps near the pure in heart. Our Well-beloved’s delights are with those who delight in him. You will be close to Jesus if you are dear to him. The two things go together. If you are living far away in the cold regions of broken fellowship, then I am sure you have but very little conscious enjoyment of the love of Jesus Christ your Lord. The dearest must be the nearest. That is the first privilege.

     The second was the privilege of using and receiving tokens of endearment. He leaned his head on Jesus’ bosom, looking up into his face; and Jesus looked down on him. There was mutual endearment, for Jesus loved him, and he loved Jesus; and that night, when the blessed Master was in trouble, he wanted his friend with him, and felt a need for John, though he could not help him much. Jesus felt a need of John’s society and sympathy, and it made Christ’s bosom all the easier to have John’s beloved head in it. As for John, it must have been a heaven below to be thus in the bosom of his Lord. He mentions it three times, you see; twice in this passage, and once in the last chapter of his gospel, where there was no necessity for mentioning it. He had such a recollection of his head having once been laid on his Lord’s breast, that he must put it in when he is speaking about Peter and himself. He says, “The disciple which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” He must needs repeat the charming fact, for it was such a delight to him. O beloved, we cannot now touch the bosom of Jesus after the flesh, for he is gone up on high; but there are still most sweet endearments of spirit between the Lord Jesus and his loving disciples. I must not tell abroad the secrets of love, for these things are for those that know them, and not for all comers. Choice passages between true hearts are not to be published in the street, lest they become the theme of ridicule. Pearls are not to be cast before swine. But believe me, at this moment wo have, or at least we can have, such intimate enjoyment of the love of Jesus, that even if he were here, and we could lean our heads upon his bosom, the endearment could not be more certain, more sweet, or more ravishing to our delighted souls. In very truth we have fellowship with Jesus, and that fellowship is no dream or fancy. We speak no fiction, neither do we retail at secondhand what others have experienced, but we speak of things which we have personally enjoyed; and we know that there is an intimate communion which is one of the private privileges of those whom Jesus loves much, for it has been our privilege. I hope very many of you know this choice blessing of living in the immediate enjoyment of your Saviour’s love. May you never lose it!

     Then is there a third boon, not only of nearness and endearment, but of confidence towards the Lord; for it was a bold thing, surely, for John to lean his head on Christ’s bosom. Our Lord did not say, “Nay, John; nay. I am thy Master, and thy Lord. Dost thou do this to me as if I were thine equal?” No. The meaning of that blessed text, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” runs in other directions besides that which we generally think of. If you come to Jesus in the most intense manner, he will not repulse you. If your head shall come into his bosom, he will not cast your head out. If you can get your very heart into his heart and come closer to him than even John dared to do— if you carry that coming beyond all previous comings, yet Jesus neither will nor can resent the nearest approaches of any one of his believing people. We lose a great deal of Christ’s loving fellowship because we are so formal and distant towards him. We seem to think that he came among men to show them their distance from God, and not to be as a brother to them, to reveal God to them. Jesus seeks to reach our hearts, he stoops to our littleness; let us pluck up courage to draw near to him. Well does our hymn put it—

“Let us be simple with him, then,
Not backward, stiff, or cold;
As though our Bethlehem could be
What Sinai was of old.”

Lean on him. Lean on the bosom of the Christ of God, who loveth us, and hath given himself for us. Make a confidant as well as a confidence of your Lord. Put all the weight of your care, all the weight of your whole self and all that concerns you upon him, and then recline with delight upon his bosom. There was a gracious confidence given to John, which he rightly used towards his Lord.

     Surely there was a great liberty given to him. Somu would have said he took a liberty in thus leaning where no head of king or emperor might aspire to rise. He was the most honoured of all human beings; but surely he took great liberties. No, he did not, for the Lord himself gave him access with boldness. Great love has privileges which make her boldest advances no intrusion. Love has the key of all the rooms of the Father’s house. Love has the range of Paradise. Love may read the very heart of God. Love may come where she wills, and go unchallenged. John said to our Saviour, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus looked down at him and said, as if he did not want the others to know at all, “He it is to whom I shall give a sop.” He had just to watch a little while. I do not know but it is not improbable, that Judas was next at the table— John here, then Jesus, and then Judas. Very likely Judas was pretty close to the Lord; for if a man has your purse you want him near you, so as to tell him what you wish to have done with the money. So, when Jesus just turned over and gave a sop to Judas, John knew the meaning of the act. Judas had had his conscience disturbed, I should think, by the utterance of the Saviour, when he said, “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me,” and by the question of each of the others, “Lord, is it I?” Judas himself asked that question for a time; but he grew calm again, and became reassured, and thought he should not be found out, until the Lord dipped a piece of meat, according to the Oriental custom, in the sauce of the dish, and passed it to him. Even then Judas possibly thought, “This is an act of great friendship. He evidently has the utmost confidence in me, and has not found me out.” Little did he know that the sop was the token of the discovered traitor. Then Judas said, “Lord, is it I?” thinking he should get a pleasant answer, but Jesus answered that it was even he, and added, “What thou doest, do quickly.” There that matter ended. But John was thus the recipient of friendly confidence on the part of Christ: he told to Jesus his heart, and Jesus told him his heart. He had liberty to go to Christ. Ah, brethren! do you never feel in prayer as if you were tied up and could not pray? The best of saints will be bound about some things. People come and ask you to pray for this, and pray for that; but you cannot so pray unless you have liberty from the throne. If God gives the prayer of faith, you can pray it; but you cannot pray that prayer at your own will. He that can most often pray the prayer of faith, he that can see farthest into Christ’s mysteries, he that can read the riddles of this divine Samson, is the man whose heart loves Jesus best, and whose head lies most in the bosom of his Lord. Be you sure of this, that if you love much, you shall know the secret of the Lord, for it is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.

     Now a step farther, and a very little more, and we have done. This creates special knowledge. I merely give it as a head to help your memories, for I have already dwelt upon it as a matter of fact. The special privileges of love lead on to a special knowledge of Christ. I do not think that any other evangelist notices Christ’s emotion at the supper in the matter of his spirit as John has done. He writes, “When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit,” and so on. John was so close to the Lord, with his head on his breast, that he could tell, by the heaving of his bosom, that he was troubled. The mind of God is not so revealed to any man now that he can set up to foretell the future like a prophet; but, mark you, the choice ones amongst the saints have intimations of the mind of God about many things. Those who live at court can often foresee the king’s movements when others cannot. It is my firm conviction that favoured believers have tokens, warnings, and hints from above. Did not the Lord say, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” Even the choicest spirits may not understand the Lord’s meaning all at once; but if any man can read anything of the future, it is he that puts his head where all eyes grow clear, and all hearts become pure, even upon the breast of Jesus. Oh, to know Christ! The day will come when the saints of God who are great classics, mathematicians, or astronomers— and there have been godly men skilled in all the sciences— the day, I say, shall come when these will count all they know of science to be of little worth compared with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord. Brethren, we value knowledge, culture, science; but when we put them at their highest market price, what are they as compared with the knowledge of Jesus? This is my one ambition— that I may know him, and may comprehend with all saints what are the heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. If you love your Lord, you shall know of his doctrine. If you live near him, you shall understand his feelings. If his secret be with you, you shall know what prophets and kings desired to know, and what angels desire to look into. The Lord bless you, and bring each one of you who are his people into this happy condition.

     I have done, when I notice two things. The first is this— that the favoured position which John occupied did not screen him from the necessity of asking the question, “Lord, is it I” There really was no suspicion of him, nor any reason for such suspicion ; but his heart was in a right state, and, therefore, he felt it necessary to say, “Lord, is it I?” as well as any of the rest. And I make this remark because the very persons who do not say, “Lord, is it I?” are those who ought to say it. If you are enjoying more of God’s love to-night than ever you did in your life, yet do not profess to have climbed above the need of self-examination. When the question comes, “Art thou really one of his?” do not chase it away, as if it were an impertinence. Entertain the enquiry till you can satisfy it with a sufficient answer. Some professors can afford to sneer at holy anxiety. May I never be of their number! I have heard them ridicule the question—

“Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?”

Now, I do not hesitate to say that every man who loves the Lord has had to ask that question; and has had to ask it all the more because the truth and fervency of his love have made him jealous of himself. He has such an overwhelming sense of what his love ought to be, and he has such a consciousness of shortcoming, that he is quite sure to say, “Do I love the Lord?” It is not your bold talker that is your true lover after all. There is a confidence which is fatal.

“He who never doubted of his state,
He may— perhaps he may too late.”

     If thou sayest, “I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing,” whilst thou art naked, and poor, and miserable, it will be a sad deception, and the awakening out of it will be sadder still.

     But if thou sayest, “Oh that I loved my Redeemer more! Oh that I served him better! But I do love him. My heart is his, and he does love me,” then thou hast answered the question of, “Lord, is it I?” and thou mayest go thy way contented.

     The other remark, with which I finish, is this: that John' s nearness to Christ did not authorize him to make answer to his fellow disciples, nor to judge any one of them. Time was when John might have sat in judgment over them. Did he not desire to sit upon a throne judging the twelve tribes of Israel with his brother James? But now that he has his head in his Lord’s bosom, he is not anxious to judge, but far otherwise. His brethren keep asking, “Lord, is it I?” Peter makes signs to him. Fishermen have ways of their own of talking to one another. Peter seems to say, without the use of words, “Pray ask the Master.” John does not presume to make a guess as to the traitor’s name, but he softly says, “Lord, who is it?” He asked that question of his Lord; but he did not himself pitch upon Judas. No, he might, perhaps, have laid his suspicions upon someone else who would have been innocent. It was wise to refer the matter to the Lord. Some say that they live very near to Jesus. It is an evil sign when men speak of their own attainments. These are the people who, in the next breath, begin to condemn others. But this is not after the manner of the beloved John. Some professors affirm that they are going to have a particularly fine place in the glory, all by themselves. I do not quite understand their theory, but I am sure I do not grudge any of my Master’s servants any special honour they may desire. As far as I understand them, there is to be a separate place in the kingdom for them, and we poor, ordinary Christians are to be saved; but we must take a lower room. So let it be. We will rejoice in the promotion of our brethren. As for myself, if it should ever come to pass that I should have the privilege of living in some first avenue in heaven among the aristocracy of the skies, I think I should prefer another quarter. I have kept company on earth with such a poor lot of brethren, and I have learned to love them so well, that I would rather abide with them in their inferior heaven than rise with the cream of the cream into the upper places. I like to be with God’s people of the poorer class, and of the more struggling and afflicted sort. I like to be with God’s people who wrestle hard with sins, and doubts, and fears. If I get spoken to by my very superior brethren, I find that I have very little pleasant fellowship with them, for I. know nothing about their wonderful experience of freedom from conflict, and complete deliverance from every evil tendency. I have never won an inch of the way to heaven without fighting for it. I have never lived a day but I have had to sorrow over my imperfections. I sometimes get near to God, but at that time I weep most about my faults and failings. Although I have thus spoken after the manner of men, I do not believe in these superior beings, nor in their superior heaven: but even if I did, I would sooner follow with the flock than run ahead with the greyhounds. These brethren judge us, and condemn us. They say that we do not understand “the mystery of the kingdom,” or something or other. We know Jesus Christ, however— both theirs and ours. We will not deny their piety and grace, but bless God that they have so much of them. We hope, however, to get to heaven the same as they, and into the glory the same as they; and we will be glad if so the Lord will enable us. Do you find the spirit of self-exaltation, and of condemning others, coming over you at times? Conquer it at once by the Holy Spirit’s power. Let us cease to judge where we are forbidden to do so. Let us contend earnestly for the truth; but as to the hearts of men, let us leave these to Jesus.

     I close by saying— you remember what Jesus said to Peter. Peter was always a little too fast, and he therefore ventured to peer into things which did not concern him, and so he said to Jesus, as he looked at John, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” Ho did not think badly of brother John: I should have been ashamed of Peter if he had done so. But still he said, “What shall this man do?” Our blessed Lord replied to him, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.” So, when you feel inclined, because you are growing in grace and becoming somebody, to say, “Lord, and what shall this poor member do? And what shall this imperfect brother be? What shall that poor, blundering new convert do?”— remember the words of Jesus: “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.” Mind your Master, and mind yourself, and let your brethren stand or fall to their own Lord, as you must. Now, come and lay your head in your Lord’s bosom, and never mind Peter. May God bless you, for Christ’s sake!



A Paradox

By / Nov 4

A Paradox

 

“When I am weak, then am I strong.” — 2 Corinthians xii. 10.

 

THE expression is paradoxical, and seems somewhat singular; yet it was the experience of the apostle Paul, a man of calm spirit, by no means fanciful, a wise man, and far removed from a fanatic. It was the experience of one who was led of the Spirit of God, and therefore it was a gracious experience: the experience of one who was a father in Israel, who could safely bid us be imitators of him, even as he imitated the Lord Jesus Christ; and therefore it was a safe experience. If we are weak, so was Paul; and if, like him, we are strong in our weakness, we shall be in the best of company. If the same things be seen in us which were wrought in the apostle of the Gentiles, we may join with him in glorying in infirmities, because the power of Christ doth rest upon us, and we may count ourselves happy that with such a saint we can cry, “When I am weak, then am I strong.”

     I. Perhaps I can expound the text best if I first TURN IT THE OTHER WAY UP, and use it as a warning.

     When I am strong, then am I weak. Perhaps, while thinking of the text thus turned inside out, we shall be getting light upon it to be used when we view it with the right side outwards, and see that when we are weak, then we are strong.  

     I am quite sure that some people think themselves very strong, and are not so. Their proud consciousness of fancied strength is the indication of a terrible weakness. We have among us certain persons who think that they can do all that is needful for their own salvation whenever they please to do so. They can perform all sorts of good works, or at least quite enough to carry them to heaven. Their first idea is that they are to be saved by their own doings; and they really expect to be so saved. They may admit that they have a few faults and flaws in their character; but these are so trifling as to be hardly worth mentioning, and God Almighty is too merciful to be very particular. Their lives have been excellent, their tempers amiable, their manners courteous, their spirit generous, and they quite believe that by keeping on at the same pace they will win the prize: if they do not, who will? The ship of their character is in fine condition; they have no leaks which the pumps cannot keep down; their sails are not rent, and they hope to sail into the haven of peace with a glorious cargo of merit, having an abundant entrance, and hearing a loud “Well done!” Ah, my friend! that consciousness of legal strength is a mere delusion, and it will have to be taken out of you. There is no going to heaven that way— by self and the works of self. Your error is a common one, but it is fatal. I have seen many epitaphs of persons, placed by the mistaken kindness of friends upon their tombstones, which I felt sure would have been sufficient to shut them out of heaven if they had been true. These departed worthies do not appear to have been sinners at all: their virtues were superlative, their faults non-existent. Such wonderful people would appear, from their epitaphs, to have flown up to the gates of heaven upon the wings of their own virtues, and to have entered there without a passport of mercy, as burgesses by their own right of the New Jerusalem. I wonder how they would behave themselves in heaven, if they were really admitted there! All the rest are singing, “We have washed our robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”; but these needed no washing, and so they would be likely to strike up a little song by themselves, and sing, “Our robes never needed washing; we kept them white as snow.” What a discord that would create in the music of the skies! What a division of character and feeling would be found among celestials! I cannot see how there could be any harmony of sentiment amongst sinners saved by grace, and righteous ones who owed nothing to mercy, nothing to the atoning sacrifice.

     No, my strong and virtuous hearer, you are under a grave delusion. There is a great similarity between your talk and the talk of that religious individual who went up to the temple in our Saviour’s days, and, standing before the thrice-holy God, dared to say, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are.” He was not justified that day, nor will you be. A poor tax-gatherer, despised by himself, and an off-cast from his own people, stood in the temple at the same time, and all that he dared to say was, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” This unworthy sinner went to his house justified, while the other worthy person was not accepted. If you think yourselves strong enough to procure heaven by your own efforts, you are ignorantly insulting the cross of Christ, for you seem to insinuate that your virtues can avail you without Jesus. If you really mean this, there is more venom of rebellion against God in your self-righteousness than in the outward vice of those who make no pretence to godliness. For you to put your works in the place of Jesus is a blasphemy against the Saviour’s blood and righteousness. Why needed Christ to die if men could save themselves? Why need he bleed upon the cross if your merits will suffice to gain you a place among the blessed? There is a fatal weakness in the claim of that man who thinks himself strong enough to force his own passage to the throne of God; that weakness lies in the pride which insults the Crucified, the disloyalty which prefers itself to the royal Saviour.

“Perish the virtue, as it ought — abhorred,
And the fool with it who insults his Lord.”

Listen to me a moment, and quit your fancied strength: you, my hearer, cannot keep the law of God, for you have already broken it. How can you preserve a crystal vase entire when you have already dashed it to atoms? You must now be saved by the merits and the strength of another, or not at all; for your own merit is out of the question, through past failure. That strength of yours, upon which you dote so much, is perfect weakness. May the Lord show you this, and make you faint at heart on that account; for then you shall be strong, with real and saving strength! Now your imaginary strength is making you really weak, and that boasted merit of yours is shutting you out from true righteousness. He that is strong in the notion of merit is weak even to utter folly before the God of truth.

     “Yes,” we hear you reply, “there is a gospel way of salvation. We know that there is, for you preach it continually. You tell us that men must repent, and believe the gospel; that they must be renewed in the spirit of their minds, and must both overcome sin, and follow after holiness.” Yes, I do say all that; but what do you say to it? Is it really so that you find here a ground for your own strength? Do you say, “I feel that I can repent whenever I please, and believe in Jesus when I choose”? Ah! then I must assure you that when you are strong in that way, you are weak. I never yet knew anybody repent who gloried in his power to repent; I never yet knew a man heart-broken for sin who boasted that he could break his own heart when and where he pleased. “What!” cries one, “surely I can believe in Jesus Christ when I please!” I have not denied that statement, have I? But I tell you that your notion of power to believe is your weakness; and I would rather by half hear you cry, with deep solemnity, “Oh, that God would give me faith! Lord, help my unbelief!” Your sense of inability to believe in Christ would be a far better token for good, in my judgment, than your present flippant talk about believing when you like. Men who are in earnest talk not so: whatever their strength may be, they find it little enough in the hour of need. I beg to assure you that I have never known a man believe in Jesus who trusted that he could so believe; for his trust in his own believing kept him from trusting to Jesus; but I have known many a poor, struggling soul lie at the cross-foot, and say, “Lord, help me to look to Jesus, and live”; and God has helped him to give that look in which there is eternal life. While he has been praying, his prayer, yes, his weeping prayer, has had in it that very look to Jesus for which he was pleading. His sense of inability to believe has made him look to Jesus for believing, and he has found it in him.

     You say that you can turn your heart towards God whenever you please. I am not going into any dispute with you about your assertion, nor the doctrine, which is supposed to support you in your profession of strength; but I will say this, that your idea of having personal strength, with which to purify and renew your own heart— your idea that you can create in yourself a right spirit— your idea that you can raise yourself from your death in sin— is to me a prophecy of much evil for yourself. Where self is conspicuous, I see an omen of mischief, I see no good in this fine opinion of yourself; but if I heard you cry, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” — if I heard you say, “Lord, quicken me out of my death in sin”— if I saw you lying down before the Most High, and praying, “Turn me, and I shall be turned ”— I should have a far brighter hope of you. In your weakness you would become strong; but in your present strength, I am sure I see a great weakness, which is likely to be your ruin. O dear hearts, your best friend does not lie within your own doors. Your hope for better things shines yonder at the right hand of God, where the living Saviour has all power given to him in heaven and in earth. Sinner, if you grow no sweeter flowers than the dunghill of your own nature can nourish, you will die amid poisonous weeds. If you never drink of better water than the filthy well of your own heart will yield, you will perish of thirst, or of a deadly draught. Another, and a better helper than one born in your house, must come this way. Help must be laid upon one that is mighty, exalted of the Lord out of the people, and endowed with divine power and Godhead, for only such a Saviour, infinitely good and great, can save a soul so lost as yours. When you get down, down, down, into utter weakness, then you will be strong, because then you will rest upon the Lord’s salvation; but as you are strong in your thoughts of yourself, you are kept from Jesus, and are weakness itself.

     So far I have spoken by way of warning to unconverted people.

     I desire now to say a word to those who profess to be Christians, and, let us hope, are so; but they are, in a measure, erring in the same way as those to whom I have spoken. They are remarkably strong: at least, in their own esteem they are very Samsons, although others fear that the Philistines will capture them. By this token may they know their own weakness— even by this, that they think themselves strong.  

     First, many are wonderfully strong as to knowledge. They know almost everything. If in any department they are a little short, they make up for it by knowing so much more in another direction. If they are too narrow here, they overlap there. They are knowing men, and need no man to tell them so. They are instructed in the faith from pole to pole: they know both that which is afar off, and that which is nigh. An argument is a pleasure to them. They go into company where the eternal verities are denied, and feel a delight in taking sides. They will sit where the vital simplicities of God’s word are set up like marks for boys to throw at; and they like the amusement, for it exercises their knowing faculty, and gives them a chance of showing their mental power. They are not children, but quite able to think for themselves. They are not credulous, but amazingly clear-headed and cultured. I have noticed that these fine gentlemen have been the first to deny the faith, and to fall into all manner of heresies. Do you wonder? Those who are so very sure are always the most uncertain. I could instance some that had such confidence in themselves that they would have argued with the very fiend of hell on any question, for they felt that not even Satanic craft could conquer them; but at this present moment the prince of darkness holds them in his power. They hold no controversy with the devil now, for they are very largely agreed with him in assailing the gospel of God’s grace. They have gone entirely over to the denial of everything that is gracious and holy and scriptural, and the main cause of their apostasy is their own invincible self-confidence. They were so strong that they became weaker than others. O brethren, when we are very wise in our own esteem, we are bordering upon fools, even if we have not already entered into that company. When we tremblingly sit at Jesus’ feet, to learn everything fresh, and fresh from him; when we shudder at anything that questions his Deity, or lowers his sacrifice; when we shut up a book and cast it from us, because we feel that it pollutes us with unbelief — then are we wise and strong. When the Word of the Lord is enough, then are we in the way of wisdom and strength. The man of one book is proverbially a terrible man; but the man of ten thousand books, who can baffle all adversaries and foil all foes, shall soon lie wounded on the plain, if he be not slain outright. Let us take heed unto ourselves, that we fall not through being headstrong, or strong in the head, which is much the same thing.

     Again, I have noticed some professedly Christian people wonderfully strong through experience. Their experience has been very extensive, and the knowledge it has brought them they consider to be specially profound, and, consequently, they are not afraid of temptation, for they feel that they are too wise to be entrapped. They are so experienced now, that things which young people ought not to think of, they can do with impunity— so they foolishly dream. They can go just so far, and then stop, for they are fitted with the patent brakes of prudence. They are such good mountain climbers that they can stand on the edge of a precipice, and look over, and even hang over, without fear of their ever being giddy, and falling over. Of course they would not advise other people to go quite so far as they may safely go; but then, what is temptation to other men is no temptation to them. Their vessel is so tight and trim, and they understand navigation so perfectly, that they rather like a tempest than not, just to show how well their vessel can behave in a storm. Ah me! When you next read the list of wrecks, you may expect to see the name of their ship among the castaways. Old birds may not be caught with chaff, but they can be shot with a gun. No one is out of danger, and no one is more in danger than the man who is carnally secure. Those who feel that their experience, be it what it may, only teaches them that the farther they can keep from temptation the better, these are in a better state. When experience drives us to pray with emphasis the prayer “Lead us not into temptation,” then it is working aright. In the idea of strength and wisdom lurks an awfully perilous weakness; but in a sense of personal weakness dwells a real strength. If you are extremely jealous, conscientious, and watchful, many will tell you how weak you are; but you are, in reality, a strong man, because of your fear to encounter evil influences: in that fear lies one essential element of holy strength. While he that rather braves temptation, because he feels so strong, shall find, it may be to his everlasting sorrow, how great his weakness is; he that shuns the appearance of evil, because of conscious weakness, shall find therein his security and strength. Oh, let none of us, because we are getting grey, suppose that we are invulnerable to sin! Let us not dream that because we have been church-members so many years, or even because we have sustained a long and useful ministry, we are therefore beyond gun-shot of the enemy, or without necessity to seek daily strength for daily duty. My brethren, we cannot perform the smallest duty aright apart from the help of God; neither can we be secure against even the grossest sin, apart from the perpetual guard of him that keepeth Israel. If we, in our self-conceit, write ourselves down among the mightiest, and forget our entire dependence upon heavenly grace, we may be left to prove, by unhappy experience, that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

     Let us note another point. I have known certain Christian people who thought themselves singularly strong in the matter of wisdom and prudence. They have been gifted with clear insight and a measure of shrewdness, and have, therefore, felt that their judgment on most subjects was that of an umpire. Have you ever noticed that the raw material of a very grossly foolish person is a cautious individual? The -cunning are the readiest dupes when craft is busy in taking its prey. So, too, a wise man is needed if there is to be exhibited the worst form of folly. If we were called upon to select a man who, as to his life as a whole, perpetrated the greatest folly, we should mention Solomon. Yet he was the wisest of men. Yes, the cream of wisdom, when curdled, makes the worst of folly. Was ever man so insanely enthusiastic in vain pursuits as this master of all knowledge? Then, brethren, whenever we feel sure of our own superior intelligence, let us suspect ourselves of weakness. Let the same fear come upon us when we feel sure about our way, so sure that we think we need not pray about it, or in any manner wait for divine direction. Beware of those matters in which you think you cannot err. Men who have been wise in great difficulties have blundered fearfully where all was simple. The Israelites thought that the men who came to them begging for a league of brotherhood could not deceive them. It must be safe to be on good terms with these interesting strangers. Why, look, their shoes are well-nigh worn from their feet, and patched and clouted to the last degree! Their clothes, which, we doubt not, were new when they left their distant homes, are now threadbare, and their biscuit, which they took fresh from the oven, is stale with age. It is evident, upon the face of it, that they must have come from a very remote part of the world, and therefore a treaty with them will not interfere with the divine command. There can be no need to pray about a case so clear. Thus the Gibeonites overreached them, as we also shall be overreached when we are so exceedingly sure of our course. Brethren, let us not be so wise as to dispense with our heavenly Counsellor and Guide. Would not that be the height of madness? It is a salutary thing to feel that your case requires you to trust the helm of your ship with the divine Pilot. It is even a blessed thing to feel that you are shut up to faith, and must by absolute trust in God throw the responsibility of your action upon him. I will give you an instance. Abraham, the father of the faithful, is placed in a peculiar position. God has commanded him to take his son Isaac, and offer him for a sacrifice. Here is a terrible puzzle. Here was enough to stagger any human mind. Surely it could not be right for a father to slay his son! How could it be wise to kill the son in whom all the promises of God were vested? The more you think of the case from a father’s standpoint, the more it will perplex you. Abraham could not make anything out of it by his judgment, but he met it all by faith. All that he could say to Isaac was, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb.” He was thus saying to himself, “The Lord will get me out of this difficulty.” He had no wisdom with which to conjecture how the affair would end: he had to cease from guessing, and just trust in his God. Abraham made no mistake in this. Oh that we could do the same! Observe that same Abraham when he goes down to Egypt. His wife is exceedingly beautiful, and he fears that the king of Egypt will kill him in order to obtain his wife; what will he do? I can see a great many ways in which he might have warded off that evil. He was not called upon to go to Egypt at all, if he thereby risked his wife’s honour; or, if he must go, he should have gone boldly, acknowledging his wife, and trusting both her and himself with the Lord. Instead of that, the patriarch begins by inducing Sarah to join with him in equivocation. “Say thou art my sister.” She was in some sense his sister; but it was using a word in a double sense for a deceitful purpose, and it was a pitiful thing for Abraham to do. Nor was it a prudent scheme after all: in fact, it was the cause of the very trouble which it sought to prevent. Sarah would not have been taken away from Abraham at all if Pharaoh had known that she was his wife; so that the wise was snared by his own craftiness. The Lord graciously delivered him, but in that very act left a root of bitterness behind to be his future plague. Pharaoh gave to him women-servants, and I doubt not among the rest was Hagar, who became the object of sin, and the source of sorrow to the household. In the fancied strength of Abraham, by which he emulated the craft of other Orientals, he displayed his weakness; but in the other case, where no wit or wisdom could assist him, he cast himself upon the Lord, and in his weakness he behaved like the grand man that he really was. Brothers, let us confess ourselves fools, that we may be wise; for otherwise we shall fall into that other condition, of professing ourselves wise, and becoming fools. Let us ignore our wisdom, even if we have any. God alone is wise: he that trusteth either his own heart or head is a fool. Lean not to thine own understanding, but lean wholly upon the Lord; so shalt thou be established.

