The Joy of Redemption

By / Feb 2

The Joy of Redemption

 

“Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.” — Isaiah xliv. 23.

 

WHEN the human mind is on the stretch of emotion, whether it be under the influence of grief or joy, it often thinks that the whole world is in sympathy with itself. It seems to wrap the mantle of the universe round about its spiritual nature as a garment. If it be joyous, it puts on nature as a spangled robe; and if it be wretched, it finds its sackcloth and ashes in the world round about it. You know how the prophet — poet as well as prophet — says of us in our joyous moments, “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” When the heart is happy, nature seems to ring marriage peals in unison with the music within the heart. Let the eye be clear, and all nature will be bright. The earth seems glad when we are so. On the other hand, it is a part of the nature of grief to be able to transpose itself into the world around. Does not old Master Herbert cry, —

“O who will give me tears? Come, all ye springs,
Dwell in my head and eyes; come, clouds and rain:
My grief hath need of all the watery things
That nature hath produced. Let every vein
Suck up a river to supply mine eyes,
My weary, weeping eyes, too dry for me,
Unless they get new conduits, new supplies,
To bear them out, and with my state agree”?

Fain would he make the world weep with him when he wept, as others have made the world sorrow when they grieved, and rejoice when they were full of joy. The fact is, the world is one great organ, and it is man that plays it, and when he is full of joy and gladness, he puts his tiny fingers upon the keys, and wakes the world to a majesty of joy; or if his soul be gloomy, then he plays some pensive, dolorous dirge, and thus the world without keeps pace with the other little world within.

     The prophet, in this chapter, had been studying the great redemption which God had wrought for his people, and he was so happy and delighted with it, so overjoyed, so charmed, so enraptured, that he could not help saying, “Sing, O ye heavens.” There were the angels looking down on man with eyes of sympathy. “Sing,” said he, “ye angels, that sinners can be saved, yea, that sinners have been saved! Rejoice to think that repenting sinners can have their sins forgiven them! Sing, ye stars, that all night long, like the bright eyes of God, look down on this poor world, so dark but for you! Sing, for God hath blessed your sister star, unwrapt her from her gloom, and made her shine more radiant in mercy than any one of you! Sing, O blue sky of heights profound! O thou unnavigated ether, be thou stirred with song, and let space become one mighty mouth for melody! Sing, O ye heavens!” Then, when he must come down from those lofty heights, he looks upon the earth, and he says, “O earth, echo, echo with song, and ye lower parts of the earth, ye valleys and plains, the sea with its million hands, the deep places of the earth, and the hollow caverns thereof, — let them all sound with joy, because Jehovah hath redeemed man, and in mercy has come down to his poor erring creatures.” And then, as if he heard all earth getting vocal with the voices of happy ones, and felt it would not do for the praise to be limited even to the tongues of men, he thinks of those mountains where man cannot climb, those virgin snows, undefiled by human feet, and he says, “Sing, ye mountains!” Then he thinks of the shaggy woods upon their brows, and he bids them sing in admiration, — “Sing, ye forests! Let every tree break forth in melody!”

     Do you catch his thought? Do you not see how the great poet-prophet, in a mighty fervency of delight, wakes the whole earth, and even heaven itself, to one mighty burst of song? And what is the subject of it? “The Lord hath redeemed his people, and glorified himself in Israel.” Oh, that I could stir in your hearts songs of joy for the redemption which God has wrought for his people, and for the glory which God has gotten to himself by this wonderful act of grace!

     There are three redemptions which may well make all hearts rejoice: the first is, redemption by blood; the second is, redemption by power; and the third is the completion of the two, redemption in perfection.

     I. The first is, REDEMPTION BY BLOOD.

     You know the story. Man had sinned against his God, and God, the Just One, must punish sin. But it was agreed that, if a plan could be devised by which justice should be satisfied, mercy should have full play for all her kind designs. What a day was that when the eternal wisdom revealed to man the plan by which the Son of God should suffer instead of us, that so justice might have its claims discharged in full, and yet mercy enjoy its boundless, unlimited sway! Sing, ye heavens, because of the wisdom which devised so benevolent a scheme! Rejoice, O earth, because of the marvellous, matchless understanding which framed so wise a plan!

     The terms or preamble thus agreed upon, it was necessary that someone should suffer instead of man, in order that man might escape. Will the Eternal Son undertake to do this? He is God; his glory is excessive; angels veil their faces as they adore him. Is it possible that he will ever become a man, to bleed, to be spit upon, to be scourged, to be crucified? Will he undertake to do it? He said unto his Father, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God!” Sing again, ye heavens! Let your hallelujahs rise aloft, ye angels! The Son of God has undertaken the redemption of men! That which was once only a scheme, has now become a covenant. That which was but a plan in the divine mind is now a compact between the Father and the Son.

     But though Christ has undertaken it, will he perform it? The years roll on, the world gets grey, and yet he does not come. But on a sudden, when the shepherds were keeping their flocks by night, there was heard a sound up yonder, and straightway a multitude of the heavenly host appeared, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” What means this? It is Jesus, the Son of God, come to do what he undertook to do; and there he is, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling bands, and God is born into the world. God has become flesh. He, without whom was not anything made that was made, has come down to tabernacle among us, that we may behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, and yet a man of the substance of his mother, like ourselves. Sing, ye angels! Let the carols of that first Christmas night never cease, for that which was once a scheme, and then a covenant, has now commenced to be a work in real earnest.

     He has come to do it, but will he ever fulfil it? Will he ever accomplish the stupendous obligation? Two and thirty years roll over him, during which he is despised and rejected of men, the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. But will he ever achieve that last, that dreadful task? Will he ever be able to perform it? Will he give his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that pluck off the hair? Will he verily be led like a sheep to the slaughter? Can it ever be that the Lord of life and immortality will actually die the death of a criminal, and be buried in a borrowed tomb? My brethren, not only will it be, but it has been. Recall to memory that eventful night when Judas betrayed him with a perfidious kiss, when, in Gethsemane, he was covered with a bloody sweat, a sweat caused by your sins and mine. Do you not see him led away by those who have arrested him? Do you not see the Lord of glory mocked and set at nought, made an object of ridicule, the jeer of sarcasm, and the butt of scorn? “Ecce Homo!” Behold the man covered with an old robe, the cloak of some common soldier, and his back laid bare to show you that it is covered with another crimson, the crimson of his own most precious blood, fetched by the accursed scourge from those blessed shoulders? Do you see him staggering along beneath the weight of that heavy cross, hurried and hounded through the streets of Jerusalem? Do you mark him as he bids the daughters of Jerusalem stay their tears, and weep not for him, but for themselves and their children? Can you not see him as they fling him on his back, stretch out his hands and feet to the wood, and then drive the cruel nails through their tenderest parts? Can you not see him as they lift him high between earth and heaven, and then dash the cross into its place, dislocating all his bones, till he cries out, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. Thou hast brought me into the dust of death”? Yes, he is accomplishing it all. Jehovah’s wrath is pouring over him, wave after wave, and he is meekly bowing his head to it all! Jehovah’s sword is being driven into his heart, and he is baring his breast to receive it, for your sakes and for mine! Sinner, he does it altogether. He can do it. He is doing it, he has done it, for he bowed his head, saying, “It is finished!” and gave up the ghost. That which was first a purpose, then a covenant, and then a work initiated, is now a work achieved. Jesus Christ has redeemed his people with his own most precious blood.

     But they took his mangled corpse down from the cross. They put it in the tomb. It remained a question whether he really had accomplished the work, for if he had, God would set two seals to it: first, by his rising from the tomb, and secondly, by his ascending into heaven. See then, believer. On the third day, the mighty Sleeper unwound his grave-clothes; an angel came from heaven, and rolled away the stone, and in the glory of a life unshackled by the trammels of vanity to which our poor creatureship is made subject, he rose from the dead. And when he had shown himself to his disciples, and to others, for forty days, he took them out to Olivet, and as he communed with them and blessed them, he went up into heaven, and a cloud received him out of their sight. Can you not, in the devout exercise of imagination, track him past those clouds? Do you not see heaven’s heroes as they meet him and welcome him? See you not his chariot waiting for him? Do you not behold him as he mounts it, and they sing in advance of him till they come to the crystal gates, and then, from over the gates, the watchers cry, “Who is this King of glory?” while others shout, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in!” Yes, in he rides, up to his Father’s throne, and there he sits in state, God over all, blessed for ever; the Lamb once slain, no more to die. Sing, ye heavens, and be glad, O earth! The work which was accomplished is accepted. The deed which was finished is stamped and recognized by heaven, and now there is peace “through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”

     Ah! I know what would make some of you very happy. Should you come to-night to the cross, look up and trust Christ to save you, your joy would then be unspeakable. Never did a soul trust Christ in vain. You would receive pardon, you would get peace, you would feel as if heaven did sing, and as if earth did rejoice. You would say, “Here am I, a poor, guilty sinner, having nothing to trust to of my own, but I know my sins were laid on Christ, and if they were laid on Christ, they cannot be in two places at one time; consequently, they cannot be put on me when I trust in Jesus; they were put on his bleeding back, and they are gone, and there is not one left in the Book of God against me.” O dear hearer, if thou believest in Christ, thou art perfectly absolved. Thou needest not a priest to say, “Absolvo te,” “I absolve thee.” There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Who can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect, since Jesus died? If you rest in Jesus Christ, he has paid all your debts; you are out of debt; Christ has discharged all your liabilities, and you are free. Let your soul, then, be happy. Let your soul be so happy that it transfers its joy to all nature, and makes heaven and earth glad with its own gladness.

     This is the first redemption — redemption by blood.

     II. Let us strike another key, and celebrate the second theme that redemption unfolds, — REDEMPTION BY POWER.

     Those for whom the Saviour shed his blood, and so redeemed them by price, are by-and-by redeemed by power. The Spirit of God finds them, like other men, fond of sin; like other men, blind to the beauties of the Saviour, deaf to the commands of Christ; but if Christ has bought them with his blood, he never paid for what he will not have. The price was too precious to be paid for those who are not saved. If Christ has paid his blood for a soul, he will have that soul. Neither will God’s honour rob him of his purchase, nor will Christ be content to lose what he so dearly bought.

     This second redemption, which is conversion and regeneration, is equally a subject of holy joy; very briefly I will set it forth. What sort of people are those whom Christ saves? Why, some of them were the very worst of the worst. Some of them were the companions of the lost; nay, they were lost themselves. But when the grace of God met with them, it washed them, and made new men of them. There is many a man who has been a captain in the devil’s service, but whom the Lord has taken, and made a valiant man for the truth. Oh, what a great sinner John Newton was before his conversion! You who have read his life know that he went about as far as a man could go. What an offender was John Bunyan before the Lord met with him! What a blood-thirsty wretch was Saul of Tarsus! What a horrible life had the thief led with whom Christ met at the last! Now, when I think of these being saved, I feel as if I could say, “Sing, ye heavens, and be joyful, O earth!” Sometimes, at our church-meetings, when some brethren have told the story of their past lives, we have felt inclined to stop and sing. Some have said, “I never entered a place of worship for years; I cursed at the very thought of it; the Sabbath I never regarded; yea, the very name of God himself I despised; but eternal mercy met with me.” “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.” Ay, and the greatest wonder to every one of you will be that ever God’s mercy saved you! I can understand very well his saving any of you; but I often cannot comprehend why he should save me. Oh! this will be the wonder of heaven to each one of us, to find ourselves there; and how will we say, “Sing, O heaven, and be joyful, O earth!” if once our poor guilty feet tread that golden pavement; and if, once being washed in the precious blood of Jesus, we shall be permitted to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven! Oh, the joy to think that such sinners should be saved!

     Does it not enhance the joy that they were in such a miserable plight before they were saved? They were prejudiced against the gospel, but God knew how to knock their prejudices over. They were blind, and would not see the beauties of it; but the Lord has a blessed way of opening blind eyes. Their hearts were as hard as granite, but God knew how to use the hammer, and shiver the rock in pieces. Very likely they derided the very idea of being converted, and yet they were made partakers of the saving change. Ay, and I have noticed that some of the most hardened are the very first who are met with; some of those who seemed the most unlikely subjects of divine grace have been chosen by divine sovereignty, and have been made wonders of divine power. Herein lies the matter that makes us sing and rejoice, because the blind have been made to see, the deaf have been made to hear, and the dead have been made to live. O ye forests, sing of this wonder of mercy!

     And still further, think of what these souls are sewed from. But for grace, the very hottest hell would have been our portion; but we are saved from it. We should have been made to drink of the bitter cup of wrath for ever; but we shall never drink a drop of it now. And then consider what the man of God is saved to. He is saved for heaven. He is made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. His head shall wear the crown. His hands shall sweep the strings of harps of gold. Sing, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth! Saved from hell and lifted up to heaven, let the bass notes of our songs go down to hell, and make the devils grind their teeth with rage, and let the alto notes go up to heaven, and make even the angels glad as they see how sinners saved exult in Jesus’ name.

     Mighty as is the power, are we not often constrained to marvel at the weakness of the instruments which the Lord employs? Sometimes a soul is saved by Christ’s grace through a poor preacher, who is despised by many, and who in himself is humble, and weak, and feeble. By means of a tract, or a quotation from the Bible, or something of that sort, the heart is turned. Any instrument in the hand of God, though it seem most unlikely, is capable of bringing a soul to Christ. Oh, rejoice, ye heavens, for God is glorified in using poor instruments to work his will!

     And then see how some are saved in the teeth of ten thousand obstacles. It seems as though they only escape by the skin of their teeth, as though all the devils in hell came after them, with their mouths open, like roaring lions, seeking to devour them. Yet the hand of divine grace has been upon them, and they have been saved. Are not some of you perfect miracles to yourselves? Do you not wonder that you have not gone back long ago? When you see what temptations you have had, and how base your hearts, are you not astonished that grace should have made you a Christian at all, and kept you in the way of righteousness until now? Oh! with the tears in our eyes, let us bless God that we are what we are; let our hearts be glad to-night, and let us make all nature seem glad, as we remember the hole whence we have been digged, and the mire or the clay whence we have been drawn by the irresistible, effectual grace of the Spirit of God.

     III. And now, lastly, what a song will that be as heaven and earth, mountains and forests, rejoice WHEN THE BELIEVER IS PERFECTLY REDEEMED!

     On earth he was still the subject of temptation, and he wrestled hard with inbred sins; but when death comes, he shall be perfect. There shall not be a rag of corruption, nor a relic of the old man. Brethren, will you not make the heavens and the earth ring when you find yourselves made like unto Christ; when you shall find that nothing that old Adam gave you is left, but that all sin is gone, and that you are like the angels of God? Surely there shall be no voice in heaven more exulting, more joyous, than that of men delivered from strong passions and deep depravity, and made perfectly like the Lord Jesus.

     And there we shall be perfectly free from all the cares and troubles of this mortal life. No sweat to wipe from aching brows! No tossing upon beds of weariness! No nights of languishing! No question of “What shall I eat, and what shall I drink, and wherewithal shall I be clothed?” “The Lord God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” There shall be no more spiritual battles and conflicts. Death and hell shall no more annoy us, nor sinners vex the righteous with their ungodly conversation.

“Far from a world of grief and sin,
With God eternally shut in,
They are for ever blest.”

Oh, blissful hour! Oh, happy moment! When —

“We shall be near and like our God!”

     Brethren, does it not make you long to be gone, when you think of the perfection of redemption? The body will be redeemed. It will rise from the dead. This poor dishonoured body will be made like unto Christ’s glorious body; and then body and soul together shall, like twin angels, glorify God throughout eternity.

“There shall I bathe my weary soul.
In seas of heavenly rest;
And not a wave of trouble roll
Across my peaceful breast.”

     Do you not wish you had wings to flee away? Well, it is but for a few minutes that you are detained here. “Minutes!” you say. “Why, they are months and years!” Ay, but what are they? When once they are gone, they shall be but as a watch in the night. You shall think of them then as God thinks of them now, as but a very small moment. Courage! Wait with patience, and you shall make all eternity sing because the Lord hath redeemed his people, and glorified himself in Israel.

     Alas! I fear there are some of you who will have no part or lot in this matter! If you would have this last redemption, begin with the first. Faith first! Look to the price, — to the blood, — and then the Holy Spirit will graciously give you the redemption which is by power. Your faith will be the first proof that you are so redeemed, and will lead you on until you attain that perfection for which we groan, that adoption for which we wait, to wit, the redemption of the body. Bought with the blood of Jesus, quickened into newness of life by the power of his resurrection, and at length gathered unto Jesus, to be with him where he is, the joy of his salvation shall swell into a mighty chorus, in which heaven and earth shall ring out their loud-sounding music, while our tongues shall sing Immanuel’s praise for ever and ever. Amen.



“Herein is Love”

By / Jan 19

“Herein is Love”

 

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” — 1 John iv. 10.

 

ARE there not scenes and circumstances which now and then transpire before us that prompt an exclamation like that of the apostle, “Herein is love”? When we have seen the devotedness of a mother to her children, when we have marked the affection of friend for friend, and caught a glimpse in different human relationships of the kindness that exists in human hearts, wo have said, “Herein is love!” Yesterday, these words seemed to rise up and float upon my tongue, although I did not use them, for they seemed to be consecrated to something higher than creature affection. I had the painful duty of attending the Abney Park Cemetery, to bury a beloved sister in Christ, one of the most useful women we had among us; and as I stood there to commit her body to the grave, I was pleased,— I cannot tell you how I was beyond measure pleased, on that dark foggy day, at that distance from town, to find nearly a hundred, mostly poor people, gathered there to show their respect to their friend, who had helped in many cases to feed them and clothe them, and in every instance had tried to point them to Christ. There were thousands of tears shed of the sincerest and most heavenly kind. Whilst conducting the service, I could not help feeling not only a sympathy with her bereaved husband, but with those who had been the objects of our sister’s care,— men and women, who perhaps had given up a day’s work, and walked long dreary miles in the unpropitious weather of yesterday, that they might come and mingle their tears together over the dust of one who, as a Christian woman, had served them well. I could not help thinking, and it suggested the text to me, “Herein is love!” Seeing what love had done, and seeing how love comes back in return, I said within myself, when love has learned its way into one bosom, it scatters its seed and fructifies in the hearts of hundreds more. Love begets love; let it once begin, and none can tell its end.

     But the words were too sacred for me to use, even at that solemn service, though they came up so suddenly to the surface of my mind. The apostle had consecrated them to another love, still higher, more profound, more perfect, and more celestial. I shall ask you to-night to look at and consider the wonder which the apostle discovered, and made him, with uplifted hands, exclaim, “Herein is love!”

     The wonder, he tells us, which astonished him was not that we loved God; for suppose that all men had loved God, what wonder would there have been in it? God created us. We are wonderful specimens of his power and wisdom. The various devices for securing our comfort and maintaining us in life, the devices within the body and without the body, the way in which the whole world is made to be the servant of man, so that, as George Herbert says, —

“Man is one world, and hath another to attend him,”

these tokens of benevolence ought to have made all men love God. If every creature who sprang from the loins of Adam had lived a perfect life of obedience, and had continually reverenced the God who made him and supplied his needs, there would not have been anything so very remarkable in the fact, for God deserves the love of all his creatures. Making his sun to shine upon us, and giving us fruitful seasons, keeping us in life, and preserving us from going down into the pit, we ought to love him; and if we did, it would not be anything to excite astonishment.

     And, beloved brethren, when the grace of God comes into the human heart, casts Satan out of it, and renders us capable of loving God, there is nothing very surprising in our loving him. I shall not ask you to think of the ordinary love which there is in common Christians. Indeed, the wonder about it is that it should be so ordinary, so little, so faint. It is a great wonder, to be spoken of with tears, that God should do so much for us, and that we should love him so little in return. Watts did well to pen those lines, —

“Dear Lord! and shall we ever lie
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to thee,
And thine to us so great?

“Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all thy quickening powers,
Come, shed abroad a Saviour’s love,
And that shall kindle ours.”

But now, think of the truly earnest missionary; think of such men as Carey, or Moffat, or John Williams, — men who give up all the comforts of life, all the hopes of emolument, and go forth amongst a barbarous people, to suffer insult, perhaps to meet with death for Christ’s sake. They brave the terrors of fever and pestilence; they pass through jungles; they dare tempestuous seas; no mountains are too high, no weathers are too stern to deter them. They force their way into the centre of Africa, or high up amongst the Esquimaux, if they may but tell of the love of Jesus to dying men. It may seem very wonderful to us, but if you come to think of it, compared with what Christ has done for them, they may, and they usually do, sit down and confess that they have done nothing whereof to glory. They have done only what it was their duty to have done, and they all confess that they fall short of the service which Christ deserves. Though we might say, in a modified sense, “Herein is love,” yet, after all, it is but faintly spoken, for it is but comparatively true.

     As we have read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, or some other history of the saints, and conned the story of their confessing Christ before the Inquisitors, singing joyful hymns when their bones were out of joint upon the rack, or standing boldly up upon the blazing faggots while their flesh was being consumed, still testifying to the preciousness of Christ, have we not said, “Herein is love”? Well might we say so as we contrasted our love with theirs; but after all, if you will but think a minute, it is a little thing for a man to be willing to burn to death for one who saved him from everlasting burning. ’Tis sharp work, but it is soon over, and the reward makes up for it all, while grace sustains the sufferer under the fiery trial. There is nothing, even in the love of martyrs, worthy of praise when compared with the exceeding love of Christ. These are stars; let them hide their heads in the presence of the Sun. These are all sweet flowers; yet compare them not with the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley, whose fragrance fills both earth and heaven. Those whose spiritual senses are qualified to judge forget all else while they stand entranced before this one gathering up of everything that is lovely, and cry, “Herein is love!”

     Oh! this love of Christ; it is beyond all degree, standard, or compass. In comparison with it, other love, high and noble as that other love may be, dwindles into insignificance. Then let me ask you now, somewhat more in detail, to think of the love of God in Christ Jesus towards us, as the text sets it forth.

     I. The love of God is LOVE TO THOSE WHO DO NOT LOVE HIM. “Not that wo loved God, but that he loved us.” When God loves those who love him, it seems to be according to the law of nature; but when he loves those who do not love him, this must be above even all laws, — it is according, certainly, to the extraordinary rule of grace, and grace alone. There was not a man on earth who loved God. There was none that did good, — no, not one; and yet the Lord fixed the eye of his electing love upon sinners in whom there was no thought of loving him. No more love to God is there in an unrenewed heart than there is of life within a piece of granite. No more of love to God is there within the soul that is unsaved than there is of fire within the depths of the ocean’s waves; and here forsooth is the wonder, that when we had no love to God, he should have loved us. This is a mild way of expressing it, for instead of loving God, my brethren, you and I withheld from him the poorest tribute of homage. We were careless, indifferent. Days and weeks passed over our heads in which we hardly thought of God. If there had not been any God, it would not have made much difference to us as to our thoughts, and habits, and conversation. God was not in all our thoughts; and, perhaps, if somebody could have informed us that God was dead, we should have thought it a fine piece of news, for then we could live as we liked, and need not be under any fear of being judged by him. Instead of loving God, though now we rejoice that he loves us, we rebelled against him. Which of his laws have we not broken? We cannot put our finger upon one command without being compelled to acknowledge that we have violated its claims, or come short of its demands.

     I do not want to dilate upon a general doctrine to-night, I rather want to press home to the conscience of every man here that God loves him. You know very well that God did not love you because you loved him, for there was not— you will confess it painfully, — anything like love to God in you, but much, very much, that sprang from natural enmity and aversion to him. Why, then, did he love you? Men do not generally love those who hate them, those who spite them, those who give them ill names; and yet God loved us! Why, there are some of the Lord’s people that God loved who, before conversion, used to curse him to his face! The Sabbath-day was the day they took for sensual pleasure. They were drunkards; they were unclean; they were everything that is vile; and yet he loved them! Oh, the wonder of this! When they were reeking in the kennels of sin, — when there was no sin too black and too vile for them to commit, — God loved them. Oh, never dream that he began to love you when you began to love him! Oh, no! but it was because he loved you hard and fast, when you were revelling in your sin, that his love put its arms around you, lifted you out of your sin, and made you what you are. Oh, but this is good tidings to some of you! Perhaps you are still, as all God’s people once were, living in sin. You hardly know why you have strayed in here, but perhaps, while you sit and listen, you may hear that God has loved you. Oh, that it may come to be true, that you may prove to be one of his chosen people, whom he loves even though in sin, and whom he will love till you come out of sin, and turn to Christ and get pardon for it! Pray, dear Christian people, pray that it may be so. God hears prayer. Put up the prayer silently now, — “Lord, attract some of thy chosen people to Christ to-night; let some who never thought of him, but were bent on sinning rather than of being brought to God, see Jesus, and find salvation though him.” “Herein is love;” God loved the unlovely, the hateful, the vile, the depraved, and loved them though they loved not him.

     II. Another part of the wonder lies in this, THAT THIS LOVE SHOULD COME FROM SUCH AN ONE AS GOD is. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” What does God want in loving us? You never saw a fly on the dome of St. Paul’s; it would have been too small an object for you to see when walking round the Cathedral. Now, a fly on the dome of St. Paul’s is a monstrous being, a marvellous individual, compared with you crawling about this world. Why, it bears a much larger proportion to St. Paul’s than you do to this globe! What an insignificant little creature you are! Supposing you could love that fly, — it would seem a strange thing; or that an angel could love that fly, — ’twere stranger still. But that God should love us, is much more a wonder. Lift up your eyes now to the heavens, and count the stars. Listen to the astronomer, as he tells you that those little specks of light are mighty worlds, some of them infinitely superior to this world of ours, and that there are millions upon millions of such worlds glittering in the sky, and that perhaps all these millions that we can see are only like one little corner, one little sand-hill of the worlds that God has made, while throughout boundless space there may be long leagues of worlds, if I may use the expression, innumerable as the sands that belt the shore around the great and mighty deep. Now, one man in a world — how little! But one man in myriads of worlds, one man in the universe — how insignificant! And herein is love, that God should love so insignificant a creature. For what is God, compared with the worlds, their number, and their probable extent of space? God is infinitely greater than all the ideas we suggest by such comparisons. God himself is greater than all space. No conception of greatness that ever crossed a mind of the most enlarged faculties can enable us to apprehend the grandeur of God as he really is. Yet this great and glorious Being, who filleth all things, and sustaineth all things by the word of his power, condescends to rivet upon us— not his pity, mark you, not his thoughts, but the very love of his soul, which is the essence of himself, for he is love. “Herein is love!” An insignificant creature, vile, and filthy, and polluted, loved by the august Creator, and loved with all the infinite affection of Jehovah’s heart. Stand still and wonder. You cannot fathom this depth, you cannot scale this height, for imagination’s utmost stretch dies away at the effort.

     III. And is it not a point of wonder THAT THIS LOVE SHOULD BE UNSOUGHT? “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent his Son.” We never sent to him; he sent to us. Suppose that, after we had all sinned, we had fallen on our knees, and cried importunately, “Oh, Father, forgive us!” Suppose that day after day we had been, with many piteous tears and cries, supplicating and entreating forgiveness of God. It would be great love then that he should devise a way of pardoning us. But no; it was the very reverse. God sent an ambassador of peace to us; we sent no embassage to him. Man turned his back on God, and went farther and farther from him, and never thought of turning his face toward his best Friend. It is not man that turns beggar to God for salvation; it is, if I may dare to say it, as though the Eternal God himself did beg of his creatures to be saved. Jesus Christ has not come into the world to be sought for, but to seek that which is lost. It all begins with him. Unsought, unbidden by the object of his compassion, Jesus came into the world. Now, I wonder if it may come true to-night that some here shall be found of God, after whom they have never sought? Such things have happened. When John Williams was converted, — I think you know the story, — there had been an agreement made to go out with a little party of youths to commit sin, —very foul sin, too, — and they sent John Williams into Whitefield’s Tabernacle to look at the clock, and the clock happened to be over the door, so that young Williams was obliged to go a little way up the aisle to see it. There was a crowd, and something that was being said by the preacher caught his ear, and he stood and listened. His companions outside began to be vexed with him for keeping them so long, but he kept them longer still, and the deed of darkness that was to have been done that night was never done, for God had found out John Williams, who had never sought after him. I do not say this to encourage any of you to put off seeking the Lord, for the command is, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near:” but still, here is the mercy. It is written, “I am found of them that sought me not; I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.” The grace of God sometimes comes in like a sheriff ’s officer, takes a man by the collar, and says to him, “You must turn to-night.” Jesus Christ sometimes comes to men as he did to Zacchaeus, who was up in the sycamore tree; he says, “Come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house.” It is not, “If you will,” but “I must; 1 must; it must be so.” So, O Lord, make a “must” of it tonight! Oh, make a “must” of it to many here, that thou must abide in their house; then they must give up their sins, and they must turn unto thee! But herein is love, the wonderful love of God in condescending thus, not only to wait for us, but to wait upon us, and come to us with his effectual grace, and save us. Though I speak but feebly on these points, I hope that your hearts will not beat feebly. I trust the children of God will be praising and magnifying the Lord, as they say to themselves, “That is just how he dealt with me; that is precisely how he showed his favour to me. ‘Herein is love.’”

     IV. How, too, may THE THOUGHTFULNESS OF DIVINE LOVE raise our admiration. “Not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Now observe the consideration and counsel this implies. We had sinned against God’s law, but his law was not an arbitrary despotism; it was the embodiment of a constitution equitably and benevolently adapted for the government of the universe. It was framed in such wisdom that obedience involved happinesss, and violation entailed misery. And punishment for breaking God’s laws was not in any respect irrelative or unconnected with the harmony of reciprocal interests. Not to punish the guilty were to exact the penalty of suffering from the innocent. Think what an injury and injustice would be inflicted upon all the honest men in London if the thieves were never punished for their roguery. It would be making the innocent suffer if you allowed the guilty to escape. God, therefore, not out of arbitrary choice, but from very necessity of rightness, must punish us for having done wrong. How was this to be avoided? His mighty love suggested the plan. Had it not done so, a parliament of angels could not have devised a scheme. The assembled senate of all the intellects that God had ever made could not have sketched a plan by which the eternal laws of right and wrong should stand unshaken, and God’s honour should be untarnished, and yet he should be able to forgive us. But God’s love thought out a plan, a wondrous plan, by which Jesus came to be a Substitute, to stand in our place, that we might go free. But I will not pause over the design, because there is the open manifestation of that kindness and love for us now to look at.

     V. “Herein is love,” — SELF-DENYING LOVE, AMAZING LOVE, UNEXAMPLED LOVE, — language fails me; I know no words by which to set forth the excellence of this love. ‘Tis love divine, love beyond degree: God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” It was necessary that this only-begotten Son of the Father should suffer in the flesh, that he should be delivered up into the hands of sinners, cruelly ill-treated, spit upon, nailed to a tree, and put to death. Who among us would give up his son? Dear, unspeakably dear to us are the children of our loins. Well, we might give them up for our country in the day of battle; we might say, “For our hearths and for our homes let the young men go,” but ’twere hard, as many a widowed mother has known when she has read the list of the killed in battle, and seen that her bravo boy has fallen. The blood-stained drapery of war has had but little glory in her eyes henceforth. But who among us would think of giving up his son to die for his enemy, for one who never did him a service, but treated him ungratefully, repulsed a thousand overtures of tenderness, and went on perversely hardening his neck? No man could do it. Ah! then think what manner of love it is that God’s only-begotten Son should be willing to die, that the Holy One should be willing to become a man, willing to take our sins upon him, willing to suffer for those sins, willing to endure the bloody sweat, willing to bare his shoulders to the lictor’s scourge, willing to give up himself, body and soul, to the pangs of such a death as was never known before or since. “Herein is love!” If ever I have coveted powers of speech such as God has committed to some men, powers of thrilling the soul and moving the heart, I covet them to-night, for how can I speak of the wondrous tragedy of the cross? How can I set forth the death-throes of my blessed Lord and Master?

     Instead of attempting what I must certainly fail to accomplish, I do but ask you to let your mental vision look for a minute at the spectacle itself. He who is the Lord of glory is mocked by rough soldiers. They spit into his face; they pluck his hair; they call him king, and they bow with mimic homage before him. He is scourged, and the scourging is no child’s play. He is made to carry his cross upon his shoulders through the streets of Jerusalem. He is brought to a rising knoll outside the city gates, — the Old Bailey, the Tyburn of Jerusalem. He is thrown upon his back; the iron is driven through his hands and feet; he is lifted up; the cross is fixed into its place with a jar to dislocate his bones. He cries, “I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint!” He suffers fever through the irritation of the nerves of the hands and feet, till his mouth is dried up like an oven, and his tongue cleaves to his jaws. He cries, “I thirst!” and they give him vinegar mingled with gall. Meanwhile, his soul is in tortures such as no man has ever felt. His spirit, lashed by a hurricane of divine wrath, is like a sea when it boils as a pot, seething and tossing to and fro. Oh, the unknown depths of Jesu’s griefs! — and all this for his enemies; for us who loved him not; for us who never asked it at his hands; for us who refused to have it; for us who, when we are brought to accept the mercy, do not understand it; for us who, even when we somewhat understand it, do not feel anything like a corresponding gratitude; for us who, even if we feel the gratitude, do not show it, but go our way and forget it; for us who are utterly unworthy of anything like such affection! “Herein is love!” Oh, stand and wonder! I can do no more than ask you to wonder with me; and God grant that our wondering may end in something reciprocal by way of love to him, and something practical by means of love put into action!

     VI. With this question I shall conclude, WHAT OUGHT TO BE THE EFFECT OF LOOKING UPON THIS GREAT WONDER?

     As the apostle tells us in the next verse: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” Christian, by the love which God has manifested to you, you are bound to love your fellow-Christians. You are to love them though they have many infirmities. You have some yourself; and if you cannot love one because he has a crusty temper, perhaps he may reply that he cannot love you because you have a lethargic spirit. Jesus loved you with all your infirmities; then love your infirm brethren. You tell me you cannot love because you have been offended by such a brother; but you also offended Christ. What! shall Christ forgive you all your myriad offences, and you not forgive your brother? What was it, after all? “Well, he did not treat me respectfully.” Ah! that is it, — a poor worm wants to be treated respectfully! “But he spoke disparagingly of me; and there is a sister here, — she may be a Christian woman, but she said a very unkind thing of me.” Well, yes; but what does it matter? I have often thought, when people have spoken ill of me, and they have been very, very false in it, perhaps, if they had known me better, they might have found something true to say, and so I must be like we sometimes say of a boy when he is beaten and does not deserve it, “ Well, he did deserve it, some time or other, for something else.” Rather than get angry, smile over the offence. Who are we, that we should expect everybody to honour us when nobody honoured our Lord? Oh, let us be ready at once to forgive even to seventy times seven. A beautiful spirit worthy of a Christian was that of a man who found his horse in the pound one day, and the farmer who put it in said, “I found your horse in my field, and I put it in the pound; and if ever I catch it there again, I’ll put it in again.” “Well,” replied the other, “I found six of your cows in my farm-yard the other night eating my hay; I just drove them out, and put them into your farm-yard; I didn’t pound them; and if ever I catch them in my yard again, I’ll do the same.” “Ah!” the farmer said, “you are a better man than I am;” and forthwith he went and paid the fees, and let his neighbour’s horse out of the pound, ashamed of himself. Such a generosity of disposition becomes you, especially to your brother-Christians. If God has such wonderful love to us, do let us love those who offend us, and show bowels of compassion towards the Lord’s poor people. It is easy to be courteous to those who are better off than ourselves, and show deference to those that wear respectable attire; but the thing is to love the Lord’s people who are poor, — ay, and to love them all the more tenderly for their poverty, for they have in some respects more of the image of Christ than we have. Christ was poor, and so are they. And let us cleave close to God’s persecuted ones. Some people always run away from a man as soon as anybody flings a handful of dirt at him; but if God so loved us when we were sinners, wo ought to love our fellow-Christians when they are under a cloud. Are they persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Then every brave spirit ought to say, “I am for that man, — I am for that man.” I was pleased with the remark of a brother I met, the other day. Alluding to the love he felt for his minister, he said, “The first reason why I came to hear him and love him was that I saw him abused in all the newspapers, and I said, ‘There is something good in that man, I am sure of it, and as he is the weaker one, and all are against him, I am on his side till I find something against him.’” Oh, take care to rally round the persecuted Christian! Whenever the child of God is evil spoken of, say, “My place shall be at his side; I will share in such an honour as that, that I may share in the honour which awaits the saints hereafter.”

     I have tried to speak to some here who are not converted, and to put a few very comforting thoughts before them. If they go home and seek the Lord, he will be found of them; ay, and if they trust Jesus Christ at once, they shall be saved. A young lady was reading a newspaper, and her mother said, “Have you done with it?” She said, “Yes, I have done with it; I was only looking at it to see the death of Jane — —. Poor girl, she used to be a Sunday-school teacher with me.” Well, she said she had done with it, but you may depend upon it she had not, for the fact that one was dead who had been her companion had not done with her; it would speak to her, and impress her, and if she shook it off, the responsibility would not have done with her. You have heard a sermon to-night, and you may think, “Now I have done with it.” Well, it may be so, but it has not done with you. You will be called to account for every truth it contains, for every reminder to your conscience, and every affectionate invitation that reaches your heart. Very few sermons, alas! ever are done. The most of them are listened to and forgotten, but if they were all done, — that is, if their counsels and admonitions were carried into effect, — what a blessing it would be! No, you have not done with it, and this text has not done with you. I think— nay, I seem to know this — that life there nor are in the some life who to never come will have done with this text, neither in, for the text is saying to you to-night, “Though you love not God now, yet you shall love him, for he has loved you, loved you with an everlasting love,” and the thought of this text will entice you to go and seek Jesus to see if it be so; and when you find it so, you will say to your children, “There is no text in the Bible more beautiful to me than that one, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us;’” and you may tell to your children’s children that on such an evening that text seemed to get into your soul, and to be set a-ringing there like the old bell on the Inchcape Rock, — the higher the storm, the louder it rang; and you shall hear it ring, ring, ring till it rings you to Christ, and rings you into heaven, and then in heaven it will make sweet music in your ears, and you will say even there, “Herein is love, not that I loved God, but that he loved me, and gave his Son to be a propitiation for my sins.”



Carte-Blanche

By / Mar 20

Carte-Blanche

 

“Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” — Matthew xv. 28.

 

I MEAN to dwell specially upon those words at the end of the verse, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt;” but before we consider them, I should like again to remind you, as I did in the reading, that our Lord admired this woman’s faith. He said unto her, “O woman, great is thy faith.” She was humble, she was patient, she was persevering, she was affectionate towards her child; but our Saviour did not mention any of these things, for he was most of all struck by her faith. What other good things she had, sprang out of her faith; so the Lord Jesus went at once to the root of the matter, and, as it were, held up his hands in astonishment, and exclaimed, “O woman, great is thy faith.”

     Her faith really was great, extremely great, when you consider that she was a Gentile, and one of a race that had ages before been doomed, the Canaanitish race, in whose nature idolatry seemed to be ingrained; yet this woman showed that she had greater faith than many a Jew. There are two cases of extraordinary faith recorded in the early part of Matthew’s Gospel; and in both of these instances where our Saviour expressed his astonishment at the greatness of the faith, the believers were Gentiles. Of the centurion at Capernaum he said, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” It is a wonderful thing when persons who have lived in ignorance and vice exhibit great faith. We are glad when those who have been brought up religiously and morally are led to believe in Christ; but we are often more astonished when the immoral, those who have previously known nothing of true godliness, are enabled by grace to exercise great faith in Christ.

     “O woman, great is thy faith,” said our Lord, for it was great even apart from her being a Gentile, for it had been sorely tried. Trials of faith from disciples are often very severe, and the disciples had put her aside, and even besought their Lord to “Send her away.” But trials of faith from the Master himself are still more severe. To have Christ’s deaf ear and dumb lips, — this was a trial indeed; and, worse than that, to have rough words from such a loving and tender Teacher as he was, and even to be called a dog by the great Shepherd of Israel, and to be told that it was not meet to give her the children’s bread, — these were heavy tests of her confidence; but she had such faith that she bore up under all, and still pressed her suit with the Son of David, the Lord of mercy. We cannot but feel that Christ did her justice when he said, “O woman, great is thy faith.”

     Our Saviour seems to have been specially struck with the ingenuity of her faith. Little faith always lacks ingenuity, it must have everything very plain or else it cannot move at all; but great faith makes crooked things straight, sees light in the midst of darkness, and gathers comfort out of discouragement. For this woman to turn Christ’s word inside out, as it were, and when he said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs,” for her to say, in effect, “I do not ask to have it cast to me; only let me have the crumbs which fall by accident from the children themselves when they have brought the dogs under the table,” — this was indeed extraordinary faith and wonderful pleading. “If thou wilt heal my daughter, there will be none the less of thy marvellous power for the children of Israel, for thou canst heal them, too. If thou dost give me this that I ask, — great as it is to me, it is only like a crumb to thee, thy table is so lavishly provided for by thine omnipotence of grace. Even this great boon that I ask of thee will be nothing more to thee than a chance crumb that falls from the children’s table.” This was splendid pleading, and the Saviour saw the force of it at once. He loves ingenuity on the part of those who come to him. He is so ingenious himself in devising means of bringing back his banished ones, that he is glad to see ingenuity in the banished ones themselves when they desire to come back to him. He therefore cries in holy astonishment, “O woman, great is thy faith.”

     Taking the case of the woman as a whole, I think that it must have been her pertinacity, her firmness, that surprised the Lord. Others are so easily put off, but she would not be put off. Others need encouragement, but she encouraged herself. When the door is shut in her face, she only knocks at it; and when Christ calls her “Dog,” she only picks up what Christ has said, as a good dog will pick up his master’s stick, and bring it right to his feet. There was no baffling her. If all the devils in hell had been about the business, not merely that terrible one that possessed her daughter, she would have beaten them all, for she had such faith — shall I not say? — such dogged faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that she could even get comfort out of being called a dog. She had such resolute faith that she must have what she sought, and she would not go away without it. If she does not succeed at first, she will battle on until she does win the victory; she will continue pleading till she carries her suit.

     Our Lord was not only, to speak after the manner of men, astonished at her faith; but, with reverence wo may say that he was conquered by it. He yielded to her faith, and he yielded unconditionally. He gave her much more than she asked, for she had not asked that her daughter might be healed the selfsame hour. She had hardly got as far as the asking at all; and as to mentioning the details, she had only pleaded with him in general; but Christ gave her definitely what he knew she wished for, and gave it to her at once. And what is more, he did, as it were, hand her over the keys of his house. “There,” said he, “my good woman, I so admire your faith that I say to you, Go and help yourself. You may have whatever you like. Whatever treasure of grace I have, is yours if you want it; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” He gave her the keys of the heavenly cash-box. Some time ago, a lady wishing to help the Orphanage, sent me a cheque, and she did a very unwise thing indeed, for she signed the cheque, but she did not fill up the amount. Never do that you see, I might have put all her fortune down, and filled up the cheque to any amount that the lady had in the bank. She evidently trusted me very largely, but I sent her cheque back to her, saying that I did not know what amount to put down. Of course, she intended to give a guinea, or £5, or something of the kind, but she forgot to say how much; and that is a very dangerous plan indeed with most people. So, our Saviour gave this woman a blank cheque. “Fill it up for what you like,” he said. “Great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. Whatever it is that you wish for, you shall have. Your faith has won from me this boon, that I now put at your disposal all my power to bless. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     I am going to talk specially about that point, and first, I will try to answer the question, How far did this carte-blanche extend? Then, secondly, when is it safe for the Lord to give such a carte-blanche as that? And, thirdly, if he did give us such power, how would we use it?

     I. First, then, dear friends, HOW FAR DID THIS CARTE-BLANCHE EXTEND when the Saviour said to the woman “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt”?

     In answer to which I would say, first, that it went so far as to baffle all the powers of hell. This woman’s child was grievously vexed with a devil, and we read, “her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” “For this saying, go thy way;” said Christ, according to Mark’s account, “the devil is gone out of thy daughter.” Now, Satan is very mighty; there is not one of us, nor all of us put together, who can be equally matched with him. He takes small account of ten thousand men; he is more crafty and cunning than all the wise men, and more powerful than all the mighty men who ever came together, and yet the Saviour seems to say, “I have heard thee, good woman, I have seen thy faith; I will rebuke the demon, I will send the evil spirit back to his own place, and your child shall be snatched out of his cruel grasp.” Beloved, if you have faith enough, Christ will give you power even to cast out devils. If you can only trust him, trust him without measure or stint, and believe in him as this woman did, he will give you power to make Satan fall like lightning from heaven, and flee before you. “Jesus I know,” said the evil spirit at Corinth, “and Paul I know,” and the devil still knows those who make him know them. Through faith in Jesus, they speak to him with authority, and he must flee from them. So, if you have faith, you shall resist the devil, and even he, powerful as he is, shall turn his hack, and flee from you; and, as Luther said, though there were as many devils as the tiles upon the housetops, yet would faith in God give you grace to vanquish them all. Remember that glorious promise, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” So this carte-blanche, when he said to the woman, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” meant, “The devils themselves are now subject to thy will.”

     Next, it meant that it was the will of the Lord to heal her daughter completely. She had come all the way from Syrophoenicia to the borders of the land of Israel that she might plead with Christ about her daughter, her dear child, perhaps her only child. This sorrow pressed very heavily on her heart, so she cried unto the Lord, “Have mercy on me.” She so identified herself with her child that she did not know any difference between herself and her child. They had seemed to grow into one in the great trouble that they had at home. I have known many a mother who certainly would far rather have suffered herself than that her child should suffer, so completely had she identified herself with her child. Now, beloved, if you can plead with Christ with this woman’s heroic faith, if you can fully believe in him, and not dare to doubt him, you shall have your children put at your disposal. He will deal graciously with them, — with the girl for whom you are pleading, with the boy over whom your heart is aching. He will say to you, dear mother, “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” The boy shall repent, the girl shall believe, the children shall come to Jesu’s feet, and become your comfort and joy through their early conversion to Christ. Is not this a great blessing?

     Ay, and the woman had such faith in Christ that this blank cheque further meant her to have this boon at once. “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt, now, at once.” So she willed at once, of course, that the devil should go out of her daughter, and out the devil had to go, for her will had become God’s will, and Christ had infused into her will a mighty power which even Satan could not resist. Oh, if you have faith enough, you may get the blessing you desire even now! It may be that, while sitting in this Tabernacle, breathing a prayer for your child, God may bless your child before you get home. If you can but have faith enough, he has power enough; and if he deigns to say, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” I know that it will be your will, not that your girl may be converted when she becomes a woman, not that your boy may be saved when he becomes a man, but that the blessed miracle may be wrought at once, even now. What parents want to let the devil have their children even for an hour? O Jesus, turn him out at once! Let us see our children, our children’s children, our brothers and sisters and friends, converted now, for while now is the accepted time with God, now is the time which every earnest Christian will prefer for the conversion of those for whom he prays. A splendid promise is this concerning great blessings to be had, and to be had at once: “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     I must go a little further, and say that I think our Lord, when he said to the woman, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” permitted her to eat the children’s bread. She had before said, “The little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table,” and “then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee oven as thou wilt.” I think this means that, instead of having the privilege to go and roam like a dog under the table, and eat what she could pick up, she was made into a child, and was permitted to sit at the table, and eat of all that the Lord had provided. O poor sinner, you came in here to-night feeling like a whipped dog, did you not? You said to yourself, “There will not be anything for me in the sermon;” but, by-and-by, as you heard of the great grace of Christ to this poor woman, you thought that there might be hope even for you, and now you begin to think that there is a possibility that even you may be blessed. Well, well, I venture to say to you that, if you wish to eat the children’s bread, you may. “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Lord, we do not ask of thee that we may be treated better than the rest of thy family! If any of you pray to God to make a distinction, and to give you more than he gives his other children, I do not think you are likely to get it. If you come to Christ, as Mrs. Zebedee did, and begin asking that James and John may sit, the one on his right hand, and the other on his left, you will not get what you ask; but if you say, “O Lord, thou art my God; I love thy people, let me fare as they do. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. I do not ask to be exempt from tribulation, for all the heirs of salvation have to endure it. I only ask that I may eat what thy children eat. If they have bread, Lord, I will be happy to have bread; I ask for no dainties. If they drink water from the rock, Lord, let me have a draught of the same; I ask for nothing more.” Jesus says, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. If you are content to sit at the table with my children, come along with you. If you sigh after their bread, which came down from heaven, if you will take ‘scot and lot’ with them, there is nothing to hinder you. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     Surely, also, when the Saviour spoke thus to the Syrophoenician woman, he meant to make reference to her first prayer. She cried unto him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David.” “Yes,” said he, “now be it unto thee even as thou wilt. I have mercy on thee. If thou hast sinned, I forgive thee. If thou art hard of heart, I will soften thy heart. If thou hast been an ignorant heathen, I will enlighten thee, and bring thee to my feet. I will be to thee the Son of David, and thou shalt be one of mine own chosen people, and I will care for thee, and protect thee, and deliver thee, as David did the many for whom he fought.” O souls, if any one of you is crying, “Lord have mercy upon me,” if you have faith in Christ, — and he deserves to be trusted; there is none like him; he deserves to be trusted without a single doubt, for he never failed anyone, and he never bed to anyone, therefore let no wicked mistrust come in to weaken thy faith, — if thou canst trust him, he says to thee, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Take mercy; take mercy, and more mercy, and yet more mercy. Come to the table of love, and sit among the children of the Lord, and feed on heavenly bread. Put up thy prayer for thy child, pleading the promise to the jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” Come to Christ with all the torment thou hast felt from the devil’s possession of thee; the horrible thoughts, the blasphemous insinuations, the desperate doubts, and hear the Saviour say to thee, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” The devil shall be made to depart from thee. Thy poor head shall lose the fever from the burning brow; thy heart shalt beat at its even pace, and thou shalt be at peace again. The Lord shall rebuke thine adversary. In this confidence, say unto the demon even now, “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise.”

     Oh, this is a grand, grand word from our Lord’s lips! It is a wonderful cheque, signed by our Saviour’s own hand, and left in blank for faith to fill up. We might have half thought that he would have said, “O woman, your faith is too big for me to trust you with unlimited prayer. If you had only a little faith, I would go as far as your little faith would go, and keep pace with you.” But no, no; that is not Christ’s method of acting. He says, “O woman, great is thy faith, and as thou canst trust me, I can trust thee. Cry as thou wilt, for so be it unto thee. Thou hast firmly resolved to have no doubt about my power and willingness, and to trust me without reserve; so I trust thee without reserve, be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     II. So now I pass to our second question, which is this. WHEN IS IT SAFE FOR THE LORD TO TRUST ANYBODY WITH SUCH A PROMISE AS THIS, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt”?

     It would be very unsafe thus to trust some of you. Why, there is one man here who, if it was said to him, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” would at once pray for — well, I do not know how many thousand pounds; and when he got home, he would be discontented, and say, “What a fool I was not to ask two or three times as much!” All! yes, yes, yes; but the Lord does not trust greedy people in that way. Not while there is any idea of your own merit left, will Christ trust you at all. Not while there is a fraction of self-will left, will Christ trust you at all, and not while doubt remains. That must go, for the whole verse says, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” He trusts faith; he will not trust unbelief, he will not trust self-confidence, he will not trust human merit; but where there is faith, there he gives over the keys of his treasury, and says, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     When will the Lord thus trust us? Well, I think, first, when we agree with Christy when we are like this woman who had no quarrel with the Saviour. Whatever he said was right in her eyes. If he called her a dog, she said, “Truth, Lord.” When you and Christ agree, and there is no quarrel between you, then he says, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” If you do not yield to him, he will not yield to you; but when you just end all disputing, and say, “Lord, I have done with all quibbling and quarrelling; I will never raise another question, and never harbour another doubt. I believe thee. I believe thee. As a child believes its mother, I believe thee. When I cannot understand thee, when thou dost distress me, still I do believe thee.” All! when you come to that point, then the Lord will say, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

      Next, when our soul is taken up with proper desires. This woman had no idea of asking for a hundred thousand shekels of silver, or a wedge of gold, or a goodly Babylonish garment. One thought alone possessed her, — “My child! My child! Oh, that the devil might be cast out of my child!” “Now,” says Christ, “be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” And when you have great desires for heavenly things, when your desires are such as God approves of, when you will what God wills, then you may will what you like. When it comes to this, that you have dropped your own desires of an inferior and grovelling kind, and you are taken up with desires for necessary things, desires that come to you from Christ himself, when you desire the bread, not from the devil’s oven, but from Christ’s table, when that is what you crave, then it shall be unto you even as you will.

     Next, it shall be to us even as we will when we see our Lord in his true offices. This woman saw that Christ was a Healer, and she appealed to him as a Healer. If you see Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, you may go and ask of him as a Prophet what a prophet is ordained to give, or as a Priest what a priest is intended to bestow, or as a King what a king is set upon the throne to do. You may go to Christ as he really is, and if you see that he is ordained for this purpose and for that, then keep in tune with what he is ordained to be, and you may ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. You must not try to take Christ away from his offices. Christ is not sent of God to make you a rich man; he is sent of God to make you a saved man, so you may go to him as a Saviour, for that is his office. You may go to him as a Priest, for it is his office to cleanse, to offer sacrifice, to make intercession. Take Christ as God sets him forth, and then be it unto thee even as thou wilt.

     Next, it will be to us even as we will when we can believe about the distinct object that is before us. This woman pleaded for her child. All her faith went out towards her child. I love the prayer that has in it faith concerning the thing for which it pleads. There are many Christian people who say they have faith about twenty things; but thou the thing that they cannot believe about is the twenty-first. You must have a faith that can not only cover twenty-one things, but that can cover everything. We say, “Oh! I could believe if my trouble were like So-and-so’s.” You could not believe at all unless you can believe about your present trouble; and you must believe about the object for which you are praying, that it can be given you, that it will be given you in answer to your prayer; and then Jesus will say to you, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     Again, we can have whatever we like when our heart seeks only God’s glory

     And above all, when we always keep to what I have already mentioned, when we only ask for the children’s bread, then the Lord will give us what we crave. If you ask for what God gives his elect, for what Christ has bought for his redeemed, if you ask for what the Holy Ghost works in the minds of men converted by his power, if you ask for what God has promised, if you ask for what it is customary for God to bestow upon his waiting people, then “be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” No wild fancy, no rhapsody, no whim that makes thee wish for this or that, is worthy to come within the compass of my text; but that which the Lord waits to give thee, that which he knows would be good for thee, that which will be an honour to him, and which will help thee to honour him, thou mayest ask without any stammering or fear; and thou shalt have it, for he says to thee, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     I do not know; but I think that I am speaking personally to somebody here in trouble, who has been long pleading and praying, and has never got an answer yet. “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Hannah, the woman of a sorrowful spirit, sits in this house, bowed down in soul, and pouring out before the Lord her silent prayer. Let her take this message from the Lord’s servant, or, better still, from the Lord himself, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” But then I only dare to say it to one to whom I could also say, “O woman, great is thy faith.” If you have not any faith, how are you to have it? Here is a soup-kitchen opened for the poor, and they are told to bring their jugs, their mugs, their basins, — anything they like. A woman comes, and says, “I have not a mug.” “Have you a basin?” “No.” Well, you say to her, “You can have the soup;” but then, you see, she cannot carry it home without a basin, or a jug. So, here is the mercy of God, and many lack it; here is a blessing rich and rare, and many cannot carry it home because they have no faith; but Christ could say to the Syrophoenician, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     III. Now I finish by asking another question. Suppose this blank cheque to be given to us, now WILL IT BE USED?

     Well, first, I should use it upon that thing about which I have been praying most. I will not say what it is. This woman had been praying most about her daughter, so, when the Saviour said, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” she did not say a single word, but she just willed in her mind that the devil should be driven out of her daughter. Oh, that you might have faith enough to be able to will the right thing! If Christ leaves his own will in your hands, and feels safe in doing so, oh, will strongly! It is for God, you know, to give a fiat; but Christ here gives a fiat to the woman. As I read the text, he says to her, “Be it unto thee,” — “So let it be.” “Be it so,” says he, “as thou wilt.” Behold, the fiat of God goes forth to thee, believer, to let it be even as thou dost will it to be. Now, can you not will for the child for whom you have been praying? Do you not will for the congregation that lies on your heart? Do you not will for that friend with whom you have been speaking in order to try to bring him to Christ? Will for the distinct object for which you have been praying; and then, may the will of the Lord be done, and may your will also be done because it is an echo of the will of the Lord!

     Next, I think that, if we had this said to each one of us, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” we should first well our own salvation. Pray, as we sang just now, —

“With my burden I begin,
Lord, remove this load of sin;
Let thy blood, for sinners spilt,
Set my conscience free from guilt.
“Lord! I come to thee for rest,
Take possession of my breast;
There thy blood-bought right maintain,
And without a rival reign.”

Let each one of us pray, “Lord, save me! Lord, make sure work of it; save me from sin, save me from self, save me from everything that dishonours thee.” I was talking, the other day, with a man who was saying that he attended a ministry where he heard very little about holy living. He thought that he was a believer, though he was living in sin, and continued to live in sin. He knows now that he was no believer, or else he could not have lived in sin as he did; and now he prays to God not for salvation while he is living in sin, but for salvation from sin. So, we will first ask of God our own full salvation, and we know that his answer will be, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     Have we not all a prayer also for our children, or our friends, or those who lie near to our hearts? Then let us pray on, with great faith, till we hear Christ say, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt;” and then let us go home, and expect to see the work of grace begun in our children. Watch for it, O parent; and carefully nurture it as soon as you see the first beginnings of it! About this matter also Jesus says, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     I think that, if I were asked to pray now for something very special, and that I might have whatever I asked, my prayer would be, “Lord, make me grow in grace. Give me more faith. If I have great faith, give me more. If I have much love to thee, give me more love to thee. If I know my Lord, I pray that I may know more of him, and know him to a fuller and intenser degree.” My prayer shall be, —

“Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee.”

Let that be the prayer of each one of you to whom it is left to fill lip this blank cheque.

     Then there is another prayer that I am sure I should remember, if nobody else here did, and that would be concerning Christ’s kingdom. If it is to be unto me as I will, then I will it that God’s truth should be preached everywhere, and that false doctrines should be made to fly like chaff before the wind. If our prayer be heard, and we are permitted to have what we will, our will is that God may send us Luthers and Calvins, and brave men like John Knox back again, men with bones in their backs, and fire on their lips, with hearts that burn and words that glow with holy fervour; we want them so badly now. The Lord have mercy upon the Free Church of Scotland, and give her back faithful covenanting men and women! The Lord have mercy upon our own poor denomination, and give us those who love the truth of God, and dare to stand up for it come what may! Oh, for such a prayer as that! Lord, revive thy Church! Lord, lift up a banner because of the truth! Lord, put thine adversaries to the rout!

“Fight for thyself, O Jesus, fight,
The travail of thy soul regain!”

Oh, to hear in our hearts this gracious word from the King himself, as we plead with him concerning his kingdom, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

     By-and-by, you and I shall lie sick and ill, and they will say, “His days are numbered.” Then, if the Lord shall visit us in answer to our prayers, and whisper to us, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” oh then, the promise will read in a very different sense from what I can read it now! Then will the poor tent begin to be taken down; well, it never was worth much. Fearfully and wonderfully made is this mortal frame, but it is capable of bringing us great pain and much sorrow, and also of deadening our devotion, and hampering us in our work for God. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” “Ah, well!” says the Lord, “you shall be rid of your flesh one day. It shall be unto thee even as thou wilt.” You have sung, sometimes, —

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

“Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” A dear sister, who was buried to day, said when they told her that she could not live another day, “Does it not seem wonderful? Is it not a grand thing to know that I am going to see the Lord Jesus Christ to-day?” And she lay on her bed saying this to all who came, “It seems too good to be true, that I should be so near that for which I have longed these many years; I am going to-day to see the King in his beauty.”

     Ah, thank God, we too shall come to that last day of our earthly life! Unless the Lord descend quickly, we too shall come to our dying bed, and then we shall hear our Saviour say, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” and oh! we shall will to see his face, and to be for ever with the Lord, and to praise him with infinite rapture for ever and ever. Blessed be his name, we have faith to believe that it will be even so. Then we will tell him what we cannot tell him now, how much we love him, how deeply we feel our indebtedness to him, and we will give all the glory of our salvation to his holy name for ever and ever. God grant that this may be the happy lot of every one of us, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.



The Rule and Reward of Serving Christ

By / Jun 27

The Rule and Reward of Serving Christ

 

“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” — John xii. 26.

 

THIS verse is all about serving, and service; three times over you get the word “serve” or “servant.” Each clause of our text has in it a part of the verb “to serve.” You cannot have Christ if you will not serve him. If you take Christ, you must take him in all his characters, not only as Friend, but also as Master; and if you are to become his disciple, you must also become his servant. I hope that no one here kicks against that truth. Surely it is one of our highest delights on earth to serve our Lord, and this is to be our blessed employment even in heaven itself: “His servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face.”

     This thought also enters into our idea of salvation; to be saved, means that we are rescued from the slavery of sin, and brought into the delightful liberty of the servants of God. O Master, thou art such a glorious Lord that serving thee is perfect freedom, and sweetest rest! Thou hast told us that it should be so, and we have found it so. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” We do find it so; and it is not as though rest were a separate thing from service, the very service itself becomes rest to our souls. I know not how some of us would have any rest on earth if we could not employ our daily lives in the service of Christ; and the rest of heaven is never to be pictured as idleness, but as constantly being permitted the high privilege of serving the Lord.

     Learn hence, then, all of you who would have Christ as your Saviour, that you must be willing to serve him. We are not saved by service, but we are saved to service. When we are once saved, thenceforward we live in the service of our Lord. If we refuse to be his servants, we are not saved, for we still remain evidently the servants of self, and the servants of Satan. Holiness is another name for salvation; to be delivered from the power of self-will, and the domination of evil lusts, and the tyranny of Satan, — this is salvation. Those who would be saved must know that they will have to serve Christ, and those who are saved rejoice that they are serving him, and that thus they are giving evidence of a change of heart and renewal of mind.

     Come, beloved, and when the text says, “If any man serve me,” let each of us read his own name there, and let us say, “Yes, I would serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” If we cannot read our own name there as yet, let us pray God that we may first believe in Jesus unto eternal life, and then, receiving that eternal life, may spend the full force and strength of it in his service. I hope that I am addressing a large number of those who are workers together with God, who have said concerning their great King as Ittai said to David, “Surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.” You have taken up Christ’s cross, it has become a delightful burden to you, and you wish to bear it after Jesus as long as you live. May you be helped in that desire by the consideration of the passage before us!

     First, here is the rule of service: “If any man serve me, let him follow me.” Secondly, here is the fellowship of service: “Where I am, there shall also my servant be.” And thirdly, here is the reward of service: “If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”

     I. First, dear friends, here is THE RULE OF SERVICE: “If any man serve me, let him follow me.”

     So you are proposing to yourself that you will serve Christ, are you? You are a young man, as yet you have plenty of vigour and strength, and you say to yourself, “I will serve Christ in some remarkable way; I will seek to make myself a scholar, I will try to learn the art of oratory, and I will in some way or other glorify my Lord’s name by the splendour of my language.” Will you, dear friend? Is it not better, if you are going to serve Christ, to ask him what he would like you to do? If you wished to do a kindness for a friend, you certainly would desire to know what would best please that friend, or else your kindness might be mistaken, and you might be doing that which would grieve rather than gratify. Now listen. Your Lord and Master does not bid you become either a scholar or an orator in order to serve him. Both of those things may happen to fall to your lot in that path of duty which he would have you to take; but first of all he says, “If any man serve me, let him follow me.”

     This is what Christ prefers beyond anything else, that his servants should follow him. If we do that, we shall serve him in the way which is according to his own choice. I notice that many good friends desire to serve Christ by standing on the top round of the ladder. You cannot get there at one step, young man; your better way will be to serve Christ by following him, by “doing the next thing,” the thing you can do, that little simple business which lies within your capacity, which will bring you no special honour, but which, nevertheless, is what your Lord desires of you. In effect, you can hear him. say to you, “If any man serve me, let him follow me, not by aiming at great things, but by doing just that piece of work that I put before him at the time.” “Seekest thou great things for thyself?” said the prophet Jeremiah to Baruch, “seek them not.” So say I to you.

     One friend here, perhaps, blessed with great riches, is saying to himself or herself, “I will lay by in store until I acquire a considerable amount, and then build a row of almshouses for the poor; I will give very largely to some new foreign missionary effort, or I will build a house of prayer in which Christ’s name shall be preached.” God forbid that I should stop you in any right design whatever! Still, if you would do what is absolutely certain to please Christ, I would not recommend the selection of any one particular object, but I would advise you just to do this, — follow him, remembering that he said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me.” You will, by simply going behind your Master, following his footsteps, and being truly his disciple, do that which would please him more than if you could endow his cause with a whole mint of riches. This is what he selects as the choicest proof of your love, the highest testimonial of your regard: “If any man serve me, let him follow me.”

     What, then, does the Saviour mean by bidding us render to him our best service by following him? I should say, first, I understand by these words that we are to follow Christ by believing his doctrine. Our Lord says, practically, “If any man serve me, let him follow me as Teacher; let him sit at my feet, let him learn of me.” Some seem to fancy that they can servo Christ by striking out a new line of thought. My dear sir, if you do that, you will serve yourself, but you will not serve Christ. He has come to be the Teacher of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, and it is only by teaching the truths which he has made known, and by publishing the message which he has revealed, that you can really be his servant. Suppose you have a man to be your servant at home, — say, your gardener. He is a very industrious man indeed, and works very hard; but when you walk round your garden, you do not see him, and for a very good reason, for he is not there. Where is he? He is at work in your neighbour’s garden! Of course, you love your neighbour as yourself, so you are pleased to think that your servant is working on behalf of your neighbour. You smile, do you? I think you say to yourself, “That is a kind of servant that I should not care to keep; if he worked for somebody else all day long, in the time for which I paid him, I should not want him as my servant.” Well now, if I, as a Christian minister, become a teacher of philosophy, instead of a preacher of the truths of the gospel, if I receive into my mind some of the novel views that abound in the present day, which are not the views that are revealed in the Scriptures, then Christ is not my Master, and I am not his disciple, I am a follower of somebody else. If you act thus, you are pretending to be Christ’s reformer, you are attempting to make his teaching better. Impious fool! I dare not use a milder expression. You are acting as Christ’s critic; you are finding fault with the Faultless, you are trying to correct the Infallible; you had better give up such a task as that, for it is not consistent with being his disciple. He requires of you that you should become as a little child, that you may be taught by him. His own words are, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” If you would be a servant of Christ, come to him as a little child; sit on the infants’ form, to be taught by him the gospel A B C. “I f any man serve me, let him follow me, — follow me as my disciple, regarding me as his Teacher, to whom he bows his understanding and his entire mind, that I may fashion it according to my own will.” This is the language of our Lord, and I would impress it very earnestly upon you all, and especially upon any who are beginning the Christian life. If you are to serve Christ, put your mind like a tablet of wax under his stylus, that he may write on you whatsoever he pleases. Be you Christ’s slate, that he may make his mark on you. Be his sheet of paper on which he may write his living letters of love. You can serve him in this way in the best possible manner.

     But next, I think that the text means, “If any man serve me, let him follow me by obeying my commands.” A fortnight ago, we considered that most instructive text, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” I would bring that text to your notice again, and ring it like a bell: “Whatsoever HE saith unto you, do it.” If you want truly to serve Christ, do not do what you suggest to yourself, but do what he commands you. Remember what Samuel said to Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” I believe that the profession of consecration to God, when it is accompanied by action that I suggest to myself, may be nothing but will-worship, an abomination in the sight of God; but when anyone says to the Lord, “What wilt thou have me to do? Show me, my Master, what thou wouldst have me to do,” — when there is a real desire to obey every command of Christ, then is there the true spirit of service, and the true spirit of sonship. “If any man serve me, let him follow me, running at my call, following at my heels, waiting at my feet to do whatsoever I desire him to do.” Dear friends, this makes life a very much simpler thing than some dream it to be. You are not to go and carve a statue out of the marble by the exercise of your own genius; if that were the task set before us, the most of us would never accomplish it. But you have just to go and write according to Christ’s own example, to copy his letters, the up-strokes and the down-strokes, and to write exactly as he has written. The other day, I was asked to sign my name to a deed, and when it was handed to me, I said, “Why, I have signed my name!” “Yes,” said the one who brought it, “you have the very easy task of marking it all over again.” Just so, in that case I followed my own writing; and you have the easy task of writing after Christ, blacking over again the letters that ho himself has made, and you cannot do him better service than this. “If any man serve me, let him follow me; that is, let him do just what I bid him to do.”

     Now, thirdly, I think that by these words our Lord means — and this is the same thing in another shape, “If any man serve me, let him follow me by imitating my example.” It is always safe, dear friends, to do what Christ would have done under the same circumstances in which you are placed. Of course, you cannot imitate Christ in his miraculous work, and you are not asked to imitate him in some of those sorrowful respects in which he suffered that we might not suffer; but the ordinary life of Christ is in every respect an example to us. Never do what you could not suppose Christ would have done. If it strikes you that the course of action that is suggested to you would be un-Christly, then it is un-Christian, for the Christian is to be like Christ. The Christian is to be the flower growing out of the seed, Christ; and there is always a congruity between the flower and the seed out of which it grows. Keep your eyes fixed on your heavenly model, and pattern, and seek in all things ever to imitate Christ. If you want to serve Christ, repeat his life as nearly as possible in your own life. “If any man serve me, let him follow me by copying my example.”

     Once more, I think the Saviour means this: “If any man serve me, let him follow me by clinging to my cause.” Cling to the cause of Christ, dear friend, give yourself to that kingdom for which you are taught to pray, and be ready to make any sacrifice whatever that you may advance and extend it. Yea, throw your whole self into the holy service of your Lord; make the name of Christ to be more widely known, and the cause of Christ to be further extended among the sons of men. Cling to the cause of Christ, and so carry out his own words, “If any man serve me, let him follow me.”

     Beloved, I believe that every Christian person should follow Christ in the waters of baptism, and, having done that, should join the Church of Christ, not so much to follow the Church, as to follow Christ. We are not to follow men, even the best of men, any farther than they follow Christ; but we must take care that we do boldly stand up as adherents of his cause, so that, if it be asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” we may put in an appearance directly, and avow ourselves as his followers. Are you living in a village where there is no congregation of the faithful? Then, let it be known that you are on the Lord’s side, and do your best to open a place where Christ can be preached. Do you live down some dark part of this city where nobody goes to a place of worship? Such places are, alas! very common in this dreadful London. Then, be sure that you go to the house of God, and your very going there will be a form of serving Christ, for others will see that you at least take a decided step, and join in public worship with the avowed followers of Christ. If you would really serve Christ, come right out from the world, and say, “Let others do as they will, as for me and my house we belong to Christ, and we will never hide our colours. We will bind the scarlet thread in the window, and we will let all who come by this way understand that here live those who have been redeemed with precious blood, and who therefore cannot, dare not, and will not conceal the gracious fact.” “If any man serve me, let him follow me by taking up my cause, and working for it with all his heart.”

     I hope that I do not need to dwell any longer on this point. You all see that the way in which to serve Christ is not a visionary one. You do not need to run away from your father and mother, and leave your home and friends, and go away to the blacks in Africa, in order to serve Christ. It is not the getting of some idle speculation in your own brain, and working that out according to your own whims and fancies, that constitutes service of Christ; it is just simply this, — if any man will serve Christ, let him follow Christ. Let him put his foot down as nearly as he can where Christ put his foot down; let him tread in Christ’s steps, and be moved by his spirit, actuated by his motives, live with his aim, and copy his actions. This is the noblest way in which to serve the Lord.

     II. Now secondly, and briefly, let us notice THE FELLOWSHIP OF SERVICE: “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be.” I do not know any other master but Christ who ever said that. There are some places where an earthly master does not want his servant to be; he must have some room to himself, and some engagements which he cannot explain to his servant, and into which his servant must not pry. But the Lord Jesus Christ makes this the glorious privilege of every one who enters his service that, where he is, there shall his servant be.

     And where is he, I pray? He is in heaven, and we cannot go to him there until he calls us home. But where is he? Where was he when he spoke these words? He was, first, in the place of consecration. The Lord Jesus Christ stood before the Father a consecrated man. All that there was in him was dedicated to the glory of God. Now, go and serve him by following him, and he will put you into the place of dedication, consecration, sanctification. You desire to be holy; well, you will never attain to holiness simply by lying in bed; get up and work for Jesus if you are able to do so. And you cannot get holiness merely by studying books; serve your Lord, and serve him especially by following him. It is in the sacred process of active obedience, or of passive obedience, that we get the consecration which is not to be found, as some think, by merely willing it, and talking of it, but which grows out of holy service. As rivers, when they take up sewage, are said to drop it as they flow, and purify themselves as they run, so, assuredly, it is with a believer as he flows on in his Christian course. God blessing him, he drops much of the earthiness which he has taken up in his progress through life, and by the very motion he seems to purify himself, refining as he runs. I notice that people who have nothing to do but to sit down and stare into the black hole of their own nature, are generally very sad, and not often very virtuous; but they who, knowing how dark and sinful their nature is, trust Jesus for salvation, and then spend their lives in doing the will of the Lord, these are they who are both holy and happy.

     But where is Christ? — for he says, “Where I am, there shall also my servant be.” He is and always was in the place of communion with God. He was always near to his Father. He often spoke with God. He ever had the joy of God filling his spirit. And you, perhaps, are saying to yourself, “I wish that I had communion with God.” Well, through Jesus Christ, it is to be had by serving him in that particular kind of service which consists in following him. If you want to walk with God, why, of course, you must walk! If you sit down in idleness, you cannot walk with him; and if you do not keep up a good brisk pace, he will walk on in front of you, and leave you behind, for the Lord is no laggard in his walking. Therefore, you see, there must be diligent progress, and activity in service, in order that we may keep pace with him, and have communion with him; and if we act thus here, he has promised that we shall be in the place of communion with our blessed Master.

     Further than this, our Lord Jesus Christ was in the place of confidence. Whenever Christ went to work, he worked with assurance. He never had a doubt as to his ultimate success. No haphazard work ever came from Christ’s hands. He spoke with certainty, and he worked with the full assurance that his labour would not be in vain. If you want to have confidence in your work for Christ, so as to perform it without any doubts and fears, you will have to obtain it by serving him, and to serve him by following him; and then, into that hallowed place of confidence where your Master always stood, there shall you also come.

     Our Lord stood, too, in the place of holy calm. How unruffled he was at all times! His was a life of storms, yet a life of peace; all around him moved, but he was the Rock of Ages, and never moved. Would you not like to be calm as Christ was, to dwell with him on the serene heights while the tempests roll and thunder far below your feet? Well, then, serve him by following him; and, as you do so, the promise of the text shall be fulfilled to you, “Where I am, there shall also my servant be.”

     And oh, blessed be his name! he has actually gone into the place of conquest and victory in the eternal world, and you and I shall be there with him in his own good time. “Where I am, there shall also my servant be.” Count it no dishonour to be servants when this high favour is promised you, that where your Master is, there you shall be also. I have sometimes thought that, if I could get into heaven somewhere behind the door, and just sit there, I should be perfectly satisfied; but far more than that is promised to us. Wherever Christ is, there shall we be. If he is on a throne, we shall be enthroned, too; and, if he is at the Father’s right hand, we shall be at the Father’s right hand, for he has promised, “Where I am, there shall also my servant be.” You need not want to know much about heaven; it is where Christ is, and that is heaven enough for us. If we could once go into the courts above, and ask, “Is my Lord Jesus here?” and they should answer, “No, he is not here,” it would be no heaven to us, would it? We should want to go outside the city walls, and cry, “Show me where he is.” But suppose it possible for us to be in the very lowest room of heaven, where the glories were veiled, as it were, — if such a place could be; — and if we could hear one truly say, “There he is,” its glories would not be any longer veiled, and we should need no higher heaven than that. As soon as ever we saw him, we should say, as our friend did in prayer, “He is all the heaven we want to know.” Remember that blessed verse we had in our reading, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.”

     This, then, is the great fellowship of holy service; who would not be a servant of Christ?

     III. Now, as our time is nearly spent, I must speak but briefly upon THE REWARD OF SERVICE, upon which I have entrenched already: “If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” It is very sweet to notice how the Lord Jesus brings his Father into his speech; it is as if he said, “When a man joins himself to me, then he joins himself to my Father also. It is not only I who will love him, and do my best to honour him, but my Father, the great and ever-blessed Lord over all, keeps an eye on that man.” On whom does he look with this gaze of approval? Not on those who have some grand project of serving themselves, but on those who serve Christ, and who do it by following him. Come, dear people of God, you are many of you very poor, yet I know that many of you are seeking to serve Christ by following him. Some of God’s dear servants here are no great speakers; they are very quiet, humble Christians, but they are trying to do what Christ would do if he were in their position. If this is your case, dear friends, you are honouring your Lord, and the Father himself looks approvingly upon you.

     “If any man serve me,” says our Lord, “him will my Father honour.” How will he do it? Well, he will honour him by letting him know his sonship. Because Jesus always pleased the Father, the Father bare witness to him, saying, “This is my beloved Son.” And if you serve Christ by following him, the Father will often bear witness in your heart, and says, “This also is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” He will often cause the Spirit of adoption to renew the witness in your heart, so that you will cry, “Abba, Father,” and he will the kindred own. Surely, there is no greater honour than for God to own you as his son.

     Next, he will honour you by giving you a sense of approval. You know what that means; I will tell you when it is very sweet. You have been doing something for Christ, you have done it with all your heart; and some friend picks holes in it, and someone not quite so much a friend, and who therefore cannot so sorely wound you, begins to impute wrong motives, and to judge you for having come down to the battle because of the pride and the naughtiness of your heart. Well, you lose a friend, and you get a double number of enemies round about you; yet in your heart you feel that you did it only for Christ. Well, then, at such a time, it is delightful to have a sense of the approbation of God, such as you never had when you had the approbation of men. Sometimes, when even Christian people cry, “Well done, well done,” the Lord says, “That is quite enough praise for him; I shall not give him my ‘Well done.’” But when you get no “Well done” from men, but, on the contrary, are misunderstood and misrepresented, then the Lord comes and puts his hand upon you, and says, “Be strong, fear not, I have accepted your service. I know your motive, and I approve your action. Be not afraid of them, but go on your way.” Ah, beloved! such approval as that is the highest honour we can have here. “If any man serve me,” says Christ, “him will my Father honour,” with a sense of sonship, and with a sense of approbation.

     If any man serve Christ, there is another kind of honour that often comes to him, and it is not to be despised. If a man will serve Christ by following him, the Father will give him honour in the eyes of the blood-bought family. There are certain of the Lord’s people who do not carry yard measures with them, but they carry scales and weights, and if they do not measure by quantity, they measure by quality; their approval is worth having. They are often the poorest and most afflicted members of the church; but being the most instructed, and living the nearest to God, to be had in honour of them is a thing worth having. I believe that, if any man will live the life of a Christian, however few his talents, and if his service lies in close obedience and imitation of Christ, the real saints, not the mere professors, especially not the shining worldly ones among them, but real saints will say, “That is the man for us; that is the woman with whom we like to converse.” Thus it comes to pass that those who really do serve the Lord by following him have honour in the estimation of those who sit at meat with them at their Lord’s table.

     And then, at last, when we come to die, or when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, or when we enter upon the eternal state, what a glorious thing it will be, to find the Father ready to honour us for ever because we served the Son! Our reward will not be of debt, but of grace; it is grace that gave us the service, and grace that will reward us for our service; but no man and no woman shall serve the Lord Jesus Christ here on earth by following him, without finding that the Father has some special honour, some rich and rare reward, to give to such soldiers in due time. This is the fighting day, expect nothing now but bullets, bruises, wounds, scars; but the battle will soon be over, and when the war is ended, the King will come, and ride up and down the ranks, and in that day you who have been most battered and most wounded in the battle shall find him pause when he reaches you, and he will fasten on your breast a star that shall be more honour to you than all the Victoria Crosses that have decorated brave men here below. Stars and garters they may have who want them, but blessed are they who shall shine as the stars in the kingdom of our Father! And this honour is to be had by that believer who will faithfully serve his Lord; not by any who merely talk about it, or dream of it, or propose to do it, but to those who serve him by following him this honour shall be given.

     I have preached all this to God’s people, but I have not said anything to you who are not his people. I cannot invite you to his service as you are; how can you serve him while you are his enemies? I do not invite you unconverted people to work for God. Oh, no! he wants no such servants as you are, he will not have rebels in his host. First bow your knee in submission, lay down the weapons of your rebellion; then fly to Christ for mercy, trust in him for forgiveness; and then, but not till then, you may come, and serve him, and follow him, and expect that his Father will honour you as he has promised. God bless you, for Jesu’s sake! Amen.



“God, and Not Man,”—What Does it Mean?

By / Mar 17

“God, and Not Man,”—What Does it Mean?

 

“I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man.” — Hosea xi. 9.

 

THE Lord, speaking of himself as “God, and not man,” mentions as the special point in which he is above and beyond man, that he has greater grace, greater long-suffering, and greater willingness to forgive: “I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man.” In a thousand respects, God is greater than man; for us to enter into that theme, would require a very considerable length of time; but the Lord here puts this truth most prominently forward, that he is “God, and not man,” in that he is infinitely more forbearing, infinitely more tender, infinitely more ready to pass by offences than any man ever can be. What men cannot do by reason of the narrowness and shallowness of their goodness, God can and will do by reason of the height and depth and length and breadth of his immeasurable love.

     Note that truth in our text, and then note another. When God can find in man no reason for showing mercy to him, he still finds a reason for displaying his mercy, for he looks for it in his own heart. He does not say, “I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for he is not as bad as he might be, and there is really something hopeful about him.” No, the Lord does not let the bucket down into that dry well; but he fetches the argument for his mercy out of himself: “For I am God.” “It is not what he is, but what I am, that decides the case,” says Jehovah; “I will have mercy upon Ephraim, because I am God, and not man.” Guilty one, your hope of pardon lies in the character of God; and the more quickly and completely you recognize this fact, the better will it be for you. Do not be looking into yourself to find some reason there why God should have pity upon you, for there is no reason within you but what Satan can answer and overturn. Rather look to God, especially as God looks to himself, for your hope lies in what he is whom you have offended. I know that he is just and holy, and that this truth at first condemns you; but he is also good and gracious, and this truth brings joy and brightness to you. The only rays of light you can ever get must come to you from the sun. You will not find any in your own eyes, for they are blind; it is from the sun himself that your very power to see, as well as the light by which you can see, must come. So, God fetches his argument in favour of mercy from himself; you have one specimen of it in that grand passage where he says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” drawing the reasons for the display of his mercy out of the great deeps of his own sovereignty.

     Our text reveals this, as God’s reason, drawn from his own nature, why he forgives men: “I am God, and not man.” I have known a despondent soul often to turn this great truth the wrong side out, and find in it a reason for despair rather than for hope. “Look,” says the awakened sinner, “if I had only offended against my fellow-man, I should have some hope of pardon; but my sin is so terrible because it is committed against high heaven. It is with God that I have to deal, and I can say with David, ‘Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.’” It is because you have to deal with God, rather than with men, that some of you think you must be shut up to despair. That mistake of yours only shows what a poor, faulty guide unbelief is; for it turns your back to the light, and makes you walk on in darkness. Faith, on the other hand, argues after the manner of God, and says, “If I had offended against man, I could not have expected him to forgive me. If I had injured man as I have injured God, I could not have hoped to be pardoned; but since I know that God is love, and that he is infinite in grace, I see that there is a wondrous depth of sound reasoning about this divine declaration, ‘I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man.’”

     I am going to speak upon this one theme, to hammer away upon this one nail. There will be no great variety in my subject, and no particular freshness of thought in considering it; but I shall dwell upon just this one truth, that there is hope for guilty men. There is hope for every man, woman, and child who will come and confess sin, and trust in Christ, on this ground, — that he with whom we have to deal is “God, and not man.” This I shall have to show you at considerable length, and under many particulars; but the whole purpose of my discourse will be to show you the hopefulness in this great truth that, as sinners, we have to deal with God, and not with men.

     I. For, first, MAN CANNOT LONG FORBEAR HIS ANGER.

     I am not speaking now of certain passionate people who have no control over their tempers. Oh, dear! there are some persons whom I know, whose blood seems to lie very close to the surface; it is soon up, and very hot. With them it is, as men say, “a word and a blow”: sometimes, it is the blow without even waiting for the word. They are so very irritable that any little offence puts them on the defensive, or makes them ready to attack others. They cannot bear anything that annoys them; some, because they are so little, and as the proverb truly says, “A little pot is soon hot;” and others because they think themselves so big that, if anybody comes between the wind and their nobility, that person has committed an altogether unpardonable offence. Oh, dear! if we had to deal with a God who was like these men are, we should have perished long, long ago; but our text means even more than that. The Hebrew of this passage is very significant and expressive, and it might be rendered thus: “I will not return to destroy Ephraim : for I am God, and not the best of men,” for with even the best of men, the noble spirits who can bear a good deal more than ordinary individuals, yet there is a point of forbearance beyond which they cannot and will not go. If you have offended them once, twice, thrice, it may be that they are patient with you, and forgive you; but when the offence is repeated, and the provocation is multiplied, even the best of men is apt to ask, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” He who put that question thought that he had gone a long way when he suggested sevenfold forgiveness; but the Saviour said to Peter, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” You remember what the apostles said when they heard this saying; they prayed, “Lord, increase our faith;” as much as to say, “It needs very great faith to be able to forgive an offender until seventy times seven.” We have offended against God far more often than seventy times seven, yet has he borne with us. We who are here are the living monuments of divine mercy, and might truly write upon our brows, “Spared by the long-suffering of God;” for if he had strictly marked our sin, he must have destroyed us; and if he had even dealt with any one of us who has been unfruitful, he must have said, as did the owner of the fruitless fig-tree, “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground.” But here is the mercy of our case, we have to deal with the God of patience, who is long-suffering and very pitiful, who is, in fact, as our text declares, “God, and not man.” This should make us bless his name continually for the great forbearance he has shown toward us, and this goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering of God should lead us to repentance. We may not continue in sin because God’s grace abounds, but his abounding grace should make us loathe and leave sin.

     II. Next, if we had to deal, not with God, but with our fellow-men, we should very often find that, WHEN MEN GET INTO A LOW, NERVOUS, SENSITIVE STATE THEMSELVES, THEY ARE USUALLY QUITE UNABLE TO BEAR WITH OTHERS. A person’s temper often depends a great deal upon the state of his health. If a man is perfectly well, sound in mind and body, he can put up with a good deal; but there are times when the head aches, or when the tooth aches, or when the heart aches, or when there is an overpowering sense of nervousness upon you, and then you know what a very little thing will put you out. “Oh, take that child away!” you cry, petulantly, “I cannot bear its noise.” That ring at the bell has startled you, that cry of the costermonger in the street has quite irritated you, and now you are in a very fit state of mind to act the part of a tyrant. One who was discussing a certain trial said, “I wonder what the jurymen are having for breakfast this morning, for their food will have a good deal to do with the verdict they will give ; ” and, no doubt, unless a person is himself pretty well, and in a good mental and spiritual condition, his weakness or his sensitiveness will make him deal severely with others even for a very small offence. What a mercy it is that the One with whom we have to deal is “God, and not man”! Our glorious Jehovah is never weak, impetuous, unjust, ungenerous. He is always magnanimous, kind, gracious, forbearing. He is never in such a condition that he feels ready to be irritated with his creatures ; but, self -contained and self-possessed, dwelling in the eternal sublimities of his own unsullied happiness, the God over all, blessed for ever, he is in that state of mind— if I may so speak of him after the manner of men,— that he is willing to pass by iniquity, transgression, and sin, he is a God ready to pardon, waiting to forgive the guilty. Could you truly know him, and see how free he is from those human frailties which lie at the roots of all irritability, and unwillingness to forgive offenders, you would understand what a mercy it is that he is “God, and not man.” Come, poor soul, approach thy God; thou hast not to come before an angry judge, thou hast not to approach an austere person who is ready to take offence even at little things; but thou art coming to the infinitely-blessed God, who delighteth not in the death of any, but would rather that they should turn unto him and live.

     III. There is a third reason why we should rejoice that the Lord is “God, and not man.” It is this: MEN ARE NOT ANXIOUS TO RECONCILE TO THEMSELVES THOSE WHO HAVE OFFENDED THEM IF THEY ARE PERSONS OF BAD CHARACTER. A man who has been injured may, in the greatness of his mind, say, “I hope that person did not realize the wrong that he was doing. I hope that he is a good man; he must surely have misunderstood the consequences of his action; probably he only made a mistake, so I am willing to see him, and frankly to forgive him, and to put the matter right as soon as possible.” But suppose that you have been grievously wronged by some mean, base individual, whose character you know to be altogether beneath contempt; I know what you say to yourself, “Well, I shall not put myself out of the way to seek him; I do not particularly care what he thinks or says about me. Perhaps it is just as well that such a person as he is should remain at a distance; I do not want his company, for I prefer his room. Let him go, he really is not worth my seeking to be reconciled to him.” Ah, sirs! if God had said that concerning us, he would have spoken justly indeed. For us, creatures of the dust, to have offended our great and glorious Creator; for us, worms of the earth, to have offended the infinite Jehovah, and to have done it wilfully and continually, as we have done, might well have made the Lord say, “There, let them go. If they will be my enemies, let them be my enemies; they cannot harm me, and their curses will fall on their own heads. If they speak evil of me, what does it matter to me while I have the songs of angels and of cherubim and seraphim? If they despise me, what is their opinion worth one way or the other? Let them go.” But, dear friends, the Lord does not deal thus with us, for he is “God, and not man.” What a wonder of grace and mercy it is that he should actually desire that we should be reconciled to him, that he should desire it with anxiety, should long for it, and that his whole heart should go forth with the desire! The Lord is not willing that wo should be his enemies, he is not willing to treat us as his enemies; but, to speak after the manner of men, he is anxious to reconcile us to himself, and therefore he sends to us his ambassadors with tears beseeching us to be reconciled to him. Oh, this is Godlike! this is divine!

     IV. In addition to the points I have mentioned, I must remind you that THERE ARE SOME MEN WHO ARE WILLING TO BE RECONCILED TO THOSE WHO HAVE OFFENDED THEM IF THE OFFENDERS WILL CRAVE FORGIVENESS. Notice what they say, “That person has done me grievous wrong; I am quite willing to pardon him, but let him ask to be pardoned. I do not think it is my place to go after him; I am the offended person, and it cannot be expected that I should humble myself to him. If he comes to me, and seeks forgiveness, I shall be going a great way if I do heartily forgive him; but as to being the first to move in this matter, — well, it is not to be expected of me.” No, friend, it is not to be expected that you should do so, for you are only a man; but the Lord is “God, and not man,” and therefore he is the first to move in the direction of the reconciliation that is to end the quarrel. It is the offended One, the grievously-offended One, who comes to the offender, and says, “Let us be friends; I will blot out this offence, I will remove this sin. Come to me. Accept the reconciliation I am prepared to give.” I feel half inclined to stop here, and to say, “Let us sing again the last verse of that grand hymn that we sang before prayer, and roll out the refrain in full thunder of grateful thanksgiving, —

“‘Oh may this strange, this matchless grace,
This God-like miracle of love,
Fill the wide earth with grateful praise,
And all th’ angelic choirs above;
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?’”

It is never the sinner who wants to be reconciled first. It is always God, in the freeness of his grace, who comes to the sinner; no sinner can ever be beforehand with God. If you are anxious to be reconciled to God, it is he who has given you that anxiety. It is his own infinite grace that has begun to work in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure, for here is seen the superiority of the Godhead to the highest and the kindest manhood, that the Lord begins the work of reconciliation by himself seeking out those who have offended against him.

     V. Next, A MAN MAY BE WILLING TO BE RECONCILED IF THE OFFENDER DOES NOT REPEAT THE OFFENCE. Suppose that the offending person breaks out again with a new offence just as the reconciliation is about to be given. “There,” says the man he has offended, “I was quite willing to have overlooked the past; but see, he is at his evil practices again. I stood prepared to give him my right hand, but he has added insult to the former injury. Even while we were talking about reconciliation, see what he has done, he has made a new breach. If there had been nothing between us before, he has acted now in a way that would have commenced a terrible battle between us. I cannot put up with this; you cannot reasonably expect that I should be on terms of amity with one who again and again and again repeats the grievance; and who, having done me wrong, at the very time that I am inviting him to be reconciled, commits that wrong again. There is a limit to all things, and certainly there must be a limit to the pardon that a man will give to an offender.” Just so, just so; I knew there was such a limit. I do not altogether blame you, I do not say much against you; but I do say much in commendation of the forgiving grace of God. Though we do sin; though, even while the sinner is repenting, there is still a measure of sin about him; and while God is forgiving, and while we are receiving the forgiveness, there is still evil about us, yet he does forgive. Is he not, as one said, a great Forgiver?

     There is not any offence so aggravated but that God is willing to forgive you if you come to Jesus Christ by faith. If you have heaped up your sins mountain upon mountain, as the giants in the old fable were said to have piled Pelion upon Ossa, hill upon hill, if you have done even this, yet is God willing to sweep them all away, and still to be your Friend. You remember that blessed expression in the 55th of Isaiah, “He will abundantly pardon.” I cannot help ringing out those words again and again, “He will abundantly pardon! He will abundantly pardon.” I hope that the music of them may strike the ear of some poor desponding soul, who will say, “That is the word for me. It must be either great mercy or no mercy at all for me, for little mercy is of no avail for such a sinner as I am. I must have great mercy to pardon my great sin.” Oh, then, thank God that you have to deal with him, and not with man!

     VI. Now let me go a step further. I feel morally certain that men who are offended with their fellows, MEN WHO HAVE BEEN VERY GREATLY WRONGED, WOULD NOT PROPOSE TO GO AND LIVE WITH THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED THEM, AND TAKE UP A POSITION OF EQUALITY WITH THEM. I could not expect a king, whose subjects had revolted against him, who had refused to render to him due honour and submission, who had even insulted his crown, and done despite to his character, to say, “I will leave my palace, and my crown, and my splendour, and all that I have, and I will go and live among these rebels. I will wear their rags, I will fare as they fare, and dwell in their hovels. I know that they will kill me; they will spurn me, and spit upon me, and at last they will fasten me to a cross, and hang me up to die; but with the strong desire that they should be reconciled to me, I am willing to go and to be one with them.” Such a thing was never heard of among men; but listen. There is One who is God as well as man, even that blessed Saviour who descended from heaven to earth, became a man, shared our poverty, lived in the midst of our sin, and knowing that he would be despitefully entreated, and scorned, and scourged, and nailed to a cross, yet endured all out of an excess of love which overflows to the guiltiest of the guilty even now. This was compassion worthy of a God that the Son of the Highest should leave the perfections of heaven to dwell here amid the infirmities and the sins of earth, as you know he did.

     VII. If such wondrous love were possible to any man, here is another thing that I cannot conceive of, that any man should say, “I have been grievously wronged by that person; the injury is a very cruel one, there is no remedy for it, but I WILL MYSELF BEAR THE PENALTY FOR ALL TIIE WRONG WHICH HAS BEEN DONE. The offender has broken the law, there is a penalty laid upon him for what he has done, and he righteously deserves to bear it. It was an offence against me, and he deserves to be punished for it, but I will bear the whole penalty myself.” We never heard any mere man say, “ Here is a burglar who has broken into my house ; he is to have five years’ penal servitude, but I will offer to go into penal servitude in order that he may be set free;” or, “Here is a murderer doomed to die, and I offer to suffer in his stead, that he may be accounted innocent.” Such a thing was never heard of among men, but this is what God has done. As Judge, the righteous God must punish sin. Say what you will, there is a necessity that the Judge of all the earth should do right. If you could take away the justice of God, and the fact of the judgment to come, you would have stolen the linch-pin from the wheels of God’s chariot; you would have marred the moral government of the universe. Sin must be punished, but the Judge himself condescends to bear the penalty for the offences committed against himself; mark, to bear the consequences of sin committed against his own authority and his own person, and to bear those consequences in his own person that the offending one may be reconciled to him. There never was such another tale as I am telling you now; it could not have been invented by men, it must be divine. It has such a stamp of originality about it, that it must have come from God. It is so divine on the very surface of it that it must be a blessed fact. God himself becomes the Substitute for those who have broken his own law, and done despite to his own name; and, in union with human nature, in his own body on the tree he bears the consequences of the sin which otherwise must have fallen upon his enemies, the guilty sons of men. It is a very wonderful story, this “old, old story, of Jesus and his love.” I cannot tell it to you as I should like to tell it, but it does not so much matter how it is told. The power of it lies, not in the telling of it, but in the doctrine and truth itself when blessed by the Spirit of God.

     VIII. MEN WOULD NOT IMPORTUNE AN OFFENDER IF HE REFUSED THE PARDON. When a man has done all that lies in his power to make peace, when he has even suffered what he ought not to have suffered in order to produce peace with one who has offended him, suppose that after that he comes to the offender, and he says, “Let us be friends,” and the person turns on his heel, and says, “I have too much to do to attend to you,” or suppose that he says, “I do not want any of your peace; it is nothing to me, I have other things to think of;” and suppose that this generous-hearted one should say, “But incline your ear, and come to me; hear what I have to say; come now, and let us reason together;” and suppose that the man says, “I want none of your reasoning, I care nothing about all this talk, I do not believe it; it is all an idle tale, and I want to hear nothing of it;” and suppose that this generous person should follow him, and entreat him, persuade him, implore him, plead with him, and still use a thousand arguments of lovingkindness with him. “Ah!” say you, “that is not like man.” No, it is not; but he who deals in mercy with you is “God, and not man,” and therefore he importunes you who have long resisted him, and begs you even now to listen to him, and even now to turn unto him. Listen to his own words, “Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” These are the pleadings of God himself with men who have sinned against him. If you pleaded for mercy at God’s feet, and were importunate with him, that would seem natural enough; but for God to plead with you, and to beseech you to accept his mercy, is supernatural and divine.

     IX. Yet again, remember that MEN WOULD NOT RESTORE AN OFFENDER WITHOUT A SEASON OF PROBATION. Suppose that someone had grievously offended any one of you, and that he asked your forgiveness, do you not think that you would probably say to him, “Well, yes, I forgive you; but I— I— I— cannot forget it”? Ah! dear friends, that is a sort of forgiveness with one leg chopped off, it is a lame forgiveness, and is not worth much. “But,” says one, “I want to see how this man goes on; if he is really sincerely penitent for what he has done, and he acts kindly to me for the future, then I think I could believe him to be sincere, and I think— I hope— I could restore him to my favour.” Ah, yes! that is because you are a man that you talk like that; but he of whom I am speaking is “God, and not man,” and his invitation to you is, “Come to me just as you are.” The Lord will receive you and forgive you without any probation. There was a good old minister who said, “The Lord Jesus took me into his service without a character. He gave me a good character, and he has helped me to keep it even to my old age.” Yes, he does take us without a character, so come to him just as you are. He freely forgives, and he perfectly forgets, for he says, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,”— a feat in which omnipotence outdoes itself. For God to forget, is impossible; yet he does forget the sins of his people. This is one of the impossibilities that are only possible to omnipotent grace; it would be impossible with men, but it is possible with the Lord, for he is “God, and not man.”

     X. Yet further, MEN CANNOT FORESEE THE CONSEQUENCES OF BEING LENIENT. One says, “I do not see what the consequences may be if a man is to behave so badly to me as this one has done, and I am to overlook it, and say nothing about it. After that, I shall have every dog barking at my heels. I really think, sir, that you must not preach up there, and tell us absolutely to forgive, because you know that, if you tread on a worm, it will turn, and really there is something due to society. I cannot suffer such wrong as this, and pass it by, for everybody will be doing me a similar injury, and saying, ‘He is such a flat, and so soft, that he will never resent it.’” My good sir, I am not going to argue with you. You are a man, so go your way among other men; but he of whom I speak is “God, and not man.” He knows precisely what the consequences of forgiving sinners will be, and yet he does it. When we preach free pardon to the chief of sinners, what do you think they say in certain newspapers? Why, that we are encouraging immorality! The wise men who write for them say that our doctrine does not tend to public morality. Ah, pretty dears, a deal many of them know about morality! We do not care much about their opinion on that point, for we see well enough where true morals are. They run side by side with “free grace and dying love,” and we intend still to preach those truths, albeit that there are some, and we must admit it, who will turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. If a man means to hang himself, he is sure to find a piece of rope somewhere; and when a man means to live in sin, he can find an argument for it even in the infinite mercy of God; but we must not stop our preaching because of that. God is willing to forgive crimes of the greatest horror, sins of an intense blackness, known in their full blackness alone to him; and as for the consequences, he is well aware of what they will be.

     XI. I am going another step further. MEN WOULD NOT LOVE, ADOPT, HONOUR, AND ASSOCIATE WITH THE OFFENDING. “Well,” Says one, “suppose I could entirely forgive everything that has been done against me, is anything more required of me?” Could you do something else? Could you love the one who slandered you, who tried to take away your good name, who sought to injure your business, and offended you in every way that he could? Could you take him into your family, and make him your son, or make him heir of all that you have? Could you provide for him for life? Could you be content to make him your friend and companion? Could you trust him, do you think, — actually trust him with the most precious things that you have? Could you do all that? “Well, Mr. Spurgeon,” says one, “it is an unreasonable thing that you are asking; you are talking quite unreasonably.” I know that I am, but that is because you are a man that it seems unreasonable to you. Yet our God goes beyond all reason, for this is exactly what he does. He takes the wretched sinner just as he is, blots out his sin, and gives him to believe in Christ; and to as many as believe in him, to them he gives power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. More than that, he says, through his apostle, that, if children, then are they heirs, “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” These poor miserable sinners become the objects of his daily care as they are the objects of his eternal choice. He engraves their names upon the palms of his hands. They lie on his heart, and in his heart. “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” Yea, more, Christ is married to them; oh, what condescension it is for him to be married to those who were black as Ethiopians! There is nothing that he will not do for a pardoned sinner; there is nothing that he will withhold from a soul that, believing in Christ, has sin forgiven. You shall be "with him where he is, you shall sit on his throne with him, you shall reign with him for ever and ever, as surely as you come and accept of his infinite grace.

     XII. The last point is, that MEN WOULD NOT TRUST ONE WHO HAD FORMERLY WRONGED THEM. I have always felt, in my own mind, that it was one of the clearest proofs that I had God’s forgiveness of my many sins, when I was trusted to preach the gospel. I should think that, if a prodigal came back to his father, the old gentleman would kiss him, and receive him, and rejoice greatly over him; but the next Saturday, the market-day, the old gentleman would say, “I cannot send young William to market; that would be putting temptation in his way. Here, John, you have always been with me; go to market, and buy and sell for me, for all that I have is thine. William, you stay at home with me.” He might not let him see all that he meant, but he would say to himself, “Dear boy, he is hardly fit for that great trust; I love him, but still I hardly dare trust him as much as that.” But see what my Lord did with me; when I came home to him as a poor prodigal, he said, “Here is my gospel, I will entrust you with it; go and preach it.” I bless his name that I have not preached anything else, and I do not mean to begin to do so.

“E’er since by faith I saw the stream
His flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.”

Then the Lord said to me, “I will trust you with those people at Waterbeach, at New Park Street, at the Surrey Gardens, and at the Tabernacle. Go and see what you can do to bring them to heaven.” I do long to see souls saved as one great result of my ministry. But what an instance of my Lord’s love it is that he thus trusts me! That was one of the things that made Paul hold up his hands in astonishment; he said that he had been put in trust with the gospel, and he could not make it out. He was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, yet he was put in trust with the gospel. O dear heart, you who have been a drunkard, or a swearer, or whatsoever else you have been, come and trust in Jesus! If you do so, I should not wonder but that, one of these days, you also will be put in trust to preach the gospel of Christ. “Oh!” say you, “I could never preach.” You do not know what the grace of God can do for you and through you; and you would, anyhow, be able to tell what a wonderful Saviour he was who saved you, would you not? That is the best preaching in the world, telling out to others what God has done for you; and I know that the burden of your testimony would be, “He is God, and not man,” and you would ask them to sing over and over again, —

“Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?”

Now trust the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the way of salvation. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth;” or, if you want the plan of salvation stated in full, here it is, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” God grant to all of us grace to believe in Christ, and to confess our faith in him, for his dear name’s sake! Amen.



Paul’s Persuasion

By / Nov 7

Paul’s Persuasion

 

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans viii. 38, 39.

 

A CHRISTIAN brother was asked, one day, “To what persuasion do you belong?” He parried the question at first, for he did not think that it was very important for him to answer it. So the enquirer asked him again, “But what is your persuasion?” “Well,” said he, “if you must know my persuasion, this is it, ‘I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’” I also am of that persuasion. Somebody says, “That is Calvinistic doctrine.” If you like to call it so, you may; but I would rather that you made the mistake of the good old Christian woman who did not know much about these things, and who said that she herself was “a high Calvarist.” She liked “high Calvary” preaching, and so do I; and it is “high Calvary” doctrine that I find in this passage. He who hung on high Calvary was such a lover of the souls of men that from that glorious fact I am brought to this blessed persuasion, “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     Paul was fully persuaded of this great truth. Did he not learn it by revelation? I doubt not that God at first supernaturally revealed it to him; but yet, in order that he might be still more sure of it, God was pleased to reveal it to him again and again, till his trembling heart was more and more completely persuaded of it. It may have seemed to him, as it does to some of us, to be almost too good to be true, and therefore the Holy Spirit so shed abroad this truth in the apostle’s mind that he yielded to it, and said, “I am persuaded.” He may have thought, with a great many in the present day, that it was necessary to caution believers against falling from grace, and to be a little dubious about their final perseverance in the ways of God; but, if he ever had such fears, he gave them up, and said, “I am,— yes, I am persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     Beside that, I suppose that the apostle was persuaded through reasoning with himself from other grand truths. He said to himself, “If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” He argued that, if the death of Christ reconciled God’s enemies to himself, the life of Christ will certainly preserve safely those who are the friends of God; that was good argument, was it not?

     I have no doubt that Paul also argued with himself from the nature of the work of grace, which is the implantation of a living and incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever. Christ spoke of it as the putting of a well into us, and he said, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” And as Paul thought of the nature of this new life, he felt persuaded that it would not die; he was convinced that he would never be separated from the love of God.

     Moreover, I doubt not that Paul remembered the doctrine of the union of believers with Christ, and he said to himself, “Shall Christ lose the members of his body? Shall a foot or an arm be lopped off from him? Shall an eye of Christ be put out in darkness?” And he could not think that it could be so; as he turned the matter over mentally, he said, “If they be indeed one with Christ, I am persuaded that nothing can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     Now, dear brethren, if I could extend the time for this service to four-and-twenty hours, I might give you all the arguments, or the most of the arguments, which support the blessed truth of the nonseparation of believers from the love of Christ. As for my own convictions, I never can doubt it, I am fully persuaded concerning it. This truth seems to me to have struck its roots into all the other truths of Scripture, and to have twisted itself among the granite rocks which are the very foundation of our hope. I, too, am persuaded by a thousand arguments, and persuaded beyond all question, that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     Yet more, I fancy that Paul had been persuaded of this truth by his own experience. He had endured persecution, imprisonment, famine, shipwreck; he had suffered from scorn and scandal, pain of body, and depression of spirit. “A night and a day,” said he, “I have been in the deep,” and I will warrant you that many a night and many a day he had been in spiritual deeps; yet he had survived them all, and he could testify to the faithfulness of his God, and say at the end, as the issue of his sufferings, “I am persuaded that nothing in creation is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     Thus he was persuaded of this truth by revelation, by argument, and by experience; and I should like you to notice that he was not only persuaded that none of the powers he mentions will separate us from the love of Christ, but that they cannot do it. He puts it thus, they are not able to separate us. Yet these are the strongest forces imaginable— death, life, angels, principalities, powers, the dreary present and the darker future. Paul summons all our foes, and sets them in battle array against us, and when he has added up the total of all their legions, he says that he is persuaded that they shall not be able— shall not be able, mark you, — to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     I. In this discourse I am only going to handle the topic of Paul’s persuasion. Paul says, “I am persuaded,” and it is implied that, first, HE IS PERSUADED OF THE LOVE OF GOD. He could not be persuaded that nothing could separate us from a thing which did not exist, so he is persuaded, first of all, of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     Come, my brothers and sisters, are you persuaded of the love of God? Are you intelligently persuaded not only that God is love, but that God loves you? Are you fully persuaded of the love of God,— the love of the Father who chose us, because he would choose us, for nothing but his love; the love of Jesus, the Son of God, who bowed himself from his glory that he might redeem us from our shame; the love of the Holy Ghost who has quickened us, and who comes to dwell in us that we may by-and-by dwell with him? Are you persuaded of this love of God to you? Happy man, happy woman, who can truly say, “I am persuaded that God loves me. I have thought it over, I have fully considered it, I have thoroughly weighed it, and I have come to this persuasion, that the love of God is shed abroad in my heart.”

     Then, next, it is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is, his great love in giving his dear Son to die for us. I am not going to expatiate upon this wondrous theme. The thoughts are too great to need to be spun out, or you can do that in your private meditations. Is it not a wonderful thing that God loved me, and loved you, (let us individualize it,) that God so loved us that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life? He gave his Son for you; and for me. It is as though one bartered a diamond to buy a common pebble from the brook, or gave away an empire to purchase some foul thing not worthy of being picked off a dunghill. Yet we are persuaded that he did it, and that the love of God is most clearly to be seen in the fact that he gave his Son Jesus Christ to die instead of us.

     And, once more, we are persuaded of the love of God to all who are in Christ. We believe in Christ, and so we come to be in Christ by our believing; and now we are persuaded that, to as many as receive Christ, to them gives he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, and therefore all who believe in Jesus are beloved of the Lord, not because of anything good in them, but for Jesus Christ’s sake. He loved Christ so much he loves us notwithstanding our unloveliness, because Jesus Christ has covered with his robe of righteousness, and he has said, “My Father, consider them as lost in me, hidden in me, made one with me.” And the Father says, “Yes, my beloved Son, I will love them; Jesus, I will love them for thy sake.”

     So we are persuaded of these three things: first, that God loves us; next, that God has shown his love to us by the gift of his Son Jesus Christ; and then, that his divine love comes streaming down to us because we are in Christ, and are loved for his sake. I want you, dear friends, to get this persuasion into you. If you are not so persuaded, here is honey, but you do not taste it; here is light, but you do not see it; here is heaven, but you do not enter the pearly gate. Beloved, if you would be saved, you must be persuaded of this truth; and when you are persuaded of it, you will know the joy of it.

     II. That leads me to pass on to the second thing of which Paul was persuaded. It does not appear on the surface of the text; but if you look a minute, you will see that PAUL WAS PERSUADED THAT HE AND ALL THE SAINTS ARE JOINED TO GOD BY LOVE. Otherwise, he could not have said, “I am persuaded that things present and things to come shall not be able to separate us.” We must be joined together, or else the apostle would not talk of separation. There is a picture for you to contemplate, — God and ourselves joined together by the bonds of love in Christ Jesus. God loves Christ, and we love Christ, so we have a meeting-place; we love the same blessed Person, and that brings us to love one another.

     There are two things that join God and a believer together; the first is, God’s love to the believer, and the second is, the believer’s love to God. It is as when two dear friends lovingly embrace with their arms around each other’s neck, there is a double link binding them together. Or, to come nearer the truth, it is as when a mother puts her arms around the neck of her little child, and her child puts its tiny arms about the mother’s neck; that is how we and God are joined together.

     Are you persuaded that it is so with you, dear friends? Can you each one say, as you sit in your pew to-night, “God loves me, and that love joins him to meI love God, and that love joins me to him? I believe that the apostle was persuaded that these two blessed links existed between him and the great God, and he was persuaded that neither of those two links would ever be broken. God could not withdraw from Paul his embrace of love, and Paul felt that, by divine grace, he could not withdraw his embrace of love from his God; but he must have been first of all persuaded that both those embraces were there. Are you, my dear hearer, persuaded that it is so with you? Are your arms about the neck of the great Father? Are the great Father’s loving arms about your neck? Be persuaded of that truth, and you are indeed happy men and happy women; what more could you wish to say than to be able truthfully to say that?

     III. Now, to come to what is evidently in the text, and to dwell upon it for a little while, Paul being thus persuaded that there was a love of God, and that there was a union through love between the soul and its God, now says that HE IS PERSUADED THAT NOTHING CAN EVER BREAK THOSE BONDS.

     He begins by mentioning some of the things that are supposed to separate, and the first is, death. It sends a shiver through some when we begin to speak of death, and the bravest man who ever lived may well tremble at the thought that he must soon meet the king of terrors; but, brothers and sisters, if Christ loves us, and we love Christ, we may well be persuaded that death will not break the union which exists between us. I have lately seen one or two of our friends almost in the very article of death; I think that they cannot long survive, but I have come out from their bed-chamber greatly cheered by their holy peacefulness and joy. I can see that death does not break the believer’s peace; it seems rather to strengthen it. I can see that there is no better place than the brink of Jordan, after all. I have seen the brethren, and the sisters, too, sit with their feet in the narrow stream, and they have been singing all the while. Death has not abated a single note of their song; nay, more, I have known some of them who are like the fabled swan which is said never to sing till it dies. Some of them who were rather heavy and sad of spirit in their days of health have grown joyous and glad as they have neared the eternal kingdom. There is nothing about death that the believer should construe it into a fear that it will separate him from the love of Christ. Christ loved you when he died; he will love you when you die. It was after death— remember that, — it was after death that his heart poured out the tribute of blood and water by which we have the double cure; see, then, how he loves us in death and after death. There is nothing about death that should make Christ cease to love us; our bodies will be under his protection and guardian care, and our souls shall be with Christ, which is “far betterthan being anywhere else. Do not, therefore, fear death. In the days when this Epistle was written, the saints had to die very cruel deaths by fire, by the cross, by wild beasts in the amphitheatre; they were sawn asunder, they wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; yet they never feared death. It is very wonderful how the Church of Christ seems always to brighten up at the idea of death by martyrdom. The grandest, most heroic, days in Christendom were the days of the Pagan persecutions, when, to be a Christian, meant to be doomed to die. In English history, the days of Mary, when the saints at Smithfield bore witness for Christ at the stake, were grand days; and in Madagascar, — did you ever read a more thrilling story than the record of the bravery of those Christian men and women who Buffered the tyrant’s cruelty? And at the present moment, in Central Africa, where Bishop Hannington has been put to death, we hear that there is an edict for the killing of Christians, yet hundreds of black men come forward to confess that they are followers of Christ. It is a wonderful thing. We do not ask for these persecutions, but they might do us great good if they came. Certainly, this wondrous ship of Christ’s Church, when she ploughs her way through waves of blood, makes swifter headway to the heavenly haven than she does in times of calm. So, beloved friends, there is nothing in death to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

     The apostle says next, “nor life.” I must confess that I am more afraid of life than of death. “Oh!” says one, “but dying is such hard work.” Do you think so? Why, dying is the end of work; it is living that is hard work. I am not so much afraid of dying as I am of sinning; that is ten times worse than death. And what if some of us should live very many years? “There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life,” that there is so much longer time for temptation and trial. If one might have his choice, one might be content to have a short warfare, and to enter upon the crown at once. But we may be permitted to live on to extreme old age; do you dread it? There is nothing about old age to separate you from the love of Christ; he hath made, and he will bear; even to hoar hairs will he carry you; therefore, be not afraid. The ills of life are many, the trials of life are many, the temptations of life are more; O life, life, life here below, thou art, after all, little better than a lingering death! The true life is hereafter. “Yet,” says Paul, “I am persuaded that life cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” He means that, if we were tempted by the love of life to deny Christ, we should be strengthened so that we should not deny him even to save our lives, for his people have been brave enough in this respect in all times. Paul himself counted not his life dear unto him that he might win Christ, and be found in him; wherefore he says that he is persuaded that neither death, nor life, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     Then he mentions angels, principalities, and powers. Well, the good angels cannot separate us from the love of God; we are sure that they would not wish to do so, and whatever spiritual creatures may frequent this earth, they cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Does the apostle mean devils, — fallen angels, that would overthrow us, some of them as “principalities” by their dignity, others of them as “powers” by their subtle, crafty force, —does he refer to devils? I think he does,  meet the arch-fiend himself foot to foot in terrible duel,— and we may, for men of God have had so to meet him, and he that does battle with this adversary will gain nothing by it but sweat of blood and aching heart, even if he shall win the victory, so that we may well pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” — still we have this comfort, that even though he may rejoice over us for a moment, and may cast us down, he cannot separate us from the love of Christ; he may open many of our veins, and make us bleed even to utter weakness, but the life-vein he can never touch. There is a secret something about the Christian of which Satan wishes to spoil him, but which is entirely out of his reach, so the saint sings, “I am persuaded that neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers can separate me from the love of Christ. You may come on, battalions of the adversary, with all your terrible might sweeping hypocrites and deceivers before you, like chaff before the wind, but as many as are linked to Christ by his eternal love shall stand firm against you, like the solid rocks against the billows of the sea.” Wherefore, be confident, dear brethren, that these spiritual beings, these unseen forces, these strange and mysterious powers which you cannot fully understand, can none of them separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus your Lord.

     Having summarily disposed of all of them, Paul adds, “nor things present.” I like this thought. He is persuaded that things present cannot separate us from Christ. I wonder what the things present are with you, my dear hearers. One of you says, “Well, it is an empty pocket with me.” Others will say, “It is a family of children who have no bread.” Some may say, “It is the prospect of bankruptcy.” Another will say, “Ah, it is an insidious disease that will soon carry me to my grave!” A mother will say, “It is rebellious children who are breaking my heart.” Well, whatever it may be, — and the woes of the present are very many, — there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.

     I was feeling very heavy, I scarcely knew why, when I caught at this text; and it seemed to come in so pleasantly for me when my spirits were down. “Things present.” Even a depressed and desponding state of mind, whatever the cause of it is, whether weariness of brain or heaviness of heart, cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Then, what can it do? Why, sometimes, it can drive us to Christ; let us pray that it may. But anyhow, things present cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

     Then the apostle says, “nor things to come” Well, I wonder what is “to come.” O friends, I sometimes feel a strange trembling when I stand upon this platform to speak to you, because the words that I utter are often so remarkably fulfilled of God as really to amaze me. Two Sunday nights ago, when I stood here to preach about the longsuffering of God being salvation, I spoke, in the middle of the sermon, as if personally addressing someone who was present, who had lately been ill with fever, and who had come to the Tabernacle, still weakly, and scarcely recovered. There was a young man here, who exactly answered to the description I gave, and who wrote home to his mother something like this (I have the letter): — “I went to Spurgeon’s Tabernacle on Sunday night, and I heard such a sermon. I never felt anything like it before. He looked at me, and picked me out as if I was the only man there, and described me exactly.” Then he gave the words I used, and continued, “It was a true description of myself. If the sermon is printed, pray get me a copy that I may read it when I come home, for I felt the power of it, and I prayed there and then that God would bring me to my mother’s God, and save me.” That was on the Sunday, mark you; on the Wednesday, he was at Gravesend, there was a collision, and he and five others were drowned. The mother received that letter about an hour before she heard the news that her son was dead, and the parents write to tell me what a balm it was to their spirits that God’s providence should bring their boy in here just before he was to meet his God.

     So, you see, I cannot help wondering what the “things to come” will be for you who are here. With some, — who can tell? — as the Lord liveth, there may be but a step between you and death; and if you have no Christ, and have never tasted of his love, you are running awful risks even in going one step farther. You have walked on, and on, and on, and there has hitherto always been something beneath your footfall; but the next step may precipitate you into the abyss. Wherefore, seek the Lord now ere it be too late. As for the child of God, he knows no more about his immediate future than you do; but he knows this, that there is nothing in the future that can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore, let the future bring with it what it may, all will be well with him.

     Now the apostle adds two more expressions, “nor height, nor depth.” There are some brethren who dwell in the heights; I am rather pleased to meet with dear friends who never have any doubts or fears, but are always full of joy and ecstasy, and who go on to tell us that they have left all these things behind, and have risen to the heights of bliss. But what I do not like is when they look down from those awful heights upon us poor Christians, and say that they cannot believe in us because we are anxious, because we practise self-examination, because we have to struggle against sin. They do not struggle; they have risen beyond all struggling, they rub their hands, and sing of everlasting victory. Well, my dear brother, — you up there on the topmost bough, — you will not frighten me with all your heights, though I cannot get up there, and I could not stay there if I could get up so high. This one thing I know, I am sure that there is nothing in those heights that can separate me from the love of Christ; I will stick to that, whatever revelations there may be to the enthusiastic, whatever raptures and ecstasies and extreme delights any may have, they cannot separate me from Christ. I am glad that you have them, brother, may you always keep them; and if I cannot have them, I shall sit down in my struggles and temptations, and still say that there is nothing in the heights, — in high doctrine or in high living, — that can separate me from the love of Christ.

     I am a little more acquainted with the depths, and I meet with many Christian people who are very familiar with those depths. I could indicate some dear friends here who I hope are not in the depths now, but I have seen them there. You were very low down, brother; we had to stoop to call to you; the waters of God’s waves and billows seemed to have gone over you; you have been down to the depths, and I have been there with you. But there is nothing in the depths that can separate us from the love of Christ. Jonah went down to the depths of the sea, but he came up with this testimony, that there was nothing there to separate us from the love of God. No; though you should be weary of your life, though you should never have a ray of light by the month together, there is nothing there to separate you from the love of Christ. You may go down, down, down, till you seem to have got beyond the reach of help from mortal man; but there are cords and bands which bind you to Christ that even these depths can never break, come what may.

     The apostle ends the list by saying, “nor any other creature.” It may be read, “Nor anything in creation, nor anything that ever is to be created,” nothing shall ever separate us from the love of Christ. Oh, what a sweet persuasion is this! Let us go forward into the future, however dark it is, with this confidence, that, one thing at least we know, — the love of Christ will hold us fast, and by his grace we will hold fast to him. We are married to him, and we shall never be divorced. We are joined to him by a living, loving, lasting union that never shall be broken.

     IV. I have done when I have called your attention to one more thing. Did you notice how the text begins? It begins with the word “for.” “For I am persuaded.” What does that mean? That shows that this is used as an argument drawn from something mentioned before. What is that? “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us, for I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,” and so on. It seems, then, dear friends, that PAUL’S PERSUASION HELPED TO BRING HIM TO VICTORY.

     He was persuaded that Christ would not leave him, and that he would not be allowed to leave Christ, and this stirred him up to deeds of daring. Oh, where there is real cause for fighting, there cannot be victory without striving! Paul was so persuaded that Christ would never leave him that he became a fighter, and he went in with all his might against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Some say that this doctrine would send us to sleep; it never does, it wakes us up. The doctrine that I am quite sure to gain the victory, makes me fight. If I did not know that I should win it, I might think that I would let discretion be the better part of my valour; but, being assured that Christ will be with me all through, I feel incited to war against all that is evil that I may overcome it in his strength.

     Yes, and the apostle seems to hint that this persuasion that Christ would not leave him made him aspire to a very great victory. Men do not reach what they do not aspire to, and Paul says, “We are more than conquerors.” Therefore, he aspired to be a complete and perfect conqueror. And this persuasion helped him to gain his aspiration. By God’s grace, the man who trusts in Christ’s eternal love, and believes in the immutability of the divine purpose, and therefore is persuaded that he can never be separated from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, he is the man to win a glorious victory by his faith in his great God Wherefore, let us be encouraged to go on, and fight against everything that is evil, especially in ourselves, and tread down all the powers of darkness, since nothing can stand against us while Christ is for us ; and for us he must be for ever and ever.

     I wish that all here present had a share in my blessed text. It is an intense regret to me that I cannot present it to some of you. You do not know the love of Christ. Oh, that you would come and learn it! May the sweet Spirit lead you to Jesus, cause you to look to him, upon the cross, and trust in him; then you will have something worth having, for you will have a love that changeth never, a love that shall never be separated from you nor you from it. God bless you, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



Shame Leading to Salvation

By / Oct 31

Shame Leading to Salvation

 

“Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD. Psalm lxxxiii. 16.

 

THIS is a very terrible Psalm. It contains some prayers against the enemies of God and of his people that crash with the thunder of indignation. You know that we are bidden to love our enemies, but we are never commanded to love God’s enemies. We may not hate any men as men; but as they are opposed to God, to truth, to righteousness, to purity, we may, and we must, if we are ourselves right-minded, feel a burning indignation against them. Did you ever read the story of “the middle passage” in the days of the African slave trade, when the negroes died by hundreds, or were flung into the sea to lighten the ship? Did you ever read of those horrors without praying, “O God, let the thunderbolts of thy wrath fall on the men who can perpetrate such enormities”? When you heard the story of the Bulgarian atrocities, did you not feel that you must, as it were, pluck God’s sleeve, and say to him, “Why does thy justice linger? Let the monsters of iniquity be dealt with by thee, O Lord, as they deserve to be”?

     Such is the spirit of this Psalm. But I like best this particular verse in it because, while it breathes righteous indignation against the wicked, it has mixed with it the tender spirit of love. “Fill their faces with shame;” prays the psalmist, “but overrule thy severity for their everlasting good, ‘that they may seek thy name, O Lord.’” The worst fate that I wish to any hearer of mine who is without God, and without hope in the world, is that this prayer may be prayed by honest and loving hearts for him and for others like him. “Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord.”

     I. To begin with, let me remind you that UNGODLY MEN HAVE GOOD CAUSE TO BE ASHAMED.

     Let us talk a little, first, of their wrong to their Maker. If I might take each one of you by the hand, I should say to you, “Friend, you believe in the existence of God, your Maker, do you not? Well, then, have you treated him rightly? If you have lived in the world twenty years, or perhaps even forty or fifty years, and yet you have never served him, do you think that is quite just to him? If he made you, and has fed you, and kept you in being all these years, has he not a right to expect some service from you? I might go further, and say, has he not a right to expect your love? Does he ask more than he should ask when he says, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might’? Yet you have lived these many years, and scarcely thought of him; certainly, you have not spoken to him, you have never confessed your faults to him, or sought his forgiveness. To all intents and purposes, you have lived as if there were no God at all. Yet, in your earthly affairs, you are a very honest man, and you pay everybody else his due; why do you, then, rob your God of what is justly his? There is not a man in the world who could say truly of you that you had dealt dishonourably with him. You pride yourself upon your uprightness and integrity; but must God alone, then, be made to suffer through your injustice? Out of all beings, must he alone who made all other beings be the only one to be neglected? He is first of all; do you put him last? He is best of all; do you treat him worst? If so, I think that such conduct as this is a thing to be ashamed of, and I pray that you may be heartily ashamed of it.”

     Let me quit that line of thought, and remind you, next, that there are many ungodly men, and I suppose some here present, who ought to be ashamed because they are acting in opposition to light and knowledge, contrary to their conscience, and against their better judgments. There are many unconverted men who can never look back upon any day of their lives without having to accuse themselves of wrong; and although they are not Christians, they would scarcely attempt to justify their position; when they act wrongly, there is a voice within them which tells them that they are doing wrong, They are not blind; they could see if they chose to see. They are not deaf, except that there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. It is a horrible thing for a man to be always holding down his conscience, like a policeman holding down a mad dog. It is a terrible thing for a man to have to be at war with himself in order to destroy himself; his better self resisting, and struggling, as it were, after salvation, but his worse self thrusting back the higher part of his being, stifling his conscience, and drowning the cries of any approach to bettemess that may be within him. God forbid that men should act thus, and sin against light and knowledge! I venture very quietly, but very solemnly, to tell any who are doing so that they ought to be ashamed of such conduct, they ought to blush at the very thought of acting thus against such light as they have, and against the convictions of their own conscience.

     There are some also of my hearers — I speak very positively upon this point, — who ought to be ashamed because of their postponements of what they know to be right. They have again and again put off the observance of duties which they know and admit to be incumbent upon them. “I ought to repent of sin,” says one; and then he adds, “and I will one of these days.” “I ought to be a believer in Christ,” — he admits that, — “and I shall be, I hope, before I die.” Oh, how fairly you talk, Mr. Procrastinator! You know what ought to be done at once, but you leave it all for the future. Do you not know that, every time a man neglects a duty, he commits a sin? That which you admit is your duty, causes you, every moment it is delayed, to commit sin by the delay; and by delay obedience becomes more difficult, and you yourself become continually more likely to commit yet greater sin. I do think that a man who says, “I ought to believe in Christ, I ought to repent of sin, I ought to love God,” and yet says, “Well, I will do so at a more convenient season,” ought to be ashamed of himself for talking and acting in such a wicked fashion; I pray God that he may be.

     I shall come more pointedly home to some when I say that they ought to be ashamed because of their violation of vows which they have made. You were very ill, a little while ago, and you said, “O God, if thou wilt but spare my life, and restore me to health and strength, I will rise from this bed to be a better man!” God did raise you up, but you are not a better man. You were seriously injured in an accident, and likely to die, and in your distress you prayed, “O God, if thou wilt prolong my unworthy life, I will turn over a new leaf; I will be a very different man in future!” Well, you are a different man, for you are worse than you used to be before the accident; that is all the change that has been wrought in you. God keeps a register of the vows that are so lightly broken here below, but so well remembered up in heaven, and the day will come when they shall be brought out to the condemnation of those who made them, and then failed to keep them. If thou art determined to be a liar, lie not unto God. If thou art resolved to make promises, only to break them, at least trifle not with him in whose hand thy life is, and whose are all thy ways. He who must play the fool, had better do it with some fellow-fool, and not parade his folly before “him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH.” Think then, dear friends, of vows violated, and blush because of them.

     Moreover, it seems to me — and I shall leave it to your judgment to consider and approve what I say, — that every man ought to be ashamed of not loving the Lord Jesus Christ, and not trusting such a Saviour as the Lord Jesus Christ is. God in human flesh, bleeding, dying, bearing the penalty of human sin, and then presenting himself freely as our Sacrifice, and saying that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life; do you push him away from you? Will you trample on his blood, and count it an unholy thing? Will you despise his cross? It sometimes seems to me that blasphemy and adultery and murder — tremendous evils though these be, — scarcely reach the height of guilt that comes through refusing the great love of Christ, thrusting him aside whom God took from his bosom, and gave up to die that men might live through him. If you must spite anybody, spite anybody but the Christ of God. If you mean to refuse a friend, refuse any friend but the bleeding Saviour, who spared not his very life, but poured out the floods from his heart that he might save the guilty.

     So, you see, dear friends, that he who loves not Christ, and trusts not Christ, has good cause to be ashamed.

     I will not say any more upon this first point, except just one thing; that is, a man ought to be ashamed who will not even think of these things. There are great numbers of our fellow-citizens, in London, and our fellow-creatures all the world over, who have resolved not to think about religion at all. There stands the house of God, but in that same street there is hardly one person who ever enters it. There is a Bible in almost every house, but many, nowadays, will not read it, or try to understand it. I should have thought that common and idle curiosity alone might have made men anxious to understand the Christian religion, the way of salvation by a crucified Saviour. I should have fancied that they would have strayed in to see what our worship was like; if it had been the worship of Mumbo Jumbo, they would have wanted to see that, but when it is the worship of the Lord God Almighty, and of his Son Jesus Christ, the multitudes seem to be utterly indifferent to it. From the cross I hear my dying Master cry, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.” Even the voice of his gaping wounds, and the voice of his bloody sweat, and the voice of his broken heart seem to fall upon hearts that will not listen, and upon ears that are as deaf as stones. Many who come to hear the gospel go their way to their farms and to their merchandise, but they care nothing for him who is worth more than all beside. O sirs, in that day when this solid earth shall rock and reel, when the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, when the stars shall fall like the leaves of autumn, and when there shall sail into the sky, conspicuous to the gaze of all, the great white throne, and on it shall sit the despised Redeemer, you Will repent then, and regret when it is too late that you gave him none of your thoughts, but put the affairs of religion wholly on one side! Investigate this matter, I charge you. By what your immortal souls are worth, by an eternal heaven and an endless hell, — and there are both of these, despite what some say, — I charge you, as I shall meet you at the judgment seat, and would be clear of your blood, do give earnest attention to the things that make for your peace, and consider the claims of God and of his Christ, and seek to find the way of salvation by faith in Jesus.

     Thus, surely, I have said enough upon this first point; ungodly men have good cause to be ashamed.

     II. Now, secondly, concerning these ungodly people, let me show you that SHAME IS A VERY DESIRABLE THING IF IT DRIVES THEM TO GOD. Hence the prayer, “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name, O Lord.”

     I have known shame to drive men to God in various ways. Sometimes, shame attends the breaking up of self-righteousness. I knew a young fellow, who had been a very upright moral man all his days. He seemed to think that he should go to heaven by his own good works; but he had no notion of a Saviour, and no regard for the things of Christ. One day, being in the workshop, he upset an oil can; and as the master was rather a bad-tempered man, he enquired sharply who had wasted the oil; and this man, who h ad always till then been truthful, on this occasion told a lie, and said that he did not upset the can. Nobody found him out, mark you; he was so highly respected that his employer fully believed that he had not done it; but he went down greatly in his own esteem. He said to me, “Sir, my righteousness went all to pieces in a moment. I knew that I had told a lie; I felt disgusted with myself, and when I got out of the shop, for the first time in my life I cried to God for mercy, for I saw myself to be a sinner.” Now I do not wish any of you to commit further sin, in order that you may realize your true condition in God’s sight. You have done enough evil already, without doing any more; but I should like some one of these sins to come so sharply home to you, that it would make you feel ashamed, and give up all pretence of self-righteousness, and just come by faith to Christ, and take his righteousness to be your perfect covering before God.

     I have known this shame to operate in some, when they have done wrong, and have lost the repute they enjoyed among their fellow-creatures. They have been found out in doing wrong, and, sad as it was to them, yet when they felt that they could no longer come to the front, and lead as they used to do, when they knew that they must get somewhere in the rear rank, and that, if their true character became known, people would shun them, then it was that, like the prodigal son, they said, “I will arise, and go to my Father.” There is many a man who stands high in popular esteem, but who is never likely to be saved, for he is too proud and self-conceited ever to seek the Saviour. But there have been some others who, for a grave fault, have had all their glory trailed in the mire, and then they have sought the face of Christ. I scarcely care how or why they do seek that blessed face, so long as they find it, and are saved.

     There are two instances, then, in which shame drives men to God: first, when a man has lost his own good opinion of himself, and next, when he has lost the good opinion of others. Filled with shame, he has often fled to Christ.

     So have I seen it in the case of failure driving a mm to the Strong for strength. There is a young man who has come lately from the country; he knew the temptations of London, but he said to his father and mother, “You will never hear of your son John doing such things.” Ah, John! they have not heard of it yet, but you have done a great many evil things by now, and you ought to be ashamed. If your father finds it out, as likely enough he will, you will be ashamed; but, seeing that you have found yourself out, I wish that you would be ashamed before the Lord now. O that virtuous John, that excellent youth, that dear young man! You were just going to join the church, were you not? Where were you last night? Ah, not drinking of the communion cup, I will warrant you! Where are you now? O John, if you could have seen yourself, six months ago, to be what you now are, you would not have held your head so high when you came away from your native town! But your failure, that wretched broken back of yours, with which you meant to stand so bolt upright, should all help to drive you to God, your father’s God and your mother’s God. My dear friend, I pray you seek the face of the Most High, and begin again; for, John, though you cannot stand by yourself, God can make you to stand. With a new heart and a right spirit, you can do a deal better than you have done in the past in your own strength, which is utter weakness. I have known a teetotaller, who has felt himself quite safe because he wore a blue ribbon, to become a drunkard, notwithstanding that very desirable badge. If that is your case, my brother, when you are ashamed of yourself on that account, as well you may be, go to the Lord for a new heart and a right spirit, and then begin again, that you may truly be what you aspire to be, an example to others. So, you see, that shame in such a case of failure as I have described, may bring a man to Christ.

     I have also known men brought to Christ with shame of another sort, shame of mental error leading to a humble faith. A young gentleman felt that he had heard the old-fashioned gospel long enough, and he should like to go and hear the new gospel. More light is said to have broken out of late; I can only tell you that it comes from some very dark places, and I do not think there is much light in it. But this gentleman thought that he must know about this new light, and he has kept going further and further, and the new light has led him, like the will-o’-the-wisp does, into all sorts of boggy places; and now he begins to feel that he can do a great many things which once he dared not do, until suddenly the thought occurs to him, “Where have I got to now?” He has become an unbeliever altogether; he who was once almost persuaded to be a Christian has run into very wild ways, and nothing is sure with him; it is all rocking to and fro before him, like the waves of the sea, and there is nothing solid left. Ah! now you begin to be ashamed, do you? You are not, after all, so full of wisdom as you thought you were. Come back, then; come back, and believe the old Book, and trust the Saviour who has brought so many to the eternal kingdom. Believe his words, follow in his track, and this very shame on account of your fancied intellectual prowess, which has turned out to be sheer folly, will bind you in future to the simple cross of Christ, and you will never go away from it again.

     I want to suggest one thing more before I leave this part of my subject. In this congregation there must be a good many men and women who might do well to look back upon the utter uselessness of their past lives. As I looked along these galleries, at the immense preponderance of men in the congregation, which is so usual with us, I thought, “What a number there must be here who, if they threw the weight of their influence in with us, and sought to do good to others, would be immensely valuable to the Church of God!” But are there not many, perhaps even professing Christianity, who, in looking back upon their past lives, will be obliged to say that they have done nothing? What did you ever accomplish, dear friends? There was a lady, who had a large sum of money in her possession, much more than sufficient for her needs; she was a Christian woman, living a quiet, comfortable life by the seaside. One night, as she walked up and down the beach, she said to herself, “What have I ever done for him who died for me? If I were to die now, would anybody miss me? When my life is finished, shall I have accomplished anything?” She felt that she had done nothing; so she went home, and ruminated upon what she could do. She began to live very hard that she might save all she could, and she accumulated quite a large amount, for she had an object to live for. The Orphanage at Stockwell is the outcome of that good woman’s thought at the seaside; she consecrated her substance to the starting of a home where boys and girls, whose fathers were dead, might be housed. I cannot but think of her, and then say to myself, “Are there not many ladies, many gentlemen, many men, many women, who might walk up and down, and say, ‘Well, now, when I die, who will miss me?’” I believe that there are numbers of people who call themselves Christians, who might be tied hand and foot, and flung into the Atlantic, and nobody would miss them beyond the two or three members of their own families. They do nothing; they are living for nothing. “Oh, but!” they say, “we are accumulating money.” Yes, yes; that is like a jackdaw hiding rubbish behind the door, putting away everything he can get. Poor jackdaw! That is what you are doing, nothing more. To get money is well enough, if you get it that you may use it well; and to learn is right enough, if you learn with the view of teaching others. If our life is not to be wasted, there must be a living unto God with a noble purpose; and they who have lived in vain with multitudes of opportunities of doing good, ought to be ashamed; and such shame should bring them to the Saviour’s feet in humble penitence. God give such shame as that to any here who ought to have it, that they may at once seek the name of the Lord!

     III. I must close by speaking only briefly upon the last head of my discourse, which is, THE LORD IS WILLING NOW TO RECEIVE THOSE WHO ARE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES. Let me say that again. The Lord is waiting and willing now to receive to the love of his heart those who are thus ashamed of themselves.

     I do not think that I need say much to enforce this great truth. Is there one person here who is ashamed of himself because of his past sin? Then, you are the man I invite to come to that Saviour who bore your shame in his own body on the tree. You are the sort of man for whom he died. Remember how he himself said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which, was lost;” and one mark of the lost is their deep sense of shame, when they get to be so ashamed of themselves that they try to hide away from the gaze of their fellow-creatures. If you are ashamed of yourself, Christ is willing to receive you; behold, he stands before you with open arms, and bids you come and trust him, that he may give you rest.

     You are the sort of man to come to Christ, because, first, you have the greatest need of him. In the time of famine, we give the meal away first to the most hungry family. He who has alms to distribute to the poor, if he be wise, will give the most speedy relief to those who are the most destitute; and you, my dear hearer, are like that; if you are ashamed of yourself, you are the bankrupt, you are the beggar, you are the sort of sinner whom Jesus came to save. God’s elect are known by this mark, — in their own natural estate they are as poor as poverty itself. If thou art empty, there is a full Christ for thee. If thy last mite is gone, heaven’s treasures are all open for thee. Come and take them, take them freely, as freely as thou dost breathe the air, as freely as thou wouldst drink of the flowing river. Come and take Christ without question and without delay, take him now and happy be; and the way to take him is to trust him, to trust thyself with him absolutely. He is a Saviour; let him save thee. Have no finger in the work thyself, but leave it all to him. Commit thou thyself entirely and absolutely to that mighty hand that moulded the heavens and the earth, to that dear hand that was nailed to the tree. Jesus can save you, he will save you, he must save you, he is pledged to save you; if you have believed in him, he has saved you, and you may go your way, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

     Next, if you are ashamed of yourself, you are the man to come to Christ, because you will make no bargains with him. You will say, “Save me, Lord, at any price, and in any way!” And you are the man who will give him all the glory if you are saved. That is the kind of sinner Jesus loves to save; not one who will run away with the credit of his salvation, and say, “I was always good, and I had many traces of an excellent character about me before Christ saved me,” Such a man might try to divide with the Lord the glory of his salvation, so he is not likely to be saved; but God delights to save those in whom there is no trace of goodness, no hope of goodness, no shadow of goodness, the men who not only feel that God may well be ashamed of them, but who are absolutely ashamed of themselves.

     In preaching on this important theme, I have not used any grace of diction, nor have I made any display of oratory; but I have plainly told you the gospel message, and I have expostulated with those of you who have not considered it. I wish that, by the grace of God, even ere this night passes away, you would come and rest yourselves on Christ. The Holy Spirit is here, blessedly working upon some hearts. If he is not yet working upon others of you, I pray that he may now begin to do so. Remember, my dear hearers, that you are all mortal, and some of you may soon be gone from earth. During the past week, I personally have lost some very choice friends who died quite suddenly. There was a young friend, who was here a Sabbath or so ago; he was taken ill last Sunday afternoon, and he was gone in a few hours. His sorrowing friends are absent to-day, for he was laid in Norwood Cemetery yesterday afternoon, almost to the breaking of the hearts of his parents and other relatives, I had a dear old friend with whom I have often stayed at Mentone. On Monday last she seemed as well as ever, and on Wednesday she too was dead. Last Friday week, I had a letter from a friend at Plymouth, saying that he was coming up to see me, and asking at what hour I could meet him? I said, “Five in the afternoon.” It was our honoured friend, Mr. Serpell He did not come, but I received a note to say that he was not quite well On Monday he addressed the Chamber of Commence, and while he was speaking he fell back, apparently in a fainting fit, and so died. I have, therefore, lost some who have always been good helpers and kind friends to me, and I seem to feel more than ever I did that I am living in a dying world. It might have been any one of you, it might have been myself. Come, then, and let us all seek the Lord at once; let us each one seek him now. “If thou seek him, he will be found of thee.” God grant it, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.



The Danger of Carnal Security

By / Oct 10

The Danger of Carnal Security

 

“Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man. . . . And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire. And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man.”— Judges xviii. 7, 27, 28.

 

I HAVE for this evening’s discourse what some of you may consider to be rather a singular text; let me therefore begin by briefly stating the circumstances surrounding it.

     The tribe of Dan found its portion to be rather too small, so the people held a council to decide what was to be done. They resolved to send a small body of men to spy out the land; these spies came in due time to a place called Laish, which they found to be inhabited by certain people who dwelt there carelessly, in supposed security, “after the manner of the Zidonians.” They were attacked without any notice, and the tribe of Dan took their territory, and added it to their own. I do not in the least degree commend the action of these people; what I have to do with the narrative is to use it for the purpose of drawing from it lessons suited to the present time.

     I suppose that these people, who were living at Laish, were originally a colony of Zidonians, and they had settled in a very fat, fertile valley; according to the tenth verse, a place where there was no want of anything. They did not care to trade with others, they were not at all an enterprising or busy people; but finding every luxury growing out of their own soil, they had no care to do business with any other men whatsoever. They kept no guard or watch, for, although they knew that, in common with all the other inhabitants of the land of Canaan, they had been doomed to fall by the sword of Israel, yet the Israelites had been very slow in conquering the country; many years had passed since Joshua had died, many judges had come and gone, and they had never been troubled. Therefore they rested in perfect ease, neither drilling themselves, nor exercising any warlike arts, but feeling altogether secure, living luxuriously in a fools’ paradise. It was so, for, on a sudden, these Danites, giving them no notice whatsoever, fell upon them, cut them up root and branch, burnt their city, and took the land for themselves. I am not going into the moral of this business, how far Dan is to be blamed; but I am simply going to use this incident as the picture of a very common condition which is to be found among the sons of men, which condition is a very dangerous and false one, and will end, unless the grace of God prevent, in the destruction of those who are thus carnally secure.

     I. First, let us notice THE CONDITION OF CARNAL SECURITY INTO WHICH CHRISTIANS SOMETIMES FALL.

     If they do fall into such a condition as that, they may rest assured that it is one of great danger. Let me describe it to you. Here is a man who is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. In times long gone by, he struggled hard to get his feet upon the Rock of ages; but at last he obtained a firm footing, and there he stood in blessed security. For some time, perhaps even for years, he has been free from all doubts and fears, and also free from all internal struggles and conflicts. He almost thinks that the devil is dead, or, if not, that the devil in him is dead, that sin has become so broken and bruised in his nature that it will never rise again, or cause him trouble. He rejoices, and continues to rejoice; but it may be that, in course of time, the dry rot of self-satisfaction begins to show itself. The man would not say, with the Pharisee, that he thanks God he is not as other men, but there is something of that sort of feeling within his heart. He entered into full assurance of faith at the first, but that full assurance has begun to rust into confidence in self; and now, no longer emptied from vessel to vessel, his sin remaineth in him. No longer tossed upon the waves, he makes little or no progress towards the heavenly haven; his ship’s keel upon the ocean is still amidst a calm, and the fear is that the calm will grow into stagnation, and the stagnation into corruption. God save the man to whom a calm itself becomes more dangerous than a tempest! I think you must know some people of that kind; perhaps, if some of you look in the glass, you may see at least one person of that sort. The Zidonians mentioned in our text had no dread of warfare, or the sound of trumpet, or the crash of arms; and self-confident professors are in much the same condition.

      You noticed also about these Zidonians that they had “no magistrate in the land.” I think I have known some persons who may have possessed a conscience, but if so, it had gone to sleep. I have great fear for religious men with sleepy consciences; and it is really amazing what mischief may be done by men who seem to be heartily religious, yet whose consciences have gone soundly asleep. There are some ungodly men who would tremble to do what some professing Christians do without any qualms of conscience. God save you, dear friends, from such a state of heart as that! We ought to long for a holy sensitiveness of conscience, we should wish to have it tender as the apple of the eye, so that the very least touch of sin should startle and amaze us. We are all too apt to grow a skin over our conscience, and after a time it gets to be callous, I had almost said horny; and we need to have it wounded again, and kept open like a fresh raw wound, so that the least speck of sin may cause it intense anguish. We are never what we ought to be except we are in that condition; yet have I known some professors who have been so long at ease in Zion that the moss has grown over their conscience, and you can scarcely get at it so as to arouse it to a sense of sin.

     These Zidonians, next, had no care at all about other people. We are told twice that they “had no business with any man.” Are there any people who are called Christians, who are of that sort, and have no concern, or very little concern, about the souls of others? They say that they do care about the heathen, for they have subscribed five shillings towards sending out a missionary to lay down his life on a foreign shore! They do care about the people who are dying at home, for they spoke to someone about the Sunday-school a little while ago, and they said a kind word for the City Mission! They have never done anything by way of teaching children, or visiting the poor and needy; you could not expect it of them, of course. They are such men of business, they have so many matters to attend to, that you could put into a small thimble anything they do for the cause of God. They take little or nothing for the Lord out of the full river of their life’s force; so far as the good of their fellows is concerned, they have “no business with any man.” Years ago, they were very active workers; at least, they tell us so. In some dim remote past, almost forgotten, they did try to take up Christ’s cross, and to bear his yoke; but now they are gentlemen at large, supernumeraries, who have entered upon a period of dignified rest, — Zidonians, having no business with any man. Some of these people never join a church, for they do not care about its responsibilities. They are going to heaven, so they say; yet they are trying to get there without walking in the King’s highway, but sneaking behind the hedges, and taking rest whenever they can; not entering the Palace Beautiful, nor joining the caravans of pilgrims that march together, with their Great-hearts leading them, and fighting giants on the road. We have this sort of Christians about still; I call them Christians, but God alone knows whether they are his or not.

     These people also live, like the Zidonians did, without any fear of invasion. It is not at all likely that they will ever fall into gross sin; at least, so they say. Young people, of course, have strong passions, and they may fall into sin; but these old, experienced people are not likely to be carried away by temptation. Some people are very foolish, and they may be caught by the subtlety of the old serpent; but these good old professors are wonderfully wise; indeed, it is quite a wonder that one small head can carry all they know! They are so deeply experienced that, if they were to die, half the experience in the church would die out with them! So excellent are they that, with regard to their yielding to temptation and falling into sin, it is quite impossible! Of course, the young folk had better pledge themselves to total abstinence; because drink would be a temptation to them; but these good people can drink just a sufficient quantity, and no more, they have such control of themselves! Of course, young men and women had better keep away from doubtful places of amusement; but these old people are so supremely good that, if they were living in the devil’s camp, their hearts would still be in heaven! They can be trusted anywhere!

     Perhaps you enquire, “Does anybody seriously believe this that you have been saying?” Anybody seriously believe it? Why, yes, some of you do, only you do not put it into words; and if I were to point you out, and say that you believed it, you would flatly contradict me But you do all the same. There are many professing Christians who live as if they were beyond gun-shot of the enemy, and were quite safe and secure. They say, spiritually, “Soul, take thine ease; thou hast much goods laid up for many years, eat, drink, and be merry;” and all the while they are in imminent danger of falling into the very worst forms of sin, proving apostates after all, showing the rottenness of their profession, letting all see that their religion is nothing better than a painted disguise to go to hell in, but not a work of God in the soul by which that soul is really and truly saved. A friend told me that, the other night, as she sat in this Tabernacle, there spoke with her a person who is a regular frequenter of this house of prayer, and who said that she was without sin, that she did not know that anything preached here at all suited her, and that she believed I was well aware that she did not require any admonitions or exhortations. She was glad to hear me earnest about sinners; but she was not a sinner, she had not been a sinner for a long time, and any exhortations that were directed to sleepy saints, she felt were very proper, but they did not belong to her; in fact, she only came because it was a proper thing to come, but she did not expect to get anything for herself out of the services, she had advanced far beyond that point. Well, I do not know where you are, my good sister, but you are the very person to whom I am now speaking. You superlatively good people who think you do not need any warning, are the identical persons I am most anxious to warn. Remember Cowper’s lines, —

“He has no hope who never felt a fear;
And he that never doubted of his state,
He may perhaps— perhaps he may— too late.”

He that is, as men say, so “cock sure,” may find himself lost after all. He may be but a dotard and a dreamer, notwithstanding all his confidence. I would rather go to heaven doubting all the way, than be lost through self-confidence. I would rather cry out in the bitterness of my spirit, “Am I sincere or not?” and cry it out every day, than write myself down among the blessed, and at last wake up and find myself in hell. There is a holy fear which must not be banished from the Church of God, there is a sacred anxiety which puts us to the question, and examines us whether we be in the faith, and it is not to be scouted as some would scout it. It is all very fine to say, “Believe that you are right, and you are right;” but if you believe that you are right, and you are all the while wrong, you put yourself beyond the probability of ever getting right. He who believes himself to be saved when he is not is likely to shut the door of salvation in his own face, and to perish self -excluded. God save us from that fatal folly! I would blow even in Zion the trumpet of warning, I would sound an alarm in God’s holy mountain. May you and I never get beyond spiritual conflicts, beyond striving against our corruptions, beyond hating the garment spotted by the flesh! May we never got beyond a holy filial fear, and a grave anxiety that in all that we do we may be pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God! If not, we may get to be like these Zidonians dwelling carelessly in their city of Laish, and one of these days destruction may enter our gates when we little expect it.

     II. Now I change the theme to speak of THIS CONDITION OF CARNAL SECURITY IN THE UNSAVED, and to address those who know that they are not converted, and who make no profession of religion whatever. There are some of these who live very carelessly, and who are very difficult to arouse to a true sense of their peril.

     Let me describe this condition as it is found among many unsaved persons. Our text tells us that, when the spies came to Laish, they “saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless.” That is the way with the carnally secure, they are careless; as long as they can enjoy the present, they are quite indifferent to all thoughts of the future. Many of you see no further than your hand can reach. Multitudes of men restrict their vision to that which might be seen by an ox or a sheep. If there is enough grass in the pasture, the ox is satisfied; indeed, he does not look over the whole pasture, for if there be but grass near his nose, it is enough for him. And, oh! the multitudes of London, and of England, and in the world at large, whose only questions are, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” They live as if they would never die; or as if, when they died, they would die like dogs, and there would be an end of them. This spirit breeds carelessness about their lives, about their thoughts, about prayer, about all holy things. They ask, “What is all that to us? It may do very well for some people to be religious, but we have to work hard from morning to night, and we cannot think about these things at all.,, They would reduce themselves, if they could, to the level of swine; they are as careless as the beasts that perish. Perhaps, my dear hearer, that word “careless” describes you.

     And, connected with this carelessness, there is, next, a great quietness from all trial. It is not so with many of you; for you are sore vexed with troubles, sickness, poverty, or bereavement. You seem to be always afflicted, and you may always thank God if you are. It is evident that he has not given you up, and left you to sleep yourselves to destruction. But there are certain persons who appear to have no troubles; their path is wonderfully smooth, they have all that heart can wish, they touch nothing without prospering. They are contented, and well they may be, for it seems as if Providence had determined to make them rich. And yet what do I see before me? A bullock fed in the stall. Would I rejoice to be that bullock? No, for I know why it is thus fed; it is fattened for the slaughter, and already I see the pole-axe lifted in the air, and about to descend upon the poor beast. And many a man, who is indulged with everything that he can desire, is nothing better than a fattened bullock doomed to die. Yet many care not about that; they are quite satisfied if they can enjoy themselves to-day; as for to-morrow, it must take thought for the things of itself.

     Meanwhile, these same people are quite secure as to the future. A funeral perhaps startles them for a moment; the passing bell has a strange tone to their ears, but, for the most part, they put away all thoughts of death. They are young, or they are robust, they will not soon die; wherefore should they even think of it? And, as for that great white throne, and the judgment-seat, and the assembled worlds, and the rocking earth, and the blazing heaven, — well, it is only preachers who talk about those things. They put their fingers in their ears, and will not listen to our warnings, and they go their way to their farms, and to their merchandise, and let the future take care of itself. This is the horrible condition of multitudes of mankind that, with the best possible reasons for being concerned about the future, they resolve that they will not wake up to it, but that, like these men of Laish, they will dwell “quiet and secure.” The trumpet is sounding, the adversaries are marching from Dan, they have already encamped on the way; ye men of Laish, why do ye gird yourselves for the dance, and for the feast, for the sword of the enemy will soon be at your throats? And, O ye men of London, ye men of this world, how can ye make mirth and sport while the day of your doom hastens on, and death on the pale horse rides so fast towards you, and judgment follows at his heels? Yet I may say what I will, but, with the most of men, I shall but waste my breath, for they dwell so carelessly, and wrap themselves up at their ease.

     These people of Laish, it seems, were also free from all restraint. “There was no magistrate in the land.” It is a perilous thing for any of us to know no restraint; especially for that young man who, in a few days, is coming into possession of a large fortune, and will then have his full swing. Oh, if I could get hold of his hand, I would wet it with my tears while I besought him not to court ruin with his fingers jewelled with the mercies of God! To turn the blessings of Providence into stones to throw at him who gave them to us, is base ingratitude indeed. I pray that the young man, instead of acting so, may begin a new and better life, and so use his substance for the glory of God. We are all impatient of control, but nothing can be worse for some men than to have no voice to check, no language to upbraid, no tender wife or gentle friend who will administer a kind rebuke. But there are such, and there may be such here, who are all the more confident and stolid because there is no conscience yet awake within them, and nobody to serve as a conscience for them: “There was no magistrate in the land.”

     And, once more, these people at Laish were self-contained: “they had no business with any man.” There are some persons who are all the more hard to get at because they do not want to be interfered with. If anybody were to speak to such a man about his soul to-night, he would say, “Don’t you bother about me; let me alone, I can take care of myself.” But he who takes care of himself generally has a fool for a keeper. All of us need some help from others, and those of us who receive most help thank God for all that we get.

     Yet once more, according to verse 10, these people at Laish had “no want of any thing.” They had all that heart could wish. I daresay that, while I have been describing them, some of you have half envied them. Of course you do so if you are of the same nature as they were; but the day shall come when some of us will bless God for poverty, and for sickness, because we shall get to heaven by such help, while others will have to curse themselves because they turned their health, their vigour, and their wealth, into occasions and opportunities for sin. If we could, we would escape all trial; but we should be very unwise to do so. If, by falling down upon my knees now, I could prevail with God so that there should be no poverty to the drunkard, I dare not pray the prayer; or that there should be no disease to the unclean liver, I dare not pray the prayer; or that there should be no punishment to the thief, I dare not pray it. It is, after all, best for society that sin should be followed by chastisement, and it is best for us all that we should be drawn to God, or driven to him, by the troubles and trials of this mortal life, rather than that we should now be set in the slippery places of ease, and by-and-by be cast down to destruction. Oh, that I could say a word that would make you easy-going men, who have all you can desire, begin to tremble amidst your plenty, lest eternal ruin should follow the greatness of God’s bounty!

     III. So now, thirdly, I want to speak briefly upon THE EVILS OF THIS CONDITION OF OARNAL CONFIDENOE, in which an ungodly man is perfectly at his ease in a dying world.

     The first result of it is, that warnings are unheeded, Preach, Mr. Preacher, and preach your very heart out; but this man does not care a bit about it all, for he is perfectly at ease and happy, nothing ever stings him into anxiety. He never wakes at night to cry to God for mercy, he never dreams of judgment, not he; his companions sing that “he’s a jolly good fellow,” and he thoroughly enjoys himself. Just so; yet he has no God, no Christ, no hope, he trifles with eternal things, and makes this world his all. Alas! all our most solemn warnings are lost upon him.

     What is worse, all the mercies of God are lost upon him. What is the use of bidding him wash in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness? He does not feel that he is foul. Why present him with garments of righteousness? He does not know anything about his iniquity. Why talk to him of a Physician? He feels no sickness. Why point him to a Saviour? He does not believe that he is lost. Oh, how I wish that the pangs of contrition would strike through ungodly men and women in this house! Dear Master, fit thy sharp arrows to thy bow, and wound them now! Fill this house with stricken souls that will cry mightily for thee! Then shall they have thee, then shall they rejoice in thee. But men miss these choice mercies of God because they are self -contented and carnally at ease.

     The result further is that, as year follows after year, the heart grows harder still. In the young man there was a little feeling once, but now in the grey head there is none. You might have impressed him when he was a boy at his mother’s knee, but you cannot influence him now. He does not believe anything you say, for he is case-hardened; the devil has fitted on him a coat of mail which seems to turn the edge even of the sword of the Spirit. Ah, miserable man!

     And in this man, worse still, great sin is being prepared for. He may not yet have sinned grossly against the laws of his country or of society; but where there is such fuel as this hard heart and stolid will, the devil will not be slow to bring the flame. I look on some self-confident men, and read their terrible future in their present assurance, and I would say to each one, as to another Hazael, “I know what thou wilt do ; thou hast been moral and excellent, but the day will come when, having cast off all fear of God, thou wilt do what it would horrify thee to hear of now.” The man asks, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” No, you are not a dog; but if you were, it would be better for you than to be what you are. No man knoweth how much of devil there is asleep in him; and no man may dream that he is secure from the worst of evils unless he comes to Jesus, gets a new heart, and puts himself into the keeping of the One who is better and stronger than himself. Then will he be safe; but short of that, all his fancied security is ruinous to the last degree.

      I do not know all to whom I am speaking, but I am convinced that I am preaching directly to some of you; whether you are in the top gallery, or downstairs, or close around the platform, I do not know, but the Lord, the Searcher of all hearts, knows for whom this message is intended. Let us each one take it so far as it bears upon our case. Wake, ye sleepers, wake! Why sleep ye? Sin besets you round. If you have not fled to Christ for salvation, if you have not received a new heart and a right spirit, give no sleep to your eyes nor slumber to your eyelids till these things are set right by the power of the Holy Spirit, and you are saved from the wrath to come.

     IV. Now, finally, I have to notice THE GREAT DANGER OF THOSE WHO ARE CARNALLY SECURE.

     Notice the horror of their doom. These poor careless Zidonians, enjoying themselves, setting no watch, bearing no shield, wielding no sword, rested in fancied security, till, on a sudden, the swords of their adversaries cut them in pieces, and they were destroyed. What I dread most about some men is the change which will come upon them from their present state of ease. “Oh, it is all right, sir!” says one; “it is all right; I feel perfectly happy.” An unsaved man may be even in the very article of death, and yet be quite at ease, because his conscience has been so heavily drugged that it does not awake even in his death moments; but it will awake, it will awake. There is no opium that can send your conscience into an eternal slumber, else might you venture to die with your sins uncleansed. But it will awake, and oh! the awful change from the fools’ paradise to the fools’ perdition, from playing with trifles to find that there are no trifles, but that everything is real, earnest, serious, in that dread world into which your soul will plunge when God says to you, “Return,” and your spirit shall return to God who gave it! I dread the change for you who are now carnally at ease.

     And, further, when I think of the doom which will come ultimately upon careless souls, I dread that sense of self-deceiving which comes upon men. If they went to hell merely by virtue of a divine decree, it would not be such a hell to them; but to go there by their own folly, this is a fire that never can be quenched, this is a worm that never dies. Such a man will have to say, “I brought myself here. I was warned; that preacher in the Tabernacle spoke to me on that October night as best he could, — in rough but real earnest, — and he bade me awake, and escape from the wrath to come; but I said, ‘Let me alone.’ Like the sluggard, I turned over to the other side, and said, ‘A little more sleep, a little more folding of the hands,’ and now I am in hell! I shut myself in here; those iron bolts I fastened by my own folly. These fires I kindled, and the terrible truth burns in my conscience that I myself supplied the fuel for this flame.” O sirs, I do pray you, commit not everlasting suicide by resting at ease and peace when there is no rest and no peace, for “there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.”

     There is a short, sad sentence in the twenty-eighth verse: “There was no deliverer.” When the Danites were at the gates of Laish, “there was no deliverer.” Thank God, there is a Deliverer now, there is a Saviour for sinners! Come, guilty souls, and trust yourselves with Jesus. Free, full, and immediate pardon is proclaimed to all who trust him. Submit to his dear will, look to his blessed wounds, and live; but if your ears refuse the language of his grace, if you despise the invitations of his mercy, there will come a time when there shall be no deliverer, no deliverer, NO DELIVERER, in heaven, or earth, or hell;— no deliverer, nothing but the sword and the fire, the just and righteous wrath of God, which you have yourselves obstinately incurred.

     Then there came back upon these people of Laish, in their death-agony, the fact that they had no business with any man, and therefore nobody pitied them. Nobody came to their rescue; they had no business with any, so none had any business with them, and they died, “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung,” only remembered by preachers who, like myself, try to turn their doom into a warning and a lesson for others. You self-contained people, who have no business with anybody, and do not want anybody to interfere with you, who do not wish to be warned, and would resent anyone’s touching you on the shoulder, and asking you if you are saved, thus shall it be with you in the evil day; no man shall have any business with you. Shame and everlasting contempt will be the portion of that man who boasted that he could take care of himself, but who found at last that he had no deliverer, and no man to care for his soul. My dear hearers, may God save you, every one of you! Could I look you in the face, and wish anything else for any one of you, but that you might find eternal salvation in Jesus Christ? No, I could not have any other desire than that. Do you not also wish it for yourselves? Now, a wish is half a prayer; make it a whole one. Breathe this brief prayer to God: “Lord, save me.” Then listen to this word of grace which has the message of salvation in it: “Look and live.” Jesus died upon the cross that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but should have ever lasting life. He is lifted up before you now, that you who have been bitten by the fiery serpent of sin may look to him, as Israel in the wilderness looked to the brazen serpent, and that looking, you may be healed. As I shall meet you in that day of days for which all other days were made, as I shall make one of the vast throng that will be gathered before the judgment-seat of Christ, I pray you, bear witness to me in that day that I have spoken honestly and faithfully and fearlessly— certainly in no smooth and flattering terms,— to every one of you; and if you perish, I shall be clear of your blood in that great day. If you will not have Christ, and will be damned, you must; but it shall not be without my crying to you, “Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?” “Turn ye, turn ye,” saith the Lord God himself. Turn them, O Lord, by thy grace, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.



Singing Saints

By / Oct 3

Singing Saints

 

“Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” — Psalm xxx. 4.

 

DAVID had been very seriously ill, and the Lord had graciously restored him to health. He says, “O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” As soon as he has recovered his health and strength, the holy instincts of the man lead him to praise the Lord. The first thing to do, when the throat is clear after an illness, is to sing praises to God; the first thing to do, when the eyes are brightened again, is to look up to the Lord with thankfulness and gratitude. Some people need to be told this, but the psalmist did not, it came to him as a matter of course. Now that he was restored, he would take his place amongst the heavenly choristers, and sing unto Jehovah; he was not satisfied to sing alone, what child of God is? Among the birds in the springtime, when the first one wakes in the morning, and begins to sing, does he not call up his fellows? Is not his song an invitation to all the feathered songsters of the grove to join with him, and pour out their united harmony? In like manner, it is characteristic of a praiseful heart that it naturally desires society in praise. We do not like to praise God alone; we can do it, and we will do it if we must; but our heart often cries aloud to our brethren and sisters in Christ, “Praise ye the Lord.” Our very “Hallelujah” is intended to stir up others to this holy exercise, for it means; “Praise ye the Lord.”

     My one desire, just now, is that those of us who have received special mercy from God should praise his name, and then that all the rest, if there be any who have not received such remarkable mercies as others of us have, should also feel exhorted to join in the sacred song of thankfulness unto our God.

     This is a duty which is pleasant; there is nothing more delightful than to sing praises unto the Lord. It is also a duty that is profitable; it will be as blessed to yourself as it will be pleasing to God. Singing has a curative effect upon many of the maladies of the soul; I am sure that it lightens the burdens of life, and I was about to say that it shortens the weary way of duty if we can but sing as we travel along it. This holy employment is pleasant and profitable, and it is preparatory for another world and a higher state. I like to sing with Dr. Watts, —

“I would begin the music here,
And so my soul should rise:
Oh for some heavenly notes to bear
My passions to the skies!”

We are on the way to glory, so let us sing as we journey thither ; and as the lark, ascending up to heaven’s gate, sings as she soars, her wings keeping time with her music, and mounting in her song as she rises through the air, so let it be with us, — every day a psalm, every night a day’s march nearer home, a little nearer to heaven’s music, and a little better imitation of it. Let us sing now, in our hearts if not with our lips; and when the time comes, let us join our lips with our hearts, and sing unto the Lord. That is our text, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”

     It strikes me that our text is very suitable for a communion Sabbath evening. We are about to gather at this table whereon are spread the memorials of our Saviour’s death, and there are three things about the text which make me think it a very proper one for such an occasion. They are, first, the peculiar fitness of the exhortation to our present engagement: “Sing unto the Lord.” Secondly, the special suitability of the subject for our meditation: “The remembrance of his holiness.” Then, thirdly, the admirable suitability of the company invited to join in the song, for they are the same people who are invited to sit down at the table: “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”

     I. So, first, let us consider THE PECULIAR FITNESS OF THE EXHORTATION TO OUR PRESENT ENGAGEMENT: “Sing Unto the Lord.”

     You are to come to the table where you remember your Saviour’s death, where you are to feed upon the memorials of his passion. Come thither with a heart prepared for song. “Oh!” says one, “I thought I had better come with tears.” Yes, come with tears; they will be very sweet to Christ if you let them fall upon his feet to wash them with your penitential streams. “Oh, sir!” says another, “I thought that surely I must come with deep solemnity.” So you must, woe be unto you if you come in any other way; but do you know of any divorce between solemnity and joy? I do not Levity is akin to sorrow, and soon curdles into it; the laugh is but superficial, and just below the surface lies the sigh. But he who is calmly, quietly, soberly thoughtful, is the man in whom there may be deeps of joy which can never be fathomed. There is a little shallow joy that goes prattling over the pebbles of the brook, and is soon gone. I invite you not to that sort of mirth, but to that deep solemn joy which godly men feel, and which can be fittingly expressed in holy song. “Sing unto the Lord.” That is no frivolous music. “Sing unto the Lord.” That is no ballad or ditty; it is a psalm, deep, solemn, and profound, and the joy of it is great. “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his.”

     “Still,” you say to me, “we do not quite see the suitability of singing at this communion-table.” Well, then, if you do not, I think you soon will, for I remind you that, at this table, we celebrate a work accomplished. Solomon said, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.” The joy is not in the sowing, but in the reaping. Our Lord bids us put bread and wine upon the table to show that his work is finished by his death. There is the bread, and there is the wine; they are distinct and separate. They indicate the flesh and the blood, but the blood separate from the flesh, — a sure mark that death has taken place. It is Christ’s death that we celebrate by this communion, and that death has written across it these words, “It is finished.” He had finished the work the Father had given him to do, and therefore he gave up the ghost. I do rejoice that Christ’s death is an accomplished fact. We have sung, in plaintive tones, with an almost bleeding heart, the sad story of the cross, and nails, and spear, and thorn-crown, and it has been a sweet relief to us when the poet has led us to sing, —

“No more the bloody spear,
The cross and nails no more,
For hell itself shakes at his name,
And all the heavens adore.”

It is an infinite satisfaction to us that — 

“The head that once was crown’d with thorns.
Is crown’d with glory now.”

All the shame and sorrow are done with, all that is over; and we come to this table to eat this bread, and to drink of this cup, in memory of a glorious work, an unrivalled work, a work which cost the Saviour his life, but a work that is complete and perfect, and accepted of God. Talk of the labours of Hercules? What are these compared with the toil of the Christ of God? Talk of the conquests of Caesar? What are these beside the victories of Christ, who hath led captivity captive, and received gifts for men? Beloved, I think that no music can be too loud, too pleasant, too joyous, as we gather about this table, and say one to another, “We are celebrating the full accomplishment of that which Jesus undertook to do when he was born at Bethlehem, when he lived at Nazareth, when he sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane, and died on the cross at Calvary.” Therefore, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his.”

     I think I see another reason also why we should come to this table with holy song, and that is, not only because of a work accomplished, but because of a result realized, at least in a measure. Look ye, sirs. Instead of flesh, I see bread; instead of blood, I see wine. I know that the bread and the wine are symbols of the flesh and the blood, but I know also that they are something more; they are not only symbols of the things themselves, but also of that which comes out of those things. This is what I mean. This day, because Christ has died, a table is spread for the starving souls of men. God keeps open house; like a great king, he sets his table in the street, and sends out his servants, and bids them invite the hungry, the poor, the needy, the thirsty, to come and eat and drink and be satisfied; and inasmuch as, maddened and besotted by their sin, they will not come, he adds this command, “Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” And, brothers and sisters, when you and I gather around this table, if we have indeed come to Christ spiritually, he sees in us a part of the reward of his sufferings. The festival has been going on these eighteen hundred years, relays of guests have been continually feasting at the table of the great King who says, “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed,” and his guests are still coming, myriads of them, who must all have died if they had not lived by feeding upon Christ, who must all have been lost if they had not been saved by the precious blood of Jesus. They are coming still, and our prophetic eye sees, in the companies that are gathering together this Sabbath all over the world, the vanguard of a mightier host that no man can number, out of every nation, and kindred, and tribe, and people, and tongue. Wherefore, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his.” The very setting up of the communion-table, and the gathering of men and women to it that they may spiritually feast upon their dying Lord, is a reason for thankfulness.

     There is, in the third place, this reason why some of us should sing unto the Lord, for here is a blessing enjoyed. Not only are many coming in various parts of the world, and feeding spiritually upon the flesh and blood of the Crucified, but it is a special joy that you and I also are here. I am glad, dear brother, that you are here; it is a great joy to me that my brother in the flesh should be here, and it is a great delight that many of you with whom I have lived so long in happy fellowship should be here; but I could not afford not to be here myself. If I had to go away at the close of the service, and leave you to commune with the Lord, and I had no part nor lot in the matter, I should have to miss an exceeding great joy. You who love the Lord, will you look back to the days when you did not know him, but when you longed to know him? There was a time when you sighed and cried for him, and if anybody had said to you, “You will sit with the great company at the communion in the Tabernacle on such a night, and the Lord Jesus will be very precious to you, and your heart will be brimming over with delight,” you would have said, “I am afraid that is too good to be true, I cannot expect it ever to be my case.” There was a time with me when, if I might but have been the least dog under Christ’s table, and have picked up the crumbs, and the stale crusts, and the bones that others despised, I would have licked his feet for very joy. Yet now, lo! here I sit among his children, and am one of them, and have the pleasure of passing to you, my brothers and sisters, the sweet dainties which he puts on the table, and if you do not sing, I must; if none of you will sing, I shall have to sing alone, I cannot help it. But I believe that each one of you feels the same wonder, delight, and gratitude to think that you also are here.

     There is yet another matter to sing about in coming to this table, for this communion reminds us of a hope revived. What said the apostle Paul concerning this ordinance? “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” This is one of the tokens which our Lord has given us that he will come again ; in effect, he says, “Eat that bread, drink of that cup, and I will be coming nearer and nearer every time that you thus assemble around my table ” Well now, if you did not sing last time, you ought to sing at the thought that Jesus is coming again. He has not gone away for ever; according to the Scripture, he has not gone for long. Every hour brings him nearer, and it cannot now be very long before he will be back again. Remember what the two men in white apparel said to the disciples, “This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come” — literally and personally, — “in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” As surely as Jesus lives, his feet will stand in the latter day upon Mount Olivet, and he will come to reign among his ancients gloriously. This second coming of our Lord, not as a sin-offering, not in shame and humiliation, but in all the glory of his Father and of his holy angels, makes us smite together with a joyous clash the high-sounding cymbals. We already anticipate the final triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ, when all his enemies shall bow before him. It will be, it shall be, and this supper is the memorial that it certainly shall so be; therefore, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his.”

     I think I have given good proof that this exhortation well befits our present engagement.

     II. Now, secondly, dear friends, notice THE SPECIAL SUITABILITY OF THE SUBJECT FOR OUR MEDITATION: “Give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”

     It needs a holy man to give thanks at the remembrance of a holy God. Sinners hate holiness because they dread holiness; but the saints love holiness because they have no cause to dread it, and because, on the other hand, it has become a fountain of comfort and joy to them.

     I want you, at this table, to think, first, of divine holiness vindicated. God loved us, brothers, and he wished to save us; but even to save us he would not be unjust. His great heart was full of love, but even to indulge that heart of love he would not suffer his righteous law to be dishonoured, nor his moral government to be impaired. Men talk sometimes of God’s punishing sin as if it were a freak with him. It is a necessity; it is imprinted upon the very existence of moral beings that holiness must bring happiness, and unholiness must bring sorrow, and God will not reverse what he has so properly ordained to be the everlasting order of things. God must be just, and he could not therefore wink at human guilt, and pass it by. What, then, must be done? He himself, in the person of his dear Son,— for never forget that God the Father gave his only-begotten and well-beloved Son, — he himself, in the person of his dear Son, came into this world, assumed our nature, and in that nature became the Representative of his people, and as their Representative he took upon himself their sins; and being found with their sins imputed to him, God dealt with our sin as laid upon him. He found it there, and he smote it there, and because of our sin Jesus bled, and Jesus died; and now, when we come into a state of peace with God, it is not over the ruins of a broken law, it is not over the shivered tables which Moses broke at the foot of the mount, but we come to the holy God in a holy way. Sinners are forgiven in a righteous way, the unjust are reckoned as just in a just fashion; there is not, in the salvation of a sinner, any keeping back or veiling of the justice of God. He is just, yet he is the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. I love this glorious truth; it seems to me to be the charm of mercy in Christ that it is righteous mercy. This is the quintessence of delight that, when the saint gets to heaven, he will be as rightly there as the sinner in hell will be rightly there. There will be as much of the divine holiness seen in the salvation of the dying thief as in the damnation of that other thief who perished in his sin. So let us, as we come to the Lord’s table, “give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” We are going to commune with a God who, even that he might commune with us, and indulge his love to his chosen, would not break his own law, or do that which, on the strictest judgment, could be regarded as unjust. I do rejoice in that unquestionable fact, and my heart is glad as I remind you of it.

     And, next, let us give thanks at the remembrance of Christ18 holiness declared. It is a happy occupation to look upon the perfect character of our dear Redeemer. If there could have been found a fault or flaw in him, he would not have been a suitable Substitute for us. If he had committed a single sin, he could not have taken our sins upon him, nor could he have put them away. Think, then, as you sit at this table, what a pure Christ he was, what a perfect man as well as perfect God, what a spotless character he possessed, and then, inasmuch as this was absolutely necessary to the completeness of the atonement which you celebrate at this table, “give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” I think I see him coming in before us, in his snowwhite garments, girt with the golden girdle, with a face that for purity and brightness looks like the sun when it shineth in its strength; and I fall down, and admire and adore, not only his mercy, and his meekness, and his charity, but the perfect holiness of my Redeemer and Lord. As you come to the table, beloved, give thanks at the remembrance of the holiness of him who sits at the head of the feast, — the Lord Jesus himself, who passes you the cup, and says to you, “Drink ye all of it,” and who breaks the bread, and says, “Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” “Give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”

     I think also that it will be quite congruous with our present engagement if we think of God’s holiness as the guarantee of our salvation. This may seem a striking thing to say, but it is assuredly true. Blessed be the righteous God! It is upon the righteousness of God that we rest our hope, after all. If God can lie, then not one promise of his is to be trusted. If God can do an unrighteous thing, then his covenant may be flung to the winds. But God is not unrighteous to forget the work of his dear Son, and “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.” He who has pledged his word to you saying, “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels,” will keep that pledge inviolate, and you shall be there. He who hath said, “They shall not be ashamed that wait for me,” will keep his promise, and you shall never be ashamed. You, poor sinners, when you first come to Christ, look to God’s mercy, and trust to it, and you do quite rightly; but after you have been a little while with Christ, and begin to know the Father through knowing the Son, you come to “give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” You see that, at the back of his mercy, as the very foundation and pillar of his grace, there stands his righteousness. Beloved, as we come to the table of communion, we give thanks at the remembrance of a hope that is grounded upon the righteousness of God, and we therefore sing praises unto his holy name.

     Once more. I think that, at this table, we may give thanks that the holiness of God is our mark, the object for us to aim at, ay, and that to which we shall one day attain. “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” I sometimes ask our young friends, when they come to join the church, whether they are perfect; and they open their eyes, and look at me and say, “Oh, no; far from it!” Then, when I ask, “Would you like to be perfect?” their eyes sparkle with delight, as much as to say, “Why, that is the heaven we are looking for, to be absolutely free from sin! We would not mind sorrow, sickness, pain, persecution, or anything of that sort, so long as we could but get rid of sin.”

     “If sin be pardon’d, I’m secure;” and if sin be conquered, I am perfectly happy. This will be the case with all believers one of these days, but not here. Of all the people whom I have ever met with, who have told me that they were perfect, I can say that I was morally certain they were not; they had only to talk for about five minutes, and they proved their own imperfection. But, beloved, we shall be perfect one day. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” He has you now like an unfinished vessel on the potter’s wheel; you are in the clay state, and the great Potter is putting his finger on you, and moulding you. You are not half-fashioned yet, but he will never throw you away ; he does not begin to make a vessel unto honour, and then cease his work, but he perfects that which he begins; and, one of these days, you and I shall stand together as a part of the perfected work of God of which even he shall say, “ It is very good.” Wherefore, when we come to this table, though we come sighing over our own imperfections, let us come singing because of the holiness of God, that holiness which we shall yet share.

“O glorious hour! O blest abode!
I shall be near and like my God.”

The children shall yet bear the image of their Father, the brethren shall yet be conformed unto the glories of the First-born; wherefore, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”

     III. Lastly, the text is very appropriate for the communion because of THE SUITABILITY OF THE PEOPLE of whom it speaks, for they are the same people who ought to come to this table: “Sing unto the Lord O ye saints of his.” 

     First, then, those who come to this table should be “saints.” “Ah!” says one, “that is what I called a person this afternoon, — ‘one of your saints.’” I suppose you thought it was an ugly name, did you not? Well, you are perfectly welcome to call me by that name if you like, only I wish that you would prove the title to be true. “There,” said one to a Christian man, as he shoved him into the gutter, “take that, John Bunyan!” man I What did the other say? Why, he picked up his hat, and said, “You may fling me into the gutter again if you call me by that name, I am so perfectly satisfied to take the compliment.” You call a man a “saint”, and then think you have done him an ill turn? Why do you not call him a nobleman? Why do you not call him a peer of the realm? For many of your noblemen, your peers of the realm, are poor stuff compared with the “saints.” I would sooner be a saint than be an emperor, or all the emperors rolled into one. A “saint” — why, it is a glorious title! “Oh!” says one, “I mean Cromwell’s saints.” Do you? Well, they were not a bad sort of saints, after all, whether you try them by the strength of their arms in the day of battle, or by the strength of their lungs when they sang, “Let God arise, lot his enemies be scattered,” and shouted in Jehovah’s name in the midst of the battle , or when they went back to their tents, and knelt in prayer, and communed with the Most High. But I do not mean Cromwell’s saints, and I am not going to talk more about them; but I do say that this is what every Christian man ought to be, a “saint.” It means a holy person, one who aims at being holy, one who is set apart for the service and glory of God. These are the people who are to give thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness, because God has made them holy, too. They are partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust, and so they are saints, and they are the people who ought to come to the table of the Lord.

     But notice that they are not only saints, but they are “saints of his.” That is to say, they are God’s saints; not Rome’s saints, but God's saints; they might be Cromwell’s saints, but, better than that, they are God’s saints. “O ye saints of his.” That is to say, they are saints of his making, for they were great sinners till he made saints of them; and they are saints of his keeping, for they would soon be sinners again if he did not keep them. They are saints enlisted in his service, sworn to serve under his banner, to be faithful to him unto death. They are “saints of his” that is, they are saints whom he purchased with his precious blood, and whom he means to have as his for ever because he has bought them with so great a price. They are saints who shall be with him in that day when he shall appear with all his holy ones. Then, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his.” If God has made you holy, if you belong to Christ, and so are holy, let your heart sing; fling away your doubts, cast away your fears, forget your sorrows: “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his.”

     Further, these people who are spoken of in the text, the kind of people who ought to come to the communion-table, are God’s thankful saints. They “give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” The man who has no thanks to give ought not to be at the table of the Lord, for it is called the Eucharist, which signifies the giving of thanks. It is intended to be a giving of thanks from beginning to end. Jesus took the bread, and gave thanks; after the same manner also, he took the cup, and gave thanks. So, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks.” If we would come aright to the table of the Lord, we must be thankful saints.

     Then, lastly, they who come to the Lord’s table should be singing saints. “May not mourning saints come?” Oh, yes! come and welcome, but learn to sing. “May not weak and feeble saints come?” Oh, yes! but let them not remain weak and feeble. “May not groaning saints come?” Yes, they may come if they like; but groaning is out of place when you have your head on Christ’s bosom, and have his flesh and his blood to feed upon; it should stop all your groans and moans when you once begin to feast on him. I wish that more of God’s people would take to singing; I have known some few who were truly singing saints. I recollect quite an old gentleman in my very young days. The first thing he did, when he rose in the morning, was to sing a hymn while he was washing and dressing. When he came downstairs, the family knew by his singing that he was about. When he went into the street, he used to hum some little bit of a ditty, and the people laughed, and said that old Father So-and-so was always singing. You could never put the good old man out, for as soon as he finished one hymn he began another, and if anybody stopped him so that he could not sing, he only waited till he could start again, and all the while he kept going over it silently in his heart.

     We have not enough singing saints. The other Sunday morning, I noticed that there was a lifeboat crew over at the farther end of the Tabernacle, and one brother began saying “Amen!” as soon as ever I commenced to pray. Somebody stopped him, and I cannot say that I felt very sorry for my own sake and the congregation generally; but after the service was over, he and his mates said that they enjoyed the preaching, but what a dead lot of people we were here! He was a red-hot Methodist, accustomed to cry out, “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!” so he could not make you people out. One of our friends said to me, “If I had not said, ‘Hallelujah!’ the other Sunday morning, I must have burst altogether.” I like people to get into that condition; and if sometimes they should break the silence, and cry, “Glory I” why, it is better than that they should burst, at any rate! It is a great mercy that they do feel their hearts so full that they are ready to burst. People express their praise and delight spontaneously concerning far less things than the joys of God, and the privileges of his people; therefore, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” Now you must finish my sermon for me by standing up and singing, —

“All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall:
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown him Lord of all.”



Christ’s Love to His Spouse

By / Sep 5

Christ's Love to His Spouse

 

“Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”— Ephesians v. 25.

 

THE love of Jesus, — what a theme it is! The apostle said that it passeth knowledge; and if it passeth knowledge, much more doth it excel any description that can be given of it. The heart may feel it hotter than the tongue may speak it. If there is one subject more than another upon which I wish ever to speak, it is the love of Christ; but if there is one which quite baffles me, and makes me go back from this platform utterly ashamed of my poor feeble words, and of the tongue which has uttered them, it is this subject. This love of Christ is the most amazing thing under heaven, if not in heaven itself. How often have I said to you that, if I had heard that Christ pitied us, I could understand it. If I had heard that Christ had mercy upon us, I could comprehend it; but when it is written that he actually loves us, that is quite another and a much more extraordinary thing. Love betwixt mortal and mortal is quite natural and comprehensible; but love between the infinite God and us poor sinful finite creatures, though conceivable in one sense, is utterly inconceivable in another. Who can grasp such an idea? Who can fully understand it? Especially when it comes in this form, — “HE” capitals) “loved me, and gave himself for me,” —this is (read the it miracle in large of miracles.

     I feel the more embarrassed with my subject, at the very entrance upon it, because this love of Christ is here positively likened to the love of a husband to his wife, and is so likened to it as to be made the model of what the husband’s love to his wife should be: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” I should never have dared to draw the comparison, nor should any man have drawn it, but that the Holy Ghost himself moved the pen of Paul to write it; and this being the case, we shall not be intruding into the secret places of the Most High if we now enter upon the consideration of this wondrous theme. Verily, I may well say, as the apostle does in the thirty-second verse, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” It is a mystery, a subject far too deep for the mere intellect to dive into its depths, and too sacred for us to think or speak of except with utmost solemnity of heart How shall I order my speech in the presence of such a subject as this? How shall I be free and yet be guarded? How shall I take you to the edge of this great sea of truth, and even venture into it without getting at once out of my depth? “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church”: a parallel is drawn between poor mortals like ourselves who occupy the position of husbands and our glorious Lord who is God over all, blessed for ever. In boundless condescension, he deigns to occupy the same kind of place in reference to his church which he calls his bride, he himself being the Bridegroom who is soon to come. Again I say that I should never have thought of such a comparison had not the Holy Spirit himself put it before us, and invited us to consider it.

     So, dear friends, with great reverence, let us think, first, of how Christ loves the church; then, secondly, how he has proved his love by giving himself for the church; and then, thirdly, let us make the practical enquiry, how shall we think of this wondrous love of Christ?

     I. First, then, HOW DOES CHRIST LOVE HIS CHURCH?

     I cannot help beginning by saying that Christ loves his church specially. There would be no parallel whatever between the husband’s love to the wife and Christ’s love to the church if there were not a speciality about it. Christ is love itself; he is full of kindness and benevolence. In that sense, he loves all mankind; but that cannot be the meaning of the text, for it would be a very strange kind of exhortation to the husband if that were the case. No, the husband’s love to his spouse is something special and particular; and it stands quite alone, and all by itself. He will be kind and benevolent and generous towards all others, but that love which he lavishes upon his wife he must give to nobody else in the world. It is certainly so with our blessed Lord. Free and rich and overflowing in lovingkindness, yet he made a special choice of his people or ever the earth was; and having chosen because of his love, he loves because of his choice, and that love is a peculiar, special, remarkable, pre-eminent love such as he bestows upon none else of all the human race. It must be so, or else the passage would be all but immoral; certainly, it would be manifestly incorrect.

     There is, then, a special love which Christ has towards his own church, towards all believers, towards his chosen people, towards those whom his Father gave him, of whom he says, “They are mine.” I may invite each of you who are included in either of these descriptions to drink in the sweetness of that gracious text, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” That means, “I have loved thee with a special and peculiar and distinguishing love.” As many of us as believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are distinguished by the enjoyment of a love which is all our own. Dear follow-Christians, let us never forget this amazing love, and as Christ loves us so specially, let us feel that we are bound to love him specially. Let us give to him all our heart’s affection, for he is a jealous Saviour, and he will have our entire love; so let us render it to him, not of compulsion, but with a joyous willingness. Love dies in the presence of compulsion; it will wear no chains except its own silken fetters; but it flies, oh, how swiftly! on its own strong wings when once it perceives its beloved object. Christ loves his church, thon, specially, as good John Kent sings, —

“He loved the world of his elect,
With love surpassing thought;
Nor will his mercy e’er neglect
The souls so dearly bought.”

     And, next, I ask you to notice what is not always the case with regard to the husband and the wife, that the Lord Jesus loves his church unselfishly; that is to say, he never loved her for what she has, but what she is ; nay, I must go further than that, and say that he loved her, not so much for what she is, but what he makes her as the object of his love. He loves her not for what comes to him from her, or with her, but for what he is able to bestow upon her. His is the strongest love that over was, for he has loved uncomeliness till he has changed it into beauty; he has loved the sinner till he has made him a saint; he has loved the foul and filthy till he has washed them with water by the Word, and presented them unto himself without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. We love because of loveliness apprehended and perceived; but Christ loved because he would impart his own loveliness to the object of his choice. Even the best of men, doubtless, love in some measure from selfish motives; there is some mixture of self-interest in all human love, but Christ had nothing to gain by loving his church. He was very God of very God, the adored of angels, and the beloved of the Father; yet he fixed the eyes of his love— mark you, not of his pity, merely, but of his love, — upon those whom he had chosen out of the race of men. He loved them, not for anything that he could ever gain from them, for he had all things in himself, but because of what he would impart to them. They had nothing of good in themselves, and were only fit to be loved by Christ because, like empty vessels, their very emptiness fits them to be receivers of his fulness. In no other sense are we ever fit to be loved by Christ. As the sun chased the darkness away from the world, and still prevents it from going back into the darkness, so did Christ love a poor, fallen, darkened company of mortals, and loved them into light, and love, and joy, and still loves and enlightens them, and keeps them where they are. Oh, what a wondrous love is this! Let our souls rejoice and be glad therein.

     Further, brethren, as Christ’s love to his church is a love of choice, and of speciality, and of marvellous unselfishness, so I believe— although I do not understand how it can be so, — that it is a love of complacency. The husband’s love to his wife is not the love of a parent to a child, it is not the love of the philanthropist to the object of distress that he relieves; it is something very different from either of these forms of love. It may be that the husband confers benefits upon his wife as the result of his love, and he should do so; but still, the love of the husband to the wife puts them somehow on a level with one another. She has complacency in him, and he has complacent delight in her. If a husband only loved his wife with a feeling of pity towards her, with the notion of relieving her, and so forth, that would be a very poor kind of relationship; and though I speak with abated breath as I say it, I do believe that the blessed Lord Christ takes complacency in his people. That we should delight ourselves in him, is very easy to understand; but that he should delight himself in us, oh! the very thought of it is ravishing to my heart. Even in the Old Testament Scripture, our Lord said to his chosen, “Thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah,” that is, “My delight is in her.” Is it really so, that the infinite God takes delight in his chosen people? Here is another passage to confirm it: “My delights were with the sons of men.” Does Jesus find delight in men? Ay, that he does; and you know how he said to those who were the representatives of his church in his lifetime on earth, “I have called you friends,” and he did seem to find a solace in their company. Even when he had risen from the dead, and had no more work to do for their redemption, yet he came to them that he might enjoy their society. Poor, fallible, half-instructed men they were, yet he found his pleasure in them. He used to speak of them in this way, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren.” He is not ashamed to call us brethren; and in that rapturous Song of Songs, which is the very Holy of Holies of our blessed Bible, he does not hesitate to speak of his beloved as his spouse, and to use to her all those endearing terms which prove that he takes great delight in her.

     Think of it, my soul, that Jesus takes great delight in thee. He became a man, and it was not good even for such a man to be alone. He could not rest till he had found thee out, and had wooed and won thee. Wilt thou ever deny him thy company, wilt thou refuse him thy heart of hearts, wilt thou hide from him the secret of thy soul? If so, thou doest a grievous wrong to him who has deigned to stoop from the throne of his eternal glory to take delight in the company of his creature, man! I have looked abroad upon creation, and have seen all kinds of beautiful birds and intelligent beasts, yet have I never seen any towards which I would stoop to make them my intimate acquaintances, and marry them in the heart of my love. No, we would not stoop even that little distance; but we were infinitely below the Son of God, yet has he chosen us. He felt that he could link his destiny with ours, — I put it not too strongly, for that is what he has really done. He has become the Head of his body, the church; he has become the Husband of his chosen bride. He has, as it were, entered into the same boat with his people. He has made a household whereof we twain are the companion parts, himself the Husband, and his church the spouse. Oh, who shall tell it all out? I do but touch the surface of this boundless sea as with a swallow’s wing; happy are you if you dare to plunge into its depths.

     There is, then, between Christ and his church, to make a parallel between the love of the husband to his wife, a love of complacency.

     And being a love of complacency, in such a case as this, there is an intense love of sympathy. The true husband and wife are so united that they share each other’s joys and sorrows without making any effort to do so. It comes naturally to them, they cannot avoid it. And oh! let us tell out this great truth, the sympathy between Christ and his people is absolutely perfect. If he sees us in sorrow, he feels it at his heart. He was himself encompassed with infirmity, when he was here, and tempted in all points like as we are, that he might know all the trials of the church he loved; and now in heaven, as he has shared our sorrows, he decrees that we shall share his joys. He wishes us even now to let our hearts beat in sympathy with his triumph and his victory; I wish we would do so, why should we not? Our Husband is on the throne; then let us begin to reign with him. He has raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies; then let us have faith enough to claim what is really ours in him. Remember that quaint couplet of which good old Rowland Hill was so fond, and sing it yourself, —

“But this I do find, we two are so joined,
He’ll not be in glory, and leave me behind.”

Still better, recollect that word of power which fell from our Lord’s blessed lips while here below, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” He has a perfect sympathy with us, and we should have a like sympathy with him. Blessed be his dear name that he should ever have entered into such bonds of love as these with such poor creatures as we are!

     Nor is that all. While it is very blessed to know that Christ has this love of sympathy, he has, further, a love of communion. Without this, there could be no parallel with domestic life, which includes much of happy communion and loving conversation. A brother-minister said to me, the other day, when we were talking to one another about what the gospel has done for men, “Did you never think what a wonderful thing the gospel is, that it has made possible such happiness as you and I enjoy in our domestic relationships?” And of course I heartily responded to that remark, for if there is anything that is a miniature picture of heaven upon earth, it is a pair of Christians happily united, whose children grow up in the fear of the Lord, and render to them increased comfort and joy every day. Oh, how much some of us owe to the gospel for the happiness of our homes! There could, however, be no such happiness in married life if there were no conversation, no communion; and our Lord Jesus Christ so loves his church that he often converses with her. He so loves each one of his people that, if we are only willing to have it so, we may walk with him, and we may talk with him, and he will speak with us as a man speaketh with his friend. Oh, my brother, if thou dost not every day commune with Christ, whose fault is it? Not his, but thine; for he loves thee so that he would never let thee be away from him if thou wert not so wayward, and so easily turned aside by little things. Yes, he manifests himself unto us as he does not unto the world. I am not going to tell out here all that he says; all the ways in which he manifests himself to his people, we could not tell; but there are times of such real delight in fellowship with the Lord Jesus, that we can only say, with Dr. Watts, —

“My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away
To everlasting bliss.”

     The pith of all that I have said— and I have much more to say than time will permit, — is just this. It is an extraordinary thing that Christ has entered into positive unity with his people. Unity, mark you, for that is the essence of the marriage-bond. We are one with Christ, who made himself one with his people. Hast thou ever realized this, even thou who art the best-tutored of the children of God? Hast thou ever taken a firm hold of this great truth, and gripped it so that thou wilt not let it go? Come back to what I said a little while ago, that Christ has linked his destiny with thine, his honour with thine, his life with thine, his happiness with thine. Thou must be in heaven, or else he will be bereaved. Thou must be in heaven, or else he will be imperfect. Thou art a member of his body; and if he should lose one of his members, then his body would not be perfect, nor the Head either. Thou art joined unto the Lord, and thou art “one spirit” with him, and thou mayest bravely say, “Who shall separate us?” for such is this eternal union that there is no separation between Christ and the soul that is joined to him. “The Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.” In the olden times, the husband might give his wife a letter of divorce, and put her away; but God says that he hateth putting away, and he will never divorce those who are joined to him. What a marriage is this! Do you know, dear friend, what I am talking about? I cannot speak of it as I would, but it is true, and there is the wonder of it. It is no fiction, no myth, no mere figure of speech; but it is really so in deed and in truth. For this cause, Christ left his Father, and became one with his church, that henceforth they should no more be twain, but one; and now we who have believed in Christ Jesus are one with him in time and to eternity. His love has made it so, and we may paraphrase the words we read just now, and say, “Behold, what manner of love the Bridegroom hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the spouse of Christ!”

     I have but very imperfectly spoken upon this part of my subject, but I must not linger longer on this most delightful theme.

     II. I now ask you briefly to notice HOW THE LORD JESUS PROVED HIS LOVE TO HIS CHURCH: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”

     I will not at first restrict the meaning of this text to what is the real essence of it, but I will just observe that Christ gave himself for his church when he was born into the world, when he did not disdain the virgin’s womb, but was born of Mary, wrapped in swaddling bands, and laid in a manger. The angels have never ceased to wonder at this great mystery of godliness. The God who made the heavens and the earth, the God who upholdeth all things by the word of his power, lay as an infant in the manger of Bethlehem, because there could be no manifestation of his love to his people unless it could be said that they twain were one flesh. So he became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, most surely and truly man, with all the sinless infirmities of our nature, and liable even to death in order to be fully one with us. Oh, how really he gave himself for us when he thus became a babe, a child, a man!

     That being done, he gave all his life here on earth for us. He did nothing for himself; it was all for us, for his church. His whole life was for her righteousness, for her example, for her teaching, and for her quickening. He loved her with no view but the glory of the Father by the salvation of his chosen.

     Nor was that all; it was indeed but the beginning. Having given his Godhead by the assumption of our humanity, having given his life by spending it all for us, Christ gave himself up to death for our sins. He went up to the felon’s gibbet, the cross of Calvary, and there he gave his hands and feet to the nails, and his heart to the spear. Laying down his body for us, but at the same time laying down his soul and spirit, he suffered that dread doom of being forsaken of his God, so that he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There, when you see his pale body, like a withered lily broken at the stalk, — when you see the holy men and women wrapping him in spices, and laying him in Joseph’s tomb, — you understand how he loved us, and gave himself for us, dying in our stead, a propitiation and atonement for our sins. He loved us so as to die for us. He could not have died had he not become man; but being found in fashion as a man, and partaking of our human nature, it was possible for him to prove the utmost extent of his love by laying down his life for us. Oh, could you not kiss those dear cold feet? Do you not half wish that you could have been there to wrap him in the spices and fine linen, and to lay him in the grave? But remember that he now lives, our heavenly Lover lives. He has proved his love by giving up his life, but now he has his life back again, and he has gone home to his Father, he has gone back to the royalties he quitted, and put on again all the splendour which for a while he laid aside.

     Yet he does not love us any the less, for he gives himself for us still. He acts the part of Intercessor for his church. For Zion’s sake he doth not hold his peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake he doth not rest. Nor will he; he is crowned that his church may be crowned, he is enthroned that she too may come to the throne; and he will further prove his love by-and-by, for he has so given himself for us that he is bound to come again, to fetch home his affianced when she is prepared for him, and the heaven above is prepared for her. Then shall he come in all his glory, and she shall be brought unto him in raiment of needlework, in all the splendour of his righteousness, and for ever and ever shall there be nothing but joy and blessedness.

     What I am driving at, and what I want every Christian here to get at, is this thought. Whatever Jesus Christ is, — and you do not know half of what he is, even you who know most of him, — whatever Christ is in any relationship, or from any point of view, he has given himself to us. Not merely has he given his thoughts, and his actions, and his wisdom, and his power, and his wealth; but he has given himself to us. Oh, I do like to think of this! All that I can imagine Christ to be must still fall far short of himself. It is himself that we love, and I would sooner have Christ than have heaven. It is himself we love, and I would sooner have Christ than his crown. It is himself we love, and I would sooner have Christ than all the golden streets. It is himself that we love, and it is himself that belongs to us; not merely the sight of his eyes, but his eyes themselves; not only the love of his heart, but his heart itself. Himself, his Godhead, and his manhood, the complex person of the Christ of God, is given unto his church.

     I feel as if I do not know how to talk at all about this great truth. Some brother cried out this morning when I was speaking, and I noticed that somebody else immediately followed him; but oh! if ever there is a time for crying out, — and yet, on the other hand, if ever there is a time for being struck with silence, — it is when we get on this topic of Christ’s love to his people. I feel as if I wanted to run off this platform, and just get home, and shut to the door, and sit down, and weep to the praise of this mighty love; and then I should want to get up, and run back again, and say, “What a fool I was not to tell you all I could about it!” May God the Holy Ghost help you to realize it! That you are loved by anyone, is a joy; for love is a precious thing, whoever gives it. But you, believer, are loved by Christ; you are so loved by Christ as not merely to be espoused to him, but united to him in eternal wedlock. You are joined to him in such a way that you must, by-and-by, be with him in all the glory of his royal estate, for the King will bring his queen home, and he will bring you home to dwell with him for ever and ever.

     I am very sorry for those who do not know anything about this great love, I am truly sorry for you outsiders.

“His worth, if all the nations knew,
Sure the whole world would love him too.”

If they did but imagine the sweetness of the love of Christ, they would never give rest to their eyes until they had looked to him by faith, and so had learned it, and known it for themselves.

     III. Now, lastly, dear friends, if such be the love of Jesus, and the way in which he has proved it, HOW OUGHT WE TO THINK OF IT? I hardly need suggest to God’s people anything about this, for you know it already, your own hearts have outrun my words.

     How should we think of the love of Christ? Why, with deepest gratitude. Oh, how couldst thou love me, my Lord, thou whose eyes outshine the light of the morning? How couldst thou love me, thou who canst make the fairest of all things with a wish of thy heart? How couldst thou love me in whom there was nothing fair, nothing worthy of thy love? Yet I do bless thee for it. Do not all of you who love him say in your hearts, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name, that ever he should love me”? It is not his benefits that you have to think of just now, though they are innumerable. It is not his mercies that you have to think of at this moment, though they are immeasurable. But it is that he has loved you, and that he still loves you, and that he has given himself to you and for you. That is the point. Do you not bless him? Do you not feel as if you could lie at his feet, ah, and love the very dust he trod upon, when you think that ever he should love you? Very well, then, return to him your gratitude.

     But that is not half enough. The next thing is, render to him your obedience. Does not the Scripture say that the wife is to be obedient unto her husband? Well, in this case, shall we not prove our gratitude to Christ by a complete obedience to him? Is there anything that he commands you to do? Can you neglect it after such love as this? The least of his ordinances, will you not observe them? The smallest of his precepts, will you not regard them? Is there a word of his lips that you dare despise? Is there a wish that he has expressed in the Scriptures that you would fail to carry out? I hope not; such love as Christ has given to us ought to receive from us, without any exhortation, a complete and perfect obedience even to every jot and tittle as far as ever we can render it. I do not understand that love to Christ which makes men pick and choose, and say, “I shall not attend to that, for that is non-essential. I shall do this; I believe that it is wrong, but still, I daresay it does not matter much.” No, no, no! True wives act not so to their husbands; there is no wish of a loving husband which a loving wife would not regard. Nay, more, she anticipates his wishes, she delights to make him happy; and so should it be with my heart towards my Lord. I should be looking out for what I can do for him; I should be hunting high and low to find somewhat that would give him pleasure; and, above all, since he says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” my heart should answer, “Thy commandments are not grievous; it is my delight to do thy will, O my God and my Saviour.” That is the spirit in which to act towards Christ.

     Once more. There is a text which says, “Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.” I have sometimes thought that must be somewhat difficult for some wives to do. There has not been very much to reverence in their husbands; still, they are bound to do it as far as it is possible. In this case, there is everything to reverence in our Beloved; there is nothing about him but deserves our profoundest homage. Such an one as he, whose very name has music in it, whose very person is the delight of seraphim and cherubim, — he, the Christ, whom none can conceive of in all his fulness but the Father, — we must reverence him, and bow before him, and extol him. I grow angry, I confess it, when I hear some men speak of Christ. They talk of my Lord in these days as if he were some common person, and they have “comparative religions” in which they compare him with I know not whom. I love my Lord so well that I must boil over with indignation when his name is disparaged. Our hymn says, —

“Stand up, stand up for Jesus.”

It is almost too commonplace an expression in reference to him; still, what it means let us do; let us be ready, like the armed men who were about the bed of Solomon, to defend our King against all comers; for, if he loved us so much, we must love him in return.

     And what else shall we say? If such be the love of Christ, how shall we think of it but in a way of holiness? Let us seek to be like him; let us try to fulfil his will, that he may purify us, and sanctify us by the washing of water by the Word, that we may be holy as he who hath called us is holy. Let us think of this love by striving after sanctification; and let us think of this love, above all, by rendering to him now and as long as we live the full love of our heart. We cannot love him without being moved to love him more. We can love the more by thinking much of the person towards whom our hearts are drawn, so think much of my Lord, think of him every day. Get to be familiar with him. Read frequently the story of his life and death. Get alone as often as you can, and picture him before your eyes until you find your heart exclaiming, “I love thee, dearest Lord. Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” I find it a profitable form of devotion, sometimes, to sit quite still, and not say a word; but just only think of him. My heart has burned within me while doing that, and I believe that it is not lost or wasted time, but time most profitably spent, for I come forth from my chamber and feel, “Now I am ready for the service of life, or for its suffering, for I have seen the Well-beloved, and the glances of his countenance have charmed away my griefs, and prepared me to take up my cross, and follow him whithersoever he goeth.” Oh, love the Lord, ye his saints; and as long as ye live, love him more and more, love him to the very utmost, till you die of love! Blessed, for ever blessed be his holy name! Amen and Amen.