Sunday, January 31, 2010
Preached at Providence Chapel, London, on August 23, 1846, by J. C. Philpot
"And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live."
The children of Israel had been forty years wandering in the wilderness; and they were now come to the borders of the promised land. The Lord, therefore, commands Moses to set before them promises, and also threatenings; promises to the obedient, and threatenings against the disobedient. Moses from this is divinely led to recapitulate the dealings of the Lord with them during the past forty years, and to encourage them for the future.
How applicable is this to the experience of a living soul! During the time that the children of Israel were traveling in the wilderness, there were many perplexing circumstances, the meaning of which they could not then understand. But when forty years had passed over their head, then they were enabled to see clearly the reasons of the many painful trials and perplexing circumstances, which, when they took place, were completely hidden from their eyes. Is not this the case with the Lord's family while traveling through the wilderness below? How many trials and temptations—how many sharp and severe exercises have they to pass through! But while they are in them, how little they know the reason of them! how little do they feel that the hand of God is in them! how little they believe that these things are indeed for their spiritual good! But when in the unction of the Spirit's teaching, by the eye of living faith, they are enabled afterwards to look back, O what a sweet light is then cast upon those very trials which when they first came so perplexed them! and how they then see that the mysterious and invisible hand of the Lord did indeed guide them step by step in the way that they should go!
The Lord reminds Israel of this. Every step that Israel had traveled in the wilderness was under divine guidance; they never journeyed until the pillar of the cloud moved before them; they never stopped until the same pillar halted. Yet, were you and I to follow in a map the wanderings of the children of Israel, how intricate would that path appear, tracked out on the chart! But this was the termination of it all—the goodly land into which the Lord had promised to bring them. And is it not so with the path that the Lord's people have to travel? so intricate, so entangled, such a maze, such a labyrinth! Yet when they lay their heads upon a dying pillow, and the Lord is about to smile them into eternity, they cannot say that the Lord has led them one wrong step; but that "goodness and mercy have followed them all the days of their life; and now they are about to dwell in the house of the Lord forever." May such an end be our happy portion.
In looking at these words, I shall endeavor to point out what the Lord here chiefly, if I may use the expression, puts his finger upon, and desires more particularly to impress upon their minds. These leading points will come out as, with God's blessing, we travel through the text.
I. The first point which the Lord impresses upon their conscience is, to remember. "You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness." But some may say, 'How can I remember? I have a treacherous memory; I cannot exactly recollect every circumstance.' No more could they. But is there not a blessed Remembrancer? Is there not a promised Guide and Comforter, of whom the Lord said, "He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance?" (John 14:26.) And is it not so in soul experience? Why, sometimes the path that we have trodden seems almost blotted out of our memory; or, if we remember the leading circumstances, all is so dark, that we can make nothing of it. No, we can scarcely believe that what we considered Ebenezers were memorials of the Lord's goodness at all.
But, on the other hand, are there not times and seasons when the Lord sweetly brings to mind his leadings and dealings with us in providence and grace, and raises up living faith in our heart to believe that he did this and did that? that he appeared on this and that occasion? If I may use a figure, it is something like the country spread before our eyes on a very dark and gloomy day. There the objects are. But the gloom, mist, and clouds that hang upon them hide all, or pretty nearly all, from our sight. The trees, the church spires, the villages, the towns, the parks, and the rivers that run among them, are all there; but the darkness rests upon them, and obscures them from our view. But let us travel the same road on a sun-shiny morn, when the cloudless orb of day casts his beams upon every surrounding object—how visible then is every spot which before was enveloped in darkness! The church spires, the villages, the trees, the parks; how they shine forth! And why? Because they are illuminated by the rays of the sun. And yet they were all there just as much in the cloudy day as they are now in the bright sunshine. Is it not so in Christian experience? Our Ebenezers, our testimonies, our tokens, our evidences—they are the same in the cloudy as in the bright day. When the Sun shines into your soul, then you can see them. But when clouds, darkness, and mists rest upon them, though they are there exactly the same, yet are they hidden from view.
Thus, when the Lord said, "You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness," he does not enforce it as a legal precept. I look upon Deuteronomy as the gospel of the Pentateuch; it is so full of spiritual blessings. When therefore he says, "You shall remember," it does not come with the peals of Sinai; it does not blaze, as it were, from that burning mount, as a precept to be fulfilled under the penalty of a curse. But "you shall remember," when the divine Remembrancer brings it to your recollection—when that heavenly Teacher shines upon your path, and brings it to your memory. And thus, in true Christian experience, it may be said to a child of God, 'Remember that the Lord appeared for you on this occasion, and that he appeared for you on that occasion; that he met you in prayer; that he blessed you in hearing; that he gave you a visit upon your bed; that he shone into your bosom in your chimney corner; that he applied his promises to your heart; that some sweet passage of his word broke in upon and melted your soul.'
"You shall remember all the way." The dark parts of the path as well as the bright; the crooked paths as well as the straight; the rough passages as well as the smooth; the narrow alleys as well as the broad streets. "You shall remember all the way," from the first to the last, "which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness."
How sweet and refreshing it is to look back upon the way by which we believe the Lord has led us! But how different are our feelings at different times! Sometimes we cannot bear to look back. There are so many things in every man's bosom; there are so many things in every man's life, that sometimes he cannot, he dare not, look back upon the path that he has trodden. Our very experience itself is so much connected with nature's depravity—there are so many things in self to humble us, though there are so many things at the same time in grace to bless us, that there are times and seasons when we cannot look back upon the path we have trodden, and wish it were altogether buried and forgotten.
But when the grace of God begins to manifest itself, and we see it superabounding over the aboundings of our sin, we can look even at the darkest spots, and see the mercies of God superabounding over them. And thus, when the Lord takes us by the hand, we can walk into those paths where we could not walk by ourselves. It is like a child in this vast metropolis. The tender child is afraid to walk out by itself in the dark alleys and narrow lanes; but let the child have hold of its father's hand, and it treads those dark places courageously and boldly which it would fear to do unaccompanied by such protection. And so, when the Lord has hold of his people's hand, as the angels of Lot's, they can walk boldly forward, and look boldly backward, because they lean upon an all-gracious as well as almighty hand.
II. But the Lord tells his people WHY it was he led them these forty years in the wilderness. His grand object was—to humble them. If nothing that we have met with in our pilgrimage has humbled us; if our religion instead of laying us low has exalted us high; if instead of breaking us into humility and self-loathing, it has puffed us up with pride and presumption, depend upon it, it bears not the mark and stamp of God. Where shall we go to find the proudest man in England? In the park on a Sunday, rolling in his carriage? or sitting at a gaming-table in one of the haunts of the metropolis? No! but to some chapel—and there you may see him in a man puffed up by the devil as an angel of light, thinking himself something when he is nothing.
And where shall we go to find a man that is really humble? Into some convent? within the walls of a Popish chapel? or in the cell of a hermit? We shall not find him there. But if we would find such an one, we must look for him in the man in whose heart the grace of God dwells, who knows something of self by divine teachings. And I am sure, if our religion has never humbled us, it has done nothing for us—it has left us where it found us, in nature's pride and nature's ignorance.
But how was it that they were humbled by walking forty years in the wilderness? Must there not have taken place many things to humble them? We cannot have the effect without the cause; we cannot have the fruit without the root. If, therefore, they were humbled, there must have been something to humble them. We never really can have the grace of humility unless we have had something of a very powerful and deep nature to work that grace in our soul. We cannot walk in our garden on a summer's eve, and pluck the lowly flower, humility, to stick in our button-hole. It grows indeed in the garden of God's word; but we cannot extract it thence to adorn our souls with. There must be some teachings of God the Spirit in the heart to produce that heavenly grace.
Now, what are the two things—for all the dealings and teachings of God to produce humility may be summed up under two things—what are the two things that produce this gospel grace?
1. One is, a deep discovery of what we are; an opening up of the corruption, weakness, and wickedness of our fallen nature. How? By merely shining into our hearts to discover them? That is not enough. How did the Lord discover and bring to light the corruptions of Israel in the wilderness? Was it not by circumstances? Was it not by events? And did not circumstances and events make them manifest? For instance, the Lord left them three days without water. What did that produce? Why, it stirred up their rebellion and peevishness. They were quiet enough when they had wells of water to drink at, and the palm trees of Elim over their head. But when they had to go three days without water, then the unbelief and rebellion of their hearts began to work.
So it is with the Lord's people. The Lord brings about circumstances and events, and by these circumstances and events their corruptions are made manifest. The Israelites were a rebellious people; but their rebellion lay buried until circumstances brought it out. They were an idolatrous people; but their idolatry lay hidden in their bosom until Aaron set up the golden calf. They were a people that longed after Egypt; but it was not manifested until they said, "Let us make to ourselves a captain." They were a lustful people; but it was not evidenced until they began to lust after the flesh. Thus it was circumstances and events taking place in the wilderness, that one after another opened up their secret sins, and brought to light their hidden corruptions.
Is it not so with you? We do not like to learn humility in this way. We would be glad to learn humility, by its being gently put upon us as a garment, without having to learn it through painful circumstances and distressing events. But the Lord's way of teaching his people humility is, by placing them first in one trying spot, and then in another; by allowing some temptation to arise, some stumbling block to be in their path; some besetting sin to work upon their corrupt affections; some idol to be embraced by their idolatrous heart; something to take place to draw out what was there before, and thus make it as manifest to their sight as before it was manifest to God's sight.
I do not mean to say, that we must fall into sin to learn what sin is; but, as a general rule, we learn humility, not by hearing ministers tell us what wicked creatures we are, nor by merely looking into our bosoms and seeing a whole swarm of evils working there; but from being compelled by painful necessity to believe that we are vile, through circumstances and events time after time bringing to light those hidden evils in our heart, which once we thought ourselves pretty free from.
Now, had Israel been very obedient and submissive in the desert, never bowed down to idols, never lusted after Egypt, they would not have been humbled; but when these wretched evils were brought upon their consciences, they were clothed with humility, because they were thus made to see and feel that indeed they were altogether vile!
2. But there is another way in which humility is taught us, and that is, by having some discovery of the goodness, mercy, and grace of God in Jesus Christ. Was it not so with the children of Israel? Was it all wrath towards them? Was it all judgment? Was it all frowns? Was it all threatenings? Was it all stripes? Was there not mercy mingled with the wrath? Were there not smiles blended with the frowns? Were there not the super-aboundings of grace over the aboundings of their abominable, aggravated sins? Did not the Lord appear for them, by giving them water out of the rock; by causing the manna to fall from heaven; by defeating their enemies whenever they appeared; by giving them a pillar of cloud to guide then by day, and a pillar of fire to light them by night? Were there not thousands of instances in which the Lord's favor, his especial favor, was manifested towards them?
And so it is with the Lord's people now. They learn humility, not merely by a discovery of what they are, but also by a discovery of what Jesus is. When they get a glimpse of Jesus, of his love, of his grace, of his blood; and the blessed Spirit bears a secret testimony in their consciences, that all these are for them; these two feelings meeting together in their bosom—their shame and the Lord's goodness—their guilt and his forgiveness—their wickedness and baseness, and his superabounding mercy; these two feelings meeting together in their bosoms, break them, humble them, and lay them, dissolved in tears of godly sorrow and contrition, at the footstool of mercy. And thus they learn humility, that sweet grace, that blessed fruit of the Spirit in real, vital soul experience.
III. But there was another lesson which they had to be taught. The Lord had another purpose to make manifest by leading them about those forty years in the wilderness—to prove them, and make manifest what they were. Are not the Lord's dealings continually going on to manifest and prove what his people are? Wherever the Lord implants his grace in a sinner's heart, he will manifest it, he will bring it to light; and wherever there is nothing but nature, the form without the power, profession without reality, he will bring that to light too. We read, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." (Mal. 3:3.)
The Lord tries the heart and searches the thoughts; and thus he brings to light and makes manifest the counsels of all hearts. Is a man sincere? Is the grace of God in his heart? Is divine life implanted? Does the fear of the Lord dwell in his bosom? That man shall be proved to be one of the Lord's family. On the other hand, has a man taken up religion? Has he begun with God, instead of God beginning with him? Has he a mere name to live among men, while his soul is dead before God? Is hypocrisy, superstition, and self-righteousness the sum and substance of his religion? It shall be made manifest; it shall be proved. The Lord will place the real child of God in those circumstances which shall manifest him; and he will place the hypocrite in those circumstances which shall manifest him. The Lord's dealings with his people in the wilderness are very much to this purpose and to this end—to prove them, and to know what is in their hearts.
Has the Lord implanted life in your soul? Has he touched your conscience with his finger? Has he begun a work of grace upon your heart? If so, in your travels through this wilderness there will be things from time to time to prove the reality of this work upon your soul. You will have temptations. Now, when temptation comes, it will prove whether you have the fear of God in your soul to stand against the temptation, or whether you fall under the temptation; or, if you fall under the temptation, whether you are ever recovered out of it. Or you shall be placed in those circumstances of life that shall prove whether the grace of God be in you or not. The Lord shall give you worldly prosperity, and shall open for you doors in providence in all directions. Your heart shall be caught by it, and if you are not one of God's people, you shall be drawn away from the Lord's saints, and it shall be manifested by these things that the root of the matter was never in your heart.
But on the other hand, if you are a living soul, the Lord will keep bringing circumstance upon circumstance, event upon event, one thing after another; and all these things, as they come upon you, shall be made to prove whether the fear of God be in your soul or not. Now, if the fear of God be not in a man's heart, he must decline, he must fall away. Satan will be more than a match for every one except God's own family; sin will overcome and destroy every one but those whose sins are pardoned through atoning blood and dying love; and the world, sooner or later, will overcome every one who has not the faith of God's elect, by which alone, the world is overcome. Thus the Lord, in his mysterious dealings (and how mysterious his dealings are!) proves the reality of the work of grace in every heart where that work is begun, and proves the hypocrisy of all who have but a name to live while their soul is dead before God.
But more especially, in the case of the Lord's people, are they called upon to look back, and see all the way the Lord has led them these many years in the wilderness, that everything was a means to an end—to prove them, that the Lord might know whether they would keep his commandments or not. Look back. Do you not see, that so many years or months ago, there was a snare spread for you? and do you not see how the Lord delivered you from that snare? By that the Lord proved you, and saw what was in your heart. Look back, and see some strong temptation—temptation to covetousness, to adultery, to fall under the power of some sin. Do you see, or do you not see, how the Lord delivered you from that besetment, and broke to pieces that temptation, which well-near had you in its grasp? Or look back, and see if there was not some sacrifice to be made to pursue the right way of the Lord; by acting up to your profession you must have brought down some persecution upon your head; or greatly have offended some of those to whom you were much obliged; you must have cut off some right hand, plucked out some right eye. Or again, did you, or did you not, overcome that peculiar besetment which conscience at this very moment is speaking of in your bosom?
Now, by these things does the Lord continually make manifest what is in your heart. Is sincerity there? It shall be proved and manifested. Is hypocrisy there? It shall be proved and manifested. Is the grace of God there? Circumstances shall bring it to light. Is nothing but delusion, deceit, self-righteousness, and lies there? They shall be all made manifest; they may be cloaked for a time, but they shall all come to light, for the Lord's purpose is to bring all things to light. Thus, when you look back upon the way the Lord has led you these many years in the wilderness, can you not see how circumstance after circumstance, and event after event arose, to prove what was in you; whether godly fear, whether simplicity and sincerity, whether a desire to fear God, whether a dread to offend him, whether the life and power of vital godliness, or whether little else than an empty profession without the life-giving power of God in the soul?
What a mercy for you to be able to look back and see how the Lord appeared for you, when without him you must have sunk; when you can feel, to your soul's comfort, that the Lord did uphold you in the trying hour, did appear for you in distressing circumstances, did make bare his right arm when you had no strength of your own, did guide you when you had lost all clue, did bring you safely through all when, without his help, you must have been utterly lost. What a mercy it is to be able, by the actings of living faith (and sure I am, there must be faith in exercise), to look back upon the way, and believe that indeed the grace of God was in your heart, that the Lord proved it, and showed it to be genuine by every circumstance that has taken place.
IV. "Whether you would keep his commandments, or not;" which you loved most, God or the world; which your heart cleaved to in earnest, the things of Christ, or the things of time and sense; whether the word of God was your rule, or of man; whether the fear of God was your motive, or the good opinion of the creature; whether to serve God in sincerity and godly simplicity, to obey God's precepts, to keep God's word, was the desire of your heart; or whether a little outside religion, just enough to please man, was your object, while within there was little else but dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
V. "And allowed you to hunger." What is this? Another memorial of the forty years' pilgrimage. It is true literally of some of the Lord's pilgrims. While the wicked in this world eat their full, so that their eyes stand out with fatness and they have more than heart can wish, how many of the Lord's poor are allowed to hunger, even in a literal sense! But it is true of all spiritually, though not true of all literally, "he allowed them to hunger." What is it to allow a soul to hunger? Is it not the denial of food to it? It is so literally, is it not? If a man has food denied him, he must hunger. And so it is with God's people. There is in them an appetite after spiritual food, a desire after living bread. There is that in their souls which God himself alone can supply. There is a guilty conscience, which nothing but blood can appease; a dark heart, which nothing but light can cure; a dead, unfeeling soul, which nothing but the sweet revivings of the Lord can restore and comfort. There are trials which need deliverances, sorrows which need consolations, castings down which need liftings up, griefs which need the healing balm. Thus there is in their hearts an appetite, a desire, a hungering after living food, such as the Lord himself alone can supply.
But "he allowed them to hunger." How piercing must be the feelings of a parent to hear his child cry for bread! And yet the Lord often leaves his children to cry for the bread of heaven, leaves them hungry. When perhaps you could not bear that your child should be hungry half an hour, the Lord allows his people to be hungry for days. Why is this? It is to give them a keener relish for food; to wean their appetite from worldly sweets; to bring them off that unwholesome feeding of which they have contracted a habit, and make them long after heavenly food. Was it not so with the children of Israel? They came out of Egypt fat and glutted with Egyptian food, the leeks, the onions, the garlic, and the flesh, when they sat by the flesh-pots. They had then to be cleansed from the unwholesome cravings which infected their body. Egyptian air and Egyptian diet had made them so loathsome, that they needed a course of fasting to remove out of their bodies the corrupt cravings. The Lord therefore allowed them to hunger, that there might be a keener appetite for spiritual food; that they might be brought down to the fasting point, a healthy appetite, which nothing could appease or allay but a shower of bread from heaven.
Is it not so with God's people? What loathsome appetites we have by nature, swallowing sin by mouthfuls! No thirsty horse ever plunged his throat into a bucket of water with more eagerness than we, in times past, have plunged headlong into every sin. Was there not some need to be brought off this unwholesome feeding? How could we relish heavenly manna, the love and blood of Jesus, sweet love visits from his heavenly presence, pure love tokens from his precious hands, without being well purged from this Egyptian food on which we had been nurtured from our very cradle? And therefore the Lord allows his people to hunger, that they may have an appetite for something more than what nature can give, that they may long for those supplies of heavenly food which the Lord alone can supply.
Is it not this keen hunger which creates an appetite for heavenly food? Surely. But after the Lord has given his people a taste for heavenly food, they still have to hunger, that they may relish it the more. There are times and seasons when, like the children of Israel, after we have tasted manna, we want the quail, we long for flesh; and the Lord, perhaps, answers our request, as he did theirs, but sends leanness withal into our souls. The quail came, and fell round about the camp three days' journey; but while the meat was in their mouth, the anger of God was manifested, and they loathed the very flesh for which they had so idolatrously longed.
Is it not so with you? There is some sin that you are longing to enjoy, some lust you want to gratify. The Lord may permit you to go great lengths in this matter; but what would be the consequence? Why, no sooner would the meat be in your mouth, than the wrath of God would come into your conscience; and you would loathe the very meat that your wicked heart has been lusting after. Thus we are allowed to hunger, in order that this loathsome Egyptian habit may be purged away, and there may be given a pure appetite for pure food, a heavenly appetite for heavenly provision; that hungering, that thirsting, that inward desire, which nothing but the love and blood of the Lamb can supply!
Now, can you not look upon the path the Lord has led you in the wilderness, and see how you were allowed to hunger? Perhaps you went months without any personal dealings with God. You come to hear the word Sunday after Sunday, but there was nothing for you. You went down upon your knees time after time, but no testimony, no whispers, no smiles. You read chapters, and turn the leaves of the Bible over and over; but nothing for you! nothing for you! nothing to touch your heart, nothing to meet your case, nothing to dissolve, to break, to melt you. So you went on, moping and moaning, and fearing your case was altogether desperate. Is not this allowing you to hunger? Can you not look back and see how, again and again, the Lord thus allowed you to hunger? You could not, as hundreds do, feed upon ashes, satisfy yourselves with going through religious forms. Sermons and doctrines did not content you. You must have feeling and power, the smiles of God, and the whispers of his love, or you are not satisfied. And therefore you can see (at least, I can) how good it is that the Lord should sometimes allow us to hunger. It is a very painful thing; but how sweet it makes food when the food comes! How it weans a man from going after those things which never can profit, which never have profited us.
VI. "And fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know." How this follows their suffering from hunger! See the connection. Here are the three steps–
1. Egyptian food.
2. Wilderness hunger.
3. Heavenly manna.
Egyptian onions and heavenly manna did not come at the same time; they were separated by an interval, and that interval was hunger. Is it not so experimentally? When your heart is going out after idols, when you spiritually are traveling the same path as the children of Israel in the wilderness, lusting in your affections after Egypt, have you any appetite for spiritual food? None, none! The shop, the business, the wife, the husband, the child, the world—these are all you care about.
But when the Lord begins to deal with your conscience more powerfully, is not this the effect that, like the prodigal of old, you feel an aching void in the very bottom of your heart, which neither farm, nor shop, nor house, nor business, nor family, nor the things of time and sense, can satisfy? Then, you begin to long after something from God, dropped down from the Lord's own lips into your heart.
"And fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know." What is this MANNA? Is it not the bread from heaven, of which the Lord has given us an explanation in the sixth chapter of John's gospel?—"I am the bread of life." This manna, spiritually, is the flesh and blood of Jesus—embracing him in the arms of living faith, as a crucified Savior; feeling the application of his atoning blood to the conscience; enjoying the manifestations of his dying love to the heart; and receiving him as a blessed Mediator between God and our souls. And when the Lord is pleased to unfold his glory, to bring a sense of his dying love into our hearts, and give us to look upon him as the crucified Man of Sorrows—this is manna, such as the children of Israel never tasted—this is the bread of life, that fits the soul for heaven, and takes the soul to heaven!