     Further, dear friends, we shall often find that our strength will lie in patience— in extreme weakness which yields itself up to the will of God without the power or will to murmur. We sang in our hymn just now—

“And when it seems no chance nor change
 From grief can set me free,
Hope finds its strength in helplessness,
And, patient, waits on thee.”

I am sure that in reference to power, either to do or to suffer rightly, we are not strong when we compliment ourselves upon our ability; and we are strong when, under a sense of absolute inability, we depend wholly upon God. That sermon preached in the glory of our oratory turned out to be mere husks for swine; while that discourse which delivered in weakness, with a humble hope that God would use it, proved to be royal meat for the Lord’s chosen. That work which you performed in the vigour of your unquestioned talent came to nothing, while that quiet act which you washed with your tears, and perfumed with your prayers, will live, and yield you sheaves. Creature strength brings forth nothing which has life in it: only the seed which the Creator puts into the hand of our weakness will produce a harvest. It is well to be nothing: it is better still to be “less than nothing.” We ought to dread a sense of capacity, for it will render us incapable; but a sense of utter incapacity apart from God is a fit preparation for being used by the Lord. “Unto them that have no might he increaseth strength.”

     So it is in bearing as well as acting. If we say concerning sickness, “I shall never be impatient. I can bear it like a Stoic.” What of that? You will then have done no more than many have done before you with no great gain to themselves or to others. But if, bowing your head before the Lord, you wait his sovereign will, and say, “Lord, help me. If thy left hand shall smite me, let thy right hand sustain me. I am willing to drink this bitter cup, saying, ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ Lord, help me!”— you shall bear up triumphantly, and come out of the furnace refined, to the praise and the glory of your God. When you fancy that you are strong to suffer, you will fail; but in conscious weakness you will be enabled to play the man.

     I have now done with the text, as I have turned it upside down. May God bless it to any here who feel high and mighty, by causing it to put them in their proper place.

     II. Now, let us take our text THE RIGHT WAY UPWARDS. “When I am weak, then am I strong.” “When” and “then” are the two pivots of the text— the hinges upon which it turns.

     “When I am weak.” What does that mean? It means when the believer is consciously weak, when he painfully feels, and distinctly recognizes that he is weak, then he is strong. In truth, we are always weak, whether we know it or not; but when we not only believe this to be the fact, but see it to be the fact— then it is that we are strong. When it is forced home upon us, that we are less than nothing and vanity— when our very soul echoes and re-echoes that word, “Without me ye can do nothing”— then it is that we are strong.

     When he is growingly weak. Yes, for he sees his own weakness more and more clearly as he advances: as he grows stronger in faith he is much more conscious of the weakness of the flesh. I talked about my weakness from this platform five-and-twenty years ago; but I stand here and tremble under it now to a far greater degree than I did in my younger and more vigorous time. I knew it three-and-thirty years ago, when I first spoke to you, but I did not know it as I know it now. I was then weak, and I owned it: but I am now weak, and groan about it almost involuntarily. Yes, and I sometimes sing because of my weakness, learning to glory in my infirmities because the power of Christ doth rest upon me. When we are growingly weak, when we become weaker and weaker, when we seem to faint into a deeper swoon than ever as to our own strength, till death is written upon every power that we once thought we had, and we feel that we can do absolutely nothing apart from the Holy Spirit, then we are strong indeed.

     We are strong, too, when we feel painfully weak. It is well when we mourn because we are so weak, and cry out to ourselves, “My weakness, my weakness, woe unto me! When I would do good, evil is present with me. When I would rise to heaven, the body of this death detains me. I would do great things for God, but I have no might. Alas for my weakness!” At such a time we are really rising, and are bringing most glory to God. These are growing pains — agonies such as none know but the truly and growingly spiritual. A painful weakness is strength. It may seem a paradox, but it is true.

     We are strong when we are contritely weak. When we confess that much of our weakness is our fault — a weakness which we ought to have overcome— even then we have in that weakness a real strength. The sort of weakness that makes a man say, “I cannot be any stronger, I am doing my best,” is not strength, but folly; but that weakness which makes you lament your failures and deplore your shortcomings, has in it a holy stimulus and force. That weakness which makes you dissatisfied with all you are and all you do, is goading you on to better and stronger things. If you feel that even when most earnest you have not prayed as you could wish, there is evidently strength in your desires, and your desires are prayers. If after any service you pour forth showers of penitential tears because the service was imperfect, there is evidently a strong soul of obedience within you. When you can neither repent, nor believe, nor love as you wish to do, you are repenting, believing, and loving with a strength which is more true than apparent. It is the will with which we act which is the strength of the action; and when the will is so powerful that it makes us mourn because we cannot find how to perform its bidding, then are we strong according to the divine measurement of strength. Contrite weakness is spiritual strength.

     When a man is thoroughly weak— not only partially, but altogether weak — then is he strong. When apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, he is utter weakness, and nothing more— then it is that he is strong. Let me persuade you to make a full confession of weakness to the Lord. Say, “Lord, I cannot do what I ought to do: I cannot do what I want to do: I cannot do what I used to do: I cannot do what other people do: I cannot do what I mean to do: I cannot do what I am sure I shall do: I cannot do what I feel impelled to do; and over this sinful weakness I mourn.” Then add, “Lord, I long to serve thee perfectly, yet I cannot do it. Unless thou help me I can do nothing aright. There will be no good in my actions, my words, my feelings, or my desires, unless thou continue to fill me with thine own holy energy. Lord, help me! Lord, help me!” Brother, you are strong while you plead in that fashion. You can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth you; and he will strengthen you, now that you are emptied of self. How true it is, “When I am weak, then am I strong”!

     I have brought out the “when.” Now lend me your ears and hearts just for a minute, while I bring out the “then.” “Then am I strong.” When is that?

     Why, a man is strong when he is consciously weak, because now he has reached the truth. He really is weak; and if he does not know that he is so, he is under the influence of a falsehood. Now, a lie is a thing of weakness. Lying strength is all fluff and foam: a mere appearance, a mockery, a delusion. Nothing hinders from getting the reality like contentment with a mere appearance. The true heart is heartily sick of shows and shams, and it cries, “Lord, help me to get rid of these shadows! Help me to come at the truth! Help me to deal with realities!” When you are made to feel your utter weakness you are on sure ground of truth— unpleasant truth, no doubt, yet sure truth. You are now on safe ground touching fundamentals, and making sure work. What you now do will be soundly done. All the while that we keep building on a sandy made-up foundation, we are piling up that which will, in all probability, come down even faster than we put it up. While the rotten rubbish remains on the spot, you cannot do anything worth doing; but if that accumulation can be carted away, there will seem to be a great hole, but you will get down to the real bottom, and get a foundation; and then what you build will be worth putting up, because it will stand. Therefore, a man becomes strong when he is consciously weak, because he is on the truth, and is not being flattered by false hopes.

     Next, he will be strong because he will only go with a commission to support him. He will not be eager to run without being sent. He says within himself, when he proposes a service to himself, “No, I am too weak to undertake anything of my own head.” He will wait for a call. This is not the kind of man that will climb up into a pulpit, and from a dizzy brain pour out nonsense. He will not crave to lead, for he feels that he needs much help even to follow. He feels himself too weak to set up for a master in Israel. This is not the kind of man that will venture into argument with sceptics for the fun, or for the glory, of the thing. Oh, no; he is too weak for that. He says, “If I am called to defend the faith, I will do it in God’s strength, hoping that it will be given me in the same hour what I shall speak. If I am called to preach I will preach, and nobody shall stop me; for the Lord will be with my mouth. But, you see, until the man is conscious of his own weakness, he will run without being sent; and there is nobody so weak as that man. No one so weak as the man who has no commission from God, and no promise of help from him. Such a man will be thinking of this, and thinking of that, and running for this, that, and the other, because he has a lot of waste energy which he wants to use somewhere or somehow. Could we once see him consciously weak we should hear him say, “Here am I, send me!” in answer to the question, “Whom shall I send?” Then he would not go a warfare at his own charges, but he would draw upon the all-sufficiency of God, and find himself equal to every emergency.

     The man who is consciously weak is strong, next, because of the holy caution that he will be sure to use. He will be on his guard, because he does not feel able to cope with, adversaries. He will ask for a convoy for his little barque, for he is aware of pirates. If this weak man has to pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, depend upon it he will carry in his hand the weapon of All-prayer, like a drawn sword. The man that has strength goes hurrying on over hedge and ditch, and soon comes into mischief; but the consciously weak pilgrim keeps to the high-road, and travels carefully; and hence he is strong. Fear is a notably good housekeeper: she may not keep a luxurious table, but she always locks the doors at night, and takes care of all under her charge. Holy caution begets prudence; and prudence, by fostering vigour, and crying for heavenly aid, becomes strength.

     Moreover, when a man is weak, then is he strong, because he is sure to pray, and prayer is power. The man who laments his weakness is sure to cry to the strong for strength The more his weakness presses on him, the more will he pray. While he can do without his God he will do without his God; but when his own weakness becomes utter and entire, and he is ready to perish, then he turns unto his Lord, and is made strong. The utterly weak cry out unto God as nobody else does. He is too weak to play at praying: he groans, he sighs, he weeps. In his abject weakness he prevails, as Jacob did. He wrestled all night; but now at last the angel has touched the hollow of his thigh, and made his sinew shrink, and he cannot wrestle any longer. What will he do now? He falls; and as he falls he grasps his antagonist, and holds him fast, crying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” As much as to say, “I cannot wrestle with thee, I cannot try another fall; but I can and will hold thee fast. The dead weight of my weakness makes me hold thee as an anchor holds a ship. I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” The weaker a man is in himself the stronger he is in prayer, if he makes use of his weakness as an appealing argument— “Lord, if I were strong, thou mightest leave me. Do not leave me, for I am weakness itself. I am the feeblest child in all thy family, leave me not, neither forsake me. If thou leavest any, leave not thy poor dying infant, that can hardly wail out its griefs.” Weakness, as a plea with God in prayer, becomes a source of strength.

     When we are weak we are strong, again, because then we are driven away from self to God. All strength is in God, and it is well to come to the one solitary storehouse and source of might. There is no power apart from God. As long as you and I look to the creature, we are looking to a cracked, broken cistern, that holds no water; but when we know that it is broken, and that there is not a drop of water in it, then we hasten to the great fountain and well-head. While we rest in any measure upon self, or the creature, we are standing with one foot on the sand; but when we get right away from human nature because we are too weak to have the least reliance upon self whatever, then we have both feet on the rock, and this is safe standing. If thou believest in the living God, and if all thine own existence is by believing, thou livest at a mighty rate. But if thou believest in God in a measure, and if, at the same time, thou trustest thyself in a measure, thou art living at a dying rate, and half the joy which is possible to thee is lost. Thou art taking in bread with one hand, and poison with the other: thou art feeding thy soul with substance and with shadow, and that makes a sorry mixture. When the shadow is clean taken away, and thou hast nothing but the substance, then art thou a strong man, fed upon substantial meat.

     Last of all, dear friends, I believe that, when a man is weak, he becomes strong to a large extent, because his weakness compels him to concentrate all his faculties. A sense of weakness brings out all the forces of a resolute spirit, and leads him to call in all the energy within his reach. When I have preached to you in extreme weakness, as I have often done, when I have afterwards read the sermon, I have been much more satisfied with it, than I have been with others in which I felt more pleasure at the time. God helps us most when we most need his help; and, besides that, the man himself is, by his weakness, forced to use himself right up. When a man feels himself to be rather a large vessel, he puts in the tap somewhere near the top, and only a small supply flows out to the people; but when he is, in his own feelings, like a poor little cask with only a small supply in it, he puts the tap right down at the bottom, and permits all that is in the barrel to flow forth. Many a poor, weak brother, who says all the little that he knows, gives forth more instruction than the learned divine who only favours his people with a small portion of his vast stores. When a man, in serving God, spends himself to the last farthing, he will often far more enrich his hearers than the man of ten talents who uses his resources with a prudent parsimony. Dear brother, it will often be a good thing for you to feel, “Now, God helping me, I must do my very utmost this time. I have so little ability that every faculty within me must be wide awake, and serve God at its best.” Thus your weakness will arouse you, and set you on fire, and, by the blessing of God, it will be the means of gaining you strength.

     Very well, then, let us pick up our tools and go to our work rejoicing, feeling— Well, I may be weaker, or I may be stronger in myself, but my strength is in my God. If I should ever become stronger, then I must pray for a deeper sense of weakness, lest I become weak through my strength. And if I should ever become weaker than I am, then I must hope and believe that I am really becoming stronger in the Lord. Whether I am weak or strong, what matters it? He who never fails and never changes, will perfect his strength in my weakness, and this is glory to me. Amen.

*This sermon was intended for November 4, 1888 but was preached on an unknown Thursday evening in 1886



A Life-long Occupation

By / Oct 14

A Life-long Occupation

 

“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”— Hebrews xiii. 15.

 

IT is instructive to notice where this verse stands. The connection is a golden setting to the gem of the text. Here we have a description of the believer’s position before God. He has done with all carnal ordinances, and has no interest in the ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Brethren, as believers in Jesus, who is the substance of all the outward types, we have, henceforth, nothing to do with altars of gold or of stone: our worship is spiritual, and our altar spiritual.

“We rear no altar, Christ has died;
We deck no priestly shrine.”

What then? Are we to offer no sacrifice? Very far from it. We are called upon to offer to God a continual sacrifice. Instead of presenting in the morning and the evening a sacrifice of lambs, and on certain holy days bringing bullocks and sheep to be slain, we are to present to God continually the sacrifice of praise. Having done with the outward, we now give ourselves entirely to the inward and to the spiritual. Do you see your calling, brethren?

     Moreover, the believer is now, if he is where he ought to be, like his Master, “without the camp.” “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” What then? If we are without the camp, have we nothing to do? Are we cut off from God as well as from men? Shall we fume and fret because we are not of the world? On the contrary, let us the more ardently pursue higher objects, and yield up our disentangled spirits to the praise and glory of God.

     Do we come under contempt, as the Master did? Is it so, that we are “bearing his reproach”? Shall we sit down in despair? Shall we be crushed beneath this burden? Nay, verily; while we lose honour ourselves, we will ascribe honour to our God. We will count it all joy that we are counted worthy to be reproached for Christ’s sake. Let us now praise God continually. Let the fruit of our lips be a still bolder confession of his name. Let us more and more earnestly make known his glory and his grace. If reproach be bitter, praise is sweet: we will drown the drops of gall in a sea of honey. If to have our name cast out as evil should seem to be derogatory to us, let us all the more see to it that we give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name. While the enemy reproaches us continually, our only reply shall be to offer the sacrifice of praise continually unto the Lord our God.

     Moreover, the apostle says that “Here we have no continuing city.” Well, then, we will transfer the continuance from the city to the praise— “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” If everything here is going, let it go; but we will not cease to sing. If the end of all things is at hand, let them end; hut our praises of the living God shall abide world without end. Set free from all the hamper of citizenship here below, we will begin the employment of citizens of heaven. It is not ours to arrange a new Socialism, nor to set up to be dividers of heritages; we belong to a kingdom which is not of this world, a city of God eternal in the heavens. It is not ours to pursue the dreams of politicians, but to offer the sacrifices of God-ordained priests. As we are not of this world, it is ours to seek the world to come, and press forward to the place where the saints in Christ shall reign for ever and ever.

     You see then, brethren, that the text is rather an unexpected one in its connection; but when properly viewed, it is the fittest that could be. The more we are made to feel that we are strangers in a strange land, the more should we addict ourselves to the praises of God, with whom we sojourn. Crucified to the world, and the world crucified to us, let us spend and be spent in the praises of him who is our sole trust and joy. Oh, to praise God, and still to praise him, and never to be taken off from praising him, let the world do what it may!

     This morning my great business will be to stir you up, dear friends, as many of you as have been made kings and priests unto God by Jesus Christ, to exercise your holy office. I shall, to that end, first, concerning the Christian, describe his sacrifice; secondly, examine its substance; thirdly, commend its exercise; and fourthly, commence it at once.

     I. First, then, concerning a believer, let me DESCRIBE HIS SACRIFICE.

     “By him therefore.” See, at the very threshold of all offering of sacrifice to God, we begin with Christ. We cannot go a step without Jesus. Without a Mediator we can make no advance to God. Apart from Christ there is no acceptable prayer, no pleasing sacrifice of any sort. “By him therefore”— we cannot move a lip acceptably without him who suffered without the gate. The great High Priest of our profession meets us at the sanctuary door, and we place all our sacrifices into his hands, that he may present them for us. You do not wish it to be otherwise, I am quite sure. If you could do anything without him, you would feel afraid to do it. You only feel safe when he is with you, and you are “accepted in the beloved.” Be thankful that at the beginning of your holy service your eyes are turned towards your Lord. You are to offer continual sacrifice, looking unto Jesus. Behold our great Melchizedek meets us! Let us give him tithes of all, and receive his blessing, which will repay us a thousand-fold. Let us never venture upon a sacrifice apart from him, lest it be the sacrifice of Cain, or the sacrifice of fools. He is that altar which sanctifies both gift and giver; by him therefore let our sacrifices both of praise and of almsgiving be presented unto God.

     Next, observe that this sacrifice is to be presented continually. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” Attentively treasure up that word. It will not do for you to say, “We have been exhorted to praise God on the Sabbath-day.” No, I have not exhorted you to such occasional duty; “continually,” says the text, and that means seven days in a week. I, would not have you say, “He means that we are to praise God in the morning when we awake, and in the evening before we fall asleep.” Do that, my brethren, unfailingly; but that is not what I have to set before you. “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually”—“continually” that is to say, without ceasing. Let us make an analogous precept to that which saith, “pray without ceasing,” and say, “praise without ceasing.” Not only in this place or that place, but in every place, we are to praise the Lord our God. Not only when we are in a happy frame of mind, but when we are cast-down and troubled. The perfumed smoke from the altar of incense is to rise towards heaven both day and night, from the beginning of the year to the year’s end. Not only when we are in the assembly of the saints are we to praise God, but when we are called to pass through Vanity Lair, where sinners congregate. Bless the Lord at all times. Not alone in your secret chamber, which is redolent with the perfume of your communion with God; but yonder in the field, and there in the street, ay, and in the hurry and noise of the Exchange, offer the sacrifice of praise to God. You cannot always be speaking his praise, but you can always be living his praise. The heart once set on praising God will, like the stream which leaps adown the mountain’s side, continue still to flow in its chosen course. A soul saturated with divine gratitude will continue, almost unconsciously, to give forth the sacred odour of praise, which will permeate the atmosphere of every place, and make itself known to all who have a spiritual nostril with which to discern sweetness. There is no moment in which it would be right to suspend the praises of God: let us therefore offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually. This should be done, not only by some of us—pastor, elders, deacons, and special workers—but by all of you. The apostle says, “Let us”; and therein he calls upon all of us who have any participation in the great sacrifice of Christ to go with him without the camp, and then and there to stand with him in our places, and continually offer the sacrifice of praise unto God. You see, then, that the two important points are— always, and always through Christ.

     The apostle goes on to tell us what the sacrifice is— the sacrifice of praise. Praise, that is, heart-worship, or adoration. Adoration is the grandest form of earthly service. We ascribe unto Jehovah, the one living and true God, all honour and glory. When we see his works, when we hear his Word, when we taste his grace, when we mark his providence, when we think upon his name, our spirit bows in the lowliest reverence before him, and magnifies him as the all-glorious Lord. Let us abide continually in the spirit of adoration, for this is praise in its purest form.

     Praise is heart-trust and heart-content with God. Trust is adoration applied to practical purposes. Let us go into the world trusting God, believing that he orders all things well, resolving to do everything as he commands, for neither his character, nor his decrees, nor his commandments are grievous to us. We delight in the Lord as he is pleased to reveal himself, let that revelation be what it may. We believe not only that God is, but that he is a rewarder of all them that diligently seek him: let us so praise him that we shall not be baffled if our good work brings us no immediate recompense; for we are satisfied that he is not unrighteous to forget our work of faith. Let us praise him by being perfectly satisfied with anything and everything that he does or appoints. Let us take a hallowed delight in him, and in all that concerns him. Let him be to us “God, our exceeding joy.” Do you know what it is to delight yourselves in God? Then, in that continual satisfaction, offer him continual praise. Life is no longer sorrowful, even amid sorrow, when God is in it, its soul and crown. It is worth while to live the most afflicted and tried life, so long as we know God, and taste his love. Let him do what seemeth him good, so long as he will but be a God to us, and permit us to call him our Father and our God.

     Praise is heart-enjoyment; the indulgence of gratitude and wonder. The Lord has done so much for me that I must praise him, or feel as if I had a fire shut up within me. I may speak for many of you, for you also are saying, “He has done great things for us.” Brethren, the Lord has favoured you greatly: before the earth was, he chose you, and entered into covenant with you: he gave you to his Son, and gave his Son to you. He has manifested himself to you as he doth not to the world; even now he breathes a child-like spirit into you, whereby you cry, “Abba, Father.” Surely you must praise him! How can you ever satisfy the cravings of your heart if you do not extol him? Your obligations rise above you as high as the heavens above the earth. The vessel of your soul has foundered in this sea of love, and gone down fifty fathoms deep in it. High over its masthead the main ocean of eternal mercy is rolling with its immeasurable billows of grace. You are swallowed up in the fathomless abyss of infinite love. You are absorbed in adoring wonder and affection. Like Leah when Judah was born, you cry, “Now will I praise the Lord.”

     Have you not, in addition to this, the praise of heart-feeling, while within you burns an intense love to God? Could you love anyone as you love God? After you have poured out the stream of your love upon the dearest earthly ones, do you not feel you have something more within, which all created vessels could not contain? The heart of man yields love without stint, and the stream is too large for the lake into which it flows, so long as we love a created being. Only the infinite God can ever contain all the love of a loving heart. There is a fitness for the heart, and a fulness for its emotions when Jehovah is the heart’s one object of love. My God, I love thee! Thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. Instead of cavilling at the Lord because of certain stern truths which we read concerning him, we are enabled in these to worship him by bowing our reason to his revelation. That which we cannot understand we nevertheless believe, and believing, we adore. It is not ours to arraign the Almighty, but to submit to him. We are not his censors, but his servants. We do not legislate, but love. He is good, supremely good in our esteem: and infinitely blessed of our hearts. We do not consider what he ought to be; but we learn what he is, and as such we love and adore him. Thus have I gone roundabout the shell of praise; but what it really is you must each one know for himself.

