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How to Read the Bible
by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Have ye not read?...Have ye not read?...If ye had known what this meaneth." Matthew 12:3-7 .
The Scribes and Pharisees were great readers of the law. They studied the sacred books continually, poring over each word and letter. They made notes of very little importance, but still very curious notes as to which was the middle verse of the entire old Testament, which verse was halfway to the middle, and how many times such a word occurred, and even how many times a letter occurred, and the size of the letter, and its peculiar position. They have left us a mass of wonderful notes upon the mere words of Holy Scripture. They might have done the same thing upon another book for that matter, and the information would have been about as important as the facts which they have so industriously collected concerning the letter of the old Testament. They were, however, intense readers of the law. They picked a quarrel with the Saviour upon a matter touching this law, for they carried it at their fingers' ends, and were ready to use it as a bird of prey does its talons to tear and rend. Our Lord's disciples had plucked some ears of corn, and rubbed them between their hands. According to Pharisaic interpretation, to rub an ear of corn is a kind of threshing, and, as it is very wrong to thresh on the Sabbath day, therefore it must be very wrong to rub out an ear or two of wheat when you are hungry on the Sabbath morning. That was their argument, and they came to the Saviour with it, and with their version of the Sabbath law. The Saviour generally carried the war into the enemy's camp, and he did so on this occasion. He met them on their own ground, and he said to them, "Have ye not read?" a cutting question to the scribes and Pharisees, though there is nothing apparently sharp about it. It was very a fair and proper question to put to them; but only think of putting it to them. "Have ye not read?" "Read!" they could have said, "Why, we have read the book through very many times. We are always reading it. No passage escapes our critical eyes." Yet our Lord proceeds to put the question a second time "Have ye not read?" as if they had not read after all, though they were the greatest readers of the law then living. He insinuates that they have not read at all; and then he gives them, incidentally, the reason why he had asked them whether they had read. He says, "If ye had known what this meaneth," as much as to say, "Ye have not read, because ye have not understood." Your eyes have gone over the words, and you have counted the letters, and you have marked the position of each verse and word, and you have said learned things about all the books, and yet you are not even readers of the sacred volume, for you have not acquired the true art of reading; you do not understand, and therefore you do not truly read it. You are mere skimmers and glancers at the Word: you have not read it, for you do not understand it. I. That is the subject of our present discourse, or, at least the first point of it, that IN ORDER TO THE TRUE READING OF THE SCRIPTURES THERE MUST BE AN UNDERSTANDING OF THEM. I scarcely need to preface these remarks by saying that we must read the Scriptures. You know how necessary it is that we should be fed upon the truth of Holy Scripture. Need I suggest the question as to whether you do read your Bibles or not? I am afraid that this is a magazine reading age a newspaper reading age a periodical reading age, but not so much a Bible reading age as it ought to be. In the old Puritanic times men used to have a scant supply of other literature, but they found a library enough in the one Book, the Bible. And how they did read the Bible! How little of Scripture there is in modern sermons compared with the sermons of those masters of theology, the Puritanic divines! Almost every sentence of theirs seems to cast side lights upon a text of Scripture; not only the one they are preaching about, but many others as well are set in a new light as the discourse proceeds. They introduce blended lights from other passages which are parallel or semi-parallel thereunto, and thus they educate their readers to compare spiritual things with spiritual. I would to God that we ministers kept more closely to the grand old Book. We should be instructive preachers if we did so, even if we were ignorant of "modern thought," and were not "abreast of the times." I warrant you we should be leagues ahead of our times if we kept closely to the Word of God. As for you, my brothers and sisters, who have not to preach, the best food for you is the Word of God itself. Sermons and books are well enough, but streams that run for a long distance above ground gradually gather for themselves somewhat of the soil through which they flow, and they lose the cool freshness with which they started from the spring head. Truth is sweetest where it breaks from the smitten Rock, for at its first gush it has lost none of its heavenliness and vitality. It is always best to drink at the well and not from the tank. You shall find that reading the Word of God for yourselves, reading it rather than notes upon it, is the surest way of growing m grace. Drink of the unadulterated milk of the Word of God, and not of the skim milk, or the milk and water of man's word. But, now, beloved, our point is that much apparent Bible reading is not Bible reading at all. The verses pass under the eye, and the sentences glide over the mind, but there is no true reading. An old preacher used to say, the Word has mighty free course among many nowadays, for it goes in at one of their ears and out at the other; so it seems to be with some readers they can read a very great deal, because they do not read anything. The eye glances but the mind never rests. The soul does not light upon the truth and stay there. It flits over the landscape as a bird might do, but it builds no nest there, and finds no rest for the sole of its foot. Such reading is not reading. Understanding the metering is the essence of true reading. Reading has a kernel to it, and the mere shed is little worth. In prayer there is such a thing as praying in prayer a praying that is in the bowels of the prayer. So in praise there is a praising in song, an inward fire of intense devotion which is the life of the hallelujah. It is so in fasting: there is a fasting which is not fasting, and there is an inward fasting, a fasting of the soul, which is the soul of fasting. It is even so with the reading of the Scriptures. There is an interior reading, a kernel reading a true and living reading of the Word. This is the soul of reading; and, if it be not there, the reading is a mechanical exercise, and profits nothing. Now, beloved, unless we understand what we read we have not read it; the heart of the reading is absent. We commonly condemn the Romanists for keeping the daily service in the Latin tongue; yet it might as well be in the Latin language as in any other tongue if it be not understood by the people. Some comfort themselves with the idea that they have done a good action when they have read a chapter, into the meaning of which they have not entered at all; but does not nature herself reject this as a mere superstition? If you had turned the book upside down, and spent the same times in looking at the characters in that direction, you would have gained as much good from it as you will in reading it in the regular way without understanding it. If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart. It is not the letter which saves the soul; the letter killeth m many senses, and never can it give life. If you harp on the letter alone you may be tempted to use it as a weapon against the truth, as the Pharisees did of old, and your knowledge of the letter may breed pride in you to your destruction. It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon's fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God's truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright. Certainly, the benefit of reading must come to the soul by the way of the understanding. When the high priest went into the holy place he always lit the golden candlestick before he kindled the incense upon the brazen altar, as if to show that the mind must have illumination before the affections can properly rise towards their divine object. There must be knowledge of God before there can be love to God: there must be a knowledge of divine things, as they are revealed, before there can be an enjoyment of them. We must try to make out, as far as our finite mind can grasp it, what God means by this and what he means by that; otherwise we may kiss the book and have no love to its contents, we may reverence the letter and yet really have no devotion towards the Lord who speaks to us in these words. Beloved, you will never get comfort to your soul out of what you do not understand, nor find guidance for your life out of what you do not comprehend; nor can any practical bearing upon your character come out of that which is not understood by you. Now, if we are thus to understand what we read or otherwise we read in vain, this shows us that when we come to the study of Holy Scripture we should try to have our mind well awake to it. We are not always fit, it seems to me, to read the Bible. At times it were well for us to stop before we open the volume. "Put off thy shoe from thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." You have just come in from careful thought and anxiety about your worldly business, and you cannot immediately take that book and enter into its heavenly mysteries. As you ask a blessing over your meat before you fall to, so it would be a good rule for you to ask a blessing on the word before you partake of its heavenly food. Pray the Lord to strengthen your eyes before you dare to look into the eternal light of Scripture. As the priests washed their feet at the laver before they went to their holy work, so it were well to wash the soul's eyes with which you look upon God's word, to wash even the fingers, if I may so speak the mental fingers with which you will turn from page to page that with a holy book you may deal after a holy fashion. Say to your soul "Come, soul, wake up: thou art not now about to read the newspaper; thou art not now perusing the pages of a human poet to be dazzled by his flashing poetry; thou art coming very near to God, who sits in the Word like a crowned monarch in his halls. Wake up, my glory; wake up, all that is within me. Though just now I may not be praising and glorifying God, I am about to consider that which should lead me so to do, and therefore it is an act of devotion. So be on the stir, my soul: be on the stir, and bow not sleepily before the awful throne of the Eternal." Scripture reading is our spiritual meal time. Sound the gong and call in every faculty to the Lord's own table to feast upon the precious meat which is now to be partaken of; or, rather, ring the church-bell as for worship, for the studying of the Holy Scripture ought to be as solemn a deed as when we lift the psalm upon the Sabbath day in the courts of the Lord's house. If these things be so, you will see at once, dear friends, that, if you are to understand what you read, you will need to meditate upon it. Some passages of Scripture lie clear before us blessed shallows in which the lambs may wade; but there are deeps in which our mind might rather drown herself than swim with pleasure, if she came there without caution. There are texts of Scripture which are made and constructed on purpose to make us think. By this means, among others, our heavenly Father won d educate us for heaven by making us think our way into divine mysteries. Hence he puts the word in a somewhat involved form to compel us to meditate upon it before we reach the sweetness of it. He might, you know, have explained it to us so that we might catch the thought in a minute, but he does not please to do so m every case. Many of the veils which are cast over Scripture are not meant to hide the meaning from the diligent but to compel the mind to be active, for oftentimes the diligence of the heart in seeking to know the divine mind does the heart more good than the knowledge itself. Meditation and careful thought exercise us and strengthen the son for the reception of the yet more lofty truths. I have heard that the mothers in the Balearic Isles, in the old times, who wanted to bring their boys up to be good slingers, would put their dinners up above them where they could not get at them until they threw a stone and fetched them down: our Lord wishes us to be good slingers, and he puts up some precious truth in a lofty place where we cannot get it down except by slinging at it; and, at last, we hit the mark and find food for our souls. Then have we the double benefit of learning the art of meditation and partaking of the sweet truth which it has brought within our reach. We must meditate, brothers. These grapes will yield no wine till we tread upon them. These olives must be put under the wheel, and pressed again and again, that the oil may flow therefrom. In a dish of nuts, you may know which nut has been eaten, because there is a little hole which the insect has punctured through the shell just a little hole, and then inside there is the living