Seeing God’s Goodness Here
A Sermon Published on Thursday, December 6th, 1906,
Delivered C.H. Spurgeon,
At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
On Thursday Evening, August 1st, 1867.
“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of thy Lord in the land of the living.” — Psalm 27:13.
WE were favored with very much of God’s goodness, last Sabbath evening, when we considered the rule of grace in guiding a believer’s life, namely, that, instead of seeing in order to believe, he has learned to believe in order to see.* “Unless I had believed to see,” says the psalmist, “I had fainted;” and we should never have known true refreshment, nor enjoyed the comforts of the Lord, but should have been full of doubts, and distracted with fears, if we had not learned the sacred art of believing although we did not see, or even believing in spite of what we did see; or believing in order that we might see, fully expecting that sight, would inevitably follow if our faith were but simple and true.
Those of you who were present, last sabbath evening, will remember that I restricted my remarks, for the most part, to the one matter of our salvation. I tried to show to seekers that, instead of looking for evidences of salvation first, and then believing in Christ, they were to believe in Christ in order to obtain those evidences; — that, instead of looking to their repentance, and then having confidence in Christ, their repentance sprang from their confidence in Christ; — that, instead of saying, “We are not fully sanctified, and therefore fear we are not saved; “they were to remember that the certainty of their being saved by grace, through faith, would be, to their minds and hearts, the great motive power by which they would be enabled to obtain that sanctification which cannot be theirs as long as they remain in legal bondage, and have doubts about being “accepted in the Beloved.” There were some set at liberty last Sabbath evening, who had really known the Lord for years, but were afraid to say definitely that they
had trusted in Christ, and that, therefore, they were saved. May God grant that all of us may not only come to Christ, but may we also exercise a simple, childlike faith, which just takes God’s Word as it stands in this blessed Book, believes it, receives it, lives upon it, asks no questions concerning it, and will allow none to be asked by others.
On this occasion, I propose to make a particular application of the general principle of our text. David was a man of many troubles. Especially in the latter part of his life, he was incessantly in the furnace, and he says that he should have “fainted” under these many troubles if he had not “behaved to see,” in the particular matter of his briars, “the goodness of the Lord” in that land which is the special sphere of trouble. David believed to see the goodness of the Lord, not only in the glory land yonder, but also in this land here below. He believed to see the goodness of the Lord, not merely when he emerged from the furnace, but also while he was in it. As a pilgrim and a stranger, he believed to see the goodness of the Lord during the days of his pilgrimage. He did not always see it, but he believed to see it; he believed in it, and anticipated it; and, by believing in it, he did actually come to see it with the eye of his mind, and to rejoice in it.
We all know that this world is a very unpromising field for faith; according to our varied experiences, we must all subscribe to the declaration that this earth is, more or less, a vale of tears, that it is not our rest, for it is polluted. There are too many thorns in this nest for us to abide comfortably in it. This world is under the curse, so it still bringeth forth thorns and thistles, and in the sweat of our face do we eat our bread until we return to the earth out of which man was at first taken. Were this world really to be our home, it would be a terrible fate for us; if we were always to live in this huge penal settlement, it would be sad indeed for us to know that we had continually to dwell where the shadow of the curse ever lingers, and where we have only the shadow of the cross to sustain us under it. But faith comes into this unpromising field, and believes that she shall see the goodness of the Lord even here. She rushes into the fiercest fight that ever rages here, fully believing that she shall see the banner of the Lord’s mercy and truth waving even there. She bears the burden and heat of the earthly toil, and expects to experience the lovingkindness of the Lord beneath it all. She knows that she will see more of her God in the land beyond the flood; but, still, she believes to, see the goodness of the Lord even in this land of the living which is so distracted and disturbed with sorrows and cares, and trials and tribulations.
I want to show you, first, that faith is infallibly persuaded of God’s goodness here; secondly, that she expects clearly to see that goodness here, and, thirdly, that it is this expectation and belief which sustain the soul of the tried believer.
I. First, then, FAITH IS INFALLIBLY ASSURED OF THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD IN THIS TIME STATE.
She is persuaded of this from what she knows of God himself. She could not believe that he could be otherwise than good. She reads the promise recorded in his Word, and she believes that they are all true and reliable. She can detect nothing that is unkind or ungenerous in any of them; they are all couched in the softest, gentlest, and most consoling words. The language used seems to her to have been selected on purpose to meet her case, and to make the promise suitable and sweet to her sorrowing heart. She feels sure that God could not be unkind. With the psalmist, she cries, “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart;” and though, like the psalmist, she may have, to write afterwards, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipped;” yet she stands fast to her first declaration, “Truly God is good to Israel,” however much surrounding circumstances may seem to prove the contrary; she knows that, from the necessity of the divine nature, God must be good to his people both here and hereafter.
When faith turns to the Bible, and reads the history of the Lord’s people, she sees that God has been good to them; and, knowing that he is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever,” she draws the cheering inference that he will also be good to her. Inasmuch as she can distinctly see that the trials and difficulties of the saints, in the olden times, always wrought their lasting good, she is convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that her trials and troubles, overruled by the same loving Lord who cared for them, will work her lasting good, and that God will bless her now as he blessed his saints in the olden time.
Perhaps some of you have faith, but yet, possibly through want of thought, you have not exercised it upon this particular point. If you are given to murmuring against God, you will often think thoughts which you would not like to hear or to see in spoken or written language. If someone should say to you, “God has been very unkind to you; I am sure that you cannot see the goodness of God displayed in your life,” you would at once turn round upon such a slanderer, and defend the character of your God from such an unjust accusation. Although you often murmur against the Lord in your spirit, yet, if another person should say in words what you have felt in your heart, you would then see the wickedness of your murmuring, and you would also see that, in the depths of your soul, there is a firm confidence in the goodness of God to you. You need to stir up that, holy fire, and set it blazing, so that you may get comfort from its warmth; for it is true, and it, must be true, that God is now good, and always good, and good to the highest possible degree of goodness to all his children, in their worst calamities, and their darkest seasons of sorrow.
But there are some conditions of life in which it is really a trial to faith to believe in the goodness of the Lord, as, for instance, that of long continued, dire poverty. Some of God’s choicest saints are so poor that they not only lack luxuries, but they even lack the very necessaries of life. As a rule, possibly without exception, God does give his people bread and water, but, sometimes, the bread is only a very small portion, and the cup of water — a very tiny one. I have known a child of God, who has said to me, “I have struggled hard against poverty: I have undertaken first this and then that, but, in every case, I have failed. My little vessel has tried to enter the harbour of prosperity, but the cruel winds have always driven it back again into, the rough sea of adversity. If I had been a spendthrift; if I had been wasteful in the days of my prosperity, or if I had not used my substance for the cause of God, I could understand my non-success. If God would again entrust me with ample means, I would cheerfully give to his cause, as I used to do, but, alas! I have not anything left after my daily needs are supplied.” Unbelief asks, “can this be the goodness of the Lord?” but Faith answers, “Yes, it is, and it must be; I should faint in this poverty, I should give up in despair if, under all my trials and hardships, I were not sure of the goodness of God to me. If I were even starving to death, God should still have a good word out of my dying mouth. Even if he should let me die of starvation, it must be right, and he must be good.”
There are others of God’s children, whose trials come from constant sickness; and some forms of illness are so trying that we are apt to ask ourselves why we should be subjected to them. I talked, this morning, with an aged sister in Christ, who, years ago, met with an accident by which her head was so severely injured that, every alternate day, her pain is almost unbearable. She can never go up to the house of God because the sound of the preacher’s voice, or of the singing of the congregation, would be more than she could endure. When we talked together, gently and softly, concerning the things of God, she quoted to me Psalm 119:75: “I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” If anyone asks, “Can it be the goodness of the Lord thus to keep away one who really loves his house, and prizes his ordinances, and to send her such sore sickness?” — we must reply, “Yes, it must be right. We cannot see how God’s goodness can thus be manifested, but we are to believe that it is. “I may be addressing some others, who are subject to peculiarly trying infirmities, which unfit you for the work you love, and the field of service where you have long been so happy and useful. Well, dear friends, in such a case as that, you must believe to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living in thus making your life to be one of sickness, and weariness, and pain.
The same rule also applies to our bereavements. How mysterious are the dispositions of providence in this matter! Many, whom we cannot afford to lose, are taken away from us; while others, who seem to do no good, continue to live. Death appears to spare the hemlock, and to cut down the oak and the cedar. Where there is a man who only cumbereth the ground, he is often allowed to remain; while others, who are like pillars of Christ’s Church, are taken away. I know a little village, where there were but a few poor inhabitants, and one man of substance, whom I very greatly esteemed. Towards the small salary of the pastor in that village, my friend contributed three-fourths, if not nine-tenths. He was the mainstay of that little Christian community. When I found him, last week, very ill with fever, and joined with other friends in earnest prayer that his life might to spared, it seemed to us absolutely essential to the welfare of that village church that he should be kept here at least a little longer. But now that the Lord has taken him home to himself, what can we say? We must not begin to cavil at what God has done, but say to him, We are sure that whatsoever thou doest is right; it cannot be wrong, it cannot be unkind; it must be the kindest thing that could have happened, the very thing which we should have wished to happen if we could have known what thou knowest, and if we could have formed our judgment upon the same principle as swayed thine infallible judgment.”
We sometimes fancy that we should like to make a slight alteration in some of the arrangements of divine providence. We would not interfere with the great wheels that are ever revolving, but just here and there, where a small cog rather inconveniently touches our personal interests, we would like to have it so altered as to let us alone; but, remorselessly, as we sometimes imagine, the great wheels grind on, our comforts are taken from us, and our joy is destroyed. What then? Why, let us still say, “Lord, not our will, but thine be done;” and let us kiss the hand that wields the rod as much as the one that bestows choice gifts upon us. It is far easier for me to say this than it is for yon poor widow to carry it out, easier for me to say it than it is for that weeping mother, who has seen all her children taken before her to the silent tomb. But, my sisters, my brothers, if it is harder for you, then so much the more earnestly would I urge you to say it; for the very difficulty of the submission, when you have rendered it, would prove the sincerity of your confidence in your God, and bring the more glory to him. So, as we take our friends and relatives to the tomb, and commit the precious dust to the earth, let us still believe to see the goodness of the Lord even there. If we do not look at our sorrows in that light, we shall faint under our repeated losses and bereavements; but if that be the light in which we view them, we shall see a glory gilding even the graves that cover the bodies of our departed loved ones, and shall rejoice in the full assurance of the goodness of the Lord to us, and even more to those who have gone to be “forever with the Lord.”
Another matter may, perhaps, have greatly troubled some of you, namely, your unanswered prayers. You have been praying for certain people for a long time; but, so far, you have received no answer to your supplications. There is a brother here, who has prayed for years for the conversion of his wife; yet she is still unconverted. If he yields to unbelief, he will have many difficult questions to answer. God has said, “Ask, and ye shall receive; you have asked for a thing which, apparently, is for God’s glory, yet you have not received it; and this will sometimes be a staggering blow to the earnest pleader. Some of you have prayed, as I have done, for the life of a friend, or you have sought some other favor from the hands of God, but he has not granted it. I believe there is a brother here, who has carried an unanswered prayer about with him for ten or a dozen years. I have known cases of believers praying for thirty years, and yet not obtaining what they asked for; and some of them, like the worthies of old, have “died in faith, not having received the promises.” They have not lived to see one of their children converted, yet their children have been converted, and saved through their prayers too, long after the parents slept in their graves.
In the cases of unanswered prayers, there is always the temptation to believe that God has not been faithful to his promises, that this bitter draught of unbelief is an addition to the sorrow which you feel at your nonsuccess at the mercy seat. This is the time when you will faint unless you believe to see the goodness of the Lord even now and here. You must feel that, in any case, God’s will must be done. You must still continue to pray, for you do not know what God’s will is; but you must pray with resignation, after your Savior’s perfect, model in the garden of Gethsemane, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” You will be comforted and helped if you can look upon your unanswered prayers in that light.
And, dear brethren, there is another thing that will sometimes press upon you very heavily, namely, the desertions which occasionally fall to the lot of the believer as to his communion with God. Sometimes, we are left in the dark. Whether you are or not, I know that I have been where I could not see sun, or moon, or stars, or even get so much as a look from my Master to cheer my sad heart, or a word from his mouth to make glad my spirit. At such times, we must remember that ancient message, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. If you cannot see, you must, believe to see; and if your heart feels like a stone, still believe that Christ is your life; and if, instead of holy meditations, your soul is racked with blasphemous temptations and evil thoughts, still hold on to Jesus, sink or swim. If, instead of clear evidences of salvation, you are half afraid that the Lord has forsaken you, and given you up, and you fall into an unbelieving frame of mind, go again to the fountain filled with blood, that this sin, like all others, may be washed away. Trust Christ all the more “when the enemy shall come in like a flood;” for, then, “the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” Those must be strange Christians who never have any conflict raging within their souls. If that is true Christian experience, I wish I could get it; — to be always at peace and at rest, and never again have to wrestle with sins, and doubts and fears. But, beloved, if we cannot attain to that position, — and I believe that the most of us cannot, — let us still walk by faith; for, so, we shall walk triumphantly even under the discouragements of our inward spiritual conflicts.
One other point I must mention, and then I will leave this part of the subject. To many believers, the sharpest trials they ever have to endure arise from troubles connected with the Church of Christ. What a grief it is to the godly when any portion of the Church of Christ does not prosper;— when bickerings arise among the members, when one brother or sister is jealous of another, and when all our attempts to mend the rent only make it worse. It must be very trying for some of you to have to go, on the Lord’s day, to listen to a minister who does not edify you, but rather provokes you to wrath; or to attend church-meetings, as I know that some do, and find them anything but a means of grace; or to have to meet with professors who, in their common conduct and conversation, instead of leading you onward and upward, do you as much mischief as if they were men of the world. It is sad to see even one of God’s ministers sound asleep, and to see other professing Christians careless and worldly, and to see the whole ship of the Church like the vessel described by the Ancient Mariner, —
“As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean;”
when there was no motion, no advance; when —
“The very deep did rot.”
It is a dreadful thing when there is such a horrid deathlike calm as this; yet, even amidst such trials as these, we must believe to see the goodness of the Lord. We must still believe that the great Head of the Church has not forgotten her, that in her darkest times he still wears her name upon his heart, and that he will yet return to her in mercy, cast out all her enemies, repair her broken walls, and cause the banner of his love to float again over her citadel.
II. Now, secondly, and very briefly, FAITH NOT ONLY BELIEVES IN THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD, BUT SHE EXPECTS TO SEE IT EVEN HERE.
Sometimes, she sees it very soon. God does not guarantee to let his people see here the reason for all his providential dealings with them, but he does occasionally do so. There is many a believer who has lived to see the goodness of God to him. Bernard Gilpin’s case was a very clear one. As he was on his way to London to be burned at the stake, his leg was broken, and he had to stop on the road. He said it was all for the best, and so it was; for, when he reached London, the bells were ringing, for Queen Mary was dead, and Queen Elizabeth had come to the throne, so he was not burned, the breaking of his leg had saved his life. Some of us have also seen the goodness of the Lord displayed under very strange circumstances. It was so in connection with that terrible calamity at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall. Notwithstanding all the sorrow and suffering that it brought upon us, as we now look back upon it, we see how God, by means of that calamity, called public attention to the preaching of the Word; and I have no doubt that, for every life that was then lost, a thousand souls have since been saved from going down to the pit, so let God’s name be praised for that gracious overruling of a terrible crime. You may not have to wait even a day before you will distinctly see the goodness of the Lord; but you must believe it before you see it. It must be a matter of duty to you now to believe it; and then, by-and-by, it may be a matter of privilege to you to see it.
But faith does not always expect to see the goodness of God here at once. She knows that this is the land of mist and fog, and she is glad if she can see even one step before her. Ay, and she is quite satisfied to go on even if she cannot see a step before her. She puts her foot down on what seems to be a thick cloud, but she finds the ground solid beneath her. Without seeing where she is going, she takes the next step, relying upon the faithfulness of God, and again she is safe; and so she pursues her way in the thick darkness, and with greater joy than those who see far ahead, and compliment themselves upon their shrewdness. She knows that the day has not yet dawned, for the shadows have not yet fled away, so, while she is in this mortal state, she walks by faith, not by sight.
Faith understands, too, that man is not endowed with that degree of judgement which might enable him, at present, even if the light were clearer, to see the goodness of the Lord distinctly. With such an intellect as he now has, a child is not likely to see the wisdom of his father in the use of the rod. Even if he is a well-instructed child, he may still scarcely be able to see it. The father is the better judge; he has seen more of life, he knows what the child does not know, and foresees what the child does not even dream of. How can I, who can only see a little pool in front of me, judge as to how the Lord should manage the great ocean? Here am I sailing my tiny toy-boat upon a pond; and am I to lay down rules of navigation for God in steering the leviathans of the deep across the shoreless seas? Here am I, an emmet of an hour, creeping about upon the little ant-hill which I call my home; and am I to judge as to how God manages all the affairs of time and eternity? Down, thou foolish pride; what knowest thou? Thou art wise only when thou knowest that thou art a fool; but thou art such a fool that thou dost not know even that until God teacheth it to thee. Lie down, then, and trust where thou canst not understand.
Faith also knows that, at present, she cannot see the whole plan and proceedure of God’s providential dealings with men. We cannot fairly judge the working of providence by gazing at a part of it. There is an old joke about a student who took one brick to the market in order to show the people what kind of house he had to sell; but who could rightly judge of a house by looking at a single brick? Yet this would be less foolish than trying to judge as to the goodness of the Lord by the transactions of an hour. If, instead of trying to measure, with a foot-rule, the distance between Sirius and the Pleiades, we would just believe that God has measured that vast distance to an inch, and leave such measurements to the almighty mind which can take in the whole universe at one sweep, how much wiser it would be on our part! God sees the end from the beginning; and when the great drama of time shall be complete, then will the splendor as well as the goodness of the Lord be seen. When the whole painting shall be unrolled in one vast panorama, then shall we see its matchless beauty, and appreciate the inimitable skill of the Divine Artist. But, here, we only look at one little patch of shade, or one tiny touch of color, and it appears to us to be rough or coarse. It may be that we shall be permitted, in eternity, to see the whole of the picture; and, meanwhile, let us firmly believe that he who is painting it knows how to do it, and that he, who orders all things according to the counsel of his own will, cannot fail to do that which is best for the creatures whom he hath made, and preserved in being.
III. So, finally, THERE IS A WONDERFULLY SUSTAINING INFLUENCE ABOUT THIS PRACTICAL BELIEF IN THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD.
There is a man lying upon the surgeon’s operating table, and the skillful surgeon has to cut deeply; why does the man endure that operation? Because he believes it is for his lasting good. He believes that the surgeon will not cause him an atom of pain more than is necessary, and therefore he lies quietly, and endures it all. But imagine that any of us were there, and that we fancied that the operator meant to do us has instead of good. Then we should rebel; but the conviction that it is all right helps us to play the man, and to bear the pain with patience. That should be your attitude towards God, my dear friend. May your belief in his goodness enable you to bear the sharp cuts of the knife which he is using upon you!
He must have been a bold man who was the first to plough the ground, all to bury bushels of good, golden wheat in the earth; but, nowadays, our farmers do it as a matter of course. They go to the granary, take out that which is very valuable, go off to where they have made the death-trench ready to receive it, and cast it in there, knowing that, unless it is cast in there to die, it will not bring forth fruit. But they believe to see the fruit that will spring from it; every farmer, when he sows his wheat, has the golden sheaves before his mind’s eye, and the shouts of the harvest home ring in anticipation in his ear; and, therefore, he parts with his treasured store of wheat, and parts with it cheerfully. So, dear friends, let us part with our friends, and part with our health, and part with our comforts, and part with life itself if that is necessary, believing that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Let me just add that, if there is such sustaining power about believing to see the goodness of the Lord even here, what must result from the still higher belief of seeing the goodness of the Lord in another and better world than this? The expectation of that bliss may well bear us up on its wings far above all the trials and troubles of this present life; so let us entreat the Holy Spirit to administer to us this heavenly cordial. Then, in the strength of the Lord, let us go forth to serve him, with body, soul, and spirit, to the highest degree that is possible to us.
If there are any of you who have never believed, let, me just tell you what is needful ere I close my discourse. The way of salvation is this, — Believe God’s Word; believe that your Maker cannot lie; trust his Son, whom he has given to be the Savior of all who trust him; and rely upon what his Word has declared: “he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” If thou trustest in Christ, even if thou hast not a fraction of other evidence of thy salvation, thou art a saved soul on that evidence alone. Cast thyself upon him, and thou shalt find that declaration to be true to thee, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” But if thou believes not, remember that this declaration is equally true, “he that, believeth not the Son shall not see life; but, the wrath of God abideth on him.” May God save all of you from that awful doom, for his dear Son’s sake! Amen.
*See Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 766, “Believing to See.”