FLESH AND SPIRIT— A RIDDLE
“So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shall guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”— Psalm lxxiii. 22-25
OUR Lord Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are. With some reserve we might almost say the same of David. Of all the worthies whose lives are written out at length in Holy Writ, David possesses an experience of the most striking, varied, and instructive character. In his history we meet with temptations and complications of temptations not to be discovered, at least as a connected whole, in other saints of ancient times. Trials which stand out in the lives of other men as isolated hills, form whole chains and ranges of mountains in the case of the son of Jesse. David knew the trials of all ranks and conditions of men. Kings have their troubles, and David wore a crown: the peasant has his cares, and David handled the shepherd’s crook. The wanderer has many hardships, and David abode in the caves of Engedi: the captain has his difficulties, and David found the sons of Zeruiah too hard for him. The psalmist of Israel was tried by his friends, his counsellor Ahithophel forsook him. “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” His worst foes were they of his own household. His children were his greatest afflictions. Amnon disgraces him, Absalom excites revolt, Adonijah disturbs his dying bed. The temptations of poverty and wealth, of honour and reproach, of health and sickness, all tried their power upon him. He had tribulations from without; it needs not that I should remind you that during his long life they came from every quarter. He had temptations from within, for the man after God’s own heart not only knew what it was to be assailed, but to be carried by storm, by fierce and terrible passions. I may grant, perhaps, that Job’s trial was more severe than any one that fell to David; but yet I know not; possibly the burning of Ziklag, when his wives were carried away captive, and all that he had was consumed, and his men spake of stoning him, may have been even a severer trial than Job’s when lie sat upon a dunghill and scraped himself with a potsherd; and I am not sure , but I think that mournful procession over the brook Kedron in David’s later life, when his own son thirsted for his blood, had in it a Gethsemane bitterness that is hardly to be found in the tribulation which fell to the patriarch of Uz. Job must fairly yield the palm in one respect, for his was no life-long siege, but only one sharp and furious attack; David, however, no sooner escaped from one trial than he fell into another; no sooner emerged from one season of despondency and alarm, than he was again brought into the lowest depths, and all God’s waves and billows rolled over him Now, it is from this cause, I take it, that David’s psalms are so universally the delight of experienced Christians. Into whatsoever frame of mind we may be cast, David seems to have described our emotions, whether they be of ecstasy or depression, to the very letter. He was an able master of the human heart, because he had been tutored in that best of all schools, the school of real, heartfelt, personal experience. You will find that as we grow matured in grace and in years, we love the psalms better. Many young believers are most fond of the doctrinal parts of Scripture, and I admire that holy curiosity which leads them to desire to understand all the revelation of God in the doctrine of grace: practical Christians are often more fond of studying the Evangelists and Proverbs, but I find that the grey-headed veterans, the sorely-troubled Christians — those who have done business on great waters— while they love the doctrine, while they delight in the practice as set forth in the life of Christ, yet somehow or other the Psalms of the sweet singer of Israel yield them savoury meat such as their soul loveth, and they are made in the Psalms to “lie down in green pastures” of tender grass.
Probably the first remark which will be suggested by reading the Psalms will be this— how varied they are. What an extraordinary man David is, what changes there are in the weather of his soul, what bright sunlight days, what dark cloudy nights, what calms as though his life were a sea of glass, what terrible trials as if the glass were mingled with fire. One time we find him crying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” and anon he sings, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” One hour we hear him sigh forth, “I sink in deep mire where there is no standing,” and then we find him exulting, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid.” How wondrously he rises to heaven, and how awfully he dives into the deeps. Surely, brethren, we who have known anything of spiritual and inner life do not marvel at this, for we also change. Alas! what a contrast between the sin that doth so easily beset us, and the grace which gives us to reign in heavenly places. How different the sorrow of an abject distrust which breaketh us in pieces as with a strong east wind, and the joy of a holy confidence which bears us on to heaven as with a propitious gale! What changes between walking with God to-day, and falling into the mire to-morrow, triumphing over sin, death, and hell yesterday, and to-day led captive by the lusts of the flesh and of the mind. Verily, we cannot understand ourselves, and a description which would suit us yesterday would be ill-adapted for today, and quite out of place for to-morrow. Scarcely ever are we in the same mind an hour. Great God, how infinitely glorious art thou in thine immutability, when contrasted with thy fickle, frail, unstable creature — man.
It falls to my lot, this morning, to open up in some humble measure, the secrets of inward experience. I can but hope to do it in a very shallow measure, for I am but a youth, and am not worthy to instruct some of you who have been men of war from your youth up. Yet, I may serve the weaklings of the flock, if I inform them of the strife they must expect from the flesh, and comfort their hearts with a foretaste of the certain victory which the Lord has secured to them through the spirit. We shall first listen to the confessions of the psalmist concerning the flesh; then, to his expressions with regard to the spirit; then, to his soul's exultation when looking to loth flesh and spirit, he crieth out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee."
I. First, we are to listen to THE PSALMIST S CONFESSION CONCERNING THE FLESH.
Remember, beloved, this is a saint of God; this is a highly advanced saint; this is the man after God’s own heart; this is one of the special favourites of heaven— one of the men to whom God revealed himself as he doth not unto the world; and yet you hear him telling us his inner life, and he begins by saying, "So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee."
The word “foolish,” when it issues from David’s mouth, means more than it signifies in ordinary language. To be called a fool is no great compliment to any man; but when that word means atheist, despiser of that which is good— when it means a forgetter of God, a lover of evil, a destroyer of one’s own soul, then to be called a fool is something at which a man may take umbrage indeed. David, in one of the former verses of the Psalm, writes, “I was envious of the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” which shows that the folly he intended had sin in it. Now, he puts himself down as being one of these fools, and adds a little word which is to give intensity to the adjective— “SO foolish was I.” How foolish he could not tell. It was a sinful folly, a folly which was not to be excused by frailty, but to be condemned because of its perverseness and wilful ignorance. What, and do we call ourselves wise? Do we, followers of the lowly Saviour, profess that we have attained perfection, or have been so chastened that the rod has whipped all our wilfulness out of us? Ah, this were pride indeed! If David was foolish, what fools would you and I be in our own esteem if we could but see ourselves. Look back, believer: think of your doubting God when he hath been so faithful to you— think of your foolish outcry of "Not so my Father," whne he crossed his hands in affliction to give you the larger blessing; think, I say, of the many times when you have read his providences in the dark, misinterpreting his dispensations, and groaning out, “All these things are against me,” when they were all working together for your good! Think how often you have chosen sin because of its pleasure, when indeed, that pleasure was a root of pain and bitterness to you! How often you have forgotten to honour God when you had noble opportunities of serving him. I for one must take my place at the bar and plead guilty to the indictment of a sinful folly; and I think everyone who knows his own heart, however far advanced in grace he may be, must do the same. In the present tense I put it sorrowfully, “So foolish am I.”
Further, our psalmist adds, “and ignorant.” A man who, after years of such experience as David, should yet say “I am ignorant,” must either be very humble, or else there must be such a force upon his conscience that he cannot resist the confession. And indeed, if you will read the Psalm and see into what a mistake David had fallen— that of envying the present prosperity of the ungodly, you may grant that he was ignorant indeed, to forget the dreadful end of those who only prosper that they may be fattened like bullocks for the slaughter. But you and I have been quite as ignorant. We said yesterday, “Now I shall never doubt God again; he has helped me through this great trouble, and I know that I shall be able to trust him come what may.” But this very morning you awoke with a distrustful thought. What ignorance is this, to forget the lesson which you learned but yesterday, and which you thought you knew by heart! Here you have been trying for months to resign yourself to God’s will. He took away from you one very dear to you, and you longed to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord;” and you did say it by an overwhelming effort, but you cannot say it now, for feeling has trodden down faith; you are so foolish and so ignorant that you have forgotten what you vowed to learn; and what you meant to say perpetually, you have failed to say in. this, perhaps the first great trial in your life. Some men think when they have learned half-a-dozen doctrines, that now they know everything; and certain other folks I know of, when they pass through a few years of experience, set themselves up for standards. Ah, beloved, when we think we know best, and fancy that we have grown wise, then we prove our folly; our impudence is engraven on our foreheads, and FOOL is written there in capital letters, when we think we are wise. Oh! the depths of the wisdom of God! Who can understand the full meaning of the doctrines of grace! Oh! the depths of the experience of the believer who shall dare to profess that he has passed over all the seas, and has crossed all the mountains over which a believer must climb. If we could but see ourselves, we should consider our knowledge to be nothing, and our ignorance to be all. We are in the twilight, let us not call it noon; we are in the mists and fogs, let us not suppose that we are in an unclouded atmosphere. When we think we see all wisdom, it is because we are blind; and when we fancy we have discovered everything, it is because we are mocked by the illusions of our pride, and see nothing as yet aright.
