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Once a Curse But Now a Blessing
Delivered on Sunday Morning, December 6th, 1863, by the
Rev. C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel, so will I save you and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong." Zechariah 8:13 .
AS THESE WORDS CAME from the lips of Zechariah, doubtless they referred to the seed of Abraham, including the two tribes of Judah and the ten tribes of Israel. They have already received a minor fulfillment; but their most glorious accomplishment is yet to come. The Jews have for many a generation been cursed by all people. For ages no one had a good word or a kind look for the Jew. In every nation they have been persecuted, and hunted like beasts of prey. The followers of the fierce Mohammed have not been their only enemies, for the children of the Babylonian harlot have equally thirsted for their blood. In our own country, in the dark ages, it was accounted God's service to afflict the Israelites, and the day upon which the Church celebrated our Savior's passion was chosen for the public stoning of his own brethren if they ventured into the streets. To be a Jew was, in the estimation of that era, to be deserving of all scorn and cruelty, and of no pity or consideration. To what exactions, to what fines, to what imprisonments and tortures, have not the sons of Jacob been subjected by the professed followers of the Messiah. It is perhaps the greatest of all modern miracles, that there should be one Jew upon earth who is a Christian for the treatment they have received from pretended Christians has been enough to make them hate the name of Jesus; it has been not simply villainous, but diabolical. Devils in hell could not be more cruel to their victims than professed Christians have been to the sons of Abraham. They have been a curse indeed. The whole vocabulary of abuse from "dog" down to "devil" has been exhausted upon them; among all nations they have been a hissing and a bye-word. But the day is coming, yea it dawns already, when the whole world shall discern the true dignity of the chosen seed, and shall seek their company, because the Lord hath blessed them. In that day when Israel shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for their sins, the Jew shall take his true rank among the nations as an elder brother and a prince. The covenant made with Abraham, to bless all nations by his seed, is not revoked; heaven and earth shall pass away, but the chosen nation shall not be blotted out from the book of remembrance. The Lord hath not cast away his people; he has never given their mother a bill of divorcement; he has never put them away; in a little wrath he hath hidden his face from them, but with great mercies will he gather them. The natural branches shall again be engrafted into the olive together with the wild olive graftings from among the Gentiles. In the Jew, first and chiefly, shall grace triumph through the King of the Jews. O time, fly thou with rapid wing, and bring the auspicious day.
Another meaning has been given to the passage by some very eminent expositors, namely, that the Jews have been for ages the model of a curse to all people. As old Master Trapp says, they bear upon their backs the wheels of God's rod, or, as he puts it yet more strongly, like Cain, they carry upon their foreheads the mark of God's wrath. They have been a people scattered and peeled, not numbered among the nations, men of weary foot and haggard countenances. Their nation has been the football of providence and the butt of misfortune. They have been shipwrecked upon every sea, overturned by every storm, the victims of every calamity, and the objects of every misery. Everywhere have they been men evidently accursed of God and given up to his wrath. When men wanted a name to curse by, they said "Let me be as accursed as the Jew." But the day is to come when they are to be quite as manifestly the blessed ones of God. Their conversion shall show how God favors them: their gathering to their own land, the splendor of the reign of Messias in their midst, and all those latter-day glories which are dimly shadowed in the Book of the Revelation, and in the Book of the Vision of Daniel the Prophet, when all these shall come to pass, then the sons of men shall speak of the Jewish people as a royal priesthood and a peculiar people. The seed of Abraham, God's friend, are very dear to him the darlings of his bosom, the flock of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Oh, that the dark night would soon be over! Long has the Christian Church slept in forgetfulness of the Jew; even faithful men have scarce given a thought to Israel, and have left the Jew to perish, as though his heart were too hard to be melted by divine love. I trust that mistake has been discovered, and that there are many now anxiously praying for the restoration of the glory unto Israel, but too many are still indifferent where earnestness is needed. May the Lord in his infinite mercy first put it into his people's hearts to pray for Israel, and then to work in love, and labor in faith: may he hasten in his own time the fulfillment of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then shall the whole earth be covered with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. We may work and we may toil, but till Israel be gathered God's glory cannot be universal, nor even widely spread. Until the Jew acknowledges Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the fullness of the times of restitution shall not have arrived. Make no tarrying O our Lord! Come quickly, and send thou as the herald of thy coming thine own brethren, who once despised thee when thou camest to thine own, and thine own received thee not.
You can clearly understand the text now in its literal signification without another word of exposition "As ye have been a curse among all nations, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing."
We feel ourselves perfectly justified in using the text in a broader sense. Our text teaches us that the unconverted are a curse; secondly, that when converted they become a blessing; thirdly, the text tells the means by which the transformation is wrought "I will save you" and it closes with a word of encouragement to those who desire salvation "Fear not, but let your hands be strong."
I. UNCONVERTED MEN ARE A CURSE. This they are positively, for every unconverted man, no matter what may be his moral character, adds in his degree to the amount of evil in the world he adds another handful of leaven to leaven the whole lump, another breath of death-bearing wind to scatter the plague of sin among the sons of men. Every unrenewed heart casts another stone upon the heap of iniquity, and assists the rising Babel of rebellion to lift its head more proudly. As I see the ungodly advancing one by one, I hear the prince of darkness cry, "Here comes another soldier to swell the ranks of evil, another lance for Satan, and another sword for the powers of evil." To the black banner every man that is unconverted is a recruit. Let him do as he may and think as he will, he that is not with Christ is against him, he that is not for the right is on the side of the wrong. How is the body corporate of humanity poisoned more and more as each man adds his grain of evil! How is the torrent swollen with another and another stream! A deluge of iniquity is but a collection of all the contributions from every fountain of the great deep. Every graceless spirit binds another millstone about the neck of the human race to sink it to the lowest hell. Every sinner is a positive mischief-maker in the world. He is a deadly upas every feat distilling poison. It is impossible that it should be otherwise, for as a black and filthy fountain must send forth unclean streams, so by a law of nature, as long as man is himself evil he must do evil. One sinner destroyeth much good, and whatever sort of sinner he may be, whether his sin be written on his forehead, or only carried concealed in his right hand, he infects the world with evil. The sinner is a curse, then, because he adds to the positive evil in the world.
He is yet more he is a curse because he helps to bring down the wrath of heaven upon the world. Another destroying angel to cry, "O Lord, how long ere thou smite iniquity and bathe thy sword in the blood of rebels?" Another voice to cry, "Awake! awake! O sword of justice! smite the sinner and let him perish from the face of the earth." Doubtless every sin is a God-provoking thing. It stirreth him to jealousy. As the blood of Abel cried "Vengeance," so doth sin; it is a thorn in the side of justice, a stab at the heart of truth. God's great patience is expended at a tremendous rate by the sins of men. Thou unconverted man! thou makest every day a draught upon the exchequer of long-suffering, and the day shall come when the golden sun shall all be expended, and then woe unto the world, for then shall the last plagues be let loose and the last vials shall be poured out.
Even when the ungodly man dies he hath not finished his evil work. His life may be over, but the moral death caused by his life still continues. As the tree that hath borne evil fruit sendeth to the winds its seeds and these are buried in their appointed places, where young saplings spring up to become a forest of evil, so is it with the ungodly man his words and his example, like seeds in the ground, germinate and bring forth the like in other men. Like produceth like. His children in nature and spirit arise after him, and these prolong the echo of the dreadful curse which his life has pronounced upon the race. He cannot stay that curse even if he would, it is given to the course of time as a feather to the wind, and on it must go for ever. Those saplings which sprang from him as from the parent tree will all grow into death-yielding trees, and these will scatter their seeds, and so on, and on, and on, as long as the human race lasts nay, even in eternity the victims of his sin lie in torment and blaspheme God world without end, so that his curse is an everlasting curse, and the evil which he does lives on when he himself sleeps with the clods of the valley. The ungodly man is everlastingly a positive curse.
But he is also a curse negatively. It is deplorable to think how much of good a man who knows not God keeps from this world. He cumbers the ground in which he grows. He extracts nourishment from the ground, and covers it so that it cannot yield nourishment to any other plant, and yet he himself brings forth no fruit. Is this your position, my hearer, this morning? Are you a do-nothing? If you are, remember that the spot which you occupy might have been occupied by a man who would have glorified God, and done much for the spread of true religion. You have much time upon your hands, but you kill it. If another had it, it would be occupied with visitation of the sick, teaching the ignorant, comforting the weary, and other acts which would glorify the name of Jesus. You have the time and it is ill-spent. You have money. You spend perhaps upon a feast for your own pleasure as much as might have sent a herald of the cross to a foreign land. Many a man, if he had your means, would put clothes upon the backs of the naked, and bread into the mouths of the hungry. In one respect money answereth all things, but you make it answer to nothing except your own gratification. Ah, how much mischief thou dost in this way! Thou hast influence it may be, thou art a master with many servants, or placed in such a position that many wait upon thee, and thine example is followed, and thy words are weighty. If another had thy place, how would he lead a whole troop to heaven. With what earnestness would he seek to bless those who dwell under his shadow. But thou, what dost thou do? Thou cumberest the ground. These many years there has not been found upon thee one single ripe fruit such as may be acceptable to the Lord of the vineyard. Beware, beware lest he cut thee down! Seest thou not what evil thou art doing to others? The minister is preaching to thee this morning, and he has to do it often; if it were not for stray sheep such as thou art, he would have more time to see after the lambs of the flock. If he had not to cry out after thee, and against thy sins, he might be led into the deep things of God, to the comfort and edification of the Lord's chosen people. Whilst thou art in this house thou art spoiling the song thou art marring the prayer by the wandering and wantonness of thy thoughts. If thou shouldst come into the midst of a company of God's people, who were talking of divine things, thou wouldst be like an iceberg chilling the atmosphere about thee. How many young Christians thou hast hindered in their zeal by thine indifference. If thou didst nothing else but damage the good, stop up the stream of love, and quench the light of truth, thou wouldst have done enough to make them a curse among men, and to provoke God to smite thee with the curse that withers body and soul for ever and ever.
This is true of every unconverted man. Many of you moral men, whose lives are admirable, have not your hearts right with God. What is the lesson that men learn from your conversation? Why, when the infidel wants to prove that there may be goodness apart from religion, he quotes you, as an argument against the word of God, and against the necessity of a new heart and a right spirit. Have not many in your own position been hardened in their halt between two opinions by your example? Young people say, "There is Mrs. So-and-so, and Mr. This-and-that, what good people they are, and yet they have never given their hearts to God. "Surely," say they, "such people must know, and if there were anything in religion, they would certainly have followed in the right road, and have put their trust in Christ." The better you are, the more do I deplore that you should be upon the wrong side. If my country were at war, it would be very little comfort to me to know that my enemies were good soldiers. Nay, I had rather that they were bad ones; for there were then the more hope of overcoming them. The weight of your character makes it the more sad that it should be thrown into the scale of self-righteousness. I say, the very excellence of your morals renders it a more serious crime that you should not take your stand with Christ, the lover of holiness. Thou doest mischief, I am sure. Possibly, there is a measure of moral good effected by thine example, but there is a more abundant spiritual evil, because many stop where thou stoppest; being affected by thine example, they halt at thy halting place, and as thou wilt perish except thou be born again, so will they, and the blood of their souls will lie at thy door, because thine example was a curse to them.
If this be true of the moral unconverted man, how much more certainly is it of the open follower of vice. Shall I venture? No; I will scarcely so much as use my pencil to portray the mischief which the votary of vice bringeth upon others. How doth the drunkard drown multitudes in his cups? How doth the man of lust destroy and damn both the body and the soul of his victim? How doth the man who leads a licentious life spread poison by his very eyes like the basilisk, doing mischief by his glance? "His feet," we may truly say, "are swift to shed blood." His hands are full of drawn swords and flaming firebrands to destroy souls. The profane swearer what a pest is he! Young ears are inoculated with sin by him, and young hearts learn the crimes of old rebels. Ah! thou art a curse indeed! Better for some one to walk the streets with a deadly plague about him, and to spread it in every house, than to have such as thou art living in society, for thou hast the death plague and the damnation plague upon thee: thou art a walking miasma; a breather of pestilence; a myrmidon of hell; a jackal to the infernal lion, the lackey and the slave of the destroyer.
Perhaps there are few such here, therefore let us be brief upon that point. It is the same with the sinner who makes ungodly men his associates he is a curse. You do not drink as they do, you say, nor go to their excess of riot, nor curse with their curses, but yet you herd with them. You make them your associates, and, if you want a little pleasure, you seek their acquaintance. Sir, you are a curse; you are a curse to these men. I will not say you make them sinful, but I must say you add to their comfort in their sin. They see such as you are with them, and as association always hardens the sinner, they grow more confirmed in evil. Many a drinking club would break up if it were not for the two or three sensible men in it, and yet what is the effect of their morality? Not so much to check the others as to keep the whole together, and put a respectable face upon mischief. You who lie in the same bed with the wicked, must take care when God smites the house, that you do not perish in its overthrow. You that eat at their feasts, and drink of their cups, and laugh at their jokes, and revel in their vices, and take pleasure in their wantonness, mind when the Lord spreads his net to take these foul birds, he will take you in the same net, and award you a portion with those that were his enemies.
Nor can we spare here the men of thoroughly bad principles; the men who pretend to doubt the existence of a God, who question the inspiration of the Scripture, deny the deity of Christ, or impugn the veracity of gospel promises all such men are great destroyers of good. They will always be on the face of the earth, and we must never expect to see them rooted up, until the Lord's coming. It is wonderful that in England they should be so miserably small a party. If again infidelity should be as prevalent as Christianity, I should not much marvel, for it so suits the natural heart of man, that the wonder is that there is not more of it abroad. But one infidel O what a curse he is! In a workshop that one man of sharp shrewd sense will very soon make disciples, for, like the Pharisees of old they compass sea and land to make one proselyte. Too often the believer does not give that attention to the reading of Scripture, and to the finding up of arguments for his faith which the ungodly man will give in order to find arguments to shake the faith of others. I would that our members were more industrious, both in searching the Scriptures, and in studying the evidences of their inspiration and authenticity, that they might have their weapons ready to meet the attacks of infidels, for these infidels men of much thinking, and shrewdness, and sagacity, and wit placed in the midst of poor uneducated Christians, are terrible as wolves in the midst of a flock of sheep, and much havoc may they do; though they cannot turn one truly blood-bought child of God out of the flock, nor yet make one that is born again apostatize from truth, yet they bring much misery into the heart, and doubtless many who are undecided are led by them into decision for Satan, and go straight away from all hopefulness of being converted to God. Now of such an one we may say he is a curse indeed.
But now, I hear another say, "Well now, I do not come under the description of immoral, nor yet of those who spread infidel principles and practices." Ah, but, still you may be a curse, if you have an evil spirit towards religion. There are some who say but little, but who hate the very name of Christ. Even if they hold their tongues, that shrug of the shoulder, that look, that cold, heartless reception which they give to the truth, must infallibly be observed by others. Children, and those round about them, cannot help detecting what they are and who they are, and they will thus become very successful servants of the Prince of darkness. O dear friends, I fear that some of you know in your own conscience, without any words of mine, that hitherto your lives have been no blessing to your fellows, but rather, wherever you have gone, you have been a curse.
I shall conclude this point by noticing that the unconverted man is a curse everywhere. In the family, what a curse he is! His wife, perhaps, is a Christian: what a life he leads her! Doth he strike her? Perhaps not; but his words wound her even more than blows would have done. What about the children? Why, they will go as the father goes: his crooked words they learn to speak, and his crooked actions they will learn to do. It is not likely, though by divine grace it is possible, that they should be better than he. If we were to put a black cross upon every house where there is a husband who is a curse to the household, how many streets in London might have the black cross half the way down! Art thou an ungodly man and does thy life teem with iniquity? Then think that the black cross is there as thou goest home, and say, "Yes; I am a curse to this house; I lead them away from God." He is a curse in the workshop. As soon as he goes to it, those who would be decent, are led to the public house by him, and to places where sin is wont to be allowed. Let him become what is more respectable, as we say, in life; but he is a curse there. Make him a master, and give him many servants: then how haughty and how domineering he will be if he meets a servant who is a professor of religion. His misspending of his Sabbath will be known to all his working men, and they are always willing enough to follow the example of their employers in doing evil. Make him wealthy, he can indulge himself in all sorts of pleasures, and his gold is spent in the service of Satan. Give him abilities talents of thought and speech he becomes a sort of sergeant-major in the ranks of Satan, a commander of others. Satan employs him as a decoy duck to bring others into the net. Now he goes abroad, and is the call-bird of others, so that others hearing his sweet notes, are lured into the fowler's snare, and are taken and destroyed. Put him on a throne, and he curses an empire. Give him but a small village, over which he shall be the squire, and he is a curse to all the parish. Let him become a professor, and oh! this is the place where he can do the most of mischief. Clothe him with the garments of a Christian, while his heart is rotten and now, while pretending to be a disciple of Jesus, he will become more than ever a successful servant of Satan. Make him a minister, and you have given him the worst possible position; in fact, the better the man's place, the more evil can he do. Oh, to be a minister to be thought to be sent of God to the people, and then to be delivering falsehood, to be either by one's life or one's teaching contradicting the oracles of God! Of such a man we may well say his damnation is sure, but this is not the worst of it, for, ere he goes down to the pit himself; he drags as with a hundred ropes, multitudes of others down the dreadful steep.
II. But secondly, here is a gracious promise made that THEY SHALL BE A BLESSING.
Dear friends, the true Christian is a blessing temporally in the world. If there were no life to come, yet is a converted man a blessing: since he arrests the judgments of God. Sodom shall stand if there be ten righteous found in it. The world shall last as long as there is salt enough in it to keep it from putrefaction. The world shall not be given up to blackness of darkness for ever, so long as there are a few lights still shining in it. As the conducting-rod prevents the dwellings of men from being destroyed by lightning, so believers, in a State or in a town, are its preservation from the avenging judgments of God. Who will deny, again, that the Christian, the true Christian promotes morality that his godly life settles the foundation of order? Where are the most revolutions? Where is the least of religion? Where has the guillotine fallen with its fatal drop? Where have heads rolled by hundreds in a basket? Where have streams of blood crimsoned the street? Where is there an empire, never safe except as the throne is supported by bayonets? Look across the Channel, and you will see that the absence of religion is the absence of order in the State. It is England's Bible which is the keystone of England's institutions. The flag of old England is nailed to the mast, not so much by her soldiers and sailors, as by the men who love her God and bring down the blessing upon her continually by prayer. Think you that we should have had a famine in the north, and a stoppage of the mills without riot, if it had not been for the wide spread of religion among the working men? But the blessed restraints of holiness and goodness, have produced order and patience. Dear friends, the Christian man is the truest patriot; he is a blessing to his country, be he where he may.
Does not the Christian aid in every good work? He is no Christian if he does not. If there be an hospital, does he not delight as much to contribute towards the relief of sickness of the body, as for the removal of disease of the soul? If education be needed by the lower classes, who shall be found to teach in the Sunday-school, and who will support institutions on the week-day more readily than Christian men? Anything which is pure and lovely, and of good repute in this world, owes, if not its origin, yet its main support to the godliness of believers. No one shall be able to estimate how much the presence of a good man in the State is a preventative as well as a cure. It prevents the breaking out or the more frightful forms of vice, or else drives it into seclusion, and makes it hide its head for very shame. The Christian I believe, is to a nation, one of the greatest temporal blessings which God can send to it.
And as for eternity, truly a Christian is a blessing there. If his example shall lead men to seek after God if his words shall teach the sinner his need of a Savior shall point him to the cross shall show him the cowing wounds oh! if his prayers shall be heard, and the Spirit of God shall descend, and his family shall be converted, and his kinsfolk shall be reclaimed, then eternity shall know the music of the blessing which he scattered among the sons of men. You cannot bless men for ever, in any other way than by yourself being a true follower of Jesus, and then seeking to bring them to a knowledge of the truth. Now, as I said of the ungodly, that every ungodly man is a curse, so will I venture to say that every Christian man is a blessing in the degree in which he is true to his Christianity. If he has been moral before, now that he becomes a Christian, how that tells upon men like him. How those who would have been undecided are moved to go forth! The force of his former character, the excellence and amiability of his deportment, operate upon those who knew him. If he has been a drunkard and a swearer before, this will not hinder him from being a blessing now. His old companions hear of the great change; they enquire how it was wrought; they go with him to the house of God, and they too are brought to Christ. Some of those who have brought more saints to God than others were once themselves the greatest of sinners. Let no one suppose that because his character has been hitherto very vile, therefore, if converted, he would be of no use: sometimes he will even be of the more use. What would all your old mates say, when they saw you a Christian. "There must be something in it," say they, "if drunken will be saved." What if the swearer should wash his mouth, and should preach God's Word! What if yonder voice should be heard at the prayer-meeting, although once so loud in a brothel! Oh, would not men wonder, and would not there be many who would suddenly feel attracted to the cross, as you have been, and say, "We will go with you, for we perceive that God has blessed you."
Such a man, even if he has been an infidel, becomes a blessing now sometimes most a blessing to those to whom he was most a curse. Now he refutes himself; now his own example becomes the best answer to his former false teaching; now his love to Jesus is observed and noticed all those whom he taught to hate the Lord, will help to adore his sacred person. And if the man has been through and through of a bad spirit, though he hath not openly spoken against the things of God, yet when converted, how serviceable he becomes, for even if he be almost silent, and can say but little, yet, as the bad spirit oozed through him, so now the Spirit of God will shine through him. There shall be a difference about his very face; and the manner of his walk and conversation shall be such that it will betray him; out of the midst of him shall flow rivers of living water, whereof multitudes shall drink. No matter, O Christians, how poor you may be, or how ignorant you are, or how little of influence you may have, you are and shall be a blessing, if God gives you a new heart and a right spirit.
The converted man is a blessing everywhere. He is a blessing to his family. Daily prayer, Bible reading, teaching of the children all these make his house a little paradise. When he goes to the workshop, if any learn vice, it is not from him. If there are any who despise Christ, it is not from his example. He has a good word for Jesus. Now he begins to lament and pray over the sins of his fellow-men; he speaks of the cross of Christ, and perhaps he brings some of them to repentance, and to a saving faith. You may put him anywhere with safety. Make a king of him he ruleth his dominions in the fear of God. Give him a large estate, and you will find his substance expended as it should be. Now the hungry shall have their portion, and the needy their share; the Church at home, and missions abroad, shall all be prospered by him. Let him make a profession he does not dishonor it. He puts golden chains about the neck of piety, by the excellence of his deportment. You may put him into the pulpit with safety. With a new heart he can be trusted, even at the altars of God. His soul having been renewed, there will be nothing in his example, or word, of which a Christian could complain. Now you may take him to heaven itself, for even there he shall be a blessing, and help to swell the song of "Hallelujah unto him that washed our robes and made them white in his blood." I would to God we had a holy emulation, to be more a blessing than we have been, for do remember that if you have been converted, and are not living consistently with your religion, then your life is not much of a blessing. Oh! it is so sad, so sad, to my own soul, when I see those who might be a blessing, by some weakness or folly throw away their golden opportunities. There are some of you I cannot tell what good you might do in the world, but either through natural infirmity or unmortified sin, you are of little service. Do not, I pray you, destroy your own power to bless your fellow-men. Do not so act in the family, and in business, and in the Church, as to make yourself a little blessing, when you might have been a great one, but do ask the Lord to fill you so full with his grace, that you may be like a great cloud of mercy, resting continually over the sons of men, and pouring forth its gracious shower day by day.
III. The third point was, HOW IS ALL THIS TO BE BROUGHT ABOUT? How is the man who was a curse to be made a blessing? Can he do it himself? Rests there a power in human will, that by the magic of its might, men who were once a curse may be made a blessing? Ah no! this abideth not in the creature, but with the Creator. So runs the text: "I will save you." You that have been a curse, "I will save you." Swearer, drunkard, whoremonger, whoever thou mayst be, "I will save thee, to show what sovereign grace can do:" "I will save thee, and make thee a blessing." But thou sayest, "How then may I be saved?" Salvation from sin is one, but yet it is a salvation from sin in two senses from the guilt of it, and from the power of it. Sinner, cursed of God, and cursing others, all the sin that thou hast done can be blotted out. No matter, though it be red like scarlet, it may be as wool; and, though it be as crimson, God can make it whiter than snow. In a moment all thy sin can pass away, so that if it were sought for it could not be found; yea, though an inquisition were made to search it out, yet could it not be discovered. And this can be done by the blood, the precious blood of Jesus. Jesus the substitute, the Son of God, and yet the Son of Man, took the sins of all believers upon himself, and suffered the punishment of all their sins.
"He for the sins of all the elect
Hath a complete atonement made;
And justice never can expect
That the same debt should twice be paid."
If thou believest, that is, if thou trustest in Christ, all the sin thou hast ever done was laid upon Christ. Thy believing is the sign and mark of this; and henceforth thou hast no sin, thy sin is gone; thou art an accepted and pardoned man. Nay more, thou art justified. The righteousness of Christ is thine; and in the sight of God thou standest accepted in the beloved. And all this is to be had by the simple act of trusting. Whosoever thou mayst be, "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved." But then thou sayest, "But how can I be delivered from the power of sin? If all my past sins were forgiven, yet I might go back and do as before, and so remain as vile as ever." Yes, there is power in the Holy Ghost to make a new man of you. He can put into your heart the holy influences of grace, so that though you naturally go towards evil, you shall by supernatural influence go towards the right. He shall give you that fiery motion, which, as the flame always ascends towards heaven, shall make your heart ascend towards holiness. He shall subdue in you the powers of evil which now reign, shall keep your sins under your feet, and eventually cast them out for ever, and make you perfect before the Lord.
Remember, this is to be done for you, not by you. You cannot make yourself a new man. It is impossible for you to work regeneration. One look at Jesus will take away past sin, and will kill the power of sin for the future. Sprinkle His blood upon the old serpent, and it dies. Put the water which flowed with the blood from Christ, and the foulness of nature only remains to be subdued, and eventually to be cast out when the believer shall be taken up in perfection to dwell before the Father's throne. God can save you, whoever you may be, and whatever your past life may have been. No doings of your own, no prayers, no penances, no almsgivings, are required. Simply trust Jesus who died for you, and you are saved, saved on the spot saved for ever.
IV. And then comes the last point. The text GIVES A WORD OR TWO OF ENCOURAGEMENT from this "Let your hands be strong: fear not."
Though you have been a curse until now, yet, if you sincerely desire to be made a blessing, and if the Holy Spirit has made you willing to accept the perfect righteousness of Christ, and to be washed in his most precious blood, then "fear not." Let not conscience make you fear; God will answer to your conscience, the blood of Christ shall purge it from dead works. Let not a sense of divine justice make you fear, Christ has satisfied divine justice, and justice is your friend. Let not the remembrance of past sins make you fear; they shall be cast into the depths of the sea not one of them shall rise to accuse you. Let not the thoughts of judgment make you fear; you shall have an advocate at the last great day to plead your cause. Fear not, but, come and welcome. Christ invites you by his wounds; the Father bids you come and trust his only-begotten Son. He earnestly entreats you to come unto him and live. "Fear not," saith he; and if doubts and fears stand at the door to keep thee from coming, yet dash thou forward through them all, saying "God has bid me fear not, and, therefore, will I not fear, but boldly venture upon the finished work of Christ; and if I perish, I perish." "Let your hands be strong," especially the hand with which you grasp the Savior. Lay hold upon him, sinner. O may the Spirit of God help you to lay hold upon him now! "Let your hands be strong." Grasp him. Lay hold on eternal life. As a sinking man lays hold upon the rope that is cast to him, so lay hold on Christ. It is now or never with thee. If Christ save thee not, thou art damned for ever. Grasp him, then. He passes by. He may never pass this way again. This morning he comes in mercy to thee to turn thee, thou cursed one, into a blessing. Grasp him. Even as Jacob laid hold upon the angel, lay thou hold on Christ; and if he struggle with thee, and seem as though he would not bless thee, say unto him
"Nay, I must maintain my hold,
'Tis thy goodness makes me bold;
I can no denial take,
Pity me for thy love's sake."
O for strong hands to grasp the Savior! Let your hands be strong to lay hold on his promises. They are such as these "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." "Whosoever cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him." Lay hold on these; take them before God and say to him, "Canst thou lie? Canst thou be untrue? If thou be true, keep this promise to me. Hast thou not said, 'As thou hast been a curse, so I will make thee a blessing?' I have been a curse I own it. I lament it. Make me a blessing, Lord. By the sufferings of Jesus by the agony and bloody sweat by his cross and passion by his precious death and burial make me a blessing, Lord: Thou hast but to speak the word, and I, even I, shall repent. Thou hast but to will it, and I shall behold thy face in Christ, and believe in him. Thy Spirit is not to be resisted; send him forth to raise my dead soul from the grave. Come and work with me. Turn the lion to a lamb, the raven to a dove." Sinner, if thou canst believe that God will do it, he will do it; for anything thou wilt believe of him, however high and great, he can do and will do, for he will never let thy faith be in excess of his power his unbounded power. Trust in him; rest upon him. God help thee to do it, and may these poor stammering words of mine, by their very weakness, be fitted for thy conversion, because my Master's glory shall shine the better through my weakness, and his power to save shall be the more resplendent because of my feeble words. If it be so, I would sooner be dumb than speak with the tongues of men and angels, if he were not to be honored. Father, glorify Jesus! Glorify him now in bringing some who have been a curse, to the making of them a blessing, for his name's sake. Amen.
Sad Fasts Changed to Glad Feasts
Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, March 20th, 1892,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
On Lord's-day Evening, September 7th, 1890.
"Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace." Zechariah 8:19
MY time for discourse upon this subject will be limited, as we shall gather around the communion-table immediately afterwards. So in the former part of my sermon I shall give you an outline of what might be said upon the text if we had time to examine it fully. It will be just a crayon sketch without much light and shade. You will be able to think over the subject at your leisure, and fill up the picture for yourselves!
We have, in the chapters we have read, a blessed message of peace to God's people in the day of their trouble. In the land of their captivity the Jews were in great perplexity. Their sad lament is on record; "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof." But their trouble led many of them to seek the Lord and he was found of them. Welcome is such misery which leads to such mercy. In the seventh chapter we are told that, when they sent unto the house of God, to pray before the Lord, and to say, "Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years? Then came the word of the Lord." Jehovah has put their tears into his bottle, and in answer to their sighing sent them a message of hope. That message has in it much that is very practical. It is a letter full of mercy, but it is directed to certain characters. God does not send indiscriminate mercy. If men go on in their sin, he sends them words of judgment; but when they turn from their wickedness, and are renewed by his grace in the spirit of their minds, then it is that words of comfort are spoken to them.
Reviewing the whole message which Zechariah was commissioned to deliver, and which is summed up in our text, there are three things which stand out in clear prominence. The first is, that God calls for transformation of character in the people he is going to bless. The second is, that he promises translation of condition to those whose characters are thus changed and beautiful. And, lastly, he ordains transfiguration of ordinances as the result of the new character and condition. The whole subject is exceedingly suggestive, and well worthy of careful study when you reach your homes.
We must not lose sight of the fact that, primarily, this message is for Israel according to the flesh, and contains a prophesy of their latter-day glory. God hath not cast off his people whom he did foreknow, and there are majestic words here which still await their fulfillment when the set time shall have come. The Lord "will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem", and make the place of his feet glorious in that day. But as "no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation," so the message to the Jews also bears a message for us. Let us seek to learn its lessons well.
I. My text reminds me and the chapter before us emphasizes the fact that, when God means to bless his people, HE CALLS FOR TRANSFORMATION OF CHARACTER. The promise of the abiding presence of the Lord God Almighty is ever proceeded by the call to separation and holiness. "The words which the Lord had cried by the former prophets" made it very clear that only with the righteous nation would God dwell; and Zechariah delivers a similar message.
Very remarkable will be the transformation of character which God shall work. According to the text, love of truth is to be one of the main effects of the change. These people certainly did not set much value on the truth before; they were in love with every lie, with every false god, and with every false prophet. But God would have them taste of his covenant blessings, and be set free from every false way. It is the only truth that can set men free; yet many there are even to-day who delight to be in bondage to error. How is it with you? Do you love the truth, or can you put up with that which is not true, if it is only pleasant? Say, dear heart, are you anxious after truth truth in your head, truth in your heart, truth on your tongue, truth in your life? If you are false, and love falsehood, you are taken with a sore disease; and unless you are healed of the plague, you can never enter heaven. You must be transformed and made true, and only the Spirit of truth can effect the mighty change.
Another sign must follow: love of peace. The text also says: "Therefore love peace." In some men it is a plain proof of conversion when they desire peace. Some are naturally very hot-tempered, and soon boil over. These are the men of great force of character, or else of great shallowness: it is the small pot which is soon hot. Some are malicious; they can take enmity quietly, and keep it in the refrigerator of their cold hearts, even for years. Such love is not peace; they are at war with all who have in any degree disappointed or displeased them. When the grace of God takes away an angry, passionate, malicious disposition, it achieves a great wonder. But then grace itself is a great wonder; and unless this change is wrought in you who need it, you shall not see God, for you cannot enter heaven to go into a passion there. Depend upon it, unless you lose your bad temper, you will never be amongst the ranks of the glorified. It must be conquered and removed, if you are to join the happy hosts on high. "They are without fault before the throne of God;" and so must you be if you are to be numbered amongst that company.
Moreover, those whom God blesses have undergone a transformation as to their conduct with each other. Righteous dealing is another effect of the change. Notice the ninth verse of the seventh chapter: "Thus speaketh the Lord of Hosts, saying, Execute true judgment." This is at all times a necessary admonition, but never more necessary than new, when so many never dream of justice and goodness: in business and in private life many seem to have no care for righteousness. If the thing will pay, they will rob right and left; and they will only be honest because there is an old saw that saith, "Honesty is the best policy." But he that us honest out of policy is the most dishonest man in the world. May God grant us grace to do what is right at all costs! Christian men, when the grace of God reigns in their souls, would rather be the poorest of the poor than get rich by a single act contrary to uprightness. O beloved members of this church, be upright in all your transactions, clear and straight in your dealings; for how shall you call yourselves the children of the righteous God if you make gain by unholy transactions?
Another point of transformation lies in the exercise of compassion. This comes out in that same ninth verse of the seventh chapter: "Shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother." A great mark of a changed heart is when we become tender, pitiful, and kind. Some men have very little of the milk of human kindness about them. You may lay a case before them, and they will wonder why you should come to them; and when you see how little they do, you yourself wonder why you ever came to them. Many there are whose hearts are locked up in an iron safe, and we cannot find the key! They have hidden the key themselves; there is no getting at their hearts. One such said to a minister who preached a sermon, after which there was to be a collection, "You should preach to our hearts, and then you would get some money." The minister replied, "Yes, I think that is very likely, for that is where you keep your money." The answer was a very good one. That is just where a great many persons carry their treasure; but when the grace of God comes, and renews the miser's heart, he begins to be generous, he has pity upon the poor, and compassion for the fallen: he loves to bless those who are round about him, and make them happy. It is a mark of wonderful transformation in the character of some men, when their heart begins to go a little outside their own ribs, and they can feel for the sorrows of other men.
Notice, next, in the tenth verse of that same seventh chapter, that another mark of God's people is consideration for others: "Oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor." How can he be a child of the all-bountiful Father who would make men work for wages that scarcely keep body and soul together? How can he be a son of the God of love, who will defraud the poor woman whose fingers must go stitch, stitch, stitch, half through the night, before she can even get enough to give her even relief from her hunger? God's children will have nothing to do with this kind of thing. Those who take delight in oppressing the poor, and who make their gain thereby, will be themselves pinched in eternal poverty; they are little likely to enter the golden gates of paradise. There is many a child of God who has lived here in the depths of poverty; and when he gets to heaven, away from all the struggle and bitterness, is he to see the man who was his oppressor here below, coming into glory to sit side by side with him? I trow not.
Once more, where there is a work of grace, it leads men to brotherliness of character. "And let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart," saith the Lord in the tenth verse of this seventh chapter; and the same thing is repeated in the seventeenth verse of the eighth chapter. I should be sure that some women were converted if they left off imagining evil against others in their hearts. For there are some women and there are some men, too, I am sorry to say who cannot think of anybody without thinking evil of them. There are such dreadful persons about, and sometimes we come across them to our dismay. They paint the very saints of God black, and there is no getting away from their slander; nay, let a man live the life of Enoch, yet would some of these people report evil against him. Slander is no sign of a saint; it is the brand of one who is under the dominion of the devil. "For all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord." God save us from them all!
Thus I have given you a brief outline of the transformation of grace. They are great changes because God works them. When men come to him, and yield themselves up to his divine power, he takes away the heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh. He turns their nature to the very reverse of what it was before; then they follow after truth and peace, they love righteousness, and learn kindness, through his good Spirit.
II. The second point to which I would draw your attention, with reference to the methods of God with his people, is that HE PROMISES TRANSMUTATIONS OF CONDITION to those men in whom are found the transformation of character. I have already read the eighth chapter through to you; let us go through it again, and pick out just a note or two of the joy and gladness which are here written in full score.
First, jealousy is a tunnel into communing love. God represents himself, in the second verse, as being very jealous about his people; because he loved them so much, he was jealous for them with great fury. The people set up false gods in his own city, even in his own temple, and God was angry with them, and would not dwell with them; but when they repented, and he had cleansed them by his mercy, he says, "I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem." What a change! God waits not until, by long obedience, his people win him back. He does not say that he will return when they merit his presence. No, the word comes to us full of surprise and power, "I am returned." Instantly on the repentance, God comes back. A jealous God fights against me. I fly to Christ. He is content. He comes and dwells with me, no longer full of fury, but full of tenderness and love. If any of you have had God fighting against you, in holy jealousy chasing out your sin, happy will you be if you yield yourselves to Christ at once; if you do so, God will come quickly, and make your hearts to be his abode. May many get that transformation at this good hour!
Next, desolation is turned into population. On account of sin, Jerusalem became desolate. "I scattered them with a whirlwind," saith the Lord, "among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate." Zion sat like a widow, nobody came up to her solemn feasts; but God returned to her and he says, in the fourth verse, "There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof." So that when God comes to bless his people, where there was nobody, there seems to be everybody. When churches and congregations sin, God often minishes them, and brings them low; but when they return to their God, the old saints are seen there again, and there are new-born believers in plenty. God can soon change the estate of his people. It is the same with individual souls who have gone away from God, but afterwards repent and return to him. Then the desolation of heart is forgotten in the joy of the multitude of sweet and holy thoughts and interests, that crowd the heart and life. Old experiences revive, and new life and joy are born, where God comes near to us in grace and power. What a wonderful change this is! May we all taste its bliss!
Another change of condition follows: scattering is turned into gathering. God goes on to say that, as he scattered his people, so he will bring them together again from the east and from the west. This, as I have already said, has a first reference to the scattered Israel, but how true it also is of us! When the Lord leaves us, we are scattered like sheep without a shepherd in a cloudy and dark day; but when we turn to him, his word is sure. "I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness." May we know, in our new experience, the truth of that promise, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee," and may it be to us according to his word!
The next change is, that poverty is turned into plenty. Whereas they become poor, and were half-starved with famine, God tells them that the city shall be prosperous: "The vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew." God often changes men's circumstances when he changes their hearts. When he has been beating and bruising, if men will but yield to him, he turns to them in love and plenty. May the Lord do this with any of us who have grieved him, and brought his rod upon us! There is no truer word in the Book of God than this, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." With the covenant blessings of grace, God often bestows the common blessings of this life, even as it is written in the chapter before us, "I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things."
Farther on in the chapter we are told of another change: ill-will is turned into good-will. Before the Lord graciously visited them, no man loved his neighbor. So we read in the tenth verse. But when God's grace came, and changed their character, then one city went to another, and said, "Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also;" and they went up to the house of the Lord together. Oh, where the grace of God comes, it makes men friends! Enemies they may have been before, but then they go and seek one another out, and they say, "Come, old friend, let us end all this; give me your hand, and let bygones be bygones." There is nothing like love and unity among the people until the grace of God comes and conquers the natural ill-will which else would have had dominion. May such a transmutation take place between any here who may be at variance, and may all bitterness and hatred, if such things exist, be put away!
Did you not notice also, in the reading of this chapter, how these people had been a curse, and how by the presence of God the curse is turned into a blessing? "And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong." When a believer dishonours God, one of the worst results of it is, that he becomes a snare to the people round about him. The very heathen look upon him as a curse. Inconsistent professors are the greatest stumbling blocks to the spread of the cause of Christ. But when their character is changed by the abounding grace of God, they become like overflowing springs, sending streams of blessing far and wide.
Moreover, in the day of blessing, their reproach is turned into honour. The nation had been despised; nobody would honour a Jew; but when they honoured God, then God would honour them, and ten men would take hold of the skirts of a man that was a Jew, saying, "We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you." A man of God would then become more precious than the gold of Ophir. Well, my friends, when we return to God, God very soon has ways of making us honourable, so that we are of value among men. He makes use of us, and men begin to perceive that we are not to be despised if God is with us, and his blessing rests upon us.
Thus have I hurried over these two points, because I want to dwell a little longer on the text itself; it was necessary, however, to introduce it in this way.
III. Now we come to this fact, which always accompanies God's presence. HE ORDAINS TRANSFIGURATIONS OF ORDINANCES. Four fasts, which had been kept by the Jews, were to be turned into feasts, when the character of the men who observed them had changed, and God had dealt graciously with them. Before this, their feasts had been farces, occasions of self-glorification, and all manner of pride. Now, these days were to be festivals of gladness, and times of drawing near to God, rejoicing in his good gift. In like manner, when a man becomes a believer in Christ, and is renewed, this principle operates; many a fast is turned into a feast, and many a sorrow and sadness into joy and gladness.
When the communion-table shall be uncovered, you will see before you, in the emblems of the death of our Lord, what might have been the memory of a fast. The Lord of life and glory was nailed to the accursed tree. He died by the act of guilty men. We, by our sins, crucified the Son of God. We might have expected that, in remembrance of his death, we should have been called to a long, sad, rigorous fast. Do not many men think so even to-day? See how they observe Good Friday, a sad, sad day to many; yet our Lord has never enjoined our keeping such a day, or bidden us to look back upon his death under such a melancholy aspect. Instead of that, having passed out from under the old covenant into the new, and resting in our risen Lord, who once was slain, we commemorate his death by a festival most joyous. It came over the passover, which was a feast of the Jews; but unlike that feast, which was kept by unleavened bread, this feast is brimful of joy and gladness. It is composed of bread and of wine, without a trace of bitter herbs, or anything that suggests sorrow and grief. The bread and the cup most fitly set forth the death of our Lord and Saviour, and the mode of that death, even by the shedding of his blood; but as they stand before us now, they evoke no tears, they suggest no sighs. The memorial of Christ's death is a festival, not a funeral; and we are to come to the table with gladsome hearts, ay, and go away from it with praises, for "after supper they sang a hymn." At both ends it was psalm-singing. The great Hallel of the Jews commenced it, and another psalm, full of joy and gladness out of the hallelujahs of the psalms finished it. Oh, what hath God wrought! We crucified the Christ of God; but in that crucifixion we have found our ransom. With wicked hands he was slain by us; but his blessed sacrifice hath put all our sin away for ever. Our hymn rightly asks
"'It is finished;' shall we raise
Songs of sorrow, or of praise?
Mourn to see the Saviour die,
Or proclaim his victory?"
But it justly answers
"Lamb of God! Thy death hath given
Pardon peace, and hope of heaven:
'It is finish'd;' let us raise
Songs of thankfulness and praise!"
As the Lord's Supper leads the way in that direction, I may say that every other fast of the Christian has been transfigured in the same manner. The Sabbath is to many people a very dreary day; but to many of us it is a fast which has been turned into a feast. I am often amused when I read the accounts that are given by some people of an English Sabbath-day. In all soberness it is set forth what we Puritans do on this first day of the week. We wake up in the morning, and say to ourselves, "Another dreadfully miserable day come around," and then we go off to our places of worship, where we sit with frightfully long faces, and listen to terribly dismal sermons; we do not sing, or even smile; but we howl out some ugly psalm, and make ourselves as unhappy as ever we can be. When we come home, we draw down the blinds to keep the sun out. We never go into the garden to admire the flowers. Well, you know the rest of the story. I think we are descendants of the people who killed the cat on Monday because it cause mice on Sunday at least, so I have heard. But if I had not read all this, I should not have known it. Often, when I see in the paper some description of myself, I say, "Well, people somehow seem to know me better than I know myself; I never thought anything of the kind; it has never entered my head. Yet here is it in black and white." O beloved friends! Our idea of the Lord's-day is altogether different from this hideous caricature of it. If I had to describe our Sabbaths, I should say that they are full of brightness, and joy, and delight. I should tell of our singing, with full hearts, of the happy prospect before us in that land
"Where congregations ne'er break up,
And Sabbaths have no end."
I am sure we should not be likely to go to that heavenly country if our Sabbaths here were as dreary as some say they are. Why, here in this house, we have had our merriest times! Of old, when the prodigal came back, "they began to be merry," and I have never heard that they have left off; at any rate, I do not think that we have. We have rejoiced with the joy of harvest as we have heard of sinners saved, and have known that we are saved ourselves. I grant you that, before we knew the Lord, it did sometimes seem to our young minds rather a dull thing to read the Bible, and hear sermons, and to keep the Sabbaths; but now that we have come to Christ, and he has saved us, now that we are his; the first day of the week, which was a fast, has become a feast, and we look with eager delight for the Sundays to come round one after another. In fact, these Lord's-days are the beds of flowers in our gardens. The week-days are only the gravel paths that yield us little but weariness as we walk along them. Happy Sabbath! We hail thy coming with delight, and sing
"Welcome sweet day of rest,
That saw the Lord arise;
Welcome to this reviving breast,
And these rejoicing eyes!
"The King himself comes near,
And feasts his saints to-day;
He we may sit, and see him here,
And love, and praise, and pray."
So, you see, this is a second instance in which what might have been a fast is turned into a feast.
There is another thing that is to some of us now a great feast, though formerly it was as full of weariness as a fast. It is the hearing of the doctrine of grace. I know some brethren who always sit very uneasily when I begin to preach the doctrines of grace. I am sorry that it is so, and I hope that they will grow wiser. Still, all of us did not always like to hear about God's electing love and absolute sovereignty; about the special redemption of Christ for his people; and about the union to Christ being an everlasting union, never to be broken. There was a time when we did not join very heartily in the lines
"Once in Christ, in Christ forever,
Nothing from his love can sever."
But, oh, when your heart gets into full fellowship with God, if it is with you as it is with me, you will be glad to get on that string! Is there anything that gives us greater joy than to know our calling and election, and to make it sure; to know that the Father loved us as he loved Christ from before the foundation of the world, and that he loves us with such a love that can never end, and can never change, but will continue when the sun burns black as a coal? It was because they heard these grand doctrines that such crowds used to gather in the Desert in France to hear the old Calvinistic preachers. It was the hold these truths of grace had upon the minds and hearts of men that explains how it was that, under the gospel oaks in England, vast numbers used to come hear plain, and often illiterate men, preach the gospel. They preached a gospel that had something in it; and the people soon discover the real article when it is set before them. There is much that goes for gospel now, and if you could have a mile of it, you would not get an inch of consolation out of it, for there is nothing in it. But when your soul is heavy, and when your heart is sad, there is nothing like the old faith to put cheer and life into you. How often have I read Elisha Coles on Divine Sovereignty through and through when I have been ill! When the heart begins to sink, if one gets a grip of the sovereignty of God, and the way of his grace, whereby he saveth the unworthy, and getteth unto himself glory by his faithfulness to his promises, what had been a fast becomes to the child of God a feast of fat things, and royal cheer of a goodly sort.
You will all go with me in the next point. Sometimes the day of affliction becomes as a fast which has been turned into a feast. It is a trying thing to lose one's health, and to be near to death; to lose one's wealth, and to wonder how the children will be fed; to have heavy tidings of disaster come to you day after day in doleful succession. But if you can grasp the promise, and know that "All things work together for good to them that love God;" if you can see a covenant God in all, then the fast turns into a feast, and you say, "God is going to favour me again. He is only pruning the vine to make it bring forth better grapes. He is going to deal with me again after his own wise, loving, and fatherly way of discipline." You then hear the Lord saying to you
"Then trust me, and fear not: thy life is secure;
My wisdom is perfect, supreme is my power;
In love I correct thee, thy soul to refine,
To make thee at length in my likeness to shine."
I have met with some saints who have been happier in their sickness and in their poverty than ever they were in health and in wealth. I remember how one, who had been long afflicted, and had got well, but had lost some of the brightness of the Lord's presence, which he had enjoyed during his sickness, said, "Take me back to my bed again. Let me be ill again, for I was well when I was ill. I am afraid that I am getting ill now that I am well." It is often worth while being afflicted in order to experience the great lovingkindness of God, which he bestows so abundantly on us in the hour of trouble and perplexity. Yes, God turns our fasts into feasts, and we are glad in the midst of our sorrow; we can praise and bless his name for all that he does.
Once more: the solemn truth of the coming of the Lord is a feast to us, though at first it was a fast. With very great delight we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will shortly come. He is even now in the act of coming. The passage that we read, "Surely, I come quickly," would be better translated, "Surely, I am coming quickly." He is on the road, and will certainly appear, to the joy of his people, and for the emancipation of the world. There are certain writers who say they know when he is coming; do not you be plagued with them; they know no more about it than you do. "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only;" said the Lord Jesus. Perhaps the Lord may come sooner than any of us expect; before this "diet of worship" shall break up, he may be here. On the other hand, he may not come for a thousand years, or twice ten thousand years. The times and the seasons are with him, and it is not for us to pry behind the curtain. Those of our number who are unsaved may well dread his coming, for he will come to destroy them that obey not the gospel. "Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; a day of darkness, and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness." That day will be terror, and not light to you. When he cometh, he shall judge the earth in righteousness, and woe unto his adversaries; for "He shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken into shivers." You have grave need to keep the fast of the Second Advent, for to you it is dies irae, day of wrath and day of vengeance, day of dread and day of woe. But if you become a believer, and by grace are transformed, as I described in the earlier part of this discourse, then it shall be a feast to you. Then you will look out for his appearing as the day of your hope, and will gladly say, "Ay, let him come! Come Lord, nor let thy chariots wait! Come, Lord! Thy church entreats thee to tarry no longer! Come, thou absent love, thou dear unknown, thou fairest of ten thousand! Come to thy church, and make her glad!" To us the thought of the glorious Advent of Christ is no fast; it is a blessed feast. Our songs never rise higher than when we get on this strain. With what fervor we lift up our voices, and sing
"Brothers, this Lord Jesus
Shall return again,
With his Father's glory,
With his angel train;
For all wreaths of empire
Meet upon his brow,
And our hearts confess him
King of glory now"!
Last of all, to come still more closely home, the approach of death is to most men a dreadful fast. Not the Mohammedan Ramadan can be more full of piteous grief than some men when they are obliged to think of death. If some of you were put into a room to-morrow and were compelled to stay there all day, and to think of death, it would certainly be a very gloomy time to you. You will die, however, perhaps suddenly, perhaps by slow degrees. There will come a time when people will walk very gently round you bed, when they will wipe the death-sweat from your brow, when they will bow over you to see whether you still breathe, or whether you have gone. Out of the six thousand persons here to-night, there are some, certainly, who will never see New Year's Day. Usually this is some one who does not see even another Sabbath-day. Almost every week we get an intimation that a hearer of the previous week has died before the next Lord's-day.
Who among us will first be gone? Dare you think of it? O beloved, when once you have peace with God, and you know that you are going to behold his face, whom though you have not seen, yet you love, then you can think of death without trembling. I think that there is nothing more delightful to the man who has the full assurance of faith, than to be familiar with the grace, and with the resurrection morning, and with the white robe, and with the harp of gold, and with the palm, and with the endless song. The thought of death is more a feast to us than a fast; for as Watts sings
"Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are,
While on his breast I lean my head,
And breathe my life out sweetly there."
"Well, I shall soon be home," says one old saint; and she spoke of it as she used to speak, when a girl, of the holidays, and of her going away from school. "I shall soon behold the King in his beauty," says another; he speaks of it as he might have spoken, when a young man, of his marriage-day. Children of God can not only read Young's Night Thoughts without feeling any chill of solemnities there written out; but they can write in their diaries notes of expectation, at the thought of being with Christ, and almost notes of regret that they have not passed away to the glory, but are lingering here in the land of shadows. "What?" said one, who had been long lying senseless, when he came back again to consciousness, "And am I here still? I had half hoped to have been in my heavenly Father's home and palace above, long before this; and I am still here." Truly, beloved, the fast is turned into a feast, when we reach this experience. We will not hesitate to say, "Come, Lord, take us to thyself." Oh for a sight of the King in his beauty!
"Father, I long, I faint to see
The place of thine abode;
I'd leave thy earthly courts, and flee
Up to thy seat, my God."
I knew right well a beloved brother in Christ with whom I was very familiar, who stood up one Sabbath morning, and announced just that verse. I thought of him when I repeated it, and I wondered whether it was quite as true to me as it was to him. He gave it out, and said
"Father, I long, I faint to see
The place of thine abode;
I'd leave thy earthly courts, and flee
Up to thy seat, my God!"
Then he stopped, there was a silence; and at last, one of the congregation ventured upstairs into the pulpit, and found that the preacher was gone. His prayer was heard. He was gone to the place of God's abode. Oh, happy they who die thus! The Lord grant that we may never pray against a sudden death! We may almost pray for it when once our soul is right with God. I can join John Newton, and instead of dreading the change, say
"Rather, my spirit would rejoice,
And long, and wish, to hear thy voice;
Glad when it bids me earth resign,
Secure of heaven, if thou art mine."
But is Christ yours? Has the fast been changed into a feast for you, by faith in the crucified Saviour? God help you to answer that question with a glad, hearty "Yes"! Then may he make all your life "joy and gladness", changing your fearful fasts into "cheerful feasts", until at length all of us, who believe in Christ, and who love his appearing, shall sit down at the marriage-supper of the Lamb! Amen.
PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON Zechariah 7:0 and Zechariah 8:0 .
A Call to Worship
April 20, 1873 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
“And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts: I will go also.” Zechariah 8:21 .
This prophecy may relate to the Jews, literally, and it is referred to by their learned doctors as to the days of the Messiah. We believe, also, that it refers to the days of the Messiah and we look for times when again the Holy Land shall be fully inhabited and the people shall rejoice to meet together to worship the Lord their God. We do not see, however, that this prophecy has yet been accomplished, and we look for it to be fulfilled in the latter days. Spiritually it teaches just this, that when God returns to bless His Church there are certain signs and marks of His return. Just as the coming back of the sun when he advances north of the Equator and again cheers us with his warmth, is marked by the springing up of flowers and the singing of birds, so the return of God’s Holy Spirit to bless His Church is marked by certain signsand tokens.
The text tells us what those signs and tokens are, but before I mention them, let me suggest that every Believer should pray that these cheering indications may be manifest in our midst that in these, our days, the Lord may return unto His Jerusalem and be jealous for her with a great jealousy that we may see glad seasons such as our fathers have told us of, which happened in their days and in the olden times before them. As far as shall lie in the ability of any one of us, may we help towards such revivals by our prayers, by our efforts and by our consistent obedience to the Gospel. And may the Lord visit us according to the desire of our hearts.
I. One of the first signs of God’s Presence among a people is that THEY TAKE GREAT INTEREST IN DIVINE WORSHIP.
“The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts.” It is clear from this that they no longer despise assemblies for worship and no longer count Divine service to be a weariness. On the contrary, they begin to value the means of Grace and desire to make good use of them. The first solemn assembly mentioned here is the Prayer Meeting and certainly one of the surest tokens of a visitation of God’s Spirit to a community is their delighting to meet for prayer.
The first cry of the people mentioned in our text was, “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord.” It is no statement of mine, suggested by unreasonable zeal, but it is the result of long-continued observation when I assert that the condition of a Church may be very accurately gauged by its Prayer Meetings. If the spirit of prayer is not with the people, the minister may preach like an angel, but he cannot expect success. If there is not the spirit of prayer in a Church there may be wealth, there may be talent, there may be a measure of effort, there may be an extensive machinery, but the Lord is not there. It is a sure evidence of the Presence of God that men pray as the rising of the thermometer is an evidence of the increase of the temperature.
As the Nilometer measures the rising of the water in the Nile, and so foretells the amount of harvest in Egypt, so is the Prayer Meeting a “Graceometer,” and from it we may judge of the amount of Divine working among a people. If God is near a Church it must pray. And if He is not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be slothfulness in prayer. God’s people, by their saying one to another, “Let us go speedily to pray,” manifest that they have a sense of their needs they feel that they need much, much that Nature cannot yield them they feel their need of Divine Grace, their need of quickening, their need of God’s help if sinners are to be converted. They feel their need of His help if even those who are saved are to be steadfast their need of the Holy Spirit that they may grow in Grace and glorify God. He who never prays surely does not know his own needs and how can he be taught of the Lord at all? God’s people are a people sensible of their needs and therefore the absence of a sense of poverty is a sad token.
Moreover, the love which God’s people have for prayer shows their desire after heavenly things. Those who frequently meet together for importunate, wrestling prayer, practically show that they desire to see the Lord’s Kingdom come. They are not so taken up with their own business that they cannot afford time to think of God’s business. They are not so occupied with the world’s pleasures that they take no pleasure in the things of God. Believers in a right state of heart value the prosperity of the Church and, seeing that it can only be promoted by God’s own hand, they cry mightily unto the Lord of Hosts to stretch out His hand of mercy and to be favorable to His Church and cause.
Church members who never pray for the good of the Church have no love for it. If they do not plead for sinners they have no love for the Savior and how can they be truly converted persons? Such as habitually forsake the assembling of themselves together for prayer may well suspect the genuine character of their piety. I am not, of course, alluding to those who are debarred by circumstances, but I allude to those who, from frivolous excuses, absent themselves from the praying assemblies. How dwells the love of God in them? Are they not dead branches of the vine? May they not expect to be taken away before long? Earnest meetings for prayer, indeed, not only prove our sense of need and our desire for spiritual blessings, but they manifest most our faith in the living God, and our belief that He hears prayer, for men will not continue in supplication if they do not believe that God hears them. Sensible men would soon cease their prayers if they were not convinced that there is an ear which hears their petitions. Who would persevere in a vain exercise? Our united prayers prove that we know that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. We know that the Lord is able to work according to our desires and that He is willing to be entreated of us. I have never known a thirsty man by a well who would not use the bucket which was there ready to hand unless, indeed, he was of the opinion that the well was dry. I have never known a man who wanted wealth and had a good trade, who would not exercise his trade. And so I have never known a man who believed prayer to be really effectual and felt his great needs who did not engage in prayer.
It is an ill token to any community of Christians when prayer is at a low ebb, for it is clear evidence that they do not know their own needs, they are not anxious about spiritual things and neither do they believe that God will enrich them in answer to their petitions. Beloved, may we never, as a Church, deserve censure for neglecting prayer! Our meetings for prayer have excited general astonishment by their number, but they are not all they might be. I shall put it to the conscience of each one to say whether you are as prayerful as you should be. Did you ever hear of a Church member who had not attended a Prayer Meeting for a month? Do you know of Church members who never assemble with the Brethren so much as once in a quarter of a year? Do you know of any who have not been to a Prayer Meeting in this place for the last six months? Do you know such? I will not say I know any such. I will do no more than hint that such people may exist. But if you know them will you give them my Christian love and say that nothing depresses the pastor’s spirit like the absence of Church members from the public assemblies of prayer, and that if anything could make him strong in the Lord, and give him courage to go forward in the Lord’s work, it would be if all of you were to make the prayer meeting your special delight? I shall be satisfied when I see our prayer meetings as crowded as the services for preaching. And it strikes me if ever we are fully baptized into God’s Spirit, we shall arrive at that point. A vastly larger amount of prayer ought to be among us than at present and if the Lord visits us graciously He will set us praying without ceasing.
But next, these people also took an interest in meetings for instruction. I find that the Chaldee translates the second sentence, “Let us seek the doctrine of Jehovah of Hosts.” The Lord’s coming near to any people will be sure to excite in them a longing to hear the Word. God sends impulses of enquiry over men’s minds and suddenly places of worship become crowded which were half empty before. Preachers, also, who were cold and dead become quickened and speak with earnestness and life. No doubt waves of religious movement pass over nations and peoples and when God comes to a people the crest of that wave will be seen in this form that the kingdom of Heaven becomes an object of interest and men press unto it! During the revival under John the Baptist, the people went in crowds into the wilderness to hear the strange preacher who bade them repent. The revival under the Apostles was marked by their everywhere preaching the Word and the people listening. This was the great token of the Reformation meetings were held under Gospel Oaks, out upon the commons and away in lone houses and in glens and woods men thronged to listen to the Word of God! The professionals of popery were forsaken for the simple preaching of the Truth of God! This also marked the last grand revival of religion in our own country under Whitfield and Wesley. The Word of the Lord was precious in those days. And whether the Gospel was preached among the colliers of Kingswood or the rabble of Kennington Common, tens of thousands were awakened and rejoiced in the joyful notes of Free Grace.
Men loved to hear the Word they said to one another, “Let us seek the Lord.” It is said that Moorfields would be full of light on a dark winter’s morning at five o’clock when Mr. Whitfield was to preach because so many people would be finding their way to the rendezvous, each one carrying a lantern. And so also over there in Zoar Street, in Southwark, when Mr. John Bunyan was out of prison and was going to preach, a couple of thousand would be assembled at five o’clock in the morning to enjoy his honest testimony. It is a token for good when people press to hear the Word. I think we have in a measure the first token a love for prayer, but we need far more of it. As for the second token, namely, an earnest love for listening to the Word of God, we have that in abundance. See you not how the crowds rush in like a mighty torrent as soon as the doors are open? Putting the two together, it seems that both these forms of meeting were loved by the people because they sought salvation therein, or as the margin has it, they, “entreated the face of the Lord.” They came to pray with a view to be saved! They came to hear preaching with a view to Divine favor! They wanted reconciliation with God they had wandered from Him, but now they sought Him! They wanted fellowship with God!
They had said to God, “Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Your ways.” But now they said, “Reveal Yourself unto us, O God, as You do not unto the world.” They longed to promote God’s Glory, even as before they dishonored Him. Yes, when Prayer Meetings and Preaching Meetings shall be attended with this end and object that we may get near to God and that we may glorify God there shall be happy days, indeed, for us! Master Fox in his, “Acts and Monuments,” speaking of the time when the Reformation was breaking out, uses language something to this effect “It was lovely to see their travels, earnest seeking, burning zeal, Bible reading, watching, sweet assemblies, resort of one neighbor to another for conference and mutual confirmation.” And, he adds, “All which may make us now to blush for shame in these, our days, of free profession.” We may take the good man’s hint and feel shame for neglected opportunities, cold devotions and disregard of the Word of God. Our fathers loved to meet for prayer and to hear the preaching of the Truth of God. And when they came together it was with an intensely earnest desire to obtain the Divine blessing. To get this they risked life and liberty, meeting, even, when fine and imprisonment, or perhaps the gallows might be their reward. O to see the like earnestness among ourselves as to the means of Grace! May the Lord Jesus send it to us by the working of His Holy Spirit. II. Another sign of God’s visiting a people in mercy is that THEY STIR EACH OTHER UP TO ATTEND UPON THE MEANS OF GRACE, for “the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord.” That is to say, they did not merely ask one another to go if they casually met. They did not bring in the subject accidentally if they could do so readily in common conversation but the inhabitants of one city went to another on purpose to exhort them! They made a journey about it. As men go to market, from town to town, so did these people try to open a market for Christ and not only one messenger, but many of the inhabitants of one city went on purpose all the way to another city, with set design, to induce them to join in worship, saying, “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord.” They put themselves out of the way to do it. They had such a desire that great numbers might come together to worship the Most High that they took much trouble to invite their neighbors. God will be with us, indeed, if each one of us shall be anxious to bring others to Jesus, and to that end shall try to bring them to hearken to the Word of God. Why were these men so earnest? The reply will be, they persuaded others to come to the meetings for worship out of love to God’s House, to God’s cause, and to God Himself. God’s House is honored and beautified when great numbers come together. The ways of Zion do mourn and languish when but few assemble for prayer. Christ has promised to be where two or three are met together in His name. Still, it is not helpful to comfortable fellowship for a mere handful to meet in a large house. We feel like sparrows alone on the housetop when such is the case.
A great space and only a sprinkling of people to occupy it is like a big barn with only one bundle of straw in it the winds howl in and out of it very miserably. I am sure if any of you attend a place of worship where there are very few beside yourselves, you must feel unhappy. And if you do not, why surely your hearts cannot be in the right place. Warm hearts are not easily kept alive among empty pews. A coal must be very lively to burn alone, but many glowing coals laid together help to keep each other alight. No one can doubt, moreover, that full houses give opportunity to the preacher to glorify God. It is hopeful work to throw the net where there are great shoals of fish. Where men are hearing, we may hope that God will be blessing and therefore earnest Christians love to see the aisles and seats crowded. Besides, God is glorified when great numbers come together with earnest minds to celebrate His worship. In early days, in the Jewish Church, the men of Israel did not come by twos and threes and meet together in scant numbers, but from all parts of Judea’s land north, south, east, and west they came together in companies, singing through the glades of the forest, singing through the dells, and singing over the hills! And when they reached the city of Jerusalem in their hundreds of thousands, their praise was a great shout, like the voice of thunder and the smoke of their sacrifices rose up in clouds to Heaven. Those were grand days! Does not David seem to relish the service of the Lord his God all the more because of the multitude that kept holy day? Therefore the saints love to see many come to pray and to listen to the Word of God because the multitude honors the house and God thus honors God Himself. O Brothers and Sisters, we think the cause is sadly declining when hearers are like the gleanings of the vintage, when service time comes and sees vacant seats by the score because professors shrink at the weather, or hunt up an excuse for staying at home, being too idle, too indifferent to cross the threshold of their houses unless some eloquent preacher or fresh comer shall attract them. But we reckon that God’s cause prospers when the people come joyfully in their bands to listen to the Truth of God and God’s Spirit applies it to their hearts with power, leading them to prayer and praise. Moreover, Believers love to bring others to the House of God because they wish to do good to them. Did you ever notice how the little birds, when they find a heap of corn, begin to chatter and twitter as if they would call all the other birds to come and feast, also? Grace is generous and is never akin to churlish Nabal. Misers would rather keep all their wealth to themselves, but a man who is rich in faith feels his happiness increased when others have faith, too! As soon as we drink of the Water of Life, a sacred instinct within us bids us cry, “Come.” “Ho, everyone that thirsts, come you to the waters.” He knows not the Grace of God who has no desire that others should know it, also. You will assuredly long for the souls of others if God has saved your soul. Natural humanity, let alone our alliance to the Divine Nature, leads us to bid others come to Christ. Besides, the love of company in the Christian makes him invite his neighbors to Gospel worship. Believers are like sheep in this among other things, namely, that they are gregarious. A man who loves to keep his religion to himself must surely be a stranger to the religion of Christ! Communion is one of the sweetest joys of the spirit. Fellowship with saints above will be one jewel of our everlasting crown and fellowship with saints below is one of the sweetest cordials of our mortal cares. “I went to the House of God in company,” says David, as if it made the house so much the sweeter to go in company with others who went there. “I had gone with the multitude. I went with them to the House of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day.” For the sake of communion we long to see many going upon the heavenly pilgrimage. Observe in our text there does not appear to have been any minister or missionary employed to go from one city to another, and to say, “Let us go and pray,” but the inhabitants, themselves, undertook the duty of invitation and persuasion, and said, “Let us go and pray unto the Lord.” The people, themselves, attended to mutual provocation to love and to good works! How I wish they did so now! They did not wait for the exhortations of one specially set apart to be a prompter and an organizer. But their own hearts were so warm that they did it spontaneously among themselves! My Brothers and Sisters, may you thus be pastors to one another! There are far too many of you for me to look after personally, therefore I pray you stir one another up to every good word and work. I believe that when a man stirs others up it is good for himself, for a man cannot, in common decency, be very cold, himself, who bids others be warm. He cannot, surely, unless he is an arrant hypocrite, be negligent of those duties which he bids others attend to! Beloved, I commit this charge to you, and then I have done with this point. This morning I ask you to visit one another and to say, “Come, let us not as a Church lose the Presence of God after nearly 20 years’ enjoyment of it. Let not our minister’s hands grow weak by our neglect of prayer. Let not the work of the Church flag through our indifference, but let us make a brotherly covenant that we will go speedily to pray before the Lord and seek the Lord of Hosts, that we may retain His Presence and have yet more of it, to the praise of the glory of His Grace.” III. I must pass on to notice that it appears from our text that it is a sure mark of God’s visiting a people, when THEY ARE URGENT TO ATTEND UPON THESE HOLY EXERCISES AT ONCE. The text says, “Let us go speedily to pray,” by which is meant, I suppose, that when the time came to pray, they were punctual, they were not laggards. They did not come into the assembly late. They did not drop in, one by one, long after the service had begun but they said, “Let us go speedily.” They looked up to their clocks and said, “How long will it take us to walk so as to be there at the commencement? Let us start five minutes before that time lest we should not be able to keep up the pace and should, by any means, reach the door after the first prayer.” I wish late comers would remember David’s choice. You remember what part he wished to take in the House of God? He was willing to be a doorkeeper and that not because the doorkeeper has the most comfortable berth, for that is the hardest post a man can choose. But he knew that doorkeepers are the first in and the last out and so David wished to be first at the service and the last at the going away! How few would be of David’s mind! It has been said that Dissenters in years gone by placed the clock outside the Meeting House so that they might never enter late. But the modern Dissenters place the clock inside, that their preachers may not keep them too long! There is some truth in the remark, but it is not to our honor. This was, however, a fault with our forefathers, for quaint old Herbert said “O be drest, stay not for th’ other pin: why you have lost a joy for it worth worlds.” Let us mend our ways and say, one to another, in the language of the text, “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord.” Let us go with quick feet. If we go slowly to market, let us go quickly to Prayer Meeting. If we are slow on week days, let us go quickly on Sunday. Let us never keep Jesus Christ waiting and we shall do so if we are not on time, for He is sure to be punctual, even if only two or three are met together in His name. The expression, however, means more than this. “Let us go speedily” means, let us go heartily do not let us crawl to prayer, but let us go to it as men who have something before them which attracts them. When the angels serve God they never do it as though they were half asleep. They are all alive and burning like flames of fire. They have six wings and, I guarantee you, they use them all! When the Lord says, “Gabriel, go upon My bidding,” he outstrips the lightning! O, to exhibit some such ardor and zest in the service of God! If we pray, let us pray as if we mean it! If we worship, let us worship with our hearts. “Let us go speedily,” and may the Lord make our hearts to be like the chariots of Amminadib for swiftness and rapidity glowing wheels and burning axles may God give to our spirits that we may never let the world think we are indifferent to the love of Jesus. “Let us go speedily.” The words, “Let us go speedily,” mean let us go at once, or instantly. If any good thing has been neglected and we resolve to attend to it better, let us do it at once. Revivals of religion when is the best time for them? Directly! When is the best time to repent of sin? Today! When is the best time for a cold heart to grow warm? Today! When is the season for a sluggish Christian to be industrious? Today! When is the period for a backslider to return? Today! When is the time for one who has crawled along the road to Heaven to mend his pace? Today! Is it not always today? And, indeed, when should it be? “Tomorrow,” you say. Ah, but you may never have it! And, when it comes, it will still be today. Tomorrow is only in the fool’s almanac it exists nowhere else. Today! Today, let us go speedily! I beseech the Church of God here to be yet more alive and at once to wake up. Time is flying we cannot afford to lose it. The devil is wide awake, why should we be asleep? Error is stalking through the land, evil influences are abroad everywhere! Men are dying, Hell is filling, the grave is gorged and yet is insatiable and the man of destruction is not yet satisfied. Shall we lie down in wicked satisfaction, yielding to base laziness? Awake, arise, you Christians! Now, even now, lest it be said of you, “Curse you Meroz, says the Lord, curse you bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” I know we are all apt to think that we live in the most important era of history and I admit that under certain aspects every day is a crisis, but I claim liberty to say that there never was a period in the world’s history when Christian activity, and prayerfulness, and genuine revival were more needed than just now. Where is our nation? Is it not on the very verge of becoming, once again, a province of the Pope’s dominion? Are not the modern Pharisees compassing sea and land to make proselytes? Does it not seem as if the people were gone mad upon their idols and were altogether fascinated by the charms of the Whore of Babylon, and drunken with her cup? Do you not see everywhere the old orthodox faith forsaken, and men occupying Christian pulpits who do not believe, but even denounce the doctrines which they have sworn to defend? Might I not say of Christendom in England, that “her whole head is sick and her whole heart faint”? The daughter of Zion staggers in the street for weakness there is none to help her among all her sons all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper. Her Nazarites were purer than snow and their separation from the world was known of all men but now they are defiled with worldliness until they are blacker than a coal! From the daughter of Zion her beauty is departed. O you that love her, let your hearts sound as a harp for her! O you that love her, weep day and night for her hypocrisy, for unless the Lord returns unto her the time of her sore distress draws near. Thus says the Lord, “Arise, cry out in the night season, pour out your hearts like water before the Lord, and then the Lord will return and be gracious to His inheritance.” IV. For a moment I shall call your attention to another point. When God visits a people they will not only attend to prayer and preaching, and stir each other up to do so at once, but THEY WILL HAVE A SPECIAL EYE TO GOD IN THESE DUTIES. Observe, they shall say, “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts.” Alas, many go to religious meetings to be seen of men! I am afraid there is a great deal too much exhibition of dress in some quarters, and there certainly cannot be a greater abomination than to make the House of God a show room for our finery. Jesus might say, “Take these things away. It is written My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it an exhibition wherein to display yourselves.” Some go to worship because it is the custom and it would not be respectable to stay away. “We must have a pew in Church, you know, or we should be remarked upon in society.” I am glad that people attend Divine worship for any reason, but mere custom is a poor motive and is no sign of Divine Grace. The people in the text did not say, “We will go that we may see our neighbors, and that our neighbors may see us.” No, they went to “pray before the Lord.” They did not assemble to seek a man. They did not go to hear Mr. So-and-So preach. Of course they would sooner hear one who preached all the Gospel and preached it plainly, than another who preached half the Gospel and fired over their heads. But, still, they looked through the man to the man’s Master and they did not think that the Master was tied up to any one man. May we cultivate in our midst the desire to worship for God’s sake, not for the preacher’s sake, whoever he may be. I believe it is not wrong for a Christian man to feel that he is better fed by one minister than by another and therefore to be most glad when God’s servant is in the pulpit. But if that feeling grows so that if he cannot hear his favorite preacher he will stay at home, it is most mischievous. I thank God that my Master has other preachers besides Paul. There is Apollos, there is Cephas, and beyond these I see a great company of them that publish the Good News. I will hear what God will speak through them. I would have you note, Beloved, how different is my text from that formal worship into which it is so easy to fall. “I have been to the Prayer Meeting. I have done my duty and I can go home satisfied. I have taken a seat at the Tabernacle and listened to two sermons on Sunday I feel I have done my duty.” Oh, dear Hearer! That is a poor way of living! I need a great deal more than all that or I shall be wretched. At the Prayer Meeting I must see God, I must pour out my soul before Him! I must feel that the spirit of prayer has been there and that I have participated in it, otherwise what was the good of my being there? I must, when in the assembly on Sunday, find some blessing to my own soul! I must get another glimpse of the Savior! I must come to be somewhat more like Him! I must feel my sin rebuked, or my flagging Graces revived! I must feel that God has been blessing poor sinners and bringing them to Christ! I must feel, indeed, that I have come into contact with God, or else what is my Sunday worth, and what is my having been in the assembly worth? If God shall bless you, indeed, you will worship spiritually and you will count nothing to be true worship which is not of the spirit and of the heart and soul. May God quicken us all up to that point, and He shall have the praise. V. The last thing is this it is a blessed sign of God’s visiting a people when EACH ONE OF THEM IS RESOLVED, PERSONALLY, THAT HE WILL, IN A SPIRITUAL MANNER, WAIT UPON GOD. Notice the last four words. “I will go also.” “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts: I will go also.” That is the point “I will go also.” The Christian man should neither be content, when he goes to worship, to leave others behind, nor should he be content to drive others before him and stop behind himself. It is said of Julius Caesar that he owed his victories to the fact that he never said to his soldiers, “Go,” but always said, “Let us go.” That is the way to win. Example is mightier than precept! We read of the Pharisees of old that they laid burdens on other men’s shoulders, but they themselves did not touch them with one of their fingers true Christians are not so. They say, “I will go also.” Was not that bravely spoken of poor old Latimer, when he was to be burnt with Ridley. Ridley was a younger and stronger man, and as he walked to the stake, old Latimer, with his quaintness about him to the last, cried to his Brother, Ridley, “Have after, as fast as my poor old legs can carry me.” The dear old saint was marching to his burning as fast as he could not at all loath to lay his aged body upon the altar for his Lord! That is the kind of man who makes others into men the man who habitually says, “I will go also; even if I am called to be burned for Christ. Whatever is to be done or suffered, I will go also.” I would be ashamed to stand here and say to you, “Brothers and Sisters, pray. Brothers, preach. Brethren, labor,” and then be an idler myself. And you, also, would be ashamed to say to others, “Let us pray. Let us be earnest,” while you are not praying and not earnest yourselves. Example is the backbone of instruction! Be, yourself, what you would have others be and do, yourself, what you would have others do. “I will go also,” because I need to pray as much as anybody else. I will go to hear the Word, for I need to hear it as well as others. I will go and wait upon God, for I need to see His face. I will cry to Him for a blessing, for I need a blessing. I will confess my sin before Him, for I am full of sin. I will ask mercy through the precious blood of Jesus, for I must have it or perish. “I will go also.” If nobody else will go, I will go. And if all the rest go I will go also. I do not want to pledge any of you this morning. I shall not, therefore, ask you to hold up your hands, but I should like to put it very personally to all the members of this Church. We have enjoyed the Presence and blessing of God for many years in a very remarkable manner and it is not taken from us. But I am jealous, I believe it is a godly jealousy and not unbelief lest there should be among us a slackness in prayer and a lack of zeal for the Glory of God. I am fearful of a neglecting of the souls of our neighbors, and a ceasing to believe to the full in our mission and in the call of God to be, each one of us, in this world as Christ was, saviors of others. My Brothers and Sisters, knit together as we are in Church fellowship and bound by common cords to one blessed Master, let each one say within himself, “I will go also.” The Church shall be the subject of my prayer. The minister shall share in my petitions. The Sunday school shall not be forgotten. The College shall be remembered in supplication. The Orphanage shall have my heart’s petitions. I will plead with God for the Evangelists. I will consider the congregation at the Tabernacle and pray that it may gently melt into the Church. I will pray for the strangers who fill the aisles and crowd the pews that God will bless them. Yes, I will say unto God this day, “My God, You have saved me, given me a part and lot among Your people and put me in Your garden where Your people grow and flourish. I will not be a barren tree, but abound in fruit, especially in prayer. If I cannot do anything else I can pray. If this is my one mite, I will put that into the treasury. I will put You in remembrance and plead with You, and give You no rest until You establish Your cause and make it praise in the earth.” I am not asking more of you than Jesus would ask, nor do I exact anything at your hands you will cheerfully render that which is a tribute due to the infinite love of your Lord. Now, do not say, dear Brother, “I hope the Church will wake up.” Leave it alone and mind that you wake up yourself. Do not say, “I hope they will be stirred up this morning.” Never mind others! Stir up yourself. Begin to enquire, “Which Prayer Meeting shall I go to, for I mean to join the people of God and let them hear my voice, or at least have my presence. And if I cannot go to the Tabernacle I will drop in near my own house. And if there is no meeting there I will open my own house the largest room of any cottage shall be used for a Prayer Meeting or my parlor if I have one. I will have a share in the glorious work of attracting a blessing from the skies. I will send up my electric rod of prayer into the clouds of blessing to bring down the Divine force.” Do it! Do it! Let each one say, “I will go also.” May God bless this Word to His people, and I am sure it will result in benediction to sinners. For, remember, you ungodly ones, that all this noise is about you. What we need the blessing of God for is that you may be saved! We cannot bear that you should remain as you are, unconverted! And I am asking God’s people to pray specially with an eye to your salvation. Shall we think about your souls and will you not think about them yourselves? Are we inclined to move Heaven and earth that you might be saved and will you sit still and perish? May the Lord awaken you to say, “If others are going to pray unto the Lord and seek His face, I will go also,” and the Lord bless you, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Zechariah 8". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany