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The Great Revival
March 28th, 1858 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." Isaiah 52:10 .
When the Heros of old prepared for the fight they put on their armour; but when God prepares for battle he makes bare his arm. Man has to look two ways to his own defence, as well as to the offence of his enemy; God hath but one direction in which to cast his eye the overthrow of his foeman, and he disregards all measures of defence, and scorns all armour. He makes bare his arm in the sight of all the people. When men would do their work in earnest, too, they sometimes strip themselves, like that warrior of old, who, when he went to battle with the Turks, would never fight them except with the bare arm. "Such things as they," said he, "I need not fear; they have more reason to fear my bare arm than I their scimitar." Men feel that they are prepared for a work when they have cast away their cumbrous garments. And so the prophet represents the Lord as laying aside for awhile the garments of his dignity, and making bare his arm, that he may do his work in earnest, and accomplish his purpose for the establishment of his church. Now, leaving the figure, which is a very great one, I would remind you that its meaning is fully carried out, whenever God is pleased to send a great revival of religion. My heart is glad within me this day, for I am the bearer of good tidings. My soul has been made exceedingly full of happiness, by the tidings of a great revival of religion throughout the United States. Some hundred years, or more, ago, it pleased the Lord to send one of the most marvellous religious awakenings that was ever known; the whole of the United States seemed shaken from end to end with enthusiasm for hearing the Word of God; and now, after the lapse of a century, the like has occurred again. The monetary pressure has at length departed; but it has left behind it the wreck of many mighty fortunes. Many men, who were once princes, have now become beggars, and in America. more than in England, men have learned the instability of all human things. The minds of men, thus weaned from the earth by terrible and unexpected panic, seem prepared to receive tidings from a better land, and to turn their exertions in a heavenly direction. You will be told by any one who is conversant with the present state of America, that wherever you go there are the most remarkable signs that religion is progressing with majestic strides. The great revival, as it is now called, has become the common market talk of merchants; it is the theme of every newspaper; even the secular press remark it, for it has become so astonishing that all ranks and classes of men seem to have been affected by it. Apparently without any cause whatever, fear has taken hold of the hearts of men; a thrill seems to be shot through every breast at once; and it is affirmed by men of good repute, that there are, at this time, towns in New England where you could not, even if you searched, find one solitary unconverted person. So marvellous I had almost said, so miraculous has been the sudden and instantaneous spread of religion throughout the great empire, that it is scarcely possible for us to believe the half of it, even though it should be told us. Now, as you are aware, I have at all times been peculiarly jealous and suspicious of revivals. Whenever I see a man who is called a revivalist, I always set him down for a cipher. I would scorn the taking of such a title as that to myself. If God pleases to make use of a man for the promoting of a revival, well and good; but for any man to assume the title and office of a revivalist, and go about the country, believing that wherever he goes he is the vessel of mercy appointed to convey a revival of religion, is, I think, an assumption far too arrogant for any man who has the slightest degree of modesty. And again, there are a large number of revivals, which occur every now and then in our towns, and sometimes in our city, which I believe to be spurious and worthless. I have heard of the people crowding in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, to hear some noted revivalist, and under his preaching some have screamed, have shrieked, have fallen down on the floor, have rolled themselves in convulsions, and afterwards, when he has set a form for penitents, employing one or two decoy ducks to run out from the rest and make a confession of sin, hundreds have come forward, impressed by that one sermon, and declared that they were, there and then, turned from the error of their ways; and it was only last week I saw a record of a certain place, in our own country, giving an account, that on such a day, under the preaching of the Rev. Mr. So-and-so, seventeen persons were thoroughly sanctified, twenty-eight were convinced of sin, and twenty-nine received the blessing of justification. Then comes the next day, so many more; the following day, so many more; and afterwards they are all cast up together, making a grand total of some hundreds, who have been blessed during three services, under the ministry of Mr. So-and-so. All that I call farce! There may be something very good in it; but the outside looks to me to be so rotten, that I should scarcely trust myself to think that the good within comes to any very great amount. When people go to work to calculate so exactly by arithmetic, it always strikes me they have mistaken what they are at. We may easily say that so many were added to the church on a certain occasion, but to take a separate census of the convinced, the justified, and the sanctified, is absurd. You will, therefore, be surprised at finding me speaking of revival; but you will, perhaps, not be quite so surprised when I endeavour to explain what I mean by an earnest and intense desire, which I feel in my heart, that God would be pleased to send throughout this country a revival like that which has just commenced in America, and which, we trust, will long continue there. I should endeavour to mark, in the first place, the cause of every revival of true religion; secondly, the consequences of such revival; then, thirdly, I shall give a caution or two, that we make not mistakes in this matter, and conceive that to be God's work which is only man's; and then I shall conclude by making an exhortation to all my brethren in the faith of Christ, to labour and pray for a revival of religion in the midst of our churches. I. First, then, THE CAUSE: OF A TRUE REVIVAL. The mere worldly man does not understand a revival; he cannot make it out. Why is it, that a sudden fit of godliness, as he would call it, a kind of sacred epidemic, should seize upon a mass of people all at once? What can be the cause of it? It frequently occurs in the absence of all great evangelists; it cannot be traced to any particular means. There have been no special agencies used in order to bring it about no machinery supplied, no societies established; and yet it has come, just like a heavenly hurricane, sweeping everything before it. It has rushed across the land, and of it men have said, "The wind bloweth, where it listeth; we hear the sound thereof, but we cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth." What is then, the cause? Our answer is, If a revival be true and real, it is caused by the Holy Spirit, and by him alone. When Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost, and preached that memorable sermon by which three thousand persons were converted, can we attribute the remarkable success of his ministry to anything else but the ministry of the Holy Spirit? I read the notes of Peter's discourse; it was certainly very simple; it was a plain narration of facts; it was certainly very bold, very cutting, and pointed, and personal, for he did not blush to tell them that they had put to death the Lord of life and glory, and were guilty of his blood; but on the mere surface of the thing, I should be apt to say that I had read many a sermon far more likely to be effective than Peter's; and I believe there have been many preachers who have lived, whose sermons when read would have been far more notable and far more regarded, at least by the critic, than the sermon of Peter. It seems to have been exceedingly simple and suitable, and extremely earnest, but none of these things are so eminently remarkable as to be the cause of such extraordinary success. What, then, was the reason? And we reply, once more, the same word which the Holy Spirit blesses to the conversion of one, he might, if he pleased, bless to the conversion of a thousand: and I am persuaded that the meanest preacher in Christendom might come into this pulpit this morning, and preach the most simple sermon, in the most uneducated style, and the Holy Spirit, if so he willed it, might bless that sermon to the conversion of every man, woman, and child, within this place: for his arm is not shortened, his power is not straitened, and as long as he is Omnipotent, it is ours to believe that he can do whatsoever seemeth him good. Do not imagine, when you hear of a sermon being made useful, that it was the sermon itself that did the work. Conceive not, because a certain preacher may have been greatly blessed in the conversion of souls, that there is anything in the preacher. God forbid that any preacher should arrogate such a thing to himself. Any other preacher, blessed in the same manner, would be as useful, and any other sermon, provided it be truthful and earnest, might be as much blessed as that particular sermon which has become notable by reason of the multitudes who by it have been brought to Christ. The Spirit of God, when he pleaseth, blows upon the sons of men. He finds a people hard and careless; he casts a desire into their minds he sows it broadcast in their spirits a thought towards the house of the Lord, and straightway, they know not why, they flock in multitudes to hear the Word preached. He casts the seed, the same seed, into the preacher's mind, and he knows not how, but he feels more earnest than he did before. When he goes to his pulpit, he goes to it as to a solemn sacrifice, and there he preaches, believing that great things will be the effect of his ministry. The time of prayer cometh round; Christians are found meeting together in large numbers; they cannot tell what it is that influences them, but they feel they must go up to the house of the Lord to pray. There are earnest prayers lifted up; there are earnest sermons preached, and there are earnest hearers. Then God the Almighty One is pleased to, soften hard hearts, and subdue the stout-hearted, and bring them to know the truth. The only real cause is, his Spirit working in the minds of men. But while this is the only actual cause, yet there are instrumental causes; and the main instrumental cause of a great revival must be the bold, faithful, fearless preaching of the truth as it is in Jesus. Why, brethren, we want every now and then a reformation. One reformation will never serve the church; she need's continually to be wound up, and set a-going afresh; for her works run down, and she does not act as she used to do. The bold, bald doctrines that Luther brought out, began to be a little modified, until layer after layer was deposited upon them, and at last the old rocky truth was covered up, and there grew upon the superficial subsoil an abundance of green and flowery errors, that looked fair and beautiful, but were in no way whatever related to the truth, except as they were the products of its decay. Then there came bold men who brought the truth out again, and said, "Clear away this rubbish; let the blast light upon these deceitful beauties; we want them not; bring out the old truth once more!" And it came out. But the tendency of the church perpetually is, to be covering up its own naked simplicity, forgetting that the truth is never so beautiful as when it stands in its own unadorned, God-given glory. And now, at this time, we want to have the old truths restored to their places. The subtleties and the refinements of the preacher must be laid aside. We must give up the grand distinctions of the school-men, and all the lettered technicalities of men who have studied theology as a system, but have not felt the power of it in their hearts; and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument, in the hand of the Spirit, for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land. But added to this, there must be the earnest prayers of the church. All in vain the most indefatigable ministry, unless the church waters the seed sown, with her abundant tears. Every revival has been commenced and attended by a large amount of prayer. In the city of New York at the present moment, there is not, I believe, one single hour of the day, wherein Christians are not gathered together for prayer. One church opens its doors from five o'clock till six, for prayer; another church opens from six to seven, and summons its praying men to offer the sacrifice of supplication. Six o'clock is past, and men are gone to their labour. Another class find it then convenient such as those, perhaps, who go to business at eight or nine-and from seven to eight there is another prayer meeting. From eight to nine there is another, in another part of the city, and what is most marvellous, at high noon, from twelve to one, in the midst of the city of New York, there is held a prayer meeting in a large room, which is crammed to the doors every day, with hundreds standing outside. This prayer meeting is made up of merchants of the city, who can spare a quarter of an hour to go in and say a word of prayer, and then leave again; and then a fresh company come in to fill up the ranks, so that it is supposed that many hundreds assemble in that one place for prayer during the appointed hour. This is the explanation of the revival. If this were done in London-if we for once would outvie old Rome, who kept her monks in her sanctuaries, always at prayer, both by night and by day, if we together could keep up one golden chain of prayer, link after link of holy brotherhood being joined together in supplication, then might we expect an abundant outpouring of the Divine Spirit from the Lord our God. The Holy Spirit, as the actual agent the Word preached, and the prayers of the people, as the instruments and we have thus explained the cause of a true revival of religion. II. But now what are THE CONSEQUENCES OF A REVIVAL OF RELIGION? Why, the consequences are everything that our hearts could desire for the church's good. When the revival of religion comes into a nation, the minister begins to be warmed. It is said that in America the most sleepy preachers have begun to wake up; they have warmed themselves at the general fire, and men who could not preach without notes, and could not preach with them to any purpose at all, have found it in their hearts to speak right out, and speak with all their might to the people. When there comes a revival, the minister all of a sudden finds that the usual forms and conventionalities of the pulpit are not exactly suitable to the times. He breaks through one hedge; then he finds himself in an awkward position, and he has to break through another. He finds himself perhaps on a Sunday morning, though a Doctor of Divinity, actually telling an anecdote lowering the dignity of the pulpit by actually using a simile or metaphor sometimes perhaps accidentally making his people smile, and what is also a great sin in these solid theologians, now and then dropping a tear. He does not exactly know how it is, but the people catch up his words. "I must have something good for them," he says. He just burns that old lot of sermons; or he puts them under the bed, and gets some new ones, or gets none at all, but just gets his text, and begins to cry, "Men and brethren, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." The old deacons say, "What is the matter with our minister?" The old ladies, who have heard him for many years, and slept in the front of the gallery so regularly, begin to rouse, and say, "I wonder what has happened to him; how can it be?" Why, he preaches like a man on fire. The tear runs over at his eye; his soul is full of love for souls." They cannot make it out; they have often said he was dull and dreary and drowsy. How is it all this is changed? Why, it is the revival. The revival has touched the minister; the sun, shining so brightly, has melted some of the snow on the mountain-top, and it is running down in fertilizing streams, to bless the valleys; and the people down below are refreshed by the ministrations of the man of God who has awakened himself up from his sleep, and finds himself, like another Elijah, made strong for forty days of labour. Well, then, directly after that the revival begins to touch the people at large. The congregation was once numbered by the empty seats, rather than by the full ones. But on a sudden the minister does not understand it he finds the people coming to hear him. He never was popular, never hoped to be. All at once he wakes up and finds himself famous, so far as a large congregation can make him so. There are the people, and how they listen! They are all awake, all in earnest; they lean their heads forward, they put their hands to their ears. His voice is feeble; they try to help him; they are doing anything so that they may hear the Word of Life. And then the members of the church open their eyes and see the chapel full, and they say, "How has this come about? We ought to pray." A prayer-meeting is summoned. There had been five or six in the vestry: now there are five or six hundred, and they turn into the chapel. And Oh! how they pray! That old stager, who used to pray for twenty minutes, finds it now convenient to confine himself to five; and that good old man, who always used to repeat the same form of prayer when he stood up, and talked about the horse that rushed into the battle, and the oil from vessel to vessel, and all that, leaves all these things at home, and just prays, "O Lord, save sinners, for Jesus Christ's sake." And there are sobs and groans heard in the prayer meetings. It is evident that not one, but all, are praying; the whole mass seems moved to supplication. How is this again? Why, it Is just the effect of the revival, for when the revival truly comes, the minister and the congregation and the church will receive good by it. But it does not end here. The members of the church grow more solemn, more serious. Family duties are better attended to; the home circle is brought under better culture. Those who could not spare time for family prayer, find they can do so now; those who had no opportunity for teaching their children, now dare not go a day without doing it; for they hear that there are children converted in the Sunday school. There are twice as many in the Sunday school now as there used to be; and, what is wonderful, the little children meet together to pray; their little hearts are touched, and many of them show signs of a work of grace begun; and fathers and mothers think they must try what they can do for their families: if God is blessing little children, why should he not bless theirs? And then, when you see the members of the church going up to the house of God, you mark with what a steady and sober air they go. Perhaps they talk on the way, but they talk of Jesus; and if they whisper together at the gates of the sanctuary, it is no longer idle gossip; it is no remark about, "how do you like the preacher? What did you think of him? Did you notice So-and-so?" Oh, no! "I pray the Lord that he might bless the word of his servant, that he might send an unction from on high, that the dying flame may be kindled, and that where there is life, it may be promoted and strengthened, and receive fresh vigour." This is their whole conversation. And then comes the great result. There is an inquirers' meeting held: the good brother who presides over it is astonished; he never saw so many coming in his life before. "Why," says he, "there is a hundred, at least, come to confess what the Lord has done for their souls! Here are fifty come all at once to say that under such a sermon they were brought to the knowledge of the truth. Who hath begotten me these? How hath it come about? How can it be? Is not the Lord a great God that hath wrought such a work as this?" And then the converts who are thus brought into the church, if the revival continues, are very earnest ones. You never saw such a people. The outsiders call them fanatics. It is a blessed fanaticism. Others say, they are nothing but enthusiasts. It is a heavenly enthusiasm. Everything that is done is done with such spirit. If they sing, it is like the crashing thunder; if they pray, it is like the swift, sharp flash of lightning, lighting up the darkness of the cold hearted, and making them for a moment feel that there is something in prayer. When the minister preaches, he preaches like a Boanerges, and when the church is gathered together, it is with a hearty good will. When they give, they give with enlarged liberality; when they visit the sick, they do it with gentleness, meekness, and love. Everything is done with a single eye to God's glory; not of men, but by the power of God. Oh! that we might see such a revival as this! But, blessed be God, it does not end here. The revival of the church then touches the rest of society. Men, who do not come forward and profess religion, are more punctual in attending the means of grace. Men that used to swear, give it up; they find it is not suitable for the times. Men that profaned the Sabbath, and that despised God, find it will not do; they give it all up. Times get changed; morality prevails; the lower ranks are affected. They buy a sermon where they used to buy some penny tract of nonsense. The higher orders are also touched; they too are brought to hear the word. Her ladyship, in her carriage, who never would have thought of going to so mean a place as a conventicle, does not now care where she goes so long as she is blessed. She wants to hear the truth; and a drayman pulls his horses up by the side of her ladyship's pair of grays, and they both go in and bend together before the throne of sovereign grace. All classes are affected. Even the senate feels it; the statesman himself is surprised at it, and wonders what all these things mean. Even the monarch on the throne feels she has become the monarch of a people better than she knew before, and that God is doing something in her realms past all her thought that a great King is swaying a better sceptre and exerting a better influence than even her excellent example. Nor does it even end there. Heaven is filled. One by one the converts die, and heaven gets fuller; the harps of heaven are louder, the songs of angels are inspired with new melody, for they rejoice to see the sons of men prostrate before the throne. The universe is made glad: it is God's own summer; it is the universal spring. The time of the singing of birds is come; the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Oh! that God might send us such a revival of religion as this! I thank God, that we, as a people, have had great cause to thank him that we had great measure of revival of this kind, but nothing compared with what we desire. I have heard of revivals, where twenties, and thirties, and forties, and fifties, were gathered in; but, tell it to the honour of our God, there is never a month passes, but our baptismal pool is opened, and never a communion Sabbath, but we receive many into the fold of the Lord. As many as three hundred in one year have we added to the church, and still the cry is, "They come! they come!" and were but our new sanctuary built, I am persuaded, that in six months from its erection, instead of having twelve hundred members, I should be the pastor of at least two thousand. For I believe there are many of you who attend this hall in the morning, who find it quite impossible to crowd into the chapel in the evening, and are only waiting and anxious, that you may tell to me and to the brethren, what God has done for your souls. This I know, the Lord hath been very gracious to us, and to him be the honour of it. But we want more. Our souls are greedy covetous for God. Oh! that we might be all converted!
"We long to see the churches full, That all the chosen race, May with one voice, and heart, and tongue, Sing his redeeming grace."
And we have to thank God, too, that it has not ended there; for we had last Sabbath evening, Exeter Hall full, Westminster Abbey full, and this place full too; and though we may not altogether agree in sentiment with all that preach, yet God bless them all! So long as Christ is preached, I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice; and I would to God that every large building in London were crowded too, and that every man who preached the Word were followed by tens of thousands, who would hear the truth. May that day soon come! and there is one heart which will rejoice in such a day more than any of you a heart that shall always beat the highest when it sees God glorified, though our own honour should decrease. III. Now we shall have to turn to the third point, which was A CAUTION. When Christmas Evans preached in Wales, during a time of revival, he used to make the people dance; the congregation were so excited under his ministry that they positively danced. Now I do not believe that dancing was the work of the Spirit. Their being stirred in their hearts might be the Holy Spirit's work, but the Holy Spirit does not care to make people dance under sermons; no good comes of it. Now and then among our Methodist friends there is a great break out, and we hear of a young woman in the middle of a sermon getting on the top of a form and turning round and round in ecstasy, till she falls down in a fainting fit, and they cry, "Glory be to God." Now we do not believe that is the work of the Spirit; we believe it is ridiculous nonsense, and nothing more. In the old revivals in America a hundred years ago, commonly called "the great awakening," there were many strange things, such as continual shrieks and screams, and knockings, and twitchings, under the services. We cannot call that the work of the Spirit. Even the great Whitfield's revival at Cambuslang, one of the greatest and most remarkable revivals that were ever known, was attended by some things that we cannot but regard as superstitious wonders. People were so excited, that they did not know what they did. Now, if in any revival you see any of these strange contortions of the body, always distinguish between things that differ. The Holy Spirit's work is with the mind, not with the body in that way. It is not the will of God that such things should disgrace the proceedings. I believe that such things are the result of Satanic malice. The devil sees that there is a great deal of good doing; "Now," says he, "I'll spoil it all. I'll put my hoof in there, and do a world of mischief. There are souls being converted; I will let them get so excited that they will do ludicrous things, and then it will all be brought into contempt." Now, if you see any of these strange things arising look out. There is that old Apollyon busy, trying to mar the work. Put such vagaries down as soon as you can, for where the Spirit works, he never works against his own precept, and his precept is, "Let all things be done decently and in order." It is neither decent nor orderly for people to dance under the sermon, nor howl, nor scream, while the gospel is being preached to them, and therefore it is not 'the Spirit's work at all, but mere human excitement. And again, remember that you must always distinguish between man and men in the work of revival. While, during a revival of religion, a very large number of people will be really converted, there will be a very considerable portion who will be merely excited with animal excitement, and whose conversion will not be genuine. Always expect that, and do not be surprised if you see it. It is but a law of the mind that men should imitate one another, and it seems but reasonable, that when one person is truly converted, there should be a kind of desire to imitate it in another, who yet is not a possessor of true and sovereign grace. Be not discouraged, then, if you should meet with this in the midst of a revival. It is no proof that it is not a true revival; it is only a proof that it is not true in that particular case. I must say, once more, that if God should send us a great revival of religion, it will be our duty not to relax the bonds of discipline. Some churches, when they increase very largely, are apt to take people into their number by wholesale, without due and proper examination. We ought to be just as strict in the paroxysms of a revival as in the cooler times of a gradual increase, and if the Lord sends his Spirit like a hurricane, it is ours to deal with skill with the sails, lest the hurricane should wreck us by driving us upon some fell rock that may do us serious injury. Take care, ye that are officers in the church, when ye see the people stirred up, that ye exercise still a holy caution, lest the church become lowered in its standard of piety by the admission of persons not truly saved. IV. With these words of caution, I shall now gather up my strength, and with all my might labour to stir you up to seek of God a great revival of religion throughout the length and breadth of this land. Men, brethren and fathers, the Lord God hath sent us a blessing. One blessing is the earnest of many. Drops precede the April showers. The mercies which he has already bestowed upon us are but the forerunners and the preludes of something greater and better yet to come. He has given us the former, let us seek of him the latter rain, that his grace may be multiplied among us, and his glory may be increased. There are some of you to whom I address myself this morning who stand in the way of any revival of religion. I would affectionately admonish you, and beseech you, not to impede the Lord's own work. There be some of you, perhaps, here present to-day who are not consistent in your living. And yet you are professors of religion; you take the sacramental cup into your hand and drink its sacred wine, but still you live as worldlings live, and are as carnal and as covetous as they. Oh, my brother, you are a serious drawback to the church's increase. God will never bless an unholy people, and in proportion to our unholiness, he will withhold the blessing from us. Tell me of a church that is inconsistent, you shall tell me of a church that is unblest. God will first sweep the house before be will come to dwell in it. He will have his church pure before he will bless it with all the blessings of his grace. Remember that, ye inconsistent ones, and turn unto God, and ask to be rendered holy. There are others of you that are so cold-hearted, that you stand in the way of all progress. You are a skid upon the wheels of the church. It cannot move for you. If we would be earnest, you put your cold band on everything that is bold and daring. You are not prudent and zealous; if you were so, we would bless God for giving you that prudence, which is a jewel for which we ought ever to thank God, if we have a prudent man among us. But there are some of you to whom I allude, who are prudent, but you are cold. You have no earnestness, you do not labour for Christ, you do not serve him with all your strength. And there are others of you who are imprudent enough to push others on, but never go forward yourselves. O ye Laodiceans, ye that are neither hot nor cold, remember what the Lord hath said of you "So then, because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." And so will he do with you. Take heed, take heed, you are not only hurting yourselves, but you are injuring the church. And then there are others of you who are such sticklers for order, so given to everything that has been, that you do not care for any revival, for fear we should hurt you. You would not have the church repaired, lest we should touch one piece of the venerable moss that coats it. You would not cleanse your own garment, because there is ancient dirt upon it. You think that because a thing is ancient, therefore it must be venerable. You are lovers of the antique. You would not have a road mended, because your grandfather drove his waggon along the rut that is there. "Let it always be there," you say; "Let it always be knee-deep." Did not your grandfather go through it when it was knee deep with mud, and why should not you do the same? It was good enough for him, and it is good enough for you. You always have taken an easy seat in the chapel. You never saw a revival; you do not want to see it. You believe it is all nonsense, and that it is not to be desired. You look back; you find no precedent for it. Doctor So-and-so did not talk about it. Your venerable minister who is dead did not talk so, you say; therefore it is not needed. We need not tell you it is scriptural; that you do not care for. It is not orderly, you say. We need not tell you the thing is right; you care more about the thing being ancient than being good. Ah, you will have to get out of the way now, it isn't any good; you may try to stop us, but we will run over you if you do not get out of the way. With a little warning we shall have to run over your prejudices and incur your anger. But your prejudices must not, cannot, restrain us. The chain may be never so rusty with age, and ever so stamped with authority, the prisoner is always happy to break it, and however your fetters may shackle us, we will dash them in pieces if they stand in the way of the progress of the kingdom of Christ. Having thus spoken to those who hinder, I want to speak to you who love Jesus with all your hearts, and want to promote it. Dear friends, I beseech you remember that men are dying around you by thousands. Will you let your eye follow them into the world of shades? Myriads of them die without God, without Christ, without hope. My brother, does not their fearful fate awake your sympathy. You believe, from Scriptural warrant, that those who die without faith go to that place where "their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched." Believing this, is not your soul stirred within you in pity for their fate? Look around you to-day. You see a vast host gathered together, professedly for the service of God. You know also how many there are here who fear him not, but are strangers to themselves and strangers to the cross. What! Do you know yourself what a solemn thing it is to be under the curse, and will you not pray and labour for those around you that are under the curse to-day? Remember your Master's cross. He died for sinners; will not you weep for them?
"Did Christ o'er sinners weep; And shall your cheek be dry?"
Did he give his whole life for them, and will not you stir up your life to wrestle with God, that his purposes may be accomplished on their behalf? You have unconverted children do you not want them saved? You have brothers, husbands, wives, fathers, that are this day in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity; do you not want a revival, even if it were only for their sakes? Behold, how much of robbery, of murder, of crime, stains this poor land. Do you not want a revival of religion, if it were merely for quenching the flames of crime? See how God's name every day is blasphemed. Mark how, this day, trades are carried on, as if it were man's day, and not God's. Mark how multitudes are going the downward course, merry on their way to destruction. Do you not feel for them? Are your hearts hard and stolid? Has your soul become steeled? Has it become frozen like an iceberg? O sun of righteousness arise, and melt the icy heart, and make us all feel how fearful it is for immortal souls to perish; for men to be hurried into eternity without God, and without hope. Oh, will you not now, from this time forth, begin to pray that God may send forth his Word and save them, that his own name may be glorified? As for you that fear not God, see how much ado we are making about you. Your souls are worth more than you think for. O that ye would believe in Christ, to the salvation of your souls!
Two Sermons: The Vanguard and Rear Guard of the Church and The Glory in the Rear
The Vanguard and Rear Guard of the Church
December 26th, 1858 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"The Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward." Isaiah 52:12 .
The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel. Yet nevertheless, the church on earth has, and until the second advent must be, the church militant, the church armed, the church warring, the church conquering. And how is this? It is in the very order of things that so it must be. Truth could not be truth in this world if it were not a warring thing, and we should at once suspect that it were not true if error were friends with it. The spotless purity of truth must always be at war with the blackness of heresy and lies. I say again, it would cast a suspicion upon its own nature; we should feel at once that it was not true, if it were not an enmity with the false. And so at this present time, the church of Christ, being herself the only incarnation of truth left upon this world, must be at war with error of every kind of shape; or if she were not, we should at once conclude that she was not herself the church of the living God. It is but a rule of nature that holiness must be at enmity with sin. That would be but a mock purity which could lie side by side with iniquity and claim its kinship. "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee?" Shall Christ and Belial walk together? Shall the holy be linked with the unholy? If it were so, beloved, we might then not only suspect that the church was not the holy, universal and apostolic church; we might not only suspect it, but we might beyond suspicion pronounce a verdict upon her, "Thou art no more Christ's bride; thou art an antichrist, an apostate. Reprobate silver shall men call thee, because thou hast not learned to distinguish between the precious and the vile." Thus, you see, if the church be a true church, and a holy church, she must be armed: there are so many untrue things and unholy things, that she must be perpetually with her sword in her hand, carrying on combat against them. And every child of God proveth by experience that this is the land of war. We are not yet come to the time when every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, none daring to make him afraid. The mountains do not bring peace to the people, nor the little hills righteousness. On the contrary, the children of God hear the sound of war; the shrill clarion is constantly sounding in their ears; they are compelled to carry with them the sword and the shield, and constantly to gird their armor on, for they are not yet come to the land of peace; they are in an enemy's country, and every day will convince them that such is their position. Now, how comforting is this text to the believer who recognizes himself as a soldier, and the whole church as an army! The church has its van-guard: "Jehovah will go before you." The church is also in danger behind; enemies may attack her in her hinder part, "and the God of Israel shall be her rereward." So that the army is safe from enemies in front and God alone knoweth their strength and it is also perfectly secure from any foes behind, however malicious and powerful they may be; for Jehovah is in the van, and the covenant God of Israel is behind: therefore the whole army is safe. I shall first consider this as it respects the church of God; and then, in the second place, I shall endeavour to consider it as it respects us, as individual believers. May God comfort our hearts while considering this precious truth! I. First, consider THE WHOLE CHURCH OF GOD AS AN ARMY. Remember that part of the host have crossed the flood; a large part of the army are standing this day upon the hills of glory; having overcome and triumphed. As for the rear, it stretches far into the future; some portions are as yet uncreated; the last of God's elect are not perhaps yet in existence. The rear-guard will be brought up in that day when the last vessel of mercy is full to the brim of grace, the last prodigal is restored to his Father's house, and the last of Christ's redeemed ones redeemed by power, as they were of old redeemed by blood. Now, cast your eyes forward to the front of the great army of God's elect, and you see this great truth coming up with great brilliance before you: " Jehovah shall go before you." Is not this true? Have you never heard of the eternal counsel and of the everlasting covenant? Did that not go before the church? Yea, my brethren, it went before manhood's existence, before the creation of this world that was to be the stage whereon the church should play its part, before the formation of the universe itself, when as yet all things that we now behold were unborn, when God lived alone in solitary majesty without a fellow, when there were no creatures. If there were such an eternity, an eternity filled with the Creator, and not one creature with him, even then it was, that God determined in his mind that he would form a people to himself who should show forth his praise; it was then that he settled how men should be redeemed; it was then the council of peace was held between the three divine persons, and it was determined that the Father should give the Son, that the Son should give himself, that the Holy Spirit should be the active agent to fetch out all the lost sheep, and restore them to the fold. Oh! think, beloved, of that great text which says, "His goings forth were of old, even from everlasting." Do not think that the gospel is a new thing; it is older than your hoary mountains, nay, it is older than the firstborn sons of light. Before that "beginning," when God created the heavens and the earth, there was another "beginning," for "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And assuredly, the Gospel was ever in the Word, for Jesus was set up front everlasting as the great head of the covenant of grace. Behold, then, the glorious Jehovah in the Trinity of his persons, treading the pathless depths of eternity, that a way for his elect might be prepared herein. He has gone before us. Take another view of the case. Jehovah shall go before you. Has he not gone before his church in act and deed? Perilous has been the journey of the church from the day when first it left Paradise even until now. When the church left Paradise, I say, for I believe that Adam and Eve were in the church of God, for I believe that both of them were redeemed souls, chosen of God, and precious. I see God give the promise to them before they leave the garden, and they go out from the garden, the church of God. Since that time, what a path has the church had to tread, but how faithfully hat Jehovah led the way. We see the floods gather round about her, but even then she floats safely in the ark which Jehovah had provided for her beforehand, for the Lord had gone before her. I see the church going out from Ur of the Chaldees. It is but a little church, with the patriarch Abraham at its head. I see that little church dwelling in an enemy's country, moving to and fro; but I observe how the Lord is its constant leader "When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; he suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." I see the church afterwards going down to the land of the cruel Pharaohs. It was a black part of her pilgrimage, for she was going to the lash of the taskmaster and to the heat of the burning fiery furnace; but I see Joseph going down before, Jehovah's great representative; Joseph goeth down into Egypt, and he saith, "God sent me before you to provide a place for you in the time of famine." So sings the Psalmist, "He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: until the time that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord or his house, and ruler of all his substance: to bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom. Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham." But now the church has to come up out of Egypt, and God goes before her still; "But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. And he led them on safely so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies." The Red Sea is before them; Jehovah goes in front and dries up the sea. The desert must then be trodden; Jehovah marches in front, and scatters manna with both his hands; he splits the rock, and sends out a living stream. For forty years the church wanders there; Jehovah is with them; the fiery cloud-pillar leads them all their journey through. And now they come to the banks of Jordan; they are about to enter into the promised land; Jehovah goes before them and the Jordan is driven back, and the floods are dry. They came into the country of the mighty ones, the sons of Anak, men that were of the race of giants; but Jehovah had gone before them; the hornet was sent and the pestilence, so that when they came they said it was a land that did eat up the inhabitants thereof, for God himself with the sword and the pestilence was mowing down their foes that they might be an easier victory. "And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased. He cast out the heaten also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents." But why need I go through all the pages of the history of the church of God in the days of the old dispensation? Hath it not been true from the days of John the Baptist until now? Brethren, how can ye account for the glorious triumphs of the church if ye deny the fact that God has gone before her? I see the church emerge, as it were, from the bowels of Christ. Twelve fishermen what are these to do? Do? Why they are to shake the world, to uproot old systems of paganism that have become venerable, and whose antiquity seems a guarantee that men will never renounce them. These men are to blot out the name of Jupiter; they are to cast Venus from her licentious throne; they are to pull down the temple of Delphos, scatter all the oracles, and disrobe the priests: these men are to overthrow a system and an empire of error that has stood for thousands of years a system which has brought in to its help all the philosophy of learning and all the pomp of power; these twelve fishermen are to do it. And they have done it, they have done it. The gods of the heathens are cast clown; they only remain among us as memorials of men's folly; but who bows down to Jupiter now? Where is the worshipper of Ashtaroth? Who calls Diana a divinity? The twelve fishermen have done it; they have erased from the world the old system of superstition; it seemed old as the eternal hills, yet have they dug up its foundations and scattered them to the winds. Could they have accomplished it unless Jehovah had been in the van and led the way? No, beloved, if ye read the history of the church, ye will be compelled to confess that whenever she went forward she could discern the footsteps of Jehovah leading the way. Our missionaries in these later times tell us that, when hey went to the South Seas to preach the gospel, there was an evident preparedness in the minds of the people for the reception of the truth, and I believe that at this time, if the church were true to herself, there are nations and people and tribes that are just in the condition of the ancient Canaanites: the hornet is among them making way for the Lord's army to win an easy conquest. But sure I am that never minister ascends the pulpit, if he be a true minister of Christ; never missionary crosses the sea, never Sunday school teacher goes to his work, but that Jehovah goes before him to help him if he goes in earnest prayer and constant faith. If I were a poet I think I have a subject that might suggest a grand epic poem the march of the church through the world, with Jehovah in her fore front. See, when first she comes forth, "the kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed." Alas, poor church, what is now thy fate? But I hear a voice ahead. What is it? It is a laugh. Who laughs? Why the leader of the army laughs. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at them. The Lord shall have them in derision." And shall we that are behind be mourning? Shall the church tremble? Let her call to mind the days of old, and comfort herself, that the Breaker has gone up before her, and the King at the head of her. But the enemy approaches. They bring out the rack, the bloody sword, the burning faggot. The march of the church lies through the flames, the floods must be forded, torments must be endured. Did the church ever stop a moment in its march for all the martyrdoms that fell upon her like the drops of a fiery shower? Never, never did the church seem to march on with feet so ready, never were her steps so firm as when she dipped her foot each time in blood, and every moment passed through the fire. It was the marvel of those days that men were better Christians then, and more willing to make a profession of Christ than they are even now. And whereas this seems to be the day of cravens, the time of persecution was the age of heroes, the time of the great and the bold. And why? Because God had gone beforehand with his church, and provided stores of grace for stores of trouble, shelter and mercy for tempests and persecution, abundance of strength for a superfluity of trial. Happy is the church because God has gone before her. Whether it were over the tops of the mountains, where her pastors fell frozen by cold, or whether it were in the depths of the dungeon where her confessors expired upon the rack, whether it were in the flame or at the block, everywhere God went before his church, and she came forth triumphant because her great vanguard had cleared the way. And now, beloved, we have come to the sweet part of the text, which saith, "And the God of Israel shall be the rereward." The original Hebrew is, "God of Israel shall gather you up." Armies in the time of war diminish by reason of stragglers, some of whom desert, and others of whom are overcome by fatigue; but the army of God is "gathered up;" none desert from it if they be real soldiers of the cross, and none drop down upon the road. The God of Israel gathers them up. He who goes before, like a shepherd before the flock, providing pasture for them, comes behind that he may gather the lambs in his arms that he may gently lead those that are with young. "The God of Israel is your rereward." Now the church of Christ has been frequently attacked in the rear. It often happens that the enemy, tired of opposing the onward march by open persecution, attempts to malign the church concerning something that has either been taught, or revealed, or done in past ages. Now, the God of Israel is our rereward. I am never at trouble about the attacks of infidels or heretics, however vigorously they may assault the doctrines of the Gospel, I will leave them alone; I have no answer for their logic; if they look to be resisted by mere reason, they look in vain; I have the simple answer of an affirmation, grounded upon the fact that God had said it. It is the only warfare I will enter into with them. If they must attack the rear let them fight with Jehovah himself. If the doctrines of the Gospel be as base as they say they are, let them cast discredit upon God, who revealed the doctrines; let them settle the question between God's supreme wisdom and their own pitiful pretensions to knowledge. It is not for Christian men to fear about the rear of the church. The doctrines of the Gospel, which are like the heavy baggage carried in the rear, or like the great guns kept behind against the time when they are wanted in the hour of battle, these are quite safe. The Amalekites may fall upon the stuff, or the Philistines may attack the ammunition, all is safe, for God is in the rereward; and let them but appear against our rear, and they shall instantly be put to the rout. But I am thinking that perhaps the later trials of the church may represent the rereward. There are to come, perhaps, to the church, in days that are approaching, fiercer persecutions that she has ever known. We cannot tell, we are no pretenders to prophecy, but we know that it always has been so with the church a time of prosperity and then a period of persecution. She has a Solomon, and she reigns in all her glory under his shadow; hut in after years Antiochus oppresses her, and she needs a Judas Maccabæus to deliver her. Perhaps we are living in an age too soft for the church. The Capuan holidays that ruined the soldiers of Hannibal may rob the church now; ease and lack of persecution may put us off our guard. Perhaps, there may come yet fiercer times for us. I know not what is meant by the battle of Armageddon, but sometimes I fear we are to expect trial and trouble in years to come; but certain I am, however fierce those troubles shall be, that God, who has gone before his church in olden times, will gather up the rear, and she who has been Ecclesia victrix the church, the conqueror, will still be the same, and her rear shall constitute at last a part of the church triumphant, even as already glorified. Can you now conceive the last great day when Jehovah, the rereward shall gather up his people? The time is come; the last of the salt is about to be removed; the church of God is now about to be carried up to dwell with her husband. Do you see the church moving upwards towards heaven? Behind her she leaves a world in flames; she sees the earth destroyed, God removes it as a shepherd's tent; the inhabitants thereof are gone, and the tent must be folded up; as a vesture shall they be folded up, and they shall be changed. But between the church and a blazing world, between the church and the terrible destruction of hell, there is the bright pillar of God's presence black to his enemies behind, but bright to his church in front. The close of the great dispensation of the Mediator shall be that the God of Israel shall be all in all, his church shall be completely safe; he shall have gathered up all things in one, whether they be things in heaven or things on earth. Then shall the sonnet of the poet be more than fulfilled to the rejoicing and perfected church.
"Daughter of Zion, awake from thy sadness, Awake, for thy foes shall oppress thee no more; Bright o'er thy hills dawns the day-star of gladness: Arise, for the night of thy sorrow is o'er.
Strong were thy foes, but the arm that subdued them, And scatter'd their legions, was mightier far; They fled, like the chaff, from the scourge that pursued them, Vain were their steeds, and their chariots of war.
Daughter of Zion, the power that hath saved thee Extoll'd with the harp and the timbrel should be: Shout, for the foe is destroy'd that enslaved thee, The oppressor is vanquish'd, and Zion is free."
II. Let us turn to the second part of the sermon. We are now come to the last Sabbath of the year. Two troubles present themselves, the future and the past. We shall soon launch into another year, and hitherto we have found our years, years of trouble. We have had mercies, but still we find this house of out pilgrimage is not an abiding city, not a mansion of peace and comfort. Perhaps we are trembling to go forward. Foreseeing trouble, we know not how we we shall be able to endure to the end. We are standing here and pausing for a while, sitting down upon the stone of our Ebenezer to rest ourselves, gazing dubiously into the future, saying, "Alas! what shall I do? Surely, I shall one day fall by the hand of the enemy." Brother, arise, arise; anoint your head, and wash your face, and fast no longer; let this sweet morsel now cheer you; put this bottle to your lips, and let your eyes be enlightened: "The Lord Jehovah will go before you." He has gone before you already. Your future path has all been marked out in the great decrees of his predestination. You shall not tread a step which is not mapped out in the great chart of God's decree. Your troubles have been already weighed for you in the scales of his love; your labour is already set aside for you to accomplish by the hand of his wisdom. Depend upon it.
"Your times of trial and of grief, Your times of joy and sweet relief, All shall come and last and end As shall please your heavenly Friend."
Remember, you are not a child of chance. If you were, you might indeed fear. You will go nowhere next year except where God shall send you. You shall be thrust into the hot coals of the fire, but God shall put you there. You shall perhaps be much depressed in spirit, but that heaviness shall be for your good, and shall come from your Father; you shall have the rod, but it shall not be the rod of the wicked it shall be in God's hand. Oh! how comfortable the thought that everything is in the hand of God, and that all that may occur to me during the future years of my life is fore-ordained and overruled by the great Jehovah, who is my Father and my friend! Now stop, Christian, a moment, and realize the idea that God has gone before, mapping the way; and then let me ask you if you could now this morning be allowed to draw a fresh map, would you do it? If he should condescend to say, "Now your circumstances next year shall be just what you like; you shall have your own way, and go your own route to heaven, would you dare, even with God's permission, to draw a new chart?" If you should have that presumption, I know the result: you would find that you had gone the wrong way; you would soon be glad enough to retrace your step, and with many tears you would go to your heavenly Father, and say, "My Father, I have had enough to do with the helm of this ship; it is hard work to hold it; do what thou wilt with it; steer which way thou pleasest, though it be through the deepest floods and the hottest flame. I am weary, I sleep at the tiller, I cannot guide the ship, my tears fall fast from my eyes, for when I think to be wise I find myself to have committed folly; when I thought I was promoting my own advantage in my scheme, I find I am rushing into a sea of losses." God, then, has gone before you in the decree of his predestination. And recollect, God has gone before you in all your future journey in the actual preparations of his providence. I do not think I am capable this morning, for my mind seems to wander far more than I could desire, of sketching how it is, but so it is, that God always makes a providence beforehand ready for his people when they get to the place. My God does not hastily erect a tent over me when I come to a certain spot. No; he builds an inn of mercy, and before I get there he provides a bed of comfort, and stores up the old wines of grace, that I may feast upon them. And all this is done long before I come to the actual necessity. None of us can tell how the future leans on the past, how a simple act of to-day shall bring about a grand event in a hundred years. We do not know how the future lies in the bowels of the post, and how what is to be is the child of that which is. As all men spring from their progenitors, so the providence of to-day springs from the providence of a hundred years past. The events of next year have been forestalled by God in what he has done this year and years before. I am certain of this, that on the road I am to travel during the next year, everything is ready for me. I am not going a road of hills and deep valleys, but I have heard the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." "I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." "And I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them." I say again, you are not going through a land that God has not prepared for you. O Israel, there is a well of Elim made for you long before you came out of Egypt, and there are palm trees that have been growing there that they might just come to the fruit-bearing state, and have fruit upon them, when you come there. O Israel, God is not going to extemporize a Canaan for you; it is ready made, it is even now flowing with milk and honey; the vines that are to bear you grapes of Eshcol are already there and coming to perfection. God has forestalled your trials and troubles for the next year. The Lord Jehovah has gone before you. There is also another phase of this subject. Jehovah has gone before us in the incarnation of Christ. As to our future troubles for next year and the remnant of our days, Jesus Christ has borne them all before. As for temptation, he "has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." As for trials and sorrows, he has felt all we can possibly feel, and infinitely more. As for our difficulties, Christ has trodden the road before. We may rest quite sure that we shall not go anywhere where Christ has not gone. The way of God's people in providence is the exact track of Christ himself. The footsteps of the flock are identical with the footsteps of the shepherd, so far as they follow the leading and guidings of God. And there is this reflection also, that, inasmuch as Christ has gone before us, he has done something in that going before, for he has conquered every foe that lies in his way. Cheer up now thou faint-hearted warrior. Not only has Christ travelled the road, but he has slain thine enemies. Dost thou dread sin? he has nailed it to his cross. Dost thou dread death? he has been the death of Death. Art thou afraid of hell? he has barred it against the advent of any of his children; they shall never see the gulf of perdition. Whatever foes may be before the Christian, they are all overcome. There are lions, but their teeth are broken; there are serpents, but their fangs are extracted; there rivers but they are bridged or fordable; there are flames, but we have upon us that matchless garment which renders us invulnerable to fire. The sword that has been forged against us is already blunted; the instruments of war which the enemy is preparing have already lost their point. God has taken away in the person of Christ all the power that anything can have to hurt us. Well then, the army may safely march on and you may go joyously along your journey, for all your enemies are conquered beforehand. What shall you do but march on to take the prey? They are beaten, they are vanquished; all you have to do is to divide the spoil. Your future life shall be only the dividing of the spoil. You shall, it is true, often dread combat; and you shall sometimes have to wield the spear, but your fight shall be with a vanquished foe. His head is broken; he may attempt to injure you, but his strength shall not be sufficient for his malicious design. Your victory shall he easy, and your treasure shall be beyond all count. Come boldly on then, for Jehovah shall go before you. This shall be our sweet song when we come to the river of death: Black are its streams, and there are terrors there of which I cannot dream. But shall I fear to go through the dark stream if Jehovah goes before me? There may be goblins of frightful shape, there may be horrors of a hellish hue, but thou, Jehovah, shalt clear the way, thou shalt bid each enemy begone, and each fiend shall flee at thy bidding. I may march safely on. So confident would I feel in this great vanguard, that shouldst thou bid me go through hell itself, I need not fear all the terrors of the place of doom; for if Jehovah went before, he would tread out even to the last spark the fire; he would quench even to the last flame that burning; and the child of God might march safely through the flame that had been quenched and the ashes that were extinguished. Let us therefore never be troubled about the future. It is all safe, for Jehovah has gone before. Now I hear one say, "The future seldom troubles me, sir; it is the past what I have done and what I have not done the years that are gone how I have sinned, and how I have not served my master as I ought. These things grieve me, and sometimes my old sins start up in my recollection and accuse me; 'What! shalt THOU be saved?' say they, 'Remember us.' And they spring up in number like the sands of the sea. I cannot deny that I have committed all these sins, nor can I say that they are not the most guilty of iniquities. Oh! it is the rereward that is most unsafe. I dead most the sins of the past." O beloved, the God of Israel shall be your rereward. Notice the different titles. The first is "the Lord," or properly "Jehovah" "Jehovah will go before you." That is the I am, full of omniscience and omnipotence. The second title is "God of Israel," that is to say, the God of the Covenant. We want the God of the Covenant behind, because it is not in the capacity of the I am, the omnipotent, that we require him to pardon sin, to accept our persons, to blot out the past, and to remove iniquity by the blood of Christ; it is as the God of the Covenant that he does that. He goes behind; here he finds that his child has left a black mark, and he takes that away; he finds here a heap of rubbish, a mass of broken good works, and here another load of evil, of filth, and he carefully removes all, so that in that track of his children there is not a spot or a blemish; and though they have trodden the road the most observant of their foes at the last great day shall not be able to find that they have done any mischief on the journey, or one wrong thing in all their march, for the God of Israel hath so swept the way that he has taken away their iniquities and cast their sins behind his back. Now let me always think, that I have God behind me as well as before me. Let not the memories of the past, though they cause me grief, cause me despair. Let me never bemoan because of past trial or past bereavement; let me never be cast down on account of past sin; but let me look to Christ for the pardon of the past, and to God for the sanctification of my past troubles. Let me believe that he who has cleared the way before me, has removed all enemies from behind me, that I am and must he perpetually safe. And now, are there any here to-day whose hearts God hath touched, who desire to join this great army? Have I one here who has been enlisted in the black army of the devil, and has long been fighting his way against God and against right? I pray that he may be compelled this day to ground his arms, and surrender at discretion to God. Sinner, if the Lord inclines thine heart this day to yield up thyself to him, the past shall all be blotted out; God shall be thy rereward. As for thy innumerable sins, leave them to Christ; he will make short work of them; by his blood he will slay them all; they shall not be mentioned against thee for ever. And as for the future, thou chief of sinners, if now thou enlistest into the army of Christ by faith, thou shalt find the future shall be strewn with the gold of God's grace, and the silver of his temporal mercies; thou shalt have enough and to spare, from this day forth even to the end, and at the last thou shalt be gathered in by the great arms of God, that constitute the rear guard of his heavenly army. Come ye chief of sinners, come away to Christ. He now invites you to come to him; he asks nothing of you as a preparation. Christ's regiment is made up of men that are in debt and are discontented: the rag-tag of the world Christ will take; the scum, the dross, the offal of the universe Christ loves; the sweepings of our dens of iniquity, the very leavings of the devil's mill Christ is willing to receive, the chief of sinners, those who have been ministers in guilt, abortions of iniquity. Come to him; lay hold of him by faith; look to him as he hangs upon the tree; believe in his merits, and then shalt this promise be yours with innumerable others that are rich beyond all estimation; and you shall rejoice that Jehovah is gone before you, and that the God of Israel shall be your rereward.
The Glory in the Rear
August 3rd, 1884 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them, and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel, and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night." Exodus 14:19-20 . "The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward." Isaiah 57:8 . "For the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward." Isaiah 52:12 .
When the Israelites left the place of their bondage and came to the edge of the wilderness, a visible token of the Lord's presence and leadership was granted to them. They saw high in the air a pillar, which by day might be compared to rising smoke, but at night became a flame of fire. Such displays on a small scale were usual in the march of armies, but this was of supernatural origin. Where it moved the people were to follow; it was to be their companion, that they might not be alone, their conductor, that they might not go astray. We have become familiar, by accounts of our own soldiery in Egypt, with the extreme danger of the oriental sun when men are marching over the fiery sand: this cloud would act as a vast umbrella tent, covering the whole of the great congregation, so that they could march without being faint with the heat. By night their canvas city was lighted up by this grand illumination. They could march as well by night as by day, for we are told at the close of the previous chapter that by night the Lord went before them "in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night." Might they not have said, "The Lord God is a sun and shield"? Did they not realize the fulfillment of the promise not yet spoken in words, "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night"? This sacred symbol of the divine presence must have been a very great solace to them in those early days, when their pilgrim life was novel to them, and their newly-found liberty was darkened by a terrible fear of recapture. The particular sign which the Lord vouchsafed them was very practical; it was not only glorious, but useful; it served them both for shade and light, and was both their guide and guard. It was exceedingly conspicuous, so that they could all see it. Any man of the millions who came out of Egypt could stand at his tent door and see this flaming signal high in heaven, floating over all as the banner and oriflamme of the Great King. It appears to have been continual; an abiding token, and not an intermittent brightness. Even thus has Moses written: "He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people." Beloved friends, God is always with those who are with him. If we trust him, he hath said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." There is a special and familiar presence of God with those who walk uprightly, both in the night of their sorrow, and in the day of their joy. Yet we do not always in the same way perceive that presence so as to enjoy it. God never leaves us, but we sometimes think he has done so. The sun shines on, but we do not always bask in his beams; we sometimes mourn an absent God it is the bitterest of all our mourning. As he is the sum total of our joy, so his departure is the essence of our misery. If God do not smile upon us, who can cheer us? If he be not with us, then the strong helpers fail, and the mighty men are put to rout. It is concerning the presence of God that I am going to speak this morning. You and I know how joyous it is. May we never be made to know its infinite value experimentally by the loss of it. If we see no cloud or flame, yet may we know that God is with us, and his power is around us. In that sense we will pray,
"Cover us with thy cloudy shrine, And in thy fiery column shine."
Or in more familiar words we will sing,
"Let the fiery cloudy pillar Lead me all my journey through."
I. In considering the subject of the Lord's abiding with his people, I shall first call attention to THE DIVINE PRESENCE MYSTERIOUSLY REMOVED. According to our text, "The angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed." The chosen of the Lord may lose the manifested presence of God; and, indeed, often they may miss it in the particular form in which they have been accustomed to enjoy it. The symbol of God's presence removed from where it had usually been. From the day when they entered upon the desert, they had seen the fiery, cloudy pillar well to the front; but now suddenly it wheeled about, and left the van comparatively dim, because the glory had departed. Those who looked forward saw it no more. So has it been with us at times: we have walked day after day in the light of God's countenance, we have enjoyed sweet fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord, and on a sudden we have missed his glorious manifestation. Like the spouse, we cried, "I sought him, but I found him not." Aforetime everything had seemed bright, and we expected to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory, till we came unto the mount of God, to dwell for ever in his rest; but now before us on a sudden things look dark; we do not feel so sure of heaven as we were, nor so certain of perpetual growth and progress. The prospect is darkened, the clouds return after the rain, and our soul out of the darkness cries, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" Moreover, they missed the light from where they hoped it would always be. They had been given to understand, I do not doubt, that the Lord would be always with them; and yet now, as they looked forward, the bright light was gone from its place of leadership. They looked for it as their guide, and, behold, that guidance was gone! The pillar might be behind them, but it was not before them; they could see nothing ahead to lead them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which the Lord had promised them. Sometimes you also may imagine that God's promise is failing you; even the word of God which you had laid hold upon may appear to you to be contradicted by your circumstances. Then your heart sinks to the depths, for "if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" If ever the word of God becomes a subject of doubt, where can any certainty remain? Where any hope for the insure? We have said, "This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death": but what if he refuse to guide us? Then are we in an evil case. Can it be so? "Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore?" The pillar of fire also removed from where it seemed more than ever to be needed. Now they were in a cleft stick; how could they possibly escape? Pharaoh was behind them, with all the horsemen of Egypt. They could hear the noise of the chariots, and the neighing of the horses, and the shouts of the armies, eager for the prey. Before them rolled the Red Sea in its might. How could there be a way in the mighty waters? Now, if ever in their lives, they must have looked anxiously for the symbol of the Divine presence. What could they do if Jehovah did not lead their van? Yet the token of his presence was not there. Even thus is it with you, dear friend, who once walked in the light of God's countenance: you perhaps have fallen into temporal trouble, and at the same moment the heavenly light has departed from your soul. Now, it is bad to be in the dark on the king's highway; but it is worse to be in the dark when you are out on the open common, and do not know your road. It is well to have a guide when the road is easy; but you must have one when you are coming upon precipitous and dangerous places. Is it so with any child of God here, that he sees no light to shine before him, no star to guide him on his road? On the contrary, does his future become more and more clouded? Is the track quite gone? Does the sea seem shut in with an ironbound coast without a harbor? Does he
"See every day new straits attend, And wonder where the scene will end"?
Then let him trust; but he will need all the faith of which he can be master. Oh, my Lord, if ever thou dost leave me, forsake me not in the day of trouble. Yet what have I said? It is a day of trouble when thou art gone, whatever my condition may be. Yet, brethren, our Lord said, "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter." Pray that if you must for a while bewail the Lord's absence from you, it may not be in a time of dire and dark necessity. Thus it did seem a mysterious thing that the Covenant Angel should no longer direct the marchings of the host of God, and I dare say that some of them began to account for it by a reason which their fears would suggest. Naturally, there was only one way of accounting for this removal of the guide, and that way was a wrong one, but one to which the Lord's people often refer their trials. I should not wonder that, if they had been asked why the blazing pillar was no longer in the van, they would have replied, "Because of our murmurings against the Lord and his servant Moses. God will not go before us because of our sins." Now, it is true, and does happen, that the Lord often hides his face behind the clouds of dust that his own children make by their sins; but this is not always the case. When the consolations of God are small with you, you may generally conclude that there is some secret sin with you: and then it is your duty to cry, "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me." But in this case God was not punishing them for their sins, as he did on after occasions. He seems to have been very patient with their early murmurings, because they were such feeble folk, so unused to pilgrimage, and so unfit for anything heroic. Every trial was severe to the raw, undisciplined spirits of the tribes, and therefore the Lord winked at their follies. There was not a touch of the rod about this withdrawing of his presence from the van, not even a trace of anger; it was all done in loving-kindness and tender mercy, and no sort of chastisement was intended by it. So, dear child of God, you must not always conclude that trouble is sent because of wrath, and that the loss of conscious joy is necessarily a punishment for sin. Such thoughts will be a case of knives cutting your heart in pieces. Do not make for yourself a needless pain. All trouble is not chastisement; it may be a way of love for your enriching and ennobling. Upon the black horse of trouble the Lord sends his messengers of love. It is a good thing for us to be afflicted; for thus we learn patience, and attain to assurance. Shall the champion who is bidden to go to the front of the battle think that he is punished thereby? No, verily, my brethren: whom the Lord loveth he sets in the heat of the conflict, that they may earn the rarest honors. Great suffering and heavy labor are often rewards of faithfulness. Know ye not how the poet puts it,
"If I find him, if I follow, What his guerdon here? 'Many a labor, many a sorrow, Many a tear'"?
Darkness of soul is not always the fruit of divine anger, though it is often so. Sometimes there is no trace of wrath in it: it is sent for a test of faith, for the excitement of desire, and for the increase of our sympathy with others who walk in darkness. When the cloud of the divine glory is no longer seen in front it has gone behind, because it is more wanted there, and it is no loss after all, as we shall have to show. When the Lord hides his face for a moment, it is to make us value his face the more, to quicken our diligence in following after him, to try our faith, and to test our graces. There are a thousand precious uses in this adversity. Yet it is a mysterious thing when the light of the future fades, and we seem to be without a guide. II. Now, secondly, all this while THE DIVINE PRESENCE WAS GRACIOUSLY NEAR.
The angel of the Lord had removed, but it is added, he "removed and went behind them," and he was just as close to them when he was in the rear, as when he led the van. He might not seem to be their guide, but he had all the more evidently become their guard. He might not for the moment be their Sun before, but then he had become their Shield behind. "The glory of the Lord was their reward." The Lord may be very close to thee, dear child, when thou canst not see him, perhaps closer than ever he was when thou couldst see him. The presence of God is not to be measured by thy realization of it. When thou canst not tell that he is with thee at all, and thou art singing and crying after him, those very sighs and cries after him are the holy fruit of his secret presence. It may be, the day shall come when thou shalt think that he was more near thee when thine eyes were filled with weeping after him, than when thou didst take thine ease, and speak confidently. Much of the creature, much of human excitement will mix with our most spiritual joy, our groanings and our sorrows, when we are pining after the Lord, are often more purely spiritual than our own delights, and therefore they are all the surer proofs of the work of the Lord in our souls. Oh, soul, the Lord may be very near thee, and yet he may be behind thee, so that thine outlook for the future may not be filled with the vision of his glory. Note in the text that it is said the pillar went, and "stood behind them." I like that, for it is a settled, permanent matter. The Lord had removed, but he was not removing still. He would stay as long as was needful where he then was. That glorious angel, shrouded in the clouds, stood with his drawn sword in the rear of Israel, saying to Pharaoh, "Thou darest not come further, thou canst not break in upon my chosen." He lifted up his vast shield of darkness, and held it up before the tyrant king, so that he could not strike, nay, could not see. All that night his horses champed their bits, but could not pursue the flying host. "They were as still as a stone till thy people passed over, O Lord, till thy people passed over whom thou hadst purchased." It is glorious to think that the Lord stood there, and the furious enemy was compelled to halt. Even thus the Lord remaineth with the dear child of God. Thou canst not see anything before thee to make thee glad, but the living God stands behind thee to ward off the adversary. He cannot forsake thee. He saith to thee out of the pillar of cloud, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." He standeth fast as thy rock, steadfast as thy safeguard, sleepless as thy watcher, valiant as thy champion.
"God is near thee, therefore cheer thee, Sad mind! He'll defend thee, all around thee, And behind."
What is more, these people had God so near that they could see him if they did but look back. Earnestly I desire you to think of this. If you cannot see the Lord bright before you, and you are very dull and heavy, then, I pray you, look back and see how the Lord has helped you hitherto. Sit not down with your eyes shut! but look back! Steadily observe the past! What see you there? Loving-kindness and tender mercy, and nothing else. As I look back upon my own past life and I think I am not one by myself I cannot discover, even with the quick eye of selfishness, anything of which I can complain of my God. "Truly God is good to Israel." "His mercy endureth for ever." Not one good thing hath failed; he has never left me, nor forsaken me. I have received blessings through my joys, and even greater blessings through my sorrows. The Lord's way has been all goodness, undiluted goodness, all the while. I look back, and see the light of his presence shining like the sun at noon; it is as a morning without clouds, I am overwhelmed with the boundless bounty of my God. I am unable to conceive of anything more kind than the heart of God towards his unworthy child. Well, then, God is not far away, if we look backward he is there. He has been mindful of us, he will bless us. He gave us mercies yesterday; and he is the same today and for ever. The blessings of last night we have not forgotten; the blessings of this morning, are they not still with us? The fountain will not fail: it has flowed too long for us to raise the question. If there be no light breaking in the east, behold, it is lighting up the western sky. The Lord is evidently still behind us, and it is enough; for we can sing, "The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted." "He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." A thoughtful person would conclude the Lord to be all the more evidently near because of the change of his position. When a symbol of mercy comes to be usual and fixed, we may be tempted to think that it remains as a matter of routine. If the rainbow were always visible it might not be so assuring a token of the covenant. Hence the Lord often changes his hand, and blesses his people in another way, to let them see that he is thinking of them. If he always did the same by us, every day and every night, we should get to attribute his dealings to some fixed law operating apart from God, just as our modern philosophers dethrone the Lord to set up the calves of nature. But now, when our God is sometimes before us, and sometimes behind us, and makes those apparent changes because of deep and urgent reasons, we are compelled to feel that we are the objects of his constant solicitude. "I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me." He deals with us in all wisdom and prudence. His modes change, but the changes are all from the same motive, and with the same reason, all to make us sick of self and fond of him. Blessed be his name, the change of his operations makes us feel the unchangeableness of his design; and the different ways in which he visits us only makes us value each visit, the more. III. Thirdly, let us see THE DIVINE PRESENCE WISELY REVEALED.
That the symbol of God's presence should be withdrawn from the front and become visible behind, was a wise thing. Observe, there was no fiery pillar of cloud before them, and that was wise; for the going down into the Red Sea was intended to be an act of lofty faith. The more of the visible the less is faith visible. The more you have of conscious enjoyment the less room there is for simple trust. Faith performs her greatest feats in the darkest places. These Israelites were to do what after all was a grandly glorious thing for them to do, to march right down into the heart of the sea. What people ever did this before? Modern haters of miracle may say that they passed over the sands at an unusual tide, and that an extraordinarily strong wind drove back the water and left a passage, but that is not the notion of the Holy Spirit. He says by his servant Moses, "The floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea." It is also written, "But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left." The tribes went down into the dread valley which remained when the waters dried up, and they crossed over between two frowning walls of water. You and I would have needed great faith to have gone down into such an abyss as that, but they descended without fear. Moses lifting up his rod and the waters rolling apart to make them a passage-way, with no fiery cloudy pillar in front of them, they calmly marched into the heart of the sea. That was a grand act of faith. This would not have been so clearly of faith had the way been made easier by miracle and token. I know some of you who are Christian people want to be always coddled and cuddled, like weakly babies. You pine for love-visits and delights, and promises sealed home to your heart. You would live on sweetmeats and be wheeled in a spiritual perambulator all the way to heaven, but your heavenly Father is not going to do anything of the sort. He will be with you, but he will try your manhood, and so develop it. I have seen children cosseted into the grave by their fond mother; and I suppose that a great many more will follow in the same way; but God never spoils his children. He educates them for nobler ends. He takes visible guides away from them that they may exercise faith in him. Why, Job would have been nobody if he had not lost everything. Who would have heard of the patriarch of Uz? What glory would he have brought to God with his camels and his oxen and his children? These were all taken away, and then Job became famous. See how he sits on the dunghill and is much more noteworthy there than Solomon in all his glory. Where the word of king Solomon was there was power, but nothing to equal the power of Job's word when he blessed the God who taketh away. Solomon spake many proverbs, and wrote many songs; but none of them attained unto the glory of that saying, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Here was a triumph of faith! Beloved, you and I lose the enjoyments of religion and the comforts of hope in order that we may walk by faith and not by sight, and may the more greatly glorify God. Moreover, let us mark that the cloudy pillar was taken away from the front because the Lord meant them simply to accept his word as their best guidance. The Lord said to Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward." That word was sufficient guide. Suppose they had said, "Lord, we will go forward if the fiery pillar leads us forward, but not else." What then? Why, they would have been rebels. We are to obey God's word as God's word. I heard a brother say some time ago that he should be baptized when it was laid home to him. I thought of what a father would say to his boy if he said, "Father, I shall obey you if it is laid home to me." In all probability the child would have it laid home to him more feelingly than he desired. There are some disobedient children in the Lord's family who, if they do not mind, will have scriptures laid home to them in a way they do not quite reckon upon. What have you and I to guide us but the word of the Lord? "Well," says one, "I guide myself by outward providences." Do you? You will get into a terrible maze one of these days. Jonah wanted to flee from the presence of the Lord, and therefore he went down to the seaside, and lo, he found a ship going to Tarshish. Might he not have said, "I must be in the way of duty in going to Tarshish, for no sooner did I go down to the wharf than I found a ship starting immediately, and a cabin vacant for a passenger. I paid my fare, and walked on board at once. I had not to go off to the shipping-agent's, and wait for the next liner, but all was prepared for me. Was not that a providence!" Yes, but if you get following providence, and turning aside from the word, you may soon find yourself in the sea, and no whale prepared for you. Our way is clearly set before us in the word of God, and that most sure word of testimony should be followed. I have known a brother wanting to go abroad to preach the gospel to the heathen, but a great many difficulties have been thrown in his way, and therefore he has said, "I can see that I am not called to go." Why not? Is no man called unless his way is easy? I should think myself all the more called to a service if I found obstacles in my way. The course of true service never did run smooth. I should say, "The devil is trying to hinder me, but I will do it in spite of all the devils in hell." Will you always be wanting to have your bread buttered for you on both sides? Must your road be gravelled, and smoothed with a garden roller? Are you a carpet knight, for whom there is to be no fighting? You are not worthy to be a soldier of Jesus Christ at all if you look for ease. Go home! I dare say, after all, it is the best thing you can do. True believers expect difficulties. It is ours to do what we are bidden to do, not to act according to fancied indications of providence. When the Lord said "Forward!" forward Israel must go, without a fiery cloudy pillar to cheer the way. Has not the Lord spoken? Who shall ask for plainer guidance? Moreover, God was teaching them another lesson, namely, that he may be near his people when he does not give them the usual tokens of his presence. Who shall say that God was not in the van of Israel when they went down into the sea? They could not see the ensign of his presence, but he could see their obedience to his bidding. How else did the sea in fright draw back? Was it not because the Lord rebuked the sea? The strong east wind did not of itself divide the sea; for a wind naturally strong enough for that would have blown all the people into the air. The wind was used of God to move the waters, but its chief object was to dry up the damp from the floor of the sea, and to make marching the more easy for the vast host of Israel. Truly the Lord was there, triumphing gloriously. No cloudy pillar was seen across the waters as Israel looked forward to the shore; but yet the Lord was there majestically; and you may have but little comfort of the Lord's presence at this time, and yet God may be with you wondrously. Do not so much set your heart upon comfort, but rejoice in the fact which gladdened Hagar in the wilderness: "Thou God seest me." It does not matter to the fire whether the logs are cast upon it from the front, or the oil poured upon it secretly from behind the wall, so long as it finds its fuel. To you the daily supply of grace is more important than the supply of comfort, and this shall never fail you so long as you live. Let me whisper to you one word more. After all, the host of Israel did not require any guide in front when they came to the sea. "How is that?" say you. Why, beloved, there were no two ways to choose from: they could not miss the way, for they must needs march through the sea. No room for wandering remained: their road was walled up and they could not miss it. So when men come into deep trouble, and cannot get out of it, they scarcely need a guide, for their own plain path is submission and patience. Tried child of God, you have to bear your trouble, and when that is quite clear your way is no longer doubtful. Cast all your care on him who careth for you, and in patience possess your soul. "Oh, but I thought I was going to find a way of escape made for me. "Listen!" God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." You have to bear it, you see. Your great want for this present is faith in God, who has said "I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea." Thus, you see, the light for guidance was not needed just then. What they did want was the pillar of cloud behind them, and that is where they had it. What was that cloud behind them for? Well, it was there for several reasons: the first was to shut out the sight of their enemies from them. We read that Israel lifted up their eyes and saw the Egyptians, and then they began to tremble, and cry out: and so God drew the blinds down that his poor children could not see their frightful taskmasters. It is a great mercy when God does not let us see everything. What the eye does not see, perhaps the heart will not rue. May I ask you just to try and use your eyes a little now? There are your sins; will you look back on them for a minute? Look steadily. They are quite as dreadful as the Egyptian horsemen and chariots. I have looked intently, and I cannot see a sin remaining. "What, have you lived such a life that you have never sinned?" Ah, no, beloved, I have to mourn over many offenses, but I cannot see one of them now, for my sin is covered. I believe this text, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." If I am cleansed, why should I see spots, or speak as if I did? The Lord stands between his people and their sins. Jesus, who veiled his glory in the cloud of our humanity, interposes between us and our transgressions. Is it not written, "The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found; for I will pardon them whom I reserve"? If God declares that our sins cannot be found, then I am sure we need not look for them; and if he says that Christ has made an end of sin, then there is an end of it. The Egyptians shall not come near us all the night of this life; and when the morning breaketh, we shall see them dead upon the shore. Then shall we sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously, and our transgressions and iniquities hath he cast into the depths of the sea. "Ah," saith one, "I know that my sins are forgiven, but I am troubled about my circumstances." Will you now look back with all your eyes? How about the circumstances you have passed through? Do you see anything wrong about them now? Oh, no, say you, they were all right. As you look back you can only see the glory of God: the Lord hath led you by a right way. Very well: learn to look at your circumstances through the light God hath set between Israel and the Egyptians. Who is he that can harm us? What is there to distress us? See your circumstances through the medium of the love of Jesus, and you perceive all things working for your good. Hitherto the Lord hath been our shield and our exceeding great reward. We see now no evil occurrent; he hath turned for us the curse into a blessing. The Lord has caused us to be far from fear, and has put terror far away. The cloudy pillar went behind for another reason, namely, that the Egyptians might not see them. Their enemies were made to stumble, and were compelled to come to a dead stand. "The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my lust shall be satisfied upon them." Why does he halt? Why does the lion pause when about to spring? He is blindfolded. He shivers in the dense blackness, bethinking him of that former day when all the land of Mizraim quailed beneath a darkness that might be felt. Be calm, O child of God; for the Covenant Angel is dealing with your adversaries, and his time is generally the night. You will hear by-and-by of what he has done. Meanwhile, remember what he did to Pharaoh and Sennacherib. The Lord may not be before you, shedding delight upon your face, but he is behind you, holding back the foe. He looks forth from the cloud and discomforts your foes. "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn." Wherefore, stand still, and see the salvation of God! IV. Now, beloved, I must draw towards a conclusion by observing, that THE DIVINE PRESENCE WILL ONE DAY BE MORE GLORIOUSLY REVEALED.
I have been speaking about the Lord being the rereward of his people, and so explaining my second text: but I must now refer you to my last text, in the fifty-second of Isaiah "The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rereward." This is the condition into which the Lord brings his people when they depart from Babylon, and are no more conformed to this present evil world. I trust he has brought many of us into this all-surrounding light at this good hour. The Lord is behind us, we know: our sins and iniquities are covered, our past mistakes are all erased, we are accepted in the Beloved. But we have not to look forward and say, "The angel of God has removed." Oh, no. We can see the bright light before us still. Our ways are ordered of the Lord, and none of our steps shall slide. We glory in tribulations also, believing that we shall glorify God in them. We look forward to the time of old age, believing that to hoar hairs he is the same, and that in our days of decline he will carry us. We look forward to the advent of our Lord with delight; or, if that may not be in our day, we look to falling asleep upon the bosom of our Savior. Before us we see the resurrection morning and all its splendor: we anticipate the risen body, that glorified fabric in which our pure and perfect spirits shall dwell for ever: we hear the voice of harpers harping with their harps, saluting the reign of Christ and the glorification of his people with him. Below there is nothing before us now but that which is inexpressibly delightful: the day has long dawned with us, whose morning clouds have passed away; a day which grows warmer and brighter, and is nearing to the perfect day. A few more months, a few more years, and we shall be in the land of the unclouded sky. What will it be to be there! What will it be to be there for ever!
"Far from a world of grief and sin, With God eternally shut in."
How willingly would I fly away and be at rest. I feel my wings; they are not strong enough, as yet, to bear my soul away; but they will be. God is making his children ready to depart, and he will only have to beckon them, and they will cry, "Here am I," and then they shall be with him for ever. Yes, the glory of the Lord is above us and beneath us, on the right hand and on the left, without us and within us. We depart not from it, though it is behind us: we are going ever into the glorious light, for it is before us, too. The Lord shall be a wall of fire around about us, and the glory in the midst. If you have come there, dear brother, stop there. If you have entered there, dear sister, never quit that charmed circle, but abide in full communion with the Lord your God. V. But now I have a sorrowful word to say, and with that I have done. THIS DIVINE PRESENCE HAS A TWOFOLD ASPECT:
That same glory which lit up the canvas city, and made it bright as the day, darkened all the camps of Egypt. They could see nothing, for the dark side of God was turned to them. I am afraid it is so with some of you. Oh, dear friends, is it not a dreadful thing that to some men the most terrible thing in the world would be God? If you could get away from God, how happy, how merry, how jolly you would be! You want to depart from him; you are departing from him. One of these days Jesus will tell you to depart. "Keep on as you were," says he, "you were always departing from God; keep on departing. Depart from me, ye cursed!" That will be the consummation of your life. To some of us the thought of God is joy, but to the ungodly nothing would be such good news as to hear that there was no God, indeed, they find a dreadful comfort in endeavoring to be skeptical and unbelieving. God has a dark side to sinners; his justice and his righteousness, which are the comfort of his people, are the despair of the wicked. The word of God has a dark side to sinners. I will tell you what they say: they say, "We do not understand this Book, it is so full of mystery. We find it full of dark sayings, and hard things, and things difficult to be believed. It is all knots and snarls." Just so; you are an Egyptian, it is dark to you. Let me call up the smallest babe in grace, and say, "Dear child, is that what the Bible is to you?" "Oh, no," he says, "it is my joy and my delight. I may not understand it all, but I love it all, and I feed on it all." Oh, it is a good thing when you cannot understand a revealed truth to feed on it, and when you find it to be good for your soul, you will not complain of its mystery. The Bible is dark to the Egyptians, but it is light to Israel. Now look at the gospel itself. Why, there are many that sit and hear the gospel, and they say, "I do not understand this believing, this atonement, and so on." No, I know you do not; you are an Egyptian, it is dark to you. It is a savor of death unto death to you. I am afraid you will go on quarrelling with it until God ends the quarrel in your destruction. But if you are one of his, you will quarrel no longer, you will say, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. The blessed way of salvation by atoning blood I do accept with avidity, and rejoice in it." That will prove you to be an Israelite; it will be a savor of life unto life to you. Why, even the blessed Lord Jesus Christ has a dark side for sinners. If he were to come here this morning, oh, how gladly would I stand back to let him come forward and show his surpassing beauty. Why, some of you would think it heaven if you could but see him here and look into his pierced hands and side, and mark that blessed, marred, unutterably lovely visage. Yes, but it could not bring any joy to you who do not love him. You do not trust him; and if the news were given out, "Christ has come," why, you would swoon with fear in your pews, for you would say, "He has come to judgment, and I am unprepared. He that is not my Savior will be my judge, and sentence me to everlasting woe." There is a dark side in the Mediator to the Egyptians while there is a bright side to Israel. Oh that ye would believe in Jesus Christ! Oh that ye would "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little," for "Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." You can come and be numbered with Israel, for the door into Israel is Christ himself. If you come to Christ you have come to his people, you have come to safety, and henceforth "the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward." Amen.
© Copyright 2006 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold. All rights reserved.
Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, ©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This sermon, preached by Tony Capoccia, is now available on Audio CD and MP3:
June 11, 1874
By Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
“Who are you that…live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?” [Isaiah 51:12-13 ]
Things often influence us out of proportion to their value because of their closeness. For instance, the moon is a very small insignificant body compared with the sun, yet it has far more influence over the tides and many other matters in the world than the sun has, simply because it is so much closer to the earth than the sun is. The life that is to come is infinitely more important than the life that now is, and I hope that, in our innermost hearts, we consider that the things that are seen and temporal are mere trifles compared with the things which are not seen and eternal; yet it often happens that the less important matters have a greater influence over us than those which are far more important, simply because the things of earth are so much closer to us.
Heaven is infinitely more to be desired than any joy on earth, yet it seems so far off, and therefore these fleeting joys here may give us greater present comfort. The wrath of God is far more to be dreaded than the anger of man, yet sometimes a frown or a rebuke from a fellow creature will have more effect upon our minds than the thought of the anger of God. This is because the one appears to be remote, while, being in this body of flesh, we are so near to the other. Now, beloved, it will sometimes happen that a matter, which is scarcely worthy of the thought of an immortal spirit, will trouble and worry us from day to day. There is some oppressor, as the text puts it, whom we dread and continually fear, yet we forget the almighty God, who is on our side, who is stronger than all the oppressors who have ever lived, and who has all people and all things under his control. The reason why we act this way is because we think of God as if he were far off, while we can see the oppressor with our eyes, and we can hear with our ears his threatening words.
I want, this morning, to be the means in the hands of God of turning the thoughts of his people away from the distress of the present to the joy and comfort which, though more remote, ought still to be more powerful over the mind and heart because of the real inherent greatness.
I. And, first, I want to speak upon this point that MANY FEARS, WHICH ARE EXPERIENCED BY CHRISTIAN MEN AND WOMEN, ARE REALLY GROUNDLESS.
Our text says, “You live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction, but where is the wrath of the oppressor?” The probable meaning of this verse is that the oppressor never came, so those living in fear never did feel the force of his fury; and, in like manner, many of God’s people are constantly under apprehensions of calamities which will never occur to them, and they suffer far more in merely dreading them than they would have to endure if they actually came upon them. In their imagination, there are rivers in their way, and they are anxious to know how they shall wade through them, or swim across them. There are no such rivers in existence, but they are agitated and distressed about them. An old proverb says, “Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it;” but these timid people are continually crossing bridges that only exist in their foolish fancies. They stab themselves with imaginary daggers, they starve themselves in imaginary famines, and even bury themselves in imaginary graves. We are such strange creatures that we probably suffer more under blows which never fall upon us than we do under those which do actually come. The rod of God does not strike us as sharply as the rod of our own imagination does; our groundless fears are our chief tormentors, and when we are able to abolish our self-inflictions, all the worries of the world become light and easy. However, it is a pity that Christians who have the gift of faith in Christ given to them, should fall into so guilty and at the same time so painful a habit as this of fearing the oppressor who does not come, and who never will come.
Some people are very troubled by the fear of man.
That is exactly the case mentioned in our text: “the wrath of the oppressor.” He was a very oppressive man, hard, unfeeling, proud, strong, exacting, and they were afraid of him. In addition to this, he must have been a person of impulsive temper, one with whom you could not reason, and so passionate that they were not merely afraid of the oppressor, but of “the wrath of the oppressor.” He is the kind of person whom you don’t know how to meet, or how to escape from him. If you run away from him, he will pursue you in his wrath. If you remain quiet, your patience will not make him quiet; and if you resist him, his wrath will be so much the greater. That appears to have been the character of the oppressor feared by those with whom the Lord was reasoning with at the time; and we have known believers who have been afraid of what a certain powerful person might do if they acted as their conscience told them they ought to act. He would evict them from their property, or they could lose their jobs as a result of this person’s influence.
Perhaps the fearful one is some young person who has a relative who hates religion, and what this powerful relative may do they cannot imagine; or the oppressor is an arbitrary employer, and if his employees don’t obey his orders exactly, even though those orders happen to be wrong, they will lose their jobs. They may be out of work for months, and they and their children may then go without food. They imagine a long series of trials and troubles that will come upon them because of “the wrath of the oppressor.”
Now, sometimes, there is a reason for this kind of fear, for men sometimes act in a very intimidating manner to others, and the very persons who talk most about being liberal in their views are generally the greatest persecutors. If I must have a religious enemy, let me have a professed and avowed bigot, but not one of the “free thinkers” or “liberal theologians” as they are called, for there is nobody who can hate like they can; and these lovers of liberal-mindedness who have no creed at all, think it is their special duty to be particularly contemptuous to those who have some degree of principle. There is no doubt that there are still trials of cruel mockings to be borne by those who are true to Christ. “The cold shoulder” is given in society; in other company, harsh words are used, and coarse jokes are made. Christians must expect to bear the opposition of men and women. It has always been this way, and it always will be. If you turn from the ways of the world, and basically accuse the world of being wrong, the world will resent it. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” [John 15:19 ]
But, in the end, isn’t there a great deal more attention given to this matter than there should be, for “where is the wrath of the oppressor?” I have known young Christians afraid of someone, and thus are afraid to share the convicting truths of the Scriptures, and when they finally built up enough courage to do so, they have been surprised that the person they expected to oppose them has been quite favorable to them. A wife has been afraid to mention to her husband that she desires to unite with the local church, but when he hears of it, he thinks that he too will go and hear the minister. I remember a man and his wife who came to join our church. They were each afraid to tell the other of what they had planned to do, and when they met each other on the night that they were present with other new member candidates, they were greatly surprised to find that, instead of having any reason to be afraid of one another, they had the utmost cause to rejoice in one another. They said that it was like a new marriage to them when each found the other to be in Christ Jesus, yet each of them had thought the other to be so strongly opposed to Christianity that they had dared not to mention their conversion until thus they made their mutual discovery. Perhaps, dear friend, you have no more need to be afraid than they had. Go on, and the giant that stands in your way may turn out to be only a shadow, or if he really is a giant, God will help you to fight against him, and make you more than a conqueror.
Some have a fear of another kind not of any opposition to themselves, but they are afraid for the Church and the truth it teaches being utterly destroyed by the opposition of wicked men and women.
Haven’t you many times noticed a kind of panic going through the churches because of some supposed discovery in science, or some new doctrinal error that has appeared? One Christian meets another, and begins trembling as he talks about what was going to happen. He said, “Oh, the old days were so much better than these, and here is a new danger, how are we going to fight against it? It was anxiously asked, a few years ago, “How are we to meet these new discoveries of geology?” Yet we hardly ever hear about them now; or, if we do, we don’t trouble ourselves about them. At that time, a Dr. Colenso had made certain calculations which were very terrifying to timid folk, and Huxley tried to prove that we had descended or ascended from monkeys; but who cares about their theories now? Yet I have met with nervous people who greatly feared the wrath of this tyrant, Science, which was to utterly destroy us; but has had no effect whatever against the truth.
Today, as you are well aware, it is the belief of a great many people that, owing to the spread of Ritualism in the Church, that the candle that Latimer lit will be blown out, and we shall all be in the dark, or at least shall have nothing better than the ceremonial candles of the Roman Catholic Church to light us. I constantly receive articles that prophesy the most terrible times; according to them, some of us will no doubt be burned alive at the stake. Well, I know that the devil can blow very hard, but I don’t believe that he can blow out the candle that God lights; much less can he blow out the bright sunshine of the gospel which has burned on now for hundreds and hundreds of years. Blow, devil, blow as hard as you can, but you will never be able to blow out this light, for it will still shine on to the end of time. You may blow in a cloud or two which partially obscures the light, but the light itself will be as bright as ever.
It may be that, in the place where you live, there has arisen a new doctrinal error. Somebody has discovered that men are nothing but a species of large apes, and that only those who believe in Christ are immortal, all the rest will die out eventually; annihilation is to be their doom. Many are dreadfully frightened by that doctrine, but I believe it is too contemptible a doctrine to alarm anybody who studies the Scriptures. It is a very pretty toy, and many will play with it, but after a certain time, there will come another pretty toy, and they will play with that; and so it will be till Christ himself comes, and breaks up all the toys, and brings his Church back to the grand old truth which will stand firm in spite of all the assaults of men or demons. But you and I needn’t fear, beloved, because of any of these things; what is there, after all, to cause us to worry or tremble for the church of the Living God? Just nothing at all. Never let any member of this church start whining in this way, and saying that the gospel will die out. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord shall endure forever; that which the Lord has declared in his blessed Book shall stand firm throughout all eternity.
Another fear which sometimes comes over truly godly people is that, perhaps, in time, they will lose their salvation, and perish forever.
There may come a temptation which will find the Christian’s weak point, and conquer them. Their ship through life has sailed well up till now, though not without a few rough seas and storms; but, perhaps, it will strike a rock, and be utterly broken into pieces. They know how weak and frail they are, and how many temptations surround them; how treacherous and cunning the devil is; how compelling the world is with its many enticements. King David feared that he would perish one day by the hand of Saul, and these fearful souls, as they pass into some new phase of life, or encounters some new trial, are terrified, for fear that the day may come when grace would not be sufficient for their needs, and they would come to a wretched end. I know this fear; who among us has not felt it? Who among us can honestly examine his own heart, and not feel it? Yet, dear friends, there is really nothing in it to trouble the true child of God. If our Christianity is a religion of our own making, it will perish; and the sooner is goes, the better; but if our religion is truly from God, we know that he never takes back what he gives, and that, if he has begun his good work in us by his grace, he will never leave it unfinished. If the covenant God made with us was based upon works, it would fail; if it depended upon us, it would surely fail but if it is the “everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part” [2 Samuel 23:5 ], then it can never fail. If the promise, is the promise of God, who cannot lie, then he will surely keep his promise to the very end. Therefore, we ought not to be burdened with this anxiety, but simply go on in our daily walk being watchful with humble dependence upon the preserving power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we shall find that we shall get safely into heaven in the end.
We have known some, too, who have been afflicted with a fear of poverty coming upon them as a result of a loss of income.
One says, “The giant of poverty will surely seize me! I don’t have enough money put away to furnish me with a adequate living.” I have known some people who even dread not having enough money for their own funeral; as if that would be a concern of theirs at that time. The living will surely take care to bury the dead. I have known others who say, “If I were to lose my job; if such-and-such a thing were to happen; if so-and-so were to die, what would I do?” Ah! and if we fret over all the “if’s” that we can imagine, we shall certainly never be without apprehension; but where is your dependence, Christian, for this world? Have you placed it upon man? Then I don’t wonder that you are full of fear, but why don’t you simply trust your body where you trusted your soul? If you have trusted Jesus to be the Savior of your immortal spirit, can’t you also trust him to be the Provider for this poor flesh which eventually perishes?
God feeds the ravens; won’t he feed you? Up till this very moment, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe has never failed, for the billions of living creatures have received from his hand all they have required; then is he likely to forget you? He has never done so yet; your food has been given to you, your water has been sure, why should he change his practice, and let his own dear child to starve. “Oh, but!” say you, “the brook that Elijah depended on for water dried up.” Yes, but when the brook dried up, God sent his servant Elijah to Zarephath, where there was a widow who would provide food and water for him. When one door shuts, another opens; and if one well goes dry, the water bubbles up somewhere else. The means may change, but the God of the means does not change. He will supply your needs. Live wherever he places you, do your duty, obey his will, and he will not fail you, but bring you safely to the place where you will never fear again.
Another fear is the fear of death.
Some even among God’s people try hard not to think of dying. It is a dreary requirement with them that they must die, and they needlessly fret and trouble themselves about it; but, beloved, if we had perfect peace with God, we would not fear dying. I have known some who have thought that they would rather be taken to heaven like Elijah was, in a chariot of fire being pulled by horses of fire, but I wouldn’t. If I were out walking tomorrow evening, and I saw horses of fire and chariots of fire standing ready to take me up, I would feel a great deal more fearful about getting into a fiery chariot than about going home to my bed and lying down to die. If my Lord and Master shall choose to let me live till he comes, and so prevent my death, his will be done, but the Holy Spirit says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” [Revelation 14:13 ], so let us be content with that blessedness.
But there is a fear of death in some Christians’ minds, and they cannot always shake it off; yet, beloved, there is nothing in it. If you are in Christ, you will never know anything about dying. I don’t believe that Christians feel anything in death. If there are pains, as there often are, they are not the pains of dying, but of living. Death ends all their pains. They shut their eyes on earth, and open them in heaven. They have shaken off the burdensome clay of this mortal body, and found themselves disembodied, in a instant, before the throne of the Most High, there to wait till the trumpet of the resurrection shall sound, and they shall put on their bodies once again, transformed and glorified like the body of their Lord. Get rid of that fear of death, beloved, for it is not becoming in a Christian. The believer’s heart should be so focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, that they should leave themselves in their Heavenly Father’s hands to live or die, or to wait till the Lord comes, whatever is the will of the Lord.
II. My second observation is this. THERE ARE SOME FEARS WHICH WOULD DIE IMMEDIATELY IF WE DARED TO QUESTION THEM.
Did you notice that our text is a question? “Who are you that...live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?” My dear friends, did you ever question your fears? I mean you, Miss Despondency over there, and you, Mr. Much-afraid. Did you ever question your fear? If not, question it right now, put it through interrogation.
Suppose it is the Church of our Living God that is afraid of the oppressor, let the Church ask, Where is the oppressor of which she needs to be afraid?
Is it a doctrinal error? Well, the Church was once overrun with Arianism that denied that Jesus was truly God, and it did seem as if the heretics had killed the doctrine of the Deity of Christ; but the Lord was pleased to raise up his valiant servant Athanasius, and very soon Arianism was defeated. The Church of our Precious Christ scarcely remembers or understands the scars of all the conflicts through which she has passed. Those which threatened to destroy her have never really injured her, rather she has come out of the furnace all the more pure. As for persecution, has it not been commonly proved that the more the saints have been persecuted the more they have prospered, and that the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the Church? Suppose there should again come days when Christians will be martyred, suppose there should again come days of heresy; well, the Church has had such days before, yet she has survived them. The grand old ship has been in many hurricanes and storms before now, yet she still sails steady and true to her final destination. Therefore, why should she be afraid now?
Ask the question again, “Where is the wrath of the oppressor?” And the answer comes, it is under the control of God. Even Satan, your fiercest foe, was created by God; God rules over him, God does with him just as he pleases. Then as to that poverty of which you are afraid, it will not come unless God permits it; and if it does come, the Lord can alleviate it. You are afraid you will lose a very dear child; but you will not lose her unless the Lord takes her. You are fretting because you fear that a special friend of yours will soon be taken away; but he cannot be taken away till the Lord takes him. What are you afraid of? Is it your own death? Learn to sing good old John Ryland’s hymn,
“Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till he commands I cannot die;
Not a single arrow can hit
Till the God of love sees fit.”
Again, the Lord asks us, “Where is the wrath of the oppressor?” Some man oppresses you; well, he shall die, perhaps soon. The trouble that now upsets you will soon be gone in the twinkling of an eye. If not soon so far as this life is concerned, yet, when you get to heaven (and that will not be long), how short a time will your trial seem to have lasted! “Our light and momentary troubles,” says the apostle, “are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” [2 Corinthians 4:17 ]. You fret about your trouble, and continually worry yourself about it, but our text seems to ask you, “Where is it?” It is a meteor that flashes across the sky, and is gone. Ask your troubles such questions as these, and they will soon vanish.
I will ask you a few more questions. You have fears with regard to a great trouble that threatens you. Well, will it separate you from the love of Christ?
If you cannot answer that question, let Paul answer it for you: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:38-39 ]. You say that your enemies slander you; but will Christ believe them? They are trying to destroy your good name and reputation; but will your Lord think any less of you? Will HE be deceived by their lies? You say that friends are forsaking you; but will they take Jesus away, and make him forsake you?
You say that your enemies are doing all that they can to destroy you, but can they destroy the divine promises?
The Lord has promised to give his sheep eternal life; can they take that promise from you, or make it of no value? They may fight against you, but can they keep you out of heaven? They may threaten you, but can they make the covenant of grace to be of no effect? Since eternal things are safe, we can be content to let other things come or go just as God wills.
Again, can anyone do anything to you which God does not permit? And if God permits it, can any real harm come to you?
God’s Word says, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” [1 Peter 3:13 ].
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” [Romans 8:28 ]. Then how can anything work against you if you are really the Lord’s? Can anyone curse those whom God blesses? Are you like those foolish persons who are afraid of a witch’s curse, or of some spell that the wicked may cast over you? Even Balaam said, “There is no sorcery that can succeed against Jacob, no divination that can affect Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel” [Numbers 23:23 ]. Balak might summon Balaam to his aid, and the two together might stand and look on Israel, and wish to curse them, but they cannot curse those whom God has blessed. If all the demons in hell could fill your house, and seek to injure you, there is no need for you to fear or tremble more than Martin Luther did when his friends were afraid for him to go and be examined by the Roman Catholic leaders who were trying to get him to recant, but Luther said to his friends, “If there were as many devils there as there are tiles on the roofs of the houses, I would face them all in the name of God.” And you may say the same. If all the armies of the earth came against you, and all the demons in hell, had come up to join with the world against you, you could still say, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge;” and charge them in the name of the Most High, and cause all of them to flee in defeat, because the One who is in you is greater than the ones who are against you [1 John 4:4 ].
III. Now, lastly, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if these fears are groundless, and if a few questions will remove them, I appeal to you who are fearful to CRY OUT TO GOD TO DELIVER YOU FROM THIS STATE OF BONDAGE.
If there is no basis for your fears, what is the use of tormenting yourself for no reason at all, and if God is indeed with you, don’t you dishonor him by your apprehensions and your fears?
What would you think of a little child, in its mother’s arms, who was always afraid that it was not safe there? Would it not look as if there was a complete lack of the child’s loving confidence in its mother?
God is able to keep that which you have committed to him; so, if you don’t trust him, you really dishonor him. The commander of an army, who would see his soldiers turning pale with fear and trembling as they marched to the conflict, would say to himself, “These soldiers of mine are no credit to their leader;” and will you, who have a Captain who is so completely able to protect you, show your complete lack of courage because of fear? Shall a cowardly spirit be permitted in the service of our Holy God? Shall the Captain of our salvation have to lead a fearful army to the fight with the powers of darkness? I have sometimes thought, when I have heard about the fears of God’s people concerning the times in which we live, and what is going to become of them; surely they did not know that the King is in our midst, that the Lord is as a wall of fire all around us, and his glory is in our midst; for if they only knew that he is our Protector and Defender, they could not be so fearful as they are.
Besides, in addition, you who are of an anxious spirit, often grieve other Christians.
There are others who are like you, and they become even more fearful by coming into contact with you. Your anxiety is catching, like a disease. Every now and then, I meet with Christians who like to hear sermons that make them miserable. I had a letter from one, some time ago, who said that, as soon as he came here, and saw how cheerful the people looked, he felt certain that he was not among the suffering people of God, so he went away, and turned into a little chapel where there were only fifteen or sixteen people, and he heard a good sermon about the corruption of the heart, and there he felt at home. For my part, I like such texts as these, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.” We have plenty of troubles and trials, and if we like to fret over them, we can always do that; but, then, we have far more joys than troubles, so our songs should exceed our sighs. We have a good God, who has promised that, as our days, so shall our strength be.
“Why should the children of a King
Go mourning all their days?”
“Ah!” says one, “but this is a wailing wilderness.” Yes, if you wail in it, it will wail back in response; but if you sing in it, it will sing back to you. Remember the ancient promise, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus” [Isaiah 35:1 ].
“Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry:
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.”
And lastly, don’t you think that a dull, heavy, murmuring spirit is a great hindrance to the unconverted?
If they find you in this state, they will say, “This person’s religion does not appear to do him much good.” Worldly people often say that Christians are the most miserable people in the world. I think that is a great mistake on their part, and that they don’t really know us; for if they knew some of us, they would find that we have cheerful spirits in spite of a good deal that might depress us. Don’t any of you Christians cause the world say that Christ is a hard master. I would not like to ride a horse that was all skin and bones, for people would say that it was because his master didn’t take care of him and give him food to eat. I would not like to have, in my house, a servant who was always wringing her hands, and whose eyes were usually full of tears. Visitors would say, “Her mistress is a wretched woman, you may be sure of that;” and if professing Christians are always seen to be in a wretched, unhappy state, people are sure to say, “Ah, they serve a hard master! The ways of Christ are ways of unpleasantness, and all his paths are misery and wretchedness.” Sinner, that is not true; but it is true that “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” [Psalms 97:11 ], and we earnestly wish that you would come and prove the truth of it for yourself. Believing in Jesus, you would have a perfect peace, and a bliss that nothing can destroy; you would have a little heaven below, and a great heaven above. You would be able to take your troubles to your God, and leave them there; and you would march along with songs of rejoicing till you come to that blessed place where there are pleasures for evermore.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26