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Longing to Find God
Charles H. Spurgeon
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted ã 1999 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved.
‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!’ Job 23:3
For awhile the woundings of Jesus are given in the dark, and we do not recognise the hand which strikes us; but it is not always to be so. In-cessant disappointments causes us to lose heart with the former refuges of our souls, and renewed discoveries make us sadly aware of the super-lative evil dwelling in our flesh; thus stripped of all outer covering, and trembling at our own shameful impotence, we hail with gladness the news of a Saviour for sinners. Like being on the frail raft, the almost skeleton mariners, having long ago devoured their last morsel, raise them-selves with all their remaining strength to catch a glimpse of a passing sail [another ship], if by chance it may bring relief, so does the dying sinner receive with eagerness the message of coming grace. He might have scorned the terms of mercy once, but, like a city that has been under a siege for a long time, he is now very happy to receive peace at any price. The grace which in his high estate he counted as a worthless thing, is now the great object of all of his desires. He pants to see the Man who is ‘mighty to save,’ and would count it honour to kiss his feet or loosen his sandals. No quibbling at sovereignty, no mur-muring at self‑humiliation, no scorning the unpurchasable gifts of discriminating love; the man is too poor to be proud, too sick to struggle with his physician, too much afraid of death to refuse the king's pardon because it puts him under obligation. We will be happy if we understand this position of utter helplessness into which we must all be brought if we would know Christ!
It is one of the strange things in the dealings of Jesus, that even when we arrive at this state of entire spiritual destitution, we do not always become at once the objects of his justifying grace. Long seasons frequently intervene between our knowledge of our ruin, our hearing of a deliverer, and the application of that deliverer's hand. The Lord's own called ones frequently turn their eyes to the hills, and find no help coming from there; yes, they wish to look unto him, but they are so blinded that they cannot discern him as their hope and consolation. This is not, as some would rashly conclude, because he is not the Saviour for people like them. Far be from that. Unbelief cries out, ‘Ah! my vileness disqualifies me for Christ, and my exceeding sinfulness shuts out his love!’ How disgustingly does unbelief lie when it has just slandered the tender heart of Jesus! How inhumanly cruel it is when it thus takes the cup of salvation from the only lips which have a right to drink of it!
We have noticed in the preaching of the present day too much of a saint's gospel, and too little of a sinner's gospel. Honesty, morality, and goodness, are commended not so much as the marks of godliness, as the life of it; and men are told that as they sow, so shall they reap, without the absolutely necessary caveat that salvation is not of man, neither by man, and that grace comes not to him that works, but to him that believes on Him that justifies the ungodly. Our ancient preachers did not speak this way, for in all its fulness they declared
‘Not the righteous, not the righteous
Sinners, Jesus came to save.’
The words of a much maligned preacher are just as bold and true:
‘There is nothing in men, though ever so vile, that can bar a person from a part in Christ. Some will not have Christ, except they can pay for him; others dare not meddle with Christ, because they are such vile and wretched creatures, that they think it impossible that Christ should belong to such wretched persons as they are. You do not know (says one) what an abominable sinner I am; you look upon others, and their sins are but ordinary, but mine are of a deep dye, and I shall die in them: the rebellion of my heart is another kind of re-bellion than is in others. Beloved, let me tell you freely from the Lord, let men deem you as they will, and esteem yourself as bad as you can, I tell you from the Lord, and I will make it good, there is not a sinfulness that can be imagined in a creature that can be able to sepa-rate or bar any of you from a part in Christ; even though you are that sinful, Christ may be your Christ.’
‘No, I go further; suppose one person in this congregation should not only be the vilest sinner in the world, but should have all the sins of others, besides what he himself has committed; if all these were laid upon the back of him, he would be a greater sinner than he is now; yet, if he should bear all the sins of others, as I said, there is no bar to this person, but Christ may be his portion. “He bore the sins of many” (says the text), but he bore them not as his own, he bore them for many. Suppose the many, that are sinners, should have all their sins translated to one in particular, still there is no more sin than Christ died for, though they all be collected together. If other men's sins were transferred to you, and they had none, then they needed no Christ; all the need they had of Christ was transferred to you, and then the whole of Christ’s obedience would be yours. Do but observe the strain of the Gospel, you shall find that no sin in the world can be a barricade to hinder a person from having a part in Christ; look upon the condition of persons (as they are revealed in the Gospel) to whom Christ has reached out to; and the consideration of their persons will plainly show to you that there is no kind of sinfulness that can bar a person from having a part in Christ. Consider Christ's own expression, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance; those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;” here still the persons are considered in the worst con-dition (as some might think) rather than in the best. Our Saviour is pleased to express himself in a direct way contrary to the opinion of men. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners;” the poor tax collector that had nothing to plead for himself went away more justified than the proud Pharisee, who pleaded with God, “I thank you that I am not like other men.”’
‘Men think righteousness brings them near to Christ; beloved, our righteousness is that which drives a man away from Christ; do not stumble at the expression, it is the clear truth of the Gospel; not simply does the doing of service and duty drive men away from Christ; but the doing of duty and service to expect acceptance with Christ or participation in Christ this kind of righteousness is the only separation between Christ and a people; and whereas no sinfulness in the world can exclude a people, their righteous-ness may exclude them’ [Crisp].
Possibly some may object to such terms as these as being too strong and unguarded, but a full consideration of them will show that they are such that would naturally flow from the lips of a Luther when he repeated over and over that faith alone was the means of our salvation, and are fully borne out by the strong expressions of Paul when writing to the Romans and Galatians. The fact is, that very strong terms are necessary to make men see the whole of this truth, for it is one which of all things the mind can least receive.
If it were possible to make men clearly understand that justification is not in the least degree by their own works, how easy would it be to comfort them! but herein lies the greatest of all difficulties. Man refuse to be taught that -his goodness provides no increase to God's wealth, and his sin no decrease of divine riches; he will forever be imagining that some little presents must be offered, and that mercy can never be the gratuitous bounty of Heaven. Even the miserable creature who has learned his own bankruptcy and extreme poverty, while assured that he cannot bring anything, yet trembles to come naked and as he is. He knows he cannot do anything, but he can scarcely believe the promise which seems too good to be true ‘I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for my anger has turned away from him’ [Hosea 14:4 ]. Yes, when he cannot deny the evidence of his own eyes, because the kind word stares him in the face he will turn away from its glories under the sad supposition that they are intended for all men except himself. The air, the stream, the fruit, the joys and luxuries of life, he takes freely, nor ever asks whether these were not intended for a special people; but at the upper springs he stands afraid to dip his pitcher, lest the flowing flood should refuse to enter it because the vessel was too earthy to be fit to contain such pure and precious water: conscious that in Christ is all his help, it yet appears too great a presumption even to touch the hem of the Saviour's garment. Nor is it easy to persuade the mourning penitent that sin is no barrier to grace, but that ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded much more;’ and only the spirit of God can make the man who knows himself as nothing at all, receive Jesus as his all in all. When the Lord has set his heart on a man, it is not a great difficulty that will move him from his purpose of salvation, and therefore ‘he devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from him’ [2 Samuel 14:14 ]. By the divine instruction of the Holy Spirit, the sinner is taught that Jesus is the sinner's friend, adapted to his case, and ‘able to save to the uttermost.’ Even then, too often, the work is not complete; for the soul now labours to find him whom it needs, and it often happens that the search is prolonged through months of weariness and days of languishing. If the Church, in the Song of Solomon, confesses, ‘By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. I will rise now, and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love. I sought him, but I did not find him’ [Song of Song of Solomon 3:1 , Song of Solomon 3:2 ] surely, even if our reader's history does not confirm the fact that grace is sometimes hidden, he will at least assent to the probability of it, and pray for the many who are crying, ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!’
May Jesus smile on our humble endeavour to trace the steps of our own soul, so that any who are in this miserable condition may escape by the same means! O you prisoners of hope, who are seeking a Redeemer who apparently eludes your grasp, let your earnest prayer accompany your reading, while you fervently cry
Saviour, cast a pitying eye,
Bid my sins and sorrows end:
Where should a sinner fly?
Are you not the sinner's friend?
Rest in you I gasp to find,
Wretched I, and poor, and blind.
‘Did you ever see a soul
More in need of help than mine?
Then refuse to make me whole;
Then withhold the balm divine:
But if I do want thee most,
Come, and seek, and save the lost.
‘Haste, oh haste to my relief;
From the iron furnace take;
Rid me of my sin and grief,
For your love and mercy's sake;
Set my heart at liberty,
Show forth all thy power in me.
‘Me, the vilest of the race,
Most unholy, most unclean;
Me, the farthest from thy face,
Full of misery and sin;
Me with arms of love receive;
Me, of sinners chief forgive ’ [C. Wesley]
I. To mark the hopeful signs connected with this state of heart;
II. To give certain excellent reasons why the soul is permitted to tarry in it; and
III. To hold forth various plain directions for behaviour in it, and escape from it.
I. It is our pleasant duty to note the hopeful signs which gladden us when reviewing this state.
1. We are encouraged by observing that the longing of the spirit is now entirely after Jesus
‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him !’ Once, like the many whom David mentions, the question was, ‘Who will show us any good?’ A question indiscriminately addressed to any and all within hearing, eagerly demanding any good in all the world. But now the desires have found a channel, they are no longer like the widespread sheet of water covering with shallow depth a tract of marsh teeming with malaria and pestilence, but having found a channel, they rush forward in one deep and rapid stream, seeking the broad ocean, where sister streams have long since mingled their floods.
For most men the complaint is true, that they will ‘search and track the stars’ with the ‘quick, piercing eye’ of the astronomer, or ‘cut through the strong wave’ to win the pearl, or wear themselves out in smoky toil, while they separate and strip the creature naked, till they find the raw principles within their nests; in fine, will do anything and everything of inferior importance, but here are so negligent that it is truly asked,
What has man not sought out and found
But his dear God?" [Herbert]
When the heart can express itself in the words of our text, it is quite different, for to it every other subject is trivial, and every other object vain. Then, too, there was the continual prayer after pardon, conversion, washing, in-struction, justification, adoption, and all other spiritual blessings; but now the soul discerns all mercies bound up in one bundle in Jesus, and it asks no more for the incenses of cassia, aloes, and camphire, but asks for Him who has the savour of all good ointments. It is no small mark of grace when we can esteem Jesus to be all we want. He who believes there is gold in the mine, and desires to obtain it, will not waste time before he has it; and he who knows Jesus to be full of hidden treasures of mercy, and seeks him dili-gently, shall not be too long detained from a possession of him. We have never known a sinner anxious for Jesus for Jesus only who did not in due time discover Jesus as his friend, ‘waiting to be gracious.’
Our own experience reminds us of the period when we panted for the Lord, even for Him, our only want. Vain to us were the mere ordinances vain as bottles scorched by the simoom [a strong, hot, sand-laden wind of the Sahara and Arabian deserts], and drained of their waters. Vain were ceremonies vain as empty wells to the thirsty Arab. Vain were the delights of the flesh -bitter as the waters of Marah [Exodus 15:23 ], which even the parched lips of Israel refused to drink. Vain were the directions of the legalist preacher‑-useless as the howling of the wind to the wanderer overtaken by darkness. Vain, worse than vain, were our
refuges of lies, which fell about our ears like Dagon's temple on the heads of the worshippers. We only had one hope, one sole refuge for our misery. Except where that ark floated, north, south, east, and west, were one broad expanse of troubled waters; excpet where that star burned, the sky was one vast field of unmitigated dark-ness. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! he alone, he without another, had become the solitary hiding place against the storm. As the wounded, lying on the battlefield, with wounds which, like fires, consume his moisture, utters only one monotonous cry of insistent demand, ‘Water, water, water!’ likewise, we perpetually send our prayer to heaven, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! 0 Jesus, come to me!’
‘Gracious Lord! incline your ear, My requests consent to hear;
Hear my never ceasing cry -
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘Wealth and honour I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘Lord, deny me what you wilt,
Only ease me of my guilt;
Suppliant at your feet I lie,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘All unholy and unclean,
I am nothing else but sin;
On your mercy I rely,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘You do freely save the lost,
In your grace alone I trust;
With my earnest suit comply,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘You do promise to forgive,
All who in Your Son believe;
Lord, I know you cannot lie,
Give me Christ, or else 1 die.
‘Father, does your justice frown?
Let me shelter in your Son!
Jesus, to your arms I fly,
Come and save me, or I die.’
As he that tantalises thirst with painted rivers as he that embitters hunger’s pangs by the offering of pictured fruits, so were they who spoke of anything else except Christ and him crucified. Our heart ached with a void the whole earth could not fill; it heaved with a desire as irresistible as the mountain torrent, and as little able to be restrained as the volcano when swelling with its fiery lava. Every power, every passion, every wish, moved onward in one direction. Like an army pressing upwards through a breach, did our united powers rush forward to enter the city of salvation by one door that door Jesus the Lord. Our soul could spare no portion of itself for others; it pressed all of its strength into service to win Christ, and to be found in him. And oh! how glorious did Jesus then seem! what would we not have given to have had the scantiest morsel of his grace? ‘A kingdom for a horse!’ cried the routed monarch. ‘A kingdom for a look a world for a smile our whole selves for one kind word!’ was then our far wiser prayer. Oh what crushing we would have endured, if in the crowd we could have approached his person! what trampling would we have borne, if our finger might have touched the lowest hem of his garments! Bear us wit-ness, you hours of ardent desire, what horrors we would have braved, what dangers we would have encountered, what tortures we would have suffered, for one brief glimpse of Him whom our souls desired to know! We could have trodden the burning marl [a crumbly mixture of clays] of hell at his bidding, if his face had but been in view; and as for Peter's march upon the deep, we would have waded to our very necks without a fear, if it were but with half a hope of a welcome from the Lord the other side. He had no robbers then to share his throne, no golden calf to pro-voke him to jealousy. He was the monarch reigning without a rival. Then, no part of our heart was shut up from him; he was welcomed in every chamber of our being. There was not a tablet of the heart which was not engraven with his name, nor a string of our harp which did not vibrate with his praise, nor an atom of our frame which would not have leaped for joy at the distant sound of his footsteps. Such a condition of longing alone for Jesus is so healthy, that many advanced believers would nearly be content to retrace their steps, if they might once more be fully occupied with that desire to the exclusion of every other.
If my reader is fully resolved to satisfy his hunger only with the manna which comes down from heaven if he is determined to stake his thirst at no stream except that which gushes from the Rock if he will accept no drink of comfort except that which is mixed with the herbs of Gethsemane it is, it must be, well with him. If no one but Jesus is your delight, take heart. Augustine threw away Tully's works because there was no Christ in them; if you, like him, do renounce all but Christ, Christ will never renounce you.
2. Another, pleasing feature of this case is, the intense sincerity and ardent earnestness of the soul.
Here is an ‘Oh !’ a deep, impassioned, burning exclamation of desire. It is no fanciful wish, which a little difficulty will pre-sently overcome it is no sparkle of ex-citement, which time will remove; but it is a real want, fixed in the core of the heart so firmly, that nothing but a supply of the need can silence the persistent petition. It is not the passing sigh, which the half‑awakened heave as a compliment to an eloquent discourse or a stirring article it is not the transient wish of the awestruck spectator who has seen a sudden death or a notable judgment it is not even the longing of a soul in love for a time with the moral excellences of Christ; but it is the prayer of one who must pray, and who cannot, who dare not, rest satisfied until he finds Jesus who can no more restrain his groaning than the light clouds can refuse to fly before the violence of the wind.
We have, we hope, many times enjoyed nearness to the throne of grace in prayer; but perhaps never did such a prayer escape our lips as that which we offered in the bitterness of our spirit when seeking the Saviour. We have often poured out our hearts with greater freedom, with more delight, with stronger faith, with more eloquent language; but never, never have we cried with more vehemence of unquenchable desire, or more burning heat of insatiable longing. There was then no sleepiness or sluggishness in our devotion; we did not then need the whip of command to drive us to the labours of prayer; but our soul could not be content unless with sighs and lamentations with strong crying and tears it gave vent to our bursting hearts. Then we had no need to be dragged to out closets like oxen to the slaughter, but we flew to them like doves to their windows; and when there we needed no pumping up of desires, but they gushed forth like a fountain of waters, although at times we felt we could scarcely find them a channel.
Mr. Philpot justly observes, ‘When the Lord is graciously pleased to enable the soul to pour out its desires, and to offer up its fervent breathings at his feet, and to give them out as He gives them in, then to call upon the Lord is no point of duty, which is to be attended to as a duty; it is no point of legal constraint, which must be done because the Word of God speaks of it; but it is a feeling, an experience, and inward work, which springs from the Lord's hand, and which flows in the Lord's own divine channel. Thus when the Lord is pleased to pour out this ‘Spirit of grace and of suppli-cation,’ we must pray; but we do not pray because we must; we pray because we have no better occupation, we have no more earnest desire, we have no more powerful feeling, and we have no more invincible and irresistible con-straint. The living child of God groans and sighs, because it is the expression of his wants -because it is a language which pours forth the feelings of his heart because groans and sighs are pressed out of him by the heavy weight upon him. A man lying in the street with a heavy weight on him will call for help; he does not say, ‘It is my duty to cry to the passers‑by for help;’ he cries for help because he wants to be delivered. A man with a broken leg does not say, ‘It is my duty to send for a surgeon;’ he wants him to set the limb. And a man with a raging disease does not say, ‘It is my duty to send for a Physician;’ he wants him to heal his disease . So when God the Holy Spirit works in a child of God, he prays, not out of a sense of duty, but from a burdened heart; he prays, because he cannot but pray; he groans, because he cannot but groan; he sighs, because he must sigh, having an inward weight, an inward burden, an inward experience, in which, and out of which, he is compelled to call upon the Lord.’ [Sermon on Prayer and its Answer].
The supplication of the penitent is not a mechanical form of devotion, followed for the sake of merit; it is the natural consequence of the wounding of Jesus; and the one who offers it thinks nothing of merit in presenting it, any more than in breathing, or any other act which necessity prevents him from suspending. This ‘Oh!’ is one which will not rise once and then sink forever; it is not the explosion of a starry rocket, followed by darkness; but it will be an incessant exclamation of the inner man. For example, at some of our doors, every hour brings a letter, so also at the door of mercy, prayer will be heard at every hour from the sincere penitent; in fact, the soul will be full of prayer even when it is not actually praying itself even as a censer may be filled with incense when no fire is burning in it.
Prayer will become a state of the soul, perpetual and habitual, needing nothing but opportunity to develop itself in the outward act of petitioning at the feet of mercy. It is well when Mr. Desires‑awake is sent to court, for he will surely prevail. Violence takes the kingdom by force; hard knocks open mercy's door; swift running overtakes the pro-mise; hard wrestling wins the blessing.
When the child cries clearly, his lungs are sound; and when the seeker can with spontaneous earnestness plead for pardon, he is most surely not far from health. When the soil of our garden begins to rise, we know that the bulb will soon send forth its shoot; so also, when the heart breaks for the longing which it has for God's testimonies, we then perceive that Jesus will soon appear to gladden the spirit.
3. We rejoice to observe the sense of ignorance which the seeker here expresses-- ’Oh, that I knew where I might find him!’ Men are by nature very wise in matters of re-ligion, and in their own opinion they might easily be chosen for Doctors of Divinity without the slightest spiritual enlightenment. It is a re-markable fact that men who find every science in the world to be too much for them, even when they have only waded ankle-deep in the elements of [theology], can still assume to be masters of theology, and competent, yes, infallible judges in matters of religion. Nothing is more easy than to pretend to be a profound acquaint-ance with the religion of the cross, and even to maintain a reputation as a well taught and highly instructed disciple of the Lamb; and, at the same time, nothing is more rare than to be really taught by God, and illuminated by the Spirit; and yet without this the religion of Jesus can never be really understood. Natural men will array themselves in robes of learning, ascend the chair of profession, and from there teach to others doctrines with which they fancy themselves to be thoroughly conversant; and if a word were hinted of their deficiency in know-ledge, and their inherent inability to discern spiritual things, how wrathful would they be-come, how fiercely would they denounce the bigotry of such an assertion, and how furiously would they condemn the hypocrisy and fanaticism which they conceive to be the origin of so humiliating a doctrine!
To be as little children, and bend their necks to the yoke of Jesus, the Master, is quite out of the question with the men of this generation, who love to philosophise the Word, and give what they call ‘intellectual’ views of the Gospel. How little do they suspect that, pro-fessing themselves to be wise, they have become fools! How little do they imagine that their grand theories and learned essays are but methods of the madness of folly, and, like paint-ings on the windows of their understanding, assist to shut out the light of the Holy Spirit. Self‑conceit, in men who are destitute of heavenly light, unconsciously exercises itself on that very subject upon which their ignorance is of necessity the greatest. They will acknow-ledge that when they have studied astronomy, its magnificence is beyond them; they will not claim for themselves a lordship of the entire regions of any one kingdom of knowledge: but here, in theology, they feel themselves abun-dantly qualified, if they have some keenness in the original languages, and have visited the schools of the universities; where a man might, with as much justice, style himself pro-fessor of botany, because he knows the scientific names of the classes and orders, although he has never seen an actual flower arrangement for what can education teach of theology but names and theories? Only experience can bring the things themselves before our eyes, and only in the light of Jesus can we discern them. We are pleased, therefore, to discover in the utterance of the awakened soul a confession of ignorance. The man asks ‘Where can I find the Lord?’ He is no longer self--confident, but is willing to ask his way to heaven; he is prepared to go to the school of piety, and learn the alpha-bet of godliness. He may be distinguished for his learning, but now a little child may lead him; his titles, his gown, his diploma, his dignity, all these are laid aside, and he sits down at the feet of Jesus to begin again, or rather to commence learning what he never knew before.
Conviction of ignorance is the doorstep of the temple of wisdom. ‘It is said in the Creed that Christ descended into hell: d escendit ut ascendat He took his rising from the lowest place to ascend into the highest; and herein Christ reads a good lecture to us he teaches us that humility is the way to glory!’ [Ephr. Udall’s Sermons] Seneca remarked, ‘I suppose that many might have attained to wisdom, had they not thought that they had already attained it.’ [Seneca de Ira, lib. Iii. C. 36]
We must first be emptied of every particle of fleshly wisdom, before we can say that ‘Jesus became for us wisdom from God’ [1 Corinthians 1:30 ]. We must know our folly, and confess it, before we can be accepted as the disciples of Jesus. It is marvellous how soon he strips us of our grand apparel, and how easily our wisdom disappears like a bubble vanishing in air. We were never greater fools than when, in our own opinion, our wisdom was the greatest; but as soon as real wisdom came, right away our opinion of ourselves fell from the clouds to the bottom of the mountains. We were no divines or doctors when we were under the convincing hand of the Spirit; we were far more like babes because of our ignorance, and we felt ourselves to be nothing but beasts because of our folly [Psalms 73:22 ]. Like men lost in dark woods, we could not find our paths; the roads which were once apparent enough, were then hedged up with thorns; and the very entrance to the narrow way had to be pointed out by Evangelist [Bunyan’s Pilgrim from Pilgrim’s Progress ], and marked by a light. Nevertheless, blessed is he who desires to learn the fear of the Lord, for he shall find it to be the beginning of wisdom.
Nor, in the present case, has a sense of ignorance driven the man to pry into secrets too deep for human wisdom. He does not exclaim, ‘Oh that I knew the origin of sin, or how predestination joins with the freewill of man’ No; he seeks only this, ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him! Many are puzzling themselves about abstract questions while their eternal interests are in imminent peril; such men are like the man who counted the stars, but taking no heed to his feet, fell into a pit and perished. ‘We may sooner think to span the sun, or grasp a star, or see a gnat swallow a leviathan, than fully understand the debates of eternity . . . . . Too great a inquisitiveness beyond our line is as much a provoking arrogance as a blockish [unwise, stupid] negligence of what is revealed, is a slighting ingratitude’ [Charnock’s Divine Attributes]. The spirit that is made alive disdains to pluck the wild flowers of carnal knowledge; he is not ambitious to reach the tempting beauties blooming on the edge of the cliffs which skirt the sea of the unrevealed; but he anxiously looks around for the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley. Therefore, he who studies only to know Christ, shall soon, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, learn enough to spell out his own salvation.
4. An evidence of grace is presented to us by the absence of all choice as to where the Saviour is discovered.
‘Oh, that I knew where I might find him!’ Here is no stipulation; Jesus is wanted, and let him be wherever he may, the soul is prepared to go after him. We, when in this state of experience, knew little of sect or denomination. Before our conviction we could fight for names, like mercenaries for other men’s countries. The mottos of our party were higher in our esteem than the golden rules of Christianity; and we should not have been grieved at the destruction of every other division of religious professors, if our own might have been elevated on the ruins. Every rule and form, every custom and relic, we would have stained with our blood, if necessary, in order to preserve them; and mightily did we shout con-cerning our own Church, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’ [Acts 19:28 ]. There was not a nail in the church door that we did not revere not a vestment which we did not admire; or, if we did not love pomp, then sim-plicities were magnified into our very household gods. We hated the doctrines, practices, and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church, but were essentially a Roman Catholic; for we could have joined His Unholiness [the Pope] in all his anathemas [formal curses, excommunications], if he would but have hurled them against those who differed from us . We too did, in our own fashion, curse by bell, book, and candle, all who were not of our faith and order; and could scarcely think it possible that many attained salvation beyond the light of our Church, or that Jesus condescend to give them so much as a transient visit.
How changed we were when, by Divine grace, the sectarianism of our ungodliness hid its head in shame! We then thought that we would go among Methodists, Baptists, Episco-palians, Independents, Presbyterians, or any-where, so that we could but find a Redeemer for our guilty souls. It is more than probable that we found it necessary to shift our quarters, and attend the very house which we recently detested, to bow with the people whom we once held in abhorrence. All the fancies of our former lives dissolved before the heat of our desire. The hunter loves the mountain which shades his valley more than all its giant brothers; but nevertheless, when in hot pursuit of the cha-mois [extremely agile goat], he leaped from crag to crag, and does not ask what the name of the rock is upon which the object of his chase has bounded; so the sinner, ardently following after the Saviour, will pursue him wherever he goes.
Nor at such seasons did we regard, the respectability of the denomination or the grandeur of the structure in which God was adored. The chapel in the dark alley, the despised and de-serted church, the disreputable schoolroom, were now no longer noticed with a sneer; but whether under the vaulted sky of heaven, the
cobwebbed roof of a barn, the dingy ceiling of a village station, or the magnificent roof of the temple of the great assembly, we only sought one thing, and when that one thing was found, then all places were equal. No praising of a church for its architectural beauty no despising of a meeting‑house for its native ugliness; both buildings were valued not by their shape but by their contents; and where Jesus was more easily to be found, there did we make our haunt. It is true our servants, our farmers, and our paupers, sat with us to hear the same word; but we did not observe the difference, though once perhaps we might have looked aghast if any but my lady in satin, or my lord in superfine broad cloth, had ventured into a pew within the range of our breath. To us the company did not matter, so long as the Master of the Feast would just reveal himself. The place might be unconsecrated, the minister unordained, the clerk uneducated, the sect despicable, and the service unpretending, but if Jesus just showed his face, then that was all we wished for. There is no authentic account of the dimensions, the fashion, or furniture, of the room in which Jesus suddenly appeared and pronounced his ‘peace be with you.’ Nor do we think that any one of the assembly even so much as thought about the layout of the room while their Lord was present. It is good when we are content to go wherever the Lamb leads us. Doubtless, the catacombs of Rome, the glens of Scotland, and the conventicles [A religious meeting place, especially a secret or illegal one] of England, have been frequented more by the King of kings than cathedrals or royal chapels: there-fore the godly are not concerned so much where they worship, looking only for His presence which makes a hovel glorious, and deplore His absence, which makes even a temple desolate. We would in our anxious mood have followed Jesus into the cave, the mountain, the ravine, or the catacomb, so that we might but have been within the circle of his influence.
Nor would we have blushed to have sought Jesus among his kinsfolk and acquaintances the sick, the poor, the uneducated, but yet sincere children of light. How we delighted to sit in that upper room where stars looked between the tiles, and hear the heavenly conversation which, from a dull platform surrounded by ragged hangings, a feeble saint of the Lord held with us! Like divers, we valued the pearl, even though the shell might be a broken one, nor did we care where we went to get it. When those creaking stairs trembled beneath our weight, when that bottomless chair afforded us uneasy rest, and when the heat and odorous fumes of that sickroom drove our companion away, did we not feel more than doubly repaid while that friend of Jesus told us of all his love, his faithfulness and grace? It is frequently the case that the most despised servants of the Lord are made the chosen instruments of comforting distressed souls, and building them up
in the faith.
The writer confesses his eternal obligations to an old cook, who was despised as an Antinomian [a person who denies the fixed meaning or universal applicability of moral law], but who in her kitchen taught him many of the deep things of God, and removed many a doubt from his youthful mind. Even eminent men have been indebted to humble individuals for their deliverance: take, for in-stance, Paul, and his comforter, Ananias; and in our own day, John Bunyan, instructed by the holy women at Bedford. True seekers will hunt everywhere for Jesus, and will not be too proud to learn from beggars or little children. We take gold from dark mines or muddy streams; therefore it would be foolish to refuse in-struction in salvation from the most unlettered or uncouth. Let us be truly sincere in seeking Christ, then circumstance and place will be lightly esteemed.
We also note that there is no condition for distance in this question, it is only ‘where;’ and though it be a thousand miles away, the man’s feet are ready for the journey. Desire leaps over space; leagues to it are inches, and oceans narrow into straits. Where, at one time, a mile would tire the body, a long journey after the Word is counted as nothing: yes, to stand in the house of God for hours during service is considered a pleasure and not a hardship. The devoted Hindu, to find a hope-less salvation, will roll himself along for hundred of miles: it seems only natural then, that we, when searching for eternal life, should ‘count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord’ [Philippians 3:8 ]. Mary Magdalene only needed to know where they had laid her Lord and her resolve was, ‘I will take him away;’ for surely, she thought, her bodily strength could never fail under such a burden, and she measured the power of her body by the strength of her love. So do destitute sinners, who need a Saviour, utterly laugh at hazards or hardships which may intervene. Come mountain or valley, rapid or rock, whirlpool or tempest, desire has equipped the traveller with an omnipotence of heart, and a world of dangers is trodden beneath the feet, with the shout of Deborah ‘O my soul, march on in strength!’ [Judges 5:21 ]
‘I doubt not,’ said Rutherford to Lady Kenmure, ‘that if hell were betwixt you and Christ, as a river which ye behoved to cross ere ye could come at him, but ye would willingly put in your foot, and make through to be at him, upon hope that he would come in himself into the deepest of the river, and lend you his hand.’ Doubtless it is so with you, reader, if you are as we have described.
We also think we may be allowed to add, that the earnest inquirer does not object to any position of humiliation which may be required of him before he can ‘see Jesus.’ It is only demanded ‘where?’ and though the reply may be, ‘Over there, in the cell of repentance, on your bended knees, stripped of all your glories, shall you alone behold him,’ your lurking pride will be revealed without delay; but an instantaneous and joyful obedience will manifest that the one absorbing passion has entirely swallowed up all ideas of dignity, honour, and pride.
Like Benhadad, when in danger, hearing that the king of Israel is a merciful king, we will consent to put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes on our necks, and go in to him, hoping for some words of favour. We surrender to discretion, yielding the weapons of our sins and the baggage of our pleasures. He that is down so low as to be wholly submissive, will find that even justice will not strike him. Mercy always flies near the ground. The flower of grace grows in the small valley of humility. The stars of love shine in the night of our self‑despair. If truth does not lie in a well, certainly mercy does. The hand of justice spares the sinner who has thrown away both the sword of rebellion and the plumes of his pride. If we will do and be anything or everything, so that we may but win Christ, we shall soon find him to be everything to us. There is no more hopeful sign of coming grace than an emptiness of our own selfish terms and conditions, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ [James 4:6 ]
Thus we have tried to sum up all the promises which this state affords, but cheering though they may be, we fear few will accept the comfort they afford; for ‘like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart;’ [Proverbs 25:20 ] and it is generally useless to express sympathy to a patient undergoing an operation, by reflecting on the benefits of that operation, seeing that while the pain lasts he will still cry out and groan. Never-theless, we who have escaped cannot refrain from singing outside the walls of the dungeon, in the hope that some within may hear and take heart. Let us say to every mourner in Zion, Be of good cheer, for ‘He who walked in the garden, and made a noise that made Adam hear his voice, will also at some time walk in your soul, and make you hear a more sweet word, yet ye will not always hear the noise and din of his feet when He walketh’ [Rutherford]. Ephraim is bemoaning and mourning [Jeremiah 31:18 ] ‘when he thinks God is far off, and does not listen; and yet God is like the bridegroom, standing only behind a thin wall, [Song of Solomon 2:9 ] and he himself says, I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself.’ ‘I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord’ [Jeremiah 31:20 ]
You be of good cheer, O seeker; go on, for hope prophesies success, and the signs of your case predict a happy deliverance. None who are like you have failed in the end; persevere, and be saved.
II. We have now arrived at our second division, wherein we proposed to consider the reasons of this tarrying. May our Divine Illuminator enlighten us while we write!
We believe that many are delayed because they do not seek in the right way, or because they do not eagerly seek, we have nothing to do with these persons at this time; we are dealing with the genuine convert, the sincere searcher, who still cannot find his Lord. To the exercised mind no question is more difficult to answer than this, ‘Why does he not hear?’ but when delivered from our distress, nothing is more full of joy than the rich discovery that ‘he has done all things well.’
If our reader is now in sorrow, let him believe what he cannot see, and receive the testimony of others who now bear witness that ‘God's way is in the sea, and his path in the great waters.’
1. We now perceive that it afforded pleasure to Jesus, to view the labours of our faith in pur-suit after him.
Jesus does often hide his face from his children, that he may hear the sweet music of their cry. When the woman of Canaan came before our Lord, he did answer her at all; and when her insistence prevailed somewhat, a harsh sentence was all she obtained. Yet the blessed Jesus was not angry with her, but was pleased to behold her faith struggling amid the waves of his seeming neglect, and finding anchorage even on that hard word which appeared like a rock ready to wreck her hopes. He was so charmed with her holy daring and heavenly resolution, that he detained her for a time to feast his eyes upon the lovely spectacle. The woman had faith in Christ, and Jesus would let all men see what faith can do in honour of its Lord.
Great kings have among their attendants certain well trained artistes who play before them, while they, sitting with their court, be-hold their feats with pleasure. Now, Faith is the king's champion, whom he delights to put upon labours of the most herculean kind. Faith has, when summoned by its Master, stopped the sun and chained the moon; it has dried the sea and divided rivers; it has dashed bul-warks to the ground; quenched the violence of fire; stopped the mouths of lions; turned to flight the armies of the aliens, and robbed death of its prey.
Importunity is the king's running footman; he has been known to run month after month without losing his breath, and over mountains he leaps with the speed of Asahel; therefore, the Lord at times tries his endurance, for he loves to see what his own children can perform. Prayer, is also one of the royal musicians; and although many do prefer his brother, who is called Praise, yet this one has always had an equal share of the king's favour. His lute played so sweetly that the heavens have smiled with sunshine for the space of three years and six months [James 5:17 , James 5:18 ], then at the sound of lute; and when again the melodious notes were heard, the same skies did weep for joy and rain descended on the earth. Prayer has made God's axe of vengeance stop in mid air, when hastening to cut down hindrance to the ground; and his sword has been lulled to sleep in its scabbard by the soft sonnets of prayer, when it sung of pardons bought with blood. Therefore, because Jesus delighted in these courtiers [an attendant at a sovereign's court] whom he has chosen, he always finds them work to do, whereby they may min-ister unto his good pleasure. Surely you who walk in darkness, and see no light, may be well content to grope your way for a while, if it is true that this midnight journey is but one of the feats of faith, which God is pleased that you should perform. Go on then in confidence.
2. We may sometimes regard this delay as an exhibition of Divine sovereignty.
God is not bound to persons nor to time; as he gives to whom he pleases, so he also bestows his favours in his own time and manner. Very frequently the prayer and the answer attend each other, as the echo does the speaker's voice. Usually it is, ‘Before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear’ [Isaiah 65:24 ]. But Divine prerogative must be manifested and maintained, and therefore he sometimes gives temporary denials or protracted delays. Through some of our village squares the right of way is private, and in order to maintain the right, although the road is usually open, yet there are gates which at times are closed for a season, lest anyone should imagine that they could demand a passage; so, although mercy is free and speedy, yet it is not always immediate, so that men may know that the giver has a right to refuse. Jesus is no paid physician, who is obligated to give us his calls; therefore he will sometimes step in late in the day, that we may remember that he is not our debtor.
Oh! our hearts loathe the pride which does not bow to Divine sovereignty, but arrogantly declares God to be under obligations to his creatures. Those who are full of this satanic spirit will not assert this in plain language, but while they quibble at election, talking with sinful breath about ‘partiality,’ ‘injustice,’ ‘respect of per-sons’ and other things like these, they too plainly show that their old nature is yet unhumbled by Divine grace. We are sure of this, that no convinced sinner, when under a sense of his deserved punishment, will ever dispute the justice of God in damning him, or quarrel with the distinguishing grace which Heaven gives to one and not to another. If such a person has not yet been able to subscribe to the doctrine of sovereign, discriminat-ing, electing grace, we do not wonder that he has found no peace; for truly Jesus will have him know that his bounties are in his own hand, and that no one can lay any claim to them.
Herbert, in his Country Parson, says, ‘He gives no set pension unto any, for then, in time, it will lose the name of charity with the poor, and they will reckon upon it, as on a debt;’ truly it would be so even with the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, if they were always bestowed when man at first desires them. There is nothing over which the Lord is more jealous than his crown his sove-reignty his right to do as he will with his own. How grateful should we be that he uses such lenient and gentle means to preserve his dig-nity; and that while he might, if he pleased, blockade the gates of salvation forever, he does only for a moment cause them to be closed, that we may sing all the more loudly when we obtain an entrance through them.
3. A ministry devoid of gospel grace is a frequent cause of long delays in finding the Saviour.
Some of us, in the days of our sorrow for sin, were compelled by circumstances to sit under a legalist preacher who only increased our pain, and aggravated our woe. Destitute of all joy and mercy, but most of all lacking a clear view of Jesus the Mediator, the sermons we heard were wells without water, and clouds without rain. Elegant in diction, admirable in style, and faultless in composition, they fell on our ears even as the beautiful crystals of snow fall upon the surface of a brook, and only tend to swell its floods. Good morality, consistent practice, upright dealing, amiable behaviour, gentle bearing, and modest behavior, were the everyday themes of the pulpit; but, alas! they were of as little service to us as instructions to dance would be to a man who has lost both his legs. We have often been reminded by such preachers, of the doctor who told a poor penniless widow that her sick son could easily be cured if she would give him the best wine, and remove him at once to Baden‑Baden [A city in Germany, which has long been one of Europe's most fashionable spas.] the poor creature’s fingers staring all the while through the tips of her wornout gloves, as if they wished to see the man who gave advice so profoundly impracticable.
Far be it from us to condemn the preaching of morality by such men, for it is doubtless all they can preach, and their intentions being good, it is probable they may sometimes be of service in restraining the community from acts of disorder; but we do deny the right of many to call themselves Christian ministers, while they constantly and systematically neglect to declare the truths which lie at the very founda-tion of the Gospel. A respected bishop of the Episcopalian denomination [Bishop Lavington], in addressing the clergy of the last century, said, ‘We have long been attempting to reform the nation by moral preaching. With what effect? None. On the contrary, we have dexterously preached the people into downright infidelity. We must change our voice; we must preach Christ and him crucified; nothing but the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.’ We fear that in some measure this is the case even now -oh, that we would dare to hope otherwise! Let those of us who are engaged in the work of the ministry take heed to ourselves, and to our doc-trine, that we cause no needless pain, and retard no man’s progress to a Saviour; and let our reader look to his own soul’s salvation, and select his pastor, not for his eloquence, learning, friendliness, or popularity, but for his clear and constant testimony to the Gospel of Christ. The witness of the pulpit must be incessantly evangelical, nor is a single exception to be allowed. A venerable theologian justly writes, ‘Faithful preachers never preach mere philo-sophy, nor mere metaphysics, nor mere mo-rality’ [Emmons]. How many poor souls may now be in bondage by your lifeless preaching, O you who love anything better than the simple Gospel! What are you but polished bolts on the door of the dungeon of the distressed, or a well‑dressed enemy soldier, scaring men from the palace of mercy? Ah! it will be good for some if they shall be able to wash their hands of the blood of souls, for truly in the cells of eternal condemnation there are heard no yells of horror more appall-ing than the shrieks of damned ministers. Oh, to have misled men to have ruined their souls forever!
Happy suicide [Mr. Sadlier], who by his own hand escapes the sound of the curses of those he victimized! happy in comparison with the man who will forever hear the accusing voices of the many who have sunk to perdition through the rottenness of the doctrine which he offered them for their support. Here, on our knees we fall, and pray for grace that we may ever hold up Jesus to the sinner; not doctrine without Jesus, which is as the pole without the brazen serpent, but Jesus a whole Jesus to poor lost sinners. We are sure that many convinced souls have tarried long in the most distressing condition, simply because, by reason of the poverty of their spiritual food, their weakness was so great that the cry of Hezekiah was theirs ‘This day is a day of trouble; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth’ [Isaiah 37:3 ]. May our glorified Jesus soon come into his Church, and raise up shepherds after his own heart, who, endowed with the Holy Spirit, full of sympathy, and burning with love, shall visit those who are out of the way, and guide the wanderer to the fold. Such men are still to be found. O reader, search them out, sit at their feet, receive their word, and do not be disobedient to the commands which they utter from heaven.
4. Misunderstanding of the nature of salva-tion, in some cases, delays the happy hour of Christ's appearance.
A natural tendency to legalist ideas dims the mind to the perception of the doctrine of Jesus, which is grace and truth. A secret desire to do something in part to aid Jesus, prevents us from viewing him as ‘all our Salvation, and all our desire.’ Humbled though we have been by the cutting down of all our righteousness, yet the old root will sprout ‘at the scent of water it will bud;’ and so long as it does so, there can be no solid peace, no real cleaving to Christ. We must learn to spell the words law and grace, without mingling the letters.
While sick men take two kinds of medicine there is little hope of a cure, especially if the two drinks are compounded of opposing in-gredients; the bird which lives on two trees builds its nest on neither; and the soul halting between grace and works can never find rest for the sole of its foot. Perhaps, my reader, a secret and almost imperceptible self‑trust is the very thing which shuts out Christ from your soul. Search and look.
Many seekers are expecting some extraordinary sign and wonder before they can believe. They imagine that conversion will come upon them in some marvellous manner, like Mary's visitation by the angel. Like Naaman, they are dreaming that the prophet will strike his hand over the place of disease, and they shall recover. ‘Go and wash in Jordan seven times’ has not enough mystery in it for their poor minds: ‘Unless these people see signs and wonders, they will by no means believe’ [John 4:48 ]. However, let no one hope for miracles; won-ders do occur: some are brought to Jesus by vision and revelation, but far more are drawn by the usual means of grace, in a manner which is far removed from the marvellous. The Lord is not in the whirlwind, the Lord is not in the fire; but usually he speaks in the still small voice. Surely it should be enough for us, if we find pardon in the appointed method, without desiring to have rare and curious experiences, with which, in later years, we may gratify our own self-love, and elevate ourselves as singular favourites of heaven.
Regeneration is indeed a supernatural work, but it is usually a silent one. It is a pulling down of strongholds, but the earth does not shake with the fall; it is the building of a temple, but there is no sound of hammer at its erection; like the sunrise, it is not heralded by the a trumpet blast, nor do wonders hide beneath its wings. We know who the mother of mystery is; do we desire to be her children? Strange phantoms and marvel-lous creatures find their dwelling place in dark-ness; light is not in relationship with mystery; let none be hoping to find it so. Believe and live is the plan of the Gospel; if men would but lay aside their old ideas, they would soon find Jesus as their very present help; but because they look for unpromised manifestations, they seek in vain, until disappointment has taught them wisdom.
5. Although the seeking penitent has re-nounced all known sin, yet it may be that some sin of ignorance yet remains unconfessed, and unrepented of, which will frequently be a cause of great and grievous delay.
God, who searches Jerusalem with candles, will have us examine ourselves most thoroughly. He has issued a search warrant to conviction, which gives that officer a right to enter every room of our house, and command every Rachel to rise from her seat lest the images should be beneath her [Genesis 31:34 , Genesis 31:35 ]. Sin is so skilful in deception, that it is hard to discover all its lurking places; neither is it easy to detect its character when brought before our eyes, since it will often borrow the garb of virtue, and appear as an angel of light; nor should we ourselves use sufficient diligence in its destruction, if the delay of the needed mercy did not urge us to a more vigorous pursuit of the traitors who have brought us into grief. Our gracious Lord, for our own sake, desires the execution of our secret sins, and by his frowns he causes to be on guard lest we should indulge or harbour them.
Never, perhaps, shall we again possess so deep a horror of sin as in that moment when we almost despaired of deliverance from it, and therefore never shall we be so fully prepared to exterminate it. Eternal wisdom will not allow a season so favorable to pass without improvement; and having melted our heart in the furnace till the scum floated on the surface, it does not allow it to cool until the dross has been removed. Look to yourself, O seeker, for perhaps the cause of your pain lies in your own heart. How small a splinter prevents the healing of a festered wound; extract it, and the cure is easy. Be wise; what you do, do quickly, but do it perfectly; thus you shall do good work for eternity, and speed the hour of your acceptance. Be sure sin will find you out, unless you find it out first. A warrior stimulated the valour of his soldiers by simply pointing to the enemy and exclaiming, ‘Lads, there they are, if you do not kill them, they will kill you.’ Thus we would remind you, that sin will destroy you if you do not destroy it. Be concerned, then, to drive it from your heart.
6. Usefulness in after life is often increased by the bitter experience with which the soul is exercised while seeking after Jesus.
Since this has already received our attention, we will close our meditations on the reasons for protracted delay, by the simple remark, that it is of far more importance to a penitent to use every means for obtaining the Saviour's blessing, than to inquire into the motives which have, up till now, made him deaf to his petitions. Earnestly do we entreat the mourner to strive to enter in at the narrow gate, and to continue his cry ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find him!’
III. It is now our pleasant duty to direct the troubled spirit to the means of obtaining speedy and lasting peace.
May the God who opened the eyes of the desolate Hagar in the wilder-ness, and guided her so that she saw a well of water where she filled her empty bottle, use us as his finger to point the thirsting, dying sinner to the place where He stands, who once said, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ [John 7:37 ]. Our rules shall be expressed in simple words that the wayfaring man, though a fool, may not err therein. 1. Go where he goes.
Do you desire to present a petition to the king‑-will you not go to his palace to do it? Are you blind where should you sit but at the wayside, begging? Have you a painful disease where is there a place more fitting for you than the porch of Bethesda, where my Lord walks? Are you affected with palsy -do you not desire to be in his presence, though on your bed, you will be let down to the spot where he stands?’ Did not Obadiah and Ahab journey through the whole land of Israel to find Elijah? and will you not visit every place where there is hope of meeting Jesus? Do you know where his haunts are? Have you not heard that he dwells on the hill of Zion, and has fixed his throne of mercy within the gates of Jerusalem? Has it not been told to you that he often comes up to the feast, and mingles with the worshippers in his temple? Have not the saints assured you that he walks in the midst of his Church, even as John, in a vision, saw him among the golden lampstands? Go, then, to the city which he has chosen for his dwelling place, and wait within the doors which he has condescended to enter. If you know of a gospel minister, sit in the solemn assembly over which he is leader. If you have heard of a church which has been favoured with visits from its Lord, go and sit in their midst, that when he comes he may bid you to put your hand into his side, and do not be faithless but believing. Lose no oppor-tunity of attending the word: Thomas doubted, because he was not there when Jesus came.
Let sermons and prayers be your delight, because they are roads on which the Saviour walks. Let the righteous be your constant company, for such persons always bring Him when they come. The least thing you can do is to stand where grace usually dispenses its favour. Even the beggar writes his petition on the flagstone of a frequented thoroughfare, because he hopes that among the many that pass by, a few at least will give him charity; learn from him to offer your prayers where mercies are known to move in the greatest number, that among them all, there may be one for you. Keep your sail up when there is no wind, that when it blows you will not have to prepare for it; use means when you see no grace attending them, for thus will you be in the way when grace comes. It is better to go fifty times and gain nothing than lose one good opportunity. If the angel does not stir the pool, yet still lie there, for it may be that the moment when you leave it, that it will be the season of his descending [John 5:4-8 ]. ‘Being on the way, the Lord met with me,’ said one of old; you be on the way, that the Lord may meet with you. Old Simeon found the infant Messiah in the Temple; had he deserted its hallowed courts he might never have said, ‘My eyes have seen your salvation’ [Luke 2:30 ]. Be sure to stay in mercy's way.
2. Cry after Him. You have been lying in his path for many days, but he has not turned his eye on you. What then? Are you content to let him pass you by? Are you willing to lose so precious an opportunity? No! you desire life, and you will not be ashamed to beg loudly for it: you will not fear to take him for an example of whom it is written, ‘When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”’ [Mark 10:47 , Mark 10:48 ]. It is an old proverb, ‘We lose nothing by asking,’ and it is in older promise, ‘Ask, and you will receive.’ Do not be not afraid of crying too loudly. It is recorded, to the honour of Mordecai, that he cried with a loud cry; and we know that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. Do not think it is possible to pray too frequently, but at morning, at noon, and at evening time, lift up your soul to God. Do not let despondency stop the voice of your supplication, for He who hears the young ravens when they cry, will in due time listen to the trembling words of your desire. Give Him no rest until he hears you; like the persistent widow, you always be at the heels of the great One; do not give up because the past has proved apparently fruit-less, remember Jericho stood firm for six days, but yet when they gave a great shout, it fell flat to the ground. ‘"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Let tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; give your eyes no rest’ [Lamentations 2:19 , Lamentations 2:18 ]. Let groans, and sighs, and vows keep up a perpetual assault at heaven's doors.
‘Groans freshened with vows, and vows made salt with tears;
Unscale his eyes, and scale his conquered ears:
Shoot up the bosom‑shafts of your desire,
Feathered with faith, and double‑forked with fire;
And they will hit: fear not, where heaven bids come,
Heaven is never deaf, but when man's heart is dumb.’
Augustine sweetly writes, ‘Thou mayest seek after honours, and not obtain them; thou mayest labour for riches, and yet remain poor; thou mayest dote on pleasures, and have many sorrows. But our God of his supreme goodness says, Who ever sought me, and found me not? whoever desired me, and obtained me not? whoever loved me, and missed of me? I am with him that seeks for me: he hath me already that wisheth for me; and he that loveth me is sure of my love.’ O reader, try it and see whether it is not so, for we have found it so.
3. Think of his promises. He has uttered many sweet and gracious words, which are like the call of the hen, inviting you to nestle beneath his wings, or like white flags of truce bidding you to come without fear. There is not a single promise which, if followed up, will not lead you to the Lord. He is the centre of the circle, and the promises, like the radius, all meet in him, and then become Yes and Amen. As the streams run to the ocean, so do all the sweet words of Jesus tend to himself: launch your small vessel upon any one of them, and it shall bear you onward to the broad sea of his love. Lost on a dreary moor, the wanderer discovers his cottage by the light in the window casting a gleam over the darkness of the waste; so also must we find out ‘our dwelling place’ by the lamps of promise which our Saviour has placed in the windows of his word. The handkerchiefs brought from the person of Paul healed the sick; surely the promises, which are the garments of Christ, will benefit all diseases. We all know that the key of promise will unfasten every lock in Doubting Castle; will we be content to lie any longer in that dungeon when that key is already in our hand? A large number of the ransomed of the Lord have received their liberty by means of a cheering word applied with power. Be constant in reading the word and meditation upon it. Amid the fair flowers of promise grows the rose of Sharon pluck the promises, and you may find Him with them. He feeds among the lilies do you feed there also. The sure words of Scripture are the footsteps of Jesus imprinted on the soil of mercy -follow the track and find Him. The promises are cards of admission not only to the throne, the mercy seat, and the audience chamber, but to the very heart of Jesus. Look up to the sky of Revelation, and you will yet find a constellation of promises which shall guide your eye to the star of Bethlehem. Above all, cry aloud when you read a promise, ‘Remember the word to your servant, upon which you have caused me to hope’ [Psalms 119:49 ].
4. Meditate on his person and his work. If we were better acquainted with Jesus, we would find it easier to believe him. Many souls mourn because they cannot make themselves believe; and the constant exhortations of minister, persuading them to faith, cause them to sink deeper in the mire, since all their attempts prove ineffectual. It would be good for both if they would remember that the mind is not to be compelled to belief by exhortation or force of will; a small acquaintance with the elements of mental science would suffice to show them that faith is a result of previous states of the mind, and flows from those antecedent conditions, but is not a position to which we can attain without passing through those other states which the Divine laws, both of nature and of grace, have been made into the stepping stones. Even in natural things, we cannot believe a thing simply because we are persuaded to do so; we require evidence; we ask, ‘What are we to believe?’ we need instruction on the matter before we can lay hold of it. In spiritual things, we espe-cially need to know what we are to believe, and why. We cannot by one stride mount to faith, and it is at least useless, not to say cruel, to urge us to do so, unless we are told the grounds on which our faith must rest. Some men en-deavour to preach sinners to Christ; we prefer to preach Christ to sinners. We believe that a faith-ful exhibition of Jesus crucified will, under the Divine blessing, beget faith in hearts where fiery and vehement oratory have failed. Let this be borne in mind by those who are be-wailing themselves, in the words of John Newton:
‘Oh, could but I believe,
Then all would easy be;
I would, but cannot Lord, relieve!
My help must come from thee.’
You will not need to have to pray in this fashion very long, if you can obey the rule we would put before you, which is, meditate on Jesus; reflect upon the mystery of his incarnation and re-demption; and frequently picture the agonies of Gethsemane and Calvary. The cross not only demands faith, but causes it. The same Christ who requires faith for salvation infuses faith into all those who meekly and reverently meditate upon his sacrifice and mediation. We learn to believe in an honest man by an ac-quaintance with him, even so (although faith is the gift of God, yet he gives it in the use of the means) it comes to pass that by frequent con-sideration of Jesus, we know him, and therefore trust in him. You go to the gloomy brook of Kedron, make Gethsemane your garden of retire-ment, tread the blood‑stained Gabbatha, climb the hill of Calvary, sit at the foot of the accursed tree, watch the victim in his agonies, listen to his groans, mark his flowing blood, see his head bowed on his breast in death, look into his open side; then walk to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, behold him rise, witness his ascension, and view him exalted far above principalities and powers, as the mediator for sinful men: thus shall you see and believe, for truly hard is that unbelief which can endure such sights; and if the Holy Spirit leads you to a true vision of them, you shall inevitably believe, finding it impossible to any longer be incredulous. A true view of Calvary will strike unbelief with death, and put faith into its place. Spend hours in holy retirement, tracing his pilgrimage of woe, and you shall soon sing,
‘Oh how sweet to view the flowing
Of his soul-redeeming blood;
With Divine assurance knowing
That he made my peace with God!’
5. Venture on Him. This is the last but best advice we can give you, and if you have attended to that which precedes it, you will be enabled to follow it. We have said ‘venture,’ but we imply no venture of risk, but one of courage. To be saved it is required of you to renounce all hope of salvation by any means except Jesus that you have submitted to. Next you are called upon to cast yourself entirely on him, prostrating yourself before his cross, content to rely wholly on Him. Do this and you are saved, refuse and you are damned. Subscribe your name to this simple rhyme‑
’I'm a poor sinner, and nothing at all,
But Jesus Christ is my all in all;’
and, doing this, you are secure of heaven.
Do you delay because of unworthiness? Oh, do not do so, for he invites you just as you are. You are not too sinful, for he is ‘able to save to the uttermost.’ Do not think little of his power or his grace, for he is infinite in each; only fall flat upon his gracious declaration, and you shall be embraced by his mercy. To believe is to take Jesus at his word, and when all things deny you the hope of salvation, still call Him yours. Now we beseech you launch into the deep, now cut your moorings and give yourself up to the gale, now leave the rudder in his hands, and surrender your keeping to his guardianship. In this way alone shall you obtain peace and eternal life.
May the Directing Spirit lead us each to Him in whom there is light, and whose light is the life of men.
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER
FRIEND, Love for your soul constrains us to set apart this small attachment for your special benefit. Oh that you had as much love for your own soul as the writer has! Though he may have never seen you, yet remember when he wrote these lines he prayed a special prayer for you, and he had you on his heart while he penned these few but earnest words.
O Friend, you are no seeker of Jesus, but the reverse! To your own confusion you are going from him instead of to him! Oh, stop a moment and consider your ways your position - your end!
As for your ways , they are not only wrong before God, but they are uneasy to yourself. Your conscience, if it is not seared with a hot iron, is every day thundering at you on account of your paths of folly. Oh that you would turn from your error, while you can still hear the promise, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon’ [Isaiah 55:7 ]. Do not be betrayed into a continuance in these ways in the vain hope that your life will be prolonged to an indefinite period, in which you hope to accomplish repentance; for life is as frail as the bubble on the breaker, and as swift as the Indian arrow. To-morrow may never come, oh use ‘today’
‘ Now , is the constant syllable ticking from the clock of time;
Now , is the watchword of the wise; Now , is on the banner of the prudent.
Cherish your today, and prize it well, or ever it be engulfed in the past;
Husband it, for who can promise if it shall have a tomorrow?’ [Tupper’s Proverbial Philosophy ]
‘Tomorrow is a fatal lie the wrecker's beacon wily snare of the destroyer;’ be wise, and see to your ways while time waits for you.
Next, consider your position . A condemned criminal waiting for execution; a tree, at the root of which the axe is gleaming ; a target, to which the shaft of death is speeding; an insect beneath the finger of vengeance waiting to be crushed; a wretch hurried along by the strong torrent of time to an inevitable precipice of doom.
Your present position is enough to pale the cheek of carelessness, and move the iron knees of profanity. A man asleep in a burning house, or with his neck upon the block of the heads-man, or lying before the mouth of a cannon, is not in a more dangerous situation than you are. Oh you must think, before desolation, destruction, and damnation, seal up your destiny, and stamp you with despair!
Be sure, also, that you consider your final end, for it is yours whether you consider it or not. You are ripening for hell; oh, how will you endure its torments! Ah! If you would afford a moment to visit, in your imagination, the cells of the condemned, it might benefit you forever. What! are you afraid to examine the house in which you are to dwell? What! rush to a place and be afraid to see a picture of it? Oh let your thoughts precede you, and if they bring back a dismal story, it may induce you to change your mind and tread another path! You will lose nothing by meditation, but rather gain much by this means. . Oh let the miseries of lost souls warn you lest you also come into this place of torment! May the day soon arrive when you can cry after the Lord, and then even you shall be delivered!
Longing to Find God September 14, 1890 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Oh that I knew where I might find him!" --Job 23:3 .
"Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" Observe that Job is so taken up with his one great desire, that he forgets that everybody else is not thinking in the same way; and he uses a pronoun, though be has not before uttered the name of God. The man is carried away with his desire. He does not say, "Oh, that I knew where I might find God!" but, "where I might find him." An overwhelming passion will often speak like that. See how the Song of Songs, that sweet canticle of love, begins, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for thy love is better than wine." There is no mention of any person's name. We forget many thing s when we are taken up with one thing. We forget that, as Madame Guyon wrote,--
"All hearts are cold, in every place;"
and when our heart grows warm, we fancy that all other hearts are warm, too. Remember how Mary Magdalene, when she met our Lord on the resurrection morning, and, "supposing him to be the gardener," said to him, "Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." Nay, but Mary, thou hast not mentioned the name of the person. Thou beginnest, "If thou have borne him hence." How should another know of whom thou speakest? This is the way of a concentrated individuality. When it is set, desperately set, upon some one object, it forgets to whom it speaks; it only remembers the beloved one upon whom its affections are fixed.
Now, this is one reason why the man who is earnestly seeking after God is often misunderstood. He does not speak as one would speak who was cool and calm. His heart is hot within him, and his words are fire-flakes; so that those about him say, "The man is mad. He is not sober, as he used to be; he is going out of his mind." I would to God that many were so mad that they cried in the depths of their soul, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" for, if God knows whom you are seeking, it is of small consequence whether your fellow-creatures know, or do not know. If he accepts you, do not be cast down if men misunderstand you.
Thus, you see, Job's longing was all-absorbing; it was also personal, he longed personally to find God. I know many people who have great longings; but they are for things that are trivial compared with the longing of Job. Job does not sigh to comprehend the incomprehensible. He does not wish to find out the divine decree. He does not trouble about where free agency and predestination meet. He does not desire to know, out of mere curiosity, or for the attainment of barren knowledge; but his cry is, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him! Oh, that I could get at God! Oh, that I could have dealings with the Most High! Oh, that I could feel at perfect peace with him, and rest in him, and be happy in the light of his countenance!" Now, some of you, perhaps, in years gone by, were very curious and anxious about various theological questions; the time was when you would have disputed with almost anyone who came along; but you have given all that up; and now you want to find God, and to be reconciled to him. You want to know from God's own lips that there is peace between you, and that he loves you, and will never cease to love you. You have been, perhaps, for weeks trying to find a way of access to God; and, though there is such a way, and it is close to you, you have not yet perceived it. This one thing occupies your mind, not that you may know about God, or split hairs about doctrinal theories concerning him, but that you may find HIM. I would to God it were the case with everyone in this congregation, that you, either had him or were sighing and crying after him. This is not a point upon which any man can afford to be neutral. We must find God; for if we do not, we are ourselves lost.
On further reading the text, I feel still more pleased with Job's determination about getting to God. He says, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" He does not make any condition as to where he might find God. If it were in heaven, he would try to scale its heights. If it were in the abyss, he would hopefully plunge into the deep. If God be far away, at the uttermost ends of the earth, Job is willing to go there. If God is to be found in his temple, or, for the matter of that, in the lowest dungeon, Job only wants to know where he may find him; and if he may find him, he will not make any conditions as to where it may be. We noticed in our reading that Job said, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat!" He was willing to come even to God's judgment-seat if he could not find him anywhere else.
It will be a great mercy for you if you are so anxious to find God that you will not set any bounds as to where you shall find him. You would be glad to find him at your usual place of worship; but you would be just as glad to find him in the midst of quite another people. You would be thankful to find him in your own chamber when you bow your knee in prayer; but you would be quite as pleased to find him in the midst of your business. You would rejoice to find him whether it was in the heat of noontide, or in the cool of midnight. Your cry is, "Only let me find him, an d time and place shall be of no consequence to me."
With regard to instrumentalities, also, you would be pleased to be converted to God by a learned and eloquent minister; but you would be quite as willing to find Christ by means of the most illiterate. You will be quite content with the man against whom you have been prejudiced, if God will but bless him to you. Ay, though it were your own servant girl, or some boy in the street, if they could but tell you the way of salvation so that you could find God, you would be perfectly satisfied! I know you would, for you put in no "ifs" or "buts" or conditions. Your one cry is, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" You are absorbed with that one desire; your whole soul is possessed by that one earnest longing to find God. This desire is intensely personal and practical, and it inspires you with the full determination that, at all costs and all hazards, if you can but find out where God is, you will come to him.
Now, I am going to talk about this desire to find God. I have had it from one or two here present who are deeply anxious, that this is the cry of their spirit day and night, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" In trying to meet their case, our first enquiry will be, What sort of desire is this?--the desire that makes a man, or a woman, or a child, cry out, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" And, secondly, What is the answer to it? How can they Thud God? And, thirdly, Why are some so long in finding God?
I. Our first question, concerning this longing to find God, is, What SORT OF DESIRE IS THIS?
I answer, first, that it takes many forms, according to the circumstances of the person who has the desire. In Job's case, it was a somewhat hazardous desire to come before the court of God to have his righteousness established. I have no doubt that, in bitterness of soul, many a sincere man, when maligned and lampooned, has wished that he could turn to God, and have the matter judged by him. "Thou knowest," says he, "that I am not wicked; I have not been false; I have not been treacherous. Let the case against me be tried by the great Judge of all, who is righteous and impartial. Oh, that I knew where I might find him!"
But the desire is better and more usual on the part of children of God when they have lost the light of his countenance. Beloved, the model Christian is the man who always walks in the light, as God is in the light. But how few there are of these comparatively! Many, I half fear the most of us, are at times in the dark. We wander; we lose our first love; we grow lukewarm; and then God hides his face. Many and many a true child of God has sighed out of the depth of his spirit, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" Are any of you less happy than you used to be? Are you less holy than you used to be? Are you less in prayer than in former years? Have you less tenderness of conscience? Have you less joy in the Lord? Are you doing less for Jesus, and are you more content with the little that you do? Are you going back? Well, then, if God has not hidden his face from you, in all probability he will; and then, when you are in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, you will be like the fainting hart that panteth for the waterbrooks, and you will cry out after God. If you do not, it will be a damning mark. If you can live without your God, you who profess to be a child of God, it will look as if you never were his child. God has spoiled some of us for the world. It is never a matter of self-denial to us to give up its pleasures; for we have no taste for them. If we do not find joy in God, we are of all men most miserable. The brooks and cisterns are dry; and if the smitten rock does not yield us water, we thirst, we faint, we die.
But, beloved, I want to dwell mainly upon this cry as coming from the convicted sinner who has not yet rejoiced in God. He has a burden pressing heavily upon him, and he knows that he can never get rid of it except through the grace of God in Jesus Christ; and he wants to get rid of it. So it has come to this, that day and night he says, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" I like this form of the desire best of all; and I would willingly spend and be spent, that I might encourage and help any who are thus seeking God as their Savior.
Let me say this to any such who are here. This desire is quite contrary, to the desire of nature. You feel yourself lost, and yet this cry comes to your tongue, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" My dear friend, this is not a natural desire. When you were satisfied with the world, you never had this desire. Time was when it never crossed your soul for a moment. When Adam and Eve sinned, they did not want to find God; they hid themselves among the trees of the garden. And you, while you love sin, do not want to find God. You are like Jonah, you would willingly take ship, and flee from God's presence, even to Tarshish. No, the natural man, without the Holy Spirit, never said, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" I should like you to get just a ray of light, not more, out of that remark. That ray of light might cheer you while we proceed.
I think that this desire never comes except by grace. It never takes full possession of any man unless it is wrought in him by the grace of God. There may be a transient desire, but it is no more a sign of spiritual health than is the hectic flush of consumption a proof that the poor patient possesses vigorous physical strength. In the excitement of a revival meeting, you may say, "I wish I was a Christian," but to carry this desire about with you, to have it always within you as a deep ground-swell of your soul, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" this is the work of the Holy Ghost. I trust that we have many here who feel these first pangs of the new birth; for where God begins with us by working in us this desire, he will, in due time, gratify it. If he gives us hunger, he gives us bread to satisfy its cravings. If he gives us a desire for himself, he gives us himself to satisfy that desire.
Then it is sweet to think that this desire is met by the seeking of the Savior. The desire of a man after God is paralleled by Christ's desire after him. "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Now, when a sheep begins to seek its shepherd, and at the same time the shepherd is seeking it, it cannot be long before the two meet. I read to you, last Thursday night, a letter from a poor soul, a harlot, who had come in here on the Sabbath morning, and God had met with her. You know how easy it is to make up such a letter with the idea of asking charity; but there was no name to this note, and it contained no request for charity. It was a true letter. There was one part of it that I commend to you. The writer said, "Before you receive this letter, I shall be home at my father's house, from which I wickedly ran away." Ah, there is the point, that going home, that getting back to the father! Now, I have no doubt that the father had sought his girl, but when the girl began to seek him, there would be a meeting very soon. If there is a soul here that wants Christ, Christ wants you. If you were sitting now upon Samaria's well, he would come and sit by you, and he would say to you, "Give me to drink," for you alone can assuage the Savior's thirst, the thirst to save, the thirst to forgive, the thirst to bring wanderers home to the great Father's house. Oh, friend, if this cry be your cry, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" I can see much to comfort you in the thought that, while you are seeking the Lord, he is also seeking you.
But let me add that it will be well if this desire never gets satisfied fled except by God; for there are so many who do not seek till they find him. A friend, writing to me, says, "You have taken away from me all my comfort; you have destroyed my self-righteousness; you have left me in a dreadful condition through the Word of God which you have preached to me. I used to go to early celebrations. I was at church three times a day. I thought that I took the very body and blood of Christ in the holy Eucharist. I have rested in my works; and now the whole structure is gone. I can rest in none of those things any more. My one cry is (and please to sing tonight that hymn that ends),--"Give me Christ, or else I die!"
My dear friend, your letter gave me great delight. I was glad to give out that hymn; but I pray you do not get content till you do find God, for you can come here, you know, and you may even succeed in deceiving us so that you may be baptized, and join the church, and take the communion, and you may rest in all that without saving faith in Christ, and you will not be an inch nearer to God than you were when you rested in the ceremonies of your former church. It is only God who can save you, only God in Christ who can give true rest to your soul. Men may change their churches, and only change their refuge of lies; but if they come to Christ, whatever church they are in, if they have found him, and are trusting in him, and in him alone, their peace will be like a river, and their righteousness as the waves of the sea. God bless any here who are opening their mouths, and panting with this strong desire; but do be sure that you are never comforted till Jesus comforts you! Never be fed except with the bread of heaven. Never rest until you find rest in him whom God has appointed to be our rest, or else you will make a blunder, a fatal blunder, after all.
II. Our second question, concerning this desire, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" is, WHAT IS THE ANSWER TO IT?
Well, in the first place, there is something in the desire itself that gives you comfort; for God is near you now. If you want God, he is everywhere, he is here, he is nearer to you than your hands and feet, nearer to you than your eye or your nerve. He is within you, and round about you. You might ask, with the Psalmist, "Whither shall I flee from thy presence?" and find that task to be impossible; but if you really wish to find God, you may readily do so. He is here; you have not to pray at Jerusalem, nor yet at Mount Gerizim.
"Where'er we seek him, he is found, And every place is hallowed ground."
Believe it, and speak to him now; show him your heart now; appeal to him now, for he is truly near you at this moment.
But you wish to lay hold upon him. Then remember that God is apprehended only by faith. Eyes are of no use in this case; you cannot see a Spirit. Ears are of no use in this case; you cannot hear a Spirit. Your senses may be put aside now; the new sense, the new eye, the new ear, is faith. If thou believest, thou shalt see, and thou shalt hear. Come, deal with God, who is near thee now, by faith. Believe that he is near thee; speak to him; gladly trust him. Faith will apprehend all of God that can be apprehended; and out of faith shall come many other blessed things that will make thee still more familiar with thy God. But now, even now, put out the arms of an inward faith, and say, "I believe thee." Faith comprehends the Incomprehensible, and takes the Infinite within itself.
But still, if what you mean is, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him, in the sense of calling him my own, and having a joyful belief in his love!" well, then, I would say to you, if you want to find him, search his Word. If you will read the Bible with the steady resolve to find God in Christ within its pages, I am morally certain that you will not have to read it long. There is here a holy magnetism, which, if a man comes in contact with these sacred words, shall begin to operate upon him. If you will take the Book, and search it through to learn how God is to be found, you will find him. Then, in connection with the Word written, go and hear the Word spoken, for there are minds that are more affected by speech than by what they read. If you will only hear attentively a faithful gospel minister, it will not be long before you find God. If you go to hear a man merely because he is clever, or one who will tell you stories and interest you, you may never get any good out of him. But if you go saying, "I want to find Christ during this service; I want to lay hold on God to my soul's eternal salvation;" I do not think that you will long frequent some places of worship that I could mention without saying, "I have found God."
Next to that, if you do not seem to profit by the reading and hearing of the Word, seek the Lord in prayer. Get thee to thy chamber; there cry unto thy God, and cease not thy cry; for if thou wilt seek for him as for silver, and search for him as for hidden treasure, thou shalt surely find him. Prayer has a wonderful effect on God. He turns at the cry that comes from the heart. He is sure to look to the man who cries to him for mercy.
And at the same time that you are in prayer, or in connection with it, meditate on divine things. Especially meditate on the person of Christ, God and Man; on the work of Christ, especially his atoning sacrifice. Meditate on the promises; meditate on God's wonders of grace recorded in this delightful Book. Think and pray, and then think and pray again; and my impression is that you will not long have to say, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!"
Yet is there one more word for you. If you would find God, he is to be found in Christ Jesus, "reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Do you know the Man Christ Jesus? Can you by faith see him? Fall at his feet; accept him as your Savior; trust him as the Giver and Forgiver, as saving from death and imparting life. Come and take Christ, and you have found God. No man believes in Christ and remains without the favor of God. Oh, that thou wouldst believe in Christ now! This morning I preached about his incarnation, Immanuel, God with us. Think much on this. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." God came here among men, and took the form of a mortal creature, and here lived and died. Think of that, and believe in him who is God and Man. Then think much of his life, of the many that he healed, the sick ones that he relieved, the sinful that came to hear him, to whom he spoke only words of love. Look through the life of Christ, and I am persuaded that, if thou art willing to do so, thou wilt find amongst those who came to him a case parallel to thy own, and wilt find him dealing with it in love and mercy; and, whilst thou art perusing that wondrous life of love, thou wilt find God. But if it be not so, go a little further.
"Go to dark Gethsemane, Ye that feel the tempter's power."
Stand amid the shade of the olives; hear the Son of God groaning out his very soul, his sweat, as it were great drops of blood, falling to the ground. He pleaded there for sinners, for the guilty. Follow him to Pilate's hall, see him scourged and spat upon; and go, at length, to Calvary, and sit down there in meditation, and mark the wounds in his blessed body, those sacred founts of blood. See his emaciated frame exposed before the sun to the gaze of cruel men. Watch him till you hear him cry, "It is finished." Then see the soldier set his heart abroach; for, even after death, his heart for us its tribute poured; and then, as thou dost remember that he made the heavens and the earth, and yet did hang upon that tree for the guilty, believe thou, and trust him.
"Oh!" says one, "I cannot believe." Now it is a curious thing that, when I have met with persons who find it difficult to believe, I have often been obliged to say to them, "Well , now, there is a strange difference between you and me; for you cannot believe, and I cannot disbelieve." That is to say, when I see Christ, the Son of God, dying for guilty men, I cannot make myself disbelieve. It seems to me to flash its own evidence upon my soul; and I am convinced by the sight I see. How is it that you cannot believe when the Almighty God is one with his sinful creatures, and dies to save them from eternal death? "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree." When you se e that marvel of marvels, how can you disbelieve? I charge you, by the living God, look to Jesus on the cross, as Israel in the wilderness, bitten by the serpents, looked to the brazen serpent, and by that look lived.
I think this is the way to find God, that is, to come to Christ; for, remember that he is not dead. He is risen. Where is the Christ now? He is at the right hand of God. He maketh intercession for us; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell among them. Dost thou believe that Christ makes intercession for sinners? Then trust thyself with him, first as thy Redeemer, and now as thy Intercessor; and so, by a simple trust, thou shalt find thy God, and no more say, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!"
III. I have finished my discourse when I have very briefly answered the third question: WHY ARE SOME SO LONG IN FINDING GOD?
I answer, partly because they are not clear as to what they are seeking. If you want to find God, well, here he is. You yourself know that he is everywhere, so that you have found him. But what I fear some of you want, is some kind of mark, some sign, some feeling. Now, that is not seeking God; you are seeking something in addition to God. I am sure that, in the hour of trial, nothing will stand a man in good stead but simple faith in God by Jesus Christ. "Oh!" says one, "I read of a man, the other day, who was under most wonderful conviction, and of another who had a very remarkable dream, and of another who heard a voice speaking to him." Yes, yes, and all these pretty things are very well when you have faith in Christ. But if you do not trust yourself to Christ, these things are not worth a penny, for some day you will say to yourself," How do I know that I did hear that voice? Might I not have been deceived? How can I be sure that that dream meant anything? May I not have eaten something for supper that made me dream it? And that joy that I felt may have been all a delusion." But if you want God without any of these things, you want exactly what you do need, and I pray you to come and take it by faith in Jesus. Here am I, a guilty sinner; that I know and confess. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; that I know by the witness of this Book. I am told that, if I trust him, I am saved. I do trust him, I will not ask for a dream, or a vision, or a voice, or anything. Why should I? Beggars must not be choosers. If God gives me his salvation as he gives it to anybody else, I am perfectly happy, even though I have no striking story to tell, and shall never point a moral or adorn a tale with any anecdote about myself. I am afraid, however, that many are not wanting God so much as wanting the odds and ends that sometimes go with him.
Again, there are some who are crying after God, who are hankering after their own idols. Ah, me! you would like to keep some of your self-righteousness, or some of your sins. One of our friends, coming up from the Norfolk Broads, told me that when the time came to row home, he began pulling away at the oars, and he thought that it was a very long way, and that the scenery was very monotonous, with the same old willow-tree and everything the same as when he started; and someone going by said, "I suppose you know, old fellow, that you have got your anchor down." That is exactly what he had forgotten, and he was rowing with his anchor still down. You will not find God that way if you have an anchor still down. I do not know what your anchor is; perhaps it is the wine-cup, you still take that drop too much. Perhaps it is an evil woman. Perhaps it is some trick in trade that you have been used to. Perhaps it is some secret sin that cannot be told. You cannot find God while you keep that. Achan, how can God come to thy tent, unless it is for judgment, while the Babylonish garment is hidden in the ground? Away with the idols, and then shall you find the true God.
And yet again, there are some who are waiting to feel their need more; and they think that they cannot come to Christ till they feel more than they do at present. Now, again I must get you to alter your cry. I thought that your cry was, "Oh, that I knew where I might find him!" But now your cry is, "Oh, that I knew that I really needed him!" Have you not had enough of that experience? Time was with me when I thought too much of it. I believe a deep ploughing does us good; but, if a man is always ploughing, and never sows anything, he will never have a harvest. Some of you are looking too much to your sense of need. You are not saved by your sense of need; you are saved by the supply of that need. Come as you are. "I have not a broken heart," says one. Come to Christ for a broken heart. "I have not a tender conscience," says another . Come to Christ for a tender conscience. You are not to get half the work done yourself, and then to come to Christ to have it finished. Come as you are, just as you are, hard heart and all. Come along with you, and trust yourself to Jesus, and you shall find your God.
I am afraid that there are a great many also who are clouded in their minds by the great sorrow through which they have passed, for you can be so distressed and distracted that you do not judge clearly. You remember Hagar when the water in her bottle was spent, and her boy was dying of thirst. Just there, close behind her, was a well of water. The angel said to her, "What aileth thee, Hagar?" And we read, "God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water." Some of you have salvation at your fingertips, and you do not know it. You have it in your mouth, as Paul says, and you do not know it, or else you would swallow it down, and live by it at once. Salvation is not up there in the heights, or down here in the deeps. The apostle puts it thus, " If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." " He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." So runs the gospel. Look for no other way. Believe. I said not, "Feel," but "Believe." Dream not, dote not, imagine not, but believe; say with thine heart, "I believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; and I trust him to save me.
"Tis done, the great transaction's done; I am my Lord's, and he is mine"
Now thou shalt begin a new life of obedience and holiness, wrought in thee as the result of thy having believed in Jesus Christ, whom God has set forth to be the propitiation for sin. Will you have Christ or not, sinner? If you will not have him, you must perish; if you will have him, he gives himself freely to you; and nothing is freer than a gift. Take him, and go your way happy as the angels. God bless you! Amen.
The Anxious Enquirer
Early 1857 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
Oh that I knew where I might find him! Job 23:3
We will say nothing at this time concerning Job, we will leave the patriarch out of the question, and take these words as the exclamation forced from the aching heart of a sinner, when he finds that he is lost on account of sin, and can only be saved by Christ. "Oh that I knew where I might find him," --"my Savior, --that I might be saved by his love and blood!" There are some who tell us that a man can, do as he pleases, in one moment obtain peace with God and joy in the Holy Ghost. Such persons may know something of religion in their own hearts; but I think they are not competent to be judges of others. God may have given them some peace through believing, and brought them immediately into a state of joy; he may have given them some repentance for sin, and then male them quickly to rejoice in Jesus; but I believe that, in many more cases, God begins by breaking the stony heart in pieces, and often makes a delay of days, of weeks, and even of months, before he heals the soul which he has wounded, and gives life to the spirit which he has killed. Many of God's people have been even for years seeking peace, and, finding none; they have known their sins, they have been permitted to feel their guilt, and yet, notwithstanding that they have sought the Lord earnestly with tears, they have not attained to a knowledge of their justification by faith in Christ. Such was the ease with John Bunyan; for many a dreary month he waltzed the earth as one desolate, and said he knew himself to be lost without Christ; on his bended knees, with tears pouring like showers from his eye, he sought mercy, but he found it not. Terrible words haunted him continually; dreadful passages of Scripture kept ringing in his ears; and he found no consolation until, afterwards, God was pleased to appear unto him in all the plentitude of grace, and lead him to cast himself on the Savior.
I think there may be some here, who have been for a long while under the hand of God; some who have been brought so far toward heaven as to know that they are undone for ever unless Christ shall save them. I may be addressing some who have begun to pray; many a time the walls of their chamber have resounded with their supplications; not once, nor twice, nor fifty times, but very often have they bent their knees in agonizing prayer; and yet, up to this moment, so far as their own feelings are concerned, their prayers are unanswered, Christ has not smiled upon them, they have not received the application of his precious blood, and mayhap each one of them is at this hour saying, "I am ready to give up in despair; Jesus said he would receive all who came to him, but, apparently, he has rejected me." Take heart, O mourner! I have a sweet message for thee; and I pray the Lord that thou mayest find Christ on the spot where thou art now standing or sitting, and rejoice in a pardon bought with blood.
I shall now proceed to consider the case of a man who is awakened, and is seeking Christ, but who, at present, has not, to his own apprehension, found him. First, I shall notice some hopeful signs in this man's case; secondly, I shall try to give some reasons why it is that a gracious God delays an answer to prayer in the case of penitent sinners; and then, thirdly, I shall close by giving some brief and suitable advice to those who have been seeking Christ, but have up to the present time found it a hopeless search.
I. First, then, observe that THERE ARE SOME VERY HOPEFUL SIGNS IN THE CASE OF THE MAN WHO HAS BEEN SEEKING CHRIST, THOUGH HE MAY NOT HAVE FOUND HIM.
Taking the text as the basis of observation, I notice, as one hopeful sign, that the man has only one object, and that is, that he may find Christ. "Oh that I knew where I might fled him!" The worldling's cry is, "Who will show us any good; --this good, that good, or any other good, --fifty kinds of good: who will show us any of these?" But the quickened sinner knows of only one good, and he cries, "Oh that I knew where I might find HIM!" When the sinner is truly awakened to feel his guilt, if you could pour the gold of India at his feet, he would say, "Take it away; I want to find HIM." If you could then give him all the joys and delights of the flesh, he would tell you he had tried all these, and they but cloyed upon his appetite. His only cry is, "Oh that I knew where I might find HIM!"
These will never satisfy; Give me Christ, or else I die.
It is a blessed thing for a man when he has brought his desires into a focus; while he has fifty different wishes, his heart resembles a pool of water, which is spread over a marsh, breeding miasma and pestilence; but when all his desires are brought into one channel, his heart becomes like a river of pure water, running along, and fertilizing the fields. Happy is the man who has only one desire, if that one desire is set on Christ, even though it may not yet have been realized. If it be his desire, it is a blessed sign of the divine work within him. Such a man will never be content with mere ordinances. Other men will go up to God's house, and when they have heard the sermon, they will be satisfied; but not so this man; he will say, "Oh that I knew where I might find HIM!" His neighbor, who hears the discourse, will be content; but this man will say, "I want more than that; I want to find Christ in it." Another man will go to the communion table; he will eat the bread, and drink the wine, and that will be enough for him; but the quickened sinner will say, "No bread, no wine, will satisfy me; I want Christ, I must have him. Mere ordinances are of no use to me; I want not the Savior's clothes, I want himself. Do not offer me these things; you are only bringing me the empty pitcher while I am dying of thirst; give me water, the Water of life, or I shall die. It is Christ that I want." This man's cry is, as we have it here in our text, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!"
Is this thy condition, my friend, at this moment? Hast thou but one desire, and is that desire that thou mayest find Christ? Then, as the Lord liveth, thou art not far from the kingdom of heaven. Hast thou but one wish in thy heart, and is that one wish that thou mayest be washed from all thy sins in Jesus' blood? Canst thou really say, "I would give all I have to be a Christian; I would give up everything I have and hope for, if I might but feel that I have an interest in the person and death of Christ"? Then, poor soul, despite all thy fears, be of good cheer; the Lord loveth thee, and thou shalt come out into the daylight soon, and rejoice in the liberty wherewith Christ makes men free.
There is another hopeful sign about this anxious enquirer; not only has the man this one desire, but it is an intense desire. Hear the text again: "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" There is an "Oh!" here; this proves an intensity of desire. There are some men who are apparently very religious, but their religion is never more than skin deep, it does not reach as far as their heart. They can talk of it finely, but they never feel it; it does not well up from the heart, and that is a bad spring that only comes from the lip. But this character whom I am describing is no hypocrite: he means what he says. Other men will say, "Yes, we should like to be Christians; we should like to be pardoned; we should like to be forgiven." And so they would; but they would like to go on in sin, too. They would like to be saved, but they would also like to live in sin; they want to hold with the hare and run with the hounds. They have no desire whatever to give up their sins; they would like to be pardoned for all their past transgressions, and then go on just the same as before. Their wish is of no use, because it is so superficial; but when the sinner is really quickened, there is nothing superficial about him then. His cry is, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" and that cry comes from his very heart.
Art thou in that condition, my friend? Is thy sigh a real one? Is thy groan no mere fancy, but a real groan from the heart? Is that tear which steals down thy cheek a genuine tear of penitence, which is the evidence of the grief of thy spirit? I think I hear you saying, "Sir, if you knew me, you would not ask me that question, my friends say I am miserable day after day, and so indeed I am. I go to my chamber, at the top of the house, and often do I cry to God; ay, sir, I cry in such a style that I would not, have anyone hear me; I cry, with groans and tears, that I may be brought near to God; I do mean what I say." Then, beloved, thou shalt be saved; so surely as it is a real emotion of the heart, God will not let thee perish. Never was there a sinner whose inmost spirit cried to the Lord for salvation, who was not already loved of God; never was there one who, with all his might, desired to be saved, and whose soul groaned out that desire in hearty prayer, who was cast away by God. His mercy may tarry, but it will come. Pray on still; he will hear thee at last, and thou shalt yet "rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
But notice again that, in the text, there is an admission of ignorance, which is another very hopeful sign. "Oh that I knew!" Many people think they know everything, and, consequently, they know nothing. I think it is Seneca who says, "Many a man would have been wise if he had not thought himself so; if he had but known himself to be a fool, he would have become wise." The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is s knowledge of our own ignorance; he cannot learn aright who has not first been taught that he knows nothing. A sense of ignorance is a very excellent sign of grace. It is a singular thing, that every man seems to think himself qualified to be a Doctor of Divinity; a man who knows nothing of any other science, fancies he perfectly understands this greatest of all sciences; and, alas! alas! for those who think they know so much about God's things, and yet have never been taught of God! Man's school is not God's school. A man may go to all the Colleges in creation, and know as little of theology when he comes out as when he went into them. It is a good thing for a man to feel that he is only beginning to learn, and to be willing to open his mind to the teaching of God's Spirit, that he may be guided in everything by him. He that is foolish enough to fancy that he knoweth everything need not thinly himself a Christian; he that boasteth that he understands all mysteries needeth to fear as to his true state; but the quickened soul prays to the Lord, "Teach thou me." We become little children when God begins t o deal with us. Before that, we were big, tall men and women, and oh! so wise; but when he takes us in hand, he cuts us down to the stature of children, and we are put on the form of humility, to learn the true lessons of wisdom, and then we are taught the mysteries of the kingdom. Happy art thou, O man, if thou knowest thyself to know nothing! If God hath emptied thee of thy carnal wisdom, he will fill thee with that which is heavenly; if he hath taught thee thine ignorance, he will teach thee his wisdom, and bring thee to himself; and if thou art taught to reject all thy knowings and findings-out, God will certainly reveal himself to thee.
There is one more hopeful sign in my text that I must mention. It is this, the person I have spoken of is quite careless where it is he finds Christ, so that he does find him. Do you know, beloved, that people, when they really feel the weight and the guilt of their sins, are the worst people in the world to sticker up for sects? Other men can fight with their fellow-creatures about various minor matters; but a poor awakened sinner says, "Lord, I will be glad to meet thee anywhere." When we have never seen ourselves to be sinners, we are the most respectable religionists in the world; we venerate every nail in the church or chapel door, and we would not have anyone differ from us on any point of doctrine or practice; but when we feel our sins, we say, "Lord, if I could find thee anywhere, I would be glad; if I could find thee at the Baptist meeting-house, if I could find thee in the Independent chapel, I should be glad enough to go there. I have always attended a large, handsome church; but if I could find thee in that little despised meeting-house, I should be glad to go there; though it would be degrading to my rank and respectability, there would I go to find my Savior." Some are foolish enough to think that they would rather not have Christ, if he goes anywhere except to their own church; they must keep to their own sect, and can by no means overstep the line.
It is a marvellous thing, but I believe I only describe the experience of many whom I am now addressing, when I say that there are very few of you who were brought to know the Lord where you were in the habit of attending. You have perhaps worshipped there since you were converted; but it was not your father's church, not the place where you were born and bred, but some other into which you strayed for a time, where the King's arrows stuck fast in your heart. I know it was so with me; I never thought of going to the chapel where I was first brought to know the Lord, but it snowed so hard that I could not go to my ordinary place of worship, so I was obliged to go to the little Primitive Methodist meeting; and when I got in, the preacher read his text: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." It was a blessed text, and it was blessedly applied to my soul; but if there had been any stickling as to going into other places, I should not have been there. So the awakened sinner says, "' Oh that I knew where I might hand him! ' Only let me know where Christ is to be found; let the minister be the most despised in the world, I will go and hear him; let the sect to which he belongs be the most calumniated and slandered, there I will be found seeking him. If I can but find Christ, I will be content to meet him anywhere." If divers can go into the deeps to bring up pearls, we should not be ashamed sometimes to dive deep to bring up precious jewels of grace. Men will do anything to get gold; they will world in the most muddy streams, or under the most scorching sun; surely, then, we ought not to mind how much we stoop, if we find that which is more precious than gold and silver, even "Jesus Christ and him crucified." Is this also thy feeling? Then, beloved, I have not only a hope of thee, but I have a certainty concerning thee; if thou art brought to cry out, in all the senses I have mentioned, "Oh that I knew where I might God him!" then, assuredly, the Lord hath begun a good work in thee, and he will carry it on even unto the end.
II. But now, for my second point, I SHALL ENDEAVOR TO GIVE SOME REASONS WHY IT IS THAT A GRACIOUS GOD DELAYS AN ANSWER TO THE PRAYER OF PENITENT SINNERS.
Methinks I hear someone asking, "How is it that God does not give a man comfort as soon as he repents? Why is it that the Lord makes some of his people wait in bondage when they are longing for liberty?"
In the first place, it is to display his own sovereignty. Ah! that is a word that is not often mentioned in pulpits. Divine sovereignty is a very unfashionable doctrine. Few people care to hear of a God who doeth as he pleaseth, who is absolute monarch over man, who knoweth of no law but his own will, which is always the will to do that which is right, to do good to those whom he hath ordained unto eternal life, and to scatter mercy lavishly upon all his creatures. But we assert that there is such a thing as divine sovereignty, and more especially in the work of salvation. God seems to me to argue thus, " If I gave to all men peace so soon as they asked for it, they would begin to think they had a right to it. Now, I will make some of them wait, so that they may see that the mercy is absolutely in my hand; and that, if I chose to withhold it altogether, I might do so most justly; and so I will make men see that it is a gift of my free grace, and not of their own deserving." In some of our squares, where the owners are anxious to keep the right of way in their own hands, they sometimes shut the gates, not because they would inconvenience us, but because they would have the public see that, although they let them through, yet they have no right of way, and might be excluded if the proprietors pleased. So is it with God: he says, "Man, if I eave thee, it is entirely of my own will and pleasure; my grace I give, not because thou deservest it, for then it were no grace at all; but I give it to the moat undeserving of men, that I may maintain my right to dispense it as I please." And I take it that this is the best way of proving God's sovereignty, namely, his making delay between penitence and faith, or between penitence and that faith which brings peace with God and joy in the Holy Ghost. I think that is one very important reason.
But there is another. God sometimes delayeth manifesting his forgiving mercy to men, in order that they may find out some secret sin. There is something hidden in their hearts of which they do not know. They come to God confessing their sins, and they think they have make a clean breast of all their transgressions. "Nay," saith God, "I will not give you pardon yet, or I will not at present apply it to your conscience; there is a secret sin you have not yet discovered;" and he sets the heart to examine itself again, as Jerusalem is searched with candles, and, lo! there is some iniquity dragged out from the corner in which it was hidden. Conscience says, "I never knew of this sin before; I never felt it to be a sin; Lord, I repeat of it; wilt thou not forgive me?" "Ah!" saith the mighty Maker, "now I have proved thee, and tried thee, and cast out this dross, I will speak to thee the word of consolation and comfort." Art thou, then, a mourner, seeking rest, and not finding it? I beseech thee, look into thine heart once more. Perhaps there is some hidden lust there, some secret sin; if so, turn the traitor out. Then will the Holy Spirit come and dwell in thy soul, and give unto thee "the peace of God which passeth all understanding."
Another reason why God delayeth his mercy is, that he may make us more useful in after life. A Christian man is never made thoroughly useful until he has passed through suffering; I do not think there is much good done by a man who has never been afflicted. We must first prove in our own hearts and lives the truths we are afterwards to preach, or we shall never preach them with effect; and if we are private Christians, we can never be of much use to our fellow-men unless we have passed through trials similar to those which they have had to endure. So God makes some of his people wait a long time before he gives them the manifestation of their pardon, in order that, in after days, they may comfort others. The Lord is saying, to many a tried soul," I need thee t o be a consolation to others; therefore I will make thee full of grief, and drunken with wormwood, so that, when thou shalt, in after years, meet with the mourner, thou mayest say to him, 'I have suffered and endured the same trial that thou art passing through. '" There are none so fit to comfort others as those who have once needed comfort themselves. Then take heart, poor afflicted one, perhaps the Lord designs thee for a great work. He is keeping thee low in bondage, and doubt, and fear, that he may bring thee out more clearly, and make thy light like the light of seven days, and bring forth thy righteous' ebs "fair as the moor, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." Wait, then, with patience, for God intends good to thee, and good to others through thee, by this delay.
But the delay often arises not so much from God, as from ourselves. It is ignorance of the way of salvation which keeps many a man longer in doubt than he would be if he knew more about it. I do not hesitate to alarm that one of the hardest things for a sinner to understand is the way of salvation, It seems the plainest thing in all the world; nothing appears more simple than "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." But when the sinner is led to feel himself a sinner, he finds it not so easy to understand as he thought. We tell a man that with all their blackness, sinners may be pardoned; that, with all their sins, they can be forgiven freely for Christ's sake. "But," says the man when he feels himself to be black, "do you mean to tell me that I am to be made whiter than snow? Do you really mean that I, who am lost, am to be saved, not through anything I do, or hope to do, but purely through what Another did ?" He can hardly believe it possible; he will have it that he must do something; he must do this, or that, or the other, to help Christ; and the hardest thing in the world is to bring a man to see that salvation is of the Lord alone, and not at all of himself; that it is God's free and perfect gift, which leaves nothing of ours to be added to it, but is given to us to cover us completely, from head to foot, without anything of our own. Men will conceive what God would not have them imagine, and they will not receive that which God would have them embrace. It may be very easy to talk of certain cures, and to read of them; we may say, "Such-and-such a medicine is very effective, and will work such-and-such a cure;" but when we are ourselves sick, we are often very dubious about the medicine; and if, having taken draught after draught of it, we find that it does not help us, perhaps we are brought to think that, though it may cure others, it cannot cure us, because there has been such delay in its operation. So the poor soul thinks of the gospel, "Certainly it cannot heal me;" and then he misunderstands the nature of the sacred medicine altogether, and begins to take the law instead of the gospel. Now the law never saved anyone yet, though it has condemned full many in its time, and will condemn us all unless we receive the gospel.
If any man here should be in doubt on account of ignorance, let me, as plainly as I can, state the gospel. I believe it to be wrapped up in one word, Substitution. I have always considered, with Luther and Calvin, that the sum and substance of the gospel lies in that word, Substitution, Christ standing in the stead of man. If I understand the gospel, it is this: I deserve to be lost and ruined; the only reason why I should not be damned is this, that Christ was punished in my stead, and there is no need to execute a sentence twice for the same sin. On the other hand, I know that I cannot enter heaven unless I have a perfect righteousness; I am absolutely certain I shall never have one of my own, for I find that I sin every day; but then Christ had a perfect righteousness, and he said, "There, take my garment, put it on; you shall stand before God as if you were Christ, and I will stand before God as if I had been the sinner; I will suffer in the sinner's stead, and you shall be rewarded for works which you did not do, but which I did for you." I think the whole substance of salvation lies in the thought that Christ stood in the place of man. The prisoner is in the dock, he is about to be taken away to death; he deserves to die, for he has been a great criminal. But before he is removed, the judge asks whether there is any possible plan whereby the prisoner's life can be spared. Up rises one who is himself pure and perfect, and has known no sin, and by the allowance of the judge, for that is necessary, he steps into the dock, and says, "Consider me to be the prisoner; pass the sentence on me, and let me die. Reckon the prisoner to be myself. I have fought for my country; I have deserved a reward for what I have done; reward him as if he had done good, and punish me as if I had committed the sin." You say, "Such a thing could not occur in an earthly court of law." No, but it has happened in God's court of law, in the great court of King's Bench where God is the Judge of all, it has happened. The Savior said, "The sinner deserves to die; let me die in his stead, and let him be clothed in my righteousness."
To illustrate this, I will give you two instances. One is that of an ancient King, who enacted a law against a certain crime, and the punishment of anyone who committed the crime was, that he should have both his eyes put out. His own son committed the crime. The king, as a strict judge, said, "I cannot alter the law; I have said that the loss of two eyes shall be the penalty; take out one of mine and one of his." So, you see, he strictly carried out the law; but, at the same time, he was able to have mercy in part upon his son. But the case of Christ goes further than that; he did not say, "Exact half the penalty of me, and half of the sinner;" he said, "Put both my eyes out; nail me to the tree; let me die; let me take all the guilt away, and then the sinner may go free." We have heard of another case, that of two brothers, one of whom had been a great criminal, and was about to die, when his brother, coming into the court, decorated with medals, and having many wounds upon him, rose up to plead with the judge, that he would have mercy on the criminal for his sake. Then he began to strip himself, and show his scars,--how here and there on his big broad chest he had received sabre cuts in defense of his country. "By these wounds," he said, and he lifted up one arm, the other having been cut away, " by these my wounds, and the sufferings I have endured for my country, I beseech thee, have mercy on him." For his brother's sake, the criminal was allowed to escape the punishment that was hanging over his head. It was even so with Christ. "The sinner," he said, "deserves to die; then I will die in his stead. He deserves not to enter heaven, for he has not kept the law; but I have kept the law for him, he shall have my righteousness, and I will take his sin; and so the Just shall die for the unjust, to bring him to God."
In the first place, let me say, Go wherever Christ goes. If Christ were to walk this earth again, and heal the sick, as he did when he was here before, many sick people would enquire, "Where will Christ be tomorrow?" and, as soon as they found out where he would take his walks abroad, there they would be lying on the pavement, in the hope that, as he passed by, he would heal them. Go up, then, sick soul, to Christ's house; it is there that he meets with his people. Read his Word; it is there that he blesses them by applying sweet promises to them. Observe his ordinances; do not neglect them. Christ comes to Bethesda pool; so lie by the water, and wait till he arrives. If you cannot put in your foot, be where Christ comes. Thomas did not get the blessing, for he was not with the other disciples when the Master came to them. Stay not away from the house of God, poor seeking soul; be there whenever the doors are opened, so that, when Jesus passes by, he may haply look on thee, and say, "Thy sins are forgiven thee."
And whatever else you do, when Christ passes by, cry after him with all your might; never be satisfied until you make him stop; and if he should. frown on you, seemingly, for the moment, do not be silenced or stayed. If you are a little stirred by a sermon, pray over it; do not lose the auspicious moment. If you hear anything read which gives you some hope, lift up your heart in prayer at once. When the wind blows, then should the sails be set; and it may happen that God will give you grace to reach the harbour's mouth, and you may find the haven of perpetual rest. There was a man who was born blind, and who longed to have his sight. As he sat by the roadway,, one day, he was told that Jesus was passing by; and when he heard that, he cried after him, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me." The people wanted to hear Chris t preach, so they tried to hush the poor man; but he cried again, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." The Son of David turned not his head; he did not look upon the man, but continued his discourse; yet still the man shouted, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me." And then Jesus stopped. The disciples ran to the poor man, and said, "Be still, trouble not the Master;" but he cried so much the more, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me." And Jesus at last asked him, "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" He answered, "Lord, that I might receive my sight." He received it, "and followed Jesus in the way." Perhaps your doubts say to you, "Hush! do not pray any more;" or Satan says, "Be still; do not cry to Christ any more." Tell your doubts and fears, and the devil, too, that you will give Christ no rest till he turns his eyes upon you in love, and heals your diseases. Cry aloud unto him, O thou awakened sinner, when he is passing by!
The next piece of advice I would give you is this, think very much of Christ No way that I know of will bring you faith in Christ so well as thinking of him. I would advise you, conscience-stricken sinner, to spend an hour in meditation on Christ. You do not need to devote that time to meditation on yourself; you will get very little good from that; you may know beforehand that there is no hope for you in yourself; but spend an hour in meditation on Christ. Go, beloved, to thy most private place of seclusion, sit down, and picture Christ in the garden; think you see him there, sweating as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground. Then view him standing in Pilate's hall; behold him with his hands bound, his back streaming with blood; then follow him till you see him coming to the hill called Calvary; think you see him hurled backwards, and nailed to the tree; then lot your imagination, or rather your faith, bring before you the cross lifted up, and dashed into its socket, when every bone of Christ was put out of joint. Look at him; look at his thorn-crown, and watch the beaded drops of blood trickling down his cheek.
See from his head, his hands, his feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown! His dying crimson, like a robe, Spreads o'er his body on the tree, Then am I dead to all the globe, And all the globe is dead to me.
I know of no means, under God, so profitable for producing faith, as thinking of Christ; for whilst you are looking at him, you will say, "Blessed Jesus, didst thou die for sinners? Then, surely, my soul, his death is sufficient for thee." He is able to save unto the uttermost all those who trust in him. You may think of a doctrine for ever, and get no good from it, if you are not already saved; but think of the person of Christ, and specially of his death, for that will bring you faith. Think of him everywhere, wherever you go; try to meditate on him in all your leisure moments, and then he will reveal himself to you, and give you peace.
None of us, not even the best of Christians, think and say enough of Christ. I went into a friend's house, one day, and he said to me, as a sort of hint, I suppose, "I have known So -and-so these thirty years, without hearing anything of his religion." I said, "You will not know me thirty minutes without hearing something of mine." It is a fact that many Christian people spend their Sunday afternoons in talking about other subjects, and Jesus Christ is scarcely ever mentioned. As for poor ungodly worldlings, of course they neither say nor think anything of him; but oh, thou that knowest thyself to be a sinner, despise not the Man of sorrows! Let his bleeding hands drop on thee; look thou on his pierced side; and, looking, thou shalt live; for, remember, it is only by looking to Christ that we shall be saved, not by doing anything ourselves.
This brings me to close by saying to every awakened sinner,--If you would have peace with God, and have it now, century on Christ. We must venture on Christ, and venture wholly, or else we never can be saved; yet it is hardly right to say venture, for it is no venture; there is not a grain of haphazard in it. He that trusteth himself to Christ need never fear. "But," someone asks, "how am I t o trust Christ? What do you mean by trusting in Christ?" Why, I mean just what I say; fully rely on what Christ did for the salvation of sinners. A negro, when he was asked how he believed, said, "Massa, dis is how I believe; I fall flat down on de promise , I can't fall no lower." He had just the right idea about believing in Jesus. Believing is falling down on Christ, and looking to him to hold, you up. I will illustrate it by an anecdote which I have often told. A boy at sea who was very fond of mounting to the masthead, one day climbed to the maintop, and could not get down again. The sea was very rough, and it was seen that, in a little while, the boy would fall on the deck, and be dashed to pieces. His father saw but one way of saving his life. Seizing a speaking-trumpet, he shouted, "Boy, the next time the ship lurches, drop into the sea." The next time the ship lurched, the boy looked down, and, not at all liking the idea of throwing himself into the sea, still clung to the mast. The father, who saw that the boy's strength would soon fail him, took a gun in his hand, and cried out, "Boy, if you don't drop into the sea the next time the ship lurches, I'll shoot you!" The boy knew his father meant it, and the next time the ship lurched, he leaped into the sea. It seemed liked certain destruction, but out went a dozen brawny arms, and he was saved. The sinner, in the midst of the storm, thinks he must cling to the mast of his good works, and so be saved. Says the gospel, "Let go your own works, and drop into the ocean of God's grace." "No," says the sinner, "it is a long way between me and God's grace; I must perish if I trust to that; I must have some other reliance." "If you have any other reliance than that, you are lost." Up comes the thundering law, and declares to the sinner that, unless he does give up every dependence, he will be lost. Then follows the happy moment when the sinner says, "Dear Lord, I give up all my dependence, and cast myself on thee; I take thee, Jesus, to be my one object in life, my only trust, the refuge of my soul." Can any of you say that in your hearts? I know there are some of you who can; but are there any who could not say it when they came here, but who can say it now? Oh, I would rejoice if one such were brought to God! I am conscious that I have not preached to you as I could desire; but if one such has been brought to believe and trust in the Savior, I rejoice, for thereby God will be glorified.
But, alas! for such of you as will go away and say, "The man has talked about salvation, but what matters it to us?" You think you can afford to laugh to day at God and his gospel; but remember, men cannot afford to despise boats when their vessel is going down in a storm, although they may do so on land. Death is after you, and will soon seize you; your pulse must soon cease to beat; strong as you are now, your bones are not made of brass, nor are your ribs of steel. Sooner or later, you must lie on your lowly pallet, and there breathe out your last; or, if you be ever so rich, you must die on your curtained beds, and must depart from all your enjoyment into everlasting punishment. You will find it hard work to laugh at Christ then; you will find it dreadful work to scoff at religion then, in that day when death gets hold of you, and asks, "Will you laugh now, scour?" "Ah!" you will say, "I find it different from what I supposed; I cannot laugh now death is near me." Take warning, then, before death comes; take warning! He must be a poor ignorant man who does not insure his house before it is on fire; and he must be the greatest of fools who thinks it unnecessary to seek the salvation of his soul till he comes to the last moment, and is in peril of his life. May God give you thought and consideration, so that you may be led to flee from sin, and fly to Jesus; and may God the everlasting Father give you what I cannot,--his grace, which saveth the soul, and maketh sinners into saints, and landeth them in heaven! I can only close by repeating the words of the gospel, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Having said this, if I had said no more, I should' have preached Christ's gospel to you. The Lord give you understanding in all things, and help you to believe; for Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
Order and Argument in Prayer
Delivered on Sunday Morning, July 15th, 1866, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments." Job 23:3 ,Job 23:4
In Job's uttermost extremity he cried after the Lord. The longing desire of an afflicted child of God is once more to see his Father's face. His first prayer is not, "Oh that I might be healed of the disease which now festers in every part of my body!" nor even, "Oh that I might see my children restored from the jaws of the grave, and my property once more brought from the hand of the spoiler!" but the first and uppermost cry is, "Oh that I knew where I might find HIM who is my God! that I might come even to his seat!" God's children run home when the storm comes on. It is the heaven-born instinct of a gracious soul to seek shelter from all ills beneath the wings of Jehovah. "He that hath made his refuge God," might serve as the title of a true believer. A hypocrite, when he feels that he has been afflicted by God, resents the infliction, and, like a slave, would run from the master who has scourged him; but not so the true heir of heaven, he kisses the hand which smote him, and seeks shelter from the rod in the bosom of that very God who frowned upon him. You will observe that the desire to commune with God is intensified by the failure of all other sources of consolation. When Job first saw his friends at a distance, he may have entertained a hope that their kindly counsel and compassionate tenderness would blunt the edge of his grief; but they had not long spoken before he cried out in bitterness, "Miserable comforters are ye all." They put salt into his wounds, they heaped fuel upon the flame of his sorrow, they added the gall of their upbraidings to the wormwood of his griefs. In the sunshine of his smile they once had longed to sun themselves, and now they dare to cast shadows upon his reputation, most ungenerous and undeserved. Alas for a man when his wine-cup mocks him with vinegar, and his pillow pricks him with thorns! The patriarch turned away from his sorry friends and looked up to the celestial throne, just as a traveller turns from his empty skin bottle and betakes himself with all speed to the well. He bids farewell to earthborn hopes, and cries, "Oh that I knew where I might find my God!" My brethren, nothing teaches us so much the preciousness of the Creator as when we learn the emptiness of all besides. When you have been pierced through and through with the sentence, "Cursed is he that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm," then will you suck unutterable sweetness from the divine assurance, "Blessed is he that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is." Turning away with bitter scorn from earth's hives, where you found no honey, but many sharp stings, you will rejoice in him whose faithful word is sweeter than honey or the honeycomb.
It is further observable that though a good man hastens to God in his trouble, and runs with all the more speed because of the unkindness of his fellow men, yet sometimes the gracious soul is left without the comfortable presence of God. This is the worst of all griefs; the text is one of Job's deep groans, far deeper than any which came from him on account of the loss of his children and his property: "Oh that I knew where I might find HIM!" The worst of all losses is to lose the smile of my God. He now had a foretaste of the bitterness of his Redeemer's cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" God's presence is always with his people in one sense, so far as secretly sustaining them is concerned, but his manifest presence they do not always enjoy. Like the spouse in the song, they seek their beloved by night upon their bed, they seek him but they find him not; and though they wake and roam through the city they may not discover him, and the question may be sadly asked again and again, "Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" You may be beloved of God, and yet have no consciousness of that love in your soul. You may be as dear to his heart as Jesus Christ himself, and yet for a small moment he may forsake you, and in a little wrath he may hide himself from you. But, dear friends, at such times the desire of the believing soul gathers yet greater intensity from the fact of God's light being withheld. Instead of saying with proud lip, "Well, if he leaveth me I must do without him; if I cannot have his comfortable presence I must fight on as best may be," the soul saith, "No, it is my very life; I must have my God. I perish, I sink in deep mire where there is no standing, and nothing but the arm of God can deliver me." The gracious soul addresseth itself with a double zeal to find out God, and sends up its groans, its entreaties, its sobs and sighs to heaven more frequently and fervently. "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" Distance or labour are as nothing; if the soul only knew where to go she would soon overleap the distance. She makes no stipulation about mountains or rivers, but vows that if she knew where, she would come even to his seat. My soul in her hunger would break through stone walls, or scale the battlements of heaven to reach her God, and though there were seven hells between me and him, yet would I face the flame if I might reach him, nothing daunted if I had but the prospect of at last standing in his presence and feeling the delight of his love. That seems to me to be the state of mind in which Job pronounced the words before us.
But we cannot stop upon this point, for the object of this morning's discourse beckons us onward. It appears that Job's end, in desiring the presence of God, was that he might pray to him. He had prayed, but he wanted to pray as in God's presence. He desired to plead as before one whom he knew would hear and help him. He longed to state his own case before the seat of the impartial Judge, before the very face of the all-wise God; he would appeal from the lower courts, where his friends judged unrighteous judgment, to the Court of King's Bench the High Court of heaven there, saith he, "I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments."
In this latter verse Job teaches us how he meant to plead and intercede with God. He does, as it were, reveal the secrets of his closet, and unveils the art of prayer. We are here admitted into the guild of suppliants; we are shown the art and mystery of pleading; we have here taught to us the blessed handicraft and science of prayer, and if we can be bound apprentice to Job this morning, for the next hour, and can have a lesson from Job's Master, we may acquire no little skill in interceding with God.
There are two things here set forth as necessary in prayer ordering of our cause, and filling our mouth with arguments. We shall speak of those two things, and then if we have rightly learned the lesson, a blessed result will follow.
I. First, IT IS NEEDFUL THAT OUR SUIT BE ORDERED BEFORE GOD.
There is a vulgar notion that prayer is a very easy thing, a kind of common business that may be done anyhow, without care or effort. Some think that you have only to reach a book down and get through a certain number of very excellent words, and you have prayed and may put the book up again; others suppose that to use a book is superstitious, and that you ought rather to repeat extemporaneous sentences, sentences which come to your mind with a rush, like a herd of swine or a pack of hounds, and that when you have uttered them with some little attention to what you have said, you have prayed. Now neither of these modes of prayer were adopted by ancient saints. They appear to have thought a great deal more seriously of prayer than many do now-a-days. It seems to have been a mighty business with them, a long-practised exercise, in which some of them attained great eminence, and were thereby singularly blest. They reaped great harvests in the field of prayer, and found the mercy seat to be a mine of untold treasures.
The ancient saints were wont, with Job, to order their cause before God; that is to say, as a petitioner coming into Court does not come there without thought to state his case on the spur of the moment, but enters into the audience chamber with his suit well prepared, having moreover learned how he ought to behave himself in the presence of the great One to whom he is appealing. It is well to approach the seat of the King of kings as much as possible with pre-meditation and preparation, knowing what we are about, where we are standing, and what it is which we desire to obtain. In times of peril and distress we may fly to God just as we are, as the dove enters the cleft of the rock, even though her plumes are ruffled; but in ordinary times we should not come with an unprepared spirit, even as a child comes not to his father in the morning till he has washed his face. See yonder priest; he has a sacrifice to offer, but he does not rush into the court of the priests and hack at the bullock with the first pole-axe upon which he can lay his hand, but when he rises he washes his feet at the brazen laver, he puts on his garments, and adorns himself with his priestly vestments; then he comes to the altar with his victim properly divided according to the law, and is careful to do according to the command, even to such a simple matter as the placing of the fat, and the liver, and the kidneys, and he taketh the blood in a bowl and poureth it in an appropriate place at the foot of the altar, not throwing it just as may occur to him, and kindles the fire not with common flame, but with the sacred fire from off the altar. Now this ritual is all superseded, but the truth which it taught remains the same; our spiritual sacrifices should be offered with holy carefulness. God forbid that our prayer should be a mere leaping out of one's bed and kneeling down, and saying anything that comes first to hand; on the contrary, may we wait upon the Lord with holy fear and sacred awe. See how David prayed when God had blessed him he went in before the Lord. Understand that; he did not stand outside at a distance, but he went in before the Lord and he sat down for sitting is not a bad posture for prayer, let who will speak against it and sitting down quietly and calmly before the Lord he then began to pray, but not until first he had thought over the divine goodness, and so attained to the spirit of prayer. Then by the assistance of the Holy Ghost did he open his mouth. Oh that we oftener sought the Lord in this style! Abraham may serve us as a pattern; he rose up early here was his willingness; he went three days journey here was his zeal; he left his servants at the foot of the hill here was his privacy; he carried the wood and the fire with him here was his preparation; and lastly, he built the altar and laid the wood in order, and then took the knife here was the devout carefulness of his worship. David puts it, "In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up"; which I have frequently explained to you to mean that he marshalled his thoughts like men of war, or that he aimed his prayers like arrows. He did not take the arrow and put it on the bowstring and shoot, and shoot, and shoot anywhere; but after he had taken out the chosen shaft, and fitted it to the string, he took deliberate aim. He looked looked well at the white of the target; kept his eye fixed on it, directing his prayer, and then drew his bow with all his strength and let the arrow fly; and then, when the shaft had left his hand, what does he say? "I will look up." He looked up to see where the arrow went, to see what effect it had; for he expected an answer to his prayers, and was not as many who scarcely think of their prayers after they have uttered them. David knew that he had an engagement before him which required all his mental powers; he marshalled up his faculties and went about the work in a workmanlike manner, as one who believed in it and meant to succeed. We should plough carefully and pray carefully. The better the work the more attention it deserves. To be anxious in the shop and thoughtless in the closet is little less than blasphemy, for it is an insinuation that anything will do for God, but the world must have our best.
If any ask what order should be observed in prayer, I am not about to give you a scheme such as many have drawn out, in which adoration, confession, petition, intercession, and ascription are arranged in succession. I am not persuaded that any such order is of divine authority. It is to no mere mechanical order I have been referring, for our prayers will be equally acceptable, and possibly equally proper, in any form; for there are specimens of prayers, in all shapes, in the Old and New Testament. The true spiritual order of prayer seems to me to consist in something more than mere arrangement. It is most fitting for us first to feel that we are now doing something that is real; that we are about to address ourselves to God, whom we cannot see, but who is really present; whom we can neither touch nor hear, nor by our senses can apprehend, but who, nevertheless, is as truly with us as though we were speaking to a friend of flesh and blood like ourselves. Feeling the reality of God's presence, our mind will be led by divine grace into an humble state; we shall feel like Abraham, when he said, "I have taken upon myself to speak unto God, I that am but dust and ashes." Consequently we shall not deliver ourselves of our prayer as boys repeating their lessons, as a mere matter of rote, much less shall we speak as if we were rabbis instructing our pupils, or as I have heard some do, with the coarseness of a highwayman stopping a person on the road and demanding his purse of him; but we shall be humble yet bold petitioners, humbly importuning mercy through the Saviour's blood. We shall not have the reserve of a slave but the loving reverence of a child, yet not an impudent, impertinent child, but a teachable obedient child, honouring his Father, and therefore asking earnestly, but with deferential submission to his Father's will. When I feel that I am in the presence of God, and take my rightful position in that presence, the next thing I shall want to recognize will be that I have no right to what I am seeking, and cannot expect to obtain it except as a gift of grace, and I must recollect that God limits the channel through which he will give me mercy he will give it to me through his dear Son. Let me put myself then under the patronage of the great Redeemer. Let me feel that now it is no longer I that speak but Christ that speaketh with me, and that while I plead, I plead his wounds, his life, his death, his blood, himself. This is truly getting into order.
The next thing is to consider what I am to ask for? It is most proper in prayer, to aim at great distinctness of supplication. There is much reason to complain of some public prayers, that those who offer them do not really ask God for anything. I must acknowledge I fear to having so prayed myself, and certainly to having heard many prayers of the kind, in which I did not feel that anything was sought for from God a great deal of very excellent doctrinal and experimental matter uttered, but little real petitioning, and that little in a nebulous kind of state, chaotic and unformed. But it seems to me that prayer should be distinct, the asking for something definitely and distinctly because the mind has realized its distinct need of such a thing, and therefore must plead for it. It is well not to beat round the bush in prayer, but to come directly to the point. I like that prayer of Abraham's, "Oh that Ishmael might live before thee!" There is the name and the person prayed for, and the blessing desired, all put in a few words, "Ishmael might live before thee!" Many persons would have used a roundabout expression of this kind, "Oh that our beloved offspring might be regarded with the favour which thou bearest to those who," etc. Say "Ishmael," if you mean "Ishmael"; put it in plain words before the Lord. Some people cannot even pray for the minister without using such circular descriptives that you might think it were the parish beadle, or somebody whom it did not do to mention too particularly. Why not be distinct, and say what we mean as well as mean what we say? Ordering our cause would bring us to greater distinctness of mind. It is not necessary, my dear brethren, in the closet to ask for every supposable good thing; it is not necessary to rehearse the catalogue of every want that you may have, have had, can have, or shall have. Ask for what you now need, and, as a rule, keep to present need; ask for your daily bread what you want now ask for that. Ask for it plainly, as before God, who does not regard your fine expressions, and to whom your eloquence and oratory will be less than nothing and vanity. Thou art before the Lord; let thy words be few, but let thy heart be fervent.
You have not quite completed the ordering when you have asked for what you want through Jesus Christ. There should be a looking round the blessing which you desire, to see whether it is assuredly a fitting thing to ask; for some prayers would never be offered if men did but think. A little reflection would show to us that some things which we desire were better let alone. We may, moreover, have a motive at the bottom of our desire which is not Christ-like, a selfish motive, which forgets God's glory and caters only for our own case and comfort. Now although we may ask for things which are for our profit, yet still we must never let our profit interfere in any way with the glory of God. There must be mingled with acceptable prayer the holy salt of submission to the divine will. I like Luther's saying, "Lord, I will have my will of thee at this time." "What!" say you, "Like such an expression as that?" I do, because of the next clause, which was, "I will have my will, for I know that my will is thy will." That is well spoken, Luther; but without the last words it would have been wicked presumption. When we are sure that what we ask for is for God's glory, then, if we have power in prayer, we may say, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me": we may come to close dealings with God, and like Jacob with the angel we may even put it to the wrestle and seek to give the angel the fall sooner than be sent away without the benediction. But we must be quite clear, before we come to such terms as those, that what we are seeking is really for the Master's honour.
Put these three things together, the deep spirituality which recognises prayer as being real conversation with the invisible God much distinctness which is the reality of prayer, asking for what we know we want and withal much fervency, believing the thing to be necessary, and therefore resolving to obtain it if it can be had by prayer, and above all these complete submission, leaving it still with the Master's will; commingle all these, and you have a clear idea of what it is to order your cause before the Lord.
Still prayer itself is an art which only the Holy Ghost can teach us. He is the giver of all prayer. Pray for prayer pray till you can pray; pray to be helped to pray, and give not up praying because thou canst not pray, for it is when thou thinkest thou canst not pray that thou art most praying; and sometimes when thou hast no sort of comfort in thy supplications, it is then that thy heart all broken and cast down is really wrestling and truly prevailing with the Most High.
II. The second part of prayer is FILLING THE MOUTH WITH ARGUMENTS not filling the mouth with words nor good phrases, nor pretty expressions, but filling the mouth with arguments are the knocks of the rapper by which the gate is opened.
Why are arguments to be used at all? is the first enquiry; the reply being, Certainly not because God is slow to give, not because we can change the divine purpose, not because God needeth to be informed of any circumstance with regard to ourselves or of anything in connection with the mercy asked: the arguments to be used are for our own benefit, not for his. He requires for us to plead with him, and to bring forth our strong reasons, as Isaiah saith, because this will show that we feel the value of the mercy. When a man searches for arguments for a thing it is because he attaches importance to that which he is seeking. Again, our use of arguments teaches us the ground upon which we obtain the blessing. If a man should come with the argument of his own merit, he would never succeed; the successful argument is always founded upon grace, and hence the soul so pleading is made to understand intensely that it is by grace and by grace alone that a sinner obtaineth anything of the Lord. Besides, the use of arguments is intended to stir up our fervency. The man who uses one argument with God will get more force in using the next, and will use the next with still greater power, and the next with more force still. The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument. Sometimes my soul has been fairly melted down when I have listened to brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it, for they first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second, and then for a third, and then for a fourth and a fifth, until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly. My brethren, there is no need for prayer at all as far as God is concerned, but what a need there is for it on our own account! If we were not constrained to pray, I question whether we could even live as Christians. If God's mercies came to us unasked, they would not be half so useful as they now are, when they have to be sought for; for now we get a double blessing, a blessing in the obtaining, and a blessing in the seeking. The very act of prayer is a blessing. To pray is as it were to bathe one's-self in a cool purling stream, and so to escape from the heats of earth's summer sun. To pray is to mount on eagle's wings above the clouds and get into the clear heaven where God dwelleth. To pray is to enter the treasure-house of God and to enrich one's-self out of an inexhaustible storehouse. To pray is to grasp heaven in one's arms, to embrace the Deity within one's soul, and to feel one's body made a temple of the Holy Ghost. Apart from the answer prayer is in itself a benediction. To pray, my brethren, is to cast off your burdens, it is to tear away your rags, it is to shake off your diseases, it is to be filled with spiritual vigour, it is to reach the highest point of Christian health. God give us to be much in the holy art of arguing with God in prayer.
The most interesting part of our subject remains; it is a very rapid summary and catalogue of a few of the arguments which have been used with great success with God. I cannot give you a full list; that would require a treatise such as Master John Owen might produce. It is well in prayer to plead with Jehovah his attributes. Abraham did so when he laid hold upon God's justice. Sodom was to be pleaded for, and Abraham begins, "Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? that be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Here the wrestling begins. It was a powerful argument by which the patriarch grasped the Lord's left hand, and arrested it just when the thunderbolt was about to fall. But there came a reply to it. It was intimated to him that this would not spare the city, and you notice how the good man, when sorely pressed, retreated by inches; and at last, when he could no longer lay hold upon justice, grasped God's right hand of mercy, and that gave him a wondrous hold when he asked that if there were but ten righteous there the city might be spared. So you and I may take hold at any time upon the justice, the mercy, the faithfulness, the wisdom, the long-suffering, the tenderness of God, and we shall find every attribute of the Most High to be, as it were, a great battering-ram, with which we may open the gates of heaven.
Another mighty piece of ordinance in the battle of prayer is God's promise. When Jacob was on the other side of the brook Jabbok, and his brother Esau was coming with armed men, he pleaded with God not to suffer Esau to destroy the mother and the children, and as a master reason he pleaded, "And thou saidst, surely I will do thee good." Oh the force of that plea! He was holding God to his word: "Thou saidst." The attribute is a splendid horn of the altar to lay hold upon; but the promise, which has in it the attribute and something more, is yet a mightier holdfast. "Thou saidst." Remember how David put it. After Nathan had spoken the promise, David said at the close of his prayer, "Do as thou hast said." That is a legitimate argument with every honest man, and has he said, and shall he not do it? "Let God be true, and every man a liar." Shall not he be true? Shall he not keep his word? Shall not every word that cometh out of his lips stand fast and be fulfilled? Solomon, at the opening of the temple, used this same mighty plea. He pleads with God to remember the word which he had spoken to his father David, and to bless that place. When a man gives a promissory note his honour is engaged. He signs his hand, and he must discharge it when the due time comes, or else he loses credit. It shall never be said that God dishonours his bills. The credit of the Most High never was impeached, and never shall be. He is punctual to the moment; he never is before his time, but he never is behind it. You shall search this Book through, and you shall compare it with the experience of God's people, and the two tally from the first to the last; and many a hoary patriarch has said with Joshua in his old age, "Not one good thing hath failed of all that the Lord God hath promised: all hath come to pass." My brother, if you have a divine promise, you need not plead it with an "if" in it; you may plead with a certainty. If for the mercy which you are now asking, you have God's solemnly pledged word, there will scarce be any room for the caution about submission to his will. You know his will: that will is in the promise; plead it. Do not give him rest until he fulfil it. He meant to fulfil it, or else he would not have given it. God does not give his words merely to quiet our noise, and to keep us hopeful for awhile, with the intention of putting us off at last; but when he speaks, he speaks because he means to act.
A third argument to be used is that employed by Moses, the great name of God. How mightily did he argue with God on one occasion upon this ground! "What wilt thou do for thy great name? The Egyptians will say, Because the Lord could not bring them into the land, therefore he slew them in the wilderness." There are some occasions when the name of God is very closely tied up with the history of his people. Sometimes in reliance upon a divine promise, a believer will be led to take a certain course of action. Now, if the Lord should not be as good as his promise, not only is the believer deceived, but the wicked world looking on would say, "Aha! aha! Where is your God?" Take the case of our respected brother, Mr. Muller, of Bristol. These many years he has declared that God hears prayer, and firm in that conviction, he has gone on to build house after house for the maintenance of orphans. Now, I can very well conceive that, if he were driven to a point of want of means for the maintenance of those thousand or two thousand children, he might very well use the plea, "What wilt thou do for thy great name?" And you, in some severe trouble, when you have fairly received the promise, may say, "Lord, thou hast said, 'In six troubles I will be with thee, and in seven I will not forsake thee.' I have told my friends and neighbours that I put my trust in thee, and if thou do not deliver me now, where is thy name? Arise, O God, and do this thing, lest thy honour be cast into the dust." Coupled with this, we may employ the further argument of the hard things said by the revilers. It was well done of Hezekiah, when he took Rabshakeh's letter and spread it before the Lord. Will that help him? It is full of blasphemy, will that help him? "Where are the gods of Arphad and Sepharvaim? Where are the gods of the cities which I have overthrown? Let not Hezekiah deceive you, saying that Jehovah will deliver you." Does that have any effect? Oh! yes, it was a blessed thing that Rabshakeh wrote that letter, for it provoked the Lord to help his people. Sometimes the child of God can rejoice when he sees his enemies get thoroughly out of temper and take to reviling. "Now," he says, "they have reviled the Lord himself; not me alone have they assailed, but the Most High himself. Now it is no longer the poor insignificant Hezekiah with his little band of soldiers, but it is Jehovah, the King of angels, who has come to fight against Rabshakeh. Now what wilt thou do, O boastful soldier of proud Sennacherib? Shalt not thou be utterly destroyed, since Jehovah himself has come into the fray? All the progress that is made by Popery, all the wrong things said by speculative atheists and so on, should be by Christians used as an argument with God, why he should help the gospel. Lord; see how they reproach the gospel of Jesus! Pluck thy right hand out of thy bosom! O God, they defy thee! Anti-christ thrusts itself into the place where thy Son once was honoured, and from the very pulpits where the gospel was once preached Popery is now declared. Arise, O God, wake up thy zeal, let thy sacred passions burn! Thine ancient foe again prevails. Behold the harlot of Babylon once more upon her scarlet-coloured beast rides forth in triumph! Come, Jehovah, come, Jehovah, and once again show what thy bare arm can do! This is a legitimate mode of pleading with God, for his great name's sake.
So also may we plead the sorrows of his people. This is frequently done. Jeremiah is the great master of this art. He says, "Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: their visage is blacker than a coal." "The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!" He talks of all their griefs and straitnesses in the siege. He calls upon the Lord to look upon his suffering Zion; and ere long his plaintive cries are heard. Nothing so eloquent with the father as his child's cry; yes, there is one thing more mighty still, and that is a moan, when the child is so sick that it is past crying, and lies moaning with that kind of moan which indicates extreme suffering and intense weakness. Who can resist that moan? Ah! and when God's Israel shall be brought very low so that they can scarcely cry but only their moans are heard, then comes the Lord's time of deliverance, and he is sure to show that he loveth his people. Dear friends, whenever you also are brought into the same condition you may plead your moanings, and when you see a church brought very low you may use her griefs as an argument why God should return and save the remnant of his people.
Brethren, it is good to plead with God the past. Ah, you experienced people of God, you know how to do this. Here is David's specimen of it: "Thou hast been my help. Leave me not, neither forsake me." He pleads God's mercy to him from his youth up. He speaks of being cast upon his God from his very birth, and then he pleads, "Now also, when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not." Moses also, speaking with God, says, "Thou didst bring this people up out of Egypt." As if he would say, "Do not leave thy work unfinished; thou hast begun to build, complete it. Thou hast fought the first battle; Lord, end the campaign! Go on till thou gettest a complete victory." How often have we cried in our trouble, "Lord, thou didst deliver me in such and such a sharp trial, when it seemed as if no help were near; thou hast never forsaken me yet. I have set up my Ebenezer in thy name. If thou hadst intended to leave me why hast thou showed me such things? Hast thou brought thy servant to this place to put him to shame?" Brethren, we have to deal with an unchanging God, who will do in the future what he has done in the past, because he never turns from his purpose, and cannot be thwarted in his design; the past thus becomes a very mighty means of winning blessings from him.
We may even use our own unworthiness as an argument with God. "Out of the eater comes forth meat, and out of the strong comes forth sweetness." David in one place pleads thus: "Lord, have mercy upon mine iniquity, for it is great." That is a very singular mode of reasoning; but being interpreted it means, "Lord, why shouldest thou go about doing little things? Thou art a great God, and here is a great sinner. Here is a fitness in me for the display of thy grace. The greatness of my sin makes me a platform for the greatness of thy mercy. Let the greatness of thy love be seen in me." Moses seems to have the same on his mind when he asks God to show his great power in sparing his sinful people. The power with which God restrains himself is great indeed. O brothers and sisters, there is such a thing as creeping down at the foot of the throne, crouching low and crying, "O God, break me not I am a bruised reed. Oh! tread not on my little life, it is now but as the smoking flax. Wilt thou hunt me? Wilt thou come out, as David said, "after a dead dog, after a flea?" Wilt thou pursue me as a leaf that is blown in the tempest? Wilt thou watch me, as Job saith, as though I were a vast sea, or a great whale? Nay, but because I am so little, and because the greatness of thy mercy can be shown in one so insignificant and yet so vile, therefore, O God, have mercy upon me."
There was once an occasion when the very Godhead of Jehovah made a triumphant plea for the prophet Elijah. On that august occasion, when he had bidden his adversaries see whether their god could answer them by fire, you can little guess the excitement there must have been that day in the prophet's mind. With what stern sarcasm did he say, "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awakened." And as they cut themselves with knives, and leaped upon the altar, oh the scorn with which that man of God must have looked down upon their impotent exertions, and their earnest but useless cries! But think of how his heart must have palpitated, if it had not been for the strength of his faith, when he repaired the altar of God that was broken down, and laid the wood in order, and killed the bullock. Hear him cry, "Pour water on it. You shall not suspect me of concealing fire; pour water on the victim." When they had done so, he bids them, "Do it a second time"; and they did it a second time; and then he says, "Do it a third time." And when it was all covered with water, soaked and saturated through, then he stands up and cries to God, "O God, let it be known that thou only art God." Here everything was put to the test. Jehovah's own existence was now put, as it were, at stake, before the eyes of men by this bold prophet. But how well the prophet was heard! Down came the fire and devoured not only the sacrifice, but even the wood, and the stones, and even the very water that was in the trenches, for Jehovah God had answered his servant's prayer. We sometimes may do the same, and say unto him, "Oh, by thy Deity, by thine existence, if indeed thou be God, now show thyself for the help of thy people!"
Lastly, the grand Christian argument is the sufferings, the death, the merit, the intercession of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I am afraid we do not understand what it is that we have at our command when we are allowed to plead with God for Christ's sake. I met with this thought the other day: it was somewhat new to me, but I believe it ought not to have been. When we ask God to hear us, pleading Christ's name, we usually mean, "O Lord, thy dear Son deserves this of thee; do this unto me because of what he merits." But if we knew it we might go in the city, "Sir, call at my office, and use my name, and say that they are to give you such a thing." I should go in and use your name, and I should obtain my request as a matter of right and a matter of necessity. This is virtually what Jesus Christ says to us. "If you need anything of God, all that the Father has belongs to me; go and use my name." Suppose you should give a man your cheque-book signed with your own name and left blank, to be filled up as he chose; that would be very nearly what Jesus has done in these words, "If ye ask anything in my name, I will give it you." If I had a good name at the bottom of the cheque, I should be sure that I should get it cashed when I went to the banker with it; so when you have got Christ's name, to whom the very justice of God hath become a debtor, and whose merits have claims with the Most High, when you have Christ's name there is no need to speak with fear and trembling and bated breath. Oh, waver not and let not faith stagger! When thou pleadest the name of Christ thou pleadest that which shakes the gates of hell, and which the hosts of heaven obey, and God himself feels the sacred power of that divine plea.
Brethren, you would do better if you sometimes thought more in your prayers of Christ's griefs and groans. Bring before the Lord his wounds, tell the Lord of his cries, make the groans of Jesus cry again from Gethsemane, and his blood speak again from that frozen Calvary. Speak out and tell the Lord that with such griefs, and cries, and groans to plead, thou canst not take a denial: such arguments as these will speed you.
III. If the Holy Ghost shall teach us how to order our cause, and how to fill our mouth with arguments, the result shall be that WE SHALL HAVE OUR MOUTH FILLED WITH PRAISES. The man who has his mouth full of arguments in prayer shall soon have his mouth full of benedictions in answer to prayer. Dear friend, thou hast thy mouth full this morning, has thou? What of? Full of complaining? Pray the Lord to rinse thy mouth out of that black stuff, for it will little avail thee, and it will be bitter in thy bowels one of these days. Oh, have thy mouth full of prayer, full of it, full of arguments so that there is room for nothing else. Then come with this blessed mouthful, and you shall soon go away with whatsoever you have asked of God. Only delight thou thyself in him, and he will give thee the desire of thy heart.
It is said I know not how truly that the explanation of the text, "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it," may be found in a very singular Oriental custom. It is said that not many years ago I remember the circumstance being reported the King of Persia ordered the chief of his nobility, who had done something or other which greatly gratified him, to open his mouth, and when he had done so he began to put into his mouth pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, till he had filled it as full as it could hold, and then he bade him go his way. This is said to have been occasionally done in Oriental Courts towards great favourites. Now certainly whether that be an explanation of the text or not it is an illustration of it. God says, "Open thy mouth with arguments," and then he will fill it with mercies priceless, gems unspeakably valuable. Would not a man open his mouth wide when he had to have it filled in such a style? Surely the most simple-minded among you would be wise enough for that. Oh! let us then open wide our mouth when we have to plead with God. Our needs are great, let our askings be great, and the supply shall be great too. You are not straitened in him; you are straitened in your own bowels. The Lord give you large mouths in prayer, great potency, not in the use of language, but in employing arguments.
What I have been speaking to the Christian is applicable in great measure to the unconverted man. God give thee to see the force of it, and to fly in humble prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ and to find eternal life in him.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON Numbers 14:1-21 .
The Question of Fear and the Answer of Faith
August 31, 1856 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me." Job 23:6 .
I shall not to-night consider the connexion of these words, or what was particularly intended by Job. I shall use them in, perhaps, another sense from that which he intended. No doubt Job meant to say, that if God would allow him to argue his case before him, it was his firm belief that God, so far from taking advantage of his superior strength in the controversy, would even strengthen him, that the controversy might be fair, and that the judgment might be unbiased. "He would not plead against me with his great strength; no, but he would put strength in me." We shall use the text, however, to-night, in another sense.
It is one of the sure marks of a lost and ruined state when we are careless and indifferent concerning God. One of the peculiar marks of those who are dead in sin is this: they are the wicked who forget God. God is not in all their thoughts; "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." The sinful man is ever anxious to keep out of his mind the very thought of the being, the existence, or the character of God; and so long as man is unregenerate, there will be nothing more abhorrent to his taste, or his feelings, than anything which deals with the Divine Being. God perhaps, as Creator, he may consider; but the God of the Bible, the infinite Jehovah, judging righteously among the sons of men condemning and acquitting that God he has no taste for, he is not in all his thoughts, nor does he regard him. And mark you, it is a blessed sign of the work of grace in the heart, when man begins to consider God. He is not far from God's heart who hath meditations of God in his own heart. If we desire to seek after God, to know him, to understand him, and to be at peace with him, it is a sign that God has dealings with our soul, for otherwise we should still have hated his name and abhorred his character.
There are two things in my text, both of which have relation to the Divine Being. The first is, the question of fear : "Will he plead against me with his great power?" and the second is, the answer of faith : "No, but he will put strength in me." The fearful and the prayerful, who are afraid of sin and fear God, together with those who are faithful and believe in God, are in a hopeful state; and hence, both the question of the one, and the answer of the other, have reference to the great Jehovah, our God, who is for ever to be adored.
I. We shall consider, in the first place, to-night THE INQUIRY OF FEAR: "Will he plead against me with his great power?" I shall consider this as a question asked by the convinced sinner. He is seeking salvation, but, when he is bidden to come before his God and find mercy, he is compelled by his intense anxiety to make the trembling inquiry, "Will he plead against me with his great power?"
1. And, first, I gather from this question the fact that a truly penitent sinner has a right idea of many of God's attributes . He does not understand them all, for instance, he does not yet know God's great mercy; he does not yet understand his unbounded compassion; but so far as his knowledge of God extends, he has an extremely correct view of him. To him the everlasting Jehovah appears GREAT in every attribute, and action, and supremely GREAT in his Majesty. The poor worldling knows there is a God; but he is to him a little God. As for the justice of God, the mere worldly man scarcely ever thinks of it. He considers that there is a God, but he regards him as a Being who has little enough respect for justice. Not so, however, the sinner. When God has once convinced him of his sin, he sees God as a great God, a God of great justice, and of great power. Whoever can misunderstand God's great justice or God's great power, a convinced sinner never will. Ask him what he thinks of God's justice, and he will tell you it like the great mountains; it is high, he cannot attain unto it. "Ah," saith he, "God's justice is very mighty; it must smite me. He must hurl an avalanche of woe upon my devoted head. Justice demands that he should punish me. I am so great a sinner that I cannot suppose he would ever pass by my transgression, my iniquity, and my sin." It is all in vain for you to tell such a man that God is little in his justice; he replies, "No," most solemnly, "No," and you can most plainly read his earnestness in his visage, when he replies, "No." He replies, "I feel that God is just; I am even now consumed by his anger; by his wrath am I troubled." "Tell me God is not just," says he; "I know he is; I feel that within an hour or two hell must swallow me up, unless Divine mercy delivers me. Unless Christ shall wash me in his blood, I feel I can never hope to stand among the ransomed." He has not that strange idea of God's justice that some of you have. You think sin is a trifle! You suppose that one brief prayer will wipe it all away. You dream that by attendance at your churches and at your chapels, you will wash away your sins. You suppose that God, for some reason or other, will very easily forgive your sin. But you have no right idea of God's justice. You have not learned that God never does forgive until he has first punished, and that if he does forgive any one, it is because he has punished Christ first in the stead of that person. But he never forgives without first exacting the punishment. That would be an infringement on his justice; and shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? You have, many of you, lax enough ideas of the justice of the Divine Being; but not so the sinner who is laboring under a knowledge of sin.
An awakened soul feels that God is greatly powerful . Tell him that God is but a weak God, and he will answer you; and shall I tell you what illustrations he will give you, to prove that God is great in power. He will say, "Oh, sir, God is great in power as well in justice; look up yonder: can you not see in the dark past, when rebel angels sinned against God, they were so mighty that each one of them might have devastated Eden and shaken the earth. But God, with ease, hurled Satan and the revels angels out of heaven, and drove them down to hell." "Sir," saith the sinner, "is he not mighty?" And then he will go on to tell you how God unbound the swaddling bands of the great ocean, that it might leap upon the earth; and how he bade it swallow up the whole of mortal race, save those who were hidden in the ark. And the sinner says, with his eyes well nigh starting from their sockets, "Sir, does not this prove that he is great in power, and will by no means acquit the wicked?" And then he proceeds, "Look again at the Red Sea; mark how Pharaoh was enticed into its depths, and how the parted sea, that stood aloof for awhile to give the Israelites an easy passage, embraced with eager joy, locked the adverse host within their arms, and swallowed them up quick;" and as he thinks he sees the Red Sea rolling o'er the slain, he exclaims, "Sir, God is great in power; I feel he must be, when I think of what he has done." And as if he had not finished his oration, and would let us know the whole of the greatness of God's power, he continues his narration of the deeds of vengeance. "O sir, remember, he must be great in power, for I know that he hath digged a hell, which is deep and large, without bottom. He hath made a Tophet the pile thereof is fire and much wood, and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, shall kindle it." "Yes, beyond a doubt," groans the trembling soul, "he must be great in power. I feel he is, and I feel more than that; I feel that justice has provoked God's arm of power to smite me , and unless I am covered in that righteousness of Christ, I shall ere long be dashed to pieces, and utterly devoured by the fury of his wrath." The sinner, as far as the harsher attributes of God's nature are concerned, when he is under conviction, has a very fair and a just idea of the Divine Being, though, as I have remarked before, not yet understanding the mercy and the infinite compassion of God towards his covenant people, he has too harsh a view of God, dwelling only upon the darker side, and not upon those attributes which shed a more cheering light upon the darkness of our misery. That is the first truth which I gleam from the text.
2. The second truth which I gather from this question, "Will he plead against me with his great power?" is this: that the trembling sinner feels that every attribute of God is against him as a sinner . "Oh!" he will say, "I look to God , and I can see nothing in him but a consuming fire. I look to his justice , and I see it, with sword unsheathed, ready to smite me low. I look to his power , and I behold it, like a mighty mountain, tottering to its fall, to crush me. I look to his immutability , and methinks I see stern justice written on its brow, and I hear it cry, 'Sinner, I will not save, I will condemn thee.' I look to his faithfulness , and I mark that all his threatenings are as much 'yea and amen' as his promises. I look to his love , but even his love frowns, and accuses me, saying, 'thou hast slighted me.' I look to his mercy , but even his mercy launches out the thunderbolt, with accusing voice, reminding me of my former hardness of heart, and harshly chiding me thus, 'Go thou to justice, and glean what thou canst there. I, even I, am against thee, for thou hast made me wroth!'"
Oh! trembling penitent, where art thou to-night? Somewhere here, I know thou art. Would to God there were many like thee! I know thou wilt agree with me in this statement, for thou hast a dread apprehension that every attribute of the Divine Being's character is armed with fire and sword to destroy thee. Thou seest all his attributes like heavy pieces of ordnance, all pointed at thee and ready to be discharged. Oh that thou mayest find a refuge in Christ! And oh! ye who never were convinced of sin, let me for one moment lay judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet. Know ye this perhaps ye laugh at it that all God's attributes are against you, if you are not in Christ! If you are not sheltered beneath the wings of Jesus, there is not one single glorious name of God, nor one celestial attribute, which does not curse you. What wouldst thou think, if at thy door to-night there should be planted great pieces of heavy cannon, all loaded, to be discharged against thee? But dost thou know, that where thou sittest to-night there are worse than heavy cannons to be discharged at thee? Yes, I see them, I see them! There is God's justice, and there is the angel of vengeance, standing with the match, ready to bid it hurl vengeance at thee. There is his power; there is his bare arm, ready to break thy bones, and crush thee into powder. There is his love, all blazing, turned to hate because thou hast rejected it; and there is his mercy, clad with mail, going forth like a warrior to overthrow thee. What sayest thou, O sinner, to-night? Against thee all God's attributes are pointed. He hath bent his bow and made it ready. The sword of the Lord has been bathed in heaven; it is bright and sharp; it is furbished. How wilt thou escape, when a mighty arm shall bring it down upon thee? or how wilt thou flee, when he shall draw his bow and shoot his arrows at thee, and make thee a mark for all the arrows of his vengeance? Beware, beware, ye that forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver! For tear you in pieces, he will yet, unless you shelter in the Rock of Ages, and wash yourselves in the stream of his wondrous blood. Fly to him, then, ye chief of sinners, fly. But if ye will not, now ye this, God is against you! He will plead against thee with his great power, unless thou hast our all-glorious Jesus to be thine advocate.
3. And just one more hint here. The sinner, when he is labouring on account of guilt, feels that God would be just if he were to " plead against him with his great power ?" "Oh," saith he, "If I go to God in prayer, perhaps instead of hearing me he will crush me as I would a moth." What, soul, would he be just if he did that? "Ay," saith the sinner, "just, supremely just. Perhaps I shall have stripped myself of all my ornaments, and like a naked one have flown to him; perhaps then he will lash me harder than before, and I shall feel it all the worse for this my nakedness." And will he be just, should the flagellation of his vengeance fall upon thy shoulders? "Yes," he saith, "infallibly just." And should he smite thee to the lowest hell, would he be just? "Yes," saith the penitent, "just, infinitely just. I should have no word to say against him. I should feel that I deserved it all. My only question is, not whether he would be just to do it, but will he do it?" "Will he plead against me with his great power?" This is the question of fear. Some here, perhaps, are asking that question.
Now let them hear the reply of faith; God give them a good deliverance!
II. THE REPLY OF FAITH IS, "No." O sinner, hear that word, "No;" there are sonnets condensed into it. "Will he plead against me with his great power?" "No, no," say the saints in heaven; "no," say the faithful on earth; "no," say the promises; "no," unanimously exclaim the oracles of Scripture; no, most emphatically no, he will not plead against you with his great power, but he will put strength into you.
1. And here we make a similar remark to that with which we commenced the former part of the sermon, namely, this: the fearful soul has a very right view of God in many respects, but the faithful soul has a right view of God in all respects . He that hath faith in God knows more of God better than any man. Why, if I believe God, I can see all his attributes vindicated. I can see the wrath of justice expiated by yonder bleeding sufferer on the accursed tree. I can see his mercy and his justice joining hands with his wrath. I can see his power now turned on my behalf, and no longer against me. I can see his faithfulness become the guardian of my soul instead of the slaughterer of my hopes. I can see all his attributes standing, each of them conjoined, each of them glorious, each of them lovely, and all united in the work of man's salvation. He that feareth God, knows half of God; he that believeth God, knoweth all of God that he can know; and the more he believeth God, the more he understandeth God, the more he comprehendeth his glory, his character, his nature, and his attributes.
2. The next thing is, that the believer when he is brought into peace with God does not tremble at the thought of God's power . He does not ask, "Will he plead against me with his great power?" But he says, "No, that very power, once my terror, and fear, is now my refuge and my hope, for he shall put that very power in me. I rejoice that God is Almighty, for he will lend me his omnipotence 'he will put strength into me.'" Now, here is a great thought; if I had power to handle it, it would give me opportunity indeed to preach to you. But I cannot reach the heights of eloquence, I shall therefore simply exhibit the thought for a moment to you. The very power which would have damned my soul, saves my soul. The very power that would have crushed me, God puts into me, that the work of salvation may be accomplished. No, he will not use it to crush me, but he will put that very strength into me. Dost see there the Mighty One upon his throne? Dread Sovereign, I see thine awful arm. What, wilt thou crush the sinner? Wilt thou utterly destroy him with thy strength? "No," saith he, "Come hither, child." And if you go to his Almighty throne, "There," saith he "that self-same arm which made thee quake, see there, I give it to thee. Go out and live. I have made thee mighty as I am, to do my works; I will put strength into thee. The same strength which would have broken thee to pieces on the wheel shall now be put into thee, that thou mayest do mighty works."
Now, I will show you how this great strength displays itself. Sometimes it goes out in prayer. Did you ever hear a man pray in whom God had put strength? You have heard some of us poor puny souls pray, I dare say; but have you ever heard a man pray that God had made into a giant? Oh, if you have, you will say it is a mighty thing to hear such a man in supplication. I have seen him now and then slip in his wrestling; but, like a giant, he has recovered his footing, and seemed like Jacob, to hurl the angel to the ground. I have marked the many lay hold upon the throne of mercy, and declare, "Lord, I will never let go, except thou bless me." I have seen him, when heaven's gates have been apparently barred, go up to them, and say, "Ye gates, open wide in Jesus' name;" and I have seen the gates fly open before him, as if the man were God himself; for he is armed with God Almighty's strength. I have seen that man, in prayer, discover some great mountain in his hills and made them like chaff, by the immensity of his might. Some of you think I am talking enthusiasm; but such cases have been, and are now. Oh! to have heard Luther pray! Luther, you know, when Melancthon was dying, went to his death-bed, and said, "Melancthon, you shall not die!" "Oh," said Melancthon, "I must die! It is a world of toil and trouble," "Melancthon," said he, "I have need of thee, and God's cause has need of thee, and as my name is Luther, thou shalt not die!" The physician said he would. Well, down went Luther on his knees, and began to tug at death. Old death struggled mightily for Melancthon, and he had got him well nigh on his shoulders. "Drop him," said Luther, "drop him, I want him." "No," said death, "he is my prey, I will take him!" "Down with him," said Luther, "down with him, death, or I will wrestle with thee!" And he seemed to take hold of the grim monster, and hurl him to the ground; and he came off victorious, like an Orpheus, with his wife, up from the very shades of death; he had delivered Melancthon from death by prayer! "Oh," say you, "that is an extraordinary case." No, beloved, not one-half so extraordinary as you dream. I have men and women here who have done the same in other cases; that have asked a thing of God, and have had it; that have been to the throne, and showed a promise, and said they would not come away without its fulfilment, and have come back fro God's throne conquerors of the Almighty; for prayer moves the arm that moves the world. "Prayer is the sinew of God," said one, "it moves his arm;" and so it is. Verily, in prayer, with the strength of the faithful heart, there is a beautiful fulfilment of the text, "He will put strength in me."
A second illustration. Not only in prayer, but in duty , the man who has great faith in God, and whom God has girded with strength, how gigantic does he become! Have you never read of those great heroes who put to flight whole armies, and scattered kings like the snow on Salmon? Have you never read of those men that were fearless of foes, and stalked onward before all their opposers, as if they would as soon die as live? I read, this day, of a case in the old kirk of Scotland, before that King James who wished to force the black prelacy upon them. Andrew Melville and some of his associates were deputed to wait upon the king, and as they were going with a scroll ready written, they were warned to take care and return, for their lives were at stake. They paused a moment, and Andrew said, "I am not afraid, thank God, nor feeble-spirited in the cause and message of Christ; come what pleases God to send, our commission shall be executed." At these words the deputation took courage, and went forward. On reaching the palace, and having obtained an audience, they found his majesty attended by Lennox and Arran, and several other lords, all of whom were English. They presented their remonstrance. Arran lifted it from the table, and glancing over it, he then turned to the ministers, and furiously demanded, "Who dares sign these treasonable articles?" "WE DARE." said Andrew Melville, "and will render our lives in the cause." Having thus spoken, he came forward to the table, took the pen, subscribed his name, and was followed by his brethren. Arran and Lennox were confounded; the king looked on in silence, and the nobles in surprise. Thus did our good forefathers appear before kings, and yet were not ashamed. "The proud had them greatly in derision, yet they declined not from the law of God." Having thus discharged their duty, after a brief conference, the ministers were permitted to depart in peace. The king trembled more at them than if a whole army had been at his gates; and why was this? It was because God had put his own strength into them, to make them masters of their duty. And you have some such in your midst now. Despised they may be; but God has made them like the lion-like men of David, who would go down into the pit in the depth of winter, and take the lion by the throat and slay him. We have some in our churches but a remnant, I admit who are not afraid to serve their God, like Abdiel, "faithful amongst the faithless found." We have some who are superior to the customs of the age, and scorn to bow at mammon's knee, who will not use the trimming language of too many modern ministers, but stand out for God's gospel, and the pure white banner of Christ, unstained and unsullied by the doctrines of men. Then are they mighty! Why they are mighty is, because God has put strength in them.
Still, some say, I have dealt with extraordinary cases. Come then, now we will have a home-case, one of your own sort, that will be like yourselves. Did you ever stand and take a view of heaven? Have you discerned the hills which lie between your soul and paradise? Have you counted the lions you have to fight, the giants to be slain, and the rivers to be crossed? Did you ever notice the many temptations with which you must be beset, the trials you have to endure, the difficulties you have to overcome, the dangers you have to avoid? Did you ever take a bird's-eye view of heaven, and all the dangers which are strewn thickly along the path thither? And didst thou ever ask thyself this question, "How shall I, a poor feeble worm, ever get there?" Didst thou ever say within thyself, "I am not a match for all my foes, how shall I arrive at paradise?" If thou hast ever asked this question, I will tell thee what is the only answer for it: thou must be girded with Almighty strength, or else thou wilt never gain the victory. Easy thy path may be, but it is too hard for thy infantile strength, without the Almighty power. Thy path may be one of little temptation, and of shallow trial; but thou wilt be drowned in the floods yet, unless Almighty power preserve thee. Mark me! however smooth thy way, there is nothing short of the bare arm of Deity that can land any one of you in heaven. We must have Divine strength, or else we shall never get there. And there is an illustration of these words: "No, but he will put his strength in me."
"And shall I hold on to the end?" says the believer. Yes, thou wilt, for God's strength is in thee. "Shall I be able to bear such-and-such a trial?" Yes, thou wilt. Cannot Omnipotence stem the torrent? And Omnipotence is in thee; for, like Ignatius of old, thou art a God-bearer; thou bearest God about with thee. Thy heart is a temple of the Holy Ghost, and thou shalt yet overcome. "But can I ever stand firm in such-and-such evil day?" Oh! yes you will, for he will put his strength in you. I was in company, some time ago, with some ministers; one of them observed, "Brother, if there were to be stakes in Smithfield again, I am afraid they would find very few to burn among us." "Well," I said, "I do not know anything about how you would burn; but this I know right well, that there never will be any lack of men who are ready to die for Christ." "Oh!" said he, "but they are not the right sort of men." "Well," said I, "but do you think they are the Lord's children?" "Yes, I believe they are, but they are not the right sort." "Ah!" said I, "but you would find them the right sort, if they came to the test every one of them; they have not got burning grace yet. What would be the use of it?" We do not want the grace till the stakes come; but we should have burning grace in burning moments. If now, to-night, a hundred of us were called to die for Christ, I believe there would not only be found a hundred, but five hundred, that would march to death, and sing all the way. Whenever I find faith, I believe that God will put strength into the man; and I never think anything to be impossible to a man with faith in God, while it is written, "He will put strength in me."
3. But now the last observation shall be, we shall all want this at the last; and it is a mercy for us that this is written, for never shall we require it, perhaps, more than then. O believer, dost thou think thou wilt be able to swim the Jordan with thine own sinews ? Caesar could not swim the Tiber, accoutered as he was; and dost thou hope to swim the Jordan with thy flesh about thee? No, thou wilt sink then, unless Jesus, as Aeneas did Anchises, from the flames of Rome, upon his shoulders, lift thee from Jordan, and carry thee across the stream, thou wilt never be able to walk across the river; thou wilt ne'er be able to face that tyrant and smile in his face, unless thou hast something more than mortal. Thou wilt need then to be belted about with the girdle of divinity, or else thy loins will be loosed, and thy strength will fail thee, when thou needst it most. Many a man has ventured to the Jordan in his own strength; but oh! how he has shrieked and howled, when the first wave has touched his feet! But never weakling went to death with God within him, but he found himself mightier than the grace. Go on, Christian, for this is thy promise. "He will put strength in me."
"Weak, though I am, yet through his might, I all things can perform."
Go on; dread not God's power, but rejoice at this, he will put his strength in you; he will not use his power to crush you.
Just one word, and then farewell. There is within reach of my voice, I am thoroughly convinced, one who is seeking Christ, whose only fear is this: "Sir, I would, but I cannot pray; I would, but I cannot believe; I would, but I cannot love; I would, but I cannot repent." Oh! hear this, soul: "He will put his strength in thee." Go home; and down on thy knees; if thou canst not pray, groan; if thou canst not groan, weep; if thou canst not weep, feel; if thou canst not feel, feel because thou canst not feel; for that is as far as many get. But stop there, mark you, stop there, and he will give you his blessing; do not get up till you have got the blessing. Go there in all thy weakness; if you do not feel it, say, "Lord, I do not feel as I ought to feel; but oh that I could! Lord, I cannot repent, as I would repent oh that thou wouldst help me!" "Oh! sir," you say, "but I could not go so far as that, for I don't think I have got a strong desire." Go and say, "Lord I would desire; help me to desire." And then sit down and think of your lost estate. Think of your ruin and the remedy, and muse on that; and mark thee, whilst thou art in the way, the Lord will meet with thee. Only believe this, that if thou triest Christ he will never let thee try in vain. Go and risk thy soul on Christ to-night, neck or nothing, sinner. Go now, break or make; go and say, "Lord, I know I must be damned if I have not Christ." Stay there, and say, "If I perish, I perish only here;" and I tell you, you will never perish. I am bondsman for God. This head to the block if your soul goes to hell, if you pray sincerely and trust Christ. This neck to the gallows, again I say, this neck to the rope and to the hangman's gallows, if Christ reject you after your have earnestly sought him. Only try that, I beseech thee, poor soul. "Oh," you say, "but I have not strength enough; I cannot do that." Well, poor soul, crawl to the mercy-seat, and there lie flat, just as you are. You know that misery often speaks when it utters not a word. The poor mendicant squats himself down in the street. He says nothing, There protrudes a ragged knee, and there is a wounded hand. He says nothing; but with his hands folded on his breast he looks at every passer-by; and though not a word is spoken, he winneth more than if he daily drawled out his tale, or sung it along the street. So do thou sit like Bartimeus by the way-side begging; and if thou hearest him pass by, then cry, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy upon me." But if thou canst scarce say that, sit there, and exhibit thy poor wounds; tell the Lord thy desperate condition; strip thy loathsome sores, and let the Almighty see the venom. Turn out thy heart, and let the rank corruption be all inspected by the Almighty eye. "And he hath mercies rich and free." Who can tell, poor sinner, who can tell? He may look on thee.
"Jesus died upon the tree, And why, poor sinner, not for thee?
His Sovereign grace is rich and free, And why, poor sinner, not for thee?
"Our Jesus loved and saved me, Say why, poor sinner, why not thee?"
Only do this; and if thou art a sinner, hear this: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." He will not "Plead against you with his great power; no, he will put his strength in you!" The Lord dismiss you with his blessing! Amen.
Believers Tested by Trials October 17, 1880 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: but he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." --Job 23:8-10 .
Job, as we noticed in our reading, was at that time in very deep distress. I commend this fact to the notice of any here who are very sorely tried. You may be the people of God, and yet be in a terrible plight, for Job was a true servant of the Most High, yet he sat down among the ashes, and scraped himself with a potsherd because he was covered with sore boils, and, at the same time, he was reduced to absolute poverty. The path of sorrow has been trodden by thousands of holy feet; you are not the first one who could sit down, and say, "I am the man that hath seen affliction." You were not the first tried one, you are not the only one, and you will not be the last one. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous;" so let this be some comfort to you, -- that you are one of the Lord's suffering children, one of those who have to pass through rough roads and fiery places in the course of their pilgrimage to heaven.
Job had to experience one trial which must have been very keen indeed, for it was brought about by his three choice friends, who were evidently men of mind and mark, for their speeches prove that they were by no means second-class men. Job would not have selected for his bosom friends any but those who were of high character, estimable in disposition, and able to converse with him upon high and lofty themes. Such, no doubt, those three men were; and I expect that, when Job saw them coming towards him, he looked for a store of comfort from them, imagining that they would at least sympathize with him, and pour out such consolations as their own experience could suggest, in order that he might be somewhat relieved. But he was utterly disappointed; these friends of his reasoned that there must be some extraordinary cause for such unusual distress as that into which Job had fallen. They had never seen wrong in him; but, then, he might be a very cunning man, and so have concealed it from them. As far as they had known him, he seemed to be a generous, liberal soul; but, perhaps, after all, he was one of those who squeeze the uttermost farthing out of the poor. They could not read his heart, so they put the worst construction upon his sorrows, and said, "Depend upon it, he is a hypocrite; we will apply caustic to him, and so we will test him, and see whether he really is what he professes to be. We will rub salt into his wounds by bringing various charges against him;" and they did so in a most horrible fashion. That is a cruel thing for anybody to do, and one that cuts to the quick. Possibly, some people, who used to court your company, and would not let you go down the street without bowing to you, now that your circumstances are changed, do not recognize you; or if they cannot help seeing you, they appear to have some distant recollection that, years ago, you were a casual acquaintance; or, peradventure, if they do speak in a kind, friendly way, though their words are smoother than butter, war is in their heart; though their words are softer than oil, yet are they drawn swords. You must be a bad man because you have come down in the world; it cannot be that you are the respectable person they thought you were, or you would not have lost your estate; for, in the estimation of some folk, to be respectable means to have a certain amount of cash. The definition was once given, in a court of law, that if a man kept a gig, it was proved by that fact that he was respectable. That is the way of the world; respect and respectability depend upon so much money; but the moment that is gone, the scene changes. The man is the same; ay, he may be a better and a nobler man without the money than with it; but it is only noble men who think so. It is only right-minded persons who judge not by the coat or the purse, but who say, with Burns, --
"A man's a man for a' that,"
whatever may be his condition. Character is the thing to which we ought to look; -- the man himself, and not merely his surroundings. But Job had to bear just that ignoble sort of scorn that some men seem to delight to pour upon the sorrows of others.
I want, first, to call your attention to Job's desire in the time of his trouble. It was his earnest desire to get to his God. Secondly, we will notice Job's distress because he could not find him: "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him." And, thirdly, we will consider Job's consolation: "He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
I. First, then, notice JOB' S DESIRE IN THE TIME OF HIS TROUBLE.
He wanted his God; he did not long to see Bildad, or Eliphaz, or Zophar, or any earthly friend; but his cry was "Oh, that I knew where I might find HIM! that I might come even to his seat!" This is one of the marks of a true child of God, -- that, even when God smites him, he still longs for his presence. If you get to the very back of all Job's calamities, you will see that God sent them; or, at least, permitted Satan to afflict him. "Yet," says Job, "I will not turn in anger against God because of this. 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. ' Let him do what he will with me, I will still seek to get near to him, and this shall be my heart's desire, 'Oh that I knew where I might find him! ' " An ungodly man, if he has made any pretense of fellowship with God in his days of prosperity, forsakes him as soon as adversity comes; but the true child of God clings to his Father however roughly he may deal with him. We are not held captive to God by a chain of sweets, nor are we bought with cupboard love, nor bribed in any other way to love him; but now, because he first loved us, our heart hath loved him, and rested in him; and if cross providences and strange dealings come from the hand of the Most High, our cry shall not be, "Oh that we could get away from him!" but, "Oh that we knew where we might find him, that we might come even to his seat!" This is the mark of our regeneration and adoption, -- that, whatever happens, we still cling to our God.
For, beloved friends, when a man is in trouble, if he can but get to God, in the first place, he is quite sure of justice. Men may condemn us falsely, but God never will. Our character may be cruelly slandered; and, doubtless, there have been good men who have lived for years under false accusations; -- but God knoweth the way that we take. He will be the Advocate of his servants when their case is laid before the heavenly Court of King's Bench. We need not be afraid that the verdict will not be just: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
We know also that, if we can get to God, we shall have audience. Sometimes, men will not hear us when we are pleading for justice. "I do not want to hear a word you have to say," says the man who is so prejudiced that he will not listen to our plea. But there is an ear that no prejudice ever sealed; there is a heart that is ever sympathetic towards the griefs of a believer. You are sure to be heard, beloved, if you pour out your heart before the God that heareth prayer. He will never be weary of your cries; they may be poor, broken utterances, but he takes the meaning of the sighs of his saints, he understands the language of their groans. Go, then, to God because you are sure of audience.
What is more, in getting near to God, a man is sure to have strength. You notice how Job puts it: "' Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me." When once we get to realize that God is with us, how strong we are! Then we can bear the burden of want or of pain, or even the sharp adder's tongue of slander. The man who has God with him is a very Samson; he may fling himself upon a troop of Philistines, and smite them hip and thigh; he may lay hold of the pillars of their temple, rock them to and fro, and bring down the whole building upon them. I say not that we shall work miracles, but I do say that, as our days, so shall our strength be.
"I can do all things, or can bear All sufferings, if my Lord be there."
And, once more, he who gets to his God is sure of joy. There was never a soul, that was right with God, and that was unhappy in the presence of God. Up yonder in glory, how gladly they smile! How I would like to photograph their beaming faces! What a group that would be, -- of angel faces bathed in everlasting light, and the faces of those redeemed from among men, all radiant with celestial joy. What gives them that gladness? It is because God is there that they are so happy.
"Not all the harps above Can make a heavenly place, If God his residence remove, Or but conceal his face."
Just as the sun makes the landscape bright and fair, so does the light of God's countenance make all his people glad. It would not matter to a man whether he were in a dungeon or a palace if he had the constant presence of God; I am not speaking at random when I make that assertion. Read the record of the martyr days of the Church, and you will understand that the presence of God caused his persecuted people to be the happiest in the whole world. No minstrels in royal halls ever sang so sweetly as did the prisoners of the Lord who were confined in deep, dark, underground dungeons, where they could scarcely breathe. Nay, that is not all; for some have been happy even on the rack. Think of brave Lady Anne Askew sitting on the cold stones after the cursed inquisitors had torn her poor feeble frame almost limb from limb; and when they tempted her to turn from the faith, she answered, --
"I am not she that lyst My anker to let fall For every dryslynge mist; My shippe's substancyal."
Some who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, declared, as in the case of Lawrence, that the gridiron was a bed of roses, and that they never were so joyous as when their body was being consumed in the fire, -- every finger being like a lighted candle, -- for they were able even then to cry, "None but Christ! None but Christ!" It is amazing how the presence of God seems to be an anodyne that kills all pain; -- an uplifting, like an angel's wing, that bears upward one who, without it, would be utterly crushed. The martyr is torn in pieces, and full of agonies, and yet all his sufferings are transformed, till they become sweet harmonies of intense delight because God is with him. Oh! give me God, give me God, and I care not what you withhold from me. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee."
II. The brightness of the first part of my subject will help to make the second portion all the darker. We are now to consider JOB' S DISTRESS, -- the agony of a true child of God who cannot find his Father.
Your experiences are not all alike, brethren, and I do not want you to try to make them all alike. Some of you have very happy experiences, and very little spiritual trial. I am glad it is so; I only hope you will not be superficial, or conceited, or censorious of others. But there are some who know the darker paths in the heavenly pilgrimage, and it is to those that I specially speak just now. Dear friends, I pray you to remember that a man may be a true servant of God, and even an eminent and distinguished servant of God like Job, and yet he may sometimes lose the light of God's countenance, and have to cry out, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" There are some special, superfine, hot-pressed Christians about, nowadays, who do not believe this. They say, "You ought to be joyous; you ought never to be depressed; you ought to be perfect;" all which is quite true, but it is a great deal easier to say so than to show how it is to be realized; and these brethren, who talk as if it were a very simple matter, like counting your fingers, may someday find that it is more difficult than they think, as some of us have sometimes done.
Job could not find his God; this is apparently strange. He was a specially good man, one who did what he could for all around him, -- a very light in the city where he dwelt, -- a man famous in all the country, yet in great trouble; -- one might have thought that God would certainly comfort him. He has lost everything; surely, now the Lord will return to him, and be gracious unto him, and above all other times he will be cheered now with the presence of God. Yet it was not so. He was a man who valued the company of God, and who cried, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" Yet he could not find him. It is passing strange; or, at least, it appears to be so.
Yet notice, next, that it is essentially needful to some trials that God should withdraw the light of his countenance. Our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the woes that he endured, could not have been made perfect through sufferings unless he had learnt to cry, "My God, my God, why h ast thou forsaken me?" When God means to smite any child of his with the rod, he cannot do it with a smile. Suppose a father is chastening his son, and all the while is comforting him, where is the chastening? No; the very essence of the medicinal sorrow that is to do good to our souls will lie in our having to bewail the absence of the smile of God.
This is essential to our trial, but it is greatly perplexing. I do not know of anything that so troubles a Christian man as when he does not know where his God is. "God is everywhere," says one. I know he is, but yet there is a special presence which he manifests to his people, and sometimes it seems to them as if he were nowhere at all. So Job exclaimed, "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him." Tried children of God, you have had this experience; and it is very perplexing because, when you cannot find your God, you cannot make out why you are being troubled. An affliction that will talk is always a light one; but I dread most of all a dumb affliction, that cannot tell me why it has come. When I look around it, and ask, "Why is this?" and I cannot get an answer, that is what plagues me much. And when you cannot find God, you do not yourself know what to do; for, in losing him, you have lost your Guide. You are in a maze, and know not how to get out of it. You are like a man in a net; the more you pull, this way or that, the more you tighten the bonds that hold you prisoner. Where you hoped to have relieved yourself, you only brought yourself into further difficulties in another direction; and this bewilderment is one of the worst of sorrows.
The loss of God's presence is also inexpressibly painful to a believer. If you can live without God, I am afraid you will die without God; but if you cannot live without God, that proves that you are his, and you will bear me out in the assertion that this is the heaviest of mortal griefs, -- to feel that God has forsaken you, and does not hear your prayer; -- nay, does not seem even to help you to pray, so that you can only groan, "Oh that I knew where I might find him! . . . Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him."
Then, dear friends, in closing what I have to say about this dark side of the subject, let me remind you that it is marvelously arousing, because the true child of God, when he finds that his Father has forsaken him for awhile, gets to be terribly unhappy. Then he begins to cry and to seek after God. Look at Job; he hunts for God everywhere, -- forward, backward, on the left hand, on the right hand. He leaves no quarter unvisited; no part of the earth is left without being searched over that he might find his God. Nothing brings a real Christian to his bearings, and awakes all his faculties, like the consciousness of his Lord's absence. Then he cries, "My God, where art thou? I have lost the sense of thy presence; I halve missed the light of thy countenance." A man, in such a case as this, goes to the prayer meeting, in the hope that other people's prayers may help to make his sad heart happy again. He reads his Bible, too, as he has not read it for months. You will also find him listening to the gospel with the utmost eagerness, and nothing but the gospel will satisfy him now. At one time, he could listen to that pleasant kind of talk that lulls the hearers to slumber, but now he wants a heart-searching ministry, and a message that will go right into him, and deal faithfully with him; and he is not content unless he gets it. Besides this, he is anxious to talk with Christian friends of riper experience than his own; and he deals seriously and earnestly with these eternal matters which, before, he perhaps trifled with as mere technicalities. You see a man, who once lived in the light of God's countenance, and you will find him wretched indeed when the light is gone. He must have his God.
III. Now, lastly, I want to speak, for a little while, concerning THE TRIED BELIEVERS CONSOLATION. It is a very sweet consolation: "He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
God knows and understands all about his child. I do not know his way, but he knows mine. I am his child, and my Father is leading me, though I cannot see him, for all around me it is so misty and dark. I can scarcely feel his hand that grasps my little palm, so I cry to him, "Where art thou, my Father? I cannot see my way; the next step before me threatens to plunge me into imminent peril. I know nothing, my Father, but thou knowest." That is just where knowledge is of most use; it does not so much matter what you do not know so long as God knows it, for he is your Guide. If the guide knows the way, the traveler under his care may be content to know but little. "He knoweth the way that I take." There is nothing about you, my brother, which God does not perfectly understand. You are a riddle to yourself, but you are no riddle to him. There are mysteries in your heart that you cannot explain, but he has the clue of every maze, the key of every secret drawer, and he knows how to get at the hidden springs of your spirit. He knows the trouble that you could not tell to your dearest friend, the grief you dare not whisper in any human ear.
I find that the Hebrew has this meaning, "He knoweth the way that is in me." God knows whether I am his child or not; whether I am sincere or not. While others are judging me harshly, he judges me truly; he knows what I really am. This is a sweet consolation; take it to yourself, tried believer.
Next, God approves of his child. The word "know" often has the meaning of approval, and it has that sense here. Job says "God approves of the way that I take." When you are in trouble, it is a grand thing to be able to say, I know that I have done that which is right in the sight of God, although it has brought me into great trial. 'My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. ' "If you ha ve a secret and sure sense of God's approval in the time of your sorrow, it will be a source of very great strengthening to your spirit.
But Job meant more than this. He meant that God was considering him, and helping him even then. The fact that he knows of our needs guarantees that he will supply them. You remember how our Lord Jesus Christ puts this truth: "Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." Does he know all about our need? It is all right then; the Head of the house knows the need of all the members of his family, and that is enough, for he never yet failed to supply all the wants of those who depend upon him. When I need guidance, he will himself be my Guide. He will supply me when I lack supplies, he will defend me when I need defense, he will give me all things that I really require. There is an old proverb that says, "Where God is, not hing is lacking;" and it is blessedly true. Only remember that there is an ancient precept with a gracious promise attached to it, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." Believe it, and obey it, and you shall find it true in your case.
Furthermore, when Job says, "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold," he comforts himself with the belief that God times and manages all things, -- that his present distresses are a trial, by which God is testing him. A man who is like solid gold is not afraid to be tested. No tradesman is afraid to put into the scales that which is full weight; for, if it is weighed, it will be proved to be what he says it is. When the inspector of weights and measures comes round, the gentleman who does not like to see him is the man of short weights and incorrect scales. He who knows he is upright and sincere dares say even to the Lord, himself, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my ways: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." We do not profess to be perfect, but we dare claim to be sincere, and he who is sincere is not afraid of being tested and tried. Real gold is not afraid of the fire; why should it be? What has it to lose? So Job seems to say, "I know that God hath put integrity within my spirit, and now that he is testing me, he will not carry the test further than, by his grace, I shall be able to bear."
Lastly, Job's comfort was that God secures the happy result of trial. He believed that, when God had tried him, he would bring him forth as gold. Now, how does gold come out of the crucible? How does a true Christian man come out of the darkness and obscurity of missing his God for awhile? How does he come out like gold? In the Hebrew, the word has an allusion to the bright color of the gold; so, when a Christian is tried, is there not a bright color upon him? Even though he may have lost, for awhile, the bright shining of God's countenance, when that brightness returns, there is a luster about him which you cannot help seeing. He will speak of his God in a more impressive way than he ever spoke before. Examine the books that are most comforting to believers, and that satisfy their souls, and you will find that the men who wrote them were those who had been severely tried; and when they came out of the fire, there was a brilliance upon them which would not otherwise have been there. If you walk in darkness, and see no light, believe that, when God hath tried you, you shall come forth with the brightness of newly-minted gold.
But brightness is of little value without preciousness, and the children of God grow more precious through their trials; and, being precious, they become objects of desire. Men desire gold above almost everything else, yet the Lord has said, "I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir." There are some godly men whose company we court, and some Christian women whose society, when they talk of spiritual things, is worth a Jew's eye to one that is in distress. Happy are they whom God has passed through the fire, who become precious and desirable when they come out of it.
And they become honorable, too. "When he hath tried me," said Job, "even though my friends despise me now, when I come forth, they shall have different thoughts concerning me." They thought a great deal more of Job when God was angry with them, and would not restore them to his favor until the patriarch had prayed for them, than they thought of him when they went to find fault with him; and the day shall come to thee, true child of God, when those who now persecute thee, and look down upon thee, shall look up to thee. Joseph may be cast into the pit by his brethren, and sold into Egypt, but he shall yet sit on the throne, and all his father's sons shall bow before him.
Once more, you shall come out of the fire uninjured. It looks very hard to believe that a child of God should be tried by the loss of his Father's presence, and yet should come forth uninjured by the trial. Yet no gold is ever injured in the fire. Stoke the furnace as much as you may, let the blast be as strong as you will, thrust the ingot into the very center of the white heat, let it lie in the very heart of the flame; pile on more fuel, let another blast torment the coals till they become most vehement with heat, yet the gold is losing nothing, it may even be gaining. If it had any alloy mingled with it, the alloy is separated from it by the fire, and to gain in purity is the greatest of gains. But the pure gold is not one drachm less; there is not a single particle of it that can be burnt. It is there still, all the better for the fiery trial to which it has been subjected; and thou, dear child of God, whatever may befall thee, shalt come out of the fire quite uninjured. Thou art under a dark cloud just now; but thou shalt come out into brightness, and thou shalt have lost nothing that was worth keeping. What is there that thou canst lose? When death comes, what wilt thou lose?
"Corruption, earth, and worms Shall but refine this flesh, Till my triumphant spirit comes To put it on afresh."
When we put on our new clothes, this body that shall have passed through God's transforming hand, -- shall we be losers? No, we shall say, "What a difference! Is this my Sabbath garment? The old one was dark and dingy, dusty and defiled; this is whiter than any fuller could make it, and brighter than the light." You will scarcely know yourselves, my brothers and sisters; you will know other people, I daresay; but I think you will hardly recognize yourselves when once you have put on your new array. You cannot really lose anything by death. You will not lose the eyes you part with for awhile; for, when Christ shall stand, at the latter day, upon the earth, your eyes shall behold him. You shall lose no faculty, no power, but you shall infinitely gain even by death itself; and that is the very worst of your enemies, so that you shall certainly gain by all the rest. Come then, pluck up courage, and march boldly on. Fear no ghosts, for they are but specters, there is no reality about them. Beloved, note well this closing word. God is here. You need not go forward to find him, or backward to hunt after him, or on the left to search for him, or on the right to see him. He is with his people still, as he said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." "Fear not: for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Oh, seek him, then, every one of you, and God bless you all, for Christ's sake! Amen.
Whither Goest Thou?
August 4th, 1889 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 23:10 .
On several Sabbath mornings of late I have earnestly handled spiritual subjects which I trust may have been for the edification of the people of God; but it will not do to continue in that line. I am a fisher of men as well as a shepherd of the flock. I must attend to both offices. Here are souls perishing, sinners that need to be saved by Christ, and therefore I must leave the flock, and go after the wanderers. I must lay down the crook and take up the net. By a simple sermon, full of earnest expostulation, I would reason with the careless. At this moment I have not so much to expound doctrine as to arouse hearts. Oh, for the power of the Holy Ghost, without which I must utterly fail in my design! We have this morning been praying for the conversion of many: we expect our prayers to be heard. The question is not, Will there be any converted under this sermon? but, Who will it be? I trust many who have come here with no higher motive than to see the great congregation and to hear the preacher, may, nevertheless, be met with in God's infinite mercy, and placed in the way of eternal life. May this be the spiritual birthday of many a day to be remembered by them throughout eternity! Job could not understand the way of God with him; he was greatly perplexed. He could not find the Lord, with whom aforetime he constantly abode. He cries, "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him." But if Job knew not the way of the Lord, the Lord knew Job's way. It is a great comfort that when we cannot see the Lord, He sees us, and perceives the way that we take. It is not so important that we should understand what the Lord is doing as that the Lord should understand what we are doing, and that we should be impressed by the great fact that He does understand it. Our case may be quite beyond our own comprehension, but it is all plain to Him who seeth the end from the beginning, and understands the secrets of all hearts. Because God knew his way, Job turned from the unjust judgments of his unfeeling friends and appealed to the Lord God Himself. He pleaded in the supreme court, where his case was known, and he refused the verdicts of erring men. He that doeth right seeketh the light; and as Job saw that the light was with God, he hastened to that light, that his deeds might be made manifest. Like a bird of the day, which begins to signal the return of the morning, he could sing when he stood in the light of God. He was glad that the Lord knew his way, his motive, and his desires; for from that truth he inferred that he would be helped in his trials, and brought safely through them: "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." These words afford rich consolation to the saints; and if I were to use them for that purpose, I should expect the Lord's people greatly to rejoice in the Lord, whose observant eye and gracious thoughts are always upon them. Our whole condition lies open to Him with whom we have to do. Though never understood by men, we are understood by our God.
"'Tis no surprising thing That we should be unknown: The Jewish world knew not their King, God's everlasting Son."
As the Son of God was known to the Father, though unknown to all the world, so are we hidden from the knowledge of men, but well known of the Most High. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." "Thou hast known my soul in adversities." I quit the design of comforting the people of God for the more presently pressing work of arousing the unconverted. Their way is evil, and the end thereof is destruction. Oh, that I could arouse them to a sense of their condition! To that end I shall ask four questions of every man within reach of my voice. God knoweth the way that you take. I will ask you first: Do you know your own way? Secondly: Is it a comfort to you that God knows your way? Thirdly: Are you tried in the way? and, if so, fourthly: Have you confidence in God as to the result of that trial? Can you say with Job, "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold"? I. My hearer, I ask you, first: Do You have a way. There is a way which you have taken, chosen, selected for yourself: there is a way which you follow in desire, word, and act. So far as your life is left to your own management, there is a way which you voluntarily take, and willingly follow. Do you know what that way is? It is not everyone who does know as much as that. It is a very simple question to put to you; but yet it is a very needful one to a great many; for many walk on as in a dream. Do you know where you are going? "Of course," says one, "everybody knows where he is going." Do you know where you are going, and do you carefully consider your end? You are steaming across the deep sea of time into the main ocean of eternity: to what port are you steering? Whither goest thou, O man? The birds in the heaven know their time and place when they fly away in due season; but do you know whither you are speeding? Do you keep watch, looking ahead for the shore? What shore are you expecting to see? For what purpose are you living? What is the end and drift of your daily action? I fear that many in this vast congregation are not prepared to give a deliberate answer which will be pleasant to utter and to think upon. Is not this suspicious? If I were to go out tomorrow by sea, I should not walk on board a steamboat and then enquire, "Where are you going?" The captain would think me a crazy fellow if I embarked before I knew where the vessel was going. I first make up my mind where I will go, and then select a vessel which is likely to carry me there in comfort. You must know where you are going. The main thing with the captain of a Cunarder will be the getting his vessel safely into the port for which it is bound. This design overrules everything else. To get into port is the thought of every watch, every glance at the chart, every observation of the stars. The captain's heart is set upon the other side. His hope is safely to arrive at the desired haven, and he knows which is the haven of his choice. He would not expect to get there if he did not set his mind on it. How is it with you, dear friend? You are speeding towards heaven or hell: which of these is your port? I know of no ultimate abode of souls except the brightness of the Father's glory, or the darkness of Jehovah's wrath: which of these will be your end? Which way are you intentionally going? What is it you are aiming at? Are you living for God? or are you so living that the result must be eternal banishment from His presence? Surely, to press this inquiry upon you needs no eloquence of speech. The question is vital to your happiness, and self-interest should induce you to weigh it. I shall not use a single metaphor or illustration; for I am not here to please, but to arouse. I charge every man and woman in this house now to consider this question: Whither are you going? What will be the end of the life you are now leading? Do not cast away the inquiry. It is not impertinent; it is not unnecessary. In the name of the Lord, I beseech you answer me. If you answer that question, allow me to put another: Do you know how you are going? In what strength are you pursuing your journey? If you feel able to say, "I am seeking that which is right and good", I then press the inquiry, In what strength are you pursuing it? Are you depending upon your own power, or have you received strength from on high? Do you rely on your own resolves and determinations, or have you received help from the Spirit of God? Remember, there are days in every life-voyage in which the storm-fiend puts all human power to a nonplus. Even in the fairest weather we are all too apt to run on rocks or quicksands; but the voyage of life is seldom altogether a pleasant one, and we must be prepared for tempests. Our own unaided strength will not endure the waves and the winds of the ocean of life; and if you are trusting to yourself disaster will befall you. The Lord brings men to the desired haven; but left to themselves, they are no match for the thousand dangers of their mysterious voyage. Is God with you? Has the Lord Jesus become your strength and your song? Do you sail beneath the blood-red flag of the Cross? If you are trusting in the Lord alone, disappointment, failure, and shipwreck are impossible; but if you are hastening on with out God for your Guide and Protector, then will your weakness and folly be made clear before long to your inevitable ruin. You may put on all steam and forge ahead in the teeth of the wind; but all in vain: you will never reach the Fair Havens. Are there any here who decline to answer my question? Will you not tell us whither you are going? When a great vessel is crossing the sea and another comes within sight, they propose the question, "Where are you bound?" If the other vessel took no notice, gave no answer whatever, it would look suspicious. A craft that will not say where it is going! We don't like the look of it. If one of Her Majesty's vessels were about, and it challenged a sail, and received no reply to the question, "To what port are you bound?" I think they would fire a shot across her bows and make her heave to, till she did answer. Might not the silent craft prove to be a pirate? When a man confesses that he does not know where he is going, or what his business may be, the policeman concludes that he is probably going where he ought not to go, and has business on hand which is not what it should be. If you are afraid to consider your future, your fear is a bad omen. The tradesman who is afraid to look into his accounts will before long have them looked into for him by an officer from the Bankruptcy Court. He that dares not see his own face in the glass must be an ugly fellow; and you that dare not behold your own characters, have bad characters. Not know where you are going! Ah me! do you wish to find yourselves in hell on a sudden? Would you, like the rich man, lift up your eyes in hopeless misery? I am suspicious of you who cannot tell where you are going; and I wish you would be suspicious of yourselves. You who do not like self-examination are the persons who need it most. You who shun awkward questions are the very people who need to face them. I usually speak out pretty plainly, and those of you who are used to me are not displeased; but sometimes strange hearers are offended, and say that they will not come to be spoken to in such a fashion. Ah, my friend! your ill humour shows that you are in an ill condition and do not care to be corrected. If you were honestly desirous to be set right, you would like straight talks and honest rebukes. Do you prefer to go to a doctor who is known to say, "There is not much the matter: a little change, and a dose of physic, will soon put you all right"? Do you pay your guineas to be flattered? No; the man who is wise wants to know the truth, however alarming that truth may be. The man who is honest and hopeful desires a thorough examination, and invites the preacher to deal truthfully with him, even if the result should cause distress of mind. If you decline to see whither you are going, it is because you are going down into the pit. If you decline to answer the question, What is your way? I fear your way is one that you cannot defend, whose end will cause you endless lament. Is anyone here compelled to say, "I have chosen the evil road"? Remember, the Lord knows the way that you take. I am anxious that you should yourself know the truth about your condition and prospects. I dread much your going on in ignorance. I wish every man here who is serving Satan to be aware that he is doing it. "If Jehovah be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him": be hearty one way or the other. If you have chosen the service of sin, own it like a man, to yourself, at least. Choose your way of life in broad daylight. If you propose to die without hope in Christ, say as much. If you resolve to let the future happen as it may, and to run all risks, then put down in black and white your daring resolution. If you believe that you shall die like a dog and see no hereafter, do not at all conceal from yourself your doggish degradation, but be true to your own choice. If you choose the way of evil pleasures, do it deliberately and after weighing all that can be said on the other side. But there is this comfort to me, if it does not comfort you that if you have chosen the wrong way, that choice need not stand. The grace of God can come in, and lead you at once to reverse your course. Oh, that you may now say, "I had not thought of it, but I certainly am going in the wrong direction, and, God helping me, I will not go an inch further!" Through our Lord Jesus Christ the past can be forgiven; and by the power of the Holy Spirit the present and the future can be changed. The grace of God can lead you to turn away from that which you have eagerly followed, and cause you to seek after that which you have disregarded. Oh, that today your cry might be, "Ho for holiness and heaven!" You have not been hitherto on the Lord's side, but now enlist in the army of the Lord Jesus. I would fain stay your vessel in her evil voyage. I am firing a shot across your bows. I solemnly warn you to consider your ways. Bethink you, what will the end of these things be? Break off your sins by righteousness; for it is time to seek the Lord. "Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die, O house of Israel?" This is the voice of God's own Word to you: hear it, and be admonished, and, God helping you, turn at once. But, my friend, are you drifting? Do you say, "I am not distinctly sailing for heaven, neither am I resolutely steering in the other direction. I do not quite know what to say of myself"? Are you drifting, then? Are you like a vessel which is left to the mercy of the winds and the waves? Ignoble condition! Perilous case! What! Are you no more than a log on the water? I should not like to be a passenger in a vessel which had no course marked out on the chart, no pilot at the wheel, no man at watch. Surely, you must be derelict, if not water-logged; and you will come to a total wreck before long. Yours is a dark prospect. Some time ago, I read in a paper of a gentleman being brought up before the magistrate. What was the charge against him? "Nothing very serious," you will say. He was found wandering in the fields. He was asked where he was going, and he said he was not going anywhere. He was asked where he came from, and he said he did not know. They asked him where his home was, and he said he had none. They brought him up for wandering as what? a dangerous lunatic. The man who has no aim or object in life, but just wanders about anywhere or nowhere, acts like a dangerous lunatic, and assuredly he is not morally sane. What! Am I aiming at nothing? Have I all this machinery of life, making up a vessel more wonderful than the finest steam-boat, and am I going nowhere? My heart-throbs are the pulsing of a divinely-arranged machinery: do they beat for nothing? Do I get up every morning, and go about this world, and work hard, and all for nothing which will last? As a being created of God for noblest purposes, am I spending my existence in a purposeless manner? How foolish! Why, surely, I have need, like the prodigal, to come to myself; and if I do come to myself, I shall ask myself, Can it be right that I should thus be wasting the precious gifts of time, and life, and power? If I were nothing, it were congruous that I should aim at nothing; but, being a man, I ought to have a high purpose, and to pursue it heartily. Do not say that you are drifting; it is a terrible answer, implying grievous danger, and casting a suspicion upon your sanity. If you have reason, use it in a reasonable way, and do not play the fool. But can you say, "Yes, I am bound for the right port"? It may be that your accents are trembling with a holy fear; but none the less I am glad to hear you say as much. I rejoice if you say, "Christ commands me; I am trusting to his guidance; he is my way, my life, my end." Dear friend, I congratulate you. We will sail together, as God shall help us, under the convoy of our Lord Jesus, who is the Lord High Admiral of the sea of life. We will keep with His squadron till we cast anchor in the glassy sea. But now that you know your way and are assured that you are on the right tack, put on all steam. Exert your strength in the work to which your life is consecrated. Waste not a single moment; let no energy lie dormant; arouse every faculty. If you are serving the Lord, serve Him with all your might. Is it not written, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength"? Those words sound to me like great strokes of the soul's paddle wheels! They urge us to press forward in the holy voyage. Brothers, we must run, for our life is to be a race. It must be hard running, too. "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." If we really are on the right way, let us press forward with all our powers; and may God help us that we may win the prize! Answer this first question, and know of a surety whose you are, and where you are, and whither you are going. II. Secondly, IS IT A COMFORT TO YOU THAT GOD KNOWS YOUR WAY? Solemnly, I believe that one of the best tests of human character is our relation to the great truth of God's omniscience. If it startles you that God sees you, then you ought to be startled. If it delights you that God sees you, you may reasonably conclude that there is within your heart that which is right and true, which God will approve of. You are among those who do the truth, for you come to the light, and cry, "Search me, O God." Allow me to apply the test to you now, by asking what you think of the truth that the Lord knows you altogether. Remember, if your heart condemn you, God is greater than your heart and knoweth all things; but if your heart condemn you not, then have you confidence towards God. Dear friend, it is quite certain that God does know the way that you take. The Hebrew may be read, "He knoweth the way that is in me"; from which I gather that the Lord not only knows our outward actions, but our inward feelings. He knows our likes and dislikes, our desires and our designs, our imaginations and tendencies. He knows not only what we do, but what we would do if we could. He knows which way we should go if the restraints of society and the fear of consequences were removed; and that, perhaps, is a more important proof of character than the actions of which we are guilty. God knows what you think of, what you wish for, what you are pleased with: he knows, not only the surface-tint of your character, but the secret heart and core of it. The Lord knows you altogether. Think of that. Does it give you any joy, this morning, to think that the Lord thus reads all the secrets of your bosom? Whether you rejoice therein or not, so it is and ever will be. The Lord knows you approvingly if you follow that which is right. He knoweth them that put their trust in Him; that is to say, He approves of them. If there be in you even a faint desire towards God, He knows it and looks with pleasure upon it. If you practise private prayer, if you do good by stealth, if you conquer evil passions, if you honour Him by patience, if you present gifts to Him which nobody ever hears of, He knows it all, and He smiles upon it. Does this give you pleasure, greater pleasure than if men praised you for it? Then it is well with you; but if you put the praise of men before the approval of God, you are in an evil case. If you can say this morning, "I am glad that He knows what I do, for his approval is heaven to me," then conclude that there is a work of grace in your heart, and that you are a follower of Jesus. God knows your way, however falsely you may be represented by others. Those three men who had looked so askance upon Job, accused him of hypocrisy, and of having practised some secret evil; but Job could answer, "The Lord knoweth the way that I take." Are you the victim of slander? The Lord knows the truth. Though you have been sadly misunderstood, if not wilfully misrepresented by ungenerous persons, yet God knows all about you; and His knowledge is of more importance than the opinions of dying men. If you are not afraid to put your character and profession before the eye of the Lord, you have small reason for disquietude, though all men should cast out your name as evil. The Lord knows the way that you take, though you could not yourself describe that way. Some gracious people are slow of speech and they have great difficulty in saying anything about their soul affairs. Coming to see the elders of the church is quite an ordeal. I am half afraid that they even feel it a trial to see me, poor creature that I am. They are timid in speech, though they would be bold in act. They could die for Jesus, but they find it hard to speak for him. Their heart is all right; but when they begin to talk, their tongue fails them. They are unable to describe their conversion, though they feel it. They love repentance, but can barely describe their own repenting. They have believed in the Lord Jesus, but it would puzzle them to tell what faith is. Trembling one, fall back on this "He knoweth the way that I take." If I cannot express my faith, yet He accepts it: if I cannot describe His work in my soul, yet He discerns the work of His own hands. Another great mercy is, that God knows the way we take when we hardly know it ourselves. There are times with the true children of God when they cannot see their way, nor even take their bearings. It is not every saint that knows his longitude and latitude; nay, it is not every saint that is sure that he is a saint. We have to ask, "Is my repentance real? Is my faith true? Have I really passed from death to life? Am I the Lord's own?" I do not wish you to be in such a state: it is a pity that such a question should be possible; but I know full well that many sincere saints are often put to the question, and not altogether without reason. Herein is comfort: the Lord knows His children, and He knows the truth of their graces, the preciousness of their faith, the heavenliness of their life; for He is the former, the author of them all. He knows His own work, and cannot be deceived. Wherefore, dear friends, let us feel confident in God's knowledge of us, since He is greater than our hearts, and His verdict is more sure than that of conscience itself. Once more, remember that at this very moment God knows your way. He knows not only the way you have taken and the way you will take, but the way you are now choosing for yourself. He knows how you are acting towards the sermon you are hearing. It may be, you conclude that the preacher is very tiresome. Be it so: but still the subject is one which ought to be pressed upon your consideration; therefore, bear with me. But if you reply, "No, it is not that; but I do not want to be probed and pressed in this way." Well, the Lord knows that you are taking the way of resisting His Spirit, and hardening your neck against rebuke. Do you like that fact? I think I hear one say, "I really wish to be right, and I am afraid I am not right. Oh, that I could be made so! "God knows that feeling; breathe it into His ear in prayer. If you can say, "I am willing to be tested; I know to what port I am going; I am no pirate; I am bound for the New Jerusalem," then I rejoice. Well, well, the Lord knows. He dearly sees your present thought, your present wish, your present resolve. He knows your heart. Is that a comfort to you? If it is, well. But if it saddens you that God should know your present condition, then be afraid, for there is something about you to be afraid of. He that sews fig leaves together, as Adam did, that he may hide himself from God, must know that he is naked. If he were clothed in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, he would seek no concealment, but would be willing both to examine himself, and to be examined of the Lord. Thus have I handled these two questions: Do you know your way? Is it a comfort to you that God knows your way? III. Thirdly, DO YOU MEET WITH TRIALS IN THE WAY? I anticipate your answer. Out of the many here present, not one has been quite free from sorrow. I think I hear one saying, "Sir, I have had more trouble since I have been a Christian than I ever had before." I met with such a case the other day: a man said to me, "I never went to a place of worship for many years, and I always seemed to prosper. At last I began to think of divine things, and I attended the house of God; but since then I have had nothing but trouble." He did not murmur against God, but he did think it very strange. Friend, listen to me. These troubles are no token that you are in the wrong way. Job was in the right way, and the Lord knew it; and yet he suffered Job to be very fiercely tried. Consider that there are trials in all ways. Even the road to destruction, broad as it is, has not a path in it which avoids trial. Some sinners go over hedge and ditch to hell. If a man resolves to be a worldling, he will not find that the paths of sin are paths of peace. The wicked may well be ill at ease; for God walks contrary to them because they walk contrary to him. No man, be he on the throne, or on the wool-sack, or up in a mill, or down in a coal-pit can live without affliction. In a cottage near a wood there are troubles as well as in the palace by the sea. We are born to trouble: if you look for a world without thorns and thistles, you will not find it here. Then, remember, the very brightest of the saints have been afflicted. We have in the Bible, records of the lives of believers. Can you remember the life of a single believer who lived and died without sorrow? I cannot. Begin with father Abraham: the Lord did try Abraham. Go on to Moses, a king in Israel. Were not his trials many and heavy? Remember David and all his afflictions. Come down to New Testament times. The apostles were so tried that one of them said, "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." Through much tribulation they reached their rest. If the saints of God confessed that theirs was a troublous way, you need not suppose that you are out of the road because your way is full of difficulty. Is there any ocean upon which a ship can sail in which it shall be quite sure that no storms will arise? Where there is sea there may be storms, so where there is life there will be changes, temptations, difficulties and sorrows. Trials are no evidence of being without God, since trials come from God. Job says, "When he hath tried me." He sees God in his afflictions. The devil actually wrought the trouble; but the Lord not only permitted it, but he had a design in it. Without the divine concurrence, none of his afflictions could have happened. It was God that tried Job, and it is God that tries us. No trouble comes to us without divine permission. All the dogs of affliction are muzzled until God sets them free. Nay, against none of the seed of Israel can a dog move its tongue unless God permits. Troubles do not spring out of the ground like weeds that grow anyhow, but they grow as plants set in the garden. God appoints the weight and number of all our adversities. If He declares the number ten they cannot be eleven. If He wills that we bear a certain weight, no one can add half an ounce more. Since every trial comes from God, afflictions are no evidence that you are out of God's way. Besides, according to the text, these trials are tests: "When he hath tried me." The trials that came to Job were made to be proofs that the patriarch was real and sincere. Did not the enemy say: "Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face." The devil will have it that as dogs follow men for bones, so do we follow God for what we can get out of him. The Lord lets the devil see that our love is not bought by temporal goods; that we are not mercenary followers, but loving children of the Lord, so that under dire suffering we exclaim, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." By the endurance of grief our sincerity is made manifest, and it is proven that we are not mere pretenders, but true heirs of God. Once more upon this point: if you have met with troubles, remember they will come to an end. The holy man in our text says, "When he hath tried me." As much as to say, He will not always be doing it; there will come a time when He will have done trying me. Beloved, put a stout heart to a steep hill and you will climb it before long. Put the ship in good trim for a storm; and though the winds may howl for a while, they will at length sob themselves asleep. There is a sea of glass for us after the sea of storms. Only have patience and the end will come. Many a man of God has lived through a hundred troubles when he thought one would kill him; and so will it be with you. You young beginners, you that are bound for the kingdom, but have only lately started for it, be not amazed if you meet with conflicts. If you very soon meet with difficulties, be not surprised. Let your trials be evidence to you rather that you are in the right, than that you are in the wrong way; "for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" He that will go to hell will find many to help him thither; but he that will go to heaven may have to cut his way through a host of adversaries. Pluck up courage. The rod is one of the tokens of the child of God. If thou wert not God's child thou mightest be left unchastened; but inasmuch as thou art dear to Him, He will whip thee when thou dost disobey. If thou wert only a bit of common clay God would not put thee into the furnace; but as thou art gold and He knows it, thou must be refined; and to be refined it is needful that the fire should exercise its power upon thee. Because thou art bound for heaven thou wilt meet with storms on thy voyage to glory. IV. Fourthly, HAVE YOU CONFIDENCE IN GOD AS TO THESE STORMS? Can you say, in the language of the text, "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold"? If you are really trusting in Jesus, if he is everything to you, you may say this confidently; for you will find it true to the letter. If you have really given yourself up to be saved by grace, do not hesitate to believe that you will be found safe at the last. I do not like people to come and trust Christ with a temporary faith as though he could keep them for a day or two, but could not preserve them all their lives. Trust Christ for everlasting salvation: mark the word "everlasting." I thank God, that when I believed in His Son Jesus Christ, I laid hold upon final perseverance: I believed that where He had begun a good work He would carry it on and perfect it in the day of Christ. I believed in the Lord Jesus, not for a year or two, but for all the days of my life, and to eternity. I want your faith to have a hand of that kind, so that you grasp the Lord as your Saviour to the uttermost. I cannot tell what troubles may come, nor what temptations may arise; but I know in whose hands I am, and I am persuaded that He is able to preserve me, so that when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. I go into the fire, but I shall not be burned up in it; "I shall come forth." Like the three holy children, though the furnace be heated seven times hotter, yet the Son of man will be with me in the furnace, and "I shall come forth" with not even the smell of fire upon me. Yes, "I shall come forth," and none can hinder me. It is good to begin with this holy confidence, and to let that confidence increase as you get nearer to the recompense of the reward. Hath He not promised that we shall never perish? shall we not, therefore, come forth as gold? This confidence is grounded on the Lord's knowledge of us. "He knoweth the way that I take": therefore, "when he hath tried me, shall come forth as gold." If something happened to us which the Lord had not foreseen and provided for, we might be in great peril; But He knows our way even to the end, and is prepared for its rough places. If some amazing calamity could come upon us which the Lord had not reckoned upon, we might well be afraid of being wrecked; but our Lord's foreseeing eye hath swept the horizon and prepared us for all weathers. He knows where storms do lurk and cyclones hide away; and He is at home in managing tempests and tornadoes. If His far-seeing eye has spied out for us a long sickness and a gradual and painful death, then He has prepared the means to bear us through. If He has looked into the mysterious unknown of the apocalyptic revelation, and seen unimaginable horrors and heartmelting terrors, yet He has forestalled the necessity which He knows is coming on. It is enough for us that our Father knows what things we have need of and "when he hath tried us, we shall come forth as gold." This confidence must be sustained by sincerity. If a man is not sure that he is sincere, he cannot have confidence in God. If you are a bit of gold and know it, the fire and you are friends. You will come forth out of it; for no fire will burn up gold. But if you suspect that you are some imitation metal, some mixture which glitters but is not gold, you will then hate fire, and have no good word for it. You will proudly murmur at the divine dispensations. Why should you be put into the fire? Why should you be tried? You will kick against God's providence if you are a hypocrite; but if you are really sincere, you will submit to the divine hand, and will not lie down in despair. The motto of pure gold is, "I shall come forth." Make it your hopeful confidence in the day of trouble. I want you to have this sense of sincerity which makes you know that you are what you profess to be, that you may also have the conviction that you will come forth out of every possible trial. I shall be tempted, but "I shall come forth"; I shall be denounced by slander, but "I shall come forth." Be of good cheer: O gold, if thou goest into the fire gold, thou writ come forth gold! Once more, he says, "I shall come forth as gold." But how does that come forth? It comes forth proved. It has been assayed, and is now warranted pure. So shall you be. After the trial you will be able to say, "Now I know that I fear God; now I know that God is with me, sustaining me; now I see that He has helped me, and I am sure that I am his." How does gold come forth? It comes forth purified. A lump of ore may not be so big as when it went into the fire, but it is quite as precious. There is quite as much gold in it now as there was at first. What has gone? Nothing but that which is best gone. The dross has gone; but all the gold is there. O child of God, you may decrease in bulk, but not in bullion! You may lose importance, but not innocence. You may not talk so big; but there shall be really more to talk of. And what a gain it is to lose dross! What gain to lose pride! What gain to lose self-sufficiency! What gain to lose all those propensities to boastings that are so abundantly there! You may thank God for your trials, for you will come forth as gold purified. Once more, how does gold come forth from the furnace? It comes forth ready for use. Now the goldsmith may take it and make what he pleases of it. It has been through the fire and the dross has been got away from it, and it is fit for his use. So, beloved, if you are on the way to heaven and you meet with difficulties, they will bring you preparation for higher service; you will be a better and more useful man; you will be a woman whom God can more fully use to comfort others of a sorrowful spirit. Spiritual afflictions are heavenly promotions. You are going a rank higher: God is putting another stripe upon your arm. You were only a corporal, but now He is making a sergeant of you. Be not discouraged. You that have set out for heaven this morning, do not go back because you get a rainy day when you start. Do not be like Pliable. When he got to the Slough of Despond, and tumbled in, all he did was to struggle to get out on the side nearest home. He said, "If I may only once get out of this bog, you may have that grand city for yourself for me." Come, be like Christian, who, though he did sink, always kept his face in the right way and always turned his back to the City of Destruction. "No," he said, "if I sink in deep mire where there is no standing, I will go down with my eyes towards the hills whence cometh my help." "I am bound for Canaan, and if all the Canaanites stand in the way in one block, I will die with my face towards Jerusalem: I still will hold on, God helping me, even unto the end." May the Lord so bless you, for He knows the way you take; and when He hath tried you, He will bring you forth as gold. Amen.
The Fair Portrait of a Saint March 7, 1880 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food." --Job 23:11-12 .
Thus Job speaks of himself, not by way of vaunting, but by way of vindication. Eliphaz the Temanite and his two companions had brought distinct charges against Job's character: because they saw him in such utter misery they concluded that his adversity must have been sent as a punishment for his sin, and therefore they judged him to be a hypocrite, who under cover of religion had exercised oppression and tyranny. Zophar had hinted that wickedness was sweet in Job's mouth, and that he hid iniquity under his tongue. Eliphaz charged him with hardness of heart to the poor, and dared to say, "Thou hast taken a pledge from thy brother for nought, and stripped the naked of their clothing." This last from its very impossibility was meant to show the extreme meanness to which he falsely imagined that Job must have descended--how could he strip the naked? He was evidently firing at random. As neither he nor his companions could discover any palpable blot in Job upon which they could distinctly lay their finger, they bespattered him right and left with their groundless accusations. They made up in venom for the want of evidence to back their charges. They felt sure that there must be some great sin in him to have procured such extraordinary afflictions, and therefore by smiting him all over they hoped to touch the sore place. Let them stand as a warning to us never to judge men by their circumstances, and never to conclude that a man must be wicked because he has fallen from riches to poverty.
Job, however, knew his innocence, and he was determined not to give way to them. He said, "Ye are forgers of lies, physicians of no value. O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom." He fought the battle right manfully; not, perhaps, without a little display of temper and self-righteousness, but still with much less of either than any of us would have shown had we been in the same plight, and had we been equally conscious of perfect integrity. He has in this part of his self-defense sketched a fine picture of a man perfect and upright before God. He has set before us the image to which we should seek to be conformed. Here is the high ideal after which every Christian man should strive; and happy shall he be who shall attain to it. Blessed is he who in the hour of his distress, if he be falsely accused, will be able to say with as much truth as the patriarch could, "My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food."
I ask you, first, to inspect the picture of Job's holy life, that you may make it your model. After we have done this, we will look a little below the surface, asking the question, "How was he enabled to lead such an admirable life as this? Upon what meat did this great patriarch feed that he had grown so eminent?" We shall find the answer in our second head, Job's holy sustenance --"I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food." May he, who wrought in Job his patience and integrity, by this our meditation teach us the like virtues by the power of the Holy Ghost.
I. Let us sit down before this sketch of JOB' S HOLY LIFE: it will well repay a meditative study.
Note, first, that Job had been all along a man fearing God and walking after the divine rule. In the words before us he dwells much upon the things of God--"his steps," "his way," "the commandment of his lips," "the words of his mouth." He was pre-eminently one that "feared God and eschewed evil." He knew God to be the Lord, and worthy to be served, and therefore he lived in obedience to his law, which was written upon his instructed conscience. His way was God's way; he chose that course which the Lord commanded. He did not seek his own pleasure, nor the carrying out of his own will: neither did he follow the fashion of the times, nor conform himself to the ruling opinion or custom of the age in which he lived: fashion and custom were nothing to him, he knew no rule but the will of the Almighty. Like some tall cliff which breasts the flood, he stood out almost alone, a witness for God in an idolatrous world. He owned the living God, and lived "as seeing him who is invisible." God 's will had taken the helm of the vessel, and the ship was steered in God's course according to the divine compass of infallible justice and the unerring chart of the divine will. This is a great point to begin with; it is, indeed, the only sure basis of a noble character. Ask the man who seeks to be the architect of a great and honorable character this question--Where do you place God? Is he second with you? Ah, then, in the judgment of those whose view comprehends all human relationships you will lead a very secondary kind of life, for the first and most urgent obligation of your being will be disregarded. But is God first with you? Is this your determination, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"? Do you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? If so, you are laying the foundation for a whole or holy character, for you begin by acknowledging your highest responsibility. In this respect you will find that" the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Whether the way be rough or smooth, uphill or down dale, through green pastures or burning deserts, let God's way be your way. Where the fiery cloudy pillar of his providence leads be sure to follow, and where his holy statutes command, there promptly go. Ask the Lord to let you hear his Spirit speak like a voice behind you saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." As soon as you see from the Scriptures, or from conscience, or from providence, what the will of the Lord is, make haste and delay not to keep his commandments. Set the Lord always before you. Have respect unto his statutes at all times, and in all your ways acknowledge him. No man will be able to look back upon his life with complacency unless God has been sitting upon the throne of his heart and ruling all his thoughts, aims, and actions. Unless he can say with David, "My soul hath kept thy testimonies and I love them exceedingly," he will find much to weep over and little with which to answer his accusers.
We must follow the Lord's way, or our end will be destruction; we must take hold upon Christ's steps, or our feet will soon be in slippery places; we must reverence God's words, or our own words will be idle and full of vanity; and we must keep God's commands, or we shall be destitute of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. I set not forth obedience to the law as the way of salvation; but I speak to those who profess to be saved already by faith in Christ Jesus, and I remind all of you who are numbered with the company of believers that if you are Christ's disciples you will bring forth the fruits of holiness, and if you are God's children you will be like your Father. Godliness breeds God-likeness. The fear of God leads to imitation of God, and where this is not so, the root of the matter is lacking. The scriptural rule is "by their fruits ye shall know them," and by this we must examine ourselves.
Let us now consider Job's first sentence. He says: "My foot hath held his steps." This expression sets forth great carefulness. He had watched every step of God, that is to say, he had been minute as to particulars, observing each precept, which he looked upon as being a footprint which the Lord had made for him to set his foot in; observing, also, each detail of the great example of his God; for in so far as God is imitable he is the great example of his people, as he saith--"Be ye holy, for I am holy": and again, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Job had observed the steps of God's justice, that he might be just; the steps of God's mercy, that he might be pitiful and compassionate; the steps of God's bounty, that he might never be guilty of churlishness or want of liberality; and the steps of God's truth, that he might never deceive. He had watched God's steps of forgiveness, that he might forgive his adversaries; and God's steps of benevolence, that he might also do good and communicate, according to his ability, to all that were in need. In consequence of this he became eyes to the blind and feet to the lame; he delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless and him that had none to help. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him, and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.
"My foot," he saith, "hath held his steps": he means that he had labored to be exact in his obedience towards God, and in his imitation of the divine character. Beloved, we shall do well if we are to the minutest point hourly observant of the precepts and example of God in all things. We must follow not only the right road, but his footprints in that road. We are to be obedient to our heavenly Father not only in some things, but in all things: not in some place but in all places, abroad and at home, in business and in devotion, in the words of our lips and in the thoughts of our hearts. There is no holy walking without careful watching. Depend upon it, no man was ever good by chance, nor did anyone ever become like the Lord Jesus by a happy accident. "I put gold into the furnace," said Aaron, "and there came out this calf," but nobody believed him. If the image was like a calf it was because he had shaped it with a graving tool; and if it is not to be believed that metal will of itself take the form of a calf, much less will character assume the likeness of God himself, as we see it in the Lord Jesus. The pattern is too rich and rare, too elaborate and perfect, ever to be reproduced by a careless, half-awakened trifler. No, we must give all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength to this business, and watch every step, or else our walk will not be close with God, nor pleasing in his sight. O to be able to say, "My foot hath held his steps."
Notice here that the expression has something in it of tenacity, he speaks of taking hold upon God's steps. The idea needs to be lit up by the illustration contained in the original expression. You must go to mountainous regions to understand it. In very rough ways a person may walk all the better for having no shoes to his feet. I sometimes pitied the women of Mentone coming down the rough places of the mountains barefooted, carrying heavy loads upon their heads, but I ceased to pity them when I observed that most of them had a capital pair of shoes in the basket at the top; and I perceived as I watched them that they could stand where I slipped, because their feet took hold upon the rock, almost like another pair of hands. Barefooted they could safely stand, and readily climb where feet encased after our fashion would never carry them. Many Orientals have a power of grasp in their feet which we appear to have lost from want of use. An Arab in taking a determined stand actually seems to grasp the ground with his toes. Roberts tells us in his well-known "Illustrations" that Easterns, instead of stooping to pick up things from the ground with their fingers, will take them up with their toes; and he tells of a criminal condemned to he beheaded, who, in order to stand firm when about to die, grasped a shrub with his foot. Job declares that he took hold of God's steps, and thus secured a firm footing. He had a hearty grip of holiness, even as David said, "I have stuck unto thy testimonies." That eminent scholar Dr. Good renders the passage, "in his steps will I rivet my feet." He would set them as fast in the footprints of truth and righteousness as if they were riveted there, so firm was his grip upon that holy way which his heart had chosen. This is exactly what we need to do with regard to holiness: we must feel about for it with a sensitive conscience, to know where it is, and when we know it we must seize upon it eagerly, and hold to it as for our life. The way of holiness is often craggy, and Satan tries to make it very slippery, and unless we can take hold of God's steps we shall soon slip with our feet, and bring grievous injury upon ourselves, and dishonor to his holy name. Beloved, to make up a holy character there must be a tenacious adherence to integrity and piety. You must not be one that can be blown off his feet by the hope of a little gain, or by the threatening breath of an ungodly man: you must stand fast and stand firm, and against all pressure and blandishment you must seize and grasp the precepts of the Lord, and abide in them, riveted to them. Standfast is one of the best soldiers in the Prince Immanuel's army and one of the most fit to be trusted with the colors of his regiment. "Having done all, still stand."
To make a holy character we must take hold of the steps of God in the sense of promptness and speed. Here again I must take you to the East to get the illustration. They say of a man who closely imitates his religious teacher, "his feet have laid hold of h is master's steps," meaning that he so closely follows his teacher that he seems to take hold of his heels. This is a blessed thing indeed, when grace enables us to follow our Lord closely. There is his foot, and close behind it is ours; and there again he takes another step, and we plant our feet where he has planted his. A very beautiful motto is hung up in our infant class-room at the Stockwell Orphanage, "What would Jesus do?" Not only may children take it as their guide, but all of us may do the same, whatever our age. "What would Jesus do?" If you desire to know what you ought to do under any circumstances, imagine Jesus to be in that position, and then think, "What would Jesus do? for what Jesus would do that ought I to do." In following Jesus we are following God, for in Christ Jesus the brightness of the Father's glory is best seen. Our example is our Lord and Master, Jesus the Son of God, and therefore this question is but a beam from our guiding star. Ask in all cases--"What would Jesus do?" That unties the knot of all moral difficulty in the most practical way, and does it so simply that no great. wit or wisdom will be needed. May God's Holy Spirit help us to copy the line which Jesus has written, even as scholars imitate their writing master in each stroke, and line, and mark, and dot. Oh, when we come to die, and have to look back upon our lives, it will be a blessed thing to have followed the Lord fully. They are happy who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. Blessed are they in life and death of whom it can be said,--as he was so were they also in this world. Though misunderstood and misrepresented, yet they were honest imitators of their Lord. Such a truehearted Christian can say, "He knoweth the way that. I take. He tried me, and I came forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps." Many a sorrow will you avoid if you keep close at your Master's heel. You know what came of Peter's following afar off; try what will come of close walking with Jesus. Abide in him, and let his words abide in you, so shall you be his disciples. You dare not. trust in your works, and will not think of doing so, yet will you bless God that, being saved by his grace, you were enabled to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, by a close and exact following of the steps of your Lord.
Three things, then, we get in the first sentence,--an exactness of obedience, a tenacity of grip upon that which is good, and a promptness in endeavoring to keep touch with God, and to follow him in all respects. May these things be in us and abound.
We now pass on to the second sentence. I am afraid you will say, "Spare us, for even unto the first sentence we have not yet attained." Labor after it then, beloved; forgetting the things that are behind except to weep over them, press forward to that which is before. May God give you those sensitive grasping feet which we have tried to describe: feet that take hold on the Lord's way, and may you throughout life keep that hold; for "blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord."
The next sentence runneth thus: "His way have I kept"; that is to say, Job had adhered to God's way as the rule of his life. When he knew that such-and-such a thing was the mind of God, either by his conscience telling him that it was right, or by a divine revelation, then he obeyed the intimation and kept to it. He did not go out of God's way to indulge his own fancies, or to follow some supposed leader: to God's way he kept from his youth, even till the time when the Lord himself said of him, "Hast thou considered my servant Job, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" The Lord gave him this character to the devil, who could not deny it, and did not attempt to do so, but only muttered, "Doth Job serve God for nought? Hast thou not set a hedge about him and all that he hath?" When he uttered our text Job could have replied to the malicious accuser that, even when God had broken down his hedges and laid him waste, he had not sinned nor charged God foolishly. He heeded not his wife's rash counsels to curse God and die, but he still blessed the divine name even though everything was taken from him. What noble words are those: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Though bereft of all earthly comfort, he did not forsake the way of holiness, but still kept to his God.
Keeping to the way signifies not simply adherence, but continuance and progress in it. Job had gone on in the ways of God year after year. He had not grown tired of holiness, nor weary of devotion, neither had he grown sick of what men call straight-laced piety. He had kept the way of God on, and on, and on, delighting in what Coverdale's version calls God's "high street" --the highway of holiness. The further he went the more pleasure he took in it, and the more easy he found it to his feet, for God was with him and kept him, and so he kept God's way. "Thy way have I kept." He means that notwithstanding there were difficulties in the way he persevered in it. It was stormy weather, but Job kept to the old road; the sleet beat in his face, but he kept his way: he had gone that path in fair weather, and he was not going to forsake his God now that the storms were out; and so he kept his way. Then the scene changed, the sun was warm, and all the air was redolent with perfume, and merry with the song of birds, but Job kept his way. If God's providence flooded his sky with sunshine he d id not forsake God because of prosperity, as some do, but kept his way--kept his way when it was rough, kept his way when it was smooth. When he met with adversities he did not turn into a bye-road, but traveled the King's highway, where a man is safest, for those who dare to assail him will have to answer for it to a higher power. The high street of holiness is safe because the King's guarantee is given that "no lion shall be there, neither shall any ravenous beast go up thereon." The righteous shall hold on his way, and so did Job, come fair, come foul. When there were others in the road with him, and when there were none, he kept his way. He would not even turn aside for those three good men, or men who thought themselves good, who sat by the wayside and miserably comforted, that is to say, tormented him; he kept God's way, as one whose mind is made up and whose face is set like a flint. There was no turning him, he would fight his way if he could not have it peaceably. I like a man whose mind is set upon being right with God, a self-contained man by God's grace, who does not want patting on the back and encouraging, and who on the other hand does not care if he is frowned at, but has counted the cost and abides by it. Give me a man who has a backbone; a brave fellow who has grit in him. It is well for a professor when God has put some soul into him, and made a man of him for if a. Christian man is not a man as well as a Christian, he will not long remain a Christian man. Job was firm: a well-made character that did not shrink in the wetting. He believed his God, he knew God's way, and he kept to it under all circumstances from his first start in life even until that day when he sat on a dunghill and transformed it into a throne, whereon he reigned as among all mere men, the peerless prince of patience. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and of this as one part of it, that he kept the way of the Lord.
Now, dear brethren, on this second clause let me utter this word of self-examination. Have we, kept God's way? Have we got into it and do we mean to keep it still? Some are soon hot and soon cold; some set out for the New Jerusalem like Pliable, very eagerly, but the first slough of despond they tumble into shakes their resolution, and they crawl out on the homeward side and go back to the world again. There will be no comfort in such temporary religion, but dreadful misery when we come to consider it on a dying bed. Changeful Pliables will find it hard to die. O to be constant even to the end, so as to say, "My foot. hath held his steps, his way have I kept." God grant us grace to do it, by his Spirit abiding in us.
The third clause is, "And not declined," by which I understand that he had not declined from the way of holiness, nor declined in the way. First, he had not declined from it. He had not turned to the right hand nor to the left. Some turn away from God's way to the right hand by doing more than God's word has bidden them do; such as. invent religious ceremonies, and vows, and bonds, and become superstitious, falling under the bondage of priestcraft, and being led into will--worship, and things that are not Scriptural. This is as truly wandering as going out of the road to the left would be. Ah, dear friends, keep to the simplicity of the Bible. This is an age in which Holy Scripture is very little accounted of. If a church chooses to invent a ceremony, men fall into it, and practice it as if it were God's ordinance. Ay, and if neither church nor law recognize the performance, yet if certain self-willed priests choose to burn candles, and to wear all sorts of bedizenments, and bow, and cringe, and march in procession, there are plenty of simpletons who will go whichever way their clergyman chooses, even if he should lead them into downright heathenism. "Follow my leader" is the game of the day, but "Follow my God" is the motto of a true Christian. Job had not turned to the right.
Nor had he turned to the left. He had not been lax in observing God's commandments. He had shunned omission as well as commission. This is a very heart-searching matter; for how many there are whose greatest sins lie in omission. And remember, sins of omission, though they sit very light on many consciences, and though the bulk of professors do not even think them sins, are the very sins for which men will be condemned at the last. How do I prove that? What said the great Judge? "I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink, sick and in prison and ye visited me not." It was what they did not do that cursed them, more than what they did do. So look ye well to it, and pray God that you may not decline from the way of his precepts, from Jesus who, himself is the one and only way.
Furthermore, I take it Job means that he had not even declined in that way. He did not begin with running hard and then get out of breath, and sit by the wayside and say, "Rest and be thankful;" but he kept up the pace, and did not decline. If he was warm and zealous once he remained warm and zealous; if he was indefatigable in service, he did not gradually tone down into a sluggard, but he could say, "I have not declined." Whereas we ought to make advances towards heaven, there are many who are, after twenty years profession, no forwarder than they were, but perhaps in a worse state. Oh, beware of a decline. We were accustomed to use that term years ago to signify the commencement of a consumption, or perhaps the effects of it; and indeed, a decline in the soul often leads on to a deadly consumption. In a spiritual consumption the very life of religion seems to ebb out by little and little. The man does not die by a wound that stabs his reputation, but by a secret weakness within him, which eats at the vitals of godliness and leaves the outward surface fair. God save us from declining. I am sure, dear friends, we cannot many of us afford to decline much, for we are none too earnest, none too much alive now; but this is one of the great faults of churches, so many of the members are in a decline that the church becomes a hospital instead of a barracks. Many professors are not what they were at first: they were very promising young men, but they are not performing old men. We are pleased to see the flowers on our fruit trees, but they disappoint us unless they knit into fruit, and we are not satisfied even then unless the fruit ripens to a mellow sweetness. We do not make orchards for the sake of blossoms, we want apples. So is it with the garden of grace, our Lord comes seeking fruit, and instead thereof he often finds nothing but leaves. May God grant. to us that we may not decline from the highest standard we have ever reached. "I would," said the Lo rd of the church of Laodicea, "that thou wert either cold or hot." Oh, you lukewarm ones take that warning to heart. Remember, Jesus cannot endure you; he will spue you out of his mouth; you make him sick to think of you. If you were downright. cold he would understand you; if you were hot he would delight in you; but being neither cold nor hot he is sick at the thought of you, he cannot endure you; and indeed, when we think of what the Lord has done for us, it is enough to make us sick to think that any one should drag on in a cold, inanimate manner in his service, who loved us, and gave himself for us.
Some decline because they become poor: they even stay from worship on that account. I hope none of you say, "I do not like to come to the Tabernacle because I have not fit clothes to come in." As I have often said, any clothes are fit for a man to come here in if he has paid for them. Let each come by all manner of means in such garments as he has, and he shall be welcome. But I do know some very poor professors who, in the extremity of their anxiety and trouble, instead of flying to God, fly from him. This is very sad. The poorer you are, the more you want the rich consolations of grace. Do not let this temptation overcome you, but if you are as poor as Job, be as resolved as he to keep to the Lord's way and not decline. Others fly from their religion because they grow rich. They say that three generations never will come on wheels to a dissenting place of worship, and it has proved to be sadly true in many instances, though I have no cause to complain of you as yet. Some persons when they rise in the world turn up their noses at their poor friends. If any of you do so you will be worthy of pity, if not. of contempt. If you forsake the ways of God for the fashion of the world you will be poor gainers by your wealth. The Lord keep you from such a decline. Many decline because they conform to the fashion of the world, and the way of the world is not the way of God. Doth not James say, "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." Others wander because they get into ill company, among witty people, or clever people, or hospitable people, who are not gracious people. Such society is dangerous. People whom we esteem, but whom God does not esteem, are a great snare. It is very perilous to love those who love not God. He shall not be my bosom friend who is not God's friend, for I shall probably do him but little service, and he will do me much harm. May the grace of God prevent your growing cold from any of these causes, and may you be able to say, "I have not declined."
One more sentence remains: "Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips": that is to say, as he had not slackened his pace, so much less had he turned back. May none of you ever go back. This is the most cutting grief of a pastor, that certain persons come in among us, and even come to the front, who after awhile turn back and walk no more with us. We know, as John says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us"; yet what anguish it causes when we see apostates among us and know their doom. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. Let Lot's wife be a warning. Season your souls with a fragment of salt from that pillar, and it may keep you from corruption.
Remember that you can turn back, not only from all the commandments, and so become an utter apostate, but there is such a thing as backing at single commandments. You know the precept to be right, but you cannot face it; you look at it, and look at it, and look at it, and then go back, back, back from it, refusing to obey. Job had never done so. If it was God's command he went forward to perform it. It may be that it seems impossible to go forward in the path of duty, but if you have faith you are to go on whatever the difficulty may be. The negro was right who said, "Massa, if God say, 'Sam, jump through the wall'; it is Sam's business to jump , and God's work to make me go through the wall." Leap at it, dear friends, even if it seem to be a wall of granite. God will clear the road. By faith the Israelites went through the Red Sea as on dry land. It is ours to do what God bids us, as he bids us, when he bids us, and no hurt can come of it. Strength equal to our day shall be given, only let us cry "Forward!" and push on.
Here just one other word. Let us take heed to ourselves that we do not go back, for going back is dangerous. We have no armor for our back, no promise of protection in retreat. Going back is ignoble and base. To have had a grand idea and then to turn back from it like a whipped cur, is disgraceful. Shame on the man who dares not be a Christian. Even sinners and ungodly men point at the man who put his hand to the plough and looked back, and was not worthy of the kingdom. Indeed, it is fatal; for the Lord has said, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." Forward! Forward! though --death and hell obstruct the way, for backward is defeat, destruction, despair. O God, grant us of thy grace that when we come to the end of life we may say with joy, "I have not gone back from thy commandment." The covenant promises persevering grace, and it shall be yours, only look ye well that ye trifle not with this grace.
There is the picture which Job has sketched. Hang it up on the wall of your memory, and God help you to paint after this old master, whose skill is unrivalled.
II. Secondly, let us take a peep behind the wall to see how Job came by this character. Here we note Job's HOLY SUSTENANCE, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food."
First, then, God spoke to Job. Did God ever speak to you? I do not suppose Job had a single page of inspired writing. Probably he had not--even seen the first books of Moses; he may have done so, but probably he had not. God spoke to him. Did he ever speak to you? No man will ever serve God aright unless God has spoken to him. You have the Bible, and God speaks in that book and through it; but mind you do not rest in the printed letter without discerning its spirit. You must try to hear God's voice in the printed letter. "God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son"; but oh, pray that this divine Son may-speak by the Holy Ghost right into your heart. Anything which keeps you from personal contact with Jesus robs you of the best blessing. The Romanist says he uses a crucifix to help him to remember Christ, and then his prayers often stop at the crucifix, and do not get to Christ; and in like manner you can make an idol of your Bible by using the mere words as a substitute for God's voice to you. The book is to help you to remember God, but if you stick in the mere letter, and get not to God at all, you misuse the sacred word. When the Spirit of God speaks a text right into the soul, when God himself takes the promise or the precept --and sends it with living energy into the heart, this is that which makes a man have a reverence for the word: he feels its awful majesty, its divine supremacy, and while he trembles at it he rejoices, and goes forward to obey because God has spoken to him. Dear friends, when God speaks be sure that you have open ears to hear, for oftentimes he speaketh and men regard him not. In a vision of the night when deep sleep falleth upon men God has spoken to his prophets, but now he speaks by his word, applying it to the heart with power by his Spirit. If God speaks but little to us it is because we are dull of hearing. Renewed hearts are never long without a whisper from the Lord. He is not a dumb God' nor is he so far away that we cannot hear him: they that keep his ways and hold his steps, as Job did, shall hear many of his words to their soul's delight and profit. God's having spoken to Job was the secret of his consistently holy life.
Then note, that what God had spoken to him he treasured up. He says in the Hebrew that he had hid God's word more than ever he had hidden his necessary food. They had to hide grain away in those days to guard it from wandering Arabs. Job had been more careful to store up God's word than to store up his wheat and his barley; more anxious to preserve the memory of what God had spoken than to garner his harvests. Do you treasure up what God has spoken? Do you study the Word? Do you read it? Oh, how little do we search it compared with what we ought to do. Do you meditate on it? Do you suck out its secret sweets? Do you store up its essence as bees gather the life-blood of flowers, and hoard up their honey for winter food? Bible study is the metal that makes a Christian; this is the strong meat on which holy men are nourished; this is that which makes the bone and sinew of men who keep God's way in defiance of every adversary. God spake to Job, and Job treasured up his words.
We learn from our version of the text that Job lived on God's word: he reckoned it to be better to him than his necessary food. He ate it. This is an art which some do not understand--eating the word of the Lord. Some look at the surface of the Scriptures, some pull the Scriptures to pieces without mercy, some cut the heavenly bread into dice pieces, and show their cleverness, some pick it over for plums, like children with a cake; but blessed is he that makes it his meat and drink. He takes the word of God to be what is, namely, a word from the mouth of the Eternal, and he says, "God is speaking to me in this, and I will satisfy my soul upon it; I do not want anything better than this, anything truer than this, anything safer than this, but having got this it shall abide in me, in my heart, in the very bowels of my life, it shall be interwoven with the warp and woof of my being.
But the text adds that he esteemed it more than his necessary food. Not more than dainties only, for those are superfluities, but more than his necessary food, and you know that a man's necessary food is a thing which he esteems very highly. He must have it. What, take away my bread? says he, as if this could not be borne. To take the bread out of a poor man's mouth is looked upon as the highest kind of villainy: but Job would sooner that they took the bread out of his mouth than the word of God out of his heart. He thought more of it than of his needful food, and I suppose it was because meat would only sustain his body, but the word of God feeds the soul. The nourishment given by bread is soon gone, but the nourishment given by the word of God abideth in us, and makes us to live for ever. The natural life is more than meat, but our spiritual life feeds on meat even nobler than itself, for it feeds on the bread of heaven, the person of the Lord Jesus. Bread is sweet to the hungry man, but we are not always hungry, and sometimes we have no appetite; but the best of God's word is that he who lives near to God has always an appetite for it, and the more he eats of it the more he can eat. I do confess I have often fed upon God's word when I have had no appetite for it, until I have gained an appetite. I have grown hungry in proportion as I have felt satisfied: my emptiness seemed to kill my hunger, but as I have been revived by the word I have longed for more. So it is written, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled:" and when they are filled they shall continue to enjoy the benediction, for they shall hunger and thirst still though filled with grace. God's word is sweeter to the taste than bread to a hungry man, and its sweetness never cloys, though it dwells long on the palate. You cannot be always eating bread, but you can always feed on the word of God. You cannot eat all the meat that is set before you, your capacity is limited that way, and none but a glutton wishes it otherwise; but oh, you may be ravenous of God's word, and devour it all, and yet have no surfeit. You are like a little mouse in a great cheese, and you shall have permission to eat it all, though it be a thousand times greater than yourself. Though God' s thoughts are greater than your thoughts, and his ways are greater than your ways, yet may his ways be in your heart, and your heart in his ways. You may be filled with all the fullness of God, though it seems a paradox. His fullness is greater than you, and all his fullness is infinitely greater than you, yet you may be filled with all the fullness of God. So that the word of God is better than our necessary food: it hath qualities which our necessary food hath not.
No more, except it be this: you cannot be holy, my brethren, unless you do in secret live upon the blessed word of God, and you will not live on it unless it comes to you as the word of his mouth. It is very sweet to get a letter from home when you are far away: it is like a bunch of fresh flowers in winter time. A letter from the dear one at home is as music heard over the water; but half a dozen words from that dear mouth are better than a score pages of manuscript, for there is a sweetness about the look and the tone which paper cannot carry. Now, I want you to get the Bible to be not a book only but a speaking trumpet, through which God speaks from afar to you, so that you may catch the very tones of his voice. You must read the word of God to this end, for it is while reading, meditating, and studying, and seeking to dip yourself into its spirit, that it seems suddenly to change from a written book into a talking book or phonograph; it whispers to you or thunders at you as though God had hidden himself among its leaves and spoke to your condition; as though Jesus who feedeth among the lilies had made the chapters to be lily beds, and had come to feed there. Ask Jesus to cause his word to come fresh from his own mouth to your soul; and if it be so, and you thus live in daily communion with a personal Christ, my brethren, you will then with your feet take hold upon his steps; then will you keep his way, then will you never decline or go back from his commandments, but you will make good speed in your pilgrim way to the eternal city. May the Holy Ghost daily be with you. May every one of you live under his sacred bedewing, and be fruitful in every good word and work. Amen and amen.
The Infallibility of God's Purpose
August 25th, 1861 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"But he is in one minds, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. Job 23:13 .
It is very advantageous to the Christian mind frequently to consider the deep and unsearchable attributes of God. The beneficial effect is palpable in two ways, exerting a sacred influence both on the judgment and the heart. In respect to the one, it tends to confirm us in those good old orthodox doctrines which lie at the basis of our faith. If we study man, and make him the only object of our research, there will be a strong tendency in our minds to exaggerate his importance. We shall think too much of the creature and too little of the Creator, preferring that knowledge which is to be found out by observation and reason to that divine truth which revelation alone could make known to us. The basis and groundwork of Arminian theology lies in attaching undue importance to man, and giving God rather the second place than the first. Let your mind dwell for a long time upon man as a free agent, upon man as a responsible being, upon man, not so much as being under God's claims as having claims upon God, and you will soon find upspringing in your thoughts a set of crude doctrines, to support which the letter of some few isolated texts in Scripture may be speciously quoted, but which really in spirit are contrary to the whole tenour of the Word of God. Thus your orthodoxy will be shaken to its very foundations, and your soul will be driven out to sea again without peace or joy. Brethren, I am not afraid that any man, who thinks worthily about the Creator, stands in awe of his adorable perfections and sees him sitting upon the throne, doing all things according to the counsel of his will, will go far wrong in his doctrinal sentiments. He may say, "My heart is fixed, O God;" and when the heart is fixed with a firm conviction of the greatness, the omnipotence, the divinity indeed of him whom we call God, the head will not wander far from truth. Another happy result of such meditation is the steady peace, the grateful calm it gives to the soul. Have you been a long time at sea, and has the continual motion of the ship sickened and disturbed you? Have you come to look upon everything as moving till you scarcely put one foot before the other without the fear of falling down because the floor rocks beneath your tread? With what delight do you put your feet at last upon the shore and say, "Ah! this does not move; this is solid ground. What though the tempest howl, this island is safely moored. She will not start from her bearings; when I tread on her she will not yield beneath my feet." Just so is it with us when we turn from the ever-shifting, often boisterous tide of earthly things to take refuge in the Eternal God who hath been "our dwelling-place in all generations." The fleeting things of human life, and the fickle thoughts and showy deeds of men, are as moveable and changeable as the waters of the treacherous deep; but when we mount up, as it were, with eagles' wings to him that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, before whom all its inhabitants are as grasshoppers, we nestle in the Rock of ages, which from its eternal socket never starts, and in its fixed immoveability never can be disturbed. Or to use another simile. You have seen little children running round, and round, and round till they get giddy, and they stand still and hold fast a moment and everything seems to he flying round about them, but by holding fast and still, and getting into the mind the fact that that to which they hold at least is firm, at last the braise grows still again, and the world ceases to whirl. So you and I have been these six days like little children running round in circles, and everything has been moving with us, till perhaps as we came, to this place this morning we felt as if the very promises of God had moved, as if Providence had shifted, our friends had dial, our kindred passed away, and we came to look on everything as a floating mass nothing firm, nothing fixed. Brethren, let us get a good grip to-day of the immutability of God. Let us stand still awhile, and know that the Lord is God. We shall see at length that things do not move as we dreamed they did: "to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens." There is still a fixedness in that which seems most fickle. That which appears to be most dreamy has a reality, inasmuch as it is a part of that divinely substantial scheme which God is working out, the end whereof shall be his eternal glory. 'Twill cool your brain, 'twill calm your heart, my brother, 'twill make you go back to the world's fight quiet and composed, 'twill make you stand fast in the day of temptation if now through divine grace you can come near to God and offer him the tribute of our devotion, who is without variableness or shadow of a turning. The text will be considered by us this morning first, as enunciating a great general truth; and, secondly, out of that general truth, we shall fetch another upon which we shall enlarge, I trust, to our comfort. I. The text may be regarded as TEACHING A GENERAL TRUTH. We will take the first clause of the sentence, "He is in one mind." Now, the fact taught here is, that in all the acts of God in Providence, he has a fixed and a settled purpose. "He is in one mind." It is eminently consolatory to us who are God's creatures, to know that he did not make us without a purpose, and that now, in all his dealings with us he has the same wise and gracious end to be served. We suffer, the head aches, the heart leaps with palpitations, the blood creeps sluggishly along where its healthy flow should have been more rapid. We lose our limbs, crushed by accident, some sense fails us; the eye is eclipsed in perpetual night; our mind is racked and disturbed; our fortunes vary; our goods disappear before our eyes; our children, portions of ourselves, sicken and die. Our crosses are as continual as our lives, we are seldom long at ease; we are born to sorrow, and certainly it is an inheritance of which we are never deprived; we suffer continually. Will it not reconcile us to our sorrows, that they serve some end? To be scourged needlessly we consider to be a disgrace, but to be scourged if our country were to be served we should consider an honor, because there is a purpose in it. To suffer the maiming of our bodies, because of some whim of a tyrant, would be a thing hard to bear, but if we administer thereby to the weal of our families, or to the glory of our God, we would be content not to he mutilated once but to be cut piece-meal away, that so his great purpose might be answered. O believer, ever look, then, on all thy sufferings as being parts of the divine plan, and say, as wave upon wave rolls over thee, "He is in one mind!" He is carrying out still his one great purpose; none of these cometh by chance, none of these happeneth to me out of order, but everything cometh to me according to the purpose of his own will, and answereth the purpose of his own great mind. We have to labor too. How hard do some men labor who have to toil for their daily bread! Their bread is saturated with their sweat; they wear no garment which they have not woven out of their own nerves and muscles. How sternly, too, do others labor, who have with their brain to serve their fellow-men or their God! How have some heroic missionaries spent themselves, and been spent in their fond enterprise! How have many ministers of Christ exhausted not simply the body, but the mind! Their hilarity so natural to them has given place to despondency, and the natural effervescence of their spirits has at last died out into oneness of soul, through the desperateness of their ardor. Well, and sometimes this labor for God is unrequited. We plough, but the furrow yields no harvest. We sow, but the field refuses the grain, and the devouring belies of the hungry birds alone are satisfied therewith. We build, but the storm casts down the stones which we had quarried with Herculean efforts piling one on another. We sweat, we toil, we moil, we fail. How often do we come back weeping because we have toiled, as we think, without success! Yet, Christian man, thou hast not been without sucess, for "He is still in one mind." All this was necessary to the fulfillment of his one purpose. Thou art not lost; thy labor has not rotted under the clods. All, though thou seest it not, has been working together towards the desired end. Stand upon the sea-beach for a moment. A wave has just come up careening in its pride. Its crown of froth is spent. As it leaps beyond its fellow, it dies, it dies. And now another, and it dies, and now another, and it dies. Oh! weep not, deep sea, be not thou sorrowful, for though each wave dieth, yet thou prevailest! O thou mighty ocean! onward does the flood advance, till it has covered all the sand and washed the feet of the white cliffs. So its it with God's purpose. You and I are only waves of his great sea; we wash up, we seem to retire, as if there had been no advance; anther wave comes still each wave must retire as though there had been no progress; but the great divine sea of his purpose is still moving on. He is still of one mind and carrying out his plan. How sorrowful it often seems to think how good men die! They learn through the days of their youth, and often before they come to years to use their learning, they are gone. The blade is made and annealed in many a fire, but ere the foeman useth it, it snaps! How many laborers, too, in the Master's vineyard, who when by their experience they were getting more useful than ever, have been taken away just when the Church wanteth them most! He that stood upright in the chariot, guiding the steeds, suddenly falls back, and we cry, "My father, my father, the horsemen of Israel and the chariot thereof!" Still notwithstanding all, we may console ourselves in the midst of our grief with the blessed reflection that everything is a part of God's plan. He is still of one mind: nothing happeneth which is not a part of the divine scheme. To enlarge our thoughts a monument, have you never noticed, in reading history, how nationals suddenly decay? When their civilization has advanced so far that we thought it would produce men of the highest mould, suddenly old age begins to wrinkle its brow, its arm grows weak, the scepter falls, and the crown droops from the head, and we have said, "Is not the world gone back again?" The barbarian fall has sacked the city, and where once everything was beauty, now there is nothing but ruthless bloodshed and destruction. Ah! but, my brethren, all those things were but the carrying out of the divine plan. Just so you may have seen sometimes upon the hard rock the lichen spring. Soon as the lichen race grows grand, it dies. But wherefore? It is because its death prepares the moss, and the moss which is feebler compared with the lichen growth, at last increases till you see before you the finest specimens of that genus. But the moss decays. Yet weep not for its decaying, its ashes shall prepare a soil for some plants of a little higher growth, and as these decay, one after another, race after race, they at last prepare the soil upon which even the goodly cedar itself might stretch out its roots. So has it been with the race of men Egypt, and Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, have crumbled, each and all, when their hour had come, to be succeeded by a better. And if this race of ours should ever be eclipsed, if the Anglo Saxons' boasted pride should yet be stained, even then it will prove to be a link in the divine purpose. Still, in the end his one mind shall be carried out, his one great result shall be thereby achieved. Not only the decay of nations, but the apparent degeneration of some races of men, and even the total extinction of others, forms a part of the like fixed purpose. In all those cases there may be reasons of sorrow, but faith sees grounds of rejoicing. To gather up all in one, the calamities of earthquake, the devastations of storm, the extirpations of war, and all the terrible catastrophes of plague, have only been co-workers with God slaves compelled to tug the galley of the divine purpose across the sea of time. From every evil good has come, and the more the evil has accumulated the more hath God glorified himself in bringing out at last his grand, his everlasting design. This, I take it, is the first general lesson of the text in every event of Providence, God has a purpose. "He is in one mind." Mark, not only a purpose, but only one purpose, for all history is but one. There are many scenes, but it is one drama; there are many pages, but it is one book; there are many leaves, but it is one tree, there are many provinces, yea, and there be lords many and rulers many, yet is there but one empire, and God the only Potentate. "O come let us worship and bow down before him: for the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods!" 2. "Who can turn him?" This is the second clause of the sentence, and here I think we are taught the doctrine that the purpose of God is unchanged. The first sentence shows that he has a purpose, the second shows that it is incapable of change. "Who can turn him?" There are some shallow thinkers who dream that the great plan and design of God was thrown out of order by the fall of man. The fall they consider all accidental circumstances, not intended in the divine plan, and so, God being placed in a delicate predicament of requiring to sacrifice his justice or his mercy, used the plan of the atonement of Christ as a divine expedient Brethren, it may be lawful to use such terms, it may be lawful to you, it would not be to me, for well am I persuaded that the very fall of man was a part of the divine purpose that even the sin of Adam, though he did it freely, was nevertheless contemplated in the divine scheme, and was by no means such a thing as to involve a digression from his primary plan. Then came the delude, and the race of man was swept away, but God's purpose was not affected by the destruction of the race. In after years his people Israel forsook him and worshipped Baal and Ashtoreth, but his purpose, was not changed any more by the defection of his chosen nation than by the destruction of his creatures. And when in after years the gospel was sent to the Jews and they resisted it, and Paul and Peter turned to the Gentiles, do not suppose that God had to take down his book and make an erasure or an amendment. No, the whole was written there from the beginning, he knew everything of it, he has never altered a single sentence nor changed a single line of the divine purpose. What he intended the great picture to be, that it shall be at the end, and where you see some black strokes which seem not in keeping, these shall yet be toned down; and where there are some brighter dashes, too bright for the sombre picture, these shall yet be brought into harmony; and when in the end God shall exhibit the whole, he shall elicit both from men and angels tremendous shouts of praise, while they say, "Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints! Thou only art holy. All nations shall come and worship before Thee, for thy judgments are made manifest." Where we have thought his government wrong, there shall it prove most right, and where we dreamed he had forgotten to be good, there shall his goodness be most clear. It is a sweet consolation to the mind of one who muses much upon these deep matters, that God never has changed in any degree from his purpose; and the result will be, notwithstanding everything to the contrary, just precisely in every jot and tittle what he foreknow and fore-ordained it should be. Now then, wars, ye may rise, and other Alexanders and Caesars may spring up, but he will not change. Now, nations and peoples, lift up yourselves and let your parliaments pass your decrees but he changeth not. Now, rebels, foam at the mouth and let your fury boil, but he changeth not for you. Oh! nations, and peoples, and tongues, and thou round earth, thou speedest on thy orbit still, and all the fury of thine inhabitants cannot make thee move from thy predestinated pathway. Creation is an arrow from the bow of God and that arrow goes on, straight on, without deviation, to the center of that target which God ordained that it should strike. Never varied is his plan; he is without variableness or shadow of a turning. Albert Barnes very justly says, "It is, when properly understood, a matter of unspeakable consolation that God has a plan for who could honor a God who had no plan, but who did everything by haphazard? It is matter of rejoicing that he has one great purpose which extends through all ages, and embraces all things; for then everything falls into its proper place, and has its appropriate bearing on other events. It is a matter of joy that God does execute all his purposes for as they were all good and wise, it is desirable that they should be executed. It could be a calamity if a good plan were not executed. Why, then, should men murmur at the purposes or the decrees of God?" 3. The text also teaches a third general truth. While God had a purpose, and that purpose has never changed, the third clause teaches us that this purpose is sure to be effected. "What his soul desireth, that he doeth." He made the world out of nothing, there was no resistance there. "Light be," said he, and light was, there was no resistance there. "Providence be," said he, and Providence shall be, and when you shall come to see the end as well as the beginning, you shall find that there was no resistance there. It is a wonderful thing how God effects his purpose while still the creature is free. They who think that predestination and the fulfillment of the divine purpose is contrary to the free-agency of man, know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm. It were no miracle for God to effect his own purpose, if he were dealing with stocks and stones, with granite and with trees but this is the miracle of miracles, that the creatures are free, absolutely free, and joy the divine purpose stands! Herein is wisdom! This is a deep unsearchable. Man walks without a fetter, yet treads in the very steps which God ordained him to tread in, as certainly as though manacles had bound him to the spot. Man chooses his own seat, selects his own position, guided by his will he chooses sin, or guided by diving grace he chooses the right, and yet in his choice sits as sovereign, on the throne: not disturbing, but still over-ruling, and proving himself to be able to deal as with free creatures as with creatures without freedom, as wall able to effect his purpose when he has endowed men with thought, and reason, and judgment, as when he had only to deal with the solid rocks and with the imbedded sea. O Christians! you shall never be able to fathom this, but you may wonder at it. I know there is an easy way of getting out of this great deep, either by denying predestination altogether or by denying free-agency altogether, but if you can hold the two, if you can say, "Yes, my consciousness teaches me that man does as he wills, but my faith teaches me that God does as he wills, and these two are not contrary the one to the other; and yet I cannot tell how it is, I cannot tell how God effects his end, I can only wonder and admire, and say, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out." Every creature free and doing as it wills yet God more free still and doing as he wills, not only in heaven but among the inhabitants of this lower earth. I have thus given you a general subject upon which I would invite you to spend your meditations in your quiet hours, for I am persuaded that sometimes to think of these deep doctrines will be found very profitable it will be to you like the advice of Christ to Simon Peter: "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught." You shall have a draught of exceeding great thoughts and exceeding great graces if you dare to launch out into this exceeding deep sea, and let out the nets of your contemplation at the command of Christ. "Behold God is great." "O Lord! how great are thy works, and thy thoughts are very deep! A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this." II. I now come to the second part of my subject, which will be, I trust, cheering to the people of God. From the general doctrine that God has a plan, that this plan is invariable, and that this plan is certain to be carried out, I drew the most precious doctrine that IN SALVATION GOD IS OF ONE MIND, and who can turn him? and what his heart desireth, that he doeth. Now, mark, I address myself at this hour only to you who as the people of God. Dost thou believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all thine heal? Is the spirit of adoption given to thee whereby thou canst say, "Abba, Father?" If so draw nigh, for this truth is for thee. Come then, my brethren, in the first place let us consider that God is of one mind. Of old, my soul, he determined to save thee. Thy calling proves thine election, and thine election teaches thee that God ordained to save thee. He is not a man that he should lie, nor the Son of Man that he should repent. He is of one mind. He saw thee ruined in the fall of thy father Adam, but his mind never changed from his purpose to save thee. He saw thee in thy nativity. Thou well test astray from the woman speaking lies, 'thy youthful follies and disobedience he saw, but never did that gracious mind alter in its designs of love to thee. Then in thy manhood thou didst plunge into vice and sin. Cover, O darkness, all on guilt, and let the night conceal it from our eyes for ever! Though he added sin to sin, and our pride waxed exceeding high and hot, yet he has of one mind.
"Determined to save, he watched o'er my path When Satan's blind slave, I spotted with death."
At last, when the happy hour arrived, he came to our door and knocked, and he said, "Open to me." And do you remember, O my brothel, how we said, "Get thee gone, O Jesu, we want thee not?" We scorned his grace, defied his love, but he was of one mind, and no hardness of heart could turn him. He had determined to have us for his spouse, and he would not take "No" for an answer. He said he would have us, and he persevered. He knocked again, and do you remember how we half opened the door? But then some strong temptation came and we shut it in his very face, and he said, "Open to me, my dove, my head is wet with the dew, and my locks with the drops of the night" yet we bolted and barred the door, and would not let him in. But he was of one mind and none could turn him. Oh! my soul weeps now when I think of the many convictions that I stifled, of the many movings of his Spirit that I rejected, and those many times when conscience bade me repent, and urged me to flee to him, but I would not; of those seasons when a mother's tears united with all the intercession of the Savior, yet the heart harder than adamant, and less eat to be melted than the granite itself, refused to move and would not yield. But he was of one mind. He had no fickleness in him. He said he would have us, and have us he would. He had written our names in his book, and he would not cross them out. It was his solemn purpose that yield we should. And O that hour when we yielded at the last! Then did he prove that in all our wanderings he had been of one mind. And O since then, how sorrowful the reflection! Since then, how often have you and I turned! We have backslidden, and if we had the Arminian's God to deal with, we should either have been in hell, or out of the covenant at this hour. I know I should be in the covenant and out of the covenant a hundred times a day if I had a God who put me out every time I sinned and then restored it when I repented. But no, despite our sin, our unbelief, our backslidings, our forgetfulness of him, he was of one mind. And brethren, I know this, that though we shall wander still, though in dark hours you and I may slip, and often fall, yet his lovingkindness changes not. Thy strong arm, O God shall bear us on; thy loving heart will never fail; thou wilt not turn thy love away from us, or make it cease or pour upon us thy fierce anger, but having begun, thou wilt complete the triumphs of thy grace. Nothing shall make thee change thy mind. What joy is this to you, believers? for your mind changes every day, your experience varies like the wind, and if salvation were to be the result of any purpose on your part, certainly it never would be effected. But since it is God's work to save, and we have proved hitherto that he is of one mind, our faith shall revel in the thought that he will be of one thought even to the end, till all on glory's summit we shall sing of that fixed purpose and that immutable love which never turned aside until the deed of grace was triumphantly achieved. Now, believer, listen to the second lesson: "Who can turn him?" While he is immutable from within, he is immovable from without. "Who can turn him?" That is a splendid picture presented to us by Moses in the Book of Numbers. The children of Israel were encamped in the plains of Moab. As the trees of lign aloes which the Lord had planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters, were their tents. Quietly and calmly they were resting in the valley the tabernacle of the Lord in their midst, and the pillar of cloud spread over them as a shield. But on the mountain range there were two men Balak, the son of Zippor, king of the Moabites, and Balaam the prophet of Pethor. They had builded seven altars and offered seven bullocks, and Balak said unto Balsam, "Come, curse me Jacob, come, defy Israel." Four times did the prophet take up his parable. Four times did he use his enchantments, offering the sacrifices of God on the altars of Baal. Four times did he vainly attempt a false divination. But I would have you mark that in each succeeding vision the mind God is brought out in deeper characters. First, he confesses his own impotence, "How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed, how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied?" Then the second oracle brings out more distinctly the divine blessing. "Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it." A third audacious attempt is not with a heavier repulse, for the stifled curse recoils on themselves "Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee." Once again in the vision that closes the picture, the eyes of Balaam are opened till he gets a glimpse of the Star that should come out of Jacob, and the Scepter that shall rise out of Israel, with the dawning glory of the latter days. Well might Balaam say, "There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel. And now transfer that picture in your mind to all your enemies, and specially to that arch-fiend of hell. He comes before God to-day with the remembrance of your sins, and he desires that he may curse Israel, but he has found a hundred times that there is no enchantment against Jacob nor divination against Israel He took David into the sin of lust, and he found that God would not curse him there, but bless him with a sorrowful chastisement and with a deep repentance He took Peter into the sin of denying his Master, and he denied him with oaths and curses. But the Lord would not curse him even there, but turned and looked on Peter, not with a lightning glance that might have shivered him, but with a look of love that made him weep bitterly. He had taken you and me at divers times into positions of unbelief, and we have doubted God. Satan said "Surely, surely God will curse him there," but never once has he done it. He has smitten, but the blow was full of love. He has chastised, but the chastisement was fraught with mercy. He has not cursed us, nor will he. Thou canst not turn God's mind, then, fiend of hell, thine enchantments cannot prosper, thine accusations shall not prevail. "He is in one mind, who can turn him? "And brethren, you know when men are turned, they are sometimes turned by advice. Now who can advise with God. Who shall counsel the Most High to cast off the darlings of his bosom, or persuade the Savior to reject his spouse? Such counsel offered were blasphemy, and it would be not pugnant to his soul. Or else men are turned by entreaties. But how shall God listen to the entreaties of the evil one? Are not the prayers of the wicked an abomination to the? Lord? Let them pray against us, let them entreat the Lord to curse us. But he is of one mind and no revengeful prayer should change the purpose of his love. Sometimes as men are changed by the ties of relationship: a another interposes and lose yields, but in our case, who can interpose? God's only begotten Son is as much concerned in our salvation as his Father, and instead of interposing to change, he would if such a thing were needed still continue to plead that the love and mercy of God might never be withdrawn. Oh, let us rejoice in this,
"Midst all our sin, and care, and woe, His Spirit will not let us go."
The Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. "He is in one mind, and who can turn him?" I know not how it is, but I feel that I cannot preach from this text as I should like. But oh! the text itself is music to my ears. It seems to sound like the martial trumpet of the battle, and my soul is ready for the fray. It seems now that if trials and troubles should come, if I could but hold my hand upon this precious text, I would laugh at them all. "Who can turn him?" I would shout "Who can turn him?" Come on, earth and hell, come on, for "who can turn him?" Come on, ye boisterous troubles, come on, ye innumerable temptations, come on, slanderer and liar, "who can turn him?" And since he cannot be changed, my soul must and will rejoice "with joy unspeakable and full of glory." I wish I could throw the text like a bombshell into the midst of the army of doubters, that that army might be routed at once, for when we get a text like this, it must be the text which takes effect, and not our explanation. This surely is a most marvellous death-blow to our doubts and fears. "He is in one mind, and who can turn him?" And now with a few words upon the last sentence I shall conclude: God's purpose must be effected "What his soul desireth, that he doeth." Beloved, what God's soul desireth is your salvation and mine, if we be his chosen. Well, that he doeth. Part of that salvation consists in our perfect sanctification. We have had a long struggle with inbred sin, and as far as we can judge, we have not made much progress, for still is the Philistine in the land, and still doth the Canaanite invade us. We sin still, and our hearts still have in sheen unbelief and proneness to depart from the living God. Can you think it possible that you will ever be without any tendency to sin? Does it not seem a dream that you should ever be without fault before the throne of God without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing? But yet you shall be; his heart desireth it, and that he doeth. He would have his spouse without any defilement he would have his chosen generation without anything to mar their perfection. Now, inasmuch as he spake and it was done, he has but to speak and it shall be done with you. You cannot rout your foes but he can. You cannot overcome your besetting sins, but he can do it. You cannot drive out your corruptions, for they have chariots of iron, but he will drive out the last of them, till the whole land shall be without one enemy to disturb its perpetual peace. O what a joy to know that it will be ere long! Oh! it will be so soon with some of us such a few weeks, though we perhaps are reckoning on years of life! A few weeks, or a few days, and we shall have passed through Jordan's flood and stand complete in him, accepted in the Beloved! And should it be many years should we be spared till the snows of a century shall have fallen upon our frosted hair yet even then we must not doubt that his purpose shall at last be fulfilled. We shall be spotless and faultless and unblameable in his sight ere long. Another part of our salvation is, that we should at last be without pain, without sorrow, gathered with the Church of the first-born before the Father's face. Does it not seem, when you sit down to think of yourself as being in heaven, as a pretty dream that never will be true? What! shall these fingers one day smite the strings of a golden harp? O aching head! shalt thou one day wear a crown of glory that fadeth not away? O toil-worn body! shalt thou bathe thyself in seas of heavenly rest? Is not heaven too good for us, brothers and sisters? Can it be that we, poor we, shall ever get inside those pearly gates, or tread the golden streets? Oh shall we ever see his face? Will he ever kiss us with the kisses of his lips? Will the King immortal, invisible, the only wise God, our Savior, take us to his bosom, and call us all his own? Oh! shall we ever drink out of the rivers of pleasure that are at the right hand of the Most High? Shall we be among that happy company who shall be led to the living fountains of waters and kill tears be wiped away from our eyes? Ah! that we shall be! for "he is in one mind and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, that he doeth." "Father, I will that they whom thou hath given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." That is an immortal omnipotent desire. We shall be with him where be is; his purpose shall be effected, and we shall partake of his bliss. Now rise, ye who love the Savior, and put your trust in him rise like men who have God within you, and sit no longer down upon your dunghills. Come, ye desponding ones; if salvation were to be your own work, ye might despair, but since it is his, and he changes not, you must not even doubt.
"Now let the feeble all be strong, And make Jehovah's power their song; His shield is spread o'er every saint. And thus supported, who can faint?"
If you perish even the weakest of you God's purpose cannot be effected. If you fall, his honor will be stained. If you perish, heaven itself will be dishonored; Christ will have lost one of his members; the Divine Husband will be disappointed in part of his well-beloved spouse; he will be a king whose regalia has been stolen; nay, he will not be complete himself, for the Church is his fullness, and how can he be full if a part of his fullness shall be cast away? Putting these things together, let us take courage, and in the name of God let us set up our banners. He that has been with us hitherto will preserve us to the end, and we shall soon sing in the fruition of glory as we now recite in the confidence of faith, that his purpose is completed, and his love immutable. This I say by way of close such a subject ought to inspire every man with awe. I speak to some here who are unconverted. It is an awful thought; God's purpose will be subserved in you. You may hate him, but as he get him honor upon Pharaoh and all his hosts, so will he upon you. You may think that you will spoil his designs: that shall be your idea, but your very acts, though guided with that intent, shall only tend to sum serve his glory. Think of that! To rebel against God is useless, for you cannot prevail. To resist him is not only impertinence but folly. He will be as much glorified by you, whichever way you go. You shall either yield him willing honor or unwilling honor, but either way his purpose in you shall most certainly be subserved. O that this thought might make you bow your heads and say, "Great God, glorify thy mercy in me, for I have revolted; show that thou canst forgive. I have sinned, deeply sinned. Prove the depths of thy mercy by pardoning me. I know that Jesus died, and that he is set forth as a propitiator; I believe on him as such. O God! I trust him: I pray thee, glorify thyself in me by showing what thy grace can do in casting sin behind thy back, and blotting out iniquity, transgression, and sin." Sinner, he will do it, he will do it, if thus you plead and thus you pray, he will do it, for there was never a sinner rejected yet, that came to God with humble prayer and faith. Going to God to-day, confessing your sin, and taking hold of Christ, as upon the horns of the altar of mercy, and of sacrifice, you shall find that it was a part of the divine plan to bring you here to-day, to strike your mind with awe, to lead you humbly to the cross, to lead you afterwards joyfully to your God, and to bring you perfect at last before his throne. God add his blessing for Christ's sake! Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Job 23". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25