“This Thing is from Me”
“Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me.” — 1 Kings xii. 24.
IT is very delightful to read a history in which God is made prominent. How sadly deficient we are of such histories of our own English nation! Yet surely there is no story that is more full of God than the record of the doings of our British race. Cowper, in one of his poems, shows the parallel between us and the house of Israel, and he dwells upon various special incidents in our history, and draws valuable lessons therefrom. God’s wisdom and power have been conspicuous from the time when this now full-grown nation was but like a puling chit. He has nursed and watched over it, protecting it against gigantic foes, and making it to be the defender of his truth, the favoured abode of his people. Oh, for a historian who could dip his pen in thoughts of God, and who, from beginning to end of his history, would not be showing us the crafty policy of kings and cabinets, but the finger of God! We want, nowadays, to have history written in some such style as appears in these Books of Samuel, and Kings, and Chronicles; then might history become almost like a new Bible to us. We should find that, as the book of revelation agrees with the book of creation, so does the book of divine providence in human history agree with both of them, for the same God is the Author of all these works. If we cannot get anybody to write such histories, yet let us continually amend the errata, and add appendices to such records as we have, for God is God, and God is everywhere, and blessed is the man who learns to spy him out.
Notice, next, what I pointed out to you in our reading, what power was possessed by God’s prophets under the Old Testament. Here is one Shemaiah,— some of you never heard of him before, perhaps you will never hear of him again; he appears once in this history, and then he vanishes; he comes, and he goes,— only fancy this one man constraining to peace a hundred and eighty thousand chosen men, warriors ready to fight against the house of Israel, by giving to them in very plain, unpolished words, the simple command of God: “Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel: return every man to his house;” and it is added, “they hearkened therefore to the Word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the Word of the Lord.” Why have we not such power? Peradventure, brethren, we do not always speak in the name of the Lord, or speak God’s Word as God’s Word. If we are simply tellers out of our own thoughts, why should men mind us? If we speak the word which we ourselves have fashioned, what is there in our anvil that it should command respect for what we make upon it? But if we can rise to the height of this great argument, and speak the truth as messengers of God, and there leave it, believing in it ourselves, and expecting great results from it, I wot that there will come more from our ministries than we have ever seen as yet. When the apostle Peter spoke to the lame man at the temple gate, he said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk;” and he did rise up and walk because the name of Jesus Christ was relied upon; and we have need to preach the gospel, not as though our suasion, much less our oratory, were to prevail with men, but believing that there is an intrinsic power in the gospel, and that God the Holy Ghost will go with it to work the divine purpose, and accomplish the decrees of the Most High. We have need to stand near to God, and to be more completely overshadowed by his presence, and to be ourselves more fully believers in the Divine Majesty, and then shall we see greater things than these. Surely, God must have meant that, under the New Testament, there should be a power in his Word even greater than that which rested on it under the Old Testament.
Note one more lesson conveyed by this incident. It would be a grand thing to preach only one sermon, and to be as successful as Shemaiah was; it would be far better than to preach ten thousand, and to accomplish nothing by them all. I hope the net result of our ministry will not be like that of the famous leader who with his troops marched up a hill and then marched down again. A man may take many years to say nothing, and he may very elaborately and very eloquently discharge himself of that which it was totally unnecessary for him to have said; but it would be better far to be surcharged with one message, and to deliver that one in the power of Almighty God, even if the speaker’s voice is never heard again. I pray that those of us who do preach the gospel may preach each sermon as if that one discourse were worth a lifetime, worth the putting forth of every faculty that we possess, so that, if we never preached again, we might nevertheless have done a life-work in a single sermon. What an opportunity is mine to-night! What an opportunity you also will have, my brother, when you confront your congregation next Lord’s day, an opportunity which angels might envy you! Though you do not gather together a hundred and eighty thousand men, yet you may reach as many as that through the one sermon you are going to preach next Sabbath, for one person converted by the Holy Ghost, through you, may be the means of bringing in many others, and eventually there may come out of your one effort a harvest that cannot be counted. A forest once slept within a single acorn-cup. The beginning of the great lies in the little. Let us therefore earnestly pray God that we may preach as dying men to dying men, and deliver each discourse as if that one message was quite enough to serve for our whole life-work. We need not wish to preach another sermon provided we are enabled so to deliver that one that the purpose of God shall be accomplished by us, and the power of his Word shall be seen upon our hearers.
With these remarks by way of preliminary observations, I want to prove to you from our text that, first, some events are very specially from God; secondly, when they are seen to be from God, they are not to be fought against; and, thirdly, this general principle has many special applications, some of which we shall try to make.
I. First, SOME EVENTS ARE SPECIALLY FROM GOD “This thing is from me.”
I do not know what some people believe, for they seem to try to do without God altogether; but I believe that God is in all things, — that there is neither power, nor life, nor motion, nor thought, nor existence apart from him. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” By him all things exist and consist. Like foam upon the wave, all things would dissolve away did not God continue them, did not God uphold them. I see God in everything, from the creeping of an aphis upon a rose-bud to the fall of a dynasty. I believe that God is in the earthquake and the whirlwind; but I believe him to be equally in the gentlest zephyr, and in the fall of the sere leaf from the oak of the forest. Blessed is that man to whom there exists nothing in which he cannot see the presence of God. It makes this world a grand sphere when God is seen everywhere in it from the deepest mine to the remotest star. This earth is a wretched dark dungeon if once the light of the presence and the working of God be taken away from it.
Notice also, dear friends, that God is in events which are produced by the sin and the stupidity of men. This breaking up of the kingdom of Solomon into two parts was the result of Solomon’s sin and Rehoboam’s folly; yet God was in it: “This thing is from me, saith the Lord.” God had nothing to do with the sin or the folly, but in some way which we can never explain, in a mysterious way in which we are to believe without hesitation, God was in it all. The most notable instance of this truth is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; that was the greatest of human crimes, yet it was foreordained and predetermined of the Most High, to whom there can be no such thing as crime, nor any sort of compact with sin. We know not how it is, but it is an undoubted fact that a thing may be from God, and yet it may be wrought, as we see in this case, by the folly and the wickedness of men; neither does this in the least degree interfere with human agency in its utmost freedom. Some who have held that man is a free agent have attempted to vindicate free agency as if predestination were the contradiction of it, which it is not; we who believe in predestination also believe in free agency as much as they do who reject the other truth. Others hold predestination, and straightway they begin to rail at all who believe in the responsibility and free agency of men. My brothers, there is nothing to rail at in either doctrine, the two things are equally true. “How, then,” asks someone, “do you reconcile them?” These two truths have never fallen out, so far as I know, and it is poor work to try to reconcile those who are true friends. “But,” says the objector, “how do you make them seem to be true friends?” I do not make them seem to be true friends. I bless God that there are some things in the Bible which I never expect to understand while I live here. A religion which I could perfectly understand would be no religion to me; when I had mastered it, it would never master me. But to my mind it is a most delightful thing for the believer to bow before inscrutable mysteries, and to say, “My God, I never thought that I was infinite, I never dreamt that I could take thy place, and understand all things; I believe, and I am content.” So I believe in the free agency of men, in their responsibility and wickedness, and that everything evil cometh of them; but I also believe in God, that “this thing” which, on the one side of it, was purely and alone from men, on another side of it was still from God, who rules both evil and good, and not only walks the garden of Eden in the cool of a summer’s eve, but walks the billows of the tempestuous sea, and ruleth everywhere by his sovereign might.
How, then, was “this thing” from God? Well, clearly, it was from God in two ways. First, it was so as a matter of prophecy. The prophet Ahijah had prophesied that the ten parts of the rent garment which were given to Jeroboam should be symbolic of the ten tribes that would be given to him when they had been torn away from the house of David. The prophecy was literally fulfilled, as God's words always are.
And, secondly, “this thing” was from God as a matter of punishment. He sent it as a punishment for the sins of the house of David of which Solomon had been guilty when he set up other gods before the Most High, and divided the allegiance of his kingdom from Jehovah by bringing in the gods of Moab, and Ammon, and Egypt. God ordained this evil that he might chastise the greater evil of want of loyalty to himself on the part of his servant Solomon. Yes, my brethren, God setteth evil against evil that he may destroy evil, and he uses that which cometh of human folly that he may manifest his own wisdom.
So there are some events which are specially from the Lord, although it seemeth not so; and this is to us often a great source of consolation. We have said to ourselves, “However did things get into this tangle and snarl?” Look at the professing church at this present moment, what is there about it that can at all cheer the child of God? All things appear dark and complicated; they seem to be built on a quicksand; and that which is superficial, and unsubstantial, and dreamy, and deceptive is everywhere. Still, the Lord liveth, and the rock of our salvation faileth not. As he makes the wrath of man to praise him, so doth he also with the folly and the wickedness of man, and the remainder of both he doth restrain. “The Lord sitteth upon the floods; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.” Hallelujah!
II. The second thing evidently taught by our text is that, WHEN EVENTS ARE SEEN TO BE FROM THE LORD, THEY ARE NOT TO BE FOUGHT AGAINST.
Rehoboam had summoned his soldiers to go to war against the house of Israel; but, inasmuch as it was from God that the ten tribes had revolted from him, he must not march into the territories of Israel, nor even shoot an arrow against them.
The thing that is happening to you is of the Lord, therefore resist it not, for it would be wicked to do so. If it be the Lord’s will, so may it be. To put our will against his will, is sheer rebellion against him. Trace an event as distinctly from God, and then the proper course of action is that which the psalmist took, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” Absolute submission is not enough, we must go on to joyful acquiescence in the will of God. If the cup be bitter, our acquiescence must take it as cheerfully as if it were sweet. “Hard lines,” say you. “To hard hearts,” say I; but when our hearts are right with God, so well do we love him that, if it ever came to a conflict anywhere, whether it should be our will or his will that should prevail, we should at once end the conflict by saying, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” It is nothing but wickedness, whatever form it assumes, when we attempt to resist the will of God.
But, next, while it is wicked, it is also vain, for what can we do against the will of God? Shall the rush by the river resist the north wind? Shall the dust rise up in conflict with the tempest? God is almighty; if that were all, it were enough, for who can stand against his power? But he is also all-wise; and if we were as wise as he is, we should do as he does. Moreover, he is all goodness, and he is ever full of love. Judged of according to the divine understanding, everything that he willeth must be right. Why, then, shall I dare contend against his strength, his wisdom, and his love? It must be useless so to do. Who hath resisted his will? Who could succeed if he did?
Next, it would be mischievous, and would be sure to bring a greater evil upon us if we did resist. Had this king Rehoboam gone out to fight with the far greater tribes which had revolted, it might have resulted in the desolation of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. He was much wiser in putting up his sword into its sheath, for it would have been disastrous to the last degree for him to break the command of God, and go to war against Israel. And depend upon it, brothers, there is no way of bringing afflictions upon ourselves like refusing to bear afflictions. If we will not bear the yoke that is laid upon us, and heed the gentle tugging of the rein, then the goad and the whip will be used upon us. Nothing involves us in so much sorrow as our refusal to submit to sorrow. If we will not take up the cross, the cross, mayhap, will take us up; and that is a far worse lot than the other. Endure, submit, acquiesce, it is the easiest way, after all; for if thou art a child of God, and thou rebellest against him, thou wilt have to smart for it. But if thou art not his child, and thou rebellest, like proud Pharaoh, God will set thee up to be a monument for men to wonder at as they see how sternly Jehovah dealeth with stubborn sinners who say, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” Whenever, therefore, a thing is distinctly from the Lord, it is not to be resisted.
III. Now I come to what may be more interesting to you, that is, to make a practical application of this subject, for THIS GENERAL PRINCIPLE HAS MANY SPECIAL APPLICATIONS. I believe it often happens that events are most distinctly from the Lord, and when it is so, our right and proper way is to yield to them.
I could narrate many very singular things that have happened to me, but I will not; only I am reminded just now of one that I will tell you. There sat, one Sabbath day, in that left-hand gallery, a young Hindoo gentleman wearing a scarlet sash. I preached that morning from this text, “What if thy father answer thee roughly?” and I had hardly reached the vestry at the back before this young Hindoo gentleman was there with an aged man, who is now with God, — a well-known Christian man, — and all in a hurry the young man said, “Sir, has Mr. E told you about me?” “No,” I said, “I have not seen him for months; what could he have told me about you?” “Are you sure that you never heard of me before?” “To my knowledge, I never heard of you, and never saw you before.” “Well then, sir,” he said, “there is a God, and that God is in this place.” “How so?” I asked. “Last night, I told this gentleman here,” he answered, “that I was almost persuaded to be a Christian; but that, when I went home to India, I should be disinherited by my father, and I felt sure that I should not have the courage to stand out as a Christian; and then my friend said, I Come and hear Mr. Spurgeon to-morrow morning,’ and I came in here, and you preached from those words, ‘What if thy father answer thee roughly?’ Verily,” he said, “the God of the Christians is God, and he has spoken to me this day.” That was another illustration of our text, “This thing is from me.” Has it not often happened so? The providential working of the Holy Ghost is a very wonderful subject. They who are the Holy Ghost’s servants learn to depend upon him for every word they are to utter; they sometimes feel their flesh creep, and almost every hair on their head stand on end at the way in which they have unconsciously spoken so as to depict to the very life the character of their hearers,— casual hearers, perhaps,— as if they had photographed them though they knew them not. Oh, you who are the Lord’s workers, commit yourselves to God’s guidance; the more you can do it, the better, for often and often you will have to say of an event that happens to you, “This thing is from the Lord.”
Again, dear friends, another case in which this principle applies is when severe afflictions arise. I think that, of all afflictions to which we should bow most readily, those take the first place that are distinctly from the Lord; for instance, the deaths of dear friends, or when we cannot accuse ourselves of having done anything that can have contributed to the affliction that has come upon us, or when we have suffered losses in business though we have been engaged honestly and industriously in doing all we can to provide things honest in the sight of all men. There are some afflictions which remind me of a term which I have seen in the charters of ships, — “the act of God.” Certain calamities at sea are called “the act of God.” So there are certain events in life which may be very terrible and very sorrowful, but if they are the act of God, they come to us thus distinguished, “This is from God.” Will you not accept it from the Lord? “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Will we not say, with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”? “This thing is from me.” O thou who art his child, accept the chastisement from thy Father’s hand, and kiss the rod with which he smites thee!
Sometimes, also, we are troubled by certain disquieting plans proposed by our friends or our children. We do not like their schemes, and we say, “No, do not act so; it seems to me to be quite wrong;” yet, sometimes, a boy will do this and that; or a friend has made up his mind to take a certain course, and, at last, when you have pleaded, and persuaded, and urged, and done your best to turn them from their purpose, if the thought should creep into your mind, “Peradventure, this thing is from God,” then stay your persuasions, as Paul’s friends, when he would not be persuaded, ceased to argue with him. Sometimes, that which seems to be a great mistake may, nevertheless, in the hand of God, prove to be the right course; our judgment is but fallible, but the judgment of the Most High is always correct. Struggle not too long, lest thou bring thyself into another sorrow; but be willing to yield at the right time, saying, “Peradventure, this thing is from the Lord.”
A very pleasant phase of this same truth is when some singular mercy comes. Have not many of you experienced some very remarkable deliverances? Has not God been pleased to open for you rivers in the desert, and waters in high places, where waters are not usually found? Well, whenever singular and startling mercy comes to you, say, “This is from God.” It is a delightful thing when you get a present from a very choice friend who says, “This is from me.” You value it all the more because of the person from whom it comes. If thou hast nothing but a crust of bread, take thy knife and cut it, and say, “This is from the Lord.” But if he has given thee a downy bed on which to rest thy weary limbs, and if he has indulged thee with many luxuries, say thou, “This is from the Lord,” and everything shall be the brighter and the better to thee because he gave it. It is the best part of the gift. Often, a little thing, which we might despise in itself, becomes invaluable because of the giver; and all thy life shall be full of rich treasure, ay, with very “curios” worthy to be stored away, and looked at with admiration throughout the rest of thy days, because “This is from me,” is so clearly written upon them all.
Still applying the principle of our text, let me remind you that, when a man receives a very striking warning, he ought to hear a voice at the back of it, saying, “This thing is from me.” When near to die, wrecked, almost aground, or delivered out of an awful accident, if such has been thy case, hear thou, man, out of all the hurly-burly from which thou hast escaped, “This is from me.” A soldier, who has heard the bullets whistle by his ear, or who comes out of a battle lopped of a limb but still alive, should hear this voice, “This is from me.” Oh, that men would hear the voice of God, and turn from their sins! If the Lord has been so gracious as to spare thy life, count that his long-suffering means to thee repentance, and that his sparing thee is a call to thee to give up thy sins, and turn to him.
The same principle applies when it is not a striking warning, but when it happens that men have some tender emotions stealing over them. Some of you to whom I am speaking are unconverted, but there have been times when, in the house of God, you have felt very strangely. You may not have actually prayed, but you have almost prayed that you might pray. “Please God I once get home,” you have said, “I will go to my room, and fall upon my knees before him.” Have not even the most thoughtless of you, when alone, felt as if you must think? In the watches of the night, have you not been made to consider? A policeman, who came to join the church this week, said to me, “Often, when I tread my solitary beat, I feel as if I must think of God. He seems so very near me when there is not a sound to be heard except the tread of my own feet.” Well, if ever you feel that, yield to it. 0 dear hearts, if ever you find an unusual softness stealing over you, do not resist it! It may be that it is the blessed Spirit come to emancipate you from your obstinacy and hardness, and to bring you into the new life, — the life of tenderness and love. When he draws thee, run after him. Let tender impulse and gentle drawing suffice thee, for all is for thy good. Yield yourselves to the Spirit’s influence even now. While he bids thee, believe in Jesus, and live. While he whispers to thee, “Repent,” repent, and be converted. God grant it, of his infinite mercy! Our time has gone; but may what has been spoken be remembered throughout eternity because it can truly be said, “This thing is from me, saith the Lord.”