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Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible Spurgeon's Verse Expositions
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ spe/ 1-corinthians-15.html. 2011.
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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1 Corinthians 15:1-58
There were people in the Apostles' days who had an idea that there was no resurrection. Paul endeavours torefute the idea, and teaches the Corinthians that there was a resurrection from the dead. From the 1st to the 11th verse he proves the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and upon that grounds the doctrine of the resurrection of the just.
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, and wherein ye stand:
"By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain."
Now, we expect to hear a whole list of doctrines when the apostle says "I declare unto you the gospel;" but instead of that, he simply tells us of the resurrection of Jesus, for that is the very marrow of the gospel, the foundation of it that Jesus Christ died and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.
"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures."
"And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."
That is the whole of the gospel. He who perfectly understands that, understands the first principles; he has commenced aright. This is the starting point if we wish to learn the truth, "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
"And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.
After that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the best attested facts on record. There were so many witnesses to behold it, that if we do in the least degree receive the credibility of men's testimonies, we cannot and we dare not doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. It is all very easy for infidels to say that these persons were deceived, but it is equally foolish, for these persons could not every one of them have been so positively deceived as to say that they had seen this man, whom they knew to have been dead, afterwards alive; they could not all, surely, have agreed together to help on this imposture: if they did, it is the most marvellous thing we have on record, that not one of them ever broke faith with the others, but that the whole mass of them remained firm. We believe it to be quite impossible that so many rogues should have agreed for ever. They were men who had nothing to gain by it; they subjected themselves to persecution by affirming the very fact; they were ready to die for it, and did die for it. Five hundred or a thousand persons who had seen him at different times, declared that they did see him, and that he rose from the dead; the fact of his death having been attested beforehand. How, then, dare any man say that the Christian religion is not true, when we know for a certainty that Christ died and rose again from the dead? And knowing that, who shall deny the divinity of the Saviour? Who shall say that he is not mighty to save? Our faith hath a solid basis, for it hath all these witnesses on which to rest, and the more sure witness of the Holy Spirit witnessing in our hearts. "And last of all," says the apostle, "he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time: for I am the least of the apostles." We should not have thought Paul proud if he had said, "I am the greatest of the apostles," for he occupies the largest portion of the sacred Scriptures with his writings; and he preached more abundantly than they all. There was not one who could exceed Paul, or even come near him in his arduous labours; yet he says,
"For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God."
When he looked upon the mercies that God gave to him he always recollected how little he deserved; and when he found himself preaching, oh! with what pathos did he preach to the ungodly, for he could always close up: "But I obtained mercy, that in me first Christ might show forth all long-suffering as a pattern to them that believe." Have I a persecutor here? Let him know that his sin is a most damnable sin that will sink him lower into hell than any other; but even for him there is mercy, and abundant pardon; for Paul says he obtained mercy even though he persecuted the church of God.
"But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
"Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed."
"But by the grace of God I am what I am." That is about as far as most of us can get; we shall never get any further. "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all." Then he stops himself: "Yet, not I, but the grace of God which was with me." We should always take care that we do not take any of our good works to ourselves: they are the effects of grace within us. If we once get putting the crown on our own heads we shall soon have heavy heads for our trouble; but if we put them all on the head of Jesus, he will honour us if we honour him.
Having thus proved the resurrection of Christ, he goes on:
"Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
"But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen!
"And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
"Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
"For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
"And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins:",
Perhaps it does not strike you at first sight that there is an indissoluble connection between the resurrection of Christ and that of all his people; perhaps you do not see the marrow of the argument. The apostle says, "If the dead do not rise, then Christ did not rise; and if Christ did rise, then all the dead will rise." Do you see how it is? Why, because Christ and human nature are now so linked together that what Christ did, he did as the representative of all his people. When Adam sinned, the world sinned, and the world died. "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive." Christ could not rise except as the representative of his people; and "if Christ rose," says Paul, "then his people will rise; and if he did not rise then we shall not rise, because we are one with him; and if we do not rise Christ did not rise, because we are one with him." See here a connection which cannot be broken, that if Christ rose, then must the dead rise also. This brings another argument
"Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished."
How do you like that thought?
"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."
For they were then persecuted, cast to the wild beasts, shut up in prison; and if this life were all, what would be the value of the Christian religion? If would only make men miserable.
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.
"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
It is no use for the Arminian to strain this, and say that it proves that every one receives grace through Christ. It says no such thing; it simply says, "die" and "live." Everybody shall live at the resurrection.
"But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits: afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
"Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
"For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
Here the great proof flashes out if death is to be destroyed, then there must be a resurrection, for death cannot be destroyed until the very bones of the saints are delivered from the strongholds of the enemy.
"For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, All things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
"And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all."
We are not to suppose, when we read that Jesus Christ will deliver up his kingdom to God, even to his Father, that he will therefore cease to be God or cease to be a King. Understand this; God the Father gave to the Son a Mediatorial Kingdom as Man-God; but the Father was just as much God when he had given him that kingdom; it was his own special kingdom which he, as the Man-God Mediator was to take, and God the Father lost no glory by giving it to him. When Christ shall have worked out all his Mediatorial purposes, when he shall have finished the salvation of all his elect, he will lay the crown of his Mediatorial Kingdom at the feet of God, and, as the Man-Mediator, he too will be subject unto the great Jehovah, the Three-one; then there will be no Mediator any longer, since there will be no necessity for any mediation, but we shall all be gathered in one, even the things that are on earth and the things that are in heaven one in Christ Jesus. Then Christ will have his kingdom as God, but as Mediator he will have no kingdom. It is a destruction of office, not of person, nor yet of honor; it is a laying aside of his official capacity, not in any degree a diminution of his glory and honor.
"Else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"
This text has had thirty or forty explanations. Doddridge and a great many more think it refers to the practice, when a martyr died, for another person to come forward and fill the offices which he held, and so to be "baptized for the dead;" but the meaning I like best is: What shall they do who are baptized with the certainty that they are not baptized to live a long while, but that immediately after baptism they will be dragged away to die baptized in the very teeth of death? For as soon as any one was baptised, the Romans would be looking after him, to drag him away to death. Thus they were many of them baptised as if they were being washed for their burial, and dedicating themselves to the grave. They came forward and said, "O Lord, I give myself unto thy service not to serve thee here below, for that the enemy will not let me do, but since I must die, I will be baptized and brave it all; I will be baptized even for death itself." Well, what shall these do who are baptized in the certain prospect of death if the dead rise not? "Why are they then baptized for the dead?"
"And why stand in jeopardy every hour?
"I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
"If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die."
It does not say that Paul did fight with beasts at Ephesus; but a great many others did. It was a common practice to put Christians to the lions, giving them a short sword, and bidding them fight for their lives; and sometimes, strengthened by God, they fought manfully, and come off alive. But "if," says Paul, "I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?" I might as well give up my religion; then I could lie down and be at peace. "Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die." Oh! wicked Paul! to quote from a heathen poet! How disgraceful. If I were to repeat a verse, and it looked as if Shakespere or any profane author ever wrote such a thing, how criminal! say you. But I like good things wherever I find them. I have often quoted from the devil, and I dare say I shall often quote from his people. Paul quoted this from Meander, and another heathen poet, who wrote far worse things than have been written by modern poets, and if any of us who may have stored our minds with the contents of books we wish we had never read, and if there be some choice gems in them which may be used for the service of God, by his help we will so use them.
"Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
Christ is coming, and he will find some alive on the earth, and those who are alive will not die. Paul was so full of the Second Coming, that he says: "We shall not all sleep." He did not know but what Christ might come while he was writing the letter. And we are so earnestly looking for Christ, that we too are constrained to say, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
"For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
"The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
"But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
What a shame it is, when we sometimes attend a funeral and hear that magnificent portion of Scripture read over by a chaplain without heart, or soul, or life the quicker he can get through the service the better. Oh that such noble words should be so awfully spoiled by men who know nothing about them!
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
Just Published, Price Twopence, "Come, ye Children," a Sermon addressed to Sunday School Teachers, by the Rev. C. H. SPURGEON, preached on behalf of the Western Kent Sunday School Union, at the "Temple," Saint Mary Cray, Kent, on Wednesday Afternoon, February 20th, 1856.
A Leap Year Sermon*
Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, February 25th, 1900,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington,
On Lord's-day Evening, February 29th, 1880.
"One born out of due time." 1 Corinthians 15:8 .
PAUL THUS DESCRIBES himself. It was necessary that Paul, as an apostle, should have seen the Lord. He was not converted at the time of Christ's ascension; yet he was made an apostle, for the Lord Jesus appeared to him in the way, as he was going to Damascus, to persecute the saints of God. When he looked upon himself as thus put in, as it were, at the end of the apostles, he spoke of himself in the most depreciating terms, calling himself "one born out of due time."
Those who are acquainted with the Greek tongue know what a despicable term Paul here applied to himself, as though he was scarcely a man at all, at any rate, as the very last of the family, "born out of due time;" and not only the last, but also the very least, for he says, "I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." Scholars will know why I cannot exactly explain the word which Paul uses, but rather keep to the rendering of our translation, which, although it may not have the force and full meaning of the Greek expression, is perhaps none the less useful for public reading: "One born out of due time."
Paul thought very humbly of himself; he reckoned himself less than nothing, put himself down at the very lowest estimate, and mentioned that he was brought to Christ, and made an apostle, when the time for such a work was apparently over. Out of date altogether, beyond the period, when it might have been thought that another apostle would, be called of God, there was he found as "one born out of due time."
My subject to-night is, first, the singular time of Paul's spiritual birth. There are many of God's true: children who, like the apostle, were "born out; of due time." When It have expatiated upon that fact, I shall speak of the sure evidences of his spiritual birth, and show you that, although "born out, of due, time," he was born, and there were sure evidences of his spiritual birth, which evidences, I trust, may be seen in many of us also.
I. First, then, let us think of THE SINGULAR TIME OF PAUL'S SPIRITUAL BIRTH.
There are still some whey like the apostle, are born to God "out of due time." They are truly born again, regenerated, converted, at a most unlikely season. There have been multitudes brought to Christ, under earnest sermons, when the appeals of faithful men have thrilled the congregation, and the truth has been effectually carried home to the hearts of many of the hearers. But there have also been times when God's ministers have waxed faint, when the sermon has appeared to be destitute of all force, when nobody has seemed to have felt, the power of the discourse, and, apparently, the truth has fallen quite flat; yet, on many such occasions, there have been some sinners converted to God when we should hardly have thought it to be possible. Mr. Tennant, a famous American minister of Whitefield's time, one of the most earnest and seraphic men who ever proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, had a hearer, who remained unmoved under many a score of his most faithful sermons. Others were saved, but not this man; he seemed unmoved and immovable; but it came to pass, on a certain Sabbath, that a very unusual thing happened. Mr. Tennant had prepared his sermon with great, care, it was what we are wont to call a laborious discourse, into which he had put all the thought and all the pains possible; but he had not been preaching long before his memory completely failed him, his mind refused to work, and, after floundering about for a while, he was obliged to sit down in great confusion, and say that, he could not preach to the people that day. The man I have mentioned, who had never before been impressed under Mr. Tennant's ministry, was that day called by sovereign grace, as "one born out of due time," for he was led to see that there was a spiritual and supernatural force which had usually helped the pastor to preach, and that, when this divine influence was withdrawn, he was as weak as other men, and could not speak with power: as he had been accustomed to do. This truth, somehow or other, for human minds are strangely constituted, and things, which have no effect upon certain people, very greatly affect others who are present, at the same time; this truth, I say, induced the man to think; thinking, he was led to believe in God, and to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of his soul. He was, without doubt, one "born out of due time."
I would like to break down, as Mr. Tennant did, if some of you would be born to God by that means; I would rather be dumb, and win a soul for Jesus, than speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and yet, men's hearts should not be impressed by the truth I proclaimed. How often I have found that, when I have gone, home, and sighed, and cried, and groaned over a discourse in which I felt no liberty, but thought it was an utter failure, it has afterwards been proved that, here one, and there another, have, come forward blessing and praising God for that very testimony, which seemed to me so faulty and feeble, but which the Spirit of the Lord has savingly impressed upon them. So, still, there are some who, in this way, are "born out of due time," through the Holy Spirit's use even of the preacher's weakness and apparent failure.
Another illustration may be taken from the opposite side of the same truth. Some are converted when they seem themselves to be in a state of mind in which they are the most unlikely to be impressible. I remember being in Dr. John Campbell's house, one day, when he told me that a minister was preaching at Whitefield's old Tabernacle in Moorfields, one evening, when there were present, under very strange circumstances, two young men who had fallen into dissipated habits, and who had made an appointment with each other for the commission of some gross sin that very night, had they committed what they had planned, it may be that they would have plunged themselves into a career of vice from which they might never have been extricated. They were passing by the Moorfields Tabernacle, which some of you remember, and as they wanted to know the time at which they were to meet for this unholy purpose, one of them said to the other, "Go in, and see the time; there is sure to be a clock in there." But the clock was not fixed as it is here, at the back of the preacher, but the other way; so the young man had to go some little distance further in than he intended, in order to see the clock. If I remember rightly, the preacher that night was Matthew Wilks, and he was just uttering some quaint remark, something that arrested the young man's attention, and held him fast in the aisle. His companion waited, outside for a time, but it was cold, so he thought he had better go in, and look at the clock himself, and fetch his friend out. He went in; the arrows of the Lord pierced the heart of both of them, and the second of those young men was John Williams, the famous missionary, and at last the martyr of Erromanga. Thus, they also were "born out of due time." You would not have thought it possible that those men should become, as they did, preachers of the gospel, when they were, at that very time, desperately set on the commission of a great sin against God, and their hearts were wholly given up to the pleasures and follies of this world; but so it happened, and our Lord still knows how to stop men as he stopped Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. He, is the man who says that he was "born out of due time;" and he is a wonderful instance of this method of divine interposition. He has in his possession, the letters from the high priest which will enable him to bind the saints, the carry them off to Jerusalem; he is riding towards Damascus, he is within sight of the city when, in the very midst of his high-handed course of persecution, the Lord Jesus Christ himself intervenes, and smites him down to the ground. Presently, he rises to pray, and, in his three days' blindness and fasting, to seek the Lord, and then to find him, to the salvation of his soul and the joy of his spirit, and thus to become an apostle of that very Savior whom, in his ignorance, he had been persecuting. After such a triumph of divine grace, let us never despair of any sinner, however far he may have gone, into, sin. You know how Paul, writing to Timothy, said of himself, "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." The God who blessed the broken sermon of Mr. Tennant can bless our imperfect work in the pulpit, the Sunday-school, or anywhere else; and the God who saved such men as John Williams and his companion, when they least thought of such a thing happening, can also save some who have strayed in here to-night, little dreaming what designs of love God has toward them in bringing them at this time under the sound of the Word.
I consider, next, that a convert may be described as one "born out of due time" when he is brought to Christ after some great revival or notable religious movement has come to an end. There are some of you who attended the recent special services conducted here by Messrs. Fullerton and Smith. What power there was in those hallowed gatherings! Some of your neighbors wept under conviction of sin; but you did not. Some of them came to Christ, and are now rejoicing in him; but you did not come to him. You were not even impressed during the meetings, though, possibly, you wished to be; or it may he that you began with a desire after better things, but you ended in indifference. And now the special services are all over, and the good men who came amongst us to preach and sing the gospel are gone, and you have been saying to yourselves, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." Ah! but our Lord has a blessed way of picking up the stragglers behind the army. When the main body has marched on, with sound of trumpet, praising God, there are a few left behind; and the Lord Jesus sometimes comes, and picks them up. I do earnestly pray that some of you may be thus picked up by him just now, so that you may be able to say, "We were not born for God when many others were; like Saul of Tarsus, we were 'born out of due time;' but, blessed be God, we were born again by the effectual working of his Spirit, we were brought to Christ, to the praise of the glory of his grace, and now we also have become children of God by faith in Jesus Christ." Pray that it may be, so dear friends. O you Christian people, bow your hearts before God, and ask that it may be so] Perhaps the very fact that those services are over, and that a gracious opportunity has gone, may be impressed upon the minds of some who were present during the meetings, but who were; not converted, and they may now seek the Savior, and find him to their everlasting salvation and happiness.
The Lord can bless strange methods to the awakening of the ungodly. When Puritanism seemed to be trodden under foot, in the reign of James I., and the king issued the Book of Sports, and gave commandment that every clergyman was to read from the pulpit, on Sunday, that, it was the royal will and pleasure that the young people should play at football, cricket, and other games and pastimes on the Lord's-day afternoon, godly ministers, who really loved the Lord, did not know what to do. One of them thought, perhaps, it would be well to do as the king ordered, and to say something beside, so, when the Sunday came for reading the Book of Sports to the people, he said, "I am commanded by the king and the authorities to read to you the following document; but it grieves my heart and conscience to have to read it. I know it is wicked, and wrong, and shameful, and abominable to desecrate the Sabbath as you are invited to do, and I wonder what will become of my country when even from the church itself Sabbath-breaking is recommended." So, the good man spoke, to the relief of his own conscience, and in hope of arousing the consciences of others. It happened that there was in the congregation, that day, a young man who had always been a ringleader in the Sabbath sports; he was no sooner out of church, in the morning, than he was on the village green, fast and furious in all the amusements of the time; but, when he heard that Book of Sports read, he said to himself, "well, I acted in that way on my own account, and it, was wrong enough for me to do so; but now I say with the minister, "What is to become of all the country if everybody is to be as bad as I have been? What will happen to the nation if this kind of thing is to go on?" The thought struck him so forcibly that he became first a serious character, and then a true seeker after God, and afterwards a genuine believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. So it came: to pass that, when the devil thought he was going to have everything his own way, that very day, this young man was born to God, truly, "born out of due time."
I recollect reading a very striking saying of Mr. Bunyan's. He said he had good reason to believe that, in the generation after him, there would be many more saints than in the one of which he formed a part, and his belief was based upon the fact that, wherever he went, he found that there were so many great sinners that he hoped they would be converted, and become eminent servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, there was a blessed truth at the back of that hope of his; for, very often, where sin has abounded, grace does much more abound; and when the Word of God seems to grow scarce, and the candle of the gospel burns but dimly, we may pray and expect that even then, some may be "born out of due time" to the praise of the glory of that grace which saves as it wills, and often selects the very chief of sinners to be the subjects of it's almighty power.
There have been some dear friends, who may be said to have been "born out of due time," for they have been converted to God after it seemed impossible that they ever should be. I recollect, well reading of one who imbibed sceptical notions, and became exceedingly furious against the preaching of the Word. One day, in Edinburgh, he heard it said that, a certain eminent minister of the gospel intended, if he met, him, to speak with him about his soul; whereupon the man uttered some very strong expressions, and, amongst other wicked things, he said, "I shall never be converted unless I lose my senses:" All who were acquainted with him, and who knew how desperately he was set against the gospel, thought that his was indeed a hopeless case; but, in the infinite mercy of God, it turned out to be quite the opposite. He began to suffer from great incoherence of thought, his mind gradually wandered, when he was trying to speak, he often spoke utter nonsense. He became unfit for business, and had to be put into the custody of someone who watched him as his keeper. Reason was not actually gone, but it was reeling upon its throne; and while he was in that sad state, the case of Nebuchadnezzar came to his mind, and he wondered whether God had given him up, altogether, on account of what he had said, that he would never be converted while he was in his senses. He turned his mind, all shipwrecked and battered as it, was, towards God and out of the depths of his half-bewildered spirit, he cried unto the Lord as Nebuchadnezzar did, and his mind returned to him, and he became a humble, gentle, holy believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you not think, dear friends, that he also was "one born out of due time"? The time of salvation seemed utterly past so far as he was concerned. He had made a covenant with death, and a league with hell; he had cast off those ordinary beliefs which many men hold even though they do not obey them; yet, notwithstanding all that, the surprising grace of God dealt with him after its own sovereign manner, and laid him low, that it might bring him up again. I do not pray that such a thing may happen to anybody here; but I do pray that God may bring you to Christ somehow, and anyhow; and if, in order to attain that end, you have to be driven to the very gates of hell, so long as you do not actually pass through them, I will rejoice if, afterwards, you are led to flee to Christ for refuge.
Another instance of "one born out of due time" occurs in the case of one converted after the spiritual father is dead. We sometimes see posthumous children, that is, those who are born after the father is deceased; and there is generally much sorrow mingled with the thought of such births, for the poor widow's heart is doubly troubled by the extra care needed for the little stranger who arrives after the bread-winner of the family is taken away. But if a man is the means of bringing another to Christ after he himself is dead, there need be no sorrow about that matter. There have been many, many instances in which earnest Christian people have sought the conversion of their relatives or friends; they have prayed for them, and wept over them, and pleaded with them, but all their efforts have been unsuccessful; yet, after their death, the memory of their holy zeal has touched the conscience, of the one who would not yield before, and brought him to Christ. I wish, dear friends, that your godly mother, who is in heaven, and who died leaving her son unsaved, might seem to come to you just now. I ask for no apparition, but that she may be consciously present to your mind, and that her dying words may ring in your ear, for perhaps the remembrance of what she said may be blessed to you even now. When I am taken away, I can but wish that any true and faithful word that I have spoken may still continue to speak to, you from my grave. When good Mr. Payson died, he begged that his people might come and see him, if they wished, before he was interred; and those who did so read these words on his bosom, "Remember the word which I have spoken unto you being yet present with you." It was thus his desire, you see, that he should have posthumous spiritual children, that they should be born to God even though they should seem to be "born out of due time." Ah! you wives, who have been praying for your husbands these many years, never give them up, because they may be brought to Christ when you yourselves will be in heaven. Mothers and fathers, never cease pleading for your children, for they, too, may be brought to Jesus when you are among the angels. Up in one of the northern counties of England, there was a woman, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose prayer went up continually for her husband; but he never entered the house of God, and despised her for doing so. She was accustomed to go to her usual place of worship alone, so far as any human companions were concerned, yet she was not quite alone, for there was a dog that always went with her. This dog curled himself up under the seat, and lay quite still during the service, and then walked home with his mistress. The first Sunday after she was dead, the poor dog went off to the meeting-house as usual, and curled himself up in his old place. He did the same the next Sunday, and the husband, noticing the dog start out so regularly, was struck by its action, and wondered where the dog went now that his mistress was gone; so he thought he would go and see. The dog went before him to his, mistress's old seat, and curled himself up; the man went in after the dog, and sat down in his wife's place, and God helped the minister, that day, to show him that his good works and self-righteousness in which he had always trusted, would not be sufficient for his salvation, and he preached to him the full salvation of Christ Jesus, and the man believed and lived. Was not he also "born out of due time," for his wife's prayers for him were all over, and she was gone? Yet was he brought to Christ.
The subject is one upon which I might enlarge indefinitely, but I would rather have you to supply further instances of similar blessing, by urging you to persevere in prayer, you who are seeking the salvation of others.
Some have been "born out of due time" because they have been converted to God in extreme old age. I should like to encourage any very aged person who is here, and still unsaved, and to drive away altogether the notion that it is too late to seek the Lord. It never is too late so long as life lasts, and there is the power to repent of sin and to turn to the Lord.
"While the lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner may return."
I will not quote cases, but I have a vivid recollection of a good many persons who have been saved at the age of seventy or eighty. We have had persons, past both of those periods, baptized upon profession of their newly-found faith. The world's proverb says, "It is never too late to mend:" but Christ would tell you, if he were here in bodily presence, that it is never too late for him to mend you, or rather, for him to make you anew, for that is the work he undertakes to do. It is never too late for him to stretch out his pierced hand, and help the man, who is tottering on his staff, to become a babe in Christ. Yet, surely when very old men are born again, they seem to be "born out of due time."
Many of you have not yet come of old age, yet, if God should save you to-night, you would be as those who are "born out of due time," because you are on the very brink of the grave. Consumption has laid its cruel hand upon you, and pulled down all your strength. In all probability, you will not be long in this world. You have come out to-night, but you are half-afraid that you have done wrong in coming in the state you are in, with that terrible cough that you have; yet you have not found the Savior. O my dear young friend, wherever you may be, it is a sad, sad thing to be carrying about with you your death-warrant, as you certainly are doing, and yet to have no warrant to believe that, when you die, it will be well with you! Oh, I pray you, do not let Satan tempt you with the idea that, now, when sickness is upon you, there is no hope for you! Come to Jesus, however consumptive you look. Come to Jesus, young man, with that chest that scarcely allows you to breathe. Come unto him, for he will not cast you away. I remember one, whom I met at Mentone, who had gone there in the hope of lengthening his life; but that was quite out of the question, for he was too far gone when he came. He, had two sisters, who were sent for to come to him, for it was certain that he could not live long. He himself was under deep concern of soul, earnestly seeking the Lord, but he could not find him. Day after day, week after week, he had been getting worse and worse, and showing all the signs of his approaching departure; but he could not find peace with God. At last, his sisters came from England. They arrived just in time. They found him very anxious about his soul; that night, they spoke with him of Jesus, and in the morning, early, when they woke, they went to him and he was sitting up in bed, all pale and ghostlike, he said, "Sisters, Christ has forgiven me;" and he fell back on his pillow, and he was gone home. There was an end of his suffering and weakness here below; but the consolation of that last word to them, and of the joy that, beamed from his poor eyes, was enough to make them gladly commit his body to the tomb. "Sisters, Christ has forgiven me." Ah! he was indeed "born out of due time," born between the very jaws of death; but death's jaws could not close upon him till he had received forgiveness from his Savior. I beseech any of you, who are in a similar condition to his, do not put off seeking the Lord, but, hasten to find him even now.
Once more, there are some who are "born out of due time" because they are born all of a sudden. They suddenly come to Christ; they suddenly find peace; they are suddenly saved. I wish that might happen to some here tonight. There is no need of any set period for this all-important matter; time, is no element in the case. God can work conviction and conversion in a single instant. You know that, sometimes, you see a flash of lightning, and then you wait severed seconds before you hear the thunder; but when a storm is right, overhead, the flash and the slap are simultaneous, and down comes the pouring rain at the same time. And, in like manner, the Lord knows how to send flash of conviction, and, at the same instant, to make his deep voice of mercy to be heard, in the soul, and to send the waterfloods of grace upon the spirit there and then. Why should, he not, do so to-night for any of you who need these blessings.
Now I will tell you the special reason why I chose this text; that is because this is the 29th of February, and it is a Sunday. There is a large number of you who never saw a 29th of February on Sunday before, and there is a larger number still who will never see the 29th of February on a Sunday again. I suppose it will be eight-and-twenty years before that will occur again. So, this is a Sunday thrown in, as it were; it is an odd kind of day, an extra day in the calendar. If you ask our friends of the Greek Church, the Russians, they will tell you that there is not such a day at all, for they keep to the old system of reckoning time. This plan of putting in an odd day, every four years, to make our days square with the sun, is a very good and proper one; still, it is a kind of a day thrown in; and it seemed to me that, if the Lord would convert some souls on this odd day in this leap year, it would make the 29th of February, that came on a Sunday, to be specially memorable. You will not forget it if it is the day of your conversion; you will say to your children, it may be, eight-and-twenty years hence, if you are alive, "Ah! I recollect when the 29th of February last came on a Sunday, and that was the day when I sought and found the Lord. Mr. Spurgeon said that I was like the apostle Paul, 'one born out of due time,' and so I was; yet I was born in due time, I know, according to the covenant of grace." Oh that the Lord, of his infinite mercy, having given us this special day, would now give us a special blessing, and bring many to himself this leap year! Oh, that all of you, who are still unsaved, would make a leap right, out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son, his Holy Spirit enabling you so to do by a simple act of faith in Jesus Christ! And you Christian people, pray for a special and unusual blessing, a 29th of February blessing. Ask God to give it to us, in his infinite mercy, that many and many a soul may be "born out of due time" this very night.
Who shall it be? And where shall the work of repentance begin? Does not somebody over there say, "Lord, let it be me"? There is said to be a special opportunity of making proposals in leap year; but I can tell you, if you make a proposal to come to Christ, that he has long ago set his heart on you. You would never have thought of proposing to him if he had not first of all ordained to bring you to himself. If you come to him, he will receive you; and oh! in his great mercy, may the Holy Spirit incline you to come to him this 29th of February that falls upon a Sunday.
II. Now I have only two or three minutes left for the second part of my subject, THE SURE EVIDENCES OF PAUL'S SPIRITUAL BIRTH.
Though Paul was in spiritual sense, "born out of due time," he was truly born again; and those persons, who have been converted at singular times, and; under strange circumstances, have been really converted. How do we know that Paul was born again, and that he was called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.
I answer, first, because he had seen the Lord. After mentioning those who saw the risen Christ, he says, "Last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." The first, evidence that he was an apostle was that he had actually beheld the Lord. Now, in a spiritual sense, one of the marks of a true believer is that he has seen the Lord. My dear friend, if you have looked to Christ for forgiveness, even though you have only looked to him to-night, and this is an odd night the 29th of February, yet, if you have by faith seen Jesus on the cross, and truly trusted him, you are as much saved as the man is who believed in Christ fifty years ago. Looking to Jesus is the evidence that we are born again; and happy is everyone who can truthfully say, concerning Christ." He was seen of me also."
"I saw one hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood."
I looked to him; he looked on me; and we were one for ever. I trusted to him, and therefore I am saved. If you can say that from your heart and the Holy Spirit bears witness that what you say is true,, you. need, not raise any question about your new birth. If thou art trusting in Jesus, it is well with thy soul in time and to eternity.
The next evidence of his spiritual birth, which Paul gave, was that he confessed his sin. Read the verse following our text: "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." See how he confessed his sin and forsook it. He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Are you, dear friend, willing now to confess your sin? Do you turn from it with loathing. Do you desire, henceforth, to be delivered entirely from it? Well, then, your repentance is another sure evidence that you are born again. If you have seen Jesus taking your sin upon himself, and suffering its dread penalty; if you have confessed your sin, and by faith laid it upon him as your Sacrifice and Substitute, you are born again, though you may have been, in a certain sense, "born out of due time."
Next, we are sure that Paul was really born again because he was thoroughly converted. Never was there a greater change in any man than there was in him; he never went back to his former life, and he had no hankering to return to it. With him, old things had passed away, and all things had become new; he was, indeed, a new creature in Christ Jesus.
I am sure he was converted, also, because he praised the grace of God. Read the 10th verse: "By the grace of God I am what I am." Even when he truthfully says, "I labored more abundantly than they all;" he humbly adds, "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." It its a sure sign of conversion when a man knows that he is saved by grace alone, and does not, attribute it to his own merit, or his own work, but praises and adores the sovereign mercy and grace of God. Have you that evidence, dear friend? Then are you born aright, even though "born out of due time."
And, lastly, Paul proved that he was a true citizen of the New Jerusalem because he became, of all men, most zealous for Christ, zealous for the gospel, zealous for the winning of souls, he seemed to try to, do all he could to undo the mischief he had wrought in the days of his unregeneracy, and to, work with both his hands and all his heart to establish and extend the kingdom which once he tried to overthrow. O God, by thy great mercy, cause another Paul to be born in this house of prayer to-night! Thou canst do it; wilt thou not bring to thyself, by the power of the Eternal Spirit, some wild, threatening, blustering, blaspheming hater of Christ, lay him at the dear feet. Of the Crucified, and cause him to look up and live? Pray for this, dear Christian people. Pray for it to-night, when you reach your homes as well as now; and then we shall haw special reason to recollect this 29th of February. Possibly, someone, who will in days to come stand on this very spot preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, will say to you, "Do you remember the 29th of February, 1880? Do you recollect the text, 'One born out of due time'?" I trust that some of you will be here to hear him say, "I recollect it better than any of you do, for that was the night when I was born to God, glory be to his holy name!" Now pray for it with all your hearts, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
John 3:1-18 .
If you were sent for to visit a dying man, and you wished to select a chapter which would set the truth before him very briefly and very clearly, you could not make a better choice than this 3rd chapter of the Gospel according to John. So, as we are all dying men and women, let us read it with that same desire, and may the Holy Spirit apply it to our hearts as we read it
Verses 1, 2. There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night,
That was better than not coming at all. "Better late than never." Better come to Christ in the dark than not come to him at all.
2. And said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
This was good reasoning on the part of Nicodemus. If he did not at first go as far as he afterwards did, it argued well for him that he went as far as he could. O thou who art troubled with unbelief, believe as much as thou canst; and then cry, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief; and, especially, help me to get rid of it." Confess to Christ what thou dost believe, and he will add more to thy belief.
3. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom, of God.
He cannot understand what it is; he cannot know anything about it; he cannot see it.
4, 5. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
If the "water" mentioned here relates to baptism, which I greatly question, then, certainly, it shows the way of entrance for a believer, publicly, into the kingdom of God. But if it relates to the purifying power of the Spirit of God, as I believe it does, then it teaches us that no man enters into the kingdom of God, and becomes a partaker of its privileges, which is something more than merely seeing it, except the Spirit of God shall be to him as water purifying him from sin. This is the reason why a man cannot enter into the spiritual kingdom until he is born again, born from above.
6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh;
And "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God."
6. And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
And only the new creature, which is thus born, can, by any possibility, understand or enter into the possession of the spiritual things which belong to the kingdom of God.
7, 8. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is mysterious, like the wind, and so is the creature that is "born of the Spirit." The spiritual man often cannot understand himself, he is so mysterious a being; how then shall he be able fully to comprehend how that wondrous new life is created within him? All we know is that he is a new creation, as much the work of eternal power as our first creation.
9, 10. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? if Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
"These things" that lie at the very root of everything. "Art thou a Rabbi and dost thou not know this?" Alas, good Master, there are still many Rabbis who do not understand this; many, who have taken the highest degree the University can give them, yet do not know in their own souls what it is to be born again!
11. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
Spiritual men declare that there are spiritual things. They know them, and have seen them; and they have a right to be believed, for they are not liars. They are honest men, and speak what they do know; yet, often, their witness is not received. They need not be surprised at this, for it was the same with their Master.
12. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
If these elementary truths about the new birth stagger you, what is the use of my going on to anything higher? You would not understand it, or receive it.
13. And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
He alone knows the secrets of God who has been with God, who has come from God, and who is still with God.
14-18. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever, believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever lasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
God give us, even now, deliverance from condemnation through faith in his dear Son, and prevent our being condemned through our unbelief, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK" 416, 222, 511.
*Although 1900 is not observed as a Leap Year, the last Sabbath in February is the nearest corresponding date to the Leap Year Sunday in 1880, when the accompanying discourse was delivered. It is therefore issued for reading on that day with the earnest prayer that it may be as profitable to those who read it as it was to those who were privileged to hear it.
"Alas For Us, If Thou Wert All, and Nought Beyond, O Earth"
Delivered on Sunday Morning, March 27th, 1864, by the
Rev. C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." 1 Corinthians 15:19 .
YOU WILL UNDERSTAND that the apostle is arguing with professedly Christian people, who were dubious about the resurrection of the dead. He is not saying that all men are now miserable if there be no hope of the world to come, for such an assertion would be untrue. There are very many who never think of another life, who are quite happy in their way, enjoy themselves, and are very comfortable after a fashion. But he speaks of Christian people "If we, who have hope in Christ, are led to doubt the doctrine of a future state and of a resurrection, then we are of all men most miserable." The argument has nothing to do with some of you who are not Christians; it has nothing to do with you who have never been brought out of a state of nature into a state of grace; it only respects those who are real, living followers of the Savior, and who are known by this, that they have hope in Christ hope in his blood for pardon, in his righteousness for justification, in his power for support, in his resurrection for eternal glory. "If we who have hope in Christ, have that hope for this life only, then we are of all men most miserable." You understand the argument; he is appealing to their consciousness; they, as Christians, had real enjoyments, "but," says he, "you could not have these enjoyments if it were not for the hope of another life; for once take that away, if you could still remain Christians and have the same feelings which you now have, and act as you now do, you would become of all men most miserable," therefore to justify your own happiness and make it all reasonable, you must admit a resurrection; there is no other method of accounting for the joyous peace which the Christian possesses. Our riches are beyond the sea; our city with firm foundations lies on the other side the river: gleams of glory from the spirit-world cheer our hearts, and urge us onward; but if it were not for these, our present joys would pine and die.
We will try and handle our text this morning in this way. First, we are not of all men most miserable; but secondly, without the hope of another life we should be that we are prepared to confess because thirdly, our chief joy lies in the hope of a life to come; and thus, fourthly, the future influences the present; and so, in the last place, we may to-day judge what our future is to be.
I. First then, WE ARE NOT OF ALL MEN MOST MISERABLE. Who ventures to say we are? He who will have the hardihood to say so knoweth nothing of us. He who shall affirm that Christianity makes men miserable, is himself an utter stranger to it, and has never partaken of its joyful influences. It were a very strange thing indeed, if it did make us wretched, for see to what a position it exalts us! It makes us sons of God. Suppose you that God will give all the happiness to his enemies, and reserve all the mourning for his sons? Shall his foes have mirth and joy, and shall his own home-born children inherit sorrow and wretchedness? Are the kisses for the wicked and the frowns for us? Are we condemned to hang our harps upon the willows, and sing nothing but doleful dirges, while the children of Satan are to laugh for joy of heart? We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ Jesus. Shall the sinner, who has no part nor lot in Christ, call himself happy, and shall we go mourning as if we were penniless beggars? No, we will rejoice in the Lord always, and glory in our inheritance, for we "have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." The rod of chastisement must rest upon us in our measure, but it worketh for us the comfortable fruits of righteousness; and therefore by the aid of the divine Comforter, we will rejoice in the Lord at all times. We are, my brethren, married unto Christ; and shall our great Bridegroom permit his spouse to linger in constant grief? Our hearts are knit unto him: we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones, and though for awhile we may suffer as our Head once suffered, yet we are even now blessed with heavenly blessings in him. Shall our Head reign in heaven, and shall we have a hell upon earth? God forbid: the joyful triumph of our exalted Head is in a measure shared by us, even in this vale of tears. We have the earnest of our inheritance in the comforts of the Spirit, which are neither few nor small. Think of a Christian! He is a king, and shall the king be the most melancholy of men? He is a priest unto God, and shall he offer no sweet incense of hallowed joy and grateful thanksgiving? We are fit companions for angels: he hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; and shall we have no days of heaven upon earth? Is Canaan ours from Dan to Beersheba, and shall we eat no fruit from Eshcol's vine on this side of Jordan? Shall we have no taste of the figs, and of the pomegranates, and of the flowing milk and honey? Is there no manna in the wilderness? Are there no streams in the desert? Are there no streaks of light to herald our eternal sunrising? Heritors of joy for ever, have we no foretastes of our portion? I say again, it were the oddest thing in the world if Christians were more miserable than other men, or not more happy. Think again of what God has done for them! The Christian knows that his sins are forgiven; there is not against the believer a single sin recorded in God's book. "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins." More than that, the believer is accounted by God as if he had perfectly kept the law, for the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him, and he stands clothed in that fair white linen which is the righteousness of the saints, And shall the man whom God accepts be wretched? Shall the pardoned offender be less happy than the man upon whom the wrath of God abideth? Can you conceive such a thing? Moreover, my brethren, we are made temples of the Holy Ghost, and is the Holy Ghost's temple to be a dark, dolorous place, a place of shrieks, and moans, and cries, like the Druidic groves of old? Such is not like our God. Our God is a God of love, and it is his very nature to make his creatures happy; and we, who are his twice-made creatures, who are the partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust, is it to be supposed that we are bound by a stern decree to go mourning all our days? Oh! if ye knew the Christian's privilege, if ye understood that the secret of the Lord is laid open to him, that the wounds of Christ are his shelter, that the flesh and blood of Christ are his food, that Christ himself is his sweet companion and his abiding friend, oh! if ye knew this, ye would never again foolishly dream that Christians are an unhappy race. "Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord?" Who can be compared with the man who is "satisfied with favor and full with the blessing of the Lord." Well might the evil prophet of Bethor exclaim, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."
We will go a step farther. We will not only say that from the nature of his position and privileges, a Christian should be happy, but we declare that he is so, and that among all men there are none who enjoy such a constant peace of mind as believers in Christ. Our joy may not be like that of the sinner, noisy and boisterous. You know what Solomon says "The laughter of fools is as the crackling of thorns under a pot" a great deal of blaze and much noise, and then a handful of ashes, and it is all over. "Who hath woe, who hath redness of the eyes? They that tarry long at the wine-men of strength to mingle strong drink." The Christian, in truth, does not know much of the excitement of the bowl, the viol and the dance, nor does he desire to know; he is content that he possesses a calm deep-seated repose of soul. "He is not afraid of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." He is not disturbed with any sudden fear: he knows that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." He is in the habit in whatever society he may be, of still lifting up his heart to God; and therefore he can say with the Psalmist, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise."
"He waits in secret on his God;
His God in secret sees;
Let earth be all in arms abroad,
He dwells in heavenly peace.
His pleasures rise from things unseen,
Beyond this world and time,
Where neither eyes nor ears have been,
Nor thoughts of sinners climb.
He wants no pomp nor royal throne
To raise his figure here:
Content and pleased to live unknown,
Till Christ his life appear.
"There is a river the streams whereof make glad the city of God." Believers drink of that river and thirst not for carnal delights. They are made "to lie down in green pastures," and are led "beside the still waters." Now this solid, lasting joy and peace of mind sets the Christian so on high above all others, that I boldly testify that there are no people in the world to compare with him for happiness. But do not suppose that our joy never rises above this settled calm; for let me tell you, and I speak experimentally, we have our seasons of rapturous delight and overflowing bliss. There are times with us when no music could equal the melody of our heart's sweet hymn of joy. It would empty earth's coffers of every farthing of her joy to buy a single ounce of our delight. Do not fancy Paul was the only man who could say, "Whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth," for these ecstasies are usual with believers; and on their sunshiny days when their unbelief is shaken off and their faith is strong, they have all but walked the golden streets; and they can say, "If we have not entered within the pearly gate, we have been only just this side of it; and it we have not yet come to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, if we have not joined the great congregation of the perfect in actual body, yet still
"E'en now by faith we join our hands
With those that went before,
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands
On the eternal shore."
I would not change one five minutes of the excessive joy my soul has sometimes felt for a thousand years of the best mirth that the children of this world could give me. O friends, there is a happiness which can make the eye sparkle and the heart beat high, and the whole man as full of bounding speed of life as the chariots of Amminadib. There are raptures and high ecstasies, which on festival days such as the Lord allotteth to his people, the saints are permitted to enjoy. I must not fail to remind you that the Christian is the happiest of men for this reason, that his joy does not depend upon circumstances. We have seen the happiest men in the most sorrowful conditions. Mr. Renwick, who was the last of the Scotch martyrs, said a little before his death, "Enemies think themselves satisfied that we are put to wander in mosses and upon mountains, but even amidst the storm of these last two nights I cannot express what sweet times I have had when I have had no coverings but the dark curtains of night: yea, in the silent watch my mind was led out to admire the deep and inexpressible ocean of joy wherein the whole family of heaven do swim. Each star led me to wonder what He must be who is the star of Jacob, and from whom all stars borrow their shining." Here is a martyr of God driven from house and home and from all comforts, and yet having such sweet seasons beneath the curtains of the black night as kings do not often know beneath their curtains of silk. A minister of Christ going to visit a very, very poor man, gives this description. He says, "I found him alone, his wife having gone out to ask help of some neighbor. I was startled by the sight of the pale emaciated man, the living image of death, fastened upright in his chair by a rude mechanism of cords and belts hanging from the ceiling, totally unable to move hand or foot, having been for more than four years entirely deprived of the use of his limbs, and suffering extreme pain from swellings in all his joints. I approached him full of pity, and I said, "Are you left alone, my friend, in this deplorable situation?" He answered with a gentle voice his lips were the only parts of his body which he appeared to have power to move "No, sir, I am not alone, because the Father is with me." I began to talk with him, and I soon observed what was the source of his consolation, for just in front of him lay the Bible upon a pillow, his wife having left it open at some choice Psalm of David so that he might read while she was gone, as he had no power to turn over the leaves. I asked him what he had to live upon, and found that it was a miserable pittance, scarcely enough to keep body and soul together, "But," said he, "I never want anything, for the Lord has said, 'Your bread shall be given you, and your water shall be sure,' and I trust in him, and I shall never want while God is faithful to his promise." "I asked him," says this minister "whether he did not often repine on account of suffering so acutely for so many years. "Sir," said he, "I did repine at first, but not for the last three years, blessed be God for it, for I know whom I have believed, and though I feel my own weakness and unworthiness more and more, yet I am persuaded that he will never leave me nor forsake me; and so graciously does he comfort me that when my lips are closed with lock-jaw and I cannot speak a word for hours together, he enables me to sing his praises most sweetly in my heart." Now here was a man to whom the sun of all earthly comfort was set, and yet the sun of heaven shone full in his face, and he was more peaceful and happy in deep poverty and racking pain than all you or I have been in the health and strength of youth. John Howard spent his time in visiting the gaols and going from one haunt of fever to another, he was asked how he could find any ground of happiness when he was living in miserable Russian villages, or dwelling in discomfort in an hospital or a gaol. Mr. Howard's answer was very beautiful. "I hope," said he, "I have sources of enjoyment which depend not upon the particular spot I inhabit. A rightly cultivated mind, under the power of divine grace and the exercise of a benevolent disposition affords a ground of satisfaction that is not to be affected by heres and theres." Every Christian will bear you his witness that he has found his sad times to be his glad times, his losses to be his gains, his sicknesses means to promote his soul's health. Our summer does not depend upon the sun, nor our flood-tide upon the moon. We can rejoice even in death. We look forward to that happy hour when we shall close our eyes in the peaceful slumbers of death, believing that our last day will be our best day. Even the crossing of the river Jordan is but an easy task, for we shall hear him say, "Fear not; I am with thee: be not dismayed, I am thy God; when thou passest through the rivers I will be with thee, and the floods shall not overflow thee." We dare to say it, then, very boldly, we are not of all men most miserable: we would not change with unconverted men for all their riches, and their pomp, and their honor thrown into the scale.
"Go you that boast in all your stores,
And tell how bright they shine,
Your heaps of glittering dust are yours,
And my Redeemer's mine.
II. This brings us to the second point WITHOUT THE HOPE OF ANOTHER LIFE, WE WILL ADMIT, THAT WE SHOULD BE OF ALL MEN MOST MISERABLE.
Especially was this true of the apostles. They were rejected by their countrymen; they lost all the comforts of home; their lives were spent in toil, and were daily exposed to violent death. They all of them suffered the martyr's doom, except John, who seems to have been preserved not from martyrdom, but in it. They were certainly the twelve most miserable of men apart from that hope of the world to come, which made them of all men the most happy. But this is true, dear friends, not merely of persecuted, and despised, and poverty-stricken Christians, but of all believers. We are prepared to grant it, that take away from us the hope of the world to come we should be more miserable than men without religion. The reason is very clear, if you think that the Christian has renounced those common and ordinary sources of joy from which other men drink. We must have some pleasure: it is impossible for men to live in this world without it, and I can say most truthfully I never urge any of you to do that which would make you unhappy. We must have some pleasure. Well then, there is a vessel filled with muddy filthy water which the camels' feet have stirred: shall I drink it? I see yonder a rippling stream of clear flowing water, pure as crystal and cooling as the snow of Lebanon, and I say, "No, I will not drink this foul, muddy stuff; leave that for beasts; I will drink of you clear stream." But if I be mistaken, if there be no stream yonder, if it be but the deceitful mirage, if I have been deluded, then I am worse off than those who were content with the muddy water, for they have at least some cooling draughts; but I have none at all. This is precisely the Christian's case. He passes by the pleasures of sin, and the amusements of carnal men, because he says, "I do not care for them, I find no pleasure in them: my happiness flows from the river which springs from the throne of God and flows to me through Jesus Christ I will drink of that," but if there were no hereafter, if that were proved to be a deception, then were we more wretched than the profligate and licentious.
Again, the Christian man has learned the vanity of all earthly joys. We know when we look upon pomp that it is an empty thing. We walk through the world, not with the scorn of Diogenes, the cynical philosopher, but with something of his wisdom, and we look upon the common things in which men rejoice, and say with Solomon, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." And why do we say this? Why, because we have chosen eternal things in which there is no vanity, and which are satisfying to the soul. But, my brethren, it is the most unhappy piece of knowledge which a man can acquire, to know that this world is vain, if there be not another world abundantly to compensate for all our ills. There is a poor lunatic in Bedlam, plaiting straw into a crown which he puts upon his head, and calls himself a king, and mounts his mimic throne and thinks that he is monarch over all nations, and is perfectly happy in his dream. Do you think that I would undeceive him? Nay, verily, if I could, I would not. If the delusion makes the man happy, by all means let him indulge in it; but, dear friends, you and I have been undeceived; our dream of perfect bliss beneath the skies is gone for ever; what then if there be no world to come? Why then it is a most sorrowful thing for us that we have been awakened out of our sleep unless this better thing which we have chosen, this good part which shall not be taken from us, should prove to be real and true, as we do believe it is.
Moreover, the Christian man is a man who has had high, noble, and great expectations, and this is a very sad thing for us if our expectations be not fulfilled, for it makes us of all men most miserable. I have known poor men waiting and expecting a legacy. They had a right to expect it, and they have waited, and waited, and borne with poverty, and the relative has died and left them nothing; their poverty has ever afterwards seemed to be a heavier drag than before. It is an unhappy thing for a man to have large ideas and large desires, if he cannot gratify them. I believe that poverty is infinitely better endured by persons who were always poor, than by those who have been rich and have had to come down to penury, for they miss what the others never had, and what the originally poor would look upon as luxuries they consider to be necessary to their existence. The Christian has learned to think of eternity, of God, of Christ, of communion with Jesus, and if indeed it be all false, he certainly has dreamed the most magnificent of all mortal visions. Truly, if any man could prove it to be a vision, the best thing he could do would be to sit down and weep for ever to think it was not true, for the dream is so splendid, the picture of the world to come so gorgeous, that I can only say, if it be not true, it ought to be if it be not true, then there is nothing here worth living for, my brethren, and we are disappointed wretches indeed of all men most miserable.
The Christian, too, has learned to look upon everything here on earth as fleeting. I must confess every day this feeling grows with me. I scarce look upon my friends as living. I walk as in a land of shadows, and find nothing enduring around me. The broad arrow of the great skeleton king is, to my eye, visibly stamped everywhere. I go so often to the grave, and with those I least expected to take there, that it seems to be rather a world of dying than of living men. Well, this is a very unhappy thing a very wretched state of mind for a man to be in, if there be no world to come. If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is the Christian indeed committed to a state of mind the most deplorable and pitiable. But, O my brethren, if there be a world to come, as faith assures us there is, how joyous it is to be weaned from the world, and to be ready to depart from it! To be with Christ is far better than to tarry in this vale of tears.
"The cords that bound my heart to earth
Are broken by his hand;
Before his cross I find myself,
A stranger in the land.
My heart is with him on his throne,
And ill can brook delay;
Each moment listening for the voice,
'Make haste, and come away."'
May I not pant to be in my own sweet country with my own fair Lord, to see him face to face? Yet, if it be not so and there be no resurrection of the dead, "we are of all men most miserable."
III. OUR CHIEF JOY IN THE HOPE OF THE WORLD TO COME. Think of the world to come, my brethren, and let your joys begin to kindle into flames of delight, for heaven offers you all that you can desire. You are, many of you, weary of toil; so weary, perhaps, that you can scarcely enjoy the morning service because of the late hours at which you have had to work at night. Ah! there is a land of rest of perfect rest, where the sweat of labor no more bedews the worker's brow, and fatigue is for ever banished. To those who are weary and spent, the word "rest" is full of heaven. Oh! happy truth, there remaineth a rest for the people of God. " They rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." Others of you are always in the field of battle; you are so tempted within, and so molested by foes without, that you have little or no peace. I know where your hope lies. It lies in the victory, when the banner shall be waved aloft, and the sword shall be sheathed, and you shall hear your Captain say, "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast fought a good fight; thou hast finished thy course: henceforth wear thou the crown of life which fadeth not away." Some of you are tossed about with many troubles; you go from care to care, from loss to loss: it seems to you as if all God's waves and billows had gone over you; but you shall soon arrive at the land of happiness, where you shall bathe your weary soul in seas of heavenly rest, You shall have no poverty soon; no mud-hovel, no rags, nor hunger. "In my Father's house are many mansions," and there shall you dwell, satisfied with favor, and full of every blessing. You have had bereavement after bereavement; the wife has been carried to the tomb, the children have followed, father and mother are gone, and you have few left to love you here; but you are going to the land where graves are unknown things, where they never see a shroud, and the sound of the mattock and the spade are never heard; you are going to your Father's house in the land of the immortal, in the country of the hereafter, in the home of the blessed, in the habitation of God Most High, in the Jerusalem which is above, the mother of us all. Is not this your best joy, that you are not to be here for ever, that you are not to dwell eternally in this wilderness, but shall soon inherit Canaan? With all God's people their worst grief is sin. I would not care for any sorrow, if I could live without sinning. Oh! if I were rid of the appetites of the flesh and the lusts thereof, and the desires which continually go astray, I would be satisfied to lie in a dungeon and rot there, so as to be delivered from the corruption of sin. Well but, brethren, we shall soon attain unto perfection. The body of this death will die with this body. There is no temptation in heaven, for the dog of hell can never cross the stream of death; there are no corruptions there, for they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; there shall by no means enter into that kingdom anything which defileth. Methinks as I hear the joyous song of the glorified this morning, as I catch floating down from heaven the sound of that music which is like many waters and like the great thunder, and as I hear the harmony of those notes which are sweet as harpers harping with their harps, my soul desireth to stretch her wings, and fly straight to yonder worlds of joy. I know it is so with you, my brethren in the tribulation of Christ as you wipe the sweat your brow, is not this the comfort: there is rest for the people of God? As you stand out against temptation and suffer for Christ's sake, is not this your comfort: " If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him." When you are slandered and despised by men, is not this your hope: "He will remember me when he cometh into his kingdom. I shall sit upon his throne, even as he has overcome, and sitteth down upon his Father's throne?" Oh! yes, this is the music to which Christians dance; this is the wine which maketh glad their hearts; this is the banquet at which they feast. There is another and a better land, and we, though we sleep with the clods of the valley, shall in our flesh see God, when our Redeemer shall stand in the latter days upon the earth. I think you catch my drift we are not of all men most miserable; apart from the future hope we should be, for our hope in Christ for the future is the mainstay of our joy.
IV. Now, dear friends, this brings me to a practical observation in the fourth place, which is, that THUS THE FUTURE OPERATES UPON THE PRESENT.
I had some time ago a conversation with a very eminent man whose fame is familiar to you all, but whose name I do not feel justified in mentioning, who was once a professed believer but is now full of scepticism. He said to me in the course of our argument, "Why, how foolish you are, and all the company of preachers. You tell people to think about the next world, when the best thing they could do would be to behave themselves as well as they can in this!" I granted the truth of the observation; it would be very unwise to make people neglect the present, for it is of exceeding great importance, but I went on to show him that the very best method to make people attend to the present was by impressing them with high and noble motives with regard to the future. The potent force of the world to come supplies us through the Holy Spirit with force for the proper accomplishment of the duties of this life. Here is a man who has a machine for the manufacture of hardware. He wants steam power to work this machine. An engineer puts up a steam engine in a shed at some considerable distance. "Well," saith the other, "I asked you to bring steam power here, to operate upon my machine." "That is precisely," says he, "what I have done. I put the steam engine there, you have but to connect it by a band and your machine works as fast as you like; it is not necessary that I should put the boiler, and the fire, and the engine close to the work, just under your nose: only connect the two, and the one will operate upon the other." So God has been pleased to make our hopes of the future a great engine wherewith the Christian man may work the ordinary machine of every-day life, for the band of faith connects the two, and makes all the wheels of ordinary life revolve with rapidity and regularity. To speak against preaching the future as though it would make people neglect the present is absurd. It is as though somebody should say, "There, take away the moon, and blot out the sun. What is the use of them they are not in this world?" Precisely so, but take away the moon and you have removed the tides, and the sea becomes a stagnant, putrid pool. Then take away the sun it is not in the world take it away, and light, and heat, and life; everything is gone. What the sun and moon are to this natural world, the hope of the future is to the Christian in this world. It is his light he looks upon all things in that light, and sees them truly. It is his heat; it gives him zeal and energy. It is his very life: his Christianity, his virtue would expire if it were not for the hope of the world to come. Do you believe, my brethren, that apostles and martyrs would ever have sacrificed their lives for truth's sake if they had not looked for a hereafter? In the heat of excitement, the soldier may die for honor, but to die in tortures and mockeries in cold blood needs a hope beyond the grave. Would you poor man go toiling on year after year, refusing to sacrifice his conscience for gain; would yon poor needle-girl refuse to become the slave of lust if she did not see something brighter than earth can picture to her as the reward of sin? O my brethren, the most practical thing in all the world is the hope of the world to come; and you see the text teaches this, for it is just this which keeps us from being miserable; and to keep a man from being miserable, let me say, is to do a great thing for him, for a miserable Christian what is the use of him? Keep him in a cupboard, where nobody can see him; nurse him in the hospital, for he is of no use in the field of labor. Build a monastery, and put all miserable Christians in it, and there let them meditate on mercy till they learn to smile; for really there is no other use for them in the world, But the man who has a hope of the next world goes about his work strong, for the joy of the Lord is our strength. He goes against, temptation mighty, for the hope of the next world repels the fiery darts of the adversary. He can labor without present reward, for he looks for a reward in the world to come. He can suffer rebuke, and can afford to die a slandered man, because he knows that God will avenge his own elect who cry day and night unto him. Through the Spirit of God the hope of another world is the most potent force for the product of virtue; it is a fountain of joy; it is the very channel of usefulness. It is to the Christian what food is to the vital force in the animal frame. Let it be said of any of us, that we are dreaming about the future and forgetting the present, but let the future sanctify the present to highest uses. I fear our prophetical brethren err here. They are reading continually about the last vials, the seventy weeks of Daniel, and a number of other mysteries; I wish they would set to work instead of speculating so much, or speculate even more if they will, but turn their prophecies to present practical account. Prophetical speculations too often lead men away from present urgent duty, and especially from contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; but a hope of the world to come is, I think, the best practical power which a Christian can have.
V. And now, to conclude, this will let us see very clearly WHAT OUR FUTURE IS TO BE.
There are some persons here to whom my text has nothing whatever to say. Suppose there were no hereafter, would they be more miserable? Why, no; they would be more happy. If anybody could prove to them that death is an eternal sleep, it would be the greatest consolation that they could possibly receive, It it could be shown, to a demonstration, that as soon as people die they rot in the grave and there is an end of them why some of you could go to bed at night comfortable, your conscience would never disturb you, you would be molested by none of those terrible fears which now haunt you. Do you see, then, this proves that you are not a Christian; this proves as plainly as twice two make tour, that you are no believer in Christ; for if you were, the taking away of a hereafter would make you miserable. Since it would not tend to make you happy to believe in a future state, this proves that you are no believer in Christ. Well, then, what have Ito say to you? Why just this that in the world to come, you will be of all men most miserable. "What will become of you?" said an infidel once to a Christian man, "supposing there should be no heaven?" "Well," said he, "I like to have two strings to my bow. If there be no hereafter I am as well off as you are; if there be I am infinitely better off. But where are you? Where are you?" Why then we must read this text in the future "If in this life there be indeed a hope of a life to come, then you shall be in the next life of all men most miserable." Do you see where you will be? Your soul goes before the great Judge, and receives its condemnation and begins its hell. The trumpet rings; heaven and earth are astonished; the grave heaves; yonder slab of marble is lifted up, and up you rise in that very flesh and blood in which you sinned, and there you stand in the midst of a terrified multitude, all gathered to their doom. The Judge has come. The great assize has commenced. There on the great white throne sits the Savior who once said, "Come unto me, ye weary, and I will give you rest;" but now he sits there as a Judge and opens with stern hand the terrible volume. Page after page he reads, and as he reads he gives the signal, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire," and the angels bind up the fares in bundles to burn them. There stand you, and you know your doom; you already begin to feel it. You cry to the lofty Alps to fall upon you and conceal you. "O ye mountains, can ye not find in your rocky bowels some friendly cavern where I may be hidden from the face of him who sits upon the throne?" In terrible silence the mountains refuse your petition and the rocks reject your cry. You would plunge into the sea, but it is licked up with tongues of fire; you would fain make your bed even in hell if you could escape from those dreadful eyes, but you cannot; for now your turn is come, that page is turned over which records your history; the Savior reads with a voice of thunder and with eyes of lightning. He reads, and as he waves his hand you are cast away from hope. You shall then know what it is to be of all men most miserable. Ye had your pleasure; ye had your giddy hour; ye had your mirthful moments; you despised Christ, and you would not turn at his rebuke; you would not have him to reign over you; you lived his adversary; you died unreconciled, and now where are you? Now, what will ye do, ye who forget God, in that day when he shall tear you in pieces, and there shall be none to deliver you? In the name of my Lord and Master I do conjure you, fly away to Christ for refuge. "He that believeth in him shall be saved." To believe is to trust; and whosoever this morning is enabled by faith to cast himself upon Christ, need not fear to live, nor fear to die, You shall not be miserable here; you shall be thrice blessed hereafter if you trust my Lord.
"Come, guilty souls, and flee away
To Christ, and heal your wounds;
This is the welcome gospel-day
Wherein free grace abounds."
O that ye would be wise and consider your latter end! O that ye would reflect that this life is but a span, and the life to come lasts on for ever! Do not, I pray you, fling away eternity; play not the fool with such solemn things as these, but in serious earnestness lay hold upon eternal life. Look to the bleeding Savior; see there his five wounds, and his face bedewed with bloody sweat! Trust him, trust him, and you are saved. The moment that you trust him your sins are gone. His righteousness is yours; you are saved on the spot, and you shall be saved when he cometh in his kingdom to raise the dead from their graves. O that the Lord might lead us all thus to rest on Jesus, now and ever. Amen.
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, April 1st, 1860, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
At Exeter Hall, Strand.
"But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come; Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be but bare grain, it may chance of wheat or of some other grain but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body." 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 .
We preach with words; God preacheth to us in acts and deeds. If we would but perceive it, creation and providence are two continual sermons, streaming from the mouth of God. The seasons are four evangelists, each of them having his testimony to utter to us. Doth not summer preach to us of God's bounty, of the richness of his goodness, of that lavish munificence with which he has been pleased to supply the earth, not simply with food for man, but with delights for both ear and eye in the beauteous landscape the melodious birds, and the flowers of various hue? Have you never heard the still small voice of autumn, who bears the wheatsheaf, and whispers to us in the rustling of the seer leaf? He bids us prepare to die. "All we," saith he, "do fade as a leaf, and all our righteousnesses are but as filthy rags." Then comes winter, crowned with snow, and he thunders out a most mighty sermon, which, if we would but listen to it, might well impress us with the terrors of God's vengeance, and let us see how soon he can strip the earth of all its pleasantries, and enrobe it in storm, when he shall come himself to judge the earth with righteousness, and the people with equity. But it seems to me that spring reads us a most excellent discourse upon the grand doctrine of revelation. This very month of April, which, if it be not the very entrance of spring, yet certainly introduces us to the fullness of it; this very month> bearing by its name the title of the opening month, speaks to us of the resurrection. As we have walked through our gardens, fields, and woods, we have seen the flower-buds ready to burst upon the trees, and the fruit-blossoms hastening to unfold themselves; we have seen the buried flowers upstarting from the sod, and they have spoken to us with sweet, sweet voice, the words, "Thou too shalt rise again, thou too shalt be buried in the earth like seeds that are lost in winter, but thou shalt rise again, and thou shalt live and blossom in eternal spring."
I propose this morning, as God shall enable, to listen to that voice of spring, proclaiming the doctrine of the resurrection, a meditation all the more appropriate from the fact, that the Sabbath before last we considered the subject of Death, and I hope that then very solemn impressions were made upon our minds. May the like impressions now return, accompanied with more joyous ones, when we shall look beyond the grave, through the valley of the shadow of death, to that bright light in the distance the splendours and glory of life and immortality.
In speaking to you upon this text, I would remark in the outset, that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is a doctrine peculiar to Christianity. The heathen, by the feeble light of nature, were able to spell out the truth of the immortality of the soul. Those professors of religion who deny that immortality, are not so far advanced in learning as the heathen themselves. When you meet with any who think that the soul of man may possibly become annihilated, make them a present of that little catechism brought out by the Westminster Assembly, which bears the title, "Catechism for the Young and Ignorant." Let them read that through, and begin to understand that God hath not made man in vain. The resurrection of the body was that which was new in the apostolic times. When Paul stood up on Mars hill, in the midst of the learned assembly of the Areopagites, had he spoken to them about the immortality of the soul, they would not have laughed; they would have respected him, for this was one of the sublime truths which their own wise men had taught, but when he went on to assert that the flesh and blood which was laid in the tomb should yet arise again, that bones which had become the dwelling place of worms, that flesh which had corrupted and decayed, should actually start afresh into life, that the body as well as the soul should live, some mocked' and others said, "We will hear thee again of this matter." The fact is, reason teaches the immortality of the spirit, it is revelation alone which teaches the immortality of the body. It is Christ alone who hath brought life and immortality to light by the gospel. He was the clearest proclaimer of that grand truth. Albeit that it had lain in the secret faith of many of the ancient people of God before, yet he it was who first set forth in clear terms the grand truth that there should be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. As far as I know, the doctrine has not been disputed in the Christian church. There have been some few heretics who have denied it at divers times, but they have been so few, so utterly insignificant, that it is not worth while to take any notice of their scruples, or of the objections which they have urged. Instead thereof, we will turn to our text; we will assume that the doctrine is true, and so proceed to utter some words of explanation upon it.
First, then, our text suggests the real indentity of the resurrection body. The apostle uses the figure of a seed, a shrivelled grain of wheat. It is put into the ground, there it dies. All the farinaceous part of it decays and forms a peculiarly fine soil, into which the life-germ strikes itself, and upon which the lifegerm feeds. The seed itself dies, with the exception of a particle almost too small to be perceived, which is the real life contained within the wheat. By-and-bye we see a green blade upstarting: that grows, swells, and increases, until it comes to be corn in the ear, and afterwards the full corn in the ear. Now no one has any suspicion but that the same wheat arises from the soil into which it was cast. Put into the earth, we believe it springs up, and we are accustomed to talk of it in our ordinary language as being the very same seed which we sowed, although the difference is striking and marvellous. Here you have a plant some three feet high, bearing many grains of wheat, and there you had the other day a little shrivelled grain; yet no one doubts but that the two are the same. So shall it be in the resurrection of the dead. The body is here but as a shrivelled seed; there is no beauty in it that we should desire it. It is put into a grave, like wheat that is sown in the earth, there it rots and it decays, but God preserves within it a sort of life germ which is immortal, and when the trump of the archangel shall shake the heavens and the earth it shall expand to the full flower of manhood, which shall blossom from the earth a far more glorious form than the manhood which was buried. You are, my brethren, today, but as a heap of wheat, a heap of poor shrivelled corn. Despite that earthly beauty which makes glad our countenances, we are after all shrivelled and worthless, compared with what your bodies shall be when they shall awake from their beds of silent dust and cold damp clay. Yet while they shall be different, they shall be precisely the same, it shall be the same body; the identity shall be preserved. Though there shall seem to be but little similarity, yet shall no man doubt but that the very body which was sown in the earth hath sprung up to eternal life. I suppose that if I should bring here a certain grain of seed, and you had never seen the image of the plant into which it would ripen, and I should submit it to a thousand persons here present, and ask them this question "What form will this seed assume when it shall grow into a plant and bear a flower?" none of you could possibly tell what it would be like; yet when you saw it spring up you would say, "Well, I have no doubt that the heart's-ease sprang from its own seed. I am sure that a violet springs from a violet seed. I cannot doubt that the lily hath its own appropriate root." And another time, when you come to see the seed, you perhaps imagine you see some little likeness, at least you never mistrust the identity. Though there are wide extremes of difference between the tiny mustard seed and the great tree beneath the branches of which the birds of the air build their nests, yet you never for a moment question but what they are precisely the same. The identity is preserved. So shall it be in the resurrection of the dead. The difference shall be extraordinary, yet shall the body be still the same.
In order to affirm this, the ancient Christian church was in the habit in their creed of adding a sentence to the Article which runs thus: "I believe in the resurrection of the dead." They added, in Latin words to this effect: "I believe in the resurrection of the dead, of this very flesh and blood." I do not know that the addition was ever authorized by the church, but it was continually used, especially at the time when there was a discussion as to the truth of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. The very flesh and blood that is buried, the very eyes that are closed in death, the very hand which stiffens by my corpse, these very members shall live again not the identical particles of the same matter any more than the self-same particles of the wheat spring up to make a blade, and to make full corn in the ear. Yet shall they be identical, in the true sense of the term, they shall spring up from this body shall be the true result and development of this poor flesh and blood, which we now drag about with us here below.
Ten thousand objections have been raised against this, but they are all readily answerable. Some have said, "But when men's bodies are dead, and are committed to the grave, they are often digged up, and the careless sexton mixes them up with common mould; nay, it sometimes happens that they are carted away from the churchyard, and strewn over the fields, to become a rich manure for wheat, so that the particles of the body are absorbed into the corn that is growing, and they travel round in a circle until they become the food of man. So that the particle which may have been in the body of one man enters into the body of another. Now," say they, "how can all these particles be tracked?" Our answer is if it were necessary, every atom could be traced. Omnipotence and Omniscience could do it. If it were needful that God should search and find out every individual atom that ever existed, he would be able to detect the present abode of every single particle. The astronomer is able to tell the position of one star by the aberration of the motion of another, by his calculation, apart from observation, he can discover an unknown orb; its hugeness puts it within his reach. But to God there is nothing little or great; he can find out the orbit of one atom by the aberration in the orbit of another atom he can pursue and overtake each separate particle. But recollect, this is not necessary at all, for, as I said before, the identity may be preserved without there being the same atoms. Just go back to the excellent illustration of our text. The wheat is just the same, but in the new wheat that has grown up there may not be one solitary particle of that matter which was in the seed cast into the ground. A little seed that shall not weigh the hundredth part of an ounce falls into the earth, and springs up and produces a forest tree that shall weigh two tons. Now, if there be any part of the original seed in the tree, it must be but in the proportional of a millionth part, or something less than that. And yet is the tree positively identical with the seed it is the same thing. And so there may only be a millionth part of the particles of my body in the new body which I shall wear but yet it may still be the same. It is not the identity of the matter that will make positive identity. And I shall show you that again. Are you not aware that our bodies are changing that in about every ten years we have different bodies from what we had ten years ago? That is to say, by decay, and the continual wearing away of our flesh, there is not in this body I have here, a single particle that was in my body ten years ago, and yet I am the same man. I know I am precisely the same. So you. You shall have been born in America, and lived there twenty years; you shall suddenly be transferred to India, and live there another twenty years; you come back to America to see your friends you are the same man, they know you, recognize you, you are precisely the same individual; but yet philosophy teaches us a fact which cannot be denied that your body would have changed twice in the time you have been absent from your friends; that every particle is gone, and has had its place supplied by another; and yet the body is the same. So that it is not necessary there should be the same particles; it is not needful that you should track every atom and bring it back in order that the body should preserve its identity.
Have you never heard the story of the wife of Peter Martyr, a celebrated reformer, who died some years before the time of Queen Mary? Since his enemies could not reach his body, they took up the body of his wife after she was dead, and buried it in a dunghill. During the reign of Elizabeth, the body was removed from its contemptuous hiding-place; it was then reduced to ashes. In order that the Romanists, if they should ever prevail again, might never do dishonor to that body, they took the ashes of Peter Martyr's wife, and mixed them with the reputed ashes of a Romish saint. Mixing the two together, they said, "Now these Romanists will never defile this body, because they will be afraid of desecrating the relics of their own saint." Perhaps some wiseacres may say, "How can these two be separated?" Why, they could be divided readily enough if God willed to do it; for granted that God is omniscient omnipotent, and you have never to ask how, for Omniscience and Omnipresence put the question out of court, and decide the thing at once. Besides, it is not necessary that it should be so. The life-germs of the two bodies may not have mixed together. God has set his angels to watch over them, as he set Michael to watch over the body of Moses, and he will bring out the two life-germs, and they shall be developed and the two bodies shall start up separately at the sound of the archangel's trump. Remember, then, and doubt not that the very body in which you sinned shall be the very body in which you shall suffer in hell; and the body in which you believe in Christ, and in which you yield yourselves to God, shall be the very body in which you shall walk the golden streets, and in which you shall praise the name of God for ever and ever.
So much upon this first point. But observe, while the identity is real, the transformation is glorious. The body here is mortal, always subject to decay. We dwell in a poor uncomfortable tent, continually is the canvas being rent, the cords are being loosed, and the tent pins are being pulled up. We are full of sufferings, and aches, and pains, which are but the premonitions of coming death. We all know, some by our decayed teeth, which are, as I said the other day, but the emblems of a decayed man; others by those grey hairs which are scattered here and there; we all know that our bodies are so constituted that they cannot remain here except for a limited period, and they must so God has willed it return to their native dust. Not so, however, the new body: "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. "It will be a body upon which the tooth of time can have no power, and into which the dart of death can never be thrust. Age shall roll after age, but that body shall exist in everlasting youth. It shall sing, but never shall its song be stayed by weakness; it shall fly, but never shall its flight flag with weariness. There shall be no signs of mortality; the shroud, the mattock, and the spade are never seen in heaven. Such a thing as an open grave shall never appear in the celestial kingdom, there they live, live, live, but never, never, never shall they die. See then, how different the body must be; for as this body is constituted, every nerve and every blood vessel tells me I must die. It cannot be otherwise. I must endure this stern decree, "Dust to dust, earth to earth, ashes to ashes," but in heaven every nerve of the new body shall cry, "Immortality." Every part of that new frame shall speak for itself, and tell to the immortal spirit that they are everlasting companions, managed in eternal wedlock.
There shall be, moreover, a great change in the new body as to its beauty. "It is sown in dishonor; it shall be raised in glory." The old metaphor employed by all preachers upon this doctrine must be used again. You see here a crawling caterpillar, a picture of yourself, a creature that eats and drinks, and may readily be trodden on. Wait a few weeks, that caterpillar shall spin itself enshroud, lie down, become inactive, and sleep. A picture of what you shall do. You must spin your winding-sheet and then be laid in the tomb. But wait awhile; when the warmth of the sun shall come that apparently lifeless thing shall burst its sheath. The chrysalis shall fall off, and the insect fly forth equipped with glittering wings. Having arrived at its full state of perfection, the imago the very image of the creature shall be seen by us all dancing in the sunbeam. So shall we after passing through our wormhood here to our chrysalis state in the grave, burst our coffins and mount aloft glorious winged creatures made like unto the angels; the same creatures, but oh! so changed, so different, that we should scarce know our former selves if we could be able to meet them again after we have been glorified in heaven.
There shall be a change, then, in our form and nature. Old master Spenser, who was a rare hand at making metaphors, says, "The body here is like an old rusty piece of iron, but Death shall be the blacksmith, he shall take it and he shall make it hot in his fire, until it shall sparkle and send forth burning heat and look bright and shining." And so surely is it. We are thrust into the earth as into the fire, and there shall we be made to sparkle and to shine and to be full of radiance, no more the rusty things that we once were, but fiery spirits, like the cherubim and the seraphim, we shall wear a power and a glory the like of which we have not even yet conceived.
Again, another transformation shall take place, namely, in power. "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." The same body that is weak, shall be raised in power. We are puny things here; there is a limit to our labors, and our usefulness is straightened by reason of our inability to perform what we would. And oh, bow weak we become when we die I A man must be carried by his own friends to his own grave; he cannot even lay himself down in his last resting-place. Passively he submits to be laid out, to be wrapped up in his winding sheet, and to be shut up in the darkness of the grave. Silently, passively he submits to be carried away with the pall covered over him, and to be put into the earth. The clods are shovelled over him, but he knows it not, neither could he resist his burial if he were conscious of it. But that powerless body shall be raised in power. That was a fine idea of Martin Luther, which he borrowed from St. Anselm, that the saints shall be so strong when they are risen from the dead, that if they chose they could shake the world; they could pull up islands by their roots, or hurl mountains into the air. Some modern writers, borrowing their ideas from Milton, where he speaks of the battles of the angels, where they plucked up the hills with all their shaggy loads, rivers and trees at once, and hurled them at the fallen spirits, have taught that we shall be clothed with gigantic forge. I think if we do not go the length of the poets, we have every reason to believe that the power of the risen body will be utterly inconceivable. These, however, are but guesses at the truth; this great mystery is yet beyond us. I believe that when I shall enter upon my new body, I shall be able to fly from one spot to another, like a thought, as swiftly as I will; I shall be here and there, swift as the rays of light. From strength to strength, my spirit shall be able to leap onward to obey the behests of God; upborne with wings of ether, it shall flash its way across that shoreless sea, and see the glory of God in all his works, and yet ever behold his face. For the eye shall then be strong enough to pierce through leagues of distance, and the memory shall never fail. The heart shall be able to love to a fiery degree, and the head to comprehend right thoroughly. It doth not yet appear what we shall be. But, brethren and sisters, to come back to reality, and leave fiction for a moment, though it doth not appear what we shad be, yet we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And do you know what we shall be like, if we shall be like him? Behold the picture of what Jesus Christ is like, and we shall be like him. "I saw," saith John, "one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle His head. and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire, and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his countenance was as tee sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead." Such shall we be when we are like Christ; what tongue can tell, what soul can guess the glories that surround the saints when they' start from their beds of dust, and rise to immortality.
But now, to turn away from these, which I fear to very many of you are rather uninteresting particulars, let me give you one or two figures which may show to you the change which shall take place in us on the day of resurrection.
Do you see yonder a beggar? he is picking rags from a dunghill, he pulls out piece after piece from the heap of dust, as he uses his rake, you may see the like any day, if you will go to those great dustyards in Agar Town. There he pulls out piece after piece, and puts it in his basket. What can be the value of those miserable old rags? He takes them away, they are carried off, picked, sorted, rag to its own rag, like to like. By-and-bye they are washed, they are put into the mill, they are beaten hard, they are smashed, they are ground to pulp, and what is that I see just coming out of yonder mill? A clear white sheet, without a stain and whence came this? "I am the son of the old rag," saith he, "nay, I am the identical rag that was but a few hours ago picked from the dung-heap." Oh! strange! Doth purity come out of impurity, and doth this beauty, this utility come out of that which was neither comely nor useful, but which men loathed, and cast away as a worthless thing? See here, brethren, the picture of yourselves; your bodies are like rags, put away into this vast dunghill earth" and there buried, but the angel shall come and sort you, body to its body, the righteous to the righteous, the wicked to the wicked, they shall come together, bone to his bone and flesh to his flesh; and what do I see? I behold a body like unto an angel, with eyes of fire, and a face like the brightness of the sun, and wings like lightnings for swiftness. Whence art thou, thou bright spirit? I am he that was buried, I am that thing that once was worms' meat, but now I am glorious through the name of Jesus' and through the power of God. You have there before you a picture of the resurrection, a homely picture, it is true, but one which may vividly convey the idea to homely minds.
Take another one used of old by that mighty preacher, Chrysostom there is an old house, a straight and narrow cottage, and the inhabitant of it often shivers with the cold winter, and is greatly oppressed by the heat of summer; it is ill adapted to his wants, the windows are too small and very dark, he cannot keep his treasure safely therein; he is often a prisoner; and when I have passed by his house I have heard him sighing at the window: "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." The good master comes, the landlord of the house, he speaks to the tenant, and he bids him come away, "I am about to pull down thy old house," saith he, "and I would not have thee here while I am pulling it stone from stone, lest thou be hurt and injured. Come away with me and live in my palace, while I am pulling thy old house to pieces." He does so, and every stone of the old house is thrown down; it is levelled with the ground, and even the foundations are dug up. Another is built: it is of costly slabs of marble, the windows thereof are pure and clear, all its gates are of agate, and all its borders of precious stones, while all the foundations thereof are of chrysolite, and the roof thereof is of jasper. And now the master of the house speaks to the old inhabitant, "Come back, and I will show thee the house which I have built for thee." O what joy, when that inhabitant shall enter and find it so well adapted to his wants, where every power shall have full range, where he shall see God out of its windows, not as through a glass, darkly, but face to face, where he could invite even Christ himself to come and sup with him, and not feel that the house is beneath the dignity of the Son of Man. You know the parable, you know how your old house, this clay body, is to be pulled down, how your spirit is to dwell in heaven for a little while without a body, and how afterwards you are to enter into a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, a mansion which is holy, incorruptible, and undefiled, and which shall never decay.
To use yet a fresh figure, I see a beggar passing by a rich man's door, that poor wretch is covered with filth, his garments are hanging about him in pieces as if the wind would blow all away, and drive both man and garments amongst the rags upon the dunghill. How he shivers, how he seeks to pull about him that scant cloak which will not meet around his loins, and will not shield him from the blast. As for his shoes, they are indeed old and clouted, and all his garments are of such a sort that one never could know the original, for they have been mended and patched a thousand times, and now they need to be mended and patched again. He is freely invited to come into the rich man's hall, we will not tell you what is done in the meantime, but we will see him come out of that door again, and would you know him. Would you believe that he is the same man? He has been washed and cleansed; on his back there hangs the imperial purple, while on his head glitters a brilliant crown; his feet are shod with silver, and on his hands there are rings of gold. About the paps he wears a golden girdle; and as he comes abroad bright spirits wait on him and do him honor angels wait to be his servants, and think it to be their highest pleasure to fly to do his will. Is this the same man and is this the same dress? It is the same. By some marvellous might, rather by a divine energy, God has received this beggar, taken him into the inner chamber of the grave; has washed him from all imperfections; and now he comes out as one of the princes of the blood royal of heaven. And as is his nature, such is his apparel; as is his dignity, such is his estate) and such the company of servants who wait upon him.
Not to multiply illustrations, we will use but one more. I see before me an old and battered cup, which many a black lip hath touched, out of which many a villain's throat has received moisture. It is battered and covered over with filth. Who could tell what metal it is? It is brought in and given to the silversmith, he no sooner receives it, than he begins to break it into pieces, he dashes it into shivers again and again, he pounds it until he has broken it, and then puts it into his fining pot and melts it. Now you begin to see it sparkle again, and by and bye he beats it out and fashions it into a goodly chalice, out of which a king may drink. Is this the same? the very same thing, This glorious cup; is this the old battered silver we saw just now; silver did I say, it looked like battered filth. Yes it is the same, and we who are here below like vessels, alas! too unfit for the master's use; vessels which have even given comfort to the evil ones, and helped to do the work of Satan, we shall be put into the furnace of the grave, and be there melted down and friend and fashioned into a glorious wine cup that shall stand upon the banqueting table of the Son of God.
I have thus sought to illustrate the change, and now I will occupy your attention but one or two minutes on another thought which seems to lie within the range of my text. We have had the real identity under the glorious transformation. I bring you back to a thought kindred to the first. There will be in the bodies of the righteous an undoubted personality of character. If you sow barley, it will not produce wheat: if you sow tares, they will not spring up in the form of rye. Every grain hath its own peculiar form: God hath given to every seed his own body. So, my brothers and sisters, there are differences among us here; no two bodies are precisely alike: there are marks on our countenances, and in our bodily conformation, that show that we are different. We are of one blood, but not of one fashion. Well, when we are put into the grave we shall crumble back, and come to the same elements; but when we rise we shall every one of us rise diverse from the other. The body of Paul shall not produce a body precisely like that of Peter. Nor shall the flesh of Andrew bring forth a new body like that of the sons of Zebedee, but to every seed his own body. In the case of our blessed Lord and Master you win remember that when he rose himself from the dead he preserved his personality, there were still the wounds in his hands, and still there was the spear-mark in his side. I do not doubt that when he underwent his transfiguration, and at the time of his ascension up to heaven, he still retained the marks of his wounds. For do we not sing, and is not our song based upon Scripture?
He looks like a Lamb that has been slain,
And wears his priesthood still.
So, brethren, though of course we shall retain no weaknesses, nothing which will cause sorrow, yet every Christian will retain his individuality; he will be like and yet unlike all his fellows. As we know Isaiah from Jeremy here, so shall we know them above. As I differ from you here, if we two shall together praise God, there shall be some difference between us above. Not the difference in failings, but the difference in the perfections of the form of the new body. I sometimes think martyrs will wear their scars. And why should they not? It were a loss to them if they should lose their honors. Perhaps they shall wear their ruby crown in Paradise, and we shall know them
"Foremost 'mongst the sons of light
'Midst the bright ones doubly bright."
Perhaps the men who come from the catacombs of Rome will wear some sort of pallor on their brow that will show that they came from darkness, where they saw not the light of the sun. Perhaps the minister of Christ, though he shall not need to say to his fellows, "know the Lord," shall still be chief among the tellers out of the ways of God. Perhaps the sweet singer of Israel shall still be foremost in the choir of the golden harps, and loudest among them that shall lead the strain. And if these he fancies, yet am I sure that one star differeth from another star in glory. Orion shall not be confounded with Arcturus, nor shall Mazaroth for a moment be confounded with Orion. We shall an be separate and distinct. Perhaps we shall each one have our constellation there, as we shall cluster into our own societies, and gather around those whom we best have known on earth. Personality win be maintained. I do not doubt but what you will know Isaiah in heaven, and you will recognize the great preachers of the ancient Christian church; you will be able to speak with Chrysostom, and wilt talk with Whitfield. It may be you shall have for your companions those who were your companions here; those with whom you took sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God, shall be with you there, and you shall know them, and with transporting joy you shall there together tell your former trials and ancient triumphs, and the glories you are alike made to share.
Treasure up, then, these things, the identity of your body after its glorious transformation, and, at the same time, the personality which will prevail.
I want, now, your solemn attention for some five minutes, while I sketch a most fearful contrast here. The things I have already spoken should make the children of God happy. At Stratford-on-Bow, in the days of Queen Mary, there was once a stake erected for the burning of two martyrs, one of them a lame man, the other a blind man. Just when the fire was lit, the lame man hurled away his staff, and turning round said to the blind man, "Courage, brother, this fire will cure us both." So can the righteous say of the grave, "Courage, the grave will cure us all, we shall leave our infirmities behind us." What patience this should give us to endure all our trials, for they are not of long duration. They are but as the carvings of the graver's tool, shaping these rough blocks of clay, to bring them into the right form and shape, that they may bear the image of the heavenly. But the contrast is awful. Brethren, the wicked must rise again from the dead. The lip with which you have drunk the intoxicating drink till you have reeled again, that lip shall be used in drinking down the fiery wrath of God. Remember, too, ungodly woman, the eyes that are full of lust will one be full of horror, the ear with which you listen to lascivious conversation must listen to the sullen moans, the hollow groans, and shrieks of tortured ghosts. Be not deceived; you sinned in your body, you will be damned in your body. When you die your spirit must suffer alone, that will be the beginning of hell, but your body must rise again, then this very flesh in which you have transgressed the laws of God this very body must smart for it. It must he in the fire and burn, and crack, and writhe throughout eternity. Your body will be raised incorruptible, otherwise the fire would consume it. It will become like the asbestos stone, which lies in the flame and yet is never consumed. If it were this flesh and blood it would soon die under the pangs we must endure, but it will be a body all but omnipotent. As I spoke of the righteous having such great power, so shall you have; but it will be power to agonize, power to suffer, power to die, and yet to live, uncrushed by the stern foot of death. Think of this, ye sensualists, who care not for your souls, but who pamper your bodies; you shall have that fair complexion scorched away; those members that have become instruments of lust, shall become instruments of hell. Rotting as they will do in the grave, they shall nevertheless rise with a fiery immortality about them, and endure an eternity of agony and unutterable woe and punishment. Is not that enough to make a man tremble and cry, "God be merciful unto me a sinner?"
But further, remember that while your body shall be identically the same, yet it too will be transformed, and as the wheat brings forth the wheat, so the nettle seed brings forth the nettle. What your body will be like I cannot tell, but perhaps as the body of the righteous will come to be like Christ, yours may become like the body of the devil, whatever that may be the same hideous conformation, the same demon gaze and hellish stare which characterize that proud archangel shall characterize you; you shall have the image and the lineaments of the first traitor stamped upon your fire-enduring face. Seeds of sin, are ye prepared to ripen into the fun blown flower of destruction? Ye seeds of evil, are ye ready to be scattered now from Death's hand, and then to spring up an awful harvest of tormented ones? Yet so it must be unless you turn to God. Except you repent, he has said, and he will do it, he is able to cast both body and soul into hell.
And let me remind you yet once again, that there will be in you an undoubted personality, you will be known in hell. The drunkard shall have the drunkard's punishment; the swearer shall have the swearer's corner to himself. "Bind them up in bundles to burn, and cast them into the fire." Thus saith the voice of inflexible justice. You shall not suffer in another man's body but in your own, and you shall be known to be the very man that sinned against God. You shall be looked at by one who sees you to-day, if you die impenitent, who will say to you, "We went up to that hall together; we heard a sermon on the resurrection which had a frightful ending; we laughed at it, but we have found out that it is true." And one will say to the other, "I should have known you though we had not met these many years till we met in hell. I should have known you, there is something about your new body which lets me know that it is the same body that you had on earth." And then you will mutually say to one another, "These pangs that we are now enduring, this horror of great darkness, these chains of fire that are reserved for us, are they not well deserved?" And you will curse God together again, and suffer together, and will be made to feel that you have only received the due reward of your deeds. "Did not the man warn us," you will say, "did he not warn us, did he not bid us fly to Christ for refuge? did we not despise it, and make a jeer of what he said? We are rightly punished; we damned ourselves, we cut our own throats, we kindled hell for ourselves, and found the fuel of our own burning for ever and ever."
Oh! my dear hearers, I cannot bear to stay on this subject; let me finish with just this word. "Whoever believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved." That means you poor man, though perhaps you were drunk last night, and scarcely got up time enough to come here this morning. If thou believest, William, thou shalt be saved. This means thee, poor woman, harlot though thou be if thou cast thyself on Christ thou art saved. This means thee, respectable man, thou who trustest in thine own works if thou reliest on Christ thou shalt be saved, but not if thou trustest in thyself. Oh! be wise, be wise. May God give us grace now to learn that highest wisdom, and may we now look to the cross and to the quivering Lamb that bleeds upon it, and see him as he rises from the dead and ascends up on high, and believing in him; may we receive the hope and the assurance of a blissful resurrection in him.
I shall rise again.
Thoughts on the Last Battle
Delivered on Sabbath Evening, May 13, 1855, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
At Exeter Hall, Strand.
"The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But, thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 .
While the Bible is one of the most poetical of books, though its language is unutterably sublime, yet we must remark how constantly it is true to nature. There is no straining of a fact, no glossing over a truth. However dark may be the subject, while it lights it up with brilliance, yet it does not deny the gloom connected with it. If you will read this chapter of Paul's epistle, so justly celebrated as a master-piece of language, you will find him speaking of that which is to come after death with such exultation and glory that you feel, "If this be to die, then it were well to depart at once." Who has not rejoiced, and whose heart has not been lifted up or filled with a holy fire, while he has read such sentences as these: "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Yet, with all that majestic language, with all that bold flight of eloquence, he does not deny that death is a gloomy thing. Even his very figures imply it. He does not laugh at it; he does not say, "Oh, it is nothing to die;" he describes death as a monster; he speaks of it as having a sting; he tells us wherein the strength of that sting lies; and even in the exclamation of triumph, he imputes that victory not to unaided flesh, but he says, "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
When I select such a text as this, I feel that I cannot preach from it. The thought o'ermasters me; my words do stagger; there are no utterances that are great enough to convey the mighty meaning of this wondrous text. If I had the eloquence of all men united in one, if I could speak as never man spake (with the exception of that one godlike man of Nazareth), I could not compass so vast a subject as this. I will not therefore pretend to do so, but offer you such thoughts as my mind is capable of producing.
To-night we shall speak of three things: first, the sting of death; secondly, the strength of sin; and thirdly, the victory of faith.
I. First, THE STING OF DEATH. The apostle pictures death as a terrible dragon, or monster, which, coming upon all men, must be fought with by each one for himself. He gives us no hopes whatever that any of us can avoid it. He tells us of no bridge across the river Death; he does not give us the faintest hope that it is possible to emerge from this state of existence into another without dying; he describes the monster as being exactly in our path, and with it we must fight, each man personally, separately, and alone; each man must die; we all must cross the black stream; each one of us must go through the iron gate. There is no passage from this world into another without death. Having told us, then, that there is no hope of our escape, he braces up our nerves for the combat; but he gives us no hope that we shall be able to slay the monster; he does not tell us that we can strike our sword into his heart, and so overturn and overwhelm death; but, pointing to the dragon, he seems to say, "Thou canst not slay it, man; there is no hope that thou shouldst ever put thy foot upon its neck and crush its head; but one thing can be done it has a sting which thou mayest extract; thou canst not crush death under foot, but thou mayest pull out the sting which is deadly; and then thou need not fear the monster, for monster it shall be no longer, but rather it shall be a swift-winged angel to waft thee aloft to heaven. Where, then, is the sting of this dragon? Where must I strike? What is the sting? The apostle tells us, "that the sting of death is sin." Once let me cut off that, and then, though death may be dreary and solemn, I shall not dread it; but, holding up the monster's sting, I shall exclaim, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Let us now dwell upon the fact, that "the sting of death is sin."
1. First, sin puts a sting into death, from the fact that sin brought death into the world. Men could be more content to die if they did not know it was a punishment. I suppose if we had never sinned, there would have been some means for us to go from this world to another. It cannot be supposed that so huge a population would have existed, that all the myriads who have lived from Adam down till now could ever have inhabited so small a globe as this; there would not have been space enough for them. But there might have been provided some means for taking us off when the proper time should come, and bearing us safely to heaven. God might have furnished horses and chariots of fire for each of his Elijahs; or, as it was said of Enoch, so it might have been declared of each of us, "He is not, for God hath taken him." Thus to die, if we may call it death to depart from this body and to be with God, would have been no disgrace; in fact, it would have been the highest honor; fitting the loftiest aspiration of the soul, to live quickly its little time in this world, then to mount and be with its God; and in the prayers of the most pious and devout man, one of his sublimest petitions would be, "O God, hasten the time of my departure, when I shall be with thee." When such sinless beings thought of their departure, they would not tremble, for the gate would be one of ivory and pearl not as now, of iron the stream would be as nectar, far different from the present "bitterness of death." But alas! how different! Death is now the punishment of sin. "In the day thou eatest there of thou shalt surely die." "In Adam all die." By his sin every one of us become subject to the penalty of death, and thus, being a punishment, death has its sting. To the best man, the holiest Christian, the most sanctified intellect, the soul that has the nearest and dearest intercourse with God, death must appear to have a sting, because sin was its mother. O fatal offspring of sin, I only dread thee because of they parentage! If thou didst come to me as an honor, I could wade through Jordan even now, and, when its chilling billows were around me, I would smile amidst its surges; and in the swellings of Jordan my song should swell too, and the liquid music of my voice should join with the liquid swellings of the floods, "Hallelujah! It is blessed to cross to the land of the glorified." This is one reason why the sting of sin is death.
2. But I must take it in another sense. "The sting of death is sin:" that is to say, that which shall make death most terrible to man will be sin, if it is not forgiven. If that be not the exact meaning of the apostle, still it is a great truth, and I may find it here. If sin lay heavy on me and were not forgiven if my transgressions were unpardoned if such were the fact (though I rejoice to know it is not so) it would be the very sting of death to me. Let us consider a man dying, and looking back on his past life: he will find in death a sting, and that sting will be his past sin. Imagine a conqueror's deathbed. He has been a man of blood from his youth up. Bred in the camp, his lips were early set to the bugle, and his hand, even in infancy, struck the drum. He had a martial spirit; he delighted in the fame and applause of men; he loved the dust of battle and the garment rolled in blood. He has lived a life of what men call glory. He has stormed cities, conquered countries, ravaged continents, overrun the world. See his banners hanging in the hall, and the marks of glory on his escutcheon. He is one of earth's proudest warriors. But now he comes to die, and when he lies down to expire, what shall invest his death with horror? It shall be his sin. Methinks I see the monarch dying; he lies in state; around him are his nobles and his councillors; but there is somewhat else there. Hard by his side there stands a spirit from Hades; it is a soul of a departed woman. She looks on him and says, "Monster! my husband was slain in battle through thy ambition: I was made a widow, and my helpless orphans and myself were starved." And she passes by. Her husband comes, and opening wide his bloody wounds, he cries, "Once I called thee monarch; but, by thy vile covetousness thou didst provoke an unjust war. See here these wounds I gained them in the siege. For thy sake I mounted first the scaling ladder; this foot stood upon the top of the wall, and I waved my sword in triumph, but in hell I lifted up my eyes in torment. Base wretch, thine ambition hurried me thither!" Turning his horrid eyes upon him, he passes by. Then up comes another, and another, and another yet; waking from their tombs, they stalk around his bed and haunt him; the dreary procession still marches on, looking at the dying tyrant. He shuts his eyes, but he feels the cold and bony hand upon his forehead; he quivers, for the siting of death is in his heart. "O Death!" says he; "to leave this large estate, this mighty realm, this pomp and power this were somewhat; but to meet those men, those women, and those orphan children, face to face; to hear them saying, 'Art thou become like one of us?' while kings whom I have dethroned, and monarchs whom I have cast down shall rattle their chains in my ears, and say, 'Thou wast our destroyer, but how art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou brought down as in a moment from thy glory and thy pride!'" There, you see, the sting of death would be the man's sin. It would not sting him that he had to die, but that he had sinned, that he had been a bloody man, that his hands were red with wholesale murder this would plague him indeed, for "the sting of death is sin."
Or, suppose another character a minister. He has stood before the world, proclaiming something which he called the gospel. He has been a noted preacher; the multitude have been hanging on his lips; they have listened to his words; before his eloquence a nation stood amazed, and thousands trembled at his voice. But his preaching is over; the time when he can mount the pulpit is gone; another standing-place awaits him, another congregation, and he must hear another and a better preacher than himself. There he lies. He has been unfaithful to his charge. He preached philosophy to charm his people, instead of preaching truth and aiming at their hearts. And, as he pants upon his bed, that worst and most accursed of men for surely none can be worse than he there comes up one, a soul from the pit, and looking him in the face, says, "I came to thee once, trembling on account of sin; "I asked thee the road to heaven, and thou didst say, 'Do such and such good works,' and I did them, and am damned. Thou didst tell me an untruth; thou didst not declare plainly the word of God." He vanishes only to be followed by another; he has been an irreligious character, and as he sees the minister upon his deathbed, he says, "Ah! and art thou here? Once I strolled into thy house of prayer, but thou hadst such a sermon that I could not understand. I listened; I wanted to hear something from thy lips, some truth that might burn my soul and make me repent; but I knew not what thou saidst; and here I am." The ghost stamps his foot, and the man quivers like an aspen leaf, because he knows it is all true. Then the whole congregation arise before him as he lies upon his bed; he looks upon the motley group; he beholds the snowy heads of the old, and glittering eyes of the young; and lying there upon his pillow, he pictures all the sins of his past life, and he hears it said, "Go thou! unfaithful to thy charge; thou didst no divest thyself of thy love of pomp and dignity; thou didst not speak
'As though thou ne'er might'st speak again,
A dying man to dying men.'"
Oh! it may be something for that minister to leave his charge, somewhat for him to die; but worst of all, the sting of death will be his sin: to hear his parish come howling after him to hell; to see his congregation following behind him in one mingled herd, he having led them astray, having been a false prophet instead of a true one, speaking peace, peace, where there was no peace, deluding them with lies, charming them with music, when he ought rather to have told them in rough and rugged accents the Word of God. Verily, it is true, it is true, the sting of death to such a man shall be his great, his enormous, his heinous sin of having deluded others.
Thus, then having painted two full-length pictures, I might give each one of you miniatures of yourselves. I might picture thee, O drunkard, when thy cups are drained, and when thy liquor shall no longer be sweet to thy taste, when worse than gall shall be the dainties that thou drinkest, when, within an hour, the worms shall make a carnival upon thy flesh; I might picture thee as thou lookest back upon they misspent life. And thou, O swearer, methinks I see thee there, with thine oaths echoed back by memory to thine own dismay. And thou, man of lust and wickedness, thou who hast debauched and seduced others, I see thee there; and the sting of death to thee, how horrible, how dreadful! It shall not be that thou art groaning with pain, it shall not be that thou art racked with agony, it shall not be that thy heart and flesh faileth, but the sting, the sting, shall be thy sin. How many in this place can spell the word "remorse?" I pray you may never know its awful meaning. Remorse, remorse! You know its derivation; it signifies to bite. Ah! now we dance with our sins it is a merry life with us we take their hands, and, sporting in the noontide sun, we dance, we dance, and live in joy. But then those sins shall bite us. The young lions we have stroked and played with shall bite; the young adder, the serpent, whose azure hues have well delighted us, shall bite, shall sting, when remorse shall occupy our souls. I might, but I will not, tell you a few stories of the awful power of remorse; it is the first pang of hell; it is the ante-chamber of the pit. To have remorse is to feel the sparks that blaze upwards from the fire of the bottomless Gehenna; to feel remorse is to have eternal torment commenced within the soul. The sting of death shall be unforgiven, unrepented sin.
3. But if sin in the retrospect be the sting of death, what must sin in the prospect be? My friends, we do not often enough look at what sin is to be. We see what it is; first the seed, then the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. It is the wish, the imagination, the desire, the sight, the taste, the deed; but what is sin in its next development? We have observed sin as it grows; we have seen it, at first, a very little thing, but expanding itself until it has swelled into a mountain. We have seen it like "a little cloud, the size of a man's hand," but we have beheld it gather until it covered the skies with blackness, and sent down drops of bitter rain. But what is sin to be in the next state? We have gone so far, but sin is a thing that cannot stop. We have seen whereunto it has grown, but whereunto will it grow? for it is not ripe when we die; it has to go on still; it is set going, but it has to unfold itself forever. The moment we die, the voice of justice cries, "Seal up the fountain of blood; stop the stream of forgiveness; he that is holy, let him be holy still; he that is filthy, let him be filthy still." And after that, the man goes on growing filthier and filthier still; his lust developes itself, his vice increases; all those evil passions blaze with tenfold more fury, and, amidst the companionship of others like himself, without the restraints of grace, without the preached word, the man becomes worse and worse; and who can tell whereunto his sin may grow? I have sometimes likened the hour of our death to that celebrated picture, which I think you have seen in the National Gallery, of Perseus holding up the head of Medusa. That head turned all persons into stone who looked upon it. There is a warrior there with a dart in his hand; he stands stiffened, turned into stone, with the javelin even in his fist. There is another, with a poniard beneath his robe, about to stab; he is now the statue of an assassin, motionless and cold. Another is creeping along stealthily, like a man in ambuscade, and there he stands a consolidated rock; he has looked only upon that head, and he is frozen into stone. Well, such is death. What I am when death is held before me, that I must be forever. When my spirit goes, if God finds me hymning his praise, I shall hymn it in heaven; doth he find me breathing out oaths, I shall follow up those oaths in hell. Where death leaves me, judgment finds me. As I die, so shall I live eternally.
"There are no acts of pardon passed
In the cold grave to which we haste."
It is forever, forever, forever! Ah! there are a set of heretics in these days who talk of short punishment, and preach about God's transporting souls for a term of years, and then letting them die. Where did such men learn their doctrine, I wonder? I read in God's word that the angel shall plant one foot upon the earth, and the other upon the sea, and shall swear by him that liveth and was dead, that time shall be no longer. But, if a soul could die in a thousand years, it would die in time; if a million of years could elapse, and then the soul could be extinguished, there would be such a thing as time; for, talk to me of years, and there is time. But, sirs, when that angel has spoken the word, "Time shall be no longer," things will then be eternal; the spirit shall proceed in its ceaseless revolution of weal or woe, never to be stayed, for there is no time to stop it; the fact of its stopping would imply time; but everything shall be eternal, for time shall cease to be. It well becomes you, then, to consider where ye are and what ye are. Oh! stand and tremble on the narrow neck of land 'twixt the two unbounded seas, for God in heaven alone can tell how soon thou mayest be launched upon the eternal future. May God grant that, when that last hour may come, we may be prepared for it! Like the thief, unheard, unseen, it steals through night's dark shade. Perhaps, as here I stand, and rudely speak of these dark, hidden things, soon may the hand be stretched, and dumb the mouth that lisps the faltering strain. Oh! thou that dwellest in heaven, thou power supreme, thou everlasting King, let not that hour intrude upon me in an illspent season; but may it find me rapt in meditation high, hymning my great Creator. So, in the last moment of my life, I will hasten beyond the azure, to bathe the wings of this my spirit in their native element, and then to dwell with thee for ever
"Far from a world of grief and sin,
With God eternally shut in."
II. "THE STRENGTH OF SIN is the law."
I have attempted to show how to fight this monster it is by extracting and destroying its sting. I prepare myself for the battle. It is true I have sinned, and therefore I have put a sting into death, but I will endeavor to take it away. I attempt it, but the monster laughs me in the face, and cries, "The strength of sin is the law. Before thou canst destroy sin thou must in some way satisfy the law. Sin cannot be removed by thy tears or by thy deeds, for the law is its strength; and until thou hast satisfied the vengeance of the law, until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing of its demands, my sting cannot be taken away, for the very strength of sin is the law." Now, I must try and explain this doctrine that the strength of sin is the law. Most men think that sin has no strength at all. "Oh," say many, "we may have sinned very much, but we will repent, and we will be better for the rest of our lives; no doubt God is merciful, and he will forgive us." And we hear many divines often speak of sin as if it were a very venial thing. Inquire of them what is a man to do? There is no deep repentance required, no real inward workings of divine grace, no casting himself upon the blood of Christ. They never tell us about a complete atonement having been made. They have, indeed, some shadowy idea of an atonement, that Christ died just as a matter of form to satisfy justice; but as to any literal taking away of our sins, and suffering the actual penalty for us, they do not consider that God's law requires any such thing. I suppose they do not, for I never hear them assert the positive satisfaction and substitution of our Lord Jesus Christ. But without that, how can we take away the strength of sin?
1. The strength of sin is in the law, first, in this respect, that the law being spiritual, it is quite impossible for us to live without sin. If the law were merely carnal, and referred to the flesh; if it simply related to open and overt actions, I question, even then, whether we could live without sin; but when I turn over the ten commandments and read, "Thou shalt not covet," I know it refers even to the wish of my heart. It is said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery;" but it is said, also that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath already committed that sin. So that it is not merely the act, it is the thought; it is not the deed simply, it is the very imagination, that is a sin. Oh now, sinner, how canst thou get rid of sin? Thy very thoughts, the inward workings of thy mind, these are crimes this is guilt and desperate wickedness. Is there not, now, strength in sin? Hath not the law put a potency in it? Has it not nerved sin with such a power that all thy strength cannot hope to wipe away the black enormity of thy transgression?
2. Then, again, the law puts strength into sin in this respect that it will not abate one tittle of its stern demands. It says to every man who breaks it, "I will not forgive you." You hear persons talk about God's mercy. Now, if they do not believe in the gospel, they must be under the law; but where in the law do we read of mercy? If you will read the commandments through, there is a curse after them, but there is no provision made for pardon. The law itself speaks not of that; it thunders out without the slightest mitigation, "The soul that sinneth it shall die." If any of you desire to be saved by works, remember one sin will spoil your righteousness; one dust of this earth's dross will spoil the beauty of that perfect righteousness which God requires at your hands. If ye would be saved by works, men and brethren, ye must be as holy as the angels, ye must be as pure and as immaculate as Jesus; for the law requires perfection, and nothing short of it; and God, with unflinching vengeance, will smite every man low who cannot bring him a perfect obedience. If I cannot, when I come before his throne, plead a perfect righteousness as being mine, God will say, "you have not fulfilled the demands of my law; depart, accursed one! You have sinned, and you must die." "Ah," says one, "can we ever have a perfect righteousness, then? Yes, I will tell you of that in the third point; thanks be unto Christ, who giveth us the victory through his blood and through his righteousness, who adorns us as a bride in her jewels as a husband arrays his wife with ornaments.
3. Yet again; the law gives strength to sin from the fact that, for every transgression it will exact a punishment. The law never remits a farthing of debt: it says, "Sin punishment." They are linked together with adamantine chains; they are tied, and cannot be severed. The law speaks not of sin and mercy; mercy comes in the gospel. The law says, "Sin die; transgress be chastised; sin hell." Thus are they linked together. Once let me sin, and I may go to the foot of stern Justice, and as, with blind eyes, she holds the scales, I may say, "O Justice, remember, I was holy once; remember that on such and such an occasion I did keep the law." "Yes," saith Justice, "all I owe thee thou shalt have; I will not punish thee for what thou hast not done; but remember you this crime, O sinner?" and she puts in the heavy weight. The sinner trembles, and he cries, "But canst thou not forget that? Wilt thou not cast it away?" "Nay," saith Justice, and she puts in another weight. "Sinner, dost thou recollect this crime?" "Oh!" says the sinner, "wilt thou not for mercy's sake-?" "I will not have mercy," says Justice; "Mercy has its own palace, but I have naught to do with forgiveness here; mercy belongs to Christ. If you will be saved by Justice, you shall have your full of it. If you come to me for salvation, I will not have mercy brought in to help me; she is not my vicegerent; I stand here alone without her." And again, as she holds the scales, she puts in another iniquity, another crime, another enormous transgression; and each time the man begs and prays that he may have that passed by. Says Justice, "Nay, I must exact the penalty; I have sworn I will, and I will. Canst thou find a substitute for thyself? If thou canst, there is the only room I have for mercy. I will exact it of that substitute, but even at his hands I will have the utmost jot and tittle; I will abate nothing; I am God's Justice, stern and unflinching, I will not alter, I will not mitigate the penalty." She still holds the scales. The plea is in vain. "Never will I change!" she cries; "bring me the blood, bring me the price to its utmost; count it down, or else, sinner, thou shalt die.
Now, my friends, I ask you, if ye consider the spirituality of the law, the perfection it requires, and its unflinching severity, are you prepared to take away the sting of death in your own persons? Can you hope to overcome sin yourselves? Can you trust that, by some righteous works, you may yet cancel your guilt? If you think so, go, O foolish one, go! O madman, go! work out thine own salvation with fear and trembling, without the God that worketh in thee; go, twist thy rope of sand; go, build a pyramid of air; go, prepare a house with bubbles, and think it is to last forever; but know it will be a dream with an awful awakening, for as a dream when one awaketh will he despise alike your image and your righteousness. "The strength of sin is the law."
III. But now, in the last place, we have before us THE VICTORY OF FAITH. The Christian is the only champion who can smite the dragon of death, and even he cannot do it of himself; but when he has done it, he shall cry, "Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." One moment, and I will show you how the Christian can look upon death with complacency, through the merits of Jesus Christ.
First, Christ has taken away the strength of sin in this respect, that he has removed the law. We are not under bondage, but under grace. Law is not our directing principle, grace is. Do not misunderstand me. The principle that I must do a thing that is to say, the principle of law, "do, or be punished; do, or be rewarded," is not the motive of the Christian's life; his principle is grace: "God has done so much for me, what ought I to do for him?" We are not under the law in that sense, but under grace.
Then Christ has removed the law in this sense, that he has completely satisfied it. The law demands a perfect righteousness; Christ says, "Law, thou hast it; find fault with me; I am the sinner's substitute; have I not kept thy commandments? Wherein have I violated thy statutes?" "Come here, my beloved," he says, and then he cries to Justice, "Find a fault in this man; I have put my robe upon him; I have washed him in my blood; I have cleansed him from his sin. All the past is gone; as for the future, I have secured it by sanctification; as for the penalty, I have borne it myself; at one tremendous draught of love I have drunk that man's destruction dry; I have borne what he should have suffered; I have endured the agonies he ought to have endured. Justice, have I not satisfied thee? Did I not say upon the tree, and didst thou not coincide with it, 'It is finished; it is finished?' Have I not made so complete an atonement that there is now no need for that man to die and expiate his guilt? Do I not complete the perfect righteousness of this poor, once condemned, but now justified spirit?" "Yes" saith Justice, "I am well satisfied, and even more content, if possible, than if the sinner had brought a spotless righteousness of his own." And now, what saith the Christian after this? Boldly he comes to the realms of death, and entering the gates there, he cries, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" And when he had said it, the dragon drops his sting. He descends into the grave; he passes by the place where fiends lie down in fetters of iron; he sees their chains, and looks into the dungeon where they dwell, and as he passes by the prison door, he shouts, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" They growl and bite their iron bonds, and hiss in secret, but they cannot lay aught to his charge. Now see him mount aloft. He approaches God's heaven, he come against the gates, and Faith still triumphantly shouts, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" And a voice comes from within: "Not Christ, for he hath died; not God, for he hath justified." Received by Jesus, Faith enters heaven, and again she cries, "Who even here amongst the spotless and ransomed, shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" Now the law is satisfied, sin is gone; and now surely we need not fear the sting of the dragon, but we may say, as Paul did, when he rose into the majesty of poetry such beautiful poetry that Pope himself borrowed his words, only transposing the sentences, "O grave, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"
If it were necessary to-night, I might speak to you concerning the resurrection, and I might tell you how much that takes away the sting of death, but I will confine myself to the simple fact, that the sting of death is sin, that the strength of sin is the law, and that Christ gives us the victory by taking the sting away, and removing the strength of sin by his perfect obedience.
And now, sirs, how many are there here who have any hope that for them Christ Jesus died? Am I coming too close home, when most solemnly I put the question to each one of you, as I stand in God's presence this night, to free my head of your blood; as I stand and appeal with all the earnestness this heart is capable of? Are you prepared to die? I sin pardoned? Is the law satisfied? Can you view the flowing
"Of Christ's soul-redeeming blood,
With divine assurance knowing,
That he hath made your peace with God?"
O! can ye now put one hand upon your heart, and the other upon the Bible, and say, "God's word and I agree; the witness of the Spirit here and the witness there are one. I have renounced my sins, I have given up my evil practices; I have abhorred my own righteousness; I trust in naught but Jesus' doings; simply do I depend on him.
'Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.'"
If so, should you die where you are sudden death were sudden glory.
But, my hearers, shall I be faithful with you? or shall I belie my soul? Which shall it be? Are there not many here who, each time the bell tolls the departure of a soul, might well ask the question, "Am I prepared?" and they must say, "No." I shall not turn prophet to-night; but were it right for me to say so, I fear not one-half of you are prepared to die. Is that true? Yea, let the speaker ask himself the question, "Am I prepared to meet my Maker face to face?" Oh, sit in your seat and catechise your souls with that solemn question. Let each one ask himself, "Am I prepared, should I be called, to die?" Methinks I hear one say with confidence, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." I hear another say with trembling accents
"Ah! guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On Christ's kind arms I fall;
He is my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus and my all."
Yes, sweet words! I would rather have written that one verse than Milton's "Paradise Lost." It is such a matchless picture of the true condition of the believing soul. But I hear another say, "I shall not answer such a question as that. I am not going to be dull to-day. It may be gloomy weather outside to-day, but I do not want to be made melancholy." Young man, young man, go thy way. Let thine heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth; but for all this the Lord shall bring thee to judgment. What wilt thou do, careless spirit, when thy friends have forsaken thee, when thou art alone with God? Thou dost not like to be alone, young man, now, dost thou? A falling leaf will startle thee. To be alone an hour will bring on an insufferable feeling of melancholy. But thou wilt be alone and a dreary alone it will be with God an enemy! How wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? What wilt thou do when he taketh thee by the hand at eventide, and asketh thee for an account; when he says, "What didst thou do in the beginning of thy days? how didst thou spend thy life?" When he asks thee, "Where are the years of thy manhood?" When he questions thee about thy wasted Sabbaths, and inquires how thy latter years were spent, what wilt thou say then? Speechless, without an answer, thou wilt stand. Oh, I beseech you, as ye love yourselves, take care! Even now, begin to weigh the solemn matters of eternal life. Oh! say not, "Why so earnest? why in such haste?" Sirs, if I saw you lying in your bed, and your house was on fire, the fire might be at the bottom of the house, and you might slumber safely for the next five minutes; but with all my might I would pull you from your bed, or I would shout, "Awake! awake! the flame is under thee." So with some of you who are sleeping over hell's mouth, slumbering over the pit of perdition, may I not awake you? may I not depart a little from clerical rules, and speak to you as one speaketh to his fellow whom he loves? Ah! if I loved you not, I need not be here. It is because I wish to win your souls, and, if it be possible, to win for my Master some honor, that I would thus pour out my heart before you. As the Lord liveth, sinner, thou standest on a single plank over the mouth of hell, and that plank is rotten. Thou hangest over the pit by a solitary rope, and the strands of that rope are breaking. Thou art like that man of old, whom Dionysius placed at the head of the table; before him was a dainty feast, but the man ate not, for directly over his head was a sword suspended by a hair. So art thou, sinner. Let thy cup be full, let thy pleasures be high, let thy soul be elevated, seest thou that sword? The next time thou sittest in the theatre, look up and see that sword: when next in thy business thou scornest the rules of God's gospel, look at that sword. Though thou seest it not, it is there. Even now, ye may hear God saying to Gabriel, "Gabriel, that man is sitting in his seat in the hall; he is hearing, but is as though he heard not; unsheathe thy blade; let the glittering sword cut through that hair; let the weapon fall upon him and divide his soul and body." Stop, thou Gabriel, stop! Save the man a little while. Give him yet an hour, that he may repent. Oh, let him not die. True, he has been here these ten or dozen nights, and he has listened without a tear; but stop, and peradventure he may repent yet. Jesus backs up my entreaty, and he cries, "Spare him yet another year, till I dig about him and dung him, and though he now cumbers the ground, he may yet bring forth fruit, that he may not be hewn down and cast into the fire." I thank thee, O god; thou wilt not cut him down to-night; but to-morrow may be his last day. Ye may never see the sun rise, though you have seen it set. Take heed. Hear the word of God's gospel, and depart with God's blessing. "Whosoever believeth on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved." "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." "He is able to save to the uttermost, all that come unto him." "Whosoever cometh unto him, he will in no wise cast out." Let every one that heareth say, "Come; whosoever is athirst, let him come and take of the water of life, freely."
Motives for Steadfastness
Delivered on Lord's Day Morning, May 11, 1873, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 15:58 .
THE apostle had been putting forth all his strength to prove the doctrine of the resurrection, yet he was not diverted from his habitual custom of making practical use of the doctrine which he established. He proves his point, and then he goes on to his "therefore," which is always an inference of godliness. He is the great master of doctrine: if you want the Christian creed elaborated, and its details laid out in order, you must turn to the epistles of Paul; but at the same time he is always a practical teacher. Paul was not like those who hew down trees and square them by rule and system, but forget to build the house therewith. True, he lifteth up a goodly axe upon the thick trees, but he always makes use of that which he hews down, he lays the beams of his chambers, and forgets not the carved work thereof. He brings to light the great stones of truth, and cuts them out of the live rock of mystery; but he is not content with being a mere quarryman, he labors to be a wise master builder, and with the stones of truth to erect the temple of Christian holiness. If I shift the figure I may say that our apostle does not grope among the lower strata of truth, hunting out the deep things and spending all his force upon them, but he ploughs the rich upper soil, he sows, he reaps, he gathers in a harvest, and feeds many. Thus should the practical ever flow from the doctrinal like wine from the clusters of the grape. The Puritans were wont to call the end of the sermon, in which they enforced the practical lessons, the "improvement" of the subject; and, truly, the apostle Paul was a master in the way of "improvement." Hence in this present chapter, though he has been dealing with the fact of resurrection, and arguing with all his might in defense of it, he cannot close till he has said, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, umnoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."
My brethren, this is a lesson for us; let us never reckon that we have learned a doctrine till we have seen its bearing upon our lives. Whatever we discover in God's word, let us pray the Holy Spirit to make us feel the sanctifying influence of it. You know not a man because you recognize his features, you must also know his spirit, and so the mere acquaintance with the letter of truth is of small account you must feel its influence and know its tendency. There are some brethren who are so enamored of doctrine that no preacher will content them unless he gives them over and over again clear statements of certain favourite truths: but the moment you come to speak of practice they fight shy of it at once, and either denounce the preacher as being legal, or they grow weary of that which they dare not contradict. Let it never be so with us. Let us follow up truth to its practical "therefore." Let us love the practice of holiness as much as the belief of the truth; and, though we desire to know, let us take care when we know that we act according to the knowledge, for if we do not our knowledge itself will become mischievous to us, will involve us in responsibilities, but will bring to us no effectual blessing. Let everyone here who knoweth aught, now pray God to teach him float he would have him to do, as the consequence of that knowledge.
This morning our subject will be the practical outflow of the resurrection, the great inference which should be drawn from the fact that death is swallowed up in victory. There should be fine flour from the grinding of such choice wheat.
The text has in it two things: first, it mentions two great points of Christian character "stedfast, unmoveable," and "always abounding in the work of the Lord;" and, secondly, it gives us a grand motive for the cultivation of these two characteristics inasmuch as the doctrine of the resurrection being true, "ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
I. First, then, let us consider THE TWO GREAT POINTS OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER here set before us.
1. The first one is "be ye stedfast, unmoveable." Two things are wanted in a good soldier, steadiness under fire, and enthusiasm during a charge. The first is the more essential in most battles, for victory often depends upon the power of endurance which makes a battalion of men into a wall of brass. We want the dashing courage which can carry a position by storm that will be used up in the second characteristic "always abounding in the work of the Lord;" but in the commencement of the attack, and at critical points all through the campaign, the most essential virtue for victory is for a soldier to know how to keep his place, and "having done all to stand."
The apostle has given us two words descriptive of godly firmness, and we may be sure that as Holy Scripture never uses a superfluity of words, each word has a distinct meaning. "Stedfast" alone would not have sufficed, but "unmoveable" must be added. Let us look at the word "stedfast" first. Beloved, be ye stedfast. By this the apostle means, first, be ye stedfast in the doctrines of the gospel. Know what you know, and, knowing it cling to it. Hold fast the form of sound doctrine. Do not be as some are, of doubtful mind, who know nothing, and even dare to say that nothing can be known. To such the highest wisdom is to suspect the truth of everything they once knew, and to hang in doubt as to whether there are any fundamentals at all. I should like an answer from the Broad Church divines to one short and plain question. What truth is so certain and important as to justify a man in sacrificing his life to maintain it? Is there any doctrine for which a wise man should yield his body to be burned? According to all that I can understand of modern liberalism, religion is a mere matter of opinion, and no opinion is of sufficient importance to be worth contending for. The martyrs might have saved themselves a world of loss and pain if they had been of this school, and the Reformers might have spared the world all this din about Popery and Protestantism. I deplore the spread of this infidel spirit, it will eat as doth a canker. Where is the strength of a church when its faith is held in such low esteem? Where is conscience? Where is love of truth? Where soon will be common honesty? In these days with some men, in religious matters, black is white, and all things are whichever color may happen to be in your own eye, the color being nowhere but in your eye, theology being only a set of opinions, a bundle of views and persuasions. The Bible to these gentry is a nose of wax which everybody may shape just as he pleases. Beloved, beware of falling into this state of mind; for if you do so I boldly assert that you are not Christian at all, for the Spirit which dwells in believers hates falsehood, and clings firmly to the truth. Our great Lord and Master taught mankind certain great truths plainly and definitely, stamping them with his "Verily, verily;" and as to the marrow of them he did not hesitate to say, "He that believeth shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;" a sentence very abhorrent to modern charity, but infallible nevertheless. Jesus never gave countenance to the baseborn charity which teaches that it is no injury to a man's nature to believe a lie. Beloved, be firm, be stedfast, be positive. There are certain things which are true; find them out, grapple them to you as with hooks of steel. Buy the truth at any price and sell it at no price.
Be ye stedfast also in the sense of not being changeable. Some have one creed to-day and another creed to-morrow, variable as a lady's fashions. Indeed, we once heard a notable divine assert that he had to alter his creed every week, he was unable to tell on Monday what he would believe on Wednesday, for so much fresh light broke in upon his receptive intellect. There are crowds of persons nowadays of that kind described by Mr. Whitfield when he said you might as well try to measure the moon for a suit of clothes as to tell what they believed. Ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. Shifting as sandbanks are their teachings and as full of danger. The apostle says to us, "Be ye stedfast." Having learned the truth hold it, grow into it, let the roots of your soul penetrate into its center and drink up the nourishment which lies therein, but do not be for ever transplanting yourselves from soil to soil. How can a tree grow when perpetually shifted? How can a soul make progress if it is evermore changing its course? Do not sow in Beersheba and then rush off to reap in Dan. Jesus Christ is not yea and nay; he is not to-day one thing and tomorrow another, but the "same to-day, yesterday, and for ever." True religion is not a series of guesses at truth, but "we speak what we do know, and testify what we have seen." That which your experience has proved to you, that which you have clearly seen to be the word of God, that which the Spirit beareth witness to in your consciousness, that hold you with iron grasp. Skin for skin, yea, all that a man has, will he give for his life, and to us the holding of the truth is essential to our life. The Holy Ghost has given his unction unto the people of God, and they know the truth, and moreover they know that no lie is of the truth. Were it not for this anointing the very elect would have been deceived in this age of falsehood. Brethren, be ye stedfast.
But the apostle meant much more, he intended to urge us to be stedfast in character. Right in the middle of the chapter upon the resurrection he speaks about character. He shows that a change of view upon the doctrine of the resurrection would legitimately lead to a change of action; for if the dead rise not, then it is clearly wisdom to say, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die:" but inasmuch as the resurrection doctrine is true, he urges us to keep to that holy living which is the natural inference from belief in eternal life and the judgment to come. As ye have looked to the recompense of the reward hereafter, and have sought to order your conversation by a sense of the coming judgment, so do ye still, and be ye stedfast. Alas, we might preach tearful discourses to many Christians upon stedfastness of behavior, for they have started aside as a deceitful bow. There was a time when their integrity was unquestioned, but now they have learned the ways of a faithless world; truth was on their lip, but now they have learned to flatter. They have lost the pure speech of the New Jerusalem, and speak in the Babylonian tongue. How many professors were once exceeding zealous, but are now careless! the fire of their love burns dimly, its coal is all but quenched. Prayer was their delight, but now it wearies them. The praises of God were perpetually in their mouth, but now they forget their Benefactor. They labored abundantly in the Redeemer's service, but now they can scarce be stirred out of their luxurious indolence. Beloved, if God has sanctified you by his Spirit, be ye stedfast in character. Suffer not your divinely-wrought sanctity to be stained. Be ye not sometimes watchful, but be ye always so, by the help of the good Spirit. Whereunto ye have attained in the things of God, walk by that rule still. Be ye not corrupted by evil communications. Make your private and public life of a piece. Let not the worldling peep into your house and discover that your godliness is an article intended for foreign consumption only. Be ye such that if ye be watched anywhere, and at any time, your sincerity will be manifested. O for consistency among professors! Its absence is the weakness of the church, and its restoration will bring to us unnumbered blessings.
In addition to being stedfast in doctrine and character, we need to be exhorted to stedfastness in attainments. O brethren, if we were now what we sometimes have been, how ripe for glory should we be! If we could but keep the ground which we conquer, how soon would all Canaan be ours! But is not Christian life with a great many very like the condition of the sea? The sea advances, it gains gradually upon the beach you would think it was about to inundate the land; but after it has reached its highest point it retires, and so it spends its force in perpetual ebb and flow. Are not ebb-and-flow Christians common as sea-shells? Life to them is the unprogressive change of advance and recede: to-day all earnest, to-morrow all indifferent; to-day generous, to-morrow mean; to-day filled with the fullness of God, to-morrow naked, and poor, and miserable. What they build with one hand they pull down with the other. Sad that it should be so. I must confess I find it far easier to climb the greatest heights of grace, and especially of communion, than to maintain the elevation. For a flight now and then our wings are sufficient; we mount, we soar, we rise into the spiritual regions, and we exult as we rise; but our pinion droops, we grow weary of the heights, and we descend to earth like stones which have been thrown into the air. Alas! that it should be so. Be ye stedfast. When ye climb ask for grace to keep there; when your wing has borne you up ask that there you may be poised till the Lord shall call you to your nest in heaven. Is your faith strong? Why should it decline again? Is your hope vivid? Why should that bright eye of yours grow dim, and look no more within the golden gates? Is your love fervent? Why should it be chilled? Cannot the breath of the Eternal Spirit keep the fire at full blaze? Wherefore is it that we do run well and then are hindered? We are short-winded, we cannot watch with our Lord one hour, we grow weary and faint in our minds. Alexander could not thus have won a world if after fighting the battle of Issus he had stopped short of the Granicus: if the Macedonian hero had said, "I have done enough, I will go back to Greece and enjoy my victories," his empire had never become universal. Nor would Columbus have discovered a new world if he had sailed a little way into the unknown ocean and then had turned his timid prow towards port. "Onward!" is the motto of the earnest, all the world over, and should it not be the watchword of the Christian? Shall we be content with a wretched poverty of grace? Shall we be satisfied to wear the rags of inconsistency? God forbid. Let us bestir ourselves, and when we make headway along the river of life, may God grant us grace to cast anchor and hold our place, lest we drift back myth the next tide, or be blown back by the next change of wind. "Be ye stedfast."
We shall not have brought out the full force of the text unless we say that the apostle evidently refers to Christian work, for he says, "be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." So that he means be stedfast in your work which the Lord has laid upon you to do. Perseverance is at once the crown and the cross of service. It is very easy to preach for a little while, but I can assure you that preaching to a congregation year after year involves no little toil; yet are we bound to be stedfast in this ministry. A spurt, a leap, a bound these are easy, but to press on continually is the difficulty. Have you taken a class in the Sabbath-school? The novelty of it may carry you through a month or two, but, dear friend, be stedfast and hold on year after yea, for therein will lie your honor and success. If you should be discouraged, because you meet with no present success, yet persevere, yea, endure to the end. If God has given you any work to do, it is yours to press forward in it, whether you prosper in it or not. The negro said, you remember, that if God bade him jump through a wall, whether he could go through it or not was no business of his. "Here I go," says he, "right at it." We may rest assured that the Lord never did command us to leap through a wall without causing it to give way when our faith brought us to the test. We have to obey the precept, and leave the consequences. If God says, "Do it," the command is both the warrant for our act and the security for our being aided with all necessary help. Noah preached for one hundred and twenty years, and when his term of warning ministry was over, where were his converts? He may have had a great many, but they were all dead and buried, and with the exception of himself and family, after one hundred and twenty years' ministry, there remained not one that God would preserve alive; and into the ark he went, the grandest unsuccessful preacher that ever lived, faithful unto death, to be rewarded of his God as much as if he had induced half the world to flee from the wrath to come. Let us, therefore, remain stedfast in doctrine, in character, in attainment and in labor. To this end help us, O Holy Ghost.
But the apostle adds, "unmoveable." He supposes that our stedfastness will be tried, and he bills us remain unmoveable. Be "stedfast" in times of peace, like rocks in the midst of a calm and glassy sea; be ye unmoveable if ye are assailed like those same rocks in the midst of the tempest when the billows dash against them. Brethren, when you are assailed by argument, be unmoveable. I say, "argument," but I am complimenting our adversaries, their objections do not deserve the name. It will never be possible for any man living to answer all the queries which others can raise, or reply to all objections which may be brought against the most obvious facts. If any person here were sceptical as to my standing at this present moment upon this platform, I am not certain that I should be able to convince him that I am here. I am quite sure of it myself, but I have no doubt a sceptic would be able to advance objections which would require a keener wit than mine to remove, notwithstanding that the matter would be plain enough if the objector would throw away his logic and use his common sense. Now the arguments against the resurrection which the apostle mentions, were such as he could easily remove. Such a one as this, for instance: How are the dead raised up? Paul seems to have lost his patience in answering it, and he called the man a fool; and you may depend upon it he was a fool, or else the apostle would not have called him so. Granted the existence of a God, you need never ask "How?" If there be omnipotence, there is no room for the question, "How?" God the Almighty can do what he wills, and he is a fool who asks "How?" after once he has believed in God. Most of the objections against the articles of our holy faith are contemptible, yet none the less difficult to answer because contemptible, for an argument is not always apparently strong in proportion to its reasonableness. It may be easier to obviate an objection which has some force in it than to overthrow another which has positively no force at all; in fact, the most difficult arguments to answer are thou which are insane at the core, for you must be insane yourself before you can quite catch the thought which insanity has uttered, and as you do not wish to qualify for controversy with fools, by becoming a fool yourself, you may not be able to reply to your antagonist. It will be your right course to be stedfast, unmoveable, that your adversary may see that his sophisms are of no avail. Whatever may be said against our faith we can afford to despise it, since we know that our Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead: the evidence of that fact is beyond dispute, and that being proved our faith rests on a rock. Prove the resurrection (and we say it is proved by the best witnesses, and plenty of them), then our faith is true, and we will hold it in the teeth of all opposition. Do not be carried away, therefore, by the sophistry of cunning men, neither be ye cast down. When it is rumoured at any time that a learned man has found out some very wonderful thing which is to put an end to the Bible, do you calmly reply let him find out another wonderful thing, if so it pleases him. If our wise men have discovered a new origin for the human race, or if they have invented a new way of making a world, we hope their new toy will please them, but such things are not to our mind, we have other and weightier concerns besides fiddling or philosophizing. We have no more reverence for these profane dreamers than they have for the Bible; they are nothing to us. Christ has risen from the dead; nothing in physiology or geology can ever contradict that, and if he be risen from the dead them also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him, and in that faith we abide.
We shall be met in addition to argument by what is far more powerful, namely, by surrounding example. The world never overcame the church in argument yet, for it has always refuted itself. When let alone the unbelieving world has eaten its own words, like Saturn devouring his own children. Whenever any smith in the world's armoury has forged a weapon against the truth, there has always been another smith at work in the same smithy preparing another weapon wherewith to break the first in pieces: the man has done it not in the interests of the gospel, but in his own interest, and with desire only for his own honor, but he has done the work of the Lord, not knowing what he did. The bad example of the world has often told upon the soldiers of Christ with far more powerful effect. What the arms of Rome could not do against Hannibal, his Capuan holidays are said to have accomplished; his soldiers were conquered by luxury, though invincible by force. When the church lies down at ease, she is apt to feel the diseases of abundance. The current of the world runs furiously towards sin, and the fear is lest the Lord's swimmers should not be able to stem the flood. It is sad when professors of our holy religion do as others do. It is folly to be singular, except when to be singular is to be right, but it often happens that we forget the rightness of the thing in the fear of being singular. Brethren, care nothing about custom, for custom is no excuse for sin. Be ye stedfast, and if all men are turned to this or that, listen not to their "Lo, heres" and "Lo, theres," but stand inflexible for holiness, and God, and truth. "Be ye stedfast, unmoveable."
As you are not moved by the world's custom, so take care not to be moved by its persecutions. To-day the persecutions which we meet with are very petty; they amount to little more than here and there the loss of a situation, the denial of trade, the being turned out of a farm, or more commonly they go no further than a sneer, a bad name, or a slander. But be ye stedfast, unmoveable whatever may betide. Never let a man, who is but a worm, frown you away from your God. Bid defiance to his fierce looks and angry words, and like a man of God continue in the right way whether you offend or please.
And equally be unmoveable to the world's smiles. It will put on its sweetest looks and tempt you with its painted cheeks and artful fascinations. Like Jezebel it will tire its head and look out of the window, but like Jehu do you say, "Fling her down! "No peace or truce are you to hold with this crooked and perverse generation. If God prospers you in business let not your riches make you proud; if you have to toil, and there should come in your way an easy escape from hard labor by some crooked path, accept it not, be unmoveable. Let neither the soft south wind nor the boisterous north wind stir you from your foothold. God help you to be faithful unto death.
If ever there was a period in the Christian church when professors needed to be exhorted to be "stedfast, unmoveable," it is just now, for the foundations are removed and all things are out of course. Men remove the old landmarks, they break down the pillars of the house. All things reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and only he who keepeth the feet of his saints can preserve our uprightness. I see the tacklings loosed and the mast unstrengthened, and the brave vessel of the church is in an evil case. Many have left their moorings and are drifting hither and thither, their helmsmen all amazed. No longer does the squadron of the Lord sail in order of battle, but the lines are broken and the vessels yield to the tossings of winds and waves. Alas, that it should be so. O where is he that trod the sea? The pilot of the Galilean lake! I see him walking the waters, and he cries to us who still stand true to the one Lord, the one faith, and the one baptism, "Be ye stedfast, unmoveable." Whatever other denominations of Christians do, be ye true to your Lord in all things, for those who forsake him shall be written in the dust. Beloved, never stir away from the truth! Some are changeable by constitution like Reuben, "unstable as water, they shall not excel." A mind on wheels knows no rest, it is as a rolling thing before the tempest. Struggle against the desire for novelty, or it will lead you astray as the will-o'-the-wisp deceives the traveler. If you desire to be useful, if you long to honor God, if you wish to be happy, be established in the truth, and be not carried about by every wind of doctrine in these evil days. "Be ye stedfast, unmoveable."
2. The second characteristic of a Christian, however, we must speak upon. He is described as "always abounding in the work of the Lord," in which we will briefly show that there are four things.
First, dear brethren, every Christian ought to be engaged "in the work of the Lord." We should all have work to do for our divine Master. True, our everyday labor ought to be so done as to render honor to his name, but in addition to that, every Christian should be laboring in the Lord in some sphere of holy service. I shall not enlarge, but I shall pass the question round to each one." What are you doing for Jesus Christ?" I pray each one here who makes a profession of faith in Jesus to answer the question, "What am I doing in the work and service of the Lord?" If you are doing nothing, I pray you bewail your slothfulness and escape from it, for talents wrapped in napkins will be terrible witnesses against you.
Then the apostle says, secondly, we are not only to be "in the work of the Lord," but we are to abound in it. Do much, very much, all you can do, and a little more. "How is that?" says one. I do not think a man is doing all he can do if he is not attempting more than he will complete. Our vessels are never full till they run over. The little over proves our zeal, tries our faith, casts us upon God and wins his help. That which we cannot do of ourselves, leads us to call in divine strength, and then wonders are wrought. If you are only aiming at what you feel able to accomplish, your work will be a poor one, lacking in heroism, deficient in the noble element of confidence in the unseen Lord. Abound, then, and super-abound in the work of the Lord.
Next note that the apostle says, "always abounding." Some Christians think it enough to abound on Sundays: Paul says, "always abounding." That has reference to Mondays: to which day does it not refer? When you are young and in your vigor, abound in service. I recommend all young men to work for God with all their might while they can, for all too soon our energies flag, and the sere and yellow leaf forbids any more young shoots. I would equally urge every man of middle age to use all his time, gifts, and energies at once for the Lord "always abounding." Nor should the old man retire; he is to bring forth fruit in old age. The apostle says nothing about retiring from the work of the Lord, but "always abounding." "Oh, but we must give the young people an opportunity of doing something for God!" Do you mean that you will give the young people an opportunity of doing your work, because if you do I am in arms against so gross an error, for Christian work can never be done by proxy. Throw such an idea away with abhorrence. This is the age of proxy. People are not charitable, but they beg a guinea from somebody else to be charitable with. It is said that charity nowadays means that A finds B to be in distress, and therefore asks C to help him. Let us not in this fashion shirk our work. Go and do your own work, each man bearing his own burden, and not trying to pile a double load on other men's shoulders. Brethren, from morn till night sow beside all waters with unstinting hand.
The text calls this service "the work of the Lord," and we must ever bear this in mind; so that if we are enabled to abound in Christian service we may never become proud, but may remember that it is God's work in us rather than our own work, and whatever we accomplish is accomplished rather by God in us than by us for God. Jesus tells us, "Without me ye can do nothing." "Always abound," my brethren, not only in work for the Lord, but in the work of the Lord in yourselves, for only as he works in you to will and to do will you be able to work in his name acceptably.
Put these two things together, the man is to be stedfast, and to abound in work. To come back to my figure of a soldier, these two things are wanted we want a soldier who can hold his position under a galling fire, but we want him also to dash to the front and lead on a forlorn hope. We need many spiritual Uhlans who can ride ahead and pioneer for others with dauntless courage, but we cannot dispense with the heavy armed infantry who hold their own and wait till the battle turns. It is said that the French had courage enough on the spur of the moment to have rushed up to the cannon's mouth, but that the German was the victor because he could quietly abide the heat of the battle and when affairs looked black, he doggedly kept his post. In the long run stay is the winning virtue; he that endureth to the end the same shall be saved. He who can wait with hope is the man to fight with courage. He crouches down until the fit moment comes, and then he leaps like a lion from the thicket upon the foe. God grant that we may have in this place a body of Christian people who shall be stedfast and unmoveable, yet at an times as diligent as they are firm, as intensely zealous as they are obstinately conservative of the truth as it is in Jesus. "Stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."
II. Our last point is THE MOTIVE WHICH URGES US TO THESE TWO DUTIES. There are a great many other motives, but the one mentioned in the text is "forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." If we derive our motives for Christian labor or stedfastness from the things which we see, our spirit will oscillate from ardor into coldness, it will rise and fall with the circumstances around us. It is comparatively easy for a successful man to go on preaching or otherwise laboring for the Lord, but I admire the perseverance of the man who remains faithful under defeat. To get such a faithfulness we must disentangle ourselves from the idea of being rewarded here; we must be stedfast and unmoveable though nobody praises us, and abound in the work of the Lord though no fruit should come from it, because we have looked beyond this present realm of death, and have gazed into another world where the resurrection shall bring with it our reward.
Dear brethren, let us be stedfast, for our principles are true. If Christ has not risen from the dead, then we are the dupes of an imposition, and let us give it up. Why should we credulously adhere to that which is false? But if Christ hath risen from the dead, then our doctrines are true, and let us hold them firmly and promulgate them earnestly. Since our cause is a good one, let us seek to advance it. Only that which is true will live, time devours the false; the death-warrant of every false doctrine is signed. A fire is already kindled which will consume the wood and hay and stubble of error, but our principles are gold and silver and precious stones, and will endure the flame. "Therefore, let us be stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, therefore what we do is not done for a dead Christ. We are not fighting for a dead man's cause; we are not contending for an effete dynasty, or a name to conjure by, but we have a living captain, a reigning king, one who is able both to occupy the throne and to lead on our hosts to battle. Oh, by the Christ in glory, I beseech you, brethren, be ye stedfast! If it could be proved to-morrow that Napoleon still lived, there might be some hope for his party, but with the chieftain dead the cause faints. Now Jesus lives; as surely as he died he rose and lives again, and his name shall endure for ever, his name shall be continued as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in him, all generations shall call him blessed. The colors of that grand old red-cross flag, to defend which your fathers bled, have not in any degree become faded. It has braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze, but its history is as yet in its infancy. Our grand cause is imaged this day, not by a baby in the Virgin's arms, nor by a dead man in the hands of his enemies, but by a living, reigning, triumphant, glorified Christ, full of splendor and of majesty. Let us rally to his call; for he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. Behold, he cometh! Even now flee angels bring forth the white horse caparisoned for the conqueror, he who is called the faithful and True One shall ride thereon at the head of his elect armies. Even at this moment we see the ensign gleaming above the horizon. The Lord is on his way. Our Captain putteth on his Gesture dipped in blood, while on his head are many crowns. He shall smite the nations, and rule them with a rod of iron, and he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Let us continue true to him, for evil would be our case if we were to desert his cause, and then should see him come in the glory of his Father, attended by cohorts of angels. It would be a dreadful thing to have deserted the army just when the shout of "victory" was about to be raised. Be ye stedfast, unmoveable, for he is risen, and he ever liveth to secure the victory.
Our work of faith is not in vain, because we shall rise again. If what we do for God were to have its only reward on earth, it were a poor prospect. Strike out the hope of the hereafter, and the Christian's reward would be gone; but, beloved, we shall rise again. Our work is ended when our eye is closed in death, but our life is not ended with our work. We shall preach no more, we shall no more teach the little children, are shall no more talk with the wayfarer about the Savior; but we shall enjoy better things than these, for we shall sit upon our Savior's throne even as he sits upon his Father's throne. Our heads shall have crowns to deck them, our hands shall wave the palm of victory; we shall put on the white robe the victors apparel; we shall stand around the throne in triumph, and shall behold and share the glories of the Son of God. O brethren, shrink not, for the crown is just within your reach. Never think of diminishing your service, rather increase it, for the reward is close at hand. And remember that as you will rise again, so those whom you come in contact with will also rise again. When I have preached the gospel on a Sunday I have thought, "Well, I shall never see many of these people again," and the reflection has flashed across my mind, "Yes, I shall; and if I have faithfully, as God's servant, preached the truth, I shall not need to be afraid to see them either." It they have received benefit and found Christ through the witness I have borne, they shall be my reward hereafter in the land of the living, and even if they reject the testimony, yet shall they bear their witness to my faithfulness in having preached to them the word of God, for they shall rise again. O beloved, what is this poor world? There, shut your eyes to it, for it is not worth your gaze. What is there here below? What see I but fleeting shadows and dreams, and phantoms? What shall I live for? What is there worth living for beneath you stars? What, if I hoard up wealth, I shall have to leave it to ungrateful heirs! What if I get fame, yet how can the breath of man add to my comfort when I lie tossing on the verge of eternity? What is there worth living for, I say, beneath yon stars? But there is a something that makes it worth while existing and makes life grand and noble. It is this: if I may crown with praise that head which for my sake was crowned with thorns, if I may honor him who was dishonored for my sake, if to the manifestation of the glories of Jehovah I may have contributed a share, if at the reading of the records of all time it may be found that I put out my talent as a faithful servant, and gained interest for my Master, it shall be well. Saved not of debt-far hence the thought! but of grace alone, yet shall it be no small thing, out of a sense of indebtedness to grace, to have lived and loved and died for Jesus.
What more can I say? are there no ambitions among you? I know there are. Young men, consecrate yourselves to God this day. If you have rooked to Jesus and trusted him, serve him for ever. Preach him if you can; go abroad into the foreign field if you may. If you cannot do that, make money for him that you may give it to his cause. Open your shop for his sake, let everything be done for Jesus. Take this henceforth for your motto All for Jesus, always for Jesus, everywhere for Jesus. He deserves it. I should not so speak to you if you had to live in this world only. Alas, for the love of Jesus, if thou wert all and nought beside, O earth! But there is another life live for it. There is another world live for it. There is a resurrection, there is eternal blessedness, there is glory, there are crowns of pure reward live for them, by God's grace live for them. The Lord bless you, and save you. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 .
MR. SPURGEON'S twentieth year of ministry in London will be commemorated by the erection of buildings to accommodate his College. It will be a generous thing if all who have benefited by his Sermons will contribute to the work. The estimated cost will be £10,000. Help will be gladly received by Mr. Spurgeon, Nightingale Lane, Clapham.