I know I address some of you who, when you are alone quietly engaged in meditation, think to yourselves “Well, if ever there was such a stupid saint as I am, I am much mistaken. I seem to have the least understanding of any man. I read the Scriptures, and I sometimes get a hold of them, but at seasons I cannot for the life of me even believe them to be true; I know the power of prayer, but yet there are times when I could not pray if my soul depended on it, and can only groan. In fact, sometimes “if aught is felt, ’tis only pain to find I cannot feel.” Yet I have been fed under the ministry; I have had many troubles, and much communion with Christ, but yet here am I, knowing nothing, just a schoolboy, sitting on the lowest form, and trying to spell out his A, B, C, such a thorough fool that I often pride myself upon my knowledge, and condemn my brother for ignorance, not seeing the beam that is in my own eye, trying to pull the mote from his eye.” Is this the soliloquy of our heart? I know it has often been mine. If it be yours, we have just hit the meaning of David when he uses this expression— "So foolish was I, and ignorant."
But now comes the crowning word, which you would think too degrading for David— “I was as a beast before thee.” Indeed, the original has in it no word of comparison; it ought to be rather translated “I was a very beast before thee,” and we are told that the Hebrew word being in the plural number gives it a peculiar emphasis, indicating some monstrous or astonishing beast. It is the word used by Job which is interpreted “Behemoth,"— “I was a very monster before thee”— not only a beast, but one of the most brutish of all beasts, one of the most stubborn and intractable of all beasts. I think no man can go much lower than this in humble confession. This is a description of human nature and of the old man in the renewed saint which is not to be excelled. How far does this hold true in your experience and mine? Well, I think first, we have often been made to compare ourselves to beasts because of our worldly-mindedness. There is the swine grubbing in the earth for its roots; what cares it about the stars? And even the fleet courser as it crosses the mead, what knoweth it about the angels and the harps of heaven? Educate the beast as you may, it hath no care beyond its fleshly appetite. Oh, how much are we like this, even we who are renewed by divine grace! The last six days it has been “Shop, shop, shop,” with you from morning to night. You bowed to the family altar, and you tried to pray at eventide, carking care depressed you till it was hard to offer real supplication. A thousand things have bewildered you; the cash-book, the day-book; those losses; those many workmen to be looked after, or the servants in the house have distracted your mind, and the world comes in till you feel, “O that I could get rid of these things for a moment! O that I had wings like a dove, that I might fly away and be at rest! 55 But you cannot, for your soul lies cleaving to the dust. Perhaps there comes a knock at the door just when you want to be knocking at God’s door, and some one wants to see you when you want to see your God. You cannot rest in Jesus as you would; you are called upon to look after accounts, shillings, five-pound-notes, creditors and debtors, until you cry, “O God, I am like a beast before thee. How can I ever hope to enter heaven?” You remember that hymn of Dr. Watts, commencing
“Come holy Spirit, heavenly dove.”
What a sweet begining, but how dolefully true are the middle verses. Surely they never ought to be sung, but to be sighed:
“Dear Lord and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate:
Our love so faint, so cold to thee,
And thine to us so great.”
What is this but the same confession in other words, “I was as a beast before thee.”
Let us add another shade of black to the picture. We might often compare ourselves to the beast from our want of any emotion towards heavenly things. I am quite sure Rutherford was right when he said, “No devil in the world was so bad as having no devil.” Not to be tempted, is perhaps, the worst temptation that can befall a man. There are times— I suppose it is so with you, it is with me— times when my soul is like a dead calm, these seasons I dread.
“No stir in the air, no stir in the sea
The ship was as still as a ship could be.”