But who are to eat this manna? Who can come unto a bleeding Jesus? Who can look unto a crucified Man of Sorrows? Who can feel the application of atoning blood to the conscience? Who can feed upon the sufferings of Jesus by living faith? The unexercised, the untried, the unperplexed, the undistressed? They cannot, they cannot! They must have the 'Egyptian diet' purged off by painful exercises, by wandering in the wilderness, by sharp temptations, by keen and cutting sorrows, before they have an appetite for heavenly food! But when the Lord is pleased to give them this appetite, and then begins to drop a little sensation of his goodness, mercy, and love into their soul—this is heavenly manna, which neither they nor their fathers knew.
VII. And WHY is all this? The Lord sums it all up in those words—"to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." What a spiritual light these words cast upon the whole!
"Man does not live on bread alone." There is heavenly food to support his soul, as well as natural food to support his body. If man is supported spiritually by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, if this be the only food the Lord's people enjoy, how little they have! How strong and striking these words are!—"Every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." Now, if you have no more food than that which proceeds out of the mouth of God into your heart, how much have you? If you take away all your religion that does not stand in this, into what a small compass is it all crushed up! It takes your religion, which, in your vain thoughts sometimes might almost fill this chapel, and puts it all into a nutshell. If you and I have no more religion than that which comes from what God has spoken into our soul; if that be the bread we are to live upon—if that be the strength of our heart; if that be our living portion and our dying sufficiency—how it narrows up our religion into so small a compass, that sometimes we seem to require a microscope to see whether we have any or not!
But thus we learn this lesson, "that man does not live by bread alone." He cannot live by doctrines in the head. He cannot live by religious forms. He cannot live by rites and ceremonies. He cannot live by anything that springs from the creature. His life is first given by God, and his life is maintained by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. What the Lord teaches, he knows; what the Lord works, he feels; what the Lord gives, he possesses; what the Lord speaks to his heart, he has in his soul, as from the lips of the sovereign Majesty himself.
But into what a narrow spot this brings the living family! In your trials, can you take any comfort (I cannot) except from what the Lord speaks to your soul? Can you believe anything that the Lord does not bring with power into your heart? Can you take any promise that does not come accompanied by divine unction to your conscience? Can you believe your own saving interest in the love and blood of the Lamb, except God tells you so with his own mouth? You cannot, you cannot, if the fear of God is in exercise.
But how this cuts to pieces all man-made religion! and the sooner and more completely it is cut to pieces, the better. Why need I deceive myself by thinking I have a religion, which will not stand the trying hour, which will not give me comfort on a death-bed, nor land me safe in eternity? Now, the only religion that will give my soul comfort on a death-bed, and that will take my soul into eternity, is what God is pleased to work in my heart with his own almighty hand, the word he is pleased to speak with his own lips to my soul, and the manifestations of his mercy and love which he alone can bring down with convincing power into my heart.
But what a narrow path is this! How it cuts up all creature righteousness! How it lays the creature low in the dust of abasement! With all your religion, you have none but what God gives, nor can you procure a grain; for you have to live, not by bread alone in your natural life, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. How then are you spiritually to live, except from time to time the Lord speak a word to your soul?
Now, this is a mark of the Lord's family. When they come to hear the word, they do not come in a criticizing mood, as though they were great people, and would pass some very decisive judgment on those who stand up in the Lord's name. Not but what they will have their discernment, not but what they will have their judgment. But thus—'O that the Lord would speak a word to my soul! O that the Lord would apply his precious truth to my heart! O that the Lord would shine upon me, and give me some testimony that I am safe for eternity!' Why are these prayers going up out of their bosom? Why, as they come to chapel, are they looking down upon the pavement, and their heart going up from time to time that the Lord would bless them? Because they feel that nothing but the Lord's blessing can nourish their soul; and that nothing but the Lord's own words, proceeding from the Lord's own mouth into their heart, can raise up in their soul that faith, hope, and love, and those sweet testimonies and blessed evidences, which alone can satisfy them.
Now, if you can do with any religion short of this, I cannot. I tell you honestly, I cannot. I have seen an end of all other. No other religion will ease a guilty conscience; no other speak peace to a troubled heart; no other banish doubt and fear; no other bless me here, nor take me safe to glory hereafter. But I am sure that that religion which is God's gift and God's work, which stands not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God—that will bless me here, and take me to glory hereafter. I am sure that what God speaks to my soul, will stand when the world is in a blaze. What man may speak, will be driven away by the first gust of wind. The smoke out of the chimney, the chaff out of the threshing-floor, are not more transitory than the mere word of man.
So that the Lord's people stand distinguished by this one mark, if they have no more—that they must have those testimonies which the Lord alone can give them, those words which the Lord alone can speak, and those smiles which the Lord alone can bestow. But what a mercy if the Lord has humbled you thus—to raise you up; if the Lord has made you hunger thus—to feed your soul with heavenly manna; if the Lord has raised up this cry and sigh in your heart—that he himself would speak with power to your soul, and you can listen to no other voice but that of the good Shepherd. You have a mark and testimony that the Lord's hand is at work in your soul, and that he is dealing with you as his child.
May this be our religion. I want no more; and I would sooner have none at all, if not this. I would sooner on a Sunday take a walk in the park, or go to Hampton Court, and be a worldly man altogether—than come to chapel, and never feel life and power in my soul.
To put on religion, and yet be devoid of that in which the very life of God consists!—O what a wretched state to be in! to be a professor, to go among God's people, to hear God's truth, to listen to the most heart-searching appeals, and then to be dead in sin or dead in a profession, and cloak over all your wickedness with the mask of hypocrisy! I, for my part, would sooner be a worldly man altogether, than have a religion that does not stand in the power of God. Though I may have my doubts and fears (as no doubt you have sometimes) and am often plagued and pestered with sin morning, noon, and night; yet this is my deliberate opinion—I would sooner be a worldly man altogether, making no profession, but living like other men in the world, than have a name to live while dead—the form without the power. Such is the feeling of my heart, and such the verdict of my conscience.
We all have so much for which to be thankful both in the past and for the glorious future of which we are assured in and by the Lord Jesus Christ. God has truly been gracious and merciful to us in both our triumphs and our trials.
There is no way we can measure His goodness to us who believe. Every year we may make our resolutions and intend to keep them. We may fail in many of these, but God remains the same towards us as He blesses, preserves, and even chastises us for His glory and our good. One thing we know for sure - He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
We will always remain eternally in His grace because we who believe are in Christ. Our sins can never bring us under His wrath because Christ on the cross took all the wrath of God for us and fully paid our debt. Our victories and growth in grace can never make us more saved or more righteous than we already are in Him, for He is our victory and our righteousness (1 Corinthians 15:57; Jeremiah 23:6; Jeremiah 33:16).
Years will come and go as God has determined in His sovereign will. Some years may be better than others, but all years with Christ are ultimately glorious. We do not know what this next year will bring us, but God knows. His children are safe and secure in Christ for all eternity.
By Bill Parker
When people ask me why I preach the righteousness of Christ so much, I answer it is because God must be glorified, Christ must be exalted, all boasting must be excluded in ourselves, and we must be encouraged to persevere and obey with the absolute certainties of God's grace.
Nothing else will accomplish all this but the preaching of Christ and His righteousness as the only ground of the whole of salvation.
The main issue in salvation is the glory of God.
The main issue in the glory of God is the righteousness of Christ by which God is enabled to be both a just God and a Savior.
This is God's redemptive glory (Isaiah 45:21-22), and this is where Christ is exalted and given the pre-eminence as Lord of all (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Whenever we preach or teach any subject from the Bible, this message of grace is the very thing God the Holy Spirit uses to empower the truth for the salvation of sinners and the edification of God's people. Without it, the message simply blends in with the rest of false religion in its moral pep talks and psychological babbling (Matthew 5:13-16).
Without this message of grace, Christ and His righteousness as the only ground of salvation, the salt loses its savor and is good for nothing but to be cast out. Think about this seriously. There are many other things in the Bible we need to hear, learn, and practice, but all things in the Bible are to be preached in light of this Gospel (Romans 1:16-17).
Without this, there is no Gospel.
By Bill Parker
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Preached at Providence Chapel, Eden Street, London, on July 22, 1849, by J. C. Philpot
"But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience."
The words of our text, I need scarcely observe, are taken from the Parable of the Sower - perhaps the most striking parable that fell from the Lord's lips. In this parable, the Lord represents the preaching of the gospel, and the effect it has upon the hearers - and he brings forward four points of resemblance. The sower is the minister of truth; the seed is the word of God which he preaches; the soils are the different hearers; and the crop represents the fruit and effects that are produced in them.
Now in order to show the difference between those in whom the word of truth takes a deep, permanent, and saving effect, and those who endure for a time and then fall away, the Lord sets before us four distinct kinds of hearers. In attempting this morning, therefore, as the Lord may enable me, to unfold the meaning of my text, I shall endeavor to describe these four distinct hearers; and in so doing, shall consider what is meant by–
I. First, the way-side hearer.
II. Secondly, the stony-ground hearer.
III. Thirdly, the thorny-ground hearer.
IV. Fourthly, the fruitful hearer.
But we must bear in mind that the parable of the sower is not applicable to every minister, nor to every congregation. No man is really a sower except one whom God has taught, qualified, commissioned, and sent forth to preach the word of life; for it is only such that are made spiritually manifest in the gospel ministry. And the next thing that we must bear in mind, is that what he sows is truth, the pure word of God. He does not go forth with a seed-basket of mingled wheat and tares; but he sows the pure word of God, "the truth as it is in Jesus." So that the parable is not descriptive of every minister, nor of every congregation; but is only applicable to a minister of truth, and to a congregation that professes the truth; and therefore applicable, we trust, to us this morning.
I. First, then, let us, as the Lord may enable, consider the WAY-SIDE hearer. These hearers form the great bulk of a congregation - and the Lord compares them to soil, of which the emblem is the way-side. Now, observe that in this case there is no penetration whatever of the word of truth - the word falls upon them just as seed might fall upon the hard turnpike road, or on the slabs of a London pavement. It is at once trodden under foot; the first passer-by sets his shoe upon it and crushes it into powder. There is no entrance, no burying - but Satan, compared here to the fowls of the air, comes at once and devours it up. This is the case with the great bulk of hearers; they hear, but hear to no purpose. There is no entrance of the word of life into their judgment, their heart, their conscience, or their affections; it falls upon their ears as literal grains fall upon the hard road, whence it is soon picked up by Satan, producing no solid, real, abiding effect. I shall not dwell any longer upon this unhappy case.
II. But pass on to consider our second hearer, who is represented in our parable under the figure of him who receives the seed upon STONY ground; or, as it is in Luke, "upon a rock." Now there are certain circumstances which, at first sight, seem to distinguish this hearer in a favorable way; yet, if we look to the fruits and effects, we shall find that these favorable marks are only such in appearance.
1. First, then, when compared with the hearer whom we first considered, there is some penetration of the word, some entrance. On the first hearer it falls like seed upon the hard ground; there is no entrance of the word of truth; but, in the second hearer, there is some penetration, there is an entrance. But where does it enter? Merely into the judgment, the natural judgment. How many there are, who have heard sound Calvinistic ministers almost from childhood, and been continually accustomed to have the truth set before them! Of these some receive the doctrines of grace from constantly listening to them. The word of truth has entered into their natural understanding; they contend for it earnestly, believe it strictly true, and are well satisfied that it agrees with God's revealed word.
2. But there are others who can go a step further than this; they not only receive the word into their judgment, so as to be sound, orthodox, doctrinal Calvinists, but also receive the truth into their natural affections; they read or listen to it with "joy." They have a degree of delight in it - their carnal affections receive it gladly, and, like John's hearers, they rejoice in the light.
Now, at first, this seems to be a very favorable circumstance, that people should receive with joy the word of God; that they should find a pleasure in hearing the truth preached; that they should understand it in a measure; and, not only so, but feel a gladness of mind in hearing of election, predestination, redemption, and salvation by grace; of the perseverance of the saints, and of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done, according to covenant engagements, for his elect people. That they should receive these truths in their judgment, and feel gladness, pleasure, and delight in hearing them, seems at first sight a very favorable mark indeed. But when we come to look at the other side, then we see that there are unfavorable things set against it. What are these things?
A. They have "no root." The heart has never been ploughed up with convictions; because, had the ploughshare of conviction broken up the heart, there would have been a seed-bed for the word of life to take root in. But they have "no deepness of earth," the plough of guilt and wrath has never passed into and through the soil, so as to afford a suitable soil for the word of truth to fall into, there to take root downward, and bring forth a lasting, fruitful crop upward. They "received the word with gladness;" but without previous sorrow, conviction, or temptation; without their heart being ploughed up by the law, or its hard crust torn asunder by the plow; therefore there was no broken earth, no loosened soil, no deep furrows, into which a root could penetrate, so as to push downward and grow.
B. There was another fatal mark– they "lacked moisture." The Holy Spirit was not in all this; it was not a work of grace; the blessed leadings, secret teachings, divine waterings, and heavenly bedewings of the Holy Spirit did not attend the word of life. The word merely lodged in the judgment, and was received into the natural affections; therefore it sprung up quickly and rapidly; it had no depth of earth, therefore no deep root; it lacked moisture, therefore no growth.
C. The third fatal mark is, that for the lack of root and moisture, in time of temptation, they "withered away." How many do we see just in this state! There was a time when they heard the word with gladness, when they would walk almost any distance to hear the truth, would sit and listen with delight, and seem to spring up as grass by the river banks. There was every mark, every appearance of their being children of God.
And yet, if a discerning eye had looked into the work that seemed to be the work of grace, it would have perceived these two things lacking; first, that the Holy Spirit had not ploughed up the heart, nor broken up the soil, so as to receive the seed of truth in any real depth; and secondly, that there was no moisture, no savor, dew, power, or divine feeling, none of the watering and bedewings of the Holy Spirit. Seeing these two things lacking, a man of discernment would have predicted the consequences - that as this joy was merely earthly joy, as this consolation was but carnal consolation, as this delight was only a sensual delight, the lighting up of natural affections, without the real teaching and work of the Holy Spirit, when temptation came, it would all wither away.
How many do we see withering away in the time of temptation! How many professors of the doctrines of grace do we see withering away under the temptation of strong drink! I do believe, that if many great professors of the doctrines of grace were to put down on one piece of paper what they spend upon gin, and upon another what they give to the Lord's poor, we should find an dreadful balance in favor of the gin-bottle. This is a temptation to many carnal professors. They fall into the love of drink, which gradually increases upon them until at last they wither away. Some give up even the very profession they have long made, and sit under Arminian teachers, while others go into the world, or perhaps attend no place of worship at all, and at last die the death of the drunkard. Such has been the end of many who once seemed to run with gladness in the way of the Lord, and receive with joy the doctrines of grace as they came forth from the lips of gospel ministers.
Others fall a prey to sensual lusts. Satan lays snares for them in various ways. In these snares they are entangled, make dreadful shipwreck, and often wither away as to the very form of religion, become hardened Antinomians, live inconsistent lives, indulge in ungodly practices and vile lusts, and become an open reproach and stumbling-block.
Others who do not wither away in an open manner, by strong drink, sensual lusts, covetousness, or other gross sins, yet wither away as to anything like fruitfulness, usefulness, zeal, activity, and liberality. They become poor dead hearers, buried in the world, prayerless and careless, blighted and mildewed, a dead weight in churches and congregations, making a minister who has any life and feeling in his soul groan at the very sight of them. I do truly believe that if we were to examine the condition of many large churches, we should find them filled with these stony-ground hearers, a plague and a burden to the living members.
III. The third hearer is the THORNY-ground hearer. These seem to be a step nearer salvation, and to have something more like the work of grace than the preceding; because there appears not only in this case a reception of the word, but also a bringing forth of some fruit; though we read, that "they bring forth no fruit to perfection."
Now these receive the word in their natural conscience. The first class of hearers did not receive the "word" at all; they did not receive it even in their judgment. They came and went, came and went, understanding nothing, if they listened at all. The second went a step further; they received the word into their judgment - and not only so, but, beyond this, into their natural affections; there was in them a springing up of something that looked very much like a real work of grace.
But now we come to the third hearer; and he seems to go a step further still. He not only receives the word into his judgment; but beyond this into his conscience, his natural conscience. But still a work of grace is lacking. Nothing of the blessed Spirit's work is here; but still such a work as looks very much like it; there is some feeling, a conscience moved and wrought upon; and almost everything that looks, at first sight, as though it were a solid work of grace.
This hearer, then, receives the word into his conscience - he has convictions of his lost and undone state by nature; sees the plan of salvation; and at times feel what he hopes, expects, and others fancy is the real work and teaching of the Spirit; yet, with it all, fruit is not brought forth to perfection; it is choked by the cares, pleasures, and lusts of the world. These grow up, as it were, with the world in his heart, and choke and suffocate it, so that no fruit is really brought forth.
God does not put forth his hand; does not pluck out the weeds; does not burn them up; does not exercise his soul as he exercises the souls of his people; but leaves cares, anxieties, and lusts to spring up, together with the truth; and these grow so thick, that they overspread the truth, and suffocate everything like life and feeling in the soul. Thus all the crop is stifled, and no fruit brought forth to perfection; nothing in the end is found to manifest it as a real work of grace.
Now you will find, wherever the truth is preached, that the great bulk of hearers are made up of these three–
1. of way-side hearers, who come and go, and no impression whatever is made on their hearts;
2. of stony-ground hearers, who hear with joy and gladness, but in time of temptation fall away;
3. of thorny-ground hearers, who seem to have something like a conscience, like feeling, like life, like a conviction, like the work of grace upon their souls, but no reality.
Follow these to their houses; go with them to their respective occupations - you will see them suffocated and buried in worldly cares, anxieties, lusts, pleasures, and earthly pursuits. Nothing is brought forth of real gospel fruit, nothing that God himself approves of, nothing which springs from a work of grace upon the heart.
Now if this be so, what reason have all who desire to fear God, to look into their hearts, and see whether they can find anything there really different from what I have this morning been endeavoring to unfold! I believe the child of God will be very jealous on this point, knowing how soon and easily he may be deceived, and feeling in himself the temptations, the besetments, and the evils that he sees described in the word of God, and manifest in others, he will sit at times in solemn judgment upon his own case, trembling to the very center, doubting and fearing whether it is the case with him.
IV. The GOOD ground hearer. I shall, therefore, as the Lord may enable me, pass on to my last and most important point, to which all I have been saying is but preliminary, and describe him whom the Lord pronounces a fruitful hearer - a child of God - one in whom the work of grace is begun, carried on, and brought to perfection.
Now if we look at this hearer, and compare his case with the preceding, we shall find certain very striking and prominent marks. It is these marks which I shall attempt now to unfold, and thus show the distinction between him and the three hearers whose cases we have been hitherto considering.
1. The first mark of this gracious hearer is this, that he receives the word into an "HONEST heart." From this we gather, that the hearts of the other three hearers are not honest - that they lack that which lies at the base of all true religion - sincerity; that God, by the light of his Spirit and the teachings of his grace, has never made them upright.
This I look upon as the very first fruit of divine teaching in the soul, as in Nathanael, that it produces spiritual uprightness, godly honesty and sincerity of heart. But how is a heart thus made "honest?" We know that no heart is naturally so. The Lord never meant to say that. The Lord uses the figure of the soil. But he did not mean - he could not mean, that some have a heart naturally honest, as if exempt from the Adam fall. No, the Lord, in speaking of an "honest heart," implied that it was made so by grace.
A. Now when divine LIGHT comes into the soul, it shows us who God is, what sin is, what we are. And if a man never had this divine light shining into his soul, he is not an honest man. He may be a very honest man outwardly - he may be externally upright in the world, and have an abhorrence of lies and falsehood - but as regards his own state before God, the concerns of his own soul, and his dealings with God in the matter of salvation, there is no honesty in him.
There is a depth in the heart, which is covered over as with a lid, and must be so, because until the veil is taken away - the veil of ignorance, of unbelief, of self-righteousness spread over the heart - until this veil is taken away by the power of God's grace, all its dark recesses will lie covered up. These secret depths are made manifest to the child of God by the light of divine truth shining into those dens, caverns, and hidden recesses, which are thus laid naked, bare, and open to view. There may be surface sincerity, as beneath this chapel there may be deep cellars, covered over with the flooring, so that what is going on below is not seen above.
So a man may seem very sincere, straightforward, and honest, and yet have only honesty in his face, while in the cellar thousands of toads, lizards, and worms may be creeping about unseen. But let the light of God shine into the soul, that penetrates into the cellars, looks into the very depths of the heart, lays bare every secret recess. Thus, the light of God shining into the soul makes the heart honest, and nothing but this light shining into the soul out of the fullness of God can make an honest man - because in this light he sees and knows he cannot deceive or mock God, that all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom he has to do.
He may deceive his fellow-creatures, but he cannot deceive the Lord God Almighty. This will manifest itself in every secret acting of his soul before God. "You, God see me!" lies at the root of all true prayer. 'You, God, search my heart; you, God, know all that is in my soul; all that I have, all that I am is open before you; I cannot escape you.' "If I ascend up into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold you are there, if I take the wings of the morning, or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall your hand lead me, and your right hand shall hold me" Psalm 139:8-10. This is the effect of the light of God shining into the soul.
If, then, a man never had a ray of divine light shining into his soul, he is not an honest man really and spiritually before God. He always will be, however sincere before men, a deeply-dyed hypocrite before God, and the more profession he makes, the more deeply-dyed will be his hypocrisy.
B. But besides this, there is the LIFE of God in the soul to make him honest. Light makes us SEE - life makes us FEEL what we are. As there is light to see, and life to feel, we not only see what we are - our great vileness and dreadful wickedness - but we feel it, mourn over and under it, groan and cry on account of it, abhor it, and pour out our hearts in bitter complaints because of it. It is by this mysterious union of light and life coming into the soul - that we see the evil of our hearts, and feel what we are as sinners before God.
Where there is this light and life in the heart, there, and there only, will there be honesty. Now an honest man never can BE before God anything but what God makes him - he HAS nothing but what God gives him - he KNOWS nothing but what God teaches him. Thus he stands before God and men. He takes nothing to himself, has nothing, boasts of nothing, as he has nothing to boast of; for he cannot boast of sin, hypocrisy, wickedness; therefore as an honest man, he stands before God a poor, ruined, undone wretch--a leper from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. He often says, "Behold I am vile!" puts his mouth in the dust, and laying his hand upon his mouth feelingly acknowledges himself to be the chief of sinners, and less than the least of all saints.
Now if you have never had this as the ground-work of your religion, you are not at present manifest as a hearer in whose heart God has begun and is carrying on the work of grace. At present, it is to be feared you are a way-side, stony-ground, or thorny-ground hearer; and whatever you may be hereafter made by the light and life of God entering your soul, at present you bear very few marks of having "an honest heart."
