The Time is Short

By / Feb 17

The Time is Short

 

 

“The time is short.” — 1 Corinthians vii. 29.

 

*“This date is an approximation of when this sermon was delivered.”

 

THE text does not say that time is short. That would have been a true statement. Compared with eternity, time, at the very longest, is but as a pin’s point. But note what the text does say: “The time is short.” It is the time of our life, the space of our opportunity, the little while we shall be upon the present stage of action, that is short. It is narrow and contracted, as the original implies. “Behold,” saith the psalmist, “thou hast made my days as a hand-breath; and mine age is as nothing before thee.” Brief is the season we have allotted to us, brethren, in which we can serve the Lord our God.

     This is a truth which everybody believes, knows, and confesses. It is trite as a proverb on every tongue; yet how few of us act as if we believed it! We are conscious of the precariousness of other people’s lives; but, somehow or other, we persuade ourselves that our own time is not quite as limited as theirs. We think we have “ample time and verge enough;” but we wonder that our neighbours can be so careless and prodigal of days and years, for we observe the wrinkles on their brows, we detect the grey hairs on their heads, and perceive the auguries of death in their mien, and we doubt not they will soon have to render in their account. “All men think all men mortal but themselves,” is a “night-thought” that may well startle us, as we rest from the business and the bustle, or the waste and wantonness of each succeeding day. Why hide ye from yourselves the waning of your own life-work, the weakening of your own strength, the weaving of your own shrouds? As a creature, you are frail; as an inhabitant of the world, you are exposed to casualties; as a man, there is an appointed time for you on earth. You must be swept away by the receding tide; you must go with the rest of your generation.

    Ask an angel what he thinks of the life of a mortal, and he will tell you that he remembers when the first man was made, and since then the earth has been ever changing its tenants Peradventure he is baffled to recall the races that have come and gone in countless succession. For a little while, they floated on the surface, then they sank beneath the stream. At first, they struggled on through centuries; but, after that, they failed, any one of them, to attain a tenth of that pristine age. “Short-lived!” saith the angel, “they seem to me as leaves upon a tree, as insects on the earth, as flies in the air. Like the grass that flourisheth in the meadows, scarcely have I gazed upon them ere they are cut down, withered, and gone.” Or, if you never meet with an angel to interrogate him, talk familiarly with one of the trees of an ancient forest. Ask what it has seen; and, though it cannot speak in tones articulate, you can lend it a tongue, and it will tell you that hundreds of years have passed, and history has accumulated, from the time when it was an acorn, till now it covers a wide space with its far spreading foliage. Yes, the oak and elm can tell us that man is but an infant of today. Would you rather take counsel of your fellow-creatures? Then ask the old man what he thinks of life. He will tell you that, when he was a boy, he thought he had a vast length of time before him. So heavily did the days hang on his hands that he played the hours away, and was glad when birthdays told of the years that were gone. It was his strong desire, and his panting ambition, to break loose from the moorings of childhood, and launch out into the great wide sea of turmoil and enterprise; but now he looks back on these seventy years, that have been gradually accumulating, as a dream. Through all the fitful stages of life’s journey, time present is always perplexing; it must be past before it is understood. It seems to him only as yesterday when he left his father’s roof to be an apprentice. He remembers it distinctly, and fondly tells you of some quaint thing that happened in those olden times. How short a while since the bells rang out his marriage-peal, and now his children have reached their manhood, and his children’s children climb upon his knee, and call him “grandfather.” Yet he remembers when, as it were but yesterday, he. was himself a little child, and his grandsire clasped him to his bosom. My venerable friends, you will bear witness that I do not exaggerate when I speak thus; my language is only the feeble expression of a forcible experience. You can realize more vividly than I can paint the sensation of looking back over the entire span of three-score years and ten; to the stripling, this appears a very long period, while to you it merely seems as a watch in the night.  

     And yet, perhaps, there are among you some hoary veterans, some elderly matrons, who need to be reminded that “the time is short.” Present health and activity may tempt you to forget that nature, m your case, stands upon the verge of her confines. What if your frame be strong; what if the bloom still lingers on your cheeks? You have nearly reached the goal, the allotted term that mortals I have seen fine days, in autumn, when the air was soft cannot as pass in balmy spring; but they gave no promise of another summer. I knew the season was too far advanced for winter to

delay its approach much longer. So, you, my aged friend, be sure that the hour of yours departure is drawing near. Should five, or even ten years more be granted to you, how quickly they must pass when seventy by gone years have so rapidly fled! The remnant of your days will surely cover little space when the whole compass of your life has stretched over so small an area. Be parsimonious of minutes now, though you may have been, at one time, prodigal of years. At the fag-end of life, you have no time to parley and postpone; to resolve, and yet to trifle with resolutions; to waste and squander golden opportunities. “The time is short.”

     But to estimate this truth aright, we may well turn from the cycles that angels have witnessed, the centuries that trees have flourished, and the seasons that have come and gone in the memory of our grandsires, to consider “the years of the right hand of the Most High.” Enquire at the mouth of the Lord; take counsel of the eternal God. Remember how it is written, “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” “He sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers,” ephemera, insects of an hour, compared with him. Like the grass we spring up, and like the grass we are mowed down. Compared with the lifetime of the Eternal, what is our life? Nay, there is no comparison; it is almost too insignificant for contrast. “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.” I wish I had the power to impress this truth on every heart. As I have not, I shall try to point the moral it suggests, and pray that the Spirit of God may seal the instruction upon every heart.      

     “The time is short,” so, first, it warns; next, it suggests; then, it inspires; and, lastly, it alarms.

     I. First, IT WARNS. If ye knew the sterling worth of time, ye would shrink from the smallest waste of so precious a thing. Fools say that time is long, but only fools talk like that. They say that “time is made for slaves.” He alone is a free man who knows how to use his time properly; and he is a slave indeed who finds it slavery to pursue his calling with a good conscience, and serve his God with diligence, fidelity, and zeal. Knowing that “the time is short,” you and I have not an hour to squander upon unprofitable amusements. There are some diversions which afford a respite from the incessant strain of labour and anxiety, and are profitable to strengthen the mind, and brace up the nerves. These are not only allowable, they are fit and proper; but while recreation is both needful and expedient to keep the mental and physical powers in working order, we can give no countenance to such dissipation as tends rather to enervate than to invigorate the constitution. Popular taste displays its own perverseness in seeking to extract pleasure from folly and vice. Fashion lends its sanction to many a pastime that ill becomes any wise, rational, intelligent person; but the Christian, in his relaxations, must seek healthy impulse, and avoid baneful stimulant. “The time is short;” we cannot afford to lose it in senseless talk, idle gossip, or domestic scandals.

     Nor can we afford to plan a round of empty frivolities to while away an afternoon or an evening, as the manner of some is. Our time is too precious to be frittered away in formal calls and punctilious visits. Well might Cotton Mather complain of the intrusion of a certain person, who had called to see him, as people will call on ministers, as though their time was of no importance. “I would sooner have given that man a handful of money,” said he, “than that he should have thus wasted my time.” You count it a little thing to trespass on our minutes, but in so doing you may spoil our hours. Whether you think so, or not, it is often distracting to us to be troubled with trivial things in the midst of our sacred engagements. We may be called from an absorbing study, we may be rudely interrupted when our knees are bent, and our heart is being lifted up to God in intercession; we may have our minds drawn from the weightiest matters to listen to the most frivolous observations. It is said of Henry Martyn that he never wasted an hour. I wish it could be said of us, that we wasted neither an hour of our own time, nor an hour of other people’s time. Brethren, the time is too short to make a desire for friendly intercourse an excuse for frothy conversation. It requires no stretch of imagination to picture to ourselves two men, who are both believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, “called to be saints,” and accounted faithful, meeting in a room, and greeting each other as friends. They will surely have something choice to talk about. All heaven is full of God’s glory, and the earth is full of his riches. There is range enough for thought, for speech, for profitable converse. Listen awhile. One observes that the weather is very cold. “Yes” says the other, “the frost is still very sharp.” There they stick; they have nothing further to say till, presently, one of them remarks, “It will be rather slippery travelling to-night;” to which comes the reply, “I daresay many horses will fall down.” And are these the men of whom Peter testifies that they are redeemed, with the precious blood of Christ, from their vain conversation, received by tradition from their fathers? Are these the men who have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost? Is this frivolity becoming to the heirs of heaven? Yet thus, often, is precious time squandered, and the faculty of speech abused. There is an ancient prophecy which I should love to see fulfilled in modem history. In “David’s Psalm of Praise,” (only one Psalm, the 145th, is so entitled,) he says, “All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom.” By such converse as that, beloved, you might “redeem the time” in these evil days; but you are afraid of being charged with cant, or with pushing your religion a little too far. Brethren, it is high time we had a little more of such cant, and that we did push religion a little farther than has been our wont; for golden opportunities are lost, and profitable interchange of holy thought is lamentably neglected. In days of yore, “they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it.” Not much of this prevails now among professing Christians. Little enough is said that is worth men’s hearing, much less worth God’s hearing; and if he did hear it, instead of putting it down in “a book of remembrance,” and saying, “They shall be mine,” surely, in his infinite mercy, he would forbear to record the vain thoughts and empty words which could only be a stigma upon their characters. By the brevity of time, then, and by the rapidity of its flight, I admonish you to refrain from all abuses of the tongue. Do invest each hour in some profitable manner; that, when past, it may not be lost. Let your lips be a fountain from which all streams that flow shall savour of grace and goodness.

     The time, moreover, is much too short for indecision and vacillation. Your resolving and retracting, your planning and scheming, your sleeping and dreaming, your starting up from slumber only to sink down into a drowsier state than before, are a mockery of life, and a wilful murder of time. Of how many of you is it true that, if ever you did entertain a noble purpose, you never found a convenient season to carry it out. On the verge of conversion, sometimes, you have halted till your convictions have grown cold. Ten or twenty years ago, you listened to the appeal, “My son, give me thine heart;” and you answered, “I will;” but, to this day, you have never fulfilled your word. “Go work in my vineyard,” said the Master. “I go Lord,” was your prompt reply; yet you have never gone. To-day, as aforetime, you stand idling. Some of you, indeed, were in a more hopeful condition thirty or forty years ago than you are at present. What account can you give of yourselves? What has become of those intervening years? The infinite mercy of God has kept you out of hell, but there is no guarantee that his long-suffering will shield you from destruction another instant. O sirs, “the time is short,” the business urgent, the crisis imminent! ‘Tis madness to be halting between two opinions. If God be God, serve him; and if not, take the alternative, and serve Baal. Let your mind be made up, one way or the other, without another moment’s delay. How long halt ye between two opinions?

     And you Christian people, with your grand illusive projects, how they melt away! Some of you would have done a great deal that is useful by now if you had not dreamed of doing so much that is imposing. Oh, what wonderful plans for evangelizing London, for converting the whole Continent of Europe to Christ, float in the brain, or evaporate in a speech, and nothing is done! We are like a certain Czar of Russia, of olden times, who always wanted to take a second step before he took the first. We are always projecting some wonderful scheme that proves too wonderful ever to be carried out. So we dream of what ought to be, and should be; of what might be, and as we hope may be. Such “dreams are the children of an idle brain.” The dreamers grow listless, and nothing is done. In the name of the eternal God, I beseech you, if you love him, get to work for him. Better slay a single enemy than dream of slaughtering an army. Better that you sow a single grain of corn, or plant a single blade of grass, than dream about fertilizing the Sahara, or reclaiming from the mighty sea untold acres of fertile land. Do something, sirs, do something. It is high time to awake out of sleep, for “the time is short.”

     This thought may serve to warn us against another folly; that of speculating upon nice points of controversial theology. You know how the schoolmen used to debate and wrangle about how many angels could stand on the point of a needle, and with many other propositions, no less absurd, did they weary themselves. Strangely indeed was the ingenuity of men taxed to find subjects for discussion in the dark days of those dull doctors of learning. There is something of that spirit abroad even now; ministers will devote whole sermons to the discussion of some crotchet or quibble that does not signify the turn of a hair to anybody in the universe. I have generally noticed that, the less important the point is, the more savagely will some persons defend it, as if the world might go to rack and ruin, and all the sinners in it go blindfold to perdition, and the work of salvation must stand still to have this point discussed. One brother, who meets me occasionally, can never be five minutes in my company, but what he attacks me upon the question of free agency and predestination; I told him, the last time I saw him, that I would have it out with him one of these days, but I must defer it till after the day of judgment, for I was too busy to talk about it just now. And I feel like that about a great many questions. There are brethren who can fully explain the Book of Revelation, though I generally find that they exclaim one against the other, till they declaim each other off the face of the earth. But I would sooner be able to proclaim the cross of Christ, and explain the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, than to decipher the imagery of Ezekiel, or the symbols of the Apocalypse. Blessed is he who can expound the mysteries. I have no doubt about his blessedness; but I am perfectly satisfied with another blessedness, namely, if I can bring sinners to Jesus, and teach the saints some practical truths which may guide them in daily life. It seems to me that the time is much too short to go up in a balloon with speculations, or to go down into the mines of profound thought, to bring up some odds and ends and scraps of singular knowledge. We want to save souls, and to conduct them to that heaven where God’s presence makes eternal day. This seems to me to be the pressing demand upon us now that “the time is short,” and “the night cometh when no man can work.”  

     Let this also admonish us, brethren, to singleness of purpose. We must have only one aim. Had we plenty of time, we might try two or three schemes at once, though even then we should most probably fail for want of concentrating our energies; but as we have very little time, we had better economize it by attending to one thing. The man who devotes all his thought and strength to the accomplishment of one reasonable object is generally successful. My soul, bend thyself down, and lay thyself out for the glory of God; be this the one aim of thy entire being. Form your friendships, and order your occupations, so as to fulfil this first and highest duty of life. Be it your one sole motive to live for his honour, and, if necessary, even to die to promote his renown among the sons of men. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Attune your souls to the great Hallelujah: “While I live will I bless the Lord; I will sing praises unto my God while I have my being. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.” O my brethren, this sublime enthusiasm will work wonders! You dissipate your strength and fritter away your opportunities by dividing your attention. You say that you want to be a Christian; meanwhile, your heart is set upon getting riches, you seek to store your mind with the learning and wisdom of the world, you wish to gain repute as a good talker in company, and a convivial guest at the social board. Ambition prompts you to seek fame among your fellows. Very well, I shall not denounce any one of these things; but I would use every persuasive to induce you who are believers in Christ to renounce the world. If Christ has bought you with his blood, and redeemed you from this present evil world, he has henceforth a claim on you as his servant, and it is at your peril that you take up with any pursuits that are inconsistent with a full surrender of yourself to him. You belong to him; so live wholly to him. The reason why the majority of Christians never attain to any eminence in the divine life, is because they let the floods of their life run away in a dozen little, trickling rivulets, whereas, if they cooped them up into one channel, and sent that one stream rolling on to the glory of God, there would be such a force and power about their character, their thoughts, their efforts, and their actions, that they would really “live while they lived.”

     II. “The time is short.” THIS SUGGESTS.

     Do you know what reflection this fact suggested to me? “Surely, then,” thought I, “I have some opportunity to follow out the work of faith, the patience of hope, and the labour of love, though not the opportunity I once had.” Then, picturing to myself an ideal of a short life all used, nothing wasted, all consecrated, nothing profaned, I seemed to see a boy giving his young heart to Christ. I saw the lad believing in Jesus while yet beneath his father’s roof, and under his mother’s care. No sooner saved himself than he began at once to serve God after a boy’s way, and still increasing in intelligence and energy as a stripling, and afterwards as a young man, from the first he devoted himself, with all the intensity of his being, to his Lord’s service. So diligent and persevering was he that he lost no time. So jealously did he watch his own heart, and so far was he from falling into sin, that there were no dreary intervals spent in wandering and backsliding, and retracing his steps in repenting of the evil, in getting lukewarm, and then rekindling former ardour. With my mind’s eye, I followed that young man living a holy life through a succession of years, getting up to the highest possible platform of spirituality, and keeping there, and all the while blessed with such abundance of the graces and gifts of the Spirit of God as should make him bring forth much fruit to the glory of the Father, do much for the honour of Jesus, prove a great blessing to the Church, bear a rich testimony to the world, and diffuse saving benefits to the souls of men.      

     This was my ideal of a vessel “meet for the Master’s use,” lingered lovingly upon it. The child became a man. His life was brief; it was soon over. Our days on earth are as a shadow; but happily, they may be radiant, and leave a trail of light behind them. Might not even God himself look down, with a measure of admiration, from his eternal dwelling-place on the career I have sketched? The slender threads of fleeting moments are worked up into the goodly fabric of a complete biography. Endowed with one talent, — TIME, — and that endowment sparse; the gift so prized as to be economized; so looked after that it is never squandered; so usefully employed that its judicious expenditure can never be vainly regretted: so profitably invested that the faithful steward welcomes the advent of his Lord, ready and anxious to give in his account. This is as I would wish to be. Some of you, who are unconverted, can never hope to receive the greeting that awaits such a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. You have lost your golden opportunity; you have wasted your substance in riotous living. But are there not children here to whom this is possible, and youths who might convert my day-dream into a narrative? Oh, for men and women with one ambition, and one enterprise, to glorify the Lord! Ardently do I desire that God should be glorified in me, and that not in a small measure. I have prayed, and I do pray him to make the most he can make of me, — to do it anyhow. What if, to this end, I must be cast into the furnace of affliction, and suffer for his sake? What if my honour should be trampled in the dust, and my name become a hissing and a by-word, and a reproach among the sons of men, while the witness of my integrity is on high? Here am I, 0 Lord, to do aught, to bear aught, that thou shaft bid! Only do get as much glory to thine own name as can be got out of such a poor creature as I am. Who will join me in this petition? Vows made in our own strength are vain; but I solemnly charge each Christian young man to foster this aspiration. In the name of him who has redeemed you with his blood, gird up the loins of your mind, and survey the course you have to run. Prepare for the good fight of faith, in which you are to engage. Live to the utmost possible consecration of your entire manhood in its triple nature, — spirit, soul, and body. Yield yourself up unreservedly to the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not stop to parley. “The time is short;” therefore, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest.”

     III. “The time is short.” THIS INSPIRES us.

     It ought to fire us with zeal for immediate action. The sun hastens on, the sands run down. “How is the accepted time.” Let those who love the Lord be prompt. The time to do the deeds that thou must do, or leave them undone, flies swiftly past. Say not, “I will do this by-and-by.” Ho it at once. Other duties await thee; brief is the space allotted thee for all. Are your children converted? Pray with them to-night. Let not to-morrow come without putting your arms about their necks, and kneeling down with them devoutly, and praying fervently that God would save their souls. It is the King’s business, and it demands haste. “The time is short” for others as well as for yourself. A clear brother told me, a week or two ago, that a man, who worked for him frequently, brought in goods when they were finished; and he thought that the next time the man came in, he would speak to him about his soul. When he came, however, business absorbed the employer’s attention, and the man passed away. He felt, he did not know exactly why, pricked in his conscience, and resolved that, on the next occasion, he would enquire as to his eternal interests; but he was too late. Instead of coming again, a messenger brought tidings that he was dead. Startled by the news, our brother could find no comfort in regrets, though he bewailed as one who could not forgive himself a hundred wasted opportunities in the presence of one keen self-reproach. Oh, that an inspiration would constrain you to serve the Lord now! Every time the clock ticks, it seems to say “now.” The time is so short that the matter is urgent. Do not wait, young man, to preach Jesus till you have had more instruction; begin at once. You, who mean to do something for the poor of London when you have hoarded up more money, spend your money now; do it at once. You, who mean to leave a large sum to charities when you die, defer it not; be your own executors. Lay out the capital at once; get some joy and comfort out of it yourselves. Now is the time to carry a good purpose into good effect. Before you were saved, the message to you was, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart.” After you are saved, the message to you is, “To-day, obey his voice, and serve the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.” “The time is short,” so make the most of it.

     “The time is short.” I want to ring this sentence louder and louder in your ear's, that it may inspire you to pray for immediate conversions. I have met with many who are hoping to get converted some day, but not now. Is not such procrastination perilous? Dare any of you run the risk of wilfully abiding in unbelief another hour? Can you brook the thought of remaining month after month in jeopardy of your soul? Is it safe to tempt the Lord, and provoke the anger of the Most High? O sirs, while you flatter yourselves with pleasing prospects, you are beguiling your hearts with a reckless presumption! We want you to be converted, and no time can be more suitable than this present time. Forsake your sin immediately. Do not turn back to dally with it a little longer. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and lay hold on the promise of eternal life, without any further delay. You may never see another morrow, or the desire that whets your appetite now may fail you then. This is our prayer, that you may, this very hour, be brought into the fold of Christ.

     Then seeing that “the time is short,” let us bear with patience the ills that vex us. Are we very poor? “The time is short.” Does the bitter cold pierce through our scanty garments? “The time is short.” Is consumption beginning to prey on our trembling frame? “The time is short.” Are we unkindly treated by our kinsfolk? Do our comades revile, and our neighbours mock us? “The time is short.” Have we to hear evil treatment from an ungenerous world? “The time is short.” Do cruel taunts try our tempers? “The time is short.” We are travelling at express speed, and shall soon be beyond the reach of all the incidents and accidents that disturb and distract us. As we travel home to our Father’s house, the distance diminishes, and we begin to sight the city of the blessed, “the home over there.” It is needless to murmur or repine; why trouble yourselves about what you will do a month or two hence? You may not be here; you may be in heaven. Your eyes will have beheld “the King in his beauty,” you will have seen “the land that is very far off.”

“The way may be rough, but it cannot be long;
So smooth it with hope, and cheer it with song.”

      Worldly-mindedness ill becomes us who have confessed that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” “The time is short” in which we can hold any possessions in this terrestrial sphere. Then, let us not love anything here below too fondly. We brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. Survey your broad acres, but remember that you will not long be able to walk across them. Look on your plenteous crops, but ere long another shall reap the profit of those fields. Count your gold and silver, but know that wealth, greedily as it is sought, will not give you present immunity from sickness and sorrow, neither will it secure your welfare when called to quit your frail tenement. Trust in the living God. Love the Lord, and let eternal things absorb your thoughts and engage your affections. “The time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”

     Are these gloomy reflections? Nay, dear brethren, the fact that “the time is short” should inspire us, who are of the household of faith, with the most joyous expectations. Do you really believe in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Do you really believe that your head is to wear a crown of life that fadeth not away? Do you really believe that these feet of yours, all shod with silver sandals, will stand upon that street of pure gold? Do you really believe that these hands shall pluck celestial fruits from trees whose leaves can never wither, and that you shall lie down in the spice-beds in the gardens of the blessed? Do you believe that these eyes shall see the King in that day when he comes in his glory, and that these bones shall rise again from the grave, and your bodies shall be endowed with an incorruptible existence? “Yes,” say you, “we do believe it, and believe it intensely, too. Well, then, I would that ye realized it as so very near that you were expectant of its fulfilment. Who would cry and fret about the passing troubles of a day when he saw the heavens open, beheld the beckoning hand, and heard the voice that called him hence? Oh, that the glory might come streaming into your soul till you forget the darkness of the way! Oh, that the breeze from these goodly mountains would fan you! Oh, that the spray from that mighty ocean would refresh you! Oh, that the music of those bells of heaven in yonder turrets would enliven you! Then would ye speed your way towards the rest that remaineth for the people of God, inspired with sacred ardour and dauntless courage. But the ungodly are not so. It is to them I must address the last word, “The time is short.”

     IV. THIS ALARMS US; and well it may, on their account. Let me toll a knell. It is a dismal knell I have to toll for the unconverted man, to whom life has been a joy, for he has prospered in the world. You have succeeded in the enterprise on which you set your heart. You have bought the estate that you longed to secure. It is a fine place certainly; but you have only got it for two or three years! Would I have taken it for that term? No, I would not have taken it on a nine hundred and ninety-nine years’ lease. Freeholds for me! Did I say two or three years? Nay, there is not a man, beneath the sun, who can guarantee that you will hold it for three weeks. “The time is short.” Drive down the broad avenue; walk round the park; look into the old feudal mansion; but “the time is short,” very short, and your tenure very limited. You have gained your object, you are possessed of real property; what next? Why make your will. The thing is urgent. “The time is short.” But what have you not done? You have not believed in Christ: you have not embraced the gospel; you have not found salvation, you have not laid hold on eternal life; you have not a hope to solace you when your strength fails, and you pant for breath. How few the opportunities that remain! Some of you have attended my ministry all the while I have been in London; I wonder how much longer you will hear me. and yet remain unsaved. Your turn to die will come at length. You ail a little, your trifling indisposition does not yield to treatment; the symptoms grow serious, the disease is dangerous, your death is imminent. Pain unnerves you; terror distracts you. Your family and your friends look at you with helpless pity. The doctor has just left you in dismay. Send for the priest, or fetch the parson; but what can they do for you unless you believe in Jesus? ’Tis over, the last struggle! Then picture yourself to yourself, — a lost spirit, asking for a drop of water to cool your tongue! That will be your portion, sinner, unless you repent. Bethink you. sirs, there is but a step between you and death, a short step between you and hell, unless you believe in Jesus. Do you still imagine that there is time enough and to spare? I beseech you. do not cherish so vain a thought. It may be that you suspect me of exaggerating; that I cannot do in such a case as this. Time is rushing on, swiftly but silently. While I speak, the minutes pass, the hour is soon gone, the day is almost spent. I charge you, then, by the ever-blessed Spirit, listen now to the warning; escape from sin; get out of that broad road which leads to destruction: believe in Jesus; lay hold on eternal life. May the Spirit of God arouse you! May these words be blessed to you! They should be put more forcibly if I knew how. With all the fervour of my soul, I entreat you, for I know your everlasting interests are in imminent jeopardy. God grant that you may not linger longer, lest haply you linger too long, and perish in your lingering! “The time is short.”

     In a little while, there will be a great concourse of people in the streets. Methinks I hear someone enquiring, “What are all these people waiting for?” “Do you not know? He is to be buried to-day.” “And who is that?” “It is Spurgeon.” “What! the man that preached at the Tabernacle?” “Yes; he is to be buried to-day.” That will happen very soon; and when you see my coffin carried to the silent grave, I should like every one of you, whether converted or not, to be constrained to say, “He did earnestly urge us, in plain and simple language, not to put off the consideration of eternal things Pie did entreat us to look to Christ. Now he is gone, our blood is not at his door if we perish.” God grant that you may not have to bear the bitter reproach of your own conscience! But, as I feel that “the time is short,” I will stir you up so long as I am in this Tabernacle; and I do pray the Lord to bless the word every time I preach it from this platform. Oh, that some souls may be saved, that Jesus Christ may be glorified, Satan defeated, and heaven filled with saved ones!

“’Tis not for man to trifle!
Life is brief; And sin is here.
Our age is but the falling of a leaf,
A dropping tear. We have no time to sport away the hours;
All must be earnest in a world like ours.

“Not many lives, but only one, have we, —
Frail, fleeting man:
How sacred narrow should that one life ever be, —
That narrow span!
Day after day filled up with blessed toil,
Hour after hour still bringing in new spoil.”



The Lions’ Den

By / Nov 26

The Lions’ Den

 

“O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?” — Daniel vi. 20.

 

*“This date is when the sermon was published; there is no date of when it was delivered.”

 

THE empire of Babylonia and Chaldea passed into the hands of a new dynasty, and king Belshazzar was slain in a night-assault upon his capital. On that very night, he had clothed Daniel in scarlet, and made him the third ruler in the kingdom. This was providential; for, had Daniel been in obscurity, he would have been little likely to attract the notice of Darius; but, observing him in the palace, clothed in scarlet, Darius would naturally ask who he was, and enquire into his antecedents. The fame of his wisdom would be quickly told, and the fact of his having twice interpreted the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, in former times, and of his having just then, with startling precision, foretold the downfall of Belshazzar, and the capture of the city by the Medes and Persians, would be eagerly related. Hence it was not at all surprising that Darius took great notice of Daniel, weighed his character, observed his conduct, and, after a while, exalted him to be prime minister of his realm.

     Daniel’s prosperity and honours excited the envy of the courtiers. Full of sullen spite, and brimming over with jealousy, presidents and princes conspired together to cast him down with calumnious accusations. We are wont to say that “any stick will do to beat a dog;” so they looked about for any charge with which they might assail him. I have no doubt they watched him constantly, waited eagerly for his halting, all the while basely flattering the man they wanted to trip up. Can they discover a flaw in his accounts? Can they question the impartiality of his judgment? Can they detect a lack of loyalty in the administration of his government? Can they find fault with his private life? Nay; but is there nothing against him? Is Daniel such a four-square man that he is more than a match for them? I can well believe that they hunted him here and there till their haughty faces grew haggard in the vain effort to find a cause of complaint; and that they set spies to skulk about his house, and mark his movements; and, in fact, they stooped to the meanest stratagems, little heeding how much they compromised themselves if they might but compass his downfall. But his integrity was proof against all their devices. The more closely they observed him, the more clearly they discerned that he was always diligent, discreet, and devout. So conscientious and so uniformly consistent was Daniel, both in his character and his conduct, that every effort to entangle him in the meshes of their conspiracy proved to be vain.

     At length the devil, who does not often run short of devices, puts them up to a fresh plot. O Satan, thou art full of all subtlety! “Let us contrive a new law,” say they, “that shall bring his piety and his patriotism into conflict. He is a Hebrew by birth, and he believes, with all his heart, in only one God. Our divinities he despises; towards our temples he shows a silent scorn; he sets no value on the magnificent statues that we venerate; three times in the day he has been accustomed to offer prayer to an invisible Protector whom he calls ‘the living God, Jehovah’; surely these peculiarities will supply us with a pretext, and so we shall entrap him.” So they laid their evil heads together, and devised as cunning a snare as they could possibly invent; and yet, clever as they were, they perished in the trap they had prepared. They managed to involve the king himself in their iniquitous device, and to entangle him in such a way that he must either sacrifice his favourite courtier, or compromise his own truthfulness, and violate the sacred traditions of the empire. A royal statute was framed, and a decree published, forbidding any petition to be asked of God or man for thirty days. How preposterous!

     But when was there ever a despot who was not, sooner or later, deserted of his wits? The passion for power, when indulged without restraint, will lead a man to the utmost foolishness, and urge him to a madness of vanity. In such a false position stood the monarch, who was easily persuaded to issue the infamous edict desired. In this strait, how will Daniel acquit himself? Will he count it prudent to desert his post, and get out of the way? Nay; Daniel had a soul above such policy. Yet you might imagine that, if he must pray, he would go down into the cellar, or offer his supplications to God in some retired place where he need not challenge notice. His petitions will be heard in heaven without respect to the place from which they are presented. Or it might have been expedient to suspend the vocal utterance of prayer, and offer his supplications silently. Daniel, however, was a servant of the living God, and therefore he scorned thus to temporize, and play the coward. Well does one of the old writers call him Cœur de Lion, for he had the heart of a lion. Into that den of lions he went, a lion-like man, — not cruel, like the beasts of the forest, but far more courageous. His conscience towards God was clean, and the course he pursued before his fellow-creatures was clear. His sense of truth would not suffer him to be a trimmer. He does not change his habit; but goes upstairs, though he might have known that it was like climbing the gallows; he drops upon his knees, puts his hands together, with his windows open toward Jerusalem in the presence of ail his adversaries, and there he prays three times a day as he had done aforetime. He prays openly, not ostentatiously; in the spirit of a Protestant rather than in the fashion of a Pharisee. He sought no honour, but he shunned no danger. To encounter shame, or to endure reproach, if needful, for the cause of righteousness, had long been his fixed habit, and now that it threatens to bring on him swift death, he swerves not.

     Hear those quick feet as they patter along the streets of Shushan. All the presidents and princes are coming together; there is mischief brewing, for they are going to seek an interview with the king. They are anxious to inform his majesty that they have caught Daniel committing the horrible crime of prayer! Was not this a new offence? Oh, no! The first man that ever died fell a victim to his religion; and so, I suppose, for many and many a century, this was one of the foulest offences a man could commit against society. Those who serve the living and the true God are sure to challenge the sneers of the time-servers in any age. There are many, nowadays, who hate nothing so much as a religious man. All the epithets in the catalogue of scandal are too good for the man who offers homage to God in everything. An infidel may be reputed honest, intelligent, and worthy of respect; but a genuine Christian is at once denounced as a hypocrite. Away with such a fellow; his conscience is as offensive as his creed! There is toleration for everybody who conforms to the fashion of the day; but no toleration for anyone who believes that the laws of heaven should regulate life on earth.

     So they told the king that the laws of his empire must be kept inviolate; good, loyal souls as they were, they would not have a statute broken for the world! There is an end to your monarchy if your royal proclamations are not to be respected! They are so jealous for the common weal, and so earnest for the king’s honour, that they must, at all hazards, even if it be at the risk of seeing their dear friend Daniel put into the lions’ den, maintain the dignity of the king, and assert the majesty of his imperial edict The king perceives that he is caught, but thinks the matter over, and, finding no alternative, gives Daniel up to the conspirators. Alas! I see the godly man flung in among the lions; but what do I hear? Do I hear his bones cracking? Can I hear a shriek from the prophet? Is there a noise of the howling of those savage beasts of prey? There is an awful hush while the king puts bis seal upon the stone; shall we step down, and peer into the den, to see what is going on there? No sooner had Daniel arrived at his destination than an angel of God encamped in that dungeon. Stretching his broad wings, he seems to have fixed his station in front of those fierce beasts. The safety of Daniel was secured. The mouths of the liens were shut, and they lay down like lambs. Perhaps Daniel found a comfortable pillow for his night’s rest upon the shaggy body of one of those monsters that would have devoured him had not the heavenly visitant hushed them into silence by his presence; or perhaps the appearance of the angel was as a flame of fire, and wrought an illusion before the lions’ eyes, so that Daniel seemed to them to be surrounded with flame, or robed with fire. At any rate, that night, the prophecy of the latter days, that the lamb shall lie down with the lion, was fulfilled to the letter. God, in his providence and grace, preserved his servant. We can easily imagine that, like Paul and Silas, when he did not sleep, he made the lions’ den vocal with his songs, and that the lions growled the bass while God’s angel stood there listening to such music as he had never heard before, till the morning dawned, and then he sped his way up to heaven as the king came to fetch Daniel out of his prisonhouse. So Daniel was delivered, and his foes were confounded. There is the story; now, what lessons are we to learn from it?

     I. First, I want to set before you DANIEL’S EARLY AND ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO THE SERVICE OF GOD.

     The king said, “Thy God, whom thou servest continually,” This was no empty compliment. His scrupulous uprightness had become so habitual that it was like an instinct of his nature. Daniel began to serve God in his youth. There are no saints to be compared with those whose childish minds were imbued with heavenly truths as soon as their infant lips began to lisp them; just as there are no sinners so inured to wickedness as those who are bred and trained in haunts of vice, tutored from their cradle to utter profane words, and prone to act, as they think bravely, in defiance of every precept of the Decalogue, till they become proficients in every kind of profligacy. They, who give their morning to God, shall find that, in beginning early, they can keep pace with their work all the day. Happy Daniel, thus continually to serve his God from his youth up! Yet it was not the good fortune of his birth that gilded his name with glory. Far from that; it was his sad hap to be carried away captive from his native land while but a stripling. Alienated from the home of his ancestors, he was taken to the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, and there, with three other youths, he was entered as a bursar in a heathen school, to be instructed in the strange literature of a strange nation, and so to become one of the king’s learned men. His fealty to the faith of his forefathers was at once put to the proof. Certain food, that was repugnant to his conscience, was served up every day. Probably it had been offered in sacrifice to a false god. Daniel feels that he would be polluted by partaking of it. He, therefore, with his companions, refuses either to eat the king’s meat or to drink the king’s wine. As a total abstainer, he drank nothing but water; and as a vegetarian, he ate nothing but simple pulse. With no desire to please his palate, it was his delight to serve his God continually. Another man might have thought it mattered little what he ate and drank; but, for Daniel, the jots and tittles of divine revelation had a meaning. He dared not go contrary to the law of his God, even with regard to meats and drinks. Though far from the land that Jehovah cared for, he longed to live in the light of God’s countenance. Strict obedience to God has a swift reward. His face soon became fairer than the faces of those who fed on the royal diet.

     At length, the time arrives when Daniel is to be brought from private tuition into public notice. Nebuchadnezzar has been distressed by a dream, which his astrologers cannot comprehend, and his soothsayers try in vain to search out. To Daniel alone, who served his God continually, the secret is revealed. Of that vision I do not now attempt to speak; but with what, nobility of heart does Daniel stand before the king! He does not tremble before the earthly potentate; nor does he conceal the name of the God in heaven who inspires him with wisdom. He recalls the forgotten dream, and forthwith he is made a great man in the realm; yet still he goes on to serve his God continually. Obscurity could not hinder him, publicity could not mislead him. Again the king dreams; again Daniel boldly explains, though that explanation is to the effect that the haughty monarch shall be driven as a lunatic from the abodes of men.

     For a while, Daniel retires into the shade. You hear nothing of him till Belshazzar ascends the throne, but he is still serving his God; I doubt not, sometimes ministering to his poorer brethren, and visiting the sick; but often in his chamber, by prayer, and by study of the Scriptures, seeking and finding communion with the Most High. On a sudden, Belshazzar summons him to his presence. There is a mysterious writing on the wall, which can be read by no eye, and interpreted by no lip, but his. He is not disconcerted; but, at the call of royalty, to court he comes. Oh, with what simple dignity, with what sublime composure, with what heroic courage, does the man of God tell the proud monarch, who might cut him in pieces if he willed, of his immediate doom: “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting”! If you want to find a counterpart of John Knox in the Bible, I do not know, leaving out Elijah, where you will find a rival to Daniel. How confidently he speaks, “This is the writing”! And again, “This is the interpretation.” His word commends itself to the conscience; no man dares to gainsay it. He is promoted to the highest honour in the realm; now what will he do? There has been a change of monarchs, but there is no change in Daniel. No time-server, he stands to his principles at all times. “Servant of the living God,” is still his title. He had taken for his motto, when he began life, “I serve God,” and he retains the motto to his life’s close. The glory of his God was his one object throughout all his days; he never swerved. He is now lifted to a higher post of dignity than he had ever been raised to before. He is prime minister of the greatest monarch of the age; yet he abhors the idolatry of the heathen, and maintains his allegiance to him who ruleth in the heavens. They can find no flaw in him, though the eyes of envy watch him from early morn to dewy eve. O my brethren, it is a hard thing to serve God in high places! Many a man did seem to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour when humbly earning his livelihood by the toil of his hands, and eating his bread in the sweat of his face; but, afterwards, when advanced to ease and opulence, he turned his back upon his friends, and forsook the Lord. Be very jealous of yourselves if you are rising in the world. Riches are deceitful. It is not easy to walk on a high rope; what lamentable accidents have befallen those who have thus risked their lives! Let us be the more circumspect when we are called to walk in high places. Popularity and fame, riches and honour, are among the sharpest trials of integrity that mortal man can pass through. Daniel could endure them all without his head growing giddy, for he served his God continually.

     Now note the effect of what Daniel did. It is comparatively easy to follow the Lord in bright days; but the sun of prosperity suddenly darkens, and the man of God is encompassed with perils. If he continues in his holy course, he will forfeit the king’s favour, and lose his life in the most dreadful manner. What will Daniel’s determination be? Oh, the true grit is in him! He is a blade of the true Jerusalem manufacture, and is not to be broken. He will do just as he did before. He opens his window, and in the same posture, down on his knees, he prays, as he did aforetime. Glory be unto the God of Daniel, who made and who kept such a man with his head clear in the crisis, with his heart, pure in the midst of persecution, and his feet steadfast to the end!

     Ah! dear friends, some of us little know what these pinches mean There are a few of you who do; you have endured torture without accepting deliverance. I have felt a holy pride in some of you when I have seen how you have borne trial. Witness the man who has a shop, which brings him in more profit on a Sunday than it does all the rest of the days of the week; and who says, “It must be one thing or the other; I cannot go to the Tabernacle, and keep my shop open, too; which shall it be?” His faith proves stronger than his fear. The shutters are closed on the first day of the week. His business goes; he loses everything; and yet he does not regret it, he parts with ill-gotten gain without a grudge, and goes back to hard manual labour with a moral satisfaction and a manifest ease of conscience that he never knew before. Dear souls, your pastor is proud of you. I feel that I can thank God, and take courage, since the gospel of Christ educates and brings up such simple, honest servants of the living God; and when I have heard of young men serving in a shop, who, when asked to do something positively dishonest, have at first mildly answered that they could not, and when told that they must either comply or retire, have boldly said, “Then we will leave,” I have felt how highly honoured I am of God to have such men in our ranks. My eminent predecessor, Dr. Gill, was told by a certain member of his congregation, who ought to have known better, that, if he published his book, “The Cause of God and Truth,” he would lose some of his best friends, and that his income would fall off; and the Doctor said, “I can afford to be poor, but I cannot afford to injure my conscience.” The devil and the deceit of your own heart will readily suggest that you must look after your family; and some good Christian people mistake prudence for piety. I daresay, had Daniel gone to consult Mr. Prudent Thrifty, and asked his advice, he would have said. “Well, you see, it is a very important thing for us to have you at the head of affairs; I do not think you ought to throw away such an opportunity as you have of doing good. It is not absolutely necessary for you to pray for thirty days! Would it not be better for you to trim a little, and yield a point or two? You do distinguished service to our cause; and, by keeping your position, you will be putting your foes to a non-plus. By compromise you will obtain concessions. Worldly wisdom is worth your study.” This is the way that fools are beguiled, and in this way many Christians, alas! drift from their moorings. To plead the present distress is, for the most part, a mere pretence. “Let us do evil that good may come,” never was in the code of Old Testament or New Testament truth.

     I remember a notable instance, some years ago, of this fallacious reasoning. A reflection was cast on the career of a distinguished clergyman, who resigned his connection with the Established Church, and, after much consideration, allied himself with the Baptists. “Did he gain credit,” it was asked, “or increase his congregation by the change?” What of that? The answer is easy. Let conscience assert its supremacy; for circumstances do not weigh a feather in the scale. Long departed from among us, we may still speak of him as the Hon. and Rev. Baptist Noel; and he was right and righteous in his decision, as one who feared the Lord in the face of any loss. If, by stopping where he thought he ought not to stop, or by conforming to what he believed to be a corrupt corporation, he could have saved multitudes of souls, the good done to others would not have extenuated the guilt incurred by himself. You and I have nothing at all to do with consequences. Be it ours to hearken to the voice of the Lord, and obey his high behests. When God prompts our conscience to a course of action, the slightest demur will recoil with a sense of guilt intolerable. Though the heavens should fall through our doing right, we are not to sin in order to keep them up. At the call of duty, never parley with danger. Should everything seem to go amiss with us after we have done the right thing, there is no cause for regret. Remember that our conduct is the maker of our character. Ye men of faith, hoist your colours! Leave to your God the providing; stick ye to the obeying. Learn your duty, and do it bravely. “Through floods and flames,” if Jesus leads, follow on, never dubious that your welfare is assured.

     Here, dear friends, I would remark that the only service to God which is real, genuine, remunerative, is this continual service that sticks at nothing. Any hungry dog will follow you in the streets if you do but entice him with a piece of meat, or a bit of biscuit. How closely he keeps to your heels! But, after a while, the bait is gone, and the dog retreats. That is like many a professor. There is some little pleasure in religion, or some advantage, and so he follows Christ; but, after a while, there is an attraction elsewhere; and, impelled by greed rather than gratitude, he pursues it. Thus do false professors forsake Christ, whom they never did really follow. But I have seen a man on horseback, splashing the mud about; and I have seen his dog keeping close at the horse’s heels, — up hill and down dale, — whether the roads were smooth or rough, what mattered it to the faithful hound? His master was before him, so on he went. That is the only kind of dog I would care to own; and I believe this is the only sort of follower that our Lord Jesus Christ is willing to acknowledge. Oh, those time-servers, who look one way and pull the other, like the wherry-men upon the stream! As for Lord Fair-Speech, Lord Time-Server, Mr. Smooth-Man, Mr. Anything, Mr. Facing-both-Ways, Mr. Two-Tongues, and all the members of their club, Mr. By-Ends included, the entire company of them will be swept away when the Judge comes with the besom of destruction.

     I know you feel the force of this truth. How you loathe a friend who will not stick to you in dark times! Do you remember that companion of yours who used to call in of an evening, and sit and chat with you? What a dear fellow he seemed! You always thought he was a sincere friend; you liked him much, and you confided in his judgment as you often took counsel together. And all went well till, one day, when the dark clouds began to gather over your head. It made a serious change in your circumstances. What was it? A severe loss in business, or perhaps a bankruptcy; now you cannot keep such a well-spread table, or wear so good a hat as you used to do; there is not so much nap on your Sunday coat; you look rather less thriving than in days of yore. What has become of your friend? Ah! never mind, let him stop where he is, for you have not suffered much loss by getting rid of him. He was never worth knowing before, but you have found out his worthlessness now; and I advise you to have nothing more to do with him, Do you not despise the character of such a man? Do you not feel in your heart, “Well, I can forgive him, but I will have nothing more to do with such a fellow”?

     This is but a picture of yourselves if you try to follow Jesus Christ only when you are in the society of his people, and as easily lend yourselves to sing a frivolous or lewd song when you are with the ungodly. What is that man’s profession worth who lets his tongue run loose with flippant speech and vain conversation when he gets into the company of such friends as are known to be sons of Belial? Oh, that we had more Daniels who would serve the Lord continually! The only way to build up a character which will be proof against the temptations of the age, and of your own immediate surroundings, is to commit your cause to God, as Daniel did. Be much in prayer. Prayer keeps the Christian steadfast. You may make a loud profession, but it will not last without prayer. Amidst work and worry, heavy responsibilities and incessant anxiety, you had need often renew the confession of sin and weakness on your bended knees. Then, again, you must have a lively faith in the living and true God, as the prophet had; for this only can sustain you in such a warfare. Is your faith genuine, of the right metal? Spurious faith soon loses its edge. The Christian is in hard straits if he finds that, when most he needs courage and comfort, all his strength and joy have departed. Prove your faith in the petty skirmishes of the passing hour, if you would have it endure the perilous conflicts of an evil day. Have you a religion that did not begin with rigorous self-denial? Then, get rid of it. If you have a religion that suits your constitutional fondness for ceremonies, your esthetic taste for culture, your habitual passion for music, beware of it. The root of all real religion is simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Away with every counterfeit. That faith which lives on Jesus only, rests on Jesus solely, builds on Jesus wholly, and shows itself in earnest prayer, will give you a consistency and decision of character that will make you like Daniel all your days.

     II. Now, secondly, WHO WAS THIS GOD WHOM DANIEL SERVED CONTINUALLY?

     Let me ask, — Is Daniel’s God worthy of our worship? I ask the question in all earnestness, because I feel positive that multitudes of men have a religion that, in their own judgment, is hardly worth debating about, far less worth dying for. It must have been a sorry spectacle to watch a Papist going to the stake or the scaffold — as many have gone, — for the maintenance of a fiction or a falsehood. I should be surprised to see an Agnostic lay down his life for the defence of nothing. But what shall we say of the living and true God, whom Daniel delighted to honour? Is he worth living for, worth serving, worth dying for? Doubtless, the prophet’s devotion grew stronger with the proof he made of the Lord’s goodness and greatness. With childlike faith he clung, at first, to simple precepts that he would not transgress. The revelations he afterwards received seem like rewards for his unfaltering integrity. In his direst emergencies, God manifestly delivered him. He had no other longing for life than communion with the Lord of all the earth. From the Christian point of view, he was a “man greatly beloved”; to the outside heathen, he was “a servant of the living God.” But let us repeat the question, that we may have the pleasure of answering it for ourselves. Is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ worthy of our love and our life? Words are wanting to tell the gratitude and joy that we cherish towards God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us even when we were dead in sins.

     By faith, I understand that the blessed Son of God redeemed my soul with his own heart’s blood; and, by sweet experience, I know that he raised me up from the pit of dark despair, and set my feet on the rock. He died for me; this is the root of every satisfaction I have. He put all my transgressions away. He cleansed me with his precious blood; he covered me with his perfect righteousness; he wrapped me up in his own virtues He has promised to keep me, while I abide in this world, from its temptations and snares; and when I depart this life, he has already prepared for me a mansion in the heaven of unfading bliss, and a crown of everlasting joy that shall never fade away. To me, then, the days or years of my mortal sojourn on this earth are of little moment, nor is the manner of my decease of much consequence. What more can I wish than that, while my brief term on earth shall last, I should be the servant of him who became the Servant of servants for me? You, dear friends, must be the best judges of your own religion, whether or not it is worth suffering for. If it is not full of immortality, I would not advise you to risk your reputation on retaining it. If it is only a fair profession, you may well blush for it as a foul delusion. The fleeting fashion of the time has its market value; but sterling truth is a commodity that never fluctuates. Have you found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth? Your religion is genuine if Christ himself be the- All-in-all of it. Is he your own dear Saviour? Then you have pardon and peace, happiness in this present time, and heaven in prospect; happier lot no heart can wish for.

     Then there comes another question, — Is Daniels God able to deliver us from the lions? My dear friends, — you who are suffering just now for the cross of Christ, you who know what it is to be losers for Jesus, to stand out and to endure pains and penalties as Daniel did, — you are well aware that the lions are fierce and furious creatures. They are not stuffed animals, having the name without the nature of those beasts of prey. So, the sufferings of a Christian are not sentimental, they are real. Those lions had not their teeth knocked out; they were not transformed into lambs; they could have devoured Daniel if they had been permitted to do so. It would be foolish to talk of your troubles as trifles; but for the grace of God, they might have been enough to drive you back into the world, and to reduce you to despair. Full often, your steps have well-nigh slipped. The lions have sharp teeth, and they would have devoured you, only divine grace has found a means of delivering you out of their mouths. I ask the man, who has given up a profitable appointment because he would not be false to his convictions, whether, on shorter commons, he has not found the sweeter luxury of contentment? I ask him whether he has not enjoyed, on a harder pillow, more refreshing sleep? I appeal to you, one and all, if a sense of rectitude has not invariably a soothing effect and a gentle stimulus? I know, brethren, that those of you, who have passed through such trials, will bear me witness that there is a sustaining influence vouchsafed to you while you are cast, as it were, into the lions’ den. Some of you are enduring the ordeal now; but others, who have got farther on, have been rescued from dire peril. In most cases that have come under my notice, when anyone has ventured loss for Christ, he has presently reaped some substantial advantage, and his loss has. in the end, proved to be his gain. Many a man has, in this manner, proved God’s providence. For an honest scruple, he has been put out of a position that supplied him with a scant livelihood. Contentment, with a bare pittance, was his only outlook. Loosed from his moorings, he feared lest he should be lost; yet he afterwards traced his enlarged prosperity to that very date. God, who is rich in mercy, has soon found for that man a far better position than he could have held had it not been for his forfeiting the other. And even if thy deliverance be not thus speedy and Sudden, if, like David, thou shouldst say, “My soul is among lions: I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword; ” yet shalt thou sing, like David, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.” But should we even dwell among lions till we die, what joy shall it be to leave the lions, and be linked with saints and holy angels in the beatific hereafter! The higher reward is bestowed on the higher service, and brighter crowns encircle their brows who have suffered most bitterly and most bravely. You and I have but few and slender opportunities, in this soft and silken age, of showing our love to our Lord by the surrender of liberty and life for his sake. There are no stocks or racks, no stakes or gibbets, for martyrs now. These are smooth and slippery times; yet, if we be so inclined, we can work with a will, with the self-denial and self-sacrifice of missionaries. For the love of Jesus, we can dare to die under a cloud with no hope of being canonized. Faith and patience are martial virtues, which it may be quite within our province to illustrate in humble rather than heroic fashion.

     You may wonder why I keep on in this strain. I am aiming at instances which are much more common than some of you may imagine. There are many worshippers, gathered within these walls, whose constant attendance at what is sneeringly called “a conventicle”, exposes them to no reproach, and, in some instances, would rather win them a measure of esteem. Others, to my knowledge, there are who can never enjoy the privileges of the Lord’s people without encountering grievous provocations and bitter malice.

     In a congregation of this magnitude, the confidential words spoken to the pastor by the solitary ones would often startle those who sit in their family pews. Confession of Christ frequently causes division in a household. Husband and wife are, for his sake, in hostility. Mother and daughter cannot agree. Taunt and jibe are ill to bear with equanimity. Mayhap it touches men in their trade; and it goes hard with the bread-winner when faithfulness takes away his bread and cheese. My sympathy, however sincere, is of small account; would to God I could inspire you with more fortitude! Let me challenge you to quit yourselves like men. Let me exhort you to play the Daniel. Say now, is thy God, the living God. able to deliver thee out of the den of lions? I hope you will be able cheerfully to respond, “I believe he can, I believe he will; and if not, though I abide in the den till I die, I will rest quietly there with the angel of his presence as my guardian; for I know he will bring me, when I have suffered a while, to glory everlasting.”  

     Is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?” Let me put this question in one or two lights, and thus draw our reflections to a close. Leaning over, like that Persian king, I look down into a greater den of lions than he ever descried. It is dark; the stench is foul, and ’midst the dim shadows I discern struggling forms and figures; tormentors, whose faces are hidden, stretching women upon racks, and torturing men with switch and knout; and, yonder, a spot where, on hundreds of stakes, martyrs have burned quick to the death. In the far distance, a wild horse, and a human victim tied to his heels to be dragged to death. Strange and horrible spectacle that, out yonder! — a long procession of men who were scourged, who were stoned, who were beheaded, who were sawn asunder; saintly men were they, of whom the world was not worthy. Leaning over the mouth of this great lions’ den, I ask the persecuted saints of all ages, — Has your God been able to deliver you? And with a cheerful shout, loud as the voice of thunder, they cry, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

     I look down upon another lions’ den. It is still dark, but not so dreary. Night reigns in sacred shade and solitude. The stars are hid; but tapers burn in chambers dimly lit. There, sons and daughters of sorrow are tossed on beds of sickness. Thus they have lain for months, perhaps for years, all hope of health extinguished, all prospect of pleasure passed; their limbs paralyzed, their sight failing, their hearing dull; calamities of every kind have befallen them. God has permitted the great lions of affliction to come howling round, and to tear away all their comforts and their joys, till they are left without any of that cheerful fellowship with nature which seasons mortal life with sweetest relish. Some of you are robust in health; your head never throbs, your heart never aches, you are hardly conscious that you have any nerves. Small account do you take of the secret, silent, saintly heroism of sufferers, whose pilgrimage on earth is blighted with pain,. Oft have I been their companion in tribulation. I appeal to these tried and afflicted children of God. Tell me, ye Daniels, has your God been able to deliver you out of the mouths of the lions? And I hear each one say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” and all in chorus join, saying, “Not one good thing hath failed of all that the Lord our God hath promised; our shoes have been iron and brass, and as our days so has our strength been.”

     Shall I strain my parable too far if I turn my eye upon another lions’ den? It lies in a deep valley. The night hangs heavy. The beasts of prey are diseases that skill and shrewdness, time and talent, have striven in vain to tame. Like lions, strangely dissimilar in outward fashion, but strongly resembling them in instinct, they pounce on their victims, and seal their doom. We call this place “the valley of the shadow of death.” Methinks I am gazing now on the forms of shivering men and women as they are dragged down by the lions. One after another, my familiar friends descend into the grave; and I ask them, in the hour of their departure, “Is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?” Calm is their countenance, and clear their voice, as each one chants his solo, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” So, at length, this lions’ den loses all its terror.

     Then I look into another den; it is almost empty. There is a lion in it, — a grim old lion, but I do not see so much as a bone to tell the tale of its victims. No trace of its ravages is left behind. On this soil there once were countless thousands of the slain; it is empty now. Of a sudden, I look upwards, and, lo! I see myriads of immortal souls, and they all tell me, “Our God delivered us from the grave, and rifled the tomb of its prey. By a glorious resurrection, he has brought all his ransomed people forth to meet their Lord at the great day of his appearing. There shall they stand before the throne of God, for he hath broken the teeth of the lion, and rescued all his children from the power of the adversary.”



Observing the King’s Word

By / Oct 15

Observing the King’s Word

 

“Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it.” — 1 Kings xx. 33.

 

You know the circumstances to which these words refer. The boastful Syrian king had been utterly defeated, and his army destroyed. He himself had fled into an inner chamber in desperate fear of his life; but being informed that the kings of Israel were merciful, he sent certain of his attendants, with sackcloth on their loins, and ropes about their necks, in humblest fashion to beg that he might be spared. When they came in before Ahab, and began to plead with him for Ben-hadad, they watched every word that the king uttered: “The men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him,” and the moment he said, “He is my brother,” they caught at the expression directly. They were in such anxiety about their king that even half a word, that indicated tenderness and mercy, brought joy to their hearts.

     I think that this narrative contains a great deal of instruction for those who desire to be reconciled to God. If, dear friend, you are conscious of your guilt, and are afraid of being destroyed on account of it, the wisest thing that you can do is to come before the Lord in the attitude of submission. These men put sackcloth upon their loins, and ropes upon their necks, to show that they deserved to die; and you must, spiritually, do the same. Go to God, and humbly confess your transgressions; own that you are absolutely in his hands, and that, if he destroys you, he will be just, — if he calls you to account for all your iniquities, and even casts you into hell, you cannot impugn the justice of his decision. Yet, while you do that, imitate these messengers of Ben-hadad when they came to Ahab: “The men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it.”

     I. My first observation, in turning this incident to a spiritual use, is that IT IS A PITY THAT AWAKENED SINNERS DO NOT COPY THE EXAMPLE OF THESE MEN.

     For, first, there is far too little of diligent observance of what God says in his Word. Dear friend, if you want to have the pardon of your sin, and deliverance from its consequences, it is God alone who can do this for you. Therefore, you ought to endeavour to know all that is to be known about God in order that, if there be anything encouraging and hopeful to one in your circumstances, you may know it. Hence, every anxious enquirer ought to be a diligent searcher of his Bible. If I did not know the way of salvation, I would read that blessed Book from morning till night; and if I had read it through, and yet had not found a verse that spoke peace to my soul, I would resolve to read each chapter, over and over again, with this constant prayer to God, “Lord, show me something that will meet my case, — some kind assuring word from thine own inspired Book that may remove my fears, and give me peace.” How can some of you, who say that you are seeking the Lord, be at all surprised if you do not find him, as you are neglecting the diligent searching of his Word? I pray you to read it through and through, again and again, and try if you cannot find a sentence, somewhere or other, that will breathe comfort to your troubled heart. For remember that all your hope lies there; within the covers of this Book is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God;” therefore, be you well acquainted with it, and diligently observe if anything has come from the lips of the Lord which may bring deliverance to you.

     The same thing ought to be done when you are hearing the gospel preached; for God has been pleased, in order that his truth may be brought home to your hearts, to choose certain of his servants to speak his Word; and, so far as they speak in accordance with his mind and will, they speak for God to you. It is a blessed thing when we have hearers who diligently observe whether there is anything in the sermon that will meet their case, and remove their distress. I know some congregations where they are diligently observing whether there is fine oratory. I bless God that I hate oratory from my very soul. To speak his truth clearly, and simply, is all I aim at; so, if you want the beauties of rhetoric, you must seek them elsewhere. There are some preachers who are always looking out for scraps of poetry, or something quaint or curious that they can weave into their discourse, but all this is as the chaff to the wheat. The sincere seeker after truth continually prays, “Lord, give me something that I may lay hold of. Give me a safe anchorage for my storm-driven vessel. I am in sore trouble of soul; be pleased, O God, to breathe peace to my heart through something that the preacher shall say under the gracious guidance of thy Holy Spirit!” I do not think there will be much preaching in vain when hearers do diligently observe what comes from the preacher’s lips, in the hope that, by God’s grace, it may be blessed to them.

     Then, again, dear friends, while there is too little of diligent observation of what God has said, there is also far too little of hastily catching at the Word. These messengers of Ben-hadad were intently listening to all that Ahab said; so that, as soon as he uttered the one word that gave them a ray of hope, they “did hastily catch it.” Oh, how I long that poor troubled hearts may hastily catch at any word of encouragement that is either recorded in the Bible, or spoken by God’s sent servant! How many encouragements some of you have missed through inattention! Sweet promises have been as near to you as the key was to Christian when he was in Doubting Castle, yet you have not perceived them. You have been hungering while the bread was waiting for you upon the table. Some of you have been thirsting, as Hagar did in the wilderness when there was a well of water close beside her, but she did not know of it. There are sweet words, that have set other souls at liberty, and I trust will yet bring you liberty; they have been sounding in your ears again and again, yet, for want of hastily catching at them, you have missed the comfort they are intended to convey to you.

     I know some who, instead of hastily catching at comforts, are always catching at difficulties. They seem to spend a great part of their time trying to find out why they should not be saved; and they have discovered quite a number of arguments to prove that there is no hope of salvation for them. How do I know that they act thus? Why, because I have had plenty of practical experience of it when trying to guide them to the Lord Jesus Christ. They will argue this way, and that way, and fifty ways; and when you have answered all their fifty arguments, they just go and discover fifty more. There seems to be no end to their ingenuity in finding stern sentences, and threatening passages, and doctrines that appear to look black upon them. Well, dear friend, if this is what you have been doing, will you not turn your ingenuity into another direction, and, as you read a chapter, will you not say, “If there is anything here that I can catch at, I will do so”? And when you are listening to a sermon, say, “If there is anything that I can lay hold of, I will do so.” Say, especially, “Lord Jesus, if there is anything in thy revealed Word, — if there is one text, or half a text, that would suit a poor sinner like me, — I will not lose it for want of grasping it; but, right or wrong, I will have it. I will catch at it; if, peradventure, it may bring me peace and pardon.”

     It is a great pity that those, who are in trouble of soul, do not imitate these messengers of Ben-hadad; but they do not. They neither diligently observe what God says, nor do they readily catch at it. I wonder why this is. Is it because they are not so much in need as these poor men with sackcloth on their loins, and ropes round their necks? That is not the case, but it may be that they have not so clear a sense of their need. I have noticed that really hungry people will eat almost anything; and when a man gets driven to self-despair, he eagerly watches for any word that falls from God’s mouth, that is at all likely to meet his case. Why is it that those in soul-trouble are not so believing as these Syrians were? Whatever Ahab said, they caught at it at once, and believed it was true; yet he was a sorry specimen of humanity. I do not know anything to his credit. There was one person who was worse than himself, that was his wife, Jezebel; but, with that exception, he was about as bad a character as could be found anywhere; yet these men believed him. It is a sad pity that they believed Ahab, but that some of us will not believe the Lord who cannot lie. God grant us grace to watch carefully for any hopeful word that comes from his lips, and to catch it hastily, for our own comfort, and for his glory!

     II. My second observation is this, IT IS VERY STRANGE THAT SINNERS ACT THUS, FOR IT IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH THE USUAL WAYS OF MANKIND.

     We have a proverb which says that “drowning men catch at straws.” So they do; and when a man is in peril, he will usually grasp at anything that seems to offer him a hope of escape. How is it, then, that, with a Bible full of promises, and a gospel full of encouragements, the mass of people with troubled consciences do not at once catch at what God says? There is another proverb of ours which says that “the wish is father to the thought.” Sometimes, a man wishes for a thing so long that, at last, he believes it is really his; but how strange it is that, in spiritual things, men wish, and wish, and wish, — or say that they do, — and yet they do not believe that it is as they wish! The more they wish, the further they seem to be from the blessing they desire to possess. Alas! how many of you there are who torture yourselves needlessly, — who seem to prefer to be troubled rather than be at peace, — who see the table of mercy spread before you, yet choose to remain hungry, who behold the rippling rills of the water of life leaping at your feet, yet will not stoop and drink! How odd it is that, in other things, men should, in their time of trouble, snatch at anything that seems likely to help them,— that they should be ready enough to lay hold on any sort of comfort that is dangled before them, and so are often deceived, and yet, when their trouble arises from things that concern their soul, they do not catch at the real consolation which God offers them ! I have often noticed, when a person is pleading with me for something he wants, — it is but a very simple illustration of something far greater, — how ready he is to lay hold of even half a promise. A man asks me to preach in the country, and I say, “I really cannot; it is quite impossible.” But he keeps on begging me to go, and gets me to say that I would if I could, and then he interprets that to mean that I shall go, yet I never said anything of the kind; and then, some time afterwards, he writes to say that I promised to preach for him, which I never did, but he tries to make it out somehow that I did. And I expect that you find it the same when people are begging of you; they will, if they can, get a word of hope from you, and then they lay hold upon it, and tell you that you said so-and-so; yet, when we come to deal with God, we will not believe the promises which he has really made to us; some of us seem to be always ready to believe anything against ourselves even though it is not true. It is strange that, if we want favours from men, we will plead with them, and twist their words in our own favour, yet, when we come to deal with God, and everything is clearly in favour of the coming, seeking, believing sinner, we so often twist it round the other way, instead of catching at what God has really said.

     This is the more strange, too, because you can continually see how sinners catch at everything else. See how they cling to their own righteousness. A thousand tons of it are not worth a farthing; it is neither fit for the land nor yet for the dunghill, yet they prize it as if it was a heap of diamonds. See what confidence many put in utterly worthless forms and ceremonies. And that so-called “priest” with the cross on his back, — they are foolish enough to trust in him, and believe that he can do something or other for their soul’s salvation. Anybody who chooses to deceive them will find them ready to become his dupes; yet, when God comes to them, with his exceeding great and precious promises, they do not catch at them, but rather turn aside from them. Many, as it were, take the pope up in their arms, triple crown and all; yet, when the Lord Jesus Christ passes by, they hardly put out their little finger to touch the hem of his garment. They seem as if they could trust even the devil sooner than they could trust their God; for they hope to find pleasure in sin, which is trusting the deceitfulness of Satan; yet, when God himself promises them eternal life through believing in his own dear Son, they turn their backs upon him, and say, “It is too good to be true; it cannot be possible;” or find some other pretext for not catching hold of the gracious promise of God.

     There was once a man, an honest man, who verily believed that Christ was an impostor, and therefore he devoted all his powers to the putting down of Christ’s teaching, and his disciples. He was a man with a large heart; and, therefore, when this prejudice had taken full possession of him, he foamed at the mouth, and breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the Church of Christ. He hunted down the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem; and when they fled from him there, he followed them to strange cities, all the while, as a truthful man, carrying out what he believed to be pleasing to God. It needed only a very few words from heaven to let him know that this Christ, whom he was persecuting in the person of his followers, was indeed the Son of God; and that man, as soon as he had learned that truth, resolved thenceforth to live and die for him whose servants he had persecuted so ruthlessly. I believe I am addressing some who only need to know that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, and all their jests and mocking at true religion will be turned into holy penitence, and devoted adherence to the cause which hitherto they have defied. O Lord, send that flash of light to them this very hour! Let them believe in him who is not only the faithful Witness to the truth, but who is himself the Truth; for, the moment they believe in him, they shall be saved.

     III. My third observation is that, WHEN WE ARE DEALING WITH GOD, THERE IS VERY MUCH TO CATCH AT. Many years ago, when I was in great distress of soul, and could not find Christ for a long while, I would have been glad if I had heard anybody speak about how much there is for a troubled soul to catch at. Perhaps I did hear something about it; but, if so, I did not catch at it, though I think I should have done so if it had really been made plain and clear to me. Until God – the Holy Ghost enlightens the soul, the truth may be put very plainly, but we do not see it. I will try, now, to set it before anyone here who is willing to catch at it.

      Now, poor troubled soul, if it had been God’s purpose to destroy you, — if he never intended to hear your prayers, — if he never meant to save you, — let me ask you, very earnestly, — Why did he give you the Bible? I want you to catch at this thought. That blessed Book is all about salvation, the good news is fully and freely published there; but if G-od had resolved never to accept your faith, or to answer your prayers, why did he give you the Bible? Did he do this merely to tantalize you? What other use can it be to you except to increase your condemnation? What is the good of giving a hungry man the description of a grand dinner if he may not eat it? What is the use of telling a poor beggar, who is shivering in the cold, all about garments that he will be glad to wear when you know, all the while, that he will never be clad in them? That is not God’s way of dealing with sinners. The very existence of the Word of God in your hand ought to be looked upon by you as a token of mercy to your soul; so, catch at it.

     Again, why has God raised up a ministry, and given you the opportunity of listening to it? Why are you continually being warned to flee from the wrath to come? Why are you constantly being instructed in the truths of the gospel? Why are you invited to come to Christ if he will reject you when you do come? If there is no hope for you who trust in Jesus, why has God sent me to preach to those whom he never intends to bless? I do not believe that it is so, and I pray you not to believe it yourselves. The very fact that the gospel is still sounding in your ears is the thing you ought to catch at; therefore, go at once to God in prayer, and say to him, “Lord, thou hast sent me this precious message of hope both in the Bible and by thy servant; wilt thou not accept me now that I seek thy face, and ask forgiveness at thy hands, in the name, and for the sake of Jesus Christ, thy well-beloved Son?”

     I remind you also that you are still on praying ground. There are still many precious promises that you can claim; such as this, “He that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” Your Lord has told you to pray, and not to faint; surely, God has not set up his mercy-seat in order that you may come to it, and yet be refused? Do you believe that he bids you pray, all the while knowing in his heart that he never means to hear you? Do you think you would, over and over again in God’s Word, be encouraged to seek his face, if he had determined that he would never show that face to you? I cannot believe such a thing. On the contrary, I think that your poor troubled heart ought to say, “As the Lord bids me pray, he must mean to hear me.” It seems clear enough to my mind that it must be so; I trust it will be equally clear to you. Go and use the throne of grace, and I feel sure that you will not use it in vain.

     See, next, if you cannot catch at this great truth, — God has given Jesus Christ to die for sinners. You are a sinner, so catch, at this glorious fact: “He gave himself for our sins.” If it had said that he gave himself for our righteousness, it would not have helped us; but it is most cheering for us to learn that he gave himself for our sins. Did Jesus really die for sinful men, and because of their sins? Then is there hope for me, a guilty man in whom sins abound, for it is “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” If the Lord had meant to destroy thee, he would never have sent his Son to die, or sent to thee an invitation to come to him, for God takes no delight in tantalizing his creatures by setting before them that which encourages their hope only to plunge them afterwards into deeper despair. Are you even now despairing of salvation? Then, I urge you to say, with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” If not a single ray of hope comes to you, yet grasp the cross; and if you perish, perish there. But if you, by faith, do grasp Christ, you shall never perish, for his own declaration is, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.”

     There is another truth that I think some of you might catch at; it is this one: “God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” This was the message that our Lord Jesus Christ himself preached, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” You know that there is such a thing as saying that which is false by an indirect action as well as by direct speech. Suppose, for instance, that someone had offended you, and that you should propose to him that he should confess the wrong that he did to you, if you were earnestly to exhort him to come and be at peace with you, suppose that, when he had done so, you were to say to him, “Now you have humbled yourself, and confessed the wrong that you did to me; but I will never forgive you,” you would have grossly deceived him, and acted a lie, if you had not actually uttered it ; because, in the very fact of your asking him to acknowledge the wrong, there was, by implication, an assurance from you that you meant to forgive him. In like manner, I look upon the preaching of the duty of repentance, and the command to repent, as containing within themselves the assurance that whosoever repents shall find free forgiveness at the hand of God.

     Then, again, what can be the meaning of that other command, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt he saved,” except that if, as a guilty sinner, I come and trust in Christ, I shall be saved? It is even so; indeed, I am saved as soon as ever I do believe in Jesus. “But,” says someone, “suppose that I have no right to do that.” That cannot be; it has never happened yet, and it never shall. At any rate, if I were in your place, I would not ask any question about the matter, but I would come to Christ because he commands me to come to him, and threatens me with terrible punishment if I do not come. Can you not catch at that?

     I do not know where you poor troubled, conscience-smitten souls are sitting, — I feel sure that there are some of you here; — but, wherever you are. it seems to me that I cannot do better than say to you that the whole Bible is full of promises for you to catch at. I pray you lay hold of them. Do not read the Bible through those dark spectacles that you are so fond of wearing, trying to find out all the threatenings there are in it; but read it in a very humble spirit, yet resolving, “If there is any encouragement for such a poor seeking soul as I am, I will find it. O God – the Holy Ghost, help me to find it! If the Lord has spoken any word that can cheer me, I will not miss it for lack of believing it, for I will believe everything that he has said, since I know that he cannot lie. If I perish, I will perish with my finger on his promise; and I will say to him, ‘Thou hast said this, O Lord; now fulfil thy promise to me, for I do trust thee to save even me according to thy Word!’” Gracious Spirit, lead many to come to this resolution, and thou shalt have the praise!

     IV. Now, lastly, THERE IS MUCH GREATER ENCOURAGEMENT FOR YOU, AND FOR ME, THAN THERE WAS FOR THOSE MESSENGERS FROM BEN-HADAD.

     For, first, suppose Ahab did utter a hopeful word, he was very deceitful. Most kings, in those days, were as deceitful as they well could be; one could never believe a word that they spoke; so what if Ahab did say, “Ben-hadad is my brother”? It might mean that he wanted to allure him into his power that he might destroy him. The men did not think of that, but they hastily caught at Ahab’s favourable word. Now, when God speaks, there is no deceit in what he says; he is not treacherous, he has never spoken falsely to any man. Every word of his is as true as the fact of your existence. I wish, sometimes, that I could induce sinners to treat God as they treat those with whom they do business. I wish they would believe his promise as readily as they believe a man’s promise; and say to him, “That is what thou hast said, and I believe it. Lord, thou canst not lie; therefore, fulfil thy promise to me.” There would never be a single instance in which your hope would be disappointed. There never has been, and there never shall be, so long as the race of man exists.

     Then, again, when those men listened to Ahab, he might have uttered a friendly word without meaning it. It might have been quite an idle word, and he might have said to the messengers, afterwards, “You must not lay any stress upon that expression. I merely used a courtly phrase; but there is nothing in it.” But God never speaks in a trifling or meaningless manner; there is not one idle word of his in the whole of the Scriptures. There is not a promise which has the slightest falseness or exaggeration in it. If God has promised to do a great thing, he will do a great thing. If he has promised a marvellous mercy, it was not a slip of the tongue or a slip of the pen, but he has bound himself to fulfil it, and he will surely do even as he has said. It is a great mercy for you, and for me, dear friends, that the Bible is so full of solemn “shalls” and “wills” which God will certainly verify. They are all such massive pillars that a soul may well rest its whole weight upon them, or upon any one of them, and rest there for all eternity without fear of falling. I wish, with all my heart, that every poor troubled soul would just lay hold of the promises, and say to the Lord, “These are no idle words; fulfil them unto me, I pray thee, for thy dear Son’s sake!”

     There is another lesson to be learned from this incident. These messengers from Ben-hadad said that the kings of Israel were merciful kings; and we know that God is much more merciful than they were, for “his mercy endureth for ever.” It is no delight to God to see the wicked perish; he would infinitely rather that they should turn unto him, and live. He has no satisfaction in seeing you hopeless and despairing, young man; and it will bring joy to his heart if you will come, and cast yourself at his feet, confessing your sin, and believing that he has forgiven it. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;” and no one will rejoice more than God himself will if you do but come unto him.

     I close with this last remark. Those messengers from Ben-hadad might have believed better of Ahab than would have been true, but you cannot believe better of God than will be true. I will give you a challenge. There is no saint here who can out-believe God. You know that God never out-promised himself yet. Some people do; they say they will do wonderful things, but they promise what they cannot perform, or they find it inconvenient to fulfil their plighted word. That never yet happened to the God of heaven and earth; he has never out-promised himself. There have been some men who have believed great things of God; and have gone a long way in believing, but there has never lived any man who has out-believed God. Come now, and put him to the test; believe that he can blot out your sin before you leave this place. Trust his Son to do it, and it shall be done. Believe that he will make a new man of you, creating you anew in Christ Jesus, and it shall be done. Believe that he will fill your heart with abounding comfort and overflowing joy; whereas, aforetime, you have been desponding, and well-nigh despairing; and it shall be done. Believe that he will keep you from falling all your life, and present you faultless before his presence with exceeding joy; and it shall be done. Believe that he will be with you in life, and with you in death, and with you at the judgment-seat, and with you to all eternity; and it shall be done. You may open your mouth wide, but he will fill it; and when he has filled it, there will be as much more left for others as they will be able to receive. In the name of God, I challenge you to out-believe him if you can.

     “Oh!” says one, “if what you have said is true. I will believe that Jesus can save me, and that he can save me now,

“’I’ll go to Jesus, though my sin
Hath like a mountain rose;
I know his courts, I’ll enter in,
Whatever may oppose.’

I’ll to the gracious King approach,
Whose sceptre pardon gives;
Perhaps he may command my touch,
And then the suppliant lives.

He does command thy touch, so stretch out thy finger. Trust him, and thou art saved. Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee, because thou hast believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God. Go in peace, for Jesus Christ has made thee whole. The Lord be with thee! Amen and Amen.



The New Song and the Old Story

By / Sep 4

The New Song and the Old Story

 

“O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth. Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.” — Psalm xcvi. 1— 3.

 

THERE are mighty passions of the human soul which seek vent, and can get no relief until they find it in expression. Grief, acute, but silent, has often destroyed the mind, because it has not been able to weep itself away in tears. The glow of passion, fond of enterprise and full of enthusiasm, has often seemed to rend the very fabric of manhood when unable either to attain its end or to utter its strong desires. So it is in true religion. It not only lays hold upon our intellectual nature with appeals to our judgment and our understanding, but, at the same time, it engages our affections, brings our passions into play, and fires them with a holy zeal, producing a mighty furor; so that, when this spell is on a man, and the Spirit of God thoroughly possesses him, he must express his vehement emotions.

     Some professors of religion are ingenious enough to conceal whatever grace they possess. Little enough they have, I warrant you, or it would soon be discovered. Have you never seen the brooks, that were wont to come down the hillsides, filled up with stones through the greater part of the summer? You wonder whether there is any streamlet there at all. You may go and search among the rounded stones, and scarcely find a trace of water. How different after the snows have melted, or the mists upon the mountain’s brows have turned to showers! Then the water comes rushing down like a mighty torrent, nor is there any question about its being a genuine stream. It shows itself as it rolls the great stones along, peradventure breaking down the banks, and overflowing the country. So there is a religion — a poor, miserable, ordinary Christianity — which is not worth the name it bears, that can hide itself; but vital godliness must assert itself, it must speak plainly, it must act vigorously, it must appear conspicuously. The cross reveals the hearts of men, it unveils their true character. Till the cross was set up, Joseph of Arimathæa was scarcely known to be a disciple, and Nicodemus continued to do habitually what he once did literally, — resort to Jesus by night. Openly he remained in the Sanhedrim, though secretly he was a profound admirer of the great Redeemer. But when the cross was lifted up, Joseph went boldly in, with senatorial authority, and obtained the body of Jesus for burial, and Nicodemus came out with well-timed liberality to provide his hundred pounds of spices, and his fair white linen. Thus the cross reveals the thoughts of many hearts. If you have real grace and true love to Jesus in your soul, you will want some way of expressing yourselves. Our purpose therefore now is, to suggest to you two modes of expressing your consecration to God, and your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. These two methods are to sing about and to talk about the good things the Lord has done for you, and the great things he has made known to you. Let sacred song take the lead: “O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name.” Then let gracious discourse follow; be it in public sermons or in private conversations: “Shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.”

     I. We begin with THE VOICE OF MELODY.

     All ye, who love the Lord, give vent to your heart’s emotion by holy song, and take care that it be sung to the Lord alone. What a noble instrument the human voice is! What a compass it has! Its low, soft whispers, how they can hold us spellbound; its full volume, as it peals forth like thunder, how it can startle and produce dismay! What profanity, then, to use such an instrument in the service of sin! Is not our tongue the glory of our frame? Had I no conscientious objection to instrumental music in worship, I should still, I think, be compelled to admit that all the instruments that were ever devised by men, however sweetly attuned, are harsh and grating compared with the unparalleled sweetness of the human voice. When it is naturally melodious and skilfully trained, (and every true worshipper should be zealous to dedicate his richest talent and his highest acquirement to this sacred service,) there can be no music under heaven that can equal the combination of voices which belong to men, women, and children whose hearts really love the Saviour. So sweet, so enchanting is the melody of song, that, surely, its best efforts should not be put forth to celebrate martial victories or national jubilations, much less should it lend its potent charm to aught that is trivial or lascivious. By sacred right, its highest beauties should be consecrated to Jehovah. If thou canst sing, sing the songs of Zion. If God has gifted thee with a sweet, liquid voice, be sure and use it to render homage unto him who cried out for thee upon the cross, “It is finished.” “Sing unto the Lord.”

     How much public singing, even in the house of God, is of no account! How little of it is singing unto the Lord! Does not the conscience of full many among you bear witness that you sing a hymn because others are singing it? You go right straight through with it by a kind of mechanical action. You cannot pretend that you are singing unto the Lord. He is not in all your thoughts. Have you not been at places of worship where there is a trained choir evidently singing to the congregation? Tunes and tones are alike arranged for popular effect. There is an artistic appeal to human passions. Harmony is attended to; homage is neglected. That is not what God approves of. I recollect a criticism upon a certain minister’s prayers. It was reported, in the newspaper, that he uttered the finest prayer that had ever been offered to a Boston audience! I am afraid there is a good deal of vocal and instrumental music of the same species. It may be the finest praise ever offered to a congregation; but, surely, that is not what we come together for. If you want the sensual gratification of music’s melting, mystic lay, let me commend to you the concept-room, there you will get the enchanting ravishment; but when ye come to the house of God, let it be to sing unto the Lord.” As ye stand up to sing, there should be a fixed intent of the soul, a positive volition of the mind, an absolute determination of the heart, that all the flame which kindles in your breast, and all the melody that breaks from your tongue, and all the sacred swell of grateful song shall be unto the Lord, and unto the Lord alone.

     And if you would sing unto the Lord, let me recommend you to flavour your mouth with the gospel doctrines which savour most of grace unmerited and free. Any other form of theology would tempt us more or less to chant the praise of men. Gratitude has full play when we come to know that salvation is of the Lord alone, and that mercy is divinely free. He, who hath once heard the echo of that awful thunder, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” will learn to rejoice with trembling, to sing with deep feeling, and to adore, with lowliest reverence, the great Supreme, to whom might and majesty belong, and from whom grace and goodness flow. Human counsels and conceits sink into insignificance, for thoughts of lovingkindness and deeds of renown belong unto the Lord alone.

     Kindly glance your eye down the Psalm from which our text is taken, and note how the exhortation to sing is given three times. I draw no absolute inference from this peculiar construction; but, to say the least, it is remarkable that the number three is so continually employed. Further down in the same Psalm it is written, “Give unto the Lord,” “Give unto the Lord,” “Give unto the Lord,” — three times. Is there not here some kind of allusion to the wondrous doctrine of the Trinity? At any rate, I make bold to use the threefold cord to express the homage with which it behoves us to adore the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As for Unitarianism, it is a religion of units, and I suppose it always will be. There is no danger of its ever spreading very widely. It is cold as a moonlight night, though scarcely as clear. It has not enough of power in it to fire men’s heart to laud and magnify the Lord. It produces now and then a hymn, but it cannot kindle the passions of men to sing it with fervour and devout enthusiasm. Certainly, it cannot gather a crowd of grateful people, who will make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and with all their heart and voice shout the chorus of gratitude. O beloved, I beseech you to let your souls have vent in praise! Sing, often, such a verse as this, —

“Bless’d be the Father, and his love,
To whose celestial source we owe
Rivers of endless joy above,
And rills of comfort here below.”

Praise the God of glory, who loved you before the foundation of the world. Praise the God of grace, who called you when you sought him not. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, — our Heavenly Father, who provides for us, educates us, instructs us, leads and guides us, and will bring us, by-and-by, to the many mansions in his own house.

     Sing ye also unto the Son. Never fail to adore the Son of God, who left the royalties of heaven to bear the indignities of earth. Adore the Lamb slain. Kneel at the cross-foot, and praise each wound, and magnify the Immortal who became mortal for our sakes.

“Glory to thee, great Son of God!
From whose dear wounded body rolls
A precious stream of vital blood,
Pardon and life for dying souls.”

     And, then, sing ye to the Holy Spirit. Let us never fail in praising him; I am afraid we often do. We forget him too much in our sermons, our prayers, and our hymns; or we mention him, perhaps, as a matter of course, with formal expressions rather than with feelings of the most intense fervour. Oh, how our hearts are bound reverently to worship the Divine Indweller who, according to his abundant mercy, hath made our bodies to be his temple wherein he deigns to dwell!

“We give thee, sacred Spirit, praise,
Who in our hearts of sin and woe
Makes living springs of grace arise,
And into boundless glory flow.”

Praise ye, with your songs, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, — the Triune God of Israel. Have you understood this? To Jehovah let your song be addressed. Thrice be his holy name repeated.

     Then, be careful of the psalmist’s instructions; let the song that you sing be a new song. “O sing unto the Lord a new song!” Not the song of your old legal bondage, which you used to sing so tremblingly, with the dread of a slave; a new and nobler song becomes you who are the Lord’s children, his sons and daughters: “O sing unto the Lord a new song!” To some of you the song of redemption is quite new. Once, you sang the songs of Bacchus or of Venus, or else you hummed over some light air, without meaning or motive, unless to while away your time, and drive away all serious thoughts. O you, who used so readily to sing the songs of Babylon, sing now the songs of Zion quite as freely and earnestly! “Sing unto the Lord a new song.”

     By a “new” song, is meant the best song. It is put for that which is most elegant, most exquisite, and best composed. Pindar says, “Give me old wine, but give me a new song.” So may we say, “Give us the old wines of the kingdom of God, but let us sing unto the Lord a new song,” the best that we can find, — no borrowed air, no hackneyed lyric; and let our spirits sing unto the Lord that which wells up fresh out of the quickened heart. A new song, — always new; keep up the freshness of your praise. Do not drivel down into dull routine. The drowsy old clerks in the dreary old churches used always to say, “Let us sing to the praise and glory of God such-and-such a psalm,” till I should think the poor old Tate and Brady version was pretty well used up. We have new mercies to celebrate, therefore we must have new songs.

“Blest be his love who now hath set
New time upon the score.

With “new time upon the score,” let there be new notes for him who renews the face of nature. And have not we, dear brethren and sisters, new graces? Then let us sing with our new faith, and our new love, and our new hope. Some of you have very lately been made new creatures in Christ Jesus; sing ye unto the Lord a new song. Surely he hath done great things for you, whereof you are glad. Others of you have been converted for years; yet, if your inward man be renewed day by day, your praises shall be always new. Luther used to say that the wounds of Christ seemed to him to bleed to-day as if they had never bled before, for he found such freshness in his Master. You pluck a flower, and it soon loses its scent, and begins to wither; but our sweet Lord Jesus has a savour about his name that never departs. We take his name to lie like a bundle of camphire all night betwixt our breasts, and in the morning it smells as sweet as when we laid us down to sleep; and when we come to die, that Lily of the valleys will drop with the same profusion as it did when , with our youthful hand, we first plucked it, and came to Jesus, and gave him all our trust. “Sing unto the Lord a new song.” Let the freshness of your joy and the fulness of your thanks be perennial as the days of heaven.

     This song, according to our text, is designed to be universal: “Sing unto the Lord all the earth.” Let sires and sons mingle in its strains. Let not the aged among you say, “Our voices are cracked;” but sing to the Lord with all the voice you have, and all the compass you can. And you young people, give the Lord the highest notes you are able to reach. Still sing unto the Lord, ye that are rich; sing unto the Lord who has saved you, for it is not many of your sort that he saves.

“Gold and the gospel seem to ill agree:
Religion always sides with poverty,” —

said John Bunyan, and he spoke the truth. Sing unto the Lord, ye poor ones whom the Lord has favoured, for still does it happen that “the poor have the gospel preached unto them.” Sing unto him, ye who are learned in many matters. Let your talents make your song more full of understanding. And you who are unlearned, if you cannot put so much of understanding into the song, put more of the spirit, and sing with all the more heartiness. All the earth should sing. There is not one of us but has cause for song, and certainly not one saint but ought specially to praise the name of the Lord. You remember that passage in the hundred and seventh Psalm (it is worth noticing), where the psalmist says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy,” as if they, above all others, ought to say, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever!”

     In addition to its being a new song, and a universal one, it is to be a very inspiration of gratitude: “Sing unto the Lord: bless his name” How apt you are, in speaking of anyone who has been kind to you, to say, “God bless him!” The expression comes right up from your heart. And although you cannot invoke any blessing on God, you can desire for his name every blessing and every tribute of homage You can desire for his cause that it may be established, and may be triumphant. You may desire for his people that they may be helped, made holy, and guided to their eternal rest. You may desire for mankind that they may hallow God’s holy name, and all because you feel you owe so much to the Lord that you cannot help praising, and cannot help wishing that your praise should be fruitful on earth and acceptable in heaven.

     In two ways, methinks, it becomes us to sing God’s praises. We ought to sing with the voice. I do not consider we sing enough to God. The poet speaks of “angel harp and human voice.” If the angel harp be more skilful, surely the human voice is more grateful. For my part, I like to hear sacred songs in all sorts of places. The maidservant can sing at her work, and the carter as he drives his team. The occupations are few which could not be enlivened by repeating the words, and running over the tune of a hymn. If it were only in a faint whisper, the habit might be cultivated. You might expose yourselves, it is true, to a taunt, and be upbraided as “a psalm-singing Methodist,” but that would not do you any hurt; better that than make a ribald jest or utter an impious blasphemy. Those who lend their tongues to such vile uses have something to be ashamed of. Lovers of pleasure sing their songs; and poor trash, for the most part, they are. If the snatches we catch in the streets are the echoes of the saloon and the music-hall, little credit is due to those who cater for public amusement. Lacking alike in sense and sentiment, they betray the degeneracy of the times, and the depravity of popular taste. There is a literature of song in which peasants may rejoice, of which patriots may be proud, and to which poets may turn with envious eyes. Why wed your pretty tunes to paltry words? The higher the art, the more the pity to debase it. If you cull over our hymn-books for samples of bad poetry, loose rhyme, and puerile thoughts, that reviewers like to revile, and libertines like to laugh at, we can only say, Well, we cannot always vindicate the culture of those whose sincerity we hold in the highest esteem; but we will dare to confront you on equal terms, — the sanctuary versus the saloon — our vocalists against your vocalists, from the sacred oratorios of Handel to the choicest of your operas, — from the cant of our revival hymns to the catch of your last sensational songs. Yes, indeed, the people of God should sing more. Were we to try the exercise, we should find no small degree of pleasure in the practice It would do us good to praise God more day by day. When we get together, two or three of us, we are in the habit of saying, “Let us pray.” Might we not sometimes say, Let us sing.” We have our regular prayer-meetings, why do we not have praise-meetings just as often?

“Prayer and praise for sins forgiven
Make up on earth the bliss of heaven.”

We are like a bird that has only one wing. There is much prayer, but there is little praise. “Sing unto the Lord. Sing unto the Lord.”

     To sing with the heart, is the very essence of song.

“In the heavenly Lamb thrice happy I am
And my heart it doth leap at the sound of his name.”

Though the tongue may not be able to express the language of the soul, the heart is glad. Some persons seem never to sing with their heart. Their lips move, but their heart does not beat. In their common daily life, they move about as if they had been born on a dark winter’s night, and carried the cold chill into all their concerns. The lamentation they constantly utter is this, “All these things are against me.” Their experience is comprised in this sentence, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” They never get into the harbour. “In me ye shall have peace,” is a secret they have never realized. They are fond of calling this world a howling wilderness, and they are utterly oblivious of its orchards and vineyards. Were God to put them in the garden of Eden, they would not take any notice of the fruit or the flowers. They would go straight away to the serpent, and begin saying, “Ah, there’s a snake here!” Their harp is hung on the willows; they never can sing, for their heart is unstrung.

     Well, dear friends, a Christian man ought to be like a horse that has bells on his head, so that he cannot go anywhere without ringing them, and making music. His whole life should be a psalm; every step should be in harmony; every thought should constitute a note; every word he utters should be a component part of the joyful strain. It is a blessed thing to see a Christian going about his business like the high priest of old who, wherever he went, made music with the golden bells. Oh, to have a cheerful spirit, — not the levity of the thoughtless, nor the gaiety of the foolish, nor even the mirth of the healthy, — there is a cheerful spirit, which is the gift of grace, that can and does rejoice evermore. Then, when troubles come we bear them cheerfully; let fortune smile, we receive it with equanimity; or let losses befall us, we endure them with resignation, being willing, so long as God is glorified, to accept anything at his hands. These are the people to recommend Christianity. Their cheerful conversation attracts others to Christ. As for those people who are morose or morbid, sullen or severe, harsh in their judgment of their fellow-men, or rebellious against the will of God, — people of a covetous disposition, a peevish temper, and a quarrelsome character, — unto them it is of no use to say, “O sing unto the Lord,” for they will never do it. They have not any bells in the tower of their heart; what chimes can they ring? Their harps have lost their strings; how can they magnify the Most High? But genuine piety finds expression in jubilant song; this is the initiative, though it is far from exhausting its resources.

     II Now, in the second place, let me stir you up, especially you who are members of this church, to such DAILY CONVERSATION and such HABITUAL DISCOURSE as shall be fitted to spread the gospel which you love.

     Our text admonishes you to “show forth his salvation.” You believe in the salvation of God, — a salvation all of grace from first to last. You have seen it; you have received it; you have experienced it. Well, now, show it forth. Explain it to others, and with the explanation let there be an illustration; exemplify it by your lives. God has shone upon you with the light of his countenance, that you may reflect his brightness, and irradiate others. Every Christian here is like the moon, which shines with borrowed light. But the sun lends not his bright rays to be hoarded up. It is that they may scatter beams of brightness over this world of night. Take care, then, that you are faithful to your trust.

     Show forth his salvation. God knows that I try to do so from the pulpit; I wish that you would all try and do so from the pews. Are you lacking in opportunities? I trow not. Before and after service, especially to strangers and such as may have been induced to come and hear the gospel, speak a word in season; thoughtfully, prayerfully, softly, talk with them. Show forth this salvation, too, in your own houses, or on your visits, or wherever your lot may happen in God’s providence to be cast. It is wonderful how God blesses little efforts, very little efforts. I have sometimes, — I am sorry to say not as often as I ought, — scattered seed by the wayside. Only a few nights ago, I had been driven by a cabman, and after I had alighted, and given him the fare, he took a little Testament out of his pocket, and said, “It is about fifteen years ago since you gave me that, and said a word to me about my soul, and it has stuck by me, and I have not let a day pass since without reading it.” I felt glad. I know that, if Christian people would try and show forth God’s salvation, they would often be surprised to find how many hearts would gladly receive it.

     Beloved, show forth this salvation from day to day. Let it not be merely on a Sunday. While you hold that day as specially sacred, let no other day be common or unclean. We are thankful for the kindly efforts put forth, in the Sunday-school and elsewhere, on our Sabbaths; but we want Christian activity to be put forth from day to day. Let your zeal for the conversion of your fellow-creatures be continuous. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” The result of the Sabbath work may, perhaps, not be seen by you, when the result of Monday’s work may very speedily appear.

     “Show forth his salvation from day to day.” This admonition is enforced in three clauses; so let us notice the second. “Declare his glory among the heathen.” It is the same thing in another form. When you are telling out the gospel, point especially to the glory of it. Show them the justice of the great substitution, and the mercy of it. Show them the wisdom which devised the plan whereby, without a violation of the law, God could yet pardon rebellious sinners. Impress upon those, whom you talk with, that the gospel you have to tell them of is no common-place system of expediency, but really it is a glorious revelation of divinity. You know men are very much attracted by aught of glory and renown. They will even rush to the cannon’s mouth for so-called glory. Now, be sure, when you are talking to others about the salvation you have received at the hands of your dear Lord and Master, that you tell them about the glory thereof, — what a glory it brings to Christ, and to what a glory it will bring every sinner by-and-by. Tell them of the glory of being pardoned, the glory of being accepted, the glory of being justified, the glory of being sanctified. Ig it not all “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”? Methinks you might relate some scenes from the death-beds of the saints you have known, on which rays of glory have fallen; but I am sure you might anticipate the glory, which words cannot picture, or imagination realize, in the second advent of the Lord Jesus, the resurrection of the just, and the establishment of the everlasting kingdom. Dwell upon these things. Declare his glory.

     And do not be ashamed to do this in the presence of people of a disreputable- character, though their ignorance and degradation be never so palpable: “Declare his glory among the heathen” “I am going on a mission to the heathen,” said a minister once to his people. Mistaking his meaning, they went home deploring the loss of their pastor. On the following Sunday, when they found him in the pulpit, they discovered that he had not been out of the city all the week; and when they wanted to know what parts he had visited, and what people he had seen, he reminded them that he had heathens at home, and they were to be found even in his own congregation. Ah, and there may be some heathens here! At any rate, there are plenty of heathens in this great city of London. I have no doubt there are parts of this metropolis in which hundreds, and even thousands, of people reside who are as ignorant of the plan of salvation as the inhabitants of Coomassie. They know nothing of Jesus, even though the light is so bright around them. “Declare his glory among the heathen,” ye lovers of Christ. Penetrate into these dark places: break up fresh ground, Christian men and women. I am persuaded, and this is a matter I have often spoken of, that many of you, who sit and hear sermons on the Sunday, ought rather to turn out, and preach the gospel. While we are glad to see you occupying pews, it will be a greater joy to miss you from your wonted seats, if we only know that you are declaring God’s glory among the heathen. I am not sure that we are all of us right to be living cooped up in this little island of ours. There are, in England, enough disciples of Jesus to bear the gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth; but perhaps there is not one Christian in five or ten thousand who ever deliberately thinks about going to the heathen to make known to them the way of salvation, and to declare the glory of the Lord among those who have never heard his name. Pray that there may yet come a wonderful wave of God’s Spirit over our churches, which shall bear upon its crest hundreds of ardent spirits resolved to carry the tidings of redemption to the jungle and the fever-swamp, to the high latitudes and the southern islands. Oh, that the love of Christ may constrain them! Know ye not that Christ has determined to save men by the preaching of the gospel? Has he not charged his disciples to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature? How poorly has his Church carried out this commission! If you do love Christ, here is the opportunity for you to show your love; go and declare his glory among the heathen.

     A third expression is used here. “Declare his wonders among all people.” Our gospel is a gospel of wonders. It deals with wonderful sin in a wonderful way. It presents to us a wonderful Saviour, and tells us of his wonderful complex person. It points us to his wonderful atonement, and it takes the blackest sinner, and makes him wonderfully clean. It makes him a new creature, and works a wonderful change in him. It conducts him to wonders of happiness, and wonders of strength, and yet onward to greater wonders of light and life; for it opens up to him the wonders of the covenant. It gives him wonderful provisions, wonderful deliverances, and leads him right up, by the power of him who is called Wonderful, to the gates of that Wonderland where we shall for ever —

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

Surely, dear Christian friends, we ought to talk about the wonders of the Lord our God, and especially should we dwell upon those wonders which we have ourselves seen. Of every Christian man, it might be said that he is a wonder. Will you think a minute, Christian, of the wonder that Cod has made of you, and the wonders that he has done for you? “That ever I should be,” is a wonder; — will you not say that? and then, “That ever I should be saved, is a wonder of wonders.” That you should have been kept till now, that you should not have been suffered to go back, that you should have been preserved under so many troubles, that your prayers should have been heard so continuously, that, notwithstanding your ill manners, the love of Christ should still have remained the same, — oh, but I cannot recite the tale of marvels; it is a long series of wonders! The Christian man’s life, if the worldling could understand it, would seem to him like a romance. The wonders of grace far exceed the wonders of nature; and of all the miracles God himself has ever wrought, there are no miracles so matchless in wonder as the miracles of grace in the heart of man. Beloved, declare these miracles, these wonders; tell them to others. Men like to hear a tale of wonder; they will gather round the fire, at eventide, when the logs are burning, and delightedly listen to a story of wonder. When you go home, young man, for your next holiday, if God has converted you, tell what great things the Lord has done for you. And when you go home, Mary, and see your mother, if the Lord has met with you, tell her what the Lord has done for you. “Declare his wonders among all people.” Do not be afraid of speaking about the gospel to anybody or in any company. Whoever they may be, whether they be rich or poor, high or low, if you get an opportunity of declaring the wonders of God’s grace, do not let the gospel be unknown for want of a tongue to tell it.

     So, you see, I have put before you these two outlets for your love, — first, sacred song; and, secondly, gracious discourse. Be sure to use them both; and if any bid you hold your peace, shall I tell you the answer? Use the same answer which your Master did to the Pharisees when they complained of the shouts of the little children: “If these should hold their tongues, the very stones would cry out.” Ordinary Christians may be quiet because God has done nothing very wonderful for them. They go through the world in a very ordinary kind of way. Their religion is skin-deep, and no more. But those, who know that they deserved the deepest hell, and who have been saved by a mighty effort of infinite mercy, must tell what God has done for them. They must come out from the world, and be separate. They must be decided, zealous, and even enthusiastic. Necessity is laid upon them to be earnest and intense in all they do and in all they say. They cannot help it, for the love of Jesus will fire their souls with a passion that cannot be quenched. “We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not live henceforth unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” God help you, beloved, thus to live!

     As for those of you who have never found the Saviour, you cannot tell of his excellence or publish his worth; but I do trust that you will not forget that Jesus is to be found by those who seek him, for whosoever believeth on him shall be saved. Take him at his word. Rely on his promise. Trust him. Commit your soul into his keeping. Cast yourself unfeignedly and unreservedly on his mercy. He will not spurn you; but he will receive you graciously, and you shall yet praise him, and he will be the health of your countenance and your God.



No Root in Themselves

By / Sep 23

No Root in Themselves

 

“And have no root in themselves.” — Mark iv. 17.

 

THESE rocky-ground hearers have occupied our thoughts twice recently. You remember that the first sermon concerning them was upon the text, “They had no deepness of earth;” and that, in it, I tried to show the shallowness of some men’s religious character, — how the pan of rock, below the thin layer of earth, had never been broken, so the seed could not really enter into them, but lay, for a little while, in the soil, rapidly springing up, and just as rapidly perishing. The other discourse was upon the words, It lacked moisture,” — a very instructive little sentence, full of meaning. Luke alone tells us that the rocky-ground hearers “lacked moisture.” This, you probably remember, I explained as meaning dry doctrine without gracious feeling, experience without humiliation, practice without heart-love, belief without repentance, confidence without self-diffidence, action without spirituality, zeal without communion. I went somewhat deeply into that part of the subject, and I think that there must have been some who trembled as they thought that, possibly, they were among the number of those who have no deepness of earth, and who lack moisture.

     Now, my dear hearers, I do feel intensely concerned that every work of grace, supposed to be wrought in this house, should be real, and therefore permanent. We are thankful that we are constantly having conversions, but we are very grieved that we also have some perversions. It is a comparatively easy thing to increase the church-roll, but it is only God’s almighty grace that can preserve to the end those whose names are written in our church records. Oh, for sure work! It is better to have only one convert who will endure to the end than twenty who only endure for a while, and in time of trial fall away. We have so much of the superficial, the merely topsoil work, in these days, that I feel that I am not laying too much stress upon one point if, three times in succession, I preach on this same subject, taking these three forms of expression indicating different phases of the same evil, — no depth of earth, no moisture, and no root in themselves. According to our Saviour’s interpretation, this is what happens to people of this sort: “Afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the Word’s sake, immediately they are offended.”

     I. Notice, first, that THEY WERE DEPENDENT UPON EXTERNALS. They had “no root in themselves.” Their religion did not spring from within, and was not fostered from within.

     This reminds us of a class of persons who cause us much grief of heart, though at the first they give us cause for much hope; I mean, those whose religion depends upon their parents. What a fearful calamity it often seems to a family when the father is taken away just when the boys are growing up! We have seen, in our own royal family, an example of it. Wherever it happens, it is always a cause of very terrible hazard to the children. But do you not also think that there are many lads and lasses, who are, in the main, favourable to the things of God simply because their father is an eminently devout man? Where that is the case, and where there is no true work of grace in their hearts, the death of their father will give them such a measure of liberty, and release from restraint, as will afford them an opportunity of showing that their religion was not real. In another case, it may be the influence — the almost boundless influence — of a godly mother over her sons and daughters. Some women are queens at home; they reign with a kind of imperial sway over their children; and those gracious matrons often lead their sons and daughters in the way of truth and righteousness; yet, sometimes, it is not so much a work of grace within as the work of the mother upon the surface; and so, if the dear mother falls asleep, the family is never again quite what it used to be. There is no longer that deep devotion, that intense earnestness, that there used to be in the religion of the household, and one reason is that its members have no root in themselves. Their root was in their mother, or their father. Now, dear young friends, any of you who are making a profession of religion, I say nothing against the gracious influence of your parents. God forbid that I should do so! I say everything in praise of it; but I pray you not to let the influence of your parents be substituted for the work of the Holy Ghost upon your own heart. The message to you, as to all others, is, “Ye must be born again.” He only is the true Christian who can say, “If my father and my mother were gone, it would greatly grieve me, and I should feel it to be a serious loss: yea, if it should happen, I should hold on to Christ with no less intensity, but rather with even more, for I should feel it to be my duty to help to fill the great void which the loss of my parents had occasioned. I should think that I heard them speaking to me from the skies, and bidding their son, their daughter, follow them even as they followed Christ.”

     So, dear friends, there are other cases in which the religious life is very much dependent upon Christian association. That young lady was governess in a pious family, and she seemed to be everything that we could wish, and avowed herself a Christian; but is she the same now that she has taken a situation in a worldly household, — perhaps in a distant land, where she never gets to hear the Word of God at all? If she has root in herself, she will grow, and be fruitful even in that unkindly soil. That working-man, when he was apprenticed, and when he was a journeyman, had a godly employer, and he worked with those who feared the Lord, and he became, confessedly, a Christian. I am not speaking against the gracious influence of masters and of workmates. God grant that it may always be exercised in the right way! But, still, if any of you have a form of religion which is dependent upon the position in which you live, you are without root in yourselves, and it will soon wither away. You must so know Christ, and trust him, and love him, that you would be true to him even if you were carried off into a Mohammedan country, or if you were called to live in the midst of blasphemy and infidelity. Do not rely upon somebody else’s example, be not dependent upon external associations, but have root in yourselves.

     I fear that, in the case of a great many, their religion is dependent upon externals in respect of a faithful and earnest ministry. I have noticed, several times, that God has raised up different men to carry on his cause in the earth. Just now, it appears to me to be the age of the judges, for God appears to call, first one judge and then another, to deliver Israel. But we long for the tune when King David will reign on his throne. It may be that we shall have antichrist first, and Saul will rule ere David comes. But when Samuel is gone, where will the people go? In many a place I have seen a good man raised up, and he h is gathered a large congregation around him. Many of them seemed to be truly converted; and while he lived, their lives seemed to be all that one could desire. But he died, and then where were they? At this present moment, I could put my finger upon many of the followers of dear Joseph Irons. They are very aged people, but the Lord has preserved them faithful until now. I could pick out, here and there, those who were educated in divine things under Harrington Evans. What a gracious man of God he was! What sweet Christian people were fed at his table! If I were to make further enquiry, I should find a very large number of those who used to hear William Carter at the Victoria Theatre, but where are they now? A large number of them had no root in themselves; while, happily, still a large number of them had root in themselves, and are here with us, or in other churches of Christ to this very day. I could name other equally good men who used to labour in London, and of whom I could say that, when they were taken away, a considerable part of their work seemed to go with them. It was no fault of theirs that their hearers seemed to depend upon them, and that their influence over them was very great. I do not doubt that it is the same in my own case, and that, when I sleep with my fathers, there are some here, who have been unwise enough to hang upon me, who will go back again to the world, which they have never really left; and if so, when the man goes, their religion will go, too. But, dear friends, if you are vitally united to the Lord, then, even if the scythe of death should cut off every minister who now preaches in God’s name, — if every candle in the Lord’s house were put out, — you would still cleave to your God with full purpose of heart, and cry to him, in the cloudy and dark day, to return to bless his beloved Zion. But, alas! there are many professors who have no root in themselves; — parents, associates, and ministers supply them with all the root they have.

     Then there are many more, whose religion must he sustained by enthusiastic surroundings. They seem to have been baptized in boiling water; and unless the temperature around them is kept up to that point, they wither away. There are some persons, who, when they get thoroughly excited so that they do not know what they are doing, generally do right; but that is a poor kind of religion which always needs to have the drums beating, and the trumpets sounding; for the religion that is born of mere excitement will die when the excitement is over. I am not saying a word against genuine revivals, or even against excitement; and I do not think that it is any argument against revivals that some of those who profess to be converted at them go back to the world. I am reminded of that very good story — a somewhat amusing one, — which Mr. Fullerton told us. He said that some persons find fault with revivals because all the converts do not stand. “Why,” said he, “they remind me of the tale that is told of a countryman of mine, who picked up a sovereign; but when he went to change it, they said that it was light weight, and he only got eighteen shillings for it. Still, you see, that was all clear gain to him. However, another day, seeing a sovereign lying on the ground, he said, ‘No, I will not pick up another sovereign, for I lost two shillings by the last one.’” That was very unwise, if it ever happened. So, suppose that we do lose some of the converts of a revival, — suppose that we even lose two out of twenty, — a very large percentage, — yet, still, the rest are all clear gain. Let us pick up another sovereign, even though there may be a discount upon its value. Yet I am sorry for those lost two shillings. I grudge the sovereign being light weight; I would like to have the whole twenty shillings, and to have all those, who profess to be converted, really converted to the living God. So I speak to those of you who, after a while, go back. When the cyclone of the revival is over, you drop to the earth like dead things. May God renew you by his grace, and work a work in your heart that will not be dependent upon any surroundings! May you have root in yourselves!

     For, you see that this class of persons, who were dependent upon their surroundings, changed when their surroundings changed. Their parents were gone, they were placed in ungodly families, and they became ungodly themselves. They simply floated with the tide. It was said, a long while ago, that someone was asking whether such-and-such a person, who was a Quaker, was bathing in the Thames; and the reply was, “How am I to know a Quaker when he is in the river? He would not have his broad-brimmed hat on, would he?” “No,” said the other, “but you can distinguish him without that, for he is sure to be swimming against the stream.” That is the way that we know a Christian; he is sure to be swimming against the stream. Live fish always do that; but dead fish go floating down the stream, and are carried away with it. Dead fish just drift with the tide. If the tide goes up, they go up; but if the tide goes out, they go out. Whatever others do, they do; “anything for an easy life,” is their motto. They profess to be Christians while they are with Christians; but they are ungodly as soon as they are with the ungodly. This will never do.

     According to our Lord’s parable, this is especially the case when they have to endure affliction or persecution because of the Word. They fear that they will be losers if they are Christians, and they cannot afford to suffer so. Somebody points the finger of scorn at them, and laughs at them, and they cannot stand that. They do not mind being thought respectable for going to chapel, and taking a seat; but to be shouted at in the streets, and to be made the subject of jest at private parties, they cannot endure that, so away they go. Poor things, dependent upon externals! God deliver you from that evil, that it may be no more said of you, “They have no root in themselves”! May you be straight, distinct, direct, thorough, true, solid, substantial, enduring, rooted, grounded, settled, by the grace of God!

     II. Notice, next, that THEY WERE DEFICIENT IN ESSENTIALS. These grains of wheat, when they fell upon the loose soil lying upon that pan of rock, grew very fast. They grew all the faster because the soil was so shallow, and the sun so soon caused the seed to sprout; but it was only “for a time.” Listen to the sad note in my text: “They have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time.” They joined the church “but for a time.” They taught in the Sunday-school “but for a time.” They were zealous about religious matters “but for a time.” These words seem to me to sound like the tolling of a knell, — the knell of all our hope concerning them, and of all their hope, too. Oh, what sorrow is hidden in those words! How terrible it is to be converted “but for a time,” to make a profession of religion “but for a time”! What innumerable curses seem to hiss out of every syllable, — “but for a time”!

     The pity is, that they were deficient in the essentials of vitality. They were not deficient in blade, for they sprang up; but they were deficient in root, and that was a fatal deficiency. For a plant to have no root, is much the same as for a man to have no heart. There cannot be life in a plant, for any length of time, at any rate, where such an essential thing as a root is lacking.

     What is meant by a root in such a case as this? First, it means hidden graces. You cannot see the roots, for they are underground. The best part of the plant is out of sight. It does not strike every casual observer; but I suppose that, as a rule, there is as much of a tree underground as there is aboveground; and that, in many cases, it needs to be so in order that it may keep its hold upon the earth. Now, mark this, with a genuine Christian, there is always as much underground as there is aboveground. That underground work is often very much neglected, but it is exceedingly important; Indeed, it is essential. One of the roots of a true Christian is secret repentance, and secret prayer is another; that is a root that runs down far into the soil. He who has not got it has no root. Secret communion with God, the talking of the heart with the great Father; secret love pouring itself out in fervent fellowship and praise; the inside life, of which none of our neighbours can see anything; — all that is the most important part of us. If you are a tradesman, and have all your goods in your shop window, you will fail before long. If you can show all your piety to anybody, you have not much to show. Underground work is, however, absolutely necessary. How many builders have had to prove this! They have “run up” houses in a hurry without a good foundation; and, by-and-by, down they have come. Foundation-work is all important, though nobody can see it, and therefore nobody will praise it, and, perhaps, for a long time, nobody may discover that it is not there. O my dear hearers, let us lay a good foundation! Let our souls be really builded in secret upon the living Christ by a true and genuine faith, — the faith of God’s elect. That is what a root is, then, — a hidden thing. These rocky-ground hearers had no root, that is, no hidden graces.

     In the next place, a root is a holdfast. When the winds of March come tearing through the woods, the trees will fall if they have no roots. Even the mighty oaks will be torn away from their places in the forest if they have no roots. These are the anchors of those great vegetable ships, by which they are held fast in the earth; and it is essential to a Christian to have a holdfast, — to have hold of something that he is sure of, something that he no longer questions; or, if he does question it, he battles with the question, and holds fast by the truth. A religion that may be true, or may not be true, is irreligion. The only real religion is that of which you are absolutely sure, — that which you have tried, and tested, and proved in your very soul, and know to be as true as your own existence. Doubts yield nothing to you but continual fear and trembling, starvation to your strength, and restlessness to your soul. Christ bids you come and believe in him with a child-like faith, for so he will give you rest. Oh, how many Christians lack roots! Just look at them. They hear a certain form of doctrine taught one day; and they say, “That is not quite what I have been accustomed to hear; still, it was prettily put.” They go and hear another kind of doctrine, and the preacher is such a clever man, — as he had need to be to make that sort of stuff go down, — that they take in all he says just because he is so clever. I believe that the devil is clever; and if these people could only hear him preach, I expect they would receive all he said, for they do not know anything, they do not understand anything, they have no holdfast of anything. They are like ships drifting at sea, with no chart, no compass, no captain, no rudder. They will probably end as derelicts, a menace to all ships that sail over the seas; or they will strike on a rock, or founder at sea. Only God knows what their end will be; but a bad end it must be, for certain. O dear friends, I want all of you to have roots!

     Truth understood is a grand holdfast. Resolution deliberately formed, — that is another root, another holdfast. Communion with God continually enjoyed, — that is another holdfast. A lady was once asked why she was so sure that the Bible was true, and she replied, “Because I know the Author of it;” and when you, beloved, know the Author, and know how true he is, then your doubts concerning his truth will fly away. Confirmations continually experienced, such as answers to your prayers, providential deliverances, and the like, — these things become, infallible proofs to you, till you are as sure of your position as a mathematician is about the rules of geometry. He cannot be convinced that they are false, for he has tested, and tried, and proved them. When anybody says to me, “God does not hear prayer,” I never answer him. I laugh. The remark is as false and as foolish as if he had said that I did not hear. Do you say that God does not hear prayer, or that there is no God? Of course, there is no God to you who have no God, and who never go to him. If he does not hear your prayers, how can you expect him to hear such prayers as yours are, seeing that you do not “believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him”? He never said that he would hear such prayers as yours; but if you believe in him, and know him, and come to him as a child comes to his father, he will as certainly hear your prayers as that you, being evil, give good gifts unto your children. This is not a matter of supposition with us. It has become a matter of fact, because we have these holdfasts, these roots, in ourselves. If you do not have these, you will certainly wither.

     A root, again, implies a means of continuance. The child, who plucks the flowers from his father’s garden, and sticks them in his own little flower-bed, says, “Father, see how the dahlias have come up; my garden is pretty.” Yes, but in a couple of days they are all gone, because they had no roots in themselves. So, if you want to continue to be a Christian, there is a secret something, which only God can put into the soul, which ensures continuance; and where it once is, it will abide for ever. You remember how our Lord said to the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” He also said to the Jews, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” That is what is meant by the root, — the root implies continuance.

     And, once more, a root means living assimilation. A plant might be tied to a stick that was stuck in the soil, and it might continue there, and yet wither. But you know what a root does, it goes travelling about until it finds the nourishment it needs. It is beautiful — to take the case of a fir tree, — to see it growing high up upon a bare rock. I have often seen, among the Alps, a huge rock standing all by itself, with a fine pine growing right up the rock; one root comes down this side, and another down the other side, till it looks as if it were a colossal eagle’s claws that had grasped the big rock. What are these great roots doing? Why, there is some good soil down there, and the roots have gone travelling down that great rock till they have reached the earth. By-and-by, these roots go to another rock; but, as there is nothing to be got out of it, they turn deliberately to the right, and to the left, and go in search of good soil and water, just as if they had a kind of intelligence, as I suppose they really have. It is wonderful how they will wind and twist about for long distances. I have seen the roots of some trees, in the South of France, running along almost as far as the entire length of the Tabernacle galleries, — perhaps, even further still, — right on until they have found water, and then they have brought it up to an insignificant-looking tree, which was thus nourished. Stich is the power of a root.

     For what purpose do we need roots? To be able to go after spiritual food; to be feeling after it all through the Word of God, sending roots into every text of Scripture that is likely to afford us spiritual nutriment. What do the roots do for the trees and plants to which they belong? They begin to suck up the materials by some strange living chemistry which I cannot explain, and they convert it into the life-blood of the plant or tree, selecting out of the soil this or that, and rejecting the other, and enabling the plant or tree to make its leaves and its fruits with wondrous skill. No chemist could perform this feat, but the chemistry of God accomplishes it by means of these little roots. What you need is to have roots in yourselves, to be constantly going after spiritual food, and especially laying hold of Christ to whom you are rooted, seeking from him the nourishment of the spiritual life that he has imparted to you, living because he lives, feeding on him, and understanding these words of his, which, if you do truly understand them, will assure you that you shall live for ever: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. . . . For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”

     III. My time has gone, yet I must briefly tell you HOW THESE PEOPLE WERE DESTROYED BY UNAVOIDABLE INFLUENCES. The sun shone; they could not help that, the sun was made to shine. The sun was hot; it could not help that, it was made to be hot. And this was quite sufficient to put an end to all the greenness of these poor dwindling things. So the common trials of life, the afflictions, the persecutions, which are inevitable to the Christian life, scorch those who are mere professors; and they, having no root in themselves, wither away.

     First, they lost their original stamina. A seed, unless it is absolutely dead, has Some nutriment within itself; almost every seed contains a measure of nourishment for the life-germ. So, at first, this wheat, that was sown, sprang up by itself through the influence of the heat. Thus do some people seem to begin to be religious with a few right notions, and a little good feeling; but they soon use all this up.

     Next, when that stamina was all used up, they had no means of taking in a fresh supply. A plant cannot live without roots, any more than you and I can live without mouths with which to eat. These people, having no root, could not go for anything more, they already had all they could get. They had no Christ to go to, they had no eternal life, no covenant purpose, no principle of the Holy Spirit to fall back upon; and when their little all was gone, they could not come to the great All-in-all for more; they had no connection with him.

     To drop the figure, and speak plainly, — what does actually happen in the case of such people? Sometimes, there is unholy conduct. At other times, there is a departure from sound doctrine, which is just as great an evil in the sight of God. In others, there is the losing of all their former zeal; and, by-and-by, there comes the perishing altogether.

     I have upon my memory many cases of this sort; but some of the friends of those persons are still alive, — perhaps some of the persons themselves are living, — so that, if I were to tell you about them, I might do harm instead of good. I remember, however, a man who was the terror of the village in which I preached in my early days. If ever there was a bad fellow on the earth, it was Tom. One afternoon, after I had been preaching, I was told that he was in the right-hand gallery of the chapel. It was more than I could believe till my friends described to me a man whom I had noticed during the service, and then I was obliged to believe the evidence of my own eyes. He was a big rough navvy, and oh, such a terribly bad fellow! He came to hear me preach again and again; and he became to me very much what a faithful dog is to his master. There was nothing that he would not have done to please me if he could. He was broken down with deep repentance, as it seemed, just for a very short time indeed; and then he became boisterously happy. I often wished that his sorrow had lasted longer. Whenever I went out to preach, no matter how far off it might be, he was always there. I have seen him pull a barge, loaded with people, up the river Cam, that they might go to hear me at an open-air service. He was full of zeal and earnestness for a while; but, by-and-by, information reached me that Tom was drunk; and when lie was drunk, he was capable of any evil. He remained drunk for months, and we never saw anything of him all that time. Then he came slinking back, and professed repentance. We hoped it was really so, but I never could make anything out of him. I think that he was just one of those who have “no root in themselves.” If I could have lived with him in the house always, he might have been as right as possible; but when he went out into the field to work, and met with other men, he was as wrong as possible, for he had no root in himself. Strong as Samson, he was also as weak as Samson. I wonder if I am addressing anyone here who is like him. Dear friends, do not be satisfied with following a minister, and being earnestly in love with any Christian man; but get to God, and ask him to give you a new heart and a right spirit, or else it will only be a temporary reformation; and good as that may be, it will never land you in heaven.

     There came to this house of prayer a working-man, whose father had induced him to come. I will not indicate where he sat. He was in the habit of wasting his week’s wages on a Saturday night, and his family were, in consequence, miserable and poor; but he was brought here, and the change in him was very wonderful. He had not been attending with us long before there was an alteration even in the rooms in which he lived, and in the appearance of his wife and children. We all felt glad, and his good old father, whom I know right well, was very happy about his boy. He said, “Surely, he will be converted.” He was such a hopeful character that it was even arranged for him to come to see me about joining the church. But, alas, he never comes now! Saturday night is just the same as it used to be in his worst days, and his family is just as unhappy. He had no root in himself; and he is just a picture of ever so many, who come in here, and get impressed, and are really benefited “for a time.” They take the pledge, but only to break it. God grant that they may not go so far as to be baptized, and yet go back to their sin, as the sow that was washed goes again to wallow in the mire! Not long ago, I was asked for alms by one who begged me to help him to get a meal. I looked at him, and wanted to know who he was; and he said, at last, “Don’t you know me?” “No, I do not know you.” He mentioned his name, but I did not remember him. Then he told me some things about himself that brought him to my recollection, — how he had sat among us here, and we had esteemed and respected him, and he had been very zealous in all good things; but, after a while, that “sipping and nipping,” which is so common among business men nowadays, led him astray, till he lost his position, and could not get another situation. He has gone down, down, down, till, as he spoke to me, and his breath reeked with spirits, I could only say, “I could not recommend you to a situation; nobody could take you, you are not fit for it.” I gave him a little something to eat; I could do no more for him. It is an awful thing to think of the many, of that sort, who have no root in themselves, and so, presently, wither away. Bad company in one case, a wicked woman in another case, the wine-cup in a third case, — all these things help to spoil the work which we had hoped had been a true work of grace. What, then, is to be done? Why, come along to Jesus Christ, and really trust him. If you give yourselves to him, he will change you, and you shall be truly changed. If you commit your souls into his keeping, he will keep you for ever and ever. Try to save yourselves, and you will surely be lost; but come to Christ that he may save you, and you will be certainly and eternally saved. Oh, that his grace might lead you thoroughly to quit yourselves, and wholly to rest in him, now and evermore; and unto his name shall be all the praise and glory. Amen and Amen.



Lacking Moisture

By / Sep 20

Lacking Moisture

 

 

“And some fell upon n rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.” — Luke viii. 6.

 

September 20th, 1888

 

IN this parable of the sower, there is great discrimination of character, not only between those who bring forth fruit and those who bring forth none, but also between those who bring forth fruit in different degrees, — not only between the fruitful and the fruitless, but also between various forms of fruitlessness. The reasons are given, not in bulk, but in detail, why this failed, and that failed, and the other failed. All this points to discrimination in hearing. When there is discrimination in the preacher, as there should always be, there should be an equal discrimination in the hearer, and each one should try to take to himself that special part of the Word which is intended for him.

     The true preacher, especially our great Lord and Master, resembles a portrait painted by a real artist, which always looks at you; no matter where you are in the room, to the right, or to the left of it, its eyes seem to be fixed upon you. So does our Lord, whenever he preaches, look at us. May he look at us in that way just now, and may we catch his eye as he gazes upon us; and may the preacher also seem to be looking straight at you, because you are on the watch for that particular part of the truth which specially concerns you! If there is anything hopeful and cheering m the sermon, may it come to you who are mourning and doubtful! If there is anything arousing, may it come to those of you who happen to be tinged with self-confidence!

     Coming to our text, I think it suggests to us three observations; first, let us note well that there is a reception of the Word of God which fails to be effectual; secondly, we shall enquire why it fails in these cases; and, thirdly, we shall consider how this failure is to be avoided.         

     I. First, THERE is A SOWING THAT COMES TO NOTHING. There is even a reception of the seed into the soil which disappoints the sower.

     This failure was not because the seed was bad. It was the same seed which, in the good soil, produced thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. You know that, sometimes, when we do not succeed in impressing our hearers, we condemn ourselves, perhaps very justly. If men are not saved, the preacher must not put the blame upon divine sovereignty; he must blame himself. He must also ask himself, “Have I really preached the truth? Have I preached it in a right spirit? Have I preached different truths in due proportion? Have I given the most weight to that which is of primary importance, and have I put that which is secondary in its proper position?” We, poor sowers, often chastise ourselves for our failures; or, if we do not, we ought to do so; otherwise, we shall never improve. God help us to preach better, to love men’s souls more, and to be more earnest in seeking to bring them to Christ! I mean this wish for myself and for all of you who love the Lord.

     But there was no fault to be found with the seed that fell on the rock, although it did not result in a harvest. The seed was good, thoroughly good. The sower got it from his Master, and his Master’s granary contains no seed which will not grow. True preachers car. say with the apostle Peter, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.” We have preached to you the Word of God; so that, whenever we put our head upon our pillow, we can truly say that we have not preached what we thought, or what we imagined, but we have declared what we believe to be revealed in this blessed Book of God. That is the good seed that we sow; and if it does not grow in you, it is not the fault of the seed, it is your own fault. There is something about you that hinders it. Will you think of that, dear hearer, if you are unconverted? But, in the next place, the failure was not from want of receptiveness. Those hearers, who are like the seed sown on the rock, do receive the seed. We are expressly told that by our Lord himself: “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the Word with joy.” We have hearers who take in all we say, perhaps too readily; they hear indiscriminately. There are some hearers who are like a sponge; they suck up all, good, bad, and indifferent. If they hear of a clever, oratorical preacher, they speedily run after him. What he preaches, or whether he preaches with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, is not a matter about which they enquire. They have not much depth of earth, but what little earth there is takes in the seed. There is not enough depth of earth for the seed really to fructify; yet they do, in some sort of fashion, receive it. I am not going to pile up indiscriminate censure upon this receptiveness. It is a briar upon which a rose may grow; but, still, it is a briar until it is properly grafted. Receptiveness may easily be carried too far, and men may even ruin themselves by being too ready to receive what they hear, — not by being too ready rightly to receive the real Word of Truth, but by receiving it in the wrong fashion. Do they disbelieve what you say? No, they are not earnest enough to do that. Do they doubt what you preach? No, they have not gone so far aside as that. Do they argue against the gospel? Oh, no; they have not fallen into that form of depravity! They take in what they hear. They do not do much with it. There is not grace enough in their heart, after they have nominally received the Word, to cause it to grow. There is a lack somewhere, not a lack of receptiveness, but a lack in another direction.

     The failure, also, was not caused through lack of heat. There was a hard rock, with a little soil upon it, just enough to take in the seed. That rock needed to be broken up, ground to powder, and made into good soil; but as it was not broken up, when the sun shone, the rock refracted and reflected all the heat, and gave great warmth to the soil in which the seed was lying, so that it grew very fast, for it was in a kind of hothouse. We have many hearers who, if enthusiasm could save them, would have been saved long ago. On Sundays, they are very soon warmed up, and there is so little of them that the heat of the sun soon penetrates to their rocky nature. The heat is refracted, and straightway they are all in a blaze. I know them; they are very nice people to preach to. How excited they grow! They are ready enough to shout “Hallelujah!” They speedily receive the Word, but there is no depth about them, so they do not retain it. They will do anything that we want them to do. They are not only enthusiastic, but they soon grow fanatical. I am not blaming them for this. If there were something else to go with it, it would be a good thing. The gardener or florist likes a good bottom heat to make his plants grow rapidly; but if it is all heat, if it is a dry heat, and nothing else, very soon they are scorched to death. The little moisture, that was in them at first, makes them grow rapidly; but when that is exhausted, they are soon withered. I do not deny that it is quite a pleasure to meet with a warm-hearted man. We have plenty of people about who are either cold or only lukewarm. If they give you their hand, you feel as if you had laid hold of a fish, it is so cold. We like to meet with hearers who respond to our appeals with kindly friendliness, and who, when the Word is brought before them, display a warmth of feeling towards it. These are very hopeful people; I cannot say more about them. Their name is Hopeful, but they do not always grow into Faithful. They give us great encouragement; but, alas! they often cause us great discouragement.

     Then, again, this failure was not caused through want of joy, for we are told by our Saviour that they received the Word with joy. Oh, they are so happy! They feel that they are saved, and they are full of joy; and the main reason why they believe that they are saved is that they are so happy. Well, there is something in being joyful; I do not like to see people who seem to have a religion that disagrees with them. True religion does indeed make us glad. But then, my dear friends, if your only evidence of the possession of grace is that you are so happy, you may be unhappy tomorrow, and what will be your state then? Our human nature is so constructed, and our body has so much influence upon our mind and soul, that we can soon become very low in spirit, and scarcely know why we are in such a condition. That joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, I cheerfully acknowledge; but there are many joys that are not fruits of the Spirit at all, for they are earth-born and carnal; and there is often a so-called religious joy which is the fruit of carnal excitement and supposed conversion, and not the result of a real saving knowledge of God.

     Perhaps, if these people had received the Word with sorrow, — if they had received it with a broken heart, and a contrite spirit, — if they had received it tremblingly, in the very depth of their souls, — if they had gone home to cry to God in secret prayer, instead of rejoicing in open exultation, there might have been evidences in them of a deeper, surer, truer, and more abiding work. These people had joy, and plenty of it. I am not saying anything against their joy; it was not the point in which they failed. They failed somewhere else, as I shall try to show you presently.

     And, once more, they did not fail from want of eagerness and speed in receiving the truth. They received it at once, and the seed sprang up at once. Just because they had no depth of earth, it sprang up all the faster. The wheat that fell upon the shallow soil covering the rock grew directly; it sprang up because of the very absence of the element that was necessary to bring it to perfection. I believe in instantaneous conversion. I believe that the new birth must be instantaneous, — that there is a moment in which a man is dead, and another moment in which he is alive; — and that, just as there is a certain instant in which a child is born, so there is an instant in which we become the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. But there is also a supposed conversion which is undone as quickly as it is done. There are to be found, in some churches, men who have grown wonderfully fast. They were drunkards a fortnight ago, and they are taking the lead among experienced Christians to-day. Well, it may rightly be so. God acts according to his own sovereign will, and he can work such wonders of grace and miracles of mercy. But it may turn out that a thing that grows very fast does so because it will not stand fast, and will not last long. We have to deal with so many who are always procrastinating and putting off; and, therefore, it seems a good fault when men are hasty about these things, — it is a blessed fault, if a fault at all. Yet it did so happen that, while these people were excellent in that direction, they failed in another, and failed in a fatal way, of which I have now to speak.

     II. That brings me to ENQUIRE WHY THESE PEOPLE MADE SUCH A SAD FAILURE?

     The seeds that fell on the trodden path, while they were lost to the husbandman, did feed the birds, at any rate; but these on the rock did not. They quickly sprang up, and were soon withered; and good for nothing. They promised much, but it came to just nothing at all. And, in this way, some of those, who appear to be the most hopeful, may cause us most grief by being our greatest disappointments.

     Now, why was this? Luke tells us, and no other Evangelist tells us, that it was because they “lacked moisture.”

     Does not this mean, first of all, that they lacked the influence of the Divine Spirit? When we speak of spiritual dew, we refer to the operation of the Holy Spirit. When we talk of the river of the water of life, we mean those sacred things which come streaming down to us from the throne of God through the working of the Spirit of God. These people lacked that moisture. They were converted, so far as they were converted at all, through the eloquence of the preacher; and a man, who is converted by eloquence, can be unconverted by eloquence. Or they were converted by the zeal and earnestness of Christian people. But, if you were converted by one man, another man can unconvert you. All that is of man goes to be unravelled; all the spinning and the weaving of earthly machinery can be pulled to pieces; but the work of God’s grace endures for ever. Have you, my dear hearer, felt the power of the Holy Spirit first withering you up? “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.” Has he ever dried up, in you, all that was of yourself, and turned the verdant meadow into a barren wilderness? It must be so with you at first; there is no sure work which does not begin with emptying and pulling down. Has the Spirit of God ever so wrought in you as a spirit of bondage, shutting you up in prison under the law, fixing your hands in handcuffs, and your feet in fetters, putting you in the stocks, and leaving you there? If you have never known anything about that experience, I am afraid you have hitherto “lacked moisture.”

     Then, when the Spirit of God comes to a soul that is thus broken down, he reveals Christ as a Saviour for that sinner, — a full Saviour for the empty sinner. And, oh, how sweetly does the soul rejoice as it perceives the suitability, fulness, and freeness of Christ; and looks to Jesus, and trusts him! Have you ever felt that sacred moisture which softens the heart so that it sweetly yields to Christ, — that moisture which refreshes the heart, and makes it bloom again with a holy hopefulness and delight in Christ? O my dear hearers, what we say about the Holy Spirit is no mere talk; it is a matter of fact! “Ye must be born again,” — born from above. Ye must be partakers of the Spirit of God, or else all your religion, however beautiful it may appear to be, will wither when the sun has risen with burning heat.

     Now, my brothers and sisters in Christ, you find that everything goes ill with you when you lack moisture. One of our brethren sometimes says to me, after a service, “Oh, sir, there will be good done to-day, for there was dew about!” I know what he means, and hope you also do. You have a little flower at home, which you keep in the window, — a geranium, or perhaps a fuchsia. You set great store by it, because of its associations; but perhaps you have been out for a week, and when you come back, it looked so drooping that it seemed as if it must die, and you soon discovered the reason why. It was quite dry: “it lacked moisture.” You gave it some water, and it soon began to revive. These plants are kept alive by moisture. But when they lack moisture, the more the sun shines upon them, or the warmer the room is, the worse it is for them. They need moisture, and so do we, poor plants that we are. We need the Holy Spirit; and if the Lord does not water us daily from the living springs on the hilltops of glory, we shall certainly die. So take heed, brothers and sisters, that you do not lack the moisture of the Holy Spirit’s gracious influence.

     Why did these people lack it? There was moisture in the air. It is evident that the other seed, which brought forth thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold, had moisture; yet this, which was in the same air as the other “lacked moisture.” There were morning dews, and there were mists and rains; yet these seeds on the rock “lacked moisture.” The reason was, that there was a want of power to retain the moisture in the soil. When it came down, it ran off again, or speedily evaporated, because there was a rock, and only a very little earth on the top of it to hold the moisture, and all that came there soon disappeared. There are many persons who seem to be like this rocky soil; they have no receptiveness for the Divine Spirit; they manage to do without him.

     Now let me warn you of certain things that indicate a, lack of moisture. The first is, doctrine without feeling. You believe the Bible doctrine concerning Christ. I am glad that you do; but dry doctrine, without the bedewing influence of the Spirit of God, is just a granite rock out of which you will get nothing whatever. You say that you believe the doctrine of human depravity; but have you ever really felt it, and mourned over it? You say that you believe the doctrine of redemption; but have you ever proved the power of the precious blood of Jesus? Have you ever been melted at the sight of the cross? You say that you believe the doctrine of effectual calling; but have you been effectually called by grace? You say that you believe the doctrine of regeneration; but have you been born again? If not, you lack moisture. I have known some brethren, who have been so “sound” that they have been nothing but sound. “Sixteen ounces to the pound,” they said they were. I thought that they were seventeen ounces to the pound, and that the last bad ounce spoilt the other sixteen. You may be wonderfully orthodox, and yet be lost. That hard pan of rock must be broken up, and ground to powder, that the moisture may get to the seed. Of what avail is doctrine without feeling?

     It is equally worthless where there is experience without humiliation. I mean that some talk about having felt this, and having felt that, and they boast of it. Some of them have even thought that they have become perfect, and they glory in it. Well, they lack moisture. As soon as you get side by side with them, you feel a want of something, you do not quite know what it is. It is dry experience; perhaps it is boiling hot, but it is very dry. There is no bowing before the Lord in a humble confession of unworthiness; no understanding of what it is to feel the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should loathe ourselves, as condemned criminals ought to do. I pray the Lord to save us from an experience, however perfect it seems, which is not moist, — which has not a living tenderness wrought into it by the power of the Spirit of God. Avoid, then, experience without humiliation.

     Shun also practice without heart-love. I have known some brethren and sisters, who have been most exact and precise in all their conduct. I have thought that they scarcely ever sinned, and I have not wondered that they did not, because there did not seem to be enough juice in them to sin; they did not appear to have any human nature in them. They were just like dry pieces of leather; never excited; never getting into a bad temper; they have not seemed to have any temper, either bad or good. They never say a word too hastily; they always measure things out very exactly; yet a lack of love is a fatal lack. I knew one, whom I greatly esteemed as a minister of the Word for many years. I esteemed him for his regularity of conduct. I believe that he got up to the tick of the clock, that he had family prayer to the tick of the clock, and that he did everything in the same methodical manner. I remarked to him once, “There are many people, round- about your chapel, who are living in the depths of sin; do you ever get any of them into your place of worship?” “No,” he replied, “I do not want to get them in.” I asked, “Why?” “Well,” he answered, “they are mostly harlots and thieves; what could I do with such people?” Then I saw that it was possible to be regular, and precise, and good, up to a certain point, and yet to have no moisture; and as the moisture was not there, of course no thief or harlot would go to hear him, he was too dry for them. It is an awful thing to have a Pharisaic practice, perfect when looked at by the casual eye, yet without the life and light of love; and, therefore lacking moisture.

     Beware, dear friends, of a belief that never had any repentance connected with it, for that is another way in which the lack of moisture is manifested. There are some people who are willing to believe a great deal; but you never hear of them groaning because of sin, or confessing it with a broken heart in true humility before G-od. To trust in repentance without faith, would be ruinous to the soul; but to have a kind of faith without repentance, would be also ruinous. If faith never has tears in its eyes, it is a dead faith. He, who has never wept because of his sin, has never really had his sin washed away. If thy heart has never been broken on account of sin, I will not believe that it was ever broken from sin; and if thy heart is not broken from thy sin, thou art still at a distance from thy God, and thou wilt never see his face with acceptance.

     Beware, also, of a confidence that is never associated with self-diffidence. Yes, my dear sir, speak as boldly as you will, be as brave as you may for your Master; but, at the same time, be very lowly in spirit. Let thine own weakness be seen, as well as thy Master’s strength. Whilst thou dost glory in Christ's merits, confess thine own sinfulness, and admit that, in thyself, thou art nothing. We can never have too much confidence in God; but, unless it is associated with deep self-distrust, it will lack moisture, and it never will produce any real harvest unto God.

     Beware, also, of action without spirituality. We have many people of that kind, who are very active in serving God in one way and another. Would that all were, if it were in a right spirit! They are busy from morning to night, but there is no prayer, and no dependence upon God, mingled with their efforts; but that will. not do. That is all wasted activity. However busy we may be, we shall effect nothing unless we receive from the Holy Spirit all the power with which we work, and are dependent upon him for the success of every word we say. Beware of having so much to do that you really do nothing at all because you do not wait upon God for the power to do it aright.

     Then there is another dry thing, namely, zeal without communion with God; — zeal for extending the kingdom of Christ, zeal for spreading the denomination, zeal for the advance of a particular sect, zeal that is intolerant, probably; but, all the while, no careful walking according to God’s Word, no observing what God would have us to be zealous about, no humbling of ourselves in the presence of the great Lord of all, and no bathing of ourselves in the river of the water of life by fellowship with God.

     Thus I might keep on showing you various ways in which people may have a great deal that is very good, yet it will all come to nothing because they lack moisture. But the seed cannot assimilate the dry earth until it is mixed with water, and held in solution, and spiritual life can only be fed by truth held in solution by the Holy Spirit. When he softens and prepares us, then our roots and rootlets take up the true nutriment, and we grow thereby.

     In the case of the seed upon the rocky ground, there was, also, a deficiency of sensitive vitality. The seed grew for a time, and then became dry; and are there not multitudes of people, in our churches now, who are just like that? They are as dry as old hay, they have withered away. We cannot turn them out; but, oh, that we could turn life into them! Oh, that the water of life might flow all about them, so that they might live thereby, and bring forth fruit unto God!

     I have said enough, if God shall bless it, to set many people searching their hearts to see whether this sacred moisture is there.

     III. Now, to close, we are to CONSIDER HOW THIS EVIL IS TO BE AVOIDED.

     Well, first, let us one and all cry to God to break up the rock. Rock, rock, rock, wilt thou never break? We may scatter the seed upon you, but nothing will come of it till that rock is broken. The great steam-plough needs to be driven right through men’s hearts till they are torn in sunder, and the old rock of nature is ground to powder, made friable, and turned into good soil. Dear friend, do pray to God to make sure work of you. As far as you are concerned, the one thing you have to do is to believe in Christ Jesus, that you may be saved. But a part of the process of your salvation is the taking out of you the heart of stone, and the giving to you of a heart of flesh. There is no true growing unless this takes place.

     The next thing is, look well to spirituality. This moisture was a very subtle thing; men might easily overlook that dampness in the atmosphere, and in the soil, which was all-essential. Who can tell you what unction is? Yet a sermon without unction is a poor, worthless thing. There is a certain secret something which distinguishes a true Christian from a worldling or a mere professor; see that you have it. Do not be content with the Creed, baptism, the Lord’s supper, or anything else that is visible; but say, “Lord, give me the moisture that I need; give me that secret something without which I shall be lacking the very thing which I most need.” You cannot see your soul; you cannot fully tell what it is; yet you know that it is a something that keeps your body alive, and when that something is gone, the body becomes dead; so is all religion dead until it receives the life which comes from the moisture that so many lack.

     That leads me further to say, look to the Holy Spirit. Be very tender towards the Holy Spirit. We preach Christ to you, as we are commanded to do; but we do not want you ever to forget the blessed Spirit, without whom nothing saving can ever be wrought in you. You cannot make yourself to be born again; even the faith that saves is the work of the Spirit of God, if it be the faith of God’s elect. Be jealous and tender, therefore, and walk carefully in reference to the Spirit of God, lest you grieve him.

     Then I would say, next, do try to avoid all dry heat. Do not work yourself up into a frenzy, and think that there is anything saving in it. The heat of excitement may be necessary, just as dust flies from the wheels of a chariot when it moves swiftly; but, as the dust does not help the chariot, but is a nuisance to those who are riding in it, so is it with excitement. It does not help the true movement, and it is a nuisance to those who are living near to God.

     Lastly, be constantly looking for that divine mystery of secret vitality which is called in the text moisture.” I commend to you this prayer. “Lord, give me this blessed moisture. Saturate me through and through with the heavenly dew, the divine rain, that I may grow, and bring forth fruit to the glory of thy holy name.” God bless you, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.



The Seed upon a Rock

By / Sep 16

The Seed upon a Rock

 

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” — Matthew xiii. 5, 6.

 

ON another occasion, I hope to preach from the words, “because they had no root;” but, at this time, my subject is, “They sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth.” Every farmer knows the wonderful effect of heat below the soil, how quickly it makes things grow. I do not gather that this was a stony piece of ground, but that it had a mass of stone not far from the surface. It was ground where the soil was very shallow, and underneath it was a hard pan of rock that had never been broken up; so that, when the sun shone upon it, the rock reflected the heat, and what with the sun above, and the heat below, the corn was very soon made to sprout, and up came the green blade almost immediately. But this very shallowness of the soil, which made the seed spring up so quickly, was the cause of its ruin, for the sun had not long shone upon it before that which made it grow, also killed it. The heat scorched it, and it withered away.

     Those people, who are represented by this soil which had no deepness of earth, very soon make the good seed to appear to grow in them. They hear a sermon, are apparently converted directly, and they fancy that they are saved; or there is a revival meeting, where some earnest addresses are given by different speakers, and they at once profess to be believers. They are brought forward as converts, and there is great rejoicing over them; but after a very little while, days of trial arise, and there being no depth in them, they wither away, and their names are struck from the church roll. The hopeful success, as it seemed, becomes a bitter failure. Men ask, “Where are those converts?” and echo can only answer, “Where?” for nobody knows but the Lord, who was never deceived by them.

     I want you clearly to understand that the fault did not lie in the suddenness of their supposed conversion. Many sudden conversions have been among the best that have ever happened. Take, for instance, the case of Saul of Tarsus, struck down on the road to Damascus; within three days, his sight is restored to him, and he is baptized as a true, real, out-and-out Christian. There was great depth of earth in him, yet the seed sprang up very rapidly; and we have hundreds and even thousands of instances of persons who have been suddenly converted, and yet who have been truly converted. The work has been very thorough, nobody could doubt its genuineness, yet it took place quite unexpectedly, and was looked upon as a wonder. Do not judge the reality of your conversion either by the suddenness of it or by the length of time which it occupied; for it is true that superficial conversions are usually sudden, although all sudden conversions are not superficial. There are many who, in the sight of God, are not converted at all, who appeared as if they were the subjects of a great, remarkable, and complete change. Where there is no depth, there is no durability. That familiar proverb is a true one, “Easy come, easy gd.” As a general rule, those persons who have, as they say, “found religion” all of a sudden, without any mental struggle, and who have never found it in their heart and soul, are the very people to let it go quite as readily whenever a time of trial comes.

     In case there should be any persons of that sort here unwarned, I am going to speak of them and to them now, answering these three questions. First, what is meant by having no deepness of earth? Secondly, what is meant by the scorching of the sun? And, thirdly, how can we avoid the evil of having no deepness of earth, and so being withered by the scorching of the sun?

     I. First, then, WHAT IS MEANT BY HAVING NO DEEPNESS OF EARTH?

     I think it is, with some people, a general superficiality of character. There are some persons whom you ought to be able to see through, for there is so little substance in them. I do not say that you can always see all there is in them, for a pool, if it be not deep, may be very muddy, and you may not be able to see to the bottom of it, even though it is quite shallow; and I think I know some people in whom there is as much deception as there is superficiality. Probably, we all know some persons who, from their very early days, have always been superficial and changeable, like the man described by Dryden, — “Everything by starts, and nothing long.” Even in business, they have been about twenty different things, “Jack of all trades, and master of none.” Nobody knows what they are going to be next; and they themselves have no idea. The weathercock does not shift more often than they do. When they went to school, they pretended to learn a thing, but they forgot it the next day. Even in their play, they never put any heart, there never was any earnestness about them in anything; and, now, they are just thin, shallow, vapid, empty. Like the baseless fabric of a vision, “such stuff as dreams are made of,” there is nothing in them.

     When such people become affected by religion, they are just the same. They hear, yet they do not hear, for they are looking round the place half the time. If anyone else is affected by the preaching of the Word, they may be affected too, or may appear to be so. They are the kind of people who are always ready, like a flock of sheep, to follow the leader; but their following is only temporary, their affection is mere affectation. They profess to be Christians, but they will give up that profession before long. As far as they can be, they are sincere, what little there is of them; but their sincerity is, after all, a poor, feeble, fickle thing. They will soon be as sincerely wrong as they are, for the moment, sincerely right. You know the kind of people that they are; they were born without any backbone, and it is very hard to grow one if you do not possess one. They seem to go through the world molluscous, soft, plastic, like Mr. Pliable, who figures in the early part of Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” He resolved to go to the Celestial City; but, very soon, he was quite as determined to get out of the Slough of Despond on the side nearest to his own home. You know the sort of people that I am trying to describe.

     Next, the want of deepness may mean something else; not so much superficiality of character, as want of knowledge. I believe that, at this present time, we are in great danger of being burdened with a crowd of so-called converts who do not really know anything as it ought to be known. They attended a revival meeting, were much excited, and thought they were converted; but just ask them to explain to you the simplest truths of the gospel, and you will soon discover how little they know. Could they explain the three R’s, — ruin, redemption, and regeneration? Do they know what the ruin is? Do they know what the remedy for that ruin is? Do they understand at all what it means to be born again? Do they comprehend what the new nature is, or what “justification by faith” means? Perhaps someone says, “They do not comprehend your theological terms.” I do not mind whether they know the meaning of the terms that are familiar to many of us; but do they know the truths themselves? There is a certain degree of Christian knowledge which is absolutely necessary to salvation. David said, “The Lord is my light, and my salvation;” and we must always have light first. The first word of the spiritual creation, as of the natural, is, “Let there be light.” Where there is no light, there is no life. Where there is no knowledge of God, there is no peace with God. O dear hearers, if you think you are converted, I trust that it will prove to be so, but do not be content unless you really know the truth! Search the Scriptures; try to sit under an instructive ministry; you need not seek to make yourself a Doctor of Divinity, but do learn all you can of the truth of God. “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Know yourself; know Christ Jesus as your Saviour; know the work of the Holy Spirit; all this is knowable, and must be known, or else, before long, you will wither away because you have no deepness of earth. Some atheist or infidel will come along, and turn you aside. Someone will lead you to trust in a priest, or in some false doctrine; and if you do not know the truth, you will be bowled over at once.

     Sometimes, this want of deepness of earth means want of thought, because there may be people who have knowledge, but who have never used their knowledge to any proper purpose. Knowledge is the food of the mind; but thought is the digestion, by which we turn knowledge into true mental nutriment. I believe in a serious, thoughtful conversion, and I hardly think that any other kind can be real. You have sinned against God; think of that great fact. You are lost; think of that. “God is angry with the wicked every day;” and he must punish them. Think that over most solemnly. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Think that over; try to understand what is meant by that declaration. Think how he stood in the sinner’s stead, — how he suffered in the sinner’s place. While you are thinking all this over, it will look very different to you from what it did before you thought it over. Hearing of these truths with the ear may just be a useless process; but when you get them into the mind, when you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, then your conversion will be like the good seed sown in deep, prepared soil, and that which springs up in your heart will not wither away because there was no depth of earth.

     So do, I pray you, especially before you make a profession of religion, think what you are doing. In joining a church, I should try to find out what that church believed; and I would not join it if I did not believe its doctrines. I should also want to know what I myself believed, for I should be afraid to profess that I believed what I did not believe. I like to see a convert who thinks at every step, and who does not put his foot down without first considering whether it is a right place to set his foot. Think, carefully, what the Lord would have you to do; and, then, when you come to him, you will come in deed, and of a truth. Much thought produces much deepness of earth.

     Further, I do think that, in truly gracious conversions, the deepness of earth, at least in part, lies in deepness of emotion. I often regret that I do not see so many converts of the old-fashioned sort as I used to meet with. I know that emotion does not save the soul, but I believe that those who are saved are usually filled with emotion. We are saved by faith; but that faith produces very decided feelings. For instance, where there is true deepness of earth, there is generally a deep sense of sin. A man does not usually truly say, “I believe in Christ,” until he has first of all felt, “I need a Saviour.” In the present day, far too many seem to come out of the City of Destruction without any burden on their backs, and I am afraid that means that they never really come out at all. Some of us had the burden on our backs much longer than we need have done, and we do not hold ourselves up as examples to others; but yet I, for my part, have often blessed God for those bitter years of conviction, because now I know what others may have to endure, and I can help other poor souls who are deep down in the dungeons of Giant Despair. But where there is no true sense of sin, or very little of it, there is generally a very poor sort of conversion. If that kind of man ever tries to preach, — and he may do so, — he never says much about free grace and dying love. He is the man who talks a great deal about the dignity of human nature, and the evolution of grace out of man’s own sinfulness. He does not know any better, so he talks according to his light, which is darkness. But, my dear hearers, may God give you to have so much depth of earth that you may be pricked in your hearts, and may be weighed down with a sense of your own sinfulness! May the great steam-plough of the law go right through the rock that lies at the bottom of your heart! May God’s almighty grace change the rock into good, friable soil, which will be suitable to the good seed!

     Where there is very little feeling, there is generally only a poor conversion, for, as a general rule, where there is no great sense of sin, there is no great sense of love. It is a grand thing to see a converted Pharisee; but a converted harlot may bring more glory to God. See, she is washing the Saviour’s feet with her tears, and wiping them with the hairs of her head; and why is that? Because she has had much forgiven; and, therefore, she loves much. When publicans and sinners are converted, we find what precious metal there is in them. They do love their Lord so fervently, and oh! how they pray, and how they praise, and how they serve, and how they delight in God! You who have broken hearts on account of sin can indeed give joy to Christ when whole hearts do not. Bruised and mangled sinners glorify the great Physician who sets their broken bones, and binds up their gaping wounds. Poor bankrupt sinners, who have not a rag left to put on their backs, cannot help magnifying him who paid all their debts, and clothed them with the spotless robe of righteousness which he had himself wrought for them. But if any of you think that you do not owe him much, I fear that thought comes to you because you have not much depth of earth, and that you may be like those converts who soon wither away in the sun.

     Another mark of those who are without much depth of earth is that they do not count the cost when they are converted. They never expect to meet with any difficulties, or troubles, or persecutions, or doubts or fears; and when they have, afterwards, to count the cost of being Christians, they turn back again to the world.

     This want of depth of earth also means want of reality. There is no soul in what they do, and he who is not converted in his whole soul wants converting over again. He that does not go in for it with body, soul, and spirit, all for Christ, and Christ all to him, needs to go back to the wicket-gate, and start on the heavenly journey once more. The fact ‘is, depth of earth means heart, putting our heart into whatever we do; but where there is no faith in the heart, no repentance in the heart, — when everything is from the lip, and outward, instead of being from the very heart, and upward, — then it all comes to nothing in a very short time.

     II. I shall only occupy a few minutes in trying to answer the second question, WHAT IS MEANT BY THE SCORCHING OF THE SUN?

    Our Lord told his disciples that it meant that tribulation arises. The man was so joyful, and felt so happy at being converted that, on the next Sunday, he shut his shop up. But, on the Monday night, he said to himself, “I lost so much yesterday that I shall not close my shop next Sunday.” So he returns to his Sunday trading; or in some other way, if there is any trouble for the sake of the gospel, the sudden convert, who has not much depth of earth, finds that he has made a mistake, and he tries to retrieve his position, and to get back to where he was before.

     The scorching of the sun also means persecution. Yes, the man professed to be converted, but there was not much depth of earth in him, so when he went into the workshop where he was employed, he heard one of the men ask another, “Were you at such-and-such a place, the other night?” “No,” replied the other, “I was not there, but I heard that some of your mates were there, and that one of them was converted. He is a full-blown saint this morning, the very man who used to swear and drink as much as any one of us.” And the men chat away among themselves, all the while hitting side blows at him, and they say some very cruel, nasty, sarcastic things, and as he has not much depth of earth, he says, “I can’t stand this chaff. If I lived in a Christian family, I should go to heaven with the rest; but, as I have to work with the men in this shop, I shall have to do as they do. The old saying is, ‘If you go to Rome, you must do as the Romans do.’ Therefore I shall do just the same as the other men do.” He was going to run with the hare, but the hounds barked so loudly that he must needs run with them, so away he goes. You know the gentleman, do you not? There are plenty of that sort all round us.

     The scorching of the sun, however, comes in many other forms. Sometimes, it is in the form of great depression of spirit. The woman professed to be converted, and she felt — oh, so happy; but, after about a week or so, she was perhaps not in good health, or something happened that crossed her, and she felt — oh, so unhappy!

     Oh, dear!” she exclaimed, “I thought I was always going to travel in the sunshine.” Do any of you think so? If so, you are mightily mistaken. If you fancy that, all the way to heaven, it will be hosannas and palm branches, we may as well correct your mistake at once. There are lions to be faced, and giants to be fought with, there is the Slough of Despond, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Vanity Fair, and the pilgrim’s way lies through them all; and if you are not prepared for these experiences, I do not wonder that, having no depth of earth, you say, “I shall give it all up.” As for myself, I am resolved that, if I never have a ray of comfort between here and heaven, if I live to be eighty years of age in darkness, I will still follow Christ. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” If that resolution is not in your mind, I fear that you have not much depth of earth, and that you will very soon wither away.

     Sometimes, the scorching of the sun comes in another form, namely, that of outward debate and discussion. The young convert meets with somebody who says to him, “But you know that what Mr. Spurgeon tells you is not philosophical. Many discoveries have been made of late, and the learned Dr. So-and-so says just the very opposite of what you hear at the Tabernacle.” You do not know how to answer him, and I do not suppose that anybody else does, because any fool can raise difficulties, and it may not be easy at once to answer them, though they can be answered. Now, if you have much depth of earth, you will say to yourself, “Difficulty or no difficulty, I trusted my soul to Christ, and I mean to do so to the very end.” But if you have not much depth of earth, you will be staggered by the objections that you hear. “I cannot answer this man,” you will say, “so I do not know what I shall do.” Well, if you cannot answer him, do not try to answer him; is there any reason why you should? If nobody is to go to heaven until he can explain all the difficulties that anybody can suggest to him, who will ever go there? What you want is not the wisdom which can answer puzzling questions, but the faith which clings to Christ through thick and thin. That is the deepness of earth which will keep the good seed alive within your soul.

     I know another kind of scorching of the sun which many poor souls cannot endure; and that is, difficulties arising from Christian people. “Well,” you say, “when I was anxious about my soul, Mrs. So-and-so was very kind to me; but now that 1 trust I have believed in Christ, she does not take any notice of me.” Well, what if she does not? Of course, we nurse the babes; but when you begin to run alone, we do not keep on nursing you, for we are looking after other babes. A young man said, “When first I joined the church, the members paid me great attention; but, now, I seldom get anybody to speak to me.” Well, suppose it is so, have we not something else to do beside be always looking after you? We expect you now to be looking after other people. I have before mentioned to you that I had the portraits of my two sons taken on their birthdays for many years. The first year, they were in a perambulator. I did not object to that; but suppose that, at the age of twenty-one, they had still been in a perambulator, I should have thought myself a very unhappy parent; and are we always to have Christians in perambulators, and, because we begin to treat you as you ought to be treated, namely, make you look to yourselves a little, is that to cause you to go away from us? Well, if it does, then it is evident that you have not much depth of earth.

     “Ah!” says another, “but I have not found Christian people to be all that I thought they were.” I daresay you have not, nor have I; and, more than that, I have not found myself to be all that I ought to be, or hoped to be, and I should not wonder if it has been the same with you. But, after all, in this matter of cleaving to Christ, are you to forsake him because you do not quite admire all his disciples? If they prove unworthy of your admiration, give it all to him. If they do not write a good fair hand, imitate the style of the great Writing-Master, for then you will write correctly. The inconsistencies of Christians ought not to make you shrink back from following the eternal Son of God, but should rather cause you to cling the more closely to him.

     But perhaps the fiery trial comes to you in this form. You are surrounded by evil examples. You say, “I do not know how I am to be a Christian at home; and in the circle in which I move, I do not know how I am to hold out.” Ah! such talk as that proves that you have not much depth of earth. May I beg you, in laying hold on Christ, to lay hold on him with both hands for yourself? Do not be a sort of u lean-to” Christian; you know what that expression means. A man built a lean-to house resting against his neighbour’s wall; and, when his neighbour took his wall down, the house went down too. Build your house with every wall of it your own, on your own ground, so that, whoever pulls his wall down, your structure will stand. God help us to avoid being dependent upon other people about these things! Let us not have a second-hand religion which we bought of somebody else, but let us go direct to Jesus Christ himself, and get it for ourselves, and believe in him for ourselves. Then shall we have much depth of earth and, let the sun shine as fiercely as it may, its beams shall only cause us to grow, and we shall give God all the glory.

     III. Now I must turn, for a little while, to the third question, — HOW CAN WE AVOID THIS EVIL OF BEING SO SHALLOW, AND THEREFORE WITHERING IN THE SUNSHINE?

     Dear friends, above all things, dread insincerity; and, next to that, above all other things, dread superficiality in religion. You know that the beginning of all godliness is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, so mind what and why you believe. Do not be content to say, “I believe,” but do really believe; and, in order to this, know what you believe, and why you believe it. Get a clear view of who Christ is, what he did, what right you have to trust him, and the way in which what Christ did avails for your salvation. Clear out the space for the foundation of your building; get right down to the solid rock before you lay a single brick or stone. That is to say, let your faith be real faith, — clear, distinct, Scriptural faith in what God has revealed, and in the Saviour whom God has set forth as the propitiation for our sins. Begin, in that way, with real faith; for, so, you will begin with a good depth of earth. Then, as repentance comes with faith, see that you have real repentance. Think much of the evil of sin, and of the consequences of sin, both in this life and in that which is to come. Pray to God, with Charles Wesley, —

‘Before me place, in dread array,
The pomp of that tremendous day,
When thou with clouds shalt come
To judge the nations at thy bar;
And tell me, Lord, shall I be there,
To meet a joyful doom?”

Think of what would result from your appearing there red with your guilt; and when you have thought that over most seriously, pray to God to make you really hate sin, — every sin. If you do not hate every sin, you do not, with all your heart, hate any sin. They must all go. Sin, as sin, is to be abhorred, and repented of, and practically quitted in your life. Oh, may God help you to make sure work of your repentance! Make no profession of faith if you have not real faith; and have no repentance at all rather than sham repentance.

     Then, in every spiritual grace, and in every religious duty, be thorough. If you pray, really pray. If you praise, do praise. I like the thought of a holy man of God who said that he would never give over praying till he had prayed. When he came to be instructed in the reading of the Scriptures, he would read till he was instructed; and when he praised God, he said, he would not cease from the holy exercise till he felt that his heart did truly praise God. O brothers and sisters, let us beware of leaving our heart out of our worship or service! You never read, in the Old Testament, that anybody ever brought a fish to be offered upon God’s altar. Why not? Because you could not bring it alive, and every victim must be brought to the altar alive. God loves living worship. Among the old Romans, when they killed a bullock as a sacrifice, if they did not find its heart, or if the heart was shrivelled, they never offered that animal, for they considered that it was an omen of evil when the heart was not there in full vigour. So must it be with all the sacrifices that we bring to the Lord

“God abhors a sacrifice,
Where not the heart is found.”

I pray you never to go beyond reality in any part of your worship. If you do not really pray, do not pretend to pray. If you have no experience of the things of God, do not talk as if you had. To be a liar anywhere, is hateful; but to lie in religion, is the most abominable form of lying that can be. God make us straight as a line about all these things! Then, we shall soon come to much depth of earth.

     I would say finally, beloved, bring your hearts to God, and ask him to search you. After many years of looking at one’s self, how little one knows about himself after all! A grey-headed man of long experience thinks, “Well, now, I really do know something about my human nature.” So you do, brother, but not much; for “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;” and when a man says, of any particular temptation, “I shall never fall in that way,” the probability is that this is the very way in which the man will fall. I well remember a lady, whom I should not be slandering if I said that she was as proud as she was tall; but, on one occasion, when I scarcely knew her, she said to me, “I always pray for you, Mr. Spurgeon, every day.” I said, “I thank you very much,” and she added, “My one prayer for you is, that God will keep you humble.” I said, “Thank you, madam, that is a very wise prayer; I am sorry that I have not remembered you in that way, but I will do so in future.” “Oh!” said she, “but I do not need it, for I was never tempted to pride.” “Madam,” I said, “I shall remember you now twice a day, night and morning, for I think that you are in greater danger of pride than anybody whom I have met with for a long time.” There was a person, who said that she had not any pride, and was not in danger of being tempted to be proud, yet, if I had asked any half-dozen of her acquaintances to find me a proud woman, they would have called on her, and said

that I wanted to see her, I am sure that they would. So is it with us; when we think that we are getting over some particular temptation, it is just then that it is getting over us. When you suppose that you are master of that temptation, in all probability it has mastered you. Come, brothers and sisters, we had better give over this kind of folly. This person, whom we are trying to search, is much too deep for us. I mean, that we are so ready to cheat ourselves, that we cannot find ourselves out. Let us rather pray to the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I suggest to you this prayer, “Lord, show me the worst of my case. Put me in the place where I ought to be. Make me to feel and know what I really am; and then, my Lord, break my heart if it never was broken, and heal it if it is broken. Empty me of myself, and bring me to thyself. Turn me upside down, till the last drop of my self-sufficiency runs out even to the dregs, and then pour in the fulness of thy grace in Christ Jesus till I am filled even to the brim.”

     The Lord hear that prayer, and bless every soul here now, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.



The Seed by the Wayside

By / Sep 13

The Seed by the Wayside

 

“As he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.” — Luke viii. 5.

 

THIS parable is recorded by Matthew, and Mark, and Luke. It is a very important one, and therefore it is very carefully preserved for us. Matthew puts it, “When he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came, and devoured them up.”

     Notice that the sower is always spoken of as a solitary man. In the harvest field, there is a great company, and they sing and shout together in harmony; but the sower goes forth alone. Our Saviour was the great Sower: “THE SOWER went forth to sow,” unaccompanied. He pursued his solitary way, and all day long he continued his personal task. For that reason, I feel that, when we come together in large numbers, — the majority of us, I hope, being earnest sowers of the good seed of the kingdom, we help to cheer each other up, for, to a large extent, we have to work alone. I have, thank God, many helpers; but there are certain parts of this work in which I feel an almost unbearable solitude. I suppose that you, who are engaged in your own spheres of service, often derive much comfort from Christian communion; but there must be some parts of your work in which you have to act by yourselves, to labour alone, and to wait upon God alone. I think that this experience is good for us. I do not believe that it is good for us to be continually leaning upon one another, like those houses of which so many are being run up nowadays. If you took the end one away, they would all fall down. We want to be self-contained; not merely semidetached, but altogether detached, so as to be able to stand by ourselves upon our own foundation. God sometimes takes away a helper from us, in order that we may learn to lean upon him only, and to go about our service in entire dependence upon the Master who is to derive glory not only from the result of the service, but from the service itself.

     It may do us good to talk a little while about our failures. I suppose that we have all had a good many. When some of you began your work for God, you thought that you were going to push the world before you, and to drag the church behind you; but you have not done it yet. You fancied that you were going to convert everybody by your preaching; but, like Melancthon, you. have had to say, “Old Adam is too strong for young Melancthon,” and you have been driven closer to God by the very failures which you have experienced. If the Holy Spirit shall graciously help us, we may both glorify God and comfort one another while we meditate upon one set of failures with which we are constantly meeting, that is, those that are set forth in these words, “As he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.”

     So, first, we learn that we shall have some unprofitable labours. Secondly, we shall find that some soils will remain unsuitable for the good seed. And, thirdly, we shall have to watch that seed, that we may learn something from what happens to it.

     I. First, then, WE SHALL MOST CERTAINLY HAVE SOME UNPROFITABLE LABOURS, something to sigh over, something that will drive us to cry, with Isaiah, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”

     We may expect this, first, because it is so in everything else. There is not a tradesman here who makes a profit on everything. There never was a merchant who was successful in every transaction. There are losses in the most gainful trade. Look at the fisherman; does he catch fish every time he casts his net? I have stood, many times, on the sea shore at Mentone, and seen from a dozen to twenty men pull in a net which had encompassed many acres of sea; and when they had pulled it in, I could hold in my hand all that they had caught. Yet I have seen them go out again almost directly after, and come in again with as little as before; but they still kept on their task even though, often and often, the tiniest plate would hold all that they took. Fishermen do not give up their work because they have some failures in their fishing; and if we take the figure which our Lord used, that of the husbandman, we find that all crops do not succeed. The husbandman, after some years of experience, at any rate, does not expect that every seed will come up, and that every crop will be alike bountiful. If he did, he would be sorely disappointed. He learns at last to set the gain over against the loss, — to set the success over against the failure; and so he perseveres, and has patience, expecting and believing that, in the long run, he will be a gainer. So, dear Christian friend, whatever is your sphere of service, I would lead you to expect that there will be some unprofitable parts of the field, because it is so in everything else, and the analogies of nature generally hold good in the sphere of grace.

     Do you not think, in the next place, that our disappointments, our unprofitable labours, teach us our dependence upon God? Perhaps we are not able yet to bear a very large measure of success. If the Lord blesses some brethren a little, and they see a few souls brought to Christ, they are not only very grateful and very happy, which is quite right, but they are very great in their own esteem, which is quite wrong. You should hear them at night after a successful meeting; you would hardly know them. God has given them a puff of wind in their sail, and they are almost blown over, for they have so little ballast. There are some of us workers for God whom he cannot trust with success; that is one reason for our failures, for our Master means to make more use of us by-and-by. It doth not yet appear what we shall be, and he is humbling us that we may be fitted to bear the exceeding weight of happiness which he means to lay upon us when, in after years, he makes us bring forth abundantly to his praise and glory. O workers, mind that you are fit to be blessed by God! Do pray that you may be in such a state of spiritual health that it may be safe for your Heavenly Father to indulge you with very much success! I do think that, whenever we have been trying hard for the conversion of any person, and we have not succeeded in it, it drives us to our knees. You must have met with some who have greatly disappointed you. You thought that you had that fish, but it has slipped away from you, and gone back into the river or sea again. You supposed that that woman was really converted. What a sincere penitent she seemed to be! But she has gone back to her old sins, and is as evil as ever. You thought that that man was really a most striking instance of divine grace; but you are ashamed of him now, for he is doing harm to others, who think that there is nothing in religion when they see what a false profession he has made. Ah, some of you do not know the heartbreak which we, who have to deal with many souls, have to endure; but, in your smaller sphere, you must often have had to go to God with tears bedewing your cheeks because, after all, you have not won that boy for Christ, or you cannot induce that giddy girl to seek the Saviour. You have wept and you have prayed, and yet, for all that, there is some of the way side still in front of you, and it seems as if it never can and never will yield any harvest to your sowing. We do not like wasting our breath; we do not like, above all, seeming to waste our breath in prayer; and I do not believe that we really do so. I believe that it all turns in some way to God’s glory; but yet it does so happen that, by our failures, we are driven to feel our entire dependence upon our God. We are emptied of our self-sufficiency, and made to know that we can no more convert a soul than we can make a world. Any man, who thinks that he can create a new heart in any other person, had better begin by creating a fly. When he has done that, then let him think that he can make a sinful man to be a new creature in Christ Jesus. Go and raise the dead, if you can. Speak to those that lie in our cemeteries, and cause them to live again; and then imagine that you have within you the power to call a dead soul to spiritual life. This is the work of God alone; God’s arm must be made bare ere this miracle can be wrought, and our failures teach us our absolute dependence upon him.

     This process is needful, also, in order to get at the good soil. We must sometimes have to deal with persons who derive no benefit from us, for the sake of others connected with them. The sower does not want to cast his seed upon the path that runs through the middle of the field. It is so hard that he knows that whatever falls upon it will be lost. But, then, he does want to sow right up to the edge of it; he does not want to leave a long strip, on each side of the path, without any corn. His endeavour is, while he does not waste more than he can help upon the path, yet to sow right along by the edge of it that he may have a harvest close up to the barren pathway. It cannot be helped, in the nature of things, that some grains of wheat must fall upon the trodden path. So, if you want to be the means of blessing to a man’s wife, it may be that you will have to try to win her husband also, although he never will be won to Christ. If it be your anxious desire that all the children in a certain house should be converted to God, and if all the family should come to hear the Word, it may be that one member of the family will never receive the blessing. Do not begin asking any questions about that matter; your business is to preach to them all, — to “preach the gospel to every creature;” and if there should be some who prove to be like the trodden pathway to the good seed, effectually resisting the gospel, it is necessary that they should be in the audience, for, if they did not come, it is probable that somebody else, whom God means to bless, would not be there.

     Further, consider that this scattering of the seed on the trodden road is necessary to the testing of the soil. I believe that we should do a deal of mischief by keeping on sorting out certain characters in preaching the gospel, for it would drive people to think of themselves rather than of the gospel. If I were to come here, and say, “Now, if you are so-and-so, and so-and-so, then you may come to Christ, and be saved,” the first thought in each of my hearer’s minds would be, “Am I this, or am I that?” I do not want you to think in any such fashion as that; the main thing is to take you off from all thought of self, that you may think only of Christ and his all-sufficiency. Are you a creature? We are bidden to preach the gospel to every creature. Are you a sinner? Then, “it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” So, if we are to preach in this wholesale style, we must throw some handfuls of seed where they will never spring up; and our great Lord has so much good corn, he is so rich a Husbandman, that he will not miss those handfuls that seem to be lost, and we have a far easier task to bear our failures, and mourn over them, than if we had to be weighted with the responsibility of picking out our hearers, and saying, “This one may have the gospel, and that other one may not.” That would be, indeed, a heavier burden than we could bear. I remember Rowland Hill’s reply, when somebody said that he ought to preach only to the elect. “Very well,” he said, “next Sunday morning, chalk them all on the back; and when you have done that, I will preach to them.” But the chalking of them on the back is the difficulty, we cannot do that; and, as we cannot do that, the best way is for us to leave our God to carry out the purposes of his distinguishing grace in his own effectual way, and not attempt to do what we certainly can never accomplish. There, scatter a handful of seed “by the way side.” Even if the birds of the air do devour it, there is plenty more where that came from, and it would be a pity for us to leave any portion unsown because we were miserly and niggardly with our Master’s seed.

     Once more. I am sure that, when we do meet with failures, as we all do, this makes us the more grateful when we do see the seed spring up anywhere. I could not help blessing God, in the prayer-meeting before this service, for any soul that had ever found the Saviour under my ministry. It always seems to stagger me how God can bless one who is so feeble; and I think that it must often surprise you, my dear friends, when you find that God has really brought a sinner to Jesu’s feet through your instrumentality. When we remember the feebleness of our testimony, and our frequent want of faith in God, — when we recollect how often we go home groaning because we cannot preach as we would like to preach, — and, I suppose I may say of you teachers, because you cannot teach as you would like to teach, — then we can say, “Blessed be God, ten thousand times, if but one poor servant girl has found the way to heaven through me.” If one poor arab of the street should find Christ at the ragged-school, if there were only one as the result of a life of service, it would well repay you. Do not feel that, because you seem to have no influence upon some people, the edge of the chisel is taken off; the material upon which you are working is so hard that you cannot make any impression upon it. When the Lord gives you another piece of wood that he has softened, you may work away at that, and then you will be able to say, “Blessed be his name, I do not have all the difficult side of the work; but I do have to sow in some honest and good soil, which brings forth its hundredfold as my reward.”

     II. But, secondly, it is certainly true that we shall find SOME SOILS WHICH, for the present, at any rate, SEEM UNSUITED TO THE GOSPEL.

     This trodden track, through the field, was not a fit place for the corn to fall with any hope of a harvest following. Roadways, which have been long used, become very bad for sowing. I remember paying a visit to the old city of Silchester, which still remains in England; few ever seem to see it, but it is well worth seeing, though nothing remains but the walls. I went down to examine it; and, standing on the wall, I could distinctly trace the streets of that old city, yet the whole of it was covered with corn; but the corn would not come to perfection, or grow to any great length of straw, where the old Roman roads had been. Near Croydon, I have frequently traced the old Roman road, through a field of grass or of corn, by the fact that it was so well made that, after the English ploughing of centuries, it still seems difficult to raise good crops upon the ground; and those Oriental paths, though not made with all the skill of the Roman road-makers, became very hard through being traversed by multitudes of feet.

     In a similar manner, there are many persons into whom we cannot get the gospel because they are too much, occupied. There is too much traffic over them. They are not occupied with deep thought, but with multitudes of frivolous thoughts, which are well imaged by travellers who just pass along a road continually. Have we not many in our congregations who are always occupied with worldly thoughts? From the moment they are up till they go to bed, it is just one continuous tramp of the world. They are trodden with the multitudinous feet of worldly business.

     Then, along a public road, you not only have business men, but you have persons bent on pleasure. How many young people there are, whose hearts are just a road along which thoughts of levity and desires for amusement are continually going! How many precious hours are wasted over the novels of the day! I do think that one of the worst enemies of the gospel of Christ, at the present time, is to be found in the fiction of the day. People get these worthless books, and sit, and sit, forgetful of the duties of this world, and of all that relates to the world to come, just losing themselves in the story of the hero or heroine. I have seen them shedding tears over things that never happened, as if there were not enough real sorrows in the world for us to grieve over. So these feet of fictitious personages, these feet of foolish frivolities, these feet of mere nonsense, or worse, keep traversing the hearts of men, and making them hard, so that the gospel cannot enter.

     I believe, too, that some are made hard even by hearing the gospel. You can hear too much if you do not hear aright. One nail can drive another out. If one sermon were put into practice, it would be better than fifty that went in at one ear, and out at the other. Some are always greedy to hear the last new orator who has been discovered. They will go all over London to listen to him. That is only another kind of traffic constantly going over the road, and making it as hard as if it were traversed for unholy purposes.

     Again, this was bad and unsuitable soil because it was hardened by the constant traffic. Sin hardens the heart. Every sin makes room for another sin, and it is always easier to sin again after you have sinned once. Nay, more, I might even say that it becomes almost inevitable that you will sin again after you have sinned once. Sin hardens the mind so that it does not receive the gospel.

     And the world has a hardening effect, too. Association with its society, yielding to its customs, being engrossed in its business, — all this makes a man’s heart exceedingly hard. I have already reminded you that, alas! even the gospel itself may harden sinners in their sin. After long hearing it, neglecting it, rejecting it, it seems to operate upon them in a very terrible way, so that it becomes a savour of death unto death to them. Sad to relate, they are not alarmed by the fatal lethargy which has crept over them even while hearing the Word; and if they hear error, it has the same effect in a more dreadful way. Much of the preaching of the present day tends to harden the hearts of men against the gospel. They are excused in their sins, taught to question the inspiration of the Scriptures, led to doubt whether, after all, sin will bring the eternal punishment which our Lord Jesus plainly revealed. Oh, it is a sad, sad thing when all this traffic of things good, bad, and indifferent has gone over a man’s soul till it becomes harder than the nether millstone!

     One other reason why this soil was so uncongenial was that it was totally unprepared for the seed. There had been no ploughing before the seed was sown, and no harrowing afterwards. He that sows without a plough may reap without a sickle. He who preaches the gospel without preaching the law may hold all the results of it in his hand, and there will be little for him to hold. Robbie Flockhart, when he preached in the streets of Edinburgh, used to say, “You must preach the law, for the gospel is a silken thread, and you cannot get it into the hearts of men unless you have made a way for it with a sharp needle; the sharp needle of the law will pull the silken thread of the gospel after it.” There must be ploughing before there is sowing if there is to be reaping after the sowing.

     And in this case there was no harrowing after sowing; and that is a very important part of the work, — to go over the ground again to get the seed well into the soil. I like those prayer-meetings that harrow in the seed, and that private prayer, that secret study of the Word, that private crying unto God, after the seed has been sown, that he would be pleased to cover it up, and keep it in the soil, and make it grow ready for the harvest; but, with no ploughing before the sowing, and no harrowing afterwards, what result can you expect? We do meet with hearers who are just like that trodden path. I wonder how many of that sort are here now. As a rule, we have a choice congregation on a Thursday evening, because it is not every hypocrite who comes out to a week-night service. I do not say that every hypocrite comes out on Sunday; but we have a hope that persons have some love for the things of God when they come out on a week-night to hear the gospel. Yet I should not wonder if some of you are no better than you ought to be; as hearers of the Word, I mean. Some people come to see what kind of a place the Tabernacle is, or what kind of a person the preacher is. I hope that all of you are perfectly satisfied now on both those points, and that you will forget all about the place and the preacher, and will just think about yourselves, and about that divine truth which will not be blessed to your salvation unless it is honestly and genuinely received into your heart. If you receive Christ, he will bring forth fruit in you; but if you remain like the trodden pathway, and do not receive him, what can be the result but your greater condemnation?

     III. The third thing that I learn from this part of the parable is, that WE MUST WATCH THE SEED. Ministers have to do this; all Christian workers have to do this; we will try to do it now for a few minutes.

     First, it is clear that, when this seed was sown, it touched the heart. In the 12th verse, we read, “Those by the way side are they that hear, then cometh the devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts.” Then, it must have reached their hearts, and that is the sad part about it. These hearers were not, after all, merely hearers, for they were, to some extent, affected by the Word. They had some serious thoughts for the time being. The seed did not get into their hearts, but it did touch them. It fell on the soil, and remained on the soil for a while, enough it could not get its rootlets down into it, and could not really be absorbed into the ground; and oh, my dear hearers, it may be that, when you hear the Word of God, it does affect you! You have not yet reached that stage in which you can hear it without any feeling whatever. You do feel it, and you sometimes weep when you hear it; yet how often we are disappointed, for you seem desperately resolved not to be saved.

     In this case, the good seed did not really reach the understanding. Those who heard the Word did not understand it. We are told now that, if you touch the heart, that is everything; but it is not. To touch the heart is something; but you must touch the understanding also if you are to effect any permanent good. I mean, that you may gather people together, and get up excitement, and work them up in any way you please, for some people are easily moved; but they must understand what it all means if they are to derive real benefit. It is not enough to say, “Believe! Believe! Believe!” Teach them what they have to believe; or else, what good have you done? Shouting, stamping, bawling, crying does not amount to much. People need to be taught to understand the truth, to get a grip of it, to really know the meaning of what they hear. They must know that they are lost, they must know that Christ is the great Substitute for sinners, they must know what the new birth means. Otherwise, if the truth is not received into the understanding, the mere receiving of it into the emotions will be of very little use whatever. These hearers understood not the Word, so Satan stole it away from them.

     Notice that, all the while, this good seed, as it did not get into the understanding, was really outside the man. There it lay upon the surface. That which fell on the good ground had disappeared. You could not find it, for it had sunk into the earth. But here you can see every single grain that has been dropped; here it lies, outside the soil. O my dear hearer, as long as the gospel is outside you, it cannot do you any good! So, let it in. Oh, that your broken heart might receive it! Oh, that your ploughed-up conscience might accept it, and bury the truth of God within your inmost self, that there it might grow!

     The next thing that happened to it was that, as it lay there, somebody came along, and trod on it. “It was trodden down” It was crushed and smashed. The hearer, who does not receive the truth into his heart, goes outside, and meets an old companion who speedily treads on it. Or he gets home to his wife, who does not fear the Lord, and she treads on it. Or, to-morrow, he goes into the workshop, and somebody there ridicules him, and so treads on the good seed.

     Yet, even then, it retained so much of life as to arouse the opposition of Satan. Notice how zealous the devil is. We may be careless about souls, but he never is. Although the seed lay there on the surface, and had never penetrated the soil, and although that grain had been trodden on, Satan was not satisfied. He said, “There may be life in it; and if there is, it is dangerous to have h lying there, for it may grow.” So he comes, and takes it away altogether. Some bird of the air devours it. I believe that Satan does not like you to come to a place where the gospel is preached; he knows that, if you stand where the shots are flying, you may get one of them into your heart, so he would rather that you would not come at all. But if you do hear the gospel, even though it does not penetrate into your heart, yet, still, he does not like it to be there. So he comes, and takes it away, makes you forget it, brings something fresh before you, so that you may fail to remember the good Word of God. Perhaps he suggests a new line of business to you, or there is a new play at the theatre, or something fresh to attract your attention, because he is afraid of losing you. He does not like losing his servants; and from long experience, he knows that, every now and then, one of them runs away at night, and never comes back any more. So he is always on the watch for would-be runaways. He does not want you to be gone, so he calls his birds of the air, and says to them, “Take away that seed. The man has not received it into his heart, but I do not even like it to be near him.” I wish I could clap my hands, and so drive those foul birds away; but I ask God’s people to lift their hands in prayer that these sermon thieves may be driven off, and that what has been said may abide in your memory.

     My dear hearers, are any of you content to be like this trodden way side? Will you continue hearing the gospel, and yet never receive it into your souls? Are you going to be trodden on, and trodden on, and trodden on, till you are simply a way for other people to use? Some of you work hard for your living, and get nothing out of it. Somebody else is getting the whole of your life. You are simply a rut in which other people go to get riches for themselves. Are you content to let it be so with you in a spiritual sense? Do you mean to be nothing else but just a place for other people to walk over, and to use your life for their own ends and purposes? Oh, that the Holy Spirit would drive the great steam-plough through you, and break you in pieces! It would be the happiest thing that could happen to you, though your misery might be deep, and your anguish terrible. And then may he sow you with his own good seed, that you may bring forth fruit to life eternal, having in this life joy, peace, restfulness, usefulness, and in the world to come life everlasting! “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” There is a handful of corn for you. Believe now, and thou shalt live. Look; look; look and live.

     Look even now, at this very moment, for thou livest the moment that thou dost look. God save thee, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



The Sower

By / Sep 6

The Sower

 

“Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” — Matthew xiii. 3.

 

THIS was a very important event. I do not say that it was important if you took the individual case alone; but if you took the multitudes of cases in which it was also true, it was overwhelmingly important in the aggregate: “A sower went forth to sow.” Yes, Christ thinks it worth while to mention that a single sower went forth to sow, — that a Christian man went out to address a meeting on a village green, or to conduct a Bible-class, or to speak anywhere for the Lord. But when you think of the hundreds of preachers of the gospel who go out to sow every Lord’s-day, and the myriads of teachers who go to instruct the children in our Sabbath-schools, it is, surely, in the aggregate, the most important event under heaven. You may omit, O recording angel, the fact that a warrior went forth to fight; it is far more important that you should record that “a sower went forth to sow.” You may even forget that a man of science went into his laboratory, and made a discovery, for no discovery can equal in importance the usual processes of husbandry. Do you hear the song of the harvest home? Do you see the loaded waggons follow one another in a long line to the farmer’s barn? If so, remember that there would be no harvest home if the sower went not forth to sow. As the flail is falling upon the wheat, or the threshing machine is making the grain to leap from among the chaff, and the miller’s wheels are grinding merrily, and the women are kneading the dough, and the bread is set upon the table, and parents and children are fed to the full, do not forget that all this could never happen unless “a sower went forth to sow.” On this action hinges the very life of man. Bread, which is the staff of his life, would be broken, and taken from him, and his life could not continue did not a sower still go forth to sow. This seems to me to prove that the event recorded in our text is of prime importance, and deserves to be chronicled there.

     And, dear friends, the spiritual sowing stands in the same relation to the spiritual world that the natural sowing occupies in the natural world. It is a most important thing that we should continually go forth to preach the gospel. It may seem, to some people, a small matter that I should occupy this pulpit, and I shall not lay any undue importance upon that fact; yet eternity may not exhaust all that shall result from the preaching of the gospel here; there may be souls, plucked like brands from the burning, saved with an everlasting salvation, lamps lit by the Holy Spirit that shall shine like stars in the firmament of God for ever and ever. Who knoweth, O teacher, when thou labourest even among the infants, what the result of thy teaching may be? Good corn may grow in very small fields. God may bless thy simple words to the babes that listen to them. How knowest thou, O my unlettered brother, when thou standest up in the cottage meeting to talk to a few poor folk about Christ, what may follow from that effort of thine? Life or death, heaven or hell, may depend upon the sowing of the good seed of the gospel. It is, it must be, the most important event that can ever happen, if the Lord goeth forth with thee when thou goest forth as the sower went forth to sow. Hark to the songs of the angels; see the overflowing brightness and excessive glory of thy Heavenly Father's face. He rejoices because souls are born to Christ; but how could there be this joy, in the ordinary course, and speaking after the manner of men, without the preaching of the Word? For it still pleases God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe. I shall not, therefore, make any apology for again preaching upon an event which is so important, even though it is recorded in such simple words: “A sower went forth to sow.”

     I am going to try to answer three questions concerning this sower. First, who was he? Secondly, what did he do? And, thirdly, what was he at?

     I. First, WHO WAS HE?

     We do not know anything at all about him except that he was a sower. His individuality seems to be swallowed up in his office. We do not know who his father was, or his mother, or his sister, or his brother; all we know is that he was a sower, and I do like to see a man who is so much a minister that he is nothing else but a minister. It does not matter who he is, or what he has, or what else he can do, if he does this one thing. He has lost his identity in his service, though he has also gained it over again in another way. He has lost his selfhood, and has become, once for all, a sower, and nothing but a sower.

     Observe, dear friends, that there are many personal matters which are quite unimportant. It is not mentioned here whether he was a refined sower, or a rustic sower; and it does not matter which he was. So is it with the workers for Christ, God blesses all sorts of men. William Huntington, the coal-heaver, brought many souls to Christ. Some have doubted this; but, in my early Christian days, I knew some of the excellent of the earth who were the spiritual children of the coal-heaver. Chalmers stood at the very opposite pole, — a master of cultured gracious speech, a learned, well-trained man; and what multitudes Chalmers brought to Christ! So, whether it was Huntington or Chalmers, does not matter: “A sower went forth to sow.” One preacher talks like Rowland Hill, in very plain Saxon with a touch of humour; another, like Robert Hall, uses a grand style of speech, full of brilliant rhetoric, and scarcely ever condescending to men of low degree, yet God blessed both of them. What mattered it whether the speech was of the colloquial or of the oratorical order so long as God blessed it? The man preached the gospel; exactly how he preached it, need not be declared. He was a sower, he went forth to sow, and there came a glorious harvest from his sowing.

     Now, my dear brother, you have begun earnestly to speak for Christ, but you are troubled because you cannot speak like Mr. So-and-so. Do not try to speak like Mr. So-and-so. You say, “I heard a man preach, the other night; and when he had done, I thought I could never preach again.” Well, it was very naughty, on your part, to think that. You ought rather to have said, “I will try to preach all the better now that I have heard one who preaches so much better than I can.” Just feel that you have to sow the good seed of the kingdom; and, if you have not so big a hand as some sowers have, and cannot sow quite so much at a time, go and sow with your smaller hand, only mind that you sow the same seed, for so God will accept what you do. You are grieved that you do not know so much as some do, and that you have not the same amount of learning that they have. You regret that you have not the poetical faculty of some, or the holy ingenuity of others. Why do you speak about all these things? Our Lord Jesus Christ does not do so; he simply says, “A sower went forth to sow.” He does not tell us how he was dressed; he mentions nothing about whether he was a black man, or a white man, or what kind of man he was; he tells us nothing about him except that he was a sower. Will you, my dear friend, try to be nothing but a soulwinner? Never mind about “idiosyncrasies”, or whatever people call them. Go ahead, and sow the good seed, and God bless you in doing so!

     Next notice that, as the various personal matters relating to the man are too unimportant to be recorded, his name and his fame are not written in this Book. Do you want to have your name put to everything that you do? Mind that God does not let you have your desire, and then say to you, “There, you have done that unto yourself, so you can reward yourself for it.” As far as ever you can, keep your own name out of all the work you do for the Lord. I used to notice, in Paris, that there was not a bridge, or a public building, without the letter “N” somewhere on it. Now, go through all the city, and find, an “N” if you can. Napoleon hoped his fame would live in imperishable marble, but he had written his name in sand after all; and if any one of us shall, in our ministry, think it the all-important matter to make our own name prominent, we are on the wrong tack altogether. When George Whitefield was asked to start a new sect, he said, “I do not condemn my brother Wesley for what he has done, but I cannot do the same; let my name perish, but let Christ’s name endure for ever and ever.” Do not be anxious for your name to go down to posterity, but be more concerned to be only remembered by what you have done, as this man is only remembered by Christ’s testimony that he was a sower.

     What he did, in his sowing, is some of it recorded, but only that which refers to his special work. Where his seed fell, how it grew or did not grow, and what came of it or did not come of it, — that is all there; but nothing else about his life, or history, is there at all. I pray you, do not be anxious for anything that shall embalm your reputation. Embalming is for the dead; so the living may be content to let their name and fame be blown away by the same wind that blows it to them. What does our reputation matter, after all? It is nothing but the opinion or the breath of men, and that is of little or no value to the child of God. Serve God faithfully, and then leave your name and fame in his keeping. There is a day coming when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

     We have no record of the name and the fame of this man, yet we do know something about him. We know that he must have been, first of all, an eater, or he never would have been a sower. The gospel is seed for the sower, and bread for the eater; and every man, who really goes out to sow for God, must first have been an eater. There is not a man, on the face of the earth, who treads the furrows of the field, and sows the seed, but must first have been an eater of bread; and there is not a true servant of God, beneath the cope of heaven, but has first fed on the gospel before he has preached it. If there be any who pretend to sow, but who have never themselves eaten, God have mercy upon them! What a desecration of the pulpit it is for a man to attempt to preach what he does not himself know! What a desecration it is of even a Sunday-school class for an unconverted young man, or young woman, to be a teacher of others! I do not think such a thing ought to be allowed. Wherever it has been permitted, I charge any, who have been trying to teach what they do not themselves know, to cry to God to teach them, that they may not go and pretend to speak in the name of the Lord, to the children, till, first of all, Christ has spoken peace and pardon to their own hearts, and he has been formed in them the hope of glory. May every worker here put to himself the question, “Have I fed upon and enjoyed that good Word which I am professing to teach to others?”

     Next, having been an eater, he must also have been a receiver. A sower cannot sow if he has not any seed. It is a mere mockery to go up and down a field, and to pretend to scatter seed out of an empty hand. Is there not a great deal of so-called Christian work that is just like that? Those who engage in it have not anything to give; and, therefore, they can give nothing. You cannot pump out of a man or a woman what is not there; and you cannot preach or teach, in God’s way, what is not first in your own heart. We must receive the gospel seed from God before we can sow it. The sower went to his master’s granary, and received so many bushels of wheat, and he then went out, and sowed it. I am afraid that some would-be sowers fail in this matter of being receivers. They are in a great hurry to take a class, or to preach here, or there, or somewhere else, but there is nothing in it all. What can there be in thy speech but sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal, unless thou hast received the living Word from the living God, and art sent forth by him to proclaim it to men?

     A true sower, also, is a disseminator of the Word of God. No man is a sower unless he scatters the truth. If he does not preach truth, he is not a sower in the true meaning of that term. A man may go whistling up and down the furrows, and people may mistake him for a sower, but he is not really one; and if there is not, in what we preach, the real, solid truth of God’s Word, — however prettily we may put our sweet nothings, we have not been serving the Lord. We must really scatter the living seed, or else we are not worthy of the title of sower.

     We seem to know a little about this sower now, and we further know that he was one of a noble line. What our Lord really said was, “THE SOWER went forth to sow;” and I think I see him coming forth out of the ivory palaces, from the lone glory of his own eternal nature, going down to Bethlehem, becoming a babe, waiting a while till the seed was ready, and then standing by the Jordan, and by the hill-side, and at Capernaum, and Nazareth, and everywhere scattering those great seeds that have made the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. See how all Christendom has sprung from the sowing of that Man; and our glorious Lord has long been reaping, and tills day is reaping still, the harvest of the seed-sowing on the hill-sides of Galilee. “The Sower went forth to sow.” Are you not glad to be in that noble line? Do you not feel it to be a high honour, even if you are the very least of the sowers, to be one of those who have sowed the gospel of God?

     But who are the sowers who came next? Men “of whom the world was not worthy,” — men who suffered for their Lord and Master, his apostles, and those who received their word, and who were faithful even unto death, a goodly army of all sorts of people, old and young, rich and poor, wise and unlettered. And there has always continued a band of sowers going forth to sow, — men who could not help doing it, like the tinker of Bedford, to wit. They commanded him not to sow any more of the seed, and they cast him into prison because he would still do it; but, through the window of that prison he kept on sowing great handfuls of seed which are, even now, falling upon the broad acres of our own and other lands. When they bade him be quiet, he said, “If you let me out of prison to-day, I will preach again to-morrow, by the grace of God.” “Oh, then!” they answered, “go back to your cell, sir.” “Yes,” he said, “and I will lie there till the moss grows on my eyelids, before I will make you any promise that I will be silent.” He must sow, he could not help it. Well, now, to-day, it is imagined by some that the new theology is to put an end to our sowing of the good seed of the kingdom; but will it? I believe that the sowers will still go to every lane and alley of the city, and to every hamlet and village of our country, when God wills it, for the gospel is as everlasting as the God who gave it, and, therefore, it cannot die out; and when they think that they have killed the plant, it will spring up everywhere more vigorous than before.

     The sower is not only a man of an honourable line, but he is also a worker together with God. It is God’s design that every plant should propagate and reproduce its like; and especially is it his design that wheat, and other cereals so useful to men, should be continued and multiplied on the face of the earth. Who is to do it? God will see that it is done; and, usually, he employs men to be his agents. There are some seeds that never can be sown by men, but only by birds. I need not go into the details, but it is a fact that no man could make the seed grow if he did sow it; it must be done by a bird. But as to wheat, man must sow that; you cannot go into any part of the world, and find a field of wheat unless a man has sown the seed to produce it. You may find fields full of thistles, but wheat must be sown. It is not a wild thing, it must have a man to care for it; and God, therefore, links himself with man in the continuance of wheat on the face of the earth; and he has so arranged that, while he could spread the gospel by his Spirit without human voices, while he could bring untold myriads to himself without any instrumentality, yet he does not do so; and, as means to the end he has in view, he intends YOU to speak, that he may speak through you, and that, in the speaking, the seed may be scattered, which he shall make to bring forth an abundant harvest.

     II. Now, secondly, WHAT DID THIS SOWER DO? He “went forth.” I am going to dwell upon that fact for a few minutes.

     I think this means, first, that he bestirred himself. He said, “It is time that I went forth to sow. I have waited quite long enough for favourable weather; but I remember that Solomon said, ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow.’ I feel that the sowing time has come for me, and I must set about it.” Can I look upon some here, who have been members of the church for years, but who have never yet done anything for the Lord? Brother or sister, if you have been a servant of God for many years, and have never yet really worked for the salvation of souls, I want you now just to say to yourself, “Come now, I must really get at this work.” You will be going home soon; and when your Master says to you, “Did you do any sowing for me?” you will have to reply, “No, Lord; I did plenty of eating. I went to the Tabernacle, and I enjoyed the services.” “But did you do any sowing?” “No, Lord; I did a great deal of hoarding; I laid up a large quantity of the good seed. “But did you do any sowing?” he will still ask, and that will be a terrible question for those who never went forth to sow. You are very comfortable at home, are you not? In the long winter evenings that are coming on, it will be so pleasant to enjoy yourselves at home of an evening. There, stir the fire, and draw the curtain close, and let us sit down, and spend a happy time. Yes, but is it not time for you, Mr. Sower, to go forth? The millions of London are perishing; asylums for the insane are filling, jails are filling, poverty is abounding, and drunkenness at every street-corner. Harlotry is making good men and women to blush. It is time to set about work for the Lord if I am ever to do it. What are some of you doing for God? Oh, that you would begin to take stock of your capacity, or your incapacity, and say, “I must get to work for the Master. I am not to spend my whole life thinking about what I am going to do; I must do the next thing, and do it at once, or I may be called home, and my day be over before I have sown a single handful of wheat.”

     Next, the sower quitted his privacy. He came out from his solitude, and began to sow. This is what I mean. At first, a Christian man very wisely lives indoors. There is a lot of cleaning and scrubbing to be done there. When the bees come out of their cells, they always spend the first few days of their life in the hive cleaning and getting everything tidy. They do not go out to gather honey till they have first of all done the housework at home. I wish that all Christian people would get their housework done as soon as they can. It needs to be done. I mean, acquaintance with experimental matters of indwelling sin, and overcoming grace. But, after that, then the sower went forth to sow. He was not content with his own private experience, but he went forth to sow. There are numbers of people who are miserable because they are always at home. They have cleaned up everything there, even to the bottoms of the saucepans outside, and now they do not know what to do; so they begin blacking them over again, and cleaning them once more; always at work upon the little trifles of their own kitchen. Go out, brother; go out, sister. Important as your experience is, it is only important as a platform for real usefulness. Get all right within, in order that you may get to work without.

     The sower, when he went forth to sow, also quitted his occupation of a learner and an enjoyer of the truth. He was in the Bible-class for a year or two, and he gained a deal of Scriptural knowledge there. He was also a regular hearer of the Word. You could see him regularly sitting in his pew, and drinking in the Word; but, after a while, he said to himself, “I have no right to remain in this Bible-class; I ought to be in the Sunday-school, and take a class myself.” Then he said to himself, on a Sabbath evening, “I have been to one service to-day, and have been spiritually fed, so I think I ought to go to one of the lodging-houses in the Mint, and speak to the people there, or find some other holy occupation in which I can be doing some good to others.” So he went forth to sow, and I want to stir you all up to do this. Perhaps I do not need to say much upon this matter to my own people here, but there are also many strangers with us. I would like to do with you what Samson did with the foxes and firebrands. We have far too many professing Christians who are doing next to nothing. If I could send you among the standing corn of some of the churches, to set them on fire, it would not be a bad Thursday evening’s work.

     “A sower went forth to sow.” Where did he come from? I do not know what house he came from, but I can tell you the place from which he last came. He came out of the granary. He must have been to the granary to get the seed. At least, if he did not go there before he went to sow, he did not have anything that was worth sowing. O my dear brothers and sisters, especially my brethren in the ministry, we must always go to the granary, must we not? Without the diligent and constant study of Scripture, of what use will our preaching be? “I went into the pulpit,” said one, “and I preached straight off just what came into my mind, and thought nothing of it.” “Yes,” said another, “and your people thought nothing of it, too.” That is sure to be the case. You teachers, who go to your classes quite unprepared, and open your Bible, and say just what comes first, should remember that God does not want your nonsense. “Oh, but!” says one, “it is not by human wisdom that souls are saved.” No, nor is it by human ignorance. But if you profess to teach, do learn. He can never be a teacher who is not first a learner. I am sure that, when the sower went forth to sow, the last place he came from was the granary; and mind that you go to the granary, too, dear worker.

     I wonder whether this sower did what I recommend every Christian sower to do; namely, to come forth from the place where he had steeped his seed. One farmer complained that his wheat did not grow, and another asked him, “Do you steep your seed?” “No,” he replied, “I never heard of such a thing.” The first one said, “I steep mine in prayer, and God prospers me.” If we always steep our heavenly seed in prayer, God will prosper us also. For one solitary man to stand up, and preach, is poor work; but for two of us to be here, is grand work. You have heard the story of the Welsh preacher who had not arrived when the service ought to have been begun, and his host sent a boy to the room to tell him that it was time to go to preach. The boy came hurrying back, and said, “Sir, he is in his room, but I do not think he is coming. There is somebody in there with him. I heard him speaking very loudly, and very earnestly, and I heard him say that if that other person did not come with him, he would not come at all, and the other one never answered him, so I do not think he will come.” “Ah!” said the host, who understood the case, “he will come, and the other one will come with him.” Oh! it is good sowing when the sower goes forth to sow, and the Other comes with him! Then we go forth with steeped seed, seed that is sprouting in our hands as we go forth. This does not happen naturally, but it does happen spiritually. It seems to grow while we are handling it, for there is life in it; and when it is sown, there will be life in it to our hearers.

     Further, this sower went forth into the open field. Wherever there was a field ready for the sowing, there he came. Beloved friends, we must always try to do good where there is the greatest likelihood of doing good. I do not think that I need to go anywhere else than here, for here are the people to whom I can preach; but if this place was not filled with people, I should feel that I had no right to stand here, and preach to empty pews. If it is so in your little chapel, if the people do not come, — I do not desire that the chapel should be burnt down, but it might be a very mitigated calamity if you had to turn out into the street to preach, or if you had to go to some hall, or barn, for some people might come and hear you there who will never hear you now. You must go forth to sow. You cannot sit at your parlour window, and sow wheat; and you cannot stand on one little plot of ground, and keep on sowing there. If you have done your work in that place, go forth to sow elsewhere. Oh, that the Church of Christ would go forth into heathen lands! Oh, that there might be, among Christians, a general feeling that they must go forth to sow! What a vast acreage there still is upon which not a grain of God’s wheat has ever yet fallen! Oh, for a great increase of the missionary spirit! May God send it upon the entire Church until everywhere it shall be said, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” There is a “behold” in my text, which I have saved up till now: “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” He went as far as ever he could to sow the good seed, that his master might have a great harvest from it; let us go and do likewise.

     When did this man go forth to sow? Our farming friends begin to sow very soon after harvest. That is the time to sow for Christ. As soon as ever you have won one soul for him, try and win another by God’s grace. Say to yourself what the general said to his troops when some of them came riding up, and said, “Sir, we have captured a gun from the enemy.” “Then,” said he, “go and capture another.” After the reaping, let the sowing follow as speedily as possible. In season, this sower sowed.. It is a great thing to observe the proper season for sowing, but it is a greater thing to sow in improper seasons also, for out of season is sometimes the best season for God’s sowers to sow. “Be instant in season, out of season,” was Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. Oh, for grace to be always sowing! I have known good men to go about, and never to be without tracts to give away, and suitable tracts, too. They seem to have picked them out, and God has given them an occasion suitable for the tracts; or if they have not given tracts, they have been ready with a good word, a choice word, a loving word, a tender word. There is a way of getting the gospel in edgewise, when you cannot get it in at the front. Wise sowers sow their seed broadcast, yet I have generally noticed that they never sow against the wind, for that would blow the dust into their eyes; and there is nothing like sowing with the wind. Whichever way the Holy Spirit seems to be moving, and providence is also moving, scatter your seed, that the wind may carry it as far as possible, and that it may fall where God shall make it grow.

     Thus I have told you what the man did: “A sower went forth to sow.”

     III. I must answer briefly the last of the three questions I mentioned, WHAT WAS THIS SOWER AT?

     On this occasion, he did not go forth to keep the seed to himself. He went forth to throw it to the wind; he threw it away from himself, scattered it far and wide. He did net go out to defend it; but he threw it about, and left it to take its chance. He did not go, at this time, to examine it, to see whether it was good wheat, or not. No doubt he had done that before; but he just scattered it. He did not go out to winnow it, and blow away the chaff, or pick out any darnel that might be in it. That was all done at home. Now he has nothing to do but to sow it to sow it, TO SOW IT; and he sows it with all his might. He did not even come to push others out of the field who might be sowing bad seed, but he took occasion, at this particular time, to go forth to sow, and to do nothing else.

“One thing at a time, and that done well,
Is a very good rule, as many can tell;”

and it is especially so in the service of God. Do not try to do twenty things at once: “A sower went forth TO SOW. His object was a limited one. He did not go forth to make the seed grow. No, that was beyond his power; he went forth to sow. If we were responsible for the effect of the gospel upon the hearts of men, we should be in a sorry plight indeed: but we are only responsible for the sowing of the good seed. If you hear the gospel, dear friends, and reject it, that is your act, and not ours. If you are saved by it, give God the glory; but if it proves to be a savour of- death unto death to you, yours is the sin, the shame, and the sorrow. The preacher cannot save souls, so he will not take the responsibility that does not belong to him.

     And he did not, at that time, go forth to reap. There are many instances in which the reaper has overtaken the sower, and God has saved souls on the spot while we have been preaching. Still, what this man went forth to do was to sow. Whether there is any soul saved or not, our business is to preach the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel; and we must keep to this one point, preaching Jesus Christ, and him crucified. That is sowing the seed. We cannot create the harvest; that will come in God’s own time.

     This man’s one object was positively before him,, and we are to impart the truth, to make known to men the whole of the gospel. You are lost, God is gracious, Christ has come to seek and to save that which is lost. Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. On the cross he offered the sacrifice by which sin is put away. Believe in him, and you live by his death. This sowing, you see, is simply telling out the truth; and this is the main thing that we have to do, dear friends, to keep on telling the same truth over, and over, and over, and over again, till we get it into the minds and hearts of men, and they receive it through God’s blessing. If the sower had sat down at the corner of the field, and played the harp all day, he would not have done his duty; and if, instead of preaching the simple gospel, we talk of the high or deep mysteries of God, we shall not have done our duty. The sower’s one business is to sow; so, stick to your sowing, brothers and sisters. When that is done, and your Master calls you home, he will find you other work to do for him in heaven; but, for the present, this is to be your occupation. Now, to close, let me remind you that sowing is an act of faith. If a man had not great faith in God, he would not take the little wheat he has, and go and bury it. His good wife might say to him, “John, we shall want that corn for the children, so don’t you go, and throw it out where the birds may eat it, or the worms destroy it.” And you must preach the gospel, and you must teach the gospel, as an act of faith. You must believe that God will bless it. If not, you are not likely to get a blessing upon it. If it is done merely as a natural act, or a hopeful act, that will not be enough; it must be done as an act of confidence in the living God. He bids you speak the Word, and makes you his lip for the time, and he says that his Word shall not return unto him void, but that it shall prosper in the thing whereto he hath sent it.

     This sowing was also an act of energy. The word sower is meant to describe an energetic man. He was, as we say, “all there.” So, when we teach Christ, we must teach him with all our might, throwing our very soul into our teaching. O brothers, never let the gospel hang on our lips like icicles! Let it rather be like burning lava from the mouth of a volcano; let us be all on fire with the divine truth that is within our hearts, sowing it with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.

     This sowing was also an act of concentrated energy. The sower “went forth TO SOW. He went forth, not with two aims or objects, but with this one; not dividing his life into a multitude of channels, but making all run in one strong, deep current, along this one river-bed.

     Now I have done when I invite my brothers and sisters here to go forth from this Tabernacle to sow. You will go down those front steps, or you will go out at the back doors, and scatter all over London. I know not how far you may be going, but let it be written of you to-night, “The sowers went forth to sow,” — they went forth from the Tabernacle with one resolve that, by the power of the living Spirit of God, they who are redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus would make known his gospel to the sons of men, sowing that good seed in every place wherever they have the opportunity, trusting in God to make the seed increase and multiply. Ah, but do not forget to do it even within these walls, for there are some here whom you may never be able to get at again. So, if you can speak to your neighbour in the pew, say a good word for Christ. If you will begin to be sowers, nothing is better than to begin at once. Throw a handful before you get outside the door; who knows whether that first handful shall not be more successful than all you have sown, or shall sow, in after days?

     As for you, dear souls, who have never received the living seed, oh, that you would receive it at once! May God, the Holy Spirit, make you to be like well-prepared ground that opens a thousand mouths to take in the seed, and then encloses the seed within itself, and makes it fructify! May God bless you; may he never leave you barren or unfruitful, but may you grow a great harvest to his glory, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



Christ’s Yoke and Burden

By / Sep 2

Christ’s Yoke and Burden

 

 

“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” — Matthew xi. 30.

 

 

September 2nd, 1886

 

OBSERVE, dear friends, that our Lord Jesus Christ does lay a yoke and a burden upon his followers. He uses those words that none may presume to enter his service without due consideration. Religion is not a matter for trifling. The service of the meek and lowly Christ is no child’s play. There is a yoke that is to be borne by all his disciples, and the neck of self-will must be bent low to receive it. There is a burden to be carried for Christ, and all the strength that God gives us must be used for his honour and glory.

     But, lest those words “yoke” and “burden” should sound harshly to our ears, and any of us should start back because we have aforetime had our shoulders galled by another yoke, and our backs bent beneath a very different burden, the Master very graciously and sweetly says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It appears to me that he spoke thus so that none may despair, that despair may not even come near us, and that we may not despond as to the possibility of our salvation, Christ has a yoke for us to wear, so let us wear it seriously; but it is an easy yoke, so let us wear it hopefully. He has a burden for us to carry for him, so let us be in earnest in bearing it; but it is a light burden, so let us be full of joy at the very prospect of carrying it. Our Saviour’s adjectives are always emphatic, and they are especially so here. His “yoke is easy — easy in the fullest sense; and his “burden is light” — light in the most joyous meaning of the term lightness. You may always be sure that in Christ’s words, there is never less than he seems to say; and, more than that, you can scarcely ever be wrong in believing that every statement made by him contains far more than appears on the surface of it.

    I want you to feel, at this time, that, whatever yoke and burden there may be connected with Christ, that yoke is easy, and that burden is light. I hope you will not pervert this text as some people do. They misquote it by saying that “the yoke of Christianity is easy, and the burden of Christianity is light.” I am not greatly concerned about the yoke or burden of Christianity; to me, the charm of our text is that, here, we have Christ himself saying to us, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I want you to have before you, not some impalpable, visionary, imaginary thing, but the very Lord that bought us with his precious blood speaking with those lips which are as lilies dropping sweet-smelling myrrh, and pointing with his pierced hand to the yoke and to the burden which he calls especially his own, and saying, as he said when he was here upon the earth, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

     Coming, then, to our text, I ask you to notice, first, that the context explains it; secondly, a little word of distinction in the text clears it; and, thirdly, the experience of all who know the Lord proves it to be true.

     I. First, then, THE CONNECTION OF OUR TEXT EXPLAINS IT.

     Our Saviour did not speak these two sentences by themselves; and, therefore, we may not take this verse by itself. It is true anyhow, but you may make it untrue to yourself unless you take it in its proper connection. How often shall we have to tell people that the Bible is not a mere collection of separate sentences which they may rend from their context just as they please? We are not to treat the verses of the Bible as pigeons might treat a bushel of peas; picking out one here, and another there, without any thought of the surroundings of that particular passage. No; this blessed Book was written for men to read right through; and if they would understand the meaning of it, they must read each sentence in the connection in which it is found.

     So, keeping this truth in view, I begin by saying that some of you would not find Christ’ s yoke easy, or his burden light. That is the very last thing you would find them to be to you in your present condition; but you would find his yoke heavy, and his burden impossible for you to bear. Some of you are mere worldlings, “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;” it may be that some of you are self-righteous, and proud of that which should be your shame. Anyhow, if you are unregenerate, our text would not be true to you in your unconverted state. There is something else which must come before this. If any unsaved man thinks that he can, just as he is, shoulder Christ’s cross, and yield himself up to be Christ’s servant, he has made a great mistake. Before him, these burning sentences must flash, like Sinai’s lightning, “Ye must be born again,” “because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” God will not be served by men whose sins have not been washed away by the precious blood of his dear Son. He will have none to bear his burdens but those who have, first of all, received of his grace through faith in the great “Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” So you see where you have to begin. “Come unto me,” saith Christ, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” By that he means, “Do not suppose that, because you are already labourers in another master’s service, you can wear my yoke. Do not imagine that, because you are already heavily laden, you can bear my burden. You must first get rid of that which now makes you labour, you must first be rid of that which is a burden to you, for no man can serve two masters. Your old, toilsome labour must be done with, for no man can carry the double burden of his own guilt and of the service of God. That cannot be.”

     So, dearly-beloved, if you wish to- be servants of God, if in your heart there burns a holy desire to serve the Most High, begin at the right place. Christ directs you to the door of entrance into his service, and into everything else that is worth having, when he says, “‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ I will give it to you; — you are not to buy it, you are not to earn it, or deserve it, — I will give it to you freely, for nothing is freer than a gift. I will give it to you; — nobody else can do so, but I, in my own personality, will give to you who are the most weary with your labouring, and the most heavy laden with your sin, — I will give to you rest, and I will give it to you immediately, on the spot. Come to me now, by believing on me, by trusting wholly to me, by getting away from yourself, and forgetting for a while any hope you ever had in yourself, and just coming to me to find your all in me; and so coming, I will give you rest.”

      You cannot take Christ’s yoke upon you, or bear his burdens, — and therefore you cannot prove them to be easy and light, — till first of all you have entered into this rest which he so freely gives. If you are first perfectly rested, then you can work. I have before told you how the change, which our Lord has made in the Sabbath, is indicative of the change which he has made in our life. The law says, “Work six days, and then observe the seventh as the Sabbath;” but, under the gospel, the arrangement is, “Rest on the first day before you have done a stroke of work. Just as the week begins, take your rest; and, after that, in the strength derived from it, and from the grateful motives which arise out of that one blessed day of rest, give to the Lord the six days of the week.” There is a change from law to gospel indicated in that very change; so let it be with you. “Come unto me,” saith Christ, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When you have done that, the text will be true to you, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

     There is something more than that, however. We began with the Master’s gracious invitation, “Come unto me;” now follows his command, “Take my yoke upon you.” You will prove that his yoke is easy when you take it upon you; but, instead of doing so, I know what a man often does. He draws his chair up, and sits down, and says, “I will consider what Christ requires of me; I will think of what it is to lead a Christian life, — all the self-denials and the struggles, and the conflicts, that will be involved in wearing his yoke, which seems to me a very hard one.” Get up, sir, from that chair; and, instead of being a critic of Christ’s yoke, put it on. “‘Take my yoke upon you,’ says the Lord Jesus. Take it upon your shoulder by a humble yet confident faith. First be rid of your old burden, and so get rest, and then take upon you this yoke of mine.” Let me put it practically to you, and then see whether Christ’s yoke is not easy, and his burden is not light. Suppose a number of persons say to me, “That mass of white substance yonder is salt.” I say, “No, it is not salt; it is sugar.” “But from this distance it looks like salt.” I tell them that it is sweet, the very essence of sweetness, but they do not believe me. We may have a long talk over the matter, but we shall never get to the end of the controversy till they come to the sugar, and taste it; then, the controversy will be ended at once. So is it with men who have not proved the sweetness of Christ. They say, “There is nothing in religion except that which is burdensome and sad.” It may seem so to you who do not know anything about it; but we who trust and love the Lord say to you, “Taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” That is the test; come and prove it for yourselves, for there has never yet been a case in which a man has really taken Christ’s yoke upon him, in which he has not, by that very fact, proved that Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

     There is still more to follow, for the Saviour says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls? There are two rests for a Christian to enjoy. The first is the rest that Christ gives him when he believes, the next is the rest that he finds when he takes Christ’s yoke upon him. These two rests will be distinctly enjoyed, by anyone who truly comes to Christ, and learns of him, and no one will find Christ’s yoke easy in any other way. To put it in humble phraseology, when we are bound to Christ, as apprentices are bound to their master, to learn of him, we shall find a new and yet deeper and fuller rest to our soul than we have ever known before, and this will prove to us that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. There is a use and wont, in the service of Christ, that brings much sweetness with it. To the beginner, the yoke may seem strange, and perhaps galling, but, after a while, when we have learned of Christ, — even as he himself learned obedience when he made himself a servant for our sakes, — then we shall discover that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

     There are some, even among real Christians, who do not yet know the joy of service for the Saviour, because they have not been long enough bound apprentice to the Master. See, that work is very hard to that young lad. He has been only two or three months in that workshop; and, though he is trying his best, he does not succeed at it yet. But if he remains long enough by his master’s side, and learns of him, you will then see how deftly he will do it. Just as the master now does it, and makes little of it because he is accustomed to it, so will this lad, by-and-by, find it quite easy, and he will then wonder that he ever thought it to be difficult, and he will agree with his master that, after all, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light, because he has learned the knack of carrying it. When I am at Mentone, I frequently see women, with bare feet, tripping down from the hills, carrying a basket, perhaps full of lemons, and very likely with a child on the top of it. They never put up a hand to steady it, but they swing along, knitting their stockings as they come down the hill, using all their fingers for their work, and cheerily saying, “Good morning,” as they come by us. It is wonderful how they carry such a load. I could not even lift the basket which they carry on their heads. How is it that they can do it? I do not suppose they could tell you, but they have done it since they were girls, and they have kept doing it; and feeble as you Would suppose them to be, their strength has seemed to grow with the burden, and they are able to carry their load easily and cheerfully. So, when you come to Christ, and get rid of your old burden, he puts upon you his burden, and you keep with him, and learn of him till, at last, you also prove that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

     I must ask you to go one step further with me. Tie who would enter to the full into the sweetness of this text must know Christ himself; for, observe, the Master puts himself into it: “I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” I do most firmly believe that there is nothing that makes such men of us as knowing the Son of man. After all, the sublimest science in the world is to know Christ; and, especially, to know the meaning of the wounds of Christ. The man, who has most studied the agony in the garden and on the cross, and who has most studied his Master in all conditions, will be the best fitted to be a burden-bearer, — either to serve or to suffer, according as God would have it. The very sight of Christ makes cowards brave. One glance at that blessed countenance of his, all besmeared with bloody sweat, makes us ashamed that we ever murmured, distrusted with ourselves that we counted anything a self-denial for his dear sake. When we see him so gentle under all reproaches, bearing even to be spit upon without an angry look or word, when we really begin to know his very heart, — that heart which was entirely subject to the will of God for our sakes, — ay, even for the sake of those who were his enemies, and who crucified, him; — knowing him thus, his yoke becomes indeed easy, and his burden becomes light. When the cross of Christ was fresh in the memory of his Church, she bore martyrdom for him with joy. His yoke then became so desirable that men even pressed into the court of justice to avow themselves Christians with the hope that they would be martyred. Men, did I say? Yes, and women and children also flocked in, and seemed as though they courted torture, for Christ’s yoke had grown so light and so easy, on account of their having known him. and his death being so fresh a thing. Oh, it was marvellous! They have handed down to us, by their traditions, enough to make us blush if ever we dream of shrinking from any service or suffering for the sake of the Master who loved us so much that he even died for us.

     II. But now, secondly, — and may God the Holy Spirit help me to speak with power upon this important point! THERE IS A LITTLE WORD OF DISTINCTION IN THE TEXT WHICH VERY MUCH HELPS TO CLEAR IT.         

     Perhaps somebody says, “I do not find the yoke of life easy, or the burden of life light.” Christ does not say that they are; what he does say is, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” What was Christ’s light burden, and what was Christ’s easy yoke? I believe that I might illustrate the text by saying that he thought thus of that yoke and that burden which he himself bore; — the yoke which rested upon the shoulders of “the Prince of the kings of the earth,” — the burden which lay on that blessed back which once wore the robe of universal empire. Never before was there such a yoke, or such a burden; but, for love of us, and for delight in what he should accomplish thereby, his yoke to him was easy, and his burden was light. For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame. So, whenever you have to bear a yoke or a burden, count it easy for the same reason as Christ did. But it must be Christ’s yoke that we carry, for that alone will be easy to us.

     For, first, the yoke of Christ is easy and light as compared with the yoke of others. The yoke of Moses was heavy, the yoke of the law was burdensome to the Jews, so that neither they nor their fathers were able to bear it. But the yoke of Christ’s law is easy, and the burden of Christ’s command to his Church is light. The yoke of the world is1 heavy. If any man will wear it, he will find that he may serve this cruel taskmaster till he is grey, and then he will be discarded. Cardinal Wolsey lamented, all too late, that had he but served his God with half the zeal he served his king, he would not in his age have been left naked to his enemies. The yoke of sin — the yoke of selfishness, the yoke of greediness, the yoke of drunkenness, the yoke of unbelief, — is the heaviest yoke of all. The crux of infidelity is heavier than the cross of Christ. You may depend upon it, that Christ’s yoke, compared with any other, or with all others, is truly easy and light.

     But, then, it is not easy if we are rebellious against it. “I find it hard,” says one, “to do the Master’s will.” Do you? I expect the hardness is the result of not doing the Master’s will. If you really did it willingly, it would be easy. “Oh, but- I find such-and-such a thing, which Christ requires of me, to be hard.” No, you do not find that to be hard: it is your own heart that is hard. The hardness is in the sin that rebels against Christ. There would be no hardness in the tenderness that would yield to him, or that would come to you as the result of yielding. I struggle, and then the cords that bind me cut my flesh. I quietly yield, and then I do not injure myself. A man will float if he will lie still upon the top of the water, but he will drown if he begins to struggle. It is the complete yielding to Christ that makes the yoke to be easy; but the hardness comes when it is not his yoke that we take, but one made by our self-will. We must have everything according to our own will, we must do everything in our own way, and so Lord Will-be-will comes prancing down the street on his high horse, and then everything goes amiss. But Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

     “Still, the burden of life is very heavy,” says one. Yes, but how far is it Christ’s yoke, and his burden? It is not his yoke if we are burdened with forbidden cares, for his yoke is that we should be free from care because we have cast all our care upon him who careth for us. Has he not pointed us to ravens, and to lilies, and bidden us learn from them the lesson of living without caret Your cares, poor anxious one, are not Christ’s yoke. They are a heavy yoke that is all of your own making; but if you took another kind of care, — the care of not caring, — then you would find Christ’s yoke to be easy, his burden to be light, and your life would be joyous and happy.

     Nor is it Christ’s yoke when we add other burdens to the one he lays upon us. “Oh, but I want” yes, I know; you want to get on, and to be rich, and to be famous, and all that. But is that Christ’s; yoke? He says, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” Ambition is your own yoke, not his; and the lust of wealth, the desire for power, the craving for human love, — all that is a yoke of your own making; and if you will wear it, it will gall you. There is more joy in being unknown than in being known, and there is less care in having no wealth than in having much of it. We often go the wrong way to work in seeking true restfulness and happiness. We set our minds on getting this and that, ana then blame our Master because we have a heavy burden on our backs. He meant that we should have a heavy burden if we would make one of our own; but if our only care was to seek his glory, to imitate him, to put our feet down into his footprints, — if , like him, we were submissive even in our greatest agony, and closed our most intense petitions with his own words, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt,” then we should find that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. God grant us grace to prove the difference between his yoke and that which we make for ourselves. — between his burden and that which we pile up by our own wilfulness! The yoke of Christ is his word, his precepts, his commands, the following of his example, the bearing of suffering which he appoints, the persecution which comes to us for his sake. This is his yoke, and his burden, quite as much as we need desire to carry; so, let us be content that we are not our own masters, but that we are our Lord’s servants, and that we have not even a pennyworth of our own to carry, but only mean to be carriers for him. We have hired ourselves out to carry the vessels of the sanctuary, and we will carry no other burden than that. You remember that Nehemiah gave orders to his servants “that there should be no burden brought in on the Sabbath day,” and the Lord has graciously brought us to a divine “Sabbatismos” already. If we bear no burdens but his burdens, and do no service but his service, then we shall find that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. May God the Holy Ghost lead us into this kind of life, and then indeed shall we be truly happy!

     III. Our third point is to be that OUR EXPERIENCE PROVES THE TEXT TO BE TRUE. Many of us have proved that Christ’s yoke is easy, and that his burden is light. In speaking upon this point, I must go over part of the ground I traversed just now.

     Experience — that is to say, use and wont again, — proves Christ’s burden to be light. Those of you who have known the Lord these five-and-twenty, or thirty, or forty years, — what do you say about this matter? Do you not find things somewhat different from what they were when you first came to Christ? Then, he gave you rest, did he not? — and you have never lost it; but, since then, you have gone on bearing his cross, and learning of him, and you have found a more complete rest, have you not? I think that I shall describe your experience', as well as my own, when I say that we have now a calmness and serenity of spirit which we did not know at first. We have learnt to do, almost spontaneously, some things which used to cost us a great effort. We now, almost instantaneously, think and say what before would have caused us deliberation to think and say; and many a burden, that almost broke our backs then, is no burden at all to us now. See how it is with those who have been long sick. At first, they dread the thought of being a week without coming downstairs; but after being bed-ridden for twenty years, they get accustomed to it, and even smile when we pity them. Well, that is a strong illustration of what I mean. To those who are not sufferers, I might give “other illustrations; but it is true that there is a sacred use and wont that comes to us through the grace of God. We say that “use is second nature;” and, being accustomed to bear this burden, we are like the bullock which at first is restive, and will not plough; but when, year after year, he has ploughed with his true yokefellow, he gets almost to love the yoke; and when he is brought out in the morning, he looks round for his yoke-fellow, and adjusts his neck so that he may bear his part of the yoke without distressing his companion that is to be yoked with him; and almost before the farmer bids them move, the two bullocks begin steadily to go their usual round. There is less need of the ox-goad now because they have become accustomed to the yoke. They seem to know when to turn at the end of the furrow, and how to do it all; and blessed is that Christian who, by experience, has acquired the blessed habit of serving or suffering as his Master wills. He finds that Christ’s yoke is easy, and his1 burden is light.

     But, dear friends, we also, by experience, prove Christ's yoke to be easy, and his burden to be light, because of the motive that leads us to bear them. What is the motive that leads a Christian to bear Christ’s yoke and burden? Why, the master-motive is love; and what will we not do for love? Things which no money could induce us to do are freely done out of love. Well does our poet sing, —

“’Tis love that makes our willing feet
 In swift obedience move.”

In our ordinary domestic life, nothing is too heavy, nothing is too demeaning, if it be done for love; and so is it with the yoke of Christ. When we come really to love him, we are willing to do or to suffer anything for his dear sake. His love makes the burden light, and the yoke easy.

     Further, experience shows us that these things are light because there is a new nature given us, with which we bear the burden and the yoke. Our old carnal nature cannot endure it; you might as soon try to yoke the sea or to harness the wind as seek to put the yoke of Christ upon a carnal man’s shoulder, or make him open his mouth to receive the bit of the divine law. But God creates in us a new heart and a right spirit, and that new nature as naturally takes to obedience as the old nature took to rebellion; and so the yoke becomes easy, and the burden light. Is not that the true answer to the riddle? Is not that the great reason why that which otherwise would crush us becomes so light?

     Then, Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burden is light, became the Divine Trinity comes to our help. When the Trinity comes in, all thought of difficulty vanishes. If our Heavenly Father be with us, we can do or bear anything. The feeblest among us could stand, like Atlas with a world upon his shoulders, and never feel the strain, if God the Father were with him. Then, how uplifting is the sympathy of Christ! We can bear anything when he says to us, —

“I feel at my heart all thy sighs and thy groans,
For thou art most near me, my flesh and my bones;
 In all thy distresses thy Head feels the pain,
Yet all are most needful, not one is in vain.”

Dr. Watts wrote truly, —

“Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are.”

Then there is the blessed co-operation of the Holy Ghost. When he comes to us as Comforter, Quickener, Guide, Strengthener, and Friend, then the yoke is easy, and the burden is light; especially when he comes with manifestations of God to the soul, and when faith, and hope, and joy, are all shedding their benign influence over the heart. Well might the apostle say that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. And when the Holy Spirit comes, and reveals Christ in us, then nothing is hard, but everything is light and easy to us. Experience cracks this nut, which else might break our teeth. Have you ever tried it, brothers and sisters? If so, I know that you have proved Christ’s word true to you, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

     Another thing that helps to make Christ’s yoke easy to some of us is the consciousness of the benefits which we have derived from it. I can bear my personal testimony that the best piece of furniture that I ever had in the house was a cross. I do not mean a material cross; I mean, the cross of affliction and trouble. I am sure, that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light, — more stars, most certainly, — more things in heaven if fewer things on earth. The anvil, the fire, and the hammer, are the making of us; we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us; therefore, let affliction and trouble and trial come. Rutherford said that he thought Christ might almost be jealous of his cross, for he did love affliction so much; it had brought him so much benefit that he began even to love the cross, it had drawn him so close to his Lord that they ran each other pretty evenly. Well, I do not think that there is much fear of that; but, really, Christ and his cross do so sweetly go together that I have sometimes felt like the man who had such blessed times in his sickness, and who became so dull when he recovered, that he said, “Take me back to bed again, let me have all my pains again, for then I proved the preciousness of Christ.” Many an old Covenanter, when he met in the kirk in Edinburgh, and sat there in peace and quietness, had not half the fellowship with Christ which he had experienced when the cruel Claverhouse was after him; and he said, “Let me go back to the moors again, and worship God as I did when the text was read by the light of the lightning flash, for God was very near his people by the moss side and among the hills.” It is certainly so still, brothers and sisters. Not only is Christ’s yoke easy, and his burden light, but I have often felt as if his yoke were wings, and his burden feathers, — as if, by their help, I could mount and soar above all ordinary experiences. You know what weights are, and how they hold you down; but any engineer will tell you that there is a way of managing weights so as to make them lift you up, and our great Engineer lifts us by that which seems as if it would drag us down. Blessed be his name for this!

     And, lastly, his yoke becomes easy, and his burden light, as we think of what will come of them at last. The deeper our sorrows, the louder we shall sing. Heaven will be all the brighter because of the darkness through which we have passed on the way to it. Oh, what a heaven, it will be to the sick, and the poor, and the despised, and the afflicted, to burst their bonds, and soar away to everlasting bliss! It will not be long before you and I will be where Jesus is; wherefore, till then, let us patiently bear all that he lays upon us.

     But this is not true of you all. Some of you have heavy burdens to carry, but you have nobody to help you. How do you manage to live without a God? O poor creatures! Perhaps you, sir, came here in a carriage and pair, but you are indeed a poor creature if you have not a God. You draw large dividends from the bank, but you are poor indeed if you have not Christ as your Saviour. As for me, I will take Christ and his cross, and count them greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt. The Lord bring you all to think and say the same; and if you ever do, then you can begin with, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” and you can go on to the text, and claim Christ’s words as applying to you: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The way of holiness is an easy way; may God the Holy Spirit graciously guide you to walk in it, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.