Three Blessings of the Heavenly Charter
“Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” — Job x. 12.
IT is well sometimes to sit down, and take a grateful review of all that God has done for us, and with us, from our first day until now. We must not be like hogs under the oak, that eat the acorns, but never thank the tree, or the Lord who made it to grow. We must not receive the dew, and yet never think of the heaven from which it comes. To be ungrateful, is to be unmanly; to be ungrateful to God, is to commit high treason against the majesty of his goodness. I think that an hour would be well spent, by any person here, in sitting quite alone, and going over his autobiography. Turn over the pages of your diary; if you have none written, turn over the pages of your memory, and think of all that God has done for you from the day when you hung upon your mother’s breast until the present moment.
“Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.”
But God does not hear the songs of praise because we let the streams of mercy glide by unnoticed. Far too often, we—
“Let his mercies lie
Forgotten in unthankfulness,
And without praises die.”
We do not even put a tombstone over their graves; but let them lie as dead things, uncared for, forgotten, out of mind.
If there is any time when it is unlikely for us to think of God’s mercies, but when it would be specially wise for us to do so, if there is one time more unlikely than another, it is when we are in great trouble. Here is poor Job, covered with sore boils, sitting on a dunghill, scraping himself with a bit of a broken pot, with his children dead, his property destroyed, and even his wife not giving him a word of comfort, and his friends acting in a most unfriendly manner. Now it is that he talks to his God, and says, “Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” You are very ill; think of the time when you were well. You are poor, remember when you washed your feet in milk, and your steps with butter, and had more than heart could wish. Friends have forsaken you; recollect when you had plenty of friends. “Oh!” say you, “that will be rubbing salt into the wound.” No, no, I trust not. You will remember that you were not always unhappy, that you were not always full of pain; God has spared your life, and given you many favours. If you do not feel that you can bless him for the present moment, yet forget not to bless him for the past; and when you once begin to do that, you will soon find that your praise will overlap the past, and cover the present, if it does not even run into the future. Only begin to praise God, and you will find that he who praises God for mercy will never be long without a mercy for which to praise him. I therefore invite those of you who are sad to-night to think of God’s past goodness; and, as I trust that the larger proportion here will not be found in that condition, I urge you to lead the way in taking a happy retrospect to-night of all that God has done for you in providence and grace.
Job gives us here a charter with three blessings in it; “Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” These are choice favours; as we dwell upon them, may our hearts gratefully bless God for all that he has done for us!
I. The first blessing of this heavenly charter is LIFE: “Thou hast granted me life.”
Well, I think that we ought to thank God that we have lived at all. I know the pessimist version of the psalm of life is that, “ ’Tis something better not to be.” Perhaps it would have been something better if that gentleman had not been, better, I should think, for his wife and family if they had not had to live with such a miserable creature. But the most of us thank God for our being, as well as for our wellbeing. We count it something not to be stones, or plants, or “dumb, driven cattle.” We are thankful to be intelligent beings, with powers of thought, and capable of mental and spiritual enjoyment. Truly, O Lord, it is no small thing to be, even to be a man; for what is man? Well, with all his sin, yet as thou didst make him, when he had no sin, he was but a little lower than the angels, and thou didst make him to have dominion over all the works of thy hands. Thou hast made him immortal. Thou hast made him a king; thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: and if he does but know his destiny, and work it out aright, thou hast made him to be glorified with thyself: thou hast made him to stand even higher than the angels now that thou hast redeemed him, for he has tasted of a love which unfallen angels could not know. If you choose to make your being to be your eternal curse, why, you must do it, I suppose; but not without our tears; but if you are rational beings, and use your reason reasonably, you will thank God that you live, and pray that your life may always be a blessing to you.
But we also thank God that we have lived on in spite of many perils. There are some here who ought very much to thank God that they live on after the perils through which they have passed. It was something to find ourselves alive after the terrible thunderstorm of the week before last. It is something to be alive after an earthquake, or a tremendous storm at sea, or to be alive in the midst of a pestilence, or alive after a battle, to be alive after some fearful accident, to be alive, I say, when there are so many gates to the grave.
“The rising morning can’t assure
That we shall end the day;
For death stands ready at the door
To take our lives away.”
And yet, despite all these things, we are still here. Some of you, not long ago, were very ill; it was thought that you would die; you thought so yourself, you were brought very low; and yet here you are. While others have died, you are still spared. You went hard by the gates of death, and seemed to look into eternity for a while; but you were allowed to pass on, and you are yet among the living, to praise God, as I hope you are doing this very day. Yes, it is God’s grace that has granted us life. I find that, in the Hebrew, it reads, “lives”, as if we had several lives, as though, if we had not had many lives, we should not have had any life at this moment. But life upon life has come to us, like wave upon wave at sea; and whereas one might have washed us on the shore of death, another has carried us back to the sea of life again, and still we live.
I am addressing some from whom our text asks for gratitude because they are alive notwithstanding constitutional weakness. Perhaps from a child you were always feeble. Oftentimes you have said to yourself, “How is it that I have lived? Strong and hearty men and women have died before me; and I, who have been always ailing, find that the creaking door hangs long on its hinges.” Well, do not creak more than you can help; but bless God that you are not taken off the hinges. It is really very marvellous how some live even to old age when every day they seem to be on the very verge of departure. We account for their continued life by this fact, that they can say with Job, “Thou hast granted me life.” Let us praise God, then, even if we can only do it with a feeble tongue; for it is something still to live.
And I am speaking to a great many here to whom this text should commend itself because they have lived so long. I suppose that, in no other place in London, or perhaps in the world, is there so large a number of old men and women gathered together as in this Tabernacle. One is often struck with the snow that lies about this place on the heads of so many. Do not blame us for getting old. We were all young together; and I remember that many here were introduced into the church as young men and young women. Nearly forty years ago they said of me, “He takes into the church a parcel of boys and girls.” Well, they have been cured of that fault, if it was a fault, long ago; and now, perhaps, some will complain that they are old. We do not complain; we are so much nearer heaven; but when I look upon some dear friends here, who have passed even their four-score years, who have quite run out their lease, and now are living upon sufferance, as I trust they may for years to come, and when I remember what a poor tottering fabric this tent-body of ours is, I am amazed that we still live on.
“Our life contains a thousand springs,
And dies if one be gone;
Strange that a harp of thousand strings
Should keep in tune so long.”
Yet it has kept in tune so long, and we ought to bless God to-night, those of us who are somewhere between fifty and a hundred, and others who are somewhere between sixty and two hundred, ought to bless God to-night that they have been spared so long, and say, in the language of the text, “Thou hast granted me life and favour.” You need not be frightened about that two hundred that I mentioned; you will not any of you be likely to reach that figure. If any of us live for a century, we shall have done exceedingly well; we may thank God if we do not live as long as that, for, while it is well to live here, it is better for us, after all, before our infirmities multiply, to be up and away to our Father’s house above.
Think of this a little longer, “Thou hast granted me life.” You have thought of the perils through which you have passed, and the weaknesses that you have survived. Now think, beloved friends, of the sin which might have provoked God to make an end of such a guilty life. Am I not speaking to some here who have lived without any thought of God, their Maker? Up till this time, God has fed you, and preserved you in being, and yet you have not even given him a thought. It is a wonderful thing that he should have spared your life in the midst of such wicked ingratitude. Perhaps, my friend,— I hope it is not so,— but perhaps you have been worse than this, and that mouth of yours has uttered blasphemies, and the members of your body have been given over to uncleanness. If you will look back to-night, it will be a wonder to you, that you, perhaps professedly an atheist, possibly a drunkard, it may be setting an ill example to wife and children, and doing evil on all sides, have been spared. One seems to say, “Cut down that upas tree, it drips with poison;” but God puts by the axe, and he still spares you. Did you not this very day imprecate a curse upon yourself, and yet the curse has not come? There was a tract that used to be given away, and which did much good; it was called, “The Swearer’s Prayer.” If every swearer would look upon his dreadful imprecation as a prayer, for such it is, he might well wonder that God has not, long ago, blasted him, as he has said, like some oak of the forest, that we have seen struck by lightning, standing there with its stag’s-horn branches high in the air, a monument of what divine judgment can do. God has granted you life, yet nothing in that life has been pleasing to him, or good for your fellow-men. Thank him that he has not yet cut you down as a cumberer of the ground.
But even if I speak to the best man and woman here, to those who have tried to be useful, and are endeavouring to be holy, yet, dear friends, what poor failures we are after all! There is not one of us who can boast; we have to lay our hands upon our mouths, and bow ourselves into the very dust. Truly, Lord, thou hast let us live, although we have done so little, and done that little so faultily; we can to-night praise thee, and each one say, “Thou has granted me life.”
I might thus continue to show you that our preservation in life is a theme for great gratitude: “Thou has granted me life.” But if we can say this in a higher sense, “Thou hast granted me life,” spiritual life, how much greater should our gratitude be! I could not even feel the guilt of sin, I was so dead; but thou hast granted me life to repent. I could not look to Jesus as my Saviour, and find rest in him; but thou has granted me life to believe in him. Oh, what a mercy it is to have spiritual life! I do not like to ask you whether you have it; I do not think that that ever ought to be a matter of question with anybody. A man is either alive or dead, and he must know which he is; and however faint and feeble he may be, the very feeling of faintness and feebleness is a sign of life, for the dead man does not even feel that. If, to-night, you have only life enough with which to groan, to weep, and to cry to God, thank God for it, and say, “Thou hast granted me life;” but if you have that little life, do not be satisfied with it. Pray to have life more abundantly, that you may come to joy and peace through believing, that you may have the full assurance of faith, that you may be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, that you may tread down sin, and may serve the Lord in your day and generation, and bring hundreds and thousands to Christ. Pray that it may be so; and then, as each single increase of power comes to you, sing, in the words of the patriarch, “Thou hast granted me life.” Oh, for more life! Do you feel dull and dead tonight? Cry to God to grant you life. Cry for grace, and then, when it comes, gratefully say, “Thou hast granted me life.”
II. The second blessing of this heavenly charter is DIVINE FAVOUR: “Thou hast granted me life and favour.”
Have you ever thought of the many favours that God has bestowed upon you, even upon some of you who as yet have never tasted of his grace? What a favour it is to many to be sound in body! Dear friends are here to-night, who have not seen the light of the sun for many a day. God is gracious to them in their blindness; but do you not think that we ought to praise him for our eyesight? There are many beloved Christian friends, who used to sit on this lower platform, and around here, for although they were deaf, they could hear my voice in the preaching of the gospel, and with great sorrow they have come to me one by one, and said, “I cannot even hear with the trumpet now, I am getting so deaf.” Bless God for your ears, if you still have the use of them; and take heed how you hear. Why, there is not a single faculty that God has given but what we ought to be thankful for it! When you see around you those who are crippled, those who are deprived of one limb or one sense, should you not say, “Thou hast granted me life and favour”? They have favours, too, for which to thank God; but you have this particular favour which is denied to them. Do not fail to thank the Lord for it. It is a great mercy to have been born of good and honest parents, and not to be the inheritors of disease, as some are who are born to a life of sorrow by no fault of their own. Be grateful for your ancestry, young man, if you have sprung of good sound stock, and say, “Thou hast granted me life and favour.” Do not go and give that body to the devil, I beseech you. Do not go and yourself plunge into vice and sin if God has restrained your ancestors from evil. By his grace, may you also be kept back, and enabled to say, “Thou hast granted me life and favour, and I cannot sin against thy favour”!
I cannot help reminding you here of the great favour of God in the matter of soundness of mind. There is a dear friend, who has gladly heard the preaching of the gospel here, but now he has to be confined in an asylum, for it would be dangerous to have him at liberty. There is another, and we often meet with such, who seemed as cheerful and happy as any of us, but he has now sunk into deep despondency. I have often prayed God to let me go anywhere sooner than into an asylum. It seems so dreadful to lose one’s reason. Be grateful that you have your senses. Surely you must be lunatics already if you do not bless God that you are not lunatics. There must be a madness in your heart if you do not thank him for sparing you from so terrible a trial. These favours are looked upon as very common things, a sound mind and a sound body; but if they were universal, they would still be mercies for which we ought specially to bless the name of the Lord.
I speak to many here to whom God has also given a comfortable lot in life. You work, and you work pretty hard; but still you are not starved, and you are not ground to death by forced labour. There are many in this house of prayer who ought to be very grateful for the easy circumstances in which they are found. Why am I talking about these things? Why, because I want, by stirring you up to gratitude, to bind you with cords of thankfulness to God! Will you not thank him who has done so much as this for you? If you were suddenly brought into the deepest poverty, and the most painful sickness, and did not know where to lay your heads, you would then reproach yourselves to think that, when your lives were cast in pleasant places, and you had a goodly heritage, you were not more grateful and more obedient to the God of love.
Some here, too, some few, at any rate, have been favoured with much prosperity. O self-made men, do not begin to adore yourselves because you made yourselves; for if you made yourselves, you are poor sticks, I know. I would not trust myself to make myself, I should make an awful mess of myself. No, thank God for your prosperity, and devote your wealth to his service, who granted it to you. Grow not purse-proud; be not exalted above measure among your fellow-men. The more you have, the more you owe to God; therefore be humble, and be devoted to him who has treated you with so much favour.
And I may say to-night that, in this congregation, God has given you the favour of hearing the gospel; no mean favour, let me remind you. Multitudes, multitudes, multitudes are without it, perishing for lack of knowledge; and there are some who once heard the gospel who are now far removed from the sound of it. Friends who once used to join in our great assembly are now far away in those parts of South America where as yet there is no gospel teaching, or they are far away in the backwoods of America or Canada, or away in the bush in Australia, where, as yet, the message of mercy is not, at any rate, regularly brought to them; and they very much miss the means of grace. Be thankful that you have the gospel at almost every street corner; and if you are willing to hear it, you may hear it.
Still, putting all these things together, they do not come up to this last point, that many of us have received the favours of saving grace: “Thou hast granted me life and favour.” The highest favours of all God has given to some of us, the favour of being chosen to be his from before the foundation of the world, the favour of being redeemed from among men, the favour of being called out by his effectual grace, the favour of being renewed in the spirit of our minds, the favour of justification, whereby we are made accepted in the Beloved, the favour of full, free, irreversible pardon, whereby our sin is blotted out for ever, the favour of a throne of grace, the favour of answered prayer, the favour of divine providence, which makes all things work together for our good, the favour of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is with us, and shall abide in us for ever. I cannot run over the list of God’s favours to his people, for it is too long. Only praise your God, each one of you, as you say to-night, “Thou hast granted me life and favour.” Happy people, thrice-happy people, of whom this is true! If we did not praise the Lord, the stones in the street might well cry out against us.
III. The last blessing of the charter, upon which I shall be a little longer, is DIVINE VISITATION: “Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” Does God ever come to man? Does he not? Yes; but it is a great wonder: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man that thou visitest him?”
May I remind some of you of how much you ought to praise God for his visitation? He visited you, first, with an arousement and conviction of sin. I remember when his Spirit came to me while I was yet a child, and made me feel a heavy burden on account of my childish sins. How I wept and cried, when alone, because I had been so guilty before God! And as a youth, that feeling still pursued me wherever I went. God visited me in the night, visited me often in the morning, when I woke up before anybody else, to read Baxter’s “Call to the Unconverted”, and Alleine’s “Alarm”, and such-like books, over which I pored again and again, feeling the evil of my sin, and having the sword of the Spirit piercing yet more deeply into my conscience at every page I read. I thank God for those early visitations. If any of you are having them now, quench not the Spirit of God. Be glad to know your real state as sinners while you are yet young. The visitations of God, in the form of conviction, if at first they bring us under bondage, are nevertheless of the utmost value, for by these he preserves our spirit.
After that first experience, there came visitations of enlightenment and conversion. Can you remember when Jesus first visited you, and brought you up out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay? Does not your heart leap within you even now as you are ready to sing,—
“Happy day! Happy day!
When Jesus washed my sins away”?
Yes, God’s visitations, by revealing Christ to your broken heart, preserved your spirit.
Perhaps since then you have had visitations of another kind. You have had chastisement, or you have had affliction in the house. God’s visitations are sometimes very unwelcome. We dread that he should come to afflict or chastise us; and yet, in looking back upon all such experiences, I think that you can say, “Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” I saw a young sister, just before this service; and I said to her, “When did you find the Lord?” She replied, “It was when I was very ill.” Yes, it is often so; God makes us ill in body that we may have time to think of him, and turn to him. “Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” What would become of some people if they were always in good health, or if they were always prospering? But tribulation is the black dog that goes after the stray sheep, and barks them back to the Good Shepherd. I thank God that there are such things as the visitations of correction and of holy discipline, to preserve our spirit, and bring us to Christ.
But then, dear friends, we have had other visitations, visitations of revival and restoration. Do you not sometimes get very dull and dead? Then you are glad to go and hear a sermon, or you read some godly, soul-stirring book, or you meet with some Christian friend, and you say afterwards, “Well, I do not know how it is, but I seem quite different from what I was; I have made a new departure, I have started off again.” I think that some of our friends have need to do that to-night; it will not hurt any of us if we all seem to begin again to-night, and take Jesus Christ into our heart once more, and let him come as he came at the first, and be like a new Christ to us. Let us joy and rejoice in him with our first love and our early delights. Lord, give us that visitation to-night, and revive our spirits! Oh, what visitations of joy he sometimes gives us when he comes very near to us! We do not hardly know how to bear it; we cry when the vessel gets quite full, “Hold, Lord, I cannot bear more of joy.” “Ah!” say you, “we do not know much about that experience.” Do you not? Then, pray the Lord to visit you often, that you may know more about it.
The best of all is, when the Lord visits us, and never goes away; but stays with us always, so that we walk in the light of his countenance, and go from strength to strength, singing always, “Thy visitation never ended, daily continued, preserves my spirit.” You have all heard the phrase, generally used by juries at a coroner’s inquest, when a man has died suddenly, “Died by the visitation of God.” No doubt some do thus die; but I want you to live by the visitation of God. That is a very different thing, and that is the only way in which we truly can live, by God’s visiting us from day to day, so preserving our spirit from the dangers that surround us. Live, then, by the visitation of God.
You are sick, my friend; your heart is sick. Sin, like a grievous disease, is destroying you. The cancer of an evil habit is eating into your very vitals. What is to be done with you? Nothing but that Jesus Christ the Lord should come and give you a gracious visitation, come and look you in the face, and feel your pulse, and lay his hand on your heart, and change it, and make you a new creature; and he will do all that if you send for him. Doctors have a night-bell, you know, and a night-tube, by which they may be called in cases of urgency. Now ring God’s night-bell at once, and speak up that tube of prayer, “Lord, I am sick unto death; come and heal me. Come and heal me.” Will not somebody in these pews now, without the use of a word, yet say in the silence of his heart, “Lord, I am sore vexed; I am sick unto death with sin; come and heal me”? and Jesus Christ will say, “I will come and heal you.” Then will you say, “Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.”
You know how a farm will sometimes get smothered with weeds, and things seem to go all wrong. What is the matter? On enquiry, you find that the farmer has been out on the Continent, he has been away from his farm. Well, then, of course the farm goes wrong; but have him back again, and the farmer’s eye does more than his hand; his foot manures the ground wherever he stands; and things soon get on better. Now, if the farm of your nature has fallen into a bad state, you want the Husbandman back; you need the Lord Jesus to come and survey the estate, and give directions as to what is to be done to it. He will soon set the whole place to rights. Yea, if your farm has become like a desert, bare as the palm of your hand, he can come and turn it to fertility; he can make the wilderness like Eden, and the desert like the garden of the Lord. A visitation from the Lord Jesus Christ is what we all want when we are barren and dead.
May we expect it? Yes, he came on a visit here once. We did not see him when he came, but there were some who saw him. You remember how George Herbert quaintly sings of his laying aside his azure mantle, and making the sky with it; and taking off his bright rings, and hanging them up as stars.
“He did descend, undressing all the way,
And when they asked what he would wear;
He smiled, and said as he did come,
He had new clothes a-making here below.”
And poor clothes they were, when he was born of the Virgin, and lived in our inferior clay. He paid us a visit, but men did not let him lodge comfortably. There was no room for him in the inn. It was a sorry entertainment that they gave him, for they pierced his side ere he went away, and he carried with him the marks in his hands and feet that he had received in the house of his friends. Well, but still, having once come, and died on this earth, he knows the way; and as he cannot die again, he will come again; and now, to-night, in spirit, by his Spirit, he will come to you, if you only cry to him, “Come.” If you cry to him, “Come,” to-night, that will be only the echo of what he says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” He cries, “Come,” catch up that word, and say, “Come.” Echo his “Come” by your own “Come”; and you two will meet before the service is over, though we have reached the last few minutes of it. May your “Come” and Christ’s “Come” blend in one! Come, Lord Jesus, even so, come quickly, and set thy poor servants free from the taint of sin, and from the dread of the wrath of God! Yes, you want a visitation from him who has come already; and beside that, he has sent his Holy Spirit to abide until he himself descends from heaven with a shout. The Holy Ghost is here in this assembly now; plead and cry to him for his visitation.
And if my Lord will come anywhere to-night, it is to you who think yourselves unfit for him to come to you, to you who would give your eyes to have him, but scarcely dare to hope that he will ever come to you. The Lord says, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” Do you not belong to that kind of people, trembling at God’s Word, wishing only that you dared to hope in his mercy? Come now, and cast yourselves on Jesus; come now, and trust yourselves with the great Saviour, who has ascended on high, to give repentance and remission of sins, and who is ready to give both the repentance and the remission to every soul that is willing to have them. If you would have them, they are yours. Believe for eternal life. Believe now. The Lord grant you such a visitation that you may be constrained to believe, for Jesus’ sake! Amen and Amen.