Coverts, and Their Confession of Faith
“One shall say, I am the LORD’S; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his baud unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” — Isaiah xliv. 5.
THIS is to take place after the Lord has poured out his Spirit upon his people, and upon their offspring. The mainspring of everything good and gracious is the Holy Spirit. Where he comes, everything prospers; but when he has gone, nothing but failure and disaster will come. I believe that, at this present moment, God’s people ought to cry to him day and night that there may be a fresh baptism into the Holy Ghost. There are many things that are desirable for the Church of Christ, but one thing is absolutely needful; and this is the one tiling, the power of the Holy Ghost in the midst of his people. You know the very simple imagery which sets forth this blessing. If you go down to some of our Thames bridges, you will find the barges stuck fast in the mud, and you cannot stir them. It would be a very difficult thing to provide machinery with which to move them; all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not do it. But wait till the tide comes in; now every black, heavy old barge “walks the waters like a thing of life.” Everything that can float is movable as soon as the silver flood has returned. So, many of our churches lie in the mud. Everything seems motionless, powerless; but when the Spirit of God comes in like a flood, all is altered. Therefore, let us pray, —
“Come, Holy Spirit, come.”
I know that, in one sense, he is ever with us: but I am sure that, in another sense, he is not. He is abiding in this dispensation; but he is not with this church or with that; and all the churches have need to cry, “Come, heavenly flood; come with thy mighty force, and lift us all out of our spiritual death.”
When the Spirit of God comes, converts come, too. If they do not come by the Spirit of God, they are not worth having. I have heard, and sorrowfully heard, of many instances where revivalists have added to churches by the score and by the hundred, and after a couple of years none of the professed converts have been left. If men are brought to say, “I am the Lord’s,” merely as the result of excitement, they will generally be saying what is not true; and though they may think it true, yet time, which tries all things, will prove their profession to have been untrue. We must have the Spirit of God with us for real spiritual work; and if we have him not, the most powerful revivalist will be only as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. We must have the Spirit of God with us. If we have his presence, even the ordinary minister’s preaching will suffice for great blessing to the hearers; but without that Spirit, the ordinary preaching will become more dull and flat and lifeless than ever, and there will be no increase in the church, and no earnestness among those already in it. I do beseech you, therefore, day and night pray for the Spirit of God. We want to have sound doctrine, we want to have great diligence and zeal, we want to have superior holiness; — I will not go on with the catalogue of what we want; but let us have the Holy Spirit, and we shall have all these. This will bring back to the church and to the individual believer all that is necessary for spiritual health and strength.
Now, supposing that we have had our prayers answered, and that the Spirit of God has been poured out like floods upon the dry ground, then see what is to happen. Converts will come forward to confess their faith. So the text evidently tells us.
In considering it, I would have you notice, first, that this confession of faith is personal: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s,” and so on. Secondly, it is varied; for, while there are some who say it, there are others who subscribe it with their hand. And, thirdly, while this profession is varied, it is also very gracious. There are wells of sweet water within this expression, “I am the Lord’s.” We shall try to draw some of the water out, that we may drink and be refreshed.
I. Concerning the converts we so much desire to see, and the confession which the Spirit of God will lead them to make, let me begin by saying that THIS CONFESSION OF FAITH IS PERSONAL: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord.” You see, it is not a joint confession; but an individual one. It is “one” and “another” and “another.” Notice, first, that all confession of Christ must he personal; anything else is unreal and worthless. All religion that is true is personal; it has to do with the man’s own heart, he is moved to it by his own conscience. His faith must be his own faith. His repentance must be repentance of his own sin. His coming to Christ must be his own coming to Christ. Nobody can perform your religion for you, it is not possible that anything like sponsorship should be admitted into real, vital godliness. Here is a man who professes that he promised that you should renounce all the pomps and vanities of this present wicked world. Who dares promise such a thing as that? If I were to promise for an unborn child that it should have rod hair and a I Roman nose, I should be quite as reasonable as if I promised that any child should become a child of God. I cannot do it, it is not in my power, nor within the power of any man. In every act of religion you yourself must be concerned; the godliest mother can pray for you, but you will not be saved unless you pray for yourself; the most believing father may use his faith on your behalf, but you will not be saved unless you yourself believe. It is useless for one man to think that he can either believe or repent for another. You are born one by one, you will die one by one, you will have to stand at the judgment-seat of Christ in your own proper personality. You must each one humble yourselves before God, and confess your sin, and personally look to him who was lifted up upon the cross for our redemption, and personally yield yourselves up to God. Baptism, of which you have no personal knowledge, in which you have no conscious part, is the mockery and mimicry of baptism; but it is not Scriptural baptism, and any profession of faith in which you have no conscious part yourself is the mimicry of a confession, but it is not a Scriptural confession. “One shall say, I am the Lord’s,” but he would not speak for another. That other “shall call himself by the name of Jacob;” and the two together cannot speak for number three, for he shall come forward, and “subscribe with his hand unto the Lord.” My dear friends, I do charge you, understand that “ye must be born again.” Ye must yield your hearts to Jesus; and this must be a matter of personal concern with you. National religion, and family religion, may be well if rightly understood, but nothing less than personal religion will bring anyone into the kingdom of heaven.
This, then, is required of us by the Lord, that our religion should be personal. The gospel comes to us with its urgent call, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” To each convinced sinner who asks, “What must I do to be saved?” the gospel says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” It invites you, my friend, as much as if there were not another person in the world; and the Word of God, if it comes with power to your soul, will come as distinctly to you as if you were the only person in the whole universe. It must be so; nothing but distinct personality will do in religion, and especially in the confession that we make of our being the Lord’s people.
This personal confession, dear friends, needs to be carefully attended to when there are many coming forward. I always dread lest any of you should come into the church in a crowd. I have often known persons brought into this Tabernacle by the crowd. They somehow mingled with the stream, and they did not and they could not move out of it; they were caught up off their feet, and carried in here. And, sometimes, there are seasons with churches when individuals seem to be carried into a confession of faith because it is the fashion to do so; others are doing it, so they do the same. I pray you to be very careful about this matter. If your father, your mother, your brothers, or your sisters, make a profession of religion, that is no reason why you should do so unless you can truthfully do it. If you have not repented of sin, do not say that you have done so. If you have not believed in Jesus, do not say that you have. Do not think of coming forward merely because your friends are joining the church. Act for yourselves. One of the lessons I have constantly to teach you is that you are individually responsible to God, and that it is absolutely necessary for you to exercise your own personal judgment about matters of faith and practice. There may be some who say, “Do what your priest tells you;” but we have no priests, because we want all of you to be priests. You are to be a nation of priests. If you are God’s people, you are to act before God for yourselves under the teaching of his Spirit given to you individually; and we beseech you to do this. Do not let custom, either good or bad, sway you; but as we charge you not to run with a multitude to do evil, so do we exhort you not to run with the multitude even professedly doing good when you are not doing it, and when your practice does not go with your profession. In all times of revival, it is very necessary that this truth should be taught.
But, next, this individual confession of your faith in Christ is incumbent upon you very specially when there are few coming forward. I should say to myself, “If there is nobody in this village confessing Christ, then it is all the more urgent upon me that I should confess him. If in the church few have come to tell the pastor that they have found Christ by his means, if I have found the Saviour, I will certainly go; I will let him see that he has not quite laboured in vain. I will go for his sake. If there are few added to the church, then I will go that the church may not be discouraged in its Christian efforts.” Oh, I like to have around me those who feel, “It is no consideration with me whether there are many or few; I have to act as before God on my own account. If there be few who do right, that is all the more reason why I should do it.” One said to me, the other day, “My daughters go to such a place of worship because it is fashionable; and,” he added, “that seems to me a curious reason, for I go to another place because it is not fashionable.” I think that it is a grand thing to learn to be in the right with two or three. Some people say, “Why, you are in such a small minority!” Yes, yes; but as a general rule minorities are right. Up till now, the majority has never been on the side of Christ, the majority has never been for God, the majority has never been with the truth. Oh, dear young fellows, I cannot bear that you should always be trying to jump the way the cat goes! Go the right way; never mind about the cats. Do not be saying, “I must do what the other fellows do;” but be bold, and do exactly what the others do not do when you believe that is the right thing to do. What! is heroism altogether gone? Will Christianity breed no more martyrs? I trust in God that it is not so; but that, when there are few confessing Christ, and faith in him, some of you men and women will feel, “I shall take up my cross, and follow Christ; and do it the more decidedly, and the more openly, and the more quickly, because there are so few doing it.” If we do not mind what we are at, we may go into hell for the sake of company; but I would rather go to heaven alone than go with all the multitude the downward road. Still are our Saviour’s words true, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Oh, that you may resolve that the way shall not be too narrow and the gate shall not be too strait for you, and that, by God’s grace, you will find it, and love it none the less, but all the more, because the multitude prefer the broader road!
II. Secondly, THIS CONFESSION IS VARIED.
First, one person speaks out for himself: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s.” That is a line speech. Truthfully made, it is like a clean-cut piece of marble: “I am the Lord’s.” If you, from your very soul, can say this in any company, and not be ashamed to say it before men, angels, or devils, God has taught you a noble piece of eloquence. “I am the Lord’s.” There is a great fulness about these words, as I will try to show you directly; but there are some Christians who have made this distinct avowal, and they stand to it. Perhaps they have not joined a church yet; they should do so, but they have done well to say, “I am the Lord’s.” Paul said of the Macedonian Christians, “This they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own solves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” You have no right to belong to a church till first you belong to the Lord, so that you can truly say, “I am the Lord’s;” but it is most blessed when a man or a woman feels this, and says this, and keeps to it till death, “I am the Lord’s.” This is a noble avowal. I pray God that you may be enabled now to make it for the first time, if you have never made it before.
The next person mentioned in our text confessed his faith in a different way, for he called himself by the name of Jacob; that is to say, he took up his position with the people of God under their lowliest title. “There,” said he, “I am prepared to suffer affliction with the people of God, to be reproached when they are reproached, to be shunned when they are shunned, to be ridiculed when they are ridiculed. I belong to Jacob. He is an extraordinary person, cut off from the rest of the world to be the Lord’s, and I go with him.” It is a grand thing when, first of all, a man knows he is the Lord’s; but in some persons, this confession takes more prominently the shape of feeling that they will be with the people of God, that they are willing to take up their cross, and go with God’s people wherever they go. Their resolution is something like that brave declaration of Ruth to Naomi, “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” I remember speaking with a Christian woman who lay dying. She was under some form of doubt at the time, but she said, “I feel sure that the Lord will never send me among the ungodly, for my tastes and habits do not lie that way. I have always been happiest among the people of God; and surely the Lord will let me be gathered to my own company.” And so he will; there is a story told, — I believe a true one — of a poor woman who had long been a believer, but, partly through aberration of mind, I think, she grew so despondent that nobody could cheer her. Before she died, she came out into bright light; but for a long time she was under a cloud, and her belief was that she would be sent to hell. She feared such a doom above all things, but she prayed this very singular prayer, that, although she must suffer for her sins, she might have a place by herself where she might not hear the blasphemies of the wicked against God. She seemed as if she was not afraid of any form of suffering, but she said that she could not bear to hear God’s name blasphemed. Dear soul, there was no fear about her safety, was there? Where there is that holy dread of sin, that hatred of evil, that real love to God, there is no fear whatever of what will become of such people. Now, there are some who, at first, are afraid that they do not belong to the Lord, but they say that they will belong to his people. They wish, somehow or other, to get in among them, and especially when they see them despised. Then they come forward, and stand up for them, and say, “On me also let the reproach fall, for I also am one of them.” This is a grand spirit. I commend it heartily.
But here is a third person, who makes his confession in a still different way: “Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” I do not know this person; sometimes, I think that he is a friend of mine, who is afraid to speak, but who likes to write. “I could not,” says one, “speak my confession of faith, but I could joyfully sit down and write it.” Yes, you are timid, and trembling, and slow of speech. Do not condemn yourself for that. I have heard of one who came before the church, and could not speak a word; and when the pastor asked her some questions, and almost put the answers into her mouth, she could say nothing. So he was obliged to say, “My dear sister, the church cannot judge at all as to your faith, for you say nothing;” and then she broke the silence by exclaiming, “I cannot speak for Christ, but I could die for him.” “Oh!” said the minister, “that is the best confession of all.” There are some of that sort who would not be able to speak in public, being so timid and retiring; but they subscribe with their hand unto the Lord.
Still, I am not sure that this is the person mentioned in the text. I seem to fancy that it is a stronger body, a man who is not content with saying it, but who writes it down in black and white: “I am the Lord’s.” That which is written remains; so he puts it down. I have known such people to write out and sign a declaration that they belong to Christ. If they add any promises to that declaration, I am afraid that they will bring themselves into bondage; but if this be all, that they distinctly declare that the transaction is done, and that they belong henceforth to God, I think that it is a very admirable way of confessing faith in him. Possibly, I may be addressing some young people who have done this. Let them be thankful that they have been enabled to make such a declaration of their faith, and let them stand to it, and abide by it all their days.
But you will notice, also, that this person who thus subscribed, or wrote with his hand, unto the Lord, also went the whole way towards God, and his people at their best, for it is added that he surnamed himself by the name of Israel. Let me put this matter very plainly to you. I believe that there are some who give themselves up to the Church of God in a very complete and unreserved manner, resolving that all the privileges they can enjoy they will have, all the holiness they can ever attain to they will gain, and all the consecration that lies within the region of possibility they will strive after and secure. They surname themselves by the name of Israel; they not only join find’s people at their worst, but they mean to join them at their bust. Not only do they take the name of Jacob, but the name of Israel also. There are certain persons who have joined this church— I shall not indicate them, but you must know who they are, — they are those who, when they joined the church, joined it with all their heart, and threw their whole soul into it. They give their time, their substance, themselves, to the cause of God for the glory of Christ. On the other hand, there are some who join the church, and we have the distinguished privilege of having their names in our books, but that is all, for they do nothing for Christ. They are a worry to us rather than a help, they are the very first persons to find fault if they do not derive benefit; but as for the church’s service, they cannot answer to their names when the roll is read, for they are not there; they are busy in the world, and their whole strength is there; they do not surname themselves by the name of Israel. Happy is the church when the Lord sends into her midst men and women, who are so completely the Lord’s that they give themselves up heart and soul to his service. Years ago, when fanning used to pay, I have known farmers have a farm which they worked themselves, and then they had another at a distance which they called their off-hand farm, out of which they did not get very much. So I believe that there are some people whose religion is a sort of off-hand farm; they do not get much out of it, nor do much with it; but their worldly business is their home farm, and they work that with all their might, the other matter is of secondary importance to them. Such people are not likely to be very happy in the Lord themselves, and they are not likely to be made useful to others.
I think that I have thus shown you that there are varied ways of making this confession of faith. With some, it is a distinct avowal of their union with the Lord himself. With others, it is mainly a sense of their union with the church. With others, it is a blending of the two, and a carrying of both to a high degree of perfection. God give us to see many converts of this last sort!
III. I was going to finish with this observation, that THESE CONFESSIONS OF FAITH ARE ALL GRACIOUS; but I can only deal with one, for our time has gone: “I am the Lord’s.”
I wish that I could convey to others the feelings which I have had in thinking over these words. They had been with me many days before I ventured to think of preaching from them: “I am the Lord’s.” You know the order in which they come elsewhere. “My Beloved is mine, and I am his.” “I am his,” follows “my Beloved is mine.” You mud have Christ before you say that you belong to Christ. Beloved, have you taken hold on Christ? Have you appropriated him? Is he your all, your everything? Is it so? Well then, you should go on to say, “I am the Lord’s.”
This declaration, “I am the Lord’s,” is a very practical confession; for, if I am the Lord’s, then I must not give myself up to be the slave of another. I must not serve the world, the flesh, or the devil, for “I am the Lord’s.” If the Lord has bought me, if the Lord has chosen me, if the Lord has called me, if the Lord has taken me to be his peculiar portion, I must be reserved for him, and not given to another. This ought to be a check to me in my whole daily life, if I am tempted to do this or that which is wrong.
It will be also a high incentive to duty to say truly, “I am the Lord’s.” I must live for him; I cannot merely talk about being his, I must prove it to be so in private by my walking with him, and in public by my walking like him. If I am the Lord’s, I must lay myself out to extend his kingdom, and win the souls of others to his sway. I must be zealous for my Lord; it must not be one step to-day and another to-morrow, for “I am the Lord’s.” I must not be idling and trifling, for “I am the Lord’s.” If this truth shall come with power to your hearts, it will tend to make earnest workers of you, such servants as need not be ashamed even in the day of their Lord’s appearing.
But while it has a practical bearing, this confession has a sweet comforting aspect: “I am the Lord’s.” The devil desires to have me; but “I am the Lord’s,” so he cannot have me. Sin would have me; but “I am the Lord’s,” and he has forgiven me, and delivered me from the guilt of sin. I should fall a thousand times a day, but “I am the Lord’s.” I should fall not only foully but finally, but “I am the Lord’s”; and being the Lord’s, he holds me in his hand, and none shall pluck me from his gracious grasp.
“I am the Lord’s.” This is my hope of safety and of perfection. If I am the Lord’s, then he has begun a good work in me, and he will not leave off till he has performed all that he purposed concerning me. He will have respect to the work of his hands. I have heard that, when Gustave Dore quitted Paris, before the siege, he hid one of his most beautiful pictures under a heap of stones in a cellar. Nobody except himself knew where it was; but when the siege was over, Doré hastened to the place, for he had a respect to the work of his hands; and though his picture lay hidden there, you may be sure that he soon disinterred it, and completed it. And, sometimes, the Lord’s people seem to get down under the stones in the cellar; but he will find them out. If you are the Lord’s, he will not leave you to perish. He will go on with his work, and finish the task he has commenced, till you shall reflect his wisdom and display his power.
“I am the Lord’s.” Why, I think I will turn this confession into a hymn! I will not rhyme it; but let it stand as it is, “I am the Lord’s.” Sing it in your souls; let the joy-bells of your heart ring it out, “I am the Lord’s. I shall die in the Lord, I shall rise again at the sounding of the archangel’s trumpet, I shall see my Lord’s face in glory, I shall be for ever with him, for I am the Lord’s.” If you come to the communion table with this sweet reflection in your hearts, and then go from the table with this truth practically wrought out in your lives, it shall be well with you.
My dear hearers, I wish you could all say, “I am the Lord’s.” I would to God you would all come, and put your trust in Christ, and take him to be yours. When you have done that, then do not hesitate to come out and confess him before men. God help you so to do, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.