2. The next mark is, a "good heart." 'A good heart!' say you; how can that be? Has any man a "good heart?" Yes; for if not why does the Lord Jesus Christ say he has? He did not make mistakes. But no man has a "good heart" by nature; the Lord Himself has settled that point. When one came to him, and said, "Good Master," what was his answer? "Why call you me good?"--though he was good--"there is none good but one, that is God." There is no man's heart good except as made so by the grace of God working in him to will and to do. If it has not so worked in you, you have not a "good heart."
What is a "good heart" then? As there is such a thing, let us see what it is. The figure is kept up; the heart is compared to the soil.
A. A "good heart" is a heart broken up, as good soil is broken up. We have seen the fault of the other soils. One was hard, the seed had no penetration there whatever. The second had a kind of soil, but was all mixed with stones; it was so shallow that the Lord said, there is no depth of earth--it was nearly all rock. The third had little else but thistles, thorns, and briars growing up in it. The marks of a good soil were lacking in all these. No heart, therefore, can be called good until broken up; for it is "a broken and contrite heart," in which God takes delight.
Now, compare for a moment a "good heart" or broken heart, with the "joy" that the Lord says the stony-ground hearers receive the word with. There was no depth in them; they were not broken up with convictions; had no sense or sight of their lost, undone state; no holy fear of God; no trembling at his word; no fear of being wrong, no desire to be right; yet they received the word with gladness. Now, if a man lacks a broken heart, he lacks the main evidence of being a partaker of grace; for the leadings, teachings, and dealings of God all tend to this; they all tend to break a man's heart. If the Lord deals with him in conviction, it breaks his heart; breaks up the hard, impenetrable soil he formerly possessed. If the Lord manifests mercy, kindness, love, tender favor, it breaks the heart; for it softens, melts, and humbles it. That is one mark, then, of a "good" heart--to be broken and contrite.
B. Another mark is--that it is made tender and soft. It is so in natural soils. Look at the hard clods--nothing grows there. But a soil that crumbles and breaks to pieces, and is tender to impression--that when the rain falls, dissolves under it--when the dew distills, it enters into its most secret pores--when the wind softly blows, crumbles to pieces--that is a good soil. So with a "good heart" made so by God. When the Lord speaks, there is a softness and tenderness felt in the soul, an impression made, as upon that band of men whose hearts the Lord had touched 1Sa 10:26. This is a very distinguishing feature of the child of God. "Because your heart was tender," the Lord says of Josiah.
You never find this soft heart in hardened Antinomians. They have no tenderness, melting, confession, contrition before God; no softness, no yielding to impressions; no breaking down; no falling beneath the power of vital godliness as manifested in a child of God; no crumbling down of the hard heart; no self-loathing, self-abhorrence, or godly sorrow. You never see these marks in the stony-ground, in the thorny-ground, or in the way-side hearer--they are proud, obstinate, hardhearted; there is in them no real breaking down of soul and spirit before God.
Now, look at this. Perhaps some of you this morning have been trying yourselves. One fears he is but a wayside hearer after all. Another may say, 'I fear after all the profession I have made, I am nothing but a stony-ground hearer.' A third may cry, 'I have so many cares and anxieties, am so stifled with thorns, that I fear after all I am only a thorny-ground hearer.' Look a little farther. Remember that the children of God have all the temptations of others. If the stony-ground hearers have had bad marks, you have had some of the same; if the thorny-ground hearers have snares and temptations, you have similar; and when left to judge by carnal reason, you may often fear that you have nothing else.
But let us see whether we cannot find something beyond these--whether there is any honesty, sincerity, and uprightness before God; whether any breaking up of the heart, any tender, soft, melting feelings, any humility, contrition, godly sorrow, self-loathing, and self-abhorrence, which God here seems to have marked out as the feature of a "good" heart. Into this "honest and good heart," the word of truth is received. There it is lodged. This is the gospel seed-bed; there it takes root; there it springs up, and brings forth "first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear."
3. The next thing said of these hearers is, that having heard the gospel message, they "keep it." The others do not "keep it." In the first case, the birds of the air came, and ate it up; it was not "kept" at all. In the second case, it sprang up, and withered away--it was not kept; it dried away like grass upon the house-top. In the third case, it was suffocated, smothered, choked. But those who received it into an honest and good heart, "kept it;" not by any exertion of their own, nor because they were able to keep it any more than the others. But the gracious Lord who in the first instance was pleased to prepare their hearts to receive it, and then lodge it in the soil, himself keeps it there by his own blessed hand; as we read, "I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment." And, unless it is "kept" by the Lord's watering it every moment, by the dews and rains of his Spirit, by the application of his word with power, by the whole work of grace--unless the Lord thus keeps alive the seed of truth that he himself has implanted in the soul, it is not "kept" at all.
There are so many temptations in their way. Sometimes sin works so powerfully as though it would suffocate and bury the crop; sometimes temptation entangles them, and seems to draw away all the dew from their heart; sometimes despair almost lays hold of them, and seems as though it would crush and bury all the word of life in the soul. But amid all their trials and temptations, all their doubts and fears, all their exercises and misgivings the Lord keeps alive, by the waterings and bedewings of his grace, by the various teachings and leadings of his Spirit, that which he in his mercy and love first implanted in their souls.
4. Is the next mark in you? "Fruit?" I want you to compare these marks with what is going on in your souls; to lay down your experience side by side with them. This will prove whether you are a fruitful hearer. Upon the way-side hearer it will have no effect; it falls only on the outer ear. If you are a stony-ground hearer, it will not suit you. You need something to stir up your natural affections--to have a letter-Christ preached, and the doctrines set forth in the letter; great assurance spoken of; all the doubts, fears, and exercises of God's people cut up root and branch. You need your carnal mind elated with fleshly joy; your natural feelings worked upon. You will not bring your heart, and lay it down side by side with the description of an honest and good heart. You dare not do it.
Thorny-ground hearers, also, are afraid of that. They are thinking even now of tomorrow's profit or loss, or of yesterday's business--a whole crop of thorns and thistles is springing up now to stifle any conviction. They will not bring forth their experience, lay it down, and say, 'These are the things that my soul knows.'
But the fruitful hearer, whose heart is made honest by the grace of God--in whom there is this goodness wrought--this simplicity, humility, tenderness, and trembling at God's word; this godly jealousy over himself; this desire to be right, this fear to be wrong; these sighs and cries to a heart-searching God; this looking to the Lord--he will be bringing it forth piece by piece, saying, 'I have felt this, I have felt that; I have experienced these things; I know that to be truth; whatever men say against me, whatever I say against myself, I am sure I have felt this!'
Some of you may be thus bringing forth your experience, and saying, 'God knows this has been going on in my soul for years; I know I have honesty and sincerity before God, if I have nothing else'. This is bringing it out, comparing it with the word of God, and the experience of the saints; and he finds that, in the midst of exercises, temptations, perplexities, trials, the work of grace, to his wonder and astonishment, has been still kept alive in the soul. Such a one stands a monument of God's preserving mercy.
Now this man "brings forth fruit." There was no fruit in the way-side hearer; no fruit to perfection in the stony-ground hearer. There might be fruit in appearance, but no fruit to perfection. But the hearer, who has received the word into an honest and a good heart "brings forth fruit." And what fruit? Why, fruit of three kinds--fruit in the HEART, fruit in the LIP, and fruit in the LIFE.
Let us see what these fruits are that he brings forth in the heart; or rather, that the Lord brings forth in him.
1. There is, first, the fruit of faith. This is the only man who really believes in Jesus; who believes the gospel to be glad tidings to perishing sinners; and who believes in, and accepts the doctrines of grace as sweet and suitable to his soul. This is the only man who really believes in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, in his blood, in his glorious righteousness, in his dying love, as sweet and suitable. And why does he believe it? Because it has been revealed, in a measure, to his soul.
Another may have heard it, and received it gladly; but there has been no special discovery or manifestation of the gospel to his heart with divine power. His head may be stuffed with doctrines; but there is no faith in his heart; no real coming unto, trusting in, or hanging upon the Lord Jesus Christ. There may be abundance of false confidence and presumption, but no real looking unto the Lord Jesus Christ out of the depths of a broken heart; no calling upon his name; no seeing him by the eye of faith; nor casting all his soul upon him as able to save to the uttermost.
2. Again, he will bring forth the fruit of hope; or rather, God will bring it forth in him. The light shining into his soul making his evidences clear, bringing sweet manifestations of the love of God into his heart, applying his precious promises, and shedding abroad his favor--all these things, experimentally felt within, give him gospel hope, "an anchor to the soul, both sure and steadfast, and entering into that within the veil." Others have no such hope. Their hope is the hope of the hypocrite that shall perish; the spiders web spun out of his own fleshly affections; and vain hope; not a good hope through grace, anchoring in the blood, love, and obedience of Jesus.
3. And he brings forth the fruit of love. There are times and seasons when he can say, "You know all things; you know that I love you." He loves the Lord Jesus Christ; he loves the truth as it is in Jesus; he loves the people of God; he loves the work of grace wherever he sees that work manifest; and he feels a sweet union with the tried and tempted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. He brings forth also true humility. He has had a sight of himself; he knows what is in man, and abhors himself. His heart is humbled by and before God.
5. He brings forth, or rather the Lord brings forth in him, the fruit of repentance. He sees what he is as a sinner, and truly repents. He brings forth the fruit of godly sorrow; for seeing what his sins have cost the Lord Jesus Christ, he mourns over them with a repentance not to be repented of.
6. He brings forth spiritual-mindedness. In the place of a carnal embracing of mere doctrines, his affections are fixed upon the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and simplicity of heart. And this produces that spiritual-mindedness which is life and peace, and delight in heavenly things.
He not only brings forth these things in his heart, or rather, God brings them forth in him; but he brings them forth in his LIP. When he speaks of the things of God, he speaks of them with real feeling, with real love in his soul, and real grace in his breast; his heart teaching his mouth. If he be a minister, he will speak with power; he will not deliver truth in a hardened, presumptuous, unfeeling manner; but having life and feeling in his soul, and an inward experience of the things of God, what he speaks will be uttered with unction, dew, savor, and power; it will reach the heart, melt the spirit, and bring forth life and feeling in the hearers.
And if he be a hearer, a private Christian, he will also bring forth fruit with his lips. His speech will be seasoned with salt. There will be a life and power in his conversation when he comes into the company of the people of God; the hearts of others will unite and melt as it were into his, and find sweet union and mutual communion.
No more, he brings forth fruit in his LIFE. He is not a drunkard, nor an adulterer. When hidden and covered by darkness, he knows that, when no human eye sees him, God sees him. He will not be a slave to sin; God will deliver him. Sin shall not have dominion over him; he may be entangled from time to time in secret lusts that work in him, but he will beseech God to subdue them, and bring him out of every snare. He will sigh and cry to be delivered from sin in all its shapes and forms. He will not be a covetous, a proud, a worldly-minded, an oppressive man. If a master, he will not oppress his servant; if a servant, he will be sincere and upright towards his master. He will not be an unkind, cruel husband at home. Before his friends, his wife, his children, he will be the same--a Christian at home, as well as a Christian abroad. Thus he will bring forth fruit in his life, as well as in his lip.
If there be no fruit in his life, depend upon it, there is no fruit in his heart--if there be no fruit in his heart, depend upon it there will be no fruit in his life. Very few professors will bear following home; very few whose lives and conversation will bear looking into--very few who are not slaves, more or less, to some sin--drunkenness, pride, uncleanness, covetousness, worldly-mindedness, tricks in business, or some deceitful practices. The children of God will indeed be tempted, entangled, and hampered, yes, fearfully hampered by sin in their soul's feelings. But he, who has made their hearts inwardly honest, will make their lives outwardly honest. God, who has implanted his precious grace in their soul, causes the word to take root in the heart, and makes them to bring forth fruit, some a hundred fold, these indeed are rare; some sixty fold, and some thirty fold.
But if they bring forth no fruit whatever; if there be no fruit in their heart, lip, or life, where shall we place them? If the preacher stands in God's counsel, he will be as God's mouth. I might this morning have amused, entertained, or deceived you; and said, if you believe the doctrines of grace you are Christians. But I dare not say so; I would not be standing up in God's name, nor be doing the work of a minister uprightly, if I were to do so; my conscience, I hope, would not let me thus flatter and deceive you.
Then, where are the fruits? We profess to be Christians, profess to be children of God; but where are the fruits? Where are the fruits inwardly? Where are the fruits outwardly? If we have no fruits inwardly, no fruits outwardly, we may call ourselves what we please, but we shall not be what the Lord calls, fruitful children, "trees of his right hand planting."
Look into your hearts; compare your experience, and the things brought forth there from time to time, with the things plainly and clearly laid down in God's word. And if you can find the marks which I have brought forward, of the grace of God in your soul - it is an encouragement for all of you who desire to fear God. You may be lamenting that you bring forth so little fruit to God's honor and glory. But he can cause you to bring forth more fruit. He can deepen the work in his own time - and he can make and manifest you as fruitful branches in the only true Vine.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Preached at Zoar Chapel, London, on July 20, 1845, by J. C. Philpot.
"He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
In order to understand the mind and meaning of the Holy Spirit in these words, we must take a glimpse at their connection.
We find, in the preceding verses, the Lord addressing himself to his people, and speaking to them as deeply exercised in their souls. But what was the source of their exercises? It was this--that their path was so dark and obscure. "Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, my way is hidden from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?" The path in which the family of God were then walking was exceedingly perplexing. Their "way"--that is, the path they were taking--the way of the Spirit's teaching in their conscience--the mode of the Lord's dealing with their soul, was so intricate and obscure, that they could not believe it was a right way. The Lord had hidden his face from them, and did not show them the nature or reason of his dealings with them. Infidelity, seizing hold of this circumstance, worked so powerfully in their hearts, that they burst forth into this cry, "My way is hidden from the Lord." Surely he cannot see the way I am taking, or he would have appeared sooner on my behalf. "And my judgment," that is, my cause, "is passed over from my God." He neglects to take that notice of me which I seek at his hands; he passes me by as unworthy of his regard; he slights my cause, and rejects my prayer, as though I did not belong to him.
Now, in order to meet these exercises in the hearts of his people--in order to apply a suitable remedy for these workings of unbelief and infidelity--the Lord answers by appealing to their own experience--"Have you not known, have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary?" However you may faint, however you may be wearied of him--whatever be your hard thoughts concerning his dealings with you--do you not know, that the everlasting God remains "the same yesterday, today, and forever"--that he is not a changeable God, tossed to and fro like yourself; but that he "rests in his love," and is ever the same--that "he faints not" under the burdens which you cast upon him; "neither is weary" of you, though you are often weary of him? And, with respect to this intricate path in which you are walking, he adds, "No one can measure the depths of his understanding." He knows what is best for you; and though your present path is dark and obscure in your eyes, it is bright and clear in his.
He would, therefore, urge this upon the conscience of his exercised and complaining child, 'Your part is to sit still, and wait until the deliverance appear; in due time, I will explain to you the nature and reason of these mysterious dealings.' He then goes on still further to clear up the point by the words of the text--"He gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall--but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
If we look at the text, we shall observe, that there are two characters traced out in it. Of these, one is set forth by the expression "youths" and "young men." And not only is their character set forth, but also their destiny is described that they "shall faint," and "shall utterly fall." And, on the other hand, we have another, a spiritual character traced out, as one who "has no might," and yet "waits upon the Lord." And we find his destiny also pointed out. For as there is an end reserved for the one--an utter fall; so there is an end reserved for the other--a spiritual blessing.
I shall, then, if God enable me, endeavor this morning to trace out these two distinct characters, and show the allotted portion and end of each.
We will begin with a description of the character pointed out by the expression "youths" and "young men;" and then show what is their allotted portion and appointed destiny.
I. By the expression "youths" and "young men" is implied a contrast between the whole-hearted condition of the professing world and the fainting state of God's family. Youth is the season of loveliness, vigor, and strength; and thus, figuratively and typically, the "youths" and "young men" are those professors of religion who have never been weakened and brought down by a work of the Spirit upon their hearts; but who retain all their natural loveliness, activity, and vigor. In the exercise of this activity and strength, these youths run a race, but not the race that God's people run in faith and patience. In a word, the expression "youths" and "young men" describes unburdened professors, who have never had such a work of grace upon their hearts as has laid trouble upon their souls, or wrought penetrating convictions in their conscience. Never having been humbled in their souls, nor exercised in their minds, nor afflicted by a body of sin and death, they retain all their natural vigor. It has never been drawn away from them by the running sores of sin and guilt; they have never been drained nor exhausted of it by lacerating wounds in their conscience; and they thus preserve all that loveliness, youthful vigor, and beauty which have been battered down in the Lord's afflicted family.
Now when the Lord's people, exercised and tried in their souls, compare their deformity, ugliness, and wrinkles, with the loveliness of these unhumbled professors, it is often to them a bitter contrast. They often see in unexercised professors much more zeal, consistency, earnestness, amiability, activity, and apparent devotedness, than they can see and feel in their own hearts; and, contrasting their own wrinkled and weather-beaten visages with the smooth and glowing cheeks of others, they cry out, "My skin is black upon me; my flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust--my skin is broken and become loathsome" Job 30:30
And so with respect to the activity, strength, and vigor of these "youths" and "young men." The Lord's people have often no heart to "run with patience the race that is set before them." Spiritual things, instead of being their solace and delight, are often their burden. The enmity of their carnal mind works up against divine realities; and so far from being active and zealous in them, they are often so burdened in the things of God, that they feel unable to do any one thing which is acceptable in His sight. But these "young men," who have never seen the breadth, nor felt the spirituality of God's law--who have never known their inward corruption, never been plagued with a body of sin and death, never exercised with the perplexities that God's people are tried with--retain all that zeal and loveliness--those fleshly substitutes for vital power and godliness--which the exercised family of God once had, but have long lost.
There are those among the Lord's family "whose senses are not as yet exercised to discern both good and evil," and therefore cannot see the difference between pretense and reality, between 'nature in its highest form' and 'grace in its lowest form'. When therefore one of these poor, burdened, exercised children of God contrasts his own lack of zeal, earnestness, and activity--his darkness of mind, deadness of soul, and coldness of affection--with the earnestness and activity of many a zealous religionist around him, he is almost tempted to think that they are right and he wrong, and that they will stand when he shall fall.
But how different are God's ways from our ways, and God's thoughts from our thoughts! How differently does he view these "youths" and "young men" from the admiration bestowed upon them by the professing world! What hollowness, deceitfulness, and hypocrisy does he see working under all this natural loveliness, strength, and vigor! How the Lord sees that all this strength is weakness, all this wisdom is folly, all this righteousness is hypocrisy, and all this earnestness and zeal is but fallen nature carrying into religion the same restless activity which cultivates the farm, or manages the shop--a buyer and seller in the temple, and not a spiritual worshiper in the sanctuary!
But what is the sentence which the Lord has passed concerning such? A sentence that we see, more or less, fulfilled every day. They shall all "utterly fall." In due time these lovely and vigorous "youths," these strong and active "young men" will faint and fall. Though for a time they seem to run well, they never reach the goal. Sin, which for a time was dead in them, begins to revive; temptations that before never beset them, are laid in their paths; snares before hidden, they are now entangled by--their zeal, their earnestness, their activity gradually decline; and thus, long before they come to the end of the race, they faint, and are utterly unable to proceed any further. They give up their religion, often abandon even a profession, go back into the world, fall into sin, and "concerning faith make shipwreck."
But even if some of them do not faint by the way, they "shall utterly fall." God never has sanctioned, and never will sanction any religion but "his own divine work in the soul". All other wisdom he proves to be folly, all other strength weakness, all other profession but that which springs from his own work in the conscience to be "the spider's web" and "the hypocrite's hope." He has therefore determined, in his own sovereign appointment, that these lovely and vigorous "youths" and "young men"--these active professors of religion--these unhumbled and un-exercised ones, "shall utterly fall;" and if it be not before, a death-bed shall unmask them; or, if they even proceed in confidence through the dark valley as we read in the Pilgrim's Progress of one that did so, yet the day of judgment will reveal them. God will discover them by showing that they have been feeding upon ashes; and that a deceived heart has turned them aside; that they have had no saving interest in the love and blood of the Lamb, and no participation in the Spirit's teaching.
How different is the character, and how different is the destiny of the Lord's own family! How determined the Lord is to mortify the pride of man, to subvert all man's purposes, and bring about his own counsels of infinite wisdom, in direct opposition to the wisdom of the creature! What would be our judgment? Would it not be this? That these "youths" so lovely, vigorous, and strong--so earnest, active, and zealous in religion--would surely be crowned--that these would without doubt receive the prize? And could we believe that the faint and weary, the hopeless and helpless, should receive the blessing? But God, on purpose to disappoint and pour contempt upon all creature wisdom, has determined otherwise. He has decreed that there shall be no wisdom honored but his own wisdom, no strength crowned but his own strength, no righteousness exalted but his own righteousness, no purpose accomplished but his own eternal sacred purpose. He therefore brings all his people by a secret, mysterious work upon their conscience into that state and case where he alone gets to himself all the glory.
II. Bearing this in mind, we may be enabled more clearly to see the case and state of the Lord's people, as distinguished from the state and case of unhumbled and professors. "He gives power to the faint." This, then, is God's description of his people, that they are "faint." Until they are faint, there is no promise for those who God will give them power.
But what makes them faint? There are several causes.
1. One cause of their fainting is, the burdens that are put upon their shoulders. It is so naturally. If you carry a heavy burden a long way, you are pretty sure to get faint before you arrive at your destination. So spiritually. The Lord's people have heavy burdens; sometimes guilt upon the conscience; at others, exercises perplexing them; passions striving for the mastery; an adulterous eye, and an idolatrous heart. These burdens make them faint and weary in their souls.
But what do we understand by fainting? It is a swooning away, so as to lose all knowledge of where we are--a falling down in a state of exhaustion, so as not to be able to move a step further. This is the case with many of God's family. They are often so weary and exhausted with the burdens they have to carry, that they are actually unable, in their own feelings, to move a single step further; they swoon away, so as to lose all consciousness of where they are and what they are.
2. Grievous wounds will make a man faint. So spiritually. The wounds of sin, the fiery darts of Satan, the arrows of God in the conscience, make the heart of many of God's children faint within them. They cannot move a step further; their very life-blood is drained away, and they sink down, and are unable to move forward from weakness and exhaustion.
3. Denial of food will also produce faintness. Hunger and famine soon exhaust the body. So spiritually. When supplies of grace are withheld--when heavenly manna does not fall--when God does not appear--when his testimonies do not drop into the heart--when his love and blood are not applied--when, as the Prophet speaks, there is "a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord--and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" Amos 8:11,12. This spiritual destitution makes the Lord's famished people faint and feeble, and their heart to sink and swoon within them.
But how strange it appears, before we are spiritually led into a knowledge of the Lord's wise and gracious dealings, that all this painful work in the conscience should be a needful, an indispensable preparation of heart to receive the gospel in its fullness, sweetness, and power!
What a mysterious way! That God's people should have to be emptied of all their strength, that the Lord may communicate his--that their very life-blood, their native stock of goodness, excellency, and wisdom, must be drained out of their veins, that the life-blood of Jesus may be poured into them! What a mysterious path! that we are not fit to receive any blessing until thoroughly emptied--that there is no deliverance until shut up in prison--no mercy until brought into misery--no manifested laying of the everlasting arms underneath the soul until it is ready to sink into the dreadful precipice of perdition! But were it not so, we would want to share the glory with God. It would be partly our strength, and partly God's; partly our own righteousness, and partly Christ's; partly our wisdom, and partly Jehovah's. Therefore, it is absolutely needful, however mysterious, for the glory of God, and the consolation and salvation of his people, that all our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness should be drained away--that the wisdom, strength, and righteousness of Christ should become manifestly ours.
III. Now, when the soul is brought down to this spot--and it may take years to bring it there--a succession of trials and troubles, difficulty after difficulty, stripe after stripe, blow after blow--many painful dispensations in providence, perplexing paths in grace, burdensome trials of body and soul may all have been needed to bring down the proud, stubborn heart with labor. But when at length the soul is brought into that state of poverty and destitution--then it is fit to receive power. "He gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might he increases strength." They are not fit to receive God's strength until they are faint and feeble. Weakness is the only needful qualification; and this sense of weakness is wrought in their heart by the teaching and operation of the blessed Spirit.
But how does the Lord give "power?" The power that God gives is quite distinct from our own. Our power is only another name for weakness; and therefore the sooner we lose it the better. But God's power is real power. It is not a fiction, like our own; not a delusion and a deceit, like the boasted strength of man; but there is a divine reality in it.
1. But "he gives power" in various ways. Sometimes he gives power to persevere. It is at times with God's people as with Jonah. When Jonah was in the belly of the whale, when the weeds were wrapped about his head, and he was in his own feelings "in the belly of hell," yet he said, "I will look again toward your holy temple" Jon 2:4. He was not then brought out of the belly of the whale; yet in the belly of the whale, and in the very belly of hell, God gave him power to look to his holy temple. If God had not given him power, he would have looked into the very belly of hell in the horrors of despair, instead of looking again to his holy temple in the actings of living faith.
Thus the Lord often gives his people power to take a longing, languishing look at the blood and righteousness of Jesus; to come to the Lord, as "mighty to save," with the same feelings with which Esther went into the presence of the king--"I will go in; and if I perish, I perish." It is with them sometimes as with the four lepers who sat at the entering in of the gate of Samaria--"Why should we sit here waiting to die? We will starve if we stay here, and we will starve if we go back into the city. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway." 2 Kings 7:3-4. And so the Lord's people are sometimes brought to this state--"If I perish, I will perish at his footstool." If he gives no answer of mercy, they will still cling to his feet, and beseech him to look upon, and save them.
Now this is "power," real power. Despair would have laid hold upon their soul, if this secret power had not been given to them. Sometimes we learn this by painful experience. Our trials sometimes stun us, and then there is no power to seek or pray. But when power is given, there is a pleading with the Lord, a going out of the heart's desires after him, and a fulfillment in the soul of the experience described by the prophet, "I will wait upon the Lord, who hides his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him" Isa 8:17.
2. He gives power to believe; for it is the work of the blessed Spirit to raise up living faith in the heart. He gives power to hope; for it is only so far as he communicates power, that we can cast forth this anchor of the soul. He gives power to love; for it is only as he gives power, that we feel any measure of affection either to the Lord or to his people. In a word, every spiritual desire, every breath of fervent prayer, every movement of the soul heavenward, every trusting in God's name, relying on his word, and hanging upon his promises, spring out of power communicated by the Lord to the faint and feeble.
3. Sometimes the Lord gives power by recalling past mercies and former dealings to the mind; by enabling the soul to look unto him "from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar" Psalm 42:6; not to give up all its confidence, or cast the things God has done for it behind its back--but to take encouragement from the past to hope for the future. As the Church says, "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope" Lamentations 3:21. And as she pleads, "Awake, awake, Lord! Robe yourself with strength! Rouse yourself as in the days of old when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. Are you not the same today, the one who dried up the sea, making a path of escape when you saved your people?" Isaiah 51:9-10 This is putting the Lord in remembrance Isaih 43:26; and a making use of past favors to plead with him for more.
IV. But there is another word added, "And to those who have no might he increases strength." The Lord's people are often in this state, that they "have no might." All their power seems exhausted, and their strength completely drained away; sin appears to have got the mastery over them; and they feel as if they had neither will nor ability to run the race set before them, or persevere in the way of the Lord. Yet, even then, they have strength; for it says, "he increases strength." It does not say, he gives, bestows, communicates strength; but "he increases strength." How can this be? We must have power to feel our weakness, as dear Gadsby used to say, 'We need power to sink.' God must put forth his power to enable us to fall down into nothingness and helplessness. It therefore says, "he increases strength." As though it would imply, 'Is not the very power to sink down into creature weakness, helplessness, and nothingness– is not this strength?' It is so in God's mysterious dealings. And therefore, "to those who have no might" in other words, those who are sensible in their own consciences that they have no power at all, who are completely exhausted of nature's strength and wisdom to these "he increases strength."
Now the Lord "increases strength" in a very mysterious way. He often drops strength stilly and secretly into the soul. We are not always to expect very great manifestations of God. This is not the way in which the Lord usually increases strength. His visits to the soul are often better known by their fruits and effects, and by looking back upon them when they are past, than by any immediate impulse. The strength given is more easily felt--than the hand seen which communicates it. In this respect it much resembles the new birth, of which the Lord says, "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and where it goes" John 3:8.
One fruit and effect of divine strength communicated to the soul is, that it is enabled to persevere in the way of the Lord. "The righteous shall hold on his way" Job 17:9. "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day" Pr 4:18.
Now what has kept us to this day? Some of you here have made a profession ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years. What has kept us? When powerful temptations were spread for our feet, what preserved us from falling headlong into them? When we felt the workings of strong lusts, what kept us from being altogether carried captive by them? When we look at the difficulties of the way, the exercise and the perplexities which our souls have had to grapple with, the persecutions from relations or superiors, the hard blows from sinners and saints that we have had to encounter--what has still kept in us a desire to fear God, and a heart in some measure tender before him? When we view the infidelity, unbelief, carnality, worldly-mindedness, hypocrisy, pride, and presumption of our fallen nature, what has kept us still believing, hoping, loving, longing, and looking to the Lord? When we think of our deadness, coldness, torpidity, rebelliousness, perverseness, love to evil, aversion to good, and all the abounding corruptions of our nature, what has kept us from giving up the very profession of religion, and swimming down the powerful current that has so long and so often threatened to sweep us utterly from the Lord and his people?
Is it not the putting forth of the Lord's secret power in our souls? Had we been without the fear of the Lord, in a mere profession, like the "youths" and "young men," we would long ago have fainted, and utterly fallen. Can we not look back, and recall to mind our first religious companions, those with whom we started in the race--those whom we perhaps envied for their greater piety, zeal, holiness, and earnestness, and with which we painfully contrasted our own sluggishness and carnality, admiring them, and condemning ourselves? Where are they all, or the greater part of them? I can say, for my part, I would be very sorry to be in the places where most of them are. Some have embraced soul-destroying errors; others are buried in a worldly religious system; and others are wrapped up in delusion and fleshly confidence.
Thus, while the "youths" and "young men" fall into the snares of the devil, God, by putting forth his secret power in the hearts of his fainting ones, keeps his fear alive in their souls, holds up their goings in his paths that their footsteps slip not, brings them out of all their temptations and troubles, delivers them from every evil work, and preserves them unto his heavenly kingdom. He drains them of all their strength, that he may communicate his own--and destroys the wisdom of the wise, and brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent, that he may get all the honor and glory to his own great name. He thus secures the salvation of his people by his own free grace; and while he hides pride from their eyes, he saves them by the only way that is suitable to them, and glorifying to himself.
V. "But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." This is another mark and feature of the Lord's family. They are not only faint and feeble in themselves, and without might to do anything spiritually good; but they "wait upon the Lord."
What makes them "wait upon the Lord." Their very weakness, their very faintness, their very helplessness--these are so many instrumental causes which, in the hands of the Spirit, make them wait on the Lord. They "wait upon the Lord," therefore, that they may receive out of his fullness those communications of light, life, and grace, which they have not in themselves. And only in proportion as they daily feel faint and weary, are daily sensible of their own weakness and helplessness, do they "wait upon the Lord."
But before they can "wait upon the Lord," they must have an experimental knowledge of him; they must have a view of him by the eyes of their spiritual understanding; feel the goings out of their heart's affections after him--be assured in their conscience that he is able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto him; and feel a childlike dependence upon him as willing to save.
But the word "waiting" implies several things. It implies,
1. That we have faith to wait. Do we not often feel such infidelity working within that we cannot wait upon the Lord? When the spirit of infidelity comes in like a flood, what waiting is there upon God? Does not this subtle spirit effectually baffle all our attempts to wait upon him? Sometimes unbelief works. When we call upon the Lord, he hides his face, and covers his throne with a dark cloud. He does not give us that testimony which our soul is longing to receive; he denies those love-smiles and love-visits which our souls are panting for. Unbelief immediately works; and we think it is of no use any more to wait at his footstool, or call upon his name. But after a time, faith begins to lift up its head, and then there is a going out of soul to the Lord, a pleading with him, a wrestling at his blessed footstool, a calling upon his holy name, a determination like one of old, "I will not let you go, except you bless me" Gen 32:26.
2. But waiting also implies humility. "As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us" Ps 123:2. There is humility in the waiting posture of a servant. And thus, true spiritual waiting upon the Lord is not a pressing forward, like a bold presumptuous claimant; is not an entering with sacrilegious haste into God's sanctuary, nor intruding ourselves at his banquet an unbidden guest; but it implies a knocking at the door, a lying at his feet, a coming to his footstool. It is therefore ever accompanied with this feeling in the heart, that we are to be recipients of mercy; that we have no claim--nothing but beggary, poverty, and rags; and that what the Lord gives, he gives freely to his people as weak and worthless in themselves.
3. But "waiting" implies, besides, continuance and perseverance. It is not a mere calling upon the Lord to help, and then immediately leaving off; looking to him for a moment, and then forgetting him utterly; dividing the heart between God and the creature; expecting help one day from God, another day from man. The very word "wait" implies perseverance and fixed determination in the soul, that to him only will we look. The Lord by his mysterious dealings cuts us off from resting upon an arm of flesh. He will not allow us to lean upon any friend, however near or dear; he will not let us look to any one but himself, for he is a jealous God; and therefore he keeps cutting off link after link, tie after tie, bond after bond; that not having any human comfort, we may seek consolation only in him.
Perseverance implies more or less of a constant waiting upon the Lord. This will therefore go on day after day, week after week, month after month--year after year, the soul will still be waiting upon the Lord. And what for? To receive out of his fullness those communications of grace, mercy, pardon, and peace--those visitations of his Spirit, those refreshments from his presence, those revivings of faith, hope, and love, those manifestations of his favor, the enjoyment of which the soul is looking for.
What a sweet instance we have of this humble spirit in the Syrophenician woman who craved but a few of the crumbs that fell from the children's table! Mr 7:28 Self-abasement is a sure fruit of the Spirit's teaching in the soul.
VI. Now to such the promise is given--"Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." The "youths" and "young men" never wait upon the Lord. Their proud hearts never were humbled to lie at the footstool of mercy; they were wise in their own conceit, and strong in their own strength; they desired no divine testimonies, no love-smiles--in their eyes, these things are nothing but enthusiasm, bigotry, and a wild spirit. Therefore they went on in their own strength, and fell. But the Lord's people, being faint and weary in themselves, and little and lowly in their own eyes, wait upon the Lord; and these, the Lord says, "shall renew their strength;" that is, strength shall be given to them from time to time.
The very expression, "renew their strength," shows there are times and seasons when their strength fails. We cannot walk in the light of past experiences; we cannot fight fresh battles with old strength; we cannot live this week upon last week's food. No; past deliverances will not do for present trials; past consolations will not help us through present struggles; the Lord therefore empties us from time to time of our nature's strength, and then renews our spiritual strength. How sweet and precious it is to have our strength renewed; to have fresh grace brought into the heart--to feel the mysterious sensations of renovated life--to feel the everlasting arms supporting the soul, fighting our battles for us, subduing our enemies, overcoming our lusts, breaking our snares, and delivering us out of our temptations!
How very rough and rugged the path may be to get the blessing! But how much sweeter the blessing is when it has come through that path! How very painful and mysterious it is to flesh and blood to have no strength! But how much sweeter it is when divine strength comes into the heart! For divine strength is of another nature from creature strength. It will not mix with it; it is pure and holy, and therefore will not blend with that which is impure and unholy. But those who "wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength." So that, in new battles they shall have new strength to fight; in fresh temptations, fresh power to overcome them; in present trials and exercises, present grace to grapple with them.
VII. But the text adds, "They shall mount up with wings as eagles." What a contrast! Where have we seen them? Perplexed, distressed, exercised, mourning, and crying. We have seen them so faint and exhausted, that they had no strength to move a step further. We have seen them bowed down with temptations, burdens, trials, perplexities, and difficulties; yet waiting upon the Lord; because they had no other help to go to, no other harbor to anchor in, no other refuge to flee unto. Now--what a contrast! "They shall mount up with wings as eagles"--the strongest, the swiftest, and the highest soaring bird; as though the Lord would take the strongest natural comparison to show how their souls mount up.
But how do they mount up? In faith. It is said of the eagle, that he mounts up towards the sun; and that of all birds, he is the only one which can gaze upon the sun with unshrinking eye. So with faith in the soul. The Lord's people alone can look by faith upon the "Sun of righteousness," gaze upon a glorious Immanuel at the right hand of the Father, and see a precious Jesus ever interceding for them, and drawing them near to his bosom. And when this blessed Jesus communicates a measure of his love and blood to their consciences, and raises up and draws forth faith in his name, then the soul begins to mount up with these wings like eagles, soaring higher and higher, until it comes into the presence of God; mounting up in higher and higher circles of spiritual flight, until it penetrates into the very sanctuary of Jehovah.
Now, has not your soul thus soared sometimes as upon eagle's wings? Have there not been those communications of divine life and light, those mountings of faith, those anchorings of hope, those goings forth of love, whereby your soul was enabled to mount up and find delight in Jesus, and felt his name, love, and blood precious? Have you not mounted up too, not only in the exercise of living faith and hope, but also of heavenly affection?
Sometimes we are so fastened down to this earth, this valley of tears, this waste howling wilderness--so chained down to it, that we are like a bird with a broken wing, and cannot mount. We are swallowed up in the world, forgetting God and godliness. But are there not times and seasons when the soul is delivered from these chains and fetters-when earthly cares drop off from the mind--when our wings are new moulted, and fresh pinions as it were given--when the world and its temptations, sin and its snares are left behind, and there is a sweet mounting up in the feelings of heavenly affection? This is to "mount up with wings as eagles;" and the soaring soul never ceases to mount until it comes into the very presence of the Three-One God of Israel.
How different the religion of a living soul is from the religion of a dead professor! The religion of a dead professor begins in self, and ends in self--begins in his own wisdom, and ends in his own folly--begins in his own strength, and ends in his own weakness--begins in his own righteousness, and ends in his own damnation. There is in him never any going out of soul after God, no secret dealings with the Lord, no actings of faith upon the divine perfections. But the child of God, though he is often faint, weary, and exhausted with many difficulties, burdens, and sorrows; yet when the Lord does show himself, and renews his strength, he soars aloft, and never ceases to mount up on the wings of faith and love until he penetrates into the very sanctuary of the Most High. A living soul can never be satisfied except in living union and communion with the Lord of life and glory. Everything short of that leaves it empty. All the things of time and sense leave a child of God unsatisfied.
Nothing but vital union and communion with the Lord of life, to feel his presence, taste his love, enjoy his favor, see his glory--nothing but this will ever satisfy the desires of ransomed and regenerated souls. This the Lord indulges his people with. "They shall renew their strength." They shall not be always lying groaning on the ground--not always swooning away through the wounds made by sin--not always chained down by the fetters of the world--not always hunted in their souls like a partridge upon the mountains. There shall be a renewal of their strength; and in their renewal, "they shall mount up with wings as eagles."
VIII. "They shall RUN, and not be weary." What is this running? you say. There are three things spoken of in the text--flying, running and walking; and each of these things is spoken of as found in God's family. Sometimes they fly, when they mount up as upon the wings of eagles; sometimes they run; and sometimes they walk.
But what is it to RUN? David shall explain it. He says, "I will run the way of your commandments when you shall enlarge my heart" Ps 119:32. Paul shall add his testimony; he says, "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us" Heb 12:1.
To run is to move with cheerfulness and activity in the ways of God; not always crippled by a paralytic limb--not always sinking under the burden of a depraved nature--not always swooning away under wounds, weights, and famine. Sometimes the Lord brings a measure of light, life, and love into the soul. There is then a holy activity, a cheerful obedience, a desire to glorify God, a seeking to know his will and do it.
This is not like the running of the "youths" and "young men"--in their 'own' strength. They set out in nature's strength, and drop off in nature's weakness. But the Lord's people, "those who wait upon the Lord," renew their strength--"they run, and are not weary." For the Lord's power rests on them. They are like Elijah, who girded up his loins, and ran before king Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel 1Ki 18:46. There was a divine power communicated to the prophet, so that, though the king rode in his chariot, Elijah outran him. So the Lord's people sometimes have strength given them, whereby they can make sacrifices for the Lord, and do his will with a cheerful heart. And in this running they shall not be weary; so long as the Lord communicates strength and supplies power, they are not weary in well-doing.
IX. But there is another word added– "They shall WALK, and not faint." Now walking is next to running, as running is next to flying. Walking implies a steady, progressive pace. It is not the same as the ardent mounting of the soul upwards, nor the cheerful activity of the soul running forward; but it is a calm, steady progression. The Lord sometimes gives his people a heavenly soaring, sometimes an active running, and sometimes a steady walking. All indeed are equally good--whether they fly, run, or walk, it is all to God's glory, and their own profit. When they fly, they would not like to run; when they run, they would not like to walk. They are contented with what they find; for they can only move as he works in them "to will and to do of his own good pleasure."
This walking, then, is a steady progressing in the things of God; a sober persuasion of the truth as it is in Jesus; a calm movement in the ways of the Lord; a living in peace with God, and in peace with his people; a walking in the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blameless; a going onward in that humility, integrity, godly fear, tenderness of conscience--that wariness, circumspectness, and uprightness of heart which become the true believer. Not precipitately running-"he that believes shall not make haste." Nor is it a lagging behind; but a walking soberly and circumspectly in the things of God and truth. This was the happy state of the primitive church, "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied" Ac 9:31.
But while they are in this valley of tears, we find the Lord's people in various states and cases. Many of their varied states and cases are traced out in that experimental part of God's word, which is connected with the text. For instance, some are saying, "My judgment is passed over from my God;" I cannot see where the Lord is leading me; all is perplexing, dark and distressing. Others are faint, exhausted, and swooning away through their burdens, difficulties, and perplexities. They cannot move a step further; but still they are in the Lord's path. Others of the Lord's people seem to have "no might," they cannot even read the Word of God at times; they cannot seek the Lord's face, or call upon the Lord's name; they cannot believe, nor hope, nor love; yet they are in the Lord's ways, and are the Lord's people. Others may be waiting upon the Lord, looking to him, pleading with him, wrestling with him, putting their mouth in the dust, and pouring out their hearts before him; yet still in the way of the Lord, and where he would have them to be. Others may be renewing their strength; the Lord is giving them power, and their bow abides in strength; they are renewed with grace in their inner man that they may fight the battles of the Lord. These are where he would have them to be. Others perhaps are mounting up with wings as eagles; they are full of soaring desires, ravished with sweet and precious manifestations of love and blood. These are still where the Lord would have them to be. Others are running in the way of the Lord's commandments; moving actively in the path of cheerful obedience; the whole bent of their will is to glorify God; his will is their will, and they desire to be actively engaged in all that pleases him. Others perhaps are walking; not mounting with holy affections; not running cheerfully and eagerly; but walking with God in simple obedience to his word, with a tender conscience, desiring to know his will, and do it. This is still the Lord's teaching; they are still in the Lord's way. How different are all and each of these states from being a "youth" or "young man"--an unburdened, unhumbled, unexercised, unplagued professor!
Then, if we be the Lord's people, whatever be our state and case, it will end well--whether having "no might," or "renewing our strength"--whether running or walking, it will all end well. All the Lord's people have these varied dealings through the work of the Spirit upon their hearts; for they shall stand in their lot at the end of the days, and see the Lord face to face in glory!
But woe be to us, if we are "youths" and "young men." You may appear very lovely; your religion may be dressed out in the newest and neatest garb; you may seem to be going on well in your own esteem and that of others. But, depend upon it, if this loveliness, zeal, and activity come from the flesh, it will end in your utter downfall. You will find a day will come, when you will not be able to proceed, and the end will be ruin and destruction.
Now, this does not cut down activity in the Lord's way. It does not cut down lively frames, panting hearts, zealous motives, a single eye to God's glory. God forbid. But it points out the right way.
We must faint first, and have "no might," and be brought to our wit's ends, and then have the Lord's blessings communicated in the Lord's way. All that comes from nature must die. Nature's strength, wisdom, pride, and power must all vanish away, that the glory of the Lamb may endure forever.
Therefore, in this way the Lord cuts down with the sword of the Spirit all that is of nature, and builds up all that is of grace. No more, he does not put down nature's activity, that the soul may be a sluggard; nor does he put down nature's strength, that the soul may be inactive. On the contrary, he extinguishes the candle, that the soul may enjoy the blazing light of the sun. He exhausts all nature's strength, that he may build up his own strength upon its ruins. He puts down the impostor, and raises up the saint. He puts down hypocrisy, and exalts his own truth. He takes the crown off nature's head, and places it upon his Son's. He thus secures to himself all the glory, and to his people all the good.
Thus, while on the one hand, he tarnishes the pride of nature's glory, he secures that his will shall be done on earth as in heaven, and gets to himself a revenue of eternal praise. So that, while viewed with a spiritual eye, we see how it honors God, we see also how suitable it is to man. And in our right mind, we would rather have burdens, exercises, and temptations, to have God with us, and his glory wrought out through them--rather run in the Lord's strength, than be left to our own strength and righteousness.
Thus, we see the Lord will eventually make it manifest that all is done for the good of the church; and all will end to his glory, who, as Father, Son, and eternal Spirit, is worthy of all honor, praise, and adoration, now and evermore.