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The Axe at the Root A Testimony Against Puseyite Idolatry
June 17th, 1866 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." John 4:23-24 .
The woman's conscience had been aroused by Christ's declaration of her sin. He was touching upon matters of the most vital importance, and her depraved heart naturally shrunk from the lancet, From the truth which was becoming inconveniently personal she flew to that natural resort of the carnal mind, namely, to religions discourse upon points of outward observance. Instead of confessing her sin, and asking how it may be forgiven, she must needs say, "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." The carnal heart dreads the contact of spiritual truth, and finds a most convenient way of avoiding it by running to questions of holy places, holy times, and holy customs. Jesus, to her astonishment, informs her that the question which she had asked was of only temporary importance. There had been a time when it was well to know that salvation was of the Jews, and that the rival temple of the Samaritans was an imposture; but he says in effect to her, "Woman, believe me that question is of no importance now, for the hour cometh, yea and now is, when the external is to be abolished and the ritualistic is to be put away, and a purer, simpler, and more spiritual worship, is to take its place." The worship which our Lord Jesus Christ established involved a change. That is implied in the expressions here used. He announced to her that the hour was just then come when all questions about this or that place must cease, and be superseded by spiritual worship. Our Lord gave a very brief, but I think a very instructive description of what this worship was to be. If you observe carefully the words, you will see that it was a distinguishing kind of worship, for he mentions true worshippers. There had been but little distinction before; so long as they all passed through the same outward form they all seemed to be worshippers; but a distinction was now to be made clear and manifest. Merely outward worshippers were now false worshippers, and only those who pressed into spiritual worship were to be regarded as true. The gospel of Christ is a great discerner and an accurate judge. Christ has the winnowing fan in his hand; he sits as a refiner; he is compared by the prophet to the "refiner's fire" and to "fuller's soap;" and hence you see he discerns at once between worshippers and worshippers. There they stand both alike with bended heads, perhaps both repeating the same words, but the Savior distinguishes: "there is," saith he, "a false worshipper, and there is a true worshipper, and he alone who is spiritual is true." He announces further that under the gospel God is to be worshipped in the character of a Father; true worshippers shall worship the Father. This had not been the case before. The Lord had been adored as the Adonai, and reverenced as Jehovah; but to say "Our Father which art in heaven" remains the prerogative of the enlightened Christian who, having believed in Christ, has received power to become a son of God. True Christian worship addresses God, not merely as Creator and Preserver, or as the great Lord of the Universe, but as one who is very near of kin to us, our Father, beloved of our souls. Jesus likewise states that gospel worship is to be of a kind which does not result from the man himself merely, but comes from God, and is a work of grace. This is implied in the sentence, "The Father seeketh such to worship him," as if no true worship would come from any man unless God sought it. True devotion under the Christian dispensation is not merely human but also divine. It is the work of the Spirit in the soul returning to its author; or as our hymn puts it
"Prayer is the breath of God in man, Returning whence it came."
These are very grave points, and draw a broad line of distinction between the living worship of the chosen of God and the dead formal worship of the world which lieth in the wicked one. Furthermore, the Savior goes on to say that they who worship God are to worship him "in spirit." No longer with the visible sacrifice of a lamb, but inwardly trusting in him who is the Lamb of God's passover; no more with sprinkled blood of goats, but heartily relying upon the blood once shed for many; no longer worshipping God with ephod, breastplate, and mitre, but with prostrate soul, with uplifted faith, and with the faculties not of the body but of the inward spirit. We who worship God under the Christian dispensation are no longer to fancy that bodily exercise in worship profiteth anything, that genuflexions and contortions are of any value, but that acceptable worship is wholly mental, inward, and spiritual. But he adds, lest there should seem an omission in the description, "must worship him in spirit and in truth;" for though we should profess to worship God only with the spirit and so despise forms, yet unless the soul shall truly love, and really adore, and sincerely bow, our worship will be as unacceptable as though it were formal and outward. See then, brethren, putting the whole three together, the worship under the Christian dispensation which God ordains, and which he accepts through Christ Jesus, is a worship distinguished by an inward vitality from the outward worship of the carnal mind. It is the worship of a child towards a father, feeling within himself a kinship with the divine; it is a worship wrought in us by God the Holy Ghost, because the Father has sought us out and taught us how to worship him. It is a worship which is not outward, but of the inner man, and occupies not hand, eye, and foot, but heart and soul and spirit: and it is a worship which is not professional and formal, but real, hearty, earnest, and so acceptable before God. Let me give a sketch of this worship as it actually exhibits itself. A man may have been to a place of worship from his youth up, and he may have fallen into a habit of repeating a sacred form every morning and every evening, he may even have been a tolerably diligent reader of the Word of God, and yet though this may have been continued for sixty years and more, he may never once have worshipped God after the fashion prescribed in the text. But see him! the Father seeks him, truth comes home to his soul, and in the light of that truth he feels himself a sinner, and feeling himself so, he cries, "Father, I have sinned." That is his first true worship. See, brethren, his spirit feels it, he means what he says. All that he said before was as nothing, but that first cry "I have sinned" has in it the vitality of worship. He hears the story of the cross, the full atonement made by God's appointed sacrifice, and he prays, "Lord, I believe in Jesus, and I trust him;" here is another specimen of true worship; here is the spirit resting upon God's appointed sacrifice, and reverencing God's way of salvation by accepting it. Being saved by the precious blood of Jesus, he cries, "Father, I bless thee that I am saved, I thank thee that my sins are washed away." This is true worship. Whether a man sings in the assembly, or sings alone; whether he prays aloud, or prays in silence, if he feels gratitude to God for pardon received, he offers the true worship. The whole of the Christian's life, consisting as it must do of dealings with the invisible God through Jesus Christ by his heart, is a life of worship, and when at last he comes to die, you perceive that his worship will not cease with death, because it has always been spiritual, and did not depend upon the body. So that while the outward man faileth him, the inward spiritual man grows more strong in devotion than ever it was before; and when at last the spirit leaves its earthly tenement, and is disembodied, it has still a song for God, and throughout eternity its spiritual worship can continue; which worship must have been suspended if it had been connected with the body, and not with the immortal part of man. If I understand the Savior's words, and I hope I do, not only theoretically but practically, he means that those of us who are his true worshippers must worship him with our better and our nobler part, and our soul, with all the power she has, must pay reverence to the unseen God, Brethren, this is the kind of worship that men will not render to God; they will render him anything else but this; and until divinely effectual grace shall work such worship in man's heart it is obnoxious to him; he will worship God with robes, and incense, and flowers, and banners, but he will not consent to worship him in spirit and in truth. I. I shall proceed to my work by giving A BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE HISTORY OF WORSHIP, in connection with the doctrine that we are now to worship more manifestly than ever God in spirit and in truth. It appears from Scripture that worship before the flood was of the very simplest form. The outward ordinances were very few; the chief of them being the offering of sacrifice. This was probably instituted by God himself when he clothed Adam and his wife with skins of beasts; it has been thought that he then indicated to them the slaughter of beasts for sacrifice. Certain it is that the first worship of fallen man was by sacrifice. There was connected with this no doubt the meeting of gracious hearts for prayer, and also the ministration of truth, for Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord; so that they appear to have had what was tantamount to a ministry, and the sons of God had appointed times for meeting. But this simple form of worship seems to have been too high, too spiritual for fallen man at the first; at any rate the seed of the serpent could not endure it, for Cain at the very first commenced a schism; instead of bringing a sacrifice by blood he must needs bring a sacrifice of the fruits of the ground. Perhaps he was a man of taste, and desired to bring something that should look more decorous than a poor bleeding victim; he would lay those rich grapes, those ruddy fruits upon the altar; and those fair flowers that gemmed the bosom of earth, surely he might consecrate those. At any rate he was the first man who set up taste and self as the guide in religious worship, and God had no respect unto his sacrifice. The two stood by their altars; Abel by faith, exercising spiritual worship, offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain; Cain's offering was possibly even more fair to look upon but it was of his own invention; Abel was accepted, but Cain discarded. The ultimate result of man's sinfulness in connection with this early type of worship was general neglect of all religion. The sons of God seem to have maintained their simplicity for a time, but at last by unholy alliances with the ungodly race there arose a widespread neglect of all thought of God, so that they were married and given in marriage, they ate and they drank till the day when the flood came and swept them all away. Depraved nature thus refused to render spiritual worship. After the flood we find worship restored in very much the same form: let us distinguish it as the patriarchal method of worship. The head of a family was accustomed to offer sacrifice, and no doubt if Job be taken as a type thereof family prayer and household religion were maintained, But you see very early the indication that man, although he could not forget God, for the deluge had struck to the very heart of manhood an awful dread of the Most High, began to interpose symbols and visible objects between God and himself. The use of teraphim became very common; so that in the house even of Abraham's ancestors teraphs were found; and when we come down to the time of Jacob, we find one of his wives stealing her father's images, thus proving that Laban, one of a once God-fearing family, had become a worshipper of God through the medium of images. Thus was it among those who still had some knowledge of God; but the nations being dispersed, soon lost the pure idea of the invisible One, and worshipped gods of their own devising. From the plagues of Egypt, which were no doubt intended to be a blow against all Egypt's gods, we find out that, in addition to the worship of the calf or bull, the Egyptians paid religious reverence to flies, the river Nile, the elements, beetles, and all kinds of creatures; and throughout the world, as a general rule, through the introduction of visible symbols of the unseen Being, the Lord himself had become forgotten, and spiritual worship had almost ceased, except in one elect household; and even there, alas! how fallen had spirituality become! Keeping to the line of grace, we shall now introduce you to the ceremonial form of worship which God instituted after the more spiritual method had entirely broken down. He saw that the children of Israel whom he loved were but a mob of slaves; their spirits had been broken by bitter bondage; like the poor African race of the present day, they seemed as a whole incapable of rising at once to mental dignity, and needed to pass through a generation or two before they could as a nation achieve manly self-government. So when he brought his people out of Egypt the Lord did not try them with an altogether spiritual form of worship; because of the hardness of their hearts among other reasons, though he was still to be worshipped as a spirit, yet he gave them certain outward signs by which they might be enabled to understand his character. A great deal has been made of the symbolical worship of the Jew, as if it were an excuse for the manmade symbolism of the Roman and Anglican Antichrist. We would remark that nothing ought to be made of it at all now, since it has been positively declared many times in Scripture that the age of the shadow has gone, and that the age of the substance now reigns. Whatever may or may not have been the excellence of the old Jewish economy and being divinely ordained, God forbid we should say a word against it yet the apostle Paul always talks of it as being but a yoke of bondage to which we are no more to submit ourselves, being but the shadow and not the very image of the good things which were to come; and he speaks of it as a thing so passed away, that to go back to it is to go back to the rudiments, and not to go onward in the full-grown manliness of Christianity. If there were no other passage my text might show that the ceremonialism of the Jew is no excuse whatever for ceremonialism now, but that we ought to stand in direct contrast to that, hearing the Savior declare, that whatever may have been before his time, the hour had come when the true worshipper must worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Remember that symbolical worship was suitable merely to the infancy of God's church, and that now having received the Spirit of God to dwell in us it would be as unsuitable as would the swaddling bands of babyhood to full-grown men. Besides, even while it existed it was spoken of as soon to be superseded by a new and better covenant. It was frequently broken through by divine authority. Elijah though not at all of the house of Levi offered sacrifice, and prophet after prophet as he arose manifested and declared by his actions that God did not intend to give the Levitical form of worship undivided sway, but that when he poured his Spirit upon special men they were to break through all ritual regulations in order to show that they were not meant to be fixed and permanent. It is not sufficiently remembered that the most of God's people in the Jewish nation had very little to do with this symbolical worship. When they were all in the wilderness, and gathered round the one tent called the tabernacle, they might all see the fiery cloudy pillar; but when they came into the land which God had given them, what had they most of them to see? Why the temple itself the most of them would only see once or twice in a year. Scarcely any one ever saw the ark, the cherubim, or the golden candlestick; they were always within the veil, and only once in the year did the high priest enter that sacred place. Even the place where the sacrifices were carried on continually, no one entered but the priests; so that to at least eleven tribes out of twelve the ceremonials were mainly invisible. Little was done outside the court of the priests, but the most of the sacrifices, and of the typology of Judaism, was as much a hidden thing as the spiritual things of God are to us at the present day; and thus there was a great exercise of the spiritual faculties, and comparatively little of outward display. Moreover, it is to be remembered that there was nothing whatever visible for the Jew to worship. It is not so in the symbology of that false Church which is trying to raise up and revive the beggarly elements; there men bow before a cross; a piece of bread inside a box is reverenced and treated with worship; cast-off clouts and rotten rags, called relics, are the objects of adoration; but there was nothing like this with the Jews, they did worship toward the temple, but they did not adore the temple, or mercy-seat, the altar, or any other emblem. Is it not said expressly, "Ye saw no similitude"? When God descended upon Sinai, and all the people worshipped there, they saw nothing which they dared to worship; God was to them still invisible, and they had to exercise their mental faculties in the worship of the invisible God. When at one time it was thought that the miraculous powers of the brazen serpent entitled it to worship, Hezekiah called it Nehushtan, that is, a piece of brass, and broke it to pieces. So that with all its splendor of imagery, embroidered vest, and glittering breastplate, to a great extent there was a powerful element of spirituality even about Aaronic worship; I mean, of course, only to spiritual men. David himself utterly outstripped the outward, when he declared, "Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire;" and when he said again, "Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it thee." The prophet declares that God is weary of their sacrifices, and in another place the Lord himself says that if we could come before him with rivers of oil, or ten thousand of the fat of fed beasts, he would not accept us with these. To obey is better than sacrifice, is told us even under the law. So that even there, though not so distinctly as now, the spirituality of worship was taught and declared. But, dear friends, what became of this accommodation of worship to the childhood of the church? You know that very soon after Israel came out of Egypt they said, "Let us make gods that they may go before us." They could not do without a visible God. Do not think that when they set up the calf they meant to worship the calf instead of Jehovah, that would be a slander upon them; they worshipped Jehovah through the calf that was their plea, for they said, "Tomorrow is a feast unto Jehovah." They thought to represent Jehovah by a bull, "they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass." Though severely rebuked, it was the constant sin of Israel to desire to worship God under the favourite Egyptian emblem of the bull. At last they had so far gone into idolatry that they were driven far away; and in captivity they were so chastened, and moreover brought into such contact with the abominations of idolatry that they were heartily sick of it, and no Jew has been an idolater ever since. Still, spiritual worship they would not offer, and therefore fell into rigid ritualism, reverencing the mere letter of the law, and fighting over trifling refinements of regulation and observance; so that in Christ's day they made broad their phylacteries and the borders of their garments, but they forgot the Great Spirit who is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Since that day the Lord has been treated by carnal men in one of three ways; either God is adored by outward symbols as among Brahminists, Romanists, Puseyites, and other idolaters; or else he is worshipped through ritualism, as among too many who claim to be orthodox, who contend for pre-arranged, and unbending forms; written or unwritten as the case may be: or else men show an utter indifference to God altogether, and then rush into superstitious reverence for something or other which is evil, and therefore to be dreaded and spoken of with awe. This is the history of religious worship, that let spiritual worship assume what form it may, man always will if he can, get away from it and forget his God and set up something seen, instead of bowing down before the unseen; hence the necessity of the second commandment in the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and so on." This is not a command against worshipping another God, that is the first commandment, but a command against worshipping God under any shape, or through any medium or under any symbol; for he is a spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth and not by symbols. Against this command the human mind is always dashing itself, and in one shape or another idolatry is the ruling religion of mankind. Christ comes to tell us that now his worship is to be wholly spiritual, even the altar which belongs to antediluvian times is gone, for we have an altar of another kind; even the sacrifice which belonged to the early period has departed like a shadow, because we have the sacrifice of Christ in which to trust. As for the institutions which suited the infancy of the church, they also have disappeared, for now Jesus would have the worship of men enlightened by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost; he would have us understand that a perfect revelation demands of us, that in the perfection of our spiritual powers we should adore the invisible God without the interference of visible signs. Now he would have us cast away all outward types and signs, except the two which he has himself ordained, and even these are types of the Savior's manhood and not of his Godhead at all, to be only valued because of the spiritual communion which they enable our hearts to hold with Jesus; baptism being intended for spiritual men, that they may enter into the Savior's death and burial, and the Lord's supper that the same persons may remember his body broken and his blood shed for them; the water, the bread, the wine, being mere emblems, not to be treated with reverence, but put to their proper emblematic use. II. I shall now, in the second place, try to ACCOUNT FOR THE EXTREME RARITY OF SPIRITUAL WORSHIP. The reason is, my brethren, because man has fallen. If man were what he once was, pure and holy, I cannot conceive of his wanting holy places and crosses, copes, and dalmatics, crosiers, and chasubles. I cannot conceive of the temptation to bow down before a bull, or a Virgin Mary, or a wafer. There the noble creature walks in paradise, and if he reclines beneath a shady tree, he lifts up his eyes and says, "My Father, thou hast made this grateful shade, here I will adore thee;" or if he walks in the full heat of the sun, he says, "My God, it is thy light that shineth on me, I adore thee." Up yonder on the mountain's brow, or down by the gleaming river, or the silvery lake, he needs build no altar, his altar is within himself; be needs make no temple, his temple is everywhere. The morning is holy, and the evening is holy; he hath no prescribed hour of prayer, it is devotion all day long; his morning bath is his baptism; each meal is his Eucharist. Depend upon it, the nearer we get back to the nakedness of worship, the nearer we get to its truth and purity; and it is because man has fallen, that as his body wants clothing, so he is always dressing up his religion. Moreover, it is far more difficult to worship God in spirit than in form. To patter through a dozen Ave Marias or Paternosters is so easy, that I can nearly go to sleep over them: to repeat a form of prayer in the morning and evening is a very small matter, and one can be thinking of the shop all the while; to go to church or chapel so many times a week is a cheap duty, and withal one may still be a thief or a hypocrite; but it is hard, very hard, to bring the heart down to humble penitence, and the soul to holy meditation. The last thing that most people will do is to think. The noblest part of our nature is still the least exercised. Humbly to tremble before God, to confess sin before him, to believe him, to love him this is spiritual worship! Because this is so hard, men say, " No, no, let me crawl on my knees around a shrine! Let me kneel down before a pyx, let me help to make a cope, or to manufacture some pretty piece of millinery for the priest to wear. Let me go every morning to the steeple house and come out in half an hour, and feel I have done my religion." That is quite easy, but the hard part of religion is the part of spiritual worship. And yet again, to worship God spiritually men would have to part with their sins. There is no effect produced upon a man's conscience by his being sprinkled, or by his taking the sacraments, he can do all that and be as much a pleasure-lover, or a worshipper of Mammon, as he was before; but, to worship God spiritually, a man must give up his sins, must overcome his pride and lust, and his evil concupiscence must be cast out of him. Many persons might honestly declare, "I do not mind worshipping God if it consists in doing penance, or going without meat on Fridays; but if I am to give up my sins, love God, seek Christ, trust to him, I cannot attend to that." Furthermore, man, for the most part, somehow cannot get the idea of this spiritual worship into his brain, Oh the many times I have tried to preach spiritual worship here, and yet I am conscious that when I try at it I do not interest many of you, and some of you think, "if he would only give us more metaphors, more anecdotes, and so on;" I say I will do that, for I believe we should speak by parable, but sometimes I do not know how to clothe these spiritual things without making you look at the clothing rather than the spirit. It is not your worshipping God by words in hymns and prayers, or sitting in a certain place, or covering your faces at certain times that is acceptable to him; true worship lies in your heart paying reverence to him, your soul obeying him, and your inner nature coming into conformity to his own nature, by the work of his Spirit in your soul; and because men can scarcely get the idea of this till the Holy Spirit gives it to them, this is a reason why it is so rare, so exceedingly rare. There is one other reason, dear friends, why spiritual worship is unusual, and that is because man cannot traffic in spiritual religion. The priest is up at arms directly. " Oh," saith he, "spiritual! spiritual! why they will do without me one of these days. Spiritual why, if you tell these people that every place is holy, and that there are no holy places; and that one believer is as much a priest as another, and that prayer is as acceptable at home, as it is in a particular spot, why," says he, "there is an end of me." Yes, sir, there is an end of you, and the sooner the better for the world; for of all the curses that have ever fallen upon the human race the priesthood is the worst. Its claims are imposture, and its actions are full of deceit, In the age of witches and ghosts priesthood might be tolerated, but he who now sets himself up as a priest is as much a common nuisance as a fortune-teller. Nothing has been such a nightmare upon the intellect of man; nothing has sat like old Sindbad the Sailor upon the back of humanity, like the pretensions of priesthood. God forbid that Christianity should even for a moment endorse the lie! Christ has put it all down. Christ says, "All ye are brethren," and he says of the whole body of his elect, "Ye are a royal priesthood." Concerning all the saints, Scripture declares, "Ye are God's clergy," for that is the Greek word in the passage "Ye are God's heritage." We know no clergy and no laity; we know nothing whatever now of priesthood and of the common people, for ye are made priests and kings unto God to offer spiritual sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. III. Turning from that point, a third subject is this, WHY IS SUCH WORSHIP TO BE RENDERED? Why did not God ordain worship by windmills as in Thibet? Why has he not chosen to be worshipped by particular men in purple and fine linen, acting gracefully as in Roman and Anglican churches? Why not? He gives two reasons which ought to suffice. The first is, he himself seeks spiritual worship. It is his own wish that the worship should be spiritual, And in the second place, he is himself a spirit, and is to be spiritually worshipped. Whatever kind of worship the great Ruler desires he ought to receive, and it is impertinence on my part if I say to him, "No, not that, but this." It is true I may say, "I am very sincere in all this, very earnest in it. It suits my taste. There is a beauty about it; it excites certain emotions which I think to be devotional." What is all that but saying, "Great God, thou hast chosen such-and-such a way of being worshipped, but I will not render it to thee?" Is not that in effect saying, "I will not worship thee at all;" for must not worship, to be worship, be such as the person worshipped himself will accept? To invent our own forms of worship is to insult God; and every mass that is ever offered upon the Romish altar is an insult to heaven, and a blasphemy to God who is a Spirit. Every time any form of worship by procession, celebration, or ceremonial of man's invention is offered to God, it is offered in defiance of this word of Christ, and cannot and will not be received; however earnest people may be they have violated the imperative canon of God's Word; and in fighting for rubrics they have gone against the eternal rubric that God as a Spirit must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. The second reason given is, that God is a Spirit. If God were material, it might be right to worship him with material substances; if God were like to ourselves, it might be well for us to give a sacrifice congenial to humanity; but being as he is, pure spirit, he must be worshipped in spirit. I like the remark made by Trapp in his commentary on this passage, when he says that perhaps the Savior is even here bringing down God to our comprehension; "for," saith he, "God is above all notion, all name." Certainly, this we know, that anything which associates him with the grossness of materialism is infinitely removed from the truth. Said Augustine, "When I am not asked what God is, I think I know, but when I try to answer that question, I find I know nothing." If the Eternal were such an one as thou art, O man, he might be pleased with thy painted windows. But what a child's toy must coloured glass be to God! I can sit and gaze upon a cathedral with all its magnificence of architecture, and think what a wonderful exhibition of human skill; but what must that be to God, who piles the heavens, who digs the foundation of the deep, who leads Arcturus with his sons? Why, it must be to him the veriest trifle, a mere heap of stones. I delight to hear the swell of organs, the harmony of sweet voices, the Gregorian chant, but what is this artistic sound to him more than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal? As a sight, I admire the choristers and priests, and the whole show of a grand ceremonial; but do you believe that God is imposed upon by those frocks and gowns of white, and blue, and scarlet, and fine linen? It seems to me as if such a notion brings down God to the level of a silly woman who is fond of finery. The infinite God, who spreads out the heavens and scatters stars with both his hands, whom heaven and earth cannot contain, to whom space is but a speck, and time is as nothing, do you think that he dwelleth in temples made with hands, that is to say, of man's building? And is he to be worshipped with your organs, and your roodscreens, and your gaudy millinery? He laugheth at them, he treadeth on them as being less than nothing and vanity. Spiritual worship is what he regardeth, because he is a Spirit. My brethren, if you could get together a procession of worlds, if you could make the stars walk along the streets of some great new Jerusalem, dressed in their brightest array; if instead of the songs of a few boys or men you could catch the sonnets of eternal ages; if instead of a few men to officiate as priests you could enlist time, eternity, heaven and earth to be the priesthood, yet all this would be to him but as a company of grasshoppers, and he would take up the whole as a very little thing. But let me tell you that even God himself, great as he is, does not despise the tear that drops from a repentant eye, nor does he neglect the sigh that comes from a sinner's soul. He thinks more of your repentance than of your incense, and more of your prayers than of your priesthoods. He views with pleasure your love and your faith, for these are spiritual things in which he can take delight; but your architecture, your music and your fine arts, though they lavish their treasures at his feet, are less than nothing and vanity. Ye know not what spirit ye are of. If ye think to worship my God with all these inventions of man, ye dream like fools. I feel glowing within me the old iconoclastic spirit. Would God we had men now like Knox or Luther, who with holy indignation would pull in pieces those wicked mockeries of the Most High, against which our soul feels a hallowed indignation as we think of his loftiness, and of that poor paltry stuff with which men degrade his name. IV. WHAT THEN? What is the practical drift of this? Why two things. The first is, my dear brothers and sisters, I mean you who have learned to worship God in spirit and in truth, who have got above the beggarly elements of the outward, and can worship him in spirit and in truth, what then? Why, in the first place, let us be particularly jealous of anything which looks at all like going back to ceremonialism. As a matter of taste I have a great liking for noble architecture. Many an hour have I lingered in the ruins of some splendid abbey or our own majestic buildings still used for sacred worship. I have a great delight in a well-painted window. I cannot say that I like most Dissenting painted windows, because they look to me as if they were a sort of would be if you could. I cannot say I have any kind of liking for most of our Dissenting Gothic, for it seems to me such a paltry thing to build a front just like St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey, and then as if to cheat the Lord to make the back part shabby. I cannot say I care for that kind of thing. But a really splendid place of worship I admire, as a matter of taste. I like an organ very well, as a matter of musical taste. But, my brethren, I feel that these are times when we must stand out even against allowable things, lest going one step we should go another. I do pray you therefore if you have any influence anywhere always use it in favor of simplicity, and if you see at any time in the churches of which you are the members a tendency to creep on to something a little nearer, a little towards the way of Rome, cry "Halt!" Let us rather go back to the barns in which our fathers worshipped, or better still to the hill side, and to the green sward than go forward to anything like symbolism, which will tempt the soul away from spiritual worship. We ought ourselves to guard against falling into formalism by means of simplicity, for we may do it the one way as well as the other, by laying it down as a rule that a service must begin with prayer or begin with singing, that the preacher must preach at such a time in the service, that the service must commence, continue, and conclude in some fixed fashion; that seems to me to have a tendency to breed another form of ritualism inconsistent with worshipping God in spirit and in truth. I am afraid I have hardly grace enough to worship God by two or three hours together in silence as our Quaker friends do. I do enjoy a quarter of an hour's silence every now and then; to sit quite still seems to me to be an admirable way of getting into contact with God. Our service is so much words, words, words, that I am almost afraid you get to think as much of words as other people do of banners, and flags, and so on. Now, to sit still, to get might away from words, if so your heart keeps to God, is better even than preaching and singing. Juan De Yaldes, a Catholic, but a good Protestant for all that, remarks that the vulgar in seeking to remember Christ by the crucifix do not exercise their mind but stop at the crucifix, and therefore that which was intended to be a help becomes a hindrance; so the learned get their bibles which should help them to think upon divine things, but being content with having read the letter of Scripture they often fail to reach the spiritual truth which it containeth, and so after all do not worship God. Remember that while we should be jealous of anything which would make it easy to be formal of worship which might be adopted, yet we may still after all have missed the main thing, the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth. Let us make it a matter of heart-searching as to whether we ourselves have been in the habit of worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth. Dear friends, I am jealous of some of you that you do not do this. If the preacher happens to be away you do not feel in so good a frame; somebody else takes my place, and there are certain feeble folk among you who feel as if the sabbath had lost its enjoyment. But God is here, and you might worship God as much surely without me as with me; and though the instruction received from one man may not seem so edifying as that which may come from another, and possibly may not be so, yet still if your object be the worship of God, which should be the main object of our gathering, surely you should do that as well under the ministry of Mr. A. as Mr. B. I am afraid too that many of you are content with singing through the hymn; now all that singing which is not thought-singing is of no use; you may have very sweet voices but God does not regard your voice, he hears your heart, and if your heart does not sing you have not sung at all. When we stand up to pray it may be that the preacher's words may happen to be suitable to your case, but it is not prayer so far as you are concerned, though it may be as far as he is, unless you join in it. Recollect that if you do not put your hearts into the worship of God, you might for that matter as well be at home as here; you are better here than at home for other reasons, because you are in the way where good may come to you; but for worship's sake you might as well have been in bed as here. You who have no spiritual worship may even clog the devotions of those who have; an invisible savor of death unto death may be stealing from you, helping to pollute or to render dead the worship of those who truly adore God. At any rate, my dear hearers, if you have not with your whole hearts loved and worshipped God, repent over it, and pray the Holy Ghost to make you spiritual. Go to Christ's cross, and trust in him; then, and not till then, will you be capable of adoring the most High God in a style in which he can accept your worship. God grant that this may be impressed upon the hearts of all of us, that we may worship God in spirit and in truth.
Jesus About His Father's Business
March 4th, 1860 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Jesus saith unto them, my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." John 4:34 .
It is peculiarly pleasing to the Christian to observe the interest which God the Father takes in the work of salvation. In our earlier days of childhood in grace, we conceived the idea that God the Father was only made propitious to us through the atonement of Christ that Jesus was the Savior, and that the Father was rather an austere Judge than a tender friend. But since then, we have learned the Father through the Son: for it was not possible we could come unto the Father except through Jesus Christ. But, now, having seen Christ, we have seen the Father also, and from henceforth, we both know the Father, and have seen him, since we know the love of Christ, and have felt it shed abroad in our hearts. It is always refreshing then, to the enlightened Christian, to call to mind the intense interest which the Father takes in the work of salvation. Here you find in this verse it is three times hinted at. Salvation-work is called the Father's will. "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish;" but more, it is his will that his chosen, the blood-bought ones of Christ, should every one of them be redeemed from the ruins of the fall, and brought safely home to their Father's house. Note, again, we are told that Jesus was sent of the Father. Here, again, you see the Father's interest. It is true that Jesus rent himself away from the glories of heaven, from the felicities of blessedness, and voluntarily descended to the scorn, the shame, and spitting of this lower world. But, yet his Father had a part therein. He gave up his only begotten Son; he withheld not the darling of his bosom, but sent away his well-beloved, and sent him down with messages of love to man. Jesus Christ comes willingly, but still he comes by his Father's appointment and sending. A third hint is also given us. Salvation is here called God's work: "It is my meat to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." We know that when this world was made, the Father did not make it without reference to the Spirit, for "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," brooded over chaos, and brought order out of confusion. Nor did he make it without the Son; for we are told by John the Apostle, "Without him was not anything made that was made." Yet, at the same time, creation was the Father's work. So also is it in salvation; the Father does not save without the Spirit, for "the Spirit quickeneth whom he will." He doth not save without the Son, for it is through the merit of the Redeemer's death that we are delivered from the demerit of our iniquity. But, notwithstanding this, God the Father is the worker of salvation as much as he is the worker of creation. Let us look up then, with eyes of delight, to our reconciled God and Father. O Lord our GOD, thou art not an angry one! Thou art not an austere ruler! "Thou art not merely the Judge but thou art the grand patriarch of thy people! Thou art their great friend! Thou lovest them better than thou didst thy Son! For thou didst not spare him thou didst send him down to suffer and to die, that thou mightest bring thy children home. "Glory be unto the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end." The particular contemplation of this morning will be however, to describe Christ Jesus as he manifests himself as doing his Father's will, and finishing his Father's work. Our Lord and Master had but one thought, but one wish, but one aim. He concentrated his whole soul, gathered up the vast floods of his mighty powers, and sent them in one channel, rushing towards one great end: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." 1. In bringing out the great truth of Christ's entire devotedness to the work of salvation a devotedness so great that he could say, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up," I shall want to call your attention first of all to the fact, verified be the gospels, that his soul was in all that he did. Mark our Master when he goes about doing good. The task is not irksome to him. There are some men who if they distribute to the poor, or if they comfort the fatherless, do it with such reserve with such coldness of spirit, that you can perceive that it is but the shell of the man that acts, and not the man's whole soul. But see our divine Lord. Wherever he walks, you see his whole self in flame. his whole being at work. Not a single power slumbers, but the whole man is engaged. How much at ease he seems among his poor fishermen! You do not discover that his thoughts are away in the halls of kings; but he is a fellow with them, bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. He walks in the midst of publicans and harlots, and he is not ill at ease; not like one who is condescending to do a work which he feels to be beneath him; he is pleased with it, his whole soul is in it. Mark how he takes the little children on his knee, and though his disciples would put them away, yet his whole spirit is set truly with the poor, with the sinful, whom he came to save, that he says, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Look up into that face, and there is a whole-soured man there; not one whose thoughts are set on dignity and power, and who is schooling himself down, toning down his mind to the circle in which he moves, as a matter of constraint and duty. His vocation becomes his delight. His Father's service is his element. He is never happy when he is out of it. He casts his whole being, his whole spirit, into the work of man's redemption. 2. As a further proof of his devotedness, you will observe that whatever a man takes to heart as being the object of his life, it always makes him glad when he sees it succeeding. How you notice in our Savior's life, that when he goes into a pharisee's house to eat bread he always seems under constraint. In any chapter which records what Jesus said in the house of a pharisee there is a want of vivacity. He speaks solemnly, but evidently his spirit is spell-bound, he is unhappy. He knows that he is watched by cavillers who resist his good work, and he there saith but very little, or else his discourse hath but little joy and brilliance therein. But see him among publicans; when he is sitting down with Zaccheus, or when he is come into some poor man's house and is sitting down to his ordinary meal; there is Jesus Christ with His eyes flashing, his lips pouring forth eloquence, and his whole soul at ease. "Now," says he, "I am at home; here is my work; here are the people among whom I shall succeed." How the man snaps his chain! You see the Lord Jesus Christ as the child-man, no more restraining himself before the watchers, but speaking out of his full soul all that his heart thinks and feels. Now you generally know when a man's heart is in his work, by the joy he feels in it. You see some preachers go up into their pulpits as though they were going to be roasted at the stake; and they read their sermons through as if they were making their last dying speech and confession. What do you think they call it? why, doing their duty. True ministers call preaching pleasure, not duty. It is a delight to stand up to tell to others the way of salvation and to magnify Christ. But mere hirelings cannot go higher than the idea of doing their duty when they are telling out this glorious tale. Jesus Christ was none of these. "My meat is" he said, "to do the will of him that sent me." The only times that Jesus ever smiled and rejoiced are the times when he was in the midst of poor sinners. At that time "Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." Let him see a penitent, let him hear the groan of a sinner mourning over his evil way, let him discern a tear trickling down the cheek of one of his hearers, and Jesus Christ begins to be glad, and the Man of Sorrows wears a smile for a moment upon that pale and sorrowful face. At all times there is a travailing in birth for souls: he is only happy when he sees the family of God enlarged. 3. There is another test by which you may know when a man's spirit is in his work. When a right noble lord, some little time ago, stood up in the House of Lords to speak against the infamous productions and prints of Holywell Street, I felt quite sure that his lordship was thoroughly in earnest, because he grew angry. After some person had ventured to defend the filth that comes forth from that street, as if it had some connection with the glories of art, his lordship replied in a very tart speech, which at once let you see that he meant what he said, and that he felt the work upon which he had entered to be an important one. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ sometimes grew warm in speech, but he was never angry except with men who opposed the good work with which he came, and not even with them if he saw that they opposed it through ignorance, but only with those who stood up against him on account of pride and vain glory. Did ye ever read such a mighty tirade of threatening as that which roars from Christ when he is speaking against the Pharisees? "But woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him two-fold more the child of hell than yourselves. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? "Methinks I see his holy cheeks glowing with a divine furore, when he hurls his thunderbolts about him, and denounces the men who shut up the gates of heaven, and will not enter in themselves, and they that would enter in they hinder. Now, you can see that his soul is in it, because the man grows warm. The loving spirit of Jesus, who was trodden on like a worm, who would never defend himself who had not a spark of resentment towards his persecutors, but "when he was reviled, reviled not again," who gave blessings for curses oh! how he kindles into a flame when he sees enemies! in the way of his poor people whom he has come to save! Then, indeed, he spares no words. Then can he ply the lash with a mighty hand, and let them see that the voices of Jesus can be as terrible as thunder, while, at other times, it can be sweet as harpers harping with their harps. 4. A sure evidence that a man has espoused some mighty purpose, and that his purpose has saturated his whole soul, and steeped him in its floods, is, that if he be unsuccessful, he will weep. Now, see our Lord. Were there ever such tears shed as those which he poured forth over Jerusalem? Standing on the hilltops, he saw its towers and its glittering temple, and he discerned in the dim future the day when it should be burned with fire, and the ploughshare of destruction should be driven o'er its once fair, but then desolate, foundations and he cries, "O Jerusalem! Jerusalem I how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, end ye would not!" Oh that wail of his, "O Jerusalem! Jerusalem!" Does it not remind you of those words of God in one of the old prophets, where weeping over Ephraim, he saith ''How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." Jehovah's bowels yearned to clasp his Ephraim to his breast. And so with Jesus. They may spit in his face, and he weeps not. They may drag him out of the synagogue and seek to cast him headlong down the brow of the hill, but I find not that he sighs. They may nail him to the cross, and yet there shall be ne'er a tear. The only thing that can make him weep is to see that they reject their own mercy, that they put away from them their only hope, and refuse to walk in that only way of peace. This alone might serve as a proof of the intensity of Jesus' soul in his great purpose. He must save others; and if they be not saved, he will weep. If others oppose their salvation he will grow angry; not for himself but for them. Careless of what happens to himself, he has no fear, no anger for injuries that are poured on him, but his whole spirit is given up to the one great work of rescuing souls from sin, and sinners from going down into the pit. 5. It often happens, however, that when we are really earnest about some purpose, some enemy will rise up. Unconscious, perhaps, of the nobility of our purpose, he will misconstrue our motives, vilify our character, and tread our fair name in the dust. There is a strong temptation at such seasons to defend one's self. We want to say just a word about one's own sincerity and heartiness of purpose. The temptation comes very strongly on us, because we think that we ourselves are so wrapped up, so intimately connected with the work, that perhaps, if our name be injured that work may suffer also. How many good and great men have fallen into this snare, so that they have left their work in order to take care of themselves, and have at least diminished some little of their ardor, or commingled the ardor which they feel for those objects with another fervency of spirit the fervency of self-defense. Now, in our Lord Jesus Christ you see nothing of this. He is so set upon his purpose that when they call him a drunkard he doth not deny it; when they say he is a Samaritan and is mad, he takes it silently and seems to say, "Be it so; think so, if you will." Now and then there is a word of complaint, but not of accusation. When it is really for their good he will rebuke them, and say, "How can Beelzebub cast out Beelzebub?" But there is no elaborate defense of his character. Christ has left on record, in his sermons, no apology for anything he said. He just went about his work and did it, and left men to think what they pleased about him. He knew right well that contempt and shame from some men are but another phase of glory, and that to suffer the despite of a depraved race was to be glorified in the presence of his Father, and in the midst of his holy angels. Yet we might wonder (if we did not know who he was) that some little personal animosity did not sometimes creep in; but you never detect a shade of it. Many there were, I dare say, whom he knew to be his dire enemies; he has not a word to say against them. Some would come up in the street to insult him; I do not find that he took the slightest notice of them. Many there were, too, that spread all manner of ill reports, but he never told his disciples to try and stop the ill tale that was abroad. He treated with silent pity the calumnies of men, and walked on in the majesty of his goodness, defying all men to say what they pleased, for all their devices could no more make him turn aside from his course than the baying of the dog can make the moon stand still in her orbit. And so, too good to be selfish, too glorious to care for any one's esteem, he could not and would not turn aside, bus as an arrow from the bow of some mighty archer, he sped on his way towards his destined) target. 6. Then, mark again, another proof qf the full devotedness of Christ to his ministry namely, that you always see him laboring. The three years of Christ's ministry were three years of ceaseless toil. He never rested: one wonders how he lived at all. It is but little marvel that his poor body was emaciated, and that his visage was more marred than that of any man. What with stern conflicts with Satan in the desert conflicts so severe, that, if you and I were to undergo them, they might make our hairs turn grey in a single night; what with conflicts with the crowd of men who all seemed to rise up at once against him, like warriors armed to the teeth, while he stood like a defenseless lamb in the midst of cruel wolves what with preaching, with more private teaching, with healing the sick and the lepers, restoring the maimed, the deaf, the blind; going about everywhere doing good, and never ceasing in his journeys, walking every inch of his way on foot, save when he was tossed on the stormy bosom of the lake, in some small boat which belonged to his disciples never having a home wherein to dwell, crying, "the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" surely never man labored like this man. That three years of our Savior's ministry reads like the history of three centuries. It is the life of a man who is living at a matchless rate. His minutes are all hours; his hours all months; his months all years; or longer still than that. He does enough in one day to give a man eternal fame, and yet, thinking nothing of it, he goes to something yet more arduous; and on, and on, and on, he toils his whole life through. The most hard working man among us has his hours of sleep. Give us but sleep and we can do anything, we rise up from our beds like giants refreshed with new wine, to run our course anew. But Jesus sleeps not.
"Cold mountains and the midnight air, Witness the fervor of his prayer."
He has stood up to preach all day long; he has fed thousands. and at last he faints. His disciples take him even as he is, for he cannot walk, his strength is gone; and they carry him down to the boat and lay him there. He shuts his eyes, he is about to have some little repose but they come to him, and cry, "Master, why sleepest thou? Awake! we perish." And he arises to rebuke the waves, and finds himself on another shore, and in another field of labor, upon which he enters at once without delay. He seems to have known no moment of repose. He preaches day by day, he prays by night. He seemed to be a sun that never had a setting, always shining always progressing in his mighty course. Oh! there never was such a worker never such a toiler as this Lord Jesus, who toiled not for himself but for others. 7. And here let me remark, again, that I may give you another proof that his meat was to do the will of him that sent him, namely, that at many times when he was in full labor he does not seem to have felt fatigue at all. He had been walking one hot day along the dusty road, under the burning sun; and he comes at last to the well of Sychar. Being very weary, he sat down on the well. He was hungry, too, for his disciples had gone away to buy meat. That little wallet which Judas carried was not often full enough to afford meat for luxury; they could only buy for mere necessity. They doubtless had enough in that little bag, which was filled by the voluntary gifts of those among whom he labored, to keep those twelve men with daily bread, but they had none to spare. I conclude, then, that our Savior needed meat, or they would not have gone away to buy it. They come back after they have bought their meat, and they find their Master sitting on the well preaching to a woman. She goes away and they wonder how it is he does not eat. He tells them he needs no food, he has been refreshed, he had seen that woman converted. A woman who had had five husbands, and was then living with one who was not her husband, had listened to his voice, and she had been saved, and he saw her go away to bring the men to hear. He expected a harvest; he saw the fields white and ready for it; and this so refreshed his spirit that he did not need to eat. And we read at another time he forgot to eat bread, and at another season we read they thronged him in, "insomuch that he was not able to eat." Yet he could say, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of." He seemed to get refreshed in his work to grow stronger amid his toils; instead of growing tired, he renewed his strength; as he went on with his sacred labors. Now, this could not have happened to Christ, unless his whole soul was in it. Those of you who have ever undertaken an enterprise with all your might, know that as that has been going on you have been so absorbed that you did hot know when it was time for you to eat, and when at last you have seen success dawning upon you, if any one had hinted that you needed bread, you would put him by and say, "Don't disturb me; let me watch; let me see this light come to its full blaze of noon day." You have needed no other refreshment than that which success, has given you. I could myself give an illustration of this, which occurred to me a little while ago, to prove that fact. Coming from home early in the morning, I went to the chapel, sat there all day long seeing those who had been brought to Christ through the preaching of the Word. Their stories were so interesting to me that the day went on. I may have seen some thirty or more during the day, one after the other, as they came up to me. I was so delighted with the tales they told me, and the wonders of grace that God had wrought in them, that I did not know anything about how the day went. Seven o'clock came for prayer-meeting. I went in and prayed with the brethren. After that came the church-meeting. A little before ten o'clock I felt faint, and I began to think at what hour I had had my dinner, and I found that I had had none; I never thought of it, I never felt hungry, because God had made me so glad with success. I think we could live right on, almost without food, if God would sustain us daily with this divine manna this heavenly food of success in winning souls. This showed that our Master's heart was in it: for the toil needed no refreshment. 8. Then, again, if I have not said enough to convince you that he gave his whole spirit to the work; let me remark that many a man has espoused a purpose, and, as he imagined, has betrothed himself to it by eternal nuptials, yet at last he has been divorced from the darling object. He has seen some path of brightness opening to him with some glittering honor at the end, and he has turned aside to selfaggrandisement and glory. But our Lord had a prospect before him, such as no man ever had. Satan took him to the brow of a hill, and offered him all the kingdoms of this world a mightier dominion even than Caesar had if he would bow down and worship him. That temptation was substantially repeated in Christ's life a thousand times. You remember one practical instance as a specimen of the whole. "They would have taken him by force and would have made him a king." And if he had but pleased to accept that offer, on the day when he rode into Jerusalem upon a colt, the foal of an ass when all cried "Hosanna!" when the palm branches were waving, he had needed to have done nothing but just to have gone into the temple, to have commanded with authority the priest to pour the sacred chrism publicly upon his head, and he would have been king of the Jews. Not with the mock title which he wore upon the cross, but with a real dignity he might have been monarch of nations. As for the Romans, his omnipotence could have swept away the intruders. He could have lifted up Judea into a glory as great as the golden days of Solomon: he might have built Palmyras and Tadmors in the desert: he might have stormed Egypt and have taken Rome. There was no empire that could have resisted him. With a band of zealots such as that nation could have furnished, and with such a leader capable of working miracles walking in the van, the star of Judea might have risen with resplendent light, and a visible kingdom might have come, and his will might have been done on earth, from the river unto the ends of the earth. But he came not to establish a carnal kingdom upon earth, else would his followers fight: he came to wear the thorn-crown, to bear our griefs and to carry our sorrows. And from that single object the most splendid temptation could not make him diverge. You may heap together the glittering pomps and the gaudy jewels, but he treads them all beneath his feet. The Cross to him is brighter than a crown, the suffering more dear than wealth and honor. So then, in this too, we may see how full was his purpose, and how firmly he was set on the salvation of man. 9. One other thought here. If we knew that some purpose which we had undertaken could never be achieved unless by our death, supposing that we could bring our mind to give up our blood as the price of success if we knew that after the most toilsome effort, though the walls of the structure might rise, yet our own tomb must furnish the topstone if we resolve to die for it, yet I can well conceive that firmly as our purpose might be set, we should dread the hour. Let it be at a distance, we should say. And if we were told it was drawing near, we should sigh, and our spirit would sink. But not so, Christ. Do you observe throughout his life in what a hurry he is? Read the gospel according to St. Mark. The gospel of St. Mark is the gospel of the servant. The chosen emblem in the old church windows represents St. Mark as the ox, the laborious ox. Each of the evangelists had his own particular idiom, and the idiomatic expression of St. Mark is the word, Eutheos, which we translate "straightway," "immediately." You will see if you read the evangelist through, that the word "straightway," "immediately," occurs more frequently in that book than in any other, perhaps more times than in all the rest of the Word of God besides, to teach us this lesson, that Christ as a servant was in haste to fulfll his mission; never loitering, but always doing it straightway. He seems to me to be always stretching out his hands after the cross; not standing back from it, as if he knew it must come to him by necessity. No, he said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." His soul was speeding towards the cross, and his body seemed to be straitened, encaged, imprisoned, that it could not get to the end of this three years of labor. His soul was panting after suffering; groaning, crying out to be permitted to drink of the cup of our redemption even to the dregs. Now, this majesty of purpose, not merely to die, but to pant for death not simply to climb the wall, to lead the forlorn hope and to long to do it, to be panting for the battle, desiring the fight, longing for the suffering this is heroic ardor, self devotion entirely unexampled! I could hardly imagine a man panting for the fight an hour before it begins, but all his life long to be desiring to enter upon It, to be panting for that bloody sweat, to be sighing for those nails, that shame, that spitting, this showed how strongly our Lord Jesus Christ had bent all his thoughts to the divine purpose of doing his Father's will, and finishing his Father's work. Now, I shall say no more upon this subject by way of proof. I come very briefly to make the practical we thereof. The first practical inference is addressed to the timid, agonized soul, who desires salvation, but who thinks that Christ is unwilling to give it to him. Timid spirit, timid spirit, put away the thought that he is unwilling to save. It is a lie against thy own soul; it is a libel against his character. What! He unwilling to distribute that which he so freely bought at so immense a price! Do you see in any one period of his life an unwillingness to save? There might be once a shrinking of the flesh, but that is over now. No more the crown of thorns; the cross and nails no more. The flesh has nothing more to shrink at. It is done; redemption is accomplished, and think you he was so earnest and so intent on the work of redemption, and now is unwilling to reap the fruits of it? Why, do you not know, poor penitent, that he died to save you, and think you that it needs much argument to move the heart that once was pierced to pity and compassion? Scout the thought once for all. He is able to forgive; that thou knowest. He is as willing as he is able. Infinite is his ability, and as infinite his willingness. I beseech thee, distrust him not. Come as thou art, with all thy sins about thee. Come, now and put thy trust in him. Thou shalt find the door of heaven's gate not creaking on its hinges, but standing on jar and opening easily. John Bunyan says the posts of the gates of the temple were made of olive tree; and he allegorized it thus: They were made of that fat and oily tree, that so the hinges might move readily and smoothly, that there might be no difficulty in opening the temple-gates when timid souls came flying in. When mothers are unwilling to receive their children, when fathers are unwilling to give food to their own offspring, then nay, not even then, will Jesus be unwilling to forgive. When the hard-working man is unwilling to take his wage, when the toiling politician is unwilling to grasp the honor which he has achieved, then nay, not even then, may Christ be unwilling to lay hold upon the sheep which is his own purchased with his own blood, and to pluck that jewel from a dung-hill which he has redeemed with his own suffering. He is not unwilling; thou art unwilling. If there be any hardness of heart, it lies with thee, and not with him. If there be difficulties in the way of thy salvations they are difficulties in thyself, not in him. Come and welcome. This is the invitation which reaches thee to day from heaven's festal board. Come and welcome. Come and welcome. Come and welcome, sinner, come! Let nothing make thee linger. He thirsts to save; he pants to bless. He longs to redeem and ransom. Only trust him; and if thou be made glad when thou trustest, he will be glad too. If the prodigal is glad when he returns, the father's joy is not an atom less. If there be mirth in the heart of the returning one, there is as much mirth in the heart of the parent to whom he returns. So come, and make thy Savior glad. Come and make him see of the travail of his soul that he may be abundantly satisfied. This is my first practical inference. There is yet another. Christian men, it is but fair that we should give you one lesson from such a subject as this. Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus. I would not be censorious, but solemnly and seriously, I fear there are not very many whose whole heart is set on Christ's glory. We have church members, men of wealth; do they not spend more upon themselves than upon Christ? And may I not infer from this that they love themselves better than Christ? We have other members of our churches, men who are but comparatively well-to-do. These spend more on their mere pleasures than on Christ. What am I to suppose, but that they find more pleasure in the enjoyments of the flesh than they do in serving Christ? Oh, have we not tens of thousands in the army of the Lord, that strike for themselves in their own battles with an arm as strong as that of king Arthur of our table, but when they come to fight for Christ their arm drops nerveless at their side? We have men who are all eye, all ear, all hand in business, but they are blind, and deaf, and impotent when they come into Christ's church. The fact is, we have in too many of our churches the chrysalis of men, but not the real body. They give us their names, but they keep their whole influence for the world. Ah! and is this what Christ deserves of you? Is this the reward of his self-devotion? Do you thus repay him who saved others but could not save himself. And you profess to be a follower of the Lamb, is this your following? An imitator of Jesus, and is this the imitation? Oh, sirs, the likeness is marred and blotted. Ye are poor sculptors indeed, if ye imagine yourselves to be sculptured in the image of Christ. Brothers and sisters, this matter may not seem to be of interest to you, but I feel it to be a subject of the most intense importance to the world that lieth in the wicked one. If we were more like Jesus it would be a happy day for the poor dying sons of men. Oh, if our divided aims could but be exchanged for singleness of heart; if our littleness of zeal could be consumed in the intensity of love to Christ, what better men should we be, and what a happier world would be this. Do you imagine that you are pleasing to God when you are living for fifty aims instead of one? When you bring to Christ your lukewarm love, your lukewarm zeal, do you think he is pleased with you, and that he accepts your offer? Oh, church of Laodicea, thou hast moved from Asia, thou hast come to England, and taken up thy abode in London! Truly might the Lord say to many of our London churches, "You are neither cold nor hot, you are lukewarm, and I will spue thee out of my mouth." There is nothing God abhors more than our cold Christianity, such as we have in these modern times a religion which professes to live, but which lives like a gasping, fainting, trembling creature, that is on the verge of death. And you think to shake the world while you are shaking yourself with the ague of your cold indifference! You cry to God, "Arise!" and yet you rise not yourself! You ask a blessing and yet you will not win it! You crave for victory, and yet your swords rust in their scabbards! Out with you, sirs, be rid of this hypocrisy; begin first to ask for singleness of soul, and devotedness of purpose; and when this is given you, then shall there come days of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Then shall sinners be converted, and Christ shall see of the travail of his soul. But for all this we want the influence of the Holy Spirit, for without that we shall never give our whole hearts up to the sacred mission of winning souls for Christ. Spirit of the living God! descend upon us now; rest on thy saints, and fill them with love to perishing souls, and rest thou on the sinner, to bring him to this willing Savior, and make him willing in the day of thy power.
Characteristics of Faith
May 27th, 1860 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." John 4:48 .
You will remember that Luke, in his letter to Theophilus, speaks of things which Jesus began both to do and to teach, as if there was a connection between his doings and his teachings. In fact, there was a relation of the most intimate kind. His teachings were the explanation of his doings his doings confirmations of his teachings. Jesus Christ had never occasion to any, "Do as I say, but not as I do." His words and his actions were in perfect harmony with one another. You might be sure that he was honest in what he said, because what he did forced that conviction upon your mind. Moreover, you were led to see that what he taught you must be true, because he spoke with authority, an authority proved and demonstrated by the miracles he wrought. Oh my brethren in Christ! when our biographies shall come to be written at last, God grant that they may not be all sayings, but that they may be a history of our sayings and doings! And may the good Spirit so dwell in us, that at the last it may be seen that our doings did not clash with our sayings! It is one thing to preach, but another thing to practice; and unless preaching and practice go together, the preacher is himself condemned, and his ill practice may be the means of condemning multitudes through his leading them astray. If you make a profession of being God's servant, live up to that profession, and if you think it necessary to exhort others to virtue, take care that you set the example. You can have no right to teach, if you have not yourself learned the lesson which you would teach to others. Thus much by way of preface; and now concerning the subject itself. The narrative before us seems to me to suggest three points, and those points each of them triplets. I shall notice in this narrative, first, the three stages of faith, in the second place I shall notice the three diseases to which faith is subject; and then I shall come, in the third place, to ask three questions about your faith. I. To begin, then, with the first point. It seems to me that we have before us FAITH IN THREE OF ITS STAGES. Doubtless, the history of faith might with propriety be divided just as accurately into five or six different stages of growth; but our narrative suggests a threefold division, and therefore we stand to that this morning. There is a nobleman living at Capernaum; he hears a rumor that a celebrated prophet and preacher is continually going through the cities of Galilee and Judea, and is given to understand that this mighty preacher does not merely enthral every hearer by his eloquence, but wins the hearts of men by singularly benevolent miracles which he works as a confirmation of his mission. He stores these things in his heart, little thinking that they would ever be of any practical service to him. It comes to pass on a certain day that his son falls sick, perhaps his only son, one very dear to his father's heart, the sickness, instead of diminishing, gradually increases. Fever breathes its hot breath upon the child, and seems to dry up all the moisture in his body, and to blast the bloom from his cheek. The father consults every physician within his reach; they look upon the child and candidly pronounce him hopeless. No cure can possibly be wrought. That child is at the point of death; the arrow of death has almost sunk into his flesh; it has well nigh penetrated his heart; he is not near death merely, but at death's very point; he has been forced by disease upon the barbed arrows of that insatiate archer. The father now bethinks himself. and calls to recollection the stories he had heard of the cures wrought by Jesus of Nazareth. There is a little faith in his soul; though but a little, still enough to make him use every endeavor to test the truth of what he has heard. Jesus Christ has come to Cana again; it is some fifteen or twenty miles. The father travels with all speed; he arrives at the place where Jesus is: his faith has got to such a stage that, as soon as he sees the master, he begins to cry, "Lord, come down ere my child die." The Master, instead of giving him an answer which might console him, rebukes him for the littleness of his faith, and tells him, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." The man, however, pays little regard to the rebuke, for there is a desire which has absorbed all the powers of his soul. His mind is so overwhelmed with one anxiety, that he is oblivious of all beside. "Sir," said he, "come down ere my child die." His faith has now arrived at such a stage that he pleads in prayer, and earnestly importunes the Lord to come and heal his son. The Master looks upon him with an eye of ineffable benevolence, and says to him, "Go thy way, thy son liveth." The father goes his way cheerfully, quickly, contentedly, trusting in the word which as yet no evidence has confirmed. He has now come to the second stage of his faith; he has come out of the seeking stage into the relying stage. He no more cries and pleads for a thing he has not; he trusts and believes that the thing is given to him, though as yet he has not perceived the gift. On his road home, the servants meet him with joyful haste; they say, "Master, thy son liveth." He enquires quickly at what hour the fever left him. The answer is given him, about the seventh hour the fever abated; nay, it stayed its course. Then he comes to the third stage. He goes home; he sees his child perfectly restored. The child springs into his arms, covers him with kisses; and when he has held him up again and again to see if he was really the little one that lay so wan, and pale, and sick, he triumphs in a higher sense still. His faith has gone from reliance up to full assurance; and then his whole house believed as well as himself. I have given you just these outlines of the narrative, that you may see the three stages of faith. Let us now examine each more minutely. When faith begins in the soul, it is but as a grain of mustard seed. God's people are not born giants. They are babes at first; and as they are babes in grace, so their graces are as it were in their infancy. Faith is but as a little child, when first God gives it; or to use another figure, it is not a fire, but a spark, a spark which seems as if it must go out, but which is nevertheless fanned and kept alive until it cometh to a flame, like unto the vehement heat of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. The poor man in the narrative, when he had faith given him, he had it but in a very small degree. It was seeking faith. That is the first stage of faith. Now just notice that this seeking faith excited his activity. As soon as ever God gives a man the seeking faith, he is no more idle about religion, he does not fold his arms with the wicked Antinomian, and cry, "If I am to be saved, I shall be saved, and I will sit still, for if I am to be damned, I shall be damned." He is not careless and indifferent, as he need to be, as to whether he should go up to the house of God or no. He has got seeking faith, and that faith makes him attend the means of grace, leads him to search the Word, leads him to be diligent in the use of every ordained means of blessing for the soul. There is a sermon to be heard: no matter that there are five miles to walk, seeking faith puts wings upon the feet. There is a congregation where God is blessing souls; the man, if he enters, will probably have to stand in the crowd; but it does not signify, seeking faith gives him strength to bear the uneasiness of his position, for, "Oh," he says, "if I may but hear the Word." See how he leans forward that he may not lose a syllable for, "Perhaps," saith he, "the sentence that I lose may be the very one that I want." How earnest he is that he may not only be sometimes in the house of God, but very often there. He becomes amongst the most enthusiastic of hearers, the most earnest of men that attend that place of worship. Seeking faith gives a man activity. More than this, seeking faith, though it is very weak in some things, gives a man great power in prayer. How earnest was this nobleman "Lord, come down ere my child die." Ay, and when seeking faith enters into the soul, it makes a man pray. He is not content now with muttering over a few words when he rises in the morning, and then, half asleep, ringing the same chimes at night when he goes to bed; but he gets away he steals a quarter of an hour from his business if he can, that he may cry to God in secret. He has not the faith yet which enables him to say, "My sins are forgiven;" but he has faith enough to know that Christ can forgive his sins, and what he wants is that he may know that his sins are really cast behind Jehovah's back. Sometimes this man has no convenience for prayer, but seeking faith will make him pray in a garret, in a hay-loft, in a saw-pit, from behind a hedge, or even walking the street. Satan may throw a thousand difficulties in the way, but seeking faith will compel a man to knock at mercy's door. Now the faith that you have received doth not vet give you peace, it doth not put you where there is no condemnation, but yet it is such a faith, that if it grows it will come to that. It has but to be nourished, to be cherished, to be exercised, and the little one shall become mighty, seeking faith shall come to a higher degree of development, and you that knocked at mercy's gate shall enter in and find a welcome at Jesus' table. And I would have you further notice, that the seeking faith in this man's case did not simply make him earnest in prayer, but importunate in it. He asked once, and the only answer he received was an apparent rebuff He did not turn away in a sulk, and say, "He rebukes me." No. "Sir," saith he, " come down ere my child die." I cannot tell you how he said it, but I have no doubt it was expressed in soul-moving terms, with tears starting from his eyes, with hands that were placed together in the attitude of entreaty. He seemed to say, "I cannot let thee go except thou come and save my child. Oh, do come. Is there anything I can say that can induce thee? Let a father's affection be my best argument; and if my lips be not eloquent, let the tears of my eyes supply the place of the words of my tongue. Come down ere my child die." And oh! what mighty prayers those are which seeking faith will make a man pray! I have heard the seeker sometimes plead with God with all the power that Jacob ever could have had at Jabboks brook. I have seen the sinner under distress of soul seem to take hold of the pillars of the gate of mercy and rock them to and fro as though he would sooner pull them up from their deep foundations than go away without effecting an entrance. I have seen him pull and tug, and strive and fight, and wrestle, rather than not enter the kingdom of heaven, for he knew that the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent would take it by force. No wonder that you have not any peace, if you have been bringing before God your cold prayers. Heat them red-hot in the furnace of desire, or think not they will ever burn their way upwards to heaven. You that merely say in the chill form of orthodoxy, "God be merciful to me a sinner," will never find mercy. It is the man that cries in the burning anguish of heart-felt emotion "God be merciful to me a sinner; save me or I perish;" that gains his suit. It is he who concentrates his soul in every word, and flings the violence of his being into every sentence, that wins his way through the gates of heaven. Seeking faith when once it is given can make a man do this. Doubtless there are some here who have got as far as that already. I thought I saw the tears starting from many an eye just now brushed away very hastily, but I could see it as an index that some said in their souls, "Ay, I know the meaning of that, and I trust God has brought me thus far." One word I must say here with regard to the weakness of this seeking faith. It can do much, but it makes many mistakes. The fault of seeking faith is that it knows too little, for you will observe that this poor man said, "Sir, come down, come down." Well, but he need not come down. The Lord can work the miracle without coming down. But our poor friend thought the Master could not save his son, unless he came and looked at him, and put his hand upon him, and knelt down perhaps upon him as Elijah did. "Oh, come down" saith he. So is it with you. You have been dictating to God how he shall save you. You want him to send you some terrible convictions, and then you think you could believe; or else you want to have a dream or a vision, or to hear a voice speaking to you, saying, "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee." That is your fault you see. Your seeking faith is strong enough to make you pray, but it is not strong enough to cast out of the mind your own silly fancies. You are wanting to see signs and wonders, or else you will not believe. O nobleman, if Jesus chooses to speak the word and thy son is healed, will not that suit thee as well as his coming down? "Oh," saith he, "I never thought of that?" and so, poor sinner, if Jesus chooses to give thee peace this morning in this hall, will not that suit thee as well as being a month under the whip of the law? If as you pass out of these doors you be enabled simply to trust in Christ, and so find peace, will not that be as good a salvation as though you should have to go through fire and through water, and all your sins should be made to ride over your head? Here, then, is the weakness of your faith. Though there is much excellence in it because it makes you pray, there is some fault in it because it makes you imprudently prescribe to the Almighty how he shall bless you makes you in effect to impugn his sovereignty, and leads you ignorantly to dictate to him in what form the promised boon shall come. We will now pass on to the second stage of faith. The Master stretched out his hand and said, "Go thy way, thy son liveth." Do you see the face of that nobleman? Those furrows that were there seem smoothed in a moment, all gone. Those eyes are full of tears, but they are of another sort now they are tears of joy. He claps his hands, retires silently, his heart ready to burst with gratitude, his whole soul full of confidence. "Why are you so happy, sir?" "Why my child is cured," saith he. "Nay, but you have not seen him cured." "But my Lord said he was, and I believe him." But it may be that when you get home you will find your faith to be a delusion and your child a corpse." "Nay," saith he, "I believe in that man. Once I believed him and sought him, now I believe him and have found him.' "But you have no evidence whatever that your child is healed." "Nay," saith he, "I do not want any. The naked word of that divine prophet is enough for me. He spake it and I know it is true. He told me to go my way; my son lived; I go my way, and I am quite at peace and at ease." Now mark, when your faith gets to a second stage in which you shall be able to take Christ at his word, then it is you shall begin to know the happiness of believing, and then it is your faith saves your soul. Take Christ at his word, poor sinner. "He that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved." "But," saith one, "I feel no evidence." Believe it none the less for that. "But," says another, "I do not feel enjoyment in my heart." Believe it, be your heart never so gloomy: that enjoyment shall come afterwards. That is an heroic faith which believes Christ in the teeth of a thousand contradictions. When the Lord gives you that faith, you can say, "I consult not with flesh and blood. He who said to me, 'Believe and be saved,' gave me grace to believe, and I therefore am confident that I am saved. When I once cast my soul, sink or swim, upon the love and blood and power of Christ, though conscience give no witness to my soul, though doubts distress me and fears plague me, yet it is mine to honor my Master by believing his Word, though it be contradictory to sense, though reason rebel against it, and present feeling dare to give it the lie." Oh! it is an honorable thing when a man has a follower, and that follower believes that man implicitly. The man propounds an opinion which is in contradiction to the received opinion of the universe, he stands up and addresses it to the people, and they hiss and hoot, and scorn him; but that man has one disciple, who says, "I believe my Master; what he has said I believe is true." There is something noble about the man who receives such homage as that. He seems to say, "Now I am master of one heart at least," and when you, in the teeth of everything that is conflicting, stand to Christ and believe his words, you do him greater homage than Cherubim and Seraphim before the throne. Dare to believe; trust Christ, I say, and thou art saved. In this stage of faith it is that a man begins to enjoy quietness and peace of mind. I am not quite certain as to the number of miles between Cana and Capernaum, but several excellent expositors say it is fifteen, some twenty. I suppose the miles may have altered in their length lately. It need not, however, have taken this good man long to get home to his son. It was at the seventh hour that the Master said, "Thy son liveth." It is evident from this text, that he did not meet his servants till the next day, because they say, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." What do you conclude from that? Why I draw this inference: the nobleman was so sure that that his child was alive and well, that he was in no violent hurry to return. He did not go home immediately, as though he must be in time to get another doctor, if Christ had not succeeded; but he went his way leisurely and calmly, confident in the truth of what Jesus had said to him. Well says an old father of the church, "He that believeth shall not make haste." In this case it was true. The man took his time. He was, it may be, twelve hours or more before he reached his home though probably it was but fifteen miles for him to travel. He who takes the naked word of Christ to be the basis of his hope, stands on a rock while all other ground is sinking sand. My brothers and sisters, some of you have got as far as this. You are now taking Christ at his word; it shall not be long before you will get to the third and best stage of faith. But if it should be ever so long still stand here; still believe your Lord and Master, still trust him. If he does not take you into his banqueting house, still trust him. Nay, if he locks you up in the castle, or in the dungeon, still trust him. Say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." Should he let the arrows of affliction stick fast in your flesh, still trust him; should he break you to pieces with his right hand still trust him; and by-and-bye your righteousness shall come forth as the light, your glory as a lamp that burneth. We must now hurry on to the third and best stage of faith. The servants meet the nobleman his son is healed. He arrives at home, clasps his child and sees him perfectly restored. Add now, says the narrative "Himself believed and his whole house.' And yet you will have noticed that in the fiftieth verse, it says that he believed. "The man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him." Now some expositors have been greatly puzzled; for they did not know when this man did believe. Good Calvin says, and his remarks are always weighty, and always excellent (I do not hesitate to say that Calvin is the grandest expositor that ever yet thought to make plain the Word of God; in his commentary I have often found him cutting his own institutes to pieces, not attempting to give a passage a Calvinistic meaning, but always trying to interpret God's Word as he finds it) Calvin says this man had in the first place, only a faith, which relied for one thing upon Christ. He believed the word Christ had spoken. Afterwards he had a faith which took Christ into his soul, to become his disciple, and trust him as the Messiah. I think I am not wrong in using this as an illustration of faith in its highest state. He found his son healed at the very hour when Jesus said he should be. "And now," he says, "I believe;" that is to say, be believed with full assurance of faith. His mind was so rid of all its doubts; he believed in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God, sure he was a prophet sent from God, and doubts and misgivings no longer occupied his soul. Ah! I know many poor creatures who want to get up to this state, but they want to get there all at first They are like a man who wants to get up a ladder without going up the lowest rounds. "Oh," they say, "if I had the full assurance of faith, then I should believe I am a child of God." No no, believe, trust in Christ's naked word, and then you shall come afterwards to feel in your soul the witness of the Spirit that you are born of God. Assurance is a flower you must plant the bulb first, the naked, perhaps unseemly bulb of faith plant it in the grain, and you shall have the flower by-and-bye. The shrivelled seed of a little faith springs upwards, and then you have the ripe corn in the ear of full assurance of faith. But here I want you to notice that when this man came to full assurance of faith, it is said his house believed too. There is a text often quoted, and I do not think I have heard it quoted rightly yet. By the way, there are some people who know no more of authors than what they hear quoted, and some who know no more of the Bible than what they have heard quoted too. Now, there is that passage, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" What have the last three words done that they should be cut off? "And thy house;" those three words seem to me to be as precious as the first. "Believe and thou shalt be saved and thy house." Does the father's faith save the family? Yes! No! Yes it does. in some way; namely, that the father's faith makes him pray for his family, and God hears his prayer, and the family is saved. No, the father's faith cannot be a substitute for the faith of the children, they must believe too. In both senses of the word, I say "Yes, or No." When a man has believed, there is hope that his children will be saved. Nay, there is a promise; and the father ought not to rest satisfied until he sees all his children saved. If he does, he has not believed right yet. There are many men who only believe for themselves. I like, if I get a promise, to believe it as broad as it is. Why should not my faith be as broad as the promise? Now, thus it stands, "Believe and thou shalt be saved, and thy house! "I have a claim on God for my little ones. When I go before God in prayer, I can plead, "Lord, I believe, and thou hast said I shall be saved, and my house; thou hast saved me, but thou best not fulfilled thy promise fill thou hast saved my house too." I know it is sometimes thought that we who believe that the baptism of infants is heresy, and not a single text of Scripture gives it so much as an inferential support, neglect our children. But could there have been a greater slander? Why instead thereof we think we are doing our children the greatest service that we can possibly do them, when teaching them that they are not members of Christ's church, that they are not made Christians in the day that they are christened, that they must be born again, and that that new birth must be in them a thing which they can consciously realize, and not a thing we can do for them in their babyhood, while they are yet in their long clothes, by sprinkling a handful of water in their faces. We think they are far more likely to be converted than those who are brought up in the delusive notion taught them in that expression of the catechism a most wicked, blasphemous, and false expression "In my baptism wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." The Pope of Rome never uttered a sentence more unholy than that, never said a syllable more contradictory to the whole tenor of God's Word. Children are not saved by baptism, nor grown-up people either. "He that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth and shall be saved," but the baptism precedes not the belief. Nor doth it co-act or co-work in our salvation, for salvation is a work of grace, laid hold of by faith and faith alone. Baptized or unbaptized, if you believe not, you are lost; but unbaptized, if you believe you are saved. And our children dying in their infancy without any unhallowed or superstitious rite, are saved notwithstanding. II. And now we come to the second department of our subject, the THREE DISEASES TO WHICH FAITH IS VERY SUBJECT, and these three diseases break out in different stages. First with regard to seeking faith. The power of seeking faith lies in its driving a man to prayer And here is the disease; for we are very likely, when we are seeking to begin, to suspend prayerfulness. How often does the devil whisper in a man's ear, "Do not pray, it is of no use. You know you will be shut out of heaven!" Or, when the man thinks he has got an answer to prayer, then Satan says, "You need not pray any more, you have got what you asked for." Or, if after a month of crying he has received a blessing, then Satan whispers, "Fool that thou art to tarry at Mercy's gate! Get gone! get gone! That gate is up and barred fast, and you will never be heard." O my friends! if you are subject to this disease while seeking Christ, I bid you cry against it, and labor against it; never cease to pray. A man can never sink in the river of wrath so long as ever be can cry. So long as ever you can cry to God for mercy, mercy shall never withdraw itself from you. Oh! let not Satan push you back from the closet door, but push in, whether he will or not. Give up prayer, and you seal your own damnation; renounce secret supplication, and you renounce Christ and heaven. Continue in prayer, and though the blessing tarry, it must come; in God's own time it must appear to you. The disease which is most likely to fall upon those in the second stage, namely, those who are trusting implicitly on Christ, is the disease of wanting to see signs and wonders, or else they will not believe. In the early stage of my ministry, in the midst of a rural population, I used to meet continually with persons who thought they were Christians because, as they imagined, they had seen signs and wonders and since then, stories the most ridiculous have been told me by earnest and sincere people, as reasons why they thought they were saved. I have heard a narrative something like this: "I believe my sins are put away." Why? "Well, sir, I was down in the back garden and I saw a great cloud, and I thought, now God can make that cloud go away if he pleases, and it did go away; and I thought the cloud and my sins were gone too, and I have not had a doubt since then." I have thought, Well, you have good reason to doubt, for that is totally absurd. Were I to tell you the whims and fancies that some people get into their heads, you might smile, and that might not be to your profit. Certain it is that men patch up any idle story, any strange fancy, in order to make them think that they may then trust Christ. Oh! my dear friends, if you have no better reason to believe you are in Christ than a dream or a vision, it is time you began again. I grant you there have been some who have been alarmed, convinced, and perhaps converted, by strange freaks of their imagination, but if you rely on these as being pledges from God, if you look on these as being evidences that you are saved, I tell you that you will be resting on a dream, a delusion. You may as well seek to build a castle in the air, or a house upon the sands. No, he who believes Christ, believes Christ because he says it, and because here it is written in the Word, he does not believe it because he dreamed it, or because he heard a voice that might probably be a blackbird singing, or because he thought he saw an angel in the sky, which was just as likely to be mist of a peculiar shape as anything else. No, we must have done with this desire to see signs and wonders. If they come, be thankful: if they come not, trust simply in the Word which says, "All manner of sin shall be forgiven unto men." I do not wish to say this to hurt any tender conscience, which conscience may perhaps have found some little comfort in such singular wonders, but I only say this honestly, lest any of you should be deceived: I do solemnly warn you to place no reliance whatever on anything you think you have seen, or dreamed, or heard. This volume is the sure word of testimony, unto which ye do well if ye take heed, as unto a light which shineth in a dark place. Trust in the Lord; wait patiently for him; cast all thy confidence where he put all thy sins, namely, upon Christ Jesus alone, and thou shalt be saved, with or without any of these signs and wonders. I am afraid some Christians in London have fallen into the same error of wanting to see signs and wonders. They have been meeting together in special prayer-meetings to seek for a revival; and because people have not dropped down in a fainting fit, and have not screamed and made a noise, perhaps they have thought the revival has not come. Oh that we had but eyes to see God's gifts in the way God chooses to give them! We do not want the revival of the North of Ireland, we want the revival in its goodness, but not in that particular shape. If the Lord sends it in another, we shall be all the more glad to be without these exceptional works in the flesh. Where the Spirit works in the soul, we are always glad to see true conversion, and if he chooses to work in the body too in London, we shall be glad to see it. If men's hearts are renewed, what matter it though they do not scream out. If their consciences are quickened, what matters it though they do not fall into a fit; if they do but find Christ, who is to regret that they do not be for five or six weeks motionless and senseless. Take it without the signs and wonders. For my part I have no craving for them. Let me see God's work done in God's own way a true and thorough revival, but the signs and wonders we can readily dispense with, for they are certainly not demanded by the faithful, and they will only be the laughing-stock of the faithless. Having thus spoken of these two diseases, I will only just mention the other. There is a third then, which lies in the way of our attaining the highest degree of faith, namely, full assurance, and that is, want of observation. The nobleman in our text made careful enquiries about the day and the hour when his son was healed. It was by that he obtained his assurance. But we do not observe God's hand as much as we should. Our good puritanic forefathers, when it rained, used to say, that God had unstopped the bottles of heaven. When it rains now-a-days, we think the clouds have become condensed. If they had a field of hay out, they used to plead of the Lord that he would bid the sun shine. We, perhaps, are wiser as we think; and we consider it hardly worth while to pray about such things, thinking they will come in the course of nature. They believed that God was in every storm, nay, in every cloud of dust. They used to speak of a present God in everything; but we speak of such things as laws of nature, as if laws were ever anything, except there was some one to carry them out, and some secret power to set the whole machine in motion. We do not get our assurance, because we do not observe enough. If you were to watch providential goodness day-by-day, if you noticed the answers to your prayers; if you would just put down somewhere in the book of your remembrance, God's continued mercies towards you, I do think you would become like this father who was led to fall assurance of faith, because he noticed that the very hour when Jesus spoke, was the very hour when the healing came. Be watchful, Christian. He that looks for providences will never lack a providence to look at. Take heed then of these three diseases; of ceasing from prayer; waiting to see signs and wonders, and neglect of observing the manifest hand of God. III. And now I come to my third and last head, upon which solemnly, though briefly, there are THREE QUESTIONS TO BE ADDRESSED TO YOU ABOUT YOUR FAITH. First, then, thou sayest, "I have faith." Be it so. There be many a man who saith he hath gold that hath it not, there be many that think themselves rich and increased in goods, that are naked, and poor, and miserable. I say unto thee, therefore, in the first place, does thy faith make thee pray? Not the praying of the man who prates like a parrot the prayers he has learned; but dost thou cry the cry of a living child? Dost thou tell to God thy wants and thy desires? And dost thou seek his face, and ask his mercy? Man, if thou invest without prayer, thou art a Christless soul; thy faith is a delusion, and thy confidence which results from it, is a dream that will destroy thee. Wake up out of thy death-like slumbers; for as long as thou art dumb in prayer, God cannot answer thee. Thou shalt not live to God, if thou dost not live in the closet, he that is never on his knees on earth shall never stand upon his feet in heaven; he that never wrestles with the angel here below, shall never be admitted into heaven by that angel above. I know I speak to some to-day that are prayerless ones. You have plenty of time for your counting-house, but you have none for your closet. Family prayer you have never had; but] will not talk to you about that. Private prayer you have neglected. Do you not sometimes rise in the morning so near the time when you must keep your appointments, that you do kneel it is true, but where is the prayer? And as to any extra occasions of supplication, why, you never indulge yourselves in them. Prayer with you is a sort of luxury too dear to indulge in often. Ah! but he who has true faith in his heart, is praying all day long. I do not mean that he is on his knees; but often when he is bargaining, when he is in his shop, or in his counting-house, his heart finds a little space, a vacuum for a moment. and up it leaps into the bosom of its God, and it is down again, refreshed to go about its business and meet the face of man. Oh! those ejaculatory prayers not merely filling the censer in the morning with incense, but that casting in of little bits of cinnamon and frankincense all day long, so as always to keep it fresh that is the way to live, and that is the life of a true genuine believer. If your faith does not make you pray, have nothing to do with it get rid of it, and God help thee to begin again. But thou sayest, "I have faith." I will ask thee a. second question. Does that faith make thee obedient? Jesus said to the nobleman, "Go thy way," and he went without a word, however much he might have wished to stay and listen to the Master, he obeyed. Does your faith make you obedient? In these days we have specimens of Christians of the most sorry, sorry kind; men that have not common honesty. I have heard it observed by tradesmen, that they know many men that have not the fear of God before their eyes, that are most just and upright men in their dealings; and on the other hand, they know some professing Christians who are not positively dishonest, but they can back and hedge a little; they are not horses that will not go, but every now and then they jib; they do not seem to keep up to the time if they have a bill to pay; they are not regular, they are not exact; in fact sometimes and who shall hide what is true? you catch Christians doing dirty actions, and professors of religion defiling themselves with acts which merely worldly men would scorn. Now, sirs, I bear my testimony this morning as God's minister, too honest to alter a word to please any man that lives, you are no Christian if you can act in business beneath the dignity of an honest man. If God has not made you honest, he has not saved your soul. Rest assured that if you can go on, disobedient to the moral laws of God, if your life is inconsistent and lascivious, if your conversation is mixed up with things which even a worldling might reject, the love of God is not in you. I do not plead for perfection, but I do plead for honesty; and if your religion has not made you careful and prayerful in common life; if you are not in fact made a new creature in Christ Jesus; your faith is but an empty name, as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. I will ask you one more question about your faith, and I have done. Thou sayest, "I have faith." Has thy faith led thee to bless thy household? Good Rowland Hill once said, in his own quaint way, that when a man became a Christian, his dog and his cat ought to be the better for it, and I think it was Mr. Jay who always would say that a man when he became a Christian, was better in every relation. He was a better husband, a better master, a better father, than he was before, or else his religion was not genuine. Now, have you ever thought, my dear Christian brethren and sisters, about blessing your household? Do I hear one saying, "I keep my religion to myself?" Do not be very anxious about its ever being stolen, then; you need not put it under lock and key; there is not enough to tempt the devil himself to come and take it from you. A man who can keep his godliness to himself has so small a proportion of it, I am afraid it will be no credit to himself, and no blessing to other people. But you do sometimes, strange to say, meet with fathers that do not seem as if they interested themselves in their children's salvation any more than they do about poor children in the back slum. of St. Giles's. They would like to see the boy put out well, and they would like to see the girl married comfortably; but as to their being converted, it does not seem to trouble their head. It is true the father occupies his seat in a house of worship, and sits down with a community of Christians; and he hopes his children may turn out well. They have the benefit of his hope certainly a very large legacy: he will no doubt when he dies leave them his best wishes, and may they grow rich upon them! But he never seems to have made it a matter of anxiety of soul, as to whether they shall be saved or not. Out upon such a religion as that! Cast it on the dunghill; hurl it to the dogs; let it be buried like Koniah, with the burial of an ass; cast it without the camp, like an unclean thing. It is not the religion of God. He that careth not for his own household, is worse than a heathen man and a publican. Never be content, my brethren in Christ, till all your children are saved. Lay the promise before your God. The promise is unto you and unto your children. The Greek word does not refer to infants, but to children, grand-children, and any descendants you may have, whether grown up or not. Do not cease to plead, till not only your children but your great grand-children, if you have such, are saved. I stand here today a proof that God is not untrue to his promise. I can cast my eye back through four or five generations, and see that God has been pleased to hear the prayers of our grandfather's grandfather, who used to supplicate with God that his children might live before him to the last generation, and God has never deserted the house, but has been pleased to bring first one and then another to fear and love his name. So be it with you: and in asking this you are not asking more than God is bound to give you. He cannot refuse unless he run back from his promise. He cannot refuse to give you both your own and your children's souls as an answer to the prayer of your faith. "Ah," says one, "but you do not know what children mine are." No, my dear friend, but I know that if you are a Christian, they are children that God has promised to bless. "O but they are such unruly ones, they break my heart." Then pray God to break their hearts, and they will not break your hearts any more. "But they will bring my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave." Pray God then that he may bring their eyes with sorrow to prayer, and to supplication, and to the cross, and then they will not bring you to the grave. "But," you say, "my children have such hard hearts." Look at your own. You think they cannot be saved: look at yourselves, he that saved you can save them. Go to him in prayer, and say, "Lord, I will not let thee go except thou bless me;" and if thy child be at the point of death, and, as you think, at the point of damnation on account of sin, still plead like the nobleman, "Lord, come down ere my child perish, and save me for thy mercy's sake." And oh, thou that dwellest in the highest heavens thou wilt never refuse thy people. Be it far from us to dream that thou wilt forget thy promise. In the name of all thy people we put our hand upon thy Word most solemnly, and pledge thee to thy covenant. Thou hast said thy mercy is unto the children's children of them that fear thee and that keep thy commandments. Thou hast said the promise is unto us and unto our children; Lord, thou wilt not run back from thine own covenant; we challenge thy word by holy faith this morning "Do as thou hast said."
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on John 4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29