Monday, July 21, 2008

Sermon No. 1823--February 22, 1885


NO. 1823
FEBRUARY 22ND, 1885,
ON JULY 3RD, 1884.

“But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing
that is common or unclean.”—Acts 10:14.

“NOT SO, Lord.” This is a very curious expression. I do not mind how you turn it into English from the original, but it is a very strange compound. If Peter had said, “Not so,” there would have been a clear consistency in his language and tone. But “Not so, Lord,” is an odd jumble of self-will and reverence, of pride and humility, of contradiction and devotion. Surely, when you say, “Not so,” it ought not to be said to the Lord; and if you say, “Lord,” you ought not to put side by side with such an ascription the expression, “Not so.” Peter always was a blunderer in his early days, and he had not grown out of his old habits of honest impetuosity. He meant well, and his expression was not intended to convey all that we might easily make of it. At any rate, it is not for us to condemn him. Who are we that we should sit in judgment on a saint of God? Besides, we are not without fault ourselves in the matter of incorrect speech. You and I have said some very curious compound things in our time. We have uttered exclamations that have been so good that the Lord accepted them: but they have been so bad that he could not have accepted them if it had not been for his infinite mercy. In our utterances there has been faith mixed with unbelief, love defaced with a want of submission, gratitude combined with distrust, humility flavoured with self-conceit, courage undermined with cowardice, fervor mingled with indifference. We are as strange beings as the image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream; and our speech betrays the fact. When we were fashioned by nature first of all we were “fearfully and wonderfully made”; but when we fell, and were unmade by sin, we became monstrosities, combinations of contrarieties. I will not dwell upon that topic, but every man who looks within, if the candle of God be shining within him, must often cry out, “Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? “In our speech this mixed estate of ours most plainly shows itself. We often feel as if we could eat our words, or at the least unsay them. Speeches that have had about them real sincerity and true devotion have been greatly marred by expressions which were not fit for the occasion. Our tongues need a sevenfold sanctification if we are always to speak that which is good and acceptable; and, surely, that is what we desire.

Now, we will have a look at Peter, and see what we can learn from this singular expression of his—this strangely compounded exclamation, “Not so, Lord.”

I. The first truth which we may easily learn is that THE OLD MAN REMAINS IN THE CHRISTIAN MAN. Albeit we are made new creatures in Christ Jesus, and the life that is within us, the dominant life, is new, and holy, and heavenly, yet the old nature still survives. Though crucified, it is long in dying, and struggles hard. Sin dwelleth in us, so that we painfully discover that, though we are new men, we are yet men; and though the grace of God reigns within us, yet there is a struggle for the kingdom, and the sin that dwells in us strives after the mastery. We are renewed sinners but we are sinners still. Our hearts and hands are cleansed by divine grace; but they have a sad tendency to become defiled.

Peter was Peter still. Why, dear friends, I think that if I had never before seen this passage in the Acts, but had read Peter’s life as I find it in the writings of the four evangelists, and somebody had newly shown me the present text, and said, “I have left out the name of the apostle, but one of them, when he had seen a vision from God, and knew that God spoke to him, nevertheless said, ‘Not so, Lord,’—what apostle was that?” I should not have had to guess twice, I am sure. I should have been sure that it was Peter; so you see Peter is Peter after the grace of God has renewed him. I think we must say the same of ourselves. You, Thomas, who used to be so thoughtful and careful, and somewhat particular and nervous, you are a child of God, but you are Thomas still; and I suspect that you will be wanting to put your finger into the print of the nails, and to thrust your hand into his side, or else you will not believe. And you, John—you always were very loving and hearty, and at the same time hot in your zeal; and now that you have become a disciple of Christ, I am sure that you will be more loving than ever; but I should not wonder if even now you should be heard saying, “Master, send fire upon those who reject thee, and destroy them.” The man is still the same man: he is greatly altered, but he has not lost his identity. Whatever change has taken place in him, Peter is Peter, and I should like you young converts to recollect that; for perhaps you think that in the day when you were converted you lost your old selves altogether. I can assure you that you did not: the hasty temper, the sluggish constitution, the gloomy tendency, or the fickle humor will be there still, to be struggled with so long as you are here below. You received a new self, and a better self, but the old self is there still. Your mother will be able to recognize you, I dare say, if you live at home as a young person: she will know that it is the same John, or the same Mary, for your foibles and weaknesses will crop up, if not your faults; and, therefore, you must keep a watch upon yourself. You are greatly changed; God has done wonders for you: he has put a new heart within you, and a new song into your mouth, but the inclination to evil is not dead: your passions, appetites, desires, are each one prone to overleap the boundary, and transgress. The best of men are men at the best. And Peter, after the Holy Ghost has fallen upon him, and he has preached a very wonderful soul-winning sermon, is, nevertheless, Peter, and you can tell that he is the selfsame person: the accent of his words still bewrays him.

Note that Peter here shows how readily he fell, not precisely into the same sin, but into the same kind of sin. His tendency was still to err in a certain direction. This Peter who said, “Not so, Lord,” is he not the same man who in his impudence rebuked his Master, and said, “That be far from thee, Lord”? Impudence, I call it. It was a piece of impertinence for which he was well rebuked when the Master said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Our Lord detected Satan endeavoring to work through the zealous enthusiasm of Peter, to tempt him to turn aside from the great work that he came to do. I do not think that the other disciples would have gone as far as Peter did: they had faults in other directions, but it remained for Peter to rebuke his Master; and now we see him half rebuking his Lord again as he declines to kill and eat the creatures let down from heaven. Yes, Peter actually says, “Not so, Lord.” May we never be found questioning providence, or disputing with revelation, lest we be taken in the same fault, and receive a rebuke for rebuking our Lord!

Is not this the same man who at supper-time refused his Master? When the Lord Jesus took a towel, and girded himself, and was about to wash the disciples’ feet, Peter said to him, “Dost thou wash my feet?” for he was astounded at such an example of humility. When the Master came with the basin he said, “Thou shalt never wash my feet”: and then you recollect what a turn he made when his Lord said, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” Then he cried, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” He was always impulsive; and from this cause he rebukes his Master, and he refuses his Master. He acts as if he fancied that he knew better than his Lord, though in his heart of hearts he had no such notion. Yes, this is the same Peter who cried, “Not so, Lord.” He refuses for the moment to do his Lord’s bidding, for it happens to be contrary to his ideas of propriety. Oh, that we may be kept clear of this grave fault!

And this is he who flatly contradicted his Master on another occasion. When Jesus said to his disciples, “All ye shall be offended because of me,” then Peter said, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” His Lord had told him that he would deny him, and yet he declared he should not. I know all the excuses that we make for Peter, and I am quite prepared to make them; but, at the same time, that was the way of Peter; that is the part in which he was weak. He did this in his earlier days, but after the Holy Ghost had come upon him, and he had been baptized into his power, and had risen into quite a superior condition from that in which he was in the life of our Lord on earth, yet he still tripped in the same place where he used to fall; and he said, “Not so, Lord,” as if he would again rebuke, refuse, and contradict his Lord.

I therefore put it again. What were your faults before conversion? Guard against them now. What have been your failures, and your weaknesses, and your errors since you have been converted? Watch against them still; for if you have now become an experienced Christian, and your graces have been greatly developed, and you have become exceedingly useful in the church of God, yet, beloved brother, the points in which there is a weakness in your natural constitution, and in which you have made failures, are the points at which you must set a double guard of watching and praying lest you be led into temptation by those special features of your character. Kindly notice this earnest advice, which my loving anxiety leads me to press upon you. I have seen so much of the fruits of presumption that I entreat you not to give way to it. If anybody tells you that the old man is quite dead, you may say, “Nobody but the old devil could have set you on to whisper such a lie in my ear. The truth is not in you.” You and I know that inbred sin is our daily plague, a fact past all question with our souls. We have not to go many steps on our journey before we painfully feel that the sins which we thought we had subdued, and should never be subject to any more, suddenly arouse themselves out of their graves, and fight with us as if they had never been conquered before. If we did not cry to God with tears and agony for hourly upholding, we should find ourselves falling into the same ditches into which we fell years ago. My venerable friend, that point in which you feel that you are quite safe is the place where you lie most open to attack. Hark my words, and see if they be not verified. Where you say to yourself, “I am past danger on that account,” there the enemy will get an advantage over you. “But I am strong,” say you. Nonsense, you are weak as water. You dream of perfection, but you are a mass of wants, and infirmities, and conceits; and if it were not for the infinite mercy of God, who deals tenderly with you, you would soon have most painfully to know it to your own dishonor, and to the grief of your brethren round about you. Peter is Peter still, notwithstanding what grace has done.

You notice about Peter this thing still remaining, that he blurts out what he feels. Be it for bad or good, prompt deliverance of his mind is still the characteristic of Peter. He has seen the vision, And he has heard the voice of God saying to him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat”; and without a minute’s deliberation Peter replies, “Not so, Lord.” That was how he did before. He was always blundering because he was in such a hurry. If he had put his finger to his forehead for half a minute, he would not have said many things which he did say. This was a man whose wisdom always lay at the back of his head, instead of at the front of it. It came in to tell him that he had made a mistake, but it never came to hand soon enough to prevent the error; and Peter after Pentecost had not lost this trait of his character. I may be addressing young folk here who are very impulsive, and speak all in a hurry things which they afterwards are sorry for. I should not wonder if you continue to be impulsive when you grow older. Perhaps it will be one of your snares through life. Be on your guard against it. It is a strength if it be rightly managed. Give me the man who in a good cause does not think twice, but acts upon the warm impulses of a ready mind. Give me the man who understands that second thoughts are not always the best, for they are apt to chill, and the best thought is that which comes from a heart fired with the love of Christ. The best Christian workers to lead the van, to make a dash with a forlorn hope, have been those brave, impulsive, Peterlike spirits; but that same characteristic, if not kept in proper order by the Spirit of God, may lead you into a world of mischief. You say your say so quickly, but you cannot unsay it, even in years and ages. You cannot call back the words which now cause you to bite your tongue with regret. You did grow very angry. It is true that ten minutes calmed you, and you were as sorry as possible for all your bitter speeches; but that could not undo the injury, nor heal the cruel wound that you had given to your faithful friend. You must cry to God that, if you are impulsive, the impulses may always come from him; and you must ask him daily to lead and guide you in the way of understanding. I pray that you may not often pull out your sword, and cut off a man’s ear, for Jesus is not here to work miracles, as he was at hand fortunately with Peter; and you may cut somebody’s ear off, and not be able to put it on again. Ask him to keep you in check, that you may not be working mischief in your haste which you will have to repent of in your leisure.

But Peter is Peter still, and so does the renewed man betray the infirmities which were with him before his renewal. Yet Peter as Peter still has good points, for he owns all this. Luke could not have recorded this incident in the Acts of the Apostles unless Peter had personally told him, for none else knew of it; and in the next chapter we find that, when Peter was brought up before the other apostles for what he had done, he narrated the whole affair, and confessed, “But I said, ‘Not so, Lord.’” You see he was always outspoken, honest, and clear as the day. There was a trace of dissimulation in him once, but I should think that it was strange work with him. As a general rule, the bluff fisherman spoke what first came to hand, and had no cunning about him. In this let us be at one with him. If you carry that trait of character with you into the things of grace, so much the better, for there is no Christian that is so little a Christian as the man who is great at tricks, and mighty at “prudence.” I think that is the name folks often give it. “Cunning,” I call it. The man who blurts out his mind so that you know what he thinks may get himself into lots of trouble, but he does not get so many other people into trouble as the double-minded man would do; and by the grace of God it often happens that his directness, sincerity, and truthfulness work together to effect a great blessing in the midst of his brethren. May the Spirit of God sanctify our peculiarities, that they may make us specially useful; but save us from our constitutional infirmities, that we may not by them be led into sin!

There is the first head: the old man still remains in the regenerate man. It was apparent in Peter, and it is evident enough in us.

II. But now, secondly, THE OLD MAN GENERALLY FIGHTS AGAINST GOSPEL PRINCIPLES; for this was the point upon which Peter differed from his Lord. This “Not so, Lord,” applied to grand gospel principles which had been put before him, as for instance, the abolition of the ceremonial law. Peter was to know that those ceremonial laws, which forbade the eating of this and that, were now to be abrogated. By Christ’s coming here on earth, and bearing a mortal body about with him, he has taken away the ban from all forbidden meats, so far as they were forbidden upon religious grounds. God has cleansed them, and what God has cleansed Peter was not to call common. Peter at the first revolted from this: “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. Not so, Lord; not so. I cannot arise, and kill, and eat.” Many to this day quarrel with God’s glorious gospel on ceremonial grounds, The Scripture saith that men are to be saved by faith; but these formalists say, “Surely, they must be regenerated in baptism; they must be further fed by the blessed Eucharist.” Persons who are evangelical in their hearts, and who unwittingly preach the gospel, nevertheless muddle it up with a number of outward ordinances; and thus they say practically, “Not so, Lord.” Ritualism is practically battling against that gospel which lies in faith in Christ, and not in ceremonies; which demands spiritual life, and not external performances. All of us are apt to err in this manner, for we incline to attach undue importance to matters which are proper and useful in their places, but which are by no means essential to salvation. One person thinks a great deal of confirmation, which is purely an ordinance of man; another thinks equally much of attending class-meeting, which is an instructive practice, but not a subject of divine command. Where Jesus has made no rule we are not to make any. We are to receive all whom Christ receives. None are unclean whom he has cleansed; none are to be set aside if he admits them to his love. Yet this lesson is not soon learned by sticklers for propriety: they question any man’s salvation who follows not with them, and when bidden to commune with them, they start aside with Peter’s cry in their hearts, if not on their lips “Not so, Lord.”

The same battle is carried on by certain people who have never eaten anything common or unclean, in the sense that they have never associated with any but very respectable people. Here the fight is concerning the equality of men before the law, and under the gospel. An evangelist brings into the congregation all the poor people of the district, and the very worst of characters gather to hear him. This ought to be a great joy, but in certain cases it is not. Many are offended, and in effect say, “‘Not so, Lord.’ Well, really, I—I—I do not like sitting next to one who is dressed so badly, and smells so vilely. I saw a woman of loose character come in, and I felt as if I must leave my pew.” Oh, you very respectable people, you know that you get into that state of mind! You do not say much about it when we hear you, because you know that it would not answer your purpose; yet you squeeze up against the corner of the pew to get away from the poor and needy. Do you not? If a man with a smock-frock, or with a dirty face, comes in here, you would just as soon that he should sit on the flaps in the aisle as sit in your seat, and a great deal sooner, I dare say. There is a great deal of that kind of feeling about, and it may be very natural, but it certainly betrays feebleness of Christian love. Truly, it is an instinct of cleanliness to shrink from the unwashed; but then it is an instinct of the new life to rejoice in the salvation of souls, and for the sake of it to put up with greater discomforts than can arise from contact with the fallen. I suppose that in the days of James, when he rebuked those who beckoned the rich to sit near them, the Roman or the Jewish pauper was quite as ill-savoured as any that are among us at this day, yet he makes no allowance for this. Let us prize the common and unclean so much that we never think of them in that light. Never let us set up the tyranny of caste, and rebuild the middle wall of partition which our Savior died to throw down. “God hath made of one blood all nations of men”: we sprang of a common parent, and for men there is but one Savior. Let us know no partialities, but desire with equal earnestness the salvation of peer and pauper, of matron and harlot, of gentleman and vagabond. To hear some people speak of their fellowmen is sickening to me: they talk of them as if they were mere offal and rubbish, not worthy of their genteel notice. I bless God that I seldom hear it, for it rouses my wrath. A minister in a certain neighborhood used solemnly to warn his people against all such wicked persons as Moody and Sankey, and the like, because they were the means of saving the lower orders. He said, “I see people in this district professing to be saved, and yet they never before went to a place of worship at all. Therefore,” he said, “I do not believe in their salvation, for surely if God were about to save a great number, he would first of all save those who have for years regularly attended our places of worship.” That was a bit of Peter-like propriety coming up, and saying, “Not so, Lord.” Oh, the cruelty of respectability! If you have anything of that left in your nature, ask God to turn it out. It was in the great Father’s own house that there lived an elder brother, who said, “As soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” He was angry, and would not go in. He was a very excellent man indeed, a very respectable person; and he was not going in with such tag-rag as this prodigal brother of his. He did not like so much fuss made over a profligate. My friend, that proud propriety is of the old man. Whenever that disposition comes up in you it is your baser part, the part that ought to die, and in this way it shows its enmity to the gospel of the grace of God. I love to believe in the perfect equality of men in the sight of God as to the work of his grace. If they do but seek the Lord, and put their trust in him, there is no difference; and this we must all maintain, as Christian men and women, by receiving all classes with joy. Otherwise, we shall be just getting where Peter was when he said, “Not so, Lord,” for he said that he had not eaten anything common or nuclear; and we say that we have not associated with any person living in a back slum.

The same kind of battle takes place when our old man fights against the gospel in its great principle of free, and sovereign grace. You war against it yourself when you are conscious of having done wrong, and therefore doubt the grace of God. At once the old man says, “You have sinned, and therefore you are out of God’s favor: he will cast you away, and you will perish.” But the gospel principle is—

“Whom once he loves he never leaves,
But loves them to the end.”

The tendency to legalism, which is natural to us, kicks against the glorious doctrine of free grace and unchanging love, and sometimes we say, “I am afraid that I am not good enough to pray, or fit to participate in the grace of God”: as if God wanted some good in us before he would bestow his grace upon us. A diseased man is fit to be healed, a poor man is fit for alms, a drowning man is fit to be rescued, a sinful man is fit to be forgiven. God would have us come to him all empty, and feeble, and sinful, and erring, and just receive of his free favor in Christ Jesus, spontaneously given on his part, without anything in us that can merit his esteem. Oh, it is a grand thing to be able to spell that word “grace—grace—grace”! Somebody said the other day that to say “free grace” was to use a redundancy. That is so; but there is such a real redundancy in grace that we do not mind using a redundancy of expression when we are talking about it. “Free grace” we mean still to say, for, as some people will not believe that grace is free, it is still necessary to make it very clear that it is so, and to say not only “grace,” but “free grace.” Christ did not die for saints, but for sinners. He came not into the world because of our righteousness, but he died for our sins. The work of God is not to save men deserving salvation, but men who are altogether undeserving of it. The great flood of divine mercy overflows and drowns all our sins, rising, and yet rising, fifty cubits upwards, till the tops of the mountains of our iniquity are all covered, never to be seen again. What a grand article of the creed is that,—“I believe in the forgiveness of sins”! Why are we so slow to believe it? Is it not our old man rising, even as it did in Peter, to give battle to free grace with its “Not so, Lord”?

III. Thirdly, and as briefly as I can, I would remind you that THE OLD NATURE SHOWS ITSELF IN MANY WAYS, always fighting against God. “Not so, Lord,” is often the cry of our unregenerate part.

It is so against the doctrine of the gospel. Some persons do not believe the gospel because they do not want to believe it. They studiously omit to read all such parts of Scripture as would enlighten their minds. They are not convincible because they have already persuaded themselves as to what truth ought to be. “Not so, Lord,” is their cry. Beloved, never get into that state of mind. Follow God’s Word anywhere, believing what the Spirit says, let him teach you what he may. Whatever your notions may have been, when you come across a clear statement in the Word of God, bow your every thought to it, and accept its teaching, for it is true, whatever your thoughts may be. It is mine to believe what the Bible teaches; it is not mine to object, and cry, “Not so, Lord.”

This old nature of ours sometimes cries out against God in matters of duty. We can do anything except the special duty of the hour, and as to that one thing, we say, “Not so, Lord.” Yonder young woman knows that according to God’s Word she must not marry that young man, for she would be unequally yoked together with an unbeliever. Now, she was quite willing to be baptized, and she is heartily willing to give her money to the Lord, and in fact to do anything except that one act of self-denial, which would require her to cease from a fond friendship. Yet, my friend, I do not know what sorrow you will make for yourself if you really break that salutary rule. I have seen many instances of mixed marriages, but I have had to mourn over nearly all of them as the cause of untold wretchedness. Take you the precept, and knowing that it is God’s mind concerning you, never dare even for a moment to hesitate. “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Never let your lips say, “Not so, Lord”; for it is disobedience to demur against the command of the Lord your God.

As it is with your practice, so let it be with everything else. Our corrupt
nature will dare to cavil at processes of sanctification. We are anxious to bear fruit, but we do not care to be pruned; we are glad to be delivered from dross, but not by the fire. Rebukes are undervalued, searching truths are avoided, faithful friends are shunned, and awakening Scriptures are neglected, for carnal ease pleads hard for indulgence, and the flesh whines, “Not so, Lord.”

Even in the dispensation of the kingdom self-will comes in: we like not that God should bless men by a sect to which we do not belong: we are envious for our own Moses, lest the irregular Eldads and Medads should eclipse him. I have known old folks object to the Lord’s blessing that rather obtrusive young woman, that very forward lad, that overzealous person. Let God bless us, certainly, but not by objectionable people! Many would prefer apostles from Athens rather than from Nazareth: they prefer the smell of study lamp-oil to that of the fishingboats of Galilee. We pray for conversions, yet certain persons would not believe in them if they happened out of the regular way. We are too masterful by half, and are far from taking up our proper position as servants. Too much of the Peter clings to us, and our tongue is much too ready to cry out, “Not so, Lord.”

Our natural corruption is apt to quarrel with the Lord concerning our sufferings. Against this also be ever watchful. Whenever you are called to endure trial, do not complain of the particular form it takes. Perhaps it is great bodily pain, and you say, “I could bear anything better than this.” That is a mistake. God knows what is the best for his child. Do not cry, “Not so.” “Oh, I could bear sickness,” says another, “but I have been slandered! My character is taken away, and I cannot bear that.” Thus our will asserts its place, and we pine to be our own god and ruler. This must not be. You must, my dear friend, bear that which the Lord appoints, or else you will make the matter a deal worse. If you want anything done well do it yourself, with this exception—that, if you want your character defended, you should always let that alone. Somebody else will take care of that for you, and if slander be the rod under which you are to smart, many of us have felt it before you, and you need not complain so bitterly, as if a strange thing had happened to you. Do not cry, “Not so, Lord”; but let the Lord appoint you care or calumny, sickness or slander, for he knows best.

“But I am afraid that I shall lose my wife, or a favourite child. I think that I could have suffered anything but that.” Yes, you see, a rebellious spirit contends with God one way or another; it cannot be quiet. I was greatly struck with a story a dear sister told me yesterday. She was very nearly being removed from the church: she had quarrelled with the Lord for taking away her husband, and she would not go to any place of worship, she felt so angry about her loss. But her little child came to her one morning, and said, “Mother, do you think Jonah was right when he said, ‘I do well to be angry, even unto death’?” She replied, “O child, do not talk to me,” and put the little one away, but she felt the rebuke, and it brought her back to her God, and back to her church again, humbly rejoicing in him who had used this instrumentality to set her right with her Lord. O friends, let us be silent before the Lord, and judge his ways no longer, for in this judgment there is no benefit to ourselves or others! Do not say, “Not so,” but rather, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” When Jacob crossed his aged hands to bless the two sons of Joseph, according to the divine will, Joseph said, “Not so, my father”—but he could not alter his father’s act. Jacob guided his hands wittingly, and the blessing came as God would have it. Perhaps a great blessing is coming on you in a cross-handed manner. The patriarch had experienced many a cross-handedblessing himself, and therefore he knew what he was at.

“Cross-handed came the blessing down
On Jacob’s hoary head,
When Joseph’s bloody coat was shown
As numbered with the dead.”

Many a wonderful blessing has come to us in that cross-handed way. Bow your head, therefore, and silence your tongue, and have done for ever with arraigning your Maker before your petty judgment-seat. Shall not the heavenly Father do that which is right and good?

Sometimes our corrupt nature quarrels with God about our service. The Lord says, “Go into the Sunday-school.” “I should have liked to preach,” says the young man. “Go into the Sunday-school.” “Not so, Lord,” says he, and he will not go, and thus he misses his life-work. It will not do for us to choose what work we will do. Who would employ servants who, when they are told to do this or go there, should say, “No, sir; I prefer another engagement”? They will get their money on Saturday night, with the advice to find a new master. We may well pray,

“Dismiss me not thy service, Lord,”

if we have been pickers and choosers of our work. Do what the Lord bids you, when he bids you, where he bids you, as he bids you, as long as he bids you, and do it at once. Never say, “Not so, Lord.”

“But,” you say, “his providence is very strange to me. I am called away from the place where my heart has struck its roots. God deals with me in a terrible manner.” Truly his way is in the storm. Yet, never say, “Not so, Lord.” It is not a pretty position for a child of God to be in to be trying to amend the arrangements of the great Father. The Omniscient knows best. You think so, do you not? Do not act as if you thought the contrary. Oh, brothers and sisters, an obedient heart, a yielding spirit, a submissive mind, and an acquiescence in the divine will, are the necessary elements of happiness; but the spirit of “Not so, Lord,” is the mother of all the mists and fogs that darken our pathway. If thou wilt walk contrary to God he will walk contrary to thee. “Unto the froward he will show himself froward”; but to the humble and contrite, the submissive and obedient, he will show himself exceeding gracious. If thou wilt stoop thou shalt conquer. If thou wilt yield thou shalt have thy desire. If thou wilt be nothing God will make much of thee. If thou wilt be lowly God will exalt thee. But if thou wilt stand out against thy Lord, as he loves thee, he will correct thee, and he will teach thee better manners ere he has done with thee.

IV. Let us leave that point, and close with a fourth observation:—IT IS A GREAT PITY WHEN THIS KIND OF WILFULNESS STANDS IN THE WAY OF USEFULNESS.

It would have been so with Peter if the Lord had not used the process by which he overcame him. “Not so, Lord,” said Peter: “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” In some things Peter was a great deal too conservative. He says, “Not so, Lord,” and some read it, “Never, Lord, never, Lord, for I have never;” that is, “I must never do a thing I have never done.” Many are of this mind: they cannot advance an inch. This is the hymn they sing of a morning before breakfast, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” And any time until they go to bed at night it is the tune they keep on singing, “As it was in the beginning: as it was in the beginning.” They will never do what has not been done, nor learn what they have not learned. Many will only act as others act; they must keep in the fashion. Now this is a rule which I never accepted; for it always seemed to me that I was probably to do what nobody had done before me; for was I not in some points different from every one else? One likes to look about, and search for methods of usefulness which have not been tried, for a novel form of labor may be like a bit of virgin soil which will yield a better crop than our own arable lands which have been drained so long. Do you not think that Christian men are apt to be stereotyped in their ways? You must always sing so many verses and no more; you must pray a certain time, and go right round Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, before you close your petitions. Certain people must always do what they have done, even though they fall asleep in the doing of it. This kind of routine forbids enlarged usefulness, prevents our getting at out-of-the-way people, and puts a damper upon all zeal. Let us struggle against the spirit which would bind us hand and foot: where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. Let us not say, “Never, Lord, for I have never,” but, on the contrary,—“Right speedily will I attempt this work of usefulness, because I have forgotten it so long; I will make haste, and delay no longer to keep thy commandments.”

Propriety hinders very many: decorum is their death. I do not know the precise meaning of it, but there are genteel people about who consider that the finest thing on earth is “propriety.” Mr. Rowland Hill was said to have ridden on the back of all order and decorum. “No,” he said, “I cannot ride on the back of two horses, but I have two horses to my carriage, and I have called one of them ‘Order,’ and the other ‘Decorum,’ to make the report come as nearly right as possible.” Order and decorum were never put to a better use than when they drew Mr. Rowland Hill from town to town preaching the gospel; and I, for one, am glad that he never took those horses into the pulpit. He was just as disorderly and indecorous as a Christian man ought to be—that is to say, he was perfectly natural, and spoke the truth from his heart, and men that heard it felt the power of it; and so he became a blessing to this part of London, and, indeed, to the whole world. Shake yourself up a little, my brother. If you are too precise may the Lord set you on fire, and consume your bonds of red tape! If you have become so improperly proper that you cannot commit a proper impropriety, then pray God to help you to be less proper, for there are many who will never be saved by your instrumentality while you study propriety.

Again, I doubt not that some are hindered in their usefulness by their great dignity. It is wonderful what noble creatures men can grow into, if they are let alone. “This great Babylon that I have built,” cries Nebuchadnezzar. That is the same gentleman who afterwards ate grass like the oxen, and whose nails grew like birds’ claws. We have seen very, very, very great little people, and very, very little great people who have given themselves mighty airs; but we have never seen any good come of their greatness. Few people are blessed by these gorgeous individuals. God seldom sends his Elijahs bread and meat by peacocks. If you go as visiting ladies into the houses of the poor very finely dressed, and you “condescend” to them, they will not want to see you any more; but if you go in and sit at their side, and show them that you are their true friends, you get at their hearts. Love thyself less and less, and love thy God more. Love the soul of every man with all the intensity of thy being. Struggle and agonize to bring sinners to the Savior’s feet, and God will help thee. But if thou standest on thy dignity, and sayest, “Lord, not so; for I have never eaten any thing common or unclean,” it will be a serious injury to thee. I said to one of our classes, “Let I grow very small, and let J grow very great,” and the brethren did not need an explanation. May we so love our Lord Jesus that we cease to care for dignity, and are willing to be nothing for his sake!

Are there any here who have not yet believed in Jesus? I hope they will trust their souls with him at once, and, when they have done so, let them come forward without delay, and confess his name, and be baptized into the sacred Three. Then let them try to grow downward lower and lower, till they sink into nothing, that Christ may be all in all.




DEAR FRIENDS,—May the peace of God abide with you. With great pleasure I perform the weekly duty of preparing the sermon, and I pray our Lord to make it a blessing to all my readers. Each day I gather a measure of strength. My walking is measured by steps few and slow, but then I can walk, and this is a great reason for gratitude to one who could not put his foot down without pain. I am recovering in all respects, and feel that a fortnight in this place has done more for me than could have been effected by months of medicine.

To him whom I worshipped in pain be grateful praises for restoring mercy.

Yours heartily,
Mentone, Feb. 16, 1886.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sermon No. 725--Dec. 16, 1866

NO. 725

“O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive
thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make
known; in wrath remember mercy.”--Habakkuk 3:2.

“O LORD, I have heard thy speech!” This is the language of reverent obedience, and is a fit preface to a fervent prayer. If we are not willing to hear God’s voice, we cannot expect him to hear our voice. It is an admirable preparation for prayer, first to hearken diligently to what God the Lord shall speak, and then to be obedient to his commands. He who would hear God speak needs not to wait long, for God speaks to men continually by the Scriptures, which are given to us by inspiration. Alas that we should be so deaf to its teachings! This wonderful volume, so full of wisdom, is so little read that few of us could dare to gaze upon its pages and say, “O Lord, in this Book I have heard thy speech.” At other times, the Lord speaks by providence; both national providences and personal providences have a meaning; providences that are afflicting, and providences which are comforting, all have a voice; but, alas! I fear that oftentimes to us providence is dumb because we are deaf. How often, in our stubbornness, we are like the horse and the mule, which have no understanding, and when God speaketh to us we do not regard him; he therefore multiplies our afflictions, and holds us in with the bit and bridle of adversity, because we will not be governed by gentler means. Look, my brethren, at the providence of God throughout the whole of your lives, and I am afraid few of you can say of it, “O Lord, in providence I have heard thy speech.” The God of heaven speaks to men by his Holy Spirit. He does this, at times, in those common operations of the Spirit upon the ungodly, which they resist, as did also their fathers. The Spirit strives with men; he calls, and they refuse; he stretches out his hands, and they regard him not. The unregenerate man is like the deaf adder that will not hear, charm we never so wisely. Even when the Holy Spirit speaks to us his people, we are not always willing and obedient; but though we have ears to hear, we frequently quench the Spirit; we grieve him, we neglect his monitions, and, if we do not despise his teachings, yet too often we forget them, and listen to the follies of earth, instead of regarding the wisdom of the skies. I am afraid that in looking into our own hearts and studying them in connection with the operations of the Holy Spirit, not one of us could dare to say, without exception, “O Lord, I have heard thy speech.”

In the text before us we meet with a prophet whose ear had been spiritually opened, and who therefore heard the still, small voice of Jehovah, where others perceived neither sound nor utterance. There are times even with us when, being under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we hold near communion with our God; then are our hearts like wax to his seal, receiving the impress of the Divine Mind. Are you not conscious of having been in such a state? It must be so, dear hearer, in a measure, with all the Lord’s servants; but especially must it be often so with those of us who are called to bear his messages to the people. I have most solemnly sought to hear the speech of Jehovah in my own soul before I came into this pulpit, and pray that his divine power may enable me to convey that speech to you. I have been afraid this week, as I have heard the voice of God in this land; trembling has taken hold upon me, as Jehovah has spoken in thunderclaps, and made the whole land to echo with his terrible accents. I may be to some of you as an interpreter, and you who are spiritual men, you will discern and judge whether I have heard the speech of God or not. If you shall find it to be God’s voice to you, I hope you will be led to the farther carrying out of the language of the text in that much-needed prayer, “O Lord, revive thy work.”

There are three things in the text; an alarming voice, an appropriate prayer,
and a potent argument
--“in wrath remember mercy.”

I. Hear, with solemn awe, THE ALARMING VOICE. The speech of God demands your humblest attention. We need not enter into particulars of the heavy tidings, which came to the ear of Habakkuk when he set him upon the tower, and watched to see what the Lord would say unto him. Our business this morning is to tell you, in all solemnity, what the voice of God has been saying to us. In my lonely meditations I heard a voice, as of one that spake in the name of the Lord. I bowed my head to receive the message, and the voice said, “Cry,” and when I said, “What shall I cry?” the answer came to me as to Isaiah of old, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass.” Then I thought I saw before me a great meadow wide and far reaching, and it was like to a rainbow for its many colors, for the flowers of summer were in their beauty. In the midst thereof I marked a mower of dark and cruel aspect, who with a scythe most sharp and glittering, was clearing mighty stretches of the field at each sweep, and laying the fair flowers in withering heaps. He advanced with huge strides of leagues at once, leaving desolation behind him, and I understood that the mower’s name was Death. As I looked I was afraid for my house, and my children, for my kinsfolk and acquaintance, and for myself also; for the mower drew nearer and nearer, and as he came onward a voice was heard as of a trumpet, “Prepare to meet thy God.” Moreover, as I mused on I heard a rumbling in the bowels of the earth, as though the destroyer were traversing the dark pathways which the miner has digged, and doing his fearful work among the stones of darkness which be at the roots of the mountains. I wondered with sore amazement, and behold there came up from the mouth of the pit a thundering cloud of vapor, of smoke and fire, and dust, and rushing whirlwind, which told to wailing women that they were widows and their children fatherless; and the angel of death again cried in mine ears, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.” I have come here this morning sore afraid, and much bowed down because of the mortality of man, and the certainty of death. We shall soon be gone, every one of us to his grave; if not by such an alarming catastrophe as that which has amazed and troubled us during this week, yet by the common processes of decay. Ye whom I now see before me are the meadows, and death is in your midst. Ye are the flowers, and I hear the terrible blast, which, alas! must wither even you. I see you, but there is no joy in my eye, for the cheek of beauty shall pale, and the eye of youth shall grow dim, and the sinews of the strong shall fail them, and the arms of the mighty shall be powerless in the tomb. As the autumn leaves are gone, so are our fathers; and as the floods hasten to the ocean, even so are we hastening away. An irresistible torrent hurries us to our doom; a mighty wind from the Lord sweeps us for ever onward. While we thus quietly consider it the great mystery is being enacted, a thousand graves are being digged, and a thousand corpses are being laid in new-made sepulchres. At this moment hundreds are wading into the cold, chill stream of Jordan; passing into the disembodied state to hear the judgment of the Great King.

As I thought upon this matter, and desired to hear God’s speech therein, I saw a precipice, whose frowning steep overhung a sea of fire. Leading up to its brink I saw a road exceeding broad, a road which was crowded from side to side with a thronging multitude, who pressed and trod one upon another in their raging zeal to reach the summit of the crag. They went gaily on, merrily laughing, singing to sprightly music, many of them dancing, some of them pushing aside their fellows that they might reach sooner than was imperative upon them the end of what they knew so little. As I looked at that end which none of them could see, I saw a cataract of souls, falling in ceaseless, headlong stream into depths unutterably profound. As the crowd came on rank by rank to the edge of this precipice, they fell, they leaped over, or were dashed from the treacherous crag, and descended amid cries and shrieks surpassing all imagination into a lake of fire, wherein they were submerged with an everlasting baptism, overwhelmed with destruction from the presence of the Lord. I thought I heard their groans and moans their shrieks and sighs as they first caught sight of the terrible abyss and would have shrunk back from it, but were quite unable, for the time to pause was past. Even now I see before my eyes that terrific Niagara of souls descending by thousands every hour into the gulf unknown. This is the broad road of which we had heard so often, wherein multitudes delight to walk. “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that go in thereat.” Sure and terrible is the doom of every one who treads therein. Oh that men would forsake it at once and for ever! Alas! alas! are not the great mass of our fellow citizens, beneath the scepter of our Queen, travelling in this broad road? Even if we could conceive that all who attend the places of worship were in the narrow way that leadeth unto life eternal, if we could be charitable enough to believe that, yet look at the multitude of outsiders! Look at this city, with far more than a million for whom the sound of the church-going bell is meaningless; who know not God, neither regard him, to whom the name of Christ is but a word to curse with or to ridicule: they are going, my brethren, men of the same country as yourselves, men of the same race and tribe, speaking our own language, they are going downward to destruction! Among them your own children, mayhap your wives, your husbands, your sons, your daughters, your parents, going in that motley crew, onward, swiftly onward, towards their dreadful end. My God will cast them away; their end will be destruction; they will be driven from the presence of the Lord. Let these two thoughts, my brethren, burn in your souls until all coldness and indifference are consumed. Men die, and their souls are lost. Men die and their bodies are laid in the grave, but their souls descend into hell. Scarcely were the first death a thing to be mourned over, if it were not for the second. It might be superfluous to shed so much as a single tear for all the men that died, if we knew that they rested in the arms of Jesus, and were for ever blessed; but this is the sting of death, its bitterness, its wormwood and its gall, that sinners are condemned by justice, and driven by vengeance from the presence of mercy into the place where hope can never follow them. Christian men and women, hear ye this voice of God and be afraid.

Over and above all this, there came upon me a horror of great darkness as I perceived something even more terrible than this. You will say to me, “How more terrible?” In certain aspects so it seemed to me. Hear it and judge. What if it be true that within the last twelve months the church of the living God has scarcely made the slightest approach to an advance? What if this be true as respects a far longer period? Let the first sad fact rise before us with its proof. For the last twelve months no apparent increase has been made to the number of professed disciples of the Lord Jesus. Do you ask me for the proofs? I can prove it alas! too surely. Our own body, the Baptist denomination, is upon the whole, and all things considered, in as sound and healthy a state as any Christian community now existing; I am persuaded that in some respects it is more sound and more healthy; but do you know what will have been the increase during the twelve months of the entire denomination in England, Scotland, and Ireland, so far as we can ascertain it? Well, with the exception of London and the county of Glamorgan, in Wales, there will be no increase worthy of the name. In many parts of Wales, where we are strongest, there will be a positive decrease; and I think, in fifteen counties of England, we shall have lost numbers instead of making any advance, and when the whole are put together, the good with the bad, and this London of ours, wherein God has greatly blessed us of late, is counted with the rest, our entire increase for all the churches with all their ministers will not make up four thousand souls. It is true that our statistics are not very accurate, but if they were more accurate I believe the result would be more unfavourable. This is the more fearful to me to contemplate, because the increase of the denomination, which by God’s grace we might naturally look for merely from the increase of population, should have been very much more than this. If other Christian churches have not increased more, and I am persuaded that most of them have increased less, far less than we have, then I am correct in saying that positively the Church of God in Great Britain and Ireland, instead of making any real advance, has, in proportion to the increase of population, absolutely gone back, and I believe it would be accurate and truthful, and could be borne out by statistics, that if at this day there were taken a census of the number of persons who commune at the Lord’s table, it would be found to be smaller instead of larger than the number at the corresponding period of last year. As for abroad, what have our missions done? Brethren, if there were but one soul we ought to rejoice, but the result of missions has been of late so terribly little as to call for great searchings of heart. Is it not a fact that there are missionaries of ten years’ standing who never had a convert? Is it not also a sad fact that the number of members in all our native churches is probably less now than it was twelve months ago? Where is the nation that has been born in a day in this year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-six? Where are the kings that have bowed down before King Jesus? Where are the nations that have called him “Blessed”? Is there so much as one little tribe, however insignificant, that has owned Christ during the past year? Not one, not one! There has been no visible advance. The armies of the living God have rather suffered a repulse than gained a victory, and instead of the morning coming and the light arising, and the sun advancing to a noonday height, it seems as though at the best he stood still, if the light did not even retrograde. Surely there is a voice from God here, and as I hear it I am afraid.

Meanwhile, what kind of an age has this been in which we have lived? Is it so impassive and thoughtless that progress is impossible? Are we living in one of those dark ages in which mind is rocked to sleep and the soul is stupified? Has this last year been one in which the somnolence of the human intellect has prevented our presenting the truth to the sons of men? I think not. I believe, brethren, that this year has been one of the most wakeful in the annals of human history. At this moment London is like the city of which the prophet said, “It is full of stirs.” There are political stirs in which the Christian minister finds no theme for sorrow, for when men’s minds are but awake for anything there is then an opportunity for the propagation of truth. Truth dreads nothing so much as a sleepy audience. Give her but minds on the wing, and she will train them to the skies. This has been a year in which both upon politics and religion the human mind has been active, and had the Christian churches been filled with the Spirit, and therefore zealous and faithful, I cannot comprehend that she would at the close of the year have had to cry, “Who hath believed our report?” We have indulged the fancy that we have had a general revival, and that our churches are in a healthy state, but is it so? Let our non-success answer the question.

In the meantime, while truth slumbereth, the legions of evil spirits cease not their mischievous endeavors. How swiftly have the locusts of priest craft ascended from the smoke of the bottomless pit and covered the land! While we are compelled to fear that evangelical truth has made no advance, we cannot say this of ritualism, for its progress has been perfectly astounding. Though a prophet should have told us that this Anglican Popery would have made so great an advance in so short a time, we should have said, “Impossible! England is soundly Protestant; she will never bear to have incense smoking under her nose, and to see the millinery of the Church of Rome flaunted before her face;” but she has borne it, and she likes it well. Despite much that has been said concerning Puseyism being non-English, we are inclined to question the statement. Where are the greatest crowds in the Establishment? Are they not at the feet of these priests of Baal? Do not rank and fashion gather most readily in those places where their senses are delighted while their souls are deluded? Yes, through the means of our Popish establishment there has been an onward rush of error which is perfectly appalling. Watchman, when they ask thee, “What of the night?” canst thou say, “the morning cometh”?

Ye that love the Savior, will you open your ears to catch the meaning of all these things? Men dying, men perishing, the church slumbering, and error covering the land--doth not God say something in all this? Do you not hear out of this thick darkness the voice saying, “O my people, I have somewhat against you”? Did I not hear the Lord saying, “They shall perish, but their blood will I require at the watchman’s hands?” I saw the church of God folding her hands, given to slumber, saying, “I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing;” and all the while she was suffering multitudes to perish for lack of knowledge, leaving the banner of truth to be moth-eaten, or to be trailed in the mire, and permitting the friends of error to ride roughshod over all the land. As I saw her thus I said within my heart, Surely the Lord will chasten such a people as this, and I feared that he would send judgments upon his church, and perhaps take away her candlestick out of the place, and give the light unto another people that might serve him more faithfully. Then I felt as Habakkuk did, I heard the voice of the Lord, and I was afraid. I was afraid for my fellow-men, thinking of the multitudes of them that had already gone beyond recall to the land of darkness and to the regions of doom, and for the millions hastening to the same end. I was afraid for the Christian church, lest it should have a name to live and be dead, lest the Lord should give up the church in Britain as he did his church in Shiloh, of which he said, “Go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.” I feared lest he might do for the church in Britain as he has to the church in Rome--given it over to become an antichrist, and an abomination before the eyes of God and men. I was afraid with exceeding great fear for my fellow ministers, for I feared that all this people could not have perished without their being guilty of some of their blood! How could all this ignorance have remained in this land if the preachers had been faithful? I fear that the blood of souls will be required at the hands of many a minister. What do I see? A gathering of ministers. And what is this I see upon their garments? I see blood on them. I see blood sprinkled on grey heads, and alas! I see blood upon the brows of young men who have but lately entered into the work, blood upon them all. Herein do I much fear for myself, lest I also, addressing this multitude so constantly, should have much blood upon my skirts because of my many responsibilities! O God! it is enough to make us afraid. Why look, my brethren; when God’s servants were truly active, as the first twelve were, did the cause stand still? Did they win here and there a soul, and have now and then a conversion? Did the cause of Christ go back like an army put to the rout? On the contrary, did they not as soon as ever they received the truth, use it like a fire-brand to set the nations on a blaze? They met with persecutions which do not stand in our way; they were assaulted by threats of death which we have not to brave, and yet nothing could stand against their indomitable zeal, the omnipotence of the Holy Ghost rested on them, and they went on conquering and to conquer! And what are we? Oh we are cold and dead where they were full of fire and life. We are the degenerate sons of glorious fathers. Do you think the church could have had it said that she remained a year without increase if there were not blame somewhere? You may remind me of divine sovereignty, if you will, but I remember that divine sovereignty always acts with wisdom and with love, and that the Lord has not said to us, “Labour in vain.” If we had labored, and if all the Christian church had labored as they should have labored, I believe the promise would have been proved, “Your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

II. When one is thus bowed down with the voice of God, the most natural prompting of the regenerate soul is to pray; so we turn to the second part of the text which has in it AN APPROPRIATE PRAYER. I wish I had power this morning to make you feel the weight of what I have already brought before you. I know I have not put it in such language as I should have chosen, but it seems to me to be perfectly dreadful that there should be this constant dying, this constant ruin, this constant spread of error, and no progress in the church. I am sure when I heard it, if a messenger had told me that I was a beggar, that I had lost everything on earth, I would have been more pleased with such an announcement than to know that God’s church had not increased by the space of twelve months. It seems to me to be a thing to mourn over, a thing to make us go to God with a humble heart, and to feel as if one had been sorely chastened by the Most High. For the Lord knoweth some of us have worked with all our might, and we hope it is not pride when we say the blame does not rest with us, and yet the question must go to us all. We must deal faithfully with ourselves and not be flattered. We would honestly enquire, How much of this lies at my door? How much of this burden of God ought I to bear today? Certainly enough to lead us to such prayer as that before us.

Habakkuk, being bowed down, first turns himself to God. His first word is, “O Lord.” To the Most High we must carry both our own and our church’s troubles. Habakkuk turns not to another prophet to ask of him, “My brother, what shall we do;” but he turns to the Master, “O Lord, what wilt thou do?” It will be well for us to confer with one another as to the causes of defeat and the means for securing success, but all conference with flesh and blood is idle unless it be preceded by solemn conferences with God. For God’s church, God is needed; for God’s work. God’s own arm must be made bare. Is it not delightful to notice how heavy trials drive us to God when we might not have gone to him else? The little child, when walking abroad runs before his father, but if he meets some strange man of whom he is afraid, he runs back and takes his father’s hand directly; so should it be with us. If God had prospered all our churches, and everything had gone on as we had desired, we might perhaps have grown self-confident, and have said, “O Lord, thou hast given us power in ourselves;” but now, that we see the contrary, let us run back to closer fellowship and nearer communion with our God than ever, and taking hold upon the arm of his strength, let us stir him up by our continued and fervent prayers.

Notice next, that the prayer of Habakkuk is about God’s church. He knew that there were dark days coming over Palestine, but he does not pray about that land in particular. “O Lord,” saith he, “revive thy work.” Certain would-be prophets tell us that many wonders will occur in 1866 and 1867, though I notice a propensity to postpone the whole business to 1877. Is this postponement intended that there may be ten years longer in which to sell their books? But whatever is to come, whether the Turkish empire is to be destroyed, or Louis Napoleon is to annex Germany, whether Rome is to be swallowed up by an earthquake, does not seem to me to matter so much as the turn of a button. The great thing to a Christian is, not the fate of earthly empires, but the state of the heavenly kingdom. As to what is to become of this principality or that empire, what have you and I to do with these things? We are the servants of a spiritual King, whose kingdom is not of this world. Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth, and break each other as they will; our business is with King Jesus and his throne. It is delightful to see the prophet rising beyond the narrow range of the Jew, getting out of nationalities, and praying, “O Lord, revive thy work.” That is the one ship we care for in the storm, that one vessel in which Jesus Christ is riding at the helm, the Captain of salvation, and the Lord High Admiral of the seas. Let the nations mix in dire confusion as they will, God ruleth over all, and bringeth out his church in triumph from all the strife of earth. The one anxiety of our souls should be the bloodstained banner of the cross; will it wave high? Will King Jesus get to himself the crown, for we have neither will nor wish beyond. So, Christian men, if you have heard God’s voice in the great judgments that are abroad, let those judgments lead you to pray, “Lord, remember thy church--thy church--thy church in England, thy church in America, thy church in France, thy church in Germany, thy church anywhere, thy church everywhere. O God, look upon thine elect ones; let the separate ones, scattered through all nations, receive of thy benediction; as for all else, in providence, we leave it to thy will, for thou knowest what is best.”

Observe next that the prophet uses a word, which is singularly discriminative: “O Lord, revive thy work.” He does not say, “Lord, prosper my work.” How often do I go to God in concern about the work that is going on in this Tabernacle! I am thankful for all the blessing we have seen, and I grow increasingly anxious lest the Lord should withdraw his hand; but when one looks abroad upon the world, and upon all the Lord’s people in different denominations, one cannot pray, “Lord, prosper my work;” at least, one can pray that, and then cover that over with another--“O Lord, revive thy work.” For what about my work? Well, as far as it is mine it is very faulty. And what about the work of the Baptists? Well, there is doubtless much that is wrong about it. And what about the work of the Methodists, and the work of the Congregationalists, and so on? May God prosper them according as they walk in his truth! but the way to come to the core of our prayer is to cry, “O Lord, revive thy work; whatever is of thee, whatever is thy truth, whatever is thy Spirit’s work in the hearts of men, whatever is genuine conversion and vital godliness--Lord, revive it.” Cannot you, dear friends, in the presence of death which we have been speaking of, and in the presence of judgment, and in the presence of the fact that the Christian church has not been increased these twelve months, shake off all the bitterness of everything that has to do with self, or with party, and now pray, “Lord, revive thy work, and if thy work happen to be more in one branch of the church than in another, Lord, give that the most reviving. Give us all the blessing, but do let thine own purposes be accomplished, and thine own glory come of it, and we shall be well content, though we should be forgotten and unknown. ‘O Lord, revive thy work.’
Note that the particular blessing he asks for is a revival of God’s work, by which we mean in our time that there should be a revival of the old gospel preaching. We must have it back. It comes to this- our ministers must return to the same gospel which John Bunyan and George Whitfield preached. We cannot get on with philosophical gospels: we must bring together all these new geological gospels and neological gospels, and semi-Pelagian gospels, and do with them as the people of Ephesus did with the books--we must burn them, and let Paul preach again to us. We can do without modern learning, but we cannot do without the ancient gospel. We can do without oratory and eloquence, but we cannot do without Christ crucified. Lord, revive thy work by giving us the old-fashioned gospel back again in our pulpits. It is to be lamented that there are so many who are considered not to be bad preachers who scarcely ever mention Christ’s name, and are very loose concerning atonement by his precious blood. You will hear people say they have gone to such and such a chapel, and whatever the sermon might have been about it certainly was not about the gospel. Oh may that cease to be the case! May our pulpits ring with the name of Jesus; may Christ be lifted up, and his precious blood be the daily theme of the ministry! Oh that thousands might be brought to put their trust in the Lamb slain, and to find salvation by faith in him whom God has appointed to be the Savior of men!

This, however, would not bring back a revival unless there came with it a revival of the gospel spirit. If you read the story of the Reformation, or the later story of the new Reformation under Whitfield and Wesley, you are struck with the singular spirit that went with the preachers. The world said they were mad; the caricaturists drew them as being fanatical beyond all endurance; but there it was, their zeal was their power. Of course the world scoffed at that of which it was afraid. The world fears enthusiasm, the sacred enthusiasm which love to Christ kindles, the enthusiasm which is kindled by the thought of the ruin of men and by the desire to pluck the firebrands from the flame, the enthusiasm which believes in the Holy Ghost, which believes that God is still present with his church to do wonders; this is what the world dreads, and what the church wants. Pray for it, pray to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. O Lord, send forth this unconquerable spirit! O God, revive thy work!

You perceive that the prophet desires this boon at once. He does not say, “at the end of the years,” but “in the midst of the years;” his prayer is for a present and immediate revival of genuine religion. Let it be ours, not from the teeth outward but from the heart outward to pray for revival; let us long for it with heart and soul and strength, and God will give it to us.

Once more note that the prayer of Habakkuk is a very intelligent one, for he indicates the means by which he expects to have it fulfilled; in the midst of the years make known. It is by making known the gospel that men are saved, not by mere thumping of the pulpit and stamping of the foot, but by telling out something which the understanding may grasp and the memory may retain. To publish the doctrine of a reconciled God, to tell men that the Lord has laid help upon Jesus by punishing him instead of us; to proclaim that there is life in a look at the Crucified One, to tell them that the Holy Ghost creates men new creatures in Christ Jesus, to give a full and comprehensive view of the doctrines of grace; this is one of the surest ways, under God, of promoting a revival of religion.

I cannot talk to you but I think I could pray to God, and I hope many of you will do so today. O God, send us a revival; this will purge the blood of souls from our skirts, nothing else will. This will roll back the tides of error, nothing else can. This will give to the Christian church triumph of an unusual kind; this will cover the earth with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the deep, but nothing else can or will. Thou gracious God, revive thy work.

III. And now we close with A POTENT ARGUMENT. He uses the argument of mercy--“in wrath remember mercy.” If God were to say to the churches in England, “I will have nothing to do with you; you have been so idle, so worldly, so purse-proud, so prayerless, so quarrelsome, so inconsistent, that I will never bless you again, the churches of God in England might remain as astounding monuments of the justice of God towards the people who forsake his ways. Sorrowfully, not wishing to be an accuser of the brethren, it does seem to me that considering the responsibilities which were laid upon us, and the means which God has given us, the church generally, (there are blessed exceptions!) has done so little for Christ that if “Ichabod” were written right across its brow, and it were banished from God’s house, it would have its deserts. We cannot therefore appeal to merit, it must be mercy. O God, have mercy upon thy poor church, and visit her, and revive her. She has but a little strength; she has desired to keep thy word; oh, refresh her; restore to her thy power, and give her yet to be great in this land.

Mercy is also wanted for the land itself. This is a wicked nation, this England; its wickedness belongs not to one class only, but to all classes. Sin runs down our streets; we have a fringe of elegant morality, but behind it we have a mass of rottenness. There is not only the immorality of the streets at night, but look at the dishonesty of business men in high places. Cheating and thieving upon the grandest scale are winked at. Little thieves are punished, and great thieves are untouched. This is a wicked city, this city of London, and the land is full of drunkenness, and the land is full of fornication, and the land is full of theft, and the land is full of all manner of Popish idolatry. I am not the proper prophet to take up this burden, and to utter a wailing; my temperament is not that of Jeremiah, and therefore am I not well called to such a mission; but I may at least, with Habakkuk, having heard the Lord’s speech concerning it, be afraid, and exhort you to pray for this land, and be asking that God would revive his work, in order that this drunkenness may be given up, that this dishonesty may be purged out, that this great social evil may be cut out from the body politic, as a deadly cancer is cut out by the surgeon’s knife. O God, for mercy’s sake, cast not off this island of the seas, give her not up to internal distraction, leave her not in darkness and blackness for ever, but “revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”

While I have been addressing Christians, my object has been to bless the ungodly too, and I do trust that some here who are not converted will enquire, “What then is God’s voice to me?” May you be led to seek salvation, and remember you shall find it, for whosoever trusts Christ shall be saved. If there be a man, woman, or child among you who will now humble himself under the hand of God, and look to the crucified Savior, you shall not perish, neither shall the wrath of God abide upon you, but you shall be found of him in peace in the day of his appearing. God accept this humble weak testimony for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What is this blog?

If you are looking for The Spurgeon Archive this is not it. Neither do I wish for it to be it.

Phil Johnson's The Spurgeon Archive is the absolute best resource on the web for all things Spurgeon. I recommend you go there and spend some valuable time sitting at the feet of the Prince of Preachers.

What is this site for then? I'm glad you asked. Years ago, 1999 to be exact, I read on The Spurgeon Archive that Phil had plans to have every single one of Spurgeon's published sermons available on-line by the year 2007. Needless to say, that desire has yet to come to fruition. Phil is a very, very busy man and he is not paid for his valuable work on that site. It is a labor of love--yet a labor which remains incomplete.

That's where I come in. I am not related to the late CHS, though I share his surname and love to read his sermons. I am not nearly so busy as Phil and making some of CHS's sermons available on-line, ones that are currently missing from the Archive, is something I could do.

And I plan to do it--at the rate of about one per week. So look for a new one every Sunday or Monday starting this weekend.