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A People Prepared for the Lord
March 13th, 1887 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"To make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:17; Luke 1:17 .
John was the herald of Christ; he was to prepare the way for the coming King, but from this text it appears that he was to do more than that. He was not only to make the road ready for the Lord, but he was also "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." That was a great work, a task in which he would require strength and wisdom greater than his own. He would need that the Spirit of God, who was to be given without measure to the coming One, should also be in a measure within himself, if he should really "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." This is not at all a usual expression; at first sight, it hardly looks to us like a gospel expression. We sang just now,
"Just as I am and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot, To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come."
We sang over and over again those words, "Just as I am," "Just as I am," and we are prone to protest against the idea of being prepared for Christ; we preach constantly that no preparation is needed, but that men are to come to Jesus just as they are. Yet here is John the Baptist set apart "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." The fact is, dear friends, that to get men to come to Jesus just as they are, is not an easy thing. To get them to give up the idea of preparing, to get them prepared to come without preparing, to get them ready to come just as they are, this is the hardest part of our work, this is our greatest difficulty. If we came and preached to men the necessity of preparation through so many weeks of fasting during a long Lent, or through so many days of scourging and penitence, they would attend to us at once, for they would be willing enough to make any preparation of that kind; but, when we say to them, "Come just as you are now, with nothing in your hand to buy the mercy of God, with nothing wherewith to demand or to deserve it," men want a great deal of preparing before they will come to that point. Only the grace of God, working mightily through the Word, by the Spirit, will prepare men to come to Christ thus, prepared by being unprepared so far as any fitness of their own is concerned. The only fit state in which they can come is that of sinking themselves, abandoning all idea of helping Christ, and coming in all their natural impotence and guilt, and taking Christ to be their all in all. Beloved friends, this is the true preparedness of heart for coming to Christ, the preparedness of coming to him just as you are; and it was John's business thus "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." That is also my business at this time. May the good Spirit, who dwelt in John the Baptist, work through us also, that some here may be made ready for Christ, "a people prepared for the Lord"! Let us see how John carried out his commission; we shall then be able better to understand the text. I. First, John made ready "a people prepared for the Lord" BY AROUSING THEIR ATTENTION. The people were asleep; they had fallen into a condition of religious lethargy, when suddenly there stood in their midst a man clothed with camel's hair, and with a leathern girdle about his loins, a prophet, manifestly, by the boldness and truthfulness of his utterances. He spoke in such a way that the people in general heard of his speaking, and they advertised him by saying the one to the other, "That is a strange man who has begun to preach by the River Jordan, and whose meat is locusts and wild honey." The whole style of the man set the people wondering and talking; and when they came to listen to him, he did not flatter them, he did not utter mere commonplace truths to them, but with burning earnestness he drove straight at their hearts, and spoke like Elijah, the great prophet of fire, had done in the ages gone by. So he set them thinking. That is a great preparation for coming to Christ just as you are, to be set a-thinking. We have always hope of men when they once begin to think about religion and the things of God. See how the bulk of them hurry on with their eyes tightly shut, rushing fast and yet faster still down to destruction. You cannot make them stop and think. There are thousands of men who would almost sooner be whipped than be made to think. The last thing to which they will ever come of themselves is thoughtfulness. Let me appeal to some here who are still unconverted. Did you ever give the affairs of your soul the benefit of an hour's serious consideration? You have your regular time for stock-taking, those of you who are in business; do you ever take stock of your spiritual estate? I know that you are not such fools as to neglect your ledgers, you cast up your accounts to see whereabouts you are financially; but do you cast up the account between God and your own soul, and look the matter fairly, and squarely in the face? Oh, if we could but bring you to do this, we should feel that you were being prepared for coming to Christ just as you are, for no man will come to Christ while he is utterly careless and thoughtless! Faith is a matter of thought; it requires a mind aroused from slumber, a mind that has taken wing; and John the Baptist did good service for his Master when he startled men into that condition, and so made them consider their ways. He did more than that, for, having first made them think, he preached to them a Savior. He told them that One was coming with power to baptize them after a higher sort than his baptism. He cried, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," and this message infused into the people a measure of hope. The poor people said, "What shall we do?" for they had a hope that there was something to be gained. Even the tax-gatherers, despised as they were, began to look up, and think that there might be something even for them, so they said to John, "Master, what shall we do?" And the rough Roman soldiers thought, "There may be something for us," so they also asked, "And what shall we do?" John inspired the multitudes with hope. It is a very blessed state of mind for a man to get in when he begins to hope that he may be saved. Then he will be prepared to come to Jesus, just as he is, when he feels that he is not shut up to despair. "Oh!" says the poor man, "I need not, after all, be lost; I need not abide for ever under the wrath of God. There is an open door set before me, there is a way of mercy even for me." I wish it were possible that everybody whom I am now addressing had that feeling; it would be part of the making ready of "a people prepared for the Lord" when thought had blossomed into hope. But John led his hearers on further than that, for they began to expect something as well as to hope for it . They expected that the Christ would speedily come, and they expected some great blessings through the coming of the Messiah. And oh! when men, after hearing the gospel, have great expectations concerning God and his salvation, surely their expectations will not be long disappointed. I remember a man coming one day to see me, and he said that he wished to take a sitting in the Tabernacle. He had been hearing me for some time, and he wanted to take a seat; but he desired to be very honest with me, and not to take a seat except upon a right understanding. I asked, "What is the difficulty, my friend?" "Well," he replied, "the person who sat next to me on Sunday told me that, if I became a regular hearer here, you would expect me to be converted." "Well," I answered, "that is true, I shall expect it." "But," said he, "you do not mean that you will require it of me." "Oh, dear no! "I replied, "nothing of the sort; I do not expect you to convert yourself; but I hope and trust that you will be converted, that is what I mean. I shall expect that God, in his grace, will meet with you and save you." " Oh!" he said, "I hope that, too; only I mean that I could not guarantee it." "Ah!" I said, "I see that you have taken the word 'expect' in the wrong sense; but I think, dear friend, that if you come expecting to be converted, and I preach expecting that you will be converted, it is highly probable that it will soon take place." "Oh!" he exclaimed, "God grant it!" The good brother has long since gone to heaven. A very few weeks after our conversation, he came and told me that the expectation in which we had united had been fulfilled, and he trusted that he had found the Saviour. When people come really expecting a blessing, they will be sure to get it. I do believe that some folk go to hear ministers with the idea that there will be something to find fault with, and, of course, they find that it is so; and when people come to hear another preacher, with the hope and expectation that God will bless them, of course God does bless them. Their expectation is divinely fulfilled. I have always a bright hope that a man will lay hold on Christ when he begins to expect to be saved, for he feels then that the time has come for him to find eternal life. John made ready "a people prepared for the Lord" because, first, he led them to thought; next, he led them to hope; and then he led them to expectation, and this is a high measure of preparation. John did more than this, for he cried, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," that is to say, he put a pressure of presentness upon the people . A brother, who is an eminent preacher, but who uses rather long words, was explaining to me the benefit of the preaching of Mr. Fullerton and Mr. Smith in his place of worship. He said, "I do not know exactly why these brethren were the means of the conversion of many in my place whom I had never reached, but I perceived that they had the power to precipitate decision." It sounded rather strange, but when I thought it over a little while, I rather liked the expression, "the power to precipitate decision." That is the power that leads men to make up their minds, and say "Yes," or "No," to feel that the decision has to be made at once, and that the putting of it off is impossible because it would be a kind of insanity. Now that is the meaning of what John said, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent ye! He is coming who wields the axe of divine Justice; bear fruit, or else be cut down. He is coming who uses the great winnowing fan; be the true wheat, or else be blown away." He put the truth so pointedly, and so earnestly, that he did by that means make ready "a people prepared for the Lord." II. Now, secondly, John made the people ready for Christ BY AWAKENING THEIR CONSCIENCES. His very first utterance, as I have reminded you, was, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "Repent! Repent ! Repent!" was John's continual cry. This awakened the consciences of his hearers concerning their sin . Preaching repentance meant, "You have sinned; change your mind in reference to that sin. You have sinned; quit the sin, mourn over it, ask forgiveness for it. Repent ye!" Whenever a man brings to the minds of others their sins, when he so does it that they begin to feel that they have sinned, then they are being prepared for the Lord, for no man will come to the Saviour unless he knows that he needs a Saviour; and no man will feel that he needs a Saviour until he feels that he is a sinner. Hence it is a real preparation of men for Christ to convince them of sin. This John did; he brought their sin before them, and then he showed them their need of cleansing, for he stood by the River Jordan, not with a scallop shell, as some depict him, but he stood by the flowing stream, ready to immerse all those who repented. This was practically saying to them, "You need to be washed, you need to be cleansed; and I show you this truth as I baptize you with water unto repentance. Be this a token to you that there is no entering heaven in your filthiness, but you must first be washed. As your bodies are washed with pure water, so must your souls be washed and made clean ere you can enter heaven." This was John's plain teaching by his action as well as by his words. Then he went very straight to his point of arousing their consciences by telling them of their need of a change of life . He said that it was no use for them to pretend to grieve over the past, and then continue to sin in the same fashion. "Bring forth fruits," said he, "meet for repentance," or, "answerable to amendment of life," as the margin has it. And he took pains to point out what the fruits must be. If they were men of greed, they must become generous, and give to their needy neighbours. If they had been unrighteous and exacting, they must become honest. If they had been domineering, and brutal, and murmuring, they must become contented, and quiet, and gentle. He not only preached to the multitudes about repentance of sin in general, but he pointed out the precise sin of each class of persons that came to him, and urged them to perform the special duties which they had neglected. Now, brethren, I believe, as I have often said, that there is no sewing with silk thread alone; you must have a needle as well. You need a sharp needle to go first to draw the thread through the material; so you must preach the law, you must denounce sin, and you must individualize, and condemn special sins; and you must be personal, and pointed, or else men will not feel in their consciences what you say to them. Conscience is very apt to get seared as with a hot iron, to lose sensitiveness, so as to be no use at all as a conscience. Some say that conscience is a spark of deity, a divine monitor; it is nothing of the sort, in many a man it is almost extinct, for it does not act at all. The preacher who would "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" must come out with his axe, and lay it to the root of the trees; he must be definite and distinct in indicating this sin and that sin, and crying to all men, "Repent of these sins. Give them up. Get clear from them. Be washed from them; or else, as God lives, when the Christ himself comes, it will not be to save you, but to blow you away with his winnowing fan as the chaff is blown into the fire." This is "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" by their being convinced of sin and led to repentance. That, I think, is a second meaning clearly illustrated in the ministry of John the Baptist. III. But thirdly, John had "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" BY POINTING OUT THE NATURE OF TRUE RELIGION. He showed that it did not depend upon external privileges . As soon as ever John began to preach, the men of Jewish race, proud of their pedigree, pressed near; and John, with all the courage that a servant of the Lord could have, said, "Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." You see the drift of his preaching, do you not? He says, practically, "Men and women, there is no virtue in your boasted privileges, there is no merit in your religious descent. As for supposing yourselves to be the peculiar people of God, you are not to be saved that way. Say not, We have Abraham to our father." Oh, how many hug that idea, "My father was a Christian." Others say, "Well, I live in a Christian country." They suppose that there is something in the very race from which they have sprung. Away with all such notions, for whatever external privileges you may have had, they are not sufficient to secure salvation for you. Then came the Pharisees and the Sadducees; they were the religious people of the time, the great observers of all outward propriety, but John taught them that true religion is not the same as official pretension. He called them a "generation of vipers." This was very disrespectful, and very shocking indeed on his part; all the newspapers of the period, if there had been any, would have cried him down for his want of charity, but he wanted those who came to him to understand that true religion was not the same as professing to be religious. It was not making broad the borders of their garments, it was not wearing a text of Scripture as a phylactery between their eyes, it was not making long prayers at the corners of the streets, that would save them; there must be a thorough change of heart. So John spoke right straight out; and this, I believe, is a great way of preparing men for coming to Christ, when you tell them, "It is not your early training, it is not your going to church or chapel, it is not your infant sprinkling and your confirmation, it is not even your adult baptism, nor your saying prayers and reading the Bible, that will save you; but 'ye must be born again.' There must be an inward spiritual change, wrought by the Holy Spirit. You must believe in Jesus Christ, whom God has sent, and you must so believe in him as to be made new creatures in him, or else you cannot be saved." Now, when men realize that all this is true, it startles them out of their false refuges, and makes them ready to flee to the only true refuge, so that it is really the way of making ready "a people prepared for the Lord." While John set forth this matter negatively, putting down all the wrong hopes of his hearers, he was exceedingly plain in telling them that the way of salvation would involve them in the necessity of being right before God . "There," said he, "the proof of a tree's life is its fruit, and the evidence of your new life will be your good works. 'Now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.'" Unless our religion makes us holy, it has not done anything for us that is really worth doing. Unless we hate sin, and love righteousness, our religion is a sham and a lie. John stated that truth very plainly; and that is the way to drive men to Christ. He told them also that the trial of a life would be by its weight as well as by its fruit. "Look," said he, "at the heap that lies on the threshing-floor. He that hath the fan in his hand begins to winnow it; that which is light and chaffy is blown away, that which has wheat in it remains on the floor. So," said he, "there must be weight about your religion stability, reality, sincerity. There must be heart-work in it, it must be no pretence; it must be true from beginning to end, or else it shall no more avail you than a heap of chaff would avail the husbandman when it is blown into the fire." Then John taught his hearers that Christ himself would be the great Trier of human hearts; not ministers or fellow-professors, but, Christ himself. When men feel this to be true, then they begin to say to themselves, "There is more required than we at present possess. There is more demanded than we can ever manufacture of ourselves. Let us go to him that hath it, and ask him for it. Let us go to Christ, who hath grace to bestow upon the poor and needy." This, then, is the way to make ready "a people prepared for the Lord," by pointing out to them the nature of true religion; that is what I have tried to do, dear hearer. When you know that you cannot save yourself, you sing
"Not the labours of my hands Can fulfil thy law's demands: Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears for ever flow, All for sin could not atone:"
and then you are ready to finish the verse by singing
"Thou must save, and thou alone."
IV. Now I shall close my discourse by noticing a fourth way in which John made ready "a people prepared for the Lord." He did it BY DECLARING THE GRACE AND POWER OF JESUS CHRIST. My brethren, if I were to preach to you merely to arouse your attention, to awaken your consciences to a sense of sin, or simply to show you the nature of true religion, yet you would not be prepared for Christ unless also you knew something about him, something about his suitableness and his power to save you. So, John preached Jesus Christ as a mighty and glorious Saviour on whom the Spirit rested. He says that, when he baptized our Lord, as Jesus came up out of the water, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." John boldly preached, and told the people that the Spirit of God rested upon Jesus Christ, yea, abode upon him. Now, this would lead them to him, and this should lead you to him. Whatever there is, poor souls, that you need to make you holy and perfect, Christ has it, for the Spirit of God rests on him, and abides in him without measure. It you want the grace of penitence, Christ has it to give you. If you want the grace of supplication, he has it to give you. If you want the grace of faith, he has it. If you want the grace of holiness, he has it. "It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell," "and of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." John taught this to his hearers, and I teach it to you. There is nothing wanted between hell-gate and heaven-gate but what is in Christ, nothing wanted for the biggest sinner out of hell to make him the biggest saint in heaven but what Christ has, nothing wanted in any hour of temptation, in any time of depression, nothing wanted in any moment of sickness, or in the article of death itself, but what it is in Christ, and there for you if you trust him. If you are willing to have it, it is freely presented to you. He who makes you willing to receive is certainly willing to give. If he has emptied you, and prepared you to receive of his fulness, do not think that he will refuse you when you come to him for it. He hath said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Last Sunday morning, I blew the great trumpet in the hope of startling some to Christ; on this occasion, I would ring the little silver bell with a gentle noise in the hope that some may, by that means, be made willing to come to Christ. My hearer, thou canst want nothing which Christ does not possess; all thy requirements are fully met in him. The Spirit of God dwells in him as a fulness, and as an abiding fulness; therefore, do but believe in him, and even that faith he will give thee, do but trust him, and thou art saved, and fully supplied in him who can meet all the necessities of thy case. Now, brethren, John taught the people this, that they might be ready for Christ, "a people prepared for the Lord," for, when men begin to see what a Christ Christ is, what a Saviour the Saviour is, then they are ready to come to him; and I pray that many of you may so come to him even now. John also told his hearers that the Christ whom he preached was able to baptise them with the Holy Ghost. "See," says he, "I only plunge you in the flowing stream, I can do nothing more for you than dip you in this River Jordan, on profession of your repentance of sin; but this Saviour, this Christ of God, can immerse you into the Spirit of God. He can give you of his power to fill you; you can be baptized into the Holy Ghost by him:" Dost thou hear this, sinner? Jesus Christ can come and give thee the Holy Spirit in such measure that thou shalt be baptized into him
"Plunged in the Godhead's deepest sea, And lost in his immensity."
This will make thee to be really his, and make thee truly to live unto him. The very fulness of grace, then, is with Christ, and he is prepared to give it; and this should make men prepared to receive it. Did not the poor prodigal son say of the provision in his father's house, "There is bread enough and to spare"? It was partly that which made him go to his father's house; and we may say of the Spirit who is in Christ, "There is enough and to spare for every poor sinner who comes to him;" therefore, come along with thee, be prepared at once to come and receive the Saviour. Lastly, John said in his preaching, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." He pointed out Christ as the Sin-bearer, bearing human guilt in his own person. That is the master-key which lets men into the kingdom of heaven. Oh! how I do delight to preach Christ as the Substitute, Christ as the atoning sacrifice; and when you have heard Christ preached in that way, it makes you ready, "a people prepared for the Lord." How can men come to Christ if they do not know what Christ has done for them? If you do not understand that he suffered in your stead, the Just for the unjust, to bring you to God, how can you come to Christ? But when you have learned that holy and blessed doctrine of Christ's propitiation for human sin, why, then, methinks, you will leap at the very sound of it, and say, "Yes, I will take this propitiation to be a sacrifice for me. Blessed Lamb of God,
"'My faith would lay her hand On that dear head of thine, While like a penitent I stand And there confess my sin.'"
John's preaching Christ was the best way of making ready "a people prepared for the Lord," and there is no better way of preparing you to come to Jesus. Oh, that God would grant to some of you that "precipitation of decision" of which my learned friend spoke! Oh, that in some lives the turning-point might be reached to-night, the happy moment when they should decide for Christ! Lord, decide them! My friend, you have come to the cross-roads; peradventure, to-night, if you reject the Saviour, it will be your last rejection of him, and it will finally seal your doom; and I am sure, with no peradventure whatever, that if this night you look to Jesus, and trust to his finished work, you shall be saved, and saved for ever. Here is a text for you: "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Is not that a wonderful "whosoever"? "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord" in believing prayer, asking mercy, trusting Christ for mercy, "shall be saved." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." Most of you know these texts by heart; grip them as with hooks of steel. If you say that you are hungry, and I put a loaf of bread in front of you, will you sit and look at it all night? If I meet you in a week's time, will you still complain that you are hungry, while there is the bread in front of you still untouched? You deserve to be hungry if that is the case, you deserve to be famished to death if, the bread being there, you will not have it. Take it, and eat it. "May I have it?" asks one. Thou art commanded to have it; this is not a matter that is left to thy option. "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." Our Lord himself said, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." It is, therefore, a gospel command that thou shouldest repent and believe, and truly thou mayest obey a command given by the Lord himself. There is no question about thy permission to obey it; then, obey it at once, and take Christ to thyself. "You do not know me," says a sorrowing one away there in the corner, "you do not know me, sir; else you would not talk so." I do not need to know you; but if you were the devil's own, if you would but come to Christ, you should be at once and for ever Christ's own. Though thou wert sunk almost into hell by a life of horrible crime, yet if thou wilt now come and repent of thy sin, and lay hold on Christ, thou shalt be saved. I do not know how to use language that shall be stronger than that; but do not think that I will withdraw it, or qualify it. If I did know how to speak in broader terms even than those I have used, I would so speak. Ye guiltiest of the guilty, you most condemned of all the condemned, for whom the hottest hell would be your due place, yet come away, and look to Christ, and you shall live, for none are too vile for him to cleanse, none are too guilty for him to pardon. Oh, that you would believe in Jesus while yet the gospel bell rings out, "mercy, mercy, mercy!"! God help you to do so, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
The Judgment Upon Zacharias
C. H. SPURGEON
"Thou shalt be dumb and not able to speak until the day that these things
shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be
fulfilled in their season."- Luke 1:20 .
Unbelief is everywhere a great sin, and a grievous mistake. Unbelief has
proved the ruin of those countless multitudes who, having heard the gospel,
rejected it, died in their sins, have been consigned to the place of torment,
and await the fiercer judgment of the last day. I might ask the question
concerning this innumerable host, "Who slew all these?" The answer would be,
"Unbelief." And when unbelief comes into the Christian's heart, as it does at
times-for the truest believer has his times of doubt; even Abraham, the
father of the faithful, sometimes had his misgivings-that unbelief does not
assail his thoughts without withering his joys, and impairing his energies.
There is nothing in the world that costs a saint so dear as doubt. If he
disbelieve his God, he most assuredly robs himself of comfort, deprives
himself of strength, and does himself a real injury. The case of Zacharias
may be a, lesson to the Lord's people. It is to them I am going to speak:
Zacharias is a striking example of the ills a good man may have to suffer as
the result of his unbelief. In reviewing these, we mark:-
I. THE CHARACTER AND POSITION OF ZACHARIAS.
Here we cannot fail to discover some profitable lesson. He was undoubtedly a
believer. He is said, in the sixth verse, to have been righteous before God.
No man ever obtained such a reputation except by faith. "The just shall live
by faith." No other righteousness than that which is faith is of any esteem
in God's account. Such was the righteousness of Abraham, and such was the
righteousness of all the saints before the advent of our Redeemer. Such, too,
has been the standard ever since. Zacharias evidently was a real believer.
Yet for all that, when the angel appeared to him, and God gave him the
promise of a son, he was amazed, bewildered, incredulous, and could not
credit, but only question the announcement. "How shall I know that these
things shall be?"
Nor was he merely a genuine believer; he was well instructed and greatly
enlightened, for he was a priest, and, as a priest considered, he was
righteous before God, and blameless, walking in all the commandments and
ordinances of the Lord. That he was well instructed in the Word of God is
undeniable. He could not otherwise have discharged his duty, for the priest's
lips must keep knowledge, and he must teach men. Being proficient in the one,
and competent for the other, ignorance offered him no excuse. Moreover, as a
man of years, he was probably to be classed among the experienced saints of
his time. He had borne the burden and heat of the day, and received proof
upon proof of the abundant mercy of God. Now mark this. For any of us to
doubt, who have been justified by faith is a shameful delinquency. For those
to doubt who have, in addition to their first convictions, a thousand
confirmations of the truth they have embraced, who are acquainted with the
covenant and its rich inventory of promises, who are deeply taught in the
things of God-for such to doubt involves a higher degree of guilt. I do not
think that had Zacharias been a mere babe in grace, or an inexperienced
stripling, his unbelief would have met with so stern a rebuke. It eras
because he was a venerable priest, one thoroughly schooled in sacred truth, a
man who for many years instructed the people of Israel in the oracles of God,
that it became a crying evil for him to say, "Whereby shall I know this? "
when the angel told him of his prayer being heard, and of the manner of
answer the Lord would vouchsafe him.
The high office that Zacharias held as a priest caused him to be looked up
to. Hence his conduct was more narrowly watched, and his example had a wider
influence. On a similar account we have need, all of us in our several
spheres, to consider the effect of our actions upon others. The higher a
man's position, the greater his responsibility; and in the event of any
delinquency, the graver his offense. For you to disbelieve, my dear brother,
who are at the head of a household, is worse than a personal infirmity; it is
a violation of duty to your family. And you, dear friend, who preach the
gospel, for you to disbelieve, who are looked upon by many as an advanced
Christian, as a mature saint whose example may be safely followed by those
who listen to your counsels-this is a great and a crying evil, whereby you
disonour the Lord. I pray God that your conscience may be tenderly sensitive,
and that you may be aroused to a sense of the dishonour you bring to him by
How peculiarly favoured Zacharias was! An angel of the Lord appeared unto
him. Not to any of the other priests, when they were offering incense, did
such a heavenly visitor come. And what welcome tidings he brought! It was a
wonderful message that he was to be the father of a child great in the sight
of the Lord, one who should minister in the spirit and power of Elias, and
become the forerunner of the Messiah. This surely was a signal instance of
Divine favour. And mark this, beloved, our God is very jealous of those whom
he highly favours. You cannot have privileged communications from the Lord,
or be admitted into close communion with him, without finding that he is a
jealous God. The nearer we draw to him, the more hallowed our sense of his
presence will be. But to doubt his Word, or question the fulfillment of his
promise when he speaks kindly to us, must incur his censure. I speak after
the manner of men; we do not expect from a stranger the esteem which we ought
to merit from our servants. But our friends, who know us better than
servants, ought to trust us more implicitly. And yet beyond common friendship
in the near relation and tender attachment of a wife to her husband, the most
unqualified confidence should be reposed. Even so, my brethren, if you and I
have ever been permitted to lean our heads on Jesus' bosom; if we have sat
down at his banquets, and his banner over us has been love; if we have been
separated from the world by peculiar fellowship with Christ, and have had
choice promises given us, we cannot, like Zacharias, ask, "Whereby shall I
know" without grieving the Holy Spirit of God, and bringing upon ourselves
some sad chastisement as the result.
What soothing comfort had just been administered to Zacharias by the angel of
the Lord! Was not the manner of the salutation fitted to allay terror, and
inspire him with trust? The troubled thoughts that perplexed him, and the
fear that fell upon him when the angel appeared standing at the right hand of
the altar, met with no rebuke. If it was natural that so unwonted a vision
should startle him, there was a gentle sympathising tenderness in the angel's
address that might well hays stilled the throbbings of his heart. "Fear not,
Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard." And so is it with us when the
consolations of God have been neither few nor small, and when his good will
towards us has been pointedly expressed, does it not make doubt and
questioning more inexcusable? Do we not thereby aggravate the sin? Some of us
have lived in the very bosom of comfort. Precious promises have been brought
home to our souls; we have eaten of the marrow and the fatness; we have drunk
the wines on the lees well refined. We are no strangers to the blessing of
his eternal and unchanging love, or to the light of his countenance, which
they prove who find grace in his eyes. Oh! if we begin to doubt after these
discriminating love tokens, what apology can we offer? How can we hope to
escape from the chastening rod?
Moreover, the misgivings that Zacharias betrayed relate to the very subject
on which his supplications were offered. It was in response to his own
petition that the angel said to him, "Thy prayer is heard." I marvel at his
faith that he should persevere in prayer for a boon which seemed, at his own
and his wife's age, to have been out of the course of nature, and beyond the
domain of hope, but I marvel a great deal more that, when the answer came to
that very prayer, Zacharias could not believe it. So full often is it with
us; nothing would surprise some of us more than to receive an answer to some
of our prayers. Though we believe in the efficacy of prayer, at times we
believe so feebly that when the answer comes, as come it does, we are
astounded and filled with amazement. We can scarcely think of it as a purpose
of God, it seems rather to us like a happy coincidence. Surely this adds
greatly to the sin of unbelief. If we have been asking for mercy without
expecting it, and pleading promises while harbouring mistrust, every prayer
we have offered has been only a repetition of our secret unbelief; and it is
God's faithfulness that brings our inconsistency to light.
One other reflection is suggested by the narrative. Zacharias appears to have
staggered at a promise which others, whom we might well imagine to have been
weaker in faith then himself, implicitly believed. The veteran falters where
a babe in grace might have taken courage. And is it not always a scandal if
any of us who have been conspicuously favoured of God are ready to halt,
while our feebler brethren and sisters are animated and encouraged? No
dubious thought seems to have crossed the mind of Elizabeth, no incredulous
expression fell from her lips. She said, "Thus hath the Lord dealt with me."
This case was the very opposite of that of Abraham and Sarah. There Abraham
believed, but Sarah doubted; here the wife believes in the face of her
husband's scruples. In like manner, Mary, that humble village maiden, accepts
with simple faith the high and holy salutation with which she was greeted.
She just basks a natural question, and that being answered, she replies, "Be
it unto me, according to thy Word." Her surprise was soon exchanged for joy,
and by-and-by she begins to sing with a loud voice, "My soul doth magnify the
Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." Not a little remarkable
is this opening chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. Woman, who had been
in the background through long preceding generations, seems suddenly to take
a foremost place. Zacharias and Joseph stand in doubt, while Elizabeth and
Mary exultingly believe. And who knows but I may be addressing some poor
woman here who, in the depth of affliction, bodily suffering, and poverty,
nevertheless rejoices in God with all her heart? But without a doubt, I am
now speaking to many a man who is vexed with trifling cares, murmurs bitterly
because of petty annoyances, and distrusts his God when clouds come over the
sky so that ho sees not his way. Shame on our unbelief. Think shame of
yourselves because of it, I pray you. Never does it disgrace us more than
when the weaklings of the Lord's family put us to the blush by the simplicity
and sincerity of their faith. The character and position of Zacharias may
furnish a striking moral, but I do urgently entreat each Christian to point
the keen edge of criticism at himself, and consider how much he is personally
to blame for his own unbelief. Let us now proceed to investigate:-
II. THE FAULT OF ZACHARIAS.
Whence this perilous wavering at that privileged hour His fault was that he
looked at the difficulty. "I am an old man," said he, "and my wife is well
stricken in years." And while he looked at the difficulty he would fain
suggest a remedy; he wanted a sign. "Whereby shall I know this?" It was not
enough for him that God had said so; he wanted some collateral evidence to
guarantee the truth of the word of the Lord. This is a very common fault
among really good people. They look for a sign. I have often trembled in my
own soul when I have felt an inclination thus to tempt the Lord by looking
for some minute circumstance to verify a magnificent promise. When I have
thought, "Hereby shall I know whether he does hear prayer or not," a cold
shiver has passed over me, the shudder has gone through my soul that ever I
should think of challenging the truth of God's word, when the fact is so
certain. To us who have full often cried unto the Lord in our distresses and
been delivered out of our troubles, to raise such a question is indeed
ungrateful. For a child of God who habitually prays to his Father in heaven
to look upon his faithfulness as a matter of uncertainty is to degrade
himself, and to dishonour his Lord. Yet there is no denying the tendency and
disposition among us to want a sign. As we read a prophecy of the future, we
crave a token in the present. If the Lord were pleased to give us a sign, or
if he told us to ask for a sign, we should be quite right in attaching a high
importance thereto, but for us to doubt a plain promise, and, therefore, ask
a sign, is to sin against the Lord. Sometimes we have wanted signs in
spiritual things. Meet and proper is it for us to rejoice in the true
delights of fellowship with Christ, but it ill becomes us to make our
feelings a kind of test of our acceptance, or to say, "I will not believe God
if he does not indulge me with certain manifestations of grace; unless he
gives me the sweetmeats I crave, I will be sulky and sullen, and refuse to
eat the children's bread." Why, such conduct is wilful and wicked; it is
weak, and utterly inexcusable. Yet how many of us have been guilty of this
folly? Now, as Zacharias stood upon the threshold of the gospel dispensation,
and he was the first among those who heard the glad tidings to express
unbelief, it was necessary that he should be made an example of.
God would show at the very outset, even before John the Baptist was born,
that unbelief could not be tolerated nor should it go unchastened. Therefore,
his servant, Zacharias, must, as soon as he had asked for a sign, have such a
sign as would make him suffer for months to come, constrain him to be sorry
that he had ever dared to proffer the request. Oh! beloved, is our faith
still so weak, and our experience still so contracted, that we cannot yet
trust our God? Twenty years have we known him. Has he been a wilderness to
us? Have his mercy and truth ever failed us in time of need? Shall all his
tender dealings with us count for nothing? Do ye think so lightly of the gift
of his Son, the gift of the Holy Ghost, of the dally providence which has
guarded you, and of the hourly benediction which has been vouchsafed to you,
that ye would fain put aside these unfailing benefits from your grateful
remembrance, while you indulge in some paltry whim, and tempt the Lord your
God by your mistrust? That be far from any of us! We would rather take up the
position of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who, when arraigned before
Nebuchadnezzar, and adjudged to be thrown into the furnace of fire, said,
"Our God is able to deliver us; but," they added, "if not (though he should
do nothing of the kind), nevertheless be it known unto thee, O king, we will
not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
That is the spirit in which we ought to walk before God-"Though he slay me,
yet will I trust in him." What if he does not spare my mothers precious life?
What if he does not preserve my child from the ravages of the fatal epidemic?
What if he take away the desire of mine eyes with a stroke? What if my
business should cease to thrive? What if my health fail and my strength
decay? What if I be dishonoured by the scandal of my neighbours? Shall I,
therefore, cast off my allegiance to God, or betray my trust in him? Am I to
engage in rebellion like this? Not flood nor flame could quench or extinguish
his love to me. Shall anxiety or tribulation, disappointment or disaster
sever my heart from devotion to him? Nay, God give me grace to see my cattle
destroyed, and my goods swept away, and my children cut off in their prime,
and to hear cruel taunts from the wife of my bosom; to be covered with sore
boils, and to sit on a dunghill and scrape myself with a potsherd and find my
best friends miserable comforters, and yet, in the midst of accumulated
distresses, to be able to say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth; he has not
failed to deliver me hitherto, and though, after my skin, worms destroy this
body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. Though the fig-tree should not
blossom, though the flocks and herds be cut off, yet will I trust in the
Lord, and glory in the God of my salvation." If true to our high profession,
the Christian's faith should not borrow its hue from the circumstances by
which he is surrounded. To hanker after signs that a promise shall be
fulfilled is obviously to show distrust of the prosmiser. "Now the God of
hope fill you with all joy and peace, in believing, that ye may abound in
hope through the power of the Holy Ghost." So shall you be restrained from
asking for a petty sign to justify you in relying on his princely bounty. The
Lord keep you from this great transgression! We pass on to observe:-
III. THE PENALTY ZACHARIAS INCURRED.
His morbid propensity was followed by a mortifying punishment. He had
doubted, and he became dumb, and as the narrative clearly shows us, he was
deaf likewise. Such was his chastisement, and it was sent not in anger, but
in God's own covenant love. What a salutary medicine! Although bitter to the
taste, how effective it was! Read his song, and you will see the evidence. He
had been for months silent, quiet, shut out from all sound, and unable to
make any. But well he had occupied his months of seclusion. He had searched
the prophets-do you see that? He had been musing much upon the coming one-do
you see that? Deep humility had taken the place of arrogant presumption. He
was bowed down before the majesty of God, yet at the same time full of peace
and blissful hope. Thus he looked into the glorious future. Oh! dear
brethren, if you are prone to doubt, this sickness of the mind will require a
strong corrective. Very likely God will give you some sharp medicine, but it
shall work for your good. As his child, he will not chasten you so as to
injure you, but he will chasten you so as to benefit you. I do not think
children generally court the rod, however beneficial it may be, and yet I am
quite sure there is no wise child of God who would not shrink from the graver
ills which render such discipline essential to his soul's health.
See how judgment was tempered with mercy. The punishment sent to Zacharias
was not so severe as it might have been. Instead of being struck deaf and
dumb, he might have been struck dead. As I read this passage, I wondered that
God had not struck me deaf and dumb when I have spoken unbelieving words-when
I have been depressed in spirit, and spoken unadvisedly with my lips. Oh! had
the Lord been wroth with me, and said, "If that is your witness about me, you
shall never speak again." That would have been most just, and I might have
been a mournful instance of his indignation against his unbelieving servants;
he has not dealt so with me; glory be to his name!
And this chastisement did not invalidate the promise. The Lord did not say,
"Well, Zacharias, as you don't believe it, your wife, Elizabeth, shall not
have a son. There shall be a John born, but he shall not come to your house."
Oh! no; that is a grand passage-"If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful;
he cannot deny himself." The promise still stands. God does not take
advantage of our unbelief to cry off and say, "I will give thee no blessings
because thou doubtest me"-no, but having said it, he does it and his Word
does not return unto him void. Even the trembling, doubting children, though
they get the rod, get the blessing too; and the promise is fulfilled, though
the father is dumb when the blessing comes. Very painful, indeed, was his
chastisement. One would not like to be deaf and dumb for a day; but to be
deaf and dumb for the space of nine months must have been a very painful
trial to this man. Moreover, he could not bless the people; he could not
speak a word; he could not instruct the people; he was useless for that part
of the priest's work; and when the song went up within the hallowed walls of
the temple, he could not hear it. He might know by signs that they were
singing a hallelujah, yet his ears could not catch its grateful strains. That
poor tongue of his was silent. He could not add a note to the volume of
praise that went up to the God he loved. It must have been mournful to him to
have no prayer in the family which he could hear, and in which he could join,
and to be as good as dead for all practical purposes. Now I am afraid thence
are many believers who have had to suffer something like this, for many days,
on account of their unbelief. I think I can point out some who are unable to
hear the gospel as once they did many years ago, a friend said that he could
not hear me preach. I said to him, "Buy a horn." "No," he said, "it is not
your voice; I can hear that, but I don't enjoy it." My reply was, "Perhaps
that is my fault, but I am far from sure that it is not your own." I fear, in
such cases, it is quite as often the hearer's fault as the preacher's fault.
At any rate, when others profit, and our judgment approves, though our hearts
find no refreshment, there is reason to suspect that in the dullness of our
senses we are compelled to bear chastisement for our unbelief. You go where
others go, and find no solace. You hear what edifies and comforts them, but
there is no cheer for you. You are deaf; your ears are closed to what the
Lord says. Very often it has happened, I fear, to some here, that, for want
of faith, they have lost their speech. Time was when they could tell of the
Lord's goodness, but they seem silent now. They could sing once, but their
harps are hung on the willows now. As they get with their companions, they
seem as if they have lost all their pleasant conversation. If they try the
old accustomed strings of the time-worn harp, the ancient skill is gone. They
cannot praise God as once they did; and all because on one occasion, when the
promise was clear before their eyes, they would challenge and mistrust it.
They could not rely upon their God. Little do we know how many Fatherly
chastisements come upon us as the result of our unbelief.
The lessons I gather, and with which I conclude, are these-First, if any of
you, beloved, are weak in faith, do not be satisfied about it. Cry to God.
Our God deserves better homage of us than a weak, attenuated faith can render
him. He deserves to be trusted with such confidence as a child gives his
parent. Ask him to increase your faith. And you who have faith, oh! keep it
jealously, exercise it habitually; pray to the Lord to preserve it. Never
begin to walk according to the sight of the eyes. Confer not with flesh and
blood. Don't come down from that blessed height of simple confidence in God,
but ask that you may abide there, and no longer doubt. The Church wants
believers to believe for her, and to pray for her. "He that wavereth is like
a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. Let not that man think that
he shall receive anything of the Lord." Art thou strong in faith, be thou
stronger still; art thou weak in faith, be thou strong.
But let the unbeliever, the utter unbeliever, tremble. If a good man, a saved
man, a noble and a blameless man was nevertheless for months struck dumb for
unbelief, what will become of you who have no faith at all? He that believeth
not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God. To
you, unbeliever, no angel Gabriel will appear, but the destroying angel
awaits you. What shall be your fearful chastisement? You will be silent; it
will be eternal. Oh! you shall stand silent at the judgment-seat of Christ,
unable to offer any excuse for your rebellion and unbelief. Unbelief will
destroy the best of us: faith will save the worst of us. He that believeth on
the Lord Jesus Christ hath eternal life-he that believeth not (whatever else
his apparent excellences will assuredly perish. Faith, faith! this is the
priceless saving thing to every one of us. The gift be yours to believe. The
grace be yours to inherit the righteousness of faith. The joy be yours to
believe in Jesus Christ with all your hearts. The triumph be yours to believe
now to the saving of your souls. Amen.
The Key-Note of a Choice Sonnet
by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"My soul doth magnify the Lord." Luke 1:46 .
Mary had received a wonderful intimation from heaven of which she herself scarcely understood the full length and breadth. Her faith had apprehended a great promise, which as yet her mind hardly comprehended. Her prayer, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word," showed her joyful submission and childlike confidence, and this made her blessed with the blessedness of patient hope. Under divine guidance she made a speedy journey into the hill country to see her cousin Elisabeth, and from her she received a confirmation of the wonderful tidings which the angel had brought to her. Elizabeth herself had been favored from above, for the Lord had looked upon her, and taken away from her the reproach of barrenness. Amongst other choice words, Elizabeth said to her, "Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." When Mary had thus been comforted by her friend, and her spirit had been elevated, and her confidence confirmed, she began to sing unto the Lord most sweetly, saying, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Now, if it is a good time with any of you if in communion with some older believer your confidence has been strengthened, make sure that the Lord has a return for it. When your own heart is lifted up, then lift up the name of the Lord. Exalt him when he exalts you. You will perhaps tell me that the Virgin had very especial reason for magnifying the Lord, and I answer, Assuredly she had. "Blessed is she among women," and we are not backward to own the eminent honor which was put upon her. Blessed indeed she was, and highly favored. But yet, is there any true believer who has not also received special favor of the Lord? Sitting down quietly in our chamber, can we not each one say that the Lord has favored him or her with some special token of divine love? I think there is something about each believer's case which renders it special. We are none of us exactly like our brethren, for the manifestations of divine grace are very various; and there are some bright lines about your case, brother, which will be seen nowhere else, and some peculiar manifestations about your happiness, my sister, of which no one else can tell. I might not be straining words if I were to say to many a sister in Christ here, "Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." And I might say the same to many a brother here: "Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among men. The Lord hath done great things for thee, and let thy spirit be glad." True, there is one point in which we cannot be compared to Mary literally. She was to be the mother of the human nature of our Lord; but there is a parallel case in each one of us in which a higher mystery a more spiritual mystery gives us a like privilege, for, behold, the Holy Ghost dwells in each believer. He lives within us as within a temple, and reigns within us as in a palace. If we be partakers of the Holy Ghost, what more can we desire by way of favor from God, and what greater honor can be bestowed upon us? It was by her that the Word became incarnate, but so also is it by us, for we can make God's Word stand out visibly in our lives. It is ours to turn into actual, palpable existence among the sons of men the glorious Spirit of grace and truth which we find in the Word of God. Truly did our Lord speak when he said to his disciples, "These are my mother, and sister, and brother." We bear as close a relationship to Christ as did the Virgin mother, and we in some sense take the same position spiritually which she took up corporeally in reference to him. May he be formed in us the hope of glory, and may it be ours to tend his infant cause in the world, and watch over it as a nurse does over a child, and spend our life and strength in endeavoring to bring that infant cause to maturity, even though a sword should pass through our own heart while we cherish the babe. But now, having introduced to you her magnificat, we will dwell upon these words, "My soul doth magnify the Lord," and I do earnestly hope that many of us can adopt the language without being guilty of falsehood: we can as truly say as Mary did, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." If there are any of you present to-night who cannot say it, get to your chambers, fall upon your knees, and cry to the Lord to help you to do so; for as long as a man cannot magnify God he is not fit for heaven, where the praises of God are the eternal occupation of all the blessed spirits. If you cannot magnify God, it probably is because you are magnifying yourself. May the Lord cut self down and make nothing of you, and then you will make everything of him. When you sink in your own estimation, then will God rise in your esteem. May God the Holy Ghost make it so. I. Touching these words, I notice that, first, our text suggests to us AN OCCUPATION FOR ALL GRACIOUS PEOPLE: "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Here is an occupation for all of us who know the Lord, and have been born into his family. Observe, it is an occupation which may be followed by all sorts of people. This humble woman speaks of her low estate, and yet she could magnify the Lord. All believers, of every rank and condition, can attend to this work. There are some things that you cannot do, but this one thing every gracious heart can do, and should delight to do, namely, to magnify the Lord. This is an occupation which can be followed in all places. You need not go up to the meeting-house to magnify the Lord, you can do it at home: you need not step out of your own quiet little room, for you may sit still, and all alone you may magnify the Lord. You may be tossed about upon the sea in a storm, but you may trust his name, and be calm, and so magnify him. Or, you may be no traveler, and never go a hundred yards out of the village in which you were born, but you may magnify the Lord just as well for all that.
"Where'er we seek him he is found, And every place is hallowed ground";
and in every place this hallowed occupation may be carried out, and we may always say at least the place will not prevent our saying, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." This is not an occupation which requires a crowded congregation, it can be fitly performed in solitude. I suppose that this sonnet of the Virgin was sung with only one to hear it, her cousin Elisabeth. There is a quorum for God's praise even where there is only one; but, where there are two that agree to praise God, then is the praise exceeding sweet. Ah, my dear sisters, you will never stand up to speak to thousands, and many of my brethren now present would be very timid if they had to praise the Lord before a score. Never mind about that. Praise does not require even two or three, but in the quiet of the night, or in the loneliness of the wood far away from the haunts of men, your soul may pursue this blessed task, and daily, hourly, constantly sing " My soul doth magnify the Lord." This is an occupation also, dear friends, which requires no money. Mary was a poor maiden. She had no gold or silver, and yet did she sweetly say, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." It is an honorable thing to be entrusted with this world's treasure to lay it out for Jesus. The church has its temporal needs, and happy is that man who is privileged to supply them: but this kind of work can be followed by the child who has no money, and by the workwoman who scarcely knows how to find herself in bread. It may be followed by the poor man reduced to the workhouse; and by the poor woman who lies in the infirmary breathing out her life. "My soul doth magnify the Lord," is as fit for paupers as for peers. Oh! these are golden notes, and those that use them have golden mouths, as golden as Chrysostom of old, even though they have to say, "Silver and gold have I none." And this is an occupation, dear friends, which I commend to all here present, because it does not require great talent. A simpleton may sing "My soul doth magnify the Lord." We have each one a soul, and when that soul has been renewed by grace it can follow this blessed pursuit of magnifying the Lord, Perhaps you have not the abilities of Mary, for she was, doubtless, a woman of considerable culture, like Hannah who preceded her, whose song she partly borrowed. Hannah seems to me to be one of the most gifted women of the Old Testament, and to be worthy of more notice than is generally given to her. But if you could not write a hymn, if you could not compose a verse, if you have no ability that way, ay, and if you cannot sing and there are some of us that have such cracked voices that we never shall, and there are one or two brethren here who have such bad ears for time that I generally hear them a note behind everybody else, as I did to-night well, never mind about that, our souls can magnify the Lord. It is an occupation that does not depend upon the voice, or upon any kind of talent whatever. Those who sing worst to the ear of man may, perhaps, sing best to the ear of God; and those who have the least apparent ability may, from the warmth of their heart and the ardor of their devotion, really have the greatest capacity in God's judgment for magnifying his name. "My soul doth magnify the Lord." I would invite all my brothers and sisters here to take this for their occupation as long as they live, and never to cease from it. Nay, even should death for a moment suspend it, let them so praise God that it shall be no new work for them to begin again and praise him for ever in heaven. Dear friends, albeit that this magnifying of the Lord is an occupation to be taken up by all Christians, do not let us think little of it. To magnify the Lord seems to me the grandest thing we mortals do, for, as I have already said, it is the occupation of heaven. When the saints of the Most High pass into their glorified state they have nothing else to do but to magnify the Lord. The word signifies, to put it in a Saxon form instead of a Latin one, to "greaten God." We cannot make him really greater, but we can show forth his greatness. We can make him appear greater. We can make others have greater thoughts of him, and that we do when we are praising him. We can ourselves try to have greater and yet greater thoughts of him make him to our apprehension a greater God than we once knew him to be; and this, I say, is no mean occupation, because it is followed in heaven by all redeemed and perfected spirits. Even here, it is the end of everything. Praying is the end of preaching, for preaching and hearing are nothing in themselves except men be brought to Christ and led to prayer. But then praying is not the end: praising is the end of praying. Prayer is the stalk of the wheat, but praise is the ear of the wheat: it is the harvest itself. When God is praised, we have come to the ultimatum. This is the thing for which all other things are designed. We are to be saved for this end, "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." We are not saved for our own sakes. How often does the Scripture tell us this in sense, and sometimes in words, "Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you; be ashamed and be confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel." The glory of God is to my mind the highest conceivable end it certainly is the chief end of my being. So, my dear brother, if you cannot go out to preach if after looking over all your condition you feel that your sickness and other circumstances may excuse you from active service, and even if you are compelled to keep your bed, do not suppose that you are useless as to the highest end of your being. You may still serve it by lying upon the couch of pain and magnifying the Lord by patience. Have you ever looked at those lovely lilies which adorn our gardens with their golden petals and their milk-white leaves? How they praise God! And yet they never sing. You do not even hear a rustle, but they stand still and praise God by existing by just, as it were, enjoying the sun and the dew, and showing what God can do. A genuine Christian shut up under pain and sickness may glorify God by being his beloved child, by receiving the love of God, by showing in his common-place daily character, which is only noticeable from its holiness, what the grace of God can do. Oh may this be the occupation of us all since it is so noble a pursuit! "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Come, what are you doing to-night? Have you been during this day murmuring and complaining and grumbling? End that, and begin praising. Some of you are farmers, and I have no doubt you have grumbled because of the weather. I do not wonder, but I hope that you will not do it any more, but rather believe that God knows better about skies and clods and clouds and crops than you do. If we had the management of the weather, I have no doubt we think we should do it very splendidly, but I question whether we should not ruin all creation. Our great Lord and Master knows how to manage everything. Let us cease from all criticism of what he does, and say, "My soul does not grumble. My soul does not complain; I have taken up a better business than that. 'My soul doth magnify the Lord.' That is her one engagement from which she will never cease." II. Secondly, if you look at the text from another point of view, it provides for us A REMEDY FOR SELF-CONGRATULATION. If any one of us had been favored, as the Virgin was, with the promise that we should become the parent of the Savior, do you not think that we should have felt exceedingly lifted up? It was natural that she should be proud, but it was gracious on her part that she was humble. Instead of magnifying herself she magnified the Lord. It was a great thing, and somebody must be magnified for it. Nature would have said, "Mary, magnify thyself"; but grace said, "Mary, magnify the Lord." If the Lord has been very gracious to any one of us, our only way to escape from vain-glorious pride, which will be exceedingly wicked if we indulge in it, is by giving vent to our feelings in quite another direction. Do you notice how she sets off the greatness of God by her own insignificance? "He that is mighty hath done to me great things." "To me," she says. "They are great things, and he is mighty, but they are to me. He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." Over against the greatness of God's goodness to you be sure to set in contrast your own meanness and unworthiness. Has the Lord redeemed you, called you, justified you, sanctified you, set you in his church, and given you a name and a place among his people? When you are inclined to run up the topgallants, and to hang out all the flags, and to glory in your flesh, recollect who you are and what you are, and the hole of the pit whence you were drawn, and the rock out of which you were hewn, and say, "Why me, Lord? Why me?" Begin to magnify the name of the Lord, and that will be a death-blow to the temptation to pride. Mary had a specialty: no one else should be the mother of our Lord: but so have we. Electing love has pitched on us. Many have been passed by, but the Lord has loved us with a special love; yet we cannot rejoice in it so as to glory in ourselves, for this election is according to his sovereign will, and not of ourselves. It is all of grace and free favor, and not according to merit. Hence my soul doth magnify the Lord for everlasting love and special redemption. Whence is this to me? What am I, and what is my father's house, that thou, O Lord, shouldst choose me? Mary knew also that she was to be famous. "All generations shall call me blessed." But do notice how she balances her fame with another fame. She says, "Holy is his name, and his mercy is on them that fear him." She magnifies the name of the Lord. If he has given her a measure of honor, she lays it at his feet. Mind you do the same. Be not so vain as to be lifted up with a little success. We have all passed through this test of character, and in the fining-pot how few of us have borne the fire without loss! Perhaps you have preached a sermon and God has blessed it; the congregation is increased, and crowds are gathering; the probability is that the devil whispers, "You are a capital preacher. Well done! You put your point admirably: God is blessing you. There must be something admirable in your character and abilities." Away, away, thou fiend of the pit! This is ruinous pride! But suppose, dear brother, that the fiend will not go away while he finds you musing upon your success, what are you to do? Try him with this "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Praise the name of the Lord that ever he should make use of such a poor, unsuitable instrument as yourself. Give him all the honor and all the glory, if honor and glory there be, and see if the arch-enemy does not take to flight, for God's praises are abhorrent to the devil. In whatever capacity you are serving the Lord, if he puts any honor upon you, mind you give it all back to him. Sedulously and carefully endeavor to do this, for robbery here will be fatal; he will not give his glory to another. If we begin to pilfer even a little of the praise, we shall find that our Master will reckon us to be unfaithful stewards, and give us a discharge. If we glory in our strength, we may have to go out and shake ourselves like Samson when his hair was lost, because the Lord has taken our strength away from us. A heart that is lifted up with self-esteem will soon be cast down in the mire. Mary knew that God's favors are given to us, not that we may congratulate ourselves, but that we may worship him; and she acted accordingly. If grace be come to thee, my brother, it is a wanton waste of it to pride thyself upon it. Like the manna in the Israelite's house when kept till the morning, it will breed worms and stink: no worm ever brought swifter decay than pride. Bear the shield of thine honor as an armor-bearer for thy Lord, Know that thou hast nothing but what belongs to him. Use all for him, and glorify him for all, and in all; and so wilt thou do well. I recommend the text, then, as a cure for pride: "My soul doth magnify the Lord." III. Thirdly, and I will be brief on each point, the text is A FRUITFUL UTTERANCE FOR HOLY FEELINGS. "My soul doth magnify the Lord," is evidently the overflow of a full soul. There must have been great mixture of feeling in the heart of this holy woman; but these few words furnished expression for every variety of her emotions. Those feelings were of an opposite character, and yet they all spoke by this one sentence. It is clear that she was filled with wonder. Her thoughtful spirit asked, how can so great a thing be true to me? Shall the Son of the Highest be born of Mary, the village maiden? Oh, miracle of condescension! With the amazement there was mingled, not the unbelief which too often comes of wonder, but an expectation of the promised marvel. She believed that the things which were spoken to her would be performed by the Lord, and she looked that God should keep his word to her. How sweetly those two feelings, wonder and expectation, are blended, hidden away and yet expressed, in these few words, "My soul doth magnify the Lord"! It is as though she had said, "I cannot understand the favor promised me. How glorious in his grace is the Lord my God! But I expect the blessing: I am sure of it, for the Lord is true! So I praise him concerning it." The sentence is tinged with two fair colors, the vermilion of wonder and the azure of hope, and they meet harmoniously upon the same ground. The words are wonderful on that account. Now take two other mental states. The first would be her believing. She was not like Zacharias, who needed to be struck dumb because he doubted the word of the Lord. Mary had faith, and yet, at the same time she must have been awe-stricken by the revelation. That she should give birth to the Son of the Highest must have utterly abashed and overwhelmed her. Now both these states of mind are here faith and awe. Faith says, "I know that the angel's message is true, and therefore my soul doth magnify the Lord." Awe says, "What a solemn thing it is that God should come to dwell in my breast! My soul doth magnify the Lord." Thus in these words confidence and reverence have met together, assurance and adoration have kissed each other. Here is faith with its familiarity, and devotion with its godly fear. Here, also, you very clearly perceive two other holy emotions. Her humility is apparent, and in the text it seems to ask the question, "How can this happen to me? How can it be that such a poor woman, affianced to a humble carpenter, should be the mother of my Lord?" Humility sheds its perfume here, like a violet hidden away. She seems to say, "Not unto me, not unto me be the glory! My soul doth magnify the Lord." But that humility is not of the cringing and crouching kind which draws back from God, for it is clearly mixed with love. "I rejoice in my gracious Lord," she seems to say, "I bless him: I love him: I praise him. My soul doth magnify the Lord. I am not worthy of his promised visitation, but it will be mine, and infinite condescension will do this thing unto me. Therefore do I love my God, and I draw near to him. My soul doth magnify the Lord." Brothers and sisters, you will often find the language of my text the most expressive of utterances for all that is good in your minds. Many sweet passions, like little birds, may fold their wings, and dwell together in this one well-compacted nest, "My soul doth magnify the Lord," Holy emotions may fly hither in swarms, and make the text like a hive of bees, stored with honey. As I turn and think it over, it sheds abroad its own spirit within me, as spices breathe out their own perfume, and I cry, "My soul doth magnify him." I think I perceive in these words a singular mixture of admiration and calm thought: a wonder in which there is no surprise. The blessed Virgin is evidently, as I have said before, wonder-struck that such a thing should come to her, and yet there is about that wonder no startling of amazement, but a marvelling which is the result of previous careful thought. She had considered the prophecies and promises, and saw them about to be fulfilled in her seed. She sang in the fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth verses, "He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever." She had turned over the subject in her mind, and she came to the conclusion, "He has said he will do this. It is as he spake." So, oftentimes, when you get a mercy given to you, you will be surprised at it at first, but afterwards you will say, "This is even as the Lord promised to me. He doeth no new thing to his servant. It is only my forgetfulness that has made me to be astonished. Did he not promise that he would help me that he would deliver me that he would give me all that I needed? And inasmuch as he has done it in this surprising way, my soul doth magnify him twice over for the wonderful mercy, and for the faithfulness of his covenant love which kept the ancient promise which he made to be yea and amen in Christ Jesus." Again, I say, I commend the text as an expression of your feelings. How sweet are the words, "My soul doth magnify the Lord"! They are full, many-sided, and natural, and yet most spiritual. IV. Fourthly, I think my text may be used as A REASON FOR HOPEFULNESS. It would be well to be wrapped up in this spirit with regard to everything. The mood which bids us sing "My soul doth magnify the Lord" is full of a hope which will be useful in a thousand ways. For instance, concerning our own providential condition, let us magnify the Lord. Surrounded with difficulties, let us walk on with confidence, because our great God is equal to every emergency, and can both level the mountains and fill up the valleys. Burdened with labors and stripped by necessities, let us maintain an unchanging cheerfulness, because we magnify the might and the bounty of the eternal Jehovah, whose name is God All-sufficient. When danger is magnified by fear, let God be magnified by faith. When the troubles of our heart are enlarged, let our expectations from the Lord be enlarged also. The same God-magnifying spirit should attend our glances into futurity, if we indulge in any, and we are all too apt to do so. Ah! we would like to know, some of us, what is going to happen to us. Fain would we steal a glance behind the screen, and each one see
"What gloomy lines are writ for me, Or what dark scenes arise"
There is a desire in most persons' minds to draw away the curtain which God has so wisely placed over the future. This is very wrong of us, and yet it is as common as it is blamable. We all turn prophets every now and then, and when we do we prophesy evil, and therefore it would be well if we could catch the spirit of Mary with regard to our forecasts of the future, and say, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Why do we set our blear-eyed anxieties to watch the signs of heaven? If we must pry, and guess, and speculate, why not employ our brighter powers, and let blue-eyed hope scan the ensigns of the sky? When we meddle with the future how dare we foretell that which would dishonor the Lord? If we must needs write bitter things against ourselves, yet we ought not to write untruthful things against him. When we do forecast the future at all, let us do it in the spirit wherewith we sing, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Let us be certain that we shall find him to be a great God in the future, greatly good, wondrously gracious, magnifying his mercy. We shall have troubles, but our soul doth magnify the Lord, for she foresees that we shall ride out all storms with Jesus at the helm, and come safe into port. Our anxious eye foresees necessities, but our soul doth magnify the Lord, for she sees him with a golden key opening the treasures of David, and supplying all her wants. Our troubled car can hear the wolf, but our soul doth magnify the Lord, for she sings, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and he will preserve me." In this spirit you may look forward to the swellings of Jordan, magnifying the living God while you yourself lie down to die. If you faint and begin to say, "Ah! I shall never be able to die triumphantly," you are minimizing, and not magnifying, the Lord. You are making him little, and not great. Try and say, "How marvellously will he show his grace to me, a dying worm! Oh, how wondrous he will be in the eyes of angels that will crowd the banks to' hear a poor trembling soul like me go singing through the stream! My God will be great in that day; then will he lay bare his arm, and therefore will I fear no evil, for he will be with me; his rod and his staff will comfort me." Think great things of God. Greaten God. Magnify his name whenever you look forward to the future. Chase from your mind any imagination or foreboding which would detract from the greatness or the goodness of your God. Judge in the same manner with regard to the salvation of your fellow-men. Never say, "It is of no use inducing such a man to attend the means of grace. He is a blaspheming wretch. All that he would do if he heard a sermon would be to make sport of it for the next week. I have no faith in taking such a man to hear a ministry which he would be sure to ridicule." Such unbelieving talk is making little of God. Is it not so? Is it not dishonoring God to think that his gospel cannot reach the most depraved hearts? Why, if I knew that a man had seven thousand devils in him, I believe the gospel could drive them all out. Get the sinners under the sound of the word, and the worse they are, oftentimes, the more does God love to display the greatness of his grace in casting down the power of their sin. Believe great things of God. I can honestly say this that since God saved me I never doubted his power to save anybody. All things are possible now that he has brought me to his feet, and kept me these years as his loving child. I must think great things of God who has done such great things for so great a sinner as I am. Greaten God, my brethren; greaten God. Believe great things of him. Believe that China can be made into a province of the celestial kingdom. Believe that India will cast her riches at Jesus' feet. Believe that the round world will yet be a pearl on Christ's finger-ring. Do not go in for the dispiriting, despairing, unmanly, un-Christly ideas of those who say, "The world is not to be converted. It is a poor wreck that will go to pieces, and we are to fish off here and there one from the water-logged hulk." Brethren, never believe that we are to stand by and see the eternal defeat of God. Deem not that our God is unable to win upon the old lines, and must needs shift the plan of the campaign. It shall never be said that God could not save the world by the preaching of the gospel, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, and therefore must needs bring in the advent of the Lord to do it. I believe in the coming of the Lord, but, blessed be his name, I believe also that the battle which he has begun in the Spirit he will fight out in the old style, and finish with a victory in the very manner in which he opened the conflict. It pleases him by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe, and it will please him to continue to do so till the whole round earth shall ring with hallelujahs of praise to the grace of God, who by the feeblest of his creatures shall have defeated sin, and death, and hell. Do not get into a desponding state of mind, and rush into half-insane theories of prophecy in order to excuse your unbelief and idleness. Never throw down your weapons, and pretend that the victory is to be won by doting and dreaming: we are to fight to the end with the same weapons, and in the same name. We will drive the devil out of the world yet, by the grace of God, by the old, efficient weapons of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Greaten God, and magnify his name, by believing in the success of the gospel of his dear Son. As to the nearer future, never believe any human prophecy that does not glorify God. Expect great things of God, and if you hear any prediction that is not to the glory of God, conclude that it is a blunder. "Oh!" said one to me, "this country will go back to Romanism: the gospel light will be quenched in England." Ah, dear me! Some brethren are mightily fond of this prognostication. But, my dear friend, there is one thing that always comforts me, namely, that God is not dead: and he is not going to be defeated by the pope of Rome, or fifty popes of Rome. He will win the victory yet. Always have courage, for it is God's cause, and it is in God's hands, and, being in God's hands, it is safe enough. See what you do: because you cannot trust God's hand you trust your own! You thrust out your sacrilegious arm to interfere with God's peculiar work. What are you at? You are about to defile God's ark. Recollect the story of Uzzah. Pluck your hand back, and leave the ark alone. The Lord will help you to do such work as he gives you to do, but he has not made you Lord of empires, nor director of providence. Leave to his sovereign sway the purposes of his eternal grace, and depend upon it he will bring the world to Jesus' feet. Christ himself shall come: be you looking for him every day, but be constant in his service, working for him every hour. Believe, too, that he shall reign amongst his ancients gloriously, and where amidst Judea's glades Christ has been dishonored and the false prophet has ruled, there too shall he reign, and Jew and Gentile shall worship and adore his ever-blessed name. I say again, magnify the Lord with all your souls. Greaten God. Expect great things in the future, and with the cheery note of confidence go forward to battle for him whose is the victory for ever and ever. V. Once more, and I have done. Our text should be used as a GUIDE IN OUR THEOLOGY. We will finish with that. Here is a very useful test for young disciples who are beginning to study God's word. "My soul doth magnify the Lord." If you will carry this with you it will often save you from error, and guide you into truth. There is certain teaching which makes a great deal of man: it talks much of man's free-will, ability, capacity, and natural dignity. It evidently makes man the center and end of all things, and God is placed in a position of service to his creature. As for the Fall: father Adam slipped and broke his little finger, or something of the kind, but this theology sees no great ruin as the result of the fall. As for salvation: it is a slight cure for a small ill, and by no means the infinite grace which we consider it to be. Dear brethren, let those have this theology who like it, but do not you touch it even with a pair of tongs. It is of no use to man, for it mistakes his position, and only ministers to his pride. Man's place is not on the throne, but at the foot of the cross. Listen to another theology, in which the sinner is laid low, his sinfulness is exposed, his corruption is unfolded, Christ's redemption is magnified, free grace is extolled, and the Holy Ghost is adored. That is the theology for you, believe it: that is the theology of the Scriptures, accept it. I do not think that you will often be led wrong if this be your mode of judgment: that which glorifies God is true, and that which does not glorify God is false. Sometimes you will meet with an undoubted teaching of God's word which you do not understand. You know that the doctrine is taught in the word, but you cannot make it coincide with some other truth, and you cannot quite see, perhaps, how it glorifies God. Then, dear brother, dear sister, glorify God by believing it. To believe a doctrine which you see to be true by mere reason is nothing very wonderful. There is no very great glory to God in believing what is as clear as the sun in the heavens; but to believe a truth when it staggers you oh, gracious faith! oh, blessed faith! You will perhaps remember an illustration taken from Mr. Gough, where the little boy says, "If mother says it is so, it is so if it is not so." That is the kind of believing for a child towards its mother, and that is the sort of believing we ought to exercise towards God. I do not see the fact, and I cannot quite apprehend it, but God says it is so, and I believe him. If all the philosophers in the world should contradict the Scriptures, so much the worse for the philosophers; their contradiction makes no difference to our faith. Half a grain of God's word weighs more with us than a thousand tons of words or thoughts of all the modern theologians, philosophers, and scientists that exist on the face of the earth; for God knows more about his own works than they do. They do but think, but the Lord knows. With regard to truths which philosophers ought not to meddle with, because they have not specially turned their thoughts that way, they are not more qualified to judge than the poorest man in the church of God, nay, nor one-half so much. Inasmuch as the most learned unregenerate men are dead in sin, what do they know about the living things of the children of Cod? Instead of setting them to judge we will sooner trust our boys and girls that are just converted, for they do know something of divine things, but carnal philosophers know nothing of them. Do not be staggered, brothers and sisters, but honor God, glorify God, and magnify him by believing great things and unsearchable past your finding out which you know to be true because he declares them to be so. Let the ipse dixit of God stand to you in the place of all reason, being indeed the highest and purest reason, for God, the Infallible, speaks what must be true. So, then, I come back to where I started. Let us go forth and practically try to magnify the name of the Lord. Go home and speak well of his name: gather your children together and tell them what a good and great God he has been. Some of you who have a swarm of youngsters could not do better than spend half an hour in telling them of his goodness to you in all your times of trouble. Leave to your children the heirloom of gratitude. Tell them how good the Lord was to their father, and how good he will be to his children: tell your servants, tell your work-people, tell anybody with whom you come in contact what a blessed God the Lord is. For my part, I never can speak well enough of his adorable name. He is the best of masters, his service is delight; he is the best of fathers, his commands are pleasure. Was there ever such a god as our God, our enemies themselves being judges? Magnify his name by the brightness of your countenances. Rejoice and be glad in him. When you are in sorrow and must needs fast, yet appear not unto men to fast, but anoint your faces and still wear a smile. Let not the world think that the servants of a king go mourning all their days. Make the world feel what a great God you serve, and what a blessed Savior Christ is, and thus evermore let your soul magnify the Lord. God grant you grace to do so, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
A Harp of Ten Strings
August 30th, 1891 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." Luke 1:46-47 .
It is very clear that Mary was not beginning a new thing; for she speaks in the present tense, and in a tense which seems to have been for a long time present: "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Ever since she had received the wonderful tidings of the choice which God had made of her for her high position, she had begun to magnify the Lord; and when once a soul has a deep sense of God's mercy, and begins magnifying him, there is no end to it. This grows by what it feeds upon: the more you magnify God, the more you can magnify him. The higher you rise, the more you can see; your view of God is increased in extent; and whereas you praised him somewhat at the bottom of the hill, when you get nearer and nearer to the top of his exceeding goodness, you lift up the strain still more loudly, and your soul doth more fully and exultantly magnify the Lord. "My soul doth magnify the Lord." What does it mean? The usual signification of the word "magnify" is, to make great, or to make to appear great. We say, when we use the microscope, that it magnifies so many times. The insect is the same small and tiny thing; but it is increased to our apprehension. The word is very suitable in this connection. We cannot make God greater than he is. Nor can we have any conception of his actual greatness. He is infinitely above our highest thoughts; when we meditate upon his attributes
"Imagination's utmost stretch In wonder dies away."
But we magnify him by having higher, larger, truer conceptions of him; by making known his mighty acts, and praising his glorious name, so that others, too, may exalt him in their thoughts. This is what Mary was doing: she was a woman who was given, in after-life, to pondering. Those who heard what the shepherds said concerning the holy child Jesus wondered; but "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." They wondered; Mary pondered. It is only the change of a letter; but it makes a great difference in the attitude of the soul, a change from a vague flash of interest to a deep attention of heart. She pondered; she weighed the matter; she turned it over in her mind; she thought about it; she estimated its value and result. She was like that other Mary, a meditative woman, who could quietly wait at her Lord's feet to hear gracious words, and drink them in with yearning faith. It is no idle occupation thus to get alone, and in your own hearts to magnify the Lord; to make him great to your mind, to your affections; great in your memory, great in your expectations. It is one of the grandest exercises of the renewed nature. You need not, at such a time, think of the deep questions of Scripture, and may leave the abstruse doctrines to wiser heads, if you will; but if your very soul is bent on making God great to your own apprehension, you will be spending time in one of the most profitable ways possible to a child of God. Depend upon it, there are countless holy influences which flow from the habitual maintenance of great thoughts of God, as there are incalculable mischiefs which flow from our small thoughts of him. The root of false theology is belittling God; and the essence of true divinity is greatening God, magnifying him, and enlarging our conceptions of his majesty and his glory to the utmost degree. But Mary did not mean, by magnifying the Lord, merely to extol him in her own thoughts; being a true poetess, she intended to magnify the Lord by her words. No, I must correct myself; she did not intend to do it, she had been doing it all along, she was doing it when she came, panting and breathless, into her cousin Elizabeth's house. She said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord. I am now in such a favored condition that I cannot open my mouth to talk to you, Elizabeth, without speaking of my Lord. My soul now seems filled with thoughts of him. I must speak, first of all, about him, and say such things of his grace and power as may help even you, my goodly elder sister, still to think grander thoughts of God than you have ever before enjoyed. My soul doth magnify the Lord." We must recall the fact that Mary was highly distinguished and honored. No other woman was over blessed as she was; perhaps no other could have borne the honor that was put upon her to be the mother of the human nature of our Savior. It was the highest possible honor that could be put upon mortal, and the Lord knew, at the appointed time, where to find a guileless, lowly woman, who could be entrusted with such a gift, and yet not seek to filch away his glory. She is not proud; nay, it is a false heart that steals the revenues of God, and buys therewith the intoxicating cup of self-congratulation. The more God gives to a true heart, the more it gives to him. Like Peter's boat, which sank into the waters the more deeply, the more fully it was laden with fish, God's true children sink in their own esteem, as they are honored by their Lord. God's gifts, when he gives grace with them, do not puff us up; they build us up. A humble and lowly estimate of ourselves is added to a greater esteem of him. The more God gives thee, the more do thou magnify him, and not thyself. Be this thy rule "He must increase, but I must decrease." Be thou less and less. Be thou the Lord's humble handmaid, yet bold and confident in thy praise of him who hath done for thee great things. Henceforth and for ever, let this be the one description of thy life: "My soul doth magnify the Lord; I have nothing else to do any more but to magnify him, and to rejoice in God my Savior." A week might be profitably employed were I to attempt to preach upon each part of Mary's song; but with quite another purpose in view, I am going to present it to you as a whole. As I put before you this instrument of ten strings, I will ask you, just for a minute or two, to place your fingers on each of them as they shall be indicated, and see whether you cannot wake some melody to the praise of the great King, some harmony in his honor; whether you cannot, at this good hour, magnify the Lord, and rejoice in God your Savior. Luther used to say that the glory of Scripture was to be found in the pronouns; and it is certainly true of the toss. Look at the personal touch of them, how it comes over and over again! "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." At one of our Orphanage Festivals, I put before our many friends who were gathered together several reasons why everybody should contribute to the support of the children; indeed, I said, nobody ought to go off the ground without giving something. I was struck with one brother, who had no money with him, but who brought me his watch and chain. "Oh," I said, "do not give me them; those things sell for so little compared with their value;" but he insisted upon my keeping them, and said, "I will redeem them to-morrow, but I cannot go away without giving something now." How glad I would be if every child of God here should be as earnest in adoration, and say, "I am going to give some praise to God at this service: out of some of those strings I will get music; perhaps out of them all. I will endeavor with my whole heart to say, at some portion of the sermon, and from some point of view, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord'! Do I hear you whisper, "My soul is very heavy." Lift it up, then, by praising the Lord; begin a psalm, even if at first the tune must be in a minor key: soon the strain will change, and the "Miserere" become a "Hallelujah Chorus." I. The first string which Mary seems to touch, and which, I trust, we, too, may reach with the hand of faith, is that of THE GREAT JOY WHICH THERE IS IN THE LORD. "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." Let us bless God that our religion is not one of gloom. I do not know of any command anywhere in Scripture, "Groan in the Lord always; and again I say, Groan." From the conduct of some people, we might almost imagine that they must have altered their New Testament in that particular passage, and thus woefully changed the glory of the original verse, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice." The first I ever knew of Christ my Master truly, was when I found myself at the foot of his cross, with the great burden that had crushed me effectually gone. I looked round for it, wondering where it could be, and, behold, it was tumbling down into his sepulcher! I have never seen it since, blessed be his name, nor do I ever want to see it again! Well do I remember the leaps I gave for joy when first I found that all my burden of guilt had been borne by him, and was now buried in the depths of his grave.
"Many days have passed since then; Many changes I have seen."
I have been to a great many wells to draw water; but when I have drawn it, and tasted thereof, it has been brackish as the waters of Marah; but whenever I have gone to this well "my God, my Savior" I have never drawn one drop that was not sweet and refreshing. He who truly knows God must be glad in him; to abide in his house is to be still praising him; yea, we may exalt in him all the day long. A very notable word is that which is found in the mouth of David: "God my exceeding joy." Other things may give us pleasure; we may be happy in the gifts of God, and in his creatures, but God himself, the spring of all our joys, is greater than them all. Therefore, "Delight thyself also in the Lord." This is his command; and is it not a lovely one? Let no one say that the faith of the Christian is not to be exultant; it is to be a delight; and so greatly does God desire us to rejoice in him, that to the command is added a promise, "And he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." What a religion is ours, in which delight becomes a duty, in which to be happy is to be obedient to a command! Heathen religions exact not only self-denials of a proper kind, but tortures which men invent to accustom themselves to misery; but in our holy faith, if we keep close to Christ, while it is true that we bear the cross, it is also true that the cross ceases to be a torture; in fact, it often bears us as we bear it; we discover in the service of our Master that "his yoke is easy, and his burden is light," and, strange to say, his burden gives us rest, and his yoke gives us liberty. We have never had anything from our Master but it has ultimately tended to our joy. Even when his rod has made us smart he has intended it to work for our good, and so has it wrought. Praise him, then, for such goodness. Our religion is one of holy joy, especially with regard to our Savior. The more we understand that glorious word "Savior", the more are we ready to dance with delight. "My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." The good tidings of great joy have reached us, and as we, by his grace, have believed them, he has saved us from sin, and death, and hell. He has not simply promised to do it some day, but he has done it; we have been saved. What is more, we have, many of us, entered into rest by faith in him; salvation is to us a present experience at this hour, though we still wait for the fullness of it to be revealed in the world to come. Oh, come, let us joy in our Savior! Let us thank him that we have so much for which to thank him. Let us praise him that there is so much that we may rejoice in; nay, so much that we must rejoice in. Let us adore his dear name that he has so arranged the whole plan of salvation, that it is calculated to bring heaven to us while we are here, and to bring us who are here into heaven hereafter. Thus we lift up our hearts because of the great joy there is laid up for us in God. This is the first string: touch it now; think of all the joy you have had in God; praise him for all the holy mirth he has given you in his house; the bliss of communion with him at his table; the delights of fellowship with him in secret. Sing to him with a grateful heart, saying, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." II. The second string we would desire to lay our fingers upon is THE GODHEAD OF OUR SAVIOR. "My soul doth magnify the Lord." I have not a little Lord. "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." I know that my Savior is a man, and rejoice in his humanity; but we will contend to the death for this that he is more than man; he is our Savior. One human being could not redeem another, or give to God a ransom for his brother. An angel's arm could not bear the tremendous load of the disaster of the Fall; but Christ's arm is more than angelic. He whom we magnify as our Savior counted it not robbery to be equal with God; and when he undertook the wondrous task of our redemption, he brought the Godhead with him to sustain him in the more than herculean labor. Our trust is in Jesus Christ, very God of very God; we shall never cease, not only to believe in him, but to speak of him, and rejoice in him, and sing of him, as the incarnate Deity. What a frozen religion that is which has not the Godhead of Christ in it! Surely, they must be men of a very sanguine and imaginative temperament who can pretend to receive any comfort out of a Christianity which has not the divine Savior as its very center. I would as soon think of going to all iceberg to warm myself, as to a faith of that kind to find comfort. Nobody can ever praise up Christ too much for you and for me; they can never say too much of his wisdom, or of his power. Every divine attribute ascribed to Christ makes us lift up a new song unto him; for, whatever he may be to others, he is to us God over all, blessed for ever. Amen. I wish that I could sing instead of speaking to you of him who was with the Father before all worlds began, whose delights, even then, were with the sons of men in prospect of their creation. I wish that I could tell the wonderful story of how he entered into covenant with God on the behalf of his people; and pledged himself to pay the debts of those his Father gave to him. He undertook to gather into one fold all the sheep whom he pledged himself to purchase with his precious blood; he engaged to bring them back from all their wanderings, and fold them on the hill-tops of the Delectable Mountains at his Father's feet. This he vowed to do; and he has gone about his task with a zeal that clothed him as a cloak; and he will achieve the diving purpose before he delivers up the kingdom to God, even the Father. "He shall not fail nor be discouraged." It is our delight to hear this Son of God, this Son of Mary, this wondrous Being in his complex nature as our Mediator, exalted and extolled, and made very high. Have you not sometimes felt that if the minister preached more about Jesus Christ, you would be very glad to hear him? I hope that is your inclination; yet I am afraid that we talk a great deal about many things rather than about our Master. Come, let me hear of him; sing to me or talk to me of Jesus, whose name is honey in the mouth, and music in the ear, and heaven in the heart. Oh, for more praise to his holy name! Yes, some of us can touch this string, and say with Mary, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." III. The third string has softer, sweeter music in it, and it may suit some of us better than the sublimer themes that we have touched already. Let us sing, and magnify the LORD'S LOVING CONDESCENSION; for so the blessed virgin did when she went on to say, "for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." Here is something to sing about; for ours was not only a low estate, but perhaps some here would have had to say, like Gideon, "My family is poor, and I am the least in my father's house," and, like him, you would have been passed over by most of the people. Perhaps even in your own family you were counted as nobody; if there was a jest uttered, you were sure to be the butt of it, and generally you were misunderstood, and your actions misinterpreted. This was a trying experience for you; but from this you have been gloriously delivered. It may have been that, like Joseph, you were a little dreamy, and perhaps you were a trifle too fond of telling your dreams. Yet, though because of this you were much put upon, the Lord at length raised up your head above those round about you. It may have been that your lot in life was cast among the very poorest and lowest of mankind; yet the Lord has looked upon you in infinite compassion, and saved you. Will you not, then, magnify him? If Christ wanted a people, why did he not choose the kings, and princes, and nobles of the earth? Instead of that, he takes the poor, and makes them to know the wonders of his dying love; and instead of selecting the wisest men in the world, he takes even the most foolish, and instructs them in the things of the kingdom.
"Wonders of grace to God belong, Repeat his mercies in your song."
All of us who have been saved by grace must strike a tenderer note still; for we were sinful as well as lowly. We went astray like lost sheep; therefore we magnify the Lord, who bought us, and sought us, and brought us back to his fold. It may be painful to remember what we once were, but it is well sometimes to go back in our thoughts to the time past when we lived in sin, that we may the better appreciate the favor of which we have been made partakers. When the apostle Paul wrote out a catalogue of those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God, he added, "And such were some of you: but ye are washed." Oh, let us bless the name of the Lord, and magnify him for this! Who else could have cleansed us from our sin, or in what other fountain save that opened to the house of David could we have plunged, to rid us of our awful defilement? He stoops very low, for some of God's elect were once the offscouring of all things; and even when converted, many of them remained so in the estimate of the world, which sneers at humble Christians. If the professed followers of Christ happen to meet in some fine building, and worship God with grand music and gorgeous ritual, then the people of the world put up with them; they may go even so far as to patronize them, though, even then, their respect is chiefly called forth, not on behalf of the people, but because of the building, the fine music, and the carriages. The carriages are especially important, for without a certain number of them at the door, it is deemed impossible to have a proper display of cultured Christianity. But the more God's people cling to the Lord, the less likely are they to be esteemed by the vulgar judgment of unholy men. Yet the Lord has chosen such, blessed be his name! It is a great wonder to me that the Lord ever chose some of you; but it is a far greater wonder that he should ever have chosen me. I can somehow understand his love of you, when I look at the gracious points in your character, though I am fully aware that they are only wrought by grace; but I cannot understand the love which he has displayed to me, who am the least of all the saints. "Oh!" say you, "that is what we were going to say about ourselves." Yes, I know. I am trying to put it into your mouths, so that we may all join in adoring gratitude. It is a miracle of mercy that he should have loved any of us, or stooped in his grace to have raised such beggars from the dunghill to set us among the princes at his right hand.
"Why was I made to hear thy voice, And enter while there's room; When thousands make a wretched choice, And rather starve than come."
IV. The next string, however, is THE GREATNESS OF GOD'S GOODNESS; for Mary goes on to sing, "He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." Oh, the Lord has done great things for his people! "He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name." God has made you blessed. You were once under the curse, but for you there is now no condemnation, for you are in Christ Jesus. If the curse had withered you, like some lightning-blasted oak, you could not have wondered; but, instead thereof, the gracious Lord has planted you by the rivers of water, and he makes you to bring forth your fruit in your season, and your leaf also doth not wither. "The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad." To be lifted up from that horrible pit is such a great thing that we cannot measure it, but to be set up on that throne of mercy exceeds our highest thought: who can measure that? Take your line, and see if you can fathom the depth of such grace, or measure the height of such mercy. Shall we be silent when we behold such marvellous loving-kindness? God forbid it! Let us break forth in our hearts now with gladsome hallelujahs to him who has done such wonderful things for us! Think, brethren, you were blind: he has made you see. You were lame: he has made you leap. Worse than that, you were dead: he has made you live. You were in prison: and he has made you free. Some of us were in the dungeon, with our feet fast in the stocks. Can I not well remember when I did lie in that inner prison, moaning and groaning, without any voice to comfort me, or even a ray of light to cheer me in the darkness? And now that he has brought me out, shall I forget to utter my deep thanks? Nay, but I will sing a song of deliverance, that others may hear, and fear, and turn unto the Lord. But that is not all. He has not only taken us from the prison, he has raised us to the throne: you and I could go in and out of heaven to-night, if God called us there, and every angel would treat us with respect. If we entered into the glory-land, even though we had come from the poorest home in London, we should find that the highest angels are only ministering servants to the chosen people of God. Oh, he has done wonders for us! I am not so much attempting to preach, as trying to wake up your memory, that you may think of the goodness of the Lord's grace, and say, "Oh, yes, it is so, and my soul doth magnify the Lord!" Not one of the wonders of divine grace has been wrought for us without deep necessity for its manifestation. If the very least grace, which may perhaps hitherto have escaped your attention, were taken from you, where would you be? I often meet with people of God who used to be very happy and joyful, but who have fallen into despondency, and who now talk about the mercies of God's covenant love in such a way as to make me blush. They say, "I thought I once had that blessing, sir, and I am afraid I have not got it now, though there is nothing I long for more. Oh, what a precious thing it would be to be able to have access to God in prayer! I would give my eyes to be able to know that I am really a child of God." Yet those of us who have those blessings do not half value them; nay, brethren, we do not value them a thousandth part as much as we ought. Our constant song should be, "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation." Instead of that, we often take the gifts thoughtlessly and unthankfully from his hand. When a man is in the sea, he may have much water over his head and not feel it; but when he comes out, if you then put a little pail of water on his head, it becomes quite a burden as he carries it. So some of you are swimming in God's mercy; you are diving into it, and you do not recognize the weight of the glory which God hath bestowed upon you; but if you should once get out of this ocean of joy, and fall into a state of sadness of heart, you would begin to appreciate the weight of any one of the mercies which now do not seem to be of much consequence, or to make any claim upon your gratitude. Without waiting to lose the sense of God's grace, in order that we may know the value of it, let us bless him who has done such inconceivably great things for us, and say, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." V. The fifth string that I would touch is THE COMBINATION OF GRACE AND HOLINESS that there is in what God has done for us. "He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name." I may not even hint at the peculiar delicacy of Mary's case, but she knew that it was wholly holy and pure. Now, when the Lord has saved you and me, who did not deserve saving, he did a very wonderful act of sovereign grace in making us to differ, but the mercy is that he did it all justly. Nobody can say that it ought not to be done. At the last great day, what God has done in his grace will stand the test of justice; for he has never, in the splendor and lavishness of his love, violated the principles of eternal righteousness, even to save his own elect. "He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name." Sin must be punished: it has been punished in the person of our glorious Substitute. No man can enter into heaven unless he is perfectly pure: they who are redeemed shall take no unclean thing within the gates. Every rule and mandate of the divine empire shall be observed. The Law-maker will not be the law-breaker even to save the sinner; but his law shall be honored as surely as the sinner shall be saved. Sometimes I feel that I could play on that string for an hour or two. Here we have justice magnified in grace, and holiness rejoicing in the salvation of sinners. The attributes of God are like the terrible crystal shining out with its clear white light, which yet may be divided into all the colors of the prism; each different, and all beautiful. The dazzling radiance of God is too glorious for our mortal eyes, but each revelation teaches us more of his beauty and perfectness. In the ruby light of an atoning sacrifice we are enabled to see how God is just and yet the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. Glory be to his name for the power of grace mingled with holiness! My soul doth magnify the Lord for this wonderful salvation, in which every attribute shall have its glory; justice as well as mercy, wisdom as well as might. "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Who could have invented such a plan, and who could have carried it out when it was thought of? Only he who came "with dyed garments from Bozrah." "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." VI. The sixth string is one which should be sweet every way. Mary now goes on to touch the string of GOD'S MERCY. "And his mercy is on them that fear him." The saints of old often touched this string in the temple. They often sang it, lifting up the refrain again and again "His mercy endureth for ever!"
"For his mercy shall endure, Ever faithful, ever sure."
Mercy! Sinner, this is the silver bell for you: it is of the Lord's mercies that you are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. Listen to the heavenly music that calls you to repent and live. God delighteth in mercy. He waiteth to be gracious. Mercy! Saint, this is the golden bell for you; for you need mercy still. Standing with your foot upon the jasper doorstep of Paradise, with the pearly gate just before you, you will still need mercy to help you over the last step; and when you enter the choir of the redeemed, mercy shall be your perpetual song. In heaven you will chant the praises of the God of grace, whose mercy endureth for ever. Do you mourn over your own backslidings? God will have mercy upon thee, dear child, though thou hast wandered since thou hast known him. Come back to him this very hour. He would woo thee again. He would press thee to his bosom. Hast thou not often been restored, hast thou not often had thy iniquities put away from thee in the years gone by? If so, again this moment touch thou this string a child's finger can make it bring forth its music touch it now. Say, "Yes, concerning mercy, mercy to the very chief of sinners, my soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." VII. Time would fail us if we tried to dwell at any length upon those wondrous themes; so we pass to the next string, number seven, GOD'S IMMUTABILITY, because in the verse we have already touched upon, there are two notes. Mary said, "His mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation." He that had mercy in the days of Mary, has mercy to-day: "from generation to generation." He is the same God." I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." You that once delighted in the Lord, do not suppose that he has altered. He still invites you to come and delight in him. He is "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." What a poor foundation we should have for our hope if God could change! But he has confirmed his word by an oath "that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." The God of my grandfather, the God of my father, is my God this day; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of every believer; he is the same God, and is prepared to do the same, and to be the same to us as to them. Look back into your own experience; have you not found God always the same? Come, protest against him, if you have ever found him to change. Is the mercy-seat altered? Do the promises of God fail? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Will he be favorable no more? Ay, even "if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself;" and when all things else melt away, this one eternal rock abides; therefore, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." It is a blessed string to touch. If we had time, we would play upon it, and evoke such harmonies as would make the angels want to join us in the chorus. VIII. The next string which will awaken a responsive echo in your hearts is GOD'S POWER. "He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts." This string gives us deep bass music, and requires a heavy hand to make it pour forth any melody. What wonders of power God has wrought on the behalf of his people, from the days of Egypt, when the horse and his rider he cast into the Red Sea, even till now! How strong is his arm to defend his people! In those days some of us have been driven to look to that power, for all other help has failed. You know how it was in the dark ages: it seemed as if the darkness of popery could never be removed; but how soon it was gone when God called forth his men to bear witness to his Son! What reason we have to rejoice that he "scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts"! They thought that they could readily burn up the heretics, and put an end to this gospel of theirs; but they could not do it. And to-day there is a dark conspiracy to stamp out the evangelical faith. First, on the part of some who go after their superstitions, set up the crucifix to hide the cross, and point men to sacraments instead of to the Savior. And then, worse than these, are those who undermine our faith in Holy Scripture, tear from the Book this chapter and that, deny this great truth and the other, and try to bring the inventions of man into the place that ought to be occupied by the truth of God. But the Lord liveth: Jehovah's arm hath not waxed short. Depend upon it, ere many years have passed, he will take up the quarrel of his covenant, and will bring the old banner to the front again. We shall yet rejoice to hear the gospel preached in plainest terms, accentuated by the Holy Ghost himself upon the hearts of his people. Let us touch this string again. The Almighty God is not dead. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear." IX. The next string is one that some friends do not like; at least, they do not say much about it: it is DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY. Listen to it. You know how God thunders it out. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." God's will is supreme. Whatever the wills of men may be, God will not be driven from the throne, nor will his scepter be made to quiver in his hands; after all the rebellious acts of men and devils, he will be still eternal and supreme, with his kingdom ruling over all. And thus the virgin sings, "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away." Who can speak the wonders of his sovereign grace? Was it not strange that he should ever have chosen you?
"What was there in you that could merit esteem, Or give the Creator delight? "'Twas even so, Father,' you ever must sing, Because it seem'd good in thy sight.'"
Is it not strange that the Lord should not take the Kings and mighty ones, but should so order it, that the poor have the gospel preached to them? God is King of kings, and Lord of lords; and he acts like a king. "He giveth not account of any of his matters." But he lets us see right clearly that he has no respect to the greatness and fancied goodness of man; that he does as he pleases; and that he pleases to give his mercy to them that fear him, and bow before him. He dispenses his favors to those who tremble at his presence, who come humbly to his foot, and take his mercy as a free gift; who look to his dear Son because they have nothing else to look to, and, as poor, guilty worms, find in Christ their life, their wisdom, their righteousness, their all. Oh, the splendor of this great King! X. The tenth string is GOD'S FAITHFULNESS. "He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever." God remembers what he has said. Take those three words, "As he spake." Whatever he said, though it be thousands of years ago, it stands fast for ever and ever. God cannot lie. Beloved, are any of you in trouble? Search the Scriptures till you find a promise that suits your case; and when you get it, do not say, "I hope that this is true." That is an insult to your God. Believe it, believe it up to the hilt. Do as I have seen boys do in the swimming-bath; take a header, and go right into the stream of God's mercy; dive as deeply as you can; there is no drowning there. These are "waters to swim in"; and the more you can lose yourself in this blessed crystal flood of promised mercy, the better it shall be. You shall rise up out of it as the sheep come from the washing; you shall feel refreshed beyond measure in having cast yourself upon God. When God's promises fail, let us know of it; for some of us have lived so long on those promises, that we do not care to live on anything else; and if they can be proved to be false, we had better give up living altogether. But we delight to know that they are all absolutely true: what God said to our fathers stands good to their children, and will stand good even to the end of time, and to all eternity. If any of you have not been able to touch even one of those strings, I would bid you get to your knees, and cry to God, and say, "Why is it that I cannot magnify thee, O Lord?" I should not be surprised if you discovered the reason to be that you are so big yourself. He never magnifies God who magnifies himself. Belittle yourself, and begreaten your God. Down with self to the lowest depths, and up, higher and still higher, with your thoughts of God. Poor sinner, you that have not yet laid hold on God, there is sweet music even for you in the virgin's song. Perhaps you are saying, "I am nothing but a lump of sin and a heap of misery." Very well; leave the lump of sin and the heap of misery, and let Christ be your all-in-all. Give yourself up to Christ. He is a Savior; let him do his own business. If a man sets up to be a lawyer, and I have a case in court, I should not think of giving him the case, and than afterwards go into court, and begin to meddle with it for myself. If I did, he would say, "I must drop the case if you do not let it alone." Sometimes the idea may come into your mind that you will do something towards saving yourself, and have some share in the glory of your salvation. If you do not get rid of that idea, you will be lost. Surrender yourself to Christ, and let him save you; and than afterwards he will work in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure, while you shall make melody in your heart unto the Lord, and from this harp of ten strings shall proceed such delightful melody that many shall listen with such rapture that they shall go to your Master, and take lessons in this heavenly music for themselves. The Lord bless you, beloved, and send you away happy in him! Amen.
The Tender Mercy of Our God
June 27th, 1886 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luke 1:77-79 .
Observe how Zacharias, in this his joyful song, extolled the remission of sins, as one of the most extraordinary proofs of the tender mercy of our God. He had been dumb for a season, as a chastisement for his unbelief; and therefore he used his recovered speech to sing of pardoning mercy. No salvation is possible without forgiveness, and so Zacharias says, "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins." The Lord could not forgive them on the ground of justice, and therefore he did so because of his tender mercy the tender mercy of our God, who has made himself "our God" by the covenant of grace. He passes by the transgression of his people because he delighteth in mercy. At the very outset, I want any soul here that is burdened with sin to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and to believe in it because God is love, and has a great tenderness towards the work of his hands. He is so pitiful that he loves not to condemn the guilty, but looks with anxious care upon them to see how he can turn away his wrath and restore them to favor. For this reason alone there is remission of sins. Forgiveness comes not to us through any merit of ours, present or foreseen; but only through the tender mercy of our God, and the marvellous visit of love which came of it. If he be gracious enough to forgive our sins, it can be done; for every arrangement is already made to accomplish it. The Lord is gracious enough for this for anything. Behold him in Christ Jesus, and there we see him as full of compassion. We sang just now, and sang most truly
"His heart is made of tenderness, His bowels melt with love."
The main point of this morning's sermon will be to bring out into prominence those few words, "the tender mercy of our God." To me they gleam with kindly light: I see in them a soft radiance, as of those matchless pearls whereof the gates of heaven are made. There is an exceeding melody to my ear as well as to my heart in that word "tender." "Mercy" is music, and "tender mercy" is the most exquisite form of it, especially to a broken heart. To one who is despondent and despairing, this word is life from the dead. A great sinner, much bruised by the lashes of conscience, will bend his ear this way, and cry, "Let me hear again the dulcet sound of these words, tender mercy." If you think of this tenderness in connection with God, it will strike you with wonder, for an instant, that one so great should be so tender; for we are apt to impute to Omnipotence a crushing energy, which can scarcely take account of little, and feeble, and suffering things. Yet if we think again, the surprise will disappear, and we shall see, with a new wonder of admiration, that it must be so. He that is truly great among men is tender because he is great in heart as well as in brain and hand. The truly great spirit is always gentle; and because God is so infinitely great, he is, therefore, tender. We read of his gentleness and of his tenderness towards the children of men; and we see them displayed to their full in the gospel of our salvation. Very conspicuous is this "tender mercy of our God." Now, the original word is, "The mercy of the heart of our God." The evangelists, though they wrote in Greek, carried with them into that language the idioms of the Hebrew tongue; so that they do not use an adjective, as it would seem from our translation "tender mercy;" but they say, mercy of the bowels, or of the inwards, or of the heart of God. "The mercy of the heart of God" is to be seen in the remission of sin, and in the visitation of his love when he comes to us as "the dayspring from on high." Great is the tenderness of divine mercy. But I call your attention to the original reading because it seems to me not only to mean tenderness, but much more. The mercy of the heart of God is, of course, the mercy of his great tenderness, the mercy of his infinite gentleness and consideration; but other thoughts also come forth from the expression, like bees from a hive. It means the mercy of God's very soul. The heart is the seat and center of life, and mercy is to God as his own life. "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God." God is love: not only is he loving, but he is love itself. Mercy is of the divine essence: there is no God apart from his heart, and mercy lies in the heart of God. He has bound up his mercy with his existence: as surely as God lives, he will grant remission of sins to those who turn unto him. Nor is this all the mercy of God's heart means his hearty mercy, his cordial delight in mercy. Remission of sins is a business into which the Lord throws his heart. He forgives with an intensity of will, and readiness of soul. God made heaven and earth with his fingers, but he gave his Son with his heart in order that he might save sinners. The Eternal God has thrown his whole soul into the business of redeeming men. If you desire to see God most Godlike, it is in the pardon of sin, and the saving of men. If you desire to read the character of God written out in capital letters, you must study the visitation of his love in the person of his dear Son, and all the wonderful works of infinite grace which spring therefrom. It is a grand sight to behold God in earnest when he says, "Now will I arise." With awe we watch him as he lays bare his arm: but this full energy of power is best seen when his work is grace. When he stirs up his strength to come and save us, and brings the essence of his being into intense action to bless us, we are favored indeed. It is this watching to do us good, this eagerness to bless us, which is meant by the mercy of his heart. It is not only tenderness, but intensity, heartiness, eagerness, delight, and concentration of power. All this is to be seen in the dealing of God with guilty men when he visits them to grant them the remission of their sins. Just as the leader of our psalmody sometimes sounds his tuning-fork at the commencement of our song, so have I done in these opening remarks. "Tender mercy" is the key-note of my discourse, I want you to keep it still in your ears. Whatever else of melody there may come from the text, yet this is to be the chief note: the tender, hearty, intense mercy of God, which he has shown to us. I. In the first place, I invite you to observe that he shows this tender mercy in that HE DEIGNS TO VISIT US. "Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us." Observe that God has not merely pitied us from a distance, and sent us relief by way of the ladder which Jacob saw, but he hath himself visited us. It needs no studied language to preach from this text, the expressions themselves are full of holy thought. A visit from God, what must it be! "Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" A visit from the Queen would be remembered by most of you all your lives: you would feel yourselves half ennobled. But a visit from God, what shall I say of it? that he should stoop to leave his high abode, and the majesty wherein he reigns, to visit insignificant beings like ourselves? This Bible is a letter from him, and we prize it beyond the finest gold; but an actual visit from God himself, what shall we say of such a favor? In what ways has the Lord shown his tender mercy in deigning to visit us? I answer, first, God's great visit to us is the incarnation of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Many visits of God to men had been paid before that read your Bibles, and see; but the most wonderful visit of all was when he came to tarry here, some thirty years and more, to work out our salvation. What but "tender mercy," hearty mercy, intense mercy, could bring the great God to visit us so closely that he actually assumed our nature? Kings may visit their subjects, but they do not think of taking upon themselves their poverty, sickness, or sorrow: they could not if they would, and would not if they could; this were more than we could expect from them. But our divine Lord, when he came hither, came into our flesh. He veiled his Godhead in a robe of our inferior clay. O children! the Lord so visited you as to become a babe, and then a child, who dwelt with his parents, and was subject unto them, and grew in stature, as you must do. O working men! the Lord so visited you as to become the carpenter's son, and to know all about your toil, and your weariness, ay, even to hunger and faintness. O sons of men! Jesus Christ has visited you so as to be tempted in all points like as you are, though without sin. He really assumed our nature, and thus paid to us a very close visit. He took our sickness, and bare our infirmities. This was a kind of visit such as none could have thought of granting save the infinitely tender and merciful God. The man is our next kinsman, a brother born for adversity; in all our affliction he is afflicted; he is tenderness itself. Remember that he not only took our nature, but he dwelt among us in this world of sin and sorrow. This great Prince entered our abode what if I call it this hut and hovel? wherein our poor humanity finds its home for a season. This little planet of ours was made to burn with a superior light among its sister stars while the Creator sojourned here in human form. He trod the acres of Samaria, and traversed the hills of Judea. "He went about doing good." He mingled among men with scarcely any reservation; being through his purity separate from sinners as to his character, yet he was the visitor of all men. He was found eating bread with a Pharisee, which perhaps is a more wonderful thing than when he received sinners, and ate with them. A fallen woman was not too far gone for him to sit on the kerb of the well, and talk to her; nor were any of the poor and ignorant too mean for him to care for them. He was bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, and his visit to us was therefore of the most intimate kind. He disdained no man's lowliness; he turned aside from no man's sin. But remember that he visited us not merely to look upon us, and to talk with us, and to teach us, and set us a high and divine example, which, as I have said, were incomparably gracious, if it went no further; but he so visited us that he went down into our condemnation, that he might deliver us from it. He was made a curse for us, as it is written, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." He took our debts upon him that he might pay them, minting his own heart to create the coinage. He gave himself for us, which is more than if I said, "he gave his blood and his life;" his own self he gave. So did he visit us that he took away with him our ill, and left all good behind. He did not come into our nature, and yet keep himself reserved from all the consequences of our sin; nor come into our world, and yet maintain a status superior to the usual denizens of it; but he came to be a man among men, and to bear all that train of woes which had fallen upon human nature through its departure from the ways of God. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, because the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all. Our Lord so visited us as to become our surety and our ransom. This was a wonderful piece of tender mercy indeed. I feel at this moment as if I could not talk about it, for it excels all conception and speech. Even if I were not full of pain, the subject would master me. If for the first time you had heard of the visit of the Incarnate God to this world, you would be struck with a wonder which would last throughout all eternity, that God himself should really condescend to such a deed as this. This is the heart of the gospel the incomparable fact of the incarnation of the Son of God, his dwelling upon the earth, and his presentation of himself as a sacrifice unto God. You need no flourish of words; do but hear the bare statement of the fact, and leap for joy because of it. Since God has visited us, not in form of vengeance, nor as a cherub with a flaming sword, but in the gentle person of that lowliest of the lowly, who said, "Suffer little children to come unto me," we are herein made to see the tender mercy of our God. Nothing could be more tender than the divine appearance of the Man of Sorrows. But I do not think we ought to insist upon this as the only visit of God's tender mercy, since the text is in the Revised Version rendered in the future: "The tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us." To this day we are visited of God in other respects, but with equal mercy. The proclamation of the gospel in a nation, or to any individual, is a visit of God's mercy. Whenever you come and hear the gospel, be you sure of this, whether you receive it or not, the kingdom of God has come nigh unto you. Even if you stop your ears, and will have none of it, yet God has visited you in tender mercy, in that by the gospel he tells you that there is a way of salvation, that there is a plan for the remission of sin. It is a monstrosity what if I say a miracle? of iniquity, that men having sinned, and God having done so much to work out a way of remission of those sins, men should refuse to accept God's pardoning love. Oh, my hearers, Why are you so besotted? Wherefore do you hate your own souls? Surely, the devils themselves would at the first have scarce believed it, that there could exist a race of creatures so hardened as to refuse the love which visits them in grace. This is what devils never did. Men sin not only against God, but against their own interest, when they turn aside from the wooings of disinterested goodness, and refuse salvation through him who loved us even to the death. That which God has so tenderly and heartily wrought out in the gift of his dear Son to die for us ought to be received with eagerness. Will not you receive it? My dear hearers, you shall not go out of this place this morning without knowing that God in great tender mercy hath visited you by the blessed fact of your having heard the good tidings of free grace. Jesus seeks you, will you not seek him? But, blessed be his name, he has visited some of us in a more remarkable manner still, for by the Holy Spirit he has entered into our hearts, and changed the current of our lives. He has turned our affections towards that which is right by enlightening our judgments. He has led us to the confession of sin, he has brought us to the acceptance of his mercy through the atoning blood; and so he has truly saved us. What a visit is this! This visit of the Holy Ghost, when he comes to dwell in us, is surpassingly condescending. I have often said that I never know which to admire most, the incarnation of the Son of God, or the indwelling of the Spirit of God. This last is a wonderful condescension, for the Holy Ghost does not take a pure body of his own, but he makes our bodies to be his temples; he dwells not only in one of these, but in tens of thousands; and that not only by the space of thirty years, but throughout the whole life of the believer. He dwelleth in us notwithstanding all our provocations and rebellions. Mark the word, not only with us, but in us, and that evermore. Oh, this tender mercy! Who can describe it? Sweet Spirit, gentle Spirit, how canst thou abide with me? O heavenly Dove, how canst thou find rest in such a soul as mine? Yet without thee we are undone, and therefore we adore the tender mercy which makes thee bear with us so long, and work in us so graciously till thou hast conformed us to the image of the Firstborn. We are melted by the love of the Spirit the communion of the Holy Spirit, by which the Lord hath visited us. Often and often, since our first visitation by the Lord, I trust we have had special visits from him, bringing with them rapturous joys, singular deliverances, and countless blessings. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." The Lord has visited us in the night: he has drawn nigh unto our spirit, and so he has preserved us. We have enjoyed near and dear communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. Have we not? This hath often happened when we have been in great trouble. When we were depressed in spirit, when we were burdened with unusual cares, or weeping over heart-breaking bereavements, the mercy of our God has made the dayspring from on high to visit us at just such times; and therein we have seen his tenderness. Our life is bright with these visits as the sky with stars. I cannot enlarge upon this charming theme, but I leave it to your thoughts, O you whose experience will be the best sermon on the text! The visits of God to his own children are proofs of the heartiness, the intensity, the tenderness of his mercy. Talk of it, ye who have had most enjoyment of such visits! II. I call your attention now to a second point. There is so much sea-room here that one scarce knows which way to steer. Secondly, he shows his tender mercy in that HE VISITS US AS THE DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH. This means the dawning in the east, the rising of the sun at break of day. He does not come to us in Christ, or by his Spirit, as a tempest, as when he came from Paran, with ten thousand of his holy ones, in all the pomp of his fiery law; but he has visited us as smiling morn, which in gentle glory floods the world with joy. While this gospel visitation is thus apparently less in splendor than that of the law, yet it is not deficient in efficacy or in true glory. God has not visited us as a candle, which might suffice to cheer our darkness but could not change it into day. David rejoiced, saying, "The Lord will light my candle;" but in this we go far beyond him: we need no candle, for the Lord has visited us with the day-dawn. He has come, moreover, not as a blaze which will soon die down, but as a light which will last our day, yea, last for ever. After the long dark and cold night of our misery, the Lord cometh in the fittest and most effectual manner; neither as lightning, nor candle, nor flaming meteor, but as the sun which begins the day. The visitation of the Lord to us is as the dayspring, because it suits our eye. Observe how the eye is suited to the light, and the light to the eye, in the economy of nature; and it is even so in the realm of grace. Day, when it first breaks in the east, has not the blaze of burning noon about it; but it peeps forth as a grey light, which gradually increases to the perfect day. So did the Lord Jesus Christ come: dimly as it were, at first, at Bethlehem, but by-and-by he will appear in all the glory of the Father. So doth the Spirit of God come to us in gradual progress. There is sweet suitableness in the grace of God to the heart, and in the renewed heart to the grace of God. He hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence. The revelation of God to each individual is made in form and manner tenderly agreeable to the condition and capacity of the favored one. I sometimes think the gospel was made exactly to meet my case. Do you not think the same of it yourselves? The morning light suits your eye as exactly as if there were no other creature to behold it; and so in divine tenderness the Lord has made his visits suitable to our sorrow, and even to our weakness. He shows us just so much of himself as to delight us without utterly overwhelming us with the excess of brightness. He might have come in the majesty of his grace to us at the first, as he does to us afterwards; but then we were not able to bear it, and so he forbore. We are now more ready to sup with him upon strong meat, and so he puts us upon men's fare; whereas before he gave us milk, which is more convenient for babes. All the visits of God to us are merciful, but in those of the dawn of grace we see tenderness as well as mercy. The visits of God are like the dayspring, because they end our darkness. The dayspring banishes the night. Without noise or effort, it removes the ebon blackness, and sows the earth with orient pearl. Night stretches her bat's wings, and is gone: she flies before the arrows of the advancing sun; and the coming of Jesus to us, when he does really come into our hearts, takes away the darkness of ignorance, sorrow, carelessness, fear, and despair. Our night is ended once for all when we behold God visiting us in Christ Jesus. Our day may cloud over, but night will not return. O, you that are in the blackest midnight, if you can but get a view of Christ, morning will have come to you! There is no light for you elsewhere, believe us in this; but if Jesus be seen by faith, you shall need no candles of human confidence, nor sparks of feelings and impressions: the beholding of Christ shall be the ending of all night for you. "They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed." I like to think of Christ as coming into the world as the morning light, because he comes with such a largeness of present blessing blessing immeasurable, unlimited. Some are always for measuring out Christ: they can never do without estimates of how much, and how far. Truly our Lord comes to save his elect, that I do verily believe; but hence certain friends would allot so many beams of light to so many eyes, and limit the light by the number of those who rejoice in it. Not so, beloved, Jesus is the light of the world; he comes from on high to shed light over the whole universe, even as the sun goeth forth from one end of heaven to the other, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. He appears as the light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world: there is no other light. Whosoever is willing to receive that light is free to do so: yea, he shines on blind eyes. This light comes even to those who hate it, and thus they are left without excuse: "the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not," and "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." When the Lord comes to men, his blessings are infinite. You might as well take your three feet rule, and begin to measure the length and breadth of the sunlight as measure the length and breadth of the tender mercy of our God in the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord visits us, it is as the dayspring, because he brings us hope of greater glory yet to come. The first coming of Christ has not at once manifested everything; the dayspring is not the noon; but it is the sure guarantee of it; and so is the First Advent the pledge of the glory to be revealed. The sun never rises in error to set upon a sudden: he rises to complete his course, as the strong man cometh out of his chamber to fulfill his race. When we receive a visit from the Lord, it may be in the way of rebuke, or of feeble hope; but let us be patient, for the dawn shall grow with constant increase of light, and there is no fear of its dying down into the old sinful darkness. "Sacred, high, eternal noon" is the destiny of all those whose eyes have beheld the Christ, so as to rejoice in his light. Now all this seems to me to be a wonderful instance of the tenderness of divine mercy. Think you not so? This coming of the Lord, and of his light, so gradually, and yet so lavishly; so fittingly, and yet so effectually; does it not fill you with gratitude? Every little bird rejoices in the rising of the sun: God has made that great orb to rise so graciously that not even a sparrow trembles at it, but chirps with confidence its happy praises. Not even a little flower trembles because the great sun is about to flood the heavens, but God hath so made the sun to rise that every tiny cup of every flower that blooms opens to drink in the golden light, and is refreshed thereby. The coming of Christ is just such to us, even to the least and feeblest of us. It is not a stupendous blessing, crushing us by its enormous weight; it is not a mysterious revelation, confounding us by its profundity; but it is simplicity itself, gentleness itself; none the less, but all the more grand and sublime because it is so simple and so tender. Let us bless God this morning, then, that he visits us, and that when he visits us, it is as the dayspring from on high. III. Thirdly, there is another instance of great tenderness in this, in that THE LORD VISITS US IN OUR VERY LOWEST ESTATE. Permit me to read the text to you "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins," from which it appears that God comes to visit us when we are in our sins. If the plan of salvation were that we were to get out of our sins, and then God would come to us, it might be full of mercy, but it would not be tender mercy. Let it never be forgotten that "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." I feel always at home when I get upon this blessed topic of the visits of God to undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving sinners. His saving visits spring from grace, pure grace, altogether unmixed with any merit or claim on our part. God comes to us as the morning, which does not wait for man, nor tarry for the sons of men. I cannot bear the spirit which I see spreading among us in reference to almsgiving. It should not be indiscriminate, but it should be bounteous. Many cry, "We shall give help only to the deserving." If God were to adopt that rule, where would you and I be? It has even been muttered in an undertone that, with regard to hospitals, no doubt they are used by persons who ought to provide for themselves, and so help to support struggling medical men. It may be so; but I like not the hard and niggardly spirit which suggests such criticisms. Talk not so; this is fit chatter for barbarians. Those who know the tender mercy of God will recollect that, when we ourselves had no good about us whatsoever, his tender mercy visited us, even as the sun ariseth upon the just and upon the unjust. He giveth with gladness to those who have no deservings of any kind. He will not mar the magnificence of his goodness by asking our pitiful pence of merit as a payment for it; but he giveth freely, according to the riches of his grace. As he makes his rain to water the fields of the miser and of the churl, as well as those of the kind and the generous, so doth he give his bounty to the worst of men. Let us learn this, and imitate it, for thus we shall know the tender mercy of God. To copy the divine example will be the surest method of coming to an understanding of it. Furthermore, our God visits us when we are in darkness; when we are in such darkness as to know nothing, see nothing, believe nothing, hope nothing; even then the Lord's mercy comes to us. Is not this tenderness? "Educate a man up to a certain point," says one, "and then we may hope that God's grace will visit him." Educate him by all means, but have hope that God may visit even those who have no education of any sort. "Follow the advance of civilization," cries one, "and do not risk your missionaries among barbarians." Not so; our marching orders are, "Preach the gospel to every creature." The gospel is to precede and produce civilization. To them that sit in darkness, the Lord is pleased to send the dayspring from on high. To send light where there is light is superfluous. Have we not a proverb about sending coals to Newcastle? God sendeth not grace to us because we have already something which may be viewed as prevenient and preparatory; but the prevenient and the preparatory are of his grace, and he comes in love to bring these with him, to those who as yet know nothing of his light and life. They are in the dark, and he creates their day. Did you notice that it is said "to those that sit in darkness?" This is more than being in the dark. The man who sits in darkness does so because he feels that his case is hopeless, and therefore he forbears all further action. A poor benighted traveler has wandered this way and that to find a track, but it is so dark that he cannot perceive his road; and so at last he embraces the rock for want of a shelter, crouching to the earth in despair. It is a part of the tender mercy of our God that he visits those who despond and are motionless in a dread inactivity. Those who have lost hope are lost indeed, and such the Savior has come to save. Then it is added, "and in the shadow of death." Did you ever feel that shadow? It has a horrible influence. Chill and cold, it freezes the marrow of the bones, and stops the genial current of life in the veins. Death stands over the man, and if his hand does not smite, yet his shadow darkens joy, and chills hope, benumbing the heart, and making life itself a mode of death. The shadow of death is confusion of mind, depression of spirit, dread of the unknown, horror at the past, and terror of the future. Are any of you at this time bowing down under the shadow of death? Has hell gaped wide, and opened her jaws for you? Have you in your despair made a league with death, and a covenant with hell? Thus saith the Lord, "Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand;" for the Lord has come forth, and visited you in the person of his dear Son to deliver the captive, and save those who are appointed unto death. Knowing your guilt, the Lord visits you this morning, and bids you look up. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Look and live; look, and be delivered at once, even from the horrible deathshadow which now broods over you. I do delight to think of this tender mercy of God to those who are lost. There are lost that shall be found, and last that shall be first. You seem forgotten of God, left out of the register of hope, but yet to you has Jesus come "to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Is not this tender mercy? If he had not come to shine on such I should never have been saved. A gospel for the cheerful would never have met my case; I wanted a gospel for the despairing. I know some here who must have perished if the gospel had only been suitable to those who are of good character, and have the beginnings of natural religion within them. Only a sinner's Savior would have suited some of you, or, indeed, any of us. As the good Samaritan did to the wounded man, "he came where he was," so did Jesus come to us in our ruin. The benefactor of the wounded did not stand and say to him, "Come here, and get on my beast, and he shall carry you to the inn." But he went to him when he was lying half dead, and therefore helpless; and he poured the oil and wine into his wounds while the poor wretch could not move an inch, nor stir hand or foot. He bound up his wounds, and then set him on his own beast, and took him to the inn. This is tender mercy; and in this fashion Jesus deals with us. He does everything for us from the very beginning. He is Alpha, even as he must be Omega. Does not this show the tender mercy of our God, that he does come to us in the darkness, and under the grim shadow of death, and there and then reveals his love to us? IV. Both time and strength fail me, so now I must finish with a fourth reflection from the text Our God shows his tender mercy in that HE VISITS US WITH SUCH WONDERFUL AND JOYFUL RESULTS "to give light to them that sit in darkness, to guide our feet into the way of peace." One sketch must suffice. Help me as I make an outline. Imagine a caravan in the desert, which has long lost its way, and is famishing. The sun has long gone down, and the darkness has caused every one's heart to droop. All around them is a waste of sand, and an Egyptian darkness. There they must remain and die unless they can find the track. They feel themselves to be in a fearful case, for, hungry and thirsty, their soul fainteth in them. They cannot even sleep for fear. Heavier and heavier the night comes down, and the damps are on the tents chilling the souls of the travelers. What is to be done? How they watch! Alas, no star comforts them! At last the watchmen cry, "The morning cometh." It breaks over the sea of sand, and, what is better, it reveals a heap which had been set up as a way-mark, and the travelers have found the track. The dayspring has saved them from swift destruction by discovering the way of peace. Our point is this, that when the Lord Jesus Christ visits us, he actually brings light to our darkness; really leads into the way, and makes that way a way of peace to us. Put all together, and remember what the Lord has done for you. You did not know the way once, and all the preaching in the world would not have made you know it, if Jesus had not by his Spirit visited you as the dayspring. When you did know the way, you could not reach it of yourself: you saw it as from a distance, and could not enter upon it, but when Jesus came near, he actually guided your feet into that way. He put your feet upon a rock, and established your goings. That way, good as it was, would have been to you a way of doubt, and fear, and hesitation, if the Lord had not so sweetly shone upon you that your road became a way of perfect peace. Peace in our text means prosperity, plenty, rest, joy. I ask you, friends, whether you have not found it so. Since the Lord has visited you, have you not gone forth with joy, and been led forth with peace? Well, now, the conclusion of all this is a practical matter. If the tender mercy of God has visited us, and done so much more for us than I can tell, or than you can hear, let us ourselves exhibit tender mercy in our dealings with our fellow-men. It is a wretched business for a man to call himself a Christian, and have a soul which never peeps out from between his own ribs. It is horrible to be living to be saved, living to get to heaven, living to enjoy religion, and yet never to live to bless others, and ease the misery of a moaning world. Do you not know that it is all nonsense to regard religion as a selfish spiritual trade by which we save our own souls? It is useless to hope for peace till you know how to love. Whence come wars and fightings but from a want of love? Unless your religion tears you away from yourself, and makes you live for something nobler than even your own spiritual good, you have not passed out of the darkness into the light of God. Only the way of unselfishness is the way of peace. I ask you, therefore, today to think very tenderly of all poor people. These are hard times; let those who have more than they actually want be ready always to relieve distress, which is very urgent just now. The call this morning is for liberal help to our hospitals. These are called in France "houses of God;" truly they are Godlike in their design. There is not a man here but may be in a hospital to-morrow. Do you reply that you are a wealthy man? Yet you may be run over in the street, or fall in a fit, and the hospital's door is open to you. It is not merely for the beggar, but for the noble, that this is a refuge. Many a time men of immense wealth have had to be carried to the hospital from injury inflicted by fire or water, accident, or sudden sickness. I appeal to your selfishness, and to your honor: pay your proportion towards a common protection. But I appeal to you on higher grounds. I forget just now how many thousands of cases of accident have gone into the hospital during the past year, but it is very surprising. They never ask who they are, or where they come from, but receive all the wounded. Every great accident involves a huge expense upon the hospital which is near the spot. This is not sufficiently thought of, or there would be special contributions on each sad occasion. Few consider how these noble institutions are supported. "Oh, the rich people give to them!" Alas, the rich people often forget them! "Oh, but these general collections will do the work!" No such thing! It is such a pitiful contribution which usually makes up a collection that the hospitals are little aided thereby. These institutions are left to run into debt, or spend their capital, or keep their beds empty. I could not too strongly put the case of hospitals just now. I have half wished that the Government would undertake them, only I am not sure that they would be so well conducted in that case as when they are left to private management by hearts that feel for men. Something must be done. We must give a great deal more; the collections ought to be at least twice as much in all our churches and chapels as they have ever been. If you were present when a man was run over, and you heard his bone break, you would put your hand into your pocket, or do anything else in your power to help him. I wish I could make you feel in the presence of such a calamity for a minute, so as to touch your hearts and your hands. Diseases are always abroad, and driving thousands to seek hospital help. I would like to take you down a ward, and cause you to listen to the stories told from half-a-dozen beds. What sickness! What poverty caused by sickness! What pains poor bodies are capable of enduring! Oh, come, let us help them! Let us give to the support of those who nurse them, and for the help of those who exercise their best skill for their relief. Who can withhold? By the tender mercy of our God, I charge you to give freely to this excellent cause. As the box goes round, remember that this is not the time for threepenny-pieces. You who are wealthy must write cheques or give notes, and you may send them to our treasurer if you prefer it. All must be generous for the sake of that tender mercy which is the dayspring of our hope and life.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter