Lydia, the First European Convert

By / Jun 22

Lydia, the First European Convert

 

“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto things which were spoken of Paul.”—Acts xvi.14.

 

WE may laudably exercise curiosity with regard to the first proclamation of the gospel in our own quarter of the globe. We are happy that history so accurately tells us, by the pen of Luke, when first the gospel was preached in Europe, and by whom, and who was the first convert brought by that preaching to the Saviour’s feet. I half envy Lydia that she should be the leader of the European band; yet I feel right glad that a woman led the van, and that her household followed so closely in the rear.

     God has made great use of women, and greatly honoured them in the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Holy women ministered to our Lord when he was upon the earth, and since that time much sacred work has been done by their patient hands. Man and woman fell together; together they must rise. After the resurrection, it was a woman who was first commissioned to carry the glad tidings of the risen Christ; and in Europe, where woman was in future days to be set free from many of the trammels of the East, it seems fitting that a woman should be the first believer. Not only, however, was Lydia a sort of first-fruit for Europe, but she probably also became a witness in her own city of Thyatira, in Asia. We do not know how the gospel was introduced into that city; but we are informed of the existence of a church there by the message of the ascended Christ, through his servant John, to “the angel of the church in Thyatira.” Very likely Lydia became the herald of the gospel in her native place. Let the women who know the truth proclaim it; for why should their influence be lost? “The Lord giveth the word; the women that publish the tidings are a great host.” Woman can be as powerful for evil as for good: we see it in this very church of Thyatira, where the woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, sought to seduce many from the truth. Seeing, then, that the devil employs women in his service, let those women whom God has called by his grace be doubly earnest in seeking to prevent or undo the mischief that others of their sex are working. If not called to public service, all have the home-sphere wherein they can shed forth the aroma of a godly life and testimony.

     If the gospel does not influence our homes, it is little likely to make headway amongst the community. God has made family piety to be, as it were, a sort of trade-mark on religion in Europe; for the very first convert brings with her all her family. Her household believed, and were baptized with her. You shall notice in Europe, though I do not mean to say that it is not the same anywhere else, that true godliness has always flourished in proportion as family religion has been observed. They hang a bell in a steeple, and they tell us that it is our duty to go every morning and every evening into the steeple-house there to join in prayer; but we reply that our own house is better for many reasons; at any rate, it will not engender superstition for us to pray there. Gather your children together, and offer prayer and supplication to God in your own room.

     “But there is no priest.” Then there ought to be. Every man should be a priest in his own household; and, in the absence of a godly father, the mother should lead the devotions. Every house should be the house of God, and there should be a church in every house; and when this is the case, it will be the greatest barrier against priestcraft, and the idolatry of holy places. Family prayer and the pulpit are the bulwarks of Protestantism. Depend upon it, when family piety goes down, the life of godliness will become very low. In Europe, at any rate, seeing that the Christian faith began with a converted household, we ought to seek after the conversion of all our families, and to maintain within our houses the good and holy practice of family worship.

     Lydia, then, is the first European convert, and we will review her history so far as we have it in Holy Writ. Towards her conversion four things co-operated, upon which we will speak briefly. First, the working of providence; secondly, the working of Lydia herself; thirdly, the working of Paul; and fourthly, the working of the Holy Spirit.

     I. First, notice THE WORKING OF PROVIDENCE. When I was in Amsterdam, I visited the works of a diamond-cutter, where I saw many large wheels and much powerful machinery at work; and I must confess that it seemed very odd that all that great array of apparatus should be brought to bear upon a tiny bit of crystal, which looked like a fragment of glass. Was that diamond worth so much that a whole factory should be set to work to cut its facets, and cause it to sparkle? So the diamond-cutter believed. Within that small space lay a gem which was thought worthy of all this care and labour. That diamond may be at this time glistening upon the finger or brow of royalty! Now, when I look abroad upon providence, it seems preposterous to believe that kingdoms, dynasties, and great events should all be co-operating and working together for the accomplishment of the divine purpose in the salvation of God’s people. But they are so working. It might have seemed preposterous, but it was not so, that these great wheels should all be working for the cutting of a single diamond; and it is not preposterous, however it may seem so, to say that all the events of providence are being ordered by God to effect the salvation of his own people, the perfecting of the precious jewels which are to adorn the crown of Christ for ever and ever.

     In the case before us, the working of God’s providence is seen, first of all, in bringing Paul to Philippi. Lydia is there. I do not know how long she had been there, nor exactly what brought her there; but there she is, selling her purple, her Turkey-red cloth. Paul must come there, too, but he does not want to come; he has not, indeed, had any desire to come there. He has a kind of prejudice hanging about him still, so that, though he is willing to preach to the Gentiles, he scarcely likes to go out of Asia among those Gentiles of the Gentiles over in Europe. He wants to preach the word in Asia. Very singularly, the Spirit suffers him not, and he seems to have a cold hand laid on him to stop him when his heart is warmest. He is gagged; he cannot speak. “Then I will go into Bithynia,” he says; but when he starts on the journey, he is distinctly told that there is no work for him to do there. He must not speak for his Master in that region, at least not yet: “the Spirit suffered him not.” He feels himself to be a silenced man. What is he to do? He gets down to Troas on the verge of the sea, and there comes to him the vision of a man of Macedonia, who prayed him, saying, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” He infers that he must go across to Macedonia. A ship is ready for him; he has a free course, a favourable passage, and he soon arrives at Philippi. God brings Paul to the spot where Lydia was, in this strange and singular manner.

     But the working of providence was quite as much manifested in bringing Lydia there; for Lydia was not originally at Philippi. She was a seller of purple, of Thyatira. Thyatira was a city famous for its dyers. They made a peculiar purple, which was much prized by the Homans. Lydia appears to have carried on this business. She was either a widow, or perhaps had had no husband, though she may have gathered a household of servants about her. She comes over to Philippi across the sea. I think I see them bringing the great rolls of red cloth up the hill, that she may sell at [Philippi the cloth which she has made and dyed at Thyatira. Why does she come just at this season? Why does she come just when Paul is coming? Why does she come to Philippi? Why not to Neapolis? Why not press on to Athens? Why not sell her cloth over at Corinth? Whatever reason she might have given for her choice, there was one cause, of which she was ignorant, which shaped her action, and brought her to Philippi at that time. God had a surprise in store for her. She and Paul have to meet. It does not matter what their will is; their wills snail be so moved and actuated by the providence of God that they shall cross each other’s path, and Paul shall preach the gospel to Lydia. I wot it never entered into Lydia’s heart, when she left Thyatira with her purple bales, that she was going to find Jesus Christ over at Philippi; neither did Paul guess, when he saw, in a vision, a man of Macedonia, and heard him say, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us,” that the first person he would have to help would not be a man of Macedonia at all, but a woman of Thyatira; and that the congregation he should preach to would be just a handful of women gathered by the side of the little stream that runs through Philippi. Neither Paul nor Lydia knew what God was about to do; but God knew. He understands the end from the beginning, and times his acts of providence to meet our deepest needs in the wisest way.

“His wisdom is sublime,
His heart profoundly kind;
God never is before his time,
And never is behind.”

    What an odd thing it seemed that this woman should be a woman of Thyatira in Asia, and Paul must not go and preach in Asia; and yet, when he comes to Macedonia, the first person who hears him is a woman of Asia! Why, you and I would have said, “If the woman belongs to Thyatira, let her stop at home, and let Paul go there; that is the shortest cut.” Not so. The woman of Thyatira must go to Philippi, and Paul must go to Philippi too. This is God’s plan; and if we knew all the circumstances as God knows them, we should doubtless admire the wisdom of it. Perhaps the very peculiarity of the circumstances made Paul more alert to seize the opportunity at Philippi than he would have been had he gone on to Thyatira; perhaps the isolation of the strange city made Lydia yearn more after spiritual things. God can answer a dozen ends by one act. One of our evangelists tells of a man who was converted in a small Irish town, and it was afterwards discovered that he, and the preacher who led him to Christ, resided but a few hundred yards from each other in London. They had never met in this great city, where neighbours are strangers to each other; nor was it likely that they ever would have been brought into contact with one another here; for the man, who was a commercial traveller, was too careless ever to attend a place of worship in London. But to sell his goods he went to Ireland, where, also, went the evangelist to preach the gospel; and being somewhat at a loss to know what to do with his time, he no sooner saw the name of a preacher from London announced, than he determined to attend the service, and there he met with Christ. We can see how natural this was in the case of which we know all the particulars, and it was doubtless as well arranged in the case of Lydia and Paul.

     Now, I should not wonder to-night if there are a number of providences that have worked together to bring some of my hearers into their places at this time. What brought you to London, friend? It was not your intention to be in this city. Coming to London, what brought you to this part of it? What led you to be at this service? And why was it that you did not come on one of the Sundays when the preacher would have been here if he could, but could not be here by reason of his weakness? Because, it may be, that only from these lips can the word come to you, and only to-night, and you must come to this place. Perhaps there is some one who preaches the gospel much better in the town where you live; or, peradventure, you have had opportunities of hearing the same preacher near your own door, and you did not avail yourself of them; and yet God has brought you here. I wish we watched providences more. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.” If the Lord should meet with you, and convert you tonight, I will warrant you that you will be a believer in providence, and say, “Yes, God guided my steps. He directed my path, and he brought me to the spot where Jesus met with me, and opened my heart that I might receive the gospel of his grace.” Be of good courage, you ministers of the gospel! Providence is always working with you while you are working for God. I have often admired the language of Mahomet, when in the battle of Ohod he said to his followers, pointing to their foes, “Charge them! I can hear the wings of the angels as they hasten to our help.” That was a delusion on his part, for he and his men were badly beaten; but it is no delusion in the case of the servants of Christ. We can hear the wings of the angels. We may hear the grinding of the great wheels of providence as they revolve for the help of the preacher of the gospel. Everything is with us when we are with God. Who can be against us? The stars in their courses fight for the servants of God; and all things, great and small, shall bow before the feet of him who trod the waves of the Sea of Galilee, and still is Master of all things, and ruleth all things to the accomplishment of his divine purposes.

     So much, then, for the working of providence.

     II. The next thing is, THE WORKING OF LYDIA. God’s intention is that Lydia shall be saved. Yet, you know, no woman was ever saved against her will. God makes us willing in the day of his power, and it is the way of his grace not to violate the will, but sweetly to overcome it. Never will there be anybody dragged to heaven by the cars: depend upon that. We shall go there with all our hearts and all our desires. What, then, was Lydia doing?

     Having by God’s grace been made willing, the first thing was that she kept the Sabbath. She was a proselyte, and she kept the seventh day. She was away from Thyatira, and nobody would know what she would do, yet she observed the Lord’s-day carefully. She was abroad when she was at Philippi, but she had not left God behind her. I have known some English people, when they once reached the Continent, go rattling along, Sundays and week-days, as if God did not live on the Continent, and as if at home they only observed the Sabbath because they happened to be in England, which is very probably the case with a good many. When they get away they say, “When you are at Rome, you must do as Rome does;” and so they take their pleasure on God’s day. It was not so with Lydia. There was no selling of purple that day; she regarded the Sabbath. Oh, I would to God that every one would regard the Sabbath! May God grant that it may never be taken away from us! There is a plot now to make some of you work all the seven days of the week, and you will not get any more pay for seven days than you get for six. Stand out against it, and preserve your right to rest upon God’s day. The observance of one day in seven as a day of rest materially helps towards the conversion of men, because then they are inclined to think. They have the opportunity to hear, and, if they choose to avail themselves of it, the probabilities are that God will bless the hearing, and they will be saved.

    Now, notice next that, not only did Lydia observe the Sabbath, but she went up to the place of worship. It was not a very fine place. I do not suppose there was any building. It may have been a little temporary oratory put up by the river side; but very probably it was just on the bank of the river that they met together. It does not appear that there were any men, but only a few women. They only held a prayer-meeting: “where prayer was wont to be made.” But Lydia did not stop away from the gathering. She might easily have excused herself after her long journey, and the wearying work of setting up a new establishment; but her heart was in this matter, and so she found it no drudgery to meet where prayer was offered. She did not say, “I can read a sermon at home,” or, “I can read in the Book of the Law indoors.” She wished to be where God’s people were, however few, or however poor they might be. She did not go to the gorgeous heathen temple at Philippi, but she sought out the few faithful ones that met to worship the true God. Now, dear friends, do the same. You that are not converted, still attend the means of grace, and do not go to a place simply because it is a fine building, and because there is a crowd, but go where they are truly worshipping God in spirit and in truth. If they should happen to be very few and very poor, yet go with them, for in so doing you are in the way of blessing. I think you will yet have to say, “Being in the way, God met with me.” If it is what some call “only a prayer-meeting”, you will do well to go. Some of the best blessings that men have ever gained have been received at prayer-meetings. If we would meet with God, let us seek him diligently, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Though you cannot save yourself, or open your own heart, you can at least do what Lydia did: observe the Sabbath, and gather together with God’s people.

     Lydia being there with the assembly, when Paul began to speak, we find that she attended to the things that were spoken, which is another thing that we can do. It is very ill when people come up to the house of God, and do not attend. I have never had to complain of people not attending in this house since the day I first preached in it; but I have been in places of worship where there seemed to be anything but attention. How can it be expected that there will be a blessing when the pew becomes a place to plumber in, or when the mind is active over the farm, or in the kitchen, or in the shop, forgetting altogether the gospel which is being preached to the outward ear? If you want a blessing, attend with all your might to the word that is preached; but of that we will speak more by-and-by.

     So far we have spoken upon the working of providence and the working of Lydia.

     III. Now, next, THE WORKING OF PAUL; for this was necessary too. In order to the conversion of men, it is necessary that the person who aims at their conversion should work as if it all depended upon him, though he knows that he cannot accomplish the work. We are to seek to win souls with as much earnestness, and prudence, and zeal, as if everything depended upon ourselves; and then we are to leave all with God, knowing that none but the Lord can save a single soul.

     Now, notice, Paul, wishing for converts, is judicious in the choice of the place where he will go to look after them. He goes to the spot where there should be a synagogue. He thinks that where people have a desire to pray, there he will find the kind of people who will be ready to hear the word. So he selects devout people, devout worshippers of the one God, that he may go and speak to them about Christ. It is sometimes our plain duty to publish the word from the housetop to the careless crowd; but I think you will generally find that more success comes when those, on whose hearts the Spirit of God has already begun to work, are sought out and instructed. When Christ sent out his disciples on their first journey, he told them, when they entered a town, to “Enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence;” evidently showing that, even amongst those who do not know the truth, there are some whose hearts are prepared to receive it, who are of a devout spirit, and in that sense are worthy. These are the people who should first be sought after. In the same limited sense was Cornelius, to whom Peter was sent, worthy to hear the glad tidings of great joy. His reverent spirit was well pleasing to God; for we read, “Thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.” We must not, of course, think that these things give any claim to salvation; but rather that they are the expression of hearts prepared to receive the message of salvation, seeking the Lord, “if haply they might feel after him, and find him.” One of our greatest difficulties in these days is, that so many have lost all reverence for authority of any kind, even God’s: having risen against human despotism, they also foolishly try to break God’s bands asunder. We are cast back on the infinite power of God when we come to deal with such people; but when we meet with others who are willing to listen and pray, we know that God has already begun to work. Now, dear worker, choose the person who is evidently pointed out to you by God’s gracious providence. Choose judiciously, and try to speak with those with whom you may hopefully speak, and trust that God will bless the word.

    When Paul goes down to the river, you notice that he is very judicious as to his manner of introducing his subject. He did not preach at all. He found only a few women; and to stand up and preach to them, as he did to the crowds at Corinth, or at Athens, might have seemed absurd; but we read this: “We sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” He took his seat on the river’s bank, where they were all sitting still, and at prayer, and he began just to have a talk. A sermon would have been out of place; but a talk was the right sort of tiling. So he talked the gospel into them. Now, be careful of the way in which you go to work with people; for much of the result must depend upon that. Some people can be preached right away from Christ; for the moment you begin to preach they say, “Oh, thank you, I do not want any of your sermon!” Perhaps you could slip a word in edgewise; just drop a seed in a crack; or leave a word with them, just one word. Say at once, “If you do not want any preaching, I do not want to preach to you: I am not so fond of preaching as all that; but I read a very curious story in the newspapers the other day!” And then tell the story, and wrap the gospel up in it. If they do not want pills, do not give them pills. Give them a bit of sugar. They will take the sugar, and when they get it, there will be a pill inside. I mention this, because we may miss opportunities of doing good through not being wide awake. “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Paul therefore just sits down, and has a friendly talk with the women who resorted thither.

     But whether Paul preached, or whether Paul talked, it was all the same: he was judicious as to the matter of his discourse. He had but one subject, and that was Christ; the Christ who had met him on the way to Damascus, and changed his heart; the Christ who was able still to save; the Christ who bled upon the cross, to bring men to God, and cleanse them in his blood; the Christ in heaven, interceding for sinners; the Christ waiting to be gracious. Paul would not end his talk without saying, “Trust him: trust him. He that believeth in him hath everlasting life.” So, whether he preached or whether he talked, it was the same story of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. That is how Paul worked. He might have acted very differently. If his heart had not been all aflame for Jesus, he would very likely not have spoken at all, or if he had, it would have been a commonplace remark about the weather. He might have been eager to learn the method by which the beautiful purple dye was obtained, and not have remembered that gospel message, written by Isaiah long ago, which would come with special force to the hearts of his hearers: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” He might have been so interested in his enquiries about Thyatira as to forget to speak of the way to the city of light. A dozen subjects might have claimed attention, if his heart had not been set upon one object. He could have spoken of his journeys, and even of his plans, without actually preaching Christ to her. He might have spoken about the gospel, as I fear we often do, and not have spoken the gospel itself. Some sermons which I have heard, though faultlessly orthodox, have contained nothing that could convert anybody; for there has been nothing to touch the conscience or heart. Others, though very clever and profound, have had no possible bearing on the needs of the hearers; and so it was little wonder that they were without result. But I am sure Paul’s talk would aim straight at the centre of the target: it was evidently addressed to the heart; for we are told that it was with the heart Lydia heard it. After all, it is not our most orderly discourses, nor our aptest illustrations, which bring people to Christ; but some little sentence which is slipped in unawares, or some burning word which comes straight out of our own heart’s experience. There would be sure to be many such that day in that earnest simple talk by the river side. Let us multiply such conversations, if we would win more Lydias for the church.

     IV. But, now, fourthly— and here is the main point— let us notice THE WORKING OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD. Providence brings Paul and Lydia together. Lydia comes there because she observes the Sabbath, and loves the place of worship. Paul comes there because he loves to win souls, and, like his Master, is on the watch for stray sheep. But it would have been a poor meeting for them if the Spirit of God had not been there also. So we next read of Lydia: “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” It is not wonderful that the Lord can open a human heart; for he who made the lock knows well what key will fit it. What means he made use of in the case of Lydia, I do not know; but I will tell you what might have happened. Perhaps she had lost her husband; many a woman’s heart has been opened by that great gash. The joy of her soul has been taken away, and she has turned to God. Perhaps her husband was spared to her; but she had lost a child. Oh, how many a babe has been sent here on purpose to entice its mother to the skies; a lamb taken away that the sheep might follow the Shepherd! Perhaps she had had bad trade; the price of purple may have fallen. She may have been half afraid she would fail in business. I have known such trouble open some people’s hearts. Perhaps she had had prosperity; possibly the purple had gone up in price. I have known some so impressed with God’s temporal blessings that they have been ready to think of him, and to turn to him. I do not know; I cannot guess, and I have no right to guess what it was. But I know that God has very wonderful ploughs, with which he breaks up the hard soil of human hearts. When I have been through the Britannia Iron Works, at Bedford, I have wondered at the strange clod-crushers, clod-breakers, and ploughs, made there by the Messrs. Howard; and God has some marvellous machines in his providence for turning up the soil of our hearts. I cannot tell what he has done to you, dear friend, but I do trust that whatever has happened has been opening the soil, so that the good seed may drop in. It was the Spirit of God who did it, whatever the instrument may have been, and Lydia’s heart was “opened.” Opened to what? To attend. “She attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”

     So, first, her heart was opened to listen very intently. She wanted to catch every word. She did as some of you do, put her hand to her ear, for fear she should not hear all that was spoken. There are many ways of listening. Some people listen with both their ears, allowing it to go in at one ear and out at the other; like that wit, who, when he was being seriously spoken to, and yet seemed very inattentive, at length wearied the friend who was discoursing. “I am afraid it is not doing you much good,” he said. “No,” came the reply; “but I think it will do this gentleman some good,” pointing to one who sat beside him, “for as it has gone in at this side it has gone out at the other.” Oh, how I wish that you had only one ear, so that the truth you hear could never get out again after it had once got in! Well did the Lord speak through Isaiah the prophet unto the people, “Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good.” Many people can listen for an hour or two to a scientific lecture, or a political speech, without feeling in the least weary; they can even go to the theatre, and sit there a whole evening without dreaming of being tired; yet they complain if the sermon is a minute beyond the appointed time. They seem to endure the preaching as a sort of penance, scarcely hearing the words, or, at least, never imagining that the message can have any application to their own case.

     Lydia’s heart was so opened “that she attended”, that is, she listened to the word of salvation until she began to desire it. It is always a pleasure to entertain guests who relish the food placed before them; and it is a great joy to preach to those who are eagerly hungering after the truth. But how heart-breaking a task it is to keep continually praising the pearl of great price to those who know not its value, nor desire its beauty! Daniel was a man “greatly beloved”; the Hebrew word there employed means “a man of desires.” He was not one of your conceited, self-satisfied individuals. He longed and yearned for better things than he had yet attained, and hence was “greatly beloved.” God loves people to thirst after him, and to desire to know his love and power. Let us explain the gospel as we may, if there is no desire in the heart, our plainest messages are lost. A man said, about something he wished to make clear, “Why, it is as plain as A B C!” “Yes,” said a third party, “but the mail you are talking to is D E F.” So, some of our hearers seem to turn away from the Word of God. But when a person says, “I want to find salvation; I want to get Christ this very day; and I am going to listen with the determination that I will find out the way of salvation;” surely, if the things spoken are the same things that Paul spoke of, few in that condition will go out of the house without finding salvation. Lydia’s heart was opened to attend to the gospel, that is, to desire it.

     But, next, her heart was opened to understand it. It is wonderful how little even well-educated people sometimes understand of the gospel when it is preached in the simplest manner. One is constantly being astounded by the misapprehensions that persons have as to the way of salvation. But Lydia had grasped the truth. “Thanks be to God,” she said, “I see it. Jesus Christ suffered in our stead; and we, by an act of faith, accept him as our Substitute, and we are saved thereby. I have it. I never saw it before. I read about a paschal lamb, and the sprinkling of the blood, and the passing over of the houses where the blood was sprinkled. I could not quite make it out. Now I see, if the blood be sprinkled upon me, God will pass over me, according to his word, ‘When I see the blood, I will pass over you.’ ” She attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul, so as to understand them.

     But more than that; her heart was so opened that she attended to the gospel so as to accept it. “Ah!” she said, “now I understand it, I will have it. Christ for me! Christ for me! That blessed Substitute for sinners! Is that all I have to do, simply to trust him? Then I will trust him. Sink or swim, I will cast myself upon him now.” She did so there and then. There was no hesitating. She believed what Paul said; that Jesus was the Son of God, the appointed propitiation for sin, and that whosoever believed on him should then and there be justified; and she did believe in him, and she was justified; as you will be, my friend, if you will believe in him at this moment. You, too, shall have immediate salvation, my dear sister sitting yonder, if you will come, like this Lydia of old, and just take Christ to be yours, and trust him now. She attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul, so that she accepted Christ.

     Having done that, she went further: her heart was so won, that she was, by the Spirit, led to obey the word, and avow her faith. Paul told her that the gospel was this— “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” He said to her, “My commission is, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’ ” Perhaps she said, “But why must I be baptized?” He said, “As a testimony of your obedience to Christ, whom you take to be your Master and your Lord; and as a type of your being one with him in his burial. You are to be buried in water as he was buried in the tomb of Joseph; and you are to be raised up out of the water even as he rose again from the dead. This act is to be a token and type to you of your oneness with him in his death and burial and resurrection.” What did Lydia say? Did she say, “Well, I think I must wait a little while: the water is cold”? Did she say, “I think I must ask about it; I must consider it”? No, not at all. Paul tells her that this is Christ’s ordinance, and she at once replies, “Here am I, Paul, let me be baptized, and my servants, too, and all that belong to my household, for they also believe in Jesus Christ. Let us have the baptism at once.” There and then “she was baptized, and her household.” She did at once obey the heavenly message, and she became a baptized believer. She was not ashamed to confess Christ. She had not known him long; but what she did know of him was so blessed and joyous to her soul, that she would have said, if she had known the hymn—

“Through floods and flames, if Jesus lead,
I’ll follow where he goes;
‘Hinder me not,’ shall be my cry,
Though earth and hell oppose.”

You can imagine her saying, “Did he go down into the Jordan, and say, ‘Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness’? Then I will go where he leads the way, and be obedient to him, and say to all the world, ‘I, too, am a follower of the crucified Christ.’ ”

    Now, lastly, after Lydia was baptized, she became an enthusiastic Christian. She said to Paul, “You must come home with me. I know you have not anywhere to go. Come along; and there is your friend Silas. I have plenty of room for him; and Timothy too; and Luke also. We can make room for the four of you among the purple bales, or somewhere; but, at any rate, I have house-room for you four, and I have heart-room for forty thousand of you. I wish I could take in the whole church of God.” Dear good woman that she was, she felt that she could not do too much for the men who had been made a blessing to her; for she regarded what she did to them as done to their Lord and Master. They might have said, “No, really, we cannot trouble you. You have the household. You have all this business to look after.” “Yes,” she would answer, “I know that. It is very kind of you to excuse yourselves; but you must come.” “No,” Paul might urge, “my dear good woman, I am going to find out some tent-makers, and make tents with them. We will find a lodging where we have been.” “Ah!” she would say, “but I mean to have you. You must come to my home.” “She constrained us.” She would probably put it thus: “Now, I shall not think that you fully believe in me if you do not come home with me. Come, you baptized me, and by that very act you professed that you considered that I was a true believer. If you do really believe it, come and stay in my house as long as you like, and I will make you as comfortable as ever I can.” So at last Paul yields to her constraint, and goes to her home. How glad they would all be, and what praise to Christ would rise from that household! I hope that the generous spirit, which glowed in the heart of the first convert in Europe, will always continue amongst the converts of Europe till the last day. I trust that when they are called not merely to entertain God’s ministers, but to help all God’s people of every sort, they may be ready and willing to do it for Christ’s sake; for love shall fill them with a holy hospitality, and an earnest desire to bless the children of God. Love one another, brothers and sisters, and do good to one another, as you have opportunity; for so will you be worthy followers of Lydia, the first European convert, whose heart the Lord opened.

     The Lord open your hearts, for his name’s sake! Amen.



Three Names High on the Muster-Roll

By / Jun 22

Three Names High on the Muster-Roll

 

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”— Daniel iii. 16— 18.

 

IF you read the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, you will think that Nebuchadnezzar was not far from the kingdom. His dream had troubled him; but Daniel had explained it. Then the king made this confession to Daniel, “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret." He acknowledged that Jehovah, the God of the Jews, was the greatest of gods, and was a great interpreter of secrets; and yet in a short time we find this man setting up an idol, and persecuting to the death those who would not worship it. He seems, indeed, to have turned the blessing into a curse, and made the image of his dream the pattern of the idol he set up for the nation to worship; thus making that through which God had graciously revealed his power and wisdom, the very instrument of his folly and vain glory. Man’s proud heart is the same in all generations, and the same thing happens even to-day. Have you not seen in your time men seriously impressed? They could not hold their own; they seemed stricken down by the force of truth, and you felt almost sure that they would become, like Saul of Tarsus, true converts, and even apostles of the faith. But after a while they forgot it, forgot it all, and became at length the most bitter and determined opponents of the truth before which they seemed once to bow. Every minister, who has a congregation of any considerable size, must have met with such people. I remember one who, being at a prayer-meeting where there was much wrestling power with God, was so overcome that he prayed aloud, and seemed to cry with all his heart for mercy, and ere he left he said that he had found it; but the next day he declared that he would never go to such a meeting again; that he had been almost caught, but he would not trust himself in such society any more. And I fear that he never did; for he could always speak with great severity against the people who met for prayer, and were earnest in the faith. We know, then, what to expect; that some who seem like fish almost landed, will, nevertheless, slip back into the stream; that it will happen unto them according to the true proverb, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” They will go out from us because they are not of us, and the last state of such men will be worse than the first.

     This great king of Babylon was an absolute monarch. His will was law; no man ever dared to dispute with him. Who would differ from a gentleman who could back up his arguments with a fiery furnace, or with a threat to cut you in pieces, and to make your house a dunghill? And now, when it comes to this, that he sets up a god of his own, a huge colossal statue, and gathers all the princes and potentates of his world-wide dominion together, to bow down before this image, it seems a strange thing to him that there should be anybody found who would not do so. And yet there were three Jews who mastered him. Once before, they had broken the laws of his court, and refused to eat unclean meat; and though they ate nothing but pulse, “At the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” Having stood firm for the right before, they were the bolder to face the more terrible ordeal. The king himself had exalted them in the land, and he expected them, of course, to do his bidding, and set an example to others; but these three of the despised race of the Jews were unconquerable even by the master of the whole world. They stood out before Nebuchadnezzar, and carried their point for God and for conscience.

     As we dwell upon this deed of noble heroism, may we become sharers in the courage and faith of these men, whose names stand high on the roll of worthies in the kingdom of God! Thirteen times their names recur in this chapter, like a refrain to the song which speaks of their deed of valour.

     Notice, first, the excuses they might have made; secondly, the confidence they possessed; and thirdly, the determination at which they had arrived.

     I. First of all, as we think of these three brave Jews, let us consider THE EXCUSES THEY MIGHT HAVE MADE. They were accused by the Chaldeans, who had so recently been saved from death by Daniel and his three friends. The surest way to be hated by some people is to place them under an obligation. “What favour have I ever done him, that he should hate me so?” said one. But in this case the wrath of man was to praise God. The incensed monarch called the offenders before him, and, scarcely believing that in his realm any could have defied his authority, he put the alternative plainly before them. “Here is the golden image; you three Jews are to bow down before it. If you do not, there is the burning fiery furnace, and into that you shall be cast at once. What is your answer?”

     They might have said to themselves, “It is perfectly useless to resist. We cannot contend against this man. If we submit, we do it unwillingly; and surely, being coerced into it, we shall be but little blamed. A man cannot be expected to knock his head against a brick wall, nor throw his life away; and therefore we will bow our heads, as the rest of the multitude have done, and worship the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up.” It is a bad excuse, but it is one that I have often heard made. “Oh,” says a man, “we must live, you know; we must live.” I really do not see any necessity for it. We must die; but whether we must live or not, depends upon a great many things, and it is infinitely better to die than to sink your manhood, and to violate your conscience, at a tyrant’s bidding.

     Again, they might have said, “We are in a strange land, and is it not written by one of our wise men, ‘When you are in Babylon, you must do as Babylon does’? Of course, if we were at home, in Judaea, we would not think of such a thing. We would remember how God has said, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.’ If we were at home, we would obey that law; but we are many hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem, and surely we may be permitted to yield in this point.” Thus have I known many who say they are Christians at home act when they are abroad; they have not regarded the Sabbath, neither have they even regarded the decency or the indecency of the amusements to which they have betaken themselves, because, forsooth, they were not at home! “We would not do this in England; but we are in Paris, you see, and the case is altered,” they say. Is the case altered? Is God the God of this island, and not the God of the Continent? Has he ever given us permission to do abroad what we may not do at home? It is a vile excuse, but commonly enough made.

     They might also have said, “We are in office”; and seeing they were set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, they might have found some difficulty in detaching their private religion from their public duty. They were high officials; and what an excuse this is for a great deal of roguery and trickery everywhere! A man gets elected to a parish vestry, or a council, or a board, and when he once gets to sit on that board, he seems to have left his honesty at home. I say not that it is so always, but I am sorry to say that it has often been so. The official has no sooner put on his robes of office than his conscience has vanished. But these men were not so foolish as to think that because they were made rulers in Babylon, they might therefore sin against the Most High God. It is true that they were bound to obey the lawful orders of their sovereign; but whether it be right to obey men rather than God, their conscience could easily enough judge; so they never made that excuse.

     But, then, they were prosperous men. They were getting on in the world, and I believe that God sent this trial to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, because they were prospering. They might have said, “We must not throw away our chances.” Among the dangers to Christian men, the greatest, perhaps, is accumulating wealth— the danger of prosperity. Wesley used sometimes to fear that Christianity was self-destructive; for when a man becomes a Christian, the blessings of this life are his, too: he begins to rise in the world; he leaves his old position behind him; and, alas! too often, with increasing riches, forgets the God who gave him all. There is much truth in this idea; and unless the Spirit of God abides with his people, we might indeed see our faith thus commit suicide. It is a danger to be guarded against, both by liberal giving and by frequent intercession. We often pray for Christians in adversity, and it is right that we should do so; but it is even more necessary to pray for Christians in prosperity, for they run the risk of gradually becoming soft, like Hannibal’s soldiers destroyed by Capuan holidays, who lost their valour in their luxury. Many a man who was an out-and-out Christian when he was lower down in life has, when prosperous, become much too great a gentleman to associate with those who were his honoured brethren before. I have seen it scores of times; but it is a shocking thing. May God grant that we may never turn his mercies into an excuse for sinning against him! You who are rich have no more liberty to sin than if you were poor. You who rise in the world have no more right to do wrong than you had when you were down in the world; and his lordship is no more honourable at a prize-fight than the bullet-headed pugilist. We must do right. We must never do wrong, or plead our position in society, or our prosperity in worldly things, as a reason why we may do what others might not do.

     Again, further, they might have excused themselves thus. The putting up of this image was not altogether a religious act. It was symbolical. The image was intended to represent the power of Nebuchadnezzar, and bowing before it was therefore doing political homage to the great king. Might they not safely do this? They might have said, “We are politically bound,” Oh, how often we hear this brought up! You are told to regard the difference between right and wrong everywhere, except when you get into politics; then stick to your party through thick and thin. Right and wrong vanish at once. Loyalty to your leader— that is the point. Never mind where he leads you, follow him blindly. You are even told that you may do wrong because it is politically right. I hate such an argument! These men never for a moment entertained the evil thought. It is true that politics were mixed up with this image; but whatever might be mixed up with it, they would not worship it, for God had said, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them,” and these sturdy believers would do nothing of the kind under any pretence whatever.

     A very soothing salve for their conscience might have been found in the absence of any command to renounce their own religion. They might have encouraged each other to submit, by saying, “We are not called upon to abjure our God.” They need not believe the idol to be divine, nor confess the least faith in it; in their hearts they might make a mental reservation as they bowed, and they might have whispered to one another, and said that it was a devil, and no God. They might have excused themselves to their own conscience by saying that they prostrated themselves to the music, and not to the idol, or that they made obeisance to the king rather than to his image. In fact, if their consciences had been as elastic as some modem ones, though that was hardly possible, as the virtues of indiarubber were scarcely known then, they might have said that, in bowing down before the image, they were praying to Jehovah, since he might be worshipped anywhere, and under any circumstances. They might have said that, although they looked at the image, they did not worship it; but beyond the glitter of its gold, their thoughts rose to the God of glory. Anything, in fact, will serve for an excuse, when the heart is bent on compromise; and, especially in these half-hearted days, it is very easy to find a specious reason for a false action, if some temporal benefit is attached to it. Modern charity manufactures a multitude of excuses to cover sins withal.

     A stronger argument, however, might have been secured from the fact of the universal submission to the decree. “Everybody else is doing it,” they might have said. That morning, when the rising sun was saluted by the strains from those varied instruments of music from Persia, and Greece, and Babylon, when all the music of the world seemed gathered together, everybody bowed. There were Jews there, thousands of them; and they all bowed. There were fire-worshippers there, men who hated the worship of graven images; but they all bowed. There were men there who had gods of their own which they reverenced; but they all bowed before Nebuchadnezzar’s god. “What a singular being you must be to stand out against the fashion of the time!” the tempter might have said; “your own countrymen have bowed, and you will not; better men than you, let me tell you, have bowed, but you will not.” No, they will not, these three singularities, these strange eccentricities! It is folly to be singular, except when to be singular is to be right; and to be eccentric is not commendable, except the eccentricity consists in not being concentric with any kind of evil way. In spite of all the apostate crowds, these brave men would not yield— not they! Though millions bowed, what had that to do with them? My dear hearers, I ask you to cultivate a brave personality. In the service of God, things cannot go by the counting of heads. You must follow the Lord’s will wherever it leads you, whether you go alone or not.

“Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!”

     They might have said, “It is only for once, and not for long. Ten minutes or so, once in a lifetime, to please the king; such a trivial act cannot make any difference; at any rate, it is not enough to brave the fiery furnace for. Let us treat the whole thing as a huge jest. It would be ridiculous to throw away our lives for such a trifle.” Have you never heard such arguments in these days? This indulgent nineteenth century has plenty of easy maxims of a very similar sort. In the supreme hour many fail, because the trial is seemingly so small. They mean to stand for God; but this is scarcely the right time; they will wait, and choose a more worthy occasion, when something really heroic can be attempted. Were they to stand for such a little thing, the world would laugh with derision at such a straining out of a gnat. So Adam eats the apple; Esau the pottage; and the one temptation, unresisted, issues in life-long loss. Not even for a few minutes in a lifetime would these three brave men deny their God. May their stubborn faith be ours!

     Another excuse that they might have made was, “We can do more good by living than we can by being cast into that furnace. It is true, if we are burnt alive, we bear a rapid testimony to the faith of God; but if we live, how much more we might accomplish! You see we three are Jews, and we are put in high office, and there are many poor Jews who are captives. We can help them. We have already done so. We have always seen justice done to God’s people, our fellow-countrymen, and we feel that we are raised to our high office on purpose to do good. Now, you see, if you make us bigots, and will not let us yield, you cut short our opportunities of usefulness.” Ah, my dear brethren! there are many that are deceived by this method of reasoning. They remain where their conscience tells them they ought not to be, because, they say, they are more useful than they would be if they went “without the camp.” This is doing evil that good may come, and can never be tolerated by an enlightened conscience. If an act of sin would increase my usefulness tenfold, I have no right to do it; and if an act of righteousness would appear likely to destroy all my apparent usefulness, I am yet to do it. It is yours and mine to do the right though the heavens fall, and follow the command of Christ whatever the consequences may be. “That is strong meat,” do you say? Be strong men, then, and feed thereon.

     But they might also have said, “Really, this is more than can be expected of us. If we had been asked to contribute our tithe to the support of the religion of Jehovah, we would cheerfully do so; but to yield our lives in this horrible way, to be cast into a burning fiery furnace, is more than flesh and blood can bear.” Yes, and some of us could not answer that argument, for, peradventure, it is pressing upon ourselves. Remember what Jesus said to the multitudes who went with him, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” We must stand to a full surrender, and say, “Let it cost what it may, I make no exception. I take all risks. I will follow Christ, the Lamb, whithersoever he goeth, even should I die while I am following him.” He that does not come to that has not taken the position which Christ demands of us, and which his Holy Spirit must work in us, before we are fully converted to the faith. “Strong language again”, says one. God make you strong enough to apply it to yourself!

     Thus, I have set before you the excuses that these three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, might have made.

     II. In the second place, let us assure our own hearts by admiring THE CONFIDENCE WHICH THEY POSSESSED. They expressed it very emphatically and clearly. They had a very definite, solid, foursquare faith.

     First, they said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” The word “careful” there, does not give you the meaning. Read it, “We are not full of care as to how to answer thee.” They did answer very carefully; but they were not anxious about the answer. It was not a thing that troubled them in the least. They knew what they were going to say. They did not deliberate. They did not hesitate. They said, “Nebuchadnezzar, we can answer you at once on that point.” They were so calm, so self-collected, that they could talk to him, not as a king, but as Nebuchadnezzar. When it came to life-work, it was man to man, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to Nebuchadnezzar; and they told him that they had no difficulty in answering him.

     In the second place, they did not judge it theirs to answer at all. I find that it may be read, as in the Revised Version, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer thee in this matter,” meaning, “We will not answer you. It is not for us to answer you. You have brought another Person into the quarrel.” Let me read the words that precede my text. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” In effect, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego replied, “It is not for us to answer you. There is Another that will do that. You have challenged God, and God shall make his own reply.” It was bravely spoken. They threw the onus of this matter upon God himself. So may you. If you will do right, it is God’s affair to see you through. With the consequences you have nothing to do, except patiently to bear them; the consequences must be with God. Only you do the right. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and obey him, and keep the command of the Most High, and then whatever comes of it, it is no blame of yours. That must be left with God.

     Then notice what they say. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.” They avowed their faith in the Omnipotent God, knowing that, if he chose, no mighty man of Babylon could ever throw them into that furnace. The furnace itself must die down, and become cool as ice, if God so wills it. They tell the tyrant to his face, enveloped as he was in the flame of his wrath, that God can save them out of the fire. Their God was almighty, and they put their trust in him.

     What is more, they add, “And he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” Whether they burned in the fire or not, they were sure they would be delivered. “If we die, we shall be out of your reach; but we may not die; we may live beyond your reach. You have asked the question, 'Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?’ and we answer you, ' Our God will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.’ ”

     Now, beloved friends, if any of you are in great difficulty and trouble, tempted to do wrong, nay, pressed to do it, and if you do what is right, it looks as if you will be great losers and great sufferers; believe this: God can deliver you. He can prevent your having to suffer what you suppose you may; and if he does not prevent that, he can help you to bear it, and, in a short time, he can turn all your losses into gains, all your sufferings into happiness. He can make the worst thing that can happen to you to be the very best thing that ever did happen to you. If you are serving God, you are serving an Omnipotent Being; and that Omnipotent Being will not leave you in the time of difficulty, but he will come to your rescue. Many of us can say with Paul, “We trust not in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” The Lord has helped us in the past, he is helping us in the present, and we believe that he will help us all the way through. He will help you, too, if you just follow his word, and by a simple faith do the right thing. I believe that we have reason to expect interpositions of providence to help us when we are called to suffer for Christ’s sake.

     III. But here is the point that I want to make most prominent— the third one — THE DETERMINATION AT WHICH THEY HAD ARRIVED. “If not”, if God does not deliver us at all, “be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Grand language! Noble resolve! “If not, if we have to go into the fire, into the fire we will go; but we will never bow the knee to an idol.” So these gracious Jews were enabled to say.

     They did not pivot their loyalty to God upon their deliverance. They did not say, as some do, “I will serve God if it pays me to do so. I will serve God if he helps me at such and such a time.” No, they would serve him for nothing; theirs was not cupboard love. “If not, if he does not deliver us, if it is his will that we should be burnt alive, we surrender ourselves to his will; but we will not break his divine command, or make idolaters of ourselves by bowing before an image which has no life in it, which could not even set itself up, but which Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up.”

     They resolved that they would obey God at all costs. Now, I knew a young man once, to whom a certain ordinance of Christ was made known as being Scriptural; but as far as he could see, if he followed that ordinance, every door would be shut against him. If he was bold to do as he thought he ought to do, according to his Master’s command and example, it would be the ruin of everything. 'Well, he did it, and it was not the ruin of anything; and if he had to do such a thing again a hundred times over, he thanks God that he would do it. There is such sweetness in having to make some sacrifice for God; there is such a heavenly recompense, that one almost envies the martyrs. Bather than pity their sufferings, one feels an intense longing that such honour had been ours, and that we had had the moral courage and holy stamina to suffer for God even as they suffered. Who among the bright ones are the brightest in the land of light ? They that wear the ruby crown of martyrdom most certainly lead the van; for they suffered, even to the death, for their Lord. O friends, it is a glorious thing when we make no calculation of costs, but with our whole heart and soul follow the Lamb whithersoever he leadeth us!

     Let us walk in this heroic path. But some will say, “It is too hard. You cannot expect men to love God well enough to die for him.” No, but there was One who loved us well enough to die for us, and to die a thousand deaths in one, that he might save us. If Christ so loved us, we ought so to love him. “Well,” says one, “I think it is impossible. I could not bear pain.” It is possible, for many have endured it. I remember that one of the martyrs, who was to be burned on the following morning, thought that he would try himself; and there being a large fire in the cell, he put his foot into it to see whether he could bear to have it burnt, and soon shrank back. Therein he was foolish; for when he went out the next morning to stand on the faggots and burn, he stood like a man, and burnt bravely to the death for his Master. The fact was, his Lord did not call him to burn his foot in the stove, and so he did not help him to bear it; but when he called him to give his whole body to the flames, then grace was given. There is a story of a martyred woman, who had a child born to her a few days before she was burnt, and being in great pain, she cried aloud. One said to her, “If you cannot bear this, what will you do when you come to burn?” She said, “Now you see the pains of nature which befall a woman, and I have not patience enough to bear them; but by-and-by you shall see Christ in his members suffering, and you shall see what patience he will have, and what patience he will give to me.” It is recorded of her that she seemed as if she had no pain at all when she yielded herself up to Christ. Do not judge, by what you are to-day, what you would be if you were called into trouble. Grace would be given you. I have no doubt that many of the most timid of those who truly love the Lord, would be the very bravest; while some who think they would be brave, would be the very first to start back. You may never be called to such a trial as that; but still, if you cannot bear the small trials, how would you bear the great ones? “I cannot bear to be laughed at,” says one. But though there is something cruel about mocking, it does not break anybody's bones. And being laughed at— well, really, I have sometimes thought, when I have seen a good joke cracked over my poor head, that there is so much misery in the world, that if I might be the cause of making a little more mirth, I should be glad; and even if it told against me, if it made somebody feel a little merrier, it was not a matter for great sorrow. And when you go into the workshop, and they point at you and say, “There comes a canting Methodist!” remember, that is the way in which the world pays homage to Christianity! If there is anything genuine in the Christian religion, the world pays its respect by cavilling at it, and caricaturing it. Accept their compliments, not as they intend them, but as you choose to read them, and you will not be grieved. You, Shadrach, not afraid of a burning fiery furnace, are surely not going to be frightened by the laughter of a silly boy or girl in the workshop? Alas, this unworthy fear enters into all relationships! I have known men afraid of their wives! I have known fewer wives, however, afraid of their husbands; for they are generally bold for Christ, and can suffer for his name’s sake. I have known children afraid of their parents, and some poor parents, six feet high, afraid of their children! Oh, what poor worms it makes of us when we begin to be afraid of our fellow-creatures! Do right, and fear nothing, and God will help you.

     To enable us to get the spirit of these three holy men, we must get, first, a clear sense of the divine presence. If a man feels that God is seeing him, he will not bow his knee to an idol; neither will he do evil, for God’s eye is upon him. He will endure, “as seeing him who is invisible;” and though the floods of ungodly men lift themselves up, he will remember the Lord who sitteth upon the waterfloods, and is higher than they. The man who realizes God’s presence is by that invisible companionship rendered invincible. Greater is he that is for him, than all that can be against him.

“For right is right, since God is God,
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.”

     We must, next, have a deep sense of the divine law. I have already reminded you of the law. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” No Virgin Mary, no cross, no crucifix, no picture, no image, no visible object is to be regarded with reverence, or worshipped instead of God. All this must be put away. That is clear enough; and therefore Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, feeling that God was near, and knowing what God’s law was, dared not violate that law, but would sooner die.

     Above all, to keep us right, we must have a mighty sense of the divine love. We shall never obey God till by his grace we have new hearts, and those hearts are full of love to him through Jesus Christ. Then, if you love him, you will say, “What! put an image of gold in his place? Never! Join the multitude in worshipping a colossal statue instead of the invisible Jehovah? Never!” With holy indignation you will choose the furnace of fire, rather than have that purer flame which glows in your heart quenched, or made to burn dimly.

     To some of you this must seem very trifling, because you say, “I do not care about religious forms and ceremonies. Let me enjoy myself while I am here; it is all that I ask.” Well, you have made your bargain, and a sorry one it is. If this life be all, how ought a man to live? I am sure I cannot tell you. Perhaps the wisest thing of all is, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” But there is another world, and a life beyond, and it is sometimes incomparably wise to fling this life away that we may win the life eternal. Our Lord often reminded his hearers of this great truth, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”

     “But what did these three men do?” says one: “they simply did not bow their heads, and they were cast into the fiery furnace. What did they do?” They influenced their age, their people, and all time. These three men influenced the city of Babylon, and the whole Babylonian empire. They certainly influenced king Nebuchadnezzar. They influenced the next age, and to this hour the influence of their brave stand for God in his eternal unity, and for the non-worship of any visible thing, has held the Hebrew race firmly to this one point. It was principally through these three men that the whole Jewish people were taught their deep hatred of everything like idol-worship; and they were, by such men as these, and some who followed after, weaned from their tendency to wander after idols, and tethered fast to the worship of Jehovah, the one living and true God. Would God that the Jews as a nation went further, and knew our Lord Jesus Christ! Still, it is something that they are yet alive upon the earth bearing witness that there is but one God, Creator of heaven and earth, who only is to be worshipped. More than that, the influence of these three men lives in this audience, and will live in thousands of audiences in days to come. Does it not make your pulse beat? Does it not make your heart leap within you? Have you not said to yourselves, “This is a noble example”? Oh, that we may rise to it! In an age like ours, when everything is sold, when you can buy anybody, when the flute, harp, sackbut, dulcimer, and all kinds of music carry everything before them, when a mask and a vizor will infatuate even a saint; it is time that there were some men of the stern old mould of these three Jews, who could not, and would not, yield, whatever might happen. The pillars of the earth might be dissolved, but these men would still stand upright, and bear the whole world upon their shoulders by the grand power of God that made them strong. Be like unto them.

     These three men command the admiration of heaven and earth. A fool would have pointed at them and said, “There go three fools— gentlemen high in office, with large incomes, and wives and families. They have only to take their cap off, and they may live in their wealth; but if they do not do it, they are to be burnt alive; and they will not do it. They will be burnt alive. They are fools.” Yes, but the Son of God did not think so. When he in heaven heard them speak thus to king Nebuchadnezzar, he said, “Brave, brave men! I will leave the throne of God in heaven to go and stand by their side;” and invisibly he descended, till where the fires were glowing like one vast ruby, where the fierce flame had slain the men that threw the three confessors into the burning fiery furnace, HE came and stood. And there they walked. It was the greatest walk that they had ever had. On those burning coals the four of them were walking together in sweet fellowship. They had won the admiration and the sympathy of the Son of God, who left heaven itself, that he might come and stand side by side with them. It was therefore comparatively a little thing that they won the admiration of Nebuchadnezzar. That proud imperial tyrant cried to those about him, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered, “True, O king;” and he, with his visage white with ghostly fear, said, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” He himself could not but stand there, and, awestruck, admire these three heroes. And now to-day you do the same. These three men still live. From the glowing coals their voices call aloud to us, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”

     To close: if we would be servants of God, we must be believers in his Son Jesus Christ. Come and trust Jesus Christ, and you are saved. When you are truly saved, you are to be saved from all hesitation about obedience to God — so saved, that henceforth God’s law is your rule. Then, with that holy law imperative upon you, you will go forth into the world, and say, “It is not mine to ask what others will do. It is not mine to shape my course by them, not mine to enquire what will bring me most profit, what will bring me most honour. It is mine to look up to thee, my God, and ask, what wouldest thou have me to do? I will do it at all costs.”

     I wonder how many young men to whom these words are addressed have pluck enough in them to come out on Christ’s side. I do believe that many young men do not want an easy life; they would rather have a hard time, and a stern battle. We have brave spirits among us still, who like to lead the forlorn hope, and are not afraid. I challenge such to come and serve my Master fully and thoroughly, and they shall have a rough time of it; but they shall have glory, and honour, and immortality as their reward. Make a whole burnt-offering of yourself, my brother, body, soul, and spirit, for Christ. These three young men “yielded their bodies”, as we read in the twenty-eighth verse. “I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Let the faith of your spirit carry your whole body with it, in hearty obedience to God’s command, and let this be true of you—

“In full and glad surrender,
I give myself to thee,
Thine utterly and only,
And evermore to be.

“O Son of God, thou lov’st me,
I will be thine alone;
And all I have, and am, Lord,
Shall henceforth be thine own!”

     But I fear that I speak in vain to many, who will turn away, and say, “This world for me.” Well, if you make choice of this world, and of ease and pleasure for yourself, then have you chosen Egypt’s treasures, and you have disdained the reproach of Christ; you shall find one day how dreadful a folly you have committed. God grant that you may find it out soon, and not in the world to come! God bless you, and. save you, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



The Agreement of Salvation By Grace With Walking in Good Works

By / Jun 22

The Agreement of Salvation by Grace With Walking in Good Works

 

“Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” — Ephesians ii. 9, 10.

 

I SHALL call your attention to the near neighbourhood of these two phrases, “Not of works,” and “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” The text reads with a singular sound; for it seems strange to the ear that good works should be negatived as the cause of salvation, and then should be spoken of as the great end of it. You may put it down among what the Puritans called “Orthodox Paradoxes,” if you please; though it is hardly so difficult a matter as to deserve the name.

     Not long ago, I tried to handle the point of difference supposed to exist between the doctrine of faith— “Believe, and thou shalt be saved,” and the doctrine of the new birth and its necessity— “Ye must be born again.” My method was on this wise: I did not explain the difficulties which appear to the logician and the doctor of metaphysics; but I tried to show that, practically, there were none. If we deal only with difficulties which block up the way to salvation, there are none. As for those matters which involve no real hindrance, I leave them where they are. A rock which is in nobody’s way may stand where it is. He that believes in Jesus is born again. These two things are equally true: there must be a work of the Spirit within, yet he that believeth in the Lord Jesus hath everlasting life.

     Now, there is a contention always going on about the doctrine of good works: and instead of taking one side or the other, we shall try to see whether there really is anything to quarrel over if we keep to the Scriptures. We insist upon it, with all our might, that salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast.” But, on the other hand, we freely admit, and earnestly teach, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Where there are no good works, there is no indwelling of the Spirit of God. The faith which does not produce good works is not saving faith: it is not the faith of God’s elect: it is not faith at all in the Scriptural sense. I have just taken these two points, to bring them forward for the help and comfort of beginners. I seek not to instruct you who are well-taught already; but my aim at this time is to instruct beginners on this important subject. Salvation is not of works; but, at the same time, we, who are the subjects of divine grace, are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” This is plain to the enlightened believer; but babes in grace have weak eyes, and cannot at once perceive.

     Before, in the gracious providence of God, Luther was raised up to preach the doctrine of justification by faith, the common notion among religious persons was, that men must be saved by works; and the result was that, knowing nothing of the root from winch virtue springs, very few persons had any good works at all. Religion so declined that it became a mere matter of empty ceremony, or of useless seclusion; and, in addition, superstition overlaid the original truth of the gospel, so that one could hardly find it out at all. The reign of self-justification and priestcraft led to no good result upon the masses of religious people. Indulgences and forgivenesses of sins were hawked through the streets, and publicly sold. So much was charged for the pardon of one sin, and so much for another, and the exchequer of “his holiness” at Rome — who might better have been called “his unholiness” — was filled by payments for abating penalties in a purgatory of Rome’s inventing. Luther learned from the sacred Volume, by the Spirit of the Lord, that we are saved by grace alone through faith; and, having found it out, he was so possessed by that one truth that he preached it with a voice of thunder. His witness on one point was so concentrated that it would be too much to expect equal dearness upon all other truths. I sometimes compare him to a bull who shuts his eyes, and goes straight on at the one object which he means to overthrow. With a mighty crash, he broke down the gates of Papal superstition. He saw nothing— he did not want to see anything— except this, “By grace are ye saved through faith.” He made very clear and good work upon that point, faulty as he was upon certain others. The echoes of his manly voice rang down the centuries. I note that nearly all the sermons of Protestant divines, for long after Luther, were upon justification by faith; and, whatever the text might be, they somehow or other brought in that article of a standing or falling church. They seldom finished a sermon without declaring that salvation is not by works, but that it is by faith in Jesus Christ. I do not censure them for a moment; far rather do I commend them — better too much than too little upon the central doctrine of the gospel. The times needed that point to be made dear to all comers; and the Reforming preachers made it dear. Justification by faith was the nail that had to be driven home, and clinched; and all their hammers went at that nail. They were nothing like so specific and clear upon many other doctrines as they were upon this; but then it was a foundation-stone, and they were occupied in laying it, and they did lay it, and laid it thoroughly, and laid it for ever. Still, they would have more fully completed the circle of revealed truth if sanctification had been as fully apprehended and as clearly explained as justification. It had been as well if the legs of the gospel of the Reformation had been equal, for one was a little longer and a little stronger than the other, and therefore there was a limp— a halting like that of victorious Israel, as he came from Jabbok— but still a limp, which it would be well to cure. We have passed beyond the stage of dwelling too much on the cardinal doctrine, and I greatly fear that in these times we do not have enough preaching of justification by faith. I could wish the Lutheran times back again, and that the old thunders of Wittemberg could be heard once more; and yet I shall be glad if everything that is practical in the gospel shall also have its full sphere allotted to it. Imputed righteousness, by all means; but let us hear of imparted righteousness also; for both are precious boons of grace. The duties— let me rather say, the high and holy privileges— which come to us as children and servants of God — these should be maintained and fully preached, side by side with the blessed truth embodied in those lines —

“There is life in a look at the Crucified One:
There is life at this moment for thee.”

     I shall dwell, first of all, upon the first point of the text, which is this, “Not of works,” or the way of salvation. “Not of works” is negative description, but within the negative there lies very clearly the positive. The way of salvation is by something other than our own works. Secondly, I shall speak about the walk of salvation. We who are saved walk in holiness; for we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” It is a decree of the sovereign Lord that his chosen should be led to walk in holiness.

     I. First, then, THE WAY OF SALVATION is negatively described as “Not of works.” To this many take exception; but that we cannot help; the Scripture is plain enough. We are told that we ought not, on any occasion, to allow persons to sing—

“Sinner, nothing do,
Either great or small,
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.”

Great exception has been taken to that expression; but I believe that, if the same truth had been expressed in any other words, the same objection would have been raised, for it is the truth that is objected to, rather than the words in which it is set forth. My text itself would be, to such persons, very objectionable— “Not of works.” They are ready to rail at Paul for speaking thus evangelically. They hate the doctrine of salvation all of gift, and not in the least of merit— a doctrine which we love. We preach salvation “not of works”; we repeat the teaching again and again, and mean to repeat it continually, till we die. Salvation is of the Lord’s mercy, and not by works of the law.

     If we were to preach that salvation is of works, we should please many fine folk; but as we do not know that it would be at all to their benefit that they should be pleased, we shall not brush one hair of our head in a different way from that in which it grows, to please them; much less shall we keep back, or explain away, the fundamental truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and that for several reasons.

     If we were to preach to sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, that salvation would be by their own works, we should be setting aside the way of salvation by grace. There cannot be two ways of salvation for the same people. If we take to the one, we practically deny the other. It cannot be questioned that a guilty man, if saved at all, must be saved through the mercy of God. It cannot be denied, also, that our Saviour and his apostles taught that we are saved by faith. A man must shut his eyes if he does not see this to be their teaching. If, then, I teach men that they can be saved by works, I have practically told them that salvation by grace is a myth, a mistake, a mischievous error. I have set it aside; for, as I have said before, there cannot be two ways to heaven: there cannot be more than one. If I set up the way of works, I shut up the way of grace. If salvation be of merit, it is not of mercy. But if there be no salvation of men by the pure mercy of God, what an unhappy case are we in I To deny grace is really to deny hope. Where, then, would there be any gospel, or glad tidings, or good news? The way of salvation by works is not “news” It is the old way of man’s devising, which is the general and well-known error of all the ages. Moreover, it is not “good news,” or glad news; for there is nothing good or glad in it. That we shall be rewarded for our works, is nothing more than the heathens taught. Justification by religious performances, and meritorious deeds, is nothing better than the old Pharisaism with a Christian name stuck upon it. It is not worth revealing by the Spirit of God, for it is to be seen by the light of man’s own candle. That doctrine makes the Lord Jesus Christ to be practically a nobody; for if salvation be of works, then the way of salvation through faith in a Saviour is superfluous, and even mischievous.

     Next, to preach the way of salvation by works is to propose to men a way in which they have already failed. If you are to be saved by works, you must begin very early: you must begin before you sin, since one sin decides the matter. But already you have commenced to break the law of God. I am not addressing persons who have yet to start upon the way, for they have started already. You are a good way on the road, one way or other; and since you began in the way of works, what a failure you have made of it already! Is there anyone here who can claim that he is already saved by works, as far as he has gone? Has anyone among you been without sin? Look at your lives; examine your consciences; observe your words, your thoughts, your imaginations, your motives; for all these come into the account. Is there a man here that doeth good, and sinneth not? Scripture declares that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” The way of salvation cannot, therefore, be by following a road from which we have already so sinfully and steadily departed. If you were perfect as Adam was before he sinned, you might follow the way of works, and be safe; but you are not in that condition. If I could be sent to an Adam and an Eve altogether unfallen, I might propose to them the way of salvation by obedience to the law; but you have fallen, and your nature is inclined to forsake the right way. The very garments that you wear show that you have discovered your shame. The daily labours which weary you prove that you are not in paradise. The very preaching of the gospel implies that you are in a sinful world. You are not possessed of a will unbiassed, or inclined to that which is good: you have chosen the evil, and still continue to choose it; and therefore I should only be proposing to you a road in which you have already stumbled, and I should be setting you a task in which you have already broken down.

     And, next, I think it will be admitted by all, that the way of salvation by good works would be self-evidently unsuitable to a considerable number. I will take a case. I am sent for on an emergency, and it is the dead of night. A man is dying, smitten suddenly by the deathblast. I go to his bedside, as requested. Consciousness remains; but he is evidently in mortal agony. He has lived an ungodly life, and ha is about to die. I am asked by his wife and friends to speak to him a word that may bless him. Shall I tell him that he can only be saved by good works? Where is the time for works? Where is the possibility of them? Almost while I am speaking, his life is struggling to escape him. He looks at me in the agony of his soul, and he stammers out, “What must I do to be saved?” Shall I read to him the moral law? Shall I expound to him the Ten Commandments, and tell him that he must keep all these? He would shake his head, and say, “I have broken them all; lam condemned by them all.” If salvation be of works, what more have I to say? I am of no use here. What can I say? The man is utterly lost. There is no remedy for him. How can I tell him the cruel dogma of “modern thought” that his own personal character is everything? How can I tell him that there is no value in belief, no help for the soul in looking to another — even to Jesus, the Substitute? There is no whisper of hope for a dying man in the hard and stony doctrine of salvation by works.

     If salvation had been by works, our Lord could not have said to the thief, dying at his side, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” That man could do no works. His hands and feet were fastened to the cross, and he was in the agonies of death. No, it must be of grace, all-conquering grace; and the modus operandi must be by faith, or else for dying men the gospel is a mockery. The man must look, and live. The expiring sinner must trust the expiring Saviour. As life ebbs out, the penitent must find life in Jesus’ death. Is it not clear that the gospel of works is unsuitable in such a case as that? Now, a gospel which is unsuitable to anybody is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, I put it plainly. A gospel that does not suit everybody does not suit anybody; and if it suits any class and condition really and truly, it must suit all classes. I think I have told you that, on one occasion, I had a letter which was intended to be very irritating to me, from some rather eminent, aristocratic gentleman, who said that he had read some of my sermons when he was out on the coast of Africa, and he found that certain black fellows out there — certain “niggers” — delighted in them very much. He wrote to inform me that I was a very competent preacher for “niggers.” I accepted the assurance at once as a very high compliment. I felt that, if I could preach to “niggers,” I could preach to anybody; and that, if the gospel that I preached was suitable to the natives on the coast of Africa, it would certainly suit the people in London; if those who are afar off could understand it, you, who are near, could also understand it.  The gospel was not sent into the world to be a patent medicine that could only be purchased by the wealthy, or a spell that could only be uttered by Latin scholars. It is a gospel for all ranks and conditions of men; and if I prove that what you call the gospel is unsuitable for the dying, or is unsuitable for the ignorant, it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of salvation by grace, through faith, is suitable for every class of persons that we have to deal with. Sinful habit has bound in iron fetters many of our fellow-citizens, and the gospel can free them. Be the habit drunkenness, or profanity, or what it may, the habit holds them fast; and the prophet says, concerning habit, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” To what purpose, then, do I cry to the leopard, “Change your spots,” or to the Ethiopian, “Change your skin”? I must bring a superior force to bear upon the leopard or the Ethiopian, before this can be accomplished; and there is no force in mere exhortation. You may exhort a blind man to see as long as you like; but he will not see. You may exhort a dead man to live as long as you like; but he will not live through your exhortation alone. Something more is wanted. The forces of natural depravity, and the acquired habits of sin in many cases— I think you will grant it— put the doctrine of salvation by works out of court; and if out of court as to one, it is gone as to all; for there can be but one gospel. Go through your convict settlements; go through your jails; and just see what you can do with a doctrine of salvation by good works. You will come home disappointed, however earnest may be your address. But go there, and tell of free grace and dying love, and pardon bought with blood, and eyes that stream with tears, confessions of sin, and cries for pardon, will tell you that you have not spoken in vain.

     Further, dear friends, if we go and preach to men salvation by works, we are preaching to them a way of salvation impossible to all because of the perfection of the law. What are the good works that can merit heaven? What are the good works that can ensure eternal life? These are not the easy things which some seem to imagine. They must be perfectly pure, continuous, and unspotted. “The law of the Lord is perfect.” It condemns a thought, and even the glance of an eye, as an act of criminality. “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” The law of God in ten commands means much more than the bare words would imply: it deals with the whole range of moral condition, motive, and thought. Dream not that its sweep includes only external acts: it does include externals, but, in very deed, the ten commands are spiritual, they go right through the heart, and search the inward parts of the spirit. The more a man understands the law, the more he feels condemned by it, and the less does he indulge the dream that he, as he is, shall ever be able to keep it intact. With such foul hands as ours, how can we do clean work? With hearts so polluted, how can we be “undefiled in the way”? Nature rises no higher than its source, and that which comes out of the heart will be no better than the heart, and that is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

     The law of God is one; and if you break it in any one point, you break it altogether. If, in a chain of one hundred links, ninety-nine should be perfect; yet if a single link, anywhere in the chain, should be too weak for the weight placed upon it, the load will fall to the ground quite as surely as if twenty links were snapped. One breakage of the perfect law of God involves transgression against the whole of it. In order to be saved by works, there must be absolutely perfect, continuously perfect obedience to it, in thought, and word, and deed; and that obedience must be rendered cheerfully, and from the heart, for this is the pith of the first table— “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Can you keep that? Vain-glorious man, have you measured your moral strength against requirements so great, and yet so just? Have you hitherto proved yourself equal to the task? Here is the pith of the second table— “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Have you ever tried to do that— to love your neighbour as yourself? You have been a little kind, and sometimes generous; but the standard of loving your neighbour as yourself— have you ever reached to that? Has your charity been equal to your self-love? I do not believe that it has ever gone even half the way. Now, “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law;” and if it saith all this to you, and you cannot answer to its demands, how can you hope that you shall live by it? When a man fails to keep the law, it condemns him; and its penalty— in other words, its curse— falls on him as justly his due. He that is under the law is under the curse. All that the law has to say to you is— “Thou hast broken me; and thou must die for it.” Head the curses written in the Book of Deuteronomy, and remember that all these are pronounced over your head.

“Look to the flames that Moses saw,
And shrink, and tremble, and despair.”

     And again, dear friends, if we preach salvation by works, we shall take the minds of men away from a sense of their great need. Here is a person who has a terrible disease. He can be cured. The knife must be used; but if, instead thereof, I lay down for him rules of cleanliness, and of general hygiene, I may do him some sort of good; but meanwhile he will neglect the chief evil, his disease will spread, and will become fatal. What am I to do, if I am a surgeon? Must I not impress him, first, with the conviction that a serious operation is required, and that it must be submitted to? All the rest will be proper enough, and even necessary, in due time; but I must do nothing to take his mind away from the great master-evil that is destroying his life. The sinner must be told that he must be born again, that his nature is corrupt, that this corrupt nature must be destroyed, that a new nature must be created in him: to this his mind must be turned. He must be made “a new creature” in Christ Jesus; and if I stir him up to external action, with a view to his salvation by it, I shall be taking his thoughts away from the inward evil of sin, which is the very essence of the matter. O sirs, if you had committed an offence against the government of your country, and you were found guilty, and condemned to die, my first business with you would be to entreat you to ask pardon of your queen. I might come into your cell, and say that I would have you dressed more respectably; would have you read such a book, or learn such a science; and this might be all very well; but the first thing you need is to have the sentence of death repealed. I will exhort you, my dear hearers, to do everything that is honest, and right, and good; but there is something needed even more than this. You need to be cleansed from sin by the precious blood of Christ. You need to be renewed in heart by the Holy Spirit, and you must turn your thoughts to these things. You first and most of all need the Lord Jesus. Look to him, I pray you. I dare not exhort you to this work, or to that, lest I distract your mind from Christ.

     The preaching of legal justification has no power over men. Congregations thus instructed are usually careless, worldly, and devoted to carnal amusements. Those who hear about works feel as if they had now done enough, and did not need to practise them. There is nothing in such doctrine to arouse anxiety, or move desire, or stir the depths of the soul. It has nothing divine about it, nothing supernatural, nothing which can really raise the fallen, cheer the faint, or inspire the gracious. Without unction, life, or fire, a legal ministry is mere fiddling a tune to lame men, or setting forth a course of living action for a vault full of corpses. This point we know to be fact, and therefore we shall not repeat the experiment.

     I am afraid that, if we began to preach salvation by works, we should encourage pride in some, and create despair in others. Many would think that they had done pretty well, as compared with other people; they would, therefore, right speedily wrap themselves up in a false hope. But others, knowing that they had not done well, as compared with other people, would think that there was no hope for them, and so would sit down in despair. What practical purpose could this serve— to be making some more proud, and others more wicked, through the influence of despair upon them?

     But the very worst matter is, that it would be taking them off from Jesus. Our business, my brethren, is to hold up Jesus Christ. To what end did he die, if men could be saved by their own works? It was a superfluity that he should hang upon the cross if our own merits can open a way of salvation. How could the great God permit and even ordain such a death if we could be saved by our own merits? Why that bloody sweat? Why that nailing of the hands and feet? Why that, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” if of yourselves you can be saved? But it is not so. You cannot save yourselves by efforts of your own, and hence we have to come to you, shutting you up to this one thing only— that you must be saved by faith in him whom God has set forth to be a propitiation for sin. You need the love of God: you need the power of the Holy Ghost; you need to be quickened into newness of life; you need to be helped to run in the ways of righteousness: in a word, you need everything until you come to Christ, and everything that you want you will find in him, and in him alone. Within yourselves there is nothing that you want. You may search, and look, and turn the dunghill of your nature over and over again, but you will never find the jewel of salvation there. That pearl of great price is in the Lord who assumed human nature, and lived, and loved, and died, and rose again, that he might redeem men from the fall, and all the sin consequent thereon. Oh, that you would look away from self once for all! God forbid that the preacher should ever hold up anything else before you except the crucified Saviour, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, bidding men look and live.

     To talk to unbelieving men about the possibility of salvation by their own works would keep them from eternal life. All that the life of nature can do will never suffice to produce a higher nature. Let the natural exert itself as it may, it will never rise to the spiritual. The best-working horse does not thereby become a man: the best-living unregenerate man cannot thereby become regenerate. There must be a new birth; and that comes by faith, and not by works. To believe in Jesus is the entrance gate of the new life, and there is no other door. If we, in any way, set you hunting about for another way, we shall cause you to miss the one only entrance, and that will be to your soul’s eternal loss. As we dread this, we more and more resolve to hold up the cross, and the cross alone, and again and again we cry, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” God forbid that, by our essays upon virtue, or “the enthusiasm of humanity,” we should distract you from hastening to the Lord Jesus, that he may give you rest, life, and holiness! We want you to let your thoughts run, all of them, to Calvary, and to that wondrous Person, whose wounds upon the tree bleed healing for the wounds of sin, and whose death is for believers the death of the great evil power which once held them in bondage.

     Thus much upon a topic which we shall never wear threadbare, and which we shall always continue to insist upon while life or breath remains, because it will always be needed while sinners remain on earth needing salvation.

     II. But now we come to this second most important part of the subject, namely, THE WALK OF SALVATION. Those who have believed in Christ, and have been the subjects of the Spirit’s work, are now “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that they should walk in them.” God desires that his people should abound in good works. It is his great object to produce a people fit to commune with himself: a holy people, with whom he can have fellowship in time and in eternity. He wishes us not only to produce good works, but to abound in them; and to abound in the highest order of them. He would have us become imitators of himself as dear children, possessing the same moral attributes as the Father in heaven possesses. Is it not written, “Be ye perfect, oven as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”? Oh, that we came within measurable distance of this blissful consummation!

     Note in the text, first, that there is a new creation. One of the poets said of old that “an honest man is the noblest work of God.” That is not true, unless we put upon the word “honest” an emphatic spiritual sense. A Christian man, however, is the noblest work of God. He is the product of the second creation. At first man fell, and marred his Creator’s work; but, in the new creation, he that makes all things makes us anew. Now, the object of the new creation of our race is holiness unto the glory of God. You are not newmade in the image of the fallen Adam, but in the likeness of the second Adam. You are not new-created to sin— this cannot be imagined. The new creature sinneth not, for it is born of God. The new life is a living and incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever. The old nature sins, and always will sin; but the new life is of God, and it strives daily against the sin of the old nature, and perseveres, and pushes forward towards everything that is holy, upright, and perfect. Its instincts all run towards perfect holiness. The old nature does not care to pray; but the new nature prays as readily as we breathe. The old nature murmurs, but the new nature sings and praises God from an impulse within. The old nature goes after the flesh, for it is fleshly; but the new nature seeks the things of the Spirit, for it is spiritual. If you have been born again at all, you have been born unto holiness. If you have been new-created, you have been created unto good works. If this be not so with us, our religion is a mere pretence.

     This new creation is in connection with Christy for we read in the text, “Created in Christ Jesus.” We are the branches; he is the Vine out of which we grow. Your life, and all your fruit-producing power lie in your union to Christ. You are not merely new-created, but you are created in Christ Jesus. It is not merely a change from a lower nature to a higher, but from separation from Christ to union with him. What a wonderful thing that is— that you and I should not only be creatures in the world, but new creatures in Christ Jesus! Creatures we were in the first Adam; but our new-creatureship is in the second Adam. Beloved, if you are what you profess to be, you are one with Jesus by that vital union which cannot be dissolved; and good works follow upon that union. Joined to Jesus by faith in him, love to him, and imitation of him, you walk in good works. Your creation to holiness is your creation in Christ Jesus. As you become one with the anointed Saviour, his anointing ordains you to service, and his salvation leads you into obedience. There cannot but be fruit on that branch which is vitally joined to that fruitful stem, Christ Jesus, who did always those things which pleased the Father.

     Our good works must flow from our union with Christ by virtue of our faith in him. We depend upon him to make us holy. We depend upon him to keep us holy. We overcome sin by the blood of the Lamb. We reach after holiness by the constraining love of Jesus. Love to Christ is the impelling cause of putting away, first one evil, and then another; and the energy enabling us to follow after one virtue, and then another. Love to Christ burns like a fire in the breast that has conceived it; and, as it burns, it makes the heart to glow, and to become transformed to its own nature. You have seen a piece of iron put into the fire, all black or rusty, and in the fire it has gradually become red with heat; and, as it has reddened, it has thrown off the scales of rust, until at last it has looked to be itself a mass of fire. The effect of the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, is to burn off the rust and scales of sin and depravity, and we become pure love to God through the force of the love of God, which takes possession of our being.

     Moreover, that love moves us to patient imitation of Christ. Do you know what that means? “The Imitation of Christ” is a wonderful book upon the subject, which every Christian should read. It has its faults, but its excellences are many. May we not only read the book, but write it out anew in our own life and character by seeking in everything to be like to Jesus! It is a good thing to put up in your house the question, “What would Jesus do?” It answers nine out of ten of the difficulties of moral casuistry. When you do not know what to do, and the law does not seem very explicit upon it, put it so— “What would Jesus do?” Here, then, stands the case: by your creation in Christ you come to exhibit faith in him, love to him, and imitation of him; and all these are the means by which good works are produced in you. You are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

     Notice, that creation unto these good works is the subject of a divine decree: “Which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” This is God’s decree. Am I ordained to eternal life? Answer the other question: “Am I ordained to walk in good works?” If I am ordained to good works, then I do walk in them, and the decree of God is manifestly carried out in me. But if I make a profession of being a Christian, attend a place of worship, and compliment myself upon my safety, while I am living in sin, then evidently there is no decree that I shall walk in good works, for I am living otherwise than that decree would have caused me to live. O beloved, it is the eternal purpose of God to make his people holy! Agree with that purpose, with the freedom of your renewed will, and with the delight of your regenerated heart! Concur in the will of God. Yea, vehemently desire, heartily pant after, perfect holiness in the fear of God. Then may you, in the midst of severe struggles against temptation from without and from within, fall back upon the decree of predestination. Since it is God’s decree, that, as being new-created in Christ, I should be full of good works, I shall be so despite my old nature, and despite my spiritual weakness. The decree, in the new creature of God, will be carried out despite my surroundings, despite the temptations of my circumstances, despite the opposition of the devil. God has before ordained that we should walk in good works; and walk in them we shall, sustained by his holy Spirit.

     So, then, dear friends, these good works must be in the Christian. They are not the root, but the fruit of his salvation. They are not the way of the believer’s salvation; they are his walk in the way of salvation. Where there is healthy life in a tree, the tree will bear fruit according to its kind; so, if God has made our nature good, the fruit will be good. But if the fruit be evil, it is because the tree is what it always was— an evil tree. The desire of men created anew in Christ is to be rid of every sin. We do sin, but we do not love sin. Sin gets power over us sometimes to our sorrow, but it is a kind of death to us to feel that we have gone into sin; yet it shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace; and therefore we shall conquer it, and get the victory.

     The outcome of our union with Christ must be holiness. “What concord hath Christ with Belial?” What union can he have with men that love sin? How can they that are of the world, who love the world, be said to be members of the Head who is in heaven, in the perfection of his glory? Brothers, we must, in the power of the text, and especially in the power of our union to Christ, seek to make daily advances in good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them; for walking means not only persevering but advancing. We should go from strength to strength in holiness: we should do more, and do better. What are you doing for Jesus? Do twice as much. If you are spreading abroad the knowledge of his name, work with both hands. If you are living uprightly, seek to put away any relics of sin that abide in your character, that you may glorify the name of God to the utmost.

     And, lastly, this should be our daily exercise:—“That we should walk in them.” Good works are not to be an amusement, but a vocation. We are not to indulge in them occasionally: they are to be the tenor and bent of our lives. “Oh,” says one, “that is a hard saying:” Do you say so? Well, then, this displays, and sets in clear light, the first part of my subject. You see how impossible it is that you should be saved by these good works; do you not? But if you are saved— if you have obtained a present salvation, if you are now a child of God, if you are now assured of your safety, I charge you, by the love you bear to God, by the gratitude you have to his Christ, give yourself wholly to everything that is right, and good, and pure, and just. Help everything that has to do with temperance, and righteousness, and truth, and godliness; and “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

     May the Spirit of God seal this sermon upon the hearts of his people, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



Israel’s Hope; or, the Centre of the Target

By / Jun 22

Israel’s Hope; or, the Centre of the Target

 

“Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.”— Psalm cxxx. 7.

 

WHEN he penned this psalm, the writer, David, was in deep distress, if not of circumstances, yet of conscience. He constantly mentions iniquities, and begs forgiveness. He felt like a shipwrecked mariner, carried overboard into the raging sea. Thus he reviews the situation— “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” Yet he lived to tell the tale of deliverance. His prayer from among the waves was a memory worth preserving, and he does preserve it. The mercy of God to him he weaves into a song for us; and in this our text is found.

     Two things the rescued sufferer tells us. First, that, as God delivered him from the power of sin, so he will deliver all his praying, wrestling, believing people. That is the last verse of the psalm— “He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” The argument is— He delivered me. What am I more than others? The gracious Lord who saved me will save all those who call upon him in truth. He delivered me, though laden with iniquities, and his pardoning mercy is unfailing; and therefore he can and will rescue others from their uttermost distresses. This is a good line of reasoning, for the Lord’s ways are constant, and he will do for all believers what he has. done for one of them.

     The other thing which the Psalmist sets before us is this: we are wise if we apply to God alone for help. He says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.” He incidentally tells us that it is vain to wait upon man, and put our trust in any human support, for the way of deliverance lies alone in reliance upon God, immediately and alone. We are not to depend upon outward means, but upon the God who lends efficacy to all means. Why is it that we need to be told of this? Why is faith in God so rare? To go first to the Lord is to save time. Straightforward always makes the best runner; and to go straight to God is not only our duty, but it will be our happiest course. The psalm encourages us to this by the assurance that the Lord can and will help all that seek him; and it urges us to let that seeking be distinctly and directly turned to the Most High, to him alone, and to none other. To join another ground of confidence with the Lord is a sort of practical idolatry which is to the wounding of faith.

     May we learn well the lesson of this psalm! When we meet with a man who has been in special trouble, and he has escaped from it, we are anxious to know how it came to pass, in order that, if we are cast into similar trial, we also may resort to the same door of hope. You meet with a man that has long been sorely afflicted, and to find him full of joy at his relief is a pleasure and a personal comfort. You heard him lamenting for years, and now you hear him rejoicing; and this excites your wonder and your hope. It is as though a cripple saw another lame man leaping and running. He very naturally enquires, “How is this?” The other day you saw a man blind, begging in the street, and now he has an eye bright as that which sparkles on the face of a gazelle, and you cry in astonishment— “Tell me who was the oculist that operated on your eyes; for I may be in a like case, and I should be glad to know where to go.” Here, then, we have a gate of knowledge opened before us. The Psalmist found salvation and deliverance in going direct to God, and trusting in him; let us follow his example, and in all times of distress, caused by our own iniquity, or by anything else, let us repair to the throne of grace; for the Most High will deal with us also even as he dealt with his servant of old time, to whose cries, out of the depths, he lent an attentive ear. This psalm is called “De Profundis”; its teaching is not only profound but practical.

     Let me freely speak with you as concerning the great salvation which, as fallen creatures, we all need. In that matter our sole resort must be to God alone, for “salvation is of the Lord.” God has been pleased, in these last days, to reveal himself in a glorious manner, suitable to our salvation. He was always to be seen in creation by those whose sight was not darkened by moral evil; and doubtless angelic eyes always beheld Jehovah in all the works of his hands. He was to be seen under the old law in types and shadows; and believing men and women were enabled, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to behold the Lord in his temple. But in these last days the Lord has spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath made heir of all things, and in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. There is the Father most clearly to be seen: and now, if we read that Israel is to hope in the Lord, and if we see that the way of salvation lies in relying upon “the Lord,” we must read between the lines, and understand that the glorious Lord must ever be the object of faith according as he at this time reveals himself. It is written, “They that know thy name will put their trust in thee:” that is to say, they trust, as they know how he reveals himself. At this moment the manifestation of God standeth thus: his dear Son has descended from the highest heavens, and taken upon himself our human nature, so that he is God and man in one sacred and mysterious Person. In that complex form, the Word made flesh, dwelt among men on earth some thirty years and more; and then he took upon himself the weight of human sin, and bare it upon his shoulders up to the cross. He was arrested by the hand of divine justice, and treated by justice as if he had been a sinner, though sinner he could never be. He was numbered with the transgressors, and given over to wicked men, who, in their wilful malice, scourged him, spit upon him, crowned him with thorns, and condemned him to a felon's death. He died, not for any iniquity of his own; but for the transgression of his people was he smitten. The chastisement of our peace was upon him; yea, “he was made a curse for us;” and even more: “he was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” “He died, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” If, then, we would trust God for our personal salvation, we must confide in him as he manifests himself for that purpose; and as we perceive that God sets forth Christ to be a propitiation for our sin, we must accept that ordained way of putting away our sin. This is the way in which “with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption;” and thus it is that “he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” We trust in the Lord God as he reveals himself in the person of his Son Christ Jesus, who has displayed in his own self the love and the justice of God, and has shown how these were equally glorified by the way of redemption through the substitution, and sacrifice of One who is the fellow of the Highest, and yet next-of-kin to man. Our Lord has buried our sin in his sepulchre, and has gone up into heaven to plead there with God for transgressors, and at the same time to prepare a place for as many as believe in him, and so are saved by his plenteous redemption. Understand, then, that if we read in the text, “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption,” we now, to-day, in the light of the gospel, read it thus— “Let the seeking sinner, who would be redeemed from all his iniquities, trust in God as he is seen in and through Jesus Christ, for there forgiveness is freely given through plenteous redemption, and sin is no longer marked or imputed to the believer, because the sacrifice of Jesus has blotted it out, and removed it for ever.”

     This is the introduction of our discourse. May the Holy Spirit now grant his anointing both to preacher and hearers!

     I. The chief point to which I desire you to give earnest heed is this: in obtaining gospel blessings THE FIRST EXERCISES OF FAITH MUST BE TOWARDS GOD IN CHRIST JESUS, and not towards the blessings themselves. “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” We do not read, “Let Israel hope” for mercy; but we read, “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy.” Neither does it say, “Let Israel hope for plenteous redemption;” but it is worded thus, “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.” To me this has the look of a very encouraging truth: the sinner is not to hasten with his first thoughts to the mercy that he wants, nor even to the promise of God to which he may look; but he is to go to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, as the Lord of mercy, and fountain of redemption. The first exercise of our faith is to deal immediately with the Lord God as he meets us in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

     Here let me say that this is the most natural order which faith can follow. Look first to the Giver, and then to the gift. Look for the Helper, and then for the help. Do not be saying, “I long to be forgiven. I labour to believe that I am forgiven. I desire to be saved. I want to know that I am saved.” This is looking for the fruit, when you have need first to find the tree. Your first business, as a seeker of pardon and salvation, is to believe in Jesus Christ, that is, to trust yourself with the divine Saviour. The natural order is, believe in the Promiser, and then you will believe the promise. You never say to yourself, "I should like to be able to take that man’s word. I will sit down and try to make my mind confident of the truth of what he says.” This would be a foolish and futile method of procedure. You follow a much more reasonable course: you enquire about the individual’s character and standing: you find out who he is, and what he is, and what he has done; and thus you gather arguments for confidence and faith. You cannot help believing the promise when once you believe in the Promiser. If you find a merchant to be an eminently upright and substantial man, you do not hesitate to take his cheques; in fact, you would be glad to have your purse full of them. Faith prizes the promises of her faithful God, and calls them precious.  

     Apply this rule, and deal with heavenly things in due order. You seek pardon. Do not look continually at this priceless mercy at first, but look to the pardoning God. You will soon believe in forgiveness if you cause the first exercise of your faith to refer to the Forgiver, even Christ Jesus himself. When you have believed in him, as able to say, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” then you will believe in sins being forgiven. This is the natural order of things. So, also, if you desire to believe for salvation, and to be assured that you have it, or may have it at once, the simple course— the natural course— is to believe in the Saviour. To be healed, you believe first in the Healer. When you have believed in the Saviour, then you will believe in the salvation. If you know that Jesus can save you, if you desire to be saved, you will trust him to save you. You will be readily able to believe that you can be saved when you trust in Jesus as able to save to the uttermost. Poor trembling heart, do not look at the blessing, and say, “Alas, it is too great!” Look at the Saviour himself! Is anything too great for him to give who gave his heart’s blood to redeem? Do not say, “My heart is so hard, it cannot be changed.” Look at the Saviour; is anything impossible to him to whom the Father has committed all power? Is he not mighty to save? Fix your eye, first and foremost, upon him who is both God and man, and has therefore power and sympathy, majesty and mercy, omnipotence and brotherliness. I pray you, do not consider so much the greatness of the effect as the unlimited power of the Cause. I may doubt my washing, but not when I believe in the cleansing virtue of the precious blood. It may be difficult to believe in my salvation, but not to believe in my Saviour. It may be hard to hope for heaven; but the text sets me an easier task — “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” When I open my window Godwards, and look towards the Lord Jesus, I see glorious things in the light of the rising sun, even things which I could not have seen if I had not first turned towards the light. “In the beginning God”: this, according to the first chapter of Genesis, is the natural order of all divine work; do not attempt to alter it.

     To this I would add, this is the necessary order. It must be so: the Saviour first, and then the salvation. Suppose for a moment that it were possible for you to obtain pardon without Christ, what good would it do you? I would remind you that no blessing is a covenant blessing, or a blessing at all, except as it is connected with Christ Jesus, and so with the Lord God. No comfort is worth having if Jesus does not comfort us. No forgiveness is worth the words which utter it if Jesus does not forgive. There is no coming to the Father except by Christ. If, therefore, I imagine that I have come to the Father without Christ, it is clear that I have not come. If I fancy that I have saving blessings apart from the appointed Saviour, I am a deceived man. Beloved, do not seek after mercy, pardon, holiness, heaven, except through Christ Jesus our Lord, for you will be seeking counterfeits, shadows, delusions. Begin at the cross. See how Jesus puts it:— “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He does not first say, “Take my yoke upon you;” but first “Come unto me.” He first gives us rest, and then afterwards we find it; but we begin with coming to him. First Christ, and then his yoke. First Christ, and then rest. Do not ask for rest first, and then say, “I will come to Christ afterwards.” This is an impossible order. Do not even say, “I must get a broken heart, and then come to Christ.” No, come to Christ for a broken heart. I preach to-night to you a Saviour who wants nothing of you, but who is ready to begin with you at the beginning, just where you are, in all your unworthiness and ill desert— in all your depravity and vileness. He is ready to take you up from the mire of the pit wherein you lie, and to look on you with love in all the pollution with which you are disgraced. Come ye, then, and begin with Jesus. It is the necessary order of your coming: first to Christ, and then to his yoke, and to his peace. Let your faith exercise itself, not so much on what you ought to be, or on what you hope to be, as on what Christ is, and on his ability to make you all that your heart pines after. Hear ye the good word of my text, and give good heed thereto. Note well the permission of heavenly love— “Let Israel hope in the Lord.”

     Observe, also, that, as it is the natural order, and the necessary order, so it is evidently the easiest order. Sometimes it seems to a burdened heart to be more than difficult to believe in the pardon of innumerable sins: it appears impossible. Guilty one, do not try to believe in pardon in the abstract, but believe in Jesus the Sacrifice and Saviour, who has once for all appeared to put away sin. Believe in the divine Substitute, and then you will believe that the forgiveness of your sins is a thing provided for by him. Do not even say, “I can never be sanctified; such a wretched sinner as I am could never be made into a saint.” Do not try to believe in sanctification, but rely upon the boundless power of Jesus to “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight.” For all parts of salvation, hope in the Lord, and look to his hand for the working thereof. Forget yourself now, and only think of him who worketh all things according to the good pleasure of his will. Cease looking for the water, and look for the well. You will more readily see the Saviour than see salvation, for he is lifted up, even he who is God, and beside him there is none else. You will more easily fix your eye on Jesus than upon justification, sanctification, or any other separate blessing. When the work seems hard, look to his hand: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” You may fix your eye upon a covenant promise till it dazzles you; but if you see Jesus, the sight will strengthen your eyes, and you will see the promise in him, and perceive it to be yea and amen to the glory of God. It is easier to believe in a personal Christ than in impersonal promises. That poor woman who was sick, in Jesus Christ’s day, might have said to herself, “It is impossible that I should be healed;” but then she thought not so much of the healing as of the Healer, and when she saw Jesus walking about among the crowds, healing all manner of diseases, and when she believed that God was in him, why, then she inferred that he could heal her disease, and she came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment. She sought him, and so sought healing. Do keep in this line, let not the devil take you off it— that the first object of your faith should be the Lord Jesus; for by him, as the ladder which God has set up, you can climb to the highest place of privilege, and lay hold upon the choicest gift of grace. This is the way even to God himself, and the only way which our human feet can tread. Consider well who Christ was, and what he has done, and then you will conclude that he can save even you. By looking to him you will be saved; and what is easier than to look? To hope in God is a far more simple matter than to search for signs and evidences in yourself, or to labour to force yourself up into certain states of mind. Answer the question, “Will he save me?” by looking to see what kind of a Saviour Jesus is; and when you perceive the glory of his person, the perfection of his obedience, and the merit of his blood, you will be convinced that you may safely trust in him according to his command; for he commands you to believe. Jesus declares, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Let us come at once, for it is the nearest and best road to peace.

     To come first of all to God in Christ Jesus is the wisest course. You are too bewildered to know which blessing to seek, therefore seek Jesus himself, and he will be unto you wisdom. It is easier to come to the cross than to the separate blessings which come of it. Take the straight road, which lies plain before your face.

     In faintness and trembling of heart we dare not appropriate a mercy; our palsied hand cannot grasp a favour; and therefore it is wisdom to fall at Jesus’ feet, and let him give us what seemeth good to him. Through our ignorance we know not what to ask, and through our doubt we are afraid to ask; therefore, let us leave all with our Lord. We need the wine and oil; but we are sore wounded, and shall do well to lie still, and let him pour them in. When the good Samaritan is come, all is come. Let us, therefore, neither cry for wine nor oil, but for HIM,— we know his name. The wisdom of the prayer is seen in its completeness. At first, sinners, conscious of their ill desert, cry to be saved from hell; and this is the most of their prayer: but suppose the Lord should give them this, and not change their natures, would they be one whit the better? If there were no fires of Tophet, so long as a man has sin within him, he creates his own hell. In seeking the Lord Jesus, a man finds escape from punishment, and much more. No man knows enough to be able to ask for an all-round salvation: he will only seek this or that which seems to him most pressingly needful. We are too ignorant, too much the creatures of feeling, too partial, too childish, to make a catalogue of what we need; but we can ask for Jesus, and he is all in one. How excellent is that hymn of ours with the refrain,

“Give me Christ, or else I die”!

We have asked all when we have asked for the Saviour anointed of the Lord. When our hope is in God, through the Mediator whom he has appointed, we hope in him in a way which renders our hope sure and steadfast; and this is the highest wisdom. In laying hold upon Jesus, you have obtained not only something, but everything. In looking first to Jesus, you have sought for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and you know the promise that all other things shall be added. If you need strength, comfort, guidance, fruitfulness, and aught else that makes up eternal salvation, behold, you have it in your Lord. Nothing that is wanted for a soul between this present state of trial and the perfection of heaven, is omitted from Christ: “ye are complete in him.” If, therefore, you make him the first object of your faith, and lay hold upon him, rather than upon any or all blessings, you are delivered from anxiety as to whether your ignorant prayers have comprehended all you need; and this must be a wise course to follow.

     It is therefore the most profitable course for needy souls like ourselves. By grasping our Lord, and hoping in him, we fill our hands, not with brass or silver, but with gold of Ophir. Let others hope where they may, but let Israel, the prince, hope in the Lord, from whom he has already won such royal favours. I see at times, in the newspaper, “Principals only will be dealt with,” and in our heavenly business we had better keep to this rule. Go not to the servants; make all your applications to the Master; and in your dealings with him seek not so much his gifts as himself; for the Giver is ever greater than what he gives. The bottle of water which Hagar carried for Ishmael is a poor thing compared with that well of God beside which Isaac abode. Fruit from a choice tree is well, apples of gold in baskets of silver are not to be despised; but, if one can have the tree planted in his own garden, he is richer far. Our Lord is the apple tree among the trees of the wood, and to possess HIM is to have the best of the best, yea, all things that can be desired. Covenant blessings are streams, but our Lord Jesus is the well-head. Believe for the infinite, immutable, inexhaustible “deep which lieth under,” and you may sink as many wells as you please.

     I believe that, in every case wherein the soul finds peace, this is the actual order. We may go about after pardon, renewal, and holiness, but we find no rest unto our souls while hunting for these. As a matter of fact, we look unto HIM and are lightened, and not by any other means. If, by aiming even at repentance, we are taken off from the Lord, we are taken off the right road. It is possible even to look to faith in such a manner as to forget the object of faith. It is not my hand, but what my hand grasps that saves me when I lay hold on Christ. It is not my eye, but what my eye sees which saves me when I look to Jesus. In very deed no heart can find salvation in that which comes forth from itself: its hope lies alone in the Lord, to whom it must trust for everything. Beware of trusting to an anchor which lies on your own deck, or to a confidence which depends in the least degree on yourself. “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” Now the Lord is not self, nor will he be joined with self. The Lord is beyond and outside of all that the creature can find within, or hope to produce from itself. Mercy and redemption are with the Lord, not with self. Why, then, should we look where, in the very nature of things, these are not, and cannot be? Why not look to the Lord, in whom alone all heavenly treasures abide?  

     This, then, is my message to every man who desires salvation, “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.” Do not let him begin by hoping in mercy and redemption, for these are not to be found apart from the Lord — but let him go at once to that divine Person with whom there is mercy and plenteous redemption, then both of these will be granted him. I wish I knew how to put this so plainly that every bewildered and cast-down spirit would catch my meaning, and accept its counsel. I would also have preachers learn a lesson from the point I have been driving at. Let them not so much preach sinners to Christ as preach Christ to sinners. I am persuaded that a full and clear declaration of what Jesus is, as to his person, offices, character, work, and authority, would do more to produce faith than all our exhortations. “Whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life;” but how shall they believe unless they hear of him?

     The very best topic for the immediate conversion of men is Christ crucified— the doctrine that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. I know one that came in here full of evil, living an unchaste life, and the text was, “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life.” There would not seem to be anything about the sermon to convince of sin. but the charming mercy of God won that heart, and that heart, being won by love, learned at once to hate evil, and to serve the Lord Jesus in all that is pure, and lovely, and of good report. There sat in this very house, not long ago, side by side with one who still is in the service of Satan, a woman, who had not attended the house of God for years. Nothing was heard but the simple proclamation of the grace of God in Christ Jesus to the guilty, but she was shot down by the side of her companion: the thought of the amazing mercy and infinite love of God, in giving his Son to die, touched her heart, and she began to weep, whereat her companion upbraided her; but she answered, “I have found mercy.” That was enough for her: she made no other excuse for her emotion. I pray that like effects may follow this sermon. I bid you hope in the Lord. Look not to abstract mercy; look not to any feelings or resolves in yourselves; look not even to the hearing of the word, or to promises alone; but look to Jesus, who still lives, and who is in the midst of his people at this time, waiting to receive all who are willing to come to him. 'While I tell you this, I am praying the Holy Spirit to bless the Word to your souls, so that, at once, without delay, you may look only to the Lord, and may trust in him, and be saved. You are allowed to do so, for the text says, “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” If the Scripture permits, who shall forbid?

     II. Another form of the same truth now invites our attention —ALL EXERCISES OF FAITH IN REFERENCE TO OTHER THINGS MUST BE IN CONNECTION WITH THE LORD. I began with our first exercise of faith, but I would not end there. As the stars called “the Pointers” always point to the pole-star, so must our faith ever look to God in Christ Jesus. Having begun with Jesus, our faith must not look elsewhere. Let Israel always hope in the Lord, for with him is what she still requires. What want you to-night, dear friend? Ask, and you shall receive; but ask only of the Lord. Knock, but knock still at the same door. Plead, but when you are pleading, still plead the name of Jesus. Whenever you are expecting a heavenly favour, expect it from the Father, through his dear Son, by the Holy Ghost. Whenever you are longing, long for nothing more than there is in Christ; and whenever you obtain a mercy, remember that you have received it only because you have by faith received Jesus, and so have become a child of God. Whenever you rejoice in a mercy, take care that you do not so much glory in it as in the Lord from whom it came. Hope still in the Lord, and never have any hope in yourself, for that would be a fruitless, groundless, rootless, sapless hope. You are still to find mercy and plenteous redemption in the Lord alone.

     I am afraid that sometimes we seek mercies apart from God the Giver, or apart from Christ, the channel of their bestowal: and this is always ill of us. Avoid such dangerous error. I read in the papers, frequently, allusions to “Providence.” I know what I intend by Providence; but I do not know what the newspapers mean by it. I fear it is only a convenient phrase, a conventional expression, which is not to be too carefully examined. They do not mean a living, foreseeing, providing, working Personality: that would be too much like religion. They admit a certain something, “a power which makes for righteousness,” a nonentity called “Providence.” I have too often heard Christian people talk about thanking Providence. What is that? Do you mean, “thank God”? If so, say it boldly! It is God that provides. God arranges, God overrules, God worketh out his gracious designs. Again, how often do we hear of “Nature” doing this, and “Nature” being that, and “Nature” producing the other! What do you mean? An infidel, some time ago, was speaking in the open-air, and he orated very eloquently about the elevating influences of nature, and what a blessing it was to study nature. A friend in the crowd said to him, “That is very pretty; but would you have the goodness to tell me what Nature is, which does all this?” The orator answered tartly, “Every fool knows what Nature is.” “Well,” said the questioner, “then it will be easy to tell us.” “Nature,” said the speaker, “Well: Nature is Nature.” Just so. That is where it ended. And so it is with very many people when they talk about Providence or Nature. Let us not speak without knowing what we mean, or without declaring our meaning. We do not erect an altar, and inscribe it TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. We know the Lord, and are known of him, and therefore we would speak of him as our hope, our trust, our joy. We know no providence apart from Jehovah-Jireh, the God who foresees and provides. To us there is no fickle chance, but the Lord reigneth. Equally to us is there no blind, inexorable fate, but the Most High decrees and works out his wise and sovereign will. Therefore do not let God’s Israel talk as if they hoped in luck or fate, but let them “hope in the Lord,” and avow their reliance upon a personal God, who is working for them evermore; “for with him is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.”

     Now, dear brother, do you want mercy? In your prayers for pardoning mercy, quote the Saviour’s sacrifice. Do you want sparing mercy? Mention him whom God did not spare in the great atoning day,, Do you want restoring mercy? Plead him whom God brought again from the dead. Do you want to behold the light of Jehovah’s countenance? Plead him who said, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” In hoping for mercy, set the eye of your hope upon the Lord Jesus, and let no mercy be hoped for by you apart from him. Recollect what happened to Uzziah. He was a man of God, and a king; but when he had grown very great, he thought that he would act as priest for himself, and go into the sanctuary of the Lord, and burn incense on his own account, without the Lord’s appointed priest; but he was struck with leprosy, and not only was he thrust out, but he, himself, hastened to go out of the temple. I tremble for those in whom I see any sign of going before God in right of their own character. I fear that among God’s own professing people there are some who are so conscious of their own knowledge, and growth, that they pray without Christ, praise without Christ, and talk of being no longer in need of confessing sin. They dare to act without humbly depending upon the presence of the great high priest; and then they fall into sin, and thus they are struck with leprosy, and, perhaps, to their dying day they can never enter into such fellowship with God as once they knew. I would do nothing without Jesus. I would not even wish to repent except my eye were upon the cross. I would not hope to think a holy thought except as my soul still gazed upon Jesus my all. Away, away with every idea of mercy except it be mercy received through Jesus, for he alone is full of grace, and of his fulness must we receive. I would bind you, brethren, if I could, to the cross as your one hope. I pray the Lord bind me for ever to the cross: the wounds my only founts of hope, the blood and water my only cleansing. Go you who have a righteousness of your own, and hope elsewhere; but the lone hope of my soul is the bleeding, dying, buried, risen, coming Saviour. “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy,” and with him alone: all the exercises of faith about mercy must ever be tethered to the cross. Mercy flows through Christ alone.

     So is it with “plenteous redemption.” What a grand utterance that is— “plenteous redemption”! I would like to dwell upon it Is there not rare music in the sound? It means plenteous forgiveness for plenteous sin, through a price paid, a ransom given. In Christ only can you find this. “With him is plenteous redemption.” Do not dream of finding redemption in ordinances, in prayers, in tears, or in anything but the life and death and person of the Son of God. “With him is plenteous redemption.” A great price he has paid, and therefore a great debt is blotted out. Great offences are forgiven, but only through the precious blood of our adorable Redeemer.

     “Plenteous redemption.” Why, that means deliverance from the bondage of many lusts, freedom from the thraldom of strong passions, a ransom of captives from fierce taskmasters. My God, I long to be so delivered, and redeemed, and there is with thee all grace and power, and provision for plenteous deliverance by redemption; but this is found in Christ alone. I charge you, my hearers, do not look for escape from the slavery of sin apart from the redemption of Christ. Do not expect to overcome the smallest sin except by the blood of the Lamb. There is nothing, I believe, more deceiving than the notion of the unregenerate heart that it is seeking after holiness, though it is destitute of the power of the Holy Ghost, and takes no thought of the merit of Jesus Christ. We need grace plenteously, plenteous redemption, in fact: but all of all that we receive must come to us from the Lord, by Jesus Christ the Mediator.

     “Plenteous redemption” includes in its range of meaning great growth in grace, abounding usefulness, high spirituality, and perfect preparedness for heaven: for all these we must hope in the Lord, for they are with him. Never think to have redemption in the least or in the highest degree apart from your hope in the Lord— your trusting in Christ Jesus.

     The pith and marrow of what I have said is this: hope distinctly in the Lord. There are many stars, but let one alone of all the train be the object of your believing eye. Lay the foundation of your hope in the Lord; go on building up your comfort in the Lord Jesus; and in him bring forth the topstone. Begin with Christ, and end with Christ. As Christ grows more to you, take care that self grows less and less. If your Christianity puffs you up, it is not Christ’s Christianity. I spoke just now of King Uzziah, let me refer to him once more. Read in the Second of Chronicles, chapter twenty-six, at the fifteenth verse— “He was marvellously helped, till he was strong.” When he became strong, he went off the lines, and we read, “When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction.” Mind that. God will always help us while we are weak. When we are strong: what shall I say? Then are we weak, and have need to fear, for we are being lifted up already, or we should not count ourselves strong— poor, puny creatures that we are! God will always bless us as long as we confess our dependence upon his blessing. He will always fill us as long as we are empty. He will always feed us as long as we are hungry. He will be your all in all so long as you are nothing. But the moment you boast in yourself, and say, “I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing,” you will be left to learn that you are naked, and poor, and miserable. Woe worth the day in which dust and ashes set up somebody! Nebuchadnezzar is proud, and soon finds a rapid descent from the throne to eating grass like the cattle. Worms, in the presence of the Lord, do all they may do when they hope, they do all they can do when they hope in him. They have nothing but sin, and he has mercy upon them. They are slaves to evil, but he has plenteous redemption wherewith to set them free. The poorest, weakest, saddest among us may hope in the Lord, for he can do all things: wherefore, let us end our meeting with each one of us hoping in the Lord, and let us continue in our faith in “the God of hope,” till we receive the heaven we hope for through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



Our Expectation

By / Jun 22

Our Expectation

 

“He shall see his seed.” — Isaiah liii. 10.

 

THE first thought suggested by this text is, that Jesus is still alive; for to see anything is the act of a living person. Our Lord Jesus died. We know that he died. We are glad that there is overwhelming evidence that, not in appearance, but in fact, he died. His side was pierced; he was given up by the Roman authorities for burial; the imperial authorities were sure of his death. The soldier had made assurance doubly sure by piercing his side. His disciples buried him. They would not have left him in the cave if they had felt any doubt about his death. They went in the morning after the Sabbath to embalm him. They were all persuaded that he had really died. Blessed be the dying Christ! Here our living hopes take their foundation. If he had not died, we must have died for ever. The more assured we are of his death, the more assured we feel of the life of all who are in him.

     But, my brothers, he is not dead. Some years ago, someone, wishing to mock our holy faith, brought out a handbill, which was plastered everywhere— “Can you trust in a dead man?” Our answer would have been, “No; nobody can trust in a man who is dead.” But it was known by those who printed the bill that they were misrepresenting our faith. Jesus is no longer dead. He rose again the third day. We have sure and infallible proofs of it. It is an historical fact, better proved than almost any other which is commonly received as historical that he did really rise again from the grave. He arose no more to die. He has gone out of the land of tears and death. He has gone into the region of immortality. He sits at the right hand of God, even the Father, and he reigns there for ever. We love him that died, but we rejoice that he who died is not dead, but ever liveth to make intercession for us.

     Dear children of God, do not be afraid that Christ’s work will break down because he is dead. He lives to carry it on. That which he purchased for us by his death, he lives to secure for us by his life. Do not let your faith be a sort of dead faith dealing with a dead man; let it be instinct with life, with warm blood in its veins. Go to your own Christ, your living Christ; make him your familiar Friend, the Acquaintance of your solitude, the Companion of your pilgrimage. Do not think that there is a great gulf between you, a living man, and him. The shades of death do not divide you from him. He lives, he feels, he sympathizes, he looks on, he is ready to help, he will help you even now. You have come in to the place where prayer is wont to be made, burdened and troubled, and you seek relief; let the thought that your Lord is a living Friend ease you of your burden. He is still ready to be your strong Helper, and to do for you what he did for needy ones in the days of his sojourn here below. I want even you, who do not know him, to remember that he lives, that you may seek him to-night— that ere another sun shall rise you may find him, and, finding him, may yourselves be found, and saved. Do not try to live without the living, loving Friend of sinners. Seek his healing hand; then beg for his company; get it; keep it; and you shall find that it makes life below like heaven above. When you live with the living Christ, you will live indeed. In him is light, and the light is the life of men.

     And now to the text itself, with brevity. I have to observe upon it, first, that Christ’s death produced a posterity. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed.” Evidently the death of Christ was fruitful of a seed for him. Secondly, that posterity remains. Our Lord Jesus Christ does not look to-day on emptiness: he is not bereaved of his household, but still he sees his seed. And, thirdly and lastly, that posterity is under his immediate eye at all times, for “He shall see his seed.”

     I. Well, first of all, THE DEATH OF CHRIST HAS PRODUCED A POSTERITY. We do not read here that the Lord Christ has followers. That would be true; but the text prefers to say he has a seed. We read just now that the Lord Jesus has disciples. That would be distinctly true; but the text does not so read. It says, “He shall see his seed.” Why his seed? Why, because everyone, who is a true follower or disciple of Christ, has been born by a new birth from him into the position of disciple. There is no knowing Christ except through the new birth. We are naturally sold under sin, and we cannot discern the spiritual and real Christ until we have a spirit created within us by the new birth, of which he said, “Ye must be born again.” This is the gate of entrance into discipleship. None can be written in the roll of followers of Christ unless they are also written in the register of the family of God— “this and that man was born there.” Other men can get disciples for themselves by the means that are usual for such ends; but all the disciples of Christ are produced by miracle. They are all discipled by being newly-created. Jesus, as he looks upon them all, can say, “Behold, I make all things new.” They all come into the world, of which he is King, by being born into it. There is no other way into the first world but by birth: and there is no other way into the second world, wherein dwelleth righteousness, but by birth, and that birth is strictly connected with the pangs of the Saviour’s passion, “when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed.” See, then, the reason why we have here the remarkable expression— “his seed.”

     Learn from this that all who truly follow Christ, and are saved by him, have his life in them. The parent’s life is in the child. From the parent that life has been received. It is Christ’s life that is in every true believer— “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” We have our natural life, and this makes us men: we have our spiritual life, and this makes us Christians. We take life from our parents, this links us with the first Adam: we have taken life from Christ, and this joins us to the second Adam. Do not mistake me; that same life which abides in Christ, at the right hand of God, is that everlasting life which he has bestowed upon all those who put their trust in him. That water springing up into everlasting life he gave us. He made it to be in us a well of water springing up. The first drops of that living spring, the whole outcome of the spring, and the spring itself, came from him.

     Let me put it to you, beloved hearers. Do you know anything about this new birth? Do you know anything about this divine life? There are multitudes of religious people, very religious people; but they are as dead as door-nails. Multitudes of religious persons are like waxworks, well-proportioned, and you might mistake them by candle-light for life; but in the light of God you would soon discover that there is a mighty difference, for the best that human skill can do is a poor imitation of real life. You, dear hearer, dressed in the garments of family religion, and adorned with the jewels of moral virtue, may be nothing beyond “a child of nature finely dressed, but not the living child.” God’s living children may not seem to be quite so handsome, nor so charmingly arrayed as you are, and in their own esteem they may not be worthy to consort with you; but there is a solemn difference between the living child and the dead child, however you may try to conceal it. Righteous men know themselves to be sinners: sinners believe themselves to be righteous men. There is more truth in the fear of the first than there can be in the faith of the second; for the faith of the second is founded on a falsehood. Beloved, we become, I say again, the followers of Christ by being made partakers of his life, and unless his life be in us, we may say what we will about Christ, and profess what we like about following him; but we are not in the secret. We are out of the spiritual world altogether— that world of which he is the Head, the Creator, the Lord. You see why the word “seed” is used. We come to him by birth: we are partakers of his life.

     Furthermore, believers in our Lord are said to be his seed because they are like him. I wish that I could say this with less need to qualify it; but the man who really believes in Jesus, and in whom the divine life is strong and powerful, is like to Jesus, and especially like to Jesus in this — that, as the Christ consecrated himself wholly to God’s service and glory, so has this believer done; and as the Christ founded his successes on being dead and buried, surrendering honour, and comfort, and life itself, for his work, so should the true believer be willing to give up anything and everything, that he may achieve his life-purpose, and bring glory to God. “As he is, so are we in this world”—that is, we are bent upon the glory of God; filled with love to men, and anxious for their salvation, that God may be glorified thereby. You know best, brothers and sisters, whether this is true of you; but if we have not the Spirit of Christ, we are none of his. If we are not like Christ, it is not possible that we are his seed, for the seed is like the parent. Surely, children are like their father— not all to the same degree; but still there is the evidence of their sonship in their likeness to him from whom they came. Our Lord’s true people are like him, or they could not be styled “his seed.” Alas, the old nature blots and blurs the resemblance! The stamp of the first Adam is not altogether removed; but it ought to grow fainter and fainter, while the lines of the divine portrait should grow stronger and clearer. Is this the experience of our life in Christ? I pray that it may be so. It should cause us great searching of heart if there is not in us an increasing likeness to our Lord.

     There is this to be said also for those who are called his seed—that they prosecute the same ends, and expect to receive the same reward. We are towards Christ, his seed, and thus we are heirs to all that ho has — heirs to his business on earth, heirs to his estate in heaven. We are to be witnesses to the truth as Jesus was, and to go about doing good as he did, and to seek and save the lost after his example. This we must inherit, as a son follows his father’s business. All that Christ has belongs to his seed. As a man hands down to his posterity his possessions, Christ Jesus has made over to his people all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he ever will be, that they may be with him, and behold his glory, and shine with him as the stars for ever and ever. We are his seed in this respect— that he has taken us into his family, and given us the family patrimony, and made us partakers of all things in himself.

     Now, beloved, this is all through his death. We are made his seed through his death. Why through his death principally? Why, because it was by reason of his death for us that the Father could come and deal with us, and the Spirit could breathe upon us, and newcreate us. There was no dealing with us by a just God until the atoning Sacrifice had rolled away the stone that blocked the way, namely, the necessity that sin should be punished. Christ having died for us, we came into another relation to justice, and it became possible for us to be regenerated, and brought into the household of God. Beloved, I think that you know, in your own experience, that it was his death that really operated most upon you in the matter of your conversion. I hear a great talk about the example of Christ having great effect upon ungodly men; but I do not believe it, and certainly have never seen it. It has great effect upon men when they are born again, and are saved from the wrath to come, and are full of gratitude on this account; but before that happens, we have known men admire the conduct of Christ, and even write books about the beauty of his character, while, at the same time, they have denied his Godhead. Thus they have rejected him in his essential character, and there has been no effect produced upon their conduct by their cold admiration of his life. But when a man comes to see that he is pardoned and saved through the death of Jesus, he is moved to gratitude, and then to love. “We love him because he first loved us.” That love which he displayed in his death has touched the mainspring of our being, and moved us with a passion to which we were strangers before; and, because of this, we hate the sins that once were sweet, and turn with all our hearts to the obedience that once was so unpleasant. There is more effect in faith in the blood of Christ to change the human character than in every other consideration. The cross once seen, sin is crucified: the passion of the Master once apprehended as being endured for us, we then feel that we are not our own, but are bought with a price. This perception of redeeming love, in the death of our Lord Jesus, makes all the difference: this prepares us for a higher and a better life than we have ever known before. It is his death that does it.

     And now, beloved, if by his death we have become his seed (and I think I speak at this time to many who can truly say they hope that it is so with them), then let us consider the fact for a minute. We are his seed. They speak of the seed royal. What shall I say of the seed of Christ? Believer, you may be a poor person, living in an obscure lane, but you are of the imperial house. You are ignorant and unlettered, it may be, and your name will never shine in the roll of science, but he who is the divine Wisdom owns you as one of his seed. It may be that you are sick: even now your head is aching, your heart is faint; you feel that by-and-by you will die. Ah, well! but you are of his seed who died, and rose, and is gone into glory. You are of the seed of him “who only hath immortality.” You may put away your crowns, ye kings and emperors— earth, yellow earth, hammered, and decorated, with other sparkling bits of soil— you may put them all away, as altogether outdone in value! We have crowns infinitely more precious, and we belong to a royal house transcendently more glorious than any of yours.

     But then it follows, if we are thus of a seed, that we ought to be united, and love each other more and more. Christian people, you ought to have a clannish feeling! “Oh,” says one, “you mean that the Baptists ought to get together!” I do not mean anything of the kind. I mean that the seed of Christ should be of one heart; and we ought to recognize that, wherever the life and love of Jesus are to be found, there our love goes out. It is very delightful, at Christmas time, or perhaps at some other time in the year, for all the family to meet; and though your name may be “Smith” or “Brown,” yet you feel there is some importance in your name, when all your clan have met together. It may be a name that is very common, or very obscure; but, somehow, you feel quite great on that day when all the members of the family have joined to keep united holiday. Your love to one another gathers warmth, as the glowing coals are drawn together. So may it be in your heart towards all those that belong to Christ! You are of the blood royal of heaven. You are neither a Guelph nor a Hohenzollern, but you are a Christian; and that is a greater name than all. HE has a seed—even he whom, unseen, we this night adore. My inmost soul glories in the Head of my clan—in him of the pierced hands, and the nailed feet, who wears for his princely star the lance-mark in his side! Oh, how blessedly bright is he! How transcendently glorious are the nail-prints! We adore him in the infinite majesty of his unutterable love. "We are of his seed, and so we are near akin to him. Do not think that I am too familiar. I go not beyond the limit which this word allows me; nay, I have scarcely come up to the edge of it. We are truly of the seed of Jesus, even as the Jews are of the seed of Israel — not born after the flesh, for he had none born to him in that way; but born after the Spirit, wherein his seed is as the stars of heaven. We rejoice with exultation as we read the text, “He shall see his seed.”

     Thus much on our first point.

     II. Now, my second point is, THAT POSTERITY OF HIS REMAINS. Our Lord always has a seed. That seems to me to be clear from the indefiniteness of the text. It does not say that he shall see his seed for so long, and then no longer; but it stands as a prophecy fulfilled, always fulfilling, and always to be fulfilled: — “He shall see his seed.” Christ will always have a seed to see. His church, then, will never die out while the world standeth; and throughout eternity that seed must still exist in the endless state; for world without end our Lord Jesus shall see his seed.

     I notice that the word is in the plural— “He shall see his seeds” as though some were truly his seed, and yet for a time, at least, differed from the rest. Our Lord said of those not yet converted, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring;” and again, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” Christ will see generation after generation of those redeemed by his blood who shall be born into his family, and shall call him blessed. Instead of the fathers shall be the children, whom he will make princes in all the earth. The Septuagint reads it, “He shall see a long-lived seed.” Though I do not think that the version is correct, it shows that still it was thought and believed that the Messiah would have a perpetual seed. Certainly it is so. Beloved, if it had been possible to destroy the church of God on earth, it would have been destroyed long ago. The malice of hell has done all that it could do to destroy the seed of Christ — the seed that sprang from his death. Standing in the Colosseum at Rome, I could not, as I looked around on the ruins of that vast house of sin, but praise God that the church of God existed, though the Colosseum is in ruins. Anyone standing there, when the thousands upon thousands gloated their eyes with the sufferings of Christians, would have said, “Christianity will die out; but the Colosseum, so firmly built, will stand to the end of time;” but lo, the Colosseum is a ruin, and the church of God more firm, more strong, more glorious than ever! Only read the story of the persecutions under Nero, and under Diocletian, in the olden times, and you will wonder that Christianity survived the cruel blows. Every form of torture which devils could invent was inflicted upon Christian men and women. Not here and there, but everywhere, they were hunted down and persecuted. It makes one thrill with horror as he reads of women tossed on the horns of bulls, or set in red-hot iron chairs; and men smeared with honey to be stung to death by wasps, or dragged at the heels of wild horses, or exposed to savage beasts in the amphitheatre. But I will say no more about it. The gallant vessel of the church ploughed the red waves of a crimson sea, her prow scarlet with gore, but the ship itself was the better for its washing, and sailed all the more gallantly because of boisterous winds. As to our own country, read the story of persecutions here. You will have enough if you only read Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs.” I wish that every house had in it a large-typed copy of the “Book of Martyrs.” Well do I recollect, as a child, how many hours, how many days, I spent looking at the pictures in an old-fashioned “Book of Martyrs,” and wondering how the men of God suffered, as they did, so bravely. I recollect how I used to turn to that boy of Brentford, who was first beaten with rods, and afterwards tied to the stake, cheerfully to burn for Christ’s sake. I am reminded, by the effect which it had upon my mind, of what was said of a certain ancient church in this city of London, which was greatly persecuted. Many, many years ago, a number of persons were noticed to be going towards Smithfield, early one morning, and somebody said, “Whither are you going?” “We are going to Smithfield.” “What for?” “To see our pastor burnt.” “Well, but what, in the name of goodness, do you want to see him burnt for? What can be the good of it?” They answered, “We go to see him burn that we may learn the way.” Oh, but that was grand! “To learn the way!” Then the rank and file of the followers of Jesus learned the way to suffer and die as the leaders of the church set the example. Yet the church in England was not destroyed by persecution, but it became more mighty than ever because of the opposition of its foes.

     Since then there have been laborious attempts to destroy the church of Christ by error. One hundred years ago or so, throughout the most of our Dissenting churches, a sort of Unitarianism was triumphant. The essential doctrines of the gospel were omitted, the pith of it was taken away, the marrow was torn out of its bones. The Church of England was asleep, too; and everywhere it seemed as if there was a kind of orthodox heterodoxy that did not believe anything in particular, and did not hold that there was a doctrine worth anybody’s living for or dying for, but that all religious teaching should be like a nose, of wax, that you might shape whichever way you liked. It looked as if the living church of God would be extinguished altogether; but it was not so, for God did but stamp his foot, and, from all parts of the country, men like Mr. Wesley and Mr. Whitefield, came to the front, and hundreds of others, mighty men of valour, proclaimed the gospel with unusual power, and away went the bats and the owls back to their proper dwelling-place. The same mischievous experiment is being tried now, and there will be the same result; for the living Christ is still to the front. The King is not off the ground yet: the battle will be won by his armies. Jehovah has declared his decree, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” Our Lord shall see his seed on the conquering hand yet.

     Worldliness has gone a long way to destroy the church of God. I judge it to be the worst cankerworm that assails us. Persons come into the church with a profession which they never carry out. Have we not all around us persons who say that they are Christians, and are not, but do lie. And many who, we hope, are Christians, are but very poverty-stricken specimens of the race, with little love, little zeal (indeed, they are afraid to be too zealous), little searching of the Word, little prayer, little consecration, little communion with God. They are enough to kill all hope of better things. The Lord have mercy upon his poor church when she comes to be neither cold nor hot, so that he is ready to spue her out of his mouth! Yet, still the lukewarm can be heated: the cause is not dead. “He shall see his seed.” Take it as a standing miracle that there are any godly people on the face of the earth; for there would not be one were it not for the exertion of miraculous power. Christianity is not a natural growth: it is constantly a divine creation. Christian life needs to have daily the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The church must perpetually receive fresh light and life from above, or else it would die; but still stands the promise, “He shall see his seed.” While sun and moon endure, there shall be a people who follow the Lamb; and even though they be so few that Elias might say, “I, only I, am left, and they seek my life to take it away,” God will reserve to himself thousands that have not bowed the knee to Baal.

     III. And now I am to wind up with this third thought: THIS POSTERITY IS ALWAYS UNDER THE IMMEDIATE EYE OF CHRIST. “He shall see his seed.” Oh, I like this, “He shall see his seed”! He sees them when they are first born anew. I keep looking out from this pulpit for that small portion of them that may be born in this place; and there are many watchful brethren and sisters here, who try to speak to all that come into the place in whom there are movings of the Spirit. If there is an anxious soul, they seek to find him out. We cannot see them all; but HE shall see his seed. Sometimes it is a question whether they are his seed or not— a very great question with themselves, but none with him: he sees his seed. Some are seeking; they have hardly found; they are longing; they have scarcely realized the way of faith. Ah, well! he Bees your first desires, your humble breathings, your lowly hopes, your trembling approaches. He sees you. There is not a child of his, born in any out-of-the-way place, but what he perceives him at once. The first living cry, the first living tear, he observes. “He shall see his seed.” What a mercy to have such a Watcher! We poor earthly pastors are of small use; but this great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, with an eye that never misses a single new-born lamb of grace— what a mercy to have such a Shepherd to look after the whole flock! “He shall see his seed.”

     Yes, and ever afterward, wherever his seed may wander, he still sees them. Some of you, perhaps, have lived long in England, but you are contemplating going far away— to Australia or America. You wonder whether you will meet with any friend who will help you spiritually. Do not fear. “He shall see his seed.” “Rivers unknown to song, are not unknown to God.” And if you should have to dwell quite alone in the bush, and have no Christian acquaintance, still go direct to the Son of God, for “He shall see his seed.” The eye of Christ is never off from the eye of faith. If you look to him, rest you well assured that he looks to you.

     The beauty of it is, that this look of Christ, whereby he sees his seed, is one of intense delight. I cannot preach upon that most precious topic, but I wish you to think it over: it is a divine pleasure to the Lord Jesus to look at you: it is promised him as a reward for his death. Mother, you know yourself what a pleasure it has been for you to look at your daughter, and to see her grow up. You would not like to tell her all you have thought of her: you have looked at her with intense delight. Now, the Lord Jesus Christ looks at you in just the same way. Love is blind, they say. Jesus is not blind; but he does see in his people much more than they ever will see in themselves. He sees their hopes, their desires, their aspirations; and he often takes the will for the deed, and marks that for a beauty which now may be half-developed, and therefore not all we could wish it to be. It is, at present, the caricature of a virtue; but it is well meant, and will come right, and the Lord sees it as it will be, and he rejoices in it. Oh, what blessed eyes those are of his that can spy out beauties which only he can see! Since he has created them, and put them there himself, he sees them. “He shall see his seed.” He suffered so much for our redemption, that he must love us. We cost him so much, that he must delight in us.

“The Son with joy looks down, and sees
The purchase of his agonies.”

“He shall see his seed.”

     Brethren, our Saviour will always behold his redeemed ones. He will see all his seed to the last. When they come to the river which divides them from the celestial country, “he shall see his seed.” It may possibly be gloomy with some of you; but it is not often dark at death-time. Many of the Lord’s children have a fine candle to go to bed with. Even if they go to bed in the dark, they fall asleep the sooner; but in either case, their Lord will see them if they cannot see him. When you can see nothing, and the brain begins to reel, and thought and memory flee, he sees his seed.

     But what a seed he will have to see in the morning! I am not yet an old man, as some suppose from the many years of my ministry, but I am often looking forward to that blessed morning, when all the sacred seed shall meet around the throne. I believe the Christ will come in to see all his beloved purchased ones; and he will search to see whether we are all there. Then shall the sheep pass again under the hand of him that telleth them, and he will count them, for he knows whom he bought with his blood, and he will see that they are there in full tale. I think that I hear the reading of the register, the muster-roll. Will you be there to answer to your name? Dear friends, all the Lord’s seed will be there— all that were born into his house with a new birth. They shall answer, “Ay, ay, ay, we are here; we are here!” Oh, but the joy we shall have in being there— the delight in beholding his face; yet, if all our joys are put together, they will not equal the joy that he will have when he finds them all there for whom he shed his blood—all whom the Father gave him—all who gave themselves to him—all who were born as his seed—not one lost! “Of all whom thou hast given me, I have lost none.” Oh, the joy, the delight, of our Well-beloved in that day! Then shall he see his seed!

     And I believe that it will be a part of his heaven for him to look upon his redeemed. He is the Bridegroom, they make up the bride; and the bridegroom’s joy is not in seeing his bride for once on the wedding-day, but he takes delight in her as long as they both live. A true husband and a true spouse are always lovers: they are always linked together by strong ties of affection; and it is so with that model Husband, the Lord Christ, and his perfect church above. He loves his people no less, and he could not love them any more, than when he died for them, and so for ever “he shall see his seed.”

     Thus have I talked with you in a very poor and feeble way, as far as my speech is concerned: but the doctrine is not feeble, the gospel is not poor. O you that are the seed of Christ, go out and magnify him by your lives! Be worthy of your high calling. Show the nobility of your pedigree by the magnanimity of your lives. And, you that are not among his seed, see where you are! What can you do? All that you can do will bring you no further: you must be born again; and this is the work of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God works the new birth in his own way, but he works according to the gospel. What is the gospel? “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” I give you the gospel without mutilating it, just as I get it in the gospel by Mark, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Obey the precept, and the promise is yours. God help you to believe in the Lord Jesus, and so to have eternal life! The moment you believe in Jesus Christ you are born again. May he, by his Holy Spirit, seal the message with his blessing to everyone in this house, for his own name’s sake! Amen.



The Best Strengthening Medicine

By / Jun 21

The Best Strengthening Medicine

 

“Out of weakness were made strong.”— Hebrews xi. 34.

 

THOSE who out of weakness were made strong are written among the heroes of faith, and are by no means the least of them. Believers “quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong.” Who shall tell which of the three grand deeds of faith is the greatest? Many of us may never have to bravo the fiery stake, nor to bow our necks upon the block, to die as Paul did; but if we have grace enough to be out of weakness made strong, we shall not be left out of the roll of the nobles of faith, and God’s name shall not fail to be glorified in our persons.

     Brethren, as believers in the Lord Jesus, we are called to two things, namely, to do and to suffer for his name’s sake. Certain saints are summoned to active marching duty, and others are ordered to keep watch on the walls. There are warriors on the field of conflict, and sentries in the box of patience.

     Both in doing and in suffering, if wo are earnest and observant, we soon discover our own weakness. “Weakness” is all wo possess. “Weakness” meets us everywhere. If we have to work for the Lord, we are soon compelled to cry, “Who is sufficient for those things?” and if we are called to suffer for him, our weakness, in the case of most of us, is even greater: many who can labour without weariness cannot suffer without impatience. Men are seldom equally skilled in the use of the two hands of doing and bearing. Patience is a grace which is rarer and harder to come at than activity and zeal It is one of the choicest fruits of the Spirit, and is seldom found on newly-planted trees. The fact soon comes home to us that we are weak where wo most of all desire to be strong.

     Our longing is to be able both to do and to suffer for our Lord, and to do this we must have strength from above, and that strength can only come to us through faith. I have read you this glorious eleventh of Hebrews, which describes the mighty men of faith, the men of renown. They accomplished all their feats by a power which was not in them by nature. They were not naturally strong either to do or to suffer. If they had been, they would not have required faith in God; but being men of like passions with ourselves, they needed to trust in the Lord, and they did so. They were quite as weak as the weakest of us; but by their faith they laid hold on heavenly strength until they could do all things. There was nothing in the range of possibility, or, I might say, nothing within the lines of impossibility, which they could not have performed. They achieved everything that was necessary in the form of service, and they bore up gloriously under the most fearful pressure of suffering, simply and only by faith in God, who became their Helper. You and I may be very weak at this time, but we can be made strong out of just such weakness. We need not wish to have any strength of our own, for by faith we can reach to any degree of power in the Lord. We can have all imaginable strength for the grandest achievements desirable, if we have faith in God. Upon this simple but most practical matter I am going to speak to you at this time. We all wish to be strong. Medicines, embrocations, foods, baths, and all sorts of inventions are advertised as means of increasing strength. We are all in heavenly things so weak, that the idea of being made strong should be very attractive to us.

     Let us learn, then, how others “out of weakness were made strong,” and let us follow on to enjoy their privilege by copying their conduct. Let me ask you to note, first, faith makes men strong for holy doing; and, secondly, faith makes men strong for patient suffering. We shall go over the ground which I marked out in my introduction.

     I. To begin with: FAITH MAKES MEN STRONG FOR HOLY DOING. Here, indeed, all our strength must come to us by faith in the thrice-holy God.

     The first duty of a Christian man is to obey God. Obedience is hard work to proud flesh and blood; indeed, these ingrained rebels will never obey through our own efforts. By nature we love our own will and way; and it goes against the grain for us to bring ourselves into such complete subjection as the law of the Lord requires. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Who among us has done this? Who among us can do this, unless a power outside of himself shall come to his aid? Faith alone takes hold of the divine strength; and only by that strength can we obey. Hence faith is the essential point of holiness. All, my dear friend! if you start on the voyage of life, by divine grace, with the resolve that you will follow the track marked down on the chart by the Lord your God, you will find that you have chosen a course to which the Lord’s hand alone can keep you true. The current does not run that way. Before long you will find that the wind is dead against you, and the course to be followed is hard to keep. What will you do then if you have not faith? When duty is contrary to your temperament, what will you do without faith? When it involves loss of money, or ease, or honour, what will you do then if you have no faith? If you believe that God is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him, you will persevere; but not else. Suppose the right course should expose you to ridicule, cause you to be spoken of as a fanatic, or mocked at as a hypocrite, or despised as a fool, what can you do without faith? If you trust the living God, you will do the right, and bear the loss or the shame; but if your faith fail you, self-love will create such respect for your own good name, such fear of ridicule, such unwillingness to be singular, that you will slide from your integrity, and choose a smooth and pleasing road. Though you may think it a very ordinary thing to obey God in all things, you will find that a man had need to set his face like a flint in order to keep the right road; and the only way in which he will be able to hold on his way will be by having faith in God. Let him say, “God commands, and therefore I must do it;” and he will be strong. Let him feel, “God commands, and therefore he will bear me through;” and he will be strong. Let him say, “God commands, and he will recompense me;” and he will be strong. We are not saved by obedience, for obedience is the result of salvation. We are saved by faith, because faith leads us to obey. Faith is weakness clinging to strength, and becoming strong through so doing. Faith in God made the cripple at the temple gate stand, and walk, and leap, and praise God; and even so does faith make our sin-crippled manhood obey the will of the Lord with exultation.

     Taking another view, we would remark that faith makes us strong to fulfil the relationships of life. We are not alone by ourselves, and we can neither live nor die apart, for God has linked us with others. We either curse or bless those around us. If we have faith in God, we shall bless our children, as Isaac and Jacob blessed their sons. Faith leaves a legacy of benediction to its heirs. If you have faith in God, you may bless your brothers while you live, as Joseph did: faith has housed many a family which else had starved. If you have faith in God, you can lead others out of the bondage of sin, and through the wilderness world, as Moses led the children of Israel; for faith is a great guide. But you can do nothing aright for others without faith in God for yourself and them. Do I address a wife who has a godless husband? Have faith in God about him. Do not try to deal with your husband otherwise than by faith in God. If you attempt his conversion apart from heavenly power, you might as well try to take leviathan with a hook! Dear father, have you children who are unruly, irreligious, defiant? Do the young men refuse to be advised? Are your girls light and trifling? Go to God in prayer and faith. He that knows the care of a household knows how easily a parent can do serious mischief with his children by his very efforts to do them good. One parent is too indulgent, another is too severe. Take the children to God, take them to God, I pray you. It is here that your strength lies. Strength to do right at the head of a household must come by divine gift; and that gift will only be placed in the open hand of faith. If we believe for our whole house, the promise will be fulfilled to us and to our house; for it is made to faith. May faith enable us each one, like David, to bless our household!

     Do I speak to a youth here who fears God, and who lives in an ungodly family? Do you feel bewildered as to how to behave yourself? Orders are given you which cause you great searchings of heart. You have to question in your inmost soul whether you can conscientiously do as your employer requires. I beseech you, have faith in God that he will direct you, and have faith also to follow that direction when you receive it. It is a very perilous spot, that beginning of life, when the youth first leaves the home of piety, and finds himself where the fear of God is not in the place. If, as a decided believer, he takes his stand, and if he is firm and steadfast for his God, he will make a man, and his after years will be bright and useful; but if ho begins to give way a little, and if ho tries to trim his sail to the wind, he will never attain to a holy character. We read of the children of Ephraim that, being armed, and carrying bows, they turned back in the day of battle; and therefore they were never to be relied on in the time of war. He who is not firm at starting is cutting out for himself a poor pattern of life. That which begins with shamefacedness, equivocation, hesitation, and compromise will ripen into apostasy. Such a wretched faith has no influence on the man’s self, and it will have no influence upon others. Father, mother, husband, wife, sister, brother, servant, master— whatever your relation, I beseech you, if you feel weak in the discharge of your duty, exercise faith in God about it, and out of weakness you shall be made strong.

     There is a high and blessed duty and privilege—I will call it both— which is to every Christian the necessity of his life, and that is to pray. Can you pray, my brother? If you know how to pray, you can move heaven and earth. Can you pray, my brother? Then you can set almighty forces in operation. You can suffer no need, for everlasting supplies await the hand of prayer: “Ask, and it shall be given you.” You cannot miss your way, for you shall be guided in answer to prayer. You shall hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” “O sir,” “I cannot pray prevailingly.” Then you are not like Jacob, good at wrestling. You cannot take hold upon the angel, and win the victory. Do you feel in prayer as if the sinew of your strength were shrunk, and your knee out of joint? Well, then, let me bring the text before you. Out of this weakness in prayer you can only be made strong by faith. Believe in God, and you will prevail with God. Believe in his promise, and plead it. Believe in his Spirit, and pray by his help. Believe in Jesus, who makes intercession; for through him you may come boldly to the throne of grace. Faith alone can confirm feeble knees. “According to your faith be it unto you.” To pray without faith is formality; nay, it is vanity. To be weak in prayer is a disease which will bring on many other maladies. Seek faith to become Masters of the Art of prayer. I would rather be Master of the Art of prayer than M.A. of both universities. He who knows how to pray has his hand on a leverage which moves the universe. But there is no praying without believing. If thou believest not, thou mayest be heard— it is more than I can promise thee; but if thou believest, thou shall be heard, for God refuses no believing prayer. To refuse to keep his own promise when it is pleaded would be to falsify his word, and change his character; and neither of these things can ever be. Have thou strong confidence: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Jesus said, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Believe in prayer, and you will pray believingly. Some do not think that there is much in prayer. Poor souls! The Lord teach them better! O my brothers, believe up to the hilt in prayer, and you will find it to be the most remunerative work on earth! He that trades with God in prayer enters upon a business whereof the merchandise is better than silver or gold. Prayer makes us “rich towards God,” and this is the best of riches; but it must be believing prayer. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” Hast thou a poor, faint heart in this sacred exercise? Be assured that only by faith out of this weakness canst thou be made strong.

     It may be that certain of my hearers feel that they cannot attain to the matters I have mentioned, for they are as yet battling to reach the position of servants and pleaders. Faith is the great force which is needed by those whose principal work is to overcome sin. When God began with many of us, he found us very low down beneath the flood of evil. It may be that an awful temper broke over us in surging waves. We have to rise superior to it. Possibly he found us plunged in the great deeps of an evil habit. Was it drunkenness? Was it gambling? What was it? It had to be left beneath; we wore called to rise out of it. Some are permitted to sink a long way down in sin; and when God begins with them, they have a desperate ascent even to reach common morality; what must the conflict be before they attain to spirituality and holiness? It is hard for those to rise to the surface who have been plunged in the deeps. If a man has been sunk down in black waters full of filth, a thousand fathoms deep, and if he has been long imprisoned in dark caves where no light has come, what a wondrous power would that be which should raise him to the sunlight! The Spirit of God comes to many when they are in much the same condition; and what a work it is to bring up from the horrible midnight, and to give strength to rise out of the inky waters! I have seen many a soul wearying to ascend; receiving a little light, and a little more light, and a little more light; but yet far from being clear of the dark waters of iniquity. Dear struggler, you will never overcome sin except by faith in Jesus Christ. Trust him! Trust in the precious blood: that is the great sin-killer. Trust his pierced hands to pierce the hands of your lusts. Trust his wounded side to smite through the heart of your evil desires. Your hope lies there: where Jesus died, where Jesus rose again, where Jesus has gone into the glory. You may resolve to overcome a sin, and, perhaps, any one sin you may conquer for a time; but sin itself, as a force, in all its armies, is never to be overcome, save through the blood of the Lamb. You will never be able to cut down this huge upas tree except with the axe of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Take that, and every blow will tell, but no other instrument will avail. God strengthening you, you shall out of weakness be made strong to overcome sin, though it be backed by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Entrenched in your nature though your sins may be, you will drive out these Canaanites, and free your heart from their dominion.

     I have often met with persons awakened by divine grace to see the evil of a certain act, and they have said, “I do not know how I shall ever break off the habit;” yet they have very easily escaped from it. I remember one who was very foul-mouthed, and used oaths habitually. I hardly think that, for years, he had spoken without ill language; and yet, from the moment he turned unto the Lord, he never used an oath, and he also noted that he never had a temptation so to do. I remark that the particular form of sin known as blasphemy is one of the first to die, and to be buried out of sight. Other sins die hard, but this is shot through the head by true repentance and faith in Jesus. Some sins cling to a man like the fabled tunic of Hercules, which could not be torn away, but burned into his flesh and bone, whatever he might do. How long a well-beloved habit lingers at the door after the heart has given it a bill of divorce! As a dog, which is chased away from the house, returns again and again to its former master, so does an evil lust turn again even to the soul that loathes it. How weak we are in this matter! How slow to cut off right hands, and pluck out right eyes! But yet it must be done; and only faith can do it, by calling in the aid of the Almighty One. Trust you in Christ to overcome by his Spirit that which he has put away by his death. In him we shall find succour, and by faith out of weakness we shall be made strong.

     I change the run of my discourse altogether by remarking that there is another thing that falls to the lot of Christian men, a matter of the very first importance: namely, to spread the gospel. “Yes,” says one, “I own that it is an urgent service to make known to others what the Lord has done for me: but, somehow, I cannot discharge my conscience by fully doing as I would. I tried the other day to say a good word, and I am afraid that I made a failure of it. I stammered a good deal, and I said little that I thought to say, and some things which seemed to weaken what I did say. I resolved, the other day, that I would see a man whom I had known, and tell him that I was a changed character; but when I reached his house, I drifted into other talk, and went the way in which he led me. I could not come to the point.” Many would make a similar confession if they made a clean breast of it. Many of the truest children of God are at first possessed by a dumb spirit; and it needs the Lord Jesus to cast it out. But do you not think that we are too apt to attempt to spread the gospel in our own strength; and need we wonder if we break down? If we were by faith to begin, humbly waiting upon the Lord for words, and taking hold upon divine strength, might we not accomplish far more than we now do? I have heard of one brought to Christ, who was a very great sinner— of so stiff a neck that he never would be approached by anybody who aimed at his conversion. He hated the very mention of religion. He answered all appeals very coarsely. But one of his neighbours felt forced to go to him very early in the morning, and to say to him, “I beg your pardon for intruding so early, but I lay awake all last night thinking about you; and I cannot rest till I tell you something.” He answered, “What were you thinking about me for? I don't want any of your thoughts.” “Oh,” said the other, “I felt so sorry to think that, if you were to die, you would die without hope, that I was obliged to come to you.” The bearish man grumbled, “Mind your own business.” “But,” said the other, “it is my own business. I think my heart will break unless I see you saved.” All the answer was, “Go away with you. Don’t come here with your cant.” The brother went home weeping; but he was not the only one who felt his heart breaking. The bearish one went away from his forge, and said to his wife, “I can always answer these religious fellows. I do not care for your parsons a bit; but that neighbour of ours has been in here, and he says he shall break his heart unless I am converted; and that beats me.” He was beaten. Out of a sort of kindly pity for his neighbour’s weak-mindedness, with a mixture of an unacknowledged feeling on his own account, he went to hear the preaching of the Word, and was brought to Jesus.

     “But,” says one, “I know if I were to try to speak to any of my neighbours, I should break down.” Friend, I am not careful in that matter, nor need you be. If you are in real earnest, you might possibly do more by a break-down than by anything else. Only break the ice, and begin; and you shall find my text to be true in your case also, and out of weakness you, too, shall be made strong. God does not need your strength: he has more than enough of power of his own. He asks your weakness: he has none of that himself, and he is longing, therefore, to take your weakness, and use it as the instrument in his own mighty hand. Will you not yield your weakness to him, and receive his strength? Permit me to speak to some aspiring spirit here, and say,— Dear friend, would you like to do something great for God? Have you heard the motto of our early missionaries: “Attempt great things for God”? Does that thought burn within your heart? Do you long to be of some use? “Oh, yes,” says one, “I would attempt great things for God, but I am terribly weak.” Make the attempt by faith in God; for it is written, “Out of weakness were made strong.” If you feel incapable, throw yourself upon the infinite capacity of God. So long as you are willing to be used, so long as God has given you an anxiety and travail of spirit for the souls of others, you need not fear; but may with faith get to work in all your feebleness, for as your day your strength shall be. Has not the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”? And is not that word true?

     I would make one more application of my text, which is capable of being used in a thousand directions. “Out of weakness were made strong”: this will be experienced in bearing witness for the truth of God. Suppose that you are called to testify for truth in the midst of those who doubt, disbelieve, or even deride it. You look to those who agree with you, and they are lukewarm; you turn to old associates, and they do not share your concern. Friends tell you that you are making much ado about nothing, or that you are uncharitable, narrow-minded, and bigoted. I need not repeat the accusations; they have been so often hurled at myself that I know them by heart. They say, “The man was born too late; he is behind the age; he fights for a worn-out creed; he is out of place in a world of progress.” What then? Is there anything galling to you in all this? Indeed there is, unless faith is strong; and then the bullets turn to pellets, and the stones are soft as sponges. When they talk to you like that, do not begin bristling up, and declaring that, after all, you are as wise and as strong as your opponents, though that may readily be the case; but accept all their remarks upon your folly and weakness, and say to yourself, “Out of weakness were made strong.” Hold you to God’s Word by faith, and you will be strong. God will vindicate his own cause; but it may be his way to let error prevail for a while. Bide your time when the cause is an eternal one, for you can afford to do so. If we had been in Egypt at the time when Pharaoh started out to follow the Israelites to the Red Sea, if we had been clothed with all power, we should have stopped Pharaoh’s chariots and horses before they quitted Egypt, and thus we should have nipped his enterprise in the bud. We should have taken off the chariot wheels at once, so that they could not follow after the children of Israel. That is what we should have done; but Jehovah did something better. He suffered the Egyptians to pursue, and overtake, and threaten to divide the spoil; and he allowed them in their pride to go down after Israel into the depths of the sea. Then, and not before, he overthrew them, so that Israel sang, “The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” This was a grand thing for the tribes in their after journeys through the wilderness. The timid Israelites would always have been afraid that Pharaoh would follow them and capture them; but when the forces of Egypt and all her chosen captains were drowned beneath the waves, all fear of them was gone forever. The victory was complete. Meanwhile, the tremendous blow made their future antagonists in Canaan to tremble. In the conflict with evil, we would overcome it early, and put it to the rout at the first attack; but it may be that God will allow error to proceed further, and let it seem to triumph, so that by its own presumption it may place itself where it may be the more effectually crushed, never again to afflict the church. It is for us in our weakness to go forward as the Lord leads us; and the day of the resounding timbrels and the twinkling feet will come in due time, and Jehovah will be magnified when even humble maidens “sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.” Be steadfast, unmovable. Never mind the craft, policy, and number of the foe. God’s time is best. He knows better than we do when to strike for victory. Out of weakness we shall be made strong, if we fully rely upon the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”

     I would entreat you each one to make an application of the text to yourself in every work of faith, and labour of love, in which you may be engaged.

     II. Now, beloved friends, suffer me a few words upon the other cheering fact, namely, that FAITH MAKES MEN STRONG FOR PATIENT SUFFERING. The patience of hope is a very important part of Christian life, and faith is the essence of it.

     Many are called to suffer much in daily life. Ah me! what a world of misery there is in this great city, among even good and gracious people! A man might study London till he turned his brain. The poverty and the suffering of even godly people in London would be a subject too harrowing for those of you who have specially tender hearts. Let us not forget those members of Christ’s mystical body that are in the fire: “his feet are like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” Few, if any, are without sorrow, and many saints have a double portion of grief in their pilgrimage. Sitting here with your brethren in Christ, you look very cheerful; but I may be addressing those whose life is one protracted struggle for existence. Assuredly, you will not hold out without true faith, and much of it. You must endure, “as seeing him who is invisible.” You must joy in God, or you will not joy at all. Earthly comforts are not yours; but if you grasp the spiritual and the eternal you will not repine. If in this life only you had hope, you would be of all men most miserable; but having that hope, you are among men most happy. The solitary place shall be glad for you, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. Commend me to firm faith for power to bear the daily cross. He that believeth hath everlasting life, and the joys which come of it. Trust thou in thy God, in his love to thee, in his care of thee, and then thou shalt be as the lilies, which toil not, and spin not, and yet are clothed; or as the ravens, which have no store, and yet are fed. Behold thou, by faith, the heaven prepared for thee, and know of a certainty that thou wilt soon be there among the angels ; and thou wilt defy cold, and hunger, and nakedness, and shame, and everything else. Thy faith out of weakness shall make thee strong.

     Certain saintly ones are called to bear great physical pain, and I commend to them, from practical experience, the power of faith in God under acute agony. This is the sweetest support in the presence of a threatened operation. How grim those surgeon’s lancets seem! Ah me! I knew a patient once— I know her still— who, when the lancets had been used upon her, caused the doctor’s case of instruments to be filled up with roses! God alone can help you to fill up with roses that grim memory of danger and suffering. Oh, how sweet to feel that, if God has sent diseases to your house, he has made them a chariot in which benedictions have been brought to you! Go not to wine for comfort in the hour of depression. Above all things, dread the intoxicating cup in all its forms. You need not even appeal to friends for consolation. What do they know about your inward sorrow? There are seas of suffering which the sufferer must navigate alone. No other sail is within sight. Scan the horizon, and nothing is to be seen but wave after wave. Now is the hour for faith in the great Lord, who holds even lonely seas in the hollow of his hand. He knows thy poor body, and he permits it to be frail, and permits thy heart to be trembling, because he will glorify himself in his tenderness to thy weakness, wherein he will make thee strong. JEHOVAH ROPHI is his name: “The Lord that healeth thee.” Give thyself up to him, and thou shalt yet sing of his lovingkindness and tender mercies.

     But there are other forms of suffering than these of daily life and of bodily pain. Possibly I speak to some who are suffering the evils of persecution. No cruel tyrant can burn believers now, nor even cast them into prison for Christ’s sake; but there are ways enough for the seed of the serpent to show its enmity to the seed of the woman. “Trials of cruel mockings” are common yet. There are many ways in which the devil’s whip can reach the back of the child of God. Persecution is still abundant, and many a man’s foes are of his own household. I will rehearse no stories of Christian women with jeering husbands, nor of godly youths who endure scoffing, and far worse; but many a house is still a place of martyrdom. Gracious sufferers, may the Lord keep you from anger and unkindness! By faith alone can you bear persecution, and turn it to account for the good of others. Do not attempt to escape by yielding what is right and true; but ask the Lord to help you to stand fast for him. If it be true that the Lord has his martyrs still, let it be seen that they are as brave as ever. Not now do they gather in the great amphitheatre, where sits the emperor in state, with all the proud citizens of Rome in the nearer gallery, tier on tier, and the multitude up yonder, gazing with their cruel eyes into the vast arena below. Not now do I see them lift up the great iron door, and let loose the monsters that come forth roaring, hungry for their prey. Not now do I see, standing in the middle, a man and his wife and children, all unarmed. Not now do I hear the shouts of the mob, as they exult that Christians are given to the lions. This is all over. Christ, in his suffering members, has conquered Caesar and pagan Rome; for out of weakness believers were made strong. A softer spirit has come over the human mind; but there is as much enmity against God as ever; and now it finds a less public arena, and a meaner mode of torture. To-day, the tried one suffers alone, and misses the encouragement of Christian eyes. At times he has to feel that it were better for him to fight with beasts at Ephesus than to bear the taunts, and threats, and slanders of ungodly kinsfolk. My sister, my brother, have faith in God in your hidden sorrow! Cry to him in the secret of your soul, and you will bear your load; yes, you will bear it calmly, and you will win those who hate you. Of your secret martyrdom angels will be spectators, and Christ will suffer in you— wherefore, fear not. Out of weakness you shall be made strong by faith.

     We have among us those who are not exposed to persecution, but have to stand against assaults of unbelief. That which believers in past ages have accepted as truth, is not believed in many places nowadays; and so it comes to pass that one brings to us a bit of sceptical science which he has picked up from Huxley or Tyndall; another comes with a criticism that he has found in some of the modern divines, who are the devil’s instruments for spreading infidelity; and a third appears with a vile blasphemy from one of the coarser assailants of religion, and each one demands an immediate answer to his quibble, or his difficulty. Do they really expect that we are to answer, on the spur of the moment, every objection that they are pleased to raise? I confess that I do not believe that one human brain is capable of answering every objection that another human brain could raise against the most obvious truth in the world. Do not try to answer cavillers; but if you do, mind that faith is your weapon. If you take the wooden sword of your own reasoning, you may easily be beaten. Believe for yourself, because God has said it; and speak as the Lord guides you. Fix it in your mind. “This is God’s Book. This is his infallible revelation, and I believe it against every argument that can possibly be urged against it. Let God be true, but every man a liar.” This will be sure defensive ground; but if you get off that rock, you will soon find yourself sinking or staggering. For an offensive weapon, take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”; and if this does not serve your turn, nothing will. Have a thorough, and entire, and childlike faith in the revelation of the Most High, and you will be made strong in those mental conflicts for which in yourself you are so weak.

     Again, it may be that I am speaking to sad ones who suffer under mental depression. Some of us are by constitution inclined to that condition. I have sometimes envied those good people who are never excited with joy, and consequently seldom or never despond. “Along the cool, sequestered vale of life they hold the even tenor of their way.” Happy people! At the same time, when I rise, as upon eagle’s wings, in joyous rapture, I feel right glad to be capable of the blissful excitement. Yet if you soar to the skies, you are very apt to drop below the sea-level. He that can fly, can faint. Elijah, after he had slain the prophets of Baal, was found fleeing into the wilderness from the face of Jezebel. If you are so constituted that you rise and fall; if you are a creature that can be excited, and that can be depressed; and, worse still, if you happen to have been born on a foggy day, and to have swallowed so much of that fog that you have found it shading your spirit many a time ever since; then you can only be strong by faith. If you are one of those plants which seldom bloom with bunches of bright flowers, but have your blossoms hidden and concealed, be not disquieted. If you are never mirthful, and seldom able to call yourself joyful— the only cure for depression is faith. Settle this in your heart: “Whether I am up or down, the Lord Jesus Christ is the same. Whether I sing, or whether I sigh, the promise is true, and the Promiser is faithful. Whether I stand on Tabor’s summit, or am hidden in the vale of Baca, the covenant standeth fast, and everlasting love abideth.” Be assured, beyond all questioning, that he that believeth in the Lord Jesus is not condemned. Believe in him, though you see no flashes of delight nor sparkles of joy. We are safe, because we are in the City of Refuge, and not because we are, in ourselves, ill or well. If you will stand firm in Christ Jesus, even in your weakness you will be made strong.

     It may be that certain of you are called to suffer in your minds, not because of any wrong thing in yourselves, but for the sake of others. Some years ago, I preached a sermon to you from the text, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and in a mournful degree I felt what I preached, as my own cry. I felt an agony of spirit, for I was under an awful sense of being forsaken of God, and yet I could not understand why I was surrounded by such thick darkness. I wished to clear myself if any sin remained upon me, but I could not discover any evil which I was tolerating. When I went back into the vestry, I learned the secret of my personal distress, for there was an elderly man in a horror of great darkness, who said to me, “I have never before met with any person who has been where I am. I trust there is hope for me.” I talked with him. I bade him sit down, and I saw him afterwards, and I hope I conducted him from the verge of insanity into the open, healthy place of peace through believing. I fear I should never have touched his case if I had not been in the miry clay myself. Then I understood why I must feel like one forsaken. The Lord was leading me where I should be taught to know my man, and should be made willing to sit side by side with him in the dark prison-house, and lend him a hand to escape. Since then, in presenting myself to my Lord for service, I have said to him, “Make me useful to the doubting and the feeble-minded. I do not bargain for comfort, and peace, and joy, if I can be more helpful to thy poor, weary children without them. Place me where I can best answer thy purpose by being made to sympathize with thy troubled people. I only want to bring them to heaven, to the praise of the glory of thy grace; and as for me, let me rejoice or suffer, as best suits their case.” For this a man must have faith in God; and ho must be sure that his trials, endured through his office, will have great recompense of reward. If you are chosen to be a leader and a helper, or a mother in Israel, be satisfied to endure hardness with the full belief that it is all right, and that God will not only bring you through, but will also bless somebody else by the means of your tribulations.

     My time is ended, although I had much more to say. I can only pray the Lord to give you to believe in him. If I should never again have the pleasure of speaking for my Lord upon the face of this earth, I should like to deliver, as my last confession of faith, this testimony— that nothing but faith can save this nineteenth century; nothing but faith can save old England: nothing but faith can save the present unbelieving church: nothing but firm faith in the grand old doctrines of grace, and in the ever-living and unchanging God can bring back to the church again a full tide of prosperity, and make her to be the deliverer of the nations for Christ: nothing but faith in the Lord Jesus can save you or me. The Lord give you, my brothers, to believe to the utmost degree, for his name’s sake! Amen.



Am I a Sea, or a Whale?

By / May 31

Am I a Sea, or a Whale?

 

“Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?”— Job vii. 17.

 

JOB was in great pain when he thus bitterly complained. These moans came from him when his skin was broken and had become loathsome, and he sat upon a dunghill and scraped himself with a potsherd. We wonder at his patience, but we do not wonder at his impatience. He had fits of complaining, and failed in that very patience for which he was noted. Where God’s saints are most glorious, there you will find their spots. The weaknesses of the saints lie near their strength. Elijah is the bravest of the brave, and flees from Jezebel; Moses is the meekest of the meek, and speaks in passion; Job is the most patient of men, and cries, “I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” As part of his bitter complaint, he said, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?”

     He seemed to be watched and whipped, and then watched again. It seemed to him that God concentrated all his strength upon him in. afflicting him. He was beaten black and blue; and whereas other culprits had forty stripes save one, he had fifty stripes save none. He was spared no suffering, and he cries at last, “I am watched, and. checked, as if I were a great sea needing always to be held in bounds,, or a terrible sea-monster wanting always a hook in its jaws. Lord, why dost thou harass me thus? I am such a poor, insignificant thing, that it seems out of thy usual way to be so rough upon one so feeble. The raging ocean, or the mighty leviathan, may need such watching, but why dost thou spend it on me? Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?”

     I shall not moor myself to Job’s sense of the words; but I shall spread my sail for a voyage further out to sea. This sort of talk may have been used by many a man who is now within hail of my voice— may have been used by sailors now before me.

     Let me point out the channel along which I shall steer in my discourse. We shall begin by saying that some men seem to be narrowly watched by God. They think that the Lord’s eye is as much fixed on them as though they were great as a sea, or huge as a whale. My second point will be, that they do not like this watching. They complain about it, and wish they could get rid of it. Therefore they argue against it with God. Our third head is, that their argument is a bad one. They think they are very hardly done by; but the fact is, that all they complain of is in love. See, my mess-mates, the way I shall try to steer; but if the heavenly wind blows me out of my course, don’t be surprised if I tack about, and go nobody knows where.

     I. I have, first, to say that SOME MEN SEEM TO BE SPECIALLY TRACKED AND WATCHED BY GOD. We hear of persons being “shadowed” by the police, and certain people feel as if they were shadowed by God; they are mysteriously tracked by the great Spirit, and they know and feel it. Wherever they go, an eye is upon them, and they cannot hide from it. They are like prisoners under arrest— they can never go out of reach of the law. They cannot get away from God, do what they may. There are men who have been in this condition for years; and they know what I mean.

     All men are really surrounded by God. He is not far from every one of us. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” “Whither shall we flee from thy presence?” to the heights above, or to the depths beneath? to oceans frozen into ice, or seas whereon the sun shines with burning heat? In vain we rise or dive to escape from God. “Thou God seest me”, is as true in the watches of the night as in the blaze of day. God is with us, and we are always beneath his eye. Yet there are certain people to whom this is more clear than it is to others.

     Some are singularly aware of the presence of God. Certain of us never were without a sense of God. As children, we could not go to sleep till we said, “Our Father which art in heaven.” As youths, we trembled if we heard God’s holy name blasphemed. As men, engaged in the cares of life, we have seen the Lord’s goodness, all along. We delight to see him in every flower that blooms, and to hear his voice in every wind that blows. It has made us happy to see God in his works. “The fool hath said in his heart, No God”; but this folly we never cared for. We knew that God was good, even when we felt we had offended him. He has taught us from our youth, and manifested himself to us. Softly has the whisper fallen on our ear, “God is near thee: God is with thee: God hath an ear to hear thee: God hath a heart to love thee: God hath a hand to help thee.” I have known those who, even when they have sinned and gone against their consciences, have never at any time quite lost a sense of the nearness of God, even though its only fruit was fear— a fear which hath torment.

     With others God’s watch is seen in a different way. They feel that they are watched by God, because their conscience never ceases to rebuke them. The voice of conscience is not pitched to the same key in all men; neither is it equally loud in all people. Conscience can be made like a muzzled dog, and then it cannot bite the thief of sin. Conscience can grow like a man with a cold, who has lost his voice. But it is not so with all men, even after years of sin. Some have a naturally tender conscience, and while living in sin they are never easy. They make merry all the day, for “they count it one of the wisest things to drive dull care away”; but dull care, like the chickens, comes home to roost at night. The sailor in company is jolly; but if he has to keep a lone watch beneath the silent stars his heart begins to beat, and his conscience begins to call him to account for the follies of the day. He starts in his sleep; he dreams over his past sin and the judgment to come; for conscience will wake even when the rest of the man sleeps. “You were wrong”, says conscience; and his voice is very solemn.

     Even great sin in certain men has not prevented conscience speaking out honestly to them. Again and again the inward monitor cries, “You were wrong, and you will suffer for it.” We read that “David’s heart smote him”: the heart deals us an ugly knock. When the blow is within us it tells. I am addressing some who, though they do not feel pleased about it, yet must know that there is a something within that will not let them sin cheaply. God has a bit in their mouths, and a bridle upon their jaws; and every now and then he gives a tug at it, and pulls them right up. They are not at home in sin. They have not yet got their sea-legs upon the ocean of vice. They sing the songs of the devil with a quake and a shake, which shows that the music does not suit them. Thus God has set a watch upon them: they carry a detective in their bosoms.

     In some this watching has gone farther, for they are under solemn conviction of sin. They are convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. God’s custom-house officer has boarded them, and their smuggling is found out I remember when I was in that state myself— a criminal who dared not deny his guilt, but dreaded punishment. I would not go back to that condition for a hundred worlds. Then there was no rest for me. I was only a youth; but boyish sports lost their relish for me, because I knew that I was a sinner, and that God must punish sin. I awoke in the morning, and my first act for many a day was to read a chapter of the Bible, or a page of some arousing book, which kept my conscience still awake. The Holy Spirit put me in irons, and there I lay both day and night. My bed was at times a very weary place to me, because the eyes of God’s anger seemed to be ever watching me. I knew I had offended God, and I had not yet found out the way of reconciliation by the blood of Jesus Christ.

     Now, it may be that I speak to some here, who have been to the ends of the earth, and they have said, “Well, when we get away where the Sabbath bell is never heard, we shall get rid of these fears, and take our swing in sin.” They Bailed off, and as soon as they reached port, they hurried to a place of vicious amusement, where no one knew them. But the dog of fear howled at their heels, and merriment seemed mockery to them. On the lone ocean the very stars pierced their hearts with their rays. At length their mess-mates began to notice it and call them Old Sobersides. “Jack, what ails you?” was the frequent question; and well it might be, for Jack was very heavy, and it is hard to be merry with a broken heart. In some such fashion as this the man feels that God has set a watch upon him, and that he has become like a sea which never rests, or a whale which roams the waste of water, and knows no home. God watched him; and though he would gladly have run the blockade, he could not find an hour in which his vessel was left alone.

     Certain men are not only plagued by conscience and dogged by fear, but the providence of God seems to have gone out against them. Just when the man had resolved to have a bout of drinking, he fell sick of a fever, and had to go to the hospital. He was going to a dance; but he became so weak that he had not a leg to stand upon. He was forced to toss to and fro on the bed, to quite another tune from that which pleases the ball-room. He had yellow fever, and was long in pulling round. God watched him, and put the skid on him just as he meant to have a break-neck run downhill. The man gets better, and he says to himself, “I will have a good time now.” But then ho is out of berth, and perhaps he cannot get a ship for months, and he is brought down to poverty. “Dear me!” he says, “everything goes against me. I am a marked man”; and so he is. Just when he thinks that he is going to have a fair wind, a tempest comes on and drives him out of his course, and he sees rocks ahead. After a while he thinks, “Now I am all right. Jack is himself again, and piping times have come.” A storm hurries up; the ship goes down, and he loses all but the clothes he has on his back. He is in a wretched plight: a shipwrecked mariner, far from home. God seems to pursue him even as he did Jonah. He carries with him misfortune for others, and he might well cry, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?” Nothing prospers. His tacklings are loosed; he cannot well strengthen his mast; his ship leaks; his sails are rent; his yards are snapped; and he cannot make it out. Other people seem to get on, though they are worse than he is. Time was when he used to be lucky too; but now he has parted company with success, and carries the black flag of distress. He is driven to and fro by contrary winds; he makes no headway; he is a miserable man, and would wish that the whole thing would go to the bottom, only he dreads a place which has no bottom, from which there is no escape, if once you sink into it. The providence of God runs hard against him, and thus he sees himself to be a watched man.

     Yes, and God also watches over many in the way of admonition. Wherever they go, holy warnings follow them. They cannot escape from those who would be friends to their souls. They seem to be surrounded with a ring of prayers and sermons and holy talks. The boy said, “If I could get away from my mother I should be free! I have been tied long enough to her apron strings. I am old enough to do as I like. If I can get away from my father’s chidings and prayings, I shall have a fine time of it.” So the boy ran away, and went to sea; and when he got on board, a good old sailor tackled him, and talked to him about his soul; and then another pleaded with him. The boy said to himself, “Why, I have got out of the frying-pan into the fire. I came here to be out of the way of religion, and here it is!” I have known a sailor to go from port to port, and wherever he has landed there has been some gracious man or woman waiting to lead him to Christ. May it be often so! May the Bethel flag be found flying in all waters, till every runaway says, “Why, I am watched wherever I go!” May it be as it was with our dear friends Fullerton and Smith on board the steamboat! Mr. Fullerton spoke to a rough man, and asked him if he was saved; and the man was angry, cross, vexed, and went to the other side of the vessel. There he complained to Mr. Smith, “That man over there asked me if I was saved; he is a fool!” “Very likely”, said Smith; “but then, you see, he is a fool for Christ. I think it is better to be a fool for Jesus than to be wise for the devil.” He began to plead with him, when the man cried out, “There is a regular gang of them; I cannot go anywhere but they are on to me.” It has been made hot for some of you by the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society, which has placed missionaries in so many ports. “There’s a gang of them”, and wherever you go you stumble on an earnest Christian man, who will not let you alone. If I could stir up Christian people here, I would make it hard for sinners, so that wherever they went they would find a hand outstretched to stop them from going to destruction. Oh, that each one might be met with tears and entreaties; that thus each one might be snatched from the waves of fire and landed on the rock of salvation! Some here present have had to dodge a great deal to keep out of the way of gospel shots. Their track has been followed by mercy, and they have been pursued by swift cruisers of grace. They have been like fish taken in a net— surrounded on all sides, and neither able to pass through the meshes, nor to break the net, nor to leap out of it. Oh, that the net of Christ’s love may so entangle you all, that you may be his for ever!

     That is our first point: there are some men who seem specially watched of God.

     II. Secondly, we notice that THEY ARE VERY APT TO DISLIKE THIS WATCHING. Job is not pleased with it. He asks, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?” These people, to whom God pays such attention, are foolish enough to murmur that they are so hedged in, and they are vexed to be made to feel that God has his eye upon them.

     Do you know what they would like? They want liberty to sin. They would like to be let loose, and to be allowed to do just as their wild wills would suggest to them. They would cast off every restraint and have their fling of what the world calls “pleasure.” They would climb from sin to sin, hand over hand. They would like to empty all the cups on the devil’s sideboard, and be as merry as the worst of men when they are taking it free and easy. That is why they would send their consciences to sleep, drown their fears, and escape from chastening providences and warning admonitions. They would like to live where no Christian person would ever worry them again with wearisome exhortation. They demand liberty: liberty to put their hand into the fire! liberty to ruin themselves! liberty to leap into hell before their time! Liberty! what destruction has been wrought in thy name! Free thinking! Free living! Free loving, and all that! What misuse of terms! What a libel upon the name of freedom, to use the word “free” in connection with the slavery of sin! Yet, I am speaking to some who say, “That is just what I want. I want to cut myself clear of all this hamper which blocks me up from having my own way.” Ah me! this is the cry of a man who is bent on soul-suicide!

     They wish also that they could he as hard of heart as many others are. Some men can drink any quantity, and yet do not seem as if they were greatly affected by it; and many a young sailor has wished that he could pour down his grog without a wink, after the style of the old toper. He meets with a foul-mouthed being who can swear till all is blue, while he himself has only dropped an oath or two, and then felt wretched. The young man begins to wish that he was as tough as old Jack, and as much a dare-devil as he. The hardened profligate is foolishly envied, and looked upon as a man of “pluck.” But is it true bravery to ruin one’s soul? Is it manly to be wicked? Is it a great gain to have a seared conscience? We don’t envy the blind because they cannot see danger, nor the deaf because they cannot hear an alarm; and why envy the hardened old sinner because he has become spiritually blind and deaf? There are monsters, both on land and on sea, whose very breath is pestilent, and whose talk is enough to choke up a town with vice; and yet certain young men, whom God will not allow to descend into such rottenness, are almost angry that they are restrained. A tender conscience is a great possession, but these simple ones know not its value. They wish that they could have a heart as hard as the nether millstone. Ah, poor souls! you know not what you wish; for you have no idea how deep is the curse that lies in a callous conscience. When God gave Pharaoh up to hardness of heart, it was a tremendous punishment for his pride and cruelty; and, short of hell, there is no judgment that God can inflict like letting a man have his own way. “Let him alone”, says God, “he is joined to idols”; and if the Lord says that, there is only one other word more dreadful, and that is the final sentence,— “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” O you beginners in vice who cannot yet stifle the cries of your suffering consciences, I pray that you may see your folly, and no longer do violence to your own mercy.

     Men do not like this being surrounded by God— this wearing the bit and kicking strap— because they would drop God from their thoughts. If to-morrow we could hear, by telegram from heaven, that God was dead, what crowds would buy the newspaper! It would be the greatest relief in the world to many a godless wretch if he could feel sure that there was no God. To some of us this news would be death: wo should have lost our Father, our Comforter, our Saviour, our all. Alas! many wish that there were no God; and if they cannot persuade themselves that there is none— and it is very hard for a sailor to do that— yet they try to forget him. If God is out of mind, he is as good as out of the world to the careless sinner. When God comes with inward fears, and awakens conscience, and sends cross providences, so that the man feels pulled up and made to pause; then he knows that there is a God, for he feels a power which works against his sin, from which he cannot get away. He longs to be clear of this secret force; but it wraps him about on every side. He does not read his Bible, and yet Scripture rises in his memory. It is long since he bent his knee in prayer; he has almost forgotten what his mother said to him when she lay a-dying; but still he feels that there is a God, and, somehow, that belief sounds a trumpet blast through his soul, summoning him to his last account. Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment! The call rings in his ears, and he cannot get away from the terrible sound. Then it is that he cries, “Why am I thus? Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?”

     Once more, there are some who do not like to be shadowed in this way, because they want to have their will with others. Shall I speak a sharp word, like a two-edged sword? There are men— and seamen to selves be found, among them— who are not satisfied with being ruined themselves, but they thirst to ruin others. They lay traps for precious souls, and they are vexed that their victims should escape them. They are angry because certain poor women are not altogether in their power. Woe unto the men who lead women astray! I have heard of sailors who, in every port they enter, try to ruin others. I charge you to remember that you will have to face these ruined ones at the day of judgment. You sailed away, and they never knew where you went; but the Lord knew. It may be, when you lie in hell, eyes will find you out, and a voice will cry aloud, “Are you here? You are the man that led me to perdition!” You will have to keep everlasting company with those whom you dragged down to hell; and these will for ever curse you to your face. I say there are men who would like to have full license to commit wantonness, and they are grieved that they are hindered in their carnival of sin. May God grant that you may be stopped altogether; and instead of lusting to pollute others, may you have a desire to save them! May God grant that the channel of evil may be blocked for you, and may you be piloted into the waters of repentance and faith!

     This is why some kick against God. I fear these people will be much vexed with me for speaking so plainly; but you must not think that it will alarm me should you be angry. I am rather glad when fellows get angry with my preaching. “Oh”, I say to myself, “those fish feel the hook in their jaws, and so they struggle to escape.” Of course a fish does not like the hook which lays hold of him. These angry hearers will come again. You people with whom the sermon goes in at one ear and out at the other, you get no good whatever; but a man who fires up with wrath, and says, “How dare that fellow speak thus to me?” is sure to listen again; and it is very likely that God will bless him. But whether it offends you or pleases you— I repeat my warning— I charge you, do not drag others down to hell with you. If you must go there yourselves, seek not to destroy those around you. Do not teach boys to drink, and to swear; neither tempt frail women to commit uncleanness with you. God help you to shake off all vice; for I know that vile habits are often the reason why men kick against the restraint of God’s loving hand.

     III. And now I have got to the very heart of my text. The third part is this— that THIS ARGUMENT AGAINST THE LORD’S DEALINGS IS A VERY BAD ONE. Job says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?” Listen. To argue. from our insignificance is poor pleading; for the little things are just those against which there is most need to watch. If you were a sea, or a whale, God might leave you alone; but as you are a feeble and sinful creature, which can do more hurt than a sea, or a whale, you need constant watching. In life, men fall by very little things. One does not need to watch against his dog one half so much as against a horse-fly, or a mosquito, for these will sting you when you least expect it. The little things want most watching, therefore it is poor reasoning when we complain that God watches us as if we were a sea, or a whale.

     After all, there is not a man here who is not very like a sea, or a sea-monster in this respect, that he needs a watch to be set over him. A man’s heart is as changeable and as deceitful as the sea. To-day it is calm as a sea of glass, unruffled by a breath of air. Oh, trust not yourself upon it, for before to-morrow’s sun is up, your nature may be rolling in tremendous billows of passion. You cannot trust the sea, but it is more worthy of confidence than your heart. Here you are to-night, and oh, how good you look as you sit and listen, and then stand up and sing! All, my men! I should not like to hear you if you take to blaspheming your Maker, as many do. When you are down in the forecastle with a little band of praying men, how very good you feel! Let us see you when you are on shore, and there is plenty of grog about. It is easy to have a calm sea when there is no wind, but how different is the ocean when a gale is blowing! We are all very well when far away from temptation, but how are we when the devil’s servants are around us? Then, I fear, that too often good resolutions prove to be

“False as the smooth, deceitful sea,
And empty as the whistling wind.”

     It may be that I speak to one who has undergone a dreadful change. Once you led others in the way of righteousness, but now you draw them into evil. Once you sailed under the Bethel flag, but now the old Pirate of the infernal lake is your captain. You have gone back to your old ways, and have again become the slave of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Your religious profession had no foundation. Ah me! you need not say, “Am I a sea, or a whale?” for seas and sea-monsters are more to be trusted than you are. The sea is immeasurable; and, as for you, your sinfulness is unsearchable. Your capacity is almost without measure: your mind reaches far, and touches all things. Man’s mind can rise in rebellion against the God of the whole earth, till, like the raging waves of the sea, it threatens to put out the lights of heaven. When man is in a rebellious state he will rage in his thoughts as though he would wash away the shores of heaven, and beat like the surf upon the iron rocks of hell. A man is an awful mystery of iniquity when left to himself. You cannot fathom his pride, nor measure his daring. Deep down in his mind there are creeping things innumerable, both small and great beasts; for all manner of evils and sins multiply in the heart like fishes in the sea. Do not say, “Am I a sea, or a sea-monster, that thou settest a watch over me?” for the Lord may answer, “You are more capacious for evil than a sea, and more wild than a sea-monster.”

     I shall now go further, and show that, by reason of our evil nature, toe have become like the sea. This is true in several ways; for, first, the sea is restless, and so is our nature. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” You need not go far to find hearts always agitated; always seeking rest, and finding none. They know not Christ; and until they do know him, they cannot rest. They are always seeking a something; they know not what. They run first in one direction, and then in another, but they never follow the right thing. When they are thoughtful no good comes of their thoughts. Their waters cast up— what? Pearls and corals? No; “mire and dirt.” I do not need to explain those words. If any of you have to keep company with these restless beings, you know how foul-mouthed they can be. They cast up worse things than mire and dirt when they are stirred up. Oh, say not, “Am I a sea, or a whale?” Think of yourself as being as restless as a whale when the harpoon is in him; as restless as the sea when a storm is moving its lowest depths.

     Let us say, next, that the sea can he furious and terrible, and so can ungodly men. When a man is in a fury, what a wild beast he can be! A landsman looks on the sea when it has put on its best behaviour, and he says, “I should not mind going a voyage. It must be splendid to steam over such a sea! I feel I shall make a splendid sailor.” Let him look at that same ocean by-and-by. Where is the sea of glass now? Where are the gentle waves, which seemed afraid to ripple too far upon the sand? The sea roars and rages and raves. The Atlantic in a storm is terrible; but have you ever seen a tempest in a man’s nature? It is an awful sight, and one which causes gracious eyes to weep. What a miserable object is a man with the drink in him! He was as decent a fellow as one could talk with; but now that the drink has mastered him the devil has come on board, and you will do well to give him a wide berth. The same is true of passion. Concerning angry men our advice would be, “Put not to sea in a storm, neither argue with a man in a passion.” You do not know what he will do, and he does not know himself. Such a man will be grieved enough when he sobers down; but meanwhile, while the storm is on, he cares for nothing. His eyes flash lightning, his face is black as tempest, his mouth foams, and his tongue rages. In his case, “The sea roars, and the fulness thereof.” When you feel the Lord’s restraint, you need not ask, “Am I a sea, or a whale?” for your own heart may answer, “You can be more furious than the sea itself.”

     Think, again, how unsatisfied is the sea. It draws down and swallows up stretches of land and thousands of tons of cliff, but it is not filled up. “All the rivers rim into the sea; yet the sea is not full.” Huge Spanish galleons went to the bottom, with thousands of gold and silver pieces on board; but the sea was never the richer. When, on some dreadful night, our coasts are strewn with wrecks, and hundreds of lives are lost, the devouring deep is never the more satisfied. The sea is a hungry monster, which could swallow a navy, and then open its mouth for more. Are not many men made of the same craving sort? If you gave them half a world they would cry for the other half; and if they had the whole round globe they would weep for the stars. Man’s mind never rests in sweet content till God himself satisfies it with himself. O man, without true religion it is your fate to go for ever hungering and thristing; or, like the sea, yeasting and foaming, after you know not what.    

     Human nature is like the sea for mischief. How destructive is the ocean, and how unfeeling! It makes widows and orphans by the thousand, and then smiles as if it had done nothing! Terrible havoc it can work when once its power is let loose! Do not talk of the destructiveness of the sea; let the reckless sinner think of the destructiveness of his own life. You that are living in sin, and in vice, what wrecks you have caused! How many who set out on the voyage of life, and bade fair to make a splendid passage, have gone upon the rocks through you! A foul word, a loose song, a filthy act, and a gay craft has become a wreck. Conscience can fill in the details. Ah me! one cannot say to God, “Am I a sea, or a sea-monster?” or he might well reply, “No shark has devoured so many as the drunkard in his cups, the swearer in his presumption, and the unclean in his lust!” Ah me! I could weep to think how much of mischief any one of you who are unconverted may yet do! The Lord deliver you from being left derelict, to cause wreck to others!

     We must not forget that we are less obedient to God than the sea is. Nothing keeps back the sea from many a shore but a belt of sand; and though it rages in storm and tempest, the sea goes back in due time and leaves the sand for children to play upon. It knows its bounds and keeps them. When the time comes for the tide to rise, the obedient waters march upon the shore in unbroken ranks, and fill up every creek. They do not linger behind their time. When the moment comes to stay where they are, they rest at flood. Then comes the instant to begin the ebb, and no matter how boisterous the waves may be, they fall back at God’s bidding. What, after all, is more orderly than the great sea? Would to God we were like it in this! How readily this great creature yields! A little wind springs up, and its waves answer at once to the breath of heaven. When the sun crosses the line, the equinoctial gales know their season; while at all times the great currents cease not the flow which God has appointed them. The sea is obedient to the Lord, and so was that great fish of which we read just now: “The Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” As for us, we refuse to obey; and when left to ourselves, what law can restrain us? Is there anything in heaven or earth which a proud sinner will not venture to attempt? God blocks up the road to hell with hedge, and ditch, and chain; but we break over them. He digs a trench across our way, and we leap over it. He piles a mountain in the road, and as if our feet were like hinds’ feet, we leap upon the high places of presumption. A man will go against wind and tide in his determination to be lost. O sea! O sea! thou art but a child with thy father, as compared with the wicked and rebellious heart of man! It is a bad argument, then. We need to be looked after. We need to be watched. We need to be kept in check, even more than a sea or a whale. We need the restraining providence and constraining grace of God to keep us from deadly sin.

     IV. Last of all, I would remark that ALL THEY COMPLAINED OF WAS SENT IN LOVE. They said, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?” but if they had known the truth they would have blessed God with all their hearts for having watched over them as he has done.

     First, God’s restraint of some of us has kept us from self-ruin. If the Lord had not held us in we might have been in prison; we might have been in the grave; we might have been in hell! Who knows what would have become of us? An old Scotchman said to Mr. Howland Hill, what I am quite sure would have been as true of me. He looked into Mr. Hill’s face so keenly and so often, that at last good Howland asked him, “Why are you looking at my face so much?” “I was thinking”, said the Scotchman, “that if you had not been converted by the grace of God, you would have been a terrible sinner.” And, surely, this would have been my case. Nothing half-and-half would have contented me. I should have gone to the end of my tether. Is not the same true of some of you? How many times has the Lord laid his own hand on us to stay us from a fatal step! If we were checked in our youth, and brought there and then to Jesus, it was a gracious deed on God’s part. If we have been hindered during a sinful manhood, and have at length been made to bow before the will of the Lord, this also is great grace. Left to ourselves, we should have chosen our own destruction. Do you not think that God’s taking you apart, and giving you a tender conscience, and admonishing you so often, proves his great love to you? Surely someone has prayed for you. There is a mother here to-night. I hope she will not mind my telling you what she did last Tuesday when I was sitting in my vestry. She brought me a little brown paper parcel with £50 in it, and she gave it for the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society. She has a son whom she has not heard of for years. He went to sea, and she cannot find him, or get any tidings of his whereabouts; but she hopes that a missionary of this Society may meet him in some strange place, and bring him to the Saviour. She prays that it may be so, and, therefore, she brings her self-sacrificing offering— a great sum, I am sure, for her— that she may help to support the good Society which, she hopes, may be a blessing to her boy. There are other sailors to whom God’s love is seen in their being followed up by a mother’s pleadings. Ah, friend! the Lord would not have checked you so if he had not intended to bless you. That broken leg of yours is to keep you from running too far into sin. That yellow fever was sent to cool the fever of your sin. Your missing that ship caused you to miss shipwreck and death. These mishaps were all tokens of love to you. The Lord would not let you perish. He resolves to save you. You are one of his chosen. Christ bought you with his blood, and he means to have you for his own. If you will not come to him with a gentle breeze he will fetch you by a storm. Yield to the pressure of his love. If you will be as the horse and the mule, which have no understanding, he will break you in and manage you with bit and bridle; but it would be far better if you would be ruled by love.

     I think I see tokens of electing love upon you in those very things which you have kicked against. The Lord is working to bring you to himself, and to himself you must come. The prodigal son was driven home by stress of weather. If his father had had the doing of it, he could not have worked the matter better. His hungry belly and his pig-feeding fetched him home. The unkindness of the citizens of the far country helped to hurry him back to his father. Hardship, and want, and pain, are meant to bring you back, and God has used them to that end; and the day will come when you will say, “I bless God for the rough wave which washed me on shore. I bless God for the stormy providence which drowned my comfort, but saved my soul.”

     Once more, and I have done. God will not always deal roughly with you. Perhaps to-night he will say his last sharp word. Will you yield to softer means? They say that oil poured on troubled waters will make them smooth: God the Holy Ghost can send to your troubled soul a lifelong calm. The winds and waves on the Galilean sea all went to sleep in an instant. How? Why, when Jesus came walking on the water he said to the warring elements, “Be still.” The waves crouched like whipped dogs at his feet, though they had roared like lions before. He said to the winds, “Hush!” and they breathed as softly as the lips of a babe. Jesus is here at this hour died on Calvary looks down on us: believe on him. He that pierced hands, and cries, “Look unto me, and be ye saved.” Will you not look to him? Oh, that his grace may lead you at once to Bay, “He is all in all to me!” Here is a soul-saving text for you: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Accept the Saviour; and though you be as a sea, or as a whale, you shall no longer complain of the Lord’s watching you, but you shall rejoice in perfect liberty. He is free who loves to serve his God. He makes it his delight that he is watched of the Lord. The Lord bless sailors! May we all meet in the Fair Havens! May the flag of your Society bless every sea, because God blesses its missionaries! I wish for it the utmost prosperity, and I judge it to be worthy of the most generous aid of all Christian men. In all respects it is exactly to my mind. The Lord send prosperity to it! Amen.



Christ’s Motive and Ours

By / Nov 29

Christ’s Motive and Ours

 

“For your sakes.”— 2 Corinthians viii. 9.
“For his sake.”— Philippians i. 29.

THE true test of any action lies in its motive. Many a deed, which seems to be glorious, is really mean and ignoble because it is done with a base intention; while other actions, which appear to be poor and paltry, if we truly understood them, would be seen to be full of the glory and beauty of a noble purpose. The mainspring of a watch is the most important part of it; the spring of an action is everything. My sermon from these two texts will be on the motive which inspired Christ’s redeeming work, and the motive which should inspire our service for him. He did all for our sakes: we should do all for his sake. Fix your attention, then, chiefly, not on the deed, but on the motive which is its root.

     The less of self in any effort, the nobler it is. A great work, undertaken and completed from selfish motives, is much less praiseworthy than the feeble endeavour put forth to help other people. Selfishness is perhaps the worst of all meanness, and spiritual selfishness the form of the evil most to be dreaded. With Christ there was no self-seeking. Not for himself did he come to earth: not for himself did he suffer. He lived for others, and died for others. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” In this glorious unselfishness Christ is not only our Saviour, he is also our Example. As he did not live for self, we, too, must learn to deny ourselves, and live like him. It is in living and acting “for his sake” that we shall most truly “follow his steps.”

     We are often told, in these days, that we should live for the good of others, and we ought to heed the call; but there is so little in our fellow-men to call forth the spirit of self-sacrifice, that if we have no higher motive, we shall soon become tired of our efforts on their behalf. The true way is to live for Christ, and then “for his sake” to seek to save our fellow-men. With such a constraining power we shall not be weary in well-doing; for though men may fail us, and frequent discouragement meet us in our toil, our impelling force will ever be the same. As we whisper it to ourselves again and again, “for his sake” we shall be made strong to do or to suffer.

     If you thus go forth to the service of each day “for his sake”, realizing that he “for your sakes ” gave himself to toil and agony, and even to death itself, you will daily grow into sympathy with Christ; his divine compassion for men will take hold upon you; you will be lifted up above the life of the world; and, as you go about doing good, you will be able to touch the sorrow of the earth with a tender hand. You will grow like him you serve.

     I have heard of a man, who lived in a certain town, and while he lived, was greatly misunderstood. It was known that he had a large income, yet he lived a miserly life, and loud were the murmurs at the scanty help he gave to those around him. He stinted himself in many ways, and hoarded his money. But when he died, the popular verdict was reversed, for then the motive of all his economy was manifested. He left his fortune to build a reservoir and an aqueduct, to bring a constant supply of pure water to the town where he had been despised and misunderstood. This was the chief need of the people, and for a long time they had suffered much from drought and disease because of the scanty supply. All the years that they had misjudged him, he was silently and unselfishly living for their sakes; when they discovered his motive, it was too late to do anything for him further than to hand down to future generations the memory of his noble and generous deed. But we can do much “for his sake” who has brought to us the living water, and who, though he died for us, is now alive again, and will live for evermore. If he thus loved me, and lived for me, nothing that I can do is too much for him.

“When often, like a wayward child,
I murmur at his will,
Then this sweet word, ‘For Jesus’ sake
My restless heart can still.
I bow my head, and gently led,
His easy yoke I take;
And all the day, and all the way,
An echo in my heart shall say—
‘For Jesus’ sake’!”

     Without dwelling on the immediate connection of the Avoids which I have chosen from two familiar and beautiful verses, I would with these two texts weave a fabric of love. See what Jesus did for us, and then think what we can do for Jesus. “For your sakes” Christ did his deeds of love; “for his sake” we are called upon to live and labour among the sons of men. May his love enkindle ours!

     I. First, let us consider THE MOTIVE OF CHRIST’S WORK: “For your sakes.” As many of you as have believed in Christ Jesus, may know that “for your sakes” the Lord of glory stooped to be a suffering, dying man.

     In meditating on the motive that moved the Lord Jesus to come to your rescue, consider, first, the august Person who undertook your salvation, and died “for your sakes.” He was God. He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” He made the heavens. “Without him was not any thing made that was made.” The angels delighted to do him homage; every seraph’s wing would fly at his bidding; all the host of heaven worshipped at his feet. All the powers of nature were under his control. He wanted nothing to make him glorious; all things were his, and the power to make more than all. He might truly say, If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” Hymned day without night by all the sacred choristers, he did not lack for praise. Nor did he lack for servants; legions of angels were ever ready to do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. It was this God, this Ever-blessed One, who was from eternity with the Father, and in whom the Father had infinite delight, who looked upon men with the eye of love. lie that was born in Bethlehem’s manger was the Infinite as well as the infant; and he that lived here the life of a peasant, toiling and suffering, was that same God who made the heavens and the earth, but who deigned to be incarnate for our sakes. Well might Isaiah, in his prophetic vision, proclaim the royal titles of the “Child” who was to be born, and the “Son” who, in the fulness of time, would be given to us and for us: “The government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Let this truth sink into your souls; that it was God who came from heaven “for your sakes.” It was no inferior being, no one like yourselves; but it was very God of very God who loved you with an everlasting and infinite affection. I have often turned that thought over in my mind, but I have never been able to express it as I have wished. If I were told that all the sons of men cared for me, that would be but as a drop in a bucket compared with Jehovah himself regarding me. If it were said that all the princes of the earth had fallen at some poor man’s feet, and laid aside their dignities that they might relieve his necessities, it would be counted condescending kindness; but such an act would not be worthy to be spoken of in comparison with that infinite condescension and unparalleled love which brought the Saviour from the skies to rescue and redeem such worthless rebels as we were. It is not possible that all the condescension of all the kind and compassionate men who have ever lived should be more than as a small grain that could not turn the scale, compared with the everlasting hills of the Saviour’s wondrous love.

     Think, too, of the insignificant clients on whom all this wealth of affection was poured. As you remember the Person who came here “for your sakes”, and then, wonderful stoop! consider who you are— who we are— for whose sakes he died, do not your hearts melt at the thought? Brethren, if we truly know ourselves, we have a very poor opinion of ourselves when compared with Christ. Humility has been rightly said to be a correct estimate of ourselves. What were we but the most insignificant creatures? If our whole race had been blotted out, there need have been no gap in the creation of God, or if there had seemed to be a void for a moment, he had but to speak the word, and myriads of creatures prompt to obey his will would have filled up the space. How was it that Jesus, the Son of God, should suffer for such insignificant ephemera, such insects of an hour as we are? But we are not only insignificant, we are also iniquitous. “We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly.” Even the Lord’s children have to confess, “All we like sheep have gone astray; wo have turned every one to his own way;” but, oh! wonder of love, they can add, “and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As sinners, we deserve nothing but God’s thunderbolts; yet, trusting in his dear Son, wo receive nothing but his mercy. Having desperately sinned, and broken all his commandments, if he had said, “Perish for ever, ye guilty rebels,” he would have spoken only the sentence that strict justice required. Instead of that, he said to his Only-begotten, “Thou shalt die that they may not die; I will take thee, my Son, my Isaac, and offer thee upon the altar of sacrifice, that through thy death men may live.” This is indeed a marvel of grace; this must be one of the things the angels desire to look into. Our thoughts cannot compass this wondrous work, nor can our words describe it.

     Many of us, also, were not only sinful, as the whole race is, but we were peculiarly sinful. Some of us feel inclined to dispute with Saul of Tarsus for the title “chief of sinners.” It will ever remain a wonder to me that the Son of God should have condescended to die for me. Were you a drunkard, and has the Holy Spirit shown you that Jesus died for you; and are you now rejoicing that you are washed in his precious blood? Were you one of the women who, like Mary Magdalene, were rightly called sinners, and have you, like her, washed your robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb? Then you are constrained to exclaim with wonder and gratitude,—

“Depth of mercy, can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God his wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?”

     I fancy that I hear one and another of you adoring God’s matchless mercy, and saying, with wonder and surprise, “Is it really true that mercy is brought to me by God’s own Son? Could nothing less than the death of the Only-begotten save my sinful soul? Did he condescend to die for me? Well may I admire the grace thus manifested, and raise my glad song of thanksgiving to him who hath done such great things for me.” Each of us can see some peculiarity in his own case. Some of us have not offended so grievously in outward conduct as others have done; but, then, wo had better instruction in our childhood, and consequently our sins were doubly heinous; for we sinned against light and knowledge. Some of us have had to violate our conscience terribly in order to sin as we have done. It may be that some of you lived forty or fifty years as unbelievers, and yet at last you were brought to bow at the dear feet that were pierced for you. Oh, I am sure you bless his name that ever he shed his blood for you; and I dare say you feel as I do sometimes, that none in the glory land will be able to raise such a song of adoring gratitude as you will, when all heaven shall ring with the grand chorus of those who have been redeemed from among men.

     Thus have we considered, first, the august Person who accomplished the great work of our redemption; and, secondly, the poor sinful creatures for whose sake he suffered.

     Now let me invite you to consider the wondrous work which this master motive inspired. “For your sakes” God became incarnate; the Son of God took into union with himself our nature, without which lie could not have suffered, and died. We read concerning him, “Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.” If we had never heard of that fact before, our ears and heart would be astonished at the words. At the end of each clause, I feel inclined to pause, and say, “Look! Look!” Was there ever such a wonder as this— the Infinite became incarnate; he ate, and he hungered; he drank, and he thirsted; he needed to be housed from the wintry storm, but he “had not where to lay his head”? He wanted human sympathy, but “all his disciples forsook him, and fled.” He was the “Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” and all “for your sakes.”

     The words that follow our text tell us that “He became poor.” You know that, in this world, the poverty of a man is usually reckoned in proportion to the position of affluence from which he has come down. One who was born a pauper is not relatively so poor as the man who was once a king, but has been reduced to beggary; for in the one case there is no experience of the luxury which riches can command, and in the other no adaptability to the shifts and privations of those who have always been in poverty. When the Christ of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, was forsaken by his Father, deserted by his friends, and left alone to suffer “for your sakes”, that was the direst poverty that was ever known.

     See your Lord beneath the olives of Gethsemane. Bloody sweat falls to the ground as, being in an agony, he prays more earnestly: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” but it must not pass from him. “For your sakes” he must drink it; “for your sakes” every bitter drop must be drained. Then see him as he stands, without an advocate, before Herod, Pilate, and Caiaphas— “taken from prison and from judgment.” Mark his sufferings as they hound him through the streets of Jerusalem, along the Sorrowful Way! Behold him as, at last, they fasten his hands and his feet to the cruel wood, and lift him up ’twixt earth and heaven, to suffer the death of the cross! Let those who will, depreciate the sufferings of Christ; I believe there was in the God-man, Christ Jesus, an infinite capacity for suffering; and that his body, so wondrously formed, was able to endure, and did endure, infinitely more than human thought can imagine, while, at the same time, the sufferings of his soul were the very soul of his sufferings. Well did the Spirit-taught poet, Joseph Hart, write—

“Much we talk of Jesu’s blood,
But how little’s understood!
Of his sufferings, so intense,
Angels have no perfect sense.
“Who can rightly comprehend
Their beginning or their end?
’Tis to God and God alone
That their weight is fully known.”

     All this Christ suffered “for your sakes.” What love and gratitude ought to fill your heart as you think of all that Jesus bore on your behalf! If you had a wife who, when you lay sick, watched you with such anxious care that she undermined her own health, and brought herself down to the grave through her devotion to you; oh, with what love you think of her, that she should suffer even unto death for your sake! If you were ever delivered from a watery grave; and the brave fellow, who rescued you, himself sank back into the water, and was drowned, you can never forget his noble self-sacrifice; but you will ever cherish his memory, for he died for your sake. There is a story I have often read, of an American gentleman, who was accustomed to go frequently to a tomb, and plant fresh flowers. When some one asked why he did so, he said that, when the time came for him to go to the war, he was detained by some business, and the man who lay beneath the sod became his substitute performed his duty, and died in the battle. Over that carefully-kept grave, he had the words inscribed, “He died for me!” There is something melting in the thought of another dying for you; how much more melting is it when that One is the Christ of Calvary! Why, you feel, “Here is One, of whom I never deserved anything, taking my part; One whom I have badly treated, and against whom I have offended; yet he suffered for me, he took my place, he bore my sins, he died for me. Henceforth I will live for him; I will love him; I will give myself wholly and unreservedly to him and to his blessed service.” “For your sakes” Christ died. If you believe that, you cannot help loving and serving him. It is an old theme which I am bringing before your minds, but it is the grandest theme that ever inspired a mortal tongue, or stirred a human heart.

     I want you that love the Lord to consider, next, the comprehensive motive for which he wrought the wondrous work which. I have so imperfectly described: “For your sakes.” I would have you remember that everything he was, and everything he did, was “for your sakes.” “For your sakes” the midnight prayer upon the bleak mountain’s side; “for your sakes” the scoffing and the jeering that followed him wherever he went; “for your sakes” the agony in the garden; “for your sakes” the flagellation of the Homan lash; “for your sakes” he gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; “for your sakes” the shame and the spitting; “for your sakes” he “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Say it, my brethren and sisters, let your hearts say it now, and wet the words with tears: “For our sakes he suffered all this.”

     Think of him for a moment as he is taken down from the cross. In fair white linen they wrap that blessed body, covered with its own blood. I think I see Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, and Joseph of Arimathӕa, looking on that poor mangled frame; those dear eyes, once so bright with love, now closed in death; those wonder-working hands, that multiplied the loaves and fishes, now stiff and cold; and those blessed feet, that trod the sea, all lifeless now. O Joseph, and you, Mary, this was for you— “for your sakes”! but also for mine, and for the sake of all my brethren and sisters who are resting by faith on that finished sacrifice! They laid the dear body in Joseph’s new tomb, the virgin sepulchre wherein never man had lain, and there they left our great Champion sleeping a while in the darkness of death. As he lay there, it was “for your sakes.”

     Ay, and blessed be his name! when the appointed morning came, he lived again, the stone was rolled away from the sepulchre, and he came forth from the tomb; it was “for your sakes” he rose. The forty days he lived on earth were “for your sakes”; and when from off the brow of Olivet he ascended to his Father’s right hand, it was “for your sakes.” He said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” There, seated on his throne of glory, he holds the sceptre, and rales all worlds “for your sakes”; there as an Intercessor, he pleads with God “for your sakes.” There is not a gem in his crown but is there “for your sakes”; there is not a jewel on his breastplate but is there “for your sakes.” From head to foot he is what he is “for your sakes.” And when he shall come a second time— as soon he will— to judge the world in righteousness, and to “gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”; to usher in the reign of truth, and establish his throne for ever; it will be all “for your sakes” who have believed on his name. “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.”

     We might thus continue, but we will not. May God make this thought burn in your heart— All that Christ has done for us is for our sakes! I suppose it is because we are such fallen creatures, that these considerations do not move us as they should. Adamant is wax compared with our hearts. Oh, that, we did but feel the fire of Jesus’ love! Like coals of juniper, which have a most vehement flame, our hearts would burn within us while we talked of that dear love which brought him to the grave, and took him from the grave to the heavens, and shall bring him back from the heavens to take his people up to be with him where he is, and to abide with him for ever.

     II. Having meditated on the motive which moved Christ in the work he accomplished for us, let us consider THE MOTIVE WHICH SHOULD INSPIRE ALL OUR SERVICE FOR HIM: “For his sake.”

     This second text is in the Epistle to the Philippians, first chapter, and twenty-ninth verse. “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” What are we that we should be allowed the high honour of suffering “for his sake”? It is a great privilege to do, or to be, or to bear anything for him. Our suffering can never be worth a thought when compared with his; and any sacrifice that we could offer “for his sake” would be small indeed when contrasted with the infinite sacrifice that he has already made for our sakes. If you are rejoicing in the fact that Christ died for you, it will be very easy to prompt in your hearts the desire to do something “for his sake.”

     I find in Scripture that the thought expressed in the words “for his sake” may be enlarged, and assume six or seven phases. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, fifth chapter, and tenth verse, our Lord puts it, “for righteousness’ sake”: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” I understand, then, that if a man suffers as a Christian for doing that which is right, he is suffering for Christ’s sake. If he cannot, and will not, act disreputably, and contrary to the commands of God, as others do, the suffering which he willingly bears, the loss which he cheerfully incurs because of his uprightness, is so much borne for Christ’s sake. If a man be out-and-out righteous in this world, he will be sure to be pointed at by certain persons as an oddity. He cannot lie, as others lie; nor practise tricks in trade, as others do; nor frequent their places of amusement; nor indulge in their lusts; and therefore straightway they say, “He is a hypocrite; he is a cant.” And as they cannot understand the principle which inspires him, they impute to him motives which he abhors. This is how they talk: “He is doing it for the sake of being thought a saint,” “he is paid for it; motive or other;” or else they sum up the whole matter by declaring, “he is a downright impostor.” Now, if in any of these ways you are made to suffer for that which is right— for speaking the truth, and acting the truth— never mind, brethren, but rather rejoice that you are permitted to suffer for Christ’s sake. Say within yourself, “If my dear Lord lost all things for me, I may well lose some things for him. If he was stripped to the last rag for me, I may well be content to be poor ‘for his sake,’” Set your face like a flint, and say, “We can be poor, but we cannot be dishonest; we can suffer, but we cannot sin.” Many men say, when we talk to them thus, “But, you know, we must live.” I do not see that there is any necessity for your living, if you cannot live honestly. It would be better to die rather than to do wrong: any amount of suffering would be better than that we should deny our Lord and Master. Remember Peter’s words, “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:” or, as the Revised Version has the last clause, “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.”

     In the Word of God, yet another form is given to this suffering or doing for Christ’s sake, and it assumes this shape— “for the gospel’s sake.” In his first epistle to the Corinthians, ninth chapter, and twenty-third verse, Paul writes of what he did “for the gospel’s sake”, and our Lord speaks of some who, when there was persecution “for the word’s sake”, were offended. Now, if you are put to any shame for the sake of the gospel, you suffer “for his sake”; and if you labour to spread the gospel, and publish the Word of God, if it is your daily endeavour to tell to others God’s way of salvation, you are doing something “for his sake”; for the gospel and Christ are so wrapped up together, that what is done for the gospel’s sake, is done “for his sake.”

     Yet another view of the subject is given to us when the apostle, in his letter to the Colossians, first chapter, and twenty-fourth verse, speaks of certain saints honouring Christ by suffering “for his body’s sake, which is the Church.” That is another form of rendering homage to Christ, and doing what we do “for his sake.” O brethren, we ought to do much more than we do for God’s people! They are the body of Christ. We should every one of us feel it an honour to be allowed to unloose the latchets of his shoes, and to wash his feet; well, poor saints are Christ’s feet. When you are feeding them, you are feeding him; for certainly if Paul, in persecuting them, persecuted Christ, it is clear that you, when you are helping them for Christ’s sake, are doing it to him. Oh, do lay out your lives for his Church’s sake! His dear people deserve it at your hands, and their Lord deserves it, too.

     Then, again, Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy, second chapter, and tenth verse, uses the phrase, “for the elect’s sakes”; by which I think he comprehends, not only those who are in the Church as yet, but those who are to be. Happy is that man who spends all his time in seeking out poor wanderers, that he may bring in God’s elect; who lays all his talents and all his strength upon the altar of God, consecrated to this aim,— that he may find out the chosen of the Father, the redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and in the hand of the Spirit be the instrument of bringing them back to their Father’s house, from which they have wandered. When you serve Christ’s people, always do it “for his sake.”

     Further, we have the expression, “the kingdom of God’s sake”, when our Master tells Peter, as recorded in the eighteenth chapter of Luke, twenty-ninth verse, that no one who has left aught for him, and for it, shall fail of present and eternal reward. This is another way in which we can serve Christ our King, by being willing to sacrifice “house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake.”

     There is one other remarkable expression, used by John in his second epistle, at the second verse: he there speaks of something done “for the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us.” Ah! it is not merely the gospel we are to defend, but we are to defend that living seed which the Holy Ghost has put into us, that truth which we have tasted, and handled, and felt; that theology which is not that of the Book only, but that which is written on the fleshy tablets of our hearts. I do hope there are many of you who keep back your hand from sin because the truth that is in you will not let you touch it; and who put forth both your hands to serve the Lord, because the truth that is in you compels you to it. The new nature, that living, incorruptible seed, constraineth you, and you judge that if Christ died for you, you must live, and, if necessary, you will die for him. I would ask great things from those for whom Christ has done great things. When you make sin little, and hell little, you also make Christ little; and then, in consequence, you think you owe him but little, and you will render him but little. But when you feel the weight of sin, and see the preciousness of your Redeemer, and feel in some measure the obligations under which you are to him, then you say—

“Oh! what shall I do my Saviour to praise?”

     There have been, in the Christian church, at different times, men and women of highly consecrated spirit, who seem to have realized what their Lord expected of them. I dare say that they were very dissatisfied with themselves; but as we read their biographies, we are charmed with their consecration of spirit. The truth of God, and especially the Christ, who is the Truth, had such influence over their lives, that they truly lived “for his sake.” May we have many such in our ranks! I do not know whether it may be the duty of any of you to go to foreign lands “for his sake.” I only hope there are some young men here who will offer themselves for missionary service; for blessed are they that bear the gospel into “the regions beyond”, carrying their lives in their hands! They shall stand very near to the eternal throne in the day when the King rewards his faithful servants. I do not know whether there may be any of our sisters here who are bound to consecrate their lives to the nursing of the sick where fevers are rife, or where pestilence abounds; but they who can do such service to humanity, for Christ’s sake, shall receive no light word of approbation at the last great day. But, probably, the mass of us will have to abide in our calling; and therefore I would say, if we must do so, let our life be all “for his sake.” I would desire never to come to this platform but “for his sake”, never to say even a word about the gospel but “for his sake.” And you in your home, dear mother, go and bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord “for his sake.” Take those dear little ones, and present them to him. Say, “Jesus, I give them to thee; accept and save them. I devote them to thy service, as Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord.” Then, “for his sake” teach them holiness; “for his sake” be patient with them; and “for his sake” bring them up always in the fear of the Lord.

     You men of business, go out and labour “for his sake.” I could almost envy some of you who have acquired an adequate income. Keep the warehouse or shop open “for his sake”, and give more largely to his cause. And you who are not in a position of competence, but are struggling for your daily bread “for his sake” never do a wrong thing. Sometimes, when you are half inclined to yield to the tempter, imagine that your Saviour is standing by your side; and that he puts his pierced hand upon your shoulder, and says, “If you are indeed bought with my blood, let there be justice in all your dealings with your fellows, nay, more, be generous as well as just, for my sake; for I would have you so act that all men shall know that you are my disciples.”

     Perhaps some of you, who profess to be Christians, are living altogether for yourselves, instead of living unto God. When you are at home to-night, sitting quietly in your room alone, I could half wish that the Lord Jesus would enter, and say to you, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, and laid down my life for you; what are you doing for me in return?” Suppose he looked at you with those gentle yet heart-searching eyes of his, and you looked into that face which was marred more than any man’s, what would you say? Oh! methinks I should have to cover my face for very shame; and yet I am not living in forgetfulness of him, and I am trying to do him some humble service. But as for those who do nothing, with the exception of sitting to hear sermons, or sometimes dropping in to a prayer-meeting, or now and then giving a little to the cause of God, perhaps as little as they dare— oh! what would they say in his presence? You will all be in his presence soon, perhaps sooner than you expect, and amongst the sorrows that will trouble you on your death-bed, if you are unfaithful to your Lord, will be this— that you have done so little for him while you had the opportunity.

     When sitting by the side of one of our dying members, a poor weak girl, wasted by consumption, I was charmed as she whispered in my ear that, when she was brought to Jesus, she had such joy that she had striven to do something for him, but mourned that she could accomplish so little. Poor child! she tried to teach a class of boys, and half killed herself in the struggle to keep them quiet. She felt constrained, by love to her Lord, to try to do something for him; and as there happened to be nothing else to do, she began to teach some rough children, who were far too wild for her. But she did not regret it. Oh, no! I am sure, if she could be raised up, she would take to such work again, “for his sake”; and I am sure that any of you, if you have given of your substance, or given of your time, or given of your abilities “for his sake”, will never have to say when you are lying as she was, and breathing out your life, “I did too much for my Saviour.” You will rather bless his name that ever he accepted the little that you could do; and like our young sister, mourn that it is so little compared with what he deserves. I therefore say to each one of you, brethren and sisters,— If you have indeed been washed in the blood of Christ, spend yourself for him: do not mock him. If it was in play that you were redeemed, and if the crucifixion was but a sport, then go and trifle with the service of Christ; but if indeed the blood-mark of a real Saviour is upon you, and you have been washed in the fountain filled with his precious blood, go and live really useful, consecrated lives, into which you shall throw your whole heart and soul and strength “for his sake.”

     Who shall pile a monument worthy of the Saviour who did so much “for your sakes”? Who shall compose a song sweet enough for the Christ of God who came for our redemption? Who shall sound the trumpets loudly enough for Immanuel, who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor? Who shall bring offerings of gold and frankincense rich enough for him who gave up all for his people? Crown him, ye angels! Ye seraphim, adore him! O God, thou alone canst give him the meed of honour which he merits! Glory be to his name for ever! Let us take as our motto henceforth these words, “For his sake.” “For his sake” let us put up with poverty, counting it to be richest to be poor, if he would have it so. “For his sake” let us cheerfully endure bodily sufferings, being glad if they make us more useful for him. “For his sake” let us live in toil, and die in obscurity, if so we can best glorify him. Let our song be that of the gifted songstress, of whose hymn I have already quoted one verse—

“In suffering sore, or toilsome task,
His burden light I’ll bear;
‘For Jesus’ sake’ shall sweeten all,
Till his bright home I share:
And then this song more sweet, more strong,
In heaven my harp shall wake;
Led all the way, till that glad day,
Eternally, my heart shall say,
‘For Jesus’ sake.

     I will close when I have only added that, if any of you have not at present any interest in this sacrifice and this service of which my two texts speak, I have just this word for you. It is, at least, a blessing that you are permitted still to listen to the gospel. Let me very briefly tell once more “the old, old story, of Jesus and his love.” Jesus Christ died in the stead of sinners. We deserved to be punished for our sins. Under the law of Moses there was no pardon for sin except through the blood of a sacrifice. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one sacrifice for sins for ever, of which the thousands of bullocks and lambs slain under the law were but types. Every man who trusts to the death of the Lamb of God, may know that Jesus Christ was punished in his stead; so that God can be just, and yet forgive the guilty; he can, without violating his justice, remit sin and pardon iniquity, because a Substitute has been found, whose death has an infinite value because of the divine nature of the Sufferer. He has borne the iniquities of all who trust him. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall go your way a saved soul, even though you came into this house steeped in sin, or through terrible conviction on the very verge of despair. God grant that many of you may trust in Jesus, this very hour, “for his sake”: Amen.



Wanted! — Volunteers

By / Oct 25

Wanted! — Volunteers

 

“And next him was Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the Lord; and with him two hundred thousand mighty men of valour.” — 2 Chronicles xvii. 16.

 

IT was a great thing for king Jehoshaphat to have such a pious lord-lieutenant, one who could command an army, and at the same time obey the commands of God. Christian men ought greatly to value Christian servants, especially if such persons are employed in positions of trust. If we can have godly men to occupy our offices, and transact our business, we should be very grateful, and do our best to encourage and cheer them. It is true that sometimes those who make the loudest profession of religion arc the least trustworthy; but that very fact shows that there is something in the religion they falsely profess, which, if really laid hold of, makes a man more upright and reliable. Else why should it be counterfeited? The larger the responsibility, the more necessary it is to have men who can be depended upon to manage the business. It was for the great benefit of Jehoshaphat, as king, that he should have a godly captain over so large a part of his army as two hundred thousand mighty men of valour.

     It was also a great thing for the country of Judah to have a godly man in such a position. “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” I hope that in England there will be an increasing desire that those persons who represent us in Parliament, or who legislate in any way, should be men of good character. The day will yet come when it will be judged that those who are immoral are not the men to make our laws, or to see that those laws are carried out. It is, however, a great blessing to a country to have godly men in high places who will see to it that right is done, that justice is maintained, and that the ends of true religion are promoted. Happy is the nation that has godly officers to discharge its business, men who fear God, and fear none beside!

     I wonder how this man, Amasiah the son of Zichri, came to be a servant of God. We have no history of his experience, We could almost wish that we had; but since it is not recorded, it makes us feel that although men and women cannot tell us the way in which they were led to yield to Christ, yet if their lives show that they are serving God we must be well content. If you are saved, even though you cannot tell us when or how the great change was wrought, we will rejoice in the fact of your salvation. Amasiah is a man of whom wo do not know anything beyond this— he “willingly offered himself unto the Lord.” There must have been a turning-point in his career, a time when first he knew the grace of God, which wrought such a change in him. There must have been a waking up to the feeling that God deserved his love and his life. There must have been a time of quickening into spiritual consecration. We are told nothing about that, therefore we must leave it under the veil which Scripture draws over his history. But if I say little about his exercises of soul, and press onward to a very practical point, I earnestly desire that the inward enlightenment that he enjoyed may be known by many of you; and that God the Holy Ghost may work upon your hearts, and bring you out of the bondage and servitude of sin into the glorious liberty of the gospel, which will make you capable of willingly offering yourselves unto the Lord.

     I am here as a recruiting-sergeant. I have no ribbons with me, nor shillings; but I cast a longing eye on many here present who as yet do not belong to my Master, and fervently do I hope that they may be enlisted in his service. Often have I seen the recruiting-sergeant lingering about certain streets, and looking at every young man passing by. I have known him address some young gentleman who wondered that he should ever have been spoken to about such a thing; and who in his offended dignity felt a deal more inclined to kick the sergeant than to give him a civil answer. But the officer has said to him, “I beg your pardon, sir; but I thought such a smart-looking fellow as you would be just the kind of man to take the Queen’s shilling;” and, soothed by the compliment, the gentleman has gone on his way laughing. He wanted no Queen’s shilling, and was not at all inclined for army service. I would desire to be as bold in addressing you as the sergeant is in his calling, and if I should intrude upon some young gentleman who should feel angry because of my importunity, I shall not at all object. I shall say, “Very well; but you must excuse my feeling that the more ability and influence you have, the greater is the reason why you should be converted to Christ, that you might serve my Master.” God knows how I rejoice over the poorest, the most ignorant, the most depraved of men or women, when they are brought to Christ; but I do like sometimes to see those come to him who have some life in them, and some talent about them, and who can, by consecrating themselves to the Lord, do for his cause and kingdom, by his grace, a real service in days to come. There is hard fighting to be done, and my Lord calls for men who will not be afraid to do it. Let all the heroism of your manhood impel you to this blessed service. You are not asked to serve the Lord because he promises you ease and pleasure; you are rather called to “endure hardness” as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. As we sang just now:

“Ye that are men, now serve him
Against unnumbered foes;
Your courage rise with danger,
And strength to strength oppose.”

     I am going to use the account of this Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the Lord, as an illustration of what, I trust, will be true about many of my hearers. Oh, that the Holy Spirit may draw out somebody who shall become a very apostle in these times, a standard-bearer for the Lord Jesus, who shall—

“Lift high his royal banner”

among the sons of men!

     I. First, let me say that Amasiah is distinguished from the other mighty men of King Jehoshaphat by the fact that HE MADE IT IIIS LIFE-WORK TO SERVE THE LORD. He “willingly offered himself unto the Lord,” and he was accepted, and became a life-long servant of Jehovah, the God of Israel.

     It should not need much talk to make men feel that this is reasonable service. To serve your Maker, who created you that you should glorify him, is surely a natural thing to do; and it becomes a thing to be more expected when you are asked to serve your Redeemer, who shed his blood that you might be set free from sin, and “yield your members servants unto holiness.” Would it not be a right thing for you to offer yourself to him who yielded himself to the death for us?

“Offered was he, for greatest and the least;
Himself the Victim, and himself the Priest.”

This is an argument Amasiah had not, yet did he find reason enough to serve the Lord. How much stronger is the claim upon you! And if this plea needs to be strengthened still further, think that you are called to serve him with whom you hope to dwell for ever in heaven. It ought to be an instinct of every reasonable soul to set about such service instantly. Ordinary gratitude should cause every Christian man to say to his Lord, “Whom else should I serve? I owe to thee my very being, my new life, and all I possess. In thee I live; by thee I am daily fed. Why should I not serve thee?”

“Thine am I by all ties;
But chiefly thine,
That through thy sacrifice
Thou, Lord, art mine;
By thine own cords of love, so sweetly wound
Around me, I to thee am closely bound.”

     Moreover, this is honourable service. Men like a service that seems to reflect some kind of glory upon them. To serve a great man, makes even the footman feel as if he was himself a great man, too; at least, I have seen some of these gentlemen give themselves mighty airs, under the notion that they were as grand as their master. But to serve God really gives honour and glory. O sirs, if this be not done in mere pretence, but in reality, what a grand life a man must lead who is the servant of God! To serve him whom angels serve, whom archangels serve, whose service is perfect freedom, is the most honourable service to which a man can attain. There is nothing humiliating or debasing about it, but everything that tends to lift us upward, and to make us grow in spiritual force. To serve God is to reign. Every man becomes a king in proportion as he really serves the Lord.

     Further, this is remunerative service, the most remunerative in all the world. The devil spoke a truth that he did not mean to speak when he said, “Doth Job serve God for nought?” God never lets his servants serve him for nothing. He may not always give them gold or worldly prosperity; but he will give them a reward more satisfying to them than these things, more grateful to their hearts than all the treasures of the Indies. I never met with a man that served God who complained of his wages. Nay, it is so much a work of grace that the work itself is a gift to us. The privilege of serving God— ay, call it the high honour, the delight, the great gain of being a servant of God — if there were no other reward, this would suffice us. I can sympathize with him who said—

“Dismiss me not thy service, Lord,
But train me for thy will,
For even I, in fields so broad,
Some duties may fulfil;
And I will ask for no reward
Except to serve thee still.”

But the fact is that, in serving the Lord, we have, through grace, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We realize that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. “We know that all things work together for good” to us while we are here, and that the best part of our religion is yet to come, for

“After death its joys shall be
Lasting as eternity.”

He whose life is devoted to the service of God must have a blessed life. It is not always a happy life in the judgment of men, yet is it still happy in the judgment of God, and in the estimation of the believer himself. The servants of God have a happy service.

     I may also say that this is safe service. God will not put you into a position of danger when you enter his service. If you serve men, they may tempt you to do wrong. Many a young man, who has entered an office or a shop, has found himself commanded to do what no honest man ought to expect another to do. Many a young woman has taken her position in a family whore temptation has been like Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace to her. But if you serve God, he may try you, but he will never tempt you to sin. In following hard after him you will be in safe places, and the more you are obedient to the will of God the more secure will you be from temptations within and without. Obedience will keep you from peril. The grace of God will preserve you from all evil.

     After all, I am not like that recruiting-sergeant, who, if he tries to get a man to serve under the colours, has to put it very prettily. He tells about the merry times that soldiers have, but he does not say much about wounds and wooden legs. He does not talk much about bleeding to death on the battle-field, nor about being discharged at last with nothing a week to live upon after your best days have been given in your country’s service. No; he always picks out the bright colours, and praises “Her Majesty’s Service” as if it were all pipeclay and red coats and fine feathers and glory, and I know not what besides. Now, I have not to do that. There is no fault in my Master’s service that I need to conceal from you. All round it is the best, the happiest, the most glorious position that a man can occupy; and though I would bid you count the cost before you enrol yourself under his leadership, you may rest assured that you can never calculate the value of the reward that Christ hath in store for all his faithful followers. Therefore, without any reserve, I may fairly come to each man hero and say, “Like Amasiah, the son of Zichri, offer yourself willingly unto the Lord.”

     II. Now, to go a step further, notice, in the second place, concerning this man Amasiah, HE WAS A READY VOLUNTEER, “who willingly offered himself unto the Lord.” There is much truth in the old proverb, that “one volunteer is worth twenty pressed men.” Service willingly rendered has a fragrance and a bloom about it that make it most delightful and acceptable.

     He needed no pressing. Some of you want so very much persuading, that you are hardly worth having when at last we get you. There is such a thing as pressing a man so long that all the juice is gone out of him, and you have only the husk of the man when you do manage to get him. Amasiah wanted no pressing at all, for in his soul there was an ardent desire to serve the living God; he “willingly offered himself unto the Lord.”

     He needed no hunting out. How many even of church-members seem to be like Saul when he was elected king, and they could not find him! “Where is that tall fellow, head and shoulders above the rest of the people?” At last somebody said that he had hidden himself among the stuff. Many of our young men to-day are among the stuff; and there are numbers both of men and women who ought to be coming forward for the Lord’s service instead of hiding among the rubbish. My dear friend Mr. Pearce, the superintendent of our Sunday-school, says that he wants more teachers. There are plenty who might engage in the work, but they are among the stuff. Let them imitate Amasiah, “who willingly offered himself unto the Lord.”

     Amasiah was a self-contained man. He needed no looking after, when he had once come out. We have some Christians who will keep right as long as somebody else looks after them. How many such there are in all churches! You must always be watching them, or else they will be up to mischief, or growing cold, ceasing to attend the means of grace, getting into evil company, and going back to the world. Amasiah was not of that kind. He “offered himself willingly unto the Lord;” and having done so, he stood to his consecration vow.

     He needed no leader. On the contrary, he took the lead himself over two hundred thousand men. We have many that will follow pretty well. We want some that will not need leading except by our great Leader, the Lord Jesus; men who know what they know, believe what they believe, know how they ought to act, and are resolved so to act, and will do it even to the end. It was a fine motto which a distinguished worker once adopted: “Resolved, that I will act as if there were none else to act, not waiting for others.” This is the spirit which wo long to sec amongst the Lord’s people: not a spirit of lawlessness and disorder, but of loyalty and independence; a spirit which will not timidly wait until everybody is ready, but, knowing the will of God, will at all hazards go forward to do it. Amasiah, the leader of this host of “mighty men of valour”, would be certain to be a man of valour himself. Like leader, like followers: he that would lead bravo men must himself be brave. We need in this generation more men, who, in Christ’s service, shall perform deeds of daring, as British soldiers do to win the Victoria Cross, which has inscribed upon it the words, “For valour.” Christ has right royal rewards for those who faithfully servo him. I should like to meet with a band of brave young men ready to render valiant service to my Lord, young men with backbones; there have not been many of that kind made lately; they are to-day generally soft down the back. Most men I meet are very squeezable, men of india-rubber that yield every way. But we want for Christ and for his cause some who cannot be turned aside, to offer themselves willingly unto the Lord, doing it decidedly, at once, and from the bottom of their hearts. God grant by his Spirit that some such may by this sermon be led to the knowledge and service of the Lord!

     III. The third point about Amasiah is that, while he was a volunteer, HE OFFERED HIMSELF TO THE LORD. “Himself” — it was the best thing ho had. Some of you, perhaps, have not anything else to offer. Then, do as ho did— willingly offer yourself. I have heard of a little boy at a public meeting where there was a missionary collection, when the collector came to him, he asked him to hold the plate a little lower. Thinking he wanted to see his money drop on to the plate, and, being a kindly man, he hold the plate down low. “Please, sir, it is not low enough; would you mind putting it on the floor?” The collector good-humouredly put it down, and then the boy said, “I have not even a penny to give to the collection, so I want to get into the plate, and give myself to God.” It was a simple thing to do; but that is exactly what we desire that many may do at this good hour. Willingly offer yourselves, like Amasiah, unto the Lord.

     He made no reserve as to what he had. He gave himself, his money, his ability, his position, his influence. All was yielded up to the Lord. “Well,” says one, “I give so much to the weekly offering.” Do you? I am glad to hear it; but have you given yourself? “I sometimes go out and sing a sacred song at a meeting,” you say. That is quite right; you give your voice; but have you given yourself? “I have joined the church,” another says. That, too, is a very proper thing to do if you are really a believer; but it is not all, nor is it the first thing; you have given us the distinguished privilege of having your name written on our church-roll; but have you given yourself to the Lord? It is said of Amasiah, that he “willingly offered himself unto the Lord.” You have often found, I doubt not, a chrysalis. You have perhaps said, as you stooped to pick it up, “I will take that home, and see what kind of butterfly comes out of it.” You have kept it and kept it, and nothing has ever come out of it, because the butterfly had already flown. Many people about us are like that. We hope that they are going to do something, but nothing ever comes out of our chrysalis. There is nothing living inside, and hence there is never any flutter of life, nor flight of wings. But when a man gives himself to the Lord willingly, making no reserve as to what he has, then we have something worth the having. I like to sing—

“Yet if I might make some reserve,
And duty did not call,
I love my Lord with zeal so great
That I should give him all.”

     Notice yet another thing about Amasiah, which, I think, must have been true: lie made no reserve as to what lie did. He gave himself to the Lord, as much as to say, “Lord, put me here, and I will keep here. Put me there, and I will keep there. Make me a great man, and I will serve thee. Make me a little man, and I will serve thee. Give me health and strength, and I will serve thee. But if thou dost choose rather to send me sickness, and lay me on a bed of languishing, still I will serve thee.” In some such way I can fancy that Amasiah gave himself up to the service of the King of kings. This is how we should come to Christ; willing when he says “Go,” to go; when he says “Come,” to come; when ho says “Do this,” to do it; willing to do his will, as the little girl said the angels do it, “without asking any questions”; and thus numbering ourselves among the company who stand ready to obey their Master s least word—

“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs but to do or die.”

Christ must be the absolute Master of the saved soul; and the soul that is truly saved is willing cither to go or stay, as may seem best to his Lord; for it is to the Lord that he has given himself; to one who henceforth is to rule and reign over his whole life. I trust that some to whom these words come will thus offer themselves, making no reserve as to what they shall do, and—

“Where duty calls or danger,
Be never wanting there.”

     When Amasiah willingly offered himself for the Lord’s service, he made no reserve as to when it should be. He probably gave himself to the Lord while he was a young man. He began with all his heart to serve God in his youth; and when he was in middle life, and his children were round about him, he was still unfalteringly the servant of God. When he grew grey, and others ventured to think that he had better retire from active service, he might think it wise to give up some of his work, but never would he retire from the service of his God; for he had willingly offered himself unto the Lord. He made no reserve about serving up to a certain time, and then leaving off; but he would serve his God while he had breath in his body.

     And he made no reserve as to how that service should be rendered. As I have already said, he would serve God in health, but he would serve him in sickness too. Ay, and he would serve God by doing nothing at all, if such was his will. One of the hardest works for saints to do is to do nothing. When they got so infirm that they cannot leave their room, or even their bed; perhaps their very voice fails them, so that they cannot speak; then what difficult work it is to say with the heart, “Lord, I served thee when I laboured for thee, and I will serve thee when I cannot labour for thee. I trusted thee when I could speak about thee, and I will trust thee now that I cannot speak about thee. I am thy servant. If my Lord bids me do anything, I will do it; if he gives me no command, yet will I be his servant still. In life and in death my ear shall be bored to my master’s door-post”! In this fashion, I suppose, Amasiah willingly offered himself unto the Lord. Have you not sometimes seen the telegraph boys, standing or sitting still at the post-office when there is no message to be delivered? They are as much doing their work by waiting as when they carry to its destination the despatch which has been flashed along the wires. In waiting they servo, and in like manner they most truly serve the Lord who give up all idea of self-pleasing, and go or stay, as best pleases him, to whom they willingly offer themselves to be his servants.

     I have been explaining what kind of volunteers I want to enlist for my Lord. I wonder whether the Holy Spirit is saying to some young man, “You are the man. You should willingly offer yourself to the Lord,” or whether he is gently suggesting to some dear sister, “You are beloved of the Lord, and may serve him like Deborah or Dorcas if you will but give yourself now.” You remember how Zinzendorf was converted to Christ by seeing, at Düsseldorf, Stenburg’s picture of Christ on the cross, and at the bottom these words—

“All this I did for thee;
What hast thou done for me?”

I pass on the question to you, though I cannot paint the picture, or make you see the vision. If Christ has redeemed you, why, it follows, as a matter of course, that you will reckon that you are not your own, for you are bought with a price, and, like Amasiah, you will willingly offer yourself unto God. As you survey the wondrous cross on which he died, you will surely be constrained to say with Dr. Watts: —

“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

     IV. Now, I have a fourth observation to make, which is important, though it may not seem so. When Amasiah willingly offered himself unto the Lord, HE DID THIS IN A SECULAR CALLING.

     He did not stipulate to be a prophet. I do not know how it is, but when a certain type of young man gets it into his head that he will serve God, the next thing is that he wants to see me about how he can get into the ministry. Perhaps I look at him, and I see that his mouth was never made for preaching. You can see by the appearance of his eyes that they were never made to look a congregation in the face. When he begins to talk, you can tell that he might possibly make a good learner for the next twenty years, and then, perhaps, he would be able to teach a class of boys; but the boys would soon be tired of him, for they would probably find out even then that they knew as much as he did. Some have no gift for instructing others, but that need not hinder them from serving Christ as they can. Remember, Amasiah did not say, “Lord, I will give myself to thee, if thou wilt let me be a prophet.” No! He willingly offered himself to the Lord, to be what the Lord would have him to be; and so he remained a soldier. He was in the army, and never went to any college, and never preached a sermon in his life; but he “willingly offered himself unto the Lord.” You may willingly offer yourself to the Lord, and go and keep a shop, selling articles unadulterated, sixteen ounces to the pound, and twelve to the dozen, unless you make it thirteen. You may willingly offer yourself to the Lord, and be a shoemaker: there have been consecrated cobblers before now, as both Sunday-schools and foreign missions can testify. You may willingly offer yourself to the Lord, even though your daily calling is that of a chimney-sweep; that is a very necessary business, and though your face may become blackened at it, your heart may be clean all the time. You may willingly offer yourself to the Lord, and be on the roads breaking stones, praying your Master the while to break stony hearts. There is no lawful occupation in which a man cannot thoroughly serve the Lord. It is a great privilege and blessing to be set apart to the work of winning souls; but we must never separate that work from all the rest of the callings of life, as though it alone were sacred, and all the rest were secular and almost sinful. Serve God where you are. Good woman, go on looking after those dear children now that your husband has been called home; you will be serving God by bringing up those boys and girls in the knowledge of Christ: God help you to do it! Go on, dear daughter, helping mother; you need not aspire to be shaking a kingdom; shako the bed well to-morrow morning. There are many persons who have some very exalted ideas in their heads, who will serve God best by just doing common-place work in a commonplace way, and will probably never be permitted to do anything else; at least, that will be the case until they step down from their stilts, and get rid of their lofty notions.

     Yet it cannot have been very easy to Amasiah to live wholly to God as a soldier. His was a difficult calling; though, I suppose, in his days, it was not so difficult as it is now. But he did it, whether his occupation was difficult or not. Wherever your lot is cast, abide in your calling, and glorify God in it, as this man did. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.” Even if your lot is cast in a barrack-room, be bold to confess your Master: many a man has become a soldier of Christ by seeing his comrade in the regiment kneel down and pray. With the memory of many a hero, both in the army and out of it, we may be certain that, however difficult the place, the grace of God is sufficient for us as it was for Amasiah.

     Not only did he serve the Lord in this hard place, but he rose to eminence in it. I do not know how he began. When I saw him last — that is, when I last looked at my text— he was the commander of two hundred thousand mighty men of valour. A fine position that! He had become one of the five great generals of Jehoshaphat’s army. Where he began I cannot tell; but it is quite certain that, in fearing God, he was not hindered in his promotion. The man who fears God need not be hindered one whit in rising in the world; that is to say, if it is worth while rising in the world; for there are some kinds of elevation so disgraceful, that they are better shunned than sought. It is, in many cases, a great thing for a man to be kept down. A good doctor of divinity, whom I well knew, met a Christian man in the street, shook hands with him, and congratulated him. The man said, “I do not know, Dr. Jeter, why you congratulate me, for I have had a world of trouble; in fact, I have failed in my business.” To which the good doctor replied, “I congratulate you, because you failed honestly; you are the only man that I have seen for years who has done that.” Then he shook hands with him again, and said, “My dear fellow, I do thank God that you failed honestly.” But no man need fail because he serves God. No man need stick in the mud for ever because he becomes a Christian; for “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”

     Yet another thing we may venture to say of Amasiah. He left an honourable record. Here is a man in Jehoshaphat’s army who willingly offers himself to the Lord, and rises to be commander of two hundred thousand mighty men of valour. It reminds me of Havelock and his saints in the Indian Mutiny. There was a stern fight to be fought, and the general said, “Send for Havelock and his saints,” and they soon accomplished the task. When you get men who thoroughly serve God in whatever position of life they are, they are terrible fellows. They will do the thing where others only talk about it; for God does help, even in the ordinary concerns of daily life, those that put their trust in him. They shall never be confounded. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” They can say, “By thee I have run through a troop: by my God have I leaped over a wall.” Moreover, “The memory of the just is blessed;” the footprints they leave behind them help others on in the blessed way; and when they fall asleep, they are among the blessed dead who “rest from their labours;” — they could not do that if here they had been idle— “and their works do follow them.”

     I am still working away, you see, at my main point. I am wanting to get that fine young fellow into my Lord’s army. I am praying God the Holy Ghost to influence men and women to say, “We will willingly offer ourselves unto the Lord. We will servo him with our whole heart and soul.” God grant that it may be so!

     V. I have done when I add these words— Amasiah not only served the Lord himself, but IIE IS AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS. Let us make the best application of the sermon by working it out in our own lives.

     First of all, he is an example to the young. He was probably a young man when he “willingly offered himself unto the Lord.” Why wait to grow older in sin, before entering the glorious service of Christ? The world has nothing that can satisfy your heart: turn from its folly, and choose the nobler path. If you are only a child, still I appeal to you; the earlier you offer yourself to the Lord, the better will it be for all the future of your life.

     Amasiah is an example, also, to men of position. He held a high office, but he “willingly offered himself unto the Lord.” Young man of fortune and rank, I have a message from the Lord for thee! Offer thyself willingly unto the Lord. As thou wouldest be saved by the precious blood of Christ and the free grace of God, come thou and lay thyself down at those dear feet that bled for thy salvation; thou knowest not what work the Lord has yet for thee to do.

     He is also an example to men who are rising in the world; for he was such. I speak to some of you who have not risen yet, but you are rising. You are doing well, as the world has it. God is prospering you. I would lay my hand upon your shoulder, young man, and say, “Since God is blessing you so, willingly offer yourself for his service. You know that you are not saved by the offering of yourself to Christ: you are saved by Christ offering himself for you, a sacrifice for sin. But if he has saved you, then come and offer yourself to the Lord. The children do not now cry for bread to you, as they used to do. No, thank God, those sad days are over with you! The wife has not to wear rags, as once she did God has been gracious to you, and helped you on in the world; and now, by the gratitude that you have for him, ask yourself whether you cannot serve him, and may he of his sweet love bring you so to do!” My Lord ought to have you. Shall ho not have you? I recollect how Mr. Howland Hill once held an auction over Lady Anne Erskine, who drove up in her carriage to the edge of the crowd, while Mr. Hill was preaching. He said “Ah! I see Lady Anne Erskine.” A careless, thoughtless woman she was then, and he said, “There is a great contention about who shall have her. The world wants to have her. What wilt thou give for her, O world? ‘I will give her fame and name and pleasure.’ And sin wants to have her What wilt though give for her, O sin? ‘A few paltry transient joys. And Satan wants to have her What wilt thou give for her, Satan? And the price was very low At last Christ came along, and he said, ‘I give myself for her. I give my life for her, my blood for her.’” And turning to her ladyship, Mr. Hill said, “You shall have her, my Lord Christ, if she does not object.” “My lady, which shall it be?” he said; and she bowed her head, and said that she accepted Christ’s offer, and would be sold to him, and be his for ever.

      I do not know how to pick anybody out here for auction, but I would sell some of you to my Master if I could, without money and without price, save that which he paid for you when he poured out his life on the accursed tree. Where are the volunteers? Perhaps it is some bright boy that I have to get for Christ; or some dear girl whom the Lord means to have now; or some of these young men. Never did any one truly offer himself unto the Lord without being accepted; nay, your offer of yourself to the Lord proves that you are already his in the covenant of his grace. Oh, how happy are they who, in their youth, willingly offer themselves unto God! But, indeed, my Lord will take into his service people of all ages, both sexes, all ranks, and all conditions. He cares not what your possessions may be; but whatever they are, offer yourself and them to him, to whom they rightfully belong. He will take the poorest and weakest; but still I should like to win for my Master some man in the very strength of his days, with ability to think and power to speak, who will now say, “I have found my vocation. God calls me to Christ to find salvation in his wounds; and to be his servant. It shall be all my business here below to magnify his blessed name.” God grant it, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.



If Thou Canst.” “If Thou Canst

By / Oct 4

If Thou Canst.” “If Thou Canst

 

“If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”— Mark ix. 22, 23.

 

WE are all familiar with the story of this youth, who was possessed by a dumb spirit, which caused him to fall into violent fits of epilepsy, and wrought worse evils, casting him, at times, into the waters, and into the fire, to destroy him. The father intended to bring his child to Jesus, of whom he had heard so much; but our Lord being absent, he made his application to the disciples. They failed to effect a cure; but by-and-by the Master came from the mountain-top, and then the father addressed himself to the Lord. I shall want you to notice some lessons from this story before I come to the text.

     The main thought which I would emphasize is, that our Lord would have us clearly know, when we seek a blessing, what it is wo really seek. If you go to Jesus Christ for anything, either for yourself, or someone else, the Saviour will earnestly desire that you should know what it is that you are asking of him. You know there is much blind praying; asking for mercies because you know that such and such words are proper, without having a clear and vivid idea of what the blessing is which is intended by those words. Now, our Saviour loves us to pray with the understanding, and to have a consciousness of our need, and some perception of what it is that wo want him to do: therefore try to get into your own heart a clear notion of what it is that you are seeking; for Christ would have you know why and wherefore you are pleading with him.

     Hence, when this man came with his sick child, the Saviour permitted him to give a statement of the case; and, with the eagerness of love, the father entered into full particulars of the evil which had befallen his son. This was not needed by the Saviour for his own information; he knew all about the dumb spirit’s possession of the poor lad, and all the misery that had resulted from that possession; but the heartrending account was given, first, in order that the father might distinctly recollect the evil from which he desired his child to be saved; and, then, that those who were standing round might know what kind of miracle it was which Jesus Christ was about to work. Sometimes it will be a very healthy thing for seekers to stop a while, and say to themselves, “What is it wo are seeking?” Christ may say to you, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? What is it you really are asking for?” There are many that cry, “Lord, save me!” who perhaps have no distinct idea from what they are to be saved, or to what they are to be saved.

     In connection with this statement of the case, our Lord had permitted this poor man to make an application to his disciples. I will not say that it was on purpose that he might meet with a failure; but I do believe that failure was meant to teach the man a valuable lesson, and certainly it was designed to instruct the disciples, showing clearly to both that all hope lay in Jesus Christ himself. You have been seeking, dear friend. Now, how have you hoped to get saved? “Why, by attending the means of grace,” say you. Quite right; and I have not a word to say against the means of grace any more than I should have had a word to say against the apostles; but the means of grace cannot save you any more than the apostles could cast the devil out of that child. It is not the means of grace, but it is Christ himself, that you must get to; just as it was not the apostles, but the apostles’ Master, who had to work this miracle. Perhaps you have been sitting in these pews for years, expecting something to come to you by your constant and continued attendance. The Lord wants to get you thoroughly convinced that you will not be saved except by going to Jesus Christ himself. No Bible-readings, no sermon-hearings, nay, no prayers even, if they be relied upon, can save you. Your reliance must be upon the wonder-working Christ of God. If you will trust the Saviour, you shall be saved at once. If thou canst believe now, thou shalt have immediate forgiveness of every sin, and instantaneous salvation by the power of the Christ of God. But, it may be, thou hast not thought of this. Thou hast been going round about; and now thou art to be sickened of all that, so that thou shalt say, like the man in the narrative, “I spake to thy disciples, that they should cast him out, and they could not. I have used the means of grace, I have heard thy ministers, I have read good books; but neither books, nor ministers, nor services, nor all combined, can cast the devil out of me. Lord, thou must do it.” The failure of every other hope is another thing that Christ would have us know when we come to him for a great blessing.

     Yet further, when the poor father had stated the case, and had confessed that he was disappointed with the disciples, yet the Saviour caused him to see another exhibition of the mischief from which he would have his child saved. There and then, before them all, as they brought the boy to Jesus, the devil began to tear him, perhaps more violently than ever; he foamed at the mouth, and seemed, at last, to fall into such a condition that those who looked on said, “He is dead. The case is utterly hopeless.” In the very presence of Christ, the evil spirit made a supreme effort to retain his hold of his victim, or to destroy the body in which he dwelt, ere he left it. Now, beloved, the Lord may, in your case, if you are a seeker, permit sin to break loose in you in a possibly worse form than ever you have yet seen it, before he drives it out. It may be you will give yourself up for dead; in fact, I hope you may; for when death strikes every carnal hope, and you utterly despair of salvation in yourself, then is the very moment when the omnipotent power of divine grace comes in, and manifests itself without limit. Oh, thou who art driven to-night to utter self-despair, I am glad of it! I expect to see Christ come to thee, and raise thee up, and say to the evil spirit, “Depart, and enter no more into him.” God grant it may be so! Or, if your anxiety is about somebody else, it may be that God will permit the sin in the dear one to break out worse than ever. You have been praying for months, perhaps for years, and, at last, it will seem quite hopeless. You will bring your husband or your child to Christ, and instead of seeing any change for the better, there may appear, at the time, to be even a change for the worse. Yet, remember, it was then that Jesus said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” It may be that he will let us see, more vividly than wo have ever perceived before, the desperateness of the case, in order that we may the more clearly understand the greatness of the mercy which we are seeking at his hands.

     I shall run the text, as it were, with two handles. You see, properly, it should be confined to the case of a person who is praying for ethers; for this was spoken to a father who was pleading for his son. But the same principle applies all round; and so I beg those who are praying for themselves, to take as much of the sermon home as they can; and may God the Holy Spirit make it suitable to them! Come we, then, with this introduction, to our text.

     There are two “ifs” here. The poor, troubled man said to Christ, “If”, implying some measure of doubt: “If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” Then comes the other “if”, Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

     I. Let us begin by saying, in the first place, that THE “IF” IS NOT IN CHRIST as to whether he can save you, or as to whether, in answer to prayer, he can save the object of your anxiety. There really is no “if” in reference to Christ, though it is quite probable that your unbelief is suggesting some doubt about his love, or power, or willingness to save. There cannot be any “if” about Christ being able to save a sinner, or to do anything; because, first, he is God’s beloved Son. Upon the snowy slopes of Hermon, adown whose steeps he had come to confront the multitude in the plain, Christ had been transfigured, and in all his glory he had shone like the sun in the presence of his three disciples, whiter than the snow which lay around them; and out of the cloud which overshadowed them there had come forth a divine voice, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.” Now, if Jesus Christ be such a favourite of heaven, the darling of the eternal Father, will he deny him anything? I do not say that “if” as being at all doubtful about the matter. The revelation of the glory on the mount and the voice out of the opened heavens are evidence enough of his sonship. Even the devil himself could not deny that Jesus was the Son of God. In the wilderness of temptation, he indeed said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread;” but ho knew in his heart that Christ was truly the Son of the Most High God. On many occasions, the demons, whom Christ cast out, cried aloud to him, “Thou art Christ the Son of God.” Being God’s true Son, can anything be impossible to him? Did he not say, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”? When I think of the love which God bears to his dear Son, I cannot imagine him stinting Christ in power to bless. He is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him, for he is the Everlasting Son of the Eternal Father.

     And remember, next, if that argument is not enough, that Jesus Christ is God. After that, can there be any “if” as to his power? What is there that God cannot do? He has made this world. He has made those millions of worlds that stud the midnight skies; but all that God has ever made, though it be far beyond our conception, is but as a speck compared with what he could make if he pleased. He has done exceedingly great marvels, such as have astounded men; but all that God has ever done is as nothing compared with what he could do if he willed to do it, for with him all things are possible. And Jesus Christ being very God of very God, all things are possible with him. He can save everyone present in this house now. Breathe a believing prayer to him, and you will prove his power; for he will save you. His word runneth very quickly; and if he does but send it forth, it will belt the world, and within the next few years, if he chooses so to work, all nations shall call Jesus blessed. But when you and I have one of God’s promises to plead with him, we may know most surely that he will keep it; we never need insert an “if” as to whether he can or not. O beloved, if we were more wicked than we are, he could change us, and if our children or our friends were sunk in sin more deeply than they are, which God forbid they should be, he could still save them. “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” Fie on thee, thou doubting one! Shame on thee, thou trembling heart! There cannot be any “if” with the Christ of God, God’s favoured Son, yea, God’s equal, who is girded with omnipotence.

     And, in the third place, remember that, as Saviour, works of grace are easy to him. If you will but think just for a minute of what he has done in order to man’s salvation, methinks you will see there cannot be any “if” with him. See him hanging on the accursed tree, nailed up to the gibbet that he may die. His pains of body are inconceivably great; but meanwhile he is forsaken of his God, and is brought into unknown tortures of soul. That is the Son of God who is dying so, it is he whose face is the glory of heaven who is thus dying the death of a felon, “the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” I have such a conviction of the power of Christ’s death, that if it were revealed to me that, on the cross, he redeemed not only one world, but as many fallen worlds as there are stars, I could well believe it. Oh, the blood of the Son of God! What merit there must be in such a sacrifice as that! Infinite Deity united to perfect manhood, and the whole life laid down that men might live! Tell me that Christ cannot save! Tell me that his blood will not wash out the most scarlet sin that ever defiled any man! I know better. There must be infinite virtue in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. There cannot be an “if” about the power of the Crucified to forgive all who come to him, and trust in his great sacrifice.

     If you question the power of his death, remember that he rose again from the dead, and upward he went into the glory, and there to-day he sits enthroned. Methinks I can see him now, at the right hand of the Father, clothed with everlasting honour and divine majesty. What is he doing? Look! He lifts his hands. He pleads for sinners. Will the Father deny him anything? He maketh intercession for the transgressors. Will God refuse to bless them? Oh, by the living Christ at God’s right hand, pleading the merit of his own sacrifice, I would have you confident that there cannot be an “if” about his power to save any of the children of men!

     Do not tell me that you are the worst sinner that ever lived. I will take it for granted that you are; and I will go further than that, and suppose you are a deal worse than you think you are. I have sometimes had people coming to me as enquirers, and sitting in a chair opposite to me, they have begun by telling me about their dreadful sins. I have generally said to them, “You need not tell me that. I have not the slightest doubt that you are a thousand times worse than you tell me, or than you think you are. You are only fit to be cast into hell;” and then they say, “Ah! it is so: it is so.” Right glad am I to hear them consent to the verdict, for that is the sort of people that Jesus Christ came to save. Do you think that he came to redeem some little miserable morsel of a sinner, who never did anything very much that was wrong? Well, very likely he did; but he came to be a great Saviour for great sinners. Suppose that, some day, you come and with glowing enthusiasm tell me there is a great doctor in London. I should probably say, “What does he do?” “He has a large number of patients,” you answer. “But what does he do?” At length you give the astonishing reply, “He cures bad fingers.” Well, I do not see much in that. But suppose, on the contrary, that in answer to my question, “What does this great physician do that you are crying up so much?” you are able to give a true report, and say, “He has restored a great many persons who were given up by everybody else. He can cure the very worst diseases; in fact, they say that if a man were almost dead, ho could make him alive.” Why, then, indeed I would begin to sing his praises too, and, if I were diseased, would go to him for cure. I am more confident about the power of Christ to heal; for to him I went when my sin was past all human remedy, and he made me every whit whole. There is no language strong enough to tell of his power to save and bless. If you believe that my Master can only save a small sinner, who has only a little imperceptible sin about him, I tell you that you do not know him. He is a great Saviour for great sinners; and however grossly guilty you may have been, lament it, mourn over it, but remember that Christ is able to save even the very chief of sinners. He is able to save them now, just now, where they are standing or sitting, and to send them out of this house new creatures in him.

     Thus you see that the “if” is not in Christ.

    II. But now, secondly, where is the “if”? THE “IF” IS IN OUR WANT OF FAITH. Jesus said to the man, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” But why is faith wanted?

     The answer is, first, that it is a reasonable demand, and that it is most unreasonable to expect Christ to do anything for us if we will not believe in him. The very least thing that a great surgeon could expect of a patient would be confidence in his skill. Do not marvel, therefore, that Jesus Christ docs expect you to believe in him, and “if ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” If you refuse Christ your confidence, you cannot wonder if he refuses you his salvation. “If thou canst.” It seems almost as if the Lord in astonishment echoed this poor father’s words, starting back in wonder that he should be so misunderstood, that any human being should come to him, who created all things, and yet doubt his power. The poor leper, who came to him after the sermon on the mount, had a different way of expressing his misgiving. He said, “If thou wilt,” doubting not Christ’s power to heal, but his willingness. I know not which is the worse, but sure I am that both are unreasonable; for if either the willingness or ability is absent, Christ cannot be a Saviour for sinful men. But, as we often sing,—

“He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more.”

     Faith is wanted, in the next place, because it is for God’s glory. It would not be for Christ’s glory to bless those that do not believe in him. Shall he reward unbelief? Will you have it said that Christ came to this earth, and that he lived and died for the salvation of sinners; and that, after that, though a man would not believe in him, he still gave him pardon and mercy? Nay, there shall never be such a thing as a pardoned unbeliever; a saved man who does not believe in Christ. That would be to the dishonour of Christ, and would make him to be rather the patron of sin than the Saviour from sin. Faith is required, then, that God may have the glory of man’s salvation.

     This faith is also for our own good. Our Lord meant to bless that poor man by healing his child, but he meant to bless him doubly by healing him of his unbelief; for it is indeed a horrible weakness, for a man to lack faith in his Creator; a loathsome disease of spirit, for a man to be doubtful of his God. I have looked down the list of crimes, and though there are some that are truly abominable, vet when I have looked into the very foulest transgression, I have not seen anything so vile as the sin of a man who doubts the love and power of Christ, who died that men might live. This is the masterpiece of hell’s temptation. We are led farthest away from God when we doubt the love which ho has sealed with the blood of his own heart. It is therefore for our own good that we should believe. Here and always God’s glory and our good are closely joined. To glorify God will be to enjoy him for ever.

     Faith, then, is a reasonable, glorious, and blessed thing, and in the sinner’s case it is absolutely necessary to salvation. We must believe in Jesus Christ if we would be saved. But cannot we be saved without believing? No. What will become of us if we do not believe in Jesus Christ? Well, I will make no “ifs” nor “ans” about that. “He that believeth not shall be damned.” I do not care to beat about the bush, or seek for any more refined version of the text: let it stand there in its own terrible simplicity, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, you will be damned, whatever that means; and it means something truly terrible, to be condemned of God, and driven from his presence, because we do not believe in him. There is no help for it, for other salvation there is none, and other door of hope there is none, except through faith in the appointed Saviour of mankind, as John Newton, that great sinner saved by marvellous grace, says:—

“The worst of all diseases
Is light, compared with sin;
On every part it seizes,
But rages most within.
’Tis palsy, poison, fever,
And madness, all combined:
And none but a believer
The least relief can find.”

     There is where the “if” is, then; it is in our want of faith.

     III. But now, in the third place, let me ask, WHAT PUTS THE “IF” THERE? Why is it that we cannot believe? If some unprejudiced person, who before had been totally unacquainted with the Bible, read it for the first time, and was asked, “Is it a hard thing that God asks of men in order to their salvation, that they should believe in Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent?” any unsophisticated mind would reply, “No, that must be the easiest thing in the world, for God cannot lie.” Such a verdict would be absolutely true, for the gift of his Son, whom he loved as he loved himself, proves the honesty of God, and leaves no room for doubt as to the certainty and the heartiness of his willingness to bless the sons of men. God could not be false, and go so far with the falsehood as to give his own Son to die: that is altogether inconceivable. It seems of necessity, then, that God is true in declaring that he will save those who trust in his Son; and it looks, at first sight, as if it would be the simplest thing in all the world to trust in Jesus Christ; and so indeed it is. But why is it that there are any “ifs” about it? Why is it needful that Christ should say, “If thou canst believe”?

     The reason is because we are alienated in heart from God. If we were right with God, faith would be a matter of necessity. But we do not love God. By nature we even hate him, and that is why we do not trust him. It would be a very wretched thing to meet with a young man who, if you were speaking to him in praise of his father, should say, “I do not believe in my father.” If you continued, “But your father is a man of the highest integrity,” would it not be sad to hear him reply, “I cannot trust him”? “Oh, but your father is kindness itself,” you might add; and if the lad said, “Yes, I hear what you say, but I do not believe it, I cannot trust him;” you would know that there was some dreadful family feud, some most unhappy circumstance that had twisted that youth’s mind so that he did not love his father, and hence did not believe in him. Supposing his father to be a man of undoubted repute and integrity, the last thing that you would expect to happen would be that his own son would say, “I cannot believe him.” Now, concerning God, who among us will so blaspheme as to say that he was ever false? Yet men do say it, and do not seem at all startled at what they have said. Though it is written, “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar,” men will still calmly tell us, as if it were an amiable weakness rather than a sin, “Sir, I cannot believe in Christ; I cannot believe in God.” It is, then, because you are alienated from him, because you do not love him. Lament this; confess it before God; and when your heart is renewed by his grace, then faith will come as a matter of course.

     Another reason for this “if” is that we are idolaters by nature. “No, no,” say you, “we are not idolaters.” I say we are idolaters by nature— all of us; for what is an idolater hut one who wants to have an idol, or a something which he can see, and trust in, and which shall represent to him the invisible? The Romanist becomes an idolater as he puts before him the crucifix, or some precious relic of the saints. But you may become an idolater too, without seeming to be so superstitious. You are such indeed, if in providence, for instance, you cannot trust God; if before you trust him you need to have your income regularly guaranteed. It is not God you then trust; it is the money. So with your soul. You could trust God, you say, if an angel were to come from heaven to speak, or if you heard a voice in the night. So, then, it is not God that you would trust, but an angel, or a voice. You want something to see and something to hear. It is ingrained in human nature thus to seek a sign; but what is that but idolatry? Oh, that we would get rid of this, and say, “God is invisible. I am not to expect to see him; I am to trust him. I am to believe that he who made the heavens and the earth, and who gave his Son to die, will save me; and lo, I put my trust in his dear Son, once for all”!

     Another reason why this “if” comes in, is because we measure God by ourselves. We cannot think that God can forgive us, because we find it so hard to forgive our fellow-creatures. We cannot conceive that God will do it freely, from no motive but that of pure grace, because we are so mercenary. We want to be paid for what we do, and unless we can see some chance of reward, somewhere or other, we are very slow to make anything like a sacrifice. So we think that God is altogether such as we are, whereas you remember it is written, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We get measuring God by our fellow-men. We say, “Such-and-such a one is very good, but he would never forgive after this fashion. He would give generously, but he certainly would not give after the style that God is spoken of as giving.” Thus, as the Ethiopians are said to make their angels with black faces, we imagine God to be like ourselves or other men, and hence find it difficult to believe in him. Dismiss from your thoughts all such ideas of God You might sooner hold the ocean in the hollow of your hand, or span the heavens with your fingers, than, unaided by grace, get an idea of the greatness and glory of God by all your searching. Never forget that he is as great in mercy as in any other of his attributes. He delights to forgive. It is the joy of his heart to press to his bosom his prodigal children. Nothing gives such intense satisfaction to the heart of God as the manifestation of his boundless grace. I wish you could believe this. But it is because we thus limit the Holy One of Israel, that we find the simple matter of faith so difficult. Because of this there stands that great, ugly, black, stiff “if.” “If” thou canst believe.”

     IV. In conclusion, let me ask another question, and seek to answer it. HOW CAN THIS “IF” BE REMOVED? Are there any in this house who are longing to be saved, and who have been putting an “if” upon Christ, and saying, “Lord, if thou canst”? First, let them know that the “if” lies with themselves; and then let us join hands, and see if we cannot turn this “if” out. Come, brother, let me help thee. If this “if” has been too strong for thee, I would ask God’s Spirit to bless a few words to thee, that this “if” may be got rid of. With reference to that other “if” which came from the lips of the leper, and to which I have already referred, I heard of a little girl, whose mother found her one day with a carving-knife and the family Bible. “What are you doing?” she asked her child, in some anxiety for the safety of both the child and the book. “O mother,” she said, “I was reading about that man who came to Jesus, and said, ‘If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean,’ and I thought he ought not to have said ‘if’ to Jesus, so please, mother, I am scraping it out.” A very good thing to do with all our “ifs.” How shall we go to work with this one? Well, we had better imitate this man with his epileptic child possessed of a devil.

     First of all, you must confess the faith you have. This man said, “Lord, I believe.” There is something in that. If you cannot go as far as you would, go as far as you can. What do you believe about Jesus Christ? Come, poor, dear, trembling heart, run over in your mind now what you do believe about him. I think I could have said, before I really did trust Christ, “Lord Jesus, I believe thou art the Son of God.” I believed that; I never doubted it. “And I believe that thou art sent to be the Saviour of men.” I do not know that I ever doubted that. Some of you from your childhood have believed that, too; your mother taught you that; and when you read the Scriptures, you were sure of it. Well, now, just turn that over. “Lord, I believe thou art the Son of God. I believe thou art God. I believe thou art able to save. I believe thy precious blood taketh away the sin of all who trust thee. I believe that whosoever trusts in thee hath everlasting life. I believe that thou hast sent thy gospel into the world, saying, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’ Lord, I believe all this.” That is a matter to be very thankful for; and yet, do you know, that is a matter that will condemn you unless you go farther; because, if you believe as much as that, you ought to believe more? I can understand the atheist or deist not trusting Christ. I can understand the Socinian not trusting Christ; but if you are sound in your doctrinal beliefs, I cannot think of an excuse for you why you should not trust Christ. If a man says to me, “I believe you, sir, to be a thief; I cannot trust you;” that is perfectly consistent, is it not? But if he says, “Sir, I believe you are an upright man, who would not on any account do a doubtful thing, and yet I cannot trust you;” I am not anxious to answer such a man as that, for out of his own mouth he condemns himself. So, some of you go so far, that if you do not go farther you will condemn yourselves. Surely, in all reason, if a man can say to Christ, “I believe that thou art the Christ that should come into the world; I believe that thou art the Son of God; I believe that thou wast raised again from the dead; I believe that thou sittest at the right hand of God, pleading for sinners;” that man must also add, “Therefore I trust thee.” It is the natural inference to be drawn from it. God help you, then, to confess such faith as you have!

     The next way to knock this “if” over, is to appeal to Christ to be helped against it. “Lord, I believe,” said this poor man; “help thou mine unbelief.” He cried out of the depths of his soul, “O Lord, help me against my unbelief!” So, poor heart, you have been trying to believe! Did you ever try this man’s plan of believing that Christ could make him believe? That is odd, is it not? You see, he must have had faith in Christ, or else he would not have said, “Help thou mine unbelief.” Let us imitate him, and cry with Cowper—

“Heal us, Emmanuel, here we are,
Waiting to feel thy touch:
Deep-wounded souls to thee repair,
And, Saviour, we are such.
“Our faith is feeble, we confess,
We faintly trust thy word;
But wilt thou pity us the less?
Be that far from thee, Lord!
“Remember him who once applied
With trembling for relief;
‘Lord, I believe,’ with tears he cried,
‘Oh, help my unbelief!’”

Oftentimes there is a great deal more faith in a poor sinner’s heart than he thinks there is. He really is trusting the Saviour, and does not know he is doing so. He is saved, and yet is afraid to think it can be possible. Long after I knew the Saviour, and believed in him, I used at times to be staggered with the thought that it was too good to be true. The tempter would say, “It cannot be that you really are forgiven, that you are Christ’s own, that you are washed in his blood, and saved for ever!” Well, it does almost seem to be too good to be true; but, then, nothing is too good to be true when you are dealing with a king. If it be a king who is about to act, we say that the grander and kinglier a thing it is, the more likely is it to be done. But rise higher than kings. If it is superlative, if it is infinite, if it is altogether inconceivable but for its having been revealed, then is it the more likely to be true; for it is the more like God. Oh, then, I pray you, bring your unbelief before Christ, and let it die in his presence! Unbelief does not like the cross. If you look up to the dying Saviour, to the risen Christ of God, unbelief dies. God help you, then, to say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”!

     One other thing you must do if you. are to follow the example of this father. Bring the case to Christ. This poor man brought his child to Christ. It was a hard tug, and he asked others to help him. Do you not see how the suffering child was tossed about, sometimes this way, sometimes that? You may have seen some poor man or woman who is subject to fits, and noticed in what a way such people are convulsed. But this poor child was much worse; he was foaming at the mouth, raving, tearing, and full of the fiend. The father is trying to help his boy: sometimes he holds him by the waist; then the child tears away; then another helps to grasp one hand, while the father gets hold of the other. He drags him to Christ; pulls him almost piecemeal to Christ: but he gets him there at last. “Bring him to me,” said Christ; and what better could the father do, or can you do, than obey the command, and bring your loved one? So he did, and he laid him down at Jesus’ feet. Where else is so fitting a place for the sick or devil-possessed as the feet of the Saviour? “To whom shall we go” if we turn away from his tender heart? When the boy in the harvest-field cried out in pain, his father said, “Carry him to his mother.” Where else could he be so soothed and helped, and where else but in Christ can you or your children hope for blessing?

     That is what I want you to do with your friends; get them somehow to Jesus Christ by mighty, vehement, determined prayer. And when you have prayed about them, try to get them to hear the gospel. I like to preach to people who have never heard the gospel before; it is grand work. There are some of you upon whom I fear that I shall never make an impression; you have been hammered upon so long that I am afraid you have become gospel-hardened. Take a person out to look at the stars— some countryman who has always been able to see. Perhaps he does not make any remark, or he simply says, “Oh, I have gone across the moor many a night! I don’t see anything particular in the stars.” But here is an old man brought from the Ophthalmic Hospital; he has been blind for many years; in fact, he forgets whether he ever could sec. By a skilful operation the film is taken from his eyes. Take him out at night, and the first things he sees are the stars. He says, “What a sight! How glorious! How divine!” Those are the kind of people to whom it is a joy to preach; for when the Lord gives sight to those who were blind, and they see for the first time, how glad they are to see him! Persons who do not often have flowers are charmed with the sight of them, and find much delight in their fragrance. Yet I have heard of a flower-girl, who sold violets in the street, and had to take those that remained home to her poor miserable room every night, till she said that she hated the smell of violets: she could not bear them, having got so accustomed to them. “That is strange,” says one; yet that is how some of our gospel-hearers speak. They say that we preach too long, and they begin to criticize our sermons. I dread above anything that your nostrils should become so familiar with the sweet smell of the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valleys that their fragrance should become nauseous to you. How sad it would be that any of you should get so familiar with the gospel that at last you should say, “What a weariness it is!” May this never be the case; and lest it should, come now, and bring your case before Christ! It is no use to bring it before me, and let me preach to you. It is no use to bring it before the mere means of grace. Turn to the Lord Jesus, who is beside you, and tell him all the case: say to him that you renounce all other hope, and trust yourself in his hands. Believe in him this moment, lest haply the very gospel itself should be a “savour of death unto death” to you. If you trust to Christ, you must have life. O Spirit of God, help many to come this very hour, and trust in the Crucified, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.