     The text evidently deals with spoken praise— “ Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name’’; or, as the Revised Version has it, “the fruit of lips which make confession to his name.” So, then, we are to utter the praises of God, and it is not sufficient to feel adoring emotions. The priesthood of believers requires them to praise God with their lips. Should we not sing a great deal more than we do? Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs should abound in our homes. It is our duty to sing as much as possible; we should praise as much as we pray. “I have no voice!” saith one. Cultivate it till you have. “But mine is a cracked voice!” Ah, well! it may be cracked to human ears, and yet be melodious unto God. To him the music lies in the heart, not in the sound. Praise the Lord with song and psalm. Some few godly men whom I have known have gone about the fields and along the roads humming sacred songs continually. These are the troubadours and minstrels of our King. Happy profession! May more of us become such birds of Paradise! Hear how the ungodly world pours out its mirth! Ofttimes their song is so silly as to be utterly devoid of meaning. Are they not ashamed? Then let us not be ashamed. Children of God, sing the songs of Zion, and let your hearts be joyful before your King. “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”

     But if we cannot sing so well or so constantly as we would desire, let us talk. We cannot say that we cannot talk. Perhaps some might be better if they could not talk quite so much. As we can certainly talk continually, let us as continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise, by speaking well of his name. Talk ye of all his wondrous works. Let us abundantly utter the memory of his great goodness. Let us praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men. Many whom you judge to be irreligious would be greatly interested if you were to relate to them the story of God’s love to you. But if they are not interested, you are not responsible for that; only tell it as often as you have opportunity. We charge you, as Jesus did the healed man, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.” Speak, and speak, and speak again, for the instruction of others: for the confirmation of those who have faith, and for the routing of the doubts of those who believe not. Tell what God has done for you. Does not our conversation want more flavouring with the praise of God? We put into it too much vinegar of complaint, and forget the sugar of gratitude. This year, when the harvest seems to have been snatched from between the jaws of the destroyer, our friends say, “Well, things look a shade better”; and I am glad to get them up even as high as that. Hear the general talk: “Things are very bad. Business is dreadful. Trade never was so bad.” When I was a boy things were very bad, never were so bad; and I think ever since they have been so bad that they could not be worse, and yet somehow people live, and even farmers are not all turned to skin and bone. Surely, surely, we had better mend our talk, and speak more brightly and cheerily of what God does for us! How can we offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually if we perpetually rail at his providence? Christian men, if you are ever driven to a murmur, let it be the momentary mistake of your extremity; but come back again to contentment and gratitude, which is your proper and acceptable condition. Hear the word of the Lord, which saith, “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.”

     In fine, praise means this, that you and I are appointed to tell out the goodness of God, just as the birds of spring wake up before the sun and begin singing, and singing, and singing, all of them, with all their might. Become ye the choristers of God. Praise ye the Lord evermore, even as they do who, with songs and choral symphonies, day without night, circle his throne rejoicing. This is your office, and it is a holy and a privileged one.

     “Well,” saith one, “I cannot force myself to praise.” I do not want you to force yourself to it: this praise is to be natural. It is called the fruit of the lips. In the Book of Hosea, from which the apostle quotes, our version reads, “The calves of our lips.” Whether the word is “calves” in the Hebrew original or not, is a matter in dispute; but the translators of the Septuagint certainly read it “fruit,” and this seems more clear and plain. The apostle, quoting it from the Greek translation, has endorsed it as being correct. These lips of ours must produce fruit. Our words are leaves: how soon they wither! The praise of God is the fruit which can be stored up and presented to the Lord. Fruit is a natural product: it grows without force, the free outcome of the plant. So let praise grow out of your lips at its own sweet will. Let it be as natural to you, as regenerated men and women, to praise God as it seems to be natural to profane men to blaspheme the sacred name.

      This praise is to be sincere and real. The next verse tells us we are to do good and communicate, and joins this with praise to God. Many will give God a cataract of words, but scarce a drop of true gratitude in the form of substance consecrated. When I am pressed with many cares about the Lord’s work, I often wish that some of my brethren would be a little more mindful of its pecuniary needs. I should be much relieved if those who can spare it would help different portions of our home service. It should be the joy of a Christian to use his substance in his Master’s service. When we are in a right state of heart we do not want anybody to call upon us to extract a subscription from us, but we go and ask, “Is there anything that wants help?” Is any part of the Lord’s business in need just now? The great works,  such as the Orphanage and College, are provided for; but I often sigh as I see lesser agencies left without help, not because friends would not aid if they were pressed to do so, but because there is not a ready mind' to look out for opportunities. Yet that ready mind is the very fat of the sacrifice. I long to see everywhere Christian friends who will not stay to be asked, but will make the Lord’s business their business, and take in hand some branch of work in the church, or among the poor, or for the spread of the gospel. Brethren, let your gift be an outburst of a free and gracious spirit, which takes a delight in showing that it does not praise God in word only, but in deed and in truth. In this church let us excel in generous gifts. As the year ripens to its close see that everything is provided in the house of the Lord, and that there is no lack in any quarter. This practical praising of the Lord is the life-office of every true believer. See ye to it.

     II. We will, secondly, for a few minutes EXAMINE THE SUBSTANCE OF THIS SACRIFICE. “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.”

     To praise God continually will need a childlike faith in him. You must believe his word, or you will not praise his name. Doubt snaps the harp-strings. Question mars all melody. Trust him, lean on him, enjoy him— you will never praise him else. Unbelief is the deadly enemy of praise.

     Faith must lead you into personal communion with the Lord. It is to him that the praise is offered, and not to our fellow-men. The most beautiful singing in the world, if it be intended for the ears of musical critics, is nothing worth. Only that is praise which is meant for God. O thou my Lord, my song shall find thee! Every part of my being shall have its attribute to sing. I will sing unto the Lord, and unto the Lord alone. You must live in fellowship with God, or you cannot praise him.

     You must have also an overflowing content, a real joy in him. Dear brothers and sisters, be sure that you do not lose your joy. If you ever lose the joy of religion, you will lose the power of religion. Do not be satisfied to be a miserable believer. An unhappy believer is a poor creature; but he who is resigned to being so is in a dangerous condition. Depend upon it, greater importance attaches to holy happiness than most people think. As you are happy in the Lord you will be able to praise his name. Rejoice in the Lord, that you may praise him.

     There must also be a holy earnestness about this. Praise is called a sacrifice because it is a very sacred and solemn thing. People who came to the altar with their victims came there with the hush of reverence, the trembling of awe. We cannot praise God with levity. He is in heaven, and we are upon the earth: he is thrice holy, and we are sinful: we must put off our shoe in lowly reverence, and worship with intense adoration, or else he cannot be pleased with our sacrifices. When life is real, life is earnest: and it must be both real and earnest when it is spent to the praise of the great and ever-blessed God.

     To praise God continually, you need to cultivate perpetual gratitude, and surely it cannot be hard to do that! Remember, every misery averted is a mercy bestowed; every sin forgiven is a favour granted; every duty performed is also a grace received. The people of God have an inexhaustible treasury of good things provided for them by the infinite God, and for all this they should praise him. I pray you, be not only a little grateful, but overflow with it. Let your praises be like the waters of fountains which are abundantly supplied. Let the stream leap up to heaven in bursts of enthusiasm ; let it fall to earth again in showers of beneficence; let it fill the basin of your daily life, and run over into the lives of others, and thence again in a cataract of glittering joy let it still descend.

     In order to this praise you will need a deep and ardent admiration of the Lord God. Admire the Father— think much of his love; acquaint yourself with his perfections. Admire the Son of God, the altogether lovely One; and as you mark his gentleness, self-denial, love, and grace, suffer your heart to be wholly enamoured of him. Admire the patience and condescension of the Holy Ghost, that he should visit you, and dwell in you, and bear with you. It cannot be difficult to the sanctified and instructed heart to be filled with a great admiration of the Lord God. This is the raw material of praise. An intelligent admiration of God, kindled into flame by gratitude, and fanned by delight and joy, must ever produce praise. Living in personal converse with God, and trusting him as a child trusts its father, it cannot be difficult for the soul continually to offer the sacrifice of praise to God through Jesus Christ.

     III. I have been very brief upon that point because I want, in the third place, to COMMEND THIS BLESSED EXERCISE.

     “Offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually,” because in so doing you will answer the end of your being. Every creature is happiest when it is doing what it is made for. A bird that is made to fly abroad pines in a cage; an eagle would die in the water, even as a fish that is made to swim perishes on the river’s bank. Christians are made to glorify God; and we are never in our element till we are praising him. The happiest moments you have ever spent were those in which you lost sight of everything inferior, and bowed before Jehovah’s throne of light with reverent joy and blissful praise. I can say it is so with me, and I doubt not it is so with you. When your whole soul is full of praise, you have at last reached the goal that your heart is aiming at. Your ship is now in full sail: your car is on the tram-lines. Your life moves smoothly and safely on. This is the groove along which it was made to slide. Before, you were trying to do what you were not made to do; but now you are at home. For the praise of God your new nature was fashioned, and it finds rest therein. Keep to this work. Do not degrade yourself by a less divine employ.

     Praise God again, because it is his due. Should Jehovah be left unpraised? Praise is the quit-rent which he asks of us for the enjoyment of all things; shall we be slow to pay? Will a man rob God? When it is such a happy work to give him his due, shall we deny it? It blesses us to bless the Lord. Shall we stint God in the measure of his glory? He does not stint us in his goodness. Come, my brother, my sister, if you have become sorrowful of late, shake off your gloom, and awake all your instruments of music to praise the Lord! Let not murmuring and complaining be so much as mentioned among saints. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name. Shall not the Lord be praised? Surely the very stones and rocks must break their everlasting silence in indignation if the children of God do not praise his name.

     Praise him, dear brethren, continually, for it will help you in everything else. A man full of praise is ready for all other holy exercises. Such is my bodily pain and weakness, that I could not have forced myself to preach this morning if I had not felt that I must come hither to bid you praise God. I thought that my pain might give emphasis to my words. I do praise the Lord: I must praise him. It is a duty which I hope to perform in my last moments, the Holy Spirit helping me. So you see praise helps me to preach. Whenever you go forth to any service, even though it be nothing better than taking down the shutters, and waiting behind the counter, you will do it all the better for being in the spirit of praise and gratitude. If you are a domestic servant, and can praise God continually, you will be a comfort in the house; and if you are a master, and are surrounded with the troubles of life, if your heart is always blessing the Lord, you will keep up your spirits, and you will not be sharp and ill-tempered with those around you. Come, brethren, this is both meat and medicine— this praising the Lord. Ye birds of heaven, strange to say, this singing will plume your wings for flight! The praises of God put wings upon pilgrims’ heels, so that they not only run, but fly.

     This will preserve us from many evils. When the heart is full of the praise of God, it has not time to find fault and grow proudly angry with its fellows. Somebody has said a very nasty thing about us. Well, well; we will answer him when we have got through the work we have in hand, namely, praising God continually. At present we have a great work to do, and cannot come down to wrangle. Self-love and its natural irritations die in the blaze of praise. If you praise God continually, the vexations and troubles of life will be cheerfully borne. Praise makes the happy man the strong man. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Praising God makes us to drink of the brook by the way, and lift up the head. We cannot fear while we can praise. Neither can we be bribed by the world’s favour, nor cowed by its frown. Praise makes men, yea, angels of us: let us abound in it.

     Brethren, let us praise God because it will be a means of usefulness. I believe that a life spent in God’s praise would in itself be a missionary life. That matronly sister who never delivered a sermon, nor even a lecture, in all her days, has lived a quiet, happy, useful, loving life, and her family have learned from her to trust the Lord. Even when she shall have passed away, they will feel her influence, for she was the angel of the house. Being dead, she yet will speak. A praiseful heart is eloquent for God. Mere verbiage, what is it but as autumn leaves, which will be consumed in smothering smoke? But praise is golden fruit to be presented in baskets of silver unto the dresser of the vineyard.

     Praise God, brethren, because this is what God loves. Notice how the next verse puts it: “With such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Would we not do anything and everything to please God? It seems too good to be true that we can impart any pleasure to the ever-blessed One; yet it is so, for he hath declared that he is well pleased with, the praises and the gifts of his children. Therefore let us withhold nothing from our dear Father, our blessed God. Can I please him? Tell me what it is, I will do it straight away. I will not deliberate, but without reserve make haste. If I deliberate, it shall be that I may make the service twice as large, or perform it in more careful style; for if I may praise him, it shall be honour, yea, it shall be heaven to me.

     To close this commendation, remember that this will fit you for heaven. Our hymn expresses a frequent aspiration—

“I would begin the music here,
And so my soul should rise.”

You can begin the music here— begin the hallelujahs of glory by praising God here below. Think of how you will praise him when you see his face, and never, never sin. Exceedingly magnify the Lord even now, and rehearse the music of the skies. In glory you may rise to a higher key, but let the song be the same even here. Praise him! Praise him! Praise him more and more! Rise on rounds of praise up the ladder of his glory, till you reach the top, and are with him to praise him better than ever before. Oh, that our lives may not be broken, but may be all of a piece: one psalm, for ever rising, verse by verse, into the eternal hallelujahs!

     IV. I have brought you thus far, and so I come to the closing point, which is, LET US COMMENCE AT ONCE. What does the text say? It says, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually.” The apostle does not say, “By-and-by get to this work, when you are able to give up business, and have retired to the country, or when you are near to die;” but now, at once, he says, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise.”

     Listen! Who is speaking? Whose voice do I hear? Ah! I know, it is the apostle Paul. He says, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise”! Where are you, Paul? His voice sounds from within a low place. I believe he is shut up in a dungeon. Lift up your hand, O venerable Paul! I can hear the clanking of a fetter. Yes; Paul cries, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise. I, Paul the aged, in prison in Rome, wish you to join with me in a sacrifice of praise to God.” Amen. We will do so. O Paul, we are not in prison, and we are not all aged, and none of us are galled with fetters on our wrists; but we can join heartily with you in praising God this morning; and we do so. Come, let us praise God.

“Stand up and bless the Lord,
Ye people of his choice;
Stand up and bless the Lord your God,
With heart and soul and voice.”

     You have heard Paul’s voice, now hear mine. Join with me, and let us offer the sacrifice of praise. Brothers and sisters, we have known each other for many a year, and we have worked together in different ways for the Lord; and as a church and people we have received great favours from the Lord’s hand. Come, let us join together with heart and hand to bless the name of the Lord, and worship joyfully before him. With words and with gifts let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually. If I were to select certain of the members, and call upon them one by one, I should say, “Come, brother So-and-so, let us offer the sacrifice of praise.” I am sure that the brother would get up, and unite with me very cordially, as in a brotherly duet we praised the Lord our God. I will not at this present call upon any of you; but if I did say, “Sister So-and-so, let us offer praise to God,” many of you would reply, “Ah, Pastor! if nobody else can praise him, we can, and we will.” Well, well, kindly take it as done, so far as the outward expression is concerned; but inwardly let us at once offer the sacrifice of praise to God by Jesus Christ. Let us stir one another up to praise. Let us spend to-day, and to-morrow, and all the rest of our days in praising God. If we catch one another a little grumbling, or coldly silent, let us, in kindness to each other, give the needful rebuke. It will not do;  we must praise the Lord. Just as the leader of an orchestra taps his baton to call all to attention, and then to begin singing, so I this morning arouse you and bestir you to offer the sacrifice of praise unto the Lord.

     The apostle has put us rather in a fix: he compels us to offer sacrifice. Did you notice what he said in the tenth verse? He says, “We have an altar.” It is not a material altar, but a spiritual one; yet “we have an altar.” May the priests of the old law offer sacrifice on it? Answer, “Whereof they have no right to eat that serve the tabernacle.” They ate of the sacrifices laid on the altars of the old law, but they have no right here. Those who keep to ritualistic performances, and outward ceremonials, have no right here. Yet we have an altar. Brothers and sisters, can we imagine that this altar is given us of the Lord to be never used? Is no sacrifice to be presented on the best of altars? We have an altar — what then? If we have an altar, do not allow it to be neglected, deserted, unused. It is not for spiders to spin their webs upon; it is not meet that it should be smothered with the dust of neglect. “We have an altar.” What then? “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” Do you not see the force of the argument. Practically obey it.

     Beside the altar we have a High Priest. There is the Lord Jesus Christ, dressed in his robes of glory and beauty, standing within the veil at this moment, ready to present our offerings. Shall he stand there, and have nothing to do? What would you think of our great High Priest waiting at the altar, with nothing to present which his redeemed had brought to God? No, “by him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” Bring hither abundantly, ye people of God, your praises, your prayers, your thank-offerings, and present them to the Ever-blessed!

     Well may you do so if you will read the connection; for the passage brings before you many things which should compel you to praise God. Behold your Saviour in his passion, offered without the gate! Gaze upon his five bleeding wounds, his sacred head so wounded, his face so full of anguish, his heart bursting with the agony of sin! Can you see that sight, and not praise God? Behold redemption accomplished, sin pardoned, salvation purchased, hell vanquished, death abolished, and all this achieved by your blessed Lord and Master! Can you see all this, and not praise him? His precious blood falling on you, and making you clean, bringing you near to God, making you acceptable before the infinite holiness of the Most High! Can you see yourself thus favoured, and behold the precious blood which did it, and not praise his name?

     Yonder in the distance, seen dimly, perhaps, but yet not doubtfully,  behold “a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” White-robed, the purified are singing to their golden harps,  and you will soon be there. When a few more days or years are passed, you will be among the glorified. A crown and a harp are reserved for you. Will you not begin to praise God, and glorify him for the heaven which is in store for you? With these two sights so wonderfully contrasted— the Passion and the Paradise— Jesus in his humiliation and Jesus in his glory; and yourself a sharer in both these wondrous scenes— surely if you do not begin to offer the perpetual sacrifice of thanksgivings and praise unto God, you must be something harder than stone. God grant us to commence this day those praises which shall never be suspended throughout eternity!

     Oh, that you, who have never praised God before, would begin now! Alas! some of you have no Christ to praise, and no Saviour to bless. Yet you need not so abide. By faith you may lay hold upon Jesus, and he then becomes yours. Trust him, and he will justify your trust. Pest in the Lord, and the Lord is your rest. When you have trusted, then waste no time, but at once commence the business for which you were created, and redeemed, and called. Pill the censer with the sweet spices of gratitude and love, and lay on the burning coals of earnestness, and fervency. Then, when praise begins to rise from you like pillars of smoke, swing the censer to and fro in the presence of the Most High, and more and more laud, bless, and magnify the Lord that liveth for ever. Let your heart dance at the sound of his name, and let your lips show forth his salvation. The Lord anoint you this day to the priesthood of praise, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



No Compromise

By / Oct 7

No Compromise

 

“And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou earnest? And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not ray son thither again. The Lord God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.”— Genesis xxiv. 5— 8.

 

GENESIS is both the book of beginnings and the book of dispensations. You know what use Paul makes of Sarah and Hagar, of Esau and Jacob, and the like. Genesis is, all through, a book instructing the reader in the dispensations of God towards man. Paul saith, in a certain place, “which things are an allegory,” by which he did not mean that they were not literal facts, but that, being literal facts, they might also be used instructively as an allegory. So may I say of this chapter. It records what actually was said and done; but at the same time, it bears within it allegorical instruction with regard to heavenly things. The true minister of Christ is like this Eleazar of Damascus; he is sent to find a wife for his Master’s Son. His great desire is, that many shall be presented unto Christ in the day of his appearing, as the bride, the Lamb’s wife.

     The faithful servant of Abraham, before he started, communed with his master; and this is a lesson to us, who go on our Lord’s errands. Let us, before we engage in actual service, see the Master’s face, talk with him, and tell to him any difficulties which occur to our minds. Before we get to work, let us know what we are at, and on what footing we stand. Let us hear from our Lord’s own mouth what he expects us to do, and how far he will help us in the doing of it. I charge you, my fellow-servants, never to go forth to plead with men for God until you have first pleaded with God for men. Do not attempt to deliver a message which you have not first of all yourself received by his Holy Spirit. Come out of the chamber of fellowship with God into the pulpit of ministry among men, and there will be a freshness and a power about you which none shall be able to resist. Abraham’s servant spoke and acted as one who felt bound to do exactly what his master bade him, and to say what his master told him; hence his one anxiety was to know the essence and measure of his commission. During his converse with his master he mentioned one little point about which there might be a hitch; and his master soon removed the difficulty from his mind. It is about that hitch, which has occurred lately on a very large scale, and has upset a good many of my Master’s servants, that I am going to speak this morning: may God grant that it may be to the benefit of his church at large!

     I. Beginning our sermon, we will ask you, first, to THINK OF THE SERVANT’S JOYFUL BUT WEIGHTY ERRAND. It was a joyful errand: the bells of marriage were ringing around him. The marriage of the heir should be a joyful event. It was an honourable thing for the servant to be entrusted with the finding of a wife for his master’s son. Yet it was every way a most responsible business, by no means easy of accomplishment. Blunders might very readily occur before he was aware of it; and he needed to have all his wits about him, and something more than his wits, too, for so delicate a matter. He had to journey far, over lands without track or road; he had to seek out a family which he did not know, and to find out of that family a woman whom he did not know, who nevertheless should be the right person to be the wife of his master’s son: all this was a great service.

     The work this man undertook was a business upon which his master’s heart was set. Isaac was now forty years old, and had shown no sign of marrying. He was of a quiet, gentle spirit, and needed a more active spirit to urge him on. The death of Sarah had deprived him of the solace of his life, which he had found in his mother, and had, no doubt, made him desire tender companionship. Abraham himself was old, and well stricken in years; and he very naturally wished to see the promise beginning to be fulfilled, that in Isaac should his seed be called. Therefore, with great anxiety, which is indicated by his making his servant swear an oath of a most solemn kind, he gave him the commission to go to the old family abode in Mesopotamia, and seek for Isaac a bride from thence. Although that family was not all that could be desired, yet it was the best he knew of; and as some heavenly light lingered there, he hoped to find in that place the best wife for his son. The business was, however, a serious one which he committed to his servant. My brethren, this is nothing compared with the weight which hangs on the true minister of Christ. All the Great Father’s heart is set on giving to Christ a church which shall be his beloved for ever. Jesus must not be alone: his church must be his dear companion. The Father would find a bride for the great Bridegroom, a recompense for the Redeemer, a solace for the Saviour: therefore he lays it upon all whom he calls to tell out the gospel, that we should seek souls for Jesus, and never rest till hearts are wedded to the Son of God. Oh, for grace to carry out this commission!

     This message was the more weighty because of the person for whom the spouse was sought. Isaac was an extraordinary personage; indeed, to the servant he was unique. He was a man born according to promise, not after the flesh, but by the power of God; and you know how in Christ, and in all that are one with Christ, the life comes by the promise and the power of God, and springeth not of man. Isaac was himself the fulfilment of promise, and the heir of the promise. Infinitely glorious is our Lord Jesus as the Son of man! Who shall declare his generation? Where shall be found a helpmeet for him? a soul fit to be espoused unto him? Isaac had been sacrificed; he had been laid upon the altar, and although he did not actually die, his father’s hand had unsheathed the knife wherewith to slay him. Abraham in spirit had offered up his son; and you know who he is of whom we preach, and for whom we preach, even Jesus, who has laid down his life a sacrifice for sinners. He has been presented as a whole burnt offering unto God. Oh! by the wounds, and by the bloody sweat, I ask you where shall we find a heart fit to be wedded to him? How shall we find men and women who can worthily recompense love so amazing, so divine, as that of him who died the death of the cross? Isaac had also been, in a figure, raised from the dead. To his father he was “as good as dead,” as said the apostle; and he was given back to him from the dead. But our blessed Lord has actually risen from an actual death, and stands before us this day as the Conqueror of death, and the Spoiler of the grave. Who shall be joined to this Conqueror? Who is fit to dwell in glory with this glorious One? One would have thought that every heart would aspire to such happiness, and leap in prospect of such peerless honour, and that none would shrink back except through a sense of great unworthiness. Alas! it is not so, though so it ought to be.

     What a weighty errand have we to fulfil to find those who shall be linked for ever in holy union with the Heir of the promise, even the sacrificed and risen One! Isaac was everything to Abraham. Abraham would have said to Isaac, “All that I have is thine.” So is it true of our blessed Lord, whom he hath made heir of all things; by whom also he made the worlds, that “it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.” What a dignity will be put upon any of you who are married to Christ! To what a height of eminence will you be uplifted by becoming one with Jesus! O preacher, what a work hast thou to do to-day, to find out those to whom thou shalt give the bracelet, and upon whose face thou shalt hang the jewel! To whom shall I say, “Wilt thou give thy heart to my Lord! Wilt thou have Jesus to be thy confidence, thy salvation, thine all in all? Art thou willing to become his that he may be thine?”

     Said I not truly that it was a joyful, but a weighty errand, when you think what she must he to whom his master’s son should be espoused? She must, at least, be willing and beautiful. In the day of God’s power hearts are made willing. There can be no marriage to Jesus without a heart of love. Where shall we find this willing heart? Only where the grace of God has wrought it. Ah, then, I see how I may find beauty, too, among the sons of men! Marred as our nature is by sin, only the Holy Spirit can impart that beauty of holiness which will enable the Lord Jesus to see comeliness in his chosen. Alas! in our hearts there is an aversion to Christ, and an unwillingness to accept of him, and at the same time a terrible unfitness and unworthiness! The Spirit of God implants a love which is of heavenly origin, and renews the heart by a regeneration from above; and then we seek to be one with Jesus, but not till then. See, then, how our errand calls for the help of God himself.

     Think what she will become who is to be married to Isaac? She is to be his delight; his loving friend and companion. She is to be partner of all his wealth; and specially is she to be a partaker in the great covenant promise, which was peculiarly entailed upon Abraham and his family. When a sinner comes to Christ, what does Christ make of him? His delight is in him: he communes with him; he hears his prayer, he accepts his praise; he works in him and with him, and glorifies himself in him. He makes the believing man joint-heir with himself of all that he has, and introduces him into the covenant treasure-house, wherein the riches and glory of God are stored up for his chosen. Ah, dear friends! it is a very small business in the esteem of some to preach the gospel; and yet, if God is with us, ours is more than angels’ service. In a humble way you are telling of Jesus to your boys and girls in your classes; and some will despise you as “only Sunday-school teachers”; but your work has a spiritual weight about it unknown to conclaves of senators, and absent from the counsels of emperors. Upon what you say, death, and hell, and worlds unknown are hanging. You are working out the destinies of immortal spirits, turning souls from ruin to glory, from sin to holiness.

“’Tis not a work of small import
Your loving care demands;
But what might fill an angel’s heart,
And filled the Saviour’s hands.”

