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The Relationship of Marriage
by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
© Copyright 2003 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.
“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband.” [Jeremiah 3:14 ]
These are delicate words a good medicine for a troubled conscience. Such remarkable comfort is intended to encourage the soul, and put the brightest hope on all of its prospects. The person to whom it is addressed has an eminently happy position. My dear believer in Christ, tonight Satan will be very busy with you. He will say, “What right do you have to believe that God is married to you?” He will remind you of your imperfections, and of the coldness of your love, and perhaps of the backsliding state of your heart. He will say, “Why, with all this about you, can you be presumptuous enough to claim union with the Son of God? Can you venture to hope that there will be any marriage between you and the holy One?” He will speak to you as though he were an advocate for holiness, that it is not possible that someone like you could really be a partaker of so choice and special a privilege as being married to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let this suffice for an answer to all such suggestions: the text is found addressed, not to Christians in a flourishing state of heart, not to believers on the Mount of Transfiguration with Christ, not to a spouse that is completely pure and lovely, and sitting under the banner of love, feasting with her lord; but it is addressed to those who are called “faithless people.” God speaks to his church in her lowest and most wretched condition, and though he does not fail to rebuke her sin, to express grief over it, and to make her grieve over it too, yet still in such a condition he says to her, “I am your husband.” Oh! it is pure grace that Jesus should be married to any of us, but it is grace at its highest pitch, it is the ocean of grace at its flood-tide, that he should speak in this way of “faithless people.” That he should speak words of love to any of the fallen race of Adam is very strange and wonderful; but that he should select those who have behaved treacherously to him, who have turned their backs to him and not their faces, who have been unfaithful to him, although, nevertheless, his own, and say to them, “I am your husband;” this is loving-kindness beyond anything we could want or imagine. Listen, heaven above, and admire, earth below, let every understanding heart break forth into singing, yes, let every humble mind bless and praise the condescension of the Most High! Cheer up you poor weak hearts. Here is sweet encouragement for some of you who are depressed, discontent, and all alone, to draw living waters out of this well. Don’t let the noise of the enemy keep you back from this refreshing well. Don’t be afraid lest you should be cursed while you are anticipating the blessing. If you trust only in Jesus, if you long for the once humbled, now exalted Lord, come with holy boldness to the text, and whatever comfort there is here, receive it and rejoice in it. To this end let us carefully consider the relationship, which is here spoken of, and diligently question how much we are actually acquainted with it. I. IN CONSIDERING THE RELATIONSHIP WHICH IS HERE SPOKEN OF, you will observe that the relationship of marriage, though very much like family, is not one of birth. 1. Marriage is not a relationship by blood or by a common ancestor. It is contracted between two persons who may, during the early part of their lives, have been entire strangers to one another; they may scarcely have looked at each other in the face, except during the few months that preceded their wedding. The families may have had no previous acquaintance; they may have lived on the opposites sides of the earth. One may have been rich, and in possession of vast domains, and the other may have been poor, barely able to make ends meet. Genealogies don’t regulate it: differences don’t hinder it. The connection is not of natural birth but of voluntary contract or covenant. Such is the relationship, which exists between the believer and his God. Whatever relation there was originally between God and man, it was stamped out and extinguished by the fall. We were aliens, strangers, and foreigners, far off from God because of our wicked works. We therefore had no relation to the Most High; we were banished from his presence as traitors to his throne, as condemned criminals who had revolted against his power. There could be no communion between our souls and God. He is light and we are darkness. He is holiness and we are sin. He is heaven, and we are far more analogous to hell. In him there is consummate greatness, and we are puny insignificance. He fills the entire universe with his strength, and as for us, we are the creatures of a day, who know nothing, and who are easily crushed like the moth. The gulf between God and a sinner is something terrible to contemplate. There is a vast difference between God and the creature even when the creature is pure, but between God and the fallen creature oh! who is he that can measure the infinite distance? There was only one way of ever bridging so terrible a chasm and that only by the person and passion of the Lord Jesus Christ? How could we have ever perceived the infinite design, unless it had been revealed to us as an accomplished fact, by which he has reconciled us and brought us into communion with himself, that we should be married to him? Now, My dear Christian, just contemplate what you were, and the degraded family to which you belonged, that you may magnify the riches of his grace who chose you for his wife even while you were still a wicked sinner, and has so obligated himself with all the pledges of a husband that he said, “I am your husband.” What were you? It is a evil catalog of wicked sinners which the apostle gives in the first epistle to the Corinthians (6:9-11), I refrain from reciting the filthy vices at the end of which he says, “But you were washed, you were sanctified.” In those crimes he enumerates, many of us had a share, no, all of us! What was our father? What was our aim? What was our practice? What were our desires? What were our tendencies? They were earthly, downward, hell-ward. We were at a distance from God, and we loved that distance. But the Lord Jesus took our nature upon himself: upon him God laid the iniquity of all his people. And why did he do this? Not merely to save us from the wrath to come, but that we, being lifted up out of our degradation by virtue of his atonement, and being sanctified and made right by the power of the Spirit, should have a relationship established between us and God which was not formed by nature, but which has been achieved and consummated by astounding grace. Let us give thanks to the Lord this night, as we remember the pit where we were pulled up from, and call to mind the fact that now we are united to him in ties of blood and bonds of love. 2. The union of marriage is the result of choice. Any exceptions to this rule that might be pleaded are invalid, because they arise from folly and transgression: there ought to be no exception. It is scarcely a true marriage at all where there has not been a choice on each side. But certainly if the Lord our God is married to us, and we are married to God, the choice is mutual. The first choice is with God. That choice was made, we believe, before the creation of the universe. God never began to love his people. It was impossible for the spiritual mind to entertain so unworthy a thought. He saw them in the telescope of his decrees; he saw them in the future, with his eye of foresight, in the mass of humanity, completely fallen and doomed; but yet he looked at them, and pitied and loved them, elected them and set them apart. “They will be mine,” said the Lord. At this point we are all in agreement; and we ought to be all in agreement on the second point, namely, that we also have chosen our God. Brothers and sisters, no one is saved against their will. If any one could say that they were saved against their will, it would be proof that they were not saved at all; for reluctance or indifference reveals hostility in their heart. If the will is still set against God, then it is proof that the whole person is still hostile against the Lord. In our natural state we did not choose God: in our natural state we kicked against his law, and turned away from his authority. But is it not written, “My people will be willing in the day of my power”? [Psalms 110:3 , KJV] Don’t you understand how, without any violation of your freewill, God has used divine arguments and motives so as to influence your understanding? Through our understanding our will is convinced, and our souls are suddenly drawn without hesitation. It is then that we throw down the weapons of our rebellion, and humble ourselves at the footstool of the Most High; and we freely choose that which we once wickedly abhorred. Don’t you, Christian, at this very hour, choose Christ with all your heart to be your Lord and Savior? If it could be put to you over again to make a choice whether you would love the world or love Christ, wouldn’t you say, “Oh! my Beloved is better to me than ten thousand worlds! He captures all my love, captivates all my passion: I freely and completely give myself up to him; he bought me with a great price; he won me with his great love; he captivated me with his indescribable charms, so I completely give myself up to him”? This is a mutual choice. Oh, I wish that some of our friends would refrain from making such a strong stand against the doctrine of God choosing us. If they will only read the Scriptures with an unbiased mind, I am quite sure they will find it there. It always seems incomprehensible to me that those who so boldly claim freewill for man, should not also allow some freewill to God. I suppose, no one would not like to be married to someone whom they had not chosen, and why shouldn’t Jesus Christ have the right to choose his own bride? Why shouldn’t he put his love where he wants, and have the right to exercise, according to his own sovereign mind, that bestowment of his heart and hand which no one could by any means deserve? Know this for sure, that Jesus will have his own choice whether we doubt the doctrine or not; for he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion. At the same time, I wish that those friends who believe this truth, would receive the other, which is just as much true. We do choose Christ in return, and that without any violation of our freewill. Some people cannot see two truths at the same time; they cannot understand that God has made all truth to be double. Truth is many sided. While divine predestination is true, human responsibility is also true; while it is true that Christ chooses us, it is also true that the unregenerate mind will not choose him: Jesus said, “You refuse to come to me to have life.” [John 5:40 ] This is the sin and the condemnation of man, that “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” [John 3:19 ] Settle it, however, in your minds, that when God says, “I am your husband,” it implies that there is a blessed choice on both sides; and thus it is a true marriage. 3. Our third reflection is, that marriage is cemented by mutual love. Where there is a lack of this mutual affection, it does not deserve the name of marriage. The pain and anguish of such a relationship would be a heavy load for either heart to bear; but where there is true and genuine love; it is the sweetest and happiest mode of living. It is one of the blessings of paradise, which has been preserved for us after the fall. Without love, wedded life must be like experiencing some of the very pains of hell on earth. In the solemn contract, which has brought our souls this night to God, the marriage is sustained, cemented, strengthened, and made enjoyable by mutual love. Need I talk to you of the love of God? It is a theme we are scarcely competent to talk of. You need to sit down and weep about it for the very joy of it, joy which fills the heart, and makes the eyes overflow, but almost chains the tongue, for it is a deep, profound, and inexpressible joy. “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us” [1 John 3:1 ]. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” [John 15:9 ]. Oh, the love of God it would surpass the powers of an angel to declare it. Surely, it will be the blessed employment of eternity's long ages for us to comprehend the love of God; and, perhaps, when billions of years have rolled over our happy souls, we will still be as much struck with wonder with it as we were at first. The marvel does not diminish as we examine it: familiarity cannot make it common. The nearer we approach God’s love, the deeper will be our wonder, amazement, and awe. It will be as great a surprise that God would love such cold, such faithless, such unworthy creatures as ourselves, at the end of ten thousand years as it was at first, perhaps even more so. The more thoroughly we come to know ourselves, the more fully we will understand the goodness and holiness of the Lord; thus will our wonder grow and expand. Even in heaven, we will be lost in surprise and admiration at the love of God to us. The rapture will augment the reverence we feel. But dear brothers and sisters, I trust we will also love him in return! Do you ever feel one soft affection rising after another as you ponder the Christ of God? When you sometimes listen to a sermon in which the Savior's dear love to you is described, don’t you suddenly feel that a tear wets your cheek? Doesn’t your heart swell sometimes, as if it were unable to hold your emotions? Isn’t there “an inexpressible and glorious joy,” that comes over you? Can’t you say
“Jesus, I love your charming name, It is music to my ear; Happily would I sound it out so loud That earth and heaven should hear”?
I hope you don’t need to sing tonight
“It is a point I long to know.”
but, I trust, that in the solemn silence of your souls you can say, “You know that I love you;” be grieved that the question should be asked, but still be ready to answer, with Peter, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” Now, it is impossible for you to love God without the strong conclusive evidence that God loves you. I once knew a good woman who was the subject of many doubts, and when I got to the bottom of her doubt, it was this: she knew she loved Christ, but she was afraid he did not love her. “Oh!” I said, “that is a doubt that will never trouble me; never, by any possibility, because I am sure of this, that the heart is so naturally corrupt, that love to God could never get there without God first putting it there.” You may rest quite certain, that if you love God, it is a fruit, and not a root. It is the fruit of God's love to you, and did not get there by the force of any goodness in you. You may conclude, with absolute certainty, that God loves you if you love God. There never was any difficulty on his part. It always was on your part, and now that the difficulty is gone from you there is no more difficulty left. O let our hearts rejoice and be filled with great delight, because the Savior has loved us and given himself for us. So let us realize the truth of the text, “I am your husband.” 4. My fourth observation is, that this marriage necessitates certain mutual responsibilities. I cannot say “duties,” for the word seems out of place on either side. How can I speak of the great God making pledges of faithfulness? and yet with reverence, let me say it just that way, for in any vocabulary I can hardly find words to declare it. When God becomes a husband, he undertakes to do a husband's part. When he says, “Your Creator is your husband,” you may rest assured that he does not take up the relationship without assuming (well, I must say it) all the responsibilities which belong to a husband. God’s part is to nourish, to cherish, to shield, to protect, and to bless those with whom he condescends, in infinite mercy, to enter into the union of marriage. When the Lord Jesus Christ became the husband of his church, he felt that he had an obligation and commitment to us, and inasmuch as there were debts incurred, he paid them.
“Yes, said the Son, with her I'll go, Through all the depths of sin and woe; And on the cross will even dare The bitter pains of death to bear.”
He never shrunk back from doing any of those loving works which belong to the husband of his chosen spouse. He exalted the word “husband,” and made it to be more full of meaning than it ever had been before, so that the apostle could see it glittering in a new light, and could say, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” Oh, yes! dear friends, there is a responsibility arising out of this relationship, and Jesus Christ has not turn away from it; you know he hasn’t. And now, what about our side? The wife has to reverence her husband, and to be subject to him in all things. That is precisely our position towards him who has married us. Let his will be our will. Let his wish be our law. Let us never need to be flogged into service, but let us say “It is love that makes our willing feet move in swift obedience.” O Christian, if the Master condescends to say, “I am your husband,” you will never need to ask, “What is my duty?” but you will say, “What can I do for him?” The loving wife does not say, “What is my duty?” and stand coldly questioning how far she should go, and how little she may do, but all that she can do for him who is her husband she will do, and everything that she can think of, every thing she can devote herself to, in striving to please him in all things she will most certainly do and perform. And you and I will do the same if we have realized our union with Christ. O beloved, don’t grow sentimental and waste your energies in foolish dreams as some have done. Consider the wife where the family is large, the work is heavy, and the responsibility great. I must remind you, as time permits, of the words of King Lemuel, and the oracle his mother taught him. Bear with me at least while I caution you listen to a mother’s wisdom to her son, that the heart of your husband may safely trust in you. Be careful to provide food for your family. Grab the spindle with your fingers; don’t stop being diligent; don’t eat the bread of idleness. Open your arms to the poor and extend your hands to the needy. Speak with wisdom, and be sure that faithful instruction is on your tongue.” And also be sure that you yourself, in regard to all the duties of your situation, are fulfilling your obligations to your Lord. Jesus has shown us how much he loved us by His matchless deeds on our behalf, therefore let us impress our song of love to him on the hearts of some tender young child who are committed to our care. O that the life I now live in the flesh, by faith in the Son of God, might become a poem, and a grateful response to him that loved me, and gave himself for me. I hope we now understand that when God says, “I am your husband,” it requires mutual responsibilities. 5. Fifthly, it also involves mutual intimacy. How will we call that a marriage where the husband and wife are still two persons, maintaining individuality as if it were a conscientious condition of the contract? That is utterly foreign to the divine idea of marriage. In a true marriage, the husband and wife become one. Therefore their joys and their cares, their hopes and their labors, their sorrows and their pleasures, rise and blend together in one stream. Brothers and sisters, the Lord our God has said that he, “…confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them” [Psalms 25:14 ]. “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” [John 14:22 ]. This is an example of the intimate and private relationship, because there is a union between Christ and his people, which there is not between Christ and the world. How joyful do the words sound they have a melodious ring to them “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” [John 15:15 ]. Christ keeps nothing back from you, his spouse. Remember another word of his: “If it were not so, I would have told you.” Oh, how delightful! He says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them, and then he says, “If it were not so, I would have told you I keep no secrets back from you; you are close to me, my flesh and my bones. I left my Father's house in glory, that I might become one with you, and show myself to you, and I keep nothing back from you, but reveal my very heart and my very soul to you.” Now, Christian, think of this: your relationship to Christ is that of a spouse, and you must pour out your very heart to Christ. No, don’t go and pour out your heart to your neighbors, nor your friends, for, somehow or other, the most sympathizing heart cannot understand or share all of our heartaches. There are sorrows, which the stranger cannot help us with; but there never was a heartache or pain which Christ could not help us to overcome. Make a confidant of the Lord Jesus tell him everything. You are married to him: play the part of a wife who keeps no secrets back, no trials back, no joys back; tell them all to him. I was in a house yesterday where there was a little child, and it was said to me, “He is such a funny child.” I asked in what way, and the mother said, “Well, if he falls down and hurts himself in the kitchen, he will always go upstairs crying and tell somebody, and then he comes down and says, “I told somebody;” and if he is upstairs he goes downstairs and tells somebody, and when he comes back it is always, “I told somebody,” and he doesn’t cry any more, Ah! well, I thought, we must tell somebody: it is human nature to want to have sympathy, but if we would always go to Jesus, and tell him everything, and leave it there, we would often dismiss the burden, and be refreshed with a grateful song. Let us do so, and go with all our joys and all our troubles to Jesus, who says, “I am your husband.” I know the devil will say, “Why, you must not tell the Lord your present trouble: it is too little, and besides, you know you did wrong, and brought it upon yourself.” Well, I ask you, wouldn’t you tell your husband, wouldn’t you? and will you not tell your Lord? You couldn’t tell a master or a stranger, but you can tell a husband. Oh! Feel free to call Christ, “My man, my husband,” and put that confidence in him which a wife is expected to place in a husband who dearly loves her. 6. We must now go on to a sixth point. This marriage implies fellowship in all its relations. Whatever a husband possesses becomes his wife's. She cannot be poor if he be rich; and what little she has, whatever it may be, belongs to him. If she is in debt, her debts become his. When Jesus Christ called out his people, he gave them all he had. There is nothing which Christ has which he has not given to us. It is noteworthy that he has given his church his own name! “Where?” you say. Well, there are two passages in Jeremiah that most remarkably illustrate this (chap. 23:6, and chap. 33:16). In the one it says, “This is the name by which he will be called,” and in the other, “This is the name by which she will be called” [KJV]. In both, the name is identical. “The Lord our Righteousness.” What “She will be called”? Yes, as though he said, “She will take my name, and with the name, of course, the entire open acknowledgment of his interest in her and her interest in him. As such she is partaker of all his glory: if he is a king, she is a queen; if he is in heaven, then so are we, for “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms;” [Ephesians 2:6 ] if he is heavenly, she also will bear the image of the heavenly; if he is immortal, so will she be; and if he is at the right hand of the Father, so will she be also highly exalted with him. Now, it is saying but very little when I add, that, therefore, whatever we have, belongs to him oh! it is so little, so very little, and one wishes it were more. I have sometimes thought, “O that Christ were not so glorious as he is.” It was a half-wicked wish, but I meant it in the right way, that I might help to glorify him. O that he were still poor, that one might invite him to a feast! O that he were still in this world, that one could break the alabaster jar of expensive perfume and pour it on his head! But you are so great, most blessed Master, that we can do nothing to increase your greatness! You are so elevated, that we cannot exalt you! You are so happy, that we cannot bless you! Yet, what am I saying? It is all a mistake! He is still here. He calls every one of his people “Members of his body;” and if you wish to enrich him, help the poor; if you want to feed him, feed the hungry. Those that clothe the naked, put clothing on the Lord himself. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” [Matthew 25:40 ]. 7. A seventh observation, and then I will refrain from dwelling any longer on this point. The very crown of marriage is mutual delight and contentment. The wife of a Persian nobleman, having gone to a feast, which was given by King Darius, was asked by her husband whether she thought that Darius was the finest man in the world. No, she said, she did not think so; she never saw any one in the world who was comparable to her husband. And doubtless that is just the opinion which a husband forms of his wife and a wife of her husband where the marriage is as it should be. Now, certainly Christ has a very high opinion of us. I remember meditating on a passage in the Song of Solomon, looking at it and wondering how it could be true believing it, and yet not being able to comprehend it where Christ says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you!” [Song of Song of Solomon 4:7 ] Oh, what eyes he must have! We say that love is blind; but that cannot be true in the case of Christ, for he sees all things. Why, this is how it is: he sees himself in us. He does not see us as we are, but in his infinite grace he sees us as we are to become, as we sing:
“Not as she stood in Adam's fall, When sin and ruin covered all; But as she'll stand another day, Brighter than sun's brightest ray.”
The sculptor says he can see a bust in a block of marble, and that all he has to do is to chip away the extra marble, and let the bust appear. So Christ can see a perfect being in every one of us, if we are his people; and what he does with us each day is to continue to remove our many imperfections, making us to become more like him. He can see us as we will one day be before the throne of God in heaven, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. His delights are with men and women who belong to him. He loves to hear our praise, and to listen to our prayers. The songs of his people are his sweet perfume, and communion with his people is like beds of spices, and beds of lilies. And as for us, who are his people, I am sure we can say that there is no delight, which can equal communion with Christ. We have tried other delights shame on us! we have tried some of them, but after having done so, we find that there is nothing like our Lord, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!” [Ecclesiastes 1:2 ]; but when we come to Christ, we find nothing meaningless there, but can say:
“Where can such sweetness be As I have tasted in your love, As I have found in thee?”
The Christian's heart is like Noah's dove: it flies over the wide waste, and cannot rest its foot until it comes back to Christ. He is the true Noah, who puts out his hand and takes in the weary, trembling dove, and gives it rest. There is no peace in the whole world except with Christ.
“There's no such thing as pleasure here, My Jesus is my all; As He shines or disappears, My pleasures rise or fall.”
We have so far only skimmed the surface of this delightful word, “I am your husband,” but we must move on to our next point. II. HOW MUCH DO YOU AND I TRULY UNDERSTAND THIS? I am afraid some of you think that I am half crazy tonight. You are saying, “Well, I don’t comprehend this; what is this man talking about? God married to us! Christ married to us! I don’t understand it!” God have mercy on you, my poor listener, and bring you to know it! But let me tell you, if you could come to understand it, then you would discover a secret here that would make you a thousand times more happy than all the joys of the world can ever make you. You remind me of the chicken in the fable, who found a diamond on the dunghill, and as he turned it over, he said, “I would rather have found a grain of barley.” He acted according to his nature. And so it is with you. This precious pearl of union to God will seem to be nothing to you: a little worldly pleasure will be more to your liking. One could weep to think there should be such ignorance of true joy and true delight! Oh! blind eyes, that cannot see beauty in the Savior! Oh! stone-cold hearts, that can see no loveliness in him! Jesus! they are obsessed, they are insane, who cannot love you! It is a strange foolishness of men and women to think that they can do without you, that they can see any light apart from you, you the bright Sun of Righteousness, or anything like your beauty in all the gardens of the world apart from you, you the Rose of Sharon, you the Lily of the Valley! O that they knew you! Do I address any one here tonight, who, while they pretend to be religious people, have no real allegiance to the Lord? There are many like that, and we occasionally meet with them here. They cannot satisfy their conscience without some show of religion, so they join with us as listeners and spectators in the solemn assembly; but they never unite with the church, because they have not dedicated their hearts to Christ. Ask them the reason, and their answer sounds pure, and yet in truth it is anything but innocent. You tell us that you are afraid to become a true Christian because you would not walk consistently? Wouldn’t it be more truthful to admit that your relationship with the world, your love of money, your ordinary pastimes, and your occasional partying, harmless as you try to persuade yourselves they are now, if viewed in the light of marriage to Christ, would be accounted as very shameful? So far as the principles of Christianity are concerned, you endorse them with your private creed, and you are “Protestant” enough to prefer the most evangelical doctrines; but your reluctance to make a true commitment to Christ is a clear index to a most fatal flaw in your character. You might admit that God is supreme, but not the exclusive Lord of your heart. You would give the Lord's altar more honor than any other altar, but still you would not remove the high places which desecrate the land. Your opinion is that there is no god in all the earth but the God of Israel, yet your practice is to bow down to the god of this world. You wish to have all the promises of God bestowed on you, but you decidedly object to make any vows to him. It is to people like you that these delicate appeals are most distasteful, “Return, faithless people, for I am your husband.” Nothing in your experience responds to this. You stand aloof as if you were offended. I must warn you, therefore, that God can be your God only in these bonds of covenant union. But, Christian, now I speak to you. Surely you know something about this, that God is married to you? If you do, can’t you say with me, “Yes, and he has been a very faithful husband to me”? Now, there are none of you who can object to that! Thus far he has been very faithful to you, and what have you been to him? How kind and tender has he been; how faithful, how generous, how sympathizing! In your every affliction he has been afflicted, and the angel of his presence has saved you. Just when you had reached your limits of endurance he has come to your aid. He has carried you through every difficulty, even until now. Oh! you can speak well of him, can’t you? And as for his love, Christian, as for his love, what do you think of that? Is it not heaven on earth to you? Don’t you think it to be
“Heaven above To see his face, to taste his love”?
Well, then, speak well of him, speak well of him! Make this world hear his praise! Ring that silver bell in the deaf ears of this generation! Make them know that your Beloved is the fairest of the fair and compel them to ask, “How is your beloved better than others, most beautiful of women?” [Song of Song of Solomon 5:9 ] Again, for those of you who do not know him, I would like to ask you this question, and you need to answer it. Do you want to be married to Christ? Do you wish to have him? Oh! then, there will be no difficulties in the way of the match. If your heart goes after Christ, he will have you. If, when you get home tonight and kneel down next to your bed, you say to him, “Dear Savior, here is my heart, take it, wash it, save me,” he will hear you. Whoever you may be, he will not refuse you. Oh he seeks you, he seeks you! And when you seek him, that is a sure sign that he has found you. Though you may not have found him, yet he has already found you. The wedding-ring is ready. Faith is the golden ring, which is the token of the marriage bond. Trust the Savior! Trust him! Give up trusting in your good works. Give up depending on your merits. Take his works, his merits, and rest alone in him, for today he says to you, “I will make you my wife forever; showing you righteousness and justice, love and compassion. I will be faithful to you, and you will acknowledge me as LORD” [Hosea 2:19-20 ] Oh, may the Lord Jesus do that to every one of you, and may Christ's name be glorified forever. Amen.
Hope for the Worst Backsliders
February 14, 1886 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliders. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God. Truly in vain is salvation bored for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel." Jeremiah 3:22 , Jeremiah 3:23 .
Sin is quite sure to cause sorrow; and the longer the sorrow is delayed, the heavier it will be when it comes. This ship may be long at sea, but it will come home at last with a terrible cargo. There was never a man who broke the law of God who had not in the end to rue it. "He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him," is one of Solomon's sayings, and it is most certainly true. How many there are in this world who have now upon them a load of sorrow which is plainly and evidently the result of their own folly and iniquity. Their sin procured it for themselves. There is also a godly sorrow which comes after sin has been committed, and which is not merely occasioned by the sin, but by the love of God, and the action of the Spirit of God upon the heart. When God means to save a man, he usually begins by making him sorrow on recount of his evil ways. It is the sharp steel needle of the law that goes through the convicted heart, and draws the silken thread of comfort and salvation after it. It is not God's way to make men alive again until they are really dead; I mean, that, spiritually, they must be first slain by the law before they are made alive by the gospel. It is not God's way to heal the unwounded heart, or to provide garments for those who are already clothed. Our heart must be broken, and we ourselves must be stripped, before the healing balm can be applied, and the robe of righteousness can be put upon us. I know that what I say upon this subject will be had in small esteem by those who have not learned the evil of sin. It is to such only as have felt the arrows of the Lord's righteous anger rankling in their spirit that the gospel message will come with any kind of sweetness. If any here are suffering greatly under the burden of sin, as once I was myself, if any here are crushed to the earth as once I was crushed, they will be glad to hear God's invitation of mercy, and to know the way by which it may be accepted. The other day, I read in the paper a story, which certainly did surprise me; and undoubtedly it is an instance of wonderful patience and forbearance on the part of a loving woman. I do not think that I have heard or read the like of it in all my days, and I should think that such action as hers never was excelled. The wretch of whom I speak must have been the meanest man who ever lived, and died without being hanged, and the woman must have been one of the most wonderful of women ever seen upon the face of the earth. According to the account I read, the man had not been long married, but he did not prosper in his profession, and feeling that he had talent and ability, he came to London by his wife's permission, and with her consent, that he might make his way in the world. He did make his way, and became afterwards a portrait painter of considerable eminence, so that he obtained admission into fashionable society, and lived upon the fat of the land. He had told his wife, when he wrote to her once, that if she came she might be a burden to him, so he never fetched her up to London; indeed, he never but on that one occasion communicated with her, and never sent her even a solitary sixpence. That state of things lasted for forty years, and the wife remained true and faithful to him notwithstanding all the heartbreak caused by his cruel conduct. In process of time, he spent all his money, and reduced himself to beggary; beside that, he was full of disease, yet he was mean enough to crawl to the door of the woman he had neglected all those years, and, strange as it may seem, she opened it with delight, and welcomed him back to her heart. She put him in her bedroom, she carefully nursed and cared for him, and she wore her own life away by sitting at his bedside till he died. Was it not splendid on her part? What monument ought not to be raised to such a loving woman as that? But I merely tell you this story in order to say that this woman's forgiveness of her unworthy husband is but a faint picture of the great love of God towards ungodly men. He feeds them, and supplies their every need; they are always dependent upon him, they could not live an instant without his permission; yet some whom I know have never communicated with their God for forty years. Forty years, did I say? Fifty, sixty, or perhaps even more years than that they have lived as if there were no God; and worse still, they have perhaps only used his name for the purposes of blasphemy. They have made a mock of holy things, they have provoked the Lord to jealousy; and yet even now, though they are decrepit and old, if they are not only sick but sorry, if they are broken down and despairing, if they will but come creeping to God's door, he will say, "Come in, and welcome." He never yet refused to receive a soul that came to him by Jesus Christ his Son; and Jesus Christ himself has said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Oh! how many old sinners have come to Christ even at eighty years of age, and he has never uttered a word about those eighty wicked years; but he has said to each one of them, "Come in; I died for thee; come in, and welcome." There have been many, many sins of the most aggravated kind committed, yet those who committed them have been freely forgiven. What did the Lord Jesus say to Saul of Tarsus? "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." Yet, having asked, "Why persecutest thou me?" he had nothing more to say to him by way of reproof or rebuke, but he blotted out his sin, and more than that, he counted him worthy, putting him into the ministry, so that this very man could afterwards say, "To me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." I earnestly trust that God's infinite mercy and patience may be verified in the case of some whom I am now addressing, who have not yet turned to God. Pray, deer Christian friends, that it may be so. In handling this subject, I shall notice two things in my text. The first is, the call from God: "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." The second is, the method of obeying the call. This is set forth in the words, "Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God. Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel." I. To begin, then, here is THE CALL FROM GOD: "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." You observe that it is a call to come back to God; and that means, first, remember him; begin to think of him; let him be a living God to you. Come back to him in your thoughts. The Lord Jehovah is the greatest factor in the universe; he works all things. He is the great unit without which all the rest of the figures would be but ciphers. He made you; you are dependent upon him from day to day; before long, your spirit must return to God who gave it; and you will have to stand before his judgment-seat. Why, of all the persons in the world, must God be forgotten? Why, of all the things that are, should you forgot this chief of all things, the great I AM? Do you say that there is no God? Ah! then, I have nothing to do with you; your conduct in forgetting him may be quite consistent with that declaration, though I am sure that you know better. But if there be a God, and you believe that he is, begin to think of him in due proportion. I mean that, as he is the greatest of all beings, give to him your greatest and highest thoughts; and as he is most to be reverenced, give him your most reverent and careful consideration. I think that I am not asking too much of you. Certainly, if you are sorry for your sin, and wish the Lord to forgive you, the very first thing for you to do is to obey that ancient command, "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee." I know that the thought of your sin sometimes troubles you; so it ought, and it will do you good to be troubled if it loads you back to the Lord against whom you have sinned. If you have offended anyone, go and confess your offense, and make matters right. Perhaps you say that you do not like the person, and you are not willing to go to the person. Of course, you are not; but that only proves how very right it would be for you to do so. That dislike of yours has sprung out of two things, first, your having been the offender, and secondly, your not being acquainted with the offended one. Now, if those two things are owned, and confessed, and remedied, you will soon find it to be the most joyful thing in all the world to think of God. It will be your delight above all things to rejoice in him, and in all that he does. Begin, than, to think of God, for this is what he means when he says to you, "Return, ye backsliding children." The next thing is, really turn to him. I know that you must have boon shocked with the figure used in this chapter; that sense of shame I cannot help. As God used this symbol, it is good enough for me, and I am sure that there is an instructive meaning in it. I must turn again to that figure. We will suppose (and, alas! bad as the case is, we need not go very far to find the like of it), that a woman has grievously offended against the honor of her husband, she has gone away and left him, and plunged into all sorts of sin and vice. Well now, suppose that there should come to her the word, "Return. He knows it all; he realizes all that it means; he has grieved over it all, yet he says to you, Return." She says, "I have spent all. I am in rags. I have but a miserable lodging. Those who once flattered me, and lived with me in sin, have forsaken me. I am a poor cast-off wretch, whom even a reformatory refuses." Then the husband writes to her, and says, "Return. Return to me, and all shall be forgiven you, whatever it may be." Do you not fancy that you can see her starting to go back to him? If there is anything left in her that is worth saving, she makes haste to accept the invitation; yet she is very timid, and very much afraid. Oh, how her sad face is covered with the blushes of shame! How the tears fall down her furrowed cheeks! Sometimes she can hardly believe that such wonderful love can be exhibited to so undeserving a woman as she is. Perhaps she is troubled, and rightly troubled, by the thought that no man would do such a thing as her husband appeared to have done, and that it would not be right that he should do so. She therefore stops a while, and considers the matter; yet it is all true. Her husband is one of a million, perhaps there is no other quite as loving and forgiving as he is. "Come back," he says; "only confess your transgression, and comes back to me just as you are." Methinks, she must be a wretch indeed if she does not fool that she will lay all the rest of her life out in service and love to such a forgiving husband as she has. Now, this is just how the Lord offers to deal with you. He says, "Come back. I will say nothing about the past. 'I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.' I have forgiven thing iniquities, I laid them all on my dear Son. He died for thee, his precious blood has washed all thy guilt away. Come back to me. Come back to me. 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.' Come back to me. 'The Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.' I have not put you away, notwithstanding all your sin and all your iniquity. Here is the message of my love and mercy, 'Return, ye backsliding children,' for I am married unto you, saith the Lord your God." Well now, in some such way as that striking figure would import, come back to your God at once, poor wandering sinner, confessing all your wrong, wondering that there should be mercy for you, trusting that what the Lord says is indeed true because he says it, and resolve henceforth to live and to die at his dear feet, his servant as well as his beloved. This is the way to come back to God, so I would entreat you thus to return unto him. There is one word in this call from God which proves that you are invited to come back just as you are. He says, "Return, ye backsliding children." I notice that he does not say, "Return, ye penitent children." He pictures you in your worst colors, yet he says, "Return, ye backsliding children." I notice also that he does not say, "Heal your wounds first, and then come back to me;" but he says, "Return, ye backsliding children," with all your backslidings unhealed, "and I will heal your backslidings." Many sinners seem to suppose that they must make themselves better, and then come to Christ, a most unworthy supposition, and an utterly unfounded one. Come just as you are, with no goodness, or virtue, or hope of any; come to Christ for it all. "But all who would be saved must believe in Jesus, and repent of their sins," says one. Exactly so, but Christ does not want you to begin the work of salvation, and then to let him finish it. He never came to be a make-weight to add the last half-ounce to all that you had gathered. Come to him with nothing, and he will fill the scale. Come empty, ragged, filthy, just as you are, and believe in God that justifieth the ungodly. Cast yourself on him who came to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Bow in humility and patience before him who flashes the lightnings of Sinai in the face of every self-righteous sinner, but who kindles the milder, genial rays of Calvary to guide every truly humble and repentant sinner into the port of peace and everlasting love. Thus have I put before you the call from God: "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." II. Now, in the second place, I want to show you THE METHOD OF OBEYING THIS CALL. There are two things in the text that are specially noteworthy. First, he who would return to God, and find salvation, must distinctly renounce all other trust except that which God himself gives him, and sets before him in the gospel. Listen: "Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains." Judaea was a hilly country, and wherever there was the peak of a mountain, or the summit of a hill, there was an idol temple; and wherever there was a grove of oaks, there would be an idolatrous shrine; whenever the people traveled through the valleys, they kept looking up to these shrines, so their trust was in the hills, and in the multitudes of mountains. They had gods everywhere, blocks of wood and stone; so the Lord said to them, "If I am to receive you back, you must renounce all this idolatry." The spiritual meaning of this passage is this, if you are to be saved by the grace of God, you must solemnly, formally, and heartily renounce all confidence in any but the living God and his Son, Jesus Christ. First, there must be a distinct renunciation of all righteousness of your own. You are a very excellent person in your own estimation, you think yourself well up to the mark; what have you ever done that is wrong? Ah! friend, there is no salvation for you on that ground. Your righteousness must in your own esteem become as filthy rags; you must own yourself to be defiled and undone, or there is no hope for you. The man who clings to his own righteousness is like a man who grasps a millstone to prevent himself from sinking in the flood. Your righteousness will damn you if you trust in it, as surely as will your sins, for it is a false proud lie, there is no truth in it, and no dependence must be placed upon it. There is not a man living who, by nature, doeth good and sinneth not, and the soul that sins must die. We have not any one of us a righteousness that will stand the test of the all-searching eye of God, and in our heart of hearts we know it is so. Therefore, away with that lie, once for all. When I came to Christ, this matter did not trouble me, for I had not any righteousness of my own to which I could trust; and there are many poor souls who are in much the same condition in which I was. They do not want to keep the counterfeit money which they once reckoned to be great riches; they are anxious to be rid of it! Yes, brethren, and even at this present moment, I do not know of anything that I have ever been, or done, or thought, or said, that I could patch up into a righteousness upon which I could place the slightest reliance. I have not anything to trust to, except the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior; and, what is more, I never wish to have, and never shall have any other ground of confidence; and I am sure, beloved, that you must build on the same foundation, or else Christ will never save you. You must altogether renounce any trust in your own righteousness. The next thing that you must renounce is, your own strength. There is many a young man whom I have known, who has been going into impurity and into drunkenness, and he has been warned by kind friends to see the wrong in his course of action, and he has said, "Yes, I see it, but I shall make everything right; I shall become a total abstainer, I shall forsake evil companions, I shall keep out of harm's way, I shall be as right as a trivet, I know that I shall. I have great strength of mind, and I always could command myself." Excuse me, dear friend, but I should like very politely and very kindly to tell you that you are a fool. You have not any strength; and, what is more, if you have, you will certainly be lost, for I road concerning those who are saved, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly;" so that those for whom he died had not any strength. Believe me, dear friend, you have not any strength. Oh! I have seen many a young man, with splendid moral principle, trusting in himself; but where has his moral principle boon when a woman's pretty lips and smiling face have enticed him to wantonness, or when in gay company he has been chaffed into that other glass of wine that has upset his balance of mind, and has led him to say things which he never thought could have come out of his mouth? Poor Hazael was told by the prophet Elisha of the enormities he would commit, and he said, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?" No, he was not a dog; but he was much worse than a dog, for he was a devil, yet he did not know it; and there is many a man who is fair to look upon, who is like John Bunyan's tree, which was green on the outside, but inwardly it was as rotten as to be only fit to be tinder for the devil's tinder-box. You must give up your own strength; there is not much of it to give up, but whatever there is, give it all up, renounce all trust in your own strength as well as in your own righteousness. With that must also go all trust in your own knowledge and abilities, and even in your own understanding. Yet this is the bane and ruin of many men, they know so much that, like Solomon's sluggard, they are wiser in their own conceit than seven men who can render a reason. See how they treat the Bible itself; when they open it, it is not that they may hear what God says in it, but that they may tell God what he ought to have said. When they condescend to listen to the gospel, it is not that they may hear what the gospel is, but that they may note how the man preaches it. Is he an eloquent orator? Does he use fine words? That is all that many care to hear. Sirs! if I could use grand words, I would loathe to use them lest I should ruin your souls. As the apostle Paul said, so say I, "Not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." If I could get you to heaven by using the plainest words that can be uttered, I would sooner do it than I would leave any to perish in their sins, because I was anxious to display the niceties of language and the beauties of style. There are some men who are so wonderfully wise that they would quarrel with the angel Gabriel, or with the archangel Michael himself. Solomon well, Solomon did not know everything; but these men do; according to their own ideas, they not only know everything, but they know a little more besides! If ever we want anybody to rule the nation, I would undertake to find fifty prime ministers, so wise in their own esteem are many men, who are, I must add, so little and so foolish when they come to be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, and the unerring scales that God holds in his hand. Hear ye this, ye great ones of the earth, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." He must become as a little child who would become a child of God. To be saved, we must not only
"Cast our deadly 'doing' down, Down at Jesus' feet,"
but we must also
Lay our boasted reason down, Down at Jesus' feet,
and ask that he may be made of God unto us "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Now, friends, what say you to this? Are you willing to give up your own mind to God, and simply to Bolivia what he tells you in his Word? Are you willing also to give up self-rule? "We are our own," says one; "we may do as we like. Our tongues are our own, we may say what we like. We are free thinkers and free livers." Let me tell you that, if you are saved by Christ, you shall find the only true freedom you can ever enjoy; but there must first be a complete surrender of yourself to your God. Come now, who is to rule? Shall it be his will, or your will? Shall it be his way, or your way? If it is to be your way, it will be your ruin; but if it is to be God's way, it shall be your salvation. When the Romans attacked a city, and the people yielded to them, they usually drew up a declaration which ran something like this: "We, craving mercy at the hands of the powers of Rome, surrender up ourselves, our houses, our goods, our bodies, our souls, all that we have, and all that we are, to be dealt with by the Roman power exactly according to its will." It was so worded that there could be no escape from it, and it contained no stipulations and no conditions; and then, as soon as it was signed, the Roman conqueror, in the generosity of his power, said, "You have yielded to me, now you are free." God demands just that kind of submission. If thou art to be forgiven, thou must yield thyself up body, soul, and spirit, purse, heart, brain, everything, to belong wholly to Christ henceforth and for ever. I wish that yielding were over with all of you. If you would be saved, that submission must be yours; oh, then, let it be so at once! Will you keep your sins and go to hell, or leave your sins and go to heaven? Will you have sin or the Savior? Which shall it be? Oh, that the blessed Spirit may lead you to the right decision, and lead you to that decision at once! Finally, it is clear from the text that there must also be a hearty, true-minded acceptance of God alone as our one hope. Read the passage again: "Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God . . . Truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel." There is but one living and true God. Men have made almost as many gods as there are sands on the sea-shore. There is, however, but one God, whose name is Jehovah, the Creator of all things, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Will you have this God to be your God? Will you say, "This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death"? Will you take him to be yours, not regarding him merely as another man's God, but henceforth as your God, whom you love, whom you embrace, not comprehending him by thought, but apprehending him by love? Will you take God to be your God, and shall he be truly yours? Notice how the text says, "Truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel." There must be no playing at this acceptance of God as our one hope, there must be no mocking of God by a pretended yielding up of ourselves to him. It must be a true acceptance of God, to be our God henceforth and for ever. God only must be accepted as yours. There cannot be two Gods, nor two Christs. No man can serve two masters, nor can a woman love two bridegrooms. If you would be saved, you must, by a deliberate act, give up yourself, your whole self, to Christ, and take his whole salvation to be yours. To help you to do this, let me remind you that there is a blessed Trinity in Unity. There is, first, the ever-blessed Father. What sayest thou? Wilt thou have this Father to be thy Father? Thou hast sinned against him, wilt thou crave his forgiveness for Christ's sake? Wilt thou ask to be admitted into his house by the blood-stained door of his Son's atoning sacrifice? Wilt thou honor him as thy Father? Will not each of you young people from this time cry unto him, "My Father, thou art the Guide of my youth"? The next blessed and adorable Person of the United Trinity is the Son of God. Wilt thou have this Son of God as thy Savior? He died that sinners might live; wilt thou have his death to be thy life? He poured out his blood to cleanse the guilty from every stain of sin; wilt thou be washed in the crimson stream? Shall Christ be Prophet unto thee? Wilt thou sit at his foot, and learn of him? Shall Christ be Priest for thee? Wilt thou trust him to present his sacrifice for thee, and to intercede for thee? Christ is a King; wilt thou have him as King to reign over thee? In fine, wilt thou have him in all his offices and in all his relationships, in the majesty of his glorious Godhead, and in the humiliation of his perfect manhood? Wilt thou have this Man as thine? I put the question to you as one of old put it to the damsel he met at the well, "Wilt thou go with this man?" Wilt thou have Christ, to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, so that death itself shall not part thee from him? If so, have him and welcome, for he is prepared to give himself to every soul that is willing to accept him. There is a third Person of this blessed Unity, and that is, the Holy Ghost. Art thou willing to let the Holy Ghost come and dwell in thee? It is he who must regenerate thee if thou art to be born again. It is he who must teach thee; it is he who must sanctify thee; it is he who must illuminate thee; it is he who must comfort and guide thee. Without him, thou canst do nothing. The Holy Ghost is the very life of the Christian. What the Father decreed, what the Son purchased, that the Holy Ghost applies; and without that Holy Ghost, there is nothing for thee. Wilt thou obey his monitions? Wilt thou put thyself under his superintendence? Wilt thou resign thy body to be his temple? If thou wilt do all this, God helping thee, then believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. His own word is, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." With the heart, believe on him; then let the body be washed with pure water in baptism. Those two things the Lord Jesus Christ asks of thee; again I remind you that it is he who says, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Demur not to either of these gospel words. Come at once, and do what he bids thee, and enter into life, for he that believeth in him hath everlasting life; and then at once make the Scriptural confession of your faith, as they did who heard the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Now look you, sirs, I have done, for I do not know what more I could say to you than I have said. If I did know what more I could say, I am sure that I would say it, but I will tell you how this matter strikes me. If I had come into this Tabernacle to-night, conscious of guilt, and desirous to be saved, I feel that, after hearing what has been said to-night, I could not go out of this place without wilfully refusing the gospel invitation, if I did refuse it. May you not refuse it, but accept it, for Christ's sake? Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Jeremiah 3". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29