The Burden of the Word of the Lord

By / Jun 22

The Burden of the Word of the Lord

 

“The burden of the word of the Lord.”— Malachi i. 1.

 

THE prophets of old were no triflers. They did not run about as idle tellers of tales, but they carried a burden. Those who at this time speak in the name of the Lord, if they are indeed sent of God, dare not sport with their ministry or play with their message. They have a burden to bear— “The burden of the word of the Lord”; and this burden puts it out of their power to indulge in levity of life. I am often astounded at the way in which some who profess to be the servants of God make light of their work: they jest about their sermons as if they were so many comedies or farces. I read of one who said, “I got on very well for a year or two in my pulpit, for my great-uncle had left me a large store of manuscripts, which I read to my congregation.” The Lord have mercy on his guilty soul! Did the Lord send him a sacred call to bring to light his uncle’s mouldy manuscripts? Something less than a divine call might have achieved that purpose. Another is able to get on well with his preaching because he pays so much a quarter to a bookseller, and is regularly supplied with manuscript sermons. They cost more or less according to the space within which they will not be sold to another clerical cripple. I have seen the things, and have felt sick at the sorry spectacle. What must God think of such prophets as these? In the old times, those whom God sent did not borrow their messages. They had their message directly from God himself, and that message was weighty— so weighty that they called it “the burden of the Lord.” He that does not find his ministry a burden now will find it a burden hereafter, which will sink him lower than the lowest hell. A ministry that never burdens the heart and the conscience in this life, will be like a millstone about a man’s neck in the world to come.

     The servants of God mean business; they do not play at preaching, but they plead with men. They do not talk for talking’s sake; but they persuade for Jesus’ sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men’s ears, nor to make a display of elocution, nor to quote poetry: theirs is an errand of life or death to souls immortal. They have a something to say which so presses upon them, that they must say it. “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” They burn with an inward fire, and the flame must have vent; for the Word of the Lord is as fire in their bones, consuming them. The truth presses them into its service, and they cannot escape from it. If, indeed, they be the servants of God they must speak the things which they have seen and heard. The servants of God have no feathers in their caps, but burdens on their hearts.

     Furthermore, the true servants of God have something to carry, something worth carrying. There is solid truth, precious truth in their message. It is not froth and foam, phrases and verbiage, stories and pretty things, poetry and oratory, and all that; but there is weight in it of matters which concern heaven and hell, time and eternity. If ever there were men in this world who ought to speak in earnest, they are the men. Those who speak for God must not speak lightly. If there is nothing in what a man has to say, then God never commissioned him, for God is no trifler. If there is no importance in their message— yea, if their message be not of the first and last importance— why do they profess to speak in the name of God? It is constructive blasphemy to father God with our nonsense. The true servant of God has no lightweight to bear; he has eternal realities heaped upon him. He does not run merrily as one that has a feather-weight to carry, but he treads firmly and often slowly as he moves beneath “the burden of the word of the Lord.”

     Yet, do not let me be misunderstood at the beginning. God’s true servants, who are burdened with his word, right willingly and cheerfully carry that burden. We would not be without it for all the world. Sometimes, do you know, we get tempted, when things do not go right, to run away from it; but we view it as a temptation not to be tolerated for an hour. When some of you do not behave yourselves, and matters in our church get a little out of order, I say to myself, “I wish I could give this up, and turn to an employment less responsible, and less wearing to the heart”; but then I think of Jonah, and what happened to him when he ran away to Tarshish ; and I remember that whales are scarcer now than they were then, and I do not feel inclined to run that risk. I stick to my business, and keep to the message of my God; for one might not be brought to land quite so safely as the runaway prophet was. Indeed, I could not cease to preach the glad tidings unless I ceased to breathe. God’s servants would do nothing else but bear this burden, even if they were allowed to make a change. I had sooner be a preacher of the gospel than a possessor of the Indies. Remember how William Carey, speaking of one of his sons, says, “Poor Felix is shrivelled from a missionary to an ambassador.” He was a missionary once, and he was employed by the government as an ambassador; his father thought it no promotion, but said, “Felix has shrivelled into an ambassador.” It would be a descent indeed from bearing the burden of the Lord, if one were to be transformed into a member of Parliament, or a prime minister, or a king. We bear a burden, but we should be sorry indeed not to bear it.

     The burden which the true preacher of God bears is for God, and Christ’s behalf, and for the good of men. He has a natural on instinct which makes him care for the souls of others, and his anxiety is that none should perish, but that all should find salvation through Jesus Christ. Like the Christ who longed to save, so does the true Malachi, or messenger of God, go forth with this as his happy, joyful, cheerfully-borne burden— that men may turn unto God and live. Yet, it is a burden, for all that; and of that I am going to speak to you. Much practical truth will come before us while we speak of “the burden of the word of the Lord.” Pray that the Holy Spirit may bless the meditation to our hearts.

     I. And why is the word of the Lord a burden to him that speaketh it? Well, first, it is a burden BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. If what we preach is only of man, we may preach as we like, and there is no burden about it; but if this Book be inspired— if Jehovah be the only God, if Jesus Christ be God incarnate, if there be no salvation save through his precious blood— then there is a great solemnity about that which a minister of Christ is called upon to preach. It hence becomes a weighty matter with him. Modern thought is a trifle light as air; but ancient truth is more weighty than gold.

     And, first, the word of the Lord becomes a burden in the reception of it. I do not think that any man can ever preach the gospel aright until he has had it borne into his own soul with overwhelming energy. You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it. You cannot preach repentance unless you have practised it. You cannot preach faith unless you have exercised it. You may talk about these things, but there will be no power in the talk unless what is said has been experimentally proved in your own soul. It is easy to tell when a man speaks what he has made his own, or when he deals in secondhand experience. “Son of man, eat this roll”: you must eat it before you can hand it out to others. True preaching is Artesian: it wells up from the great depths of the soul. If Christ has not made a well within us, there will be no outflow from us. We are not proper agents for conveying truth to others, if grace has not conveyed it to us. When we get God’s word in our studies, we feel it to be a load which bows us to the ground. We are, at times, obliged to get up and walk to and fro beneath the terror of the threatenings of God’s word; and often are we forced to bow our knee before the glory of some wonderful word of the Lord which beams with excessive grace. We say to ourselves, “These are wonderful truths: how they press upon our hearts!” the They create great storms within us; they seem to tear us to pieces. The strong wind of the mighty Spirit blows through the messenger of God, and he himself is swayed to and fro in it as the trees of the forest in the tempest. Hence, even in the reception of the message of God, it is a burden.

     The Word of God is a burden in the delivery of it. Do you think it an easy thing to 6tand before the people and deliver a message which you believe you have received from God? If you so imagine, I wish you would try it. He that finds it easy work to preach, will find it hard work to give an account of his preaching at the last great day. One has carefully to look around, and think while he is preaching, “I must mind that I do not put this truth in such a way as to exaggerate it into a falsehood. I must not so encourage the weak that I dwarf the strong; nor so commend the strong as to grieve the weak. I must not so preach the grace of God as to give latitude to sin: I must not so denounce sin as to drive men to despair.” Our path is often narrow as a razor’s edge, and we keep on crying in our spirit, while we are speaking, “Lord, direct me! Lord, help me to deal wisely for thee with all these souls!” The anxieties which we feel in connection with our pulpit work are enough to make us old before our time. I have heard of one who thought he would give up his ministry because he had so small a chapel, into which he could not get more than two hundred people; but a good old man said to him, “You will find it quite hard enough to give a good account of two hundred at the last great day.” It is an idle ambition to desire a large congregation, unless that desire is altogether for God’s glory; for we only increase our responsibilities when we increase the area of our influence. Still, some are responsible for not having a large congregation. If their dulness keeps people from hearing, they do not thereby escape from responsibility. To speak aright God’s Word beneath the divine influence is, in the speaking as well as in the getting of the message, the burden of the Lord.

     When we have preached, the gospel becomes a burden in after consideration. “Well, now, it is all done,” says one. Is it? Is it all done? You, dear teacher, when you have taught your class to-day, have you done with your children? You have thought of them upon the Sabbath; will there be no care for them all the week? If your soul is towards your children or your congregation as it ought to be, you will bear them always on your heart. They will never be far away from you. The mother is gone from home. She is out to-day, seeing her sister: surely she is not caring about her babe; is she? IS SHE NOT? Why, wherever she is, the tender mother, if she does not bear her child outside her bosom, bears it inside her heart; her babe is always in her mind. “Can a woman forget her sucking child?” Can a soul-winner forget his charge? If God sends any of us to do good to our fellow-men, and to speak in his name, the souls of men will be a perpetual burden to us, and we shall constantly cry for their salvation, and perpetually, with entreaties and tears, go to God for them, and ask him to bless the message we have delivered.

     Oh, that we may have, in all pulpits, ministers who bear the burden of the Lord in the study, in the pulpit, and when the discourse is finished! Once truly a minister you are always a minister; your burden clings to you. May you, my brethren and sisters, partakers in the holy service of our Lord Jesus Christ, each of you, in your measure, bear the burden of the Word of the Lord, and that continually.

     II. I pass to a second point. It is not only a burden because it is so solemnly the Word of the Lord, and therefore weighty and overwhelming; but next, BECAUSE OF WHAT IT IS. What is it that the true servant of God has to bear and to preach?

     Well, first, it is the rebuke of sin. I have heard of hirelings who preach, but never think of rebuking sin. It is with them like as in the story of the old negro preacher, a very popular preacher, indeed among his coloured brothers. His master said, “I am afraid some of your people steal chickens, for I am always losing mine. I wish you would next Sunday give them a word about it.” “Master,” said the preacher, “it would throw such a damp over the congregation if I were to say anything about stealing chickens.” So the black preacher avoided that subject. It seems to me that stealing chickens was the very thing that he ought to have preached about, if that was the sin his brethren were guilty of. If a man bears the burden of the Word of the Lord, he speaks most to his people upon the evil of which they are most guilty. Somebody once said to me, “Sir, you were very personal.” I answered, “Sir, I tried to be. Do not think that I am going to apologize for it. If I knew anything that would come home to your heart and conscience concerning sin, I would be sure to say that — just that very thing.” “And what if I should be offended?” “Well, I should be very sorry that you refused reproof, and should feel all the more sure that it was my duty to be very faithful with you. If after much love and prayer you refused the word, I could do no more; but I certainly should not speak with bated breath to please you; and you would despise me if I did.” I remember one in Oliver Cromwell’s day who complained to a preacher. He said, “The squire of the parish is very much offended by some remarks you made last Sabbath day about profane swearing.” “Well,” said the Puritan preacher, “is the squire in the habit of swearing?” It was admitted that he was, and that he therefore thought himself pointed out by the minister. The Puritan replied to the complaining tenant, “If your lord offends my Lord, I shall not fail to rebuke him for it; and if he is offended, let him be offended.” So must every true preacher be careless of man’s esteem, and speak faithfully; but this is a burden to one of a tender spirit. If there is any topic upon which we must of necessity dwell, it must be upon that sin which is most grieving to the Lord; for we must by no means leave an erring brother unwarned. This is not a work to be coveted. It is neither pleasant to the hearer, nor pleasant to the speaker; and yet to rebuke sin, and to rebuke it sharply, is part of the work of him whom God sends; and this makes the Word of the Lord his burden.

     And, next, the Word of the Lord gives a rebuff to human pride. The doctrines of the gospel seem shaped on purpose, among other objects, to bring into contempt all human glory. Here is a man who is morally of a fine and noble nature, but we tell him that he is born in sin and shapen in iniquity: this is a stern duty. Here is a man of a grand righteous character in his own opinion, and we tell him that his righteousness is filthy rags: he will not smile on us for this. Here is a man that can go to heaven by his own efforts, so he thinks, and wo tell him that he can do nothing of the sort— that he is dead in trespasses and sins: this will bring us no honour from him. He hopes that, by strong resolves, he may change his own nature and make himself all that God would have him; but we tell him that his resolutions are so much empty wind, and will end in nothing: this is likely to earn us his hate. Behold, the axe is laid at the root of the tree. Man stands a convicted criminal, and if saved must owe his salvation entirely to the gratuitous mercy of God. Condemned and ruined, if he ever escapes from his ruin it must be through the work of the Spirit of God in him, and not by his own works. Thus, you see, human nature does not like our message. How it writhes in wrath, how it grinds its teeth against the doctrine which humbles man, crucifies his pride, and nails his glory to the gibbet! Hence, such preaching becomes the burden of the Lord.

     And then the true preacher has to come into contact with the vanity of human intellect. We ask of man, “Canst thou by searching find out God?” Thou sayest, “I know.” What knowest thou, poor blind worm? Thou sayest, “I am a judge, and I can discern.” What canst thou discern, thou that art in the dark, and alienated from God by thy wicked works? The things of God are hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed unto babes; and the wise and prudent are indignant at this act revealed of divine sovereignty. “Well,” says one, “I quarrel with the Bible.” Do you? The only real argument against the Bible is an unholy life. When a man argues against the Word of God, follow him home, and see if you cannot discover the reason of his enmity to the Word of the Lord. It lies in some form of sin. He whom God sends cares nothing at all about human wisdom, so as to fawn upon it and flatter it; for he knows that “the world by wisdom knew not God”; and that human wisdom is only another name for human folly. All the savants and the philosophers are simply those who make themselves to be wise, but are not so. Yet to face false science with “the foolishness of preaching,” and to set up the cross in the teeth of learned self-sufficiency, is a burden from the Lord.

     The most heavy burden of the Word of the Lord, however, is that which concerns the future. If thou be sent of God, and if thou preachest what God has revealed in his Word, then thou sayest, “He that believeth not shall be damned,” and thou dost not hesitate to say that the wrath of God abides on the rejectors of the Saviour. Thou dost not hesitate to say—

“There is a dreadful hell
And everlasting pains,
Where sinners must with devils dwell
In darkness, fire, and chains.”

All the romance of the age runs against this. Everybody says, “Be quiet about the wrath to come, or you will have everybody down upon you.” Be down upon me, then! I will not soften God’s word to please anybody; and the Word of the Lord is very clear on this matter. If you receive not the Lord Jesus Christ, you will die in your sins. If you believe not in him, you must perish from his presence. There is a day coming when you will die ; after this comes another day when you must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, and all your actions shall be published, and you shall be judged for the things done in the body, whether they be good, or whether they be evil ; and then you shall receive the sentence of, “Come, ye blessed,” or, “Depart, ye cursed.” Do you think we like to preach this? Do you think that it is any pleasure to the servant of God to deliver these heavy tidings? Oh, no! we speak in the bitterness of our spirit, very often; but we speak because we dare not refrain. It is infinitely better that men should be told the truth than that they should be flattered by a lie into eternal ruin. He ought to have the commendation of all men, not who makes things pleasant, but who speaks things truly. Somebody is preaching of how to get people out of hell. I preach about how to keep them out of hell. Don’t go there. Keep you clear of the fire which never tan be quenched. Escape for your lives: look not behind you; stay not in all the plain, but haste to Christ, the mountain of salvation, and put your trust in him. This is it which is the burden of the Word of the Lord. We have grief of heart because of the dreadful future which men prepare for themselves, namely, “everlasting punishment.” We are heavy at heart for the many who will not turn to God, but persist in destroying their own souls for ever. Oh, why will they die? The prospect of their future is a present misery to us.

     III. Now, dear friends, I have in the third place to say that it is a burden not only because it is the Word of the Lord, and because of what it is, but BECAUSE OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR BEARING IT TO YOU.

     Suppose that we do not preach the gospel, and warn the wicked man, so that he turn not from his iniquity, what then? Hear this voice: “He shall perish, but his blood will I require at thine hand.” What will my Lord say to me if I am unfaithful to you? “Where is the blood of those people who gathered at Newington Butts? Where is the blood of that crowd which came together to hear you speak, and you did not preach the gospel to them?” Oh, it were better for me that I had never been born than that I should not preach the gospel! “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” of Christ, for men perish where there is not the Word of God! I remember Mr. Knill’s portrait which was once in The Evangelical Magazine, that it had written at the bottom of it, “Brethren, the heathen are perishing: will you let them perish?” So is it with men that hear not the glad tidings; they die in sin. Worse still, men are perishing in this country: in the blaze of the light they sit in darkness. Oh, that we might go and find them, and tell them of the gospel! for, if we carry it not to them, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?” What makes it more of a burden to me is, that men may die if they do hear the word of salvation; men may go from these pews quick into perdition. Those eyes that look on me to-night, oh, how intently and earnestly! O sirs, if you do not look to Christ, you will be lost, however well you may have attended to me. Now, you listen to each word I utter; but I pray you listen to the Word of God, the heavenly Father, who bids you repent and believe in his dear Son; for “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” So said the Saviour. And this, I say, makes the burden of the message, lest some of you should not receive it. I cannot bear that one of you should die unforgiven. I look along these pews, and I remember some of you a good many years ago; you were then in a hopeful state, but you have not received Christ yet. Most faithful hearers you have been, but you have not been doers of the word. Do not think that I charge you too severely. Have you repented and believed? If not, woe is me that I should bear to you a message which will be a savour of death unto death unto you because you refuse it; for how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? When it has been freely proclaimed to us year after year, what will become of us if we reject it? Do not still refuse to come to Jesus. Do not make me a messenger of death to you. I implore you, receive the message of mercy, and be saved.

     And, then, it becomes a great burden to me to preach the gospel when I think of what those lose who will not have it. That heaven above— what tongue can describe it? What painter can ever picture it— the heaven above, where all is love, and joy, and peace, and everlasting blessedness? What if you should be shut out? What if against you the door should be closed! There is no opening that door again, remember. Even though you stand and cry, “Lord, Lord!” yet will he not open it to you. May no one of us miss eternal felicity! May no one among us fall into eternal misery! But here lies the burden of the Lord— in the consequences of our ministry. I recollect walking out to preach nigh unto forty years ago, just when I began my witnessing for the Lord Jesus. As I trudged along with a somewhat older brother, who was going to preach at another village station, our talk was about our work, and he said to me, “ Does it not strike you as a very solemn thing that we two local preachers are going to do the Lord’s work, and much may depend even upon the very hymns we give out, and the way in which we read them?” I thought of that, and I prayed— and often do pray— that I may have the right hymn, and the right chapter, as well as the right sermon. Well do I remember a great sinner coming into Exeter Hall, and I read the hymn beginning, “Jesu, lover of my soul,” and that first line pierced him in the heart. He said to himself, “Does Jesus love my soul?” He wept because he had not loved the Saviour in return; and he was brought to the Saviour’s feet just by that one line of a hymn. It does make it the burden of the Lord when you see life, death, and hell, and worlds to come, hanging, as it were, upon the breath of a mortal man, by whom God speaks to the souls of his fellows. This is serious burden-bearing. At least, I find it more and more so the longer I am engaged in it.

     IV. But I pass on to notice one thing more now. It is often the burden of the Lord, because of THE WAY IN WHICH MEN TREAT THE WORD OF GOD. Upon this I will be very brief. Some trifle with it. I was reading last night an account of how people are said to behave who go to church. It was written by a canon. I daresay he knows. Certainly, some people who go to Nonconformist places are as bad. A servant was asked by her mistress about the sermon. She said it was a very good sermon. “Where was the text, Martha?” “Somewhere in the Bible, ma’am.” “What was it about?” She did not recollect a word of it. One question after another is put to her; she tells her mistress that it was a very nice sermon, but she really does not know what it was all about. And the writer goes on to say that a large proportion of our people go off at a tangent while we are talking, and their minds are thinking about something else. I hope that it is not quite true of you to-night. A man once went to hear Mr. Whitefield. He was a shipbuilder, and he said, “Oh, that man! I never heard such a preacher as that before. When I have been to other places, I have built a ship from stem to stern— laid the keel, and put the mast in, and finished it all up, while the parson has been preaching; but this time I was not able to lay a timber. He took me right away.” This pre-occupation of human minds makes it such a burden when we are in earnest to reach the heart and win the soul. Our people are sitting here in body, but they are far away in spirit. Yonder sits a good woman who is meditating as to how she shall leave her homo to-morrow, long enough to get to the shop to buy those clothes for the children, ready for the spring weather. A gentleman here to-night wonders where he has left that diamond ring which he took off when he washed his hands. Do not let that bother you any more. Sell the stone, and give the money away; so that it will never trouble you again. All sorts of cares come buzzing around your brains, when I am wanting them to be quite clear to consider holy subjects. Little pettifogging cares intrude, and the preacher may speak his very soul out, but it all goes for nothing. This makes our work the burden of the Lord.

     Then there is another. It is the number of those who do hear with considerable attention, but they forget all that they hear. The sermon is all done with when they have done hearing it. The last drop of dew is dried up when they get home. Nothing remains of that which cost the preacher so much thought and prayer. And is it not a hard thing to go on “pegging away and pegging away,” and have done nothing? The pre-occupied mind is a slate, and we write on it; and then a sponge goes over it all, and we have to write each word all over again. Few would choose to roll the stone of Sisyphus, which always fell backward as fast as he laboriously heaved it up the hill-side. We are willing to do even this for our Lord; but we are compelled to admit that it is burdensome toil. Poor, poor work with some of you. Ah! it is the burden of the Lord to deal with your souls.

     Alas! there are some others that hear to ridicule. They pick out some mannerism, or mistake, or something outré about the speaker’s language, and they carry this home, and report it as raw material for fun. The preacher is in anguish to save a soul, and they are thinking about how he pronounces a word. Here is a man endeavouring to pluck sinners from the eternal burnings, and these very sinners are all the while thinking about how he moves his legs, or how he lifts his hand, or how he pronounces a certain syllable. Oh, it is sickening work — soul-sickening work! It is the “burden of the word of the Lord,” when our life or death message is received in that way. But when it is received rightly, then are we in the seventh heaven! Oh, well do I remember one night preaching three sermons, one after the other; and I think that I could have preached thirty, if time had held out. It was in a Welsh village, where I had gone into the chapel and simply meant to expound the Scripture, while another brother preached. He preached in Welsh, and when it was done, the question was put whether Mr. Spurgeon would not preach. I had not come prepared, but I did preach, and there was a melting time; and then we sang a hymn. I think we sang one verse seven or eight times over: the people were all on fire. The sound seemed to make the shingles dance on the top of the chapel. When I had done, we asked those who were impressed to stop. They all stopped, and so I had to preach again; and a second time they all stopped, and I had to preach again. It got on to past eleven o’clock before they went away. Eighty-one came forward and joined the churches afterwards. It was but a few months before the terrible accident at Pisca, and many of those converted that night perished in the pit. God had sent his Spirit on that glorious night to save them, that they might be ready when he should call them home. It was grand work to preach, for they sucked in the word as babes take in the milk. They took it into their hearts: it saved their souls. Would we had many such opportunities, and then the Word of the Lord would be no burden, but like the wings of a bird, to make us mount on high, and joy would fill every heart!

     V. And now I must not detain you; but I want to say, in the fifth place, the Word of the Lord is the greatest burden to the true teacher’s heart, because he remembers that HE WILL HAVE TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT. They are all down, those fifty-two Sabbaths; and those week-night opportunities, they are all down in the heavenly record, and the writing will be forthcoming when required. There will come a time when it will be said, “Preacher, give an account of your stewardship”; and at the same time a voice will be heard, “Hearers, give an account of your stewardship, too.” What a mercy it will be if you and I together shall give in our accounts with joy, and not with grief! for a mournful account will be unprofitable for you. What sort of sermons shall I wish I had preached when I come to die? What sort of sermons will you wish that you had heard when you lie on your last beds? You will not wish that you had heard mere flimsy talk and clever speeches. Oh, no! you will say, as a dying man, “I bless God for weighty words, earnestly spoken, that were a blessing to my soul.” I will say no more upon that, although it is the pressing point of the whole matter. Brethren, pray for the preacher. Brethren, pray for yourselves.

     I have only these two or three practical words to say. We have to bear the burden of the Lord; but there was one, the Head of our confraternity, the great Lord of all true gospel preachers, who bore a far heavier burden. “He his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Preacher, teacher, do you ever get weary? Look to him as he bows beneath his cross, take up your burden cheerfully, and follow after Jesus.

     If this work be a burden, we also rejoice in One who can help us. There is One who can make the burden light, or strengthen the shoulder to bear the heavy yoke. Dear people, pray for us that this great Helper may enable us to bear the burden of his Word to your souls. Do not pray that it may not be a burden. Pray that it may be a burden that crushes your pastor to the very dust. God forbid that he should ever preach without its being a load to him! But pray that he may then be sustained under it; and for every true preacher of the gospel pray the same prayer. If the Lord be with us we shall not faint, but go from strength to strength.

     Since it is a burden in itself, I ask you not to make it any heavier. Do not make it intolerable. Some add to it greatly and wantonly. Who are these? Well, I will tell you. Inconsistent professors. When people point to such and such a member of the church, and say, “That is your Christian!”— this makes our burden doubly oppressive. What a spoil it is to our testimony for Christ when outsiders can point to one and another, and say, “That is how those Christians act!” Do not plunge us in this sorrow. I do not know why I should be blamed for all the offences of everybody that comes to hear me. Can I keep you all right? Are you like chessmen, that I can move at pleasure to any square on the board? I cannot be responsible for any one person; how can I be the guardian of all? Yet the preacher of God’s truth is held responsible by many for matters over which ho has no power; and this injustice makes his burden heavy.

     And, next, do not make our burden heavier by your silence. There was a man of God who had been a very distinguished preacher, and when he lay dying he was much troubled in his mind. He had been greatly admired, and much followed. He was a fine preacher of the classical sort, and one said to him, “Well, my dear sir, you must look back upon your ministry with great comfort.” “Oh, dear!” said he, “I cannot; I cannot. If I knew that even one soul had been led to Christ and eternal life by my preaching I should feel far happier; but I have never heard of one.” What a sad, sad thing for a dying preacher! He died, and was buried, and there was a goodly company of people at the grave, for he was highly respected, and deservedly so. One who heard him make that statement was standing at the grave, and he noticed a gentleman in mourning, looking into the tomb, and sobbing with deep emotion. He said to him, “Did you know this gentleman who has been buried?” He replied, “I never spoke to him in my life.” “Then what is it that so affects you?” He said, “Sir, I owe my eternal salvation to him.” Ho had never told the minister this cheering news, and the good man’s death-bed was rendered dark by the silence of a soul that he had blessed. This was not right. A great many more may have found the Lord by his means, but he did not know of them, and was therefore in sore trouble. Do tell us when God blesses our word to you. Give all the glory to God, but give us the comfort of it. The Holy Spirit does the work, but if we are the means in his hands, do let us know it, and we will promise not to be proud. It is due to every preacher of Christ that if he has been blessed to the conversion of a soul he should be allowed to see the fruit of his labours; and when he does not see it, it adds very sadly to “the burden of the Word of the Lord.”

     Do you not think that you add to my burden, too, if you do not aid me in the Lord’s work? What a lot of idle Christians we have Christian people who might sing, like mendicants in the street,—

“And got no work to do,
And got no work to do!”

What a shameful chorus, when the world is dying for lack of true workers! There is a Sunday-school; do you know it? “Oh, yes, we know there is one of those excellent institutions” connected with our place of worship. Did you ever visit it? Have you ever helped in it? There is an Evangelists’ Society, and young men go out to preach. “Oh, dear!” say you, “I never thought of that.” Why do you not go out to preach yourself? Some of you could, if you would. What are you at? There are districts where there are tracts to be distributed. Do you know anything about house-to-house visitation? I speak to some who do nothing whatever, unless it be a little grumbling. I wonder whether we shall ever have a day such as the bees celebrate in its due season. You may, perhaps, have seen them dismissing the unproductives. It is a remarkable sight. They say to themselves, “Here is a lot of drones, eating our honey, but never making any; let us turn them out.” There is a dreadful buzz, is there not? But out they go. I do not propose either to turn you out, or to make a buzz; but if ever those who do work for Christ should burn with a holy indignation against do-nothings, some of you will find the place too hot for you! I am sorrowfully afraid that it will thin my congregation, and lessen the number of church-members. I have but little to complain of among my people; but still, as there is a lazy corner in every village, there is the same in this community. You increase the burden of those who do work, if you are not working with them.

     But the greatest increase of the burden comes from those who do not receive the gospel at all. May there not be one such here tonight, but may everyone now look to Jesus and live! I shall close by asking you to sing the gospel. Oh, that you may have it in your hearts! The final closing word is this—

“There is life in a look at the Crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner— look unto him, and be saved—
Unto him who was nail’d to the tree.”



The Unchanging God Cheering Jacob in His Change of Dwelling-place

By / Dec 1

The Unchanging God Cheering Jacob in His Change of Dwelling-place

 

“And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beer-sheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac. And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down With thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.”— Genesis xlvi. 1— 4.

 

NOTICE in this passage the two names which are mentioned. “Israel took his journey, and God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob.” “Jacob” was the name of his weakness; “Israel” was the title of his strength. “Jacob” was the name of his birth-nature; “Israel” was the name of his new and spiritual nature. When Israel set out to go down into Egypt and see his son Joseph, he started in great vigour and strength for an old man: faith made him full of force: hence we read, “Israel took his journey.” I see the old man revived, and stirred up to a high degree of hopeful energy. He travelled some few miles on the first day, and reached the well of Beer-sheba. It was the border town, where stood the well of the oak: after passing Beer-sheba he would be out of the land of promise, and on his way to Egypt; and at the remembrance of this fact the old trembling came over him, and he became Jacob, as aforetime. When he was to take the decisive step, to leave Canaan and make his journey into Egypt, then he suddenly felt himself a Jacob, and began to halt upon his thigh; and the Lord in the visions of the night addressed him by the name which was most suitable to his condition, saying to him, “Jacob, Jacob.” He did not call him “Israel”; but he came to him in his infirmity and trial, and suited his speech to his condition. The Lord met the weakness of his servant’s faith, and sent him consolations fitted rather for Jacob than for Israel. Dear friends, I am afraid that the lives of many of the Lord’s chosen people alternate between “Israel” and “Jacob.” Sometimes we are “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” and at another time we cry, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Like princes we prevail with God, and are true Israels; but perhaps ere the sun has gone down we limp with Jacob, and though the spirit be willing, the flesh is weak. We are Jacob before we are Israel; and we are Jacob when we are Israel; but blessed be God, we are Israels with God when we cease to be Jacobs among men. The Lord hath chosen Jacob, and redeemed Jacob, and preserved Jacob; but his great aim is to make the Israel in him the dominant character. He shall be far more a prince with God than a supplanter among men.

     Turning to the text, we have a lesson to learn from it. We find that Jacob, on his way down to Egypt, came to Beer-sheba, the border place, and this marked a distinct stage in his journey. He came to Beer-sheba, the place of many memories, where God had spoken to his father Abraham by the well. This was the place, I suppose, where Abraham was when the Lord said to him, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest; and offer him for a burnt offering.” It was, therefore, a memorable spot in the history of his family, and it was just then a turning-point in his own career, and therefore it called for special waiting upon the Lord. He was to break new ground, and enter upon a way which he had not trodden heretofore; and so we read that he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Herein is wisdom. In commencing a new era let there be new devotion. It is well to begin everything with God, who is the Beginner of all things. When young people begin housekeeping they should consecrate an altar as soon as ever they have set up a tent. When you begin business this thought should be upon you— “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” Therefore, wait upon him for guidance and help. In starting upon every journey, whether long or short, and entering upon every day, however common-place the day may be, it is always well to begin it with God. Remember the old and gracious proverb, that “prayer and provender hinder no man’s journey.” The offering of sacrifices unto God did not hinder Jacob’s journey; on the contrary, it was the making of him as a traveller; for now he began his journey outside of Canaan under the special convoy of the Lord his God. Now the angels of God took up their places around the wayfarers, and day and night they led the van and brought up the rear of the patriarchal caravan.

     I suppose that Jacob, on this occasion, offered sacrifice for three reasons, at least. One was to purge his household of any sin that might lie upon it. He had a very strange family— this man Jacob. It was badly begun at the outset, of four mothers, and jealousies were sure to abound. Taking them all round, his many sons were a very sad lot to be the sons of such a man. His own account of them on his death-bed is most painful. Much sin, even of the blackest dye, had defiled that chosen family. The stories of Reuben, Levi, Simeon, Judah, and others, are very dark. The aged head of the clan seems to say, with broken-hearted penitence, “Before we go down into this Egypt, let us offer sacrifice whereby our grievous sin may be put away, lest we provoke the Lord on the road.” It reminds us of father Job, when, after his children had fulfilled their days of feasting, he called them together, and offered sacrifice, lest they might have sinned in their hearts, and cursed God foolishly. How often have we cause to suspect some secret backsliding, some careless omission, some transgression unperceived! It is well to go again to the cleansing fountain for fresh washing, to fly anew to the great sacrifice of Christ, and renew our acquaintance with its cleansing power. O Lord, purify our households at this hour; let our families and our churches know anew the expiation for sin by which the conscience is purged from dead works, to serve the living and true God.

     Do you not think that Jacob also offered this sacrifice for another reason? Did he not present it by way of thanksgiving? He is going down into Egypt, but it is to see Joseph: what a joy this meant! Joseph is yet alive; he is going to look him in the face. Benjamin, of whom the old man had said, “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away”— Benjamin had come back safe and sound: this was no mean favour. Whereas he had said, “All these things are against me,” now he perceives that all these things are for him; and so he offers sacrifice unto the Lord. Let us magnify the Lord whenever we are led to see the extraordinary light of his goodness in those places which looked unusually dark. When the cloud we so much dreaded has turned out to be big with mercies, and has scattered showers of blessings upon our heads, let us bless the Lord, and bring our sacrifices of joy and praise unto his name.

     Surely, these two alone would be right good reasons for offering sacrifice; but Jacob had this other— that he might enquire of the Lord as to his way. At the altar he hoped to receive the oracle. Poor old Jacob appears to have been in a great dilemma: he seems to have greatly questioned whether it was right for him to go down into Egypt; and, as I shall have to show you, it was a matter that was open to grave question, and could not have been safely decided unless the Lord had spoken. It was the custom with men, when they offered sacrifice, to use the occasion of the sacrifice as an opportunity for consulting the oracles of God, and learning the divine will. People went up to the temple of the Lord to enquire his mind: they went to ask direction from God’s mouth, through his servants, who spoke in his name. I wish sometimes that God’s people would be more careful to ask their way of God; I fear that they too often err by blundering on, and taking no heed to their way. When I get into a part of the country where I do not know the road, I ask my way of almost, everybody I see; because I think that there will not be half the time spent in asking the way that will be wasted in going wrong. The Lord loves to see his children anxious to be right; for that anxiety is a great point in their right guidance. If he does not speak to us in a dream, nor by the Urim and Thummim, nor by the voice of a prophet, yet he secretly guides our minds. We are made careful: we are helped to weigh the matter in the balances of the sanctuary, and then our cool, calm judgment makes its decisions, and we choose the way which is most for God’s glory. It is a safe and a pleasant thing to enquire in his temple; for God the Holy Ghost still directs the paths of his people, and leads them in the way everlasting.

     So let us learn from Jacob, especially at the beginning of any fresh enterprise, to draw nigh unto God with special devotion. We cannot too often remember that great Sacrifice by which we live; neither can we too often present ourselves as living sacrifices unto the Lord.

     But now, plunging into the centre of the text, I notice, first, that Jacob had a fear. His fear was natural. But, secondly, his fear needed to be removed; for God said to him, “Fear not to go down into Egypt.” And, thirdly, his fear was removed most sweetly; and with confidence the venerable man went on his way.

     I. First, then, JACOB’S FEAR WAS NATURAL. It was natural because he was an aged man— an aged man leaving the land of his birth. Old men do not like changes, and they specially fear changes of country and custom. A young man runs all over the world, and little cares where he goes, for he has plenty of youth’s quicksilver in him. He cries, “Sitting hens get no barley and so he pecks up a grain here, and a grain there, from Liverpool to New York, and from New York to San Francisco, and thence to New Zealand, the Cape and home again. The young man makes himself at home anywhere; but the old man loves the old house at home, and the fireside where his children have been wont to gather. Old trees strike their roots deep, and it is not easy to transplant them. It is neither pleasant nor safe to uproot an ancient elm: let it stay where it is. Solomon says concerning the old man, that he is “afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way”; and it is very natural indeed, that the man should feel a great disturbance in his mind at the sight of high enterprises and untrodden ways. Was not Jacob one hundred and thirty years old, or thereabouts, at the time when he went down into Egypt? He had lived, in the pastures of Canaan with his flocks and herds, the life of a Bedouin shepherd, and his whole soul clung to the country; for “Jacob was a plain man dwelling in tents.” The oaks of Mamre, the plains of Esdrelon, the hills of Carmel, and the valleys of Succoth, were dear to him, and he started at the idea of emigrating to a land of canals and watercourses, and he dreaded life among educated Egyptians and pompous officers of Pharaoh. It was no slight change from Canaan to Egypt. Do you wonder that he was afraid?

     His fear also, no doubt, arose, next, from the fact that he was going into an idolatrous country of which he knew very little, except that it was a place which teemed with the memorials of false deities; a land of religion so degraded, that cats and crocodiles were worshipped, and even vegetables which grew in the gardens. An Egyptian must have been a living riddle to an unsophisticated shepherd from such a country as Palestine. Egypt had a repute for learning, and philosophy, and divination; and these, to an aged countryman, would seem mysterious and uncanny features in his venture. He loved not the change. The Canaanites were bad enough; but he had grown accustomed to them, and they had a healthy fear of him: these Egyptians, what might they not do? He was encouraged because Joseph was there, and was lord over all Egypt: even that was a very romantic affair, and the whole business was surrounded with mystery.

     Finally, the associations of Egypt were trying. It had cost the good old man many bitter pangs to send his sons down into that country to buy corn. Egypt had an ugly name for him. It was like sending them to Botany Bay, or Norfolk Island. Somehow, it was not a country that he had any liking for, and so Jacob’s heart was in his mouth; and he trembled to think that in his old age he should be going away from where he had lived, and especially to be going, not to the ancient country whence his family had originally come forth, but to Egypt, a place which was of ill savour to his fathers, a country whose associations were rather trying than hopeful.

     Abraham went down into Egypt, and he met with trouble there, and brought away from it one named Hagar, who was a great trial in his household. In fact, it was the mischievous event in his life. And Isaac had thought of going there, but the Lord appeared unto him, and said, “Go not down into Egypt”; so that a country where his grandfather fared ill, and where his father was warned not to go, must have seemed to the anxious patriarch to be a place to be avoided rather than sought. He shook his head many times, and though he had said so bravely, “Joseph is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die,” the journey wore the aspect of great risk and tremendous difficulty, with a question hanging over it like a black cloud, “After all, would it be a right step?” Taking all things into consideration, he was filled with a very natural, and I think I may add, a very proper fear. Would not you have trembled had you been in his position?

     Moreover, besides that, he had some intimation, probably, that this was to be a land of pre-eminent trial for his race; for had not God said to Abraham that his seed should be strangers in a strange land, and that they should be afflicted for four hundred years? The old man, with prescient eye, began to suspect that this was to be the land which caused Abraham the horror of great darkness, which was set forth before him as the fiery furnace and the smoking lamp; and so he was afraid to go down into Egypt. And though Joseph was there, and Joseph was lord over all the land, I should not wonder if the old man was nervous, and said, “Joseph may not always be lord over the land: he may fall from his position. As far as I can find out, they put him in prison once; why should they not put him in prison again? I fear we shall run a great risk.” When we once get into the vein of distrust and foreboding, we can always find fresh relays of doubt and fear: at least, I can. How quick we are at inventing objects of fear! We see in the clouds what was never there, but only in our own eyes. We see things which may be— things that never will be. We are fretted at possibilities, and ready to faint at peradventures. Those dreadful things may be; and what if they were to be? What then, and what then?

     Then I have no doubt he felt that the change would involve himself and his family in new temptations. They had behaved badly enough among the simple pastoral people: what would they do in the midst of the vices of Egypt? I must confess that I often feel great diffidence in recommending people to make changes in life; especially in quitting the country to go to the great City. Change has its perils. You begin to know your temptations by now, and you are somewhat prepared to withstand them; but you know not what may happen to you in another sphere, with other surroundings, and other influences. All things considered, I would rather carry my old burden; for it begins to fit my back, and my back has grown somewhat used to it. But what about a new burden? It might be more heavy, and it might try me in fresh places, and cause fresh wounds. For myself, I am not anxious to make any changes, for I have read the words of Solomon the wise: “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” When God commands a man to follow an untried path, he may go rightly and wisely, even as the young swallows fly in their appointed time, though they have never traversed the continents before. But he who wanders out of sheer wantonness, may find that he has gone from bad to worse, and may come to wish himself back again to that which he despised. If Jacob trembled at making so great a change, it was not without reason. All the habits of the family would be rudely shaken, and a new mode of life would be forced upon them. He could not have guessed that there would be a Goshen for the shepherds, and he must have dreaded leaving a quiet pastoral life for the refinements of Egyptian society, and the blandishments of Egyptian idolatry.

     I need say no more on that point: Jacob was always anxious, and in his old age more so than ever. The sketch I have given may be the picture of some friend now present; and if it be so, I will hope that in my discourse he may hear cheering voices from the Lord God to allay his fears. May the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, make it so!

     II. But, in the second place, God was not of a mind that his servant should be the slave of dread: HIS FEAR WAS TO BE REMOVED. Therefore, the Lord appeared to Jacob in the night visions, not to tell him of new empires, not to reveal to him the destinies of princes, but simply to say to him, “Fear not.” It appears to God to be an important matter to chase away fear, even though it be troubling only one person, and that person an aged man. The Lord broke the eternal silence, to drive away the anxieties of a single individual. He said to him, “Jacob, Jacob”; and then he added, “Fear not to go down into Egypt.” Are you very fearful and timorous at this time, dear brother? It is not the Lord’s will that you should remain so: he would deliver you from this bondage.

     The Lord would drive away your fears because, in the first place, fear makes you unhappy. It is an unhappy thing for a father when he comes home from business and finds his child in distress of mind. He likes to see him run cheerfully to meet him, and smile and sing a welcome. Our heavenly Father would have his people rejoice in him. Do you want any proof of it? Does he not command you, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice”? The Lord puts it thus, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” The Spirit made the prophet exclaim, “Happy art thou, O Israel.” God takes it ill if his people find no joy in him. He is our portion, and it is sad if we are not delighted with such an inheritance.

     But, next, the Lord would not have his people vexed with fear, because it is sadly weakening in its effects. Jacob had a difficult task enough, to go down into Egypt and bear witness for the true God in that region, and he needed more rather than less strength. In the midst of Canaan, his path had been a very difficult one, to stand fast for God in the midst of that wicked and perverse generation. He had sadly failed even in that lesser task, for his family had grossly transgressed and fallen into the ways of the world around them. In Egypt his work would be more severe; for he would have the wisdom of the Egyptians to battle with, a wisdom proudly conservative of errors which had become hoary with antiquity. He must not go down to such a battle-field with his hands hanging down and his knees feeble. Before we begin a new enterprise, fear may be seasonable: we ought to be cautious as to whether our way is right in the sight of God; and therefore Jacob had that fear. But when we once begin, and intend going through with an enterprise, we must say farewell to fear, for fear will be fatal to success. Go straight ahead. Believe in God, and carry the work through. To fear in the day of battle will be mischievous to the last degree. Then shall it be as when a standard-bearer fainteth. When the standard of our confidence falls in the dust, who shall gird himself for the battle? Therefore the Lord, that his servant Jacob might be fit for what was before him, bade him be of good courage, and said to him, “Fear not.”

     I am sure that the Lord wished his servant Jacob to cease from every kind of fear, because otherwise, it would look as if he was quarrelling with the divine will. He is to go down into Egypt by divine command; but if he is afraid to go, it would appear that he judged that the Lord had put him upon an ill business. When God judged it right for him to go, he must rest assured that it was right. Hesitate, my dear friend, while you are not sure that it is God’s will; but when once you are certain that it is according to the Lord’s mind, it will be unfaithfulness to God to have any kind of fear. Steam straight ahead, for that way lies your haven. Go on in a direct line, like an arrow shot from a mighty bow, which seeks nothing but the target. Say with one of old, “Shall such a man as I flee?” If God be with you, who can be against you? Flight when God supports would be not only disastrous, but treacherous. It is not to be (Learned of for a moment. You have no armour for your back: face the foe; yes, face him, though he were ten thousand strong. You are able to overcome the armies of the aliens. God being with you, the day is yours. If you treat the Lord as you should, you will become incapable of fear. You will, like young Nelson, ask, “What is fear?” You cannot see any. “The Lord is my strength; of whom shall I be afraid?” The Lord of hosts is with us, therefore will not we fear.

     Perhaps I might as well apply the subject now, and say— Are you beginning to preach, my dear friend, in a new place, and are you afraid? Do new faces startle you? Set yourself to get rid of this fear of man. The Lord forbids it. Are you going across the sea directly, and are you afraid of the journey and the foreign land? Hasten to the Lord, and ask him to drive all this fear far from you. Are you undertaking some new service in the church, and are you trembling at the responsibility? Cry to the Lord at once to strengthen your weak hands and confirm your feeble knees; for, at this moment, though the Lord does not appear to you in vision, yet he speaks to you out of this grand old Book, and by the mouth of his servant, saying unto you, “Fear not to go down into Egypt.” Surely, a “fear not” from the mouth of the Lord will make you bold as a lion.

     III. And now I shall need to show you how HIS FEAR WAS REMOVED MOST SWEETLY. Who can cheer the heart so effectually as the Lord our God? Fears must depart when the Lord forbids them.

     First, the Lord removed his fears by showing that he knew him by his name. He said “Jacob, Jacob.” “Oh,” says one, “if the Lord were to speak to me by my name I should not be afraid any longer.” I am not sure of that, for you might be even more fearful than you now are. But dost thou think that God does not know thy name? Dost thou dream that if thou hast sought his face and cried to him for mercy he does not know thy name? Why beloved, he knows all things. He knows thy secret thoughts. He knows the way that thou hast taken, and the way that thou art about to take. He knows thee infinitely better than thou knowest thyself. Rest in the fact that thy heavenly Father knows what thou hast need of. O poor troubled one, you that are cast down on account of sin, remember that the Lord knew this patriarch by his weak and sinful name of Jacob, as well as by his bright and princely name of Israel. He knew him by his worse name as well as by his better. God knows you by your old name, for he knows your old nature; and he knows your new name and your new nature. He calls thee to-night, and tells thee: “I know thee; I know thee; I know all about thee. Thy name is graven on the palms of my hands. Dream not that I have forgotten thee. If thou canst not spell out thine own case, I can read it. If thou dost not know thine own griefs so as to interpret them to another, I understand all thy sorrows, thy burdens, and thy failures. I know thy despondencies and thy despairs. I know thee, Jacob.” Wherefore, since the Lord knows us altogether, let us trust him, and he will make even our weaknesses to magnify the power of his grace.

     Next, the Lord told him that he was on communion terms with God. The Lord said to him, “Jacob, Jacob,” and he answered, “Here am I.” God had to call out to Adam, “Adam, where art thou?” But Jacob could say, “Here am I.” Oh, it is a blessed thing to be on such terms with God that you can truly say, “Here am I, my Lord: I have nothing to hide. I stand forth before thy presence, and have no desire to conceal myself from thine eye, neither have I anything to reserve from thy notice. Tell me what I am to do; for I am willing and eager to do it. Take me, and make what thou wilt of me; for I am thine, and rejoice to be so. Break me up, and melt me, and pour me out into thy mould, if so thou dost see fit; for ‘Here am I.’” He that has given up selfhood, and is willing that God should do whatever he wills with him, is on communing terms with God. The barrier is removed, and the Lord God Almighty can dwell with us, and even give us the desires of our heart. But then it follows— if you are on such happy terms with God, be not afraid. Now that you may speak with God, and he will deign to speak with you, why should you be the prey of apprehensions? Why should Jacob be afraid of Pharaoh if he is no longer afraid of Jehovah? If you are at peace with God, who is he that shall harm you? The stones of the field shall be in league with you, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you. Hushed is the thunder, and pointless is the shaft of the lightning, when once a man is right with God. Even if the laws of nature should crush his mortal frame, they would but release his joyful spirit, and admit him the sooner to the joys above. Wherefore ye have nothing to be afraid of, O ye who walk with God! If the Lord is your friend, who is he that can harm you? All is well. The stars in their courses fight for you, and the angels of God watch over you. To the friends of God all nature is friendly. Heaven and earth, and sea and land, all welcome the man on whom their Creator smiles.

     Next, the Lord removed his servant’s fear by declaring himself to be the God of the covenant. “I am God,” said he, “the God of thy father.” He manifests himself as the same God as ever: as much the God of Jacob, the son, as of Isaac, the father. The Lord will be to us what he has been to his people aforetime. He has pledged himself to us as to our fathers. He has promised to us, even to us, the blessing, saying, “Surely, blessing I will bless thee.” My dear friends and brethren, can you say, “This God is our God for ever and ever”? Is Jehovah the God of this generation as of the former? Some of you do not desire to have Jehovah for your God. Then you cannot have the blessing that comes from his being your God. But you that can say, “My God, my Father, thou shalt be my guide,” you have no cause to fear. If God is your God, the chief thing is secured, and all the rest will be right. When we have God we have all things. To be in order with the Most High is to be right with all the forces of the universe, both in nature and in providence. If the Lord be yours all things are yours. As he is the God of eternity, “things present and things to come are yours” in him. Oh, how sweet to fly to our covenant God when the tempest is lowering! Where my father found a most secure abode, there I also dwell.

     Next, the Lord said to him, “Fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation.” The promise of a great blessing is the dismissal of all fear. Jacob’s house cannot be destroyed if God is going to multiply them into a great nation. If the apparent evil will work together for our good, why do we dread it? Beloved sufferer, do not be afraid of the cancer which is preying upon you. It is a terrible disease; but if the Lord is going to make your long illness a saving blessing to your family, you may resign yourself to the lingering pain, and no longer shrink from it with horror. Do not be afraid of that bereavement in the family. It will be a grievous loss to all concerned, but the righteous are taken away from evil to come, and out of their graves springs a blessing, even as the grass grows on the hillock in the churchyard. Many a keen affliction brings with it God’s sevenfold favour, though we cannot see it. As the Lord said to Jacob, “Fear not to go into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation,” so he says to us, “Fear not affliction; for so shall you receive the greater benediction.” Brethren, fear not the night, but watch for its stars; fear not the fall of the leaf, but look for the ripe fruits. You shall see more of God’s goodness as you see more of man’s evil. We read of the apostles that they “feared as they entered into the cloud”; yet in that cloud they saw their Lord transfigured. Wherefore be not you afraid, lest you be found trembling at that which should cause you joy.

     Then the Lord added that which is the richest comfort of all: “I will go down with thee into Egypt.” What cause of fear can remain when we have the promise of the Lord’s presence with us? The child is not afraid to go to bed in the dark, if his mother will go with him into the chamber. The child does not want a candle if his mother will be at his side; her eyes are bright lights to him. If God be with us we are not in the dark; his presence causes even the night to be light about us. If we can have our Lord’s presence, we have no choice of country or company. Egypt, with Jehovah, is as Canaan. Even Hades and the land of death-shade have nothing to make us fear evil, if the Comforter sustains us. “For thou art with me,” is the joyful song of the pilgrim when he passes through the valley of the shadow of death. Wherefore, let us dismiss our fears. We will go down into loneliness, poverty, sickness, sorrow, and the grave, if the Lord will be with us.

     The Lord goes on to say, “And I will also surely bring thee up again”— which meant that Jacob should not lose his inheritance in Canaan, nor be for ever in banishment in a strange land. Jacob’s heart dwelt in the Canaan which the Lord had bestowed on him, and had entailed upon his seed by a covenant of salt; but Jacob’s going down into Egypt was not to alter that deed of gift. Jacob would not have accepted Egypt, with all its treasures, in exchange for the land that God had promised to himself and to his seed; but no such change was proposed: the chosen seed would leave Egypt in due course, and come back to its old quarters, and so the Lord said, “I will surely bring thee up again.” Go down as we may, the Lord will bring us up again. Dear friend, you may lose husband, or wife, or father, or child, or property, or health, or even life; but you shall rise out of every loss, and you shall never lose your share in the sure mercies of David. “Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?” Esau might sell the heritage for a mess of pottage, but Jesus would not sell his portion for all Egypt’s glories; nor shall he be called on to make the exchange. Blessed be God, we shall never be driven down so low that we cannot rise again, for the Lord saith of every member of the chosen family, “I will surely bring thee up again.”

     One more fear Jacob had, perhaps, experienced. He had some fear of dying; but that was all removed when the Lord said, “And Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.” “Oh,” the good old father thought, “Joseph is to close my eyes; then death has lost its sting.” Did you ever think of dying in that light? Let me read it to you with a word changed, and another name inserted: “And Jesus shall put his hand upon your eyes.” We may never die; the Lord may personally appear, and then we shall not all sleep; but if he does not come, and we are called upon to die, Jesus will put his fingers on our eyes, and we shall sleep in peace. Death is a covenant blessing to a child of God; for “so he giveth his beloved sleep.” That last sleep comes from the finger of that hand which was nailed to the cross for us. And Jesus, thy Joseph whom thou lovest, whose bloody coat thou hast seen with tears, he is yet alive, and he is King over all that land whereto thou goest, for the keys of death swing at his girdle. He is the Prince of all realms, and he it is that shall put his hand upon thy eyes and seal them for the moment in darkness, to open them for thee, when thou shalt say, “I am satisfied, for behold I awake in thy likeness.”

     By this time, every fear ought to be removed from us, even as it was from Jacob. We may now set up our banners and go forward. Put away the sackbut, and sound the silver trumpet. Let the vanguard advance, and follow the leader through the wilderness, or through the sea. If Jehovah leads the way, let no man’s heart tremble. Let the weakest among us be strong: for thus saith the Lord, “Fear not to go down into Egypt.” Rejoice and be glad. All is well.

“What cheering words are these!
Their sweetness who can tell?
In time, and to eternal days,
’Tis with the righteous well.
’Tis well when joys arise,
’Tis well when sorrows flow,
’Tis well when darkness veils the skies,
And strong temptations blow.
’Tis well when on the mount
We feast on dying love;
And ’tis as well, in God’s account,
When we the furnace prove.”

The pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day, we see at all times. Thus Jehovah leads the way in every march through the desert. With glad footstep follow. Behold, he saith to thee, “Fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will go down with thee, and I will surely bring thee up again.”

     Surely, this passage is very applicable to all who are removing from one place to another. “Fear not to go down into Egypt. I will go down with thee into Egypt.” Take your journey in peace.

     This also may be used by those who are in perplexity as to what they should do. Wait upon God for direction, and when you get your marching orders, go straight ahead, cheered by this gracious assurance, “I will go down with thee into Egypt.”

     Any of you that are entering upon a new business, upon new trials, new labours, new spheres, accept with joy the promise that the presence of God will be with you. God leading, we fear nothing.

     Lastly, to you that are about to die, here is living consolation. There may be some here who will never see another earthly Sabbath, for God has some better thing in store for them, namely, to see the heavenly Sabbath sooner than they think. Fear not to go down into the Egypt of the grave, for the Lord will go down with you into the sepulchre. Jesus has been there: fear not to go where he went. Whenever I am called in to see any of our dying church-members, I find them, without exception, calm and willing to depart. When I come out of the dying chamber I invariably feel that my faith has been greatly strengthened. The way in which they meet the approach of the great enemy, calmly and triumphantly, makes me rest joyfully confident in the gospel which I preach. Our dear friends sing and even shout joyously in death. One brother, who passed away not long ago, even made me laugh by the joyous things he told me in his own quaint way. I could not help laughing for joy when he talked about heaven as if he had been there. There is a dear brother, not many doors from this spot, who will probably soon pass away; but he speaks about his departure as calmly as if he were only going to the seaside for a holiday. Our Lord’s love has changed the very aspect of death’s face. My dear brother and co-pastor said to me one day, “O brother, our people die well, do they not?” That they do. They give us proof of the truth which wo preach by the way in which it sustains them in their last hours. Without the slightest fear, or perturbation of mind, they march onward to the Jordan singing with the stream in view. I know no happier people in my acquaintance than a certain suffering few, who are within measurable distance of the celestial city. And so it ought to be.

     But what is to become of you who have no faith? What is to become of you who have no God to go to? O soul, if thou hast no God, thou art indeed miserable. God bring thee at once to himself, through Jesus Christ his Son! Amen.



The Father’s Love to His Dying Son

By / Nov 17

The Father’s Love to His Dying Son

 

“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.”— John x. 17.

 

OUR Lord Jesus here speaks of himself in his complex personality as God and Man, the Mediator between God and men. As such, he comes to us first at Bethlehem, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” We behold him a babe, a child, a man, a worker, a sufferer, a witness for the truth, and a victim condemned to die upon the tree. We behold him dead in the grave, and risen again as the Interposer between God and man. In that capacity we shall think of him during this discourse. It is the voice of the Man Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of God, which says, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because Hay down my life, that I might take it again.” The Father feels boundless love to him who, for us men, and for our redemption, came down from heaven, and took upon himself our nature, and being found in fashion as a man, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him,” or, to use his own words, “Therefore doth my Father love me.”

     At this time we shall not keep strictly to the text, but shall introduce other truths related to it. The run of our discourse will be somewhat as follows:— First, consider the Father’s love to Jesus because of his death and resurrection; secondly, consider the Father’s complacency in us on that account. Then, thirdly, consider our love to Jesus on this account; and, fourthly, consider our consequent fellowship with the Father.

     I. First, CONSIDER THE FATHER’S LOVE TO CHRIST JESUS BECAUSE OF HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION. This love was exceeding sweet to Jesus. Persecuted by men, and sometimes depressed in his own spirit, he comforts himself with this, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.” To be well-pleasing to the Father was everything with our Lord Jesus Christ. In heaviest toil, in darkest slander, in deepest perplexity, if his Father only said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” Jesus was refreshed with meat which others knew not of. Beloved, let us be like our Lord Jesus in this— let the love of the Father to us be our comfort, our joy, our strength, our hope, our heaven. What more can men or angels have than the love of God? Let that love be shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost, and even the celestial city cannot afford me a more pure and substantial delight. O my God, thy love is precious beyond all estimate! “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”

     But to come back to our Lord. The Father took the greatest delight in his Son as laying down his life, first, because of the delight of Jesus in his Father’s plans. Exceeding high are the thoughts of God in reference to his dealings with the sinful sons of men. Jehovah could with a word make creatures that should be perpetually innocent of sin; he could also make creatures which ho foreknew would choose evil ways, and depart into rebellion; but a simple act of creation would not produce the character of elect man. A weapon may be struck from the anvil at a blow; but a Damascus blade needs special annealing, to produce the temper needed in a champion’s sword. The chosen were to be a race who had eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and so knew good and evil by actual practice; especially knew the result of evil in their own persons; for they would even die spiritually, but would be restored from death, and hell, and sin, and would be made haters of transgression, lovers of righteousness. Though left to their own free agency, yet when the work of grace was complete in them, they would be of a character to which sin would be impossible, since they would so deeply abhor it. These persons would be raised to the peerage of the divine kingdom, and bear the name and dignity of sons of God, being in very deed brothers in blood to him who is one with God. They were to be brothers of the Son of God by birth, and yet never to be the subjects of pride. It will be infinitely safe for the Lord to entrust us with all the privileges, and royalties, and liberties of his own household. For this end it was needful that the chosen from among men should undergo a marvellous process, much more complex and intricate than that which follows the fiat of power: we must in Jesus die, and be made alive again in him.

     Beloved, it was needful, in order to the completion of the plan of grace, that God himself, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, should take manhood into eternal union with Godhead. The Son agreed to do this, and was born of the Virgin. But when he took manhood into union with himself, he took therewith all that belonged to manhood. Now, sin having attached itself to manhood, the Christ, in becoming man, took our sin upon himself, as it is written, “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He could not be actually guilty— God forbid the thought!— but he became legally amenable to the penalty due for our transgression. He was willing even to make this stoop of condescension. When the divine plan was proposed to him, this was his answer: “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God!” Do you wonder that the Father loved him, when he saw in him such sympathetic union with himself? It was the Son’s highest pleasure to become subservient to the sacred plan of glorious grace, in which, to ages to come, Jehovah would show forth the glory of his nature, the splendour of his eternal purpose. All the plan was acceptable to Jesus; and he was eager to carry it out at his own expense. Though he knew that the work involved his death upon the shameful tree, yet he felt so one with the Father that he cried, “I delight to do thy will; yea, thy law is within my heart.”

     When he actually appeared as a child he went up to the temple, and amazed his human parents with the words, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Such a Son as this, so intent upon the Father’s plan, is it wonderful that we read, “Therefore doth my Father love me”?

     But his Father also loved him for the constancy and perseverance with which he pursued his life-work, making it his meat and his drink to do the will of him that sent him. He underwent many rehearsals of his passion before it actually came. When he said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit:” he was passing through a baptism of soul-trouble. The shadow of his death fell on him often, ere ho actually carried the cross. But his face was steadfastly set to go unto Jerusalem. The plaudits of the people never made him turn aside, and aspire to be a king; their denunciations never made him tremble, and seek shelter in obscurity. His was a spirit constant to its high intent. To the last he was firm as a rock. The manhood in him shuddered at death— it had not been true manhood if it had not; but, overcoming his natural horror, he took the cup, and drank it to its dregs, with “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” He did say, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me”; and he therein warranted us in saying that there was no other way of accomplishing the divine purpose, except by his death. Redemption could not be accomplished except by the Substitute bearing the penalty and dying, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. The Lord Jesus from the beginning knew what it all meant, for he often told his disciples what would surely happen to him. He did not go to a suffering of which he was not aware. He was not, as one said, like a man who went in among machinery to Bet it right, and was caught in a great wheel which was too strong for him, and so was dragged to death. My brethren, our Lord knew all about the strength of that great wheel: he foretasted all the woe which the accomplishment of his Father’s purpose would cost him; but he went forward, resolvedly laying down his life, that he might take it again; therefore his Father loved him, as well he might. Victim by intent! Redeemer by resolve! Be thou glorified for ever! Let me put to you a little picture. No doubt our Queen has a strong affection for her sons. She loves them as her children; but if it should so befall, that one of the princes was found upon the sea-coast in the hour of storm, endeavouring to save men from a wreck; and if the prince, when others stood back, bravely ventured his life to rescue the perishing, would not his royal mother love him for his humanity? If he threw himself into the surf in his eagerness to save; if, foreseeing the consequences, he persevered in giving his own life that he might bring poor perishing men to shore— would not his mother feel that she loved him anew for his heroism? I think so. Would not any of us love with renewed affection a dear son who had displayed a sacred self -denial for the good of men? Now turn your thought, reverently, to the great Father of spirits, who loves his Son as his Son, but yet loves him specially, because, out of pure, unselfish love, he laid down his life without debate. Marvel not that he said, “Therefore doth my Father love me.”

     The chief source of this peculiar love was his actual death as the perfecting of his obedience. He had become a servant, and he served to the end. In all his life no single disobedience ever occurred: the great Father’s will was the rule absolute. Now comes in the last clause of the obedience: he must lay down his life, for so has God appointed; and even unto this last he fails not, but willingly yields up the ghost. Jesus went to the garden and the bloody sweat; to the high priest’s hall and the false accusing; to Pilate’s hall and the scourging; to Herod and the setting at nought; to the cross with its nails, its scorn, its darkness, its fever, its death-agony— he went to it all as a lamb goes willingly to the slaughter. On the way to death he was careful to obey: he would not die until every Scripture had been accomplished. His last words, “I thirst,” were spoken that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. He carefully observed the Father’s will in all things— in the detail as well as in the gross; and to prove that he obeyed even to the end, he said, “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” The Father is infinitely delighted with the perfect obedience of the Son. Ho is a holy God, and he sees in Jesus holiness perfected by patience, and therefore he calls him “Mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth.”

     Remember, also, that the death of our Lord Jesus was not only the perfection of obedience, but the vindication of God’s righteous law. Some would have a God without law, that he might be love alone. This might suit anarchists, and the like; let them, like the heathen, have a god of their own making. Is it not well spoken by the Psalmist, “They that make them are like unto them”? A lawless man fashions for himself a lawless god. But he who knows that society cannot exist unless there be law, and unless law be sanctioned with reward and punishment, delights to see that this is, also, the mind of God. God has the deepest concern for order and law. There was no anger in God against men, as men; for while they abode in purity, he communed with them; but the thrice-holy God must hate evil in every form, and he must abhor it even in his most favoured creatures. If the Lord should forgive sinners without demanding a penalty, he would weaken the foundations of moral government. In his magisterial capacity the Judge of all the earth perceived that he could by no means spare the guilty. It would not have been an act of mercy to the race of men if God had winked at human sin in any case. It would have been in conflict with the fundamental law of the universe. Every rank of angels, and intelligent beings in all worlds, would have been affected— affected mischievously— had it been proved that Jehovah had in any case set aside his own perfect law, and allowed the breach of it to go unpunished. It is not a case of private offence against an individual, it is rebellion against the highest authority. Sin must be punished, therefore; and Jesus came to do honour to the broken law. He was innocent; but he voluntarily submitted himself as the Representative for men, to suffer so that God could righteously forgive. The law must be magnified, and made honourable, and when the Lawmaker himself died under the penalty of the law, then a sufficient vindication was given to the vital principle of moral government. The law became more illustrious in righteousness by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ than if every guilty son of Adam had been cast into hell because of his transgressions. His sufferings were unto the law of God a full justification for the free pardon of guilty men: and as the Father looks at the Son, and sees him lay down his life that he might take it again, he is well content in justice to forgive, and in righteousness to justify, the sinner. Truly said the Lord Jesus, “Therefore doth my Father love me.”

     Beloved, my heart delights in the thought that he who is a consuming fire against all sin, yet, when he looks on Christ, sees such a vindication given to his law, that he can justly sheathe his sword, and smile on those whom once he was bound to smite.

     Once more, I think we may say that the Father loves the Son in his death and resurrection, because he herein manifested his supreme love to men. We may say of our Lord Jesus, “Yea, he loved the people. All his saints are in his hand.” The love of Jesus to his chosen is no new thing; no idea that sprang up yesterday, to perish to-morrow. Long ages ago, when the mountains were not brought forth, and the ancient hills had not lifted their heads, the saints had a dwellingplace in the heart of God. He saw us in the glass of his foreknowledge, and loved us according to the predestination of his will. From of old the Father loved us so as to give us his Son, and the Son loved us so as to give his life a ransom for us; and because of this love to one chosen object there was a fresh display of love to each other. I said, in the opening of my discourse, that the Father always loved the Son as God, but in our text we have a love of him as Man and God in one wondrous personality, in which are blended the two natures of holy God and perfect Man. The Mediator loved us so that he died for us, a sacrifice unto God, presented by infinite love in our room, and place, and stead; and he says, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life.”

     Only this word more— the resurrection is mentioned as ensuring the result, and as therefore being another opportunity for love to break forth. Jesus says, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again.” If that prince, of whom I spoke just now, had leaped from the side of a vessel to save a drowning man, it would have been a grand action; but if he sank never to rise again, his memory would have been enshrined in the grief of the Queen’s heart; but he would not have been able to say, “Therefore does my mother love me.” Jesus sinks into the dark wave, but he rises again. I see him make the great plunge into the abyss; but he cries, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” He lifts his head above the black billows, he strikes out for the shore, he lands in safety with those whom he has rescued. How the Lord must delight in the risen Jesus, and in all that follows upon his victory over the grave! Now is death defeated by the death of the Well-beloved. Now is a new life ensured for dead sinners, the clearance of all the once condemned published both to hell and heaven. Say who is he that has passed the iron gate, descended into the abodes of death, and then returned triumphant to the upper air. Who is this, ye angel-watchers, at the gates of glory? Who is this kingly Conqueror? “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” The Lord of hosts, the Lord mighty in battle, has laid down his life, and taken it again. He has done it as readily and effectually as once he laid down his garments, and anon girt them about him again, after that he had washed the feet of his disciples. Having redeemed and cleansed us by his blood, he puts on again the human body, which for a while, he had cast aside. Jesus is glorified in all whom he has saved by his death and rising; but his greatest glory is that the Father loves him. Sweet are the songs of the saved on earth, and blessed are the anthems of the redeemed in heaven; but to Jesus, the best reward which is possible lies in this word— “Therefore doth my Father love me.” Before me, in this divine love, I see a great deep, which I may not attempt to explore: I have but brushed the surface as with a swallow’s wing.

     II. Secondly, CONSIDER THE FATHER’S COMPLACENCY IN US ON ACCOUNT OF HIS DELIGHT IN HIS SON. Beloved, the Father loves his Son so much that his love overflows its banks, and covers all of us whom the Lord Jesus has taken to be his own. The Father’s love is like a great beacon-light kindled in honour of the Well-beloved, but shedding its radiance far and wide to enlighten those who sit in darkness, and in the valley of the shadow of death. Let us contemplate this fact so fraught with blessing to all believers.

     First, as our Lord Jesus is Man, the Father places his work to man’s account. The Lord had made man in his own image; he had created him a remarkable being of united matter and spirit; but man made a revolt from him, so that “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth.” When the Lord looks upon our race at this moment, he cannot take satisfaction in creatures who have made themselves so vile. Our nature is prone to evil, and it cannot but be abhorrent unto the thrice-holy Jehovah. Yet is not man blotted out from the list of beings, for there is one Man, true man, born of a woman, made under the law, a partaker of flesh and blood, who is in himself so well-pleasing to the Lord, that he makes up for all the displeasure felt towards the rest of our race. This Man was so obedient, so self-sacrificing, so pure, so devout, so gentle, so everything that is admirable, that when the Father considers him, the virtues of that one Man’s life and death endear to him the race; so that for his sake he forgets the sins of men, and is well pleased to accept all who are united to him. “By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” The savour of this one Man’s sacrifice has sweetened all the offerings of his fellows. It was a Man who, for the sake of the divine glory, sweat, as it were, great drops of blood, and died upon the cross; and therefore is the Lord well pleased, even with guilty men for whom Jesus stood as the second Adam, and for whom he has won acceptance before the throne.

     Next, remember that the Lord Jesus has so glorified the Father, that his great achievements are made to redound to our benefit. All the works of God’s hands praise him; all the deeds of his providence extol him; but redemption brings him his highest honours. In the person of the Redeemer, Jehovah is best made known.

“God, in the person of his Son,
Has all his mightiest works outdone.”

When the Father hears dishonour put upon the divine name by blasphemers, or false teachers; when he sees the drunkenness and lust, the pride and cruelty of men; he is grieved at his heart: but on the other hand, all the dishonour is covered and put away by the glory of the character and work of the Man, Christ Jesus. I cannot utter my own thoughts on this point; much less can I think adequately upon such a theme. It is as if the millions of the redeemed were so many evil lamps all pouring forth darkness, and death-shade, and filling the universe with blackness; and then, on the other side, this one blessed lamp of God stood alone, pouring forth light; and the sacred light was so powerful that it banished all the darkness of the myriad night-makers, and created eternal and unclouded day. I will change the figure, and say that all of us were as the Dead Sea, full of foul waters, reeking with deadly odours, and the life of Jesus, poured out for us, has turned that lake of death into a pure and sparkling sea of life. The purity of Jesus suffices to purify all the multitudes of the human race who put their trust in him. God loves his Son because he getteth a glory from him which cancels the dishonour wrought by all the sins of men.

     Note, again, that as God has great complacency in his Son, it runs over to us, because we are one with Jesus. I say not this of you all; for some of you have nothing to do with Christ at this present; but of as many as believe in Jesus, I may say, “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” The Father’s love to his Son extends to all the members of his Son’s mystical body. What though we should be only comparable to the soles of our Lord’s feet, and are still in the mire, yet, if we are in the body, we share with the Head in all its glories. You know the old proverb, “Love me, love my dog”; and certainly the Lord Jesus Christ might well say, “Love me, love the least of my people.” The Father, like David, loves every lame Mephibosheth of the household, for the sake of his Jonathan. Brethren, as many of us as are joined unto the Lord by a living faith are one with Jesus, by eternal union one. When he died, we died; when he rose, we rose; we were condemned and justified in him; and now that the Father loves him, we also are beloved in him. What a blessed thing it is that the Father loves One who has such an intimate relation to us as to be our Representative and Head! Meditate upon this overflow of the Father’s love to the elect whom he has given to his Son. He so loved the Chief Beloved, that, for his sake, we are accepted, beloved, perfected, and at last glorified. This is true of myriads of men; myriads! You speak of great congregations; but all that ever assemble here are a mere handful. Look at the countless congregation redeemed by our Lord’s death: “a multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” Remember the multitudes who have died in infancy, redeemed by precious blood from all the consequences of the fall. Consider the multitudes of converts in the latter days, when the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous:” how many, human arithmetic fails to tell.

     Now, call to mind the number and the variety of sins which have been committed by the redeemed company. All those sins are washed away by the blood of Christ. The love of God in Christ Jesus sees no iniquity in Jacob, for the atonement has put away all manner of offences. The love of the Father to Jesus has made us comely in his comeliness, despite the multitude of deformities which were found in us. O sea of love, in which so vast a host of sins was swallowed up! How greatly doth the Father love the Son when, for his dear sake, he covers all the myriad causes of displeasure, and makes us precious in his sight!

     Then remember that, while Jesus has redeemed so many, and cleansed them from so many sins, he has done more; for by the Father’s love to him they are made partakers of very many most costly blessings. Could you calculate the wealth of benefits wherewith the Lord daily loadeth his redeemed? Covenant mercies, who shall weigh them? Yet they all come through the Father’s love of Jesus.

     Above all, reflect that we have eternal life through our Lord’s death. God so loves Jesus that, because of his temporary death, he has given endless life to all the redeemed. Jesus died once, and therefore we live for ever. Because the Father’s love to him can never die, and he ever lives, we shall live also. His passing sorrow brings us eternal glory. Because of Christ’s death, millions and millions of years hence we shall still be the children of God, and shall be with Jesus where he is, beholding the glory which the Father has given him. Admire the measureless merit of the Lord Jesus! Meditate with reverence upon the overflowing torrents of the Father’s love to his Son! Because of his death he is unspeakably beloved, and we are beloved in him. Here it were well to pause. No tongue can ever tell out this matchless story. We are “accepted in the Beloved.” How greatly beloved must he have been to cover such base things as we are with divine acceptance! Think it over! Think it over! In heaven you will need no fuller or loftier subject of meditation than the love of the Father to the Only-begotten, enwrapping in its folds the whole family of love. “Therefore doth my Father love me.” Oh, how he must love Jesus, since for his sake he loves multitudes of sinners, and loves them all the way from the door of hell to the gate By the bliss eternal, by the rivers of pleasure that are at God’s right hand, by the glory without bounds, we may form some idea of the love of the Father to him who laid down his life that he might take it again.

     III. In the third place, CONSIDER OUR LOVE TO THE LORD JESUS ON THIS ACCOUNT. Beloved, his death is the great fact for which we love our Lord Jesus. The individual love of each believer wells up when he can say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” This, also, is the crowning evidence of God’s love to believers in general, for “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” His laying down his life is the central display of his love, and the chief cause of our affection. We love him for the holiness of his character, for the tenderness of his heart, for the excellence of his teaching; and, indeed, we love him for everything about his blessed person and work; but, if the secret must be told, our hearts were chiefly won when our Beloved put on the crimson vesture, and stood before us decked with wounds, and pale in death. Then did we sing of him—

“White and ruddy is my Beloved.”

Oh, the beauties of our King when he stands beneath the purple canopy of sacrifice! Then is our heart won and held in joyful captivity when we can say, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.” That text often thrills my heart wherein we read, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Calvary reveals the great fountain of our love. The cross is the pole whereon is uplifted the banner of love, both his and ours. We love him because he first loved us, and Golgotha is the window through which his love looketh.

     The connection of our text enhances our Lord’s love. It stands connected with the Good Shepherd. It is he that lays down his life; ho giveth it for the sheep. Will a man die for sheep? Yes, that may be. But could the Son of God die for such base creatures as we are? We were, of ourselves, by no means so great a treasure to Christ as a sheep is to a man; and yet he thought far more of us than shepherds do of their flocks. We were by nature only as so many foxes, or serpents, or creeping things; but yet the Lord Christ, having set his love upon us, would not rest till he had laid down his life for us. Alas! we were as ungrateful as we were unworthy. We even opposed the efforts of our Saviour. We acted more like goats than sheep, for we butted with our horns against our Shepherd. We were stray sheep, and did not return at his call: we did not follow him, but we went farther and farther away. We were lame as to returning; but “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” We are sheep, too, that still go astray very grievously. Woe is me that this should be true of me! After having been brought back on his shoulders, after having been pastured by his care, yet still we go astray! We are sheep that were lost; we are sheep that would lose themselves again, if they could; sheep that make a very poor return to him that shepherds us. “Is this thy kindness to thy Friend?” is a question which might often awake sad memories in our hearts. Beloved, let us love our Lord more! Surely, wo cannot help it, as we perceive our own undesert, and the greatness of his love whereby he laid down his life for us.

     Bethink you well that the Lord laid down his life of his own free will, and under no constraint whatever. If you or I were to die for other people, we should be only doing a little sooner what we shall be obliged to do one day; for death is the debt of nature which, sooner or later, all must pay. If a man yields his life for another, he only anticipates by a short season the time when he must lose it. But Jesus needed not to die at all, so far as he himself was concerned. “Messiah was cut off, but not for himself.” What love is this! He wills to die. He saith of his life, “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again, my Father.” resolute. This commandment have I received of Herein is love indeed, free love, deliberate, and I see the bullocks going to the altar of the temple; poor, dumb, driven cattle, they know not that they are to be a sacrifice: they cannot throw into their deaths the merit of devout intent. Behold our Lord going to the slaughter as a sheep for patience, but not like a sheep for knowledge and purpose: he knew what that slaughter meant, and why he must endure it. “Lama sabachthani!” was in its meaning known to him before he uttered the cry. He foresaw the death of the cross: he was made a curse for us, knowing what the curse meant, and calmly revolving to bear it. For this deliberation of love he has our inexpressible gratitude and love. Do we not each one love him?

     We should love him, for Jesus laid down his life for each one of his people. This love in general is a delightful theme; but how tender and touching it becomes when each one sees his own participation in it, and cries, “He loved me, and gave himself for me”! Love delights in personal pronouns, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” Love is most of all excited and called forth by a personal sense of gracious gifts received. It is a heart-moving song when we can sing, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given.” Remember that, to save one single soul, our Lord would have had to die, and yet to save all men in the world he could have done no more; and if there had been as many worlds of sinners as there are grains of sand upon the sea-shore, his one death would have been a sufficient vindication of the law on account of them all. We can imagine no limit to the value of Christ’s atoning sacrifice; its object could not have been attained by anything less than the laying down of his life. He died for his flock, and for each one of his sheep in particular; so that we may each one say to-day, “He loved me, and gave himself for me”; and each one know that for himself, with special intent, the Lord Jesus bore the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion. Therefore we must, each one of us, love him to our heart’s utmost capacity.

     Indulge yourself with a sight of his love as it hangs bleeding on the tree. It may be, poor soul! this morning, thou art bowed down with trouble because of sin, and yet thou art a child of God: see, then, how Jesus loves! Do what thou didst at first, when, in thy soul’s dark hour, thou didst look to Jesus. Look to his cross. Look wholly to the slain Jesus.

“His blood hath made peace,
And brought us release;
And now the old bondage for ever must cease.
Who trust in his might He leads into light;
Nor can any enemy break on his right.”

Blessed, for ever blessed, be thy dear name, O Jesus! There is none like it in heaven, nor in the heaven of heavens. How shall we praise him? Our tears of gratitude come to our rescue; if we cannot speak his praises, we will weep them.

     IV. I shall conclude by saying, CONSIDER WHAT A FELLOWSHIP IS OPENED UP BETWEEN THE SAVED ONES AND THE FATHER. The Father loveth the Son, and we love him also, after our measure. Brethren, we are agreed with the great God with whom once we were at enmity. Since we have seen our Lord lay down his life for us, we love him; how can we do otherwise? For the same reason the Father loves him. The very strongest love is confirmed when a common object of affection becomes a rivet between the two parties. Two hearts may be one in married love; but their union is intensified when a baby’s cry is heard in the house. Seldom are they parted by divorce who have blended their love in watching over a company of little children.

     Beloved, when the Father looks on Jesus, he sees One who is altogether lovely to him, and when we look on Jesus in our poor, half-blinded manner, we also are charmed by his beauties. No enmity can remain between a soul and God when love to Jesus becomes the masterpassion of the life. By his cross, our Lord has slain the enmity. His death has cast a bond around the divided ones, and has reconciled us to God. The thrice-glorious Jehovah agrees with the blood-washed sinner in glorifying his Son. In the blood of Jesus we are made clean, and therefore we love him: the Father sees Jesus pouring out his heart’s blood to make us clean, and he loves him on that account: thus the two who were apart are agreed in one. Henceforth we desire to honour Christ, and we are grieved if he is not magnified. Whenever you hear a sermon which praises the Lord Jesus, do not your hearts dance like David before the ark? But if your Lord is dishonoured, do you not feel indignant? Could you not bear anything sooner than hear your Lord defamed? In the congregation when his atonement has been decried, have you not found yourself on the move? And if you did not move, but kept your seat, you bit your lip? You love him, and you cannot permit him to be thrust into a second place. If it were in your power, you would set him upon a glorious high throne, and make every knee bow before him. That is what the Father is doing, and will yet do: thus the Father and you are one towards Jesus.

     You have also an intense desire to become like your Lord; have you not? Ever since he bought you with his blood, and you know it, you have longed to be conformed to his image. This, also, is the Father’s design, for he desires his Well-beloved to be the “firstborn among many brethren.” He loves our Lord Jesus so much that he has predestinated us to be conformed to his image. There cannot be another divine Son, but the Father would have many human sons who shall be like the firstborn. If you have ever stood in the middle of a hall of mirrors, you have seen yourself repeated on all sides; even so shall heaven be full of lovely reflections of him who is altogether lovely; for every blood-washed one shall wear the likeness of the Lord from heaven. The Father can never have too much of his dear Son. He would have him live in ten thousand times ten thousand beloved ones; and as this, also, would be your highest joy, you have in this desire a wonderful bond of union between you and the Father.

     I think I hear you say, “Now I perceive that the Father himself loved men, for he gave the Son he loved so well to die for them, and loved him for dying on their behalf.” This is an instructive discovery. When Abraham called Isaac to go up to Mount Moriah to be offered up as a sacrifice, Isaac could have resisted his father’s will; but he did not. They went both of them together to the place of the offering. Abraham loved Isaac when he bound him; yes, he loved him all the more for consenting to be bound. Not only did Abraham the father offer his son, but Isaac the son voluntarily surrendered himself; and his father deeply loved him for that self-surrender. Jesus, the greater Isaac, did actually give up his life in our stead, to achieve his Father’s purpose, vindicate his Father’s law, and save the people whom his Father had given him. Therefore doth the Father love him, and we love him, and we love the Father who freely delivered him up for us all. Thus love completes its circle, and God and man are made one by Christ’s work, even as they are one in his person.

     If anyone here has, by believing contemplation, found his way through the process described in my sermon, he is no longer an enemy to God, nor even a stranger to the Most High; for the death of Jesus has drawn him nigh. If you have followed me in this track, not merely with an attentive ear, but with a willing heart, you are reconciled to God by the death of his Son. You love Jesus because he died, and God loves him for the same reason; you two have linked hands over the great sacrifice, as if I could find no better conclusion than the glowing verse of William Williams:— What a joy is this! I feel

“To thee, my God, my Saviour,
Praise be for ever new;
Let people come to praise thee
In numbers like the dew;
Oh, that in every meadow
The grass were harps of gold,
To sing to him for coming
To ransom hosts untold!’’



The Drought of Nature, the Rain of Grace, and the Lesson Therefrom

By / Nov 10

The Drought of Nature, The Rain of Grace, and the Lesson Therefrom

 

“And their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters: they came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads. Because the ground is chapt, for there was no rain in the earth, the plowmen were ashamed, they covered their heads. Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O Lord our God? therefore we will wait upon thee: for thou hast made all these things.” — Jeremiah xiv. 3, 4, 22.

 

IT is my heart’s desire and earnest prayer that many in this house may this morning say with the prophet, “O Lord our God, we will wait upon thee.” I shall not be satisfied to have delivered a discourse, nor for you to have heard it, and even approved of it, unless there shall come from it this delightful fruit, that those far off from God shall be drawn near to him; and shall say, in very deed and of a truth, “Therefore we will wait upon thee.” In God alone can men live happily; and if they would be recovered from their fallen state, it is to the Lord their God that they must turn. Oh, that they would wait upon him!

     In the last verse we have the word “therefore,” which shows that the speakers had come to this conclusion by an argument. In truth, they had been forced to their resolution by a very painful and personal argument, which God had set before them in the order of his providence. By their thirst, and by their failure to find water anywhere, the Lord had driven them to say, “Therefore we will wait upon thee.” I trust it will not be needful to urge us to conversion by sufferings as terrible. “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding.” Come willingly, since the argument for coming is clear and cogent. I should like you to go this morning mentally through the process by which the Israelites passed practically when they came to the gracious conclusion, “Therefore we will wait upon thee.” Let us begin at once with the argument, praying God to send it home to every heart by his good Spirit, that we may reach the desired conclusion.

     I. First, consider that MAN IS A VERY DEPENDENT CREATURE. He is, in some respects, the most dependent creature that God has made; for the range of his wants is very wide, and at a thousand points he is dependent upon something outside of himself. All creation exists by the will of the Lord; and if his will should cease to send forth conserving power to maintain the created things in existence, they would all cease to be. This great world— the sun, the moon, the stars — would all dissolve; and, as a moment’s foam dissolves into the wave that bears it, they would be lost for ever. At the Lord’s will the universe would be gone, as yonder bubble which your child was blowing but a moment ago, which now has vanished, and left no trace behind. God alone is by his own power: all else is dependent upon him.  

“Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown,
 Hang on his firm decree:
 He sits on no precarious throne,
 Nor borrows leave to be.”

     Man, as a living creature, is peculiarly dependent upon God as to temporals. We see in the text that when the dews no longer fell, and the rains were withholden, then the unhappy inhabitants of Palestine suffered from drought, and that drought brought with it failure of the harvest, famine, disease, and death. To quote our common saying, the people died like flies. They fell everywhere by thousands, fainting, famished, doomed. On what a feeble thread hangs human life! Water, though it be itself unstable, is needful to the establishment of human life, and without it man expires. Many an animal can bear thirst better than man. Other creatures carry their own garments with them; but we must be indebted to a plant, or to a sheep, for the covering of our nakedness. Many other creatures are endowed with sufficient physical force to win their food in fight; but we must produce our own food from the soil. Behold, how we come into the world, helpless and strengthless, utterly dependent upon others; and when our strength is developed, and our manhood is perfected, we only enter upon another phase of dependence upon our surroundings for our food; and hence, for our life, we are dependent upon drops of rain. We cannot produce food from the earth without the dew and the rain. However cleverly you have prepared your soil, however carefully you have selected your seed, all will fail without the rain of heaven. Even though your corn should spring up, yet will it refuse to come to the ear if the heavens be dry. Nor can you of yourself produce a single shower, or even a drop of dew. If God withholdeth the rain, what can the husbandman do? Call together the Parliament; collect a synod of scientists; convoke a conclave of princes; what can they do? In vain their acts, theories, and commands. When the skies are brass, the earth is iron; when God is angry, then the clouds scatter no blessings over our field, and earth yieldeth not her increase to the husbandman.

     Yes, and life itself would vanish as the food of life ceased. It would be an instructive calculation if it could be accurately wrought out—to estimate how much bread-food there is at any time laid up upon the surface of the earth. If all harvests were to fail from this date; if there were no harvests in Australia during our winter, no harvests early in the year in India and the warm regions, if there were no harvests in America and in Europe, I have been informed that, by the time of our own harvest months, there would be upon the face of the earth no more food than would last us for six weeks. How dependent we are for each year’s crop! for should there be universal failure, starvation would be closely within sight. God does, indeed, give us bread as we need it; even as, in the wilderness, he gave the manna; but we are every hour dependent upon his generous care. The bottles of heaven contain the juices of human life: if these were utterly stayed, none of us could endure the burning drought, and the consequent famine.

     See, then, the absolute dependence upon God, not only of the Eastern nations, but of all peoples of our race. Whatever may be our trade or profession, we are all fed by the fruit of the field; and whatever may be said about laws of nature, the God of nature is not bound and limited by methods of procedure. He can operate exactly as he pleases, and fill our barns to the full, or stop the supplies of grain, by the simple method of giving or withholding rain. Our breath is in our nostrils: he taketh away that breath, and we die. Apart from his preserving, the whole race of man would be turned to dust, and cease from the land of the living.

     In spiritual things this dependence is most evident. Brethren, if God shall bless us with his saving health, and with the visitation of his Spirit, we shall be as a field that God has blessed, and our lives shall be glad with a harvest to his praise. But apart from God what can we do? In this realm of spiritual things we are absolutely and wholly dependent upon God; and without his aid we are as a salt land, which is destitute of verdure. Salvation is of the Lord. Vain is all trust which builds not on him.

     The priceless blessings of pardon and grace: how can we procure them apart from God in Christ Jesus? How can sin be removed, except by the Lord, who passes by iniquity? Who is he that can absolve, but he against whom the transgression was committed? The washing from all stain: whence can it come but from those dear hands that were pierced for us? When he shall wash us and our robes in his most precious blood, then only shall we be clean, and then all the glory shall be to him as the Lamb slain. Justification and acceptance: are not these of God? What can you and I do to justify ourselves, or to make ourselves acceptable with God? These are the gifts of the covenant of grace, and God can give them; but if he gives them not, we can never obtain them. These gifts it is his royal prerogative to bestow according to the counsel of his own will.

     So is it with the life and the power of the Spirit of God, by which we are able to receive and enjoy the blessings of the covenant; the Holy Spirit, like the wind, bloweth where he listeth, and the order of his working is with the Lord alone. The new life whereby we receive the Lord Jesus: how can it come to us but from the living God himself? Can a dead soul quicken itself? Can a man steeped in sin liberate and purify himself? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” “Ye must be born again.” But can a man cause himself to be born again? Is it imaginable that the new birth is caused by the person born? The change wrought is mysterious, radical, abiding; who can work it upon himself? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. The new life must come from God! “Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The new heart and the right spirit: whence come they? Can the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, beget within itself love of God and desire for fellowship with him? They cannot be self-created; they are the work of the same hands which made the heavens and the earth. The love of holiness, and the pursuit of it, and perseverance in that pursuit: come these any way but from him who hath wrought all our works in us? Every beginning of good, yea, every desire after it, is wrought in us by God, or else it is never in us at all. We are absolutely dependent upon God, not only for all spiritual gifts, but for the power to become partakers of them.

     And, brethren, all the graces that are pleasing to the Lord, come they not to us from God our Saviour? Is there a grain of faith in the world that God did not create? Is there a spark of holy love in any human bosom that God did not kindle? Is there any true hope in any heart which the God of hope did not implant? Is there anywhere anything that is holy, or lovely, or of good repute, which has not first come from God himself, and so entered into the heart of man? Sinner, you are absolutely dependent upon God for your possession of grace, and obtaining of salvation. You lie like the dry bones in the valley, which were very many and very dry; what can you do? By what power can dry bones Live? The Lord’s prophet, as an act of faith in God, bids you live; but God’s prophet knows that you will not live by your own strength, nor by the power of his persuasion. No, his appeal is to a power beyond himself and you. He cries, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” He looks to the Holy Spirit to create life in you, and apart from that Spirit he has no hope of you.

     Putting this case very broadly— and I cannot put it too broadly— I am not afraid of exaggerating, or going too far in it: I know that for the clouds, and the rain, and the harvest, men are absolutely dependent upon the God of providence; and I know, also, that for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and for the power which saves souls, we are altogether dependent upon the great God who creates all good things.  

     Here is the pity of it: against God, upon whom we are so dependent, we have sinned, and do sin. We are dependent upon him, and yet rebellious against him. Shall the man who accepts from me his daily bread lift up his heel against me? Shall he who could not live without me, yet live to speak evil of me? Shall he abuse my goodness into a means of doing me damage? That were an atrocious thing, which could only spring from a black, ungrateful heart. Yes, every sinner who goes on in sin is acting thus ungratefully. Existing only by his infinite charity, he who continues to do evil is ungrateful in the highest degree to the Lord of love. This being the case, the dependence of guilty man upon the graciousness of divine sovereignty, and the sovereignty of divine grace is still further enhanced. Because man has broken God’s command, and continues to rebel against him, he lies all the more absolutely at the disposal of a righteous God. The traitor has now no rights; he has forfeited them. He has no claims; he has outlawed himself. O ungodly man, you can make no appeal to God’s justice; for if you do, he must award you eternal destruction. You cannot claim anything now of him as due to you, for your due is, to be driven into everlasting punishment. You are condemned before him in whose hands are the issues of life and death. You are as much in the hand of God as the prisoner condemned to die is in the hand of the royal power: indeed, you are far more absolutely so. If pardoned, it must be by the exercise of the sovereign prerogative which is vested in Jehovah, the Lord of all, who doeth as seemeth good in his sight. Provided it can be done justly, sovereignty may step in and rescue the guilty from his doom; but this is a matter which depends upon the will of the Lord alone. If you are executed, the condemnation is so well deserved, that not a word can be said against the severity which shall carry out the sentence. If God had left this sinful world to perish in its sin, none could have blamed him; it is but right that those should die who have provoked their God, and incurred the penalty which he threatened against sin. If the Lord, in the greatness of his love, chooses to save this man or that, he does no injury to any, but magnifies his mercy in those whom he redeems from deserved death. If the Lord enlightens an island, and leaves a continent in the dark, who shall accuse him? If he takes one of a city and two of a family, and brings them to himself, while the rest are suffered to have their own way, and wilfully continue in rebellion, who shall charge God with partiality, or say unto him, What doest thou? He can reply to all who object to his way of mercy, “May I not do as I will with mine own?” He layeth on no man more than is right, and what he chooses to forgive of his own bounty cannot be challenged. Whether you like the doctrine or not, it is true that, as sinners, you are absolutely dependent upon the sovereign mercy of God. I wish you could see and feel this great truth; for it would tend to humble you, and prepare you to seek his favour. I pray the Holy Spirit to impress it upon everyone here who has not yet come to God in Christ Jesus. Thus much upon the first truth.

     II. Our second remark is this: MEN MAY BE REDUCED TO DIRE DISTRESS. Men, being dependent upon God, may be reduced to dire distress if they disobey him, and incur his just displeasure.

     Kindly follow me in the earlier verses of my text. Here we have great temporal distress: the people had no water! The highest ranks of society were made to feel the terrible pinch. The whole of the city was tormented with thirst, and the leading men instituted diligent search to find water. They sent to the great reservoirs which Solomon had constructed in his time—the upper and the lower pools; but they found no water. They searched again and again, but the waters had utterly failed, and they were driven to despair. They covered their heads as men who gave themselves up to die without hope. Terrible was the drought which Jehovah sent upon his land because of the sin of his people: it was as if the day of Elias had returned, wherein there was neither dew nor rain for three years and six months.

     My dear hearers, there is a spiritual distress of which this drought is a figure. Behold, as in a parable, the state into which we have seen many brought when God has begun to deal with them: to such there cometh drought of life and famine of hope. My hearer, do you know what is meant by God’s dealing with a man? Do you remember that passage in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” where one pilgrim says to the other, “Let us fall into good discourse. Where shall we begin?” The other answers, “Where God began with us.” Do you know what that means? Has God begun with you? If so, you will follow me with understanding when I say God makes the aroused and convicted man conscious of the greatest conceivable want, even of a drought in his own soul. These people were conscious that they wanted water; the case was worse than that, they were tormented with thirst. So does God come to men, and make them feel that they need the living water of his grace, and he sets them thirsting for it. They did not know their need before, but went on merrily enough, content with the pleasures of time and sense; but now, being quickened, they feel an intolerable hunger and thirst after higher and better things. They are tormented by an insatiable desire, which cannot and will not be set aside. Have we not seen these thirsty ones? Have we not pitied them? Have we not pointed them to the one and only source of supply? Have we not in secret rejoiced over them as we have foreseen to what their anguish tended?

     To proceed a little in detail with the words of my text: when the Lord causes sinners to feel the spiritual drought, pride is humbled. “Their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters.” Generally, the nobility concern themselves little enough about water; but in great drought King Ahab and his chancellor, Obadiah, went forth themselves to find water. In this case the nobles sent their servants, nay, even their sons and daughters, to discover some source of supply. So God knows how to teach a man so that his lofty thoughts are humbled, and his pride is brought down to the dust. My lord, you will feel yourself a nobody should the Spirit deal with you in conviction. Not long ago, your excellency looked down from the highest seat in the synagogue, but now you sit down in the dust, and count everyone your superior. The philosopher grows into a little child, and gladly accepts the cup which aforetime he sneered at. We heard you singing to your own honour and glory the other day; but now you have no song to sing, but you cover your lip and mutter, “Unclean, unclean, unclean!” When the Lord lays his hand on a man, he makes his beauty to consume away like the moth. From head to foot the man is moved: his soul within him melteth, and all his glory is rolled in the mire. Our noblest thoughts become lowly seekers after the water of life in the day of our distress.

     But you observe that when humbled and made thirsty, these people went to secondary causes: they came to the pits, or reservoirs. Reservoirs in the East are sometimes great caverns in the natural rock, and at other times they are excavated by labour, or built up by skill, and then streams are turned into them, and they hold a great storage of water. Some of the children of the nobles thought they knew of caverns which others had not seen, hidden cisterns under ground, which had been forgotten; and they went forth to find them. They hurried to the place where they hoped for the priceless water; but we read not that they cried unto God, or sought mercy of Jehovah, who could right speedily have given them rain. They resorted to the secondary causes, but they turned not to the hand which smote them. Thus souls, when they are awakened, go to fifty things before they come to God. It is sad that, in superstition, or in scepticism, they look for living streams. They try reformation of manners— I have nothing to say against it; but apart from God reformation always ends in disappointment. They seek consolation from an orthodox creed, for which I might have much to say; but if a belief in a creed be trusted in, it is as if a man sought to quench his thirst with a bottle, but did not care to see whether it held water or no. A creed is a pitcher, in which the water is held, but it is not the water itself. Some try forms and ceremonies in abundance, and to these they add self-denials and penances: they suffer anything sooner than come to God for his grace. Grace is a port to which no man steers until it is seen to be the only one into which he can enter.

     O my heart, my heart, how is it that thou canst be so loath to go to thy Father and thy God? O ye that are wandering at this time from one creature-trust to another, I pray you cease your roaming, and come home to God, who alone can help you. There is no hope for you but in God, and the way to God is by his Son Christ Jesus. Why do you gad about so much? Straightforward to God is the surest, safest way— why do you not take it? God is our haven and our heaven; why are we so reluctant to seek him? O man, why wilt thou turn to saints, to angels, and even to devils, rather than to the Lord thy God? But I know thee, thy heart is set on idolatry, and this is the essence of idolatry— that thou seekest to the creature rather than to the Creator.  

     If you read on, you will find that when they went to these secondary supplies, they were disappointed: “They came to the pits, and found no water.” They found mud, black, filthy mud; but no water. Once they saw the sparkling liquid in the cool cave; but it was all spent. When waters were to be found everywhere else, the cisterns were full; but when all else was dry, they were dried also. They stooped down, they searched in the darkness; they tried, at least, to get a cupful of the precious liquid; but it is written, “They found no water.” Disappointed, “they returned with their vessels empty.” The women with their water-pots upon their heads presented a sad sight as they entered the city-gate, and one after another all sighed, “Empty! Empty!” They thirsted to drink; but not a drop was found to cool their tongues. It is an awful thing to come home from sermon with the vessels empty; to rise from the communion-table, having found no living water, and return with vessels empty. To close the Bible, and sigh, “I find no comfort here, I must return with my vessel empty.” When the ordinances, and the Word yield us no grace, things have come to an awful pass with us. Do you know what this disappointment means?

     Now, upon this disappointment, there followed great confusion of mind; they became distracted; “they were ashamed and confounded.” On the back of that confusion came despair; “they covered their heads.” The Orientals cover their heads when in the deepest grief, as David did, when he went over the brook Kedron. It means, “I cannot face it. Do not look on me in my sorrow, nor expect me to look on you. I cover my head, for it is all over with me.” Thus have I met with many who, after going to many confidences, have been disappointed in all, and seem ready to lie down in despair, and put forth no more effort. They fear that God will never bless them, and they will never enter into life eternal; and so they sign their own death-warrants. Shall I confess that I have been better pleased to see them in this condition than to hear their jovial songs at other times? It is by the gate of self-despair that men arrive at the divine hope? I would to God that many a Mr. Vain-confidence sitting here might be struck down to the ground, and be compelled to end his proud boastings, by going at once to Jesus only! Oh, that they might come to that holy and safe conclusion, of which I keep on thinking all the while I am preaching to you— the Scriptural and logical conclusion mentioned in my text— “Therefore we will wait upon thee.”

     At last, when these people came to despair, it is very remarkable how everything about them seemed to be in unison with their misery. Listen to the third verse: “They covered their heads.” Did you hear the last words of the fourth verse? They were the very same: “They covered their heads.” Surely the second is the echo of the first. It is even so: earth has sympathy with man. Nature without reflects our inward feelings. When God makes us happy we “go forth with joy, and are led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills break forth before us into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their hands.” But when we are in despair, then all nature echoes our misery. “The ground is dismayed,” so it runs in the Hebrew; the very earth is frightened for want of rain, and opens its mouth, gasping for fear. “The ground is dismayed, for there was no rain in the earth, the plowmen were ashamed, they covered their heads.” Have you ever been in such a state of mind that you knew your need of the water of life, but were not able to find it anywhere? If so, you have been unutterably miserable, and all creation has put on mourning to keep you company. Earth is responsive to man, whom the Creator made to be her lord. Nature rings her marriage peal to sound forth man’s happiness, or tolls her knells to mourn the funerals of his joys. If you have drawn down the blinds of your heart, and your soul sits in the dark, then the heavens are darkened too; or if not, the very brightness of nature seems another form of blackness to you, and her joys mock your griefs, and cast salt into your wounds. When men are cast down, and their face is covered, then nature covers her face too, and all the universe is sad. Alas, for the day when the hand of the Lord is sore on the soul! Then our moisture is turned into the drought of summer.

     III. I have brought you so far in the argument, now I must rush on to the conclusion. Man is a very dependent creature; man may be reduced to dire distress; and thirdly, MAN S ONLY SURE RESORT IS HIS GOD. God is a refuge for us.” If I address myself to any hero who are in such trouble as I have described, let me press upon them this thought— the only place of refuge for you is in God as he reveals himself in Christ Jesus. Hasten to him! Lay hold upon his strength! Hide under the wings of his care!

     For, first, there is no help anywhere else. Read verse 22:— “Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain?” He saith not “the gods of the Gentiles”: those who were ‘gods’ in better days are seen to be, in truth, nothing but vanities in the time of need. To make rain is a divine prerogative; hence the priests of the idols pretend to it for their false deities. The Rain-maker is found in every idolatrous country, but I think scarcely anybody believes in him now. What antics and tricks the Rain-makers go through to produce rain, but it does not come, neither can their gods create a cloud! And where can any of you go to get grace if you refuse to look to God alone? There is a rain-maker over there at the Ritualistic church, who can produce a shower on the child’s heart, by which it becomes “a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” But I trust you are not so foolish as to believe in him; and therefore you will not make a fruitless journey towards priestcraft. Where will you go? Come not to any of us poor gospellers, for in us you will find nothing: we are only fingers to point you to the Lord Jesus, in whom all fulness dwells. The long-descended priest of the church of Rome, who can, for a shilling, grant you absolution— will you look to him? No, you have still some wit remaining, and feel that to be absolved of man will not ease your conscience. Priests of Baal are of small account when a total drought and a terrible dearth are in the land. In the days of Elijah they cried aloud, and cut themselves with knives, and said, “O Baal, hear us! O Baal, hear us!” but only the God that answered by fire could answer by water; and Baal could do neither the one nor the other. Therefore we will leave Baal alone, and all the prophets of the grove, with their candles, and their crucifixes, and their incense, and their robes. I know where you are likely to go, and that is to your own frames and feelings, to your own resolves and doings. Alas for your folly! Oh, yes, you want to get peace, and so you take the pledge, and you vow that you will become a decent, sober body, and all that. What are these confidences but vanities of the heathen? The very best of duties that you and I can perform, if we put our trust in them, are only false confidences, refuges of lies, and they can yield us no help.

     Nay, look; according to the text there is no help for us even in the usual means of grace if we forget the Lord. Read that second question: “Can the heavens give showers?” Showers come from the heavens, but the heavens cannot yield showers apart from God. The eastern sky, without rain, is blue, bright, beautiful; but after months of pitiless drought, when no tear of pity has stood in the eye of the heavens, the blue colour becomes the ensign of melancholy; and if this continues month after month it becomes the colour of despair. Until the Lord opens the windows of heaven to pour out the blessing, neither sun, nor moon, nor stars can help the need of man. If God does not help thee, O tried and anxious soul, the sacraments are all in vain, though they be ordained of heaven; and preaching and reading, liturgy and song, are all in vain to bring the refreshing dew of grace. Job truly saith, “If God will not withdraw his anger, the proud helpers do stoop under him.” If God himself save thee not, O man, all that can be done by men or angels throughout the ages can never help thee one single jot. Thou art lost, lost, lost, if a stronger arm than man’s be not stretched out to help thee!

     But with God is all power. There is the mercy: “Art not thou he, O Lord our God? for thou hast made all these things.” See in how short a time he covers the heavens with clouds, and pours forth an abundance of rain till he makes the wilderness a pool, and the dry land springs of water. He can; he can! He can reach the extremity of human weakness and woe. What can he not do? Nothing is too hard for the Lord; and thou, poor sinner, dried up like the sand of the desert, God can, within an hour, ay, in a moment, make thy heart to be flooded with his grace. He is the Creator, making all things out of nothing; and he can create in thee at once the tender heart, the loving spirit, the believing mind, the sanctified nature. What though thou hast no grace this morning, no, not a drop of it; he can open streams in the desert. Thou canst not find within thyself, wherever thou lookest, any trace of love, or holy feeling, or aught that is good; yet he can give thee all, can give thee all for nothing, can give it thee just now! If thou believest that he can, and wilt trust him, as he displays his love in the Lord Jesus, he will save thee. He can give thee the power to believe it, and lead thee now to cast thyself on him. He can, but it hangs upon his will. Doth he not say, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”? A God without a will is no God at all; and if he has no will in the matter of salvation, then is he dethroned from his choicest empire, and man is set up above the God of grace himself. This cannot be.

     Well, then, what follows from this? If God hath all this power, our wisdom is to wait upon him, since he alone can help. We draw this inference: “Therefore we will wait upon thee.” O my beloved hearer, if you have never been converted, I pray the Holy Spirit to bring you to decision, that you may at once seek the Lord. Every road is closed but the way of sovereign grace. You have no merit, you have no strength; you never can have any merit, you never can have any strength of your own. God must save you, or you are lost to all eternity; but he can save you to glorify his own grace, and make his own mercy to be known, and to reveal his great power in turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He can save you. Submit yourself to him, then, and come to him and say, with the “therefore” of my text, “Therefore we will wait upon thee.”

     Do I hear somebody say, “How I would like to pray”? Yes, that is the way to come to God. Come to him by prayer in the name of Jesus. Do you want a prayer? This chapter is full of petitions, and there is one which I would point out to you. Here is a short one for you (verse 7), “O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it.” “Do thou it.” “Lord, I cannot create grace in my own heart, any more than I can make rain to fall from the sky; but do thou it.” “Lord, I cannot come to thee, come thou to me; do thou it.” Is not that a wonderful prayer? There is more in it than you think: the more you consider it, the bigger you will see it to be. Three monosyllables: “Do thou it!” And then observe the argument: four words all of one syllable, “for thy name’s sake.” Not for my sake, but for Christ’s sake, who is the manifestation of thy name. For thine own glory’s sake, for thy glory is thy name. Lord, make men see what a sinner thou canst save by saving me! Lord, glorify thy mercy by forgiving me; for oh, if thou wilt save such a poor, unworthy wretch as I am, even heaven itself will ring with thy praises; and even in hell they will say, “See what God can do! He saved one who was ripe for the eternal fire, and he has placed the rebel among his children.” “Do thou it for thy name’s sake.” Heartily do I commend this prayer to every soul here that is seeking the Lord. May the Spirit write it on your hearts! I cannot give you a better. “Do thou it for thy name’s sake.”

     Well then, next, if you are really going to wait upon the Lord, you must do it through a Mediator. These guilty people of Jerusalem had Jeremiah to pray for them. Jeremiah with the weeping eye fitly typifies a greater than Jeremiah. Remember the Man of sorrows, the Acquaintance of grief! Jeremiah’s Master must be your Intercessor. Beg him to be your Mediator. You cannot go in unto an absolute God; you need a Mediator. A Mediator is provided, he has presented an acceptable sacrifice, he will plead the causes of your soul. Trust in his blood instead of your tears. Let his death wash your life. Leave your case in the great Mediator’s hands; for if you believe in him, he will undertake for you; and he never faileth. He will go into the Court of King’s Bench for you, and be your Advocate, and win your suit. Come, trust yourself with Jesus; for he will save.

     Let me advise you to make a full confession of sin. Read verse 20:— “We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness: for we have sinned against thee.” Make a clean breast of it, unbosom the past, lay bare the present. Think not to cloak sin. To conceal sin is to ruin yourself; to confess it, is to find mercy. Place yourself among the guilty, for there mercy can fitly reach you.

     When you have done this, cast yourself down "before your God, saying, “Therefore I will wait upon thee.” Come through Christ, believing in the power of his precious blood, and you may draw nigh to God. Though you be loaded with sins enough to sink a world of sinners down to hell, yet if you will believe in the mercy of God through Christ Jesus, and cast yourself down at his feet, and lie there, he will never say “Depart.” Jesus hath said, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” If you perish, it is because you do not come; not because you come and he rejects you. O dear souls, I do not know some of you, others I do know; but whether known to me or not, I look at you now with loving eyes, and say, Come to my Lord. Does your heart say, “I will arise and go unto my Father”? Then am I glad. You have tried the citizens of this country, and they have sent you into the fields to feed swine; and husks are all that you have to feed upon. You have spent your money, and wasted your substance in riotous living; you can find no pleasure now, go where you may. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity! Quit the vanities, and seek the verities. Turn unto your God. Turn instantly! Hark back! Hark back! You have gone too far already in the evil way. A precipice is before you! One more step, ay, one more step, and you are over, and your eternal ruin is complete. Hark back as quickly as you can to the great God from whom you have departed! Come now, even now, for he invites you: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” While he speaks in this manner, I hope you will answer to the call, and bow at his feet at once. “To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” May the Holy Spirit lay hold on you, that you may lay hold on Jesus! God grant it, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



By the Fountain

By / Nov 3

By the Fountain

 

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall.” — Genesis xlix. 22.
“And of Joseph he said, Blessed of the Lord be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath.”— Deuteronomy xxxiii. 13.

 

DEAR friends, we long to have many converts; we count that church happy to which God adds daily of such as are being saved. But we are very much concerned about the quality of our converts. We do not wish to make up a church with a number of shallow professors, whose religion lies upon the surface, and is of a doubtful character. We are very anxious that we should have those in our fellowship who are thoroughly converted, richly experienced, and fully instructed in the deep things of God. We would have as our associates people who are established by principle rather than moved by passion. We would earnestly pray to have a company of believers added to the church who shall be like Joseph in character— fruitful trees growing by the well, whose branches run over the wall. Jacob describes Joseph as a fruitful offshoot, and he explains his fruitfulness by his position: he is fruitful “by a well.” When a vine grows near a well which is always full, and when it is able to send its roots down to drink of the unfailing spring, it may very well be fruitful, and send forth many branches. The point is, to get by the well; or, to use our second text, to tap “the deep that coucheth beneath.” If we can reach the secret fountains, and say to God, with the Psalmist, “All my fresh springs are in thee,” then shall we find nourishment for our branches, and our fruit and leaf will never fail. “Dwell deep” is a prophetic word of much value to Christians. To live upon land-drainage and casual rains may suffice for ordinary plants; but the trees of the Lord which bring forth much fruit need to penetrate below the topsoil and reach the secret fountains of grace.

     Upon that subject I am going to talk this morning. Our desire is, that we may each one of us abide in Christ Jesus, and be in constant fellowship with the Father through the Holy Spirit, so that we may, in very truth, be rooted by the well, and may drink from “the deep that lieth under.” We would be grounded and settled by living and lasting union and communion with the Eternal God. We would know the secret of the hidden life, and be filled with its fundamental principles, its constraining influences, its spiritual powers. We would drink in such supplies, by secret contact with God, that our outward life shall bear ample testimony to our private intercourse with heaven.

     May the Holy Spirit graciously aid us in our meditations while we first notice that this figure describes Joseph’s character— he was all that Jacob styled him; secondly, that this in itself was a great blessing, for it was used as such by Moses in after years; and thirdly, that it brings with it many other choice favours.

     I. First, THIS DESCRIBES JOSEPH’S CHARACTER. He flourished near to God. He was an offshoot of the old tree, and he was rooted deep by a well which always watered him. From his childhood until he died, the main point in Joseph’s character was that he was in clear and constant fellowship with God, and therefore God blessed him greatly. He lived to God, and was God’s servant; he lived with God, and was God’s child. He looked up to heaven for daily teaching and comfort; and God was with him so as not only to bless him, but to bless others for his sake; as, for instance, the house of Potiphar first, and afterwards Pharaoh and all the land of Egypt, and all the famishing nations. In this respect his branches ran over the wall in scattering blessings far and wide, and all this was the result of living in constant intercourse with God. My dear hearer, you profess to be a Christian, but have you really had dealings with God? I know you have been baptized, and you come to the communion table; but have you pressed beyond the signs to the Lord himself? Is there a root in your religion, and has that root struck deep into spiritual truth; and have you received the life and power which come from the spiritual fountain? Can you say with David, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him”? The first blessing in the Book of Psalms is, that the godly man should be “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” The great matter is, being rooted by the well; the drawing of supplies from the eternal storehouse of Christ Jesus the Lord, in whom it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell. How can we fail to be fruitful if we draw our life and all its vigour from the Lord Jesus?

     Because Joseph lived near to God he received and retained gracious principles. There is a great difference between religious principle and religious passion. Many persons are religious by starts and fits— according to their company, their feelings, or their whims. According to the influences under which they come, certain people become good, bad, or indifferent. But when a man lives in the presence of the Lord, he has fixed principles, which rule his heart, and guide his life. He fears God, not because others fear him, but because God is “to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.” He believes revealed truth, not because others believe it, but because he is sure that the Lord has spoken it, and therefore he knows it to be true. If anybody denies the faith he stands up to it, for it is precious to his heart. His moral conduct and his spiritual life are upright, true, sincere, and reverent; not because of the prejudices of education, Or the force of example, but because the Lord has placed within him a new heart and a right spirit. He does not resort to another man’s religious cistern; for there is within him “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” He discerns between truth and error; for he has learned the gospel for himself by the teaching of the Holy Ghost. He follows after holiness because he walks with the God of holiness, and the law of the Lord is written upon the tablets of his heart. The gospel of the Lord Jesus he receives by the witness of the Spirit. It is true to him, whether others receive it or reject it: he could part with anything and everything sooner than quit his hold upon the everlasting truth of God. This is to be a tree by a well, to have a religion based upon principles, to live by vital contact with the Lord. Many nowadays belong to this denomination or to that by pure accident of birth or position. They have never weighed their opinions in the balances of Scripture; indeed, many have no idea what their principles are. We have Protestants nowadays who never protest against anything, and Nonconformists who conform to everything which is in fashion. All this is bad. Ignorance in reference to divine truth is a very fruitful evil. We need an instructed people, if we are to have a fruitful people. Unless we get hold upon truth by the right hand of clear apprehension, and hold it as our heart’s treasure, we shall neither know the joy of it in days of calm, nor be held by it in nights of storm. Whence came martyrs in times of persecution, but from those who were in living union with God? Whence shall come bold confessors in these apostatizing days, if not from among persons of like character? Unless we get men and women into the church who, like Joseph, take root in the deep truth of God’s Word, we shall never see the church in full health and glory.

     Joseph showed his character throughout the whole of his life. As a child his father loved him, as our translators say, “because he was the son of his old age.” It would be better to understand the words as meaning, because he was a son of old age. He was old and wise in his ways. He was a youth of great thoughtfulness, and his thoughts were much with God. You may judge your waking thoughts by those which come to you in your dreams. Joseph had dreams at night from God, because in the day he thought of God. No doubt they were supernatural and prophetic dreams; but I now speak after the manner of men: a dream is often the reflection of the wakeful thought. Joseph as a youth dwelt very near to God, and hence he was forced to enter his protest against the evil conduct of his brothers. “Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.” Soon he became a marked young man: his brothers felt he was not one of themselves, and they hated him, called him a dreamer, and took the first occasion to get rid of him. Jacob’s household was in a very sad condition— even the grossest vice was found among his sons— and young Joseph was a speckled bird among them. By their malice he was sold for a slave into Egypt; but no sooner is he there, than we read, “And the Lord was with Joseph.” Potiphar bought him, but the Lord made all that he did to prosper. It is difficult for a slave to become the steward of a great man; but Joseph did so, and his master took no account of anything, but left it all absolutely in Joseph’s hands, and God blessed the house for Joseph’s sake. And then there came in his way that great temptation; and you remember his gracious answer, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” God was evidently with him, keeping him in the way of innocence: he could not grieve his God, for his God was his delight. By false accusation he was cast into prison; but we read that “the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” Soon he became the under-jailer, and was helpful to the prisoners. His branches were always running over the wall in the form of usefulness to others. The prison was brightened by his presence; and as soon as he was prepared for the position, a straight path was opened for him from the prison to the court of Pharaoh. In the hour of his elevation he did not forget God. When about to interpret the royal dreams, he said, “God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” He is a young man greatly gifted, and he may miss preferment if he mentions his religion; but this does not daunt him: again and again he says, “God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do.” On the throne his God is still with him, and guides him in all things, and he exclaims, “God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” When he sees his aged father, their talk is concerning the Lord God. When he comes to die, he says to his brethren, “I die, but God will be with you.” he gave commandment concerning his bones, that he should not be buried in Egypt, for he was no Egyptian, though he had been lord of the land, but he would be carried away to the land of promise in the day when Israel should quit the stranger’s land. Always the Lord his God is the star of Joseph. This is his character: he is in the fear of God all the day long. He was a fruitful bough by a well, and that well was his God.

     This abiding near to God made Joseph independent of externals. His resources were within, and therefore he was not to be injured by things without. His springs were deep, and therefore not affected by circumstances.

     He was not dependent upon family surroundings. At home, the society of his father would nourish his early piety, but he was just as gracious in the house of Potiphar. The degrading idolatries of Egypt did not make him unfaithful to the unseen God. Some of you young people not only owe your religious impressions to your parents; but I fear that if you were removed from them you would have no religion of your own. Are my fears correct? It is an anxious time when a lad leaves his home to be apprenticed, or to take his first place. If he has nothing but borrowed religion, he will soon yield to ill company; but if he lives in God for himself, he will stand. If he has lived upon his parents as a mistletoe lives on the oak, it will be bad for him; but if he has root in himself, and has lived upon God, all will be well. Hereditary religion is hopeful when it is also personal religion, but not else. If you are not living in God on your own account, your religion may as well fail you at once; for it will ultimately do so.

     Many professing Christians are, I fear, very much dependent upon and the currents of godly society, which are often sufficiently revival excitement strong to bear with them those who have no living principle. If religion seems to prosper, if many press into the congregation, if large numbers throng the inquiry room, these people are very happy, and very earnest. But after the summer-tide is over, where are they? This is the great burden which every earnest evangelist has to bear: so many seem born for God in the heat of a revival who, nevertheless, die away when the warmth of zeal is gone. Oh, that you, my brethren, may be planted by a well, so that you may never be dried up by drought! Bless God for revivals, and never speak against them; but do not live upon them, nor cause your spiritual health to depend upon them. Those who grow upon hotbeds will not be far from dung. There are evil tendencies connected with fanaticism which are to be dreaded. Get down to the well, and let your roots drink up the fresh nourishment, which is essential to the sap of your life, and to the fruit of your usefulness. Touching the cool spring, you will know where you are when others are so carried away as not to know what they hear or do. Say to yourselves, each one of you, “I want Christ in my own heart. I want the love of God shed abroad in my own soul. I want not only to talk about heavenly things, but to know and experience them. I desire to be possessed by the Spirit of truth, and to know his power.” Be not content to live by the casual shower, or by the artificial watering-pot of special means, or by the mechanical irrigation of routine; but send down the roots of your being into the deep things of God, till you tap the great deep of divine all-sufficiency.

     Beloved friend, I pray you seek after a spiritual life which is not even dependent on outward ordinances. It is a great comfort to be able to hear the Word faithfully preached; and if you can hear it, and do not hear it, you miss a great blessing and incur grievous loss. But suppose you are placed where there is no preaching of the Word, then it will be a happy circumstance if your godliness can survive such a deprivation. If you were away on some cattle ranche in South America, far from all religious worship, it would be a grand thing to be able to go to your Bible, and to your knees, and draw near to God alone, and so grow strong enough to send your branches over the wall, by blessing others, and beginning to teach or preach for Christ. This is the true way in which vigorous life shows itself. I know that the Lord’s Supper is a sacred ordinance, and I would have you come to the Lord’s Table as often as you can, for he hath said, “This do in remembrance of me”; but if it shall come to pass that you are where no Christian person is near with whom you could break bread, may you have grace to feed on Jesus himself! When the tokens of his flesh and blood are denied you, may you be driven to Jesus himself! Spiritual life loves the outward ordinances, but if it is deprived of them it survives their absence; for in very deed heavenly life draws its food from heaven. Get to God. Oh, to get to God through Jesus Christ! An hour’s communion with him means renewed life. Surely, the cluster of Eshcol must have grown near waters which were ever running. If you would glorify God, live upon God.

     I believe— and I am very sorry to have to say it— that a great many nominal Christians live very much upon the minister. I have seen it to be so beyond all question. I have noticed a church flourish and increase while a certain good man has lived and preached; but when that servant of God has departed, then they have grown cold, and have been thinned out and sadly scattered. The weaker sort were drawn and held together by the good man’s preaching; and as they cannot hear him, they will hear no one else, and their seats are empty. May this calamity never happen to this congregation; and yet I fear it would be so with many. In the days of the Judges, the people seemed wonderfully good while the judge lived; but as soon as he was gone they wandered after idols. O my beloved people, may you become so indoctrinated with the truth that you will never leave it! Be it your resolve that you will never hear anything but the gospel. Love Christ so well that you will never follow any pretended shepherd, who would lead you away from him. Keep you to Christ, and him crucified, and live on the doctrines of grace when your present leader lies asleep in his grave. Keep to the great Lord of love, whoever the preacher may be. Let it be seen that you have struck your roots too deep, and are fed by supplies too permanent for you to be dependent upon any man, however much esteemed that man may be.

     Above all, it is a great blessing to be so rooted and watered that you can live graciously and uprightly, despite personal interest. There was a time when it seemed the loss of everything for Joseph to keep close to God. A young man can get on well with elder brothers if he will please them by dropping into their habits; but if he opposes them, ho will have a sorry time of it. “Joseph, if you want to be happy with Reuben, and Simeon, and Levi, you must hold your tongue when you see them making free in their morals, or you will bring a hornets’ nest about your head.” If you would be happy at home, you must remember the old proverb, that when you are at Rome you must do as Rome does. This is the wisdom of this world; but Joseph scorns it. No, he cannot help it; he must abide with God and with holiness. What is the result? The Ishmaelites carry him away for a slave. Poor encouragement this for holy youth! In the house of Potiphar, compliance with his mistress seemed an easy way to honour and pleasure. But he could not yield to her base suggestion; he had rather bear the consequences of her hate. She falsely charges him; he comes under his master’s anger, loses his place, and is put in prison; but he cannot help it, he must obey his God. Are you of this true kind? Many will gladly walk with Christ when he wears silver sandals and a golden girdle; but if he walks barefoot through the mire, they seek other company. Oh, for that godliness which will strengthen you to quit your situation, to lose your wealth, to sacrifice your credit, and to part with your friends sooner than grieve your Lord! Oh, that you may never be unstable as water; for, if so, you will not excel! Your bow will only abide in strength if, like Joseph, the arms of your hands are made strong by the mighty God of Jacob. You must draw your soul’s nourishment from secret fountains, and wait upon the Lord where no eye sees you, or you will soon prove barren and unfruitful. To follow your Saviour whithersoever he goeth, you must daily derive your life from him.

     I cannot close this first head without saying— while Joseph thus was placed in a position of very high independence of all outward things, he was very conscious of his entire dependence upon God. Take the well away, and where was the fruitful bough? Remove “the deep that lieth under,” and then the resources even of so great a character as that of the prime-minister of Egypt would have been dried up. We can stand alone with God; but we fall without him: we can bear the brunt of the battle, without a friend or an armour-bearer; but if the Lord does not cover our head we are undone. Like Samson, we can slay the Philistines:

“But if the Lord be once withdrawn,
And we attempt the work alone,
When new temptations spring and rise,
We find how great our weakness is.”

Dear young friends, while I would exhort you to think for yourselves, and judge for yourselves, and act for yourselves with a holy independence of others; yet never forget where your strength lieth, and never rely upon yourselves. Never resolve to do anything apart from the Lord; never say, “I am sufficient,” but always, in conscious insufficiency, fall back upon that grace which never faileth. Self is a mocker, pride is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. All your usefulness, and all your faithfulness, will come to an end unless you fix your entire dependence upon Jehovah, the beginning and the end of all that is good. Keep by the deep well of boundless love; draw from the fountain of all-sufficiency, and may the Lord bless you henceforth and for ever!

     II. This brings me now to notice, under my second head, that THIS IS OF ITSELF A GREAT BLESSING. Moses, in my second text, mentions “the deep that coucheth beneath,” as having its own form of blessing. This was for Joseph’s race a blessing. It is a high favour to know the deep things of God, and to enjoy the far-down securities, enjoyments, and privileges of the children of heaven.

     In deep union to God are to be found the very truth and life of godliness. As for outward religion, what is it? You may practise all the ordinances without fault, and yet you will be godless unless your spirit has had converse with the Lord. A good man is in Scripture said to be a godly man. He is a man of God— God’s man: he lives for God, he lives with God, he lives on God. If you do not believe in God, love God, glorify God, not all the outward forms on earth, nor rites that God has given, can make up a religion for you that is worth a single penny. You may be orthodox in creed, as I hope you will be; but unless you really grasp and apprehend the things of orthodoxy, and so come to the God of truth, and the Holy Spirit of truth, you have a set of words, and nothing more. A man may possess the catalogue of a library, and yet be without a book; and so may you know a list of doctrines, and yet be a stranger to truth. You may have in your hand a map of a fine estate, and a list of all the treasures in the mansion, and yet you may not have a place whereon to set your foot. A knowledge of the technicalities of theology is of small use unless you enjoy the truths to which they refer. You must know the Lord, and abide in Christ. Do not say, “I have joined the church, sir, and attend the prayer-meetings, and take my share among the workers.” Yes, I know; but true religion is more than this. It is repentance towards God. It is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. “Dear sir,” cries one, “I accept what you say; and dispute none of your teaching.” That may be; but this does not content me. If you receive the truth as my teaching, I am sorry. I desire you to receive it as the Word of God. Go to the Bible for yourself. Seek to be taught by the Spirit of God. Ask to have the truth of God written upon your heart by the Holy Ghost. You have not received the truth rightly unless it comes to you with power as the Word of the living God.

     When a man like Joseph can be compared to a fruitful tree by a well, because he is rooted in fellowship with God, he has the blessedness of drawing his supplies from secret, but real, sources. His life is hid, and the support of his life is hidden too. The world knoweth him not; but the secret of the Lord is with him. There is the tree, and there is the fruit, these can be seen by all; but none can see the roots which are the cause of the clusters, nor the deep that lieth under, from which those roots derive their supply. God’s hidden ones are a wonder unto many. Oh, to dwell with him who is invisible, and so to become ourselves partakers of an unseen life! The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Oh, to have eternal life, and to be heirs of an eternal heritage! It is a great thing to cultivate the inner life, for it is the true life; but unless a man dwells with God in secret, he forgets the inward life: he is so taken up with washing the outside of the cup and the platter, that his inward part remains very wickedness. This will never do, for the Lord looks at the heart. We must see to the inward; and we shall fail to do so unless we abide near to God.

     The supplies of such a man are inexhaustible. The well is not drawn dry, and the deep that lieth under is never emptied. Plants dependent upon irrigation may pine in the drought of summer; but a tree that strikes its roots into the well does not see when heat cometh, but its leaf is green. It can never exhaust the great fountains. It may drink on and on, and yet never diminish its supplies. “God all-sufficient” is a glorious name. Infinite mercy is a storehouse for a starving world. The Lord’s own word is, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

     The man who dwells near to God has supplies which can never be cut off. We have heard of cities which have been surrounded by armies, and were never captured by assault, but were compelled to surrender because the besiegers cut off the water-courses, broke down the aqueducts; and so subdued them by thirst. Jerusalem was never thus captured, for there were deep wells within the city itself which never ceased to flow. Ah, my brethren! he that hath a well of living water within him is beyond the enemy’s power. We can go to God when we are not allowed to go to the service. The priest took away the boy’s Bible. “Yes,” said the child, “but you cannot take away those twelve chapters of John which I have learnt.” The malice of man may deny us a place of worship, but it cannot prevent our worshipping the Lord, wherever we may be. Every means of grace may be denied the believer, but the grace of the means will still come to him. God grant that neither sickness, nor travelling, nor watching at the bedside, may keep us away from the assembly of his people; but if ever it should so happen, may we then so dwell in God that the upper springs may flow freely, and feed the very roots of our spirit!

     Supplies gained by nearness to God himself are constant. Grace is not intermittent. It is not a landspring, but a well. Joseph had grace as an old man, even as he had it as a youth. A religion that ebbs and flows is a poor thing. We should desire the constancy of the sun, and not the changing of the moon. We may have grace day by day, every day, and all the day. If yours be a spring from off the deep that lieth under, it will be so. I do not say that your root can always take in the same measure of water from the well of life; but I do say that it will always be there for you to take; and I think, also, that to a large extent you will be able to partake of it with constancy. Your root will be always in the well, and so you may always drink to the full. It is wonderful how trees will grow if planted close by abundant water. I hope to see, before long, a palm which was planted in my presence some years ago. It was one of a number of palms which make a long line in a friend’s garden. They were all of one size when I saw them brought from the nursery, and the next year they all seemed pretty much upon an equality. But very soon this particular palm outstripped its fellows, and now it towers high above all the rest, till you might suppose it to be many years older. My very good friend, the owner of the garden, said to me, “You know why this palm has so far outgrown the rest. It has sent its roots down below, into that large reservoir, and so its life is powerful.” The Arabs say that the palm tree loves to have its roots in the water and its head in the fire: it would have a flowing river below and the burning sun above. Ah, beloved! we also grow as the palm tree; and if we get our roots down into the divine fountains, and can sun ourselves in the love of the Lord, we shall grow rapidly and surely.

     The supplies of the believer who dwells deep are pure as well as full. Grace through the means is apt to be diluted; but when we receive it from God alone it is grace indeed. The best of pipes are apt to make the water taste. All common watercourses mix earth with the water; but “the deep that lieth under” is out of reach of defilement. If you can draw from the pure well of gospel undefiled, you will do well. Among the Alps how often have I wished to drink! and the guide has forbidden me, and told me to wait a little; and then we have come to a leaping fount, most cool and delicious; far better than the streams which, as they ran along, had gathered earth, and decay, and evil life. Did you ever know a stream in England that ran for half a mile without some one turning it into a sewer? And so it would seem at this time as if God’s own truth could not be found in the teachings of the pulpit, pure and undefiled as given forth in Scripture by his Spirit. Do we not fear lest, with all our care, we should tincture the infallible revelation with our thoughts? O believer, go at once to thy God for teaching! Again I remind you of David’s words— “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” Draw your supplies at first hand. Do as he did who had been made ill with impure milk: he kept a cow of his own. Instead of expositors, read the Bible for yourself. In Bible light the Bible is best seen. If the human waterpot fails, it will not matter if you are “a fruitful bough by a well.”

      III. Lastly, I would remind you that THIS BRINGS WITH IT OTHER BLESSINGS. If you are by the well, sending your roots into its waters, you will obtain fruitfulness. A fruitful tree is ono which is well sustained at the root. Dear friends, it is by no means wisdom to cry, “I will work hard, and try to bear fruit.” Fruit is not produced by work. No vine toils to produce grapes. It buds, and blossoms, and bears fruit in the order of its nature. Wo have a great deal of fruitless working nowadays. Religion is pumped up. Devotion is too often mechanical; godliness is supplanted by artificial excitement; and love to God by perpetual fussiness. Zeal for God is counterfeited by “much ado about nothing.” If the inner, secret life is in good order, precious fruit is brought forth both by sun and moon. The gardener never says, “It is time for me to go and work a hundredweight of grapes out of my vine.” Oh dear, no! Beginning early in the year he spies a shoot, and by-and-by there is a tiny flower, and the leaves appear, and so on in regular order, and only at last can ho hope to gather the rich cluster from the vine. There is no noise in the production of the vintage; you never heard a vine groaning, nor saw it sweating, nor noticed it straining a single shoot. If vines get their roots down into good soil, they bring forth fruit, as it were, naturally. May the Lord make us bring forth holiness through the force of the new nature! May he put into us immortal principles, and may he sustain them by his own personal power! and then, naturally and joyfully, in its season, we shall bring forth fruit to his praise and glory.

     The next blessing that came with this was unselfishness. Joseph was a bough whose “branches ran over the wall.” He extended his influence beyond his own family. We shall bear but little fruit if our branches are kept within the narrow space of self and relatives. Cultivate godliness for the sole sake of yourself, and you will never be very godly; but abound in it for God’s sake, and for love of those whom Jesus has redeemed, and you will be godly indeed. Live to love; for to love is to live when the love is set upon God. You will go over the wall to your ungodly neighbour, to the Christless infidel, to the heathen and the castaway. You will extend your usefulness where none expected it to grow; you will be a blessing to many who were far off from you and your God. I heard of one whose last petition was, that God would bury his influence with him. An awful prayer! It was so far good that it evidenced a recognition of his life’s mistake, and some sort of repentance for it. But he was asking for that which could not be granted; for not even God himself ever kills a man’s influence. The world’s poet truly says, “The evil that men do lives after them.” Most surely the evil lives, even if the good expires. Yet, when we are dead and buried, if we have lived unto God, and lived upon God, our branches will run over the wall of the cemetery, and our voices will be heard from amid the silence of the sepulchre. Is it not written, “He being dead yet speaketh”?

     A third blessing that comes with this is fixedness. A fruitful tree by a well, sending its roots down to the water, is well rooted, and cannot be torn from its place. It would not be fruitful if it were not stable. If a tree has no living root-bold, you may tear it up, if you please; but if it is living, and growing, and drawing up its nutriment from the depth, its roots will furnish it with mighty anchorage. Can you stir a man who has once received into his heart the doctrine of the atoning sacrifice? Not if he has found in it a refuge for despair. The logician may prove that the death of Christ did not mean substitution and propitiation. A fig for his logic: “we have received the atonement,” and know better. The doctrines of grace which I have preached to you have a hold upon the heart and intellect, like that of certain colours when the wool is dyed ingrain. Because these doctrines have not been sufficiently preached, our people are easily carried away with every wind of doctrine. Brethren, the old evangelical doctrine of Luther and Calvin had about it power to create enthusiasm. See how the Huguenots mustered to a sermon when it was death to hear a reformed preacher. Geneva sent forth men who could gather crowds in regions crimsoned with the blood of their brethren. Why did the multitudes come together? Would any man jeopardize his life to hear a “modern-thought” sermon? My brethren, there is something in the old gospel worth hearing: there is an election of grace most precious, a redemption which really redeemed, and a work of grace within which ensures final perseverance and eternal glory. The wish-wash of to-day’s preaching would have gained the preacher in “the desert” no congregation; but when untold treasures are displayed, saints will come to hear of them. That truth, which is a matter of life and death to you, will take hold of your heart and soul, and you will never part with it. I long to see a race of real men, who will know the truth, and believe it in real fashion: men who have received a kingdom which cannot be moved; palaces of God whose foundations are in the rock.

     Another privilege comes of personal nearness to God; such men enjoy safety. Hear how Jacob puts it: “The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him.” If you live near to God you will be the target of the ungodly, and the hatred of the world will cause you grief of heart. It cannot be avoided, for the seed of the serpent will nibble at the heel of the seed of the woman. Even to this day is Joseph sold into Egypt, and separated from his brethren.

“No slacker grows the fight,
No feebler is the foe.”

Keep close to God and his Word, and you will be counted a Nazarite among your brethren. But this shall not harm you; for it is added, “His bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” Deriving his strength from God, Joseph lived above the rage of men. He who keepeth his people neither slumbers nor sleeps. Only live you upon God, let your expectations be from God only, and you cannot be overcome of adversaries. They that trust in princes will find them fickle; they that rely upon the multitude will find them lighter than vanity; but they that trust in the Lord shall not be ashamed, nor confounded, world without end. Wherefore strike deep, and draw your life from the well.

     Besides that, Joseph received enrichment. Notice how Moses puts it: he mentions quite a treasury of jewels. The best pearls come out of deep seas. He mentions the precious things of heaven, the precious fruit brought forth by the sun, the precious things put forth by the moon, the chief things of the ancient mountains, the precious things of the earth, and the fulness thereof, and the goodwill of him that dwelt in the bush. All these blessings came upon the top of the head of him who was a fruitful bough by a well. Many of you religious people know nothing about precious things. Many professors live on the mere skins and husks of divine truth; they have never tasted the sweet kernels yet. A little religion is a mournful thing: they that drink deep get down to the sweetness. Many people have religion enough to make them wretched; if they had seven times as much, they would be joyful. The restraints, and duties, and formalities of religion have in them none of the fat things full of marrow, nor of the wines on the lees well refined. The best wines in God’s house are in the cellar. Those who never go downstairs have no idea of the secret sweetness. A deep experience is a precious experience. The Lord fills certain of his people with pain and grief, that they may know his choicer consolations. We are too apt to let our roots run along just under the surface, and so we get no firm rootage; but trouble comes, and then we grow downward, rooted in humility; then we pierce the treasures of darkness, and know the deep things of God. If you want a rich Christian, find a man who lives with God in secret, and goes deep into divine truth. A shallow believer is a poor and weak believer; but the strong Christian is the man who lives on God, and will not be put off with anything short of fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This benediction, with which we close our public service, should be the perpetual benediction of every day.

     Dear friends, I might add a thousand things, but I will not. I will only say this— do, I pray you, dive into the depths. You that are beginning with holy things, begin deep, and take sure root. See how soon buildings fall if they have insufficient foundations! Find your foundation in the rock. You that have long known the Lord, endeavour to know more and more of him. Send out more roots into yet deeper and richer ground. Get more nearly to the very heart of God. In an evil time like this, take firm hold. You cannot overcome the drift of an ill current, unless you let down your anchor. Yes, and at such a time you may be unusually careful, and let down four anchors from the stern, as well as the one in the proper place. We need to be anchored stem and stern in these days. We need to be held to Christ by hooks of steel. Heart, and head, and hand, and every other power had need take hold on the everlasting truth; for such are the winds that blow to-day, that we shall be carried about by them like thistle-down upon the hills, if we have nothing but our own strength to rely upon. God grant us to get closer to him than ever, and to keep there; and grant us yet further to use all our opportunities for usefulness, and all our life for fruitfulness to his glory! Amen.



The Planter of the Ear Must Hear

By / Oct 31

The Planter of the Ear Must Hear

 

“He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” — Psalm xciv. 9.

 

THE character of a man hinges upon his relation to God. You may know what manner of man he is, and what are his communications, if you find out how he stands towards God. With the many God is a mere name: a word to be pronounced more or less reverently; but nothing more. He is not a force operating upon their daily lives. His glory is no motive of action, no object of desire, no joy of their heart. “God is not in all their thoughts”; and in consequence their lives are not conformed to his holy law. Blessed be the Most High, there are a few to whom God is everything: the first and last, the centre and circumference of their being. To them the Lord is the great trust and treasure of their spirit; he is the rock of their confidence, the well-spring of their delight. Such men as they delight in God, will seek after holiness, and aim at perfection. God has shined upon them, and their faces will be bright. God dwells within, them, and as from a kindled lamp light will stream forth.

     Among the ungodly there are many whose lives prove that they know nothing about God. Indeed, their ignorance of God is their support in their present behaviour. They comfort themselves with the notion, “The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.” To them God is out of the world as to observation or practical interference. They do not care whether he sees them or not; for their belief is, that if he does see he cares nothing what men may think or do. He is too far off to be concerned about human affairs. He will neither grow angry with the sin of the wicked, nor take pleasure in the holiness of the godly. Of this practical atheism I am going to speak at this time, pleading against that frame of mind by the argument of the text. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” May the Holy Spirit help me in my endeavour, and may all my hearers believe in the living, hearing, seeing Jehovah!

     I. Our first observation will be, THE NOTION THAT GOD CANNOT HEAR OR SEE IS PERNICIOUS. In judging it, we will follow the fine of the psalm which now lies open before us.

     We perceive that men who talked in this godless fashion were proud. Hence the prayer, “Lift up thyself, thou Judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.” The man who thinks that God is not in the world, or is not at all concerned in its affairs, thinks that he is, himself, about the greatest person in existence. There may be some other poor creatures about; but he is, in many respects, the most deserving of esteem. He who thinks little of God, thinks much of himself. “Who is the Lord,” saith he, “that I should obey his voice?” Who talks like this but Pharaoh, the king, the potent one, accustomed to have his own will in everything? Those speak exceeding proudly who have no knowledge of the Most High. Measuring themselves by others like themselves, they are not wise. The worm exalts itself above its meaner fellow worms, and dreams not of the great Eternal One who filleth all things. Pride is very apt to grow great when knowledge is small, and reverence is absent. Proud language usually goes with profane talk and blasphemous ideas; for it comes of the same kindred. “How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?” If there be no God, or no God to care about, then straightway men delight in uttering things which make the blood of the godly to curdle. They render no praise to God; since they seek all glory for themselves. Because of their own conceit, they question his wisdom, cavil at his Word, doubt his justice, impugn the sentences of his bar, and speak evil of him even as they list. Give a man of proud heart a fluent tongue, and opportunity enough to speak of God, and then take away from him the idea that God hears him, and there is no telling to what lengths of profanity he will hasten. His tongue is set on fire of hell, and it burns with a fury inconceivable. If you have ever been forced to hear or read the expressions of renowned infidels, you can form some idea of how completely Satan works his will with godless men. Take God away, and the brakes are taken off, and the train dashes down hill at terrific speed. “Their tongue walketh through the earth,” saith David. No bounds can be set to the evil perambulations of an atheistic tongue. Not even heaven itself is free from the assaults of its pride: “They set their mouth against the heavens.” They slander God himself, because they imagine that he does not hear.

     Nor is this the end of the mischief. When the fear of God is taken away from men, they frequently proceed to persecute his servants. The prophet complains, “They break in pieces thy people, O Lord, and afflict thine heritage.” As they hate God, so they manifest their hate against his people. If they cannot get at the leader, if they cannot smite the shepherd, they will at least worry the flock. Read the long and cruel story of human malice against the church of God: it mingles with the record of every nation: it is an awful history, written in tears and gore. The sacramental host of God’s elect has left behind it in its marches a trail of blood and ashes, filling up, in the persons of the persecuted, that which was behind of the sufferings of the Lord; for all that grief was meant for him if his enemies could but have poured it on his head. At times it has seemed as if God had given up his people, and caused the rod of the wicked to rest upon his heritage. No wonder that it was so with them; for thus it pleased him to deal with his Only-begotten Son. He delivered him up to the world to do with him as it listed. The Father did not interpose, though they spat in his face, though they scourged him, though they blindfolded him and buffeted him, and made nothing of him. Yea, though they nailed him to the accursed tree, and stood to gloat their cruel eyes upon his agonies, the great God did not interfere to save the Beloved of his soul. A greater force than almighty power held omnipotence itself in check, that it should not lift its finger to rescue the Lord’s anointed. If he was to save others, he could not be saved himself. Though he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” yet Jehovah left his own Son to die in the hands of the ungodly. You know the reason why; but, apart from that, it was a strange procedure. The Lord may deal thus with his own church and his own cause, till his people cry, “How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger!” The truth may appear to be wounded, slain, dead, and even buried. But yet, as Jesus rose again, so shall his true church and cause rise again, though they be laid in the grave, and the stone is sealed, and the watch is set. Truth, though entombed, must rise again; for her Lord arose, and God is with his cause as he was with his Son. But, beloved, when men think that there is no God, and speak evil of the Most High, we need not wonder that they take liberty to persecute the chosen of God. There is no telling to what lengths of cruelty men will go when unhindered by a sense of God’s presence. The psalm says, “They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.” Take God away, and what a place this world would be! Without religion our earth would soon become a huge Aceldama, a field of blood. Ah, dear friends! men little know what they owe to the presence of God’s people even in a city like this. There is no reason but religion why London should not become like Paris during the Reign of Terror. If it were not that God has respect to the faithful that dwell in the midst of the city, he might give it over to the ungodly; and no greater plague could come upon it. When men say, “Doth God see? Doth God know?” then they seek every man his own; and, if they can, they turn like tigers upon each other; society is torn to pieces, and the weak are devoured. If the Lord had not left us a remnant who fear his name, we had been as Sodoma, and had been made like unto Gomorrah. There is no telling how far the evil one may be let loose to excite men to evil; but, in any case, the chosen means of the devil will be the spread of atheistic principles among the masses. A world without God is a world without fear, without law, without order, without hope.

     Note well, that if we were persuaded that God did not hear, and did not see, there would be an end of worship. Would there not? Could you worship a deaf God? I must confess that such a being would not be God to me. If he could not hear, and hear all things, I should see at once a limit to his nature; and a being of limited nature is not God, since God is, and must be, of necessity, infinite, to be God at all. Though it is hard to conceive what infinity must be, we must predicate it of Godhead; and, if it be gone, Godhead is gone with it, and there is an end of belief in God. The idea of a deaf God is absurd. Does not Jehovah see me? then he does not see all things— he is blind to something. Could you worship a blind God? If you could, you are on a par with those to whom you talk of sending missionaries; for their gods “have eyes, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not”; and they that make them are like unto them. He is an idolater, and not a worshipper of the living and true God, who worships a being of whom he entertains the notion that he cannot hear or see. There is clearly an end of worship when there is an end of belief in a hearing and observing God.

     Nor is this all: it seems to me that there is, to a large extent, an end of the moral sense. If there be no God to punish sin, then every man will do as seemeth right in his own eyes; and why should he not? By what consideration will he be hindered? If there be no reward for righteousness, and righteousness involves self-denial, why should he deny himself? If there is to be no punishment for sin, and sin is pleasurable, why should he not seize the pleasure? Take away all thought that God sees and hears, and you have removed the underlying basis upon which morality itself is to be built up. A godless world is a lawless world. Anarchy comes in when the fear of God goes out; and all the mischiefs that you can imagine, and much more, rush in like a flood. Without God, or even with a god that does not see and does not hear, where is the hope of the despairing? To-night she will go home with a broken heart, for, alas! her last friend is dead. She will cover her face and sit astonished in her sorrow; and now what can she do? Poor woman, with no helper upon earth, where will you look? If she can bow by the side of that poor bed, and cast her care on God, that loves and cares for her, she will rise out of the deep of her distress. But if there be none in heaven to note her misery, the help of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, is taken away. What now remains? And he that is full of disease, and near to die, upon whom the physician has looked down as he lies in the hospital, and has shaken his head, and he knows that his doom is sealed, and that he will never quit that bed except to exchange it for the grave — if he has no God, how will he turn his face to the wall in the gall of bitterness, and moan in anguish never to be assuaged. But if God sees and hears, the widow is not without a helper, and the dying man, in all his agony, is not without a hope. O cruel unbelief, put not out our one sun, take not from the mourner his one consolation. Let me lose myself, but not my God, who is more than life to me. Yes, if you can, you may blot the glory out of heaven, and silence every angel’s harp, and quench in endless night the sevenfold lustre of the celestial light; but leave me my God, and I shall have all heaven back again in him, and somewhat more. Oh, yes, a God that hears and sees— we must have him, or else we are orphaned indeed!

     If God does not see and hear, we are shipwrecked upon the rock of blank atheism. I do not care a bit what men believe in, whether it be pantheism, or agnosticism, or theism; if they have no personal God that hears and sees, they have, in fact, no God at all. “There is a power that makes for righteousness,” said one; but if that power is insensible, and never communicates with man, and never notices him, there is nothing in the forced admission of any use to Him who makes it or hears it. It is big talk, such as men call “bosh,” and nothing more. Though it be veiled in the language of philosophy, the scientific jargon which makes God into insensible force is covert atheism. I must have a God that hears and sees, and comes into the arena of my daily life, and helps me because he loves me, or else I have no God. My God dwells with me, and works for me, or else I have no God. Fine words, pretty phrases, and magnificent definitions, are so many wind-bags, and go for nothing: there cannot be a deaf God, nor a blind God, nor an insensible God. If any of you so believe, go you to Bedlam, and find there your fit associates. As for us, wo know that the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is the living God, and his memorial is that he heareth prayer.

     So much for that first point.

     II. But, secondly, THE NOTION THAT GOD CANNOT SEE AND HEAR IS AN ABSURD NOTION. According to our text, it is proved to be unreasonable. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?” Think of that argument for a little. Here is a creature which has ears, and can hear. The God who created that being, can he not hear? Has he given to his creature more than he has himself? Has he made a creature which excels himself in essential faculties? Has he bestowed a sense which he himself never had? How can it be? The God that makes a man with ears to hear, must possess hearing himself.

     The very idea of hearing seems to me to necessitate that he who conceived the idea, was himself able to hear. He could not have borrowed the idea, for there was no other being but himself in the beginning: whence took he the thought, but from his own being? That the mind of man should be reached by the gate of the ear, by an impression upon an auditory nerve, is a wonderful conception. If you do not think so, because you are so used to it, I would like you to tell me whether you could invent a sixth sense. You have hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, seeing. Will you invent another? You have not the power to invent another sense; and the idea of any sense which now exists must have been equally a feat of boundless wisdom, impossible to a being who could not hear and see.

     He that invented the idea, also planned the way by which hearing would become possible. What an intellect was that which forged the link between matter and mind, so that the movements of particles of air, and the impression made by these upon the drum of the ear should turn into impressions upon mind and heart! God must have every power in perfection, or he could not have contrived and constructed such an admirable instrument as the ear. I should not think the time ill-spent if I were able to give you a lecture upon the human ear. We know far less about it than we do concerning the eye; and my own knowledge of it is so scant that I can only glance at the subject. That outer portion which we commonly call the ear, is only the vestibule of curious, intricate, winding passages, which communicate with chambers of bone and vaults of ivory. Curtains are stretched along these passages, membranes which tremble as the head of a drum, or vibrate like a tambourine. Between two of these parchment curtains a chain of very small bones is extended. Have you never heard of the stirrup-bone? Rows of fine threads, or nerves, convey the motion, or the sound, into the brain, and there the soul sits waiting for the news. It is all wonderful. Nor must I forget to remind you that the ear is “planted.” The important parts— the real ear— are so deeply seated in the head, as to be beyond a mere external inspection. The lobe of the ear is like a leaf above ground, but the hearing organ is “planted” in the skull; it is placed very near the brain, and operates on both sides of it, so as to keep the whole mind in communication with sounds from every quarter. The ear is set deep, and its chambers— some filled with air, and some filled with liquid— are thus protected from much harm, which might otherwise come to them from the outer world.

     An aurist who explained to you the mechanism of the ear should make you feel that an undevout aurist is mad. The infinite wisdom of God is seen in this gate of sense; and it is there in far greater measure than we can perceive. And can you believe that this marvellous instrument for hearing was made by a deaf God, or a dead God, or an impersonal power; or that it came into existence through “a fortuitous concourse of atoms”? I know not the precise terms in which they now attempt to describe creation without a Creator, design without a designer; but I can only say that those who believe in ears created by an unhearing force or being, have more faith than I can muster. Nay, I venture to say that their faith has overleaped itself, has climbed to the top of the ladder and gone down on the other side; so that, instead of being great faith, it has rotted into gross credulity. To fly from the difficulties of faith to the impossibilities of unbelief, is a singular infatuation. I prefer to believe in a personal, intelligent First Cause.

     But even if you had an ear made— and I suppose that it would be no very great difficulty to fashion, in wax or some other substance, an exact resemblance to an ear— could you produce hearing then? God alone gives the life which hears. That particular point in which motion is translated into audible sound — where is that? That thing which hears — I mean not the vibrating parchment, nor the telephonic nerves, but that living something which is informed by the nerves, and reads their message— where and what is that something? The surgeon searches with his knife, but he declares that he cannot find it. No, he cannot find it: it has fled before his instrument of search. But this much is sure — once gone he cannot restore it. He could not make it at the first, nor renew it when once departed. Not the whole troop of surgeons and physicians of all the hospitals could suffice to create a soul. There is a spiritual something— the true man, and this it is which God makes. Do you know yourself? Could you put your finger on yourself? Oh, no; that mystic being, that strange, half Godlike existence, the soul, is not within the range of our senses. He that made the soul, has he no soul? Can he not hear? O sirs, the argument is plain enough! It needs no elaboration. It carries conviction at first sight.

     To imagine that the Creator of life does not see and hear is absurd; and yet the devil tempts gracious people, the best of people, at times to think that the Lord does not observe them in their trials. “Oh,” say they, “God is too great, surely, to hear me, a poor sinful woman, or a frail, ignorant man. His greatness must prevent his hearing me.” Yet, surely, you would not think the Lord deaf because you are unworthy. You would not attribute to him a greatness which would really involve littleness. If you make him so great that he is deaf, or so grand that he is blind, you have dishonoured him. “No,” say you, “but, surely, God does not see and hear everything. Look at my great sorrow; why does he allow it to grow and deepen? What keen miseries are caused by my thoughts! As George Herbert puts it, ‘My thoughts are all a case of knives.’” Just so; and yet the Lord knows and permits it all in love to your soul. He does not forget you; but, “like as a father pitieth his children,” so doth he pity you. Do not be led astray by the idea that you are passed over and forgotten by your God. “He telleth the number of the stars, he calleth them all by their names”; and he knows you, also, specially and individually. I marked a floweret in the centre of a beech-wood in the New Forest. Surrounded by the princely trees of the wood, it smiled from the sod a modest beauty. I thought to myself, “When do you see the sun? Does his light and glory ever cheer you?” I tarried in that forest, and watched the sunbeams smiling through the interlacing branches of the trees; and while I lingered I marked how, ever and anon, the sun found out a way to pour his golden glory direct into the centre of that flower, which glowed and smiled as heaven thus communed with its littleness. Rest assured that God, who is our sun, thinks of the least of us. We are not neglected weeds of the moorland. The Lord sees us. We do not waste our sweetness on the desert air; for God is there. Those valleys among the mountains virgin of the foot of man, are trodden by the great Husbandman. Those are his holy places, his private gardens, his secret haunts; and the flowers which bloom in them are as plants of a royal garden, which make glad the heart of the King. So too, ye hidden ones, your God does not forget you; nay, though you may be tempted to think that he does not hear and see everything, for men are so vile, and error is so rampant, and he puts up with their provocations; yet he considers all. I have been inclined to cry out myself, as the Psalmist did, “Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.” That the Lord letteth evil doctrine have so long a day is a great disquietude to a lover of truth. Ah! but the Lord hears every blasphemy, and marks it, and the day will come, as surely as he lives, when he will lift his right hand to smite down the edifices of error, and they shall be before him as a bowing wall and a tottering fence. “The way of the wicked he turneth upside down.” “Trust ye in the Lord for ever.” In the cloudy and dark day look for the light. He does see: he does hear: he must work for truth and righteousness. Shall he that made the ear not hear? Shall he that formed the eye not see? Be not guilty of so absurd a thought as to fancy that these evil days are not watched over of the Lord.

     III. But now, thirdly and briefly, THAT GOD HEARS HIS OWN MUST BE ESPECIALLY CERTAIN, from the very argument of the text. “Why?” say you. Why, because they have new and spiritual ears, and they have God-given spiritual eyes; and he that planted the spiritual ear, shall he not hear? and he that formed the spiritual eye, shall he not see? It has come to pass, my brethren, that now when God speaks by his Spirit we hear him, blessed be his name! Time was when his threatenings spoke to us as with noise of thunder; but we would not hear them. Now we are humbled in the dust by his anger. He has given us ears which are joined to hearts of flesh. When he speaks by way of invitation, and says, “Seek ye my face,” we answer, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” Do you imagine that if God has given us the grace to hear his voice, he will not hear us when we lift up our voices to him? Bather let us each one say, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace unto his people and to his saints.” Did he give you a new ear only that you might hear him chide you? Did he intend never to regard your answer to his rebukes? Does he convince you of sin without intending to grant you a Saviour? Does he bring you to hear the law and to confess sin, and ask for pardon; and can he not, will he not, hear you? Has he made you to hear of judgment to torment you before your time? Will he shut his ears to your humble prayers? I will not believe it. He that gave you those spiritual ears meant to say something worth your hearing, and he meant to hear you when you cried to him. He has spoken, and some of us are to-night full of ecstasy at what we have heard him say. Has he not said, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me”? If you hear him speak, he will hear you speak. Oh, that you would sit at his feet and ask him to speak on; and then you may be sure that he has inclined his ear unto you!

     He has created in the minds of some of you a sense of need, and will he not pity you? Perhaps you have not reached any farther than to know your wants and dangers; but he gave you this knowledge. You are hungry and thirsty; you had not these spiritual appetites once; he gave them to you. Why? Wherefore? You were not hungry for mercy; you were not thirsty for righteousness till his Spirit came and gave you life, and with that life the soul-hunger. Will he not satisfy the hunger he creates? Will he not fulfil the desire he has implanted? I never heard of such cruelty as for a man to gather together five hundred poor people from the street who had learned to draw tight their hunger-belts and bear privation, and on a sudden to excite a ravenous hunger in them, and then turn them adrift, and say, “Go your ways; I have made you feel your necessities most terribly; but I have nothing else for you. I have shown you your true condition; I have made you know what destitution you feel. Be off with you!” God will not treat you thus. It is not like him. He that planted holy longings, and hungry pinings, and spiritual appetites, must intend to supply them. He that has made you hear the voice of your need, will hear it himself. He is far quicker of hearing than you can be, and your wants appeal to his heart before your heart is awake to them. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?” He that gives spiritual life will live himself to sustain that life.

     In addition to this, he makes us long after holiness; will he not work it in us? I might say of myself and many dear brothers and sisters here, that we habitually desire to be holy, and to be wholly free from sin. We cannot endure evil. A preacher once declared that when Paul cried, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” he was not a Christian. That shows how very little that preacher knew about the matter. No man but a true believer would have such anguish on account of sin. Just in proportion as he became a Christian of the highest order, would he cry out in an agony when he found evil thoughts and tendencies within his nature. It is when we begin to loathe sin, and any leaning towards sin, and when we grow wretched because of a single evil thought, that we have grown in grace, and are far advanced, and are reaching towards that other verse, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory.” A true believer must hate sin with an intense hatred; and when the Lord has given him to do so, he may be sure that the same Lord will give deliverance from the power of evil. He who makes you hate sin will answer to that detestation, and deliver you from that which you so greatly loathe. Does he make you pine after holiness, and will he deny you holiness? Do you hear his voice of command, and will he not hear your prayer for help to obey? Does your child pine to be good, and can you help him to be good, and will you not do so? To the ear which God has enabled to hear his call the Lord will lend his own ear to hear prayer. Surely, the very holiness of God that puts into us a desire to be holy is a guarantee to us that he will help us to be holy. He that makes us long for purity will work it in us. It may be, he will put us in the furnace; but by some means he will purify us as silver is refined. He that planted the desire after holiness is himself holy, and will work holiness in his people.

     Do you not sometimes sit down and indulge a day-dream of what you had wished to be? Do you not wake up, and put down your foot, and say, “This is what I resolve to be, God helping me. I will endeavour to live nearer to my Lord, and to be more like my Lord Jesus.” Then you feel a fire burning upon the altar of your heart. You feel that you must put forth all your energies in the divine life, and press forward after the highest degrees of grace. Be encouraged by this condition of desire, for your Lord will not deny it to you. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?” He that planted in your heart the desire after this high ideal will hear you as you cry to him for aid in the sacred enterprise. The Creator answers to that which he has created: “He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him.”

     Do you pray, brothers and sisters? I know you do; but do you really believe that God hears you? I cannot help thinking that a great mass of prayers are poured into a vacuum. I cannot shake off the thought that brethren seem often to be praying into the eternal emptinesses, pleading with an infinite nothing. They say the proper

Words, but they mean little or nothing by them. Does god hear prayer? Do you answer, “Yes”? Then let us pray as if we truly believed that he did. When we have done praying, let us expect him to answer us. When we go into the bank with our cheques, we hand them in, take up the money, and are gone. Do we deal thus at the Bank of Faith? Do we plead the promise? If so, the Lord counts out the money; but do we take it up? I fear we leave it on the counter. The Lord might say, “Is that man gone? Gone without what he came for? He pleaded my promise, and has he gone away content without my reply?” Is it your habit to go to the throne of mercy and ask for the mere sake of asking? Do you grind at a mill for the mere pleasure of grinding? Surely he that asketh receiveth; and if he does not, he should enquire the reason why. A little time before prayer, to prepare the petition, would much help towards reality in prayer. A little time after prayer, to consider when and how the blessing is to be used when the Lord sends it, would be a further aid to faith. Sometimes the angels come to our letter-boxes and cannot put in the answers because the boxes are fastened down by unbelief. We are not prepared to receive what God is prepared to give. Let us pray, believing that as surely as God has given us an ear he has an ear himself, and will hear our pleadings. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?”

     Brethren, we are at this time greatly concerned about the Master's kingdom. Some of us have no other trouble comparable to our anxiety about the cause of God and truth. We mourn as we see the evil leaven leavening the whole lump. Do you not think that the great Head of the church is as much concerned about it as we are? It is his own kingdom; it is, therefore, more upon his mind than it can be upon ours. It is God’s own truth which is denied: it is his own Son that is dishonoured. The glorious doctrine of the atonement— when we hear it scoffed at we burn with indignation, and our heart breaks with grief. Does not the Lord’s heart also burn with indignation when the precious blood is trampled on? Is he indifferent to all this apostasy and heresy? Depend upon it, he is not; for “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?” and he that has sworn to glorify his Son, will he for ever stand still when that Son is dishonoured, even in his own church?

     IV. I have done when I say just this one thing more: A BELIEF THAT GOD HEARS AND SEES HAS A VERY BENEFICIAL TENDENCY UPON THOSE WHO FIRMLY HOLD IT. It works good in a thousand ways. Time would fail me to recount a tithe of them. It may suffice to take a thought or two, and turn the matter over in our minds. If we feel that God sees and hears, what an incentive it is to do right, and to be valiant for the truth! Soldiers will play the man in the presence of their prince. If our Lord looks on, what will we not do and dare? The same sense of his presence will act as a check to any and every deed of sm. We cannot indulge the thought of evil when the Lord himself hears that thought. Does the Lord look on, and shall I sin in his divine presence? Shall I grieve Jesus when the Beloved of my soul is himself close to me, and watches, with regretful eye, each sinful movement? The solemn conviction that God hears is a check to evil, and a stimulus for good.

     It acts grandly as a preservative against the desire of applause and the fear of man. He who knows assuredly that God hears him, will speak the truth though all the world should listen, or though no one but God should hear him. It was a beautiful word which was spoken by a soldier to an open-air preacher not long ago. A friend who was preaching in the street, had gathered a considerable audience; but as a troop of soldiers went by, with colours and martial music, the people were dispersed, and the preacher was left almost alone. A soldier, who for some reason was marching outside the ranks, called to him, “Go on, sir: God loves to hear you praising his Son Jesus.” True; most true. God delights in the glories of Christ. What a grand audience you have if the Lord hearkens and hears you praising his Son! Do the despisers grind their teeth when they hear Jesus preached? Never mind. Let them wear out their hearts in wrath; they cannot rob Jesus of a beam of brightness. Keep on praising your Lord and Saviour; for if men who have ears to hear will not hear, yet be sure your heavenly Father will not fail to listen. We do not want applause from men, since God hears us. If the Queen were by, and a soldier performed a deed of valour, and a person were to say to him, “You did well, and you may be proud that Corporal Brown and Sergeant Smith saw you and approved of what you did.” “Oh,” says he, “I care nothing for corporals and other petty officers; Her Majesty herself looked at me, and said, ‘Well done.’ She will, with her own hands, put the Victoria Cross upon me in due time. That is the reward I seek.”

     If God sees me, it is a small matter who may or who may not see and approve. We need to grow thus healthily independent of human judgment; for he who fawns for smiles, or trembles at frowns, will never lead a noble life for long.

     The assurance that God sees and hears, is a wonderful care-killer. Why should I be anxious? My heavenly Father knoweth that I have need of these things. What if I am in trouble? This my Father knows. Brethren, if the Lord knows our soul in adversity, and if his eye is ever upon us, are we not safe? Know that you serve one whoso eyes are upon the righteous, and whose ears are open to their cry, and you will live above care.

     And, oh, how this will tend to promote your fellowship with God! When your heart sings, “He leadeth me; he heareth me; he knoweth the way that I take”; then are you filled with a sense of fellowship with the Eternal God. How we love him who heareth us always! Since he is always seeing us, we learn to see him. “Thou God seest me” is a word which brightens up our sad hearts till we also see God. We pass through the trouble, and toil, and temptation, and turmoil, of this mortal life with serene spirit, since it is written, “Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is there.” Suffering is no mean thing, if we suffer in full submission to the will of him that heareth and seeth us. If he is but with us, all question is ended. We cheerfully say, “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good.” As long as his father was captain of the ship, his little son never knew a fear; for he was sure his father could steer the vessel safely to the haven. Be of good cheer, our Father who sees and hears us, is in the midst of his people, and not so much as one of them shall perish. If the Lord were away, or asleep, or deaf, we might be in a trembling mood; but while his ear and eye are open to us, we cannot tolerate mistrust. A little altering the quaint poet’s lines, we may say—

“Though winds and waves assault my keel,
He doth preserve it; he doth steer,
Even when the bark seems most to reel.
Storms are the triumph of his art,
He cannot hide his eyes, much less his heart.”

     Go, speak with the wise Planter of the ear; for he will surely
hear.



Peace: How Gained, How Broken

By / Oct 27

Peace: How Gained, How Broken

 

“I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.”— Psalm lxxxv. 8.

 

“I WILL hear what God the Lord will speak.” There were voices and voices. There were voices of the past concerning God’s wondrous mercy to his people: “Thou hast been favourable unto thy land; thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.” But mingled with these were the sad voices of the present. He heard the wailing and the pleading of those who said, “Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? Wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?” From this mingling of singing and sighing, the Psalmist turned away, and cried, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; I will get me into the secret place of the tabernacles of the Most High; I will hear that voice from between the cherubim which speaketh peace to the soul.” Beloved, herein is wisdom. Resort to the sanctuary of God. When you cannot find harmony in the voices of the street, or the voices of the church, turn to the melody of that one voice which “will speak peace unto his people.”

     Again, the Psalmist had been praying. At the mercy-seat he had spread out this petition, “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Show us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.” When he had spoken, he desired an answer. He watched and waited till the Lord God should give him a reply. A friend, kindly wishing to spare me, puts at the end of his letter, “No answer expected.” This is too often a foot-note to men’s prayers. David did not pray in that fashion: he did expect an answer from the mouth of the Lord. He said within himself, “I have spoken: but now I will speak no more, but hear what God the Lord will speak.” Always follow up prayer with holy expectancy. Prayers which expect no answer are guilty of taking the name of God in vain; they are a misuse of the holy ordinance of supplication; and they are a question put upon the divine existence, inasmuch as they reduce the Godhead to an idol, like to those images of the heathen which have ears, but they hear not, neither speak they through their throats. Prayers without faith are an insult to the attributes of God, and do dishonour to his sacred name. If thou prayest aright, in the name of Jesus, expect the Lord to hear thee, even as thou wouldst hear thy child, if he asked bread of thee.

     In addition to this, it should be the daily resolve of every Christian man— “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” Not only when I am dazed and confused with other voices, nor only when I have expressed my heart in prayer, but at all times and seasons, I will hear what God the Lord shall speak. There are many doctrines and controversies; but “I will hear what God the Lord, will speak.” His voice, by his prophets and apostles, shall be the umpire of every dispute with me. I will also turn to the Word of God for the rule of my daily life, as well as for the instruction of my mind in doctrine. I will have regard to the precepts as well as to the promises. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” When I would know my duty, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak”; and, hearing his word of command, I will need neither whip nor spur, but will make haste in the way of his commands. I will listen to his Word, whatever I may do with the precepts of men. Has he spoken? Did the primeval darkness hear it? Shall not the light which he has given me be attentive to it? Even the dead shall hear that voice, and they that hear shall live. Shall not I, who have been quickened by his Spirit, joyfully say, “I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me”?

     Our Saviour speaks of some who enter into life halt and maimed, and having one eye; but he does not speak of anybody entering into life without ears. We must hear the voice of God, for it is written, “Hear, and your soul shall live.” Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. By ear-gate the Prince Emmanuel enters the town of Mansoul. Men are saved, not by what they touch, or see, or taste, or smell; but by what they hear. Oh, that we all heard the voice of Christ with solemn attention! Our Lord saith, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Be this our resolve: “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” Like young Samuel, let each one say, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”

     There is one special reason given by the Psalmist why the people of God should be most willing and eager to hear what God the Lord shall speak, and that is because “He will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints.” You, beloved, will hear nothing from the Lord but that which will calm your fears, and cheer your hearts. The Lord speaks no thunders against you. His tones are tenderness, his words are mercy, his spirit is love, his message is peace. I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace, and nothing else but peace, unto his own people. That is the subject for us to consider this morning. The Lord Jehovah gives peace to his holy ones.

     First, what we know the Lord will speak; and, secondly, what we fear may hinder our enjoying the blessing which he speaks to us: “Let them not turn again to folly”— a notable word of warning, to which we shall do well to give heed.

     I. First, let us consider WHAT WE KNOW THE LORD WILL SPEAK. “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace.”

     The first point is, He speaks peace to a certain company— “to his people, and to his saints.” Let us, then, ask ourselves, Has the Lord ever spoken peace to us, or will he do so? He will certainly do so if we have an ear to hear his voice; for God will not speak sweet words to those who turn to him a deaf ear. He that will not hear the gospel of peace, shall never know the peace of the gospel. If you will not hear the Holy Spirit when he warns you of your sin, neither shall you hear him revealing peace through pardon. If you will not hear the Lord when he proposes to you reconciliation through the sacrifice of his dear Son, if you will not hear him when he bids you repent and believe, and be washed in the blood of the Lamb, then he will never speak peace to your soul. There is no peace out of Christ, who is our peace. There is one Ambassador, and one Mediator, and only one. There is one atonement by blood, and only one. There is one covenant of peace, and there can never be another. Reconciliation comes to men by Jesus Christ, but by no other gate; and if you will not hear the Lord when he speaks concerning his dear Son, who is the propitiation for sins, he wall never speak peace to your heart. Oh, for the ear which is opened to hear the Lord, for this is the sure mark of grace! Does not Jesus say, “My sheep hear my voice”?

     Those to whom the Lord speaks peace are his people, and they acknowledge him to be their God. Many men have no God. They would not like to be called atheists, but it practically comes to that. God is not in their thoughts, their plans, their actions, their business, their life. But there is peace to that man to whom God is the greatest fact of his existence. Happy is he who has God first, and last, and midst in all that he does. Look him through and through, and you will perceive that as the colour tinges the stained glass, so does faith in God colour all his life. God is with him in his loneliness, and among the multitude: God is above him to govern him, beneath him to uphold him, within him to quicken him. The man has a God to worship, a God to trust, a God to delight in. If God is everything to you, you are among his people, and he will speak peace unto you. That peace is, however, always connected with holiness, for it is added, “and to his saints.” His people and his saints are the same persons. Those who have a God know him to be a holy God, and therefore they strive to be holy themselves. He that hath no saintship about him will have no peace about him. If thou livest a blundering, careless, godless life, thou wilt have much tossing to and fro, and many questionings of heart. “There is no peace,” saith my God, “unto the wicked”; but to his people, his saintly ones, his sanctified ones, the people who follow after righteousness— to these the Lord himself will secure peace by his own word of mouth.

     Do I hear anyone saying, “Alas! I could not venture to be classed with saints”? Listen one minute: these people, though they are now God’s people, and though they are now made saintly by his grace, were once given over to folly. How do I know this? Because the text says, “Let them not turn again to folly;” which shows that once they did follow after folly. Once they followed sin with all their hearts; they knew not God, neither served him; but they have been turned away from folly, sin, and shame: a change, a conversion has taken place in them, by the grace of God. Therefore, dear hearer, let not thy past foolishness dismay thee, if thou wouldst now come to God. Fool as thou mayest have been, the Lord is turning thee from folly; and if he brings thee to be numbered among his people and his holy ones, he will speak peace to thee.

     I think I hear one say, “I have turned away from folly, but I feel that there is in my heart a tendency to return to it!” I know it. I, too, have felt the old Adam pulling at my sleeve, to draw me back to the old way, if possible. So it was with these people, or else the Lord would not have needed to say, “Let them not turn again to folly.” They were his people, they were his saints, too: and he spoke peace to them; but the old nature lurked within, and made the heart in danger of turning again to folly. If thou findest the old leaven working within thee, fermenting unto evil, and making thee feel sick at heart to think that thou shouldst be so base, then bow low at thy Saviour’s feet, and cry to him in the language of the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Yet remember, even if it be so with thee, yet nevertheless thou mayest be numbered with the Lord’s people, of whom he has said that he will speak peace unto them. But if you have no horror of sin; if you have no conflict with evil; if you have no longing for righteousness, and no ear for the voice of the Lord, then God will not speak peace to you; but one of these days he will speak thunderbolts, and accent his words with flames of fire, and this shall be the tenor of his speech: “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” May you never hear that voice of wrath; but may peace be spoken into your soul!

     But now, dear friends, I notice here that the peace which is to be desired is peace which God speaks, and all other peace is evil. The question is sometimes put— “We see bad men enjoy peace, and we see good men who have but little peace.” That is one of the mysteries of life; but it is not a very difficult one as to its first part. Why do bad men enjoy a kind of peace? I answer: sometimes their peace arises from sheer carelessness. They will not think, reflect, or consider. They do not intend to look about them, or before them; for “they count it one of the wisest things to drive dull care away.” They go through the world like blind men. They are on the verge of a precipice, and they do not know their danger, or wish to know it. They will go over the edge of the cliff, and be broken to pieces; but they have hardened their neck, and if you warn them they will hate you for it. These are your men that fill high the bowl, and chase the flying hours with glowing feet. They live right merrily, like the men of the old world, they marry and are given in marriage, they drink and are drunken, till the flood comes, and there is no escape.

     Many are quiet in conscience because of worldliness. They are too much occupied to give fair attention to the affairs of their souls. They are taken up with business; at it from morning to night; shutters up and shutters down; they can find time for nothing but counting their money, or shifting their stock. Adam was lost in the garden of Eden; but these men are lost in their shops, lost in their warehouses, lost in their ships, lost in their farms, lost in the market. They give no thought to the world to come, because this world engrosses them. From this kind of peace may we be delivered!

     Some have a brawny conscience— I mean a conscience hard, callous, horny; you cannot make it feel. A healthy conscience is tender as a raw wound, which fears a touch; but some men’s consciences are covered with a thick skin, and are devoid of feeling. Certain sinners have a conscience seared as with a hot iron, and this brings with it that horrible peace which is the preface of eternal damnation.

     Around us are persons who have a peace which Satan preserves. “When a strong man armed keepeth his house, his goods are in peace.” When Satan is in full possession of a man, then no disturbing thoughts come in, and the sinful heart is well content. “They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men;” they may even die at peace, for the Psalmist complains, “there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.” Satan has filled them with “a strong delusion to believe a lie,” and so in peace they perish; they go willingly to destruction, like sheep to the slaughter.

     And some have a peace of sullenness; an awful peace of despair, in which the man steels himself against that which he calls his fate. A man says, “I know I am to be lost; I have sinned myself beyond all hope of mercy; and why should I trouble myself further?” Like a condemned criminal, who hears the hammers fitting up the scaffold, and gives himself up to silent despair, he feels, “I am doomed: it is all over with me.” O my friend, it is not so; this is a lie of Satan’s own invention. Whilst thou livest, there is hope. Whilst thou art yet in the land where Christ is preached, thou mayest come to him and live. But deadness, sullenness, and obstinacy, are thy worst enemies. Waters of enmity to God often run silently because they are so deep. The man has a settled enmity against God, and this makes him set his teeth, and defy the Almighty in grim determination to perish. God save you from this! May you be driven out of every peace except that peace which comes from God! To that I now come.

     God alone can speak true peace to the soul. When once a soul begins to feel its sinfulness, and to tremble at the wrath to come, none but God can speak peace to it. Ministers cannot. I have often failed when I have desired to bring comfort to troubled hearts. Books cannot do it, not even the most wise and gracious of them. The Bible itself cannot do it, apart from the Spirit of God. The ordinances of God’s house, whether they be baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, or prayer, or preaching— none of these can bring peace to a heart apart from the still small voice of the Lord. I pray that none of you may rest in anything short of a divine assurance of salvation. See how the waves are tossing themselves on high! Hark to the howling of the wind! Rise, Peter, and bid the waves be quiet! Awake, John, and pour oil upon the waves! Ah, sirs! the apostles will themselves sink, unless a greater than they shall interpose. Only he who lay asleep near the tiller could say, “Peace, be still!” May he say that to everyone here who is troubled about his sin! The voice of the blood of Jesus speaks “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” We read that on the storm-tossed lake “there was a great calm.” How great is the quiet of a soul which has seen and felt the power of the atoning sacrifice!

     I have told you that only God can speak this peace; let me remind you that he can give you that peace by speaking it. One word from the Lord is the quietus of all trouble. No deed is needed, only a word. Peace has not now to be made: the making of peace was finished more than eighteen hundred years ago on yonder cross. The Lord Jesus, who was our peace, went up to the tree bearing our iniquities, and thus removing the dread cause of the great warfare between God and man. There he ended the quarrel of the covenant. Hearken to these words, “The chastisement of our peace was upon him.” He made peace by the blood of his cross. Through his death, being justified by faith, we have peace with God. “It is finished.” Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Now is the way paved for man to come back to God by reconciliation through sacrifice. There is no more blood to be shed, nor sacrifice to be offered: peace is fully made, and it only remains for the Lord God to speak it to the conscience and heart by the Holy Ghost. Yet think not that for God to speak is a little thing. His voice is omnipotence in motion. He spake the universe out of nothing: he spake light out of darkness. Where the word of our King is, there is power. He speaks, and it is done. If he speaks peace, who can cause trouble? In Jesus Christ there is divine peace for the guilty soul. “Come unto me,” saith he, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” From a tempest of distress to perfect peace a word from the God of peace can lift us in an instant.

     Sooner or later the Lord will speak peace to his own. How blessed are the shalls and wills of the Lord God!— “He will speak peace unto his people.” Doubt it not. He will. He will. Some of you have lost your peace for a while; yet, if you are believers, “He will speak peace unto his people.” You have come to Christ, and are trusting him, but you do not enjoy such peace as you desire. Yet “He will speak peace unto his people.” There may be a time of battling and of struggling, the noise of war may disturb the camp for months: but in the end “He will speak peace unto his people.” I have seen some of the Lord’s true people terribly harassed year after year. One for a very long time was in the dark— wrecked on a barbarous coast, and neither sun nor moon appearing. I do not excuse him for some of his despondency; there was a fault, undoubtedly, and there may also have been weakness of the brain; but he was a true child of God, and at length he came out into the light, and wrote a book which has cheered many. If peace comes not before, yet “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.” The Lord will not put his child to bed in the dark: he will light his candle ere he sleeps the sleep of death. Sickness of body, and weakness of mind, or some other cause, maybe a terrible kill-joy; but in the end “The Lord will speak peace unto his people.” He cannot finally leave a soul that trusts in him. No believer shall die of despair. You may sink very low: but underneath are the everlasting arms, and these will bring you up again. Many women of a sorrowful spirit have a hard time of it, but yet the Lord has set a day in which he will give beauty for ashes. O captive daughter, thy chains last not for ever! Hold you on to your hope: the night is very dark, but the morning will surely come; for as God is light, so shall his children be.

     Beloved, when the Lord does speak peace to his people, what a peace it is! It is sound and safe. You may have as much of it as you will, and suffer no harm. The peace of God is never presumptuous. It is a holy peace; and the more you have of it, the more you will strive to be like your Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. It is a peace which rules the heart and mind, and not merely the face and the tongue. It is a peace that will rise superior to circumstances. You may be very poor; but you shall find an inward wealth of contentment. You may be lonely; but communion with God will bring you company. You may be very sick in body; but peace of soul enables a man to bear pain without complaining. There may even be a measure of depression of spirit about you, and yet an inward peace will enable you to reason with yourself, and say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” If God gives you peace, the devil cannot take it away. If God breathes peace into your soul, the roughest winds of earth or hell cannot blow that peace from you. They that have ever enjoyed this peace will tell you that it is the dawn of heaven. They that walk in the light of God’s countenance, at this moment, are as the courtiers of a king, and for them there is a Paradise Restored. Perfect peace brings a joy of which no tongue can fully tell. There is no war above; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all reconciled to us. There is no war within: conscience is cleansed, and the heart relieved. There is no fear even of the arch-enemy below; he may grind his teeth at us, but he cannot destroy us. Even the world of nature is at peace with us. “For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.” “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” A deep peace, a high peace, a broad peace, an endless peace is ours. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” “Therefore being justified by faith, we have,” in the most emphatic and unlimited sense, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Beloved friends, do not be satisfied without the constant possession of unbroken peace. You may have it; you ought to have it. It will make you greater than princes, and richer than misers. This peace will shoe your feet for ways of obedience or suffering. “May the peace of God keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus!”

     II. Now we must come down from our elevation, to talk about a more humbling theme, WHAT WE TEAR MAY MAR THIS BLESSING OF “He will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly”

     The grounds of a believer’s peace are always the same, but a believer’s enjoyment of that peace varies very greatly. I always have a right to the divine inheritance, hut I do not always enjoy the fruits of that inheritance. Peace may be broken with the Christian, through great trouble, if his faith is not very strong. It need not be so; for some of those who have had the greatest fight of affliction have had the sweetest peace in Christ Jesus. Peace may be broken through some forms of disease, which prey upon the mind as well as the body; and when the mind grows weak and depressed from what are rather physical causes than spiritual ones, the infirmity of the flesh is apt to crush spiritual peace. Yet it is not always so; for sometimes, when heart and flesh have failed, yet God has been the strength of our heart, as he is our portion for ever. Inward conflict, too, may disturb our enjoyment of peace. When a man is struggling hard against a sin, when some old habit has to be hanged up before the Lord, when corruption grows exceedingly strong and vigorous, as at seasons it may do, the believer may not enjoy peace as he would wish. And yet I have known warring times when the fight within has not diminished my peace. “How so?” you may say. I have found peace in the very fact that I was fighting! I have seen clearly that if I were not a child of God, I should not struggle against sin. The very fact that I contend against sin, as against my deadliest foe, proves that I am not under the dominion of sin; and that fact brings to my soul a measure of peace. Satan, too— oh, it is hard to have peace under his attacks! He has a way of beating his hell-drum at a rate which will let no believer rest. He can inject the most profane thoughts; he can flutter us and worry us, by making us think that we are the authors of the thoughts which he fathers upon us— which are his, and not ours. It is a very glorious thing, then, to be able to say, “Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy; though I fall, yet shall I rise again.”

     When the Lord hides his face, as he may do as the result of grave offence that we have given him, ah! then we cannot have peace. Peace runs out to a very low ebb when we are under withdrawals; and then we cry, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his feet!” We can never rest till we again behold the smilings of his face, and take our place among the children.

     But, after all, the chief reason why a Christian loses his peace, is because he “turns again to folly.” What kind of folly? Folly is sin and error, and everything contrary to divine wisdom. I will briefly show you a few of the different shapes of this folly.

     There is the folly of hasty judgment. Have you never judged without knowing and considering all the surroundings of the case? Have you not come to a wrong conclusion, when you have ventured to judge the dealings of God with you? You have said, “This cannot be wise, this cannot be right; at any rate, this cannot be a fruit of love;” but you have found out afterwards that you were quite mistaken, that your severest trial was sent in very faithfulness. Your rash judgment was most evidently folly; and if you turn again to such folly in your next season of sorrow, you will certainly lose your peace. What! will you measure the infinite wisdom of God by the foot-rule of your short-sighted policy? Are eternal purposes to be judged of according to the tickings of the clock? There can be no peace when we assume the judgment-throne, and dare accuse our Sovereign of unkindness or mistake.

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

Consider things in the long run when you would estimate the ways of God. Behold, he dwells in eternity, and his measures are only to be seen in the light of the endless future. Oh, that we could either judge the Lord’s ways upon eternal principles, or leave off judging altogether! My soul, be thou as a little child before the Lord, and thou wilt find peace!

     Another kind of folly is of like order: it is repining, and quarrelling with the Most High. Some are never pleased with God; how can he be pleased with them? There can be no use in contending with our Maker; for what are we as compared with him? Let the grass contend with the scythe, or the tow fight with the flame; but let not man contend with God. Besides, who are you? “Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?” It is true you may be, like Job, terribly smitten, and brought very low, and you cannot, understand the why and the wherefore of it; but I pray you bow your head in sweet submission, for your heavenly Father must be doing the best possible thing for you. Kick not against the pricks. When the ox, newly yoked to the plough, kicks against the goad, what is the result? It drives the goad into its own flank. It would not have been so hurt had it not defied the driver. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” No man, by quarrelling with God, can gain any advantage, for the right is on God’s side, and eternal principles establish his government. When the barque wars with the rock, we know which will suffer. Yield thee, O my brother, yield thee to the Lord of love! Thine hope can only climb on bended knee; thy peace can only return with bowed head; for to proud rebellion there is no peace, since it is folly of the grossest kind.

     Another kind of folly to which men often turn is that of doubt and distrust. What peace you have had has come by faith; and when faith departs, peace goes also. To doubt the Lord is folly; even the least degree of it is folly of the worst order. When you said, “God is true, and I will trust him,” then your peace was like a river. One who lay dying was in such joy that his friends said to him, “You used to be much tempted; how is it that you are so happy?” He replied, “This is the reason: it is written, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.’” For the very reason that he trusts God, the Lord will keep him in perfect peace. Be satisfied with God, and you shall be satisfied in God. Go not back to your old doubts and fears, for they are thicket of thorns. It seems to me that some of you were born doubting, and have hardly left off ever since. Some professors never seem to be happy unless they are miserable. I hardly know whether to call some of you doubters or believers. Yes, I thank God that I hope you are really believers; but you are terrible old doubters still. I am persuaded you will get to heaven, but you will not have much of heaven on the road unless you shake off this pernicious habit of distrust. Who ever gained anything by doubting the Lord, questioning his promises, or distrusting his providence? He abideth faithful: ho will never deny himself. Believe in him, and so shall you be established. He will speak peace unto his people; but let them not turn again unto this inexcusable folly of doubting the word of him who cannot lie.

     Some turn to the old folly of looking for life upon legal principles. You remember how Paul seemed astonished at this perversity. He exclaimed, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth?” He demanded of them, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” When you try to draw your comfort from what you are, and what you do, you are foolish. Self is at best a dry well. To seek consolation from your own consecration or sanctification is risky work. You must not turn your sanctification into an antichrist by putting it in the place of Christ. “Be ye holy,” saith he, “for I am holy;” but he never bade you trust in your holiness. However sanctified you may become, even if you could attain to perfection, it would be wise to say with Job, “Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul.” Your wisdom is to stand upon the finished work of Christ. If you get off from that ground, you have placed yourself upon the ice; and if it does not melt from under you, you will yourself slip down upon it. Mix anything of man with the work of the Lord, and you have turned again to folly. It brought you into great bondage years ago, and it will do so again, if you return to it. Hope in Christ, and in nothing else but Christ. When your expectation is in the Lord alone, then will your peace be like a river.

     Some lose their peace by turning again to the folly of intellectual speculation. Some of our friends, who once walked in the light, as God is in the light, and were as happy as all the birds of the air, have now lost their joy, because they have read a pernicious book, which started for them a whole host of difficulties, of which they never dreamed before. Would you like me to answer those difficulties? Suppose I took the trouble to do so, and succeeded, what would happen? You would read another book to-morrow, and come to me with another set of doubts; and if we were to slay all these, you would simply invite another band of invaders to land on the shores of your mind. Therefore I decline to begin the endless task. At Mentone, the trouble of some of our friends is to catch the mosquitoes, which worry them. But there is little or no use in it; for if you catch a dozen of these little pests, twenty-four will come to the funeral. It is just the same with these intellectual difficulties; you may, by overcoming some of them, make room for more of a worse kind. No fact, however certain, is beyond a critic’s questioning. I have done with the whole band of quibblers. People say, “Have you seen the new book? It is terribly unsettling.” It will not unsettle me: first, because I know what I know; and secondly, because I do not care one atom what the unbeliever has to say. I care, indeed, so little that I am not curious even to know what his craze may happen to be. “I know whom I have believed.” I am going no further than that which the Holy Spirit has taught me through the infallible Word. What is more, I am not going to waste my time by reading what every doubter may please to write. I have had enough of these poisonous drugs, and will have no more. Does anyone say, “We ought to read everything”? Nay, nay, if I go out to dinner, and there should happen to come to table a joint that is far gone, I let it alone. When the knife goes into it, the perfume betrays it, and I do not pass up my plate. Others may carve slices from the carrion of unbelief; but having long eaten sweet gospel food, I cannot bring my soul to feed on that which is unholy, and only fit for dogs. That which denies Scripture, and dishonours the blood of the Lord Jesus, is fitter for burning than reading. If you have once been staggered by modern thought, do not turn again to that folly. Be not like silly people, who seem to fall down in the mud for the sake of being brushed. Why desire to be befogged and bewildered for the sake of getting set in the right way after long straying? Stick to the Scriptures. When you have read so much of your Bibles that there is nothing more in them, then you may devote your time and study to some other book; but for the present keep to the book whose author is the All-wise Jehovah. Between the covers of this book you shall find all wisdom, and I pray you turn not again to the folly which opposes the infallible, and censures the perfect. God grant us grace to maintain our peace by never turning again to the folly of human wisdom!

     But the worst form of folly is sin. Scripture continually calls sinners fools; and so they are. What a touching pleading there is about this use of language! “God will speak peace unto his people; but let them not turn again to folly;” as much as to say, “to turn aside will not only grieve me, but it will harm you. Sin is not only fault, but folly. It will be to your own injury as well as to my displeasure.” Dear child of God, are you out in the storm just now? Have you no rest? Let me whisper in your ear. Is there not a cause? Somebody on board your vessel has brought this storm upon you. Where is he? He is not among the regular sailors that work the ship; he is neither captain nor mate; but he is a stranger. Down under the hatches is a man named Jonah; is he the cause of the tempest? “No,” you say, “he is a good fellow, for he paid his fare.” This makes me feel all the more suspicious. He is the cause of the mischief. You will never get peace until the Jonah of sin is overboard. Cast him into the sea, and it will be calm unto you. Many a child of God harbours a traitor, and hardly knows that he is doing so; and the Lord is at war with him because of the harboured rebel. When Joab pursued Sheba, the son of Bichri, he came to the city of Abel, where Sheba had taken shelter. A wise woman came to him out of the city, and pleaded for the people. Joab explained to her that he warred not with the city, but with the rebel; and he added, “Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city.” Then they cut off the head of Sheba, and cast it out to Joab, and he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. God is besieging you with trials and distresses, turning his batteries against your walls; and there is no chance of any peace until the traitorous sin shall be given up to vengeance. I do not know what particular sin it may be, but the head of it must be thrown over the wall: and then the warriors of the Lord will go their way. Bring forth the Achan, and the accursed thing, and let all Israel stone him with stones. Search and see! Arrest the hidden foe! “Are the consolations of God small with thee? is there any secret thing with thee?” God help us to institute a solemn search this morning, and may we discover the intruder, and destroy him!

     Beloved, I pray that no one of us may go back to folly. If wo have ever tasted the peace of God, and communion with God, can we leave it for earthly joys? Can we quit the banquets of infinite love for the coarse pleasures of sin? God forbid! Remember all the sorrow which sin has cost you already. Take not this viper a second time to your bosom. We were drowned in tears, and sunken in distress when we found ourselves guilty of sin. Further and further from it may we fly; but never, never may we turn back! Remember what it cost your Lord to make you free from the consequences of former folly; never return to it. He must needs die to save us from our folly; shall we count his death as nothing? Bethink you what tugs the Spirit of God has had with us to bring us so far on our journey towards heaven; are we now willing to turn our backs on God and holiness? Consider also what lieth just beyond. Look a little way before you. Think of the street of gold, the river which never dries, the trees which bear eternal fruit, the harps of ceaseless melody. Beloved, we cannot turn again to folly! O God, do not permit us to do so! Grant us thy peace, that by it we may be kept, both in heart and mind, loyal to thee! Peace spoken to the soul by the Holy Spirit is the sure preventive of turning again to folly. Be sure that, if it passeth all understanding, it also conquereth all folly. With minds at perfect peace with God, we set our face like a flint, and press on towards the haven where peace will never end. Glory be to God, who will bring us safely there! Amen.



Magdalene at the Sepulchre: an Instructive Scene

By / Oct 24

Magdalene at the Sepulchre: an Instructive Scene

 

“Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.” — John xx. 10-16.

 

I WANTED to speak to-night to believers who have lost the joyful presence of their Lord, and who are saying, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him!” But when I thought of that matter, I said to myself, Many will be in the congregation who have never yet found him, and therefore do not know his sweetness by experience, and yet they may be longing to find him. Is it possible to benefit two classes at once? “Well, well,” I said to myself, “I can speak to the saint, for she who figures in the text was Mary; but I can also, at the same time, talk to the sinner; for she was Magdalene, and that name has somehow become connected with penitent sinners.” I pray, at the beginning, that, if there be one here who has long been a Mary, and has followed Christ lovingly, and if there be another here who is more like what is commonly, but erroneously, known as a Magdalene, both the Mary and the Magdalene may find direction and consolation in my discourse.

     I shall have no other preface but these remarks; for we have before us a long text to be handled in a short time, and I would not perform my task slightingly. We will advance by a series of observations.

     I. Our first observation shall be this: A SOUL SEEKING JESUS HAS WAYS OF ITS OWN.

     Read carefully the tenth verse: “Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary” Mary had her own way of proceeding. Mary was seeking Christ more intensely and affectionately than even the choicest of the apostles. They were more able to wait for events than her eagerness would allow her to do. John was able to go home, because he had seen and believed. Peter went home all the more readily because a cloud darkened his sky. Mary was of another order from either of these: she loved, and longed to see him whom she loved. Whether he be dead or alive, she would find him. When you are seeking the Lord, it brings out your individuality. Every truly anxious soul must seek the Lord in his own way. Each case is peculiar: each seeker feels himself to be one by himself. There are not two Mary Magdalenes; and Mary differs from John and Peter.

     One part of her way was this— that she would stay at the sepulchre after others had gone to their own homes. So have I seen the lover of the Lord lingering at the mercy-seat when the prayers of others were ended, and remaining in the use of the means of grace when others had enjoyed a full sufficiency of them. The meeting is very early in the morning, but Mary must be there; and if the meeting be at a distance, she trudges over the miles. One saint is noted for Bible-reading, and nothing will attract her from it. Another abounds in private prayer, and is mighty on her knees. Another feels bound to go where Christ Jesus is earnestly talked about, and therefore he spends many an hour with the Lord’s people. Perhaps Peter and John had other necessary business to attend to, and their duty called them away from the tomb; but Mary stood there still, hoping to hear something about her Lord, and, at least, to know where they had laid his body. It is a blessed thing when the heart becomes so resolved to find Christ that it cannot be happy without him, cannot even live without him. When you are resolved to wait at the posts of wisdom’s doors until the Incarnate Wisdom appears to you, you will not have to wait long.

     Mary had ways of her own beside, for she stood there “weeping.” I do not read that, upon this occasion, either Peter or John shed a single tear. They may have done so, but the Holy Spirit has not recorded the fact; yet he has recorded it of this earnest seeker that she “stood without at the sepulchre weeping.” She wept as if her heart would break. Where was her Lord? What had they done with that sacred body? She had seen it wrapped in spices and fine linen, and laid in the tomb of Joseph; where was it now? The tomb was evidently quite empty of all but the cerements; where was the body? What new indignities had the cruel ones put upon it? That dear mangled body— to what malicious treatment was it now exposed? She stood, in deep emotion, sorrowing as love alone can sorrow when its beloved object is in peril. It is a great thing, dear soul, when you cannot find Christ, to weep your eyes out till you can. When you cannot live without him for very heart-break; when all the joy of life is gone; when existence becomes only another name for grieving after an absent love, and that love the Lord Jesus; then you are not far off from the happy hour of finding him. Tears may be as the dew of the morning, the sure prophets of the rising sun. At any rate, many search for Jesus with tears in their eyes.

     Mary did something more, which was according to her own mode of action— “she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.” They that would find Christ must stoop to look for him. They must not merely wait for him, but look for him on their knees. I have known some people pretend to wait for the Lord, and they have kept up the pretence to their soul’s ruin! for they never looked to him by faith. I have known some weep much, but they would not open their eyes to look to Jesus and be saved. True seekers look for Jesus in the Scriptures; they search for him in the hearing of the Word; they cry after him in their private room. This is well. If you would be saved, seek Jesus, and he will find you. Cry evermore, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him! I would come even to his seat.” No heart has ever yet earnestly looked after Jesus but what before long he has been seen. If there be this waiting, this weeping, this stooping, this looking, there will be an appearing in mercy, and a recognition in joy. Mary, who looks for Jesus, shall see him.

     Note this peculiarity: that she looked in the wrong place. She looked into the sepulchre for the living and risen Jesus. Earnest, true-hearted, zealous, Mary was; but she laboured under a mistake. Well might the angels say, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” Thus have I known true penitents seek the Lord where he cannot be found. They have expected to undergo a sort of inward purgatory, and they have sought for Jesus in their own feelings. He is not there. They have imagined that they must be carried away with despair before they might lay hold upon the Saviour. Yet the Lord is not in the wind of feeling, nor in the fire of despair: his presence is known by his still small voice. They have not looked with a simple, childlike trust to Jesus; but have gone about to this, and that, and the other thing, and all in vain. They have sought for Jesus among forms and ceremonies, but in vain. Possibly they have gone to human priests, or sages: these are as dead as the tombs. Priestcraft and philosophy are no places for the living Christ to be found in.

     Yet I am glad that Mary looked into the tomb; for, though she looked in the wrong place, it was a good thing to be looking for Jesus after any fashion. Better blunder in seeking Christ than be so wise as to go away from him. I mean, better to be a sincere, but foolish, seeker after Jesus, and fall into a hundred errors of doctrine, than to be highly cultured, and all the while to be looking to self, or to the world, and forgetting the Lord Jesus. Poor seekers! you are in trouble, I see it by your tears. There is hope for you, for you have eyes, and are looking out for something better than you can find in yourselves, or in your fellow-men. I am sure of you, for you will not run away home; you stay near the place where Jesus was last seen. You are not rolling-stones, but you abide in earnest hearing, in apostolic doctrine, and in prayers. Your constancy and your eagerness are cheering signs that grace is beginning its work in your hearts. Comfort is on the way to you, I can see the light of it reflected in those tears which glisten in your eyes. God grant that we may not be disappointed in you, for his name’s sake!

     II. But now, going a little further on, I would observe, secondly, that A SOUL SEEKING JESUS MAKES SMALL ACCOUNT OF ANYTHING ELSE.

     Mary, when she looked down, saw the angels sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. At any other time, if Mary Magdalene had seen two angels, she would have been astounded, so as to lose her balance, through reverent fear. A vision of angels to a holy woman— there is something overpowering in it. A vision of angels, even to the ungodly soldiers that watched the grave of Christ, had made them faint, and become as dead men; but if you read the passage attentively, you will see that Mary talked to these angels as if they had been good men whom she had met before. She was not abashed by them. When they say to her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” she answers them, very plainly, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” She is not frightened at spirits and angels. Neither is a soul that is in earnest after Christ to be put away from its search by any sort of diversion. The true enquirer would ask of angels, or of the most eminent saints, concerning the Lord Jesus. It will be only too glad to ask of anybody, or to answer a question from anybody, if it may thus hope to find Jesus. Did you never note the all-subduing power of a great desire? When God makes the heart tender, and sets it longing after Jesus, it forgets its own feebleness, and ceases to be alarmed by that which once distressed it. A longing soul would break through angels and through devils, through heaven and through earth, to reach Jesus. We must have him. We must behold the Well-beloved. Our soul is all on fire for him, it cannot be restrained, it will burn its way to him as the flame makes its way across the prairie. We want Jesus, and we will not be content with anything short of him.

     Notice, too, as confirmatory of what I have said, that when a soul is seeking Christ, nothing but Christ' s own Word will satisfy it. This holy woman was not content with what the angels said. Though they said to her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” those shining ones do not appear to have comforted her at all. She went on weeping. She told them why she wept, but she did not, therefore, cease her tears. And, believe me, if the angels of heaven cannot content a heart which is seeking after Jesus, you may depend upon it that the angels of the churches cannot do so. We may preach as best we can, but the words of man will never satisfy the cravings of the heart. The seeker needs Jesus: Jesus only, but Jesus certainly. You read the best of books, and heard the most faithful of testimonies when you were seeking, and yet you came away, and cried, “Alas! I have not found him; I have not found him; and I cannot be content till I do so!” Beloved, never sit down short of Christ; for short of Christ is short of salvation. Whatever you hear, never be content with hearing: long to find him of whom you hear. However sweetly the story is told, the mere hearing of the truth must never be enough for you. You want for your salvation a personal Christ, to be heard by your own heart, and received by your own faith; and I entreat you never rest until this is your happy possession. Find HIM— him whom your soul loveth— him in whom alone your soul may trust. Let not voices from heaven, if you could hear them, much less the voices of godly men and women on earth, ever content you, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is all in all.

     Furthermore, a soul seeking Jesus is glad to confess him. It was awe-inspiring to behold angels arrayed in white; it was a rare boon for the Magdalene to gaze upon, those shining ones sitting in solemn state at the head and the foot of the spot where Jesus had once laid! But it did not so overpower Mary as to prevent her open acknowledgment of her Lord. When she spoke to Peter and John, in the second verse, she said, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre;” but when she addressed the angels, she said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” It might not be necessary to say, “my Lord” to the two apostles, who knew exactly what she was; but she had not seen those angels before, and she would not let them go without their knowing that Jesus was her Lord, her very own; and so she puts it, “They have taken away my Lord.” I like that amazingly. Are you a seeking saint? Whether you see him or do not see him, he is still yours; and you must hold to it that he is still your own. “My beloved is mine, and I am his;” and if I do not just now behold the smilings of his face, yet he is my Lord. I have given myself up to him; and, if he does not own me as his servant, I will still claim him as my Master. Come what may, if I walk in darkness, I will cleave to him the more closely, for I will not wander from him. Whither should I go? If all heaven does not shine upon me, I shall still look up that way. I have fallen into a fog, and can scarcely see my way beyond my hand; but yet I am my Lord’s for all that, and I am not ashamed to declare it. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” His I am, and him I serve. My ear has been bored to the door-post, and I am his happy bondman for ever. Come death, come life, come darkness of soul, or joy of spirit; whatever happens, I am my Lord’s. Such holy constancy will be rewarded.

     In the true seeker, the one cry of the soul is Christ, none but Christ, Christ alone. Mary looks beyond all others. Angels may come, and angels may go; but she neither seeks nor fears them. She blushes not to confess her Lord before the white-robed spirits; but she seeks Him, and must find Him. O child of God, keep you to the one object of your search! O sinner, when once you feel your need of Jesus, bend all your desires towards him, and seek him alone! If all your search is after Jesus, you shall find him. Let not a heaven of angels suffice to take you off from searching for your Lord and his salvation. O child of God, when you have lost the light of your Lord’s face, feel that you must have it back again, or die in the dark; and when you thus feel, he will return to you. He never set a soul longing for himself, and himself only, without gratifying the longing which he had created. Hunger and thirst after the Lord Jesus are blessed; for he who created them will satisfy them. Oh, that the Lord would cause us to faint and pine after himself more and more, and then visit us with that which is our soul’s only fulness, namely, his precious, priceless self!

     III. Thus have we handled the second point sufficiently. Let us now make a third observation: A SOUL SEEKING JESUS MAY HAVE HIM VERY NEAR, AND NOT KNOW IT.

     Read, “When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.” He was behind her while she stood looking into the sepulchre; and though she did not perceive it, his presence operated upon her. She had been speaking to the angels, and answering their question; and suddenly she was conscious that someone was standing just behind her. How came she thus to feel? Some think that, as Mark describes the angels as standing up, the Lord had, at that moment, come behind Mary, and the holy angels, perceiving their Lord, rose up to do him honour. They had been sitting in contemplation at the place of his sepulchre, but as soon as they caught sight of their Lord, they stood up, as if to do his bidding. From their movements Mary concluded that someone was passing behind her. It may have been so; for assuredly the angelic guards would have paid him instant reverence; but, on the other hand, rising is scarcely so much a method of saluting a superior in the East as it is in the West. Let us suggest something else. You have been sitting at your table, writing, and a friend has come behind you with noiseless tread, but yet on a sudden you have been aware of a presence. Before you had heard or seen you were impressed— what if I say overshadowed? Was it not so with Mary Magdalene and the Saviour? I am not superstitious if I assert that something very similar happens to me when Jesus is near. Many a believer will tell you that he has, at times, when he has been in prayer, or hearing the Word, or meditating, felt as if he could be sure that the Lord stood near him. There could, of course, be no palpable impression upon the flesh; for now, after the flesh, know we him no more; but yet his presence has impressed our souls. There are influences of mind on mind which are beyond the recognition of science. The great spirit of our Lord has means of making itself spiritually known to our spirits— means which flesh and blood know nothing of, and which lips could not describe. I have discerned the special presence of my Lord with me by a consciousness as sure as that by which I know that I live. Jesus has been as real to me, at my side in this pulpit, as though I had beheld him with my eyes. I appeal to the experience of many of you. Have you not been moved by a mysterious influence, which has overawed, inspired, and impressed you beyond description? A divine, majestic, delightful, and hallowing presence has been near you; and you have turned to look at a something which was so distinct that you would not have been surprised had it been visible to you. Mary did not discover at first that it was the Lord, but she felt his powerful influence, and then “she turned herself back, and saw Jesus.”

     The next thing to be noted was, that she saw Jesus standing. The word is better rendered “beholdeth,” as in the Revised Version. It does not merely mean that she saw him; but his presence fixed her gaze. She steadily observed him. She could not take her eyes off; she beheld him intently; for she seemed to say, “I must have seen that face before. Can it be he? It is wonderfully like; but the thought cannot be entertained.” But she stood, and beheld Jesus with steadfast gaze. Thus would we hold our meditations fixed upon his person. This may be so; and yet we may not know that the Lord is with us, though we are conscious of more than human company. In the case of a seeking sinner, Jesus has really come to him, and has been comforting him, and yet he did not know that it was Jesus; but dreamed that he was far away. His soul felt so tender, so melted, so ready to yield, so near to God, that he was sure some holy power was ruling him; but he knew not that it was Jesus. Occasionally, you and I have known such secret touches of heart and conscience, with bright hope, and burning love, that we have wondered at ourselves, and yet we have not dared to believe that it was the Lord himself who was thus at work upon us. And yet it was even so. "We were looking for Jesus by his own light. Our hearts burned, and yet we did not perceive whence came the fire. Jesus may be very near, and yet we may fear that he has gone from us in anger.

     What was it, do you think, that prevented her seeing and knowing her Lord? Shall we say that her unbelief and sorrow dimmed her eyes? Was it that, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, her eyes were holden? Very possibly. Was it her tears that blinded her to the divine vision? Not so likely; for tears full often cleanse the spiritual vision. Weeping for an absent Christ has often made us quit a sin which aforetime had prevented fellowship with Jesus. What was it, then? I think it was that the sight was not what she expected. She was longing to see Jesus; but, may be, she only hoped to see him wrapped in grave-clothes; and so, you notice, that the evangelist puts it, “She saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.” If she had seen him lying down, with the image of death upon his face, she would have known him; but to see Jesus standing, was far more than she could have hoped for. She had seen his lifeless body taken down by Joseph and Nicodemus, and she had helped to wrap him in spices and fine linen; but to see him standing, alive, was more than she could have dreamed of. The rapture was too great for her to expect or believe; and we marvel not that it is written “she knew not that it was Jesus.”

     Beloved, our conceptions of our Lord are so poor and low, that if he were to come to us in even a moderated degree of his glory, we should fail to apprehend that it was really he. John knew him, he had laid his head in his bosom, but he says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.” So overpoweringly beyond all that John could have expected, was the vision of the Lord in his glory. It is true the Lord Jesus did not manifest himself in that manner to Mary; but still, the particular posture of standing was beyond what she looked for, and therefore he was not perceived. It may be, that the Lord Jesus is truly appearing to some sinner here; but as the appearance is not what he expected, he is unable to hope that it is his Saviour. You are told simply to trust him; and this is hardly what you looked for: you thought that you would suffer an experience of amazing sorrow. You looked for an affair which could be put into a biography. Tell me, did you not? But you will not have anything of the sort. You hear a voice which cries, “Only trust him, only trust him.” Obey that voice, and enter into immediate rest. You thought that you would be driven to the verge of madness, and then be relieved with a joy which would make you dance; but instead thereof, you are led quietly to trust. So long as you are truly saved, what matters it? The Lord Jesus is present wherever there is humble faith in him, for that plant never grows except where he sets his pierced foot. Believe, and then know that it is Jesus.

     And you, dear brother, who have lost the presence of Christ a while, perhaps you expect him to come to-night, and carry you away in a sacred transport; instead of which, it may be he will calm you, and fill you with repose, or he may even rebuke you, and send you out to work and suffer for him. May you have the discernment, however your Lord may come, to know that it is the Lord! Though he comes not in the way in which you looked for him, yet be not so purblind as to mistake him for another. Yet if you should even think that your risen Lord is the gardener, you might not be so very wrong. If, under that misapprehension, you should ask him to dress the garden of your heart, and pluck up your weeds, and water your plants, it would be well with you. Still, he may be near you, and yet you may not know him. Take comfort from this fact; and though you mourn your own dulness of apprehension, do not utterly condemn yourself.

     Under her misapprehension, Mary did not catch the tone of our Lord' s voice when he asked her why she wept. Our Lord quoted the question of the angel, as if to show that he would gladly support the word which his servant had spoken. Happy messenger, whose words can be repeated by his Master! But yet Mary’s ear was heavy, and she perceived not her Lord. Ah me! we also may be in such a state that we do not discern the blessed Lover of our souls, though he speaketh in the language of consolation! We would have ventured to predict that never would Mary Magdalene have forgotten that dear voice; but she did so; and what wonder if we do the same?

     In a word, she was so far from discovering her Lord that she took him to be her foe rather than her Friend. She imagined that the gardener had borne the body away. Was he so unwilling to have a corpse within the region of his gardening that he had put it in a corner, that no one might perceive it? She humbles herself to him, and offers to carry away the form to which she feared he had such an objection. “Tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” He to whom she spoke had not taken away her treasure: he had brought it to her; yea, he was himself that treasure! Beloved, you and I also have reckoned our best Friend to be our enemy; so foolish are we, and so soon mistaken. In the darkness of our souls we judge unrighteously, and complain of our Lord whom alone we ought to praise. He knows our ignorance, and he forgives.

     IV. Upon my fourth observation I will be very brief— A SOUL SEEKING JESUS WILL DO ANYTHING TO FIND HIM.

     Mary Magdalene was still seeking; and when she saw one standing before her, whom she thought to be the gardener, what did she do? Why, she enquired of that gardener where she might find him whom she loved. She was willing to learn from anyone. If you are in earnest to find the Lord Jesus, you will not be particular about where you go, or of whom you learn. No matter whether the preacher is a doctor of divinity or a converted coal-heaver, so long as he preaches Christ, you will be glad to learn from him. She supposed him to be the gardener; but yet she said to him, “Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him.” Many have been happy to learn of Jesus from fishermen and cobblers. Does my friend object to my hearing an illiterate man? Ah, sir! when I am seeking eternal salvation, I care little about the philosopher, I want the experimental Christian. For him I feel a deep respect; and, even if I know him to be only a gardener, I speak to him reverently as “Sir.” When a man is not truly seeking the Lord, he wants short sermons, and these of a high literary order, or else adorned with attractive rhetoric; but when he is, with his whole heart, seeking for the Saviour, he is not so concerned about polite phrases, and ecclesiastical correctness; but he looks eagerly for a practical direction how he may come to Jesus; and he will take that from any man or woman, be their station what it may. Let him be a chimneysweep, if he will lead me to Jesus, I will follow. So it was with this holy woman; she desired to find the Lord, and she was altogether absorbed in that one pursuit. She speaks as if everybody was equally intent upon the one theme; for instead of mentioning the name Jesus, she says, “If thou hast borne him hence.” Why, Mary, what art thou talking about? “About him” saith she. But who is this of whom thou speakest? Ah, friends! to her there was but one “him” in all the world, just then! Oh, to be thus absorbed!

     Such was the desire of Magdalene to find the Lord Jesus, that she feared no ghastly sight. Let her know where the body is laid, and she will be there. That body, which had bled so much from its five wounds, must have been a heart-breaking sight to a tender-hearted woman; but she is not dismayed. Let the body be how it may, it is the flesh and blood of her dear Lord, and she must pay it homage. Wounds or no wounds, she would behold it. A wounded Christ is altogether lovely in the eyes of his redeemed. His blood, flowing for me, clothes him with a royal crimson robe in my eyes. I fear nothing, so long as I may but come to him. Dear hearts, if you long for salvation, you will not find fault with those who preach the doctrine of the cross, the wounds, the blood! You will not kick at the doctrine of a crucified Saviour, your Substitute condemned at the bar of justice. You want Jesus who died. You must behold him for yourself by faith, and no ridicule of the vain, or sneer of the proud, or cavil of the doubting, can make him uncomely in your eyes.

      Notice that she dreads no heavy burden. She says, “I will take him away.” Why, Mary, you could not bear away so great a load! You would fall beneath the weight of a man’s corpse! You are not strong enough for the sad task! Ah! but she thought that she could bear the blessed burden, and she meant to try! She would have accomplished it. Faith laughs at impossibility, and cries, “it shall be done”; but love actually performs the deed. A heart that is burning with love has about it a seven-fold energy, whose capacity it would be hard to calculate. It would seem a grim and terrible task for a woman, at early morning, to be carrying from its grave the corpse of one who had been hanged upon a tree; but she offers herself for the deed, and is even eager for it. To a soul that would fain find Christ, nothing is too hot or too heavy, nothing is too cold or too sickening. We would do anything, refuse nothing, and suffer everything, if we might but clasp him in our arms, our Jesus and our all.

     Yet was she wedded to her old mistake: she continued to seek the living- among the dead, for she looked again into the sepulchre. Thus have I seen seeking souls cling to their original mistake, and follow up those erroneous but natural hopes which are surely doomed to disappointment. How do I know that Mary began to look again into that sepulchre? Observe that, in the sixteenth verse we read, “She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni!” That is the second time she turned herself. The first time she turned, and looked at Jesus, whom she supposed to be the gardener. Now, if she had to turn again to see him, she must, in the meanwhile, have faced in the old direction, and must, therefore, have been peering again into the empty tomb. That is the difficulty which we have with poor seekers when they are in their fits. We persuade them from looking to themselves and their feelings, but they are soon back again at that unprofitable work. We tell them, “He is not here, for he is risen. Look not to your own dead self, with its feelings and resolvings, for Jesus is not there.” For a while they yield to us, and try to look to the Lord; but they do not know him, and so their eyes insensibly return to the old place, looking again into the sepulchre of self, to find a living hope in the things of death. Still, even this mistaken persistency shows how anxious they are, and how desperately they are set upon finding salvation. Though they make serious mistakes, and even repeat them, yet they cannot give over; for nothing short of Christ will content them.

     V. And that brings us to our fifth point: A SEEKING SOUL MAY FIND JESUS THROUGH ONE WORD.

     We might be wise to clip our sermons down, and make them much shorter. Long discourses have often missed the mark; but our Lord’s one word gave Mary all she sought. He said to her, “Mary”; and at once she knew him, and cried, “Rabboni.” Only one word! Jesus can preach a perfect sermon in one word. O dear friends, when you cannot say much to an anxious enquirer, say a single word. Who knows what that one word may do? When you cannot repeat a sermon, quote a verse. “A verse may hit him whom a sermon flies.” Do not think that strength lies in length: it is often the reverse.

     Though Mary came to herself by one word, that one word was from Jesus himself. He and the angels together had not comforted her with a sentence, but one word from his heart went to her heart. That one word of love from his lip, “Mary,” brought that other word of reverence from her lip, “Rabboni.” Dear friends, beseech the Lord to speak in his own all-powerful way at this time. In the meeting for prayer you prayed for me that I might speak, and I hope the Lord heard you; but now go yet further, and cry, “Speak, Lord! Speak thyself! The angel of the church has spoken, and thou hast sealed his message, but now, we entreat thee, go further, and do thou speak one word thyself, by thine own Spirit!”

     That one word was the Magdalene' s own name. It was as though he had said, “I have called thee by thy name: thou art mine.” Words, when they are spoken with a general bearing, may prove feeble. When the angel said, “Woman,” and Jesus himself said, “Woman,” that name belonged to a large class of individuals; and Mary did not take it to herself. But when our Lord said, “Mary,” there was but one Mary present, and therefore it came home to her without fail. This is what is needed: an assured, personal application of the Word. This our Lord grants when the message comes right home to you, as if you were the only one present: the preacher looks at you, speaks to you, and gives such personal details, that you are sure that not the preacher, but the preacher’s God, is speaking to you. Then it is that you find the Lord, and know of a surety that it is he.

     That word from the Master’s lips, that word your own name, that word shall wake the echoes of your heart by arousing happy memories, and recalling hours of sweet delight. When a soul knows that Jesus knows its name, it soon begins to know Jesus for itself. Who but he could have said, “Mary” with that emphatic accent, with that peculiar intonation? Who but he could have brought all her life to remembrance, not so much by the word itself as by the meaning which he threw into it, and the vivid flash of his eye which went with it? One glance of his eye darted the light of God into her spirit. “Mary!” was the Open Sesame of her heart and mind. Oh, now she has him! Lord, speak in this fashion to some seeker who is here looking for thee! Lord, speak to John and Peter, to Jane and Sarah! Let the message come to many hearers from thine own lips, to thine own glory!

     VI. The last head is this — A SEEKING SOUL WILL RESPOND WITH REVERENCE TO THE WORD OF JESUS. Mary said at once, “Rabboni.” This is a Hebrew word, signifying “Master,” or, as Parkhurst says, having a Chaldee particle within it, which makes it to mean “My Master,” or, as I have heard some say, “Great Master.” At any rate, she meant that he was her Lord and Teacher. He knew her heart, he understood her inmost soul, and therefore she owned him Lord. He had called her by her name, and she owned that all-controlling voice. He was her Master, since he could so divinely know and move her heart. Even thus may we each one say, “My God, my Saviour, convinced by thy knowledge of me, and overpowered by thy condescension towards me, I feel that thou hast the sole right to my love, my trust, my obedience! Thou art within and about me, nearer to me than hands and feet, nearer to me than even the blood that flows from my heart; and therefore I joyfully submit my whole being to thee, to be ruled and instructed by thee as my sole Lord and Rabbi!”

     In addition to this, she feels that she knows him. He is no stranger to her. Had he been a stranger, he might have said “Mary” many times; but because he was the Good Shepherd that knows his sheep, and calls them by name, therefore Mary, as one of his sheep, responded to his call. Mary knew him: do you know the Master? Beloved, do you know the Lord Jesus? To know him is life eternal! Have you this life? Not to know him is an ignorance dark as death. I do not say, do you know about him? But do you know HIM? Has the Lord ever spoken to you? Has he ever worded it with you? Has he spoken one almighty syllable which has thrilled your very soul? If so, you will at once take him to be your Teacher, and yield your intellect to his instruction. Henceforth you will only want to know what he chooses to reveal; but what he reveals will satisfy your reason at once. Henceforth opposing philosophies will go to the wind, and you will learn of him. Henceforth your own thoughts and speculations will seem as the chaff of the threshing-floor, compared with the words which he teaches, which are full of weight and divine authority, even of light and power eternal. To-night, from my very heart, I call Jesus “Rabboni.” I will have no Rabbi but Christ; no Master but my Lord Jesus. By all his knowledge of me, and all his revelation of himself to me, I take him to be to me my Teacher and Lord.

     “Rabboni” means also “Master” by way of authority. Mary confessed herself the follower of Jesus. Where he led the way, she was resolved to follow, even as our hymn puts it—

“I am thine, and thine alone.
This I gladly, fully own;
And, in all my works and ways,
Only now would seek thy praise.”

     From that time, even if it had not been so with her before, Mary Magdalene was one of those of whom it could be said, “They follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” Happy man and happy woman, who will keep close to every footstep of the Lord. If you are seeking him at this hour, pray that, at this moment, he may speak the revealing word, so that you may henceforth feel that a change has come over you, the like of which you have never known. May you experience a sacred twist which shall affect your whole character! May Jesus touch your heart so that your whole body, soul, and spirit shall never forget that touch in time or in time or in eternity! Amen.



The Mustard Seed: a Sermon for the Sabbath-school Teacher

By / Oct 20

The Mustard Seed: a Sermon for the Sabbath-school Teacher

 

“Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”— Luke xiii. 18, 19.

 

I SHALL not attempt fully to explain this great little parable. A full exposition may be left for another occasion. The parable may be understood to relate to our Lord himself, who is the living seed. You know also how his church is the tree that springs from him, and how greatly it grows and spreads its branches until it covers the earth. From the one man Christ Jesus, despised and rejected of men, slain and buried, and so hidden away from among men— from him, I say, there ariseth a multitude which no man can number. These spread themselves, like some tree which grows by the rivers of waters, and they yielded both gracious shelter and spiritual food. I called it a great little parable, and so it is: it has a world of teaching within the smallest compass. The parable is itself like a grain of mustard seed, but its meanings are as a great tree.

     But at this time of the year, Sabbath-school teachers come together specially to pray for a blessing on their work; and pastors are invited to say a word to cheer them in their self-denying service. This request I would cheerfully fulfil; and therefore my discourse will not be a full explanation of the parable, but an adaptation of it to the cheering of those who are engaged in the admirable work of teaching the young the fear of the Lord. Never service more important: to overlook it would be a grave fault. We rejoice to encourage our friends in their labour of love.

     In this parable light is thrown upon the work of those who teach the gospel. First, notice a very simple work: “a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden.” Secondly, observe what came of it: “it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”

     I. First, NOTICE A VERY SIMPLE WORK. The work of teaching the gospel is as the casting of a grain of mustard seed into a garden.

     Note, first, what the nameless man did. “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took.” He took it; that is to say, picked it out from the bulk. It was only one grain, and a grain of a very insignificant seed; but he did not let it lie on the shelf; he took it in his hand to put it to its proper use. A grain of mustard seed is too small a thing for public exhibition; the man who takes it in his hand is almost the only one who spies it out. It was only a grain of mustard seed, but the man set it before his own mind as a distinct object to be dealt with. He was not sowing mustard over broad acres, but he was sowing “a grain of mustard seed” in his garden. It is well for the teacher to know what he is going to teach; to have that truth distinctly in his mind’s eye, as the man had the grain of mustard seed between his fingers. Depend upon it, unless a truth is clearly seen and distinctly recognised by the teacher, little will come of it to the taught. It may be a very simple truth; but if a man takes it, understands it, grasps it, and loves it, he will do something with it. Beloved, first and foremost let us ourselves take the gospel, let us believe it, let us appreciate it, let us prize it beyond all things; for truth lives as it is loved, and no hand is so fit for its sowing as the hand which grasps it well.

     Further, in this little parable we notice that this man had a garden: “Like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden.” Some Christian people have no garden— no personal sphere of service. They belong to the whole clan of Christians, and they pine to see the entire band go out to cultivate the whole world; but they do not come to personal particulars. It is delightful to be warmed up by missionary addresses, and to feel a zeal for the salvation of all the nations; but, after all, the net result of a general theoretic earnestness for all the world does not amount to much. As we should have no horticulture if men had no gardens; so we shall have no missionary work done unless each person has a mission. It is the duty of every believer in Christ, like the first man, Adam, to have a garden to dress and to till. Children are in the Sunday-schools by millions: thank God for that! But have you a class of your own? All the church at work for Christ! Glorious theory! Are you up and doing for your Lord? It will be a grand time when every believer has his allotment, and is sowing it with the seed of truth. The wilderness and the solitary place will blossom as the rose when each Christian cultivates his own plot of roses. Where should this unnamed man sow his mustard seed but in his own garden? It was near him, and dear to him, and thither he went. Teach your own children, speak to your neighbours, seek the conversion of those whom God has especially entrusted to you.

     Having a garden, and having this seed, the man towed it: and simple as this is, it is the hinge of the instruction. You have a number of seeds in a pill-box. There they are: look at them! Take that box down this day twelve months, and the seeds will be just the same. Lay them by in that dry box for seven years, and nothing will happen. Truth is not to be kept to ourselves: it is to be published and advocated. There is an old proverb, “Truth is mighty, and will prevail.” The proverb is true in a sense; but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. If you put truth away, and leave it without a voice, it won’t prevail; it will not even contend. When have great truths prevailed? Why, when brave men have persisted in declaring them. Daring spirits have taken up a cause which has been, at the first, unpopular, and they have spoken about it so earnestly, and so often, that at length the cause has commanded attention: they have pressed on and on till the cause has triumphed altogether. Truth has been mighty, and has prevailed; but yet not without the men who gave it life and tongue. Not even the gospel itself, if it be not taught, will prevail. If revealed truth be laid on one side and kept in silence, it will not grow. Mark how, through the dark ages, the gospel lay asleep in old books in the libraries of monasteries, till Luther and his fellow reformers fetched it out and sowed it in the minds of men.

     This man simply cast it into his garden. He did not wrap it round with gold leaf, or otherwise adorn it; but he put it into the ground. The naked seed came into contact with the naked soil. O teachers, do not try to make the gospel look fine; do not overlay it with your fine words, or elaborate explanations. The gospel seed is to be put into the young heart just as it is. Get the truth concerning the Lord Jesus into the children’s minds. Make them know, not what you can say about the truth, but what the truth itself says. It is wicked to take the gospel and make a peg of it to hang our old clothes upon. The gospel is not a boat to be freighted with human thoughts, fine speculations, scraps of poetry, and pretty tales. No, no, the gospel is the thought of God: in and of itself it is the message which the soul needs. It is the gospel itself which will grow. Take a truth, specially that great doctrine, that man is lost and that Christ is the only Saviour, and see to it that you place it in the mind. Teach plainly the great truth that whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life; and that the Lord Jesus bare our sins in his own body on the tree, and suffered for us, the just for the unjust— I say take these truths and set them forth to the mind, and see what will come of it. Sow the very truth; not your reflections on the truth, not your embellishments of the truth, but the truth itself. This is to be brought into contact with the mind; for the truth is the seed, and the human mind is the soil for it to grow in.

     These remarks of mine are very plain and trite; and yet everything depends upon the simple operation described. Nearly everything has been tried in preaching of late, except the plain and clear statement of the glad tidings and of the atoning sacrifice. People have talked about what the church can do, and what the gospel can do: we have been informed as to the proofs of the gospel, or the doubts about it, and so forth; but when will they give us the gospel itself? Brethren, we must come to the point and teach the gospel, for this is the living and incorruptible seed which abideth for ever. It is an easy thing to deliver an address upon mustard seed, to give the children a taste of the pungency of mustard, to tell them how mustard seed would grow, what kind of a tree it would produce, and how the birds would sing among its branches. But this is not sowing mustard seed. It is all very fine to talk about the influence of the gospel, the ethics of Christianity, the elevating power of the love of Christ, and so on; but what we want is the gospel itself, which exercises that influence. Sow the seed: tell the children the doctrine of the cross, the fact that with the stripes of Jesus we are healed, and that by faith in him we are justified. What is wanted is not talk about the gospel, but the gospel itself. We must continually bring the living word of the living God into contact with the hearts of men. Oh for the aid of the Holy Ghost in this! He will help us, for he delights to glorify Jesus.

     That which is described in the parable was an insignificant business: the man took the tiny seed and put it into his garden. It is a very common-place affair to sit down with a dozen children around you, and open your Bible and tell them the well-worn tale of how Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. No Pharisee is likely to stand and blow a trumpet when he is going to teach children: he is more likely to point to the children in the temple, and sneeringly say, “Hearest thou what these say?” It is a lowly business altogether: but yet to the mustard seed, and to the man with a garden, the sowing is the all-important matter. The mustard seed will never grow unless put into the soil: the owner of the garden will never have a crop of mustard unless he sows the seed. Dear Sunday-school teacher, do not become weary of your humble work, for none can measure its importance. Tell the boys and girls of the Son of God, who lived and loved and died that the ungodly might be saved. Urge them to immediate faith in the mighty Saviour, that they may be saved at once. Tell of the new birth, and how the souls of men are renewed by the Holy Spirit, without whose divine working none can enter the kingdom of heaven. Cast in mustard seed, and nothing else but mustard seed, if you want to grow mustard. Teach the gospel of grace, and nothing but the gospel of grace, if you would see grace growing in the hearts of your young people.

     Secondly, let us consider what it was that the man sowed. We have seen that he sowed: what did he sow? It was one single seed, and that seed a very small one; so very, very small, that the Jews were accustomed to say, “As small as mustard seed.” Hence the Saviour speaks of it as the smallest among seeds; which it may not have been absolutely, but which it was according to common parlance; and our Lord was not teaching botany, but speaking a popular parable. Yes, the gospel seems a very simple thing: Believe and live! Look to Jesus dying in the sinner’s stead! Look to Jesus crucified, even as Israel looked to the brazen serpent lifted up upon a pole. It is simplicity itself: in fact, the gospel is so plain a matter that our superior people are weary of it, and look out for something more difficult of comprehension. People nowadays are like the negro who liked to hear the Scriptures “properly confounded”; or like the other who said, “You should hear our minister dispense with the truth.” Sowing seed is work too ordinary for the moderns: they demand new methods. But, beloved, we must not run after vain inventions: our one business is to sow the Word of God in the mind of children. It is yours and mine to teach everybody the simple truth, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. We know nothing else among men or among children. This one seed, apparently so little, so insignificant, we continue to sow. They sneeringly say, “What can be the moral result of peaching such a gospel? Surely it would be better to discourse upon morals, social economics, and the sciences?” Ah, friends! if you can do any good in those ways, we will not hinder you; but our belief is that a hundred times more can be done with the gospel; for it is the power of God unto salvation unto every one that believeth. The gospel is not the enemy of any good thing; say, rather, it is the force by which good things are to be carried out. Whatsoever things are pure and honest and of good repute, are all nurtured by that spirit which is begotten by the simple gospel of Christ. Yet conversions do not come by essays upon morals, but by the teaching of salvation by Christ. The cleansing and raising of our race will not be effected by politics or science, but by the Word of the Lord, which liveth and abideth for ever. To bring the greatest blessings upon our rising youth, we must labour to implant in their minds faith in the Lord Jesus. Oh, for divine power in this work!

     But the seed, though very small, was a living thing. There is a great difference between a mustard seed and a piece of wax of the same size. Life slumbers in that seed. What life is, we cannot tell. Even if you take a microscope you cannot spy it out. It is a mystery: but it is essential to a seed. The gospel has a something in it not readily discoverable by the philosophical enquirer, if, indeed, he can perceive it at all. Take a maxim of Socrates or of Plato, and enquire whether a nation or a tribe has ever been transformed by it from barbarism to culture. A maxim of a philosopher may have measurably influenced a man in some right direction; but who has ever heard of a man's whole character being transformed by any observation of Confucius or Socrates? I confess I never have. Human teachings are barren. But within the gospel, with all its triteness and simplicity, there is a divine life, and that life makes all the difference. The human can never rival the divine, for it lacks the life-fire. It is better to preach five words of God’s Word than five million words of man’s wisdom. Men’s words may seem to be the wiser and the more attractive, but there is no heavenly life in them. Within God’s Word, however simple it may be, there dwells an omnipotence like that of God, from whose lips it came.

     Truth to tell, a seed is a very comprehensive thing. Within the mustard seed what is to be found? Why, there is all in it that ever comes out of it. It must be so. Every branch, and every leaf, and every flower, and every seed that is to be, is, in its essence, all within the seed: it needs to be developed; but it is all there. And so, within the simple gospel, how much lies concentrated? Look at it! Within that truth lie regeneration, repentance, faith, holiness, zeal, consecration, perfection. Heaven hides itself away within the gospel. Like a young bird in its nest, glory dwells in grace. We may not at first see all its results, nor, indeed, shall we see them at all, till we sow the seed and it grows; but yet it is all there. Do you believe it, young teacher? Have you realized what you have in your hold when you grasp the gospel of the grace of God? It is the most wonderful thing beneath the skies. Do you believe in the gospel which you have to teach? Do you discern that within its apparently narrow lines the Eternal, the Infinite, the Perfect, and the Divine are all enclosed? As in the Babe of Bethlehem there was the Eternal God, so within the simple teaching of “Believe and live” there are all the elements of eternal blessedness for men, and boundless glory for God. It is a very comprehensive thing, that little seed, that gospel of God.

     And for this reason it is so wonderful: it is a divine creation. Summon your chemists: bring them together with all their vessels and their fires. Select a jury of the greatest chemists now alive, analytical or otherwise, as you will. Learned sirs, will you kindly make us a mustard seed? You may take a mustard seed, and pound it and analyze it, and you may thus ascertain all its ingredients. So far so good. Is not your work well begun? Now make a single mustard seed. We will give you a week. It is a very small affair. You have all the elements of mustard in yonder mortar. Make us one living grain: we do not ask for a ton weight. One grain of mustard seed will suffice us. Great chemists, have you not made so small a thing? A month has gone by. Only one grain of mustard seed we asked of you, and where is it? Have you not made one in a month? What are you at? Shall we allow you seven years? Yes, with all the laboratories in the kingdom at your service, and all known substances for your material, and all the world’s coal-beds for your fuel, get to your work. The air is black with your smoke, and the streams run foul with your waste products; but where is the mustard seed? This baffles the wise men: they cannot make a living seed. No; and nobody can make a gospel, or even a new gospel text. The thinkers of the age could not even concoct another life of Christ to match with the four gospels which we have already. I go further: they could not create a new incident which would be congruous with the facts we already know. Plenty of novel writers nowadays can beat out imaginary histories upon their anvils: let them write a fifth gospel— say the gospel according to Peter, or Andrew. Let us have it! They will not even commence the task. Who will write a new Psalm, or even a new promise? Clever chemists prove their wisdom by saying at once, “No, we cannot make a mustard seed”; and wise thinkers will equally confess that they cannot make another gospel. My learned brethren are trying very hard to make a new gospel for this nineteenth century; but you teachers had better go on with the old one. The advanced men cannot put life into their theory. This living Word is the finger of God. That simple grain of mustard seed must be made by God, or not at all; and he must put life into the gospel, or it will not have power in the heart. The gospel of Sunday-school teachers, that gospel of “Believe and live,” however men may despise it, has God-given life in it. You cannot make another which can supplant it; for you cannot put life into your invention. Go on and use the one living truth with your children, for nothing else has God’s life in it.

     I want you to see what a little affair the sowing seemed, as we answer the question, What was it to him? It was a very natural act; he sowed a seed. It is a most natural thing that we should teach others what we believe ourselves. I cannot make out how some professors can call themselves Christians, and yet never communicate the faith to others. That the young people of our churches should gather other young people around them, and tell them of Jesus, whom they love, is as natural as for a gardener to put seeds into his prepared ground.

     To sow a mustard seed is a very inexpensive act. Only one grain of mustard: nobody can find me a coin small enough to express its value. I do not know how much mustard seed the man had; certainly it is not a rare thing; but he only took one grain of it, and cast it into his garden. He emptied no exchequer by that expenditure; and this is one of the excellencies of Sabbath-school work, that it neither exhausts the church of men nor of money. However much of it is done, it does not lessen the resources of our Zion: it is done freely, quietly, without excitement, without sacrifice of life; and yet what a fountain of blessing it is!

     Still, it was an act of faith. It is always an act of faith to sow seed; because you have, for the time, to give it up, and receive nothing in return. The farmer takes his choice seed-corn, and throws it into the soil of his field. He might have made many a loaf of bread with it; but he casts it away. Only his faith saves him from being judged a maniac: he expects it to return to him fifty-fold. If you had never seen a harvest, you would think that a man burying good wheat under the clods had gone mad; and if you had never seen conversions, it might seem an absurd thing to be constantly teaching to boys and girls the story of the Man who was nailed to the tree. We preach and teach as a work of faith; and, remember, it is only as an act of faith that it will answer its purpose. The rule of the harvest is, “According to thy faith, be it unto thee.” Believe, dear teacher, believe in the gospel. Believe in what you are doing when you tell it. Believe that great results from slender causes spring. Go on sowing your mustard seed of salvation by faith, expecting and believing that fruit will come thereof.

     It was an act which brought the sower no honour. The Saviour has chronicled the fact that the man took a grain of mustard seed and sowed it; but thousands of men had gone on sowing mustard seed for half a lifetime without a word. Nobody has ever spoken in your honour, my friend, though you have taught the truth. Dear teacher, go on sowing, though nobody should observe your diligence, or praise your faithfulness. Sow the seed of precious truth in the garden of the child’s mind; for much more will come of it than you have dared to hope.

     It seems to me that our Lord selected the mustard seed in this parable, not because its results are the greatest possible from a seed— for an oak or a cedar are much greater growths than a mustard tree— but he selected it because it is the greatest result as compared with the size of the seed. Follow out the analogy. Come to yonder school, and see! That earnest young man is teaching a boy, one of those wild creatures of the street; they swarm in every quarter. A dozen young Turks are before him, or say young Arabs of the street; he is teaching them the gospel. Small affair, is it not? Yes, very; but what may come of it? Think of how joyfully much may grow out of this little! What is that young man teaching? Only one elementary truth. Do not sneer; it is truth, but it is the mere alphabet of it. He touches upon nothing deep in theology: he only says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Dear boy, believe in the Lord Jesus, and live.” That is all he says. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? The teacher himself is teaching the one truth in a very poor way; at least, he thinks so. Ask him, when he has done, what he thinks of his own teaching; and he replies, “I do not feel fit to teach.” Yes, that young man’s teaching is sighed over; and in his own judgment it is poor and weak; but there is life in the truth he imparts, and eternal results will follow— results of which I have now to speak in the second part of my sermon. May the good Spirit help me so to speak as to encourage my beloved friends, who have given themselves up to the Christ-like work of teaching the little ones!

     II. Secondly, let us enquire, WHAT CAME OF IT?

     First, “it grew.” That was what the sower hoped would come of it: he placed the seed in the ground, hoping that it would grow. It is not reasonable to suppose that he would have sown it if he had not hoped that it would spring up. Dear teacher, do you always sow in hope, do you trust that the Word will live and grow? If you do not, I do not think your success is very probable. Expect the truth to take root, and expand and grow up. Teach divine truth with earnestness, and expect that the life within it will unveil its wonders.

     But though the sower expected growth, he could not himself have made it grow. After he had placed the seed in the ground, he could water it, he could pray God to make the sun shine on it; but he could not directly produce growth. Only he that made the seed could cause it to grow. Growth is a continuance of that almighty act by which life is at first given. The putting of life into the seed is God’s work, and the bringing forth of the life from the seed is God’s work too. This is a matter within your hope, but far beyond your power.

     A very wonderful thing it is, that the seed should grow. If we did not see it every day, we should be more astonished at the growth of seed than at all the wonders of magicians. A growing seed is God’s abiding miracle. You see a piece of ground near London covered with a market-garden, and after a few months you go by the place, and you see streets, and a public square, and a church, and a great population. You say to yourself, “It is remarkable that all these houses should have sprung up in a few months.” Yet that is not at all so wonderful as for a ploughed field to become covered four feet high with corn, and all without the use of waggons to bring the material, or tools to work it up into a harvest. Without noise of hammer, or the ringing of trowels; without handiwork of man, the whole has been done. Wonder at the growth of grace. See how it increases, deepens, strengthens! Growth in grace is a marvel of divine love. That a man should repent through the gospel, that he should believe in Jesus, that he should be totally changed, that he should have a hope of heaven, that he should receive power to become a child of God— these are all marvellous things; and yet they are going on under our eyes, and we fail to admire them as we should. The growth of holiness in such fallen creatures as we are, is the admiration of angels, the delight of all intelligent beings.

     To the sower this growth was very pleasing. How pleasant it is to see the seed of grace grow in children! Do you not remember when you first sowed mustard-and-cress as a boy, how the very next morning you went and turned the ground up to see how much it had grown. How pleased you were when you saw the little yellow shoot, and afterwards a green leaf or two! So is it with the true teacher: he is anxious to see growth, and he makes eager enquiry for it. What he expected is taking place, and it is most delightful to him, whatever it may be to others. An unsympathetic person cries, “Oh, I do not think anything of that child’s emotions. It is merely a passing impression: he will soon forget it.” The teacher does not think so. The cold critic says, “I don’t think much of a child’s weeping. Children’s tears lie very near the surface.” But the teacher is full of hope that he sees in these tears a real sorrow for sin, and an earnest seeking after the Lord. The questioner says, “It is nothing for a child to say that he gives his heart to Jesus. Youngsters soon think that they believe. They are so easily led.” People talk thus because they do not love children, and live with the desire to save them. If you sympathize with children, you are pleased with every hopeful token, and are on the watch for every mark of divine life within them. If you are a florist, you will see more of the progress of your plants than if you are no gardener, and have no interest in such things. Think, then, of what my text says: “It grew.” Oh, for a prayer just now, from all of you this morning, “Lord, make the gospel grow wherever it falls! Whether the preacher scatters it, or the teacher sows it; whether it falls among the aged people, or the young; Lord, make the gospel grow!” Pray hard for it, brethren! You cannot make it grow: but you can prevail with God to bless it to his honour and praise.

     Next, having started growing, it became a tree; Luke says, “It waxed a great tree.” It was great in itself; but the greatness was seen mainly in comparison with the size of the seed. The growth was great. Here is the wonder: not that it became a tree, but that, being a mustard seed, it should become “a great tree.” Do you see the point of the parable? I have already brought it before you. Listen! It was only a word spoken— “Dear boy, look to Jesus.” Only such a word, and a soul was saved, its sin was forgiven, its whole being was changed, a new heir of heaven was born. Do you see the growth? A word produces salvation! A grain of mustard seed becomes a great tree! A little teaching brings eternal life. That is not all: the teacher, with many prayers and tears, took her girl home, and pleaded with her for Christ, and the girl was led to yield her heart to the dominion of Christ Jesus— a holy, heavenly life came out of that pleading. See! she becomes a thoughtful girl, a loving wife, a gracious mother, a matron in Israel, such a one as Dorcas among the poor, or Hannah with her Samuel. What a great result from a little cause! The teacher’s words were tearfully spoken; they could not have been printed, for they were far too broken and childlike; but they were, in God’s hands, the moans of fashioning a life most sweet, most chaste, most beautiful.

     A boy was about as wild as any roamer of our streets: a teacher knelt by his side, with his arm about the lad’s neck. He pleaded with God for the boy, and with the boy for God. That boy was converted, and as a youth in business he was an example to the workroom; as a father, he was a guide to his household; as a man of God, he was a light to all around; as a preacher of righteousness, he adorned the doctrine of God his Saviour in all things. There is much more which I might easily picture; but you can work it out as well as I can. All that is to be desired may spring out of the simple talk of a humble Christian with a youth. A mustard seed becomes a great tree; a few words of holy admonition may produce a noble life.

     But is that all? Beloved, our teaching may preserve souls from the deep darkness of the abode of the lost. A soul left to itself might hurry down from folly to vice, from vice to obduracy, from obduracy to fixed resolve to perish; but by the means of loving teaching all this is changed. Rescued from the power of sin, like a lamb snatched from between the jaws of the lion, the youth is mow no longer the victim of vice, but seeks holy and heavenly things. Hell has lost its prey; and see up yonder, heaven’s wide gate has received a precious soul. “Sweeping through the gates of the New Jerusalem” many have come who were led there from the Sunday-school. They who once were foul are now white-robed, washed in the blood of the Lamb. Hark to their songs of praise! You may keep on listening, for those songs will never come to an end. All this was brought about through a brief address of a trembling brother who stood up one Sunday afternoon to close the school and talk a little about the cross of Jesus. Or all this came of a gentle sister who could never have spoken in public, but yet was enabled to warn a young girl who was growing giddy, and seemed likely to go sadly astray. Wonderful that a soul’s taking the road to heaven or to hell should be made, in the purpose of God, to hinge upon the humble endeavours of a weak but faithful teacher! You see how the mustard seed grew till it waxed a great tree.

     This great tree became a shelter: “the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.” Mustard in the East does grow very large indeed. The commonest kind of it may be found eight or ten feet high; but there is a kind which will grow almost like a forest tree, and there probably were some of these latter trees in the sheltered region wherein our Lord was speaking. A mustard which grew here and there in Palestine was of surprising dimensions. When the tree grew, the birds came to it. Here we have unexpected influences. Think of it. That man took a mustard seed which you could hardly see if I held it up. When he took the mustard seed, when he put it into his garden, had he any thought of bringing birds to that spot? Not he. You do not know all you are doing when you are teaching a child the way of salvation by Jesus Christ. When you are trying to bring a soul to Christ, your action has ten thousand hooks to it, and these may seize on innumerable things. Holy teaching is the opening of a well, and no one knows all the effect which the waters will produce on that spot. There seems no link between sowing a grain of mustard seed and birds of the air; but the winged wanderers soon made a happy connection. There may seem no connection between teaching that boy and the reclaiming of cannibals in New Guinea; but I can see a very possible connection. Tribes in Central Africa may have their destiny shaped by your instruction of a tiny child. When John Pounds bribed an urchin with a hot potato to come and learn to read the Bible, I am sure John Pounds had no idea of all the Ragged-schools in London; but there is a clear line of cause and effect in the whole matter. A hot potato might be the coat of arms of the Ragged-school Union. When Nasmyth went about from house to house visiting in the slums of London, I do not suppose that he saw in his act the founding of the London City Mission and all the Country Town Missions. No man can tell the end of his beginnings, the growth of his sowings. Go on doing good in little ways, and you shall one day wonder at the great results. Do the next thing that lies before you. Do it well. Do it unto the Lord. Leave results with his unbounded liberality of love; but hope to reap at least a hundred-fold.

     How many fowls came and roosted under that one mustard tree I do not know. How many birds in a day, how many birds in the year, came and found a resting-place, and picked the seeds they loved so well, I cannot tell. When one person is converted, how many may receive a blessing out of him none can tell. Now is the day for romances: our literature is drenched with tales religious or irreligious. What stories might be written concerning benefits bestowed, directly and indirectly, by a single godly man or woman! When you have written a thrilling story upon the subject, I can assure you I can match it with something better still. One single individual can scatter benedictions across a continent, and belt the world with blessing.

     But what is that I hear? I see this mustard tree— it is a very wonderful tree; but I not only see, I hear! Music! music! The birds! the birds! It is early morning, the sun is scarcely up— what torrents of song! Is that the way to produce music? Shall I sow mustard seed, and reap songs? I thought we must buy an organ, or purchase a violin; or by some wind or stringed instrument come at music; but here is a new plan altogether. Nebuchadnezzar had his flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music; but all that mingled sound could not rival the melody of birds. I shall sow mustard seed now, and get music in God’s own way. Friends, when you teach your children the gospel of the Lord Jesus, you are sowing the music of heaven. Every time you tell the tidings of pardon bought with blood, you are filling the choirs of glory with sweet voices, which, to the Eternal Name, shall, day and night, trill out songs of devout gratitude. Go on, then, if this is to be the result. If even heaven’s high harmonies depend upon the simple teaching of a Ragged-school, let us never cease from our hallowed service.

     Having said so much, I now close with these three practical observations. Are we not highly honoured to be entrusted with such a marvellous thing as the gospel? If it be a seed comprehending so much within it, which will come to so much if it be properly used, blessed and happy are we to have such good news to proclaim! I thought this morning, when I awoke into the damp and rain, and felt my bones complaining I shall be glad when four more Sundays shall have gone, and I shall be free to take a little rest in a sunnier clime. Jaded in mind, and weary in spirit, I braced myself with this reflection— what blessed work I have to do! What a glorious gospel have I to preach! I ought to be a very happy man to have such glad tidings to bear to my fellows. I said to myself, “So I am.” Well now, beloved teacher, next Sunday, when you leave your bed, and say, “I have had a hard week’s work, and I could half wish that I had not to go to my class”; answer yourself thus: “But I am a happy person to have to talk to children about Christ Jesus. If I had to teach them arithmetic or carpentering, I might get tired of it; but to talk about Jesus, whom I love, why, it is a joy for ever.

     Let us be encouraged to sow the good seed in evil times. If we do not see the gospel prospering elsewhere, let us not despair; if there were no more mustard seed in the world, and I had only one grain of it, I should be all the more anxious to sow it. You can produce any quantity if only one seed will grow. So now to-day there is not very much gospel about; the church has given it up; a great many preachers preach everything but the living truth. This is sad; but it is a strong reason why you and I should teach more gospel than ever. I have often thought to myself— Other men may teach Socialism, deliver lectures, or collect a band of fiddlers, that they may gather a congregation; but I will preach the gospel. I will preach more gospel than ever if I can; I will stick more to the one cardinal point. The other brethren can attend to the odds and ends, but I will keep to Christ crucified. To the men of vast ability, who are looking to the events of the day, I would say, “Allow one poor fool to keep to preaching the gospel.” Beloved teachers, be fools for Christ, and keep to the gospel. Don’t you be afraid: it has life in it, and it will grow: only you bring it out, and let it grow. I am sometimes afraid that we may prepare our sermons and addresses too much, so as to make ourselves shine. If so, we are like the man who tried to grow potatoes— he never grew any, and he wondered much; “for,” said he, “I very carefully boiled them for hours.” So, it is very possible to extract all the life out of the gospel, and put so much of yourself into it that Christ will not bless it.

     And, lastly, we are bound to do it. If so much will come out of so little, we are bound to go in for it. Nowadays people want ten per cent, for their money. Hosts of fools are readily caught by any scheme, or speculation, or limited liability company, that promises to give them immense dividends! I should like to make you wise by inviting you to an investment which is sure. Sow a mustard seed, and grow a tree. Talk of Christ, and save a soul: that soul saved will be a blessing for ages, and a joy to God throughout eternity. Was there ever such an investment as this? Let us go on with it. If on our simple word eternity is hung, let us speak with all our heart. Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown, hang on the lips of the earnest teacher of the gospel of Jesus: let us never cease speaking while we have breath in our body. The Lord bless you! Amen, and Amen.



The Eye and the Light

By / Oct 13

The Eye and the Light

 

“No man, when he hath lighted a caudle, putteth it in a. secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.”— Luke xi. 33— 36.

 

IN this parable, our Lord Jesus Christ is the light. Some saw his brightness, and were even dazzled by it, as was that woman who cried, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.” The malicious saw not his light, but even dared to impute his miracles to the Prince of darkness. Others professed to see so little light in him that they demanded a sign from heaven. Our Lord’s constant answer was, to go shining on. He was meant to be observed; even as a lamp is intended to be seen. A lamp is not lighted to be placed in a cellar, nor to be hidden under a bushel: the lamp is lighted on purpose that all who come into the house may see the light. Even so, our Lord Jesus Christ could not be hid. In the narrow circle of the Holy Land, he shone so clearly that Gentiles came to the brightness of his rising. Yet, to make him seen to the ends of the earth, he must needs be set on the lamp-stand. He was lifted up by crucifixion; and anon he was further raised by resurrection: he was lifted up from earth to heaven at his ascension, and in another sense he was set on high by the descent of the Holy Ghost and the widespread ministry of his servants. Our Lord was thus taken from under the bushel of the obscurity which attached to his humble origin, brought away from the dark cellar of the despised Jewish nation, and set out in the open, where Greek and Roman, Barbarian and Scythian, might rejoice in his light. It is our duty to keep his name and his truth ever before the world, waiting for the time when every eye shall see him on the throne of his glory.

     Our Lord would have all men behold the light of his gospel; for the text saith, “that they which come in may see the light.” Whosoever comes into the church, or even into the world, should be met with this lamp; for this gospel is to be preached to every creature under heaven. The mighty deeds of his salvation were not done in a corner: they are for world-wide observation. He that hath eyes to see let him see. If you do not see Jesus, it is not because he has hidden himself in darkness, but because your eyes are blinded. The light which streams from the face of Jesus is meant for human eyes: the tempered brightness of the Mediator’s glory suits those eyes, which are bidden to look to him and live. Light is not for the rich, the wise, the strong, but for men as men. The doctrines of our Lord Jesus Christ are not meant to be the monopoly of a few learned doctors; they are the common inheritance of those who labour and are heavy laden. As the morning breaks for all weary, watching eyes, so shines the light of the glorious gospel for all who sit in darkness and long for the light of God.

     Beloved, the great thing to be desired is that the light which is so freely given forth by the Lord Jesus may become light within our souls. There he stands, as the lamp placed upon the lampstand, conspicuous to all; but we need that the light outside in the room may become light inside, within the soul. Nothing more truly needs light than our inner man. We are, by nature, as a lantern with the candle blown out. Whether we will believe it or not, by nature we are in thick Egyptian night. Well saith the apostle, “Ye were sometimes darkness.” Much is said about the light of conscience, but in many this is but a glimmering taper whose beams are “not light, but darkness visible.” The light of nature is dimmed by so many surroundings, and has so little oil to sustain it, that it leads no man to eternal life, unless there be added to it light from above— the light of grace, the clear shining of the Holy Spirit. Light is absolutely essential to spiritual life. Ignorance is not the mother of devotion, but of superstition. Knowledge, grace, truth, are the nurses of true faith. The light of God is needful to the life of God. We must know Christ, we must be illuminated by his Holy Spirit, we must have fellowship with the Father’s truth, or else we are dead, as well as dark.

     Light within we must have, or the light outside will not benefit us. Upon that subject we will speak at this time. May God grant us the light of his Spirit; for it would be idle for us to try to explain the action of light while ourselves in darkness. Shine within, O Holy Spirit, that we speak not of theory, but of actual r experience!

     First, we will consider how the light enters: “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light.” Secondly, we shall note how this light mag be perverted: “When thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” In conclusion, we shall observe how the light acts within: “If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.”

     I. First, then, consider HOW THE LIGHT ENTERS THE SOUL. Into the body the light enters through the eye. A man without an eye might as well be without the sun, so far as light is concerned. The eye is as needful as the lamp, if a man is to see. The most brilliant light that ever has been invented, or ever can be discovered, will be of no use to the person who has no eye: hence it is true, “The light of the body is the eye.” It is most important to attend to that which is the eye of the inner man; for in vain doth Christ himself shine if his light cannot enter our souls. The condition of the eye of the mind is of the utmost importance: our light or our darkness will depend upon it. The eye of the soul may be viewed as the understanding, the conscience, the motive, or the heart. It would not be possible to confine it to any one of these names. I venture to call it “the intent of the mind”; or, if you will, “the aim of the heart,” the honesty of the understanding. When God has given a man a true intent to see the light of the gospel, he has in that honest intent furnished him with an eye for the heavenly light. If the Holy Ghost makes us truly willing to know the truth, he has cleared the mental eye. The worst of it is, that men have no will to see the light of God: their foolish heart is darkened, and hence they do not understand, but altogether misrepresent the doctrine of the Lord Jesus. The battle of grace is with man’s unwillingness to see those truths against which he is naturally at enmity. If a man wills to see the honest truth, and submits himself to the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost, he will not be left in darkness. When a man does not want to see, he cannot see: when he is determined not to learn, when truth is unpalatable to him, when he designedly twists it from its meaning, then his eye is diseased, and the light is hindered from its due effect.

     Many things darken the eye of the soul. One of the most common is prejudice. The man conceives that he has light already. His father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, and previous generations, were brought up in a certain religion, and therefore it must be right. Whether the lamp gives light or not, is not the question: it is the family lamp, and he will have no other. He will not enquire: he is quite sure, and wants no evidence. When the light of God comes to him, he at once repels it. He cannot be disturbed, and therefore he will not hear, nor read, nor consider the matter: he is satisfied to let things be as they are. The very supposition that he may be wrong he regards as an insult, maliciously invented by an uncharitable mind. What is to be done with one so blindfolded? Are there not many such?

     Sloth, too, is a great blinder of the eye: it draws down the eyelid, and shuts out the light by the spirit of slumber. The man does not care what the gospel is, or is not. Like Pilate, he asks, “What is truth?” but he never waits for an answer. It is too much trouble to some people to think, to search the Scriptures, and to pray. They have no heart for a process so troublesome. “No,” saith the worldling, “I have other fish to fry. I go my way to my farm, and to my merchandise. Let graceless bigots fight about creeds and the like; it matters not one jot what a man believes.” Thus do many abide in the blackest darkness, because it is too much trouble to open the shutters, and draw up the blinds. Ah me! how dark are they who prefer an indolent ease to the light of God!

     The light is often shut out by gross error. I cannot go over the list of the favourite errors of the present hour; for that list has grown too long for one day’s reading. Speciously taught in selected phrases, cunningly supported by a dreamy science, and adorned with certain great names, errors come to us nowadays as respectable forms of thought. Falsehoods of which we heard when we were children but only heard of them as loathsome heresies, long ago decayed and— thrown into the limbo of worthless and mischievous imaginations— these are now refashioned, freshened up with touches of bright colour, and brought out as advanced ideas. When any of these are permitted to occupy the mind, as they so commonly do nowadays, the old gospel is no longer seen, because the eye is inflamed by the incoming of a foreign and irritating substance. Can it be that what was true a hundred years ago, is not true now? Can it be that the gospel which saved souls in the days of the apostles, cannot save souls now? Is it so, that some men are wiser than God, and are qualified to sit in judgment upon prophets and apostles? Surely, judicial blindness has happened to this generation: the chaff of their own folly has darkened their eyes, and Christ is hid from them.

     One thing darkens the eye more than any other, and that is the love of sin. Nine times out of ten, allowed sin is the cataract which darkens the mental eye. Men cannot see truth, because they love falsehood. The gospel is not seen, because it is too pure for their loose lives and lewd thoughts. Christ’s holy example is too severe for the worldly; his Spirit is too pure for lovers of carnal pleasure. When people reject the doctrines of the gospel, they also tolerate laxity of morals, and give predominance to the customs of the world. How can men see, when sin hath pricked the very eyeballs of the mind! “How can ye believe,” said Christ, “which receive honour one of another?” The love of worldly honour prevented the Pharisees from believing in the lowly Messiah. When sin, like a handful of mud, seals up the eye, you need not wonder that the man becomes an agnostic, a doubter, a caviller. To have a clear eye one must have a clean heart. The pure in heart shall see God; and hence the pure in heart see God’s truth, so as to appreciate it and delight in it. Oh, that the Spirit of God may wash the filth out of our eyes, that we may walk in the light, as God is in the light.

     Pride, too, is a great darkener of the soul’s eye. When a man admires himself he never adores God. He that is taken up with the conceit of his own righteousness will never see the righteousness of Christ. If thou believest thyself to be pure thou wilt never prize the blood which cleanses from all sin. If thou believest thyself to be already perfect, thou wilt not prize the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. No man cries for grace till he perceives his own need of it: if, therefore, we be puffed up with the notion that we are rich and increased in goods, we shall never see the riches of grace which are treasured up in Christ Jesus. The light of God dwells not with human self-sufficiency. A man’s own shadow is very often the means of keeping him in the dark.

     Self-seeking, in every form, is a sad cause of obscuring the light of the soul. Self-seeking, in the grosser form of avarice, makes men grope in the daytime. The glitter of gold is injurious to the eye. How could Judas see the beauty of Christ when he saw such value in the thirty pieces of silver? How can a man set store by a future heaven when a present fortune is heaven enough for him? Mammon repays its worshippers with blinded eyes. Self does the same when it appears as ambition, desire of honour and respect, or a wish to have a finger in one’s own salvation. The proud desire to share the glory of our salvation with free grace prevents the entrance of the light of God. Self, in the form of magnifying the nobility of human nature, extolling the grandeur of our common humanity, and all that, is a very blinding thing. How can a man that has his eye upon self have any sight for Jesus? Of all antichrists, self is the hardest to overcome. It is written, “He must increase, but I must decrease”; but if proud self will not endure a decrease, how can I see Christ increasing? There is no room for him in my heart. Appreciation of self leads to depreciation of the Lord Jesus.

     Multitudes are kept in darkness through fear of men. They dare not see. They feel bound to think as the fashion goes— and there is a fashion of opinions as well as of coats and bonnets. If you resolve to hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints you will be regarded as antiquated, and you will be as much pointed out for your faith, as you would be for your dress if you should walk down the street in the costume of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. To many it would be great sin to be singular. They never think for themselves; in fact, they are mentally shiftless. They ask their way of a certain person supposed to be a deeper student than themselves: of him they enquire what they ought to believe, disbelieve, praise, or blame. I remember well a man who never knew whether he liked a sermon till he had asked a certain knowing old gentleman whether it was a good one or not: he had no home-grown judgment, he imported his ideas. His brains, for safe keeping, were placed in another person’s head: this is a very convenient thing, and saves a good deal of headache; but it has its drawbacks. Some persons put all their thinking out, and have it done for them by the dozen: but he that would have God’s light, knows that it comes not to the coward who fears the frown of a mortal, and makes man his god. God could have given to the crowd a common judgment, and have left us to be guided by a central authority, if he had thought it right so to do; but having given to each individual an understanding, he expects us to use it, and to an honest personal use of understanding he gives the light. The eye of the sparrow or of the ant may be very small, yet it sees the great light, if it be a single and clear eye. Pray, then, for grace, that you may search out for yourselves the truth of God, free from the fear of man which bringeth a snare. Let us never enquire, “Have any of the rulers believed?” Whether the rulers have or have not believed, let us follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, and rejoice in that pure light which flows from him.

     God save you, dear friends, from having your eye injured by any of the mischiefs I have mentioned. There are legions more of these blinding things: may grace guard you from them! God give you a “single eye,” by which is meant an eye which does not look at two things at a time— a mind which is free from sinister motives, and from anything which would cause you to choose falsehood rather than truth, and wrong rather than right. God grant that we may have a desire to be right, a resolute design to know the truth as it is in Jesus, and to feel and act in sincere conformity therewith! Oh, to be sincere, simple-hearted, child-like, true! We want neither great nor genius sparkling wit, but we need an unsophisticated mind; for so the light gets entrance into the soul through the Spirit of God.

     II. Secondly, let us consider HOW THE LIGHT MAY BE PERVERTED. Some men might have light enough, but their eye is in such an evil condition that the light is turned into darkness. I suppose that in the natural world light could not actually become darkness; but in the spiritual kingdom it is certainly so: “When thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” Hearken, my brethren, and take heed.

     A man has heard the gospel of free grace and dying love, he has heard a message full of love concerning the forgiveness of sin, and pardon bought with blood, and freely given to him that believeth. The doctrine of justification by faith has been clearly explained to him. He believes firmly in these great evangelical truths, and calls them glorious and precious. But ho draws an inference from this teaching which is ruinous to his soul. He considers that, after all, sin is of small consequence, and he may indulge in it freely, for God is merciful, and grace is infinite. At some time or other he will repent and believe in Jesus, and then he will be set right, however grossly ho may have offended. God is gracious, and therefore he may be sinful: God freely forgives, and therefore he may recklessly offend. This is to turn light into darkness. Such turning of the grace of God into lasciviousness is infamous. Words cannot set forth the hideous ingratitude of such depraved argument. We may justly say of a man who thus turns light into darkness, “his damnation is just.” Yet no doubt there are many such who silently, in their own hearts, draw from the goodness of God a license to sin. Ah, my hearer! if your eye be in this condition, the more freely we preach to you the gospel of the grace of God, the more surely will you go from sin to sin. This is terrible. O false hearts! what shall I do with you? You make me wish to be dumb, lest I minister to your condemnation. In the lowest hell you are digging for yourselves a deeper hell: you use the promises of mercy as the instruments of your own destruction. What! can you hang yourselves nowhere but on the cross? Can you drown yourselves nowhere but in the waters of Siloah? What has come to you, that you are so infatuated as to find your death in the gospel which is ordained for life?

     Let me set before you another form of this evil. A man perceives the great value of the means of grace, but he goes further and misuses them. Having been brought up religiously, he has a deep respect for the ministers of God’s house, for the services of the sanctuary, and especially for the two ordinances which Christ has established in his church— Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. He reverences the Sabbath and the inspired Word, and the church and all its sacred ministries. But it may be that he proceeds from a due regard of these things to a superstitious trust in them, making of them what God has never made of them: thus his light becomes darkness. He regards attendance upon public worship as a substitute for inward religion; he looks upon membership with a church as a certificate of salvation. He may be so foolish as to speak of Baptism as an ordinance whereby he was made a member of Christ, and a child of God; and of the Supper of the Lord as a saving ordinance, or even as a sacrifice for the quick and dead. When instructive symbols are perverted into instruments of priestcraft, the light is turned into darkness. By multitudes, in these days, aids to faith are degraded into the machinery of superstition. The church, which is our mother and nurse, is made into an antichrist, and men look to her for salvation instead of looking wholly and alone to the Lord Jesus Christ. Outward modes of worship and instruction may be very beneficial, but if they are allowed to usurp the confidence of the soul, they may gender disease and death. When a man’s religion becomes his destruction, how sure is that destruction!

     I have known many go another way: they have said, “I care very little about the shape or form of religion. A sincere spirit is everything. The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.” Such a man professes to clutch at the soul of things, but I have seen him grow indifferent in creed and licentious in life. He believes everything to have some measure of truth in it; every evil practice to have some good point about it. This is a poisonous atmosphere for any man to breathe. Hear him talk, if you would see how the worse can be made to seem the better. Nothing to him is fixed truth, nor even settled right. He is like the chameleon, which takes its colour from the changing light about it. This he calls “liberty”; but assuredly it is not the liberty wherewith Christ makes men free. Say, rather, it is the light of charity turned into the darkness of indifference. How great is this darkness! How many are deceived by it! After all, there is light and there is darkness, and they are not the same thing. There is truth, taught of God, and there is a lie, which is the devil’s own; and these will never sit at the same table. There is a blessing for the preacher of the truth; but if any man preach another gospel, for him there is an anathema which none can reverse.

     I have also seen this light turned to darkness in the case of the student who has gathered great erudition, and enrolled himself among the learned. He begins to criticize. Do not condemn him for that: he judges very properly at first, he criticizes things that ought to be criticized; but he stops not there. Once having his critical faculty aroused, he is like a boy with a new knife; he must cut something or other. Nothing comes in his way more often than the Scriptures; and he must have a cut at them. He whittles at Genesis; he makes a gash in Deuteronomy; he halves Isaiah; he takes slices out of the Gospels, and cuts the Epistles into slivers. You see, he has so sharp a knife that he must use it. By-and-by, from a critic he advances to an irreverent faultfinder, and from that to an utter unbeliever, hard in the mouth and stiff in the neck. His light has blinded him. He has taken his own eye to pieces that he might study its anatomy, and henceforth the light will be of no more use to him than to the dead.

     We have seen the light turned to darkness in a further sense; hear and understand. There is a blessed light called the full assurance of faith: the more we have of it the better. Blessed is that man who never doubts his God, who hangs with holy confidence upon the eternal promise and the immutable covenant, and is never staggered through unbelief. He walks in the light of God, and enjoys divine fellowship. But I have seen something very like to this holy confidence which has been before the Lord a very different matter. Assurance has been counterfeited by presumption. The man has taken for granted that he is a child of God when he is not, and he has appropriated privileges which are none of his. He has supposed himself to be in the covenant when he has neither part nor lot in the matter; and without repentance, without the new birth, and without saving faith, he has dared to boast of those sacred securities which belong only to the heirs of grace, sanctified in Christ Jesus. Dreadful is the case of the man who has presumed to hope for heaven while living an ungodly life; boasting of freedom from all fear, when, indeed, he was destitute of all hope.

     I have also seen the light turned to darkness in quite another manner. Sweet and soft is the light of holy fear: it is as the twilight of the evening. It is a light that comes from God, when a man is afraid to sin, when he fears lest he should grieve the Spirit of God, when he trembles lest in anything he should err from the teaching of his heavenly Father. But then this light may be corrupted into slavish dread, despondency, and despair. Introspection, or looking within, may degenerate into a morbid habit: under its influence, the soul may refuse to look to Christ, and may enshroud itself in the gloom of remorse. Truth may be distorted till it takes a most alarming shape, and the soul, in sullen despair, refuses to be comforted, refuses to believe in the Son of God.

     Do you wonder that our Lord seemed to hold up his hands in astonishment as he said, “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” If that which should lead misleads, how misled you will be! If your better part turns out to be evil, how evil must you be! See to it then, dear friends, as before the living God, that you have a clear eye, and that the light of Christ comes streaming into your soul in all its glorious purity and power.

     III. I close by coming to the third and most important point: HOW THE LIGHT ACTS WHEN IT COMES WITHIN. If the eye be right, single, and clear, there is no laborious work for that eye to do to obtain the light. When the sun is shining, if you wish for light you simply open your eyes, and you have light at once. You have not to rub the eye, or work it into some singular position: let the outward light come to the eye, and at once it enters it, and conveys an image to the mind. When the eye is sound it takes pleasure in the light, and with delight conveys the image of things external to the mind within. If the Lord, in his great grace, has made your eye single, so that you desire only to know the truth, and to be yourself true, then without toil you will perceive truth, and the image thereof will readily appear before your mind. The light is willing enough to enter when the window of the soul allows its admission. When that light comes in, you will know it. No man passes from his natural darkness into heavenly light without being aware that a great change has taken place. Beloved, I will try to show you how the holy light acts when it enters our nature.

     When it first comes in it reveals much that was before unperceived. If a room has been long shut up, and kept in darkness, the light has a startling effect. You may have hurried through that room with a candle, but you never stayed to look, and therefore did not notice the state of things. The room did not strike you as being very unpleasant, though it smelt a little stale and fusty; but now that you have put back the shutters and drawn up the blind, the light has made the mould and dust very manifest. That black festoon of spiders’ webs; those insects which hurry out of the light; that all-encrusting dust these had been overlooked. The room cannot be suffered to remain in such a state. What a change is demanded! All hands are summoned to clean out the den, and turn it into a healthy chamber fit to be inhabited. The light of heaven reveals a thousand sins, and causes their removal. The first effect of the light of God in the soul is painfully unpleasant: it makes you loathe yourself, and almost wish that you had never been born. Things grow worse and worse to our consciousness as the light shines more and more. Beloved, we wish it to be so. We would have no part kept in the dark. We would have every idol discovered and broken, every secret chamber of imagery exposed to the sun, and then destroyed. Is it not so? Do you wish to keep the light from any one part of your nature? Do you not far rather desire that the light should search you through and through, and lay bare all the deceitfulness of the heart, and all the falseness of the depraved mind?

     As that light continues to enter, it gradually illuminates each faculty of the mind. The will by nature prefers the darkness: the man claims the right to act as he pleases, and to give no reasons for his waywardness. When the light of God enters the soul, the Lord Jesus becomes altogether lovely, and then the sacred light falls on the proud will, and the man sees that it is evil and perverse, and he cries, “O Lord Jesus, not my will, but thine, be done.” This same light falls on the outward life which is ruled by the will, and the conduct and conversation become bright with the light of love. The judgment feels the inner illumination, and decides according to the law of truth and righteousness. With the judgment the delight is lit up also, and the heart rejoices in the law of the Lord.

     The light is poured in upon the conscience, and now that poor, half-blinded thing issues edicts and gives forth verdicts which are according to the oracles of God. What a difference between a natural conscience and a conscience instructed by God, and enlightened by his Word! There remains much more to be done in this direction than many of us suspect. We may be living unconsciously in evils for which our consciences have never once accused us. Godly men, in old time, persecuted those who differed from them, and thought it a duty to do so: they even called toleration a crime. The best of men owned negro slaves, and were not conscious of wrong. When Mr. Whitefield left certain negroes to the Orphan House, he did not dream that he was violating the rights of man: in fact, he was very careful for their present and future welfare. Conscience does not tolerate slavery now. Do you not think that a great enlightenment has taken place upon the drink question? Is not similar light needed as to war, as to wage-paying and wage-earning, and a thousand other things? It is a happy thing that we have received a light which will shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. There is nothing hid within us which this light will not manifest; and so, as, one by one, we see our imperfections, we shall cry for grace to remove them, and thus we shall grow in holiness through the grace of God.

     This same light, falling on the memory, awakens penitence for our faults and gratitude for God’s goodness. Shining on our thoughts, it makes them sparkle with the beauty of holiness; shining upon our emotions, it makes them flash and glow with love to God and heavenly things. A soul is a fine object when thus lit up! The holy light falls on our motives, and unveils the secret heart of all our actions. You do right, but this light shows you why you do right. You are a friend to man, but why? You are a Christian professor, but are you sincere? The light makes short work with that which did not flow from a pure motive. This light falls also on the spirit in which a deed was done; and here much is seen which some had rather not see.

     Did you ever have the light of God brought to bear upon your imagination? Imagination is the play-room of the soul. Here many a man considers that he is without law. “Surely,” says he, “thought is free.” The man gloats over sins which he would fear to commit: he finds a pleasure in thinking over lusts which his circumstances compel him to avoid. In the dark chambers of imagination the heart commits adulteries, murders, thefts, and all manner of infamies. When the light falls here, the man shudders as he learns that as he thinketh in his heart so is he. He trembles as he perceives that the fond imagination of sin is sin. Then is the floor of imagination purged, and the foul dust and chaff are driven into the fire. Fancy then gleams in the light of God, and imagination, washed in the brazen laver, sings songs on her stringed instruments unto the God of her salvation, who has brought her out of darkness into his marvellous light.

     Brethren, we need the light to shine in upon our tempers. We know some Christian people who will not let you mention their tempers: they have taken out a license to be as surly as they like, on the ground of “it is their constitution.” “No,” they say, “I cannot help being passionate. My mother was a very quick-tempered woman, and I am naturally in that way. There’s no help for it.” Let the light in upon that unseemly thing. If what you say be true, write it down in black and white that you are an incorrigible vixen, and must be so all your life. What! Do you not like it? If it is true, let the light in upon it. Let it be known to your own self and to others that you are a mad dog, and that there is no curing you. Are you angry with me for suggesting it? I am only taking you at your word. Do not say, “I cannot help having a bad temper.” Friend, you must help it. Pray God to help you to overcome it at once; for either you must kill it, or it will kill you. You cannot carry a bad temper into heaven. They will have none of your passions in the Father’s house above. Let in the light of Christ’s love on it, and the vile thing will be made to die. It is a night-bird; it cannot bear the light of grace and love. Live near to Jesus, and his compassion will destroy your evil passion. Try it.

     Your desires, your hopes, your fears, your aspirations, should all be set in the light, and what a joy it will be when they all glitter in it! “No part dark”— what a wonderful condition! Some professors appear to have a little light in the upper rooms; they have notions in their heads, and ideas on their tongues! Alas! the first floor is dark, very dark. From their common conversation the light of God is absent. Enter at the door, and you cannot see your way into the passage, or up the stairs; the light is up aloft, but not in the dwellingrooms. Oh, for light in the region of the heart! Oh, for light upon the household talk, and the business conversation! From garret to cellar may the whole houses of our humanity be lighted up! This is the true work of grace, when the whole man is brought into the light, and no part is left to pine in the darkness. Then are wo the children of light, when we abide in the light, and have no fellowship with darkness. Then is the distinction seen between Israel and Egypt; for while all Egypt sat in a darkness which might be felt, in the land of Goshen there was light.

     Where this light comes it gives certainty: we cease to doubt, and we know whom we have believed. With this comes direction: we see our way, and how to walk in it. We pursue a plain path, and are no more in a maze. “This is the way, walk ye in it,” is sounded in our ears as the light reveals to us the narrow way which leads to life eternal.

     This light, when it dwells in the heart, brings good cheer with it. Darkness is doleful, light brings delight. Did you never travel by a train which passed through a tunnel, but was destitute of a single lamp? Somebody has struck a match, and lighted a candle, and all eyes have turned towards him. In a small way he was a benefactor: all eyes are glad of light. Oh, what a sweet thing is the light of the Holy Spirit to one that has been long in the darkness of ignorance, sorrow, and despair! A poor boy who was put down in the coal mine to close a door after the coal waggons had passed by, was forced to sit there all alone, hour after hour, in the dark. He was a gracious child; and when one said to him, “Are you not weary with sitting so long in the dark?” he said, “Yes, I do get tired; but sometimes the men give me a bit of candle, and when I get a light I sing.” So do we. When we get a light we sing. Glory be to God, he is our light and our salvation, and therefore we sing. O child of God, when your eye is single, and the light of God fills every part of your being, then you sing, and sing again, and feel that you can never have done singing on earth, till you begin singing in heaven.

     The text has perplexed many a learned reader; and therefore you will not wonder that I confess that it has puzzled me many times. See what it says:— “If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light.” Is not this saying the same thing? The Holy Spirit would not use a tautology, nor utter a trite, self-evident thing. Yet we must not go beyond what the text says. It seems to me that our Lord wished us to feel that he could say nothing better in praise of a soul in which there was no part dark than what he had said, namely, “The whole shall be full of light.” Some have thought that he meant that being lighted within we shall be full of light to others. That is a great truth; but our Lord does not say so here; for he compares our inward light to a candle which shines on ourselves: “as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” He refers to our own personal comfort. When a room is thoroughly well lighted up in every corner, it has a joyous splendour. One looks about and feels content and satisfied. So, when the whole nature is filled with the light of God, we have sweetness and light to the full, and heaven seems begun below. It is inexpressibly delightsome, luxuriously blessed, to dwell in the full light of God when there is no concealment and no love of evil. When once the sun thus shines full on me I would cry with Joshua, “Sun, stand thou still”!

     This inner light will make us shine before others. It is the only shining we should seek. A clean lantern with a lighted candle in it makes no noise, and yet it wins attention: the darker the night, the more is it valued. There never was a time in which true inner light was more needed than now: may the Lord impart it to each one of us, and then we shall shine as lights in the world! The Lord God bring this light to you, and fill you with it; and unto his name shall be the glory! You have not to work for the light, you have only to receive it. Then shall your profiting be known unto all men when it is true profiting to your own character. God bless you, for Christ’s sake! Amen.