thing eating up the kernel. Well, it is a grand thing to bore through the shell of the letter, and then to live inside feeding upon the kernel. I would wish to be such a little worm as that, living within and upon the word of God, having bored my way through the shell, and having reached the innermost mystery of the blessed gospel. The word of God is always most precious to the man who most lives upon it. As I sat last year under a wide-spreading beech, I was pleased to mark with prying curiosity the singular habits of that most wonderful of trees, which seems to have an intelligence about it which other trees have not. I wondered and admired the beech, but I thought to myself, I do not think half as much of this beech tree as yonder squirrel does. I see him leap from bough to bough, and I feel sure that he dearly values the old beech tree, because he has his home somewhere inside it in a hollow place, these branches are his shelter, and those beech-nuts are his food. He lives upon the tree. It is his world, his playground, his granary, his home; indeed, it is everything to him, and it is not so to me, for I find my rest and food elsewhere. With God's word it is well for us to be like squirrels, living in it and living on it. Let us exercise our minds by leaping from bough to bough of it, find our rest and food in it, and make it our all in all. We shall be the people that get the profit out of it if we make it to be our food, our medicine, our treasury, our armour, our rest, our delight. May the Holy Ghost lead us to do this and make the Word thus precious to our souls. Beloved, I would next remind you that for this end we shall be compelled to pray. It is a grand thing to be driven to think, it is a grander thing to be driven to pray through having been made to think. Am I not addressing some of you who do not read the word of God, and am I not speaking to many more who do read it, but do not read it with the strong resolve that they will understand it? I know it must be so. Do you wish to begin to be true readers? Will you henceforth labour to understand? Then you must get to your knees. You must cry to God for direction. Who understands a book best? The author of it. If I want to ascertain the real meaning of a rather twisted sentence, and the author lives near me, and I can call upon him, I shall ring at his door and say, "Would you kindly tell me what you mean by that sentence? I have no doubt whatever that it is very dear, but I am such a simpleton, that I cannot make it out. I have not the knowledge and grasp of the subject which you possess, and therefore your allusions and descriptions are beyond my range of knowledge. It is quite within your range, and commonplace to you, but it is very difficult to me. Would you kindly explain your meaning to me?" A good man would be glad to be thus treated, and would think it no trouble to unravel his meaning to a candid enquirer. Thus I should be sure to get the correct meaning, for I should be going to the fountain head when I consulted the author himself. So, beloved, the Holy Spirit is with us, and when we take his book and begin to read, and want to know what it means, we must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the meaning. He will not work a miracle, but he will elevate our minds, and he will suggest to us thoughts which will lead us on by their natural relation, the one to the other, till at last we come to the pith and marrow of his divine instruction. Seek then very earnestly the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for if the very soul of reading be the understanding of what we read, then we must in prayer call upon the Holy Ghost to unlock the secret mysteries of the inspired word. If we thus ask the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, it will follow, dear friends, that we shall be ready to use all means arid helps towards the understanding of the Scriptures. When Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch whether he understood the prophecy of Isaiah he replied, "How can 1, unless some man should guide me?" Then Philip went up and opened to him the word of the Lord. Some, under the pretense of being taught of the Spirit of God refuse to be instructed by books or by living men. This is no honouring of the Spirit of God; it is a disrespect to him, for if he gives to some of his servants more light than to others and it is clear he does then they are bound to give that light to others, and to use it for the good of the church. But if the other part of the church refuse to receive that light, to what end did the Spirit of God give it? This would imply that there is a mistake somewhere in the economy of gifts and graces, which is managed by the Holy Spirit. It cannot be so. The Lord Jesus Christ pleases to give more knowledge of his word and more insight into it to some of his servants than to others, and it is ours joyfully to accept the knowledge which he gives in such ways as he chooses to give it. It would be most wicked of us to say, "We will not have the heavenly treasure which exists in earthen vessels. If God will give us the heavenly treasure out of his own hand, but not through the earthen vessel, we will have it; but we think we are too wise, too heavenly minded, too spiritual altogether to care for jewels when they are placed in earthen pots. We will not hear anybody, and we will not read anything except the book itself, neither will we accept any light, except that which comes in through a crack in our own roof. We will not see by another man's candle, we would sooner remain in the dark." Brethren, do not let us fall into such folly. Let the light come from God, and though a child shall bring it, we will joyfully accept it. If any one of his servants, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, shall have received light from him, behold, "all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's," and therefore accept of the light which God has kindled, and ask for grace that you may turn that light upon the word so that when you read it you may understand it. I do not wish to say much more about this, but I should like to push it home upon some of you. You have Bibles at home, I know; you would not like to be without Bibles, you would think you were heathens if you had no Bibles. You have them very neatly bound, and they are very fine looking volumes: not much thumbed, not much worn, and not likely to be so, for they only come out on Sundays for an airing, and they lie in lavender with the clean pocket handkerchiefs all the rest of the week. You do not read the word, you do not search it, and how can you expect to get the divine blessing? If the heavenly gold is not worth digging for you are not likely to discover it. often and often have I told you that the searching of the Scriptures is not the way of salvation. The Lord bath said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." But, still, the reading of the word often leads, like the hearing of it, to faith, and faith bringeth salvation; for faith cometh by hearing, and reading is a sort of hearing. While you are seeking to know what the gospel is, it may please God to bless your souls. But what poor reading some of you give to your Bibles. I do not want to say anything which is too severe because it is not strictly true let your own consciences speak, but still, I make bold to enquire, Do not many of you read the Bible m a very hurried way just a little bit, and off you go? Do you not soon forget what you have read, and lose what little effect it seemed to have? How few of you are resolved to get at its soul, its juice, its life, its essence, and to drink in its meaning. Well, if you do not do that, I tell you again your reading is miserable reading, dead reading, unprofitable reading; it is not reading at all, the name would be misapplied. May the blessed Spirit give you repentance touching this thing. II. But now, secondly, and very briefly, let us notice that IN READING WE OUGHT To SEEK OUT THE SPIRITUAL TEACHING OF THE WORD. I think that is in my text, because our Lord says, "Have ye not read?" Then, again, "Have ye not read?" and then he says, "If ye had known what this meaneth" and the meaning is something very spiritual. The text he quoted was, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" a text out of the prophet Hosea. Now, the scribes and Pharisees were all for the letter the sacrifice, the killing of the bullock, and so on. They overlooked the spiritual meaning of the passage, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" namely, that God prefers that we should care for our fellow-creatures rather than that we should observe any ceremonial of his law, so as to cause hunger or thirst and thereby death, to any of the creatures that his hands have made. They ought to have passed beyond the outward into the spiritual, and all our readings ought to do the same. Notice, that this should be the case when we read the historical passages. "Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shew-bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?" This was a piece of history, and they ought so to have read it as to have found spiritual instruction in it. I have heard very stupid people say, "Well, I do not care to read the historical parts of Scripture." Beloved friends, you do not know what you are talking about when you say so. I say to you now by experience that I have sometimes found even a greater depth of spirituality in the histories than I have in the Psalms. You will say, "How is that?" I assert that when you reach the inner and spiritual meaning of a history you are often surprised at the wondrous clearness the realistic force with which the teaching comes home to your soul. Some of the most marvelous mysteries of revelation are better understood by being set before our eyes in the histories than they are by the verbal declaration of them. When we have the statement to explain the illustration, the illustration expands and vivifies the statement. For instance, when our Lord himself would explain to us what faith was, he sent us to the history of the brazen serpent; and who that has ever read the story of the brazen serpent has not felt that he has had a better idea of faith through the picture of the dying snake-bitten persons looking to the serpent of brass and living, than from any description which even Paul has given us, wondrously as he defines and describes. Never, I pray you, depreciate the historical portions of God's word, but when you cannot get good out of them, say, "That is my foolish head and my slow heart. o Lord, be pleased to clear by brain and cleanse my soul." When he answers that prayer you will feel that every portion of God's word is given by inspiration, and is and must be profitable to you. Cry, "open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Just the same thing is true with regard to all the ceremonial precepts, because the Saviour goes on to say, "Have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?" There is not a single precept in the old law but has an inner sense and meaning; therefore do not turn away from Leviticus, or say, "I cannot read these chapters in the books of Exodus and Numbers. They are all about the tribes and their standards, the stations in the wilderness and the halts of the march, the tabernacle and furniture, or about golden knops and bowls, and boards, and sockets, and precious stones, and blue and scarlet and fine linen." No, but look for the inner meaning. Make thorough search; for as in a king's treasure that which is the most closely locked up and the hardest to come at is the choicest jewel of the treasure, so is it with the Holy Scriptures. Did you ever go to the British Museum Library? There are many books of reference there which the reader is allowed to take down when he pleases. There are other books for which he must write a ticket, and he cannot get them without the ticket; but they have certain choice books which you will not see without a special order, and then there is an unlocking of doors, and an opening of cases, and there is a watcher with you while you make your inspection. You are scarcely allowed to put your eye on the manuscript, for fear you should blot a letter out by glancing at it; it is such a precious treasure; there is not another copy of it in all the world, and so you cannot get at it easily. Just so, there are choice and precious doctrines of God's word which are locked up in such cases as Leviticus or Solomon's Song, and you cannot get at them without a deal of unlocking of doors and the Holy Spirit himself must be with you, or else you will never come at the priceless treasure. The higher truths are as choicely hidden away as the precious regalia of princes; therefore search as well as read. Do not be satisfied with a ceremonial precept till you reach its spiritual meaning, for that is true reading. You have not read till you understand the spirit of the matter. It is just the same with the doctrinal statements of God's word. I have sorrowfully observed some persons who are very orthodox, and who can repeat their creed very glibly, and yet the principal use that they make of their orthodoxy is to sit and watch the preacher with the view o framing a charge against him. He has uttered a single sentence which is judged to be half a hair's breadth below the standard! "That man is not sound. He said some good things, but he is rotten at the core, I am certain. He used an expression which was not eighteen ounces to the pound." Sixteen ounces to the pound are not enough for these dear brethren of whom I speak, they must have something more and over and above the shekel of the sanctuary. Their knowledge is used as a microscope to magnify trifling differences. I hesitate not to say that I have come across persons who
"Could a hair divide Betwixt the west and north-west side,"
in matters of divinity, but who know nothing about the things of God in their real meaning. They have never drank them into their souls, but only sucked them up into their mouths to spit them out on others. The doctrine of election is one thing, but to know that God has predestinated you, and to have the fruit of it m the good works to which you are ordained, is quite another thing. To talk about the love of Christ, to talk about the heaven that is provided for his people, and such things all this is very well; but this may be done without any personal acquaintance with them. Therefore, beloved, never be satisfied with a sound creed, but desire to have it graven on the tablets of your heart. The doctrines of grace are good, but the grace of the doctrines is better still. See that you have it, and be not content with the idea that you are instructed until you so understand the doctrine that you have felt its spiritual power. This makes us feel that, in order to come to this, we shall need to feel Jesus present with us whenever we read the word. Mark that fifth verse, which I would now bring before you as part of my text which I have hitherto left out. "Have ye not read in the law, how on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple." Ay, they thought much about the letter of the Word, but they did not know that he was there who is the Sabbath's Master man's Lord and the Sabbath's Lord, and Lord of everything. oh, when you have got hold of a creed, or of an ordinance, or anything that is outward in the letter, pray the Lord to make you feel that there is something greater than the printed book, and something better than the mere shell of the creed. There is one person greater than they all, and to him we should cry that he may be ever with us. o living Christ, make this a living word to me. Thy word is life, but not without the Holy Spirit. I may know this book of thine from beginning to end, and repeat it all from Genesis to Revelation, and yet it may be a dead book, and I may be a dead soul. But, Lord, be present here; then will I look up from the book to the Lord; from the precept to him who fulfilled it; from the law to him who honoured it; from the threatening to him who has borne it for me, and from the promise to him in whom it is "Yea and amen." Ah, then we shall read the book so differently. He is here with me in this chamber of mine: I must not trifle. He leans over me, he puts his finger along the lines, I can see his pierced hand: I will read it as in his presence. I will read it, knowing that he is the substance of it, that he is the proof of this book as well as the writer of it; the sum of this Scripture as well as the author of it. That is the way for true students to become wise! You will get at the soul of Scripture when you can keep Jesus with you while you are reading. Did you never hear a sermon as to which you felt that if Jesus had come into that pulpit while the man was making his oration, he would have said, "Go down, go down; what business have you here? I sent you to preach about me, and you preach about a dozen other things. Go home and learn of me, and then come and talk." That sermon which does not lead to Christ, or of which Jesus Christ is not the top and the bottom, is a sort of sermon that will make the devils in hell to laugh, but might make the angel of God to weep, if they were capable of such emotion. You remember the story I told you of the Welshman who heard a young man preach a very fine sermon a grand sermon, a highfaluting, spread-eagle sermon; and when he had done, he asked the Welshman what he thought of it. The man replied that he did not think anything of it. "And why not?" "Because there was no Jesus Christ in it." "Well," said he, "but my text did not seem to run that way." "Never mind," said the Welshman, "your sermon ought to run that way." "I do not see that, however," said the young man. "No," said the other, "you do not see how to preach yet. This is the way to preach. From every little village in England it does not matter where it is there is sure to be a road to London. Though there may not be a road to certain other places, there is certain to be a road to London. Now, from every text in the Bible there is a road to Jesus Christ, and the way to preach is just to say, 'How can I get from this text to Jesus Christ?' and then go preaching all the way along it." "Well, but," said the young man, "suppose I find a text that has not got a road to Jesus Christ." "I have preached for forty years," said the old man, "and I have never found such a Scripture, but if I ever do find one I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get to him, for I will never finish without bringing in my Master." Perhaps you will think that I have gone a little over hedge and ditch to-night, but I am persuaded that I have not for the sixth verse comes in here, and brings our Lord in most sweetly, setting him in the very forefront of you Bible readers, so that you must not think of reading without feeling that he is there who is Lord and Master of everything that you are reading, and who shall make these things precious to you if you realize him in them. If you do not find Jesus in the Scriptures they will be of small service to you, for what did our Lord himself say? "Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, but ye will not come unto me that ye might have life"; and therefore your searching comes to nothing; you find no life, and remain dead in your sins. May it not be so with us? III. Lastly, SUCH A READING OF SCRIPTURE, as implies the understanding of and the entrance into its spiritual meaning, and the discovery of the divine Person who is the spiritual meaning, IS PROFITABLE, for here our Lord says, "If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. It will save us from making a great many mistakes if we get to understand the word of God, and among other good things we shall not condemn the guiltless. I have no time to enlarge upon these benefits, but I will just say, putting all together, that the diligent reading of the word of God with the strong resolve to get at its meaning often begets spiritual life. We are begotten by the word of God: it is the instrumental means of regeneration. Therefore love your Bibles. Keep close to your Bibles. You seeking sinners, you who are seeking the Lord, your first business is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; but while you are yet in darkness and in gloom, oh love your Bibles and search them! Take them to bed with you, and when you wake up in the morning, if it is too early to go downstairs and disturb the house, get half-an-hour of reading upstairs. Say, "Lord, guide me to that text which shall bless me. Help me to understand how I, a poor sinner, can be reconciled to thee." I recollect how, when I was seeking the Lord, I went to my Bible and to Baxter's "Call to the Unconverted," and to Alleine's "Alarm," and Doddridge's "Rise and Progress," for I said in myself, "I am afraid that I shall be lost but I will know the reason why. I am afraid I never shall find Christ but it shall not be for want of looking for him." That fear used to haunt me, but I said, "I will find him if he is to be found. I will read. I will think." There was never a soul that did sincerely seek for Jesus in the word but by-and-by he stumbled on the precious truth that Christ was near at hand and did not want any looking for; that he was really there, only they, poor blind creatures, were in such a maze that they could not just then see him. Oh, cling you to Scripture. Scripture is not Christ, but it is the silken clue which will lead you to him. Follow its leadings faithfully. When you have received regeneration and a new life, keep on reading, because it will comfort you. You will see more of what the Lord has done for you. You will learn that you are redeemed, adopted, saved, sanctified. Half the errors in the world spring from people not reading their Bibles. Would anybody think that the Lord would leave any one of his dear children to perish, if he read such a text as this, "I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand"? When I read that, I am sure of the final perseverance of the saints. Read, then, the word and it will be much for your comfort. It will be for your nourishment, too. It is your food as well as your life. Search it and you will grow strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. It will be for your guidance also. I am sure those go rightest who keep closest to the book. Oftentimes when you do not know what to do, you will see a text leaping up out of the book, and saying, "Follow me." I have seen a promise sometimes blaze out before my eyes, just as when an illuminated device flames forth upon a public building. One touch of flame and a sentence or a design flashes out in gas. I have seen a text of Scripture flame forth in that way to my soul; I have known that it was God's word to me, and I have gone on my way rejoicing. And, oh, you will get a thousand helps out of that wondrous book if you do but read it; for, understanding the words more, you will prize it more, and, as you get older, the book will grow with your growth, and turn out to be a greybeard's manual of devotion just as it was aforetime a child's sweet story book. Yes, it will always be a new book just as new a Bible as it was printed yesterday, and nobody had ever seen a word of it till now; and yet it will be a deal more precious for all the memories which cluster round it. As we turn over its pages how sweetly do we recollect passages in our history which will never be forgotten to all eternity, but will stand for ever intertwined with gracious promises. Beloved, the Lord teach us to read his book of life which he has opened before us here below, so that we may read our titles clear in that other book of love which we have not seen as yet, but which will be opened at the last great day. The Lord be with you, and bless you.
One Greater Than the Temple
January 23, 1876 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"But I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple." Matthew 12:6 .
Our Lord intended, of course, to assert that he himself was greater than the temple, but he used the most modest form of putting it. When in the interests of truth he is obliged to speak of himself his meekness and lowliness are always apparent in the mode in which he makes the personal allusion, and every one can see that he does not seek his own glory, or desire the praise of man. In the instance before us he says, "In this place is one," or, as some read it, "is something greater than the temple." He who is truly meek and lowly is not afraid to speak the truth about himself, for he has no jealousy about his reputation for humility, and is quite willing to be thought proud by the ungenerous, for he knows that he only speaks of himself in order to glorify God or promote truth. There is a native peculiarity in true lowliness which shows itself in the very form of its utterances, and wards off the imputation of boasting. We do not find the passage now before us in any other gospel but that of Matthew. It is so important, so sententious, and withal must have been so startling to those who heard it, that we should not have been astonished if we had found it in all the four evangelists. Only Matthew records it, and he most fittingly, since he is in some respects the evangelist of the Hebrews; for, as you know, he began his book by saying, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham," and he evidently adapted his gospel to the Jews. As the Jews would be the last to receive teaching which in any way lowered the temple, it is all the more remarkable that Matthew inserted our Lord's words in the gospel which he designed to be read by them. But, though the words occur but once, we must not, therefore, regard them as being any the less weighty, for the sentence comes with a preface which shows the force our Lord intends to throw into it. The declaration is prefaced by "I say unto you." Here is the authority before which we all bow Jesus says it. He does not merely proclaim the truth, but he sets his personal stamp and royal seal upon it. "I say unto you" I who cannot lie, who speak the things which I have received of my Father, upon whom the Spirit of God rests without measure, I say unto you. He speaks as one having authority, and not as the scribes; with a verily, verily of certainty he teaches, and therefore let us unquestionably accept his declaration, "I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple." Let us now meditate upon this truth, first observing the fact that our Lord is greater than the temple; secondly, remarking that he ought to be so regarded; and, thirdly, suggesting and urging home some few reflections which arise out of the subject. I. First, then, OUR LORD JESUS IS GREATER THAN THE TEMPLE.
