A Marvellous Change

By / Sep 7

A Marvellous Change

 

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” — 1 Corinthians vi. 9-11.

 

THE gospel is as holy as the law. The gospel is full of mercy to sinners, but it shows no mercy to sin. The gospel speaks most tenderly to the ungodly, but it speaks most sternly to ungodliness. There is a great difference made, in the New Testament, between the sinner and the sin; and while the sinner is, in infinite mercy, spared, encouraged to hope, and wooed by love almighty, the sin is denounced as a dreadful tiling, an abominable thing, which God hates, and must punish.

     Ah, dear friends! it is not from Sinai alone that we have need to shrink if we are lovers of sin; for, if we are resolved to keep on sinning, Calvary also condemns us; and, at last, even out of the lips of Jesus Christ himself, wilful sinners, continuing in their sin, shall hear the awful sentence, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Let no man say, when we proclaim God’s message of mercy to the very chief of sinners, that, therefore, we think lightly of sin. No, it is because of the shedding of the precious blood of him whom we call Master and Lord, without whose agonizing death not a single sin could ever have been put away, that we are able freely to preach the mercy of God to those who truly repent of their transgressions; but, at the same time, we never hesitate to declare, in the plainest possible terms, that God will not spare the guilty ones who refuse to repent, for only through the blood of his dear Son will he have mercy upon the ungodly sons and daughters of men, who turn unto him, with full purpose of heart, trusting in the great atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The highest standard of holiness is set forth under the gospel. It does not come to cut down the requirements of the law, and to say, “You cannot keep the perfect law of the Lord; but do the best you can, and that will suffice.” There is nothing like that in the New Testament. It does not come to men, and say, in a tone of pity, “You are poor ignorant creatures, who have unwittingly fallen into sin, and therefore there is no guilt in your transgression of the law.” Nothing of the kind; for even when our Saviour, on the cross, said, concerning his mockers and murderers, “they know not what they do,” he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” thereby plainly declaring that they were sinners, who needed to be forgiven, even though their transgression was also a sin of ignorance.

     That is the short preface to the discourse I am now to deliver, which will be divided into three parts, the first of which will show us that we have here a solemn sentence, — a sentence shutting the guilty and unrepentant out of the kingdom of God. Then, secondly, here is a reminder to some of us: “and such were some of you.” And, then, thirdly, here is a change spoken of: “but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

     I. Now, beloved, first of all, here is A SOLEMN SENTENCE: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” Oh, while I speak of it, I pray God, in infinite mercy, to carry home the words I say to any who are guilty of either or all the sins in this black and shameful list!

     “Be not deceived: neither fornicators . . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.” That is the first set of sinners mentioned in this terrible catalogue, “fornicators” — men and women who have been guilty of unchastity with those who are unmarried. Not necessarily in the bonds of wedlock should we all be, but always in the bonds of purity; and those who sin against that which is pure, in their intercourse with one another, shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Nothing could be more explicit than this inspired declaration of the apostle. If any persons live in lust and uncleanness, God will not permit them to defile his true Church on earth, or to profane his temple above. It is quite possible that I may be speaking to some people upon whose ears this message grates very harshly, — for all sorts of hearers come to this place, — and they will be the first to say, “The preacher should not mention such a subject.” My answer to that remark is, — Then, you should not commit such iniquity, and give me cause to speak of it. As long as there are, in the world, sinners of this character, there must be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ faithful enough to pluck the velvet from their mouths, and to speak with the utmost plainness about them and to them. Let there be no mistake concerning this matter, you cannot be Christians if you thus defile yourselves; you cannot be children of God and live in filthy sin; it must not — it cannot be, and God here, by the pen of the apostle Paul, excommunicates all who pretend to be members of his Church, and yet are guilty of the sin of fornication.

     Strange to say, in the very next place stands idolatry, that is, the worshipping of any god other than the true and living Jehovah, the God of the whole earth. All through the Old Testament, the Lord calls this sin of idolatry by the name of fornication, because it is the turning away of that love which ought to be fixed upon the one and only God, and giving it to those that are no gods, and so defiling the heart, and sinning against God. “Oh!” says one, “there are no idolaters here.” I greatly fear that there are, for idolatry is not merely the worship of images made of stone, or wood, or gods of gold, or crucifixes, or pictures of the Virgin Mary, — though all that is idolatry; — but it is also the worship of that dear child, you have at home, of whom you make an idol, or it is the worship of the Queen’s image on gold and silver pieces by those who live only to amass worldly wealth, or it may be even the worship of yourself. The apostle tells us of a very low form of idolatry when he writes concerning those “whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” There are far too many of such idolaters as these still about, all around us, and our text declares that they “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

     As to adulterers, whom the apostle next mentions, I need not say much; but, alas! there are still many such sinners, and they are found not only among the poor, but perhaps even more among those who can afford to pay for divorces, and dispensations, and indulgences to vice. Oh, horrible and terrible in this country, as well as in other lands, is the prevalence of this filthy sin! If there be any persons here who have made a profession of religion, and yet who have fallen into this guilt and crime of adultery, let me read this solemn sentence of my text to you, without mincing matters in the least, or toning down the severity of the inspired language, you “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Unless you hate and abhor this shameful sin, and flee from it, as from a poisonous serpent, you can never come into that kingdom where Christ is; neither in the kingdom of his grace, nor yet in the kingdom of his glory, can you ever have any inheritance, for, as Dr. Watts sings, —

“Pure are the joys above the sky,
And all the region peace;
No wanton lip nor envious eye
Can see or taste the bliss.
“Those holy gates for ever bar
Pollution, sin, and shame;
None shall obtain admittance there
But followers of the Lamb”

     I dare not explain to you what is meant by the next expression used by the apostle: “nor effeminate;” but, alas! alas! there are still to be found all too many who are altogether given up to sinful practices, and who go from one form of vice to another, secretly ruining themselves both in body and in soul, for time and for eternity. These also are amongst those who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” So are those whom the apostle next describes: “nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” Would God that this accursed vice had been swept off the face of the earth, as God did sweep it away when he rained brimstone and fire from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and destroyed the guilty inhabitants of the cities of the plain!

     Next to these great sinners, whom the apostle mentions, come “thieves.” There are still far too many of them in the world; — not merely those who are brought before the magistrates for having broken into a house, or having robbed a person in the street, but those who steal little things, peculators, servants in the house who take what is not their own, and men who do dishonest things in trade, calling an article in their shop by a name that is not its proper description, and so cheating their customers, and getting their living by their knavery. These also are among those who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” You do not like to hear me talk about such matters; then, do not you continue to sin in this fashion. I shall cease to rebuke the sin when it has been abandoned; but, as long as such evils abound, it is my duty, as the servant of the living God, to declare plainly that the continuance in dishonest actions is not consistent with being in the kingdom of God’s grace, and it will effectually close the gate of the kingdom of his glory. Dr. Watts was right when he wrote, —

“Not the malicious or profane,
The wanton or the proud,
Nor thieves, nor sland’rers shall obtain
The kingdom of our God.”

     Then, next, the apostle says, “nor covetous.” It is a strange thing that hardly anybody ever admits that he is covetous; such a person calls himself “Mr. Prudent Thrifty.” Mr. Covetous tries to make us believe that he is only thrifty and prudent, — both excellent qualities which are not to be condemned; — but he really is greedy and grasping, which are quite different. He denies help to the poor, and help to the work of God; all he cares for is himself, that he may be rich. It is very significant that the covetous are put in the same list with fornicators and adulterers. Oh, dear! how quickly Mr. Covetous would move out of the seat if he thought that there were any such people as these about! But, my dear sir, you need not be so particular, or think so much of yourself, for, in the sight of God, you are in the same condition as they are, and you also are among those who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” unless you repent of your sin.

     “Nor drunkards,” says the apostle. We know that, in the church at Corinth, there were some who were so degraded that they were actually drunken at the Lord’s table. We hope there are no professing Christians, nowadays, of so low a type as that; though we know that there are still some who have named the name of Christ, who are rightly called by that terrible name, “drunkards”; and we also know that, outside the nominal church, there are multitudes to whom that title belongs. Drunkenness is one of the most debasing of sins, it lowers the whole tone of the person who is held in bondage by it. We sometimes talk of a man being “as drunk as a beast,” but whoever heard of a beast being drunk? Why, it is more beastly than anything a beast ever does. I do not believe that the devil himself is ever guilty of anything like that. I never heard even him charged with being drunk. It is a sin which has no sort of excuse; those who fall into it generally fall into other deadly vices. It is the devil’s back-door to hell, and everything that is hellish; for he that once gives away his brains to drink, is ready to be caught by Satan for anything. Oh! but while the drunkard cannot have eternal life abiding in him while he is such, is it not a joy to think of the many drunkards who have been washed and saved? This night, there are, sitting here, those who have done with their cups, who have left behind them their strong drink, and who have renounced the haunts of their debauchery. They are washed and cleansed, and when they think of the contrast between where they used to spend their evenings, and where they now are, they give echo to the question, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

     After the drunkards, the apostle says, “nor revilers,” — those who gossip and slander, pulling other people’s characters to pieces; or those who revile the saints and the things of God, profane swearers, who constantly add oaths to anything they have to say, those who cannot let the godly man’s character alone; — all such as these “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” And, alas! there are thousands and tens of thousands of them even in this so-called Christian country. And, then, to close the black list, the apostle writes, “nor extortioners,” — the men who demand usurious interest, those who prey upon the poor while they pretend that they are going to be their helpers. They have a certain sum of money to lend, and they are willing to lend it out of pure benevolence; but, when any fall into their clutches, they pick their bones, and suck their blood, ere they have done with them. Woe unto the men who grind the poor, and rob another of anything that is justly his due! Of all these people, the apostle truly says that they “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Nay, not merely does the apostle say it, but the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of his servant Paul, — he whose word is faithful and true, — he who knows what the truth is, declares that all such persons as these whom the apostle has been describing are not partakers of divine grace, they are not subjects of King Jesus, and into his glorious kingdom they can never come, except they repent of their sin, and turn unto the Lord with godly sorrow and genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

     So much for that part of our subject. May God make these solemn and faithful words to be like arrows from the bow of a mighty man!

     II. But, secondly, in our text we have also A REMINDER TO SOME OF US: “and such were some of you.”

     The apostle does not say, “and such were all of you;” and I thank God that I have not to say that to you, my hearers. Oh, what a mercy it is for any of us to have been kept from those terrible sins! Yet, with the apostle, I can say, “and such were some of you.” Those vices and evils were so common in Corinth that it was a great glory to God that he had taken some of these people, who had formerly committed them, and had made Christians of them: “such were some of you.”

     Now, will you, dear friends, look at the first part of our text, and, as you run your eye down the black list, put your finger upon the points where you were guilty, and then say to yourself, “Yes, it is true, such was I, before the Lord saved me by his grace; that, or that, or that was my grievous offence against him.” “Such were some of you.” Then let me ask you, my brothers and sisters, to consider why it is that God is pleased to save some of the worst of sinners so that, in the Church of Christ, it can always be said, “such were some of you.”

     First, it illustrates the great power of the gospel. If nobody were saved except the better sort of people, who have never openly offended, then the cavillers would say to us, “That is a very poor religion of yours; it is suitable for the moral, and the sober, and the chaste; but what good is it to a poor fallen world where there are so many real sinners of the blackest dye?” But the Lord seems to have said, “I will stretch out my hand, and I will save some of the very chief of sinners, in order that, throughout all time, it may be known that my gospel can effect the salvation of all sorts of sinners, even the most degraded. However depraved and fallen they may be, they cannot have gone beyond the reach of the gospel of my Son.” Is not that a glorious fact? Oh! when I think of some of you big sinners, whom the Lord has saved under my ministry, I stand on this platform, and, with the utmost confidence, cry to the guiltiest sinners who may be present, “Come along with you, whoever you may be; I have a gospel that is just suited to you.” I can say, “Come, you who are moral and refined, who have never gone into any gross sin; here is a gospel just suitable for you;” but I am glad also to be able to add, “Come along, you who have raked the very kennels of hell with your iniquities, here is that which can wash you, and make you white as the newly-fallen snow.”

     That, I believe, is one reason why the Lord saves these great sinners, — to glorify his gospel.

     Next, he does it to magnify his mercy, for when, in great tenderness, he comes to look upon sin as a disease, then, the worse the disease, the more is his pity. I remember reading of one, who was giving some relief to a dumb man, and his companion said to him, “Why, he never asked anything of you!” “No,” he answered, “but his dumb lips asked of me more eloquently than any man could have done by speaking.” Look at the blind man: he cannot affect you with his eyes, for he has none; but it is the absence of his eyes that makes you stop, and say to him, “Poor blind man, I am so sorry for you, here’s a trifle to help you.” The crafty beggars in the streets will often show their sham sores and imitation wounds, in order to provoke your pity; but our great God, when he sees us really full of sin, — leprous, foul, corrupted, — then says, “Poor soul, I will have pity upon thee.” It is in this way that he looks upon these greatly-diseased ones, and blesses some of them on purpose that the majesty of his mercy and the omnipotence of his grace may be plainly seen by the sons of men.

     I am sure that he does it, also, to confound self-righteousness. I have heard this kind of remark again and again, “If God saves anybody, it ought to be those of us who always go to a place of worship, and listen so attentively to the preacher.” Ah, yes, you proud sinner! I know what you think, but I must remind you that there is no sin worse than pride, and you are evidently full of it. “Oh, but!” says someone, “I have always been seeking and striving to be as good as ever I could, and yet I am not saved; but over there is a poor fallen girl, just rescued from the streets, who has believed in Christ, and is now rejoicing in him.” I can easily explain why you are not saved; it is because you say that you see, and therefore you prove that you are blind. You think you are righteous, and that thought is itself the very essence of unrighteousness. I pray you to notice how the Lord rebukes you, and to learn, from his rebuke, where your sin lies. He docs, as it were, smite your pride on the cheek-bone, and he says, “Because you say that you do not need a Saviour, you shall not have a Saviour. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance.” Come down off your lofty pinnacle, Mr. Pharisee, — you who thank God that you are not as other men are. Stand side by side with the poor publican whom you have despised, and cry, as he does, “God be merciful to me a sinner;” and then see if God will not deal in mercy with you also.

     I am sure, too, that God saves some of these very black sinners on purpose to encourage the preachers of his gospel. I will tell you a secret. We, ministers, are often a very faint-hearted set of men, and if we do not have a great many converts, we go crying to our Master, “Who hath believed our report?” and, while we are doing it, in comes one who has been a drunkard, or an unchaste person, or a thief, and we hear what God has done for him by our poor feeble ministry, and we shake his hand. Then he cries, and we cry; and we do not know which is the bigger sinner of the two, — he for his open iniquity, or we for our unbelief. I know that, when I meet with such converts, I say, “Bless God for them! When I get into the pulpit again, I will give the people some more of that same gospel, for I see that, what it has done for them, it can do for others.” Oh, yes! they may empty the prisons, if they like to do so, and let all the criminals in them come to hear the gospel. We have a Christ to preach who is more than a match for the very worst of them; and even if there should come one, whose heart had been turned into thrice-hardened steel, this gospel would be able to melt it; and, behind it, there is the Christ who can take the hard heart away, and give in its place the heart of flesh, full of tenderness, and full of love to himself and to saints and sinners, too. Oh, yes! God often encourages his servants by fetching out from among the ungodly some of these great black sinners, washing them whiter than snow in the precious blood of Jesus, and bringing them into his kingdom on earth, in anticipation of the time when they shall be received into his kingdom above.

     Further, by this means, he also encourages other great sinners to come to him. I have known a man who said, “I fear that I cannot be saved, for I have been such a terribly great sinner;” but, one day, he has met one of his old companions, who used to swear, and drink, and lie, and finding him to be saved, he says to himself, “Oh, then! I also might be saved.” I once knew a poor fellow, who was very much distressed in spirit, because he thought there was no pardon that could ever come to him; but he went into a chapel, one morning, when a little prayer-meeting was being held before the service, and there was a certain old sea-captain praying with such a tremendous voice that the man thought, “I must surely have seen and heard that man somewhere else.” When the prayer was ended, and he saw the man’s face, he said to himself, “Why! that is Captain So-and-so. Six months ago, my very blood ran cold as I listened to his blasphemy; I never heard a man swear as he did, and I never before heard a man pray as he now does;” and then he added, “God can save me now that he has saved him, for I am sure that, great sinner as I have been, I never went his length in blaspheming my Maker.” There was good ground for that man’s conclusion, and many other people have argued in a similar fashion. It has frequently been the case that the big sinner has become a kind of decoy duck. He is caught first in the blessed gospel net, and then he allures others to come in with him. Very often, those who had not the courage to go to Jesus before, say, when they see how he welcomes some out-and-out profligate, “Well, as he has received him, why should he not also receive me?” You know how Bunyan relates that, when he was converted, and began to preach, people said, “What! is that tinker saved?” and they gathered together to hear what he had to say, and then he preached to them Jesus the Saviour, and there were more tinkers that got tinkered that day; nay, not tinkered, but made new creatures in Christ Jesus. Christ finds it easier work to make us anew than to mend us, and that is what we really need to have done to us. If any of you are thinking of being mended to-night by signing the pledge, — well, I am glad to see old kettles repaired; but, for all that, I would rather that you were made new kettles altogether. That is to say, I pray God to take you in hand, and make you now creatures in Christ Jesus, for that is what we are aiming at in all these Gospel Temperance services, and we shall not be satisfied unless that great work is accomplished.

     I want to tell you one thing more about the salvation of these great sinners. I believe that the Lord saves them in order that he may win from them great love, and intense zeal, and much earnestness. If a man, with a cut finger, calls on a doctor, the surgeon says, “Oh, yes; I see! Put this piece of plaister on, and it will be all right in a day or two,” and so it is. He had not much the matter with him, so there was not much to be said when his finger was healed. But here is a man who can hardly breathe; he is on the very borders of the grave, he will be dead in a week unless something extraordinary happens to him. He has been to scores of doctors, and they all say, “It is no good to give you any medicine, for nothing will ever cure you; and you will soon die.” But he hears of a physician who has been the means of healing other sick folk in just such a plight as his. He calls him in, and the doctor says to him, “If you take this remedy, you will recover and so he does. In a month’s time, that man is walking about, breathing the fresh air, and he is soon going to his work again. Will he talk about the wonderful physician who cured him? Won’t he talk about him? Why! there is no stopping him when once he begins on that topic. To every friend whom he meets, he says, “Do you see what a difference there is in me? You know how my bones were almost sticking through my skin. It was as much as ever I could do to keep on breathing; but just look at me now, I have every hope of living on, perhaps for twenty or thirty years more.” Possibly, a man, who is suffering from neuralgia, comes to see him, and he says, “I am not sure whether ray doctor treats such a slight ailment as that; I almost wish you were in a consumption like mine was, for he would cure you as he healed me.”

     Is it not so with regard to the diseases of the body, and gratitude to the man who cures them? Well, in like manner, when the Lord saves a great big sinner, oh, how that sinner will love him, and how he will talk about him to other sinners! There is a common saying, among game preservers, that an old poacher makes the best gamekeeper; he is the man to catch all other poachers when they come, for he knows, from his own experience, all their ways. “Set a thief to catch a thief,” is a similar proverbial expression which teaches the same lesson. A woman, who has been brought up, out of great sin, into the paths of virtue and honour, is the one who will rejoice in rescuing others from a life of sin and shame. If you find a man who has been permitted to know the depths of sin, he is the one who will delight to go and seek after those who are sinking in the terrible flood. In the providence of God, I was never allowed to plunge into gross open sin, yet the Lord made me to feel myself to be the worst sinner who ever lived. I had such a vivid realization of my own guilt that I thought there never was another individual who had broken God’s law as I had; and when he pardoned me, I felt that there was no one who owed more to him than I did. People say that I preached Calvinistic doctrine from the very first. I know I preached free grace, and that I must proclaim till I die, for I should have been damned in hell, years ago, if it had not been for the freest, richest, and mightiest grace that ever came from the heart of God. And, oh! I do love to tell you big black sinners that he can forgive your grossest sin, and cleanse you from your worst wickedness, — that he waits to do this for all who will come and put their trust in his dear Son, and that very trust he gives them by the effectual working of his Spirit. Salvation is all of grace from first to last; and, as it is all of grace, the greater the sinner who is saved by it, the more glory to the grace that saves him.

     III. My time has gone, but I must say just a little about the third point, that is, THE MARVELLOUS CHANGE.

     Oh, that I knew how to preach upon this theme! I never feel my own weakness so much as when I stand here to plead with unconverted men to yield to the Saviour. If any man thinks that he can preach, let him come and try it, if by preaching he means affecting the hearts of men, and bringing them to God. This must be the work of the Holy Spirit; and, whatever we may do, nothing comes of it until he works the great miracle. We go back home, and say, “Who hath believed our report?” until the arm of the Lord is revealed; and then men are saved. Now, turning to this last paid, of our text: — “and such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God;” — I will endeavour briefly to set all these things before you as best I can; the Lord knows how much better I would do it if it were in my power to do it. But, after all, it is not my language which is the important matter, it is the power of the truth I utter on which I rest; nor yet even upon that, but on the wonder-working Spirit of God, who can effectually apply that truth to the heart, and make it anew by his omnipotent grace.

“Come, Holy Ghost, (for, moved by thee,
The prophets wrote and spoke,)
Unlock the truth, thyself the key,
Unseal the sacred Book.
“God, through himself, we then shall know,
If thou within us shine;
And sound, with all thy saints below,
The depths of love divine.”

     “And such were some of you.” Where are you, — dear members of this church, or of other churches, — of whom this is true, “and such were some of you”? “But ye are washed.” The High Churchman says that this means baptism: does it? I have seen some people washed by baptism; — I do not mean sprinkled, for I never could see how anyone could be washed in that way; — but when we have immersed them, this I know, — that an unregenerate person, even after immersion, is unregenerate still; and that a man, who is not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ before he is baptized, has need to be baptized again, for it is not really Scriptural baptism to him, and it cannot be a means of blessing to him. It may be a piece of hypocrisy on his part, and of no value to those who practise it. No, no; that is not the washing of which Paul writes; and baptism, repeated ten thousand times, can do you no good whatever unless, first of all, you are washed in another fountain of which we often sing. Let us sing about it now, all of us who know the verse, —

“There is a fountain fill’d with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.”

     That is the washing of which the apostle says, “but ye are washed;” and after that washing, comes the sanctifying, that is, the changing of the heart, and the making of the whole nature holy; and that is the work of the Spirit of God, by the application of the Word of Christ.

     And then follows the justification. Pardon washes away our sin; justification makes us righteous in the sight of God; and sanctification gives us true holiness. Justification gives us imputed holiness, so that we stand before God, first in the righteousness which Christ has wrought out for us, and next in the righteousness which the Spirit of God has wrought in us. Oh, what a marvellous change is wrought as the result of that one act of blessed washing!

     Now, to close, let me say that, if ye would be saved, this is the one thing for you to do, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not trust in anything else whatever, but rely alone upon him. Trust in Christ to make you hate sin. Trust in Christ to enable you to overcome every bad habit. Trust in Christ to help you to do everything that is right. Trust in Christ to cause you to stand fast even till you get to heaven. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life;” — not, “he shall be saved to-morrow, or ten years hence;” — he is saved now, on the spot. If you have only trusted in Christ since last that clock ticked, you are forgiven, you are a child of God, you are accepted in the Beloved, you are saved. It is an instantaneous, an immediate, but a perfect work, — this washing away of sin, and this giving to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Lord grant it to each one of you, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.



Waking to See Christ’s Glory

By / Sep 3

Waking to See Christ’s Glory

 

“And when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.” — Luke ix. 32.

 

IT seems, at first sight, a strange thing that the apostles should have been asleep at such a time; yet, probably, if we think of the circumstances in which they were placed, and of the extreme excitement under which they must have laboured, it will not appear at all wonderful that “Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep.” In the 28th verse, it is written, concerning our Lord, “He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.” We know that the Saviour frequently retired to some quiet, secluded spot for fellowship with his Father; and that, sometimes, he spent the whole night in prayer. It is very probable that, on this occasion, he had been engaged in earnest prayer for several hours before the transfiguration came, and it is worthy of note that he was transfigured while he was praying. Every blessing comes to the great Head of the Church, and to all the members of his mystical body, through prayer. There is nothing promised to us without prayer; but, with prayer, everything is provided for us, and by prayer we shall ascend into the glory. I cannot tell how long the Lord had been in prayer; but, judging from his usual manner and custom, I should suppose that he had spent some hours in supplication. Even the three most highly favoured apostles were not as spiritually minded as he was, and they grew weary while he was still full of holy vigour and fervour. The most zealous amongst us might be tired of listening to the best man in the world if he were to keep on praying hour after hour, yet he himself might be enjoying a special baptism of the Spirit, and be quite unconscious of fatigue, and, in his wrestling with God, might be all the while going from strength to strength. We, who were merely onlookers, would probably grow drowsy, and be unable to keep up the strain as he would keep it up; our spirit might be willing enough to sympathize with him, but the weakness of our flesh would make us, like the apostles, “heavy with sleep.” I wonder not, therefore, if the Saviour’s supplication was long-continued, that his disciples grew weary, and fell into a state of slumber.

     Probably, however, their sleeping was the result of the extraordinary excitement through which they had passed; for, as in extreme pain, kind nature comes to the rescue, and causes a swooning or fainting fit by which the poor sufferer is relieved, so sometimes she comes in when there is a stress of mental excitement, whether joyous or grievous, and gives rest, even by unwilling slumber, to those who otherwise might have been exhausted. You remember, dear friends, that these very persons fell asleep in Gethsemane. When their Master rose up from his agony of prayer, and came back to them, “he found them sleeping for sorrow.” They were themselves so depressed in spirit by his sufferings, that, although they had true sympathy with him, as far as they could have it, they fell asleep, and their Master, while gently chiding them, made excuse for them as he said, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

     These apostles are not the only persons who have slept in the presence of the grandly supernatural. It happened so to Daniel, — that seer with the burning eye, who seemed as if he could look right into the glories of heaven without blinking or being blinded by the wondrous vision; yet, we read, in his 8th chapter, at the 18th verse, when an angel appeared to him, “Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright;” and further, in the 10th chapter, at the 8th verse, we read, “Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.” These supernatural things are too much for mortal men to endure. The narrow compass of our mind cannot contain the infinite; and if, when we behold the glory of God to an unusual degree, we do not die, if our lives are spared after we have seen that great sight, at least the image of death must come upon us, and we must fall into a deep sleep. I will not, therefore, blame Peter, and James, and John, for sleeping on that memorable occasion, for I do not think that there was any sin in their slumbering under such circumstances. They were apostles, but they were only men; and being men, they were feeble creatures, and when they came into those deep waters, they were altogether out of their depth, so they began to sink in the ocean of the divine glory, and soon were lost in the unconsciousness of sleep. Marvel not, therefore, brethren, that you find these three apostles slumbering even in the presence of their transfigured Lord.

     But, now, — and this will be our first head, — it was necessary that they should he awake to see the glories of Christ. Secondly, if you and I are to see the glories of Christ, it is necessary that we also should he awake, and that is more than can be said of all of us. I may say to some, “Let us not sleep, as do others;” for there are many who are so soundly sleeping that they are quite oblivious of the glories of Christ. When I have spoken on those two points, I want to close my discourse by showing you that this doctrine of the necessity of our wakefulness explains many things.

     I. “When they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men. that stood with him.” So, first, IT WAS NEEDFUL FOR THEM TO AWAKE TO SEE CHRIST’S GLORY.

     It was necessary, first, that Christ’s transfiguration might he known to be a fact, — not a dream, nor a piece of imagination, which had no real existence: “When they were awake, they saw his glory.” It was a literal matter of fact to them. As surely as Christ was born at Bethlehem, as certainly as he toiled in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth, as truly as his blessed feet trudged over the holy fields of Judæa, as truly as he healed the sick and preached the gospel wherever he went, and as really as he did actually die upon the cross of Calvary, so it is a matter of plain fact that Jesus Christ did, on a certain mountain — what mountain we do not know, — undergo a wonderful change, for the time being, in which his glory was marvellously and distinctly displayed so that his three disciples could see it. “And, behold, there talked with him two men;” — Elias, who never died, and who was there with him bodily, and Moses, who did die, and so may only have been there in spirit, unless that dispute, between Michael the archangel and the devil, about the body of Moses, may relate to the fetching away of that body that he might enjoy the same privilege as Enoch and Elias did. Of that matter, I know nothing; but those two men, Moses and Elias, were certainly there, — not merely in appearance, but in reality; and our Lord Jesus Christ was really transfigured: “the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.” It is true that Peter did not know what he said, but he knew what he saw when he was wide awake. The Revised Version renders our text, “When they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.” They had not imagined this scene while they were in a semi-conscious state between sleeping and waking; it was no night vision or day dream, it was not something painted by fancy upon their eyeballs, and which had no actual existence; but it was a real meeting between their Lord and Moses and Elias. They did see Christ and his two companions from the glory-land, and they did hear the Father’s voice, saying, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.” Peter did not know what he said, but he knew what he heard; he was wide awake enough to understand that message, and, long afterwards, he recalled it when he wrote concerning his Lord, “For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” So, you see, dear friends, that they had to be awake in order that they might be able to confirm all this as an actual occurrence; and, to my mind, this is very pleasant. I like to remember that the Lord Jesus, the Man of sorrows, let some beams of his glory shine out even while he was here below; and if, in his humiliation, his transfigured face appeared so bright, what must his glory be above, where his face shines brighter than the sun, and his eyes are as a flame of fire, and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace? What is now the matchless beauty of that visage which was marred more than that of any other man? When he did but for a moment withdraw the veil, his disciples were overwhelmed with the magnificence of the display; but what must it be to see his face for ever in the glory-land above?

     Next, it was needful that the disciples should be awake, that they might see the real glory of Christ. I trust they were spiritual enough to know that the splendour which they saw was not the essential glory of Christ’s Godhead, for that no man can see. Neither was it that secret spiritual glory which Christ always had, for that is not a sight for human eyes to behold, but for loving hearts to think of with reverent affection. But it was a special glory which was, for the time, shed upon his humanity, and even upon the garments in which that humanity was arrayed, so that “his raiment was white and glistering.” The apostles then saw Christ in some measure as he will be by-and-by; and, being fully awake, they knew that it was not a phantasm that they were looking upon, but that it was real glory which streamed from the Saviour’s face, and from every part of his most blessed and adorable person. We are glad to know that Christ has no fictitious honours, and no empty pomp; but that there is about him a real glory which our opened eyes may see, and which we may perceive without being fanatical or frenzied; such a glory as we can see in the time of our quiet, calm judgment, and earnest, deliberate thought, when every faculty is in full exercise, and our whole soul is in the enjoyment of the utmost degree of vigorous health. I care little for the visions that need night, and curtains, and dreams, before they can be perceived; I prefer the glory which can be seen by a man when he is fully awake, and all his faculties are aroused so that he is able to discern between truth and fiction, and to detect any imposition that may be attempted to be played upon him.

     Further, these disciples were fully awake that they might perceive somewhat of the greatness of Christ’s glory. Do you not envy these three holy men who saw our Lord in the holy mount? So glorious was he, that even the mountain itself was made “holy” wherein this transaction occurred, for so Peter called it; from that time it was as holy as Sinai itself, where God came down in terrible pomp of power to proclaim his law. Had not these apostles been wide awake, they would not have perceived how truly marvellous is Christ’s glory. What would not any one of us give, just now, for a sight of Christ with our eyes wide awake? What must he be like who is the very centre of heaven’s glory? All the grandeur of man is but external; but there is about Christ’s very face a beauty of character which continually shines out, — the lustre of Deity which gleams through his humanity, so that, to see him as he is must be the fairest sight in the whole universe. To behold him but for a moment, must be the most dazzling vision that ever fell to the lot of men. Did you ever hear dying men and women talk about him when they have begun to see him? What strange words sometimes drop from their lips just as they are departing this life — giving us just a hint as to how grand lie must be whose glory the apostles saw when they were with him in the holy mount! One thing which they were fully awake to see was this, the singularity of the glory. If you read the text, you will notice that, when they were awake, “they saw his glory,” — and the glory of Moses and Elias? Oh, no! not at all. But did they not see Moses and Elias? Yes, but mark how the text sinks, as it were, when it speaks of them: “They saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.” There is nothing about any glory being around or upon them; they are nothing but “the two men that stood with him.” He is fairer than the children of men, greater than Moses, and greater’ than Elias, mighty as both of them were. I think that we never truly see Christ until we behold him all alone; as we never see the sun and the stars at the same time. If you once see the sun flooding the sky with his glory, you will find that the stars have disappeared. The apostles saw the greatest of the prophets, and the great law-giver, after whom there was never the like till Christ himself came, yet the inspired record concerning the event is, “They saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.” May you never see any earthly representatives of the Church of God in any higher place than this! In the Church, and in all its ministers, may you see his glory, and the men that stand with him; and when you look upon those whose feet are beautiful because they proclaim the gospel of Christ, yet may you only see his glory, and the men that stand with him to speak in his name!

     The apostles needed to be wide awake to discern this difference, and so do we; for many, nowadays, seem to have no more respect for Christ than they have for his disciples. I trow that there are some who think more of a dogma, that was promulgated by Calvin, because it is Calvin’s, than they do of that which Christ has preached because it is Christ’s; and there are some who will refer everything they believe to The Minutes of Conference,” or the sayings of Mr. Wesley; but some of the sayings of Christ do not seem to have so much weight with them. As for us, I trust that we may ever see the true and noble men who stand with Christ; but, first of all, may we see his glory, because Christ has awakened us out of that sinful sleep in which we make no distinction between the Master and the servant! Happy are we if he has taught us that the greatest of his servants is not worthy to unloose the latchets of his shoes.

     So much, then, upon the necessity for these three men being fully awake.

     II. Now, brethren, let me speak to you upon the second part of our subject, which is, that IT IS NECESSARY FOR US ALSO TO BE AWAKE IF WE ARE TO SEE CHRIST’S GLORY.

     We have not dreamt our religion, it has not come to us as a vision of the night; but when we were fully awake, we saw Christ’s glory. We have seen his glory when we have been awake without weariness, awake without pain, awake without losses, awake without fears and tremblings; in our coolest moments, when there was the least likelihood of our being deceived, we have seen his glory as our Saviour, our Helper, our Keeper, our All-in-all. Set that fact down, then, and stand to it before the face of every man who dares to speak a word against Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, that just as truly as “when they were awake, they saw his glory,” so have we seen it in our most wakeful and calm and quiet moments.

     But, dear friends, let me impress upon your minds the truth that, in order to see the glory of Christ, it is necessary that we should be fully awake. Are we fully awake? Is there a man among us who has even one eye wide open? Is there not a corner of it still sealed? Are our mental and spiritual faculties really quickened to the utmost, or are we not still, to a large extent, as dreamers compared with what we ought to be in the presence of Christ? Come now, brother, are your highest powers thoroughly aroused? I believe that it was so with Peter, and James, and John, and that what little spiritual faculty they then possessed — for they were then but babes in grace, — was fully aroused to learn all that could be learnt from their Lord and Master in that mysterious manifestation of his glory. Are we in such a condition as that? There are many things that tend to make the soul go off into sleep; so let us bestir ourselves, for, unless all our powers of mind and heart are fixed upon our Lord, we shall not fully behold his glory; and if ever there was a sight that demanded and deserved all a man’s powers of vision, it is the sight of the glorious Saviour who stooped to die for us, and who now is at the Father’s right hand interceding for us. When you do hear the gospel, hear it with both your ears, and with your whole heart, and soul. When you are present in the assembly of the saints, be really there; and do not come, as some men do, leaving their real selves at home or at their place of business. They sit here, and we think that they are here, but they are not. Their thoughts are far away over the seas, or in their shops, even when the preacher is proclaiming the glorious gospel of the blessed God. You know that it is so with many, but we cannot expect to have a clear sight of Christ until we are fully awake as these three apostles were upon the mount.

     But to what shall we be awake? Well, first, it is a good thing to be awake to our present condition and circumstances. Brothers, sisters, you would be in hell within an hour if God did not keep you from it by his grace. You, who think you know him best, need constant supplies of his grace, else you would fall into the most sorrowful condition. You are dependent upon him every instant, and for everything; — for consistency of life, for the smallest grain of faith, for hope, for love, for peace, for joy, for steadfastness, for courage, for everything, again I say. Now, dear friend, are you fully awake to that fact? Do any of us really feel how weak we are, — how sinful we are, — what floods of depravity there are pent up within us ready to burst out at any moment? Do we realize what terrible volcanic fires are hidden within our thoughts, as if the fury of Gehenna had entered our nature? And who alone can save us, and who does save us? Brethren, when you are thoroughly awake to your dangers, to your needs, to your weaknesses, then you will see Christ’s glory. He is never rightly valued until we see ourselves to be utterly valueless. Low thoughts of self make high thoughts of Christ. Lord, awake us to know what we are, for then shall we begin to see the glories of thy Son!

     We must also be thoroughly awake to the mercies that we are constantly receiving. Thousands of blessings come to us when we are sound asleep in our beds; and, oftentimes, we know nothing of many favours that come to us in broad daylight; we are asleep, as it were, concerning them. Think, dear Christian people, of your election; think of your redemption; think of your effectual calling; think of your cleansing by the precious blood; think of your washing by the Spirit with water by the Word; think how you have been upheld, supplied, educated, comforted, strengthened. Think of what yet remains for you of peace and joy in this life, and of the abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let your mind contemplate all the mercies that are sure to come to you, and bless the Lord for them even before they do come, as faith reckons them to be hers already. When you are awake to all these mercies, then you will see your Lord’s glory; all these blessings will make you see what a glorious Saviour — what an infinitely gracious Lord — he is to you. Father of mercies, wake us up to a sense of thy mercies, that we may see the glory of Jesus in them all!

     And, dear friends, we ought also to be awake to all manner of holy exercises. For instance, when we are awake to prayer, then we see Christ’s glory. What are our prayers often? At morning and night, a few hurried sentences, when we are either half asleep or scarcely awake. I mean that, at night, we are ready to go to sleep over our devotions, and we nod even while we pray; and in the morning, when we get up, we have hardly time, through the demands of business, to spend a proper season in fellowship with our Lord. I bless God for our prayer-meetings, for there is much that is good in them; but do we, even there, pray as we should? Those who speak for us are often graciously helped, but are not those of us who sit silent, and who should be praying to God, often thinking of a thousand things instead of our supplications? Yet we cannot expect to meet with Christ while we are in prayer unless we are wide awake in it. Then think of our singing; praise is a blessed way of getting near to Christ; but sometimes people sing mechanically, as if they were wound up, like the old-fashioned organs that ground out a tune with painful regularity, the poor pipes knowing nothing, of course, about the sense or the meaning of the music, for there was no living hand to touch the keys. Yet we sometimes sing like that.

“Hosannahs languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies.”

But, oh! when we are thoroughly awake in our singing, then are we able to —

“Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst his Father’s throne;” —

and then also we —

“Prepare new honours for his name,
And songs before unknown.”

     Many of us are coming presently to the table of our Lord; what will happen if we come there half-awake? Well, we shall not see the glory of Christ in his ordinance. There will be bread and there will be wine; but, to us, there will be nothing more, no body of Christ, no blood, of Christ, to be our spiritual meat and drink. The Master will not come and sit down with a company of nodding disciples, all fast asleep around the table which is the special memorial of his great love to us. “When they were awake, they saw his glory;” and it must be the same with us also.

     Now I want to press this thought home a little more closely. Brethren, if we are fully awake to holy service, then we shall see the glory of Christ. Those among you who live to win souls for Christ, whose soul is all on fire to try and carry the gospel into some place where as yet it is not known, are certain to see the glory of Christ. While you serve him, you shall see his face, as they do who are with him in the glory. I have read a great many biographies of men and women who were full of doubts and fears; but when I have been reading about a man who was full of sacred zeal, one who was wholly consecrated to the service of his Saviour, I have found very little about his doubts and fears. Those two seraphic men, Whitefield and Wesley, seemed to have no time for depression of spirits. They were always about their Master’s business. They flashed through the earth like flames of fire; they seemed to be so girt about by God with his strength that they rode upon the whirlwind; and, consequently, as a rule, they enjoyed the presence of their Lord, and were full of holy delight in him. So I believe it will be with those of us who addict ourselves to our Master’s service with all our might. If you are doing nothing for Christ, you cannot expect to have his presence and blessing; but if you are serving him with all your heart, not from the low motive that you may win something by it, but entirely out of love to him, then will he come and manifest himself to you as he does not unto the world. Some Christians walk so slowly that sin easily overtakes them, while Christ goes far before them, for he always walks a good honest pace, and likes not the sluggard’s crawling; and some professors seldom get beyond that pace, so they see but little of him whom they call Master. If they were awake, — awake to his service, — then they would see his glory.

     But above all, dear friends, we must be awake with regard to our Lord himself. Oh, that our hearts were fully awake to his love! He says to each believer, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Does our wakeful heart reply, “Yes, Lord, that thou hast”? Are we awake to remember all that he did by way of love even to the death for us? Are we so awake as to have continually before us his divine and human person, — his blessed condescending life, — his wondrous atoning death? Are we wide enough awake to know that he is with us now? Do you not think that we are often like the disciples who saw Jesus standing by the sea, and knew not that it was Jesus? He comes to us in the way of sickness, in the way of bereavement, in the way of heart-searching; we do not know that it is Jesus, yet it is. Our eyes are holden because of our sleeping; if we were awake, we should soon perceive his glory. O blessed Saviour, by thy cross and passion, by thy glorious resurrection and ascension, arouse all our spirits to perceive that thou art not far from any one of thy people, and that thy word is still true, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

     III. I must not keep you muck longer, but I want to say that THIS DOCTRINE OF THE NECESSITY OF OUR WAKEFULNESS, IN ORDER THAT WE MAY SEE THE GLORY OF CHRIST, THROWS A LIGHT ON SEVERAL THINGS.

     First, it shows us why some see so little of the glory of Christ. “Ah!” says one, “I used to see it; I could not get through a sermon without being moved at the thought of my Saviour suffering for me, and rising for me; but now I do not seem to get any good out of all the services I attend.” Whose fault is that? It is not his, for he is unchanged. Is it mine? Perhaps so; and yet, since others do see him, surely the blame cannot be all mine. Is it not your fault, friend? You are not as wide awake as you used to be. It is a curious thing when a man says, “I do not know how it is that I cannot see as I used to do.” Why, he has not got his eyes open! Foolish man, let him rouse himself; and when he is thoroughly awake, then his eyes will be as good as ever, and he will see as much, of his Lord’s glory as he used to do. Old age has not come upon you yet, my brother, though you sorrowfully sing, —

“Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?”

Let me alter one line of the hymn, and then you may sing, —

“Where is the wakefulness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?”

When you first joined the church, you were all-alive, every power of your being was full of zeal and earnestness. Do you recollect how you stood in the aisle, and never seemed to get tired? You wished that the preacher would keep on for another half-hour. You remember how you could walk several miles to the service then; and when the minister said, “I think you live too far away to worship with us,” you replied, “Oh, no, sir! the distance is nothing when I get such food for my soul as I find here. I am glad of the walk; it does me good.” Now you write a little note to say that you live so far off that you cannot often come to the services. It also happens that you live far from every other place of worship, too, so you begin to stay away from the house of God, and then you wonder that you feel no power and no delight in your Lord. Of course you do not, for you are sound asleep; when you again awake, you will see Christ’s glory. Oh! for wakeful piety, earnest religion, and plenty of it; — no mere sprinkling of grace, but a thorough immersion into the very depths of it! May the Lord, in his mercy, cause you to be filled with all the fulness of God, by the power of his Spirit, till you shall be carried right away into a holy life that shall write over the natural life of your manhood, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

     Next, does not this fact explain why, in trials, we often get our sweetest fellowship with Christ? If I might mark out the happiest periods of my life, I should not choose those in which outward mercies have been multiplied, and success has followed success; but I think that I should specially note those times when abuse followed abuse, when I could hardly say a word without its being misrepresented, and something horrible being made out of things which were as good as good could be, — when lies flew about me as bullets whistle round the warrior’s ears in the midst of the battle; — then it was that I kept close to Christ, and lived on him alone, and I was among the happiest of the happy. When the dog barks, then the inmates of the household wake up, and the burglars will not be likely to get in; and, sometimes, our troubles are the very best things that can happen to us, because they wake us up, and drive Satan away, and fit us to see Christ’s glory. We got into a careless, drowsy condition when we were rich and increased in goods, and then we went to sleep; so our Master came, and pulled the bed from under us, and made us feel the cold; then we woke up, and found that Christ was close beside us, and our heart was glad. Thus, affliction or trial is often a blessed means of grace, because it wakes us up, so that we see Christ’s glory.

     This fact also explains why dying saints often declare that they have such blessed sights of Christ. Is it not because, as they die, they really begin to live? They shake off the dull encumbrance of this house of clay, and they get into a clearer light, and so they truly live. They wake up when they die. All their lifetime, their business engagements or other cares occupied their thoughts; but now they have done with business, and with care, and they begin to awake, for the morning cometh, — the blessed, everlasting morning that shall never know an eventide, and they awake, and see the glory of their Lord; and we, who sit by their bedside, are often amazed, we cannot understand what they describe, for we are the sleeping ones, and they are the waivers, waking up to see Christ’s glory.

     But suppose that I were to take my text just for a minute, and project it a little way into the future. We shall soon fall asleep, brothers and sisters. Some of the older ones among us will certainly do so, others of us very probably will do so, and all of us, unless the Lord shall come first, shall soon fall into that last quiet slumber which we call death. But what a waking there will be, first of our soul, when we shall see our Lord as he is! What must the first five minutes in heaven be, if there are any minutes where time is swallowed up in eternity! What must be the joy when, for the first time, we enter that land where “they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light”! When we shall see the saints in heaven, I suppose that we shall not say much about them; they will be like Moses and Elias, “the two men that stood with him.” But, oh! when we shall get our first glimpse of Jesus on his throne, what a sight that will be, ravishing beyond all conception! And then, when the next awakening comes, when the trumpet sounds its mighty blast, and these poor limbs arise out of their beds of clay, when we are awake, we shall see his glory. Then shall we be satisfied, when we awake in his likeness; and then shall his prayer be answered, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” Well, beloved, be content to go to bed when there is such a waking in store for you. Learn to die every day; regard your bed as a tomb; and every time you give yourself up to unconsciousness, and the image of death is upon you, be practising the art of dying, so that when, for the last time, you must go upstairs, and lie down once again, it may be very, very sweet to feel, “I shall awake in the morning, the everlasting morning, when all these shadows of this night of grief and toil shall eternally have fled away. When I am awake, I shall see his glory.” The Lord grant to you and to me, dear friends, to know all the bliss of awakening to behold his glory! Amen.



All the Promises

By / Aug 31

All the Promises

 

“For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” — 2 Cor. i. 20.

 

As the result of a very simple incident, a sublime truth may be proclaimed. It was so in the instance referred to in this chapter. These Corinthians had misrepresented the apostle Paul, and spoken ill of him. He might have ignored their unkindness, and said nothing about it; but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he was led to act otherwise; and, while defending his own. character for consistency, to vindicate also the consistency and truthfulness of God. We might never have had this precious verse if Paul had not been so ill-treated by these men of Corinth. They did him great wrong, and caused him much sorrow of heart, for a man who was so sincere and upright could not but be sorely vexed by their unjust suspicions and misrepresentations; yet you see how the evil was overruled by God for good, and through their unsavoury gossip and slander this sweet sentence was pressed out of Paul: “For all the promises of God in Christ are yea, and in Christ Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” There are many things which, at first, we may regret, but for which we are afterwards exceedingly grateful. I have felt half inclined to thank the Pharisees and scribes for some of their cruel attacks upon our blessed Lord himself, for, in answering them, he has given us lessons which we now highly prize. Perhaps we might never have had those three wonderful parables of the lost sheep, the lost silver, and the lost son, if those cavillers had not spoken evil of him because all the publicans and sinners drew near unto him to hear him.

     The fact was, that Paul had intended to visit the Christians at Corinth again, but he felt compelled to alter his decision, and he did not go to them, because he could only have gone in order to chastise or rebuke them, they had behaved so ill. In their folly, and in their coolness towards the apostle, they misconstrued his action, and they said, “We cannot rely upon his word, and we do not know what he will do; he promised that he would come to us, but he has changed his mind.” The apostle declares here that he did not use lightness, or fickleness, either in giving his conditional promise, or in retracting it. He was not accustomed to speak without thinking what he was going to say. He was prompted by a worthy motive when he made the proposition to go to them, and an equally good motive swayed him when he resolved not to go. He tells them that his mind was not of the “yea and nay” order; but when he said “yea,” he meant it, his yea was yea, and if he said “nay,” he meant it, and his nay was nay.

     This remark led the apostle further to say that the gospel which he preached was not of the “yea and nay” kind. It was something certain, settled, positive, fixed; it was not a variable gospel, nor a deceptive gospel. It was not a chameleon gospel, which changed its colour according to the light which fell upon it, but it was a clear and distinct gospel, given in all sincerity by the truthful and truthloving Saviour who never used words in a double sense, but who said what he meant, and meant what he said. It was by this process of reasoning that the apostle was led up to the statement contained in our text concerning Christ: “All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” That is now to be the theme of our meditation.

     I. The first thing I notice in the text is, THE DIGNITY OF THE PROMISES. Notice the apostle’s words: “For all the promises of God in him are yea.”

     These promises were all made according to the purpose of his own will. We sometimes read, or hear, or speak of the promises written in God’s Word, but do not give them as much credit as if they were the promises of a friend, or of our father, or our brother. If we valued them more, we should believe them better. We have many proverbs to remind us what poor and frail things the promises of men are; but those of which Paul writes are “the promises of God.” Men often change their minds; even the apostle did that, and therefore he was wise to try to take the thoughts of those, to whom he was writing, off from the promises even of an apostle, which were liable to change, and which might very properly not be carried out because of altered circumstances, and lead them away to the promises of God, which are unfailing and unchangeable, and are always fulfilled to his glory and to our profit. We little know what solemn things we are trifling with when we say that we cannot believe a certain promise. What! Has it come to this, — that God’s own children cannot believe him? Is it so, that we, who say that “we love him because he first loved us,” yet add to that declaration, “but there are some of his promises which we cannot believe”? I am afraid that we talk far too flippantly about our unbelief, and that we seek to shelter one another in it, instead of whipping ourselves out of it. To be unbelieving may be painful; but there is a more serious consideration than that, for it is sinful; it is heinous to the last degree when we feel — much more when we express — any incredulity with regard to “the promises of God.” Just turn that thought over in your minds for a minute or two, and see whether it does not crimson your face with shame to think that you should have had any suspicion about the fulfilment of promises made by “God, that cannot lie.”

     Even in the case of a man, a promise is something which comes from him, and yet, in a sense, which still remains with him. He cannot speak of promise, and let it blow away with the wind. It is his promise after he has uttered it; and those to whom it was given can bring it back to him, and say, “That is your promise, will you not fulfil it?” If a man repudiates his own pledged word, he does, in fact, repudiate the fruit of himself, the outgoing of his own life; and every promise of God partakes of his nature, there is in it something divine, something which comes distinctly from God, and which he will continue to own as his. Though it may have been spoken two or three thousand years ago, or longer than that, yet it is still his promise, and part and parcel of himself. Well, then, if God will own it as his promise, shall I, to whom it is given in infinite mercy, doubt whether it is his promise or not? And shall I even venture to go further than that, and, knowing it to be his promise, shall I begin to question how he can fulfil it, or whether he will fulfil it or not? God forbid! The dignity of the promise must not be insulted by our doubting it.

     Kindly observe the position of the promise, which is a very singular one. It is a kind of link between the divine thought and the divine act. It is not at all a necessary link so far as God is concerned, but it is often a most necessary and consoling link to us. There is the eternal purpose that has ever been in God’s secret mind, and his promise is the shadow which that purpose casts upon the revealed page. It is the divine decree made manifest; and it stands there, bright and sparkling, between the decree, which our eyes cannot and dare not look upon, and the blessed fulfilment which is to be our joy and delight for ever. I confess that I cannot think of God’s eternal purposes without the utmost awe and reverence; for, to me, there is something very solemn and impressive about them. I know that some people speak as though they would trample them in the mire if they could; but whenever I hear a word against the promises, the providences, the decrees, and the purposes of God, I feel inclined to do as a negro slave did, under certain circumstances, in the presence of his master. While waiting upon his master, who frequently took the name of God in vain, and blasphemed it most terribly in his cursing, the black man bowed his head. His master asked him why he did so, and he replied that it was because his soul was full of trembling at the very name of God, and he wished to do him reverence, even while he was being blasphemed and insulted. So, whenever I hear or read of anyone speaking or writing against the divine decrees, I feel anxious at once to bow my head, and to prostrate myself in homage before that eternal mind which knows no new thought, — for God knew all things from the beginning, — and to adore that infinite wisdom which has planned everything from the flitting of a sparrow to the flight of the archangel. It is very wonderful to me to think of a promise in the Scriptures being virtually the manifestation of God’s everlasting purposes. I might compare the purpose to God himself, — invisible, and the promise to the Incarnate God, who was born at Bethlehem, and who came to earth to be seen of men.

     Think yet again of the promise of God, and you will see how a sense of its dignity grows upon you while you are meditating upon it. Consider, next, that the truth of God is irrevocably bound up with his promise. If a man says, “Such a thing shall be done,” he ought to do it if it is in his power. We have no right to break promises that we have made; we feel that, if we do, men will learn to distrust us, and soon will care nothing at all for our promises. But, beloved, — and we speak with the utmost reverence concerning the Most High, — his character for truthfulness would be lost if his promises were not kept; and, while it would be an awful loss to us to miss what he has promised, it would be a far greater loss to him to lose his truthfulness. We rejoice that, as a matter of fact, this is a thing which can never happen. All things except this are possible with God, but it is not possible for him to be God and yet to fail in the fulfilment of his promises. The two ideas will not run together at all. If he is God, he must be true to his truth, and he will be; so, when I read a promise in his Word, I read something which is as certain as a fact already accomplished, since, if it were not to come to pass, God’s glory would suffer an eclipse, and his veracity would be impugned, and that can never be.

     Nor is the truth of God the only attribute which would suffer if he failed to fulfil his promise, for his immutability would also be put in jeopardy. If he makes a promise, and yet does not fulfil it in due time, then he must have changed; the motives which led to the making of the promise have now no influence over him, and he has become something different from what he was when he made the promise. But God must be immutable. It cannot be possible for him to change for the better, for he is infinitely good; and, certainly, he cannot change for the worse, for, if he did, then he would be something less than he might be, and so he would not be God at all. Change is impossible to him; he can never change his will, and his promise, as one of the most solemn declarations of his will, must be fulfilled when he has once made it. Surely, no one of us would wish or dare to deny either the truthfulness or the unchangeableness of God.

     Further, his power is bound up with his promise. Shall it ever be said that God failed to keep his promise because he could not keep it, or because he miscalculated his resources, or his arm waxed short, or the great deeps of his eternal Godhead became dried up? No; that cannot be, for what he has promised he will always be able to perform.

     So, then, if we slight the promises of God, we slight also his truth, his immutability, and his power.

     And we also seriously compromise his mercy and his love. It was love that moved him to give the promise. He might have bestowed the blessing without promising to do so, and that would have been a gracious proof of his love; but, because the promise has a sweet, consoling power in it, he has been pleased to give it to us as a further proof of his love; and if he does not grant the boon at once when he promises it, the delay is all for loving reasons; but, having given the promise, he must keep it because of his love. His love must be changed if it does not constrain, him to fulfil what it caused him to promise; but that can never be, and we must not — we dare not — cast such a slight upon the promise of God as to imagine, for a moment, that it can remain unfulfilled.

     So much, then, concerning the dignity of the promises.

     II. Still keeping closely to the text, I want you to notice, next, THE RANGE OF THE PROMISES, for Paul here speaks of “all the promises of God.”

     There is a prospect for you: “All the promises.” There are very many of them, and they are found in both the Old and the Hew Testaments. There was one given at the gates of the garden of Eden, very near the commencement of human history. There is another right at the end of the Revelation: “Surely I come quickly.” The Bible is a Book of precious promises; all the way we have to travel, they seem to be like a series of stepping-stones across the stream of time, and we may march from one promise to another, and never wet our feet all the way from earth to heaven, if we do but know how to keep our eyes open, and to find the right promise to step upon. “All the promises,” the Old Testament ones as well as those in the New Testament, are sure and steadfast. The conditional promises — if we believe, and if we repent, — God will certainly fulfil; and the unconditional ones — the promises of the everlasting covenant, in which he pledges himself to give men repentance, and to give them new hearts and right spirits, — he will keep them, too.

     God will fulfil all temporal promises. Bread shall be given you, and water shall be assured unto you, if you are the Lord’s children. He will keep his promises about temporal affairs as well as those which concern everlasting joys and blessings. “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” You may speak of the promises in any way that you please, and then you may say that the Lord will keep them all; you may pick out the promise to the prisoner, the promise to the sinner, the promise to the backslider, the promise to the doubting one, the promise to the aged, the promise to the young, the promise to her that halteth, the promise to the barren woman, the promise to the strong, the promise to those who have full assurance of faith, the promise to those who love the Lord, the promise to those who delight themselves in the Lord, and then you may confidently declare, concerning all these promises to all sorts and conditions of people, that the Lord will surely keep every one of them.

     “All the promises.” Why, here is a grand granaryful! Who can sort them all out? Promises of pardon to the seeking sinner; promises of justification to the believing child; promises of sanctification to him who is struggling against sin; promises of the supply of all kinds of spiritual food to the flock of Christ; promises of guidance; promises of preservation; promises of holy education  promises of peace and joy; promises of hope; promises of the sustenance of our love; promises for death; promises for judgment; promises for glory; promises that reach to all eternity. “All the promises.” What a range of vision this expression opens up! Go forth presently, and lift up thine eyes, and gaze upon the stars; see whether thou canst number them all, do they not far exceed all thy powers of numeration? Yet, if thou couldst count the stars, and weigh them in scales, and tabulate the measure of their light, thou couldst not count the promises of God, or estimate their true value, or know how infinitely precious is the light divine which streams from them into a believing soul. If God does not fulfil a single promise to me for the next fifty years, I shall be perfectly satisfied to live on the promises themselves, if my faith shall but be sustained by his grace. I may fairly talk thus, for you would say, “I do not need a single penny to spend, as long as ever I live, if I can but always have plenty of £5 notes; I shall never care if I do not see a sovereign again, so long as I can always have the promise of the Bank of England to pay me on demand all that I need.” So let it be with the promises of God. Men’s promises are but breath, they would never feed us; but God’s promises can satisfy us, for they are the substance of the things hoped for; and faith, the evidence of things not seen, rejoices to see that which is invisible, to lay hold of that which it cannot touch, and to feed upon that which, as yet, it cannot taste. Faith works wonders. It enables a man to project himself right into eternity. He sits down, and sighs, and sorrows, and then he says to himself, “This will never do, I will trust in the Lord;” and, in an instant, by faith he walks the golden streets, and sings the everlasting songs. He is not obliged to live in this narrow sphere of time and sense, for, by faith, he spreads his wings, and, like the lark, he ascends and sings. He soars far more rapidly than even the eagle, and finds himself already enjoying the things which God has prepared for them that love him, and so he is happy in the Lord.

     III. Now I must turn to my third point, which is in the very heart of the text: “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen.” These words teach us THE STABILITY OF THE PROMISES.

     The promises of God are very firm, for, first, they are settled on an everlasting basis, for they are promises in Christ. As I look at the text, I can see two words leaping up out of it; and as I look at it again, I see the same two words leaping up again: “in him.” “All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen.” There is a great thought which I cannot fully open up to you now, you must lie awake to-night, and think over it, and pray over it: “All the promises of God in him.” What a great Christ you have, to have “all the promises of God” within himself! The range of the promises seems to be infinite, and yet Christ is great enough to be the circumference that shuts them all in. Do rejoice in this great truth, that “all the promises of God” are in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     And in Christ they are said to be “Yea.” That is a Greek word, so this is a message to Gentiles. “And in him Amen.” That is a Hebrew word, and is therefore for the Jews. You may have noticed how, whenever the Holy Spirit wishes to impress any truth upon us with more than usual solemnity, he uses two languages, as in the case of “Abba, Father.” In this way, all the saints of God, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, may have their portion of meat in due season.

     “All the promises of God in him are “yea.” That is, they are certain. “And in him Amen.” That is, they are accomplished. We may say, after every promise of God, “Yea, so it is. Amen, so let it be.” There is but a slight variation in the meaning of the words, but it is enough to let us see that there is no tautology here, not even if the words are translated, “All the promises of God are yea,” that is, true; “and they are Amen;” that is, they shall be accomplished in Christ Jesus.

     The stability of the promises in Christ is established beyond all hazard, first, because Christ is God’s Witness. If anyone asks, “Did God make this promise?” Christ comes forward, and says, “Yes, I heard him say it.” Christ is “the faithful and true Witness.” He bears witness of God and for God to the sons of men; and he sets his seal to every divine promise, and certifies it with his “Yea and Amen.” Next, the promises are sure in Christ, because he is God’s Representative. lie is always doing the Fathers will, even as he has done it in the past. When he came to earth, and died upon the cross, he accomplished the work of redemption upon which God’s heart was set; and he is still doing the Father’s will. Whatever Jesus has said, God has said, for he speaks the words of God. The Father sent him into the world as his Representative, and he spoke not merely his own words, but the words of the Father who sent him.

     Then, next, Jesus is the Surety of the covenant. The promise was at first made to Adam. If Adam keeps the command of God, and does not touch the forbidden fruit, he and those whom he represents shall have all manner of good things. But Adam transgressed the law of the Lord, so that covenant was made void. The second covenant is on this wise. If Jesus Christ, the second Adam, will do this and that, then all whom he represents shall have the blessings guaranteed in the covenant. The Lord Jesus has done all that he agreed to do; he has kept the law, and so has honoured it, and he has also died, and borne the sentence of the law. He has thus offered both an active and a passive obedience to the law of God, and now all the promises of God must be kept to Christ, for they are “Yea and Amen” in him. Take those great promises in the fifty-third of Isaiah: “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” These are promises, first to the Head, and then to us the members of his mystical body; first to the second Adam, and then to all who, by a living faith, are included in his federal headship. So the promises are “Yea and Amen” in him.

     And as long as Jesus Christ lives, they are also “Yea and Amen” in this sense, — that he is seeing to their being carried out. He is interceding before the throne for us that the promises of God may meet our distresses. O brethren, all the promises must be true in Christ, because God spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all; and, having given him, will he not, with him, also freely give us all things? If God had meant to run back from any promise, he would surely have run back from the promise to give his only-begotten Son; but, having fulfilled that, what promise is there that he will ever break? Moreover, in the gift of Christ, he has virtually and really given us all things; for if Christ is yours, all things are yours. All things are in Christ; so, having him, you possess all. There is no desire of your spirit, or need of your nature, that shall remain unsatisfied when once you have Christ as yours. You have heaven, and earth, and all things that are or ever shall be, encompassed in that blessed One whose very name is “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness.” O beloved, rejoice with all your heart that every promise of God is sure in Christ Jesus to all his true seed!

     IV. Now let us consider the last words of the text: “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” This impression teaches us THE RESULT OF THE PROMISES.

     So then, dear friends, the promises of God are his glory. There is no pretended god that has ever been supposed to make promises like those of our God. Turn to the Koran, and see what Mohammed has promised. Ah, me! What a beggarly array of promises does he set before his followers! Turn to Brahma and Buddha, and read all the so-called sacred books written by their priests, and see what their gods are said to have promised. You can put the essence of it all into an egg-shell, and not see it even then. But our God has promised more than heaven and earth can hold. He has promised to give himself to his people. He is the great Promiser, — the mighty Promiser. I set the promises of God in comparison and contrast with all the promises that were ever made in connection with all false systems of religion under heaven, and unhesitatingly declare that there are none that can compare for an instant with the promises of the Most High.

     It was greatly to God’s glory to make those promises all sure, for they all depended at first upon the condition that Christ should obey the Father’s will. But he has done it; and oh, what a glory it is to God that “he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”! The gift of the Redeemer, the life of the Redeemer, the death of the Redeemer, the intercession of the Redeemer, the making the promises sure, — all this is greatly to the glory of God.

     And now it is to the glory of God to keep every promise that he has made. There is not one which, if it were broken, would redound to his praise or increase his honour. Nay, and there is not one but, when it is kept, reflects fresh honour upon him, and brings still further renown to his ever-blessed name.

     If I had time, I would enlarge upon all these points; but as it is already past our usual hour for closing the service, I must end my discourse with a brief reference to the last words in our text: “unto the glory of God by us.” While I was thinking earnestly over my text, I fancied that those two little words, “by us,” seemed to spoil that grand word “glory” and that greater word “God.” “To the glory of God” — “by us;” what a contrast! It is even more marked than in that old story of the organ-blower who would persist in saying, “We did it,” when all that he did was just to pump the air into the organ. Must we be mentioned at all? Is it not a pity to bring us in? But, as I turned the subject over in my mind, I thought, “Oh, no, no; it is quite right to bring us in here!” Now look. God wants to have the glory of being merciful; yes, but he cannot have that glory unless there is a sinner somewhere to whom he can show mercy; a sinner is an essential part of the whole business. Suppose that the king, who made the great supper, had said to his servants, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in;” and that they had come back to him, and said, “There is not a single creature under the hedges or in the highways; there is not even a solitary beggar anywhere about the streets or lanes of the city.” Then he could not have had the feast, whatever dainties he might have prepared, if he had not anybody to eat them. It would have been a mournful business to have the oxen and fatlings killed, and heaped upon the tables, yet nobody to sit down to partake of them. Even the king, if he is to have honour, must be dependent for once on the beggars in the highways and hedges. Is not this wonderful? God wants to show his power in pardoning my sin, but he cannot do it if I have no sin to be pardoned; and if I do not come to him to be pardoned, and do not ask for his mercy, then it lies like dead capital never spent. The Lord delights to help the weak; it is his joy to do it; but suppose that there is no weak person anywhere, what is to happen then? Ah! but I think I hear the weak souls crying out, “By us! By us! ‘To the glory of God by us.’ He delights to help the poor and needy, and he cannot do so if there are not some poor and needy ones for him to help; so, when we seek his aid, it is ‘to the glory of God by us.” And the Lord delights to make his strength perfect in our weakness. I think I hear Paul crying out, and he is the man who wrote these words, “by us,” — “God is glorified by my weakness.” And I hear many of you, who are trying to serve your Lord and Master, saying, “Ah, then! that is why such weak ones as we feel ourselves to be are used, ‘to the glory of God by us.’”

     Come along, then, all you who need God’s mercy; you have laid hold of one of his promises, and feel that you need and must have all that it includes. With utmost reverence would I say that God himself cannot be glorified by the promise without you. If he intends to feed the hungry, then the hungry are essential to the accomplishment of his purpose. If he would clothe the naked, then there must be naked ones for him to clothe. Is there not a mine of comfort here for you who have been almost without hope? I trust that some of you poor lost ones will say in your hearts, if you do not utter it with your voices, “Are we really essential to God’s glory? Does God need our poverty, and our sinfulness, and our nothingness, in order that he may, through them, display the greatness of his grace? Then we will certainly come to him just as we are.” Do so, I pray you. Come! Come!! Come!!! May the Holy Spirit, by his omnipotent grace, draw you now, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen



Fallen Asleep

By / Jan 29

Fallen Asleep

 

“Some are fallen asleep.” — 1 Corinthians xv. 6.

 

WRITING concerning the brethren who had seen the Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection, and of whom “above five hundred” were present at one time, Paul said that, at the date when he was writing this Epistle, “the greater part” remained alive, “but,” he added, “some are fallen asleep.”

     We might have thought that God, in great mercy, would have preserved the lives of those five hundred brethren to an extreme old age, that, in every part of the globe, there might be extant, as long as possible, someone who would be able to say, “I beheld the Son of God when he was upon the earth. I heard him preach. I saw him die on the cross, and then I looked upon him again after he had risen from the grave;” for every one of these witnesses was worth his weight in gold to the Christian religion. Wherever such a man lived, he must have been, under the blessing of God, the means of convincing many people of the truth of our glorious faith. Yet, dear friends, it does not appear that these invaluable brethren were spared by the shafts of death. These witnesses of Christ’s resurrection died as other men did. They had no immunity from death, and no extreme old age was granted to them, for the apostle, writing not so very long after the event, said, “Some are fallen asleep.”

     From this fact, I gather that lives, which appear to us to be extremely necessary, may not be so regarded by God. Your own observation will, I am sure, agree with mine, that the Lord sometimes takes away from us those whom we can least spare. Those, who seemed to be the pillars of the church, have been suddenly removed. The fathers amongst us, those who have been the bravest confessors of the faith, or the most useful servants of the Saviour, have been called away. This should teach us, — if we are wise enough to learn the lesson, — to regard the most invaluable person in our own Israel as being only lent to us by the Lord, for a season, and liable to be summoned to higher service at any moment. Possibly, God takes some men away from us because we think them absolutely needful. He will not let us trust in an arm of flesh; and if he is so condescending as to use human feebleness, and then we go and confide in the feebleness, and suppose that God’s strength is tied up to it, in secret jealousy he removes the instruments that he has used, that men may learn not to glory in their fellow-men, or to make idols out of their Christian brethren and fathers.

     It is probable that these witnesses of Christ’s resurrection enjoyed a large measure of reverence from the members of the Christian Church. Had they lived very long, they might have been regarded with a superstitious and almost idolatrous reverence. God intended that his Church should increasingly live by faith, not by sight; so, while she was in her infancy he gave her the prop of miracles and also the support of living witnesses; but when she had somewhat increased in strength, he no longer gave the power to work miracles, but left her to rest upon his Word alone; and as she further progressed, he, in a few years, took away the earthly witnesses of Christ’s life, and death, and resurrection, that the Eternal Spirit, working through the Word, might stand, to all time, as the living and unfailing Witness of the fact that Jesus lived, and died, and “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

     The lesson for us all to learn is just this, let us not set too much store by any of God’s servants; and, especially, let us never reckon that we are essential to the carrying on of his work. The fly upon the chariot wheel was easily to be dispensed with, and so are we. Like shadows have we come; like shadows shall we go. We may be missed; I hope we shall all live so that many will miss us when we are gone; but they will brush their tears away, and both the world and the Church — and especially the Church — will continue to go on without us. While Jesus lives, whoever may die, we shall never have to say, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof;” but still shall the Church of God flourish and increase, for the Spirit of God is with her.

     Paul wrote, “Some are fallen asleep.” Of course, all the witnesses, who saw Christ personally, have long ago fallen asleep; but, among ourselves, it is also true that “some are fallen asleep;” and the truth is impressed upon us more and more forcibly every week. I never expect now to come to this place, on two succeeding Sabbaths, without hearing that some one or other of our friends has departed. Our death-rate, for many years, has been wonderfully small, for God seems to have favoured us by sparing us to one another. We must not forget that, in past days, more of our number were young than is the case with us now; and as we all march onwards towards the inevitable river, the deaths will naturally be more numerous among us than they have been. They are beginning to be so already, and I am continually hearing of one or another of our most useful brethren or sisters being “called home.” Almost every day, this truth is impressed upon me: “Some are fallen asleep.” I suppose that, all the year round, almost as regularly as the clock ticks, about two a week of our church-members, beside others out of the congregation, are taken up to dwell in the Master’s presence. So my subject concerns us just as much as it did those of whom and to whom the apostle wrote.

     I. Now, coming to the text, I call your attention, first, to THE FIGURE HERE USED: “Some are fallen asleep.”

     In the heathen part of the catacombs of Rome, the inscriptions over the place where their dead were buried are full of lamentation and despair. Indeed, the writers of those inscriptions do not appear to have been able to find words in which they could express their great distress, their agony of heart, at the loss of child, or husband, or friend. They pile the mournful words together, to try to describe their grief. Sometimes, they declare that the light has gone from their sky now them dear ones are taken from them. “Alas! alas!” says the record, “dear Caius has gone, and with him all joy is quenched for ever, for I shall see him no more.” Heathenism is hopeless to afford any comfort to the bereaved. But when you come into that part of the catacombs which was devoted to Christian sepulture, everything is different. There you may constantly read these consoling words, “He sleeps in peace.” There is nothing dreadful or despairing in the inscriptions there; they are submissive, they are cheerful, they are even thankful; frequently, they are victorious, and the most common emblem is — not the quenched torch, as it is on the heathen side, where the light is supposed to have gone out for ever, — but the palm branch, to signify that the victory remains eternally with the departed one. It is the glory of the Christian religion to have let light into the sepulchre, to have taken the sting away from death, and, in fact, to have made it no more death to die.

     The figure here used is that of falling asleep; it describes first the act, and then the state: “Some are fallen asleep.” That is the act of death. Having fallen asleep, they remain so; that is the state of death. For a Christian to die, is, according to Scripture, an act of the most natural kind, for it is but to fall asleep. What that act really is, in its literal meaning, I cannot fully explain to you, though I know by long personal experience; and all of you know, and will soon know again if you are permitted to fall asleep to-night and to wake in the morning. Yet you never knew exactly when you went to sleep. You have often wanted to go to sleep, but you could not; and probably nobody has ever gone to sleep while he has tried to do so; but it is when all idea of forcing slumber has gone from us that gradually we pass into a state of unconsciousness. Such, perhaps, is death; — the sinking away, and becoming unconscious of this world, and asleep to it, though happily conscious of another world, and sweetly awake to it. That is the act of falling asleep.

     Then, after the act of falling asleep, which is death, comes the state of sleep, in which rest is the main ingredient. Are believers then asleep? Yes, and no. Never make a figure run on four legs when it was only meant to go on two. Some people, when they get hold of a metaphor, want to make it have as many feet as a centipede, and they seek to draw all sorts of parallels which were never intended to be drawn. The fact is, that the saints sleep, first, as to their bodies. There they he in the cemetery, — which means, the sleeping-place, — till dawns the bright illustrious day when those bodies shall wake again. As for their souls, they are asleep as to this world; their memory and their love are things of the past; they are alike unknowing and unknown as far as this earth is concerned. As to that other world, we read that they shall be “for ever with the Lord.” Our Saviour said to the penitent thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise;” and the prayer of Christ for his people was, that we might be with him where he is, — not to be asleep, — but to behold his glory, the glory which the Father had given him. Hence, the word “sleep” is not to be regarded as implying that the souls of the departed lie in a state of unconsciousness. It is nothing of the kind; it is unconsciousness as to the things of time and sense, but a blessed consciousness as to another and a fairer and brighter and better world than. this. Even while I am in this mortal state, when I am asleep, though I may be unaware of anything that is happening in my bedroom, yet, full often, in my sleep, my mind is soaring on the wings of eagles, mounting up to heaven, or diving into the depths, conscious of dreamland, and of the spirit land, though unconscious of the present world for the time being.

     The meaning of the term is evidently this, — as sleep brings to us rest, the blessed ones, who have fallen asleep in Christ, are perfectly at rest. It is delightful for a man, who has worked very hard all day, to forget his toils, and fall asleep. Well did Young write, in his Night Thoughts, concerning—

“Tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep.”

In his sleep, the prisoner in the dungeon forgets his manacles; the slave in the galley forgets his bondage; the poor man forgets his poverty, and he who dreads the approach of danger, drinks a draught of the waters of Lethe, and remembers his fears no more. What a blessing sleep is to this poor, weary frame and to the throbbing brain! The saints in heaven have a better rest than sleep can give, but sleep is the nearest word we can find to describe the state of the blessed. They have no poverty, no toil, no anguish of spirit, no remorse, no struggling with indwelling sin, no battling with foes without and fears within. “They rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” Oh, what a sweet thing to fall asleep, if this be what it is, — to enjoy perfect repose, and to be beyond the reach of all influences which make life here to be so sorrowful! “Some are fallen asleep;” that is, they have entered into their rest.

     By falling asleep, again, is meant a state of security. The man who is in the battle may be wounded, and may die; but he who has gone up to his chamber to sleep is supposed there to be at peace, and out of the reach of danger, though that is not always the case. But, in those heavenly chambers where the Lord shall hide away his people, they shall be perfectly secure. They will never have to keep watch against “the arrow that flieth by day,” or “the pestilence that walketh in darkness.” They are out of gunshot of the enemy. As Dr. Payson said, when he was dying, “The battle is fought;” so is it with them, the battle is fought, and the victory is won for ever. Therefore have they ascended to the hill-tops of glory, and to the chambers of eternal rest; and there they sleep while we still struggle hand to hand with the enemy, with many a deadly thrust, and many an ugly wound. God be praised that there is a place of safety for all the soldiers of the cross! “Some are fallen, asleep,” and so shall we, in due time, if we are fighting under the banner of Emmanuel, God with us.

     Now let us learn, from this figure of falling asleep, a little about death; and, especially, about a Christian’s death. I learn from it, first, that the act is not a painful one, nor even a disagreeable one. As I have said before, I cannot really tell what falling asleep is, for in the very act we ourselves pass out of the consciousness of it; but, as far as one has watched children falling asleep, there certainly is no appearance of any pain, for usually they drop off into slumber very happily, and that is how God’s people shall do when they fall asleep in Jesus. Do not regard your departure out of the world as a tiling to be surrounded with horror; do not conjure up hobgoblins, and evil spirits, and darkness, and terror. “The valley of the shadow of death,” of which David spoke, I do not think was ever meant to be applied to dying, for it is a valley that he walks through, and he comes out again at the other side of it; and it is not the valley of death, but only of “the shadow of death.” I have walked through that valley many a time, — right through from one end of it to the other, and yet I have not died. The grim shadow of something worse than death has fallen over my spirit, but God has been with me, as he was with David, and his rod and his staff have comforted me; and many here can say the same, and I believe that, often, those who feel great gloom in going through “the valley of the shadow of death,” feel no gloom at all when they come to the valley of death itself . There has generally been brightness there for the most sorrowful spirits; and those who, before coming there, have grovelled in the dust, have been enabled to mount as on eagles’ wings when they have actually come to the place of their departure into the future state.

     The more you think this matter over, the more clearly will it appear to you that there cannot be any pain in death; all pain must be connected with life, it is the living who suffer. In death, we forget all pain. That gentle touch, that divine love-pat that shall end all pain and sorrow, is the thing which men usually call death, but which the apostle rightly calls sleep. There is nothing to be dreaded in it; it may be altogether unattended with pain; I believe that, full often, it is so. To fall asleep is a very natural act, and so it is for us to die. A little child has been playing in the field gathering buttercups and daisies all day long; but, at last, tired right out, he drops asleep upon his mother’s lap; what could he do better? So, though we may be unwilling to die, the time will come when we shall have finished our life, — work or play, whichever you may please to call it, — and we shall fall asleep upon the bosom of our God; what better thing could we do? There is a dear old friend of mine, now in heaven; and when he came to this house, one Sabbath-day, I said to him, “Our old friend So-and-so has gone home.” The one to whom I spoke was an old man himself, one of our most gracious elders, and he looked at me in a most significant way, and his eyes twinkled as he said, “He could not do better, dear Pastor; he could not do better; and you and I will do the same thing one of these days. We also shall go home!” Our aged friend, as I told you, has himself gone home since that time, and now I may say of him, “He could not have done better.” Why! that is where good children always go at night, — home. If they ran away, where would they go? When our night comes, beloved children of God, you and I also must go home; do we feel at all afraid of such a prospect? If so, surely our love to our Heavenly Father, and to our Elder Brother, and to our home above, must be growing somewhat cold.

     And then, again, if we did not die, we should wish to do so. Certainly, when people cannot sleep, that is the very thing they crave for. There have, perhaps, been times when you have been ready to take something which would help to keep you awake when you have needed to do some special work, or to watch over some precious sick one; but when night follows night, and there has been no sleep for you, you do not want anything to keep you awake then, but you long for sleep. “Oh, that I could sleep!” you cry. We regard it, always, as a bad symptom when the sufferer says, “I cannot sleep.” The disciples said, concerning Lazarus, “If he sleep, he shall do well;” and they spoke wisely, although they misunderstood the meaning of the word sleep in that connection; and, surely, we shall do well when we fall asleep in Jesus. It shall become to us the most blessed thing that God himself can send us. Oh, if we could not die, it would be indeed horrible! Who wants to be chained to this poor life for a century or longer? There came to me one, of whom I may tell the story, for he is dead now; and he said that, if I would do his bidding, I should live for ever here, for he had discovered a great secret by which men need never die. I said to him, “Sir, you seem to me like a man of seventy, and I should say that you are getting on towards death yourself.” He replied, “Oh, no! I expect some little rash will come out all over me, in a few years, and then I shall be quite young again, and start living for another hundred years.” He told me that the people would believe his teaching when he had been here six or seven hundred years, and I answered that I thought it was very likely that they would! He offered to share his great secret with me, dear good man that he was; but I replied, “I would not give a button with the shank off to know it; why should I want to live in this wretched penal colony for ever?” He talked to me for some little time, and when he found that he could make no impression on me, to consummate his madness, he asked me to go outside my door with him; he lifted up the knocker, and rapped two or three times, saying very solemnly, “Too late! Too late! Ye cannot enter now.” He said that he had shut me out of the blessing of living here for ever; so I said to him, “I am very much obliged to you for doing me such a kindness.” He printed books, and gave lectures on the subject, being fully persuaded in his own mind that he would never die; but he has died, I knew he would, and I told him so. He said it was my want of faith which made me talk like that, but he himself was confident that he should never die. Oh, what an awful tiling it would be if that man’s fad could be a fact! Superstition declares it to be the curse upon “the wandering Jew” that he should never die. God be thanked that such a curse has never fallen upon us! No, unless the Lord should come first, we shall fall asleep in him; and what a blessed thing it must be to fall asleep on the bosom of Christ! The child may be afraid to be put to bed in the dark, but it never fears to fall asleep upon its mother’s breast; and we might dread to be laid to rest out there in the cold cemetery, all alone, but we do not fear to sleep in Jesus. Such a state as that is a thing to be desired, not to be dreaded.

     II. Now let us come to our second point, THE THOUGHTS AROUSED BY THIS FIGURE: “Some are fallen asleep.”

     First, thinking about the many who have fallen asleep, let me ask, — How did you treat them? If your conscience pricks you concerning that matter, I want you to act towards the living saints in such a way as you would like to have done supposing you never see them again. When there has been an angry meeting or parting, — when there have been hard words spoken, — when there have been unkind thoughts, — when you could not enjoy true fellowship with some Christian friend, suppose that, the next morning, somebody came round to your house, and said, “Brother So-and-so is dead,” you would feel deeply pained to think that he had fallen asleep after you had so treated him. People who have killed their minister by their unkindness, — and there have been, alas! many who have done so; — those who have killed other persons, — and there have been many of that sort, who have vexed and worried other people into their graves; — may well think, with great sorrow, “Some are fallen asleep, but we did not treat them with the love and kindness we ought to have shown to them.” Think over that matter, dear friends, and see to it that no such regrets shall be possible to you.

     “Some are fallen asleep.” Then, who is to fill their place? Many have already gone from us this year, and others keep on going. Sunday-school teachers go: who will be “baptized for the dead,” by taking their places in the ranks, and filling the gap? Hear this, ye church-members who are doing nothing for Christ! “Some are fallen asleep.” Let that little sentence be a clarion call to you to wake up, and go, and occupy the vacant positions, that the work of Christ may know no lack in any part of his vineyard. Rouse ye! Rouse ye! you who are asleep in another sense, and now that so many are being taken away from us, dig up the talent that has been wrapped in a napkin, and buried in the earth, and put it out to blessed usury by employing it in the Master’s service.

     “Some have fallen asleep.” Then you and I also will fall asleep before long. It cannot be a long while for some of you who are getting grey or white; it may be a very short time for some of us who have scarcely reached the middle of life ; and even you young folk may soon fall asleep, too, for I have seen a child asleep in the morning as well as at night, and so have you. Oh! let us not live in this world as if we thought of staying here for ever; but let us try to be like a pious Scotch minister, who was very ill, and, being asked by a friend whether he thought himself dying, answered, “ Really, friend, I care not whether I am or not; for, if I die, I shall be with God; and if I live, he will be with me.” There is not much to choose between those two blessed states; but let us recollect, by the memory of every one who has fallen asleep, that the time of our own departure is coming by-and-by, and it may be very soon!

     But, as for those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, we need not fret or trouble ourselves about them. To cut their faces, in token of their mourning for the dead, was natural to the heathen; well might they torture themselves in their hopeless grief, for they believed the separation to be eternal. But as for us, when children go upstairs to bed, do their elder brothers and sisters, who sit up later, gather together, and cry because the other children have fallen asleep? Ah, no! they feel that they have not lost them, and they expect to meet again in the morning; and so do we! Therefore, let us not weep and lament to excess concerning the dear ones who are fallen asleep in Christ, for all is well with them. They are at rest: shall we weep about that? They are enjoying their eternal triumph: shall we weep about that? They are as full of bliss as they can possibly be: shall, we weep about that? If any of your sons and daughters were taken away from you to be made into kings and queens in a foreign land, you might shed a tear or two at parting, but you would say, “It is for their good; let them go.” And do you grudge your wellbeloved their crown of glory, and all the bliss which God has bestowed upon them? If the departed could speak to us, they would say, “Bless God for us. Do not sit down and mourn because we have entered into his glory; but rather rejoice because we are with him where he is.” Wherefore, let us comfort one another with these words.

     III. Lastly, brethren, let us think, for just a minute or two, of THE HOPES CONFIRMED BY THIS FIGURE: “Some are fallen asleep.”

     First, then, they are still ours. If they were really dead, we might say that we had lost them; but as they have only fallen asleep, they are still ours. Wordsworth proclaimed a great truth in that simple little poem of his, “We are seven.” There were some of the family buried in the churchyard, but the girl still declared that they were seven, and so they were. Did you ever notice, concerning Job’s children, that when God gave him twice as much substance as he had before, he gave him only the same number of children as he formerly had? The Lord gave him twice as much gold, and twice as much of all sorts of property, but he only gave him the exact number of children that he had before. Why did he not give the patriarch double the number of children as well as twice the number of cattle? Why, because God reckoned the first ones as being his still. They were dead to Jobs eye, but they were visible to Job’s faith. God numbered them still as part of Jobs family; and if you carefully count up how many children Job had, you will find that he had twice as many in the end as he had in the beginning. In the same way, consider your friends who are asleep in Christ as still yours, — not lost, any one of them, and say of them “Some are fallen asleep.” “Our membership has been diminished,” says somebody. Yes, it has been, according to the church-book, and the figures as we reckon them here; but it has not really been diminished. I have, by faith, seen our brethren and sisters flying, like doves to their windows, and ascending to heaven from this place. Every week, some of them are going to the land beyond the skies. My soul has often rejoiced as I have thought of the spiritual children whom God has given me. I might almost claim that great promise which was made to Abraham, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be;” for, if they have not reached the number of the stars yet, they are no more to be reckoned than are the stars. As I remember how many of them have already reached the better land, I do not think of them as lost, for they only fell asleep here, to wake in the presence of Jesus. Their sleeping bodies also shall wake again when the resurrection trumpet sounds. No matter what has become of the particular particles of dust of which those bodies were composed, the essence of each individual shall be preserved by omnipotent power, and out of it shall spring an undying body, remodelled, and fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body, and the soul shall enter it, and that soul shall be here again at the coming of Christ, for when he shall come in his glory, them also who sleep in Jesus will he bring with him, “wherefore,” again I say unto you, “comfort one another with these words.”

     This is our last thought, we shall meet again those who have fallen asleep. We said, “Adieu” to them, and so committed them to God’s keeping. We said, “Good-bye,” that is, “God be with you;” and God has been with them. We said, “Farewell,” and they have fared well; and we shall see how well they have fared to be with Christ, for we shall see them again. I believe that we shall know them, and have communion with them, and shall admire Christ’s grace in them, and that it shall be part of our heaven to come not only “to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant,” but also “to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven.” Now I have finished my discourse, but how far is there any comfort to some of you in all that I have said? Some of you work very hard: have you any hope of rest in heaven? If not, I do pity you, from the very depths of my heart. Some of you fare very hard: have you any hope of better fare with Christ for ever? If not, I do indeed pity you, more than I can tell. To go, from poverty and misery here, to a place where there shall be no hope for you for ever, will be dreadful indeed. If there were no hell, I could not endure the thought of being shut out of heaven; for, to be with Christ, to be with the Father, to be with the Holy Spirit, to miss the company of gracious and just men for ever, would be a hell that might well make men gnash their teeth in torment. Oh, may God save us all through faith which is in Christ Jesus! May we be saved to-night; and then it will not matter how soon anyone may say of us also, “They have fallen asleep,” for all will be well with us for ever. God bless you, dear friends, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



Feeding on the Bread of Life

By / Nov 6

Feeding on the Bread of Life

 

 



Why Some Sinners are not Pardoned

By / Oct 30

Why Some Sinners are not Pardoned

 

“And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?” — Job vii. 21.

 

No man should rest until he is sure that his sin is forgiven. It may be forgiven, and he may be sure that it is forgiven; and he ought not to give rest to his eyes, nor slumber to his eyelids, till he has been assured, with absolute certainty, that his transgression is pardoned, and that his iniquity is taken away. You, dear friends, may be patient under suffering, but not patient under sin. You may ask for healing with complete resignation to the will of God as to whether he will grant it to you; but you should ask for pardon with importunity, feeling that you must have it. You may not be sure that it is God’s will to deliver you from disease, but you may be quite certain that it is his will to hear you when you cry to him to save you from sin. And if, at your first crying unto him, you are not saved, seek to know the reason why he is refusing to grant you the boon you so much desire. It is quite legitimate to put this question to God again and again, “Why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?” We ought also to press this matter home upon our own heart and conscience, to see whether we cannot discover the reason why pardon is for a while withheld from us, for God never acts arbitrarily and without reason; and, depend upon it, if we diligently search by the light of the candle of the Lord, we shall be able to find an answer to this question of Job, “Why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?” Job’s question may sometimes be asked by a child of God; but it may be more frequently asked by others who, as yet, are not brought consciously into the Lord’s family.

     I. I shall first take our text as A QUESTION THAT MAY BE ASKED, AS IN JOB’S CASE, BY A TRUE CHILD OF GOD: “Why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?”

     Sometimes, beloved friends, this question is asked under a misapprehension. Job was a great sufferer; and although he knew that he was not as guilty as his troublesome friends tried to make out, yet he did fear that, possibly, his great afflictions were the results of some sin; and, therefore, he came before the Lord with this sorrowful enquiry, “Why dost thou continue to me all this pain and agony? If it be caused by sin, why dost thou not first pardon the sin, and then remove its effects?”

     Now I take it that it would have been a misapprehension on Job’s part to suppose that his afflictions were the result of his sin. Mark you, brethren, we are, by nature, so full of sin that we may always believe that there is enough evil within us to cause us to suffer severe affliction if God dealt with us according to justice; but do recollect that, in Job’s case, the Lord’s object, in his afflictions and trials, was not to punish Job for his sin, but to . display in the patriarch, to his own honour and glory, the wonders of his grace by enabling Job, with great patience, still to hold on to God under the direst suffering, and to triumph in it all. Job was not being punished; he was being honoured. God was giving to him a name like that of the great ones of the earth. The Lord was lifting him up, promoting him, putting him into the front rank, making a great saint of him, causing him to become one of the fathers and patterns in the ancient Church of God. He was really doing for Job such extraordinarily good things that you or I, in looking back upon his whole history, might well say, “I would be quite content to take Job’s afflictions if I might also have Job’s grace, and Job’s place in the Church of God.”

     It may happen to you, beloved, that you think that your present affliction is the result of some sin in you, yet it may be nothing of the kind. It may be that the Lord loves you in a very special manner because you are a fruit-bearing branch, and he is pruning you that you may bring forth more fruit As Rutherford said to a dear lady, in his day, who had lost several of her children, “Your ladyship is so sweet to the Well-beloved that he is jealous on your account, and is taking away from you all the objects of your earthly love that he may absorb the affection of your whole heart into himself.” It was the very sweetness of the godly woman’s character that led her Lord to act as he did towards her, and I believe that there are some of the children of God who are now suffering simply because they are gracious. There are certain kinds of affliction that come only upon the more eminent members of the family of God; and if you are one of those who are thus honoured, instead of saying to your Heavenly Father, “When wilt thou pardon my sin?” you might more properly say, “My Father, since thou hast pardoned mine iniquity, and adopted me into thy family, I cheerfully accept my portion of suffering, since in all this, thou art not bringing to my mind the remembrance of any unforgiven sin, for I know that all my transgressions were numbered on the Scape-goat’s head of old. Since thou art not bringing before me any cause of quarrel between myself and thee, for I am walking in the light as thou art in the light, and I have sweet and blessed fellowship with thee, therefore will I bow before thee, and lovingly kiss thy rod, accepting at thy hands whatever thine unerring decree appoints for me.” It is a blessed thing, dear friends, if you can got into this state of mind and heart; and it may happen that your offering of the prayer of the text may be founded upon a complete misapprehension of what the Lord is doing with you.

     Sometimes, also, a child of God uses this prayer under a very unusual sense of sin. You know that, in looking at a landscape, you may so fix your gaze upon some one object that you do not observe the rest of the landscape. Its great beauties may not be seen by you because you have observed only one small part of it. Now, in like manner, before the observation of the believer, there is a wide range of thought and feeling. If you fix your eye upon your own sinfulness, as you well may do, it may be that you will not quite forget the greatness of almighty love, and the grandeur of the atoning sacrifice; but, yet, if you do not forget them, you do not think so much of them as you should, for you seem to make your own sin, in all its heinousness and aggravation, the central object of your consideration. There are certain times in which you cannot help doing this; they come upon me, so I can speak from my own experience. I find that, sometimes, do what I will, the master-thought in my mind concerns my own sinnership, — my sinnership even since conversion, my shortcomings and my wanderings from my gracious God, and the sins even of my holy things. Well, now, it is well to think of our sin in this way, but it is not well to think of it out of proportion to other things. When I have gone to a physician because I have been ill, I have, of course, thought of my disease; but have I not also thought of the remedy which he will prescribe for me, and of the many cases in which a disease similar to mine has yielded to such a remedy? So, will it not be wrong to fix my thoughts entirely upon one fact to the exclusion of other compensating facts? Yet, that is just how many of us sometimes act, and then we cry to God, as did Job, “Why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?” when, indeed, it is already pardoned and taken away. If we try to look at it, there flows before us that sacred stream of our Saviour’s atoning blood which covers all our guilt, so that, great though it is, in the sight of God it does not exist, for the precious blood of Jesus has blotted it all out for ever.

     There is another time when the believer may, perhaps, utter the question of our text; that is, whenever he gets into trouble with his God. You know that, after we are completely pardoned, — as we are the moment we believe in Jesus, — we are no longer regarded as criminals before God; but we become his children. You know that it is possible for a man, who has been brought before the court as a prisoner, to be pardoned; but suppose that, after being forgiven, he should be adopted by him who was his judge, and taken into his family so as to become his child. Now, after doing that, you do not suppose that he will bring him up again before the judgment-seat, and try him, and put him in prison. No; but if he becomes the judge’s son, I know what he will do with him; he will put him under the rules of his house, to which all the members of his family are expected to conform. Then, if he misbehaves as a son, there will not be that freeness of intercourse and communion between himself and his father that there ought to be. At night, the father may refuse to kiss the wayward and disobedient child. When his brethren are enjoying the father’s smile, he may have a frown for his portion; — not that the father has turned him out of his family, or made him to be any the less a child than he was, but there is a cloud between them because of his wrongdoing.

     I fear, my dear friends, that some of you must have known, at times, what this experience means; for between you and your Heavenly Father— although you are safe enough, and he will never cast you away from him, — there is a cloud. You are not walking in the light, your heart is not right in the sight of God. I would earnestly urge you never to let this sad thing happen; or if it does ever happen, I beg you not to let such a sorrowful state of affairs last for even a day. Settle the quarrel with your God before you go to sleep. Get it put right, as I have seen a child do after he has done wrong. Perhaps he has been pouting and scowling, and his father has had to speak very roughly to him; for a long while, he has been too high-spirited to yield; but, at last, the little one has come, and said, “Father, I was wrong, and I am sorry;” and in that moment there was perfect peace between the two. The father said, “That is all I wanted you to say, my dear child. I loved you even while you were naughty, but I wanted you to feel and own that you were doing wrong; and now that you have felt it, and owned it, the trouble is all over. Come to my bosom, for you are as much loved as all the rest of the family.” I can quite imagine that, when any of you have been at cross purposes with God, he has refused, for a time, to give you the sense of his fatherly love in your heart. Then, I beseech you, go to him, and I suggest that you cannot pray to him more appropriately than in the words of the text, “Why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?” Or pray, as Job did, a little later, “’Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me,’ for I wish to be at peace with thee, and there can be no rest to my new-born spirit while there is any cause of quarrel between us.”

     Thus far have I spoken to the children of God. Now I ask for your earnest prayers that I may be guided to speak wisely and powerfully to others.

     II. THE QUESTION IN OUR TEXT MAY BE ASKED BY SOME WHO ARE NOT CONSCIOUSLY GOD S CHILDREN: “Why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?”

     And, first, I think that I hear somebody making this kind of enquiry, “Why does not God pardon my sin, and have done with it? When I come to this place, I hear a great deal about atonement by blood, and reconciliation through the death of Christ; but why does not God just say to me, ‘It is true that you have done wrong, but I forgive you, and there is an end of the matter’?” With the utmost reverence for the name and character of God, I must say that such a course of action is impossible. God is infinitely just and holy, he is the Judge of all the earth, and he must punish sin. You know, dear friends, that there are times, even in the history of earthly kingdoms, when the rulers say, by their actions, if not in words, “There is sedition abroad, but we will let it go on; we do not want to seem severe, so we will not strike the rebels down.” What is sure to be the consequence of such conduct? Why, the evil grows worse and worse; the rebellious men presume upon the liberty allowed them, and take still more liberty; and, unless the law-giver intends that his law shall be kicked about the street like a football, unless he means that the peace and safety of his law-abiding subjects should be absolutely destroyed, he is at last obliged to act; and he says, “No; this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. I shall be cruel to others unless I draw the sword, and make justice to be respected throughout my realm.”

     I tell you, dear friends, that the most awful thing in the universe would be a world full of sin, and yet without a hell for its punishment. The most dreadful condition for any people to be in is that of absolute anarchy, when every man does what he pleases, and law has become utterly contemptible. Now, if, after men had lived lives of ungodliness and sin, of which they had never repented, and from the guilt of which they had never been purged, God were just quietly to take them to heaven, there would be an end of all moral government, and heaven itself would not be a place that anybody need wish to go to. If ungodly people went there in the same state as they are in here, heaven would become a sort of antechamber of hell, a respectable place of damnation; but that can never be the case. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” He has devised a wondrous plan by which he can pardon the guilty without to the slightest degree shaking the foundations of his throne, or endangering his government. Will you be saved in that way, or not? If you reject God’s way of salvation, you must be lost, and the blame must lie at your own door. God will not permit anarchy in order that he may indulge your whims, or vacate the throne of heaven that he may save you according to your fancy. At the infinite expense of his heart’s love, by the death of his own dear Son, he has provided a way of salvation; and if you reject that, you need not ask Job’s question, for you know why he does not pardon your transgression, and take away your iniquity; and upon your own head shall lie the blood of your immortal soul.

     Perhaps somebody else says “Well, then, if that is God’s way of salvation, let us believe in Jesus Christ, and let us have pardon at once. But you talk about the need of a new birth, and about forsaking sin, and following after holiness, and you say that without holiness no man can see the Lord.” Yes, I do say it, for God’s Word says it; and I repeat that, for God to give pardon, and then allow men to go on in sin just as they did before, would be curse to them instead of a blessing. Why, if the dishonest man prospers in the world, is that a blessing to him? No, certainly not; for he only becomes the more dishonest. If a man commits licentiousness, and he escapes the consequences of it in this life, is that a blessing to him? No; for he becomes the more licentious; and if God did not punish men for their sin, but permitted them to be happy in the sin, it would be a greater curse to them than for him to come and say to them, “For every transgression of my righteous law, there shall be due punishment; and for all moral evil there shall also be physical evils upon those who commit it.” I thank God that he does not permit sin to produce happiness; I bless him that he puts punishment at the back of evil, for so it ought to be. The curse of sin is in the evil itself rather than in its punishment; and if it could become a happy thing for a man to be a sinner, then men would sin, and sin again, and sin yet more deeply; and this God will not have.

     “Well,” says another friend, “that is not my trouble. I am willing to be saved by the atonement of Christ, and I am perfectly willing to be made to cease from sin, and to receive from God a new heart and a right spirit; why, then, does he not pardon me, and blot out my transgressions?” Well, it may be, first, because you have not confessed your wrongdoing. You remember that the apostle John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Do you ask, “To whom shall I confess my sins?” Shall you come to me with your confession? Oh, no, no, no! I could not stand that. There is an old proverb about a thing being “as filthy as a priest’s ear.” I cannot imagine anything dirtier than that, and I have no wish to be a partaker in the filthiness. Go to God, and confess your sin to him; pour out your heart’s sad story in the ear of him against whom you have offended; say, with David, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” Dear anxious friend, if you say to me, “For months I have sought the Lord, and I cannot find him, or get peace of conscience;” I advise you to try the effect of this plan, shut yourself up in your room alone, and make a detailed confession of your transgression. Perhaps confessing it in the bulk may have helped you to be hypocritical; so try and confess it in detail, especially dwelling upon those grosser sins which most provoke God, and most defile the conscience, even as David prayed, “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God.” That was his great crime; he had been the cause of the death of Uriah, so he confessed that he was guilty of blood, and prayed to be delivered from it. In like manner, confess your sin, whatever it has been. I am persuaded that, often, confession to God would relieve the soul of its load of guilt. Just as when a man has a gathering tumour, and a wise physician lets in the lancet, and that which had gathered is removed, and the inflammation subsides, so often would it be with what the conscience has gathered if, by confession, the heart were lanced, and the accumulated evil dispersed. How can we expect God to give rest to our conscience if we will not confess to him our sin?

     May it not be possible, also, dear friends who cannot obtain pardon and peace, that you are still practising some known sin? Now, your Heavenly Father means to give you mercy in a way that shall be for your permanent benefit. What are you doing that is wrong? I do not know you so intimately as to be able to tell what is amiss with you; but I have known a man who never could get peace with God because he had a quarrel with his brother, and as he would not forgive his brother, it was not reasonable that he should expect to receive forgiveness from God. There was another man, who sought the Lord for a long while, but he never could get peace for this reason; he was a travelling draper, and he had what was supposed to be a yard measure, but it was not full length; and, one day, during the sermon, he took up his short measure in the place of worship, and just snapped it across his knee, and then he found peace with God directly he gave up that which had been the means of wrongdoing. He had sought for pardon in vain all the while that he had persevered in evil; but as soon as that was given up, the Lord whispered peace to his soul. Do any of you take “a drop too much” at home? Is that your besetting sin? I mean women as well as men when I ask that question. You smile at the suggestion, but it is no laughing matter, for it is only too true that many, who are never suspected of such a thing, are guilty of drinking to excess. Now it may be that there will never be peace between God and your soul until that glass goes. It will have to go if God is to forgive your sin; so the sooner it goes, the better will it be for you. Perhaps, in your case, the sin is that you do not manage your families right. Are your children never checked when they do wrong? Are they, in fact, allowed to grow up to be children of the devil? Do you expect God and you to be agreed while it is so? Think what a quarrel God had with his servant Eli over that matter, and remember how that quarrel ended, because Eli mildly said to his sons, “Why do ye such things?” but restrained them not when they made themselves vile. Look, dear friends. God will not save us because of our works; salvation is entirely by grace, but then that grace shows itself by leading the sinner upon whom it is bestowed to give up the sin in which he had formerly indulged. Which, then, will you have, — your sin or your Saviour? Do not try to hold sin with one hand, and the Saviour with the other, for they cannot both of them be yours; so choose which you will have. I pray that God may discover to you what is the sin which is keeping you from peace, and then grant to you the grace to give it up.

     “Well,” say you, “I do not know that this is my case at all, for I really do, from my heart, endeavour to give up all sin, and I am sincerely seeking peace with God.” Well, friend, perhaps you have not found it because you have not been thoroughly earnest in seeking it. You seem to be in earnest while you are here on a Sunday night, but how earnest are you on Monday night? Perhaps you are fairly so then because you come to the prayer-meeting, but how about Tuesday, and Wednesday, and the rest of the week? When a man really wants to have his soul saved, he should let everything else go until he gets that all-important matter settled. Yes, I will venture to say as much as that. Recollect what the woman of Samaria did when she had received Christ’s word at the well at Sychar. She had gone to the well for water; but look at her as she goes back to the city. Is there any waterpot on her head? No; the woman left her waterpot, she forgot what had been to her a necessary occupation when once she had been brought seriously to think about her soul and her Saviour. I do not want you to forget that, when you have found Christ, you can carry your waterpot, and yet cleave to Christ; but, until you have really received him by faith, I should like to see you so fully absorbed in the pursuit of the one thing needful that everything else should be put into the second place, or even lower than that; and if you were to say, “Until I am saved, I will do absolutely nothing; I will get me to my chamber, and I will cry to God for mercy, and from that room I will never come until he blesses me,” I would not charge you with fanaticism, nor would anybody else who knew the relative value of eternal things and things of time and sense. Why, man, in order to save your coat, would you throw away your life? “Nay,” you would say; “the coat is but a trifle compared with my life.” Well, then, as your life is of more value than your coat, and as your soul is of more value than your body, and as the first thing you need is to get your sin forgiven that your soul may be saved, until that is done, everything else may well be let go. God give you such desperate earnestness that you must and will have the blessing! When you reach that resolve, you shall have it; when you cannot take a denial from God, you shall not have a denial.

     There is still one thing more that I will mention as a reason why some men do not find the Saviour, and get their sins forgiven; and that is, because they do not get off the wrong ground on to the right ground. If you are ever to be pardoned, dear friend, it must be entirely by an act of divine, unmerited favour. Now perhaps you are trying to do something to recommend yourself to God; you would scout with derision the doctrine of being saved by your own merits; but, still, you have a notion that there is something or other in you that is to recommend you to God in some measure or degree, and you still think that the ground of your forgiveness must lie to some extent with yourself. Well, now, you never can have forgiveness in that way. Salvation must be all of works, or else all of grace. Are you willing to be saved as a guilty, hell-deserving sinner, — as one who does not deserve salvation, but, on the contrary, deserves to endure the wrath of God? Are you willing that, henceforth, it shall be said, “That man was freely forgiven all his trespasses, not for his own sake, but for Christ’s sake alone”? That is good ground for you to stand upon; that is solid rock. But some men seem to get one foot upon the rock, and they say, “Yes, salvation comes by Christ.” Where is that other foot of yours, my friend? Oh! he says that he has been baptized, or that he has been confirmed, or that he has in some way or other done something in which he can trust. Now, all such reliance as that is simply resting on sand; and however firmly your other foot may be planted on the rock, you will go down if this foot is on sand. You need good standing for both your feet, dear friends; and see that you get it. Let this be your language, —

“Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in thee I find.”

Do not look anywhere else for anyone or anything that can save you; but look to Christ, and to Christ alone. Are you too proud to do that? You will have to humble yourself beneath the mighty hand of God, and the sooner you do so, the better will it be for you. “Oh, but I, I, — I must surely do something!” Listen, —

“Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
‘Doing’ is a deadly thing,
‘Doing’ ends in death.

“Cast your deadly ‘doing’ down,
Down at Jesus’ feet,
Stand in him, in him alone,
Gloriously complete!”

     This is the gospel: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” You will never see up in heaven a sign bearing the names “Christ and Co.” No, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who is the sinner’s Saviour. He claims this for himself: “I am Alpha and Omega;” that is, “I am A, and I am Z. I am the first letter of the alphabet, and I am the last letter, and I am every other letter from the first down to the last.” Will you make him to be so to you, dear friend? Will you take him to be your Saviour now? “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” A friend told us, at one of our prayer-meetings, that “H-A-T-H spells got it.” that believeth on the Son” is a saved sinner, he has got that everlasting life that can never die, and can never be taken away from him. Therefore, beloved friends, believe in Jesus, and you too shall have this eternal life, you shall have pardon, you shall have peace, you shall have God, and you shall have heaven itself to enjoy before long. God do so unto you, for his great mercy’s sake in Christ Jesus! Amen and Amen.



Flee from the Wrath to Come

By / Oct 23

Flee from the Wrath to Come

 

“Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” — Matthew iii. 7.
“Who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”  — Hebrews vi. 18.

 

WE will first consider the question of John the Baptist: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I have no doubt that the Pharisees and Sadducees were very much surprised to hear John addressing them in that way; for men, who wish to win disciples, ordinarily adopt milder language than that, and choose more attractive themes, for they fear that they will drive their hearers from them if they are too personal, and speak too sharply. There is not much danger of that nowadays, for the current notion abroad now is that gospel ministers can sew with silk without using a sharp needle; and that, instead of piercing men with the sword of the Spirit, they should show them only the hilt of it ; let them see the bright diamonds on the scabbard, but never let them feel the sharpness of the two-edged blade. They should always comfort, and console, and cheer, but never allude to the terror of the Lord.

     That appears to be the common interpretation of our commission; but John the Baptist was of quite another mind. There came to a him a Pharisee, a very religious man, one who observed all the details of external worship, and was very careful even about trifles, a firm believer in the resurrection, and in angels and spirits, and in all that was written in the Book of the law, and also in all the traditions of his fathers, a man who was overdone with external religiousness, a Ritualist of the first order, who felt that, if there was a righteous man in the world, he certainly was that one. He must have been greatly taken aback when John talked to him about the wrath of God, and plainly told him that that wrath was as much for him as for other people. Those phylacteries and the broad borders of his garment, of which he was so proud, would not screen him from the anger of God against injustice and transgression; but, just like any common sinner, he would need to “flee from the wrath to come.” I daresay that the Sadducee was equally taken aback by John’s stern language. He, too, was a religious man, but he combined with his religion greater thoughtfulness than the Pharisee did; — at least, so he said. He did not believe in traditions, he was too large-minded to care about the little details and externals of religion. He observed the law of Moses, but he clung rather to the letter of it than to its spirit, and he did not accept all that was revealed, for he denied that there was such a thing as an angel or a spirit. He was a Broad Churchman, a man of liberal ideas, fully abreast of the age. He professed to be a Hebrew of the Hebrews; yet, at the same time, the yoke of religion rested very lightly upon his shoulders. Still, he was not irreligious; yet here is John the Baptist talking to him, as well as to the Pharisee, about “the wrath to come.” They would both have liked to have a little argument with him, but he talked to them about fleeing from the wrath to come. They would both have been pleased to discuss with him some theological questions, and to bring up the differences between their two sects, just to hear how John would handle them, and to let them see which way he would lean. But he did not waste a moment over the matters in dispute between Pharisees and Sadducees; the one point he had to deal with was the one of which he would have spoken to a congregation of publicans and harlots, and he spoke of it in just the same way to these nominally religious people. They must “flee from the wrath to come;” or else, as surely as they were living men, that wrath would come upon them, and they would perish under it. So John just kept to that one topic; he laid the axe to the root of the trees as he warned these hypocritical professors to escape for their lives, else they would perish in the common destruction which will overwhelm all ungodly men. This was not the style of preaching that John’s hearers liked; but John did not think of that. He did not come to say what men wished him to say, but to discharge the burden of the Lord, and to speak out plainly what was best for men’s eternal and immortal interests. He spoke, therefore, first, concerning the wrath of God; and, next, he spoke concerning the way of escape from that wrath.

     Those shall be our two topics also. First, the tremendous peril: “the wrath to come;” and, secondly, the means of escape: “Flee from the wrath to come.”

     I. First, dear friends, let us think of THE TREMENDOUS PERIL which overtakes all men who do not escape from it.

     That tremendous peril is the wrath of God. There is a wrath of God, which abides on every ungodly man. Whether men like that truth or not, it is written, “God is angry with the wicked every day;” and, also, “he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God;” and yet again, “he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

     But this wrath is in abeyance for a time; and, consequently, men do not think much cither of the wrath that now is, or of “the wrath to come.” It will not, however, always be in abeyance. The sluices of the great deep will be pulled up, and the awful torrents will come leaping forth, and will utterly overwhelm all who are exposed to their fury. This “wrath to come” will in part fall upon men at death, but more fully at the day of judgment, and it will continue to flow over them for ever and ever. This “wrath to come” is that of which John spake, and of which we will now think for a while.

     1 remark, first, that this “wrath to comeis absolutely just and necessary. If there be a God, he cannot let sin go unpunished. If he be really God, and the Judge of all the earth, he must have an utter abhorrence of all evil. It cannot be possible that he should think the same of the honest and the dishonest, of the chaste and the unchaste, of the sober and the drunken, of the truthful and the lying, of the gracious and the dissolute. Such a god as that would be one whom men might rightly despise; but the true God, if we understand aright what he is, must hold all sin in detestation. All evil must be utterly abhorrent to his pure and holy soul; and it is not only because he can do it, but because he must do it, that he will, one of these days, let loose the fury of his wrath against sin. As it is necessary, in the very nature of things, that there should be certain laws to govern his creation, so is it equally necessary, in the very nature of things, that sin should be punished, and that every transgression and disobedience should receive a just recompense of reward. This is the inevitable consequence of sin; there is nothing arbitrary about such a result. It is fixed, in the very nature of things, that “for every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account in the day of judgment;” and for every sinful action, they must appear before the bar of God. Do not think, when we speak about the wrath of God, that we picture God to you as a tyrant. We do but tell you that this is only the nature of things, — that just as if you take poison, it will kill you; or if you indulge in drunkenness, or if you take almost any form of disease, it will bring pain and mischief to you, — so, sin must bring upon you the wrath of God, it cannot be otherwise. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one jot or tittle of God’s law can pass away till all be fulfilled, and one part of that law requires that he should punish all transgression, iniquity, and sin.

     And if now, for a time, the full manifestation of that anger is delayed, I beseech you, men and brethren, do not therefore trifle with it. The longer God’s arm is uplifted, the more terrible will be the blow when at last he strikes. To sin against the patience and longsuffering of Almighty God, is to sin with a vengeance. You do, as it were, defiantly put your finger into the very eye of God when you know that he sees you sin, and yet you go on sinning because he does not immediately take vengeance upon you for all your evil works. It is in great love that he restrains his wrath, for he is “slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” But as a torrent, that is dammed up for a while, gathers force and strength, and every hour in which it is kept back it gets to be more irresistible, so must it be with “the wrath to come” when at last it does come upon you. If it has waited for some of you for seventy, or sixty, or fifty, or even for twenty years, it will come as an overwhelming flood when at length it bursts the barriers which at present hold it back. Trifle not, therefore, with that longsuffering of God which may be blest to your salvation.

     Nor is the wrath to comeany the less sure because it is delayed. Because sentence is not at once given against an evil work, therefore men say, “We need not trouble ourselves. ‘How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?’ Behold, he winks at our iniquities; he counts them as mere trifles. No harm will come to us because of them.” But, sirs, if you are prepared to cast away the Bible, I can understand a little that you should talk like that; but if you really believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God, you know what the consequences of your sin must be. Concerning the wicked, it is written, “If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death.” Even if you are so foolish as to cast away your Bibles, yet, unless you think yourselves to be mere dogs and cattle that shall rot back into the ground from whence you came, and be done with for ever, you must expect that there will be another state of existence in which right shall be vindicated and wrong shall be punished. It seems to lie upon the very conscience of man, in the unwritten code of intuitive knowledge, or of knowledge handed down from father to son, that there must come a time in which God will surely bring every secret thing to light, and visit with judgment the proud and the high-handed oppressor, and vindicate the rights of men and the rights of his own throne. It must be so; and if the wrath tarries for a while, it is none the less sure.

     I feel quite staggered as I try to speak of this “wrath to come” because, when it does come, it must be something very terrible because divinity enters into the essence of it. The wrath of man is sometimes very terrible; but what must the wrath of God be? O sirs, I have tried, these many years, humbly yet earnestly to preach the love of God, and I have never yet reached the height of that great argument, for his love is boundless; but so are all his attributes; and if you consider any one of them, you must say, “It is high, I cannot attain unto it.” But the just indignation of God against sin must be commensurate with his absolute purity. That man, who trifles with right and wrong, and thinks that these are mere arbitrary terms, has no indignation when he sees wrong done; but God, who is infinitely pure and holy, cannot— it is not possible that he should— look upon sin without an awful abhorrence. “Oh!” says he, by the mouth of his servant Jeremiah, “do not this abominable thing that I hate.” He is not indifferent to sin, but he hates it, and he pleads with men not to do it because it is so abominable and so hateful in his sight.

     What will “the wrath to come” be? If God but touches a man, as it were, with only his little finger, the strongest must at once fail and fall, the mightiest can scarcely open his eyes, and the seal of death is speedily imprinted on his brow. But what will it be when the hand of God shall begin to plague the ungodly, when he shall pour out all the vials of his wrath upon them, and crush them with the bosses of his buckler? What will be their portion when he says, “Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies”? Think, too, what must be the meaning of that terrible passage, — let me repeat it to you slowly and solemnly, — “Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.”

     Thus have I faithfully tried to set before you “the wrath to come.” Now listen to me for a few minutes, and let me have your impartial judgments, while I still further speak upon this important theme. Who, think you, are the more honest men, — those who tell you plainly what the Scriptures say concerning this wrath of God, or those who smooth it over, or deny it altogether? I will not judge them; before the Judge of quick and dead let those appear who dare to be apologists for sin, and to diminish the dread thought of God’s anger against it. But I might, without any breach of Christian charity, be permitted to suspect the honesty of those who use flattering words to please and deceive their hearers; but I could not suspect the honesty of those who preach an unpalatable truth which grieves themselves as much as it is distasteful to those who hear it.

     Let me also ask you which style of preaching has the greater moral effect upon yourself? Will you be likely to go and sin after you have heard of God’s anger against it, or will you more readily commit iniquity when you have it salved over, and you are told that it is but a little thing, of which God takes no account? I was in the cabin of a vessel, one day, with a brother-minister who was disputing with me upon the non-eternity of future punishment; and a friend came in, and said, “What are you discussing down here? The scenery is beautiful, come up on deck, and admire it.” So I said to him, “This is the question in dispute, whether the punishment of sin is eternal, or not.” “Well,” said he, “we cannot have any theological discussion just now;” but, turning to my opponent, he said, “Don’t you go on deck, and talk to my sailors any of your rubbish. They are bad enough as they are; but if you tell them what I heard you say just now, they will swear and drink worse than ever.” Then, turning to me, he said, “You may talk to the men as much as you like; you will do them good, and not harm by telling them that God will certainly punish their sin.” Now, there is common sense in that argument of my friend; you know that there is. That which is most likely to do good, and to repress sin, is most likely to be right; but that which gives me latitude to offend my conscience, leads me to suspect whether it could ever have come from God at all, and makes me seriously doubt whether it can be true.

     And what, sirs, will be the consequence if it should turn out that we are mistaken when we preach to you concerning the wrath of God? What losers will those of us be who have fled to Christ for refuge? But suppose it should turn out that we are right, where will you be who have despised the wrath of God? We have two strings to our bow; but, to my mind, you have none at all. I would not like to lie down upon my death-bed in the hope that death would be an eternal sleep; that would be a miserable hope even if it could ever be fulfilled. I would not like to risk my destiny in the world to come upon the prospect of being annihilated because I was an unbeliever. It would be a wretched thing to hope for; but what if even that poor hope should fail me? Where should I be then? But I can go with confidence before my God, and say to him, “Be thy wrath what it may, — I know that it must be terrible to the last degree, — but be it what it may, I will not dare it; and even if it would not hurt me, yet I would not make thee angry, O God, by sinning against thee; and if there were no punishment for sin but the loss of thy love, if there were nothing but the loss of heaven, the loss of having failed to please thee, my God, I would count that loss to be tremendous and terrible. Let me be reconciled to thee, my Maker. Tell me how thou canst be just, and yet forgive the guilty. To thee I fly; oh, save me from the wrath to come!”

     Thus have I set before you, as best I can, the tremendous peril.

     II. Now, in the second place, I want, just for a few minutes, to tell you about THE MEANS OF ESCAPE. John said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

     By this question, he seemed to imply that there is no way of deliverance from the wrath to come” but by flight. Sinner, thou canst not endure the wrath of God. If thy ribs were granite, and thy nerves were brass, thou couldest not endure the wrath of the Almighty; nay, not even for a moment. If a man had the toothache, how dreadful it would seem to him to have to bear that pain for twelve months for certain, even if he knew that there would be an end to it then; but what must the anger of God be when he comes to deal with our entire manhood, and to punish our sin for ever and ever? We cannot bear it; we must flee from it. What does this mean?

     It means, first, immediate action. Thou must escape, man. If thou remainest where thou now art, thou wilt certainly perish. Thou art in the City of Destruction which is to be overwhelmed with the fiery flood of “the wrath to come.” Thou must be in earnest to escape from it ere judgment is executed upon the place, and all who are in it; thou must “flee from the wrath to come.”

      Fleeing means, not only immediate action, but swift action. He that flees for his life does not creep and crawl; he runs at his utmost speed, and he wishes that he could ride on the wings of the wind. No pace that he can reach is fast enough for him. Oh, if God the Holy Spirit will make you, whom I am now addressing, feel your imminent danger, you will want to fly to Christ with the swiftness of the lightning-flash; you will not be satisfied to linger as you are even for another hour. What if that gallery should fall about your cars? What if God should smite the house while you are still in your sins? What if, in walking home, you should walk into your graves? What if your beds should become your tombs? It may be so with any one of you, so there is no tune to linger or delay. Haste is the word for you; God sends it to you, and says, “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.”

     To flee means also to go straight away at your object. A man who flees for his life docs not want any circuitous, round-about roads. He takes short cuts, he goes over hedge and ditch that he may get where he wants to be in the shortest possible space of time. So, straight away to Jesus is the only direction for you just now. Some people will recommend you to read books which I am certain you cannot understand, for no living soul can; or perhaps you may meet with persons who want to explain to you some wondrous mystery. Listen to them, if you like, at the day of judgment, when the great business of your salvation is over; but just now you have not any time for mysteries, you have no time for puzzlements, you have no time to be confused and confounded; the one thing you have to do is to go straight away to Jesus, straight away to Jesus. You are a sinner, and he is the only Saviour for sinners; so, trust him, God help you to trust him, and thus to find immediate salvation! It is a straight road to Christ. The plan of salvation is not a thing that is hard to be understood. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life;” and he shall never come into condemnation; for he has passed from death unto life. There is the gospel in a nutshell; lay hold of it, and live by it. You have not time for anything else, and you have no need of anything else; so flee, “flee from the wrath to come.”

     Notice how John the Baptist explained to those Pharisees and Sadducees the way in which they had to flee. He told them, first, that they must repent. There is no going to heaven by following the road to hell. There is no finding pardon while continuing in sin. Depend upon it, Mr. Drunkard, you will not be forgiven for your drunkenness if you still go on with your drinking. Let not the man who is unchaste imagine that he can go on with his sin and yet be forgiven. Let not the thief dream that there is any pardon for him unless he quits his evil course, and tries to make such restitution as he can to those whom he has wronged.

     There must be repentance, then, and that repentance must be practical. Note how John put it: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance,” — evidences of true amendment of life. It is no use whining and crying, and going into the enquiry-rooms with a lie in your right hand, and then going home to swear and drink, or to break the Sabbath, and to live as you like, and all the while hoping to enter heaven. No, sin and you must part, or else Christ and you can never keep company. You remember that message that John Bunyan thought he heard when he was playing at tip-cat on the Sunday on the village green. He suddenly stood still with the stick in his hand, for he thought he heard a voice saying to him, “Wilt thou leave thy sins, and go to heaven, or have thy sins, and go to hell?” That is the alternative which both the law and the gospel put before men. “Flee from the wrath to come;” but there is no fleeing from wrath except by repentance of sin, and by fruits meet for repentance, evidences of a real change of heart and life.

     Then John went on to say to the Pharisees and Sadducees that they must give up all the false hopes which they had cherished: “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.” Those Pharisees said, in deed, if not in word, “It really does not matter though we do act the hypocrite, for Abraham is our father;” and the Sadducees said, in effect, “Though we are unbelievers, it is of small consequence, for Abraham is our father.” “No,” answered John, “you must abandon all such false hopes as that.” And if any of you, dear friends, have said, “We shall be all right, because we are regular church people;” or if you have said, “We are all right, for we are Baptists, we are Methodists, we are Presbyterians; our father and mother, and our grandfather and grandmother were good Christian people.” Ah, yes! and so may your great grandfather and great grandmother have been, but your pedigree will avail you nothing unless you personally quit your sins, and lay hold on Christ as your Saviour. Nor is there anything else upon which you can depend for salvation. Your baptism, your church-going, your chapel-going, your eating of the Lord’s supper, your saying of collects, your family prayers, your giving of your guineas, everything of your own put together will all be less than nothing, and vanity, if you trust to it. You must flee away from all such false hopes as that, and get a better hope, even that of which my second text speaks: “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”

     John the Baptist did not tell his hearers all this, for he did not come to preach the gospel to them. He came to preach the law, but he did sufficiently indicate where they must go, for he said to them, “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” It is to him, even to Jesus, that you must flee; if you would be saved, you must be among those who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before you. That is the real refuge for sinners, — the laying hold of Christ, the getting a faith-grip of Jesus as the one atoning sacrifice, the looking to him with tearful but believing eye, and saying, “Jesus, Son of God, I trust in thee; I put myself into thy hands, and leave myself there, that thou mayest deliver me from ‘the wrath to come.’”

     I pray you, brethren and sisters, wherever you are, you who think you are so good, be anxious to get rid of all that fancied goodness of yours. I beseech you, if you have any self-righteousness about you, to ask God to strip it off you at once, I should like you to feel as that man did, who had a forged bank note and some counterfeit coin in his possession. When the policeman came to his house, he was anxious not to have any of it near him; so, shake off your self- righteousness. You will be as surely damned by your righteousness, if you trust in it, as you will by your unrighteousness. Christ alone, the gift of the free grace of God, this is the gate of heaven; but all self -satisfaction, all boasting, all exaltation of yourself above your fellow-men, is mischievous and ruinous, and will surely be deadly to your spirit for ever.

     How does Christ deliver us from “the wrath to come”? Why, by putting himself into our place, and putting us into his place. Oh, this blessed plan of salvation by substitution, — that Christ should take a poor, guilty sinner, and set him up there in the place of acceptance and joy at the right hand of God, and that, in order to be able to do so, Christ should say, “Here comes the great flood of almighty wrath; I will stand just where it is coming, and let it flow over me.” And you know that it did overflow him till he sweat, as it were, great drops of blood, and more, till he cried aloud, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and still more, till he cried, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

“He bore, that you might never bear,
His Father’s righteous ire;” —

and so, suffering in your stead, and putting you into the place of acceptance which he himself so well deserves to occupy, he saves you from “the wrath to come.”

     I used to think that, if I once told out this wondrous story of “free grace and dying love,” everybody would believe it; but I have long since learned that so hard is the heart of man, that he will sooner be damned than be saved by Christ. Well, you must make your choice, sirs, you must make your choice for yourselves; only do me this one favour, when you have made your choice, do not blame me for having tried to persuade you to act more wisely than I fear your choice will be. I sometimes tremble as I think of the account I have to give in concerning the many thousands who crowd this place to listen to my voice. What if my Master should say to me, at the last, “You flattered them; you tried to run with the times; you did not dare to preach to them the old-fashioned gospel, and to tell them of hell, and of judgment, and of atonement by blood”? No, my Master, thou wilt never be able to say that to me. With all my faults, and infirmities, and imperfections, I have sought to declare thy truth, so far as I knew it, to the sons of men. Therefore, my hearers, I shake my skirts free of your blood. If any one of you shall reject Christ, I will have nothing to do with your damnation. Be spiritual suicides if you will; but I will not be your soul-murderer, nor act like Saul wished his armour-bearer to do when he bade him thrust him through with the sword. I implore you to “flee from the wrath to come.” Escape by quitting your sins, and laying hold on Jesus; and do it this very moment, for you may never have another opportunity to do it. May the Lord, of his infinite mercy, grant you grace to trust in Jesus! Amen and Amen.



Marvellous Lovingkindness

By / Oct 20

Marvellous Lovingkindness

 

“Show thy marvellous lovingkindness.” — Psalm xvii. 7.

 

THE Lord’s people, in the time of their trouble, know where to go for comfort and relief. Being taught of God, they do not hew out to themselves broken cisterns, which can hold no water; but they turn to the ever-flowing fountain, they go to the well-head, — even to God himself; and there they cast themselves down, and drink to the full. David, when he wrote this Psalm, was evidently in very great distress; and, therefore, he says, “I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.” What he wanted was his God; as Dr. Watts expresses it, —

“In darkest shades if he appear,
My dawning is begun;
He is my soul’s sweet morning star,
And he my rising sun.”

     Believers draw comfort both from God’s ordinary and extraordinary dealings with them, for they regard God’s lovingkindness as being both an ordinary and an extraordinary thing. I have heard of a good sister who, when a friend narrated to her some very gracious dealing of God, was asked the question, “Is it not very wonderful?” and she replied, “No; it is not wonderful, for it is just like him.’’ Begging her pardon, and admitting the great truth that she meant to convey, I think it is still more wonderful that it should be “just like him.” The wonder of extraordinary love is that God should make it such an ordinary thing, that he should give to us “marvellous lovingkindness,” and yet should give it so often that it becomes a daily blessing, and yet remains marvellous still. The marvels of men, after you have seen them a few times, cease to excite any wonder. I suppose there is scarcely a building, however costly its materials, and however rare its architecture, as to which, sooner or later, you will not feel that you have seen enough of it. But God’s wonderful works never pall upon you. You could gaze upon Mont Blanc, or you could stand and watch Niagara, yet never feel that you had exhausted all its marvels. And everyone knows how the ocean is never twice alike. They who live close to it, and look upon it every hour of the day, still see God’s wonders in the deep.

     That God should bless us every day, is a theme for our comfort. God’s ordinary ways charm us. The verse before our text says, “‘I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God.’ I know thou wilt, for the blessing that I am about to ask from thee is a thing that I have been accustomed to receive from thee. I know thou wilt hear me, for thou hast heard me in the past; it is a habit of thine to listen to my supplications, and to grant my requests.” I hope we can argue in a similar fashion; yet, at the same time, God’s people draw equal comfort from the extraordinary character of the mercies he bestows upon them. They appeal to him to show them his “marvellous lovingkindness,” to let them see the wonderful side of it as well as the common side of it, to let them behold his miracles of mercy, his extravagances of love, his superfluities of kindness; — I scarcely know what words to use when talking of what the apostle Paul calls “the riches of his grace, wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence,” “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”

     I want, on this occasion, to dwell upon the extraordinary side of God’s lovingkindness; and, using our text as a prayer, to say to the Lord in the language of David, “Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness.” Sometimes, a man is brought into such a condition that he feels that, if God does not do something quite out of the common order of things, he will assuredly perish. He has now come to such a pass that, if some extraordinary grace is not displayed towards him, all is over with him. Well, now, such a brother may think that God will not give this extraordinary grace to him; he may be troubled at the idea that some marvellous thing is needed. It is to meet that suggestion of unbelief that I am going to address you now.

     I. And my first remark is, that ALL THE LOVINGKINDNESS OF GOD IS MARVELLOUS.

     The least mercy from God is a miracle. That God does not crush our sinful race, is a surprising mercy. That you and I should have been spared to live, — even though it were only to exist in direst poverty, or in sorest sickness, — that we should have been spared at all, after what we have been, and after what we have done, is a very marvellous thing. The explanation of the marvel is given in the Book of Malachi: “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” If God had possessed such a short temper as men often have, he would have made short work with us all; but he is gracious and longsuffering, and therefore he is very patient with us. The very least mercy that we ever receive from God is a very wonderful thing; but when we think of all that is meant by this blessed word “lovingkindness” —, which is a compound of all sorts of sweetnesses, a mixture of fragrances to make up one absolutely perfect perfume, — when we take that word “lovingkindness and think over its meaning, we shall see that it is a marvellous thing indeed that it describes.

     For, first, it is marvellous for its antiquity. To think that God should have had lovingkindness towards men or ever the earth was, that there should have been a covenant of election, — a plan of redemption, — a scheme of atonement, — that there should have been eternal thoughts of love in the mind of God towards such a strange being as man, is indeed marvellous. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Read these words now with the tears in your eyes: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee;” and when you know that this passage refers to you, tell me if it is not “marvellous lovingkindness.” God 's mind is occupied with thoughts concerning things that are infinitely greater than the destiny of any one of us, or of all of us put together; yet he was pleased to think of us in love from all eternity, and to write our names upon his hands and upon his heart, and to keep the remembrance of us perpetually before him, for his “delights were with the sons of men.” This antiquity makes it to be indeed “marvellous lovingkindness.”

     Next, think of its discriminating character, that God’s lovingkindness should have come to the poorest, to the most illiterate, the most obscure, and often to the most guilty of our race. Remember what Paul wrote about this matter: “not many wise men after the flesh , not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.” Dr. Watts expresses the same thought in his verses, —

“When the Eternal bows the skies
To visit earthly things,
With scorn divine he turns his eyes
From towers of haughty kings.

“He bids his awful chariot roll
Far downward from the skies,
To visit every humble soul,
With pleasure in his eyes.”

God’s choice is marvellous. I know of no better word to apply to his lovingkindness to his chosen than that which is applied in the text: “thy marvellous lovingkindness.”

“What was there in you that could merit esteem,
Or give the Creator delight?
‘‘Twas even so, Father,’ you ever must sing,
‘Because it seem’d good in thy sight.’”

There is no other explanation of this wondrous mercy, this “marvellous lovingkindness,” than the poet gives, —

“His love, from eternity fix’d upon you,
Broke forth, and discover’d its flame,
When each with the cords of his kindness he drew,
And brought you to love his great name.”

So, beloved, think over the antiquity of God’s lovingkindness, and then of the discriminating character of it, and surely you will be full of adoring wonder.

     After that, think also of the self -sacrificing nature of his lovingkindness, — that, when God had set his heart on man, and had chosen his people before the foundation of the world, then he should give— what? Himself. Ay, nothing short of that; — that he should not only give us this world, and his providence, and all its blessings, and the world to come, and all its glories; but that, in order to our possession of these things, he should give his own Son to die for us. Well might the apostle John write, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” It was not that Christ died for us when we were righteous, “ for scarcely for a righteous man will one die:” “but God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Isaiah had long before explained the mystery: “It pleased the Lord to bruise him: he hath put him to grief.” You who love your children, to lose one of whom would be worse than to die, can realize a little of what must have been the Father’s love to you in giving up his only-begotten Son that you might live through him. Dwell on this great truth, dear friends, meditate on it, and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into its heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, for these lips cannot fully speak of its wonders. As you think over the Lord’s ancient lovingkindnesses which were ever of old, his distinguishing love towards his redeemed, and his self-sacrificing love in giving up his Only-begotten, you will be obliged to say, “It is marvellous lovingkindness; it is marvellous lovingkindness indeed.”

     Then go on to think of the marvellous constancy of it. That one should begin to love another, is not so very wonderful; but that love, after it has been despised and ill-requited, should still continue, — that the sweet love of Christ should not long ago have curdled into jealousy, and from jealousy have soured into indignation, is an extraordinary thing. He loved us, brothers and sisters, when we did not even know him, and yet hated the Unknown; when we did not even dimly understand his love to us, and peradventure even ridiculed it, or at least neglected it. Yet he kept on loving us until he loved us into loving him. But even since then, what has been our character? Are you satisfied with what you have been towards the Well-beloved? Are you content with your conduct towards the Bridegroom of your souls? I trow that you are not; and yet, notwithstanding your lukewarmness, your backsliding, your dishonouring of his name, your unbelief, your pride, your love of others, lie still loves you; and even now, if you are not enjoying fellowship with him, he has not gone away from you, for his word still is, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.” He loves, he loves on, and he loves still. Many waters cannot quench his love, neither can the floods drown it. It is indeed “marvellous lovingkindness.” Can you think of a better adjective than that? I cannot, yet I am conscious that even it does not fully express the miraculous character of this all-enduring love which will not take our “No” for an answer, but still says, “Yes, — ‘yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.’” Oh, this wonderful, this matchless, this unparalleled, this inconceivable, this infinite love! No human language can adequately describe it, so let us sit still, and marvel at that which we cannot even understand.

     There is much in God’s lovingkindness to be marvelled at in its strange ingenuity. I might keep on with this topic for ever, applying one word and another to it; yet I should never have shown you even the tithe of its wonders, for it is an altogether inexhaustible theme. But it is wonderful how God deals with us with such a sacred ingenuity of tenderness. He seems to be always thinking of something for our good; while we, on our part, appear to be always testing his love in one way or another. Some fresh want is discovered only to receive a new supply of grace. Some fresh sin breaks out only to be blotted out with the ever-pardoning blood of Jesus. We get into fresh difficulties only to receive fresh aid. The further I go on my way to heaven, the more I do admire the road as well as wonder at the goal to which that road shall bring me. “O world of wonders!” said John Bunyan; “I can say no less.” They tell us, nowadays, that the world is worn-out, and that there is no joy in life, and nothing fresh to afford delight. Ah, me! they talk of the attractions of fiction and of the playwright’s art, and I know not what besides. They must needs travel all round the world to get a new sensation; and many a man, to-day, is like the Emperor Tiberius, who offered large sums of money to anyone who could invent a new pleasure, meaning, alas! too often, a new vice, or a new way of practising it. But staying at home with Christ has more wonders in it than gadding abroad with all the wisest of the world. There is more to marvel at in half an inch of the way to heaven than there is in a thousand leagues of the ordinary pathway of unbelieving men. They call their joys by the name of “life”, and say that they must “see life”; but the apostle John tells us that “he that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life;” that is to say, he is dead. Death has its varieties of worms and rottenness; there are charnel-houses and charnel-houses, various processes and methods of corruption, and no doubt there is a science that men may learn in the cemetery, and call it life, if they like; but, oh! if they did but once see Christ upon the cross, they would learn that they had been blind till then. If they did but know his lovingkindness, they would rejoice in it in the sick-chamber, in the long weary night watches, when every bone prevented sleep; they would even recognize it in the arrows of death that smote wife, and child, and brother. They would see it, not only in the table loaded for the supply of hunger, and in the garments furnished against the cold, and in every common blessing of providence; but they would also see it in every despondency, in every deficiency, in every cross, and every loss; and, seeing it, they would keep on saying, “It is all for the best; it is all better than the best could have been if it had been left to me. It is marvellous; it is marvellous lovingkindness.” I do believe that, when we get to heaven, one of the wonders of the glory-land will be to look back upon the road over which we have travelled. It will be marvellous to note the way in which God has led us; and we shall, as our hymn puts it, —

“Sing with rapture and surprise,
His lovingkindness in the skies.”

I must now leave this part of my subject with you, only again urging you to think over the truth of which I have been speaking, that all God’s lovingkindness to his people is marvellous.

     II. Now, secondly, THIS LOVINGKINDNESS WE SHOULD DESIRE TO SEE. The psalmist says, “Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness;” and we ought to ask God to let us see it; and that, I think, in four ways.

     First, let me see it with my intellect, that I may adore. Help me, O blessed Spirit, to see and understand what is the lovingkindness of God to my soul! I know that it is written of some that “they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.” Let me be among the number of those truly wise ones. O Lord, make me wise to see the end and design of thy providence as well as the providence itself! Make me wise to perceive how thou hast prepared thy grace to meet my depravity, how thou dost adapt thine upholdings to the slipperiness of the way, and to the feebleness of my feet. Often shed a ray of light upon some passage in my life which, otherwise, I could not comprehend; and let the light stay there till I begin to see and to know why thou didst this and why thou didst that. “Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness.” I am sure, dear friends, that the lessons of a man’s own life are too often neglected; but there is, in the life of any ordinary child of God, — let me pick you out wherever you may be, John, Mary, Thomas, — enough to fill you with wonder and admiration of the lovingkindness of the Lord if your mind be but sufficiently illuminated to perceive the hand of God in it, and to see what God purposed by it. He sometimes uses strange means for producing blessed results. With his sharp axe, he will cut down all our choice trees; as by a whirlwind or a tornado, he will devastate our gardens, and make our fields a desolation; and he will do it all in order that he may drive us away from the City of Destruction, and make us go on pilgrimage to the Celestial City, where the axe can never come, and the leaves will never fade. In his mysterious dealings with us, the Lord often seems to push us backward that we may go forward, and to deluge us with sorrow that he may immerse us into blessing. That is his way of working wondrously; and if we did but understand it, according to the prayer of the text, “Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness,” we should be full of adoring wonder.

     The next meaning I would give to this prayer would be, Lord, show thy lovingkindness to my heart, that I may give thee thanks. Lord, I know that thou hast been very good to me; but I pray thee to show my heart how good thou hast been, by letting me see how unworthy I have been of this thy kindness. It is very profitable, sometimes, to sit down, and rehearse the lovingkindness of God, mingling with it penitential reflections upon your own shortcoming. If you do this, you will at last break out with some such cry as this, “Why is all this mercy shown to me?” I know a dear brother in Christ, a clergyman, whose name is Curme; he divides it into two syllables, “Cur meso as to make it mean, “Why me? Why is all this goodness given to me, Lord?” And that is a question which I, too, would fain ask, “Why me, Lord?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice,
And enter while there’s room;
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

Is this kindness, and this, and this, all meant for me? Can it really be intended for me? Such reflections as these will make me realize more than ever how “marvellous” is God’s “lovingkindness” to me, and will fill my soul with adoring gratitude and thanksgiving.

     Then, next, we ought to pray the Lord to show his “marvellous lovingkindnessto our faith, that we may again confide in him. If he will cause the eye of our faith to see that he has this “marvellous lovingkindness” toward us, we shall be the more ready to rely upon him in all the straits into which we may yet be brought. Dost thou believe it, my dear friend? Brother in Christ, dost thou believe that God loves thee? Thou knowest how sweet it is to be sure that thy child loves thee. Though it may well do so, because of its many obligations to thee, yet is it sweet for its warm cheek to touch thine, and to hear it say, “Father, I love you.” But, oh! it is sweeter far for God to say, “I love you.” Read the Song of Solomon through, and be not afraid to appropriate the message of that sweet and matchless Canticle. Hear in it the voice of Jesus saying to thee, “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” “Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.” Such words as those may be sensuous to those who are sensuous, but they are deeply spiritual to those who are spiritual; and, oh, the bliss of having such words as those to come from the Christ of God to us! Why, sometimes, when our Lord thus speaks to us, we hardly know how to bear our excess of joy. I would not ask for a better holiday than to have one hour alone with Jesus; to be undisturbed by any earthly care, and just to think of nothing else but the love of God, — the love of God to me. Oh, that it now were shed abroad, in all its fulness, in this poor heart of mine! O love divine, what is there that can ever match thine inexpressible sweetness? Truly it is “marvellous lovingkindness.” Again I ask you, — Do you believe this? Are you sure you do? Pray God to show it to your faith distinctly and clearly, so that you shall be absolutely sure of it, and practically depend upon it whenever you need it.

     One other meaning of the text may be, show thy “marvellous lovingkindness” to me now in my experience, that I may rest in thee. Let me now, at this present moment, O my God, experience something of that lovingkindness in my soul, in whatever condition I may happen to be, that I may be so flooded with the consciousness of it that I may do nothing else but sit in solemn silence before thee, and adore thee, while beholding the blazing splendour of thy love! I cannot say any more about this part of my theme, but must leave you to fill up the gaps in the sermon. This is not a topic upon which one should venture to speak if he wants to say all that should or could be said upon it.

     III. So, thirdly, dear friends, I remark that IT SHOULD BE OUR DESIRE— and there are times when it should especially be our desire —TO SEE THIS “MARVELLOUS LOVINGKINDNESS” OF GOD DISPLAYED TO US IN ITS MARVELLOUSNESS.

     I will make plain to you what I mean directly; and, first, we would see it as pardoning great sin. I expect we have here, in this assembly, at least one whose sin lies very heavy on his conscience. We do not find many such people come out to week-evening services, but yet I thank God that they do come here. Your sin is very great, dear friend. I cannot exaggerate it, because your own sense of its greatness far surpasses any descriptions I could give. You feel that, if God were to pardon you, it would be a marvellous thing. If he were, in one moment, to take all your guilt away, and to send you home completely forgiven, it would be a marvellous thing. Yes, it would, it would; but I beg you to pray this prayer, “Lord, show forth thy marvellous lovingkindness in me.” God is constantly doing wonders; then, glorify his name by believing that he can work this miracle of mercy for you. Do not be afraid even to sing, —

“Great God of wonders! all thy ways
Are matchless, God-like, and divine;
But the fair glories of thy grace
More God-like and unrivall’d shine:
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?”

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and saved immediately. Trust him now; and marvellous though it will be to you, I have shown you that God’s lovingkindness is all marvellous, and that the extraordinary is ordinary with God, and that the marvellous is but an every-day thing with him. Pray for this “marvellous lovingkindness” to be manifested to you, and you shall have it. One said, “If God ever saves me, he shall never hear the last of it.” You may say the same, and resolve that, henceforth, having had much forgiven, you will love much; having been saved from great sin, you will tell it on earth, and tell it in heaven; and, if you could, you would even wish to make hell itself resound with the wondrous story, —

“’Tell it unto sinners tell,
I am, I am out of hell;’ —

“and what is more, I am on the road to heaven, for God’s ‘marvellous lovingkindness’ has been shown to me.”

     So God’s lovingkindness may be seen as pardoning great sin; and, next, it may be seen as delivering from deep trouble. I may be addressing some poor child of God who is sorely perplexed. These are very trying times, and we constantly meet with godly people, who have a sincere desire to provide things honest in the sight of all men, but who do not find it easy to do so. Some very gracious people have got into a cleft stick; and however they will get out, they cannot imagine. If this is your case, dear friend, I expect you feel very much as John Fawcett’s hymn puts it, —

“My soul, with various tempests toss’d,
Her hopes o’erturn’d, her projects cross’d,
Sees every day new straits attend,
And wonders where the scene will end.”

Well, now, if you are ever brought through all your troubles, it will be “marvellous lovingkindness” to you, will it not? Then, go to God with the prayer, “Show me thy marvellous lovingkindness,” and he will do it. He will bring you up, and out, and through; — not, perhaps, in the way you would like to come, but he will bring you out in the best way. “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” Always expect the unexpected when you are dealing with God. Look to see, in God, and from God, what you never saw before; for the very things, which will seem to unbelief to be utterly impossible, will be those which are most likely to happen when you are dealing with him whose arm is omnipotent, and whose heart is faithful and true. God grant you grace, dear friend, thus to use the prayer of our text as the means of delivering you from deep trouble!

     Here is another way to use it. I think you may pray it thus, — at all events, I mean to do so, whether you will or not, — “Lord, reveal thy marvellous lovingkindness to me, so as to give me high joys and ecstasies of delight.” I sometimes envy those good people who never go up and never go down, always keeping at one level; theirs must be a very pleasant experience indeed. Still, if ever I do get on the high horse, then I go up far beyond anything I can describe. If ever I do ride upon the clouds, then I do not envy the people who keep along the smooth road. Oh, what deep depressions some of us have had! We have gone down to the very bottoms of the mountains, and the earth with her bars has seemed to be about us for ever; but, after just one glimpse of God’s everlasting love, we have been up there where the callow lightnings flash, resting and trusting among the tempests, near to God’s right hand. I think, nay, I am sure we may pray for this experience. Should not the preacher of the Word wish to know the fulness of love divine? Should not the teacher of the young long to learn all that he can concerning God’s infinite love? Though this is the love that passeth knowledge, should not every Christian wish to know all that is knowable of this great love of God? Then let us pray, “Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness.” It was truly said, “Thou canst not see God’s face, and live;” but I have been inclined to say, “Then, let me see God’s face, and die.” John Welsh said, when God was flooding his soul with a sense of his wondrous love, “Hold, Lord, hold! I am but an earthen vessel, and thou wilt break me.” If I had been there, and I could have borne no more, I would have said, “Do not hold, Lord; break the poor earthen vessel, let it go all to pieces; but anyhow, let thy love be revealed in me!” Oh, that I might even die of this pleasurable pain of knowing too much of God, too much of the ineffable delight of fellowship with him! Let us be very venturesome, beloved, and pray, “Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness.”

     And, when we have done that, I think we may put up this prayer for ourselves, as to our own usefulness. You want to do good, dear brother, — dear sister. Well, then, pray to God, “Show me thy marvellous lovingkindness, O Lord! Use even such a feeble creature as I am. Let heaven, and earth, and hell itself, see that thou canst save souls by poor ignorant men as well as by inspired apostles and learned doctors. Lord, in my chapel, show thy marvellous lovingkindness. Crowd it with people, and bring many of them to Christ. In my class, Lord, show thy marvellous lovingkindness. If there never was a Sunday-school class in which all were saved, Lord, let it be done in mine. Make it a marvellous thing.” A dear brother, who prayed at the prayer-meeting before this service, kept on pleading that God would bless me again as he had done before. I liked that prayer; it was as if the friend meant to say to the Lord, “Whatever thou didst in years gone by, do the like over again. If ever it was a marvellous thing to see how the people thronged to hear the Word, Lord, make it more marvellous still.” I recollect when some people called our early success “a nine days’ wonder.” Well, well, well, it has been a good long nine days, anyhow. But, oh, that we might have another nine days like it, — just such another nine days! May God be pleased to send us as many conversions as we had at the first, — ay, and I shall add, and ten times as many! And if ever there have been revivals in the Church of God that have been really marvellous, brothers and sisters, let us take up the cry, “Lord, show thy marvellous lovingkindness again. Send us another Whitefield, and another Wesley, if such will be the kind of men that will bless the world. Send us another Luther, another Calvin, another Zwingle, if such be the men that will bless the world. Lord, send us another Augustine, or another Jerome, if such be the men by whom thou wilt bless the world. But, in some way or other, Lord, show us thy marvellous lovingkindness.” “Oh, but!” some would say, “we do not want any excitement. That is an awful thing, you know, — anything like excitement.” And, then, perhaps, they add, “We have heard so much of what has been done in previous revivals. It has all ended in smoke, and therefore we really dread the repetition of such an experience.” Well, then, brother, you go home, and pray, “Lord, show me thy moderate lovingkindness.” When you are on your knees, to-night, pray, “Lord, save half-a-dozen souls here and there.

“’We are a garden wall’d around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot inclosed by grace
Out of the world’s wide wilderness;’—

“Lord, make it yet smaller, screw us up tighter still, to the glory of thy blessed name!” I don’t think any of you can pray that prayer; you shall if you like; but, for my part, I mean to pray, and I hope many of you will join me in it, and may God hear us! “Show us thy marvellous lovingkindness.” Oh, for some new miracle of mercy to be wrought in the earth! Oh, for some great thing to be done, such as was done of old! Shall it be so, or not? On this promise it shall depend: “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” But if our mouths be not open, we cannot expect to get the blessing: “According to your faith be it unto you.” The Lord grant that our faith may expect to see his “marvellous lovingkindness” displayed yet more and more! Amen and Amen.



Jesus Joyfully Received

By / Oct 16

Jesus Joyfully Received

 

“He . . . . received him joyfully.” — Luke xix. 6.

 

THIS morning, I showed you, dear friends, how joyfully Jesus receives sinners, — how he welcomes them, — how glad he is to find those whom he came to seek and to save. From this text, it appears that, when sinners receive Jesus, they receive him joyfully, so that there is joy on both sides. It is a joyful business altogether; the Saviour is glad to save, and the sinner is glad to be saved. I know which of the two has the greater joy, for it is always more blessed to give than to receive; and the great heart of Jesus, in its infinite benevolence, is conscious of a rarer joy than even the saved sinner can experience. It is a delight to him to save; so great is his joy that he cannot contain it all within his own heart, and he represents himself as calling together his friends and neighbours, and saying to them, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” But when the two seas meet, — the sea of the saved one’s gladness and the sea of the Saviour’s joy, — what blessed floods they make! How the dancing waves clap their hands with delight! Surely, joy on earth becomes then more than on any other occasion parallel with the joy in heaven. Such joy before the Lord is “according to the joy in harvest;” and such days are “as the days of heaven upon the earth.” How earnestly, then, you and I ought to seek to bring men to Christ! This is the best method of making joy in this sin-cursed world. This is the surest way of plucking up the thorns and the thistles that sin has sown, and of making the myrtle and the rose to grow instead thereof , according to that ancient promise: “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands;” — even before you who are the means of reconciling men to their Maker, and of bringing sinners to their Saviour.

     This joyous time of receiving Christ is the turning-point in character, and it is also one of the tests of destiny. By this sign shall you discern between the men predestinated unto eternal life and those who have no share in the divine decree. He that receiveth Christ thereby proves that he is Christ’s; but he that receiveth him not shall surely perish as the result of his wilful rejection of the Saviour. The gospel is, after all, the great fan that winnows the chaff from the wheat; it separates the precious from the vile, even as Christ said to the Jews, “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” Whether or no you will receive Christ when he comes your way, is the all-important matter for each one of you to decide. If your door be shut when he is passing by, he may never come your way again. But if, when he bids you come to him, as he bade Zacchaeus make haste, and come down, you receive him with alacrity, opening the door of your heart that he may enter in, then shall you prove that you are his, that you are among those who are the blessed of the Lord, and who shall be blessed world without end. So this matter of the reception of Christ is, as I called it just now, all-important; and I want to press it upon each unsaved person here with the urgent desire and the confident hope that some, like Zacchaeus, will receive Christ joyfully.

     This passage also teaches us that, often, the most unlikely persons are the first to receive the Saviour. I should have said, and you would all have agreed with me, that the least likely person in the city of Jericho to receive Christ into his house was this rich little tax-gatherer Zacchaeus, — this man whom all the people disliked so much that, when Christ went to his house, “they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” Yet he was the one person in that place who did entertain the Lord Jesus Christ; and many a time since has Christ been shut out of good men’s doors, or the doors of those who have reckoned themselves as good men; but he has found shelter within the gates of sinners, and such sinners as have been reputed among men to be utterly given over and hopeless. I would not pick my congregation even if I might do so; I would much rather that they should come, as they do come, by God’s choice and constraint; for the man whom I might think most likely to be blessed would probably pass the blessing by; and he whom we, in our poor, feeble judgment, might expect to be the last to receive the Saviour, might turn out to be the first, the most willing, and the most joyful receiver of him. I cannot tell, therefore, who among you will take the Saviour in; I wish I could hope that all, who have not yet done so, would do it ere the sermon ends. He is such a wondrous Guest that you may all entertain him at the same moment; and he can come to each one’s heart, he may be the Guest of everyone who is a sinner, and yet each sinner who receives him shall find that a whole Christ has come into his heart.

     Let me also add that, sometimes, very strange motives may bring people where they will be led to receive the Saviour. I need not allude to Zacchaeus climbing the sycomore tree, or only just allude to it in passing; but many a person has come into the house of God, out of the idlest curiosity, or to oblige a friend, or to while away an hour. Rowland Hill used to say that there some people who made a cloak of religion; and when they ran into Surrey Chapel, on a wet day, to shelter from the rain, he used to add, “and there are some who make an umbrella of it.” It is just so still; people are influenced by all sorts of motives; harmless motives, vain motives, foolish motives, even condemnable motives have brought persons where Jesus Christ has been passing by; and so have been the occasion of Christ’s entering into hearts which else had been closed to him. It may be so with some of you who are here; perhaps you hardly expected to be here, and you scarcely know why you came. Yet it was written in the book of destiny that, this night, you should either accept Christ as your Saviour, or you should be wilfully guilty of shutting the door of your heart in his face. God grant that it may not be that latter action; but may you say to him, “Come in, blessed Saviour. Let salvation come, in thy person, to my house and heart, this very hour; then will I rejoice whilst thou shalt rejoice also.”

     Thus have I introduced to you the text: “He received him joyfully.” Now I want to say to you, with regard to the reception of the Saviour, that he is not here corporeally, physically, for he has gone back again into his glory, to sit at the right hand of the Father; but he is here spiritually according to his promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” He enters freely into men’s hearts, but he cannot now be received corporeally into your houses, nor can he sit at your tables, and partake of your feasts; but he can, by his Spirit, enter into your hearts; and he can spiritually dwell there, and make a temple of your bodies, and reign there, finding a happy abode within your renewed nature.

     I. Now, if you would receive him, I wish to call your attention, first, to the fact that, in order to salvation, THERE MUST BE A PERSONAL RECEPTION OF A PERSONAL CHRIST: “He received him joyfully.” There you have two persons both present. “He” — that is, Zacchaeus — “received him” — that is, Christ— “joyfully.” That looks very simple, yet there is a great depth of truth in it, as I will try to show you.

     For, first, there are some persons, who suppose that, in order to be saved, they are to receive a creed. That is quite true; you are to have a creed, and I urge you to take heed what you believe. Go to the law and to the testimony, and believe nothing but what is in the Word of God. But I pray you also to recollect that a man may receive the soundest creed in Christendom, and yet be damned. He may believe, as a matter of head-knowledge, all that should be believed; and yet, for all that, he may not believe anything with his heart, and so may perish. I believe that the devil is orthodox. In all that he says, he usually seems to propound either the truth or something which shows that he knows what the truth is; yet, though, in that sense, he believes, and even goes as far as trembling, the devil is not changed in heart, nor will he be saved by what he believes. It is not receiving a creed which saves you; it is receiving a Person into your heart’s love. It is not written in our text, “he received ” but, “he received him.” Mark that: “he received him joyfully.”

     Again, salvation comes not through receiving an ordinance, or ordinances, however correct or Scriptural they may be. It is not said, “Zacchaeus received baptism;” or, “Zacchaeus received the communion.” I do not doubt that Zacchaeus did receive both ordinances; but it was not said to him, “This day is salvation come to thy house because thou hast received the sacraments.” No; salvation came to him when he received Christ, when that blessed and Divine Person crossed the threshold of his heart, and was welcomed as he installed himself in the affections of the rich tax-gatherer. It was then that he was saved; and, beloved, if you are to be saved, Christ must come in a similar fashion into your understandings and your hearts. Salvation comes, not through ordinances, however Scripturally and correctly they may be observed; it is Christ, and Christ alone, who can save your soul. It must be with you as it was with Zacchaeus when “he received him joyfully.”

     Furthermore, it was not even the doctrine of Christ that Zacchaeus on this occasion received, though he did receive the doctrine of Christ, and learnt of Christ, and became his disciple; but, first, he received Christ; and, then, he received Christianity. Beware, I pray you, of being like many nominal Christians who know not Christ. Beware of that Christianity from which Christ has been eliminated. You must first receive the Master, or else it is idle to be associated with his servants. You may say that you belong to his Church; but if you are not joined to the Head, what will it avail you to claim to be in the body? If you are not vitally united to the Lord so as to become one spirit with him, of what service will it be to you that you are reckoned among his followers, and that your names are written on an earthly church-roll? Zacchaeus received Christ himself, and this is the all-important saving matter: “he received him.”

     How did he receive him? He received Christ as his Guest, and entertained him. Will you so receive Christ, — giving him your heart, your love, yourself, — letting him come and find meat and drink for his love within your soul? I beg you to admit him thus. Behold, he stands at the door of your heart, and knocks; again, and again, and again, with gentle hand knocking at the door, does he seek an entrance. Oh, open your heart to him, and let him be your Guest this very hour!

     But, further, Zacchaeus received Christ as his Lord. Notice what he said: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” That is the way in which you also must receive Christ as your Master and Lord.

     In so doing, Zacchaeus also admitted Christ as his Saviour, for Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house.” You will think it strange, but I have known some who have called Jesus “Lord,” who have not owned him as their Saviour. Thank God, it is changed with them now; but I did know some, who came to this house, who honoured and worshipped Christ according to the light they had, yet they did not understand their need of him, nor did they accept him as their Saviour. As I said, just now, this has all been changed with them; and so must it be with any of you who would truly receive Christ. If you do not accept him in his character as Saviour, you virtually reject him altogether, since he can never be separated from the merit of his blood, and the love of his heart towards guilty sinners. What! Would you have an unwounded Christ, — an unbleeding Christ, — a Christ that never died for men? There is no such Christ as that except in fiction; the Christ of reality “is come to seek and to save that which was lost;” and in that character he must be received by us also if he is received at all.

     II. Now I pass on to notice that THE RECEPTION OF CHRIST, TO BE REAL, MUST IN EVERY CASE BE VOLUNTARY. Willingly, Zacchaeus “made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” That joyful reception of Christ shows the willingness of Zacchaeus; it proves how cheerfully, how gladly, how willingly, — the words all carry the same sense, — how joyfully, with the full freedom of his will, he received the Saviour.

     Observe that the call of grace does not hinder this willing reception. There was a previous call of grace: “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house;” but, although that call was graciously powerful, and, in a gospel sense, irresistible, yet it did not interfere with the free agency of Zacchaeus so as to make him unwillingly receive the Saviour. No; he cheerfully, joyfully, received Christ as the result of that call. Here is where many people make a great mistake. They fancy that we, who preach effectual calling, make out that men are like logs of wood or carved images, — dead things that are dragged or drawn about without any reference to their own will. We teach nothing of the kind. We preach that men are intelligent, responsible agents, and that the omnipotent grace of God in which we firmly believe, and our belief in which we are never ashamed to declare, nevertheless exerts itself in a way and manner suitable to the free agency of these human beings, so that grace gets the victory; but, at the same time, a man acts as a man. Zacchaeus is not dragged down from the tree by an angel who lays hold of the nape of his neck, and throws him down against his will; and the door of his house does not open by magic; but the man comes down from the tree, in the ordinary way, by the exercise of his own will and power, and he opens the door of his home for Christ to enter; yet, secretly, in his heart there was a power other than his own which was moving him to act as he did. This may not be easy to understand, or to explain in words; but it is easy enough in actual life. It is plainly seen in the lives of those who are converted to Christ. Nobody will say that Zacchaeus did not as freely let Christ into his house as ever he had performed any action in his life. In fact, he never had put so much heart into anything he had ever done as he did into that act of receiving Christ. “He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” He was glad to do it, he cheerfully yielded obedience to the divine command.

     And, dear friends, you and I must receive Christ cheerfully, willingly, voluntarily, or else we have not really received him at all. Christ will not force himself into any man’s house, and sit there against the man’s will. That would not be the action of a guest, but of an unwelcome intruder. Christ will not come in, as it were, mailed and armed, forcibly to take possession of any man’s soul; but what he does is gently to change the bias of our will so that we willingly invite him to enter our heart. We constrain him to come in, and to dwell with us; we say to him, “Abide with us;” and not only are we willing to have Christ, but we are anxious and desirous to have him. To get him, we would, if necessary, sell all that we have. To keep him, we would lay down our very lives; for that which once seemed undesirable to us, is now the height of our ambition, the very core and centre of our highest desire. “He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” His whole heart went with his reception of Christ.

     What say you, dear friend? Will you now receive Christ joyfully? Will you willingly receive him? I know you will if you truly feel your need of him, and if you realize how exactly he meets that need. I know you will gladly receive him if you understand what blessings come in his train, — what wealth of happiness and joy he gives to the heart in which he condescends to dwell. You will say to him, “My Lord, now do I repent most sorrowfully that ever I resisted thee; and, made willing in the day of thy power, I fling open the doors of my heart, and cry, ‘Come in; come in; come in; dwell with me henceforth, and go no more out for ever.’”

     After Christ has been received into the heart, everything else will have to be done cheerfully and voluntarily. He did not command Zacchaeus to give the half of his goods to the poor; but, spontaneously, as soon as Christ came in, Zacchaeus said, of his own accord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.” No ordinance to this effect had proceeded from the Saviour’s lips: “Zacchaeus, you must restore fourfold to all whom you have wronged.” No; but gladly, out of the fulness of his renewed heart, he freely said, “If I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” This is the very essence of true religion; it is cheerful voluntariness. When a man, who professes to be a Christian, begins to ask, “Must I do this?” or “Must I do that?” he makes us stand in doubt concerning him. Believers in Christ are not under the law, but under grace. The principle that rules us is not “Must I?” but “May I?” It becomes to the believer a joy and a delight to serve Christ; he is not flogged to his duty. The slave-driver’s whip and the stocks are not for the freeborn citizens of the New Jerusalem. These things are for men of the world, who will do nothing unless they are paid for it, one way or the other. The dread of hell, or the hope of heaven; — these are the only motives that they recognize; but those who receive Christ dread no hell, for they know that they can never go there. “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” Such a man works not to obtain heaven; why should he? Heaven is his already; in Christ Jesus, it is given to him by a covenant which cannot be broken. So now he sings, —

“Loved of my God, for him again
With love intense I burn:
Chosen of thee ere time began,
I choose thee in return.”

And this blessed voluntariness, this joyous freedom of the will, conferred by sovereign grace, becomes the very life and soul of vital godliness. Do you possess it, dear friend? If not, may God the Holy Spirit speedily give it to you! If you have it, may he nurture it, and make it to increase within you; and so, like Zacchaeus, whatever you do, may you do it joyfully, cheerfully, as unto the Lord!

     III. This brings me now to close with my third remark, which is, that THE RECEPTION WHICH WE GIVE TO CHRIST MAY WELL BE A JOYFUL ONE.

     To receive Christ into the heart, dear brethren and sisters, ought not that to be as glad a thing as for a man to welcome his long-desired bride, or his firstborn child, or to receive his estate when he comes to the ripeness of manhood? Ay, more than that, ought it not to be as much joy to receive Christ as to receive heaven itself, for would there be any heaven possible if we had not first received Christ? Ring the bells of heaven, and ring them yet again, for a soul has received Christ Jesus the Lord. It is the gladdest event on earth, and it gives new joy even in heaven. See how the angels fly upward from their various watching-places to tell their brethren on yonder battlements, that they may publish it in every golden street, “Another sinner has received Christ. Joy, joy for ever!” These are the things that make jubilees in heaven; when sinners receive their Saviour, they make glad rejoicing before the face of the Highest himself.

     If I hear that a certain person’s reception of Christ had not much gladness in it, I am not necessarily led to suspect the reality of it, though I wish he had received Christ joyfully. When men receive the Word with gladness, if it is nothing but the bare Word, I can understand that they may be like the rocky ground which received the good seed; but, after a while, for lack of depth and moisture, the ground yielded not life enough or nourishment enough for the seed, so it withered away. But it is different when, instead of “it”, you read “him”: “he received him joyfully.” That is another matter altogether; for, if Christ be received into the soul, he will not die. If Jesus be taken into the heart, he will not disappear, and go his way; but where he once comes, he abides for ever. So, let us have as much joy as ever we can connected with our conversion; and let us not, because of that gladness, question its genuineness; but let us rather be all the more sure that it is a true work of Christ’s grace because, like Zacchaeus, we have received Christ joyfully.

     Think what joy there ought to be in the heart that receives Christ into it. First of all, what an honour it is! O poor lowly woman, or humble man, will the Lord of glory really come and dwell in you? You are no queen, or prince, or philosopher; will the great Lord of all dwell in your frail body, which is undecorated by costly dress, perhaps unadorned by natural beauty? Has he indeed come down to dwell with you? Then, you are indeed honoured even above the angels, for we never read that Christ dwells in them. You ought to be indeed glad that the Lord has permitted you to receive such an honour as this.

     Then, next, where Jesus comes into the heart, he comes to put away all sin. Wherever Jesus is received, all the guilt of the past is blotted out and gone, never to be remembered any more. When you receive Christ, you receive full remission of all your sin, every transgression goes into complete oblivion. Just think of that, and tell me if it is not a joyous thing to receive Christ. Will you not, then, like Zacchaeus, receive Christ joyfully?

     When you receive Christ, you also receive the fountain of inward purity, the well-spring of cleansing which shall overflow unto ultimate perfection. Receiving Christ, sin gets its death-warrant. Every buyer and seller in the temple of your nature will have to go. Everything received by false accusation will have to be given up. Where Jesus comes, the devil flies away, and angels come in with all their blessed train of beauty and holiness. To receive Christ, is to drive out hell, and to let in heaven; it is to end the darkness, and to begin the everlasting day. Then, shall we not receive him joyfully?

     Let me come close to you, and whisper a little secret in your ear. Zacchaeus did not know it, and the parallel does not hold good with his case, but it does with ours. There is great cause for joy in receiving Christ, because he will never go away again. When he once comes into our heart, he claims the freehold of it; and, by a divine entail, holds possession of it against all comers even to the end. I am not one of those who believe that a man can be a child of God to-day, and a child of the devil to-morrow. Ah, no! When Christ, the strong Man armed, does really take possession of the heart, a stronger than he must come if he is to be driven out; but there is no one stronger than he is. Hell itself can find no power to match the might of him who died to save his people from their sins; and you may depend upon it that he will fight for his own, and preserve his own, even until he comes to take them to be with him for ever. Therefore, be glad when Jesus comes into your heart, for it means salvation for you even unto the end.

     And, further, it also means eternal glory; for he who thus comes into your heart is the same Saviour who prayed, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Oh, yes! he will bring you safely home to glory. Admit him, and he will keep you here as his own until such a day as it shall please him, and then he will gently waft your soul away to the better land where, transformed, and rendered white as snow, he will still dwell in you, and walk in you, and you shall be his people, and he will be your God. Oh, the bliss of admitting Christ into the heart and life! There is nothing like it under heaven; and even heaven itself can show nothing better than the joy of receiving Christ into one’s inmost heart, for that is indeed heaven begun below.

     So I will finish my discourse by begging all of you who are gathered together here, if you have never yet received Christ, to receive him now. Perhaps someone enquires, “How can we receive him?” Well, first, open the door which has hitherto been closed. Be willing that he should come into your heart, to rule your whole life. Next, stand at the door, and invite him to come in. By earnest prayer, entreat him to enter. Then, believe in him; that is really to receive him, as John says, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” So that believing on him is receiving him. It is trusting him. You know what it is to trust yourself wholly to the care of another. Just as you might, on some dark night, when you had lost your way on the moor, trust yourself entirely with a guide who knew the way, even so trust yourself with Christ to lead you to his Father, and he will do it. You have received him when you have trusted him. O dear hearts, do receive my Master! Blessed Spirit, lead them to do so, and to do so at once!

     I admire Zacchaeus very much for one thing in which he differed from a good many of you. You ask such a lot of questions, and when you get them answered, or if they are not answered, you ask so many more. If Zacchaeus had been like you, I can imagine how he would have sat up in that sycomore tree, and when Christ called out to him, “Make haste, and come down,” he would have said, “But, —;” and Jesus would have listened, and heard what he had to say, and answered him. Then he would have said again, “But, Lord, —;” and there he might have stuck up in that sycomore tree, but no blessing would have come to him. There are ever so many of you who have been, as it were, up a sycomore tree for years. You always want to know more than you ever will know. You seem to be very clever at picking holes in the gospel; you have wonderful skill in the art of trying how you can damn yourselves; and you will do it, one of these days, unless God should prevent you by his almighty grace. If you can, you even spoil the precious promises of Scripture; you lay hold of one of God’s golden coins, and try to deface it. I mean, that you take his promise, and then seek to get the very life and soul out of it; — not that you may claim it for yourself, but in order to show that it does not belong to you. I never yet heard of a man going to law to prove that a fortune was not his. Men are eager enough to get temporal things; but when you come to spiritual things, there are thousands of people who seem only anxious to prove that they can never be saved. If I were in your place, I would let the devil do that kind of work if he liked, it is very much to his taste; but, as for you, do not have even a little finger in it. Look at Zacchaeus. I can see him. As soon as ever Christ says to him, “Come down,” why, dear me, the man is down before we can utter another word! And soon he is at the door of his house, and saying to the Master, “Come in, Lord, come in! Heartily do I welcome you!” Now, then, go and do likewise; ask no more questions, but make haste, and come down, and receive Christ joyfully, “But I want to know this.” You shall know it when you have received Christ. “But am I one of his elect?” I will answer your question as soon as you receive him. A good Wesleyan brother said to a Calvinistic friend down in Cornwall, “Now, Malachi, I owe you these two pounds; but, before I pass them over, you must tell me whether you are predestinated to have them.” Malachi said, “Just put the two pounds here, in the middle of my hand, and I will tell you directly.” That was very sensible on the part of Malachi; and I say to you, — Do not be asking about predestination or anything else, but just receive Christ; and when you have accepted him, you may rest assured that he has given you power to become a son of God. You have believed on his name, and therefore you are saved. That is the all-important point. So, like Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down, and receive Christ joyfully. The Lord grant that you may do it; and unto his name shall be the praise for ever and ever! Amen.



The First and the Second

By / Oct 9

The First and the Second

 

“He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” — Hebrews x. 9.

 

THE way of God with men is to go from good to better, and from better to best. In the creation, “the evening and the morning were the first day,” “and the evening and the morning were the second day;” and so on to the sixth day. God often gives us darkness before he gives us light, and he gives us some measure of light in the rising sun before he gives us the full glory of noontide. And this, I suppose, is not because God needs any such rule for himself. He can give the best first if so he chooses; but I imagine that this arrangement is needful because of our infirmity. It would never do for weak eyes to have the full light of the sun pouring down upon them. Often, when men are faint, and nearly dying of hunger, they would be killed outright if strong meat were at once set before them; they must be gently fed as they are able to bear it. So God, knowing the feebleness of his creatures, and especially the feebleness of his sinful creatures, is pleased to bestow his mercies with great wisdom and prudence. Little by little, first a very little, it may be, and then rather more, and then still more, and then much more, and then most of all, until he does exceedingly abound in mercy towards us according to the riches of his grace.

     It often happens that the lesser blessing is a sort of preparatory school before the greater favour. The law of Moses acted as an education for men to prepare them to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. The types and shadows of the twilight of the tabernacle and temple services helped men, by-and-by, to appreciate the substance when the True Light began to shine among the sons of men. We have need to be continually educated and trained for that which lies before us. Even heaven itself we are not fit to enter until we have learnt something of heavenly things here below. There is a first in order that there may be a second; and the first has to be taken away, when it has fulfilled its design, in order that then. we may enter upon the second. Some lower good precedes the higher; and when the lower good has educated us for the higher, then it is removed, and the greater blessing fills its place, even as it says in our text, “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” I am going to sever these two sentences from their connection, just for the time being, because they seem to me to contain a valuable general principle, which may be used for comfort and instruction in many ways.

     I. I shall ask you to notice, first, THE GRAND INSTANCE of this rule given in the chapter from which our text is taken, the instance which was the occasion of the utterance of the rule. “He taketh away the first that is, the sacrifices and offerings of the ceremonial law; — “He taketh away the first;” that is, the blood of bulls and of goats; — “that he may establish the second,” which second is Christ himself, the one effectual propitiation for sin, the great burnt-offering which the Lord accepts, and by which he is reconciled to all who trust in it.

     The taking away of “the first” involved the removal of instructive and consoling ordinances. Let us never forget that “the first” was given for the wisest possible purposes, and was itself exceedingly useful. God forbid that we should ever find fault with the first dispensation, for it was the means of great comfort, and of much instruction, to the people of God who lived under it. Though it was, in itself, little better than a piece of glass, yet the Old Testament believers saw much through it. Those of them who had clear vision saw through it the same Christ whom we, by faith, see at this day; so that window was to them a very precious thing because of the future glory which they were able to see through it. I can understand how David enjoyed the ceremonies of the holy place in his day; and how, when he was obliged to be absent, he longed once more to stand within the tabernacles of God, and envied the very sparrows and swallows that could fly or build their nests around the courts of the Lord’s house. I can realize how earnestly he desired again to stand and see the priests presenting the holy offerings before the shrine of the Most High; and I can easily comprehend that to tell him that all these observances were to be put away, would give him some cause for disquietude. But when he understood that they were to be removed in order that a second, and a better dispensation, should be established in their place, then his disquietude would altogether cease.

     Brethren, we ought this day to be far more happy than ever the Jews were when God had accepted their richest sacrifices; for what, after all, were holocausts of bullocks, what were thousands upon thousands of lambs compared with the only-begotten Son of God who has sacrificed himself on our behalf? Of what avail were all the rivers of blood that were shed, and the seas of oil that were poured out? What comfort could they bring to Jewish believers compared with that which we derive from the flowing wounds of the Christ of Calvary, and from the fact that he who suffered on the cross, that he who was dead and buried, has risen again, and gone back into the glory, and is there pleading, on our behalf, the merit of his ono finished, perfect sacrifice? Yes, beloved, let “the first” go; we need not drop a single tear over its departure, seeing that “the second”, which is established in its place, is so infinitely superior to it.

     Many Jewish believers tried, as long as ever they could, to keep some relic of the old dispensation. For many a year, they sought at least to teach that converts to Christianity must be circumcized; but they gradually learned that, with the coming of Christ, — or, rather, through his death, the old dispensation was all taken away. Every fragment of it is gone; and, if we are wise, we shall say, “Let it go; why should we seek to preserve it? Why should we keep that which is dead now that the ever-living One has come, and dwells among us? So, let ‘the first’ go, and let ‘the second’ be established.”

     I want, dear friends, to urge all of you to come to this decision very emphatically. I beseech you never to try to bring back “the first.” I do not suppose you will ever literally imitate the Jews, and offer the sacrifices enjoined under the ceremonial law; but there is, in certain quarters, an attempt to bring back portions of it, — informed, broken bones of that which has long since been dead. For instance, when men insist upon it that such an unscriptural ceremony as infant sprinkling is necessary to salvation, and that another man-made rite must be performed, or else grace will not come to us, if we yield to their pretensions for a single moment, we shall be putting ourselves under the bondage of a ceremonial law, which has not even the authority which the law given by Moses had. The two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, which Christ has left us, are blessed means of instruction and comfort to living men and living women, but they are not saving ordinances; and he who tries to make them so, in any measure whatever, is to that extent seeking to bring back “the first” dispensation, which God has for ever abolished. He is also endeavouring to disestablish “the second” dispensation; as far as he can, he is overthrowing it. But Christ will not share with rites and ceremonies the glory of our salvation. We are either saved by grace through faith, or else by the works and ceremonies of the law; there can be no mingling of the two, for they are diametrically opposed to each other. There must be a clean taking away of “the first” that there may be an establishing of “the second.”

     Then I want you, next, to take care that you do regard “the second” as being really established; that is to say, that there has been offered one great sacrifice for sin, and that Christ’s sacrifice has put away sin, and has put it away once for all. This is the establishment of the real, perfect, everlasting atonement. Now, Christian people, you do believe this as a matter of doctrine; but have you truly appropriated all the blessedness of it? Do you know that your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake; that an atonement has been presented for you, by which you are so effectually purged from guilt that you will never need to bring any other purgation, or to look for any other atonement? Do you really regard yourself as one who will never have to offer another sacrifice for sin because your conscience is completely purged already, and you are clean every whit? I know that some professors do not like Kent’s verse, but I like it, for I quite agree with him when he says, —

“Here’s pardon full for sin that’s past,
It matters not how black its cast;
And, O my soul, with wonder view,
For sins to come, here’s pardon, too!”

The Christ who died on Calvary’s cross, will not have to die again for my new sins, or to offer a fresh atonement for any transgressions that I may yet commit. No; but, once for all, gathering up the whole mass of his people’s sins into one colossal burden, he took it upon his shoulders, and flung the whole of it into the sepulchre wherein once he slept, and there it is buried, never to be raised again to bear witness against the redeemed any more for ever. Do regard Christ’s sacrifice, then, as firmly established, and, having been once offered, never to be repeated, that one offering having completed the redemption of all the blood-bought throng, and so finishing the great work that nothing needs to be added to it.

     II. Now, secondly, I want to give you SOME HISTORICAL INSTANCES in which the same rule has been carried out. I must speak very briefly upon each point, so try to catch the words as they fly.

     First, God took away the earthly paradise, but he has given us Christ and heaven. God gave to man, originally, perfect happiness. In the garden of Eden, there were all manner of delights; and under the covenant made with our first father, all of these would have been ours if he had persevered in obedience. But Adam sinned, and so the covenant of works was broken. He fell, and we fell in him; and, therefore, paradise was taken away from him, and from us also. There is no hope of our ever going through the gate of that garden. Even if it had remained perfect, and we could find it, we should see there the cherubim with a flaming sword turning every way to keep us out of the garden. Why hast thou taken away this paradise, Lord? The apostle here gives us the answer to our question, “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second for, now, as many as believe in Jesus are brought into another and a better Paradise. They are saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation, and there is prepared for them a place of joy and delight compared with which the bliss of Eden shall not even be mentioned, neither shall that earthly paradise be brought to mind, or be spoken of any more.

     Next, the first man has failed; but behold the second Man, the Lord from heaven; and see again the meaning of our text: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” There was a man in that first paradise; he was the first man, Adam; and you and I were representatively in him; for he was the federal head of the human race. But he fell, and he was taken away. Do we regret this, and mourn over it as though it were an irreparable calamity? By no means; for the Lord hath taken away the first man, Adam, that he may establish the second Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Concerning these two, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second Man is the Lord from heaven.” The first man has ruined us; but we have the second Man now, who heads up his people, having become their federal Representative; and in him they are saved beyond all fear of falling.

     “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second,” is illustrated again in the case of Adam and Noah. Adam was not only the federal head of the human race, but he was also its first father and founder; but, although God took away our first father, he gave the race a second father, even Noah, from whom we have all sprung as much as from the loins of Adam. Now, Adam’s safety depended upon the perfection of a creature, the obedience of a human being; but Noah’s safety lay in a figurative death, burial, and resurrection. He went into the ark, and died to that old world in which he had lived so long. Inside that ark, as in a coffin, he was buried beneath the descending floods; and he was floated into a new world, to be the father of a race that should live through his death, burial, and resurrection; as the apostle Peter says, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us;” — not that baptism saves us, but it is another figure of how we are saved by death, burial, and resurrection, as Peter goes on to say, “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God.” “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” Father Adam was taken away, but Father Noah was given to be the new head of the race, and to him the Lord said, “This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.” That second covenant, which God made with Noah, is infinitely more secure than the first covenant which was broken by Adam.

     Brethren, there is another great historical instance of the rule mentioned in our text in the case of the covenants made with the literal and the spiritual Israel. There was a first covenant to which the Israelites gave their consent soon after they came out of Egypt. That was a covenant of works, and when Moses rehearsed in the ears of the people the terms of that covenant, “All the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” Yet they soon forgot their solemn promise. You remember how the commandments were written with the finger of God” upon “two tables of testimony, tables of stone;” but when the people turned aside to worship the golden calf which Aaron had made, we read concerning Moses, “it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger vaxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” In God’s great longsuffering, the commandments were given a second time, though Moses, and not God, wrote on the second tables of stone, and they were put away for safety into the golden ark, above which was placed the mercy seat of pure gold. This was another symbolical illustration of our text: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” The law in the hand of Moses is broken that we may have the law in the heart of Christ hidden away under the sacred covering of divine mercy in the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. The first covenant of “This do, and thou shalt live,” is taken away, that God may establish the second, which is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The first covenant, because it waxed old, has passed away; and now God has established a second covenant, the covenant of grace: They shall be my people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”

     Thus I might keep on showing you how, all the way along in history, there has been a first, and then there has been a second, as there was in the case of the temple at Jerusalem. Solomon built the first temple, but God permitted that to be taken away that he might establish that second temple into which Christ came, and so made the glory of the latter house to be greater than that of the former one. All history seems to me to say, “This is God’s usual method of procedure, to give the dim twilight first, and then to follow it with the full glory of the noontide brightness.” We must, therefore, expect that it will be so in our time.

     III. But, now, leaving history in general, I come to your own individual history, so as to give you SOME INSTANCES IN YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE of the working of this rule: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     First, this is true of our own righteousness and Christ’s. I shall speak of myself because, then, I shall be speaking of many of you also. I once thought that I had a very fine righteousness of my own; and, in looking back upon it, I am not at all sure whether it was not about as respectable as the righteousness which the most of my friends have possessed. Like the young man who came to our Lord, I could have said, concerning the ten commandments, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” But I well recollect the time when God’s Holy Spirit began to pull my righteousness away from me. Oh, how fiercely I fought to keep it! There was a terrible tugging between my pride and my conscience, for even my conscience joined with the Spirit of God, and the Word of God, in telling me that, though outwardly righteous, yet I was inwardly wicked. Still, for a long while, I could not understand and believe that I, the child of godly parents, who had never fallen asleep from the days of infancy without the repetition of the prayer my mother taught me, and who had never left my bedroom in the morning without having presented the petitions which I had learnt as a child, — I could not bring myself to think that I, who was so regular in attendance at the house of God, who read my Bible, who tried to understand theological books, and so on, — could not admit that I had a righteousness which was only like filthy rags, fit for nothing but to be burned. I tell you, dear friends, I did not like that ugly truth, and I fought very hard against it; but I bless God that he took away “the first” righteousness that he might establish “the second.” That second — “the righteousness which is of God by faith,” — the righteousness which is imputed to everyone who believeth in Jesus, — is so much superior to “the first” that I can truly say with the apostle Paul, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law , but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

     Is there anybody here who is having his righteousness tugged at as mine was? Is that beautiful but flimsy house of your own righteousness beginning to tumble about your ears? Did a big brick-bat come down just now? Was there a slate or two blown off the roof, or did the chimney-pots begin to fall? Thank God for it! Thank God for it! If you have a very fine robe of righteousness, all of your own weaving, I am not desirous that you should be unclothed, and left naked to your shame, but I am anxious that you should be clothed with that spotless robe which was woven in heaven; and I know that you will never wear that wondrous garment until your own dirty rags are pulled off you. Christ never comes and puts his glorious robes over our poor, beggarly, leprous rags. No; they must come off before he will clothe us, so he takes away “the first” that he may give us “the second.” O poor sinner, be wise enough to cry to him, “Pull off my rags, Lord, if thou wilt condescend to touch them. I do not want to keep one of them a moment longer.” As for you who are so good, and respectable, and righteous in your own esteem, I tell you plainly that those fine robes, of which you are so proud, are only rotten rags whatever you may think of them. Off with them! They must come off if you are to be saved; so ask God to take them off now, and to clothe you in that wondrous raiment which Christ has prepared for all who trust him.

     There is another first thing which God has taken away from us, and that is. our false peace. There are many of you who used to be perfectly happy although you were unsaved; you were full of peace, and were not disturbed in mind at all. Why should you be? You used to say to yourselves, “Well, if it goes ill with me, I am sure it will be worse for my neighbours. If I am not all right, there are very few people who arc.” Yes, you said to yourself, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. If, sometimes, your minister preached a sermon that came rather too closely home to you. and troubled your conscience, you said to yourself, “Now, that is the kind of preaching that I do not like. I do not think I shall go to hear that man any more; for in my opinion, people ought not to be made so uncomfortable as I have been made.” There are some people who would never have been saved if the Holy Spirit had not broken down their refuges of lies.

     There is another “first” that people do not like to lose; that is, their fancied strength. You thought, dear friend, that you could repent and believe in Christ whenever you pleased, and you said to yourself, “There is no hurry for me to decide to be a Christian. I can keep on attending the means of grace; and one of these days, when it is convenient, I will break my own heart, renew my own will, create myself a new creature in Christ Jesus.” That was your meaning; though, possibly, you did not express it quite so plainly. Ah! I recollect well when first I began to discover my own inability in spiritual things; it was a horrible discovery. I wanted to do good, but I found that evil was present with me. I longed to repent, but my heart was as hard as a stone. I earnestly desired to pray, but I could not pray a believing prayer; I could as easily have leaped over the moon as have prayed such a prayer by my own unaided efforts. I really wished to believe in Christ; and though now it seems as plain and simple a thing as anything can be; yet, at that time, I could no more believe in Christ than I could make a new world. Oh, the horror of having one’s strength all taken away! But what a blessed thing it is to lose all our first strength, to be reduced to utter weakness, and to be quite incapable of any spiritual action, so that Christ says to us, “Without me ye can do nothing;” and all this in order that he may establish the second and better strength, and enable us each one to say, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.”

     The Lord Jesus Christ becomes a strength and a power to us when we have lost our own; but we shall never get his strength while we have our own, for he will never yoke his omnipotence with our poor pretence of power. That cannot be: “He taketh away the first.” He brings you to a swooning state, he brings you to a fainting fit, he brings you to death’s door, he brings you to the very grave of your own personal confidence and strength; and then he comes in, and gives you life in himself, and clothes you with power from on high: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     Further on in the Christian life, it often happens that the same rule holds good, that the Lord takes away many first things to establish the second. After people are converted, it frequently happens that they have a great deal too much confidence in their minister, or in some Christian friend. At first, it is very helpful to their infant footsteps to have a little go-cart, to which they can hold, lest they should tumble down; but, after a while, when God means to teach them something for themselves, and to make them exercise their own judgments, perhaps he takes away that minister, or he takes away from them the pleasure that they once had in hearing him. Sometimes, I have known men so much depended upon that God has left those good men to themselves for a while, that their hearers might see what poor souls they were, and so might never depend upon them again as they had done in the past. Why does the Lord take away that comfortable repose that his poor babes enjoy on the breasts of their teachers? Why, in order that they may find a better and sweeter repose on his own breast; that they may get away from all confidence in men, and come to full confidence in the Lord their God and Saviour. It is often a very hard lesson for some to learn; but it must be learned. As the apostle Paul says, “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” There are some who seem to know Christ only by the teaching of other people; but it is far better to know him by personal contact with him, by coming close to him for yourself; and that blessing is often not realized except at a great expense of things once highly prized. In that sense also our text is true: He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     So, too, there is an early joy that young Christians have. Oh, how full of delight they are! Some of them have a great deal more of flame than they have of real fire. Just as, when a fire is first kindled, and the shavings and the sticks are burning, there is not half the fire that there will be when the coals themselves are all aglow; — there is not half the fire, but there is more blaze and more crackle; so is it with many young people, they have no end of a blaze! Oh, they are so happy! They cannot tell how happy they are! But, after a while, that exuberance of joy goes, and the quiet delight in the Lord which comes afterwards, instead of it, is much more solid and deep. They can give good reasons for their joy; and though they are not so full of exhilaration as they were, their delight is really firmer, and stronger, and deeper than before: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     I have known many of God’s dear people to be very frightened by some of their first experiences. They thought they were going to be lost because their early joy had departed from them; yet there was no need for cherishing such fears. You know that children lose their first teeth; it is good that they should do so, because there is a better set coming. And, often, it is very much like that with the Christian. He has a wisdom tooth to cut that he did not cut in the first stages of his spiritual life; and the first milk teeth that he has will have to come out, some of them, with many a painful tug; but they will have to come out in order that he may grow to a spiritual manhood: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     Oh, how many things you and I have still to gain by losing! How much we are to be enriched by our losses! How we are to make progress by going backward! How we have yet to mount by sinking! How we have yet to rise by descending! Paradoxical as all this may seem, it is to be so, according to the rule laid down in our text: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” There may be a lesson here, not only for young converts, but also for you who are experienced Christians. This passage may help you to understand some things which, perhaps, have seemed dark to you.

     IV. Now I close by giving you some INSTANCES TO BE EXPECTED to which the rule of the text will apply: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     Let all who are of the family of Christ remember that God will soon take, away from us everything that we have here below. He will take us away from it, which is the same thing as taking it away from us. But, as you anticipate this great change, do not look forward to it with sorrow; do not shed a single tear of regret at the thought of parting with anything that you now possess. Regret not the dear old house at home, notwithstanding all its happy associations. Mourn not that you must leave your beloved country, of which you say that, wherever you wander, it is still the joy of your heart. You will have to leave your native land, and to leave your happy home; but you may be comforted by the assurance of the text, “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second;” for there is a better country, that is, the heavenly land. We, who believe in Jesus, are citizens of the New Jerusalem; and as all earthly cities and the fair prospects of the country shall melt away from our eyes, we shall look upon a fairer land, and a more glorious city, where no fog or blight shall ever come; but where —

“Rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.
“All o’er those wide extended plains,
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Sun for ever reigns,
And scatters night away.
“No chilling winds, or poisonous breath,
Can reach that healthful shore:
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and fear’d no more.”

God will take away our home on earth; but in our Father’s house above, there are many mansions; therefore you may go, cheerful fireside; you may go, happy home; all that was loved, all that was delighted in, may melt away, as I sing, —

“My Father’s house on high,
Home of my soul! how near,
At times, to faith’s foreseeing eye,
Thy golden gates appear!”

If Moses, from the top of Pisgah, was glad to die with the earthly Canaan in sight, how much more may we be happy to die with the heavenly Canaan just before us. into which we are to enter! “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     The Lord has been taking away from some of you considerable portions of your family. Some dear children, who were once nestling at your breast, are now with him in glory. Father also has gone, and mother; husband or wife, brother or sister, some of these dear ones are gone home. The members of your family have nearly all gone now, and you are left alone. You begin to count the friends of your youth upon your fingers. God is evidently taking away “the first.” But do not forget how blessedly he is establishing “the second.” When you enter heaven, you will be no stranger inside those pearly gates. There will be many there, whom you knew and loved on earth, whom you will know and love above. They will meet you at the gates, and they will joy and rejoice with you before the great Father’s throne.

     “Alas!” says one, “I have lost all my family, and I am left alone and desolate.” But if you are a child of God, remember what the apostle once wrote, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Though God has taken away that first family, he has established that second, and far more numerous, and more glorious one. “God setteth the solitary in families.” That is what he has done for you; he has taken away your first family connections, your first bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood, in order that he may establish the second higher relationships. He has dissolved the ties of blood that you may find better spiritual relationships among such as Jesus spoke of when he said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Even so we say of the saints on earth, and the saints before the throne of God in heaven, “These are sister, and brother, and father, and mother to us.” “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

     And, brothers and sisters, this poor body of ours, which is so full of aches and pains at times, will be taken away to make room for a more glorious one. This one is getting worn-out; some parts of it have fallen away already. It is like an old lath-and-plaster building, and cannot last much longer; it very seldom stands to the end of the ninety-nine years’ lease, but it soon crumbles away; and, by-and-by, with all of us, the old house will fall to pieces, and be done with. Shall we fret over it? Shall our soul cry, concerning the body, “Alas, my sister! Alas, my brother”? No; “he taketh away the first, that he may establish the second;” and as we have, in this body of our humiliation, borne the image of the earthy, we shall, in the second condition of this body, bear the image of the heavenly. It shall be sown in dishonour, but it shall be raised in glory. It shall be sown in weakness, but it shall be raised in power. It shall be sown a natural body, but it shall be raised a spiritual body. “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” And, oh, what a glorious second that will be! Our resurrection body will know no pain, no weariness, no weakness, no taint of disease or sin, no possibility of corruption or death. Well may we sing, —

“O glorious hour! O blest abode!”

when this poor body shall be made like unto the glorious body of Christ Jesus our Saviour. “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” Let the first go, then, without a murmur or a sigh.

     Once more, this earth shall be taken away to make room for the new one. In a little while, there shall be heard the blast of the archangel’s trumpet. I know not when or how the various closing events will happen, so as to put them together in chronological order; but I do know that, at God’s bidding, this fair earth shall suddenly be wrapt in flames. It is a beautiful world, say what you will about it. In many other parts besides Ceylon, —

“Every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile.”

Wherever man squats down, and raises up his long ranges of bricks and mortar, there everything is ugly; but out yonder, in God’s forests, and on God’s hills, and by God’s sea, there everything is fair, and grand, and God-like, as if God himself might come and sojourn here, and not be ashamed of the world he has made, for still it is good. But, in a moment, it will be wrapt in flames, and it will be utterly consumed. Nothing of this present creation shall abide in its present condition. The apostle Peter says, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” Yet weep not, beloved, neither lament, for Peter also says, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second;” and, on a brighter morning than your eyes have ever seen, you shall wake up and see the new heavens and the new earth; and you, with all the spirits of just men made perfect, shall come hither to sing sweeter songs than the morning stars chanted when the world was first created. There will be a second creation, a second world, for the Lord will have taken away the first, but he will have established the second. The work of destruction will have been accomplished; but the work of recreation will also have been finished; and, oh, what joy and bliss it will be for the redeemed from among men, and for the holy angels, too, when the New Jerusalem shall come down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and the tabernacle of God shall be with men. and he shall dwell among them! “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.

     I close by saying that it is my earnest prayer that some of you may, by God’s grace, have your “first” taken away from you this very hour, that you may have “the second” given to you. Salvation lies not in “the first.” That is all ruin and woe; the trail of the serpent is over it all. You will never go to heaven if you remain in the same nature as you had when you were born. You must be born a second time; or else, if there be not a second birth, you will have to endure the second death. God give you the grace to believe in Jesus, and to find in him that second, higher, better life that you may enter into the second and perfect world; for, then, you will give him all the praise for ever and ever. Amen.