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The Ascension of Christ
Delivered on Lord's-day Morning, March 26th, 1871 by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it, but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Ephesians 4:7-12 .
OUR blessed Lord and Master has gone from us. From the mount of Olives, the place where in dread conflict his garments were rolled in blood, he has mounted in triumph to his throne. After having shown himself for forty days amongst his beloved disciples, giving them abundant evidence that he had really risen from the dead, and enriching them by his divine counsels, he was taken up. Slowly rising before them all, he gave them his blessing as he disappeared. Like good old Jacob, whose departing act was to bestow a benediction on his twelve sons and their descendants, so ere the cloud received our Lord out of our sight, he poured a blessing upon the apostles, who were looking upward, and who were the representatives of his church. He is gone! His voice of wisdom is silent for us, his seat at the table is empty, the congregation on the mountain hears him no more. It would be very easy to have found reasons why he should not have gone. Had it been a matter of choice to us, we should have entreated him to tarry with us till the dispensation closed. Unless, peradventure, grace had enabled us to say: "Not as we will! but as thou wilt," we should have constrained him, saying, "Abide with us." What a comfort to disciples to have their own beloved teacher visibly with them! What a consolation to a persecuted band to see their leader at their head; difficulties would disappear, problems would be solved, perplexities removed, trials made easy, temptations averted! Let Jesus himself, their own dear Shepherd be near, and the sheep will lie down in security. Had he been here we could have gone to him in every affliction, like those of whom it is said, "they went and told Jesus."
It seemed expedient for him to stay, to accomplish the conversion of the world. Would not his presence have had an influence to win by eloquence of gracious word and argument of loving miracle? If he put forth his power the battle would soon be over, and his rule over all hearts would be for ever established. "Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee." Go not from the conflict, thou mighty bowman, but still cast thine all-subduing darts abroad. In the days of our Lord's flesh, before he had risen from the dead, he did but speak, and those who came to take him fell to the ground; might we but have him near us no persecuting hand could seize us; at his bidding, the fiercest enemy would retire. His voice called the dead out of their graves; could we but have him still in the church his voice would awaken the spiritually dead. His personal presence would be better to us than ten thousand apostles, at least, so we dream; and we imagine that with him visibly among us the progress of the church would be like the march of a triumphant army.
Thus might flesh and blood have argued, but all such reasoning is hushed by our Lord's declaration, "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you." He might have told us that his majestic presence was expected by the saints in heaven to complete their felicity; he might have said that for himself it was fitting that after so long an exile and the performance of such stupendous labors, he should rise to his reward; he might also have added that it was due to his Father that he should return into the bosom of his love; but, as if he knew that their trembling at his departure was mainly occasioned by fear for their own personal interests, he puts the consoling word into this form: "It is expedient for you that I go away." He has gone then, and whether our weak understandings are able to perceive it or not, it is better for us that Jesus should be at the right hand of God than here corporeally in our assemblies below. Fain would a hundred Bethanies entertain him, a thousand synagogues would rejoice to see him open the Scriptures; women there are among us who would kiss his feet, and men who would glory to unloose the latchets of his shoes; but he has gotten him away to the mountains of myrrh and the hills of frankincense. He no more sits at our tables, or walks with us on our highways; he is leading another flock to living fountains of waters, and let not his sheep below imagine that he has injured them by his removal; unerring wisdom has declared that it is expedient for us that he is gone.
This morning, instead of standing here gazing up into heaven; like the men of Galilee, deploring that we have lost our Lord, let us sit down in quiet contemplation, and see if we cannot gather profitable redactions from this great thing which has come to pass. Let our meditations ascend the yet glowing trackway of our Lord's ascension,
"Beyond, beyond this lower sky,
Up where eternal ages roll."
We shall, by the Holy Spirit's aid, first consider, with a view to practical good, the fact of his ascension; secondly, the triumph of that ascension; thirdly, the gifts of that ascension; and then we shall conclude by noticing the bearings of that ascension upon the unconverted.
I. First, then, let our earnest thoughts gaze upward, viewing THE FACT OF THE ASCENSION. We lay aside all controversy or attempt at mere doctrinal definition, and desire to meditate upon the ascension with a view to comfort, edification, and soul profit.
It should afford us supreme joy to remember that he who descended into the lower parts of the earth has now "ascended up far above all heavens." The descent was a subject of joy to angels and men, but it involved him in much humiliation and sorrow, especially when, after having received a body which, according to the psalmist, was "curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth," he further descended into the bowels of the earth, and slept as a prisoner in the tomb. His descent on earth, though to us the source of abounding joy, was full of pain, shame, and humiliation to him. In proportion, then, ought to be our joy that the shame is swallowed up in glory, the pain is lost in bliss, the death in immortality. Did shepherds sing at his descent, let all men sing at his rising. Well deserves the warrior to receive glory, for he has dearly won it. Our love of justice and of him compels us to rejoice in his rejoicing. Whatever makes the Lord Jesus glad makes his people glad. Our sympathy with him is most intense; we esteem his reproach above all wealth, and we set equal store by his honor. As we have died with him, were buried with him in baptism, have also risen with him through the faith of the operation of God who raised him from the dead, so also have we been made to sit together in the heavenly places, and have obtained an inheritance. If angels poured forth their sweetest minstrelsy when the Christ of God returned to his royal seat, much more should we. Those celestial beings had but slight share in the triumphs of that day compared with us; for it was a man who led captivity captive, it was one born of woman who returned victoriously from Bozrah. We may well say with the psalmist, in the sixty-eighth Psalm, to which our text refers, "Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him." It was none other than Christ, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; it was the second Adam who mounted to his glory. Rejoice, O believers, as those who shout because of victory, divide ye the spoil with the strong.
"Bruised is the serpent's head,
Hell is vanquished, death is dead,
And to Christ gone up on high,
Captive is captivity.
All his work and warfare done,
He into his heaven is gone,
And beside his Father's throne,
Now is pleading for his own:
Sing, O heavens! O earth, rejoice!
Angel harp and human voice,
Round him, in his glory, raise
Your ascended Savior's praise."
Reflect yet again that from the hour when our Lord left it, this world has lost all charms to us. If he were in it, there were no spot in the universe which would hold us with stronger ties; but since he has gone up he draws us upward from it. The flower is gone from the garden, the first ripe fruit is gathered. Earth's crown has lost its brightest jewel, the star is gone from the night, the dew is exhaled from the morning, the sun is eclipsed at noon. We have heard of some who, when they lost a friend or favourite child never smiled again, for nothing could supply the dreary vacuum. To us it could not be that any affliction should bring us such grief, for we have learned to be resigned to our Father's will; but the fact that "Jesus, our all, to heaven is gone," has caused something of the same feeling in our souls; this world can never be our rest now, its power to content us is gone. Joseph is no more in Egypt, and it is time for Israel to be gone. No, earth, my treasure, is not here with thee, neither shall my heart be detained by thee. Thou art, O Christ, the rich treasure of thy people, and since thou art gone thy people's hearts have climbed to heaven with thee.
Flowing out of this is the great truth that "our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Brethren, inasmuch as Christ is gone our life is hid with him in God. To the glory-land our Head is gone, and the life of the members is there. Since the head is occupied with things celestial, let not the members of the body be grovelling as slaves to terrestrial things. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Our Bridegroom has gone into the ivory palaces, he dwelleth in the midst of his brethren; do we not hear him calling us to commune with him? Hear ye not his voice, "Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away"? Though awhile our bodies linger here, let our spirits even now walk the golden streets, and behold the King in his beauty. Begin, O faithful souls, to-day the occupation of the blessed, praising God even while ye linger yet below, and honoring him if not by the same modes of service as the perfect ones above, yet with the same obedient delight. "Our conversation is in heaven." May you and I know what that means to the full. May we take up our celestial burgess-rights, exercise our privileges and avocations as heavenly citizens, and live as those that are alive from the dead, who are raised up together and made partakers of his resurrection life. Since the head of the family is in the glory, let us by faith perceive how near we are to it, and by anticipation live upon its joys and in its power. Thus the ascension of our Lord will remind us of heaven, and teach us the holiness which is our preparation for it.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has gone from us. We return again to the thought. We cannot speak into his ear and hear his voice reply in those dear accents with which he spoke to Thomas and to Philip. He no longer sits at feasts of love with favored friends, such as Mary and Martha and Lazarus. He has departed out of this world unto the Father, and what then? Why he has taught us by this the more distinctly, that we must henceforth walk by faith and not by sight. The presence of Jesus Christ on earth would have been, to a great extent, a perpetual embargo upon the life of faith. We should all have desired to see the Redeemer; but since, as man, he could not have been omnipresent, but could only have been in one spot at one time, we should have made it the business of our lives to provide the means for journey to the place where he might be seen; or if he himself condescended to journey through all lands, we should have fought our way into the throng to feast our eyes upon him, and we should have envied each other when the turn came for any to speak familiarly with him. Thank God we have no cause for clamor or strife or struggle about the mere sight of Jesus after the flesh; for though once he was seen corporeally by his disciples, yet now after the flesh know we even him no more. Jesus is no more seen of human eyes; and it is well, for faith's sight is saving, instructing, transforming, and mere natural sight is not so. Had he been here we should have regarded much more the things which are visible, but now our hearts are taken up with the things which are not seen, but which are eternal. This day we have no priest for eyes to gaze upon, no material altar, no temple made with hands, no solemn rites to satisfy the senses; we have done with the outward and are rejoicing in the inward. Neither in this mountain nor in that do we worship the Father, but we worship God, who is a Spirit, in spirit and in truth. We now endure as seeing him who is invisible; whom, having not seen, we love; in whom, though now we see him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. In the same fashion as we walk towards our Lord, so walk we towards all that he reveals; we walk by faith, not by sight. Israel, in the wilderness, instructed by types and shadows, was ever prone to idolatry; the more there is of the visible in religion, the more is there of difficulty in the attainment of spirituality. Even baptism and the Lord's Supper, were they not ordained by the Lord himself, might be well given up, since the flesh makes a snare of them, and superstition engrafts on them baptismal regeneration and sacramental efficacy. Our Lord's presence might thus have become a difficulty to faith, though a pleasure to sense. His going away leaves a clear field for faith; it throws us necessarily upon a spiritual life, since he who is the head, the soul, the center of our faith, hope, and love is no more within the range of our bodily organs. It is poor believing which needs to put its finger into the nail-prints; but blessed is he that hath not seen and yet hath believed. In an unseen Savior we fix our trust, from an unseen Savior we derive our joy. Our faith is now the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Let us learn this lesson well, and let it never be said to us, "Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Let us never attempt to live by feeling and evidence. Let us banish from our soul all dreams of finding perfection in the flesh, and equally let us discard all cravings for signs and wonders. Let us not be like the children of Israel, who only believed while they saw the works of the Lord. If our Beloved has hidden himself from our sight, let him even hide everything else, if so it pleases him. If he only reveals himself to our faith, the eye which is good enough to see him with is good enough to see everything else with, and we will be content to see his covenant blessings, and all else with that one eye of faith, and no other, till the time shall come when he shall change our faith to sight.
Beloved, let us further reflect how secure is our eternal inheritance now that Jesus has entered into the heavenly places. Our heaven is secured to us, for it is in the actual possession of our legal representative, who can never be dispossessed of it. Possession is nine points of the law, but it absolutely secures completely our tenure under the gospel. He who possesses a covenant blessing shall never lose it, for the covenant cannot be changed, nor its gifts withdrawn. We are heritors of the heavenly Canaan by actual hold and sure title, for our legal representative, appointed by the highest court of judicature, has entered into possession and actual occupancy of the many mansions of the great Father's house. He has not merely taken possession, but he is making all ready for our reception and eternal inhabitation. A man who enters a house and claims it, if he has any question about his rights, will not think of preparing it for the inhabitants, he will leave any expenditure of that kind till all doubts are cleared up: but our good Lord has taken such possession of the city of the new Jerusalem for us, that he is daily preparing it for us, that where he is we may be also. If I could send to heaven some mere human being like myself to hold my place for me till my arrival, I should fear that my friend might lose it: but since my Lord, the King of heaven and the Master of angels, has gone thither to represent all his saints and claim their places for them, I know that my portion is secure. Rest content, beloved, and sing for joy as the apostle's heart did when he wrote "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance."
Further, if Jesus has gone into the glory, how successful must our prayers be. You send a petition to court, and you hope for its success, for it is drawn up in proper style, and it has been countersigned by an influential person; but when the person who has backed your plea for you is himself at court, to take the petition and present it there, you feel safer still. To-day our prayers do not only receive our Savior; imprimatur, but they are presented by his own hand, as his own requests. "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God," "let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." No prayer which Jesus urges can ever be dismissed unheard, that case is safe for which he is advocate.
"Look up, my soul, with cheerful eye
See where the great Redeemer stands;
The glorious Advocate on high,
With precious incense in his hands.
He sweetens every humble groan,
He recommends each broken prayer;
Recline thy hope on him alone,
Whose power and love forbid despair."
Once more, though I feel this theme might detain us long, we must leave it, and remark further that, as we consider Christ ascended, our hearts burn within us at the thought that he is the type of all his people. As he was, so are we also in this world; and as he is, so shall we also be. To us also there remain both a resurrection and an ascension. Unless the Lord come very speedily, we shall die as he did, and the sepulcher shall receive our bodies for awhile; there is for us a tomb in a garden, or a rest in the Machpelah of our fathers. For us there are winding-sheets and grave-clothes; yet like our Lord we shall burst the bonds of death, for we cannot be holden of them. There is a resurrection morning for us, because there was a rising again for him. Death could as soon have held the head as the members; the prison doors once taken away, post and bar and all, the captives are set free. Then when we have risen from the dead at the blast of the archangel's trumpet, we shall ascend also, for is it not written that we shall be caught up together with the Lord in the air, and so shall be for ever with the Lord? Have courage, brother; that glittering road up to the highest heavens, which Christ has trodden, you too must tread; the triumph which he enjoyed shall be yours in your measure. You, too, shall lead your captivity captive, and amidst the acclamations of angels you shall receive the "well done" of the ever-blessed Father, and shall sit with Jesus on his throne, even as he has overcome and sits with the Father upon his throne.
I have rather given you suggestions for meditation than the meditations themselves. May the Holy Spirit bless them to you; and as you in imagination sit down on Olivet and gaze into the pure azure, may the heavens open to you, and, like Stephen, may you see the Son of Man at the right hand of God.
II. Let us advance to the second point, and dwell upon it very briefly THE TRIUMPH OF THE ASCENSION. Psalmists and apostles have delighted to speak upon our Lord's triumphal ascension to the hill of the Lord. I shall not attempt to do more than refer to what they have said. Call to your minds how the Psalmist in vision saw the Savior's ascension, and, in the twenty-fourth Psalm, represented the angels as saying: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." The scene is described in rich poetic imagery of the most sublime kind, and it evidently teaches us that when our Savior left the sight of mortals, he was joined by bands of spirits, who welcomed him with acclamations and attended him in solemn state as he entered the metropolis of the universe. The illustration which has usually been given is, I think, so good that we cannot better it. When generals and kings returned from war, in the old Roman ages, they were accustomed to celebrate a triumph; they rode in state through the streets of the capital, trophies of their wars were carried with them, the inhabitants crowded to the windows, filled the streets, thronged the house-tops, and showered down acclamations and garlands of flowers upon the conquering hero as he rode along. Without being grossly literal, we may conceive some such a scene as that attending our Lord's return to the celestial seats. The sixty-eighth Psalm is to the same effect: "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." So also in Psalm forty-seven: "God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet." Angels and glorified spirits, saluted our returning champion; and, leading captivity captive, he assumed the mediatorial throne amidst universal acclamations. "having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly triumphing over them in it."
Our Lord's ascension was a triumph over the world. He had passed through it unscathed by its temptations; he had been solicited on all hands to sin, but his garments were without spot or blemish. There was no temptation which had not been tried upon him, the quivers of the earth had been emptied against him, but the arrows had glanced harmlessly from his armor of proof. They had persecuted him relentlessly; he had been made to suffer all that cruel scorn could invent, but he came forth from the furnace with not the smell of fire upon him. He had endured death itself with love unquenched and courage invincible. He had conquered by enduring all. As he rose he was infinitely beyond their reach; though they hated him no less than before, he had been forty days amongst them, and yet no hand was outstretched to arrest him. He had shown himself openly in divers places, and yet not a dog dare move his tongue. In the clear air, from far above the hills of Salem, he who was once tempted in the desert, looked down upon the kingdoms of the earth, which had been shown him by Satan as the price of sin, and reserved them all as his own by right of merit. He rises above all, for he is superior to all. As the world could not injure his character by its temptations, so no longer could it touch his person by its malice. He has defeated altogether this present evil world.
There, too, he led captive sin. Evil had assailed him furiously, but it could not defile him. Sin had been laid upon him, the weight of human guilt was borne upon his shoulders, it crushed him down, but he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and proved that he had shaken off the load, and left it buried in his sepulcher. He has abolished the sins of his people; his atonement has been so efficacious that no sin is upon him, the Surety, and certainly none remains upon those for whom he stood as substitute. Though once the Redeemer stood in the place of the condemned, he has so suffered the penalty that he is justified now, and his atoning work is finished for ever. Sin, my brethren, was led captive at our Immanuel's chariot-wheels when he ascended.
Death also was led in triumph. Death had bound him, but he snapped each fetter, and bound death with his own cords.
"Vain the stone, the water, the seal,
Christ has burst the gates of hell;
Death in vain forbids his rise,
Christ hath opened paradise.
Lives again our glorious King!
'Where, O death, is now thy sting?'
Once he died our souls to save;
'Where's thy victory, boasting grave?'"
Our Savior's ascension in that same body which descended into the lower parts of the earth, is so complete a victory over death, that every dying saint may be sure of immortality, and may leave his body behind without fear that it shall for ever abide in the vaults of the grave.
So, too, Satan, was utterly defeated! He had thought that he should overcome the seed of the woman when he had bruised his heel, but lo! as the conqueror mounts aloft, he breaks the dragon's head beneath his feet. See ye not the celestial coursers as they drag the war chariot of the Prince of the house of David up the everlasting hills! He comes who has fought the prince of darkness! Lo! he has bound him in iron fetters. See how he drags him at his chariot wheels, amidst the derision of all those pure spirits who retained their loyalty to the almighty King! Oh, Satan! thou wast worsted then! Thou didst fall like lightning from heaven when Christ ascended to his throne.
Brethren in Christ, everything that makes up our captivity Christ has led captive. Moral evil he has defeated, the difficulties and trials of this mortal life he has virtually overcome. There is nothing in heaven, or earth, or hell, that can be thought to be against us which now remaineth, he hath taken all away. The law he hath fulfilled; its curse he hath removed: the handwriting against us, he hath nailed to his cross. All foes of ours he hath made a show of openly. What joy there is to us in this triumph! What bliss to be interested in it by the gift of faith in him!
III. We may now turn to consider THE GIFTS OF THE ASCENSION. Our Lord ascended on high, and gave gifts to men. What were these gifts which he both received from God and gave to men? Our text says that he ascended that he might fill all things. I do not think this alludes to his omnipresence in that respect he does fill all things; but allow me to explain, as I receive it, the meaning of the passage, by a very simple figure. Christ descended into the lowest parts of the earth, and thereby he laid the foundations of the great temple of God's praise: he continued in his life laboring, and thereby he built the walls of his temple: he ascended to his throne, and therein he laid the topstone amidst shoutings. What remained then? It remained to furnish it with inhabitants, and the inhabitants with all things necessary for their comfort and perfection. Christ ascended on high that he might do that. In that sense the gift of the Spirit fills all things, bringing in the chosen, and furnishing all that is necessary for their complete salvation. The blessings which come to us through the ascension, are "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
Observe next, that these filling blessings of the ascension are given to all the saints. Does not the first verse of our text say: "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." The Holy Spirit is the particular benediction of the ascension, and the Holy Spirit is in measure given to all truly regenerated persons. You have all, my brethren, some measure of the Holy Spirit; some more; some less but whatever you have of the Holy Spirit comes to you, because Christ, when he ascended up on high, received gifts for men, that the Lord God might dwell among them. Every Christian having the gift of Christ in his measure, is bound to use it for the general good; for in a body no joint or member exists for itself, but for the good of the whole. You, brother, whether you have much grace or little, must, according to the effectual working in you, supply your part to the increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. See that ye regard your gifts in this light; trace them to Christ, and then use them for the object for which he designed them.
But to some persons the Holy Spirit is given more largely. As the result of the ascension of Christ into heaven the church received apostles, men who were selected as witnesses because they had personally seen the Savior an office which necessarily dies out, and properly so, because the miraculous power also is withdrawn. They were needed temporarily, and they were given by the ascended Lord as a choice legacy. Prophets, too, were in the early church. They were needed as a link between the glories of the old and new covenant; but each prophetic gift came from the Spirit through the Redeemer's ascent to glory. There remain rich gifts among us still, which I fear we do not sufficiently prize. Among men God's richest gifts are men of high vocation, separated for the ministry of the gospel. From our ascended Lord come all true evangelists; these are they who preach the gospel in divers places, and find it the power of God unto salvation; they are founders of churches, breakers of new soil, men of a missionary spirit, who build not on other men's foundations, but dig out for themselves. We need many such deliverers of the good news where as yet the message has not been heard. I scarcely know of any greater blessing to the church than the sending forth of earnest, indefatigable, anointed men of God, taught of the Lord to be winners of souls. Who among us can estimate the value of George Whitfield to the age in which he lived? Who shall ever calculate the price of a John Williams or a William Knibb? Whitfield was, under God, the salvation of our country, which was going down straight to Pandemonium; Williams reclaimed the islands of the sea from cannibalism, and Knibb broke the negro's chains. Such evangelists as these are gifts beyond all price. Then come the pastors and teachers, doing one work in different forms. These are sent to feed the flock; they abide in one place, and instruct converts which have been gathered these also are invaluable gifts of the ascension of Jesus Christ. It is not given unto all men to be pastors, nor is it needed; for if all were shepherds, where were the flock? Those to whom this grace is especially given are fitted to lead and instruct the people of God, and this leading is much required. What would the church be without her pastors? Let those who have tried to do without them be a warning to you.
Wherever you have pastors or evangelists they exist for the good of the church of God. They ought to labor for that end, and never for their own personal advantage. Their power is their Lord's gift, and it must be used in his way.
The point I want to come at is this. Dear friends, since we all, as believers, have some measure of the Spirit, let us use it. Stir up the gift that is in thee. Be thou not like to him in the parable who had but one talent and hid it in a napkin. Brother, sister, if thou be in the body the least known joint, rob not the body by indolence or selfishness, but use the gift thou hast in order that the body of Christ may come to its perfection. Yet since thou hast not great personal gifts, serve the church by praying the Lord who has ascended to give us more evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He alone can give them; any that come without him are imposters. There are some prayers you must not pray, there are others you may pray, but there are a few you must pray. There is a petition which Christ has commanded us to offer, and yet I very seldom hear it. It is this one. "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest." We greatly lack evangelists and pastors. I do not mean that we lack muffs, who occupy the pulpits and empty the pews. I believe the market has for many years been sufficiently supplied therewith; but we lack men who can stir the heart, arouse the conscience, and build up the church. The scatterers of flocks may be found everywhere; the gatherers of them, how many have we of such? Such a man at this day is more precious than the gold of Ophir. The Queen can make a bishop of the Established Church, but only the ascended Lord can send a bishop to the true church. Prelates, popes, cardinals, vicars, prebends, canons, deans, the Lord has nothing to do with. I see not even the name of them in his word, but the very poorest pastor whom the Lord ordains is a gift of his ascending glory. At this moment we are deploring that in the mission field our good men are grey. Duff, Moffat, and the like, are passing from the stage of action. Where are their successors? I was almost about to say, Echo answers, Where? We want evangelists for India, for China, for all the nations of the earth; and though we have many godly fathers among us, who are instructors in the faith, yet have we in all our pastorates few of eminence, who could be mentioned in the same day as the great Puritanic divines. If the ministry should become weak and feeble among us, the church richly deserves it, for this, the most important part of her whole organisation, has been more neglected than anything else. I thank God this church has not only prayed for ministers, but has proved the sincerity of her prayer by helping such as God has called, by affording them leisure and assistance for understanding the way of God more perfectly. We have thought that Christ's gifts were valuable enough for us to treasure up and improve them. Our College has now received and sent forth, in the name of Jesus, more than two hundred ministers of the word. Look around you and see how few churches care to receive the ascension gifts of Christ, and how few pastors encourage young men to preach. I read the other day, with unutterable horror, the complaint that our churches were like to have too many ministers; an almost blasphemous complaint, impugning the value of Christ's ascension gifts. O that God would give us ten times the number of men after his own heart, and surely there would be then great lack of more! But there are too many, say they, for the present pulpits. Oh, miserable soul is it come to this, that a minister of Christ must have a pulpit ready to hand? Are we all to be builders on other men's foundations? Have we none among us who can gather their own flocks? In a three million city like this can any man say that laborers for Christ are too many? Loiterers are too many, doubtless; and when the church drives out the drones, who shall pity them? While there remain hundreds of towns and villages without a Baptist church, and whole districts of other lands without the gospel, it is idle to dream that of evangelists and teachers we can have too many. No man is so happy in his work as he who presides over a flock of his own gathering, and no pastor is more beloved than he who raised from ruin a destitute church and made it to become a joy and praise in the earth. Pray the Lord to send true pastors and true evangelists. Christ procured them by his ascension. Let us not forget this. What! shall it be thought that the blessings of the crucifixion are worth the having, and the blessings of the resurrection worth receiving, but the blessings of the ascension are to be regarded with indifference or even with suspicion? No; let us prize the gifts which God gives by his Son, and when he sends us evangelists and pastors, let us treat them with loving respect. Honour Christ in every true minister; see not so much the man as his Master in him. Trace all gospel success to the ascended Savior. Look to Christ for more successful workers. As they come receive them from his hands, when they come treat them kindly as his gifts, and daily pray that the Lord will send to Zion mighty champions of the faith.
IV. We shall conclude by noticing THE BEARING OF OUR LORD'S ASCENSION UPON sinners.
We will utter few words, but full of comfort. Did you notice in the sixty-eighth Psalm the words: "He received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also"? When the Lord went back to his throne he had thoughts of love towards rebels still. The spiritual gifts of the church are for the good of the rebels as well as for the building up of those who are reconciled. Sinner, every true minister exists for thy good, and all the workers of the church have an eye to you.
There are one or two promises connected with our Lord's ascension which show his kindness to you: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." An ascended Savior draws you run after him. Here is another word of his: "He is exalted on high." To curse? No; "to give repentance and remission of sins." Look up to the glory into which he has entered; ask for repentance and remission. Do ye doubt his power to save you? Here is another text: "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." Surely he has gone to heaven for you as well as for the saints. You ought to take good heart, and put your trust in him at this happy hour.
How dangerous it will be to despise him! They who despised him in his shame perished. Jerusalem became a field of blood because it rejected the despised Nazarene. What will it be to reject the King, now that he has taken to himself his great power? Remember, that this same Jesus who is gone up to heaven, will so come in like manner as he was seen to go up into heaven. His return is certain, and your summons to his bar equally certain; but what account can you give if you reject him? O come and trust him this day. Be reconciled to him lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way while his wrath is kindled but a little. The Lord bless you, and grant you a share in his ascension. Amen, and Amen.
PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE Sermon Psalms 68:1-19 ; Ephesians 4:1-16 .
Grieving the Holy Spirit
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, October 9th, 1859, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.
"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." Ephesians 4:30 .
THERE IS SOMETHING very touching in this admonition, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." It does not say, "Do not make him angry." A more delicate and tender term is used "Grieve him not." There are some men of so hard a character, that to make another angry does not give them much pain; and indeed, there are many of us who are scarcely to be moved by the information that another is angry with us; but where is the heart so hard, that it is not moved when we know that we have caused others grief? for grief is a sweet combination of anger and of love. It is anger, but all the gall is taken from it. Love sweetens the anger, and turns the edge of it, not against the person, but against the offense. We all know how we use the two terms in contra-distinction the one to the other. When I commit any offense, some friend who hath but little patience, suddenly snaps asunder his forbearance and is angry with me. The same offense is observed by a loving father, and he is grieved. There is anger in his bosom, but he is angry and he sins not, for he is angry against my sin; and yet there is love to neutralize and modify the anger towards me. Instead of wishing me ill as the punishment of my sin, he looks upon my sin itself as being the ill. He grieves to think that I am already injured, from the fact that I have sinned. I say this is a heavenly compound, more precious than all the ointment of the merchants. There may be the bitterness of myrrh, but there is all the sweetness of frankincense in this sweet term "to grieve." I am certain, my hearers, I do not flatter you when I declare, that I am sure that the most of you would grieve, if you thought you were grieving anyone else. You, perhaps, would not care much if you had made any one angry without a cause; but to grieve him, even though it were without a cause and without intention, would nevertheless cause you distress of heart, and you would not rest until this grief had subsided, till you had made some explanation or apology, and had done your best to allay the smart and take away the grief. When we see anger in another, we at once begin to feel hostility. Anger begets anger; but grief begets pity, and pity is next akin to love; and are love those whom we have caused to grieve. Now, is not this a very sweet expression "Grieve not the Holy Spirit?" Of course, the language is be to understood as speaking after the manner of men. The Holy Spirit of God knoweth no passion or suffering, but nevertheless, his emotion is here described in human language as being that of grief. And is it not, I say a tender and touching thing, that the Holy Spirit should direct his servant Paul to say to us "Grieve not the Holy Spirit," do not excite his loving anger, do not vex him, do not cause him to mourn? He is a dove; do not cause him to mourn, because you have treated him harshly and ungratefully. Now, the purport of my sermon, this morning, will be to exhort you not to grieve the Spirit; but I shall divide it thus: first, I shall discourse upon the love of the Spirit; secondly, upon the seal of the Spirit; and then, thirdly, upon the grieving of the Spirit.
I. The few words I have to say UPON THE LOVE OF THE SPIRIT will all be pressing forward to my great mark, stirring you up not to grieve the Spirit; for when we are persuaded that another loves us, we find at once a very potent reason why we should not grieve him. The love of the Spirit! how shall I tell it forth? Surely it needs a songster to sing it, for love is only to be spoken of in words of song. The love of the Spirit! let me tell you of his early love to us. He loved us without beginning. In the eternal covenant of grace, as I told you last Sabbath, he was one of the high contracting parties in the divine contract, whereby we are saved. All that can be said of the love of the Father, of the love of the Son, may be said of the love of the Spirit it is eternal, it is infinite, it is sovereign, it is everlasting, it is a love which cannot be dissolved, which cannot be decreased, a love which cannot be removed Tom those who are the objects of it. Permit me, however, to refer you to his acts, rather than his attributes. Let me tell you of the love of the Spirit to you and to me. Oh how early was that love which he manifested towards us, even in our childhood! My brethren, we can well remember how the Spirit was wont to strive with us. We went astray from the womb speaking lies, but how early did the Spirit of God stir up our conscience, and solemnly correct us on account of our youthful sins. How frequently since then has the Spirit wooed us! How often under the ministry has he compelled our hearts to melt, and the tear has run down our cheeks, and he has sweetly whispered in our ear, "My son, give me thy heart; go to thy chamber, shut thy door about thee, confess thy sins, and seek a Saviour's love and blood." Oh, but let us blush to tell it how often have we done despite to him! When we were in a state of unregeneracy, how we were wont to resist him! We quenched the Spirit; he strove with us but we strove against him. But blessed be his dear name, and let him have everlasting songs for it, he would not let us go! We would not be saved, but he would save us. We sought to thrust ourselves into the fire, but he sought to pluck us from the burning. We would dash ourselves from the precipice, but he wrestled with us and held us fast; he would not let us destroy our souls. Oh, how we ill-treated him, how we did set at nought his counsel! How did we scorn and scoff him; how did we despise the ordinance which would lead us to Christ! How did we violate that holy cord which was gently drawing us to Jesus and his cross! I am sure, my brethen, at the recollections of the persevering struggles of the Spirit with you, you must be stirred up to love him. How often did he restrain you from sin, when you were about to plunge headlong into a course of vice! How often did he constrain you to good, when you would have neglected it! You, perhaps, would not have been in the way at all, and the Lord would not have met you, if it had not been for that sweet Spirit, who would not let you become a blasphemer, who would not suffer you to forsake the house of God, and would not permit you to become a regular attendant at the haunts of vice, but checked you, and held you in, as it were, with bit and bridle. Though you were like a bullock, unaccustomed to the yoke, yet he would not let you have your way. Though you struggled against him, yet he would not throw the reins upon your necks, but he said, "I will have him, I will have him against his will; I will change his heart, I will not let him go till I have made him a trophy of my mighty power to save." And then think my brethren of the love of the Spirit after that
"Dost mind the time, the spot of land,
Where Jesus did thee meet?
Where he first took thee by the hand,
Thy bridegroom's love how sweet!"
Ah, then, in that blest hour, to memory dear, was it not the Holy Spirit who guided you to Jesus? Do you remember the love of the Spirit, when, after having quickened you, he took you aside, and showed you Jesus on the tree? Who was it that opened our blind eye to see a dying Saviour? Who was it that opened your deaf ear to hear the voice of pardoning love? Who opened your clasped and palsied hand to receive the tokens of a Saviour's grace Who was it that brake your hard heart and made a way for the Saviour to enter and dwell therein? Oh! it was that precious Spirit that self-same Spirit, to whom you had done so much despite, whom in the days of your flesh you had resisted! What a mercy it was that he did not say, "I will swear in my wrath that they shall not enter into my rest, for they have vexed me, and I will take my everlasting flight from them;" or thus, "Ephraim is joined unto idols, I will let him alone!" And since that time, my brethren, how sweetly has the Spirit proved his love to you and to me. It is not only in his first strivings, and then his divine quickenings; but in all the sequel, how much have we owed to his instruction. We have been dull scholars with the word before us, plain and simple, so that he that reads may read, and he that reads may understand, yet how small a portion of his Word has our memory retained, how little progress have we made in the school of God's grace! We are but learners yet, unstable, weak, and apt to slide, but what a blessed instructor we have had! Has he not led us into many a truth, and taken of the things of Christ and applied them unto us? Oh! When I think how stupid I have been, I wonder that he has not given me up. When I think what a dolt I have been, when he would have taught me the things of the kingdom of God, I marvel that he should have had such patience with me. Is it a wonder that Jesus should become a babe? Is it not an equal wonder that the Spirit of the living God, should become a teacher of babes? It is a marvel that Jesus should lie in a manger; is it not an equal marvel that the Holy Spirit should become an usher in the sacred school, to teach fools, and make them wise? It was condescension that brought the Saviour to the cross, but is it not equal condescension that brings the mighty Spirit of grace down to dwell with stubborn unruly, wild asses' colts, to teach them the mystery of the kingdom, and make them know the wonders of a Saviour's love?
Furthermore, my brethren, forget not how much we owe to the Spirit's consolation, how much has he manifested his love to you in cherishing you in all your sicknesses, assisting you in all your labors; and comforting you in all your distresses. He has been a blessed comforter to me I can testify; when every other comfort failed, when the promise itself seemed empty, when the ministry was void of power, it is then the Holy Spirit has proved a rich comfort unto my soul, and filled my poor heart with peace and joy in believing. How many times would your heart have broken if the Spirit had not bound it up! How often has he who is your teacher become also your physician, has closed the wounds of your poor bleeding spirit, and has bound up those wounds with the court plaister of the promise, and so has stanched the bleeding, and has given you back your spiritual health once more. It does seem to rise a marvel that the Holy Ghost should become a comforter, for comforting is, to many minds, but an inferior work in the church, though really it is not so. To teach, to preach, to command with authority, how many are willing to do this because this is honorable work; but to sit down and bear with the infirmities of the creature, to enter into all the stratagems of unbelief, to find the soul a way of peace in the midst of seas of trouble this is compassion like a God, that the How Spirit should stoop from heaven to become a comforter of disconsolate spirits. What! must he himself bring the cordial? must he wait upon his sick child and stand by his bed? must he make his bed for him in his afflictions must he carry him in his infirmity? must he breathe continually into him his very breath? Doth the Holy Spirit become a waiting servant of the church? Doth he become a lamp to enlighten? and doth he become a staff on which we may lean? This, I say, should move us to love the Holy Spirit, for we have in all this abundant proofs of his love to us.
Stay not here, beloved, there are larger fields yet beyond, now that we are speaking of the love of the Spirit. Remember how much he loves us when he helpeth our infirmities. Nay, not only doth he help our infirmities, but when we know not what to pray for as we ought he teacheth us how to pray, and when "we ourselves groan within ourselves," then the Spirit himself maketh intersession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered groans as we should groan, but more audibly, so that our prayer, which else would have been silent, reaches the ears of Christ, and is then presented before his Father's face. To help our infirmities is a mighty instance of love. When God overcomes infirmity altogether, or removes it, there is something very noble, and grand, and sublime in the deed; when he permits the infirmity to remain and yet works with the infirmity, this is tender compassion indeed. When the Saviour heals the lame man you see his Godhead, but when he walketh with the lame man, limping though his gait may be; when he sitteth with the beggar, when he talketh with the publican, when he carryeth the babe in his bosom, then this helping of infirmities is a manifestation of love almost unequalled. Save Christ's bearing our infirmities upon the tree and our sins in his own body, I know of no greater or more tender instance of divine love than when it is written, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities." Oh how much you owe to the Spirit when you have been on your knees in prayer! You know, my brethren, what it is to be dull and lifeless there; to groan for a word, and yet you cannot find it; to wish for a word, and yet the very wish is languid; to long to have desires, and yet all the desire you have is a desire that you may be able to desire. Oh, have you not sometimes, when your desires have been kindled longed to get a grip at the promise by the hand of faith? "Oh," you have said, "if I could but plead the promise, all my necessities would be removed, and all my sorrows would be allayed;" but, alas, the promise was beyond your reach. If you touched it with the tip of your finger, you could not grasp it as you desired, you could not plead it, and therefore you came away without the blessing. But when the Spirit has helped our infirmities how have we prayed! Why, there have been times when you and I have so grasped the knocker of the gate of mercy, and have let it fall with such tremendous force, that it seemed as if the very gate itself did shake and totter; there have been seasons when we have laid hold upon the angel, have overcome heaven by prayer, have declared we would not let Jehovah himself go except he should bless us. We have, and we say it without blasphemy, moved the arm that moves the world. We have brought down upon us the eyes that look upon the universe. All this we have done, not by our own strength, but by the might and by the power of the Spirit, and seeing he has so sweetly enabled us, though we have so often forgotten to thank him; seeing that he has so graciously assisted us though we have often taken all the glory to ourselves instead of airing it to him, must we not admire his love, and must it not be a fearful sin indeed to grieve the Holy Spirit by whom we are sealed?
Another token of the Spirit's love remains, namely, his indwelling in the saints. We sing in one of our hymns,
"Dost thou not dwell in all the saints?"
We ask a question which can have but one answer. He does dwell in the heart of all God's redeemed and blood-washed people. And what a condescension is this, that he whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, dwells in thy breast my brother. That breast often covered with rags, may be a breast often agitated with anxious care and thought, a breast too often defiled with sin, and yet he dwells there. The little narrow heart of man the Holy Spirit hath made his palace. Though it is but a cottage, a very hovel, and all unholy and unclean yet doth the Holy Spirit condescend to make the heart of his people his continual abode. Oh my friends, when I think how often you and I have let the devil in, I wonder the Spirit has not withdrawn from us. The final perseverance of the saints, is one of the greatest miracles on record; in fact, it is the sum total of miracles. The perseverance of a saint for a single day, is a multitude of miracles of mercy. When you consider that the Spirit is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and yet he dwells in the heart where sin often intrudes, a heart out of which comes blasphemies, and murders, and all manner of evil thoughts and concupiscence, what if sometimes he is grieved, and retires and leaves us to ourselves for a season? It is a marvel that he is there at all, for he must be daily grieved with these evil guests, these false traitors, these base intruders who thrust themselves into that little temple which he has honored with his presence, the temple of the heart of man. I am afraid, dear friends, we are too much in the habit of talking of the love of Jesus, without thinking of the love of the Holy Spirit. Now I would not wish to exalt one person of the Trinity above another, but I do feel this, that because Jesus Christ was a man, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, and therefore there was something tangible in him that can be seen with the eyes, and handled with the hands, therefore we more readily think of him, and fix our love on him, than we do upon the Spirit. But why should it be? Let us love Jesus with all our hearts, and let us love the Holy Spirit too. Let us have songs for him, gratitude for him. We do not forget Christ's cross, let us not forget the Spirit's operations. We do not forget what Jesus has done for us, let us always remember what the Spirit does in us. Why you talk of the love, and grace, and tenderness, and faithfulness of Christ, why do you not say the like of the Spirit? Was ever love like his, that he should visit us? Was ever mercy like his, that he should bear with our ill manners, though constantly repeated by us? Was ever faithfulness like his, that multitudes of sins cannot drive him away? Was ever power like his, that overcometh all our iniquities, and yet leads us safely on, though hosts of foes within and without would rob us of our Christian life?
"Oh, the love of the Spirit I sing
By whom is redemption applied."
And unto his name be glory for ever and ever.
II. This brings me to the second point. Here we have another reason why we should not grieve the Spirit. IT IS BY THE HOLY SPIRIT WE ARE SEALED. "BY whom we are sealed unto the day of redemption." I shall be very brief here. The Spirit himself is expressed as the seal, even as he himself is directly said to be the pledge of our inheritance. The sealing, I think, has a three-fold meaning. It is a sealing of attestation or confirmation. I want to know whether I am truly a child of God. The Spirit itself also beareth witness with my spirit that I am born of God. I have the writings, the title-deeds of the inheritance that is to come I want to know whether those are valid, whether they are true, or whether they are mere counterfeits written out by that old scribe of hell, Master Presumption and Carnal Security. How am I to know? I look for the seal. After that we have believed on the Son of God, the Father seals us as his children, by the gift of the Holy Ghost. "Now he which hath anointed us is God, who also hath sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearse." No faith is genuine which does not bear the seal of the Spirit. No love, no hope can ever save us, except it be sealed with the Spirit of God, for whatever hath not his seal upon it is spurious. Faith that is unsealed may be a poison, it may be presumption; but faith that is sealed by the Spirit is true, real, genuine faith. Never be content, my dear hearers, unless you are sealed, unless you are sure, by the inward witness and testimony of the Holy Ghost, that you have been begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is possible for a man to know infallibly that he is secure of heaven. He may not only hope so, but he may know it beyond a doubt, and he may know it thus, by being able with the eye of faith to see the seal, the broad stamp of the Holy Spirit set upon his own character and experience. It is a seal of attestation.
In the next place, it is a sealing of appropriation. When men put their mark upon an article, it is to show that it is their own. The farmer brands his tools that they may not be stolen. They are his. The shepherd marks his sheep that they may be recognized as belonging to his flock. The king himself puts his broad arrow upon everything that is his property. So the Holy Spirit puts the broad arm of God upon the hearts of all his people. He seals us. "Thou shalt be mine," saith the Lord, "in the day when I make up my jewels." And then the Spirit puts God's seal upon us to signify that we are God's reserved inheritance his peculiar people, the portion in which his soul delighteth.
But, again, by sealing is meant preservation. Men seal up that which they wish to have preserved, and when a document is sealed it becomes valid henceforth. Now, it is by the Spirit of God that the Christian is sealed, that he is kept, he is preserved, sealed unto the day of redemption sealed until Christ comes fully to redeem the bodies of his saints by raising them from the death, and fully to redeem the world by purging it from sin, and making it a kingdom unto himself in righteousness. We shall hold on our way, we shall be saved. The chosen seed cannot be lost they must be brought home at last, but how? By the sealing of the Spirit. Apart from that they perish, they are undone. When the last general fire shall blaze out, everything that has not the seal of the Spirit on it, shall be burned up. But the men upon whose forehead is the seal shall be preserved. They shall be safe "amid the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds." Their spirits, mounting above the flames shall dwell with Christ eternally, and with that same seal in their forehead upon Mount Zion, they shall sing the everlasting song of gratitude and praise. I say this is the second reason why we should love the Spirit and why we should not grieve him.
III. I come now to the third part of my discourse, namely, THE GRIEVING OF THE SPIRIT, How may we grieve him, what will be the sad result of grieving him if we have grieved him, how may we bring him back again? How may we grieve the Spirit? I am now, mark you, speaking of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God is in your bears, and it is very, very easy indeed to grieve him, Sin is as easy as it is wicked. You may grieve him by impure thoughts. He cannot bear sin. If you indulge in lascivious expressions, or if even you allow imagination to coat upon any lascivious act, or if your heart goes after covetousness, if you set your heart upon anything that is evil, the Spirit of God will be grieved, for thus I hear him speaking of himself. "I love this man, I want to have his heart, and yet be is entertaining these filthy lusts. His thoughts, instead of running after me, and after Christ, and after the Father, are running after the temptations that are in the world through lust." And then his Spirit is grieved. He sorrows in his soul because he knows what sorrow these things must bring to our souls. We grieve him yet more if we indulge in outward acts of sin. Then is he sometimes so grieved that he takes his flight for a season, for the dove will not dwell in our hearts if we take loathsome carrion in there. A cleanly being is the dove, and we must not strew the place which the dove frequents with filth and mire, if we do he will fly elsewhere. If we commit sin if we openly bring disgrace upon our religion, if we tempt others to go into iniquity by our evil example, it is not long before the Holy Spirit will begin to grieve. Again, if we neglect prayer, if our closet door is cob-webbed, if we forget to read the Scriptures, if the leaves of our Bible are almost stuck together by neglect, if we never seek to do any good in the world, if we live merely for ourselves and not to Christ, then the Holy Spirit will be grieved, for thus he saith, "They have forsaken me, they have left the fountain of waters, they have hewn unto themselves broken cisterns." I think I now see the Spirit of God grieving, when you are sitting down to read a novel and there is your Bible unread. Perhaps you take down some book of travels, and you forget that you have got a more precious book of travels in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the story of your blessed Lord and Master. You have no time for prayer, but the Spirit sees you very active about worldly things, and having many hours to spare for relaxation and amusement. And then he is grieved because he sees that you love worldly things better than you love him. His spirit is grieved within him; take care that he does not go away from you, for it will be a pitiful thing for you if he leaves you to yourself. Again, ingratitude tends to grieve him. Nothing cut a man to the heart more than after having done his utmost for another, he turns round and repays him with ingratitude or insult. If we do not want to be thanked, at least we do love to know that there is thankfulness in the heart upon which we have conferred a boon, and when the Holy Spirit looks into our soul and sees little love to Christ, no gratitude to him for all he has done for us, then is he grieved.
Again, the Holy Spirit is exceedingly grieved by our unbelief. When we distrust the promise he bath given and applied, when we doubt the power or the affection of our blessed Lord. then the Spirit saith within himself "They doubt my fidelity, they distrust my power, they say Jesus is not able to save unto the uttermost, thus again is the Spirit grieved. Oh, I wish the Spirit had an advocate here this morning, that could speak in better terms than I can. I have a theme that overmasters me, I seem to grieve for him; but I cannot make you grieve, nor tell out the grief I feel. In my own soul I keep saying, "Oh, this is just what you have done you have grieved him." Let me make a full and frank confession even before you all. I know that too often, I as well as you have grieved the Holy Spirit. Much within us has made that sacred dove to mourn, and my marvel is, that he has not taken his flight from us and left us utterly to ourselves.
Now suppose the Holy Spirit is grieved, what is the effect produced upon us? When the Spirit is grieved first, he bears with us. He is grieved again and again, and again and again, and still he bears with it all. But at last, his grief becomes so excessive, that he says, "I will suspend my operations; I will begone; I will leave life behind me, but my own actual presence I will take away. And when the Spirit of God goes away from the soul and suspends all his operations what a miserable state we are in. He suspends his instructions; we read the word, we cannot understand it; we go to our commentaries, they cannot tell us the meaning; we fall on our knees and ask to be taught, but we get no answer, we learn nothing. He suspends his comfort; we used to dance, like David before the ark, and now we sit like Job in the ash-pit, and scrape our ulcers with a potsherd. There was a time when his candle shone round about us, but now he is gone; he has left us in the blackness of darkness. Now, he takes from us all spiritual power. Once we could do all things; now we can do nothing. We could slay the Philistines, and lay them heaps upon heaps, but now Delilah can deceive us, and our eyes are put out and we are made to grind in the mill. We go preaching, and there is no pleasure in preaching, and no good follows it. We go to our tract distributing, and our Sunday-school, we might almost as well be at home. There is the machinery there, but there is no love. There is the intention to do good, or perhaps not even that, but alas! there is no power to accomplish the intention. The Lord has withdrawn himself, his light, his joy, his comfort, his spiritual power, all are gone. And then all our graces flag. Our graces are much like the flower called the Hydrangia, when it has plenty of water it blooms, but as soon as moisture fails, the leaves drop down at once. And so when the Spirit goes away, faith shuts up its flowers; no perfume is exhaled. Then the fruit of our love begins to rot and drops from the tree; then the sweet buds of our hope become frostbitten, and they die. Oh, what a sad thing it is to lose the Spirit. Have you never, my brethren, been on your knees and have been conscious that the Spirit of God was not with you, and what awful work it has been to groan, and cry, and sigh, and yet go away again, and no light to shine upon the promises, not so much as a ray of light through the chink of the dungeon. All forsaken, forgotten, and forlorn, you are almost driven to despair. You sing with Cowper:
"What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.
Return, thou sacred dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest,
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee."
Ah! sad enough it is to have the Spirit drawn from us. But, my brethren, I am about to say something with the utmost charity, which, perhaps, may look severe, but, nevertheless, I must say it. The churches of the present day are very much in the position of those who have grieved the Spirit of God; for the Spirit deals with churches just as it does with individuals. Of these late years how little has God wrought in the midst of his churches. Throughout England, at least some four or five years ago, an almost universal torpor had fallen upon the visible body of Christ. There was a little action, but it was spasmodic; there was no real vitality. Oh! how few sinners were brought to Christ, how empty had our places of worship become; our prayer-meetings were dwindling away to nothing, and our church meetings were mere matters of farce. You know right well that this is the case with many London churches to this day; and there be some that do not mourn about it. They go up to their accustomed place, and the minister prays, and the people either sleep with their eyes or else with their hearts, and they go out, and there is never a soul saved. The pool of baptism is seldom stirred; but the saddest part of all is this, the churches are willing to have it so. They are not earnest to get a revival of religion. We have been doing something, the church at large has been doing something. I will not just now put my finger upon what the sin is, but there has been something done which has driven the Spirit of God from us. He is grieved, and he is gone. He is present with us here, I thank his name, he is still visible in our midst. He has not left us. Though we have been as unworthy as others, yet has he given us a long outpouring of his presence. These five years or more, we have had a revival which is not to be exceeded by any revival upon the face of the earth. Without cries or shoutings, without fallings down or swooning, steadily God adds to this church numbers upon numbers, so that your minister's heart is ready to break with very joy when he thinks how manifestly the Spirit of God is with us. But brethren, we must not be content with this, we want to see the Spirit poured out on all churches. Look at the great gatherings that there were in St. Paul's, and Westminster Abbey, and Exeter Hall, and other places, how was it that no good was done, or so very little? I have watched with anxious eye, and I have never from that day forth heard but of one conversion, and that in St. James' Hall, from all these cervices. Strange it seems. The blessing may have come in larger measure than we know, but not in so large a measure as we might have expected, if the Spirit of God had been present with all the ministers. Oh would that we may live to see greater things than we have ever seen yet. Go home to your houses, humble yourselves before God, ye members of Christ's church, and cry aloud that he will visit his church, and that he would open the windows of heaven and pour out his grace upon his thirsty hill of Zion, that nations may be born in a day, that sinners may be saved by thousands that Zion may travail and may bring forth children. Oh! there are signs and tokens of a coming revival. We have heard but lately of a good work among the Ragged School boys of St. Giles's, and our soul has been glad on account of that; and the news from Ireland comes to us like good tidings, not from a far country, but from a sister province of the kingdom. Let us cry aloud to the Holy Spirit, who is certainly grieved with his church, and let us purge our churches of everything that is contrary to his Word and to sound doctrine, and then the Spirit will return, and his power shall be manifest.
And now, in conclusion, there may be some of you here who have lost the visible presence of Christ with you; who have in fact so grieved the Spirit that he has gone. It is a mercy for you to know that the Spirit of God never leaves his people finally; he leaves them for chastisement, but not for damnation. He sometimes leaves them that they may get good by knowing their own weakness, but be will not leave them finally to perish. Are you in a state of backsliding, declension, and coldness? Hearken to me for a moment, and God bless the words. Brother, stay not a moment in a condition so perilous; be not easy for a single second in the absence of the Holy Ghost. I beseech you use every means by which that Spirit may be brought back to you. Once more, let me tell you distinctly what the means are. Search out for the sin that has grieved the Spirit, give it up, slay that sin upon the spot; repent with tears and sighs; continue in prayer, and never rest satisfied until the Holy Ghost comes back to you. Frequent an earnest ministry, get much with earnest saints, but above all, be much in prayer to God, and let your daily cry be, "Return, return, O Holy Spirit return, and dwell in my soul." Oh, I beseech you be not content till that prayer is heard, for you have become weak as water, and faint and empty while the Spirit has been away from you. Oh! it may be there are same here this morning with whom the Spirit has been striving during the past week. Oh yield to him, resist him not; grieve him not, but yield to him. Is he saying to you now "Turn to Christ?" Listen to him, obey him, he moves you. Oh I beseech you do not despise him. Have you resisted him many a time, then take care you do not again, for there may come a last time when the Spirit may say, "I will go unto my rest, I will not return unto him, the ground is accursed, it shall be given up to barrenness." Oh I hear the word of the gospel, ere ye separate, for the Spirit speaketh effectually to you now in this short sentence "Repent and be converted everyone of you, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord," and hear this solemn sentence, "He that believeth in the Lord Jesus and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." May the Lord grant that we may not grieve the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Forgiveness Made Easy
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32 .
THE HEATHEN moralists, when they wished to teach virtue, could not point to the example of their gods, for, according to their mythologists, the gods were a compound of every imaginable, and, I had almost said, unimaginable vice. Many of the classic deities surpassed the worst of men in their crimes: they were as much greater in iniquity as they were supposed to be superior in power. It is an ill day for a people when their gods are worse than themselves. The blessed purity of our holy faith is conspicuous, not only in its precepts, but in the character of the God whom it reveals. There is no excellency which we can propose but we can see it brightly shining in the Lord our God: there is no line of conduct in which a believer should excel but we can point to Christ Jesus our Lord and Master as the pattern of it. In the highest places of the Christian faith you have the highest virtue, and unto God our Father and the Lord Jesus be the highest praise. We can urge you to the tenderest spirit of forgiveness by pointing to God who for Christ's sake has forgiven you. What nobler motive can you require for forgiving one another? With such high examples, brethren, what manner of people ought we to he? We have sometimes heard of men who were better than their religion, but that is quite impossible with us: we can never, in spirit or in act, rise to the sublime elevation of our divine religion. We should constantly be rising above ourselves, and above the most gracious of our fellow Christians, and yet above us we shall still behold our God and Saviour. We may go from strength to strength in thoughts of goodness and duties of piety, but Jesus is higher still, and evermore we must be looking up to him as we climb the sacred hill of grace.
At this time we wish to speak a little concerning the duties of love and forgiveness; and here we note, at once, that the apostle sets before us the example of God himself. Upon that bright example we shall spend most of our time, but I hope not quite so much as to forget the practical part, which is so much needed in these days by certain Unforgiving spirits who nevertheless assume the Christian name. The theme of God's forgiving love is so fascinating that we may linger awhile, and a long while too, upon that bright example of forgiveness which God has set before us, but from it all I hope we shall be gathering grace by which to forgive others even to seventy times seven.
We shall take the text word by word, and so we shall obtain the clearest divisions.
I. The first word to think about is "FOR CHRIST'S SAKE." We use these words very often; but probably we have never thought of their Three, and even at this time we cannot bring forth the whole of their meaning. Let us touch thereon with thoughtfulness, praying the good Spirit to instruct us. "For Christ's sake;" all the good things which God has bestowed upon us have come to us "for Christ's sake," but especially the forgiveness of our sins has come "for Christ's sake." This is the plain assertion of the text. What does it mean? It means. surely, first, for the sake of the great atonement which Christ has offered. The great God can, as a just Lawgiver and King, readily pass by our offences because of the expiation for sin which Christ has offered. If sin were merely a personal affront toward God, we have abundant evidence that he would be ready enough to pass it by without exacting vengeance; but it is a great deal more than that. Those who view it as a mere personal affront against God are but very shallow thinkers. Sin is an attack upon the moral government of God; it undermines the foundations of society, and were it permitted to have its way it would reduce everything to anarchy, and even destroy the governing power and the Ruler himself. God hath a great realm to govern, not merely of men that dwell on the face of the earth, but beneath his sway there are angels, and principalities, and powers, and we do not know how many worlds of intelligent beings. It would certainly be a monstrous thing to suppose that God has made yonder myriads of worlds that we see sparkling in the sky at night without having placed some living creatures in them; it is far more reasonable to suppose that this earth is an altogether insignificant speck in the divine dominion, a mere province in the boundless empire of the King of kings. Now, this world having rebelled against God high-handedly, as it has done, unless there were a satisfaction demanded for its rebellion it would be a tolerated assault upon the dominion of the great Judge of all, and a lowering of his royal influence over all his domain. If sin in man's case were left unpunished it would soon be known through myriads of worlds, and in fact by ten thousand times ten thousand races of creatures, that they might sin with impunity; if one race had done so, why not all the rest? This would be a proclamation of universal license to rebel. It would probably be the worst calamity that could happen that any sin should go unpunished by the supreme Judge. Sometimes in a state, unless the lawgiver executes the law against the murderer, life will be in peril, and everything will become insecure, and therefore it becomes mercy to write the death-warrant: so is it with God in reference to this world of sinners. It is his very love as well as his holiness and his justice which, if I may use such a term, compels him to severity of judgment, so that sin cannot and must not be blotted out till atonement has been presented. There must first of all be a sacrifice for sin, which, mark you, the great Father, to show his love, himself supplies, for it is his own Son who is given to die, and so the Father himself supplies the ransom through his Son, that Son being also one with himself by bonds of essential unity, mysterious but most intense. If God demands the penalty in justice, he himself supplies it in love. "Tis a wondrous mystery, this mystery of the way of salvation by an atoning sacrifice; but this much is clear, that now God for Christ's sake hath forgiven us, because satisfaction has been made to the injured honour of the divine government, and justice is satisfied. I want you to consider for a moment how readily God may now blot out sin since Christ hath died. The blotting out of sin seems hard till we see the cross, and then it appears easy enough. I have looked at sin till it seemed to blind me with its horror, and I said in myself, "This damned spot can never be washed out; no fuller's soap can change its hue; sooner might the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots. O sin, thou deep, eternal evil, what can remove thee?" And then I have seen the Son of God dying on the cross, and read the anguish of his soul, and heard the cries which showed the torment of his spirit when God his Father had forsaken him, and it has seemed to me as if the blotting out of sin were the easiest thing under heaven. When I have seen Jesus die I have not been able to understand how any sin could be difficult to remove. Let a man stand on Calvary and look on him whom he hath pierced, and believe and accept the atonement made, and it becomes the simplest thing possible that his debt should be discharged now that it is paid, that his freedom should be given now that the ransom is found, and that he should be no longer under condemnation, since the guilt that condemned him has been carried away by his great Substitute and Lord. It is then because of what Jesus Christ has suffered in our stead that God for Christ's sake hath forgiven us,
The second rendering of the text would be this, that God has forgiven us because of the representative character of Christ. It should never be forgotten that we originally fell by a representative. Adam stood for us, and he was our federal head. We did not fall personally at the first, but in our representative. Had he kept the conditions of the covenant we had stood through him, but, inasmuch as he fell, we fell in him. I pray you cavil not at the arrangement, because there lay the hope of our race. The angels probably fell individually, one by one, and hence they fell irretrievably, there was no restoring them: but as we fell in one Adam, there remained the possibility of our rising in another Adam; and therefore in the fulness of time God sent forth his Son Jesus Christ, born of a woman, made under the law to become the second Adam. He undertook to remove our burdens and to fulfil the conditions of our restoration. According to covenant he must appear in our nature, and that nature in the fulness of time he assumed. He must bear the penalty: that he hath done in his personal suffering and death. He must obey the law: that he has done to the utmost. And now Christ Jesus, having borne penalty and fulfilled law, is himself justified before God, and stands forth before God as the representative of all that are in him. God for Christ's sake has accepted us in him, has forgiven us in him, and looks upon us with love infinite and changeless in him. This is how all our blessings come to us in and through Christ Jesus; and if we are indeed in him, the Lord doth not only forgive us our sin, but he bestows upon us the boundless riches of his grace in him: in fact, he treats us as he would treat his Son, he deals with us as he would deal with Jesus. Oh, how pleasant to think that when the just God looks upon us it is through the reconciling medium, he views us through the Mediator. We sometimes sing a hymn which says
"Him and then the sinner see,
Look through Jesus' wounds on me,"
and this is just what the Lord doth. He counts us just for the sake of our Saviour's atonement, and because of his representative character.
Now go a little further. When we read "for Christ's sake" it surely means for the deep love which the Father bears him. My brethren, can you guess a little of the love which the Father hath toward the Only-begotten? We cannot pry into the wondrous mystery of the eternal filiation of the Son of God lest we be blinded by excess of light; but this we know, that they are one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and the union which exists between them is intense beyond conception. "The Father loveth the Son," was always true, and is true now; but how deeply, how intensely he loves the Son no mind can conceive. Now, brethren, the Lord will do great things for the sake of a Son whom he loves as he loveth Jesus, for in addition to the fact of his eternally loving him, as being one with him by nature and essence, there is now the superadded cause of love arising out of what the Lord Jesus hath done as the servant of the Father. Remember that our Lord Jesus has been obedient to his Father's will obedient to death, even to the death of the cross, wherefore God hath highly exalted hi in and given him a name that is above every name. One of the sweetest thoughts, to my mind, which I sometimes suck at when I am alone, is this that God the Father will do anything for Christ. Here is also another piece of a honeycomb when I can plead Christ's name I am sure to win my suit of him. "For Christ's sake" is a plea that always touches the heart of the great God. Show that for you to receive such and such a blessing will glorify Christ, and the Father cannot withhold it, for it is his delight to honour Jesus. We speak after the manner of men, of course, and on such a theme as this we must be careful, but still we can only speak as men, being only men. It is the joy of the Father to express his love to his Son. Throughout all ages they have had fellowship one with another: they have always been one in all their designs, they have never differed upon any points and cannot differ; and you notice when our Lord says, "Father, glorify thy Son," he is so knit with the Father that he adds, "that thy Son also may glorify thee." Their mutual love is inconceivably great, and, therefore, brethren, God will do anything for Jesus. God will forgive us for Christ's sake; yea, he has done so in the case of thousands around me. And thou, big black sinner, if thou wilt go to God at this moment and say, "Lord, I cannot ask thee to forgive me for my own sake, but do it out of love for thy dear Son," he will do it, for he will do anything for the sake of Jesus. If thou art at this time conscious of sin so as to despair of thyself, it is well that thou shouldest be so, for self-despair is only common-sense, since there is nothing in thyself upon which thou canst rely. But do catch at this hope it is not a straw, it is a good substantial life-buoy if thou canst ask forgiveness for the sake of Jesus, God will do anything for Jesus, and he will do anything for thee for his dear sake.
So we read our text once more in the light of a truth which grows out of the love of God; namely, that God does forgive sin for the sake of glorifying Christ. Christ took the shame that he might magnify his Father, and now his Father delights to magnify him by blotting out the sin. If you can prove that any gift to you would reflect glory upon Christ, you may depend upon it you will have it. If there is anything under heaven that would make Christ more illustrious the Father would not spare it for a moment. If thou seest that for thee to have thy sin forgiven would raise the fame of the Saviour, go and plead that argument with God, and thou shalt surely prevail. Will it not make Christ glad if he saves such a sinner as thou art? Then go with this argument in thy mouth, "Father, glorify thy Son by exalting him as a glorious Saviour in saving me." I find this often a great lever at a dead lift, to say unto the Lord, "Lord, thou knowest the straits I am in; thou knowest how undeserving I am; thou knowest what a poor, undone creature I am before thee; but if thy dear Son shall help and save me the very angels will stand and wonder at his mighty grace, and so it will bring glory to him, therefore I entreat thee be gracious unto me." Be sure thou art certain to prevail if thou canst plead that it will glorify Christ, and surely thou wouldest not wish to have a thing that would not glorify him. Thy prayer shall always be prevalent, if thy heart be in such a state that thou art willing to have or not to have, according as it will honour thy Lord: if it will not glorify Christ, be thou more than content to do without the choicest earthly good; but be thou doubly grateful when the boon that is granted tends to bring honour to the ever dear and worshipful name of Jesus. "For Christ's sake." It is a precious word; dwell upon it, and lay up this sentence in the archives of thy memory the Father will do anything for the sake of Jesus Christ his Son.
II. Now, secondly, we pass on to observe what it is which we are told in the text has been done for us, and to us, for Christ's sake. "God for Christ's sake HATH FORGIVEN YOU."
First notice, that he has done this certainly. The apostle does not say he hopes so, but he says, "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Are you in the number of the forgiven, my dear hearer? Hast thou believed in the Lord Jesus Christ? Then, as sure as you have believed, God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Have you put your trust in the atoning sacrifice? Then God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. You have not begun to be a Christian, I hope, with the idea that one day, at some future period, you may obtain forgiveness. No. "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Pardon is not a prize to be run for, but a blessing received at the first step of the race. If you have believed in Jesus your sin has all gone all gone; all your sin has been erased from the records of the past, never to be mentioned against you for ever. The moment a sinner looks to Christ, the burden of his sin rolls from off his shoulders never to return. If Christ hath washed thee, (and he has if thou hast believed in him,) then thou art clean every whit, and before the Lord thou standest delivered from every trace of guilt. Pardon is not a matter of hope, but a matter of fact. Expectation looks for many a blessing, but pardon is a realized favour which faith holds in her hand even now. If Christ took thy load, thy load cannot remain on thine own back: if Christ paid thy debts, then they do not stand in God's books against thee. How can they? It stands to reason that if thy Substitute has taken thy sin and put it away, thy sin lies no more on thee. God for Christ's sake hath forgiven thee. Get hold of that grand truth, and hold it, though all the devils in hell roar at thee. Grasp it as with a hand of steel; grip it as for life: "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven me," may each one of us be able to say that. We shall not feel the divine sweetness and force of the text unless we can make a personal matter of it by the Holy Ghost.
Then notice that God has forgiven us continuously. He not only forgave us at the first all our sins, but he continues daily to forgive, for the act of forgiveness is a continuous one. I have sometimes heard it said that we were so forgiven when we first believed that there is no need to ask for further forgiveness; to which I reply We were so completely forgiven when we first believed that we ought continually to ask for the perpetuity of that one far-reaching act, that the Lord may continue to exert towards us that fulness of forgiving grace which absolved us perfectly at the first, that we may continue to walk before him with a sense of that complete forgiveness, clear and unquestioned. I know I was forgiven when first I believed in Christ; and I am equally sure of it now: the one absolution continues to ring in my ears like joy-bells which never cease. Pardon once given continues to be given. When through doubt and anxiety I was not sure of my pardon, yet it was still true; for he that believeth on him is not condemned, even though he may write bitter things against himself. Beloved friend, catch hold of that, and do not let it go. Divine pardon is a continuous act.
And this forgiveness on God's part was most free. We did nothing to obtain it by merit, and we brought nothing wherewith to purchase it. He forgave us for Christ's sake, not for aught that we had done. True, we did repent, and did believe, but repentance and faith he gave us, so that he did not forgive us for the sake of them, but purely of his own dear love, because he delighteth in mercy, and is never more like himself than when he passeth by transgression, iniquity, and sin.
Remember, also, that he forgave us fully. It was not here and there a sin that he blotted out, but the whole horrible list and catalogue of our offences he destroyed at once. The substitution of our Lord has finished that matter even to perfection:
"Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me."
All our transgressions are swept away at once, carried off as by a flood, and so completely removed from us that no guilty trace of them remains They are all gone! O ye believers, think of this, for the all is no little thing: sins against a holy God, sins against his loving Son, sins against gospel as well as against law, sins against man as well as against God, sins of the body as well as sins of the mind, sins as numerous as the sands on the sea shore, and as great as the sea itself: all, all are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. All this evil was rolled into one great mass, and laid upon Jesus, and having borne it all he has made an end of it for ever. When the Lord forgave us he forgave us the whole debt. He did not take the bill and say, "I strike out this item and that," but the pen went through it all; PAID. It was a receipt in full of all demands, Jesus took the handwriting which was against us and nailed it to his cross, to show before the entire universe that its power to condemn us had ceased for ever. We have in him a full forgiveness.
And let it be remembered that this forgiveness which God has given us for Christ's sake is an eternal forgiveness. He will never rake up our past offences and a second time impute them, he will not find us on an evil day, and say, "I have had great patience with you, but now will I deal with you after your sins." Far otherwise; he that believeth in Jesus hath everlasting life, and shall never come into condemnation. Irreversible is the pardon of heaven. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." He never repents what he has given, or forgiven. "Tis done, "tis done for ever: Jehovah absolves and the sentence stands fast for ever. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?" Blessed be God for eternal pardon!
And since I could not find a word to finish with but this one, I will use it: he hath divinely pardoned us. There is such a truth, reality, and emphasis in the pardon of God as you can never find in the pardon of man; for though a man should forgive all you have done against him, if you have treated him very badly, yet it is more than you could expect that he should quite forget it, but the Lord says, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more for ever." If a man has played you false, although you have forgiven him, you are not likely to trust him again. It is an old proverb, "Never ride a broken-knee'd horse," and it is not a bad proverb either. But see how the Lord deals with his people. When Peter was set on his legs again he was a broken-knee'd horse enough, and yet see how gloriously the Lord rode that charger on the day of Pentecost. Did he not go forth conquering and to conquer? The Lord lets bygones be bygones so completely that he trusts pardoned souls with his secrets, for "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him"; and he entrusts some of us with his choicest treasures, for Paul said, "He hath put me in trust with the gospel, though I was a blasphemer." He commits to our keeping that priceless casket which encloses the best hope of men, namely, the gospel of Jesus. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." This shows how perfect is our forgiveness, nay, I must put it, how divine is the forgiveness which we have received. Let us rejoice in that grand promise which comes to us by the mouth of Jeremiah of old, "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve." Here is annihilation the only annihilation I know of the absolute annihilation of sin through the pardon which the Lord gives to his people. Let us sing it as though it were a choice hymn "The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none."
III. Now, if you have drank into the spirit of our subject you will be strengthened to bear what I have to say to you upon a point of practice. "FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Let me say, at the commencement, that I do not know of anyone here present who has fallen out with anybody else, and therefore I shall make no personal allusions. If I did know of quarrels and bickerings it is very likely that I should say about the same, but I do not happen to know of any, and if therefore, my remarks should come home, I would earnestly beg each one so affected to believe that what I say is intended for him, and to receive it as a pointed, personal message from God.
"Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Now observe how the apostle puts it. Does he say "forgiving another"? No, that is not the text, if you look at it. It is "forgiving, one another." One another! Ah, then that means that if you have to forgive to-day, it is very likely that you will yourself need to be forgiven to-morrow for it is "forgiving one another." It is turn and turn about, a mutual operation, a co-operative service. In fact, it is a joint-stock business of mutual forgiveness, and members of Christian churches should take large shares in this concern. "Forgiving one another." You forgive me, and I forgive you, and we forgive them, and they forgive us, and so a circle of unlimited forbearance and love goes round the world. There is something wrong about me that needs to be forgiven by my brother, but there is also something wrong about my brother which needs to be forgiven by me, and this is what the apostle means that we are all of us mutually to be exercising the sacred art and mystery of forgiving one another. If we always did this we should not endure those who have a special faculty for spying out faults. There are some who, whatever church they are in, always bring an ill report of it. I have heard this sort of thing from many "There is no love among Christians at all." I will tell you the character of the gentleman who makes that observation; he is both unloving and unlovely, and so he is out of the track of the pilgrims of love. Another cries, "There is no sincerity in the world now." That man is a hypocrite: be you quite sure of that. Judge a bird by its song, and a man by his utterance. The censorious measure our corn, but they use their own bushels. You may know very well what a man is by what he says of others. It is a gauge of character which very seldom will deceive you, to judge other men by their own judgment of their fellows. Their speech betrays their heart. Show me your tongue, sir! Now I know whether you are sick or well. He that speaketh with an ill tongue of his neighbour hath an ill heart; rest assured of that. Let us begin our Christian career with the full assurance that we shall have a great deal to forgive in other people, but that there will be a great deal more to be forgiven in ourselves, and let us set our account upon having to exercise gentleness, and needing its exercise from others, "Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Note again. When we forgive, it is a poor and humble business compared with God's forgiving us, because we are only forgiving one another, that is, forgiving fellow-servants; whereas when God forgives us it is the Judge of all the earth forgiving, not his fellows, but his rebel subjects, guilty of treason against his majesty. For God to forgive is something great; for us to forgive, though some think it great, should be regarded as a very small matter.
Then reflect upon the matter to be forgiven. Our Lord in his parable tells us that the fellow-servant owed a few pence, but the servant himself was debtor to his master many talents. What we owe to God is infinite, but what our fellow creature owes to us is a very small sum. What did he do which has so much offended you? "He said a very shameful thing about me." It was very bad of him, no doubt. "Then he played me a very nasty trick, and acted very ungraciously; in fact, he behaved scandalously, and if you hear the story you will be quite indignant." Well, I am indignant. He is a bad fellow, there is no doubt about it; and so are you. So were you certainly when you first came to God; bad as he is to you, you have been much worse to the Lord. I will warrant that his blacks towards you are whites compared with your blacks in the presence of God. "Oh, but you would not believe how basely he acted." No, and I dare say I should hardly believe it if I heard how base you have been to the Lord; at any rate, it should make our eyes fill with tears to think how we have grieved our God, and vexed his Spirit. Some of us have had so much manifest forgiveness, so much outward sin forgiven, that for us to forgive ought to be us natural as to open our hands. After such forgiveness as the Lord has bestowed on some of us, we should be wicked servants indeed if we were to take our brother by the throat and say, "Pay me what thou owest." We should deserve to be given over to the tormentors by our angry Master if we did not count it joy to pass by a brother's fault.
If anyone here who is a Christian finds a difficulty in forgiveness, I am going to give him three words which will help him wonderfully. I would put them into the good man's mouth. I gave them to you just now, and prayed you to get the sweetness of them; here they are again! "For Christ's sake." Cannot you forgive an offender on that ground? Ah, the girl has acted very shamefully, and you, her father, have said some strong things, but I beg you to forgive her for Christ's sake. Cannot you do it with that motive? It is true your son has behaved very wrongly, and nothing hurts a father's heart more than the wicked conduct of a son. You did in a fit of anger say a very stern thing, and deny him your house for ever. I entreat you to eat your words up for Christ's sake. Sometimes when I have been pleading a case like that, the person I have been persuading has kindly said, "I will do it for you, sir." I have said, "I will thank you if you will do it at all, but I would rather you would have said you would do it for my Master, for what a blessed Master he has been to you! Do it for his sake." I may be speaking very plainly home to some of you. I hope I am. If there be any of you who have got into a bad state of heart and have said you never will forgive a rebellious son, do not say so again till you have looked at the matter, for Christ's sake. Not for the boy's sake, not for your neighbour's sake who has offended you, not for any other reason do I urge you to mercy, but for Christ's sake. Come, you two brothers, who have fallen out, love each other for Christ's sake; come, you two sisters, come you two friends who have been alienated, get together directly, and end all your ill feeling for Christ's sake. You must not keep a drop of malice in your soul, for Christ's sake. Oh charming word, how it melts us, and as it melts it seems to leave no trace of anger behind it: for Christ's sake our love suffers long and never fails.
I do not know how to put this next word I am going to say. It is a paradox. You must forgive or you cannot be saved; at the same time you must not do it from compulsion; you must do it freely. There is a way of carrying this into practice, though I cannot explain it in words. You must forgive, not because you are forced to, but because you heartily do it. Remember, it is of no use for you to put your money into that offering box as you go out unless you remember first to forgive your brother. God will not accept the gifts, prayers, or praises of an unrelenting heart. Though you leave all your substance to his cause, he will not accept a penny of it if you die in an unforgiving temper. There is no grace where there is no willingness to overlook faults. John saith, "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" The very prayer that teaches you to ask for mercy bids you say "forgive us, as we forgive our debtors." Unless you have forgiven others you read your own death-warrant when you repeat the Lord's prayer.
Finally, I want to say to you all, brethren, that, as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, if we are to forgive one another, there must be some other things which we ought to do. And the first is, do not let us provoke each other to offend. If I know that a man does not like a certain thing, I will not thrust it in his way. Do not say, "Well, but if he is short tempered, I cannot help it; he should not be so ready to take offence. I cannot be always paying deference to his absurd sensitiveness." No; but, brother, your friend is very ready to take offence, and you know that he is; have respect, then, to his infirmity of temper, such as you would have if he were afflicted in body. If you have rheumatism or gout, your friends do not go stamping across the room and saying, "He ought not to mind that; he ought not to feel it." Kind-hearted people step across the floor with a light step, for fear they should hurt the poor suffering limb. If a man has a diseased mind and is very irritable, treat him gently, pity his infirmity, and do not irritate him. A friend wrote me a short while ago a letter of serious complaint against a brother who had been very angry with him, and had spoken very sharply while excited to passion. I felt bound to hear the other side of the story, and I was obliged to say, "Now, you two brothers are both wrong. You, my brother, lost your temper; but you, my other brother, irritated him, so that I do not wonder he did lose his temper. And when you saw he had lost his temper why did you not go away, or do something to quiet him? No, but you remained to increase the wrath, and then wrote to expose him." I blame the wood for burning, but what shall I say of the bellows? It was wrong to blaze, but was it right to fan the flame? Very often when a man is angry he may not be the only one to blame. Therefore, brothers and sisters, if we are to forgive each other, do not let us provoke each other to offend.
In the next place, do not make offences. Oftentimes a man has been offended at another for no reason at all. One person has said of another as he passed him in the street, "He will not even nod to me. He is too proud to own me, because I am a poor man." Now, that beloved friend who was thus blamed could not see much further than his hand, for he was shortsighted. Another has been censured for not hearing, though he was deaf, and another for not shaking hands when his arm was crippled. Do not imagine offences where they are not intended.
Next, do not take offences where they are intended. It is a splendid thing if you will not be offended. Nothing makes a man feel so small as when you accept what he intended for an insult as if it were a compliment, and thank him for it. Can you master yourself to that point? Remember, when you have conquered yourself you have conquered the world. You have overcome everybody when you have so fully overcome your own spirit that you remain content with that which naturally would excite your wrath.
Then, if you must be offended, dear brother, do not exaggerate an offence. Some good women, I was about to say, and men also, when they come as tale-bearers with a charge, make a great many flourishes and additions. They go a long way round, and they bring innumerable beliefs, and suggestions, and hints, and hearsays into the business, until a midge's egg becomes as huge as ever was laid by an ostrich. I begin coolly to strip off the feathers and the paint, and I say, "Now, I do not see what that point had to do with it, or what that remark has in it all I can see when I come to look at the bare fact is so-and-so, and that was not much, was it?" "Oh, but there was more intended." Do not believe that, dear brother, dear sister. If there must be something wrong, let it be as little as you can. If you have a telescope, look through the large hole and minify instead of magnifying, or, better still, do not look at it at all. A blind eye is often the best eye a man can have, and a deaf ear is better by far than one which hears too much. "Also take no heed," says Solomon, "unto all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee." Something you have done may irritate a servant, and he may make remarks which are unbecoming and impertinent. Don't hear what he is muttering. Keep out of hearing, he will be sorry to-morrow, and if he thinks you did not hear him he will continue in your service and be faithful to you. What would you do if your master picked you up for every word, and if he caught up every sentence that you uttered? How would you live at all if he reckoned sharply with you? No, dear friends, as you have to forgive one another, do not take offence, and when offence is given do not exaggerate it, and, if you can, do not even observe it.
Then, again, do not publish offences. There has been something very offensive said. What then? Do not repeat it. Do not go first to one, and then to another, and say, "Now this is quite private, and mind you keep it a secret; So-and-so has spoken shamefully." Better that you should let your heart break than go up and down with a fire-brand in this fashion. If a brother has done wrong why should you do wrong? You will be doing wrong if you publish his fault. Remember how the curse came upon Noah's son for exposing his father; and how much better it is for us all when there is anything wrong to go backward and cover it, without even looking at it ourselves, if we can help it. Cover it up: cover it up. Charity covereth a multitude of sins. Not only one, two, three sins will charity cover, but she carries a cloak which covereth a whole host of faults.
Above all, my brethren, and with this I close, never in any way, directly or indirectly, avenge yourselves. For any fault that is ever done to you, the Master says unto you, resist not evil. In all things bend, bow, yield, submit. "If you tread on a worm it will turn," says somebody. And is a worm your example? Christ shall be mine. It is a shocking thing when a Christian man forgets his Lord to find an excuse for himself among the poor creatures under his feet. But if it must be so, what does a worm do when it turns? When you have trodden on a worm, does it bite? Does the worm hurt any one? Ah, no. It has turned, but it has turned in its agony and writhed before you, that is all. You may do that, if you must. Brother, the most splendid vengeance you can ever have is to do good to them that do you evil, and to speak well of them that speak ill of you. They will be ashamed to look at you; they will never hurt you again if they see that you cannot be provoked except it be to greater love and larger kindness. This ought to be the mark of Christians; not "I will have the law of you," or "I will avenge myself," but "I will bear and forbear even to the end." "Vengeance is mine. I will repay it, saith the Lord." Do not take that into your hand which God says belongs to him, but as he for Christ's sake has forgiven you, so also forgive all those who do you wrong. "How long am I to do that?" says one. "I would not mind doing it three or four times." There was one of old who would go the length of six or seven, but Jesus Christ said "unto seventy times seven. That is a very considerable number. You may count whether you have yet reached that amount, and if you have you will now be glad to begin again, still forgiving, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. God help us to be patient to the end. Though I have not just now been preaching Christ Jesus as the object of the sinner's trust, yet remember that he must also be the object of our imitation. This is the kind of doctrine which Christ himself preached, and therefore, since he preached continually this love to our neighbour, and forgiveness of our enemies, we ought both to preach and to practise it. Go ye and believe in him, and be imitators of him, remembering that he forgave his murderers upon the cross whereon he wrought out our redemption. May his Spirit rest upon you evermore. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON Ephesians 4:1-32 .
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK" 621, 566, 559.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34