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Two Coverings and Two Consequences
by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper." Proverbs 28:13 .
"Thou Hast covered all their sins." Psalms 85:2 .
In these two texts we have man's covering, which is worthless and culpable, and God's covering, which is profitable, and worthy of all acceptation. No sooner had man disobeyed his Maker's will in the garden of Eden than he discovered, to his surprise and dismay, that he was naked, and he set about at once to make himself a covering. It was a poor attempt which our first parents made, and it proved a miserable failure. "They sewed fig-leaves together." After that God came in, revealed to them yet more fully their nakedness, made them confess their sin, brought their transgression home to them, and then it is written, the Lord God made them coats of skin. Probably the coats were made of the skins of animals which had been offered in sacrifice, and, if so, they were a fit type of him who has provided us with a sin-offering and a robe of perfect righteousness. Every man since the days of Adam has gone through much of the same experience, more or less relying on his own ingenuity to hide his own confusion of face. He has discovered that sin has made him naked, and he has set to work to clothe himself. As I shall have to show you presently, he has never succeeded. But God has been pleased to deal with his own people, according to the riches of his grace; he has covered their shame and put away their sins that they should not be remembered any more.
Let me now direct your attention, first, to man's covering, and its failure; and then to God's covering, and its perfection.
May the Holy Spirit be pleased to give you discernment, that you may see your destitute state in the presence of God, and understand the merciful relief that God himself has provided in the bounty of his grace!
I. MAN'S COVERING.
There are many ways in which men try to cover their sin. Some do so by denying that they have sinned, or, admitting the fact, they deny the guilt; or else, candidly acknowledging both the sin and the guilt, they excuse and exonerate themselves on the plea of certain circumstances which rendered it, according to their showing, almost inevitable that they should act as they have done. By pretext and presence, apology and self-vindication, they acquit themselves of all criminality, and put a fine gloss upon every foul delinquency. Excuse-making is the commonest trade under heaven. The slenderest materials are put to the greatest account. A man who has no valid argument in arrest of judgment, no feasible reason why he should not be condemned, will go about and bring a thousand excuses, and ten thousand circumstances of extenuation, the whole of them weak and attenuated as a spider's web. Someone here may be saying within himself, "It may be I have broken the law of God, but it was too severe. To keep so perfect a law was impossible. I have violated it, but then I am a man, endowed with passions that involve propensities, and inflamed with desires that need gratification. How could I do otherwise than I have done? Placed in peculiar circumstances, I am borne along with the current. Subject to special temptations, I yield to the fascination; this is natural." So you think; so you essay to exculpate yourself. But, in truth, you are now committing a fresh sin; for you are abasing God, you are inculpating the Almighty. You are impugning the law to vindicate yourself for breaking it. There is no small degree of criminality about such an unrighteous defence. The law is holy, just, and good. You are throwing the onus of your sins upon God. You are trying to mane out that, after all, you are not to blame, but the fault lies with him who gave the commandment. Do you think that this will be tolerated? Shall the prisoner at the bar bring accusations against the Judge who tries him? Or shall he challenge the equity of the statute while he is arraigned for violating it? And as for the circumstances that you plead, what valid excuse can they furnish, Has it come to this that it was not you, but your necessities, that did the wrong and are answerable for the consequence? Not you, indeed! you are a harmless innocent victim of circumstances! I suppose, instead of being censured, you ought almost to be pitied. What is this, again, but throwing the blame upon the arrangements of Providence, and saying to God, "It is the harshness of thy discipline, not the perverseness of my actions, that involves me in sin." What, I say, is this but a high impertinence, ay, veritable treason, against the Majesty of that thrice holy God, before whom even perfect angels veil their faces, while they cry, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts"? I pray thee resort not to such a covering as this, because, while it is utterly useless, it adds sin to sin, and exposes thee to fresh shame.
In many cases persons violating the law of God have hoped to cover their transgression by secrecy. They have done the deed in darkness. They hope that no ear of man heard their footfall, or listened to their speech. Possibly they themselves held their tongue, and flattered themselves that no observer witnessed their movements or could divulge their action. So was it with Achan. I dare say he took the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment, mid the confusion of the battle, and hid it when his comrades seemed too much engaged to notice so trivial fan affair. While they were rushing over the fallen walls of Jericho, amidst the debris and the dust, he might be unmolested; and then, in the dead of night, while they slept, he turned the sod of his tent, dug into the earth, and buried there his coveted treasure. All looks right, to his heart's content. He has smoothed it down, and spread his carpet over the grave of his lust. Little did he reckon of the Omniscient eye. Little did he count on the unerring lot that would come home to the tribe of Judah, to the family of the Zarhites, to the house of Zabdir, and, at last, to the son of Carmi, so that Achan himself would have to stand out confessed as a traitor a robber of his God. Men little know the ways in which the Almighty can find them out, and bring the evidence that convicts, out of the devices that were intended to cover their sin.
Do you not know that Providence is a wonderful detective? There are hounds upon the track of every thief, and murderer, and liar in foot, upon every sinner of every kind. Each sin leaves a trail. The dogs of judgment will be sure to scent it out, and find their prey. There is no disentangling yourselves from the meshes of guilt; no possibility of evading the penalty of transgression. Very wonderful have been the ways in which persons who have committed crimes have been brought to judgment. A trifle becomes a tell-tale. The method of deceit gives a clue to the manner of discovery. Wretched the men who bury their secrets in their own bosom. Their conscience plays traitor to them. They have often been forged to betray themselves. We have read of men talking in their sleep to their fellows, and babbling out in their dreams the crime they had committed years before. God would have the secret disclosed. No eye had seen, neither could other tongue have bold, but the man turned king's evidence against himself; he has thus brought himself to judgment. It has often happened, in some form or other, that conscience has thus been witness against men. Do I address anyone who is just now practicing a secret sin? You would not have me point you out for all the world, nor shall I do so. Believe me, however, the sin is known. Dexterous though you have been in the attempt to conceal it, it has been seen. As surely as you live, it has been seen. "By whom?" say you. Ah! by One who never forgets what he sees, and will be sure to tell of it. He may commission a little bird of the air to whisper it. Certainly he will one day proclaim it by the sound of trumpet to listening worlds. You are watched, sir; you are known. You have been narrowly observed, young girl; those things you have hidden away will be brought to light, for God is the great discoverer of sin. His eye has marked you; his providence will track you. It is vain to think that ye can conceal your transgressions. Before high heaven, disguise is futile. Yea, the darkness hideth not; the night shineth as the day. I have known persons who have harboured a sin in their breast till it has preyed upon their constitution. They have been like the Spartan boy who had stolen a fox, and was ashamed to have it known, so he kept it within his garment, till it ate through his flesh, and he fell dead. He suffered the fox to gnaw his heart ere he would betray himself. There are those who have got a sin, if not a lie in their right hand, yea, a lie in their heart, and it is eating into their very life. They dare not confess it. If they would confess it to their God, and make restitution to those whom they have offended, they would soon come to peace; but they vainly hope that they can cover the sin, and hide it from the eyes of God and man. He that covereth his sin in this fashion shall not prosper.
Again, full many a time sinners have tried to cover their sin with falsehood. Indeed, this is the usual habit to lie to cloak their guilt by denying it. Was not this the way with Gehazi? When the prophet said, "Whence comest thou, Gehazi?" he said, "Thy servant went no whither." Then the prophet told him that the leprosy of Naaman should cleave to him all the days of his life. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira, in lying in order to hide their sin, how quickly was it discovered, and how terrible was the retribution! I wonder that men and women can lie as they do after reading that story. "Hast thou sold the land for so much?" said Peter. And Ananias said, "Yea, for so much." At that instant he fell down and gave up the ghost. Three hours after, when his wife, Sapphire, said the same, the feet of the young men who had buried her husband were at the door, ready to carry out her corpse, and bury her by his side. Oh! sirs, ye must weave a tangled web, indeed, when once ye begin to deceive; and when you have woven it you will have to add lie to lie, and lie to lie, and yet all to no purpose, for you will be surely found out. There is something about a lie that always deludes the man who utters it. Liars have need of good memories. They are sure to leave a little corner uncovered through which the truth escapes. Their story does not hang together. Discrepancies excite suspicions, and evasions furnish a clue to discoveries, till the naked truth is unveiled. Then the deeper the plot the fouler is the shame. But to lie unto the God of truth, of what avail can that be? What advantageth it you to plead "not guilty," when he has witnessed your crime? That infallible Eye which never mistakes is never closed. He knows everything; from him no secret is hid. Why, therefore, dost thou imagine that thou canst deceive thy Maker?
There are some who try to cover their sin by prevarication. With cunning subtlety they strive to evade personal responsibility. Memorable is the instance of David. I will not dwell upon his flagrant crime; but I must remind you of his sorry subterfuge, when he tried to hide the baseness of his lust by conspiring to cause the death of Uriah. There have been those who have schemed deep and long to throw the blame on others, even to the injury of their reputation, to escape the odium of their own malpractices. Who knows but in this congregation there may be someone who affects a high social position, supported by a deep mercantile immorality? Merchants there have been that have swollen before the public as men of wealth, while they were falsifying their acoounts, abstracting money, yet making the books tally, rolling in luxury, and living in jeopardy. Have they prospered? Were they to be envied? The detection that long haunted them at length overtook them; could they look it in the face? We have heard of their blank despair, their insane suicide; at any rate, a miserable exposure has been their melancholy climax. "Be sure your sin will find you out." You may run the length of your tether. It is short. The hounds of justice, swift of scent and strong of limb, are on your trail. Rest assured, you will be discovered. Could you escape the due reward in this life, yet certainly your guilt is known in heaven, and you shall be judged and condemned in that great day which shall decide your eternal destiny. Seek not, then, to cover up sin with such transparent cobwebs as these.
Some people flatter themselves that their sin has already been hidden away by the lapse of time. "It was so very long ago," says one, "I had almost forgotten it; I was a lad at the time." "Aye," says another, "I am gray-headed now. It must have been twenty or thirty years ago. Surely you do not think that the sin of my far-off days will be brought out against me? The thing is gone by. Time must have obliterated it." Not so, my friend. It may be the lapse of time will only make the discovery the more clear. A boy once went into his father's orchard, and there in his rough play he broke a little tree which his father valued. But, rapidly putting it together again, he managed to conceal the fact, for the disunited parts of the tree took kindly to each other, and the tree stood as before. It so happened that more than forty years afterwards he went into that garden after a storm had blown across it in the night, and he found that the tree had been riven in two, and it had snapped precisely in the place where he had broken it when it was but a sapling. So there may come a crash to your character precisely in that place where you sinned when yet a lad. Ah! how often the transgressions of our youth remain within our bosoms! There lie the eggs of our young sin, and they hatch when men come into riper years. Don't be so sure that the lapse of time will consign your faults and follies to oblivion. You sowed your wild oats, sir; you have got to reap them. The time that has intervened has only operated to make that evil seed spring up, and you are so much the nearer to the harvest. Time does not change the hue of sin in the sight of God. If a man could live a thousand years, the sins of his first year would be as fresh in the memory of the Almighty as those of the last. Eternity itself will never wash out a sin. Flow on, ye ages; but the scarlet spots on the sand. Flow on still in mighty streams, but the damning spot is there still. Neither time nor eternity can cleanse it. Only one thing can remove sin. The lapse of time cannot. Let not any of you be so foolish as to hope it will.
When the trumpet of the resurrection sounds, there will be a resurrection of characters, as well as of men. The man who has been foully slandered will rejoice in the light that reflects his purity. But the man whose latent vices have been skilfully veneered will be brought to the light too. His acts and motives will be alike exposed. As he himself looks and sees the resurrection of his crimes, with what horror will he face that day of judgment! "Ah! ah!" says he, "Where am I? I had forgotten these. These are the sins of my childhood, the sins of my youth, the sins of my manhood, and the sins of my old age. I thought they were dead and buried, but they start from their tombs. My memory has been quickened. How my brain reels as I think of them all! But there they are, and, like so many wolves around me, they seem all thirsting for my destruction." Beware, oh! men. Ye have buried your sins, but they will rise up from their graves and accuse you before God. Time cannot cover them.
Or do any of you imagine that your tears can blot out transgressions? That is a gross mistake. Could your tears for ever flow; could you be transformed into a Niobe, and do nothing else but weep for aye, the whole flood could not wash out a single sin. Some have supposed that there may be efficacy in baptismal water, or in sacramental emblems, or in priestly incantations, or in confession to a priest one who asks them to disclose their secret wickedness to him, and betrays a morbid avidity to make his breast the sewer into which all kinds of uncleanness should be emptied. Be not deceived. There is nothing in these ordinances of man, or these tricks of Romish priestcraft (I had almost said of witchcraft, the two are so much alike) to excuse the folly of those who are beguiled by them. You need not catch at straws when the rope is thrown out to you. There is pardon to be had; remission is to be found; forgivenness can be procured. Turn your back on yonder shavelings; lend not your ear to them, neither be ye the victims of their snares. In the street each day it makes one's soul sad to see them. Like the Pharisees of old, they wear their long garments to deceive. You cannot mistake them. Their silly conceit publishes their naked shame. Confide not in them for a moment. Christ can forgive you. God can blot out your sin. But they cannot ease your conscience by their penances, or remove your transgressions by their celebrations.
Thus I have gone through a rough, not very accurate, list of the ways by which men hope to cover their sin, but they "shall not prosper." None of these shall succeed.
A more joyous task devolves on me now, while I draw your attention to my second text, "Thou hast covered all their sin."
II. GOD'S COVERING.
This fact is affirmed concerning the people of God. All who have trusted in the atoning sacrifice which was presented by the Lord Jesus Christ upon Calvary may accept this welcome assurance, "God. has covered all their sin." How this hath come to pass I will tell you. Before ever God covers a man's sins he unveils them. Did you ever see your sins unveiled? Did it ever seem as if the Lord put his hand upon you, and said, "Look, look at them"? Have you been led to see your sins as you never saw them before? Have you felt their aggravations fit to drive you to despair? As you have looked at them, has the finger of detection seemed to point out your blackness? Have you discovered in them a depth of guilt, and iniquity, and hell desert which never struck your mind before? I recollect a time when that was a spectacle always before the eyes of my conscience. My sin was ever before me. If God thus makes you see your sin in the light of his countenance, depend upon it he has his purposes of mercy toward you. When you see and confess it, he will blot it out. So soon as God, in infinite loving-kindness, makes the sinner know in truth that he is a sinner, and strips him of the rags of his self-righteousness, he grants him pardon and clothes his nakedness. While he stands shivering before the gaze of the Almighty, condemned, the guilt is purged from his conscience. I do not know of a more terrible position in one's experience than to stand with an angry God gazing upon you, and to know that wherever God's eye falls upon you it sees nothing but sin; sees nothing in you but what he must hate and must abhor. Yet this is the experience through which God puts those to whom he grants forgiveness. He makes them know that he sees how sinful they are, and he makes them feel how vile and leprous they are. His justice withers their pride; his judgment appals their heart. They are humbled in the very dust, and made to cry out each man trembling for his own soul "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
Not till this gracious work of conviction is fully wrought does the Lord appear with the glorious proclamation that whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus shall have his sins covered. That proclamation. I have now openly to publish and personally to deliver to you. With your outward ears you may have heard it hundreds of times. It is old, yet ever new. Whosoever among you, knowing himself to be guilty, will come and put his trust in Jesus Christ, shall have his sins covered. "Can God do that?" Yes, he can. He alone can cover sin: Against him the sin was committed. It is the offended person who must pardon the offender. No one else can. He is the King. He has the right to pardon. He is the Sovereign Lord, and he can blot out sin. Beside that, he can cover it lawfully, for the Lord Jesus Christ (though ye know the story, let me tell it again the song of redemption always rings out a charming melody), Jesus Christ, the Father's dear Son, in order that the justice of God might be vindicated, bare his breast to its dreadful hurt, and suffered in our room, and place, and stead, what we ought to have suffered as the penalty of our sin. Now the sacrifice of God covers sin covers it right over; and he more than covers it, he makes it cease to be. Moreover, the Lord Jesus kept the law of God, and his obedience stands, instead of our obedience; and God accepts him and his righteousness on our behalf, imputing his merits to our souls.
Oh! the virtue of that atoning blood! Oh! the blessedness of that perfect righteousness of the Son of God, by which he covers our sins!
There are two features of covering I should like to recall to your recollection. The one was the mercy-seat or propitiatory, over the golden ark, wherein were the tables of stone. Those tables of stone seemed, as it were, to reflect the sins of Israel. As in a mirror they reflected the transgression of God's people. God was above, as it were, looking down between the cherubic wings. Was he to look down upon the law defied and defiled by Israel? Ah! no; there was put over the top of the ark, as a lid which covered it all, a golden lid called the mercy-seat, and when the Lord looked down he looked upon that lid which covered sin. Beloved, such is Jesus Christ, the covering for all our sins. God sees no sin in those who are hidden beneath Jesus Christ.
There was another covering at the Red Sea. On that joyous day when the Egyptians went down into the midst of the sea pursuing the Israelites, at the motion of Moses' rod the waters that stood upright like a wall leapt back into their natural bed and swallowed up the Egyptians. Great was the victory when Miriam sang, "The depths have covered them. There is not one of them left." It is even so that Jesus Christ's atonement has covered up our sins. They are sunk in his sepulchre; they are buried in his tomb. His blood, like the Red Sea, has drowned them. "The depths have covered them. There is not one of them left." Against the believer there is not a sin in God's Book recorded. He that believeth in him is perfectly absolved. "Thou hast covered all their sin." I shall not have time to dwell upon the sweetness of this fact, but I invite you that believe to consider its preciousness; and I hope you who have not believed will feel your mouth watering after it; to know that every sin one has ever committed, known and unknown, is gone covered by Christ. To be assured that when Jesus died he did not die for some of our sins, but for all the sins of his people; not for their sins up till now, but for all the sins they ever will commit! Well does Kent put it:
"Here's pardon for transgressions past, It matters not how black they're cast And O, my soul, with wonder view For sins to come here's pardon too."
The atonement was made before the sin was committed. The righteousness was presented even before we had lived. "Thou hast covered all their sin. It seems to me as if the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world, had in the purpose of God, from the foundation of the world, covered all his people's sins. Therefore, we are accepted the Beloved, and dear to the Father's heart. Oh! what a joy it is to get a hold of something like this truth, especially when the truth gets a hold of you when you can feel by the inwrought power and witness of the Holy Ghost that your sins are covered that you dare stand up before a rein-trying, heart-searching God, and give thanks that every transgression you ever committed is hid from the view of those piercing eyes through Jesus Christ your Lord.
Some people think we ought not to talk thus, that it is presumptuous. But really there is more presumption in doubting than there is in believing. For a child to believe his father's word is never presumption. I like to credit my Father's word. "He that believeth in him is not condemned." Condemned I am not, for I know I do believe in him. "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
Beloved, the covering is as broad as the sin. The covering completely covers, and for ever covers; for as God sees to-day no sin in those who are washed in Jesus' blood, so will he never see any. You are accepted with an acceptance that nothing can change. Whom once he loves he never leaves, but loves them to the end. The reason of his love to them does not lie in their merits nor their charms; the cause of love is in himself. The ground of his acceptance of them is in the person and work of Christ. Whatever they may be, whatever their condition of heart may be, they are accepted, because Christ lived and died. It is not a precarious or a conditional, but an eternal acceptance.
Would you enjoy the blessedness of this complete covering? Cowering down beneath the tempest of Jehovah's wrath, which you feel in your conscience, would you obtain this full remission? Behold the gates of the City of Refuge which stand wide open. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed! to the thirsty, needy, labouring, weary soul. Not merely open are the gates, but the invitation to enter is given. "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." You are bidden to lay hold upon eternal life. The way of doing so is simple. No works of yours, no merits, no tears, no preparations are required, but trust trust that is all. Believe in Jesus. Rely upon him; depend upon him; depend upon him. I have heard of Homer's Iliad being enclosed in a nutshell, so small was it written; but here is the Plain Man's Guide to Heaven in a nutshell. Here is the essence of the whole gospel in one short sentence. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Trust him; trust him. That is the meaning of that word believe. Depend upon him, and as surely as thou doest it, nor death, nor hell, nor sin shall ever separate thee from the love of him whom thou hast embraced, from the protection of him in whose power thou hast taken shelter. The Lord lead you to cower beneath his covering wings, and grant you to be found in Christ, accepted in the Beloved. So shall your present peace be the foretaste of your eternal felicity. Amen.
The Right Kind of Fear
A Sermon (No. 2971) published on Thursday, January 18th, 1906, delivered by C. H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington on Thursday evening, September 2nd, 1876.
“Happy is the man that feareth alway.” Proverbs 28:14 .
But did not John say that “fear hath torment?” Then how can he be happy who hath fear, and especially he who hath it always. Did not John also say that “perfect love casteth out fear?” How is it then that he is happy in whom love is not made perfect, if so be that the fear which John mentions must be left in it? Dear friends, the explanation is that the word “fear” is used in different senses, and both Solomon and John are right; neither is there any conflict between their two statements. There is a fear which perfect love casts out because it hath torment. That is the slavish fear which trembles before God as a criminal trembles before the judge, the fear which mistrusts, suspects, and has no confidence in God, the fear which, therefore, keeps us away from God, causes us to dread the thought of drawing near to him, and makes us say like the fool to whom the psalmist refers, “No God.” Many of you know what this kind of fear is, for you once suffered from it; though I trust you are now delivered from it by faith in Christ Jesus and by the love which the Spirit of God has wrought in your hearts. There is also another sort of fear which springs out of this slavish fear, and which is to be equally shunned, namely, a fear which leads to the apprehension that something evil is about to happen. There are many persons who have so little faith in God, that they fear that the trials which will sooner or later overtake them, will also overthrow them. They are afraid of a certain form of suffering that threatens them; they fear that they will not have patience enough to bear up under it, they feel sure that their spirit will sink in their sickness. Above all, they are dreadfully afraid to die. They have not yet believed that God will be with them when they pass through the valley of deathshade; and because they cannot trust him they are all their lifetime subject to bondage. They cannot say that all things work together for good to them, but they often say as poor old Jacob mistakenly said, “All these things are against me.” And so they go on, fearing this and fearing that and fearing the other, and their life is spent, to a great extent, in sorrow and sighing. May the Lord graciously deliver any of you who are in that condition!
That is a kind of fear from which the true believer is free. He knows that whatever happens, God will overrule it for the good of his chosen. “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.” Resignation to the divine will has made him feel that whatever the Lord wills is right; he does not seek to have his own will, but he is glad to make God’s will his will, and so he is perfectly satisfied with all that comes. God save you, my brethren and sisters in Christ, from all fear of a slavish sort! Above all, no Christian ought to have any fear which would bring dishonor upon the truthfulness, the goodness, the immutability, or the power of God. To doubt his promise, to suppose that he will not make it good, this is indeed a fear which hath torment. To doubt God’s faithfulness, to suppose that he can ever forget his children, that his mercy can be withdrawn from them, or that he will be favorable to them no more, this also is wrong. To doubt the perseverance of the saints when God’s Word has so plainly declared that he will keep their foes, and will perfect the work which he hath begun in them, indeed, to doubt anything that has the inspired Scriptures to support it, and to tremble in any way when your trembling arises out of a suspicion that God may change or cease to be faithful to his promises, and faithful to his Son, all that kind of fearing is to be cast far from us.
But, dear friends, there is another fear that ought to be cultivated, the reverential fear which the holy angels, feel when they worship God, and behold his glory; that gracious fear which makes them veil their faces with their wings as they adore the Majesty on high. There is also the loving fear which every true, right-hearted child has towards its father,-a fear of grieving so tender a parent, a proper feeling of dread which makes it watch its every footstep, lest, in the slightest degree, it should deviate from the path of absolute obedience. May God graciously grant to us much of this kind of fear!
Then there is a holy fear of ourselves, which makes us shun the very thought of self-reliance, which weans us, equally from self-righteousness and self-confidence, and which makes us feel that we shall surely fall unless the Lord shall continually hold us up, and that we shall certainly die, unless he shall sustain our spiritual life. This fear of our own selves - the fear of sinning against God is a fear which we ought always to cherish, and concerning which the text saith, “Happy is the man that feareth alway.”
I have taken this topic for a special reason. You know that we have recently had a great deal of preaching of “Believe! Believe! Believe!” and I have very heartily joined in the evangelistic services which have been held. We have also had a great deal of singing about full-assurance, and we have had a little chattering about perfection, or something wonderfully like it, as far as I can make it out and as I put all these things together, I cannot help being afraid that there will be a great growth of the mushrooms of presumption. With warm days and damp days and with everything tending to make vegetation luxurious, we may expect to see an abundant crop of poisonous fungi growing up, noxious agarics, toadstools, and I know not what besides. They will come up in a night but they may not be destroyed in a night; and they will be a great nuisance, and possibly worse than that. So I want to speak in such a way that we may all be led to do some sincere heartsearching, and to commend to you the cherishing of an anxious fear, lest peradventure all that glitters should not prove to be gold, and lest much of that which looks like wheat should, at the last, turn out to be tares.
I. My first observation shall be that There is, after all, very grave cause for fear .
. Otherwise Solomon would not have been inspired to write, “Happy is the man that feareth alway.”
There is cause for fear, dear brethren and sisters who love the Lord, because corruption still remaineth in us. In the best man or woman here there is still the old flesh that lusts against the spirit, that flesh which is in constant enmity to the spirit and never will be reconciled to it. If that flesh keeps quiet for a time, it is there all the while, just as a lion is still a lion even when he is lying hidden in his den. He only needs some dark hour to come, and he will rush forth from his den; so is it with the flesh which still lurks within us. When a man imagines that all his corruptions are gone, that is no proof that he is clean rid of them, but only that he does not really know his true condition; for if God were but to lift the veil that covers his eyes and to let him see the great deeps of sin that are in his nature, he would soon discover that he has grave cause for fear, and he would be driven to cry out to God, “Oh, keep me, I beseech thee, or else I shall commit spiritual suicide! I must and shall become like the vilest of apostates unless thy sovereign grace shall hold me on my way.”
There is also cause for fear, my brethren, if you look around at the world in which we live . This vile world has not changed its character; it is no more a friend to grace than it was in the days of the early Christians. It was a difficult thing to be a Christian in the days of Diocletian and the other persecuting Roman emperors, but I sometimes think that it is an even more difficult thing to be a Christian now. To be a soldier under Hannibal and to fight bravely when crossing the Alps must have been a difficult task, but it was far more trying for the soldiers when they reached sunny Italy, and their holiday amusements destroyed the discipline of the army. The Christian camp at the present time seems to be pitched in a sunny plain where all the surrounding influences bend to relax the sinews of the warriors, and to take away from them their strength. It is hard to keep to the narrow way when the broad road runs so near to it that sometimes they seem to be one. The time was when the broad road was so distinct from the narrow one that we could easily discern who was travelling to heaven and who was going to hell; but now the devil has engineered the broad road so very close up to the side of the narrow way that there are many people who manage to walk on both of them; they never were so pleased as when they can first take a little turn on the narrow road, and then afterwards take another turn on the broad one. Let us never imitate Mr. Facing-both-ways; but let us walk only in the narrow way that leadeth unto life, whatever it may cost us to do so. You must be in a very singular position if you never have any temptations; indeed, I should not be surprised to learn, if you live where you have no temptations, that you are undergoing a worse trial than temptation itself would be. In such a place as that you are very likely to get indigant. The very pleasantness of the situation may put you off your guard and you will not live so near to God as you would have done if your surroundings had seemed to be more opposed to your growth in grace. There is cause for fear then, when all around us there is an enemy behind every bush, a temptation lurking in every joy, and a devil hiding himself under every table, when, as old Francis Quarles used to say
“The close pursuer’s busy hands do plant
Snares in thy substance; snares attend thy want;
Snares in thy credit, snares in thy disgrace;
Snares in high estate, snares in thy base
Snares tuck thy bed; and snares surround thy board;
Snares watch thy thoughts; and snares attach thy word;
Snares in thy quiet, snares in thy commotion;
Snares in thy diet; snares in thy devotion
Snares lurk in thy resolves, snares in thy doubt
Snares lie within thy heart, and snares without,
Snares are above thy head, and snares beneath
Snares in thy sickness, snares are in thy death.”
Besides that, dear friends in addition to having a store of dry tinder within our heart and showers of sparks falling near us besides having a great heap of gunpowder within our nature, and being constantly exposed to the fires that burn all around us, we must remember that there is such a thing as self-deception in the world. This is a great and a common danger. Do you not yourselves know some who have been self-deceived? I have had a wide experience in watching over the souls of others, and many persons have come under my notice who have thought themselves Christians, and I have often wondered how they could think so. I have seen that in their lives which has let me to feel sure as sure as one man can feel concerning another that the grace of God could not be in them; yet they have not had any doubt or suspicion concerning their Christianity. Now brethren and sisters, do not you know some people like that? Well then, is it not possible that the judgment which you have formed concerning them is the very same that others have formed concerning you? And perhaps that judgment is true. There have been great preachers who have been very eloquent men, and God has even condescended to use them in his service; yet afterwards it has been discovered that they were living in gross sin all the while that they were preaching holiness to others. If that has been the case with only one preacher, might it not also be the case with me? Have you never heard of church members who have come regularly to the communion table, and been very prominent in the work of the church, and apparently leading the way in all good things; yet after all they were rotten at the core? They had made a mistake altogether unless they had wilfully deceived others instead of themselves, in professing to be Christ’s people at all. Well then, if some have acted like that, may not you do the same? I do not wish to say anything unpleasant merely for the sake of making you feel uncomfortable; but I want you to remember that my text says, “Happy is the man that feareth alway.” Sometimes to examine the foundation on which we are building for eternity, to look into the profession which we have made, to see whether it will stand the wear and tear of daily life, and to judge whether it will be likely to endure the best of our dying day, and the still sterner test of the day of judgment is a wise occupation for every one of us. The man who dares not have his ship examined is the man who knows that some of the timbers are rotten; and if you do not like being examined you are the very men who ought to put yourself through that process without a moment’s delay, obeying the injunctions of the apostle, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”
There is also great cause for fear because some Christians have been “saved; yet so as by fire. ” Oh, with what difficulty have some of God’s ships entered the eternal harbour! They have lost their masts, the deck has been swept clear of everything, they have been well-nigh abandoned as derelict; and if it had not been that the eternal grace of God had ensured the safety of the vessels, they must have drifted away to destruction and gone to the bottom of the sea. And what bugging there has been to get some souls into heaven! Do you not know some of that sort? I saw one not long ago. I had highly esteemed him at one time; but from what I learned afterwards I saw how little cause there was in him for my esteem. He had professed to be a child of God, but he was weeping and wailing and asking whether there was any hope for him. As a contrast to such a sad case, I may say that I have stood by the bedsides of many others and have learned from them lessons that I can never forget; for they have told me something of the joys of heaven by the very glances of their eyes, and the wondrous words which have fallen from their lips, often more full of poetry than poetry itself. They have seemed to be inspired, and to be favored with visions of the hereafter as they have looked through the veil which had become so blind to them. But I have also seen some, such as the one I mentioned just now, who have not lived near to God, who have neglected prayer, who have done but little service for Christ; and when they have come to die they have been “saved; yet so as by fire.” They have had to come in their last moments without any comfort or hope, without any joy in the Lord, and cry “What must we do to be saved?” just as though they had never known the way of salvation, although they have been professors for years. Instead of having an abundant entrance into heaven they have just been saved, and no more. Now you and I do not want to have such an experience as that; and therefore, let us always fear lest we should get into such a state of heart that this should be our case. Let us fear lest we lose communion with God, let us fear lest we misuse any grace which the Holy Spirit has given to us, let us fear lest we become fruitless and unprofitable, let us fear lest we lose the light of Jehovah’s countenance; if we do so fear we shall understand what Solomon meant when he wrote, “Blessed is the man that feareth alway.”
II. Now, secondly, I want to prove to you that the man who does so fear is a happy man . I will show you that by a few contrasts.
The word “happy” in our text may not exactly mean that the man enjoys happiness just now, but that he is really happy, he has the root of true happiness in him, and he will have the fruit in due time. Now, here are two men. One of them says, “I am a child of God; I have had a very deep experience; I know all the doctrines of grace, blessed be God; and I feel that I am thoroughly confirmed in Christian habits. I may be tempted to sin, but I shall be able to resist the temptation. Take a good look at that man so that you will know him when you see him again. With a formal prayer he leaves his bedroom in the morning and he goes forth to his business, perfectly satisfied with himself whatever may happen. Here is another man. He says, “I believe I am a child of God for I have trusted in Jesus Christ as my Savior, and I know that I am safe in his hands; but I dare not trust myself. I feel that unless he shall uphold me all through this day, I may by my words or my actions bring dishonor upon his holy name; and I tremble lest I should do so.” See him kneeling down there by his bedside, and hear how earnestly he pleads with God. His prayer is something like this, “O Lord, I am as helpless as a little child; hold thou me up or I shall surely fall! I am like a lamb going out among wolves; O Lord, preserve me! “Now, which of the two do you regard as the really happy man? The happiness of the two men may, to a superficial observer, appear to be about equal, but which happiness would you prefer to have? I say and I think most of you will agree with me God save me from the so-called happiness which is careless and prayerless, and give me that holy fear which drives me often to my knees and makes me cry to God to keep me. Well now, night has come on, and the two men have reached their homes. Neither of them has fallen into any gross sin during the day; they have both been preserved from that evil. One of them retires to his bed after a few sentences of formal prayer, with no life or earnestness in it, and no expression of his gratitude to God, and he soon falls asleep in perfect contentment with himself. The other man looks carefully over all that has happened during the day, for he is afraid lest he may have sinned against God even unconsciously, and he takes notice of things which the other man does not think anything of, and he says, “Lord, I fear that I erred there, and that I failed there; forgive thy child and help me to do better in the future.” Then he says, “I thank thee, Lord, that thou hast kept me by thy grace from being surprised by sudden temptation, and thou hast enabled me to honor thy name at least in some degree. I give all the glory for this to thee; and now my Lord,
“‘Sprinkled afresh with pardoning blood,
I lay me down to rest,
In the embraces of my God,
Or on my Savior’s breast.’”
Now, which is the happy man of these two? I know which I should like to be the man who is so fearful and so full of trembling that he wonders that he has not fallen, and who is sometimes almost afraid that he has; and who therefore walks humbly before his God. Is he not infinitely to be preferred to the other man who thinks it is a matter of course that he shall always stand, and who has no qualms of conscience about what he calls little faults. You may rest assured that the seeds of untold misery are already sown in that other man’s heart.
Think of these two men under another aspect. Imagine that they are sailors out at sea. One of them is well aware that a certain course is very dangerous. Some captains have been able to take it and have made “a short cut” by doing so, and he decides that he will take that course. He can see that his vessel is bound to go near some very ugly-looking rocks, and among a number of sharp ledges where many others have been wrecked; but he is a bold dare-devil sort of fellow; he believes that all will be right and he has no fear. But here is the other captain, and he says, “My motto is to keep as far away from danger as I possibly can. I know that in fair weather that passage may be safe; but then I cannot reckon on fair weather. I may to caught in a fog and not know where I am; or a terrible storm may come on and drive me where I do not wish to go. I shall therefore take the longer course, which is also the safer course.” Now in which of these two vessels would you like to sail, and which of the two captains do you esteem to be that happy man? Of course you say the second one. We admire courage, but we do not admire foolhardiness; and the Christian man who seeks to steer clear of temptation, who endeavors to be precise and exact in his mode of living so as not to go near to sin, but to avoid it, and keep away from it must be judged to be in the best sense of the word a happier man than the one who courts temptation and heedlessly rushes into a position of peril.
Look at the difference between what these two men regard as happiness. The one who was not afraid said “Why should I fear? Am I not getting to be an old-established Christian now? Have I not resisted temptation for such a long while that I need not fear it now? I feel that I may do what young people must not do; it would too dangerous for them, but it will never hurt me.” So he talked, but look at him now. He has become so fond of the drunkard’s cup that he was seen reeling through the streets, or else he has been so enchanted by the lusts of the flesh that he has committed himself fatally. Or it may be that he was strongly tempted to make money very quickly and quick money-making and honesty never go together except by a very extraordinary concatenation of circumstances and this man thought it would end all right, and that he should make a great haul; so he asked the devil to help him throw the net in just that once, and now he has got into the clutches of the law, and he names the name of a man who once made a profession of religion is bracketed with that of other rogues and vagabonds! But now look at the timid man the man who said “I know that I shall never be intoxicated if I never take anything that is intoxicating; I know that I shall not be a thief if I never take anybody’s money but my own; I know that if I never indulge even in indelicate expressions, if I never think of or look at anything that is impure, I shall not be likely to go in that evil way which I utterly abhor;” that is the man who is both safe and happy, “the man that feareth alway.” Some people call him a milksop, and say that he has not spirit enough to do as others do; but just look at him. He can go in and out of the house of God as an honorable Christian man, while the other one of whom I have told you, is a moral wreck, and his name is a by-word and a reproach. I can bear my testimony that I have seen high professors so act as to become a stench in our nostrils; and on the other hand, I have seen poor timid girls who were half afraid they were hypocrites, and poor trembling men who used to come to me for comfort and counsel lest they should be deceiving themselves. I have seen many of the latter class enter the port of glory like ships in full sail coming into the harbor, while those other vessels with their painted hulls, that seemed to tempt a lot from the enemy, have gone to the bottom and they have been lost to us, and lost to themselves.
Now I will suppose that both these men whom I have been describing have fallen into a certain sin; see what a difference there is between them now. The man who has not any fear says, “Well, yes, there is no doubt that I did wrong; but then” and he begins telling all about the circumstances under which he says that he was “overtaken.” He tries to make out that he was an innocent victim who was deceived by somebody else. Now listen to “the man that feareth alway.” “Ah!” says he, “I have sinned,” and he hangs his head in shame; and then adds “I have no excuse to make; and you cannot say anything to me that will be half so heavy and so hard as what I say to myself. God will forgive me, I have no doubt, for I have truly repented; but I can never forgive myself.” The first man has a dry eye and a proud defiant spirit; and it is very likely that having committed that one great sin he will go on and commit another, and yet, another, and get harder and harder in his heart continually, yet all the while talk about being one of God’s elect who will be saved at last. Well now, that man is not a happy man. I pray that none of us may ever experience the wretchedness of having a seared conscience, and get into a state of indifference in which we can trifle with sin and yet pretend to be the servants of God. But oh, if we do fall into sin, may the Lord make us very tender about it! Let this be our prayer
“Quick as the apple of an eye,
O Lord, my conscience make!
Awake my soul, when sin is nigh,
And keep it still awake.”
Dear brothers and sisters, may you by God’s grace be preserved from sin; but if sin should come upon you unawares, may your bones be broken by it, and may you feel that your very heart is wounded because you have wounded your God! To repent of sin is one of the hallmarks of a Christian; but to have a hardened, untrembling heart, is one of the sure marks of the reprobate who are far off from God.
I might thus continue to show you, by a hundred contrasts, that the man who feareth alway is the really happy man. Suppose that we are fishing and that we have cast our line into the water. There is one fish that is altogether afraid of our bait, and of all our arrangements, and he swims as far as ever he can up or down the stream away from us. But here are some fish that are quite charmed with our worm. They say that they do not mean to swallow the hook, but we do not believe them. They say that they mean to get the worm off without letting the hook catch hold of them. They have very clever ways of sucking worms off hooks, and they are going to show what they can do; and soon they are caught. But happy is the fish that fears the bait as well as the hook, and so keeps right away from both of them. When some of us were boys we used to set traps for the sparrows and other birds in winter time, and we would watch to see them go in to eat our crumbs inside the trap. Sometimes there would come a bird that had seen our arrangement before, and had been almost caught in it, and knew all about it. Well, as soon as ever he looked at it he made up his mind that he would give our trap a very wide berth, so he flew away as far as he could. But there were some other birds that would come and look at the trap, and even perch on it, and presently some of them would get into it. Of course they did not mean to be caught; they thought they knew the way to go just far enough into the trap to get those grains of wheat, and then to fly out; but once in, they could not fly out. And sinners are just as foolish as those sparrows. Of course they do not mean to be caught; they will fly out of the trap all right when they have eaten the wheat! Yes, but I say, happy is the bird that feareth always, and that keeps far off the trap; and unhappy is the bird that thinks it can go just so far into the trap, but fully intends to go no further. Oh, how many young men and young women have been ruined because they have gone just so far into sin, meaning to stop there! But they could not stop there; they began to slide and it carried them along where they never meant to go. The only safe plan is to keep off the ice altogether. If you do not take the first wrong step, dear friend, you will not take the second; and if divine grace makes you fear and tremble before you begin to go down the hill, you are not likely to be found amongst those who have fallen to the bottom. Happy is the man, in this sense, that feareth alway.
III. But I must pass on to notice, in the third place, that the man who has this fear in his heart will do well to have it there continually : Happy is the man that feareth alway .
Have this fear concerning your holy things . For instance, when you come up to God’s house to worship, be afraid as you are coming along, lest you should be only a lip-server, and so get no blessing. If you are afraid of that happening it will not happen. And when you are sitting in your pew, say to yourself, “Now, it is possible for me to become a mere formalist in worship, and I may be listening to the Word of God with my ears, yet not receiving it into my heart. I am sorely afraid lest it should be so.” Brethren and sisters, it will not be so if you are afraid that it will be. And when the service is over, say to yourself, “I am afraid that I did not worship God in spirit and in truth as I should have done; I fear that I did not praise him or pray to him with my whole heart as I ought to have done. O Lord, pardon the iniquity of my holy things! “I do not think any man ever preached as he ought to preach if he is satisfied with his own efforts. I sometimes feel thankful to God for the feeling of dissatisfaction that possesses me every time I preach. I often feel as I am going home that I should like to go back again and try to do it so much better; I do not mean better in an oratorical way, but pressing the truth home to men’s hearts more earnestly and more simply. I think that, in this sense, it is right that we should fear always. Ah, my dear young brother in the College, you are afraid that you will become cold-hearted, but you never will as long as you cherish such a fear as that. If you are afraid that you will by-and-by preach in a perfunctory official manner, you will not fall into that bad habit if you live in dread of doing so. If you are afraid that you will not set a good example to your people, I believe that you will set them a good example. But if you ever feel, “Oh, I can preach and practice too; I am all right;” it may happen that God will rebuke your pride and let you see, and perhaps let your enemies see, what a poor fool you are after all. Blessed is the man who, in his holy things, feareth alway the man who is afraid when he is on his knees alone, lest he should not pray aright the man who is afraid lest either in public or in private he should act the hypocrite before his God.
And happy is the man who has this holy fear in his own house the man who says, “I am afraid lest I should not act as a Christian father ought to act towards his children, or as a Christian husband should act towards his wife.” Other members of the household may say, “I fear lest I should not be such a wife, or such a child, or such a servant, or such a master as I ought to be.” These are the people who usually are what they should be those who are afraid that they are not. Those who are the most anxious lest they should fail are generally those who do not fail.
And I would like you also to be anxious in your business, for fear lest you should in any way take advantage of anybody lest in the measure, or in the weight, or in the price, or in the invoice, there should be any mistake which would unjustly benefit you. The man who is afraid of anything like that will be an honest tradesman, you may rest assured of that. As for the servant or the workman who is afraid that he will not give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage, and the employer who is afraid that he will not give his servant or workman as much as he ought to give him I can only say that I wish we had many more of that sort of men than we already have, though I know a good many of that sort. If we are afraid of wronging one another, and not loving our neighbor as ourselves, that is a healthy kind of fear; and the more we have of it the more happy shall we be.
And if perchance there should not seem to be in yourself any special cause for this fear just now though “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” then begin to be afraid for the church of which you are a member . This is a fear which is always resting heavily upon me the fear lest we should love our earnestness in prayer lest we should not care as much as we ought for the souls of men lest the members of our church should grow worldly lest we should become cold and indifferent towards our dear Lord and Master. Never lose this wholesome kind of fear concerning this church and your fellow-members, or concerning any other church with which you are connected.
Then, have a solemn fear about your own children; lest possibly you should not have trained them up as you should have done, or should not have prayed for them as you should to have done, or lest your own example should not have been such as they could safely follow. Be afraid for your children as Job was for his. When they met together to feast he “offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” The man who is thus afraid that things may be wrong is the man who is most likely to keep everything right. Many a man who becomes a bankrupt is so, largely, because he does not examine his books. He says that he does not like looking into his books; they are very unpleasant literature to him, and he never sees to the details of his affairs himself. He leaves this to John, and that to Thomas, and the other to one clerk, and something else to another; and then one day he wakes up to find that everything has gone to smash. Do not let it be so in your household, or in your temporal affairs, or in your spiritual concerns; but look into everything yourself and watch everything carefully; for in this way, by fearing alway, you will be both safe and happy in the hands of God.
IV. Now lastly, there are some who have indeed very grave cause to fear .
There are some of my hearers at this service I am glad that they are here who I am afraid have cause to fear in a far deeper sense than that in which I have used my text. Some of you are not saved; you know you are not. You have never had your sins forgiven, you have never sought and found mercy through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son. And some of you are very ill; you were only just able to get here to-night. What! so ill as that, yet with no Savior to help you? Sick, well-nigh unto death, yet without a Savior? Likely to die soon, for you are consumptive, yet you have no Savior? Let me appeal to you my dear friend: is this wise? Can you afford to run such a terrible risk? Why, the healthy may die at any moment but as for you, death is already at your door; so surely you cannot afford to trifle with eternal things. And some of you are getting old, yet you are not saved. Sixty years of age and not saved? Seventy, eighty, and not saved? What are you at? A man told me the other day that he would not come to hear me again, for, said he, “The last time I came you called me an old fool. Why was that? I asked. “Why,” he replied, “you said that an old sinner was an old fool.” So I said to him, “Are you an old sinner then? Because if you are, you are an old fool;” and he could not deny it, for we are all fools till we are saved by Jesus Christ. A man must be a fool to run the risk of losing his immortal soul. I have heard that a man once went up to the top of the spire of Salisbury cathedral and stood on his head there. What do you think he was? “A fool,” you say. Yes, so he was; yet he only risked his neck; but you are risking your soul’s eternal welfare, risking the loss of heaven, and running a terrible risk of going to hell for ever. O friend, is this wise? You know it is not, and that I am only speaking the truth when I tell you that you are a fool, and one of the worst of fools.
O sirs, if you are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ you are standing over the mouth of hell upon a single plank, and that plank is rotten. You are hanging over the jaws of perdition by a single hair, and that hair is snapping. I looked down my well this afternoon as a man was going down it to do some necessary work, and I said to him, “Oh, do be careful! Pray be very careful!” I felt such dread upon me lest possibly the man should fall while he was going down that great depth, into which I looked till it made me giddy; and I cannot bear to think of some of you who are in far greater danger, for you are hanging over the mouth of hell with only a rotten rope to hold to. Some of you may be in hell within a week; I cannot guarantee that any one of you will live ten minutes longer. All the physicians in the world would not be able to guarantee to any one individual that he should live even for five minutes. You are always liable to death and in danger of the wrath to come. Therefore escape for your lives, I entreat you; and meanwhile I would put you in fear about this matter, that, through this fear, you may he driven to the only place of safety, even to Jesus Christ who was lifted up upon the cross and now is exalted on high a Prince and a Savior. There is life in him; there is life for you at this moment if you will only trust in him. There is pardon for you now if you will only believe in him.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Proverbs 28". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent