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The Battle of Life
Published on Thursday, May 11th, 1916.
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
"Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?" 1 Corinthians 9:7 .
THIS question occurs in the course of an argument. The Apostle was proving that the minister who gives all his time to the preaching of the Word is entitled to a maintenance from those people amongst whom he labours. He gives divers illustrations, amongst them this that the soldier who devotes himself to the service of his country is not expected to find his own equipment and his own rations, but he is provided for by his country. And so should it be, he teaches us, in the Church of God. The minister set apart to labour wholly in spiritual things should have temporal supplied found him. That isle topic, however, on which it would be superfluous for me to enlarge. Your convictions are so sound, and your practice so consistent, that you do not need to be exhorted, much less to be expostulated with on that matter.
But the same question may be asked when we have other morals to point. Is it ever expected that men who go on a warfare should pay their own charges? There is a warfare in which all of us are engaged. What is life but a great battle, lasting from our earliest days until we sheathe sword in death? This battle we hope to win, and yet if we succeed, it will be a distinct and definite response to the challenge before us, "Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?" We may be quite sure that if ever we attempt the warfare of life at our own expense we shall soon find ourselves failing, and it will end in a miserable defeat. Going at once to the subject, we have here:
I. AN INSPIRIRING METAPHOR.
When life is represented as a warfare, some peaceful minds may feel a little alarmed at the pictures; yet there are other minds with enough of gallantry in their constitutions to feel their blood pulsing the stronger at the thought that life is to be one continued contest. I do but borrow a reflection from the secular press when I say that it were ill for us if the love of peace, fostered among us as a nation, should degenerate into a fear of danger, a reluctance to bear hardships, or an indifference to the accomplishment of exploits. Craven spirits we may expect always to find, who conjure up gloomy anticipations, and to forbade horrible disasters. The untrodden path and the unaccustomed climate are dreadful bugbears. But is this the instinct of an Englishman? How else should he contemplate difficulties but as problems to be solved? capital out of which fame or fortune is to be won? And as for the British soldier, is he to be looked upon as a hot-house plant, who shrinks from exposure? Far rather would I respect him as a representative individual, the type of his race, always ready for any emergency. In the days of the old Gallic wars, when we had to fight with Napoleon in Egypt, there were just as many knotty points and critical situations to be grappled with; and certainly at headquarters the War Department was not more efficiently managed than it is now. Yet British soldiers pressed forward then to the conflict nor did they pant for fortune, what they did seek was a career, with some opportunity of distinguishing themselves. Moreover, those who stayed at home scanned the despatches with eager interest, and full often lamented that they had not the chance given them of going forth to the fight. Well may the patriot ask, Has Anglo-Saxon courage all fled? if at every call to fresh deeds of heroism we listen to the crowing of those whose nature it is to look black, and utter dark portents. Our children's children may read how the haughty insolence of Theodore of Abyssinia was humbled, but I hope they will never hear the screeching of the ravens who warned us of the mountain fastnesses in which he was lodged. The Ashantee war is behind us now, and I suppose those who were once afraid of its perils are now amazed at its prowess. Yes, and that is how I would have Christians feel with regard to spiritual conflicts. Difficulties! well, they are things to be deciphered. Dangers! they are things to be met and encountered. Impossibilities! they are to be scouted as a nightmare, a delirious dream. The Christian wakes to find impossibility impossible. With a history behind him and a destiny before him, he can say, "The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth." Things that are impossible with man are possible with God. I like my text all the better, because it implies a hostile engagement, and speaks of warfare. For me the battlefield has no charms. With host encountering host, and carnage left behind, I have no sympathy, but spiritually my soul seems enamoured of the idea; I buckle on my armour at the very thought that life is to be a conflict and a strife, in which it behaves me to get the mastery.
Do I not address many young men just commencing life? If you have thought of life at all I hope you have thought that it is wise to begin the battle of life early. We have all so little time to live, and the first years of life are so evidently the best years we shall ever have, that it is a pity to waste them. Oh! how much more some of us might have done if we had begun betimes! Had the very flush of our boyhood been consecrated and the strength of our youth spent in our Master's service, what work we might have accomplished! Now, young men, as a comrade a little farther on the road than you, I take you to the brow of the hill for a moment, and point out to you the pathway we have to pursue, and as I point it out I tell you that you will have to fight along every inch of the road, if you are at the end to win the crown which I hope your ambition pants after. Are you ready for the conflict? Then let us talk awhile about it, for as we shall always have to be on the alert, it is well for us to study the map, and to acquaint ourselves with the tactics we must practice.
Be sure, then, my friend, that if you and, I are ever to be conquerors at the last, we shall have to, fight with that trinity of enemies the world, the flesh, and the devil. There is the world. Do you resolve to do the right and to love the true, depend upon it you will get no assistance from this world. Of its maxims, nine out of ten are false, and the other one selfish; and even that which is selfish has a lie at the bottom of it. As for its customs well, live where you may, the customs of the world are not such as a citizen of heaven can endorse. Go into what company you please, and you will find that there is much of the prevailing habit that is no friend to grace, and no friend to virtue. In the upper circles, with much presence, there is little reality; there is a lack of sound honesty. Amongst the lower classes, go where you will, if you firmly resolve to be a Christian, to follow closely the footsteps of your Lord, you will have to breast the current. The most of men are going, down the hill. You will be like the solitary traveller when you are threading your way upwards. Do you enlist for Christ to-night? Then know that you enlist against the whole world. You will henceforth be an alien to your mother's children, and a stranger to your own household, unless happily that household Should have been converted too. Young man, the young men in the shop will be against you. Alas, for the wickedness of the young men of London! Young woman, you will find in the workroom, aye perhaps you will find even in your father's house, influences at work to impede, if not to thrust you back. Man of business, when you meet others on exchange, if perchance the conversation should turn upon religion, you will find it far from profitable, and far from genial. You will be like a speckled bird, and all the birds round about you will be against you. As a marked man, your motives will be mistrusted, your character impugned, your piety burlesqued. If you resolve to win the grown of immortality, you will only do it as by the skin of your teeth. It matters not where you are cast, this is sure to be your lot, unless, as here and there is the case, you may be a timid and shielded one, too weak for conflict and, therefore, God keeps you in retirement. And yet as for the world, I think we could easily overcome that were it not for a worse enemy.
Soldier of Christ, you have to struggle with yourself. My own experience is a daily struggle with myself. I wish I could find in me something friendly to grace, but hitherto I have searched my nature through, and have found everything in rebellion against God. At one time there comes the torpor of sloth, when one ought to be active every moment, having so much to do for God, and for the souls of men, and so little time to do it in. At another time there comes the quickness of passion. When we would be calm and cool, and play the Christian, bearing with patience, there come the unadvised word and the rash expression. Anon, we are troubled with conceit, the devilish whisper I can call it no less "How well thou hast done! How well host thou played thy part!" This pride is the arch-enemy of our souls. Then will come distrust foul and faithless, suggesting that God does not regard the affairs of men, and will not interpose on our behalf. Fresh forms of evil are generated in our own breasts, and this chameleon heart of ours, which never seems of one colour but for a single moment, which is this and that by turns, and nothing long, challenges us on all occasions, and against it we shall have perpetually to struggle. Unless we deny ourselves and lay violent hands upon the impulses of our nature, are shall never come to the place where the crowns are distributed to the conquerors.
And then another foe comes up, though not the closest, the strongest of the three the devil! If you have ever stood foot to foot with him, as some of us have, you will remember well that blandly day, for even he who beats Apollyon concludes the battle wounded in his own hand and in his own foot. Oh! that stern enemy! He knows how to attack us in our sore points. He discerns our weaknesses and he is at no loss for cunning devices. He understands how one moment to fawn upon us and flatter us, and how the next moment to cast his fiery darts, telling us that we are castaways, and shall never see the face of God with acceptance. He can quote Scripture for his purpose. He can hurl threatenings at the heads of the saints, which were only meant for sinners, and he can tear promises out of the saints' hands, and cast them in the mire, just when they are ready to feed upon them as fair fruits of Paradise. Believe me, it is no small thing to have had to fight with Apollyon, the Prince of Hell. Seest thou then, young soldier, what is before thee? There is a triple host of foes, and thou must overcome them all, or else there shall never be given to thee the white stone, and the crown of everlasting life.
Think not that this is an engagement to be quickly terminated. Unlike the laconic despatch of the ancient Roman, "Veni, vidi, vici," I came, saw, and conquered, this is a continuous fight. Wouldest thou fight thy way to heaven, not to-day, nor to-morrow; wilt thou win it with a deadly skirmish or a brilliant dash like a knight at a tournament, thou canst not come back a conqueror. In sober truth, every man and every woman who enlists for Christ will have to wrestle till their bones shall sleep in the tomb. There shall be no pause nor cessation for thee from this day until the laurel is upon thy brow. If thou art defeated one day, thou must overcome the next; if a conqueror to-day, thou must fight to-morrow. Like the old knights who, slept in their armour, you must be prepared for reprisals always watchful, always expecting temptation, and ready to resist it; never saying, "It is enough," for he who saith, "It is finished," until he breathes his last has not yet truly begun. We must have our swords drawn, even to the very last. I have sometimes thought that could we enter heaven by one sharp, quick, terrible encounter, such as the martyrs faced at the stake we might endure it heroically; but day after day of protracted martyrdom, and year after year of the wear and tear of pilgrimage and soldier-life is the more bitter trial of patience. I do but tell you in order that you may be convinced that it is not in our power to fight this warfare at our own charge; that if we have to endure in our own strength and with our own resources, it is most certain that disaster will befall us, and defeat will humble us. To fight, and fight on, is our vocation. But if thus you fight, you may hope to conquer, for others have done so before you. On the summit of the palace see you not those robed in white, who walk in light, with faces bright, and sparkling o'er with joy? Can you not hear their song? They have overcome, and they tell you:
"To him that overcometh
A crown of life shall be;
He with his Lord and Master
Shall reign eternally."
They have overcome; then why should not you, Jesus Christ, who is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, has passed through the sternest part of the battle, and he has overcome a type and representative of all those who are cross-bearers, and who shall overcome as he has done.
Do I see some young man, eager, earnest, all of a glow, ready for the crown? Let me remind thee that thou mayest be defeated. Though it is well for thee to begin life with a resolute determination to fight through the battle, still I would have thee remember that thou mayest be led captive by thy foe. There is a most instructive little book, issued by the Religious Tract Society, called The Mirage of life, which I think all young men should read. It gives historical pictures of the different ways in which men have sought to be great, wherein the result of the greatness attained has proved to be in mirage, mocking the man, as the mirage in the desert mocks the traveller when it promises him water, and he finds none. That book contains the history of such men as Beckford, a man worth £200,000 a year, who spent the former part of his life in building Fonthill Abbey, with an enormous tower, enriching the place with all the treasures that he could rather from every country; making the grounds so splendid that crowned heads longed to look within, but, it is said, were refused; and at the end of his life you find him almost penniless the house upon which he had spent all his time and money a dilapidated ruin, the tower fallen to the ground, and the name of Beckford forgotten. You have a sketch of William Pitt, the heaven-born minister. One of the greatest of statesmen, who could make war or peace at his will, and after years of the most brilliant success he dies with a broken heart through grief. The high ambition of men of art such as Haydon, is introduced to your notice. This great painter, after blazing with wondrous fame in his art, took away his life because he found himself a disappointed and forgotten man. As I read a series of such cases, each one seemed sadder than the other, and it was enough to make a man sit down and weep to think that our mortal race should be doomed to follow such phantoms, and to be mocked by such delusions. As I read them all I could not help feeling how necessary it was to say to young men, especially just as they are beginning life, and to young women too aye, and the lesson is profitable for all of us Take care how ye run in the race, lest after running, till ye think ye have won the prize, ye find that in truth ye have lost it. We must take care how we live, for this is the only lifetime we shall have in which to settle the life that lasts for ever. Make bankruptcy in your secular business; why, you can start again; but once make bankruptcy in soul affairs, and there is no second life in which to start your career afresh. Are you a defeated soldier of life? Ah! then, you can never begin again, or turn the defeat into a victory. If you go down to your grave a captive of sin, the iron bands will be about you for ever. There is no retrieving your position. The priceless boon of freedom is beyond your reach. You may lament, you cannot attain it. See then, our life is a battle; we must constantly fight; haply we may win, or haply we may be defeated. I now proceed to mark a second point with:
II. A KINDLY HINT.
Like a cool breath fanning our cheeks when too hot with ambition, this enquiry greets us, "Who goeth a warfare at any time at his own charges?" So, then, charges there will be in this life-battle. It is not to be won without pain and cost. Let us just glance at some of these charges. You will soon see how they mount up. If any man shall get up to heaven what a demand for courage he will have to meet! How many enemies he must face! How much ridicule he must endure! How frequently must he be misrepresented and maligned! How often must he be discreet enough to be silent, and anon, bold enough to speak and avow his convictions and his purpose!
If a man shall get to heaven, what a charge of patience he will be at! How he must bear and forbear! How he must put up with one sharp difficulty and another, making light of fatigue and fasting, restless days and sleepless nights; in fiery temptation unflinching, amidst cold contempt unabashed.
If any man will get to heaven, what an amount of perseverance he will require to hold on and to hold out! What hours of prayer, what wrestling with God for a blessing, what striving with himself to overcome sinful propensities! What a charge of watchfulness he will be at! How he must guard the avenues of his being! How he must track his actions to the springs of motives, and keep his thoughts pure from guile! There can be little ease and not much slumber for a man who would get the eternal crown. What fresh supplies of zeal he will need; for we shall not drift into heaven without a conflict or a care. We must cut, and hack and hew with intense energy, for the Saviour says, "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by storm." What strength he will require, for he has to deal with potent foes! And oh! what a charge of wisdom he will be put to the expense of, for he has to stand against the craftiness of evil creatures, and to overcome one who is wiser than the ancients, even Satan, the arch-tempter.
It is possible that the difficulties of an expedition may be intensely aggravated by a lack of knowledge as to the country to be invaded. Under such circumstances it is hard to anticipate the contingencies that may arise. In the battle of life this is the rub. Who knows what lies next before him? How can we forestal the surprises that may await us? "Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." If I were aware of the temptations that would befall me a year hence, I think I could guard myself against them, but I do not even know what pinch or peril may befall me before the hour has passed. You cannot tell the provocations that to-night may occur before you close your eyes in slumber. You may have a trial or a temptation such as never crossed your path before. Hence I beseech you to consider the greatness of the charge of this warfare. You have to pass through an experience which no man before you has proved. All the path of life is new to you, unmapped, untrodden, unanticipated. Yet all you lack of clear statistics is made up for in dire prognostics. No doubt the climate is baneful, and will subject you to fever or ague. Our British soldiers, rank and file, must press forward though they are landed on a blazing beach, across which they have, to march; nor will it ever do for them to be dismayed by steep mountains, dismal swamps, or savage tribes. Bent on victory, they brave the incidents of the campaign before they sight the adversaries they attack, while their heads and hearts ace full of honour, promotion, stars, stripes, and Victoria crosses. But in our eventful battle of life the checks and bars to progress, the dangers and temptations that we shall all have to meet with in our natural constitution and our secular calling, the unnavigable currents and the impassable barriers that thwart us before we grapple with the main enterprise to enter heaven, are more than I can describe in one sermon. No marvel to me that Mr. Pliable should say, as he turned back, "You may have the, brave country yourselves for me." The Slough of Despond, as a first part, put him into a dudgeon and he said, "I do not like it; I will have no more of it."
Apart from divine strength, Pliable was a wise man, wise in his generation, to shrink from the adventure, for it is a hard journey to the skies. They spake the truth who said that there were giants, to fight with, dragons to be slain, mountains to be crossed, and black rivers to be forded. It is so, and I pray you count the cost. There is no "royal road" to heaven, except that the King's highway leads there. There is no easy road skilfully levelled or scientifically macadamised. The labour is too exhaustive, the obstructions are too numerous, the difficulties are too serious, unless God himself come to our help. I wittingly put these dilemmas before you that I may constrain you to say, "Who can go this warfare at his own Charges?" And now, in the third place, let us look at our text as:
III. A GRACIOUS REMINDER.
Does any man at any time go a warfare at his own charge? I trow not. Young man! I have told you of difficulties and of dangers. I trust your bold spirit taught by God, has thereby been fired to greater ardour. Now I have somewhat to say unto thee which has cheered me, and cheered thy sires before me, and made them strong, even in their weakness. It is this. You see you cannot go this warfare in your own strength. Is not that clear to you? Then, I pray you, do not try it. Do not for a moment contemplate it. If you do, you will rue it. Your fall will be your first warning; the second time it will warn you more bitterly; if you continue in your own strength, you will, perhaps, have a warning too late. But you may rely on God to help you. The text implies it. If, by faith, you yield yourself to Christ, whoever you may be, with a desire and intent to live henceforth as a follower of Jesus, God will help you, and that right early. Though a warfare is before you, you are not to go at your own charges. Shall I tell you how God will help you? Certainly you may reckon upon his watchful Providence. You little know how easy the Almighty can make a path which otherwise would haven difficult and dangerous. Follow God's leading, and you shall never lack for his comfort. I have lived long enough to see many people carve for themselves very eagerly, and cut their fingers very severely. I have seen others who albeit they were great losers for a time by doing right, have had to bless God year after year for the abundant recompense they received afterwards. No man shall be a loser in the long run by loving and serving God. If thou be willing and obedient, trusting thyself with Christ, thou shalt find those awful wheels of Providence revolve for thy welfare. The beasts of the field shall be in league with thee, and the stones of the field shall be at peace with thee. All things shall work together for good to them that love God. Now I am not pretending that piety will procure wealth, or that if you espouse Christ's cause you shall grow rich. I should not wonder if you did. You are none the less likely to prosper in business for being a Christian. I am not going to, predict that you shall be without sickness, much less without temptation, for "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth", but sure I am of this, that if you put your trust in God and do right, no temporal circumstances shall ever happen to you which shall not be for your eternal good. This is forestalling much more than any transient benefit. In the short space you are to live here you may reckon upon the gigantic wheels of Providence as your helpers. The angels or God shall be swift to defend you. Your eyes shall not see them, but your heart shall wax confident. You shall perceive that by some means you have been rescued from a place of drought and led into a fruitful land.
More than this; as you go this warfare, looking to God to bear your charges, you shall have the Lord Jesus Christ to help you. Promise not yourself that you will be able to maintain henceforth a perfect life. Sin will harass you. Old corruptions, even when they are driven out from the throne (for sin shall not reign over you), will yet struggle at the foot thereof. But Jesus Christ will be your helper. He will be always present to revive you with his precious blood, to sprinkle your hearts from an evil conscience, to wash your bodies with pure water. Have you never admired that picture of Christ, with the basin and the towel washing his disciples' feet? This is what he will ever do for you at every eventide when you have defiled yourself through inadvertence or infirmity. Look into the face of the Crucified. Perhaps you have sometimes wished that he were now visible, and in body accessible to you. That sympathizing One who has suffered so much for you! You have said, "Oh! that I might go and tell him my griefs, and get his help!" He is alive. He is here. He is not far from any one that seeketh him. Whosoever trusteth shall surely find Christ to be his very present help in time of trouble. Believe this, and thou shalt prove it true.
And he that is a soldier of the cross shall have the divine power Of God the Blessed Spirit to help him. I have sometimes thought, when some strong passion has been raging within my soul How can I ever overcome it? The will was good, but the flesh was weak. But as soon as the Spirit of God has moved on me the flesh has given way. The Holy Ghost can give the man that is prone to idleness such an intense apprehension of the value of time that he shall be more industrious than the naturally active man. I believe that if any of you who are subject to a bad temper will lay this besetting sin before God in prayer, and ask the Holy Spirit's help, you shall not only be able to curb it, but you will acquire a sweeter and gentler spirit than some of those whose temperament is naturally even, with no propensity to fitful change or sudden storm. Do not tell me that there is anything in human nature too obdurate for the Lord to overcome, for there is not. Whatever may be your temptation, you need not account it an effectual hindrance to your being a Christian. What though it be beyond your own power to grapple with it! When the Eternal arm comes to the rescue; when the right hand of Jehovah is made bare; when the Holy Spirit puts forth his irresistible power, he can smite through the loins of our kingly sins, and cut the Rahabs and dragons of our iniquities in pieces. Rest thou in the might of Jehovah, the God of Israel. He that brake Egypt in pieces with his plagues can vanquish our sins with his judgments or with his grace, and he can bring the new nature, like the children of Israel, up out of bondage into joyous liberty. Go thou to the blood, and thou shalt conquer sin. Go to the Eternal Spirit, and thy worst corruptions shall be overthrown. "Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?" As the soldier draws from his paymaster, so let every Christian draw from his God and Saviour. Conduct your warfare trusting in the blessed God. My last words shall be to those who are beginning the great battle of life. Let me urge upon them these:
IV. CAUTIONS AND COUNSELS.
Behold the wisdom of diffidence. I heard some time ago of a minister preaching on the dignity of self-reliance; and I thought to myself, Surely that is the dignity of a fool! The dignity of self-reliance! Taken in a certain sense, there is some kind of truth about it; or at least the folly of asking counsel of your neighbour in every strait is sufficiently obvious. But he that relies on his own wits will soon pander to expediency and grovel in the mire. His actions will admit of no better defense than excuses and apologies. Nay, sirs; "but let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." A better subject, and one that no preacher need be ashamed of if the Master should come ere the sermon be done, is the dignity of reliance upon God, and the wisdom of diffidence of oneself. Begin life, young man, by finding out that the capital you thought you had, is much less than it looked before you counted it. Begin life, young man, by understanding that all in your nature that glitters is not gold, and that your strength is perfect weakness. Begin by being emptied, and you will soon be filled. Blessed are the poor in spirit." Begin by being poor. If you begin with lowliness, you will not need to be humiliated.
"He that is down need fear no fall,
He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide."
He will win the battle who knows how to begin on the low ground and to fight uphill by divine strength. Learn the wisdom, not of self-reliance, but of self-diffidence, for he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.
Be thoroughly alive to the importance of prayer. If all our charges in the life-war are to be paid us by the Paymaster, let us go to the treasury. Amongst the strangest of human sins is a distaste for prayer. I open my eyes with wonder at myself whenever I find my own self slow to pray! Why, if your children want anything of you, they are not slow to speak. They need not be exhorted to ask for this or that; they speak at once. And here is the soul-enriching exercise of prayer. Is it not strange that you and I should be slack in it? Did you ever stand in a market and see the people coming in from the country with their goods? How diligent they are in their business; how eager to take home as much money as they can! How their eyes glitter; how sharp they are! But here is heaven's market; God's wares are given away to them that will ask for them. Yet we seem indifferent, as though we did not care to be enriched; we even leave the mercy-seat of God unvisited! Oh! young people, do understand the value of prayer; and you aged people, do continue in prayer and supplication; for if we are to win this battle of our life, it can only be by taking in our charge-bill to the great Paymaster, and asking him to discharge the charges of this war.
Consider, too, the necessity of holiness. If, in my life's warfare, I am entirely dependent upon God, let me not grieve him. Let me seek so to walk with him that I may expect to have him with me. Oh! let our consecration be unreserved and complete.
And in all these we must prove the power of faith. If we have never begun to trust in Jesus, let us begin now. Oh! may the Eternal Spirit breathe faith into our souls. The beginning of true spiritual life is here trusting what Christ has wrought for us, relying upon his sufferings on our behalf. The continuation of spiritual life is here trusting still in what Christ has done and is doing. The consummation of spiritual life on earth is still the same trusting still, trusting ever; always repairing to Christ for the supply of all our needs; going to him with our blots to have them removed, with our failings to have them forgiven, with our wants and requirements to have them provided for, with our good works and our prayers to have them rendered acceptable, and with ourselves that we may still be preserved in him.
Sharpen your swords, soldiers of the cross, and be ready for the fray, but as ye march to the battle let it be with heads bowed down in adoration before him, who alone can cover your heads in the day of battle; and when you lift up those heads in the front of the foe, let this be your song, "The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; the Lord has become my salvation!" And when the fight waxes hot, if your head grow weary, think of "him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself," and still fight on until you win the day, and then as the fight draws to a close, and your sun is going down, and you can count your scars, and are ready to enter into your rest, be this your prayer "I have gone astray like a lost sheep, but seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy commandments." And be this your last word on earth, "Into thy hand I commit my spirit, for thou best redeemed me, O Lord God of my salvation"; so shall this be your eternal song in heaven above, "Unto him that hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Preach the Gospel
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, August 5, 1855, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.
"For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; yea woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel." 1 Corinthians 9:16 .
THE greatest man of Apostolic times was the apostle Paul. He was always great in everything. If you consider him as a sinner, he was exceeding sinful; if you regard him as a persecutor, he was exceeding mad against the Christians, and persecuted them even unto strange cities, if you take him as a convert, his conversion was the most notable one of which we read, worked by miraculous power, and by the direct voice of Jesus speaking from heaven "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" If we take him simply as a Christian, he was an extraordinary one, loving his Master more than others, and seeking more than others to exemplify the grace of God in his life. But if you take him as an apostle, and as a preacher of the Word, he stands out pre-eminent as the prince of preachers, and a preacher to kings for he preached before Agrippa, he preached before Nero Caesar he stood before emperors and kings for Christ's name's sake. It was the characteristic of Paul, that whatever he did, he did with all his heart. He was one of the men who could not allow one half of his frame to be exercised, while the other half was indolent but, when he set to work, the whole of his energies every nerve, every sinew were strained in the work to be done, be it bad work or be it good. Paul, therefore, could speak from experience concerning his ministry; because he was the chief of ministers. There is no nonsense in what he speaks; it is all from the depth of his soul. And we may be sure that when he wrote this, he wrote it with a strong unpalsied hand "Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel."
Now, these words of Paul, I trust, are applicable to many ministers in the present day; to all those who are especially called, who are directed by the inward impulse of the Holy Spirit to occupy the position of gospel ministers. In trying to consider this verse, we shall have three inquiries this morning: First, What is it to preach the gospel? Secondly, Why is it that a minister has nothing to glorify of? And thirdly, What is that necessity and that woe, of which it is written, "Necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel?"
I. The first enquiry is, WHAT IS IT TO PREACH THE GOSPEL? There are a variety of opinions concerning this question, and possibly amongst my own audience though I believe we are very uniform in our doctrinal sentiments there might be found two or three very ready answers to this question: What is it to preach the gospel? I shall therefore attempt to answer it myself according to my own judgment, if God will help me; and if it does not happen to be the correct answer, you are at liberty to supply a better to yourselves at home.
1. The first answer I shall give to the question is this: To preach the gospel is to state every doctrine contained in God's Word, and to give every truth its proper prominence. Men may preach a part of the gospel; they may only preach one single doctrine of it; and I would not say that a man did not preach the gospel at all if he did but maintain the doctrine of justification by faith "By grace are ye saved through faith." I should put him down for a gospel minister, but not for one who preached the whole gospel. No man can be said to preach the whole gospel of God if he leaves it out, knowingly and intentionally, one single truth of the blessed God. This remark of mine must be a very cutting one, and ought to strike into the consciences of many who make it almost a matter of principle to keep back certain truths from the people, because they are afraid of them. In conversation, a week or two ago, with an eminent professor, he said to me, "Sir, we know that we ought not to preach the doctrine of election, because it is not calculated to convert sinners." "But," said I to him, "who is the men that dares to find fault with the truth of God? You admit, with me, that it is a truth, and yet you say it must not be preached. I dare not have said that thing. I should reckon it supreme arrogance to have ventured to say that a doctrine ought not to be preached when the all-wise God has seen fit to reveal it. Besides, is the whole gospel intended to convert sinners? There are some truths which God blesses to the conversion of sinners; but are there not other portions which were intended for the comfort of the saint? and ought not these to be a subject of gospel ministry as well as the others? And shall I look at one and disregard the other? No: if God says, 'Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people' if election comforts God's people, then must I preach it." But I am not quite so sure, that after all, that doctrine is not calculated to convert sinners. For the great Jonathan Edwardes tells us, that in the greatest excitement of one of his revivals, he preached the sovereignty of God in the salvation or condemnation of man, and showed that God was infinitely just if he sent men to hell! that he was infinitely merciful if he saved any; and that it was all of his own free grace, and he said, "I found no doctrine caused more thought nothing entered more deeply into the heart than the proclamation of that truth." The same might be said of other doctrines. There are certain truths in God's word which are condemned to silence; they, forsooth, are not to be uttered, because, according to the theories of certain persons, looking at these doctrines, they are not calculated to promote certain ends. But is it for me to judge God's truth? Am I to put his words in the scale, and say, "This is good, and that is evil?' Am I to take God's Bible, and sever it and say, "this is husk, and this is wheat?" Am I to cast away any one truth, and say, "I dare not preach it?" No: God forbid. Whatsoever is written in God's Word is written for our instruction: and the whole of it is profitable, either for reproof, or for consolation, or for edification in righteousness. No truth of God's Word ought to be withheld, but every portion of it preached in its own proper order.
Some men purposely confine themselves to four or five topics continually. Should you step into their chapel, you would naturally expect to hear them preaching, either from this, "Not of the will of the flesh, but of the will of God," or else, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." You know that the moment you step in you are sure to hear nothing but election and high doctrine that day. Such men err also, quite as much as others, if they give too great prominence to one truth to the neglect of the others. Whatsoever is here to be preached, "all it whatever name you please, write it high, write it low the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the standard of the true Christian. Alas! alas! many make an iron ring of their doctrines, and he who dares to step beyond that narrow circle, is not reckoned orthodox. God bless heretics, then! God send us more of them! Many make theology into a kind of treadwheel, consisting of five doctrines, which are everlastingly rotated; for they never go on to anything else. There ought to be every truth preached. And if God has written in his word that "he that believeth not is condemned already," that is as much to be preached as the truth that "there is no condemnation to them that are in Jesus Christ." If I find it written, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself," that man's condemnation is his own fault, I am to preach that as well as the next clause, "In me is thy help found." We ought, each of us who are entrusted with the ministry, to seek to preach all truth. I know it may be impossible to tell you all of it. That high hill of truth hath mists upon its summit. No mortal eye can see its pinnacle; nor hath the foot of man ever trodden it. But yet let us paint the mist, if we cannot paint the summit. Let us depict the difficulty itself if we cannot unravel it. Let us not hide anything, but if the mountain of truth be cloudy at the top, let us say, "Clouds and darkness are around him," Let us not deny it; and let us not think of cutting down the mountain to our own standard, because we cannot see its summit or cannot reach its pinnacle. He who would preach the gospel must preach all the gospel. He who would have it said he is a faithful minister, must not keep back any part of revelation.
2. Again, am I asked what it is to preach the gospel? I answer to preach the gospel is to exalt Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is the best answer that I could give. I am very sorry to see very often how little the gospel is understood even by some of the best Christians. Some time ago there was a young woman under great distress of soul; she came to a very pious Christian man, who said "My dear girl, you must go home and pray." Well I thought within myself, that is not the Bible way at all. It never says, "Go home and pray." The poor girl went home; she did pray, and she still continued in distress. Said he, "You must wait, you must read the Scriptures and study them." That is not the Bible way; that is not exalting Christ; find a great many preachers are preaching that kind of doctrine. They tell a poor convinced sinner, "You must go home and pray, and read the Scriptures; you must attend the ministry;" and so on. Works, works, works instead of "By grace are ye saved through faith," If a penitent should come and ask me, "What must I do to be saved?" I would say, "Christ must save you believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." I would neither direct to prayer, nor reading of the Scriptures nor attending God's house; but simply direct to faith, naked faith on God's gospel. Not that I despise prayer that must come after faith. Not that I speak a word against the searching of the Scriptures that is an infallible mark of God's children. Not that I find fault with attendance on God's word God forbid! I love to see people there. But none of those things are the way of salvation. It is nowhere written "He that attendeth chapel shall be saved," or, "He that readeth the Bible shall be saved." Nor do I read "He that prayeth and is baptised shall be saved;" but, "He that believeth," he that has a naked faith on the "Man Christ Jesus," on his Godhead, on his manhood, is delivered from sin. To preach that faith alone saves, is to preach God's truth. Nor will I for one moment concede to any man the name of a gospel minister, if he preaches anything as the plan of salvation except faith in Jesus Christ, faith, faith, nothing but faith in his name. But we are, most of us, very much muddled in our ideas. We get so much work stored into our brain, such an idea of merit and of doing, wrought into our hearts, that it is almost impossible for us to preach justification by faith clearly and fully; and when we do, our people won't receive it. We tell them, "Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." But they have a notion that faith is something so wonderful, so mysterious, that it is quite impossible that without doing something else they can ever get it. Now, that faith which unites to the Lamb is an instantaneous gift of God, and he who believes on the Lord Jesus is that moment saved, without anything else whatsoever. Ah! my friends, do we not want more exalting Christ in our preaching, and more exalting Christ in our living? Poor Mary said, "They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid him," And she might say so now-a-days if she could rise from the grave. Oh! to have a Christ-exalting ministry! Oh! to have preaching that magnifies Christ in his person, that extols his divinity, that loves his humanity; to have preaching that shows him as prophet, priest, and king to his people! to have preaching whereby the spirit manifests the Son of God unto his children: to have preaching that says, "Look unto him and be ye saved all the ends of the earth," Calvary preaching, Calvary theology, Calvary books, Calvary sermons! These are the things we want, and in proportion as we have Calvary exalted and Christ magnified, the gospel is preached in our midst.
3. The third answer to the question is: to preach the gospel is to give every class of character his due. "You are only to preach to God's dear people, if you go into that pulpit," said a deacon once to a minister. Said the minister, "Have you marked them all on the back, that I may know them?" What is the good of this large chapel if I am only to preach to God's dear people? They are few enough. God's dear people might be held in the vestry. We have many more here besides God's dear people, and how am I to be sure, if I am told to preach only to God's dear people, that somebody else wont take it to himself? At another time some one might say, "Now, be sure you preach to sinners. If you do not preach to sinners this morning, you won't preach the gospel. We shall only hear you once; and we shall be sure you are not right if you do not happen to preach to sinner this particular morning, in this particular sermon." What nonsense, my friends! There are times when the children must be fed, and there are times when the sinner must be warned. There are different times for different objects. If a man is preaching to God's saints if it so happen that little is said to sinners, is he to be blamed for it, provided that at another time when he is not comforting the saints, he directs his attention specially to the ungodly? I heard a good remark from an intelligent friend of mine the other day. A person was finding fault with "Dr. Hawker's Morning and Evening Portions" because they were not calculated to convert sinners. He said to the gentleman, "Did you ever read; 'Grote's History of Greece?'" "Yes." Well, that is a shocking book, is it not? for it is not calculated to convert sinners. "Yes, but," said the other, "'Grote's History of Greece' was never meant to convert sinners." "No," said my friend, "and if you had read the preface to 'Dr. Hawker's Morning and Evening Portion,' you would see that it was never meant to convert sinners, but to feed God's people, and if it answers its end the man has been wise, though he has not aimed at some other end." Every class of person is to have his due. He who preaches solely to saints at all times does not preach the gospel; he who preaches solely and only to the sinner; and never to the saint, does not preach the whole of the gospel. We have amalgamation here. We have the saint who is full of assurance and strong; we have the saint who is weak and low in faith; we have the young convert; we have the man halting between two opinions; we have the moral man; we have the sinner; we have the reprobate; we have the outcast. Let each have a word. Let each have a portion of meat in due season; not at every season, but in due season. He who omits one class of character does not know how to preach the entire gospel. What! Am I to be put into the pulpit and to be told that I am to confine myself to certain truths only, to comfort God's saints? I will not have it so. God gives men hearts to love their fellow-creatures, and are they to have no development for that heart? If I love the ungodly am I to have no means of speaking to them? May I not tell them of judgment to come, of righteousness, and of their sin? God forbid I should so stultify my nature and so brutalize myself, as to have a tearless eye when I consider the loss of my fellow creatures, and to stand and say "Ye are dead, I have nothing to say to you!" and to preach in effect if not in words that most damnable heresy, that if men are to be saved they will be saved that if they are not to be saved they will not be saved; that necessarily, they must sit still and do nothing whatever; and that it matters not whether they live in sin or in righteousness some strong fate has bound them down with adamantine chains; and their destiny is so certain that they may live on in sin. I believe their destiny is certain that as elect, they will be saved, and if not elect they are damned for ever. But I do not believe the heresy that follows as an inference that therefore men are irresponsible and may sit still. That is a heresy against which I have ever protested, as being a doctrine of the devil and not of God at all. We believe in destiny; we believe in predestination; we believe in election and non-election: but, notwithstanding that, we believe that we must preach to men, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved," but believe not on him and ye are damned.
4. I had thought of giving one more answer to this question, but time fails me. The answer would have been somewhat like this that to preach the gospel is not to preach certain truths about the gospel, not to preach about the people, but to preach to the people. To preach the gospel is not to talk about what the gospel is, but to preach it into the heart, not by your own might, but by the influence of the Holy Ghost not to stand and talk as if we were speaking to the angel Gabriel, and telling him certain things, but to speak as man to man and pour our heart in to our fellow's heart. This I take it, is to preach the gospel, and not to mumble some dry manuscript over on Sunday morning or Sunday evening. To preach the gospel is not to send a curate to do your duty for you; it is not to put on your fine gown and then stand and give out some lofty speculation. To preach the gospel is not, with the hands of a bishop, to turn over some beautiful specimen of prayer, and then to go down again and leave it to some humbler person to speak. Nay; to preach the gospel is to proclaim with trumpet tongue and flaming zeal the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus, so that men may hear, and understanding, may turn to God with full purpose of heart. This is to preach the gospel.
II. The second question is How IS IT THAT MINISTERS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GLORY? "For though I preach the gospel I have nothing to glorify it." There are some weeds that will grow anywhere; and one of them is Pride. Pride will grow on a rock as well as in a garden. Pride will grow in the heart of a shoe-black as well as in the heart of an alderman. Pride will grow in the heart of a servant girl and equally as well in the heart of her mistress. And pride will grow in the pulpit. It is a weed that is dreadfully rampant. It wants cutting down every week, or else we should stand up to our knees in it. This pulpit is a shocking bad soil for pride. It grows terribly; and I scarcely know whether you ever find a preacher of the gospel who will not confess that he has the greatest temptation to pride. I suppose that even those ministers of whom nothing is said, but that they are very good people, and who have a City church, with some six people attending it, have a temptation to pride. But whether that is so or not, I am quite sure wherever there is a large assembly, and wherever a great deal of noise and stir is made concerning any man there is a great danger of pride. And, mark you, the more proud a man is the greater will be his fall at last. If people will hold a minister up in their hands and do not keep hold of him, but let him go, what a fall he will have, poor fellow, when it is all over. It has been so with many. Many men have been held up by the arms of men, they have been held up by the arms of praise, and not of prayer; these arms have become weak, and down they have fallen. I say there is temptation to pride in the pulpit; but there is no ground for it in the pulpit; there is no soil for pride to grow on; but it will grow without any. "I have nothing to glorify of." But, notwithstanding, there often comes in some reason why we should glory, not real, but apparent to our ownselves.
1. Now, how is it that a true minister feels he has "nothing to glorify of." First, because he is very conscious of his own imperfections. I think no man will ever form a more just opinion of himself than he who is called constantly and incessantly to preach. Some man once thought he could preach, and on being allowed to enter the pulpit, he found his words did not come quite so freely as he expected, and in the utmost trepidation and fear, he leaned over the front of the pulpit and said "My friends, if you would come up here, it would take the conceit out of you all, I verily believe it would out of a great many, could they once try themselves whether they could preach. It would take their critical conceit out of them, and make them think that after all it was not such easy work. He who preaches best feels that he preaches worst. He who has set up some lofty model in his own mind of what eloquence should be, and what earnest appeal ought to be, will know how much he falls below it. He, best of all, can reprove himself when he knows his own deficiency. I do not believe when a man does a thing well, that therefore he will glory in it. On the other hand, I think that he will be the best judge of his own imperfections, and will see them most clearly. He knows what he ought to be: other men do not. They stare, and gaze, and think it is wonderful, when he thinks it is wonderfully absurd and retires wondering that he has not done better. Every true minister will feel that he is deficient. He will compare himself with such men as Whitfield, with such preachers as those of puritanical times, and he will say, "What am I? Like a dwarf beside a giant, an ant-hill by the side of the mountain." When he retires to rest on Sabbath-night, he will toss from side to side on his bed, because he feels that he has missed the mark, that he has not had that earnestness, that solemnity, that death-like intenseness of purpose which became his position. He will accuse himself of not having dwelt enough on this point, or for having shunned the other, or not having been explicit enough on some certain subject, or expanded another too much. He will see his own faults, for God always chastises his own children at night-time when they have done something wrong. We need not others to reprove us; God himself takes us in hand, The most highly honored before God will often feel himself dishonored in his own esteem.
2. Again, another means of causing us to cease from all glory is the fact that God reminds us that all our gifts are borrowed. And strikingly have I this morning been reminded of that great truth that all our gifts are borrowed, by reading in a newspaper to the following effect:
"Last week, the quiet neighborhood of New Town was much disturbed by an occurrence which has thrown a gloom over the entire neighborhood. A gentleman of considerable attainment, who has won an honorable degree at the university has for some months been deranged. He had kept an academy for young gentlemen, but his insanity had obliged him to desist from his occupation, and he has for some time lived alone in a house in the neighborhood. The landlord obtained a warrant of ejectment; and it being found necessary to handcuff him, he was, by sad mismanagement, compelled to remain on the steps, exposed to the gaze of a great crowd, until at last a vehicle arrived, which conveyed him to the asylum. One of his pupils (says the paper) is Mr. Spurgeon."
The man from whom I learned whatever of human learning I have, has now become a raving lunatic in the Asylum! When I saw that, I felt I could bend my knee with humble gratitude and thank my God that not yet had my reason reeled, not yet had those powers departed. Oh! how thankful we ought to be that our talents are preserved to us, and that our mind is not gone! Nothing came nearer and closer to me than that. There was one who had taken all pains with me a man of genius and of ability; and yet there he is! how fallen! how fallen! How speedily does human nature come from its high estate and sink below the level of the brutes? Bless God my friends, for your talents! thank him for your reason! thank him for your intellect! Simple as it may be, it is enough for you, and if you lost it you would soon mark the difference. Take heed to yourself lest in aught you say. "This is Babylon that I have builded;" for, remember, both trowel and mortar must come from him. The life, the voice, the talent, the imagination, the eloquence all are the gift of God; and he who has the greatest gifts must feel that unto God belong the shield of the mighty, for he has given might to his people, and strength unto his servants.
3. One more answer to this question. Another means whereby God preserves his ministers from glorying is this: He makes them feel their constant dependance upon the Holy Ghost. Some do not feel it, I confess. Some will venture to preach without the Spirit of God, or without entreating it. But I think that no man, who is really commissioned from on high, will ever venture to do so, but he will feel that he needs the Spirit. Once, while preaching in Scotland, the Spirit of God was pleased to desert me, I could not speak as usually I have done. I was obliged to tell the people that the chariot wheels were taken off; and that the chariot dragged very heavily along. I have felt the benefit of that ever since. It humbled me bitterly, for I could have crept into a nut-shell, and I would have hidden myself in any obscure corner of the earth. I felt as if I should speak no more in the name of the Lord, and then the thought came "Oh! thou art an ungrateful creature: hath not God spoken by thee hundreds of times? And this once, when he would not do so wilt thou upbraid him for it? Nay, rather thank him, that a hundred times he hath stood by thee; and, if once he hath forsaken thee, admire his goodness, that thus he would keep thee humble." Some may imagine that want of study brought me into that condition, but I can honestly affirm, that it was not so. I think that I am bound to give myself unto reading, and not tempt the Spirit by unthought-of effusions. Usually, I deem it a duty to seek a sermon of my Master and implore him to impress it on my mind, but on that occasion, I think I had even prepared more carefully then than I ordinarily do, so that unpreparedness was not the reason. The simple fact was this "The wind bloweth where it listeth;" and winds do not always blow hurricanes. Sometimes the winds themselves are still. And, therefore, if I rest on the Spirit, I cannot expect I should always feel its power alike. What could I do without the celestial influence, for to that I owe everything. By this thought God humbles his servants. God will teach us how much we want it. He will not let us think we are doing anything ourselves. "Nay, says he, "thou shalt have none of the glory. I will take thee down. Art thou thinking 'I am doing this?' I will show thee what thou art without me "Out goes Samson. He attacks the Philistines. He fancies he can slay them; but they are on him. His eyes are out. His glory is gone, because he trusted not in his God, but rested in himself. Every minister will be made to feel his dependence upon the Spirit; and then will he, with emphasis, say, as Paul did, "If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glorify of."
III. Now comes the third question, with which we are to finish WHAT IS THAT NECESSITY WHICH IS LAID UPON US TO PREACH THY GOSPEL?
1. First, a very great part of that necessity springs from the call itself: If a man be truly called of God to the ministry, I will defy him to withhold himself from it. A man who has really within him the inspiration of the Holy Ghost calling him to preach cannot help it. He must preach. As fire within the bones, so will that influence be until it blazes forth Friends may check him, foes criticise him, despisers sneer at him, the man is indomitable; he must preach if he has the call of heaven. All earth might forsake him; but he would preach to the barren mountain-tops. If he has the call of heaven, if he has no congregation, he would preach to the rippling waterfalls, and let the brooks hear his voice. He could not be silent. He would become a voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." I no more believe it possible to stop ministers, than to stop the stars of heaven. I think it no more possible to make a man cease from preaching, if he is really called, than to stop some mighty cataract, by seeking, with an infant's cup, to drink its waters. The man has been moved of heaven, who shall stop him? He has been touched of God, who shall impede him? With an eagle's wing he must fly; who shall chain him to the earth? With seraph's voice he must speak, who shall stop his lips? Is not his word like a fire within me? Must I not speak if God has placed it there? And when a man does speak as the Spirit gives him utterance, he will feel a holy joy akin to heaven; and when it is over he wishes to be at his work again, and longs to be once more preaching. I do not think young men are called of God to any great work who preach once a week, and think they have done their duty. I think if God has called a man, he will impel him to be more or less constantly at it, and he will feel that he must preach among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ.
2. But another thing will make us preach: we shall feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; and that is the sad destitution of this poor fallen world. Oh, minister of the gospel! stand for one moment and bethink thyself of thy poor fellow creatures! See them like a stream, rushing to eternity ten thousand to their endless home each solemn moment fly! See the termination of that stream, that tremendous cataract which dashes streams of souls into the pit! Oh, minister, bethink thyself that men are being damned each hour by thousands, and that each time thy pulse beats another soul lifts up its eyes in hell, being in torments; bethink thyself how men are speeding on their way to destruction, how "the love of many waxeth cold" and "iniquity doth abound." I say, is there not a necessity laid upon thee? Is it not woe unto thee if thou preachest not the gospel? Take thy walk one evening through the streets of London when the dusk has gathered, and darkness veils the people. Mark you not yon profligate hurrying on to her accursed work? See you not thousands and tens of thousands annually ruined? Up from the hospital and the asylum there comes a voice, "Woe is unto you if ye preach not the gospel." Go to that huge place built around with massive walls, enter the dungeons, and see the thieves who have for years spent their lives in sin. Wend your way sometimes to that sad square of Newgate, and see the murderer hanged. A voice shall come from each house of correction, from each prison, from each gallows, saying, "Woe is unto thee if thou preachest not the gospel." Go thou to the thousand death-beds, and mark how men are perishing in ignorance, not knowing the ways of God. See their terror as they approach their Judge, never having known what it was to be saved, not even knowing the way; and as you see them quivering before their Maker, hear a voice, "Minister, woe is unto thee if thou preachest not the gospel." Or take another course. Travel round this great metropolis, and stop at the door of some place where there is heard the tinkling of bells, chanting and music, but where the whore of Babylon hath her sway, and lies are preached for truth; and when thou comest home and thinkest of Popery and Puseyism, let a voice come to thee, "Minister woe is unto thee if thou preachest not the gospel." Or step into the hall of the infidel where he blasphemes thy Maker's name; or sit in the theater where plays, libidinous and loose are acted, and from all these haunts of vice there comes the voice, "Minister, woe is unto thee if thou preachest not the gospel." And take thy last solemn walk down to the chambers of the lost; let the abyss of hell be visited, and stand thou and hear
"The sullen groans, the hollow moans,
And shrieks of tortured ghosts."
Put thine ear at hell's gate, and for a little while list to the commingled screams and shrieks of agony and fell despair that shall lend thine ear; and as thou comest from that sad place with that doleful music still affrighting thee, thou wilt hear the voice, "Minister! minister! woe is unto thee if thou preaches not the gospel." Only let us have these things before our eyes, and we must preach. Stop preaching! Stop preaching! Let the sun stop shining, and we will preach in darkness. Let the waves stop their ebb and flow, and still our voice shall preach the gospel, let the world stop its revolutions, let the planets stay their motion; we will still preach the gospel. Until the fiery center of this earth shall burst through the thick ribs of her brazen mountains, we shall still preach the gospel; till the universal conflagration shall dissolve the earth, and matter shall be swept away, these lips, or the lips of some others called of God, shall still thunder forth the voice of Jehovah. We cannot help it. "Necessity is laid upon us, yea woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel.
Now, my dear hearers, one word with you. There are some persons in this audience who are verily guilty in the sight of God because they do not preach the gospel. I cannot think out of the fifteen hundred or two thousand persons now present, within the reach of my voice, there are none who are qualified to preach the gospel besides myself. I have not so bad an opinion of you as to conceive myself to be superior in intellect to one half of you, or even in the power of preaching God's Word: and even supposing I should be, I cannot believe that I have such a congregation that there are not among you many who have gifts and talents that qualify you to preach the Word. Among the Scotch Baptists it is the custom to call upon all the brethren to exhort on the Sabbath morning; they have no regular minister to preach on that occasion, but every man preaches who likes to get up and speak. That is all very well, only, I fear, many unqualified brethren would be the greatest speakers, since it is a known fact, that men who have little to say will often keep on the longest; and if I were chairman, I should say, "Brother, it is written, 'Speak to edification.' I am sure you would not edify yourself and your wife, you had better go and try that first, and if you cannot succeed, don't waste our precious time."
But still I say, I cannot conceive but what there are some here this morning who are flowers "wasting their sweetness in the desert air, "gems of purest ray serene," lying in the dark caverns of ocean's oblivion. This is a very serious question. If there be any talent in the Church at Park Street, let it be developed. If there be any preachers in my congregation let them preach. Many ministers make it a point to check young men in this respect. There is my hand, such as it is, to help any one of you if you think you can tell to sinners round what a dear Saviour you have found. I would like to find scores of preachers among you; would to God that all the Lord's servants were prophets. There are some here who ought to be prophets, only they are half afraid well, we must devise some scheme of getting rid of their bashfulness. I cannot bear to think that while the devil sets all his servants to work there should be one servant of Jesus Christ asleep. Young man, go home and examine thyself, see what thy abilities are, and if thou findest that thou hast ability, then try in some poor humble room to tell to a dozen poor people what they must do to be saved. You need not aspire to become absolutely and solely dependent upon the ministry, but if it should please God, even desire it. He that desireth a bishopric desireth a good thing. At any rate seek in some way to be preaching the gospel of God. I have preached this sermon especially, because I want to commence a movement from this place which shall reach others. I want to find some in my church, if it be possible, who will preach the gospel. And mark you, if you have talent and power, woe is unto you if you preach not the gospel.
But oh! my friends, if it is woe unto us if we preach not the gospel, what is the woe unto you if ye hear and receive not the gospel? May God give us both to escape from that woe! May the gospel of God be unto us the savor of life unto life, and not of death unto death.
The Heavenly Race
Delivered on Friday Afternoon, June 11, 1858, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
on the Grand Stand, Epsom Race-Course.
"So run, that ye may obtain." 1 Corinthians 9:24 .
WE ARE CONTINUALLY insisting upon it from day to day, that salvation is not of works, but of grace. We lay this down as one of the very first doctrines of the gospel. "Not of works, lest any man should boast." "By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." But we find that it is equally necessary to preach the absolute necessity of a religious life for the attainment of heaven at last. Although we are sure that men are not saved for the sake of their works, yet are we equally sure that no man will be saved without them; and that he who leads an unholy life, who neglects the great salvation, can never inherit that crown of life which fadeth not away. In one sense, true religion is wholly the work of God; yet there are high and important senses in which we must ourselves "strive to enter in at the strait gate." We must run a race; we must wrestle even to agony; we must fight a battle, before we can inherit the crown of life. We have in our text the course of religion set down as a race; and inasmuch as there be many who enter upon a profession of religion with very false motives, the apostle warns us that although all run in a race, yet all do not obtain the prize: they run all, but only one is rewarded: and he gives us, therefore, the practical exhortation to run that we may obtain; for unless we are the winners we had better not have been runners at all; for he that is not a winner is a loser; he who makes a profession of religion, and does not at last obtain the crown of life, is a loser by his profession; for his profession was hypocrisy or else formality, and he had better not have made a profession, than fall therein.
And now, in entering upon the text, I shall have to notice what it is we are to run for: "So run that ye may obtain;" secondly, the mode of running, to which we must attend "So run that ye may obtain;" and then I shall give a few practical exhortations to stir those onward in the heavenly race who are flagging and negligent, in order that they may at last "obtain."
I. In the first place, then, WHAT IS IT THAT WE OUGHT TO SEEK TO OBTAIN?
Some people think they must be religious, in order to be respectable. There are a vast number of people in the world who go to church and to chapel, because everybody else does so. It is disreputable to waste your Sundays, not to be found going up to the house of God, therefore they take a pew and attend the services, and they think they have done their duty: they have obtained all that they sought for, when they can hear their neighbors saying, "Such-and-such a man is a very respectable person; he is always very regular at his Church; he is a very reputable person, and exceedingly praiseworthy." Verily, if this be what you seek after in your religion, you shall get it; for the Pharisees who sought the praise of men "had their reward." But when you have gotten it, what a poor reward it is! Is it worth the drudgery? I do not believe that the drudgery to which people submit in order to be called respectable, is at an compensated by what they gain. I am sure, for my own part, I would not care a solitary rap what I was called, or what I was thought; nor would I perform anything that was irksome to myself for the sake of pleasing any man that ever walked beneath the stars, however great or mighty he may be. It is the sign of a fawning, cringing spirit, when people are always seeking to do that which renders them respectable. The esteem of men is not worth the looking after, and sad it is, that this should be the only prize which some men put before them, in the poor religion which they undertake.
There are people who go a little farther: they are not content with being considered respectable, but they want something more; they desire to be considered pre-eminently saints. These persons come to our places of worship, and after a little time they venture to come forward and ask whether they may unite with our churches. We examine them, and so hidden is their hypocrisy that we cannot discover its rottenness: we receive them into our churches; they sit at the Lord's Supper; they come to our church-meetings: mayhap, they are even voted into the deacon's office; sometimes they attain to the pulpit, though God has never called them, and preach what they have never felt in their hearts. Men may do all this merely to enjoy the praise of men; and they will even undergo some persecution for the sake of it; because to be thought a saint, to be reckoned by religious people to be everything that is right and proper, to have a name among the living in Zion, is to some persons a thing exceedingly coveted. They would not like to be set down among the "chief of sinners," but if they may have their names written among the chief of saints they will consider themselves exceedingly exalted. I am afraid we have a considerable admixture of persons of this sort in our churches who only come for the mere sake of keeping up their religious pretensions and obtaining a religious status in the midst of the church of God. "Verily, I say unto you they have their reward," and they shall never have any but what they obtain here. They get their reward for a little time. for a short time they are looked up to. but perhaps even in this life they make a trip, and down they go; the church discovers them, and they are sent out like the ass stripped of the lion's skin to browse once more among their native nettles, no longer to be glorious in the midst of the church of the living God. Or mayhap, they may wear the cloak until the last day of their lives, and then death comes, and strips them of all their tinsel and gewgaw; And they who acted upon the stage of religion as kings and princes, are sent behind the stage to be unrobed and to find themselves beggars to their shame, and naked to their eternal disgrace. It is not this which you and I would seek after in religion. Dearly beloved, if we do run the race, we would run for a higher and more glorious prize than any of these things.
Another set of people take up with religious life for what they can get by it. I have known tradespeople attend church for the mere sake of getting the custom of those who went there. I have heard of such things as people knowing which side their bread was buttered, and going to that particular denomination, where they thought they could get the most by it. Loaves and fishes drew some of Christ's followers, and they are very attracting baits, even to this day. Men find there is something to be gotten by religion. Among the poor it is, perhaps, some little charity to be obtained, and among those that are in business, it is the custom which they think to get. "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward;" for the church is ever foolish and unsuspicious. We do not like to suspect our fellow creatures of following us from sordid motives. The church does not like to think that a man would be base enough to pretend to religion for the mere sake of what he can get, and, therefore, we let these people easily slip through, and they have their reward. But ah! at what a price they buy it! They have deceived the Lord's servants for gold, and they have entered into his church as base hypocrites for the sake of a piece of bread; and they shall be thrust out at last with the anger of God behind them, like Adam driven out of Eden, with the flaming Cherubim with a sword turning every way to keep the tree of life; and they shall for ever look back upon this as the most fearful crime they have committed that they pretended to be God's people when they were not, and entered into the midst of the fold when they were but wolves in sheeps' clothing.
There is yet another class, and when I have referred to them I will mention no more. These are the people who take up with religion for the sake of quieting their conscience, and it is astonishing how little of religion will sometimes do that. Some people tell us that if in the time of storm men would pour bottles of oil upon the waves, there would be a great calm at once. I have never tried it, and it is most probable I never shall, for my organ of credulity is not large enough to accept so extensive a statement. But there are some people who think that they can calm the storm of a troubled conscience by pouring a little of the oil of a profession about religion upon it; and it is amazing how wonderful an effect this really has. I have known a man who was drunk many times in a week, and who got his money dishonestly, and yet he always had an easy conscience by going to his church or chapel regularly on the Sunday. We have heard of a man who could "devour widows' houses" a lawyer who could swallow up everything that came in his way, and yet he would never go to bed without saying his prayers; and that stilled his conscience. We have heard of other persons, especially among the Romanists, who would not object to thieving, but who would regard eating anything but fish on a Friday as a most fearful sin, supposing that by making a fast on the Friday, all the iniquities of all the days in the week would be put away. They want the outward forms of religion to keep the conscience quiet; for Conscience is one of the worst lodgers to have in your house when he gets quarrelsome: there is no abiding with him; he is an ill bed-fellow; ill at lying down, and equally troublesome at rising up. A guilty conscience is one of the curses of the world: it puts out the sun, and takes away the brightness from the moonbeam. A guilty conscience casts a noxious exhalation through the air, removes the beauty from the landscape, the glory from the flowing river, the majesty from the rolling floods. There is nothing beautiful to the man that has a guilty conscience. He needs no accusing; everything accuses him. Hence people take up with religion just to quiet them. They take the sacrament sometimes; they go to a place of worship; they sing a hymn now and then, they give a guinea to a charity; they intend to leave a portion in their will to build alms-houses, and in this way conscience is lulled asleep, and they rock him to and fro with religious observances, till there he sleeps while they sing over him the lullaby of hypocrisy, and he wakes not until he shall wake with that rich man who was here clothed in purple, but in the next world did lift up his eyes in hell, being in torments, without a drop of water to cool his burning tongue.
What, then, is it, for which we ought to run in this race? Why heaven, eternal life, justification by faith, the pardon of sin, acceptance in the Beloved, and glory everlasting. If you run for anything else than salvation, should you will, what you have won is not worth the running for. Oh! I beseech every one of you, make sure work for eternity, never be contented with anything less than a living faith in a living Saviour; rest not until you are certain that the Holy Spirit is at work in your souls. Do not think that the outside of religion can be of use to you; it is just the inward part of religion that God loveth. Seek to have a repentance that needeth not to be repented of a faith which looks alone to Christ, and which will stand by you when you come into the swellings of Jordan, Seek to have a love which is not like a transient flame, burning for a moment and then extinguished; but a flame which shall increase and increase, and still increase, till your heart shall be swallowed up therein, and Jesus Christ's one name shall be the sole object of your affection. We must, in running the heavenly race, set nothing less before us than that which Christ did set before him. He set the joy of salvation before himself, and then he did run, despising the cross and enduring the shame. So let us do; and may God give us good success, that by his good Spirit we may attain unto eternal life, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord!
II. Thus have I noticed what it is we are to run for. And now the Apostle says, "So run that ye may obtain." I shall notice some people who never will obtain, and tell you the reason why, and in so doing, I shall be illustrating THE RULES OF THE RACE.
There are some people who certainly never will obtain the prize, because they are not even entered. Their names are not down for the race, and therefore it is quite clear that they will not run, or if they do run, they will run without having any warrant whatever for expecting to receive the prize. There are some such here this afternoon: who will tell you themselves, "We make no profession, sir none whatever." It is quite as well, perhaps, that you do not; because if you did, you would be hypocrites, and it is better to make no profession at all than to be hypocrites. Still, recollect, your names are not down for the race, and therefore you cannot win. If a man tells you in business that he makes no profession of being honest, you know that he is a confirmed rogue. If a man makes no profession of being religious, you know what he is he is irreligious he has no fear of God before his eyes, he has no love to Christ, he has no hope of heaven. He confesses it himself. Strange that men should be so ready to confess this. You don't find persons in the street willing to acknowledge that they are confirmed drunkards. Generally a man will repudiate it with scorn. You never find a man saying to you, "I don't profess to be a chaste living man." You don't hear another say, "I don't profess to be anything but a covetous wretch." No; people are not so fast about telling their faults: and yet you hear people confess the greatest fault to which man can be addicted: they say, "I make no profession" which means just this that they do not give God his due. God has made them, and yet they won't serve him; Christ hath come into the world to save sinners, and yet they will not regard him; the gospel is preached; and yet they will not hear it, they have the Bible in their houses, and yet they will not attend to its admonitions: they make no profession of doing so. It will be short work with them at the last great day. There will be no need for the books to be opened, no need for a long deliberation in the verdict. They do not profess to be pardoned; their guilt is written upon their own foreheads, their brazen shamelessness shall be seen by the whole world, as a sentence of destruction written upon their very brows. You cannot expect to win heaven unless your names are entered for the race. If there be no attempts whatever made, even at so much as a profession of religion, then of course you may just sit down and say, "Heaven is not for me; I have no part nor lot in the inheritance of Israel, I cannot say that my Redeemer liveth; and I may rest quite assured that Tophet is prepared of old for me. I must feel its pains and know its miseries; for there are but two places to dwell in hereafter, and if I am not found on the right hand of the Judge, there is but one alternative namely, to be cast away for ever into the blackness of darkness."
Then there is another class whose names are down, but they never started right. A bad start is a sad thing. If in the ancient races of Greece or Rome a man who was about to run for the race had loitered, or if he had started before the time it would not matter how fast he ran, if he did not start in order. The flag must drop before the horse starts; otherwise, even if it reach the winning post first, it shall have no reward. There is something to be noted, then, in the starting of the race. I have known men run the race of religion with all their might, and yet they have lost it because they did not start right. You say, "Well, how is that?" Why, there are some people who on a sudden leap into religion. They get it quickly, and they keep it for a time. and at last they lose it because they did not get their religion the right way. They have heard that before a man can be saved, it is necessary that, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, he should feel the weight of sin, that he should make a confession of it, that he should renounce all hope in his own works, and should look to Jesus Christ alone. They look upon all these things as unpleasant preliminaries and therefore, before they have attended to repentance, before the Holy Spirit has wrought a good work in them before they have been brought to give up everything and trust to Christ, they make a profession of religion. This is just setting up in business without a stock in trade, and there must be a failure. If a man has no capital to begin with, he may make a fine show for a little time, but it shall be as the crackling of thorns under a pot, a great deal of noise and much light for a little time, but it shall die out in darkness. How many there are who never think it necessary that there should be heart work within! Let us remember, however, that there never was a true new birth without much spiritual suffering, that there never was a man who had a changed heart without his first having a miserable heart. We must pass through that black tunnel of conviction before we can come out upon the high embankment of holy joy; we must first go through the Slough of Despond before we can run along the walls of Salvation. There must be ploughing before there is sowing; there must be many a frost, and many a sharp shower before there is any reaping. But we often act like little children who pluck flowers from the shrubs and plant them in their gardens without roots; then they say how fair and how pretty their little garden is; but wait a little while, and their flowers are withered, because they have no roots. This is an the effect of not having a right start, not having the "root of the matter." What is the good of outward religion, the flower and the leaf of it, unless we have the "root of the matter" in us unless we have been digged into by that sharp iron spade of conviction, and have been ploughed with the plough of the Spirit, and then have been sown with the sacred seed of the gospel, in the hope of bringing forth an abundant harvest? There must be a good start; look well to that, for there is no hope of running unless the start be right.
Again, there are some runners in the heavenly race who cannot win because they carry too much weight. A light weight, of course, has the advantage. There are come people who have an immensely heavy weight to carry. "How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven!" What is the reason? Because he carries so much weight; he has so much of the cares and pleasures of this world; he has such a burden that he is not likely to win, unless God should please to give him a mighty mass of strength to enable him to bear it. We find many men willing to be saved, as they say; they receive the word with great joy, but by-and-bye thorns spring up and choke the word. They have so much business to do; they say they must live; they forget they must die. They have such a deal to attend to, they cannot think of living near to Christ. They find they have little time for devotions; morning prayer must be cut short, because their business begins early; they can have no prayer at night, because business keeps them so late. How can they be expected to think of the things of God? They have so much to do to answer this question "What shall I eat? what shall I drink? and wherewithal shall I be clothed?" It is true they read in the Bible that their Father who is in heaven will take care of them in these things if they will trust him. But they say, "Not so." Those are enthusiasts according to their notions who rely upon providence. They say, the best providence in all the world is hard work; and they say rightly, but they forget that into the bargain of their hard work "it is in vain to rise up early and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness; for except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." You see two men running a race. One of them, as he starts, lays aside every weight, he takes off his garment and away he runs. There goes the other poor fellow, he has a whole load of gold and silver upon his back. Then around his loins he has many distrustful doubts about what shall become of him in the future, what will be his prospects when he grows old, and a hundred other things. He does not know how to roll his burden upon the Lord. See how he flags, poor fellow, and how the other distances him, leaves him far behind, has gained the corner, and is coming to the winning post. It is well for us if we can cast everything away except that one thing needful, and say, "This is my business, to serve God on earth, knowing that I shall enjoy him in heaven." For when we leave our business to God, we leave it in better hands than if we took care of it ourselves. They who carve for themselves generally cut their fingers; but they who leave God to carve for them, shall never have an empty plate. He who will walk after the cloud shall go aright, but he who will run before it shall soon find that he has gone a fool's errand. "Blessed is the man who trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord.is." "The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that wait upon the Lord shall not want any good thing." Our Saviour said, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them, are ye not much better than they?" "Trust in the Lord and do good, and verily thou shalt be fed." "His place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure." "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Carry the weight of this world's cares about you. and it will be as much as you can do to carry them and to stand upright under them, but as to running a race with such burdens, it is just impossible.
There is also another thing that will prevent man's running the race. We have known people who stopped on their way to kick their fellows. Such things sometimes occur in a race. The horse, instead of speeding onwards to the mark, is of an angry disposition, and sets about kicking those that are running beside him there is not much probability of his coming in first. "Now they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize." There is one however who never gets it, and that is the man who always attends to his fellow-creatures instead of himself. It is a mysterious thing that I never yet saw a man with a hoe on his shoulder, going to hoe his neighbour's garden, it is a rarity to see a farmer sending his team of horses to plough his neighbour's land; but it is a most singular thing that every day in the week I meet with persons who are attending to other people's character. If they go to the house of God and hear a trite thing said, they say at once "How suitable that was for Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Brown?" The thought never enters their head, how suitable it was to themselves. They lend their ears to everybody else, but they do not hear for themselves. When they get out of chapel, perhaps as they walk home, their first thought is, "Well, how can I find fault with my neighbors?" They think that putting other people down is going up themselves (there never was a greater mistake); that by picking holes in their neighbour's coat they mend their own They have so few virtues of their own that they do not like anybody else to have any therefore they do the best they can to despoil everything good in their neighbor; and it there be a little fault, they will look at it through a magnifying glass, but they will turn the glass the other way when they look at their own sins. Their own faults become exceedingly small while those of others become magnificently great. Now this is a fault not only among professing religious men, but among those who are not religious. We are all so prone to find fault with other people instead of attending to our own home affairs. We attend to the vineyards of others, but our own vineyard we have not kept. Ask a worldly man why he is not religious, and he tells you "Because so-and-so makes a profession of religion and is not consistent." Pray is that any business of yours? To your own Master you must stand or fall, and so must he; God is their judge, and not you. Suppose there are a great many inconsistent Christians and we are compelled to acknowledge that there are so much the more reason why you should be a good one. Suppose there are a great many who deceive others; so much the more reason you should set the world an example of what a genuine Christian is. "Ah! but," you say, "I am afraid there are very few." Then why don't you make one? But after all, is that your business? Must not every man bear his own burden? You will not be judged for other men's sins, you will not be saved by their faith, you will not be condemned for their unbelief. Every man must stand in his own proper flesh and blood at the bar of God, to account for the works done in his own body, whether they have been good or whether they have been evil. It will be of little avail for you to say at the day of judgment, "O Lord, I wee looking at my neighbors; O Lord, I was finding fault with the people in the village; I was correcting their follies." But thus saith the Lord: "Did I ever commission thee to be a judge or a divider over them? Why, if thou hadst so much time to spare, and so much critical judgment, didst thou not exercise it upon thyself? Why didst thou not examine thyself, so that thou mightest have been found ready and acceptable in the day of God?" These persons are not very likely to win the race, because they turn to kicking others.
Again, there is another class of persons who will not win the race namely, those who, although they seem to start very fair, very soon loiter. They dart ahead at the first starting, and distance all the others. There they fly away as if they had wings to their heels; but a little further on in the race, it is with difficulty that with whip and spur they are to be kept going at all, and they almost come to a stand still. Alas! this race of persons are to be discovered in all our churches. We get young people who come forward and make a profession of religion, and we talk with them, and we think it is all well with them, and for a little while they do run well; there is nothing wanting in them; we could hold them up as patterns for the imitation of others. Wait a couple of years. they drop off just by little and little. First, perhaps, there is the attendance on a week-day service neglected; then it is altogether discontinued; then one service on Sabbath; then perhaps family prayer, then private prayer one thing after another is given up, until at last the whole edifice which stood upright and looked so fair, having been built upon the sand, gives way before the shock of time, and down it falls, and great is the ruin thereof. Recollect, it is not starting that wins the race; it is running all the way. He that would be saved, must hold on to the end: "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved." Stop and loiter in the race before you have come to the end thereof, and you have made one of the greatest mistakes that could possibly occur. On, on, on! while you live; still onward, onward, onward! for until you come to the grave, you have not come to your resting place until you arrive at the tomb, you have not come to the spot where you may cry "Halt!" Ever onward if ye would win. If you are content to lose, if you would lose your own soul, you may say, "Stop," if you please; but if you would be saved evermore, be on, on, till you have gained the prize.
But there is another class of persons, who are worse than these. They start well too, and they run very fast at first, but at last they leap over the posts and rails, they go quite out of the course altogether, and you do not know where they are gone. Every now and then, we get such people as this. They go out from us, because they are not of us, for had they been of us, doubtless they would have continued with us. I might point out in my congregation on the Sabbath-day, a man whom I saw start myself. I saw him running so well I almost envied him the joy he seemed always able to preserve, the faith which ever seemed to be so buoyant and full of jubilee. Alas! just when we thought he was speeding onwards to the prize, some temptation crossed his path, and he turned aside. Away he is scrambling far over the heath, out of the path of right, and men say, "Aha! aha! so would we have it; so would we have it." And they laugh and make merriment over him, because, having once named the name of Jesus Christ, he hath afterwards gone back again, and his last end is worse than the first. Those whom God starts never do this, for they are preserved in Christ Jesus. Those who have been "entered" in the great roll of the Covenant before all eternity shall persevere, by the aid of the good Spirit. He that began the good work in them, shall carry it on even unto the end. But, alas! there are many who run on their own account and in their own strength; and they are like the snail, which as it creeps, leaves its life as a trail upon its own path. They melt away; their nature decayeth; they perish, and where are they? Not in the church, but lost to all hope. They are like the dog that returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. "The last end of that man shall be worse than the first."
I do not think I shall now mention any other class of persons. I have brought before you the rules of the race, if you would will; if you would "so run that you may obtain," you must first of all take care to start well; you must keep to the course; you must keep strait on; you must not stop on the road, or turn aside from it, but, urged on by Divine grace, you must ever fly onwards, "like an arrow from the bow, shot by an archer strong." And never rest until the march is ended, and you are made pillars in the house of your God, to go out no more for ever.
III. But now I am about to give you some few reasons to URGE YOU ONWARD IN THE HEAVENLY RACE those of you who are already running.
One of my reasons shall be this "We are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses." When zealous racers on yonder heath are flying across the plain, seeking to obtain the reward, the whole heath is covered with multitudes of persons, who are eagerly gazing upon them, and no doubt the noise of those who cheer them onward, and the thousand eyes of those who look upon them, have a tendency to make them stretch every nerve, and press with vigor on. It was so in the games to which the apostle alludes. There the people sat on raised platforms, while the racers ran before them, and they cried to them, and the friends of the racers urged them forward, and the kindly voice would ever be heard bidding them go on. Now, Christian brethren, how many witnesses are looking down upon you. Down! do I say? It is even so. From the battlements of heaven the angels look down upon you, and they seem to cry to-day to you with sweet, silvery voice, "Ye shall reap if ye faint not; ye shall be rewarded if ye continue stedfast in the work and faith of Christ." And the saints look down upon you Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; martyrs and confessors, and your own pious relatives who have ascended to heaven, look down upon you, and if I might so speak, methinks sometimes you might hear the clapping of their hands when you have resisted temptation and overcome the enemy; and you might see their suspense when you are lagging in the course, and you might hear their friendly word of caution as they bid you gird up the loins of your mind, and lay aside every weight, and still speed forward, never resting to take your breath, never staying for a moment's ease till you have attained the flowery beds of heaven. where you may rest forever. And recollect, these are not the only eyes that are looking upon you. The whole world looks upon a Christian: he is the observed of all observers. In a Christian every fault is seen. A worldly man may commit a thousand faults, and nobody notices him; but let a Christian do so, and he will very soon have his faults published to the wide world. Everywhere men are looking at Christians. and it is quite right that they should do so. I remember a young man, a member of a Christian church, who went to a public-house hall of the lowest character; and he was no sooner mounting up the stairs, than one of them said, "Ah! here comes the Methodist; we will give it to him." As soon as they had him in the room, they first of all lead him up and down to let everybody see the Methodist who had come among them, and then they kicked him down stairs. I sent them my respectful compliments for doing so, for it served him right; and I took care that he was kicked down stairs in another sense afterwards, and kicked out of the church. The world would not have him and the church would not have him. The world then looks upon you, it never misses an opportunity of throwing your religion in your teeth. If you don't give sixteen ounces to the pound of morality, if you don't come up to the mark in everything, you will hear of it again. Don't think the world is ever asleep. We say, "as sound asleep as a church," and that is a very good proverb; but we cannot say, "as sound asleep as the world" for it never sleeps; it always has its eyes open, it is always watching us in all we do. The eyes of the world are upon you. "We are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses;" "let us run with patience the race that is set before us." And there are darker and yet more malignant eyes that scowl upon us. There are spirits that people this air, who are under the prince of the power of the air, who watch every day for our halting.
"Millions of spiritual creatures walk this earth,
Both when we wake and when we sleep."
And alas! those spiritual creatures are not all good. There be those that are not yet chained and reserved in darkness, but who are permitted by God to wander through this world like roaring lions, seeking whom they may devour, ever ready to tempt us. And there is one at the head of them called Satan, the enemy, and you know his employment. He has access to the throne of God, and he makes most horrid use of it, for he accuses us day and night before the throne. The accuser of the brethren is not yet cast down that is to be in the great day of the triumph of the Son of Man; but as Jesus stands our Advocate before the throne, so does old Satan first watch us and tempt us, and then stands as our accuser before the bar of God. O my dear brothers and sisters, if you have entered into this race, and have commenced it, let these many eyes urge you forward.
"A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey;
Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way."
And now a more urgent consideration still. Recollect, your race is win or lose death or life, hell or heaven, eternal misery or everlasting joy. What a stake that is for which you run. If I may so put it, you are running for your life; and if that does not make a man run nothing will. Put a man there on yonder hill, and put another after him with a drawn sword seeking his life, If there is any run in him you will soon see him run; there will be no need for us to shout out to him, "Run, man, run" for he is quite certain that his life is at hazard, and he speeds with all his might speeds till the veins stand like whipcords on his brow, and a hot sweat runs from every pore of his body and still flees onward. Now, he looks behind, and sees the avenger of blood speeding after him; he does not stop; he spurns the ground, and on he flees till he reaches the city of refuge, where he is safe. Ah! if we had eyes to see, and if we knew who it is that is pursuing us every afar of our lives, how we should run! for lo! O man, hell is behind thee, sin pursues thee, evil seeks to overtake thee; the City of Refuge has its gates wide open; I beseech thee, rest not till thou canst say with confidence, "I have entered into this rest, and now I am secure, I know that my Redeemer liveth." And rest not even then, for this is not the place for rest; rest not until thy six days work is done; and thy heavenly Sabbath is begun. Let this life be thy six days of ever-toiling faith. Obey thy Master's commandment; "labour therefore to enter into this rest," seeing that there are many who shall not enter in, because through their want of faith they shall not be able. If that urge not a man to speed forward, what can?
But let me picture yet one more thing; and may that help you onward! Christian, run onward, for remember who it is that stands at the winning post. You are to run onward, always looking unto Jesus, then Jesus must be at the end. We are always to be looking forward, and never backward; therefore Jesus must be there. Are you loitering? See him with his open wounds. Are you about to leave the course? See him with his bleeding hands; will not that constrain you to devote yourself to him? Will not that impel you to speed your course, and never loiter until you have obtained the crown? Your dying Master cries to you to-day, and he says. "By my agony and bloody sweat; by my cross and passion, onward! By my life, which I gave for you; by the death which I endured for your sake, onward!" And see! He holds out his hand, laden with a crown sparkling with many a star, and he says, "By this crown, onward!" I beseech you, onward, my beloved; press forward, for "I know that there is laid up for me a crown of life which fadeth not away, and not for me only, but for all them that love his appearing."
I have thus addressed myself to all sorts of characters. Will you this afternoon take that home to yourself which is the most applicable to your case. Those of you who make no profession of religion, are living without God and without Christ, strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, let me affectionately remind you that the day is coming when you will want religion. It is very well now to be sailing over the smooth waters of life, but the rough billows of Jordan will make you want a Saviour. It is hard work to die without a hope; to take that last leap in the dark is a frightful thing indeed. I have seen the old man die when he has declared he would not die. He has stood upon the brink of death, and he has said, "All dark, dark, dark! O God, I cannot die." And his agony has been fearful when the strong hand of the destroyer has seemed to push him over the precipice. He lingered shivering on the brink, and feared to launch away." And frightful was the moment when the foot slipped and the solid earth was left, and the soul was sinking into the depths of eternal wrath. You will want a Saviour then, when your pulse is faint and few; you will need an angel then to stand at your bedside: and when the spirit is departing, you will need a sacred convoy to pilot you through the dark clouds of death and guide you through the iron gate, and lead you to the blessed mansion in the land of the hereafter. Oh, "seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." O Lord, turn us and we shall be turned. Draw us and we will run after thee; and thine shall be the glory; for the crown of our race shall be cast at thy feet, and thou shalt have the glory forever and ever.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26