What mariner likes these dead calms? I am sure I tremble to encounter more of them. Better the healthy hurricane than the pestilential quiet. You would pray, but you cannot command the earnestness and fervour you desire; you would repent, you feel that you would repent, but no tear will flow, for the heart is hard; you would praise God, and the lips can utter the words, but the soul cannot join the music; you would stir yourself to some lofty emotion, but you cannot; the heart will not feel, it has grown cold, and a sort of death-sleep has come over you like the sleep which is said to fall upon the wanderer in the snow when he cometh near to die. Oh, to be roused from this is a heaven-sent blessing, to be stirred even though it be by a hurricane of affliction, or a thunder-clap of trouble. It is an awful thing to be in this apathetic state. Then it is that the believer cries, “I am as a beast before thee.” You are dead as the seat you sit on on the Sabbath; going to the ordinance itself, eating the bread and drinking the wine, yet feeling no fellowship with Christ; joining in the gong and loving it, but singing with no feeling, no heart; going to prayer-meetings, feeling you would not stop away for all the world, and yet no life, no power, no thought, no vigour. Does some young Christian look at me and say, “What, do old Christians feel like that?” I say, “They do, at times.” Sad is it that we should have to confess man to be so vile, but such he is, and such each of us have found ourselves out to be; and let the believer live but a little while and he will have to use David’s language, and cry, “I was as a beast before thee.”
See yet again, how often have we had to complain that we are like the beasts for our short-sightedness! The beast cannot look forward to eternity; it cannot cast its eye adown the centuries and look to the fulfilment of prophecy in the fulness of time; it has to be content with the things that are near, the things of the hour and of the day. Even so short-sighted are you and I! We think we see the end when we are only viewing the beginning. We get our telescope out sometimes to look to the future, and we breathe on the glass with the hot breath of our anxiety, and then we think we see clouds and darkness before us. If we are in trouble, we see every day new straits attend, and wonder where the scene will end; but we conclude that it must end in our destruction. “God hath forgotten to be gracious.” We think, "He hath in anger shut up the bowels of compassion." Oh this short-sightedness! When you and I ought to believe in God— when we ought to look at the heaven that awaiteth us, and the glory for which these light afflictions are preparing us— when we ought to be looking through the cloud to the Eternal Sun which never knows an eclipse— when we should be resting on the invisible arm of the immortal God and triumphing in his love, we are mourning and distrusting. God forgive us for this; but in these things verily, we have been as beasts before him.
I might add again, how often believers have to complain that the animal passions will bestir themselves in them until they feel the beast within them. I shall not go deep into this path of painful experience; I only hint at it that some who may have been surprised at it as though it were a novelty, may know that it is common to man. He that hath fellowship with God will sometimes feel the devil within him till he thinketh himself a devil, and sometimes too (the Lord have mercy upon his servants) when the temptation cometh in an unguarded moment they may be betrayed, and Satan may triumph. If then, they can look back upon a burst of anger or sin, and not say after it, “I was as a beast before thee, O God,” then I despair of them. Other men commit these sins; other men fall into these iniquities, but it remains for the Christian only to abhor himself on account of them. To sin is no spot of God’s children; but to hate sin, humbly to confess it, and to lay in the very dust with abasement on account it, this is one of the choice requirements of the truly begotten sons of heaven. Oh, I know that many of you, with a groaning that could not be uttered, have been made to feel in your heart that though you be the elect of God, and bought with precious blood, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you, yet still you are, when the flesh prevails, as beasts before God. Indeed, my text, as I have said, seems to make us even worse than the beasts; for the comparison which David uses, is not to a common and ordinary creature, but to some dread monster, a Behemoth. When we look within, there is nothing lovely; we are all a mass of distorted parts wrongly joined together. There is much of pride, and lust, and anger, and what is there of good? Brethren, our apostle said in him there dwelt no good thing, and you and I are no better than he; nothing good, but everything that is evil; and all the evil put into the most exaggerated form and shape, until he that hath seen himself, has been ready to go mad to think that he should ever be such a being as he is. O grace divine! O sovereign love! were it not for these we should lie down in despair, when we think of the uncomeliness of our nature. More stubborn than Behemoth are we; God can tame the creatures; man even can put a bit into the mouth of the horse, and he hath a bridle for the ass; but we, more untractable than the brutes, are not to be restrained from sin; they are obstinate, but their obstinacy may be quelled and overcome; sometimes harshness, and anon, kindness can subdue the most stubborn brute; but our tongue and heart can no man tame. Evil, only evil, and that continually, still remaineth our heart, kicking against the pricks even to the last; remaining even unto death like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. What shall I say of human nature as the Christian discovers it in himself? I will only say it is impossible to exaggerate its evil. You shall describe it in the blackest and foulest terms, and you shall find after all, believers who will say man is worse than your black portrait, for only David’s language will suit us, “So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.”
I shall not dwell longer on this part. I have indeed only brought it out because I know there are so many young Christians who are dreadfully alarmed when they discover what they are by nature, and who, indeed, begin on a wrong theory, by supposing that the grace of God comes to make old Adam new; whereas the grace of God does not change our old nature; it gives us a new nature, which subdues the old, but the old nature is there still. Old Adam is old Adam even when the new Adam is in the heart. The flesh is evil, undiluted evil, just as much as before Christ entered the soul. Therefore, grace struggleth with the flesh, good striveth with evil, and the life of the believer becomes a constant and perpetual battle, the one principle striving against the other till grace at last getteth the victory, and the saint is “afterwards received to glory.”
II. We shall now turn to the faithful EXPRESSIONS OF THE SPIRIT, and God help us while we enlarge upon them. How changed the language now! Nothing of the beast here, but rather the spirit seems to grow angelic, and to borrow heaven’s harps. Hear its first sweet word like music. “Nevertheless” As if, notwithstanding all, not one atom the less was it true and certain that David was saved and accepted, and that the blessings he is now about to speak of were his by a perpetual entail — “Nevertheless I am continually with thee.” Here is divine regard. Fully conscious of his own lost estate, and of the deceitfulness and vileness of his nature, yet, by a glorious burst of faith, he says, “Nevertheless I am continually with thee.” I shall not preach on that, but just let you think it over. Let each one soliloquise— I to-day, a black and detestable sinner, am nevertheless, if I believe in Jesus, continually with God! Continually upon his mind; he is always thinking of me for my good. Continually before his eye; the eye of the Lord never sleepeth, but is perpetually watching for my good. Continually in his hand, so that none shall be able to pluck me thence until omnipotence itself shall be overcome. Continually on his heart , graven there, worn there as a memorial, even as the high priest wore the names of the twelve tribes upon his heart for ever.” Tried and afflicted soul, vexed with the tempest within, look at the calm without. “Nevertheless”— O say it in thy heart, and suck the comfort from it, “I am continually with thee.” Thou always thinkest of me, O God. The bowels of thy love continually yearn towards me. Thou art always making providence work for my good. Thou dost never pluck me from thy heart; thou hast set me as a signet upon thine arm, thy love is strong as death, many waters cannot quench it; thine affection is hot as coals of juniper, and yet, yet it is true I am as a beast before thee, and when thou lookest at me thou canst see nothing in me apart from Christ, but what is debased and beast-like. Surprising grace, thou seest me in Christ, and though in myself abhorred, thou beholdest me as wearing Christ’s garments, and washed in his blood I stand—
“With the Saviour’s garments on
Holy as the Holy One.”
And I am thus continually in thy favour— “continually with thee.” Oh, it is a child ’s faith — an infant faith, to be able to say “I am with God,” when I have the light of his favour shining on me; but oh, when I see the blackness of my heart, still to believe that I am continually with Him— this is a man's faith, what if I say, brethren, a giant’s faith? It is so easy when you have many graces and many virtues to say, “Christ can save me.” Yes, but when your follies stare you in the face, when your sins rebuke you, still to say “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow; purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,” this is faith indeed. Blessed faith that doth not shut its eye to the disease, but seeing it, and knowing all its venom and deadly power, still trusts in to the Balm of Gilead, and believes that it can heal!
But you will notice next, that our psalmist is not content with claiming divine regard, he goes on to speak of divine help and gracious operation. “Thou holdest me by thy right hand.”— Here is a recognition of the past. I am black and full of sin and treachery, why have I not fallen more? Because thy hand has held me up. O God, if thou hadst not kept thy saints, they had been the vilest of transgressors. Oh! what should any one of us have been, though we may be as stars now, if it had not been for God’s right hand? What should we have been but black blots for ever, if God had left us? Look back, beloved, at the temptations from which you have been delivered, the trials from which you have escaped— to what do you owe all these? Why, to the fact that he has held you by your right hand, and is holding you by your right hand now. Let the present be a theme for gratitude. At this hour your feet are almost gone, but not quite, for he holdeth you. At this moment you are ready to say, “The Lord hath forgotten me quite; God will be gracious no more;” but he has as firm a grip of you to-day as ever he had. Oh, what joy it is to feel that God has a firm hold of us! If we only feel that we have a hold of him, then our hand may fail; but if He hath a hold of us, then neither death nor hell shall ever triumph to our casting down., And this is true of the future. He will hold us with his right hand. If we believe on Christ to-day, we shall certainly be kept till we see the face of Christ in glory everlasting. Here am I, but a stripling fresh come to the battle, and there may be many years of wars and fightings for me, but “I know that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Here are some of you whose hair has turned grey with many years of trial in the wilderness, what say you, has God forgotten you? Veterans in God’s army, has he forsaken you? Has he deserted any of you in the moment of trial? No. Then let us together, young and old, bless his name, that he holdeth us with his right hand.
But what next? We must not tarry long on any one sentence. Our psalmist goes on to speak of divine guidance. “ Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel,” saith he. “ I am foolish, I shall be sure to choose the wrong way; I am ignorant, I do not even know the right; I am a beast, and those beastly instincts of mine will constantly lead me astray, but thou shalt guide me by thy counsel.” See, brethren, how he throws himself on his God,— he will have nothing to do with himself. "THOU shalt" is his confidence. He is completely weaned from looking within. He casteth himself flat on his God. "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel." That counsel I take it, means first, God's decrees.
"He that formed in the womb,
He shall guide me to the tomb;
All my times shall ever be
Ordered by his wise decree."
Graciously hath he ordained every step of our way from this time till we arrive in heaven; graciously hath he ordained every temptation and trial.
“Not a single shaft can hit,
Till the God of love sees fit.”
I shall do after all what he decrees, have nothing but what he ordains, suffer nothing but what he thinks fit. I shall do nothing without his permission or aid. I must prevail, for thus his counsel runs to bring his many sons to glory— “Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel.” Many people do not like predestination, but I think when they get washed up on a rock in some dark troublous day, they will be glad to cling to this truth. Brethren, I thank God that I know there is as much the decree of God for a grain of dust that pains my eye, as there is in the cloud and tempest. The chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. In the great and in the little, Jehovah reigneth. Standing in the chariot of providence he holds the reins, and when the coursers seem to be wild and to know no bit or bridle, he guideth them according to his will. O rest thou in this, believer: he shall guide thee with his counsel. But this counsel also represents the written word— his decree is his counsel, his written Word is our counsel, his counsel to us. Happy is the man who has God’s word always to direct him! What were the mariner without his compass? What were the Christian without the Bible? This is the unerring chart, the map in which every shoal is described, and all the channels from the port of destruction to the haven of salvation mapped, and marked by one who has sailed along the sea. Blessed, blessed be thou, O God, that we may trust thee to guide us now and guide us even to the end! And all this is to us who are like brutes before him! O my soul, hast thou ever known what it is to be thoroughly cast down till there was no hope left to thee, and yet to be carried up till there was no doubt left to thee? ’Twas but yesterday, I knew the whole of this experience in my own heart. A more wretched miserable being than I, hell could scarcely produce, and yet a more happy joyful-hearted creature heaven could hardly find. How, you say, how was this? When I looked within and marked depravity and death everywhere, my soul was troubled almost unto death; but when I looked to Christ and saw the fulness of the covenant and the complete way in which he covered all my sin and blotted out all my iniquity, my spirit was like a bird that had escaped from the fowler and soared singing up to heaven with joy and gratitude. “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.”
Then comes the last, divine reception, “and afterward receive me to glory.” Oh! how sweet is this— “receive me to glory.” Catch it, Christian. I do not want you to think of what I say this morning. I want you to think of what you have felt, and what the Lord is doing for you. He will receive you to glory— you! Why, if it had been said, “He shall damn thee to all eternity,” thy heart would have said, “Ah, that I richly deserve;” but he saith, “I will receive thee to glory.” Slipping, sliding, falling, and yet I will bring thee safe at last; wandering, erring, straying, yet I will receive thee to glory. Full of sin, even to the last full of sin, haunted with unbelief even to thy dying hour; tempted perhaps on thy death-bed, thy very couch a part of the battle-field, and thy pillow a castle to be stormed or to be defended — yet 1 will receive thee to glory. Brethren, that moment when you and I shall be received into glory— can we conceive it? Thou art gone, frail body, no more pain from thee; but better still, thou art gone, vile flesh— no more temptation, no more sin. Old Adam, thou shalt rot. Let the worms devour thee; glad am I to be rid of thee.
“Far from a world of grief and sin,
With God eternally shut in.”
And this is your portion and my portion, though doubts and fears prevail, and we hardly dare to say that Christ is ours; yet, resting on him, on him only, having nothing of our own, looking to his flowing wounds, covered with his matchless righteousness, saved at last we shall be, and we will sing for ever to that matchless grace which saved us even to the end.
III. To conclude, the psalmist has been looking at his complex self; at the flesh, and groaning over that; and then at his spirit, confident in its God, and he winds the whole story thus: WHOM HAVE I IN HEAVEN BUT THEE?” I have known men lose their property, and yet they did not say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” I have known a man lose his wife, and yet look to earth to find some comfort. I have known him lose child after child, and yet he still thought the world had many charms. I have known him sick, yet he has had pleasure in vanity. But there is one thing which cannot happen— a man cannot know himself so as to feel his folly and his ignorance, to feel the beastlike character of his nature, without at once turning his eye to Christ. There is nothing that makes one love Christ, I think, so much as a sense of His love balanced with a sense of our unworthiness of it. It is sweet to think that Christ loves us; but oh, to remember that we are black as the tents of Kedar, and yet he loves us! This is a thought which may well wean us from everything else beside. That he should love me when I have some graces and some virtues is not a great marvel; but that he should love me, when in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing; when I have no charms, no beauties, not one attractive attribute, not one trait of character that is worthy of his regard— that he should love me then— oh! if this does not make me swear a divorce to the world, what can? Methinks, believer, thou wilt come to Jesus and put thy hand in his, and say, "Thou, thou alone art mine. No other love can I have but this. I cannot love the world, when I have known such affection as thine. And when I see how little I deserve it, I must love thee." Then, the spirit flies to heaven, thinking of all that joy and rapture which is to come, but remembering as it enters paradise that it was on earth but as a beast before God, it looks all round through heaven, and says to angels, "I cannot think of you, I can only think of him who could love so base, so vile a creature as I am.” Surely, passing by principalities and powers, forgetting for awhile the blood-washed company, the sacramental host of God’s elect, we shall find out the throne where Jesus sits, and we shall sing to him, and this shall be the song, “Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, unto him be glory for ever and ever.” Contemplate much, believer, your own sad state, contemplate yet more your own safety and perfection in Christ, and these two things together shall make you despise the world and its joys, make you tread on the world and its trials, and make you feel such a knitting and union of heart to Christ , to Christ Jesus only, that you may say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”
I thought I saw just now before my eyes a dark and horrible pit, and down deep below, where the eye could not reach, lay a being broken in pieces, whose groans and howlings pierced the awful darkness and amazed my ears. Methought I saw a bright one fly from the highest heaven, and in an instant dive into that black darkness till he was lost and buried in it. I waited for a moment, and to my mind’s eye I saw two spirits rising from the horrid deep, with arms entwined, as though one was bearing up the other, I saw them emerge from the gloom. I heard the fairest of them say, as he mounted into light, “I have loved thee, and given myself for thee.” And I heard the other say, who was that poor broken one just now, “I was foolish and ignorant, I was as a beast before thee.” Ere I could write the words both spirits had risen into mid air, and I heard one of them say “Thou shalt be with me in Paradise,” and the other whispered “Nevertheless I am continually with thee.” As they mounted higher, I heard one say, “None shall pluck thee out of my hand,” and I heard the other say “Thou holdest me by my right hand.” As still they rose they continued the loving dialogue. “I will guide thee with mine eye,” said the bright one; the other answered “Thou shall guide me with thy counsel.” They reached the bright clouds that separate earth from heaven, and as they parted to make way for the glorious One, he said, “I will give thee to sit upon my throne even as I have overcome, and sit upon my Father’s throne,” and the other answered, “And thou shalt afterward receive me to glory.” Lo the clouds closed their doors, and they were gone. Methought again they opened, and I saw those two spirits soaring onward beyond stars, and sun, and moon; right up beyond principalities and powers; on, beyond cherubim and seraphim; right on beyond every name that is named, until in that ineffable brightness, dark with unsufferable light, the awful glory of the Deity whom eye cannot see, both those spirits were lost, and there came the sound of joyous hallelujahs from the spirits which are before the throne. May it be your lot and mine thus to be brought up, for we are thus fallen; may it be ours to be thus caught up to the third heaven, for we are thus broken and cast down into the lowest hell by nature. God give us faith in Christ. Faith in Christ— that is the link, the bond, the tie. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”