The Royal Prerogative
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal.”— Deuteronomy xxxii. 39.
THERE is but one God: Jehovah is his name— the “I AM.” That one God will not endure a rival. Why should he? He made all things, and sustains all things. Should a creature that his own hands have made be set up in rivalry with him? If it be a great man like Nebuchadnezzar, if he saith, “Behold this great Babylon which I have builded,” God will send him to grass among the bullocks, and make him to know that no man is great in the sight of God. What a provocation it must be to God to see men bowing down before idols fashioned by their own hands! What a degradation to man that he should worship gold, or silver, or wood, or stone; but what a grievous dishonour to the great God of all! And it seems to me to be the worst of all dishonours when God sees the image of his own dear Son made into an idol, and the- representation of the cross on which redemption was made lifted on high that before it men may prostrate themselves in worship. This must touch his sacred soul, and vex him even to the uttermost, for God is God alone, and beside him there is none else; his glory will he not give to another, neither his praise to graven images. In the text before us the great ego is seen. The Lord says, “I, even I.” That ego is so great that it fills all places: and, therefore, there can be no room for another. “I, even I, am God, and there is no god with me.” “Besides me,” saith he in another place, “there is none else.” Oh, to have such lofty thoughts of God that we can have no consideration for anything that would rob him of the glory which is so exclusively his own. Fain would we burn with a holy jealousy which abhors the idea of a rival god, and casts the name of Baal out of its mouth with utter loathing.
In the text the Lord claims the sovereign prerogative of life and death. He says, “I kill, and I make alive.” It is he from whom we first of all receive our being. His hand kindles the torch of life, and from him comes the quenching of the flame. No angel’s arm could save us from the grave; nor could a myriad of angels confine us there when once again he shall bid us rise. God killeth and God maketh alive. Royal personages have usually been very jealous of the prerogative of life and death, but our great God hath it without bound or limit. He reigns supreme. “I kill,” says he, “and I make alive.”
From the connection in which the text stands it is clear that the Lord alludes to the making of nations, or to the destroying of nations. It was God that made Israel to be a people; it was God that cast out Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites from being nations before him: it was God that raised up Chaldea, and Babylon, and then strengthened Persia to break Babylon in pieces, and Greece to destroy Persia, and Rome with iron foot to break down Greece; and when the time had come it was he who spoke to the city of the seven hills, and she, too, lost her royal power. Kingdoms and thrones belong unto the Lord, and the shields of the mighty are lifted on high or laid in the dust as he willeth. Though they regard it not, there is a King of kings and Lord of lords; and when the long page of history shall be unrolled, and men shall be able to see the end from the beginning with enlightened eye, they shall know that, all through, the disregarded and neglected God, the unseen and even unthought of God, was still reigning evermore. Across the page of earth’s long record shall be written in right royal hand, “I kill, and I make alive.” In providence God is absolute, the blessed and only Potentate whose sovereign will knows no dispute.
At this time, however, I purpose to carry this great truth away from the realm of providence into the kingdom of grace; and we shall confine ourselves to that second sentence — “I wound, and I heal.” On this word we shall make three observations, the first being that none but the Lord can wound or heal; secondly, that the Lord can wound and heal; and, thirdly, that the Lord does wound and heal,— three thoughts which are closely connected, and yet are marked by instructive shades of difference.
I. First, NONE BUT THE LORD CAN WOUND OR HEAL. To begin at the beginning— the Lord alone can spiritually wound. When we have to deal with human hearts our first effort has to be to wound them. Naturally, man thinks himself whole-hearted, and in sound health, but he is not so. The great object of the gospel ministry, at first, is to convince men of sin, to humble them before God: in fact, to wound them, to cut them to the heart. But no man can wound without the Lord. I speak without any measure to my utterance, no preacher can truly wound the human heart. He may speak very honestly and plainly; he may speak with deep pathos and true affection; he may wield at times the thunders of God, and anon the soft and gentle bands of love may be in his hand; but in no way can the preacher get at the heart of men unless his Master be with him. Charm thou never so wisely, O wise man, the adder is deaf, and it is in vain that thou usest thine enchantments. As well convince the wild winds, or convert the wayward waves, as hope to touch the human heart till God makes bare his arm. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to convince of sin, and until he putteth forth his power the preacher may preach himself dumb with weariness and blind with weeping, but no result can possibly follow. And what is true of preachers is true of all the teachers in the Sunday-school, of all the earnest folk that go about to speak personally to men, ay, and of the most tender mother and the most earnest father. There is no wounding the child’s heart; there is no breaking it down into contrition by the tenderest arguments or the wisest counsels. You will come back and say as we have done, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”
Yes, dear friends, and the most solemn truths which in themselves have a natural tendency to wound the heart, nevertheless cannot do it apart from the work of God himself. There is the sword, and in itself it is sharp and cutting, but no man can handle it. The eternal arm must be revealed, or the hide of behemoth will not feel the weapon. A sword will cut through a coat of mail if a Cœur-de-Lion hath the wielding of it; but not in a child’s hand will it wound to killing. God must take the Scripture in his hand and use it to the dividing of joints and marrow, or sinners will escape its power. Terrible truths there are in the Bible which ought to make men shake, but they hear them, they deny them, they even laugh at them, and continue in sin. Sweet truths there are which ought to make a rock shed tears, but you may tell of Gethsemane’s bloody sweat and the five dear wounds of him who was found guilty of excess of love, and yet men will hear it and go their way, each man to his farm and to his merchandise, and forget it all. I grant you the truths are powerful, but not until the mighty God applies them to the heart and conscience.
And in addition to truth, providence itself may come and work upon the heart of men, but cause no wounding of the right sort. I have seen the ungodly brought to destitution and poverty by their extravagances, and brought to sickness and death’s door by their lusts, and yet they have not been wounded. They have seen the result of sin, they have even felt it in the marrow of their bones, and yet the dogs have gone back to their vomit. They have still clung to their idols and held to their abominations. The burnt child dreads the fire, but the burnt sinner thrusts his hand into the flame again. We have seen men so sick that they have trembled at the thought of death, and it has been supposed from what they said that they were really impressed, and if they were restored to health would lead another life: but, alas, we have seen them restored to health and sinning worse than before. The wicked break his bands asunder, they cast his cords from them. All the terrors of providence— bereavements, losses, sicknesses— all have failed with the unregenerate. Their adamantine heart has turned the edge of the plough which sought to break it up. Men have wearied all the agencies of grace and providence, but yet they have not been wounded: their heart is stout as that of leviathan, “yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.” None can effectually wound the heart but God alone.
Now, the same thing is true about the healing: none but the Lord can heal. Of course that is true with regard to those who were never wounded. Nobody can heal such persons. I have known some preachers try to do that, though it has always seemed to me to be poor work to try to heal men who have never been wounded, to preach mercy to persons who think that they have no sin, to preach grace to men who dream that they have merits of their own. Christ did not so; he said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The whole have no need of a physician, but those that are sick.” There is no healing, then, for those who are not wounded; and equally there is no healing those who are wounded, except God lay his hand to their sore. Have you ever met with spiritually wounded persons? If you have, if you are a believer, your whole heart has gone out towards them, and, drawing examples from your own experience and promises from the word of God and sweet encouragements from gospel doctrine, you have laboured to pour a healing balm into their bleeding wounds. But have you not often failed? Nay, apart from the Spirit of the living God, have you not always failed, and must you not fail? Ah, dear friends, it is one thing to talk of a wounded spirit, but it is quite another thing to feel a wounded spirit; and you may talk about healing, too, but it is quite another thing to receive the healing, and quite another thing to apply it. Let God cut a man with his great sword as once on a time he smote me, and I warrant you that no ordinances will heal him. “No,” says a friend, “come and hear a sermon.” He hears it; but the preaching makes him worse, and he feels more sad than ever. I have known persons foolish enough to persuade such seekers to come to the communion table. They have only eaten and drunk condemnation to themselves. While they have been at the table they have known themselves to be intruders, and their hearts have bled more than ever. You can easily pacify a man whose sense of sin is a mere pretence, just as you may soon heal the imitation of a wound; but it is not so with one who has the arrows of the Lord rankling within him, he needs divine surgery. As for the hypocritical penitent, give him outward sacraments and he believes that he is all right; but if God has wounded him all the sacraments under heaven will never minister consolation to him. He must go to God for that, for only in Christ Jesus can it be found. All the preachers, ay, and all the doctrines of the Bible, sound and true as the preachers may be, and inspired as the doctrines certainly are, will fail to comfort a bleeding soul until the eternal Lord shall bow himself from his throne in heaven and bind up the broken in heart. I know it is so. Gospel truth is sufficient in itself to comfort all that mourn, but it will comfort nobody so long as the natural unbelief of the heart remains. Get a hold of a lacerated spirit, torn with unbelief, and try what you can do. Say, “Trust in the Lord, my friend,” and he replies, “I cannot trust.” Tell him Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and he says he knows that, but he cannot get hold of it. Go on to tell him how the Lord receiveth the very chief of sinners. Do your duty with him, for whether you can heal him or not you are bound to set the gospel before him: but you shall find that you have worked in vain if you have gone in your own strength, and forgotten the prayerful spirit and the humble reliance which are so needful to success. God can use you to heal a broken heart, but you cannot do it yourself.
Unconverted hearer, look not to us as though we could do anything for you, but look to Jesus only. Ah, friend, if I could wound you, and if I could heal you, it would do you no good. If I could convert every sinner here, of what use would the human conversion be? Have you never heard of Mr. Howland Hill being met one evening by a drunken man, who staggered up to him and said, “Hallo, Mr. Hill, I am one of your converts!” “Ah,” said Mr. Rowland Hill, “very likely, but you are none of God’s converts, or else you would not be drunk.” Now, our converts, if they be our converts, will be very poor productions. If one man can convert you, another man can unconvert you. That which is wrought by the flesh can be undone by the flesh. “Ye must be born again. Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless there is a work of grace in the soul which the will of man, the will of the flesh, blood, birth, education, teaching can never work; unless, I say, there is a supernatural power exercised upon us, we shall never see the face of God at the last with acceptance.
So there is the first truth— God alone can wound and God alone can heal.
II. And now, secondly, THE LORD CAN WOUND AND HE CAN HEAL. What a mercy this is, and how comfortably it encourages the Christian to go about his work! The Lord can wound. He can pierce the most unlikely heart. Look at Saul of Tarsus. You would never have thought when he was hurrying to Damascus to drag the saints to prison that ever he would be humbled and made to cry out, “What wilt thou have me to do?” The Lord knew his man, and just when he was on the brow of the hill, and could see Damascus in the plain, and was ready to devour the saints, the Lord let fly an arrow. Down went one Saul of Tarsus, so wounded that it took three days to extract the arrow. This was wonderful; for Saul was like leviathan, of whom we read, “The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon,” yet the arrow of the Lord laid him low. The Lord can wound men in very unlikely places. I have known the arrow of conviction come home to a man who had not entered a place of worship for years. Such is the infinite sovereignty of God that he calls them a people that were not a people, and even those who sought him not he seeks out. Ay, even in the haunts of sin a man is not safe from the arrows of God — I mean the arrows of God’s infinite love. God can still touch the conscience. Leviathan, you know, is wrapped about with scales, “shut up together as with a close seal”; yet there is a weak point even in leviathan. The cunning hunter knows how to find it out; and there are some men so sceptical, so atheistic, so obstinate, so profane, so abominable, that nobody dares to come near them; yet have we known it— tell it to the praise of sovereign grace— the Lord has smitten even these with his great and strong sword, and afterwards he has healed them by his mighty grace. Never despair of anybody. If salvation were man’s work you might despair; but since it is God’s work, despair of none. The wretch who is the nearest approach to an incarnate devil may yet become as an angel of God. Such is the grace of God that, though men make a league with death and a covenant with hell, he can break their leagues and disannul their covenants, take the prey from between the jaws of the dragon, and get to himself renown.
The Lord can wound, then. He can wound some that have been sitting under the gospel for years and have defied its power. My arrows have rattled against your harness, and I have said, “It is all in vain;” but I pray my Master that one of these days when I am drawing a bow at a venture, he may be pleased to direct it between that joint of the harness which I feared did not exist, that little joint where the shoulder-piece does not fit close to the breastplate. I have feared that you were encased as in the scales of leviathan, of which we read, “One is so near to another that no air can come between them: they are joined one to another”; yet the Lord can send in his arrow, and make the proud heart feel the power of his glorious truth. The most thoughtless, the most careless, the most abandoned are still within range of the Lord’s bow.
What a very sweet side of the truth is the second part of it— namely, that he can heal. There are some awful cases of bleeding wounds! I wonder whether I have in this audience any souls desperately wounded. I have known the heart bleed as though it would bleed to death beneath the sword of conviction. Some are driven to despair, and have been ready to lay violent hands upon themselves in the bitterness of their souls. Let it ring out like a trumpet, that these poor despairing ones may hear it,— the Lord can heal. There is no case so desperate but what Jehovah-Jesus can recover it. Despair! thou must let thy captive go. Despondency! thou must open thy prison-house when Jesus comes. Has he not come forth from the Father on purpose that he may loose the captives and say to the bondaged ones, “Go free.”
The wounds which God gives are apt to fester. You remember how the psalmist said, “My wounds stink and are corrupt.” When there is bad blood, we have known men’s wounds to become horrible; and some souls who have had their conscience awakened have become a terror to themselves. “I cannot be saved,” say they. “I cannot pray. How should such a wretch as I am ever pray? I cannot hope for mercy. It would be an astonishment to heaven and hell, too, if ever I found mercy.” Listen to me, and let thy own heart believe it; thou mayest certainly recover. God, who doeth all things, and to whom nothing is impossible, can heal thy wounds though they reek with corruption. If thou dost lie at hell’s gate, if thou seemest to be half in Tophet already, his arm is strong enough to help thee now. If thou wilt look to Christ uplifted on the cross, there is pardon, life, acceptance, joy, and heaven for thee, even for thee. He that wounded thee will heal thee, he that hath broken thee will bind thee up. He that has killed thee will make thee alive. Let thine ears take in the gladsome message which I am bidden to deliver thee,— “I wound, and I heal.”
Yet let me charge you not to look for a cure anywhere but to God in Christ Jesus. Shun the thought of being healed except the Lord shall heal thee. I dread lest a wounded soul should go to a minister or to a priest, or to the most religious person in the world, and think to get healing of man. Thy wounds are meant to drive thee to thy God. Seek him, and no one else. To thy knees now in thy private chamber, or if thou hast not one, get alone even in the street, for thou canst be alone in a crowd; but go to God with thy bleeding heart. Tell him, “I am a sinner: Lord, I am all but a damned sinner. I have been such an offender that I scarcely dare to hope; but I hear that thou canst heal me and give me comfort. Oh, for Jesu’s sake be merciful to me. I thank thee that thou hast wounded me; it were better for me to be wounded than to be as indifferent and careless as I used to be; but now, Lord, do not altogether break me to pieces and treat me as an enemy. My spirit fails unless thou comfort me. Oh, look upon me!” If you cannot say as much as that, yet let your tears drop and look up, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Do but cry to him, and you shall find a healing; for God can heal you and none else. Out upon those who dream that outward religiousness can do you good. Away, away with the deceivers who would tell you that they can give you pardon. No man living can absolve his fellow-sinners: the pretence is the superlative of blasphemy. God is in Christ Jesus reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed to us the word of reconciliation, and we are glad to proclaim that word, and point you to the Lord Jesus who is exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins.
III. Now I come to my third and last point, and that is— THE LORD DOES WOUND AND DOES HEAL. I have two things here to-night. I will only show them to you, and have done. First, I have a bundle of arrows which I have seen shot at different times from the bow of God so as to wound men. I cannot shoot them at you just now, but I will show them to you.
I have known him shoot this arrow at a man,— the arrow of continual gentleness. He has been very good to the sinner, and continued his kindness to him for years. Augustine tells of one to whom God was so wonderfully kind, and the man was so wonderfully bad, that at last he grew astonished at God’s goodness, and since the Lord continued to load him with benefits, he turned round and cried, “Most benignant God, I am ashamed of being thine enemy any longer. I confess my sin and repent of it.” How I wish that this arrow would pierce your hearts! It is one which readily penetrates a noble mind. The more gross and animal natures do not feel it, but where God has left some little spark of nobility, a man more readily feels, “I cannot go on and sin against a God so good.” It is a very sharp arrow, but it is dipped in love, and it wounds most sweetly.
Here is another,— God is angry with the wicked every day. Oh, if that truth would go home to some of you, “God is angry with me, for I have broken his holy law.” Surely it would cut you to the quick. I do not like anybody to be angry with me; but oh, to have the Lord angry with me! How could I endure it? Dear hearer, I hope you will feel the smart of this warning. It is very easy for you to hear it and for me to speak it, but if you once feel it, it will tear your heart and fill your loins with agony.
Another arrow — “He that believeth not is condemned already.” You are not to be condemned at last merely, you are condemned now. You are not in a state of probation; you have already been proved, and you have failed, and you are walking this earth at this moment as a condemned criminal. Ah, if that barbed iron were to enter your soul, it would wound you indeed.
Here is another arrow,—“The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God.” “These shall go away into everlasting punishment.” Many have been playing with that arrow lately; it is an edged tool, and he had best beware who toys with it. Let the Lord send it home, and it will kill a man’s proud hopes and vain presumptions as quickly as any arrow in the quiver of the Almighty.
Here is another,— “Thou hast destroyed thyself.” Your present state of ruin and danger is your own fault. You have brought it upon yourself, and you have nobody to blame but yourself that you are a lost man. Ah, that will rankle, and pain the soul as though a sword were in the bones.
And here is another,— “You are dead in sin. You have destroyed yourself, but you cannot save yourself.” I have seen a man get that into his flesh a little way, and he has raved with anger. He has bitten his lips and said, “I will never hear that preacher again. Why, he made out my case to be hopeless.” The man is sure to come again. He is like a great fish in a stream, with a hook in his jaws. He will draw out a good deal of line, and we will let him have it, but he must come to a stop before long with that solemn truth to hold him. He struggles hard; but that sharp text is not soon dislodged from the heart — “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.”
Thus I might continue to show you a sample of the weapons with which God wounds men: he hath his two-edged sword, his spear, his arrows, his battle axe, and weapons of war. You say, “I do not feel them.” No, and I cannot make you feel them. I have told you before that it is not my arm that can wield them; but when God is pleased to use any of these, the people fall under him. “Well,” says one, “I do not think that I shall be wounded.” No, but I am glad you are in the battle, because when the arrows are flying they may strike you as well as anybody else. I have had to deal with wounded ones that I never reckoned upon seeing in such a condition. Oh, what gashes have I seen in men that had been given to all sorts of fashionable sins, and who had sneered at religion; they have come here at first from the most miserable motives, but they have had to come again and weep and cry before the Lord with broken hearts. You never know where bullets may find their billets. You who are the servants of the devil are on dangerous ground when you come near a faithful ministry. Nay, I will alter it, you are on blessed ground, where the slain of the Lord have been many; and where the people of God are earnestly praying for you now. I know at this moment they are putting up the prayer, “Lord, send the arrow’s home: send the arrow's home.” Their prayers prevail with God, and he will bare his arm. There is no mistake about this matter, he “will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion.” When he puts his arm to the work, who shall stand against him? He will do all his pleasure. Glory be to his blessed name, he can wound, and he does wound according to his eternal purpose.
Now I will hold up before you the bottle of balm. When a soul is wounded, the Lord applies his sacred surgery to the heart. He has healed some of us. The particular bottle of balm which he used in healing me is one which I know well, and shall never forget. This was the label, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God, and beside me there is none else.” Why, do you know? I was afraid of God until I heard that God was in Christ, and that I was to look to God in Christ, and that the very God whom I dreaded would save me. That revelation came home with divine power to my soul! The preacher said, “Look. This is all that is wanted.” “There,” he said, “a fool can look; a little child can look; a half idiot can look; a dying man can look.” “Look,” said he, “and it is done.” Did I really understand him — that I was only to look to Christ dying on the cross for me and see God making an atonement for my sin in the. person of his Son— that I was only to look, and I should live at once. It was even so, and I did look. My burden passed away, and from that hour I can say what Cowper has so sweetly said in the hymn:—
“E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.”
Oh, what a bottle of balm that is— redeeming love! How sweetly it drops into the soul! The Lord shows the wounded man that though he is full of sin, he can put that sin away without any violation of justice when the soul believes in Jesus. Now let the balm drop a minute. “All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned everyone to his own way”— that fact gives us wounds. But now “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all no balm of Gilead was ever so potent as that. Poor guilty sinner, if you will now trust Christ, your sin is yours no longer; it was laid eighteen hundred years ago upon the back of Christ, your great Surety; he was punished for it, and he has cast it into the depths of the sea. You are forgiven; go in peace.
Here is another drop of balm,— When a man is wounded he feels that he cannot help himself ; but then there comes in this precious truth— that the Spirit of God can do it. God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son, and that Spirit helpeth our infirmities, so that though we know not what we should pray for as we ought, that Spirit is waiting to help us to pray. O you wounded ones, may the great Spirit show you at this time the person of the dear Son of God— God and man. May he show you that person wounded, covered -with a bloody sweat, and put to death; and may he sweetly whisper in your ear to-night, “He was your substitute: he bore that you might never bear the wrath of God.” Then you will say as you go out of this house, “He can heal, for he has healed me. He has made me leave my despair, and even my doubts, behind me. Now will I sing unto my beloved a song:—
‘Jesus has become at length
My salvation and my strength.’”
So have I preached to you nothing but God in Christ Jesus, and I am glad to have him to preach to you. Suppose that there is a bad young man here at this time, who has left his home, and run away from his father. He has done wrong, very wrong: and, instead of going to a tender, loving father and saying, “Father, forgive me,” he is afraid of punishment, and therefore he has run away. There is an advertisement for him in the paper, inviting him to come home. Now, what has he to do to be right with his father? This poor, wandering, wayward, lost boy has got among the very scum of London, and he is being ruined and starved to death. What must he do? Boy, you must go home to your father; go home to your father. He loves you; he is pining for you; he is grieved at heart about you. Oh, if he saw you to-night, it would break his heart to see you in your rags! He wants you to come home. Do you not see that it would be very foolish for that lad to say, “I shall get into an institution,” or “I shall try to earn money.” Your father is rich, good, wise, and kind; the best thing you can do is to go home to your father. Going home to your father, all will be right. Now, take up the parable. All of us have left our father, and have journeyed into a far country. We shall never get right again except by going back to him from whom we have gone astray. And Jesus— God in Christ Jesus— is waiting to welcome us; he is grieving over us now. We have only to go to him, for he says that he will never cast out one that comes to him. “I do not know how he can receive me,” says one. Well, go anyhow and try him. “I cannot pray.” You can pray, dear friend. “But not properly.” Do not try to pray properly. Pray your heart out as you can, and ask to be helped. I know that some poor souls are in such a state that they would be glad if we would write them out a prayer. I was talking only a little while ago to one in distress, and he said to me, “Oh, Mr. Spurgeon, you do not know how ignorant we are, and when we are under a sense of sin you do not know how foolish we are. If you would sometimes put the very words into our mouths it would do us good.” And I thought he was right, because I find the Lord saying in Scripture, “Take with you words and say”; and he tells them what to say.
Come now, poor soul, if you want to find God, let us pray a minute. “O God, save us, for thou alone canst do it. Of thy great mercy heal our wounds, for else we must bleed to death. We cast ourselves upon thy promise in Christ Jesus thy Soil; grant us now thy salvation, we beseech thee, for his sake. Amen.”