     In carrying out his commission, this servant must spare no exertion. It would be required of him to journey to a great distance, having a general indication of direction, but not knowing the way. He must have divine guidance and protection. When he reached the place, he must exercise great common-sense, and at the same time a trustful dependence upon the goodness and wisdom of God. It would be a wonder of wonders if he ever met the chosen woman, and only the Lord could bring it to pass. He had all the care and the faith required. We have read the story of how he journeyed, and prayed, and pleaded. We should have cried, “Who is sufficient for these things?” but we see that the Lord Jehovah made him sufficient, and his mission was happily carried out. How can we put ourselves into the right position to get at sinners, and win them for Jesus? How can we learn to speak the right words? How shall we suit our teaching to the condition of their hearts? How shall we adapt ourselves to their feelings, their prejudices, their sorrows, and their temptations? Brethren, we who preach the gospel continually may well cry, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.” To seek for pearls at the bottom of the sea is child’s play compared with seeking for souls in this wicked London. If God be not with us, we may look our eyes out, and wear our tongues away in vain. Only as the Almighty God shall lead, and guide, and influence, and inspire, can we perform our solemn trust; only by divine help shall we joyfully come back, bringing with us the chosen of the Lord. We are the Bridegroom’s friends, and we rejoice greatly in his joy, but we sigh and cry till we have found the chosen hearts in whom he will delight, whom he shall raise to sit with him upon his throne.

     II. Secondly, I would have you CONSIDER THE REASONABLE FEAR WHICH IS MENTIONED. Abraham’s servant said, “Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land.” This is a very serious, grave, and common difficulty. If the woman be not willing, nothing can be done; force and fraud are out of the question; there must be a true will, or there can be no marriage in this instance. Here was the difficulty: here was a will to be dealt with. Ah, my brethren! this is our difficulty still. Let me describe this difficulty in detail as it appeared to the servant, and appears to us.

     She may not believe my report, or be impressed by it. When I come to her, and tell her that I am sent by Abraham, she may look me in the face, and say, “There be many deceivers nowadays.” If I tell her that my master’s son is surpassingly beautiful and rich, and that he would fain take her to himself, she may answer, “Strange tales and romances are common in these days; but the prudent do not quit their homes.” Brethren, in our case this is a sad fact. The great evangelical prophet cried of old, “Who hath believed our report?” We also cry in the same words. Men care not for the report of God’s great love to the rebellious sons of men. They do not believe that the infinitely glorious Lord is seeking the love of poor, insignificant man, and to win it has laid down his life. Calvary, with its wealth of mercy, grief, love, and merit, is disregarded. Indeed, we tell a wonderful story, and it may well seem too good to be true; but it is sad indeed that the multitude of men go their ways after trifles, and count these grand realities to be but dreams. I am bowed down with dismay that my Lord’s great love, which led him even to die for men, should hardly be thought worthy of your hearing, much less of your believing. Here is a heavenly marriage, and right royal nuptials placed within your reach; but with a sneer you turn aside, and prefer the witcheries of sin.

     There was another difficulty: she was expected to feel a love to one she had never seen. She had only newly heard that there was such a person as Isaac, but yet she must love him enough to leave her kindred, and go to a distant land. This could only be because she recognized the will of Jehovah in the matter. Ah, my dear hearers! all that we tell you is concerning things not seen as yet; and here is our difficulty. You have eyes, and you want to see everything; you have hands, and you want to handle everything; but there is one whom you cannot see as yet, who has won our love because of what we believe concerning him. We can truly say of him, “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.” I know that you answer our request thus: “You demand too much of us when you ask us to love a Christ we have never seen.” I can only answer, “It is even so: we do ask more of you than we expect to receive.” Unless God the Holy Ghost shall work a miracle of grace upon your hearts, you will not be persuaded by us to quit your old associations, and join yourselves to our beloved Lord. And yet, if you did come to him, and love him, he would more than content you; for you would find in him rest unto your souls, and a peace which passeth all understanding.

     Abraham’s servant may have thought: She may refuse to make so great a change as to quit Mesopotamia for Canaan. She had been born and bred away there in a settled country, and all her associations were with her father’s house; and to marry Isaac she must tear herself away. So, too, you cannot have Jesus, and have the world too: you must break with sin to be joined to Jesus. You must come away from the licentious world, the fashionable world, the scientific world, and from the (so-called) religious world. If you become a Christian, you must quit old habits, old motives, old ambitions, old pleasures, old boasts, old modes of thought. All things must become new. You must leave the things you have loved, and seek many of those things which you have hitherto despised. There must come to you as great a change as if you had died, and were made over again. You answer, “Must I endure all this for One whom I have never seen, and for an inheritance on which I have never set my foot?” It is even so. Although I am grieved that you turn away, I am not in the least surprised, for it is not given to many to see him who is invisible, or to choose the strait and narrow way which leadeth unto life. The man or woman who will follow God’s messenger to be married to so strange a Bridegroom is a rare bird.

     Moreover, it might be a great difficulty to Rebekah, if she had had any difficulties at all, to think that she must henceforth lead a pilgrim life. She would quit house and farm for tent and gipsy life. Abraham and Isaac found no city to dwell in, but wandered from place to place, dwelling alone, sojourners with God. Their outward mode of life was typical of the way of faith, by which men live in the world, and are not of it. To all intents and purposes Abraham and Isaac were out of the world, and lived on its surface without lasting connection with it. They were the Lord’s men, and the Lord was their possession. He set himself apart for them, and they were set apart for him. Rebekah might well have said, “That will never do for me. I cannot outlaw myself. I cannot quit the comforts of a settled abode to ramble over the fields wherever the flocks may require me to roam.” It does not strike the most of mankind that it would be a good thing to be in the world, and yet not to be of it. They are no strangers in the world, they long to be admitted more fully into its “society.” They are not aliens here with their treasures in heaven, they long to have a good round sum on earth, and find their heaven in enjoying it themselves, and enriching their families. Earthworms as they are, the earth contents them. If any man becomes unworldly, and makes spiritual things his one object, they despise him as a dreamy enthusiast. Many men think that the things of religion are merely meant to be read of, and to be preached about; but that to live for them would be to spend a dreamy, unpractical existence. Yet the spiritual is, after all, the only real: the material is in deepest truth the visionary and unsubstantial. Still, when people turn away because of the hardness of holy warfare, and the spirituality of the believing life, we are not astonished, for we hardly hoped it could be otherwise. Unless the Lord renews the heart, men will always prefer the bird-in-the-hand of this life to the bird-in-the-bush of the life to come.

     Moreover, it might be that the woman might not care for the covenant of promise. If she had no regard for Jehovah and his revealed will, she was not likely to go with the man, and enter upon marriage with Isaac. He was the heir of the promises, the inheritor of the covenant privileges which the Lord by oath had promised. His chosen would become the mother of that chosen seed in whom God had ordained to bless the world throughout all the ages, even the Messiah, the seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent’s head.

     Peradventure the woman might not see the value of the covenant, nor appreciate the glory of the promise. The things we have to preach of, such as life everlasting, union with Christ, resurrection from the dead, reigning with him for ever and ever, seem to the dull hearts of men to be as idle tales. Tell them of a high interest for their money, of large estates to be had for a venture, or of honours to be readily gained, and inventions to be found out, they open all their eyes and their ears, for here is something worth knowing; but the things of God, eternal, immortal, boundless— these are of no importance to them. They could not be induced to go from Ur to Canaan for such trifles as eternal life, and heaven, and God. So you see our difficulty. Many disbelieve altogether, and others cavil and object. A greater number will not even listen to our story; and of those who do listen, most are careless, and others dally with it, and postpone the serious consideration. Alas! we speak to unwilling ears.

     III. In the third place, I would ENLARGE UPON HIS VERY NATURAL SUGGESTION. This prudent steward said, “Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: Must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou earnest?” If she will not come to Isaac, shall Isaac go down to her? This is the suggestion of the present hour: if the world will not come to Jesus, shall Jesus tone down his teachings to the world? In other words, if the world will not rise to the church, shall not the church go down to the world? Instead of bidding men to be converted, and come out from among sinners, and be separate from them, let us join with the ungodly world, enter into union with it, and so pervade it with our influence by allowing it to influence us. Let us have a Christian world.

     To this end let us revise our doctrines. Some are old-fashioned, grim, severe, unpopular; let us drop them out. Use the old phrases so as to please the obstinately orthodox, but give them new meanings so as to win philosophical infidels, who are prowling around. Pare off the edges of unpleasant truths, and moderate the dogmatic tone of infallible revelation: say that Abraham and Moses made mistakes, and that the books which have been so long had in reverence are full of errors. Undermine the old faith, and bring in the new doubt; for the times are altered, and the spirit of the age suggests the abandonment of everything that is too severely righteous, and too surely of God.

     The deceitful adulteration of doctrine is attended by a falsification of experience. Men are now told that they were born good, or were made so by their infant baptism, and so that great sentence, “Ye must be born again,” is deprived of its force. Repentance is ignored, faith is a drug in the market as compared with “honest doubt,” and mourning for sin and communion with God are dispensed with, to make way for entertainments, and Socialism, and politics of varying shades. A new creature in Christ Jesus is looked upon as a sour invention of bigoted Puritans. It is true, with the same breath they extol Oliver Cromwell; but then 1888 is not 1648. What was good and great three hundred years ago is mere cant to-day. That is what “modern thought” is telling us; and under its guidance all religion is being toned down. Spiritual religion is despised, and a fashionable morality is set up in its place. Do yourself up tidily on Sunday; behave yourself; and above all, believe everything except what you read in the Bible, and you will be all right. Be fashionable, and think with those who profess to be scientific— this is the first and great commandment of the modern school; and the second is like unto it— do not be singular, but be as worldly as your neighbours. Thus is Isaac going down into Padan-aram: thus is the church going down to the world.

     Men seem to say— It is of no use going on in the old way, fetching out one here and another there from the great mass. We want a quicker way. To wait till people are born again, and become followers of Christ, is a long process: let us abolish the separation between the regenerate and unregenerate. Come into the church, all of you, converted or unconverted. You have good wishes and good resolutions; that will do: don’t trouble about more. It is true you do not believe the gospel, but neither do we. You believe something or other. Come along; if you do not believe anything, no matter; your “honest doubt” is better by far than faith. “But,” say you, “nobody talks so.” Possibly they do not use the same words, but this is the real meaning of the present-day religion; this is the drift of the times. I can justify the broadest statement I have made by the action or by the speech of certain ministers, who are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretence of adapting it to this progressive age. The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world, and so include a larger area within it bounds. By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues or philosophical essays— in fact, they exchange the temple for the theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuse men. Is it not so, that the Lord’s-day is becoming more and more a day of recreation or of idleness, and the Lord’s house either a joss-house full of idols, or a political club, where there is more enthusiasm for a party than zeal for God? Ah me! the hedges are broken down, the walls are levelled, and to many there is, henceforth, no church except as a portion of the world, no God except as an unknowable force by which the laws of nature work.

     This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal.

     IV. In the fourth place, NOTICE HIS MASTER’S OUTSPOKEN, BELIEVING REPUDIATION OF THE PROPOSAL. He says, shortly and sharply, “Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.” The Lord Jesus Christ heads that grand emigration party which has come right out from the world. Addressing his disciples, he says, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” We are not of the world by birth, not of the world in life, not of the world in object, not of the world in spirit, not of the world in any respect whatever. Jesus, and those who are in him, constitute a new race. The proposal to go back to the world is abhorrent to our best instincts; yea, deadly to our noblest life. A voice from heaven cries, “Bring not my son thither again.” Let not the people whom the Lord brought up out of Egypt return to the house of bondage; but let their children come out, and be separate, and the Lord Jehovah will be a Father unto them.

     Notice how Abraham states the question. In effect, he argues it thus: this would be to forego the divine order. “For,” says Abraham, “the Lord God of heaven took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred.” What, then, if he brought Abraham out, is Isaac to return? This cannot be. Hitherto the way of God with his church has been to sever a people from the world to be his elect— a people formed for himself, who shall show forth his praise. Beloved, God’s plan is not altered. He will still go on calling those whom he did predestinate. Do not let us fly in the teeth of that fact, and suppose that we can save men on a more wholesale scale by ignoring the distinction between the dead in sin and the living in Zion. If God had meant to bless the family at Padan-aram by letting his chosen ones dwell among them, why did he call Abraham out at all? If Isaac may do good by dwelling there, why did Abraham leave? If there is no need of a separate church now, what have we been at throughout all these ages? Has the martyr’s blood been shed out of mere folly? Have confessors and reformers been mad when contending for doctrines which, it would seem, are of no great account? Brethren, there are two seeds— the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent— and the difference will be maintained even to the end; neither must we ignore the distinction to please men.

     For Isaac to go down to Nahor’s house for a wife would be placing God second to a wife. Abraham begins at once with a reference to Jehovah, “the God of heaven”; for Jehovah was everything to him, and to Isaac also. Isaac would never renounce his walk with the living God that he might find a wife. Yet this apostasy is common enough nowadays. Men and women who profess godliness will quit what they profess to believe in order to get richer wives or husbands for themselves or their children. This mercenary conduct is without excuse. “Better society” is the cry— meaning more wealth and fashion. To the true man God is first— yea, all in all; but God is placed at the fag-end, and everything else is put before him by the base professor. In the name of God I call upon you who are faithful to God and to his truth, to stand fast, whatever you lose, and turn not aside, whatever you might gain. Count the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt. We want Abraham’s spirit within us, and we shall have that when we have Abraham’s faith.

     Abraham felt that this would be to renounce the covenant promise. See how he puts it: “The God that took me from my father’s house sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Are they, then, to leave the land, and go back to the place from which the Lord had called them? Brethren, we also are heirs of the promise of things not seen as yet. For the sake of this we walk by faith, and hence

we become separate from those around us. We dwell among men as Abraham dwelt among the Canaanites; but we are of a distinct race: we are born with a new birth, live under different laws, and act from different motives. If we go back to the ways of worldlings, and are numbered with them, we have renounced the covenant of our God, the promise is no longer ours, and the eternal heritage is in other hands. Do you not know this? The moment the church says, “I will be as the world,” she has doomed herself with the world. When the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and took them wives of all which they chose, then the flood came, and swept them all away. So will it again happen should the world take the church into its arms: then shall come some overwhelming judgment, and, it may be, a deluge of devouring fire. The covenant promise and the covenant heritage are no longer ours if we go down to the world and quit our sojourning with the Lord.

     Besides, dear friends, no good can come of trying to conform to the world. Suppose the servant’s policy could have been adopted, and Isaac had gone down to Nahor’s house, what would have been the motive? To spare Rebekah the pain of separating from her friends, and the trouble of travelling. If those things could have kept her back, what would she have been worth to Isaac? The test of separation was wholesome, and by no means ought it to be omitted. She is a poor wife who would not take a journey to reach her husband. And all the converts that the church will ever make by softening down its doctrine, and by becoming worldly, will not be worth one bad farthing a gross. When we get them, the next question will be, “How can we get rid of them?” They would be of no earthly use to us. It swelled the number of Israelites when they came out of Egypt that a great number of the lower order of Egyptians came out with them. Yes, but that mixed multitude became the plague of Israel in the wilderness, and we read that “the mixt multitude fell a lusting.” The Israelites were bad enough, but it was the mixed multitude that always led the way in murmuring. Why is there such spiritual death to-day? Why is false doctrine so rampant in the churches? It is because we have ungodly people in the church and in the ministry. Eagerness for numbers, and especially eagerness to include respectable people, has adulterated many churches, and made them lax in doctrine and practice, and fond of silly amusements. These are the people who despise a prayer-meeting, but rush to see “living waxworks” in their schoolrooms. God save us from converts who are made by lowering the standard, and tarnishing the spiritual glory of the church! No, no; if Isaac is to have a wife worthy of him, she will come away from Laban and the rest, and she will not mind a journey on camelback. True converts’ are never daunted by truth or holiness— these, in fact, are the things which charm them.

     Besides, Abraham felt that there could be no reason for taking Isaac down there, for the Lord would assuredly find him a wife. Abraham said, “He shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.” Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers, and millinery? After all, is it by might and by power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many. Brethren beloved, there are many things which I might allow to other worshippers which I have denied myself in conducting the worship of this congregation. I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting, Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without the flowers of oratory, the cross without the blue lights of superstition or excitement, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttresses of a boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life! In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine, and split a rock in halves. How is it that it does so little of its old conquering work? I will tell you. Do you see this scabbard of artistic work, so wonderfully elaborated? Full many keep the sword in this scabbard, and therefore its edge never gets to its work. Pull off that scabbard. Fling that fine sheath to Hades, and then see how, in the Lord’s hands, that glorious twohanded sword will mow down fields of men as mowers level the grass with their scythes. There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.

     V. And now, fifthly, observe HIS RIGHTEOUS ABSOLUTION OF HIS SERVANT. “If the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.”

     When we lie a-dying, if we have faithfully preached the gospel, our conscience will not accuse us for having kept closely to it: we shall not mourn that we did not play the fool or the politician in order to increase our congregation. Oh, no! our Master will give us full absolution, even if few be gathered in, so long as we have been true to him. “If the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath; only bring not my son thither again.” Do not try the dodges which debase religion. Keep to the simple gospel; and if the people are not converted by it, you will be clear. My dear hearers, how much I long to see you saved! But I would not belie my Lord, even to win your souls, if they could be so won. The true servant of God is responsible for diligence and faithfulness; but he is not responsible for success or non-success. Results are in God’s hands. If that dear child in your class is not converted, yet if you have set before him the gospel of Jesus Christ with loving, prayerful earnestness, you shall not be without your reward. If I preach from my very soul the grand truth that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will save my hearers, and if I persuade and entreat them to believe in Jesus unto eternal life; if they will not do so, their blood will lie upon their own heads. When I go back to my Master, if I have faithfully told out his message of free grace and dying love, I shall be clear. I have often prayed that I might be able to say at the last what George Fox could so truly say: “I a m clear, I am clear!” It is my highest ambition to be clear of the blood of all men. I have preached God’s truth, so far as I know it, and I have not been ashamed of its peculiarities. That I might not stultify my testimony I have cut myself clear of those who err from the faith, and even from those who associate with them. What more can I do to be honest with you? If, after all, men will not have Christ, and his gospel, and his rule, it is their own concern. If Rebekah had not come to Isaac she would have lost her place in the holy line. My beloved hearer, will you have Jesus Christ or not? He has come into the world to save sinners, and he casts out none. Will you accept him? Will you trust him? “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Will you believe him? Will you be baptized into his name? If so, salvation is yours; but if not, he himself hath said it, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” Oh, do not expose yourselves to that damnation! Or, if you are set upon it; then, when the great white throne shall be seen in yonder skies, and the day of wrath has come, do me the justice to acknowledge that I bade you flee to Jesus, and that I did not amuse you with novel theories. I have brought neither flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, nor any other kind of music to please your ears, but I have set Christ crucified before you, and bidden you believe and live. If you refuse to accept the substitution of Christ, you have refused your own mercies. Clear me in that day of all complicity with the novel inventions of deluded men. As for my Lord, I pray of him grace to be faithful to the end, both to his truth, and to your souls. Amen.



Consolation from Resurrection

By / Sep 30

Consolation from Resurrection

 

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” — Hosea xiii. 14.

 

THIS verse stands in the midst of a long line of threatenings. Like a rock of mercy, it rises in the midst of a sea of wrath. Hence many critics have felt bound to see in it a continuation of threatening. I am quite content to accept the united authority of the Authorized and the Revised Versions, and to believe that the mind of the Holy Spirit is fairly expressed in the grand old Bible of our fathers. I regard our text as a promise overflowing with delight.

     While it does stand as a rock apart, this gracious word is far from being the only one in the book of the prophet Hosea. In the torrent bed of this prophet’s denunciations we find dust of the gold of promise. Hosea, in his style, is jerky and abrupt: he says exactly what you do not think he is going to say. The Holy Spirit, speaking through him, interjects promises in the midst of threatenings, in wrath remembering mercy. If any should think that this passage is exceptional, let them read the rest of Hosea’s prophecy. Let them pause for a minute over the eleventh chapter, resting at the eighth verse: “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God, and not man.” Where was ever greater tenderness than this? When you get to the twelfth chapter, at the ninth verse, a still small voice is heard in the midst of the thunder: “I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast.” The fourteenth chapter is all of love and mercy: “O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.” Hear the gracious word, verse four— “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” So that our text, in its Christian interpretation, is not contrary to the general method of this prophecy. To find it here is very surprising; but it is after the manner of the Holy Ghost, when speaking by the prophet Hosea.

     Israel was coming to its very worst. him.” The people were to be carried to Babylon, and thence to be scattered to the ends of the earth. Yet the Lord, in his great love, lets them know that this was not to be a final and entire destruction. He would not utterly cast away the people whom he did foreknow, nor allow death to hold them in bondage for ever. He would open their graves, and bring them out, and make them to know Jehovah. Therefore, he drops in this word of promise when it was least expected.

    I. I shall ask you this morning, first, to CONSIDER THE FACT WHICH IS HERE USED AS A FIGURE. The resurrection of the dead is here employed as a figure of that which the Lord was about to do for his people. At one time salvation from sin is called a creation, and creation is a fact; here it is a resurrection from the dead, and that also is sure to be accomplished in due time: we have the first-fruits of it already.

     Brethren, there will be a special resurrection for those who are in Christ Jesus. “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” But for the members of the body of Christ there is a resurrection from among the dead. These are the many that sleep in the dust of the earth who shall awake to everlasting life (Dan. xii. 2). They rise because they are one with Christ in his resurrection. His resurrection is the proof and the guarantee that they also shall rise in the day of his appearing. “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. viii. 10). Their bodies, which were redeemed as truly as their souls, though left during this life under mortgage to nature, so that they suffer pain, and weakness, and ultimate death and decay— their bodies, I say, being a part of the purchase of the precious blood, shall be raised again from the dead. That which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power; that which is covered with dishonour by the very fact of death and decay shall be raised in splendour, made like unto the glorious body of Christ. This is no poetic fiction, but a literal matter of fact, even as was the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We hear our Redeemer say, “Thy brother shall rise again,” and we accept it literally. Our dear ones whom we have laid in the grave shall come again from the land of the enemy. Concerning ourselves, also, we believe, as we just sang—

“Sweet truth to me,
 I shall arise,
 And with these eyes
 My Saviour see.”

We accept the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as the revelation of Christianity. The immortality of the soul was seen before the appearing of our Lord in a dim and cloudy manner; but the resurrection of the dead was not discoverable by the light of nature, and when it was at first preached, men called the preacher a “babbler”; they could not understand that such a thing could be. The philosophy of human nature rejected the resurrection, and rejects it still. Only by the revelation of Christ do we know that the dead shall rise again.

     This resurrection is connected with redemption: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave.” A ransom is the paying of a price for something. There was a price paid for us, to deliver us from the death which is the desert of sin. You know who paid it, and how he paid it. Remember how he opened wide his hands, and poured forth more than gold; remember how his side was digged by the spear, that the deep mines of his life-wealth might be emptied out for us. Jesus our Lord has paid the ransom price. Now are we “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. viii. 23). Another word is used in the parallel sentence of our text— “I will redeem them from death.” It refers to the redemption of an inheritance by the next-of-kin. “I know that my Redeemer liveth” is the ground of Job’s confidence as to his resurrection and justification. My goel, my next-of-kin, to whom the right of redemption belonged in equity, has stepped in, and has fully redeemed both my soul and my body. What a blessed truth is this, that the ransom of the body is paid, so that this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality! Though the body remains for a while subject to vanity, yet the term of this subjection will soon run out, the ransom being already paid. Regeneration has liberated the soul, and resurrection will do the like for the body before long. The margin hath it, “I will ransom them from the hand of the grave: I will redeem them from death.” O beloved, we come into the grave’s hand, as it were, and firm is the grip of the sepulchre; but our God saith, “I will redeem them from the hand of the grave.” The grave holds the bones of the saints as with the grasp of an iron hand; but the redemption of our Lord Jesus will open the giant fist, and set the prisoners free. Glory be to God for the sure hope of resurrection! No mass of stone, nor superincumbent clay, shall keep down these bodies of ours when our Saviour’s angels shall “their golden trumpets sound.” Beloved, there remains nothing due upon the estate of our bodies for which they can be detained in the dust when the Lord Jesus comes to awaken them from their long sleep. They shall freely rise to be reunited with the disembodied but happy spirits to which they belong. We look for a resurrection from among the dead. "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power” (Rev. xx. 5, 6).

     This, according to our text, is wrought entirely by divine power. It must be so; for how could the dead contribute to their own lives? How can bodies which have been dissolved in the sepulchre reconstruct themselves? Here you have in the text the divine personality asserting itself four times—“I will ransom them,” “I will redeem them”; “O death, I will be thy plagues”; “O grave, I will be thy destruction.” Here we have “I will” four times. Who but he that made can re-make? But all things are possible to the Creator. We have heard many objections raised to the doctrine of the resurrection. Let them object as long as they please. Grant us a God, and nothing is impossible or even difficult. With a God who can work miracles nothing becomes incredible. Whatsoever the eternal God decreeth concerning the resurrection of his elect he will readily accomplish; for he is abundantly sufficient for it. What a triumph will the resurrection be for the Lord God! He hath been pleased to give the special honour of it to his own dear Son. By the risen Christ we shall be raised again from the dead. We shall sing hallelujahs to him that was slain. He by death has destroyed death, and by his resurrection has torn away the fates of the grave. This is our Lord’s doings, and we adore him because of it.

     Observe, next, that by the resurrection death itself is transformed, and totally overcome. He saith, “O death, I will be thy plagues,” as if death were personified, and then itself plagued— its own arrows of pestilence being shot into itself. Beloved, death no longer kills, but rather admits to a larger life; it no more destroys, but the rather it perfects— I mean not of itself, but through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no longer death to die; it is no longer punishment to the believer, but a dismissal from banishment. Ye that are in your sins will die in your sins, and to you death is death indeed; but to the child of God, death is so altered that he who hath the power of death, that is, the devil, is sore vexed. He is plagued by seeing the joy with which the believer dies. It is a grand thing to see a man dying full of life: the river of his mortal life comes to an end, but only by widening into the ocean of the glory-life above. Satan gloated over the mischief which he had wrought by death; but lo, it is through death that Jesus has destroyed him, and delivered his people. God makes his dying people to be like the sun, which never seems so large as when it sets. All the glories of mid-day are eclipsed by the marvels of sunset. Watch the west! See how the clouds are mountains of gold, and anon the skies are seas of fire. All the tapestries of heaven are hung out to welcome the returning hero of the day to his rest beyond the western sea. So does the dying saint light up his dying chamber with heavenly splendour as he sets upon this world to shine in another. Thus the Lord plagues death, leaving the monster powerless to harm or even terrify the believer.

     As for the sepulchre, it is destroyed. “O grave, I will be thy destruction.” No grave shall detain one of the redeemed. The tomb is

“No more a charnel-house, to fence
The relics of lost innocence;
 A place of ruin and decay
 The imprisoning stone is rolled away.”

The grave is our bed-chamber, which our Lord himself hath furnished for us by leaving in it his own grave-clothes. It is a retiring-room whose odour is most sweet to love; for

“There the dear flesh of Jesus lay,
 And left a blest perfume.”

Death, thou art not death! Grave, thou art no grave! The names remain, but the nature of the things has altered altogether.

     To close this first subject— this resurrection will abolish death and every possibility of it in the future. I notice that certain persons, in their anxiety to suck the meaning out of the word “everlasting,” so as to avoid everlasting punishment, have questioned the everlasting nature of heaven. They have even gone the length of hinting that they are not quite clear that if believers get to heaven they will always remain there. Yes, and this is what it comes to. Nothing is safe from these revolutionists. They would tear away every covenant blessing from the children of God in their zeal to make the punishment of sin a trifle. To do honour to their own intellect, they would sacrifice the eternal blessedness of the blood-washed! But it is not so. Jesus has said — “Because I live ye shall live also.” As long as Christ lives we must live: as long as Christ is in heaven we must be with him where he is, to behold his glory. So long as God is God his children, partakers of the divine nature, must live for ever, and be for ever blessed. Raised from the dead, and taken up to Christ’s right hand, we shall henceforth fear no second death. When sun and moon grow dim with age, and earth’s blue skies are rolled up like a worn-out vesture, we shall enjoy an age like the years of God’s right hand, like his own eternity. The great I AM shall be the bliss of every soul whom Christ hath redeemed from the grave, and this shall know no end.

     To this the Lord sets his seal. Do you want to see the red wax and the divine impression thereon? Look at the close of the text, "Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” There doth Jehovah declare his unalterable will; it must and shall be even so. That his saints shall rise from the dead is the immutable decree of God. In all this let us rejoice. Our future is bright with glory. These things are revealed to faith, but they are not to be seen of the eye, nor even conceived in the heart, nor pictured by the imagination.

“I know not, oh, I know not, what joys await us there!
 What radiancy of glory! What bliss beyond compare!”

     This much, however, we do know, that there is to be a rising for us, even as our Lord has risen, and we shall be satisfied when we awake in his likeness. Constantly in Scripture is this resurrection used as the figure of God’s delivering and blessing his people; and especially as the figure of regeneration or the giving of a new and spiritual life to those who were by nature dead in trespasses and sins. I intend to use it so in our next line of thought.

     II. In the second place, IN THESE WORDS LIE AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO LOOK FOR DELIVERANCE OUT OF GREAT TROUBLES. The encouragement comes in this way: God, that will surely raise his people from the dead by his own power, can and will as surely raise them from every kind of trouble and apparent destruction. If there can be any comparison of ease with omnipotence, it must be easier to raise Job from his dunghill, than to raise Job from his grave. If God, therefore, shall restore us from the sepulchre, he can certainly restore us from sickness, from poverty, from slander, from depression of spirit, from despair. That is clear; who shall doubt it?

     God will delight to work the work of our deliverance. If he takes pleasure in raising a dead body, he will assuredly take pleasure in raising from their distresses those in whom he delights. The Lord rejoices in our joy. He doth not afflict willingly, but he blesses us joyfully. Therefore, we may rest assured that he will turn again and have compassion, and raise us up from our downcastings.

     The ends and designs for which the Lord afflicts them are very gracious, and we may expect that he will end the affliction when those designs are accomplished. When the Lord puts us into the furnace it is to refine us; and as soon as the dross is consumed he will bring forth the pure gold. He puts us under chastisement for our profit; and when that profit is seen, he will break the rod. We may assuredly expect that he who bringeth up dead bodies from the grave will bring his distressed people up from their troubles, when those troubles have wrought their lasting good.

     And now, to come to the text, we must traverse the same ground again: this deliverance comes through redemption. Beloved, he that redeemed Israel from all iniquity will also redeem Israel from all his troubles. That redemption price of the Lord covers every necessity of his people, and supplies every mercy that they will need between here and heaven. Do not, therefore, doubt or despair, because your troubles seem as if they would slay you, for the Angel who has redeemed your body from death will redeem you from all evil. He that will bring your body from the grave, will love you up from the pit of trouble, even when you are ready to perish. Redemption covers all, and secures from every danger. He that died for you, lives for you, and cares for you. You shall be supplied, not only with grace and glory, but with food and raiment. “Thy bread shall be given thee; thy waters shall be sure.” Oh, rest in the Lord; especially confide in the redemption of Jesus. Let the precious blood speak peace to you; for if he has bought your soul, he has bought all that goes with it, and all that is needed for this life as well as the next. As well our temporal as our eternal concerns come under the protection of the blood. The Paschal lamb, whose sprinkled blood shielded the house wherein the Israelite was sheltered, also became to him food for his journey. He who provides heaven will provide all necessaries on the road thither.

     This deliverance will also be God' s work. I have shown you that it was so in resurrection, concerning which the great “I will” is so prominent-in the text. Now, if you are in great trouble, do not run to friends and acquaintances, nor reckon up your own strength, but make direct resort to God, who quickeneth the dead. He that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus is he that can and will deliver you. He will raise up your mortal body without the help of man or of angel; and he can, apart from created strength, upraise you from your present woe. He is the God of salvation, and unto him belong the issues from death. His name is Shaddai— God all-sufficient; trust him fully. When he made the heavens, who was there to help him? What aid does he need in rescuing his servants? Oh, learn to wait only upon the Lord! Do not think that I am talking mere words. No; trust in God must be real and practical, and it must be simple and unmixed. " My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” Oh, how sweet it is to rest on God’s bare arm! Long have I known what it is to trust in God, and at the same time to repose on the help of many friends; but now I know what it is to rest in him unmoved when forsaken of many. I cling to that dear arm, and find it all the help I need. And now I will henceforth abide in my confidence in that lone arm; and should deserters all return, and ten thousand friends rally to my side, I will not spare them a particle of my reliance, but still cry, “My soul, wait thou only upon God.” Behold the great hero of the conflict with the powers of darkness treads the wine-press alone, and of the people there is none with him: let us associate none with him in our faith. If you rest on God alone, as the rock of your salvation, you need never fear. Often does the Lord afflict us to this end, even as Paul saith, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.”

     When the Lord delivers his people, his work is singularly complete, for he triumphantly turns evil into good. We shall yet exult over that which now casts us down. That which threatened to kill us shall increase our life, and we shall hear our Lord say to it, “ O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” He will turn mourning into dancing, loss into gain, sorrows into joys. He 'will enrich you by your impoverishment; he “will make you strong out of weakness; he will give you health by means of sickness; and fulness by emptying you. Does the adversary threaten to destroy you? You shall be more than a conqueror. Are you led away in bonds? You shall lead your captivity captive. Those who seek your ruin will unconsciously be doing the best thing that could be done for you. Their malice shall bruise your spices, and cause their aroma to flow out. He that by shameful death winneth greater glory shall by your afflictions increase your greatness, and comfort you on every side. The Lord will not only prevent the powers of evil from doing you harm, but he will cause you to damage their empire by your patience. You shall be the plague of Satan and the destroyer of his strongholds. That which seemed to be the death and burial of your hope shall be the overthrow of your fears.

     The Lord will do this so completely that he will make you sing concerning it. In the book of Hosea the Lord declared a fact in plain language; but when the work was done the Lord by his servant Paul made it into a song for his chosen in that famous chapter of the Corinthians — “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Let us catch the spirit of this lyric, and translate it thus! “O poverty, where is thy penury? O sickness, where is thy misery? O weakness, where is thy loss? O slander, where is thy sting?” We shall before long look back upon all our afflictions with gladness, and bless the Lord for them as for our chiefest blessings. We may yet feel like that great saint who, when he recovered from sickness, cried, “Take me back to my sick bed again, for there have I enjoyed such fellowship with Christ as I never knew before.” We may yet have to say, as certain saints of the Church of Scotland said, “Oh, that we were meeting among the moors and the hills once more; for never had the bride of Christ such followship with the Bridegroom as when she met him in secret places.” The Lord knoweth how to lift us high by that which cast us low, and to make psalms for our stringed instruments out of the dirges which drowned our music. The God of the resurrection has delivered, doth deliver, and will deliver his people.

     III. Time fails me, and therefore I must hurry on, else I had loved to linger and expand. SEE HERE A DECLARATION THAT GOD WILL SAVE HIS CHOSEN FROM THEIR DEATH IN SIN. He that will raise our bodies from the grave will, according to his everlasting covenant, raise his chosen from their death in sin.

     This must be so. If the Lord did not raise his people’s souls from their death in sin, a resurrection of their bodies would be rather than a blessing. Resurrection will be no boon to those who die unregenerate. My hearers, you will all rise from the grave; but I fear that some of you will rise to shame and everlasting contempt. That is an awful passage which I quoted just now from the Book of Daniel: think much of it. Therefore since God will not have his people rise to shame and everlasting contempt he will make their souls to rise first into newness of holy life. This regeneration must come to all of you, if you are to be partakers of the glory of Christ hereafter. Ye must be quickened, though ye were dead in trespasses and sins. That fact suggests a question to each heart— Have you received the divine life?

     If you are indeed made alive unto God, you will agree with me that this resurrection comes to us entirely through redemption. There is no quickening a dead soul, except by the process here described: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.” Did the law of God, when you heard it, ever quicken you? Nay, it slew you. “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” It made your death more apparent to you, but it brought you no life. Did the eloquence of men, or human persuasion, ever raise you from spiritual death? You listened to it, and you listened, but you listened in vain. You were moved with human affections, but these human affections passed away, like the morning dew. Beloved, life only came to you when you received Christ Jesus, your Redeemer. Well do I remember when I first looked unto him, and lived! The life and the look came together. There is no receiving eternal life apart from believing in him who is the life. There is no life except by looking unto Jesus. Your uplifted eye must be fixed on the uplifted Saviour, crucified as the redemption of his people: life only comes to us through his redeeming death. God himself only maketh us live by Christ Jesus. He is the life. You cannot yourself create life; nor can you renew it, except by coming to your Lord’s dear wounds again. Oh, that we could dwell on Calvary! Oh, that we never turned our eyes away from the cross! Let me be crucified with Christ, so as never to part from perpetual, conscious union with him. In him we died unto sin, in him we were redeemed from death and the curse, and in him we live for ever. Our resurrection from spiritual death is always connected with the precious blood once shed for many, for the remission of sins.

     You will follow me in this also: quickening is always the Lord's work. Here he may repeat the “I will” of the text all the four times. We spoke of resurrection as solely the work of God, so must the implantation of spiritual life be the work of the Spirit of God, and of him alone. Never let us dream that we can make ourselves alive unto God, or that we can quicken our unconverted friends. You could not make the simplest insect, how could you make a new heart and a right spirit? Tins is the finger of God, nay, this needs the arm of God, as it is written, “to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed”? The full power of God is needed to beget faith’s life within the soul of man.

     Further, keep up the parallel between regeneration and resurrection as seen in the text, and notice that whenever the Lord raises his dear ones from the dead, and makes them live, it is a great plague to death. He that hath the power of death must often be grievously annoyed when he sees a dead sinner begin to live unto God. “I did reckon on him,” saith he. “I wrapped him up in the cerements of drunkenness, I shut him up in the dark sepulchre of ignorance; and yet he is alive!” “I did reckon on the debauched man,” saith he, “I saw him rotting in lasciviousness; he was so far gone in lust that he was given over by his friends; but my great enemy Jesus Christ has come here, and made even the corrupt to live!” Again and again the adversary has to feel that Christ is his plague, and that he will be his destruction. When Jesus raises men from the dead, he shows who is Master, and makes the adversary know that his dominion is soon to fall. As in his lifetime on earth the Lord overcame both the devil and death fey a word, even so it is now, and his name is thereby greatly glorified.

     Those who are made alive, how greatly do they plague the enemy of souls when they begin to talk aloud of free grace and dying love? When black sinners show themselves washed in the blood of the lamb, when lips that used to curse begin to sing hallelujahs, and tongues that talked infidelity begin to proclaim the testimony of the true faith, how the prince of darkness is afflicted! How the sepulchres of sin are destroyed! Right well does the poet say:—

“Satan rages at his loss,
And hates the doctrine of the cross.”

     This work once done is an abiding work. I point again to the seal at the bottom of the text. “Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” God resolves that they shall live, for he has redeemed them, and his redemption price is too precious to be wasted. He has ransomed them from the grave, and they shall never return to their grim prison-house again, they shall live to plague Satan, but they shall not live to be overcome by him. What the Lord has done he will not suffer sin, death and hell to undo. Nothing shall lead him to repent of his design, or turn from the purpose of his heart. Jesus lifts his hand and says, “I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Man’s work is superficial, and therefore soon disappears. All that nature spins, nature unravels: all that is woven in the loom of human excitement will be rent to pieces by the hand of time and trial; but surely I know that what God doeth he doth for ever, and it standeth fast without a change. Oh, that he would this morning come and quicken dead souls! Pray, dear people, that it may be so! The Lord will do as he wills. Doth he not say, “I will have compassion upon whom I will have compassion”? Oh, that he would have compassion on this great congregation at this moment, and give them life! We heard the cry of human weakness just now when our sister was taken in a fit; I doubt not that our Lord heard it too, and pitied the bodily infirmity; how much more will he hear the voice of our spiritual need, and have pity upon our death in sin!

     IV. What little time you can yet afford me, I will use in stating that HERE WE HAVE AN ASSURANCE THAT THE LORD CAN DELIVER FROM ANY OTHER FORM OF DEATH. I ask you now to think of a few matters very briefly.

     The Jews: as an organized nationality they are dead. They are a people scattered and divided under the whole heaven. Truly might they say, as in the prophet Ezekiel, “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.” We have no instance in history of a nation dying and coming to life again. Assyria, Babylon, these had their day, and they failed and passed away. Where are they now? Can these empires live again? Persia, Greece, Rome, these vast dominions died morally, and then they ceased to be a living power. Can they ever be restored? Impossible. But because her God liveth, Israel can never die. Israel will be a nation yet again, and a glorious one. Restored to her own land, and rejoicing in her own Messiah, who is “the glory of his people Israel,” it shall be seen that the Lord hath not cast off his people. It seems impossible. Our missions are, to a large extent, a failure; they become the ridicule of the ungodly because so little success attends them. Yet shall all Israel be saved. Shall not their restoration be as life from the dead? It shall; and because it will be like life from the dead, he that will raise dead bodies will raise poor Israel yet. The seed of faithful Abraham, who believed God that he could raise up Isaac from the dead, shall be raised out of their low estate. A nation of priests shall they be unto him who of old made them the keepers of his oracles. O lovers of the seed of Abraham, be comforted concerning them.

     In the next place, suppose the church at large should decline to a spiritual death— and I am sure it does so just now— what then? The faults which are now so apparent may only be the beginning of worse evils. Brethren are prophesying that the Jesuits will ruin us, and others that Rationalism will eat out the heart of the church. I think both these sets of prophets have a good deal to say for themselves; the signs of the times are much with them. But suppose error should become rampant in all our churches, as it may; suppose those who bear testimony should grow fewer, and their voices should be less and less regarded, as they may be; suppose at last the true church of Christ should scarcely be discoverable, and that men should bury it, and dance a saraband upon its grave, and say, “We have done with these believers in atonement. We have done with these troublesome evangelical doctrines.” What then? The truth will rise again. The eternal gospel will burst her sepulchre. “Vain the watch, the stone, the seal.” Let us take comfort in the fact that God, who will raise the dead, will also raise up buried truth, and incarnate it again in a living church, even though the world should exult that both doctrine and church are down among the dead.

     Some of you perhaps from the country may happen to belong to churches which have come near to death’s door. That which is true of the church at large is true of any individual church. Have faith in God. He can trim the expiring lamp. Even to Laodicea, which he spewed out of his mouth, the Lord came, knocking at the door. They talk about shutting the doors of the chapel. Has it come to that? Prayer-meetings, are they given up? Gospel preaching, have you almost forgotten the joyful sound? The Sunday-school, has that become a farce. Does everything seem dead? Cry to the living God. Do not say to yourself, “Can these dry bones live?” They can, if the living God intervenes. God, who made Ezekiel see the dry bones stand up as a great army, can make you see it yet. Be of good confidence. Have hope for Zion, for the Lord will restore her in answer to your cries. Take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof, for the time to favour her, yea, the set time has come. “When the Lord shall build up Zion he will appear in his glory.”

     Suppose I am now speaking to some child of God, who says, " I can believe all this; but, alas! I feel dead myself.” We do sometimes faint, and are full of fears, and cry, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?” We trust we do really love the Lord; but we get very dull at times, and cry out—

“Dear Lord, and shall we always live
 At this poor, dying rate:
 Our love so faint, so cold to thee,
And thine to us so great?”

We feel as if we could not pray; there is no singing in us; and we feel as if we could not feel. At times we are so dull and stupid that we cannot think ourselves to be enlightened of the Lord at all. For my own part, “I am more brutish than any man” at times, in my own esteem. Be our case as it may, let not faith waver because feeling changes. When you are down in the dumps, remember that as the Lord will raise your dead body, he can certainly revive your fainting heart. Trust in him to restore your soul. This very morning, I hope, is ordained to be a resurrection morning to you. Before you quit this house of prayer I hope the silver trumpet of the gospel will be heard like the trumpet of the resurrection, and you will say to yourself, “I will quit my grave, for I live unto God.” By God’s grace, leave the vaults and come into the upper air of trust and thanksgiving. A man, finding himself imbedded in the snow, discovered, to his horror, that he could not move his feet, for they were frozen; nor his hands, for they were stiff with cold. He would have given himself up, therefore, as certainly doomed to die, but he found that he could speak, and here was hope. His tongue was not frozen, so he began to call aloud; and he did not call long before helpers came and dug him out, and thawed him back to life. If you cannot do anything else, my dear friend, do cry aloud. Cry, “O God, help me! Quicken thou me, O Lord.”

     Do any of you say, “Well, I never get into so sad a state. I am always lively”? I am very glad to hear it, if it be true. But I have heard that the statues in St. Paul’s Cathedral are never afflicted with rheumatism; and the reason is, because they have no life. I am just a little afraid that you also may have no changes and no fears, because you have no spiritual life. God knows whether it is so or not. Look to it. I would sooner have the rheumatism, and be alive, than be without pain, and be a statue. The most painful life is preferable to the stillest death. But O ye dying saints of God; ye poor, fainting, perishing believers, take hope this morning, for the Holy Spirit will revive you, even as Jesus saith, “He that liveth and believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

     Lastly, let us have that same hope about our unconverted friends. We want to see them born again during this week of special services. Let us begin by knowing what they are, and what is their condition. Do not say, “I hope my boy will be saved, because I do not see much evil in him.” Your boy is as spiritually dead by nature as anybody else’s boy. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”; and however good your flesh may be, it is only flesh, and only flesh has come of it. I beg you to regard every soul that is not begotten unto God as being dead in sin, else you will not go to the bottom of things, and you will not go the right way to work. Next, go to the Lord and Giver of life, and say, “Lord, I cannot make this dear child live; I cannot bring my unconverted husband to thee. I will do all I can by teaching, persuasion and example; but O my Lord, I look to thee to give the spark of divine life.” Go to God with your anxiety for dead souls, and cry, “Lord, quicken them!” In dependence upon the Spirit of God, preach the gospel, which is the vehicle of divine life, and you shall see them live. Have faith about those who are laid on your heart. God grant your faith a full and speedy reward, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.



Idols Found Wanting, but Jehovah Found Faithful

By / Sep 27

 Idols Found Wanting, but Jehovah Found Faithful

 

“Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity. Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”— Isaiah xlvi. 1— 4.

 

THE confidence of Babylon is buried among her heaps of rubbish, for her gods have fallen from their thrones. “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth.” As for us, beloved, our trust is in the living God, who lives to bear and carry his chosen, even in Jehovah, the only true Lord. We begin our spiritual life by faith in him, for till faith comes we have no power to become the sons of God. Our spiritual life will have to be continued in the same way of trust in the Lord, “for the just shall live by faith.” We live by faith upon the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us. We rejoice that we shall never have to change our confidence, for our God will never be carried into captivity, nor torn from his throne. Our faith is built upon a rock that can never be moved. Nothing in the past has shaken the foundation of our faith; nothing in the present can move it; nothing in the future will undermine it. Whatever may occur in the ages to come, there will always be good reason for believing in Jehovah and his faithful word. The great truths which he has revealed will never be disproved; the great promises he has made will never be retracted; the great purposes he has devised will never be abandoned. So long as we live, so long shall we have a refuge, a hope, a confidence, that can never be removed.

His sovereign mercy knows no end,
His faithfulness shall still endure;
And those who on his word depend
Shall find his word for ever sure.

     That part of our text which says, “Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you,” may seem to be a promise made to old age. So, indeed, it is. Many a hoary saint has made a soft pillow of this precious promise, and has rested upon it with delight in the days of his decay. But yet the text, if it be rightly read, is a promise to the people of God at any and every period between their birth and their death. While the Lord does say that he will carry us to hoar hairs, yet he begins by telling us that he has carried us from the womb, and that he will carry us still. All tenses meet in these verses: “Hearken, O house of Jacob, which are borne by me; which are carried from the womb. Even to your old age I am he; I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” The Lord is good to us in all tenses, and in all ways. We shall not, alone, consider in our discourse the mercy of God to those who are near the end of their pilgrimage, but that same mercy to his people throughout their wilderness journey, from the day when they first ate of the Paschal Lamb, and quitted Egypt, even to that hour when the Jordan was dried up, and they took possession of the land which floweth with milk and honey. Our experimental dealings with God make us know that he is our gracious Helper from the first to the last. When we begin with the Alpha of our life’s spelling, we find him good; and when we come to the Omega, and faintly pronounce the last letter of life, we know still better how gracious he is. Bel and Nebo disappoint their votaries, but Jehovah is our God for over and ever, and he will be our guide even unto death.

     I. I shall begin my sermon by calling your attention, first, to the set-off and background, which are placed behind the brilliant promise which is herein given to the Lord’s people.

     Observe that FALSE CONFIDENCE PAASS AWAY.

     The Lord has made a full end of false gods and their worship. “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden: they are a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.” Bel and Nebo were two great gods of Babylon. You get the name of Bel in the name of king Belshazzar; and the name of Nebo in the name of Nebuchadnezzar. They were esteemed to be such great deities that their kings were named after them, and professed to be their servants. Bel and Nebo stood in Babylon supreme. The Babylonian empire which served these deities was so strong as to be invincible: it carried its cruel sword into all nations, and piled up the dead bodies of men in heaps: it was therefore dreaded in every part of the world; and not without cause. What kingdom or empire could stand against it? If you had gone to Babylon, and seen its mighty walls, its lofty towers, its engines of war, its wonders of art, its multitudes of heroes, you would have thought that the worship of Bel would endure for ever, and that the image of Nebo would stand there to be adored of mortals while the world existed. But these idols — always a mere deceit— proved themselves powerless in the day of trial. Cyrug came, the Euphrates was dried up, the empire of Babylon ended, and the gods were discredited for all ages. In the ruin of Babylon the gods became a prey. The golden images themselves were too precious to be left standing in Babylon, and too little venerated to be treated with respect. They were taken off to Persia as a spoil, and became a burden to the weary beasts. Huge images of less costly material were dragged down with ropes, dashed in pieces, or buried beneath heaps of ruins. Ah me! what a melancholy fate for things which were called gods, and received the reverence of great nations! Even in these latter days, we have had an illustration of “Bel boweth down, and Nebo stoopeth,” when Mr. Layard went to the ruins of Babylon and Nineveh, and dragged out those huge bulls, which stand to-day in the British Museum, objects of our curiosity, but certainly not of our worship. “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth.” The false gods that reigned supreme over so many myriads of men were made contemptible. The prophet cries, “They stoop, they bow down together, they could not deliver the burden, but themselves have gone into captivity.” Not only concerning Bel and Nebo, but concerning many a set of heathen deities, a note of exultant derision may be taken up. “The idols he shall utterly abolish.” As potters’ vessels are broken, so are the gods of the heathen ground into dust and treated as nothing.

     The like thing has happened unto false systems of teaching. They have risen, and they have dominated over the minds of men: but, like Bel and Nebo, they have tottered and fallen. They seemed to be established beyond all hope of confutation and overthrow, and yet they have passed away! If you are at all readers of the history of religious thought, you will know that systems of philosophy, and philosophical religions, have come up, and have been generally accepted as indisputable, and have done serious injury to true religion for a time; and yet they have vanished like the mirage of the desert. When at their best, they have withered: the grass has flowered, the flower has come to its full, and has fallen beneath the scythe. The gourds have come up in a night, and have perished in a night. Even those of us who are not aged, yet remember two or three different forms of philosophical divinity which preceded this new dreaming, which is just now so loudly cried up. Many modern thoughts have come up, and have gone down again. Bel has bowed down, and Nebo has stooped. The boastful “thinkers” carried up their elaborate systems into their places with great labour, and then they carried them away again, and buried them with equal labour. What philosophers prove one year, philosophers disprove another year. We, old-fashioned Christians, have remained unchanged in our fidelity to revealed truth, and we have seen Bel go up and Bel go down, and Nebo go up and Nebo go down. Yes, we have seen rubbish venerated as a precious thing, and anon the precious thing carted away as so much lumber. Like a child’s merry-go-round at a fair, heresy is a revolution of the old things over and over again; yet people think it new. The present idols of the mind are just as worthless as those of former times. The god of modern thought is a monkey. If those who believed in evolution said their prayers rightly, they would begin them with, “Our Father, which art up a tree.” Did they not all come from a monkey, according to their own statement? They came by “development,” from the basest of material, and they do not belie their original. If you are not well acquainted with this new gospel, I would not advise you to be acquainted with it; it is a sheer, clear waste of time to know anything about it at all. The moderns are able to believe anything except their Bibles. They credulously receive any statement, so long as it is not in the Scriptures; but if it is founded on Scripture, they are, of course, prepared to doubt and quibble and cavil straight away. The credulity of the new theologians is as amazing as their scepticism. But we shall see the monkey-god go down yet, and evolution will be ridiculed as it deserves- to be. The philosophy of the present, whose aim is to get rid of God, has nothing to support it in fact or in nature. It will fly as chaff before the wind, and in fifty years nobody will own that he ever thought of believing it. The new religion will be regarded as a craze, an emanation from Bedlam; and every man will be ashamed to think that he stopped to hear or read anything about it. So idiotic is it from beginning to end, that it will become a standing jest for ages to come, a proverb and a byword to mankind. Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth already; and, as the Lord Jehovah liveth, the whole of this thing, which has been so cunningly and carefully devised to dethrone him, and cast down his gospel, shall be had in derision. These new gods, newly come up, shall not deliver themselves, or their worshippers, any more than did the idols of Babylon.

     But now, beloved, it will be just the same with us if we trust in false confidences of any sort; such, for instance, as our experiences, or our attainments, or our services, or our orthodox belief, or aught else.

     If we set up any confidences apart from our God, we shall soon see the end of them. Imagine that any Christian here should be so foolish as to rely upon his own works. God forbid we should! But what an airy nothing our confidence would be! Before long that Bel would bow down, and that Nebo would stoop, for the hope would be too flimsy to bear the least weight. Or, if we should begin to rely upon our own enjoyments— if frames and feelings should become our confidence — all would come down, and our boast would become our burden, our glory our shame. “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth”: sooner or later this will be the end of all false trusts. Placing confidence in our inward feelings is like building upon a bog, or leaning upon a rush, or feeding upon wind. The idols of our feeling are like the mud-gods of India— they are utterly worthless, and they turn to mere clay almost as soon as they are formed. If in our daily life we look to an arm of flesh, or practise self-reliance instead of God-reliance, or if we trust to friends instead of leaning upon the one great Invisible, we shall yet learn with tears the terror of that sentence, “Cursed is he that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth”: anything that you make your confidence, instead of God, will fail to bear your burden, and will itself become a burden to you. Instead of its carrying you, you will have to carry it. Instead of its taking your load, it will increase your load, and become at last an intolerable curse. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Beloved in the Lord, think not that this is an unnecessary warning even for you, for you may as easily set up an idol in your heart as other men may set up a false system of philosophy, or an idol god. Guard against setting up a rival trust to rob the Lord of even a small part of your confidence. “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” None but Jesus is the ground of salvation: none but the Eternal God is the disposer of providence. Trust thou wholly in him who loves to be trusted. Let us lean upon our God with all our weight, and lean nowhere else; for if we put our confidence elsewhere, our idolatry will come home to us, and we shall hear the voice of disappointment, wailing bitterly, “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together.”   

     II. Let that stand as the black cloud on which God will paint his bright rainbow, while I notice in the second place, that OUR GOD ABIDES ALWAYS THE SAME.

     “Even to your old age I am he.” He is always the same in himself, and always the same to his people. If you are indeed a believer in the Lord, and resting in Christ Jesus, he says to you at this time with regard to all the future unknown, and, perhaps greatly dreaded, “Be not afraid, for I am the Lord your God; even to your old age I am he.”

     Dear friends, we rightly expect trials between here and heaven; and the ordinary wear and tear of life, even if life should not be clouded by an extreme trial, will gradually wear us out. We shall come, by-and-by, if life be spared, to that bottom of the hill where the eye grows dim, and the ear is heavy, and the arms are trembling, and the strong men bow themselves. Well, what then? What saith our God concerning the days of decline and decay? He says to us, “I AM HE. He will not grow weak. His eye will not be dim. His ear will not be heavy. His arm will not be shortened that he cannot help us, nor his hand palsied that he cannot deliver us. Change is written across the countenance of every mortal, but there are no furrows on the brow of the Eternal.

     If life should flow never so smoothly, yet there are the rapids of old age, and the broken waters of infirmity, and the cataract of disease; and these we are apt to dread; but why? Is not the Lord our trust? Is it not sure that the Lord changes not? Make this your strong confidence. As for you, ye youths, ye are strong, but boast not of your strength; the Lord Jehovah is our strength and our song. As for you in the midst of life— tremble not because of your difficulties; “is anything too hard for the Lord?” As for you that are sinking into the decline of life, and know that very soon your tabernacle will be taken down, be not afraid, for the Lord has not altered. Hath he not said, “I am the Lord, I change not”? Let this be your delight.

     In the course of years, not only do we change, but our circumstances change. Many look forward to trying circumstances in the declining days of life. “When I cannot earn my livelihood; when I cannot go out to the farm, or stand at the counter, or work on the bench, what will become of me then?” Hearken, my brother, if you are where you ought to be, your confidence is in God now, and you will have the same God then, and he will still be your guardian and provider. He will be under no decay from age, nor decline from weakness. His bank will not break, nor his treasury fail. His granary will not be exhausted, and his bounty will not be worn out. Trust in him for that which is written between the folded leaves of destiny, as well as for the page which lies open before you. If the infirmities of the body scare you, trust him; and if the changing circumstances of your life alarm you, trust him; for he must be the same though heaven and earth should be dissolved. He says, “Even to your old age I am he.”

     “Ah!” say you, “but what I most mourn is the death of friends” Yes; that calamity is a daily sorrow to men who are getting into years. A new-made grave is with us every day. How many of those whom I dearly loved are now with God? When we near sixty, or pass onward towards seventy, we lament the multitude of dear friends that have fallen like the innumerable leaves of autumn. Some of .us have now more friends in heaven than we have on earth. The best are going, still going: the messengers with heavy tidings follow close upon each other’s heels. One of these days we think that some friend will cry, “I only am left.” Ah, yes! But the Lord says, “I AM HE,” as much as to say, “I am left to you, and will not fail you.” Jehovah dies not, but still abides the same. If you have only viewed your friends as loans from him, but himself as your ultimate confidence, then you have acted wisely. When your friends are gone, you have not lost the source of all your strength, and help, and comfort; wherefore, be not afraid, for the Lord saith, “Even to your old age I am he.”

     Some trouble themselves more than there is need concerning prophetic crises which are threatened. One would think from their perpetual alarms that the prophets wrote to afflict us rather than to comfort us. “Oh, what shall I do,” says one, “if there should be wars and rumours of wars, and earthquakes in divers places, and so forth?” What would you wish to do but trust in the Lord even as you do now? I know some good people who are much distressed with political prospects, with the evident tokens of social disorder, with the increasing tendency to break up everything, and with the stealthy progress of the superstition of Home. Well, you may sit and look out of your windows till you see nothing but clouds and darkness, for fancy and fear together can fashion out of clouds monsters, and portents, and alarms. We know so little of the future that to worry about it will be the height of unwisdom. Our view of the near future may be incorrect; why fret over that which will never happen? Certainly, we only see part of the Lord’s ways; and if we could see the whole we should most probably rejoice where now we grieve. Why, then, are we cast down? The Lord himself says to us, “Even to your old age I am he.” In our days of palsy Jehovah trembles not. The Lord took care of the world before we were here to help him, and he will do it just as well when we are gone. We can leave politics, religion, trade, morals, and everything else with him. What we have to do is to obey him, and trust him, and rejoice in him, and go on our way rejoicing. He knows the end from the beginning, and will not allow the flood of human iniquity to swell beyond the control of his supreme will. His purpose shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure. Not even to the extent of the small dust of the balance shall the event vary from the decree, or the decree vary from the rule of unmingled love.

     “Still,” says one, “there are such evil tokens in the Church itself as must cause serious apprehension to godly men.” Yes, I know it. I have had to know it to my personal sorrow. The Church grows old: grey hairs are upon her here and there, and she knoweth it not. But never despair of the Church of God, for of her it is true, “Even to hoar hairs will I carry you; to your old age I am he.” The Head of the Church never alters. His choice of his Church is not reversed. His purpose for his Church is not shaken. The Holy Ghost, as indwelling in the Church, has not returned to his rest: once given, he still abides in his Church, and works mightily. Beloved, fear not. We shall see better days and brighter times yet, if we have but faith in God and importunity in prayer. Let us not be afraid, though clouds should come, for it is written, “Behold he cometh with clouds.” God is the same; there is the corner-stone of our comfort.

     If you are depending upon anything or any person beside your God, woe unto you! “Oh,” say you, “I used to hear a dear old minister in my early days; but I find none like him now. He has gone home; and I feel as if I could cry, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof! I could make some of you weep if I were to go through the list of those holy men who fed you with food convenient for you in your younger days. Their very names are like music to our ear, and honey in our mouth. Remember Joseph Irons, and Harrington Evans, and Watts Wilkinson, and Rowland Hill, and men of that order. Where are the teachers and fathers now? But then the point is, the God of these saints is not dead. The Great Shepherd of Israel still lives, and he leads us still, and feeds us still, and guards us still; and he will guard his flock, and guide his flock, till he makes us to lie down in the green pastures on the hill-tops of glory. Oh, let us bless and praise his name to-night, that he gives us this rich comfort, “I am he.” Jehovah, eternally the same, is the rock of our salvation.

     III. And now, thirdly, I want to call your attention, in the words before us, to the fact that, while false confidences pass away, GOD WILL FOR EVER BE THE SAME. His former mercies guarantee to us future mercies. Read the passage before us: he says, “I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”

     First, you see, he says, “I have made.” The Lord, who is your helper, is he that created you: you certainly could not have created yourself. It is well to remember the mercy of God to us in our formation, and in the first days of our birth and infancy. David was not ashamed to say to his God, “Thou art he that took me out of the womb.” The Lord gave us birth, or we had never seen the light. When we were born, we could not help ourselves in the least degree. Poor helpless, shiftless creatures, all we could do was to cry! We shall never again be so weak as we were at our birth. Great decrepitude may fall upon us, but we shall never be so little, so feeble, so puling, so dependent, as we were when we could not speak, and make known our wants, except by a cry. We were entirely dependent upon others for everything, we were quite helpless, and yet we survived. We did not starve then; yet for years we never earned a crust. We did not want for clothing then; and yet we could not have fingered a needle if we had been offered a thousand pounds. We were taken care of then, and surely God will take care of us for all the rest of our lives. We have been nursed through our first childhood, and we shall be nurtured through our second childhood, should it come upon us. We know very little indeed about those first three or four years, yet the Lord fed us, and led us, and here we are in proof of it. Wherefore, when he says, “I have made,” he takes us back to those early days, and makes us feel that he that made us to grow, and gave us one by one the powers of manhood, will not leave us to moulder away in old age, nor to break up like a wreck upon the rocks of disease.

     But think, beloved! God made us in another sense. He new-made us. Blessed is the man that has been twice born, and thus twice made! The Lord God has made us new creatures in Christ Jesus. He has made us to be his children: we have been “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” If he has done all this, he does not intend to leave us till he has finished the work of grace with power. A statue thinks nothing of the man that made it; but the man who has fashioned a thing of beauty of that sort takes a great interest in his handiwork. You that are made do not take such interest in your Maker as your Maker takes in you. “I have made,” saith he, “I have made.” What he has done to you, in making you anew, should breathe into your heart the conviction that he will do yet more for you. That is, if there is a true heart in the world, God made it, and thinks of it: if there is a true church in the world, God made it, and keeps it. Every church that is a church in the Scriptural sense, God has gathered to himself; and of it he says, “I have made.” He called the people out, and knit them together, and built them up as a house for himself to dwell in. If he has made either heart or church, he will keep it: he will not forsake the work of his own hands. He has used both thought and skill, and has exercised both power and care for it, and he will not desert that which has cost him dear. God’s past mercy in the making of us encourages us to believe that he will put forth all his might to bear us on even to the end.

     And then, he also tells us, in the next place, that he has carried us; and if we have been carried by him, he will carry us the rest of the way. There is a quaint saying of Bishop Hall, that God has a very large family, and not one of his children can run alone. In a certain sense, that is true. You know what an armful you have when you have two or three children that cannot run alone. What a great care has our gracious God, since none of his children can run alone without his power, his love, his grace! The Lord has to carry every one of us every moment of our lives. The beginning of a Christian’s life is very like the latter part of it! As to the natural man, we begin with being carried, and if we live long enough, we have to end with being carried. So, with the spiritual man, we begin with a simple trust; and as we grow in grace, we feel more and more our own weakness, and come a second time to a trust as simple as at first. But whether we have one childhood or fifty childhoods, here is a Father who is ready to carry us, from the first even to the last. "I have made, and I will bear; even to hoar hairs will I carry you.” Of this I am convinced, God will not begin to make and carry us, and then leave the work unfinished. It shall never be said of him that he began to build, and was not able to finish. God will not redeem us with the blood of his Son, and then lose us; he will not suffer Calvary to become a mistake, and the Cross to be frustrated in its divine purpose. God will not prepare us for heaven, and prepare heaven for us, and not bring us there. He will not store up the blessings of the covenant, and then refuse to bestow them, or cast off those for whom they were provided. He who hath begun a good work in us will carry it on, and perfect it unto the day of Christ. The past guarantees the future, since we have to do with a God who can never change.

     But I must not linger on any point, as our time flies; I must notice next that, practically, God' s mercies through life are always the same. If you will look at the text carefully, you will not fail to see that it is so. God may be said to begin in regeneration the work which we experience from his hands— therein he makes us. But all through life he is still making us. We are perpetually revolving on the wheel; and he is continually fashioning us. He has not yet perfected in us the image of Christ. He has only to keep on doing what he has been doing, and we shall be perfected. His first work in us was resurrection work; and is he not daily quickening us, constantly raising us from the dead? It was new creation, and he is daily creating us anew in Christ Jesus unto good works. No new form of mercy is ever wanted; all we need is the old mercy repeated, and adapted to our case. My dear friend, you will never want anything of God but what you have already had. The grace that saves the young man will save the old man. The patience that bore with your follies in youth will bear with your weakness in age. Depend upon it, you will require nothing but what you have already received the like. In this matter, the thing that has been, is the thing that shall be, and there is nothing new under the sun.

     As for this “carrying” of which the text speaks, assuredly that is no new thing. As I have already said, the Lord carried us in our infancy. Our first spiritual blessing came of our being carried: we were sheep going astray, and the Shepherd came after us; and, when he found us, he carried us upon his shoulders rejoicing, and brought us home. Alter that we were lambs in the fold, and he gathered the lambs in his bosom, and carried us. Many a rough place have I encountered in my life’s pilgrimage, and I have wondered how I should ever get over it; but I have been carried over the rocky way so happily that the passage has made one of the most charming memories of my heart. I begin to like rough places, even as Rutherford fell in love with the cross he had to carry. When the road is smooth, I have to walk; but when it is very rough, I am carried. Therefore, I feel somewhat like the little boy I saw the other night. His father had been carrying him up-hill; but when he reached a piece of level road, the boy was a great lump to carry, and his father set him down, and let him walk. Then the little gentleman began to pull at his father’s coat, and I heard him say, “Carry me, father! Carry me, father. Carry me again!” Just so. Any sensible child of God will still say, “Carry me, father! Carry me still, I pray thee!” The father’s answer is, “I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry you.” Therefore call upon him, and ask that when the road is rough, or miry, he will carry you; and he will carry you.

     The promise closes with the words, “And I will deliver you.” That is no new mercy. Have you not been delivered many times already? “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine”— so David trusted, and so do we. Oh, the deliverances of God’s people! Time out of mind he hath appeared for us. “O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength!” We have overcome through the power of the Lord, and have escaped even from between the jaws of death. Still he will save us in life, and when we come to die he will deliver us gloriously. It will only be the same mercy again— a repetition of the covenant guardianship in another form. See how Paul puts it, “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” See! it is a note from the same trumpet, a voice from the same mouth. Wherefore, beloved, as you will only want the same mercy repeated, be confident, be joyful. Do not dread to-morrow. Do not fear next year. Do not pine because of the coming of old age. Do not dread that painful operation which seems needful. Do not dread even death itself. He that made you will make you to endure; he that has carried you, will carry you; he that has delivered you will deliver you to the end. If it were possible, when we get to heaven, one of the things that we should do would be to sit down and laugh at our fears. Surely we should laugh and cry too. Shall we not say, “How could I ever doubt my God? How could I ever have mistrusted my faithful Lord? Here I am, after all, sitting among the thrones of the glorified! Why did I doubt my God?” That poor old woman in the almshouse, that poor man who was bedridden, how different they will be, and how they will wonder that ever they were so timorous! Hear the sick one say, “I feared I should perish in my trouble; but here I am, as bright and glorious, as alert and nimble, as any of them.” Hear the poor man from his cottage shouting, “Hallelujah! I will sing aloud unto the Lord all the more because of the weakness and the poverty through which I have triumphantly passed.” Blessed be God, we only want a continuance of the same mercy as we have already experienced, and that the Lord promises to us.

     And now, to close, notice in the text two things which are always here — the same God and the same mercy. There is nobody else here but the Lord alone with his people. Will you note that? There is nobody else here but you and your God; and you are nobody, but a poor thing that has to be carried. “Even to your old age I am he. Even to hoar hairs will I carry you. I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” We have great admiration of angels, but we are very pleased to see that they are not mentioned in this promise. We have many kind-hearted friends, but we are glad to see that they are not brought in here. God’s great I, and that alone, fills up the whole space. And oh, what a blessing it is when we trust in the Lord alone! Look ye, beloved, when ye were made, it was God that made you; when you were new-made it was God that new-made you. It was his grace, his power, his love, his wisdom, his life. Nobody else was there. Up to this time, he alone has carried you, and no other hand has sustained you. He has always been sufficient for the task, to bear you, and your own weight, and your divinely appointed burden. The Lord has borne you up, and he has borne you through, and he has borne you on. He has borne you to this day. He alone has done it. Do you not think that he can do it in the future? His own right hand and his holy arm have hitherto gotten him the victory; can you not trust him for to-morrow? He alone has delivered you, and he alone can repeat the deliverance. You have been, perhaps, as I have often been, in a cleft-stick, where nobody could tell you how to get out, but yet the Lord found a way of escape for you. You were shut up, and you could not come forth, and then God cleared the way in a moment. What a great Maker of ways is the Lord God! His way has been in the sea, and his path through the deep waters; and there have you rejoiced in him. He alone dried up the sea and made a path for his chosen; but ten thousand hands could not have done it better. God alone is greater than a whole universe of creatures.

     Come, brethren, let us hear the voice of our experience. O ye who have known the Lord and his grace, trust your God, the lonely champion of the righteous, the sole Saviour of the sinner, the all sufficient deliverer of those that cast themselves upon him.

     You young people, oh, how earnestly I wish that you would begin with my Lord Jesus Christ— begin with the great and blessed Father, and trust him, for he will take care of you to hoar hairs! What may happen between your youth and your age I cannot tell. You may never see old age. I cannot look into the palm of your hand and read your destiny; but come and trust my Lord, and all will be right, for your destiny will be in his hand for time and for eternity. You in middle life, with your children about you, and hard times to struggle with; your God whom you trusted in your youth will not leave you now. All between your birth and your death the God of our Lord Jesus guarantees; and he promises to remember your seed after you. Trust him. Play the man. Do not mistrust your heavenly Father. Doubt yourself as much as you like, but do not distrust the Lord who cannot lie. Did you come here with a heavy heart to-night? Leave the heaviness behind. Many a time a friend has come in on a Thursday evening, I mean a friend who does not generally worship here on the Sabbath; he has come in from the Exchange, or from the shop, having been a heavy loser in the day, and he has found such rest of mind at this service that he has been no more sad, but has gone home nerved for the conflict. How often friends have sent in help for different works because of the encouragement they have had while listening to the preaching of the Word here! By faith they have been delivered, and they have offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the Lord God. O my brothers, do trust my God! Do not let the world say, God’s own people cannot trust him!” Surely they will think that he is not to be depended on if you begin to doubt him. Trust him as he deserves to be trusted, and rest in him with all your souls.

“Trust him, ye saints, in all your ways,
Pour out your hearts before his face;
When helpers fail, and foes invade,
God is our all-sufficient aid.”

     And you, my aged brethren and sisters, to whom I speak with much reverence, show to us who are younger where your joy and your peace are, that we also may rest in God. He has brought you through seventy years of trial! Do you think that he will now forsake you? You are eighty, you say, or even getting on to ninety. Well, you have at least eighty reasons why you should not distrust your God and Saviour. If you will read your own diaries you will see that there are eighty million reasons why you should trust him, and yet you cannot find one solitary reason why you should not do so. Wherefore, “rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him,” and may he bless you evermore, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.



Further Afield

By / Sep 23

Further Afield

 

“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” — Acts xiii. 46— 48.

 

DEAR friends, last Sabbath morning I tried to stir you up to sacred activity. I heard from many that they felt thoroughly aroused, and I know of some who at once commenced to speak for Christ. I wish I could hope that our whole company kept step together in this. If what is said on the Sabbath were really carried out, what splendid advances we should make! But if not, it is as though a commanding officer spoke to his troop, and the men did not march according to orders. However, I am thankful for what was done, and for the many of you who did keep step together in an earnest march to conquer the powers of sin by making known the gospel of Jesus Christ. “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word,” and I hope that you, as you scattered to your various abodes, did go everywhere teaching the word of God according to your capacity. If so, you have already come far enough to have met with individuals upon whom your warnings and invitations have been spent in vain. I thought it would be well for us this morning to go with Paul to Antioch, in Pisidia, and just see how he was treated there, and what he did when he met with an ill reception from the Jews, that we might not be discouraged if our message has been refused, but that we might be instructed by the example of Paul and Barnabas as to what we should do; and be comforted by the success which their perseverance achieved.

     The Jews of Antioch, after having heard Paul with considerable attention, made up their minds to refuse Jesus, the Son of David, and not to accept him as their Messiah and Saviour.

     I. Our first point for consideration will be that THE REJECTION OF CHRIST IS A VERY SOLEMN BUSINESS. It has been a very solemn business for the Jewish nation. The history of the Jews, since their rejection of our Lord, may be written in blood and tears. No Gentile should read it without ten thousand blushes, for they have been evil entreated by all the nations, though through them the greatest blessing that ever came to men has come to us. Never should we forget that our Redeemer is of the seed of Israel. Yet, when the chosen people rejected Jesus deliberately, from that day a history of woe and sorrow began, which has gone on even to this day. To the deep disgrace of Christendom, so called, there still remain countries in which they regard a Jew’s life as of less value than that of a dog, and only force holds them back from massacre. They are still a people scattered and peeled in many parts of the earth, although in others they take the lead in wealth. Oh, that they had received the Messiah! I shall not attempt to picture what would have been their history if they had accepted the Son of David as their Lord. It is not so.

“Oh, would our God to Zion turn!
 God with salvation clad,
 Then Judah’s harp should music learn,
And Israel be glad.”

I am bound to talk about a people nearer home, about some here present, who have refused the Saviour. Perhaps they will say, at the very outset, “We have not done so, we will receive him one day.” Yes, but you refuse him now. If you do not now believe in him, you have up till now rejected him.

     This you have done as they did at Antioch, against the evidence of honest men. They doubted whether Christ had really risen from the dead, although his resurrection was attested by hundreds of true witnesses. His rising from the dead was a great miracle; but if he did not rise from the dead we have a far greater wonder to account for. Why did these hundreds of persons declare themselves to be eyewitnesses of his rising? Those who declared that they had seen him alive after his crucifixion, how came they to agree in such a statement, and to persist in it so unanimously? They were simple folk, who had associated with Jesus for years; and they identified him, after his rising, as the same person who died. They were not ingenious enough to have invented such a story. They could have no object in spreading the statement if they had not believed it, for they suffered for it. They were not gainers in any form, except as to spiritual things. They were thrust into prison, and scourged, and banished, and most of them were slain for bearing this witness. Some of them died by deaths too cruel to be described; but they none of them ever recanted, or admitted that they might be mistaken. Hundreds of witnesses asserted that this Jesus, whom they saw dead upon the cross, did really rise again; and their belief of this fact filled them with a burning enthusiasm, which, while it produced in them a holy character, also caused them to speak with a marvellous boldness and full assurance which amazed their adversaries. They spoke earnestly, like men who felt that it was their life’s work to bear witness to a divine fact. But the unbelievers set aside the testimony of these honest men. My unconverted hearer, if you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the work which was crowned by his rising from the dead, you set aside the witness of apostles, saints, and martyrs. The number of martyrs has been very great from that day till now, but you set aside the testimony borne by their lives and death. You also impute foolishness or deceit to your dearest friends, some of whom are with God, and who died in the faith, exhorting you to believe in Jesus Christ. Indeed, you make all of us who preach the gospel to be liars; and we are not so; neither do you think so badly of us when we speak in every-day life. We tell you glorious things, which we have tasted and handled, of the good word of God. We speak out of our experience of the power of Christ’s blood, when we pray you to accept his atoning sacrifice, and yield yourselves to him. We have no motive in persuading you to faith but that of love to your souls. We shall not be gainers by your conversion, nor losers by your ruin; but we love you, and therefore pray you to believe those necessary truths, without which you can never enter the kingdom of heaven.

     These people next did violence to Christ himself and his precious Hood. It does seem amazing to those of us who love Jesus and worship him that any should reject him. He comes so tenderly, so meekly, the Lamb of God! All that he does is so generous, so self-denying, that we marvel that you refuse him. “He taketh away the sin of the world”; why does the world despise him? What has he done that you should refuse to become his disciples and accept his salvation? Do you not know that you do despite to his blood? To me there is a great sanctity about the blood of man. I saw last Wednesday the Prayer-book which Bishop Juxon held in his hand as he stood by the side of Charles I. on the scaffold at Whitehall. Two spots of blood are on the page wherein he was reading the prayers, as the axe fell upon the monarch’s neck. I have no reverence for Charles I., but I have reverence for drops of blood. I looked at them, and they were no theme of jest for me: the blood of a man is sacred. But what shall I say of the blood of the Son of God! God himself, incarnate, in some mysterious manner taking into union with himself our humanity, and then shedding his blood to redeem us! What is to be said of this? Look with reverence upon that precious blood. Can you think that this blood was shed to wash away sin, and yet trifle with it, and go your way to your farm and to your merchandise, forgetful altogether of this amazing sacrifice? God grant that you may not be guilty of the blood of Christ! It is an enormous guilt, and it lies on every unbeliever who has heard of Jesus, and has rejected his great salvation.

     These people had to do despite to all the marvels which lie wrapped up in the gospel. To us, my dear hearers, who believe in Jesus, the gospel is the most wonderful thing that can ever be. The more we know of it, the more astounded we are at it. It is a compound of divine and infinite things. When we study it, we go from wonder to wonder. Here we behold the heart of God, and hear the voice of his infinite tenderness, his infallible wisdom, his stem justice, and his supreme beneficence. How can all this be rejected by you? Surely, you do not know what is in the gospel, or you would hearken to its every tone. I sat yesterday with two tubes in my ears to listen to sounds that came from revolving cylinders of wax. I heard music, though. I knew that no instrument was near. It was music which had been caught up months before, and now was ringing out as clearly and distinctly in my ears as it could have done had I been present at its first sound. I heard Mr. Edison speak: he repeated a childish ditty; and when he had finished he called upon his friends to repeat it with him; and I heard many American voices joining in that repetition. That wax cylinder was present when these sounds were made, and now it talked it all out in my ear. Then I heard Mr. Edison at work in his laboratory: he was driving nails, and working on metal, and doing all sorts of things, and calling for this and that with that American tone which made one know his nationality. I sat and listened, and I felt lost in the mystery. But what of all this? What can these instruments convey to us? But oh, to sit and listen to the gospel when your ears are really opened! Then you hear God himself at work; you hear Jesus speak: you hear his voice in suffering and in glory, and you rise up and say, “I never thought to have heard such strange things! Where have I been to be so long deaf to this? How could I neglect a gospel in which are locked up such wondrous treasures of "wisdom and knowledge, such measureless depths of love and grace?” In the gospel of the Lord Jesus, God speaks into the ear of his child more music than all the harps of heaven can yield. I pray you, do not despise it. Be not such dull, driven cattle that, when God has set before you what angels desire to look into, you close your eyes to such glories, and pay attention to the miserable trifles of time and sense.

     This rejection of the gospel of Christ is the more grievous because it is a decided act of the will. When a man refuses to be saved it is his own act and deed. Nothing in Scripture will support us in throwing the blame elsewhere. The devil himself cannot refuse Christ for a man; he must do that for himself. Only yourself can bolt the door against yourself. There is a will in man, and it is a sadly perverse will, so that the Saviour said of it, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” The not coming of which the Lord complains is a direct act of the man’s own will. You choose to sin; you choose to remain uncleansed from guilt; you choose to abide under the wrath of God. You have deliberately chosen to be without Christ for years; and therein you are choosing your own destruction. This is a fearful thing. It made me feel, when I was preparing my discourse, as if I must spend all the time over this first head; for I cannot willingly leave a single soul to be of the number of whom it is written, “Ye put it from you.” How can we bear to see you thus commit soul-suicide?

     Notice! We have here the rejection of Christ regarded as a man's own verdict upon himself. No man can claim a fairer jury than to let his own faculties sit in judgment upon himself.. listen!. “Ye judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life.” This, then, is your own verdict, you who refuse the gospel. You have not yielded to Christ, and you are not saved; and thus you have “judged yourselves unworthy of everlasting life.” In the legal sense there is no worthiness in any man. Our conscious unworthiness is our only worthiness for mercy, and that consciousness is wrought in us by grace. But in looking the whole thing up and down, you have felt hitherto that you were not the men to believe in Christ, you were not the women to be saved. You felt rather that you were the kind of people who should spend your zeal in attending the theatre or the dance. You felt that you best answered the end of your being when you did your daily labour, or opened your shop and saved a little money; but that you were not called upon to think of more high and heavenly things. You judged yourselves worthy to live a temporary life, and then, like beasts, to die and be no more; but an eternal destiny of glory and immortality you have not judged yourselves worthy to obtain. Remember, this is your own verdict upon yourself. If your verdict had run, “I am an immortal being, I shall outlive the sun and moon, and I would therefore be prepared for my supreme destiny, and I can only be so prepared by linking myself with the eternal Son of God, who, as the chief of men, shows us our manhood united to the Godhead, and gives those who are in him to rejoice in God their Father,” this would have led you to lofty aspirations. This conclusion you have not arrived at, but you have brought in the verdict, “unworthy of eternal life”; which, being interpreted, means— worthy to die. I fear that your verdict will have to stand. How terrible will it be when the Lord will set his seal to your own judgment, and say: “You are unworthy of eternal life: this is your own judgment upon yourself. You were not willing to be quickened into spiritual life; you shall remain in eternal death”! It will be hell to a man to have his own voluntary choice confirmed, and made unchangeable. Oh, that this judgment may not fall upon you! O sirs, I dread above all things that throughout eternity you will be left to your own free wills, to continue in that condition of alienation from God which you have chosen, reaping what you have sowed! If you deliberately prefer sin to Christ, and let go pardon, everlasting life, and heaven, who is to blame? Will you not curse yourselves to all eternity? and will not this be hell?

     Once more: this sad, this wretched putting from them of everlasting life, greatly grieves the Spirit of God. Paul and Barnabas were moved by it to speak in deep solemnity. In those godly men the Spirit of God largely dwelt, and in them he revealed his thoughts. They had come to Antioch in pure love to souls; and they had hoped better things of their countrymen than to see them reject the Saviour. As an audience, they had been most attentive while Paul recited the history of Israel, and he and Barnabas hoped that many would have believed on the Son of David; and when they found that the frequenters of the synagogue had become envious and jealous because the Gentiles were so eager to hear the Word, then Paul and Barnabas were grievously wounded. The Spirit of God is much more tender than the soul of Paul or Barnabas, and he is sorely grieved when he sees Jesus rejected. It is his office to win for Jesus the love of men, and he is vexed when men turn their backs on the loving Lord. What must the Holy Spirit have to bear from the multitudes of men and women who are putting the gospel away from them! In no one case is it a trifle to him, but in every instance he is grieved, even as of old it was written: “They rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit.” O gracious Spirit of God, still bear with wayward men! We beseech thee, still have pity upon the ungodly, for madness is in their hearts. Still enlighten their darkness, and melt the hardness of their hearts, for Jesus’ sake.

     There stands the case; they put everlasting life from them, and judged themselves unworthy of it. What an unhappy state of things! It is too painful for me. I cannot speak longer upon it: I must hasten to my second point.

     II. THIS REJECTION OF CHRIST BY SOME LED TO A MORE EXTENDED EFFORT. When Paul and Barnabas found that their message was rejected, what did they do? They met the Jews with this bold sentence, “Seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”

     In consequence of the ill-manners of the Jews they did not turn away from their work. It never entered their minds to give up their ministry because it did not succeed among these Jews. They did not say, “Lo, we turn away from preaching Jesus: we will speak no more in the name of the Lord.” Neither, my brethren, may we speak thus. I know the heart grows sick when tender testimony is rejected. The constant reiteration of the same gospel, to ears that will not hear, becomes wearisome work. It needs great faith to go on from day to day ploughing a rock. Oh, shall we always have to cry to you in vain! Will you always be so perverse? Yet we dare not cease to plead with you. We cannot give you up. We overcome the suggestion of our weariness, “I will speak no more in the name of the Lord.” For love of you the gospel is as fire in our bones, and we cannot cease to warn every man, and plead with every man for Jesus.

     Instead of turning from the work, these holy men addressed themselves to those who had been somewhat neglected: “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Beloved, if you have been mainly labouring with the children of godly parents, and these refuse, turn you to the slum children. If you have tried to bless respectable people, and they remain unsaved, try those who are not respectable. If those to whom it was natural and necessary that the word should first be spoken, have put it from them, turn to those who have hitherto been left out in the cold. Take the Lord’s hint in this apostolic history, and distinctly turn to those people who are not yet gospel hardened. Turn to those who have not been brought up under religious influences, but have been looked upon as without the pale. That, I believe, is the Lord’s mind towards the church of to-day. Let her break up fresh soil, and she will have richer harvests. Let her open new mines, and she shall find rare riches. We too often preach within a little circle where the message of life has already been rejected scores of times. Let us not spend all our time in knocking at doors from which we have been repulsed, let us try elsewhere. During this new week, and throughout the rest of our lives, let us seek after the neglected, the utterly irreligious, the worldly and profane. Start not: I mean just what I say. Let the infidel and the superstitious be the object of our prayers; let the frivolous and worldly be spoken with. This seems to me to be the parallel of Paul’s conduct when he turned to the Gentiles, who were given up to idols and served divers lusts, and were viewed as quite beyond the line of grace.

     They enlarged the scope of their ministry under divine command. They said, “We turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us.” Their change of aim was not a freak of fancy. If you now turn your chief thoughts to the most neglected part of the community, you will have this as your warrant, “So hath the Lord commanded us.” It was right to begin with chapel-goers, and church-goers, and those instructed in the faith: it was necessary to begin with the children of the godly; but if they put it from them, and count themselves unworthy of eternal life, it is now imperative upon us that we look after others. O my brethren, let us try to do so! Let us turn our energies towards getting in the people who are not familiar with the courts of the Lord’s house, nor with the gospel of his Son, for so hath the Lord commanded us.

     There is this happy, and yet unhappy, circumstance to urge us on — the outsiders are by far the larger number. What were the Jews in number as compared with the Gentiles? If you work for Christ among those who are in our religious circles, and fail to win them, the field is the world, and the larger part of that field has never been touched as yet. We have laboured for London; but if London counts itself unworthy of eternal life, let us think of Calcutta, Canton, and the Congo. If these near ones will not reward our endeavours, let us be of enterprising spirit, and do as traders do, who, when they find no market at home, strike out new lines. This is precisely what the text would teach us. Let us launch out into the deep, and let down our nets for a draught. If we cannot catch fish in the shallows, great shoals of fish are in the deeps, and if we will launch out we shall come back with our boats loaded with the living freight.

     The result of the rejection of Christ by some was the expansion of the sphere of the godly workers. It reminds us of the parable— they that were bidden were not worthy; therefore, go ye out into the highways and hedges, and as many as ye find bid to the supper.

     III. Thirdly, please notice that THIS ENLARGEMENT OF EFFORT WAS ENCOURAGED BY THE PROMISE OF GOD. “For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.”

     Let us notice this: God has set Jesus to be a light, and a light he must be. God’s appointment is no empty thing. No man thinks of setting up a light if nobody will ever see it; and if God has appointed Christ to be a light, depend upon it some are to see that light. But all men are blind by nature. Alas! it is even so; but if God has set his Son to be a light, I conclude that he is about to open the eyes of the blind, that they may see this light. If I saw a wise man going into a blind asylum, laying on gas or making preparation for the electric light, I should feel sure that he had a view to people who can see; and if none but blind people could come into the building, I should conclude that he anticipated a time when the poor blind folks would find their eyes again, and would be able to use the light. So, as the Lord has set Jesus to be a light, you may be sure that he means to open blind eyes. Jesus will enlighten the people, souls will be saved. God has set his King upon the holy hill of Zion, and he has not set him there for a King without intending to give him a kingdom. God will not allow his Son to be a Saviour who never saves, a Redeemer who does not redeem.

     Our Lord is set to enlighten every class. The Jew no longer has a monopoly of the light of heaven. God has not appointed his Son to save a few dozen people who go to a particular meeting-house. He has set him to be a light to the nations, and he means he shall be so. This encourages us to labour among all classes. Jesus is a fit light for the upper ten thousand, and some of them shall rejoice in that light: he is equally set to be a light to the teeming millions, and they shall rejoice in him, too. What God has appointed must be carried out. Jesus is yet to be a light to outcast people—to the persons of whom we have never thought favourably, the classes whom even philanthropy has felt ready to abandon. This is God’s set purpose concerning his Son Jesus, and his omnipotence will carry it out.

     We are further told that our Lord Jesus is set to le salvation. Be you therefore sure that he will save. If Jesus is set for salvation, men shall be saved. Let us believe in Christ’s power to save. We have only a spattering of faith in him. Why do you not talk of Jesus to that fellow who swears in the street? You say that it would be of no use. What is this but distrust of the gospel? Why do you not test the power of the glad tidings upon persons of bad character? Is it not that you think the gospel would be of no use in such a case? You think that some quarters of the town cannot be reached by the truth: thus you have a local Christianity— a God of the hills and not of the valleys— a religion in which the power varies according to longitude and latitude. God forgive our unbelief, and at the same time kill it!

     The great Father has set Christ Jesus to be “salvation unto the ends of the earth.” So then, if any are further off than others, they are specially included. If any seem so far gone that they stand on the verge of creation, 'out of the reach of civilization and charity— these are the people whom Jesus is set to save. He can save to both ends of the earth, and all that lies in between. To the most debauched, depraved, drunken, and desperate, Jesus is set to be salvation. From that poverty which has been brought on by vice, and that degradation which is the consequence of sin, Jesus can uplift mankind. Where even the image of manhood seems obliterated, and the brute reigns supreme, the Lord Jesus can set the superscription of God. To the lost, Jesus is set to be a Saviour. The triumphs of the gospel at the first were largely among the lowest of the low. Slaves and outcasts embraced Christianity, and rose to holiness. It was by such that the Lord overthrew the idols of Greece and Home. The Lord can work such wonders again, and he will. Only let us believe it, and tell out unceasingly the gospel of Jesus in the unlikeliest places, and the promise will be fulfilled— “I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.”

     IV. Observe, in the fourth place, that THIS ENLARGEMENT OF EFFORT WAS ENCOURAGED BY SPEEDY SUCCESS: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.”

     First, the Gentiles were glad. Could you not see their eyes sparkle as they learned that Jesus was their salvation? They sat in the synagogue, where they were only tolerated, the Jews looking very jealously at them; but now they heard good news, for the living God had thought of them and sent to them salvation. No more would they care for the dark eyes of the Jews; they smiled as they saw the door of grace set open before them. Paul and Barnabas must have felt glad to address so glad a congregation. We little guess with what joy the message of mercy would be received by those who had never yet heard it. Go, and see what it will do. How I should like a congregation of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ before! I should expect to have a blazing time of it, like the man who set light to a straw-stack, and found that he had a world of fire before him in no time. To hear of salvation by the blood of Jesus for the first time must be a sensation indeed! As for many of my hearers, they have heard of Jesus so long that the topic is stale. I feel you will never accept the Saviour, but will die in your sins. Those who have never heard of Jesus at all, often hear the gospel with great interest, and believe unto eternal life.

     The Gentiles accepted the word. They did not sit down and cavil and raise questions, and so forth; but it is written, “they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord.” This is more than many ministers do. Look at our divines now! What are they doing? They are net glorifying the Word of God, but taking the glory from it. According to some of them the Word of God in his Book is full of blunders: how much less trustworthy must it be as it is preached! The shepherds are now destroying the pastures. Holy Scripture, according to them, is not infallible. The sure word of testimony is no longer sure, according to modem ideas. With these I have no fellowship. O my soul, come not thou into their secret! Let us loathe such dishonouring of the Word of God. Let us get far away from all pretence of communion with these enemies of our faith.

     Get among the poor, the lowly, the sinful. Tell them the glad news of pardon bought with blood. I warrant you, they will not turn critics, and cavil and find fault; but they will, many of them, believe unto eternal life. The man who has grown accustomed to luxuries is the man who turns his meat over, and picks off a bit here, and a bit there; for this is too fat, and that is too gristly. Bring in the poor wretches who are half-starved. Fetch in a company of labourers who have been waiting all day at the docks, and have found no work, and in consequence have received no wage. Set them down to a joint of meat. It vanishes before them. See what masters they are of the art of knife and fork! They find no fault: they never dream of such a thing. If the meat had been a little coarse, it would not have mattered to them; their need is too great for them to be dainty. Oh, for a host of hungry souls! How pleasant to feed them! How different from the task of persuading the satiated Pharisees to partake of the gospel! Go for them, beloved! Lay yourselves out to reach poor, needy souls. They will come to Jesus, though the self-righteous will not. A great success awaits those who will again “turn to the Gentiles.” Oh, for such a turning on the part of all who love the gospel of free grace!

     V. I finish with the fifth point. THIS ENLARGEMENT, AND ALL ITS BLESSED RESULTS, WERE ORDAINED IN THE PURPOSE OF GOD. The record runs thus — “They were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Attempts have been made to prove that these words do not preach predestination; but these attempts so clearly do violence to language that I will not waste time in answering them. A great discussion has been carried on between those who believe in the free-will of man, and others who believe in the free grace of God. There is no real reason for this dispute, except when the man who believes in free-will denies God’s freedom in grace, or when the man who magnifies free grace denies that man has any will. It is possible for both parties to be wrong; and, in a measure, for both to be right. Beloved, I used the first part of my text fairly, and I was not afraid to acknowledge the existence of free-will, and to deplore its doings. Now I read, “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed,” and I shall not twist the text; but I shall glorify the grace of God by ascribing to it every man’s faith. Those who believed in Jesus believed in him because they were ordained unto eternal life. I will not bate a jot of what I believe to be the truth on either side of a debate. From the word of God I gather that damnation is all of man, from top to bottom, and salvation is all of grace, from first to last. He that perishes chooses to perish; but he that is saved is saved because God has chosen to save him. Though some cannot make these statements agree, they are nevertheless equally true— “Thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help found.”

     We believe that the Lord knows them that are his, and knows them before they are openly manifested, so that he says of a certain place, “I have much people in this city.” Do you think that the Lord does not foreknow? How, then, can he prophesy? If God foresees a certain thing is to be, why, then, it must be; and has not this all the fixity of predestination? Moreover, “whom he did foreknow, he did predestinate.” Is it not God that gives the disposition to believe? If men are disposed to have eternal life, does not he in every case dispose them? Is it wrong for God to give grace? If it be right for him to give it, is it wrong for him to purpose to give it? Would you have him give it by accident? If it is right for him to purpose to give grace to-day, it was right for him to have purposed it before that date. He is a God that changes not, and what he performeth to-day is not the purpose of to-day, but the purpose of all eternity: “For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” God knows and God appoints those who shall believe and be saved.

     But please note this fact: God can effect his purpose with man without violating his will. He can leave man a man, with full use of his faculties, and yet turn his mind as he pleases. The will is never more free than in conversion, and yet it is never more under subjection to divine power. I do not know how the Lord governs the will: if I did know, I should be God. God does not new-create men as a baker makes loaves of bread, or a potter makes vessels, by manual skill and force. No, he treats men as men: he deals with free agents as free agents; and yet he has as much power over them as the baker over the dough, or the potter over the clay. His supreme will acts omnipotently, and yet works with a holy delicacy which never violates the attributes of the mind. He makes men as much free agents in repentance, faith, and holiness, as they were when they ran greedily into sin. He makes his people willing in the day of his power, and thus glorifies his wisdom, his power, and his love. God has a purpose to save those whom he gave to his Son Jesus, and all these must come to Jesus for that salvation. I want you to believe this when you are at work for your Lord. When I have come into this pulpit on a Thursday night, I have thought, “It is very wet, and I shall not have many people but I have said to my friends in the vestry, “We shall have a picked congregation; God will send those whom he means to bless.” I do not come here and preach at peradventure. What is to be done by preaching the gospel is determined from before all time, and it will be accomplished. If I were dependent upon the will of my hearers, and there were no supreme power over their wills, I should preach with a faint heart; but he that preaches the gospel with omnipotence at the back of him has a blessed and fruitful service.

     Is not this cheering for the preacher? We shall not labour in vain, nor spend our strength for nought. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the gospel shall not fail. Men may rage against the gospel, and think to defeat its purpose; but the counsel of the Lord shall stand. All that the Lord intended in creation, and in providence, and in grace, will be assuredly accomplished to the last jot and tittle. In the kingdom of grace there shall be nothing to mar the glory of the Lord’s triumph when the record has been fully written.

     This is a great comfort to the worker. Let him be always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as his labour is not in vain in the Lord. Bowed to the earth with horror at the guilt involved in the wilful rejection of the Lord Jesus by our hearers, we nevertheless triumph in the firm conviction that God, who sends us, will go with us, and that his purpose shall stand. We believe in the sovereignty of God, not only in his right to do as he wills with his own grace, but also in his power to do so.

     Our text is equally full of comfort to the obedient hearer; for if you believe, it follows that you are ordained unto eternal life. If you believe the gospel of truth; if you believe in the divine sense of trusting the Lord Jesus Christ; if you cast your guilty souls on Jesus, and look to him as lifted up, even as the brazen serpent was lifted in the wilderness, you are ordained unto eternal life. Trouble not yourself about election, but rather encourage yourself with it. This is sure evidence of your election, that you believe in Jesus; for “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” If thou believest, thou art ordained to possess on earth the holy life which temptation cannot destroy, and to enjoy for ever that heavenly life which eternity will not exhaust. Faith gives thee a life in Christ, which can no more die than the eternal Lord on whom it rests. Oh, that the sweet constraint of almighty love may lead trembling souls to trust Jesus at once, and live for ever!

     I wish, specially to speak to any here present who are not familiar with the gospel. I speak to rank outsiders, to people who know nothing of these things. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”— saved at once. “But I never go to a place of worship.” I mean exactly you, my friend. “But I have been a swearer.” I am thinking of the blasphemer. “But I have been an awful drunkard.” To you I speak this gospel. “Alas!!” cries one, “I shrink from your eye. I crept in here this morning, but I am a daughter of shame.” I say to you, even to you— “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” You are aimed at in the mission of Jesus. Trust him, and you are saved. “But I have been violent against the gospel.” You are the very man that I am specially looking for. I prayed for you before I came to this place; for I prayed that Saul of Tarsus might this day become Paul the apostle. I long to win, by this sermon, some outrageous enemy of God, that he may become a fervent friend of Jesus. You are as black as a crow, and almost as bad as the devil, and therefore I long to see you converted at once, to become henceforth a leader in the church of God. Oh, for a batch of great saints made out of great sinners! Oh, that your energy, now used to fight against God, may be subdued by sovereign grace, and employed in defending and spreading the gospel of Jesus! Shall it be so, my friend? Oh, that some woman that is a sinner would come and wash our Lord’s feet with tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head! Come, you with long hair, unbind your tresses, and honour them by this service. If they have been a net in which to entangle precious lives, make them a towel for your Saviour’s feet. Come, sinners, come to him who loves you! Bring them, O Lord! Hear us, O Jehovah, as we entreat thee to save them by the blood of thy well-beloved Son! Hear us now, we beseech thee, and save myriads! Amen, and Amen.



All at It

By / Sep 16

All at It

 

“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” — Acts viii. 4, 5.
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” — Acts viii. 35.

 

“THEY that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” God intended that his church should be scattered over the world. There was a tendency in our humanity at first to remain together; hence the first grey fathers endeavoured to build a central tower, around which the race should rally. But God confounded their language, and scattered them from Babel, that they might people all the world. Jerusalem was at first the central point of Christianity. The church there was highly favoured with its twelve apostles and a multitude of minor lights; and the tendency would have been to keep the centre strong. I have often heard the argument, “Do not have too many out-stations, keep up a strong central force.” But God’s plan was that the holy force should be distributed: the holy seed must be sown. To do this the Lord made use of the rough hand of persecution. The disciples could not stay in Jerusalem: Saul made them run for their lives, or, if they did not, he shut them up in prison; and prisons in those days were so foul and noisome as to be the vestibules of the grave. One went this way, and one went the other way; and the faithful were scattered.

     In every church where there is really the power of the Spirit of God, the Lord will cause it to be spread abroad, more or less. He never means that a church should be like a nut shut up in a shell; nor like ointment enclosed in a box. The precious perfume of the gospel must be poured forth to sweeten the air. Just now we have little of that form of persecution which drives men from home. But godly people are scattered through the necessity of earning a livelihood. Sometimes we regret that certain young men should have to go to a distance; but should we regret it? We lament that certain families must migrate to the colonies. Does not the Lord by this means sow the good seed widely? It is very pleasant to be comfortably settled under an edifying ministry, but the Lord has need of some of his servants in places where there is no light. In many ways the great Head of the church scatters his servants abroad; but they ought of themselves to scatter voluntarily. Every Christian should say, “Where can I do the most good?” and if he can do more good anywhere beneath the sun than in the land of his birth, he is bound to go there, if he can. God will have us scattered; and if we will not go afield willingly, he may use providential necessity as the forcible means of our dispersion.

     The Lord’s design is not the scattering in itself, but scattering for a purpose. He intended that, being scattered, the saints of Jerusalem should go everywhere preaching the word. Upon this I am going to speak at this time.

     I would call your attention to the translation in the Revised Version, where Philip is said to have “proclaimed” the word. The word “proclaim” is not quite so subject to the modern sense which has spoiled the word “preach.” “Preach” has come to be a sort of official term for delivering a set discourse; whereas gospel preaching is talking, discoursing, and telling out the gospel in any way. We are to make known the word of the Lord.

     I. In handling my subject, I shall call your attention, first, to THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE WORK OF EVANGELIZING— of course I mean its universality among believers. “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” They; that is, all the scattered. There does not appear to have been any exception. You thought it would have read, “Then the apostles went everywhere preaching the word.” They were just the people who did not go at all; for the twelve remained at headquarters as yet; but the rest went everywhere preaching the word. Generals may have to stand still in the centre of the battle to direct the forces; but in this battle all the common soldiers marched to the fight. This was to be a soldiers’ battle; and of that sort all the battles of the cross ought to be.

     Observe then, first, that in this there were no professional distinctions. It is not said that the ministers, being scattered abroad, went everywhere proclaiming the word; but the whole of the scattered. Scarcely anything has been more injurious to the kingdom of Christ than the distinction between clergy and laity. No such distinction was ever laid down by the Spirit of God. “Ye are God’s kleros”: all God’s saints are God’s inheritance; and we should regard ourselves as such. “Ye are a royal priesthood.” “He hath made us unto our God kings and priests.” As in heaven there is no temple because it is all temple, so in the church of God there is no priesthood because it is all priesthood.

     We have among ourselves a distinction between ministers and others. But you are all to minister. There are many ministries of one form and another; and though God gives to his church apostles, teachers, pastors, evangelists, and the like, yet not by way of setting up a professional caste of men, who are to do the work for God while others sit still. I have aforetime used the following parable:— In olden times a certain host had conquered wherever they went forward in one mass. But it came to pass that they thought themselves so exceeding strong that they said, “Let not every man go to war. Let us choose a few, and make this few into a select standing army.” They picked out their champions, and sent them to the war. These continued the conflict with difficulty; many of them fell in the fight. No provinces were added to the kingdom, and things were at a standstill. They had followed a fatal policy. The true method was for the whole of them to march to battle. This is the true and only policy of Christianity — all Christians soldiers of the cross, and all on active service. Every converted man is to teach what he knows; all those who have drunk of the living water are to become fountains out of which shall flow rivers of living water. We shall never get back to the grand old times of conquest until we get back to the old method of “all at it.” In proportion as we come, in any one church, to individual service; nobody dreaming of doing his work by deputy, but each one serving God for himself; in that proportion, under the blessing of God, we shall come back to the old success.

     Observe, next, that there were no professional exceptions. Philip is mentioned as going down to Samaria to preach; but Philip was originally set apart to attend to the distribution of the alms of the church. It is good for every man to attend to his own special office; but where that office ceases to be needful, let him get to that work which is common and constant. The time had come when there was no need for the deacon to sit in the vestry, for the poor people were all scattered. What does the deacon do? As the work to which he was appointed has come to an end, he keeps to the work for which every Christian is appointed, and he proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one of us, then, can be exempted from the work of spreading the gospel because we are engaged in some other work. Good as it is, though it may be very intimately connected with the kingdom of Christ, yet it does not exonerate us from the work of endeavouring to bring sinners to Christ in some way or other. Stephen, the deacon, began first to bear testimony; and when he died, Philip, the next on the roll, stepped into his place. One soldier falls, and another steps forward. All are to proclaim the word, and no one is exempted by another form of service. Oh, that the Lord’s people everywhere would note this!

     Observe that there were no educational or literary exceptions. It is thought nowadays that a man must not try to proclaim the gospel, unless he has had a good education. To try and preach Christ, and yet to commit grammatical blunders, is looked upon as a grave offence. People are mightily offended at the idea of the gospel being properly preached by an uneducated man. This I believe to be a very injurious mistake. There is nothing whatsoever in the whole compass of Scripture to excuse any mouth from speaking for Jesus when the heart is really acquainted with his salvation. We are not all called to “preach,” in the new sense of the term, but we are all called to make Jesus known if we know him. Has the gospel ever been spread to any extent by men of high literary power? Look through the whole line of history, and see if it is so. Have the men of splendid eloquence been remarkable for winning souls? I could quote names that stand first in the roll of oratory, which are low down in the roll of soul-winners. Those whom God has most honoured have been men who, whatever their gifts, have consecrated them to God; and have earnestly declared the great truths of God’s Word. Men who have been terribly in earnest, and have faithfully described man’s ruin by sin, and God’s remedy of grace— men who have warned sinners to escape from the wrath to come by believing in the Lord Jesus — these have been useful. If they had great gifts, they were no detriment to them; if they had few talents, this did not disqualify them. It has pleased God to use the base things of this world, and things that are despised, for the accomplishment of his great purposes of love. Paul declared that he proclaimed the gospel, “not with wisdom of words.” He feared what might happen if he used worldly rhetoric, and therefore he refused the wisdom of words. We have need to do so now with emphasis. Let us trust in the divine energy of the Holy Ghost, and speak the truth in reliance upon his might, whether we can speak fluently with Apollos, or are slow of speech, like Moses. I say, then, to you, my dear friend, who unhappily may be lacking in education, do not therefore stay your testimony to our Lord. Rescue the perishing. What if you -are not a great theologian! If you understand the plan of salvation you are sufficiently instructed to be a good witness for your Lord. Oh, that the Holy Spirit may make you such! A smith can shoe a horse, though he has never studied astronomy. He might be none the worse smith if he were familiar with the stars; but I fail to see that he would be much the better as a smith. Warn men to escape from the wrath to come, and believe in Jesus; and you can do this just as well though no science has puzzled you.

     As there were no exceptions on account of educational defects, so were there no exclusions on account of sex. Men and women were to spread abroad the knowledge of Jesus. We read that, “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad” (and these must have been men and woman) “went everywhere preaching the word.” There are many ways in which women can fittingly proclaim the word of the Lord, and in some of these they can proclaim it more efficiently than men. There are minds that will be attracted by the tender, plaintive, winning manner in which the sister in Christ expresses herself. A Christian mother! What a minister is she to her family! A Christian woman in single life — in the family circle, or even in domestic service— what may she not accomplish, if her heart be warm with love to her Saviour! We cannot say to the women, “Go home, there is nothing for you to do in the service of the Lord.” Far from it, we entreat Martha and Mary, Lydia and Dorcas, and all the elect sisterhood, young and old, rich and poor, to instruct others as God instructs them. Young men and maidens, old men and matrons, yes, and boys and girls who love the Lord, should speak well of Jesus, and make known his salvation from day to day.

     You see, dear friends, how the Lord gave to all his people the holy work of making Jesus known to men. How well they carried it out! Within a hundred years after the death of our Lord, his name had been made known to all the known world. But I do not know how many years it will take to make Christ known at the rate of our present movement. A few men are set apart for missionaries, and directed with complicated machinery, and good people feel easy about the heathen. I find no fault with what is done; but my fault is that we are not doing a hundred times as much in ways more spontaneous. If the church of God should once wake up, it will be as the sea when it returns to its strength after a long ebb. The Lord send it— send it now! But he will only bless the world in his own way; and one of his conditions is that the whole church should move. We must come back to the primitive custom: every Christian must be a herald of the cross.

     II. Secondly, having asked you to notice the universality of the work, will you please to notice THE NATURALNESS OF IT. That word “therefore,” at the commencement of the fourth verse, says a great deal to me. “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word”— as if it followed as a sort of natural consequence, that being scattered they went everywhere preaching the word. Does not this show us that they could not think of following any other course? They that were scattered might have said, “Clearly our duty is to hold our tongues; we have got into great trouble at Jerusalem because we preached Christ. We must now look to our own safety, and the comfort of our families; and in these foreign countries we had better live godly lives, and go to heaven on the sly, but we need not again expose ourselves to the dangers of persecution.” They did not thus argue. It is not said, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad slunk away, and held their tongues.” No, they never thought of that.

     We do not find that they even said, “This gospel of ours is evidently not in accord with the spirit of the age. The scribes and Pharisees all differ from us, and we must endeavour to win them by altering our tone.” They did not dream of cutting off the angles of truth, nor of inserting pleasant fragments of popular thought to please the powers that be; but they set forth “the word” in its pure simplicity, and the cross of Christ, which is an offence to so many. They never said, “The old gospel did very well when Jesus was here; but you see he has gone, and circumstances alter cases, and alter gospels, and we had better adapt our teaching to the period.” They did not so, because of the fear of the Lord. They did not endeavour to mend the gospel, but they went everywhere proclaiming it. They preached the word as they received it; they set forth the kingdom as their King had revealed it. Ah, dear friends! if you are true to the Lord Jesus Christ you have to spread the gospel somehow, and it must be the old, old gospel. You must not dare to think of denying the light to those around you. Would you leave men to perish for lack of knowledge? Dare you have their blood on your skirts?

     These persecuted ones “went everywhere preaching the word.” Why was it so natural to them to do it? Their obligations pressed upon them. They each one of them said, “I have been saved, and I must see others saved. I am bound to tell of the blood of Jesus, and its power to wash away sin. The curses of the ages will fall upon me, and the wails of lost souls will come up into my ears as long as I exist, if I do not make known the gospel.” Brethren God’s way of saving the unconverted is through his church; and if the church neglects its work, who is to do it? Our Lord means to bring in the rest of his chosen through those who are already called; but if these start aside and are untrue to their calling, how is the work to be done? I know the work is of God alone; still he uses instruments. If you do not tell the gospel, you are leaving your fellow-men to perish. Yonder is the wreck, and you are not sending out the life-boat! Yonder are souls starving, and you give them no bread! Well, if you are resolved to be thus inhuman, at least know what you are doing. You that are taking no share in this great work of spreading the gospel are wilfully allowing men to go down to hell, and their blood will be required at your hands. These first believers dared not incur such guilt, and therefore away they went preaching the word.

     I think, too, that their wonderment compelled them. They had seen the man Christ Jesus, and they had communed with him. They had beheld his Godhead in his miracles, and they had adored. They had seen him nailed to the cross; they had, many of them, beheld him alive after he was risen from the dead, and they could not help telling out so great a marvel. Here was God come down among men. Here was the Redeemer of men suffering to the death to rescue men from eternal ruin; and they could not help telling abroad this miracle of love. They were like children, who, when they hear a bit of startling news, must tell it. Good men that they were, their wonderment and their joy were equal, and they could not hold their peace. When ancient believers were shut up in prison, they began to sing the gospel until the prisoners heard them. They had something to sing about, and they must sing it. If they took them out of the temple by force, behold, the moment the prison doors were opened, they were found standing in the same place telling the same story. If you and I felt that blessed amazement which we ought to feel when we think of free grace and dying love, silence would be impossible.

     The principal reason for their constant proclamation of Jesus was, that they were in a fine state of spiritual health. They went everywhere preaching the word when scattered abroad, because they had told it out when at home. You will never make a missionary of the person who does no good at home. If you do not seek souls in your own street, you will not do so in Hindostan. If you are of no use in Whitechapel, you will be of no use on the Congo. He that will not serve the Lord in the Sunday-school at home, will not win children to Christ in China. Distance lends no real enchantment to Christian service. You who do nothing now, are not fit for the war, for you are in sad health. The Lord give you spiritual health and vigour, and then you will want no pressing, but you will cry at once, “Here am I; send me!” O my friends, go at once to your families, to your workshops, and declare the name of Jesus! Oh, for more spiritual life! This is the root of the matter. If we were living more fully in the power of the Holy Spirit, our witness would be borne without constraint; it would be as natural to us to spread the gospel as to breathe. We should be under holy impulses which would demand our witness-bearing; for if we could not speak the word of the Lord, it would be as fire in our bones; we should become weary with withholding. Lord, give us this spiritual life more and more!

     Surely also the times must have urged them onward, to go with hurried step as messengers for Christ; for Jerusalem was soon to be destroyed. This made them quick in their movements, that the last warning might come to all their countrymen. You know what the times are now! I am no prophet; but as we read, week by week, the appalling crimes that are chronicled by the press, if ever Christian men should be in earnest they should be in earnest now. All the signs of the times arouse us to look for the coming of our Lord. No token tends to quiet us, but all to awaken us. We must work at double quick rate; and if any one among us has done nothing at all, it is time for him, as a good servant, to gird up his loins, to work and to watch, “for in such an hour as he thinks not the Son of man cometh.” I have been praying all the while that I have been speaking this morning; yes, praying more than preaching, that God may distinctly lay his hand on every brother and sister in this place, and constrain you to proclaim this gospel of Jesus in every place to which you can go.

     III. Thirdly, carefully notice THE JOYFULNESS OF THIS WORK. “They were scattered abroad”; but as “they went everywhere preaching the word,” the calamity became a blessing. Their work took the sting out of their banishment. The housewife had to leave her comfortable little home, and tramp to a strange country: the man of business had to sell his stock, and quit his position. Those were hard times beyond question. Fancy that happening to us! What distress would spread over this congregation if you had to run for your lives! But then they said to themselves, “It is all right; for as we live to spread abroad the knowledge of Jesus, we shall do this wherever we go. Our flight shall be a mission.” This changed the aspect of affairs. By the persecution they received express marching orders to quit home and take to foreign service. Was not this a comfort? For myself, I always like to know the Lord’s will clearly. Suspense kills me. If I have any question about what my course should be, I am worried more than I can tell. Even distress is a relief when it shuts you up to one course. Persecution became both a direction as to their course and an occasion for getting to work. As they must go elsewhere, they would talk of salvation by faith in Jesus to the people among whom they might be called to sojourn, and so tell out the story of redemption to people who were totally ignorant thereof. This made them feel it was a good thing after all that they were scattered abroad. Dear friends, if your heart is set on a purpose, and there comes a crash which spoils your comfort, you hardly lament it if it subserves your chief design in life. If you are possessed with the idea that you, as a Christian, must live only to serve Christ, and to win souls, then anything which happens, however painful, will be welcomed if it places you in a better position for your holy life-work. That is the better place in which you can serve the Lord better. So that the tried people of God at Jerusalem must have felt devoutly comforted as they saw that God was helping them to answer the great purpose of their lives, and was pushing them forward by pushing them out.

     Their exile would be a help in gaining attention; for when they came to a place, the people would enquire, “Why are these Jews coming here?” And the answer would he, that they had been forced from home because they believed in one Jesus, who was called Christ, who had died for men, so that by faith in him they might be saved. For love of this Saviour they had been driven from their native land. The people may not have thought them wise, but doubtless they would be interested in their story, and thus made aware of their faith. Curiosity would ask of yonder Jewess, “How came you to be here, Naomi.” And Naomi would tell the story of the crucified Saviour. “And you, Benjamin, what drove you from Palestine?” He, too, would have to narrate the life and death of the Nazarene, and so Jesus would be made known. Persecution thus opened men’s minds to enquire, and served the purpose of advertising the gospel. Thus the Lord set up pulpits for his servants wherever they went, and provided congregations for them. What Satan intended for evil the Lord turned for good. What better could have happened than for all these holy men and women to be driven abroad to disseminate the ever blessed word? This, as they thought of it, made them bear their exile without repining. An all-absorbing purpose turned sorrow into joy. I cannot conceive of anything so calculated to reconcile them to their banishment as the prospect of glorifying God the more. The martyr spirit is just the spirit of witness-bearing overcoming all love of self and even care for life.

     Moreover, as they told the story, and it made their own hearts glow with holy fire, their spirits were refreshed, and their souls made glad. Jesus seemed still to be near them: yes, he was with them. They found the surest remedy for their grief in his sacred fellowship: nay, the grief itself became gladness. If you want to get rid of low spirits, preach the gospel. To take Christ’s yoke is to find rest unto your souls. If you are in the very dust, go and tell a weary one of salvation by Jesus: you will thus raise yourself, even if your message be rejected. Here is a balm, which, while it heals the wound to which it is applied, also perfumes the hand which applies it. The exiles were made to feel at home when they saw God working with them in Greece and Rome, even as he had done in Jerusalem.

     I may add that, if they were led to see that they were now made like their Lord in suffering, they would have comfort in that fact. If they now remembered what he said concerning the grain of wheat, which must be cast into the ground and die, or it could not bring forth fruit, they would now feel that they were having fellowship with him in his sufferings. This was enough to make them a happy body of men and women. They were scattered, but not saddened. Theirs was not the scattering of a retreat, but of an advance all along the line; and so it yielded them joy, and not distress. I entreat you, try active service as a solace for sorrow.

     IY. Notice, fourthly, THE SUPREMACY OF THIS WORK. “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” I suppose they did something for a living. I do not know what their handicrafts might be; but each one had a calling, and followed it industriously. We are not told what they did. It is incidentally mentioned, further on in history, that the apostle Paul made tents: but you never read anywhere in the Bible that Paul went everywhere tent making. He did make tents, but that was not his vocation; his business was to save souls. He made tents, in order that he might not be chargeable to the people; but winning souls was Paul’s business. The scattered did not go abroad for the purpose of trade. They did not say, “We will go to such a place, because there we can make the best profits”; but they chose their way with the one purpose of spreading the gospel. To preach Christ was their one vocation which, like Aaron’s rod, swallowed up all other rods. Proclaiming Christ was their one purpose, passion, and profession: all else might go. I wonder how many Christian people here could have their biographies condensed into this line, “He lived to make Christ known.” Might it not be said of one, he lived to open a shop, and then to open a second? or of another, he lived to save a good deal of money, and take shares in limited liability companies? or of a third, he lived to paint a great picture? or of a fourth, he was best known for his genial hospitality? Of many a minister it might be said — he lived to preach splendid sermons, and to gain credit for fine oratory. What of all these? If it can be said of a man, “He lived to glorify Christ,” then his life is a life. Every Christian man ought so to live. Oh that my memorial might be: “He preached Christ crucified”! You fall short of your design in life if Jesus is not as much your object as he is your confidence. Make your tents, sell your goods, paint your pictures if you will; but do all this in order that you may fulfil your higher and truer life, for which you were bought with blood, and quickened by the Spirit of God.

     We note the supremacy of this work, not only because it swallowed up all their trades, but because it obliterated all trace of caste. See Philip. He is a Jew, but he goes to Samaria. “Philip, what made you go to Samaria? Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Brethren, when it comes to preaching Christ we have dealings with everybody— Jews, Turks, infidels, cannibals. The Jew goes to Samaria for Christ, and the Samaritans accept the Messiah of the Jews. Anon Philip is called down south to journey along a desert way, and there he meets an Ethiopian, probably a black man. Ah well! white men were not particularly anxious for the company of Ethiopians, but Philip gets up into his chariot, and rides with him. Black and white make a fine mixture when the book of the prophet Isaiah lies between them. What a beautiful picture this would make! Philip and the eunuch riding together reading of the Lord Jesus in the Hebrew prophets. All the paltry differences of sect, politics, nationalities and races go to the winds as soon as we are possessed with a desire to win souls. “Oh, but they are so dirty!” Let us show them how they can be cleansed. “But the slum is so foul!” Yet for the love of Jesus we will enter it to carry his saving health among the people.

     What is more, we shall not only be willing to work for the poor and fallen, but we shall work with them. You, a person of taste and culture, will join hands with the illiterate worker, and while you are half amused at his blunders, you will be charmed by his zeal. You will not despise him, but you may even feel humbled as you see how, with less knowledge than yourself, he often shows more spiritual wisdom and energy. You will take a brotherly pride in such a man. Caste is gone when Christ is come. Oh, that we might feel the supremacy of our holy service more and more! Christ must be made known; sinners must be saved; heaven must be filled; and before these necessities everything else must be as nothing. Are you not of this mind?

     See, also, the supremacy of their purpose, in the fact that they were willing to be at the beck and call of the Holy Spirit, and to go anywhere. Philip was getting on splendidly at Samaria, and the church grew under his care. Surely he ought to stop there, he is evidently the man for the place! But he does not stop there. Philip has a call, not to a larger church, but to the road through the desert, and away he goes to talk to one person. The genuine soul-winner has his inward directions, and he follows the guidance of the Spirit of God. Here, there, anywhere, everywhere he goes, where the hope of conversions tempts him. When a sportsman goes out after game, he does not know which way he will go, neither does he bind himself in that matter. If he is deer-stalking, he may have to go up the mountain side, or down the glen, across the burn, or away among the heather. Where his sport leads him, he follows; and so it is with the genuine soul-winner: he leaves himself free to follow his one object. He does not know where he is going, but he does know what he is going after. He lays himself out for the winning of souls for Jesus. On the railway he speaks to any one who happens to be put in the same carriage; or in the shop he looks out for opportunities to impress a customer. He sows beside all waters, and in all soils. He carries his gun at half-cock, ready to take aim at once. That is the man whom God is likely to bless.

     Note yet one thing more: the supremacy of this work was seen in the fact that these good people were quite willing to subside. Philip has done a great work at Samaria, but he sends for the apostles Peter and John to come down from Jerusalem. Some few earnest workers have been impatient of discipline, but the best of them are the most orderly people in the world. Some brethren are just as ready to obey church authority as if they were the least of all saints, instead of being the most successful of the brotherhood. It is not well when our Philips are too big to work in connection with the mother-church. I have never found them so. The idle are troublesome; the laborious are loving. Philip turns into nobody just as readily as before he had been everybody. Peter and John come upon the scene, and seem, as it were, to run away with his laurels; but Philip makes no complaint, for in fact there were no laurels for any of them; all the glory was given to Jesus. Whether it were Philip, or Peter, or John, the Lord alone was magnified. Blessed is that man who knows how to subside. Oh, that there were thousands of workers of this kind willing to come to the front, and lead the way, and just as willing to step aside, if thereby the cause might advance!

     V. Thus have I brought this matter before you, and I shall now beg you to observe THE SPECIALITY OF THIS WORK. I have shown you its universality, its naturalness, its joyfulness, and its supremacy; and now we will dwell upon its speciality. Philip is set before us as a specimen of those who were scattered abroad. A sample shows the whole. What did Philip make prominent? “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” That is all he had to preach, he preached the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. But when Philip had to instruct an educated nobleman, did he dwell on the same subject as that which he brought before common Samaritans? Read the thirty-fifth verse. “Then Philip opened his mouth and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” Here we have the same subject as before: to the Samaritans Christ, to the Ethiopian Jesus. See, then, what we have to do. We have to tell over and over again what we know so well, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. The Saviour lived here a life of holy obedience, and then died, “the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.” We preach that this Jesus made atonement for sin, so that whosoever believeth in him hath eternal life, and shall never come into condemnation. We declare that Jesus rose again, and that this new life he bestows on those who trust him; that he has gone into heaven to take possession of the inheritance for his people, and to plead for them before the throne; and that those who are in him shall one day be with him and behold his glory. In a word, we preach Jesus as the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

     This is the old, old story. It is a very simple story, but the telling of it will save the people. Keep to that gospel. Many have lost faith in it. It is hoped that people will now be saved by new socialistic arrangements, by moral precepts, by amusements, by societies, and what not. Let the church of God be glad when anything is done which helps temperance, purity, freedom, and so forth; but her one business is to preach Christ. Stick to this, my brethren. If all the shoemakers in London were to take to making bracelets for the Queen, she would be badly decorated; but where should we be? Let the cobblers, stick to their lasts. You that are sent to preach Christ, if you take to doing something else, and become philosophical, socialistic, philanthropic, and all that, what is to become of the spiritual nature of men? Keep you to your work. Go and preach Christ to the people. I have not lost faith in the old gospel. No; my confidence in it grows as I see the speedy failure of all the quackeries of succeeding years. The methods of the modern school are a bottle of smoke. Christ crucified is the only remedy for sin. Keep to the gospel of “believe and live.” “Whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ hath everlasting life.” If this gospel does not uplift the race, nothing will. This is the only medicine which the great Physician has given to us to administer to sin-sick souls. Keep to it. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” We want no advance, we dream of no improvement upon the gospel.

     In closing, I would call your attention to two little words in the fifth verse. “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ,” allow me to put the next two words in capitals—“UNTO THEM.” Read the thirty-fifth verse. “Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached UNTO HIM Jesus.” Somebody said to Mr. Moody— “How are we to get at the masses?” He replied, “Go for them.” The expression is forcible, “Go for them.” Go for them in the name of Christ. Go right at them. Do not only preach Christ, but preach Christ unto them. Preach Jesus to the individual man. It is the work of the church of God, as much as lieth in us, to bring Christ home to the people’s knowledge, thought, belief, conscience, and heart. Preach it unto them. If I stand here and preach before you, what is the good of it? but if I preach unto you, there is practical use in it. When you go out of this place, I pray you to look out your man or your woman, and speak unto him or unto her Jesus the Christ. Come to close dealings. I fear that some of you fathers have not yet prayed with your boys, and some of you mothers have not yet taken your girls apart, and talked with them about eternal things. Have you? You say, “I am so retiring.” Then retire, and pray; but love your children enough to speak to them of Jesus. You sisters, have you spoken to your brothers about Jesus? Have some of you wives yet spoken to your ungodly husbands about the Christ? This is the point. If we will each one speak for our Lord, we shall see results that will perfectly astound us. If, during the next few months, this church would fully wake up, and if every member would feel, “I have something to do, and I must do it,” we should then see a glorious harvest. When my brethren Fullerton and Smith hold special services in this place, as they will do in the beginning of November, you will help to get in the people, and to crowd the place; and when they preach, you will pray and watch, and look up the enquirers, and we shall have great times. If you will go after people at their houses, and give them your own personal testimony in loving earnestness, the Holy Spirit will bless you. Oh, may God arouse us to this! I say again, I have not preached this morning half so much as I have prayed. For every word that I have spoken I have prayed two words silently to God. Oh, that the Lord would hear me, and bless us in an unusual degree! If the Lord will fill you with his Spirit, the opening of yonder front doors and your going out will be like the bursting of a bomb-shell in London. If you are all in earnest, your existence will be like the shining of the sun in the heavens. Oh, how I long that God may be glorified! For his truth’s sake I have been “abundantly filled with reproach”; but I would gladly accept a sevenfold baptism of it so that his kingdom would come. May the Lord make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the people! Amen, and Amen.