“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

By / Jun 22

"Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

 

“Lead us not into temptation.” — Matthew vi. 13

 

LOOKING over a book of addresses to young people the other day, I met with the outline of a discourse which struck me as being a perfect gem. I will give it to you. The text is the Lord’s prayer, and the exposition is divided into most instructive heads. “Our Father which art in heaven:” a child away from home. “Hallowed be thy name a worshipper. “Thy kingdom come a subject. “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven a servant. “Give us this day our daily bread a beggar. “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors:” a sinner. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:” a sinner in danger of being a greater sinner still. The titles are in every case most appropriate, and truthfully condense the petition. Now if you will remember the outline you will notice that the prayer is like a ladder. The petitions begin at the top and go downward. “Our Father which art in heaven a child, a child of the heavenly Father. Now to be a child of God is the highest possible position of man. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” This is what Christ is— the Son of God, and “Our Father” is but a plural form of the very term which he uses in addressing God, for Jesus says, “Father.” It is a very high, gracious, exalted position, which by faith we dare to occupy when we intelligently say, “Our Father which art in heaven.” It is a step down to the next— “Hallowed be thy name.” Here we have a worshipper adoring with lowly reverence the thrice holy God. A worshipper’s place is a high one, but it attains not to the excellence of the child’s position. Angels come as high as being worshippers, their incessant song hallows the name of, God; but they cannot say, “Our Father,” “for unto which of the angels hath he said, ‘thou art my son’?” They must be content to be within one step of the highest, but they cannot reach the summit, for neither by adoption, regeneration, nor by union to Christ, are they the children of God. “Abba, Father,” is for men, not for angels, and therefore the worshipping sentence of the prayer is one step lower than the opening “Our Father.” The next petition is for us as subjects, “Thy kingdom come.” The subject comes lower than the worshipper, for worship is an elevated engagement wherein man exercises a priesthood and is seen in lowly but honourable estate. The child worships and then confesses the Great Father’s royalty. Descending still, the next position is that of a servant, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” That is another step lower than a subject, for her majesty the Queen has many subjects who are not her servants. They are not bound to wait upon her in the palace with personal service though they own her as their honoured sovereign. Dukes and such like are her subjects, but not her servants. The servant is a grade below the subject. Every one will own that the next petition is lower by far, for it is that of a beggar: “Give us this day our daily bread”— a beggar for bread— an every-day beggar— one who has continually to appeal to charity, even for his livelihood. This is a fit place for us to occupy who owe our all to the charity of heaven. But there is a step lower than the beggar’s, and that is the sinner’s place. “Forgive” is lowlier than “give.” “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Here too we may each one take up his position, for no word better befits our unworthy lips than the prayer “Forgive.” As long as we live and sin we ought to weep and cry, “Have mercy on us, O Lord.” And now, at the very bottom of the ladder, stands a sinner, afraid of yet greater sin, in extreme danger and in conscious weakness, sensible of past sin and fearful of it for the future: hear him as with trembling lip he cries in the words of our text, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

     And yet, dear friends, though I have thus described the prayer as a going downward, downward is in matters of grace much the same as upward, as we could readily show if time permitted. At any rate the down-going process of the prayer might equally well illustrate the advance of the divine life in the soul. The last clause of the prayer contains in it a deeper inward experience than the earlier part of it. Every believer is a child of God, a worshipper, a subject, a servant, a beggar, and a sinner; but it is not every man who perceives the allurements which beset him, or his own tendency to yield to them. It is not every child of God, even when advanced in years, who knows to the full the meaning of being led into temptation; for some follow an easy path and are seldom buffeted; and others are such tender babes that they hardly know their own corruptions. Fully to understand our text a man should have had sharp brushes in the wars and have done battle against the enemy within his soul for many a day. He who has escaped as by the skin of his teeth, offers this prayer with an emphasis of meaning. The man who has felt the fowler’s net about him— the man who has been seized by the adversary and almost destroyed— he prays with awful eagerness, “Lead us not into temptation.”

     I purpose at this time, in trying to commend this prayer to you, to notice, first of all, the spirit which suggests such a petition; secondly, the trials which such a prayer deprecates; and then, thirdly, the lessons which it teaches.

     I. WHAT SUGGESTS SUCH A PRAYER AS THIS? Lead us not into temptation.”

     First, from the position of the clause, I gather, by a slight reasoning process, that it is suggested by watchfulness. This petition follows after the sentence, “Forgive us our debts.” I will suppose the petition to have been answered, and the man’s sin is forgiven. What then? If you will look back upon your own lives you will soon perceive what generally happens to a pardoned man, for “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” One believing man’s inner experience is like another’s, and your own feelings were the same as mine. Very speedily after the penitent has received forgiveness and has the sense of it in his soul he is tempted of the devil, for Satan cannot bear to lose his subjects, and when he sees them cross the border line and escape out of his hand, he gathers up all his forces and exercises all his cunning if, perchance, he may slay them at once. To meet this special assault the Lord makes the heart watchful. Perceiving the ferocity and subtlety of Satan’s temptations, the new-born believer, rejoicing in the perfect pardon he has received, cries to God, “Lead us not into temptation.” It is the fear of losing the joy of pardoned sin which thus cries out to the good Lord— “Our Father, do not suffer us to lose the salvation we have so lately obtained. Do not even subject it to jeopardy. Do not permit Satan to break our newfound peace. We have but newly escaped, do not plunge us in the deeps again. Swimming to shore, some on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship, we have come safe to land; constrain us not to tempt the boisterous main again. Cast us not upon the rough billows any more. O God we see the enemy advancing: he is ready if he can to sift us as wheat. Do not suffer us to be put into his sieve, but deliver us, we pray thee.” It is a prayer of watchfulness; and mark you, though we have spoken of watchfulness as necessary at the commencement of the Christian life, it is equally needful even to the close. There is no hour in which a believer can afford to slumber. Watch, I pray you, when you are alone, for temptation, like a creeping assassin, has its dagger for solitary hearts. You must bolt and bar the door well if you would keep out the devil. Watch yourself in public, for temptations in troops cause their arrows to fly by day. The choicest companions you can select will not be without some evil influence upon you unless you be on your guard. Remember our blessed Master’s words, “What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch,” and as you watch this prayer will often rise from your inmost heart:

“From dark temptation’s power,
From Satan’s wiles defend;
Deliver in the evil hour,
And guide me to the end.”

It is the prayer of watchfulness.

     Next, it seems to me to be the natural prayer of holy horror at the very thought of falling again into sin. I remember the story of a pitman who, having been a gross blasphemer, a man of licentious life and everything that was bad, when converted by divine grace, was terribly afraid lest his old companions should lead him back again. He knew himself to be a man of strong passions, and very apt to be led astray by others, and therefore in his dread of being drawn into his old sins, he prayed most vehemently that sooner than ever he should go back to his old ways he might die. He did die there and then. Perhaps it was the best answer to the best prayer that the poor man could have offered. I am sure any man who has once lived an evil life, if the wondrous grace of God has snatched him from it, will agree that the pitman’s prayer was not one whit too enthusiastic. It were better for us to die at once than to live on and return to our first estate and bring dishonour upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. The prayer before us springs from the shrinking of the soul at the first approach of the tempter. The footfall of the fiend falls on the startled ear of the timid penitent; he quivers like an aspen leaf, and cries out, What, is he coming again? And is it possible that I may fall again? And may I once more defile these garments with that loathesome murderous sin which slew my Lord? “O my God,” the prayer seems to say, “keep me from so dire an evil. Lead me, I pray thee, where thou wilt— ay, even through death’s dark valley, but do not lead me into temptation, lest I fall and dishonour thee.” The burnt child dreads the fire. He who has once been caught in the steel trap carries the scars in his flesh and is horribly afraid of being again held by its cruel teeth.

     The third feeling, also, is very apparent; namely, diffidence of personal strength. The man who feels himself strong enough for anything is daring, and even invites the battle which will prove his power. “Oh,” says he, “I care not; they may gather about me who will; I am quite able to take care of myself and hold my own against any number.” He is ready to be led into conflict, he courts the fray. Not so the man who has been taught of God and has learned his own weakness; he does not want to be tried, but seeks quiet places where he may be out of harm’s way. Put him into the battle and he will play the man, let him be tempted and you will see how steadfast he will be; but he does not ask for conflict, as, methinks, few soldiers will who know what fighting means. Surely it is only those who have never smelt gunpowder, or seen the corpses heaped in bloody masses on each other, that are so eager for the shot and shell, but your veteran would rather enjoy the piping times of peace. No experienced believer ever desires spiritual conflict, though perchance some raw recruits may challenge it. In the Christian a recollection of his previous weakness— his resolutions broken, his promises unkept— makes him pray that he may not in future be severely tested. He does not dare to trust himself again. He wants no fight with Satan, or with the world; but he asks that if possible he may be kept from those severe encounters, and his prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation.” The wise believer shows a sacred diffidence— nay, I think I may say an utter despair of himself: and even though he knows that the power of God is strong enough for anything, yet is the sense of his weakness so heavy upon him that he begs to be spared too much trial. Hence the cry, “Lead us not into temptation.”

     Nor have I quite exhausted, I think, the phases of the spirit which suggests this prayer, for it seems to me to arise somewhat out of charity. “Charity?” say you. “How so?” Well, the connection is always to be observed, and by reading the preceding sentence in connection with it we get the words, “as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation.” We should not be too severe with those persons who have done wrong, and have offended us, but pray, “Lord, lead us not into temptation.” Your maid-servant, poor girl, did purloin a trifle from your property. I make no excuse for her theft, but I beseech you pause awhile before you quite ruin her character for life. Ask yourself, “Might not I have done the same had I been in her position? Lord, lead me not into temptation.” It is true it was very wrong in that young man to deal so dishonestly with your goods. Still, you know, he was under great pressure from a strong hand, and only yielded from compulsion. Do not be too severe. Do not say, “I will push the matter through; I will have the law of him.” No, but wait awhile; let pity speak, let mercy’s silver voice plead with you. Remember yourself, lest you also be tempted, and pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” I am afraid that badly as some behave under temptation, others of us might have done worse if we had been there. I like, if I can, to form a kind judgment of the erring; and it helps me to do so when I imagine myself to have been subject to their trials, and to have looked at things from their point of view, and to have been in their circumstances, and to have nothing of the grace of God to help me: should I not have fallen as badly as they have done, or even gone beyond them in evil? May not the day come to you who show no mercy in which you may have to ask mercy for yourselves? Did I say— may it not come to you? Nay, it must come to you. When leaving all below you will have to take a retrospective view of your life, and see much to mourn over, to what can you appeal then but to the mercy of God? And what if he should answer you, “An appeal was made to your mercy, and you had none. As you rendered unto others so will I render unto you.” What answer would you have if God were so to treat you? Would not such an answer be just and right? Should not every man be paid in his own coin when he stands at the judgment seat? So I think that this prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” should often spring up from the heart through a charitable feeling towards others who have erred, who are of the same flesh and blood as ourselves. Now, whenever you see the drunkard reel through the streets do not glory over him, but say, “Lead us not into temptation.” When you take down the papers and read that men of position have betrayed their trust for gold, condemn their conduct if you will, but do not exult in your own steadfastness, rather cry in all humility, “Lead us not into temptation.” When the poor girl seduced from the paths of virtue comes across your way, look not on her with the scorn that would give her up to destruction, but say, “Lead us not into temptation.” It would teach us milder and gentler ways with sinful men and women if this prayer were as often in our hearts as it is upon our lips.

     Once more, do you not think that this prayer breathes the spirit of confidence—confidence in God? “Why,” says one, “I do not see that.” To me—I know not whether I shall be able to convey my thought—to me there is a degree of very tender familiarity and sacred boldness in this expression. Of course, God will lead me now that I am his child. Moreover, now that he has forgiven me, I know that he will not lead me where I can come to any harm. This my faith ought to know and believe, and yet for several reasons there rises to my mind a fear lest his providence should conduct me where I shall be tempted. Is that fear right or wrong? It burdens my mind; may I go with it to my God? May I express in prayer this misgiving of soul? May I pour out this anxiety before the great, wise, loving God? Will it not be impertinent? No, it will not, for Jesus puts the words into my mouth and says, “After this manner pray ye.” You are afraid that he may lead you into temptation; but he will not do so; or should he see fit to try you, he will also afford you strength to hold out to the end. He will be pleased in his infinite mercy to preserve you. Where he leads it will be perfectly safe for you to follow, for his presence will make the deadliest air to become healthful. But since instinctively you have a dread lest you should be conducted where the fight will be too stern and the way too rough, tell it to your heavenly Father without reserve. You know at home if a child has any little complaint against his father it is always better for him to tell it. If he thinks that his father overlooked him the other day, or half thinks that the task his father has given him is too severe, or fancies that his father is expecting too much of him— if he does not say anything at all about it, he may sulk and lose much of the loving tenderness which a child’s heart should always feel. But when the child frankly says, “Father, I do not want you to think that I do not love you or that I cannot trust you, but I have a troublous thought in my mind, and I will tell it right straight out that is the wisest course to follow, and shows a filial trust. That is the way to keep up love and confidence. So if thou hast a suspicion in thy soul that mayhap thy Father might put thee into temptation too strong for thee, tell it to him. Tell it to him, though it seems taking a great liberty. Though the fear may be the fruit of unbelief yet make it known to thy Lord, and do not harbour it sullenly. Remember the Lord’s prayer was not made for him, but for you, and therefore it reads matters from your standpoint and not from his. Our Lord’s prayer is not for our Lord; it is for us, his children; and children say to their fathers ever so many things which it is quite proper for them to say, but which are not wise and accurate after the measure of their parents’ knowledge. Their father knows what their hearts mean, and yet there may be a good deal in what they say which is foolish or mistaken. So I look upon this prayer as exhibiting that blessed childlike confidence which tells out to its father a fear which grieves it, whether that fear be altogether correct or no. Beloved, we need not here debate the question whether God does lead into temptation or not, or whether we can fall from grace or not; it is enough that we have a fear, and are permitted to tell it to our Father in heaven. Whenever you have a fear of any kind, hurry off with it to him who loves his little ones, and like a father pities them and soothes even their needless alarms.

     Thus have I shown that the spirit which suggests this prayer is that of watchfulnesss, of holy horror at the very thought of sin, of diffidence of our own strength, of charity towards others, and of confidence in God.

     II. Secondly, let us ask, WHAT ARE THESE TEMPTATIONS WHICH THE PRAYER DEPRECATES? or say rather, what are these trials which are so much feared?

     I do not think the prayer is intended at all to ask God to spare us from being afflicted for our good, or to save us from being made to suffer as a chastisement. Of course we should be glad to escape those things; but the prayer aims at another form of trial, and may be paraphrased thus— “Save me, O Lord, from such trials and sufferings as may lead me into sin. Spare me from too great trials, lest I fall by their overcoming my patience, my faith, or my steadfastness.”

     Now, as briefly as I can, I will show you how men may be led into temptation by the hand of God.

     And the first is by the withdrawal of divine grace. Suppose for a moment — it is only a supposition— suppose the Lord were to leave us altogether, then should we perish speedily; but suppose— and this is not a barren supposition— that he were in some measure to take away his strength from us, should we not be in an evil case? Suppose he did not support our faith: what unbelief we should exhibit. Suppose he refused to support us in the time of trial so that we no longer maintained our integrity, what would become of us? Ah, the most upright man would not be upright long, nor the most holy, holy any more. Suppose, dear friend, — you who walk in the light of God’s countenance and bear life’s yoke so easily because he sustains you— suppose his presence were withdrawn from you, what must be your portion? We are all so like to Samson in this matter that I must bring him in as the illustration, though he has often been used for that purpose by others. So long as the locks of our head are unshorn we can do anything and everything: we can rend lions, carry gates of Gaza, and smite the armies of the alien. It is by the divine consecrating mark that we are strong in the power of his might; but if the Lord be once withdrawn and we attempt the work alone, then are we weak as the tiniest insect. When the Lord hath departed from thee, O Samson, what art thou more than another man? Then the cry, “the Philistines be upon thee, Samson,” is the knell of all thy glory. Thou dost vainly shake those lusty limbs of thine. Now thou wilt have thine eyes put out and the Philistines will make sport of thee. In view of a like catastrophe we may well be in an agony of supplication. Pray then, “Lord, leave me not; and lead me not into temptation by taking thy Spirit from me.”

“Keep us, Lord, oh keep us ever,
Vain our hope if left by thee;
We are thine, oh leave us never,
Till thy face in heaven we see;
There to praise thee
Through a bright eternity.

“All our strength at once would fail us,
If deserted, Lord, by thee;
Nothing then could aught avail us,
Certain our defeat would be:
Those who hate us
Thenceforth their desire would see.”

     Another set of temptations will be found in providential conditions. The words of Agur, the son of Jakeh, shall be my illustration here. “Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me; lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Some of us have never known what actual want means, but have from our youth up lived in social comfort. Ah, dear friends, when we see what extreme poverty has made some men do, how do we know that we should not have behaved even worse if we had been as sorely pressed as they? We may well shudder and say, “Lord, when I see poor families crowded together in one little room where there is scarcely space to observe common decency; when I see hardly bread enough to keep the children from crying for hunger; when I see the man’s garments wearing out upon his back, and by far too thin to keep out the cold; I pray thee subject me not to such trial, lest if I were in such a case I might put forth my hand and steal. Lead me not into the temptation of pining want.”

     And, on the other hand, look at the temptations of money when men have more to spend than they can possibly need, and there is around them a society which tempts them into racing, and gambling, and whoredom, and all manner of iniquities. The young man who has a fortune ready to hand before he reaches years of discretion, and is surrounded by flatterers and tempters all eager to plunder him; do you wonder that he is led into vice, and becomes a ruined man morally? Like a rich galleon waylaid by pirates, he is never out of danger; is it a marvel that he never reaches the port of safety? Women tempt him, men flatter him, vile messengers of the devil fawn upon him, and the young simpleton goes after them like an ox to the slaughter, or as a bird hasteth to the snare and knoweth not that it is for his life. You may very well thank heaven you never knew the temptation, for if it were put in your way you would also be in sore peril. If riches and honour allure you, follow not eagerly after them, but pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”

     Providential positions often try men. There is a man very much pushed for ready money in business; how shall he meet that heavy bill? If he does not meet it there will be desolation in his family; the mercantile concern from which he now draws his living will be broken up; everybody will be ashamed of him, his children will be outcasts, and he will be ruined. He has only to use a sum of trust money: he has no right to risk a penny of it, for it is not his, but still by its temporary use he may perchance tide over the difficulty. The devil tells him he can put it back in a week. If he does touch that money it will be a roguish action, but then he says, “Nobody will be hurt by it, and it will be a wonderful accommodation,” and so on. If he yields to the suggestion, and the thing goes right, there are some who would say, “Well, after all, there was not much harm in it, and it was a prudent step, for it saved him from ruin.” But if it goes wrong, and he is found out, then everybody says, “It was a shameful robbery. The man ought to be transported.” But, brethren, the action was wrong in itself, and the consequences neither make it better nor worse. Do not bitterly condemn, but pray again and again, “Lead us not into temptation. Lead us not into temptation.” You see God does put men into such positions in providence at times that they are severely tried. It is for their good that they are tried, and when they can stand the trial they magnify his grace, and they themselves become stronger men: the test has beneficial uses when it can be borne, and God therefore does not always screen his children from it. Our heavenly Father has never meant to cuddle us up and keep us out of temptation, for that is no part of the system which he has wisely arranged for our education. He does not mean us to be babies in go-carts all our lives. He made Adam and Eve in the garden, and he did not put an iron pallisade round the tree of knowledge, and say, “You cannot get at it.” No, he warned them not to touch the fruit, but they could reach the tree if they would. He meant that they should have the possibility of attaining the dignity of voluntary fidelity if they remained steadfast, but they lost it by their sin; and God means in his new creation not to shield his people from every kind of test and trial, for that were to breed hypocrites and to keep even the faithful weak and dwarfish. The Lord does sometimes put the chosen where they are tried, and we do right to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”

     And there are temptations arising out of physical conditions. There are some men who are very moral in character because they are in health; and there are other men who are very bad, who, I do not doubt, if we knew all about them, should have some little leniency shown them, because of the unhappy conformation of their constitution. Why, there are many people to whom to be cheerful and to be generous is no effort whatsoever, while there are others who need to labour hard to keep themselves from despair and misanthropy. Diseased livers, palpitating hearts, and injured brains are hard things to struggle against. Does that poor old lady complain? She has only had the rheumatism thirty years, and yet she now and then murmurs! How would you be if you felt her pains for thirty minutes? I have heard of a man who complained of everybody. When he came to die, and the doctors opened his skull they found a close fitting brain-box, and that the man suffered from an irritable brain. Did not that account for a great many of his hard speeches? I do not mention these matters to excuse sin, but to make you and myself treat such people as gently as we can, and pray, “Lord, do not give me such a brain-box, and do not let me have such rheumatisms or such pains, because upon such a rack I may be much worse than they are. Lead us not into temptation.”

     So, again, mental conditions often furnish great temptations. When a man becomes depressed he becomes tempted. Those among us who rejoice much often sink about as much as we rise, and when everything looks dark around us Satan is sure to seize the occasion to suggest despondency. God forbid that we should excuse ourselves, but, dear brother, pray that you be not led into this temptation. Perhaps if you were as much a subject of nervousness and sinking of spirit as the friend you blame for his melancholy, you might be more blameworthy than he, therefore pity rather than condemn.

     And, on the other hand, when the spirits are exhilarated and the heart is ready to dance for joy, it is very easy for levity to step in and for words to be spoken amiss. Pray the Lord not to let you rise so high nor sink so low as to be led into evil. “Lead us not into temptation,” must be our hourly prayer.

     Further than this, there are temptations arising out of personal associations, which are formed for us in the order of providence. We are bound to shun evil company, but there are cases in which, without fault on their part, persons are made to associate with bad characters. I may instance the pious child whose father is a swearer, and the godly woman lately converted, whose husband remains a swearer and blasphemes the name of Christ. It is the same with workmen who have to labour in workshops, where lewd fellows at every half-a-dozen words let fall an oath, and pour forth that filthy language which shocks us every day more and more. I think that in London our working people talk more filthily than ever they did; at least, I hear more of it as I pass along or pause in the street. Well, if persons are obliged to work in such shops, or to live in such families there may come times when under the lash of jest and sneer and sarcasm the heart may be a little dismayed and the tongue may refuse to speak for Christ. Such a silence and cowardice are not to be excused, yet do not censure thy brother, but say, “Lord, lead me not into temptation.” How know you that you would be more bold? Peter quailed before a talkative maid, and you may be cowed by a woman’s tongue. The worst temptation for a young Christian that I know of is to live with a hypocrite— a man so sanctified and demure that the young heart, deceived by appearances, fully trusts him while the wretch is false at heart and rotten in life. And such wretches there are who, with the pretence and affectation of sanctimoniousness, will do deeds at which we might weep tears of blood: young people are frightfully staggered, and many of them become deformed for life in their spiritual characteristics through associating with such beings as these. When you see faults caused by such common but horrible causes, say to yourself, “Lord, lead me not into temptation. I thank thee for godly parents and for Christian associations and for godly examples; but what might I have been if I had been subjected to the very reverse? If evil influences had touched me when like a vessel I was upon the wheel, I might have exhibited even grosser failings than those which I now see in others.”

     Thus I might continue to urge you to pray, dear friends, against various temptations; but let me say, the Lord has for some men very special tests, such as may be seen in the case of Abraham. He gives him a son in his old age, and then says to him, “Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt-offering.” You will do right to pray, “Lord, lead me not into such a temptation as that. I am not worthy to be so tried. Oh do not so test me.” I have known some Christians sit down and calculate whether they could have acted as the patriarch did. It is very foolish, dear brother. When you are called upon to do it you will be enabled to make the same sacrifice by the grace of God, but if you are not called upon to do it, why should the power be given? Shall God’s grace be left unused? Your strength shall be equal to your day, but it shall not exceed it. I would have you ask to be spared the sterner tests.

     Another instance is to be seen in Job. God gave Job over to Satan with a limit, and you know how Satan tormented him and tried to overwhelm him. If any man were to pray, “Lord, try me like Job,” it would be a very unwise prayer. “Oh, but I could be as patient as he,” say you. You are the very man who would yield to bitterness, and curse your God. The man who could best exhibit the patience of Job will be the first, according to his Lord’s bidding, fervently to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Dear friends, we are to be prepared for trial if God wills it, but we are not to court it, but are rather to pray against it, even as our Lord Jesus, though ready to drink the bitter cup, yet in an agony exclaimed, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Trials sought after are not such as the Lord has promised to bless. No true child asks for the rod.

     To put my meaning in a way in which it will be clearly seen let me tell an old story. I have read in history that two men were condemned to die as martyrs in the burning days of Queen Mary. One of them boasted very loudly to his companion of his confidence that he should play the man at the stake. He did not mind the suffering, he was so grounded in the gospel that he knew he should never deny it. He said that he longed for the fatal morning even as a bride for the wedding. His companion in prison in the same chamber was a poor trembling soul, who could not and would not deny his Master; but he told his companion that he was very much afraid of the fire. He said he had always been very sensitive of suffering, and he was in great dread that when he began to bum the pain might cause him to deny the truth. He besought his friend to pray for him, and he spent his time very much in weeping over his weakness and crying to God for strength. The other continually rebuked him, and chided him for being so unbelieving and weak. When they both came to the stake, he who had been so bold recanted at the sight of the fire and went back ignominiously to an apostate’s life, while the poor trembling man whose prayer had been, “Lead me not into temptation,” stood firm as a rock, praising and magnifying God as he was burnt to a cinder. Weakness is our strength; and our strength is weakness. Cry unto God that he try you not beyond your strength; and in the shrinking tenderness of your conscious weakness breathe out the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” Then if he does lead you into the conflict, his Holy Spirit will strengthen you, and you will be brave as a lion before the adversary. Though trembling and shrinking within yourself before the throne of God, you would confront the very devil and all the hosts of hell without one touch of fear. It may seem strange, but so the case is.

     III. And now I conclude with the last head THE LESSONS WHICH THIS PRAYER TEACHES. I have not time to enlarge. I will just throw them out in the rough.

     The first lesson from the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” is this: Never toast your own strength. Never say, “Oh, I shall never fall into such follies and sins. They may try me, but they will find more than a match in me.” Let not him that putteth on his harness boast as though he were putting it off. Never indulge one thought of congratulation as to self-strength. You have no power of your own, you are as weak as water. The devil has only to touch you in the right place and you will run according to his will. Only let a loose stone or two be moved and you will soon see that the feeble building of your own natural virtue will come down at a run. Never court temptation by boasting your own capacity.

     The next thing is, never desire trial. Does anybody ever do that? Yes; I heard one say the other day that God had so prospered him for years that he was afraid he was not a child of God, for he found that God’s children were chastised, and therefore he almost wished to be afflicted. Dear brother, do not wish for that: you will meet with trouble soon enough. If I were a little boy at home, I do not think I should say to my brother, because he had been whipped, “I am afraid I am not my father’s child, and fear that he does not love me because I am not smarting under the rod. I wish he would whip me just to let me know his love.” No; no child would ever be so stupid. We must not for any reason desire to be afflicted or tried, but must pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”

     The next thought is, never go into temptation. The man who prays “Lead us not into temptation,” and then goes into it is a liar before God. What a hypocrite a man must be who utters this prayer, and then goes off to the theatre! How false is he who offers this prayer and then stands at the bar and drinks and talks with depraved men and bedizened girls! “Lead us not into temptation,” is shameful profanity when it comes from the lips of men who resort to places of amusement whose moral tone is bad. “Oh,” say you, “you should not tell us of such things.” Why not? Some of you do them, and I make bold to rebuke evil wherever it is found, and shall do so while this tongue can move. There is a world of cant about. People go to church and say, “Lead us not into temptation,” and then they know where temptation is to be found, and they go straight into it. You need not ask the Lord not to lead you there; he has nothing to do with you. The devil and you between you will go far enough without mocking God with your hypocritical prayers. The man who goes into sin wilfully with his eyes open, and then bends his knee, and says half-a-dozen times over in his church on a Sunday morning “Lead us not into temptation,” is a hypocrite without a mask upon him. Let him take that home to himself, and believe that I mean to be personal to him, and to such barefaced hypocrites as he.

     The last word is, if you pray God not to lead you into temptation, do not lead others there. Some seem to be singularly forgetful of the effect of their example, for they will do evil things in the presence of their children and those who look up to them. Now I pray you consider that by ill example you destroy others as well as yourself. Do nothing, my dear brother, of which you have need to be ashamed, or which you would not wish others to copy. Do the right at all times, and do not let Satan make a “cat’s paw” of you to destroy the souls of others: do you pray, “Lead us not into temptation”; then do not lead your children there. They are invited during the festive season to such and such a family party, where there will be everything but what will conduce to their spiritual growth or even to their good morals: do not allow them to go. Put your foot down. Be steadfast about it. Having once prayed, “Lead us not into temptation,” act not the hypocrite by allowing your children to go into it.

     God bless these words to us. May they sink into our souls, and if any feel that they have sinned, oh that they may now ask forgiveness through the precious blood of Christ, and find it by faith in him. When they have obtained mercy, let their next desire be that they may be kept in future from sinning as they did before, and therefore let them pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” God bless you.



The Chief of Sinners

By / Jun 22

The Chief of Sinners

 

“Sinners; of whom I am chief.”—1 Timothy 1:15. 

 

WHO among all the Scriptural writers can compare with Paul in the fullness of his testimony to the grace of God? Upon the doctrines of grace, upon the experience of grace, upon everything that has to do with the exceeding abundant grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul is the mighty master and the great teacher. If it were right to look at him from an exclusively human point of view, and speak of his genius rather than his inspiration, I might say of him that so mighty, so clear, so eloquent a teacher of truth has never existed since the days of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though Augustine was a particularly bright star, and Calvin in after generations rivalled, if he did not even excel Augustine, Paul far excels both in the brilliancy with which he exhibits every quality of grace, and grace in everything that has a good quality. Or, to use another figure, Paul towers aloft above them all in the great mountain range, lofty though full many of their summits be. One reason for his clearness about grace was, that he was himself a very pattern and model of its power. In him God had expressly, as much as in any other man, and perhaps more, shown forth the super-abundant power of his love in passing by transgression, iniquity, and sin, and in making the very man who had been a ringleader of mischief, to become the leader of the hosts of the Lord. Paul calls himself in our text the chief of sinners. It is possible that he literally exceeded every other sinner, dared more, and sunk deeper in crime than any of his fellows among the sons of men. If so, let no man that lives despair of mercy. If the gate of heaven is wide enough for the chief of sinners to go through, then there must in that respect be room enough for those who must be less than the chief, who, though very great, yet cannot be quite so great as he. I say, though I hardly think so, that it is just possible that, taking certain circumstances into consideration, Paul really was in such sense the very chief of sinners. And yet I hardly think so, because he himself in another place calls himself less than the least of all saints, which was the modest apprehension of one who in another place affirmed that he was not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles. Might it not then rather have been that his deep view of his own sinfulness, his clear sense of his guilt, made him consider himself to be the chief of sinners, though, probably, there have been tens of thousands even greater than he? 

     To-night night my business is to find out the chief of sinners, and endeavour to describe them; and then, to enquire how it is that so often the very chief of sinners are saved.  

     I. First, dear friends, as Saul hunted out believers, I have, to-night, TO TRY AND HUNT OUT THE CHIEF OF SINNERS. 

     Now who are they? They come under various characters, and may be classified in different lists. We will begin with those who directly oppose themselves to God and to his Christ. These are chief among sinners. Paul did join their ranks. He set himself determinately against the name of Christ, and thought with himself that he ought to do very much against that name. Now those who directly attack the person of God come, first, under the head of blasphemers. Paul says he was such. He had, no doubt, used expressions quite as strong as those sometimes used by unbelieving Jews, when they are much irritated by Christians. He had said some foul things about the impostor crucified upon Mount Calvary, things, perhaps, more vile than he ever cared to remember, much less to repeat. He had been exceeding mad, and when men are mad they say exceedingly mad things. He had been a blasphemer, and a blasphemer challenges the vengeance of the Almighty with no common effrontery. Have I one here whose mouth is foul with oaths? Has there strayed into this house of prayer to-night, one who has cursed God, and dared in his angry moments to lift his puny hand of rebellion, and imprecate a curse from the Most High? Have I the misfortune—nay, I will not call it so—have I the hopeful privilege of talking to one who has spoken against Jesus of Nazareth, and who is determined to quench his religion, or to oppose it to the utmost of his power? Is it so? Then indeed, friend, thou art one of the chief of sinners, and I am glad that thou art here, that I may tell thee that there is mercy even for such as thou art, for “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.” No matter how often or how foully thou hast cursed the Most High, and damned thyself, he will not damn thee if thou wilt turn from the error of thy ways, and seek mercy through the blood of him whom thou hast despised. 

     Others come under the same class. For instance, we must here put the infidel, for although his words may not take the form of blasphemy, yet the very thought that there is no God is blasphemy, and he that dares to vent that thought is not only a fool, but one of the chief of sinners. And so thou hast tried to stultify thy conscience and to silence its monitions by pretending to believe that there is no God! Thou hast tried to rake up the stale arguments of Tom Paine and of Voltaire, and thou hast chuckled when one who called himself a bishop of God's heritage dared to vent some strong things against the Book of his divine inspiration. Thou knowest in thy heart that there is a God. Thy conscience tells thee that he is a just God. Thou expectest to be punished for thy sins. That start the other night when thou wert alone, that cold shiver when some one spoke of death—all these prove that thy infidelity is not so stout and brave a thing as thou hast dreamed it was. A poor, craven, cowardly thing it is, that turns pale at a sick-bed, and flies, with coward paleness on its cheek, when once it thinks of judgment to come. Oh! if thou be here, thou Atheist, thou Deist, thou disbeliever in Christ Jesus, thou art the chief of sinners, and I am glad thou art here that I may tell thee that a God of love waits to embrace thee, and that he still declares this to be true, that he is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by him. Fling down thy weapons, man! Thou canst not fight the Most High! End this unequal quarrel. Have neither truce nor parley, but consider how thou mayest be at peace with him. The hand of his love is stretched out to accept the hand of thy submission. Oh! be thou reconciled to God through the death of his Son. 

     And here I ought to put down those who hold views derogatory of the Deity and the person of Christ. Faithfulness to you, my hearers, compels me to put down the Socinian; I will not call him Unitarian, for we all hold the unity or the Godhead. Trinitarians, but Unitarians are we still. Far otherwise the Socinian and the Arian—I put them down here—the men who say that Christ is not God, that the Redeemer of the world was but the son of Mary, that he who walked the waters of the deep, chained the winds, cast out evil spirits, and made even Hades startle with his voice when the soul of Lazarus came back—that he was but a prophet, a creature, a mere man! Surely, sir, thou art the chief of sinners to have talked thus of him who is “very God of very God,” the express image of his Father's person! But even to thee is Jesus gracious, and he bids thee still believe in him. Thou shalt bow the knee to him one day, and worship him, for “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Bow thy knee now, and kiss the Son lest he be angry and thou perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. He bids thee come to him, then will he blot out thy sins like a cloud, and like a thick cloud thine iniquities. The chief of sinners, we are sure, are found among those who directly attack the person of Jehovah's Christ, yet even to these is the gospel of salvation sent.

     Another group of princes and peers m the realm of evil may be described as those who attack Christs people, and who seek to pervert them from the right way. This sin pressed heavily upon the conscience of Paul. He had not only put them in prison, which was bad enough, but he had taken the saints into the synagogue, and probably they had been beaten before the assembly, and compelled to blaspheme. You, perhaps, know what that means—compel them to blaspheme. The Roman way of doing it was to say, “Curse Christ.” Often and often did the Roman Emperor command the martyrs to curse Christ, and you remember Polycarp’s answer—“How can I curse him? Sixty years have I known him; he never did me a displeasure, and I cannot and I will not curse him.” Then the whip was applied, or the hand was held over burning coals, or the flesh was pinched with hot irons, and then the question was put again—“Will you curse Christ now ?” Paul says that he, though probably using milder means, compelled the professor of Christ's faith to blaspheme. And there may be some such here the husband who persecutes his wife for Christ's sake; the father who—charges his child, upon his obedience, never to go to the sanctuary of the Lord again; the master who plagues his servant, mocks and jeers, and can never be content, except when he is saying hard things against him. Have I not many here who still practice the device of cruel mockings? You abhor Christ and his people; you fight against God in his little ones. Beware! beware! for this is a high sin! Nothing puts a man on his mettle like meddling with his children, “Touch me if you will,” the father says, “if you are a man, smite me if you dare but touch his children, and the blood is in his cheek and the mettle is up, and there is no knowing what a man will do when he sees the offspring of his own bowels ill-treated. So God will avenge his own elect that cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them. To you who thus rank with the chief of sinners, I say that Paul the persecutor “obtained mercy,” and so may you. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all accceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom” persecutors rank among the chief.

     There is another group whom you will all allow to be of the chief of Sinners—those who have sinned foully in the world’s esteem; violating the instincts of nature, and outraging the common sense of morality and decency. It scarcely needs that I should mention the harlot that infests the streets, and pollutes society; or that worse wretch, the whoremonger, who first leads her astray. I speak plain words, such as I find in Scripture. Such God shall judge when he cometh at the last day, for this temptation is a deep ditch, and the abhorred of the Lord shall fall into it. This crying sin of our land needs to be sternly rebuked. Other sins are without the body, but this pollutes both body and soul, and often sendeth down to generations yet unborn a horrid curse, at the very thought of which the soul is sick! Of all sins, young man, young woman, take care that ye stand aloof from this! Pass not by the house of the strange woman if thou lovest thy life, for her gates lead down to death, even to the chambers of the damned! Yet, glory be to divine grace, there is mercy, mercy for such, and multitudes of these chief of sinners have become as the very brightest stars in heaven; snatched by the strong arm of Jesus from the miry clay, and out of that horrible pit; clothed and in their right mind, they have gone to sit at the feet of Jesus, to sing of redeeming love. There was that Mary, that Mary whom Jesus had forgiven. Well might she love much! and many a loving spirit do I know, and there are some very dear to God’s Church here, who love their Lord, and often shame some of us who stand more prominent than they who once drank deep of that bitter cup, and once went to the very depths of that sin. Publish it in your streets! Tell it wherever ye meet with the most loathsome and most defiled, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost. He was the friend of publicans and sinners. “This man receiveth sinners,” is Jesus Christ's motto. Other men reject the sinner; they turn aside from her; woe unto her if she come between the wind and their nobility; but “this man receiveth sinners”—receiveth them to his heart and to his bosom, to his kingdom and to his throne. Ye chief of sinners, rejoice that if ye believe in Jesus there is mercy for you! 

     And surely I may find another class of the chief of sinners among those who have become not only adepts themselves, but the tutors to others in the school of evil. Satan has a university, and there are many who have fairly won their diplomas as first-class professors therein. They have learned to sin with a high hand and with an outstretched arm, until they not only sin themselves, but delight in the sins of others. Have we not seen the old drunkard, and how he gloats when he sees another man won to the army of the bestial! Have you not seen the eyes of some base old demon in a country village twinkle when he sees that fair-haired boy for the first time pander to the infamous customs in which he has long revelled? Have we not known some of those foul-mouthed masters of all baseness, whose very talk is enough to make a whole parish sick with the pestilence of vice—men that you had better go over hedge and ditch seventy miles than meet! There are such. You have seen them, I dare say. And, mark you, when that being is a woman, if anything it is worse then! The softer sex, usually by far more apt to teach, instils the secret vice of evil, and wraps it up in insidious enchantments, by reason of which many a strong man hath fallen when Delilah hath been his charmed inveigler and tutor in sin! I may not, oh! I hope I may not have one such being within earshot now; yet, it is hardly possible, amidst the thousands that this house now contains, but what there must be some of you who roll sin under your tongue as a sweet morsel, and talk of it with a gusto till you tickle the fancies of others, and lead them into defilements which otherwise they never might have touched—artfully concealing the book while putting the bait in the young man's way, and thrusting the knowledge ledge of new vices upon those who should have shunned them! Oh! ye are the chief of sinners with a vengeance, and hung up like Haman upon the lofty gallows, shall ye be for everlasting execration if ye repent not! Yet, O sovereign grace! how can I tell thy heights? O sea of love, how can I ever fathom thy depths! There is even mercy proclaimed for such. Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die, 0 house of Israel? Why will ye perish? 

 

“While the lamp holds out to burn

The vilest sinner may return.” 

 

I find no exception in the offer of mercy, you are included in the invitation of welcome, “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” “Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as wool; though they be red like crimson they shall be whiter than snow.” Here is a full, a free, a perfect, and a complete pardon for all your past offences. 

     Though I have not yet finished the list, I would rather change the note for a minute. I have another class of the chief of sinners to find out. I, myself, belong to them, and I therefore speak with feeling. In this section we include those who have had much lights and yet have sinned against it; who have been taught better, who have had a knowledge of the way of truth, and yet have turned aside to crooked paths. To have been nursed upon the lap of piety, and dandled upon the knee of Christian affection, is no small privilege. To be lighted to one's cradle by the lamps of the sanctuary, and to be hushed to sleep with a lullaby in which the name of Jesus comes as a sweet refrain—this involves an awful responsibility. No man can go to hell over a mother’s tears, without accumulated vengeance. No son can rebel against a father's affectionate and tearful admonitions, without perishing ten times more frightfully than as if he had never been thus privileged. Ah! my hearers, alas! alas! for the hardness of your hearts—there are many such here now. I would charitably suppose that very few of you belong to the other classes I have been speaking of, but the great mass of you who are unconverted belong to this class. Dost thou remember, young man, how thy mother put her arms around thy neck, and wooed thee to turn to Christ? Do you remember that little Bible when you first went to school, and that verse she inscribed as a motto—she watered it with her tears as she wrote it. Do you recollect those letters she addressed to you? She is now in heaven, is she? Then let them be the more sacred to your recollection. And do you remember that Sunday-school teacher? Was he not a father to you? Was not that excellent woman who used to adjure you to turn from the error of your ways, a very mother to you in Israel? Do you not remember, young women, some of you, the earnest exhortations that my beloved sister, Mrs. Bartlett, has addressed to you? If ever there was a woman that could, under God, move the heart and soul, she is that woman; and yet, there are some of you that listen to her voice, and yet you are unconverted! You have the light shining upon your eye-balls, and yet they are sightless still! You live in the land of mercy, where its bell summonses you to come to its assembly of grace, but yet you will not come! You have the light, but you shut your eyes against it! Remember, young man, when you sin you sin with seven-fold atrocity, because you know better; nay, seventy sins are rolled into one in your sin of daring deliberate wilfulness. Within that egg of sin there sleeps the seed of your greater damnation, because you know the right, and yet you choose the evil. Have I not now the privilege of speaking to some whose old familiar associations are awakened up by these feeble glances at your life-story? Do you not feel just now as if you were kneeling down again in that little room, and heard the native accents of your mother’s prayer, while your lips hardly refrain from repeating afresh the words of your own prayer which she taught your lips to frame before she put you to your rest? Do you not remember it? And do you not remember sometimes when your conscience was awakened, and your heart was almost broken, and your soul said, “I could almost be a Christian,” but you excused yourself with a frivolous delay—“Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season I will send for thee?” But, alas! that convenient season has never yet come. And your conscience grows seared. Drugged with the opiates of sin, you grow less and less tender of the affectionate appeal. Woe worth the day of your visitation, for it shall be cloudy indeed, unless ye turn at the voice of reproof. But to you, O chief of sinners, is the word of this salvation sent.

     There are those, too, who sit under an earnest ministry, and yet go on in sin—they surely belong to the class of chief sinners. O, my hearers, how I would to God that I could be as earnest with you as I want to be. The Lord knows there are times when I am not in the pulpit, when I feel that I could weep you to a Saviour; but sometimes when standing here the influence of this mighty throng seems rather to distract me, than to bring my whole soul into play; and yet, the Lord knoweth how earnestly I long for you in the bowels of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God as far as I have known it. I have failed in knowledge, but never in honesty; yet, I know there are some of you who come here and yet you live in sin. The world says, “So-and-So goes to Spurgeon's Tabernacle,” and they expect you to be better for going there, and yet they say, “Ah, how they drink!” or, “Hear how they will swear!” Where are you? You used to have your shop open on the Sunday morning, but it is shut now. I am glad you have got as far as that; still let me tell you, you only compound with sin and make a covenant with hell, if you outwardly pay respect to the Sabbath, and secretly indulge in other profanities. Drunkenness may destroy you without Sabbath-breaking. It is not giving up one sin, it is giving up the whole. It is not the barter of one sin for another, to your own quiet conscience, which will satisfy justice or rescue you from destruction. Man, there must be a divorce between thee and thy sins; not a mere separation for a season, but a clear divorce. Cut off the right arm; pluck out the right eye, and cast them from thee, or else thou canst not enter into eternal life. Are there not some of you who have for years listened to my ministry, and yet you are none the better, and some of you are rather the worse, I fear. You are getting gospel-hardened by it all. Well, there is mercy for you yet. You are the chief of sinners, but the red flag is not run up yet: the white flag still floats mast-high—the flag of invitation—the flag of love—the flag of mercy. Come to it; come to Jesus now; you may never have another invitation. Soon may this tongue be cold in death, or your ears may be deaf for ever, like clay-cold marble. Turn ye, at this rebuke, for if after being often reproved, ye harden your necks, ye shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. To you, even to the chief of sinners, is the word of this salvation sent. 

     Drawing the bow at a venture, there is another class I would single out, those who are gifted from their childhood with a tender conscience. There are men who seem to be born without a conscience. So hard and dull of impression are they, that if they have any faculty of distinguishing between good and evil, it is as though they had eyes and saw not, and ears but they hear not; and does it ever speak, the voice is so weak, you can never hear it; but there are those, on the other hand, who have naturally a quick understanding, a delicate sensitiveness, a ready perception of right and wrong, a strong and vigorous conscience. They never do sin without being aware of what they are doing, and they are troubled, and pestered, as they say, about it. They cannot sleep at night after they have been committing any serious breach of propriety. Even when they are walking the streets, or when they are busy, they are quickly startled at the recoil of their own transgressions, and oftentimes there is a certain uneasiness and fretfulness which comes over them, because they are conscious that they are not pursuing the right course. Now, if you are gifted with this tender conscience, and yet you constantly violate it, and directly act in the face of your own convictions, you are the chief of sinners; but still, still Paul the chief of sinners found mercy, and so may you.

     Yet again: if you have had warning in sickness, and especially if on your sick bed you have vowed unto the Lord that you would turn to him, then you that are covenant-breakers, you that violate vows made to the Most High, you must also be put among the first and foremost of transgressors. When the cholera was here some nine years ago, you vowed that if God would spare you things should be different. He did spare you, but things are no better now than they were before. When the fever prostrated you, what promises you made, and where are they now? Thou hast lied unto the Eternal God! Is it little for thee that thou shouldest have promised and not have paid—have vowed unto him and not performed? Now, sinner, thou art a liar, as well as aught besides; thou art a rogue, a dishonest one against God, with whom the compact was made; but the invitation is still freely tendered unto thee: come unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in him, and thou shalt be made whole.

     The chief of sinners comprises so numerous a body, I believe every one of us must come in the list in some shape or other, and I know this—if ever you and I are saved, if God shall give us very great mercy, we shall feel that we were the greatest sinners. When Paul saw how kindly his Master treated him, it seemed to break his heart—“What! did I ever curse that Christ who has blessed me? He that is so rich in lovingkindness, did I ever spurn him?'" Verily now I do think I have had the blackest sight of sin when I have had the brightest sight of mercy. When my dear Lord and Master has privileged me, by allowing me to come near him in prayer, and I have felt his love shed abroad in my heart, I have felt as if I could bring imprecations upon myself for ever having been a traitor to him. What! could I spit in thy face, my Redeemer and my Lord? Could I ever crown thy head with thorns, which now it shall be my life's task to crown with jewels? What! didst thou love me so; didst thou forgive me so, and could I ever speak against thee? It is great mercy that sets forth our great sin, for we only come to reckon ourselves the chief of sinners when we see the great love of God. So then, without amplifying any longer, I will put the invitation thus: whoever among you has sinned against the Most High, you are all on a level, and the invitation of mercy is put to you, each and all, and this is the gospel, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned.” May you be led to believe, and to profess your faith according to God's way. 

     II. Well, now, but a few minutes remain to me, and I will endeavour to be brief while I try to answer the question, WHY THOSE WHO ARE PROVERBIALLY THE CHIEF OF SINNERS ARE VERY FREQUENTLY SAVED. 

     One reason is to illustrate divine sovereignty. There is no jewel of his crown of which God is more jealous than his sovereignty. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Now, when he saves the harlot, when he calls the persecutor by sovereign grace, then all men see that this is the finger of God, and that he dispenses his love and kindness according to the purposes of his own absolute and uncontrollable will. He chooses the chief of sinners, that he may show to all men that he will take the base things of the world, and the things which are not, and things which are despised, to bring to nought the things that are, that no flesh may glory in his presence. 

     Another reason is, that he may show his great power. Oh! how hell is made angry when some great champion falls! When their Goliahs are brought down, how the Philistines take to their heels! How heaven rings with songs when some chief of sinners becomes a trophy of the divine power! And how men talk, with glib tongues, of the great and mighty deeds of God, when the drunkard, and the swearer, and the prostitute are washed and made saints! What a noise it made at Elstow, when they said at the public-house on the green—“You know John Bunyan?” “Oh! yes, we know him; you mean the fellow that was always first at a game of tip-cat—he that could always drink the longest; oh, yes, we know him.” “Well, do you know, he was preaching over at Bedford yesterday.” “What!” says one, “preaching at Bedford? I would as soon have thought of the devil preaching as John Bunyan! What a wonderful thing the Gospel must be, to change such a man as that!” And yet it was true, and John Bunyan, who frequented the ale-house house, knew more about the county-jail jail, and more about the Celestial City that is on the other side the flood, than most men of his times. It shows the power and the sovereignty of God when such men are saved.

     And next, how it shows his grace! When I have sometimes sat to see enquirers, I have seen a number come in one after the other that have been born and brought up in the midst of piety, and I have blessed God for them; but, by-and-by and by there has come in one whose tale has been terrible to tell, and it was not easily told, but with many sighs, and sobs, and tears, yet, when it was disclosed, there have sat two weeping together—I scarcely know which wept the most—one wept because of grace illustrated in him, and the other because he saw in another the grace which he had tasted for himself. Oh! when great sinners tell out their tales, they are so straightforward, so explicit! There is no muddle about it; no questions about when they were converted, or how, but there they are. They say—“Ah! sir, it must be divine; such a change has been wrought in me, that nothing could have thus turned the lion to a lamb, the raven to a dove, but the grace of God.” In great sinners, then, the grace of God is made conspicuous. 

     Again; great sinners are very frequently called by God for the purpose of attracting others. You know that when some great transgressor finds mercy, straightway many hearts say—“Ah! then there is mercy for me." I am glad, I am very glad that there was a Manasseh, that there was a David, that there was a Saul of Tarsus, and I am glad they are in the Bible. The wicked cut the stories out, and they laugh at us, and say, “These are your saints!” Ah! we can bear that, while we can say—"No, this is what they were by nature, but they were saved, for all that, by the distinguishing grace of God, who saves men through faith, and not by their works.” Now, I believe that that case of David has been a solace to thousands, if not to millions. The hurt he did in his lifetime was certainly very great, but the incalculable benefit which has flown to the universal Church from the penitential Psalms, puts altogether into the shade the damage which the fall of David did to the Church in his own time. Not that there is less shame to the sinner, but that there is more glory to the Saviour, where sin abounded in the first instance, and grace did much more abound in the sequel. We can well bear this spot, for the sake of the light which comes from that sun. Sinners, all of you, if you would put yourselves among the little ones, if your lives have never been grossly vile (I am glad if they have not) but let the fact that the great sinner enters, and is washed, attract you. I have heard it said of the elephant, that sometimes before he crosses a bridge he puts his trunk, and perhaps one foot, upon it; he wants to know if it is quite safe, for he is not going to trust his bulky body to things that were built only for horses and men. Well, after he has tried it, if he finds it strong enough, away he goes, and his great carcase is carried right across the stream. Now, suppose you and I sat on the other side, and said we were afraid the bridge would not bear us! Why, how absurd our unbelief would be. So when you see a great elephantine sinner, like the apostle Paul, go lumbering over the bridge of mercy, and not a timber creaks, and the bridge does not even strain under the load; why, then methinks, you may come rushing in a crowd, and say—“It will bear us, if it will bear him; it will carry us across, if it can take the chief of sinners to heaven!” 

     And then, dear friends, the saving of the chief of sinners is useful, because, when they are saved they generally make the most fiery zealots against sin. Have we not a proverb that “The burnt child dreads the fire?” I noticed my host, on one preaching excursion, particularly anxious about my candle. Now, as everybody ought to know how careful I am, I was a little surprised, and I put the question to him why he should be so wonderfully particular. “I had my house burned down once, sir,” said he. That explained it all. No man so much afraid of fire as he, and they who have been in sin, and know the mischief of it, protest against it the most loudly. They can speak experimentally. They talk of what they have tasted and handled to their own smart and ruin! Oh! what revenge there seems to be in the apostle's heart against his sin! He seems to bring out the great battle-axes es and weapons of war against it, and wherever he can see sin he smites right and left—anywhere. Persecution, death, martyrdom—all these are nothing to him if he can but get a blow at sin. He always seems to have the gun charged to the muzzle, and no devil comes in his way but what he has a shot at him. There are no ramparts or hellish bulwarks but what Paul thinks he must take them, whether they are in Asia, or Italy, or Spain, this great knight-errant of the cross is everywhere the great antagonist of sin, and so must those always be who are saved out of great iniquity. 

     And then, again, they always make the most zealous saints. I have said, and it will come true, though I am no prophet nor the son of a prophet—I have said that the Lord will deliver this city and deliver this age, not by ministers from colleges—not by the sons of gentlemen or the inheritors of titles; but the men who will yet shake London, and bring about a religious revival, will come from St. Giles's, and from Whitechapel, from the slums, and from the dens and kens of infamy. God will take such men by-and-by, and he is beginning to work it. There are one or two names that will come to your recollection—illustrious names in connection with the preaching in theatres: God will raise up more such, and you shall see that when human wisdom and creature devices have done their utmost to make the Church of God the dull lethargic thing it now is, God, in the plenitude of his might, will raise up some who have tasted that he is gracious, and have drunk deeply of the cup of his love, that will turn the world upside down. It is all an idle and a wicked tale, that our places of worship in the City of London cannot be supported. I see them building new places in the suburbs, and leaving the City itself destitute of the means of grace. Were the right men found, the churches in the City of London might be as crowded as those in the suburbs. Only put into their pulpits men who know the guilt of sin, and who know that gospel in which is revealed the righteousness of God; men who know and preach Christ, then the effect would be palpable. Give us the men who do not talk as botanists might do upon botany, when they had not seen a flower, or as some might speak of various lands who have never travelled a league; but give us men who know experimentally those things that they labour to teach, and let their tongues be set on fire of the Holy Ghost, and ye shall then see London as full of the glory of the Lord as was Jerusalem of old. May this come to pass; may it begin to come to pass to-night. May the Lord find out, as he moves among this mass, some stray, strange being that has given himself up to desperation, to work mischief with both his hands, and may he say to him to-night, “I have need of thee, and I will have thee.” Oh, mighty grace, do it to-night! He will have thee, man! Thy will must be subdued; thy pride must come down; that proud temper of thine shall yield. “I am thy Master; I made thee; I bought thee with my blood, and dost thou think I will lose thee? I am mighty to save, dost thou think that thou canst overcome me? I came forth on purpose to redeem thee! Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” O that the Lord would speak thus personally to some individual now!

     And now, I have done when I have just put this before you. My hearers, here is life and death. If you despise Christ, there is death for you; if you turn aside from the love and mercy which streams from the wounds of Jesus, the angry God shall find you in your sin, and cut you in pieces, and there is none that can deliver you. If you go on in your sin, you will soon meet with death. But a few Sundays ago, we had to mark how sudden death thinned our ranks. Sometimes it is a working man. There was one, you know, some weeks ago, who lost his life in building the great bridge at Blackfriars, who was often a hearer here; and there is scarcely a day passes but we hear of some one gone out of this great assembly. We are going one after another; and the pastor will go soon, but perhaps ere he goes he may see many of you carried to your graves—he cannot tell. But, oh! wherefore will ye remain without God and without Christ? If you had a lease of your lives you might go on in sin until the lease was out; but even then you would be foolish to be enemies to God, and enemies to yourselves so long. But as you may die to-day, God help you to repent to-night. On the other hand, I set mercy before you; no man can say he has not been invited; no soul can say that I did not set the gate wide open enough. You are without excuse in the day of judgment. When the trumpet peals through heaven and earth, and awakes the slumbering dead—when Christ shall come in the clouds to judge the earth, I must give an account of the gospel I have preached to you to-night. I would to God I could preach it better, but I cannot. You know what it is. You are without excuse. You have been invited; you have been entreated; you have been bidden to come to the marriage-supper. All things are ready; the oxen and the fatlings are killed; come to the supper. Ye that are in the highways and hedges, we would compel you to come in, that God's house may be filled. Come. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” But if you come not, I must be a swift witness against you at the last. I am clear of your blood; I am clear of the blood of you all. 

     God save you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.



No Illusion

By / Jun 22

No Illusion

 

“And wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision."—Acts 12:9.

 

FANCY, not fact! a dream! a delusion! That would be the world's estimate of the most blessed Christian experience. “Fanaticism” is the name by which they call it. But call it by whatever name ye please, the grace that interposes and rescues a sinner from the law's threatenings, from Satan's tyranny, from the malice of men, and the fears of one's ’s own heart, is matter of abundant joy. Then let it be witnessed by a life of undeviating principle and devoted service of God—sneer who may—suspect it who will—it is a noble triumph. Such triumphs of grace we have, among us; full many who can witness. Still, dear friends, not unfrequently does it happen, that you, whose salvation is our joy, of whom we speak with the utmost assurance, are yourselves in straits, exercised with fightings without and fears within; and you are unable to satisfy your own consciences that the work is divine. Observe now that Peter was brought out of prison by a great miracle, and yet it seemed to him as a vision or a dream. I need not recapitulate the circumstances. I have just read them in your hearing. This much I propose.

     First, let me endeavour to draw out some reflections from the narrative; and then, secondly, I shall take up the text itself and try to show you that there is no illusion, whatever you may think, in the mighty operations of the Lord. 

     To begin: the first remark we think we are justified in making is this, that if ever our enemies can get hold of us, they will be quite sure to hold us as fast as they can. When Herod had been able to apprehend Peter, he was not content with ordinary means of keeping him in custody. He has Peter put into the strongest prison in Jerusalem; to make assurance doubly sure, he is chained not to one soldier, but to two. He was too great a prize to be readily lost. He anticipated so much satisfaction to himself, from the applause of the people, for putting so eminent a servant of Christ as James to death, that lie could not afford to lose an opportunity of getting further prey; so he seizes upon him who was accounted a pillar in the Church with singular avidity. Mark you, men and brethren, if by any fault of our own we ever fall into the hand of our enemies, we need expect no mercy from them. And if without fault we be delivered for a little season into their hands, we have good reason to cry aloud to God, for whoever may be spared, the Christian never is. Men will forgive a thousand faults in others, but they will magnify the most trivial offence in the true follower of Jesus. Nor do I very much regret this. Let it be so, and let it be a caution to us to walk very carefully before God in the land of the living. You young members of the Church, who are often engaged in your worldly calling, where a great number of persons are watching for your halting, let this be a special reason to walk very humbly before God. If you walk carelessly, remember the lynx-eyed -eyed world will soon see it, and then, with its hundred tongues, it will soon spread the story. You may say—“Tell it not in Gath ; publish it not in the streets of Askelon, lest the daughters of Philistia rejoice.” But they will tell it. With many an addition of their own they will repeat the story. You shall hear them say—“Aha! Aha! So would we have it! All these Christians are inconsistent, they are all mere professors, they are hypocrites to a man, every one of them.” Thus will much damage be done to our good cause, and much insult offered to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is in itself an offence to the world; let us take heed that we do not add any offence of our own. It is “to the Jew a stumblingblock;” let us mind that we put no stumblingblocks where there are enough already. “To the Greek it is foolishness;” let us not add our folly to give point to the scorn with which the worldly-wise deride the gospel. Oh, how jealous should we be of ourselves, for we serve a jealous God! How rigid should we be with our consciences, for we serve one whose name is “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Yes, in the presence of adversaries, who will misrepresent our best deeds, and torture our best endeavours into something selfish, impugning our motives where they cannot censure our actions, how circumspect should we be! We pilgrims travel as suspected persons through the world. Not only are we under surveillance, but there are more spies than we reck of. The espionage is everywhere, at home and abroad. If we fall into their hands, we may sooner expect generosity from a wolf, or mercy from a fiend, than to find anything like patience with our infirmities from the men of the world, or anything like the hiding of our iniquities from the men who spice their infidelity towards God with scandals against his people. The world is too much like the accursed Canaan, who pointed to his father's nakedness. We can only expect of our own brethren, the conduct of Shem and Japheth, who shall go backward to cast the mantle over us. Better far that we should so act and so live as to not even need this mantle of charity, but be able to say, with all humility, yet with holy courage—“Lord, thou knowest that in this thing I have not sinned, but have walked uprightly in thy ways.” That is the first lesson which I feel bound to inculcate. “For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?”

     The second lesson is this. When a case is put into God's hands, he will certainly manage it well, and he will interfere in sufficient time to bring his servants out of their distress. Peter’s case was put into God's hands. The company that met at the house of Mary, the mother of Mark, were appealing to the great Advocate. If any man be in prison, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” With their humble prayers and tears they were pleading for their brother, whose valuable life they could ill afford to spare, for the infant Church needed the apostles at least for a season. I think I hear them pleading one after the other—“Lord, remember Peter! Thou knowest how we love him; our desires go up for him. James is dead. Alas! we took up his body and mourned him! Let not Peter be slain! Oh, take not thou the prop from under us! Remove not the pillar from the wall, nor the stone from its place.” The Lord has heard their cries. Peter's cause is in his hand. He will interfere in due time. The assurance that prayer is heard is the earnest that prayer will be answered. The petition is accepted, though no answer has yet been received. Well, we can leave it there. But see, brethren, Peter has been lying in prison the whole week. The feast of unleavened bread is over, it is the last night, the last night! The evening has crept on; nay, the dark hours have set in; it is midnight. The sun will soon be rising—in a few more hours—and then where is Peter? Lord, if thou do not interfere, where is Peter? If thou come not now to help him his blood shall make the populace of Jerusalem glad while they gloat and delight in his slaughter! Yes but just at that last and darkest hour of the night, God's opportunity overtook man’s extremity. A light shone in the dungeon. Peter was awakened. God never is before his time; nor is he ever too late; he comes just when he is needed. But see, there is Peter asleep! Peter is asleep, doing nothing, doing nothing! Well, and the best thing for him too, for the case was put into God's hand. I ask you, dear friends, suppose Peter had been awake, what could he do? Had he been fretting and troubling himself, what good could he have done? Finding, therefore, that nothing remained for him, he just throws himself upon the mercy of God, shuts his eyes as peaceably as though he were to wake to-morrow to a wedding feast, and not to his own execution. Sleep on, blessed slumberer! Well might Herod envy thee that peace which his kingly robe could never give him. Thou sleepest, though thy hands be chained, for thy spirit is free; and it may be that in thy dreams thou art rejoicing “with a joy unspeakable, and full of glory." When the case is taken into God's hands, and you and I feel that we can do nothing for ourselves, we may take sleep in perfect quietude, for so he giveth his beloved sleep. While we sleep, his watchful eyes do keep their ceaseless guard. Jesus might seem on one occasion to be asleep, but you know where he slept—it was in the hinder-part rt of the ship. Why there? Methinks he slept with his hand the tiller, so that the moment he awoke he might steer the vessel, 

 

“Though winds and waves assault thy keel,

He doth preserve it, he doth steer—

E'en when the bark seems most to reel.” 

 

“Storms are the triumphs of his art,

Sure he may close his eyes, but not his heart.”  

 

God sleepeth never; he is ever on the watch for his people. “Well, but,” saith one, “surely the Lord should have interfered before this time, for Peter is not only asleep, but he is bound—bound to two soldiers! How can he escape?” Ah! that word “How?”—that word “How?” What a deal of mischief it has done to faith! But, do you know that true faith has no such word in all her vocabulary? Faith never says “How?” God has said “It shall be,” faith believes it will be. As to how it shall be, that is God’s business, not mine. It is Unbelief that says “How? I do not see it. How? How? How can it be?” Hush, Unbelief! The fetters shall drop off, gates shall open of their own accord. The case is in God’s hand, man. If it were in man’s hand it would fail, for cursed is he that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm. The strongest sinew in an arm of flesh must crack; there must be impossibilities to humanity, but to the Deity impossibilities are nothing. Be thou quiet, for the case is with him; it may be the last moment, the apostle may be asleep, and he may be bound, but Peter must come out; for God has heard the prayer, and Peter shall be free. 

     Yet a third remark, we think, lies like a precious stone upon the very surface of this narrative; it is this, that when God shall come to deliver his people, all the circumstances which seem to go against their deliverance shall only tend to set forth the more his glory. What contempt tempt he puts upon chains, prisons, cords, iron gates, wards—inner and outer wards—see how he breaks their bonds asunder, and casts their cords from him. I know of nothing that seems to illustrate more God's splendid triumph over man’s cunning, than the resurrection of Christ. “His disciples will steal him away while men sleep.” “Well,” says Pilate, “ye have a watch, go and make it as sure as ye can.” He trusted to men, who were sure to do the thing well—the men that hated him; they keep the watch, they roll the great stone, they seal it, they go home to their beds. Ah, men of the Sanhedrim, proud priests! ye have done the work, go ye to your rest, and say “This deceiver shall never shake the earth again, nor call us dumb dogs that cannot bark, nor tell us that we be blind leaders of the blind; he is buried, and the seal is on him.”  

 

“Vain the watch, the stone, the seal,

Christ hath broke the gates of hell.”

 

See him rise! and as the angel sits down upon the stone, he seems, in quiet sarcasm, to say to priests, to earth, to hell, “Roll it back again if ye can, and seal it once more, for he is risen, and hath overcome the wiles of men.” So, Christian, rest assured that everything that looks black to your gaze now, shall only make it the brighter when God delivers you. Every dark and bending line shall surely meet in the centre of his love, and but the more express to your mind, his power, his wisdom, his faithfulness, his truth. 

     Furthermore, the whole story seems to teach us that no difficulty can ever occur which God cannot meet when he makes bare his arm. The chains are gone, the warders are passed, but there is that iron gate. Oh, that iron gate! 1 think there are some of you to-night that are troubled about it. God has been helping you; you have had faith up till now, but you have got to the iron gate. Oh! if you could but pass that—it leadeth into the city—all would be well; but that iron gate! Some of you get dreading the iron gate a month before you get to it. You get fretting and troubling yourself for three months perhaps about the iron gate. You do for months, as those holy women did for hours, who went out at break of day to the sepulchre, and as they went along they said, “Who shall roll us away the stone?” There was no stone to roll away! And when you go to this place, you will find that there is no iron gate there or if there should be, it will open of its own accord. Oh, how often have we had to wonder at our own folly, and we have said, “Well, I will never do that again; I will never more borrow misery; sufficient for the day is the evil thereof; I will never go out to get a loan of sorrow for to-morrow;” but alas! we have done it the next day. Wait, wait, O Christian, on the Lord, and leave all anxiety about the iron gates. Since the day when thou didst believe in him and put thy soul into his hand by prayer, it has been God's cause, not thy cause; it has been God's work to deliver thee, and not thy work.

 

“The gates of brass before him burst,

The iron fetters yield.” 

 

     There is yet this one further remark. See, beloved, see clearly, see indisputably—the omnipotence of prayer. If all those disciples had sworn an oath that they would get Peter free, they could not have accomplished it. What could they do? Herod has an army; the prison is strong; the guards are not to be bribed; the last night is come; what can they do? There was only one weapon they could use, and that was hanging at their girdles—the weapon of all-prayer. They told Jesus of it. When every other gate was shut, there was the gate to heaven open; so they sent messages up to him who is able to loose the prisoners, and to their own surprise Peter is loosed. Have not we, in this Church, often felt the power of prayer? I sometimes fear me, beloved, we are flagging here now—flagging in prayer. I may be permitted to say, there are some of you I do not see so often at prayer meetings as I could wish. It is a busy time of the year, I know, and therefore I make plenty of excuses for you; but when it was not so busy I did not see you! And then there are some who grow dull in their recollections of fact. At Park Street have not we had seasons when our hearts were hot within us, when we could not speak because we thought “Surely God is in this place!” It seemed an awful place to us; we were prevailing with God, we were drawing down the blessing, and that blessing has continued up till now as the result of earnest supplication. What simple prayers they were! Strangers that came in found much fault, but the Lord did not. There were often things said that were not very grammatical; but what mattered it if the heart was in the thing? We stormed heaven's gates and down came legions of mercies to us. We want more prayer, more prayer. I am always glad to hear that your special prayer-meetings, and your social assemblies for supplication are well attended, and that there is a desire among the members to have such prayer-meetings often. I am sure the elders of the Church will join with me in advocating and encouraging them. We will lend the rooms connected with this Tabernacle, convinced that as we oftener meet together, and oftener supplicate the throne of grace, the blessing will come down. There are a few brethren who have met every morning for these last four years, or five years it may be; they meet now every morning, wet or dry, winter or summer, every morning in the chapel at Park Street, always praying for our prosperity. Their numbers are few to what they used to be. We have not got the fire now that we once had, I fear. May the Lord put the embers together and fan them with his breath and make them blaze again, until our ministry shall be with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, and the multitudes shall hear the voice of God speaking in their hearts. Brethren, pray for us, pray for your children, your households; take everything to God in prayer, no matter how hard, how intricate, how difficult. If there be a knot you cannot untie, cut it with prayer. God knows how to deliver you when you cannot deliver yourself. Be much in supplication, for this will make you mighty, make you prevalent with men when you have prevailed with the Maker of men. Such the reflections that occur to us from the narrative.

     II. But now I turn more closely to my text itself. When Peter came out of prison, his deliverance was so marvellous, that he did not know whether it was true or whether it was a vision. Like the Psalm which says, “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.” Thus when a sinner is saved, pardoned, justified, he is utterly astonished and thinks it cannot be true, because it is so good. The astonishment lies in this—“It cannot be true,” says he, “that I am saved. I! I! I! If it had been all the people in the world, I could have believed it, but can it be that I am delivered? How is it that he should have mercy upon me? I that was so lately in fetters; that a week ago could blaspheme; that a day or two ago could have talked all the idlest jests, and could have lived upon the foulest of earth's pleasures; that I, I should be saved—delivered from sin, though so filthy; set free, though so fast bound!”

     I must try to interpret this peculiar reflection—this dream-like feeling. The reality of God's mercy is only apprehended by faith; and because faith has to do with things not seen, you are apt to throw suspicions on its evidence. You see no tangible instrumentality equal to the mighty task. Our ruin was, in some sense, effected by degrees. We can trace the course of evil. The soul of man is like a temple in ruins. The temple built for God has become an abode for unclean spirits. God suddenly deserted it, but it gradually fell into its present dilapidation and uncleanness. The eyes that were once as lamps which flashed with light and love, have become contracted, and their habit now is to love darkness rather than light; the tongue that was once a fountain that did send forth sweet water, pure and refreshing, has become as a noxious spring whose bitter streams savour of enmity to God and envy of the brethren; the heart that was once as the holy place of all our frame, where the beauty of holiness reposed in heavenly calm, has now become the place of idols and the abode of secret abominations; the very breath that sent up its sacred incense in rich perfume, acceptable to God, has grown corrupt, and breathes out its baneful poison, and its foul impurities purities. Will God in very deed dwell with man upon the earth? Will he take up his abode with us? Shall the change be wrought in the twinkling of an eye? Does it suffice that the Word sown in weakness, springs up with power of the Holy Ghost? Man fallen may baffle us, but man redeemed is a mystery we cannot fathom. It seemeth ever to mere mortal sense as a vision, the dream of poets, or the work of imagination. But, beloved, why marvel? The angel of the covenant has descended from heaven to earth, and ye wist not it was he, till he loosed your bonds, broke up your path, or rather opened every door with the keys that hang at his girdle, and gave you knowledge of salvation by the remission of your sins. Then you thought it a vision, because you had not known redemption only that your own soul was redeemed; you had not understood salvation only that you were yourself redeemed; and that matchless secret of the new birth penetrated your understanding in the same hour that it was wrought upon your own heart. Thus it is commonly with us, brethren. We see, as a main fact, the downward course by which we corrupted our ways when we were dead in sin. But the hour we first believed, that blessed season when we were translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son, seems like a vision to us. 

     Another reason why it appears so visionary to us is, because no forethought or intention of our own helped and availed. Now, this is true with some of you in one way. Never were your purposes less inclined to seek the Lord than they were when he found you. Your plans were broken off before you were aware of it. You were asleep when the angel entered your cell; and you were dreaming of other things than those that were in store for you. Peradventure you dreamed that the bolts were not heavy, the bars were not thick, and the locks were not fast, and you might get up and let yourself out whenever you liked. It was only when you were delivered that you saw how fast you had been held. The rescued soul alone can know how “Satan binds our captive minds fast in his slavish chains.” And in yet another way some of us have proved the same. We had our schemes to get loose, and many a bitter day we had tried and toiled in vain, till at length we had fallen asleep in blank despair, dreaming of nothing but our fearful doom, when the deliverance came in such an unheard of manner, that we could scarcely persuade ourselves it could be true. And so it is, brethren, we never believe anything to be so real as what we see with our own eyes, and work with our own hands. And I suppose it is just the natural idea which flesh and blood is prone to take of the things of God. They seem more like a vision than the work of a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. 

     And still, I scarcely think I have probed the matter to the bottom yet. The simplicity of God's method of grace has not ceased to be a marvel. The Jews seek after a sign; and there is something of the Jewish nature about us all. At least I find a host of exercised souls who are asking for signs. Well, and the Greeks, who are rather a refined class of unbelievers, they seek after wisdom; they want some extraordinary endowment. This craving has not died out among us. For the first, I hear one say, “I am afraid, sir, that my experience is only a dream. I want a sign to give me assurance.” Let me tell you that simple faith gives clearer evidence than any fancy that could possess your mind. Are you still bound with the chain of your sins? Are you still shut up in the stronghold of unbelief? Have you never seen the key in the Saviour’s hand that opened the door to set you free? “Oh, yes,” say you, “but I am afraid it was only a vision, for I am but a poor, helpless creature after all.” And what else would you be? Never so safe as when you are emptied of all confidence in self. Paul could boast of extraordinary revelations, but the Lord sent him a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be puffed up by them. Then, again, there are those who show more anxiety after gifts than after graces; and to them all the mercy they have received seems but a vision, because they are not raised up above common mortals. After this extraordinary release of Peter, you do not find any display. The apostle was but a poor, trembling believer; he would not have Mary or the damsel Rhoda talk too loudly, or express their gladness too cheerfully: he beckoned them with his hand to hold their peace. He just declared how the Lord had brought him out, and then he departed and went into another place. Brethren, I would have you make your boast in the Lord, and speak of what he has done for your souls; but I would warn you not to vaunt your experience, or attempt to magnify yourselves as if we, any of us, had herein matter for glory. The very manner of God's delivering grace is to hide pride from our eyes; and the reality is none the less palpable, because the angel did all for us to show his strength, and then withdrew from us that we should feel our own weakness. 

     Once again: the suddenness of this deliverance will surprise you. “So suddenly too!” It seems like a vision. We have often known persons suddenly renewed in heart that would not believe it. They knew it was so, but still, in thinking it over, it did seem as though it could not possibly be true that they were saved; they had to rub their eyes again to see whether they were not asleep and dreaming. It was much too good to be true and have happened all on a sudden thus. The greatness of the mercy has made them stagger. That God should just forgive them and let them into heaven would have been marvellous, but that he should make them his children, his sons, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ—this surpassed all belief. Their fears had got such hold of them that they were ready to die; but little prepared to be saved. Their convictions had been terrible, but now the joy is so excessive, they cannot think but what it must be all presumption, all a dream. Many and many have there been who have come to the pastor, and said, “Oh I had such joys! I did believe in Christ, I know I did; I cast myself wholly on him and I felt such a change, I became so different a person from what I had ever been before but now I come to look back upon it, I cannot think it was true, it must have been a vision, it cannot possibly be a matter of fact.” 

     Now, dear friends, lest you should give way to this apprehension too much, let me remind you that inasmuch as this is a great thing it is all the better evidence that it comes from God. So great a river may well have a rapid tide. So glaring a sun may well shine with uncommon splendour. The great God does not do little acts of grace. His works are all great, sought out of all them that fear him. Inasmuch as you confess that you are a great sinner, and therefore this is a surprising thing, let me remind you that this is the ordinary way in which God works to give great mercies to great sinners. He does not give his favours to men who think they deserve them; he searches the heart with a glance, and he abhors the proud. But to those who are made to feel that there is no good thing in them, and rest on his grace because they have nothing else on which to depend, the mercy comes, and the prisoners are loosed. Dear friends, do you not remember that the gospel that we preach is a very great gospel? Is it not called in Scripture, “The great salvation?” Now when you find your salvation to be great, do not shrink back and say, “Oh, it cannot be genuine because it is great.” It would not be the genuine gospel if it were little. If it were not a surprising wonderful thing, if it were not superlatively astonishing, it would not be the gospel. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts, and my ways above your ways.” Besides, remember my brethren, that Jesus died in pangs unutterable on the cross. Did he die there to buy farthing mercies, to purchase little favours for little sinners? The blood of bulls and goats might achieve some little, but the blood of him, who was the only begotten of the Father, cannot have been shed for trifles. Therefore the rather consider that this must have been true, because it is so great, so strange, so surpassing all your thoughts. God help you to say with the Apostle Peter, “Now I know that God hath sent his angel" “Thus shalt thou know of a surety that the Lord hath sent his angel and hath delivered thee out of the hands of thy enemies and from all the expectation of thy doubts and fears.” I will tell thee how to prove the reality of it; if thou shouldest fear that thy feelings have been all a dream, come with me hand in hand and let us go to make proof of our faith at the cross. You and I, a pair of sinners, full of sin, covered with the leprosy of it from head to foot, let us go and stand at Calvary's cross. There he hangs! His hands and feet are pierced; the blood distils. Jesus! for whom dost thou die? “For sinners;” saith he. Here are two, most gracious Master; remember us when thou comest into thy kingdom! I think I hear him say, “Ye shall be with me in Paradise,” for never souls breathed that prayer in humble faith and were unheard. Jesu, we look to thy wounds, and they are clefts in the rock into which we fly like doves, or if we may not compare ourselves selves thereunto, we will fly as ravens, and we will hide till the tempest is overpast. Thy blood we trust to redeem us, thy merit to clothe us from head to foot, thy plea to preserve us, thy strong arm to keep us, thy love to give us life now and in eternity!

     And now, before I close, let me tell you that the picture may be inverted. If there are those to whom reality seemeth to be a dream, what multitudes there are, on the other hand, to whom mere dreams appear to be real and true. Ah! such dreaming is the saddest thing I know; and about the hardest task it is that I ever tried, to awake such slumberers from their delusions. Hear me, ye that seek out your own inventions, yet submit not yourselves to the righteousness of God. Do ye believe in God? Ay, then the God ye believe in is not the God who created heaven and earth, but the God of your own imagination. Do ye profess Christ? the Christ ye profess is not the Son of the Father, but the child of your own fancy. And do I hear you talk of your experience? Alas, then, it is not the witness of the Holy Spirit, but the incoherent ramblings of a delirious brain. O ye poor deluded souls, who put your thoughts for God's counsels, your devices for his decrees, and your efforts for his interposition; ye “shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite.” Christians ye call yourselves to-day, but Christ shall say to you another day, “I never knew you.” Ah, and true it is, for ye never knew him. Do ye dream of peace? without pardon it is a dream. Do ye dream of heaven? without holiness it is a dream. Do ye dream of joy's at God's right hand? but ye are not his people; ye have never renounced the world, overcome the wicked one, confessed the faith, and followed the Master in the regeneration, which is the earnest of a blessed resurrection. Oh, sirs, consider sider the words, I beseech you—“As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.”

     Here are many, I dare say, who do not understand what I have been talking about; God give them understanding. Sinner, thou must either be in Christ, or perish. Remember, man, to-night there is one of two things for thee, either to be shut up in the prison of hell, or else to be delivered from the prison of sin. Thy destiny hangs here—salvation or damnation, life or death. Darest thou die, sinner, darest thou die? Darest thou die with thy sins about thee, like millstones strapped about thy neck—darest thou die? No! But when the time comes for thee to die, thou wilt say, “Now I cannot live, I must not live, and I dare not die.” Wouldst thou be able to die peacefully, sinner, and to rise joyfully, and to reign for ever hereafter? Trust Christ with thy soul and he will save thee. He, the Son of God, begotten of the Father; the man of Nazareth, conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary; he, God over all, blessed for ever, and yet thy brother, born to bear thy sin, he says, “Trust me and I will save thee.” O may his electing love move the hand of his effectual grace to incline you now to trust in him, and that done, you are saved, and out of this house you may go a lawfully delivered captive, though perhaps you will scarcely know what it is, and you wist not whether it is true that is done unto you. But it is true for all that. He that believeth on him is not condemned, and he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God. O that I might speak in God's name to some of you who perhaps may never hear my voice again. I will meet you, as the spirit said to Brutus, on the plains I will meet you another day, each one of you, and if you live and die without trusting in that Lord whose open wounds I have tried to set before your eyes, whose bleeding heart, streaming with his life blood, I have tried to set all warm before you—if you die without him, on your own heads be your destruction. Ye have heard the gospel, O that ye would turn at its rebuke! Trust Christ! The feeblest touch of the hem of his garment, a look to him and you are made whole. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so may we lift up the cross on high. O lift it up, my brother, you that know Christ. Christian men and women, lift up that cross in your families. It is mine to lift it up here, and to cry with the Hebrew prophet, “Look, look, and live!” Sin-bitten, covered with the wounds of sin. look! It is all he asks, and that he gives. “Look and live,” was written in that book; and written as on the clouds of heaven, legible only by the light they give, stand the soul-quickening words—“Believe and live.” Leave your doings for Christ's doings, not your tears but Christ's ’s tears, not your blood but his blood, not your groans but his groans, not your penance but his agonies. Come and rest in him, join with me in saying, from your heart,

 

“My faith doth lay her hand

On that dear head of thine,

While like a penitent I stand,

And here confess my sin.”

My soul looks back to see

The burden thou didst bear

When hanging on the accursed tree,

And hopes her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice

To see the curse removed,

We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,

And sing his bleeding love.” 

 

     The Lord bless you, the God of heaven and earth bless you, from this time forth, and for ever. Amen. 



The Minister’s Stock-Taking

By / Jun 22

The Minister's Stock-Taking

 

“And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.”— Acts 28:24. 

 

     THIS is the only proper way to calculate the results of our ministry. We just want the account-book ruled with two columns. On one side we must put down the long list of the some that believe not; and on the brighter side we may enter what is too often, the far less number of the some that believe. This is the only true method, I repeat it, by which we can hold a stock-taking so as to ascertain the net profit of the preaching of the gospel. We must not estimate the good that is done by the number of those who listen. It is a very pleasant thing to see the house of prayer filled to overflowing. It is intensely delightful to reflect that often on the Sabbath evening in London now the theatres are full, St. Paul's Cathedral is full, and multitudes of churches and chapels are crowded with willing listeners. Still it is not all pleasure. Instead of its being of any advantage for the persons who have heard the gospel but have not believed, it will rather increase their doom. If they have only heard, and the truth has penetrated no deeper than the natural ear, then alas for the preachers who have spent their strength for nought! and alas for the multitudes who, having ears, have heard as though they heard not! 

     Nor ought we to calculate the result of our work by the persons who have been pleased with our ministry. What man is not gratified when he hears that the people have been pleased with his preaching? It were not in flesh and blood for a man to be uncheered by applause. The love of praise is ingrained in human nature. 

"The proud to gain it toils on toils endure,

The modest shun it but to make it sure.”

     But still, it were a miserable thing if all that a man effect be just to win the ear and to strike the people with wonder at the amazing way in which he could utter forth the words of truth. Shall God's servants live upon the breath of men’s nostrils? Can the approbation of crowd nutritious enough to constitute the solid food of a God-sent herald of the cross? Never! When a man has to die, this shall give him no comfort. To have preached faithfully, though some were angry, will always be consolatory. To have preached unfaithfully, or to have held back any part of the truth, though he may have won universal acclaim, would be but a passport to perdition at the last. No, no, if our ministry has only pleased people it is good for nothing. A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, “I will never hear that man again,” very often have an arrow rankling in their breast. Smarting from a wound that never will be healed till God heals it, they will come again right enough. Others, alas, who are quite pleased and delighted, will come and go from the place of the holy, unimpressed and unimpressible as slabs of marble, adown which the oil runs without producing the slightest impression.

     Nor even dare we hastily to calculate the effect of our ministry by the number of persons impressed with serious convictions. Of course, it is a hopeful sign to see the people weep under the Word, especially if it is the gospel that moves them to weep, and not the pathos of the preacher. I do not think it does anybody much good spiritually, when tears are excited simply by the description of a funeral, or by being reminded of one’s childhood, or of one’s parents. Some preachers appeal much to the passions, and think when the congregation are weeping, good is being done. I do not see the use of it at all. When the preacher can make these natural emotions a platform upon which to stand and work upon the conscience, then it is well and good, but if he has only succeeded in drawing briny tears from mortal eyes, they may flow until the floor be watered with them without any salutary result. We must go deeper than the eye; we want to make the heart weep; we want tears of penitence for sin, not tears of regret for departed husbands and wives. We want emotions which spring from a startled conscience, and not those which come from a want of resignation to the divine will. No, dear friends, we have done nothing after we have preached a thousand times unless we can write down that some believe on the Lord Jesus. 

     I. Turning to our text a little more closely, let us remark in the first place that, UNDER THE BEST MINISTRY IN THE WORLD THE RESULTS WILL BE DIVERSE, AND THAT YOU WANT TWO COLUMNS TO WRITE THE ACCOUNT IN. 

     There will always be the some that believe and the some that believe not. This is not altogether the minister’s fault. It is the custom of the age to blame ministers very much, and I dare say we deserve it; but still the blame in this matter does not lay entirely with us, for even when Paul preached— a model preacher, he!— there were “ some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.” Did I say that Paul was a model preacher? let me prove it. Was he not a model preacher as to matter? There are some persons who greatly admire a doctrinal preacher. They like a man who will lay down the doctrines as a master-builder would put the stones, one here, another there—each one in its proper place. When they go up to the house of prayer they say they want really to learn something, to get some thought, to get a deeper insight into some great Biblical truth, and they are not satisfied unless their understandings are provided for. Mere appeals to the passions they do not care about; they want to have their minds enlightened. Well, a doctrinal preacher is an exceedingly useful man, especially if he do not degenerate into endless controversy, preaching Christ of envy and strife. I have heard it said that while a course of some twelve lectures by any ordinary lecturer on geology would give you a pretty clear idea of the science, you might sit and listen to twelve hundred sermons upon Christianity by some ministers, and never get an idea of what are its fundamental doctrines. If it be so it is a crying evil, and grievously will the Church have to answer for it in the ill that will come upon her. It may be so in some cases, but I am sure it was not so with the Apostle Paul. Who could preach doctrine more clearly than he did? If you want the very highest doctrine, read the ninth chapter of Romans. If you would have a clear system of truth, read the Epistle to the Ephesians. If a young man wants to get a body of divinity in miniature, he has only to read that Epistle. The apostle is full of the most weighty matter, and the most important truth. He keeps back nothing that is profitable for the people. He can say—“I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.” To him it never was a question as to which part of the truth would best please the people; he gave them the whole of it in due season. But yet even under the apostle Paul there were some that believed not! And you, young man, if you have been listening to the gospel under any minister, if you have not been converted, neither would you have been if you had heard Paul. Having Moses and the prophets with you at this day, if you believe not them, neither would you be converted, though an apostle should rise from the dead. 

     I think I hear one observe—“Well, I do not care for a doctrinal preacher myself. I like an experimental preacher best.” Be it so, dear friend, and I can fully approve your choice; I like an experimental preacher, because he can get inside a man's heart and see what is there. He knows just what I am and what I feel. If I am distressed he has been distressed too, and he can talk of my temptations and of my trials, because they have been his own. If I am full of comfort or full of joy he has been up on the mountain too, and he tells me of my ecstasy and of my delights. If I find some knotty passage in my inner life he can translate it to me, for he has been through it all himself. Perhaps of the three orders of preachers— the doctrinal, the experimental, and the practical—the experimental preacher is the most useful. I think if one had to choose which should be his pastor he should prefer such a man as this, for a ministry without any experience in it must be a very poor, miserable, savourless thing to the people of God. But do you not think that in this respect the apostle Paul himself was a perfect model? Would you understand the conflicts of the human heart? Does not Paul paint them to the life as he says—“When I would do good, evil is present with me; to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not? ” And again, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Docs he not just express the sighing and longing of all the children of God who have been vexed with contests within? On the other hand, if you have high and glorious frames, the apostle can go with you and beyond you, and tell you of times when he was caught up to the third heavens, and heard things which it is not possible for a man to utter. Are you full of assurance and confidence? Then Paul preaches to you from this text—“I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Are you full of apprehensions? Then he fears and trembles with you—“Lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” Paul had his doubts and fears, and was afraid that he might perish after all; yet he had his high flights and glorious confidences, and knew that the believer in Christ could never be cast away. But mark you, if you have listened to the preaching of the gospel, and have remained an unbeliever under it, neither would you be converted, though the apostle Paul's deep experimental knowledge should be brought to bear upon your conscience ; for even under him there were some that believed not, and so I suppose it would be even were he here now. 

     Then there is the practical preacher, and some men greatly admire him. So do I if he does not become legal, and if he does not degenerate rate into a preacher of mere morality. If he shall urge holiness upon the people of God, from evangelical motives, he may be very useful; but if upon legal terms he strives to stir the people of God to good works, he will do more harm than good. Yes, the practical preacher is very useful. The man who tells me precisely what my duty is in my sphere of life, talks to me as a husband, a master, a servant, or as a son, who when I come after the cares of the week and sit down in my pew, just refreshes my memory about my week's ’ faults, and tells me how to behave myself during the week that is to come—such a man is useful. But who ever did this so well as the apostle Paul? That same Epistle to the Ephesians, which is an epitome of doctrinal theology, also contains the practical precepts of the gospel fully written out. Children, parents, fathers, husbands, wives, servants, masters—the apostle has a word to every one. He is pre-eminently practical, generally basing his appeals for righteous conduct upon some divine motive. Yet, dear friends, if you have not been converted, I have no reason to believe it is because your ministers fail on the practical points; for even had you heard the apostle, who was a pattern in this respect, neither would you have been converted, for under him some believed not. Now put the practical, the experimental, and the doctrinal together, and you get the model exhibited in the apostle Paul. Would that we had such preachers in all pulpits, and such ministers to preside over all flocks. But even if such were given to us, there would still be some that believed not.

     “Yes, yes,” says one, “I do not doubt that the matter was right enough. But you know there is more required of a preacher than matter; it is manner we want.” Well now, I hold that the apostle Paul was a model preacher as to manner. He was a bold preacher. He never feared the face of man, but preached just what the Lord told him, in the Lord’s own words, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear. He was an eloquent preacher. Barnabas was no mean speaker, but Paul was a better speaker than he was; for at Lystra they called Paul “Mercury,” and Mercury was their god of eloquence. Perhaps the concluding part of the eighth chapter of the Romans is the most remarkable piece of human language ever known. He who wrote it was a master, able to soar with eagle-wing to any height, yet willing for the most part to keep near the ground. “Not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but with simplicity and godly sincerity he ordered his speech.” He was a profound thinker, capable of the deepest argument or the finest allegory, but withal an easy talker, who loved to tell of the grace of God. When occasion required, as an impassioned orator, his thunders could make Festus tremble; and his persuasive appeals could wring confessions from Agrippa; but as a teacher in the Church of God, he was proverbially plain spoken. He spoke like a child, and babes in grace were fed under his ministry as with pure milk. This is just the style we want; not the simplicity of ignorance, but the dignified simplicity of the man who has really the highest intellect, if he cared to show it, but who rather chooses to instruct the poor and ignorant. Then the apostle was very affectionate with his boldness and simplicity. He loved the souls of men. He felt sometimes such a passionate longing to save souls, that he was almost ready to lose his own soul, if he might but save others. “Oh,” you say, “but that was an extravagant thing for him to say.” Yes, love is often extravagant, and I will never believe that a man has any love at all if he speaks in a cold, calculating way. Love must sometimes speak in rapturous phrases, which in its cooler moments it would not endorse, When I hear the apostle say—“I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren according to the flesh,” I understand what his love means. He feels as if his own personal interest in Jesus he would fain give up, if he might but see his own kindred saved. It is in a spirit akin with that of Moses, when he said—“If not, blot my name out of the book of life.” Dear, dear! how critics and commentators have stumbled over these two passages! They cannot make it out. They cannot understand it. But I tell you Paul meant exactly what he said. I have felt the same strong emotion boiling in my own soul, till when I have looked upon some immense congregation, and my heart has yearned after their conversion, I have felt that if I could die as a substitute for them I would fain do it. Of course in more sober moments no man would ever barter his own soul’s salvation on any account, nor were it possible that such a ramsom could be accepted. Still, love makes one feel as if even that were less than the evil that threatens our people, and we exclaim, with Esther, “How can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” The apostle, thus full of eloquence, of love, and of holy boldness, seeking after souls, pressing them home with blessed arguments, pleading with them night and day with many tears, was a faithful and a perfect minister, as nearly so as mortal can be. “Oh!” says one, “I wish I sat under such a minister!” Yes, but are you converted to God? For if you are not, I am not sure that you would be saved if you had Paul himself for a pastor. If at your wish he could leave his grave, start up, unwrap his cerements, and address you from this pulpit, I have no reason to believe that his voice would have any more power over you than another man's voice. Paul would plant in vain where others have not been successful, and if you have not believed on Jesus with this book in your houses, with your Sabbaths repeated hundreds of times, with earnest, affectionate parents, and with loving friends, neither would you be converted though Paul rose from the dead. 

     II. I now proceed to notice, in the second place, THE TWO SORTS OF PEOPLE, AND THE REASON WHY SOME BELIEVED, AND WHY SOME BELIEVED NOT.

     There were some that believed. Shall I describe them? So far as one young man is concerned, I will just give a little sketch of his history, and that sketch will suffice for all. He dropped in one Sunday morning to hear the preacher; he stood in the aisle, for he did not intend to stop all the time, but the place was full and he could not well get out. He listened; he thought it very common-place; it did not attract his attention much; but all of a sudden—yes, it was so—the truth dropped right into his heart. He listened with greater interest than he had done before; he gathered himself up. Another sentence came. When he came in, he was like a man in armour. All the shots fell upon his armour and were repelled then; but now something had got in between the joints. He listened again. The preacher went on to discourse of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, and the young man felt as if there was no one else in the place. The minister's eyes were on him; he began to tremble. “What must I do to be saved?” was the language that was in his heart, though he could not utter it with the lip. He walked out of that aisle a calm and quiet man; he went home; there was no talking by the way; he went into his chamber. Well, I will not say he prayed the first time, but it was something like it, for he breathed out words like these, “Oh! ah! would that!” He began to have living desires after the living God. In the evening he went to the house of God again. It seemed that night as if the preacher prepared a most terrible sermon on purpose for him. The whole sermon through, the great hammer of God seemed to be breaking his flinty heart smaller and smaller, till there was not a single piece of it that was not ground to powder. He could not help feeling that there was no hope for him—that mercy would never reach his case. He had thought that morning that he was about as good as most people, and that if it did not fare well with him, it would fare ill with all the world; but now he felt himself to be the vilest of the vile. He could not understand it, nor could his friends either. They thought he had been taken with a fit of melancholy; they hoped it would wear off; but it did not wear off. He was very quiet that week; he could not go out with his friends to places of amusement as he had been accustomed to do. One of them did get him to one place, but he was so miserable that he came out when it was half over, and said, “I have no taste for such things now; I cannot stay.” Well, I do not know how long it was that this went on; in some cases it is only a few minutes, in others it is a long, long time. I knew one young man with whom it lasted for five years, and he stands here to-day ay to tell of that long period of affliction. And that young man went in a state of sadness and grief on account of sin, seeking rest and finding none, till one morning the preacher lifted up Christ upon the cross, and said—this is the import of the words he used—“You see the Hebrew prophet raise the brazen serpent high upon the cross. Look, look, ye that are bitten with serpents! Turn hither your eyes; however swollen you are, do but look! There is life in a look at the brazen serpent for any of you, for all of you.” And then the preacher said, “See Jesus hanging there on his cross! his wounds are streaming; his head is bowed down with grief. There is life in a look at the Crucified. Sinner, there is life this moment for thee.” He explained that to look was simply to trust Christ, and to put one’s confidence in the blood and merits of the Lord Jesus. Well, the young man had heard that a great many times, but he had never heard it with his conscience before; it had never sunk deep down into his heart. Now it came home to him. Standing there in the aisle just as he was, conscious of his guilt and ruin, he turned his eyes to Jesus; he looked; he lived; he went his way like a man who had received a new life ; he was blessed, happy, joyful; a tremendous burden had rolled into the deep sepulchre; the chains had been snapped from his manacled wrists ; he was free ; and whereas he could not creep before, he now ran and danced for joy and gladness of heart. That is how it all came about. The conversion was so wrought by his simply hearing his ruin and learning the remedy. The young man waited awhile in prayer and silent meditation, and matured the piety which God had given him, and he then came forward and made a profession of his faith. It was a happy day when he saw the pastor, and told his experience, when he was joined to the Church and separated from the world. From that day all that knew him could but marvel at the change. 

     And now comes the question, “Why did some believe?” Well, it was not any difference in the preacher, for the same preacher addressed both. It was not any difference in the sermon, for the same sermon was preached to all the people, and yet some believed and some did not. It could not be the power of persuasion, for there were some that were persuaded and some that were not by the very same address. Nor can we attribute it to a difference of constitution, for that were to make salvation of works and not of grace. Were we to bring up the old legal covenant again, and thus preach another gospel, then we should be accursed. I only know of one answer to this question, “Why did some believe?” and the answer is this, because God willed it. “He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion passion.” “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” If any man is saved, it is not because he willed to be saved. If any man be brought to Christ, it is not of any effort of his, but the root, the cause, the motive of the salvation of any one human being, and of all the chosen in heaven, is to be found in the predestinating purpose and sovereign distinguishing will of the Lord our God. I know some Christians do not hold this as a doctrine, but I believe there is no Christian alive who does not believe it as a matter of experience. I was once with a good Christian man who was a little blind in both eyes, and he laid down this theory—if God gave grace to one, he was bound—just listen to this—he was bound to give it to all. God, he said, was no respecter of persons, which I interpret to mean that he did not owe anything to anybody but did just as he liked with them, but he understood it to mean that God gave alike to all, and that if he gave anything to one, he must give the same to another. You see, however, that if it is a matter of debt to anybody, then it is not a matter of grace any longer. Well, after that, we had prayer, and my friend prayed for his own family, and his unconverted relatives—yes, actually prayed to God to give more grace to them that they might believe and be saved! When he had done, I said, “ Well now, that would have been a very proper prayer for me to offer, because I think it just for God to give more to one than he does to another, but it was a very improper prayer for you and completely subversive of your own theory; in fact, you have no right to make a distinction, and to pray for your own child more than for anybody else's child. According to your scheme you believe that God ought to serve all alike whereas I believe that no man has any claim on God, that if he pleases to save anyone he has a right to do it, and that if men perish they perish because they deserve to perish, and I, therefore, can present special petitions to God for special persons." I remember hearing of a case where a very high Calvinistic brother never would believe that a Wesleyan could have the grace of God in him, so bigoted was he to his own views. One night there was a prayer-meeting, and the gas would not light. They could not get it to light anyhow, and at last it was proposed to hold the meeting in the dark. A Wesleyan prayed first; he was at the far end of the room, and he prayed, oh! so sweetly! Our Calvinistic friend said—“What a delightful prayer! What a depth of doctrinal knowledge! What a blessed character that person must be!” So he watched for him when he came out; he stood at the door to find him, and to his surprise discovered who had been offering the prayer that was so full of grace and truth. I believe that if once we came to real, experimental godliness, we should not find a child of God anywhere that would not in some form or other subscribe to the substance of what I have asserted, that it is God who quickens the souls of those who believe, and that if men be saved all the glory-must be unto God from first to last, and not an atom nor a particle attributed to the goodness, or the power, or the will of the creature. This is a doctrine which some people have not learned very fully yet, but they will have to learn it if they are God's people. Jonah, you know, had never learned it from the schools, but when the Lord got him in the whale’s belly, at the bottom of the mountain's, with the weeds wrapped about his head, then it was that he said, “Salvation is of the Lord;” and often some sore trials and terrible afflictions are necessary schoolmasters to teach us this lesson, that salvation is of the Lord alone.  

     Now let me change the note, and speak a few words respecting the some that believe not. They are of different characters. Some of you were brought up at a Sunday school; you have attended a place of worship nearly all your lives, and yet you have not believed in Christ. There are others who do not often go to the house of God; in fact they have got into the habit of spending their Sundays in dissipation or frivolity. These are among the some that believe not, and some of them try to quiet their conscience by pretending that they do not believe the Bible to be true. They set up for Atheists, or Deists, or Freethinkers, and when they can get some fools to applaud them, they vent out their spleen against the saints and their blasphemy against God, albeit they do not believe their own blasphemies. Their consciences are uneasy. Atheism affords no rest for the sole of man’s foot. Let a man go to the utmost extent tent in abandoning moral restraints and disowning religious obligations, there is still an aching void within him which even hell itself cannot fill; the man feels that he wants something, he knows not what, but it is the cross of Christ and faith in a crucified Saviour that alone can supply the cravings of man's inner nature. Some of these people that believe not are very moral. There is that young lady yonder, amiable and admirable in her degree, but she does not believe, hence the crudeness ness of her tastes, the want of harmony in the colours that vary her disposition. There is that young man over there who is full of commercial integrity, his employer would trust him with a bag of untold gold; but he is among the some that believe not; and with strange inconsistency he relies on one virtue which procures him respect among men, to cover a thousand vices which proclaim his alienation from God. On the other hand, there are a great many of them who are debauched, and who go very far astray. We must put you all down together. There are no third parties. You either do believe or you do not. If you have believed in Jesus, bless and praise almighty grace, but if you nave not, listen a moment while I try to answer the question— 

     Why do you not believe? There are some people who will be ready to say—“Hear what contradictory doctrine is preached!” I cannot help it. The only reason why you do not believe in Christ is because you will not. The reason why you are an unbeliever at this hour is your own will, and nothing but your own will. It is not that you have not heard the gospel; you have heard it. It is not because it is unworthy of your credence; it is the most reliable intelligence in all the world. It is not because it does not deserve your faith; it claims and demands it. It is not because you have never been aroused; you have had impressions without number. You know when you had that fever; you know there was a something striving with you that would have brought you to the cross, but you would not come. The reason why you have not come to Jesus is contained in Christ’s own words—“Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” Give me not back an answer that would excuse yourself and charge God foolishly; it is not God’s fault that you are not a believer; it is your own fault and your own fault alone. I know there are some very wicked persons, and some on the other hand who claim to be very orthodox, who lay the damnation of men at God’s door, but God forbid that your soul or mine should have any sympathy with such blasphemy as that! I will suppose a case. There is a woman who has stabbed her own child, reddened her hands with the blood of her own offspring. She is brought up to the court to be tried for murder, and she makes use of a singular defence. Her counsel bids her be silent, but she will speak. She says—“My lord, and gentlemen of the jury, I am not guilty; I did stab my child ’tis true, but I did it as the agent of God; I was decreed to do it; I could not help it; I was predestinated to do it, and the fault, therefore, lies not with me, but with God.” Now the impression made in the court would be this, that a person whose moral sense was so depraved would be quite capable of murder or any other crime. A state of heart which would allow a person to give utterance to such a saying against God would allow murder to be thought of without any compunction whatever. I should not wonder at such a remark being made by the culprit. But suppose the lawyer himself, the woman's counsel, should get up and claim the attention of the judge and the jury, and should say—“Gentlemen, really this woman is not guilty, when you come to think of it, for it was fore-ordained from before the foundation of the world that she should do this; she was predestinated to it, and therefore, my lord, moral culpability does not rest with her.” Can you think what the judge would say—such a man as the late good Lord Chancellor Campbell. Why, I think I see him rise from his seat and exclaim—“Hold your tongue, sir, or else change your line of argument ; for as long as I am one of the judges of this realm I will never sit in this court to hear God openly and publicly blasphemed. If you do not change your line of argument the usher shall put you out.” And I am sure every Englishman in the court would applaud a judge for so saying. Verily ye would hold your breath and feel your blood chilled in your veins at the very idea of murder being laid at the door of God. What then shall I say of those men, calling themselves ministers of Christ, but who become the devil’s advocates, and preach that the ruin of men's souls is the result of divine sovereignty, that God's decree damns men and not their own sins? O my soul, come not thou into their secret; with their confederacy be not thou joined! This is sewing pillows to all arm-holes; this is, indeed, stuffing beds with down for sinners to sleep on, till at last they wake up in damnation! Sinner, you know it is a lie. It is a gross lie to say that God is responsible for your damnation. If your soul shall perish, it shall perish as a suicide; for you will have ruined yourself. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.” If the damned in hell could be made to believe that they did not deserve to be there, why hell would be no hell to them; but this is the sting of perdition—“I deserved this!” You will see written in lines of fire—“You knew your duty, but you did it not!” and when you cry for mercy this shall be God’s answer—“I called and ye refused, I stretched out my hand and no man regarded it ; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.” Do I hear some one say, “Why, that is Arminianism!” Precisely so. But some people say the truth lies between Calvinism and Arminianism. It does not; there is nothing between them but a barren wilderness. If you are asked why a man is saved, the only Scriptural answer is—“Sovereign grace”—grace, unmoved by anything in the creature, flowing spontaneously from the mighty depths of the divine heart. But if you are asked why are men damned? answer this—“It is their own sin ; their own wicked, carnal, sensual, devilish nature  , that they even dare to trample on the blood of Christ, to despise Jesus, and to turn aside from him that speaketh from heaven.” Never be frightened because one man says it is too high, or because another says it is too low. Take truth as you find it; take it as it is in the Bible. “Well but,” I hear one say, “are the two things consistent? Can you reconcile them?” I do want to reconcile them; they never fell out; they are good friends; they are both true, and truths never quarrel. “Well,” says one, “but I cannot see that they are quite straight.” Have you never been rowing in a boat on the water, and remarked that your oars look bent? Are they bent? No. If you had an oar that was bent and put it in a certain position it would look straight, but it was a straight oar that you put in, and now that it should look bent is a mere optical illusion. Why is this? Well, we are told it is because the rays of light pass through two different mediums—through the air and through the waters; these mediums of different density, and therefore the ray of light is refracted, and the thing looks bent, though it really is not. Now part of the truth is divine—that part which has to do with divine sovereignty, and part of the truth is human—that which has to do with human responsibility. A great truth in passing through two such different media must look bent, and if it did not look bent, it would be strange indeed. You may look at two lines; they are almost parallel, but not quite, and they do not meet anywhere that you and I can see, but they do meet somewhere that God can see. When we get to heaven we shall see where these two lines meet, and we shall find, perhaps, that where we thought they were the farthest apart, was just the place where they touched each other. Of this, however, I am absolutely sure, man’s conscience bears witness, it is one of the instinctive apprehensions of every enlightened man’s mind, that if he be saved it is of God’s mercy, and that if he be lost it is his own fault. I only want the witness of your own conscience to this point. In vain you drug conscience with nauseous doctrines; you may go and listen to something that is not pure gospel, but a spurious compound; you never can stifle the deep conviction, that if you rebel against God you perish as the result of your own act and deed. The worm that never dieth would cease to gnaw at your vitals if you could lay your ruin at God’s door, and the fire that never can be quenched would have no meet fuel in your body and soul, if your own sins were not the cause of your own destruction. 

     And what does all this lead to? Why, it comes to this, dear friends, that I must close by dividing this house. Sometimes, in the House of Commons, you know, when a person has been speaking and has been very prosy, and another man gets up to speak whom they do not want to hear, they will cry out, “Divide, divide.” Then the House divides, and the “ayes” go out on one side, and the “noes” on another. Well—I have not a convenient place here for some of you to go on one side of the house, and some another—I do not suppose we could carry it out; but suppose this aisle now to represent the great division, and that the some that believe had to stand on this side, and the some that do not believe on that side. There would soon be a change of seats, I expect. But do you know, I am afraid there would be a great number of you that would say, “Well, I cannot go on this side; I dare not say I do believe in Christ. And yet I cannot go to the other side; I dare not go there, it is such an awful thing to go with those that do not believe; let me stand here in the aisle.” No, no; there are only two places, heaven and hell, and there are only two sorts of people, the righteous and the wicked. The priests of Christian idolatry have been preaching about purgatory for hundreds of years, but we do not believe in that doctrine, except as a means of filling their coffers, while they make merchandize of souls. We know that all the people that have died have either gone to hell because they did not believe, or have gone to heaven because they did, and we know that there has never been a cross-breed between a believer and an unbeliever. A man must be either dead or alive. There is no neutral ground. You must either be on one side with those who are alive, or on the other side with those who are dead and need to be quickened. Think not to halt between two opinions. For the most part those who are said to be halting between two opinions are really of one opinion, they do not intend to serve the Lord, and they say in their hearts, “Who is the Lord that I should serve him?” Now will you do me this favour? I asked it once, and it was blessed to the conversion of several. Will you take a little time alone, perhaps this evening; take a paper and pencil, and after you have honestly and fairly thought on your own state, and weighed your own condition before the Lord, will you write down one of two words: if you feel that you are not a believer write down this word— “ Condemned,” and if you are a believer in Jesus, and put your trust in him alone, write down the word “ Forgiven.” Do it, even though you have to write down the word condemned. We lately received into Church-fellowship a young man, who said—“Sir, I wrote down the word condemned, and I looked at it; there it was; I had written it myself—‘Condemned.’" As he looked the tears began to flow, and the heart- began to break; and ere long he fled to Christ, put the paper in the fire, and wrote down “Forgiven.” This young man was about the sixth who had been brought to the Lord in the same way. So I pray you try it, and God may bless it to you. Remember you are either one or the other; you are either condemned or forgiven. Do not stand between the two. Let it be decided, and remember if you are condemned to-day -day, yet you are not in hell. There is hope yet. Blessed be God, still is Christ lifted up, and whosover believeth on him shall not perish but have everlasting life. The gate of glory is not closed; the proclamation of mercy is not hushed; the Spirit of God still goeth forth to open blind eyes and to unstop deaf ears, and still is it preached to you, to every creature under heaven—Whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned. Believe. God help you to believe. Trust Jesus; trust him now; and may the Lord grant that your name may be written among the some that believe, and not among the some that believe not. 



Peace by Believing

By / Jun 22

Peace by Believing

 

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”— Romans 5:1.

 

A MOMENT'S contemplation would suffice to arouse any man to the terror of the position involved in being at war with God. For a subject to be in a state of sedition against a powerful monarch is to commit treason and to incur the forfeiture of his life. But for a creature to be in arms against its Creator ; for a thing that dependeth for its existence upon the will of God to be at enmity with the God in whose hand its breath is ; for a soul to know that God who is terrible in his power, and Almighty to protect or to destroy, is his foe ; that he whose anger endureth for ever, and his wrath burneth even unto the lowest hell, is his chief and grand enemy—this is an appalling thing indeed. Could any man but understand and realize this, smitten through with terrors as great as those which surprised Belshazzar when he saw the handwriting on the wall, he would cry out in anguish—he would make a thrilling appeal for mercy. God is against thee, Osinful man! God is against thee, 0 thou who hast never submitted thyself unto his word! God is against thee; and woe unto thee when he shall rend thee in pieces, for none can deliver thee out of his hand! Happy! happy beyond all description is the man who can say with our apostle, “We have peace with God;” but wretched! wretched, again, beyond all description wretched must that man be who is at war with his own Maker, and sees heaven itself in arms against him!

     Chiefly now we shall endeavour to talk of the peace which the believer enjoys; and then, I shall have a few words of counsel, warning, and encouragement for those who have not this peace with God, or who may have had it, and for a time have lost the enjoyment of it.

     I. In speaking of THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH THE CHRISTIAN ENJOYS; we will commence with some remarks upon its basis.

     There is the widest possible difference between a man being just in his own eyes, and his being justified in the sight of God. Yet, perhaps no fallacy is more common than to mistake the one for the other. Then, as a natural consequence of building on a weak foundation, the structure however fair to look upon, is insecure. The peace in which multitudes of professors delight themselves is merely peace with their own conscience, and not in any sense peace with God. I know of no greater contrast than there is between that peace which is a mere stagnation of thought, a lull of anxiety, or a blindness to danger, and that soul-satisfying peace which passes all understanding. The true peace of God flows like a river in unceasing activity; it preserves a tranquil frame amidst storm, tempest, and tribulation, by all of which it is frequently assaulted. It is a part of the panoply of God with which a Christian is clothed, to withstand principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in the evil day. Or, to change the figure, Christ gave his disciples this peace as an amulet, when as he was about himself to depart and go to the Father, he sent them forth to be buffeted about in the world. Just so in the text, if you pursue the subject in the next few verses, you will find that this peace with God is given first, and afterwards cometh experience of tribulations everywhere else. We ourselves selves, brethren, have proved it. There is a natural disposition of sin to defile, but the blood of Christ speaks peace in the conscience ; there is a constant tendency of the world to destroy our hope, but the peaceful word of Jesus comforts us ; “ Be of good cheer, I have overcome come the world there is a painful proneness of human strength to fail, but the promise supports us—“ This man shall be the peace when the Assyrian cometh into our land.” And this true peace gives to the believer an inward sense of God's acceptance, like as Moses never lost sight of the goodwill of the Dweller in the bush; so, too, there is a more blessed assurance of goodwill in the faith that always realises “God in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

     And now as to the experimental basis of that peace which the believer has with his God. It must have some solid rational ground; it must have some basis which judgment may estimate. I know some who have an apprehension of peace with God that has no foundation whatever. Let me describe the person. “Are you living in peace with God, my friend?” “Yes,” says he, “thank God, I have enjoyed a sense of peace for twenty years.” “How did you get it?” “Well, as I was walking one day, in great distress of mind, in such-and-such a road, a feeling of comfort came over me, and it has remained with me ever since.” “Yes, but, friend, what is the reason of your hope? What is the ground of your confidence that you have peace with God?” “Well, you see, I felt comfortable, and I believe that I have felt comfortable ever since.” “No, no—that's not the matter at which I aim. What is the ground; what is the doctrinal proof; what is the matter of fact that gives you comfort?” “Well, do not press me,” says he, “for I do not know. Only this I know—I did feel happy, and I have felt happy ever since, and I have not had any doubt.” That man, mark you, if I be not mistaken taken, is under a delusion. If I err not, it is very possible that that man has received a draught of the opium of hell. Satan has said to him, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace, and he is going undisturbed and quiet down to the place where he shall lift up his eyes and discover too late his error. The peace of a Christian is not such a lull of stupefaction as that. It has a reason; it has some ground-work; and when you come to pull it to pieces, it is as completely a logical inference from certain facts as any deduction that could be drawn by mathematical precision. Let me, however, bring up a few more who think they have peace, but they build their supposition on wrong grounds. Here is a man who very flippantly and joyously says, “Peace with God, sir! Yes— peace with God; I enjoy the unbroken satisfaction that I have made my peace with him.” “Well, how?” “Why, you see, some years ago I never went to a place of worship on Sunday at all, and I felt one day that I was doing wrong. Here was I going to the theatre most nights, and I was doing my trade in a very bad way, and now and then I took too much drink, and I was doing a great many things that were wrong, and I thought it was time for me to turn over a new leaf, and I have done so. Now I generally go to a place of worship twice on the Sabbath-day. I may now and then indulge myself— well, who is there that never does anything wrong?—but still there is very great amendment in me. If you ask my wife, she sees a wonderful change; and if you ask my workpeople people, they will say I am a different man from what I used to be. Now, I think I am not like the man you brought up just now, with no ground for his peace. I think I have a very good ground for mine, for I am deserving very well of my Maker now. I feel now, if I go to a place of amusement where I ought not, I cannot pray that night ; but the next night I try over again, and manage to get through my form of prayer, and on the whole I am doing so well that I think I may say I have a good bottom and ground for saying that I am at peace with God ” Now, let this man be reminded that it is written, “ By the works of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” All these moral things of which he has spoken are good enough in themselves. They will be very excellent in the temple of Christianity if they be placed at the top; but, if they be used as foundations, a builder might as well use tiles, and slates, and chimney-pots for foundations and corner-stones, as use these reformatory actions as a ground of dependence. Man! do you not perceive that your foundation is not an even and secure one? For what about the past? What is to become of the sins already committed? How are you to get rid of these? Do you suppose that the payment of future debts will discharge old liabilities? Go to your tradesman, and tell him that you owe him a very great sum of money, and you cannot pay him a farthing of it, but you do not expect he will sue you in the court, for you never intend to get into his debt any more. I think he will tell you that is not a method of business he understands. Certainly this is not the way in which God will deal with you. Your old sins! your old sins! your old sins! What about those? Those debts unpaid! those crimes as yet unburied! Let your conscience give them a resurrection in your memory to-night. What about these? Surely you can have no peace with God while these remain unforgiven! Besides, you have an inward conviction that you have not peace with God, but only peace with yourself. You do feel a little better sometimes, but it is a very poor sort of confidence that you have, for a little sickness shakes it. How would you do to die now? Would you wrap yourself up in these miserable rags of yours, and say, “Lord, thou knowest I have sinned, but then I have done my best to make up for it.” You know and feel that this bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it, and this coverlet too narrow that a man should be able to wrap himself up in it. Renounce this confidence, for it is one that will never stand before God. To instance yet another case, in which I tread on more delicate ground. Beloved, there are some who have peace which they explain to you in such a way, that while I trust they have a peace with God, I fear they misunderstand the ground of it. Some true Christians will talk to you on this wise—“ I hope I am at peace with God now, for my faith is in active exercise; my love is fervent ; I have delightful seasons in prayer; the eyes of my hope are no longer dim; my patience can endure many things for Christ ; my courage did not fail me yesterday in the midst of Christ’s enemies ; my graces are vigorous ; the Spirit of God has been blowing across my soul as over a garden, and all the graces, like flowers, have yielded their best perfume, therefore I feel that I have peace with God.” Oh, believer, believer! art thou so foolish as, having begun in the Spirit by faith, to be made perfect in the flesh by your own doing? Remember, if thou hast peace, if thou pattest thy peace here upon thy graces, then there will come another day— perhaps it may come to-morrow— when all those graces will droop like withered flowers, yielding no perfume ; when, instead of beauty there shall be baldness, instead of ornament there shall be decay ; when thou shalt see thyself in thy true natural colours, and discover thyself, like Job, and cry out as he did, “ Lord, I am vile !” What wilt thou do then with thy peace? Why, if thou hast begun to look to. thy graces in any way for peace, then thou art looking to a fickle source; thou art going to the cistern instead of living by the fountain; thou art using Hagar’s bottle, instead of sitting like Isaac at the well to drink from never-ceasing streams. Yet this is an evil into which we are so apt to fall after having done well for the Master and being helped to serve him. It is true we do not trust in these things. I hope God has delivered us from self-righteousness; yet there is just that “Now must I be a child of God— now must I truly be an heir of heaven, for see how I have been sanctified; mark how I have been edified and built up in the faith.” Ah, brother! there is the cloven foot there! Be thou on thy guard, it is an unclean thing; it will bring thee into pain and bondage; it will make thee sick, and put thy feet in the stocks, and thrust thee into the inner dungeon ere long. Flee from it as thou wouldest from a serpent. Stand thou ever under the dear cross of Christ, looking up to his wounds, rejoicing in his all-sufficiency, and building your peace there and there alone.

     I fear me, too, that there are not a few who I trust have genuine peace, but who, nevertheless, are tempted to found their confidence upon their enjoyments. We have our enjoyments—God be thanked for this. Oh, there are times when our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We have not been into heaven, but we have heard some of the songs of the angels on the other side the pearly gates, or, if not the songs, we have heard the echo of them in our hearts. When we have been in prayer, our soul has been like the chariots of Amminadib, swift and strong. We have had our seasons, as it were, of witnessing the transfiguration; we can remember Tabor's mount; well can we remember the hill Mizar and the Hermonites, for there he spake with us; we have had our experience of Jacob’s dream, as well as our fellowship with Jacob’s wrestling ; we have seen the Lord, and by faith have put our finger into the print of the nails, and thrust our hand into his side. He has kissed us with the kisses of his love, and his love is better than wine. But the tendency is to say, “Now I have peace with God; now must I be reconciled to him; now will I press out the wine of comfort from these grapes.” If we do this, let us remember that perhaps tomorrow we may be in Gethsemane; we may have our times of agonizing and fruitless prayer ; we may be in the valley of despondency, or in the blacker valley of the shadow of death—no present joys, no promises applied with power, no whispers of Christ's ’s love, no sweets of his covenant, no delighting ourselves in the Lord—all may be dark and dreary ; well, what then? Ah, my brethren, we shall find ourselves weak, because we have taken our comforts to be the basis of our peace, instead of continuing still to look solely and only to Christ. Let me warn you, beloved, though this may not seem a case as dangerous as some others, yet let me warn you that it is essential to our comfort, that we should stand to this and to this only—being justified by faith we have peace with God. Our peace is solely the result of a justification achieved through faith, and not the result of enjoyments, nor of graces much less of good works, or of any foolish irrational impression which we may think we have been favoured with.

     Where then does lie the Christian’s conviction of his peace with God! Well it lies in this—that he is justified by faith. The process is plain. It is as clear, I say, as a proposition in Euclid. Christ stood in my stead before God. 1 was a sinner doomed to die; Christ took my place; he died for me. Well, then, how can I perish? How can I be punished for offences which have been punished already in the person of my substitute? God demands of me perfectly to keep his law. I cannot do it. Christ has done it for me—kept the law, magnified it, made it honourable. What more can God demand of me? I, a sinner, am washed in Jesu’s blood. I, guilty, am clothed in Jesu’s righteousness. You say “How? I cannot see it is so.” True, it is so by faith. God says that he who believes in Christ shall be saved—I believe in Christ; therefore I am saved. He says, “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” I believe on him; therefore I am not condemned. This is clear reasoning enough. Very well then, the man who has believed in Christ has his sins forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ imputed to Him, and therefore he is at peace with God. Now this is reasoning which no logic can gainsay. There is a rebel—first he is pardoned, next merit is imputed to him, and he is at peace with his King, and a rebel no longer. There is a child; he has offended; his father takes him, accepts him for his elder brother’s sake, and he is at peace with his father. The thing is clear enough. Here is a reason for the hope that is within us, which we may give with meekness and fear, it is true, never with diffidence and timidity. We may venture to give it in the presence of the old dragon and defy him to break its force. We might give it even in the midst of a congregation of assembled demons, and defy them, if they can, to break its power. We may give it in the presence of the Eternal God, for he will never gainsay the word on which he has caused us to hope. “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” It stands for ever. Stand here, and you stand so fast that no howling tempest of temptation can sweep you down. Stand to this, that Christ has finished your salvation for you, that he has done everything that omnipotent justice can ask; he has endured all the penalty, drained the cup of wrath, obeyed the law completely, given to divine equity all it can demand, and therefore, believing in his name, standing in his righteousness, accepted in his suretyship, you must have peace with God. This is the basis of the Christian’s peace—one on which he may sleep or wake, live or die, and live eternally, without condemnation or separation from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus the Lord.  

     Continuing our remarks on this subject, we shall now turn your attention to the channel of this peace. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

     Take it for a certain fact, then, that we are justified as the result of what Christ has done for us, seeing that he “was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification;” and the experience thereof, in so far as we have assurance of our being personally justified is the result of our trusting Christ. What then? How are we to enjoy the comfort of it? for there are times when we begin to doubt whether we are justified. Brethren, we must not come to our faith to get comfort, but to the primary cause of our justification. The channel through which the comfort comes is Jesus Christ. So then, though justification by faith is in itself a well of comfort, yet, even from that well we cannot get it, except we use Christ, who digged the well, to be the bucket to draw the water up from its depths. It must come through Christ. I will suppose, then, that I am in doubt and fear to-night, and want to get my peace restored— how shall I seek it? Through Jesus Christ, the surety and substitute himself, must I get it. How? First, by believing in Christ over again, just as I did at the first. Christ tells me that he came to save sinners, I am a sinner, therefore he came to save me. He says he can save me. This looks reasonable. He is very God; he is perfect man; he has suffered and offered a complete atonement. He tells me he is willing to save me. This also appears reasonable, for why else should he die, if he did not wish to save? Then he tells me if I will trust him, he will save me. I trust him, and I have not the shadow of a shade of a suspicion of doubt that he will be as good as his word. If he be faithful and just—of which, who dare to breathe a suspicion?—this soul of mine in heaven must be; it is committed to the Redeemer’s charge with every pledge that God can give, with more security than we could ever ask, in him, I trust— in Jesus, and in Jesus only. Brother, this is how you must get your peace with God to-night— -through Jesus Christ, by going to him, by a simple faith, just as you went at the first. Some silly people who have got high doctrine in their heads, so high that it smells offensive in the nostrils of those who read the scriptures— they say we teach that man is saved by mere believing. We do— by mere believing. There is a poor, starving man over there. I give him bread— his life is spared. Why do not these people say this man was saved by mere eating— by mere eating! And here is another person whose tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth by thirst and is ready to die, and I give him water and he drinks, and his eyes sparkle, and the man is saved by mere drinking. And look at ourselves—why do not we drop down dead in our pews? Just stop your breath a little while and see. Surely we all live by mere breathing. All these operations of nature that touch the vital mysteries may be sneered at as merely this or merely that; and in like manner to speak with disparagement of “mere believing” is stupid nonsense. And yet, let me say it in my sense of the term— we are saved, we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ by mere believing, by the simple act of trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. And if I would get my peace made more full and perfect, having come to Christ by faith, I must continue to get peace from him by meditation upon him, for the more I go to Christ believingly, the deeper will my peace be. If I believe in Christ, and do not know much of him, my faith will necessarily be somewhat slender, but if I continue “to comprehend with all saints what are the heights and depths, and lengths and breadths, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” then my little faith will become strong faith; the bruised reed shall become a cedar, and the smoking flax shall become a beacon flaming to the very skies. I must take care above all that I cultivate communion with Christ, for though that can never be the basis of my peace— mark that— yet it will be the channel of it. If I live near to Christ, I shall not know fear. What sheep is afraid of the wolf when it is close to the shepherd’s hand? What child fears when it hangs upon its mother’s breast? Who should know fear when he is covered with the eternal wings, and underneath him are the everlasting arms? “While his left-hand is under my head, and his right-hand doth embrace me.” I cannot but be at peace, and that peace, if my communion is continued, will be like a river, deep and broad, my righteousness being like the waves of the sea. It is Christ, the substance of my salvation; Christ, the sum of all my hope; Christ who performeth all things for me, and Christ made of God all things to me. As Christ was the first means of giving us peace, so he must still be the golden conduit through which all peace with God must flow to our believing hearts, and that through the act of merely believing, or merely trusting in him. By looking to him I drew all the faith which inspired me with confidence in his grace. And the word that first drew my soul— “Look unto me”—still rings its clarion note in my ears. There I once found conversion, and there I shall often find refreshing and renewal. 

     Having thus glanced at the basis of our peace, and the channel through which it flows, let us pass on to notice its certainty. I like to read these rolling sentences of Paul, without an “if” or a but” in them— “Therefore, being justified, we have peace with God.” He talks as logically as if he were a mathematician, and as positively as though he could see the thing written before his eyes. Oh, how different is this from the way in which some talk—“I hope," “I trust,” 'I sometimes hope my poor soul may have peace with God.” Now where this language is genuine it deserves sympathy, but I believe in many cases it is can’t. There is a certain class of professors who think strong faith is pride, and doubts and fears are humility; therefore they look upon these base-born thorns as though they were choice flowers, and they will cull them together like a bouquet of nettles and noxious weeds— a fool's ’s nosegay. Have you never seen it in the Magazine? I have observed – served it not unfrequently. Or they will dig up a nasty ugly thorn, put it in a flower-pot, place it in an ornamental situation, display it outside the window, and call you all to admire it, as being a special, a wonderful piece of Christian experience. Well, one likes to see a thorn when it is developed to the highest degree, but as soon as seen, one likes to see it burnt ; and so with these doubts and fears ; it is very well for us to know how far doubting and fearing may go, but we think we would like to have them plucked up by the roots and destroyed as soon as possible. Let those who are the subjects of these doubts be sympathized and cheered, but let their doubts and fears be rooted out utterly. 0 Christian man, it is not impudence, it is not presumption to believe what God tells you. If he says “You are justified,” do not say “I hope I am.” If I should say to some poor man—one terribly poor—“I will pay your rent for you to-morrow,” and he should say, “Well, well, I hope you will,” I should not feel best pleased with him. If you should say to your child to-morrow morning, “Well, William, I shall buy you a new suit of clothes to-day,” and he should say, “ Well, father, I sometimes hope you will, I humbly trust, I hope I may say, though I sometimes doubt and fear, yet I hope I may say I believe you,” you would not encourage such a child as that in his uncomely comely suspicions. Why should we talk thus to our dear Father who is in heaven? He says to us, “I give unto you eternal life and ye shall never perish, neither shall any pluck you out of my hand.” Is it humility for us to reply, “Father, I do not believe you, I cannot think it is possible?” Oh, no; that is true humility which sits at the feet of the Promiser because it is humble; looks up into the face of the Promiser because it is trustful, and doats on the word of the promise, because it is sincere. He will perform it. Avaunt, ye fiends that make me doubt! His honour is engaged to the carrying out of his covenant; he will perform it. He says by faith in Christ I am justified; therefore I say, I am justified and have peace with God, nor shall anyone stop me of this glory—I have peace with God through Jesus Christ. I should like to hear you all talking in this way and getting rid of that old Babylonish jargon of “ifs” and “buts,” and doubts and fears, fully persuaded that what he hath promised he will fulfil, as those who do believe what God has said, just because he has said it. Here is the certainty of justification by faith.

     And now, as to the effect produced. When a man can say he has peace with God— what then? Why, the first effect is joy. Who can be at peace with God and have him for a Father, and yet be miserable? I think I told you one night that, years ago I was waited upon by a woman who wished to convert me to a novel sect that had come up with a false prophet at its head. She talked much and talked long, and talked all to no purpose; but at last I told her I thought it best that she should tell me her way in which she wished to be saved, on condition that she would let me tell her mine. I need not tell you what she said, but I said, “ This is how I hope to be saved: it is said in God's ’s Word, ' This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners ;’ and it is also written, ‘he that believeth on him shall be saved.’ Now, I do trust in him, and I believe that therefore I shall be saved; nay, more, I am saved; my sins are all forgiven. A perfect righteousness, namely, that of Christ, is cast about me, and I am so saved to-day, that nothing by any possibility shall ever destroy me. I am saved for ever.” The woman said, “If I believed that that were true, I would very gladly give up my faith for anything so bright as that. But you,” she said, “you ought to be the happiest man in the world.” And I said, “I thank you for that word, and so will I be, God helping me, for I ought to be; I have the utmost cause.” And so should every believer feel he ought to be, because this great salvation, this solid hope, this rocky foundation for our everlasting lasting peace should give us quiet, and calm, and security, till our joy should overflow and become an anticipation and an antepast of the joy of heaven. This peace should give the believer, beyond and in addition to his joy, a calm resignation, nay, a delightful acquiescence in his Father's ’s will. Now smite me if thou wilt, my Father, for I am thy friend and thou art mine ; now send the flame, for it shall only chasten, but cannot kill; now take away my goods, for thou art my all and I cannot lose thee; now let the floods of trouble come, for thou art my ark, and though the floods come around me higher and higher, still I shall abide in thee, secure from reach of harm, whilst thou dost shut me in! Thus with calm composure the believer walks along over life's hills and dales, and when he comes to the valley of the shadow of death he fears no evil, for his God is with him, his rod and his staff do comfort him. What fear is there to the man that is at peace with God? Life?— God provides for it. Death?— Christ hath destroyed it. The Grave?— Christ hath rolled away the stone and broken the seal. Affliction, tribulation, famine, peril, or the sword? “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that hath loved us.” To have peace with God, beloved, I cannot tell you what innumerable streams of good shall flow to you from this ocean of pleasure, and these rivers of delight. I have but skimmed over one of these placid streams; there are hundreds of blessed practical results that are sure to follow from a certain conviction of our peace with God through Jesus Christ.

     II. In drawing to a close, I want to address myself to THREE CHARACTERS THAT I HAVE NO DOUBT ARE REPRESENTED HERE IN THIS LARGE CONGREGATION.

     There is a man here to-night—I know he is here, though I do not know his name—a man who many years ago was a professor of religion. He has never been easy in his conscience since he forsook the ways of God. There has been some trembling hope sometimes in him that there was a little life not quite extinct, and since he has come in hither, he feels quite like a stranger in the House of Prayer where once faces were so familiar, and there is perhaps a groaning in his spirit as he says, “ 0 that I knew the way of peace, and the sense of peace for which in happier days I once enquired. I have lost my roll, if I ever had it; I have lost my character, and with my character my faith, and with my faith my hope. Can I ever be at peace with God?” Backslider, if thou ever hast been called by grace, let me ask thee this question. Dost thou remember the time when thou hadst a hope? Say, does not memory revive before thee that time, when on thy knees in agony thou didst cry unto him that heareth prayer, and the mercy came, and thy spirit rejoiced in pardon bought with blood? Man, thou dost remember it. The tear is on thy cheek now. Thou wast not a hypocrite—let us hope that it was not all hypocrisy—not all a lie and a delusion. You did feel then that Christ could save, and you did trust yourself with him. Now then, man, do the same to-night, and the dew of thy youth is restored unto thee. Thy leprosy is white upon thy brow, but wash thee in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again unto thee, even as a little child. Jehovah seeks thee. He cries unto thee to-night, and by the lips of his ambassador says, “Return, 0 backsliding children, return unto me for I am married unto you saith the Lord. Ye have wearied me with your sins, ye have made me to serve with your iniquities, but I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for my name’s sake, and will not remember thy sins.”

“To thy Father's ’s bosom press’d,

Once again a child confess’d,

From his house no more to roam ;

Come and welcome, sinner come.”

     “Oh! but I have forsaken him.” Lay aside thy “buts” and “ifs.” He bids thee come. Avaunt, ye doubts and fears, and black despairing thoughts. The sinner comes, and Jesus meets him. There is the kiss of his love. “Take off his rags, clothe him, put shoes upon his feet, bring forth the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry, for this my son which was dead is alive again, he was lost and is found. 0, I would I could persuade thee—though thou art growing old now—I wish I could persuade thee to fling thyself at the foot of his dear cross again! His hands are still nailed—he has not moved them yet; his feet are still fast—he has not stirred from the place where he waits for thee; his arms still open wide. O believe him! He is love still, and the blood is mighty still, and the plea in heaven is all-prevailing still. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved.” Then I wanted to have said a word to some here who are not backsliders exactly, but they have lost their peace for a little time. Many young Christians are subject to these little fits, in which their evidence gets dark and they lose their peace. I have no need to say more to you, brother and sister, while you are walking in darkness and see no light. “Let him trust,” is a prophetic admonition—it shall be mine to-night. When you cannot see a single reason why you should be saved, except that God says you shall, let that be enough for you. When you have nothing here or there, and nothing anywhere to look to; when there is no hope * e for you except in that Man whose wounds are bleeding, always think that enough, and come to Christ just as you came at first. I find it very convenient to come every day to Christ as a sinner—as I came at first. “You are no saint,” says the devil. Well, if I am not, I am a sinner, and Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Sink or swim, there I go—other hope I have none.

"And when thine eye of faith is dim,

Still trust in Jesus, sink or swim;

And at his footstool bow thy knee,

For Israel's ’s God thy peace shall be.”

On Christ with all my weight I lean; and, as I throw myself upon my bed to sleep, so on Christ will I stretch myself full length to rest, for he is able and he is willing; and if he can fail, then he fails me and fails all his Church; but if he cannot, then I shall see his face in glory everlasting.

     By your leave, I must have two or three words with those who never had peace. They shall be brief. I have no doubt I address many here who never had faith, and you are wanting to get it. I ask you, first of all, not to seek peace at all as the first object ; for, if you want peace before you get grace, you want the flower before you get the root, and you will be apt to be like little children who, when they have a piece of garden given them, will go and pluck up the flowers out of their father's ’s bed, and put the flowers into their own ground, and then say, “What a nice garden I have got !” But to their dismay, on the morrow all is withered. Better put the roots in and wait a week or two till they sprout, and then the flowers will be living ones, not borrowed ones. Do not seek after peace first. Seek after Christ first. Peace will come next. Still, I pray you, do not think that peace is a qualification for grace. If you fancy this, you will be in error indeed. You are to come to Christ as Nicodemus did, by night, that is, in the night of your ignorance, in the night of your fear and trouble; you must come just as you are, bringing nothing to Christ, but coming empty-handed. No money, no price, no fee, “nothing to pay.” He asks of you but that you would take all gratis from his liberal hand. And will you please to remember, that if you put your eye on anything thing but Christ, or anything with Christ, so as to disturb your whole thought and attention from being directed exclusively to him, then peace will be an impossibility to you. If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light; but if ye mix another trust, and so your eye be evil, your whole body will be lull of darkness. Do not trust your repentance, do not trust your faith, do not rely upon your feelings, do not depend upon your knowledge; above all, do not depend upon your sense of need  , do not come to Christ as a sensible sinner, do not come trusting Christ, feeling that you are a man who has a right to come, that you answer to a certain character chat may come ; but come because you are a sinner , because you have nothing to recommend you, because, if God should search you through and through, he could not find a point in you, a spot in you large enough to put the point of a pin upon that which was good. Come because you are vile, to be pardoned; come, because you are black, to be washed; come, because you are penniless, to be made rich; but look for nothing else save in Christ. Write this for thy motto—“None but Jesus.” Oh, men and brethren, if those Israelites of old, who were inside their houses that night, had gone outside to the lintel of their door-post, and said, “ Now here is this lintel made of very common wood ; we will paint and grain it;” and if they had then gone inside, and trusted to the painting and graining of the lintel, the destroying angel would have found them out and destroyed them. If, again, they had said, “ We will write up our name over the door—it is a respectable name; we will record the list of our charities and good works over the door,” the plague-angel would have smitten through the whole, and there would have been a wailing through the house as through the houses of the Egyptians. But what did they do? They took the blood; they marked the lintel and the two side posts, and smeared them with a crimsoned stain. Then in they went, and sat contentedly down, or stood at least in peace, and ate the passover with joy; and, while the shrieks of Egypt went up in the cold midnight air, the sons of Israel went up also into heaven, for the angel of death, when he spread his wings on the blast, had seen the blood, and by that mark he knew that he must pass by that habitation, and smite none that were there. The word of the Lord was not “When I see your faith,” but “when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” Oh, soul, if thou trustest Christ the blood is on thy brow to-night, before the eye of God no condemnation. Why, then, needest thou to fear? Thou art safe, for the blood secures every soul that once is sheltered thereby. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and if thou believest not, trust where thou mayest, thou shalt be damned. God help thee to believe in Christ for his name's ’s sake. Amen.



The Clean and the Unclean

By / Jun 22

The Clean and the Unclean

 

"Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat."—Leviticus 11:2-3

 

     The Mosaic law attached great importance to meats and drinks: the Christian religion attaches none. The apostle Peter was shown by the vision of a sheet let down from heaven, not only that all nations were now to receive the gospel message, but that all kinds of food were now clean, and that all the prohibitions which had formerly been laid upon them for legal purposes were now once for all withdrawn. A Christian may, if he pleases, put himself under restrictions as to these matters. You will remember that the apostle Paul says, "I know and am persuaded of the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself, but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." I wot our apostle was tender of weak consciences; but he could expostulate with the brethren somewhat thus, "If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye dogmatize—touch not this, taste not that, handle not the other—and all about things which perish with the using?" The doctrine of the New Testament is expressly laid down, "Every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving." And as for the practice enjoined upon believers, "All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient." In the example of Paul we have full liberty; he would put no embargo upon the conscience. But in his example we have also fervent charity; he would put no stumbling-block in his brother's way. "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth." The levitical law enjoined many precepts as to meats and drinks; but those carnal ordinances were imposed until the time of reformation. Since then, this Mosaic institution was not designed to be perpetual, we feel certain that it must have had some use at the time when it was first established, and during the time in which it was sustained. As that was peculiarly a typical dispensation, we feel persuaded that we shall not exaggerate the uses of the text if we show that there was something instructive to us and something typical of the better covenant in the command that the people were to eat no creatures but those which divided the hoof and those which chewed the cud.

     I. It is our firm belief that these distinctions of meats were laid down on purpose TO KEEP THE JEWS AS A DISTINCT PEOPLE, and that herein they might be a type of the people of God, who are also, throughout all ages, to be a distinct and separate people—not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world.

     You that are conversant with the old Levitical rule, well know that it was quite impossible for the Hebrews to mix with any other nation, without violating the statutes they were commanded to keep. Their food was so restricted that they could not possibly enter into social intercourse with any of the neighboring peoples. The Canaanites, for instance, ate everything, even the flesh that had been torn by dogs, and the dogs themselves. Now, a Jew could never sit at a Canaanites table, because he could never be sure that there would not be the flesh of some unclean and accursed thing upon it. The Jews could not even eat with the Arabs, who were near akin to them, for they frequently partook of the flesh of the camels, the hare, and the coney, all which, as we shall see presently, were forbidden to the Jew. The Arabs on the south, and the Canaanitish nations all round Palestine, were the most likely people with whom the Jews would associate, and this command about what they should and should not eat prevented them for ever from mingling with these people, and made them a distinct and isolated republic so long as they were obedient to the law. We are told by Eastern travellers that the Mohammedan regulations, which are far less strict than those of the Jew, prevent their becoming socially intermingled either with the idolaters or with Christians. It is a well-known fact that no people that have prescriptions about meats and drinks have ever changed their religion to that of another people, because the familiarity which seems necessary in order to proselyte is quite prevented by the barrier that precludes from intercourse at the table. It is at the social table men enjoy the most genial intercourse; it is there they pour out their souls with the least reserve, and mix their thoughts one with another in the greatest freedom of conversation. Check them there; prevent their sitting at the same board, and there is no likelihood that they will ever blend or intermingle in any kind of affinity, the races must be distinct. I believe, dear friends, though I have been somewhat prosy in explaining myself, that it was God's real intention, to keep the children of Israel, until the coming of Christ, separate from all the nations that were upon the face of the earth. They could not join in the worship of other nations, for other nations sacrificed to their gods the very animals which to the Jew were unclean. They could not join in social intercourse, as we have already seen; and hence marriage with any other nation would be, not only, as it was, prohibited by the law, but would be actually prevented by the possibilities of the case. It must in each instance put the transgressor beyond the pale of his own tribe. They would remain as much a distinct people, as if a great wall of brass had been built all around them, or as if they had been transported to some island, and an impassable gulf had been put between them and any other kindred upon earth. They were separated for ever. Now friends, you will say, "What is the use of this to us?" I answer, it is the earthly type of a heavenly mystery. When the Jews were put away as the people of God for a time, then the Gentiles were grafted into their olive, and though we did not inherit the ceremonies, we did inherit all the privileges to which those ceremonies point. Thus all of you who name the name of Christ and are truly what you profess to be, are solemnly bound to be for ever separated from the world. Not that you are to leave off your daily intercourse with men. Our Savior did not do so. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Yet, you know, he was always in the company of sinners, sitting at their table, seeking their good, and hunting after their souls. He was with them, but he was never of them; he was among them, but always distinct and separate from them; not conforming himself to them, but transforming them to himself. He hath set us an example. It is not the seclusion of a hermit, nor the exclusion of yourselves in a monastery, where you would be of no service to your fellow-men, but it is a higher and more spiritual separation which I claim of Christians to-night. You are to be in the world, and among the world, you are to mingle with all sorts and conditions of men, but still to maintain the dignity of your newborn character, and to let men see that you are among them as a speckled bird, as a light in the midst of darkness, as salt scattered over putridity, as heavenly angels in the midst of fallen men. So are ye to be a distinct people, a chosen generation.

     But you will ask of me in what respects are you to be distinguished? In a pure consistency always, in a vain eccentricity never. This shall be my first reply. Not in your garments, my brethren. All those inventions of broad-brimmed hats, and coats without collars, perish in the using. Let your dress be, nevertheless, so distinguished from that of some other men, that there shall be none of the pride and foppery in which they delight. The Apostle Peter has well laid down the regulations by which our sisters in Christ are to adorn themselves, but I need not mention what you know so well and practice so little—that chaste and becoming neatness which is always right in the sight of God, and beautiful in the assembly of Christians. Not by any peculiar jargon in your speech are you to be known. For my part I abhor in any man that sanctimonious tone and sacred whine which many affect; even in the pulpit I despise it. I believe that the reason why the pulpit has lost so much of its former power is because men must needs mouth our blessed Saxon tongue, and talk as if everything natural were to be eschewed there, and men, metamorphosed into ministers, were to be as unnatural and grotesque in their modes of speech as possible. No, not these, not these; all such artificial separations we leave to the people whose vanity feeds on its own conceit. Nor need you make any straining effort to be distinguished by any stiff buckram of your own; do not try to make yourself look like a Christian. True Christians can do a great many things that sham Christians must not do. As for me, I am never afraid to laugh, for I shall never crack the paint on my face, laugh as I may. A sincere man may do a great many things that a hypocrite dare not do, for he will split the garments of his hypocrisy if he ventures to run as a Christian may. Heavenly realities within do not always need to be plastered up and labelled outside, so that everybody may see and recognize you, and say, "There goes a saint." There are other modes of being distinguished from the world than any of these.

     What are they then? Well, brethren, we ought ever to be distinguished from the world in the great object of our life. As for worldly men, some of them are seeking wealth, others of them fame; some seek after comfort, others after pleasure. Subordinately you may seek after any of these, but your main and principal motive as a Christian should always be to live for Christ. To live for glory? Yes, but for his glory. To live for comfort? Yes, but be all your consolation in him. To live for pleasure? Yes, but when you are merry, sing psalms, and make melody in your hearts to the Lord. To live for wealth? Yes, but to be rich in faith. You may lay up treasure; but lay it up in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, where thieves break not through nor steal. It is thought, you know, that ministers do live for God; merchants should do the same. I would, my brethren, that you would trade, and do your merchandise for his service; or do ye plough, and sow, and reap, and mow, do it for Christ! Would God you could do this quite as much in his service, as we do ours, when we preach for Christ! You can make the commonest calling become really sacred. You may take the highest orders by dedicating your daily life wholly to the service of Jesus. There is such a thing—and let those that deny the possibility stand self-convicted that they obey not the precept—"Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

     By your spirit as well as your aim you should likewise be distinguished. The spirit of this world is often selfish; it is always a spirit that forgets God, that ignores the existence of a Creator in his own world, the land which he makes fat by his own bounty. Men with God's breath in their nostrils forget him who makes them live. Now, your spirit should be one of unselfish devotion, a spirit always conscious of his presence, bowed down with the weight, or raised up with the cheer of Hagar's exclamation—"Thou God seeest me;" a spirit which watcheth humbly before God, and seeketh to know his will and to do it through the grace of God given to you. Such a spirit as this, without the drab of one sect, or the phylacteries of another, will soon make you quite as distinct from your fellow men as ever meats and drinks could make the Jews a separate people.

     Your maxims too, and the rules which regulate you, should be very different from those of others. The world says "Well, it is usual in the trade; there is no use in being over scrupulous; we must not be too Puritanic, or too severe; we shall never get on if we are picking at this and frowning at that." A Christian never considers what is usual, but what is right; he does not estimate a wrong by its commonness; he counts that a fraud, and a falsehood will be as much fraud and falsehood, though all the world shall agree to practice it, as though but one man should do it in the dark. The believer reads things, not in man's light, in the obscurity of which so many blind bats are willing to fly, but he reads things in the sunlight of heaven. If a thing be right, though he lose by it, it is done; if it be wrong, though he should become as rich as Croesus by allowing it, he scorns the sin for his Master's sake. We want our merchants on the Exchange, our traders in their shops, and our artisans in their factories; yea, and we want all masters, employers, and overseers too, to be distinguished, as the clean from the unclean, in the maxims that govern their daily life, and thus manifestly separate from the world.

     This will naturally lead to the next point—the Christian should be separate in his actions. I would not give much for your religion unless it can be seen. I know some people's religion is heard of, but give me the man whose religion is seen. Lamps do not talk, but shine; a lighthouse sounds no drum, it beats no gong, and yet far over the waters its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your religion. Let your conduct talk out your soul. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by all your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious. Have I not told you before that the only bit of ecclesiastical history we have in the whole New Testament is—what? The sermons of the Apostles? No, no, the "Acts of the Apostles." So let your history be written, so that it may have this title—"The acts of such-and-such a man." This will furnish the best proof that you have been with Jesus.

     A Christian is distinguished by his conversation. He will often trim a sentence where others would have made it far more luxuriant by a jest which was not altogether clean. Following Herbert's advice—"He pares his apple—he would cleanly feed." If he would have a jest, he picks the mirth but leaves the sin; his conversation is not used to levity; it is not mere froth, but it ministereth grace unto the hearers. He has learned where the salt-box is kept in God's great house, and so his speech is always seasoned with it, so that it may do no hurt but much good. Oh! commend me to the man who talks like Jesus, who will not for the world suffer corrupt communications to come out of his mouth. I know what people will say of you if you are like this: they will say you are straight-laced, and that you will not throw much life into company. Others will call you mean-spirited. Oh, my brethren! bold-hearted men are always called mean-spirited by cowards. They will admonish you not to be singular, but you can tell them that it is no folly to be singular, when to be singular is to be right. I know they will say you deny yourselves a great deal, but you will remind them that it is no denial to you. Sheep do not eat carrion, but I do not know that sheep think it a hardship to turn away from the foul feast. Eagles do not prefer to float on the sea, but I do not read that eagles think it a denial when they can soar in higher atmosphere. Do not talk of self-denial. You have other ends and other aims; you have welds of comfort that such men know not of. It would be a shame for you to be eating husks with swine, when your Father's table is loaded with dainties. I trust, my dear brethren, that you know the value of the gold of heaven too well to pawn it away for the counterfeits of earth. "Come ye out from among them; be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing." By a holiness which merely moral men cannot equal, stand as on a pedestal aloft above the world. Thus men may know you to be of the seed of Jesus, even as they knew the Jew to be the seed of Israel.

     How shall I urge you to give more earnest heed to this holy separation? Let me add the voice of warning to that of entreaty. If we do not see to this matter we shall bring sorrow on our own souls; we shall lose all hope of honoring Christ, and we shall sooner or later bring a great disaster on the world. You know the world is always trying to nationalize the Church. What a mercy it is that there are some who will not have it! If you could once make the Church and the nation one, what would follow? It must be destroyed; it must fall. It was when the church and the world became one in Noah's day that the Lord sent the flood to destroy all people. No, the proper position of a Christian is not with the world, even in its best state and its most exalted condition. We are to be separated from this present evil world according to the will of God. Our position to-day is as much as in Christ's day, outside the camp, not in it; we are still to be protesters, still to be testifiers against the world. "Ye are of God, little children, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one." Scripture never supposes that the world will get better till the coming of Christ. It does not propose to lift the world up and marry it with the Church. It always supposes the Church to be as an alien and a stranger here until Christ, her husband shall come. On which side will you rank? Truce there cannot be, links between the two there must not be. God and mammon cannot go together. For which will you be—for God—for truth—for right? Or for Satan—for the lie—for the wrong? Which shall it be? May the Spirit of God whisper in your heart to-night, and say, "Believe thou in Christ Jesus; take up thy cross and follow him, and be enlisted on his side henceforth and for ever."

     II. We have now a second and an important matter to bring forward. The distinction drawn between clean and unclean animals was, we think, intended by God TO KEEP HIS PEOPLE ALWAYS CONSCIOUS THAT THEY WERE IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF SIN.

     Just let me picture it. I have caught the idea from Mr. Bonar, though I fear I cannot paint it in words so well as he has done. An oriental Jew, sensible and intelligent, walks out in the fields. He walks along close by the side of the high-road, and what should he see but a string of camels going along? "Ah!" he says to himself "those are unclean animals." Sin, you see, is brought at once before his mind's eye. He turns away from the road and walks down one of his own fields, and as he goes along a hare starts across his path. "Ah!" says he, "an unclean animal again; there is sin in my path." He gets into a more retired place, he walks on the mountains; surely he shall be alone there. But he sees a coney burrowing among the rocks; "Ah!" says he, "unclean; there is sin there!" He lifts his eye up to heaven; he sees the osprey, the bald eagle, flying along through the air, and he says, "Ah! there is an emblem of sin there!" A dragon-fly has just flitted by him—there is sin there. There are insects among the flowers; now every creeping thing, and every insect, except the locust, was unclean to the Jew. Everywhere he would come in contact with some creature that would render him ceremonially unclean, and it were impossible for him, unless he were brutish, to remain even for ten minutes abroad without being reminded that this world, however beautiful it is, still has sin in it. Even the fish, in sea, or river, or inland lake, had their divisions; those that had no scales or fins were unclean to the Jew, so the little Hebrew boys could not even fish for minnows in the brook but they would know that the minnow was unclean, and so their young hearts were made to dread little wrongs and little sins, for there were little sins in the little pools even as there were leviathan sins floating in the deep and nude sea. Ah! friends, we want to have this more before our minds. Look at the fairest landscape that your eye has ever beheld; see the towering Alp, the green valley, and the silver stream

 

"These are thy glorious works, Parent of good,

Almighty,"

 

but the slime of the serpent is on them all,

 

"Keep me, O, keep me King of kings,

Beneath the shadow of thy wings."

 

     When I walk abroad in this temple of nature, and seek to behold nature's God, I may not light upon a spot in the universe where the curse of sin has never inflicted a blight, or where the hope of redemption should not inspire a prayer. Sometimes, brethren you get all alone and quiet, but do not imagine that you are even there free from sin. As the most beautiful landscape, so the sweetest retirement cannot shut out uncleanness. As the fly or the insect would intrude into the arbour where the Jew would worship, so sin will haunt and molest us even in the closet of devotion. Get up Christians, and be upon your watch-towers. You may sleep, but your enemies never will; you may suppose yourselves safe, but then are you most in danger. See that you put on the whole panoply of God, and are armed from head to foot, and having done all, watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation. Every morning we ought to ask the Lord to keep us from unknown sins, to preserve us from temptations that we cannot foresee, to check us in every part of life if we are about to go wrong, and to hold us up every hour that we sin not. You will say it must have been an unpleasant thing for the Jew always to have sin before his eye, nor would you wish every aspect of life to be thus fouled before your eye; but it will not be so unpleasant for you, my brother, because you know there is a redemption, and your faith can realize the end of the curse by sin being put away. Shut not your eyes to sin, but keep Christ always before you, and you will walk aright. I wish that some of my hearers had sin before their eyes now. Oh! you that trifle with it, you do not know what it is! Fools make a mock of sin. You laugh at it now; you do not understand what a fire it is that you have kindled to consume your soul! Oh! you that think it is such a little thing, its deadly poison will soon envenom all your blood, and then you will discover that he that plays with sin plays with damnation. May the Lord set sin straight before your eyes, and then set the cross of Christ there too, and so you will be saved. Two prayers I ask all my hearers to pray—they are very brief—"Lord show me myself." If there is any man here who says he would pray but he does not know what to pray, for; pray that every night and morning—"Lord show me myself;" and if God hear you, you will soon be in such a wretched state that you will want another prayer, and then I give you this—"Lord show me thyself;" and then if he shall show you himself hanging on the tree, the expiation for guilt, the Great God become man that he might put away sin, your salvation will be accomplished. 'Tis all the prayer that is wanted—"Lord show me myself; Lord show me thyself; reveal sin and reveal a Savior." Lord, do this for all of us for thy name's sake.

     III. And now, I come to show you a third teaching of my text. As this injunction was meant to separate the Jews from other nations, and to keep the pious Israelite in constant remembrance of his danger of falling into sin, so it was also intended to be A RULE OF DISCRIMINATION BY WHICH WE MAY JUDGE WHO ARE CLEAN AND WHO ARE UNCLEAN, THAT IS, WHO ARE SAINTS AND WHO ARE NOT.

     There are two tests, but they must both be united. The beast that was clean was to chew the cud: here is the inner-life; every truehearted man must know how to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the sacred Word. The man who does not feed upon Gospel truth, and so feed upon it, too, that he knows the sweetness and relish of it, and seeks out its marrow and fatness, that man is no heir of heaven. You must know a Christian by his inwards, by that which supports his life and sustains his frame. But then the clean creatures were also known by their walk. The Jew at once discovered the unclean animal by its having an undivided hoof; but if the hoof was thoroughly divided, then it was clean, provided that it also chewed the cud. So there must be in the true Christian a peculiar walk such as God requires. You cannot tell a man by either of these tests alone; you must have them both. But while you use them upon others apply them to yourselves. What do you feed on? What is your habit of life? Do you chew the cud by meditation? When your soul feeds on the flesh and blood of Christ have you learned that his flesh is meat indeed, and that his blood is drink indeed? If so 'tis well. What about your life? Are your conversation and your daily walk according to the description which is given in the Word of believers in Christ? If not, the first test will not stand alone. You may profess the faith within, but if you do not walk aright without, you belong to the unclean. On the other hand, you may walk aright without but unless there is the chewing of the cud within, unless there is a real feeding upon precious truth in the heart, all the right walking in the world will not prove you to be a Christian. That holiness which is only outward in moral not spiritual; it does not save the soul. That religion, on the other hand, which is only inward is but fancy; it cannot save the soul either. But the two together; the inward parts made capable of knowing the lusciousness, the sweetness, the fatness of Christ's truth; and the outward parts conformed to Christ's image and character: these conjoined point out the true and clean Christian with whom it is blessed to associate here, and for whom a better portion is prepared hereafter.

     If you read the chapter through you will find there were some two or three animals about which the Jew would have some little difficulty. There was the camel that did chew the cud, but did not exactly divide the hoof. Now this animal seems to me fitly to represent—though it may not have been so intended—those men who seem really to feed on the truth and yet their walk and conversation are not aright. Their feet have been formed rather for the sandy desert of sin than for the sacred soil of godliness. Oh! I know some of you—come, let us be personal—there are some of you if I would always preach the doctrine of predestination, or some other doctrine of that kind, how sweet it would be to you! But your lives are not what they should be. Thank God there are not many of that sort who come here. They get angry with me very soon, and go off to other places where they can get sweet and savoury morsels, which exactly suit their taste, and hear no admonitions about their lives whatever. May the Lord deliver my ministry from ever being comfortable and flattering to souls that live in sin. I hope you will sometimes have to say, "I must either give up that sin or else give up my seat there." I know one who said, "Well! it has come to this: I cannot go there on Sunday evening and keep my shop open in the morning; it will not do for me to go and sit there, and hear the Word, and sing with those people on Sunday evening, and then hear songs and join in revelries on week-nights." I hope the Word of God here will be such a searching Word to some of you that you will even gnash your teeth at the preacher. He would sooner for you to do that than for you to say; "Peace, peace, where there is no peace," sucking in sweet doctrine, and yet living in sin. God deliver us from Antinomianism! We do preach against Arminianism, but that is a white devil compared with the black devil of Antinomianism. God save us from that! If there is any religion that will drug conscience, stimulate crime, crowd jails, and turn this world into an Aceldema, it is the religion of the man who preaches divine sovereignty but neglects human responsibility. I believe it is a vicious, immoral, and corrupt manner of setting forth doctrine, and cannot be of God. It would undermine morality, and put the very life of society in peril if it were largely believed, or if it were preached by men of any great weight who should have any great numbers to follow them. Oh, dear friends! be not as the animal which cheweth the cud but yet divideth not the hoof. Seek not merely to get precious doctrine, comforting to yourselves, but see that your walk is such as it should be.

     Then there was another animal. It did not chew the cud, still the Jews thought it did. This was the coney—the nearest approach to it is the rabbit of our land—"The coney, because he cheweth the cud but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean." The coney was a very timid creature, which burrowed in the rocks. "The coneys be a feeble folk, but they make their dwellings in the rocks," says Solomon. Now, there are some people who seem as if they like the gospel truth, and they may be put down in the class in which Moses puts the coney, which appeared to chew the cud, though it did not really do so. There are hundreds of this sort we know. They like the gospel, but it must be very cheap. They like to hear it preached, but as to doing anything to extend it, unless it were to lend their tongues an hour, they would not dream of it. The coney, you know, lived in the earth. These people are always scraping. John Bunyan's muck-rake is always in their hands. Neither to dig nor to beg are they ashamed. They are as true misers, and as coyetous, as if they had no religion at all. And many of these people get into our Churches, and are received when thee ought not to be. Covetousness ought to exclude a man from Church fellowship as well as fornication, for Paul says, "Covetousness, which is idolatry." He puts the brand right on its forehead, and marks what it is. We would not admit an idolater to the Lord's table; nor ought we to admit a covetous man; only we cannot always know him. St. Francis Sales, who had a great many people come to him to confession, makes this note, that he had many men and women come to him who confessed all sorts of most outrageous crimes, but he never had one who confessed covetousness. It is a kind of sin that always comes in at the back-door, and it is always entertained at the back-part of the house. People do not suspect it as an inmate of their own hearts. Mr. Covetousness has changed his name to Mr. Prudent-Thrifty; and it is quite an insult to call him other than by his adopted name. Old vices, like streets notorious for vice, get new names given them. Avaricious grasping, they call that only "the laws of social economy;" screwing down the poor is "the natural result of competition;" withholding corn until the people curse oh! that is "just the usual regulation of the market." People name the thing prettily, and then they think they have rescued it from the taint. These people, who are all for earth, are like the coneys, who, though they chew the cud, burrow in the ground. They love precious truth, and yet they are all for this earth. If there are any such here, despite their fine experience, we pronounce them unclean—they are not heirs of heaven.

     The next creature mentioned in the chapter is the hare—"The hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean." See how he flies with bounding step over the ground! A clapping of the hands, and how he starts and is away! The hare is such a timid creature; she leaveth her food, and fleeth before the passer-by. I would not say a hard thing, but there are some people who appear to chew the cud, they love to hear the gospel preached; their eyes will sparkle sometimes when we are talking of Christ, but they do not divide the hoof: Like the hare, they are too timid to be domesticated among the creatures whom the Lord has pronounced clean. They do not come out from the world, enter into the Church, and manifest themselves wholly on the Lord's side. Their conscience tells them they should baptized as believers—but they dare not; they should be united with the people of God, and confess Christ before men—but they are ashamed, ashamed, ashamed! One fears lest his wife should know it, and she might ridicule. Some start abashed lest their friends should know it, for the finger of scorn or the breath of raillery could frighten them out of their senses. Others of them are alarmed because the world might, perchance, give them an ill name. Do you know where the fearful go? Not the fearing, not the doubting—for there are many poor, humble doubters and fearers that are saved—but do you know where the fearful go? The fearful that are afraid of being persecuted, mocked, or even laughed at for Christ—do you know where they go? You will find it in the Book of the Revelation—"But the fearful and unbelieving shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Have you never read that sentence which says, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels?" There you are, young men! you are ashamed of Christ. You have just come up from the country, and you did not pray to God the other night because there was another young man in the room, and you were ashamed of him! In the name of God I do entreat you, nay, I command you, be not ashamed of your Master, Christ, and of the religion which you learned at your father's knee. There are others of you who work in a large shop, and you do not want to be jeered at, as the other young fellow is who works with you, because he is a Christian. You keep your love as a secret do you, and will not let it out? What! if Christ had only loved you in secret, and had never dared to come here on earth to be despised and rejected of men, where would you have been? "No man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel." Do you think that Christ has lit a candle in your hearts that you may hide it? Oh! I pray you, be not like the hare. Let your hoof be so divided from the rest of mankind that they may say, "There is a man—he is not as bold as a lion, mayhap, but he is not ashamed to be a follower of Jesus; he does bear the sneer and gibe for him, and counts it his honor to be thought evil of for Jesus' sake." Oh! be not, I pray you, like the timid hare, lest you be found among the unclean!

     There is one other creature mentioned—"The swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you." Now, the swine is the emblem of those who do act rightly. They make a profession; before men they are the most upright and the most devout; but then the inner part is not right; they do not chew the cud. The foot is right, but not the inward part. There is no chewing, no masticating, no digesting the Word of Life. "But," says one, "why pick out a swine, because that does not seem to be a fair comparison." Yes it is, for there are no people in the world more like swine than those Pharisees who make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; whose hoof is divided enough, but whose inward part is very wickedness. I do not know an animal that might more filly picture out those vile, unclean Pharisees. You may say you think it is too hard a picture for you. You are put down thus in the catalogue, and I have no other place in which to put you. You are like swine, unless the grace of God be in you. What good does the swine do? Of what concern is life to him but to feed grossly and slumber heavily? And so your life, since the inward part is wrong, you bring no glory to God, you bring no good to your fellow-men. Oh! that the Lord would show you that dead morality, unattended by the love of God in the soul, will most certainly be of no avail! "You must be born again." "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven."

     My text seems to be a dividing one; it divides the house in two. Remember, dear friends, the day is coming when a greater division than that which description can give will occur to all of us. But the same rule will be enforced. We shall be assembled in one crowd, a mightier crowd than language can picture, or imagination grasp. The books shall be opened—books more terrible than this Book of Mercy. The Book of Life shall be unfolded and read, in which those washed in Jesu's blood, and so made clean, shall find their names recorded. They are borne to heaven. Listen to the music of the angels as they bear them up to God's right hand! Where will you be? Will you be with those who mount to heaven, or with yonder trembling, shrieking, screaming souls, who, as hell opens her mouth, descend alive into the pit? God help you if you are not on the righthand side! It is not too late. Jesus Christ is still preached to you. The way of salvation is very plain. It is this—Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Believe thou in Jesus. Then make a profession of thy faith in God's own ordained way and method, and you have his promise for it that you will be saved. God help you to believe, and you shall be saved through Jesus, and unto him shall be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.



Pentecost

By / Jun 1

Pentecost

 

“The day of Pentecost.” — Acts ii. 1.

 

LOOKING into a silversmith’s window on Thursday last I observed a notice card, upon which was printed as follows— “This shop will be closed this evening, and will not be re-opened until Tuesday evening.” I looked at the name over the window, and observed that it belonged to one of the house of Israel. I had forgotten till that moment that we have now reached the Levitical feast of Pentecost, which contains among its regulations that no servile work is to be done; and hence all business is laid aside by the faithful Jew. Surely, the Jews in their care to observe their law deserve much praise. At what an expense must large trading firms suspend their business! They read a lesson to many professed Christians who seem to have little regard for the Lord’s day, break in upon its rest in a thousand frivolous ways, and half regret that they cannot pursue their earthly callings throughout the whole seven days of the week. It is true that we consider these days, and weeks, and sacred festivals to have become obsolete by the fulfilment of the great truths which they typified; but as this is not the judgment of the Jew because he has not received Jesus as the Messiah, we may at least learn from his strict observance of the Sabbath, and the Passover, and the feast of Pentecost, that it becomes us to study the spiritual meaning of these types, and to guard with care the one great festival which remains to the church, namely, the Lord’s-day. On our Sabbath let us do no needless work, but seek rest both for body and soul.

     We are now at the season called Pentecost. In the reading of the Scriptures I showed you out of Leviticus xxiii. that the first feast was the Passover, and that there is no feasting, no satisfaction, no peace, no rest, no joy, to any heart till first of all we have seen the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, who is our passover. When we have understood the great truth declared in Jehovah’s word, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you,” then we know what it is to dwell in safety within the blood-besprinkled doors, while the destroying angel passes by. Through the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” Under the covering of the blood of the Lord’s passover, we feast upon the pascal Lamb, and thus our hunger is removed, our desires are satisfied, our strength is renewed, and our heart is made glad. As the result and outcoming of that passover, we do in fact what the Jews did in emblem on the morrow after the Passover-Sabbath — we confess that we are not our own, but are bought with a price, and that all that we have belongs to our redeeming Lord. On the morrow after the Sabbath the Israelite brought the wave-sheaf of his barley-harvest, which was waved before the Lord in type that every product of the soil, and all the result of man’s labour, was from God, and belonged to God. So soon as we have fed upon Christ, and have come out of the house of bondage, we begin to enquire, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?” It becomes an instinct with us to express our gratitude in one way or another. Without any deliberation or delay we conclude that if he has loved us, and given himself for us, we ought to show our love to him in some manifest form.

     Seven clear weeks passed away from the waving of the sheaf of the barley harvest, and then came the feast of first-fruits for all the crops, and principally for the wheat harvest, which was then in full operation: this was Pentecost. In fifty days Israel was fully clear of Egypt, far away in the desert, and quite delivered from all fear of pursuing armies. Pharaoh’s hosts had been destroyed, and the Red Sea rolled between Israel and her former oppressors. Then it was that they held a holy convocation. They did not bring to God in the wilderness the loaves of bread of first-fruits, for they had not yet reached the land which would yield them a harvest, but they held their convocation, and were instructed as to what their duty would be when they came to the promised land. When they actually reached their possessions in Canaan, they kept the fiftieth day, and held a solemn feast in which they presented unto the Lord two loaves of bread, made of fine flour from the new wheat. This offering dedicated the harvest. The teaching of this ceremony is just this: — “When you are saved, when you have entered into rest, when you have considered and deliberated, then renew your vows unto the Lord, make your consecration more large, and full and deliberate, and dedicate yourself and all that you have unto the Lord who has given you all things richly to enjoy. You have already, in the short time since you have known the sprinkled blood, obtained a harvest of joy and peace: therefore delay not to bring a worthy portion unto the Lord, and say unto him, ' Thou hast set me free, and made me to be thy servant, and now I offer to thee all that I am and all that I have, for thou hast bought me with thy precious blood.' ”

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

     Thus the three feasts can be understood by us in our own spiritual experience. We can keep them in spirit; let us do so at once, Let us again rehearse the passover by fresh faith in Jesus; let us renew our first dedication, which was like to the wave-sheaf; and then let us come with solemn resolve, and after many days of sweet experience, let us renew our covenant before the Lord, saying—

“High heaven, that heard the solemn vow,
That vow renew’d shall daily hear:
Till in life’s latest hour I bow,
And bless in death a bond so dear.”

We deliberately wish our loyalty to stand good to the end; we have no desire to draw back, but rather would we wish to be more completely the Lord’s than ever we have been. We would bring “a new meat offering before the Lord,” and keep the feast with great joy, ceasing from all servile work, but in the spirit of obedient children serving the Lord with gladness. Thus we read Pentecost by the light within.

     On the larger platform of the Lord’s doings for his church, the passover stands for the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus upon the cross, when he poured out his soul unto death, that by his blood we might be saved from wrath. The waving of the barley sheaf was carried out by our Lord’s rising from the dead on the morrow after the Sabbath, when he rose from the dead and became the first-fruits of them that slept. The feast of first-fruits fifty days after his death is fulfilled by the descent of the Holy Ghost, giving to the church the first-fruits of the Spirit, and working the conversion of three thousand souls, who were thus the first-fruits from among the Jews. This beginning of blessing was followed by a revival which continued with the church at Jerusalem for a long time, and extended throughout all the world, till almost every nation had in a short time learned the doctrine of the cross, and multitudes had submitted unto Christ. Of this greater Pentecost we shall not fail to speak this morning: we shall dwell upon both the type and the antitype, and if I run them a little into one another, you must forgive me. The type is so admirable, and so many-sided, that it has its own actual lesson as well as its figurative lesson. I scarcely know where the type ends and where the antitype begins: but your meditations will easily set it right if I should make a muddle.

     First, I shall speak upon the consecrated harvest of the field, which we shall illustrate by the passage out of Leviticus; then, secondly, upon the consecrated harvest of our Lord Jesus Christ the consecrated harvest which should come from each soul unto the redeeming Lord.

     I. First, let us speak of THE CONSECRATED HARVEST OF THE FIELD. It may seem somewhat singular to you that we should be talking of harvest on this first day of June; but I beg you to remember that the Bible was not written in England, but in Palestine; and in that country the harvest is much earlier than in this northerly latitude, where the climate is so much more severe. An early day in June would be the average time for the fruits of the field to be ripe. At the beginning of the barley harvest the first ripe ears were presented to the Lord in due order, but at the fuller festival they brought into God’s house, not the ears of wheat, but two large loaves of bread taken from their habitations, — the fruit of the earth actually prepared for human food. These loaves were offered unto the Lord with other sacrifices. What did that mean?

     It meant, first, that all came from God. “We know that,” says one. Yes, we do know it, but we often talk as if it were not true. We regard our bread as the fruit of our own labour; which also is true, but It is only a small part of the truth: for who is he that gives us strength to labour, and gives the earth the power to bring forth her harvest from the seed which is sown in her furrows? It is not every man that accepts the mercies of daily providence as in very truth sent from God. I fear in many houses bread is eaten and the giver is forgotten. There may, perhaps, be a formal giving of thanks, but there is no heart in it. It is a horrible thing that men should live like brutes, — like dumb cattle, grazing but thinking nothing of him who causeth grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man. If any here have sunken into that brutish condition, may God deliver them from their degrading ingratitude! Oh, you Christian people, you are clothed by the charity of God, and fed by his bounty, and if you do not continually acknowledge that every good gift is from your heavenly Father, may the Lord have pity upon you, and bring you to your right minds! Poverty has been sometimes sent upon men because they were not grateful when they enjoyed abundance. Persons who can grumble when their board is loaded, must not wonder if one of these days they become so distressed as to pine for the crumbs which once fell from their table. Let us not provoke God to chasten us for our murmuring, but let us bless him this day for our life, our health, our bread, and our raiment; yea, and for the very air we breathe. All that is short of hell is more than we deserve. Let us by grateful offerings to the Lord express our thankfulness for all the comforts we enjoy.

     The waving of those loaves before the Lord signified, next, that all our possessions need God’s blessing upon them. It would be a horrible thing to be rich with unblessed riches, yet some are in that condition; and, consequently, the more they hoard, the more curse they lay up for themselves. Without a blessing from God his gifts become temptations, and bring with them care rather than refreshment. We read of some that “while their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them.” Thus it seems that the very bread on the table may prove a curse unless God shall bless it. It was, no doubt, a very joyous sight to see the loaves and the fishes multiplied for the crowd; but the best part of it was that ere fish or bread had been increased, the Master had looked up to heaven and blessed them. The people ate of blessed fish and blessed bread, and thus it nourished them. If thou hast little, my brother, yet if God has blessed thy little there is a flavour in it which the ungodly cannot know when they fill themselves with their stalled oxen. If thou hast an ample estate, yet if thou hast more blessing, thy riches shall not be a snare to thee; but thou shalt be able to endure prosperity, which to many is like the height of the craggy rock from which they are dashed down to destruction. God’s blessing is what we want upon common life, yea, upon the leavened bread of daily life as well as upon the unleavened bread of our holy things. We want the Lord’s blessing from morning to night, from the first day of the week till Saturday night. We need it on all we are, and have, and do. The Israelites brought the two loaves of leavened bread, praying the Lord to bless all the other loaves that would be baked out of the year’s harvest; and the Lord did so. Let us sanctify the bulk of our substance by the sacrifice unto the Lord of what is needed for his holy service.

     It meant, next, all that we have we hold under God as his stewards. These two loaves were a kind of peppercorn rent acknowledging the superior landlord who was the true owner of the Holy Land. The two loaves were a quit rent, as much as to say, “O Lord, we own that this is thy soil, and we are tenants at will.” We farm our portions as bailiffs for our God; we gather the fruit of it as stewards for the Most High, and bring a part thereof to his altar in token that we would use the rest to his glory. Have we all done this with our substance? Do we continually dedicate all that we have unto our God, and stand to the dedication? Do we make a conscientious use of such temporal benefits as the Lord entrusts to us? Where is that one talent of thine, O slothful servant? Where are those five talents, O thou man of influence and of wealth? If thou hast not traded with them for the Great Master, what art thou but an embezzler of thy Master’s goods, false to thy trust? Beware lest he come and say to thee, “Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.” The faithful believer will bring unto the Lord with gladness the Lord’s portion, and thus confess that everything he has is, like himself, the royal possession of the King of kings.

     Again, the bringing of those loaves signified that they were afraid they might commit sin in the using of what God had given. The first thank-offering, as we have seen, was of barley, fresh plucked from the field. There was nothing evil about that; and so our Lord when risen from the dead made a pure and perfect presentation unto the Lord: but this second offering of the first-fruits was not wheat as God made it, but a loaf of bread in which there was leaven. Somehow human nature seems to crave for leaven with the pure flour; and so the Israelite brought to God not his pure gift, but that form of it which is used by man for his nourishment. Why was it ordained that they should present leaven to God? Was it not meant to show us that common life, with all its imperfections, may yet be used for God’s glory? We may, through our Lord Jesus, be accepted in shop-life as well as in sanctuary-life, in market-dealing as well as in sacramental meditation. Life, as it comes to common people in their daily labour and in their domestic relationships, is to be holiness unto the Lord. Yet do not fail to notice that when they brought these two leavened loaves they brought with them a burnt-offering of seven lambs, without blemish, and one young bullock, and two rams: the Holy Ghost thus signifying that our daily lives, and services, and gifts cannot be accepted in and of themselves, but we must bring therewith the true sweet-savour offering of our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself without spot unto God. The precious blood of his sacrifice must fall upon our leavened loaves, or they will be sour before the Lord. We can never be accepted except in that one ordained way, — “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” Christ’s sacrifice is so sweet that it perfumes our offerings, and renders that acceptable which else would have been rejected. This poor leavened cake of ours has the elements of corruption in it; but lo, here in Jesus we have a savour which is sweet unto the Lord, and the Lord is well pleased with us for his righteousness’ sake.

     Nay, that was not all. In consideration of the loaf being leavened they brought with it a sin-offering as well. “Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin-offering.” See Leviticus xxiii.19. Confessing, as each one of us must do, that however hearty our dedication to Cod' there is still a faultiness in our lives, we are glad to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. However much we labour to live wholly and alone unto God’s glory, yet in many things we offend and come short of the glory of God. We bring a sacrifice for sin because it is needed; we confess the iniquities of our holy things. That loaf which we present is of fine flour, but it is baked with leaven, and therefore a sin-offering is needed. O man of God, never try to bring any prayer, or any act of penitence, or any deed of faith, or any gift of love, to God apart from the great sin-offering of Jesus Christ! Thou art a saint, but thou art still a sinner; and though thou art clean before men, yet when thou comest before God his pure and holy eyes behold folly and defilement in thee which nothing can put away except the cleansing blood of Christ. “If we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another”; yet still we sin, for it is written, “and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” which it could not do if there were no sin to put away even then. It is to my mind a great joy that you and I can give to God the first-fruits of our substance, and can dedicate to him our time and talents, and that in so doing we need not be afraid of rejection, because we bring with us the sweet-savour offering of Jesus Christ, which is his righteousness, and the sin-offering of Jesus Christ which he offered when he was made to be sin for us.

     Let us learn one more lesson: all this was done as an act of joy. A new meat-offering was offered unto the Lord with peace-offerings, which two offerings always signify, among other things, a quiet, happy communion with God. In addition to all this they presented a drink-offering of wine, which expresses the joy of the offerer. Pentecost was not a fast, it was a festival. When thou givest anything to God, give it not as though it were a tax, but render it freely; or it cannot be accepted. If thou doest anything for the Lord thy God, do it not as of forced labour demanded by a despot, whom thou wouldst gladly refuse if thou couldst. Thou doest nothing unto God, if it be not done of a willing mind. God loveth a cheerful giver. He wants no slaves to grace his throne: you shall hear no crack of whips in all the domains of our great Lord. His service is perfect freedom; to give to him is rapture; to live to him is heaven. When we shall perfectly serve him we shall be in our glory, which is his glory. The sinking of self is the rising of joy. Beloved, the Lord would not have any of you give of your substance to him with rueful countenance, squeezing it out as though you were losing a drop of blood. Give nothing if you cannot give heartily, but do everything unto the Lord with all your heart, and soul, and strength. The Lord would not have the ark of the covenant dragged by unwilling beasts, but he ordained that it should be carried upon the willing shoulders of chosen men, to whom the service was an honour and a delight. He would have his servants sing in their joyous hymns, “God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” He would have each one gladly say, “O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.”

     II. Thus far we have been considering part of the lesson of the original Jewish Pentecost. Now we must hasten on to consider, in the second place, THE CONSECRATED HARVEST OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, as taught by the events of the great Christian Pentecost described in the Acts of the Apostles. Our Lord is the greatest of all sowers, for he sowed himself. Did he not say, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”? Our Lord had been sown in his death and burial: and since such a corn of wheat as this is quick in growing, and soon yields a harvest, in fifty days there comes a time for the ingathering of the first-fruits. Had he not said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest”? and now, when the day of Pentecost was fully come, the fruit was seen of them, and joyfully gathered. Let us learn some lessons from the Christian Pentecost.

     First , learn that the first harvest of our Lord Jesus Christ was through the Holy Ghost. There were no three thousand converts till first of all was heard the rushing of mighty wind. Till the cloven tongues had rested on the little company of disciples there were no broken hearts among the crowd. Until the believers were all filled with the Holy Ghost the minds of their hearers were not filled with conviction. We are longing, greatly longing, for our Lord Jesus to see of the travail of his soul, and to be satisfied in this congregation, and in this city. How we long to see millions brought to Christ! I am sure some of us feel a heart-break till whole nations come to Jesus’ feet; and this cannot be except by the special power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will bless the world by filling the church with his own might. If I want my hearers converted, I must first of all myself be filled with the Holy Ghost. I know that I address a great many workers, and I therefore say to each one of them— pay great attention to your own spiritual state. If you desire to save your class you must yourself be endowed with the power of the Holy Ghost. You cannot burn a way for the truth into the heart of another unless the tongue of fire is given to you from on high. Mind this. I tried last Sabbath-day to exhort you to pay much reverence and honour to the Holy Spirit, who is so often forgotten in the church of God. I pray you take good heed to the exhortation. Do maintain a grateful spirit towards the Holy Ghost, paying special honour unto him, for he worketh all our works in us, and without him there will be neither sheaves nor loaves of the harvest to offer unto the Lord. The ingathering of the revival at Pentecost was wrought by the Holy Spirit.

     That day when the Spirit of God was given may be considered to be the ordering of the Christian dispensation. You may not have noticed it, but if you will count the days you will find that it was exactly fifty days after the original passover that the law was given on Mount Sinai. Many careful readers have observed this, but have feared to attach importance to the fact because the Jews did not connect it with Pentecost. Neither Philo nor Josephus speak of the giving of the law as happening at the time known as Pentecost. But that has nothing to do with us. We are not bound to be blind to a matter because Josephus, or Philo, or all the Jewish writers did not happen to see it. They are not Rabbis to us. The Jews did not at that time see all in the law which they have seen since, and we having the law in our hands are bound to examine for ourselves. It was at Pentecost that God descended upon Mount Sinai, and the national laws of Israel were proclaimed together with those ten commands which are the standard of equity for all mankind. Moses asked of Pharaoh on the behalf of Israel that they might keep a feast unto Jehovah their God in the wilderness; and this was no mere pretext, but a truthful statement. They did keep a holy season as they proposed; they summoned a special assembly of the elders, and sanctified the people as soon as the turmoil of their leaving Egypt had subsided. On the fiftieth day after the Exodus the Lord came down in the sight of all Israel upon Sinai. The trumpet was held from the top of Horeb, and Sinai was altogether on a smoke. Now we assert that as the inauguration of the law was on Pentecost, so also was the inauguration of the Gospel. At the commencement of the Old Testament dispensation, what manifestation do we get? God gives his people a law. At the commencement of the New Testament dispensation, what do we get? A law? No, the Lord gives his people the Spirit. That is a very different matter. Under the old covenant the command was given; but under the new covenant the will and the power to obey are bestowed upon us by the Holy Ghost. No more have we the law upon stone, but the Spirit writes the precept upon the fleshy tablets of the heart. Moses on the mount can only tell us what to do, but Jesus ascended on high pours out the power to do it. Now we are not under the law, but under grace, and the Spirit is our guiding force. In the church of God our rule is not according to the letter of a law, but according to the Spirit of the Lord. Some people look for a specific ordinance for every item of procedure on the part of the church; but, so far as I can see, there is a singular absence of written rule and ritual concerning particulars, apart from the two great standing ordinances. I do believe that under this dispensation saints are left to the freedom of the Spirit, and are not specifically commanded in every detail by a written law. Neither this form of church government, nor that is forced upon us; but life is permitted to assume its own necessary form, under the moulding power of the Holy Ghost. Because we are to become men in Christ and to be no longer children, we are directed not so much to a specific law as to certain great geneal principles which are made to be our guide through the Holy Spirit. Servants, you know, must be told to do this and that, at such an hour, and in such a way; but loving, obedient children may be left free to obey the dictates of their loving hearts. We love the inspired Book which reveals to us the mind of God, and we revere it all the more because the Lord himself who inspired the Book dwells among us to conduct us by its holy instruction in all things. The Lord is among us in a higher degree than ever he was in Sinai, where bounds were set to keep off the trembling people. The Lord is in the midst of his people in love and fellowship, and by the indwelling Spirit whereby he leads the sacred marchings of his redeemed. Pentecost was thus the inauguration of the gospel dispensation.

     This Pentecost was also the beginning of a great harvest of Jews and Gentiles. Were there not two loaves? Not only shall Israel be saved, but the multitude of the Gentiles shall be turned unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and he shall see of his soul’s travail in those whom his Father gave him from before the foundation of the world. If the first-fruits were so great, what will the ultimate harvest be? Let us look for whole kingdoms to submit themselves to Jesus.

     That day of Pentecost, or feast of first-fruits, what was it? Did it consist in many conversions only? No. I believe that the filling of the apostles with the Holy Ghost was a part of the first-fruits of the day of Pentecost. We ourselves who are born to God, whenever the Holy Spirit visits us in his fulness, and sanctifies and elevates us, are a large part of our Lord’s reward. A man full of the Holy Ghost rejoices the heart of Christ. Your poor starveling Christians, who have a name to live and nothing more, who shiver over Christ’s commands, and never plunge into his service to find waters to swim in, bring him little honour and little pleasure; but when we are filled with the Holy Ghost we make men see the glory of his grace, and his name is magnified in the esteem of all onlookers.

     Still, the major part of the Pentecostal first-fruits will be found in the great number that were that day converted. How much we desire the like blessing as a church, for ourselves, and all other churches. We hope to receive some seventy-five to-day, but what is this to three thousand? We are not without additions to the church every month, but oh that the Lord would add to us daily. Why should it not be? Persuade the people to come and hear. Pray for them and for the preacher while they are hearing; and watch for their souls after hearing, and we shall yet see a far larger increase.

     The Christian Pentecost is to us full of instruction. Learn you its lessons. First, the disciples had to wait for it. “The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth.” Sow on. If you have to wait a week of weeks or a week of years, wait with confidence, for Pentecost will yet yield its loaves unto the Lord.

     They obtained nothing until they began preaching the gospel, and then in one day the church was multiplied by twenty-five. O! when shall each member bring in five-and-twenty in a day by preaching the word. Those three thousand souls were due to the testimony of Jesus by the disciples. The Spirit of God was there, but he did not work upon men apart from the means which he has ordained. Peter stood up with the eleven. They preached Christ crucified, and then the people believed. Oh, for a great day of preaching, when all shall turn out and preach. If all the Lord’s servants and handmaids began to publish his salvation, we should soon wake up these sleepy millions, and London would be all on the move towards better things. A great multitude must preach the gospel if we are to have a great multitude converted by it.

     Of all those people saved, it was acknowledged that they belonged unto the Lord alone. When they were pricked to the heart and believed in Jesus, they came at once and were baptized. As they were dead to the world, it was meet that they should be openly buried with Christ in baptism. So consecrated were they that their lives were wholly given to their Lord. In a very especial manner it was so with them, for they had all things common; they lived a heavenly life here below. We read, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” Thoroughly did they give unto God the glory of their salvation, for they were wholly occupied with "praising God”: so we are told in the last verse of the chapter from which we have culled our text.

     Yet if even we should see three thousand converted in a day we must not reckon that such first-fruits would be absolutely perfect. In the first Pentecost, as we have seen, leavened cakes were presented to God, so in all our successes and additions there will sure to be a leaven. Do not wonder if some converts go back; if others turn out to be hypocrites, or merely temporary converts. It will always be so, and we should not think it a new and strange trial; tares grow with the wheat, and bad fish are taken in the same net with the good. Therefore let the church in her best success keep still to Christ and his precious blood, and daily turn to his finished sacrifice. Let us use upon the large scale as well as in our own personal concerns the great sacrifice for sin; and when we admit members into the church wholesale let us continually plead the precious blood that each one may be dedicated to God thereby. Be this our motto: “None but Jesus, None but Jesus!” Let us exalt the Lamb of God, the sin-atoning Lamb. These converts and this success can only be accepted in the beloved.

     But with all our care and prudence let us not damp our joy

     So much about the Pentecost at Jerusalem. God send a Pentecost like it to Newington Butts, and to every other place.

     III. The last thing was to be THE CONSECRATED HARVEST FROM EACH PARTICULAR PERSON. What I have to say is not mine, but the Lord’s. If you open your Bibles at Deuteronomy xxvi. you will find there a form of service which I pray may serve your turn to-day. After the first offering on behalf of the nation consecrating all the harvest, individuals began to bring their first fruits personally, even to the very end of the year. Whenever the olives had been pressed, or the figs had been gathered, or the grapes had been trodden, or the wheat-fields had been reaped, the truly believing Israelite took a part of his crop to the House of God, and presented it as a love-token. “And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein; that thou shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shall go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name there. And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us. And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God.” See how the offerer began, — “I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us.” I wish to stand here this morning and to say for myself what I hope you can say each one for himself, “I am come to the land of peace and rest which the Lord promised to believers. I am become a possessor of all things in Christ.” That is the reason why I would bring my offering. If the Lord has brought you into the goodly land of salvation you too should bring your sacrifice unto him.

     After this the offerer went on to say: “A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: and the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.” Here was an admission of a former state of misery. Must we not also say that we were in bondage, but that the Lord brought us out with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, and set us free from our oppressors? I can say so, and I know I am speaking the mind of hundreds of you. The Lord has delivered you; your sin is pardoned, your iniquities are covered; you are free from the power of sin; you walk at liberty in righteousness; you are come into the land of promise; you have entered into rest. That is abundant reason for bringing your love-gift unto the Lord.

     Then the man said also, “The Lord hath brought us into this place,, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey.” Thus we also glory in our happiness and peace in Christ Jesus. Ours is a blessed lot. It is a good thing to be a Christian; it is a blessed privilege to be a child of God; it is a delightful boon to be a partaker of the covenant and all the blessings stored up therein. Do we not say so? I am sure we do; and therefore it is that we bring our thank-offering as a token that we love the Lord, and desire to praise him for all that he has done for us.

     Then the offerer presented his first-fruits, and said, “And now, behold, I have brought the first-fruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me.”

     When he had made his offering spontaneously and freely because God had done so much for him, then he went home to enjoy all the good things which God had given him. He did not feel as if he were practising self-indulgence when he ate of his figs or partook of his pomegranates, for his fruits in the lump were sanctified by the first-fruits being made holy unto the Lord. He was not afraid to partake of the bounties of providence, for he had received of the bounties of grace. He did not eat what had never been blessed of God, but he went his way and heard the priest say, as he left the sanctuary, “Thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.” Then he understood the language of Solomon, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.” Thus may the true believer receive with gladness the supplies which his heavenly Father gives him, and if he, for Christ’s sake, and the love of men, abstains from partaking of wine, he abstains with greater delight than he ever had in drinking it. Regarding nothing as common or unclean, let us in everything give thanks, and whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, let us glorify God, and feel that he blesses us. This earth which once was accursed becomes to holy men a place of blessing, the vestibule of glory, none other than the House of God, and the very gate of heaven.

     Oh, you that have never eaten of the Pascal lamb, that have never been sprinkled with his blood, you cannot know anything about this: you cannot offer anything to God: you cannot receive his blessing upon your daily lives, because you have not first of all accepted salvation by the atoning blood. I wish you would now come to Jesus: I pray God you may. But, oh, if you have known the power of the death of Christ, and so are pardoned, do not miss the further joy of a consecrated life, the joy of spending and being spent for him who redeemed you. The Lord your God is so blessed in himself that when you give yourself to him his blessedness overflows and fills you. Nothing is so much ours as what is wholly God’s; and when we are not our own, then by some strange logic we are most our own. When we have most fully practised self-denial, then the best riches and the rarest wealth and the truest blessedness is ours. God help us to test this statement, and so to keep the feast. Amen.



The Red Heifer

By / Jul 13

The Red Heifer 

 

“For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” — Hebrews ix. 13, 14.

 

BELOVED brethren in Christ, you dwell in great nearness to God. He calls you “a people near unto him.” His grace has made you his sons and daughters, and he is a Father unto you. In you is his word fulfilled, “I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Remember that your favoured position as children of God has placed you under a peculiar discipline, for now God dealeth with you as with sons, and sons are under household law. The Lord will be sanctified in them that come near unto him. Special favour involves special rule. There were no strict laws made as to the behaviour of the Amalekites, Amorites, and Egyptians, because they were far off from God, and the times of their ignorance he winked at; but the Lord set Israel apart to be his people, and he came and dwelt in the midst of the congregation; the sacred tent wherein he displayed his presence was pitched in the centre of the camp, and there the great King uplifted his banner of fire and cloud; hence, as the Lord brought the people so near to himself, he put them under special laws, such as belong to his palace rather than to the outskirts of his dominion. They were bound to keep themselves very pure, for they bore the vessels of the Lord, and were a nation of priests before him. They ought to have been holy spiritually, but being in their childhood they were taught this by laws referring to external cleanliness. Read the laws laid down in Leviticus and see what care was required of the favoured nation, and how jealously they were to keep themselves from defilement.

     Just as the children of Israel in the wilderness were put under stringent regulations so do those who live near to God come under a holy discipline in the house of the Lord. “Even our God is a consuming fire.” We are not now speaking of our salvation, or of our justification as sinners, but of the Lord’s dealings towards us as saints. In that respect we must walk carefully with him, and watch our steps, that we offend not. Our earnest desire is so to behave ourselves in his house that he may always permit us to have access with boldness to his presence, and may never be compelled to reject our prayers because we have been falling into sin. Our heart’s desire and inward longing is that we may never lose our Father’s smile. If we have lost fellowship with him, even for an hour, our cry is, “Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat for when we are in fellowship with God we are happy, we are strong, we are full of heavenly aspirations and emotions. Beneath the sky there is no joy like that of communion with God; it is incomparable and inexpressible, and therefore when we lose the presence of God, even for a little, we are like a dove bereaven of its mate, which ceases not to grieve. Our heart and our flesh cry out for God, for the living God. When shall we come and appear before God?

     Now, beloved, in order that we may learn how to renew our fellowship with God whenever we lose it by a sense of sin, I have selected the subject of this morning. If the Holy Spirit will graciously enlighten us, we shall see how the conscience can be kept clean, that so the heart may be able to dwell with God. We shall see our danger of defilement and the way by which our uncleanness can be put away; may we have grace given to avoid the pollutions which would hinder fellowship, and grace to seek the purification by which uncleanness is removed and fellowship restored. I shall first endeavour to describe the type which is alluded to by the apostle in the words, “The ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean,” and then, secondly, we shall magnify the Antitype, dwelling upon the words, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

     I. LET US DESCRIBE THE TYPE. In the nineteenth chapter of Numbers you will find the type; be so good as to open your Bibles, and refresh your memories.

     First, the type mentions ceremonial defilements, which were the symbols of the uncleanness caused by sin. The Israelites could very readily render themselves unclean, so as to be unfit to go up to the tabernacle of God. There were uncleannesses connected both with birth and with death, with meats and with drinks, with garments and with houses. The rules were very minute and all-pervading, so that a man could scarcely move abroad, or even remain within his own tent, without incurring uncleanness in one way or another, and becoming unfit to enter the courts of the Lord or to be an accepted member of the congregation. In the passage in Numbers which is now before us, the one source of defilement dealt with is death. “Whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.” Now, death is peculiarly the symbol of sin, as well as the fruit of sin. Sin, like death, defaces the image of God in man. As soon as death grasps the body of a man it destroys the bloom of beauty and the dignity of strength, and drives forth from the human form divine that mysterious something which is the token of life within. However comely a corpse may appear for a time, yet it is defaced; the excellence of life has departed, and alas, in a few hours, or at longest in a few clays, the image of God begins utterly to pass away; corruption and the worm commence their desolating work, and horror follows in their train. Abraham, however much he may love his Sarah, soon becomes anxious to bury his beloved dead out of his sight. Now, what death does for the “human face divine,” that sin does for the spiritual image of God upon us. It utterly defaces it. Human nature in perfection is a coin of the realm of God, minted by the great King; but by sin it is battered and defaced, to the great dishonour of the King whose image and superscription it bears. Hence sin is most obnoxious to God, and death is obnoxious as the type of sin.

     The defilements which came to the Israelite by death must have been very frequent. As a whole generation died in the wilderness, most of the inhabitants must again and again have come under the law of uncleanness on account of the death of parents or friends. In the field a man might dig up human remains, or plough over a grave, or find a body slain by accident, and he was at once unclean. How frequent, therefore, were the occasions of defilement! But ah, my brethren, not so frequent as the occasions of pollution to our consciences in such a world as this, for in a thousand ways we err and transgress.

“Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,”

where never sin might reach my soul again! But it is in vain to sigh in this fashion, even if we could escape from the throng of men we should not thereby escape from sin. The Israelite might meet with defilement even in his tent. I have already reminded you that these statutes about the dead present to us only a part of the occasions of defilement which surrounded the people of Israel: they were much more numerous than this. A man might become unclean even in his sleep; so closely did the law track him into his most secret places, and surround his most unguarded hours. Even thus doth sin beset us. Like a dog at one’s heels, it is always with us! Like our shadow, it follows us, go where we may. Yea, and when the sun shines not, and shadows are gone, sin is still there. Whither shall we flee from its presence, and where shall we hide from its power? When we would do good, evil is present with us. How humbled we ought to be at the recollection of this!

     The Israelite became unclean even in the act of doing good; for assuredly it was a good deed to bury the dead. A man would be defiled if out of charity he helped to inter the poor, or the slain, or the poor relics of mortality which might lie exposed upon the plain, and yet this was a praiseworthy action. Alas, there is sin even in our holy things. A morality so pure that no human eye can detect a flaw may yet be faulty to the eye of God. Brethren, sin stains our piety and pollutes our devotion. We do not even pray without needing to ask God to forgive the prayer. Our acts of faith have a measure of unbelief in them, for the faith is never so strong as it ought to be. Our penitential tears have some grit of impenitence in them, and our heavenly aspirations have a measure of carnality to degrade them. The evil of our nature clingeth to all that we do. Who shall bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. One way or another defilement will come upon us. We have been once washed in the blood of Jesus, and we are clean before the bar of God, and yet in the divine family we need that our feet be washed after walking awhile in this dusty world, and there is not one disciple who is above the need of this washing. To one and all our Lord saith, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me.”

     The touching of the dead not only made the man unclean, but he became a fountain of defilement. “And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean until even.” While a man was unclean he might not go up to the worship of God, and he was in danger of being cut off from among the congregation, “because,” saith the law, “he hath defiled the sanctuary of the Lord.” Pollution went forth from the polluted. Do you and I sufficiently remember how much of evil we are spreading when we are out of communion with God? Every ungenerous temper creates the like in others. We never cast a proud look without exciting resentment and bad feelings in others. Somebody or other will follow our example if we be slothful; and thus we may be doing great mischief even when we are doing nothing. You cannot even bury your talent in a napkin without setting an example to others to do the like, and were that example followed by all how dreadful would be the consequences! Observe that I am not now speaking of outside sinners, but of the saints of God. As the ordinances in the chapter before us were for Israel, so these things are spoken to those in whom the Spirit of the Lord is. My soul’s longing is, that we may walk worthy of the Lord unto all well pleasing, and may not become unfit for communion with him.

     This uncleanness prevented the man from going up to the worship of God, and it separated him from that great, permanent congregation which was called to dwell in God’s house by residing all around the holy place. He was, so to speak, excommunicated, suspended, at any rate, in his communion: he could bring no offering, he could not stand among the multitude and view the solemn worship, he was unclean, and must regard himself so. Do children of God ever get here? Ah, dear friends, so far as our consciences are concerned we too often come among the unclean. We are not polluted as the heathen, nor condemned with the world, but as children of God we feel that we have erred, and our conscience smites us. Sin is already put away from us, as we are criminals tried before a judge, but it comes upon the conscience even as a child’s faults cause him to grieve. It is from the conscience that this uncleanness is to be purged, and our whole sermon is upon that matter. I speak not of the actual taking away of sin before God, but the removal of its defilement from the conscience, so that communion with God may be possible. Remember the word of the Lord, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear.” When sin is on your conscience it wants no law to prevent your communion with God; for you cannot approach him, you are afraid to do so, and you have a distaste for it. Until the pardoning blood speaks peace within your spirit, you cannot draw near unto God. The apostle saith, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” It is the washing which enables us to draw near. We shrink, we tremble, we find communion impossible until we are made clean.

     This much about the defilements described in the chapter; now concerning the cleansing which it mentions.

     The defilement was frequent, but the cleansing was always ready. At a certain time all the people of Israel brought a red heifer to be used in the expiation. It was not at the expense of one person, or tribe, but the whole congregation brought the red cow to be slain. It was to be their sacrifice, and it was brought for them all. It was not led, however, up to the holy place for sacrifice, but it was brought forth without the camp, and there it was slaughtered in the presence of the priest, and wholly burnt with fire, not as a sacrifice upon the altar, but as a polluted thing which was to be made an end of outside the camp. It was not a regular sacrifice or we should have found it described in Leviticus; it was an ordinance entirely by itself, as setting forth quite another side of truth.

     To return to the chapter; the red heifer was killed, before the uncleanness was committed, just as our Lord Jesus Christ was made a curse for sin long, long ago. Before you and I had lived to commit the uncleanness there was a sacrifice provided for us. For the easing of our conscience we shall be wise to view this sacrifice as that of a substitute for sin, and consider the results of that expiation. Sin on the conscience needs for its remedy the result of the Redeemer’s substitution.

     The red heifer was slain: the victim fell beneath the butcher’s axe. It was then all taken up— skin, flesh, blood, dung, everything— no trace of it must be left, and it was all burnt with fire, together with cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet wool, which I suppose had been used in the previous sprinkling of the heifer’s blood, and so must be consumed with it. The whole was destroyed outside the camp! Even as our Lord, though in himself without spot, was made sin for us, and suffered without the camp, feeling the withdrawings of God, while he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Ah, what it cost our Lord to come into our place and to bear the iniquities of men!

     Then the ashes were collected and laid in a clean place accessible to the camp. Everybody knew where the ashes were, and whenever there was any uncleanness they went to this ash-heap and took away a small portion. Whenever the ashes were spent they brought another red heifer, and did the same as they had done before, that always there might be this purification for the unclean.

     But while this red cow was slaughtered for all, and the blood was sprinkled towards the holy place for all, no one derived any personal benefit from it in reference to his own uncleanness unless he made a personal use of it. When a man became unclean he procured a clean person to go on his behalf to take a little of the ashes, and to put them in a cup with running water, and then to sprinkle this water of purification upon him, upon his tent, and all the vessels therein. By that sprinkling, at the end of seven days, the unclean person was purified. There was no other method of purification from his uncleanness but this. It is so with us. To-day the living water of the divine Spirit’s sacred influences must take up the result of our Lord’s substitution, and this must be applied to our consciences. That which remaineth of Christ after the fire hath passed upon him, even the eternal merits, the enduring virtue of our great sacrifice, must be sprinkled upon us through the Spirit of our God. Then are we clean in conscience, but not till then. We have two degrees of purification by this means, as in the type. Our Lord rose again on the third day, and blessed are they who receive the third day justification by the resurrection of the Lord. Thus is sin removed from the conscience; but yet as long as we are here in this body there will be some tremblings, some measure of unrest, because of sin within; but blessed be God there is a seventh day purification coming, which will complete the cleansing. When the eternal Sabbath breaks, then shall be the last sprinkling with the hyssop, and we shall be clean, and we shall enter into the rest which remaineth for the people of God, clean every whit. We shall come before God at last without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, and be as able to commune with him as if we had never transgressed, being presented faultless before his presence with exceeding great joy.

     Thus much concerning the type, with which we have already mingled some degree of exposition.

     II. LET US MAGNIFY THE GREAT ANTI-TYPE. “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purification of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ?” How much more? He doth not give us the measure, but leaves it with a note of interrogation. We shall never be able to tell how much more, for the difference between the blood of bulls and of goats and the blood of Christ, the difference between the ashes of a red cow and the eternal merits of the Lord Jesus, must be infinite. Let us help your judgments while we set forth the exceeding greatness of our mighty Expiator, by whom we are reconciled to God.

     First, then, our defilement is much greater, for the defilement spoken of in the text is on the conscience. Now, I can believe that the Israelite when he was rendered unclean by touching a corpse by necessity, or a piece of a bone by accident, felt nothing on his conscience, for there was no sin in the matter; he was only ceremonially unclean, and that was all. His ceremonial disability troubled him, for he would be glad to go up to the tabernacle of the Lord and hold fellowship with the hosts of Israel, but there was nothing on his conscience. If there had been, the blood of bulls and goats could not have helped him. Beloved, you and I know what it is at times to have defilement upon the conscience, and to go mourning because we have erred from the Lord’s commands. The ungodly do not thus sorrow: their conscience by fits and starts accuses them, but they never listen to its accusations so as to feel their inability to draw nigh to God. Nay, they will even go with a guilty conscience to their knees, and pretend to offer to God the sacrifice of prayer and of praise, while still they are unforgiven, alienated, and rebellious. You and I, if we are indeed the Lord’s people, cannot do this. Guilt on our conscience is to us a horrible thing. There are no pains of body, there are no tortures inflicted by the Inquisition which are at all comparable to the whips of burning wire which lash the guilty conscience. You hear persons speak about the horrible figures of mediaeval ages with regard to hell, and the strong metaphors sometimes used by the orthodox to this day; let them remember that they are only figures, and then let any man who has felt the agonies of a guilty conscience judge whether the figures can possibly be overdrawn. It is an awful thing to feel yourself guilty, and the better man you are, the more will it grieve you to be consciously in a wrong state. I ask any truly regenerate man here, who at bottom has an assurance that bis sin is already forgiven before God, whether he can do wrong without smarting? Whenever you have transgressed, and you are conscious of it, though you do not doubt the love of God to you, are you not like one who has all his bones broken? I know you are, and the better man you are the more intense will have been the terror of your spirit while guilt has been upon your conscience in any degree. Well, now, that which can take guilt off the conscience must be infinitely greater than that which can merely put away a ceremonial defilement.

     Brethren, guilt on the conscience is a most effectual bar to drawing near to God. The Lord bids his people come near to him, and there is a way of access always open; but as long as you are conscious of sin you cannot use that way of access. We can come to God as sinners to seek pardon, but we cannot come before the Lord as dear children while there is any quarrel between us and our great Father. No, we must be clean, or we cannot approach our God. See how the priests washed their feet at the laver before they offered incense unto the Lord. We cannot have fellowship with God while there is a sense of unconfessed and unforgiven sin upon us. “Be ye reconciled to God” is a text for saints as well as for sinners: children may quarrel with a father as well as rebels with a king. There must be oneness of heart with God, or there is an end to communion, and therefore must the conscience be purged.

     The man who was unclean could have come up to the tabernacle if there had been no law to prevent it, and it is possible that he could have worshipped Godin spirit, notwithstanding his ceremonial disqualification. The defilement was no barrier in itself except so far as it was typical; but sin on the conscience is a natural wall between God and the soul. You cannot get into loving communion until the conscience is at ease; therefore, I charge you, fly at once to Jesus for peace.

     Beloved, if our consciences were more fully developed than they are we should have as great a sense of the frequency of our uncleanness as ever the thoughtful Israelite had of his danger of ceremonial uncleanness. I tell you solemnly that the talk which we have heard lately about perfection in the flesh cometh of ignorance of the law and of self. When I have read expressions which seem to claim that the utterers were free from sin in thought, and word, and deed, I have been sorry for the deluded victims of self-conceit, and shuddered at their spirit. The sooner this boasting is purged out of the Church of God the better. God’s true people have the spirit of truth within them, convincing them of sin, and not the proud and lying spirit which leads men to say they have no sin. True saints abide in the place of penitence and constant faith in the atoning blood, and dare not exalt themselves as the Pharisee who cried, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” (Ecc. vii. 20.) Why, beloved, according to my own experience, we are constantly being defiled by being in this polluted world, and going up and down in it. As a man could not take a walk without stumbling over a grave, nor could he shut himself up in his house without the danger of death entering there, so are we every where liable to sin. It seems all but inevitable so long as we are in this body and in this sinful world that we should come into contact with sin in some form or other, and any contact with sin is defiling. Our Lord could live among sinners and remain undefiled, because there was no evil in his heart; but in our case sin without awakes the echoes from within, and so causes a measure of consent and defilement. The will more or less yields to the temptation, and when the will does not yield, the imagination plays the traitor, and the affections parley, and so betray the soul. Although it may be accompanied with a resolve not to fall into evil, the very thought of evil is sin. Sin does not cross over the sensitive plate of our soul as it is exposed in its daily camera without leaving, even if we do not see it ourselves, some trace and stain which God sees. Our fellow-men are a terrible source of defilement to us. Did you not notice in the chapter which we read (Num. xix.) that he who touched the dead body of a man was unclean seven days? Now, if you look in Leviticus xi. 22 you will see that whosoever touched the carcase of an unclean beast was only unclean until the evening. Thus a dead man was seven times more defiling than a dead beast. Such is God’s estimate of fallen, unregenerate man, and it is a just one, for wicked men do many things which brute beasts never do. All ungodly men. defile us, and I am not sure that I may end there, the truth is wider still: I do not care how you pick your company, and you ought to pick it with great choiceness, but even if you associate with none but saints they will be an occasion of sin to you at some time or other: there will be something about them, ay, even about their holiness, which may raise you idolatry of them, or your envy of them, and in some way or other cause you to sin. You cannot, as you are a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips, be altogether without uncleanness, and therefore you will always have need to use the way of cleansing which the Lord has prepared and revealed.

     Remember that in the type the least touch defiled: if they only picked up a bone the Israelites were unclean; if they only walked over a grave they were unclean. My brethren, the best of you can hardly read in the newspaper an account of a crime without some taint clinging to you. You cannot see sin in another without standing in fearful jeopardy of being in some degree infected thereby. Sin is of so subtle and penetrating a nature that long before we are aware it tarnishes our brightness and eats into our spirit. The pure and holy God alone is undefiled; but as for the best of his saints they need to veil their faces in his presence and cry, “Unclean, unclean.”

     Under the old law men might be unclean who did not know it. A man might have touched a bone and not be aware of it, yet the law operated just as much: he might walk across a grave and not know it, but he was unclean. I fear that our proud sense of what we think to be our inward cleanness is simply the stupidity of our conscience. If our conscience were more sensitive and tender, it would perceive sin where now we congratulate ourselves that everything is pure. My brethren, this teaching of mine puts us into a very lowly place, but the lowlier our position the better and the safer for us, and the more shall we be able to prize the expiation by which we draw near to God.

     Since the stain is upon the conscience, its removal is a far greater work than is the removal of a mere ritual uncleanness.

     Secondly upon this head, our sacrifice is greater in itself. I will not dwell upon each point of its greatness lest I weary you, but just notice that in the slaughter of the heifer blood was presented and sprinkled towards the holy place seven times, though it came not actually into it; so in the atonement through which we find peace of conscience there is blood, for “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” That is a settled decree of the Eternal Government, and the conscience will never get peace till it understands the mystery of the blood. We need not only the sufferings of Christ, but the death of Christ, which is set forth by his blood. The substitute must die. Death was our doom, and death for death did Christ render unto the eternal God. It is by a sense of our Lord’s substitutionary death that the conscience becomes purged from dead works.

     Furthermore, the heifer itself was offered. After the blood was sprinkled towards the tabernacle by the priestly hand, the victim itself was utterly consumed. Read now our text: “Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered up himself without spot unto God.” Our Lord Jesus Christ gave not merely his death, but his whole person, with all that appertained unto it, to be our substitutionary sacrifice. He offered himself, his person, his glory, his holiness, his life, his very self, in our stead. But, brethren, if a poor heifer when it was offered and consumed made the unclean man clean, how much more shall we be cleansed by Jesus, since he gave himself, his glorious self, in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily? Oh what a sacrifice is this!

     It is added that our Lord did this “by the Eternal Spirit.” The heifer was not a spiritual but a carnal offering. The creature knew nothing of what was being done, it was the involuntary victim; but Christ was under the impulses of the Holy Ghost, which was poured upon him, and he was moved by him to render up himself a sacrifice for sin. Hence somewhat of the greater efficacy of his death, for the willinghood of the sacrifice greatly enhanced its value. To give you another, and probably a better, interpretation of the words, there was an eternal spirit linked with the manhood of Christ our Lord, and by it he gave himself unto God. He was God as well as man, and that eternal Godhead of his lent an infinite value to the sufferings of his human frame, so that he offered himself as a whole Christ, in the energy of his eternal power and Godhead. Oh, what a sacrifice is that on Calvary! It is by the blood of the man Christ that you are saved, and yet it is written, “The church of God which he”— that is God— “hath redeemed with his own blood.” One who is both God and man has given himself as a sacrifice for us. Is not the sacrifice inconceivably greater in the fact than it is in the type? Ought it not most effectually to purge our conscience?

     After they had burnt the heifer they swept up the ashes. All that could be burnt had been consumed. Our Lord was made a sacrifice for sin, what remains of him? Not a few ashes, but the whole Christ, which still remaineth, to die no more, but to abide for ever unchanged. He came uninjured through the fires, and now he ever liveth to make intercession for us. It is the application of his eternal merit which makes us clean, and is not that eternal merit inconceivably greater than the ashes of an heifer ever can be?

     Now, my brethren, I want you for a moment to recollect that our Lord himself was spotless, pure and perfect, and yet— speak it with bated breath— God “hath made him to be sin for us,” even him who knew no sin. Whisper it with greater awe still, “He was made a curse for us,”— yes, a curse, as it is written, “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” That red heifer, though without spot and never having borne a yoke, was regarded as a polluted thing. Take it out of the camp. It must not live; kill it. It is a polluted thing; bum it right up; for God cannot endure it. Behold, and wonder that God’s own ever blessed, adorable Son in inconceivable condescension of unutterable love, took the place of sin, the place of the sinner, and was numbered with the transgressors. He must die, hang him up on a cross; he must be forsaken of men, and even deserted of God. “It pleased the Father to bruise him; he hath put him to grief; he shall make his soul an offering for sin.” “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,”— not the punishment merely, but the iniquity, the very sin itself was laid upon the Ever Blessed. The wise men of our age say it is impossible that sin should be lawfully imputed to the innocent; that is what the philosophers say, but God declares that it was done: “He hath made him to be sin who knew no sin.” Therefore, it was possible; yea, it is done; it is finished. The sacrifice then is much greater. “How much more,” we may cry exultingly as we think of it, “shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

     Now we will take a step further. As the defilement and the sacrifice were greater, so the purging is much greater. The purifying power of the blood of Christ must be much greater than the purging power of the water mixed with the ashes of the heifer. For, first, that could not purge conscience from sin, but the application of the atonement can do it, and does do it. I am not going to speak this morning about doctrine at all, but about fact. Did you ever feel the atonement of Christ applied by the Holy Ghost to your conscience? Then I am certain of it that the change upon your mind has been as sudden and glorious as if the darkness of midnight had glowed into the brightness of noonday. I remember well its effects upon my soul at the first, how it broke my bonds and made my heart to dance with delight. But I have found it equally powerful since then, for when I am examining myself before God it sometimes comes to pass that I fix my eye upon some one evil which I have done, and I turn it over until the memory of it eats into my very soul like a caustic acid, or like a gnawing worm, or like coals of fire. I have tried to argue that the fault was excusable in me, or that there were certain circumstances which rendered it almost impossible that I could do otherwise, but I have never succeeded in quieting my conscience in that fashion; yet I am soon at rest when I come before the Lord, and cry, “Lord, though I am thine own dear child, I am unclean by reason of this sin: apply, again, the merit of my Lord’s atoning sacrifice, for hast thou not said— If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous? Lord, hear his advocacy, and pardon my offences.” My brethren, the peace which thus comes is very sweet. You cannot pray acceptably before that peace, and you may thank God that you cannot pray, for it is a dreadful thing to be able to go on with your devotions as well under a sense of guilt as when the conscience is at rest. It is an ill child that can be happy while its father is displeased; a true child can do nothing till he is forgiven.

     Now, the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer upon the unclean was not comprehensible as to its effect by anybody who received it. I mean that there was no obvious connection between the cause and the effect. Supposing an Israelite had been unclean, and had been sprinkled with this water; he might now go up to the house of the Lord, but would he see any reason for the change? He would say, “I have received the water of separation and I am clean, but I do not know why the sprinkling of those ashes should make me clean except that God has so appointed.” Brethren, you and I do know how it is that God has made us clean, for we know that Christ has suffered in our stead. Substitution explains the mystery, and hence it has much more effect upon the conscience than an outward, ritualistic form which could not be explained. Conscience is the understanding exercised upon moral subjects, and that which convinces the understanding that all is right soon gives peace to the conscience.

     Time presses, and therefore I will only just say, that as the ashes of the heifer were for all the camp so are Christ’s merits for all his people. As they were put where they were accessible, so may you always come and partake of the cleansing power of Christ’s precious atonement. As a mere sprinkling made the unclean clean, even so may you come and be cleansed even though your faith be but little, and you seem to get but little of Christ. O brethren, the Lord God of his infinite mercy give you to know the power of the great sacrifice to work peace in you, not after three or seven days, but at once; and peace not merely for a time, but for ever.

     One riddle I must explain to you. Solomon, according to the Jewish tradition, declared that he did not understand why the ashes of the heifer made everybody unclean except those who were unclean already. You saw in the reading that the priest, the man who killed the red cow, the person who swept up the ashes, and he who mixed the ashes with water and sprinkled them, were all rendered unclean by those acts, and yet the ashes purified the unclean. Is not this analagous to the riddle of the brazen serpent? It was by a serpent that the people were bitten, and it was by a serpent of brass that they were healed. It is by Christ’s being regarded as unclean that we become clean, and the operation of his sacrifice is just like that of the ashes, for it both reveals uncleanness and removes it. If you are clean, and you think of Christ’s death, what a sense of sin it brings upon you! You judge of the sin by the atonement. If you are unclean, drawing near to Christ takes that sin away.

“Thus while his death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.”

If we think we are unclean, a sight of the atoning blood makes us see how unclean we are; and if we judge ourselves unclean, then the application of the atoning sacrifice gives our conscience rest.

     Now, what is all this business about? This slain heifer,— I understand that, for it admitted the unclean Israelites to the courts of the Lord;— but this Christ of God offering himself without spot by the eternal Spirit,— what is that for? The object of it is a service far higher: it is that we may be purged from dead works to serve the living God. The dead works are gone, God absolves you, you are clean, and you feel it. What then? Will you not abhor dead works for the future? Sin is death. Labour to keep from it. Inasmuch as you are delivered from the yoke of sin, go forth and serve God. Since he is the living God, and evidently hates death, and makes it to be an uncleanness to him, get you to living things. Offer to God living prayers, and living tears, love him with living love, trust him with living faith, serve him with living obedience.

     Be all alive with his life; not only have life, but have it more abundantly. He has purged you from the defilement of death, now live in the beauty and glory and excellency of the divine life, and pray the Holy Ghost to quicken you that you may abide in full fellowship with God. If an unclean person had been made clean, and had then said, “I will not worship the Lord, neither will I serve him,” we should account him a wretched being! And if any person here were to say, “My sin is forgiven and I know it, but I will do nothing for God,” we might well cry, “Ah, wretched man!” What a hypocrite and a deceiver such a person must be. Where pardon is received at the hands of the Lord the soul is sure to feel a love to God rising within itself. He who has had much forgiven is certain to love much, and to do much for him by whom that forgiveness has been obtained.

     The Lord bless you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



Alpha and Omega

By / Dec 27

Alpha and Omega

 

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last."—Revelation 22:13.

 

EVERY Sunday-school child knows that there is no great mystery hidden in the words “Alpha and Omega.” We have here the names of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so that the sense would be, “I am A and great O,” in the Greek, or in plain English, “I am A and Z.” “Jesus is the Alpha and Omega—A and Z—the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”

     Our text demands no preface; indeed, I do not know how I could venture to put a single letter before Alpha. Let us therefore come to our subject at once. 

     In three ways I shall talk of the text. First, I shall bring certain doctrines to it; secondly, we will look at the doctrines which are really in it; and then thirdly, at the lessons which naturally flow from it.

     I. At the outset, WE SHALL BRING CERTAIN TRUTHS TO THE TEXT.

     This is a much too common method of preaching, and one which I am very far from admiring as a custom. When some preachers get a text, the enquiry is not what truth is in the passage, but what sense shall they thrust upon it? Full often the poor text is served as a cook treats a bird; it is first killed, and then stuffed with any kind of fancies that the preacher may have chopped up ready to hand. By frankly stating that my first observations are not in the verse before us, I shall avoid sanctioning such methods of abusing God's Word. The thoughts to which I now give utterance, have been suggested by divers commentators, and certainly, if they be not the legitimate offspring, of the text are closely connected with it.  

     1. Of things which we may fairly bring to the text, let us notice first, that our Lord may well be described as the Alpha and Omega in the sense of rank. He is Alpha, the first, the chief, the foremost, the first-born of every creature, the Eternal God. Man by nature is not the first even among creatures, for angels excel him far; nor are angels the chief, for our glorious Lord infinitely transcends them. He who made is greater than they who are made; and he who sends is greater than those who are sent. Jesus Christ stands Alpha in honourable degree; no angel can vie with him. “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? . . . And again, when he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” As for the Son, he hath appointed him heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds, but of the angels it is asked—“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? ” 

     Alpha was frequently used by the Hebrews to signify the best, just as we are accustomed to use the letter A. We say of a ship, for instance, that it is “A1.” So Jesus Christ may truly be said to be the Alpha, the first in this sense. Call him by whatever title Scripture has affixed to him, and he is the first in it. Is he a prophet? Then all the prophets follow at a humble distance, bearing witness of him. Is he a priest? Then he is the Great High Priest of our profession; he is the fulfilment of all that which the priest did but typically set forth. Let him mount his throne as king, then he is King of kings, and Lord of lords; “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.” If he be the builder of his Church, he is the wise Master-builder; if a shepherd, he is the Great Shepherd who shall appear; if the corner-stone, he is the chief corner-stone—in fact, it mattereth not what title, or which character he beareth, he is in all these respects the Alpha, as much surpassing all things that may be compared to him, as the sun excelleth the stars, or as the sea exceedeth the drops of the dew. 

     But, beloved, though our blessed Lord is thus Alpha—the first—he was once in his condescension made Omega, the last. How shall I describe the mighty descent of the Great Saviour. Down from the loftiness of his Father's glory, and from the grandeur of his own divine estate, he stooped to become man. There is a vast distance from the Alpha of Deity, down to that letter which stands for manhood; but to this he came, he was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death. But this is not enough; he stoops lower than man, yea, there is a verse in which he seems to put himself on a level with the least of all creatures that have life—he says, “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” His Father forsook him; the wrath of heaven rolled over him. He was so utterly crushed and broken, that he was poured out like water, and brought into the dust of death. Marshal the creatures of God in their order, in the dread day when Jesus hangs upon the cross, and you must put him for misery, for weakness, for shame as the last, the Omega. How marvellous is this tremendous sweep of his humiliation, that from the highest throne in glory he should descend into the lowest depths of the tomb. Death bringeth the creature to its very lowest degradation, and maketh it as though it were nought. Jesus died, and as I see the incorruptible body lying in Joseph's sepulchre, I can but marvel that ever the great Alpha should come so low as to yield up the ghost, being subjugated beneath the power of the last adversary.

     Now, this is not in the text, but it may be fairly brought to it I think, and, without any compulsion, it may shake hands with the passage as being near of kin to it. 

     2. We will make another observation which is not in the text, but which is still a very precious truth, namely, that Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega in the book of holy Scripture. Open the first page, and a discerning eye will see Jesus Christ in Genesis. We know that the worlds were made by him, and as we hear that majestic sentence, “Let us make man in our own image after our likeness,” we at once discern him as one of the sacred Trinity. We go onward to the fall, and at the gates of Eden the promise of the woman's seed consoles us; we advance to the days of Noah, and lo, we see the Saviour typified in the ark, which bears a chosen company out of the old world of death into the new world of life; we walk with Abraham, as he sees Messiah’s day; we dwell in the tents of Isaac and Jacob, feeding upon the gracious promise; we leave the venerable Israel talking of Shiloh on his deathbed; we see his seed brought out of Egypt, and eating the Lamb of God's passover; we reach the age of the law, and here the types crowd in upon us; but time permits not even a glance—suffice it to say, in brief, that we view the face of Jesus in almost every page, and behold his character painted to the life in nearly every book. Prophets and kings, priests and preachers, all look one way—they all stand as the cherubs did, over the ark, desiring to look within, and to read the mystery of God’s great propitiation. In the New Testament we find our Lord the one constant theme of every page. It is not an ingot here and there, or dust of gold thinly scattered, but here you stand upon a solid floor of gold, for the whole substance of the New Testament is Jesus crucified. What would be left of the evangelists if you could remove Christ from them? What are Paul’s Epistles if Jesus be taken away? The whole of the Pauline literature sinks in a moment if Jesus be withdrawn. And what have Peter, James, Jude, or John to write upon but the same subject? Is it not Jesus still? Do not shut the book too hastily, for see its closing sentence is bejewelled with the Redeemer’s name. “Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” Brethren, we should always read Scripture in this light; we should consider the Word to be as a mirror into which Christ looks down from heaven; And, then, we looking into it see his face reflected as in a glass—darkly, it is true, but still in such a way as to be a blessed preparation for seeing him as we shall see him face to face. This volume contains Jesus Christ’s letters to us, perfumed by his love. These pages are the garments of our King, and they all smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia. Scripture is the golden chariot in which Jesus rides, and it is paved with love for the daughters of Jerusalem. The Scriptures are the swaddling bands of the holy child, Jesus; unrol them and you find your Saviour. Talk not to us of bodies of divinity—the only body of divinity is the person of Christ. As for theology, Christ is the true theology—the incarnate Word of God; and if you can comprehend him you have grasped all truth. He is made unto us wisdom; getting him you have the wisdom of the Scriptures. The quintessence of the Word of God is Christ. Distil the book—and reach its essential quality, and you have discovered Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and the King of the Jews. He is the Alpha and Omega of holy Scripture.

     3. Another fact is also sweetly true, although not perhaps in our text. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the great law of God. Brethren, the law of God finds not a single letter in human nature to meet its demands. You and I are neither Alpha nor Omega to the law, for we have broken it altogether. We have not even learned its first letter—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and certain I am we know but very little of the next—“thy neighbour as thyself.” Even though renewed by grace, we are very slow to learn the holiness and spirituality of the law; we are so staggered by the letter that we often miss its spirit altogether. But, beloved, if you would see the law fulfilled, look to the person of our blessed Lord and Master. What love to God is there! O brethren, where shall we find anything to be compared to it? “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” “My meat and mv drink is to do the will of him that sent me.” What love to man you find in him. Talk not of the good Samaritan; here is one who is better than he; the Samaritan did but give his wine and his oil, and his twopence, but Jesus gives himself—gives his heart's blood instead of wine, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit instead of oil, while for food he gives his own flesh and blood for poor humanity to feed upon. Jesus loved in such a way that, as we said on Thursday night, all the love that ever gleamed in human bosom, if it could be gathered together, would be but as a spark, while his great love to man would be as a flaming furnace heated seven times hotter than human imagination can conceive. Do not, beloved friends, if you are in Christ Jesus, permit legal fears to distress you at the remembrance of your failures in obedience, as though they would destroy your soul. Seek after holiness, but never make holiness your trust. Seek after virtue, pant for it; but when you see your own imperfections, do not therefore despair. Your saving righteousness is the righteousness of Christ; that in which God accepts you is Christ's perfect obedience; and we say of that again, in the words of the text, Jesus Christ is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” There is not a precept which he has not fulfilled in its widest sense. As for the spirit of the law, it breathes through his whole life of holiness and service; and as for the letter of the law, he hath carried it out to its extremity. The commandment may be exceeding broad, but not broader than the life of Christ; the law may ask perfection, but it could not ask and could not have a greater perfection than is found in the person of him whose name is, “The Lord our Righteousness.”

     Brethren, these three matters I cannot affirm to be in the text, but can you blame me for bringing them forward? They stand in such a near connection with the exact sense of the passage, that they cannot well be omitted. May the Lord bless them to you.

     II. Now we will take the text itself, and show what are THE TRUTHS WHICH WE ASSUREDLY BELIEVE TO BE IN IT. 

     1. Our Lord Jesus is Alpha and Omega in the great alphabet of being. Reckon existences in their order, and you begin—“In the beginning was the Word.” Proceed to the conclusion, suppose that all the universe has melted like the hoar-frost of the morning—imagine that all worlds are extinguished as the sparks from the forge—conceive that, as a painted bubble passes away for ever, so the whole creation has departed—What then? What is the Omega? Why assuredly Jesus Christ would still be “God over all, blessed for ever. Amen.” This we are quite sure is in the text, because the expression “ Alpha and Omega ” is only used four times, and on the second occasion we find it in the eleventh verse of the first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, in a connection which leads us to conclude that it must relate to the eternity and self-existence of our Lord; for the seventeenth verse explains the eleventh thus, “ Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Those expressions manifestly refer to the eternity of Christ; to his self-existence, his having life in himself; to the fact that death did by no means destroy his self-existence, and that now since his resurrection he liveth for evermore, death hath no more dominion over him. Beloved, this is a great theme. When we begin to talk of the eternity of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are overwhelmed by the glory of our subject. We need the eagle eye and the eagle wing of John to see and soar into heavenly things. I read the other day a work by an ancient author, and in the chapter upon the eternity of God I could not help noticing that there was hardly a word of more than one or two syllables, sure sign of the sublimity of the theme, and of the inability of man to see more than its most simple outline. Will you go back six thousand years, when the world has newly emerged from darkness, will you fly on, if you can, through all the ages of the geological periods, if such there were. Can you journey back millions of years? Can you, can you, can you reach in spirit the time when as yet cherubim were not born, when the solemnity of silence had never been disturbed by song of seraph, when the unnavigated ether had never been stirred by the wing of angel? There is no world, no sun, no stars; space alone exists. Can you go further back till space is gone? You cannot. It is impossible; you are lost; for you can only think of space and time. But if you could by any stretch of imagination multiply the millions of years of which we dreamed just now, by another million times, and that a million million million times more, and those on still as far as ever human arithmetic can go, ay, and beyond the possibilities of angelic computation, yet even then you have not begun to fathom the eternity in which God hath dwelt alone. Certainly there was an age in which God was dwelling alone, not in solitude, for, as the fathers very rightly say, you must not use the term “solitude” in reference to God, since the three Divine Persons everlastingly delighted in each other, and so knew no solitude—yet there was and is an aloneness in our God, since he is before all things. Can your thoughts attain to that age of God in lonely glory: in that eternity we know that Jesus was. He, whom though we have not seen his face, unceasingly we do adore, was then the eternal Son. The Word was God. Jesus was Alpha. To fly as far in the other direction, when the little river of time shall have been absorbed into the deep ocean of eternity, when all the world shall have departed even as the motes which dance in the sunbeam are seen no more when the sunbeam is gone; yet still Jesus shall be the Omega. It has been well observed by Dr. Gill, that no doubt the words " Alpha and Omega” are comprehensive—they take in all the letters between. Certainly God comprehends all creatures. God is that without whom there is nothing, and in whom are all things. Philo, the Jew, compares the great God to a tree, and all creatures to the leaves and fruits, which are all in the tree; but the metaphor is not complete, because you may remove fruit from the tree, but there can be no creature out of the power and will of God by which alone it can exist at all. If you remove the fruits from the tree, the tree has at least lost something; but if all creatures were destroyed, yet still the Lord would be as infinitely God as he is now; if the creatures were multiplied, God were no more—and if diminished, he were no less. The creatures may be likened to the waves, and God to the great sea; the waves cannot exist apart from the sea, nor the creatures apart from God: but no earthly figure of the Divine can be complete; for the waves are a portion of the sea, but the creatures are not God, nor do they contribute tribute to his essence or attributes. The sea would be diminished if the waves were gone; but if you could take all creatures away, God would be no less God, nor less infinite than he is now. In fact, the moment we begin to talk of infiniteness, we know nothing of diminishing or of increasing. O brethren, we must leave this subject in the silence of reverent humility, for my little boat is out of sight of shore already, and I must not venture further on this great and wide sea. 

 

“Great God, how infinite art thou!

What worthless worms are we!

Let the whole race of creatures bow,

And pay their praise to thee.” 

 

A deaf and dumb man in one of the institutions in Paris, was asked to write upon the slate his idea of God's eternity, and he wrote the following forcible lines. “It is duration without beginning or end; existence without bounds or dimensions; present without past or future. His eternity is youth without infancy or old age, life without birth or death, to-day without yesterday or to-morrow.” “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” 

     2. Another truth is most certainly in the text, namely, that Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega in the alphabet of creating operations. Who was it that began to make? Not an angel, for the angel must first be made. Did matter create itself? Was there an effect without a cause? It is contrary to our experience and our reason to believe any such thing. The first cause stands first, and the first cause is God in the divine Trinity, the Son being one Person of that Trinity. He is Alpha because his hand first of all winged angelic spirit, and made his ministers a flame of fire. He first made all things out of nothing. He moulded the clay from which man was made; all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that is made. As he alone began, so his power maintains the fabric of creation; all things consist by him. Christ is the great iron pillar of the universe, and the creatures twine about him as the vine doth about its prop. These things are not, they vanish like a dream if Jesus withdraw his power. He upholdeth all things by the word of his power. Brethren, there may be creations going on at the present moment; fresh globes may even now be fashioned between the hands of Omnipotence, if so; in every one of these Immanuel hath a share. At this very moment new comets may be launched like thunderbolts upon their fiery way, but not without the Son of God. Human souls issue from the womb of creation every hour, but in their sustenance and sending forth the mighty God is ever present. On, on, on, as the works of God shall be enlarged and extended, as the universe shall grow on every side, Christ shall be there still; his Father's delight, with whom he taketh counsel—his equal, bearing with him the name of Alpha and Omega. If this world shall be rolled up like a worn-out vesture, he shall roll it up; if the stars shall wither, it shall be at Jesu's bidding; if the sun shall be quenched, his breath shall blow out its coal; and if the moon shall be black as sackcloth of hair, Christ's hand shall extinguish the lamp. He shall do it all, even until the end shall come, for he is Omega as well as Alpha. 

     3. So again, beyond a doubt, our text intends that Christ is Alpha and Omega in all covenant transactions. Beloved, here is a theme worthy of many discourses from the most eminent divines. The thoughts of God, the eternal decrees, the inscrutable purposes of Jehovah, these are deep things; but we know this concerning them, that from first to last they all have a relation to Christ. Concerning our race and the elect out of it, the whole matter is encompassed in the person of the Redeemer. Speak ye of election? “Mine elect in whom my soul delighteth,” is Christ's name. We are chosen in him from before the foundation of the world. Speak of our being predestinated to be sons—we are only made so in him who stands as the elder brother. Every separate individual of the chosen tribe stands only by virtue of an union which was established from of old between his person and the person of the Redeemer. Search for the celestial fountain from which divine streams of grace have flowed to us, and you find Jesus Christ as the well-spring of covenant love. If your eyes shall ever see the covenant roll, if you shall ever be permitted in a future state to see the whole plan of redemption as it was mapped out in the chambers of eternity, you shall see the blood-red line of atoning sacrifice running along the margin of every page, and you shall see that from beginning to end one object was always aimed at— the glory of the Son of God. The Father begins with exalting Jesus, and concludes with glorifying him with the glory which he had with him before the world was. How I do love the doctrines of grace when they are taken in connection with Christ. Some people preach the Calvinistic points without Jesus; but what hard, dry, marrowless preaching it is. Oh, dear friends, the letter killeth; it breedeth in men a controversial, quarrelsome spirit; but when you preach the doctrines of grace as they are in Christ, as Dr. Hawker would have preached them, when you talk of them as Rutherford ford would have talked of them, oh, then, a holy unction rests upon them, and they become inestimably precious; and let every believer remember he does not get these doctrines as he should get them, unless he receives them in Christ. Everywhere the Lord Jesus is to be considered not as the friend of a day, or our Saviour only in his life on earth, but as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, the anointed Mediator set up from everlasting days. By faith I see him as the eternal Son of God; I see him standing in the purpose of the Father as the covenant head of the elect. I see him in due time born of a woman, but I do not forget that his goings forth are of old from everlasting, and that before the day-star knew its place his delights were with the sons of men. I see him; he cries “It is finished!” he bows his head, I do not, however, forget that he is not dead, but that when the world shall die and time shall conclude its reign, then he who is the Ancient of days shall live, and shall flourish in immortal youth. Alpha and Omega is Jesus Christ, then, in the eternal purposes and in the covenant transactions of God. 

     4. Jesus Christ is certainly Alpha and Omega in all salvation-work as it becomes apparent in act and deed. That this is the meaning of the text I am clear, because in the first passage where the Alpha and Omega occurs—namely, in the first chapter of the Revelation, eighth verse—you will see that all the works of salvation are ascribed to our Lord. Read the fifth verse, “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first-begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him . . . I am Alpha and Omega.” Now, we have here a summary of the great transactions of saving grace. You have here that he loved us—loved us before the world was, with an everlasting love; you have next, that he washed us from our sins in his own blood, in which you have his redemption, and our consequent pardon, justification, and sanctification, all of which come to us through him. As for our glory, it is the result of his second advent, therefore, “Behold, he cometh,” makes him the Omega, as the “Unto him that loved us," made him the Alpha. I need not repeat to you who know so well that “There is none other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved,” and that in no part or portion of that salvation can any other name be admitted into partnership with his. Jesus must begin. Jesus must conclude. It is very striking to observe the commencement and the perfection of the spiritual life both laid at Jesus' door in the sixth verse of the twenty-first chapter—“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” So then, if you have any thirst, you must come to Jesus Christ at the beginning, to get the water of life. If you have been led to know your own emptiness—if you have received from his Spirit a hungering and a thirsting after righteousness, go not to the law; look not within; but come to the Alpha, drink and be satisfied. If, on the other hand, life is near its close; if you have been preserved in holiness; if you have been kept in righteousness, remember still to trust in the Omega; for these words follow, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” So that the inheriting of all things, the final overcoming of all spiritual foes, through Jesus, just as did the first drink of living water. The first breath which heaves the spiritual lungs, the first light which greets the newly-opened -opened eye, comes from Jesus who is the beginning; and the last shout of faith, the last shout of holy joy which shall admit the saints into the paradise of God, shall proceed from him who is the end. Beloved, lay thou back upon Christ with all thy strength; lean on him with all thy weight. He who began will finish: he never was Alpha yet without being Omega too. Nothing shall change his purpose: neither heaven, nor earth, nor hell, can afford a motive to turn him from his way of love. “He is of one mind, and who can turn him? What his soul desireth, even that he doeth.” 

     5. There is one more truth which I conceive to be in the text. Jesus is Alpha and Omega not only in the individual salvation of every saint, but in the whole chain of the Church's history. Where shall I say that the Church began? Why, very speedily after there was a seed of the serpent, there was also a seed of the woman. Surely the line of demarcation cation began hard by the gates of Eden; there we see Abel worshipping God in faith, and Cain who was of the wicked one and slew his brother. Do we not thus early see in Abel's sacrifice the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. Follow the Church through all her varied fortunes, and you will find her always bearing the banner of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah at her fore-front. No matter if she wanders about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, destitute, afflicted, tormented, Christ is still the day-star of her comfort. In her victories, his name is the loudest note; others may have slain their thousands, but the Son of David his ten thousands. No name wakes up the minstrelsy of Israel like the name of Messias, the coming one. Nothing can move the feet of Zion's maidens so joyously in the sacred dance; nothing can make the daughters of Jerusalem smite their timbrels to a more joyful strain than this—“He cometh; he cometh who shall judge the world in righteousness, and his people with truth.” Since the first advent of our Lord, has not the Church ever carried Jesus as her standard. Where will you find the Church without Christ? Jesus is yonder, among the snowy mountains of Switzerland, and his Church is with him though hel sons bear the approbrious names of heretics, schismatics, traitors, and worse. The Church of Rome had forgotten her first husband, and played the harlot, committing fornication with the kings of the earth; but there was a faithful bride found for the Son among the Albigenses and the Waldenses, in whose homes Jesus dwelt. What was their battle cry?—what the note they chanted round the family hearth?—what the name they pressed to their bosom when they dare not sing for fear the foe should fall upon them ? Was it not the name of Jesus? And when the dark ages passed away, what light do I see gleaming yonder? What doth Luther proclaim? What doth Calvin teach? It is the great name of Jesus which is their common theme. What say you, brothers and sisters? do you not join hands in solemn covenant, and say to-day, "His name shall endure forever; his name shall be remembered as long as the sun.” Do you not long for the time when “all nations shall be blessed in him, all people shall call him blessed?” Surely you yourselves will help to fulfil the promise, “one generation shall praise his name to another, and shall declare his mighty acts.” But the end cometh; Jehovah's banner will soon be furled; his sword shall be sheathed for ever; the unsuffering kingdom shall be proclaimed; swords shall be broken, and spears shall be snapped; the sun shall look upon no battlefield, but shall greet the reign of universal peace. What then? Jesus' name shall then be known everywhere, men shall talk of him and think of him by day and by night. Prayer, also, shall be made for him continually, and daily shall he be praised. They who dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him, and his enemies shall lick the dust. Then cometh the end. The judgment throne is set. The wicked are summoned. The righteous on the right hand have received their rewards—from whose hand? From the hand of the Omega who closes the chapter with his benediction, “Come, ye blessed of my Father.” Here are the wicked; hell is gaping for them; the tongues of flames lick up the multitudes as the lion devoureth his prey. Who is this that pronounces the thundering sentence, “Depart, ye cursed?” It is the Omega. That same face which once was bedewed with tears, is now brighter than the sun with flashes of lightning; the voice which said, “Come to me, ye weary,” now saith, “Depart, ye cursed.” He began—he ends—the Alpha is the Omega. But it is an end without end. Long, long through the ages of eternity, amid heaven’s perfect inhabitants, his name shall be the perpetual theme of song. Down there, amidst the howlings of the damned, they shall, against their will, declare his awful justice; they shall proclaim, in the eternal moanings, the power of the pierced feet which shall tread them as clusters in the winepress, until their blood floweth forth to the horses’ bridles. In eternity, heaven and earth and hell shall adore Jesus as Alpha and Omega. Hallelujah, hallelujah, Jesus Christ reigneth still as the Lord God omnipotent—Alpha and Omega! 

     III. By your patience we will notice A FEW THINGS WHICH FLOW OUT OF THE TEXT.

     1. The first is this—Sinner, saint, let Jesus be Alpha and Omega to thee to-day in thy trust. Poor soul, art thou willing to be saved? But dost thou say, “I have not this qualification, or that recommendation?” Ah, do not begin with thyself as the Alpha. Come to Jesus as you are, and let him be Alpha to you. Are you black? Let him wash you. Is your heart hard? Let him soften it. Are you a dead good-for-nothing nothing soul? Are you ragged and wretched? Are you lost, ruined, and undone; do not stop to write Alpha first; do not stop to begin your own salvation. Sinner, remember there is no preparation wanted for Christ. Just lean upon him wholly. Take him to begin with—nay let him take thee to begin with. Drop into his arms now, repose upon him now, you will never get the true salvation unless the first letter in it be Christ, for he is the Alpha. It will all have to be begun over again if you begin with humblings, with repentings, with convictions, or with anything but Christ; it must all be done over again, I say, unless you begin with Jesus. There he is. His wounds are flowing, his heart is breaking, his soul is in anguish—there is the Alpha of your salvation. Look and live. “Look unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth.” Child of God, let him be the Omega of your salvation. If you have begun with him, do not now confide in yourself. Shall I say to you as Paul did to the Galatians, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?” “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” Your first hope was through looking to Jesus, will you now look to your sanctifications cations, to your prayings, to your evidences, to your humblings, to your communings. Away with all these, if they pretend to be the ground of your soul's comfort. Remember, child of God, that to the end of the chapter it must be as it was in the beginning—

 

“None but Jesus, none but Jesus,

Can do helpless sinners good.”

 

Up in that chamber of yours, with strong cryings and tears you turned to God and you never had any comfort till you looked to Jesus only, and in that other chamber where you shall lie a-dying with the death-damp damp heavy on your brow—you shall have no comfort but Jesus only. You passed through the river of conviction, and Jesus forbade your drowning; you shall go through the stream of death, and he shall still keep your head above the waves. Alpha and Omega should Christ be to every one of us as our trust this morning.

     2. Beloved, if we have trusted him, let him be Alpha and Omega in our love. Oh, give him the first place in your love, young woman; may the Holy Ghost win thy young heart for my Lord and Saviour. Let the flower of thy heart be offered to him in the bud. O you, young children, who are your mother’s delight, and your father's care, I pray that your first dawning days may be consecrated to the Saviour; let him be Alpha with you. I trust he is Alpha to some of us, and has been so for years. We can use the words of the Psalmist, “I was cast upon thee from the womb. Thou hast been my God from my youth up. Truly I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid.” You who are growing old and grey-headed, let him have the Omega of your love. As you lean upon your staff, bending downward as if to salute your graves, bear loving recollection of all the years of his patience, and the days of his faithfulness to you. Breathe the prayer “Now, also, when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not.” See to it that you forsake him not, but clasp him with an expiring grasp as the Omega of your soul’s delight.

     3. But, surely, brethren, our Lord should be the Alpha and Omega of our life's end and aim. What is there worth living for but Christ? Oh, what is there in the whole earth that is worth a thought but Jesus? Well did an old writer say, “If God be the only Eternal, then all the rest is but a puff of smoke, and shall I live to heap up puffs of smoke, and shall I toil and moil merely to aggrandize myself with smoky treasures that the wind of death shall dissipate for ever?” No, beloved, let us live for eternal things, and what is there of eternal things that can be chosen but our Lord? O let us give him next year the Alpha of our labour. Let us begin the year by working in his vineyard, toiling in his harvest field. This year is almost over. There is another day or two left—let us serve him till the year is ended, going forward with double haste because the days are now so few. “Lord teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Let your time and your talents, your substance and your energies, all be given to my Master, who is worthy to be your soul's Alpha and Omega.

     4. Lastly, Jesus crucified should be the Alpha and Omega of all our preaching and teaching. Woe to the man who makes anything else the main subject of his ministry. “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Do not tell me you preach sound doctrine, you preach rotten doctrine, if you do not preach Christ—preach nothing up but Christ, and nothing down but sin. Preach Christ; lift him up high on the pole of the gospel, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and you will accomplish your life's end, but preach orthodoxy, or any form of doxy; if you have left out Christ, there is no manna from heaven, no water from the rock, no refuge from the storm, no healing for the sick, no life for the dead. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea, and the floods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body, you have left joy out of heaven, yea, you have robbed all of its all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming in Jehovah's name, if Jesus be forgotten. We must have Jesus, then, as Alpha and Omega in all our ministrations among the sons of men. 

     And now I am very conscious this morning that I have only ploughed the surface; I wish I could drive into the subsoil of such a glorious text as this, but I suppose that the ploughman who can do this, had need to have been caught up to the third heaven, and even then would fail. Who shall know anything of God but those who have seen him, and have beheld his glory in heaven? As for us, our eyes are holden. We have Jesus among us, but we perceive not his excellent glory; but like Peter, and James, and John, we sleep while Jesus is transfigured. The theme is far too high for me. Who can know God but God? Who can reveal him but the only-begotten? And who can comprehend the fulness of him who is the beginning and the end, the first and the last? It is enough if we have a saving acquaintance with the Redeemer, enough for our peace and joy, but gracious Lord, teach us more. Amen.



The Holy Child, Jesus

By / Dec 20

The Holy Child, Jesus

 

"That signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child, Jesus.”—Acts 4:30.  

 

THE opposition of the world is often a very great blessing to the Church. If it be met by holy boldness, it is sure to yield a glorious triumph to the servants of God. Sanctified by the Holy Ghost, out of the eater cometh forth honey, for it becomes an incentive to greater zeal. Now that the foeman is determined to conquer, the Church will be resolved to hold its own. Pressure from without drives the members of the Church together, and so promotes holy love, and when love and zeal come together, then there is such a blessed unity of action, and such a power in every effort that great success must follow. Woe unto the world when it persecutes the Church, for it kicks with its naked foot against the pricks; it stirs up a nest of hornets about its own ears; yea, it provokes the Lion of the tribe of Judah to spring upon his enemies.

     Our text is a portion of an apostolic song, which celebrated the release of Peter and John and the confusion of the priests and scribes. Every persecution shall yield psalms of victory to the people of God. There is one sweet result which always flows from the opposition of the world, namely, that it draws true disciples nearer to their Master. You will perceive that they sing concerning the birth, and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the Lord is the theme of their grateful song. The title by which they salute him, “Thy holy child, Jesus,” is most appropriate to their case. The history of the Church is Christ's life written out in length. Our Lord enters upon the world a holy child: when the Church begins her history, she is as a holy child too, and therefore rejoices in the childhood of her gracious Lord. How precious is it to see Jesus as made in all points like unto his people, and how rapturous for his people to see their Redeemer's features drawn by the pencil of fellowship in themselves. Trial is often sanctified to this noble end. Let the world oppress the Church; let the members of that Church be thoroughly weaned from any other ground of comfort; let the Lord Jesus be their only rock and refuge, and they will soon perceive analogies in the history of Christ beautifully explaining their own—analogies which they never would have discovered except in the glare of the furnace. In the chapter before us, the apostles are thrown back upon the person of Jesus for comfort, and they revel in the thought of his being a child, because they discover in this his likeness to the Church, which, in its infancy, the enemy sought to destroy, even as Herod sought to slay the new-born King of the Jews.

     Brethren, whenever we endure adversities, or tribulations, or distresses, be it ours to turn to Christ, and consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession; for we may rest assured that the black finger of our distresses will often point out beauties in the person of Immanuel hitherto unseen. There is a certain spot from which alone each glorious trait in the Saviour's character can be seen, and many of our most painful positions are ordained for us in order that we may from their vantage ground behold the Lamb of God.

     Our subject, this morning, may perhaps be suitable to the experience of some; the Lord make it useful to all. Taking the text as we find it, we shall, first of all, meditate upon the humanity of Christ as here declared; secondly, we shall view it as here described—“A holy child;” and thirdly, we shall then behold it in the glory which surrounds it—signs and wonders are wrought by the name of the holy child, Jesus. 

     I. First, then, dear friends, may our hearts be enlightened to see, as the apostles did, the beauty and excellence of THE REAL HUMANITY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. 

     While we always contend that Christ is God, very God of very God, let us never lose the firm conviction he is most certainly and truly a man. He is not a God humanized, nor yet a human being deified; but, as to his Godhead, pure Godhead, equal and co-eternal with the Father; as to his manhood, perfect manhood; made in all respects like unto the rest of mankind, sin alone excepted. His humanity was real, for he was born. He lay hidden in the virgin's womb, and in due time was born into a world of suffering. The gate by which we enter upon the first life, he passed through also; he was not created, nor transformed, but his humanity was begotten and born. As he was born, so in the circumstances of his birth, he is completely human; he is as weak and feeble as any other babe. He is not even royal, but human. Those who were born in marble halls of old were wrapped in purple garments, and were thought by the vulgar to be a superior race; but this babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes and hath a manger for his cradle, that the true humanness of his being may come out. More a man than he is a Prince of the House of David, he knows the woes of a peasant's child. As he grows up, the very growth shows how completely human he is. He does not spring into full manhood at once, but he grows in stature, and in favour both with God and man. When he reaches man’s estate, he gets the common stamp of manhood upon his brow. “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread” is the common heritage of us all, and he receives no better. The carpenter’s shop must witness to the toils of a Saviour, and when he becomes the preacher and the prophet, still we read such significant words as these—"Jesus, being weary, sat thus on the well.” We find him needing to betake himself to rest in sleep, he slumbers at the stern of the vessel when it is tossed in the midst of the tempest. Brethren, if sorrow be the mark of real manhood, and “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” certainly Jesus Christ has the truest evidence of being a man. If to hunger and to thirst be signs that he was no shadow, and his manhood no fiction, you have these. If to associate with his fellow men, and eat and drink as they did, will be proof to your mind that he was none other than a man, you see him sitting at a feast one day, at another time he graces a marriage supper, and on another occasion he is hungry, and “hath not where to lay his head.” Since the day when the prince of the power of the air obtained dominion in this world, men are tempted, and he, though he is born pure and holy, must not be delivered from temptation. 

 

“The desert his temptation knew

His conflict and his victory too.” 

 

     The garden marked the bloody sweat, as it started from every pore while he endured the agony of conflict with the prince of this world. If, since we have fallen and must endure temptation, we have need to pray, so had he—

 

“Cold mountains and the midnight air

Witnessed the fervour of his prayer.” 

 

Strong crying and tears go up to heaven mingled with his pleas and entreaties, and what clearer proof could we have of his being man of the substance of his mother, and man like ourselves, than this, that he was heard in that he feared. There appeared unto him an angel strengthening him; to whom but men are angels ministering spirits? Brethren, we have never discovered the weakness of our manhood more than when God has deserted us. When the spiritual consolations which comforted us have been withdrawn, and the light of God's face has been hidden from us, then we have said, “I am a worm and no man,” and out of the dust and ashes of human weakness have we cried unto the most high God. Let “Eloi! Eloi! lama sabachthani” assure you that Christ has felt the same. Follow man wherever you will and you find the footprint of the Son of Mary. Go after man where you will, into scenes of sorrow of every hue, and you shall find traces of Jesus’ pilgrimage there. You shall find in whatever struggle and conflict of which man is capable, the Captain of our salvation has had a share. Leave out sin, and Christ is the perfect picture of humanity. Simple as the truth is, and lying as it does at the very basis of our Christianity, yet let us not despise it, but try to get a personal grip of it if we can. Jesus, my mediator, is a man, “Immanuel, God with us.” He is a child born, he is better than that, for “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” He is to us a brother; he is bone of our bone to-day. As a man leaves his father and mother and cleaveth unto his wife, and they twain become one flesh, so hath he left the glory of his Father's house and become one flesh with his people. Flesh, and bone, and blood, and heart, that may ache and suffer, and be broken and be bruised, yea, and may die, such is Jesus; for herein he completes the picture. As the whole human race must yield its neck to the great iron-crowned owned monarch, so must Christ himself say, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit, Father,” and he, too, must yield up the ghost. Oh, Christian, see your nearness to him and be glad this morning! Oh, sinner, see his nearness to you! Come to him with confidence, for in body and soul he is completely human. 

     Having thus insisted upon the humanity of Christ, let us gather a few reflections from it. There are a thousand things which it indicates, but as the garden is too full of flowers for us to bring them all, we have gathered but a handful. 

     As the first meditation, let us marvel at his condescension. It is the greatest miracle that was ever heard or read of, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Cyprian well said, “I do not wonder at any miracle, but I do marvel at this, which is a miracle among miracles, that God should become man.” That God should make a creature out of nothing is certainly a marvellous manifestation of power, but that God should enter into that creature, and should take it into intimate union with his own nature—this is the strangest of all acts of condescending love. Indeed, so marvellous is it, that in all the heathen mythologies—strange freaks though imagination has there played, though we do find instances of the gods appearing in the likeness of men—yet never do we find anything like the hypostatical union of the two natures in the person of Christ. Human wisdom in its most happy moments has never risen to anything like the thought of deity espousing manhood, that man might be redeemed. To you and to me the marvel lieth in the motive which prompted the incarnation. What could it have been that brought Immanuel to such a stoop as this? What unrivalled, indescribable, unutterable love was this that made him leave his Father's glory, the adoration of angels and all the hallowed joy of heaven, that he might be made a man like ourselves, to suffer, to bleed, to die? “He was seen of angels,” saith the apostle, and this was a great wonder, for the angels had worshipped at his throne, but their created eyes could not bear to look upon the brightness of his person. They veiled their faces with their wings when they cried “Holy! Holy! Holy!” But angels saw the Son of God lying in a manger! The Lord of all wrestling with a fallen spirit in the wilderness! The Prince of Peace hanging upon the tree on Calvary! “Seen of angels ” was one of the wonders concerning the incarnation of Christ; but that he should be seen of men—nay that he should be the associate of the worst of men, that he should be called the friend of publicans and sinners, so perfectly incarnating himself, and condescending so low that he comes to the very lowest state of humanity—all this, my brethren, is condescension concerning which words fail me to speak. A prince who puts aside his crown, and clothes himself with beggar's rags to investigate the miseries of his country, is but a worm condescend descending to his fellow worm. An angel that should lay aside his beauty, and become decrepit and lame, and walk the streets in pain and poverty to bless the race of man, were nothing, for this were but a creature humbling himself to creatures a little lower than himself; but here is the Creator taking the creature into union with himself, the Immortal becoming mortal, the Infinite an infant, the Omnipotent taking weakness, even human weakness into union with his own person. We may truly say of Jesus, that he was weak as the dust, and yet as mighty as the Eternal God; liable to suffer, and yet God over all blessed for ever. O the depth of the love of Jesus! 

     Let us reflect upon another theme. See the fitness of Christ for his work! He is a perfect man—he could not be a priest if he were not. But now, “He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, seeing he was tempted in all points like as we are.” Being not ashamed to call us brethren, he can compassionate the ignorant and those who are out of the way. O brethren, if he were no man, he could not have been our substitute; man sinned, and man must pay the penalty: he must be perfect man to make atonement. If he were not man, his righteousness would not have availed us; for while we want a righteousness divine to cover the infiniteness of God's demands, we want a righteousness which is human, for it is that which the law requires. 0 soul, if thou art in sadness and sickness to-day ay, let thine arms embrace the man Christ Jesus. Feel in the fact that he is thy brother, how suitable is such a Saviour to thy poverty, thy weakness, and thy sin.

     Let us think, too, of another thought. Behold, inasmuch as Christ is man, his near relationship and union to his people. He is no stranger of whom we speak—he is our Brother; nay, more than that, he has become our Head. Not a head of gold, and feet of clay, or limbs of baser metal; but as we are, so was he, that as he is so might we be. It is manhood which is at the head of the Church, as it is manhood which constitutes the members. Union to Jesus is, methinks, the sweetest doctrine in revelation. There are other doctrines which possess a more transcendant grandeur, but the doctrine of union is the quintessence of all delights. What is heaven but union to Christ realized; and what shall be the foretaste of heaven but union to Christ believed? As thou seest him then completely, such as thou art, know, Christian, how near, how dear, how intimately one with him thou art, and be thou glad this day.

     Let me give thee another flower. See the glory of manhood now restored! Man was but a little lower than the angels, and had dominion over the fowl of the air, and over the fish of the sea. That royalty he lost; the crown was taken from his head by the hand of sin, and the beauty of the image of God was dashed by his rebellion. But all this is given back to us. We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; and at this day all things are put under him, waiting, as he does, and expecting the time when all his enemies shall be beneath his feet, and the last enemy, Death, shall be destroyed by man—by the very man whom he boasted that he had destroyed. It is our nature, brethren, Jesus in our manhood, who is now Lord of providence; it is our nature which has hanging at its girdle the sovereign keys of heaven, and earth, and hell; it is our nature which sits upon the throne of God at this very day. No angel ever sat upon God’s throne, but a man has done it, and is doing it now. Of no angel was it ever said, “Thou shalt be King of kings and Lord of lords, they that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before thee, and thine enemies shall lick the dust;” but this is said of a man. It is a man who shall judge the world in righteousness; a man who shall distribute crowns of reward; a man who shall denounce, “Depart, ye cursed;” a man, the thunder of whose words shall make hell shrink with affright. Oh, how glorious is renovated manhood! What an honour is it, my brethren, to be man, not of the fallen first Adam, but man made in the image in the second Adam? Let us with all our weakness, and infirmity, and imperfection, yet bless and praise & God, who made us what we are by his grace, for man, in the person of Christ, is second only to God—nay, is in such union with God, that he cannot be nearer to him.

     When we think of the true and proper manhood of Christ, ought we not to rejoice that a Messed channel is opened by which God's mercy can come to us? “How can God reach man?” was once the question; but now, brethren, there is another question. “How can God refuse to bless those men who are in Christ?” The everlasting Father must bless his only-begotten Son, and in blessing him he has blessed a man, and that man having all the elect in his loins, they are necessarily all blessed in him. Look upon the person of Christ as that of a representative individual. Whatever Christ is, all his elect are, just as whatever Adam was all men who were in him became. If Adam fell, all manhood fell; if Christ stands and is honoured and glorified, then all who are in Christ, that is the goodly fellowship of his elect, are all blessed in him. Now, it is utterly impossible but that God should bless Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ is for ever one with God, and his manhood is also one with God-head head. As an old writer observes, “The nearest union that we know of is the union between the humanity and the divinity in the person of Christ. That of the three persons in the Trinity may rather be called a unity than a union—but this is the closest union we know of—the union between humanity and deity in Christ.” So complete is it, that you cannot think of Christ aright as a man apart from God, nor as God apart from man. The very idea of Christ hath in it the two natures, and it is a clear impossibility that the Godhead should not impart of its blessedness to the manhood, and that manhood being thus blessed, every elect soul is necessarily blessed also. O see what a channel is thus opened; a channel through which the stream cannot but flow; a golden pipe through which grace cannot but come. The laws of nature might be reversed, but not the laws of God's nature, and it is a law of God’s nature that in the person of Christ the deity must bless the manhood, and that manhood being blessed, it is another law that elect manhood must be blessed, since that elect manhood is for ever indissolubly bound up with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. See what a river deep and broad is here opened for us, and what a fulness there is in that river, for all the fulness of the deity dwells in Christ, and the fulness of that deity thus flows to man. 

     See again, beloved, what a door of access is thus opened between us and God! I am a man; Christ is a man. I come to the man Christ Jesus—no I have not even to do that—I am in the man Christ. If I am a believer, I am a portion of him. Well, being a portion of the man Christ, and God being united with him, I am very near unto God. I have such nearness of access then to God, that whatever may be my desires and my prayers, I have no need to climb to heaven nor to descend into the depth in order to obtain my desire, for God's ear must be near to me inasmuch as God is in Christ, and my soul being in Christ I am very, very near to God. Christ's body is the veil that hangs before the majesty of God, that veil was rent; and whoever by a living faith knows how to come through the rent body of the man, Christ, comes at once into the presence of God. Such communion, such sacred commerce, such blessed interchanges between mankind and God could never have taken place on any other plan. That ladder which Jacob saw was but a faint and dreamy picture of this. This is no ladder, but the access is such as though God, who was at the top of Jacob's ladder, had come down to Jacob as he lay sleeping there. There is no ladder wanted now, the person of Christ brings God to man, brings man to God in closer contact than the ladder can ever picture. Brethren, let us come boldly unto the throne of the heavenly grace, to obtain grace to help in every time of need. 

     Another thing I cannot leave out, is this—beloved, do see it, do see it—how safe we are! Our soul's estate was once put in the hands of Adam: he was a fallible man; how unsafe our salvation was then! The salvation of every believer now is in the hand of a man; it is the man Christ Jesus! But what a man! Can he fail? Can he sin? Can he fall? O no, beloved, for the deity is in intimate union with the manhood hood, and the man Christ Jesus, since he can never sin, can never fall, and is therefore a sure foundation for the perpetual salvation of all the elect. When the angels were all in heaven, before the fall of Satan, methinks they could never be perfectly happy, because they knew that if they sinned they would perish, and this surely would mar their bliss, because there was a fear of their losing all their glory; but, beloved, our salvation does not rest with ourselves, we may have all the joy of perfect security, because it rests in the hand of one who cannot by any possibility sin, who cannot err, cannot fail, but who standeth fast for ever, from everlasting to everlasting, God. See then, the comfort and security of God's ’s people, but indeed there are so many sheaves in this field of incarnation that I cannot possibly unbind them all for you. You must come and pluck an ear or two for yourselves, and rub them in your hands on this Sabbath day, that your hunger may be relieved.

     Beloved, do you not see that here is your adoption? You become sons of God, because Christ becomes a son of man. Do you not perceive that here is your acceptance? The man, Christ, is accepted, and you, since he stands for you, are accepted in him. Nay, there is not a mercy in the covenant, there is not a single stream of blessing which flows to the believer, that does not spring from the fact that Christ is to be called the “holy child Jesus,” being most certainly and properly a man. Thus much, then, upon the first point.

     II. Now let us VIEW THE HUMANITY AS IT IS HERE DESCRIBED. The words teach it to us—holy child.

     Christ’s humanity was perfectly holy. Upon this doctrine you are well established; but you may well wonder that Jesus was always holy. He is conceived of a woman, and yet no sort of sin cometh from his birth. “That holy thing which is born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” He is educated in the midst of sinful persons. It could not be otherwise, for there were none on earth that could be called good—all having become unprofitable, and yet, though tabernacling in the midst of sinners, in him is no taint or trace of sin. He goes into the world, and as a physician must mingle with the sick, so he is found in the very worst of society. The harlot may speak to him, and from the publican he turns not away, yet from none of these did he receive any corrupt influence. He is tempted, and it is usually supposed that a man can scarcely be tempted, even should he overcome the temptation, without receiving some injury to his innocency; but the prince of this world came and had nothing in Christ; his fiery darts fell upon the nature of Christ as upon water, and were quenched at once. Satan was but as one who should whip the sea; he left no mark upon the perfect holiness of Christ. Imputation of sin would be the nearest approach to making our Lord a sinner; but let it ever be remembered that though Jehovah made him to be sin for us, yet he knew no sin. The world's sin was put upon the shoulders of Christ, and yet he had no sin for all that; the imputation was accomplished in such a manner that it did not in any sense or in any degree derogate from his title to perfect holiness. I have read sermons upon the imputation of sin to Christ, which have left painful impressions upon my mind, because I remember to have met with the expression that Christ was the greatest sinner that ever lived, because he stood in the room of millions of sinners. Now it is true that Jesus took the sinner’s place, but yet he never was a sinner, nor ever can in any sense be thought of as unholy. Perfect, pure, spotless, the great Redeemer stood; and even in the conflict, when all the powers of hell were let loose against him, and when God himself had withdrawn—that withdrawal of God from us would have hardened our hearts, but it did not harden his heart. The taking away of God’s grace from us is the ruin of our graces; but he had a well-spring of grace within himself, and his purity lived on when God had withdrawn from him. From the first dawn of his humanity in the womb to the time when he is laid in the new tomb, he is “holy.”

     The next word is one that requires most attention. Why is Christ called a “holy child?” We can understand his being called a child while he was so, but why a “holy child” now that he is ascended up on high? Why, dear friends, because the character of Christ is more aptly pictured by that of a child than that of a man. If you conceive of a perfectly holy child, you have then before you a representation of Christ. There is that in childhood, in holy childhood, which you cannot find even in holy manhood. You note in childhood its simplicity, the absence of all cunning. We dare not in manhood usually wear our heart upon our sleeve as children do; we have lost the trustfulness of our youth and are upon our guard in society. We have learned by very painful experience to suspect others, and we walk among our fellow men often with our heart locked up with many locks, thinking that when thieves are abroad, good housekeepers must not leave the door on the latch. We have to practise the wisdom of serpents, as well as the harmlessness of doves. 

     But a child is perfectly guileless; it prattles out its little heart; it has no caution or reserve; it cannot scheme, for it cannot go round about with the skilful words of the politician; it knows not how to spin the web of sophistry; it is plain, transparent, and you see through it. Now, such was Christ. Not foolish, for there is much difference between simplicity and folly. He was never foolish; they who mistook him for such, and sought to entrap him, soon discovered that the child was a wise child. Still he is ever a child—he tells his heart out everywhere. He eats, he drinks like other men. They call him a drunken man and a wine-bibber; does he, then, from prudential motives, therefore, cease to eat and drink as other men? O no! He is quite a child. In every thing that he does there is an artless simplicity. You see through him and you can trust him, because there is a trustfulness about his whole nature; he knows what is in man, yet he does not act with suspicion towards men, but ever with simplicity. 

     In a child we expect to see much humbleness. There is a humbleness of association. There is a little child yonder—it is a king's daughter, and here is another little child belonging to a gipsy woman. Leave the two in a room and see if they will not be at play together in five minutes. If it had been the queen and the gipsy woman they would have sat as far apart as possible. O no! They do not associate together at all! Distinctions of rank and all that kind of thing they studiously maintain, and, therefore, remain isolated; but the two children will be down on the floor together, and if there happen to be some little heap of dust or a few pieces of broken crock, the princess will find in them almost as much mirth as the beggar-woman's s child. Here is humbleness of mind. So with Christ; he is King of kings and Prince of the house of David, yet he is always with the poor and needy, and sympathizes with them just as heartily as though he were altogether such as they were. You do not find little children sitting down and planning how they shall win crowns—in what way they shall obtain popularity or applause. O no! They are quite satisfied to do their father's will, and live on his smile. It is so with Christ. What a childlike act that was—when they would have made him a king, he went and hid himself, and how childlike does he seem when he rides upon the colt, the foal of an ass, through the streets of Jerusalem, and must have the mother ass there too, lest either of the two creatures should be distressed. He is the friend of the brute creation as well as of man in general; so thoughtful and so kind, so simple, so humble in all that he does.

     We picture a holy child as being all obedient. You have but to say to it “Do this,” and it doeth it. It asketh no questions. Was it not so with Jesus his whole life long? “My meat and my drink is to do the will of him that sent me.” “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” 

     So, again, we look in holy children for a forgiving temper. We know that sometimes the blood comes up in the little face, and a little angry quarrel ensues, but it is soon over, and with their arms about each other’s neck, and many a loving kiss, it is soon made up again by the little ones. Well, with Jesus this characteristic of childhood is carried out to the fullest extent, for his latest words are, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Ah! holy child! no fire from heaven dost thou call, like John; no denunciations come from thy lips against sinners. “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more,” saith he to the woman taken in adultery. He is the child all through. Scripture calls him the man-child, and what if we call him the great child-man! He was a child when he had become a man. He never had childish things to put away in the sense in which the apostle speaks of it, for as to all the folly, and the littleness, and giddiness of youth, Christ knew not these, but everything that is beautiful, and lovely, and just, in the virgin innocence of a pure and holy child—such as children would have been, if their parents had not fallen—all this you see in the person of Christ Jesus.

     Beloved, I think there is something very sweet in this picture of Christ's humanity, because we are none of us afraid to approach a child. Men that are childlike men—you could not tell your trouble to them; they have a haughty manner, they look down upon you, you feel that you can never reach their hearts. There are certain others with an open and honest face, and you instinctively feel, “There, I can tell that man anything, I know I can. If I were in any kind of distress, or trouble, I would go to him—I know he would help me if he could.” Well, that is because such a man has a degree of child-likeness about him. Now in the person of Christ there is all this carried out to the fullest degree. Come then, and tell Jesus everything. Whatever your trouble or difficulty may be, stand not back through shame or fear. Wilt thou fear Immanuel, or dread the Lamb of God? Wilt thou be afraid of a holy child? Nay, rather come, and like Simeon take him in thine arms and own him as thy consolation and thy trust. I would I could get a hold this morning on those timid ones who always say, “I am afraid of Jesus.” Why, dear friends, how can you talk so? You do him wrong. You know him not, or you would not thus speak. This is the unkindest cut of all, to think that he is unwilling to forgive. Dying for you. living as a holy child for you, O can it be, can it be possible that he should be hard to forgive and receive you? 

     Thinking of a holy child while I looked through this verse, I turned to Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's story of Eva and little Topsy. She gives a graphic picture there of a holy child indeed. There is the law in the person of Miss Ophelia: she whips the child, but the more she whips her, the worse she is; she gets no further than, “I’s so wicked, I can't help it; I's so wicked.” That is all the law can do; it can only make a man feel he is “so wicked,” that he cannot help it, and he goes on sinning still. But what a picture is that when St. Clair draws the curtain and sees the two little children sitting with their cheeks together. Eva says, “What does make you so bad, Topsy? Why won’t you try and be good? Don't ’t you love anybody, Topsy?” “Donno nothing 'bout love; I loves candy and sich; that’s all,” said Topsy. “But you love your father and mother?” “Never had none, ye know; I telled ye that, Miss Eva.” “Oh, I know,” said Eva sadly; “but hadn't you any brother, or sister, or aunt, or—” “No, none on ’em—never had nothing nor nobody.” “But, Topsy, if you’d only try to be good, you might—” “Couldn’t never be nothin' but a nigger, if I was ever so good,” said Topsy. “O Topsy, poor child, I love you!” said Eva, with sudden burst of feeling, and laying her little thin, white hand on Topsy’s shoulder, “I love you, because you haven't had any father, or mother, or friends—because you've ’ve been a poor, abused child! I love you, and I want you to be good. I am very unwell, Topsy, and I think I shan't live a great while; and it really grieves me to have you be so naughty. I wish you would try to be good, for my sake; it's only a little while I shall be with you.” The round, keen eyes of the black child were overcast with tears; large, bright drops rolled heavily down, one by one, and fell on the little white hand. Yes, in that moment, a ray of real belief, a ray of heavenly love had penetrated the darkness of her heathen soul! She laid her head down between her knees, and wept, and sobbed; while the beautiful child, bending over her, looked like the picture of some bright angel stooping to reclaim a sinner. Now something like this, only in a far nobler style, Jesus Christ has behaved towards us. He sees us lost and ruined, wicked, hopelessly wicked, and he comes as a holy child and sits down by our ruined humanity, and he says, “I love you—I love you because you are so lost, so ruined, so hopelessly ruined; because I know the dreadful doom into which you will fall. There is nothing in you that makes me loves you, but I do love you; I cannot bear to see you die like this. I would sooner die than you should remain a sinner. I would sooner die and bear my Father's wrath for you, than that you should be a sinner, and disobedient to him.” The holy child sits down by you this morning and weeps for you. Will you grieve Immanuel? Will you break the heart of Jesus, your soul's lover? Oh, will you open his wounds afresh and crucify him again? If ye would not, then trust him now; fly to him, give yourselves selves up to him. He waiteth to be gracious to you; his loving arms are wide open to receive you. "Whosoever will,” saith he, “let him come, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Such is the coming of the “holy child Jesus.”

     III. To conclude: it seems that the name of this holy child is to work great wonders. Only for one second let us turn aside and behold THE GLORY OF HIS HUMANITY. 

     Although Christ was a man, all the powers of nature knew their Master and crouched at his feet. He could command the sea or the boisterous wind; diseases, the myrmidons of death, and death their prince, all owned allegiance to him who is immortality and life. After his resurrection he endowed his disciples with his own power, and more than his own power—“For greater works than these shall ye do, because I go unto my Father.” The name of Jesus was uttered, uttered by feeble men, and devils fled apace; dumb mouths began to sing, lame men leaped like a hart, and the blind began to see; nay in several instances stances the grave itself yielded up its prey when the name of Jesus sounded through its hollow vaults. The age of miracles passed off, it was well it should. Miracles are but the cradle in which the man-child, the Church, must be rocked. When the Church becomes strong enough to stand alone, she leaves her swaddling bands behind her; but the name of Jesus hath not less power to-day because no risen dead, no opened eyes follow in our train. At this hour, dead souls hear the voice of God and live. At this moment, spiritual eyesight is restored; hearts that were stone are turned to flesh, and tongues that were ready enough at cursing begin to sing. The miracles of the spirit world are infinitely greater than those of the natural. It is little to turn a stone into bread; but it is much to turn a stony heart into flesh. It is comparatively little to open a blind eye, but it is divine indeed to enlighten the understanding and illuminate the dark heart. The name of Jesus is just as mighty in this Tabernacle to-day, as it was in the lips of Paul upon Mars Hill, or when he stood in his own hired house in Rome. Do not say that you entertain a doubt concerning it. Look around, and see the proofs. O men and brethren, you and I have been the willing trophies of the power of that great name. In this house, or in the Surrey Music Hall, and elsewhere, where that name was proclaimed, we received a broken heart—we who once had hearts hard as adamant. There the tears of repentance began to flow; there the griefs, the heavy glooms of our spirit, were scattered by the Sun of Righteousness. If we have been made to walk in holiness, this is one of the signs and wonders of his name. If drunkenness and lust have been shaken off, this, too, is to his praise. If the demoniac, the man who was full of devilry, has been clothed and made to sit in his right mind at the feet of Jesus, this is another of the signs and wonders. In this place—not only in this great chamber, but below-stairs airs in our classes, and in our Sabbath-schools too, signs and wonders are wrought by the name of the holy child, Jesus. And in other places of worship in London, wherever Christ is lifted up—wherever his sacrifice is made the prominent theme, the dry bones in the valley come together, the Spirit breathes upon them, and they live as an exceeding great army. We defy the whole world to show anything comparable to the power of Jesus' name. There is more magic in it than ever was in Moses' rod; it is more mighty even than his voice, though he divided the Red Sea and brought water out of the rock. Brethren, let us spread his name; let it be always on our tongues. Let us each in our proper sphere, declare his glory, and we shall see his kingdom come, and his will shall be done on earth even as it is in heaven. I wonder whether there is anyone here who will be a sign and wonder of the love of Christ! Do you wish to be? Ah! then, I hope you are. Do you wish to be? Then, the door is open. “Whosoever believeth in him is not condemned.” One look at Jesus, and you are saved—a trustful casting of yourself on him, and you are delivered. God enable you to do this now, and you shall see in the change which is wrought within you, an internal evidence of the majesty of Christ’s person, which shall never fail you. You shall be established by that which you feel within, in so sure and certain a manner, that the arguments of infidelity or deism shall never be able to shake you off the rock. May God grant this for his holy name's sake. Amen.