Jehovah’s Challenge

By / Dec 31

Jehovah’s Challenge

 

“Is there any thing too hard for me?” — Jeremiah xxxii. 27.

 

A TRUTH may be sincerely believed by us, and yet it may do us good to have it put in the form of a question. As I read the chapter, I called your attention to Jeremiah’s confident declaration to God, “There is nothing too hard for thee.” Yet in our text, which is only a few verses further on in the chapter, the Lord says to this same prophet, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” I think the explanation of this mystery is that we do not always thoroughly believe even all that we do truly believe. We may believe it so as to have no doubt upon it, but not so believe it as to be prepared to put it into practice. Jeremiah might say to the Lord, “There is nothing too hard for thee,” and he might be confident of the truth of his words; yet there might be, in the background, so much of mistrust, possibly imperceptible to himself, that it might be necessary for God to put the matter to him in the form of a question, and to say, even to believing Jeremiah, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” Ah! we little know what unbelievers we really are. The most of us are scarcely aware of what an awful amount of scepticism still lies lurking within our breasts, only waiting for the opportunity to show itself.

     Besides, dear friends, you must always remember that it is one thing to believe a general doctrine, but it is quite another thing to make a particular and personal application of it. Jeremiah believes that God can drive away the Chaldeans, and leave the land free for the use of its owners; but can he believe that the little plot of ground at Anathoth, for which he has just paid seventeen shekels of silver, will ever be worth the money it has cost him? I expect the devil began to inject doubts into his mind concerning that transaction by saying to him, “Can you trust God about that purchase of land?” So the Lord does not at once accept Jeremiah’s declaration when the prophet says, “There is nothing too hard for thee;” but he puts to him a direct question relating to that very point, “Is there any thing too hard for me!” Some of you think you could believe concerning the conversion of a nation; but do you never have doubts concerning the conversion of a perverse child? You believe in the peacefulness that is to reign during the millennium; but have you never had a doubt about the peace of your own domestic circle? You could trust God, you say, in a storm at sea; but can you trust him about that bad debt on your books? You could depend upon him, you say, in death and throughout eternity; but can you depend upon him about that trifling matter which just now is bothering you, and giving you so much vexation? Is there anything, great or small, that is too hard for God? That is the question I am going to try to answer. I throw down the challenge, in the name of the glorious God who said to Jeremiah, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” Now is your opportunity to bring up your hard things, your difficult things, your apparently impossible things, and to see how they are affected by this challenge of the Most High: “Is there any thing too hard for me?”

     In calling attention to this challenge of Jehovah, I ask you to remember, first, that the hardest conceivable things have already been done by God. Next, I will mention some of the hard things which remain to be done; and, lastly, since nothing is too hard for the Lord, I will try to answer the short and simple question, “What then?

     I. First, then, I want you to remember that THE HARDEST CONCEIVABLE THINGS HAVE ALREADY BEEN DONE BY GOD.

     Let us begin at the beginning, with God’s work of creation, as Jeremiah does in this very chapter; and we shall then say, with him, that Jehovah “made the heaven and the earth.” There was a time when there was nothing that had been created, and God dwelt alone. There was no raw material out of which to construct the universe; yet, when it pleased him to do so, everything was formed and fashioned by God out of nothing. What, then, can he not do after having done that? I ask you also to think what God afterwards did. At first, when he made the world, he left it for ages in an unfinished state, for “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void;” but, long afterwards, when he came to put it in order, and make it fit for man’s abode, and then to create man to have dominion over all the earth, who was with him to help him? “With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him?” With his own hand, he piled up the mountains, and digged the foundations of the great deep. His unaided power achieved it all. Everything was in darkness even after he had made it; but he spake, and said, “Light, be;” “and there was light.” Everything was in confusion and chaos, the earth and the waters were mingled together; but again he spake, and divided the land from the sea, and the clouds uprose to paint the sky, the rivers sought their bed, and old Ocean was girt about with his belt of sand. God did it all; but, even then, the world was dead, no life was anywhere to be seen. But again God spake; and, straightway, the earth was green with grass, and herbs, and trees; the waters teemed with fish; all kinds of birds began to fly in the open firmament of heaven; and multitudes of beasts ranged the plain. Then, last of all, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Now, whenever we doubt the power of God to do any tiling, let us read again the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, and then say, with Jeremiah, “Ah, Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee!” There is nothing which the Lord did not make, and he made it all unaided, and did it all alone, by his own unguided wisdom and skill. Therefore, one of the hardest things that ever could be done, was done by God when he accomplished his great work of creation.

     Now let us think of his work under a different aspect; that is, his work of destruction; and let any who doubt the power of God tremble as they hear or read how he has displayed it. Again and again has the Lord shown how easily he can rid himself of his adversaries, and shake them off, as Paul shook off the viper into the fire. Go far back in the history of the world, and note how all mankind had become corrupt; they who ought to have been holy, and separate from sinners, had mixed themselves with the ungodly; and on a certain day, when God’s patience had at last reached its limit, he spake, and down came torrents of rain, descending with tremendous power, and, at the same time, the sluices of the great deep were unlocked, and up leaped the fountains that till then had been sealed; and, very soon, over the whole earth there was one great sheet of water, for God had determined that he would destroy all flesh from off the face of the earth, save a “few, that is, eight souls,” whom he had housed within the ark. Terrible as the work of destruction must have been, it was done as God determined; and, after that, let none ever think that God cannot overcome his enemies. Let no one ever imagine that a warfare can be successfully waged against him. When he bares his arm for battle, his foes shall all flee before him like chaff before the wind, or they shall fall before him like the wheat falls before the reaper. He can create and he can destroy; in looking back upon what he has already done, we can see that he has accomplished inconceivably great and difficult things both in making and in unmaking. “Ah!” say you, perhaps, “these are sublime things, on an enormous scale.” Yes; but God is great on any scale, and almighty wherever you perceive the signs and tokens of his working.

     Think, next, of his work for the defence and deliverance of his chosen people. Read the Book of Exodus; you cannot too often read the wondrous story of how, when the children of Israel were few in Egypt, God nevertheless preserved them; and how, when they multiplied, and the cruel Pharaoh arose, and tried first to curb and then to crush them, God remembered his people, and determined to bring them out of the land of bondage. Moses and Aaron said to Pharaoh, “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go.” How that proud monarch bridled up when he heard those words! “Who is the Lord,” said he, “that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?” He soon knew who Jehovah was, for plague followed plague, till everything that Egypt had was smitten; and, last of all, God “smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham.” Then the oppressors opened wide their gates, and Egypt was glad when Israel departed. With a high hand, and an outstretched arm, the Lord brought forth his people; and when they came to the Red Sea, and the Egyptians pursued them, and the tyrant thought that he should surely destroy them, for the wilderness had shut them in, then the Lord divided the sea, and led his people through the depths in safety, “but the sea overwhelmed their enemies;” and on the farther shore, Miriam and the women joined in the jubilant refrain to the triumphant song of Moses and the Israelitish host, “Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.”

     Brethren, after this mighty act of Jehovah, you need never imagine that he cannot deliver his people. You need not suppose that a little church, or a little island, or a little nation, shall be domineered over by the proud ones of the earth. If God shall but repeat that ancient command, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm,” it will be a case of “Hands off” for the oppressors, however mighty they may be, and they will have to learn that they must not touch the elect of the Most High to do them harm.

     If you want another instance of God’s wonderful working, I remind you that harder things than we need to have done for us by God have been done by him in the work of his providence. Think how he led his people through the wilderness, and fed them for forty years, though all that time they never stirred a plough in the furrow, or gathered fruit from fig tree or from olive. A pathless desert was the highway of the millions who were his people. Heaven dropped with daily manna for them, and the smitten rock yielded a perennial stream to quench their thirst. When they craved flesh to eat, the Lord sent them feathered fowl innumerable. Their garments waxed not old upon them, neither did their feet swell for forty years in that great and terrible wilderness. When you think of all this, my poor brother, you may well say, “If God could do that great work, surely he can provide for my little family.” Of course, he can; the God who could, for forty years, feed three millions of people, who marched or halted with nothing but bare sand beneath them, can much more feed thee, O thou of little faith!

     All these are great things that God hath done; but I am going to take you into much greater depths than we have traversed yet, for all this is as nothing compared with what God has done in his great work of redemption. Creation is shorn of its glory; the terrors of God at the deluge may almost be forgotten; the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea may take quite a secondary place; and the leading of the people through the wilderness may be put quite in the background when I begin to tell the story of our redemption. This is the hardest thing, the most wonderful thing, God has ever done. His Son came down to live among men; he took on him a human form, and was born of the Virgin Mary, sheltered in a stable, cradled in a manger. This is such a miracle that all the other miracles I ever heard of seem commonplace affairs compared with this wonder of wonders, — that God should take upon himself the nature of man, and then, — more marvellous still, — take upon himself the sin of his people, and bear the awful load of their transgression, and all the burden of their punishment, and endure it even to the last pang, drinking up the cup of infinite justice to its dregs. Never was God so Godlike as when Jesus died upon the cross. Never was omnipotence so potent as when he died that men might live, crushing the old dragon as he bled, leading captivity captive while he was himself bound to the accursed tree, casting death into an eternal grave when he himself was laid in the sepulchre. I cannot adequately tell you the story of all these marvels; the very angels in heaven have been set a-wondering ever since that day, and they have been continually telling to one another, over and over again, the story of the God that loved and died, and by his love, and death, and living again, defeated Satan, conquered death, and led captivity captive for all his people. I feel more inclined to burst out with “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” than to say even a single syllable more concerning this greatest of all God’s works.

     Certainly, in what I have said, I have fully proved that the hardest conceivable things have already been done by God; and therefore, he may well ring out the challenge of our text, “Is there any thing too hard for me?”

     II. Now, secondly, I am going to mention SOME OF THE HARD THINGS WHICH REMAIN TO BE DONE.

     The hardest things have been done by God; what remains to be done? Look within you, look around you, find out all the difficult things that you need to have done for you, and then see how easy it is for the Lord to meet your every need. Some of the hard things relate to temporal matters. “It would be a great thing for God to deliver me out of all my troubles,” says one; “for I am sorely afflicted and tried.” But, really, my dear friend, after all that God has done, will you, can you, dare you think to yourself that he cannot deliver you? Are you his child? Do you love him? Do you trust him? Then, surely, you will not say that he will leave you, — that he will forsake you, — or that he cannot help you! I am certain that you would be ashamed to lead anybody to think that God could not deliver you; yet you have, perhaps, allowed the thought to creep into your own mind. Then drive it out at once; do not let it remain there a moment longer. God can help you, and in very simple ways, too.

     I have known him deliver his people in very extraordinary and unexpected, ways. There was a poor man, not long ago, who had no bread for his family, and they were almost starving. One of his children said to him, “Father, God sent bread to Elijah by ravens.” “Ah, yes!” he replied; “but God does not use birds in that way now.” He was a cobbler; and a short time after he spoke those words, there flew into his workshop a bird, which he saw was a rare one, so he caught it, and put it in a cage. A little later, a servant came in, and said to him, “Have you seen such-and-such a bird?” “Yes,” he answered, “it flew into my shop, so I caught it, and put it into a cage.” “It belongs to my mistress,” said the maid. “Well, then, take it,” he replied, and away she went. Perhaps you think that there was not anything very remarkable in that incident; but when the girl took the bird to her mistress, the lady sent her back to thank the cobbler for his care of her pet, and to give him half a sovereign; so, if the bird did not actually bring the bread and meat in its mouth, it was made the medium of feeding the hungry family although the father had doubted whether such a thing could happen. God has blessed ways of delivering his people if they will but trust him. I do not doubt, if this were the time for such testimony to be given, that every Christian here could tell some story of the way in which God has delivered in lime past. “Oh, yes!” says one, “I could, I know.” What, you? Yet you are the very one who doubts God’s power to deliver you. Cover your face for shame, and cry, “Lord, have mercy upon me, forgive my unbelief, and help thy poor child to trust thy fatherly care, and to know that thou wilt provide for me.”

     But, next, some of the hard things relate to spiritual matters. I fancy that I hear someone say, “I have a trouble which causes me more anxiety than the things you have just mentioned. I know that God can provide for me in temporal matters, but I have a very hard fight of it spiritually. I am tempted, first in one way, and then in another, till I sometimes fear that I shall not be able to hold out. Satan appears to know just where I am weakest, he shoots at the joints of my harness, and all his fiery darts seem to make an impression upon me, and sorely wound me. I shall one day fall by the hand of the enemy.” David said something very much like that; yet he did not perish by the hand of his enemy, King Saul; but he died in his bed, rejoicing in his God. And very likely it will be the same with you; at any rate, if you are trusting in Christ, you shall not be overcome, for greater is he that is for you than all that can be against you.

     Do you believe that you, a child of God, cannot be so helped by him that you shall be able to overcome any kind of sin? Surely you cannot believe anything so dishonouring to your Heavenly Father? If you do, I do not; I cannot tell how God’s mind comes into contact with man’s mind, but I know that it does, — that his Spirit comes into most intimate connection with our spirit, and so influences our spirit that the sin, which once seemed to fascinate and charm us, loses all its attractions and delights; and the doubts and fears, which for a while depress us, have by-and-by no depressing power whatever. You remember how Eliphaz said to Job, “At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh;” and God often helps his servants to laugh at those very things which before seemed great burdens to them. There is nothing in your spiritual case that is too hard for the Lord; so bring it before him in faith and prayer this very hour.

     I fancy that I can hear someone else saying, “But I am not God’s child; oh, how I wish that I could be! Alas! I am a great sinner.” What has been your sin, my friend? I do not want you to tell me; I only ask you what it was that you may tell it to yourself, and then answer the Lord’s question, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” If Christ had not died, it would have been useless to ask you that question; but since Jesus died, “the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God,” and since it is written, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” can there be any thing conceivable that is too hard for the Lord? There is no sin, which thou hast committed, which the blood of Christ cannot wash out if thou believest in him. Though thou wert even red with murder, and black with blasphemy, and covered from head to foot with the filthiness of lust, yet, on thy believing in Jesus, thou wilt be made, there and then, as white as snow. Free pardon for every kind of sin is proclaimed to every soul that will believe in Jesus Christ. “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men,” if they will only trust in Christ. So, in this sense, there is nothing too hard for the Lord, there is no sinner too guilty for the Lord to forgive when he trusts the Saviour’s sacrifice on Calvary.

     “Yes,” says another friend; “I can understand that I can have forgiveness; but this is a greater difficulty to me, I have been so long a transgressor of God’s law that I do not think I ever could conquer my sin.” No, I know that you could not, and I want you to be fully persuaded that you could not; and then, when you are perfectly convinced upon that point, let me ask you this question, “Is even this thing — this power of overcoming sin — too hard for the Lord? Your successful resistance is out of the question; you cannot accomplish anything in this great conflict, for you are nobody and nothing; but is the struggle too hard for the Lord?” It often happens that a man says, “Well, I know that I have been a great drunkard; drinking has been my besetting sin, but I can leave it off when I like, and become a sober man at once.” So he does, and he signs the pledge, and wears his blue ribbon; but, by-and-by, the colour of that ribbon ought to be ruby rather than blue, for the man has given way to strong drink again. The reason of his fall is that he cured himself, and so the disease came back again. But the drunkard who says, “I am afraid to trust myself, for this intemperance has got such a hold on me that I never can get out of its clutches by my own power; O God, deliver me! I trust thee to save me, I look to Jesus Christ to save me,” — he is the man who shall be helped, and he shall be more than a conqueror through the might of God. Let me assure you, my dear friend, that there is no form of sin from which you cannot be delivered by the grace of God. After many years of vice, — prolonged, continued, inveterate, horrible vice, — men have not only been reformed and reclaimed, but they have been renewed, sanctified, and made pure and holy.

     I wonder how you would have felt, if you had been visiting in certain of the South Sea Islands, and you had been sitting at the Lord’s table with some good old deacon, and then, after you had been eating and drinking with him at the communion, and had heard him pray and preach, somebody had whispered in your ear, “That man used to be a cannibal. He has murdered many.” “Oh!” you would say, “and has the grace of God changed such a lion as that into a lamb?” It would have struck you as a very remarkable illustration of the power of divine grace; yet there are, even in this Tabernacle to-night, cases that are quite as striking as that; if you could know all about them, you would agree with me that it is so. God’s grace can do marvellous things; it can change lions into lambs, ravens into doves, and sinners into saints; in fact, the proof of Christianity is the moral change which it is continually working in the minds and lives of men and women. Above all other miracles stands this one, — the miracle by which the dishonest are made just, the impure are made clean, and the disobedient are brought to the obedience of faith.

     Truly, there is no case that is too hard for the Lord. I suppose a good many of you never heard that “Satan” came into this place, one Sabbath, and was converted. “No,” you say, “surely that has never happened.” Yes, it has; I can vouch for the truth of the story. There was a sailor, who lived at Wivenhoe, in Essex, a man who was such a vile blasphemer, and who lived altogether such a disgraceful life, that the people called him “Old Satan.” When the ship in which “Satan” sailed came to London, a godly seaman, who was on the same vessel, persuaded the man to come to hear me. He was the more willing to do so because I once lived at Colchester, which is not far from Wivenhoe. As he heard the Word, the Lord touched “Old Satan’s” heart, and there was never before such a stir in Wivenhoe as when he went home, a converted man, to tell other sinners the power of the grace of God. If there is anybody here who might be called a very devil, let him come, and trust Christ, and he shall be saved straightway. Come along with you, poor slave of Satan. Leave your old master this very minute; do not give him even a moment’s notice, but speed away to the great Father’s house, and he will receive you, for he is expecting you; nay, more, it is he who is drawing you by his gracious Spirit, and it is his Son who has said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” God grant that many, who have been hard sinners, may come to Christ, and find in him eternal life!

     Once more, Jehovah’s challenge, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” contains a lesson for you who are trying to serve the Lord. I want you also to catch the meaning and the message of my text; — there is nothing too hard for God, so he can save the children in your Sunday-school class, he can bless the people of the district where you visit, he can help you to talk to that dying person whom you went to see yesterday. There is nothing too hard for the Lord, so he can bless you, city missionary, to that dark slum which gives you so much anxiety; he can bless you, dear friend, at that street corner where you scarcely get through a dozen sentences before you are interrupted. This question of Jehovah, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” seems to be like a rallying cry from God to urge all his followers to press on, like heroes, without a doubt about the victory. “Courage, my comrades,” said Mohammed to his troops, one day, when the battle was going against them; “I can hear the angels coming to our rescue.” There were no angels flying to help him, but they are ever coming to aid us, when we need them, for “are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” If we are truly trusting in the living God, he will surely send the heavenly principalities and powers to help us, so that, in our weakness, his strength shall be glorified, and sinners shall be saved. I can believe in the conversion of the Jews when I hear Jehovah’s challenge, “Is there any thing too hard for me?”

     I can believe in the spread of his gospel over the whole world when I hear him ask, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” I can believe in my Master setting up a kingdom that shall have no bounds, and no end, when I hear his royal enquiry, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” Very often, when we get among men and women, we seem to be surrounded by a lot of children playing with toys, for they bother, and hinder, and hamper us, and only increase our own helplessness; but when we get clear of them, and just look to God alone, then we seem to have elbow-room for our work. A thoroughly consecrated man can do something, by God’s grace, when he has got rid of the intolerable nuisance of having too many human helpers, who are often only hindrances, and who has not any other helper but his God. Oh, it is a blessed thing to be flung back upon the bare arm of omnipotence, — to be gloriously compelled to rest on God, and on God alone! May many of us know, by happy, personal experience, how blessed it is!

     III. I have done, dear friends, when I have, in the last place, very briefly answered a short and simple question. Since nothing is too hard for the Lord, WHAT THEN?

     I want that we, as a people, should be true to the very core to our blessed God; and, to that end, as there is nothing that is too hard for him, do let us trust him, all of us, whatever our trials or our difficulties may be. Let us have no sham faith, no pretended confidence, but real trust in a real God.

     Then, next, I want that we should act as if we trusted God. Do not let us waver, “for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”

     And, then, believing in God, let us always do what is right. Let us believe that, to do the right, is ever right; — that policy, that “hedging” a little, and doing what we call a slight wrong, can never be justified in the sight of God.

     Finally, let us live a life of love, a life of forgiveness and kindness, trusting that God will cause love to overcome human hate, and kindness to conquer all misrepresentation. Live in all respects so as to glorify God.

     Beloved in the Lord, who are one with us in Christ Jesus, do be out-and-out believers; and let your faith be as evident as the colour on a healthy cheek, that all men may see that the very life-blood of your spiritual being is your faith in God and in his Christ. What made brave Oliver Cromwell, in the days gone by, so terrible an enemy to all who loved not liberty and right? It was his faith; and he had gathered about him a band of men who also believed; and so, when the Ironsides marched to the fight, you might as well have hoped to stay the stars in their courses as to keep those men back from victory. And, to-day, what England needs is men of faith, whose watchword is, “The Lord of hosts!” and whose confidence it is that “with God all things are possible,” and also that “all things are possible to him that believeth.” May all of us be such believers, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.



Learning in Private what to Teach in Public

By / Dec 24

Learning in Private what to Teach in Public

 

“What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” — Matthew x. 27.

 

I HOPE that many who are now present long beyond everything else to be useful to their fellow-creatures. We do not want to go to heaven alone; we are most anxious to lead others to the Saviour. I remember a very remarkable telegram, which was sent from England, by a lady who had sailed from New York with all her children. She landed in England after being shipwrecked, but she had to send to her husband this brief but suggestive telegram, “Saved, — alone” Ah! that last sad word seemed as if it took almost all the sweetness out of the first one. “Saved alone.” May that never be what we shall have to say as we enter heaven; but may we have the privilege of saying, “Here am I, Father, and the children whom thou hast given me.” May it be my joy to be able to say, “Here am I and all my congregation, saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.”

     So we begin with the assurance that all of you who know the Lord want to be useful; but, if that is to be the case, preparation is necessary. You say that you are going out to battle, young man, do you? Well, do not be in such a hurry. You have no rifle or sword, you will be in the way of the other soldiers rather than an addition to them. Unless you are, first of all, properly trained, you will certainly make a failure of your soldiering. The man who jumps into the army is not a warrior all at once; there must be drill, there must be a certain course of training, before he can be of any service to the Queen. So is it with Christ’s disciples. He did not send them out to preach directly he called them from their former occupations; but he kept them with himself for a time till they had learned at least some of the lessons they were to impart to others; for how could they teach what they did not know? Can a thing which is not in a man come out of him? And if it has never been put into him, how can it be got out of him? So our Saviour in the words of our text, encouraged his disciples to proclaim, even upon the housetops, the gospel which he had revealed to them; but he also gave them to understand that, first of all, they had need of preparation before they would be qualified to deliver their message: “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.”

     I. I want, first, to speak to you, who desire to work for Jesus, concerning his own definition of. AN INVALUABLE PRIVILEGE FOR ALL CHRISTIANS: “What I tell you in darkness,” “what ye hear in the ear.”

     From our Lord’s words, I learn that it is the great privilege of Christians to realize, first, that Christ is still alive, and still with his people, still conversing with his chosen ones, still by his Divine Spirit speaking out of his very heart into the hearts of his true disciples. Christ was born an infant, but he is no infant now. Christ died, but he is not dead now. He is risen; he has gone up into his glory; he sits upon the throne of God; but, at the same time, by a very real spiritual presence he is with all his people, as he said to his disciples, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” And there is nothing that can so fit a man for holy service as to have Christ’s eyes looking into his eyes, and reading him through and through, and to have Christ’s pierced hand laid on his heart till the very impress of its wound is there reproduced, filling that heart with a loving grief for others. “Oh!” says one, “I think that I could speak for Christ if that should ever be true to me.” Ah! my friend, you will never speak aright until it is true to you. Not with those mortal eyes will you see him, but your heart shall behold him without any help from those dull optics. Not with your ears shall you hear his voice, but your heart shall attend to his message without the use of those poor impediments of ears. You shall know that he is with you, you shall be sure of it, for his life shall touch your life, his spirit shall flood and overflood your spirit; and then, but not till then, shall you be fit to speak in his name. That is the first part of this invaluable privilege, — we are permitted to realize our Lord’s presence with us personally.

     Next, we are enabled to feel Christ’s word as spoken to us: “I tell you.” The message of the gospel is applied by Christ directly and distinctly to our own soul. We do not look for any new revelation, but we do expect the old revelation to be made to our hearts and consciences in all its wondrous power. We expect that the words which Jesus spoke should ring in our souls with such music as they evoked when he first uttered them, and that we should, by the working of his Spirit, feel the force of those words just as they did who heard him with their outward ears; and we shall never fully preach the gospel till then. A man may go to College, he may learn all about the letter of Scripture, but he is no minister of God if he has not sat at Jesu’s feet, and learned of him; and when he has learned of him, and the truth has come home to his heart as his own personal possession given to him by Christ, then shall he speak with more than mortal power, but not till then. Step back into the rear rank, sir, if Christ has never spoken to you thus, and wait there until he has done so. If the Master has given you no message, do not run; what is the use of running if you have nothing to tell? Do you think that you are to make up your own message as you run? Ah! then, you are not Christ s servant, for his servant waits until he has heard the message from his Master, and then it is both his duty and his privilege to tell it out just as he has heard it: “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear,” — “I myself whispering it into your personal ear, that you may receive it direct from me, — this it is which you are to go and proclaim upon the housetops.”

     The text seems to imply that these communications are made to us again and again. There are some of us who are called to spend our whole lives in our Master’s service; and unless we are often alone with him, listening to the message he has for us to deliver, our streams will not continue to run. I thank God that, during the last few weeks, while I have been in the South of France, I have had a blessed period of privately hearing the word afresh from the Master. It has been a constant joy and delight to me to meditate again and again upon the truths which I have preached, to feed upon them in my own soul, and in quiet communion with God to be gathering spiritual stores of nourishment for you, of which, first of all, I had proved the power and preciousness to my own heart. I would earnestly urge all Christian workers to be sure to get some time alone for the prayerful study of the Word. The more of such time that you can get, the better will it be both for yourself and for others. You know that it is impossible for a sower of seed to be always scattering, and never gathering; the seed-basket must be filled again and again, or the sowing must come to an end. You cannot keep on distributing bread and fish to the multitude, as the disciples did, unless, every now and then, you go back to the Master, and say, “My Lord, I need more bread and more fish, for my supply is running short. Give me more, that I may give out more.”

     Make such occasions as often as you can. I am glad to see so many of you. my young friends, busy for the Master; but I pray you not to forget that it was Mary, who sat at the Master’s feet, of whom he said that she had chosen that good part which should not be taken away from her. It is well to be like Martha, busy on your Lord’s behalf; but you cannot do without Mary’s quiet meditation. You must have the contemplation as well as the activity, or else you will do mischief, and not really honour the Master. Suppose you see a carpenter, with a little hammer in his hand, go round the workshop, and gently tap a hundred nails on the head; you rightly say that he has not done any good at all. But here is another workman, with a good heavy hammer, and when he does hit a nail, he drives it home, and he does not leave it till he has driven it home, and clinched it, too. There is a way of seeming to be doing a great deal, and yet really doing nothing; and there is also a way of apparently doing but little, but then it is good solid work, thoroughly well done. Nobody can do this solid, permanent work, in a spiritual sense, without often getting alone with the Lord Jesus Christ.

     Avail yourselves also, dear friends, of those special opportunities which God makes for you to receive his messages. Sometimes he takes one of his servants, and puts him right away for a while. “Be thou silent,” says he, “and I will talk to thee.” Perhaps the Lord takes away the strength, the bodily vigour of his servant; there is the Christian woman, who longs to be going up and down her district, laid upon a sick bed; or there is the earnest, faithful Sunday-school teacher, no longer able to instruct his class. Yet it is in God’s wisdom that the nets are sometimes drawn out of the water, that there may be an opportunity to mend them, otherwise they would not always take the fish that are ready to be caught. It is true economy to let the cannon rest till it gets cool, or else there may be mischief done to the men who are firing it, instead of to the enemy; and all of us need rest, every now and then, if we are to be fitted for future service. Above all, we need often to go to Christ, to get from his hand a fresh stock of that gospel provision which we are afterwards to dispense to the people in his name. I pray you, who are seeking to serve the Saviour, to take good note of the advice I have been trying to give you.

     II. Now, secondly, this going to Christ, to hear the Word directly from him, is itself A MOST BLESSED PREPARATORY PROCESS FOR ALL CHRISTIAN WORKERS. Let me show you how it is so.

     First, if you get your message of mercy directly and distinctly from the living Christ, you will have truth in its personality, — living, acting, feeling, for he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The message will come to you with power because he uttered it, and you will therefore preach him as well as it. We do not want a misty, cloudy Christ — a sort of impalpable phantom, to comfort us; we want a real Christ, God and man, really among us, and really able to save unto the uttermost all them that come unto God by him. So, my dear brother, if you go to him for your message, you will be sure not to forget him. He will be real to you, and your teaching will make him real to other people. Some ministers preach very finely about Christ; but that which saves sinners is preaching Christ himself. He is our salvation, and we shall never put that salvation in tangible, graspable, real form unless we go to him, and get distinctly from himself the message we are to deliver on his behalf.

     By doing this, we shall also have truth in all its purity. You know that, when the light of the gospel shines through me, it takes a little tinge of colour from me, just as when it shone through Luther, there was a Lutheran shade about the truth; and when it shone through John Calvin, there was a Calvinistic tinge. Shining through any man, God's light will be tinged to a certain extent, just as it is when shining through the very best glass that was ever made. You had better get into the sunlight for yourself, so that you may have it in all its purity. I am of the mind of that man who said that the milk was so bad where he lived that he would move into the country, and keep a cow for himself. It is just so with the gospel; there is nothing like going to the Lord Jesus Christ himself as to the well-head of doctrine, and saying to him, “Master, what dost thou teach? What can I learn from thee?” Our unfailing rule is, — What did Jesus say about this or that? How did his Spirit speak by the apostles? It is that living with Christ, from day to day, which will give us the truth of God in all its purity.

     And it will also give us truth in its due proportions. We are all of us lopsided in one way or another. I suppose that there is not a pair of eyes in this world that is absolutely a pair. There is scarcely anything about us that is exactly as it ought to be; we are all of us somewhat wrong; and, hence, there is no man who teaches all truth in its exact proportions. One man sees the responsibility of man, and he preaches it; another sees the sovereignty of God, and he preaches that. Cannot we find a brother who preaches both those truths? Yes, no doubt we can; but, then, that brother will probably fail to see some other truth. If we knew all truths in their right proportions, we should be God rather than man, for we should practically possess omniscience. But to avoid giving undue prominence to any one truth, and casting another truth into the shade, the best remedy is to get your teaching direct from Christ himself. You think you see a certain doctrine in the Bible; well, then, take it to him who gave you the Bible, and say, “Blessed Lord Jesus, by thy Spirit, teach this doctrine to me. Let me know, by thy teaching, what this passage of Scripture means, for I am prepared to receive whatever thou dost impart to me.”

     If you do this, dear friends, you will get truth in its personality, truth in its purity, truth in its due proportions.

     And, let me add, that you will then get truth in its power. When the truth of God has broken your heart, and afterwards bound it up; when Christ has so spoken it to you that you have felt the power of it, then you will speak it as men should speak who are ambassadors for God. George Fox was called a Quaker because, when he preached, he often trembled and quaked. Was that folly on his part? Nay; for he had so felt the power of what he spoke that his very body was full of emotion while he delivered that truth to others. And well may you and I also tremble at the Word of the Lord. But, on the other hand, whenever that Word comes home with sweetness to the heart, you must often have noticed with what sweetness the man tells it out to others. There is nobody who can preach the gospel like the man who has experienced its power. You know that the tale of a tale, the report of a report, is a very poor thing; but when a man gets up, and says, concerning some notable event, “I was there, I saw it all,” then you listen to him. So, if you can say of Christ, “He is indeed precious, for he is precious to me; he can save, for he has saved me; he can comfort, and cheer, and gladden, for he has done all that to me,” — then you speak with power to others, because Christ has spoken with power to you.

     And there is something more than that. A man who receives the gospel distinctly from Christ will speak the truth in Christ’s spirit. Did you ever hear a man preach the gospel in a passion? You wonder at my question, yet such a thing has happened; but if you are present on such an occasion, you feel sure that the man did not get his message — or, at any rate, he did not get his manner — from his Master. The other day, I saw a man offer a bit of bread to a poor, lean, half-starved dog; the animal did not seem to care for bread, so he turned away; and, then, directly, the man was so angry with the creature because he would not have the bread that he threw a stone at him. There is a certain kind of preaching that is just like that; the minister seems to say, “You dogs of sinners, there is the gospel for you; will you have it? If you do not, I will throw a stone at you.” Well now, neither dogs nor men admire that sort of treatment; and, certainly, the Lord Jesus Christ never intended us to deliver his message in that kind of fashion. There are some, I believe, who preach the doctrines of grace very much as a dog of mine acts with his rug. When I go home to-night, he will bring it out, and drag it up to my feet, just because he wants me to try and take it away from him, that he may growl over it. So have I seen some people preach the doctrine of election, and other truths like it, as if they wanted some Arminian to try to run away with them, or have a fight over them. Now that is not the way which Christ teaches us to preach; he never bids us proclaim the gospel in such a way that we seem to want to make an Irish fight over it. No, no, no; go direct to Christ for truth, and you will preach it strongly, honestly, openly, positively, but you will always preach it with love.

     That is the plan I recommend to you, — the system of getting the gospel fresh from the mouth of Jesus, and then delivering it, as far as we can, in Jesus Christ’s tones and in Jesus Christ’s spirit. I can assure you, my dear friends, that we shall never know how Jesus preached till we hear him speak in our hearts, and then endeavour to imitate the tone of that speech which our inward ears have heard. Oh, to preach Christ in a Christly way, — to tell of mercy in the spirit of mercy, and to preach grace in a truly gracious way!

     Here is the time to say that, if you go to Christ for all the truth you preach, and if you proclaim it in his way, then you will preach it with what is called “unction.” Do you know what unction is? I do, but I cannot tell you. I can tell when a man has not any unction, and I can tell when he has; but I do not know exactly how to define and describe it, except by saying that it is a special anointing from the Spirit of God. There is an old Romish tale of a monk who had been the means of converting great numbers of persons; but, on a certain occasion, he was detained in his journey, and could not reach the congregation in time to conduct the service. The devil thought it was a fine opportunity for him to speak to the people, so, putting on the cowl of the monk, he went into the pulpit, and preached; according to the story, he preached about hell, — a subject with which he was well acquainted, — and the hearers listened very attentively. Before he finished his discourse, the holy man appeared, and made the devil disclose himself in his proper form. “Get you gone,” said he to Satan, “but however dared you preach the truth as you were doing when I came in?” “Oh!” replied Satan, “I did not mind preaching the truth, for there was no unction in it, so I knew that it could not do any hurt to my cause.” It was a curious legend, but there was a great truth at the bottom of it, — where there is no unction, it does not matter what we preach, or how we preach it. One of my friends behind me sometimes says to me, after the service, “I believe that God has been blessing the people, for there has been plenty of dew about.” That is what we want, that holy dew, which the Spirit of God so graciously bestows. You may preach to one congregation, but it is all in vain, for there is no dew about; but, at another time, it is sweet preaching and blessed hearing, because there is plenty of dew about; and the way to get that dew is by coming straight out of the Master’s presence, with the Master’s message ringing in your own car, to tell it out as nearly as possible as he has told it to you.

     Once more, this preparation for declaring the truth is very valuable, because it enables a man to have truth in its certainty. Concerning the truth of God, questions are continually being raised nowadays; many people ask, with Pilate, “What is truth?” Even preachers put that question. Why do they not hold their tongues until they know? Suppose a servant comes to the door to bring you the answer to a question which you have sent to her mistress. She begins to talk on all sorts of subjects, and you say to her, “Do you not know what the reply is from your mistress to my enquiry?” She says, “Well, to tell you the truth, I have not been to her to know what her reply is, but I am making up an answer myself.” Of course, you say to her, “I do not want to hear your answer; go to your mistress at once, and whatever message she has to send to me, kindly report it to me, for that is all I want to know.” So we say to the minister, “Tell us what your Master has told you; we don’t want to hear anything else.” If he says, “I think — er, I beg your pardon, I am very anxious not to appear dogmatical; but with great diffidence I submit to you,” you reply, “My dear sir, we want you to be dogmatical. If you have been to your Master, and he has given you a message for us, tell it to us; and if you have not been to him, and he has not told you anything to say on his behalf, then clear out of that pulpit, for you have no right to be there. Go and earn an honest living at breaking stones, or something of that sort.” An ambassador who is not commissioned by his sovereign had better be sent home by the first ship that is going that way. He who comes professedly as a messenger from God, and yet declares that, for the life of him, he does not know what God would have him preach, proclaims his own condemnation, and we say to him, “We cannot let our souls run the risk of being lost; so, if you have no message from Christ for us, we will not waste our time by listening to you.” Be sure, dear friends, to have as your minister a man who lives with God, and walks with God; a man who leans his head on the bosom of Jesus, and then comes forward and speaks what his Master has whispered right into his ear. Men are startled when they hear him; they say, “Who is this fellow? Where did he learn such things?” But, with awful earnestness, so that his hearers sometimes think him half-demented, he tells out what he feels that he must tell out because he has received it from his Lord and Master. He says, “That is the truth, whether you take it or leave it. I will preach to you nothing but what God has told me. I cannot and I dare not turn aside from what I believe to be his teaching.” Look at Martin Luther whom God raised up to speak so bravely for him. People said, “This man is so positive, so dogmatic;” but he could not be otherwise, his whole heart and soul were possessed by certain great truths, and he felt that he must proclaim them, whether men put him in prison, or dragged him away to the stake. And such a man, speaking after that fashion, shook the Vatican and the most powerful empires of the earth, and was the means of bringing light to multitudes who otherwise would have remained in darkness. In like manner as the Reformer did, get you to your Lord, my brother; get you to your Saviour, my sister; receive your message from him, and what he speaks privately into your ear, that tell you wherever you have the opportunity, but mind that you do not tell anything else.

     III. Now I must finish with THE CONSEQUENT PROCLAMATION: “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.”

     First, it has been told me in the ear, and whispered into my very soul, that there is pardon for the greatest guilt through faith in Jesus Christ, — that his precious blood, shed on Calvary’s cross, is able to cleanse from all sin of every kind, and that as many as believe in him are saved. “Their sins, which were many, are all forgiven.” I heard this said once, and I thought it was true; nay, I heard it many times from those who would not have said what was false. But, on a never-to-be-forgotten day, I myself looked to him who did hang upon the cross. It had been dark days with my spirit until then, and my burden had been exceedingly heavy; I was like a man who would have preferred to die rather than to live, and I might even have laid violent hands upon myself, in the hope of ending my misery, but that the dread of something worse after death did haunt me. I found neither rest nor respite until I heard one say, “Look unto Christ, and you shall be saved. Look, young man, look; for he says, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth;’” and there and then I did look unto him; and that my sins were at that moment forgiven me, I do know as surely as I know that I am standing here, and speaking to you. I might be made to doubt some things about which I feel tolerably certain; but I must absolutely lose my reason before I can ever doubt the fact that I then passed out of despair into something higher than hope, and rose from the very gates of hell into a joy that is with me, even now. Shall I not tell to others what the grace of God has done for me? Shall I not lay hold of every poor sinner’s hand, and say, “Look you to Christ, and you also shall be saved, even as I was”? Shall I not, from the very housetops, shout again and again, —

“There is life for a look at the Crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee”?

     Further, there is another thing that has been whispered in my ear. It is that, by faith in Christ, the ruling power of sin is immediately broken, and that every sin, of every kind, may be overcome by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. I heard one man laughing at another because he said that he had a clean heart. All, me! but that may have been true, for every man who believes in Christ has a clean heart. Are you nominally a Christian, and yet your Christianity does not make you holy? I implore you to throw such worthless Christianity to the dogs, for it is worse than useless to you. If your religion does not make you holy, it will damn you as surely as you are now alive. It is simply a painted pageantry to go to hell in; but it is not the true religion of the Lord Jesus Christ. He that believes in Christ shall be delivered from sin, he shall trample it under his feet; he may have a life-long battle with it, nay, I am sure he will have that, else Christ would never have taught his disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” When there is no more sin in us, we need not fear temptation; there is no risk of fire to the man who has no tinder in his heart. The Lord can keep his people, and he will preserve them. “He will keep the feet of his saints.” Brother, have you fallen into drunkenness? Faith in Christ can turn that cup bottom upwards for you. Are you a swearer? My Master can rinse your mouth out, so that you shall never speak in that shameful fashion any more, or even be tempted to do so, for I have known swearers cured in a moment, and the temptation to blaspheme has never come back to them. Have you been a thief, or a liar? Have you been a fornicator, or an adulterer? Are you unjust, unholy, and unclean? There is provision for washing sinners such as you are; there is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, and Christ can deliver you from the power as well as from the penalty of sin. Only trust him about it; come and rest your soul upon him. Oh! if there be a harlot here, or a man who has fallen into all sorts of gross sin, Christ can and will deliver you if you will only come and repose your heart’s trust in him.

     I cannot tell you all that I have had whispered into my ear, but I must mention one other thing that I know; it is that faith in Christ can save a man from every sort of fear in life and in death. Faith in Christ can make even trouble to be welcome, and affliction to be regarded as a gain. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can make poverty to be sweet, and sickness to be borne with patience. The ills of life are turned into blessings when once a man believes in Jesus, and fully trusts in him. I am not now saying what I alone know, but what a great many others here also know. There are hundreds — I might truthfully say thousands — here who can say the same as I can about these matters. Let me prove my assertion. You who have found that faith in Christ sweetens life to you, speak out, and say, “Yes.” Has Christ sweetened life to you who have believed in him? If so, say, “Yes.” [Many voices: “Yes.”] Of course you can say it, and you are not ashamed to say it over and over again; is he the joy of your heart? [Voices: “Yes.”] Has he made your very soul to leap within you when you have kept close to him? [Voices: “Yes.”] I knew that you would answer “Yes” to that question, for it is even so with you; there is a joy, which sometimes comes upon the Christian, and which I cannot attempt to describe, but it bears us right away above all physical pain, and everything that might depress the spirit; and the heart is made strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Oh, he is a precious Christ! Is there one person here who has trusted in Christ, who is willing to give him up? [Voices: “No.”] There is not one, I am sure. You hardly need to answer the question, for there never was one individual, who really knew Christ, who could give him up. They who leave him have only fancied that they knew him; they have never really trusted him.

     Possibly, dear friend, you are in trouble because you say that you feel afraid to die to-night. Well, but perhaps you are not going to die to-night; and, therefore, dying grace has not yet been given to you. But when the time comes for you to die, then very likely you will not feel the slightest fear. My brother said to me, the other day, when he had been seeing one of our members pass away, “Brother, we can say to one another what the two Wesleys said, ‘Our people die well.’” So they do; they often die shouting for very joy; and, at any rate, they go home peacefully, quietly welcoming the everlasting future and the glory that Christ has laid up for them. Oh, yes! we know that “to die is gain.” Some of us have been laid very low, and we have thought that we were about to die, and we have had the greatest joy then, — greater than we ever knew before in all our lives; and, therefore, we tell it out to others, and we mean to tell it out as long as we live. Salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus, is no dream, no fiction, let sceptics say what they will. Our experience — and we are as honest as they are, and no more fanatical than they are, — our experience agrees with what our Lord has revealed to us in his Word; and, therefore, when we preach the gospel, or relate what grace has done for us, we use Christ’s very words, and say, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” God grant that many of you may be able to bear similar testimony, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.



Neither Forsaken nor Forgotten

By / Nov 5

Neither Forsaken nor Forgotten

 

“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” — Isaiah xlix. 16.

 

You have probably noticed, dear friends, while reading the chapter from which our text is taken, that it seems to divide itself into two parts. The first portion concerns that glorious Servant of God, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” even our Divine Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is, in this part of the chapter, somewhat of complaint; Christ was, as it were, uttering one of his Gethsemane groans when he said, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with Jehovah, and my work with my God.” As far as our Lord’s personal ministry among the Jewish people was concerned, it did seem as if he had laboured in vain, for almost all of them rejected him, and they even imprecated an awful curse upon themselves and their descendants when they said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” He is here represented as crying out before Jehovah concerning this apparent failure of his earthly mission; and an answer is at once given to him which must have been eminently satisfactory to our Saviour’s spirit, for he adds, “Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God shall be my strength. And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Oh, what joy must have filled the heart of our Divine Master, even in the depths of his agony, as he saw that, through his death, all nations should ultimately behold the light of God’s salvation! What though Israel for a while rejected him? Yet multitudes of the Gentiles would receive him; and then, by-and-by, in the fulness of time, the Jews would also receive him, and own as King the Nazarene whom once they crucified on Calvary.

     The second part of the chapter, singularly enough, relates to the Israelitish Church, and, to a large extent, to the whole Church of God, and it also contains a complaint. In the expressive language of verse 13, God bids the heavens and the earth rejoice: “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for Jehovah hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.” Yet, even while that jubilant note is pealing over sea and land, there is heard the wailing of poor forsaken Zion, — Judaea’s Church, the ancient Church of the living God; and she sighs, “‘Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.’ He is blessing the Gentiles, but I am left unblessed. He is gathering multitudes unto himself, to glorify his Son; but his poor Israel, his ancient choice, his first love, he seems to have left out of all reckoning, ‘Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.’” Then comes the Lord’s answer, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” Israel shall yet own her King, her salvation waits for the appointed time. There is a high destiny in store for the Israel of God; and many shall yet see the day when he, who died as King of the Jews, shall live again to wear that title, and to be acknowledged as the head of all the house of Abraham.

     My object, in speaking upon the familiar and precious words of our text, is just this. Sometimes, you and I get into the same sad condition as Zion was then in, and we fancy that God has forgotten us, so I want to show you that, if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord gives to us an answer similar to that which he gave to sorrowful Zion, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” Upon that short sentence I shall try now to speak to you.

     I. First, let us think, for a while, upon THE FEAR EXPRESSED, the fear in the hearts of God’s people, which led to the utterance of our text. In verse 14, this fear is thus expressed, “Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”

     This fear has been felt by very many. Fear is a most contagious and infectious thing. When it has taken hold on one person, it has been often known to spread to many others till a terrible panic has resulted from a very slight cause. Here is the whole Jewish Church expressing the fear that God has forgotten her. I feel sure that I am not now addressing such a church as that; I hope that the most of those now present know that God has not forgotten them, and that they are walking in the light of his countenance so that they do not imagine that Jehovah has forsaken them. But, still, this fear has darkened, shall I say, every sky, and passed before the window of every spirit? Well, I will not go quite that length; yet I know that there must be but very few of us who have not, at one time or another, naughtily whispered to our own heart, if we have not said it aloud, “Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” We have gone up to the house of God with our brethren, and we have seen them very happy. The Word of God has been precious to them, and they have seemed to enjoy it to the full; but we could not feed upon it, or get a glimpse of the Well-beloved; and we have gone out of the place sighing, “Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” Have you never had that thought? If you never have, I hope you never will; but I fear that the most of us have, at some time or other, been subject to that distressing complaint.

     And it has sometimes been very plaintively expressed. It is so in the text. I think I hear the mountains echoing the joyous voice of God, and the very skies reverberating with the song of the redeemed; and then, in between the breaks of the glad chorus, I catch this little mournful note, “Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” Perhaps it is all the more plaintive because the tone seems to indicate that Zion felt that she deserved to have it so. She thought herself so insignificant, so sinful, so provoking, that it was no wonder that the great Jehovah should forget her in her littleness, and that the pure and holy God should turn away his face from such iniquity as hers. Brothers and sisters, I feel sure that you and I must have been in that state in which we could weep and groan and sigh because of the joy in the air of which we could not partake, the songs in which we could not unite unless we became utter hypocrites. We heard the sweet strains of the holy merriment in the Father’s house, but we felt that we could not join in it; and we sat by ourselves mourning, with our harps hanging on the willows, while everyone around us only increased our grief in proportion to his own delight. I am trying to speak to such troubled souls; God comfort them! There are many such, and their grief is great.

     And some, too, are very obstinate while they are in that condition, for our text contains a very unreasonable complaint. Head the latter part of the 13th verse: “Jehovah hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.” Yet, in the teeth of that double declaration, Zion said, “Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” Ah! dear friends, our complaints of God are generally groundless. We get into a state of mind in which we say, “God has forsaken us,” when he is really dealing with us more than he was wont to do. A child who is feeling the strokes of the rod is very foolish to say, “My father has forgotten me.” No; those very blows, under which he is smarting, are reminders that his father does not forget him; and your trials and your troubles, your depressions and your sorrows, are tokens that you are not forgotten of God. The chastening which is guaranteed to every legitimate son is coming to you. If you had not been chastened, there would have been far more cause for saying, “My Lord hath forgotten me.” Besides, dear friend, you have had some comforts though you have had many sorrows; you can say, “Comforts mingle with my sighs.” Do not forget that. It is not all gall and wormwood; there is so much honey as greatly to mitigate the bitterness. Think of that, and do not obstinately stand to a word which, perhaps, you spoke in haste. If you have said, “My Lord hath forgotten me,” call back the word, for it cannot be true. You have slandered him who can never forget one of his own people. And if you have said, “Jehovah hath forsaken me,” again I ask you to call back the evil and false word, and eat it. Never let it be heard again, for it is impossible that Jehovah should change, or that the immutable love of his infinite heart should ever die out. Be not obstinate about this matter, I implore you; yet I have known some of God’s people stick to this grave falsehood, to their own grievous wounding and hurt.

     I suppose that Zion came to this conclusion because she was in banishment. She was away from the land that flowed with milk and honey, and she was suffering in exile. Is this the conclusion to be drawn from all suffering? Does the vine say, “The vinedresser hath forsaken me because he prunes me so sharply”? Does the invalid say, “The physician hath forgotten me because he gives me such bitter medicine”? Shall the patient, beneath the knife, say, “The surgeon hath forsaken me because he cuts even to the bone”? You see at once that there is no reasonableness about such talk, so dismiss it at once. “Judge not the Lord” by outward providences, any more than “by feeble sense,” but trust him even when you can see no trace of his goodness to you. “Let God be true, and” every circumstance, as well as “every man, a liar;” for God must keep his promise to his people. He is immutable; he cannot possibly change. He must be true to every word that has gone forth out of his mouth. The fear that God may forsake and forget his own, if obstinately indulged, will certainly deserve to be set down among the wanton and unreasonable transgressions of his people against their gracious God.

     Yet I think that there is some measure of grace mingled with this fear. Let me read you this passage straight on: “Jehovah hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” She did not say that till God had visited her. “The Lord hath comforted his people.” He has brought them out of a yet lower depth that they were in, and they have been lifted up so high as now to want his presence, and to sigh for it. Beloved brother, you who are so deep down in the dungeon, I feel glad that you want to get out of it. There is, in your soul, a longing after God, is there not? There is a panting and a crying after peace with God, is there not? You are not satisfied as long as you even think that God has forsaken you, are you? Ah, then! this is the work of his Holy Spirit in your soul, making you long after the living God, so that there is some sign of grace even in that discontented moan of yours, for it proves that you cannot bear that God should forsake you. Now, if you belonged to the world, it would be nothing to you if the Lord did forsake you. If there were no grace in you, you would not care whether God forgot you or not; indeed, you might almost wish that he would forget you, and not visit you in his wrath. There is, therefore, some trace of his hand in your spirit, even now that you say, “Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”

     Besides, although the text is a word of complaint, it has also in it a word of faith: “my Lord.” Did you notice that? Zion calls Jehovah hers though she dreams that he has forsaken her. I do

love to see you keep the grip of your faith even when it seems to be illogical, — even if you fancy that the Lord hath forgotten and forsaken you. Though you fear that it is so, yet still say, “my Lord,” hold on to this assurance with a death-grip. If you cannot hold on with both hands, hold on with one; and if sometimes you can hold with neither hand, hold on with your teeth. Let Job’s resolve be yours: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. . . . Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God;” — “and every scattered grain of this my dust shall still confide in God.” Oh, for the faith that laughs at impossibilities, that leaps with joy between the very jaws of death itself, and sings in the very centre of the fire! Such a faith as that, whatever weakness there may be about it, brings glory to God. So I treasure up that little word “my.” There are only two letters in it, but they are fraught with untold hope to the man who can use them as Zion does here, “my Lord.”

     So much for the fear which the text is intended to meet.

     II. Now I come, as God shall help me, to speak concerning THE COMFORT BESTOWED: “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”

     This assurance is the Lord’s answer to Zion’s lament, “Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me;” so take it from God’s own mouth, and never doubt it. God’s remembrance of his people as a whole, and of each individual in particular, has been secured by him beyond all question. “That we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us,” he has said to each of us, “‘I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands,’ I have done it, and I have done that which will render it utterly impossible that I should ever forget one of my people. I the Lord have committed myself to something which will henceforth render it absolutely certain that I never can forget my own, for ‘I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.’”

     These words seem to say to us that God has already secured, beyond any possible hazard, his tender memory towards all his own. He has done this in such a way that forgetfulness can never occur at any moment whatsoever. The memorial is not set up in heaven, for then you might conceive that God could descend, and leave that memorial. It is not set up in any great public place in the universe, nor is it engraven in a signet ring upon God’s finger, for that might be taken off. It is not written upon the Almighty’s skirts, — to speak after the manner of men, — for he might disrobe himself for conflict; but he has put the token of his love where it cannot be laid aside, — on the palms of his hands. A man cannot leave his hands at home. If he has put something, by way of memorial, upon the walls of his house or the gates of his home, he may go away, and forget it. Or if, as I have said, he shall write the memorial upon some precious diamond, or topaz, or other jewels which he wears, yet he might lay them on one side. But God says, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands,” so that the memorial is constantly with him; yea, it is in God himself that the memorial of his people is fixed.

     I suppose the allusion is to an Oriental custom, possibly not very common, but still common enough to have survived to this day. Mr. John Anderson, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Helensburgh, who was a very dear friend of mine, told me that, on one or two occasions, he had seen, in the East, men who had the portraits of their friends, and others who had the initials of their friends, in the palms of their hands. I said to him, “But I suppose that, in time, they would wash off or wear out.” “No,” he said, “they were tattooed too deeply in to be removed, so that, whenever they opened their hand, there were the familiar initials, or some resemblance to the features of the beloved one, to keep him ever in remembrance.” And the Lord here adopts that ancient custom, and says, “I cannot forget thee; it is impossible for me to do so, for I have engraven thee where the memorial can never be apart from myself. ‘I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.’”

     Now, what is it, dear friends, that makes it so certain that God cannot forget his people? Well, first, God remembers his eternal love to his people, and his remembrance of them is constant because of that love. He says to each believing soul, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” The people of God were loved by him long before the world was created; he has loved them too long ever to forget them. “I have loved too long,” said one man, “to be turned aside by the blandishment of another.” We cannot imagine anything that could separate us from that dear heart to which our heart is knit even with a human love; while both of us shall live, the twain are indeed one. And God has loved us more than husbands love their wives, or fathers love their children, or brothers love their brothers. His love is like a great ocean of which all human love is but a drop of spray; and he has loved us so long, so well, so deeply, so unreservedly, that he cannot forget us. Even when any one of his people wanders from him, and grieves his heart, he says, “Yes, but I have loved thee with an everlasting love, and I will not cast thee off. Though all that thou now art might tend to wean me from thee, yet mine is not the love of yesterday, it is not a passion like that which flames within some men for a brief space, and then quickly goes out in darkness.” It is God’s eternal love that makes him keep us in memory. He has graven us, from all eternity, upon the palms of his hands, and therefore he cannot forget us.

     Next, God’s suffering love secures his memory of us. Well did we sing, just now, —

“The palms of my hands whilst I look on I see
The wounds I received when suffering for thee.”

Oh, how deeply the cruel gravers cut our names in Christ’s dear hands! Those nails that fastened him to the cross were the graving tools, and he leaned hard while the iron pierced through flesh, and nerve, and vein. Yet the graving of which our text speaks is more than that, for the Lord himself says, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” The sufferings of Christ for us were such that never, by any possibility, can he forget us. Since he has died for us, he will never cast us away. By his death, on Calvary’s cross, Christ ensured that all those for whom he died shall live with him in his kingdom as surely as he himself lives. He paid not in vain such a tremendous price; neither shall he lose any part of that which he has thus purchased for himself. What a blessed memorial, then, is not only God’s eternal love, but Christ’s suffering love! Yet again, by the expression, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands,” God seems to say, “I have done so much for you that I can never forget you.” God has actively wrought for his people in many ways, but I will only now mention what his Spirit has wrought in you; what a theme that is! And, from the fact that the Spirit of God has wrought so much in us, we derive the satisfaction that he will never forget us. A man does not forget the work of his own hands, especially if it is something very choice. I remember that, in the siege of Paris, a great artist hid away a grand picture which was then but partly finished. Did he forget to go to Paris when it had its liberty, and to seek out his painting? Assuredly not; he remembered the work of his own hands, and back he went to draw it out, and put the finishing touches to it. So, God has done too much for us for him ever to lose us. Has he not created us anew in Christ Jesus, and given his Spirit to dwell within us? Then, surely, he will never turn away from work so costly, so divine; but he will complete it to his own praise and glory.

     But, once more, when a memorial is engraven on a man’s hand, then it is connected with the man’s life. While he lives, that memorial is a part of his life. So is it with God. He has linked his people with his life. Our Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” The union between your incarnate God and yourself is a thing which is so complete that your life is intertwisted with his life. Christ and you have become one fabric. To tear you away would be to destroy him. “Your life is hid with Christ in God;” and until Christ himself shall die, his people shall not die. Oh, think of this wondrous mystery! The ever-blessed Son of God is bound up in the bundle of life with all his people.

     This I take to be the meaning of the Lord’s words, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” I cannot go deeper into this blessed subject; but I pray God to take you deeper, for there is a great depth here.

     III. Now, beloved, I turn to the third head of my discourse, upon which I will be very brief. We have had a fear expressed, and a comfort bestowed; now, here is AN INSPECTION INVITED. “Behold,” says Jehovah, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”

     Come, then. “Behold.” Look for yourselves. There is God the Father; did you say that he had forsaken you? But how can that be? Behold, and see. He is your Father if you are trusting in his Son, Jesus Christ. Do you forget, do you forsake your own children? Tell me. You had a boy, who well-nigh broke your heart. He went away, and you were sadly glad when he went, for he had so grieved you that you thought it better that he should be out of sight. But have you forgotten him? Suppose he came back to-night. ’Tis years now since he left you without your blessing. Mother, you have never heard from him. Father, no tidings of your boy ever come to you. But if, when you went home to-night, there should be a big fellow sitting by the fireside, — not your boy any longer, and yet your own long-lost son, — after the first surprise, and after you had seen that it was your son, tell me, mother, would you turn him out of doors for all his ingratitude to you? Father, what would you do, first of all? I know what I should do if it were my case; I should fondly kiss that cheek, and bless God that I had lived to see my son again, whatever he might have been, and however much he might have grieved me. If you, then, being evil, neither forget nor forsake your children, will your Father who is in heaven forget you? Behold, and see if it is possible. God the everlasting Father does so intensely love, so infinitely love his own children, that it must never be dreamt for a moment that it is possible for him to forget any one of them.

     Come now, and look again. Behold, by faith, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity in Unity, Jesus, the Lamb of God. Look at him on the cross; oh, what griefs he there bore for his people! Take down the blessed body — (you can scarcely bear to handle it), and help to wrap it in its linen cloths, and lay it in the tomb. Why did he suffer thus? Why did he die? For his own loved ones; then, can he ever forget them? Is it possible? After all that agony, can Jesus forget? Oh, no! Our children may forget us; but the mother remembers how she suffered for the child, and she loves it for the very pangs she endured in its birth. She knows the struggles of her widowhood to find bread for the child, — how she starved herself to satisfy its hunger. Oh, what agony and self-denial some parents have suffered for their children; but these make them all the dearer, and render it all the more impossible that they should ever forget them. Well, then, remembering all this, look into the face of your Saviour, who died for you, and will you dare to say that he can possibly forget you? It cannot be; he has graven you upon the palms of his hands, and he will never forget or forsake you.

     Then think, also, of that dear and blessed Spirit of God, who has come into your heart, and striven with you when you resisted him, and at last won the day; and, since then, has helped your infirmities, checked your hastiness, aroused you from your sloth, and been everything to you that he could be; and do you think that, after all this, he will ever forget or forsake you? Oh, if he had meant to cast you away, he has had many opportunities when he might have done so. Surely, he would never have come to dwell in such a hovel as your fallen nature is if he had not intended to transform it, and make it into a pure alabaster palace wherein the living God might dwell. “Behold,” says the Lord. That is, look into this great truth; look deeply into it, and then say to yourself. “My fears of being forgotten or forsaken are all gone, for I am graven upon the palms of his hands.”

     IV. So I close by referring very briefly to the last point, which is this, A RETURN SUGGESTED.

     I want, brothers and sisters, to speak in a very homely and familiar way to each one of you; and, at the same time, to be speaking to myself as well as to you.

     Does Christ remember us as I have tried to prove that he does? Then, let us remember him. To that end he ordained that blessed supper to which many of us are coming presently, — the eating of the bread, and the drinking of the cup in memory of him. “This do ye in remembrance of me.” Now try to forget everything but your Lord and Saviour. Pass an act of oblivion on all your cares, and troubles, and sorrows; and only look at him as though, like a mysterious stranger, he stood at the pew door, and leaned over you, and you seemed to feel his shadow falling upon you. Now think of him, for he is very near you, and you are very near to him.

     And, brethren, let us not only remember him at his table, but let us remember him constantly. Let us, as it were, carry his name upon the palms of our hands; let us ask God to help us always to think of Jesus, — never to forget him, but to have the memory of him intertwisted with our very breathing, with the pulsing of our blood, till our whole nature, like a bell, shall ring out but one note, and that shall be love to Jesus, and our heart shall be like Anacreon’s harp, of which he said that he wished to sing of the deeds of Cadmus, but his heart and his harp resounded love alone. Oh, for the love of Christ to be the one all-engrossing, all-absorbing theme of our entire being, till we truly say to Christ, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”

     And, brothers, let us remember Christ practically. We ought so to wear Christ on our hands that whatever we touch should be thereby Christianized. I have heard of the “christening” of babies, that is an idle superstition, and a perversion of Christ’s ordinance of believers’ baptism; but I believe in the Christ-ening of everything a Christian touches. Make it all Christlike by doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, as the apostle Paul says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Thus engrave his name upon the palms of your hands.

     And, so brethren, let the name of Christ, and your memory of it, become vital to you. Not with a broad phylactery, not with the borders of your garments enlarged, not with outward signs and tokens of which some think a good deal too much in these days, — for true religion consists not in a dress of this cut or that, nor does it lie in boasting, like Pharisees, what we are, sounding our own praise at the corners of the streets that all may know it and observe; — but true religion lies in this, that we cannot live without Christ, that our ordinary life becomes uplifted by the Christ who dwells within us, till every meal is a sacrament, every garment is a vestment, every place is an altar, and the whole world a temple in which we are kings and priests because God has made us so. Unto this may we each of us come, and come now!

     If any of you have not yet believed in Jesus, oh, how I wish you would! As I am going away for a while, I shall not be able to speak personally to you for some time to come; but I hope that those, whom my voice has failed to influence, may be reached by some other servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall occupy this pulpit to speak to you in my absence. Oh, that you all knew my Lord! There is none like him. His bonds are freedom; his service is rest; to die for him, is life; to live for him, is heaven. God bring you to him. and fasten you to him for ever! Amen, and Amen.



A Sincere Summary, and a Searching Scrutiny

By / Oct 29

A Sincere Summary, and a Searching Scrutiny

 

“I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.” — Psalm cxix. 168.
“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” — Psalm cxix. 176.

 

IF anyone says that these two texts contradict one another, I say that they do not. They form a paradox, and they are both true, and true of the same man, at the same time. I will read them to you again: “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.” “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”

     I purpose to take our first text as a sincere summary of a godly man’s life, and our second text as a searching scrutiny, or as the result of a searching scrutiny, which looks below the surface, and then comes to a conclusion, not contradictory to the former one, yet supplementary to it.

     I. First, then, dear friends, our first text is A SINCERE SUMMARY OF A GODLY MAN’S LIFE. Looking back, he can say of it in general, “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.”

     First, let me say that it is needful that we should have so lived that this shall he the summary of our life; for if we have not so lived, what evidence have we that we have been born again, — that we have passed from death unto life, — that we have been delivered from the bondage of sin, and brought into the way of holiness? If our life is not different from what it used to be, how can we try to deceive ourselves with the idea that we are converted? If our lives are no better than the lives of unregenerate men, what reason can we have for believing that we are regenerate? After all, at the last, we shall be judged according to our works. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is a test that still stands good, and will stand good even to the end. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” And, in looking back, if our life has been ungodly, — if it has been wanton and unchaste, — if it has not been characterized by sobriety, honesty, prayerfulness, consecration, what can we say of it? We shall have to judge ourselves to be still “out of the way,” and to have need that we should turn to God with full purpose of heart, and seek what, evidently, we have not at present found. If the grace which we are supposed to have received has not made us to differ both from our former self and from men of the world, then it is not the true grace of God.

     Next, whenever a man can truly say, with the psalmist, “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies,” it is a fruit of grace. It is not a product of the legal spirit; it is not a result of free will unhelped by God’s grace and love. Wherever there is even a spark of holiness, it must have come from that great central fire which is in the heart of God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” There is not on earth a rare flower of loveliness and purity which is not an exotic; it is blooming in a clime to which it is a stranger. God has planted it with his own right hand.

     So, then, he who can thus sum up his life has nothing whereof to glory, for he has received from God everything of good there is in it, and therefore he gives all the glory of it to the Giver, and takes none of it to himself. It is faith that works by love, purifying the soul, and producing the devout and godly character; and faith never claims any honour for itself, for it is itself the gift of God. Christ says much in praise of faith because faith says so much in praise of Christ; and faith is used, in the covenant of grace, as a means of blessing, because it excludes boasting, and gives all the glory to God, who works all that is good within us. So, you see, dear friends, that there is nothing of legality in what I am saying now when I testify that a godly, Christian man, when he sums up his life, can say, “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies.”  

     Next, this summary of life is excellent for its breadth. Notice how it is worded; it comprehends the precepts and the testimonies of the Lord; that is, the practical and the doctrinal parts of true religion. There are some persons who appear to be very scrupulous concerning the precepts, and they are very anxious to keep them. So far, they do well; but as to the doctrines of grace, they say, “We do not know much about them,” and they appear to think that it is not at all necessary that they should know about them. A very large part of God’s Word, which teaches most precious truth, they slur. They think that it does not matter to them. Should they not believe according to the denomination in which they were born or brought up? They say that there is no particular necessity for them to be so diligent in searching and knowing the Word. The psalmist thought not so, but he said to the Lord, “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies.” I feel that I am as much bound to believe right as to act right; and it is just as truly a sin to believe error, when I can learn the truth, as it is to commit iniquity. We are responsible to God for the use we make of our understandings, as well as for the exercise of our affections. There is nothing in the Word of God to justify men in believing what they like, and anyone who neglects to search out the truth commits a sin of omission. He who holds an error, which he might see to be an error if he looked in the mirror of God’s Word, is guilty of rebellion against the teaching of God. If we would live a life such as we can look back upon with pleasure, we ought to try to keep the testimonies as well as the precepts of the Lord.

     I have met with some people, who used to be more numerous than they are now, who were very strenuous about the doctrines of grace. If anybody differed from their view of the doctrines, they at once said that he was unsound. I should hardly like to repeat the hard things they used to say about such a person; but, certainly, to be sound in the truth was the grand thing with them. And I do not condemn them for that, but I do blame them because, sometimes, practical preaching seemed irksome to them, and the enforcement of the precepts of the Word made them wrathful; they could not endure it. You could tickle their palates, and delight them with a good strong sermon on the doctrines of grace; but when you came to insist upon holy walking, they would turn upon their heel, and say that the preacher was “legal.” Now, inasmuch as I before said that, to neglect God’s testimonies, is an evil, so I add that, to neglect the precepts, is an equal evil. Be thou, O man of God, as earnest to do the right as to believe the right; and, on the other hand, as earnest to believe the right as to do the right! Thy whole nature should be subject to God. He is to be thy Teacher as well as thy Law-giver. Wilt thou not sit at the feet of Jesus, like Mary did, to learn of him, as well as rise up, like Martha did, to serve him? If thou wilt not, then thou givest to him a lame and limping obedience. “The legs of the lame are not equal,” and thine obedience is lame, since the legs of it are not equal. There is a long doctrine and a short obedience; or a long precept and a short doctrine. Be it not so with thee, O man of God, if thou wouldst look back upon a well-ordered life! Happy shall that man be who can say, “Ever since that glad day when I was brought as a penitent to my Master’s feet, I have studiously endeavoured to do what he has bidden me do, and I have just as earnestly shunned and turned away from everything which I have known to be sin. I praise the Lord that he has helped me to keep my garments unspotted from the world.” But if he would be a complete Christian, he must be able to add, “I have also striven to believe all that is taught in the Word of God. I have not given myself up blindly to be led by priest or minister. I felt that God had given me a conscience for which I was responsible, not to my fellow-men, but to him; so I have gone to the law and to the testimony, testing everything by that infallible standard. I have not sat down in idleness, taking things for granted because they were preached with brilliant oratory; but, like the Bereans, I have searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so or not.” Ah, beloved! it will make a soft pillow for your head if, in the retrospect of life, you can say, “I have made the law of God, in its teachings and in its commands, to be the rule of my whole life.” God grant that you may have that satisfaction at the last!

     Further, dear friends, this summary is excellent for its length, as well as for its breadth, for here the man of God says, “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies.” I do not know how long the psalmist had kept them, but it seems to me natural that he should make this summary towards the close of his life. I pray that it may be so with us when we come to die. I have known the greyheaded old man — how well I knew him, and how greatly I loved him, for I mean my venerable grandfather, — who, when he was dying, could say, “That which I preached when I first entered the pulpit I have preached to the last. For fifty and eight years, to the best of my knowledge I have preached nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. I have nothing to retract of the testimony which I have given, for what the Spirit of God taught me, that have I taught to others.” And he could equally have said at the last, “I have, as a father, trained my children in God’s fear, and they are all following in my footsteps. I have, as a pastor, watched over my flock with sedulous care. I have set them an example which they can safely follow; and there is no man who can truthfully lay a charge against me, for in all uprightness and integrity have I walked before God.” Mark you, this dear old man was a Calvinist, an out-and-out preacher of free grace, who would not for a moment take the slightest credit to himself for anything that he was, or had done; yet he could not have said less than this unless he had pretended to possess a modesty which was not true, and mimicked a humility which was based on falsehood. In like manner, may we be kept, by the grace of God, clear of all trusting in our works; but, at the same time, may we abound in good works to the glory of God, and both in thought and in life, may we be clear in the sight of God. Oh! how I have envied that first Quaker, George Fox, who, with all the eccentricities of his life, could honestly say, on his death-bed, “I am clear, I am clear, I am clear of the blood of all men.” This is the highest ambition that a minister’s heart may indulge, — that he should be able to say that at the last, as other men of God have been able to do.

     So, you see, this is a blessed summary as to length as well as breadth.

     Above all things, it is excellent from its cause. Notice how the psalmist says to the Lord, “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies.” That is what the true man of God still says, “I followed the precept because it was God’s precept. I did not care whether a Church or a Council of any sort had set its stamp upon it. It was God’s precept, and that was enough for me. And I believed the doctrine because it was his testimony. It might not be the testimony of any Reformer, or Confessor, but it was enough for me that it was God’s testimony.” That should be the reason for our conviction and our action also.

     The psalmist kept God’s precepts and testimonies because all his ways were before God. He felt that God was watching him, he lived under the consciousness of God’s presence with him both by night and by day; and, therefore, he dared not believe anything contrary to God’s truth, or act contrary to God’s command. “Thou God seest me” either held him in check or else impelled him onward. This is the way for us also to live. Dear friends, I pray that you may live thus.

     I think the psalmist also meant, when he said that all his ways were before God, that they were under God’s smile of approval. He not only observed, but he communed with and commended his servant. Another psalmist, or perhaps the writer of these words which form our text, said, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living;” and Enoch might have said, “I have walked with God from day to day. Communion with him has been my continual delight, and all my ways have been before him.” The Book of Psalms begins thus: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” His ways are ever before God, and he has respect unto the law of the Lord evermore.

     Such a life as that, dear friends, is excellent from its use. It is sure to be a life of happiness, even though it should bring on persecution. It is certain also to be a useful life. It is an example which your children, and your children’s children may safely follow. It is an argument for the gospel which the most sceptical cannot refute, and it is a most blessed way of propagating that gospel, for men are more often convinced by our actions than by our words. Seek after it, dear friends, and let your lives be such that you may close them with the words of my first text: “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.”

     II. Now let us pause a moment, and observe that the psalmist, after he had spoken thus, and spoken quite sincerely and truly, yet felt that he must close his long life’s summary in another fashion. He then uttered our second text, which I called a SEARCHING SCRUTINY: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”

     His life was perfect, after the manner of Scriptural perfection, but when it was carefully examined and scrutinized, it was found to be manifestly imperfect. Suppose you take a needle, one of the very best that has ever been made; — any seamstress would be glad to use it. She would never think of sending a packet of such needles back, and saying that they were not good. They are bright, untarnished, sharp, smooth, all that they should be, quite perfect needles. But just put one of them under a microscope, — I have done so, — and then see what it is like. Why, now, it is a bar of steel, — rough and ugly-looking, tending towards a point at one end, but certainly very blunt. That is just the difference between the microscopic examination and the ordinary observation of our poor eyes. So, the life of a believer may be like that of Job, “perfect and upright,” but when it comes under the scrutiny of an eye that is illuminated by the Spirit of God, and touched with the heavenly eye-salve, quite another verdict is given; and, tremblingly, with many tears, the confession is poured into the ear of God, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep followed by the petition, “Seek thy servant;” and the renewed declaration, “for I do not forget thy commandments.”

     Here is, first, a confession of imperfection and of helplessness. It means really a continual imperfection and helplessness, for the Hebrew verb relates not only to the past, but to the present. It might just as well be read, “I am still going astray like a lost sheep;” indeed, it must be so read, for the psalmist goes on to say, “Seek thy servant.” He would not have offered such a prayer if his confession had only related to something that was at an end. There is, here, not only imperfection, and the tendency to a continuous imperfection, but there is also an acknowledgment of helplessness. The psalmist does not say, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep, but I can return when I please.” No; he prays to the Lord, “Seek thy servant,” as if the only help for him lay in the search which the great Shepherd would make, and the consequent restoration which would come by his gracious and powerful hand.

     Let us just think for a little while, and then I feel sure that we shall soon say that we must confess to God as the psalmist did. I mean that each one of those here present who have led godly lives will still have to say to the Lord, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” Think first of God’s precepts. Have we never gone astray in heart from any one of them? Suppose you never have departed from them in life, — which is a very charitable supposition, — have you never in heart felt the precepts to be hard? Had you been really perfect, it would have been easy, it would have been natural to you to keep them. Have you not sometimes had to whip yourself up to a duty? The need of being whipped up to it proves that evil is still remaining within you. Then, have you never forgotten a precept? Lives there a man who has carried out all the precepts of God without forgetting any one of them? I would like to see the brother who has done so; but such a brother I never expect to see.

     I think that, with the most of us, it is thus. There is a certain duty, and we try to do it with all our hearts; but, meanwhile, we forget another duty which is just as binding upon us as the first was. We look right on, and so we overlook the duties that lie on the right hand and on the left. The very intensity which makes us earnest about one thing often prevents our attending to another thing which is equally important, and thus we present to God one duty stained with the blood of another. I have known a father, in aiming at being firm with his children, err by being too severe; and far oftener have I known others, intent upon being kind to their children, who have grown like Eli, and have winked at their sin. That is but one instance among thousands of the evil I am deploring. A man may say, “I shall rebuke So-and-so for his fault;” but he does it too sharply, and therein he errs. Or, afraid of being too severe, he says nothing, and therein he errs. Did you ever, in all your life, do any one thing so well that it could not possibly have been done better? The difference between the good there was in what you did, and the good there might have been in it, is just so much of deficiency; and sin is any want of conformity to perfection. Whether you fall short of the mark or go over the line, matters little; in either case, you have missed the perfection God demands. If you do not reach his standard, you have not yet attained to perfect holiness, and there is still something of sin to confess.

     The precepts of the Lord are so broad that they touch the secret imagination of the heart. Is there a man living who never has an unclean desire? “I fought against it,” says one. I know you did; but the very desire was sinful. Or, if it has not come to a desire, was there never an impure imagination that crossed your mind? “Yes, it just flitted across my mind,” you say. Well, in proportion as you yielded to it, in that proportion it was a guilty thing. Ay, — I must say it, — if even a dream has had anything of sin in it, and you have been complacent over it, it detects the sin that is within you, for were you really perfect, even the very passing thought, though it were but as a bird of the air that flew above your head, would still, by casting a shadow over your spirit, cause you vexation and sorrow. Keep that microscope close at hand, and it need not have very strong lenses either; only look fairly into your own life, first, by the light of the law of God, and, secondly, by the light of your obligations to Christ who hath redeemed you with his precious blood, and then I feel sure that you will have to say, “I fall short oven of my own ideal, and I am persuaded that my ideal falls very far short of what God’s ideal of perfection is.”

     Has it not often struck you, dear friends, as a very wonderful thing that good men — some of the best of men who have ever lived — have nevertheless been guilty of things which, at the present moment, we regard as heinous crimes? Mr. Whitefield had a strong objection to slavery, but still it did not seem to him to be wrong to have a number of negroes at the orphan house at Savannah, and to speak of them as his goods and chattels. That was a matter about which the conscience of the good man was not then enlightened. We do ill if we condemn men too strongly for things about which no enlightenment has come to them; but are they not themselves guilty in the sight of God? Of course, they are. There are men, nowadays, carrying on trades that are doing mischief and only mischief to the populace, but they are not aware of the evil, their conscience is not enlightened about it.

     To take another line of thought, suppose a man is worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and all the while there are millions of people abroad perishing for lack of the gospel; and, often, the great deficiency of the Missionary Societies is not in the men, but in the means to send out the preachers of the gospel. Is that man right, before the living God, who says, “I am not my own, for I am bought with a price, and all that I am and have belongs to Christ,” and yet who nevertheless remains immensely rich, — rich beyond anything that he or his children after him can ever want? Yet, possibly, his conscience is not enlightened about that matter, and it is no very great crime in his judgment; neither may you and I condemn him, for our own conscience is probably quite as much in the dark upon something else. But whenever anybody, who is very rich, gets up, and says, “I am a perfect man,” I feel inclined to say what Christ said to the young man who thought that he was perfect, “Sell all that thou hast.” Somebody asks, perhaps, “Does Christ propose that test to every one of us?” No, certainly not; but to any of us who say that we are perfect, that test may be applied. If you are such a perfect man, see if you can do as our Lord said, sell all that you have, and give the proceeds to the poor. I have known a man sing—

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

but, all the while, he has been trying to feel whether it was a threepenny-piece or a fourpenny-piece that he was going to give to the collection.

     As I begin to think of these various things which I have mentioned, — just casting, as it were, a little ray of light upon them, not the great light of the eternal purity of God, — I cannot understand how there can be any man, even though he has kept God’s precepts and testimonies as far as he could, who, nevertheless, is not bound to say, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.”

     But, further, suppose it to be possible that we have not gone astray from the precepts of the Lord, how about his testimonies? Is any man here prepared to say, “I feel that I have, in every respect, believed the truth as it is revealed in God’s Word, and that I have never erred from it”? Do you believe all the truth, and all the truth in its right proportions and relations? And do you give due emphasis to each truth at the right moment? Have you never believed that which afterwards you found to be incorrect and false? Possibly, you have not wilfully done this; but have you done it at all? Think of Augustine, that mighty master and teacher in the Church of God, sitting down in his old age, and writing his “Confessions.” Alas! even he found that he had plenty of things to confess and to amend; and it must be so with us too. The very man who can say, “In the main, I have preached the same things all through my ministry;” yet, nevertheless, adds, “I preached them as far as I knew them, but I did not know them at the first as I learned them afterwards. I did not know this truth in relation to that truth; and I sometimes misrepresented God in my very zeal to give a correct statement, and I slew one truth in my defence of another.” Ah, friends! we are all so fallible; nay, more than that, we do all so sadly fail, in one way or another, that we must meekly bow our head, and each one say, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” I am afraid that I might have put this matter much more strongly than I have ventured to lay it before you, and still have been within the mark; but there I leave it, as I want to speak upon one more point.

     In that prayer of the psalmist, “Seek thy servant,” I discern conscious faith in the divine power. He seems to say, “Lord, I am as silly as a sheep; but if I were only a sheep, I could not pray. I am a servant, too,‘thy servant.’ It is my joy, it is my glory, to be thy servant. Now, Lord, because I am thy servant, seek me. Do not lose me, Lord. Thou hast bought me with thy blood. I am seeking thee, Lord; so, come thou, and seek me. I want to be perfectly holy, come and help me now. Forgive every sin of omission or of commission. Draw me away from every mistake. Draw me nearer, and yet nearer to thyself. ‘Seek thy servant.’” Perhaps you are ill, or even dying; well, living or dying, this prayer may still suit you: “Seek me, Lord, ‘seek thy servant.’”

     Then, lastly, comes in that sweet reflection, “For I do not forget thy commandments.” “I have a love to them, I have a longing for them, and I am sure that this never grew in my heart by nature. It is the gift of thy grace; and, because thou hast put it there, Lord, and thou hast begun to work in me, finish thy work, I pray thee. Lord, thou hast made me long to be quit of every false way; therefore, deliver me from it. Thou hast made me wish to be transparent and sincere, thou hast made me hungry and thirsty to be like thyself, then wilt thou not satisfy the craving thou hast thyself imparted?

“‘The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.’

“If I hold an error, yet thou knowest that I wish not to hold it. Show me that it is an error, and I will have done with it at once. And if I am acting in good faith in a wrong way, Lord, do thou but let me see that it is wrong, and, cost what it may, I will do the right, and cease from the evil.”

     This is a blessed way in which to close our life, but there is a more blessed thing still, and that is, after all is said and done, and after God’s grace has been praised for everything that is lovely and of good repute that it has wrought in us, then to cast bad works and good works all away, and just look to the cross, and to the cross alone, and see our life in Jesus death, our healing in his wounds, our glory in his shame, our heaven in his anguish. Look, saint! Look now. Sinner, you may do the same. Where the saint’s salvation is, there is yours too. And if the greybeard, hoary with years of honour and of virtue, gathering up his feet in the bed, knows no better or brighter hope than that of being justified through the righteousness of Christ and washed in his blood, it is a joy to know that the same hope is free to you, guilty ones, who have not kept the precepts or the testimonies of God. Turn you to Christ on Calvary; cast your eyes on him who, like the brazen serpent, is lifted up that every sin-bitten one may look unto him, and live. Oh, by his grace, look unto him now, and you shall live, for never soul looked to him, and died while looking there.

     God bless you, dear friends, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



Pride Catechized

By / Oct 19

Pride Catechized

 

“Should it be according to thy mind; he will recompense it, whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose; and not I: therefore speak what thou knowest.” — Job xxxiv. 33.

 

DEAR friends, it is never wise to dispute with God. Let a man strive with his fellow, but not with his Maker. If we must discuss any point, let it be with imperfect beings like ourselves, but not with the infallible and infinitely wise God; for, in most of our discussions, these questions will come back to us, “Should it be according to thy mind? Art thou master? Is everyone to be subordinate to thee?”

     I am going to speak, this evening, to those who have a quarrel with God concerning the way of salvation. They are very unwise not to take salvation just as God brings it to them; but they do not. They have some difficulty or other, so they raise a dispute, and they have been, perhaps for years, cavilling at the Saviour whose infinite goodness has provided a way of salvation exactly adapted to their needs. I am going to use Elihu’s words, and apply them to their case.

     I. To begin at the beginning, here is, first, A QUESTION: “Should it be according to thy mind?” You say that you are willing to find mercy, and that you are very teachable; but you object to the plan of salvation as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

     First, then, what is it to which you object? Do you object to the very basis of the plan, namely, that God will forgive sin through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his Son? I know that some do object to this; they cannot bear to hear about atonement by blood, or justification by imputed righteousness. Others, who will not say that they object to atonement, spirit away the very meaning of it. They cannot endure that glorious doctrine of substitution which is such a joy to us. Christ standing in the sinner’s stead, and the sinner then standing in the place of Christ, — Christ taking: the sinner’s sin, and the sinner wearing Christ’s righteousness, — all this they absolutely reject. “No doubt Christ did something for sinners,” they say; but they cannot define what he did; and, as for the sin of any man being actually put away by Christ being punished in the room and place and stead of the ungodly sinner, they will not believe it.

     Yet, that is God’s plan of salvation, and some of us know, in our inmost hearts, that we never had peace until we accepted that plan of salvation; and that now, if it should be taken away from us, we should lose all the joy of existence, and should go back to the despair which, at one time, was so heavy upon us that we could sympathize with Job when he said, “My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.” We could better afford that the sun should be quenched, that the moon should be darkened, that all springs should be dried, that the very air itself should disappear, — we could better afford to die, and rot in our graves, than that we should lose our Saviour, and his atoning blood, and justifying righteousness. Whatever you, Mr. Objector, may say about it, we say to you, “Should it be according to thy mind?” Would you have Christ to die, and yet not really secure salvation by his death? Could you invent a better plan, or even one half as good, —

“So just to God, so safe for man,” —

so consolatory to a wounded conscience, so constraining to gratitude when that conscience has been pacified? Would you, could you, propose anything one thousandth part as good as God’s plan of salvation? Even if you could, “should it be according to thy mind?” Who are you, a guilty sinner, to despise the Saviour’s blood? If you had your deserts, you would years ago have been in the lowest pit of hell; will you set aside the cross of Christ, and seek to put something else in the place of the crucified Redeemer?

     But, possibly, you do not object to the doctrine of substitution, but your objection is to the way of salvation by faith. “I don’t like that doctrine of justification by faith,” says one, “for I am sure that, when it is preached, people will begin to think that there is no virtue in good works, and that they may live as they like.” I have often heard such a remark as yours, my friend, but experience is dead against you. Whenever justification by faith has been uppermost in the preaching, the morals of the people have been purest, and their spirituality has been brightest. But whenever the preachers have extolled the works and ceremonies of the law, or the Arminianism which brings in something of trust in works, or human power, it is most certain that there has been a declension in point of morals, while religion itself has seemed almost ready to expire. You may go to those who preach up salvation by works to hear them talk, but you had better not go to see how they live, whereas those who preach justification by faith can boldly point to the multitudes who have accepted this truth, and whose godly lives prove the sanctifying power of the doctrine.

     But if you object to this doctrine, how would you like to have it altered? “Oh, well! I would like to have some good feelings put in with faith.” And how, then, would any man be saved? Can he command his own feelings? Those feelings come naturally enough after faith; but, if they be demanded without faith, how will they ever be presented to God? Besides, feelings would claim some credit if they were thus joined with faith. A man would be able to boast that he had felt his way to heaven, and he would have the same self-congratulatory spirit which we see in those who trust in works and ceremonies; and thus Christ would be robbed of his glory as the sinner’s Saviour. Man would put his dirty hand upon the crown, and place it upon his own head; but that must never be the case. You shall be saved if you trust the Saviour; but if you do not like that way of salvation, you never can be saved. Why should the plan of salvation be changed for you? Is God to be tied down to act only as you please? Is he to alter his gospel to suit the fancies of rebellious men? That must not be. There is no mistake about this matter: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him;” and our Lord himself said, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” That is the only message for him if he continues in his unbelief; and it shall not be altered to suit the mind of any man that lives.

     “Oh, but!” say some, “we object to the requirements of the gospel, especially to that verse where Christ says, ‘Ye must be born again.’ Where is the need of that? We were christened when we were children; we were confirmed as we grew older; we have taken the sacrament; but we do not agree with that hard saying, ‘Ye must be born again.’” They will not walk with Christ if he insists upon that condition.

     Moreover, he requires the giving up of all known sin, the hating of all sin, and the objector says, “But may I not retain my one darling sin? May I not keep my pet evil? I will give up all else, but that one I must have.” And when men are told that, wherever Christ comes, he makes a radical change, he casts out Satan and all his imps, drives them out by main force, and takes complete possession of the soul, — they bar the door of their heart against the Saviour, for they do not want such strong measures as his in their case.

     Well, sirs, as you say that Christ’s requirements are not according to your mind, what would you like them to be? Do you wish to be allowed to continue taking what you call your little drop, which is powerful enough to make you reel across the street? Then there is somebody over yonder who would like to keep his adulteries, and another who would like to keep his petty thefts, and another who would like to keep on with his swearing, and another who would like to retain his covetousness, so that he could still grind the poor to powder, and make money by crushing them. What sin is there, in the whole world, that would be put to death if men were left to pick and choose the Agag which each one wished to save? No; Christ came to save his people from their sins, — not in them; and it is essential to salvation that sin should be repented of, and, being repented of, should be renounced, and that, by the help of God, we should lead a new life, under a new Master, serving from a new motive, because the grace of God has renewed our spirit.

     “Should it be according to thy mind?” No, certainly not; for, putting all reasons into one, it is not the slightest use for you to make any objection to the gospel, for you will be lost if you do not accept it just as it is revealed in the Scriptures. Christ will never alter the gospel one jot or tittle — not the cross of a “t” or the dot of an “i” — to please the biggest man that lives. “Oh! but, really, I am a man of education; am I to be saved in the same way as the man who does not know A from B?” Precisely; there is no other way of salvation for you. There is not one gate for Doctors of Divinity and another for the poor and ignorant. “But I am a person of good character, a matronly woman; am I to be saved just in the same way as a Magdalene?” Precisely the same; there is no other Saviour for you than the one in whom Mary Magdalene delighted and trusted. “But, sir, you do not surely mean to say that all these street Arabs are to go to heaven in the same way as a man who has kept shop, and been respectable, all his life?” Yes, I do; all must go in exactly the same road. Queens and chimneysweeps must enter heaven by the same gate, or not enter at all. There is but one name given among men whereby we must be saved; there is no other Saviour but Christ Jesus the Lord; he suits every class of persons, big sinners and little ones, if there are any little sinners anywhere. All must come to Christ, and at his feet confess their sin, for God’s plan cannot be altered for anyone. My dear sir, we are not going to have any enlargement, or rather, any mystification, of the plan of salvation to suit your profound mind. There will be no golden handles put to the doors of heaven to suit you, my lord, with all your wealth and pride. Nay, nay, nay; come to Christ, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and he will give you rest; but there is no other way of obtaining rest of heart and conscience.

     I have thus tried to mention a few of the objections which men make to God’s plan of salvation. Now let me ask two or three questions. First, should not God have his way? Is it not intolerable that you and I should raise objections at all when the mercy of God, if it ever comes to us, is a pure gift of charity? God may well say to us, “Shall I not do as I will with mine own?” There is no man living who has any absolute right to receive anything from God except destruction. That terrible doom we have all merited, but nothing beyond that. If we were shut up in prison, and kept upon dry bread, so long as we were out of hell, we should still be under obligation to God. If the Lord should choose to show mercy to only one man in the world, he has a perfect right to do so; if he chooses to give it to a few, or if he chooses to give it to all, he has the right to do so. He is absolutely sovereign, and these are the words that he would have every one of us to hear and to heed: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” The crown rights of the King of kings must never be assailed; for us beggars to turn choosers, and to dictate to God what he shall give to us; — for us condemned criminals to begin to make bargains with God as to how he shall preserve our lives, if he chooses to do so, — oh, this will never do! You know, dear friends, that when we give even a trifling charity, we like to do it in our own way. I remember that, one Christmas-time, a certain gentleman had given away a quantity of meat to many poor people; he had been so generous that he had given away all he had. The next morning, a woman came to him, bringing back the piece of meat which she had received, which was meant for boiling, and she said she wanted to have a piece for roasting. There was none left for changing, so she had to take what had been given to her, or go without any at all. You are quite sure that, the next year, that woman’s name was put down among the first to have a Christmas gift, are you not? On the contrary, the gentleman said, “She will not be troubled, next year, either with a boiling piece or a roasting piece from me; I will take good care of that.” I think it was quite natural that he should say so, for our common proverb regards it as ingratitude when we “look a gift horse in the mouth.” When anything comes to us entirely as a gift, it is not for us to cavil at it, but to accept it; and this is specially true of God’s great gift of salvation. O Lord, if thou wilt but save me, save me anyhow! If I may be delivered from this accursed sin of mine, and made pure and holy, do it, Lord, after thine own gracious fashion! It is not for me to suggest any plan to thee, but to leave myself entirely in thy hands, and to let it be according to thy mind.

     Further, is not God’s way the best? The mind of God is so infinitely great, and good, and wise, that it cannot be supposed that, even if he left the plan of salvation to our option, we could choose anything half as good as what he decrees and appoints. Should he, for a single moment, hold his sovereignty in abeyance, and allow us to be kings and princes on our own account, what follies we should perpetrate! We should choose a way of salvation that would not honour God, nor destroy evil, nor even be good for our own selves. Some people would like a heaven into which they could enter without being born again; but what kind of heaven would that be? Some would like to have joy and peace without believing in Christ. Some would like to have eternal felicity, and yet indulge their lusts. This would be an evil of the most awful kind. It is better that sin should bring to man infinite sorrow than that it should be linked with eternal enjoyment. The mischief of it is that it does get linked with enjoyment for a while by foolish men, who forget what must come afterwards; but God has never joined these two things together, it is only wicked men who have pretended to celebrate this unholy marriage. God proclaims a perpetual separation between sin and happiness, and it is well that it should be so.

     Now, to conclude this first part of our subject, suppose the plan of salvation should be according to any human mind, whose mind is to decide what it shall be? Yours? Nay, mine. And another says, “No, mine.” Our proverb rightly says, “Many men, many minds;” and if we were to have salvation arranged according to the mind of each one of us, there would be a pretty quarrel before we left this place. You say, friend, that it is to be according to your mind; but why not according to your neighbour’s mind? If man’s mind were to decide it, what should we have? Why, you would all contradict each other, and there would be no plan of salvation at all if God did not settle it once for all.

     Then, besides, should it be according to your mind to-day? “Yes,” you say, “I have made up my mind” But you will take your mind to pieces to-morrow, — what little there is of it, — and then you will put it together again the next day, and say, “I have made up my mind; I am a man of mind, you know.” Ah, yes! we know you, sir. There is a certain tribe of people about, nowadays, who call themselves “men of culture,” and they sneer at everybody who does not go in for that kind of boasting. If they were really men of mind, they would never talk like that, for the man who has the most culture generally has enough to be a little modest, and not to brag about what he is. Well, then, if salvation is to be according to man’s mind, whose mind is to decide it, and on what day, and at what hour of the day is the verdict of that man’s mind to be taken? It is vacillating, changing like the moon, never twice in the same mood on the same day; so salvation cannot be according to our mind, for it would be chaos, it would be destruction, if that were the case.

     II. Now, secondly, here is A WARNING: “He will recompense it, whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose.”

     By this I understand that, whatever our will may be, God will carry out his own purpose. As surely as God is God, he will never be defeated in anything. He who is omniscient, and therefore sees the end from the beginning, is also omnipotent, and therefore can work his own will exactly as he chooses, — he will never be baffled by the will of men. I believe in the free agency of man as much as anyone who lives; but I equally believe in the eternal purpose of God. If you ask, “How do you reconcile those beliefs?” I answer, — They have never been at variance yet, so there is no need to attempt to reconcile them. They are like two parallel lines, which will run side by side for ever; — man responsible because he does what he wills, and God infinitely glorious, achieving his own purposes, not only in the world of dead, inert matter, but also through those who are free agents; without changing them in the least degree, leaving them just as free as ever they were, he yet, in every jot and tittle, performs the eternal purpose of his will.

     I would also remind you that, though you cavil at God’s way of salvation, God will punish sin just the same. There is many a man who has said, “I will never believe that God will send men to hell;” but he has himself gone there, and then he has changed his mind in a very remarkable and terrible fashion when it is too late. There are many who say, “It should be this, or it should not be that;” but they do not ask, “What saith the Scripture?” Yet that is the all-important point; for, whatever you may say as to what it should be or should not be, makes no difference to God. He will take less notice of you and your opinion than you do of a gnat or a midge that flies about you on a summer’s evening. He is so infinitely great and good that any opposition you and I may think that we can raise against him shall be less than nothing, and vanity. Shall tow contend with lire, or the wax with the flame? Shall nothing oppose itself to omnipotence? Shall the creature of a day, that is and is not, attempt to wrestle with the Eternal? No, this cannot be; therefore, God will have his way, and he will punish sin.

     And, further, my friends, though you may object to God’s way of salvation, others will be saved by it. Christ did not die in vain. He will rejoice in every one whom he purchased with his blood. He will not lose one of the jewels that are to deck his crown for ever. You may strive against his kingdom, but that kingdom will come when he pleases. The King eternal, immortal, invisible, shall surely reign for ever and ever; and if your voice is not heard in the great Hallelujah chorus of heaven, yet not one of its notes will be missing. Christ shall be glorified to the highest possible degree, whosoever may oppose him. It is well that those who object to God’s plan of salvation should know these facts. That is how Christ treated objectors when he was upon the earth. When they murmured at what he told them, he did not tone down the unpalatable truth; he did not say to them, “You are robbing me of my honour and glory, and I shall never prosper;” but he said, “No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me draw him.” On another occasion, he said, “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” He did not humble himself to them, but again proclaimed his own truth in all its majesty and sublimity, that they might bow before him and his message.

     Just once more, upon this point, let me say that God will certainly magnify his own name, whoever may oppose him: “Whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose,” shall make no difference to him. His grace comes like the dew, which tarries not for man, neither waits for the sons of men. Oftentimes, he is found of them that seek him not; and to those who were not his people, he says, “Ye are my people;” thus magnifying his own amazing grace. Whoever may stand out against him, he shall lack none of his honour and glory, world without end.

     III. This brings us to the third part of our subject, on which I desire to say exactly what Elihu said: “and not I.” We cannot be absolutely sure what these three words mean; but, if they mean what I think they do, they teach us a lesson, which I have called A PROTEST.

     Whenever you find anyone opposing God, say to yourself, “and not I.” When there is any wrong thing being done, and it comes under your notice, say, “and not I.” Take care that you go not with a multitude to do evil; do not take upon your tongue just what others may be saying, but bear your individual protest against the evil; even if you stand alone, say, “and not I.”

     What Elihu did mean, I think, was this. Whoever opposes God should know that he is not dealing with a man like himself. If you hear a preacher make a statement, and you feel, “That is not the Word of the Lord,” pray God to forgive him for his sin in making it; but if he speaks with the sound of his Master’s feet behind him and what he says is the Word of God, then do not trifle with it. If it be clearly a revealed truth, it may grate against your feelings, and set your teeth on edge; but what of that? You had better get your teeth and your feelings put right, for the truth of God cannot be altered in order to please you. Someone says, “I cannot believe that statement, because it seems too shocking.” That is just why I do believe it, for it does me good by shocking me; and if it is in God’s Word, I am bound to accept it. “Oh!” you say, “but something within me revolts against it.” It is only natural it should do so, for “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;” and it naturally cries out against the thing that is most surely true. The supreme majesty of God’s Word is that before which we have to bow, and nob the insignificant usurpers of our inward feelings, fancies, and whims. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”

     Elihu also means, I think, “I will not be responsible for the man who ref uses God' s Word. I will not stand in his place, or take the blame which is due to him. He shall be recompensed, and not I, for I have spoken the truth. I will not bear the responsibility of it. If men choose to refuse it, they must take the consequences; to the Lord alone they must stand or fall.”

     And, once more, Elihu means, “If you refuse God’s Word, it is not I. I will not share in your rebellion against him.” Ah! my dear hearers, there are some of you who think yourselves very intelligent, and wise, and thoughtful, and you imagine that you know a great deal more than I do, and therefore you refuse to receive God’s Word. Well, if you do so, I will not; I am determined about this matter, and I say, with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.” And, mark you, by “Jehovah” I mean the Old Testament God. I have never seen him superseded in his own Word, though some men profess that it is so. According to them, the God of the Hebrews was not the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, though Jesus never said so, but quite the reverse. The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, is he whom we worship this day; and his character, as it is written out in full in the Old and New Testament, is that which we admire and delight in. Others may have new gods, newly come up, which our fathers knew not; but not I. He who made the heavens and the earth, he who led forth his people out of Egypt, and divided the sea, even the Red Sea, he whose mercy endureth for ever, the God who shines forth all along as the God of a covenanted people to whom he did reveal himself, “this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.” Learned men may dispute as much as they like about him, but we bow humbly at his feet. We question nothing that he does; we believe it to be right even when we do not understand it; and it is our hope that others will do the same; but if they will not, it will not affect our own decision.

     IV. Our last head is, A CHALLENGE AND AN INVITATION.

     If there are any who refuse the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, for any reason known only to themselves, we venture to ask them to say what it is: “Therefore speak what thou knowest.” It was not in Elihu’s mind to tell Job to be silent, and never open his mouth again. Speech is the glory of man, and freedom of speech, as far as concerns his fellow-creatures, is the right of every man. It is far better that, when there is a difficulty or an objection, it should be fairly stated, than that it should lie smothered up within the soul to breed untold mischief. Therefore, if thou hast an objection to God’s Word, write it out, and look at it. Or, if thou carest not to do that, state it, if not to thy friend, — if thou preferest privacy, — state it to thyself; only bring it out, and let it be known. But, at the same time, when thou art speaking, “speak what thou knowest.”

     Now, what dost thou really know of God? Little enough do the most of us know; but, still, I think we know enough to know that he is not the god of modern times, whom some preach. One single night of frost will destroy millions upon millions of creatures that were happy and enjoyed life; and this is done by that God of whom we are often assured that he cannot possibly punish sin, or put men to pain. But he does it. Hear the cry of the poor seamen, when the storm tosses the great barque, and drives it on the rock. See how everywhere the Lord is a great God and terrible. Even though he condescends to be a Father to those of us who trust in Jesus Christ, his Son, and is gentle as a nurse to us, yet is he the God of thunder and of fire, the great and almighty God, the King who will not be questioned by his subjects, and who will not alter his arrangements to please their fancies.

     It is well for us to speak of God as we have found him. He has dealt kindly and graciously with us: “he hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities;” else had we been cast away for ever. We long that others may be able to speak of God in the same way; not saying what they would have him to be, but what he has revealed himself to be, in nature, and in providence, and especially in grace. Let us all come humbly to his feet. He bids us look to his dear Son, and so find peace and salvation. If we will not do so, there is nothing for us but to be driven from his presence, and from the glory of his power, world without end. Will we dare to defy him? Have we the impiety so to do? O God, humble us! Beneath the terror of thy majesty, and the glory of thy righteousness, and the supreme splendour of thy love, bow us down, to accept thy grace, and to become thine for ever and ever! God grant that it may be so, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.



Comfort from Christ’s Omniscience

By / Oct 15

Comfort from Christ’s Omniscience

 

“Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” — John xxi. 17.

 

PETER was somewhat hardly pressed. He felt that he was pushed into a corner, and compelled to look into his own heart, and divulge its innermost secret. To be asked once, in the presence of his brethren, whether he loved his Lord more than they did, had a tendency to humiliate him, for he had boastfully declared that, though all men should be offended because of Christ, he would not. But to be asked, next, whether he really loved Christ at all, sank him to the ground with holy shame; and when his Master asked him, the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” Peter was grieved, — not angry; — that could not be his condition under such circumstances, nor was he rebellious; but, at last, his heart was effectually touched by his Master’s skilful hand, and he was grieved, just as true love is always grieved when it is questioned, but most of all grieved when it is questioned again, and again, and again. Now, the enormity of his guilt in denying his Lord has come home to him, and the grief which he had caused his gracious Master is now reflected in his own deep and contrite sorrow: “Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?”

     Our Saviour’s thus pressing him closely was no doubt necessary as a salutary discipline to Peter. It was not unkindness, but the highest form of honest tenderness which led our Lord to act in this way. I suppose that, if such a thing had occurred in any one of our churches as for some leading member to deny that he knew Christ, and to go the length of denying it with oaths and curses, and to commit that great sin three times, in the presence of many witnesses, so that the fact could not possibly be doubted, it would have been absolutely necessary, according to the teaching of the New Testament, to exercise discipline upon such a man, and I think that he must have been excluded from church-fellowship. The apostle Paul, writing concerning one who had been guilty of gross sin, says that, with such a man, we can have no fellowship, — no, not so much as to eat with him; and he would have said the same about Peter. He had denied Christ with oaths and curses; it was a most heinous sin, and surely the purity of the Church would be put in jeopardy — the very existence of the Church as a testimony for Christ would be hazarded — by the retaining of such a man in its communion. According to such a rule as that, I suppose we must always judge. But the Lord Jesus Christ possessed attributes which we have not; he was omniscient, and therefore he could read Peter’s heart. It was not necessary for him to do what it might be lawful and even needful for us to do. He knew that Peter’s heart was right notwithstanding all the evil of which he had been guilty. So, instead of refusing to have fellowship with him, the Saviour first eats with him, — Christ literally bids him come to breakfast; and then he exercises what I may call a sort of church discipline upon him, though I mean that expression in no hard or unkind sense. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Then that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear;” and our Lord acted in that manner on this occasion. The six other brethren, who might fitly be regarded as representing the entire church, were present; and the Saviour began gently, but firmly, to probe Peter’s heart, and to probe it again, and yet again, until he perceived that he had touched him in the tenderest possible place, and had drawn from him this last and most solemn declaration of the sincerity of his love: “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Thrice had he denied his Lord; it was meet, therefore, that he should thrice confess his love, and so his Master constrained him to do by his thrice-repeated question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”

     Let us, dear friends, as we think over this sad incident of Peter’s sin, and of our Lord’s gracious way of restoring him to his former office by a gentle act of discipline, put ourselves through a little heart-searching. It may be that, thanks to the restraining grace of God, we have not sinned as Peter did; but we have sinned in some other way. We have all of us sinned quite enough to make us say, “Lord, do we love thee?” Instead of waiting for him to put the question to us, we will ask it of ourselves, — Do we really and truly love the Lord? Let us also believe that our Lord, as he stands at this moment among us, and walks from pew to pew, bows his head over each one of us, and says, “Lovest thou me?”

     As he does so, let us not evade the question, or play any tricks with it. Let not any one of us say, “I hope I do,” or, “I am afraid I do not.” We either do or we do not; and the only answer that will be satisfactory will be “Yes,” or “No.” If we say, “No,” it will be so far satisfactory that we are speaking the truth; and, possibly, we may be helped to start back from so terrible a truth as that we do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, and that will be good for us, especially if it shall lead us to yield to him. A man should always know the consequences of what he is doing, that he may do it with his eyes open; and, then, peradventure, he will see the folly and the sin of it, and take to a better course. But if, dear friend, you can answer, “Yes,” to Christ’s question, then do say it. Slowly, thoughtfully, as in the presence of the Eternal God, say, “Lord, I ask thee to bear witness on my account, for thy word is faithful and true. ‘Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.’” If you can say that, it will be a happy thing for yourself, and it will be a blessed thing for those who are round about you; for, now, being assured of your own love to Christ, you will endeavour to win others to share that love, that many of you together may be able to say to Christ, —

“Yes, we love thee, and adore;
Oh, for grace to love thee more!”

     Now, coming to the text, I am going to try to do two things; — first, to examine Peter’s reply; and then, secondly, to invite you to examine yourselves to see whether you can each give the same reply.

     I. First, let us EXAMINE PETER’S REPLY: “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”

     I begin with the observation that it is quite clear, from his reply, that Peter was no Unitarian. He had no doubts about the Divinity of Christ, for he said to him, “Lord, thou knowest all things.” Now, there is no being conceivable as knowing all things except God; and if it be true that Jesus Christ knows all things, then he possesses that omniscience which is one of the essential attributes of Deity. I find that, nowadays, there is a sad increase of that pestilent heresy which is practically a return to the old Arianism which sought to rob Christ of his true glory, and reduce him to the level of a mere man. We, at any rate, are not tainted with that fatal error; God grant that we never may be! No; he who, as man, is our brother, is also God, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, whom we worship and adore; and we think and speak of him as possessing every attribute that is essential to the Deity, and, therefore, as possessing this one, — that he knows all things. He searches the hearts and tries the reins of the children of men, for he is, assuredly, “very God of very God;” or, as Paul says, in his Epistle to the Romans, he “is over all, God blessed for ever.”

     My next remark upon our text is, that Peter’s mention of omniscience in connection with Christ, and in connection with our declaration of love to him, may be regarded as a fact very full of awe, because the Christ with whom we have to deal knows everything of which we are thinking, he reads all that is in the very core and centre of our soul; we are in the presence of One whose infinite knowledge takes in, at one glance, the whole of our lives, past, present, and future.

     My dear friends, if we recollect that fact, it becomes a very solemn thing for us to make an appeal to him to bear witness that we do really love him. Peter said to Christ, “Lord, thou knowest all things,” which in his case meant, “Lord thou knowest that , when the damsel said to me, ‘Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee,’ I denied it, and said, ‘I know not what thou sayest;’ and when another maiden said, ‘This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth,’ I denied with an oath, and said, ‘I do not know the man;’ and then, as if to settle the matter once for all, and make my accusers believe that I could not be one of Christ’s followers, I took to profane swearing, and with oaths and curses, like any son of Belial or lewd fellow of the

streets, I did blaspheme and swear.” Yes, the Master had read the inner thoughts of Peter, as well as heard his words. Jesus knew all about how mean and cowardly he was to be afraid of a couple of silly maids, and of those who stood with the throng in the high priest’s palace; yet Peter says, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” As we think of poor Peter, and his answer to Christ’s question, let us recollect that Jesus also knows everything that we have done since we were converted as well as before, — all those times in which our thoughts have been impure and unclean, or our desires have wandered beyond the bounds of that which is right and proper, or our temper has been hasty and hot, or our spirit has been angry and proud. He sees the whole of our life in a single instant; God’s mind does not need a certain space of time to think of one wrong thing which we have done, and then, afterwards, to think of another; but it is all present before his eye at the same moment. As when a man rises in a balloon, above London, and sees it all at once spread before him, so God, from his throne on high, sees our whole life at one glance. Just think of his pure and holy eyes seeing every portion of all your lives, — your life at the table, your life in the parlour, your life in the kitchen, your life in the workroom, your life in the bedchamber, your life everywhere, — and, as you think of all that being under his immediate gaze, I think it must become a very solemn thing for you to say to him, “Lord, thou knowest all this; and yet I dare call thee to witness that I do love thee notwithstanding all that thou hast seen.” Brothers and sisters, it is not by any means a trifling matter if our Lord only knows the sin of last week. Will you just think for a minute what it has been? Perhaps some of you may have grievously wronged the Saviour during the week. If so, and remembering that he knows it all, can you yet creep up to him, and say, “Lord, though I am fully conscious that thou knowest all that has happened, yet, for all that, I do say, thou also knowest that I love thee.” That is a fact full of awe.

     It is, in the next place, a fact which suggests to us that we should be very sincere; for, if the Lord knows all things, then anything like an attempt to profess a love which we do not possess is utterly foolish, for God will search it through and through, and discover its falseness. Then, in addition to being very foolish, it must be very wicked and insulting to the Lord. To tell another human being, whom you do not love, that you love him, would be a most cruel thing to do, and a most impudent and impertinent thing also; but voluntarily to express to God an affection which you do not feel, is a very near approach to blasphemy. If it be not blasphemy in words, it certainly is in thought and intent. God knows, friend, whether, when you joined the church, you were indeed a follower of Christ. That night, when you were baptized, he saw all that was done; and he knew exactly whether it was to you only an outward form, or whether you were really, in a spiritual sense, dead and buried with Christ. And when this service is over, it will be vain and futile for you to come to the communion table, and eat the bread, and drink of the cup, unless in your very soul you are trusting Christ, and believing in him unto salvation. If you are determined to deceive someone, deceive your equal, play tricks with your fellow-creatures; but never think to deceive the Most High, who sees through you as if you were made of crystal, and at this moment is watching each beat of your heart, and reading not only what is on your tongue, but what is in your mind, and will come forth from your lips by-and-by. Oh, let us never, in our testimony, talk beyond our own line, or boast of virtues which we never possessed; and in our prayers, let us never pray as if we had an experience which we have never felt; but let us say to Jesus, “Lord, thou knowest all things;” and let us be intensely sincere before him; and it shall be a blessed thing if, being so, we then dare to say, “yet thou knowest that I love thee.”

     Further, dear friends, this is a fact which not only fills us with awe and suggests to us sincerity, but it is a fact which inspires us with hope. At times, the grace that is really in us is scarcely visible to ourselves. I have often rejoiced that God’s omniscience has enabled him to spy out grace in me which I could not see, and I feel sure that there must be some of you who sometimes are led to question whether there is any grace in you or not. You ask, “Where is that grain of mustard seed?” Fie on you! Fie on you! You ought to have watered it till it grew into a tree. But remember that, even when you cannot see the grace that is in you, God can. When you are brought into such a state of diffidence and despondency that you are half afraid there is not any real love to Christ in your soul at all, yet, if it be there, he can see it, for he put it there, and he values it very highly, and has a quick eye to spy it out.

     “Lord, thou knowest all things; therefore, I do bless thee that thou knowest every place where I have been, and thou knowest my secret love passages with thee.” That is a blessed thought. I have no doubt that, when Peter said to Christ, “Thou knowest all things,” he not only recollected his sin, but he recollected his going out, and weeping bitterly; and he also recollected that look that Jesus gave him, — such a look as you and I could not give to anyone. I do not know what Peter said to the Lord while he was weeping bitterly, but there must have been many a sigh, and many a groan, and many a tear, in that time of anguish. Peter no doubt got away into a corner, all alone, and he was ready to cover himself with sackcloth and ashes, as he there groaned, and wrestled, and cried. He did not know what to do with himself; and while he was thus praying, perhaps his Lord let in the light of the gospel, and made him recollect some such promise as this, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but who so confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy;” and Peter had some comfortable gleams of hope even amid the darkness, and, after a while, he did even dare to speak to his Lord, and tell him how he loved him. And now Peter says, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee, for between thee and me there have been some love passages which nobody knows but thyself and myself. My eyes all full of tears have met thy eyes all full of love; and my heart all breaking has touched thy heart which was pierced upon the tree. Thy wounded hand has been laid to my sore, and thy weeping eyes have looked my tears away. Thou knowest, Lord; thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” So, dear friends, you see that there is something exceedingly sweet about that omniscience which has read the secret motions of our spirit towards the Lord. Even when they have been so feeble that we could scarcely see them ourselves, God has seen them.

     And do you not think, dear friends, that there is something very blessed in Peter’s plan of bringing in Christ’s omniscience to answer his Lord’s question about his love, inasmuch as it meets our inability to speak? Some of us can speak fast enough, but others have the holy gift of silence, which is a great blessing. They cannot say much, but they can look up to their Saviour, and say, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that we love thee.” I have heard of a young Christian woman, who was asked to tell before the church the story of her experience; but she could not utter a word, till, just as she was going out of the room, she turned round, and said, “I cannot speak for Jesus Christ, but I could die for him.” Then the one, who was in charge of the meeting, said to her, “Come back, dear sister, you have said quite enough for us to know that you love the Lord.” No doubt there are many who find it easier to live for Christ than to speak for him; they have not that gift. Let me remind you who must always be the silent members of the church, that you may be blessed in your silence by reflecting upon this fact, that God knows all about what you cannot explain to your fellow-Christians. His omniscience sets aside the necessity of your being able to express your love fluently, and you also can say, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that we love thee.”

     And is not this fact a sweet encouragement to any of you who are persecuted for Christ’s sake? Our enemies do not burn us now, or stretch us on racks, but they have many methods of showing their malice still. They know how to torture us, and some of them are very ingenious in the art of tormenting. I have known some say, — ungodly parents will say it to their daughters, — sometimes, wicked men will say it to their gracious wives, — “You know very well that all your idea about being religious is that you want to be singular. You go to your place of worship because you like to be different from everybody else; that is the only reason you have.” Possibly, you do not know what to say to them; but you can always say this to your Saviour, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.’

     Then, again, if there is some little fault to be found with you in the family, down they come upon you, crying, “Ah! that is your Christianity, is it? You are one of those who have professed to be religious, and joined the church!” Mark you, friends, they will do a hundred times worse things themselves, and think nothing of it; but if they can catch you tripping in the slightest degree, they magnify your little slip into a grievous fall. Now, it would be quite fair for them to do so if you set up to be perfect; but as you never did that, it is an unfair thing to charge you with insincerity because of imperfection. Do not let them have the opportunity of saying even that, if you can help it; yet, sometimes, when you have given them no occasion for finding fault with you, they will make one, and invent an accusation for which there is no foundation. Well, if they do so, never mind; let them say what they will, but lift up your eyes to heaven, and say, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” A man of God, — as upright a Christian man as I know, — came to me, not long ago, in great trouble because somebody had said that he had been drunk. He was dreadfully cut up about it, for he had been a teetotaller for many years, and nothing of the kind had occurred. “Well,” I said, “you are only tarred with the same brush as others of us;” and then I added, “As for me, I have had all manner of false and cruel things said about me! I recollect that an influential daily paper said of me, at the time of the Surrey Gardens accident, ‘We would place, in the hand of every right-thinking man, a whip to scourge from society such a ranting charlatan.’ Yet I am here still, notwithstanding all that was said. Moreover, when most abused, I used to go to bed at the same hour as I should have done if they had not slandered me; and I believe that I ate my dinner with as hearty an appetite as if everybody had been praising me.” One gets by degrees into such a condition that it does not matter what people say. And, after all, does it ever really matter what they say? Let them throw mud at you till you are covered with it from head to foot; the kind of mud they fling has a tendency to come off when it is dry, and to make the garment that, it once sullied look even brighter than it was before. Do not fret yourselves about these slanderers and persecutors, but just get alone, and say to the Lord, “‘Thou knowest all things.’ They do not; and it is a good thing for us that they do not. If they did, then they might find plenty of fault with us, and find some real faults in us; but they do not know everything, and they generally hit on the very thing of which we are quite innocent; but, ‘Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that we love thee.’”

     This seems to me to be a blessed text for you to take home, and to carry with you wherever you go in the midst of a ribald world, for it will often remind you of a precious truth: “Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Of course he does, if you do really love him, for it is his own love in you returning whence it came, and he knows that it is. there. If you do love him, it was he who made you love him. This plant of paradise never grows of its own accord in the dunghill of our nature; neither does it grow anywhere unless it is planted by the hand of God. He who gave you that love watches over it to bring it to perfection. Being a plant of his own right-hand planting, he will water it every moment; and lest any hurt it, he will keep it night and day. Having loved the Lord here on earth, you shall love him by-and-by in heaven, where, with all the bloodwashed company, you shall find it the very heaven of your heaven to live for ever, adoring him whose eternal love, and sovereign grace, and almighty power have at last made you perfect, and brought you home, to love him even as he loves you, according to your capacity.

     II. There I must leave the text, so far as it specially concerns Peter, and come now to speak briefly upon the second part of the subject, which is, TO INVITE YOU TO EXAMINE YOURSELVES TO SEE WHETHER YOU CAN EACH GIVE THE SAME REPLY: “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”

     First, some say the same as Peter did, though they ought not to do so. They say that they love Christ. “Yes, oh, yes; we love him!” Let us talk to one of these glib speakers for a few moments. When did you begin to love the Lord? “Oh! I— I— I always did love him.’ When were you converted, and renewed in heart? “Oh! I do not know that I ever was.” Stop, then, friend, before you say again that you love the Lord. Do you truly trust the Saviour? Are you resting the whole weight of your soul upon him? If you say, “No,” then you do not love him, for the only love which Christ will accept is born of faith. Love is the flower which grows out of the root of faith.

     Perhaps you think that you are very good, and that you will probably get to heaven by your goodness. If that is your notion, then I am sure you do not really love Christ. You admire your beautiful self; you have been so good, and so excellent, that you do not want to be saved by the sinners’ Saviour. You want a special, particular Saviour for you, — a saint-Saviour, not a sinner’s Saviour. Then I know you do not love the Christ of the Bible, — the Christ of Calvary. You may love a sort of antichrist of your own inventing, but you do not love the Christ of God. Let me ask you another question. You say that you love Christ; well, then, for what do you thank Christ? “Well, I believe that there are some imperfections in me, and that Christ makes up for them.” Do you? Then, in your esteem, he is only a makeweight, just to compensate for your deficiencies. His seamless robe of righteousness is to be torn to patch up your old rags! How many of you want to make Christ a kind of extra horse to drag the load up the hill! That is all you think of him; but do you imagine that Christ and your poor team are to be joined together like that? Is it to be partly self-salvation, and partly salvation by Christ? If that is your idea, you so insult the Saviour — it may be unwittingly, — that I am sure you cannot really love him. I have heard of a very excellent man, — one of the holiest and best of men, — who, when he lay dying, said, “Lord, when I estimate my works, I have to recollect that thy estimate is so very different from mine that I think it best to leave this business altogether, and trust my Saviour only.”

     I have heard of another who said, when he was dying, that he began to sort out his works, and some he thought were good, and some were bad; but after he had sorted them a little, he felt that the good ones were so very like the bad ones when he came really to look closely into them, that he pitched the whole lot overboard, and just trusted himself to Christ.” That was a very wise and sensible thing to do, and I am sure that no man among you loves Christ unless he is trusting to him only, and to him wholly.

     What is your view of Christ, dear friend? Is he your Master as well as your Saviour? This is a question which I want to put very pointedly, for I heard a person ask, the other day, “Is baptism essential to salvation?” Listen. This man means to do only just that which is essential for his own salvation; that is all. To get into heaven, is all that he cares about, so he asks concerning one thing or another, “Is it essential to salvation?” A soldier in her Majesty’s army says, when an order is given to him, “Is this essential? Shall I be shot if I do not obey it?” Drum him out of the regiment, for what is the good of him? I look upon Christ as my Lord and Master; and if he bids me do something, though there may be in it nothing whatever to my profit, I am bound to do it because he is my Master and Lord. “Is it essential to salvation?” is a sneak’s question; I dare not use a milder term. I am often ashamed to answer those who make such an enquiry. The message to you is, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Did you come into the world merely that you might get saved? Is that all? Oh, poor, mean wretch! The Lord save you from being so selfish! How can you even get to heaven when your sole ambition is, somehow or other, to save your own skin? To get inside the pearly gates, and enjoy yourself, — that is your notion of heaven; but that is the very thing from which you have to be saved. I hope you will come to have quite another idea. I live, not to save myself, but to glorify him who has saved me. I work, not because I hope to escape from hell by what I do, or to get to heaven by what I do, but because Christ has saved me; and now, out of gratitude to him, if there is anything he wishes me to do, I do it without a question, saying to him, —

“Hast thou a lamb in all thy flock
I would disdain to feed?
Hast thou a foe, before whose face
I fear thy cause to plead?”

Get rid of selfishness, or else you cannot truthfully say that you love Christ; you are only loving yourself, and baptizing selfishness with the name of Christianity.

     But, next, I think that there are some persons who ought to say what Peter did, and yet they are afraid to do so. Some of the most beautiful, tender, loving, genuine, true-hearted people in the world are, nevertheless, so timid, and so jealous of themselves, and they have such brokenness of spirit, that they dare not say that they love Christ, though I am sure that, if any people in the world do love him, it is just these poor people. There are many who are so hard and harsh towards these dear tender, broken-hearted ones, that I like to cheer them all I can. I wish that they would grow stronger; I wish that they would become bolder; I wish they were braver; but, then, I know that, among these who dare not say publicly that they love Christ, are many who love him vastly better than some who can talk very glibly about it. I have told you before of the two friends who were shut up in prison, and one said to the other, “Oh, I do dread to-morrow morning! I am afraid that, when I come to feel the fire, I shall recant. I know that I never was good at bearing pain, and I have heard that the pain of being burnt to death is very dreadful.” So the other turned round upon him, and said, “I am ashamed of you talking like that; you know, very well, it is for Christ’s cause that we are going to die. I am sure that I shall not have any such fear; I could bear a thousand deaths for Christ. I feel such courage in my spirit that I do not dread the pain, and I am ashamed that you do.” They both came to be chained to the stake, and the boastful man recanted, and saved his skin; but the poor timid man stood bravely in the midst of the fire, and burned to death, and kept only saying, “Lord, help me! Lord, help me!” I believe that it often happens that those who are so trembling in themselves, are, nevertheless, sound to the core, while many of your high-flying gentlemen, who get perfect in about three minutes, and then begin to preach to those of us who have been, perhaps, thirty years in Christ, and tell us that we ought to be as perfect as they are, — which we were before they were born, — will be blown away like thistledown by the first wind that comes, and that the solid, weighty lumps of gold — these humble broken-hearted saints, — will endure even to the end. Still, dear brother, where are you? Mr. Despondency, I mean. I want you to say, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Where are you, Mrs. Much-afraid? I think I have read about you in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Mrs. Much-afraid, and Mr. Despondency, and Mr. Feeble-mind, and Mr. Ready-to-halt, who had the crutches, and went limping all his life; yet, once upon a time, when Mr. Great-heart cut off Giant Despair’s head, and brought it to the pilgrims, they said that they would all dance, and Ready-to halt danced on his crutches, and said that he hoped, by-and-by, to be where he should not be encumbered with them. Come along, all you poor tried souls, let this be a time of rejoicing with you. Say in your spirit, if not in words, “Yes, Lord, we cannot hold back any longer, we must say it; ‘Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that we love thee.’” And when you have once said it, keep on saying it, my dear brother or sister; and the Lord keep you up to that blessed mark till, when the trumpet sounds in the morning, and you wake up in the endless day, you shall say, “Yes, Lord, I did love thee, and I love thee now, and I will love thee for ever.” God grant that we may all say that, for Christ’s sake! Amen. Before we go, let us sing this one verse, —

“I will love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
And praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath;
And say, when the death-dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”



A Pressed Man Yielding to Christ

By / Oct 12

A Pressed Man Yielding to Christ

 

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he. Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.” — John ix. 35— 38.

 

LAST Sabbath morning, I spoke to you concerning one who was impressed into the King's service. That was Simon, the Cyrenian, who was compelled to bear Christ’s cross. He was not a volunteer, but a pressed man; yet, I think that, after he had been forced to bear the cross, he willingly carried it, and I hope that he afterwards became a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

     Now, strange to say, here is another pressed man; for I do not think that this man, whose eyes had been opened by Christ, had thought of becoming a believer in the Son of God until the Lord Jesus found him out. Before he had reached that point; indeed, before he knew that the prophet who had opened his eyes was the Son of God, the Pharisees had cast him out of the synagogue, so that he was compelled to bear the cross for Christ although he did not then fully know Christ, and certainly had not believed upon the Son of God. Yet, in his case also, it appears that he cheerfully took up the cross which had been at the first forcibly laid upon him. It may happen that there are some persons here who are in a similar position, some who have been ridiculed for being Christians even before they are Christians, who have been mocked at merely because they go to a place of worship, though as yet they have not yielded themselves to Christ ; well, if that is the case with any, seeing that the cross is laid upon their shoulders, I do trust that they will not throw it off, but that they will bravely bear it for Christ, and freely suffer what, up till now, has seemed to them to be a piece of injustice, for they have been treated as if they were believers in Christ, when really they are not yet on the Lord’s side.

     This man, then, bearing Christ’s cross in a certain way, was cast out of the synagogue, and then Christ found him, and blessed him. Observe, dear friends, where Christ began with him; for it will show us where and how the blessing usually enters. The door by which the richest of heaven’s favours must come to us is indicated by our Lord going to that door, and opening it. He said to the man, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” So that faith in the Son of God is the gate of benediction. Faith is that window of agate and gate of carbuncle by which the divine light of Jesu’s love comes streaming into the soul. This is the way by which God’s mercy enters the heart of man, and therefore the Lord Jesus Christ himself begins there; and in all our dealings with the unconverted, it will be wise for us also to begin there. That is the place where the decisive battle will have to be fought; for, upon the believing or the non-believing on the Son of God, the eternal destiny of each individual will turn. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” That wrath abides even now upon him if the life of God is not in him. Let us hammer away at that all-important point of faith in Christ. This is the Thermopylae of Christian experience. If this pass can be stormed and carried, we can capture the citadel of men’s hearts; but if unbelief continues to guard that narrow passage to eternal life, and to hold it against the gospel and its invitations, and exhortations, and promises, and threatenings, then nothing whatever can be done. So, in this enquiry of our Lord, we have most instructive teaching. His object, no doubt, was to bless this man by working in him saving faith, and therefore he said to him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”

     I think our text will help us, first, to speak of true faith, — how it is known; secondly, true faith, — how it progresses; and thirdly, true faith, — how we can promote it.

     I. First, I want to speak concerning TRUE FAITH, — the faith that saves, HOW IT IS KNOWN.

     First, it is absolutely essential that it should be faith in the Son of God. Our blessed Lord knew that this man believed in him as a prophet; so might he not have been content with that? No; because, to believe in Christ merely as a prophet is not saving faith. It may be a step towards salvation, and it may lead up to it; but the faith that is absolutely necessary is that belief in him as the Son of God; and he who does not believe in the Deity of Christ has not a Saviour who can save him. The work of saving a soul is a divine operation, and no one but a divine being can accomplish it. It is he who sitteth upon the throne who saith, “Behold, I make all things new.” There cannot be anyone except the Creator who can create; and the Creator must, in every case, be God. To save a soul, there must be a work performed which is analogous to the resurrection; but, in order to raise the dead, there must be the presence and power of God. It is one of those operations which it is not conceivable can be performed by an angel or by any created being. The Highest alone can accomplish it; has he not said of himself, “I kill, and I make alive”? The power of life and death must rest with God alone. Hence, then, the work of salvation needs a power nothing less than divine. He who believes in Christ as a mere man has not believed in a person who can give him salvation; and Christ cannot accomplish the stupendous task if he be only man, for the Saviour must be God.

     There is no true and logical standpoint, in reference to the Deity of Christ, except one of two things. Either our Lord was the Son of God, equal with the Father, or else he was an impostor, for he most distinctly claimed that he was the Son of God. In the chapter preceding our text, at the 54th verse, we read that Jesus said to the Jews, “If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God.” Then they took up stones to cast at him because he said that he was the Son of God; and, in this case of the blind man whom he had healed, he took pains to find him out that he might communicate to him in private the fact that he was himself the Son of God. He never withdrew his claim to the Deity; if he had only said to the Jews, “No, I am not the Son of God; you are mistaken in supposing that I said I was. The expressions I used are not intended to convey that idea,” then they would not have crucified him. This was the chief point of their quarrel with him, and I must again say that either he was God, or he wilfully misled the people by using words which made them think that he was God. His words have led millions of Christians, from those days until now, to worship him as God; and they were perfectly justified, by his utterances, in doing so; and if he meant anything less than that, then he was a deceiver. But he did really mean that he was God, and it is our joy and glory to rest in him as being alike the Son of Mary and the Son of Jehovah himself, “Light of Light, very God of very God,” co-equal and co-eternal with the Father ; and here we feel that we can rest for our soul’s salvation, we can lean with our whole weight on One who is indeed “ mighty to save.” Seeing that all power is his, and that he is equal with God, he can and he will save all those who put their trust in him. Do not any of you, I beseech you, be content with any faith less than that. If you have any sort of faith which does not recognize Christ as God, do with it as the man did with the bank note, when he found that it was bad, — he laid it down, and ran away from it, for fear anybody should suspect him of being its owner. Put away every kind of confidence that is short of faith in the Son of God, and abhor it, for it is a damnable delusion; and may the Lord bring you fully into this blessed state of salvation through believing on the Son of God!

     A second point about saving faith is that it rests upon a knowledge of him. This man said to Jesus, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” He was not one whose notion of faith was that he need not know what he believed. The Church of Rome seems to inculcate some kind of implicit faith (or credulity) which can exist apart from knowledge; but how can I believe that which I do not know? Paul puts it thus, “Faith cometh by hearing.” You must first hear and know what it is you are to believe before you can believe it; otherwise, your faith is vain, like that of the man of whom I have sometimes spoken, who said, “I believe what the Church believes.” “But what does the Church believe?” “It believes what I believe.” “Then what do you and the Church believe?” “Why, we both believe the same thing.” That is not the kind of believing that can save the soul. It is through the knowledge of Christ that we are saved. To know Christ is sometimes said to be analogous to believing in Christ. You must know what it is that you have to believe; a faith that does not know is no faith at all. Read through the Epistles of John, and mark with your pencil every time the word “know” is used. The apostle makes that word “know” come in again and again, for a man must know that which he is to believe; and hence this man says to Christ, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?”

     For my part, I could never be content without unquestioning certainty as to my soul’s salvation. Do you think that is more than a man ought to wish for? Are any of you at ease while you are afraid that you have a mortal disease working within you? Oh, no! You want to know, from a qualified physician, the truth about your case. And if it were whispered in your ear, at this moment, that your house was being broken into or was on fire, would you sit still here, and not trouble yourself as to whether the report was true or not? Would you not want to go at once, and see for yourself? If you knew that you bought an estate, some time ago, but you have since heard that the title to it is a very uncertain one, in fact, that, in all probability, you will lose all you have paid for it, would you not say, “I ought to have taken care to be certain about the title, and I would not have bought the estate if I had not felt that the deeds relating to it were all right”? Well, then, if you desire certainty about your bodily health, and about the safety of your house, and about the validity of your title-deeds, can you afford to go without certainty as to your soul’s affairs? No, you cannot; therefore, rest not till you have it. If you have various questions about your spiritual condition, boldly face those questions, and answer them; but never let any questions about your eternal welfare be such that you dare not face them, and do not wish to search out the answers to them. Pry to the very bottom of them; and, better still, ask the Lord to search you, and know your heart, to try you, and know your thoughts, and to lead you in the way everlasting; and be not content till you can truthfully say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.” This man, of whom I am speaking, knew that Christ had opened his eyes, therefore he must be at least a prophet. He also knew, further, that whatever that prophet told him must be true, for the man who had opened his eyes must have been sent by God, and God does not work miracles by liars. He said to himself, “This man is undoubtedly a faithful person, or God would not employ him in such a wonderful work as that of opening the eyes of a man who was born blind;” and then he stood perfectly prepared to receive whatever might be spoken by this prophet of whom he knew something, though he did not know enough to understand what was meant by the Saviour when he asked, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” He, therefore, sat as an enquirer at the Saviour’s feet, waiting for something to be told him which should enable him to believe.

     You, dear friend, may not be in exactly the same condition that this man was in; but, still, your case may be, in many respects, a parallel one. You say, perhaps, “I wish, above all things in the world, that I could believe in Christ” Do you intend to sit down, and try to make yourself believe in him? That would be a very unwise thing, because faith is not wrought in the soul in that fashion. Suppose it was rumoured, at the present moment, that there had been another massacre in Alexandria, and that our troops had been driven out of the city; how would you decide whether the report was to be believed or not? Would you sit down in your pew, and say, “I will try to make myself believe it”? Well, you might come, by a process of reasoning, to some sort of conclusion as to whether it was or was not a likely thing; but the more sensible plan would be to enquire what foundation there was for the report; and if, on going to the War Office, you were informed, by someone in authority, “Yes, there has been a very great disaster,” well, then, knowing the facts of the case, you could believe. The enquiry at headquarters would be the way to ascertain the truth of the report, and just so is it in connection with believing in Christ. If I am to believe in him, I ask, with this man, “Who is he?” and until I know who he is, it is idle for me to talk about forcing myself to believe in him.

     Now listen. He in whom you are asked to believe for salvation is, first of all, himself God. Then, in infinite mercy, he came and took upon himself our nature, and dwelt among men. He voluntarily came, — being God, — but he was also sent of God, appointed and authorized to be God’s Ambassador to man. He was, in addition to being sent of God, anointed of God, for the Spirit of God rested upon him without measure, qualifying him for his work. The life he led here on earth was unique, there was never another like it, and the imagination of man cannot write the history of another man that shall be at all comparable to the life of Christ. It stands apart in a lone, simple majesty, utterly inimitable, absolutely perfect. Then he died, and by that death he for ever put away the sin of his people. He took upon himself the sin which he had never committed; he was numbered with the transgressors, and he suffered as if men’s transgressions had been his own; he died, “the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” And God has accepted those sufferings as a propitiation for all who believe in him; and now, this is the witness of God concerning him, that he has raised him from the dead, and taken him up to his throne, and made him to sit there, at his Father’s right hand, where, at this moment, he is making intercession for all who come unto God by him. And, now, our prayers are accepted through him; and the infinite blessings, which are his, he distributes among us; and he is shortly coming again, with sound of trumpet, and attended by myriads of saints and angels. As he ascended from Olivet, in like manner also will he descend to earth again. King of kings and Lord of lords shall he be in that day; “and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” He is God, he still lives, it is the living, reigning Christ whom we preach unto you. He lives in glory, and he also lives here by the presence of his Holy Spirit, who is with us, and who is to abide with us evermore; and it is upon him as God incarnate, as Saviour, crucified, risen, and gone into the glory, that you are asked to place your soul’s confidence. If you would learn this truth more fully, read the four Gospels, and the Epistles, and ask the Spirit, who inspired the writers of them, to explain and apply them to you. That is the way to obtain faith. Many a man has been reading in the Bible the story of the cross, and so he has believed in Jesus. Many another has heard about the Saviour, and so has been led to believe in him. It is the simplest thing in the world to believe upon trustworthy evidence; and when we get the evidence of Christ’s life and death manifesting the glory of his person, the graciousness of his character, and the efficacy of his atoning blood, then are we led to believe in him. True faith is based upon knowledge of Christ, as it was in this man’s case. Take care, dear friends, that you always remember that simple but important truth.

     And, further, true faith always expresses itself to the Lord. This man, when he had believed in Jesus, said, “Lord, I believe.” True faith ought also to express itself to men, as Paul puts it, in writing to the Romans, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation;” or, as the Master himself puts it, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Therefore, the confession before men ought not to be neglected in any case; yet I fear, and hope, that there are some pilgrims who steal into heaven, scarcely known by men to be Christians, — at least, not avowed as such by open profession. I do not recommend that dodging behind the hedges, and getting to heaven along back roads; that is a bad plan, but, still, I trust some have managed it, though with much trouble and loss to themselves; but, in every case, every one who has believed has made the confession of that faith to the Master himself. He has said to Jesus, as this man did, “Lord, I believe,” even though he has added, with another man, “Help thou mine unbelief.” He has said to Jesus, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” There has been a personal acknowledgment, as we sometimes sing it, —

“My faith looks up to thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Saviour divine.”

It is a very vital point about true faith that it thus recognizes its obligation to speak to him, and to avow itself to him. How sweetly doth faith, sometimes, come up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved, and owning to him that she is his, and he is hers! She cannot help making this confession; she would be untrue to herself and to her Lord if she did not do so.

     In one respect, we are better off than this man was, for we have many divine promises to help us to believe in Christ. Have you ever noticed, dear friends, how much we live upon the promises of our fellow-men? In buying a small article at a shop, you pay your twopence for it across the counter; but, the larger the business transaction gets to be, the less there is of metallic currency in connection with it, and then you often pay each other in promises. The commonest form of a promise is a bank note; and it is worth while to observe how much a bank note is made after the model of God’s promises. How does the wording of this bank note run? It is headed, “Bank of England;” and it begins, “I promise.” You take this note readily enough instead of five golden sovereigns, because you read on it, “I promise to pay the bearer;” and God’s promise is payable to “the bearer.” Whoever has the promise in his possession, whoever has faith enough to lay hold of God’s promise, may read it in this way, “I promise to pay the bearer.” I remember when I first snatched at one of God’s precious promises; I could hardly hope that I had any right to it, for I felt myself so utterly unworthy, but I snatched it up, and ran with it to the Bank of Faith, and as soon as I presented it, received its full value. God always honours his own promises; here is one: “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Go to him with that gracious message, and it shall be fulfilled to you whoever you are. The note says, “I promise to pay the bearer.” If a sweep takes that note to the Bank of England, he will get the money for it; — I mean a sweep in character as well as by trade, for the declaration on it is, “I promise to pay the bearer.”

     What does it next say on the bank note? “I promise to pay the bearer on demand.” That is how all God’s promises run: “on demand.” It is worthy of note that, in the olden time, when the Lord had made many promises to his people, he added, “I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them;” as though the fulfilment of the promise was delayed until it was asked for. No doubt many of God’s great and precious promises are not realized by you and me because they are not presented to the Lord as we should take a note to the bank to get it cashed. We do not enquire of God as much as we ought. You hear of enquirers going to see the minister; that may be a good thing, but the best sort of enquirers are those I heard before I came up here to preach to-night, when some good earnest souls met downstairs in the lecture-hall to enquire of God for a blessing, and to ask him to help his servant to speak the Word with power.

     Now, coming back to this bank note, I daresay you would not mind having a pile of paper, of this kind, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, and then you would say to yourself, “Now I am a rich man.” But you have not a single farthing there, you have only a promise “to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds.” “Ah!” you say, “but that promise is good all the world over.” Whose promise is it? Well, it is signed by the chief cashier, but he only signs it “for the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.” That is where the value of the promise lies; and it is our comfort to know that we have a noble name written below all God’s promises, for the Lord Jesus Christ has signed them all in God’s behalf, for the great Governor of heaven and earth, who has no need of any “ company ” to be joined with him, for his sole resources are fully equal to the fulfilment of every promise that he has ever issued. Now, if we treat men’s promises with respect, and pass them from hand to hand as if they were genuine gold, and we constantly do so; shall we not treat God’s promises with something more than respect, and trust them with implicit confidence? Will any man have the impudence to say, “I have faith in a note signed by the chief cashier of the Bank of England, but cannot trust a promise that is certified by the Lord Jesus Christ himself”? Shall I consider that bank note to be as good as the money it represents, and yet, when I hold in my hand God’s Word, signed, and sealed, and ratified by the sprinkling of the very blood of his dear Son, shall I dare to say, “I find it hard to believe in that word”? If I talk so, I shall grieve the people of God, and what is far worse, I shall grieve the Lord himself.

     II. Now I turn to the second part of our subject, which is, TRUE FAITH, HOW IT PROGRESSES.

     Very often it has a very small beginning. Saving faith does not always come on a sudden. Some men are saved, as Saul of Tarsus was; they are struck down in the midst of their sins, and converted in a remarkable and unusual manner; but with many others there is, first, a faint twilight; then, by-and-by, a little more; and, at last, the sun has fully risen upon them. Perhaps you cannot tell when it did actually rise; but you know that it has risen, for there is the light and the brightness of its shining.

     In the case of the man of whom I am speaking, faith began with a preparedness to believe. His eyes had been opened, and he was thereby made ready to believe anything that Jesus might tell him. And there is many a man who, looking back upon God’s goodness to himself, and God’s goodness to his father and mother, and God’s goodness to gracious people in general, and thinking of the holy and lovely character of Christ, has in that way been prepared to believe when the truth was clearly set before him.

     This man went a step further on the right road, for he desired to believe. He said, “Who is he, Lord,” — not, “that I might know about him, and talk about him,” — but, “that I might believe on him?” He had a desire to possess true faith; and there are many like him, who desire to believe, but who have not exercised faith in Christ. This is very wonderful, but it is true. Of all things in the world, to believe in Christ is one of the most simple, yet that is the reason why many find it so difficult. If it were difficult, it would seem easy to them; but, being easy, it appears difficult. Some of you, dear friends, when I try to describe how we come to trust in Christ, will twist and turn what I say, even if I make it “as plain as a pikestaff.” You think, “Oh, he must mean something very different from what he says!” You really cannot get this idea into your heads, — that you have just to depend upon Christ, to trust him, and then you are saved, for “he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” Whenever we use a metaphor, or figure, or illustration to try to explain the simplicity of faith, straightway somebody finds a difficulty even in that. When I have been trying to catch a sinner, I find that he has as many hiding-places as there are days in the year. I have stopped up one after another, and I have said to him, “No, salvation only comes through believing.” “Yes, sir, I know, but—” and down he runs into another hole. When I have dug him out of that, and fancied I should surely catch him, he says, “Oh, yes! we are to trust the Saviour, but—” and again he is off. Somehow, men seem very ingenious in trying to find out reasons why they should not be saved, and all their foolish ingenuity seems to be employed in attempting to escape from this blessed divine simplicity, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” May God the Holy Spirit lead them to believe in him! He must lead them, for no man can see Christ until his eyes are divinely opened. We may put the truth as plainly as ever we can, and preach it so that we think we cannot be misunderstood; but men will misunderstand us still, even those who desire to believe in Christ, until the Holy Spirit shall work effectually in them.

     This man went still further on the right road; for he not only desired to believe, but he made enquiry in order that he might believe. I put it to you very simply, just now, with regard to making enquiries concerning a certain piece of news. Well, this man did the same. He said to the Master, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” If sinners would only make enquiries about the Saviour, they would soon trust in him. You will find, as a rule, that the people who rail at the New Testament, have never read it. If they would but read it, their cavils might soon come to an end, and be followed by a blessed faith in Christ; but, instead of doing so, they read what some objection-manufacturer has said about the Bible, instead of going to the Book itself, and seeing what it really teaches. If I were very thirsty, I do not think that I should abstain from going to a well because somebody told me that it contained bad water; but I should go, and see, and taste for myself; and when a soul gets very thirsty, if it is wise, it goes to the Word for itself. I advise you to do that, dear friends. “O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”

     When this man had made his enquiry, and received Christ’s answer, he soon became decided. He said, “Lord, I believe.” I like that simple, clear avowal of faith. So often, when we are conversing with an enquirer, he says, “Yes, sir; I hope I believe.” Oh, dear! is that all you can say? “Well, I trust I believe;” and so faith is surrounded by fog. “I hope I believe; I trust I believe.” Man, don’t you know whether you believe or not? You may know it; one thing I know, you have no business to go to sleep till you do know this once for all; for, if you are not a believer, you are an unbeliever. There is no middle state between the two; and if you are an unbeliever, you are “condemned already,” because you have not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. This matter of believing ought never to be left in doubt at all, but it should be definitely settled, so that you can say, with this man, “Lord, I believe.”

      Then, further, he acted as a believer: for “he worshipped him.” This proves how his faith had grown. I should like to ask you who are the people of God when you are happiest. I think you will agree with what I am going to say; and if you do not, it will still be just as true to me. My happiest moments are when I am worshipping God, really adoring the Lord Jesus Christ, and having fellowship with the ever-blessed Spirit. In that worship, I forget the cares of the church, and everything else; and, to me, it is the nearest approach to what it will be in heaven, where, day without night, they offer perpetual adoration unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. Hence, what a memorable moment it was for this man when he worshipped Christ! Now, if Christ was not God, that man was an idolater, a man-worshipper; and you and I, instead of being regarded as very excellent people, by those who call themselves “Unitarian Brethren,” should be condemned as idolaters. If Christ was not God, we are not Christians; we are deceived dupes, we are idolaters, as bad as the heathen whom we now pity. It is making a man into a God if Christ be not God. But, blessed be his holy name, he is God; and we feel that it is the supreme delight of our being to worship him. We cannot veil our faces with our wings, for we have none; but we do veil them with his own robe of righteousness whenever we approach him. We cannot cover our feet with our wings, as the angels do; but we do take his blood and his righteousness both as a covering for our feet, and as wings with which we fly up to him; and though as yet we have no crowns to cast at his dear feet, yet, if we have any honour, any good repute, any grace, anything that is comely, anything that is honest, we lay it all at his feet, and cry, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”

     III. Now I come to the third point, which is this, TRUE FAITH, — HOW TO PROMOTE IT.

     Brothers and sisters beloved, there are many of you who are constantly looking out for souls, and trying to bring them to Christ; you have here an example of what you may do in endeavouring to lead them to exercise faith in Jesus.

     First, if you have any choice as to those to whom you go, seek out the oppressed. You are to go, so far as you can, “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;” but if you may specially look for some more than others, seek out the sick, the sad, the weary, the poor, the broken-down ones, and especially such as have been put out of the synagogue. When our missionaries have gone among the Brahmins in India, they have had a few converts; but the most blessing has been given among the poor people who have no high caste of which they are proud. When the gospel was taken to them, they gladly received it. The gospel worker will be wise if, instead of shunning those whom even nominally religious people put away, he looks after them first. They are likely soil for the good seed of the kingdom to grow in, and bring forth fruit. Our Lord Jesus Christ, at Sychar, did not go to some goodly matron, who was an ornament to her sex; but you know where he found the woman who became his disciple and missionary, and you know what kind of woman she was; and, to this day, he delights to go about, as Whitefield used to say, “sweeping up the devil’s castaways.” Those whom nobody else wants, and nobody else will have, our blessed Lord and Master delights to receive. Do you, therefore, look after those out-of-the-way sinners. I like that expression, those out-of-the-way sinners; because our Lord Jesus Christ is the High Priest “who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way.” Out-of-the-way sinners are the sort he came to save; therefore, look out for them, you who would follow the example of the great Soul-Winner.

     Then, next, when you come to close quarters with them, ask them questions, as Christ did. He said to this man, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” Put the enquiry pointedly and personally. Here am I, up in the pulpit, firing the gospel gun, and the shot flies where God directs it; but you, downstairs, who love the Lord, can, as it were, hold a pistol close to the sinner’s head. Take them separately, one by one; and make them “stand and deliver.” Put the question as our Lord did, “Dost thou believe?” “See, friend,” you can say, “the minister has been preaching about faith. ‘Dost thou believe?’” This is what nine people out of ten want, — somebody to come and make a personal application of the truth to them. They are like soldiers out upon the battlefield; they lie there, wounded, bleeding, dying. Close by, there is all that is needed to bind up their wounds, and plenty of it; then, why do they lie there in agony? They need personal attention, and it is your business, as an army surgeon, to go and put on the lint, and bind up the wounds. Oh, that we had multitudes who would do this, and that all God’s people were constantly looking out for opportunities of making a personal application of the truth to those who hear it! “Dost thou believe?” said the Lord Jesus to this man, and by that question he held him fast. That is the way to win souls, begin with a personal question.

     Then, be ready to answer enquiries. This is what our Lord himself did when he revealed himself to this man. Tell them all you know; and if you cannot tell them all they want to know, try to bring them to somebody more advanced in spiritual things than you yourself are, so that, with prayer, and patience, and wise instruction, he may lead them to Christ.

     Next, pray to the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal himself to them, for that is the way faith comes. We cannot speak of Christ as he should be spoken of; but, when he reveals himself, then the sinners see him. All the portraits of a beauty never touch the heart like one glance from her eyes; and all the portraits of Christ, that ever were painted by his most admiring disciples, never make such an impression on the heart of man as when once he says, as he said to this man, “Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.” None but Christ himself can preach Christ to the full. He must reveal himself, or the Spirit must reveal him, or else men do not see him.

     Finally, glorify Christ by your own personal testimony. Recollect that wondrous intercessory prayer of our Lord, in which he said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” It was so kind, yet just like him, not to say, “through my word,” though it is his word that we are to proclaim; but we get it into our hearts, and so appropriate it that, when we utter it, we speak out of our own heart, and soul, and then it becomes our word, too, and so sinners believe on Christ through our word. Go on speaking your word, — that is, Christ’s word spoken by you, for this is how to win souls for him.

     Now, in closing, I want to begin again, and give you another little sermon altogether, only I shall not be able to preach it to you, but just to give you the heads of it, and leave it with you.

     The first head is, when you are believing, mind that you believe in Jesus himself. “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” or is it somebody else in whom you are believing? Is it merely what others say about Christ that you believe? Is it your own opinion of Christ? Or is it really the Son of God upon whom you are believing? When you are believing, believe in Jesus himself.

     Next, when you are enquiring, enquire of Jesus himself. This is a beautiful thing, to my mind. Here is a man asking Christ about Christ, — asking Jesus, “Who is he?” and, all the while, speaking to the very person about whom he was enquiring. He did not know it was Jesus, yet he had gone to the very fountain-head. Now, perhaps some of you have made enquiries of Christian people, and you have read the Bible, and prayed, and yet you cannot find Jesus; then go direct to him, by faith, and say, “Lord, show me thyself.” That is the way to learn of him. Have I a book of which I cannot make head or tail as I read it? If I knew where the author lived, I would call on him, and say, “Dear sir, will you kindly tell me what you mean by this expression? I cannot understand it.” That is the way to find anything out; go to the fountain-head. So, go you to Christ always; and, when you are enquiring, enquire of Christ himself.

     Next, when you are seeking Christ, ask Christ to reveal himself to you, for there is nobody who can reveal Christ as Christ can reveal himself by his blessed Spirit.

     And, next, when you are confessing your faith, confess it to Christ himself. Say, as this man did, “Lord, I believe.” Say to your minister, or to your mother, or to your friends, “I believe;” but take care, above all the rest, that you say, “Lord, I believe.”

     And, lastly, when you are worshipping, worship Christ himself: “He worshipped HIM, and no one else. Take care that your reverence and adoration are not given, in any degree, to the church, or to any person in it, or to any priest, or minister, or anything created or made; but worship God, and God in Christ Jesus; and the Lord bless you, beloved, for his name’s sake! Amen.



The Sorrowful Man’s Question

By / Oct 8

The Sorrowful Man’s Question

 

“Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?” — Job iii. 23.

 

I AM very thankful that so many of you are glad and happy. There is none too much joy in the world, and the more that any of us can create, the better. It should be a part of our happiness, and a main part of it, to try to make other people glad. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” is a commission which many of us ought to feel is entrusted to us. If your own cup of joy is full, let it run over to others who have a more trying experience. If you yourself are privileged to have the flashing eye, and the elastic step, and the bounding heart, be mindful to speak words of good cheer to such as are in bonds. Feel as if you were bound with them; and try to revive their drooping spirits. That is what I am going to aim at to-night, so you will excuse me if I bid “good-bye” for a while to you joyous ones, and just seek after those who have no such delight as you now possess; but who are, on the contrary, suffering from extreme depression of spirit. Sometimes, we must single out the wounded ones of the flock; that is what I am about to do; yet I feel sure that, while some few will be distinctly sought after, there will be something that may be of use to the many who are in a less sorrowful condition. The ninety-and-nine shall get their full portion although the shepherd goes specially after the lost one.

     The question of our text was put by Job when he first opened his mouth in the extreme bitterness of his anguish: “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?” His case was so sad and so trying that life itself became irksome to him. I suppose that by “light” here he means the power to see the light, the life which lives in the light. “Why,” he asked in his agony, “is that continued to a man when God hath filled him with sorrow upon sorrow?” The verses preceding our text are to the same effect: “Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures; which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?” The patriarch was weary of living; and perhaps we shall not wonder so much at his pitiful lamentation if we recollect the extreme distress into which he had been brought. He had lost all his property; by stroke upon stroke, all his wealth had been taken away from him. He might have borne that if it had been his only loss; but, close upon the heels of it had come sore bereavement. His happy children, for whom he daily cared, and whom he had tenderly loved, were all destroyed in a moment, while they were feasting.in the house of one of their brothers. The calamity seemed all the greater because it came in the very midst of their joys. Then, as if that was not trial enough, Job was himself smitten from head to foot with sore boils. If you have ever seen a person in that condition, I am sure that you must pity him. There is a dear friend of ours, now with God, whom I visited when he was in much the same state as that. Perhaps he had not to endure quite all that Job suffered, but something exceedingly like it had befallen him. The irritation, the pain, and the depression of spirit that come with that particular form of disease, all tend to make us treat very gently the petulant expressions of Job. We may not excuse them, but only he amongst us that is without fault may take up the first stone to cast at him. I will warrant that, if we had suffered as he did, and been brought to poverty, and left childless, and then been tortured as he was from head to foot, and even his wife rendering him no comfort, but, on the contrary, adding to his grief and woe, we might have said even worse things than Job did. For remember, dear friends, that he said nothing against God in the time of his deepest sorrow. He cursed most vehemently the day of his birth, and wished that he had never existed, or that he might speedily pass away to sleep with the generations that are dead; and he used unwise and foolish expressions, but any of us might have used far worse words if we had been in his case, so we will not condemn him, but we will see what lessons we can learn from his experience.

     I think that Job’s experience teaches us the very small value of temporal things. To have spiritual blessings, and to enjoy them, is one thing; but to have earthly things, and to enjoy them, is quite another thing. You may have an abundance of them, and yet they may be utterly tasteless to you, or they may even be bitter as gall to you, and you may curse the day that gave them to you. I am sure that it is so, because Job speaks thus concerning life, which is the chief of all earthly things. It is true, although Satan said it, “All that a man hath will he give for his life;” yet we may be brought into such a condition that we may wish that we had never been born. Life itself may become so wearisome to us that we may even wish to escape from it, that we may be at rest, as we hope. Job had once enjoyed every comfort that heart could desire, and he still had this blessing of life left to him; but even that had become curdled and soured, the last thing to which a man usually clings had become distasteful and disgusting to him, so that he set no store by it, but longed to get rid of it. O beloved, seek eternal treasures, for there is no moth that can eat them, no rust can mar them, no fermentation or corruption can injure them; but, as for the things of time and sense, if you do possess them, use them as though you had them not, and never make them your gods, for they are but as a shadow that passeth away in a moment. They come, and they are gone; and if you make idols of them, the Lord may permit you still to retain them, but take away from you all power to enjoy them. You may have abundance, and yet not be able to relish even the bread you eat, or the drink that refreshes you. You may have a loss of health, or a loss of all power to be happy, though everything that men think to be the cause of happiness may be laid abundantly at your feet.

     With this as a preface, I now come to my text, and ask you to notice, first, the case which raises the question; secondly, the question itself; and, thirdly, answers which may be given to the question: “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?”

     I. First, notice THE CASE WHICH RAISES THE QUESTION: “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?”

     That is to say, “Why does God permit men to live when their souls are under deep depression and gloom? Why does he not let them die at once? When their days are spent in weariness, and their nights yield them neither rest nor refreshment, — when they look upward, and see nothing to give them hope, or onward, and behold nothing but that which is even more dreadful than the present, — why is it that God continues life to those who are in such sad circumstances?” Well, dear friends, if life were not continued to any but those who are bright of eye, and fleet of foot, and joyous of heart, how few would live! And if, the first time that darkness fell upon a man’s pathway, he were to be permitted to die, well, then, the whole population of the globe would soon be swept away. If our murmuring and petulance demanded that we should die rather than suffer, then we should soon pass away, and be gone. But that is the case which is supposed in Job’s question, — If a man finds himself entirely in the dark, if God’s presence be completely hidden from him, and he can find no joy in anything whatever, and his spirit is tossed to and fro with worries and perplexities, the question is, “Why does he continue to live?”

     Yet, further, the man here described is in such trouble that he can see no reason for the trouble. His “way is hid.” Job could not perceive, in his own case, any cause for the distress into which he had been plunged. As far as he knew, he had walked uprightly. He had not sinned so as to be now suffering the result of his sin. He had not committed a crime, else he would have understood the punishment when it came upon him. He looked back upon all that he had done, and he could not, at his first glance, see in himself any cause for his affliction. Nor, indeed, dear brethren, was there any cause why all these things should have happened to Job by way of punishment, for the inspired record concerning him is that he was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”

     Even the devil himself, who kept a sharp look-out with his malicious eye, could not find any fault whatsoever with which he could charge Job. He deserved the character which God had given to him, though Satan did insinuate that he had acted from interested motives. He asked, “Doth Job fear God for nought?” That question has always seemed to me to be a very crafty one, yet very foolish, for if it could have been proved that Job had feared or served God for nought, then the devil would have said at once that God was a bad master, and that there was no reward for those who served him. But now that he finds God putting a hedge of roses round about Job, and sheltering him on every side, he declares that Job was only pious because he found it profitable. He could find no other fault with him; and even that accusation was not true.

     Job, on his part, remembered how he had fed the widow, and succoured the fatherless, — how he had acted justly towards his fellow-creatures in the midst of an unjust generation, — and how, amidst a mass of idolaters, he had worshipped God, and God alone. He had never kissed his hand in adoration to the moon, as she walked along her shining way in all her queenly brightness, nor had he ever bowed himself down to the host of heaven, as nearly all around him had done. He stood alone, or almost alone, in that age, as a true and faithful servant of Jehovah; yet his sorrows and trials were multiplied. And so, his way was hidden, he was hedged in by God, and he could not make it out. You know, dear friends, that it is often a great aggravation of our troubles when we do not know why they come. A man, when he is ill, usually wants to know what is the nature of his disease, and how he came to be attacked by it. When we see a person suffering, we generally ask, “Where did you catch that cold?” or, “What was it that brought on that congestion?” We always like to know the cause of the complaint, and Job wanted to ascertain the reason for his trouble, but he could not find it out, and this rendered it all the more mysteriously grievous to him, and therefore he enquired, “Why do I continue to live, when I have come into such darkness as this?”

     It was equally trying to Job that he did not know what to do. There seemed to be nothing that he could do. He was stripped of all his earthly possessions. Those ashes where he sat formed his uncomfortable couch, and the sole property that remained to him was a potsherd, with which, in his desperation, he began to scrape himself because of his sore boils. What could he do in such a case as that? There was no physician there to cure him of his sad complaint.

     True, there were his three friends; but all that they could do, or, at least, the best thing they did, was to sit still, and say nothing. When they opened their mouths, it was only to pour vinegar into his wounds, and to increase his agony tenfold. What could poor Job do under such circumstances? His very helplessness tended to increase his wretchedness.

     Am I addressing anyone who is in that kind of perplexity? I think I hear someone moaning, “I don’t know which way to turn. I have done everything I can think of, and I cannot tell what is to come next. I sit in darkness, and can see no light. Why I am brought to this pass, I cannot tell; or what is the reason for it, I cannot make out anyhow. If I could light upon some great and grievous fault which had brought me where I am, I could understand it; but as it is, I am in thick Egyptian night about it all, and I know not what to do. Why does a man continue to live when his way is thus hidden, or hedged up?” If that is the way you talk, you are in very much the same sort of plight that the patriarch was in when he uttered the mournful question which forms our text.

     What was still worse to Job was that he could not see any way out of his trouble. He said that God had hedged him in, not with a hedge of roses, but with a barrier of briars. Whatever he tried to do, he found himself obstructed in doing it. And there are men, now in this world, whose sorrows are the more grievous because everything they do to alleviate their distress seems only to increase it. Their efforts are all fruitless; they are like men who have become entangled in a bog; the more they struggle to get out, the deeper they descend. They strive to their very utmost, but it is all in vain; they rise up early, they sit up late, and they eat the bread of carefulness mingled with their tears; but there is a blight on all that they do. Nothing prospers with them; they are at their wits’ end. Then they begin to cry, “Oh, that we had never been born, rather than that we should have been born to such trouble as this! ‘Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?’”

     I have thus stated the case which gave rise to Job’s question, and I should not wonder if I have, at the same time, stated the case of some who are here. Do not think it has been a waste of time for any of you to hear this sorrowful description of a very sad condition of heart and mind. If I should only have been describing one such individual, let us all feel sympathy for him or for her, and let us unite in breathing the silent petition, “Lord, bring thy servant out of prison.”

     II. Now, secondly, we are to consider THE QUESTION ITSELF: “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?” In other words, Why is the light of life given to him who is in the darkness of misery?

     Well, first, let me say that it is a very unsafe question for anyone to ask. Brethren, we are sure to get into mischief as soon as we begin catechising God, and asking “why?” and “wherefore?” Such questioning comes not well from our lips. He is the Potter, and we are the clay in his hands. “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” God’s eternal purposes are a great deep, and when we try to fathom them, we utterly fail. Divine Sovereignty is an ocean without a bottom and without a shore, and all we can do is to set our sail, and steer by the chart which he has given us, and all the while believe that, as we sang just now, —

“E’en the hour that darkest seemeth,
Will his changeless goodness prove;
From the mist his brightness streameth,
God is wisdom, God is love.”

Voyaging in that fashion, we shall be safe indeed. But to try to cross such a sea, without rudder, or chart, or compass, — this is a venturesome piece of sailing which we had better not undertake. I tremble whenever I have to think of the wondrous ways of God; I mean, when I have to think of them after the manner of the reasoner, and not after the style of the believer. Well did Milton describe the fallen spirits sitting, in little groups, discussing predestination and the counsels of the Eternal. You know how Paul answers the man who calls in question the dealings of God either in providence or in grace: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Job received his answer when the Lord spake to him out of the whirlwind, and said, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” What God said to him was not so much a vindication of the ways of providence, but a revelation of his matchless power as the Creator and the Ruler of the universe; and, though men may not like to hear it, yet there is, in the thunder of God’s power, an answer, which, though it may not always answer the sceptic, must ultimately overpower and silence him. As for God’s child, he sits down in the shadow of that black cloud which is the canopy of Deity, and he is well content to be still in the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. Imitate him, my brother, and do not keep asking God the why and the wherefore of what he does. It is an unsafe thing to ask such questions.

     Next, it reflects upon God. In this question of Job, there is really a reflection upon the wisdom of the Almighty. He has given the light of life to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God hath hedged in, yet Job asks, “Why did he do it?” I think that, far too often, we indulge our questionings of divine providence. Is God to stand and answer to you and me for what he does? Is he bound to tell us the reason why he does it? Job’s friend Elihu said, “God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.” If there be his equal anywhere, let him meet him in the field, and they shall speak together; but to us worms of the dust answers shall not be given if we haughtily put questions to him of “what?” and “why?” and “wherefore?” To accept the Lord’s will with absolute submission, is after the manner of the Son of God himself, for he prayed, in the hour of his greatest agony, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” But to cavil, and to question, is after the manner of the prince of darkness, who is ever seeking to dispute the sovereignty of God. Therefore, beloved, let no question of ours reflect upon the Lord’s love, or the dispensations of his providence.

     Further, we may rest quite certain that there must be an answer to this question, a good answer, and an answer in harmony with the character of God. If there are men and women to be found still sitting in the darkness of grief and sorrow, and we ask why they are allowed to continue to live, there is a reply possible to that enquiry, and a reply consistent with boundless grace and infinite compassion; but, mark you, that reply may never be given, or, if it is given, we may be incapable of understanding it. There is much that God does that could not be understood, even by those great men, of modern times, who would fain sit on the throne of the Eternal, and judge him, —

“Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
Rejudge his judgments, be the god of God.”

I say that there are some answers, which God might give if he pleased, but which even they could not comprehend with all their wit and wisdom, and you and I must often come to a point where we have to stop and say, “We cannot understand this;” and we shall be still wiser if we add, “Nor do we wish to do so.” Brothers and sisters, I, for one, have had enough of searching into reasons; I am perfectly satisfied to accept facts. I am ready to bow my reason before the Lord, and to accept whatever he says. If I do not, how little shall I ever know! What is there that I do really understand? I confess that I see profound mysteries about the commonest phenomena around me; I cannot fully comprehend anything when I get right to the bottom of it. There is, on every hand, a deep which I cannot fathom; how, then, shall I understand the ways of God, and measure him with my finite mind, comparing so many inches with the Infinite, weighing so many ounces against the Omnipotent, and reckoning so many seconds in contrast with the Eternal? No, brethren, for such calculations, you have nothing to measure with; you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep, yea, bottomless. So, the less of such questions as Job’s any of us ask, the better, for, even if we had the answer to them, we might not be able to understand it.

     Let me remind you also that, however important this question may seem to be, it is not the most profitable question. I have heard of a farmer, whose boy said to him, “Father, the cows are in the corn; however did they get there?” “Boy,” he replied, “never mind how they got there; our work is to get them out as soon as we can.” That is our main business also, to get the cows out of the corn; how they got there is a matter that can be thought of by-and-by when we have nothing else to do. The origin of evil is a point that puzzles a great many people; but I hope you will not worry your brains over that question; if you do, you will be very foolish. But if you are wise men, you will not trouble yourself so much about the origin of evil, as about how to conquer it, in yourself, and in others. Get the cows out of the corn, and then find out how they got in, if you can, by so doing, prevent their getting in again.

     There will be space enough, and time enough, and better light, to discuss these questions when we get up yonder before the throne of the Eternal. If their solution is of any real consequence to us, we shall get them solved then; but, meanwhile, we are colour-blind; or, if we are not, it is so dark and so misty here, and we have so many other more pressing matters to attend to, that we had better leave these whys and wherefores, and rely on the infallible wisdom and the infinite love of God. If he has done anything, it is quite certain that it is right and just; yea, if it has come from his dear hand, it is also gracious and kind. There is more sublimity in being like a little child in the presence of the Eternal than there is in trying to ape the Deity, for that is but a mockery, — a thing to be despised; — nay more, it is the greatest insult we can offer to God, and it is a pity and a shame that any of us should so live and act. Put aside everything of the kind, I implore you, and in very truth submit yourselves unto God.

     III. But now, in the last place, speaking to the sorrowful person, I want to mention SOME ANSWERS WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO HIS QUESTION. “Why do I continue to live,” asks he, “in such sorrow as this? Why does not God take from me the light of life when he does not permit me to enjoy the light of comfort?”

    Supposing that you are a child of God, I will give you one answer which ought to satisfy you, though, perhaps, it will not if your spirit is rebellious. God wills it. If you are one of his true children, that is all the answer that you will require; and you will say, with those early Christians, “The will of the Lord be done;” and with your Lord himself, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” It was enough for Christ that his suffering was in accordance with the Father’s will, so he bowed before him in unquestioning submission; and shall not you, the disciple, be content to fare as your Master did? Will not you be perfectly satisfied with that which satisfied your Lord? It is the will of the Lord; then what need is there of any further question if you are his child?

     But supposing that you are an unconverted person, and you say, “I cannot bear to live in such sorrow as this, why is my life prolonged?” — the answer is, “Because of God’s mercy to you” Where would you go to be better off than you are here? You who have no hope in Christ, and yet who say, “I wish I were dead,” you know not what you are saying. You wish you were dead? But what would be your portion after death? What! Do you really wish to hear that dread sentence which must be passed upon you if you die unregenerate: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels”? Do you really desire to feel the full weight of divine justice? Ah! I hope that you are not so foolish. You have spoken in petulance, and do not mean what you have said. It may be hard for you to live, but it would be harder far for you to die, and then to live for ever in a death that never dies. God grant that you may never know that awful doom!

     Moreover, the answer to your question is that the Lord spares you because he would fain save you. You are kept alive that you may hear again that voice of mercy which says, “Repent ye, and be converted.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” God comes to you in this time of suffering, that he may; stop you in your sin, and make you think. Even to the most careless and giddy among you, during the poignancy of your grief, he says, “Now, my prodigal child, thou hast wasted thy substance in riotous living, thy belly is hungry, and thou hast nothing with which to fill it; arise, and go unto thy Father, for he will receive thee.” Come, then, sorrowful one, it may be that thy sorrows will end when thy sins end; certainly, when thou comest to Christ to be forgiven, thou shalt find divine consolation, even if all thy griefs do not at once disappear. Anyhow, it would be better to be whipped all the way to heaven than to be carried down to hell “on flowery beds of ease.” Pray this prayer, “O Lord, let me enter into life with one eye and one hand, halt or maimed, rather than, having two eyes and two hands, to be cast into hell!” This is one answer to your question; the Lord lets you live, even though it is in pain and grief, because he has purposes of love and mercy towards you. Therefore, be not anxious to die; but be thankful that you are still permitted to tarry upon gospel ground. Nay, do not be content to tarry there, but fly at once to the God of grace; look this very instant to Jesus, for—

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

One believing glance of the eye to him who is the sinner’s Substitute, and all transgression is forgiven; therefore, yield yourself unto him, trust to his finished work, and eternal life is yours. And when you have that unspeakable blessing, why need you sorrow more?

     As for the child of God, to whom I now again speak, if you ask, in a timid, childlike way, “Why do I continue to live in such sorrow as I have to endure?” I would, as your brother, try to answer you. First, it may be that all this trouble has come upon you to let you know what is in you. None of us know what there is in us until we are put to the test. We are wonderfully sweet-tempered until somebody touches one of our sore places; and then, ah, me! there is not much sweetness of temper left after that. We are remarkably patient until we get a sharp neuralgic pain, perhaps; and then, where is all our boasted patience gone? We are very generous until we ourselves are somewhat pinched, and then we become as tightfisted as others whom we have condemned. We do not know what is really in us while all goes smoothly and well; but sickness, and sorrow, and bereavement, and poverty, and hunger, will soon let us see what we are. They make a mental or moral photograph of us, and when we look at the picture, we say, “Oh, no! that cannot be our likeness;” but we look again and again, and then we say, “Alas! it is even so; but we did not know we were like that. Now we see our faults and our follies. O Lord, thou hast searched us, and tried us, and shown us the wicked ways that are in us; now purge us from them, and make us clean and pure in thy sight!” That is one reason, and a very good reason, for sharp affliction, — to let us see ourselves as we really are.

     The next is that, often, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but, by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ’s sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master’s purpose, and brought you near his side.

     Dear child of God, anything that promotes your sanctification, or increases your spirituality, is a good thing for you. I have had my share of physical pain, and perhaps more of it than most who are here; and I bless God for it. If it comes again, I ask him for grace to bless him for it then; and now that it has gone for a while, I freely bless him for it, for I cannot tell you all the good that it has wrought in me. Oh! how often a proud spirit has been cut back by affliction and trial, like a vine that is made to bleed, that the clusters that followed the pruning might be all the better and richer! The mown grass is very sweet and fine; and so, often, are believers who have been deeply tried. This tribulation, as Paul says, “worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Wherefore, bow humbly before the Lord, my tried and afflicted friend, and see at least some of the reasons why he thus puts you in the dark chamber of tribulation.

     Perhaps, dear brother, you are being very greatly tried, more than most people, to fit you to be an example to others. The Lord means to make a veteran of you, so you must be the first in the breach, or you must lead the forlorn hope. He puts you on the hardest service because he wants others of his children to be able to learn from you. I do not know that we should ever have heard anything of Job if it had not been for his troubles; he was a most respectable Eastern farmer, with a considerable estate, very much like a great many country gentlemen we have in England, who may be heard of at the Quarter Sessions, or the corn and cattle market, but nothing more will be known of them unless you go to the parish church, and see some memorial of them stuck up there. Job would have been much the same sort of man as that, — an Oriental magnate, who would have lived, and died, and been forgotten; but now his fame will last as long as the world endures, and “ye have heard of the patience of Job.” You have all heard of it, and Job is one of the undying names. So it may be with you, beloved. You are, perhaps, to sail through seas of trouble to reach your crown. God means to use you in his service, and make you a blessing to others, and a teacher of others, by passing you again and again through the fire. One of the ancient warriors said, “I cannot use in battle a sword that has not been ofttimes annealed; but give me a Damascus blade that has been so prepared, and I will cut through a coat of mail, or split a man from head to foot at a single stroke. It gets its temper and keenness of edge from having slept with the flames again and again.” So must it be with believers. Full often, they are unfit for God to use till they have been sorely tried.

     Perhaps, dear friend, the Lord is putting you through all this trouble— (only I hardly like to say it aloud, I must whisper it in your ears somehow, —) because he loves you more than anybody else. Dear Samuel Rutherford, when he wrote to a lady who had lost, I think, seven children, congratulated her, and said, “I am sure that the Well-beloved has a strong affection for your ladyship, for he will have all your heart. He has taken away all these children that there may not be a nook or a corner for anybody else but for him.” So the Lord loves you much, and he is testing you to set whether you can bear his will, — whether you love him so much that you will take up your cross, and deny yourself, just as, sometimes, architects will ask for their work to be put to the severest possible tests. “Yes,” they say, “see what it will really bear.” No doubt Stephenson felt great joy when the heaviest train went safely across his tubular bridge; and other engineers have said, “Yes, put on as much pressure as you like; it will stand it.” Fathers often take delight in the athletic feats of their sons, and princes revel in the brave deeds of their warriors; and so does the Lord delight to see what his people can do, and he often puts upon them more and more, to prove whether they love him so much that they can bear it all for his sake. Did not the Lord do this to let Satan see that Job did love his God, and would still say, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? . . . The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” We cannot tell what a blessing must come from such a state of heart as that.

     It is very possible, dear friend, also, that God is putting you through all this trouble that he may enable you to bear great prosperity. Job was to have twice as much as he had ever had before, and that was a very great deal, for he said that he washed his steps with butter, and the rock poured him out rivers of oil; but how much richer he was when everything was doubled! Job was hardly fit to manage such a large estate as that until he had been made to see the vanity of it all, and to get nearer to his God. So, dear friends, you are going to be pressed, and squeezed, and tried, in order that you may be fitted to come right out into the front rank, and to be magnified and made much of by the Lord your God. I have noticed this kind of thing happen more than once. I have seen a man suddenly taken from the very dregs of the people, and put up to preach, and he has been popular all at once. Nobody has abused him, nobody has said a word against him; but, before long, he has passed completely out of sight. He could not bear the weight that was put upon him, and gave way. You have seen others, who have been called of God to preach the Word, and they have been abused year after year. They could not say anything that was not perverted; they were called mountebanks, impostors, and I know not what. And then, when happier days came, and almost all men spoke well of them, they could bear it, for they had learnt to despise alike the flatteries and the abuse of men. Now, something like that must happen to all God’s servants who are to be greatly honoured. If they are to bear prosperity, they must go through the fire first. Perhaps that is what the Lord is doing with you, my dear friend; if so, be content with your lot.

     And, once again, do you not think that the Lord means thus to make you more like his dear Son than other people are? Some other Christians have not as much trouble to endure as you have. No; why is it? You know how an artist can, if he likes, dash off a picture. There! A little red, and a little blue, and so on, and it is done; and away it goes! Ay, but when he wants to paint something that will be observed and admired, then he takes more pains. See how he works at every part of it; note what care and what trouble he takes with it. It is the same with the lapidary or the sculptor when he has choice work in hand; and you are, I hope, the kind of material that will pay for cutting and carving; and the Lord is using his chisel upon you more than he does upon most folk. He wants to make you just like his dear Son; so now he is chipping out a thorn-crown, and you must wear it round your brain. He is fashioning the image of his Son out of the block of your renewed nature, and you must patiently bear the blows from his hammer and chisel till that work is done.

     Finally, if I cannot tell you why all this trouble falls to your lot, I know it is right, for the Lord has done it, and blessed be his name. Aaron held his peace when his two sons died. He got as far as that in submission to the will of the Lord; but it will be better still if, instead of simply holding your peace, you can bless and praise and magnify the Lord even in your sharpest trouble. Oh, may you be divinely helped to do so! Let every troubled soul march out of this place feeling, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” Rise, dear friend, out of all despondency and despair, shake yourself from the dust, and put on your beautiful garments of praise and joy, remembering that—

“The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.”

You can see the tracks of the martyrs along the road you are journeying; better still, you can see the footprints of the Son of God, your Lord and Saviour. Therefore, you may rest assured that you are on the right road, so press bravely forward on it, and, in due time, you will come to that place of which Job said, “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest;” and you shall be for ever without fault before the throne of God. May he grant this happy portion to you all, for his dear Son’s sake! Amen.



A Day to be Remembered

By / Oct 1

A Day to be Remembered

 

“And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house.” — Luke xix. 9.

 

OBSERVE, dear friends, that our Lord spoke this sentence to Zacchaeus. Some of us may have fancied that he said it to the objecting people, but he did not. They may have heard it, and their objection may have been answered by it, but the main purpose of our, blessed Lord, in uttering those words, was not to answer objectors, but to comfort one who might feel dispirited by their murmuring remark. Therefore, “Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house.”

     It is always better to comfort believers than to answer cavillers. The cavillers scarcely deserve a reply, for they are pretty sure to find fault again; it is according to their nature to do so. But as for the poor distressed people of God, who gladly receive the truth, and yet have to endure unkind observations, let these be cheered, for has not the Lord himself said, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people”? Now, what could give Zacchaeus greater consolation than for the Lord Jesus Christ to bear witness to the fact of his salvation? “Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house.”

     I fancy that I can hear some of you say, “We should count it the happiest day in our lives if the Lord Jesus would come and tell us that salvation had come to us.” But, beloved, you cannot have him come, in the flesh, to say that to you, for he has gone away, to carry on his service elsewhere; among other things, he has gone to prepare a place for you who believe in him. But his Spirit is equally divine, and he is with us always; and you may have the Spirit of God bearing witness with your spirit that you are the children of God. Nay, I trust that you not only believe that you may have this witness, but that you actually have had it, — you have had that secret, silent, inward evidence which no man understands but the one who receives it; and you know, in your own soul, that you have passed from death unto life, because the Holy Spirit has sealed that truth upon your heart. Therefore, dear friend, be joyful; yea, be exceedingly glad. If anything can make a man leap for joy, it ought to be the assurance of his eternal safety. If salvation has come to your heart, you ought to be as happy as an angel; I think that there are some reasons why you should be even happier, for an angel cannot know, by personal experience, the bliss of having his sins forgiven. You, who have realized this wondrous blessing, ought to cause the wilderness and the solitary place to resound with the melody of your thanksgiving, and with the music of your grateful delight you should make even the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. Oh, what bliss it is to be assured by the Holy Spirit himself that you have passed from death unto life, and that salvation has indeed come unto you! May many of you enjoy that bliss from this very hour!

     Now let us come directly to the text. “This day,” says Christ, “is salvation come to this house.” You will not forget the outline of the sermon, for it is very simple, and one that can be easily remembered First, This day, — what? Secondly, This day, — why? Thirdly, This day, — why not?

     I. First, THIS DAY, WHAT? What about this day?

     Christ says, “This day is salvation come to this house.” He seemed to cut that day out of all the rest of time, and to say concerning it, “This day, — this particular day, — on this very day, — is salvation come to you.” Then, let this day be a holy day, and let it be a holiday; let it be remembered for many a year; yea, let it be recollected throughout all time and throughout eternity, too: “this day.”

     You know that there are some people who observe certain days which God has not ordained to be kept in any special manner. The Galatians did so, and therefore Paul wrote to them, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” We do not judge those who act in a similar way to-day; but, still, like Paul, we are afraid of them; that is to say, we fear they are mistaken in what they do. But there are some days which God commanded to be observed.

     The first was, the day when the work of creation was finished, concerning which we read, “On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The completion of the creation, when “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good,” deserves to be remembered. And does not the new creation also deserve to be remembered? When the Lord creates in a man a new heart and a right spirit, shall we not say, one to another, “This day— this joyful day— this divine day— this new creation day— is a day to be observed very specially”?

     It is clear, from the practice of the apostles, that the Lord intends us to observe the first day of the week, because that was the day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the day of the completion of our redemption; and well may we commemorate the complete redemption even more than the complete creation, Shall not each saved man specially celebrate the day when he was redeemed from sin? Shall he not count it worthy to be observed, with holy rites of preaching, praise, and prayer, and to be had in grateful remembrance as long as he lives? Each believer can say of the Lord’s day, “This day, the Lord redeemed my soul out of the hand of the enemy, and set me free for ever.” God has appointed but one day to be kept sacred above all others; that is the Lord’s day. Your Christmas days, and your Good Fridays, and all such seasons, are only observed by man’s ordinance; but the Sabbath is ordained of God, and that is to be observed as the emblem of rest. Now, surely, when a man comes into rest, and “we which have believed do enter into rest,” then that day should be specially observed by him. It should become a Sabbath unto the Lord throughout the man’s whole life, — that happy day in which salvation came to him. Let, then, “this day” stand as a special day in your calendar; mark it with a red line, if you like; or mark it with a golden seal, and let it be had in remembrance evermore.

     Our Lord said to Zacchaeus, “This day is salvation come to this house.” From these words I learn, first, that salvation is a speedy blessing. It can come to a house in a day; nay, more, it can take possession of a man’s heart in a day; nay, to go further, this great work can be accomplished in a single moment. I suppose that the new birth is actually a thing which requires no appreciable period of time; — a flash, and it is done. If a man be dead, and he is restored to life there may be, in certain respects, a gradual operation upon that man, and some time may elapse before he is able to walk; but there must be a certain instant in which there is life in the man, whereas, a moment before, there was no life in him. The actual quickening must be a thing that is instantaneous, so that the working of salvation in a man may not only be performed this day, or this hour, or this quarter of an hour, but this minute, or even this second. Between light and darkness there is usually a period of twilight, and so there is in the soul; but, even in twilight, there is a measure of light, and there must be a moment when the first real beam of light begins to smite the ebonite darkness. So there must be a moment when grace first enters the soul, and the man, who before was graceless, becomes gracious. I think this is a good point to be remembered. You poor deluded souls, who hope to save yourselves by your own works, will have to keep on throughout your whole lives at that useless occupation, and even when you lie dying, you may be sure that you are not saved if you have been trusting to your own works. But he that believes in Christ Jesus is saved there and then, and he can joyfully sing, —

“’Tis done! the great transaction’s done;
I am my Lord’s, and he is mine.”

This is a blessed fact, — that salvation can come to a soul this very hour; nay, as I have already reminded you, long ere the hand of that clock shall have reached the end of this hour, salvation may have entered into many hearts that are in this place, as truly as it entered into the house of Zacchaeus.

     Next, I learn from our text that salvation is a discernible blessing: “This day is salvation come to this house.” Christ could see it, so that it was something which could be seen. Ay, and salvation was also seen by Zacchaeus himself, and the fruits of it were soon seen by those who were in the house with him. Do not suppose that a man can be saved, and yet know nothing about the great change that has been wrought in him. It is not every man who can say for certain that he is saved, for faith is a thing of growth, and assurance may not come at once; but when a man is really and completely saved, he has but to use the proper means, and he may become absolutely certain of it. God the Holy Spirit is willing and waiting to give the full assurance of faith and of understanding to those who seek it at his hands.

     Next, salvation is a perfect blessing: “This day is salvation come to this house.” Well, but only as late as yesterday, that man had not even seen Jesus. Half an hour ago, he was climbing a tree, like a boy might have done, with no wish but just to get a sight of Jesus; and, now, is that man saved? “Yes,” says Christ, “this day is salvation come to this house.” “But, surely, you don’t talk as positively as that concerning a man who came here to-night unsaved, and who has just trusted in Jesus. You must mean that he has reached a hopeful stage in his experience, and that, after several years, he may perhaps come to be really assured that he is a saved man.” I mean nothing of the sort; I mean just what the text implies, which is that, the moment the Lord Jesus Christ crossed the threshold of the house of Zacchaeus, his sins were forgiven him, his heart was renewed, his spirit was changed, and he was a saved man. “But,” someone asks, “is anybody ever saved before he dies?” Yes, certainly. Were those persons dead of whom Paul wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” They were living men and women, yet the apostle said that they were saved, and so they were. And, at the present moment, there are hundreds of thousands of believers in Jesus, upon the face of this earth, who are as truly saved now as they will be when they stand before the burning throne of God “without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” In God’s judgment, by virtue of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on whom they are resting by faith, they have been delivered from condemnation, they have escaped from the dominion of sin, and, in a word, they are saved. So, you see, dear friends, that salvation is a perfect blessing.

     Notice, next, that it is a much-containing blessing. A man who believes in Christ is saved directly, but he does not fully know how much that word “saved” means yet. It is like a big box that comes into the house, and you begin to open it, and to take out first one thing and then another. “There,” you say, “that is all.” “Oh, no!” says somebody, who looks more carefully, “here is another packet.” “Well, then, that is surely all; there is nothing but straw now at the bottom of the box.” You put your hand in, and you cry, “Why! there is something more, and something more; what a boxful it is!” And what a boxful salvation is! You have no idea what there is in it, — not only the pardon of sin, but justifying righteousness; not only that, but regeneration, a new heart, and a right spirit; not only that, but sanctification, adoption, acceptance, power in prayer, preservation, perseverance, victory; — yea, we are to be more than conquerors through him that hath loved us; — and all that is in the box. Ay, and more too; for we are to have a safe and happy departure out of this world, and an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of God our Father. All that is in the box; and all that had come into the house of Zacchaeus when the Lord Jesus Christ came there; and you also have all that if you have Christ, for it is all in Christ. You know how he said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father;” and Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All things are your’s: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye arc Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” You will never get to the bottom of that box which bears the name “salvation.” However great your needs may be, you may keep on taking out of it all that you require, and still there shall be more left; or, to change the figure, salvation is a springing well, from which the more you draw the more there is remaining, for drawn wells are always the sweetest, and usually the fullest. So, bring your buckets to this great well of gospel grace that is springing up at your very feet. Thus, you see that salvation is an all-containing blessing.

     And, next, it is a spreading blessing, for salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus, — not to himself only, but to his wife, his children, and his servants, I hope it means. I never like to have the servants left out, though I am afraid that they often are. You servants who live in Christian families, mind that you do not get left out; for, remember that Noah, although he was a good man, did not get one servant into the ark with him and his family. Recollect Lot also; he was a good man of a very poor sort, and he only got his two children out of Sodom, and no servant went with them. It is a sad thing when you live and labour in the midst of Christian people, and yet you yourselves remain unsaved. I hope and believe that, in the case of Zacchaeus, all in his house were saved when salvation came there.

     But, once more, the salvation which had come to the house of Zacchaeus, was an abiding blessing, for I never read that it went away again. If salvation comes to a man’s house, it comes to stay there, as Christ said to Zacchaeus, “I must abide at thy house.” I can never believe in a man being saved for a time, and then falling from grace, and having to begin all over again. If he does not hold on his way to the end, it is clear that he never was really saved at all. As I have often told you, I can understand a man being regenerated, that is, being born again; but then some people tell us that it is possible for him, afterwards, to fall away from grace. But what is to become of him the next time? Why, I suppose that he must be re-regenerated, — born again and again; but I never read, in Scripture, anything of the kind. A man may be born again once, but he cannot be born again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again. That cannot be; when the work of regeneration is done once, it is done for ever. The work of man comes to an end, but the work of God fails not. That which is born of God is as immortal as God himself; the new life, that comes into the converted man from God, cannot die. How often do we ring in the ears of our friends those glorious words of our Lord, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Happy is the man to whose house salvation comes, for it comes to stay world without end.

     That must suffice for the first head, This day, — what?

     II. Now, secondly, we are to think of another aspect of the subject, that is, THIS DAY, WHY? Why had salvation come to the house of Zacchaeus that day?

     I answer, — because, that day, Zacchaeus was called by effectual grace; and whenever effectual grace comes to anyone, it brings salvation. “Wherefore, brethren,” as Peter says, “give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” for these are the “things that accompany salvation.” If you are sure that you are called of God, you may be quite certain that you are saved, for “this day” — the day in which a man is effectually called by grace, — this day does salvation come to his house. Look, dear friends, God chose his people in his everlasting purpose, but salvation did not come to their houses that day. They knew nothing of it at that time, for they were not then born. Christ redeemed his people when he died on the cross, but salvation did not come to their houses that day, for the most of them were not then in existence. But, in the fulness of time, the gospel was preached to them, and they heard it; yet, in all cases, salvation did not come to their houses that day, for though they heard it, they refused it. But the moment that effectual grace says to anyone, “To-day I must abide at thy house,” that grace at once gains admission, and salvation comes there and then to that man’s house. You remember how the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “Whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” These great blessings are joined together, like the links of a chain, and you cannot pull them asunder. There is the calling that fits into the justification, and the chain is so made that the two links never can be separated. And then justification fits into glorification in such a way that you cannot possibly part them. It is no use for anyone to try to separate them. The devil may pull and hammer as much as ever he likes, but all his efforts will be in vain. I have sometimes likened that passage in Romans to a vast suspension bridge between earth and heaven: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” If you get your foot firmly resting on that great plank of effectual calling, you may be quite sure that you will be able to cross all the rest of the bridge, and will most certainly reach the other side, and be “for ever with the Lord.”

     But how do we know that Zacchaeus was really called? I answer in such a way that you may know whether you also are called or not. The call of Zacchaeus was an effectual call, first, because it was a personal call. He was up in the sycomore tree, and he heard Christ call, “Zacchaeus.” “Why!” he said to himself, “That is my name; he is calling me.” “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down.” “Then he can see that I am up here; his description exactly fits my case.” Now, when you come and hear me preach the gospel, I try to put the truth before you in a clear and very pointed manner. Some people say that it is wrong to be personal in preaching, but I always try to be as personal as ever I can. Yet I know that many of my hearers pass on to their neighbours and friends what I say to them. “Oh! that just fits Mrs. So-and-So,” says somebody. No, my dear sir, — it is meant for you, but you will not take it home to yourself. But when the Lord Jesus Christ himself calls, then the man says, “Dear me! I do not believe that the preacher can see me right away here, yet he is speaking straight at me; I am sure that he is. How singular! He just mentioned something that cannot have occurred to anybody but me; he has exactly described my case.” Those are the times when God is about to bless the soul, — when the man feels himself picked out from the rest of the congregation, and the gospel sharpshooter is just covering him with his rifle of grace. I pray that the blessed bullet of the gospel may find its billet in the very centre of your heart, and bring you down at the feet of Jesus as a weeping penitent. “Zacchaeus!” The Lord knew that was the name of the man up the sycomore; and he also knows your name and your character; and when he means to call you by his effectual grace, he will hold your photograph up, and make you say, “Yes, that is my portrait; there is nobody else exactly like that.”

     Next, it was a royal call. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “To-day I must abide at thy house.” One of our proverbs says, “Must is for the king;” and when the King speaks, he must be obeyed. We who are his ministers try to be very pressing and urgent; but when the Master himself utters the call, where the word of that King is there is power. I hope he is saying to someone here, “To-day I must abide in thy heart.” Now you have come to the point when you also will have to say, “I must.” There must be no turning back now, dear friend; you must not say to Christ, “Go thy way for this time.” No; but you must say, “This time present is the time when I also will say ‘must’ as Christ says it to me.” That is an effectual call when it comes as a royal mandate, a warrant from the King: “I must.”

     Then, next, it was a call which produced immediate obedience. The Lord said to Zacchaeus, “Make haste, and come down;” and we read, “He made haste, and came down.” I think I see him coming down that tree a great deal faster than he had gone up; he had not moved at such a rate as that for a long while; but he scurried down, for he was told to make haste by One whose command compelled him to obey. When the Lord Jesus Christ calls any of you effectually, you will not put off your decision till the next morning; you will not say, “I will wait till I can get home and pray;” you will not even say, “I will wait till the end of the service, and then talk with a Christian person;” but your prayer will be, “Lord, help me to look to Jesus now. I yield myself up to thee this very instant. I am in a hurry about it. Lord, I am making haste to get to thee; make haste to come and save me. I would not delay a single second longer. I want to be thine alone, and thine at once.” That is a mark of effectual calling, when immediate obedience is given to the call.

     Another mark in the case of Zacchaeus was, that it was joyful obedience; “He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” Oh, the joy of the heart that receives Christ when Christ himself does really come to the soul! The moment I believed in Christ, I wanted to shout “Hallelujah”; and if I had done so, I think that I might have been forgiven. The moment one believes in Christ, and knows that his sin is all gone, what extravagance would be extravagant under such circumstances? Is not the man justified in being joyful when at length his iniquity is blotted out, and his transgression is covered? It is a mark of effectual calling when we receive Christ joyfully.

     In the case of Zacchaeus, observe that his obedience was complete, for Christ said, “To-day I must abide at thy house;” and “he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully” at his house, for the people murmured because Christ had gone to be his guest. Now, dear friends, will you also receive Christ? That is the point. Are you willing to let him come unto you, and be your salvation? Are you eager that he should come? Do you beg him to come? Depend upon it, he will come to you when you are ready to receive him; but mind you do not trust for salvation to anything else or anyone else but Christ. Be satisfied with nothing but the ever-living Saviour to be your Saviour from first to last.

     There was yet one more mark of the effectual calling of Zacchaeus, and that was, that he received Christ in a spiritual sense, for he did not only take him into his house, but he took him into his heart. I know that he did so because he began at once to purge his heart by driving out covetousness. That was a splendid way of getting rid of it when he said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.” Then he began to drive put his former grasping habit, for he said, “And if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” That was clear evidence that he meant to receive Christ, in all his holy, gracious teaching, not merely as a man and a stranger; but, spiritually, as his Master, his Ruler, his Teacher, his Guide, — in a word, as his Saviour.

     III. Now, lastly, THIS DAY WHY NOT?

     And now I change the day altogether, for I mean this very day when I am speaking to you, this first of October in the present year of grace 1882. “This day.” This day, — why not? Why should we not, “this day,” give ourselves to Christ? I have tried to think of any reason why a man should not give himself up to the Lord Jesus Christ this day, and I cannot find one. Then, why should he give himself to Christ this day, on this particular day? I think I know several reasons why he should do so.

     First, it is late enough. Surely you do not want to wait any longer. How old did you say you are, friend? Seventy-six? Eighty-six? What! as old as that, and not yet saved? You do not need one like me, so much younger, to urge you to speedy decision. Or did you say that you are not more than my own age, — not yet fifty? Well, I find it is quite late enough for me. There are certain influences and sensations creeping over me, which make me realize that I am somewhat different from what I used to be, and I expect it is the same with you. I think it is getting rather late in life for you to be still undecided. Perhaps some younger person says, “But I am only one-and-twenty.” Well, that is late enough to be without Christ; it is a thousand pities that the devil should have had one-and-twenty years of your life. I was converted to the Lord Jesus Christ when I was fifteen, but I wish it could have been fifteen years before. Oh, that I had known and loved him as soon as I knew anything, and had lisped his name with the first words I ever uttered! I think every Christian will say the same. Whatever our age is, the time past may well suffice to have wrought the will of the flesh. Do not you think so, my friend? Have not you had quite enough of sin? What profit have you ever received from it? It is surely quite late enough for you to receive Christ as your Saviour.

     And, further, it is late enough in the year. It seems to me, when the leaves are falling all around you, as if they all said to you, “We all do fade as a leaf.” Is it not fully time to seek the Lord? I know of no season that seems more suited for pensive thought than just now when the year seems to be weeping itself into its tomb, and burying itself amid falling leaves. Now is the time to yield yourself to the Lord; there cannot be a better period than just now, — ere yet the year is fully gone.

     The mercy is, dear friend, that, though it is quite late enough, it is not too late for anybody here. There is yet time for you to seek the Lord. It is a pity to have put the Lord off until you yourself have got into the sere and yellow leaf; but yet there is time to turn unto him. What! have you reached the eleventh hour of life? It is late, it is very late; but, still, it is not yet too late. It is not yet too late even if you are to die this week; and there are some out of this great company who will, I suppose, pass into the unseen world this week. Dear friend, I know not who you are, but you who stand nearest to your eternal destiny, it is not yet too late even for you. I pray you, clutch at once at the great mercy now offered to you. God help you so to do!

     Every week, I have to hear of some out of our number who have passed away. There have been some this last week, and some whom I certainly thought we might have had with us for a long time. They were, apparently, in good health, yet now they are to be buried at the beginning of the week, for they have gone from us quite suddenly. And why may not some of you be the next to be taken? Do not postpone your decision any longer; I would that we could say to-night, “This day, October 1st, some soul did receive salvation. Let the recording angel mark it down.” The harvest is not quite over, though I thought it was. We down south have almost forgotten it, but there is a farming friend up with us to-day, who said to me, “We have not finished our harvest, for we have not got the beans in yet.” So, you see, the harvest is not quite over, but I do not want you to have to say, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” I would like to get some of you to come in with the beans, just with the last crop. Oh, that you might be brought to Christ just at this fag end of the harvest! The Master is willing that you should come to him even now, so do not delay. “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” “Behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation.”

     Remember, also, that to-day is gospel time. Still is Christ preached unto you, still is the door of mercy set open before you, still is the cry “Come” uttered by the Spirit, and the bride, the Lamb’s wife, echoes it, “Come.” Still the water of life is freely flowing for all who are willing to receive it.

     Recollect, too, that this is praying time. You are still on praying ground; a prayer will find God yet. A traveller tells us that, when he was in the East, he saw the procession of a Sultan passing through a certain city. The monarch was there, all bedizened with gems and every kind of barbaric ornament, and surrounded by his guards. There was a poor wretch who wanted to get a petition to the Sultan, and he did not know how to manage it. He had no money with which to bribe the officials, and he could not force his way through the armed men ; so, in his desperation, he got near enough to throw the petition down at the monarch’s feet, but one of the soldiers stuck a spear through it, and he held it aloft, and that was the end of it, for the Sultan took no notice of the incident, he was much too great a man to attend to the petition of his poor way rejoicing. subject. It is never so with God. Cast your petition, how you may, at his dear feet, he will answer it, and send you on your way rejoicing.

     You are not only on praying ground, for to-night seems to me to be a very auspicious season, for it is communion time. God’s people are presently coming together around his table to remember Christ. Will not you also remember him? We are about to receive Christ spiritually through the emblems of bread and wine which will set him forth to us. Why should not you also receive Christ, in a spiritual fashion, by faith, as your Saviour? Oh, that you would press through the throng, and bow at the feet of Jesus Christ, our Lord! If you do so, he will accept you, and again it shall be said, “This day is salvation come to this house.” God grant it, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



Some Marks of God’s People

By / Sep 10

Some Marks of God’s People

 

“Thy God hath commanded thy strength: strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us.” — Psalm lxviii. 28.

 

DEAR friends, at this time there is a special stir among the people. I know, from what I have seen and heard, that many are beginning to seek the Lord; and others, who are not yet actually turning unto the Lord, are at least resolved to break off certain grosser sins, and seek after something better. Well, there is something to be thankful for even in the gripes of hunger which the prodigal feels before he says, “I will arise and go to my Father;” I value even the pangs he has to endure when he fain would fill his belly with the husks that the swine eat. Before we can pronounce anyone’s experience to be a proof of the working of God’s grace, we are glad if we see any signs of what usually comes when grace enters the heart. So I am thankful when an ungodly man says, “It is time I changed my course;” for I trust that this is the first chipping upon the marble block, and that the great Sculptor, who fashions us in his own glorious image, will carry on the work, and complete it to his own praise.

     Just now, when I see these signs of a stir among the people, I think it is my business to repeat the exhortation I have often given, “Make sure work of the change you are contemplating; make sure work for eternity. Do not put up with anything that will fail you at the last. If you are looking out for something better than you already possess, mind that you get the best that is to be had.” Nay, more, I would bid you give heed to our Lord’s own words, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.” Mind that you buy all these things of Christ, for the terms on which you may have them are “without money and without price,” and you cannot get them anywhere else. I hope I am now addressing some who are saying, “We shall be glad and grateful if you will help us to judge as to our true condition, and aid us to see whether we are Christians or not.” That is what I am going to try to do to-night.

     The verse before my text describes God’s ancient people when they were assembled in the order of their tribes: “There is little Benjamin with their ruler, the princes of Judah and their council, the princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali.” They belonged to various tribes of the children of Israel, but they were all numbered among the Lord’s people; and it is said of the whole of them, as if they were but one, “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” These words apply to all the armies of Israel; so you and I, dear friends, had better consider and see whether we belong to his armies or not.

     I. From our text, I learn that the first mark of the people of God is, that THE LORD IS THEIR GOD.

     Notice the first two words: “Thy God.” This proves that they have a God. We cannot be God’s people unless we know his name, and know that he is the living and true God, and that all the rest of the so-called gods are but fictions or idols of the heathen. There is one God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is. There is one God, who has made us, and from whom the breath in our nostrils has come. There is one God who has ruled in all past history, and who still is the God of providence, the Preserver, and Director of his chosen people, the one God who, in the fulness of time, sent his only-begotten Son, who was equal with himself, but who lived and died that the guilty sons of men might have their sins pardoned, and their wandering feet directed back to the great Father’s house. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, “this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.”

     First, God’s people believe in this God. If any do not believe in him, they may call themselves what they please, but they are not the people of the living God. They may be the people of philosophy; they may be the people of the many dreams which men dream, nowadays, instead of believing in God; but they are not his people. I hope, beloved, that we have no question about this matter, and that we can say, without the slightest hesitation, “Yes, Jehovah, he is the God; Jehovah, he is the God.”

     He becomes our God, then, first, by our belief in him, and, next, by our reliance upon him. This God is not merely an influence; certainly, he is not a fiction. He is a real Person, with whom we may speak, and who will hear us, and answer us according to his wisdom and goodness. The apostle truly wrote, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son; and he is speaking to us still, through him, words of grace, and love, and kindness. And he becomes our God, I repeat, when, believing in him, we come and rely upon him; implicitly trusting him, that, seeing we are sinful, he may cleanse us, — that, seeing we are ignorant, he may teach us, — that, seeing we are feeble, we may lay hold upon his strength, and may thereby be preserved unto everlasting life. Let me ask all of you whom I am addressing, — Are you trusting the living God? You know what it is, as a child, to trust your parent, — as a friend, to trust a friend; are you dealing just in that way with God? Then, are you relying upon him, depending upon him, — especially relying upon him as he is revealed in Jesus Christ his Son, the sin-atoning Saviour? If you are, you are his people. If you are not, — whatever you may do, or be, or say, or think, — you are not numbered among the people of God. Faith is the distinguishing mark of his elect. Where it is present, there is grace and truth. Where it is absent, the soul is dead in trespasses and sins.

     How does God yet further become my God? By my love to him. As the result of having trusted him, I find myself peaceful, happy, restful; I receive at his hands pardon, and I know it is mine; I get from him love, and I feel it; and I love him in return. This is another of the marks of the Lord’s people. The true child of God loves God. There are many men who are, to a certain extent, religious, because they feel bound to be so by a law which they cannot resist. Ah! but we are not under law; we are under grace, and we obey the commands of God because we love to do so. No man, who takes pleasure in sin, is a child of God, for the new nature hates sin; and though, alas! through the influence of the old nature which still remains within us, we are imperfect, and often transgress the law of the Lord, yet it is not our delight, and we grieve that it should ever be the case with us. If a child of God falls into sin, he is like a sheep in the mire, up again directly; but he who is still ungodly is like the sow that falls in the mud, and wallows in it, for he is in his element, and he delights in it.

     There is a very important thing to be observed in connection with this point; that is, that our love to God is one of the chief qualifications for serving him acceptably. He who serves God, out of love to him, is the one who really and truly serves him. The Lord of love, the great King eternal, immortal, invisible, needs no slaves to grace his throne. He wants those to do his bidding who serve him with delight and pleasure. There is such a thing as self-denial ceasing to be self-denial, when a man takes such pleasure in denying himself, for Christ’s sake, that the self-denial is a greater source of joy to him than the indulgence would have been; and that is just what true service for God is. Have I come here to-night because I am paid to do it? Or do I preach the gospel with regret and loathing? Ah, no! The gospel is as much my element as the sea is the element of the fish. What could I preach beside? Silent be this tongue for ever sooner than I should have aught to teach concerning the way of salvation save Jesus Christ and him crucified, and his mighty mercy received by faith. Do not many of you, beloved, feel just the same as I do? We know that we are children of God, and that he is our God, because we love him; and that love has put a new mainspring within us, which moves our hands, and all the wheels of our nature as they ought to be moved.

     How, next, does he become our God still more clearly? By our avowal of him, when we come forward, and say, “Let others do what they will, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” — when we say, “God has set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Saviour of sinners, we accept him as our Saviour, and with our mouth we confess that we have done so. Let men hear it, let angels hear it, let devils hear it, it matters not to us how many hear our confession that we are set apart for God and for his Christ.” Our Christian profession is not a profession of perfection. Nay, nay; it is not a profession that we are, in and of ourselves, any better than other people; but it means that we have believed in Jesus Christ unto the renewal of our nature and the salvation of our souls. He who has had that great work of grace done in him and for him ought to say, — and say at once, — “This God is my God for ever and ever; he shall be my guide even unto death.” Let us be branded with the name of God. Let us, beloved, who have believed in Jesus, be God’s men, and God’s alone; and on all suitable occasions let us confess the blessed impeachment that we are not our own, for we are “bought with a price,” — that price being more than we can ever calculate, even the precious blood of Jesus, God’s dear Son.

     Genuine people of God, then, have the Lord to be their God, according to the first two words of our text, “Thy God.” And, oh! beloved, I have scarcely time to tell you in what a sweet way we get personal possession of God. After having trusted him, and relied upon him, and loved him, and confessed that we belong to him, we get to be as conscious of his presence as we are of the air we breathe. We are able freely to converse with him, and feel within our spirit that he is listening to what we say to him, and that he is speaking back to us. “Oh!” says someone, “I do not believe that is possible.” Friend, you may do as you like about believing what I say; but, at any rate, if you have never enjoyed this experience, that does not prove that there is no such thing. We are as honest as you are, and we have as much right to be believed as you have. If we were before a jury, we should be as good witnesses as ever you would be. We are not liars, and we do solemnly declare that God’s presence is so consciously realized by us that we are certain that “in him we live, and move, and have our being,” and that spiritual communications — communications from the Holy Spirit — are frequent with us, checking us when we might fall into sin, stimulating us when we would be laggard, enlightening us when we are in difficulty, and sometimes bearing us upward, as on eagles’ wings, till we seem to get into the very vestibule of heaven, and could scarcely be happier than we are, or else, methinks, we must die. Oh, yes! there is a God, we who believe in Jesus have this God as ours, and we will rejoice in him.

     That, then, is the first mark of the Lord’s people, the Lord is their God.

     II. A second mark of the Lord’s people is given in our text; read the whole of the first sentence, and you will see that he who feels that God has called upon him to serve him with all his strength is one of the Lord’s servants: “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” That is to say, ALL THE STRENGTH OF A CHRISTIAN — physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, — is AT GOD’S DISPOSAL.

     A true Christian owns that all he has, and the best of all that he has, should always be consecrated and dedicated to his Lord. First, we are heartily to obey God’s commands. There is no part of our strength that we may reserve for ourselves, it all belongs to our Lord. We are to be like a soldier, who, when he goes to the war, thinks of nothing but how he shall discharge his duties so as to please his commanding officer. Now, my dear hearer, is that the case with thee? Has God commanded thy strength? “Well, sir, I go to church; I go to chapel; I profess to be a Christian.” Yes, yes, yes, but there may be nothing in all that; has God the absolute and solo command of you? Is he your Commander-in-chief? Has he come and taken possession of that strong will of yours, and made it subject to his will? And if he has made you to be a man strong in faith, fervent in love, brave in holy daring, and great in patience, do you desire to have all those forces used for his glory, and his glory alone? If not, you are not one of God’s people; but, if you do hold all your powers at his disposal, that is one of the marks of his people; and the more clear it is, the better. Beloved, God is to be served by us with all our heart, and with all our mind, and with all our soul, and with all our strength.

     After this fashion, also, we should pray to him fervently. Oh, what poor prayers some people pray, when they bow their heads for a moment as they come into the house of God! Often, there is no prayer at all in it; and it is the same when they kneel down by their bedside, nearly asleep, or when they get up in the morning rather late, and the bell is ringing for breakfast, and they hurry down; yet they call that prayer. Listen to the text, my friend: “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” Take the pick of the day for prayer if you can. If you are half asleep at other things, be wide awake then. It is the best time for trading that you ever have; see that you make good use of it. This is the noblest exercise, except one, in which you can be engaged; get all the good that you can out of it. When you go up to the mount, like Elias on the top of Carmel, bring all the powers of your heart, and mind, and soul, to bear upon this privileged occupation, and cry mightily unto God. Half-hearted prayers ask for a denial, and usually get it. Pray as if you meant to be heard. Pray as he, who is starving, asks for bread, or for a drink of water if he is dying of thirst. Plead as he does who pleads for his life, for this is the way to prevail with God. Effectual fervent prayers bombard the gates of pearl, and the kingdom of heaven is carried by the violence of that importunity which will not take a denial. “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” Oh, for more of this kind of prayer!

     And the same strength ought to go out when we praise God. Never ought our heart, to be more energetic than when we say, “Blessed be his holy name!” And when we are singing in company with others, then also should we praise the Lord with joyous heartiness. I love to hear the bright, gladsome songs of people who really sing with their souls as well as with their voices. I have been in some congregations where, during the hymns, I have thought I needed a microphone to enable me to hear what they were singing, for they sang so very softly. Pull out the stops of your organ, and let the music fly abroad, for “thy God hath commanded thy strength.”

     In a similar fashion, we should labour for the Lord earnestly. In the great warfare which we have now to wage against the world, the flesh, and the devil, let us give to God the whole of our strength. Some people are said to work so hard for Christ that they wear themselves out. What a blessed consummation that must be! To wear ourselves away in our Master’s service, to let the zeal of God’s house eat us up, is the very best thing that can happen to us. I am sorry to say that I do not meet with many people who are too zealous. Some are so, because they have not much brain, and what little they have easily catches fire. Very well, my brother, if that is your case, burn away. There are some, however, who have more brains, but they seem to keep them very damp, so they never get thoroughly alight; but he who serves God aright should burn if he does not blaze, though it is better to be a burning and a shining light, as John the Baptist was. There should be a red, ruby-like heat in the very centre of our soul. If there are no sparks and flames, yet should our heart be on fire for God. God never meant us to do his work half-heartedly; but he does wish each of his people to feel and say, “My God hath commanded my strength, and he shall have it.”

     And, lastly under this head, let us give God our strength by living wholly to him in our ordinary life. It is a great mistake to make a division between that which is “sacred” and that which is “secular” in a Christian’s life. You are not only to serve God when you worship him in the Tabernacle or in some other house of prayer; you are equally to serve him to-morrow morning when you take the shutters down from your shop-windows. Pray to God, as you do so, “O Lord, take my shutters down, and enlighten my darkness! I know that, this day, I cannot prosper without thy blessing. I mean to work hard at my business; but it is vain to rise early, and to sit up late, unless thou dost bless my effort. Lord, be with thy servant all the day long!” Here comes the first customer. Now pray the Lord that you may not say anything to him but what is right, and ask God to give you an opportunity of saying a good word to him about the Lord Jesus Christ. Here come half a dozen customers all at once; now, you young men, pray the Lord to enable you to attend to your business as you ought to do it so as really to serve those who employ you; “not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,” even while you are serving your earthly employer. All the day long, there are opportunities for glorifying God if a man really wishes to do it. If the Spirit of God be with you all the day, you will feel, and say to yourself, “I will give to God all my strength. These things down here — this measuring out, either by yards or by bushels, — this buying and this selling, — must be done by somebody; and I must, by some means, earn my bread by the sweat of my brow, or the sweat of my brain; and as this is what God has given me to do, I will do it thoroughly, with a single eye to his glory, so that no one shall ever be able truthfully to say that Christianity makes me, in any respect, a worse man than I was before I knew the Lord.” “Thy God hath commanded thy strength;” so live unto God in everything. Let your meals be sacraments, let your garments be vestments, let your common utterances be a part of a great life-psalm, and let your whole being be as a burnt-offering ascending unto the Most High, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Oh, for the power of the Spirit of God to help you to do this!

     III. The next part of the verse will show you, dear friends, that God’s people are known by this sign, THEY ASCRIBE TO HIM ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THEM, AND IN THEIR FELLOW-MEN. Let me read you the latter part of the text: “Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought in us.”

     This applies, first, to the steps which lead to conversion: “That which THOU hast wrought for us.” There is no prayer here about what we have wrought for ourselves, for that is all mischief and evil, which needs to be forgiven and undone. The sooner all that nature spins is unravelled, the better. What God works is worth having wrought for us and in us. There are some people who have very crude and false ideas about what the work of grace is in the soul. I heard one say that the sinner is to take the first step towards salvation, and then God will do the rest; but I have often said, and now say it again, that the first step is the one point of difficulty. You know the French story about Saint Denis, whose head was cut off, and then it was said that he picked it up, and carried it in his hands for a thousand miles. That was what the priests of the Church of Rome declared; but one of Voltaire’s followers very wittily remarked that, as for the thousand miles, there was no difficulty in that; it was only the first step that had any difficulty in it. If the saint could manage that part, the rest would be easy enough; and it is just so in the matter of salvation. If the dead man can pick his own head up, — if the dead sinner can make himself alive, — why, then he can do very well without God all the rest of the way to heaven. But that can never be, for Jesus Christ is Alpha as well as Omega, the first as well as the last in the sinner’s salvation; and we may constantly say to him, —

“No sinner can be beforehand with thee;
Thy grace is most sovereign, most rich, and most free.”

     Nay, further, not only does God begin it, but it is he who carries it on. If ever the work of grace were to stop at a certain point, and the rest of it were to be the work of nature, that linsey-woolsey garment would be unfit for a child of God to wear. Ay, and what is more, the work, which God has begun, he must finish, too. If he has left anything to our unaided strength, we shall fail in that particular point, and all of it will become faulty and useless. The true people of God are resting, for the whole of their salvation, upon the Triune Jehovah, — upon the Father’s love, upon the Son’s redemption, and upon the Spirit’s effectual work upon the heart and conscience. It must be all of God, and all of grace, from the first even to the last; and they are the true people of God who feel and know this.

     Let me speak to some of you who have been taking the pledge lately. That is a very right thing to do; I wish that all did it, but that will not save you. The salvation of the soul is God’s work, and you must come to him for it. “But, supposing I abstain for the future, will not all be right?” Certainly not; what about the times when you have been drunk? “Oh, well, of course, the pledge will not wipe out that sin.” No, it will not. If you are a thief, would you tell the magistrates that they must not punish you because you are not going to thieve again? “No,” they would say, “we must punish you for what you have done.” There are all your past sins, and only the Lord Jesus Christ can blot them out. Perhaps a man says, “But, if I abstain from sin in the future, will not that do?” No; it will not. You owe your grocer a long bill, do you not? Call upon him, and tell him that you cannot pay a halfpenny of the debt, but that you are not going to get into debt any more. “Oh!” says he, “but that will not do for me; there is a County Court somewhere, and I shall get a summons for you to appear there.” So, if you go to God, and say, “I am not going to sin in this way any more,” he will not believe you; but if he did, he would say, “What about the past?” “God requireth that which is past.” There is the stain of your past sin upon you; how can that be removed? Not by your tears; if you could shed an Atlantic full of tears, yet might the red spot of your sin turn every wave to carmine, and the fatal spot would be upon you still. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash you clean; and none are God’s people but those who know that, and who come to him for salvation, and cleansing, and everything; and who commit themselves, body, soul, and spirit, unto him.

     IV. Now, lastly, the fourth mark of God’s people is that THEY PRAY TO HIM FOR THEIR STABILITY: “Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought- for us.”

     What is a man’s strength? Some think that their strength lies in their resolution. “Now,” says one, “I have said it, and I will keep to it. You know, I am not a man who is easily turned from his purpose; I have made up my mind, and I will do it.” Yes, I have known several who have made up their mind, but it did not come to much when they had made it up. And I have known a great many persons promise, and having done that half a dozen times before, and broken their promise every time, it did not come to much when that was done. “Oh!” says one, “do not think that I shall act like that; I pledge myself to act differently.” Yes, yes; and when a man has not a halfpenny in his pocket, and he pledges himself that he will be a millionaire, I think to myself, “All right, but he had better not begin spending any of it yet.”

     A soldier puts on his harness to go out to fight, — he has his helmet on his head, and greaves of brass on his legs, and a breastplate, and all the rest of the armour. “Am I not a brave fellow?” he asks. When you come back, you may be; but not just yet. Remember Ahab’s message to Ben-hadad, “Let not him that, girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.” I believe in you, my dear friend; you have made a promise, and I believe that you will keep your promise. That is to say, I believe as much in you as I do in the majority of people. “How much is that?” you ask. Well, not too much, for I have seen too many men to place much reliance upon them. I have not yet been fifty years among them, but there are several of them whom I would only trust as far as I could see them; there are some whom I would not trust as far as that; and there are others whom I thought I might trust out of my sight, and I have done so, — and I have got bitten by them. I believe myself bound to give as much credence and confidence to your resolution as your resolution is worth, so please let me see how much it is worth by observing how you go on.

     “Oh!” says one, “but there is an addition to my resolution; there is my past experience. I am an experienced person; I am not like your young chits who are apt to be easily led astray again. ‘A burnt child dreads the fire.’ My experience has made me very careful, and steady, and reliable.” Yes, I know; you are the man whom I would not trust with a bad farthing, because the very people who have demanded my trust on the ground that they could not be led astray, I have generally found were the men who had already gone far astray. I knew an old friend, who used to attend here, and who was a very curious sort of man, but he had a great deal of common sense. A deacon of a church met him in Smithfield, one morning, and asked him for a loan of fifty pounds. He was going to say, “Yes,” for he knew and trusted him; but the deacon said to him, “Robert, you know you can safely lend that amount to me. I shall be sure to let you have it on the day that I promise; at my time of life, I am quite past temptation.” My old friend stopped, and said, “I was going to let you have that fifty pounds; but, as you have arrived at that point, I shall not lend you a halfpenny, for I am quite certain I should never see it again.” At that very moment, the man knew that he was utterly bankrupt, and he failed, shortly after, for a very large sum, too, yet he said, “You may safely lend it to me, for I am quite past temptation.” “Well,” says one, “then you would not have us believe in one another.” No, unless you want to believe a lie. David said, “Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” “You are not very complimentary.” No; if you want compliments, do not come here, for I do not deal in them, and I do not intend to. God’s Word is what I have to preach, and that contains something better than compliments. Brethren and sisters, your best resolutions and your best experience are as strong as a broken reed. They only want to be touched in a certain way, and they will break again. You have already failed again and again; it is no use for you to start again as you started then, for you will fail again. The same causes, under the same circumstances, will produce the same results.

     Now stop, my friend, while I get a grip of your hand, and say, “Come, let us pray together,” and this shall be our prayer, “Lord, if thou hast wrought any good in us, however little it is, we dare not trust to it, or trust ourselves with it; but, Lord, do thou strengthen it. If it is only just a consciousness of sin, Lord, strengthen it till it grows into repentance. If it is only a little trembling desire to be right, Lord, strengthen it into a firm and brave resolve. If it is but a little hope in Christ, Lord, strengthen it until I can say, ‘I know whom I have believed.’ If I have a little germ of faith, Lord, strengthen it till the mustard seed grows into a tree. O Lord, I have promised to do this and that, but I know that I am as weak as water; I am apt to slip when I feel that I am standing most safely. Lord, help me; Lord, help me; lend me thy strength!” Some of you have lately taken the pledge: “I promise, by the help of God, to abstain.” That is the thing for you, that “help of God” is what you need. I do entreat any of you who are starting on a fresh life, do not start without the help of God. Do not attempt to go on without the help of God. And you, dear friends, who are far advanced in the Christian life, never be so besotted as to think that you have gone so far by God’s aid, and now you can traverse the rest of the road without him. You cannot do anything in that way. Have you never noticed that we make our worst blunders over the plainest things? The children of Israel were commanded to slay all the Canaanites, but a company of Gibeonites disguised themselves in a very clever fashion, so the people said, “Their shoes are old and clouted, and their clothes — well, they must have come a long way, for they are dreadfully worn. These men look like travellers who have come from a very far-distant country.” They did not make enquiries, for they said, “These are strangers, that is quite evident; so let us make a covenant with them, and let their lives be spared;” yet, all the while, these men were their next-door neighbours, living just close to them. On the plainest point, the Israelites were taken in, and it is often the same with us.

     Brethren, never trust in yourselves, even though your strength seems to be more than adequate for the occasion. Trust in God as much when you have a huge “Woolwich infant” to fire against your enemy as if you had nothing but a sling and a stone. When you are full of knowledge, and full of wisdom, and full of grace, yet still be nothing, and let the Lord your God be your All-in-all. Oh! what a blessing it would be if every one of us should get to heaven! I do not see why we should not, the Lord being our Leader. One thing I know; if we do get there, by-and-by, there is not one of us who will throw up his cap, and shout, “Hurrah! glory be to myself! I did this.” Nay, nay, nay; but we will all go together, and such crowns as grace shall give us we will cast at Jesu’s feet, and the song, “Non nobis, Domine,” shall go up from all of us, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” Let us begin to learn that song now, and let us sing it in life, and in death, and for ever, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.