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Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible Spurgeon's Verse Expositions
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ spe/ 1-samuel-4.html. 2011.
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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The Form and Spirit of Religion
April 4, 1858 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies." 1 Samuel 4:3 .
These men made a great mistake: what they wanted was the Lord in their midst; whereas they imagined that the symbol of God's presence, the ark of the covenant, would be amply sufficient to bestow upon them the assistance which they required in the day of battle. As is man, such must his religion be. Now, man is a compound being. To speak correctly, man is a spiritual being: he hath within him a soul, a substance far beyond the bounds of matter. But man is also made up of a body as well as a soul. He is not pure spirit; his spirit is incarnate in flesh and blood. Now, such is our religion. The religion of God is, as to its vitality, purely spiritual always so; but since man is made of flesh as well as of spirit, it seemed necessary that his religion should have something of the outward, external, and material, in which to embody the spiritual, or else man would not have been able to lay hold upon it. This was especially the case under the old dispensation. The religion of the Jew is really a heavenly and spiritual thing; a thing of thought, a thing that concerns the mind and spirit; but the Jew was untaught; he was but a babe, unable to understand spiritual things unless he saw them pictured out to him, or, (to repeat what I have just said) unless he saw them embodied in some outward type and symbol: and therefore God was pleased to give the Jew a great number of ceremonies, which were to his religion what the body is to man's soul. The Jewish religion taught the doctrine of the atonement, but the Jew could not understand it, and therefore God gave him a lamb to be slain every morning and every evening, and he gave him a goat over which the sins of the people were to be confessed, and which was to be driven into the depths of the wilderness, to show the great doctrine of a substitute and atonement through him. The Jewish religion teaches, as one of its prominent doctrines, the unity of the Godhead; but the Jew was ever apt to forget that there was but one God; and God, to teach him that, would have but one temple, and but one altar upon which the sacrifice might rightly be offered. So that the idea of the one God was (as I have already said) made incarnate in the fact that there was but one temple, but one altar, and but one great high priest. And mark, this is true of our religion Christianity: not true to so full an extent as of Judaism for the religion of the Jew had a gross and heavy body but our religion has a body transparent, and having but little of materialism in it. If you ask me what I would call the materialism of our religion, the embodiment of the spiritual part of that in which we trust and hope, I would point, first of all, to the two ordinances of the Lord, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. I would point you next to the services of God's house, to the Sabbath day, to the outward ritual of our worship: I would point you to our solemn song, to our sacred service of prayer; and I would point you also and I think I am right in so doing to the form of sound words, which we ever desire to hold fast and firm, as containing that creed which it is necessary for men to believe if they would hold the truth as it is in Jesus. Our religion, then, has an outward form even to this day; for the Apostle Paul, when he spoke of professing Christians, spoke of some who had "a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof." So that it is still true, though I confess not to the same extent as it was in the days of Moses, that religion must have a body, that the spiritual thing may come out palpably before our vision, and that we may see it. Now, three points this morning inferred from our narrative. The first point is this that the outward form of religion is to be carefully and reverently observed. But my second and most important head is this you will notice that the very men who have the least of the spirit of religion are the most superstitiously observant of the form of it; just as you find the people here, who did not care for God, had a very superstitious regard for that chest called the ark of the covenant. And then, my third point will be, that those who trust in the outward form of religion, apart from the spirit of it, are fearfully deceived, and the result of their deception must be of the most fatal character. The first point I feel is necessary, lest I should lead any to despise the form of religion, while endeavoring to insist upon the absolute necessity of attending in the first place to the spirit of it. I. In the first place then, THE FORM OF RELIGION IS TO BE REVERENTLY OBSERVED. This ark of the covenant was with the Jew the most sacred instrument of his religion. There were many other things which he held holy: but this ark always stood in the most holy place, and it was rendered doubly sacred, because, between the outstretched wings of those cherubic figures that rested upon the mercy-seat, there was usually to be seen a bright light, called the Shekinah, which manifested that Jehovah, the God of Israel, who dwelt between the cherubims, was there. And, indeed, they had great reason in the days of Samuel to reverence this ark, for you will recollect that when Moses went to war with the Midianites, a great slaughter of that people was occasioned by the fact that Eleazar, the high priest, with a silver trumpet, stood in the forefront of the battle, bearing in his hands the holy instruments of the law that is , the ark; and it was by the presence of this ark that the victory was achieved. It was by this ark, too, that the river Jordan was dried up. When the tribes came to it, there was no ford, but the priests put the staves of the ark upon their shoulders, and they marched with solemn pace down to the waters' edge, and before the presence of the ark the waters receded, so that the people went through dry-shod. And when then had landed in the promised country, you remember it was by this ark that the walls of Jericho fell flat to the ground; for the priests, blowing the trumpets and carrying the ark, went before, when they compassed the city seven days, and at last, by the power of the ark, or rather by the power of that God who dwelt within the ark, the walls of Jericho fell flat down, and every man went straight up to the slaughter. These people, therefore, thought if they could once get the ark, it would be all right, and they would be sure to triumph; and, while I shall have in the second head, to insist upon it that they were wrong in superstitiously imputing strength to the poor chest, yet the ark was to be reverently observed, for it was the outward symbol of a high spiritual truth, and it was never to be treated with any indignity. It is quite certain, in the first place, that the form of religion must never be altered. You remember that this ark was made by Moses, according to the pattern that God had given him in the mount. Now, the outward forms of our religion, if they be correct, are made by God. His two great ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are sent for us from on high. I dare not alter either of them. I should think it is a high sin and treason against heaven, if, believing that baptism signifieth immersion, and immersion only, I should pretend to administer it by sprinkling; or, believing that baptism appertaineth to believers only, I should consider myself a criminal in the sight of God if I should give it to any but those who believe. Even so with the Lord's Supper. Believing that it consists of bread and wine, I hold it to be highly blasphemous in the Church of Rome to withhold the cup from the people; and knowing that this ordinance was intended for the Lord's people only, I consider it an act of high treason against the Majesty of Heaven, when any are admitted to the Lord's Supper who have not made a profession of their faith and of their repentance, and who do not declare themselves to be the true children of God. And with regard to the doctrines of the Gospel, no alteration must be allowed here. I know that forms of doctrine are very little, compared with the spirit and the heart; but still we must not alter even the form of it. It has often been said, that we ought not to have a strict religion. I believe that is just the very thing we ought to have: a religion that is of such a cast that it does not know how to alter; a religion that comes from the Infallible Head of the Church, that is, Jesus Christ our Lord, and which to the latest time is to be like the Law and the Prophets not on jot or tittle of it must fail while the earth endureth. The men who think that we may alter this and alter that, and still maintain the spirit of religion, have some truth on their side; but let them remember, that while the spirit of religion may be maintained in the midst of many errors, yet every error tends to weaken our spirituality. And, beside that, have no right to consider the effect upon ourselves merely. Whatever form of religion God has ordained, it is ours to practise without the slightest alteration; and to alter any one of the ordinances of God is an act of dire profanation; however reasonable that alteration may seem to be, it is treason against high heaven, and is not to be permitted in the Church of Christ. "Hold fast the form of sound words," said Paul, "which thou hast heard of me;" or, as I remember to have said before, while the form of religion is not power, yet unless the form be carefully observed, it is not easy to maintain the power. It is like an egg-shell enclosing the egg; there is no life in the shell, but you must take care you do not crack it, or else you may destroy the life within. The ordinances and doctrines of our faith are only the shell of religion they are not the life; but we must take care that we do not hurt so much as the outward shell, for if we do, we may endanger the life within; though that may manage to live, it must be weakened by any injury done to the outward form thereof. And as the form must not be altered, so it must not be despised. These Philistines despised the ark. They took it and set it in their idol temple, and the result was that their idol god, Dagon, was broken in pieces. They then sent it through their cities, and they were smitten with emerods. And then, being afraid to put it within walls, they set it in the open country, and they were invaded with mice, so that everything was eaten up. God would not have any dishonour put even upon the outward form of his religion; he would have men reverently take care that they did no dishonour even to his ark; it might be nothing but gopher-wood, but because, between the wings of those cherubim God had dwelt, the ark was to be held sacred, and God would not have it dishonoured. Take care, ye that despise God, lest ye despise his outward ordinances. To laugh at the Sabbath, to despise the ordinances of God's House, to neglect the means of grace, to call the outward form of religion a vain thing all this is highly offensive in the sight of God. He will have us remember that while the form is not the life, yet the form is to be respected for the sake of the life which it contains; the body is to be venerated for the sake of the inward soul; and as I would have no man maim my body, even though in maiming it he might not be able to wound my soul, so God would have no man maim the outward parts of religion, although it is true no man can touch the real vitality of it. Yet one more remark, and that a very solemn one. As the outward form is neither to be altered nor despised, so neither is it to be intruded upon by unworthy persons. You remember that this ark of the covenant, after it was brought back from the land of the Philistines, was set in the field of Joshua the Bethshemite, and the Bethshemites took off the lid, and looked into the ark of the Lord, and, for this, the Lord "smote of that people fifty-thousand and three-score and ten men; and the people lamented because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter." These Bethshemites had no intention whatever of dishonouring the ark. They had a vain curiosity to look within, and the sight of those marvellous tables of stone struck them with death; for the law, when it is not covered by the mercy-seat, is death to any man, and it was death to them. Now, you will easily remember how very solemn a penalty is attached to any man's intruding into the outward form of religion when he is not called to do so. Let me quote this awful passage: "He" (speaking of the Lord's Supper) "that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." How frightful an announcement is that! A curse is pronounced upon the man who dares to touch even the outward form of religion, unless he hath the power of it; and we know there is nothing which excites God's holy anger more swiftly than a man's attending to the ordinances of his house and making an outward profession of being in Christ, while he has no part nor lot in the matter. Oh, take heed. The outward ordinances of Christ are not the vitality of religion, but nevertheless they are so solemnly important, that we must neither alter nor despise them, nor rush into them without being invited; for if we do so, the curse of God must light upon us for having despised the holy thing of the Most High God of Israel. And now, before I close this first head, let me remark, that the outward things of God are to be diligently cared for and loved. We have in our reading had two instances of that. There was holy Eli: he knew very well that the ark of God was not God; he understood that it was but the outward sign of the inward and spiritual; yet when the ark of God was taken, mark the poor old man's trouble: his heart broke, and then he fell down and broke his neck. Then there was that nameless woman. Her husband was the priest who attended to this very ark, but he was a man whose character I cannot describe better than by saying that he was a son of Belial. It is hard for a woman to believe religion if she has a minister for a husband who is profane and wicked. This woman's husband not only committed wrongs against God, but against her. He was a filthy and unclean person, who polluted the very courts of the Lord's house with his fornications; and yet she had such faith in her God, that she knew how to love the religion which her husband, by his awful character, brought into disrepute. She knew how to distinguish between the man and his duty, between the priest and the priesthood, between the officer and the office. I do wonder at her. I am sure there is nothing that staggers our faith like seeing a minister walking inconsistently; but this man was the chief minister, and her own husband, living in known sin, and a sin which came home to her, because he sinned against her. I am sure it was wonderful that she believed at all; but so strong was her faith and attachment to her religion, that though, like Eli, she knew that the ark was not God, that the form was not the inward thing, yet the form itself was so precious to her, that the pangs of child-birth were hurried on prematurely and in the midst of her pain, this still was uppermost that the ark of the Lord was taken. It was in vain to cheer her with the news that her child was born; it was an idle tale to her, and she rejoiced not in it. She lay in a swoon; but at last, opening her eyes, and remembering that her husband was dead, and that therefore, according to Jewish usage, it was her duty to give the child a name, she faintly opened her lips before she died, and said, "Call his name Inglorious (Ichabod) for the glory is departed;" and then she added this reason for it: she did not say, "because my husband is dead," though she loved him; she did not say, "because my father-in-law, Eli, is dead" or "because my nation has been defeated," but she added that all-significant reason, "because the ark of the Lord was taken;" and she died. Oh, I would to God that we all loved God's house, and loved the ways of God, and the ordinances of God as much as she did. While we attach no superstitious importance to the outward ceremony, I wish we thought as much of holy things, because of the Holy One of Israel. as did Eli, and this nameless, but noble woman. Thus I have preached upon the first head, and no ceremonialist here, I am sure, can differ from me, for they must all say it is true. Even the Puseyite will confess that this is just what he believes that ceremonies ought to be carefully observed. But I shall not agree with Mr. Puseyite in the second head. II. Now, it is a notorious fact, that THE VERY MEN WHO HAVE THE LEAST IDEA OF WHAT SPIRITUAL RELIGION IS, ARE THE MEN WHO PAY THE MOST SUPERSTITIOUS ATTENTION TO OUTWARD FORMS. We refer you again to this instance. These people would neither repent, nor pray, nor seek God and his prophets; yet they sought out this ark and trusted in it with superstitious veneration. Now, in every country where there had been any religion at all that is true, the great fact has come out very plainly, that the people who don't know anything about true religion, have always been the most careful about the forms. Do you want to know the man who used to swallow widows' houses, and devour the patrimonies of the fatherless? Do you want to know the hypocrites, the deceivers, in the days of Christ? Why, they were the Pharisees, who "for a show made long prayers;" they were the men who gave alms to the poor in the corners of the street the men that tithed the anise, and the mint, and the cummin, and forgot the weightier matters of the law, such as justice and righteousness. If you wanted to find the seducer, the unjust judge, the liar, the perjured man, in the days of Christ, you had only to ask for the man who had fasted thrice in the week, and gave tithes of all he possessed. These Pharisees would do any wicked action, and never stick at it; yet if in drinking wine a small gnat should have fallen in and been swallowed with it, they would have considered themselves defiled, because their law did not allow them to eat a creature from which the blood had not been withdrawn. Thus they strained at the gnat, thus getting the reputation of being very religious, and swallowed the camel, hump and all. You smile; but what they did in their day is done now. You know the Romanists; did you ever know one of them who would not think it to be a very high offence against the Majesty of Heaven, if he were to eat any meat on Good Friday? Do you know anyone of them who did not think it necessary to keep Lent with strict punctilious observance? Notice how carefully they go to their places of worship on the Sabbath morning, how diligently they observe that sacred rite of crossing their foreheads with holy water. How necessary is it, that the holy water and everything else of the same kind, should be tenderly cared for. And do not the same persons in their own countries keep their theatres open on the Sabbath day? Do you not find the very men, who are so solemnly observant of their religion in the morning, forgetting it all in the evening; thinking no more of the Sabbath, which they call holy, than if it were any other day, but making it more a day of merriment than any day of the week? Look again at our Church of England; God be thanked that there are so many true Evangelical men in the midst of it; but there are certain sections there to whom my remarks will apply. Do you want to know the men who know nothing at all about the new birth, who do not know what it is to be justified by faith, who have not a spark of religion? Do you know where to find them? They are the men that never said their creed without turning their heads the right way, that never said the name of Jesus without bowing their heads most reverently; they are the men who always take care that the church should be builded so as to be a goodly edifice, in order that the parishioners going there may see the glory of God in the glory of his house; they are the people who mark every red letter day, who take care that every rubric is attended to, who think that holly on Christmas is a most heavenly thing, and a few flowers upon the altar almost equal to the Lily of the Valley and the Rose of Sharon. These are the gentlemen who could no more preach without a cassock than they could live without a head. Of course they have not any religion at all, and because the inner life is clean gone, evaporated, dissipated, they have to be so extremely particular that they observe the outward form of it. I know many Evangelical Churchmen (and they are generally precise enough) that would break through every form. I could point you out this morning some two or three clergymen of the Church of England who are heretical enough to be sitting here and listening to the words of one who is a Dissenter, and of course a Schismatic, but who would no more think of calling me a Schismatic than they would think of flying, and would give me the right hand of fellowship with all their hearts. I believe that many of them would forget the rubrics if they could, and, if it were in their power, would cut their catechism all to pieces, and turn half of their church prayer-book out of doors. And these are the men that have most religion; they care least about the form but they have most of the grace within; they have more true religion, more evangelism, more of the grace of God in their hearts, than fifty of their Puseyite brethren. But let me come to Dissenters, for we are just as bad. I must deal with all alike. We have among us a certain class of people, a sort of dissenting Puseyites, Where the Puseyite thinks it necessary to keep Good Friday and Easter Sunday, these good brethren take as much care to keep holy day the wrong way, as the others the right way. They think it would be a grievous sin to go to chapel on Good Friday, and they are solemnly in earnest that they should never break the law of the church not to observe holy days. To them it is a very sacred thing that they should always be found in their chapel twice on the Sunday; they think it highly necessary that they should have their children baptized, or that they should be baptized themselves, and that they should take the Lord's Supper. That is all well and good; but alas! we must confess it, there are some among us who, if they are orthodox in their opinions and precise in their outward practice, are quite content to be utterly destitute of the power of religion. I must deal faithfully with all. I know in all our dissenting denominations there are to be found many self-righteous persons, who have not any religion at all, but who are the most precise people in all the world to stick up for the outward form of it. Do you not know some old member of the church here and there? Well, you say, if anybody in the church is a hypocrite, I should say old So-and-so is one. If you were to propose any alteration in anything, oh! how these gentlemen would bristle up; how they would draw their swords. They! they love every nail in the chapel door, they would not have a different colour for the pulpit for the world. They will have everything strictly observed. Their whole salvation seems to depend upon the rightness of the form. Oh no, not they; they could not think of altering may of the forms of their church. You know it is quite as easy for a man to trust in ceremonials, when the are severely simple, as for a man to rely upon them with they are gorgeous and superb. A man may as much trust in the simple ordinance of immersion and the breaking of bread, as another may trust in the high mass and in the prayers of priests. We man have Rome in Dissent, and Rome in the Church of England, and Rome anywhere; for wherever there is a trust in ceremonies, there is the essence of Popery, there is anti-Christ and the man of sin. Oh! take heed of this any of you who have been relying upon your ceremonies. This is just the truth, that the more zeal for ceremonies, generally the less power of vital godliness within. But now, how is it that the man who would not eat anything but salt-fish on Good Friday, cheats his neighbour on Saturday? How is it that the man who never would by any means go to anything but an orthodox sixteen-ounces-to-the-pound Baptist Chapel, can be found committing acts of injustice in his daily business, and perhaps more filthy deeds still? I will tell you, the man feels he must have some righteousness or other, and when he knows himself to be a good-for-nothing rascal, he feels he has not got a moral righteousness, and therefore he tries to get a ceremonial one. Mark the man that drinks and swears, that commits all kinds of iniquity, and you will very often find him (I have known such cases) the most superstitiously reverent man that can be found. He would not go inside a place of worship without taking off his hat immediately. He will curse and swear outside, perhaps, and it never pricks his conscience; but to walk up the aisle of a church with his hat on oh! how frightful. He feels, if he did so, he would be lost for ever. He would not forget to tithe the mint, anise, and cummin, but all the while the weightier matters of the law are left totally unregarded. Another reason is, because a religion of ceremonies is so much easier than true religion. To say Ava Maria and Pater Nosters is easy enough; you may soon get it over, and it does not check the conscience much. To go to chapel twice on the Sunday there is nothing very hard in that. It is not half so hard as turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart. It is not half so hard as breaking off one's sin by righteousness, and putting one's trust in Christ Jesus alone. Therefore, because the thing is so easy, people like it better. Again it is so complimentary. When the Romanist beasts his back, and flogs his flesh, why is it that he likes that better than the simple gospel, "Believe and live?" Why, because it just flatters his pride. He thinks he is beating the devil out of himself, but he is in reality beating him in the devil of pride is coming in. He whispers, "Ah! you are a good man to have flogged yourself like that! you will carry yourself to heaven by the merit of your wounds and bruises." Poor human nature always like that. In fact, the more exacting a religion is, the better people like it. The more religion ties you up, and binds you, if it does not touch the heart, the better people like to carry it out. Hindooism has its great hold upon the people, because they can get a great stock of merit by walking with spikes in their shoes; or rolling themselves many thousands of miles, or drinking the filthy waters of the Ganges, or offering themselves to die. All these things please human nature. "Believe and live" is too humbling; to trust alone in Christ casts down man's high looks; therefore man says, "Away with it!" and he turns to anything rather than to Christ. Besides, there is another reason. Men always like the religion of ceremonies, because it does not need the giving up of their favourite sins. "Why", says a man, "if all that is needed for me to be saved, is to have the Sacrament given me by the priest when I come to die, what a delightful religion that is! I can drink, swear, and do just as I like. I have nothing to do but to get greased at last with holy oil, and off I go to heaven with all my sins about me." Says another, "We can have all our gaieties and frivolities, all the pomp of life and the pride of flesh; all that we need is to get confirmed; then, afterwards, sometimes to go to church, take a handsomely bound prayer-book and Bible, be very attentive and observant, and the bishop will no doubt set us all right." This just suits many men, because there is no trouble about it. They can keep on with their gaieties and with their sins, and yet they believe they can go to heaven with them. Men do not like that old-fashioned gospel which tells them that sin and the sinner must part, or else they must be damned. They do not like to be told that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, and that old-fashioned text, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," will never be palatable to human nature. Human nature does not mind what you tell it to do, so long as you do not tell it what to believe. You may tell it to observe this, that, and the other, and the man will do it, and thank you , and the harder it is, the better he will like you; but once tell him, "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Believe on him and thou shalt be saved," his pride is all up at once; he cannot endure it, and he hates the man that preaches it to him, and drives the very thought of the gospel from his soul. III. And now, in the last place, it is mine to warn you that TO TRUST IN CEREMONIES IS A MOST DECEITFUL THING, AND WILL END IN THE MOST TERIFFIC CONSEQUENCES. When these people had got the ark into the camp, they shouted for joy , because they thought themselves quite safe; but, alas, they met with a greater defeat than before. Only four thousand men had been killed in the first battle, but in the second, thirty thousand footmen of Israel fell down dead. How vain are the hopes that men build upon their good works, and ceremonial observances! How frightful is that delusion which teaches for the gospel a thing which is not "the gospel," nor "another gospel;" but it is a thing that would pervert the gospel of Christ. My hearer, let me ask thee solemnly, what is thy ground of hope? Dost thou rely on baptism? O man, how foolish art thou! What can a few drops of water, put upon an infant's forehead, do? Some lying hypocrites tell us that children are regenerated by drops of water. What kind of regeneration is that? We have seen people hanged that were regenerated in this fashion. There have been men that have lived all their lives whoremongers, adulterers, thieves, and murderers, who have been regenerated in their baptism by that kind of regeneration. Oh, be not deceived by a regeneration so absurd, so palpable even to flesh and blood, as one of the lying wonders that have come from hell itself. But mayhap thou sayest, "Sir, I rely upon my baptism, in after life." Ah, my friends, what can washing in water do? As the Lord liveth, if thou trusteth in baptism thou trusteth in a thing that will fail thee at last. For what is washing in water, unless it is preceded by faith and repentance? We baptize you, not in order to wash away your sins, but because we believe they are washed away beforehand; and if we did not think you believed so, we would not admit you to participation in that ordinance. But if you will pervert this to your own destruction, by trusting in it, take heed; you are warned this morning. For as "circumcision availeth nothing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature," so baptism availeth nothing. I may have some here who are saying within themselves, "Well, if I do not go to heaven, nobody will, for I have been brought up to my church as regularly as possible; I was regularly confirmed; my godfathers and godmothers stood for me in my childhood, and all after the right fashion. I have come here, it is true, but it is about the first offence I ever committed, coming into this Schismatic conventicle; if it please God to forgive, I will never do so again. I always go to church, and I have no doubt that by taking the Sacrament and saying my prayers I shall go to heaven." Ah! you are awfully deceived, for unless you are born again you must come back to the old standard after all unless you are in blessed union with the Lamb, unless you have found repentance for sin, unless you have true living faith in the Lord Jesus, you may keep all these things, you may observe every jot and tittle, but the gates of heaven must be shut in your face, and "depart from me, I never knew you," must be your doom, even though you reply, "Thou hast eaten and drunk in our streets, and we have listened to thy voice." No, my friends, be ye Presbyterians, Episcopalians, or Dissenters, it matters not, ye have your ceremonies; and there are some among us that rely upon them. This one truth cuts at the root of us all. If this be our hope, it is a foul delusion. We just have faith in Jesus, we must have the new heart and the right spirit; no outward forms can make us clean. The leprosy lies deep within; and unless there be an inward work, no outward work can ever satisfy God, and give us an entrance into Paradise. But before I close, there is one thing I want you to notice, and that is, that this ark not only could not give victory to Israel, but it could not preserve the lives of the priests themselves who carried it. This is a fatal blow to all who trust in the forms of religion. What would the Romanist think, if I should tell him that his outward forms can never save him; and how would he grind his teeth if I were to tell him, as I do, that the outward forms can never save his priest, for his priest and he must be lost together unless they have some better trust than this! But we have even in Protestant churches too much priestcraft. People say, "Well, if the Gospel does not save me, I am confident of the salvation of my minister." Rest assured that he that serveth at God's altar is no more secure from destruction, unless he hath a living faith in Christ, than you yourselves. Hophni and Phinehas are slain, and so must every priest be if he relies on ceremonies himself or teaches others to do so. I cannot imagine a more frightful death-bed than that of a man who has been a priest I mean a man who has taught others to trust in ceremonies. When he is buried, it will be said of him that he died in sure and certain hope of a blessed resurrection; but oh! the moment after death, when he opens his eyes to see his delusion! while he was on earth he was fool enough to think that drops of water could save him, that a piece of bread and a cup of wine could renew his heart, and save his soul, but when he gets into another world he will lose this folly, and then will the thought flash upon him, like a lightning flash, writhing his soul with misery Ah! I am destitute of the one thing needful; I had no love to Christ, I never had that repentance which needed not to be repented of; I never fled to Jesus, and now I know that that hymn is true
"Not all the outward forms on earth, Nor rites that God has given, Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth, Can raise the soul to heaven."
Oh! how frightful then afterwards to meet his parishioners, to see those to whom he had preached, and to be howled at through the pit by men whom he was the instrument of destroying, by telling them to trust in a rotten foundation. Let me free myself from any such fear as that. As the Lord my God liveth before whom I stand this day man, woman, my brother, my sister, in the race of Adam, if thou reliest on anything short of the blood of Jesus Christ, thou trustest in a lie; and if thy salvation ends in anything short of a thorough change of heart, if it makes thee anything less than a new creature in Christ Jesus, the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself upon it, thou hast a religion which is not equal to the necessities of thy case, and when thou needest it most, it will reel beneath thy feet and leave thee without a standing place whereon to rest, overwhelmed with dismay and overcome by dispair. Now, before I send you away, let me make this last remark. I hear one say, "Sir, I renounce all trust in good works and ceremonies. Tell me how can I be saved?" The way is simply this. Our sins deserve punishment; God must and will punish sin; Jesus Christ came into this world and was punished in the room, place, and stead of all that believe on him. Your business, then, this morning is to make this inquiry, Do I want a Savior? Do I feel that I want him? And my business, if you answer that question aright is to say, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all thy heart, and thou shalt be saved. Al! there is one in heaven to-day, I firmly believe, who was always a worshipper in this place, and at New Park Street a young man who was led here to listen to the gospel, and was converted to God; and last Sabbath morning was caught away to heaven in the burning house at Bloomsbury one of those young men who was taken out of the ruins, one who had been brought to a knowledge of the truth here. It is stated in some of the papers, that his mother was far from a religious woman, and was somewhat given to drink; he had to struggle with some temptation and opposition, but he was enabled to hold on his way, and then, in such an hour as he thought not, the Son of Man came for him, and caught him to himself in the midst of flames and crashing timbers and the uprising of smoke. Oh! I may have one here, that, ere another Sabbath morning comes, may be launched into eternity, if not by the same deplorable process, yet in as hasty a manner; and as my soul rejoices over that young man, to think that God should have honoured me in bringing him to Christ before he took him up to heaven, I must lament that there are any of you in a peril so frightful, as to be living without God, without Christ, without a hope of heaven; to have death hanging over you, and yet not to tremble at it. Oh! this morning I beseech you, close with Christ. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, while his wrath is kindled but a little: for blessed are all they that put their trust in him."
Is God in the Camp?
April 9th, 1891 by C. H. SPURGEON 1834-1892
"And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! For there hath not been such a thing heretofore"--1 Samuel 4:7 .
Israel was out of gear with God. The people had forgotten the Most High, and had gone aside to the worship of Baal. They had neglected the things of God; therefore they were give up to their enemies. When Jehovah had brought them out of Egypt, he instructed them how they were to live in the land to which he would bring them, and warned them that if they forsook him they would be chastened. His words were very plain: "If ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins." In fulfillment of this threatening, the Philistines had been divinely permitted to make great havoc of the idolatrous Israelites, and to hold them in cruel slavery.
The only way for them to get out of their trouble was to return to God, who, by his judgments, seemed to say. "Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." The only cure for their hurt was to go back with repentance, and renew their faith and their covenant with God. Then all would have been right. But this is the last thing that men will do. Our minds, by nature, love not spiritual things. We will attend to any outward duty, or to any external rite; but to bring our hearts into subjection to the divine will, to bow our minds to the Most High, and to serve the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, the natural man abhors. Yet nothings less than this will suffice to turn our captivity.
Instead of attempting to get right with God, these Israelites set about devising superstitious means of securing the victory over their foes. In this respect most of us have imitated them. We think of a thousand inventions; but we neglect the one thing needful. I may be addressing some who, at this time, are passing through sore trial, and who therefore think that they must have forgotten some little thing in connection with the external religion, instead of seeing that it matters little what outward observance they may neglect, so long as they do not possess the faith, without which it is impossible to please God. They forgot the main matter, which is to enthrone God in the life, and to seek to do his will by faith in Christ Jesus. Get right with God; confess thy sin; believe in Jesus Christ, the appointed Saviour; be reconciled to God by the death of his Son; then all will be right between thee and the Father in heaven. We cannot bring men to this, apart from the Spirit of God. In this sermon I shall have to show you how often, and in how many ways, men seek other methods of cure than the only one, namely, to take the case to God. They heal their hurt slightly. They cry, "Peace! Peace!" where there is no peace, and adopt a thousand devious devices rather than accept the only remedy provided by the Great Physician for sin-sick souls. Instead of seeking to become right with God, these Israelites thought that, if they could get the ark of the covenant, which had been the symbol of Jehovah's presence, and bring it from the tent of Shiloh into the midst of their camp, they would them be certain of victory. So they sent and fetched the ark; and when it came into the came, they were enthusiastic as if their banners already waved over a victorious; they lifted up their voices so loudly, that the earth rang again with their shouts, while the Philistines, hearing their exulting shout, and finding out the reason, were greatly afraid. With fearful hearts, and trembling lips, already counting that all was lost, their enemies turned to one another, and said, "God has come into the camp. Woe unto us! For there hath not been such a thing heretofore."
In considering this subject, we will think, first, of the great mistake which both Israel and the Philistines made. In the second place, we will consider the great truth of which their mistake was a caricature. God does come into the camp when his people go forth to fight in his name; and when he really comes, the tide of battle is turned. When I have spoken on these two things, I shall close, as God shall help me, by speaking upon the great lessons which lie almost upon the very surface of the narrative.
I. First, then, let us consider THE GREAT MISTAKE which both Israelites and Philistines made. The Israelites, instead of seeing to God himself, went to Shiloh to fetch the ark of the covenant. The ark was the sacred place where God revealed himself in the days when his people truly served him; but it was devoid of power, without the presence of him who dwelt between the cherubim. The Israelites were mistaken, for they shouted long before they were "out of the wood." Before they had won any victory, the sight of the ark made them boastful and confident. The Philistines fell into an error of a different kind, for they were frightened without any real cause. They said, "God has come into the camp;" whereas God had not come at all. It was only the ark with the cherubim upon it; God was not there.
The mistake they made was just this: they mistook the visible for the invisible. It has pleased God, even in our holy faith, to give us some external symbols--water, and bread, and wine. They are so simple, that it does seem, at first sight, as if men could never have made them objects of worship, or used them as instruments of a kind of witchcraft. One would have thought that these symbols would only have been like windows of agate and gates of carbuncle. Through which men would behold the Saviour, and draw near to him. Instead thereof, some have neither looked through the windows nor passed through the gates, but have ascribed to the gates and the windows that which is only to be found in him who is behind them both. It is sad, indeed, when the symbol takes the place of the Saviour! Man is by nature both an atheist and an idolater. These are two shades of the same thing. We want, if we do worship at all, something that we can see. But a God that can be seen is no God; and so the idolater is first cousin to the atheist. He has a god which is no god, for he cannot be a god if he can be apprehended by human senses. This ark of the covenant, which was but a chest of wood covered with gold, with angelic figures on the lid, was simply a token of the presence of God with his people; and these Israelites transformed it into a sacred object, to be highly reverenced, to be worshipped, and, as it appears, to be trusted in. The elders said, "Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies." They ascribed to the ark what could only be done by God himself. This is the tendency of us all. Anything which we can see, we pine after. Hence we lean upon the arm of flesh: we trust in man, though it is written plainly enough, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." Yet, still we want some symbol, some token, something before our eyes; and if it can be something artistic, so much the better. We lay hold of something beautiful, that will charm the eye, and produce a kind of sensuous feeling, and straightway we mistake our transient emotion for spiritual worship and true reverence. This is the great mistake that many still make; they think that God has come into the camp merely because some outward religious rite or ceremony has been observed, or because some sacred shrine has been set up among them.
These Israelites fell into another mistake, which is also often made today: they preferred office to character. In their distress, instead of calling upon God, they sent for Hophni and Phinehas. Why did their hearts turn to them? Simply because they were priests, and the people had come to hold the sacred office in such superstitious reverence that they thought that was everything. But these young men were sinners against the Lord exceedingly; they were not even moral men, much less were they spiritual men. They made the house of God to be abhorred, and dishonored the Lord before all Israel. Yet, because they happened to hold the office of the priesthood, they were put in the place of God. Dear friends, this is a kind of feeling which many indulge. They think they shall be saved if they have a Levite for their priest. They imagine that the worship of God must be conducted properly, because the man who conducts it is in the apostolic succession, and has been duly ordained. You shall see a man eminent for the holiness of his life, for the disinterestedness of his character, for the fidelity of his preaching, for his power in prayer, for the blessing that rests upon his ministry in the conversion of sinners; but he is counted a mere nobody, because he lacks the superstitious qualification which deluded men think is so necessary. Here are Hophni and Phinehas, two of the grossest sinners in all the land of Israel; but then, you see, they are in the line of Aaron, and so they are trusted, and indeed are put in the place of God. Now, God forbid that we should say a word against the house of Aaron, or against any who speak the name of the Lord, whom God has truly called unto his work! But, beloved, this work is not a mere matter of pedigree; it is a question of the abiding presence of God with man and in a man. Unless God be with the minister whom you hear, to what purpose do you listen? If the leader of the church be not one who walks with God, where will he lead you? "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." The blind man may wear a badge on his arm to show that he is a certified guide; but will you be saved from the ditch simply because he belongs to the order of guides, and has his certification with him? Be not led away by any such vain notion. Yet this is the error into which many have fallen in all ages of the church.
But these people who faced the Philistines made another mistake; they confounded enthusiasm with faith. When they saw the ark, they shouted so that the earth rang again. "These are the kind of people I like," says one, "people that can shout." If that is all you want, why do you not go among the bulls of Bashan, and make your home in the midst of them? They can make more noise than any mortal men can make. These Israelites shouted, but there was nothing in their noise, any more than there is in their modern imitators. Anyone who has passed the camp of Israel, that day, might have said that they had "a bright, cheerful, happy service; just the kind of service the people like, you know, nothing dull about it." Hark! How the glad sound rises! Surely these people must have great faith! No, they had not a scrap of the real article. They were under a mistake all the time; and, shout as they might, they had very little to shout about; for in a short time their carcasses strewed the plain. The Philistines put an end to their shouting. Now, beloved, when you are worshipping God, shout if you are filled with holy gladness. If the ejaculation comes from your heart, I would not ask you to restrain it. God forbid that we should judge any man's worship! But do not be so foolish as to suppose that because there is loud noise there must also be faith. Faith is a still water, it floweth deep. True faith in God may express itself with leaping and shouting; and it is a happy thing when it does: but it also sit still before the Lord, and that perhaps is a happier thing still. Praise can sit silent on the lip, and yet be heard in heaven. There is a passion of the heart, too deep for words. There are feelings that break the backs of words; the mind staggers and trembles beneath the weight of them. Frost of the mouth often comes with thaw of the soul; and when the heart's great deeps are breaking up, it sometimes happens that the mouth is not large enough to let the torrents flow, and so it has to be comparatively silent. Do not, therefore, make the mistake of confounding enthusiasm with faith in judging the externals of worship, else you may fall into a thousand blunders. He may worship God who shouts till the earth rings again, and God may accept him; but he may worship God as truly who sits in silence before the Most High, and says not even a word. It is the spiritual worship which is most acceptable to God, not the external in any form or shape. It is the heart that has fellowship with the Lord; and it needs little in the way of expressing itself, neither has God tied it down to this way or that. It may find its own methods of utterance so long as it is truly "moved by the Holy Ghost."
Another mistake these people made that day was this: they valued novelty above Scriptural order. "The Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! For there hath not been such a thing heretofore." The Israelites probably made the same mistake, fixing their hope on this new method of fighting the Philistines, which they hoped would bring them victory. We are all so apt to think that the new plan of going to work will be much more effective than those that have become familiar; but it is not so. It is generally a mistake to exchange old lamps for new. "There hath not been such a thing heretofore." There is a glamour about the novelty which misleads us, and we are liable to think the newer is the truer. If there has not such a thing heretofore, some people will take to it at once for that very reason. "Oh," says the man who is given up to change, "that is the thing for me!" But it is probably not the thing for a true-hearted and intelligent Christian, for if, "there hath not been such a thing heretofore," it is difficult to explain, if the thing be a good one, why the Holy Ghost, who has been with the people of God since Pentecost, and who came to lead us into all truth, has not led the Church of God to this before. If your new discovery is the mind of God, where has the Holy Scriptures been all these centuries? Believing in the infallible Word and the abiding Spirit, I rather suspect your novelty; at least I cannot say that I endorse it until I have tested it by the Word of God. "Oh, but we had such a meeting! There never was the like of it," you say. Probably you ought to pray that there may never be the like of it again, for, after all, the meetings in which hearts become broken before God, and in which men believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the same Saviour who saved their forefathers, who have entered into glory, are no novelty. Those meetings in which men come and give themselves up to God, where "the great transaction" is done, where they become the Lord's, and he becomes theirs, are very old-fashioned things; they have been heretofore. "We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old:" and if we could only see the like, we would not ask to be able to say, "There hath not been such a thing heretofore." Philistines may like a thing that has not been heretofore; but we like the thing that has been since the days of Pentecost, the things that come from him who is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever": the workings of that God who changes not, "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Let him work his blessed will; and if he chooses to send a new thing on the earth, we will glorify his name; but because there are new things in the world, we will not ascribe them to him, for they may come from quite another quarter/ We remember that "Lo, here is Christ, or there!" was the cry against which our Lord warned his disciples. Concerning such a cry the Saviour said, "Believe it or not." To you, dear friends, I would say--Stand fast by your great Leader, the blessed, unchangeable Christ, and by the faith once for all delivered to the saints, or else you will be on the road to a thousand blunders.
The mistake made on that battle-field is a mistake which nowadays is frequently imitated. It assumes many forms. We fall into their error when we confound ritual and spirituality. Now, every form of religion has its ritual. The Quaker, who sits still, and does not say a word, has a ritual so far; and he that has a thousand rites and ceremonies has a ritual so much farther. But if I have gone through the general routine of the worship of my church, and then think that I have done something acceptable to God, while yet my heart has not communed with him in humble repentance, or faith, or love, or joy, or consecration, I make a great mistake. You may keep on with your religious performances for seventy years or more; you may never miss what our Scotch friends call "a diet of worship"; you may not neglect a single rubric in the whole ritual; but it is all nothing unless the soul has fellowship with God. Godliness is a spiritual thing; for "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." So far as our forms or worship help us towards this spiritual communion, they are good, but no farther. "Oh, well!" says one, "I never worship beneath a cathedral roof; I am quite content to meet with a few friends in a barn." Do not suppose, my friend, that the meagreness of your accessories has necessarily secured true worship. I thou hast met God in the barn, it is well; and if thy brother has met God in the right spirit, I care but little for thy barn, and I care even less for his cathedral. What does signify how thou hast garnished thine offering if it be not a living sacrifice, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ? A dead thing must not be brought to the altar of God. Remember that, under the Jewish law, they never offered fish upon the altar, because they could not bring it there alive. Everything brought to God as a sacrifice must be alive. Its blood must be poured out warm at the altar's foot. Oh that you and I might feel that lifting of the soul to God, and that buoyancy of heart, which true spiritual worship alone can bring to us! May our ritual, whether we have much or little, be our guide to God, and not our chain to hold us back from God!
We fall into the same blunder that the Israelites and the Philistines made is we consider orthodoxy to be salvation. We have secured much that is worth keeping when we have, intellectually and intelligently, laid hold on that divinely-revealed truth, "the gospel of the grace of God"; but we have not obtained everything even then. O sirs, if it were possible for you to believe every word of Christ's teaching, if it were possible to hold with only an intellectual faith the teaching of the apostles, rejecting all besides, and to hold it with an accuracy so great that in no joy or tittle you had made a mistake, it would profit you nothing; for "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." He may understand these things so as to be a theologian, but he must have them wrought into his soul by the Holy Ghost so as to make him a saint, or else he has not really understood them at all. Unless these are thy meat and thy drink, they are nothing to thee; unless thou findest Christ in them, thou wilt find in them thy ruin, they shall be the "saviour of death" unto thee. Remember, it was a beautiful tomb in which the dead Christ was laid; but he left it, and there was nothing there but grave-clothes after he had gone; and, in like manner, the best-constructed system of theology, if it has not Christ in it, and if he who holds it be not himself spiritually alive, is nothing more than a tomb in which are trappings for the dead. It is nothing better than a gilded ark, without the presence of God; and although you may shout, and say, "God is come into the camp," it will not be so.
We fall into the same error if we regard routine as security, and think that, because we have often done a thing, and have not suffered for it, therefore it will always be well with us. We are all such creatures of habit that, at length, our repeated actions seem to be natural and right. Because sentence against their evil works is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. But though Pompeii may slumber long at the foot of Vesuvius, at length it is overwhelmed. It behooves every one of us to try our ways and specially to call in question things which have become a sort of second nature to us. This is the fault of which Peter gives warning concerning the scoffers of the last days, who will say with regret to the blessed truth of Christ's second advent, "Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." The apostle says of such that, "they willingly are ignorant," and therefore are they willfully ignorant of the terrible and unalterable doom that awaits them at the coming of their Judge.
Thus, like the Israelites, we may shout as we see the ark of the covenant, although our sins have driven the Lord far from us; or, like the Philistines, we may say, "God has come into the camp," and yet he may not be there at all in the sense in which they meant. Thus I might continue to illustrate my text; but time would fail me, and I have yet to speak upon two other points.
II. Having considered the great mistake these people made, I will draw your attention, in the second place, to THE GREAT TRUTH of which their mistake is caricature. Though what the Philistines said, and what the Israelites thought, on this occasion, was false, it is often true. God does come to the camp of his people, and his presence is the great power of his church. O Brethren, what joy comes to us at such a time! I will briefly sketch the scene that takes place when God comes into the camp.
Then, the truth of the gospel becomes vital. The doctrines of grace have then with them the grace of the doctrines. Then is Christ not only to us the Truth, but he is also the Way and the Life. The gospel then becomes a sword with two edges, and it does marvelous execution. The Word of God then shows itself to be both a hammer and a fire, smiting and melting those upon whom its power is proved. Whoever preaches the gospel, when God has come into the camp, speaks with power. He may have little eloquence, and less learning; but if God is with him, and if his heart is all aglow with divine love, he will speak with power, and the people will say, "Surely, God is in this place, and we know it."
When God comes into the camp, new life is put into prayer. Instead of the repetition of holy phrases in a cold, feeble, lifeless fashion, the soul empties itself out before the Lord, like water flowing from a fountain; and men and women cry mightily unto him, laying hold upon the horns of the altar; and they come away with both hands full of heaven's own blessing, for they have prevailed with God in mighty wrestling.
By the presence of God in the camp fresh energy is thrown into service. There is a way of serving the Lord in which men do the proper thing while they are fast asleep. I am afraid much of our service for God is done while we are asleep, and that it is accompanied by a kind of celestial snoring, instead of being performed when our spiritual faculties are all alert, and the whole man is wide awake. But when God comes into the camp, how he shakes men up, and awakens the slumberers from their dreams! What a quickening, what a vivifying, the presence of God gives! I remember a picture on the Continent that strangely represents the resurrection. Some of the people, who are pictured as being raised from the dead, have some of their bones coming together; others have their heads covered with flesh, but the rest of the body is a skeleton; and nothing seems complete in this strange, wild conception of a mad artist. But there are hundred of Christian people who seem to be spiritually in as incomplete a stage as those people were supposed to be, They are, I hope, quickened from the dead, but they are not yet fully alive into God. Some of them are still dead in their head; their intellect has not yet been sanctified: some of them are dead at their hands; they cannot get them into their pockets, or if they manage so much as that, they cannot get them out again: some of them are dead at heart, they seem to know things very well with the brain, but not to feel them in the soul. But when the Lord comes to us with power, he makes us alive all over; every part of the man is quickened with a divine energy; then men really work for Jesus, and work successfully, too.
When God comes into the camp, his presence convinces unbelievers. Sinners turn to the Lord on the right hand, and on the left, in so marvellous a way that our weak faith is often quite astonished. The last persons in the world that we expected to be converted, come to our services, and there find Christ; and many have been hearers for years, but seem harder than the lower millstone, become soft as wax to the divine Word. When God comes into the camp, the Holy Ghost convinces men "of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment", the arrows of conviction fly fast and far, and pierce the hearts of the foemen of the King, and the slain of the Lord are many.
The presence of God, moreover, comforts mourners. When God comes into the camp, those who are troubled and tried begin to wipe away the tears of sorrow, and feel strengthened to bear their burdens; or, better still, they cast their care on him who is so manifestly near. Our hearts are also cheered by seeing anxious sinners turn their eyes towards the cross of Christ. Then Jesus reveals his love to them, and they perceive it; they fly into his arms, and find salvation there. Oh, what joyful times we have had of late in talking with many who have yielded themselves to Christ, and taken him to be all their salvation, and all their desire! May God stay in the camp with us till every sinner that comes within our ranks, and many also who are outside, shall come to Jesus, and be saved!
When God is in the camp, his presence infuses daring faith. Feeble men begin to grow vigorous, young men dream dreams and old men see visions. Many begin to plot and plan something for Jesus which, in their timid days, they would never have thought of attempting. Others reach a height of consecration that seems to verge on imprudence. Alabaster boxes get broken, and the precious ointment is poured out upon the Master's head, even though Judas shakes his money-bag, and cries, "To what purpose is this waste?" Adventurers for God are raised up--men like the Portuguese navigators, who passed the Cape of Storms, and called it afterwards the Cape of Good Hope. Men begin to mission the slums, the lodging-houses, the dark streets, and after a while those very places become happy hunting grounds for other Christian workers. Because God is in the camp, many take up the work which at first only the truly brave believer dared to try.
The fact of God being in the camp cannot be hidden, for in a delightful way it distills joy into worship. People do not think sermons dull when God is in the camp; and prayer-meetings are not then called "stupid affairs." The saints enjoy fellowship with one another; and when Christian people meet each other, and God is in the camp, they have many a happy word to exchange concerning their Master. Many such seasons we have enjoyed. It has been with us as with the people mentioned by the prophet Malachi: "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name." They had such holy talk that God himself turned eaves-dropper to listen to what they had to say; he liked it so well that he put it down; and he thought so much of it that he said he would preserve it; and a book of remembrances was made for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. May there be many more such books of remembrance in our day!
I cannot tell you what innumerable blessings come to the camp of the spiritual Israel when God is there. I hope that we know a little of this even now; and I am sure we want to know a great deal more of it. It is hard work preaching when God is not in the camp. It must be slavery to teach in the Sunday-school when God is not in the camp And any of you seeking souls must have a heavy drag on your spirits when the Lord is away. We might pray on Sabbath mornings, indeed, every day, and before every duty, "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence;" but if the Lord be in the camp, then the wheels no longer drag heavily, but, like the chariots of Amminadib, we fly before the wind. Everything is done gladly, happily, thankfully, believingly, when "God is come into the camp." May he abide in our midst, and may our eyes be opened to see him!
"Thrice blest is he to whom is given
The instinct that can tell
That God is in the field, when he Is most invisible."
III. Now, in closing our meditations upon this passage, let us try to learn THE GREAT LESSONS which this incident teaches us.
The first lesson is that which I have been insisting upon all through: the necessity of the divine presence. Dear friends, you acknowledge this. There is not one among us who does not know that the Holy Ghost is needful to effect any work. But I am afraid that it is something which we know so well, that we have put it up on a shelf, and there it lies unheeded. But it must not be so with thee, my brother, nor with me. We must pray in the Holy Ghost, or else we shall not pray at all; and we must preach under the influence of the Holy Ghost, or else we shall chatter like sparrows on the window-sill in the morning, and nothing will come of the chattering. Only the Holy Ghost can make anything we do to be effectual. Therefore never begin any work without the Holy Ghost, and do not dare go on with the impetus that you have gained, but cry again for the Holy Spirit. The "amen" of the sermon needs to be spoken in the power of the Holy Ghost just as much as the first word of the discourse, and every word between the first and the last. Let all your service for God be in the Spirit, or else it is all good for nothing.
Learn, next, that we should do all we can to obtain the presence of God in the camp. If there are any preparations which we can make for his coming, let us set about them at once. You who are out of Christ must not think that there is anything for you to do before you receive Christ. All the doing has been done.
"Jesus did it, did it all, Long, long ago."
But I am now addressing the people of God, and if we would have God to come very nigh to us, we must prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight in the desert a highway for our God. What can we do to obtain the presence of God in our midst? My time has so far gone that I can only give you a few hints as to what we ought to do if we want to secure that end.
We must confess our helplessness without God, and honestly mean the confession. The first thing that is required of us is to bemoan the fact that, by and of ourselves, we can do nothing; even as our Lord said to his disciples, "Without me ye can do nothing." The sooner we recognize this truth, the better. Our half-doing is our undoing; but when we cease from self, then we make way for God.
We must, next, have a universal desire for the presence of God with us. I mean by that, that every Christian man and every Christian woman must agonize with God that he would come into the camp; not merely some few of us desiring it, but all of us vehemently crying unto the Lord, "Come, Lord, and tarry not."
We must also be very careful in our lives. God will not come to an unholy church. The sacred Dove will never come to a foul nest. There must be a purging and a cleansing, or else he will not come.
Moreover, there must be a conscientious obedience to his word, a strict adherence to his truth, his doctrine, his precepts, to the whole of Christ's rule and law. He will not prosper us unless we are careful to follow every step that he has taken. God help us to have this conscientious care, this coming out from those who may not be thus careful, according to his word. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
If we desire this special sense of God's presence, there must be unbroken union. The Spirit of God does not love fighting. He is a dove, and he will not come where there is constant strife. We must be as one man in our love to one another. It was when the disciples were "with one accord in one place" that the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost; and thus it is in all our Pentecostal seasons. Often a stone seems to lie at the well's-mouth of our choicest blessings; and it cannot be rolled away "until the flocks be gathered together."
To crown all, there must be a hearty reliance upon God, and a childlike confidence in him. I would recommend you either believe in God up to the hilt, or else not believe at all. Believe this Book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing-place between the two. Be satisfied with nothing less than a faith that swims in the deeps of divine revelation; a faith that paddles about the edge of the water is poor faith, and is not good for much. Oh, I pray you, do believe in God, and his omnipotence!
Such are the conditions of obtaining the blessing of God's abiding presence. If these things be in us and abound, we shall be able to shout without making any mistake about the matter, "God has come into the camp."
When God does come to us, we should seek by all means to retain his presence. How can this boon be secured?
First, by humble walking with God. If we grow proud because we are honoured by our King's company, and begin to think that there must be, after all, something in us to attract God to us, and cause his face to shine upon us, we shall not long have the Lord among us. Seek, then, to be lowly in his presence.
Next, let much grateful praise be given to him from loyal hearts. If God is saving sinners, let us give him the glory of it. If he is at work among us, let us not go and talk about what we have been doing; but let us tell to men and angels, too, what HE has done. Let us never dare to handle God's jewels as if they were our own.
Moreover, there must be perpetual watchfulness. If God be with us, he may give us a great victory, and yet to-morrow we may be defeated because Achan has hidden the goodly Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold. Unless we are sober and vigilant, we may sadly have to mourn that the Lord has withdrawn his presence from us. There is a fierce light that beats around his throne. "Our God is a consuming fire." Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? The Scriptural answer is, "He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly." May God make us men of such calibre as can endure that heat!
And lastly, there must be an individual fellowship with God on the part of each one of us. It is hard work for the whole church to walk with God every day and all the day; but if each member will see to it that his own personal life is right, the church, as a whole, need fear nothing. Let us each one look after his own life, and see that all is right there; then the life of the church will soon be at flood-tide, and when we go forth to the battle, the Philistines will know of a truth that "God is come into the camp." May God speedily raise us all up to this point of personal consecration!
Dear friends, we are having sinners saved in our midst; pray for them. Some are struggling towards the light; seek to help them. If you meet with any such, love them, and cherish them, as a father does his child. I cannot speak longer. Your hearts must tell you what to do. Go on serving the Lord. May he abide with us in power for evermore! Amen.
LETTER FROM MR. SPURGEON.
BELOVED FRIENDS,--The one want of the church in these times is indicated by the title of this sermon. The presence of God, in saving power, in the church, will put to end the present plague of infidelity. Men will not doubt his Word when they feel his Spirit. It will be the only security for the success of the missionary effort. If God be with his people, they will soon see crowds converted and added to the church. For a thousand reasons, we need that Jehovah should come into the camp, as aforetime he visited and delivered his people from bondage in Egypt.
Could we not all unite in prayer for this as fervently as all united in prayer for my life? It is a far greater and more necessary subject for intercession, and the Lord will not be slow to hear us. Come to thy church, O Lord, in fulness of power to save! If the Great Advent is not yet, indulge us with outpourings of grace and times of refreshing!
Oh, that all Christendom would take us this pleading, and continue it until the answer came!
Receive, dear readers, my hearty salutations. Personally, I scarcely make progress during this broken weather; but the doctor says I hold my own, and that is more than he could have expected. Whether I live or die, I would say, in the words of Israel to Joseph, "God shall be with you."
Yours ever heartily,
Jan 9, 1892.