A New Year’s Retrospect and Prospect
“LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.”— Psalm x. 17.
IT has been sometimes said that a good Sabbath makes a good week. Sir Matthew Hale long ago said:—
“A Sabbath well spent
Brings a week of content;”
while George Herbert quaintly wrote:—
“The Sundays of man’s life,
Threaded together on Time’s string,
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternal, glorious King.
On Sunday, Heaven’s gate stands ope;
Blessings are plentiful and rife;
More plentiful than hope.”
Sunday is the market-day of the week; and if a man does well at market, he considers that he has done well for all the week. The Sabbath oils the wheels of the week; its bodily rest is useful, but its spiritual anointing is far more so.
Now, if that be the case, and I think it is, I might venture to say that a good first Sabbath in the year will go a long way towards making a good year. Very often, things go on as they begin: It is very seldom that troubles come alone, and it is still more seldom that mercies are given to us singly. We may always say, when we get a blessing, “Gad, a troop cometh.” So I would that we might receive a great blessing on this first Sabbath of another year, that a troop of blessings might follow on the heels thereof, and that a host of mercies might continue to come to us even till we reach the last day of the year, and then that we might begin again with new tokens of our Lord’s lovingkindness and tender mercy.
I thought our text might be a very serviceable word for this first Sabbath evening in the year of grace, 1871. It is intended to be of use, not only for to-night’s sermon, but to be remembered all the year round. I think there is something in it which will render it suitable to all of us at all times during the next twelve months; and, indeed, during the whole of the rest of our lives. We do not know, as we said in prayer just now, which way our pilgrimage may lead us; but I feel persuaded that, with this inspired passage laid up in our hearts, if we make a right use of it, beneath the covert of Jehovah’s wings we may go happily on from this place till again we pitch our tent upon the borders of another year.
Looking at the text, we may divide it into two parts. In the first portion, we have a very blessed fact: “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.” In the second part, we have two very blessed assurances: “Thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.”
I. We will begin with what the text says about A VERY BLESSED FACT: “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.”
I call this a very blessed fact, first, because it always has been a fact. In all ages, and in all places, wherever there has been a humble heart that has lifted up its desire to God, the Lord has heard that desire. Whether Jew or Gentile, whether in the palace or in the poorhouse, whether in sickness or in health, whether in poverty or in wealth, whether in life or in death, no difference has ever been made; if the desire has been a humble one, from the first man who ever prayed down to this present time, God has always been ready to hear.
And, blessed be his holy name! it is not only an old fact, it is as much a fact to-night as it was when David first penned these words: “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.” At this very moment, God’s ear is hearing the beating of your hearts. O humble soul, Jehovah’s heart discerns the throbbings of your desire, though they are unexpressed in words! His eyes of fire, which pierce us through and through, are reading every longing desire of every anxious bosom here.
It is so now; and it will be a fact all through this year, God will hear the desire of the humble. It is a fact of the olden times, but it is also a fact of present import, and of the future, too. Do notice how the psalmist puts this fact: “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.” David does not say, “Thou hast heard the prayer of the humble;” he means that, but he also means a great deal more. Sometimes, we have desires that we cannot express; they are too big, too deep; we cannot clothe them in language. At other times, we have desires which we dare not express; we feel too bowed down, we see too much of our own undesert to be able to venture near the throne of God to utter our desires; but the Lord hears the desire when we cannot or dare not turn it into the actual form of a prayer. I know you have sometimes said, “I wish I could pray like So-and-so.” Often have you thought, “If I could only put a great many beautiful sentences together into goodly shape, then I might be heard.” Do not talk so foolishly. If you cannot put two words together correctly, if your desire is right, God will hear the desire.
“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Utter’d or unexpress’d.”
The prayer is not in the expression or the non-expression; the prayer is the soul’s sincere desire. The very bowels of the prayer are in the desire; the essence of the whole matter, the kernel of the nut, is the desire of the heart, not the utterance of the lip. Words without the desire are mere empty husks; but the desire, even without words, is sweet to God, and he accepts it. Can you catch the blessedness of this thought? I say again, before your desire takes a shape in which language could cover it, God will hear it. You sometimes can hear people’s desires yourself. Many a mother hears her boy’s desire. He has gone to sea; but before he went, his mother packed his box. She did not tell him all she put into it; there are some things there that he has not seen yet, and he will not find them till he searches to the bottom of the chest. How did she know that he would desire those things? Because she foresaw the position in which he would be placed, and the wants which would arise in such a case, and she gathered from that foresight what her boy’s desire would be. You have seen a poor hungry person shivering in the cold. If he has not accosted you, and asked you for alms, yet you have heard the desire beating beneath that ragged coat, and you have said to yourself, “That man wants help.” You have heard his desire even by just looking at him, his very silence seemed to speak to you of his great need. O soul, God can hear thy want, Jehovah can hear thine anguish, the Lord can hear what no one else can hear, and what thou canst not express! I have always thought that to be a very clever way of begging, when a man sits down, and huddles himself up at a street corner, and just writes on the pavement with a piece of chalk, “I am starving.” But perhaps it is quite as efficient a plea if the beggar does not write the words, if his face looks like starvation, and his whole body appears emaciated with want and hunger. You know the man’s desire from his very look. And oh, how sweet it is to think that God looks down, with a comprehensive glance, upon humble souls, takes in their whole condition and position with his compassionate eyes, and hears their desire, though they are unable or afraid to express it!
Notice, however, that David does not say, “Lord, thou wilt hear the desire of the humble,” but, “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble. As soon as ever it was born, thou didst hear it.” You desire, and God hears the desire at the same moment; nay, let me correct myself, and say that, before it was a desire in your heart, God knew it would be there, and he heard it. He had looked on you when as yet you had not looked on him, and even then it might have been truly said, “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.”
What kind of a desire is it that God hears? He does not accept all desires. Some are trifling, some are vain, some are foolish, some are wicked; and he is not pleased with such desires. It is the desire of the humble that the Lord hears. “Ah!” says one, “I am afraid I am not humble.” Brother, it is one mark of a truly humble man that he does not think himself humble. If you meet with a person who says he is humble, you may conclude at once that he is proud; for, usually, there is no boasting in the world that is so full of pride as the boasting of the man who talks of his humility. You humble? Ah, sir, you need to be humbled a great deal yet before that will be the truth! The very man who mourns over his pride is, probably, the really humble man.
A humble desire, or the desire of a humble man, has this characteristic, the man knows there is no merit in his desire. If it be a good desire that he has in his heart, he feels, “It will be all through the infinite mercy of God if this desire is realized.” He does not compliment himself, and say, “Well done, self, you have right desires in your heart, there is something good in you.” No, but he fears lest the desire should not be sincere; and when it is deepest and truest, he still strips himself of all rags of self-righteousness, for he cannot see any good whatever in the desire that is in his own heart.
A humble man does not desire anything of God’ for his own honour. He thinks too little of himself to wish to exalt himself, and he longs in all things to glorify God. He desires his own salvation; but he knows that he does not deserve it, and he therefore gives God all the glory even while he rejoices in his own deliverance from going down into the pit. He sings, with Toplady,—
“Not to myself I owe
That I, O Lord, am thine;
Free grace hath all the shades broke through,
And caused the light to shine.
“Me thou hast willing made
Thy offers to receive;
Call’d by the voice that wakes the dead,
I come to thee and live.”
A humble desire is one which leaves everything in God’s hands. The man who has it says, “Now, though I desire this, it may be it is not a right desire; Lord, I desire only to desire what I ought to desire! My desire is that thy desire should be written on my heart, that I may desire what thou desirest. Thy will be done in my soul, in my body, in my circumstances, and in me, in all respects.”
Now, beloved friends, I think it will not be very difficult for you to see whether you have that desire of the humble which God hears; but to help you still further, let me give you some of these desires.
This is one of the desires of the humble: “Lord save me! I am lost, unless thy mercy come to my rescue. I am guilty; forgive me! I have been an enemy to thee; reconcile me! I am diseased with sin; heal me, for thou art the only Physician!” I cannot hear your desires. Let me stop and listen as long as I may, I cannot hear the longings of anyone here who wants God to save him; but, oh, dear soul, wherever thou art, and whoever thou art, there is a better ear than mine that has heard thy desire, and that ear belongs to One who will fulfil thy desire! Surely, some of you are praying that prayer that I uttered just now; perhaps one who seemed least likely to offer it. God has dropped a hot coal of desire right into his bosom, right into her soul; and he or she is saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
That is one of the desires of the humble that God hears. I will suppose, however, that the Lord has heard that desire in your case, and that he has graciously fulfilled it. Now I think I hear some humble soul here saying, “Lord, save my children! Lord, convert my boys and girls! I have tried to train them up for thee; but I dare not hope that any teaching of mine will be effectual for their salvation unless thou dost put thy hand to the work.” I cannot hear the beating of your hearts as you plead for your children; I cannot hear the wife’s desires as she inwardly cries, “Lord, save my husband!” Neither can I hear that sister’s longing as she says within her spirit, “O Lord, let my sister live before thee! May my brother learn to know Christ!” But, though I cannot hear those desires, and no human being can hear them, God hears them: “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.” Make yours a large desire, beloved friends! Take in all your kinsfolk, take in mine, take in my hearers, take in all this congregation, take in this City of London, and lot the desire go up that God would save tens of thousands of souls, for he will hear the desire of the humble.
Another desire should be this: “Lord, guide me aright this year!” The young man, who feels the force of his passion, should pray, “Lord, lead me not into temptation; but deliver me from evil!” The merchant, who knows the deadening influence of the cares of this world, should cry, “Quicken thou me, O Lord, according to thy Word!” The housewife, who looks forward to she knows not what of trouble in the family,— a suitable prayer for her is, “Let thy grace, O Lord, be ever sufficient for me! Guide me, O Lord, lead me in a plain path, direct my footsteps, and let me this year walk in holiness!” I say again, I do not know who is breathing that petition, I hope many of you are doing so; but there is One sitting in the highest heavens, hearing the songs of cherubim and seraphim, who yet condescends to hear the desire of the humble when it takes such a form as this.
I think I know some of you to-night who are saying, “Lord, glorify thyself in me!” I do hear that desire intone heart here, I can hear it in my own heart; but God hears it, I trust, in many others. The Sunday-school teacher is saying, “Lord, honour thyself in my class this year! Bring my boys, my girls, to the Saviours feet.” You who are preachers are saying, “Lord, glorify thyself in our ministry; give us many souls that shall be our crown of rejoicing, but thy glory for ever!” You who have not had any particular form of duty are saying, “Lord, give me something to do this year! Do not let me be an idler; suffer me not to be a barren tree; get honour to thyself out of me this year, I beseech thee!” Now, wherever such a desire is going up, God hears it. I trust, also, that you are not only desiring God’s glory through yourself, for, if so, that may not be a humble desire; but that you are also desiring God’s glory through all his servants. Let this be your petition, “O Lord, prosper every minister of Christ, every Sunday-school teacher, every sick-visitor, every tract distributor, everyone who is doing anything for thee! O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years! O send out thy light and thy truth! Let multitudes of sinners be saved!” If that be your heart’s desire, be thankful that God hears the desire of the humble this night, and be earnest in presenting that desire at the throne of grace.
Now I will leave this first part of my subject. I really think there is much in it which, while it causes you joy as you think of it this evening, may also cause you joy to-morrow, and every other day in the year. Suppose you are in a workshop, and cannot kneel down to pray, you can desire, and God will hear that desire even if it is not expressed in words. Perhaps you work where there are ungodly men, and you cannot vocally offer your petition to the Lord if so, you can desire. Therefore, thank the Lord that he hears the desire of the humble. Whatever can stop my voice, nothing can stop my heart’s desire; I can go on desiring, and, glory be to God! he will go on hearing the desire of my heart.
II. Now we must pass on to the second part of our subject, TWO VERY BLESSED ASSURANCES: “Thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.”
The first assurance is this, “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” Turn this declaration into a prayer, “Lord, prepare my heart!” We ought all to make some sort of preparation for coming days as far as prudence suggests and circumstances allow. There is a laying up in store for a rainy day, that every sensible man will make as far as he is able; but, brethren, the best preparation for the future lies in having a heart prepared. If you get all else prepared, but the heart is not, you have left the major part undone; and if the heart be prepared, and a good deal else unprepared, things may yet come right in the end. All gets right when the heart is right. Out of the heart are the issues of life; and those issues of life are true and good when the heart is right. God only can prepare the heart for that which is right; he alone can prepare it for holy living, and prepare it for happy dying, and prepare it for eternity. I want you to get hold of this assurance as a promise for you all through this year, “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” How shall we understand this expression?
First, God will prepare the heart of the humble to receive Christ. “Oh!” says one, “I do not feel fit to come to Christ.” All the fitness that is wanted, God will give you. “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” You want to be empty, to be broken, to be wounded; all this the Spirit of God will work upon your conscience by the operation of the law of the Lord. Do not stand back from Christ because you are unprepared to come to him. God will prepare you for Christ as he has already prepared Christ for you.
Next, “Thou wilt prepare their heart” to receive more of Christ. Those of us who have had Christ as our hope and our trust want to get more of him. I should be very sorry if I thought that, this year, I should not learn something more of my Master than I have hitherto known. I should think it a dreary year if it should pass over my head, and I should have no fresh instruction concerning the beauties of his person, and the excellence of his character. Oh, that we might all receive Christ more fully into our heart! The heart wants sweeping, and cleaning, and preparing, and here is the promise that this work shall be divinely performed, “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” Not only for grace, but for more grace, will God prepare the heart of the humble.
This year, dear brethren, we shall need heart-preparation for the many duties we shall have to perform for God. Look forward to them with trust in God. Those who examine the palms of the hand, and pretend to foretell futurity, are fools; those who believe them are not wise. We cannot tell what a day may bring forth, but we know that every day will bring its meed of service. Well then, God will prepare our hearts for it. “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” I like to think that nothing shall come for me to do but God will fit me for it. I may be called to work that I have never attempted before; if so, I shall have grace given which I never had before. You may change your condition of life this year, my dear friend; but you shall be prepared for that change. You may have to emigrate to the other side of the world, and find fresh duties awaiting you there; but you shall be prepared for your new sphere of service. You may be called from being a servant to be a master, or you may have to come down in the world, and from being a master you may have to become a servant; yet, whatever God shall put before you to do, he will prepare your heart for it. Only plead this declaration in prayer, and you may expect to have it fulfilled.
In addition to our active service, there may be, and probably will be for many of us, a great deal of passive service; we may have to endure suffering this year. Poverty may fall upon some who are now in a comfortable position in life. Bereavement may make a widow of that smiling sister, or that happy father over yonder may be left childless. Ere the year has run its course, who of us may have to toss upon the bed of sickness by the month together, who may be slandered, who may be persecuted, it is not for us to know; but here is something we may know, “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” It is wonderful how God gets his people ready for trouble when it is coming. You remember what Solomon says of the wise woman, “She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet.” She has made such warm garments for them that she says, “Let the snow come if it likes, they are prepared to resist the cold.” So God’s wisdom and grace will clothe us all with such warm garments of consolation that, when trouble comes, we shall be fully prepared to bear it. For duty, or for suffering, “Thou wilt prepare their heart.”
And ah! this year, some of us may have to die. Many of our members passed away last year; some dear sweet souls, the very pick of this church, were taken up to heaven. It may be my lot, it may be your lot, dear brother or sister, to go home this year; but we will fall back on this gracious assurance, “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” Why, it seems to me that, if I can keep this word in my heart and on my tongue all this year, nothing shall be able to disturb me; I shall be like the man of whom it is written, “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.” “Thou wilt prepare their heart,” and therefore they shall not be afraid of all the enemies that can come against them. Thou shalt not be afraid of sickness, of famine, or of death itself, for God will prepare thy heart to meet it. Slip aside now and again, during this year, when an unexpected trouble comes, and say, “Lord, prepare my heart for this sorrow!” When you meet with a strong temptation that comes all of a sudden, haste away into some quiet corner, and pray, “Now, my Master, prepare my heart to resist this assault of the adversary!” He will keep your sword sharpened for you, he will have your shield well bossed for you, be will keep you strong, he will keep you happy, be will keep you blessed, be will prepare your heart.
Now for the last part of my text. You do not know, perhaps, that I have a license to keep on as long as I like to-night, for my pulpit clock has stopped! I am obliged to look round to see how the time flies. Before I close, I should like to say a little about this last part of my subject, the second blessed assurance: “Thou wilt cause thine ear to bear.” I think, brethren, that this preparation of the heart means, in the first place, that God will prepare his people’s hearts to pray, then be will cause his ear to hear their prayers; but I will just take it out of its connection for a minute or two.
“Thou wilt cause thine ear to bear.” I understand by this phrase that the Lord will hear us soon. Sometimes, when we pray, the answer does not come directly. Pray again, brother, for if God has not caused his ear to hear yet, he will cause his ear to hear. The answer to your prayer shall come speedily. Do not postpone your expectations too long; prepare to wait if God tarries, but be prepared for the reply if he does not tarry. Some Christians do the first, but not the second; they seem so ready to wait that God makes them wait. Oh, prepare with such vigour and earnestness, when you are pleading for your own salvation, or for the salvation of others, that God shall make baste, and at once cause bis ear to bear! He will bear you soon; expect, during this year, many speedy answers to your prayers.
“Thou wilt cause thine ear to hear,” that means next, I think, that the Lord will hear us always. He will, as it were, exert himself to hear your supplication: “Thou wilt cause thine ear to bear.” This is a blessed word for this new year. My God, how earnestly I will pray now that I know I have thine ear! I remember that dear Mr. Cowper, when he was in despondency and distress, writing to Mr. Bull, of Newport Pagnell, said, “You have advised me to pray; but there is no reason in the world in my praying, there is no passage of Scripture that gives me any right to pray.” He was, of course, insane at the time; yet be said, “If there were such a text, I would never leave off praying as long as I lived. You tell me that Jonah prayed in the whale’s belly, but I am in a worse plight than be was in. If I were only as bad as Jonah was, I would pray to God night and day.” I catch at that thought,— if I am permitted to pray, then I will pray; and if I may have whatsoever I ask of God in the name of Jesus, oh, I will ask! Do use your privilege in praying to the Lord, for he will cause his ear to hear. If you had the ear of the great ones at court, and could get whatever you liked, I am sure that you would use the privilege; and now that you have the ear of the great King of kings, O ye intercessors, ye who are the Lord’s remembrancers, plead with him day and night, “and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth,” for he will cause his ear to hear you. The Lord will always hear you, sinner, if you call upon him; he will soon hear you, he will effectually hear you.
When it is said, “Thou wilt cause thine ear to bear,” does it not mean that the Lord will so hear as to answer our petitions? As a church, we have prospered by prayer. Glasgow flourished by the preaching of the Word, and the Tabernacle has flourished by the prayers of “believers. There has been the secret of our strength; therefore let us still believe in the efficacy of prayer. God does listen to the voices of his children; he does regard the cry of the humble; he is moved by the desires of his own people. Let us then, during this year, be more in prayer than ever. Let us pray in faith, pleading the precious blood of Jesus, and the promises of God’s Word, and let us hear the Lord saying to us, “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” There is need of a great revival of religion; the wave of the late revival has gone, and now we want another. We have had along winter spiritually; we need to have an awakening springtime, and a glorious summer, and a golden autumn in the church. Let us pledge ourselves to pray for it; and not merely pledge ourselves, but really pray. Let us cry mightily, till the Lord shall hear us, and bring in tens of thousands who shall be the reward of the Saviour’s sufferings and death. The Lord bless you, dear friends, and make this year to be very rich in fruit-bearing to God’s glory in every one of us!
And as for such as were not saved when they came into the Tabernacle this evening, I do trust that God will this very night make them to desire to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he will hear their desire, and lead them to look to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. As we, who love the Lord, come to the communion-table, we can use our text, for I am sure the desire of the humble is that they may see Christ in the Supper: “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart.” Oh, it is sad to go to the Lord’s table with an unprepared heart! Lord, prepare our heart to come to thy banqueting-table to-night; and then, “Thou wilt cause thine ear to hear;” thou wilt grant us grace to feed upon Christ, and to be satisfied! May it be so to every communicant! The Lord bless you all, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.