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A Hard Case
February 18, 1886 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and bide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword." Job 33:14-18 .
How persevering is divine love! "God speaketh once." I have heard many a father say to his child, "Do not let me have to speak again." But the great Father has to speak again, and when it is written, "God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not," we see how great is the stubbornness of the human heart, and we also see the gentleness of divine love. When Elihu said, "God speaketh once, yea twice," he meant that the Lord speaks repeatedly. Divine lovingkindness hath many voices. God often speaketh to us in our childhood. Some of us hardly recollect when first our Lord called us, as he called Samuel, saying, "Samuel, Samuel," and each for himself answered, "Here am I." We cannot forget the voices of our youth and boyhood, the messages that the Lord sent to us through loving parents and kind-hearted teachers, or the direct admonitions of the Holy Spirit. God spake to us, and spake to us again, and spake to us yet again; but we regarded not his voice. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear; and we were among those who would not hear even that voice to which heaven and earth attend, that voice which even the dead will one day hear, when they that hear shall live. Do we not admire the great patience of God with us? I am sure we ought to do so; and if we do, it will make us repent of our negligence of the divine voice, so that, henceforth, we shall say with David, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee," note that, "my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." Oh, for the quick ear to catch the faintest sound of the divine voice! Oh, for a ready heart, waiting for those tender condescending admonitions which the Lord is waiting to speak to us! But God has voices which he uses in such a way that men must and shall hear. There is not only the patience of love, but there is also the omnipotence of love. God does not merely attempt to make men hear, but he succeeds in doing it. When the splendor of his love makes bare his holy arm, and he puts forth all his force, the unwilling heart is made willing in the day of his power, the rebel spirit is led in chains of love, a willing captive to his conquering Lord. I am going now to speak somewhat of that matter; and, keeping to our text, I want to say, first, that man as very hard to influence for good. His ear has to be opened; his heart has to be broken off from its evil purposes; his pride has to be conquered; there are many things to be done before men are fully influenced to their eternal salvation. Then, secondly, God knows how to come at them. By day or by night, by voices heard when they are in the midst of their business, or "in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction." Thirdly, thus the Lord accomplishes great purposes for me: "That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword." I. So, then, first, let us begin with what is a very humbling consideration, namely, that MAN IS VERY HARD TO INFLUENCE FOR GOOD. This is true now, and it always has been true, since sin entered the world, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil." Still is the Savior's sad complaint most true of very many, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have his. The noblest, the tenderest, the most potent forces spend themselves in vain upon the heart of man. It is hard as the nether millstone it is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." It does not seem, by nature, to be more amenable to heavenly influences than is the deaf adder to the voice of the charmers, for it will not hearken, charm they never so wisely. According to the text, before God himself can save men, he has to open their ears: "Then he openeth the ears of men." What! Are men's ears stopped?" Perhaps not their outward ears; there are comparatively few persons who are very deaf. The most of us can hear, we can hear the guineas jingle, and be after them very soon; we can hear a complaint against our fellow-men, and repeat it very rapidly we have very quick ears for some things that are not worth hearing. But towards God, men's ears are often stopped. They are as if they had a film over them. As there is a veil over the heart, and scales over the eyes, so is there a stopping in the ear; and none of us who preach the Word of the Lord can take out that stopping, or get through man's ear to his heart. It is very hard that we should wear our lives away in constant thought of how to arrest and win men's attention; and yet, though we may succeed in exciting an apparent attention for the moment, what we have said has not penetrated the heart. We have hurled our javelin at behemoth, and his scales have turned aside the shaft. We have done our best to arouse the conscience, and to fix truth in the heart; but, if the arm of the Lord is not revealed, we have to go back, and cry with the Chief of the whole College of Preachers, "Who hath believed our report?" What is this stopping that gets into men's ears? It is, of course, first of all, original sin, that taint of the blood which has spoiled every human faculty, and has closed the ear from hearing even the voice of God himself. Man does not hear God's voice because he does not want to hear it. His will, his mind, his nature altogether is estranged from God. This original sin engenders in men great carelessness about divine things. How quickly they are aroused by talk about politics! With what attention they will listen to a lecture upon matters relating to their health, or upon the fastest method of making money; but when it comes to the soul and its eternal destiny in heaven or hell, when it is concerning the bleeding Savior and the loving Father, and the gentle wooing Spirit, men think we are doting, talking fancies, telling dreams, and they pooh-pooh it all, and cast it behind their backs. If it be a matter of any worth to them, they will possibly think of it to-morrow; but they scarcely imagine it is worth while to trouble themselves about it now. Their ears are stopped by carelessness. Often, too, there is another form of stopping, which is very hard to get out of the ear; that is, worldliness. "I am too busy to attend to religion! I am so engaged that I cannot spare time to hear about it. You do not know how fully my time is occupied. Why, even on Sunday, I must needs look into my books, and balance my accounts!" With such men, the world is in their heart, it has fined it, and taken possession of all their thoughts. God is not in all their thoughts, because the world is there. I have been told that you can scarcely hear the great clock at St. Paul's strike in the middle of the day, the noise of the traffic is so great that-many persona have lived near and have not known when it was noon; and I do not wonder at it. But you can hear the warning bell at dead of night; far away sounds the note that marks the hour, because then the traffic is hushed. Alas! many men never get into that hush; they live in a noisy, clamorous, trafficking world, and this dulls and stops their ears, so that even though God himself apeaketh, they do not hear his voice. In some cases, the ear is stopped by prejudice. Men do not hear the gospel because they do not want to hear it, they will not bring themselves to hear it. There is the preacher, for instance; they have heard such strange stories concerning him that they will not listen to him. The very people, too, who profess to love godliness, well, those who are prejudiced see faults in them, as if that were a reason why they should not themselves listen to the gospel! But any excuse will suffice when you are not in earnest about anything. Yet it is a thousand pities that a man should be prejudiced against the salvation of his own soul. It would be a foolish thing for a man to prejudice himself into rage and beggary; but it is far worse when a man prejudices himself out of life eternal into everlasting woe. There are tens of thousands, ay, millions, who, from their education and surroundings, and often from want of candour, would not listen to the gospel though the angels themselves preached it. For some reason or other, they are prejudiced against angelic preaching, and they would not listen to it, let it be what it might. It seems impossible, sometimes, to get a hearing with some men, even for our Lord himself. They have resolved, before they listen to him, that he cannot be the Son of God. Nathanael's question, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" is on their lips in a moment. "Is it possible that we should derive any benefit from listening to the carpenter's Son?" So, in one way or another, their ear does not fulfill its true purpose, for it is stopped up by prejudice. With a great many more, the ear seems to be doubly sealed up by unbelief. They will not believe that which God himself has spoken. If they do not go the full length of renouncing belief in the inspiration of Scripture, yet they might as well, for they do not read what the Scripture saith; or, if they do read, they read only to question and to cavil, to impose their own meaning upon the plain words of God and so, in very truth, their ear is hermetically sealed with unbelief. Even HE, you know whom I mean, even he who was wont to heal with a touch or a word all who came to him, could not do many mighty works in his own country because of the unbelief of the people, with such an evil power is unbelief begirded. Oh, that God would save men from it! If they are to be saved, he must do it, for we cannot. When the ear is stopped by unbelief, it matters not how wisely and how earnestly you proclaim the truth, it will not affect the heart of the hearers. So, brethren, I have shown you various ways in which the ear of man gets stopped. It may also be stopped by self-sufficiency; when a man has enough in himself to satisfy him, he wants nothing of Christ. When he fancies he can do everything himself, what needs he to cry to the strong for strength? Sometimes the ear gets stopped up with the love of sin. Our Lord Jesus said to the Jews who sought to slay him, "How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?" And I may say to others, "How can ye who love the drunkard's cup believe in Christ? How can ye believe in Christ, ye who are unfaithful-to your wives, or you young men who follow after evil and wantonness in these polluted streets of ours?" How is it to be expected that the pure gospel should be in favor with men who are given to uncleanness? These things stop men's ears, so they say to the preacher, "If we attended to this gospel, we could not go on in our sins, we should be disturbed in our conscience; therefore, we will hear thee another day concerning this matter." When the days of their dalliance are over, and they have drained the cup of the world's pleasure and lust, when their bones are full of rottenness, and their sins are dragging them fast to perdition, then, peradventure, they will turn unto their God; but not now. Their ears are sealed with the love of sin, and with a hardness of heart which makes them impenitent for their iniquities. O sirs, do you not see how difficult it is to get at man's heart when you cannot even get through the gate that leads to it? Ear-gate is blocked up with mud, and all the King's captains will fail to break a way through it unless the Prince Immanuel himself shall come, with the irresistible battering-ram of his almighty grace, and break down that gate by the sheer force of his omnipotent love. Then there is another difficulty. If we get through the ear, and the man is influenced to listen, his heart does not retain that which is good, he so soon forgets it. Hence the text says of the Lord, "He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction." Oh, what defeats we have had! I mean, we who are teachers and preachers from the pulpit, or you who give your instruction in the Sunday-school class. Ah! we think the child, the man, the woman, has learned that truth at last; but it is much as if we had written it on a blackboard, it is soon wiped out. "Oh, yes!" we thought to ourselves, "we have put it so plainly, we have illustrated it so deftly, we have pressed it home so patiently and so earnestly, that they never can forget it." Alas! what we tried to write upon their minds is as if it were written upon water, or like the marks that a child makes upon the sand by the sea-shore which the next wave washes out. How shall men be saved? We cannot impress them; or, if we do impress them, how often it ends in nothing! See them stream into the enquiry-room! Note their tears, listen to the story of their repentance, hear their confessions and declarations that they have found the Savior. Read the report in the papers, so many saved! But, within six months, where are they? Are they to be found in our churches? Are they working with the people of God? Some of them, for whom God be thanked; but, oh! how large a proportion have gone back, like the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire! Would I not, therefore, have these special efforts to reach the unsaved? Of course I would, all the same for what I have said. Whatever comes of it, our duty is one thing, the result of it is quite another. That which comes of it is often so disappointing that we are made to realize our own utter inability, and then we are made to rely alone upon God's all-sufficient ability. Unless he opens the ear, it is never opened; and unless he seals the instruction upon the heart, burning it into the conscience as with a hot iron, setting his own sign-manual upon the innermost core of the being, all that is done is soon undone, and nothing is really done effectually. Another difficulty must be noticed; that is, the purpose of so many men; indeed, the secret purpose of all men; and from this purpose men have to be withdrawn. The purpose of most men, is to seek after happiness, and their notion is that they will find it by having their own way. They have not found it yet; their own way has led them into much sorrow. They purposed to amend specially in one particular direction, and still to follow their own way in another fashion. They were, perhaps, too coarse; they will now be more polite. They were really outrageous in their sin; they will now be more decorous. They were, perhaps, going at too fast a pace; they will go a little slower, but in the same direction, still seeking the pleasures of the world, still desiring to please self. But to bow before God, and confess their sin, they will have none of that. To turn from all their evil ways, and to seek after perfect holiness, they will have none of that. To come to Christ, and in that coming to be obedient to his supremacy, and seek to follow his example, even as they hope to find pardon through his precious blood, they will not have that. Their purpose is, well, perhaps, just at the last, when they cannot make any more out of the world, they will come in, and cheat the devil in a mean and beggarly way, and try to sneak into heaven by some back door if they can find one. After having given their lives to Satan, they will give their deaths to the Savior. That prayer of the meanest man mentioned in the whole Bible, is one which I have often heard quoted with commendation. That wicked wretch of a Balaam, after hating God's people, doing them all the evil he could, and taking the reward for it, then prays, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" What an abominable request! For the man who had lived such a life as that, to ask that he might die the death of the righteous, was atrocious, and showed the awful blackness of his wicked heart. O sirs, one day, you will have to come to Christ, and yield yourselves to his sway; if you do not bow before the scepter of his mercy, you will be broken in pieces by the rod of his wrath. The difficulty is to bring men to this submission now, ere it is too late. They have their own purpose, and their own hope, and their own scheme, and how can we get them away from them? He that will not be healed, who can heal him? He that is resolved to be sick, who can make him whole? He that will die, who shall keep him alive? The man that will not eat, how can you feed him? He that will not drink, how can you slake his thirst? O sirs, this makes the difficulty of getting at men, that they are bent on mischief, they have set their faces like a flint, as if determined to go down to perdition! Ay, and there is one thing more which is, perhaps, the greatest barrier of all. It is not merely their deafness of ear, and their unretentiveness of spirit, and their resoluteness of purpose; but it is their pride of heart. Oh, this is like adamant; where shall we find the diamond that can cut a thing so hard as man's pride? God can "hide pride from man," but we cannot. Man is so proud that he says that he has not sinned; or, if he has sinned, he could not help it, poor creature that he is. Even if he has done wrong, he is no worse than his neighbors; and there are some beautiful traits of character about him, and these will furnish a sufficient covering for him. If he is told that he must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, he greatly prefers to believe in himself. He will not come, as the publican did, and cry, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Why should he? He is not such a sinner as the publican was. He would be washed, but he does not feel that he is foul enough. He would be purified from sin, but then he is not quite certain that he has any sin from which he needs to be purified, and so, while the sick find the good Physician, and are healed, these who fancy themselves to be in health, die in their sins. We can overcome almost anything except man's pride. You know the old story of dear Mr. Hervey, who said to the godly ploughman, "Ah, John, it is wonderful when God overcomes sinful self!" "Yea, Mr. Hervey," answered the ploughman, "but it is a greater wonder when he overcomes righteous self;" and so it is. It is easy for the Lord to save a sinner; but it is impossible for a self-righteous man to be saved until he is brought down from his fatal pride. I have heard of a lady who used to say that she could not bear to hear a certain style of preaching. "Why!" she said, "according to that teaching, I have no advantage over the girls in the street, and there is no better heaven for a lady like me than there is for one of them!" So they shut themselves out with a sin which is as great as the sin which they condemn; for he that sets up his rags in preference to the robes of Christ, he that prefers his own righteousness to the precious blood of the Only-begotten, has insulted his God with an arrogance so terrible that no sin can equal it in blackness. God save us from that sin! It needs God to do so, for only he can "hide pride from man." II. Now, secondly, though man is hard to influence, GOD KNOWS HOW TO COME AT HIM, and he does it in many ways. According to the text, he sometimes does it, "in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed." I have no doubt that many, many times, men's sleeping thoughts have been the beginnings of better things for them. You see, reason holds the helm of the vessel when we are awake, and as a consequence, it keeps conscience down in the hold, and will not let him speak; but in our dreams, reason has quitted the helm, and then, sometimes, conscience comes up, and in his own wild way he begins to sound such an alarm that the man starts up in the night, his very hair standing on end with fear, a fear which might begin in a dream, but which was not itself a dream, for there was something real and substantial at the back of it. Did you ever notice how God aroused Nebuchadnezzar, that greatest man, perhaps, of his age? Why, in a dream! Then Nebuchadnezzar trembles, and he sends for someone to interpret his dream. Many and many a man has dreamed of death, or dreamed of judgment; did you never have such a dream yourself? We do not attach any importance to dreams as prognostications or signs of our spiritual condition; but there can be no doubt that, frequently, conscience has been awake when the rest of the person has been asleep, and men have been startled in such a way that, when they did awake, they could not shake off the impress of their dreams. God gets at other men in a different way, namely, by affliction, or by the death of others. What messengers of mercy afflictions have often been! The man has lost a dear babe, on whom his heart's affection was set; or, oftener still, some blessed little child who talked of Jesus, and sang sweet hymns, and died with heaven on its face, has been the means of getting at an ungodly father and an impenitent mother. No sermon reached them, but the little child-preacher touched them wondrously; and for months, perhaps for years, they could not shake off the impression. Some of you may remember other deaths; I will not harrow your feelings, but these death-scenes have spoken loudly to you, and you have not been able to forget them. God has opened your ear, and I trust also that he has sealed his instruction upon your heart, and that he has hidden pride from you, and turned you from an evil purpose by means of personal afflictions or bereavements. So have I known men aroused by strange providences, by a fire, for instance, or by being in peril on board ship. Oh, how many have fallen on their knees when the vessel has begun to go down, and ere the lifeboat has been descried! Bodily hunger, too, has brought some to hunger for Christ; and the result of their sin, when they have been in poverty, forlorn and lonely, and when nobody would associate with them because of their sin, perhaps even the plank bed and the hardiness of prison fare, have brought them to seek their Savior and their God. God can get at men. Even the great leviathan, though no man can pierce him with a sword, hath a weak place somewhere, where God can reach him. There is no sinner's heart so stout and stubborn but that, if God shall thrust at him, he shall soon find his heart melt like wax in the midst of his bowels. The eternal God never yet came into contact with men, either in the way of grace or vengeance, but he made them feel that he was not a man like themselves, with whom they could wrestle and contend, but that he was infinitely greater than the very strongest of them. If God does not come at men by strange providences, how often he does it by singular words from the preacher! Oh, sometimes, we have to say things which we never intended to say; they come to us, and we do not know whither they are going; and some who are not in the secret, say, "Why did the preacher say that?" Sirs, if he studied mere propriety, and wished to please all his hearers, he would not have said it; but he has said it, and God has blessed it. Awkwardly as it was put, it was put in the right shape, according to God's own way of looking at things, and sinners were saved, and God was glorified. Then God has a way of coming to men's hearts by personal visitations, without dream, without speech, without voice. I have often heard one say, "It was many years since I had been to a place of worship, but when I rose in the morning, I felt a singular softness of spirit coming over me, and I said, 'I think I shall go, to-day, to hear such-and-such a man, and see if there will not be a word for me.'" Another has said, "I was at my work, and I cannot tell how it was, but I felt that I must stop a bit, and go aside, and begin to pray." I remember one who is, I believe, at this moment a member of this church. He said, "I leaned against some iron railings, for I could hardly hold myself up. I never remember having any conviction of sin before; but I was suddenly struck with a sense of sin, I know not how nor why." God can bring men to himself, so let us never despair of any. When you are praying for people, believe that there are other agencies than yours at the back of all that you can say, or I can say, and the books can say, and Bibles can say. There is the Holy Ghost; and it is a part of our creed of which we ought often to think, "I believe in the Holy Ghost." Bring the sinner in prayer to the Holy Ghost, and rest you in this truth, that God can come at him by some means or other. Perhaps he will reach him through you; can you not speak to him to-night? Try and get a word with some stranger here, in the Tabernacle, speak an earnest, loving word about the Savior, and who knows? the appointed time, the day of salvation for that soul, may have come. God grant it! III. My time has gone; I shall, therefore, ask you to listen to the outline of what I would have said upon the third point, and that is, WHEN GOD DOES GET AT MEN, HE ACCOMPLISHES GREAT PURPOSES. His purpose is, first, to withdraw man from his own purpose. We have often admired the drawings of God; let us also admire the withdrawings of God: "That he may withdraw man from his purpose." Sometimes, a man has purposed at a certain moment to commit a sin, and God stops him from doing it. Perhaps, if he had committed that one sin, the current of his life might have been turned so as never to be altered again; but God stopped him there and then. "Hitherto," saith he, "you have gone; but you shall go no further. That is your last oath, your last bout of drunkenness, your last act of uncleanness. Stop!" It is the Lord who doeth this; he did it with some of us, he withdrew us from our purpose. He also withdraws men from their general purpose of continuing in sin. They purpose to procrastinate, but God purposes that they shall postpone the acceptance of grace no longer. They purpose that they will go a little further in sin, but God stays them there and then. I find the translation may be, that God withdraweth man from his work, from that which has been his life-work; from the whole run and tenor of his conversation, God withdraws him. A man goes out after having received the Word of the Lord, and he is a different man from that hour. I remember one, who kept a low public-house, and who heard the Word of God, and he had no sooner heard it than, when he reached home, he smashed up his signboard with the first axe he could find, and shut up the house, resolving that he would have no more to do with the evil traffic. There is many a man who has been just as decided and earnest as that. God has stopped him, and withdrawn him from his purpose. Oh, there are some, whose lives have been spent in infamy; and in an instant God has made them forsake it all, and they have loathed themselves, and the change has been so sudden, as well as so radical, that all about them have gazed, and admired, and wondered at what the grace of God has wrought! When the Lord visits a man's heart, he withdraws him from his purpose. I have it impressed upon me to believe that there is some soul here that is to be withdrawn from his purpose at once. I do not know what purpose you had upon your heart this afternoon, nor what your purpose is about where you are going to spend to-night; but I beseech you, if it was a purpose of sin, stop at once. Heed the word of warning; go no further. If you have resolved to-morrow, or at any time during the week, that you will commit this or that sin, O love divine, turn the man, and he shall be turned! Deal with him this moment, O God, according to thy glorious Godhead, not according to the fickleness of his will, but according to thine almighty grace! Change the lion into a lamb, the raven to a dove! Thus, the Lord withdraws man from his purpose. Then what else does God do? He hides pride from man. That is a very strange expression, certainly, to "hide pride from man." Did none of you ever hide away a knife from a child? Have you never hidden away fruit from your little children when they have had enough, and they would have eaten more if they could find it? God often hides pride from men because, if man can find anything to be proud of, he will be. Look at him, he is proud of his fine form. Look at that woman, how proud she is of her clothes, poor thing! One is proud of his ability, proud of his success, proud of his situation, proud of his youth, proud of his old age, proud of what he never did, proud of what he did do but could not help doing. There is no one of us who has even a pennyworth of stuff to be proud of, whatever we may be; but unless God hides it all away, we go and find something, and come strutting out just like our little children, when they say, "See my pretty coat! see my new shoes!" Some of you mothers, in teaching your children to say that, bring them up to habits of pride. Well, they will only be like yourself; and that is the way with us all, we will be proud, and he who has the least to be proud of is often prouder than all the rest. My Lord Mayor is not more proud of his badge and chain than many a crossing-sweeper is of his ragged trousers. Pride can live upon a dunghill as well as upon a throne; but God will hide pride from us, till, if we look about, we cannot find it, and cannot see any reason for being proud. I pray God to hide from all of us self-righteous pride, and self-seeking pride, and self-glorifying pride, to lay us low at the foot of the cross. Whenever I find anybody saying, "I have attained to a perfectly sanctified life, I have no sinful propensities, I, I, I, I" . Ah, yes! if God had really dealt with you, he would have clipped your I's down. They will not be half so straight in the back, and so tall, when God takes you in hand. He hides pride from men. Some of the Lord's workers have grown so big that the least thing offends them; everything must be according to their own way, or they will have nothing to do with it. Oh, it will not do, brothers and sisters! If God is with us, he will hide pride from man. There is nothing he dislikes more than pride; what does he say of it? "The proud he knoweth afar off." That is as much as to say that he will not tough them with a pair of tongs. He knows enough of them at a distance, he does not want them near to him. When he deals with us in the way of grace, he hides pride from man. Then, lastly, he thus secures man's salvation from destruction. "He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword." How wonderfully has God kept some of us back from what would have been our destruction if we had gone on! Perhaps I speak to some here who have had many hairbreadth escapes; should not they live to God? I recollect with what solemn awe I spoke to an officer who rode in the famous charge at Balaclava. It must be twenty years ago or more, I think, since I was with him, and he was telling me of that terrible ride when the saddles were emptying on every side, and he rode on, and rode back unharmed. I could not but lay my hand upon him with great earnestness, and say, "Are you not God's man, since he spared you so? Will you not live to his glory, and give your heart to him?" And I would say that to all of you who have been in fevers oft, or who have been near the gates of death. If you have been preserved, for what purpose was it? Surely, that you might yield yourselves to God, for he has interposed on purpose that your life should not go down to the pit. I hope also that he has the higher design that you yourselves, with your truest life, should never go down into that pit from which there is no escape. Oh, that he would deliver every man, and woman, and child here, from the wrath to come; for, believe me, there is a wrath to come, a fire that burneth, and never shall be quenched! Oh, for that visitation of God, that shall hide pride from us, and reveal a Savior to us, that shall withdraw us from our own purpose, to fulfill in us the divine purpose! Then shall we be saved from going down into the pit. The Lord enable us to believe in his dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.
Deliverance from the Pit
June 21, 1885 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." Job 33:24 .
Let never be forgotten that, in all that God does, he acts from good reasons. You observe that the text, speaking of the sick man, represents God as saying, "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." If I understand the passage as relating solely to a sick man, and take the words just on the natural common level where some place them, I would still say that the Lord here gives a reason why he suspends the operations of pain and disease, and raises up the sufferer: "I have found a ransom." There is always a reason for every act of grace which God performs for man. He acts sovereignly, and therefore he is not bound to give any reason for his actions; but he always acts wisely, and therefore he has a reason for so acting. Writing to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul says that God "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." It is not an arbitrary will, but a will arising out of the wisdom and holiness of his character. So God has a reason for raising men up from their sickness, but that reason is found, not in them, but in himself. The sick man does not give God a reason for restoring him, but God finds it himself: "I have found a ransom." Possibly, the man does not even know the reason for his restoration; he may be so blind of heart that he does not care to think whether there is any reason for it or not; but God finds a reason for his mercy, and finds it entirely in himself. He is gracious to whom he will be gracious, and he has compassion on whom he will have compassion. So let each one of us think, "If I have been raised from sickness, if my life, which was almost gone, has been spared, I may not know why God has done it, but certainly he has done it in infinite wisdom and compassion: and it is only right for me to feel that a life which has been so remarkably prolonged ought to be entirely dedicated unto him who has prolonged it." Having begun my sermon with that thought, I shall take a deep dive, and go to another and a fuller meaning of our text, if not more true than this which I have first mentioned. Beloved friends, there is a higher restoration than recovery from bodily sickness. There is such a thing as sickness of the soul which is, in God's esteem, far worse than disease of body; and, blessed be his name, there is such a thing as recovery from soul-sickness even to those who are so far gone that they appear to be going down into the pit. God can deal with sinners when they are on the very brink of hell. He can deal in love with them when the soil slips from under their feet, and they themselves are about to dash into that pit that is bottomless. We can come in even then and rescue them to the praise of the glory of his grace. I. Now, coming to our text, I shall ask you, first, to look with me upon a MAN IN GREAT PERIL. That man is here to-night, let him look to himself, and may God help him to see himself as a man in great peril! This is his peril; he is "going down to the pit." That phrase describes his whole life, going down, down, down; and the end of that going down, unless the Lord shall deliver him, will be that, ere long, he will go down finally into the pit of destruction. Notice, first, that this is a daily and common danger. In some respects, this man in peril is a representative of each one of us. If we are unconverted, if we are unrenewed by divine grace, every one of us is in danger of going down into the pit of woe. Think of it; there may be, my friend, but a step between thee and death. Only the other morning, there was one, well known to many of us, who spoke with his friends apparently in health; he retired from the room for a moment, and they wondered where he was as he did not come back. They sought him out, and found that he was dead; he was gone, as in a moment. Blessed be God, we have a sure and certain hope that, though he has gone down into the grave, he could go no lower, for his soul was at once with his Savior, and out of that grave his body shall arise at the sounding of the last trumpet; but as for un-converted men and women, they may be in hell ere the clock ticks again. It is a terrible reflection, my unsaved friend, to think how little there is between you and eternity. How thin is the wall! "Wall" did I call it? Rather let me say, how thin the gauze! "Gauze" did I call it? There is no word in our own or any other language that can adequately express the nearness of eternity. We are here, and we are gone, gone into the presence of God in a single instant, gone to render to the Judge of all our last account. You are going, friend, you are going down to the pit unless sovereign mercy shall step in and prevent it. Further, there are some who, of set purpose, are going down to the pit. In this chapter, Elihu said of some that God sends sickness to them that he may withdraw them from their purpose. Some seem to be desperately bent on mischief, as if they were determined to ruin themselves. How often do we see it in the case of a young man who has been well brought up, when he comes into possession of his money, and gets what he calls his liberty, nothing that he has learnt in his youth appears to restrain him! No tearful admonitions are any check upon him; he appears to be resolved to destroy himself. We have known some cases of that kind, and we know others now. Oh, if they were as determined to be right as they are resolved to be wrong, they might greatly help to turn the world upside down! But, alas! they seem to spare no expense to ensure their own destruction, they are in a dreadful hurry to be rid of all their property, to bring their body into a state of disease, and to bring their soul into a state of damnation. They cannot do enough to secure their own destruction, they even lay violent hands upon their own characters, as if they were insatiably at enmity with their own souls. Many of you know such people as I am describing; and you know that they are going down to the pit. By what are called amusements, by what are said to be pleasures, but which are really only grovelling degradations of the soul to the worst purposes of the flesh, all these men are going down to the pit. It is a dreadful state for anyone to be in, yet I am even now addressing some who are in just such a condition; I feel sure that I am. May the description, brief as it is, be complete enough to let the sinner see himself as he really is, in imminent peril of going down into the pit! There are some, also, who are going down to the pit through their pride. They are not doing anything positively vicious, but they are so good in their own estimation, or so indifferent to the claims of God, that they do not want to hear about salvation. They stand entirely in their own strength, and they seem to defy the humbling gospel of the grace of God; they will not hear it, they say by their actions, if not in so many words, "Who is God that we should servo him? What is death that we should have any fear concerning it? What is eternity that we should ever let our spirit be depressed at the thought of it?" If I were just now to try to describe the day of judgment, and to picture the great white throne, with the Judge of all sitting upon it, thoro are many in such a condition of heart that they would merely smile at it all, and continue in their sin. A sinner may perish through pride just as easily as through any other sin. A man may, in his pride, hang himself on a gallows as high as that of Haman, and he will perish as surely as another who casts himself down into the pit by some grovelling loathsome sin. There are others who feel some present apprehension of coming judgment. They are not your merry men and women, who count it one of the wisest things to drive dull care away; for they are eaten up with care. They feel that they are going down to the pit; I do not say that all have felt this apprehension as I did; but this is how it came to me. I knew that I was guilty; I knew that I had offended God, I knew that I had transgressed against light and knowledge, and I did not know when God might call me to account; but I did know this, when I awoke in the morning, the first thought I had was that I had to deal with a justly angry God, who might suddenly require my soul of me. Often, during the day, when I had a little time for quiet meditation, a great depression of spirit would come upon me because I felt that sin, sin, SIN had outlawed me from my God. I wondered that the earth bore up such a sinner as I was, and that the heavens did not fall and crush me, and the stars in their courses did not fight against such a wretch as I felt myself to be. Then, indeed, did I seem as if I should go down to the pit. If I fell asleep, I dreamt of that pit; and if I woke, I seemed to wake only to endure the tortures of the never-dying worm of conscience that was perpetually gnawing at my heart. I went to the house of God, and heard what I supposed was the gospel, but it was no gospel to me. My soul abhorred all manner of meat; I could not lay hold upon a promise, or indulge a hope, and I felt that I was going down to the pit. If anyone had asked me what would become of me, I must have answered, "I am going down to the pit." If anyone had entreared me to hope that mercy might come to me, I should have refused to entertain such a hope, for I felt that I was going down to the pit. Well, dear friends, it was while I was in that dreadful state of mind that infinite mercy met with me, and saved me; and I could wish that I had, in my present congregation, many wounded, broken spirits, many weary, heavy-laden souls; for it is sweet work to preach the gospel to such people.
"A sinner is a sacred thing, The Holy Ghost hath made him so,"
that is, a really convinced sinner, not a sham sinner, but one who owns that the title belongs to him, and says, "Put that label upon me, for that is what I am; I deserve the wrath of God, and I begin to feel as if the first spattering drops of the fiery tempest have already fallen upon me;" this is the man who sees a true description of himself in the words of our text, "going down to the pit." If you add to all this the fact that the man, as Elihu describes him, was suffering from a fatal sickness, so that he dreaded the actual nearness of death, you have indeed an unhappy case before you. See that young woman whom consumption has marked for its victim; it is not with her the thought that she shall go down to the pit in twenty years' time, but her feet are already far on the road. Or, look at that young man, who cannot delude himself with the idea that he will go down to the pit at the end of three-score years and ten, but who fears that he may not even live three-score days. He has a mortal malady within him that is dragging him down from all hope and joy; this dread fear has settled like a vampire upon his soul, that he is going down to the pit. This is the man whom I want to point out, for he is somewhere in this building. God help him to listen while I say some words which, mayhap, will bring comfort to him in this state of peril in which he is at present found! II. Now let us notice, in the second place, A NEW PRINCIPLE IN ACTION: "Then he is gracious unto him." What does that expression mean? That word "grace" has more music in it than all the oratorios of Handel, though they be the chief of earthly music. "Then he is gracious unto him." What does that mean? Well, "grace" means, first, free favor. It means that, when this man is as full of sin as an egg is full of meat, when he is as black with iniquity as a foul chimney which hangs festooned with soot, even then God's favor shall come to him, and look upon him just as he is in all his defilement and ill-desert, and God shall be gracious unto him. Our text does not say, "God shall deal with him in justice; he shall charge, and accuse, and condemn, and punish him;" but the message is, "He is gracious unto him." The Lord comes to this poor lost wretch, and says, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins: return unto me, for I have redeemed thee." The Lord comes to such guilty souls, and just when they think that his next words will be, "Depart, ye cursed," he says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Now this is not what the man deserves; it is the very opposite of his deserts. He has no natural right to such treatment as this; it is the gift of divine sovereignty, not the purchase of man's merit. "He is gracious unto him." The prisoner is justly condemned to death; but the king is gracious, and gives him a free pardon. The prisoner is ready to be executed, but there comes to him undeserved deliverance from all punishment, for the King's own Son has borne the penalty of all his iniquities. Does not this truth make your mouths water, you who feel that you are going down to the pit? I am sure it does, if you have ever known the bitterness of sin. "Oh!" say you, "is there such a God as this?" Yes, there is; a God "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." "He delighteth in mercy." His compassions fail not, therefore we are not consumed. That is the first meshing of grace, that free and undeserved favor of God which forgives and blots out sin and iniquity. But grace has another meaning in Holy Scripture; it means, saving interference, a certain divine operation by which God works upon the wills and affections of men so as to change and renew them. When God is gracious to a man, he does something to that man as well as for that man. The Lord comes in the power of his grace, and takes out of the sinner's heart the stone that was there, and makes tender that heart which once was hard as the northern iron and steel. He comes and takes the iron sinew out of the neck, and makes the obstinate man to be yielding and pliable. He comes and changes the affections, so that the man hates what he once loved, and loves what he once hated. In a word, where the grace of God comes, it makes a man to be born again even when he is old, so that, spiritually speaking, his flesh becomes freshet than that of a little child. He begins life anew, for he is a new creature in Christ Jesus; all his past sin is blotted out, and his future is brightening up into the full blaze of eternal glory. Yet this is the very man whom I described just now as going down to the pit; but the Lord has Been gracious to him, he has said to him, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." The Lord has said to him, "Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee. Go, and sin no more." Is not this a most comforting message? Note that the text says, "then," in the very extremity of his going down to the pit, "then," when he has come almost to the last step down to that fearful gulf, and a cruel hand seems pushing him down to eternal destruction, "then," at that moment, the Lord is gracious unto him, infinite pleasure flashes into his face, for the almighty lovingkindness of God pulls him back from the pit, and sets his feet on a new track towards the glory-land and the face of God above. III. This brings me to my third point, which is concerning how this grace operates. It operates by A WORD OF POWER. This man was going down to the pit, but God said, "Deliver him." To whom is this command spoken? It appears to be addressed to the messengers of divine justice. They have grasped the guilty man, they have bound him, they are taking him off to the place of death, and well does he deserve to die; but the great King upon the throne says to his ministers of justice, "Deliver him, let him go, deliver him from going down to the pit;" and, in an instant, his chains are snapped, his bonds drop off, and the man is free, freed by the word of the King himself. No sheriff's officer can arrest him now, none of all the police of the universe can lay a finger on him now, for God has said to every one of them, "Let him go. Deliver him from going down to the pit." Here is a clean jail delivery for the prisoners of hope, they are set free by the mandate of the eternal God. More than that, the man was not only bound by justice, but he was fettered by his sin. His sins held him captive, and they were dragging him down to the pit. There was drunkenness, for instance, which held him as in a vice, so that he could not stir hand or foot to set himself free. His thirst followed his drinking, and his drinking followed his thirst, and then his thirst returned after his drinking till he brought himself to a delirium, from which he could not possibly escape by his own power. Perhaps it was the foul-mouthed demon of blasphemy that held him in bondage, or the black demon of vice and licentiousness; but, whatever was the band by which the man was held, every hour kept putting about him a fresh and a stronger rope, till he was bound, like Samson of old, to make sport for those who had him in captivity. But just as he seemed about to be dragged down to hell, a voice came from the excellent glory, "Deliver him from going down to the pit;" and infinite mercy dragged off his evil habits, snapped his bands, and set him free. The man now no longer loved the lusts of the flesh and the passions of his body, but he was God's free man seeking to do his Lord's will alone; and if God shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. It is a grand thing to get rid of drunkenness; with all my heart I advise you to try total abstinence; but it is a better thing to get rid of all sin at once, I mean, the reigning power of every sin, by yielding yourself up to the supreme grace of God. who is able to work in you at such a rate that all sin shall be made detestable to you, and you shall rise above it to the praise of the glory of his grace. Brethren, I see this same man, in after life, attacked by his old sins. There is a certain "Cut-throat Lane" on the way to heaven; I have been down it myself, and I am afraid I may have to go down it yet again. It is a place where the hedges meet, and it is very dark, and it is withal very miry and muddy; and when a man is slipping about, and can hardly see his own hand, there are certain villains that come pouncing upon him, not with the highwayman's cry, "Your money or your life," but they seek to seize his treasure, and his life, and all that he has. At such a moment as that, it sometimes happens that the man puts his hand to his side to draw his sword, but he finds that it is gone! He determines to fight as best he can; but what can he do against such terrible odds when he is alone and unarmed? But oh, what a blessed thing it is for him just then to hear, as Bunyan says, the sound of a horse's hoof, and to know that there is a patrol going down the King's highway! And he can not only hear the ring of his horse's hoofs, but he can hear the King's own voice, crying out from the throne itself, "Deliver him! deliver him! deliver him from going down to the pit." That voice you shall always hear, if you are a child of God, when you get into a fix, when you are brought into peril and trouble. God has given commandment to save you, and you shall be saved, saved from yourself, and from all the attacks of your old sins; saved from the devil; saved from ill-company; for God has said it, "Deliver him from going down to the pit." That deliverance of God is an eternal one; nor shall the infernal lion ever be able to rend one sheep or lamb that the Great Shepherd deigns to keep. Now to come back to my own story. I remember when I felt that I was going down to the pit, and I cannot forget one blessed, blessed day. The snow-flakes fell thick and heavy that morning, and I was going, according to my wont, to a certain very respectable place of worship, where I should hear a very respectable minister, who might have left me in my misery to this day. But it was too cold, and the snow was too deep, for me to go so far; so I turned into the little Primitive Methodist Chapel in Colchester, and sat there feeling that I was going down to the pit, although I was sitting in the house of God to hear the gospel. The clock of mercy struck in heaven the hour and moment of my deliverance, for the time had come. Thus had the eternal purpose of Jehovah decreed it; and when the preacher opened the Book, and gave out his text, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else;" and when he began to cry in simple terms, "Look! It is all you have to do; look out of yourself, and away from yourself, and look to Christ; not to forms, and ceremonies, or works, or feelings, but look to what Christ has done," I did look, and in that moment went out this word, "Deliver him from going down to the pit," and I was delivered. For, as the moment before there was none more wretched than I was, so, within that second, there was none more joyous. It took no longer time than does the lightning-flash; it was done, and never has it been undone. I looked, and lived, and leaped in joyful liberty as I beheld sin punished upon the great Substitute, and put away for ever from all those who will only trust him. That is what looking to Christ means, trusting in his one great sacrifice. O dear friends, I do pray the Lord to speak in great grace concerning some of you, and to say, "Deliver him from going down to the pit." You may think that, when I speak like this, there is some of the excitement of enthusiasm about my language; but I reckon that I talk cold icicles about a thing that is hotter than the furnace. Oh, the blessedness, the joy, the exquisite peace, the overflowing felicity of believing in Christ! If you know anything about the darkness, you are the very person to know something about the light. If you know anything of sorrow for sin, you are the very man to understand the joy of sin being put away; and it will be all done for you, if you will but look to Jesus, if you will simply trust him. IV. I finish by noticing that, in this case, God supplies us with his reason for delivering a soul, and it is AN ARGUMENT OF LOVE: "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." This is the only reason why any man shall be delivered from going clown to the pit, because God has found a ransom, There is no way of salvation but by the ransom; all who ever are saved are saved by the ransom; and if you, dear friend, would be saved, it must be by the ransom; and there is but one. Observe that the text says, "I have found a ransom." This ransom is an invention of divine wisdom. I do not think it would ever have occurred to any mind but the mind of God himself to save sinners by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. The most astonishing novelty under heaven is the old, old story of the cross of Christ. That ever God should take upon himself the sin of his own creatures, that, in order to be able justly to forgive, God himself should bear the punishment which he must inflict for the creatures' sin, this is something marvellous to the last degree. The rebel sins, and the King himself suffers the penalty for the rebellion. The offender commits the trespass, and the Judge bears the punishment. Such a plan was never heard of in human courts of law; or if it has ever been spoken of there, it was because, first of all, both the ears of him who heard it had been made to tingle while God revealed it out of his own heart. "I have found a ransom." Nobody would have thought of that way of the deliverance of a sinner from the pit of hell through a ransom if God had not thought of it. Notice, next, that God has not only invented a way of deliverance, but he has found a ransom. So that it is a gift of divine love: "Deliver him from going down to the pit," it does not say, "because there is a ransom," or "I will accept one if he finds it, and brings it;" but the Lord himself says, "I have found a ransom." It is the man who sinned, but it is God who found the ransom. It is the man who is going down to the pit, but it is God who finds a ransom. Surely, if you have sold yourself to sin and Satan, you must find the ransom to get yourself set free, must you not? "No," says sovereign grace, "the man has sold himself into slavery, but I have found a ransom. I have broken the bonds from off his neck, and set him free by a price immense which I myself have found, found it in my own bosom, where my only-begotten and well-beloved Son was lying; found it in myself, for I have given up myself to bleed and die for mortal men." Oh, this is wonderful grace indeed, that God should deliver, and should deliver through a ransom, and should deliver through a ransom that he has himself found! And is there not something very wonderful in the assurance of this truth? "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." God does not say "There may be a ransom for the poor soul, possibly I may find a ransom somewhere;" but he says, "I have found a ransom." Now, if a slave were in the bitterest of bondage, yet if his master said to him, "I have the ransom for you," that man must feel certain of his liberty; because, if he who held him in bondage has found a ransom, he certainly will hold him in bondage no longer. Sinner, do not doubt thy deliverance, for God has said it: "I have found a ransom." If you had only heard this sentence uttered by a mortal man, you might have questioned the truth of it; but when God himself proclaims concerning him who is going down to the pit, "I have found a ransom," then is the deliverance certain. Indeed, it is already accomplished; wherefore, go you free, and rejoice in the liberty that God has given you. To my mind, and with this thought I will finish, there is the ring of heavenly music in this message: "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." I suppose you never heard a man, who had found a treasure, cry out to let everyone know what he had found. Perhaps he would not mention it to anyone but his wife; when he wished to make her heart glad by sharing the fortune with her, he said to her, "I have found a treasure." But you may have heard a mother say, when her child had been lost in a wood, mayhap, and had Been sought for by many, when at last she has discovered him, "I have found my boy." Oh, it is wonderful, the joy of a mother's heart when she has found her child! But to me, there is the sound of bells, there is the music of a marriage peal in this verse, as God, looking on a sinner slipping down to hell, says, "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." Almighty love seems to sing out with all her might; and rocks, hills, and valleys suffice not to repeat the echo of the strain, "I have found, I have found, I have found a ransom." This is God's "Eureka!" "I have found a ransom. I did not look for a ransom among the angels, for I knew they were too weak to furnish it. I looked not for it among the sons of men, for I knew it was not to be found there, they were too fallen and guilty. The sea said, 'It is not in me.' All creation cried, 'It is not in me.' But I looked on my Well-beloved, and I heard him say, 'Lo, I come: in the volume of the Book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.' I saw him descend to earth, and hide himself in an infant's form; I saw him toiling on in holy servitude to my perfect law; I saw him give his hands to the nails and his side to the spear; I heard him cry, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' I bowed the ear of my glory, and I drank in his conquering cry, 'It is finished,' and then I, the Infinite, the Eternal, the Ever-blessed, the Just, the Gracious, said, 'I have found a ransom.'" Thus, the Lord rejoices over you and over me with singing as he cries, "I have found a ransom." How greatly did he rejoice over the finished work of his well-beloved Son! Wherefore, sing, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth, for the Lord himself delighteth in the message he delivers to us, "I have found a ransom." Now, dear hearts, if God has found a ransom, and speaks thus joyously about it, I do pray you to accept it. "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land." Receive Christ, and you have the proof that God has received you. Only take him, you have nothing else to do; put out that empty hand of yours, black though it be, and receive in it the pearl of great price, even the Christ of God himself. Receive him, accept him, believe him, trust him; that is all you have to do. Oh, will you not trust him? Can you doubt him? If God takes upon himself our nature, and in that nature dies, I can not only trust him with my soul, but if I had all your souls within my body, and all the souls of the millions of London all gathered beneath this breast, and if I had besides that the souls of all the sinners who have ever lived all compressed within this one frame, I could believe that the dying Christ could blot out all that mass of sin. I do believe it, and so confide in him; will not you? Verily, if ye will not believe, neither shall ye be established; but he that believeth shall not be ashamed nor confounded, world without end. May God add his own blessing, for Jesus' sake! Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Job 33". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27