He is so manifestly because he is God, "God over all, blessed for ever." He who dwells in the house is greater than the house in which he dwells, so that as God our Lord Jesus is greater than the temple. It needs no arguing that it must be so: the divine must be infinitely greater than anything which is of human workmanship; the self-existent must infinitely excel the noblest of created things. The temple was many years in building. Its huge stones were quarried with enormous labor and its cedar beams were shaped and carved with matchless skill; and though no hammer or tool of iron was used upon the spot, yet by the strength of men were the huge stones laid each one in its place. It stood upon Zion a thing of beauty and a joy for ever, but still a work of men's hands, a creation of human strength and human wisdom. Not thus is it with the Christ of God. Of him we may truly say, "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God." "And Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands." The temple being created, and having a beginning was a thing of time, and therefore had an end. The things which are seen, whether they be temples or taverns, are temporal, and must pass away. In due time the firebrand in the hand of the Roman soldier reduces to ashes a building which seemed as lasting as the rock upon which it stood. Go ye now to the place where once Zion stood, and mark well how the glory is departed, even as it departed from Shiloh of old. Deep down in the earth the base of the mighty arch which formed the ascent to the house of the Lord has been uncovered from the mountain of ruins, but scarce else will you find one stone left upon another which has not been thrown down. Though these masses of marble were so huge that it is an ordinary circumstance to find a stone twenty-four feet in length and nine feet in breadth, and sometimes they are even found forty feet in length, weighing as much as one hundred tons, yet have they been flung from the seats as stones are cast upon the king's highway. Thus has the temple disappeared, and thus shall all creation pass away, but thou O Lord abidest". "They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail." The temple was no rival of Jehovah, but derived all its glory from his deigning to reveal himself therein. "Exceeding magnifical" as it was, it was far below the divine greatness, and only worthy to be called his footstool. If we were to dwell on any one of the attributes of his Godhead, it would be more and more clear that Christ is greater than the temple, but the point is one which none of us doubt. After all, the temple was but a symbol, and Jesus is the substance; it was but the shadow of which he is the reality. Albeit that every Hebrew heart leaped for joy when it thought of the tabernacles of the Lord of Hosts, and that this day every Jewish spirit laments the departed glories of Zion, yet was the holy and beautiful house a figure of good things to come, and not the very image of the covenant blessings. It was not essential to the world's well being, for lo! its disappearance has brought light and life to the Gentiles. It is not needful to true religion now, for the time is come when they that worship Jehovah adore him in no consecrated shrines, but worship him in spirit and in truth. But our Lord Jesus is truth and substance. He is essential to our light and life, and could he be taken from us earth's hope would be quenched for ever. Emmanuel, God with us, thou art greater than the temple! This fact it was necessary for our Lord to mention, in order to justify his disciples in having rubbed ears of corn together to eat on the Sabbath day. He said, "the priests in the sanctuary profane the Sabbath, and are blameless." They were engaged in the labors of sacrifice, and service all through the Sabbath-day, yet nobody accused them of breaking the law of the Sabbath. Why? Because the authority of the temple exempted its servants from the letter of the law. "But," saith our Lord, "I am greater than the temple, therefore, surely I have power to allow my servants who are about my business to refresh themselves with food now that they are hungry, and since I have given them my sanction to exercise the little labor involved in rubbing out a few grains of wheat, they are beyond all censure. If the sanction of the temple allows the greater labor, much more shall the sanction of one who is greater than the temple allow the less. As the Son of God, Christ is under no law. As man he has kept the law, and honored it for our sakes, because he stood as our surety and our substitute; but he himself in the essence of his nature is the law maker, and above all law. Who shall arraign the eternal Son, and call the Judge of all the earth to account? "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker. Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth." But now we must pass on to other meanings, and view our Lord in his blessed personality as the Son of man as well as the Son of God. He is greater than the temple, for he is a more glorious enshrinement of Deity. The temple was great above all buildings because it was the house of God, but it was only so in a measure, for the Eternal is not to be contained within walls and curtains. "Howbeit," says Stephen, "the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?" How remarkably Stephen does, as it were, pass over the temple with a mere word; he merely mentions it in a sentence, "But Solomon built him a house," as if no stress needed to be laid upon the circumstance. It is remarkable that from the moment the temple was built true religion in Israel began to decline, and the abominable shrines of heathen idols were set up in the holy land. The glory of even an allowed ritualism is fatal to spiritual religion. From a pompous worship of the true to the worship of the false the step is very easy. When God dwelt in the tent, in the days of David, religion nourished far better than in the days when the ark abode in a great house garnished with precious stones for beauty, and overlaid with pure gold. Still within the holy of holies the Lord peculiarly revealed himself, and at the one temple upon Zion sacrifices and offerings were presented, for God was there. The presence of God, as you know, in the temple and the tabernacle was known by the shining of the bright light called the Shekinah between the wings of the cherubim over the ark of the covenant. We often forget that the presence of God in the most holy place was a matter of faith to all but the high priest. Once in the year the high priest went within the awful veil, but we do not know that even he ever dared to look upon the blaze of splendor. God dwelleth in light that no man may approach unto. The smoke of the incense from the priest's censer was needed partly to veil the exceeding glory of the divine presence, lest even those chosen eyes should suffer blindness. No one else went into the hallowed shrine, and only he once in the year. That symbolical pavilion of Jehovah is not for a moment to be compared with our Lord Jesus, who is the true dwelling-place of the Godhead, for "in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." What a masterly sentence that is! None but the Holy Ghost could surely have compacted words into such a sentence, "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." The manifestation of the Godhead in Christ is not unapproachable, for we may freely come to Jesus: a voice out of the excellent glory bids us come boldly unto the throne of the heavenly grace. We cannot come too often, nor be too long in our approaches unto Jesus, the true mercy-seat. The atonement has been offered, and the veil of the temple, that is to say, the flesh of Christ, has been rent, and now we may approach the Godhead in Christ Jesus without trembling. Verily, as I think of God, incarnate God in Jesus Christ, and dwelling among the sons of men, I feel how true it is, "In this place is one greater than the temple." Another sense of the words is this Our Lord is a fuller revelation of truth than the temple ever was. The temple taught a thousand truths of which we cannot now speak particularly. To the instructed Israelite there was a wealth of meaning about each court of the temple, and every one of its golden vessels. Not a ceremony was without its measure of instruction. If the Spirit of God opened up the types of the holy and beautiful house to him, the Israelite must have had a very clear intimation of the good things to come. Still there was nothing in the temple but the type: the substance was not there. The blood of bulls and goats was there, but not the atonement that taketh away sin. The smoke of the holy incense from the golden censor was there, but not the sweet merits of the great law-fulfiller. The seven-branched candlestick was there, but the Spirit of God was not yet given. The shewbread stood on the holy table, but food for souls could not be found in the finest of the wheat. The temple had but the types; and Christ is greater than the temple because in him we have the realities, or, as Paul calls them, "the very image of the things." "The figure for the time then present" had its uses, but it is by no means comparable to the actual covenant blessing. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. There were some truths, however, and these among the most precious, which the temple did not teach at all. I do not know, for instance, where we can read adoption in the symbols of the temple, or the great truth of our union with Jesus, and other priceless doctrines which cluster around the cross and the resurrection; but in the person of Jesus we read the exceeding riches of divine grace, and see by faith the inexhaustible treasures of the covenant. In Jesus we see at once "our Kinsman and our God." In the person of Christ we read the infinite eternal love of God towards his own redeemed ones, and the intimate intercourse which this love has established between God and man. Glimpses of this the temple may perhaps have given, for it did intimate that the Lord would dwell among his people, but only to eyes anointed seven times with the eye salve would these high mysterious doctrines have been visible. The fundamental truths of the everlasting gospel are all to be seen in Jesus Christ by the wayfaring man, and the more he is studied the more plainly do these matchless truths shine forth. God has fully revealed himself in his Son. There is in fact no wisdom needful to our soul's welfare but that which shines forth in him, and nothing worth the learning but that which the Spirit of God teaches us concerning him, for he is to the full "the wisdom of God." Know Christ and you know the Father. Does he not himself say, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father"? Again, the Redeemer is greater than the temple, because he is a more abiding evidence of divine favor. God for ever dwells in Christ Jesus, and this is the eternal sign of his favor to his people. There were some things in the first temple which were rich tokens of good to Israel, but none of these were in the temple to which our Lord pointed when he uttered these words. Remember, he looked at Herod's temple, the temple which you may call the second, but which in some respects was more truly a third temple. In Solomon's temple there were four precious things which were absent in Christ's day. First there was the ark of the covenant, which precious chest was above all other things the token of Israel's high relationship to God, and the assurance of the Lord's grace to his covenanted people. The ark was lost at the Babylonian destruction of the city, and thus the Holy of Holies lost its most sacred piece of furniture: the throne of the great King was gone. There were no wings of cherubim above the mercy-seat of pure gold, no tables of stone engraved by the divine hand were within the golden coffer, and Aaron's rod that budded and the pot of manna were both gone. Now, in our blessed Lord you find the covenant itself and all that it contains, for thus saith the Lord, "Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people." His blood is "the blood of the everlasting covenant," and he himself is given for "a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles," (Isaiah 42:6 .). Jesus Christ is the covenant between God and his redeemed, he is its substance, its seal, its surety, its messenger, its all. In our Lord we see the fullness of covenanted blessing. His are the covering wings beneath which we dwell in safety; and his is the propitiatory, or mercy-seat, whereby we draw near to God. In him we see the tables of the law honored and fulfilled, priestly authority exercised with a living and fruit-bearing scepter, and heavenly food laid up for the chosen people. It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell, and all the promises are yea and amen in him. Thus in Jesus we find what the temple had lost. The second temple also lacked the Shekinah. The throne being gone, the symbol of the royal presence departed too. The supernatural light did not shine forth within the holy place in Herod's temple. The glory had departed, or at least that particular form of it, and though the second temple became more glorious than the first because the Messiah himself appeared within it, yet it missed that symbolic splendor of which the Israelite was wont to say, "Thou that dwellest between the cherubim shine forth." But in our Lord Jesus we may always see the brightness of the Father's glory, the light of Jehovah's smile. Around his brow abides the light of everlasting love. Have you not seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? They had lost also from the second temple the Urim and the Thummim. Precisely what the Urim and the Thummim may have been we do not know, but this peculiar mystery of blessing had a connection with the breastplate and with the high priest who wore it, so that when men went up to the temple to inquire, they received answers as from the sacred oracle, and whatsoever cases were spread before the Lord, an answer was given by the high priest, through the lights and perfections, or the Urim and Thummim with which the priest was girded. That was lost also after the Babylonian captivity. But in Jesus Christ the lights and perfection always abide, and if any man would know anything, let him learn of him, for he by the Eternal Spirit still guides his children into all truth, solves their difficulties, removes their doubts, and comforts their hearts, giving to them still light and perfection, each one according to their measure as he is able to bear it now, and preparing for each one the unclouded light and the spotless perfection of eternal glory. The second temple had also lost the sacred fire. You remember when the temple was opened the fire came down and consumed the sacrifice, a fire from heaven, which fire was carefully watched both night and day, and always fed with the prescribed fuel, if indeed it needed to be fed at all. This the Jews had no longer, and they were compelled to use other fire to burn upon the altar of God, fire which they had probably consecrated by rites and ceremonies, but which was not the same flame which had actually descended from heaven. Behold, beloved, how far our Lord Jesus is greater than the temple, for this day is that word fulfilled in your ears "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." He has given to his church now to be immersed in the fiery element of his Spirit. She dwells in the everlasting burnings of the divine power, the Lord himself has exalted her to this. Now are her lamps kindled by flame from heaven and her sacrifices are consumed by consecrated flames, while, around, that same Spirit is a wall of fire to preserve the chosen from their enemies. In the perpetual baptism of the Holy Ghost the saints find power and life. So that everything which of old was regarded as a special token of God's love to Israel, though missing from the second temple, is in reality to be found in Jesus Christ our Lord, and so he is greater than the temple. Furthermore, he is greater than the temple, because he is a more sure place of consolation. Brethren, when a guilty conscience wished for relief the man in the olden times went up to the temple and presented his sin offering; but you and I find a more effectual sin offering in our crucified Lord whenever our soul is burdened, for by it we are in very deed cleansed from sin. The Jew was not really cleansed, but only typically; ours is an actual and abiding deliverance from sin, its guilt, and its defilement. We have no more consciousness of it when the blood of Jesus Christ is applied to our souls. Oh, come ye evermore, ye burdened ones, to Christ's body as to a temple, and see your sin put away by his finished atonement, and then go your way comforted. The Israelites were wont to go to the temple in time of trouble to make supplication: it is very pleasant to think of heart-broken Hannah standing in the tabernacle before the Lord pouring out her silent complaint. Come, beloved, you too may speak in your heart unto the Lord whenever you will, and you will be heard. No Eli is near to judge you harshly and rebuke you sharply, but a better priest is at hand to sympathise with you, for he himself is touched with a feeling of our infirmity. Fear not, you shall obtain an answer of peace, and the blessing given shall bear the sweet name of Samuel, because you asked it of the Lord. To Jesus you may come as to the temple, when like Hezekiah you are made to smart by a blasphemous letter, or any other oppression: here you may spread the matter before the Lord with a certainty that the Lord, who is greater than the temple, will give you an answer of peace in reference to the trial which you leave in his hands. No doubt some went to the temple without faith in the spiritual part of the matter, and so came away unconsoled; but you, coming to Jesus Christ, with your spirit taught of God, shall find sure consolation in him. Only once more, our Lord is greater than the temple because he is a more glorious center of worship. Towards the temple all the Israelites prayed. Daniel prayed with his window opened towards Jerusalem, and the scattered in every land turned towards that point of the compass where Jerusalem was situated, and so they made supplication. To-day not Jews alone but Gentiles, men of every race, speaking every language under heaven, turn towards thee, "thou great Redeemer," the true temple of the living God. Myriads redeemed by blood in heaven, and multitudes redeemed by blood on earth, all make the Christ of God the center of their perpetual adoration. The day shall come when all kings shall bow before him, and all nations shall call him blessed. To him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that he is God to the glory of God the Father. Brethren, is not it sweet to think of Jesus as being at this very moment the central point to which all devout believers turn their eyes? Let the Mohammedan have his Keblah, and the Jew his temple, as for us we turn our eyes to the risen Savior, and with all the saints we offer prayer to God through him. Through him both Jews and Gentiles have access by one Spirit unto the Father. II. Now, secondly, and briefly, JESUS OUGHT TO BE REGARDED AS GREATER THAN THE TEMPLE. We ought to think of him then with greater joy than even the Jew did of the holy and beautiful house. The eighty-fourth Psalm shows us how the king of Israel loved the house of the Lord. He cries, "How amiable are thy tabernacles O Lord of hosts." But oh, my soul, how amiable is Christ! How altogether lovely is thy Redeemer and thy God. If the devout Israelite could say, "I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord," and if at the sight of the temple he cried, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion," how ought our heart to exult at the very thought of Jesus, our incarnate God! What intense pleasure, what rapture it ought to cause us to think that God in very deed does dwell among men in the person of his well-beloved Son! I wonder we are not carried away into extravagances of delight at this thought, and that we do not become like them that dream. I marvel that we are so cold and chill when we have before us a fact which might make angelic hearts thrill with wonder. God incarnate! God my kinsman! Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh! Surely if we were to dance as David did before the ark, we might scarcely need to excuse ourselves to the heartless Michals who would ridicule our enthusiasm. Oh, the bliss of knowing that God is in Christ Jesus! We ought also to consider our Lord with greater wonder than that with which men surveyed the temple. As I have already said, the temple was a great marvel, and would be so even now if it were still standing. Those huge stones were so well prepared by art, and were themselves so massive, that they did not need to be cemented together, and they fitted so closely that the thinnest knife could not be inserted between them, so polished and so compact were they. The house itself abounded with gold, silver, and precious stones; it was a treasury as well as a temple. For size it was remarkable too, if we consider the entire range of the buildings attached to it. The level space within which the actual temple stood is said to have been about one thousand feet square and it is asserted that it would have contained twice as many people as the huge Colosseum at Rome. The actual temple was but a small building comparatively, but its appurtenances and Solomon's porch, which surrounded the square on which it stood, made up a great mass of building, and the magnificent bridge which joined the lone hill to the rest of Jerusalem was a marvel of architecture; Solomon's ascent by which he went up to the house of the Lord was one of the sights which quite overcame the queen of Sheba. The brightness of the white marble, and the abundance of gold must have made it a sight to gaze upon with tears in one's eyes to think that man could erect such a house, and that it should be for the true God. I do not wonder at all that men were bidden to go round about her, tell the towers thereof, mark well her bulwarks, and consider her palaces. Neither are we astonished that invaders quailed before the strength of her defences, "They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away." The like of this temple was not to be seen on the face of the earth: neither the pyramids of Egypt, nor the piles of Nineveh, nor the towers of Babylon, could rival the temple of the living God at Jerusalem: but, my brethren, think of Jesus and you will wonder more. What are the huge stones? What are the delicate carvings, and what the cedar, and what the overlayings of gold, and what the veil of fine twined linen, and what all the gorgeous pomp of the ceremonials compared with God, the everlasting God, veiled in human flesh? Wonder, my brethren, wonder, bow low and adore. "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh." Being greater than the temple our Lord is to be visited with greater frequency. The males of Israel were to go up to the temple three tines in a year. "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house," says David: for they would be there always. Oh, my brethren, you may enjoy the happiness of these blessed ones, and dwell in Jesus always. You may come up to the Lord Jesus whensoever you will. All days are appointed feasts with him. You need not wait for the new moons or the Sabbaths, you may resort to him at all times. We that have believed do enter into a perpetual Sabbath, in which we may continually worship the Most High in the person of Christ. Let us also reverence him with still greater solemnity. The devout Jews put off their shoes from off their feet when they entered the temple enclosure. True, in our Lord's day, much of this solemnity had been forgotten and they bought and sold within the great enclosure around the temple the beasts and birds that were necessary for sacrifice; but as a rule the Jews always treated the temple with profound respect. With what reverence shall we worship our Lord Jesus? Let us never speak lightly nor think lightly of him, but may our inmost spirits worship him as the eternal God. Let us honor him also with higher service. The service of the temple was full of pomp and gorgeous ceremonies, and kings brought their treasures there. With what assiduity did David store up his gold and silver to build the house, and with what skill did Solomon carry out the details of that mighty piece of architecture. Come ye and worship Christ after that fashion. Bring him the calves of your lips, bring him your body, soul and spirit, as a living sacrifice; yea bring him your gold and silver and your substance for he is greater than the temple and deserves larger gifts and higher consecration than the temple had from its most ardent lovers. Surely I need not argue the point, for you who love him know that you can never do enough for him. So, too, he ought to be sought after with more vehement desire if he be greater than the temple. David said he "longed, yea even panted for the courts of the Lord." With what longings and partings ought we to long for Christ! In answer to her Lord's promise to come again the church cries, "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus." We ought to long more for the second advent of our Lord; especially ought we, if we mourn his absence from our own souls, never to rest until he reveals himself to us again. Oh, ye redeemed ones, love him so that you can no more live without his smile than the wife can live without her husband's love; and long ye for fellowship with him as the bride for the wedding day. Set your hearts upon him, and hunger and thirst after him. The Jew pined to visit Mount Zion, and with such pinings I bid you long for Jesus and for the time when you shall see him face to face. III. Now, we have to spend a few minutes in urging home one or two PRACTICAL REFLECTIONS which arise out of this subject. And the first is this: how carefully should the laws of Jesus Christ be observed. I believe that when you entered the temple by passing through the Beautiful Gate you saw a notice that worshippers should pass in on the right hand, and that afterwards they were to pass out on the left. I am quite sure that if the temple now stood, and any one of us could make a journey to Jerusalem we should be very careful to observe every order of the sanctuary, and if we found the porter at the gate said "you must take off your shoes," we should with gladness remove them, or if he bade us wash we would gladly enter the bath. Knowing that God dwelt there, had we been Israelites we should have been very attentive to every observance required of the law. Now, brethren, let us be equally attentive to all the laws of Christ, for he is greater than the temple. Never trifle with his commands, nor tamper with them. Remember, if you break one of the least of his commandments, and teach men so, you will be least in the kingdom of God. He is very gracious, and forgives, but still disobedience brings injury to our own souls. I beseech all Christians to search the Scriptures and see what Christ's mind is upon every moot point, whether it be baptism or church government, and when you know his will carry it out. Do not say of any precept, "That is non-essential," for everything that Jesus bids you do is essential to the perfection of your obedience. If you say it is not essential to salvation I am compelled to rebuke you. What, are you so selfish that you only think about your own salvation? and because you are saved will you kick against your Savior and say, "I do not care to do this because I can be saved even if I neglect it." This is not the spirit of a child of God. I pray you, dear friends, do what I anxiously wish to do myself, follow the Lord fully, and go step by step where he would have you go, for if you would obey temple rules much more should you obey the rules of Christ. The next reflection is how much more ought we to value Christ than any outward ordinance. It is not always that all Christians do this. There is a dear brother who loves Christ, and I can see Christ in him, I am sure I can; if I know anything about Christ at all in my own soul I see that he knows him too. Very well: but then he does not belong to my church! It is a pity; he ought to be as right as I am, and I wish he knew better. But at the same time his love to Christ is more to be esteemed than his correctness in outward things, for Christ is greater than the temple. I am not going to quarrel with any brother in Christ because he is somewhat in error about external ordinances, for he has the spirit if not the letter of the matter. I wish he had been baptized with water, but I see he is baptized with the Holy Ghost, and therefore he is my brother. I wish that he would observe the water baptism because Christ bids him, but still if he does not I am glad that his Master has given him the Holy Spirit, and I rejoice to own that he has the vital matter. Perhaps he does not come to the Lord's Supper, and does not believe in it. I am very sorry for him, for he loses a great privilege, but if I see that he has communion with Christ I know that Christ is greater than the temple, and that inward communion is greater than the external sign. Hence it happens that if we see Christ in persons with whose theology we do not agree, and whose forms of Church government we cannot commend, we must set the Christ within above the outward forms, and receive the brother still. The brother is wrong, but if we see the Lord in him, let us love him, for Christ is greater than the temple. We dare not exalt any outward ordinance above Christ, as the test of a man's Christianity. We would die for the defense of those outward ordinances which Christ commands, but for all that the Lord himself is greater than the ordinance, and we love all the members of his mystical body. Another reflection is this: how much more important it is for you that you should go to Christ than that you should go to any place which you suppose to be the house of God. How many times from this pulpit have we disclaimed all idea that this particular building has any sanctity about it. We know that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, yet there may be some of you who come here very regularly, who have great respect for the place. If you did not go to any place of worship you would think yourselves very bad, and so you would be. If you never went on the Lord's day to the worship of God at all you would certainly be keeping yourselves out of the place where you may hope that God will bless you. But is it not a strange thing that you would not like to stop away from the temple, but you stop away from Christ, and while you go up to the outward sanctuary to the real Christ you have never gone. I am sure you would feel ashamed if anybody were able to say of you "There is a man here who has not been to a place of worship for twelve months." You would look down upon a man of whom that could be said. Yes, but if there be any reasons for coming to what you think the temple, how many more reasons are there for coming to Christ: and if you would think it wrong to stop away from the public place of worship for twelve months, how much more wrong must it be to stop away from Jesus all your life; but you have done so. Will you please to think of that? Now, had you gone to the temple, you would have felt towards it very great respect and reverence. And when you come to the outward place of worship, you are very attentive, and respectful to the place let me ask you, have you been respectful to Christ? How is it that you live without faith in him? No prayer is offered by you to him, you do not accept the great salvation which he is prepared to give. Practically, you despise him, and turn your backs upon him. You would not do so to the temple, why do you do so to Christ? Oh, that you unconverted ones knew the uses of Christ. Do you remember what Joab did when Solomon was provoked to slay him. Joab fled, and though he had no right to go into the temple, yet he felt it was a case of necessity, and hoping to save his life he rushed up to the altar, and held by the altar's horn. Benaiah came to him with a sword, and said, "Come forth," and what did Joab say? "Nay," he said, "but I will die here;" and Benaiah had to go back and ask Solomon, "What is to be done?" and Solomon said. "Do as he hath said," and so he slew him right against the altar. Now, if you come to Christ, though the avenger of blood is after you, you will be safe. He may come to you and say, "Come forth," but you will reply, "I will die here." You cannot die there, for he shall hide thee in the secret of his pavilion, in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide thee, and with thy hand upon the blood-stained horn no Benaiah, and no devil, and no destroying angel can touch thee. Sinner, it is your only hope. You will be lost for ever, the sword shall pierce through your soul to your everlasting destruction; but fly now unto Christ the temple, and lay hold upon the altar's horn, and let this be on your mind
"I can but perish if I go, I am resolved to try; For if I stay away I know I must for ever die."
"But if I die with mercy sought, When I've this altar tried, This were to die, delightful thought, As sinner never died."
By faith, this morning, I put my hand upon the altar's horn. All my hope, dread Sovereign, lies in the blood of thy dear Son. Brethren in Christ, let us all lay our hands there once again. Poor sinner, if you have never done this before do it now, and say in your heart,
"My faith doth lay her hand Upon that altar's horn, And see my bleeding Lord at hand Who all my sin has borne."
Christ is greater than the temple, may his great benediction rest upon you. Amen.
Sweet Comfort for Feeble Saints
February 4, 1855
C. H. SPURGEON
"A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not
quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory"-- Matthew 12:20 .
Babbling fame ever loves to talk of one man or another. Some there be
whose glory it trumpets forth, and whose honor it extols above the
heavens. Some are her favorites, and their names are carved on marble,
and heard in every land, and every clime. Fame is not an impartial
judge; she has her favorites. Some men she extols, exalts, and almost
deifies; others, whose virtues are far greater, and whose characters are
more deserving of commendation, she passes by unheeded, and puts
the finger of silence on her lips. You will generally find that those
persons beloved by fame are men made of brass or iron, and cast in a
rough mould. Fame caresseth Caesar, because he ruled the earth with a
rod of iron. Fame loves Luther, because he boldly and manfully defied
the Pope of Rome, and with knit brow dared laugh at the thunders of
the Vatican. Fame admires Knox; for he was stern, and proved himself
the bravest of the brave. Generally, you will find her choosing out the
men of fire and mettle, who stood before their fellow-creatures fearless
of them; men who were made of courage; who were consolidated
lumps of fearlessness, and never knew what timidity might be. But you
know there is another class of persons equally virtuous, and equally to
be esteemed--perhaps even more so--whom fame entirely forgets. You
do not hear her talk of the gentle-minded Melancthon--she says but
little of him--yet he did as much, perhaps, in the Reformation, as even
the mighty Luther. You do not hear fame talk much of the sweet and
blessed Rutherford, and of the heavenly words that distilled from his
lips; or of Archbishop Leighton, of whom it was said, that he was
never out of temper in his life. She loves the rough granite peaks that
defy the storm-cloud: she does not care for the more humble stone in
the valley, on which the weary traveller resteth; she wants something
bold and prominent; something that courts popularity; something that
stands out before the world. She does not care for those who retreat in
shade. Hence it is, my brethren, that the blessed Jesus, our adorable
Master, has escaped fame. No one says much about Jesus, except his
followers. We do not find his name written amongst the great and
mighty men; though, in truth, he is the greatest, mightiest, holiest,
purest, and best of men that ever lived; but because he was "Gentle
Jesus, meek and mild," and was emphatically the man whose kingdom
is not of this world; because he had nothing of the rough about him, but
was all love; because his words were softer than butter, his utterances
more gentle in their flow than oil; because never man spake so gently
as this man; therefore he is neglected and forgotten. He did not come to
be a conqueror with his sword, nor a Mohammed with his fiery
eloquence; but he came to speak with a "still small voice," that melteth
the rocky heart; that bindeth up the broken in spirit, and that
continually saith, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy
laden;" "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and
lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Jesus Christ was
all gentleness; and this is why he has not been extolled amongst men as
otherwise he would have been. Beloved! our text is full of gentleness; it
seems to have been steeped in love; and I hope I may be able to show
you something of the immense sympathy and the mighty tenderness of
Jesus, as I attempt to speak from it. There are three things to be
noticed: first, mortal frailty; secondly, divine compassion; and thirdly,
certain triumph--"till he send forth judgment unto victory."
I. First, we have before us a view of MORTAL FRAILTY
--bruised reed and smoking flax--two very suggestive metaphors, and
very full of meaning. If it were not too fanciful--and if it is I know you
will excuse me--I should say that the bruised reed is an emblem of a
sinner in the first stage of his conviction. The work of God's Holy
Spirit begins with bruising. In order to be saved, the fallow ground
must be ploughed up; the hard heart must be broken; the rock must be
split in sunder. An old divine says there is no going to heaven without
passing hard by the gates of hell--without a great deal of soul-trouble
and heart-exercise. I take it then that the bruised reed is a picture of the
poor sinner when first God commences his operation upon the soul; he
is as a bruised reed, almost entirely broken and consumed; there is but
little strength in him. The smoking flax I conceive to be a backsliding
Christian; one who has been a burning and a shining light in his day,
but by neglect of the means of grace, the withdrawal of God's Spirit,
and falling into sin, his light is almost gone out--not quite--it never can
go out, for Christ saith, "I will not quench it;" but it becomes like a
lamp when ill supplied with oil--almost useless. It is not quite
extinguished--it smokes--it was a useful lamp once, but now it has
become as smoking flax. So I think these metaphors very likely
describe the contrite sinner as a bruised reed, and the backsliding
Christian as smoking flax. However, I shall not choose to make such a
division as that, but I shall put both the metaphors together, and I hope
we may fetch out a few thoughts from them.
And first, the encouragement offered in our text applies to weak ones.
What in the world is weaker than the bruised reed, or the smoking flax?
A reed that groweth in the fen or marsh, let but the wild duck light
upon it, and it snaps; let but the foot of man brush against it and it is
bruised and broken; every wind that comes howling across the river
makes it shake to and fro, and well nigh tears it up by the roots. You
can conceive of nothing more frail or brittle, or whose existence
depends more upon circumstances that a bruised reed. Then look at
smoking flax--what is it? It has a spark within it, it is true, but it is
almost smothered; an infant's breath might blow it out; or the tears of a
maiden quench it in a moment; nothing has a more precarious existence
than the little spark hidden in the smoking flax. Weak things, you see,
are here described. Well, Christ says of them, "The smoking flax I will
not quench; the bruised reed I will not break." Let me go in search of
the weaklings. Ah! I shall not have to go far. There are many in this
house of prayer this morning who are indeed weak. Some of God's
children, blessed be his name, are made strong to do mighty works for
him; God hath his Samsons here and there who can pull up Gaza's
gates, and carry them to the top of the hill; he hath here and there his
mighty Gideons, who can go to the camp of the Midianites, and
overthrow their hosts; he hath his mighty men, who can go into the pit
in winter, and slay the lions; but the majority of his people are a timid,
weak race. They are like the starlings that are frightened at every
passer by; a little fearful flock. If temptation comes, they fall before it;
if trial comes, they are overwhelmed by it; their frail skiff is danced up
and down by every wave; and when the wind comes, they are drifted
along like a sea-bird on the crest of the billows; weak things, without
strength, without force, without might, without power. Ah! dear
friends, I know I have got hold of some of your hands now, and your
hearts too; for you are saying, "Weak! Ah, that I am. Full often I am
constrained to say, I would, but cannot sing; I would, but cannot pray; I
would, but cannot believe." You are saying that you cannot do
anything; your best resolves are weak and vain; and when you cry,
"My strength renew," you feel weaker than before. You are weak, are
you? Bruised reeds and smoking flax? Blessed be God, this text is for
you then. I am glad you can come in under the denomination of weak
ones, for here is a promise that he will never break nor quench them,
but will sustain and hold them up. I know there are some very strong
people here--I mean strong in their own ideas. I often meet with
persons who would not confess any such weakness as this. They are
strong minds. They say, "Do you think that we go into sin, sir? Do you
tell us that our hearts are corrupt? We do not believe any such thing;
we are good, and pure, and upright; we have strength and might." To
you I am not preaching this morning; to you I am saying nothing; but
take heed--your strength is vanity, your power is a delusion, your might
is a lie--for however much you may boast in what you can do, it shall
pass away; when you come to the real contest with death, you shall
find that you have no strength to grapple with it: when one of these
days of strong temptation shall come, it will take hold of you, moral
man, and down you will go; and the glorious livery of your morality
will be so stained, that though you wash your hands in snow water, and
make yourselves never so clean, you shall be so polluted that your own
clothes shall abhor you. I think it is a blessed thing to be weak. The
weak one is a sacred thing; the Holy Ghost has made him such. Can
you say, "No strength have I?" Then this text is for you.
Secondly, the things mentioned in our text are not only weak, but
worthless things. I have heard of a man who would pick up a pin as he
walked along the street, on the principle of economy; but I never yet
heard of a man who would stop to pick up bruised reeds. They are not
worth having. Who would care to have a bruised reed--a piece of rush
lying on the ground? We all despise it as worthless. And smoking flax,
what is the worth of that? It is an offensive and noxious thing; but the
worth of it is nothing. No one would give the snap of a finger either for
the bruised reed or smoking flax. Well, then, beloved, in our estimation
there are many of us who are worthless things. There are some here,
who, if they could weigh themselves in the scales of the sanctuary, and
put their own hearts into the balance of conscience, would appear to be
good for nothing--worthless, useless. There was a time when you
thought yourselves to be the very best people in the world--when if any
one had said that you had more than you deserved, you would have
kicked at it, and said, "I believe I am as good as other people." You
thought yourselves something wonderful--extremely worthy of God's
love and regard; but you now feel yourselves to be worthless.
Sometimes you imagine God can hardly know where you are, you are
such a despicable creature--so worthless--not worth his consideration.
You can understand how he can look upon an animalcule in a drop of
water, or upon a grain of dust in the sunbeam, or upon the insect of the
summer evening; but you can hardly tell how he can think of you, you
appear so worthless--a dead blank in the world, a useless thing. You
say, "What good am I? I am doing nothing. As for a minister of the
gospel, he is of some service; as for a deacon of the church, he is of
some use; as for a Sabbath-school teacher, he is doing some good; but
of what service am I?" But you might ask the same question here. What
is the use of a bruised reed? Can a man lean upon it? Can a man
strengthen himself therewith? Shall it be a pillar in my house? Can you
bind it up into the pipes of Pan, and make music come from a bruised
reed? Ah! no; it is of no service. And of what use is smoking flax? the
midnight traveller cannot be lighted by it; the student cannot read by
the flame of it. It is of no use; men throw it into the fire and consume it.
Ah! that is how you talk of yourselves. You are good for nothing, so
are these things. But Christ will not throw you away because you are of
no value. You do not know of what use you may be, and you cannot
tell how Jesus Christ values you after all. There is a good woman there,
a mother, perhaps, she says, "Well, I do not often go out--I keep house
with my children, and seem to be doing no good." Mother, do not say
so, your position is a high, lofty, responsible one; and in training up
children for the Lord, you are doing as much for his name as yon
eloquent Apollos, who so valiantly preached the word. And you, poor
man, all you can do is to toil from morning till night, and earn just
enough to enable you to live day by day, you have nothing to give
away, and when you go to the Sabbath-school, you can just read, you
cannot teach much--well, but unto him to whom little is given of him
little is required. Do you not know that there is such a thing as
glorifying God by sweeping the street crossing? If two angels were sent
down to earth, one to rule an empire, and the other to sweep a street,
they would have no choice in the matter, so long as God ordered them.
So God, in his providence, has called you to work hard for your daily
bread; do it to his glory. "Whatsoever ye do, whether ye eat or drink,
do all to his honor." But, ah! I know there are some of you here who
seem useless to the Church. You do all you can; but when you have
done it, it is nothing; you can neither help us with money, nor talents,
nor time, and, therefore, you think God must cast you out. You think if
you were like Paul or Peter you might be safe. Ah! beloved, talk not so;
Jesus Christ saith he will not quench the useless flax, nor break the
worthless bruised reed; he has something for the useless and for the
worthless ones. But mark you, I do not say this to excuse laziness--to
excuse those that can do, but do not; that is a very different thing.
There is a whip for the ass, a scourge for idle men, and they must have
it sometimes. I am speaking now of those who cannot do it; not of
Issacher, who is like a strong ass, crouching down between two
burdens, and too lazy to get up with them. I say nothing for the
sluggard, who will not plough by reason of the cold, but of the men and
women who really feel that they can be of little service--who cannot do
more; and to such, the words of the text are applicable.
Now we will make another remark. The two things here mentioned are
offensive things. A bruised reed is offensive, for I believe there is an
allusion here to the pipes of Pan, which you all know are reeds put
together, along which a man moves his mouth, thus causing some kind
of music. This is the organ, I believe which Jubal invented, and which
David mentions, for it is certain that the organ we use was not then in
use. The bruised reed, then, would of course spoil the melody of all the
pipes; one unsound tube would so let the air out, as to produce a
discordant sound, or no sound at all, so that one's impulse would be to
take the pipe out and put in a fresh one. And, as for smoking flax, the
wick of a candle or anything of that kind, I need not inform you that the
smoke is offensive. To me no odour in all the world is so abominably
offensive as smoking flax. But some say, "How can you speak in so
low a style?" I have not gone lower than I could go myself, nor lower
than you can go with me; for I am sure you are, if God the Holy Ghost
has really humbled you, just as offensive to your own souls, and just as
offensive to God as a bruised reed would be among the pipes, or as
smoking flax to the eyes and nose. I often think of dear old John
Bunyan, when he said he wished God had made him a toad, or a frog,
or a snake, or anything rather than a man, for he felt he was so
offensive. Oh! I can conceive a nest of vipers, and I think that they are
obnoxious; I can imagine a pool of all kinds of loathsome creatures,
breeding corruption, but there is nothing one half so worthy of
abhorrence as the human heart. God spares from all eyes but his own
that awful sight--a human heart; and could you and I but once see our
heart, we should be driven mad, so horrible would be the sight. Do you
feel like that? Do you feel that you must be offensive in God's sight--
that you have so rebelled against him, so turned away from his
commandments, that surely you must be obnoxious to him? If so, my
text is yours.
Now, I can imagine some woman here this morning who has departed
from the paths of virtue; and, while she is standing in the throng up
there, or sitting down, she feels as if she had no right to tread these
hallowed courts, and stand among God's people. She thinks that God
might almost make the chapel break down upon her to destroy her, she
is so great a sinner. Never mind, broken reed and smoking flax!
Though thou art the scorn of man, and loathsome to thyself, yet Jesus
saith to thee, "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more, lest a
worse thing come unto thee." There is some man here who hath
something in his heart that I know not of--who may have committed
crimes in secret, that we will not mention in public; his sins stick like a
leech to him, and rob him of all comfort. Here you are young man,
shaking and trembling, lest your crime should be divulged before high
heaven; you are broken down, bruised like a reed, smoking like flax.
Ah! I have a word for thee too. Comfort! comfort! comfort! Despair
not; for Jesus saith he will not quench the smoking flax, he will not
break the bruised reed.
And yet, my dear friends, there is one thought before I turn away from
this point. Both of these articles, however worthless they may be, may
yet be of some service. When God puts his hand to a man, if he were
worthless and useless before, he can make him very valuable. You
know the price of an article does not depend so much upon the value of
the raw material to begin with--bruised reeds and smoking flax; but by
Divine workmanship both these things become of wondrous value. You
tell me the bruised reed is good for nothing; I tell you that Christ will
take that bruised reed and mend it up, and fit it in the pipes of heaven.
Then when the grand orchestra shall send forth its music, when the
organs of the skies shall peal forth their deep-toned sounds, we shall
ask, "What was that sweet note heard there, mingling with the rest?"
And some one shall say, "It was a bruised reed." Ah! Mary
Magdalene's voice in heaven, I imagine, sounds more sweet and liquid
than any other; and the voice of that poor thief, who said "Lord,
remember me," if it is a deep bass voice, is more mellow and more
sweet than the voice of any other, because he loved much, for he had
much forgiven him. This reed may yet be of use. Do not say you are
good for nothing; you shall sing up in heaven yet. Do not say you are
worthless; at last you shall stand before the throne among the blood-
washed company, and shall sing God's praise. Ay! and the smoking
flax too, what good can that be? I will soon tell you. There is a spark in
that flax somewhere; it is nearly out, but still a spark remaineth. Behold
the prairie on fire! See you the flames come rolling on? See you stream
after stream of hot fire deluging the plain till all the continent is burnt
and scorched--till heaven is reddened with the flame. Old night's black
face is scarred with the burning, and the stars appear affrighted at the
conflagration. How was that mass ignited? By a piece of smoking flax
dropped by some traveller, fanned by the soft wind, till the whole
prairie caught the flame. So one poor man, one ignorant man, one weak
man, even one backsliding man, may be the means of the conversion of
a whole nation. Who knows but that you who are nothing now, may be
of more use than those of us who appear to stand better before God,
because we have more gifts and talents? God can make a spark set a
world on fire--he can light up a whole nation with the spark of one
poor praying soul. You may be useful yet; therefore be of good cheer.
Moss groweth upon gravestones; the ivy clingeth to the mouldering
pile; the mistletoe groweth on the dead branch; and even so shall grace,
and piety, and virtue, and holiness, and goodness, come from smoking
flax and bruised reeds.
II. Thus, then, my dear friends, I have tried to find out the parties for
whom this text is meant, and I have shown you somewhat of mortal
Now I mount a step higher--to DIVINE COMPASSION.
"The bruised reed he will not break, the smoking flax he will not
Notice what is first of all stated, and then let me tell you that Jesus
Christ means a great deal more than he says. First of all, what does he
say? He says plainly enough that he will not break the bruised reed.
There is a bruised reed before me--a poor child of God under a deep
sense of sin. It seems as if the whip of the law would never stop. It
keeps on, lash, lash, lash; and though you say, "Lord, stop it, and give
me a little respite," still comes down the cruel thong, lash, lash, lash.
You feel your sins. Ah! I know what you are saying this morning: "If
God continues this a little longer my heart will break: I shall perish in
despair; I am almost distracted by my sin; if I lie down at night I cannot
sleep; it appears as if ghosts were in the room--ghosts of my sins--and
when I awake at midnight, I see the black form of death staring at me,
and saying, 'Thou art my prey, I shall have thee;' while hell behind
seems to burn." Ah! poor bruised reed, he will not break you;
conviction shall be too strong; it shall be great enough to melt thee, and
to make thee go to Jesus' feet; but it shall not be strong enough to break
thy heart altogether, so that thou shouldst die. Thou shalt never be
driven to despair; but thou shalt be delivered; thou shalt come out of
the fire, poor bruised reed, and shalt not be broken.
So there is a backslider here this morning; he is like the smoking flax.
Years gone by you found such happiness in the ways of the Lord, and
such delight in his service, that you said, "There I would for ever stay.
'What peaceful hours I then enjoyed;
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.'"
You are smoking, and you think God will put you out. If I were an
Arminian, I should tell you that he would; but being a believer in the
Bible, and nothing else, I tell you that he will not quench you. Though
you are smoking, you shall not die. Whatever your crime has been, the
Lord says, "Return ye backsliding children of men, for I will have
mercy upon you." He will not cast thee away, poor Ephriam; only
come back to him--he will not despise thee, though thou hast plunged
thyself in the mire and dirt, though thou art covered from head to foot
with filthiness; come back, poor prodigal, come back, come back! Thy
father calls thee. Hearken poor backslider! Come at once to him whose
arms are ready to receive thee.
It says he will not quench--he will not break. But there is more under
cover than we see at first sight. When Jesus says he will not break, he
means more than that; he means, "I will take that poor bruised reed; I
will plant it hard by the rivers of waters, and (miracle of miracles) I
will make it grow into a tree whose leaf shall not wither; I will water it
every moment; I will watch it; there shall be heavenly fruits upon it; I
will keep the birds of prey from it; but the birds of heaven, the sweet
songsters of paradise shall make their dwellings in the branches."
When he says that he will not break the bruised reed, he means more;
he means that he will nourish, that he will help, and strengthen, and
support and glorify--that he will execute his commission on it, and
make it glorious for ever. And when he says to the backslider that he
will not quench him, he means more than that--he means that he will
fan him up to a flame. Some of you, I dare say, have gone home from
chapel and found that your fire had gone nearly out; I know how you
deal with it; you blow gently at the single spark, if there is one, and lest
you should blow too hard, you hold your finger before it; and if you
were alone and had but one match, or one spark in the tinder, how
gently would you blow it. So, backslider, Jesus Christ deals with thee;
he does not put thee out; he blows gently; he says, "I will not quench
thee;" he means, "I will be very tender, very cautious, very careful;" he
will put on dry material, so that by-and-by a little spark shall come to a
flame, and blaze up towards heaven, and great shall be the fire thereof.
Now I want to say one or two things to Little-Faiths this morning. The
little children of God who are here mentioned as being bruised reeds or
smoking flax are just as safe as the great saints of God. I wish for a
moment to expand this thought, and then I will finish with the other
head. These saints of God who are called bruised reeds and smoking
flax are just as safe as those who are mighty for their Master, and great
in strength, for several reasons. First of all, the little saint is just as
much God's elect as the great saint. When God chose his people, he
chose them all at once, and altogether; and he elected one just as much
as the other. If I choose a certain number of things, one may be less
than the rest, but one is as much chosen as the other; and so Mrs.
Fearing and Miss Despondency are just as much elected as Great-
Heart, or Old Father Honest. Again: the little ones are redeemed
equally with the great ones! the feeble saints cost Christ as much
suffering as the strong ones; the tiniest child of God could not have
been purchased with less than Jesus' precious blood; and the greatest
child of God did not cost him more. Paul did not cost any more than
Benjamin--I am sure he did not--for I read in the Bible that "there is no
difference." Besides, when of old they came to pay their redemption-
money, every person brought a shekel. The poor shall bring no less,
and the rich shall bring no more than just a shekel. The same price was
paid for the one as the other. Now then little child of God, take that
thought to thy soul. You see some men very prominent in Christ's
cause--and it is very good that they should be--but they did not cost
Jesus a farthing more than you did; he paid the same price for you that
he paid for them. Recollect again, you are just as much a child of God
as the greatest saint. Some of you have five or six children. There is
one child of yours, perhaps, who is very tall and handsome, and has,
moreover, gifts of mind; and you have another child who is the smallest
of the family, perhaps has but little intellect and understanding. But
which is the most your child? "The most!" you say; "both alike are my
children, certainly, one as much as the other." And so, dear friends, you
may have very little learning, you may be very dark about divine
things, you may but "see men as trees walking," but you are as much
the children of God as those who have grown to the stature of men in
Christ Jesus. Then remember, poor tried saint, that you are just as
much justified as any other child of God. I know that I am completely
His blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress.
I want no other garments, save Jesus' doings, and his imputed
The boldest child of God wants no more; and I who am "less than the
least of all saints," can be content with no less, and I shall have no less.
O Ready-to-Halt, thou art as much justified as Paul, Peter, John the
Baptist, or the loftiest saint in heaven. There is no difference in that
matter. Oh! take courage and rejoice.
Then one thing more. If you were lost, God's honor would be as much
tarnished as if the greatest one were lost. A queer thing I once read in
an old book about God's children and people being a part of Christ and
in union with him. The writer says--"A father sitteth in his room, and
there cometh in a stranger; the stranger taketh up a child on his knee,
and the child hath a sore finger; so he saith, 'My child, you have a sore
finger;' 'Yes!' 'Well, let me take it off, and give thee a golden one!' The
child looketh at him and saith, 'I will not go to that man any more, for
he talks of taking off my finger; I love my own finger, and I will not
have a golden one instead of it.'" So the saint saith, "I am one of the
members of Christ, but I am like a sore finger, and he will take me off
and put a golden one on." "No," said Christ, "no, no; I cannot have any
of my members taken away; if the finger be a sore one, I will bind it
up; I will strengthen it." Christ cannot allow a word about cutting his
members off. If Christ lose one of his people, he would not be a whole
Christ any longer. If the meanest of his children could be cast away,
Christ would lack a part of his fullness; yea, Christ would be
incomplete without his Church. If one of his children must be lost, it
would be better that it should be a great one, than a little one. If a little
one were lost, Satan would say, "Ah! you save the great ones, because
they had strength and could help themselves; but the little one that has
no strength, you could not save him." You know what Satan would
say; but God would shut Satan's mouth, by proclaiming, "They are all
here, Satan, in spite of thy malice, they are all here; every one is safe;
now lie down in thy den for ever, and be bound eternally in chains, and
smoke in fire!" So shall he suffer eternal torment, but not one child of
God ever shall.
One thought more and I shall have done with this head. The salvation
of great saints often depends upon the salvation of little ones. Do you
understand that? You know that my salvation, or the salvation of any
child of God, looking at second causes, very much depends upon the
conversion of some one else. Suppose your mother is the means of
your conversion, you would, speaking after the manner of men, say,
that your conversion depended upon hers; for her being converted,
made her the instrument of bringing you in. Suppose such-and-such a
minister to be the means of your calling; then your conversion, in some
sense, though not absolutely, depends upon his. So it often happens,
that the salvation of God's mightiest servants depends upon the
conversion of little ones. There is a poor mother; no one ever knows
anything about her; she goes to the house of God, her name is not in
the newspapers, or anywhere else; she teaches her child, and brings
him up in the fear of God; she prays for that boy; she wrestles with
God, and her tears and prayers mingle together. The boy grows up.
What is he? A missionary--a William Knibb--a Moffat--a Williams. But
you do not hear anything about the mother. Ah! but if the mother had
not been saved, where would the boy have been? Let this cheer the
little ones; and may you rejoice that he will nourish and cherish you,
though you are like bruised reeds and smoking flax.
Now, to finish up, there is a CERTAIN VICTORY.
"Till he send forth judgment unto victory."
Victory! There is something beautiful in that word. The death of Sir
John Moore, in the Peninsular war, was very touching; he fell in the
arms of triumph; and sad as was his fate, I doubt not that his eye was
lit up with lustre by the shout of victory. So also, I suppose, that Wolfe
spoke a truth when he said, "I die happy," having just before heard the
shout, "they run, they run." I know victory even in that bad sense--for I
look not upon earthly victories as of any value--must have cheered the
warrior. But oh! how cheered the saint when he knows that victory is
his! I shall fight during all my life, but I shall write "vici" on my shield.
I shall be "more than conqueror through him that loved me." Each
feeble saint shall win the day; each man upon his crutches; each lame
one; each one full of infirmity, sorrow, sickness, and weakness, shall
gain the victory. "They shall come with singing unto Zion; as well the
blind, and lame, and halt, and the woman with child, together." So saith
the Scripture. Not one shall be left out; but he shall "send forth
judgment unto victory." Victory! victory! victory! This is the lot of each
Christian; he shall triumph through his dear Redeemer's name.
Now a word about this victory. I speak first to aged men and women.
Dear brethren and sisters, you are often, I know, like the bruised reed.
Coming events cast their shadows before them; and death casts the
shadow of old age on you. You feel the grasshopper to be a burden;
you feel full of weakness and decay; your frame can hardly hold
together. Ah! you have here a special promise. "The bruised reed I will
not break." "I will strengthen thee." "When thy heart and thy flesh
faileth, I will be the strength of thy heart and thy portion for ever."
Even down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.
Tottering on thy staff, leaning, feeble, weak, and wan; fear not the last
hour; that last hour shall be thy best; thy last day shall be a
consummation devoutly to be wished. Weak as thou art, God will
temper the trial to thy weakness; he will make thy pain less, if thy
strength be less; but thou shalt sing in heaven, Victory! victory!
victory! There are some of us who could wish to change places with
you, to be so near heaven--to be so near home. With all your
infirmities, your grey hairs are a crown of glory to you; for you are near
the end as well as in the way of righteousness.
A word with you middle-aged men, battling in this life's rough storm.
You are often bruised reeds, your religion is so encumbered by your
worldly callings, so covered up by the daily din of business, business,
business, that you seem like smoking flax; it is as much as you can do
to serve your God, and you cannot say that you are "fervent in spirit"
as well as "diligent in business." Man of business, toiling and striving
in this world, he will not quench thee when thou art like smoking flax;
he will not break thee when thou art like the bruised reed, but will
deliver thee from thy troubles, thou shalt swim across the sea of life,
and shalt stand on the happy shore of heaven, and shalt sing, "Victory"
through him that loved thee.
Ye youths and maidens! I speak to you, and have a right to do so. You
and I ofttimes know what the bruised reed is, when the hand of God
blights our fair hopes. We are full of giddiness and waywardness, it is
only the rod of affliction that can bring folly out of us, for we have
much of it in us. Slippery paths are the paths of youths, and dangerous
ways are the ways of the young, but God will not break or destroy us.
Men, by their over caution, bid us never tread a step lest we fall; but
God bids us go, and makes our feet like hind's feet that we may tread
upon high places. Serve God in early days; give your hearts to him, and
then he will never cast you out, but will nourish and cherish you.
Let me not finish without saying a word to little children. You who
have never heard of Jesus, he says to you, "The bruised reed I will not
break; the smoking flax I will not quench." I believe there is many a
little prattler, not six years old, who knows the Saviour. I never despise
infantile piety; I love it. I have heard little children talk of mysteries
that grey-headed men knew not. Ah! little children who have been
brought up in the Sabbath-schools, and love the Saviour's name, if
others say you are too forward, do not fear, love Christ still.
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Still will look upon a child;
Pity thy simplicity,
And suffer thee to come to him.
He will not cast thee away; for smoking flax he will not quench, and
the bruised reed he will not break.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Matthew 12". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter