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Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, January 30th, 1876, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Submit yourselves therefore to God." James 4:7 .
THIS ADVICE SHOULD NOT NEED much pressing. "Submit yourselves unto God" is it not right upon the very face of it? Is it not wise? Does not conscience tell us that we ought to submit? Does not reason bear witness that it must be best to do so? "Submit yourselves unto God." Should not the creature be submissive to the Creator, to whom it owes its existence, without whom it had never been, and without whose continuous good pleasure it would at once cease to be? Our Creator is infinitely good, and his will is love: to submit to one who is "too wise to err, too good to be unkind," should not be hard. If he were a tyrant it might be courageous to resist, but since he is a Father it is ungrateful to rebel. He cannot do anything which is not perfectly just, nor will he do aught which is inconsistent with the best interests of our race; therefore to resist him is to contend against one's own advantage, and, like the untamed bullock, to kick against the pricks to our own hurt. "Submit yourselves unto God" it is what angels do, what kings and prophets have done, what the best of men delight in there is therefore no dishonor nor sorrow in so doing. All nature is submissive to his laws; suns and stars yield to his behests, we shall but be in harmony with the universe in willingly bowing to his sway. "Submit yourselves unto God" you must do it whether you are willing to do so or not. Who can stand out against the Almighty? For puny man to oppose the Lord is for the chaff to set itself in battle array with the wind, or for the tow to make war with the flame. As well might man attempt to turn back the tide of ocean, or check the march of the hosts of heaven as dream of overcoming the Omnipotent. The Eternal God is irresistible, and any rebellion against his government must soon end in total defeat. By the mouth of his servant Isaiah the Lord challenges his enemies, saying, "Who would set the briars and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together." God will be sure to overthrow his adversaries: he may in his infinite patience permit the rebel to continue for a while in his revolt, but as surely as the Lord liveth he will compel every knee to bow before him, and every tongue to confess that he is the living God. "Submit yourselves unto God." Who would do otherwise, since not to submit is injurious now, and will be fatal in the end? If we oppose the Most High, our opposition must lead on to defeat and destruction, for the adversaries of the Lord shall be as the fat of rams, into smoke shall they consume away. For the man who strives with his Maker there remains a fearful looking for of judgment and the dread reward of everlasting punishment. Who will be so foolhardy as to provoke such a result?
"Submit yourselves unto God" is a precept which to thoughtful men is a plain dictate of reason, and it needs few arguments to support it. Yet because of our foolishness the text enforces it by a "Therefore," which "Therefore" is to be found in the previous verse, "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God." His wrath and his mercy both argue for submission. We are both driven and drawn to it. The Romans were wont to say of their empire that its motto was to spare the vanquished, but to war continually against the proud. This saying aptly sets forth the procedure of the Most High. He aims all his arrows at the lofty, and turns the edge of his sword against the stubborn; but the moment he sees signs of submission his pity comes to the front, and through the merits of his Son his abounding mercy forgives the fault. Is not this an excellent reason for submission? Who can refuse to be vanquished by love? Who will not say as our hymn puts it
"Lord, thou hast won, at length I yield;
My heart, by mighty grace compell'd,
Surrenders all to thee;
Against thy terrors long I strove,
But who can stand against thy love?
Love conquers even me."
If resistance will only call forth the omnipotent wrath of God, but true submission will lead to the obtaining of his plenteous grace, who will continue in arms? I shall not tarry to carry the argument further, but aim at once to press home this precept upon you as God the Holy Ghost may enable me. I believe it to be addressed both to saint and sinner, and therefore I shall urge it home first upon the child of God, and say to all of you who love the Lord, "Submit yourselves to God;" and then we shall take a little longer time to say in deep solemnity to those who are not reconciled to God by the death of his Son, "Submit yourselves to God" if ye would be saved.
I. To THE PEOPLE OF GOD, "Submit yourselves unto God." He is your God, your Father, your friend, yield yourselves to him. What does this counsel mean? It means, first exercise humility. We do well to interpret a text by its connection: now the connection here is "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble," and therefore the submission here meant must include humility, even if it be not the chief thing intended. Brothers and sisters, let us take our right place before God. And what is that? Is it the highest seat in the synagogue? Is it the place of those who thank God that they are not as other men are? I scarcely need reply, you who are the children of God will not dream of occupying such a position. If by reason of temporary foolishness you ever boast, I am sure, my dear friends, when you think over it in the watches of the night you are very much ashamed of yourselves, and would be glad to eat your own words. A pardoned sinner boasting! A debtor to sovereign grace extolling himself! It is horrible. Nothing can be more out of place than boasting upon the lips of a child of God. If I heard Balaam's ass speak I should impute it to a miracle that it should use the language of man, but that a man of God should use the braying of vanity is a miracle another way, not of God but of Satan. Is it not one of the fundamental truths of our faith that we are saved by grace? And what says the apostle? "Where is boasting then? It is excluded." The word "excluded" means shut out. Boasting comes to the door, it knocks, it pleads for admission, but it is excluded. Possibly through our unwatchfulness it gains a momentary entrance, but as soon as ever the grace of God within us ascertains that the intruder is within our gates it ejects him, shuts the door in his face, and bars him out, and in answer to the question "Where is boasting then?" free grace replies, "It is excluded, by the law of grace." If all the good we have has been given to us freely by divine favor, in what can we glory? If we possess the highest degree of spirituality, if our life be perfectly clear from any open fault, and if our hearts be wholly consecrated unto the Lord, yet we are unprofitable servants; we have done no more than it was our duty to have done. But, alas, we fall far short of this, for we have not done what it was our duty to have done, and in many things we fail and come short of the glory of God. The right position of a Christian is to walk with lowly humility before God, and with meekness towards his fellow Christians. The lowest room becomes us most, and the lowest seat in that room. Look at Paul, who knew far more of Christ than we do, and who served him far better. It is edifying to notice his expressions. He is an apostle, and he will by no means allow any one to question his calling, for he has received it of the Lord; but what does he say? "Not meet to be called an apostle." What can be lowlier than this? But we shall see him descending far below it. He takes his place among the ordinary saints, and he will not give up his claim to be numbered with them, for he has made his calling and election sure; but where does he sit among the people of God? He styles himself "less than the least of all saints." There is no small a descent from "not meet to be called an apostle" to "less than the least of all saints;" but he went lower yet, for at another time he confessed himself to be still a sinner, and coming into the assembly of sinners where does he take his position? He writes himself down as "the chief of sinners." This is submission to God, the true surrender of every proud pretension or conceited claim. If, my brethren, the Lord has called us to be ministers, let us ever feel that we are not worthy of so great a grace: since he has made us saints, let us confess that the very least of our brethren is more esteemed by us than we dare to esteem ourselves, and since we know that we are sinners let us look at our sins under that aspect which most reveals their heinousness, for in some respects and under certain lights there are evils in our character which make us guiltier than the rest of our fellow sinners. The stool of repentance and the foot of the cross are the favourite positions of instructed Christians.
Such humility is not at all inconsistent with believing that we are saved, nor with the fullest assurance of faith, nay, not at all inconsistent with the nearest familiarity with God. Listen to Abraham: "I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, I that am but dust and ashes." He has drawn very near to the Lord, and speaks with him as a man speaketh with his friend, and yet he says "I am but dust and ashes." His boldness did not destroy his humbleness, nor his sense of nothingness hinder his near approach to the Lord. My dear brethren, we know that in Christ we are accepted, we know that we are dear to God and loved with an everlasting love, we know that he hears our prayers and answers us continually, we know that we walk in the light of his countenance; but still our posture should always be that of deep humiliation before the Lord, and in the attitude of complete submission we should sit at the Master's feet and say, "By the grace of God I am what I am." May the Holy Spirit work this gracious submission in every regenerated soul.
Let us next observe that our text bears a second meaning, namely, that of submission to the divine will: that of course would strike you in the wording of the verse "Submit yourselves therefore to God." Beloved Christian friends, be willing to accept whatever God appoints. Let us each pray to be
"Simple, teachable and mild,
Awed into a little child;
Pleased with all the Lord provides,
Wean'd from all the world besides."
Is it indeed so with us? Are you not some of you very far from it? Are you quite sure that you are submissive to the divine will as to your rank in society? Have you accepted your position in the scale of worldly wealth? Are you satisfied to be sickly, obscure, or of small ability? Are God's appointments your contentments? Too many professors are quarrelling with God that they are not other than they are. This is evil, and shows that pride is still in their hearts, for were they conscious of their own deserts they would know that anything short of hell is more than we deserve, and as long as we are not in the pit of torment gratitude becomes us. It is a happy thing when the mind is brought to submit to all the chastisements of God, and to acquiesce in all the trials of his providence. Knowing as we do that all these things work together for our good, and that we never endure a smart more than our heavenly Father knows to be needful, we are bound to submit ourselves cheerfully to all that he appoints. Though no trial for the present is joyous, but grievous, yet ought we to resign ourselves to it because of its after results. Even the beasts of the field may teach us this. I read the other day of an elephant which had lost its sight: it was brought to the surgeon, and he placed some powerful substance upon the eye, which caused it great pain, and of course the huge creature was very restless during the operation. After a while it began to see a little, and when it was brought the next day to the operator it was as docile as a lamb, for it evidently perceived that benefit had resulted from the painful application. If such a creature has enough intelligence to perceive the benefit, and to accept the pain, how much more should we! Since we know that we owe infinite blessings to the rod of the covenant we ought to be willing to bare our own back to the scourge, and let the Lord do as he wills with us. Yea, I go beyond this, even if we did not know that good would come of it, we ought to submit because it is the Lord's will, for he has a right to do whatever he wills with us. Can you subscribe to this? As a true child can you make a complete surrender to your Father's good pleasure? If not, you have not fairly learned the mind of Christ. It is a great thing to have the soul entirely submitted to God about everything, so that we never wish to have anything in providence other than God would have it to be, nor desire to have anything in his Word altered: not one ordinance of the church of God, not one doctrine of revelation, not one precept or warning other than it is. We shall never be at rest till we come to this. It is essential to our happiness to say at all times, "Nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt." Brothers and sisters, ought it not so to be? Who ought to rule in the house but the Father? Who should govern in the body but the Head? Who should lead the flock but the Shepherd? We owe so much to Jesus, and so entirely belong to him, that even were it put to the vote, all of us would give our suffrages so that the Lord Jesus should be King, Head and Chief among us; for is he not the Firstborn among many brethren? Submit, then, my brethren. Beseech the Holy Spirit to bow your wills to complete subjection. You will never be happy till self is dethroned. I know some of God's children who are in great trouble only because they will not yield to the divine will. I met with one, I believe a good sister, who said she could not forgive God for taking away her mother; and another friend said he could not see God to be a good God for he had made him suffer such terrible afflictions. Their furnace was heated seven times hotter by the fuel of rebellion which they threw into it. So long as we blame the Lord and challenge his rights, our self-tortured minds will be tossed to and fro. No father can let his boy bend his little fist in defiance, and yet treat that child with the same love and fondness as his other children, who submit themselves to him. You cannot enjoy your heavenly Father's smile, my dear brother or sister, till you cease from being in opposition to him, and yield the point in debate; for he has said that if we walk contrary to him he will walk contrary to us. It will be wise for you to cry, "My Father, my naughty spirit has rebelled against thee, my wicked heart has dared to question thee; but I cease from it now: let it be even as thou wilt, for I know that thou doest right." So the text means first humility, and then submission to the Lord's will. Lord, teach us both.
It means also obedience. Do not merely passively lie back and yield to the necessities of the position, but gird up the loins of your mind, and manifest a voluntary and active submission to your great Lord. The position of a Christian should be that of a soldier to whom the centurion saith "Go," and he goeth, and "Do this," and he doeth it. It is not ours to question, that were to become masters; but ours it is to obey without questioning, even as soldiers do. Submission to our Lord and Savior will be manifested by ready obedience: delays are essentially insubordinations, and neglects are a form of rebellion. I fear that there are some Christians whose disobedience to Christ is a proof of their pride. It may be said that they do not know such and such a duty to be incumbent upon them. Ay, but there is a proud ignorance which does not care to know, a pride which despises the commandment of the Lord, and counts it non-essential and unimportant. Can such scorn be justifiable? Is that a right temper for the Lord's servant to indulge? Can any point in our Lord's will be unimportant to us? Can the wish of a dear friend be trivial to those who love him? Has Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments," and shall I treat them as matters of no moment? No, my Lord, if it were the lifting of a stone from the road, if it were the moving of a sere leaf, or the brushing away of a cobweb, if thou ordainest it, then it becomes important straightway, important to my loving allegiance, that I may by my prompt obedience show how fully I submit myself to thee. Love is often more seen in little things than in great things. You may have in your house a servant who is disaffected, and yet she will perform all the necessary operations of the household, but the loving child attends to the little details which make up the comfort of life, and are the tests of affection. Let your love be shown by a childlike obedience, which studies to do all the Master's will in all points.
I am afraid there are some who do not obey the Master because they are proud enough to think that they know better than he does; they judge the Lord's will instead of obeying it. Art thou a judge of the law, my brother? Art thou to sit on the judgment-seat and say of this or that statute of the law, "This does not signify," or, "That may be set aside without any loss to me"? This is not according to the mind of Christ, who did his Father's will and asked no questions. When next you pray, "Thy will be done in earth, even as it is in heaven," remember how they do that will before the throne of God, without hesitation, demur, or debate, being wholly subservient to every wish of the Most High. Thus, dear brethren, "Submit yourselves to God."
The expression, however, is not well worked out unless I add another explanation, and perhaps even then I have not brought out its meaning fully. "Submit yourselves to God" by yielding your hearts to the motions of the divine Spirit: by being impressible, sensitive, and easily affected. The Spirit of God has hard work with many Christians to lead them in the right way, they are as the horse and the mule which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle. There is the stout oak in the forest, and a hurricane howls through it, and it is not moved, but the rush by the river yields to the faintest breath of the gale. Now, though in many things ye should be as the oak and not as the rush, yet in this thing be ye as the bulrush and be moved by the slightest breathing of the Spirit of God. The photographer's plates are rendered sensitive by a peculiar process: you shall take another sheet of glass and your friend shall stand before it as long as ever he likes, and there will be no impression produced, at least none which will be visible to the eye; but the sensitive plate will reveal every little wrinkle of the face and perpetuate every hair of the head. Oh, to be rendered sensitive by the Spirit of God, and we can be made so by submitting ourselves entirely to his will. Is there not a promise to that effect? "I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh."
Sometimes the Spirit of God whispers to you, "Retire to pray." At such times enter your closet at once. Remember how David said, "When thou saidst unto me, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee, Thy face Lord will I seek." The Spirit of God will sometimes impel you to a duty which involves self-denial, which will take up much of your leisure, and will bring you no very great honor as a reward. Be not disobedient to his call, but go about your work speedily. Say with the Psalmist, "I made haste and delayed not to keep thy commandments." The Spirit will at times urge us to deep repentance on account of faults in which we have been living, he will rebuke us for some ugly temper which we have indulged, or for some hard word which we have spoken against a brother, or because of the worldliness of mind into which we have fallen. Oh, brother, bestir thyself at such times, and examine and purge thy soul. Let a hint from the Holy Spirit be enough for thee. As the eyes of the handmaiden are towards her mistress, so let your eyes be to your Lord. The handmaid does not require the mistress to speak: it will often happen when she is waiting at table, and there are friends, the mistress nods or puts her finger up, and that is enough. She does not call out "Mary, do this or that," or speak to her loudly a dozen times, as the Lord has to do to us, but a wink suffices. So it ought to be with us; half a word from the divine Spirit, the very gentlest motion from him, should be enough guidance, and straightway we should be ready to do his bidding. In this matter it is not so much your activity as your submission to the Holy Spirit which is needed; it is not so much your running as your willing to be drawn by him. There is to be an activity in religion: we are to wrestle and to fight, but side by side with that we are to yield ourselves to the Spirit's impulse, for it is he that worketh in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure; he striveth in us mightily, and if we will but resign ourselves, and no longer be obstacles in his divine way, he will carry us to greater heights of grace, and create in us more fully the likeness of Christ. "Submit yourselves unto God." Learn the sweetness of lying passive in his hand, and knowing no will but his: learn the blessedness of giving yourselves up entirely to his divine sway, for in so doing you will enter into heaven below.
II. Now we come to that part of our discourse in which we must earnestly pray God the Holy Spirit to help us doubly. I desire now to address myself TO THOSE WHO ARE NOT SAVED, but have some desire to be so. I am thankful to God that there should be even the faintest wish of the kind. May it grow at once into an impetuous longing; yea, may that longing be fulfilled this very morning, and may you go out of this house saved. You tell me that you have been anxious about your soul for some time, but have made no headway. You have been putting forth great efforts, you have been very diligent in attending the means of grace, in searching the Scriptures, and in private prayer, but you cannot get on. It is very possible, my dear friend, that the reason is this, that you have not submitted yourself to God; you are trying to do when the best thing would be to cease from yourself, and drop into the hand of the Savior who is able to save you though you cannot save yourself: For a proud heart the very hardest thing is to submit. Do you find it so? "No surrender" is the stubborn sinner's motto. I have known men who would give their bodies to be burned sooner than yield to God. Their high stomach has stood out long against the Most High, and they have been little Pharaohs till the Lord has brought them to their senses. "Must I yield, must I bow at his feet?" they could not brook such humiliation. If the gospel had tolerated their pride and given them a little credit they would have rejoiced in it; but to be tumbled in the dust, and made to confess their own nothingness they could not bear. "Submit" is wormwood and gall to haughty sinners, yet must they drink the cup or die. Hear then, ye stout-hearted, you can never be saved unless you submit, and when you are saved one of the main points in your salvation will be that you have submitted. I desire to whisper one little truth in your ear, and I pray that it may startle you: You are submitting even now. You say, "Not I; am lord of myself." I know you think so, but all the while you are submitting to the devil. The verse before us hints at this. "Submit yourselves unto God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." If you do not submit to God you never will resist the devil, and you will remain constantly under his tyrannical power. Which shall be your master, God or devil, for one of these must? No man is without a master: some power or other is paramount within us, either good or evil is supreme in our hearts; and if we will not be mastered by the good, the evil has already gained the sway.
"How then am I to submit?" says one: "To what shall I submit, and in what respects?" Well, first, submit thyself, if thou wouldest be saved, to the Word of God. Believe it to be true. Believing it to be true, yield thyself to its force. Does it accuse thee? Confess the accusation. Does it condemn thee? Plead guilty. Does it hold out hope to thee? Grasp it. Does it command thee? Obey it Does it guide thee? Follow it. Does it cheer thee? Believe it. Submit thyself to him who in this blessed page proclaims himself the Savior of all such as will throw down the weapons of their rebellion and end their futile war by relying upon his power to save them.
Yield thyself, next, to thy conscience. Thou hast quarelled with thy conscience, and thy conscience with thee. It persists in speaking, and thou desirest it to be quiet. After dissipation, in the lull which comes after a storm of evil pleasure, a voice is heard saying, "Is this right? Is this safe? Will this last? What will the end of this be? Would it not be better to seek some better and nobler thing than this?" God speaks often to men through the still small voice of conscience. Open thine ear, then, and listen. Thy conscience can do thee no hurt; it may disturb thee, but it is well to be disturbed when peace leads on to death. He was a fool who killed the watch dog because it alarmed him when thieves were breaking into his house. If conscience upbraid thee, feel its upbraiding and heed its rebuke. It is thy best friend; faithful are its friendly wounds, but the kisses of a flattering enemy are deceitful.
God also sends many messengers. To some of you he has sent the tenderest of monitors. Hearken to their admonitions and regard their kind warnings, for they mean good to thy souls. Is it hard, O son, is it hard to submit when the message comes by a mother's loving lips, when her tears bedew each word she speaks? It must have been difficult for some of you in your young days to stand out against a mother's entreaties when she not only pointed you to heaven, but led the way; not only spoke of Jesus, but reflected his love in her daily walk and conversation. You have a sister, young man, whom you love and respect: you could hardly tell how much an object of admiration she is to you. Now, that letter of hers, which you turned into a joke; you did feel it, after all. Yield to its pathetic pleadings, yield to its tender entreaties. Remember, God has other messengers whom he will send if these loving ones do not suffice. He will soon send thee a sterner summons. If thou listen not to the gentle word, the still, small voice, he can send to thee by the rougher messengers of disease and death. Be not so foolish as to provoke him so to do.
Moreover, submit yourselves to God, since he has, perhaps, already sent his messengers in sterner shapes to you. It was but a few days ago that you lost your old friend. Many a merry day you have spent together, and many a jovial night too; he was in as good health as yourself, apparently, but he was struck down, and you have followed him to the tomb. Is there no voice from that new made grave to you? Methinks your friend in his sudden end was a warning to you to be ready for the like departure! You have also yourself suffered from premonitory symptoms of sickness; perhaps you have actually been sick, and been made to lie where your only prospect was eternity; a dread eternity, how surely yours. You trembled to gaze into it, but the very tones of the surgeon's voice compelled you to do so. You feared that you would have to leave this body, and you could not help saying to yourself, "Whither shall I fly? My naked spirit, whither must it go when once it leaves the warm precincts of this house of clay?" It is not my business one-tenth as much as it is yours but I charge you, hear the voice of these providences, listen to these solemn calls. The angel of death has stood at your bedside and pointed to you and said, "Young man, it is the fever this time and you may recover, but the next time you will never rise from the bed on which you lie: or, you have been rescued now from a dreadful accident, but the next time there will be no escape for you. Because I will do this, prepare to meet thy God."
Above all, I pray you submit yourselves, if you are conscious of such things, to the whispers of God's Holy Spirit. God's Holy Spirit does not strive with every man alike. Some have so grieved him that he has ceased to strive with them, or does so very occasionally and then they so resist his strivings that they are never very long continued. The worst man that lives has his better moments, the most careless has some serious thoughts; there are lucid intervals in the madness of carnal pleasure. At such times men hear what they call "their better selves." It is hardly so. I prefer to call it the general reprovings of God's Spirit in their souls. He says to them, Is this right? Is this wise? This trifling, this time-killing, this depraving of the soul by allowing the bodily appetites to rule, this lowering of the man to the level of the brute, can this be right? Is there no eternity? Is there no immortality, no God, no judgment to come?" The Holy Spirit sometimes opens the man's eyes as he did the eyes of Balaam, and makes him see the certainty of the judgment day and the nearness of its approach. The man is led to anticipate the trumpet's sound which heralds the assize, the coming of the Judge upon his great white throne, the gathering of the multitudes of quick and dead, the opening of the books, the dividing of the throng, the driving away of the goats to their everlasting punishment, and the reception of the righteous to their everlasting joy. Oh, when you are made to feel all this, I pray you submit yourself to it. It costs some men a great deal of trouble to be damned. Many a man who blasphemes and talks infidelity, merely does so to conceal his inward struggles. Like the boy who whistles as he goes through the churchyard to keep his courage up, they talk blasphemy to divert their mind from its own fears. He who is most fierce in the utterance of his disbelief is not the greatest disbeliever. When the heathen offered children to Moloch they beat their drums to drown the cries of the victims, and even so these men make a great noise to drown the voice of conscience. The man knows better, and I charge him to let that better knowledge come to the front and lead him to his God and Father. It will be a blessed thing for him if it shall be so even this day. "Submit yourselves to God."
If you ask me again, "In what respect am I to submit myself?" I answer as briefly as I can, first submit yourself by confessing your sin. Cry peccavi. Do not brazen it out and say "I have not sinned." You will never be pardoned while that is the case. "He that confesseth his sin shall find mercy." Sinner, choose between one of two things; judge yourself, or be judged of God. If you will judge yourself and put in a plea of guilty, then will the Great Judge grant you forgiveness, but not else. Condemn yourself and you shall not be condemned. Confess the indictment to be true, for true it is, and to deny it is to seal your doom.
Next, honor the law which condemns you. Do not persevere in picking holes in it and saying that it is too severe, and requires too much of a poor fallible creature. The law is holy, and just, and good. Put thy lips down and kiss it, though it condemn thee, and say, "though it charges me with guilt and convicts me of deadly sin, yet it is a good law, and ought not to be altered, even to save me."
Next, own the justice of the penalty. Thy sins condemn thee to hell: do not say "God is too severe; this is a punishment disproportionate to the offense." Thou wilt never be pardoned if thou thinkest so, but God will be justified in thy condemnation: the pride of thy heart will be a swift witness against thee. Confess with thy heart, "If my soul were sent to hell it is no more than I deserve." When thou hast confessed the guilt, and honored the law, and acknowledged the justice of the penalty, then thou art nearing the position in which God can be merciful to thee.
Submit yourself, sinner I pray you do it now submit yourself to God as your king. Throw down your weapons; lower your crest and cast away those robes of pride. Surrender unconditionally and say, "Lord God, I own thee now to be king, no longer like stout-hearted Pharaoh will I ask, 'Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?' but like one brought to his senses I yield as reason and grace suggest." It will go well with you when you make a full capitulation, an unconditional surrender. Fling wide the gates of the city of Mansoul, and admit the prince Emanuel to rule as sole sovereign in every street in the city. Dispute no longer his sovereignty, but pray to be made a loyal subject, obedient in all things. Thou shalt find grace in the sight of the Lord if thou wilt do this.
Furthermore, submit yourself to God's way of saving you. Now God's way of saving you is by his grace, not by your merits; by the blood of Jesus, not by your tears and sufferings. He will justify you by your simply trusting Jesus now. Your proud heart does not admire the Lord's way of salvation; you stand up and say, "How is this consistent with morality?" As if you were the guardian of morality, as if the King of Heaven and earth could not take care of the moralities without assistance from you. Who are you to be all of a sudden the champion of morality? How dare you dream that the thrice holy God will not take care of that? He bids you trust his Son Jesus; will you do so or not? If you will not, there is no hope for you; if you will, you are saved the moment that you believe, saved from the guilt of sin by trusting Jesus.
You must also surrender yourself at discretion to his method of operating upon you. One says, "I would believe in Jesus, sir, if I felt the horror and terror which some have experienced on account of sin." What do you demand of God that he should drag you through horrors and terrors before you will believe? Submit yourself to be saved in a gentler way. "But I read of one," says another, "who had a dream: I would believe if I saw a vision too." Must God give thee dreams? Must he play lackey to thee, and save thee in thy way? He tells thee plainly, "If thou believest on the Lord Jesus Christ thou shalt be saved." Wilt thou believe or no? For if thou dost not, neither dreams, nor visions, nor terrors, nor anything else can save thee. There is God's way, sinner: I ask thee, and perhaps thy answer will settle thy fate for ever, wilt thou follow that way or not? If thou wilt not, thou hast chosen thine own destruction; but if thou wilt have it, and wilt submit thyself to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ, it is well with thee. I know there are some in this place who feel ready to burst, for their broken hearts are saying, "I yield at once. Oh, if he would but save me." How glad I am to hear you say so, for "he giveth grace unto the humble." I recollect the time when I have stood and cried to God, "O God, if I must lie on a sick bed till I die, I care not if thou wilt but have mercy on me; if thou wilt but conquer my proud will, and make a new man of me, thou mayst do whatever thou pleasest with me; only save me from the guilt, the power of sin." It was when the Lord brought me down there that he enabled me to see life and salvation in Jesus Christ; and if he has brought you down to that point, sinner, then you have nothing to do but simply trust the Lord Jesus Christ, and you are assuredly saved.
When he brings you to submit he has given you his grace. Submission to his divine will is the essence of salvation. Now, who will yield? Who will yield at once? The Master has come among us, the King himself is here, your Maker, your Redeemer: see the marks of his wounds, see the scars in his hands and feet and side! He asks of you, "Will you yield to me? Will you throw down your weapons? Will you end the war? Will you surrender at discretion?" If so, he gives you his hand and says, "Go in peace; there is peace between me and thee." Kiss the Son lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, while his wrath is kindled but a little. I prayed the Lord to give me many souls, and I believe I shall have them this morning. I feel sure of it. Grant me this favor: if you submit yourselves to Christ let me hear of it, and do not delay to unite yourselves with those who rejoice to be led in triumph as the captives of his grace.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON James 4:1-17 .
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK" 181, 578, 654.
God's Will About the Future*
Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, February 7th, 1892,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
On Thursday Evening, October 16th, 1890.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This Sermon was published the week of Spurgeon's death. The great preacher died in Mentone, France, January 31, 1892. This and the next few Sermons in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit were printed with a black mourning band circling the margins. A footnote appeared from the original editors, commenting on the providential selection of this message for that particular week:
* It is remarkable that the sermon selected for this week should be so peculiarly suitable for the present trying time. It ought to be read with special solemnity. Oh, that it may be the means of leading many to make the great preparation for the future which only believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have made!
"Go to now, ye that say, to day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."-- James 4:13-17
MEN to-day are just the same as when these words were first written. We still find people saying what they are going to do to-day, to-morrow, or in six months time, at the end of another year, and perhaps still further. I have no doubt there are persons here who have their own career mapped out before them pretty distinctly, and they feel well-nigh certain that they will realize it all. We are like the men of the past; and this Book, though it has been written so long, might have been written yesterday, so exactly does it describe human nature as it is at the end of this nineteenth century.
The text applies with very peculiar force when our friends and fellow-workers are passing away from us. Sickness and death have been busy in our midst. Perhaps in our abundant service we have been reckoning what this brother would do this week, and what that sister would be doing next week, and so on. Even for God's work we have had our plans, dependent in great measure on the presence of some beloved helpers. They have appeared amongst us in such buoyant health, that we have scarcely thought it possible that they would be struck down in a moment. Yet so it has often been. The uncertainty of life comes home to us when such things occur, and we begin to wonder that we have reckoned anything at all safe, or even probable, in such a shifting, changing world as this. With this in full view, I am going to talk about how we ought to behave with regard to the future, and attempt to draw some lessons for our own correction and instruction from the verses before us.
Following the line of the text, and keeping as close to it as we can, we will notice, first, that counting on the future is folly. Then we will observe what is clear enough to us all, that ignorance of the future is a matter of fact. In the third place, I shall set before you the main truth of this passage, that recognition of God in the future is wisdom, our fourth point shall be that boasting of the future is sin; and our final thought will be, that the using of the present is a duty.
I. To begin with, it will need but few words to convince you that COUNTING ON THE FUTURE IS FOLLY. The apostle says, "Go to now!" as if he meant, "you are acting absurdly. See how ridiculous your conduct is." "Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will do such and such a thing." There is almost a touch of sarcasm in the words. The fact of frail, feeble man so proudly ordering his own life and forgetting God seems to the apostle James so preposterous that he scarcely deems it worth while to argue the point, he only says "Go to now!"
Let us first look at the form of this folly, and notice what it was that these people said when they were counting on the future. The text is very full of suggestions upon this matter.
They evidently thought everything was at their own disposal. They said "We will go, we will continue, we will buy, we will sell, we will get gain." But it is not foolish for a man to feel that he can do as he likes, and that everything will fall out as he desires; that he can both propose and dispose, and has not to ask God's consent at all? He makes up his mind, and he determines to do just what his mind suggests. Is it so, O man, that thy life is self governed? Is there not, after all, One greater than thyself? Is there not a higher power that can speed thee or stop thee? If thou dost not know this, thou hast not yet learned the first letter of the alphabet of wisdom. May God teach thee that everything is not at your disposal; but that the Lord reigneth, the Lord sitteth King for ever and ever!
Notice, that these people, while they thought everything was at their disposal, used everything for worldly objects. What did they say? Did they determine with each other "We will to-day or to-morrow do such and such a thing for the glory of God, and for the extension of his kingdom"? Oh, no, there was not a word about God in it, from beginning to end! Therein they are only too truly the type of the bulk of men to-day. They said, "We will buy; then we will carry our goods to another market at a little distance; we will sell at a profit; and so we will get gain." Their first and their last thoughts were of the earth earthy, and their one idea seemed to be that they might get sufficient to make them feel that they were rich and increased in goods. That was the highest ambition upon their minds. Are there not many who are living just in that way now? They think that they can map our their own life; and the one object of their efforts seems to be to buy and sell, and get gain; or else to obtain honour, or to enjoy pleasure. Their heart rises not into the serene air of heaven; they are still groveling here below.
All that these men of old spoke of doing was to be done entirely in their own strength. They said, "We will, we will." They had no thought of asking the divine blessing, nor of entreating the help of the Most High. They did not care for that, they were self-contained; they called themselves "self-made men"; and they intended to make money. Who cannot make money who has made himself? Who cannot succeed in business who owes his character, and his present standing, entirely to his own exertions, and to his own brain? So they were full of self-confidence, and began reckoning for the future without a shadow of doubt as to their own ability. Alas, that men should do so even to-day, that, without seeking counsel of God, they should go forward in proud disdain, or in complete forgetfulness of "the arrow that flieth by day", and "the pestilence that walked in darkness", until they are suddenly overwhelmed in eternal ruin!
It is evident that to those men everything seemed certain. "We will go into such a city." How did they know that they would ever get there? "We will buy, and sell, and get gain." Did they regulate the markets? Might there be no fall in prices? Oh, no! they looked upon the future as a dead certainty, and upon themselves as people who were sure to win, whatever might become of others.
They had also the foolish idea that they were immortal. If they had been asked whether men might not die, they would have said, "Yes, of course all men must die some time or other," for all men count all men mortal; but in their hearts, they would have made an exception in their own case, if we may judge them by what we were apart from sovereign grace. "All men count all men mortal but themselves." Without any saving clause, they said, "We will continue there a year." How did they know that they would see a single quarter of that year through? But you must not press such men too closely with awkward questions. If you had done so, they would have said, "Do not talk about death; it makes one melancholy."
Having looked at the form of this folly of counting on the future, let us speak a little on the folly itself. It is a great folly to build hopes on that which may never come. It is unwise to count your chickens before they are hatched; it is madness to risk everything on the unsubstantial future.
How do we know what will be on the morrow? It has grown into a proverb that we ought to expect the unexpected; for often the very thing happens which we thought would not happen. We are constantly surprised by the events which occur around us. In God's great oratory of providence, there are passages of wondrous eloquence, because of the surprise-power that is in them. They come upon us at unawares, and overwhelm us. How can we reckon upon anything in a world like this, where nothing is certain but uncertainty
Besides, the folly is seen in the fact of the frailty of our lives, and the brevity of them. "What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time." That cloud upon the mountain--you see it as you rise in the morning; you have scarcely dressed yourself before all trace of it has gone. Here in our streets, the other night, we came to worship through a thick fog, and found it here even in the house of prayer. But while we worshipped, there came a breath of wind; and on our way home a stranger would not have thought that London had been, but a few hours before, so dark with dirty mist; it had all disappeared. Life is even as a vapour. Sometimes these vapours, especially at the time of sunset, are exceedingly brilliant. They seem to be magnificence itself, when the sun paints them with heavenly colours; but in a little while they are all gone, and the whole panorama of the sunset has disappeared. Such is our life. It may sometimes be very bright and glorious; but still it is only like a painted cloud, and very soon the cloud and the colour on it are alike gone. We cannot reckon upon the clouds, their laws are so variable, and their conditions so obscure. Such also is our life.
Why, then, is it, that we are always counting upon what we are going to do? How is it that, instead of living in the eternal future, where we might deal with certainties, we continue to live in the more immediate future, where there can be nothing but uncertainties? Why do we choose to build upon clouds, and pile our palaces on vapour, to see them melt away, as aforetime they have often melted, instead of by faith getting where there is no failure, where God is all in all, and his sure promises make the foundations of eternal mansions? Oh! I would say with my strongest emphasis: Do not reckon upon the future. Young people, I would whisper this in your ears; Do not discount the days to come. Old men, whispering is not enough for you, I would say, with a voice of thunder: Count not on distant years; in the course of nature, your days must be few. Live in the present; live unto God; trust him now, and serve him now; for very soon your life on earth will be over.
We thus see that counting on the future is folly.
II. Secondly, IGNORANCE OF THE FUTURE IS A MATTER OF FACT. Whatever we may say about what we mean to do, we do not know anything about the future. The apostle, by the Spirit, speaks truly when he says, "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow." Whether it will come to us laden with sickness or health, prosperity or adversity, we cannot tell. To-morrow may mark the end of our life; possibly even the end of the age. Our ignorance of the future is certainly a fact.
Only God knows the future. All things are present to him; there is no past and no future to his all-seeing eyes. He dwells in the present tense evermore as the great I AM. He knows what will be on the morrow, and he alone knows. The whole course of the universe lies before him, like an open map. Men do not know what a day may bring forth, but Jehovah knows the end from the beginning. There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass--one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.
As the knowledge of the future is hidden from us, we ought not pry into it. It is perilous, it is wicked, to attempt to lift even a corner of the veil that hides us from things to come. Search into the things that are revealed in Holy Scripture, and know them, as far as you can; but be not so foolish as to think that any man or woman can tell you what is to happen on the morrow; and do not think so much of your own judgment and foresight as to say, "That is clear, I can predict that." Never prophesy until after the event, and then, or course, you cannot prophesy; therefore never attempt to prophesy at all. You know not what shall be on the morrow, and you ought not to make any unhallowed attempt to obtain the knowledge. Let the doom of King Saul on Mount Gilboa warn you against such a terrible course.
Further, we are benefited by our ignorance of the future. It is hidden from us for our good. Suppose a certain man is to be very happy by-and-by. If he knows it, he will be discontented till the happy hour arrives. Suppose another man is to have great sorrow very soon. It is well that he does not know it, for now he can enjoy the present good. If we could have all our lives written in a book, with everything that was to happen to us recorded therein, and if the hand of Destiny should give us the book, we should be wise not to read it, but to put it by, and say:--
"My God, I would not long to see
My fate with curious eyes,
What gloomy lines are writ for me,
Or what bright lines arise."
It is sufficient that our heavenly Father knows; and his knowledge may well content us. Knowledge is not wisdom. His is wisest who does not wish to know what God has not revealed. Here, surely, ignorance is bliss: it would be folly to be wise.
Because we do not know what is to be on the morrow, we should be greatly humbled by our ignorance.We think we are so wise; do we now? And we make a calculation that we are sure is correct! We arrange that this is going to be done, and the other thing; but God puts forth his little finger, and removes some friend, or changes some circumstance, and all our propositions fall to the ground. It is better for us, when we are low before the throne of God, than when we stand up and plume ourselves because we think we can say, "Oh, I knew it would be so! See how well I reckoned! With what wondrous forethought I provided for it all!" Had God blown upon our plans, they would have come to nought. We know nothing surely. Let that thought humble us greatly.
Seeing that these things are so, we should remember the brevity, the frailty, and the end of our life. We cannot be here long. If we live to the extreme age of men, how short our time is! But the most of us will never reach that period wherein we may say to one another, "My lease has run out." How frail is our hold on this world! In a moment we are gone, gone like the moth; you put your finger upon it; and it is crushed. Man is not great; man is less than little. He is as nothing; he is but a dream. Ere he can scarcely sat that he is here, we are compelled to say that he is gone.
We are glad that we do not know when our friends are to die; and we feel thankful that we cannot foretell when we shall depart out of this life. What good would it do to us? Some who are in bondage through fear of death might be in greater bondage still, while those who are now careless about it would probably feel more content in their carelessness. If they had to live another twenty years, they would say, "At any rate, we may sport away nineteen of them." As for those of us to whom this world is a wilderness, and who count ourselves as pilgrims hurrying through it, we know enough when we know that this is not our rest, because it is polluted, and that the day will soon come when we shall enter the Canaan of our inheritance, and be "for ever with the Lord." Meanwhile, the presence of the Lord makes a heaven even of the wilderness. Since he is with us, we are content to leave the ordering of our lives to his unerring wisdom. We ought, for every reason, to be thankful that we do not know the future; but, at any rate, we can clearly see that to count on it is folly, and that ignorance of it is a matter of fact.
III. Thirdly, RECOGNITION OF GOD WITH REGARD TO THE FUTURE IS TRUE WISDOM. What says our text? "For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." I do not think that we need always, in every letter and in every handbill, put "If the Lord will"; yet I wish that we oftener used those very words. The fashionable way is to put it in Latin, and even then to abbreviate it, and use only the consonants, "D.V.", to express it. You know, it is a fine thing when you can put your religion into Latin, and make it very short. Then nobody knows what you mean by it; or, if they do, they can praise your scholarship, and admire your humility. I do not care about those letters "D.V." I rather like what Fuller says when he describes himself as writing in the letter such passages as "God willing", or "God lending me life." He says, "I observe, Lord, that I can scarcely hold my hand from encircling these words in parenthesis, as if they were not essential to the sentence, but may as well be left out as put in. Whereas, indeed, they are not only of the commission at large, but so of the quorum, that without them all the rest is nothing; wherefore hereafter, I will write these words freely and fairly, without any enclosure about them. Let critics censure it for bad grammar, I am sure it is good divinity." So he quaintly puts the matter. Still, whether you write, "If the Lord will", or not, always let it be clearly understood; and let it be conspicuous in all your arrangements that you recognize that God is over all, and that you are under his control. When you say, "I will do this or that," always add, in thought if not in word, "If the Lord will." No harm can come to you if you bow to God's sovereign sway.
We should recognize God in the affairs of the future, because, first, there is a divine will which governs all things. I believe that nothing happens apart from divine determination and decree; even the little things in life are not overlooked by the all-seeing eye. "The very hairs of your head are numbered." The station of a rush by the river is as fixed and foreknown as the station of a king, and the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as much as the stars in their courses. All things are under regulation, and have an appointed place in God's plan; and nothings happens, after all, but what he permits or ordains. Knowing that, we will not always say, "If the Lord will"; yet we will always feel it. Whatever our purposes may be, there is a higher power which we must ever acknowledge; and there is an omnipotent purpose, before which we must bow in lowliest reverence, saying, "If the Lord will."
But while many of God's purposes are hidden from us, there is a revealed will which we must not violate. It is chiefly in reference to this that the Christian should always say, "I will do this or that, provided that, when the time comes, I shall see it to be consistent with the law of God, and with the precepts of the gospel." I say now, "I will do this or that," but certain other things may occur which will render it improper for me to do so. Hence, to be quite in accordance with the Word I so deeply reverence, I must always put in the saving clause, sometimes giving utterance to it, but in every case meaning, whether I put it into words or not, "I will do so and so, if it be right to do it; I will go, or I will stay, if it be the will of God."
In addition to this, there is a providential will of God which we should always consult. With this guidance, which comes from the circumstances that surround us, believers are familiar. Sometimes a thing may seem to us to be right enough morally, and yet we may not quite know whether we should do it or not. Or perhaps, there are two courses equally right, when judged by the Word of God, and you are uncertain which to follow. The highest wisdom, in such a case, is to wait for God to make a path plain by some act of providence. When you come where two roads meet, in your perplexity pull up, kneel down, and lift your hearts to heaven, asking your Father the way. And whenever we are purposing what we should do--and we ought to make some purposes, for God's people are not to be without forethought or prudence--we should always say, or mean without saying, "All my plans must wait till the Lord sets before me an open door. If God permit, I will do this; but if the Lord will, I will stop, and do nothing. My strength shall be to sit still, unless the Master wishes me to go forward." May I whisper into the ear of some very quick, impetuous, and hasty people, that it would be greatly to their soul's benefit if they knew how to sit still? Many of us seem as if we must always do everything at once, and hence we make no end to muddle for ourselves. There is often a blessed discipline in postponement. It is a grand word, that word, "wait"; especially in this particular connection. "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord." Be patient; sometimes even to be passive in the hand of God will be our strength, and to stand still until the cloudy, fiery pillar moves in front of us, will be our highest wisdom.
There is yet another sense I would give to this expression: there is a royal will which we would seek to fulfill. That will is that the Lord's people should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. So, as the servants of the Most High, we go forth to do this or that, "if the Lord will", that is to say, if, by so doing, we can fulfil the great will of God in the salvation of men. I wish that this was the master-motive with all Christians; that we were each willing to say, "I will go and live in such a place, if there are souls to be saved there. I will take a house in such a street, if, by living there, I can be of service to my Lord and Master. I will go the China or Africa, or to the ends of the earth, if the Lord will; that is to say, if, by going there, I can be helping to answer that prayer, 'Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.'" Dear Christian friends, do you put yourselves entirely at God's disposal? Are you really his, or have you kept back a bit of yourself from the surrender? If you have retained any portion for yourself, that little reserve that you have made will be the channel by which your life will bleed away. You say, "We are not our own; we are brought with a price:" but do you really mean it? I am afraid that there is a kind of mortgage on some Christians. They have some part they must give, as they fancy, to their own aggrandisement. They are not all for Christ. May the Lord bring us all to his feet in whole-hearted consecration, till we can say, "We will not go to that city unless we can serve God there. We will not buy, and we will not sell, unless we can glorify God by not buying and selling; and we will not wish even for the honest gain that comes of trading; unless we can be promoting the will of God by getting it. Our best profit will consist of doing God's will." A man can as much as serve God by measuring calico, or by weighing groceries, as he can by preaching the gospel, if he is called to do it, and if he does it in a right spirit. This should always be our aim, and we should put this ever in the forefront of our life. "I go or stay, I ascend or I descend, if the Lord will; the Lord's will shall be done in my mortal body whether I live or whether I die."
May this be your resolve, then; let this clause, "if the Lord will", be written across your life, and let us all set ourselves to the recognition of God in the future. It is a grand thing to be able to say, "Wherever I go, and whatever happens to me, I belong to God; and I can say that God will prepare my way as well when I am old and grey-headed as he did when I was a boy. He shall guide me all the way to my everlasting mansion in glory; he was the guide of my youth, he shall be the guide of my old age. I will leave everything to him, all the way from earth to heaven; and I will be content to live only a day at a time; and my happy song shall be--
"So for to-morrow and its need
I do not pray,
But keep me, guide me, hold me, Lord,
Just for to-day."
IV. And now, fourthly, BOASTINGS ABOUT THE FUTURE ARE EVIL. "But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil." I will not say much upon this point, but briefly ask you to notice the various ways in which men boast about the future.
One man says, about a certain matter, "I will do it, I have made up my mind," and he thinks, "You cannot turn me. I am a man who, when he has once put his foot down, is not to be shifted from his place." Then he laughs, and prides himself upon the strength of his will; but his boasting is sheer arrogance. Yet he rejoices in it, and the Word of God is true of such a one: "All such rejoicing is evil."
Another man says, "I shall do it, the thing is certain;" and when a difficulty is suggested, he answers, "Tut, do not tell me about my proposing and God's disposing; I will propose, and I will also dispose; I do not see any difficulty. I shall carry it out, I tell you. I shall succeed." Then he laughs in his foolish pride, and rejoices in his proud folly. All such rejoicings are evil. They are foolish; but, what is worse, they are wicked. Do I address myself to any who have no notion about heaven or the world to come, but who feel that they are perfect masters of this world, and, therefore talk in the manner I have indicated, and rejoice as they think how great they are? To such I will earnestly say, "All such rejoicing is evil."
I heard a third man say, "I can do it. I feel quite competent." To him the message is the same, his boasting is evil. Though he thinks of himself, "Whatever comes in my way, I am always ready for it," he is greatly mistaken, and errs grievously. I have often been in the company of a gentleman of this sort, but only for a very little while; for I have generally got away from him as soon as I could. He knows a thing or two. He has got the great secret that so many are seeking in vain. All of you ordinary people, he just snuffs you out. If you had more sense, and could do as he does--well, then, you could be as well off as he is. Poor man! "Nobody needs to be poor," says he. "Nobody needs to be poor. I was poor a little while; but I made up my mind that I would not remain poor. I fought my own way, and I could begin again with a crust, and work myself up." You will notice his frequent use of the capital I, but ah, dear sir, God has thunder-bolts for these great I's! They offend him; they are a smoke in his nostrils. Pride is one of the things which his soul hates. No man should speak in such a strain: "All such rejoicing is evil."
But that young man yonder talks in a different tone. He has been planning he will do when he succeeds; for, of course, he is going to succeed. Well, I hope that he may, He is going to buy, and sell, and get gain; and he says, "I will do so and so when I am rich." He intends then to live his fling, and to enjoy himself; he laughs as he thinks what he will do when his toilsome beginnings are over, and he can have his own way. I would ask him to pause and consider his life in a more serious vein: "All such rejoicing is evil."
There is, of course, a future concerning which you may be certain. There is a future in which you may rejoice. God has prepared for them that serve him a crown of life, and by humble hope you may wear the crown even now. You may, by the thoughts of such amazing bliss, begin to partake of the joy of heaven; and this will do you no harm. On the contrary, it will set your heart at rest concerning your brief stay on earth, for what will it matter to you whether your life is cloudy or bright, short or long, when eternity is secure? But concerning the uncertainties of this fleeting life, if you begin to rejoice, "All such rejoicing is evil."
V. That brings me to my last and most practical point, which is this: THE USING OF THE PRESENT IS OUR DUTY. "therefore to him that knoweth good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." I take this text with its context. It means that he who knows what he ought to do, and does not do it at once, to him it is sin. Tho text does not refer to men who live in guilty knowledge of duty, and neglect it; its message is to men who know the present duty, and who think that they will do it by-and-by.
In the first place, it is sinful to defer obedience to the gospel. "He that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Do you say, "I am going to repent"? Your duty is to repent now. "I am going to believe," do you say? The command of Christ is, "Believe now." "After I have believed," says one, "I shall wait a long time before I make any profession." Another says, "I am a believer, and I shall be baptized some day." But as baptism is according to the will of the Lord, you have no more right to postpone it than you have to postpone being honest or sober. All the commands of God to the characters to whom they are given come as a present demand. Obey them now. And if anyone here, knowing that God bids him to believe, refuses to believe, but says that he hopes to trust Christ one of these days, Let me read him this: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not,"--this word is in the present tense,--"to him it is sin."
In the next place, it is sinful to neglect the common duties of life, under the idea that we shall do something more by-and-by. You do not obey your parents, young man, and yet you are going to be a minister, are you? A pretty minister will you make! As an apprentice you are very dilatory and neglectful, and your master would be glad to see the back of you; he wishes that he could burn your indentures; and yet you have an idea you are going to be a missionary, I believe? A pretty missionary you would be! There is a mother at home, and when her children are neglected while she talks to her neighbours; but when her children are off her hands, she is going to be a true mother in Israel, and look after the souls of others. Such conduct is sin. Mind your children; darn the stockings, and attend your other home duties; and when you have done that, talk about doing something it other places. If present duties are neglected, you cannot make up for the omission by some future piece of quixotic endeavour to do what you were never called to do. If we could all be quiet enough to hear that clock tick, we should hear it say, "Now! Now! Now! Now!" The clock therein resembles the call of God in the daily duties of the hour. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin," even though he may dream of how he will, in years to come, make up for his present neglect.
Then, dear friends, it is sinful to postpone purposes of service. If you have some grand project and holy purpose, I would ask you not to delay it. My dear friend, Mr. William Olney, whose absence we all mourn to-night,** was a very prompt, energetic man. He was here, he was there, he was everywhere, serving his Lord and master; and now that he is suddenly stricken down, his life cannot be said to be in any sense unfinished; there is nothing to be done in his business; there is nothing to be done in his relation to this church. There is nothing left undone with regard to anybody. It is all as finished as if he had known that he was going to be struck down. Mr. Whitefield said that he would not go to bed unless he had put even his gloves in their right place. If he should die in the night; he would not like to have anybody asking, "Where did he leave his gloves?" that is the way for a Christian man always to live; have everything in order, even to a pair of gloves. Finish up your work every night; nay, finish up every minute. I have seen Mr. Wesley's Journal, though it is not exactly a "journal"; it does not give an account of what he did in a day, nor even what he did in an hour. He divided his time into portions of twenty minutes each; and I have seen the book in which there is the record of something done for his Lord and Master every twenty minutes of the day. So exactly did he live, that no single half-minute ever seemed to be wasted. I wish that we all lived in that way, so that we looked, not at projects in some distant future that never will be realized, but at something to be done now.
Last Thursday, when I was speaking, I said that some Christian people had never told out the story of the cross to others, and urged them to begin to do so at once. A young friend, sitting in this place, leaned over the front of the pew, and touched a friend sitting there, saying to her, "I would like to speak to you about that." He had never spoken to her before, he did not even know her, and he thus addressed he while the service was proceeding. A member of the church, sitting by her side, who heard what the young man said, was so pleased with his prompt action, that she stayed after the service to sympathize and help, while he explained the way of salvation. The young person, to whom he spoke, came to tell me, last Tuesday, that she had found the Saviour through that well-timed effort. Dear friends, that is the way to serve the Lord. If we were to do things at the moment when they occurred to us, we should do them to purpose. But, oh, how many pretty things you have always meant to do, and have never even attempted! You have strangled the infant projects that have been born in your mind; you have not suffered them to live, and grow into manhood of real action. First thoughts are best in the service of God, and the carrying of them out would secure great benefit to others and much fruit for ourselves. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." God help us, if we are saved, to get at this holy business of serving the Lord Christ, which as far exceeds buying and selling, and getting gain, as the heavens are higher than the earth. Let us do something for Christ at once. You young people that are newly converted, if you do not very soon begin to work for Christ, you will grow to be idle Christians, scarcely Christians at all; but I believe that to attempt something suited to you ability almost immediately, as God shall direct you, will put you on the line of a useful career. God will bless you, and enable you to do more as the years roll onwards.
I have this last word: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth is not, to him it is sin," that is, it is sinful in proportion to our knowledge. If there is any brother here, into whose mind God has put something fresh, something good, I pray him to translate it into action at once. "Oh, but nobody has done it before!" Somebody must be first, any why should not you be the first if you are sure that it is a good thing, and has come into your heart through God the Holy Ghost? But if you know to do good, and do not do it; it will be sin every minute that you leave it undone. Therefore get at it at once. And you, my sister, who to-night, while sitting here thinking of something you might have done which you have not yet attempted, attempt it at once. Do not let another sun rise, if you can help it, before you have begun the joyful and blessed service. "The time is short." Our opportunities are passing, "For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Be up and doing. Soon we shall be gone. May we never hear the summons to go home while there is anything left undone that we ought to have done for our Lord and Master!
I am conscious of having spoken but very feebly and imperfectly; but, you know, my heart is heavy because of this sore trial which has come upon us through the stroke that has fallen on our beloved deacon, William Olney; and when the heart is so sad, the brain cannot be very lively. May God bless this word, for Jesus' sake! Amen.
** This sermon was preached at the time that Mr. William Olney, the senior deacon of the Tabernacle church, was lying unconscious, after a paralytic stroke. He fell asleep in Jesus the next morning. On the following Lord's-day evening, the Pastor preached, from Acts 13:36 , the sermon that will be published next week, "if the Lord will."
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-- James 4:1-17 .
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"--90, 39, 211.
When last week's sermon was sent to the printers. Mr. Spurgeon was unable to write a letter to go at the end of it, for he was suffering so severely that he could not even dictate a message to his sermon-readers. It was not then anticipated that his illness would take the terrible form it afterwards assumed: but on Tuesday, January 26, when the doctor came, he was obliged to report his patient's condition as "serious." Since then, the daily bulletins have carried the sad tidings far and wide; and most of the readers of the sermons probably know, by this time, that their beloved preacher has been suffering the same malady that so grievously afflicted him during last summer and autumn. His illness, on this occasion, has not developed exactly the same symptoms as before; but at the date of writing this note (Jan 31), the doctor reports that "his condition gives cause for the greatest anxiety."
It is with profound regret that the Publishers record the death of the beloved Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He was called to his rest, at Menton, on Sunday, January 31st, at 11 p.m.
To all who were privileged to know Mr. Spurgeon, this event has come as a great sorrow; a sorrow which will certainly be shared by every reader of the weekly sermons.
"I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."-- Revelation 14:13 .
The weekly Sermon and The Sword and the Trowel will be continued as usual, the Publishers having a large quantity of manuscripts and Sermons hitherto unpublished.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on James 4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent