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Two sermons: Tommorow and Cheer for Despondency
August 25, 1856 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Proverbs 27:1 .
God's most holy Word was principally written to inform us of the way to heaven, and to guide us in our path through this world, to the realms of eternal life and light. But as if to teach us that God is not careless concerning our doings in the present scene, and that our benevolent Father is not inattentive to our happiness even in this state, he has furnished us with some excellent and wise maxims, which we may put in practice, not only in spiritual matters, but in temporal affairs also. I have always looked upon the book of Proverbs with pleasure, as being a book not only teaching us the highest spiritual wisdom, but as also more especially speaking on the "now" the time that is present with us giving us maxims that will make us wise for this world, and that will instruct us in conducting our affairs whilst we are here amongst our fellow-men. We need some temporal wisdom as well as spiritual illumination; it need not always be that the children of the kingdom should be more foolish than the children of darkness. It is well that we should be wise to order our common affairs aright, as well as to set out house in order for the grave; and hence we find in Scripture maxims and teachings for them both. Since God has been pleased thus to instruct us in the avocations of life, I shall not, then, be out of place, if I use my text, in some degree, in a merely temporal manner, and endeavour to give advice to my friends concerning the business of this life. Afterwards, I shall dwell upon it more spiritually. There is first, the abuse of to-morrow forbidden in the text; in the second place, I shall mention the right use of to-morrow . I. First, then, there is THE ABUSE OF TO-MORROW mentioned in the text; and we shall look upon it first in a worldly point of view, and yet, I trust, in a way of wisdom. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow." Oh! my brethren, whoso'er ye be, whether ye be Christians or no, this passage hath a depth of wisdom in it for you. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," and this, for many very wise reasons. First of all, because it is extremely foolish to boast at all . Boasting never makes a man any the greater in the esteem of others, nor does it improve the real estate either of his body or soul. Let a man brag as he will, he is none the greater for his bragging; nay, he is the less, for men invariably think the worse of him. Let him boast as much as he pleases of anything that he possesses, he shall not increase its value by his glorying. He cannot multiply his wealth by boasting of it; he cannot increase his pleasures by glorying in them. True, to be content with those pleasures, and feel a complacency in them, may render them very sweet; but not so with such a treasure as this, for it is a treasure which he has not yet, and, therefore, how foolish is he to glory in it! There is an old, old proverb, which I dare not quote here; it is something to do with chickens. Perhaps you can recollect it; it bears very well upon this text, for to-morrow is a thing that we have not yet obtained, and, therefore, not only if we had it would it be foolish to boast of it, but because we have it not, and may never have it, it becomes the very extremity of foolishness to glory in it. Glory, O man, in the harvest that may come to thee next year when thy seed is sown; but glory not in to-morrow, for thou canst sow no seeds of morrows. Morrows come from God; thou hast no right to glory in them. Glory if thou wilt, O fowler, that the birds have once flown to thy net, for they may come again; but glory not too soon, for they my find another decoy that shall be better to their taste than thine, or they may rove far off from thy snare. Though many a day has come to thee, think not that another will certainly arrive. Days are not like links of a chain; one does not ensure the other. We have one, but we may never see its fellow; each may be the last of its kind. Each springs of a separate birth. There are no twin days. To-day hath no brother, it stands alone, and to-morrow must come alone, and the next and the next, also, must be born into this world without a brother. We must never look upon two days at once, nor expect that a whole herd of days shall be brought forth at one time. We need not boast of to-morrow, for it is one of the frailest things in all creation , and, therefore, the least to be boasted of. Boast of the bubbles on the breaker, boast of the foam upon the sea, boast of the clouds that skim the sky, boast of what thou wilt, O man, but boast not of to-morrow, for it is too unsubstantial. To-morrow, it is a fleeting thing. Thou hast not seen it; why dost thou boast of it? To-morrow, it is a fleeting thing. Thou hast not seen it; why dost thou boast of it? To-morrow, it is the cup which the idiot dreams lieth at the foot of the rainbow. It is not there, nor hath he found it. To-morrow it is the floating island of Loch Lomond; many have talked of it, but none have seen it. To-morrow it is the wrecker's beacon, enticing men to the rock of destruction. Boast not thyself of to-morrow; it is the frailest and most brittle thing thou canst imagine. Not glass were half so easily broken as thy to-morrow's joys and thy to-morrow's hopes; a puff of wind shall crush them, while yet they seem not to be full blown. He said, good easy man, full surely my greatness is a ripening, but there came a frost a killing, frost which nipped his shoot and then he fell. Boast not of to-morrow; thou hast it not. Boast not of to-morrow; thou mayest never have it. Boast not of to-morrow; if thou hadst it, it would deceive thee. Boast not of to-morrow, for to-morrow thou mayest where morrows will be dreadful things to tremble at. Boast not thyself of to-morrow, not only because it is extremely foolish, but because it is exceedingly hurtful . Boasting of to-morrow is hurtful to us every way. It is hurtful to us now . I never knew a man who was always hoping to do great things in the future, that ever did much in the present. I never knew a man who intended to make a fortune by-and-bye, who ever saved sixpence a week now. I never knew a man who had a very great and grand hopes on the death of some old grandmother, or the coming-in of some property from chancery, or the falling to him of something because his name was Jenyns, I never saw him very prosperous in the mean time. I have heard of a man going to be rich to-morrow, and boasting of it; but I never knew him do much. Such men spend so much time in building castles in the air, that they have no stones left wherewith to build so much as a cottage on the ground. They were wasting all their energies on to-morrow, consequently they had no time to reap the fields of the present, for they were waiting for the heavy harvests of the future. The heavily laden boats of to-day come in with abundance of fish from the depths of time; but they said of them, "They are nothing; there will be heavier draughts to-morrow; there will be greater abundance then. Go away, little ships; an argosy shall come home to-morrow a very fleet of wealth;" and so they let to-day's wealth go by because they expected the greater wealth of to-morrow; therefore, they were hurt even for the present. And worse than that. Some men were led into extraordinary extravagance from their hopes of the future. They spend what they are going to have, or rather what they never will have. Many have been ruined by the idle dream of speculation; and what is that but boasting of to-morrow? They have said, "True, I cannot pay for this which I now purchase; but I shall to-morrow, for to-morrow I shall roll in wealth, to-morrow, perhaps, I shall be the richest of men. A lucky turn of business (as they term it) will lift me off this shoal." So they keep still, and not only do they refuse to toil, to push themselves off the sand, but worse than that, they are throwing themselves away and wasting what they have, in the hope of better times coming in the future. Many a man has been made halt, and lame, and blind, and dumb, in the present, because he hoped to be greater than a man in the future. I always laugh at those who say to me, "Sir, rest a while; you will work all the longer of it. Stay while, lest you wast your strength, for you may work to-morrow." I bid them remember that such is not the teaching of Scripture, for that says, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;" and I would count myself worse than a fool, if I should throw away my to-days in the expectation of to-morrows, and rest upon the couch of idleness to-day, because I thought the chariot of to-morrow would make up for all my sloth. No, beloved, if we love our God, we shall find enough to do, if we have all our to-morrows, and use all our to-days too. If we serve our God as we ought to serve him, considering what he has done for us, we shall find that we shall have more than our handsfull, let our life be spared as long as Methuselah's enough for every moment, enough for every hour, long as life may be. But hoping to do things in the future takes away our strength in the present, unnerves our resolution, and unstrings our diligence. Let us take care that we are not hurt in the present by boasting of to-morrow. And, remember, that if you boast of to-morrow, it will not only hurt you to-day, but hurt you to-morrow also . Do you know why? because, as sure as you are alive, you will be disappointed with to-morrow, if you boast of it before it comes. To-morrows would be very good things if you did not give them such a very good character. I believe one of the very worst things a minister can possess is to have anybody to recommend him; for the people say, "Here comes a man, how he will preach, how eloquent he will be!" The poor creature cannot come up to their expectations, and so they are disappointed. So with to-morrow; you give him such flattering enconiums; "Oh! he is everything; he is perfection." To-days they are nothing; they are the very sweepings of the floors; but to-morrows they are the solid gold. Todays they are exhausted mines, and we get little from them; but to-morrows they are the very mines of wealth. We have only to get them, and we are rich, immensely rich. The to-morrows are everything; and then the to-morrows come laden with mercy and big with blessings of God; but, notwithstanding, we are disappointed, because to-morrow is not what we expected it to be, even when to-morrow is marvellously abundant. But sometimes to-morrow comes with storms, and clouds, and darkness, when we expected it to be full of light and sunshine, and oh, how terrible is our feeling then, from the very reason that we expected something different. It is not at all a bad beatitude, "Blessed is the man that expecteth nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." If we know how to practise that, and expect nothing, we shall not be disappointed, it is certain; and the less we expect, and the less we boast of our expectations, the more happy will the future be; because we shall have far less likelihood of being disappointed. Let us recollect, then, that if we would kill the future, if we would ruin the to-morrows, if we would blast their hopes, if we would take away their honey, we must press them in the hand of boasting, and then we shall have done it. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow;" for thou spoilest the to-morrow by boasting of it. And then, remember, what disastrous circumstances have occurred to men in this life after to-morrow had gone, from boasting of to-morrows. Ay, there is many a man that set all his hope upon one single thing; and the to-morrow came which he did not expect perhaps a black and dark to-morrow, and it crushed his hopes to ashes; and how sad he felt afterwards! He was in his nest; he said, "Peace, peace, peace;" and sudden destruction came upon his happiness and his joy. He had boasted of his to-morrow by over security, and see him there, what a very wreck of a man he is, because he had set his hope on that; now his joy is blasted. Oh! my friends, never boast too much of the to-morrows, because if you do, your disappointment will be tremendous, when you shall find your joys have failed you, and your hopes have passed away. See there that rich man; he has piled heaps on heaps of gold; but now for a desperate venture, he is about to have more than he ever possessed before, and he reckons on that to-morrow. Nothingness is his; and what is his disappointment? because he boasted of imagined wealth. See that man! his ambition is to raise his house, and perpetuate his name; see that heir of his his joy, his life, his fulness of happiness. A handful of ashes and a coffin are left to the weeping father. Oh! if he had not boasted too much of the certainty of that son's life, he had not wept so bitterly, after the to-morrow had swept over him, with all its blast and mildew of his expectations. See yonder, another; he is famous, he is great; to-morrow comes a slander, and his fame is gone, and his name disgraced. Oh! had he not set his love on that, he had not cared whether men cried, "crucify," or "hallelujah;" he had disregarded both alike. But believing that fame was a stable thing, whereas its foot is on the sand, he reckoned on to-morrows; and mark how sad he walks the earth, because to-morrow has brought him nothing but grief. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow." And I would have you remember just one fact; and that I think to be a very important one; that very often when men boast of to-morrow, and are over confident that they shall live, they not only entail great sorrow upon themselves, but upon others also . I have, when preaching, frequently begged of my friends to be quite sure to make their wills, and see to their family affairs. Many are the solemn instances which should urge you to do so. One night a minister happened to say, in the course of his sermon, that he held it to be a Christian duty for every man to have his house set in order, so that if he were taken away, he would know, that as far as possible, everything would be right. And there was one member of his church there, who said to himself, "What my minister has said is true. I should not like to see my babes and my wife left with nothing, as they must be if I were to die." So he went home. That night he made his will and cleared up his accounts. That night he died! It must have been a joyful thing for the widow, in the midst of her sadness, to find herself amply provided for, and everything in order for her comfort. Good Whitfield said he could not lie down in bed of a night, if he did not know that even his gloves were in their place; for he said he should not like to die with anything in his house out of order. And I would have every Christian very careful, to be so living one day, that if he were never to see another, he might feel that he had done the utmost that he could, not only to provide for himself, but also for those who inherit his name and are dear to him. Perhaps you call this only worldly teaching; very good; you will find it very much like heavenly teaching one of these dark days, if you do not practise it. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow." II. But now I come to dwell upon this in a spiritual manner , for a moment or two. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow." Oh! my beloved friends, never boast of to-morrow with regard to your soul's salvation. They do so in the first place, who think that it will be easier for them to repent to-morrow than it is to-day . Felix said there would be a more convenient season, and then he would again send for Paul, that he might hear him seriously. And many a sinner thinks that just now it is not easy to turn and to repent, but that by-and-bye it will be. Now, is not that a very string of falsehoods? In the first place, is it ever easy for a sinner to turn to God? Must not that be done, at any time, by divine power? And again, if that be not easy for him now , how will it be easier in after life? Will not his sins bind fresh fetters to his soul, so that it will be even more impossible for him to escape from his iron bondage? If he be dead now, will he not be corrupt before he reaches to-morrow? And when to-morrow comes, to which he looks forward as being easier for a resurrection, will not his soul be yet more corrupt, and, therefore, if we may so speak, even further from the possibility of being raised? Oh! sirs, ye say it is easy for ye to repent to-morrow; why, then, not to-day? Ye would find the difficulty of it, if you should try it; yea, you would find your own helplessness in that matter. Possibly you dream that on a future day repentance will be more agreeable to your feelings. But how can you suppose that a few hours will make it more pleasant? If it be vinegar to your taste now, it shall be so then; and if ye love your sins now, ye will love them better then; for the force of habit will have confirmed you in your course. Every moment of your lives is driving in another rivet to your eternal state. So far as we can see, it becomes less and less likely (speaking after the manner of men) that the sinner should burst his chains each sin that he commits; for habit has bound him yet faster to his guilt, and his iniquity has got another hold upon him. Let us take care, then, that we do not boast of to-morrow, by a pretence that it will be so much easier to repent to-morrow; whereas, it is one of Satan's lies, for it will only be the more difficult. He boasts of to-morrow, again, who supposes that he shall have plenty of time to repent and to return to God . Oh! there are many who say, "When I come to die, I shall be on my death-bed, and then I shall say, 'Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner.'" I remember an aged minister telling me a story of a man whom he often warned, but who always said to him, "Sir, when I am dying, I shall say 'Lord, have mercy on me;' and I shall go to heaven as well as anybody else." Returning home from market one night, rather "fou" with liquor, he guided his horse with a leap right over the parapet of a bridge into the river; the last words he was heard to utter, were a most fearful imprecation; and in the bed of the river he was found dead, killed by the fall. So it may be with you. You think you will have space for repentance, and it may be that sudden doom will devour you: or, perhaps, even while you are sitting there in the pew, your last moment is running out. There is your hour-glass. See! it is running. I marked another grain just then, and then another fell; it fell so noiselessly, yet methought I heard it fall. Yes! there it is! The clock's tick is the fall of that grain of dust down from your hour-glass. Life is getting shorter every moment with all of you; but with some the sand is almost out; there is not a handful left. A few more grains. See, now they are less, two or three. Oh! in a moment it may be said, "The is not one left." Sinner! never think that thou hast time to spare! thou never hadst; man never had. God says, "Haste thee," when he bids men flee from Sodom. Lot had to haste; and depend upon it, when the Spirit speaks in a man's heart, he doth always bid him haste. Under natural convictions, men are very prone to tarry; but the Spirit of God, when he speaks in the heart of man, always says, "to-day." I never knew a truly anxious soul yet, who was willing to put off till to-morrow. When God the Holy Ghost has dealings with a man, they are always immediate dealings. The sinner is impatient to get deliverance; he must have pardon now; he must have present mercy, or else he fears that mercy will come too late to him. Let me beseech you, then, (and may God the Holy Spirit grant that my entreaty may become successful in your case) let me beseech every one of you to take this into consideration that there is never time to spare, and that your thought that there is time to spare, is an insinuation of Satan; for when the Spirit pleads with man, he pleads with him with demands of immediate attention. " To-day , if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation." "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," O sinner, as I doubt not thou art doing in another fashion. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," in the shape of resolves to do better . I think I have given up resolutions now; I have enough of the debris and the rubbish of my resolutions to build a cathedral with, if they could but be turned into stone. Oh! the broken resolutions, the broken vows, all of us have had! Oh! we have raised castles of resolutions, structures of enormous size, that outvied Babylon itself, in all its majesty. Says one, "I know I shall be better to-morrow; I shall renounce this vice and the other; I shall forsake this lust; I shall give up that darling sin; true, I shall not do so now a little more sleep and a little more slumber; but I know I shall do it to-morrow." Fool! thou knowest not that thou shalt see to-morrow. Oh! greater fool! thou oughtest to know, that what thou art not willing to do to-day, thou wilt not be willing to do to-morrow. I believe there are many souls that have been lost by good intentions, which were never carried out. Resolutions strangled at their birth brought on men the guilt of spiritual infanticide; and they have been lost, with resolutions sticking in their mouths. Many a man has gone down to hell with good resolution on his lip, with a pious resolve on his tongue. Oh! if he had lived another day, he said he would have been so much better; if he had lived another week, oh, then he thought he would begin to pray. Poor soul! if he had been spared another week, he would only have sunk the deeper into sin! But he did not think so, and he went to hell with a choice morsel rolling under his tongue that he should do better directly, and that meant to amend by-and-bye. There are many of you present, I dare say, who are making good resolutions. You are apprentices: well, you are not going to carry them out till you get to be journeymen. You have been breaking the Sabbath: but you intend to leave it off when you are in another situation. You have been accustomed to swear: you say, "I shall not swear any more when I get out of this company, they try my temper so." You have committed this or that petty theft: to-morrow you will renounce it, because to-morrow you will have enough, and you can afford to do it. But of all the lying things and there are many things that are deceptive resolutions for to-morrow are the worst of all. I would not trust one of them; there is nothing stable in them; you might sooner sail to America across the Atlantic on a sere leaf, than float to heaven on a resolution. It is the frailest thing in the world, tossed about by every circumstance, and wrecked with all its precious freight wrecked to the dismay of the man who ventured his soul in it wrecked, and wrecked for aye. Take care, my dear hearers, that none of you are reckoning on to-morrows. I remember the strong but solemn words of Jonathan Edwards, where he says, "Sinner, remember, thou art at this moment standing over the mouth of hell upon a single plank, and that plank is rotten; thou art hanging over the jaws of perdition by a solitary rope, and lo! the strands of that rope are creaking breaking now, and yet thou talkest of to-morrows!" If thou wert sick, man, wouldst thou send for thy physician to-morrow? If thine house were on fire, wouldst thou call "fire" to-morrow? If thou wert robbed in the street on thy road home, wouldst thou cry "stop thief" to-morrow? No, surely; but thou art wiser than that in natural concerns. But man is foolish, oh! too foolish in the things that concern his soul; unless divine and infinite love shall teach him to number his days, that he may apply his heart unto true wisdom, he will still go on boasting of to-morrows, until his soul has been destroyed by them. Just one hint to the child of God. Ah! my beloved brother or sister, do not, I beseech thee, boast of to-morrow thyself. David did it once: he said, "My mountain standeth firm, I shall never be moved." Do not boast of your to-morrows. You have feathered your nest pretty well; ay, but you may have a thorn in it before the sun has gone down, and you will be glad enough to fly aloft. You are very happy and joyful, but do not say you will always have as much faith as you have now do not be sure you will always be as blessed. The next cloud that sweeps the skies may drive many of your joys away. Do not say you have been kept hitherto, and you are quite sure you will be preserved from sin to-morrow. Take care of to-morrows. Many Christians go tumbling on without a bit of thought; and then, on a sudden, they tumble down and make a mighty mess of their profession. If they would only look sharp after the to-morrows if they would only watch their paths instead of star-gazing and boasting about them, their feet would be a great deal surer. True, God's child need not think of to-morrow as regards his soul's eternal security, for that is in the hand of Christ and safe for ever; but as far as his profession, and comfort, and happiness are concerned, it will well become him to take care of his feet every day. Do not get boasting; if you get boasting of to-morrow, you know the Lord's rule is always to send a canker where we put our pride. And so if you boast of to-morrow, you will have a moth in it before long. As sure as ever we glory in our wealth, it becomes cankered, or it takes to itself wings and flies away; and as certainly as we boast of to-morrow, the worm will gnaw its root, as it did Jonah's gourd, and the to-morrow under which we rested shall, with dropping leaves, only stand a monument to our disappointment. Let us take care, Christian brethren, that we do not waste the present time with hopes of to-morrow that we do not get proud, and so off our guard, by boasting of what we most assuredly shall be then, as we imagine. III. And now, in the last place, if to-morrows are not to be boasted of, are they good for nothing? No, blessed be God! There are great many things we may do with to-morrows. We may not boast of them, but I will tell you what we may do with them if we are the children of God. We may always look forward to them with patience and confidence , that they will work together for our good. We may say of the to-morrows, "I do not boast of them, but I am not frightened at them; I would not glory in them, but I will not tremble about them."
"What may be my future lot, Well I know concerns me not; This doth set my heart at rest, What my God appoints is best."
We may be very easy and very comfortable about to-morrow; we may remember that all our times are in his hands, that all events are at his command; and though we know not all the windings of the path of providence, yet He knows them all. They are all settled in his book, and our times are all ordered by his wisdom; whether they be
"Times of trial and of grief; Times of triumph and relief; Times the tempter's power to prove, Times to taste a Saviour's love: All must come, and last, and end, As shall please my heavenly Friend."
And, therefore, we may look upon the to-morrows as we see them in the rough bullion of time, about to be minted into every day's expenditure, and we may say of them all, "They shall all be gold; they shall all be stamped with the King's impress, and, therefore, let them come; they will not make me worse they will work together for my good." Yea, more, a Christian may rightly look forwards to his to-morrows, not simply with resignation, but also with joy . To-morrow to a Christian is a happy thing, it is one stage nearer glory. To-morrow! It is one step nearer heaven to a believer; it is just one knot more that he has sailed across the dangerous sea of life, and he is so much the nearer to his eternal port his blissful heaven. To-morrow, it is a fresh lamp of fulfilled promise that God has placed in his firmament, that the Christian may hail it as a guiding star, in the future, or at least as a light to cheer his path. To-morrow, the Christian may rejoice at it; he may say of to-day, "O day, thou mayest be black, but I shall bid thee good-bye, for lo, I see the morrow coming, and I shall mount upon its wings, and shall flee away and leave thee and thy sorrows far behind me." And, moreover, the Christian may await to-morrow with even more than simple hope and joy; he may look forward to it with ecstacy in some measure, for he does not know but that to-morrow his Lord may come. To-morrow Christ may be upon this earth, "for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh." To-morrow, all the glories of millennial splendour may be revealed; to-morrow, the thrones of judgment may be set, and the King may summon the people to judgment. To-morrow, we may be in heaven; to-morrow, we may be on the breast of Christ; to-morrow, ay, before then, this head may wear a crown, this hand may wave the palm, this lip may sing the son, this foot may tread the streets of gold, this heart may be full of bliss, immortal, everlasting, eternal. Be of good cheer, oh, fellow-Christian; to-morrow can have nothing black in it to thee, for it must work for thy good, but it may have in it a precious, precious jewel. It is an earthen pitcher, and it may have in it some dark black waters, but their bitterness is taken away by the cross. But mayhap, also, it may have in it the precious jewel of eternity; for wrapt up within to-morrow may be all the glories of immortality. Anoint thine head with fresh oil of gladness at the prospect of each coming day. Boast not of to-morrow, but often comfort thyself with it. Thou hast a right to do so; it cannot be a bad tomorrow to thee; it may be the best day of thy life, for it may be thy last. And yet, another hint. To-morrow ought to be observed by Christians in the way of providence. Though we may not boast of to-morrow, yet we may seek to provide for the morrow. On one occasion I pleaded for a benefit society, and not knowing a more appropriate text, I selected this, "Take no thought for the morrow, for to-morrow shall take thought for the things of itself." Some of my hearers, when I announced my text, feared the principle of it was altogether hostile to anything like an insurance, or providing for the future, but I just showed them that it was not, as I looked upon it. It is a positive command that we are to take no anxious thought concerning to-morrow. No, how can I do that? How can I put myself into such a position that I can carry out this command of taking no thought for the morrow! If I were a man struggling in life, and had it in my power to insure for something which would take care of wife and family in after days, if I did not do it, you might preach to me all eternity about not taking thought for the morrow; but I could not help doing it, when I saw those I loved around me unprovided for. Let it be in God's word, I could not practise it; I should still be at some time or other taking thought for the morrow. But let me go to one of the many of the excellent institutions which exist, and let me see that all is provided for, I come home and say, "Now, I know how to practise Christ's command of taking no thought for the morrow; I pay the policy-money once a year, and I take no further thought about it, for I have no occasion to do so now, and have obeyed the very spirit and letter of Christ's command." Our Lord meant that we were to get rid of cares; now it is apparent that those distressing cares are removed, and we are able to live above anxiety by that single process. Now, if that is so, if there is anything that enables us to carry out Christ's commands, is it not in the very bowels of the commandments to do that? If God has pleased to put into the hearts of wise men to devise something that should in some way ameliorate the misfortunes of their kind, and relieve them from the distresses and casualties of God's providence, how can it but be our duty to avail ourselves of that wisdom which, doubtless, God gave to men, that we might thereby in these times be enable to carry out in the fullest extent the meaning of that passage, "Take no thought for the morrow." Why, if a man says, "I shall take no thought for the morrow, I will just spend all I get, and not think of doing anything or taking any thought for the morrow," how is he going to pay his rent? Why, the text could not be carried out, if it meant what some people think. It cannot mean that we should carelessly live by the day, or else a man would spend all his money on Monday, and have nothing left for the rest of the week; but that would be simple folly. It means that we should have no anxious, distressing thought about it. I am preaching about benefit societies; I would not attempt to recommend many of them, and I do not believe in the principles of half of them; I believe a great deal of mischief is done by their gatherings in alehouses and pothouses; but wherever there is a Christian society, I must endeavour to promote its welfare, for I look on the principle as the best means of carrying out the command of Christ, "Take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for itself." Allow me to recommend this Asylum to your liberality as a refuge in adversity for those who were careful in prosperity. It is a quiet retreat for decayed members of Benefit Societies, and I am sorry to inform you that many of its rooms are vacant, not from want of candidates, but from a lack of funds. It is a pity that so much public property should lie unemployed. Help the committee then to use the houses. And, now, in concluding, let me remind the Christian that there is one thing he has not do, and that is, he has not to provide salvation, nor grace, nor sustenance, nor promises for the morrow. No, beloved; but we often talk as if we had. We say, "How shall I persevere through such and such a trial?" "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." You must not boast of to-day's grace, as though it were enough for to-morrow. But you need not be afraid. With to-morrow's difficulties there will be to-morrow's help; with to-morrow's foes, to-morrow's friends; with to-morrow's dangers, to-morrow preservations. Let us look forward, then, to to-morrow as a thing we have not to provide for in spiritual matters, for the atonement is finished, the covenant ratified, and therefore every promise shall be fulfilled, and be "yea and amen" to us, not only in one to-morrow, but in fifty thousand to-morrows, if so many could run over our heads. And now just let us utter the words of the text again, very solemnly and earnestly. O young men in all your glory! O maidens in all your beauty! "Boast not yourselves of to-morrow." The worm may be at your cheeks very soon. O strong men, whose bones are full of marrow! O ye mighty men, whose nerves seem of brass, and your sinews of steel! "Boast not of to-morrow." "How, fir tree," for cedars have fallen ere now; and though you think yourselves great, God can pull you down. Above all, ye grey heads, "Boast not yourselves of to-morrow," with one foot hanging over the unfathomable gulf of eternity, and the other just tottering on the edge of time! I beseech you do not boast yourselves of to-morrow. In truth I do believe that grey heads are not less foolish on this point than very childhood. I remember reading a story of a man who wanted to buy his neighbour's farm next to him, and he went to him and asked him whether he would sell it. He said, "No; I will not;" so he went home, and said, "Never mind, Farmer So-and-so is an old man; when he is dead, I shall buy it." The man was seventy, and his neighbour sixty-eight; he thought the other would be sure to die before him. It is often so with men. They are making schemes that will only walk over their graves, when they will not feel them. The winds shall soon howl across the green sward that covers their tomb, but they shall not hear its wailing. Take care of the "to-days." Look not through the glass of futurity; but look at the things of to-day. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
Cheer for Despondency
A sermon (No. 3183) published on Thursday, February 3, 1910, delivered by C. H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
“Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Proverbs 27:1 .
What a great mercy it is that we do not know “what a day may bring forth”! We are often thankful for knowledge, but in this case we may be particularly grateful for ignorance. It is the glory of God, we are told, to conceal a thing, and it most certainly is for the happiness of mankind that he should conceal their future. Supposing that bright lines were written for us in the book of destiny, and that we could read those bright lines now, and see some of them, we should probably loiter away our time until we arrived at them and should have no heart for the present. If on the other hand we knew that there were dark days of trouble in store for us, and had a presentiment and full conviction as to when they would come, probably the thought of them would overshadow the present, so that the joys which we now drink would be left untasted by reason of our nervous fears as to the distant future. To know the good might lead us to presumption, to know the evil might tempt us to despair. Happy for us is it that our eyes cannot penetrate the thick veil which God hangs between us and tomorrow, that we cannot see beyond the spot where we now are, and that, in a certain sense, we are utterly ignorant as to the details of the future. We may indeed be thankful for our ignorance.
Although however we do not know what a day may bring forth, though we cannot see into what I may call “the immediate future,” yet we have reason to be thankful that we do know something about what is to come, and that we do know what is in the far-reaching future. We differ from the brutes in this respect. When two or three nights in the week I pass on my way home a flock of sheep, or a little herd of bullocks, all going down to the butcher’s, travelling in the cold bright moonlight towards the slaughter-house, I feel thankful that they do not know where they are going, for what would be their misery if they knew anything about death? The lamb’s thoughts are in the fold, and all unconscious of the shambles; it licks the hand that smites it, not knowing of its coming speedy death. It is the happiness of the brute not to know the future.
But in our case we know that we must die; and if it were not for the hope of the resurrection and of the here-after, this knowledge would distinguish us from the brutes only by giving us greater misery. There must be an intention on God’s part for us to live in a future state or else he would, out of mere benevolence, have left us ignorant of the fact of death. If he had not meant our souls to begin to prepare for another and a better existence, he would have kept us ignorant, even of the fact that this one will pass away; but having given us an intellect and a mind which doth from observation and inward consciousness know that death will come, we believe that he would have us prepare for that which will follow and look out for that which is beyond. We do know the future in its great rough outlines. We know that if the Lord cometh not first, we shall die; we know that our soul shall live for ever in happiness or in woe; and that, according to whether we are found in Christ or without Christ, our eternal portion shall be one of never-ending agony or of ceaseless bliss. We may be thankful that we do know this so that we may be prepared for it; but still to return to that with which we started we may be thankful also that we do not really know the great future in its details, that it is shut from our eye lest it should have an evil influence upon our life.
Now, Solomon in the Book of Proverbs applied the truth that we know not about to-morrow to the boaster, to the man who said, “To-morrow I will go into such a city and buy, and sell, and get gain, and then go to another city and get more gain, and then when I have amassed so much wealth I will say, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” Solomon seems to come in and put his hand upon the man’s shoulders and to say, virtually, “Thou fool, thou knowest nothing about all this; thou dost not know what shall be on the morrow; thy goods may never come to thee, or thou mayest not be here to trade with these goods at all; so thou buildest a castle in the air; thou thinkest thy fancies are true; thou art as one that dreams of a feast and wakes to find himself hungry! How canst thou be so foolish?” Solomon dwells upon the text very solemnly, and says, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”
I do not intend however to use the text with this object to-night. It struck me that as Solomon uses it here with one design it might be very properly used for another; that as he intends to shame our growing pride and certainty of prosperity, so it might be used especially to cheer those who have a tendency to gloom, and to shed a ray of light into the thick darkness of their fear.
I. It will first comfort those who are fearing and trembling concerning some evil which is yet to come .
My friend, thou art afraid to-night; thou canst not enjoy anything thou hast because of this terrible and fearful shadow which has come across thy path of an evil which thou sayest is coming to-morrow, or in one or two months’ time, or even in six months. Now, at least, thou art not quite certain that it will come, for thou knowest not what may be on the morrow. Thou art as alarmed and as afraid as if thou wert quite certain that it would appear. But it is not so, “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth,” and since it is uncertain whether it shall be or not , hadst thou not better leave thy sorrow till it is certain; and meanwhile, leave the uncertain matter in the hand of God whose divine purposes will be wise and good in the end, and will be even seen to be so? At the very least, slender as the comfort may be, yet still there is comfort in the fact that thou knowest not what may be on the morrow.
Let us just expand this thought a little to those of you who are fearing about to-morrow. We very often fear what never will occur. I think that the major part of our troubles are not those which God sends us, but those which we invent for ourselves. As the poet speaks of some who
“Feel a thousand deaths in fearing one,”
so there are many who feel a thousand troubles in fearing one trouble, which trouble, perhaps, never will have any existence except in the workshop of their own misty brain. It is an ill task for a child to whip himself; it might be good for him to feel the whip from his father’s hand, but it is of little service when the child applies it himself. And yet very often the strokes which we dread never do come from God’s hand at all, but are the pure inventions of our own imagination and our own unbelief working together. There are more who have to howl under the lash of unbelief than there are who have to weep under the gentle rod of God’s providential dispensation. Now, why shouldst thou go about to fill thy pillow with thorns grown in thine own garden? Why so busy, good sir, about gathering nettles with which to strew thine own bed? There are clouds enough without thy thinking that every little atom of mist will surely bring a tempest. There are difficulties enough on the road to heaven without thy taking up stones to throw into thine own path to make thing own road more rough than there was any need shalt it should be. Thou knowest not what may be on the morrow. Thy fears are absurd. Perhaps thy neighbor knows they are absurd, but certainly thou oughtest to know it is so. Dost thou not know that the trouble thou art dreading, God can utterly avert? Perhaps to-morrow morning there will come a letter which will entirely change the face of the matter. A friend may interpose when least thou couldst expect one, or difficulties which were like mountains may be cast into the depths of the sea. “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth,” and the trouble which thou so much dreadest may never occur at all.
Moreover, dost thou not know that even if the if the trouble should come, God has a way of overruling it? So that even thou, poor trembler, shalt stand by and see the salvation of God and wonder at two things thine own unbelief and God’s faithfulness. Thou sayest that the sea is before thee, that the mountains are on either hand, and that the foe is behind thee, but thou knowest not what shall be on the morrow. Thy God shall lead thee through the depths of the sea, and put such a song into thy mouth as thou never couldst have known if there had been no sea, and no Pharaoh, and no mountains to shut thee in. These trials of thine shall be the winepress out of which shall come the wine of consolation to thee. This furnace shall rob thee of nothing but thy dross, which thou wilt be glad to be rid of, but thy pure gold shall not be diminished by so much as a drachm, but shall only be the purer after it all. The trouble, then, may not come to thee at all, or if it come it may be overruled.
And there is one thing more; supposing the trial does come, thy God has promised that as thy days so shall thy strength be . Hath he not said it many times in his Word, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”? He never did promise thee freedom from trouble. He speaks of rivers and of thy going through them; he speaks of fires and of thy passing through them; but he has added, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” What matters it to thee then whether there be fire or not, if thou be not burned? What matters it to thee whether there are floods or not if thou be not drowned? As long as thou escapest with spiritual life and health and comest up out of all thy trials the better for them, thou mayest rejoice in tribulations. Thank God when thy temptations abound, and be glad when he putteth thee into the furnace because of the blessing which thou art sure to receive from it. So then, since thou knowest not what may be on the morrow, take thou heart thou fearing one, and put thy fears away. Do as thou hast been bidden, delight thyself in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Cast thy burden upon the Lord and he will sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved. Did not David say, speaking by the Holy Ghost, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all”? I charge thee therefore to be of good comfort since thou knowest not what may be on the morrow. This is the message to fearful saints.
II. But now we will use the text to another class of Christians whose painful position really deserves more pity than that of those who only invent their fears, or who are troubled about the future. I mean those who are at the present moment disconsolate through immediate distress and present affliction .
We little know my brethren, when we gather here, how many cases of distress may be assembled in this house at any one time. Verily the poor have not ceased out of the land. The poor we have always with us, and some of the poor, too, who need to have other mouths to speak for them since from their very independence of spirit and their Christian character they are slow to speak for themselves. There may he a trouble in my neighbour’s hearts which is almost bursting it, while I am sitting peacefully still enjoying the Word. We should remember those who are in bonds as bound with them; and sympathize with those who are troubled as being ourselves also in the body.
It will not be a waste of time then if I say to you who are troubled about worldly matters , than there is comfort for you in this passage. “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Thou sayest, “It is all over with me; I will give up in despair.” No friend, do not do so for one day longer, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth; and if to-morrow bring thee not deliverance, hope on at least for one day more, for “thou knowest not what “a day may bring forth.” And I would keep on with the same tale till the last day of life. At least for one day more there is no room for despair. You cannot conclude that God has forsaken you, or that providence has utterly turned against you. At least you know not what may be on the morrow, so wait till you have seen that day out. Give not up yourself a hopeless victim to despair till you have seen what to-morrow may bring you.
What unexpected turns there have been in the lives of those who have trusted in God! You who are trusting in yourselves may help yourselves as best you can, but you who are trusting in God have ample reasons to expect that God will come to your assistance. It is yours to watch and yours to work as if everything depended upon you, but it is yours also to remember that everything does not depend upon you. Sometimes God has come in to help his servants so exactly at what we call “the nick of time” that they have hardly been able to believe their own senses. “Strange!” they say, “it is like a miracle,” and so indeed it is; for the difference between the old dispensation and the new is that God used to work his wonders by suspending the laws of nature, whereas now he does greater things than this, inasmuch as he achieves his purposes quite as marvellously, and lets the laws of nature remain as they are. He does not make the ravens bring his people bread and meat, but he lets them have their bread and their meat when they need them.
God does not nowadays make the manna drop down from heaven; no doubt some people would like him to do so, but still he brings the manna for all that: there is the bread, and there is the raiment, and therewith should the Christian be content. He supplies his people’s needs by ordinary means, and herein is he to be wondered at and to be adored. Look up then. Wipe away that tear. Do not talk for a moment of murmuring against God. Do not go home with that sorry tale to your wife and children, and tell them that God is not faithful to you. Wait till to-morrow at any rate, for “thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”
And to you who are disconsolate about spiritual things I might quote the same text. You say, “Ah! I have been hearing the Word very long, and all that I have got from it is a sense of sin, or hardly that. Oh! how I wish that God would bless the word to my soul! I am longing to be saved! What would I not give to be a Christian, a true and sincere Christian, one in whom the Spirit of God has wrought a new heart and a right spirit? Oh!” you say, “I have sought it by listening to the word, and I have sought it in earnest prayer; but months have passed, and I have made no advance; I have no more hope now than I had long ago; I seem as far off the attainment of eternal life as I was when first I heard the Word; nay, if possible I am still further off; the Word has been a savor of death unto death to me, and not a savor of life unto life.” Well, my dear friend, do not give up listening to the Word; do not give up treading the courts of the Lord’s house; for if thou hast hitherto got no blessing, yet, being in the way, the Lord may meet with thee, for thou knowest not what may be on the morrow.
How many years these poor creatures waited around the pool when they expected that an angel would, at a certain season, come and trouble the water! There they waited, and though they were disappointed scores of times by others stepping in before them, yet seeing it was the only hope they had they waited still. Now, it is in the use of the means that you are likely to get a blessing. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Do not therefore be persuaded to cease hearing, for thou knowest not what may be on the morrow. The very next sermon thou shalt hear may be the means of thine enlightenment. The very next address at the prayer-meeting may give thee encouragement. The very next time the gospel trumpet sounds thou mayest obtain thy liberty, and what a blessing will that liberty be. When thou dost find it thou wilt say it was well worth waiting for.
Let me add another exhortation, do not give up praying. It is a common device of Satan to say to the seeking soul, “The Lord will never hear you; you are one of the reprobate; he has never written your name in the Book of Life.” Soul, pray as long as you have breath. Let it be your firm resolve to remain at the throne of grace; say to yourself,
“If I perish, I will pray,
And perish only there.”
It is not said that the gate of mercy will open at the first knock. If it were, there would be no room for the virtue of importunity. But the Lord who delights in our importunity encourages us with the promise that one day the gate will be opened. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And who knows how soon this may be? Why, before you close your eyes to-night you may be able to look to Christ crucified and find joy and peace in believing. Instead of the weeping prayer at the bedside there may be a happy prayer of another kind; not with tears of sorrow but with tears of holy joy, to think that the Lord has enlightened your darkness, that you have looked unto Christ, and now your face is not ashamed. Why should it not be so to-night? Why should it not be so on the morrow? God grant, poor disconsolate one, that it may be very speedily!
At any rate, wilt thou let me repeat the advice I have already given? Since thou canst not know that God will not hear thee; since it never was revealed to any man, and never will be, that God will not regard his cry; if thou canst get no further than the king of Nineveh did, yet go on and who can tell what may be, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. I will tell thee one thing, and thou mayest take it as being God’s own truth; if thou goest to Christ empty-handed, guilty, yet willing to take all thy salvation from him as a free gift, and if thou castest thyself upon him, I will tell thee what the day will bring forth. It will bring forth eternal life to thee salvation, joy, and peace. It will bring forth adoption, for thou shalt be received into the divine family. It will bring forth to thee the foretaste of the heaven which God has prepared for his people. Thou shalt know a blessed day here that shall be a foretaste of a never-ending day hereafter, a day that shall be as one of the days of heaven upon earth.
I wish that the Lord would bless these words of mine to disconsolate ones. I think there may be some who may be sustained for a while and kept up by what I have said; but it will be better still if they shall now be filled with a desperate resolve to cast themselves at the foot of the cross; then little do they know what the day will bring forth! They cannot imagine the joy they shall have, nor the peace they shall receive. The pardon which Christ shall give them is far more rich than they have thought it could be, and the success with which their prayers shall be crowned is far more marvellous than even their best hopes have conceived. “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”
III. Now thirdly, turning this time not to those who are fearing the future, nor yet to those who are disconsolate about present affliction, I thought of addressing a few words to those who are toil worn in the Master’s service
I can scarcely sympathize as I could wish to do with those who have worked for Christ unsuccessfully. To say, “Master, I have toiled all the night and have taken nothing,” has never been my lot, and therefore I can only speak from what I suppose to be the feeling of unsuccessful men. For these many years I have been preaching the gospel in this great London and I know not that at any time God has blessed us more than he is blessing us now, neither can I even say that at any time he has blessed us less, for it seems as if he has always been giving us more than we can receive, and blessing the Word exceedingly abundantly above what we asked or ever thought. There is room for nothing in my case but gratitude and encouragement, for humble dependence upon God for the future, and adoring joy for the past and the present.
But what hard work it must be for a minister or a Sunday-school teacher to go on preaching and laboring positively without success, or with so little that it is only like a cluster hole and there upon the topmost bough! I can imagine such brethren and sisters feeling that they can speak no more in the name of the Lord; and as they weep over their failure, saying with Isaiah, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” I should not wonder but that my text may whisper in their ears a comfortable thought, “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”
Do not cease from thy labor dear brother! Thou art fainting to-day, but tomorrow thou mayest arise with new strength ; or feeling as if thou wert but weakness itself in the morning, though thou mayest hardly know how it came about, in the evening thou mayest be happy and cheerful. The divine presence may overshadow their heart and drive thy fears away, consoling thee in thy distress, and making thee feel as if it were well to be God’s servant even if one had no present reward.
And what if coming at the back of this, thou shouldst find thyself, next time thou goest to thy work discharging it with unusual zest and with new power? What if the pulpit, instead of being as it has been, a prison to thee, should suddenly come to be a palace? What if, instead of there being a mere bush in the wilderness, God should dwell in the bush and make it all ablaze, like that unconsumed burning bush which Moses saw? What if the stammering tongue should suddenly be unloosed, and the cold heart be all aglow with divine enthusiasm? What if the poor tongue of clay should suddenly become a tongue of fire? What a change it would be! Ah! but “thou knowst not what a day may bring forth.”
And what if whilst thou art thyself thus quickened, there should fall a like spirit upon the people , upon the children in the class, upon the hearers in the house of prayer? What if, instead of the dull leaden eyes which looked as if death itself were gazing from them what if instead of stony and motionless hearers there should suddenly be a holy sensitiveness given to the people what wouldst thou say to that? Yet why should there not be? Sometimes such grace comes all at once. The rock has been long smitten yet it would not break; but on a sudden there has come a blow of the hammer, and that perhaps not so hard as many that have fallen before, but it has hit the rock in the right place and lo! the mass of stone flies to shivers! “Oh!” you say, “I could keep on at my work if I thought that this would happen.” Keep on at your work then brother, for you do not know what will come next. Pray for great things and you may then expect them. Now you may not make sure of such blessing, of course, if you have not prayed for it; but having sought it, why should it not come?
I believe all Sunday-school teachers find that sometimes such sudden meltings come over their classes, and ministers often realize that on a sudden they scarcely know how there is a change in the very aspect of their hearers, so that it is quite a different thing to preach. I am very conscious of the difference there is between the various congregations I address. Almost every day, and sometimes twice a day, I am preaching. Occasionally it is dreadful misery because, say what we will, we know we have not a sympathizing audience. We feel as though we were dragging a plough over the rough ground; but when we feel that the Spirit of God is there then we realize that we are sowing this good seed, that it is falling on good ground, and we expect the joyful sheaves which are to be our reward. And yet brethren, we are as much the servants of God when we are doing the one thing as when we are doing the other, and are as much in his service when we are unsuccessful as when we are successful. We are not responsible to God for the souls that are saved, but we are responsible for the gospel that we preach, and for the way in which we preach it. And “who can tell” whether those of us who have been least successful may not suddenly exchange our heavy toil for the most delightful service, for we know not what a day may bring forth?
And how dost thou know my brother what may yet happen? Thou wert saying this morning, “It is a dark age for the church.” Well so it is. You were saying, “I believe it is quite a crisis.” So it is. Every year in fact seems to be a crisis. “Ah!” you say, “but there are peculiar dangers now.” No doubt there are, and I think the oldest man here recollects that there were peculiar dangers when he was a boy; there always have been and always will be peculiar dangers. But if there is danger from this revival of Ritualism and no doubt there is yet who among us can tell what a day may bring forth? Are we certain that God will not yet turn back the tide of Romanizing error? Are we sure that he has not a man somewhere, or even fifty men, who shall be the instruments of accomplishing this? Has it not often occurred that the very men who have been the hottest advocates of a certain system have afterwards been the greatest enemies of that system? The Christian Church could never have expected to get an apostle from among the Pharisees, and least of all could they have supposed that they would find in Saul of Tarsus, the blood-thirsty persecutor, the great apostle of the Gentiles, not one whit behind the very chiefest of the twelve. You and I do not know what God has in store. There may be somewhere at this very moment a man, unknown to you, who is reading the Word, and as he reads it he may, like the monk Luther, get such light through the reading that he who once helped to build up will be the instrument in God’s hand to destroy. I am getting more and more hopeful about these matters. I entertain, the most sanguine expectation that the God who has put his enemies to rout in years gone by will do it Now once again; and instead of sitting down in anything like heaviness of spirit or oppression of heart, I would speak hopefully and have you, my brethren, tell hopefully, for we do not know what a day may bring forth.
Suddenly the whole current of the public mind may be turned. There may come a great tide of conversions which shall be the strength and the joy of the Christian Church. On a sudden, slumbering churches may awake, racious revivals may come! Upon the land the holy fire may once again descend from heaven. The Christian Church may start up to find that the God who answered by fire is still in her midst. The mourning Christian may put off his ashes and sackcloth, and put on his beautiful array, and a shout of joy may go up, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” where you and I expected to hear nothing but “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Let us then, if we are working for the Master, instead of growing tired with service hear him say to us, “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.” Let us, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. You know not how soon you shall see this success, for you know not what a day may bring forth. I hope every city missionary who hears me, every Biblewoman, every minister, every tract-distributor, every Sunday-school teacher, will try and look this very sweet thought in the face. Expect that God is going to do great things and he will do them, for he does very much according to his people’s expectations. According to your faith shall it be done unto you.
IV. I will now say a few words, in the fourth place, to those who are dispirited in prayer , to some who have been engaged in special supplication for some object but who up till now have received no answer, and are ready to give up praying. Let me encourage such to persevere by repeating to them the words of Solomon, “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”
There is a story I have often heard told by our Methodist friends of a woman who had long prayed for her husband. She resolved that she would pray for him every day a certain number of times, I think it was for ten years; and that after that she would pray no longer, supposing that if her prayer were not heard by that time, it would be an intimation that God did not intend to grant the blessing. I do not think she was right in setting any limit to God at all, or that she had any right so to act. However, on this occasion God winked at his servant’s infirmity, and so the story goes and I do not doubt its correctness, on the day on which she was to cease from prayer her husband suddenly turned thoughtful and asked her the question which she had so longed to hear from him, “What must I do to be saved?” I am sure that those who have watched over their success in prayer will have met with cases quite as startling as that things which your neighbor would not believe if you were to tell him, but which you treasure up amongst those inward experiences which are true to you, however improbable they may seem to other people. You know, dear friends, that you have obtained answers to prayer, very singular ones, and have obtained them very promptly and very punctually. You have had your prayers met just as an honest merchant meets his bills at the appointed time. On the expected day God has met with you and given you what you wanted, and what you sought for, just at the very time you needed it.
But now I will suppose that you are tried thus. That dear child of yours, instead of hopefully rewarding your prayers, seems to be going from bad to worse. Perhaps dear brother it is your son, and I know there are many such cases; the devil has told you that it is no use to pray for him, for God will never hear you. Or else good sister, it is your brother, and your prayer for him has been incessant; indeed, it has been a constant burden on your mind. Now in such cases I charge you, I earnestly entreat you never to listen to the malicious insinuation of Satan that “you may as well leave off praying, for you will not be heard,” for at the very least, and I am now putting it on the very lowest ground possible, “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” You cannot tell but that too-hard heart may yet be softened, and the rebellious will be subdued. You would be surprised to go home and find your son converted, would you not? Well, but such things have occurred. You would be surprised if your wife came in some Sunday evening and said, “I have been hearing So-and-so, and God has met with me.” Yet why should it not be so? Is anything too hard for the Lord? Is his arm shortened that it cannot save? Is his ear heavy that it cannot hear? Even if you should die without seeing your children converted or your dear ones brought in, you do not know, even then, what a day may bring forth. They may be converted after you are dead; and it will tend possibly to swell the joy of Heaven when you shall see them, after years of wandering, brought to follow their father, their father whom in life they despised, but whom after he was gone they came to imitate. Persevere in prayer Christian. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” Praying breath is never spent in vain. Still besiege the throne. The city may hold out for a while, but prayer should capture it. Beleaguer the throne of grace; it is to be taken. Never raise the siege until you get the blessing: the blessing shall certainly be yours.
V. And now I cannot talk longer on this matter so I will close with just another thought to those of us who are cheerful and happy .
I hope there are many of us who are neither afraid and fretting about the future, nor depressed about the present, neither worn out with toil in the Master’s service, nor dispirited in prayer. There are some of us to whom the Lord is so gracious that our cup runneth over. Now, we may just put another drop on the top of the full cup. Dear friend, “thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” It may perhaps bring forth to you and to me our last day. What a blessed day that would be, our last day! Our dying day! No, do not call it so, but the day of our translation, the day of our great change, the day of our being taken up, that of our being carried away in the fiery chariot to be for ever with the Lord!
Thou knowest not but what this may be thy case to-morrow . Oh what joy! I am doubting and fearing to-day, but I may see his face tomorrow, and see it so as never to lose sight of it again. From my poor tenement of poverty I am going to the mansions of eternal blessedness. From the sick-bed where I have tossed in pain I shall mount to everlasting joy. The streets of gold may be trodden to-morrow, and the palm branch of victory may be waved to-morrow, the streets trodden by these weary feet, and the palm branch waved by these toil-worn hands to-morrow! Yes, to-morrow the chants of angels may be in your ears, and the swell of celestial music may made glad your soul. To-morrow you may see the beautific vision, and may behold the King in his beauty in the land that is very far off. I do like to live in the constant anticipation of being “with Christ, which is far better.” Do not put it off Christian, as though it were far away. If we had to wait a hundred years they would soon pass like a watch in the night; but we shall not live so long as that. We may be with our Lord to-morrow. We may sup here on earth and breakfast in heaven. We may breakfast on earth, and hear Christ say “Come and dine,” or we may go from our communion table here to the great supper of the Lamb above, to be with him for ever.
This is the best of it. When somebody said to a Christian minister, “I suppose you are on the wrong side of fifty?” “No,” he said, “thank God, I am on the right side of fifty, for I am sixty, and am therefore nearer heaven.” Old age should never be looked upon with dismay by us; it should be our joy. If our hearts were right in this matter, instead of being at all afraid at the thought of parting from this life we should say,
“Ah me, ah me that I
In Kedar’s tents here stay!
No place like this on high!
Thither, Lord! guide my way.
O happy place!
When shall I be,
My God, with thee,
And see thy face?”
I have not time to say much to others here who are not concerned in these sweet themes, but I will at least say this. Let the careless and thoughtless here remember that they do not know what a day may bring forth . Tomorrow it may not be that grand party to which you are intending to go; to-morrow it may not be that sweet sin of which your evil nature is thinking. To-morrow may see you on a sick-bed, to-morrow may see you on your dying bed. To-morrow, worst of all, may see you in hell! O sinner, what a state to live in, to be in daily jeopardy of eternal ruin, to have the wrath of God, who is always angry with the wicked, abiding on you; and not to know but that to-morrow you may be where you can find no escape, no hope, no comfort! To-morrow in eternity! To-morrow banished from his presence for ever! To-morrow to have that awful sentence thrilling in your soul, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Charles H. Spurgeon
‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:6 ).
The death in sin, which we lamented so much over in the last chapter, is now happily a thing of the past with us. Divine grace brought us to life; the power of heaven has preserved us; and faithful promises has secured our spiritual immortality. It is now our delightful duty to adore the love which, even when we were dead in sins, was still planning deeds of kindness towards us; and which in its own appointed time enlisted Omnipotence in our behalf, whereby we received life from the dead.
In order to raise our hearts towards heaven, and tune our lips to the song of praise, let us, by the Spirit’s gracious assistance, review the way in which the Lord led us to himself.
Like ourselves, many of our readers will admit that the first they ever knew of Jesus was in the character of a faithful friend wounding us for sin. Though at that time we were not aware that love was mixed with every blow, yet now we perceive it to have been the kind plan of a gracious Saviour to bring us to himself. The Roman Emperor conferred freedom on a slave by striking him on the ear: and Jesus sets us free by a blow upon our heart.
1. All saved persons have been wounded.
We shall dwell first upon the fact that all saved persons have been wounded. Neither in the Church on earth or in the triumphant redeemed host in heaven is there one who has received a new heart, and was reclaimed from sin, without a wound from Jesus. The pain may have been slight, and the healing may have been speedy; but in each case there has been a real bruise, which required a heavenly physician to heal it.
1. Some wounded early in life.
With some, this wounding began early in life; for as soon as infancy gave way to childhood, the rod was exercised on some of us. We can remember early convictions of sin, and apprehensions of the wrath of God on account of it. An awakened conscience in our most tender years drove us to the throne of mercy. Though we did not know the hand which chastened our spirit, yet we did ‘bear the yoke in our youth.’ Many times our ‘tender buds of hope’ were soon withered by youthful lusts. Often we were ‘scared by visions’ and terrified with dreams, while the reproof of a parent, the death of a playmate, or a solemn sermon made our hearts melt within us! Truly, our goodness was like the morning mist and the early dew that disappears; but who can tell how much each one of these separate woundings contributed toward that killing by the law, which proved to be the effectual work of God? In each of these arousings we discover a gracious purpose; we trace every one of these awakenings to his hand who watched over our path, determined to deliver us from our sins. The small end of that wedge which has since been driven home, was inserted during these youthful hours of inward strife; the ground of our heart was being ploughed in preparation for the planting of the seed.
Let no one despise the strivings of the Spirit in the hearts of the young; do not let boyish anxieties and juvenile repentances be lightly regarded. The person who stifles a tender conscience in a child promotes the aim of the Evil One and incurs a fearful amount of guilt. No one knows the age of the youngest child in hell; and therefore no one can guess at what age children become capable of conversion. We can at least bear testimony to the fact that grace operates on some minds at a period almost too early to remember. Nor let it be imagined that the feelings of the young are insignificant and superficial frequently they are of the deepest character. The early woundings of the Saviour are made upon hearts that have not yet become hardened by worldliness and sensuality. The Christian whose lot it was to be wounded in his childhood, will well remember the deep searchings of heart and the sharp convictions of soul which he endured.
O beloved, how much we have to bless our Jesus for, and how much we need to reprove ourselves! Did we not suppress our conscience, and silence the voice of reproof? Were we not deaf to the warning voice of our glorious Jesus? When he struck us with pain, we did not returned to kiss his rod, but were as stubborn as the young bull unaccustomed to the yoke. Our most solemn vows were only made to be broken; our earnest prayers ceased when the outward pressure was removed; and our partial reformations passed away like dreams of the night. Blessed be his name, he finally gave us the effectual blow of grace; but we must forever stand in amazement at the patience which endured our stubbornness, and persevered in its plan of love.
2. Many of wounds were exceedingly painful
Many of the Lord's beloved ones have felt the wounds to be exceedingly painful. There are degrees in the bitterness of sorrow for sin; everyone does not have the same horrible apprehensions of de-struction; but there are some who have drank the very bitterness and sourness of repentance. Usually, such persons have previously been great sinners, or become great saints later in life. They love much because they feel that much has been forgiven; their fearful bondage increases their gratitude for glorious liberty; and the wretched-ness of their natural poverty enhances their estimation of the riches of Jesus. The painful process is thus a profitable one; but when it is endured it is indeed a great fiery furnace an oven that burns with intense heat. He who has had his feet fastened in the stocks of conviction will never forget it till his dying day.
It is good when some of us remember the time when our true Friend wounded our heart, with what we then thought was a cruel hand. Our gladness was turned into mourning, our songs to sobbing, our laughter into moaning, and our joys to misery. Fearful thoughts haunted our unenlightened soul dreary images of agony sat on the throne of our imagination sounds like the wailings of hell were frequently heard in our ears, together making us so completely full of agony that it could be compared to nothing but the gates of hell. During this period, our prayers were truly earnest when we could pray; but at times a sense of tremendous guilt constrained our lips, and choked our speech. Now and then a faint gleam of hope lit up the scene for a moment, only to increase the gloom on its departure. The nearer we approached to our Lord, the more sternly (we thought) he repelled us; the more earnest our attempts at reformation, the more heavy the lash fell upon our shoulders. The law grabbed us with iron hand; and struck us with the scourge of vengeance; conscience washed the quivering flesh with salt water; and despondency furnished us with a bed of thorns, upon which our poor mangled body found a hard couch. At night we dreamed of torment, during the day we almost felt its beginnings. In vain we asked Moses to plead our case with an angry God; in vain we attempted by vows to move him to pity: ‘the one who breaks’ [Micah 2:13 ] broke our hearts with his heavy hammer, and seemed intent to make our agonies intolerable. We did not dare to touch the hem of his garment, for fear that ‘Depart from me!’ would be the only word he would speak to us. A fearful expectation of judgment and of fiery indignation caused us to be filled with fears, doubts, discouragements, hopelessness, and to tremble with anxiety.
Old Burton was correct when with words he painted the soul under the pressure of a burden of guilt: ‘Fear takes away their contentment, and dries the blood, destroys the marrow, changes their expression, “even in their greatest delights singing, dancing, feasting they are still (says Lemnius) tortured in their souls.” It consumes every part of them. “I am like a pelican of the wilderness (David says of himself, when temporarily afflicted); I am like an owl of the desert, because of Your indignation.” “My heart is severely pained within me, And the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me,” and I am at the “gates of death.” “Their soul abhorred all manner of food.” [Psalms 102:6 , Psalms 102:10 ; Psalms 55:4 ,Psalms 55:5 ; Psalms 107:18 ] Their sleep is (if there is any) restless, and subject to fearful dreams and terrors. Peter, in his chains, slept secure, for he knew God protected him. Tully makes it an argument of Roscius Amerinus’ innocence (that he did not kill his father) because he slept so securely. Those martyrs in the ancient Church were most cheerful and merry in the midst of their persecutions; but it is quite different with these men: continually tossed in a sea, without rest or intermission, they can think of anything pleasant; “their conscience will not let them be at peace;” although they are not yet captured, they are still in perpetual fear and anxiety, because they still doubt that they will be ready to betray themselves. Just like Cain, he thinks every man will kill him; “and he groaned because of the turmoil of his heart,” [Psalms 38:8 ] just like David and Job did. “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul? They long for death, but it does not come, and they search for it more than hidden treasures; and rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they can find the grave?” [Job 3:20-22 ] They are generally weary of their lives: they have a trembling heart, a sorrowful mind, and little or no rest. Terror ubique tremor, timor undique et undique terror: ‘tears, terrors, and great fears, in all places, at all times and seasons.’ Cibum et potum pertinaciter aversantur multi, nodum in scirpo quaeritantes, et culpam imaginantes ubi nulla est, as Wierus writes, (De Lamiis, lib. iii. c. 7.) “many of them refuse food and drink, and cannot rest because they are exasperated, and are sure of grievous offences where there are none.” God's heavy wrath is kindled in their souls, and, yet despite their continual prayers and supplications to Christ Jesus, they have no release or comfort at all, rather they have a most intolerable torment, and insufferable anguish of conscience; and that makes them, through impatience, to murmur against God many times, to think cruelly of him, and even, in some cases, seek to harm themselves. In the morning they wish for evening, and in the evening they wish for the morning; because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see.’ [Deuteronomy 28:67 ]
Hart felt the deep wounds of this faith-ful Friend; witness the following line:
‘The Lord, from whom I did long backslide,
First checked me with some gentle stings;
Turned on me, looked, and softly chide,
And commanded me to hope for greater things.
Soon to his judgment-seat he made me come
Arraigned, convicted, I stood,
Expecting from his mouth the doom
Of those who trample on his blood.
Pangs of remorse my conscience tore,
Hell opened hideous to my view;
And what I only heard before,
I found, by sad experience, true.
Oh! what a dismal state was this,
What horrors shook my feeble frame!
But, brethren, surely you can guess,
For you, perhaps, have felt the same.’
Doubtless, some of our readers will cry out against such a description, as being too harsh; our only answer is, we have felt these things in some measure, and we testify what we do know. We do not, for one moment, teach that all or that many are thus led in a path strewn with horrors, and shrouded in gloom; but we hope to be acknowledged, by those who have expe-rienced the same, not to have uttered a strange thing, but the simple tale, unexaggerated and unadorned. We need no better evidences to convince all Christian men of our truthfulness than those with which our own pastorate has furnished us. We have seen many in this con-dition; and we hope that many have been, by our instrumentality, led into the liberty by which Christ makes men free.
Such terrible things are not necessary to true repentance, but they do at times accompany it. Let the man who is now floundering in the slough of Despond take heart, for the slough lies right in the middle of the way, and the best pilgrims have fallen into it. Your case, O soul under spiritual distress, is by no means singular; and if it were so, it would not be necessarily desperate, for Omnipotence knows nothing of impossibilities, and grace is not held back because of our faults. A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost its light; and dark black con-victions are no arguments that God has laid aside his mercy. Destruction and wrath may thunder, but mercy can speak louder than both. One word from our Lord can still the waves and winds. Get yourself beneath the tree of life, and not a drop of the shower of wrath will fall on you. Do not be afraid to go, for the cherubims which you see are not guards to prevent your approach, but ministers who will welcome your coming. Oh! do not sit down in sullen despair, do not harden your heart, for it is a friend that wounds you. He has softened you in the furnace; he is now joining you to himself with his hammer. Let him kill you, but still trust in him. If he had meant to destroy you, he would not have showed you such things as these: love is in his heart when rebuke is on his lips; yes, his very words of reproof are really many ‘tokens for good.’ A father will not lift his hand against another man's child, but he exercises discipline on his own; even so the Lord your God chastens his own, but reserves retribution for the children of wrath in another state of being. Consider also, that it is no small mercy to be aware of your sin; this proves that there is no death in your body, but life is there. To feel is evidence of life; and spiritual sorrow is a clear proof of life in the soul. Moreover, there are thousands who would give worlds to be in the same condition as you are; they are griev-ing because they do not have those very feelings which are, in your case, your burden and plague. Multitudes envy your groans, your tears, and softening of heart; yes, some older saints look at you with admiration, and wish that their hearts were as tender as yours. Oh! take courage, the rough manner of treatment that you feel today is a promise of loving treatment in the future. It is in this manner that the sheep is brought into the fold by the bark-ing of the dog; and it is in this fashion that the ship is compelled by the storm to make for the nearest haven. Fly to Jesus, and believe in his grace.
3. Some experience these wounds for a long time.
A portion of the redeemed have had this protracted season of wounding for a long time. It was not just one heavy stroke by the rod, but stroke after stroke, repeated for months, and even years, in continual succession. John Bunyan was for many years an anxious and desponding seeker of mercy; and thousands more have trodden the valley of darkness for just as long a time. Winters are not usually long in our favoured climate, but some years have seen the earth covered with snow and frozen in ice for many a dreary month; likewise, many souls are soon cheered by the light of God's face, but a few find, to their own sorrow, that at times the promise is delayed. When the sun sets we usually see it in the morning; but Paul, when in a tempest at sea, saw neither sun, moon, nor stars, for three days: many a tried soul has spent a longer time than this in finding light.
All ships do not make speedy voyages: the peculiar design of the vessel, the winds, the waves, and the mistakes of the captain, all affect the length of the journey. Some seeds send forth their sprouts in a few days; others stay long in the darkness, hidden under the clods. The Lord can, when it is his good pleasure, send conviction and comfort as rapidly in succession as the flash of lightning and the clap of thunder; but at times he delays it for purposes which, though we do not know now, we will know when we get to heaven. Men will not have an Easter until they have had Lent; but God's Lents are not all of the same duration. Let no one, then, fool-ishly imagine that they have entered a long road which will have no turnoffs; let them con-sider how long they were in sin, and they will have little cause to complain that they are spending so long a time in humiliation. When they remember their own ignorance, they will not think they are de-tained too long in the school of penitence. No man has any right to murmur because he is waiting a little for the King of mercy; for if he considers what he is waiting for, he will see it to be well worthy of a delay of a thousand years. God may say, ‘ Today if anyone hears my voice;’ but you, O sinner, have no right to demand that he should hear yours at all, much less today. Great men often have petitioners in their halls, who will wait for hours, and come again and again to obtain some favour: surely, the God of heaven should be waited for by them that seek him. Extremely happy is he that gets an early interview, and doubly blessed is he who gets one at all. Yet it does at times seem hard to stand at a door which remains shut to repeated knocking ’hope deferred makes the heart sick:’ and it may be, some reader of this volume is driven to doubt the eventual result of his strivings and prayers; he may be crying,
‘My life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing!’
‘How often have these bare knees been bent to gain
The little relief of one poor smile in vain?
How often tired with the fastidious light
Have my faint lips implored the shades of night?
How often have my nightly torments prayed
For lingering twilight, glutted with the shade?
Day worse than night, night worse than day appears;
In fears I spend my nights, my days in tears:
I moan without pity, groan without relief,
There is no end or measure of my grief.
The branded slave, that tugs the weary oar,
Obtains the rest of a welcome shore;
His ransomed stripes are healed; his native soil
Sweetens the memory of his foreign toil:
But ah! my sorrows are not half so blest;
My labours find no point, my pains no rest:
I barter sighs for tears, and tears for groans,
Still vainly rolling Sisyphean stones.’
Cease your complaint, O mourner, the angel is on his way, and faith will expedite his flight; he hears while you are still speaking, yes, even before you call out again, he may answer you.
4. Divine sovereignty inflicts our wounds.
Divine sovereignty displays itself in the manner whereby souls are brought to Jesus; for while many, as we have said, are inflicted with deep wounds, there are perhaps a larger number whose sufferings are less severe, and their anguish far less acute. Let us never make apologies for the superficial religion all too common in the present day; above all, let us never lead others to mistake impulses for realities, and short-lived feelings for enduring workings of grace. We fear too many are deluded with a false religion, which will be utterly consumed when the fire will test all things; and we solemnly warn our readers to accept nothing less than a real experience of grace within, true repentance, deep self abhorrence, and complete subjection to salvation by grace. Yet we do believe and know that some of the Lord's family are, by his marvellous kindness, exempted from the many hardships of the terrors of Sinai, and the exces-sive griefs brought about by the working of the Law. God opens many hearts with a gentle picking of the lock, while with others he uses the crowbar of terrible judgments. The wind of the Spirit, which blows where it wishes, also blows how it pleases: it is oftentimes a gentle gale, not always a hurricane. When the lofty palm of Zeilan puts forth its flower, the sheath bursts open with an explosive noise which shakes the forest, but thousands of other flowers of equal value open in the morning, and the very dewdrops hear no sound; likewise many souls blossom in mercy, and the world hears neither whirlwind nor tempest. Showers frequently fall on this earth too gently to be heard, though truly at other seasons the loud rattling drops proclaim them; grace also ‘drops, like the gentle dew from heaven,’ on souls whom Jesus would favour, and they know nothing of heavy hail and drenching torrents.
Let no one doubt their calling because it did not come with the sound of the trumpet; let them not sit down and measure their own feelings by those of other men, and because they are not pre-cisely the same, at once conclude that they are not children of the kingdom. No two leaves on a tree are precisely alike variety is the rule of nature; the line of beauty does not run in one undeviating course; and in grace the same rule holds good. Do not, therefore, desire another man’s repentance, or your brother’s ap-prehensions of wrath. Do not wish to try the depth of the cavern of misery, but rather rejoice that you had a partial immunity from its glooms. Be concerned to flee for refuge to Jesus; but do not ask that the avenger of blood may almost overtake you. Be content to enter the ark like a sheep led by its shepherd; do not desire to come like an unruly young bull, which must be driven to the door with whips. Adore the power which is not restricted to one particular method, but which can open the blind eye by mud made with saliva, or by the simple touch of the finger. Jesus cried, with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ but the restoration was just as easily effected as when he gently said, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’ Zacchaeus was called from the tree with a voice that the crowd could hear; but it was a quiet voice which in the garden said, ‘Mary!’ Can any man deny that equal benefits flowed from these varied voices? It is arrogance for any man to map out the path of the Eternal, or dictate to Jesus the methods of his mercy. Let us be content with gentle wounds, and let us not seek heavy blows as a proof of his faithfulness.
Much more might have been spoken con-cerning the means used by Providence to break the hard heart. Bereavement, disappointment, sickness, poverty, have had their share of uses; the Word preached, Scriptures read or reproofs received, have all been acknowledged as a direct means of conversion. It would be interesting to list the various ways of Jehovah's dealings with sinners; and it would be found to be a valuable use of time for a gathering of Christians at an evening party, if the question is passed around to each person, and one acts as a recorder for the rest; thus interesting information may be obtained, and unprofitable talking avoided.
II. We now seek to justify our assertion that these wounds are inflicted by ‘the friend,’ Christ Jesus.
Our readers will observe that Jesus' name has not often been mentioned in the course of this chapter, but there was a reason for this; in order that our words might be somewhat in accordance with the state of the soul during the operation of conviction, for at that time it is not aware of Jesus, and knows nothing of his love. A faint idea of his saving power may arise, but it is only the hush between the succeeding gusts of wind. There is an atonement, but the examined conscience does not rejoice in it, since the blood has never been applied; HE is able to save to the uttermost, but since the man has not come to God by him, he still does not participate in the salvation. Nevertheless, an unseen Jesus is a true Jesus; and when we do not see him, he is none the less present, working all our works in us. We would insist strongly on this point, because a very large number of mourning sinners ascribe their sorrow to any source but the right one.
1. Sorrow ascribed to being tormented by the devil.
We know there are those who are presently in the prison-house of conviction, who believe they are tormented by the devil, and are haunted by the dreadful thought that he is about to devour them, since hell seems to have taken over their souls. May the sacred Comforter cause our words to be profitable to such a heart. It is not the evil one who convinces the soul of sin, although the troubled spirit is prone to ascribe its convictions to the schemes of the devil. It is never the policy of the Prince of darkness to disturb his subjects; he labours to make them self-satisfied and content with their position; he looks upon spiritual uneasiness with most crafty suspicion, since he sees in that the cause of desertion from his evil army. We do not assert that none of the terrors which accompany conviction are the works of the devil, for we believe they are; but we maintain that the inward disturbance which originates the turmoil is a work of love an deed of divine com-passion, and comes from no other fountain than eternal affection. The dust which surrounds the chariot may rise from beneath, but the chariot itself is covered with the love of heaven. The doubts, the depressions, and the hellish apprehensions may be the work of Diabolus, but the real attack is headed by Emmanuel, and it is the very fear, that the true assault may be successful, that Satan attempts another. Jesus sends an army to drive us to himself, and then the Prince of the powers of the air dispatches a host of his own to cut off our retreat to Calvary. So harassed is the mind when thus besieged, that like the warriors in old Troy, it mistakes friends for foes, not knowing how to discern them in the darkness and confusion. Let us labour a moment to point out the helmet of Jesus in the battle, that his blows may be distinguished from those of a cruel one.
The experience which we have pictured leads us to abhor sin. Can Satan be the author of this? Has he become a lover of purity, or can an unclean spirit be the father of such a godly feeling? Adept in sin himself, will he seek to reveal its vileness? If indeed it delights him to see an unhappy soul here on earth, would he not rather allow a present bliss, in the malicious prospect of a certain future woe for his victim? We believe Satan to be exceedingly wise, but he would be penny wise and pound foolish if he should inflict a temporary torment on the sinner here, and so by his haste lose his great object of ruining the man forever. Devils may drive swine down a steep place into the sea; but they never influenced swine to bemoan their condition, and beg to be made sheep. Satan might carry Jesus to a pinnacle of the Temple to tempt him; but he never carried a tax collector to the house of prayer to beat on his breast and cry, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ Nothing which leads to Jesus can be of the Evil One, by this we may judge whether our inward trouble is of God or not. That which draws us to Jesus has something of Jesus in it; the wagons which bring us to our Joseph in Egypt may have rumbling wheels, but they are sent by Him .
When our enemy cannot hinder the voice of God from being heard in the heart, he mingles it with such horrid screams and howlings that the coming sinner is in doubt whether the voice comes from heaven or hell; nevertheless, the question may be answered in this manner if it is a harsh, reproving voice which is heard, then Satan is angry, and is but counterfeiting, to prevent the word of God from having effect; but if it is a sweet voice seeking to draw the soul away from making an earnest and thorough repentance, then it comes wholly from hell. O sinner, let a friend warn you of the enticing appeal of a smiling devil it will be your eternal shipwreck if you do not close yours ears, and neglect his enchanting music; but, on the other hand, do not be afraid of the devil when he howls like Cerberus [the mythical three-headed dog], for he is simply seeking to frighten you away from the gate of heaven; do not pause for him, but be firmly persuaded that the inward goad which urges you forward is in the hand of Jesus, who desires to hurry you to the house of refuge which he has built. Do not think that your sharp pains are given to you by the old murderer, for they are the effects of the knife of ‘the beloved Physician.’ Many a man undergoing a surgical operation cries out as if he were about to he killed; but if patience had its perfect work, he would look to the end more than to the means. It is indeed hard to rejoice under the heavy hand of a chastising Jesus; but it will be somewhat easier for you if you bear in mind that Jesus, and not the devil, is now chastening you for your sins.
2. Sorrow ascribed to being nothing more than an awakened conscience.
It is also very common that there are cases where the genuineness of conviction is doubted, because it is conceived to be merely an awakened con-science, and not the real lasting work of Jesus by his Holy Spirit. This may well be a cause of anxiety, if we reflect that the mere awakenings of con-science so often prove to be of no avail. How many reformations have begun by the power of conscience, and have soon crumbled beneath temptation like an edifice of sand at the approach of the sea! How many prayers have been forced out like untimely figs by the warmth of a little natural feeling! But such prayers have been displaced by the old lan-guage of indifference or iniquity. It is only just, therefore, that the anxious inquirer should very honestly examine his feelings to determine whether they are of God.
Conscience is that portion of the soul upon which the Spirit works in convincing of sin; but conscience cannot of itself produce such a real death to sin which must be the experience of every Christian. It may, when stirred up by a powerful sermon or a solemn act of provi-dence, alarm the whole town of Man‑soul; but the bursting of the gates and the breaking of the bars of iron must come from another hand.
Natural conscience may be distinguished from supernatural grace by its being far more easily appeased.
A small bribe will suffice to stop the mouth of a conscience which, with all its boasted impartiality, is yet as truly depraved as any other portion of the man. We marvel at the Christian minister when he speaks of conscience as ‘God's Administrative Deputy,’ calling it the judge who cannot be bribed, whereas the slightest obser-vation would suffice to convince any man of the corruption of the conscience. How many com-mit acts of gross sins, yet their unenlightened conscience utters no threat; and even when this partial censor does pronounce sentence of condemn-ation, how easily will the slightest promise of reformation avert his wrath, and induce him to ‘sugar-coat’ the sin!
Conscience, when thoroughly aroused, will speak with a thundering voice; but even his voice cannot wake the dead spiritual resurrection is the work of Deity alone. We have seen men swept with a very tornado of terrible thoughts and serious emotions; but the hot wind has passed away in an hour, and has left no blessing behind it. There is no healing beneath the wings of a merely natural repent-ance, and its worthlessness may be proved by its transitory existence.
Conscience will be content with reformation; true grace will never rest until it observes regeneration. Let us each be anxious to be possessors of nothing short of a real inward sorrow for sin, a deep sense of natural depravity, a true faith in the Lord Jesus, and actual possession of his Spirit; whatever falls short of this, lacks the vital elements of religion. If such is our feeling now if we now pant for Jesus in all his glorious offices to be ours forever, then we need not fear but that H e has wounded us in love, and is bringing us to his feet. If we now feel that nothing but the blood and righteousness of Christ Jesus can supply the desires we deplore, we may rejoice that grace has entered our heart, and will win the victory. A soul under the influence of the Holy Spirit will be insatiable in its longings for a Saviour; you might as well attempt to fill a ship with honour, or a house with water, as trying to fill a truly emptied soul with anything except the Lord Jesus. Is your soul hungering with such a hunger that husks will not satisfy you? Are you thirst-ing until ‘your tongue clings to the roof of your mouth’ for the living water of life? Do you hate abhor all counterfeits, and look only for the true gold of the kingdom? Are you determined to have Christ or die? Will nothing less than Jesus alleviate your fears? Then be of good cheer; arise, He calls you; cry to him, and he will assuredly hear you.
Again, we think an excellent test may be found in the length of time which these feelings have endured.
The awakenings of an unrenewed conscience soon pass away, and are not usually permanent in their character. Arising in a night, they also perish in a night. They are acute pains, but not chronic; they are not a part of the man, but simply incidents in his history. Many a man drops the compliment of a tear when justice is at work within him; but wiping that tear away, sunshine follows the shower, and all is over. Have you, my reader, been a seeker of the Lord for a little while? I beseech you not to take it for granted that you are under the influence of the Spirit, but plead with God that your own instability may not once more be manifest in again forgetting what manner of man you are. O you whose momentary warmth is but as the crackling of blazing thorns, this is not the fire from heaven; for that glorious flame is as eternal as its origin, being sustained by Omnipotence. O you ‘Pliables,’ who turn back at the first difficulty, crowns and kingdoms in the realms of the blessed are not intended for such a person as you! Unstable as water, you shall not excel! Your lying vows have been heard in heaven so often that justice frowns upon you. How you have lied to God, when you have promised in the hour of sickness to turn to him with a sincere heart? Your violated promises will be swift witnesses to condemn you, when God shall retrieve from the archives of the past the testimonies of your treachery!
What can be more worthy of your solemn consideration than the words of Solomon,- ‘he who is often reproved, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy’ (Proverbs 29:1 ). It will be terrible for some of you, my readers, who have abounded with hypocritical repentances when the Lord shall bring you into judgment. You have no excuse for your ignorance; you cannot cloak your guilt with darkness; ‘you knew your master’s will, but you did not do it.’ You vowed in deceit; you prayed in mockery; you promised with falsehood. Surely, your own lips will say ‘Amen!’ to the vehement denunciation which shall call you ‘cursed;’ and the chambers of your memory will, from their sin stained walls, reverberate the sentence, ‘Cursed! cursed! cursed!’
But has the penitent reader been under the hand of God for some time? Have his convictions been lasting? Do they bring forth the fruits of a real longing after Jesus? Then let him be of good cheer. The river which never runs dry is the river of God; the lighthouse which endures the winds and waves is founded on a rock; and the plant which is not pulled up our heavenly Father has planted. The ‘stony -ground’ hearer lost his growth when the sun had risen with burning heat; but if out of an honest and good heart you have received the word which remains forever, then you are one of those upon the good ground. When the light remains in one position for a long time, it is not likely to be an ignis fatuus [illusion]; but that which leaps continually from place to place, even the peasant knows to be the will‑o’‑the‑wisp, and nothing more. True stars do not fall; shoot-ing stars are not stars at all, but various gases which have held together long enough, and now blaze at bursting. Rivers which, like Kishon, only flow with temporary torrents, may be useful to sweep away an invading army, but they cannot fertilize the surrounding country: so temporary conviction may bring destruction upon a host of sins, but it is not the river which makes glad the city of God. The works of God are abiding works; he does not build houses of sand which fall at the rise of the flood, or at the rushing of the wind. Have you, O convinced soul, been long under the hand of sorrow? then take heart, this is all the more likely to be the hand of the Lord. If you feel, at all appropriate hours, a strong desire to seek his face, and pour out your heart before him, then doubtless you are one of those who will be called ’sought out,’ and you shall dwell in ‘a city not forsaken’ (Isaiah 62:12 ). The morning cloud moves on because it is just a cloud; but the rain and the snow do not return to heaven void, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud: if your soul buds with desires, and brings forth prayers and tears, then we have hope for you that God has sent his word from above to dwell in your heart.
Best of all, when we despair of all of our accomplishments and capabilities; then indeed the Lord is there.
So long as we cling in the least degree to self, then we have ground to distrust the reality of the work within. The Spirit is a humbling spirit, and God sends him that he may humble us. Every wound given by the Saviour is accompanied by the voice, ‘This is against your self‑righteousness.’ Without this process of cutting and wounding, we would imagine ourselves to be something, whereas we are nothing; we should think our fig leaves to be as excellent as court robes, and our own filthy rags as white as the spotless robe of Jesus. Have you, my friend, been learning the lesson, that ‘whatever is woven of nature must be all unravelled before the righteousness of Christ is put on?’ (Thomas Wilcocks) Do you now perceive that ‘nature can provide no suitable ointment to cure your soul?’ Are you despairing of all healing from the waters of Abanah and Pharpar? (2 Kings 5:12 ) And will you now gladly wash in the Jordan and be clean? If this is your case, then you are no stranger to the influences of Jesus' grace on your heart; but if not, then all your repentances, your tears, your sighs, your groans, are for nothing, being but dross and dung in the sight of the exacting Jehovah. Self is the fly which spoils the whole pot of ointment; but Jesus is the salt which makes the most poisonous river to become pure. To be weaned from our own works is the hardest weaning in the world. To die not only to all ideas of past merit, but to all hopes of future attainments, is a death which is as difficult as that of the old giant whom ‘Greatheart’ slew. And yet this death is an absolute requirement before salvation, for unless we die to everything but Christ, we can never live with Christ.
The carnal professor talks a lot about faith, sanctification, and perfection; but in all these things he offers sacrifice to himself as the great author of his own salvation: like the Pharaoh of old, he writes on the rocks, ‘I conquered these regions by these my shoulders.’ But this is not true for the person who has really been taught by the God of heaven; he bows his head, and ascribes his de-liverance wholly to the grace of the covenant God of Israel. By this, then, can your state be tested Is self annihilated, or not? Are you looking upward, or are you hoping that your own arm shall bring salvation? Thus you may best understand how your soul stands with regard to a work of grace. That which strips the creature of all attractiveness, which mars the beauty of pride, and stains the glory of self‑sufficiency, is from Jesus; but that which exalts man, even though it make you moral, gracious, and outwardly religious, is of the devil. Do not fear not the blow which strikes you to the ground the lower you lie the better; but avoid that which puffs you up and lifts you to the skies. Remember the Lord has said, ‘And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish’ (Ezekiel 17:24 ). Always be one of the low trees, for then Jesus will exalt you. He brings down the mighty from their seats of honour, but he exalts the humble and meek. None are nearer mercy's door than those who are farthest from their own; none are more likely to get a good word from Jesus than they who have not one word to say for themselves. He that is clean has escaped from the hands of self, and does not have even one step between himself and acceptance. It is a good sign of a high tide of grace, when the sands of our own righteousness are covered. Take heart that Christ loves you, when you have no heart for the work of self‑saving. But never, never hope that a devout manner, a re-spectable demeanour, and upright conversation, will justify you before God
‘For the love of grace
Do not put that flattering unction on your soul;
It will only hide and coat the ulcerous place,
While rank corruption, mining all within,
Once more: when our sorrowful feelings drive us to a thorough renunciation of sin, then we may hope.
How many there are who quickly talk of a deep experience, of corruption, and of indwelling sin, who never sincerely re-nounced their evil ways! But how vain is all their idle talk, while their lives show that they love sin, and delight in transgression! He that is sorry for past sin, will be doubly careful to avoid all present acts of it. He is a hypocrite before God who talks of a change on the inside when there is no change on the outside. Grace will enter a sinful heart, even though it is exceedingly vile; yet it will never make friends with sin, but will at once begin to drive it out. A person has entirely mistaken the nature of divine grace, who conceives it to be possible that he can be a par-taker of it and yet be the slave of lust, or allow sin to reign in his mortal body. The promise is ’Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon;’ but we do not read of a single word of comfort to him who continues on in his iniquity. Though the high and lofty One will stoop over a wounded sinner, he will never do so while the weapons of rebellion are still in his hands.
‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked.’ Justice will never remove the siege simply because of our cries, or promises, or vows: the heart will still be enshrouded with terrors as long as the traitors are harboured within its gates. The Spirit says, by the mouth of Paul, ‘Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter’ (2 Corinthians 7:10 , 2 Corinthians 7:11 ). There is no true re-pentance to eternal life which does not have such blessed companions as these. Isaiah said, ‘Therefore by this the iniquity of Jacob will be covered; and this is all the fruit of taking away his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altar like chalkstones that are beaten to dust, when wooden images and incense altars do not stand up’ (Isaiah 27:9 ). No sooner does repentance enter the heart than down goes every idol, and every idolatrous altar. He whom the Lord calls will, like Gideon (Judges 6:28 ), tear down the altar of Baal, cut down the wooden image, and burn the bull; like Phinehas (Numbers 25:7 ), his javelin will pierce through lusts; and, as the sons of Levi (Exodus 32:26-27 ) at the bidding of Moses, he will go through the camp, and kill his brother, his companion, and his neighbour his hand will not spare, neither will his eye pity: right hands will be cut off, and right eyes plucked out; sin will be drowned in floods of godly sorrow, and the soul will desire to be free from that which it hates and detests. As Thomas Scott remarks, in his Treatise on Repentance,
‘This is the grand distinction between true repentance and all false appearances. Though men be abundant in shedding tears, and make the most humiliating confessions, or most ample restitu-tion; though they openly retract their false principles, and are zealous in promoting true religion; though they relate the most plausible story of experiences, and profess to be favoured with the most glorious manifestations; though they have strong confidence, high affections, orthodox sentiments, exact judgment, and ex-tensive knowledge: yet, except they “do works meet for repentance, all the rest is nothing” they are still in their sins. For the tree is known by its fruit; and “every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Yea, though Cain)s terror, Judas's confession and restitution, Pharaoh's fair promises, Ahab's humiliation, Herod's reverencing the prophet, hearing him gladly, and doing many things the stony‑ground hearer's joy together with the tongue of men and angels, the gifts of miracles and prophecies, and the knowledge of all mysteries, were combined in one man, they would not prove him a true penitent, so long as the love of one lust remained unmortified in his heart, or the practice of it was allowed in his life.’
Ask yourself, then, this all‑important question, How is my soul affected by sin? Do I hate it? Do I avoid it? Do I shun its very shadow? Do I sincerely renounce it, even though by my weakness I fall into it? Rest assured if you cannot give a satisfactory answer to these questions then you are still very far from the king-dom; but if, with an honest heart, you can de-clare that sin and yourself are at an utter enmity, then ‘the seed of the woman’ is born in your heart, and there dwells the hope of glory.
Believer, the hour is fresh in our memory when the divorce was signed between ourselves and our lusts. We can rejoice that we have now dissolved our league with hell. But, oh how much we owe to sovereign grace! for we would have never left the garlic and fleshpots of Egypt if the Passover bad not been slain for us. Our inward man rejoices greatly at the recollection of the hour which proclaimed eternal war be-tween ‘the new creature in Christ Jesus’ and the sin which reigned unto death. It was a night to be remembered: we crossed the Rubi-con peace was broken old friendships ceased the sword was unsheathed, and the scabbard thrown away. We were delivered from the power of darkness, and brought into ‘the king-dom of God's dear Son;’ and henceforth we no longer serve sin, but the life which we live in the flesh is a life of dependence on the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. Let us testify that we never knew what it was to have peace with God until we had ceased to parley with sin. We did not receive one drop of true comfort until we had renounced forever the former lusts of our ignorance: till then our mouths were filled with wormwood and gall, until we had cast out our iniquities as loath-some and abominable; but now, having renounced the works of darkness, ‘we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand’ (Romans 5:1 , Romans 5:2 )
If you, O reader, can satisfactorily answer the solemn inquiries proposed here to you, thy case is assuredly in the hands of Jesus the Lord; if you have continually grieve over your sin, have renounced yours own works, and escaped from your lusts, then you are none other than one called of God to grace and glory. You can be assured that natural conscience can never rise to such a height as this it may skim the sur-face, but it cannot climb up into the air. Mere nature never poured contempt on human righteousness, and never severed man from his sins. It needs a mighty one to carry away the gates of the Gaza of our self‑sufficiency, or to lay our Philis-tine sins into heaps upon heaps. God alone can send the sun of our own excellency backward the needed degrees of humility, and he alone can command that our sins stand still forever. It is Jesus who has struck you down, for with one blow he has dethroned you, and with another disarmed you. He is accustomed to performing wonders; but such as these are his own peculiar miracles. No one but he can kill with one stone two such birds as our high‑soaring righteousness and low‑winged lust. If Goliath's head is taken from his shoulders, and his sword snatched from his hand, no doubt the conqueror is the Son of David. We give all glory and honour to the adorable name of Jesus, the Breaker, the Healer, our faithful Friend.
3. Doubt about the divine character of the wounds.
It frequently occurs that the circumstances of the person at the time of conversion afford grave cause to doubt the divine character of the woundings which are felt. It is well known that severe sickness and prospect of death will produce a repentance so much like genuine, godly sorrow, that the wisest Christians have been misled by it. We have seen many and heard who have expressed the deepest contrition for past guilt, and have vehemently cried out for mercy, with promises of change apparently as sincere as their confessions were truthful who have conversed sweetly of pardon, of joy in the Spirit, and have even related ecstasies and marvellous manifestations; and yet, with all this, have proved to be hypocrites, by returning at the first opportunity to their old courses of sin and folly. It has happened to them according to the proverb, ‘But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit, and, a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’ [2 Peter 2:22 ].
Pious Mr. Booth writes, ‘I pay more attention to people's lives than to their deaths. In all the visits I have paid to the sick during the course of a long ministry, I never met with one , who was not previously serious, that ever recovered from what he supposed the brink of death, who after-wards performed his vows and became religious, notwithstanding the very great appearance there was in their favour when they thought they could not recover.’ We also find, at our fingertips, in a valuable work, (Arvines’s Cyclopaedia of Anecdotes) the following facts, which are but specimens of a mass which might be given: me ‘A certain American physician, whose piety led him to attend, not only to people's bodies, but to their souls, stated that he had known a hundred or more instances in his practice, of persons who, in prospect of death, had been apparently converted, but had subse-quently been restored to health. Out of them all he did not know of more than three who devoted themselves to the service of Christ after their recovery, or gave any evidence of genuine conversion. If, therefore, they had died, as they expected, have we not reason to believe that their hopes of heaven would have proved terrible delusions? A pious English physician once stated that he had known some three hundred sick persons who, soon expecting to die, had been led, as they supposed, to repentance of their sins, and saving faith in Christ, but had eventually been restored to health again. Only ten of all this number, so far as he knew, gave any evidence of being really regenerated. Soon after their recovery they plunged, as a general thing, into the follies and vices of the world. Who would trust, then, in such conversions?
Such examples serve as a holy warning to us all, lest we too should only feel an excitement produced by terror, and should find the flame of piety utterly quenched when the cause of alarm is withdrawn. Some of us can trace our first serious thoughts to the bed of sickness, when, in the loneliness of our bedroom, ‘we thought about our ways, and turned our feet to your testimonies’ (Psalms 119:59 ). But this very circumstance was at the same time a source of doubt, for we said within ourselves, ‘Will this continue when my sickness is removed, or shall I not find that my apathy returns, when again I enter on the business of the world?’ Our great anxiety was not that we might die, but that if we lived, that we would find our holy feelings clearly gone, and our piety evaporated. Possibly our reader is now sick, and this is his trouble: let us help you through it. Of course, the best proof you can have of your own sincerity is that which you will receive when health returns, if you continue steadfast in the faith of Jesus, and follow on to know him.
Perseverance, when the pressure is removed, will discover the reality of your repentance. The natural wounds inflicted by Providence are healed soon after the removal of the rod, and therefore folly is not removed from the heart; but when Jesus strikes us for our sin, the wounds will smart even when the instrumental rod of correction is removed, while ‘Blows that hurt cleanse away evil’ (Proverbs 20:30 ). We, who had many mock repentances before we really turned to the living God, can now see the main spring of our error. Every thief loves honesty when he finds the jail uncomfortable; almost every murderer will regret that he killed a man when he is about to be executed for his crime: here is the first point of distinction which we beg our reader to observe.
That repentance which is genuine arises not so much from dread of punishment as from fear of sin. It is not fear of being damned, but the fear of sinning, which make the truly humbled cry out for grace. True, the fear of hell, prompted by the threatenings of the law, do work in the soul much horror and dismay; but it is not hell that appears so exceedingly dreadful , but sin becoming exceedingly sinful and abominable, which is the effectual work of grace. Any man in his right mind would tremble at everlasting burnings, and especially when by his nearness to the grave the heat of hell does, as it were, scorch him; but it is not every dying man that hates sin no one does so unless the Lord has had dealings with their souls. Say then, Do you hate hell or hate sin most? for, truly, if there were no hell, the real penitent would love sin not one bit more, and hate evil not one speck less. Would you love to have your sin and heaven too? If you would, you do not have a single spark of divine life in your soul, for one spark would consume your love to sin. Sin to a sin‑sick soul is so desperate an evil that it would scarcely be straining the truth to say that a real penitent had rather suffer the pains of hell without his sins than enter the bliss of heaven with them, if such things were possible. Sin, sin , sin, is the accursed thing which the living soul hates.
Again: saving repentance will most easily manifest itself when the subjects of our thoughts are most heavenly.
By this we mean, if our sorrow only gushes forth when we are musing upon the doom of the wicked, and the wrath of God, we then have reason to suspect its evan-gelical character; but if contemplations of Jesus, of his cross, of heaven, of eternal love, of cove-nant grace, of pardoning blood and full redemp-tion bring tears to our eyes, we may then rejoice that we sorrow after a godly sort. The sinner awakened by the Holy Spirit will find the source of his stream of sorrow not on the thorn‑clad sides of Sinai, but on the grassy mound of Calvary. His cry will be, ‘O sin, I hate you, for you murdered my Lord;’ and his mournful dirge over his crucified Redeemer will be in mournful words
‘Twas you, my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear;
'Twas you that pulled the vengeance down
Upon his guiltless head;
Break, break, my heart, oh burst mine eyes,
And let my sorrows bleed.’
You who love the Lord, give your approval to this our declaration, that love melted you more than wrath, that the wooing voice had more affect on you than the condemning sentence, and that hope impelled you more than fear. It was when viewing our Lord as crucified, dead, and buried that we most wept. He with his looks made us weep bitterly, while the stern face of Moses caused us to tremble, but never laid us prostrate confessing our transgression. We sorrow because our offence is against Him , against his love, his blood, his grace, his heart of affection. Jesus is the name which subdues the stubborn heart, if it is truly brought into subjection to the Gospel. He is the rod which brings waters out of the rock, he is the hammer which breaks the rock into pieces.
Furthermore, saving repentance will render the conscience exceedingly tender, so that it will be, pained to the core at the very recollection of the smallest sin.
Natural repentance cries out at a few great sins, which have been most glaring and heinous and even more so if some visitor points them out as crimes of the blackest colour; but when it has executed one or two of these on the gallows of confession, it is content to let whole hosts of less notorious of-fenders escape without so much as a reprimand. Not so the man whose penitence is of divine origin he hates the whole race of the Evil One; like Elijah he will cry, ‘Let no one escape;’ he will cut up to the best of his power every root of bitterness which may still remain, nor will he willingly harbour a single traitor in his breast. The secret sins, the everyday offences, the slight errors (as the world would say), the harmless follies, the little transgressions, the small faults, all these will be dragged forth to death when the Lord searches the heart with the candle of his Spirit.
Jesus never enters the soul of man to drive out one or two sins, nor even to overcome a band of vices to the exception of others; his work is perfect, not partial; his cleansings are complete baptisms; his purifyings tend to remove all our dross, and consume all our tin. He sweeps away from the heart its dust as well as its Dagons [false gods]; he does not allow even the most insignificant spider of lust to spin its cobweb on the walls of his temple. All heinous sins and private sins, youthful sins and manhood's sins, sins of omission and of commission, of word and of deed, of thought and of imagination, sins against God or against man, all will combine like a column of serpents in the desert to frighten the newborn child of heaven; and he will desire to see the head of every one of them broken beneath the heel of the destroyer of evil, Jesus, the seed of the woman. Do not believe yourself to be truly awakened unless you abhor sin in all its stages, from the embryo to the ripe fruit, and in all its shades, from the commonly allowed lust down to the open and detested crime. When Hannibal took an oath of perpetual hatred to the Romans, he included in that oath plebeians [working-class] as well as patricians [aristocrats]; so if you are indeed at enmity with evil, you will abhor all iniquity, even though it is of the very lowest degree. Beware that you do not hold to the fact that being fearful of one sin is the same as having repentance for all sins.
There are, doubtless, other forms and phases of doubt, but our space does not allow us to mention more, nor does the character of the volume require that we should dwell upon more of these than are the most usual causes of grief to the Lord’s people. We beseech the ever gracious Spirit to reveal the person of Jesus to every afflicted sinner; to anoint his eyes with eye salve, that he may see the heart of love which moves the hand of rebuke, and to guide every mourning seeker to the cross, where pardon and comfort ever flow. It is none other than Jesus who brings us to our senses by showing us his displeasure, and chastises so that we might think rightly; may the Holy Spirit lead every troubled one to believe this encouraging doctrine, then shall our heart's desire be granted.
We cannot, however, bring our remarks to a close until again we have urged the duty of self-examination, which is clearly the most important and most neglected of all religious exercises.
When we think how solemn is the alternative ‘saved’ or ‘damned,’ we cannot but demand that our readers, if they love their souls, to ‘examine themselves as to whether they are in the faith.’ Oh! remember that soon, it will be all too late to decide this question, since it will cease to be a ques-tion. The time will have passed for hopeful changes and gracious discoveries; the only changes will be to torments more excruciating, and discoveries then will but reveal horrors more and more terribly astounding. It is not any won-der that men should anxiously inquire con-cerning their position; we might marvel more that the most of them are so indifferent, so utterly careless about the things of the kingdom of heaven. It is not our body, our estate, our liberty, which we should be concerned about, rather it is a something of far weightier value our eternal existence in heaven or hell. Let us carefully inspect our innermost feelings; let us search what manner of men we are; let us rigidly scrutinise our heart, and learn whether it is right with God or not. Do not let the good opinion of our fellowmen mislead us, but let us search for ourselves, lest we be found like the mariner who bought his bags of one who filled them not with food but with stones, and he, relying on the merchant's word, found himself in the broad ocean without a morsel of food. Yet if good men tell us we are wrong, let us not despise their opinion, for it is a lot easier to deceive ourselves than the elect. He was not far from the truth who said, ‘We strive as hard to hide our hearts from ourselves as from others, and always with more success; for, in deciding upon our own case, we are both judge, and jury, and executioner; and where sophistry cannot overcome the first, or flattery the second, self‑love is always ready to defeat the sentence by bribing the third a bribe that in this case is never refused, because she always comes up to the price’ (Colton). Since we are liable to be self-deceived, let us be all the more vigilant, giving most earnest heed to every warning and reproof, lest the very warning which we slight should be that which might have shown us our danger.
Many tradesmen are ruined by neglecting their books; but he who frequently updates his accounts will know his own position, and avoid such things as would be hazardous or destructive. No ship was ever wrecked by the captain's over‑anxiety in checking his longitude and latitude; but the wailing sea bears sad witness to the fate of careless mariners, who forgot their chart, and recklessly steered onward to rocks which prudent foresight would easily have avoided. Let us not sleep as do others, but rouse ourselves to persevering watchfulness, by the solemn consideration that if we are, in the end, mistaken about our soul's condition, the error can never be amended. Here, if one battle is lost, a hopeful commander expects to retrieve his fortunes by future victory; but let us once fail to overcome in the struggle of life, our defeat is everlasting. The bankrupt merchant cheers his spirit with the prospect of commencing trade again business may yet prosper, competence may yet bless him, and even wealth may consent to fill his house with her hidden treasures; but he who finds himself a bankrupt in another world, without God, without Christ, without hope, must abide for ever penniless, craving, with a beggar's lip, the hopeless gain of one poor drop of water to cool his burning tongue. When life is over for the unrighteous, all is over -where the tree falls there it must forever lie; death is the Medusa's head [a head covered with snakes for hair, horrifying our condition he that is unholy, shall be unholy still, he that is unjust, must be unjust still. If there were the most remote possibility of rectifying our present errors in a future state of existence, we might have some excuse for superficial or infrequent investigation; this, however, is utterly out of the question, for grace is stopped by the grave. If we are in Christ, all that heaven knows of unimaginable bliss, of inconceivable glory, of unutterable ecstasy, shall be ours most richly to enjoy; but if death shall find us without Christ, horrors surpassing thought, terrors beyond the dreams of despair, and tortures above the guess of misery, must be our doleful, desperate doom. How full of trembling is the thought, that multitudes of those who professed Christ are now in hell: although they, like ourselves, once wore a goodly name, and hoped, as others said of them, that they were ripening for glory; whereas they were fattening themselves for the slaughter, and were drugged for execution with the cup of delusion, dreaming all the while that they were drinking the dregs of the wine.
Surely, among the damned, there are none more horribly tormented in the flame than those who looked forward to walking the golden streets, but found themselves cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. The higher the pinnacle from which we slip, the more fearful will be our fall; crownless kings, pauper princes, and starving nobles, are all the more pitiable because of their former condition of affluence and grandeur: so also will fallen professors of Christ have a sad pre-eminence of damna-tion, from the very fact that they were once esteemed rich and wealthy. When we consider the vast amount of unsound profes-sion which prevails in this age, and which, like a smooth but shallow sea, scarcely conceals the rocks of hypocrisy when we review the many deplorable falls which have lately occurred among the most eminent in the Church, we would lift up our voice like a trumpet, and with all our might entreat all men to be sure of their grounds of trust, lest it should come to pass that sandy foundations should be discovered when total destruction has rendered it too late for anything but despair.
O age of profession, put yourself in the cru-cible! O nation of formalists, take heed lest you receive the form and reject the Spirit! O reader, let us each commence a thorough trial of our own spirits!
‘Oh! what am I? My soul awake,
And an impartial survey take:
Does no dark sign, no ground of fear
In practice or in heart appear?
‘What image does my spirit bear?
Is Jesus formed and living there?
Say, do his characteristics divine
In thought, and word, and action, shine?
‘Searcher of hearts! oh search me still,
The secrets of my soul reveal;
My fears remove, let me appear
To God and my own conscience clear.
‘May I at that blessed world arrive,
Where Christ through all my soul shall live,
And give full proof that he is there,
Without one gloomy doubt or fear.’
III. We close our chapter by the third remark the wounds of our Jesus were faithful. -
Here proof will be entirely unnecessary, but we think meditation will be a pro-fitable engagement. Ah! brethren, when we were groaning under the chastening hand of Jesus, we thought him cruel; do we think so ill of him now? We conceived that he was angry with us, and would be merciless; but how our surmises proved to be utterly unfounded!
The abundant benefit which we now reap from the deep ploughing of our heart is enough in itself to reconcile us to the severity of the process. Precious is that wine which is pressed in the winefat of conviction; pure is that gold which is dug from the mines of repentance; and bright are those pearls which are found in the caverns of deep distress. We might never have known such deep humility if He had not humbled us. We would have never been so separated from trusting in our flesh had He not by his rod revealed the corruption and disease of our heart. We would have never learned to comfort the feeble‑minded, and strengthen the weak, had he not made us ready to do so. If we have any power to console the weary, it is the result of our remembrance of what we once suffered for here lies our power to sympathise. If we can now look down with scorn upon the boastings of vain, self-conceited man, it is because our own boastful strength has utterly failed us, and made us contemptible in our own eyes. If we can now plead with ardent desire for the souls of our fellowmen, and especially if we feel a more than common passion for the salvation of sinners, we must attribute it in no small decree to the fact that we have been chastised for sin, and therefore now know that the terrors of the Lord are constrained to persuade men.
The laborious pastor, the fervent minister, the ardent evangelist, the faithful teacher, the powerful intercessor, can all trace the birth of their zeal to the sufferings they endured for sin, and the knowledge they thereby attained of its evil nature. We have always drawn the sharpest arrows from the quiver of our own experience. We find no sword blades so true in metal as those which have been forged in the furnace of soul‑trouble. Aaron’s rod, that budded, did not bore half as much fruit as the rod of the cove-nant, which is laid upon the back of every chosen child of God; this alone may render us eternally grateful to the Saviour for his rebukes of love.
We may pause for a moment over another thought, if we call to mind our deep depravity. We find within us a strong and deep-seated attachment to the world and its sinful pleasures; our heart is still prone to wander, and our affections still cleave to things below. Can we wonder then that it required a sharp knife to sever us at first from our lusts, which were then as dear to us as the members of our body? so foul a disease could only be healed by frequent doses of bitter medicine. Let us detest the sin which rendered such rough dealing necessary, but let us adore the Saviour who did not spare the child because of his crying. If our sin had been like the hyssop, on the wall, our own hand might have gently snapped the roots; but having become lofty as a cedar of Lebanon, and firmly settled in its place, only the omnipotent voice of Jehovah could help to break it: we will therefore not complain of the loudness of the thun-der, but rejoice at the overturning of our sin. Will the man who is asleep in a burning house murmur at his deliverer for shaking him too roughly in his bed? Would the traveller, totter-ing on the brink of a precipice, scold the friend who startled him from his daydream, and saved him from destruction. Would not the harshest words and the roughest usage be acknowledged most heartily as blows of love and warnings of affection. Best of all, when we view these matters in the light of eternity, how little are these slight and momentary afflictions com-pared with the doom they helped us escape, or the bliss attained afterwards! Standing where our ears can be filled with the wailings of the lost, where our eyes are grieved by sights of the hideous torments of the damned contemplating for an instant the immeasurable depth of eternal misery, with all its deprivation, desperation, and aggravation considering that we at this hour might have been personally enduring the doom we deplore surely it is easy work to overlook the pain of our conviction, and bless with all sincerity ‘the hand which rescued us.’ O hammer which broke our shackles, how can we think ill of you! O angel which struck us on the side, and let us out of the prison, we do nothing but love you! O Jesus, our glorious deliverer, we want to love you, live for you, and die for you! seeing that you have loved us, and have proved that love in your life and in your death. Never can we think of you as being unmer-ciful, for you were mercifully severe. We are sure that not one stroke fell too heavily, nor was it too painful. You were faithful in all your dealings, and our songs shall exalt you in all your ways, even when you cause groans to proceed from our wounded spirits. And when our spirits shall fly toward your throne of light, though in their unceasing hallelujahs your tender mercies and lovingkindnesses shall claim the highest notes, yet, in the midst of the rapturous hosannahs, shall be heard the psalm ‘of remem-brance’ sounding forth our praise for the rod of the covenant and the hand of affliction. While here on earth we hymn your praise in humbler strains, and thus adore your love‑
‘Long unafflicted, undismayed,
In pleasure's path secure 1 strayed,
You made me feel your chastening rod,
And straight I turned unto my God.
‘What though it pierced my fainting heart,
I bless the hand that caused the smart,
It taught my tears awhile to flow,
But saved me from eternal woe.
‘Oh! had you left me unchastised,
Your precepts I had still despised,
And still the snare, in secret laid,
Had my unwary feet betrayed.
I love you, therefore, O my God,
And breathe towards your dear abode,
Where, in your presence fully blest,
Your chosen saints forever rest.’
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER
In this chapter you have parted company with the Christian. You could join with him while he did not esteem Jesus, but now that Christ has begun to wound the conscience of his child, you bid him adieu, and proudly boast that you are not such a miserable character. Notwithstanding this, I am unwilling to part with you until I have again earnestly reasoned with you.
You think it is a blessing to be free from the sad feelings we have been describing, but let me tell you it is your curse your greatest, deadliest curse that you are a stranger to such inward mourning for your guilt. In the day when the Judge of heaven and earth shall divide tares from wheat, you will see how ter-rible it is to be an unregenerate sinner. When the flames of hell get hold of you, you will wish in vain for that very experience which now you consider nothing. It will not go well for you; your hour of death is as sure as another man’s and then one better than I shall convince you of yours error.
Do not laugh at weeping souls, do not consider them to be in a pitiable plight; for sad as their condition ap-pears, it is not half so sad as yours, and there is not one of all those moaning penitents who would change places with you for an hour. Their grief is greater joy than your bliss; your laughter is not so sweet as their groans; and your pleasant estate is despicable compared with their worst distress. Besides, remember those who are now in such darkness will soon see the light, but you shall soon walk in increasing and unceasing darkness. Their sorrows shall be ended; yours are not yet commenced, and when commenced shall never know a conclusion. Theirs is hopeful distress; yours will be hopeless agony. Their chastisement comes from a loving Jesus; yours will proceed from an angry God. Theirs has a certain end: ETERNAL SALVATION; your end will be: EVERLASTING DAMNATION. Oh! think for a moment, would you rather choose to have painless shame and so perish, than to feel soreness in your wounds and then receive a cure? Would you rather lie and rot in a dungeon than bruise yourself by climbing the wall to escape? Surely you would endure anything rather than be damned and I beg you to take this for truth, that you shall either repent or burn; you shall either shed tears of penitence here, or else shriek in vain for a drop of water in that pit which burns with unquenchable fire.
What do you say to this? Can you dwell with devouring flames? Can you put up with the eternal burnings? Ah! Do not be mad, I entreat you. Why should you destroy yourself? What good will come of it when your blood shall be laid at your own door? Have you not sinned? Why then do you think it foolish to repent? Has not God threatened his fierce wrath to him that goes on in his iniquity? Why then despise those whom grace has turned around, and who therefore are constrained to bid you to turn from the error of your sinful ways? May the Lord stop your madness in time, and give you repentance, other-wise, ‘Tophet was established of old, yes, for the king it is prepared. He has made it deep and large; its pyre is fire with much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, kindles it’ (Isaiah 30:33 ).
A Sermon (No. 1227) delivered on Lord’s Day Morning by C. H. Spurgeon, April 4th, 1875, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
“The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” Proverbs 27:7 .
It is a great blessing when food and appetite meet together. Some have appetite and no meat, they need our pity; others have meat but no appetite, they may not perhaps win our pity but they certainly require it. We have heard of a gentleman who was accustomed to take an early morning walk and frequently met a poor man hastening to his labor. One morning he said to him, “I have to walk thus early of a morning to get a stomach for my meat.” “Ah,” said the other, “and I have to trudge to work thus early to get meat for my stomach.” Neither of them was quite satisfied with his position: the happy conjunction of the appetite and the food could alone secure content. Are we thankful enough when we have both?
It has often happened that men have been so luxuriously fed that appetite has departed from them altogether. The Israelites when they were in the wilderness became at last so squeamish that though they were fed with the bread of heaven, and for once men did eat angels’ food, yet they said, “Our soul loatheth this light bread;” and thousands in the world are in great danger of falling into the same condition, for the rarest luxuries are unenjoyed by them. They pick and choose as if nothing were good enough for them, and like the old Roman gluttons they require sea and land, earth and air to be ransacked for their gratification, and then crave pungent sauces and strange flavourings ere they can eat. The fact is, the old proverb is true, that the best sauce for meat is hunger, and while the confectioner and the cook may labor with a thousand arts to produce a dainty dish, nature teaches us the way to enjoy our meat; namely, not to eat it till we want it, and then to partake of only so much as our bodies require. That hunger gives a relish even to objectionable diet is certain. Our forefathers found it possible to live upon food which we could not touch. Even so late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the mass of the poor seldom tasted wheaten bread but fed on rye or barley cakes, and often had to be content with bread made of beans, peas, tares, oats, or lentils, and even these had to be frequently mixed with acorns. They had a saying that “hunger setteth his foot in the horse’s manger,” meaning that food which was only fit for horses was devoured by men in the time of famine. Those delicate people who are for ever complaining of this and that and regretting the “good old times,” would change their tune if they had a trial of such fare, and could earnestly pray to be projected again into the times in which we live.
The rules which apply to the bodily appetite equally hold true of the mind. We easily lose our taste for anything of which we have our fill. Many men of the world have gone the round of amusement, and now nothing can please them; they have worn out all their playthings and are tired of every game. Poor things, more wearied of their follies than the slave by his servitude! For them laughter and mirth have become ghastly mockeries, men singers and women singers are no delight, and instruments of music are discordant, gardens and palaces are dreary, and treasures of art a vexation of spirit. By the road of folly they have reached the very point to which Solomon came with all his wisdom, and like him they cry “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
In a higher order of things the same process can be observed. In the pursuit of knowledge men may come to loathe honeycombs through sheer repletion. Many a literary man has reached such a condition of fastidiousness that the books which he can enjoy are as few as the fingers of his hand. With a toss of the head he passes by volumes with which ordinary readers are charmed. His delicate poetical taste is shocked by the hymns which delight his countrymen, and his ear is tortured by the tunes to which they are sung. For my part, I would sooner retain the power of enjoying a simple hymn sung to a tune which delights the multitude, than find myself proclaimed king of critics, and I would sooner be able to sit down and read a child’s story book with interest, than rise into the sublime condition of those literary gentlemen who glance over every book with a sharp critical eye, and see nothing meriting their attention; in fact, never will see anything worth reading unless the book is written by themselves or one of their party. “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
I should not have said so much upon this principle of our nature if it had not happened to enter into religion. It is upon religious fastidiousness that I have to speak this morning. Men in the things of God have not always an appetite for the sweetest and most precious truth. The gospel of Jesus revealed from heaven is full of marrow and fatness, but the condition of men’s minds is such that they cannot perceive its excellence, but regard it as a tasteless thing at best, while some even treat it as though it were wormwood and gall to them. They feed upon the husks of the world with greedy relish, but turn from the provisions of mercy with disdain. They are full of the meat from the flesh pots of Egypt, and for the bread of heaven they have no desire; nor will they till the Holy Spirit quickens them into spiritual life and makes them feel the keen pangs of spiritual hunger.
The three points of my discourse will be as follows: first, that Jesus Christ is in himself sweeter than the honeycomb ; secondly, there are those that loathe even him ; and then thirdly, blessed be his name, there are others who appreciate him . “To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
I. Let us begin then with the assured truth that Jesus Christ is himself sweeter than the honeycomb . Whether you believe it or not the fact remains, the incarnate Word is sweeter than honey or the honeycomb: whether it be your privilege to revel in the delightful knowledge of his love or not, that love will still be equally precious. That Jesus Christ is sweeter than the honeycomb is clear if we consider who he is and what he gives and does. If you think of it you will see that it must be so . Our Lord is the incarnation of divine love. The love of God is sweet, and Jesus is that love made manifest. “God so loved the world,” I pause to ask how much? Where shall we see at a glance the fullness of that love? Turn your eyes to Jesus, he alone answers the question. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” There bleeding upon Calvary we see the heart of the Father revealed in the pierced heart of his only-begotten Son. Jesus is the focus of the love of God. The boundless goodness of the ever-loving God finds its best expression in the person of the Redeemer: surely then he must be sweet beyond compare. When God takes his love and culls the choicest flower from it, and hands it down to earth for men to gaze upon it as the token of his favor, we may be sure that its fragrance surpasses conception. God is love, and when that love is concentrated in one individual that it may be afterwards diffused through multitudes, there must be an infinite sweetness in that blessed person. Judge ye what I say; must it not be so?
Moreover, Jesus Christ is in himself the embodiment of boundless mercy to sinners, as well as love to creatures. God loved men, for he had made them, but he could not bless them for he must judge them for their offenses. Lo, Jesus Christ has vindicated the divine honor, satisfied the law, and now the mercy of God can descend freely to men, even to the rebellious and the undeserving. He who would find mercy, let him look where Jesus died upon the tree and he shall find it blooming freely from the crimsoned ground. He who would behold mercy in all its plenitude, let him go where Jesus stands with open hands welcoming the vilest of the vile to the feast of love, cleansing their every stain, and robing them in garments of salvation. He must be sweet from whom such sweetness flows that he makes the foulest and most offensive of mankind acceptable to God. If his merits turn our hell to heaven, our gall of bitterness into joy and peace, it is not possible that even the honeycomb dripping with virgin honey should fitly set him forth. Ye bees that wander over fairest flowers, your choicest gatherings can never rival the quintessences of delight which must dwell in one in whom the mercy of God is concentrated.
Ye poverty-stricken sons of men, Christ must be sweet for he meets all your wants. Sweet is liberty to the captive, and when the Son makes you free you are free indeed; sweet is pardon to the condemned, and Jesus proclaims full forgiveness and salvation; sweet is health to the sick, and Jesus is the great physician of souls; sweet is light to those who are in darkness and to eyes that are dim, and Jesus is both sun to our darkness and eyes to our blindness: all that men can want, all that the most famished souls can pine after, is to be found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, and therefore sweet he must be.
He is sweet because whenever he comes into a man’s heart, he breathes into it the sweetness of abounding peace. Oh the rest our souls have known when we have leaned upon his bosom! “The peace of God which passeth all understanding” has kept our heart and mind by Jesus Christ. Our soul has drank nectar from his wounds. Nor has it been bare peace alone, the glassy pools of rest have bubbled up into fountains of joy. In Jesus we have rejoiced and do rejoice and will rejoice all the day. No happiness can be more divine than the bliss of knowing him and feeding upon him and being one with him. All the true peace and joy that are known on earth I might have said that are known in heaven among the ransomed throng all come through Jesus Christ our Lord whose name is the sum of delights. Those spices must be sweet indeed from which the sacred oil of joy distill; that honey must be infinitely sweet of which one single drop fills a whole life with rejoicing.
It is clear that sweet our Lord must be, because his very name is redolent of celestial hope to believers. No sooner do we taste of Jesus than, like Jonathan in the wood, our eyes are enlightened and we see the invisible; the veil is taken away and we behold a way of access to our Father God and to the joys of his right hand. Once understand that Jesus has borne our sins and carried our sorrows, and we see that the felicities of eternity are prepared for us. His name is the open sesame of the gates of Paradise; learn but to pronounce the name of Jesus from your heart as all your confidence, and you have learned a magic word which will scatter troops of opposing foes, and will open the two-leaved gates, and cut the bars of iron in sunder if they stand betwixt your soul and heaven. Since Jesus is all this and vastly more than any human tongue can tell, it is clear upon the very face of it that he must be sweet.
But we are not left to the supposition and inference that it must be so; we know it is so . Our Lord is as the honeycomb, for he is sweet to God himself. The taste of the High and Holy One, who shall venture to judge? What the Lord himself calls sweet must be sweet indeed. Now the very smell of Christ’s sacrifice, nay, I will go further, the very smell of that which was the type of Christ in the days of Noah, was so pleasing to God that it is written, “The Lord smelled a sweet savour, and the Lord said in his heart, I will no more destroy the earth with a flood.” If the very smell of that which was but the emblem of the bleeding Lamb was grateful to Jehovah, how sweet to the divine Father must the Lord Jesus himself be in his actual sacrifice. Why, the very sight of the blood and mark you, not the blood of Christ, but only the blood of a lamb slain in type of Christ the very sight of that blood sprinkled on the lintel turned away the destroying angel from Israel of old, for the Lord said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” Now if a mere glimpse of the type of Jesus’ atoning blood be so satisfactory to the heart of God, what must the sight of Jesus be? for he has been obedient to death, even the death of the cross. If I had time I might mention the many ways in which our Lord is set forth in Scripture as being sweet to the Father; all the senses are represented as being gratified; the Lord hears his voice crying from the ground and answers it with blessing; he tastes his sacrifice as wine which makes glad the heart of God, and he feels his touch as the Daysman laying his hand both upon judge and offender. In every possible way Jesus is most sweet and pleasant to the divine mind. Hear how the Lord declares from the highest heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake. Now, if the heart of Deity itself is satisfied and filled to the full with content, there must be an infinite sweetness in the person of the Lord Jesus. That honeycomb must be sweet with which the Triune God is satisfied.
Moreover our Lord Jesus is sweet to the angels in heaven. Did they not watch him when he was here below with careful eyes? When first they missed him from the courts above they flew with eager haste to discover where he was, and when they found that he was come to this poor planet, they made the night bright with their radiance, and sweet with their chorales. While he tarried here they watched his footsteps, they ministered to him in the wilderness and in the garden, and at other times they waited in their legions eager to deliver him if he would but have beckoned them to use their celestial weapons. When they saw him at last, ready to ascend, I can well believe that the poet’s words are no fiction but describe a fact
“They brought his chariot from on high
To bear him to his throne;
Clapp’d their triumphant wings and cried,
‘The glorious work is done.’”
He was “seen of angels,” and was very dear and precious to them. Surely he who attracts all those bright intelligences, and causes them to gaze upon him unceasingly, and pay him divine honors, must be sweet indeed.
Sweet is Christ, beloved, for it is his presence that makes heaven what it is. You are in a garden and smelling a dainty perfume, you say to yourself “Whence cometh this?” You traverse the walks and borders to discover the source of the pleasant odour and at last you come upon a rose: even thus if you were to walk amongst those fruitful trees which skirt the river of the water of life you would perceive a peerless perfume of superlative delight, but you would not have to ask yourself, “Whence comes this fragrance?” There is but one rose even in the Paradise of God which is capable of scattering such perfume of joy, and that is the “Rose of Sharon,” that famous “plant of renown” which has diffused fragrance over both earth and heaven. Well may he be sweet to us since when he was broken like the alabaster box of precious ointment, he filled all the chambers of the house of God both above and below with an unrivalled sweetness.
If you want proof from nearer home let me remind you how sweet the Well-beloved is to his own people. What was it that first attracted us to God? Was it not the sweetness of Christ? What was it that banished all the bitterness of our fears? Was it not the sweetness of his pardoning love? What is it that holds us so that we cannot go, which enchains us, seals us, nails us to the cross, so that we can never leave it? Is it not that he is so sweet that we shall never find any to compare with him, and therefore must abide with him because there is nowhere else to go? Brethren and sisters, I appeal to you who know Jesus, are ye not satisfied? I mean not only satisfied with him, but satisfied altogether? Does he not fill and over-fill your souls? When you enjoy his presence, what other joy could you imagine? When he embraces you, have you any heart left for other delights? Do you not say, “He is all my salvation, and all my desire.” My cup runneth over, my Lord Jesus, when I have communion with thee.
“Jesus, to whom I fly, Doth all my wishes fill;
What though the creature streams are dry,
I have a fountain still.”
All the saints will tell you that Christ is most sweet and altogether lovely, and some of them will confess that sometimes his sweetness overcomes them, carries them right away, and bears them out of themselves. The eagle wings of Jesus’ love uplift us to the gates of heaven, and this will happen to us even when there is nothing on earth to make us happy, and all without and within is dark. When the poor body is full of pain and every nerve is unstrung by disease, even then Jesus comes and lays his fingers amid the strings of our poor nature until, charmed by his touch, they pour forth a music which might teach the harps of heaven his praise. In his presence our heart is glad beyond all gladness; we are beatified if not glorified. Would God it might be always so. My dear Lord and Master is very sweet, but my lips fail me and I blush at my poor attempts to speak his praises.
One thing that proves how sweet he is is this he removes all bitterness from the heart which truly receives him. The quassia cup of sickness is no longer bitter when a drop of his love falls into it. In his society, sick beds grow into thrones wherein the invalid does not so much pine as reign; the lonely chamber becomes a royal reception room, the hard bed becomes a couch of down, and the curtains are transformed into banners of love. So too, his love digs out of the garden of life the roots of the rue of care and the wormwood of anxiety. A man may be vexed with a thousand anxieties, but in communion with Christ he will find rest unto his soul. The delectable hydromel of fellowship with Jesus effectually drowns the taste of the world’s bitterness. Saints in persecution have found the love of Christ cleanse their mouths from every taste of hatred’s gall; they have been able to bear imprisonment and think it liberty, to regard chains as ornaments, to find the rack a bed of roses, and the blazing stake a chariot of fire to bear them to their reward. If a child of God were called in the pursuit of duty to swim through a sea of hell’s most bitter pains, yet with the honied sweetness of Christ’s love in his mouth would not so much as taste the sea of gall. As to death, we have learned to swallow it up in victory; surely its bitterness is past. Where else find you such delicious dainties? Where else such all-subduing sweetness? Jesus is bliss itself.
Thus have I shown sufficiently that facts have proved that Jesus is sweet as the honeycomb, but I detain you just a moment to notice that he is incomparably so . Honey, I might almost say, is not only sweet, but sweetness itself. Whether I am right or not in speaking thus of honey, I shall be right enough in saying it of Jesus Christ: he is not only sweet, but sweetness itself. We need not say of him that he is good, for he is essential goodness. He is not only loving, but love. Whatever good thing you may seek in the world you shall find it thinly spread here and there upon good men, as God deals out these precious things by measure; but the fullness of all good you shall find in Jesus Christ. He is not the sweet odour, but the ointment which gives it forth; he is not the rill, but the fountain from which it springs; he is not the beam of light, but the sun from which it proceeds. Honey is the conglomeration and compounding of a thousand sweets. The bees visit all sorts of flowers, knowing by a cunning wisdom denied to us where all dulcitudes are hidden: they take not only the nectar of the ruddy rose but also of the snow-white lily, and gathering ambrosia from all the beauties of the garden they thus concoct a luscious sweetness altogether unsurpassable. Even thus my Lord is all excellences compounded and commingled in divine harmony, a rare confection of all perfections to make one perfection, the meeting of all sweetnesses to make one perfect sweet. They said of Henry the Eighth that if all the lineaments of a tyrant had been lost, they might have been painted afresh from his life; and surely we may say of Christ that if all the sweetness and light of manhood had been forgotten, if all the love of mothers, the constancy of martyrs, the honesty of confessors, and the self-sacrifice of heroes, had departed, you would find it all treasured up in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Each bee as he performs his many journeys selects what he thinks best, and brings it to the common store, and I doubt not they have each a dainty tooth, so that each one chooses the best he finds. Oh ye preachers of the gospel, ye may each seek out the richest thoughts and words ye can to set out about my Lord. Oh, ye who are the mighty orators of the church, ye may utter the choicest language of poetry or prose, and so you may bring all sweets together, but you shall never match the altogether peerless sweetness which dwells in the person and work of Jesus the well-beloved.
Honey is a healthy sweet, though many sweets are not so. Children have been made sick and even poisoned by berries whose sickly sweetness has decoyed them to their hurt, but as for our Lord, the more you feed on him the more you may. Christ is health to the soul, yea, strength and life. Eat, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. Hast thou found honey? eat not too much, but hast thou found Jesus? eat to the full, and eat on still if so thou canst, for never shalt thou have too much of him.
II. Secondly there are those who loathe the sweetness of our Lord. This shows itself variously. Some loathe him so as to trample on him, and this I find to be the translation given in the margin, “The full soul tramples on a honeycomb.” God have mercy upon these boastful ones who persecute his saints, revile his name, and despise his gospel. If there be any such here, may sovereign mercy change their hearts, or a fearful judgment awaits them.
Others show that they loathe Christ because they are always murmuring at him; if they do not find fault with the gospel itself, they rail at its ministers. Nobody can please them. John comes neither eating nor drinking and they say he hath a devil; the Master comes eating and drinking and they say behold a man gluttonous and a wine bibber. One man preaches very solemnly and they call him heavy, another mingles humor with his discourse and they accuse him of frivolity; one minister uses a lofty rhetoric, he is too flowery; another speaks in simpler style, he is vulgar. This generation like the generations which have gone before, cannot be satisfied, but it is Jesus they are discontented with. O ye carping critics of the gospel, you find fault with the dish but it is a mere excuse, you do not like the meat. If you hungered after the meat you would not molest the platter on which it is served; but because you love it not you complain of the dish and the carver.
Often this loathing is shown by an utter indifference to the gospel. The great mass of our fellow-citizens will not attend a place of worship at all, or if they do attend it is but seldom; and when they come they leave their hearts behind them, so that the word goes in at one ear and out at the other. The suffering Savior is nothing to them; heaven and hell are nothing to them; whether they shall be lost or saved is nothing to them. Thus they show their loathing.
Perhaps some here present loathe our Lord at bottom, and yet think not so. They attend to his word, but what is the attention? They care for Jesus, but they care so little that it leads to no practical result. Some of you after ten years of hearing the gospel are still unconverted, and after twenty years of the enjoyment of gospel privileges you still have never tasted the honey of the word. If you thought it sweet you would have tasted of it before now: you loathe it, or else you would not let it stand right under your nose untasted for years. You must be surfeited or you would not allow this honeycomb to lie untouched so long. You have meant to eat of it, you say. Yes, but I never knew a hungry man sit without eating for six hours at a table, meaning to eat all the while. No, he lays to as soon as grace has been said, and in your case the grace has been said a great many times, and yet you sit with the sweets of mercy before you and refuse to eat thereof. I cannot account for it on any other theory but that there is a secret loathing in your soul.
This loathing is manifest by many signs. There is the Bible, a book of infinite sweetness, God’s letter of love to the sons of men. Is it not dreadfully dry reading! A three-volume novel suits a great many far better. That is loathing the honeycomb. There is the gospel ministry. Sermons are dull affairs, are they not? Now, I will admit that some sermons are dreary and empty as a desert, but when Christ be honestly and earnestly preached, how is it you are so weary? Others are fed, why do you complain? The meat is right enough, but you have no appetite for it for the reason given in the text. When a man loathes Christ he finds prayer to be bondage, and if he carries it on at all, it is a very dull exercise yielding no enjoyment. As to meditation, that is a thing neglected altogether by the godless many. The Sabbath with some persons is a very weary day, they are glad when it is over. I heard one say the other day he thought the Sabbath ought to be spent in recreation; upon which a friend replied that he wished he might find true re-creation, for he needed to be created anew in Christ Jesus, and then he would judge the Sabbath to be the best day of the week. Alas, these dull Sabbaths and these dreary preachers, and this dull praying and singing, and all this weariness, are sure signs that you are full souls and therefore loathe the honeycomb.
This loathing comes of a soul’s being full, and souls may be full in a great many ways. Some are full because they have never yet discovered their natural depravity and nothingness, have never known that they are condemned by the law of God. These full souls who are what they always were, good people as they have always been from their birth, do not want a Savior, and therefore they despise him. Why should those that are whole value a physician? Is he not intended for the sick? Alas for you full ones, for your time of hunger will come when there will be no more feasts of love, and then as Dives could not obtain a drop of water you also will be denied a crumb of consolation.
Some people are full with enjoying the world. They have wealth and they are perfectly content with it; or they have no wealth but still they are pleased with the grovelling pursuits of their class. Their thoughts never rise; they are like the cock on the dunghill that scratched up a diamond and said, “I would sooner have found a grain of barley.” They are satisfied if they have enough to eat and drink and wear, but they think not of divine things. They are full of the world and therefore loathe the honeycomb.
Some are full of confidence in outward religiousness. They were christened when they were babes and they were confirmed, and if that does not save people what will? A bishop’s hands laid on you! Think of that!! Since that they have taken the sacrament, and they have always been told that if you go regularly to your place of worship, and especially if you pay twenty shillings in the pound you will do very well at least if you do not what will become of your neighbors? These full souls do not appreciate free grace and dying love, and salvation by the blood of Christ seems to them to be but idle babble.
Some are full of self-conceit they know everything they are great readers and profound philosophers. Their thoughts have dived to the bottom of infinity; they are so nice in their criticisms that they
“Can a hair divide Betwixt the west and north-west side!”
It is not possible to satisfy them. The knowledge of Christ crucified is foolishness and a stumbling-block to them.
Others are full of the pride of rank. Yes, they are very glad to hear that the poor people hear the gospel, and they have no doubt that the plain preaching of the gospel is very useful to the lower orders, but respectable people who live in the West End and ride in carriages do not require such preaching; they are too respectable to need saving, and so their full souls loathe the honeycomb.
But we need not stop any longer talking about them, for we shall do them no good as long as they are full. If the angel Gabriel were to preach Christ to them it would be as a sounding brass and as a tinkling cymbal. Serve up the meat as well as you may, but never will it be appreciated till the guest has an appetite. The Lord send them an appetite by the work of his Holy Spirit!
III. And so I close with the third point, which is this there are some who do appreciate the sweetness of Christ . I would to God I could find such out this morning. Hungry souls we are, brethren. If you are hungry after pardon, mercy, and grace, I remember when I was in your condition. What would you give to have Christ? “I would give my eyes,” says one. Give him your eyes then by looking to him and you shall have him. “What would I give,” saith one, “to be delivered from my besetting sin! I hunger after holiness.” Soul, you may have deliverance from besetting sins and have it for nothing. Jesus Christ has come into the world to save his people from their sins, and looking to him he will deliver you from that disease which now makes you love sin, and he will give you a taste for holiness and a principle of holiness by the Holy Ghost, and you shall henceforth become a saint unto God. He turns lions into lambs and ravens into doves; nothing is impossible with him. You have but to trust your soul with him and you shall have pardon, peace, holiness, heaven, God, everything.
Those who hunger are those then who know the sweetness of Christ, but they must do more than that: being hungry they must feed , for though the text does not say so, it is very clear that merely being hungry does not make meat sweet, it is only sweet when you eat it. If meat were placed where we could not reach it and we were hungry, we should be inclined to think it bitter, after the model of the fox and the grapes in the fable. If there were a Savior but we could not reach him, it would make our life still more miserable. Poor soul, if you want Christ receive him, it is all you have to do. The bread is before you, eat it. The fitness which is needed for eating is an appetite you have it: lay to then, by holy faith; receive Christ into yourself and he will be sweet indeed to you.
The text says that the hungry man’s appetite makes even bitter things sweet. Is there anything bitter in Christ? Yes, there was much in him that was bitter to himself, and that is the very sweetest part to us. Those pangs and griefs of his, and woes unutterable, and bloody death, how bitter! The wormwood and the gall were his, but to our believing soul these bitter things are honeycombs. Christ is best loved when we view him as crucified for us.
There are other bitters with Christ. We must repent of sin, and to carnal minds it is a bitter thing to hate sin and leave it; but to those who hunger after Christ repentance is one of the daintiest of graces. Christ requires of his people self-denial and self-sacrifice, and unrenewed nature nauseates these things, but souls eager after Jesus are glad to deny themselves, glad to give of their substance, glad even to suffer hardships for his dear sake; even bitter things for him are sweet.
There are doctrines also which are very distasteful to carnal minds; they cannot away with them, they are angry when they are preached even as those who left our Lord when he said “Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, there is no life in you.” Those who hunger after Christ prize the doctrines of grace; only let them know what Jesus teaches and every syllable is at once acceptable to their minds.
It may be there are ordinances which you shrink from; you have felt baptism especially to be a cross, but when your soul fully knows the sweetness of Christ and your mind perceives that it is his ordinance, you feel at once that the bitter thing is sweet to you for his dear sake. Possibly you may have to suffer some measure of persecution and be despised and nick-named for Jesus’ sake. Thank God they cannot imprison you and put you to death, but even if they could, if you have an appetite for Christ you will eat the bitter herbs as well as the Paschal Lamb and think that they do well together. Christ and his cross you will give your love to both and shoulder the cross right bravely, and find it a sweet thing to be despised for the love of Jesus Christ your Lord.
Have but an appetite for Christ and the little prayer meeting, though there be but few poor people at it, will be sweet to you. That poor broken-down preaching which is the best that the minister is able to give, will become sweet to you because there is a savor of Christ in it. If you can only get a leaf torn out of the Bible, or half a leaf, it will be precious to you. Even to hear a child sing a hymn about Christ will be pleasant. You remember Dr. Guthrie, when dying, asking his friend to sing him “a bairn’s hymn.” He wanted a child’s hymn then; a little simple ditty about Christ was what the grand old man desired in his departing moments; and when your soul hungers after Jesus Christ you will love simple things if they speak of him. You will not be so dainty as some of you are. You must have a comfortable cushion to sit upon; when you are hungry you are glad to stand in the aisles. Full souls must needs have a very superior preacher; they say of the most successful evangelist, there is nothing in him, he only tells a lot of anecdotes: but when you are hungry you will rejoice that the man preaches Christ and the faults will vanish. I remember my father telling me when I was a boy and did not like my breakfast, that he thought it would do me good to be sent to the Union-house for a month and see if did not get an appetite. Many Christians need to be sent under the law a little while and Moses would cure them of squeamishness, so that when they came back to Jesus and his love they would have a zest for the gospel.
The lesson from all this is pray for a good appetite for Christ , and when you have it keep it . Do not spoil it with the unsatisfying dainties of the world, or by sucking down modern notions and sceptical philosophies those gingerbreads and unhealthy sweetmeats so much cried up now-a-days. Do not waste a good appetite upon anything less sweet than the true honeycomb. When you have got that appetite for Christ, indulge it . Do not be afraid at any time of having too much of Christ. Some of our brethren seem alarmed lest they should grow perfect against their wills. Dear brother, go into that river as far as you please, there is no likelihood of your being drowned. You will never have too much grace, or peace, or faith, or consecration. Go in for the whole thing; indulge your appetite to the very full. We cannot say it to our children with honey before them, but we may say it to God’s children with Christ before them “Eat, yea, eat abundantly.”
Pray the Lord to give other people appetites . It is a grand thing to hear of ten and twenty thousand rushing to hear the gospel; I hope it is because they are hungering for it. When the Lord gives the people the appetite I am certain he will find them the meat, for it is always true in God’s family that whenever he sends a mouth he always sends meat for it, and if any one of you has a mouth for Christ this morning, come to him and be filled to the full.
While you pray to God to give others an appetite, try and create it . How can you create it? Many an appetite has been created in the streets amongst poor starving wretches by their passing the place where provision is prepared the very smell of it has made their mouths water. Tell sinners how happy you are; tell sinners what Christ has done for you; tell them how he has pardoned you, how he has renewed your nature; tell them about your glorious hope, tell them how saints can live and die triumphant in Christ and you will set their mouth a-watering. That is half the battle; when once they have an appetite they are sure to have the meat. May the Lord the Holy Spirit send that appetite to sinners throughout the whole of London, and to Jesus Christ who satisfies all comers shall be glory for ever. Amen.
The Wandering Bird
A Sermon (No. 3453) published on Thursday, April 8th, 1915, delivered by C.H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
“As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” Proverbs 27:8 .
Solomon spoke from observation. He had seen certain persons of a vagrant kind, and he perceived that they seldom or never prospered. Moreover, he spoke from inspiration as well as from observation, hence the sagacity of the philosopher is in this case supported by the austerity of the preacher. We may therefore take this proverb, first, as the dictate of human wisdom gathered by long experience; and then, next, as the testimony of divine wisdom, commended to us by infallible revelation. The principle it inculcates is alike applicable to the common affairs of life and to the higher pursuits which belong to our spiritual interests.
I. This is the dictate of wisdom .
In the common affairs of life we believe Solomon to be correct in his statement that “as a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” The unrest of that man’s mind, and the instability of his conduct who is constantly making a change of his position and purpose, augurs no success for any of his adventures. Unless he maketh the change very wisely and hath abundant reason for it, he will make a change for the worse as the bird doth that leaveth her nest. Some make a change of their country and fly from their native shores. This is not an ill thing for men to do, for thereby nations have been formed and deserts have been peopled. When a man finds it impossible to provide bread for an increasing family in this country, one of the wisest things that he can do is to cross the sea and seek profitable employment in another land. But there are some spirits of such a moving caste that they seem never to be satisfied at home. They feel persuaded that if they were under other skies they would succeed, whereas as a matter of general fact a man who cannot prosper in England will not prosper anywhere, and many of those who have gone abroad would be but too glad to get home again. Without taking great counsel from God and weighing the matter long, it is ill for a man to leave the Christian privileges of this country, let alone other considerations; it is ill I say, to turn aside from the place where sanctuaries are so numerous and where the gospel is so clearly proclaimed, to go abroad where there may be some pecuniary advantages, but where there must be much spiritual loss. Let the man take anxious thought before he goes or else, mayhap, when he finds himself in Australia he will long to be in New Zealand, and when he does not prosper there he will pant for the United States, and not getting on there, he will perhaps be wanting to came back to Old England, and so he will spend the best of his days in vacillating as to where he shall spend them.
The like is also true with respect to a change of occupation. Some persons are one thing to-day but you do not know what they will be to-morrow. Evidently they were not cut out for this, and therefore they think they must have been ordained for that, and as they have not thrived in one line of business they feel certain that they must have made a little mistake, and that if they could get into another line they would prosper. Well, when a man is in error about his calling, if it really be not his calling, let him leave it; but let him first be sure that it is not his calling, for otherwise he will sin against the express words of inspiration. The apostle Paul says “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” that is to say, the occupation or profession in life you were engaged in when you were converted need not be rashly abandoned. Therein you may enjoy communion with God. But if you go running before the cloud, and with presumptuous self-will get out of the path that Providence has assigned you, you will be sure to smart for it. It is ours to follow, never to lead. Where we clearly see our way, thither let us go; and unless we have that way clearly manifested to us let us abide still in our nest.
This also applies to those who want to be always changing their situation and their acquaintance masters never satisfied with their servants, and servants always discontented with their employers. We know many who say, “There are so many temptations in the place where I am; I will try another.” Well, I do not know, dear friends, that you are right. The temptations that trouble me, I would rather endure them than encounter any fresh ones. I may know something about my weakness in the present trial but I cannot know how I might stagger under another. I should recommend you to be rather wary of changing your trials. To exchange one trial for another is all the relief you will get in this world. All is vanity under the sun. The whole creation groaneth together. Amidst sorrow and sighing thus universal, our lot is cast. From the sick man’s bitter experience, as Dr. Watts descries it, we cannot escape
“We toss from aide to side in pain,
But ‘tis a poor relief we gain
I’d shift the place,
but not the pain.”
You may your change your position o’er and o’er again, but you will always be exposed to the temptation. Until you get beyond yonder azure sky, you will never be out of gun-shot of the devil. Evil spirits molest every rank in life. The poor man is sore beset with grievous hardships and the rich man is encompassed with seductive snares. He who toils with his hand may have some cause to complain, but he who toils with his brain will become the victim of a sorer complaint. Should you fly to the utmost verge of the green earth, temptation would still pursue you. Everywhere, while you are in the body, you must keep guard, for temptations and trials are the common portion of all that on this earth do dwell. Be not in a hurry therefore to fly from one scene of temptation to another. If God ordains that your lot should be altered, be it so. It is yours to accept his allotment either with resignation or with gratitude. But be not hasty or heedless in running from one place to another, lest in yielding to the impulse of a moment you forfeit the comfort of a life-time.
It may be that these remarks are peculiarly applicable to some people here present. I cannot tell. When talking about such homely things our words have sometimes proved to be like an oracle for the guidance of those that have come up to God’s house to enquire in his temple. At any rate dear friends, when the mind is unhinged or the feelings chafed, it is not easy to exercise a wise discretion. Wait upon God for guidance as to any change in life you may determine, and if the two things be equal to remain where you are, or to remove elsewhere choose to abide still, for speaking according to man’s judgment, the chances are in its favor. Reason seems to say that, as it is unwise for the bird to wander from her nest, so it is not desirable for you to wander from your place.
Still keeping to the common use of these words let us now turn them to another account. This is most certainly true in changing one’s religious service in the cause of God. We have a niche perhaps in which God has placed us, and we have had some little honor in filling it; but by-and-bye another sphere of labor opens up before us, and like children easily charmed with novelty, we think we could be more useful in doing something else and leaving our old work. Let us be very careful in this matter, for “as a bird that wandereth from her nest so is a man that wandereth from his place.” I admired one thing greatly in our deceased friend, Mr. Worcester, who for so long a time kept the gate outside. When I once asked him whether he could not be serviceable to the church as an elder, he said that if he were elected to it he should decline the office, because, he said, “I can do my work as a gate-keeper but I do not know what I could do as an elder.” So he resolved to stick to the work in which he was acknowledged to do good service. I would have each Christian man do the same.
Some brethren we know have such an itching to get into the pulpit that they are impatient of any other office than the preacher’s. But there are many in the pulpit now-a-days who had better have kept out of it. They were excellent people at prayer meetings; they were very serviceable indeed to give a little address now and then at a cottage-meeting; they would have been useful deacons, exemplary visitors of the sick, and perhaps good city missionaries. But they thought within themselves that the pulpit ought to be blessed by their distinguished abilities, and so they crept up the pulpit stairs as little to their own comfort as to the church’s edification; and now had they but the wisdom and the humility to come down again never more to mount them, it would be well. If you be really called to the ministry, then in God’s name do not stand back from it; and if a new sphere of labor opens to you, accept it, resting on your God who can make his strength perfect in your weakness; but be not for ever panting after the highest seats in the synagogue; do not always want the uppermost place at the feast, lest when the King cometh in thou shouldest have with shame to take a lower room. Wait till the King says, “Friend, come up higher”; never go up higher till you have the King’s friendly admonition that the higher place is yours by a call other than your own choice, remembering that “as a bird that wandereth from her nest so is a man that wandereth from his place” from his place, from his proper place in the Church of God, his proper position in the ranks of the Lord’s hosts.
Again, I will use it as a proverb very often applicable to ministers. There may be some here to whom this may come as a powerful rebuke. It is a crying evil just now, especially in our own denomination, that ministers are changing their places. The good old ministers used to occupy one charge for fifty years, and the people used to love them and to hold fast to them. They did not think of moving, they never spoke of resigning any more than fathers speak of resigning their fatherhood because their boys and girls are sometimes disobedient. They weathered the storm. They knew that all parts of the sea are rough, so they did not want to get out of one bay into another as soon as a little storm came on. I do not know but that some preachers are better moving, and probably they would be better if they were moved off altogether. I think when a man remains in service at one place for only about two years he has need to question whether he was called into the ministry at all. God does not generally plant trees in his vineyard that need shifting every two years. God’s trees are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which he hath planted. They can stand on the bare mountain’s brow and see the ages of mortals swept away into the tomb. And so a God-sent minister may stand many years in one place, and see man-made ministers swept away like generations of lichens and mosses because they have no divine life in them. I love to see a Christian minister, I must say, standing fast in his place. We are not to get into a great pet because there was a little disagreement at a church-meeting, or turn round offended because some deacon will not be quite as pliable as we could wish, or because the neighborhood does not seem to increase, or because there are not quite so many conversions as we want. No sirs, if God shall move us let us move; but if he doth not move us, let not the devil do it. Do you know what happens when the bird wanders from her nest? Why, there are her own eggs in the nest, and there is no bird which can sit so well on the eggs as the bird that laid them. And so a Christian minister should recollect that there are some young converts who are his own spiritual children. They are of his own bringing in through divine grace, and ordinarily speaking there is no man who can by any means nurture the young converts like the man who was the means of their conversion. It is well for infants to be brought up by their own mother, and it is a good thing for young converts to be fed under their own spiritual parents. I should not like to trust mine to anybody else for any great length of time. There is always a fear, when the parent bird is away, that the eggs will grow cold and addled, so that when she comes back she will find that she has lost all her trouble. And so when the minister leaves his people and goes away to some other place, there are many of those who did seem to run well who will turn back. This is a sad result; a tale of wasted labor. Besides, the bird knows that, however uncomfortable its nest may be, there is no other nest in the world so comfortable as the one which it has made itself. And the Christian minister must know that there is no other church so comfortable for him as the church which he was the means of forming. “I dwell among my own people,” said the Shunamite. That is my happiness and my joy, to dwell among my own people, and if any man should say to me “Is there anything in life that thou desires? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the hosts?” I would answer, No, there is nothing I desire under heaven but to dwell among my own people; if I may but seek their good and see the Church of God prosper here it shall be all that I ask of my God this side of heaven. Brethren, let us who are in the ministry then, as far as possible, cling to our churches and to our fields of labor, remembering that “as a bird that wandereth from her nest so is a man that wandereth from his place.”
This is equally true of our hearers. Oh! there are some hearers who are sad, sad vagrants. We can have no objection to our hearers going to listen to other ministers if ever they can be edified thereby, for the bird that sits best on the nest must come off sometimes, especially if there is any food to be had elsewhere. Hear anybody that can profit you. I am sure nothing will make me more glad than to know that you are anywhere, as long as your souls are fed. If a Church of England minister preaches the gospel in your neighborhood better than the Baptist minister does to not go and hear the Baptist; and if you find either Baptist or Independent treating you to free will instead of free-grace, do not listen to them but seek out the Presbyterian, and hear him if you find him more sound in the faith; for after all your souls must be fed. That is a matter of necessity. Where you can have all the points of the truth, prefer it, prefer it infinitely; but if you cannot have them all give your chief care to those which possess the greater importance. Seek first, in this case, those things which make most for your souls’ prosperity. But what I do not like is this certain people will join a church, and then after about six months will join another church, and then another, and then another. They ought to have no moss on them, and I suppose they have none, for they have been rolling stones certainly. And then if the minister should die how many there are who are off directly, for now that the church is in a little difficulty they will all get out of it. Brave sailors these! They want to get into the boat when the ship is in a little bit of gale, and they leave the Church of God just when their help is most wanted. Oh! they will come and join the church when the church prospers; yes, any quantity of them; but I wonder, if the pastor went away, whether we should find them all remaining faithful. Too many in our London churches are a sort of flying camp, always flying from one place to another a set of gypsy-Christians who have no settled abode and no “local habitation,” and are about as respectable as the Gypsies with whom I have compared them. Now never let this be said of any of you who love your Lord and who consequently love his Church, but when you are united with his people, say:
“Here would I make my settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, or a guest,
But like a child at home.”
You shall find that your wandering shall do you but little good after all, while in permanent adhesion to the church and a diligent casting in of your whole efforts into the cause of God, shall through the Holy Spirit give your soul prosperity.
But now I shall take my text in another way and try to use the general principle in another sense.
II. Some men wander from their place in spiritual things .
Where is the “place” for a sinner? The place for to sinner is always at the foot of the cross, looking unto Jesus. Alas! then, the tendency in us all is to be looking for evidences, signs, marks, experiences, graces, and I know not what. Having begun in the Spirit we are so foolish and so bewitched that we try to get perfect in the flesh. We know that at the first our only comfort came from simply depending upon the finished work of Jesus, and yet we are so mad that we try to get comfort from that poor flesh of ours, which has already been our encumbrance, and will be our plague till it dies. Now the moment that a Christian wanders away from his place that is, from the simplicity of his faith in Jesus the moment he departs from that standing upon the solid rock of what Christ did and what Christ is, and what Christ has promised, that moment he is like a bird that wanders from her nest. The bird away from her nest has no comfort; the instincts of nature make her feel during her incubation that the nest is her proper place. And when the Christian gets away from the cross, the newborn instincts within him make him feel that he is out of his proper position. The cross is the true rest of a Christian. We are like Noah’s dove, there is no rest for the sole of our feet except in the ark; we may search the world around and fly over the great waste of waters, but there never shall be found rest for us anywhere but at the cross. I confess I sometimes get into that sorry state of feeling, rather as a Christian professor or a minister than as a sinner saved by grace; but I find that I have to come back again to that same place and to sing the old ditty over again:
“Nothing in my hands I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace.”
There is no living comfortably, there is no living with the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit in the heart, if we at once wander from the simplicity of our confidence in Christ.
Further: there are many believers who also wander out of their place. What now is a believer’s place? A believer’s place is on the bosom of his Lord, or at the right hand of his Master, or sitting at his feet with Mary. Now some of us have had times in which we did come very near to the Lord Jesus Christ. Ah! some of you never woke in the morning without thinking of him, and all day long a sense of his presence was in your heart. How you grudged the world the hours you had to give to business; and when you locked up your heart at night you always gave Jesus Christ the key. Oh! how sweet ordinances were to you then because you could see Christ through them, as through windows of agates and gates of carbuncles! So delightful were prayer-meetings and similar gatherings because you saw Jesus there and talked with him! But what about your present state? Perhaps my dear friend you have wandered from your place; you are not living near to Christ as you used to do. Hence ordinances have but very little comfort in them; they are dull and tedious; and services which were once as marrow and fatness to you have now become as dry bones. Your closet, too, is much neglected; your Bible is not studied as it was. You have lost your first love, and I appeal to you, have you not also lost your first comfort? Are you not like a bird that has wandered from her nest? Believe me there is no solid joy, no seraphic rapture, no hallowed peace this side of heaven, except by living close under the shadow of the cross and nestling in the wounds of Jesus. Oh! that we should be so foolish! The bird doth not forget her nest but we do forget our Lord. We have need to say with the Psalmist, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee!” We have need to cry to-night:
“Return, oh! heavenly Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.”
We have wandered from our place, you see, for our place is at Jesu’s feet with Mary, or on Jesu’s bosom with John, or at Jesu’s lips with the spouse in the Canticles saying, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth”; but roaming hither and thither we are like a bird that has wandered from her nest.
And does not this wandering imply a lack of watchfulness? Do I not observe the Christian who was so jealous of himself once that he did not haste to put one foot before the other for fear he should take a step awry? he would not even talk without saying, “O Lord, open thou my lips!” But now he thinks that he is sure to stand and he forgets to guard himself with jealousy. He thinks perhaps that his experience has made him so wise that he will not fall into his former errors, and so he getteth a carnal confidence and forgetteth to stand upon his watch-tower day and night, and watch against his foes. Do you know what sometimes happens to the bird if it leaves its nest? Why, while the bird is away the cuckoo comes and drops its egg in, and so the poor bird when it comes back has to hatch its enemy. And oftentimes when we are not watchful and permit the enemy to take an advantage over us, Satan comes in and drops some foul temptation into our nest, which our hearts help to hatch, and which will give us trouble all our lives. As sure as ever we wander in the matter of watchfulness, it will be for our hurt. We may sleep, but Satan does not. Never was he detected napping yet. There is slothfulness among believers but there is no slothfulness on the part of their adversary. He ever watcheth, going “about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Though you should leave off watchfulness he never will. Oh! Christian, do not leave your nest, for you do not know what may come of it; what good things may be destroyed or what bad things may be deposited! while your heart is away.
Some Christians, too, wander in a yet more melancholy manner as to its outward effect, for we see them wander from holiness. Unhappy church that hath in it many such inconsistent professors! But alas! they are too common in the world. They “did for a time run well; what then did hinder them that they should not obey the truth?” The root of the matter was scarcely in them, for they brought forth fruit only for a season, and by-and-bye they withered away. Ah! well, if there be a Christian here a real Christian who has backslidden and gone into the world, he never will be happy in his sin. A reprobate, after making a profession, may perhaps go back and be comfortable, but a Christian never can. Tell me that you are happy in your sin and I tell you at once that you are dead in sin, for he who puts on guilt must cast off shame. You are in your own element; like a fish in the water you will find it suits your constitution. As a bird could not be happy down in the depths of the sea, it must drown unless it soon be delivered; so the saint of God is wretched in the depths of iniquity; he must speedily perish unless he is brought out. If he falleth into sin through infirmity, or be dragged into it through the force of sudden temptation, he yearneth to be delivered and groaneth and crieth unto God till once more the bones that were broken are made to rejoice. If you wander from holiness you wander from your place. I have known some people who, in order to avoid trouble, have committed a trespass. A Christian man for instance has kept his shop open on a Sunday to prevent bankruptcy, and a mass of troubles rolled in upon him ten times heavier than those he had sought to avert. We have heard of some who have done violence to their conscience just once. In sheer despondency they shut their eyes and swallowed the bitter pill. It did not take five minutes to do it. Their friends said it was wise. Ill advisers told them it was necessary. They thus attempted to extricate themselves from some trying position. But the consequence was that to their dying day the worm of conscience still did gnaw their soul. They have made the rod wherewith God hath scourged them. Mind what you are at then, lest in wandering from holiness you prove yourself like a bird that wandereth from her nest. Oh! how blessed it will be if you and I shall be kept by mighty grace simply relying upon Christ, constantly communing with his person, watchful against the inroads of temptation and persevering in holiness even to the end! Without this there can be no comfort to us.
III. The persecutions we undergo are designed to make every one of us who is a true Christian cling close to his nest .
Consider dear friends the joy which you and I have had when we have been clinging close to Christ. Where else can such sweetness be found as we have found in the love of Jesus? Will a man leave the cool flowing waters from Lebanon to go and drink of the muddy river of another place? Shall a man turn away from the bubbling fountain to seek out for himself a broken cistern? Oh! Let it not be! We who have fed on angels’ food cannot be content with the husks that swine eat. Let us say with Rutherford, “Ever since I have eaten the wheaten bread of heaven, my mouth has been out of taste for the brown bread of Earth, which is full of grit and gravel-stones. I can no longer find sweetness in this world’s joys for I have tasted of joys celestial that are beyond all that earth can give.” Let the joy we have had in Christ constrain us still to cling to him.
Think again of the sorrow we have felt whenever we have wandered. You and I have had backsliding times; let us confess it mournfully. But what wretched times they have always been! What have we ever gained by going away from our Lord but broken bones and sorrow of heart? As we have been burned, let us dread the fire; and as we have had to smart for our wanderings when the watchmen have plucked off our veil and smitten us, let us henceforth cling close to our Beloved. What reason has he even given us to be discontented and go away? Has he been unfaithful to us? “Have I been a wilderness unto you?” he asks. In what respect has he aggrieved us? Has he ever smitten us in his wrath, or treated us harshly for our follies? Never has a friend behaved better to his friend than Christ has behaved to us; and as we can never find a better Savior, let us cling to him all our days. Or can you think that the outlook is dreary? When we think of the joy that is yet to come we have a yet stronger motive to cling to the Savior. We may have to walk with him to-day when the snow blows in our face, but oh! what will it be to walk with him in the sunshine? It may be hard work to keep pace with him, faint may be our heart, and flesh and blood are frail, walking as we now do with him through the mire and dirt, but what will it be to walk in silver slippers upon the golden pavement of the celestial city? It is not so easy to stand with him in the pillory when the multitudes are hooting him; but oh! how joyous it will be with him when the angels are rending the heavens with acclamations, and all the saints are casting their crowns at his feet! To be with him in his trouble is not very sweet to our natural feelings, I know; but what will it be to be with him in his triumph? To be partners in his cross from that we may shrink, but to sit with him upon his throne for that we must eagerly long. Well, as we cannot be crown-bearers without being cross-bearers, let us espouse his cross as we would enjoy his crown. Yet be it known that his cross droppeth with myrrh, and that they who carry it will find it so sweetly perfumed that they shall love the very cross itself because Christ has touched it. From this nest let us never wander, because of the “rest” which “remaineth for the people of God.”
Wander from this nest methinks we cannot, if the love of Christ inflames us; if our love to Christ sustains us. What, wander from him who died for us that we might never die? who lives for us, that we might ever live! What base ingratitude is ours that we do not cling closer to him! Can we give him up? Christians, he gave you the light that cheered your darkness, and can you turn away from the brightness of his face? With pitying eye he saw you when you were lying in your blood an outcast, all forlorn, and he said unto you, “Live,” and can you ever forsake him? He passed by thee, he looked upon thee, he spread his skirt over thee, he covered thy nakedness, he swore unto thee, he entered into a covenant with thee and canst thou now prove treacherous? He redeemed thee, he opened his veins that he might pour forth the purple drops of his precious blood as the price for your inestimable ransom, and can you turn away from him? “Despised and rejected of men” as he was, will you hide your face from him? And while he is still pleading for you, will you cease to plead for him? Now that his chariots are making haste to bring him in the glory of his second advent, will you turn away from him when his kingdom is so near? Shall the wife leave a husband who cherishes her with utmost tenderness? Shall the child neglect its parents under whose roof his every want is supplied? Shall the limbs of one’s body abhor the head? Such strange vagaries were not half so unnatural as for a Christian to turn vagrant and forsake his Savior. Ah! me, unnatural and brutish as it must seem, you and I would do this and more also, did not grace prevent. The love which has made us one with Christ must keep us one with him, or else we shall never hold on our way. Be it then your constant prayer, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” Let this be your heart’s cry, “Abide with us,” for except he abide with us and make our hearts his nest, we shall never abide with him, but shall be as a bird that wandereth from her nest.
Mayhap, I speak to some poor bird which has wandered from its nest. You are a stranger and you have strayed in hither! You recollect a nest in some happy family circle where prayer was wont to be made. You remember the nest in which you were wont to nestle a little village church where you worshipped God with kindred dear. But you have wandered from your nest. You have lost your friends; you have gone into the world; you are a sinner. Conscious you are that you scarcely dare to face the home of your childhood. You have come away from your old haunts, for you are ashamed to continue in them. You have wandered from your nest. And do you mean to wander on? Is yours to be forever the flight of a bird that hath no roost? “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests”; will you never have a place to lay your head? Are you condemned like the unclean spirit to wander through dry places, seeking rest and finding none? Are you a pilgrim who shall never have a city that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God? Are you like the phantom ship of which the mariners talk, which flits across the sea for aye, but never reaches a port? Nay friend, you are not so to account yourself, though the devil hath told you that there is no hope; though he hath driven you to desperation and persuaded you that you are given up of God and man. It is not so; it is not so. The eternal Father, bending from high heaven looks down upon you, and by these lips talks to you. Little as you were thinking that you would be found out, he saith to you “Return, return, return” ‘Tis he who makes you say “I will arise and go unto my Father.” He meets you, prodigal; he falls about your neck; he gives you the kiss of reconciliation. He cries today to the messengers of mercy, “Take off his rags, and bring forth the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and let us eat, drink, and be merry, for he that was dead is alive, and he that was lost is found.” The bird has come back and has found her nest, and as the mother-bird is happy when that little fledgling which she thought had fallen on the ground, or had been swallowed by the hawk, comes back, and she covers it with her feathers and bids it nestle under her warm bosom, so is the Eternal Father happy, and as she rejoices, nay infinitely more, so does the Eternal Father rejoice when the wanderer comes back to him and finds comfort in his love.
Believe thou in the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust thou in the Father’s grace as manifest in the Savior’s wounds, and so thou shalt find an eternal nest from which thou shalt never wander till thou shalt build thy nest in heaven. Amen.
The Best Friend
A Sermon (No. 2627) intended for reading on Lord’s Day, June 18th, 1899, delivered by C. H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington on Thursday evening, February 23rd, 1882.
“ Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.” Proverbs 27:10 .
True friends are very scarce. We have a great many acquaintances and sometimes we call them friends, and so misuse the noble word “friendship.” Peradventure in some after-day of adversity when these so-called friends have looked out for their own interests and left us to do the best we can for ourselves, that word friendship may come back to us with sad and sorrowful associations. The friend in need is the friend indeed, and such friends I say again, are scarce. When thou hast found such a man, and proved the sincerity of his friendship; when he has been faithful to thy father and to thee, grapple him to thyself with hooks of steel and never let him go. It may be that because he is a faithful friend he will sometimes vex thee and anger thee. See how Solomon puts it in this very chapter: “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” It takes a great deal of friendship to be able to tell a man of his faults. It is no friendship that flatters; it is small friendship that holds its tongue when it ought to speak; but it is true friendship that can speak at the right time and if need be even speak so sharply as to cause a wound. If thou art like many other foolish ones, thou wilt be angry with the man who is so much thy friend that he will tell thee the truth. If thou art unworthy of thy friend, thou wilt begin to grow weary of him when he is performing on thy behalf the most heroic act of pure charity by warning thee of thy danger, and reminding thee of thine imperfection. Solomon, in prospect of such a case, knowing that this is one of the greatest trials of friendship among such poor imperfect beings as we are, tells us not to forsake for this reason nor indeed for any other reason the man who has been to us and to our family a true friend: “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.”
I do not think that I should waste your time if I were to give you a lecture upon friendship its duties, its dangers, its rights, and its privileges; but it is not my intention to do so. There is one Friend to whom these words of Solomon are specially applicable, there is a Friend who is the chief and highest of all friends; and when I speak of him I feel that I am not spiritualizing the text in the least. He is a true and real Friend, and these words are truly and really applicable to him; and if ever the text is emphatic it is so when it is applied to him, for there was never such another friend to us and to our fathers; there is no friend to whom we ought to be so intensely attached as to him: “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.”
I want under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to speak upon this subject thus; First here is a descriptive title which may be fitly applied to Christ by very many of us; he is our own Friend and also our father’s Friend. Secondly here is suggestive advice concerning this Friend: “Forsake him not.” And ere I have done I shall say a little upon a consequent resolution . I hope that we shall turn the text into a solemn resolve and say, “My own Friend, and my father’s Friend, I will not forsake.”
I. First then here is a descriptive title for our blessed Lord and Master.
First, he is a Friend , the Friend of man. I know that Young calls him the “great Philanthropist.” I do not care to see that title used just so; it is not good enough for him, though truly the great Lover of man is Christ. Better still is the title which was given to him when he was upon earth, “the friend of sinners.”
Friend of sinners, is his name.
Their Friend thinking of them with love when no other eye pitied them and no other heart seemed to care for them. Their Friend, entering with tenderest sympathy into the case of the lost, for “the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Their Friend giving them good and sound advice and wholesome counsel, for whosoever listens to the words of Christ shall find in his teaching and in his guidance the highest wisdom. Their Friend, giving far more than sympathy and mere words however giving a lifetime of holy service for the sake of those whose cause he had espoused, and going further even than this, doing for them the utmost that a friend can do, for what is there more than that a man should lay down his life for his friend? Friend of man, and therefore born of man, Friend of sinners, and therefore living among them and ministering to them. Friend of sinners, and therefore taking their sin upon himself and bearing it “in his own body on the tree,” so fulfilling Gabriel’s prophecy that he would come “to finish the transgression and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness.”
Christ has done for us all that needed to be done. He has done much more than we ever could have asked him to do or expected him to do. He has done more for us than we can understand even now that he has done it, and more than you and I are likely ever to understand even when our intellect shall have been developed and enlarged to the utmost degree before the eternal throne, for even there I do not think we shall ever fully know how much we owe to the friendship of our best Friend. However self-denying and tender other fiends may be, our Lord must ever stand at the head of the list, and we will not put a second there as worthy of any comparison with him.
Next, it is a very blessed thing to have the Lord Jesus Christ as having been our father’s friend . There are some of us to whom this has been literally true for many generations. I suppose that there is some pride in being the fourteenth earl, or the tenth duke, or having a certain rank among men; but sometimes quietly to myself I glory in my pedigree, because I can trace the line of spiritual grace back as far as I can go to men who loved the Lord, and who, many of them, have preached his Word. Many of you I know in this church and in other churches have a glorious heraldry in the line of the Lord’s nobles. It is true that some of you have had the great mercy of being taken like trees out of the desert and planted in the courts of our God, for which you may well be glad; but others of you are slips from vines that in their turn were slips from other vines, loved and cared for by the great Husbandman. You cannot tell how long this blessed succession has continued; your fathers and your fathers’ fathers as far back as you can trace them were friends of Christ. Happy Ephraim, whose father Joseph had God with him! Happy Joseph, whose father Jacob saw God at Bethel! Happy Jacob, whose father Isaac walked in the fields and meditated in communion with Jehovah! Happy Isaac, whose father Abraham had spoken with God and was called “the friend of God.” God has a habit of loving families; David said “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant and to those that remember his commandments to do them.” Grace does not run in the blood, but often the stream of divine mercy has run side by side with it, and instead of the fathers have been the children whom the Lord has made to be princes in the earth.
Some of you perhaps have fathers and mothers still living whose example you may fitly follow; I charge you never forsake your father’s God, or what is tenderer still, the God of your mother. Others of you have parents in heaven; well, they are still yours; that sacred relationship is not broken. You remember your mother’s last grasp of your hand when she bade you follow her to heaven; you recollect your father’s appeals to you in his long sickness when he pleaded with you to take heed to your ways and not neglect the things of God but seek him in the days of your youth. Well, did you ever hear your father say anything against his God? Did your mother ever in her confiding moments whisper in your ear, “Mary, do not trust in God for he has betrayed your mother’s confidence”? No, I know they did not talk like that, for he was their best friend; and he who was such a Friend to the dear old man whom you can never forget, he who cheered the heart of that gracious matron whose sweet face rises before you now oh, I beseech you, forsake him not! “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.”
Still, the sweetest part of the text lies in these words, “Thine own friend.” I do not think that I can preach on those words; I can take them in my mouth and they are like honey for sweetness, but they must be personally enjoyed to be fully appreciated. There are some precious lines we sometimes sing,
The health is of my countenance,
Yes, mine own God is he;
which exactly describes the blessedness of “thine own friend.”
Now if it be true that Christ is thine own Friend then thou hast spoken with him, thou hast held sweet converse with him, thou hast placed thy confidence in him, thou hast told him thy lost estate and sinfulness, and thou hast reposed in him as thine own Savior. Thou hast put thy cause into his hands, and thou hast left it there. If he be indeed thine own Friend, then he has helped thee. Thou wast a stranger and he has taken thee in; thou wast naked and he has clothed thee; thou wast spiritually sick and in prison and he came to thee and healed thee. Yea, and he wore thy chains and bade thee go free; and he took thy sicknesses and bade thee take his health, and so he made thee whole. Ay, and he restored thee even from the grave, and went into that grave himself, that by his death thou mightest live. Thou knowest that it is so, and day by day thou dost keep up communion with him; thou couldst not live without him, for he is such a Friend to thee, and thou dost rest on him with all thy weight as thou comest up from the wilderness with him, leaning on thy Beloved, “thine own friend.”
Nor is the friendship all on one side, though thy side is a very little one. Thou wouldst make it greater if it were in thy power, for thou hast confessed his name, thou hast united thyself with his people, thou lovest to join with them in prayer and praise. Thou art not ashamed to be called by Christ’s name as a Christian, or to speak well of that name, and thou desirest to consecrate to him all that thou hast. Better than all this, while thou dost call him Friend he also calls thee friend, as he said to his disciples, “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Dare I say the words, yet dare I doubt the truth of the words Jesus is my Friend? There is one we read of in the Bible who was David’s captain of the host, and there was another who was David’s counselor, but there was one man whom we always call “David’s friend, Jonathan;” and I envy him such a title. Yet Jesus gives this name to all those who come and put their trust in him, and so find him to be their Friend.
Now inasmuch as the Lord Jesus is “thine own friend and thy father’s friend,” the injunction of the text comes to thee with peculiar force: “Forsake him not.” Canst thou forsake him? Look at his face all red with bloody sweat for thee; nor his face alone, for he is covered all over with that gory robe wherein he wrought out thy redemption. He that works for bread must sweat, but he that worked for thine eternal life did sweat great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Canst thou forsake him? He stands at Pilate’s bar, he is mocked by Herod’s men of war, he is scourged by Pilate, and all for thee; and canst thou forsake him? He goes up to the cross of Calvary and the cruel iron is driven through his hands and feet, and there he makes expiation for thy guilt; he is thy Friend even to the ignominy of a felon’s death, and canst thou forsake him? He lays his pierced hand on thee and he says, “Wilt thou also go away?” or as he worded it to the twelve, “Ye also will not go away, will you?” So it might be read: “Many of my supposed friends have gone, and so have proved themselves to be not friends but traitors; but ye also will not go away, will you?” And he seems to make an appeal to them with those tearful tender eyes of his “as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set,” “Ye also will not go away, will you?”
And when you turn your eye another way and think not merely of the shame your Friend endured for you, but recollect what is an equal proof of his love, that he is not ashamed of you now that he is in his glory; that amidst the throng of angels and cherubim and seraphim that frequent his courts above, he does not disdain to know that he is the brother of these poor earth-worms down below, for even there he wears the body which proves him to be our next of kin ay, and wears the scars which proved that for us he endured the death-penalty itself, and even now he is not ashamed to call us brethren; as you think of all this can you forsake him? Because you are somewhat better off than you once were, will you leave the little gathering of poor folk with whom you used to worship so happily, and will you go to some more fashionable place where there is music, but little of the music of the name of Jesus where there is gorgeous architecture it may be, and masquerading, and mummery, and I know not what, but little of the sweet savor of his presence and the dropping of that dew which he always brings with him wherever he comes? Oh, it is a pity, it is a sorrowful pity, it is a meanness that would disgrace a mere worldling, when a man who once confessed Christ and followed him must needs turn his back upon his Lord because his own coat is made of better material than it used to be, and his balance at the bank is heavier! I had almost said Then let the Judas go, be his own place what it may it were almost a dishonor to Christ to wish the traitor back. Oh, will ye go away either from the Crucified or from the Glorified, for if ye will forsake this Friend, “Behold, he cometh!” Every hour brings him nearer; the chariots of his glory have glowing axles, and you may almost hear them as they speed toward us; and then what will you do when you have forsaken your own Friend and your father’s Friend and you hear him say, “I never knew you; I never knew you”? God grant that it may never be the lot of any of us here present to hear those awful words!
II. Now I pass on to our second head as the Holy Spirit may help me; it is suggested advice : “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.”
There is to me in the text a suggestion which the text itself does not suggest; that is to say, it suggests something by not suggesting it . The text does not suggest to me that my own Friend and my father’s Friend will ever forsake me. It seems to hint that I may forsake him, but it does not suggest that he will ever forsake me and he never will do so. If the Lord had ever meant to forsake me he has had so many good reasons for doing it that he would have done it long ago. The apostle says of those who are journeying to the better country, that “if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned,” and certainly our blessed Lord and Master, if he had desired to leave us to perish, had many an opportunity to return to heaven before he died; and since then he has had many occasions when he might have said “I really must withdraw my friendship from you,” if he had ever wished to do so. But his love is constant to its line: “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” His is a friendship which never changes. You shall never fall back on him and find that he has withdrawn the arm with which he formerly upheld you. You shall find in life and in death that “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Let us be cheered by the assurance that he will never forsake us.
Now let us go on to what the text does suggest in so many words: it suggests to us the question, in what sense can we forsake Christ? Well, there is more than one sense in which a man may forsake Christ. Two passages rise to my mind at this moment: “Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.” That was one sort of forsaking; they were all afraid and ran away from their Lord in the hour of his betrayal into the hands of sinners; but it is quite another kind of forsaking when we read: “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him.” The first forsaking was the result of a sudden fear, much to be deplored and very blameworthy, but still only temporary in its effects; the other was the deliberate act of those who in cool blood refused to accept Jesus Christ’s doctrine or to follow him any farther, and so turned back and walked no more with him. This last forsaking is incurable. The former one was cured almost as soon as the sudden fear that caused it was removed, for we find John and even Peter following the Master to the judgment hall, and the whole of the disciples soon gathered around him after his resurrection. I would say to you dear friend, “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend forsake not” in any sense at all. Forsake him not even in thy moments of alarm. Pray God then that thou mayest play the man and not forsake him and flee. And then in the other sense, let no quarrel ever arise between you and Christ’s most precious truth, so as to lead you deliberately to leave him, for this is the worst of all kinds of forsaking. If we never forsake him in any sense at all, then it is quite certain that we shall never forsake him in the worst sense. I remember a little merriment I had with a good Wesleyan brother, the clerk of the works, when the Tabernacle was being built. He wanted me to go up a ladder right into those lantern lights, and I said “No, thank you, I would rather not.” “But” he replied, “I thought you had no fear of falling.” “Yes” I answered, “that is quite true, I have no fear of finally falling away; but the belief that the Lord will preserve me does not exercise any evil influence over me, for it keeps me from running unnecessary risks by climbing up ladders; but you good brethren who are so afraid of falling do not seem to show it practically in your conduct, for you go up and down the ladders as nimbly as possible.” I have sometimes met with persons who think that if we believe that we shall never fall so as to perish, we are apt to become presumptuous; but we do not, dear brethren. There are other truths that come in to balance this one, so that what they think might come of it is by God’s good grace prevented; and I am not quite sure that those who think that they may finally fall and perish are sufficiently impressed with that belief so as to be always careful. The fact is that your carefulness of walk does not depend merely upon your view of this doctrine or that; but it depends upon your state of heart and a great many other things besides, so that you have no reason to judge what you might do if you believed such-and-such a truth, because if you did believe it perhaps you would at the same time be a better man, and the possibility that appears to linger around the doctrine would vanish so far as you are concerned. Let this be the language of all of us who love the Lord as we look up confidently and reverently to him,
We have no fear that thou shouldst lose
One whom eternal love could choose;
But we would ne’er this grace abuse,
Let us not fall, Let us not fall.
I know that if we are truly the Lord’s he will not suffer us to forsake him; but I must have a wholesome fear lest I should forsake him, for who am I that I should be sure that I have not deceived myself? And I may have done so; and after all, may forsake him after the loudest professions and even after the greatest apparent sincerity in avowing that I never will turn away from him.
So I ask again in what sense can we forsake our Lord? Well, there are many senses, but perhaps you will see better what I mean if I describe a general process of forsaking a friend. I hope that you have never had to undergo it; I do not know that I ever had; but still I can imagine that it is something like this. The old gentleman was your father’s friend, he also had been your own friend and has done you many a good turn; but at last he has said something which has provoked you to anger, or he has done something which you have misunderstood or misinterpreted; and now you feel very cool towards him when you meet. You pass the time of day and perhaps say very much the same things which you used to say, but they are said in a very different fashion. Now that is how we begin to forsake our God; we may keep up the appearance of friendship with Christ, but it is a very cool affair. We go to a place of worship but there is no enjoyment, no enthusiasm, no earnestness. Then the next thing is that you do not call to see your friend as frequently as you used to do. It has not come to an open rupture between you, so you do look in at certain set times when you are expected, but there are none of those little flying visits and that popping in upon him unawares, just to get a look at his face as you used to do. And on his part he does not come to see you much. And that is how our forsaking of Christ generally continues. We do not go to talk with him as we once did, and when we do go to his house we find that he is not at home. “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” Then by-and-by perhaps there is a sharp word spoken, and your friend feels that you do not want him. You have said something that cuts him to the quick and grieves him. It was not anything so very bad if it had been spoken to a stranger; but to be said to him who was your father’s friend, to him whom you always expected to come in and whom you loved to see to say it to him was very hard and he naturally took umbrage at it. That is how it comes to pass between Christ and professors. There is something done which might not be of so much account in the case of nonprofessors or the openly ungodly; but it is very bad in one who professed to have Christ for his Friend. And do you know what happens by-and-by when your friend is being discarded? At last he does not call at all and you do not go to see him. Perhaps the breach is still further widened and little presents are sent back or treated with contempt. There is that oil painting which your father would have, though he could scarcely afford it, because he loved his friend so much, and which he hung up in so conspicuous a place in his house; well, the other day the string broke and you did not buy a fresh piece of cord to hang it up again; in fact, you put the picture away in the lumber-room and you really do not care what becomes of it. The little tokens of past affection are all put away for there is an open rupture now; and when somebody spoke to you about him lately you said, “Oh, pray don’t mention him to me! He is no friend of mine now. I used to be on intimate terms with him once, but I have altered my opinion about him altogether.” So do some professors act towards the Lord Jesus Christ. Those little tokens of love which they thought they had from him they send back. They do not remain in fellowship with his Church. They do all that they possibly can to disown him. In the meanwhile the blessed Lord of love is obliged to disown them too; and his Church disowns them; and by-and-by the rupture has become complete. May that never be the portion of any of you!
“No,” says one, “it never will be.” My dear friend, if you are so confident as that you are the person about whom I am most afraid. I recollect one who used to pray among us but we had to put him out of the church for evil living; and there was one of our members who said that night, “If that man is not a child of God I am not one myself.” I said “My dear brother, do not talk like that. I would not pit my soul against the soul of any man, for I do know a little of myself, but I do not know other men as well as I know myself.” I am very much afraid that neither of the two men I have mentioned was a child of God; by their speech they seemed to be Christians, but their acts were not like those of God’s people. It does not do for us to talk as that man did but to pray to the Lord, “Hold thou me up and I shall be safe.” That is the proper prayer for us; or else it may happen even to us as happened to them, and we may forsake our own Friend and our father’s Friend.
Now what reasons can we possibly have for forsaking Christ? We ought to do nothing for which we cannot give good reasons. I have known persons very properly forsake their former friends because they have themselves become new creatures in Christ Jesus, and they have rightly and wisely given up the acquaintances with whom they used to sin. They cannot go now to the house where everything is contrary to their feelings. But it is not so with Christ. Some so called friends drag a man down, lower him, injure him, impose upon him, and at last he is obliged to let them go; but we cannot say that of Christ. His friendship has drawn us up, helped us, sanctified us, elevated us; we owe everything to that friendship. We cannot have a reason therefore for forsaking this Friend. I have known some to outgrow an acquaintance or friend. They really have not been able to continue to have common views and sympathies, for while their friend has remained in the mire they have risen into quite different men by reason of education and other influences; but we can never outgrow Christ. That is not possible; and the more we grow in a right sense, the more we shall become like him. A man who has been the friend of our father and of ourselves is the very man to have still as a friend, because he probably understands all about the family difficulties and the family troubles, and he also understands us. Why, he nursed us when we were children and therefore he knows most about us. I remember that when lying sore sick, I had a letter from a kind old gentleman who said that he had that day celebrated his eightieth birthday, and the choicest friend he had at his dinner table was the old family doctor. He said, “He has attended to me so long that he thoroughly knows my constitution, he is nearly as old as myself; but the first time I was ill I had him, and he has attended me now for forty years. Once” he said, “when I had a severe attack of gout, I was tempted to try some very famous man who very nearly killed me; and until I got back to my old friend I never was really well again.” So he wrote to advise me to get some really good physician, and let him know my constitution, and to stick to him and never go off to any of the patent medicines or the quacks of the day. Oh, but there is a great deal of truth in that in a spiritual sense! With the utmost reverence we may say that the Lord Jesus Christ has been our family Physician. Did he not attend my father in all his sicknesses, and my grandfather too? And he knows the ins and outs of my constitution; he knows my ways good and bad, and all my sorrows; and therefore I do not go to anyone else for relief; and I advise you also to keep to Jesus Christ, do not forsake him. If you ever are tempted to go aside even for a little while, I pray that you may have grace enough to come back quickly, and to commit yourself again to him, and never go astray again. There is the blessing of having one who is wise, one who is tried, one whose sympathy has been tested, one who has become, as it were, one of your family, one who has taken your whole household to his heart and made it part and parcel of himself. Such a Friend to your own soul and to your father’s soul forsake not.
Do not forsake him, dear friends, because I almost tremble to say it you will want him some day . Even if you would never need him in the future, you ought not to forsake him. I do not quite like that verse of the hymn at the end of our hymn-book
Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may,
When I’ve no guilt to wash away;
No tear to wipe, no good to crave,
No fears to quell, no soul to save.
No, I may not ; when all my guilt is gone I shall not be ashamed of Jesus. When I am in heaven and need no more the pardon of sin, I certainly shall not be ashamed of him who brought me there; no, but I shall glory in him more than ever. Your friendship to Christ, and mine, ought not to depend upon what we are going to get out of him. We must love him now for what he is, for all that he has already done, and for his own blessed person and personal beauties which every day should hold fast our love and bind us in chains of affection to him.
But suppose you do think of forsaking Christ, where are you going to get another friend to take his place? You must have a friend of some sort; who is going to sit in Christ’s chair? Whose portrait is to be hung up in the old familiar place when the old Friend is discarded? To whom are you going to tell your griefs, and from whom will you expect to receive help in time of need? Who will be with you in sickness? Who will be with you in the hour of death? Ah! there is no other who can ever fill the vacuum which the absence of Christ would make. Therefore, never forsake him.
III. Now I must close with the consequent resolve about which I can say very little, as my time has gone.
Let this be your resolve by his grace, instead of forsaking him you will cling to him more closely than ever ; you will own him when it brings you dishonor to do so; you will trust him when he wounds you, for “faithful are the wounds of a friend;” you will serve him when it is costly to do it, when it involves self-denial; resolved that by the help of his ever-blessed Spirit without whom you can do nothing, you will never in any sort of company conceal the fact that you are a Christian. Never under any possible circumstances wish to be otherwise than a servant of such a Master, a friend of such a Lord. Come now dear young friends who are getting cool towards Christ, and elder friends to whom religion is becoming monotonous, come to your Lord once more and ask him to bind you with cords, even with cords to the horns of the altar. You have had time to count the cost of all Egypt’s treasure; forego it and forswear it once for all. But the riches of Christ you can never count; so come and take him again to be your All-in-all.
Those about to be baptized will feel I trust as we shall when we look on and say each man and woman for himself or herself
‘Tis done! The great transaction’s done:
I am my Lord’s, and he is mine.
Nail your colors to the mast. Bear in your body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Ay, let everyone of us who has been baptized into Christ feel that our whole body bears the water-mark, for we have been “buried with him by baptism into death.” It was not for the putting off of the filthiness of the flesh, but as a declaration that we were dead to the world and quickened into newness of life in Christ Jesus our Savior. So let it be with you too, dear friends, as you follow your Lord through the water; cling to him, cleave to him: “Thine own friend and thy father’s friend, forsake not.” May God add his blessing for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.
Two Sermons: The Way to Honor and The Honored Servant
The Way to Honor
A Sermon (No. 1118) delivered by C. H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
“Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” Proverbs 27:18 .
If a man in Palestine carefully watched his fig tree and kept it in proper condition, he was sure to be abundantly rewarded in due season, for it would yield him a large quantity of fruit of which he would enjoy the luscious taste. So according to Solomon, good servants obtained honor as the fruit of diligent service. In those early days when there were far better relations between servants and masters than unhappily there are nowadays, if a servant carefully waited upon his master he was sure to be honored for his faithfulness. The Bible is full of such cases. Eleazar, the servant and steward of Abraham, met with much honor at his master’s hands. Deborah was a faithful nurse, and what sorrow there was for her at Allon-bachuth, or the oak of weeping. Elisha poured water upon the hands of his master Elijah, and became himself a prophet endowed with a double portion of his master’s spirit. In the New Testament we read of the centurion who so honored his servant that in his sickness he sent to the Lord Jesus, earnestly entreating him to come and heal him. There were exceptions of course. There were faithful servants who met with ungenerous treatment; but what rule is there without an exception? The rule was that he who was faithful to his master received honor. I could wish it to be more general for there to be intimate friendly relationships between men and their servants; I would fain see a restoration of family loyalty between heads of households and their dependents. In these times, servants and persons in the employ of others are looked upon as hands to be worked, rather than as souls to be cared for. It may be that servants have degenerated, but it may also be the truth that masters have degenerated too. I believe that every Abraham will be likely to find an Eleazar, and every Rebekah a Deborah. Good masters make good servants. Good servants make good masters. Happy is the family where, without forgetting the proper distinctions of position, all are knit together in firm friendship. Alas! the bonds of society have been too much loosened. Oppression on the one hand and discontent on the other have rent the commonwealth. Yet there still survive among us instances of personal attachment where servants have served the same masters from their youth up, have continued with them in sickness and in misfortune, have remained faithful to the family when the master has been scarcely able to remunerate them for their services, and have continued faithful even unto death. I am sure when we have read such stories or seen such servants ourselves, we have felt that they deserved to be had in honor, and there is a general respect still which is manifested by mankind to the servant that waiteth upon his master. However, I am not going to speak about the duties of masters and servants this evening. At other times we have not hesitated to speak our mind upon that matter, and we shall not fail to do so as occasion requires.
But now we shall speak of a higher Master who was never unfaithful to a servant yet, and never will be; and we shall speak of a superior service which brings to those who are engaged in it the highest possible degree of honor. Blessed are they who are servants of the King of kings. Happy is he who takes even the lowest place and fulfils the meanest office for the Lord Jesus, if any service can be mean that is rendered to our all-glorious Immanuel.
We will begin by considering the relation of the Lord Jesus Christ to us, and ours to him ; then we shall consider the conduct which is consistent with that relation ; and then the reward which is promised to such conduct .
I. And, first, the relation which subsists between ourselves and our Lord . He is our Master our Master .
I speak now of course only to you who are converted, to you who are true believers and are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus is to you your Master , in the sense of contrast to all other governing powers. You are men, and naturally moved by that which moves other men, but still, the master motive power with every one of you who is a Christian is the supremacy of Christ. There are some among your fellow servants to whom you render respect, just as in a large firm there are foremen set over different parts of the work, to whom a measure of deference is fitly rendered. Still, as the overseer is not the chief authority, so your earthly superiors are not masters over you in the highest sense. The highest of your fellow workmen in your Lord’s service is far, far, far below the Master; ministers and fathers in Christ are not the ultimate authorities to whom you bow, and whatever esteem you may pay even to such glorious names as those of Peter, and James, and John, you still regard them but as your fellow servants. “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” In this sense we are not servants of men, yea, we know no man after the flesh. We are in subjection to the Father of Spirits, but neither to Pope in Rome, nor bishop at home; we are the Lord’s free men and cheerfully obey those whom he sets over us in his church: but we yield to none who claim lordship over us and would divert us from obeying the Lord Jesus only.
The Christian man has of course to attend to the concerns of this life, and while he is attending to them he must throw a measure of his heart into them or he cannot do them properly; still, the master of our heart is not our business but our Savior. A Christian man is thoughtful, and he studies, and reads, and investigates; still, for all that, philosophy does not rule him, nor the news of the day, nor the science of the times. Christ is our Master master of our thoughts and meditations, the great leader and teacher of our understandings. We are his disciples and disciples of none else besides. We are affected by the love of family, the love of friendship, the love of country; but there is a love that is higher than all these, a master love, and this is love to Jesus our Well-beloved, the Bridegroom of our souls. That text is frequently misread “No man can serve two masters.” The stress is not to be laid upon the word “ two .” For the matter of that, a man might serve three or half-a-dozen, or twenty; but the stress is to be laid upon the word “ masters ” “No man can serve two masters .” Only one thing can be the master-passion, only one power can completely master us so as to be supremely dominant and exercise imperial lordship over us. No man can have two imperial master-faculties, master-motives, and master-ambitions. One is our Master, and that one is Christ. Brethren, as I have said before we are compelled while we are in this body to yield to this impulse and to that, we are urged forward by this motive and by that, we pursue this end and that, and subordinately none of these things may be sinful, but the master-impulse must be the love of Christ, the master-aim must be Christ’s glory, and the master-power that doth possess us, as the Spirit took possession of the prophets of old and carried them right away, must be loyalty to Jesus Christ our Lord. He is our Master and we stand before him as servants who desire to obey his bidding.
What then is the reason why the Lord Jesus Christ has become to us a Master? If we were contending with the ungodly who challenge us for calling Christ “Master,” we could give them a ready enough answer by telling them that he is the Master-man of all men. We would ask them to turn over the pages of history and find a man it was worth while to serve in comparison with the man Christ Jesus. We would appeal to his character and ask, was there ever a character which could compel homage as his character does? Why, he is a right royal man in all respects: there is nothing about him of meanness or weakness. To know him is to become enthusiastic in his cause. We would then point to his kingdom and the nature and character of it, and ask whether there was a kingdom for which men ought to fight, for which men ought to strive and be willing to die compared with his kingdom. We would point to the benefits which he confers upon mankind, the blessings which the faith of Jesus Christ has scattered amongst the nations, and ask if there ever was a cause so worthy of zeal as the cause of Christ, which is the cause of humanity, the cause of truth, the cause of right, the cause of God. His are the principles which alone can redeem men from their degradation and misery. We count it easy enough to answer the ungodly in this matter. Whoever their leader may be, he is not fit to loosen the shoe latchet of our Master’s sandal; whoever he may be, and however they may lift him up, he is fit to lie in the dust beneath the feet of our Immanuel. He is so excellent, and in his nature so pre-eminent, that we defy anyone to count us foolish for choosing him to be our Master.
But behind all this, deep down in our souls we have other reasons for calling him our Master, namely, that we belong to him by the purchase of his blood, by the rescue of his grace, and again, by the surrender, the willing surrender which we have made to him. Christ is our Master because he bought us. When we were sold under sin, when by the justice of God we were condemned to die, when we were utter slaves, he purchased us and redeemed us from all iniquity with a cost which sometimes has seemed to us, for his sake, to be too great. What were ten thousand times ten thousand sinful worms compared with the Son of God? Yet that glorious Son of God laid down his life for us. He loved his church and gave himself for it a matchless price indeed to pay! and now we are not our own but are bought with a price. We feel that we should be unjust to Jesus, base to our best Benefactor, if we were to ignore the solemn obligations under which his redemption has placed us. We had been on the road to hell if it had not been for his blood; shall we not walk in the way of his commands? After what he has done for us nothing is too great for us to do for him. Our body, our soul, our spirit, we cheerfully render up to his dominion, neither count we ought of our nature to be our own. As he has redeemed us entirely, so in the entirety of our manhood we belong altogether to him; and if there be a part of our nature which has not been subdued to him we desire him to conquer it by force of arms, for its rebellion against him is sorrow to ourselves. Jesus is our rightful Lord, his wounds attest it, and if any other lord hath dominion over any other portion of our nature, that lordship is usurped and ought to be cast down.
I said moreover that Christ has won us by his power as well as by his blood. There are two redemptions, redemption by price and redemption by power; redemption by price was typified in the paschal lamb and the Passover, redemption by power in the passage of the Red Sea when the children of Israel went through it dry shod and the Egyptians were drowned. Remember how Jacob spake to his son Joseph and said, “I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.” Now the Lord Jesus Christ claims us in the same way as Jacob claimed that particular portion, for we are his spoil taken in battle. Almighty grace bowed us down when we were stiff-necked; almighty grace delivered us from our habits of sin when we were fast bound by them; almighty grace broke the iron bars of our despair and led us into liberty; let all the glory be ascribed unto the Almighty Redeemer. With a high hand and an outstretched arm he brought us forth from the Egypt of our lusts and taught our willing feet the way to the heavenly Canaan. And now we grace his chariot wheels as servants, not in manacles of iron but in silken fetters of love.
“As willing captives of our Lord We sing the triumphs of his word,”
and confess him to be our Master and none beside.
Remember that I also said we are his servants and he our Master because we have willingly surrendered ourselves to him. Recall to your memories that blessed time when you gave yourselves up to Jesus under the sweet constraint of his love. Was it not a good day in which you said
“Now, Lord, I would be Thine alone Come, take possession of Thine own, For Thou hast set me free; Released from Satan’s hard command, See all my members waiting stand, To be employ’d by Thee.”
And now at this day, remembering the love of your espousals when you went after your Lord into the wilderness, would you have it otherwise? You were married to him; do you now wish to sue for a divorce against your glorious Bridegroom? Nay, but you can sing with Doddridge,
“High heaven, that heard the solemn vow, That vow renew’d shall daily hear:
Till in life’s latest hour I bow,
And bless in death a bond so dear.”
Now beloved, as I have shown that Christ had a right to be our Master from the very dignity of his character, and that we yield him service because of his love to us; it only remains for me to add that our position of servants to Christ is an irreversible one. The servant of old when he might go out from bondage sometimes said, “I love my master, and I love his children, and I love his house I desire to be his bondsman for ever,” and after the same manner would I speak this day. And then, you remember, they took an awl and they bored the man’s ear and fastened it to the doorpost that he might be a servant as long as he lived. Even after that fashion would I say, “Mine ears hast thou opened, and I was not rebellious.” Who among us would not wish to bear in our body the marks of the Lord Jesus, to receive the brand which would betoken the irretrievable confiscation of all sinful liberty? Do we not wish to be forever bound to Christ and crucified with him? This was the teaching of our baptism. When we were baptized we were buried in the water. The teaching was that we were henceforth to be dead and buried to the world and alive alone for Jesus. It was the crossing of the Rubicon the drawing of the sword and the flinging away of the scabbard. If the world should call us we now reply, “We are dead to thee, O world!” One of the early saints, I think it was Augustine, had indulged in great sins in his younger days. After his conversion he met with a woman who had been the sharer of his wicked follies; she approached him winningly and said to him, “Augustine,” but he ran away from her with all speed. She called after him and said, “Augustine, it is I,” mentioning her name; but he then turned round and said, “But it is not I; the old Augustine is dead and I am a new creature in Christ Jesus.” That to Madam Bubble and to Madam Wanton, to the world, the flesh, and the devil should be the answer of every true servant of Christ: “I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me. Thou art the same, O fair false world thou art the same, but not I. I have passed from death unto life, from darkness into light. Thy siren charms can fascinate me no more. A nobler music is in my ear and I am drawn forward by a more sovereign spell towards other than yours. My bark shall cut her way through all seas and waves till it reaches the fair haven and I see my Savior face to face.” ‘Tis irretrievable, then, this step which we have taken, the absolute surrender of our whole nature to the sway of the Prince of peace. We are the Lord’s. We are his for ever and for ever. We cannot draw back, and blessed be his name, his grace will not suffer us to do so. The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
“Leave thee! no, my dearest Savior, Thee whose blood my pardon bought;
Slight Thy mercy, scorn thy favor!
Perish such an impious thought:
Leave Thee never!
Where for peace could I resort?”
II. The second point of our reflection is to be this: seeing that we are servants to Jesus, there is a conduct which is consistent therewith .
What conduct is consistent in a servant? Is it not, first, that he should own himself to be his master’s? Such a servant as is mentioned in the text does not call himself his own or his time his own. No person who is a servant can say during his work hours “This time is my time, I can do what I like with it.” No, he is a false servant if, having sold his time for a reward, he takes it to himself. Servants of Jesus have no time at their own disposal. We have no wealth of our own, we are only stewards; we have no talents, they are our Lord’s. When we have traded with our stock and have multiplied it diligently, we shall say to our Lord, “Thy pound hath gained ten pounds.” We dare not call the talent ours. If we are true servants we are always about our Master’s business. If we eat or drink, or rest or sleep, we desire to do all to the glory of God. We are never off duty. A policeman may be, but we never are. A soldier may have a furlough, but a Christian never, he must wear both night and day the whole armor of God. We are always to bear the shield, and the sword is always to be in our hands. Even in our recreation we are to remember that our Master may come at any hour and therefore we are still to be looking for his coming.
As servants it is our duty to learn our Master’s will. I am grieved to observe that some of my fellow servants do not want to know their Lord’s will. There would not be so many divisions in the church if we all came to Holy Scripture and searched the law and the testimony to know the Lord’s will. The Lord’s will is fully set forth there, and no other book is of the slightest authority among saints. The Lord’s will is not in the prayer-book, it is in the Bible. The Lord’s will is not in the canons; the Lord’s will is not in the creed of the Baptist church, or the Wesleyan church, or the Congregational church, or the Episcopalian church; his will is in the Scriptures: and if we searched them more and more and were determined, irrespective of anything that may have been done by the church, or the world, or by government, or by anybody else, that we would follow our Lord’s will, we should come to closer union. We are divided because we do not study the Lord’s will as we should. Brethren, we ought to be prepared to give up any doctrine however venerable, any institution however comely, if we do not see it to be the divine will. Obedience is the path of the servant, obedience is his safety and happiness. What have I as a servant to do with anybody but my Master? I am set to do a certain thing, and if passers-by make a remark that I am not doing it according to the usual rules of the trade, what is that to me? Rules and customs are of small consequence. My Master’s will must be everything to me if I am a true servant. Somebody will sneeringly remark, “You are acting very singularly.” Well, the Master must be accountable for the singularity of conduct which he prescribes. If we are true servants we obey even in the jots and tittles at all hazards. But we must search the word, for unread Bibles are evidences against rebels, and are unbecoming in believers.
When his master’s will is known every true servant is bound immediately to do it. A servant is not to say, “Sir, I will attend to that to-morrow.” If the command be ascertained it will be as surely disobedience to postpone obedience as to reject the duty altogether. If delay be a part of the command the delay is justifiable, but if not the servant must not tarry. “But surely you forget that the consequences of obedience may be costly and involve great sacrifices?” Servants have nothing to do with consequences; those belong to their masters. “But perhaps if I were to follow out the Master’s command I might place myself in a position where I should not be as useful as I now am.” You have nothing whatever to do with that except as it may prove a test of your faith: it is a lame obedience which only follows the Master where carnal judgment approves. A servant of God is not to use his judgment as to the rightness of his Master’s command; he is to do as he is bidden, for his Lord is infallible. What if the heavens fell through our doing right? God does not want us to sin in order to prop them up. His throne is not rotten so as to need buttresses of iniquity. Consequences of true principles ought never to be considered. There is nothing more vicious in the world than policy; it may be admired in the House of Commons, but it should be detested in the church of God. Far from our minds be every question of policy. If an act be right, let it be done: if Christ bids it let it be done, and let there be no hesitation in the matter.
It is ours also, if we are servants, to obey the Master willingly and for love of his person. The text says, “He that waiteth upon his master shall be honored.” Suppose I as a minister know something to be God’s will, yet nevertheless attend to it with the view of serving you and doing you good as God’s church; I shall possibly receive honor from you whom I serve, but that is not the honor which a Christian minister ought to seek. The church is not his master; his Master is in heaven and if he desires real honor he must earn it by waiting upon his Master for his Master’s sake. Suppose any of you are children and are doing right in order to please your parents I will not censure the motive; you will get honor from your parents; but the right honor is gained by seeking to please God. You must labor as believers to wait upon your Master; to come to the house of God for instance, not because it is the custom, but because you would honor the Lord in prayer and praise; you must give to the poor, not because others have given so much but because Jesus loves his people to be mindful of poor saints; you must do good, not that others may say “See what a zealous man he is!” but for your Master’s sake. I am afraid we sometimes serve ourselves even in our holiest things, and in carrying out our judgment of the Lord’s will we are often the victims of prejudice or whim, and are not so much determined to do the Lord’s will as to have our own, or to carry out what we call our “principles” in order to show that we are not to be cowed by opposition. Ah, brethren, there must be no motive with us but our Master’s honor. “He that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” Wait on your Master. Take care that you have an eye always to him. Do your duty because he bids you. Then you shall win the honor of which the text speaks.
Then observe that this waiting upon the Master is to be performed personally by the servant. It is not, “The servant who employs another to wait upon his master shall be honored,” I do not so read the text, but “He that waiteth upon his master” himself, doing personal service to a personal master he shall have honor. Jesus Christ did not redeem us by proxy. He himself his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree. Let us not attempt to serve God by merely contributing to the foreign mission, or City Mission, or helping to support the minister, or something of that sort. We should do that, but we should not put it in the place of the other. Let us constantly give our personal service, speaking for Christ with these lips, pleading for his kingdom with this heart, running on his errands with these feet, and serving him with these hands.
“He that waiteth on his master shall be honored,” even though the waiting be almost passive. Sometimes our master may not require us to do anything more than stand still. But you know John the footman behind his master’s chair, if his master bids him stand there he is as true a servant as the other attendant who is sent upon an errand of the utmost importance. The Lord for wise reasons may make us wait awhile. Having done all, we may yet have to stand still and see the salvation of God and find it to be the hardest work of all. In suffering especially is that the case; for it is painful to be laid aside from the Master’s service; yet the position may be very honorable. There is a time for soldiers to lie in the trenches as well as to fight in the battle. David made a law that those who tarried with the baggage were to share the spoil with those who went down to the fight. This is the rule of the church militant to this day. Some cannot march to the battle, yet are they to share in the spoil; they are waiting on their Master and they shall be honored.
On the whole, summing all up in a word, it is ours to abide near to Christ. Servants wait best when they can see their master’s eye and hear his wish. We are to wait upon our Master humbly, reverently, feeling it an honor to do anything for him. We are to be self-surrendered, given up henceforth to the Lord, free men, and yet most truly serfs of this Great Emperor. We are never so truly free as when we own our sacred serfdom. We are henceforth the body servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Often Paul calls himself the servant the Lord, and even the slave of Christ, and he glories in the branding iron’s marks upon his flesh. “I bear,” says he, “in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus; henceforth let no man trouble me.” We count it liberty to bear the bonds of Christ. We reckon this to be supremest freedom for we sing with the psalmist, “I am thy servant; I am thy servant. Thou hast loosed my bonds.” “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even with cords to the horns of the altar.” Such is the conduct which our servitude to our Lord requires.
III. The third point is the reward which surely comes to the faithful servants . “He that waiteth on his master shall be honored.”
You will observe that he finds his honor in waiting on his master. Now the Christian may have other honors besides the one of waiting on his Master. He may have poor, wretched, miserable, laded honors. I am always sorry when I see a Christian making himself some great one in the world’s esteem. I knew one, and I esteemed him much. He was an earnest Christian man, but his great ambition was to be the chief magistrate in a certain city which I shall not name. He lived to reach that post, and his heart exulted greatly; but I noticed that the very night he attained the honor the hand of the Lord went forth against one whom he greatly loved, and in a short time he himself sickened and went home to his Father and his God. No joy came with the honor for he had looked at it too long and with too keen an eye. Not I alone, but those who knew him judged so too, and we almost thanked God that he did not suffer the child of God, whose crown was in heaven, to be satisfied with being a magistrate here. I have seen men grow very eager after gold; they have had a good business but have clutched at more, and got it, and then sought after more still; and when I have seen chastening come and sorrow in the household I have not marvelled at it, for I have understood that Christ meant his servant to take honor from him, and if he would look after other honor he would find it but a bitter-sweet. There is a law, I believe, that no subject of Our Majesty may take princely rank from any foreign potentate, and it is a law in the kingdom of Christ. What honor can this world confer upon a servant of Christ? I count that to be a scullion in Christ’s kitchen would be a greater honor than to be the Czar of all the Russias, or to exercise imperial sway over all the kingdoms of the earth at once. Honour! Ye confer honor upon the servant of Christ ye worldlings! As well might emmets upon their anthills hope to confer dignity upon an angel! Already infinitely superior, it is but degradation to a saint to be honored by the sons of men. The servant of Christ finds his honor in the service itself. The cultivator of the fig tree looks for figs from the fig tree; the servant of the Master looks for honor from the Master and he covets no honor besides.
Every faithful servant of Christ is honored in his Master’s honor. If you serve Christ aright you will have to bear his reproach. You must take your share of the cross for you have already your share of the crown. Thanks be to God who always causes us to triumph in every place. Paul and the other apostles, when they were suffering for Christ, were always triumphing in Christ at the same time. If there be any honor in the cause of truth and righteousness and the salvation of men Christ has it all, but he reflects some of it upon those of his servants who espouse his righteous cause and propagate his truth. “He that waiteth on his master is honored” by being permitted to wait upon such a Master. The honor of the Master falls upon the servant, who is honourably distinguished by wearing the livery of the great Prince.
He is honored too, with his Master’s approval. Did you ever feel that Christ approved of you? You did some little act of love which nobody knew of but your Lord; he smiled on you, you knew he did, and you felt superabundantly rewarded. You served him and you were reviled for it, but you took it very joyfully, for you felt that he knew all about it, and as long as your Master was satisfied it did not signify what man could do unto you. For the true Christian, his Lord’s approval is honor enough.
Sometimes the Lord honors faithful servants by giving them more to do. If they have been faithful in that which is least, he tries them in that which is great. If they have looked after a few little children, and fed the lambs, he says, “Come hither and feed my sheep.” If they have trimmed a vine or a fig tree in a corner, he calls them out and sets them among the chief vines of the vineyard and says to them, “See after these clusters.” Many a man would have been called to wider fields of labor if he had not been discontented or slothful in his narrow sphere. The Lord watches how we do little things, and if great care be taken in them he will give us greater things to do. Elisha poured water upon the hands Elijah, and then the Lord says “Elijah’s mantle shall fall upon his faithful servant and he shall do even greater miracles.”
God also honors the faithful in the eyes of their fellow servants. When I take down from my library-shelf the biography of a holy man, I honor him in my soul. I do not mind whether he was a bishop or a Primitive Methodist preacher, a blacksmith or a peer, I do him honor in my heart. If he served his Master he will be sure to be elevated into a position of honor in the memory of succeeding ages. There are some men whose doctrines you and I could not endorse, who yet were faithful to the light they had, and therefore we number them amongst the honored dead, and we are glad to recollect how bold they were against the foe, how meek they were with the little ones, how faithful they were in believing their God, and how courageous in rebuking sin. If you would have honor from your fellow servants you will never get it by seeking honor from them; you must go to your Master and honor him by waiting upon him, and then there will come to you honor in the eyes of your fellow men.
But beloved the chief honor of a faithful servant comes from the blessed Trinity. “If any man will serve me, him will my Father honor.” Does it not appear too good to be true that a poor man should be honored of God the Father, the Creator, the great I AM! I will not speak about it but leave you to think it over.
And then Jesus Christ will honour us; for he says that when the master comes and finds the servant waiting for him, he will gird himself and serve him. Can you understand that? There was a certain saturnalia amongst the Romans which was observed once a year, in which the masters changed places with the servants entirely, and the servants sat at the table and commanded their masters as they liked, while the masters served them. It has been thought by some that our Savior has drawn the figure from that singular celebration. I hardly think that it can be so for he would scarcely have cared to use such an illustration. To think of the great Master serving us is strange indeed; yet he has done it. He did so when he took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet, and he will do it again, he will gird himself and serve us.
The Holy Spirit will honor us too, for the Holy Spirit often puts great honor upon a faithful man in a way that I cannot explain to you except by a figure. Moses had been a faithful servant and the skin of his face shone when he came down from the mount. Stephen was a faithful servant, and when he stood up to confront his adversaries he was full of the Holy Ghost and a glory gleamed from his face. When the Spirit of God is richly in a man, and that man is faithful to his Master, some gleamings of a supernal splendor will come from him, not visible to human eyes but potent over human hearts. Believers will feel its power, for as one of our poets says, when a good man is in company ‘tis even as though an angel shook his wings. You feel the influence of the man and almost without a word from him, he has honor in the eyes of them that sit at meat with him, for the Holy Ghost is upon him.
Now dear brethren and sisters, I close by saying we ought faithfully to serve, for we have before us the greatest conceivable reward, a reward which grace enables us to gain. That precious blood which cleanses us cleanses our service also, it makes us white as snow and it makes our service white too. We and our work are both accepted in the Beloved. A Christian’s works are good works: let no one say they are not, for they are the work of the Spirit of God, and who shall say they are not good? It is an encouragement to go forward when we know that “he that keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof;” and that “the servant who waiteth on his master shall be honored.”
There is a black side to this, upon which, suffer ye one word. He who doth not serve Jesus Christ will not be honored. In the day when the Lord cometh many that sleep in the dust shall awake, some to glory, but some to shame and everlasting contempt. Oh, the contempt that will be poured upon ungodly men at the last judgment! When God holds up the mirror and they see themselves, they will despise their own image; and when God holds up their characters to men and angels, revealing to all created beings their secret deeds, their evil motives, their base designs, their filthy imaginations, there will go up against such men dying without faith in Christ a universal hiss of general execration; to think that they would not believe God but made God a liar; would not accept the sacrifice of Christ but trod the blood of the covenant under foot as an unholy thing. Redeemed men will cry, “Shame!” Unfallen angels will cry “Shame!” Holy spirits from a thousand worlds will cry “Shame!” And it will be everlasting contempt. Nothing stings a man like contempt. The poorest among us does not like to be despised, however poor he may be. You do not like to be pointed at and be made the object of derision, yet sinner, this will be your portion. If you die without believing in Jesus you will wake up to shame and to everlasting contempt. “Shame shall be the portion of fools” such shame! Oh, be ashamed to-day that you may not be ashamed then! Penitent, shame will lead you to fly to Christ and put your trust in him, and then your transgressions shall be blotted out for ever. May the Spirit lead each one of you to repentance for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The Honored Servant
A Sermon (No. 2643) Intended for Reading on Lord’s Day, October 8th 1899, delivered by C. H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington on Thursday Evening, June 22nd, 1882.
“Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” Proverbs 27:18 .
In Solomon’s day every man sat under his own vine and fig tree, and there was peace throughout the whole country. Then, God’s law about dividing out the land among the people so that every man had his own plot was rightly observed, and each one had a fig tree of his own to which he gave his personal attention; and in due time, having waited upon the fig tree and kept it, he ate the fruit thereof. Solomon says in another place, “In all labor there is profit;” and it is well when men feel that it is so, for then they will be inclined to labor. A man would not long keep a fruitless fig tree. If he was quite sure that no fruit would be the result of his toil he would leave the tree to itself, or else he would say “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?”
There were some men in Solomon’s day who for divers reasons became servants to others as there still are and always must be and they looked for some return from their service; and the wise man here tells them that just as “whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof, so he that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” It is a commonplace truth that those who are faithful servants ought to be honored; I wish in these times this matter was more often thought of, and that men did honor those who are faithful to them. There are some people who permit others to minister to their comfort, but it never occurs to them to provide for the comfort of their servants. They will allow a man to spend most of his life in increasing their business, and yet when he is getting old, he is discharged and left to perish by starvation so far as they are concerned. I notice this kind of thing frequently with very much regret, and I am not always able to make exceptions on behalf of Christian masters. Far from it sometimes; they seem only to recollect their business and to forget that they are Christians, and they act as cruelly as did that Amalekite in David’a day, who left his servant to die because he was sick. I pray that the time may come when there shall be so good an understanding between all men that Solomon’s words shall be true: “he that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” I am sorry that they are not always true in that sense now, but I am going to leave that literal meaning of the words and apply the text to those who wait upon the Lord Jesus, having made him to be their Master; for most certainly as surely as he who keeps the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof, even much more certainly shall those who wait upon our great Master in heaven find a sweet return from their service, for they shall be honored by him. Very simple will my talk be, and you beloved, who are his servants, do not want anything else I am sure.
I. The first observation is that our Lord Jesus Christ is our Master .
He said to his disciples after he had washed their feet, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.” Is it so with you, dear friends? Let conscience answer the question. Is Jesus Christ really Master and Lord to each one of us? It is a wonderful way in which he does master us if we are indeed his servants. I can never forget how in my own case it came to pass that I, who had been bought with his precious blood and therefore belonged to him, had yet lived forgetful of his claims. He passed by and looked on me, and that very look made me go out to weep bitterly. But he did more; he laid his hand on me it was a pierced hand and from that day I had a twist in my understanding and my judgment; those who knew me saw that something extraordinary had happened to me which had altogether changed me. From that time I thought very little of men, and very much of One whom until then I had despised; many of my former pursuits ceased to have the slightest charm for me and I had for my one pursuit the desire to do everything to his honor and glory. From that twist I have never been able to escape and I have never wanted to do so; from that mystic influence which he cast over me I have never come forth; and what is more I trust I never shall. I know that I am describing many of you as well as myself. Oh! did he not master you from head to foot! If you are really converted it was not the conversion of the feelings only, or the intellect only; it was the subjugation of everything within you to that sweet power of his. You were quite broken down; you had no strength to stand up against him any longer; and the joy of it was that you had not any wish to do so. When he was about to fix the chains of his love upon you, you held out your hands saying, “Here Lord, bind my wrists;” you put forth your feet crying, “Place the fetters here also.” You asked him to cast a chain around your heart; you made a covenant with him and agreed to be bound all over, for that part of you which was unbound you reckoned to be enslaved, and only that which he did bind you considered to be free. When he had so mastered us we longed to lie forever at his feet and weep ourselves away; or, we wished to sit forever at his feet and listen to his wondrous words and learn his blessed teaching; yet we also wanted to run about the world on his errands; it mattered not to us where he might send us, we would not make any choice of our sphere of service if he would but employ us; that would be all we would ask. We wanted then to have a dozen lives and to spend them all for him. Ay, we remember singing
Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer’a praise!
We said and we meant it
Had I ten thousand hearts, dear Lord, I’d give them all to Thee;
and we did give ourselves up wholly to our Lord. We could not help doing so. We were carried right away as when a mountain torrent comes, removes the earth from the young tree that is growing by the river side, and gradually undermines it until the tree falls into the stream and the current sweeps it on and on and never lets it rest again, but bears it right down to the sea. So was it with us that blessed day when first we knew that we could call Christ “Master and Lord.”
Brethren, our Lord Jesus Christ has so completely mastered us that now, to-day, he is our sole Master . It is not always a thing to ennoble a man when he is able to call another person his master; but we feel that the more fully we are mastered by Christ the better will it be for us; and the more absolutely we can become his servants, the more noble and honored shall we be. In many passages of Scripture where our translation uses the term “servant”, the true word is “slave”; and I think the time has come when we had better speak of it as it ought to be, that we may learn the full force of the expression. We do not mean that there is any cruel slavery of Christ’s people to himself; but we do mean that just as much as the slave completely belonged to his master to do his master’s bidding, to live or die at his master’s will, so have we given ourselves up unto Christ; he has become our sole Master. There are others who struggle for the mastery over us, but no man can serve two masters. He may serve two rival powers one struggling against the other for a while but they cannot both be masters; only one can be supreme within the spirit. In this way Christ has become so completely the believer’s Master that sin shall not have dominion over him, and he shall not be any longer under the domination of Satan. Christ is the Master of all his people, whatever happens to them. We may wander like sheep but Christ is still our Shepherd, and he will bring the straying sheep back for they are still his property even when they are wandering away from him.
What say you, brothers and sisters? Do you own any other master beside Christ? If you do, in that divided sovereignty you shall find ten thousand miseries. Oh! if your right eye is contrary to Christ, pluck it out and cast it from you; if your very life should stand up in rivalry with Christ, it would be much better for you that you should die than that you should lead such a life as that. Our Lord Jesus is the sole Master of us this day.
And what a choice Master he is also! If we had had the opportunity in our old state of choosing our master, we were so blind and foolish that we would not have chosen him; but if we had known then what we know now we should have chosen him; and if we knew infinitely more about him we should never discover a reason why he should not be our Master; but we should continually find stronger arguments why we should be his servants forever. There was never such a Master as our Lord Jesus Christ, who took our nature that he might be able to master such servants as we are, who even died to win us, and whose only mastership after all is that of love. He rules us sovereignly; yet in his hand is the silver scepter, not the rod of iron. Our Master is at the same time our Husband, whom we must obey. Oh! it is blessed to obey him to whom our hearts are fully surrendered, and in whom all loveliness is centred. When a husband truly loves his wife it becomes easy for the wife to be obedient unto her husband; and as Christ loves us infinitely, we must love him and serve him in return. Look by faith into his blessed face; it is Jehovah’s joy to look upon him, and it shall be ours forever. Was there ever such another countenance? Was ever such loveliness imagined as really exists in him? Look at all his character, from Bethlehem even until now; peep in upon him in his loneliness, or see him in the midst of the crowd, and will you not say of him, “He is the standard-bearer among ten thousand; yea, he is altogether lovely”? Pick out all the charms that ever could be found in the most amiable character, gather up all the virtues that ever glittered in the most spiritual man or woman, and bring them all here. Ah! but they are not worthy to be compared with the glory and beauty and excellency of the Well-beloved. All their goodness came from him, therefore, let them all lie at his feet for there is none to be compared with him.
Next, our spirit exultingly says, “As he is our choice Master so he is our chosen Master . Since he has chosen us, we have learned to choose him.” The love was at first all on his side; but now, through the effectual working of his grace, it is on our side too. We can each one say, “I love my Master; I love his house; I love his children; I love his service; I have chosen him to be mine for ever. If he should dismiss me from his service I would come back to him again. If he gave me what men call liberty, I would beg of him to withdraw such accursed liberty and let me be, forever, and only, and completely, and entirely his; for as he has chosen me by his grace, so has his grace led me to choose him.” I know that many of you can say the same; and I daresay while I have been speaking you have been thinking of George Herbert’s lines,
How sweetly doth ‘my Master’ sound! ‘My Master!’
As ambergris leaves a rich scent Unto the taster:
So do these words give a sweet content
An oriental fragrancy, ‘My Master.’
We delight to use this title concerning our Lord for he is, further, our gracious Master. That word “Master” seems to lose the idea of masterfulness when it is applied to him. He is most graciously and wondrously our Lord; but yet we call him no more “Baali,” that is, “my Lord,” but we call him “Ishi,” that is, “my Man,” “my Husband.” There is truly a service to which we are called; yet his message to his disciples was, “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” We never can forget that, with all his love, he is our Lord; it is our joy to remember that; yet what loving service we have received at his hands! He has been so much our servant that we have sometimes had to ask ourselves, “Which is the servant?” He is Servus servorum the Servant of servant as he proved when he washed his disciples’ feet. He has done more than that for us; for he stooped so low as to be despised of men and rejected of the people in order that he might save us. Then surely it shall be our joy and bliss and glory henceforth to call him Master and Lord.
He is also our life-long Master . No; that is a mistake, for there was, alas! a time when we lived, yet we lived not unto him. Some of us were but boys when erst we began to serve him. I always feel glad to think that I wore a boy’s jacket when I was baptized into his name; I had not assumed the garb of a man, but my whole soul was his and I was buried with him. I wish it had been earlier still. O dear young people, there is no such joy as that of knowing Christ in your early youth! We hear sometimes of life-long teetotallers, but I could wish that I had been a life-long abstainer from selfrighteousness, a life-long drinker of the river of the water of life; but as all of us failed to serve the Lord at the beginning of our life, let us try with all our hearts to serve him right to the end. Oh, to have him for our life-long Master with no little intervals of running away, no furloughs, no holidays! Brethren, we have our recreations in Christ’s service, but we never have any holidays; that is to say, he re-creates us, but he permits us to continue in his work without cessation or intermission. It would be no recreation for us to have a furlough from the great work of the Lord; we only wish that we could live and labor and spend ourselves, and find our rest as some birds do, on the wing, flying, mounting, singing, and so resting, and making this to be our continual joy. So you see, we are in for our Master’s service for life; we have entered his employ and we are bound to him; and “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” and Master forever, blessed be his name!
II. Now I hasten in the second place to remind you that our business is to serve our Master .
That business is expressed in the Hebrew of our text by the word “keep.” I will read you the text as it should be rendered, and as the translators will make it read if they use their senses in their revision of the Old Testament; that is, if they give the same meaning to a word in all places. The previous translators thought that the Bible would sound tautological if they gave the same translation of a word everywhere; so to charm the ears they changed the words; but then, alas! they sometimes changed the sense. Here the original ought to be rendered thus: “Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that keepeth his master shall be honored.” Is not that a wonderful word? In the interpretation I am giving to the passage, it means that as certainly as the husbandman keeps and tends a fig tree, so you and I are to keep and tend Christ. Is it really true that he hath committed himself to our keeping? Yes. On earth among the sons of men there is One who keepeth Israel; but Israel in another sense is made to be a keeper, and is to keep the Lord Jesus Christ.
How are we to do that? Well, erst, we must keep him by always remaining his servants . We must keep him as our Master. I like the idea of that man who once said to his master, “Sir, you talk about discharging me; but you see sir, if you don’t know when you have a good servant I know very well when I have a good master, and I don’t mean to be discharged. If you put me out of the front door I shall come in at the back, for I have been your servant ever since I was a boy. I was born in your father’s house and I mean to die in this house.” The gentleman saw that it was quite hopeless to try to get rid of the old man as he would not go, so he decided they should not be parted; and I think some of us have come to the same pass with our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Truly he knows that in us he has, even at our best, only unprofitable servants; but then he accepted us. He knew all that we were and all that we should be; he had a clear foresight of our whole future, and he has engaged us for life. Some of our friends think he only engaged them for a quarter or half a year, or for a limited period; but I know that he took me on for life, and for eternity too; and my soul rejoices in the fact that he will keep to the bargain. Like the old man, I am determined that if he puts me out at the front door I will come in at the back, for I know that I have a good Master and I will not go away from him. Do not you say the same, beloved? Then still hold on to him and tell him that you will not let him go. Should he chasten you with the rod of men and lay many stripes on you, yet be like some dogs that seem to love their masters all the better the more they beat them. So dear friends, love your Lord all the better when he treats you roughly; kiss the hand that smites you and let this be your settled resolution, that from him you will not go.
What else are we to do in order to keep our Master? I think next we are to keep him by defending him. We must defend our Lord’s name and honor and cause at all costs and all hazards. We must not let him sleep like King Saul, with his spear stuck in the ground by his bolster and his body-guard also asleep; but if the enemy should ever come to attack our Master, our watchword must be “Up, guards, and at them!” Give them a warm reception from whatever quarter they may come. You and I, beloved, are put in charge of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and every child of God is bound to be upon the defensive just as if the keeping of the gospel depended entirely upon him. I believe that I am as much bound to preach against error and to war for the truth of Christ as if there were not another minister living, and I think that every other minister stands in the same responsible position; and it is the same with every Christian. Keep your Master and all that he has in safety; let no traitor come near him; guard his ordinances, his doctrines, his precepts; adore his matchless person, and extol his blessed work, and so keep him against all comers.
Then dear friends keep him by guarding all his interests . It is the duty of a servant to reckon that what belongs to his master is, in a certain sense, his, and therefore to be sacredly defended. I have heard of servants in the olden times saying, “That is our park,” “this is our country house,” or “this is our town house,” “these are our horses;” and one of them was heard by his master to say, “There come our children, bless their little hearts!” Well, they were no children of his were they? Yes they were, for they were his master’s children; and he had become so identified with his master’s interests that he regarded his master’s children as belonging to him. So ought we to think of everything that appertains to Christ; and if the Lord has anywhere a little child who needs to be cared for, each of us who are his servants should be prepared to nurse it and watch over it for him, and say to him with good Dr. Doddridge
Hast thou a lamb in all thy flock
I would disdain to feed?
Hast thou a foe, before whose face
I fear thy cause to plead?
Thus dear friends, keep your Master; watch over your Master’s possessions; guard your Master’s truth; defend your Master’s honor; care for your Master’s children; as far as your power goes try to keep everything that belongs to him, labor for the good of his cause; struggle for the advancement of his interests and for the overthrow of his adversaries, just as every loyal soldier seeks to preserve his sovereign’s dominions intact and to keep his king’s arms from suffering any dishonor. Thus let us keep our Master and all that belongs to him.
Now let us come back to our own Authorized Version: “He that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” This also is a very good translation, if not equal to the other; and I think it conveys an important meaning for us. You and I are like servants who wait upon their Master, and that waiting consists in part in waiting for his orders, trying to ascertain what they are; and when we know them, waiting until he bids us carry them out. It is not intended that you and I should be inventors of rites and ceremonies and novelties of worship, and all manner of strange doctrines; our position is simply that of servants. Our Master has a certain way of setting out his table and inviting his guests to it; and I have no business to go to him and say, “See how the king of Syria arranges his table; is not that a better plan than yours?” No, that would be utter disloyalty; I have to set the table according to my Master’s plan and custom. There are some old country squires who have acquired odd ways of their own, and the servants whom they employ must drop into them whatever their own notions may be. Now, the ways of the Lord are right and it is your duty and mine to ask what they are, and to conform our practice to them.
The same rule is to be observed in matters of church government and discipline, in the ordinances of the Lord’s house, in the truth to be preached, and in the way we go about our Master’s business. It is not for us to make our own laws or to invent our own methods; but just to wait upon our Master and learn his will concerning everything. If we do not do that we shall get into a world of trouble; but if we wait upon him for our orders and then obey the orders we receive from our Master, we shall be honored.
Next we must wait upon him for strength to obey his orders, for if we do not we shall either fail in our attempts, or else we shall fail altogether to make the attempt. We must also wait upon our Master, seeking his smile . I am afraid we do a great deal to get the smiles of our brethren, and if they think we have done well we congratulate ourselves. But oh! to preach for the Master, to pray for the Master, to teach that class for the Master not for your pastor; not for the elders or deacons, not for your fellow-members, that they may say, “What a zeal for the Lord this person has!” Let it all be done for the Master. “He that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” Do you not think that sometimes you and I wait upon ourselves, and that while we are very busy and fancying we are working for the Lord, we may be doing it entirely for self? Because we find some sort of pleasure in it we keep on doing it just for that pleasure, or because we feel that some kind of credit must come to ourselves as the result of it. If we are serving self, not our Master, we shall have a reward but it will be a poor commonplace reward, like that of the Pharisees, of whom the Master said, “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” That is the end of it; they have had their reward, and they cannot expect to be paid twice for what they have done.
We are, dear friends, further to wait upon the Lord by expecting him to fuifil his promises ; and his promises will only be fulfilled in his own time. We are not to run before the Lord, nor to seek to hasten the Lord, as though we thought he was slow in accomplishing his purposes. If we ever do cry, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord,” we shall probably receive for an answer, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion.” It is we who are asleep, the Lord never is; and we are to wait upon him and plead the promises that he has given us.
This waiting also includes acquiescence in his will ; not only doing it, but suffering it, being ready for anything that he may appoint; perhaps lying on a sick bed for months. Why, if we never rose again and had to lie bedridden until we died, we ought to be perfectly willing so to wait on our Master. You remember the story of poor old Betty, who said that the Lord told her to do this and that, and she tried to do it, and at last he said to her, “Betty, go upstairs and lie in your bed and cough.” She said, “I am doing it, and I take satisfaction even in coughing if that be according to my Lord’s will.” If you have no will of your own in such matters you will have very little sorrow. Our troubles mostly grow from the root of self-will; but when self-will is conquered and we hold ourselves entirely at God’s disposal then there is a sweetness even in wormwood and gall, and our heaviest cross becomes our joy and delight, and we say with holy Rutherford, “I find the cross of Christ no more a burden to me than wings are to a bird, or sails are to a ship.” That saintly man said that sometimes he felt so deeply in love with his cross that he almost feared lest his sufferings and grief should become so lovely to him as to be a rival to the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no such danger I am afraid with the most of us, for we are as bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke, and we kick against the pricks. But if you can wait upon your Master and say, “Do with me as thou wilt, Lord,” all will be well. Try to be like the shepherd on Salisbury Plain, whose story should never be forgotten. When he was asked, “Is it good weather?” he answered, “Yes, it is all good weather that God sends.” “But does this weather please you?” “If it pleases God, it pleases me,” was his reply. That is the point to get to; may God bring us there by his grace!
III. When we get there we shall come to our last point, our service will bring us honor : “he that waiteth on his master shall be honored.”
O brethren, the thought of waiting upon Christ and being his servant is an unspeakable honor; therefore I will not try to speak about it, but ask you just to sit still and think about it. You are his servants, the servants of the eternal Son of God. Perhaps somebody is going to be made an earl or a duchess. I do not think that would be any honor to you, for you have a higher honor than that already, for you are a servant of the Lord. There will be a coronet for somebody to wear; but really I do not see that it could add any lustre to you, for you are a prince of the blood-royal of the skies. As for our pedigree, there is none like it; we do not trace it to the Normans but to Calvary; we are of that seed that was to crush the serpent’s head. Our coat of arms is much more ancient than any that the Heralds’ College can ever issue; we need no other honor and can have no higher glory than to be servants of Christ. Are you only a little nurse-girl? Well, if you belong to Christ you are one of those whom he counts right honorable. Are you a chimneysweep, my brother? Never mind that; if the Lord has washed you in his precious blood you are as noble as any peer of the realm, and nobler than most of them. Do you have to go to the workhouse for weekly help? Never mind about your poverty, you are not so poor now as your Lord was, for he had not where to lay his head. Do not talk about being mean and obscure; why, you are descended from the King of kings! “This honor have all his saints,” “Unto you that believe he is an honor,” that is the meaning of the Greek; and I take it that it is honor enough for us to have such a Savior to believe in, and such a Master to serve.
You shall have honor dear friends, among poor fellow-Christians. If you really honor your Master’s name alone it will not be long before they will honor and esteem you. I notice that the moment a man begins to seek honor for himself he loses the esteem of his fellows. Do you ever hear any minister who preaches very grandly? If so you think to yourself, “What a splendid preacher he is!” But you will find that as a rule God’s people do not care much about him. Notice any worker in the church who wants to be very prominent and push himself forward; everybody desires to kick him; but there is another brother who serves Christ in the rear rank, and who blushes when he is pushed to the front, he is the man to whom his brethren and sisters look up, and though they may say little to him they delight to honor him in their hearts. Perhaps the most honorable thing in Christ’s house is the door-mat; when all the brethren wipe their dirty boots upon it they are so much the cleaner. I know some people who do not like to be in the position of the doormat; if a person brushes against them they cry, “What a shame!” It is a great honor to do anything for your Master’s children which will be for their good. In the kingdom of God the way to go up is to go down, and the way to grow great is to grow little. Look at little Paul that man short of stature and with many infirmities. Why, he is the biggest of all the apostles! And what is “great Paul”? Oh! he is only sounding brass and the less we hear of him the better. Get to be like little Paul, brother, and your sound shall go out to the very ends of the earth; whereas if you are ever a big Paul you will only give out a brazen note which will be heard for a very little way. If the Lord Jesus Christ has made us to be his servants, let us count it our highest honor to be a servant of the least of his servants that so we may bless them and glorify him.
But our highest honor is yet to come in that day when Christ shall call his chosen ones to his own right hand to reign with him, when he shall appoint unto them a kingdom even as his Father appointed it to him, when he who was faithful in a few things shall be made ruler over many things in the kingdom of the Master for ever and for ever. I think I see the King come into his court; it is crowded with cherubim and seraphim and all the shining ones that form his royal retinue. There they stand in all their gorgeous glory, and the Master from the throne looks over all their ranks as he accepts their loyal and reverent homage. But he is looking for one poor man who on earth loved him and who kept the faith under much derision and scorn; at last he spies him out and says, “Make way my angelic servants, cherubim and seraphim, stand in line and let him come. This man was with me in my humiliation as you could not be; for me he bore the cross and was despised; make way and let him come and sit with me, for they who have been with me in my humiliation shall be with me in my glory.”
Oh, that you and I, dear friends, may have that honor at the last! And what will we do when we get it? Why, we will cast our crowns at our Savior’s feet and say unto him, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be all the praise and glory for ever,” and in that very deed we shall find the highest honor of all, and we shall then perhaps recollect this Thursday evening and this text, “He that waiteth on his master shall be honored.” The Lord bless you all, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Proverbs 27". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27