Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Preached on July 20th, 1856, at Gower Street Chapel, London, by J. C. Philpot
"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."
What a remarkable mercy! What a blessing, as beyond all price, so beyond all conception, and all expression, is it to be a believer in the Son of God! Hundreds, thousands, millions, live and die without any knowledge of Him, any faith in Him, any love towards Him. And what must be their eternal destiny? What but the lake that burns with fire and brimstone? Our reasoning mind, when not subdued by divine teaching, our naturally compassionate feelings, when not softened into acquiescence with the divine will, pause and ponder; and when in imagination we seem to look down into the flames of eternal woe, and think of the thousands and millions that will forever welter there, we instinctively shrink back. If such feelings be indulged, we may soon be drawn aside to pity lost souls; when once we begin to pity lost souls, Satan may draw us on to pity lost devils; and when we begin to pity lost devils we rebel against God, until the mind becomes filled with every base imagination too vile for me even to allude to. We must, therefore, at any cost, hold fast by the Word of God's testimony; for when once we depart from that, we wander into mazes of error and confusion.
Now, if we adhere to God's testimony, we seem, to my mind, to come to these three points—
1. That the soul which lives and dies without knowing the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be a partaker of eternal life; for He Himself says, "This is life eternal, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." If, then, eternal life consists in the knowledge of Christ, eternal death must be the consequence of not knowing Him.
2. Again—the Lord says, "If you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins." "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; he who believes not shall be damned." We come, therefore, to this solemn conclusion, that if one lives and dies without a spiritual faith in the Son of God, he is and must be eternally lost.
3. We come to a third conclusion, from the same inspired Word of testimony, that if a man loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, and lives and dies without His love being shed abroad in his heart, he falls under the curse of God; for the Apostle Paul, speaking in His name, says, "If any man loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema," that is, let the solemn curse of God rest upon him.
So that if we adhere to the Word of God's testimony we come to this solemn conclusion, though in coming to it we seem to cut off and indeed do cut off millions, that without a saving knowledge of, without a spiritual faith in, and without a divine love to, the Son of God, there is no salvation; and therefore that those who die without that knowledge, without that faith, and without that love, must perish in their sins.
But the point that concerns you and me is, whether we have this saving knowledge of, this living faith in, and this heavenly love toward the Son of God; for we have to stand before His bar, we have souls to be saved or lost, and the grand question with every one whom God has quickened into spiritual life is, "Lord, is it I? How does my soul stand before God? On what ground does it rest for eternity?"
The Epistles, and among them the Epistle to the Colossians, are addressed to the Church of God. When, therefore, the Apostle says, "If you then are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God," he addresses these words to believers—to those who, by virtue of a vital union with the Son of God, and by being made partakers of regenerating grace, have risen with Christ, and having risen with Christ, and sitting with Him in heavenly places, are seeking "those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God." It is, therefore, to believers, and to believers only, in the Son of God, that he addresses the exhortation of our text, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Why? "For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." But will it be always so? No! for "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory."
In looking at these words, I hope I shall not confuse your minds, nor complicate my subject, if I arrange my thoughts under five heads. I shall endeavor to show,
1. How Christ is "our life."
2. How the believer is "dead."
3. How his life is hidden with Christ in God.
4. How it springs from this—that he is to "set his affection on things above, not on things on the earth."
5. Lastly, the sweet and blessed promise that puts the crowning blessing upon the whole—"When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory."
I. How Christ is "our life." Union with Christ is the grand truth revealed in the Scripture, and the fountain head out of which every blessing springs. But to understand this we must carry our thoughts upward and backward, to look at the foundation of the eternal union that exists between Christ and the Church. The Fall did not break in upon the purposes of God as a river swollen with heavy rains bursts in upon and desolates the smiling plains. It was an event fore-viewed and fore-provided for; and therefore, in the counsels of eternity, a people, "a multitude which no man can number," was given to the Son of God, and united to Him by a union so close, so ineffable, and so indissoluble, that though the Scripture does give us figures to help our conception, yet all earthly figures fall far short of the divine reality. There is no union in nature that approaches in closeness the union between Christ and His people. "I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one." What natural oneness can ever approach a union thus set forth by the words of Him who cannot lie?
But to help our conceptions, the Scripture has given us various figures to set forth the eternal union that exists between Christ and His Church. The vine and the branches, the corner-stone and the stones that surround it, the husband and wife, the head and members—all these are Scriptural figures, whereby the eternal union between Christ and His people is set forth. Now, it is by virtue of this eternal union between Christ and His people that when He suffered they, so to speak, suffered with Him; when He died, they died with Him; when He lay in the tomb, they lay with Him; when He rose from the grave, they rose with Him; when He ascended up on high, they ascended with Him; and when He sat Himself down in heavenly places, at the right hand of the Majesty on high, they virtually sat down together with Him. All this was independent of the work of grace upon their soul, whereby they are brought in due time to a living apprehension of it.
There are members of Christ who are not at present in living union, and yet have an eternal union with Him. We may conceive this even in the instance of the human body. Take the case of a frost-bitten hand. That is to all vital movement and feeling fully dead; and would, unless vivified and restored, rot and perish. But by timely aid, and proper appliances, it is restored, and becomes a living, active member of the body. So there are members of the mystical body of Christ still dead in trespasses and sins. No, many are not even in existence, but are still unborn. As the Lord Himself speaks, "In Your book were all My members written, when as yet there was none of them." These, then, have not yet received regenerating grace to give them a vital union; but they have eternal grace stored up in Christ, as their covenant Head, whereby they possess an eternal union. In due time the Spirit of grace will come into them, and quicken them into spiritual life; and then they will be not only one with Him in that eternal union, which is the source of all other, but they will have a living union by faith, whereby being joined to the Lord, they become one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), and so receive out of His fullness grace for grace.
In this sense Christ is "our life." When the blessed Spirit has breathed upon us, quickened us into spiritual existence, communicating the life of God, brought Him near to us and brought us near to Him, and given us a living faith to apprehend Him, then He becomes "our life," our Head, and from Him we derive all supplies of faith, hope, love, and every grace.
II. How the believer is "dead." I pass on to consider how a believer is "dead;" for the text says, "You are dead." Religion, true religion, is full of paradoxes. There is no real contradiction in the work of grace upon the heart. But there are many paradoxes. The apostle, for instance, says, "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things." These are not contradictions, but they are paradoxes; that is, they are apparent, not real inconsistencies. So in the text, the believer is not dead in one sense, yet he is dead in another; yes, by a singular paradox, when he is alive he is dead, and when he is dead he is alive. As the apostle says, "I was alive without the law once." He was not really alive, for he was dead in sin; but when the law came and slew him, though there was life in his soul, yet by that law he was killed and slain; as he says, "When the commandment came, sin revived and I died."
Now, a believer, a child of God, is dead in two senses—he is dead as regards the law, and he is dead as regards the gospel; and I shall show you how.
A. First, he is dead by the law; as the apostle says, "I through the law am dead to the law." The law comes home with spirituality to his conscience, and by its condemning sentence it slays him utterly; it kills him as to all legal hope.
But we may say, perhaps, if we examine the subject a little more closely, that the law kills in three senses, and in three ways.
1. First, it kills by its spirituality and curse, when it is opened up in a sinner's conscience, in some such words as, "The soul that sins, it shall die." "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." When that killing sentence comes into a man's conscience, it slays him as to salvation by the works of the law; it condemns him, and kills him outright, as to any hope that may spring from his own righteousness.
2. The law kills by stirring up the movements of sin in the carnal mind. As the apostle says, "The motions of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." Sin lies in our mind at times almost torpid; at least we are unconscious of any vigorous movement. The law comes. What is the consequence? Sin is revived by the condemnation that the law brings. There is something in our nature that resists prohibition, and rises up against it. If there were so many rooms in a house, and there was a strict charge given you that you should not go into one certain room, that would be the first room you would want to enter. If there were so many different kinds of fruit put on the table, and you might have every fruit but one, that one would be the one you would want to eat. There is something, then, in our perverse nature, which prohibition seems to stir up into movement. Thus the law, prohibiting sin, rouses up sin by the very prohibition it gives. "You shall not do this." "Aye, but I will." "You shall do this." "Aye, but I won't." There is thus the vigorous movement of the carnal mind setting itself in opposition against the will of God. And thus the spirituality of God's law kills, not only by cursing us in every thought, word, and deed that does not come up to the required perfection, but by rousing up the very sins that it does condemn; and thus brings us in doubly guilty.
3. And there is a third sense in which the law condemns; which is, by not only slaying once, outright and forever for transgressions past and gone, but by continually passing a fresh sentence of condemnation against every sinful thought, word, or deed, as it springs up into manifestation. Thus it is not only the scythe in the hayfield that mows down the long and strong crop of grass, but the mower on the lawn which cuts down the fresh grass as it springs up.
And thus, first, by its spirituality, secondly, by its stirring up of sin, and thirdly, by its constant sentence of condemnation, the law kills and slays the soul which is under its curse and bondage. In that sense, then, a believer is "dead." When, however, the law has executed its office it is virtually dead also. It has done its worst, and dies in doing it. Like a bee it dies in stinging.
Let us look a little more closely at this point. A man is arrested for a certain crime, for the commission of which the law of the land adjudges six to twelve months imprisonment. The man is found guilty, and the law takes its effect. But with the last stroke of twelve on the last day of his imprisonment, he is as free as his jailer; the prison doors are thrown open, and the law is as dead to him as much as if he had never broken it. So in the case of the condemned murderer. When the law has hanged him, and his body is taken down from the fatal beam, the law is as dead to him as if it had never executed him. This is the apostle's meaning when he says, "I, through the law, am become dead to the law." When the criminal dies by the law, he becomes dead to that law which has killed him. The law is then dead to him, and he dead to it.
B. Dead by the Gospel. But there is another sense in which a child of God becomes "dead;" and that is by virtue of a living union with Christ. When, after being killed and slain by the law, mercy reaches the soul with any revelation of Christ, any manifestation of the love of God, or any application of His truth, a divine power is put forth that raises up a living faith in the Lord Jesus, as sitting at God's right hand; and this living faith puts us into a vital possession of all those benefits and blessings which are in Christ Jesus. We know not who or what Christ is until He reveals Himself; we know not what He has suffered, or what we are in Him until He is pleased to manifest Himself. But when he discovers His blessedness and beauty, He raises up a spiritual faith in Himself; and by this spiritual faith we apprehend what He is and has, and receive out of His fullness grace for grace; and thus we enter by living faith into the benefits and blessings of His death and resurrection. It is in this sense that we become "dead" by the gospel, as we became "dead" by the law. Now, it is only as we drink at the fountain-head, and receive by living faith out of Christ's fullness, that we can be dead in the full sense of the apostle's meaning; for when he says, "You are dead," he implies the death of a child of God to everything around him—to all those things that lead the soul into captivity and bondage. We are to become "dead" to everything by which we are surrounded. How? By a vital union with the Son of God; by seeing who and what Jesus is, and entering by faith into His sufferings and sorrows, death and burial; and then rising with Him into heavenly places, and receiving supplies out of His fullness. It is by this experience that a death is put upon the things of time and sense, and we become, as the apostle speaks, "dead" in the true gospel sense of the word.
How many poor souls are struggling against the power of sin, and yet never get any victory over it! How many are daily led captive by the lusts of the flesh, the love of the world, and the pride of life, and never get any victory over them! How many fight and grapple with tears, vows, and strong resolutions against the besetting sins of temper, levity, or covetousness, who are still entangled and overcome by them again and again! Now, why is this? Because they know not the secret of spiritual strength against, and spiritual victory over them. It is only by virtue of a living union with the Lord Jesus Christ, drinking into His sufferings and death, and receiving out of His fullness, that we can gain any victory over the world, sin, death, or hell.
Let me bring this down a little to your own experience. Say that your soul has been, on one particular occasion, very sweetly favored; a melting sense of the Savior's precious love and blood has come into your heart, and you could then believe, with a faith of God's own giving, that He is eternally yours; and through this faith, as an open channel of divine communication, His merits and mediation, blood, righteousness, and dying love, came sweetly streaming into your soul. What was the effect? To lead you to sin, to presumption, to licentiousness? No, just the contrary. To a holy obedience in heart, lip, and life. Sin is never really or effectually subdued in any other way.
I have often thought of the conversion of Colonel Gardiner as an instance in point. It is an extreme case, I admit, and one, perhaps, unparalleled in the annals of grace, but it will, perhaps, throw light on the subject before us. He, being dead in sin, had made an tryst with a married woman, and was waiting to keep his criminal appointment. To while away his time, he took up a book; and while reading, a light suddenly streamed on the page. Looking up to see the cause, he beheld in vision Christ hanging on the cross, surrounded with heavenly glory, and these words seemed spoken as with an audible voice, "Did I suffer all this for you; and are these your returns?" I offer no opinion on the vision itself, though I believe it was from the Lord. What I want to show is, the effect produced on his soul. It overwhelmed him in a flood of sorrow, and swept away in a moment every thought of his criminal engagement.
Saul struck down at the gates of Damascus, and turned from persecution to praying, is a scriptural instance of the death of sin by the power of Christ. It is not, then, by legal strivings and earnest resolutions, vows, and tears, which are but monkery at best (a milder form of the hair shirt, the bleeding scourge, and the damp cloister), the vain struggle of religious flesh to subdue sinful flesh, that can overcome sin; but it is by a believing acquaintance with, and a spiritual entrance into the sufferings and sorrows of the Son of God, having a living faith in Him, and receiving out of His fullness supplies of grace and strength—strength made perfect in our weakness.
In this sense the apostle says to these Colossians, "For you are dead;" not merely by the law having condemned and slain you, as to all legal hopes, but by virtue of a participation in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, by virtue of a living union with the suffering Son of God. "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law," where sin reigns with increased dominion, "but under grace," which subdues sin by pardoning it. If you read Rom. 6 with an enlightened eye, you will see how the apostle traces out the death of the believer unto the power and prevalence of sin, by virtue of a spiritual baptism into the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
III. How the believer's life is hidden with Christ in God. But I pass on to our third point, which is very closely connected with the two preceding. I have been endeavoring, hitherto, to trace out from the Word of God, and from the experience of His saints, these two vital positions; first, the union that a believer has with the Son of God, giving him communion with Him in sufferings and death, as well as in resurrection and life. I then went on to show how the believer, by having this living union with the Son of God, received into his soul Christ's death and sufferings; and by virtue of these, felt in living experience, obtained a victory, according to the measure of his faith, over sin and the world. Now I pass on to a point closely connected with these two, which is, the life of a believer being hidden with Christ in God.
I said religion was made up of paradoxes. Paradoxes are not contradictions; at least so only in appearance, for though they contradict each other in one sense, yet not in another. Here, then, is a paradox—dead, and yet alive. "For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." But, my friends, what a blessed thing it is to have a life in the soul that never can die! What will all our profession avail us if we are not made partakers of this spiritual, this eternal life, by regenerating grace? But if we are, this life can no more die out of our heart than Christ can die out of heaven. His own words are—and let His own words stand, let unbelief and Satan say what they will—"Because I live, you shall live also." Here, then, is our life, if God has quickened our souls into spiritual being. It is Christ Himself; and the life that He gives out of His fullness He will Himself maintain, according to His own declaration—"My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand."
But this life is a HIDDEN life; and hidden in two senses.
1. First, hidden from all human view. As Deer speaks of faith, "Deep in the heart it lies; so with the life of God. It lies deep in the heart, and lying there is necessarily hidden from all human eye, except so far as is manifested by fruits following.
There is nothing so deep, nothing so hidden, as the life of God in the soul. It seems to be enshrined in the lowest depths of a man's heart. It does not float upon the surface, like a cork upon the water, but sinks deep, very deep, into the very bottom of the soul. Therefore hidden from the eyes of a profane world; hidden from the professing world; and what is more, sometimes hidden from the subject of it himself. A child of God often cannot see his own faith, nor can he discern the life that is bubbling and streaming up in his own bosom. It is not a lake, spread abroad in the meridian sunshine, to attract every eye; nor is it a brook that flows babbling on over the clear pebbles; but it is a well. "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." Therefore hidden from view.
The best part of our religion is that which is least seen. The secret cries, groans, tears, confessions, supplications, and breathings after God do not for the most part come abroad; the despondency, heart sickness, trials, perplexities, and powerful temptations, with which many a dear saint of God is exercised, do not come to view. No! nor his fears, sinkings, guilt, misery, and self-condemnation. Yes, the best part of his religion is hidden from view, for the weightiest ever sinks the deepest. And as it is with the dealings of his soul with God, so it is with the dealings of God with his soul—making and keeping his conscience tender, reviving the fear of God, drawing the heart upward into prayer and meditation, watering his spirit, and bedewing it with the secret dew and rain of His grace. Thus, the best part, because the spiritual part, of a man's religion is hidden from the eyes of all, except as the fruits thereof are manifest.
Take your stand upon yonder hill, and see that thread of verdure spreading itself through the barren plain. Whence comes that green strip which you see? Coming down to examine it, you find a little brooklet threading its way through the barren plain. It is this brooklet that, watering the roots of the grass, gives it that verdure; yet the brooklet itself is hidden until the eye is brought close to it. So it is with the life of God in the soul. We see the effects, the verdure produced by the brooklet—but the brooklet itself, the life and grace of God in the innermost soul, is hidden, "hidden with Christ in God."
And if not merely hidden, but hidden with Christ in God, what a sacred, what a holy, what a truly divine life it must be! If this be spiritual religion, that it dwells with Christ Himself in the bosom of God, what a divine thing, what a heavenly possession! how full of eternal blessedness must the religion of a child of God be! It is locked up in two distinct places, yet united with each other by virtue of the humanity of Christ, and the faith that embraces it. If I may use the expression, one end is in the bosom of God, and the other in the believer's bosom! Compare man's paltry, beggarly religion with this supernatural life of God in the soul—Christ Himself formed in the heart the hope of glory. Words would fail to express the eternal distinction between them.
2. But the word "hidden" will carry another idea—out of reach, treasured up, therefore safe. What would have become long ago of the life of God in the soul, if it could have been robbed, trodden out, or lost? But this it never can be, for it is locked up in the person of the Son of God. It is, therefore, out of the reach of Satan, sin, death, and hell; safe in Christ's keeping, locked up in His eternal bosom. Were it otherwise, where should you and I long ago have been? Where would our religion have gone to, unless we had reason to believe that it had been kindled by the power of God, and was maintained by the same power which first gave it birth? This is the grand consolation of a child of God—to believe that he has the life of God in his soul; and to feel, day by day, that He who gave that life maintains it in firm and living exercise.
IV. This brings us to our fourth point—"set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."
Has God by His Spirit and grace planted divine life in your soul? Has He made you a partaker of the benefits and blessings of Christ's sufferings and death, blood and righteousness? and is your life "hidden with Christ in God?" Where are your affections, then, to be? Are they to be set on things on the earth—those perishing toys, those polluting vanities, those carking cares, which must ever dampen, though they cannot destroy, the life of God in the soul? Oh! we may well say to those who have any vital evidence of being dead, yet alive, "Dear brethren, set your affection on things above; let your thoughts, your desires, your wants and wishes, be fixed on heavenly realities; let them not grovel on things below, which, fondly loved and eagerly pursued, can only bring bondage and death into your soul."
The expression, "Things on the earth," takes a wide scope. It embraces not only the vain toys, the ambitious hopes, the perishing pleasures in which a gay, unthinking world is sunk and lost; but even the legitimate calls of business, the claims of wife and home, family and friends, with every social tie that binds to earth. Thus every object on which the eye can rest, every thought or desire apart from God that may spring up in the mind, every secret idol that lurks in the bosom, every care and anxiety that is not of grace, every fond anticipation of pleasure or profit that the world may hold out, or the worldly heart embrace—all, with a million pursuits in which man's fallen nature seeks employment or happiness, are "things on the earth" on which the affections are not to be set. We may love our wives and children. We should pursue our lawful callings with diligence and industry. We must provide for our families according to the good providence of God. But we may not so set our affections on these things, that they pull us down from heaven to earth. He who is worthy of all our affections claims them all for Himself. He who is the Bridegroom of the soul demands, as He has fairly won, the undivided love of His bride.
But how are we to do this? Can we do this great work of ourselves? No! it is only the Lord Himself manifesting His beauty and blessedness to our soul, and letting down the golden cord of His love into our bosom, that draws up our affections, and fixes them where He sits at God's right hand. In order to do this, He captivates the heart by some look of love, some word of His grace, some sweet promise, or some divine truth spiritually applied. When He thus captivates the soul, and draws it up, then the affections flow unto Him as the source and fountain of all blessings. We are not flogged into loving Him, but drawn by love into love. Love cannot be bought or sold; it is an inward affection that flows naturally and necessarily towards its object and all connected with it; and thus, as love flows out to Jesus, the affections instinctively and necessarily set themselves "on things above, and not on things on the earth."
But what are these "things above?" They are all things stored up in Christ, that breathe of Christ, and come out of Christ. Pardon, peace, righteousness, love, "joy unspeakable and full of glory," with strength against sin, victory over death and hell, power against besetting lusts and temptations—in a word, every blessing with which God has blessed His people "in heavenly places in Christ;" these are the "things above" that the soul has to set its affections upon. But we must have some view by faith of the Person of Christ, the eternal Son of the eternal Father; He must be revealed to our soul by the power of God before we can see His beauty and blessedness, and so fall in love with Him as "the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely One." Then everything that speaks of Christ, savors of Christ, and breathes of Christ, becomes inexpressibly sweet and precious.
This is "the golden oil" that flows into the heart; this is the "sweet-smelling myrrh which drops upon the handles of the lock;" this is "the aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces;" this is "the love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown;" and by an experience of this, the affections become set on things above. And in no other way can they be lifted up from earth to heaven. We cannot control our affections; they will run out of their own accord. If then our affections are earthly, they will run towards the earth; if they are carnal and sensual, they will flow towards carnal and sensual objects. But when the Lord Jesus Christ, by some manifestation of His glory and blessedness, or the Holy Spirit, by taking of the things of Christ and revealing them to the soul, sets Him before our eyes as the only object worthy of and claiming every affection of our heart, then the affections flow out, I was going to say naturally, but most certainly spiritually, towards Him; and when this is the case, the affections are set on things above.
Again, there is no way except by being spiritually baptized into Christ's death and life, that we can ever get a victory over our besetting sins. If, on the one hand, we have a view of a suffering Christ, and thus become baptized into His sufferings and death, the feeling, while it lasts, will subdue the power of sin. Or, on the other hand, if we get a believing view of a risen Christ, and receive supplies of grace out of His fullness, that will lift us above its dominion. If sin is powerfully working in us, we need one of these two things to subdue it—either we must have something come down to us to give us a victory over sin in our strugglings against it, or we must have something to lift us up out of sin into a purer and better element.
When there is a view of the sufferings and sorrows, agonies and death of the Son of God, power comes down to the soul in its struggles against sin, and gives it a measure of holy resistance and subduing strength against it. So, when there is a coming in of the grace and love of Christ, it lifts up the soul from the love and power of sin into a purer and holier atmosphere. Sin cannot be subdued in any other way. You must either be baptized into Christ's sufferings and death, or you must be baptized (and these follow each other) into Christ's resurrection and life.
A sight of Him as a suffering God, or a view of Him as a risen Jesus, must be connected with every successful attempt to get the victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave. You may strive, vow, and repent; and what does it all amount to? You just sink deeper and deeper into sin than before. Pride, lust, and covetousness come in like a flood, and you are swamped and carried away almost before you are aware. But if you get a view of a suffering Christ, or of a risen Christ; if you get a taste of His dying love, a drop of His atoning blood, or any manifestation of His beauty and blessedness, there comes from this spiritual baptism into His death or His life a subduing power; and this gives a victory over temptation and sin which nothing else can or will give.
Yet I believe we are often many years learning this divine secret, striving to repent and reform, and cannot; trying to get better by dipping the Ethiopian into the washing tub, until at last by divine teaching we come to learn a little of what the apostle meant when he said, "The life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." And when we can get into this life of faith, this hidden life, then our affections are set on things above. There is no use setting people to work by legal strivings; they only plunge themselves deeper in the ditch. You must get Christ into your soul by the power of God, and then He will subdue, by His smiles, blood, love, and presence, every internal foe.
V. The sweet and blessed promise that puts the crowning blessing upon the whole. The apostle (to come to our fifth and last point, upon which I must be brief) sets before the believing church a blessed prospect, to cheer and encourage them in their onward struggle towards this heavenly kingdom. "When Christ," he says, "who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory." If Christ be your life upon earth; if you have a living faith in His divine majesty; if any drops of His love have ever bedewed your soul; if any sweet smile has ever comforted your heart, the apostle would say to all such, "When Christ, who is your life, shall appear with all His saints, then shall you also appear with Him in glory." No longer pestered by sin and Satan, no longer carrying about a weak, infirm body, the seat of innumerable evils and maladies, but endued with a soul as pure as He is pure, and a spiritual body capable of enjoying the bliss and blessedness of eternity, "then shall you appear," you suffering saints, who have set your affections on Him whom you have not seen, and yet in whom you believe, "then shall you also appear with Him in glory."
And is not this worth struggling for? Is not this a blessed goal at the end of the race? Is not this a worthy prize to run for? Is not this an ample reward of all your temptations, troubles, griefs, and sorrows; to believe, and not in vain, that "when He shall appear," you "shall appear with Him in glory?" May the Lord, if it be His will, lead our souls into these divine and blessed realities! They are the substance of vital godliness; and so far as we feel them, and live under the sweet influences and bedewing operations of the Spirit of grace, these things will prove all our salvation, as they must be, if we be rightly taught, all our desire.
Preached at Zoar Chapel, London, on August 10, 1845, by Joseph Philpot
"I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart."
I was endeavoring to show on Thursday evening a connection between the precept and the promise; and I observed that, whenever the precept and the promise are linked together, if we are enabled to perform the precept, God is sure to fulfill the promise. But there is a connection of another kind between them--that namely between the precept itself, and the power to perform it. The word of God is full of precepts, but we are totally unable to perform them in our own strength. We can no more, without divine assistance, perform the precept, (that is, with a single eye to the glory of God, from heavenly motives, and in a way acceptable to the Lord), than we can, without special power from on high, believe on the name of the only begotten Son of God. We need a extraordinary power to be put forth in our hearts, a special work of God the Spirit upon the conscience, in order to spiritually fulfill in the slightest degree the least of God's precepts. The way in which we perform the precept, when we do perform it at all, is set forth in the words of the text, "I will run the way of your commandments, when you shall enlarge my heart."
In taking up the subject this morning, I shall endeavor to unfold it according to the two clauses of the text; but in so doing I shall invert their order; and, with God's blessing, I shall endeavor, first, to trace out the mind and meaning of the Spirit in the words, "When you shall enlarge your heart;" and, secondly, "I will run the way of your commandments."
Before we come to examine the subject closely, it will be desirable to give a little explanation of two points– What is intended by the Holy Spirit by the expression "heart;" and, as things are best seen by their contrast, to explain what it is to have a 'contracted heart', in order that by the contrast we may understand the better what it is to have an 'enlarged heart'.
By the word "HEART" in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit means more than one thing. Sometimes, for instance, He means by it that corrupt, depraved principle, which we derive from Adam. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." (Jer 17:9) God saw "that every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil, continually." (Ge 6:5) "A heart," Solomon says, "that devises wicked imaginations." (Pr 6:18) In all these passages, the expression, "heart," means that corrupt nature which we derive from a fallen progenitor.
There is another signification which the Holy Spirit has attached to the word, which I may define in one short sentence, "the feelings of the soul Godwards." It is, therefore, sometimes taken for the understanding. Thus we read, that God gave Solomon "largeness of heart, as the sand upon the sea shore." Here it means wisdom and understanding. Sometimes it means affections, the tender affections of the soul, as in numerous passages where David speaks of his heart "inditing a good matter," "panting after the Lord; rejoicing in his salvation," or else sorrowing, mourning, or cast down. And sometimes, it signifies conscience, as where God said of Josiah, "Because your heart was tender." 2Ki 22:19
This heart, then, or new nature, is susceptible sometimes of contraction, and sometimes, as divinely wrought upon, of expansion. The heart of a child of God, viewed spiritually, is a tender exotic; it is not a hard, rough, native plant, that stands every storm, which no frost nips and no drought burns. It is a foreign exotic plant; for it comes down from heaven, the abode of eternal purity, and dwells in a man's bosom, with all the tenderness of a plant from a warm country. Now these tender feelings Godwards are susceptible of contraction. They resemble a hot-house plant. Open the windows, expose it to the chilling blasts of this cold, inclement, northern climate, it shrinks, the tender buds refuse to expand, and the whole plant droops and dies. But let the windows be closed; let the bright sun pour his warm rays through the glass roof upon it, and the same plant, which so contracted, shriveled, and withered away under the blast, opens its tender bosom and sends forth its sweet fragrance. So with the new-born soul. There is that which shuts it up, and that which opens it; that which makes it shrink sensitively into so small a compass as scarcely to be seen, and that which draws it forth and causes it to send abroad its heavenly odors.
We will look then, with God's blessing, at some of those things that contract, sicken, and shut up the heart, before we look at the causes and nature of what expands and enlarges it. The new heart of grace is exceedingly tender. And therefore there are many things that will cause this tender heart to shut up and contract itself.
1. One is GUILT. Whenever guilt lies upon a man's conscience, it shuts him up altogether in his feelings Godwards; it narrows, it contracts his heart. There is no room in his soul for divine enjoyments; there are no divine consolations shed abroad, no in-shinings of divine light, no incomings of heavenly love.
2. Another is UNBELIEF. O what a narrowing, contracting, and shutting-up power is there when unbelief works powerfully in a man's carnal mind! How the tender plant of faith shrinks into a small compass before its chilling blasts! How unable then are we to receive the truth in the love of it--unable to act upon the perfections of the Lord of life and glory--unable to come forth into the light of His countenance--unable to enjoy any one testimony of His manifested favor--unable to realize a single mark, or testimony of the grace of God being in the heart!
3. DARKNESS OF MIND is another thing that contracts and shuts up a man's heart Godwards. Many flowers, when night comes on, hide themselves as it were from it; their petals gather up and close over the bosom which, during the day, expanded itself to the warm rays of the sun, defending it from the cold dews and chilling breaths of the night. So spiritually. How darkness of soul (and all the Lord's people are brought to mourn and sigh under felt darkness) contracts the heart! How it closes up every gracious feeling! How it checks every going forth of the soul in the actings of faith, hope, and love! What a veil it spreads over the hidden man of the heart! So that there is nothing good or gracious apparently in exercise.
4. DEADNESS, COLDNESS, TORPIDITY OF FEELING GODWARDS, that wretched state in which many of God's people are so continually-- how this shuts up, contracts, and narrows the heart Godwards! How unable a man is in this dead, cold, torpid state, to enlarge his own soul! Does he attempt to pray? He has no power to pour forth a single desire. Does he attempt to read? He can scarcely get through half-a-dozen verses without wandering. Does he come to hear a Gospel message? There is scarcely anything that even his outward ear receives. He is unable to fix his thoughts and affections, unable to realize the presence, love, and power of God in his soul. Does he attempt to converse on spiritual things? He has scarcely a word to say, shut up in his feelings toward the family of God, shut up in his feelings toward the Lord Himself.
We must know by painful experience what it is to have these narrow, contracted, shut-up hearts, that we may by the contrast know what it is to have an enlarged, expanded heart. We cannot know the one except by knowing the other. It is this miserable feeling of contraction, which makes us know the difference between these painful sensations, and of an enlarged, expanded heart.
This leads me to enter more fully into what it is to have an enlarged heart. What is the meaning of the word 'enlarged'? The idea is this--the making of an opening, so as to give a wide space. Thus, the Lord promised to the children of Israel that He would "enlarge their border;" that is--He would give them more ample room; that they should not be confined to a narrow space in which their population should exceed its limits; but that He would so extend their boundary as to give them ample width for their increasing numbers! Thus the word conveys the idea of an expansion, a removal of all that is narrowed up and contracted, by giving a wider coast--a more expansive border.
Now none but the Lord Himself can enlarge the heart of His people, can give them spiritually what Jabez prayed for "O that you would enlarge my coast!" 1Ch 4:10 None but the Lord can expand their hearts Godwards, and remove that narrowedness and contractedness in divine things which is the plague and burden of a God-fearing soul.
Having seen what is meant by an enlarged heart, let us look at the ways whereby God is pleased to enlarge it.
1. It is BY THE SPECIAL OPERATION OF GOD THE SPIRIT UPON THE SOUL that there is ever felt any enlargement of heart Godwards. For instance; when he applies any portion of His word with power, that enlarges the heart; "the entrance of your word gives light." The very nature of divine light is to expand the heart into which it comes. As darkness shuts up, so light opens; as darkness freezes, so the word of God sealed with power melts. "He sends out his word, and melts them." Ps 147:18 Truth revealed to the soul has a liberating power. "You shall know the truth; and the truth shall make you free."
2. A SENSIBLE REALIZATION OF THE LORD'S PRESENCE enlarges the heart. When the Lord is absent, when He hides His lovely face, when He does not draw near to visit and bless, the heart contracts. There is no going out to Him, no coming down of sweet communications from Him--the heart is shut up in itself, contracted in its own narrow compass. But when the Lord is pleased to favor the soul with His own gracious presence, and bring Himself near to the heart, His felt presence opens, enlarges, and expands the soul, so as to receive Him in all His love and grace.
To use a figure I have before alluded to, the heart is often like a flower beaten down by the rain, prostrated by the wind, over-filled with moisture, overpowered by the dews of the night, unable to lift itself up, dropping downwards, with all its petals contracted. But let the sky clear up, let the beams and rays of the glorious orb of day shine forth, the flower, whose petals before were closed, expand themselves to receive the warmth of the mid-day sun.
So it is with the God-fearing soul. When the dew of night rests upon it, when darkness covers, when the cold blast beats, when the rain drifts upon it, there is no unfolding, no enlarging. But when the Sun of Righteousness breaks forth, the drooping heart then expands all its bosom to the warm rays, and lifts its bending head, which before had been sunk down by the cold mists.
3. THE UNCTION, SAVOR, AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, whenever felt in the soul, produce an enlargement of heart. The absence of the dew of the Holy Spirit leaves the heart shut up in its own darkness. But when dew, savor, and power rest upon the soul, they immediately by their secret, penetrating, unctuous influences expand and enlarge the heart; they soften its rigidity; they melt down its harshness. Whereas before it was narrowed and contracted, so as not to open itself to any one divine feeling; no sooner does the softening dew and melting unction of the Holy Spirit touch a man's heart than it enlarges, opens, melts and expands itself before the Lord.
I have hinted that the word "heart" in Scripture has more than one signification. Sometimes it means understanding, sometimes conscience, and sometimes the affections. Now whenever the heart is enlarged by the internal operations of God the Spirit, it is enlarged in these senses.
1. THE UNDERSTANDING IS ENLIGHTENED; we read, "Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures." Lu 24:45 And we find David pleading earnestly, "Give me understanding and I shall live." Ps 119:144 It is a great blessing to have an understanding heart; not to be tossed to and fro with every wind of error; not to be caught with every delusion of Satan; but to have a sound mind, established in the truth as it is in Jesus. But when the Lord is pleased to enlarge the heart, He opens the understanding; He gives an insight into the Scriptures of truth; He shows us the mind of Christ; He brings a sweet light into our soul, whereby we read the Scriptures with the same light and in the same spirit by which they were inspired. Thus we enter into the meaning of passages we never knew before; we understand mysteries, which before we were unacquainted with; we feel our minds to open, expand, and receive the truth as it is in Jesus in greater simplicity and godly sincerity.
2. But there is also AN ENLARGING OF THE CONSCIENCE. If our heart is contracted, our conscience is not sensitive nor tender. Have you not observed, that when your mind was contracted, your affections toward God cold and dead, that your conscience was not sensitive, that sin was not that burden to you as at other times--that you could play with it, walk upon the borders of it, venture upon forbidden ground, dally with evil, did not feel this and that thing to be inconsistent with the will and word of God, which you felt to be so at other times?
Now when your heart has been enlarged, when your soul has felt the power and operations of the Spirit, your conscience becomes more sensitive--as it is said in Isaiah of the human nature of Christ--"of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord." Sin is more seen to be sin; evil is comprehended in things where we did not see it before; the "exceeding sinfulness of sin" is more deeply felt; the worldliness and carnality of others that did not much affect us when we were cold and dead, now that we are under the in-shinings of God the Spirit, become irksome and burdensome. Thus, as the understanding is enlightened to see, the conscience is made more sensitive--as we get a deeper insight into the Person, work, and blood of Jesus, the conscience takes a wider range, and is made more alive and more tender than it was before.
3. Besides this, there is AN ENLARGEMENT OF THE AFFECTIONS. Our affections will waver in the same way as our understanding and our conscience. When our understanding is dark, and our conscience is hard, then our affections are cold; but when the Lord is pleased by the entrance of His word to give light in our understanding, and to make the conscience more tender and sensitive, then there is an enlargement also of the affections.
Have you not felt at times as though you had not a single grain of love towards the Lord of life and glory? Has not your heart often been as an adamant, which neither judgment nor mercy, threatening nor love could move? And have you not been, when in that state, unable to love God's truth or His people--yes, rather felt your heart filled with the most fearful hardness, and enmity towards them? But when the Lord is pleased to enlarge the heart, these affections, which before had been shut up, expand, breathe themselves forth, and flow out and flow into the Lord of life and glory. There is a clasping Him in the arms of tender affection, and a desire to live and die in His embrace.
4. When God enlarges the heart He ENLARGES EVERY GRACE AND FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT.
For instance. There is FAITH. Faith in the soul sometimes sinks down to the very lowest ebb; there seems at times to be scarcely one grain of it left. We have not a single spark of faith in living exercise. The hand which should take hold of Christ's strength is as if paralyzed; there is no putting it forth to receive strength out of His gracious fullness. But when God the Spirit, by His secret power and unction enlarges the heart, He enlarges faith--as the Apostle says. "We are bound to thank God always for you. brethren, as it is fit, because your faith grows exceedingly." 2Th 1:3
This is an enlargement of faith; and just in proportion to the enlargement of faith, do we take in the object of faith. When our faith is very weak, it is like the hand of a little child. Its tiny fingers can only grasp little objects, and can scarcely hold them when grasped. So when faith is small it is unable to take hold of great things; and if it takes them, it is unable to hold them. But when the hand of the child is increased to the brawny fingers of a man, then the same hand, which before was unable to grasp little substances is now enabled to lay hold of great burdens.
So with faith in the heart; it is in some as the hand of the child, it is in others as the hand of the grown man. The hand in the one case is weak, in the other strong. But the hand of the child differs only in size and strength from the hand of the man. When then the Lord enlarges the heart, He enlarges the fingers of the hand; as we read of Joseph, "His bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob." Ge 49:24 So when the Lord enlarges the heart, He enlarges the sinews and muscles of living faith, and presenting Christ before it, enables it firmly to embrace His Person and work, His atoning blood, His justifying righteousness, all that He is and has for God's poor needy family.
So also, when God enlarges the heart, He enlarges HOPE. Anchors, you know, are made different sizes. You may walk in the Queen's dockyard, and there you may see anchors for a small row-boat, and anchors for a three-deck ship. Yet all anchors are made in the same way, and are designed for the same purpose; and the little anchor that holds the boat is as useful and as much an anchor as that which holds the three-decker.
So spiritually. There is hope in the heart of the babe. But the hope in the heart of a babe is but as the anchor of a small row-boat; yet it holds that babe as firmly as the anchor holds the boat to which it is moored. But as the Lord increases hope, He increases the size of the anchor; and as the vessel and its anchor always bear a proportion to each other, so when He enlarges the size of the anchor He increases the size of the ship. No more, as He increases the size of the ship, He increases its cargo--for these two are proportionate. He increases a man's trials, perplexities, difficulties, and sorrows. And thus, ship, anchor, and cargo are all enlarged together.
Thus, when He enlarges the heart He enlarges a man's hope--it takes a more vigorous hold within the veil; it enters more deeply into the presence of God; it takes a firmer grasp of covenant engagements, electing love, the immutability of God's purposes, and the unchangeable nature of the great eternal I AM. Have you not felt at times your hope sweetly enlarged, so that it almost attained to the "full assurance of hope?" Scarcely a cloud remained between you and God; and you believed you would ride triumphantly into the haven of bliss and peace? and having these blessed sensations in your heart, you could part with life itself at that moment to fall into the embrace of your God. Now this was a sweet enlargement of your hope.
In the same way when the Lord enlarges the heart, He enlarges its LOVE towards Himself and His people. How cold are our hearts too often toward the Lord! and, as a sure and necessary consequence, how cold towards the brethren! Sometimes we seem even to dislike their company; and if we see them coming down one street, we would gladly take another turning in order to avoid them.
How averse also, from the Lord's ways! How cold in prayer, cold in reading, cold in hearing, and cold in doing anything to the glory of God! How backward, how opposed to everything holy, heavenly, and spiritual! But when God in mercy enlarges the heart, He also enlarges the affections to love the Lord, to love His word, to love His people, to love all that savors of the precious name of Jesus.
There is also an enlargement of the MOUTH. "My mouth is enlarged over my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation." 1Sa 2:1 It is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. "The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips." Pr 16:23 When your heart is contracted, when your soul is shut up, when your affections are chilled, there is no enlargement of the mouth, especially if you have any tenderness of conscience. Hypocrites and dead professors can talk about 'mere religion' at all times. "But a prating fool shall fall" whereas the Lord's people are often shut up, and have not a word to say upon divine things. If there be no sweet enlargement of the heart, there is no enlargement of the mouth; and when there is no life nor feeling in the soul enabling it to speak of the things of God, to speak of them at all is but a burden to them. But when the Lord enlarges the heart, then there is an enlargement of the mouth. The lips speak freely, simply, with savor, dew, and unction, of the things that God has done and is doing in the soul.
There is also an enlargement of the STEPS, as David says. "You have enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip." Ps 18:36 This is a strengthening of the feet, so that they are enabled to take longer steps. Sometimes from weariness we stumble, or can scarcely drag one limb before another, or get so faint and tired that we seem unable to move one step further in the ways of God. But when the Lord enlarges and strengthens a man's feet and steps, He enables him to move more actively forward, and to run more eagerly in the way of His commandments.
This leads me to the second part of the text, the connection of the PRECEPT with the POWER given to perform it. "I will run the way of your commandments when you shall enlarge my heart." David was no legalist--he was no Arminian perfectionist; he was not drawing upon the strength and wisdom of the 'creature', but he was looking up to the Lord to work a certain work upon his soul. When that certain work was wrought upon him, then, and not until then, would he, or could he perform the precept.
How often have you seen the precept handled in the way of which the Lord speaks as done by the scribes and Pharisees of old! "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." Mt 23:4 Nothing is more easy than to take a bundle of precepts into the pulpit, and tie them round the necks of the Lord's people like an iron collar. But how many of them does the minister himself perform?
Every child and servant of God, taught by the Spirit, knows that he cannot perform one precept except as the Lord enlarges his heart. This deep sense of our helplessness does not foster sloth, nor lead to licentiousness; for guilt and condemnation are felt from the non-performance of the precepts; and our desires and prayers, when we are in our right mind, are, that the Lord would enlarge our heart, for we love to run the way of His commandments.
WHAT are these commandments? And HOW do we run in the way of them? I will endeavor to show you.
The Lord in His word has given several commandments; and these commandments we perform when the Lord enlarges our heart. For instance.
1. The Lord commands us to BELIEVE in the name of His dear Son, as the Apostle John writes, "This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ." 1Jo 3:23 But we cannot believe in the name of Jesus, any more than we can make a world, until God enables. Believe in Jesus! receive Him by precious faith into my heart! feel the efficacy of His atoning blood in my conscience! bathe my blissful soul in the sweet enjoyment of His dying love! I do this? Before I can, of myself, do this, I must be able to say, "Let there be light, and there shall be light."
But when the Lord by His grace and Spirit enlarges the heart; when He drops His dew, unction, and savor into the soul; when He draws near to it, and makes it draw near to Him; when this blessed Sun of Righteousness shines forth through the dark cloud, and warms the cold dark soul, then it can no more not believe in Him, than before it could believe in Him. We can no more refuse to believe when faith comes into the heart, than we can believe before faith does come. When God enlarges the heart, and draws forth the affections, then we run in the way of this commandment. We do not believe as a duty; we do not believe as a precept; nor do we believe even as a privilege. But we believe as a blessing. We believe as we see an object with our eyes. We open our eyes, and we cannot but see. So when faith opens its eyes, it sees Jesus; no, it cannot but see Him.
2. Another commandment is, to REPENT. "God commands all men everywhere to repent." What! repent! Have the heart broken with contrition! feel godly sorrow! experience the flowings forth of grief towards a crucified Lord! Can I do this? It is utterly beyond my reach. I may shed crocodile tears. I may work myself up into fleshly excitement. I may fall upon my knees, lacerate my back, refuse to eat my food, and lie upon the ground. But to feel a broken heart, melted down into compunction and godly sorrow--the man that feels what an adamant stone he carries in his bosom knows well that it is the pure grace of God alone that can give him repentance.
I believe the Lord brings all his people to that spot of which Mr. Deer speaks--when the question was not whether he would repent, but whether God would give him repentance; no longer whether I will do this for the Lord, but whether the Lord in mercy and grace will do this for me. The great I sinks then into absolute insignificance; and the creature is brought down to its true spot-abasement and helplessness.
But when the Lord enlarges the heart, with this enlargement is there not the grace of penitence? Is there not the tearful eye, the convulsive sob, the inward grief of soul? Is there not real gospel repentance and sorrow felt in a broken and tender heart? I am sure there is this.
3. God commands us "to LOVE one another." "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another." Can I of myself feel this love? I may pretend to do so; I may do as one of old did, who came to his brother with a very brotherly salutation, "Are you in health, my brother?" and then smote him under the fifth rib with a sword! I may say, 'Brother this,' and 'Sister that'--'how I love you!'--'what affection I feel for you!' I might, if God did not keep me honest, play this part of a 'varnished hypocrite'.
But I cannot feel, nor create this true love, without a special work of the Spirit on my soul. But when He enlarges the heart, and melts the soul at his footstool, He gives love to Himself--and with that love, He gives love to His people, pure affection--not a pretending--but a real desire for their spiritual welfare; not a few canting phrases, but a true feeling of brotherhood; not a mere expression of 'brother' on the lip, but brotherly affection in the heart.
When He enlarges the heart, we do not need to go among our brethren to say, 'Brother,' or 'Sister;'--we feel them in our very soul; when we are alone with God there is a tender affection flowing forth out to them of our heart, an embracing of them in our soul.
No more, we can forgive our enemies when the Lord enlarges our heart. If we can see them in the right light, where we would desire to see them, we can forgive them, though they have been most unkind to us, and cruelly treated us. I have felt, that when the Lord is pleased to enlarge the heart, anger, enmity, prejudice, bitterness, malevolence--those unclean birds all take flight--and simplicity, tenderness, humility and love all live in the soul.
4. The Lord commands us to DENY OURSELVES, take up the cross, put off the old man, and walk as becomes the gospel. Can we do this? We cannot. We may affect a popish austerity; we may put on a hypocritical visage; we may appear all sanctity and holiness; we may cleanse the outside of the cup and platter, and put an extra coat of whitewash on the sepulcher. But as to that inward crucifixion, that inward deadness to the world, that inward putting off of the old man and putting on of the new, which the Word of truth speaks of, we cannot attain to--except God the Spirit works in us both the will and the power. But when God enlarges the heart, then there is no burden in God's ways; His precepts are not grievous; it is a pleasure to walk in them; and there is a sweet gratification in obeying them.
"I will RUN the way of your commandments." Not lag, nor loiter, not turn aside, not faint, not falter. "I will run" eagerly, actively, as a lover runs to his beloved bride--"I will run" cheerfully the way of your commandments, when you have enlarged my heart.
5. So with the ORDINANCES, the ordinances of the Lord's house– baptism and the Lord's supper. These are not grievous; they are not burdensome, when the Lord enlarges the heart. When we are narrowed up, shut up, contracted, these ordinances of the Lord's house are burdensome to us. We hate the very sight of the table spread with the emblems; we have the most horrible feelings of rebellion against the ordinance of baptism; yes, we feel every infernal sensation that Satan can stir up in our minds. But when the Lord enlarges our heart, there is no burden then; whatever be the precept, whatever be the ordinances, we can run in that way with cheerfulness, freedom and liberty.
6. So with respect to EVERY PRECEPT of the gospel. Whatever it be, we can run in the way of God's commandments when He enlarges our heart. There is no running in any other way. All other service is mere legalism; all other obedience is but the froth and spawn of free-will, nothing but the 'mere natural obedience' of the creature, not the 'spiritual obedience' of the child of God. But let us look at this.
Is it our happiness, is it our pleasure when we cannot run the way of God's commands? Do we lay the inability upon God, or put the responsibility upon the 'old sinful nature'? and say, It does not matter, I cannot obey them--but when God gives me the power, I shall. This is the very essence of antinomianism, the very spawn of licentiousness, the worst abuse of gospel grace.
The Christian is in one of these two spots for the most part.
1. Sometimes he is shut up, contracted, cold, dead, torpid. But this is his grief and misery. In this state of feeling, he cannot run the way of God's commandments. But is he pleased with being a loiterer? No--it is his grief and trouble that he cannot run in the way of God's commandments. This evidences the work of God the Spirit upon him--he desires do it, but he cannot--"the good that he would do, he does not." But it is the will being on the side of God which proves the reality of grace; it is the heart and conscience being enlisted on the side of the Lord that proves God is at work on his soul.
2. On the other hand, the children of God are sometimes in this state--their hearts are enlarged, their souls strengthened, and their feet are enabled to run the race that is set before them. This is their joy, their happiness, and their delight.
Now can you trace out BOTH of these things in your conscience? What is the use of my standing here to speak these things? Is it merely to amuse you? Is there not something deeper needed than that? You have a soul to be saved or damned; you are a child of God or not; the grace of God is in your heart, or it is not; you are on the broad road to hell, or on the narrow road to heaven. Have you no concern about it? What! stand upon the brink of eternity, and have no anxiety respecting it! If you are a child of God, you will have this deep concern at times in your bosom.
Can you trace out in your soul the distinct existence of the two things I have endeavored to handle? Do you know what it is to be shut up, cold, dead, and stupid? Is this your grief and burden? You say, it is. It is a good thing if you can say so with an honest heart.
Look at the converse. Did you ever know what it was to have an enlarged heart? Did mercy, grace, peace, blood, and salvation ever cast out these grievous enemies of your soul? If so, it enlarged your coasts, it strengthened your borders. Did you ever experience what is said of the church, that she shall "fear" (rather flutter, or palpitate) "and be enlarged?"
Did your soul ever experience the unutterable sensations of divine enlargement? When this came into your heart, did it produce sensible expansion Godwards, enlargement of understanding, conscience, and affections; so that you walked at liberty, and had sweet testimonies that God was your God?
And how do you feel as to the precepts of God's word? Are they sometimes burdensome? Are they sometimes pleasant and delightful? They will be burdensome when we are shut up; and they will be delightful when we are enlarged. When shut up, nothing is so difficult; when enlarged, nothing is so easy. When shut up, nothing so painful; when enlarged, nothing so pleasing. When shut up, afraid to look at them; when enlarged, able to enter into their length, breadth, and meaning. When shut up, seeing no beauty in them, and only viewing them as a task-master; when enlarged, contemplating them as the will and word of a kind parent, and desiring to obey them, because God has so graciously and plainly revealed them.
Thus, by these distinct ebbings and flowings, these distinct sensations in your conscience--by tracing out the work of the Spirit therein, we may at times come to some decision whether God the Spirit has begun and is carrying on the work of grace in our conscience, or whether we are dead in an empty profession.
The Lord clear up the difficulty (where it is felt to be a difficulty) in the hearts of His trembling ones. The Lord decide the doubtful case; and show them, that their mark is the mark of God's children--that they are walking in the footsteps of the flock--that their God is with them, and will be with them, to lead them in a right way, and to bring them to "a city of habitation."
Preached at Eden Street Chapel, Hampstead Road, London, on Wednesday Evening, August 16, 1843, by Joseph Philpot
"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
With what confidence the Apostle speaks here! There is not in his mind the shadow of a doubt--but he declares it as a positive certainty, that his God would supply all their need. Whence arose this confidence? Not from the flesh, we may be well certain. But it arose from two causes--first, from the deep conviction, lodged by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the Apostle, that God would supply all the needs of his church and people; and secondly, because he had himself experienced, in his own particular case, this gracious and perpetual supply.
But why should both these be necessary? Would not one be sufficient? I do not think. Say that the ground of his confidence was his own personal experience, and disjoin that experience of his from the truth which I have said was lodged in his heart that God would supply all the needs of his church; take, I say, that great truth away, and his experience would afford him no solid ground for confidence that God would supply all their needs. Or look at the other side of the question--suppose the doctrinal truth only was lodged in his heart that God would supply all the needs of his church, but that he himself had not a personal experience of that supply, there would still be lacking a sufficient ground of confidence. His confidence would stand upon one foot only, if it stood on either of these truths alone, and would thus be liable to be blown down by every gust of temptation. But when his confidence stood in the firm conviction of a general truth on the one hand, and a blessed experience of that truth in his own case on the other, it then stood firmly upon two feet--and no storm or gust that might arise, could drive him down from his standing.
And this must be the ground of our confidence also. No Arminian could consistently believe that God would for a certainty supply the needs of the Philippian Church, because, according to his creed, they might be God's children today, and the devil's children tomorrow. Nor, again, if we had not had some experience of God's mercy and faithfulness in our own souls, supplying us from time to time, could we rest upon the mere doctrinal truth, that God will supply the needs of his church? But when the truth of the DOCTRINE, and the truth of the EXPERIENCE meet together in the same heart, then there is a solid foundation on which spiritual confidence can rest.
If we look at the words of the text, I think we shall find three things in them. NEED is the first--"my God shall supply all your need." SUPPLY is the second--"my God shall supply." And the CHANNEL, through which this supply comes, is the third, "according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus."
1. The NEED. "My God shall supply all your need." A man has no felt spiritual needs until he is made a spiritual man; this is, to God-taught souls, a self-evident truth. Therefore, until the Lord is pleased to quicken the soul into spiritual life, it has not one spiritual panting after God, not one spiritual desire, for it has not one spiritual necessity. But no sooner does life commence in the soul, than needs and necessities commence with it. As the life of the new-born babe is manifested by its desiring the mother's breast, so is the life of the new-born soul manifested by its desiring, as the Apostle says, "the sincere milk of the word, that it may grow thereby."
He, then, that has no needs is dead in sin, or dead in a profession. But, just in proportion to the depth of God's work upon the soul, will be the depth of the needs; and just in proportion to the continued carrying on of that work with power, will there be the continual springing up of these wants in the soul.
With God's blessing, we will look at a few of these spiritual needs, which God will supply; he himself having caused them to be felt in the soul.
Until the Lord gives us eyes to see, and a heart to feel our real state and case, our true character and condition before him, we can feel no need to be saved from this state--to be delivered from this condition. The very word, salvation--deliverance--implies a being saved, a being delivered out of something--and that, a state of ruin, wretchedness, and misery. Whatever, then, a man may know doctrinally of the truths of the gospel, until he is brought by the special teaching of the Spirit to need something which God alone can give him, he cannot be said to have any spiritual life or feeling in his soul.
1. But what is the first need that the living soul most pressingly and most urgently feels? Mercy. Was not that the first cry which was raised up in the heart of the tax-collector--"God be merciful to me, a sinner." Mercy was a word that never before had been in his lips--the craving after mercy was an experience utterly unknown in his soul. But no sooner did sin and guilt fall upon his conscience, no sooner was he spiritually convinced of his state as a sinner before God, than a need of mercy was sensibly opened up in his heart; and no sooner was the need raised up in his heart, than the groaning cry burst forth from his lips, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
Now, I believe, in my conscience, that there are hundreds, if not thousands of persons, in a profession of religion, who never once, from their hearts, lifted up that earnest cry to God; the words may have passed through their lips, but the groaning cry before a heart-searching God to visit their souls with mercy, never really burst forth from a broken heart. And if a man has not taken that first step in the divine life, there is no use his talking about how established he is in the doctrines of grace. If he has not come in by "the door," he has climbed over the wall, and is but a thief and a robber. The sweetness of mercy, its suitability to our ruined condition, can only be felt by one who has groaned under the pressure of guilt--and when guilt is really laid upon a man's conscience, nothing but manifested mercy can ever heal his wound, or suit his case. Nor will this need of, and cry for mercy, be confined just to one or two periods in a man's life--but he will often be, as Deer says– "Begging mercy every hour."
Daily sinners need daily mercies; hourly iniquities cry out for hourly pardon; whatever, therefore, a man may have experienced in his soul in times past of granted mercy, yet, as he is perpetually a sinner against God, and is continually doing things, which his conscience bears its solemn testimony against as evil, there will be from time to time a cry in his soul, that God would look down upon him in mercy, and heal his perpetual backslidings from him.
2. Pardon--forgiveness--and an inward testimony that the blood of Jesus Christ has been shed for his sins, is a need, a spiritual need, that God brings every one of his children to experience. It is this need which effectually teaches a man to believe in particular redemption. A man who holds universal redemption can never want to have pardon sealed upon his conscience--he cannot value the blood of Christ, until he knows that that blood was specially shed; nor can he behold the efficacy of atoning blood, until he sees that that blood was shed for particular objects. As long, therefore, as a man is buried in free-will errors, until he is effectually purged by "the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning" out of freewill and self-righteousness, and has had all his Arminian sentiments dashed to a thousand shivers in his conscience, he can never know what it is to groan out from the depths of his soul for manifested pardon and forgiveness. But, when he is taught of God to view the depth, the dreadful depth of his iniquities with one eye, and to behold the virtue and efficacy of the atoning blood of Christ with the other, and yet feels his conscience filthy, guilty, burdened, and in bondage, he, and he alone, will then effectually plead for the manifestation and application of that atoning blood to his soul.
3. Righteousness--that he may stand righteous before God, "accepted in the Beloved," his own "filthy rags" cast to the ash-heap, and Christ's glorious robe of righteousness imputed unto and put upon him--is "a need" felt by every quickened vessel of mercy, before the Lord assures him that he stands complete in Christ. His own "righteousness" being opened up to him as "filthy rags," he views himself, as the Lord showed the prophet Zechariah (Zec 3:3) as Joshua, the high priest, clothed with filthy garments, before the angel of the Lord. Nothing can satisfy him, therefore, but that which satisfies God; nothing is acceptable in his eyes, but that which is acceptable in the eyes of infinite Purity--a robe "without spot or blemish, or any such thing." And it is the sigh, the cry, and the groaning desire of his soul, to have that blessed robe brought out of the heavenly wardrobe, where it is stored up for those who believe in Jesus, and experimentally put upon him by the Spirit of the living God.
4. Wisdom--that he may understand the mind and will of God--that he may have a spiritual and feeling perception of, and acquaintance with, "the truth as it is in Jesus"--is a "need," a spiritual need, felt in every living soul. What poor, blind fools are we by nature! How insufficient is all our earthly wisdom and all our natural knowledge, to guide us into the truth! When the soul really is under divine teaching, how ignorant it feels as to every single thing it desires to know! What clouds of darkness perpetually hang over the mind! What a veil of ignorance seems continually spread over the heart! The simplest truths of God's word seem hidden in the deepest obscurity, and the soul can neither see the truth, nor see or feel its personal interest in it.
Now, when a man is here, he does not go to the Lord with lying lips and a mocking tongue, and ask him to give him wisdom, merely because he has heard that other people have asked it of God, or because he reads in the Bible that Christ is made of God "wisdom" to his people; but he goes as a poor blind fool, as one completely ignorant, as one totally unable to understand a single spiritual truth of himself, as one thoroughly helpless to get into the marrow of vital godliness, into the mysteries of true religion, or into the very heart of Christ. For it is not a few doctrines received into the head, nor a sound creed, that can satisfy a soul convinced of its ignorance. No; nothing can satisfy him, but to have that divine illumination, whereby he "sees light in God's light," that spiritual wisdom communicated, whereby he feels himself "made wise unto salvation;" that unctuous light shed abroad in the heart, which is the only key to gospel truth, and is its own blessed evidence, that he knows the truth by a divine application of it to his soul.
5. Strength, also, to walk in God's ways, to believe God's promises, to lay hold of the Mediator's righteousness, to tread in the strait and narrow path that Jesus walked in before him, "leaving us an example that we should follow his steps." Every quickened child of God is deeply convinced of his utter helplessness and weakness in divine things; and he feels, to his very heart's core, in the inward recesses of his soul, that he is as weak as water against all temptations, and utterly unable to do a single thing that God can approve of, unless he is pleased to work it in him with his own powerful and blessed hand.
Until a man gets experimentally acquainted with temptation, he can never know anything of the weakness of the flesh--he may seem to have stood for years in the truth, and made a most flourishing profession, and yet be completely ignorant of his own heart, and of the mountains that lie on the road to glory. But, sooner or later, temptation will come upon him--and temptation, sooner or later, will prove him what he is. If he is nothing but a heady, high-minded professor, a powerful and suitable temptation will probably sweep him at once out of the path in which he has professed to walk--and even if he is a child of God, the first effect of it may be for a time to beat him down. The wind sometimes sweeps over the branches as though it would bow the noblest and strongest oak in the dust--and yet, when the blast has passed away, the tree springs again to its place. So a living soul, when the blast of temptation comes down violently upon it, may seem at first almost laid prostrate; and yet there is a secret strength in a living man, whereby, when the temptation has passed over, he is again restored to his place.
The dead tree has no vitality in it, so as to recover itself when the storm has passed over, and therefore it falls, and great is the fall of it; but where there is vitality in stem and root, there is a springing back of every branch and twig to its place, when the first gust of the storm has blown over. So it is with the living soul; "the root of the matter" is in it; the grace and teaching of God are in the heart; "underneath are the everlasting arms;" and the Lord his God upholds him with his powerful hand. So that though the first effect of temptation may seem to be almost overwhelming, so as to beat him utterly down, yet there is, by the grace and mercy of God, a returning to his standing, so as not to be utterly prostrated by the very roots.
And so with respect to sin. No man knows what sin really is, until its nature and power are experimentally made known to him. Many go on for years in a sort of dreamy profession of religion, knowing nothing experimentally of the amazing power of sin in their carnal minds. Many a professor walks consistently for years, sin all the while lying dead and torpid in him, until some mine, which Satan perhaps has been secretly digging for weeks, months, or years, suddenly explodes, and sets all the sin of his heart a fire; and he, not being possessed of grace, and God, therefore, not upholding him by his powerful hand, is at once driven into secret or open licentiousness--and hardly knows what sin is before he is plunged headlong into it.
A child of God never knows what he really is, and what a poor weak creature he is against temptation, until the power of sin is opened up in his carnal mind. But when sin is opened up, when temptation and his fallen nature come together, when Satan is permitted to blow a blast from hell into his carnal mind, and to suit the temptation to the lust, and the lust to the temptation, then a child of God begins experimentally to know the overwhelming power of sin, and to feel as utterly unable to stand against sin and Satan as to perform an immediate miracle before your eyes. But, by this painful experience, he learns his need of divine strength and the necessity of being kept by the power of God from falling a prey to his own corruptions. This unexpected discovery of his own weakness effectually convinces him that God himself must work in him deliverance from the power of evil, and "strengthen him with might by his Spirit in the inner man," against the swelling tide of his own corruptions, or sooner or later he must be utterly carried away by them.
I believe, in many cases, we go on for some time receiving doctrines as revealed in the Scriptures, and giving, as we think, our full adherence to them, being quite convinced they are true; but not being as yet 'experimentally' grounded in them, after a time we begin to find that we have only half learned them. For instance, we may, perhaps, for years have assented to this doctrine, that Christ's strength is made perfect in our weakness. We have heard ministers preach from it, we have approved of all they said upon it; we have been well convinced it is a gospel truth; but what did we know of it all the time experimentally? Why, perhaps, nothing, positively nothing, absolutely nothing. And so we continued ignorant of our own ignorance until some powerful temptation came upon us, or some lust or corruption was opened up in our heart, when we felt all our fancied strength give way, and found we had no more power to stand against this temptation, or to overcome that evil, than we had power to raise up the dead from their graves.
Thus we learn our need of divine strength; and we now no longer believe it merely upon the testimony of the written word, no longer receive it as a truth because good and gracious men preach it, but we receive it into our conscience as an experimental reality, the weight and power of which we have known for ourselves.
But the words of the text are very extensive. It does not say, "My God shall supply some of your need." but, "My God shall supply all your need." If, then, we are the people of God, we cannot come into any one state of mind, into any one exercise of soul, into any one perplexing circumstance, into any one spiritual or temporal trouble, to which this promise does not apply. If the word "all" could be struck out, what a blank it would leave! How it would foster the doubts, and fears, and suspicions, that arise in the mind! It would at once be suggested by unbelief, "God has not said 'all;' therefore your need is excluded."
The tempted soul would say, "My temptation is not there;" the poor creature, perplexed in providence, would say, "My providential trial is not there;" the tender conscience, groaning under the power of sin, would say, "My exercise is not there;" and thus all might be so continually bringing forward each his own exercises to his own peculiar exclusion, that, by the omission of that little word 'all', Satan might rob every child, of his manifested interest in this promise. And, therefore, to block him out, to keep the Church of God in its right place, as a needy dependant upon the divine bounty, and yet to open up a sweet source of consolation to the living family, that word "all" has been introduced by the blessed Spirit, that a child of God may never be in any circumstances, to which the promise should not apply.
But, my friends, we feel (those of us I mean whom God has taught anything of the truth) that the Lord must not only give us needs, in the first instance, but that he must from time to time keep alive a sense of those needs in our souls. There are many times with us, when we seem not to have a single spiritual need; when we are, in our feelings, as cold and carnal, careless and stupid, dead and unfeeling, as if a single groaning cry had never gone up out of our heart--as if there had never been any breathing after the presence of God, as if the power of truth had never once been felt, and as if we had no more to do with truth, and truth had no more to do with us, than if there were no God to know or fear, no Jesus to believe in or love, no Spirit to teach or lead us, no hell to dread, nor heaven to enjoy. Through this wretched carnality and recklessness we learn that an experience of our urgent needs must, by a divine power, be again and again brought into our hearts.
But what painful ways does the Lord employ to keep a feeling sense of these needs in exercise! It is not to stretch ourselves in an evening in our arm chair, and say--"I have this need, and I have that need; I will therefore go to the Lord with this need, and ask him, to supply that need!" No, that is not the way whereby the Lord usually raises up a sense of need in our souls; but he permits, in his providence, some powerful temptation to assault us that we would not have for the world; or he lays some heavy affliction upon us, that brings us down into the dust; or he brings some trouble which we would escape from if we could, and the very sight of which fills us with dread.
He thus raises up needs, by putting us into situations, which the flesh naturally shrinks from, and at which, if left to ourselves, we can only murmur and rebel. When he puts us, then, into these spots, where we would never have put ourselves, which we hate when we are put into them, and where we kick sometimes "as a wild bull in a net;" and when he keeps us down in these spots by his own powerful hand--then is the time, and that is the way, that he raises up needs in our souls. But wherever the Lord raises up, by the power of his blessed Spirit, these needs within, he, at the same time, mercifully enables us to pour them out at his footstool, and to ask him to supply them, because it is written upon our consciences that he alone can grant our desires, and mercifully appear on our behalf.
2. The SUPPLY. And this leads us to consider the second thing that we mentioned as contained in the text; which is supply. "My God shall supply all your need."
Oh! what should we do without a supply? Need could not satisfy us. Many seem to rest upon needs; they have, they say, a sense of their lost and ruined state, are troubled with doubts and fears, have exercises of mind, and are often assailed by temptations. So far, so good. But their error is, that they rest upon these exercises as satisfactory evidences of a work of grace. Needs are very good when they lead the soul to seek after and prize their supply. But can mere need satisfy us? Suppose we had this year a deficient harvest--suppose the Lord, in anger for our sins as a nation, were to smite down the very wheat from the soil, and not give us our daily bread, would need and famine satisfy us? Suppose the noble river Thames, which flows by this metropolis, were dried up, so that no ships freighted with merchandise could come up to the city of London, would we think, in that case, that need would serve for supply--and that a dry channel would be as good as the present liquid highway?
The need indeed makes the supply precious; but who could rest upon the need? No, it is the supply; it is the Lord causing, year after year, the ground to bring forth its abundant harvests, that supplies our table with bread. It is the same munificent God sending rain, and causing the sea to ebb and flow, that bids the noble river go down into the sea, and bring up the ships. So it is spiritually. It is not having needs (though spiritual needs are evidences of the divine life, and are so far good) but it is the supply of the needs, which is the real marrow of vital godliness--and in the receiving of this supply does all the enjoyment and comfort of spiritual religion consist.
Now the Lord has promised that he will "supply all our need;" that we shall not pine away in need, shall not die of hunger, shall not perish with thirst, shall not be utterly carried away by temptation, shall not be borne down the current of sin into hell; but that he will graciously supply those needs which he himself has kindled in the soul. And does he not, from time to time, graciously supply them? Do you not know it so, from time to time, in soul experience, that there is a supply opened up in proportion to the reality and depth of your needs?
Have you not sometimes been under heavy afflictions, and deeply, sensibly needed the hand of God to appear, either to remove the affliction or else to give you patience and resignation under it? And has not the Lord, in his own time and way, done both for you? Has he not sometimes removed the affliction? and has he not at other times given you patience and resignation to submit to it, and to look up unto him that it may work in you "the peaceable fruit of righteousness"?
So with respect to temptations--did we ever go to the Lord with a temptation, which was not more or less taken away? I have known what it is to labor under a temptation so strong and powerful, that I thought it would utterly overthrow me--and I have known what it is to go with groans, and sighs, and tears to the Lord to take the temptation away--and I have had it taken away, so as not to come with the same power again. It is the removing of temptation, in answer to prayer, in this marked and sensible way, that raises up in our souls gratitude to God for his delivering hand.
But temptations, at least, many of them, are such as people naturally love, and so far from their being a pain, they are a pleasure to them, to gratify which is their chief delight. A change, therefore, must take place in us before we can desire to be delivered from them. Few will sincerely and spiritually go to the Lord, and cry from their hearts to deliver them from the power of a temptation, until it presses so weightily upon their conscience, and lies so heavy a burden upon their soul, that none but God can remove it. But when we really feel the burden of a temptation; when, though our flesh may love it, our spirit hates it; when, though there may be in our carnal mind a cleaving to it, our conscience bleeds under it, and we are brought spiritually to loathe it and to loathe ourselves for it; when we are enabled to go to the Lord in real sincerity of soul and honesty of heart, beseeching him to deliver us from it, I believe, that the Lord will sooner or later, either remove that temptation entirely in his providence or by his grace, or so weaken its power that it shall cease to be what it was before, drawing our feet into paths of darkness and evil.
As long, however, as we are in that state of which the prophet speaks, "Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty" (Hosea 10:2) as long as we are in that carnal, wavering mind, which James describes--"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways;" as long as we are hankering after the temptation, casting longing, lingering side glances after it, rolling it as a sweet morsel under our tongue, and, though conscience may testify against it, yet not willing to have it taken away; there is no hearty cry, nor sigh, nor spiritual breathing of our soul, that God would remove it from us.
But when we are brought, as in the presence of a heart-searching God, to hate the evil to which we are tempted, and cry to him that he would, for his honor and for our soul's good, take the temptation away, or dull and deaden its power; sooner or later (I can speak from soul experience on more than one occasion, and, if I thought it right to mention them, could bring forward several instances), the Lord will hear the cry of those who groan to be delivered from those temptations, which are so powerfully pressing them down to the dust.
So with respect to the Lord's strength. When is it we find DIVINE strength? It is only when we are experimentally sensible of our own weakness, and feel utterly unable to think, to speak, or to do anything acceptable in God's sight; when weakness is not a doctrine, but an experience; when man's thorough helplessness is believed by us, not merely because we read it in the Scripture, but because we really know it in our own hearts. Then it is, and then alone, that we find the strength of the Lord made perfect in weakness. If we go forward in our own strength, we are sure to get baffled; none of our anticipations are realized; disappointment and mortification are the only crop we reap. But when we feel all weakness and emptiness, we find at times secret and unexpected strength communicated to us.
So with respect to righteousness. When we go to the Lord, hating ourselves, abhorring and loathing ourselves in dust and ashes, and see no more reason why God should have mercy upon us than upon the vilest sinner who is daringly fighting against his Majesty, this is the time when he often gives to the soul a sweet testimony of its interest in Christ's righteousness. When we go puffed up with some conceit of our own righteousness, and thinking, "surely we are not so bad as others, surely there are those who are or have been more inconsistent than we," and thus, as Berridge says, "squint and peep another way, some creature-help to spy," there is a denial, on the Lord's part, to indulge us with a spiritual view of Christ's glorious righteousness. But when the soul stands naked and bare, clothed with humility, and filled with contrition, then the Lord, from time to time, opens up a sight of Christ's glorious righteousness as unto all and upon all those who believe.
And so with respect to every kind of deliverance; for instance, deliverances in providence. Until we get into providential difficulties, we know nothing of providential deliverances; until we get into straits, where our own wisdom is utterly at fault, we do not find the Lord stretching forth his hand to guide and deliver us. But when we are brought to this point, that our way is completely blocked up, that we do not know what step to take, and unless the Lord appears--we must certainly go wrong--when, under these exercises, we are brought honestly and sincerely to cry to the Lord mercifully to appear on our behalf, sooner or later, a secret light will be cast upon the path, and there will be a fulfillment of that gracious promise, "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, this is the way, walk in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left." Isa 30:21
It was so with the children of Israel. Until they had come out of Egypt, and "the wilderness had shut them in," until they were encamped by the Red Sea, with the rolling waves before, and their furious enemies behind, there was no deliverance from the power and rage of Pharaoh. But the Lord did not tell them there should be deliverance in that way. He left the deliverance to come when the danger came; yet no sooner did the danger come than the deliverance came with it. Have we not ever found it thus? and thus we shall continue to find it. It is when the danger comes, when the perplexity arises, and we have no strength, wisdom, or power, to deliver ourselves, that then, and not until then, the deliverance comes.
We would not know what a God the Lord was, unless things were thus managed. We profess to believe in an Almighty, All-present, All-seeing God. But we would be highly offended if a person said to us, "you do not really believe that God sees everything, that he is everywhere present, that he is an Almighty Jehovah;" we would almost think that he was taking us for an atheist. And yet 'practical atheists', we daily prove ourselves to be.
For instance, we profess to believe that God sees everything, and yet we are plotting and planning as though he saw nothing. We profess to know that God can do everything, and yet we are always cutting out schemes, and carving out contrivances, as though he were like the gods of the heathen, looking on and taking no notice. We profess to believe that God is everywhere present to relieve every difficulty and bring his people out of every trial, and yet when we get into the difficulty and into the trial, we speak, think, and act, as though there were no such omnipresent God, who knows the circumstances of our case, and can stretch forth his hand to bring us out of it.
Thus the Lord is obliged (to speak with all reverence) to thrust us into trials and afflictions, because we are such blind fools, that we cannot learn what a God we have to deal with, until we come experimentally into those spots of difficulty and trial, out of which none but such a God can deliver us. This, then, is one reason why the Lord often plunges his people so deeply into a sense of sin; it is to show them what a wonderful salvation from the guilt, filth, and power of sin, there is in the Person, blood, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the same reason, too, they walk in such scenes of temptation; it is in order to show them what a wonder working God he is in bringing them out. This too is the reason why many of them are so harassed and plagued; it is that they may not live and act as though there were no God to go to, no Almighty friend to consult, no kind Jesus to rest their weary heads upon; it is in order to teach them experimentally and inwardly those lessons of grace and truth which they never would know until the Lord, as it were, thus compels them to learn, and actually forces them to believe what they profess to believe. Such pains is he obliged to take with us; such poor scholars, such dull creatures we are. No child at a school ever gave his master a thousandth part of the trouble that we have (so to speak) given the Lord to teach us.
If your child were as stupid, as dull, as intractable, in learning his A B C's, as we are learning the A B C's of religion, I know not how many times a day he would be put into the corner; I know not how many cuffs our natural impetuosity might not be provoked to give him. But we are such stupid wretches, that God has actually to put us into places where he would not otherwise put us, in order that we may learn the letter of the great A of true religion; in order just to teach us, as the prophet says, "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little." But when we have got a little way into our alphabet, such dull scholars are we that we almost immediately forget it all, and have to go back, and begin with letter A again. So we go on learning and forgetting, learning and forgetting; and, with all the pains taken with us, when we most wish to put our lesson into practice, feeling as if we had not yet learned a single truth aright.
In order, then, to teach us what a God he is, what a merciful and compassionate High Priest--in order to open up the heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths of his love, he is compelled to treat, at times, his people very roughly, and handle them very sharply; he is obliged to make very great use of his rod, because he sees that "foolishness is so bound up in the hearts" of his children that nothing but the repeated "rod of correction will ever drive it far from them."
Now to learn religion in this way, is not like getting hold of a few doctrines in the 'judgment', and then setting up to be a very bright professor; like a tradesman who borrows all his capital, and then, by puffing and advertising drives for a time a flourishing trade, until the bubble bursts. God's people cannot thus borrow from books and ministers a number of doctrines and texts, and then set up with these as a stock in trade. No; they have to be emptied and stripped of all such borrowed stock and brought into darkness and confusion, that they may learn all they really know from the lips of the Lord himself. They have to pass through many painful exercises and troubles, and all for one purpose--that they may be scholars in the school of tribulation, and thus walk in the footsteps of a suffering Jesus.
3. The CHANNEL. And this leads us to the Channel, through which God supplies all the varied needs of his people. "My God," says Paul, "shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus."
Oh! If there was no Christ Jesus, there could be no "supply." Howling in hell would our miserable souls be, unless there was a Mediator at the right hand of the Father--a blessed Jesus, full of love, pity, and power, co-equal and co-eternal in his Divine nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and yet the God-Man in whom "it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell." If there was not such a blessed Mediator at the right hand of God, then not one drop of spiritual comfort, not one particle of hope, not one grace or fruit of the Spirit to distinguish us from the damned in hell, would ever be our lot or portion. Oh! we should never forget the channel through which these mercies come; we should never, for one moment, think that they could come through any other person or in any other way, than through God's only begotten Son, now in our nature, at his right hand, as our Advocate, Mediator, and Intercessor with the Father.
And this supply is "according to the riches of his glory;" which, I believe, is a Hebrew idiom, signifying his glorious riches– riches so great, so unlimited, so unfathomable, raising up the soul to such a height of glory, that they may well be called "glorious." And these "in Christ Jesus," stored up in him, locked up in him, and supplied freely out of him, just according to the needs and exercises of God's people.
Oh! my friends, when the channel through which these mercies come into the soul, is in a measure opened up to the eye of faith--when we see that we have not to deal with pure Deity, with offended purity, with a justly incensed Jehovah, with a holy God, who, with one glance of his righteous eye, could frown our souls into a never-ending hell, but have to plead with "the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ," with a merciful God, who has sent his dear Son into the world that those who believe in his name should not die, but live forever. When we see, also, by the eye of faith what this blessed God-Man has done and suffered--when we mark him coming down from heaven to earth, when we view him in the manger, when we trace all his sorrowing and suffering path through life, and see him at the end suspended between two malefactors, groaning out that agonizing cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"--when we accompany his dead body to the tomb, and see him raised up thence with power and glory, to sit at the right hand of the Father--oh! I say, when faith receives this blessed truth of Christ's mediation in the love of it, in the sweetness of it, and in the power of it, how it opens up a way for the poor and needy to plead at Jehovah's footstool? How it encourages them to go to the throne of grace, with all their needs, troubles, and exercises! And how it draws forth their soul into admiring views, hopes, and love towards the Lord Jesus, for having done and suffered such things on their behalf!
The channel, then, through which every gospel blessing and mercy comes into the soul, is through the Mediator at God's right hand--and in him God can be "just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus." This is our plea. Not that WE have done anything, not that we can do anything; not that we have lived good and holy lives; not that we have said, or done this or that--all such carnal pleas and vain hopes must be swept away. Our only warrant to draw near to the throne is this--the blessed teachings of the Spirit in the soul, whereby he gives the eye of faith to see Jesus, and to approach the Father through his atoning sacrifice and his meritorious obedience, as the Scripture speaks, "for through him we both have access by one Spirit, unto the Father."
And as through this channel alone do our prayers flow upward, so through this channel, and through this channel only, does every mercy, and every blessing, and every grace flow downward into the hearts of those who fear God. If it were not so, long ago must we have died in despair--if it were not so, long ago must God have banished us from his presence forever. But now that there is One in our nature, who has suffered, bled, and died, and made an atonement for sin, God can be holy and merciful at the same moment; he can forgive sin, and yet not have his justice for a moment sullied.
If, then, you are a child of God, a poor and needy soul, a tempted and tried believer in Christ, "God shall supply all your need." It may be very great; it may seem to you, sometimes, as though there were not upon all the face of the earth such a wretch as you, as though there never could be a child of God in your state; so dark, so stupid, so blind and ignorant, so proud and worldly, so presumptuous and hypocritical, so continually backsliding after idols, so continually doing things that you know are hateful in God's sight. And if you think that you are the worst, I could find you a companion; I could find you one who could walk side by side with you in every step; who could put his arm into yours, and compare notes, and if you thought yourself one of the basest, vilest, and worst of all who are hanging upon Jesus, could, from the same lips whose breath you now hear, whisper the same things into your ear that you might whisper into his.
But whatever our need be, it is not beyond the reach of divine supply; and the deeper our need, the more is Jesus glorified in supplying it. It is not 'little sinners' that will go to heaven; little sinners can know nothing experimentally of the blood of the atonement. It is not those who can make themselves religious, that God will take any pains with--it is not those who can make a ladder and climb up the rounds of their own piety, that will reach the heavenly Canaan--but those will run the race and gain the prize who often feel themselves too base and too black, too filthy and too vile to be saved. It is not those who are walking upon the stilts of their own religion, and raising themselves so many feet higher, who are accepted by him who searches the heart--but it is those, who have no power to walk at all, and who cannot move a single step except as God is pleased to "work in those who which is well pleasing in his sight," who eventually will come off more than conquerors through him that loved them, and gave himself for them.
Do not say then, that your case is too bad, that your needs are too many, your perplexities too great, your temptations too powerful. No case can be too bad; no temptations can be too powerful; no sin, except the sin against the Holy Spirit, can be too black; no enigma can be too hard; no state in which the soul can get is beyond the reach of the almighty and compassionate love, that burns in the breast of the Redeemer.
But do you try him? How many there are who seem to have needs, and yet their needs are not pressing enough to force the cry for mercy out of their souls! How many in religion are like some people, naturally, that are ailing all their lives, and yet are never bad enough to go to a doctor! They have their dyspepsia, and their bilious attacks, and their rheumatic pains, and their nervous complaints, but they go croaking and croaking on, and yet do not apply to any physician, or medical man; they are not bad enough for that. So are there not many of God's people, who go croaking and croaking on with their doubts and fears, questionings and suspicions, convictions and complaints, and their other numerous ailments, but in whom the disease of sin is not so deeply felt as to make them sigh, cry, and groan out their souls, and breathe their very hearts into the ears of Jehovah Rophi, that that blessed Physician would apply the balm of his atoning blood to their bleeding consciences?
Until we know what it is to have a disease deeply fixed in our vital parts, we shall never have recourse to the Almighty Physician; until we are brought into the depths of poverty, we shall never know nor value Christ's riches; and until our own case is utterly unmanageable by our own wisdom, we shall never find that Christ is made "wisdom" to his church. But when we come into those desperate circumstances, that all the help of men and angels combined could never bring a moment's peace into our hearts--when we come into those straits and difficulties, wherein God must appear, or we must perish at his feet, the supply then will not be long delayed--the answer to prayer then will not be long in tarrying--the wheels of deliverance will be heard approaching; and the Conqueror who rides in that chariot, the bottom of which is "paved with love," will come into the heart of his Hephzibah, and ravish her with his smile.
But as long as we can do without him, he, so to speak, will do without us; as long as we trifle and play with our ailments, our doubts, and fears, the Lord will stand back--but when nobody can bless us but he, and nobody can do us good but he, he will not be long in tarrying. "His heart is full of tenderness, His affections melt with love" for poor sinners. He is now behind the lattice, hidden only by the wall; he only waits to hear a few more knocks; and when the soul is so pressed down that it cannot do without him, he will shine from behind the lattice, blessedly appear, and make it happy in himself.
It is a truth, then, which will stand forever, that "God will supply all our need, according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus." If any of his people lived and died without their spiritual need being supplied (I say it with all reverence), God would forfeit his word. But he will never allow any one to charge him with that; he will never let any one say that he was not faithful to his promise. He will prove, before men and devils, saints and sinners, that he has never given a promise in the Scripture which he has not fulfilled, or which he will not fulfill to the very letter.