Click here to join the effort!
Fire! Fire! Fire!
June 23rd, 1861 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Isaiah 43:2 .
Before we explain the metaphor of the text, it may be well for us to remark that we are not sufficiently grateful, I fear, for the preservation which God affords to us from fire. To be startled at the dead of night with the alarming cry, and to find one's self and children and goods in danger of being immediately consumed, must be no small trial. I have felt myself extreme gratitude to God that while both on the right hand and on the left the flames have raged, he has been pleased to spare to us this temple of our solemnities, this place where we delight to worship. And is it not meet that we should each and all render to him our hearty thanks for sparing our habitations preserving the roof under which we rest, enabling us to go out and to come in in perfect safety? Or, probably, I may be addressing some this morning who have had escaped from the very midst of the fires. Let such not only bless God for preservation in the past, but let them celebrate his goodness in plucking them as brands out of the burning. Let them be extremely grateful to God that while others this day are dying as a black heap of ashes who but yesterday were living men, we are still in the land of the dying unburned and unsinged. It was at least the trap of many of you, during the past week, and again last night, to witness a conflagration of awful grandeur, in which tongues of flame, mountains of fire, and pillars of smoke, made a spectacle to be gazed at with interest while it produced terrors and apprehensions that could awe the wildest mob into silence. With you and me it is a common mercy to be preserved day by day, and night by night from the devouring element. Yet when the dreadful catastrophe is within view when those we know personally or by repute are sufferers and when at the same time we look on with a sense of our own present security then surely we ought to give more than a common expression of gratitude to God for mercies that at other times we are too apt to paste over unheeded as but the effects of a common Providence. Never was a truer sentence uttered than when one said, "These mercies are not valued until they are lost, and these preservations are not esteemed until they are withdrawn." Let us thank God while we have the mercies, lest he be provoked by our ingratitude and take forth his rod and scourge us. Then, indeed, might we cry out under the smart, and wish and desire that we had our mercies back again. Thus much I could not in my conscience withhold at a time when there are judgments around us enough to make us tremble, and mercies enough in the little circles of home to make us exceedingly grateful. Let us now take the text in its real signification. Of course the walking through the fire here is put for the severest form of trouble: You have, in the commencement of the verse, trouble described as passing through the water. This represents the overwhelming influence of trial in which the soul is sometimes so covered that it becomes like a man sinking in the waves. "When thou goest through the rivers," those mountain torrents which with terrific force are often sufficient to carry a man away. This expresses the force of trouble, the power with which it sometimes lifts a man from the foothold of his stability, and carries him before it. "When thou passest through the rivers they shall not overflow thee." But going through the fire expresses not so much the overwhelming character and the upsetting power of trouble as the actual consuming and destructive power of trouble and temptation. The metaphor is more vivid, not to, say more terrific, than that which is employed in the first sentence, and yet vivid and awful though it be, it is certainly not too strong a figure to be used as the emblem of the tribulations, temptations and afflictions, through which the Church and people of God have been called to pass. We may apprise the richness of the promise in proportion to the astonishing character of the metaphor, and we ought to value the privilege which it confers in the precise ratio of the dreadful character of the danger against which it preserves us. "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." We shall talk of three things, this morning, as the Holy Ghost may enable us; first of all, a terrible pathway, walking around the fire; secondly, an awful danger, the danger of being burned and utterly consumed; and thirdly, a double insurance, "Thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the fire kindle upon thee." I. First, then, let us speak a little upon this TERRIBLE PATHWAY. The sacramental host of God's elect has never had an easy road along which to journey. I see the fields on fire, the prairie is in a blaze, the very heavens are like a furnace, and the clouds seem rather to be made of fire than water. Across that prairie lies the pathway to heaven, beneath that blazing sky the whole Church of God must make its perpetual journey. It started at the first in fire, and its very glory at the last shall take place in the midst of the fiery passing away of all things. When first there was a Church of God on earth, in the person of Abel it was persecuted, Cain lifted up his cruel club to slay his brother; and when the children of Seth were the representatives of God's chosen, they were without doubt the subject of the jeer and gibe of the descendants of Cain. Noah, the preacher of righteousness endured during his one hundred and twenty years, the hardness of heart and carelessness of an unthinking world; he and his family, who were the remnant of the Church in the latter part of those days, were constantly exposed to the laughter and persecution of men. When God had destroyed the earth with water, and the whole race of man was contained within the ark, you would think that then, certainly, the Church within the ark would be secure from molestation. But no, we find him ready to detect the failings of his parents, and no doubt a ringleader of everything that was vile and vicious, just as we have reason to hope that some of his brethren adhered to the most true God. From that day forward, whether you read through the life of Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, it still standeth true, "He that is born after the flesh persecuteth him that is born after the Spirit." Whether we refer you to the history of Israel by the side of the brick-kilns of Egypt, or to the host of God constantly beset by the marauders of the Amalekites, you find it still to be true that through much tribulation the people of God must wade their way to Canaan. And if you look further on in history, between David and Saul, between Hezekiah and Sennacherib, between the faithful followers of God after the captivity who would rebuild the temple, and Sanballat the Horonite; between the Maccabees and Antiochus Epiphanes, there must always be preserved a deadly feud, to let it be seen that the world must hate God's people, and must harass them and seek to hunt them out, while they, on the other hand, must steadily pursue their onward march through the midst of billows of fire till they come at last to their eternal rest. Find me the abode of the Church of God and I can smell the furnace not far off. Show me the follower of the God of Abraham and I shall soon find the host of enemies ready for the attack. Up till the days of the Savior the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, not only from its friends who would take it, but from those enemies who world assault it. From the blood of Abel down to the blood of Zecharias the son of Barachias, the pathway of the Church hath been a blood-besprinkled time. Since that day, what tongue can tell the sufferings of the people of God? Since Christ became martyr as well as Redeemer, has there been a season in which God's people have not somewhere or other been made to feel that they are not of the world, and that the world does not love them because they are not of the world? In apostolic times, Stephen expires beneath a shower of stones, James is killed with a sword, certain others of the saints are vexed; believers are scattered abroad. The Roman lion takes up the fight, Herod delights in the gore of the Christians, and smears the confessors of that holy faith with pitch and sets them in his gardens that they might be literally, as they were spiritually, the lights of the world. Let the catacombs of Rome witness to their sorrowful lives and let the Capitol witness to their terrible deaths. Let the old dungeons, some of which still remain, testify to the places where they wore out their dreary lives, and let the blood-stained Campus Martius still show where they cheerfully surrendered those lives for Christ. Oh! if the lands could speak, if the Earth could vomit forth her blood what stories could still be told of the way they were slain. Some of them were tortured, others sawn asunder, some stoned, and others burnt to death; though of them the world was not worthy. All the Roman Emperors, with but few exceptions, were persecutors; and the Christian emperors were as bad as the Pagan, for the Christian emperors were not Christians, nor were they members, as I believe, of a Christian Church. The Christian Church, and especially that Church of which we are still members, which has never defiled its garments, but which, never having had any alliance with the Church of Rome, has never needed to be reformed, that Church under its different names, Paulitians, Novations, Albigenses, Lollards, Wyckliffites, Anabaptists, Baptists, has always suffered. It matters not what state, what Church, may have been dominant, whether it has been Christian or anti-Christian, the pure Church of Christ has always been the victim of persecution, and though she has persecuted never, but has always maintained inviolate, disunion from the state, and an utter hatred of all laws which would bind the conscience of man, yet has she been especially destitute, afflicted, tormented, and if she hath to-day a little breathing time, perhaps it is rather owing to the timidity which has made us keep back our sentiments, than to any charity towards ourselves. Find the Church of Christ wherever you will, and you shall find her scorned and despised of man. Find her in Scotland, and her Covenanters have to hide themselves in the midst of the mountain, and read the Word of God by the lightning flash, to escape from the dragoons of Claverhouse. Find her in England and where was she? Not in the cathedrals of her cities, but in the dungeons of her rural towns like Bedford with John Bunyan; not among the great and noble who were the persecutors, but among the poor and conscientious who were the persecuted. "If you want to find the drunkards and sinners of the worst dye," said one of our preachers at or before Cromwell's time, "you can find them in Church and state, but if you wish to find the men who are holy and who serve God, you must look into the felon's dungeons for them, for that is where they have been cast by the powers that be." Everywhere from the first day until now, it is not respectable to be a follower of Christ. If we follow Christ fully and faithfully before God, it is not equitable and praiseworthy before men. To take up his cross and to perform the ceremonies which he ordains, man hates. To adhere to truths which never were and never can be palatable to the carnal mind of man, is, and ever has been to excite animosity. The pathway of the Church, then, has been one of fire and flame. As it has been so with the Church, we may suspect there is some reason for it, and that reason has to be found in the great fact that the Church is in an enemy's country. She is not among her friends, she is a pilgrim and a stranger upon the earth. She is a bird that has lost her place, and all the birds round about her are against her, because she is a speckled one and belongs not to the common flock. If we were of the world, the world would love its own, but "because," said Christ, "ye are not of the world but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." "We know," said he, "it hated me before it hated you." True Christians are aliens, foreigners, men that speak another speech, men who are actuated by different motives, men who live for different ends, who are governed by different maxima from the rest of the men of this world, therefore it is that their pathway must be one of trial and opposition. All things the Christian teaches are so dead against the pleasures of the worldling and his gain, that it is no wonder he opposes us. Men hate the gospel because the gospel does not like them. That Church is never true to her Christ, nor true to herself which does not draw upon herself the hatred of ungodly men, by a faithful testimony against their sins. It hath fared well with the Church when she hath been persecuted, and her pathway hath been through fire. Her feet are shod with iron and brass. She ought not to tread on paths strewed with flowers; it is her proper place to suffer. Christ redeemed the world with agonies, and the Church must teach the world by the example of her anguish. First of all, the blood of Christ was shed meritoriously, and afterwards the blood of his Church is shed testimonially, to will the world by suffering. When you hear of the massacre of Christians in Madagascar, weep for their death, but do not be utterly cast down. This is a good work. This is the way the Church grows. There is no loss in the army of Christ when the best preachers fall and the mightiest evangelists are put to death. They are not lost, the blood is well shed and gloriously well spent. It is buying victory. It is procuring crowns for Jesus Christ. It is after all accomplishing higher results by dying than could have been effected by doing. It is under the heaviest fire of artillery that the loyal, the brave, and the true do the most daring feats of prowess. When one hero falls, from his ashes other heroes arise. The post of danger is the post of honor, therefore fresh aspirants will be found ready to lead the brigade. Moreover, my friends, if the path of fire be always a path of terror, it is often a path of progress. Melancholy as it is to mark the ruins of a conflagration, while the dying embers smoulder, how often you must have observed more majestic edifices raised to replace the structures that have been consumed! Thus fearful disasters are made to stimulate industry and nourish enterprise. No doubt the sufferings of the Church, and the fact that she has to pass through the fire, must be ascribed to the great truth that thus her God is glorified. Brethren, you and I do not glorify God much; for we have very little to suffer. The blood red crown of martyrdom is such an object of ambition, or it should be, to the believer that he might almost regret that it is not in his power to coin it. We! what do we suffer? Somebody slanders our character. What is that? Somebody abuses us in the newspaper, what is that? We are accused of one crime and another. What can it signify to a man who knows his conscience is right in the sight of God? What does he care if all the babbling tongues of all the liars in earth and hell should be let loose against him; he can bear all that and endure it quietly. It is nothing. When I read the stories of the Book of Martyrs, and note how our great reformers fought for Christ, and manfully won the victory, I blush for ourselves. Why, brethren, we live in such silken times that glory is scarce possible to us. We have much to do, but we have nothing to suffer. We cannot prove our love to Christ as they did. They indeed were a highly honored people who were permitted to glorify Christ even in the very fires. Look at it in this light, and the light afflictions you have to endure, will seem to be as nothing at all, when you think of the weight of glory which they shall bring to your Lord and to yourself. But as history confirms the statement that the Church of Christ must walk through the fire, so does the history of each individual Christian teach him that he must walk through the fire too.
"The path of sorrow and that path alone, Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
Through much tribulation we must inherit the kingdom. Think it no strange thing when the fiery trial shall happen to you. If you have the common afflictions of the world do not wonder. You must have them. The same thing happeneth both to the evil and to the good. You lose in business, you have reverses and disappointments, do not stagger at these in the way to heaven. You must have these, they are necessary to your spiritual health. Worse than that, you have strange temptations, you are placed in a position where you are constantly exposed to sin. It must be so. This too, is the pathway of God's people, you must have these fiery temptations, that you, being tried in the fire, may come forth as "gold seven times purified." You have mental anxieties. Neither let these seem a wonder to you. They fall to the lot of all the saints of the Most High. Moreover, you will have to endure the attacks of Satan, you must go through the valley of the shadow of death, and fight with Apollyon as Christian did, you are not to be exempted from the hardness of Christian warfare. If you will mount the hill, you must climb; if you are to win the crown, you must win it by sheer might. Think not this a strange thing. And if in doing good you meet with difficulties, let not that stagger you. It is but right and natural. I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down. Be of good courage, and wait on the Lord, setting this constantly in your minds that he has not promised to keep you from trouble, but to preserve you in it. It is not written, "I will save thee from the fire," but "I will save thee in the fire," not "I will quench the coals," but "they shall not burn thee," not "I will put out the furnace," but "the flames shall not kindle upon thee." Write it down and expect it to come true, that in this world thou shalt have tribulation. Only follow thy glorious leader, be it through flood or flame. II. We will now turn to our second point there is AN AWFUL DANGER. The promise of the text is based on a prophecy that follows it. As I glance my eye down the chapter, I see that it tells us how God taught his people by terrible things in the past; and how he hath terrible lessons to teach them in the future. If the judgment of Egypt, and of Ethiopia, and Seba, are behind us, we have startling destinies that rise up to view before us. There is a people to be gathered in, and we are to be the agents in gathering them. Fear not, saith the Lord, though thou walkest through the fire in fulfilling my mission. God speaks to the north, "Give up;" and to the south, "Keep not back. Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth." But the manner of Egypt is repeated again. The monarch said, "I will not let them go." Jealousy is stirred. The fire burns: the coals thereof have a vehement flame. And they that come forth from the bondage of this world must walk through the fire, even as those that came forth from Egypt had to pass through water. The fire of prophecy is no poetic fiction, it is real fire. It will burn. If it doth not burn the believer, it is not for want of energy, it is because some supernatural restraint is laid on it, or some supernatural protection vouchsafed to the saint. My brethren, the Church has had very painful experience that persecution is a fire which does burn. How many ministers of Christ, when the day of tribulation came, forsook their flocks and fled. When King Edward the Sixth was on the throne, there were many who professed to be Protestants and preached justification by faith. When Mary returned the vicar of Bray was but a specimen of a great class, his principles being to keep his living. When again Elizabeth was upon the throne, there were plenty who found it to be profitable to profess the reformed faith. But when acts of conformity were passed afterwards by which those who had hitherto used a Christian freedom in the Church of England, were driven out, there were some who said they did not love prelacy but hated it, while others who had heretofore professed the old Puritanical doctrines, finding that their livings were to be lost thereby, held fast to this world, and let the things of the next world shift for themselves. Too many have forsaken the Church as Demas forsook Paul. Their piety would not stand the fire, they could walk with Christ in silvery slippers, but they could not go barefoot; they had no objection whatever to accompany him to his throne, but they had some slight difficulties about going with him to his cross; they would not mind bearing the weight of his glory, but the weight of the cross of tribulation was much too great for their constitutions. Persecution is a fire which does burn. Again: I see iniquity raging on every side. Its flames are fanned by every wind of fashion. And fresh victims are being constantly drawn in. It spreads to every class. Not the palace nor the hovel are safe. Not the lofty piles that are raised for merchandise, nor the graceful edifice that is constructed for worship. Iniquity, whose contagion is fearful as fire, spreads and preys upon all things that are homely and comely, things useful and things sacred are not exempt. We must walk through the fire. We who are God's witnesses must stand in its very midst, to pour the streams of living water upon the burning fuel, and if not able to quench it, at least we must strive to prevent its spread. There are young men whose youthful lusts, inflammable as they are, have not yet ignited. They are in imminent danger. "Fire! fire!" we may well cry. We may give the alarm this morning to you, young man who are in the midst of ribald companions. I may cry "fire!" to you who are compelled to live in a house where you are perpetual tempted to evil, I may cry, "fire!" to you who are marked each day, and have to bear the sneer of the ungodly "fire!" to you who are losing your property and suffering in the flesh, for many have perished thereby. Oh! may God grant you never may! I see today before my mind's eye the blackened skeletons of hundreds of fair professions. Multitudes multitudes have perished in the valley of temptation who once, to all human judgment, had bid fair for heaven and made a show in the flesh! How many, too, have fallen under the attacks of Satan! This is a fire that does burn. Many a man has said, "I will be a pilgrim;" but he has met Apollyon on the road and he has turned back. Many a man has put on the harness, but he has given up the battle soon, put his hand to the plough and looked back. There are more pillars of salt than one. If Lot's wife were a solitary specimen, it were well, but there have been tens of thousands who, like her, have looked back to the plains of Sodom, and like her, as they are in their spirit, have stood for ever what they were, lost souls. We ought not to look upon our dangers with contempt. They are dangers, they are trials, we ought to look upon our temptations as fires. Oh, they are fires! If you think they are not fires you are mistaken. If you enter then, in your own strength, saying "Oh I could bear them," you will find that they are real fires, which, with forked tongues, shall lick up your blood, consume it in an instant, if you have not some better guard than your own creature power. III. I will not tarry longer here, because I want to get to the pith and marrow of the promise. "Though thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Here is A DOUBLE INSURANCE. Dr. Alexander, an eminent and most admirable American commentator says there appears to be some mistake in the translation here, because he thinks the two sentences are an anti-climax. "Thou shalt not be burned;" and then follows, "neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." It strikes me, however, that in the second clause we have the higher gradation of a climax. "Thou shalt not be burned," to the destruction of thy life, nor even scorched to give thee the most superficial injury, for "the flames shall not kindle upon thee." Just as when the three holy children came out of the fiery furnace; it is said, "upon their bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed; neither were their coats changed, nor had the smell of fire passed on them. "So the text seems to me to teach that the Christian Church under all its trials has not been consumed, but more than that it has not lost anything by its trials. The Lord's Church has never been destroyed yet by her persecutors and her trials. They have thought they crushed her, but she lives still. They had imagined that they had taken away her life, but she sprang up more vigorous than before. I suppose there is not a nation out of which Christ's Church has ever been utterly driven. Even Spain, which seemed at last to have accomplished it by the most persevering barbarities, finds still a few believers to be a thorn in the side of her bigotry; and as for our own denomination, in the very country, where by the most frightful massacres, it was believed that the sect of Anabaptists had been utterly extinguished, our good and esteemed brother Mr. Oncken has been the means of reviving it, so that throughout all Germany, and in parts of Denmark, and Prussia, and Poland, and even Russia itself, we have sprung up into a new, vigorous, and even wonderful existence. And in Sweden where, under Lutheran government, the most persecuting edicts had been passed against us, we have been astonished to find within ten years three hundred churches suddenly spring up, for the truth has in it a living seed which is not to be destroyed. But I have said that the Church not only does not lose her existence, but she does not lose anything at all. The Church has never lost her numbers. Persecutions have winnowed her and driven away the chaff; but not one grain of wheat has been taken away from the heap. Nay, not even in visible fellowship has the Church been decreased by persecution. She is like Israel in Egypt; the more they were afflicted the more they multiplied. Was a bishop put to death to-day? Ten young men came the next morning before the Roman proctor and offered themselves to die, having that very night been baptised for the dead bishop, having made their confession of faith that they might occupy his position. "I fill up the vacancy in the Church, and then die as he did." Was a woman strangled or tortured publicly? Twenty women appeared the next day and craved to suffer as she suffered, that they might honor Christ. Did the Church of Rome in more modern times burn one of our glorious reformers John Huss yet did not Martin Luther come forward as if the ashes of Huss had begotten Luther? When Wycliffe had passed away, did not the very feet of Wycliffe being persecuted help to spread his doctrines, and were there not found hundreds of young men who in every market-town in England read the Lollard's Scriptures and proclaimed the Lollard's faith? And so depend upon it, it shall ever be. Give a dog a bad name and you hang him, give a Christian a bad name and you honor him. Do but give to any Christian some ill name and before long a Christian denomination will take that name to itself, and it will become a title of honor. When George Fox was called "Quaker" it was a strange name, one to laugh at, but those men of God who followed him, called themselves Quakers too and so it lost its reproach. They called the followers of Whitfield and Wesley "Methodists," they took the title of Methodists and it became a respectful designation. When many of our Baptist forefathers, persecuted in England, went over to America to find shelter, they imagined that among the Puritans they would have a perfect rest, but Puritan liberty of conscience meant, "The right and liberty to think as they did, but no toleration to those who differed." The Puritans of New England as soon as ever a Baptist made his appearance amongst them, persecuted him with as little compunction as the Episcopalians had the Puritans. No sooner was there a Baptist, than he was hunted up and brought before his own Christian brethren. Mark you, he was brought up for fine, for imprisonment, confiscation and banishment before the very men who had themselves suffered persecution. And what was the effect of this? The effect has been that in America where we were persecuted, we are the largest body of Christians. Where the fire burnt the most furiously, there the good old Calvinistic doctrine was taught, and the Baptist became the more decidedly a Baptist than anywhere else, with the most purity and the least dross. Nor have we ever lost the firmness of our grip upon the fundamental doctrine, for which our forefathers stained the baptismal pool with blood, by all the trials and persecutions that have been laid upon us, and never shall we. Upon the entire Church, at the last, there shall not be even the smell of fire. I see her come out of the furnace. I see her advance up the hill towards her final glory with her Lord and Master, and the angels look at her garments; they are not tattered. Nay, the fangs of her enemies have not been able to make a single rent therein. They draw near to her, they look upon her flowing ringlets, and they are not crisp with heat: they look upon her very feet, and though she has trodden the coals they are not blistered, and her eyes have not been dried up by the furiousness of the seven times heated flame. She has been made more beautiful, more fair, more glorious, by the fires, but hurt she has not been, nor can she be. Turn, then, to the individual Christian, and remember, that the promise stands alike firm and fast with each believer. Christian, if you be truly a child of God, your trials cannot destroy you, and what is better still, you can lose nothing by them. You may seem to lose for to-day, but when the account comes to be settled, you shall not be found to be a farthing the loser by all the temptations of the world, of all the attacks of Satan which you have endured. Nay, more, you shall be wondrously the gainer. Your trials having worked patience and experience, shall make you rich. Your temptations have taught you your weakness, and shown you where your strength lieth, shall make you strong. From your first trouble, till the last enemy shall be destroyed, you shall not lose a fraction, jot, or tittle, by anything or every thing which God in his providence, or the world in its fury, of Satan in his craftiness, shall ever be able to lay upon you. Upon you, not the smell of fire shall have passed. You shall not be burned, neither shall your hosen, nor your hats, but like the men that you read of in Daniel, you shall be wholly preserved intact from the flame. I shall close now, having spoken the general truth by making some particular applications of this precious promise. There is a brother here who during the last three or four months has had wave upon wave of affliction: everything goes against him. He is an upright, honest, indefatigable merchant, yet, let him do what he will, his substance wastes away like snow before the sun. It appears that for every ship of his the wind blows the wrong way, and where others will by the venture he loses all.
"He sees each day new straights attend, And wonders when the scene shall end."
When I spoke of walking through the fire just now, he said, "Ah! that is what I have been doing, I have been walking through it these months, to God and my own soul alone is it known how hot the furnace is." Brother, will you take home my text this morning. Perhaps God sent you here not for the sermon, but for the text. Perhaps you strolled here to-day, not being a regular attendant, on purpose that this text might comfort you. "When thou goest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned." When your troubles are all over, you shall still be left, and what is more, "neither the flame shall kindle upon you." When the winding up time comes, you shall not be any the loser. While you think you have lost substance, you shall find when you read Scripture, that you only lose shadows. Your substance was always safe, being laid up in the keeping of Christ in Heaven. You shall discover in the issue, that these trials of yours were the best things that could happen to you. The day shall come when you will say with David, "I will sing of judgment and mercy." "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept thy word." Or perhaps there is some young woman here, and the case I am about to paint is a very common one alas, too common in this city. You love the Savior my sister, but you are very poor, and you have to earn your living by that sorriest of all means. When the sun rises in the morning he sees you with that needle in your hand,
"Sewing at once with a double thread A shroud as well as a shirt."
and all day long you have scarcely time to rest for meals, and at eventime, when the fingers are worn and the eyes are heavy, you shall have need to refrain from sleep because the pittance is so small that you can scarcely live upon it. We know hundreds of that class who always constrain our pity, because they work go hard for so little wage. Peradventure your mother is dead, and your father does not care about you. He is a drunken sot, and you would be sorry to meet him perhaps in the street. You have no helper, no friends. You do not care to tell anybody, you would not like to take anything if charity should offer it to you; you feel it the hardest thing all is to be tempted as you are. There seems to you to be by the path open the road to plenty, and in some degree to delight. But you have said, "No, no," and you have loathed the temptation, and you have stood and I have known how year after year some of you have fought with temptation, and struggled on, when sometimes you were well nigh starved; but you would not do this great wickedness against God. My sister, I pray you take the encouragement of this text to strengthen you for the future battles. You have been going through the fires. But you are not consumed yet, and I bless God, upon your garments the smell of fire has not passed. Hold on my sister, hold on, through all the sorrow thou hast, and all the bitterness which is heavy enough to crush thy spirit; hold on, for thy Master sees thee. He will encourage and strengthen thee, and bring thee more than conqueror through it all in the end. I address, too, this morning, some youthful minds. Young men who love Christ, and as soon as they get home after attending the house of prayer, the taunting enquiry made by their fellow-workmen is "You have been to some meeting-house, I dare say." How cruel sometimes worldly young men are to Christian young men! Cruel, for when there are a dozen worldlings and only one Christian they consider it to be honorable for the dozen to set upon one. Twelve big tall fellows will sometimes think it a fine game to pass from hand to hand some little lad of fifteen, and make sport and mockery of him. There is honor, it is said, among thieves, but there seems to be no honor at all among worldlings when they get a young Christian in this way. Well, young man, you have borne with it; you have said, "I will hold my tongue and won't say a word," "though your heart was hot within you, and while you were musing the fire burned." Remember what I have often said to you, the anvil does not get broken even if you keep on striking it, but it breaks all the hammers. Do you do the same. Only hold on, and these fires shall not consume you. If the fires should burn up your piety, it would only prove that your piety was not worth having. If you cannot stand a few jokes and jeers, why, you are not builded together in that habitation of God which he hath made fire-proof. Bear up and in the end you will find that this hard lot of yours, this severe discipline, did you a deal of good, and made you a better man than you ever would have been if you had been dandled on the lap of piety, and kept from the battle. In after years your high and eminent post of usefulness may be, perhaps, owing to the severe and harsh discipline to which you were put in your younger days. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. "Or, mayhap, I am speaking to some one who has met with opposition from his own ungodly relations. Remember how Jesus said, "I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled? From henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, two against three and three against two." Perhaps your father has threatened you, or what is more bitter still, your husband has threatened to discard you. Now indeed you are walking through the fires. He rails at your godliness, makes a mock of everything you love, and does his best by cruelty to break your heart. My dear sister in Christ, you shall not be burned by the fire. If grace be in your heart the devil can't drive it out, much less your husband. If the Lord has called you by his grace, all the men on earth, and all the fiends in hell can reverse the calling, and you shall find in the end that you have not suffered any loss; the flame has not kindled upon you. You shall go through the fire and bless God for it. From a dying bed, or at least through the gates of Paradise you shall look back upon the dark path of the way and say it was well, it was well for me that I had to carry that cross, and that now I am permitted to wear this crown. Who is on the Lord's side this morning of this congregation? While Jehovah speaks on high in the thunder, let us speak on earth in tones of earnestness. Who is on the Lord's side among you? You that are not, be warned. "Tophet is ordained of old. He hath made it deep and large. The pile thereof is fire and much wood. The breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it." You that are on his side, set up your banners to-day. He saith, "Fear not, I am with thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." May the Lord bless the words we have spoken. Though hastily suggested to our minds, and weakly delivered to you, the Lord bless them for Christ's sake.
North and South
by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, keep not back." Isaiah 43:6 .
In the fullness of the promised days when the Jews shall be restored from their wanderings, and all the seed of Jacob shall again meet in their own land, God in his mighty providence will speak to all the nations, saying: "To the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back;" and at the divine bidding free passage shall be given, all lets and hindrances shall be removed, and his own people shall come to their own land. Entailed on Abraham's seed by a covenant of salt, the Holy Land shall receive again its rightful heritors, the banished shall come to their own again, and no nation or people shall keep them back. So much for the literal meaning. I am unable to indulge you with fuller details, for I have no skill in guessing at the meaning of dark passages, but leave such things to those to whom it is given, or who think it is given to them. We shall now pursue the spiritual teaching of the passage. At this moment, my brethren and sisters, we who follow the footsteps of King Jesus are soldiers of an army which has invaded this world. This land belongs to our great Leader, for he made it. It was right that everywhere, all round the globe, his name should he honored, for he is the King among the nations, and the governor thereof: But our race has revolted, set up another monarch, and bowed its strength to support another dynasty the dynasty of darkness and death. Our race has broken the good and wholesome laws of the great Lord, the rightful King, and set up new laws and new customs altogether opposed to right and truth. This is the Great Rebellion the Revolt of Manhood, the Sedition of Sinners. Now, no king will willingly lose his dominions, and therefore the Great King of kings has sent his son to conquer this world by force of arms, though not by arms of steel, or weapons that cut and kill, and wound, yet by arms more mighty far; and this earth is to be yet subdued to the kingdom of the Crown Prince, the Prince Imperial of heaven, Jesus Christ, the Lord. We, his regenerated people, form part of the army of occupation. We have invaded the land. Hard and stern hath been the battle up to this point. We have had to win every inch of ground by sheer push of pike. Effort after effort has been put forth by the church of God under the guidance of her heavenly leader, and none has been in vain. Hitherto the Lord hath helped us, but there is much yet to be done. Canaanites and Hivites, and Jebusites have to be driven out; yea, in fact, the whole world seems still to lie in darkness, and under the dominion of the wicked one. We do but hold here and there a sacred fortress for truth and holiness in the land; but these we must retain till the Lord Jesus shall send us more prosperous times, and the battle shall be tamed against the foe, and the kingdom shall come unto our prince. Nor is there any fear but that such a time will come, therefore let us have courage. Soldiers of the cross, have faith; have faith in your great leader, for behold he is still at the head of you, and is still omnipotent. The hour of his weakness is past. His sun set once in blood, but it has risen to go down no more. Once was it eclipsed at noon day; but now the Sun of Righteousness ariseth with healing beneath his wings. He who died once for all, is now life's source, center, and Lord. The living Christ is present among us as the commander-in-chief of the church militant. Let us refresh our souls by drawing, near to him by the power of the Holy Ghost. The text has two grand matters in it: First, here is the royalty of the word where the word of this king is there is power. Secondly, here is the word of royalty, and that word we may well consider, for where the word of this king is there is wisdom. I. First, here is THE ROYALTY OF THE WORD. It is more than an imperial edict; it is the fiat of onmipotence. Jesus Christ saith to the north, "Give up," and it does give up; and to the south, "Keep not back," and it cannot keep back. I understand from reading this declaration, that there is a general opposition in the world to the cause and kingdom of God; for until he saith, "Give up,"' and "Keep not back," men do not crowd to Immanuel's feet, and even the chosen of God do not come forth from their hiding places. All the world over there is a general opposition to the cause of Christ, to the doctrine of truth, to the throne of God. Go where you may, in the highest places of the earth, you shall find true religion despised; among the lowest of the land you shall find that same religion blasphemed; and in the middle classes, where some seem to fancy that all virtue resides, you shall find carelessness about the things of the world to come, and carking carefulness about the selfishness of this present life. Jesus Christ is everywhere despised in comparison with the things that perish. They will not have this man to reign over them. The trees of the wood reject heaven's cedar, and choose hell's bramble. Even the eleven sell the true Joseph into Egypt, nor is there one found who will defend the chosen of God. Go amongst savage nations, and there the idol is worshipped, but Jesus is not known. Go among civilised nations, and, lo, they have only changed their idols; they have rebaptised their imates, given new names to the objects of their superstitious reverence, but the true Christ is misunderstood and rejected. Go you to the swarthy Hindoo, the man of deep philosophy and sophistry, and you shall find his heart set against the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth; and then sail over the blue sea to the islands of the deep, and man in his simplicity worships he knows not what, but not the incarnate God. Traverse the central parts of continents where as yet civilization has scarcely reached, and you shall find that man is still opposed to his Maker, and hates the name of the only begotten Son of God. Nor need we travel or even look abroad; the opposition is universal among ourselves, among the old, among the young. Striking is that text, "They go astray from the womb, speaking lies." An old Puritan puts it; "They go astray before they go: they speak lies before they speak;" and so it is. Before it comes to acts, the evil propensity is in the heart; and before the lips can frame the falsehood, there is the lie within the soul. From the earliest infancy to palsied age, nothing seems to cure manhood of its rebellious disposition; the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not reconciled to God, neither indeed while it remains what it is can it be. There is a general opposition to the cause and kingdom of Christ. But the text seems to hint that there is a particular form of that opposition in each case. There is a word to the north, a different word from that which is given to the south. The north holds fast, and therefore the word is, "Give up:" the south retires, is despairing, therefore it is said, "Keep not back." The opposition takes different shapes, and there is a different word to meet its ever varying forms. How true is Dr. Watts's verse
"We wander each a different way, But all the downward road."
As each land has its own tribes of wild animals, so has each heart its indigenous sins. All land will grow weeds, but you will not find the same sort of weed equally abundant in every soil: so in one heart the deadly nightshade of ignorance chokes the seed, and in another the prickly thistle of malice crowds out the wheat. There are difficulties in reaching the heart of any man, but not the same difficulties in all men. Some, for instance, cannot be influenced because of their want of intelligence; others because of their supposed learning. Some cannot be come at because of their presumption; others because of their despondency. Some spend their all upon the pleasures of this world, others spend nothing, but find their pleasure simply in hoarding, yet are they equally averse to heavenly things. Whatever form sin takes, it is the same opposition, but yet it may need a different mode of treatment, and by a different weapon will it have to be overcome. My dear brother in Christ, you perhaps have a different personal, spiritual difficulty from mine. I have no wish to change with you, and I should not advise you to change with me. The same is true with our trials in winning souls. We have each our difficulties, but they are not precisely alike in detail. You have to fight the north perhaps, and I the south; but the same Lord and Master can make us victorious, and without him we shall be equally defeated. The opposition which we encounter in serving our Lord is the same, depend upon it. You need not say, "Mine is a peculiarly hard task," or if you do, I may say the same of mine. After all, both tasks are impossibilities without God, and both labors shall be readily performed if Jesus speaks the divine fiat, and saith "to the north, Give up; arid to the south, Keep not back." Further, as there is in all an opposition, and as there is in each a distinct opposition, so no power can in any case subdue any part of the world to Christ apart from him. It is possible that you may fall in with a family which seems to be naturally religious: you may even meet with tribes of people who appear to he spontaneously inclined to godliness; but if you bring the religion of Christ to them, you will find that their very religiousness is the greatest difficulty you have to deal with. Some, on the other hand, never could be superstitious: the conformation of their mind is that of practical, sound, common sense; but do not deceive yourself with the idea that their conversion is any the easier. You may preach the gospel in the most forcible way to them, and you will find that this very common sense of theirs will be the main difficulty to be overcome. Believe me, however intent you may be in winning souls to Christ, you shall never meet with one who can be subdued to him by any persuasions of yours apart from the working of his own power. I know the preacher has thought within himself, "I have only to put the truth in a reasonable way, and the man will see it." Ah! sir, but sinners are not reasonable: they are the most unreasonable of all creatures: none are so senseless, none act so madly us they do. "But," saith one, "if I were to tell them of the love of Christ in an affectionate loving way, that would reach them." Yes; but you will find that all your affection and your tears, and earnest delineation of the love of Jesus, will be powerless against human hearts, unless the Eternal Spirit shall drive home your appeals. We know some who have been reasoned with, and if logic could win them, they ought to have been won long ago: they have also been persuaded, and if rhetoric could reach them, they ought to have turned away from their evil ways years ago; but all human art has been tried and tried, and tried in vain; yet there is no room for despair, for Jesus can conquer the unconquerables, and heal the incurables. Do not be disappointed, dear brother, if you have hitherto failed in your efforts; you have but proved that "vain is the help of man." You see now by experience that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." It is yours to try and bring that soul to Jesus; but it lies with him to perform the work. Duty is ours, the result is God's. If the soil of the field committed to me will never yield a harvest, I am yet bound to plough it, if my Lord commands. If I could foresee that my child would never turn to the Lord, yet I ought not to slacken my efforts for its conversion. I have to do with my Master's command, and what he bids me do I am bound to do. Never let us be surprised when we are defeated, for we ought to know that old Adam is far too strong for us, if we assail him single-handed. We cannot expect to cast out the devil: he laughs us to scorn if we attempt to exorcise him in our own name. We may speak as we will, but if it is only we that speak, the devil will say, "Jesus I know, and the Holy Ghost I know but who are ye? I do not yield to you. I will not go out of this sinner, through all your persuasions and all your talkings." Do not forget then that there is a general opposition to the kingdom of Christ such opposition as no human power can by any possibility overcome. But, my brethren, here is the point of the text. That opposition, whatever form it assumes, though not to be subdued by our agency alone, shall assuredly yield before the fiat of our great King, when he saith "to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back." His word is a word of power wherever it comes. Let us rejoice then, whatever place we dwell in, that we have only to ask the King himself to come there, and to speak with power, and we shall see conversions, conversions most numerous, that shall glorify his name. I fully believe that the darkest time of any true Christian church is just the period when it ought to have most hope, for when the Lord has allowed us to spin ourselves out till there is no more strength in us, then it is that he will come to our rescue. What could have been lower than the condition into which we, as a church, had sunk some seventeen years ago? But a little faithful band used to meet in that dreary chapel in Park Street, and cry unto the Lord, never ceasing their prayers. And, oh! how soon the house began to fill, and how speedily our tent was too strait for us, and we broke forth on the right hand and on the left, and God made the desolate places to be inhabited. Members of other churches, you have the same God to go to. Go to him, for he can work the same wonders for you. Look to the Most High, and not to man, or ministers, or modes, or methods, but only to him, and the guidance of his Spirit. "Well, but ours is a village," saith one. And is not he the Lord of the villages? Is he the Lord of the cities, and not the Lord of the hamlets? "But our chapel is ugly, and built in a back street," saith one. "Nobody knows of its existence. We shall never get the people within its obscure and dreary walls." Is God the God of the wide thoroughfares and not of the lanes? Does not the Lord know the back streets as well as the broad ones? Was not that the question in dispute of old? Is he the God of the hills, and not the God of the valleys? I have already put it in another shape to you. In his name I ask you, can anything be too hard for the Lord? Perhaps in your sphere of service you have grown so dispirited that you are inclined to say, "I may as well give up all further effort; no good will result from my endeavors." But what have you told the Master, and what have you sought at his hand? Have you told him all your discouragements? Have you asked him to speak with power, and has he refused you? If so, then give it up, but not till then, for he can even now "say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back;" and as when he said to the thick primaeval darkness, "Let there be light," and the light leaped into being, and the darkness fled, so can he, amid the gross darkness of our huge city, or the not less dense darkness of our villages, create light to our astonishment and to his glory. It is the king's word we want nothing short of it, and nothing more. We must get that by prayer: we must wait upon him with importunity. If there be only two or three whose hearts break over the desolations of the church, if we have only half a dozen that resolve to give the Lord no rest till he establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth, we shall see great things yet. A handful of people who resolve if a blessing is to be had they will have it, and that if souls are not saved it shall be the sovereignty of God that prevents it and nothing else: such a mere handful shall win the day. If they will have souls saved; if so they plead and agonize, oh! then the Lord will turn his gracious hand, and send a plenteous stream of blessing upon their district; for where he wills it the blessing must come, and he always wills to display his grace where and when he leads his people to pray for it. Before I leave this point, let me say the power of the King's word is always exercised in full consistence with the free agency of man. You must not think when we say that Christ has his will, and works omnipotently in men's hearts, that we imagine that he violates the free agency which he has created. He says to the north, "Give up," and that word does it; for a word is a suitable instrument by which to rule a free agent. The way to make blocks of timber move would be to drag them, and if we wish to shape them we must hew them with the axe, or cut them with a saw; but the way to deal with men is to speak with them. That is how Jesus operates. His power is exerted in conformity with the laws of human mind. He does not violate the free agency of man, though he does as he wills with man: His word is an instrument consistent with our mental nature, and he uses that word wisely. He says to the north, "Give up:" he says to the south, "Keep not back." His word touches the secret spring, and sets all in motion. No man is ever taken to heaven against his will, though I do not believe any man ever went there of his own free will till God's sovereign grace enlightened him and made him willing. You must not suppose that Christ conquers human hearts by physical compulsion, such as the King of Prussia used, for instance, in subduing France, or such as a man uses in driving a horse. The Lord knows how to leave us free, and yet to make us do his bidding, and therein lies the beauty of gospel influences. Suppose man's will to be a room; if you and I want to open it, we break in the lock; we do not understand the true method; but the Lord has the key, and knows how to open the door without a wrench. Without violating even the most delicate spring in the watch, the maker knows how to regulate it. Grace draws, but it is with hands of a man; it rules, but it is with a scepter of love. The fact is, the great dispute between Calvinists and Arminians has arisen very much through not understanding one another, and from one brother saying, "What I hold is the truth" and the other saying, "What I hold is truth, and nothing else." The men need somebody to knock both their heads together, and fuse their beliefs into one. They need one capacious brain to hold both the truths which their two little heads contain; for God's word is neither all on one side nor altogether on the other: it overlaps all systems, and defies all formularies. It lays the full responsibility of his ruin on man, but all the power and glory of grace it ascribes to God; and it is wise of us to do the same. The great King doeth as he wills among men as well as among the armies of heaven. Who shall stay his hand or say unto him, "What doest thou?" He rules men as men, and not as inanimate stones. He has a scepter which is adapted to mind and spirit. The weapons of his warfare are not carnal: his forces rule the heart, the mind, the whole manhood as he has made it; and so he conquers, and becomes the happy king of willing subjects, who, though subdued by power, are happy to own his sway. Thus much on the first point the royalty of the word. II. How we will consider THE WORD OF ROYALTY. The King saith "to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back." We will not spend many minutes over these words, but just briefly hint at what meaning may be drawn from them. There are some persons to whom, when the powerful word of grace comes, it speaks in this way "Give up; give up." There are other persons in another state of mind to whom, whenever the word of salvation comes, it says, "Keep not back; keep not back." Now, to some we find that it comes in this way: "Give up; give up." You say, "I am righteous; I am no worse than others. I have broken the law, but not much; my sins are trivial. I cannot deserve to be cast into hell for my small offenses. I have been not perfect, but as righteous as most. I have done this, I have done that, I have done the other." Ah, dear friend, the sword of divine grace will kill all this; and the message that God's mercy sends to you to-day is, "Give up." Renounce your fancied goodness and deceitful self-esteem. Oh, give up that spinning; it is a poor trade to spin cobwebs. Give it up. Your father, Adam, taught you to make aprons of fig-leaves; but it was after he had fallen. It is a bad business: give it up. Your own works will never cover you as you should be covered; there is a better righteousness than yours to be had; there is a better footing to stand before God upon than anything you have done. Your refuges are all refuges of lies; give them up. That pretty righteousness of yours, which fools so white, is only white because your eyes are blind; if you could see it, it is all as black as filth can make it. You conceive your robe to be new and fair, but it is all riddled through and through with holes. The worms have devoured it; it is all moth-eaten and decayed. Give it up. Oh, give up that Pharisaic mouthful, "God, I thank thee," and betake thyself to the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." Give up thy selftrust; it is a painted lie, a rotten plank, a foul deception, a false traitor; it promises salvation, but it brings sure damnation. Jesus is the sinner's only hope. Give up every other reliance. Then, too, you have an opposition in your hearts to the gospel. Concerning that also the word saith to you, "Give up." Perhaps you were prejudiced against it foolishly and ignorantly; before you ever heard it you felt persuaded you should not like it. Possibly you have been brought up to a religion of forms; you hardly think that salvation can be by simple faith in Jesus Christ; you feel a great deal of attachment to that regeneration of yours which was wrought in your baptism, and to that confirmation of yours bestowed by the bishop's fingers. Besides, you have been so regular in your religion up till now, that you can hardly brook to be told that the whole bundle of it is mere rubbish, not worth the time you have spent on it. You cannot endure to be told that
"None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good."
But rest assured, the sooner you give up all those flattering reliances of yours, the better for you, for there is nothing in them. Even ceremonies that God has commanded are only of spiritual use to spiritual men, and since you are not a spiritual man they cannot profit you. Have you in your heart an opposition to Christ? Can you not yield to him as God? Can you not stoop to be saved entirely by his merits, and acknowledge him for your Lawgiver, and Teacher, and Guide? Then as, the text saith so would I say, and may the Lord apply the word: "Give up; give up." There is no salvation for thee till thou "give up" all ceremonial hopes and formal confidences. Strike the colors, man, before a broadside goes through thee; for depend upon it, if thou yield not in one way thou wilt in another. Thou shalt either break or bow; thou shalt either turn or burn; that is the alternative to every man of woman born: he must turn away from his enmity to Christ, and yield himself up to his love, or else he shall find the power of God in Christ to be his destruction. It is possible, dear friends, that your opposition to Jesus Christ has taken the form of the love of a favourite sin. Now, there is nothing more certain than this, that you cannot be saved and keep your sins: they must be parted with. No man can carry fire in his bosom and yet be safe from burning. While you drink the poison, it must and will work death in you. The thief cannot expect mercy while he keeps the goods he has stolen. John Bunyan says that one day, when he was playing "cat" on a Sunday, on the village green, he thought he heard a voice saying to him: "Wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell, or leave thy sins and go to heaven?" That question is put to every man who hears the gospel faithfully preached. Most men in their heart of hearts would like to have their sins and go to heaven too. But that cannot be; while God is just, and heaven is holy, and truth is precious, it cannot be. What then? "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Give up, give up; give up your sin. What is the sin? The drunkards cup? Away with the bewitching draught. Is it the drunkard's company? That is as damnable as his cup; renounce such society at once. Is it blaspheming? O man, God rinse thy mouth our of such black stuff as that! Have done with a sin for which there cannot be any excuse, for it cannot bring thee any pleasure or profit, nor can there be any necesssity for it: it is a degrading, useless, senseless. God-provoking crime. Is it some secret sin that must not be named lest the cheek of modesty be reddened? Give it up, friend; it will be much better for thee to lose it though it were as precious as thy right arm or thy right eye, than to keep it and be cast into hell fire. The chamber of wantonness is the gate of death, flee from it without delay. The sins of the flesh are a deep ditch, and the abhorred of the Lord fall therein; but as thou lovest thy soul, O young man, escape like a bird from the fowler's snare. Here is the message of God to thee: "Give up, give up thy sin." Perhaps though you hear the summons, you trifle with it, and reply, "Yes; I mean to give them all up, and I hope by so doing I shall find my way to heaven. I shall deserve well of my Maker when I have denied myself all sinful pleasures." But stop; let me not deceive you: this is not all. I fear that some men are not improved in their hearts when they are altered in their outward behavior. I am glad of the outward improvement, but I have sometimes fancied that they have only changed their sins, but not given them up. They show no leprosy in their skin, but it dies in their bone and their flesh. It is little use merely to shift the region in which sin sets up its throne if its dominion is still undestroyed. It reminds one of the verse
"So when a raging fever burns, We shift from side to side by turns; And 'tis a poor relief we gain To shift the place but keep the pain."
What if the man does not go to hell as a drunkard, it will not mend it if he is ruined by being self-righteous: so long as he is lost I do not see that it materially matters how. Many and many a man has given up outward sins and set up a self-righteousness of his own, and said, "These be thy gods, O Israel;" and so he fled from a bear, and a lion slew him; he leaned on a wall, and a serpent bit him. All sin must be cast out of the throne of the heart, and whatever righteousness that is not Christ's righteousness must go with it. I would fain put the sword-point to thy heart, O sinner, and say, "Give up all that opposes Christ;" for if thou do not give it up, thy soul will be lost. In fine, dear friends, speaking to the children of God as well as to such as are not converted, I say, give up all and have Christ; give up all attempts to save yourself, and let Christ save you. Work afterwards, because he worketh in you to will and to do, but now do nothing either great or small, to make yourself righteous, for Jesus did it, did it all, long, long ago. Do nothing by way of straining for merit, but begin to do everything by way of gratitude. "Give up;" that is, give up yourself to Christ, whatever his will may be. If it be his will that you be sick, that you be poor, that you die, give all up, and say, "Thy will be done. I resign all to thee, my God." Doth Jesus command you to do anything? Let it not be irksome to you. Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Let there be no back-stair by which to play the truant; no keeping back of part of the price as though you would not do Christ's will, except in some points. Give up unreservedly, and make no provision for the flesh. Let his will be your will. Yield entirely; and if you have anything in this world of substance, of talent, of opportunity, "Give up." Begin with resignation, go on to obedience, and finish with consecration. "Give up, give up" till all is given up, body, soul, and spirit, a reasonable sacrifice to him, till you can say:
"Now Lord I would be thine alone, And wholly live to thee."
I perceive that my text has grown from a word to the sinner who has to be conquered into a word directed to Christ's nearest and dearest friends, even to those who are the soldiers of his army. It is in effect a lofty, far-reaching precept, and would to God we could live up to it, by presenting our all to Jesus our Lord. Let us now spend a minute or two on the second word of the King: "Keep not back." Is there some person within this assembly who feels within his heart, the desire to come and confess his sins to his God? Standing at the filthy swine-trough, does the prodigal say within himself: "I will arise and go unto my Father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned"? "Keep not back:" quench not that holy flame. If thou hast a desire to come and acknowledge thy transgressions unto the pardoning Savior, let nothing keep thee back neither fear, nor shame, nor procrastination, but rest not till thou hast reached the bosom of thy God and acknowledged all thy guilt before him. A repulse need not be feared, nor even an upbraiding a rich, free, loving welcome is sure. "Keep not back." But is there another who has confessed his sin, but yet has found no peace? Dost thou see yonder Christ on the cross? "Yes," sayest thou; "I know there is life in a look at him, but may I look?" My Master's message to thee is, "Keep not back; keep not back," for whosoever looketh shall be made whole, and none are forbidden to look. Does the crowd around the Savior hinder thee, thou sick and dying soul? Be not baffled by difficulty, but persevere. Press into the thickest of the throng for if thou do but touch the hem of his garment thou shalt be made whole. "Keep not back; keep not back." Thou mayst believe in Jesus now! Mayst! Nay, thou art commanded to do it; and thou art threatened if thou do not, which proves that thou hast permission and something more. It is written: "He that believeth not shall be damned." O man, it is but another way of saying thou hast a full permission to do it, for thou art threatened if thou do it not. Come thou, then, come thou, now, right joyfully. "Keep not back." Confess thy sin with repentance, and lay it on Christ by faith, and thou shalt be saved. Dear brethren and sisters, many of you have come to Christ and have been saved, and to you the text says, "Keep not back," in another sense. Do not keep back from confessing Christ. If you have the love of Jesus Christ in your soul, confess it, tell it to others. Never be ashamed of your Lord and Master. Come and unite with his church and people. It is due to the church; it is due to the preacher who was the means of your conversion, it is due especially to your Lord and Master that you "keep not back." I have heard of some who keep back because the church is not perfect. And you are very perfect I dare say! Why, if the church were perfect we should not endure you in it, my captious friend. I have no doubt whatever that you will find the church quite as perfect as you are. There are others who keep aloof from the people of God because they feel they are not perfect themselves. My dear friend, if you were perfect we should not want you, because you would be the only perfect member among us, and having a very imperfect pastor, I do not know what we should do with you; we should find you such a speckled bird among us, that we should probably pray the Lord to take you home to heaven at once. I should like to have you become perfect, and the nearer perfection the better but still if you make no profession of faith till you are sinless, it will not be this side the grave. Nay, confess Christ, for is it not written: "He that with his heart believeth, and with his mouth maketh confession of him, shall he be saved"? Do not forget the confession of the mouth. "Keep not back." And when you have done that, if there be any Christian excellency that can be reached, do not despair of reaching it. "Keep not back." And if perfection itself be attainable, never be content till you get it. If you are a child of God you never will be self-satisfied, you will be always crying: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." O that you may never be content with yourself! Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. You have come into the lowest seat at the feast, but Jesus saith: "Friend, come up higher;" and when you get into a higher room, and enter into closer communion with him, he will say to you, "Friend, come up higher." Do not hesitate to climb higher in grace and fellowship. Let your prayer be, "Nearer to thee, my God, nearer to thee." Be insatiable in the longings of your soul; hunger and thirst after righteousness; covet earnestly the best gifts. Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "Keep not back." There is no point in grace which we are prohibited from aiming at. We ought none of us to say, "I am all I can ever be." Oh, no, let us reach to the front ranks by God's grace; for he says, "Keep not back." Let me add if there be a brother who could do more for Christ than he is doing, let him "keep not back." Could you preach? Well, there are plenty of places needing occasional minister, and others that are quite destitute. I do not know a nobler occupation for a man who is in business in London than for him to be maintaining himself by his shop, or whatever else his calling may be, and going out to suburban villages on the Sabbath to preach. I often wonder more persons do not imitate the example of some good brethren, whom I could name, who are in their business diligent, and who are also fervent in spirit in their Master's work. What reason can there be that for every little church there should be a pastor specially set apart for the work? It is a very desirable thing wherever there are enough Christian people to be able to support the minister that there should be such; but I believe we very much hamper ourselves in our Christian work through always imagining that a paid person set apart to preach is necessary for every Christian church. There ought to be more farmers who educate themselves, and preach in their own barns or on the village greens. There ought to be more men of business in London who seek to improve their minds, that they may preach acceptably anywhere the gospel of Jesus Christ; and I hope the time will come when our dear friends, the members of churches in London, will not be so backward as they are, but will come forward and speak to the honor of the Lord Jesus. If you cannot edify a thousand, perhaps you can influence ten; if you cannot with a regular congregation continue to find fresh matter year after year (and believe me that is a very difficult thing), yet you can preach a sermon here and a sermon there, and tell to different companies the same story of the Savior's love. I do not know what special work you can do, but something is within your power, and from that "Keep not back." Besides, there are all our street corners. In spring and summer, how delightful to stand in the thick of the throng and uplift the Crucified One! Of course, you are sure to have a congregation out of doors, and a congregation that is rather attentive, and sometimes rather inquisitive, and do not need to be so inconveniently crowded as we are in this Tabernacle. Take the wide sweep, cast the big net, and hope for fish. If you have any grace or gift, "Keep not back." "Alas!" murmurs the glowworm, "I mean to shut up my lamp, and hide under those damp weeds, and never shine again." What is the matter with you? "Why," says he, "I have seen the sun; I shall never shine again after seeing the sun." That glowworm is stupid. If it were wise, it would say, "I have looked upon the sun; and I perceive with shame that my lamp is but a poor light, but for that reason I must use it the more diligently. The sun may well hide its light after twelve hours are over; but I must try to glimmer during the whole twenty-four hours, and so give as much light as I can, little though it be." You complain that you have but one talent; that is the reason for being doubly diligent with it. If you had five, they ought to be fully used; but if you have only one, you must put all your wits to work to make something more of it. At any rate, "Keep not back." "Well," says one, "I think I could do something, but I am of a retiring disposition." I am afraid if I had been in the French army in the late war, I should be very much of the same disposition; but in a soldier, as a rule, a retiring disposition in the hour of battle is not much commended by his captain. You who are so modest (shall I say so cowardly?) that you cannot do for Christ what you ought to do, will have an account to settle with your consciences one of these days, which will cost you a world of sorrow. Break through this bashfulness, this laziness (for it comes to that in the long run), this silly, wicked, shame. Pride must also be slain, for this hinders many. They cannot be so prominent as others, and therefore shun the work altogether. Get rid of all that cripples you, shake all off by the power of the Holy Spirit, my dear brethren, and "Keep not back," for who knows but that you may yet bring sinners to Jesus, may save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins, through God's eternal Spirit. May it be so, for Christ's sake. Amen.
May 20, 1855 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine on sake, and will not remember thy sins." Isaiah 43:25 .
There are some passages of sacred writ which have been more abundantly blessed to the conversion of souls than others. They may be called salvation texts. We may not be able to discover how it is, or why it is, but certainly it is the fact, that some chosen verses have been more used of God to bring men to the cross of Christ than any others in his Word. Certainly they are not more inspired, but I suppose they are more noticeable from their position, from their peculiar phraseology more adapted to catch the eye of the reader, and more suitable to a prevailing spiritual condition. All the stars in the heavens shine very brightly, but only a few attract the eye of the mariner, and direct his course; the reason is this, that those few stars from their peculiar grouping are more readily distinguished, and the eye easily fixes upon them. So I suppose it is with those passages of God's Word which especially attract attention, and direct the sinner to the cross of Christ. It so happens that this text is one of the chief of them. I have found it, in my experience, to be a most useful one; for out of the hundreds of persons who have come to me to narrate their conversion and experience, I have found a very large proportion who have traced the divine change which has been wrought in their hearts to the hearing of this precious declaration of sovereign mercy read, and the application of it with power to their souls: "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." Hence I feel this morning somewhat pleased to have such a text, because I anticipate that my Master will give me souls; and I feel likewise somewhat afraid lest I should spoil the passage by my own imperfect handling thereof. I will, therefore, cast myself implicitly on the help of the Spirit, so that whatever I speak, may be suggested by him, and whatever he saith that may I speak, to the exclusion of my own thoughts as much as possible. We shall notice first, this morning, the recipients of mercy the persons of whom the Lord is here speaking; secondly, the deed of mercy, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions;" thirdly, the reason for mercy "for mine own sake;" and fourthly, the promise of mercy "I will not remember thy sins." I. We are about to see who are THE RECIPIENTS OF MERCY; and I would have you all listen; peradventure there be some strayed in here who are the very chief of sinners some who have sinned against light and knowledge, who have gone the full length of their powers for sin, so that they come here self-condemned, and fearing that for them there is neither mercy nor pardon. I am about to talk to you of the lovingkindness of our glorious Jehovah, and may some of you be led to read your own condition in those characters which I shall describe to you. If you will turn to your Bibles, you will find who are the persons here spoken of. Look for example at the 22nd verse of the chapter from which our text is taken, and you will see, first, that they were prayerless people: "Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob." And are there not some prayerless ones sitting or standing here this morning? Might I not walk along these benches, and point my finger to one and another, and say, "Thou art not a praying one?" Or might I not reach out my hand to one and another upon this platform, and say, "Thou hast not been with God in secret, and held heart converse with him?" These prayerless ones may have repeated many a form of prayer, but the breathing desire, the living words, have not come from their lips. Thou hast lived, sinner, up to this time without sincere prayer, and if an ejaculation has bee forced from thy lips from a fear that took hold of thee; if a cry has gone forth from thee when in the sufferings of a sick bed, because the pains of death gat hold upon thee; if it has not been thy habit to pray, the impressions of that trying period have soon been forgotten. Is prayer your constant practice, my hearers? How many of you now before me, ay, and behind me too, must confess that you have not prayed, that it is not your habit to hold communion with God. Prayerless souls are Christless souls; for you can have no real fellowship with Christ, no communion with the Father, unless you approach his mercy-seat, and be often there; and yet if you are condemning yourselves, and lamenting that this has been your condition, you need not despair, for this mercy is for you: "Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob;" yet, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake." Next, these persons were despisers of religion, for observe the language of the same verse: "Thou hast been weary of me, O Israel." And may I not say to some here thou despisest religion, thou hatest God; thou art weary of him, and lovest not his services. As for the Sabbath-day, do not too many of you find it the most tiresome day in the week, and do you not, in fact, look over your ledger on the Sabbath afternoon? If you were compelled to attend a place of worship twice on the Sabbath-day, would you not think it the greatest and most terrible hardship that could be inflicted upon you? You have to find some worldly amusement to make the hours of the Sabbath-day pass away with any comfort at all. So far from wishing that "congregations might ne'er break up." and the Sabbath last for eternity, is it not to some of you the most tedious day of the week? You feel it to be a weariness, and are glad when it is gone. You do not understand the sentiment expressed by the poet:
"Sweet is the work, my God, my King, To praise thy name, give thanks and sing.
You know nothing of the pain of banishment from the courts of Zion, whither the sacred tribes repair; and when there you do not hold communion with God, rejoicing that the hallowed place has become a Bethel the house of God the very gate of heaven. You can never say
"My willing soul would stay In such a frame as this And sit and sing herself away To everlasting bliss."
Ah, no! not only is religion unlovely to you, but it is a weariness. But if you are now convinced of this sin, and are repenting of it, and desire to be delivered from its power, then God speaks to you this morning, and says, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake return unto me, with unfeigned repentance, and I will have mercy upon you." Note, again, the character. They have been thankless persons: "Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings." They have been unthankful. They had their cattle and their flocks all multiplied and increased many fold, but they did not bring even one of the small cattle to him in return. Thou never gavest him a kid for a burnt offering, but hast been like the swine, regardless of the oak which strews food upon the ground for thee; thou hast been a carnal worldly character, receiving a gift, but never thanking the Almighty who caused it to be bestowed; while the little chicken, after it has drunk of the stream, lifteth its head, as if to thank God who provided the water. Thou hast been fed, day by day, by an Almighty power, and yet thou hast never given in return even one of the small cattle of thy flock for a burnt offering. This is true of some who attend our houses of prayer; they very rarely give to any collection for the cause of God; they are like the man in America, of whom some one has told us, who boasted that religion had been to him a very cheap thing, costing him only a few cents a year, of whom a good man said, "The Lord have mercy on your little stingy soul." If a man has no more religion than that, if he has not a religion that will make him generous, he has no religion at all. I thought of that passage last Thursday night, while I was preaching: "Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money." God needeth nothing at your hands, but he likes little presents, he loves now and then to receive of your substance; for you know that little as it is in his eyes, comparatively speaking it is great, because it comes from a friend. But some of you have never bought him a sweet cane with your money never sang a hymn to his praise; you have attributed everything to your good luck, and have boasted that you have obtained everything you have got by the labour of your own hands, and that you can say, I have need to thank nobody for what I have. That has been thy spirit; thou hast given no thanks to God, the God of heaven and earth; thou hast not gloried him, but thyself, and yet the Most High is willing to pardon thy sin in this thing, if thou art but unfeignedly penitent, and dost sue for forgiveness, for he saith also to you, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions." Yet, again, these people were a useless people. "Neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices; but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins." It is well said, the chief end of man is to glorify God. For that purpose God made the sun, moon, and stars, and all his works, that they might honor him. And yet how many are there, even, perhaps among my hearers this morning, who have never honored God in their lives. Ask yourselves what have you done? If you were to write your own history, it would be little better than that of Belzoni's toad, which existed in the rock for three thousand years; you may have lived like it, but you have done nothing. What souls have you ever won to the Saviour? How has his name been magnified by you? Have you ever served him? How have you ever worked for him? What have you done for God? Have you not been cumberers of the ground; taking the nourishment of the earth where some better tree might have grown, and bearing no fruit to the great husbandman, or at least, only a few sorry crabs, that were not worth his acceptance. For all you have done, the world might as well have never known you. You have not been even so much use as the glow-worm, which, at least, serves to light the steps of the traveller. The world may possibly be glad to get rid of some of you, and rejoice when you are gone. Perhaps you have assisted in destroying the souls of those with whom you have been connected in life. You can recollect the time when you led that young man first into the ale house. You can remember the hour when you swore a most horrible oath; your child was within hearing, and learned to be profane also. You may look upon some souls who are going even now to damnation through your example; and in hell you may see spirits starting up from their iron beds, and hear them shrieking in their woe: "Who is it that led me here, and caused my soul to be destroyed? thou art the author of my damnation." Is the indictment true? Will you not be compelled to plead guilty to the charge? Do you not even now repent of your great transgressions? Even if it be so, my Master authorizes me to say again, "Thus saith the Lord, I, even I, am he that blotteth out my transgressions, and will not remember thy sins." Again, there are some who may be termed sanctuary sinnersþ sinners in Zion and these are the worst of sinners. I can usually tell whether inquirers have been the children of pious parents or no, if after a confession of great guilt they feel unable to proceed at the remembrance of what they once were. Groaning, and sobbing, and tears running down their cheeks, are the silent language of their woe. When I see this, I always know that the language that succeeds will be: "I have been the child of pious parents; and I feel that I am one of the worst of sinners, because I was brought up to religion; and yet I disregarded it, and turned aside from it." O yes, the worst of sinners are sinners in Zion, because they sin against light and knowledge; they force their way to hell, as John Bunyan says, over the Cross of Christ; and the worst way to hell is to go by the cross to it. Many of you now before me were consecrated to God by a beloved mother, and your father taught you to read and love the Scriptures of truth. You were brought up like Timothy; you well understand the theory of the way of salvation, and yet you come here, young men, some of you enemies to God and without Christ, and despisers of his word; some of you are even scoffers, or if not actually scoffers, you say religion is nought to you, and by your actions, if not by your words, declare it is nothing to you that Jesus should die. Ah! when I speak to you, I would not forget myself. Should it ever be my lot to wake up in hell, I should be amongst the most horribly damned there, for I had a most pious training, and should be forced to take my place with the sanctuary sinners. And you that are such, whom I am addressing now, are you not afraid? Ask yourselves now, "Who among us shall dwell with devouring fire?" Do you tremble and shake for fear, and with a penitent heart desire forgiveness? If so, then I say again, in my Master's name who spake nothing but love and mercy to penitent sinners, who said, "Neither do I condemn thee" Jehovah now declares "I, even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." Yet, once more, we have here men who had wearied God: "Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities." You see the man who has been a professor of religion, and can look back twenty years ago, when he was a member of a Christian church; he was apparently walking in the fear of the Lord, and all men thought he had received the grace of God in truth; but he has turned aside into the paths of sin; sometimes his lips have been defiled with oaths, and his soul the bondslave of sin; but even now he is often found in God's house; sometimes he is affected to tears, and says within himself, "Surely I will return unto the Lord, for then was it better with me than now." Self-condemned, he stands and weeps in the bitterness of his heart; and mark you, it may be this morning he has stepped into this vast assembly, and that his knees are knocking one against the other, yet it may be that his goodness shall prove like the morning cloud and the early dew, that passeth away; or it may be that the turning point is now come; "Now or never," as Baxter used to say; now God or Satan, now accepted or condemned. Poor backslider, return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon thee; he will blot out all thy sins, and so blot them out that he will not remember them against thee any more for ever. These, then, are the characters who receive mercy. Some of you may say, "You seem to think us a bad lot" and so I do. Others exclaim, "How can you talk to us in this way? We are a honest, moral, and upright people." If so, then I have no gospel to preach to you. You may go elsewhere if you will, for you may get moral sermons in scores of chapels if you want them; but I am come in my Master's name to preach to sinners, and so I will not say a word to you Pharisees except this By so much as you think yourself righteous and holy, by so much shall ye be cast out of God's presence at last. Your sentence will be eternal banishment from the presence of him who hath said to every repenting sinner, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, and will not remember thy sins." II. The second point is, THE DEED OF MERCY. We have found out the persons to whom God will give mercy; now what is mercy's deed? It is a deed of forgiveness, and in speaking of it, I shall speak first of its being a divine forgiveness "I, even I, am he." Divine pardon is the only forgiveness possible; for no one can remit sin but God only, and it matters not whether a Roman Catholic Priest, or any other priest shall say in the name of God, "I absolve thee from thy transgressions," it is abominable blasphemy. If a man has offended me I can forgive him, but if he has offended God I cannot forgive him. The only discharge possible is pardon by God; but then it is the only pardon necessary. Suppose I have so sinned that the king or the queen will not pardon me, that my brethren will not forgive me, and that I cannot pardon myself; if God absolves me, that is all the acquittal that will be necessary for my salvation. Perhaps I stand condemned by the law of my country: I am a murderer and must suffer on the scaffold; the queen refuses to pardon, and perhaps she does right in such a refusal; but I do not want her forgiveness in order to enter heaven; if God acquits me, that will be enough. Were I such a reprobate that all men hissed at me and wished me gone from existence, if I knew that they would never forgive my crime though I ought to desire my fellow- creatures' forgiveness it would not be necessary that I should have it to enter heaven. It God says, I forgive thee, that is enough. It is only God that can forgive satisfactorily; because no human pardon can ease the troubled conscience. The self-righteous Pharisee may be content to give himself into the hands of a priest to be rocked to sleep in the cradle of delusion, but the poor convinced sinner wants something more than the arrogant dictum of a priest ten thousand of them, with all their enchantments, he feels to be all in vain, unless Jehovah himself shall say, "I have blotted out thy sins for mine own sake." Again, it is surprising forgiveness; for the text speaks as if God himself were surprised that such sins should be remitted: "I,even, I;" it is so surprising that it is repeated in this way, lest any of us should doubt it. And it is amazing to the poor sinner when first awakened to his sin and danger. It seems to be too good too be true, and he "wonders to feel his own hardness depart," the mercy offered is so overwhelming. It is said that Alexander, whenever he attacked a city, put a light before the gate of it; and if the inhabitants surrendered before the light was burnt out, he spared them; but if the light went out first, he put them all to death. But our Master is more merciful than this; for if he had manifested grace only while a small light would burn, where should we have been? There be some here seventy or eighty years of age, and God has mercy on you still; but there is a light you know which when once quenched, extinguishes all hope of pardon the light of life. See then, grey-headed man, thy candle is burnt almost to the socket it has but the snuff left. Seventy years thou hast been here living in sin, and yet mercy waits on thee; but thou shalt soon depart, and mark me, there is no hope for thee then. But surprising grace, mercy's message is still proclaiming
"For while the lamp holds out to burn, The vilest sinner may return."
Unutterable mercy! There is no sinner out of hell so black but that God can wash him white. There is not out of the pit one so guilty that God is not able and willing to forgive him; for he declares the wondrous fact "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions." Notice once more, that it is a present forgiveness. It does not say I am he that will blot out thy transgressions, but that blotteth them out now. There are some who believe, or at least seem to imagine, that it is not possible to know whether our sins are forgiven in this life. We may have hope, it is thought, that at last there will be a balance to strike on our side. But this will not satisfy the poor soul who is really seeking pardon, and is anxious to find it; and God has therefore blessedly told us, that he blotteth out our sin now; that he will do it at any moment the sinner believes. As soon as he trusts in his crucified God, all his sins are forgiven, whether past, present, or to come. Even supposing that he is yet to commit them, they are all pardoned. If I live eighty years after I receive pardon, doubtless I shall fall into many errors, but the one pardon will avail for them as well as for the past. Jesus Christ bore our punishment, and God will never require at my hands the fulfilment of that law which Christ has honored in my stead; for then would there be injustice in heaven: and that be far from God. It is no more possible for a pardoned man to be lost than for Christ to be lost, because Christ is the sinner's surety. Jehovah will never require my debt to be paid twice. Let none impute injustice to the God of the whole earth: let none suppose that he will twice exact the penalty of one sin. If you have been the chief of sinners, you may have the chief of sinner's forgiveness, and God can bestow it now. I cannot help noticing the completeness of this forgiveness. Suppose you call on your creditor, and say to him, "I have nothing to pay with." "Well," says he, "I can issue a distress against you, and place you in prison and keep you there." You still reply that you have nothing and he must do what he can. Suppose he should then say, "I will forgive all." You now stand amazed and say, "Can it be possible that you will give me that great debt of a thousand pounds?" He replies, "Yes, I will." "But how am I to know it?" There is a bond: he takes it and crosses it all out and hands it back to you, and says, "There is a full discharge, I have blotted it all out." So does the Lord deal with penitents. He has a book in which all your debts are written; but with the blood of Christ he crosses out the handwriting of ordinances which is there written against you. The bond is destroyed, and he will not demand payment for it again. The devil will sometimes insinuate to the contrary, as he did to Martin Luther. "Bring me the catalogue of my sins," said Luther; and he brought a scroll black and long. "Is that all?" said Luther. "No," said the devil; and he brought yet another. "And now," said the heroic saint of God, "write at the foot of the scroll: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin." That is a full discharge." III. Now, very briefly, the third thing THE REASON FOR MERCY. Says one poor sinner, "Why should God forgive me? I am sure there is no reason why he should, for I have never done anything to deserve his mercy." Hear what God says, "I am not about to forgive you for your own sake, but for my own sake." "But, Lord, I shall not be thankful enough." "I am not about to pardon you because of your gratitude, but for my name's sake." "But, Lord, if I am taken into thy church I can do very little for thy cause in future years, for I have spent my best days in the devil's service, surely the impure dregs of my life cannot be sweet to thee, O God." "I will not engage to forgive you for your sake, but for my own. I do not want you," says God, "I can do as well without you as with you, the cattle upon a thousand hills are mine; and if I pleased I could create a whole race of men for my service, who should be as renowned as the greatest monarchs, or the most eloquent preachers, but I can do as well without them, as with them; and I forgive you therefore for my own sake." Is there not hope for a guilty sinner here? It cannot be pleaded by any one that his sins are too great to be pardoned, for the amount of guilt is hereby put entirely out of consideration, seeing that God forgives not on account of the sinner, but for his own sake. Did you never hear of a physician visiting a man upon a sick bed, when the poor man said, "I have nothing to give you for your attention to me." "But," says the doctor, "I did not ask for anything; I attend you from pure benevolence; and moreover to prove my skill. It will make no difference to me how long you live, I love to try my skill, and let the world know that I have power to heal diseases. I want to get myself a name." And so God says, I desire to have a name for mercy; so that the worse you are, the more God is honored in your salvation. Go then to Christ, poor sinner naked, filthy, poor, wretched, vile, lost, dead, come as thou art, for there is nothing required in thee, except the need of him:
"This he gives you, 'Tis his Spirit's rising beam."
"for mine own sake," says God, "I will forgive." IV. Now to conclude THE PROMISE OF MERCY. "And will not remember thy sins." There are some things which even God cannot do. Though it is true he is Omnipotent, yet there are some things he cannot do. God cannot lie he cannot forsake his people he cannot disown his covenant; and this is one of the things it might be thought he could not do that is, forget. Is it impossible for God to forget? We finite creatures suffer many things to slip, but can the Almighty ever do so? That God who counteth the stars and calleth them all by their names who knoweth how many animalculae there are in the mighty ocean who notices every grain of dust that floats in the summer air, and is acquainted with every leaf of the forest, can he cease to remember? Perhaps we may answer "No." Not as to the absolute fact of the committal of the deed; but there are senses in which the expression is entirely accurate. In what sense are we to understand God's forgetfulness of our sins? First of all, he will not exact punishment for them when we come before his judgment bar at last. The Christian will have many accusers. The devil will come and say "That man is a great sinner." "I don't remember it," says God. "That man rebelled against thee, and cursed thee," says the accuser. "I do not remember it," says God, "for I have said I will not remember his sins." Conscience says, "Ah! but Lord, it is true, I did sin against thee, and that most grievously." "I do not remember it," says God "I said, I will not remember his sins." Let all the demons of the pit clamour in God's ear, and let them vehemently shout out a list of our sins, we may stand boldly forth at that great day, and sing, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" for God does not even remember their sin. The Judge does not remember it, and who then shall punish? Unrighteous as we were; wicked as we have been; yet he has forgotten it all. Who then can bring to remembrance what God has forgotten? He says, "I will cast thy sins into the depths of the sea," not into the shallows where they might be fished up again, but into the depths of the sea, where Satan himself cannot find them. There are no such things as sins recorded against God's people. Christ has so taken them away, that sin becomes a nonentity to Christians it is all gone, and through Jesu's blood they are clean. The second meaning of this is, I will not remember thy sins to suspect thee. There is a father, and he has a wayward son who went away that he might live a life of looseness and profligacy; but after a while he comes home again in a state of penitence. The father says, "I will forgive thee." But he says next day to his younger son, "There is business to be done at a distant town to-morrow, and here is the money for you to do it with." He does not trust the returned prodigal with it. "I have trusted him before with money," says the father to himself, "and he robbed me, and it makes me afraid to trust him again." But our heavenly Father says, "I will not remember thy sins." He not only forgives the past, but trusts his people with precious talents. He never suspects them. He has never one suspicious thought. He loves them just as much as if they had never gone astray. He will employ them to preach his gospel; he will put them into the Sunday-school, and make them servants of his Son: for he says, "I will not remember thy sins." Again: he will not remember in his distribution of the recompense of the reward. The earthly parent will kindly pass over the faults of the prodigal; but you know when that father comes to die, and is about to make his will, the lawyer sitting by his side, he says, "I shall give so much to William, who always behaved well, and my other son shall have so-and-so, and my daughter, she shall have so much; but there is that prodigal, I have spent a large sum upon him when he was young, but he wasted what he received, and though I have taken him again into favour, and for the present he is going on well; still I think I must make a little difference between him and the others. I think it would not be fair though I have forgiven him to treat him precisely as the rest;" and so the lawyer puts him down for a few hundred pounds, while the others, perhaps, get their thousands. But God will not remember your sins like that; he gives all an inheritance. He will give heaven to the chief of sinners as well as to the chief of saints. When he divides the portion to his children, it may be he will put Mary Magdalene as high as he does Peter, and the thief as high as he does John; yea, the malefactor who died on the cross is as much in the sight of God as the most moral person that ever lived. Here is a blessed forgetfulness. What sayest thou, poor sinner? Is thy heart drawn by a mysterious inspiration to the foot of the cross? Then I thank my Master; for I trust the one object of my life is to win souls for Christ, and if I may be blessed in that, my life shall be happy. Still do you say, "My sins are too great to be forgiven." Nay, but O man, as high as the heaven is above the earth, so great is his mercy above thy sins, and so far does his grace exceed thy thoughts. Oh, but sayest thou, "He will not accept me." What then is the meaning of this text "He is able to save unto the uttermost;" or this "Whosoever cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out;" and again "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely." Do you still say, "This does not include me." Oh be not so faithless, but rather believe. Oh! had I the power, God knows I would weep myself away in order to win your souls.
"But feeble our compassion proves, And can but weep where most it loves.
I can do nothing but preach God's gospel; but since the moment Christ forgave me, I cannot help speaking of his love. I turned away from his gospel, and would have none of his reproofs. I cared not for his voice or his Word. That blessed Bible lay unread; these knees refused to bend in prayer, and my eyes looked on vanity. Has he not pardoned? Has he not forgiven? Yes. Then sooner may this tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, than cease to proclaim free-grace in all its mighty displays of electing, redeeming, pardoning, and saving mercy. Oh! how loud ought I to sing, seeing I am out of hell, and delivered from condemnation. And if I am out of hell, why should not you be? Why should I be saved and not another? It was for sinners, remember, that Jesus came. Mary Magdalene, Saul of Tarsus the very chief of sinners, were accepted, and why do you foolishly conclude that you are cast out? Oh, poor penitent if you perish, you will be the FIRST penitent who ever did so. God give you his blessing, my dear friends, for Christ's sake. Amen.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent