The incredible greatness of His power
"I pray that you will begin to understand the
incredible greatness of His power to us who believe Him." Ephesians 1:19
The work of God on the soul, is a work of sovereign and
omnipotent power! See what a mighty power was put forth in turning us from
darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; and how it was the
outstretched arm of Omnipotence alone, which could deliver us from the power
of darkness and bring us into the eternal heavenly kingdom! Consider the
difficulties which grace has to overcome, in the "quickening" of a
dead soul into spiritual life. View the depths of the fall. Contemplate—the
death of the soul in trespasses and sins—the thorough alienation from the
life of God—the darkness, blindness, and ignorance of the understanding—the
perverseness of the will—the hardness of the conscience—and the depravity of
View the soul's obduracy, stubbornness and
obstinacy—its pride, unbelief, infidelity and self-righteousness; its
passionate love to, habitual practice of, and long imprisonment to sin.
Consider its strong prejudices against everything godly and holy!
Contemplate the desperate, implacable enmity of the
carnal mind against God Himself—its firm and deep rooted love to the
world, in all its varied shapes and forms—and remember also how all its
hopes, happiness, and prospects are bound up in the things of time and
sense! O what a complicated mass of difficulties, do all these foes form in
their firm combination, like a compact, well armed, thoroughly trained
army—against any power which would seek to dislodge them from their
Add to this—all the power, malice, and deceitful arts of
Satan, as the strong armed man—keeping the palace night and day, and
yielding to none but the stronger than he!
Consider, too, the sacrifices which must often be
made by one who is to live godly in Christ Jesus—the tenderest ties,
perhaps, to be broken—the lucrative prospects which have to be abandoned—old
friends to be renounced—family connections to be given up—position in life
to be lost—shame and contempt to be entailed on oneself!
Viewing, then, a soul dead in sin, with all these
difficulties and obstacles in their complicated array, must we not pronounce
that to be a mighty act of power which, in spite of all these apparently
invincible hindrances, lifts it up and out of them all, into a new and
spiritual life? So fully and thoroughly is this fruit and effect of
omnipotent power, and of omnipotent power alone, that it is spoken of in the
word as—a new and heavenly birth—a new creation—a resurrection—all which
terms imply a putting forth of a divine power, as distinct from and
independent of any creature effort.
Contemplate also, the mighty power of God in
"maintaining" divine life in our soul. We have to see and feel—what
mountains of difficulty—what seas of temptation—what winds and storms of
error—what assaults and snares of Satan—what floods of vileness and
ungodliness within and without—strong lusts and passions—what secret slips
and falls—what backslidings and departures from the living God—what long
seasons of darkness, barrenness, and death—what opposition of the flesh to
the strait and narrow way—what crafty hypocrites, pretended friends, false
professors—all striving to throw down or entangle our steps!
Consider also, what helplessness, inability, and
miserable impotency in ourselves to all that is good—and what headlong
proneness to all that is evil. We have also to ponder over what we have been
and what we still are, since we professed to fear God—and how, when left to
ourselves, we have done nothing but sin against and provoke God to His face!
And thus as read over article by article, this long dark catalogue, still to
have a sweet persuasion that the life of God is in our soul—we realize,
believe, and feel, and bless God for His surpassing, superabounding grace,
in maintaining this divine life in our soul. "Where sin abounded, grace did
much more abound!"
His secret power & influence
"No man can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me
draws him." John 6:44
"I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore
with lovingkindness have I drawn you." Jeremiah 31:3
None can really come to Jesus by faith, unless this
drawing power is put forth. The Holy Spirit—that gracious and
blessed Teacher, acts upon the soul by His secret power and influence,
puts 'cords of love' and 'bands of mercy' around the heart, and by the
attractive influence that He puts forth, draws the soul to Jesus'
feet—and in due time reveals Him as the chief among ten thousand—and the
altogether lovely one.
As the Spirit reveals and manifests these precious things
of Christ to the soul, He raises up a living faith whereby Jesus is sought
unto, looked unto, laid hold of, and is brought into the heart with a divine
power, there to be enshrined in its warmest and tenderest affections. All
through its Christian pilgrimage, this blessed Spirit goes on to deepen His
work in the soul, and to discover more and more of the suitability, beauty,
and blessedness of the Lord Jesus, as He draws the soul more and more unto
Him. There is no maintaining of the light, life, and power of God in our
souls, except as we are daily coming unto Jesus as the living stone, and
continually living upon Him as the bread of life.
"Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from
all iniquity." Titus 2:14
Sins of heart. Sins of lip. Sins of life.
There are five things as regards sin, from which our blessed Lord
came to redeem us—its guilt, its filth, its power, its love, its practice.
By His death, He redeemed us from sin's guilt. By the washing of
regeneration, He delivers us from sin's filth. By the power of His
resurrection, He liberates us from sin's dominion. By revealing His
beauty, He frees us from sin's love. By making the conscience tender
in His fear, He preserves us from sin's practice. The blood of Jesus
purifies us from all sin.
If your flesh had its full swing
"For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit
against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you
may not do the things that you desire." Galatians 5:17
At times, we can hardly tell how we are kept from
evil. There is in those who fear God, a spiritual principle which
holds them up, and keeps them back from the ways of sin and death in which
the flesh would walk. This inner principle of grace and godly fear has, in
thousands of instances, preserved the feet of the saints, and kept them
from doing things that would have ruined their reputation, blighted
their character, brought reproach upon the cause of God, and the greatest
grief and distress into their own conscience! They cannot do the EVIL
things that they would do. The flesh is always lusting towards evil,
but grace is a counteracting principle to repress and subdue it.
Grace does not wholly overcome the evil lustings of the flesh, but it can
prevent those lustings from being carried out into open action. For the
Spirit fights against the flesh, and will not let it altogether reign and
rule, nor have its own will and way unchecked. What a mercy lies couched
For what would you be, if your flesh had its full
swing? What evil is there which you would not do? What crime
which you would not commit? What slip which you would not make?
What open and horrid fall which you would not be guilty of—unless
you were upheld by Almighty power—and the flesh curbed and
checked from running its destructive course? We can never praise God
sufficiently for His restraining grace—for what would we be
without it? "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
A coward's castle
A pastor has no right to turn the pulpit into a
coward's castle, and from there attack those in the congregation, whom
he is afraid to meet face to face privately. It is cruelly unfair to attack
an individual who cannot defend himself—to hold him up, as if on the horns
of the pulpit, before the congregation, (who generally know pretty well who
is meant), and to condemn him without hearing his side, with the pastor
being the only judge and jury.
Some beloved idol?
"It is a land of engraved images, and they are mad over
idols." Jeremiah 50:38
Have we not all in our various ways, set up
some beloved idol—something which engaged our affections,
something which occupied our thoughts, something to which we
devoted all the energies of our minds, something for which we were
willing to labor night and day? Be it money, be it power,
be it esteem of men, be it respectability, be it worldly
comfort, be it literary knowledge, there was a secret setting
up of SELF in one or more of its various forms, and a bowing down to it as
The man of business makes money his god. The man
of pleasure makes the lust of the flesh his god. The proud man makes
his adored SELF his god. The Pharisee makes self-righteousness
his god. The Arminian makes free-will his god. The Calvinist makes
dry doctrine his god. All in one way or other, however they may differ
in the object of their idolatrous worship, agree in this—that they give a
preference in their esteem and affection to their peculiar idol, above the
one true God. "And the idols He shall utterly abolish." Isaiah 2:18
There is, then, a time to break down these idols which
our fallen nature has set up. And have not we experienced some measure of
this breaking down, both externally and internally? Have not our idols been
in a measure smashed before our eyes, our prospects in life cut up and
destroyed, our airy visions of earthly happiness and our romantic paradises
dissolved into thin air, our creature-hopes dashed, our youthful affections
blighted, and the objects from which we had fondly hoped to reap an enduring
harvest of delight removed from our eyes?
And likewise, as to our religion—our good opinion
of ourselves, our piety and holiness, our wisdom and our knowledge, our
understanding and our abilities, our consistency and uprightness—have they
not all been broken down, and made a heap of ruins before our eyes?
That monstrous creature within us!
"I abhor the pride of Jacob." Amos 6:8
O cursed pride, that is ever lifting up its head
in our hearts! Pride would even pull down God that it might sit upon His
throne. Pride would trample under foot the holiest things to exalt itself!
Pride is that monstrous creature within us, of such ravenous and
indiscriminate gluttony, that the more it devours, the more it craves! Pride
is that chameleon which assumes every color—that actor which
can play every part—and yet which is faithful to no one object or
purpose—but to exalt and glorify self!
"I will make the pride of the strong to cease." "He shall
bring down their pride." (Ezekiel 7:24, Isaiah 25:11) God means to
kill man's pride! And oh, what cutting weapons the Lord will sometimes
make use of to kill a man's pride! How He will bring him sometimes into the
depths of temporal poverty, that He may make a stab at his worldly pride!
How He will bring to light the iniquities of his youth, that He may mortify
his self-righteous pride! How He will allow sin to break forth, if
not openly, yet so powerfully within, that piercing convictions shall kill
his spiritual pride! And what deep discoveries of internal corruption
will the Lord sometimes employ, to dig down to the root, and cut off the
core of that poisonous tree, pride! The Searcher of hearts dissects
and anatomizes this inbred evil, cuts down to it through the
quivering and bleeding flesh, and pursues with His keen knife its multiplied
windings and ramifications. "The lofty looks of man will be brought low, the
haughtiness of men will be bowed down, and the Lord alone will be exalted in
that day." Isaiah 2:11 "And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and
the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be
exalted in that day." Isaiah 2:17 "The Lord of hosts has purposed it, to
stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the
honorable of the earth." Isaiah 23:9
The soul's natural element
Before the soul can know anything about salvation, it
must learn deeply and experimentally the nature of sin, and of itself, as
stained and polluted by sin. It is proud—and needs to be humbled. It is
careless—and needs to be awakened. It is alive—and needs to be killed. It is
full—and requires to be emptied. It is whole—and needs to be wounded. It is
clothed—and requires to be stripped. The soul is, by nature,
self-righteous, self-seeking, buried deep in worldliness and carnality,
utterly blind and ignorant, filled with presumption, arrogance, conceit and
enmity—hateful to all that is heavenly and spiritual.
Sin, in all its various forms, is the
soul's natural element. Some of the features of the unregenerate nature
of man are—covetousness, lust, worldly pleasure, desire of the praise of
men, an insatiable thirst after self-advancement, a complete abandonment to
all that can please and gratify every new desire of the heart, an utter
contempt and abhorrence of everything that restrains or defeats its mad
pursuit of what it loves. Education, moral restraints, or the force of
habit, may restrain the outbreaking of inward corruption, and dam back the
mighty stream of indwelling sin, so that it shall not burst all its bounds,
and desolate the land.
But no moral check can alter human nature. A chained
tiger is a tiger still. "The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the
leopard his spots." To make man the direct contrary of what he originally
is—to make him love God instead of hating Him—fear God, instead of mocking
Him—obey God, instead of rebelling against Him—to do this mighty work, and
to effect this wonderful change—requires the implantation of a new nature by
the immediate hand of God Himself. Natural light, natural love, natural
faith, natural obedience—in a word, all natural religion—is here
useless and ineffectual.
"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to
salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." 2
Godly sorrow springs from a view of a suffering
Savior, and manifests itself by hatred of self—abhorrence of sin—groaning
over our backslidings—grief of soul for being so often entangled by our
lusts and passions—and is accompanied by softness—meltings of
heart—flowings of love to the Redeemer—indignation against ourselves—and
earnest desires never to sin more.
But our coward flesh shrinks from them!
"Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver; I have
chosen you in the furnace of affliction." Isaiah 48:10
What benefit is there in afflictions? Does God send
them without an object in view? Do they come merely, as the men of the world
think, by chance? No! There is benefit intended by them. The branch
cannot bear fruit unless it be pruned. The love of sin cannot be cast
out—the soul cannot be meekened, humbled, softened, and made contrite—the
world cannot be embittered—the things of time and sense cannot be stripped
of their false hue and their magic appearance—except through affliction.
Our greatest blessings usually spring from our greatest
afflictions—they prepare the heart to receive them—they empty the vessel
of the poisonous ingredients which have filled it, and fit it to receive
gospel wine and milk. To be without these afflictions—these griefs—these
trials—these temptations—is to write ourselves destitute of grace. But
our coward flesh shrinks from them! We are willing to walk to heaven—but
not to walk there in God's way. Though we see in the Scripture that the
path to glory is a rough and rugged way—yet when our feet are planted in
that painful and trying path, we shrink back—our coward flesh refuses
to walk in that road.
God therefore, as a sovereign, brings those afflictions
upon us which He sees most fit for our profit and His glory, without ever
consulting us, without ever allowing us a choice in the matter. And He will
generally cause our afflictions to come from the most unexpected source, and
in a way most cutting to our feelings—in the way that of all others we would
least have chosen—and yet in a way which of all others, is most for our
profit. God deals with us like a surgeon dealing with a diseased organ.
How painful the operation! How deep the knife cuts! How long it may
be before the wound is healed! Yet every stroke of the knife is
indispensable! A skillful and faithful surgeon would not do his duty if he
did not dissect it to the very bottom. As pain before healing is necessary,
and must be produced by the knife—so spiritually, we must be wounded and cut
in our souls, as long, and as deeply as God sees needful, that in His
own time we may receive the consolation.
Do the afflictions we pass through humble us? Do they
deaden the love of the world in our hearts? Do they purge out hypocrisy? Do
they bring us more earnestly to the throne of grace? Do they discover to us
sins that we have not before seen? Do they penetrate into our very hearts?
Do they lay bare the corrupt fountain that we carry within us? Do they
search and test us before a heart-searching God? Do they meeken and soften
The filthy holes & puddles in which it grovels
"The human heart is most deceitful and desperately
wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9
The sin of our fallen nature is a very mysterious
thing. We read of "the mystery of iniquity." Sin has depths which no
human plumb line ever fathomed, and lengths which no mortal measuring
line ever yet measured out. Thus the way in which sin sometimes seems to
sleep—and at other times to awake with renewed strength, its active,
irritable, impatient, restless nature—the many shapes and colors it wears—the
filthy holes and puddles in which it grovels—the corners into which it
creeps—its deceitfulness—its hypocrisy—its craftiness—its persuasiveness—its
intense selfishness—its utter recklessness—its desperate madness—its
insatiable greediness—are secrets, painful secrets, only learned by bitter
experience. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately
wicked: who can know it?"
The Lord's secret power in our souls
"He gives power to the faint; and to those who have no
might He increases strength." Isaiah 40:29
The Lord's people are often in the state that they have
no might. All their power seems exhausted, and their strength completely
drained away—sin appears to have gotten 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.
Now what has kept us to this day? Some of you 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 perplexities which our souls have
had to grapple with, the persecutions and 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?
Is it not the putting forth of the Lord's secret
power in our souls? 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? 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 most have fallen 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 thus secures the salvation of
His people by His own free grace.
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!
In the New Testament Scriptures, we find mention made in
several places of "the house of the God." The New Testament never, in any
one instance, means, by "the house of God," any material building. It has
come to pass, through the traditions received from the fathers, that
buildings erected by man—collections of bricks and mortar—piles of squared
and cemented stones—are often called "the house of God."
In ancient Popish times they invested a consecrated
building with the title of "God's house," thus endeavoring to make it
appear as though it were a holy place in which God specially dwelt. They
thus drew off the minds of the people from any internal communion with God,
and possessed them with the idea that He was only to be found in some holy
spot, consecrated and sanctified by rites and ceremonies. The same leaven of
the Pharisees has infected the Church of England—and thus she calls her
consecrated buildings, her piles of stone and cement, "churches," and
"houses of God."
And even those who profess a purer faith, who dissent
from her unscriptural forms, have learned to adopt the same carnal language,
and even they, through a misunderstanding of what "the house of God" really
is, will call such a building as we are assembled in this morning, "the
house of God." How frequently does the expression drop from the pulpit, and
how continually is it heard at the prayer meeting, "coming up to the house
of God," as though any building now erected by human hands could be called
the house of the living God. It arises from a misunderstanding of the
Scriptures, and is much fostered by that priestcraft which is in the human
heart, inciting us to believe that God is to be found only in certain
buildings set apart for His service.
When the Holy Spirit preaches the gospel
We often know the theory of the gospel, before we
know the experience of the gospel. We often receive the doctrines of
grace into our judgment, before we receive the grace of the
doctrines into our soul. We therefore need to be
brought down, humbled, tried, stripped of every prop—that the gospel may
be to us more than a sound, more than a name, more than a theory, more
than a doctrine, more than a system, more than a creed—that it may be
soul enjoyment—soul blessing—and soul salvation. When the Holy Spirit
preaches the gospel to the poor in spirit, the humbled, stripped, and
tried—it is a gospel of glad tidings indeed to the sinner's broken heart.
We get entangled with some idol
Wherever the grace of God is, it constrains its partaker
to desire to live to His honor and glory. But he soon finds the difficulty
of so doing. Such is the weakness of the flesh, the power of sin,
the subtlety of Satan, the strength of temptation, and the
snares spread on every side for our feet, that we can neither do
what we want, nor be what we want. Before we are well aware, we
get entangled with some idol, or drawn aside into some indulgence of the
flesh, which brings darkness into the mind, and may cut us out some bitter
work for the rest of our days.
But we thus learn not only the weakness of the flesh, but
where and in whom all our strength lies. And as the grace of the Lord
Jesus, in its suitability, in its sufficiency and its superaboundings,
becomes manifested in and by the weakness of the flesh—a sense of His
wondrous love and care in so bearing with us, in so pitying our case, and
manifesting mercy where we might justly expect wrath, constrains us with a
holy obligation to walk in His fear and to live to His praise.
The sins & slips of the saints
The Scriptures faithfully record the falls of
believers—the drunkenness of Noah, the incest of Lot, the unbelief of
Abraham, the peevishness of Moses, the adultery of David, the idolatry of
Solomon, the pride of Hezekiah, the cowardice of Mark and the cursing and
swearing of Peter. But why has the Holy Spirit left on record the sins
and slips of the saints? First, that it might teach us that they were
saved by grace as poor, lost, and ruined sinners—in the same way as we hope
to be saved. Secondly, that their slips and falls might be so many
beacons and warnings, to guard the people of God against being overtaken by
the same sins. As the apostle speaks—"Now all these things happened to them
by way of example, and they were written for our admonition." And thirdly,
that the people of God, should they be overtaken by sin, might not be cast
into despair—but that from seeing recorded in the Scripture the slips and
failings of the saints of old, they might be lifted up from their
despondency, and brought once more to hope in the Lord.
"And this is eternal life, that they should know You, the
only true God, and Him whom You sent, Jesus Christ." John 17:3
An experimental knowledge of Christ in the soul,
is the only relief for sin's poverty, guilt, leprosy, bankruptcy and
damnation. This is the true way of preaching Christ crucified—not the mere
doctrine of the Cross, but a crucified Jesus experimentally known
to the soul. I am deeply conscious of my own baseness, ignorance, blindness
and folly. But my malady is too deeply rooted to be healed by dry doctrines
and speculative theological opinions. The blood of the Lamb, spiritually and
supernaturally sprinkled and applied, is the only healing balm for a
Friend, can you understand my riddle?
I find that sin has such power over me, that
though I call on the Lord again and again for deliverance, I seem to be as
weak as ever when temptation comes. If a window were placed in my bosom,
what filth and vileness would be seen by all.
"O you hideous monster sin,
What a curse have you brought in!"
I love it—I hate it. I want to be delivered from the
power of it—and yet am not satisfied without drinking down its poisoned
sweets. Sin is my hourly companion—and my daily curse. Sin is the breath of
my mouth—and the cause of my groans. Sin is my incentive to prayer—and my
hinderer of it. Sin made my Savior suffer—and makes my Savior precious. Sin
spoils every pleasure—and adds a sting to every pain. Sin fits a soul for
heaven—and ripens a soul for hell.
Friend, can you understand my riddle? Is your heart,
as my heart? Alas! Alas! We feel sin's power daily and hourly. We sigh and
groan at times, to be delivered from the giant strength of our corruptions,
which seem to carry us captive at their will. Though sin is a sweet morsel
to our carnal mind, it grieves our soul. I am sure I must be a monument
of grace and mercy, if saved from the guilt, curse, and power of sin!
My greatest enemy?
I have ever found myself to be my greatest
enemy. I never had a foe that troubled me so much as my own heart—nor
has any one ever wrought me half the mischief or given me half the plague
that I have felt and known within. And it is a daily sense of this which
makes me dread myself more than anybody that walks upon the face of
the earth! Keep a watchful eye upon every inward foe—and if you fight, fight
against the enemy that lurks and works in your own bosom!
There are many plans in a man's heart
"There are many plans in a man's heart; but the
Lord's counsel will prevail." Proverbs 19:21
The plans of our heart are generally to find some
easy, smooth, flowery path. Whatever benefits we have derived from
affliction, whatever mercies we have experienced in tribulation,
the flesh hates and shrinks from such a path with complete abhorrence. And,
therefore, there is always a secret planning in a man's heart—to
escape the cross, to avoid affliction, and to walk in some flowery meadow,
away from the rough road which cuts his feet, and wearies his limbs. Another
"plan in a man's heart" is, that he shall have worldly prosperity—that his
children shall grow up around him, and when they grow up, he shall be able
to provide for them in a way which shall be best suited to their station in
life—that they shall enjoy health and strength and success—and that there
shall not be any cutting affliction in his family, or fiery trial to pass
Now these plans the Lord frustrates. What grief, what
affliction, what trouble, is the Lord continually bringing into some
families! Their dearest objects of affection removed from them, at the very
moment when they seemed clasped nearest around their hearts! And those who
are spared, perhaps, growing up in such a searedness of conscience and
hardness of heart, and, perhaps, profligacy of life, that even their very
presence is often a burden to their parents instead of a blessing—and the
very children who should be their comfort, become thorns and briers in their
Oh, how the Lord overturns and brings to nothing the
"plans of a man's heart" to make a paradise here upon earth.
When a man is brought to the right spot, and is in a right mind to trace out
the Lord's dealings with him from the first, he sees it was a kind
hand which "blasted his gourds, and laid them low"—it was a kind hand
that swept away his worldly prospects—which reduced him to natural as
well as to spiritual poverty—which led him into exercises, trials, sorrows,
griefs, and tribulations—because, in those trials he has found the Lord,
more or less, experimentally precious.
There are many plans in a man's heart. Now you have
all your plans—that busy workshop is continually putting out some new
pattern—some new fashion is continually starting forth from the depths of
that ingenious manufactory which you carry about with you—and you are
wanting this, and expecting that, and building up airy castles, and looking
for that which shall never come to pass—for "there are many plans in a man's
heart; but the Lord's counsel will prevail." And so far as you are
children of God, that counsel is a counsel of wisdom and mercy.
The purposes of God's heart are purposes of love and affection
toward you, and therefore you may bless and praise God, that whatever be the
plans of your hearts against God's counsel, they shall be frustrated, that
He may do His will and fulfill all His good pleasure.
All are more or less deeply infected with it
"Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not!"
As we are led aside by the powerful workings of our
corrupt nature, we are often seeking great things for ourselves.
Riches, worldly comforts, respectability, to be honored, admired and
esteemed by men—are the objects most passionately sought after by the world.
And so far as the children of God are under the influence of a worldly
principle, do they secretly desire similar things.
Nor does this ambition depend upon station in life.
All are more or less deeply infected with it, until delivered by the
grace of God. The poorest man in these towns has a secret desire in his soul
after "great things," and a secret plotting in his mind how he may obtain
them. But the Lord is determined that His people shall not have great
things. He has purposed to pour contempt upon all the pride of man!
He therefore nips all their hopes in the bud, crushes their flattering
prospects, and makes them for the most part, poor, needy, and despised in
Whatever schemes or projects the Lord's people may devise
that they may prosper and get on in the world, He rarely allows their plans
to thrive. He knows well to what consequences it would lead—that this ivy
creeping round the stem would, as it were, suffocate and strangle the tree.
The more that worldly goods increase—the more the heart is fixed upon
them, the more the affections are set upon idols, the more is the heart
drawn away from the Lord. He will not allow His people to have their portion
here below. He has in store for them a better city, that is a heavenly one,
and therefore will not allow them to build and plant below the skies.
A child of God may be secretly aiming at great things,
such as respectability, bettering his condition in life, rising step by step
in the scale of society. But the Lord will usually disappoint these
plans—defeat these projects—wither these gourds—and blight these prospects.
He may reduce him to poverty, as He did Job—smite him with sickness, as He
did Lazarus and Hezekiah—take away wife and children, as in the case of
Ezekiel and Jacob—or He may bring trouble and distress into his mind by
shooting an arrow out of His unerring bow into the conscience.
God has a certain purpose to effect by bringing this
trouble, and that is to pull him down from "seeking great things." For
what is the secret root of this ambition? Is it not the pride of the heart?
When the Lord, then, would lay this ambition low, He makes a blow at the
root. He strips away fancied hopes, and breaks down rotten props, the great
things (so through ignorance esteemed) sought for previously, and perhaps
obtained, fall to pieces. Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don't
Ministers are often desirous
"Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not!"
Ministers are often desirous of a greater gift in
preaching, a readier utterance, a more abundant variety, a more striking
delivery than they presently possess. And this, not for the glory of God—but
for the glory of the creature! Not that praise may be given God—but that
pride, cursed pride, may be gratified—that they may be admired by men.
My desire and aim is not to deceive souls by
flattery—not to please any party—not to minister to any man's pride or
presumption—but simply and sincerely, with an eye to God's glory, with His
fear working in my heart—to speak to the edification of His people. A
minister who stands up with any other motives, and aiming at any other ends
than the glory of God, and the edification of His people, bears no
scriptural marks that he has been sent into the vineyard by God Himself.
"But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
What are all the gilded toys of time compared with the
solemn, weighty realities of eternity! But, alas! what wretches are we when
left to sin, self, and Satan! How unable to withstand the faintest breath of
temptation! How bent upon backsliding! Who can fathom the depths of the
human heart? Oh, what but grace, superabounding grace, can either
suit or save such wretches? "But where sin abounded, grace did much more
"Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" Job 23:3
What a mere shallow pretense to vital godliness satisfies
most ministers, most hearers, and most congregations! But there was a
reality in Job's religion. It was not of a flimsy, notional,
superficial nature. It was not merely a sound Calvinistic creed, and nothing
more. It was not a religion of theory and speculation, nor a well-compacted
system of doctrines and duties. There was something deeper, something more
divine in Job's religion than any such mere pretense, delusion, imitation,
or hypocrisy. And if our religion be of the right kind, there will be
something deeper in it, something more powerful, spiritual, and
supernatural, than notions and doctrines, theories and speculations, merely
passing to and fro in our minds, however scriptural and correct. There
will be a divine reality in it, if God the Spirit be the author of it.
And there will be no trifling with the solemn things of God, and with our
own immortal souls.
The way in which the Spirit of God works
As pride rises, it must be broken down. As
self-righteousness starts up, it must be brought low. As the wisdom of the
creature exalts itself against the wisdom of God, it must be laid prostrate.
The way in which the Spirit of God works is to lay the creature low,
by bringing it into nothingness, and crushing it into self-abasement and
self-loathing, so as to press out of it everything on which the creature can
depend. Like a surgeon, who will run his lancet into the abscess, and let
out the gory matter, in order to effect a thorough cure—so the Spirit of the
Lord thrusting His sharp sword into the heart, lets out the inward
corruption, and never heals the wound until He has thoroughly probed it. And
when He has laid bare the heart, He heals it by pouring in the balmy blood
of Jesus, as that which, by its application, cleanses from all sin.
The world is passing away
"And the world is passing away with its lusts."
1 John 2:17
The world and all that is in it comes to an end. Where
are the great bulk of the men and women who fifty, sixty, or seventy
years ago trod London streets? Where are they who rode about in their
gay carriages, gave their splendid entertainments, decked themselves with
feathers and jewels, and enjoyed all the pleasures of life? Where are
they? The grave holds their bodies, and hell holds their souls. "The
world passes away." It is like a pageant, or a gay and splendid procession,
which passes before the eye for a few minutes, then turns the corner of the
street, and is lost to view. It is now to you who had looked upon it just as
if it were not, and is gone to amuse other eyes.
So, could you go on for years—enjoying all your natural
heart could wish—lay up money by thousands—ride in your carriage—deck your
body with jewelry—fill your house with splendid furniture—enjoy everything
that earth can give—then there would come, some day or other, sickness to
lay you upon a dying bed. To you the world has now passed away with all its
lusts—with you all is now come to an end—and now you have, with a guilty
soul, to face a holy God. The world is passing away with its lusts.
All these lusts for which men have sold body and soul,
half ruined their families, and stained their own name—all these lusts for
which they were so mad that they would have them at any price, snatch them
even from hell's mouth—all these lusts are passed away, and what have
they left? A gnawing worm—a worm that can never die, and the wrath of
God as an unquenchable fire. That is all which the love of the world can do
for you, with all your toil and anxiety, or all your amusement and pleasure.
You have not gained much perhaps of this world's goods, with all your
striving after them. But could the world fill your heart with enjoyment, and
your money bags with gold, as the dust of the grave will one day fill your
mouth, it would be much to the same purpose. If you had got all the world,
you would have got nothing after your coffin was screwed down, but
grave-dust in your mouth. Such is the end of the world. The world is
passing away with its lusts.
DEATH is the great and final extinguisher of all human
hopes and pleasures. Look and see how man sickens and dies, and is
tumbled into the cemetery, where his body is left to the worms, and his soul
to face an angry God, on the great judgment day. The world is passing
away with its lusts.
"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry
heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
The Lord's purpose in laying burdens upon us is to
weary us out. We cannot learn our religion in any other way. We cannot
learn it from the Bible, nor from the experience of others. It must be a
personal work, wrought in the heart of each—and we must be brought, all of
us, if ever we are to find rest in Christ, to be absolutely wearied out
of sin and self, and to have no righteousness, goodness, or holiness of
our own. The effect, then, of all spiritual labor is to bring us to this
point—to be weary of the world, for we feel it, for the most
part, to be a valley of tears—to be weary of self, for it is
our greatest plague—weary of professors, for we cannot
see in them the grace of God, which alone we prize and value—weary of
the profane, for their ungodly conversation only hurts our minds—weary
of our bodies, for they are often full of sickness and pain, and
always clogs to our soul—and weary of life, for we see the
emptiness of those things which to most people make life so agreeable.
By this painful experience we come to this point—to be
worn out and wearied—and there we must come, before we can rest entirely
on Christ. As long as we can rest in the world, we shall rest in it.
As long as the things of time and sense can gratify us, we shall be
gratified in them. As long as we can find anything pleasing in self,
we shall be pleased with it. As long as anything visible and tangible can
satisfy us, we shall be satisfied with them. But when we get weary of
all things visible, tangible, and sensible—weary of ourselves, and of
all things here below—then we want to rest upon Christ, and Christ alone.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you
Oh, how religious he once used to be!
"For the Son of man came to seek and to save those who
are lost." Luke 19:10
Oh, how religious he once used to be! How comfortably
he could walk to church with his Bible under his arm, and look as devout and
holy as possible! How regularly also, he could read the Scriptures, and pray
in his manner, and think himself pretty well, with one foot in heaven.
But a ray of heavenly light has beamed into his soul, and shown him who
and what God is—what sin and a sinful heart is—and who
and what he himself as a sinner is. The keen dissecting knife of God
has come into his heart, laid it all bare, and let the gory matter flow out.
When his conscience is bleeding under the scalpel, and is streaming all over
with the gore and filth thus let out, where is the clean heart once
boasted of? Where is his religion now? All buried beneath a load
of filth! Where is all his holiness gone? His holy
looks, holy expressions, holy manners, holy gestures, holy garb—where are
they all gone? All are flooded and buried. The sewer has broken out, and the
filthy stream has discharged itself over his holy looks, holy manners, holy
words and holy gestures—and he is, as Job says, 'in the ditch.'
We never find the right religion, until we have
lost the wrong one. We never find Christ, until we have lost SELF. We
never find grace, until we have lost our own pitiful self-holiness.
"For the Son of man came to seek and to save those who are lost."
It is a creature of many lives!
Man is a strange compound. A sinner, and the
worst of sinners—and yet a Pharisee! A wretch, and the vilest of
wretches—and yet pluming himself on his good works! Did not experience
convince us to the contrary, we would scarcely believe that a monster like
man—a creature, as someone has justly said, "half beast and half devil,"
should dream of pleasing God by his obedience, or of climbing up to heaven
by a ladder of his own righteousness.
Pharisaism is firmly fixed in the human heart. Deep
is the root, broad the stem, wide the branches, but poisonous the fruit, of
this gigantic tree, planted by pride and unbelief in the soil of human
nature. Self-righteousness is not peculiar to only certain
individuals. It is interwoven with our very being. It is the only religion
that human nature understands, relishes, or admires.
Again and again must the heart be ploughed up, and its
corruptions laid bare, to keep down the growth of this pharisaic spirit.
It is a creature of many lives! It is not one blow, nor ten, nor a
hundred that can kill it. Stunned it may be for a while, but
it revives again and again! Pharisaism can live and thrive under any
profession. Calvinism or Arminianism is the same to it. It is not the garb
he wears, nor the mask he carries, that constitutes the man.
The believer's chief troubles
As earth is but a valley of tears, the Christian has many
tribulations in common with the world. Family troubles were
the lot of Job, Abraham, Jacob and David. Sickness befell
Hezekiah, Trophimus and Epaphroditus. Reverses and losses fell upon
Job. Poverty and famine drove Naomi into the land of Moab. Trouble,
then, is in itself no sign of grace—for it inevitably flows from, and is
necessarily connected with, man's fallen state. But we should fix our eye
on two things, as especially marking the temporal afflictions of the Lord's
1. That they are all weighed out and timed by special
appointment. For though man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards,
yet "affliction doesn't come from the dust, neither does trouble spring out
of the ground." Job 5:6
2. That they are specially sanctified, and made to work
together for good to those who love God. But the believer's chief
troubles are internal, and arise from the assaults of Satan,
powerful temptations, the guilt of sin laid on the conscience, doubts and
fears about a saving interest in Christ, and a daily, hourly conflict with a
nature ever lusting to evil.
A religion that satisfies thousands
"Having a form of godliness but denying the power
thereof." 2 Timothy 3:5
Much that passes for religion, is not true religion at
all. Much that goes for hopes of salvation, is nothing but lying refuges.
Much is palmed off for the teaching of the Spirit, which is nothing but
delusion. Vital godliness is very rare. There are very few people
spiritually taught of God. There are very few ministers who really preach
the truth. Satan is thus daily deceiving thousands, and tens of thousands. A
living soul, however weak and feeble in himself, cannot take up with a
religion in the flesh. He cannot rest on the opinions of men, nor be
deceived by Satan's delusions. He has a secret gnawing of conscience, which
makes him dissatisfied with a religion that satisfies thousands.
Down they sink to the bottom!
"Until the pit is dug for the wicked." Psalm 94:13
In Eastern countries, the ordinary mode of catching wild
beasts is to dig a pit, and fix sharp spears in the bottom. And when the pit
has been dug sufficiently deep, it is covered over with branches of trees,
earth, and leaves, until all appearances of the pitfall are entirely
concealed. What is the object? That the wild beast intent upon bloodshed—the
tiger lying in wait for the deer, the wolf roaming after the sheep, the lion
prowling for the antelope, not seeing the pitfall, but rushing on and over
it, may not see their doom until they break through and fall upon the spears
at the bottom.
What a striking figure is this! Here are the ungodly,
all intent upon their purposes—prowling after evil, as the wolf after the
sheep, or the tiger after the deer—thinking only of some worldly profit,
some covetous plan, some lustful scheme, something the carnal mind delights
in—but on they go, not seeing any danger until the moment comes when, as Job
says, "they go down to the bars of the pit." The Lord has been pleased to
hide their doom from them. The pit is all covered over with leaves of trees,
grass, and earth. The very appearance of the pit was hidden from the wild
beasts—they never knew it until they fell into it, and were transfixed!
So it is with the wicked—both with religious professors
and the profane. There is no fear of God, no taking heed to their steps, no
cry to be directed, no prayer to be shown the way—no pausing, no turning
back. On they go, on they go—heedlessly, thoughtlessly, recklessly—pursuing
some beloved object. On they go, on they go—until in a moment they are
plunged eternally and irrevocably into the pit! There are many such both in
the professing church as well as in the ungodly world. The Lord sees what
they are, and where they are. He knows where the pit is. He knows their
steps. He sees them hurrying on, hurrying on, hurrying on. All is prepared
for them. The Lord gives them no forewarning, no notice of their danger, no
teachings, no chastenings, no remonstrances, no frowns, no stripes. They are
left to themselves to fill up the measure of their iniquity, until they
approach the pit that has been dug for them, and then down they sink to
Who can come out of the battle alive?
"Hold me up, and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
We know little of ourselves, and less of one another.
We do not know our own needs, what is for our good, what snares to
avoid, what dangers to shun. Our path is bestrewed with difficulties,
beset with temptations, surrounded with foes, encompassed with perils. At
every step there is a snare! At every turn an enemy lurks! Pride digs the
pit, carelessness blindfolds the eyes, carnality drugs and intoxicates the
senses, the lust of the flesh seduces, the love of the world allures,
unbelief paralyzes the fighting hand and the praying knee, sin entangles the
feet, guilt defiles the conscience, and Satan accuses the soul. Under these
circumstances, who can come out of the battle alive? Only he who is
kept by the mighty power of God. "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"
"Look upon me, and be merciful to me." Psalm
When shall we ever get beyond the need of God's mercy?
We feel our need of continual mercy as our sins abound, as our guilt
is felt, as our corruption works, as our conscience is burdened, as the
iniquities of our heart are laid bare, as our hearts are opened up in the
Spirit's light. We need—mercy for every adulterous look—mercy for
every covetous thought—mercy for every light and trifling word—mercy for
every wicked movement of our depraved hearts—mercy while we live—mercy when
we die—mercy to accompany us every moment—mercy to go with us down to the
portals of the grave—mercy to carry us safely through the swellings of
Jordan—mercy to land us safe before the Redeemer's throne!
"Look upon me, and be merciful to me."
Why me? Because I am so vile a sinner. Because I am so base a
backslider. Because I am such a daring transgressor. Because I sin against
You with every breath that I draw. Because the evils of my heart are
perpetually manifesting themselves. Because nothing but Your mercy can blot
out such iniquities as I feel working in my carnal mind. I need—inexhaustible
mercy, everlasting mercy, superabounding mercy. Nothing but such mercy as
this can suit such a guilty sinner!
A flowery path?
Does the road to heaven lie across a smooth, grassy
meadow, over which we may quietly walk in the cool of a summer evening, and
leisurely amuse ourselves with gathering of flowers and listening to the
warbling of the birds? No child of God ever found the way to heaven a
flowery path. It is the wide gate and broad way which leads to
perdition. It is the strait gate and narrow way—the uphill
road, full of difficulties, trials, temptations, and enemies—which
leads to heaven, and issues in eternal life. But our Father manifests mercy
and grace. He never leaves nor forsakes the objects of His choice. He
fulfills every promise—defeats every enemy—appears in every
difficulty—richly pardons every sin—graciously heals every
backsliding—and eventually lands them in eternal bliss!
Toys & playthings of the religious babyhouse
"I will feed My flock." Ezekiel 34:15
The only real food of the soul must be of God's own
appointing, preparing, and communicating. You can never deceive a hungry
child. You may give it a plaything to still its cries. It may serve for a
few minutes—but the pains of hunger are not to be removed by a doll. A toy
horse will not allay the cravings after the mother's milk. So with babes in
grace. A hungry soul cannot feed upon playthings. Altars, robes, ceremonies,
candlesticks, bowings, mutterings, painted windows, intoning priests, and
singing men and women—these dolls and wooden horses—these
toys and playthings of the religious babyhouse, cannot feed the soul
that, like David, cries out after the living God. Christ, the bread of life,
the manna that came down from heaven—is the only food of the
believing soul. (John 6:51)
But oh, the struggle! Oh, the conflict!
"I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be
no more." Ezekiel 21:27
Jesus wants our hearts and affections. Therefore every
idol must go down, sooner or later, because the idol draws away the
affections of the soul from Christ. Everything that is loved in opposition
to Him must sooner or later be taken away, that the Lord Jesus alone may be
worshiped. Everything which exacts the allegiance of the soul must be
overthrown. Jesus shall have our heart and affections, but in having
our heart and affection, He shall have it wholly, solely, and undividedly.
He shall have it entirely for Himself. He shall reign
and rule supreme.
Now, here comes the conflict and the struggle. SELF
says, "I will have a part." Self wants to be—honored, admired,
esteemed, bowed down to. Self wants to indulge in, and gratify its desires.
Self wants, in some way, to erect its throne in opposition to the Lord of
life and glory. But Jesus says, "No! I must reign supreme!" Whatever it is
that stands up in opposition to Him, down it must go! Just as Dagon
fell down before the ark, so self must fall down before Christ—in
every shape, in every form, in whatever subtle guise self wears, down it
must come to a wreck and ruin before the King of Zion!
So, if we are continually building up SELF, Jesus will be
continually overthrowing self. If we are setting up our idols, He
shall be casting them down. If we are continually hewing out "cisterns
that can hold no water," He will be continually dashing these cisterns to
pieces. If we think highly of our knowledge, we must be reduced to
total folly. If we are confident of our strength, we must be
reduced to utter weakness. If we highly esteem our attainments, or in
any measure are resting upon the power of the creature, the power of
the creature must be overthrown, so that we shall stand weak before God,
unable to lift up a finger to deliver our souls from going down into the
pit. In this way does the Lord teach His people the lesson that Christ
must be all in all. They learn—not in the way of speculation, nor in the
way of mere dry doctrine, not from the mouth of others—but they learn these
lessons in painful soul-experience.
And every living soul that is sighing and longing after a
manifestation of Christ and desiring to have Him enthroned in the
heart—every such soul will know, sooner or later an utter overthrow of
self—a thorough prostration of this idol—a complete breaking to pieces of
this beloved image—that the desire of the righteous may be granted, and that
Christ may reign and rule as King and Lord in him and over him, setting up
His blessed kingdom there, and winning to Himself every affection of the
Are there not moments, friends, are there not some few
and fleeting moments when the desire of our souls is that Christ should be
our Lord and God—when we are willing that He should have every affection—that
every rebellious thought should be subdued and brought into obedience
to the cross of Christ—that every plan should be frustrated
which is not for the glory of God and our soul's spiritual profit? Are there
not seasons in our experience when we can lay down our souls before God, and
say—"Let Christ be precious to my soul, let Him come with power to my heart,
let Him set up His throne as Lord and King, and let self be nothing before
But oh, the struggle! oh, the conflict—when God
answers these petitions! When our plans are frustrated, what a
rebellion works up in the carnal mind! When self is cast down, what a
rising up of the fretful, peevish impatience of the creature! When the Lord
does answer our prayers, and strips off all false confidence—when He does
remove our rotten props, and dash to pieces our broken cisterns, what a
storm—what a conflict takes place in the soul! But He is not to be
moved—He will take His own way. "I will overturn—let the creature say what
it will. I will overturn—let the creature think what it will. Down it shall
go to ruin! It shall come to a wreck! It shall be overthrown! My purpose
shall be accomplished—and I will fulfill all My pleasure. Self is a rebel
who has set up an idolatrous temple—and I will overturn and bring the temple
to ruin—for the purpose of manifesting My glory and My salvation, that I may
be your Lord and your God."
If God has overturned our bright prospects—shall
we say it was a cruel hand that laid them low? If He has overthrown
our worldly plans—shall we say it was an unkind act? If He has
reduced our false righteousness to a heap of rubbish, in order
that Christ may be embraced as our all in all—shall we say it was a cruel
deed? Is he an unkind father who takes away poison from his
child—and gives him food? Is she a cruel mother who snatches her boy
from the precipice on which he was playing? No! The kindness was manifested
in the act of snatching the child from destruction! So if the Lord has
broken and overthrown our purposes, it was a kind act—for in so doing He
brings us to nothing—that Christ may be embraced as our all in all—that
our hearts may echo back, "O Lord, fulfill all Your own promises in our
souls, and make us willing to be nothing—that upon the nothingness of self,
the glory and beauty and preciousness of Christ may be exalted!"
A snake, a monkey, an onion, a bit of rag
"Little children, keep yourselves from idols!" 1 John
Idolatry is a sin very deeply rooted in the human
heart. We need not go very far to find the most convincing proofs of this.
Besides the experience of every age and every climate, we find it where we
would least expect it—the prevailing sin of a people who had the greatest
possible proofs of its wickedness and folly—and the strongest evidences of
the being, greatness, and power of God. It is true that now this sin does
not break out exactly in the same form. It is true that golden calves are
not now worshiped—at least the calf is not, if the gold is. Nor do
Protestants adore images of wood, brass, or stone. But rank, property,
fashion, honor, the opinion of the world, with everything which feeds the
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—are as much
idolized now, as Baal and Moloch were once in Judea.
What is an idol? It is that which occupies that place in
our esteem and affections, in our thoughts, words and ways, which is due to
God only. Whatever is to us, what the Lord alone should be—that is an
idol to us. It is true that these idols differ almost as widely
as the peculiar propensities of different individuals. But as both in
ancient and modern times, the grosser idols of wood and stone were and are
beyond all calculation in number, variety, shape, and size. So is it in
these inner idols, of which the outer idols are mere symbols and
representations. Nothing has been too base or too brutal, too great
or too little, too noble or too vile, from the sun walking in its
brightness—to a snake, a monkey, an onion, a bit of rag—which man has
not worshiped. And these intended representations of Divinity were but the
outward symbols of what man inwardly worshiped. For the inward idol
preceded the outward—and the fingers merely carved what the imagination had
previously devised. The gross material idol, then, is but a symbol of the
inner mind of man.
But we need not dwell on this part of the subject. There
is another form of idolatry much nearer home—the idolatry not of an ancient
Pagan, or a modern Hindu—but that of a Christian. Nor need we go far, if we
would but be honest with ourselves, to each find out our own idol—what
it is, how deep it lies, what worship it obtains, what honor it receives,
and what affection it engrosses. Let me ask myself, "What do I most
love?" If I hardly know how to answer that question, let me put to
myself another—"What do I most think upon? In what channel do I usually find
my thoughts flow when unrestrained?"—for thoughts flow to the idol as water
to the lowest spot. If, then, the thoughts flow continually to the farm, the
shop, the business, the investment—to the husband, wife, or child—to that
which feeds lust or pride, worldliness or covetousness, self-conceit or
self-admiration—that is the idol which, as a magnet, attracts the thoughts
of the mind towards it.
Your idol may not be mine, nor mine yours—and yet we
may both be idolaters! You may despise or even hate my idol, and
wonder how I can be such a fool, or such a sinner, as to hug it to my bosom!
And I may wonder how a partaker of grace can be so inconsistent as to love
such a silly idol as yours! You may condemn me, and I condemn you. And the
Word of God, and the verdict of a living conscience may condemn us both.
O how various and how innumerable these idols are!
One man may possess a refined taste and educated mind. Books, learning,
literature, languages, general information, shall be his idol. Music,
vocal and instrumental, may be the idol of a second—so sweet to his ears,
such inward feelings of delight are kindled by the melodious strains of
voice or instrument, that music is in all his thoughts, and hours are spent
in producing those harmonious sounds which perish in their utterance.
Painting, statuary, architecture, the fine arts generally, may be the
Baal, the dominating passion of a third. Poetry, with its glowing
thoughts, burning words, passionate utterances, vivid pictures, melodious
cadence, and sustained flow of all that is beautiful in language and
expression, may be the delight of a fourth. Science, the eager
pursuit of a fifth. These are the highest flights of the human mind. These
are not the base idols of the drunken feast, the low jest, the mirthful
supper—or even that less debasing but enervating idol—sleep and
indolence, as if life's highest enjoyments were those of the swine in
the sty. You middle-class people—who despise art and science, language and
learning, as you despise the ale-house, and ball field—may still have an
idol. Your garden, your beautiful roses, your verbenas, fuchsias,
needing all the care and attention of a babe in arms, may be your idol. Or
your pretty children, so admired as they walk in the street—or your
new house and all the new furniture—or your son who is getting
on so well in business—or your daughter so comfortably settled in
life—or your dear husband so generally respected, and just now doing
so nicely in the farm. Or your own still dearer SELF that needs so
much feeding, and dressing and attending to.
Who shall count the thousands of idols which draw
to themselves those thoughts, and engross those affections which are due to
the Lord alone? You may not be found out. Your idol may be so hidden,
or so peculiar, that all our attempts to touch it, have left you and it
unscathed. Will you therefore conclude that you have none? Search deeper,
look closer—it is not too deep for the eye of God, nor too hidden for the
eyes of a tender conscience anointed with divine eye-salve. Hidden diseases
are the most incurable of all diseases. Search every fold of your heart
until you find it. It may not be so big nor so ugly as your neighbor's. But
an idol is still an idol, whether so small as to be carried in the coat
pocket, or as large as a gigantic statue. An idol is not to be admired for
its beauty, or loathed for its ugliness—but to be hated because it is an
idol. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols!"
The mother & mistress of all the sins
"I hate pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the
perverse mouth." Proverbs 8:13
"Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination
to the Lord." Proverbs 16:5
Of all sins, pride seems most deeply embedded
in the very heart of man. Unbelief, sensuality, covetousness, rebellion,
presumption, contempt of God's holy will and word, deceit and falsehood,
cruelty and wrath, violence and murder—these, and a forest of other sins
have indeed struck deep roots into the black and noxious soil of our fallen
nature—and, interlacing their lofty stems and gigantic arms, have wholly
shut out the light of heaven from man's benighted soul.
But these and their associate evils do not seem so
thoroughly interwoven into the very constitution of the human heart, nor so
to be its very life-blood, as pride. The lust of the flesh is strong,
but there are respites from its workings. Unbelief is powerful, but
there are times when it seems to lie dormant. Covetousness is
ensnaring, but there is not always a bargain to be made, or an advantage to
These sins differ also in strength in different
individuals. Some seem not much tempted with the grosser passions of our
fallen nature—others are naturally liberal and benevolent, and whatever
other idol they may serve, they bend not their knee to the golden calf. But
where lust may have no power, covetousness no dominion, and anger no
sway—there, down, down in the inmost depths, heaving and boiling like the
lava in the crater of a volcano, works that master sin—that sin of
Pride is the mother and mistress of all the sins—for
where she does not conceive them in her ever-teeming womb, she instigates
their movements, and compels them to pay tribute to her glory. The 'origin
of evil' is hidden from our eyes. Whence it sprang, and why God allowed it
to arise in His fair creation, are mysteries which we cannot fathom. But
thus much is revealed—that of this mighty fire which has filled hell with
sulphurous flame, and will one day envelop earth and its inhabitants in the
general conflagration, the first spark was pride!
Pride is therefore emphatically the devil's own
sin. We will not say his darling sin, for it is his torment, the serpent
which is always biting him, the fire which is ever consuming him. But it is
the sin which hurled him from heaven, and transformed him from a bright and
holy seraph, into a foul and hideous demon! How subtle, then, and potent
must that poison be, which could in a moment change an angel into a
devil! How black in nature, how concentrated in virulence that venom—one
drop of which could utterly deface the image of God in myriads of bright
spirits before the throne, and degrade them into monsters of uncleanness and
I needed no monkish rules then
A man may have a consistent profession of religion—have a
sound, well ordered creed—be a member of a Christian church—attend to all
ordinances and duties—seek to frame his life according to God's word—have
his family prayer, and private prayer—be a good husband, father, and
friend—be liberal and kind to God's cause and people—and yet with all this
bear no fruit Godwards. What is all this but pitiful self-holiness?
Real gospel fruit is only produced by the word of
God's grace falling into the heart, watering and softening it. Without this
there is not one gracious feeling, not one spiritual desire, not one tender
thought, not one heavenly affection. We have tried, perhaps, to make
ourselves holy. We have watched our eyes, our ears, our tongues—have
read so many chapters every day out of God's word—continued so long upon our
knees—and so tried to work a kind of holiness into our own souls.
Many years ago, I used to try to pray for the better part
of an hour—and I am ashamed to say, I have been glad to hear the clock
strike. What was this but a monkish, self-imposed rule, to please God
by the length of my prayers? But when the Lord was pleased to touch my
conscience with His finger, He gave me a remarkable spirit of grace and
supplication—I needed no monkish rules then.
The strong man sinks down into a babe!
"The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;
my God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge." Psalm 18:2
As long as a man has any strength of his own, he
will never have any strength in the Lord—for the strength of Jesus is made
perfect in our weakness. Oh, what a painful lesson we have to learn to find
all our strength is weakness. There was a time when we thought we had
strength, and could—resist Satan—overcome the world—endure
persecution—bear the reproach of man—mortify and keep down pride, and the
evils of our heart. Have we found ourselves able to carry out our 'imagined
strength'? What has been our experience in this matter? That we have
discovered more and more our own weakness—that we cannot stand against one
temptation—the least gust blows us down!
Our besetting lusts, our vile passions, and the wicked
desires of our hearts, so entice our eyes and thoughts—so entwine themselves
around our affections—that we give out in a moment—unless God Himself
holds us up! We cannot stand against sin—our heart is as weak as water. Thus
we learn our weakness, by feeling ourselves to be the very weakest of the
weak, and the very vilest of the vile. As the Lord leads a man deeper down
into the knowledge of his corruptions, it makes him more and more out of
conceit with his righteous, pious, holy self. The more the Lord leads
a man into the knowledge of temptation, his besetting sin, the power of his
corruptions, the workings of his vile nature—the more deeply and painfully
he learns what a poor, helpless, weak, powerless wretch he is.
As the Lord is pleased to unfold before his eyes the
strength, power, and fullness lodged in Jesus Christ, He draws him—leads
him—brings him—encourages him—and enables him to come to this fullness. And
by the hand of faith he draws supplies out of that fullness. As the Lord
enables the soul to look to Jesus, His blessed strength is communicated and
breathed into his soul. Then the 'poor worm Jacob' threshes the mountains,
beats down the hills, and makes them fly before him as chaff.
When the Lord strengthens him, he can stand against
temptation—overcome sin—bear persecution—subdue the evils of his heart—and
fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. When the Lord leaves
him, he is like Samson with his locks cut. He sinks into all evil, and
feels the helplessness of his fallen nature. Let the Lord but remove His
gracious presence, and the strong man sinks down into a babe! And he
who in the strength of the Lord could thresh the mountains, falls down as
weak and helpless as a little child. Thus the Lord painfully and
solemnly teaches us, that being nothing in ourselves, and feeling our
weakness, helplessness, and wretchedness—in Him alone we have strength.
Save me, and I shall be saved!
"Save me, and I shall be saved!" Jeremiah
This implies salvation from the power of sin—the
secret dominion sin possesses in the heart. O, what a tyrannical rule does
sin sometimes exercise in our carnal minds! How soon are we entangled in
flesh-pleasing snares! How easily brought under the secret dominion of some
hidden corruption! And how we struggle in vain to deliver ourselves when we
are caught in the snares of the devil, or are under the power of any one
lust, besetment, or temptation! The Lord, and the Lord alone can save us
from all these things. He saves from the power of sin by bringing a
sense of His dying love into our hearts—delivering us from our idols—raising
our affections to things above—breaking to pieces our snares—subduing our
lusts—taming our corruptions—and mastering the inward evils of our
dreadfully fallen nature.
Here is this sin! Lord, save me from it.
Here is this snare! Lord, break it to pieces. Here is this
temptation! Lord, deliver me out of it. Here is this lust! Lord,
subdue it. Here is my proud heart! Lord, humble it. None but the Lord
can do these things for us—nothing but the felt power of God, nothing but
the putting forth of His mighty arm, nothing but the shedding abroad of His
dying love, nothing but the operations of His grace upon our soul, can
deliver us from the secret power of evil. Save me, and I shall be saved!
Crush its viper head with the heel of our boot!
"Whoever wants to come after Me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross, and follow Me." Mark 8:34
To deny and renounce self lies at the very
foundation of vital godliness. It is easy in some measure to leave the
world—easy to leave the professing church—but to go forth out of self,
there is the difficulty, for this "self" embraces such a variety of forms.
What varied shapes and forms does this monster SELF assume! How hard
to trace his windings! How difficult to track this wily foe to his hidden
den—drag him out of the cave—and immolate him at the foot of the cross, as
Samuel hewed down Agag in Gilgal.
Proud self—righteous self—covetous self—ambitious
self—sensual self—deceitful self—religious self—flesh-pleasing self. How
difficult to detect, unmask, strip out of its changeable suits of apparel,
this ugly, misshaped creature, and then stamp upon it, as if we would
crush its viper head with the heel of our boot! Who will do such
violence to beloved self, when every nerve quivers and shrinks—and
the coward heart cries to the uplifted foot, "Spare, spare!" But unless
there is this self crucifixion, there is no walking hand in hand with
Christ, no heavenly communion with Him—for there can no more be a
partnership between Christ and self, than there can be a partnership between
Christ and sin.
What a battlefield is the heart
I have so much opposition within, so many temptations,
lusts, and follies—so many snares and besetments—and a vile heart, dabbling
in all carnality and filth. I am indeed exercised "by sin and grace." Sin or
grace seems continually uppermost—striving and lusting against one another.
What lustings, sorrowings—fallings, risings—defeats—and victories. What a
battlefield is the heart—and there the fight is lost and won! When sin
prevails, mourning over its wounds and slaughter. When grace and godly fear
beat back temptation, a softening into gratitude.
How can he travel through this waste-howling wilderness?
If you are alive to what you are as a poor, fallen
sinner—you will see yourself surrounded by enemies, temptations, sins, and
snares. You will feel yourself utterly defenseless, as weak as water,
without any strength to stand against them. You will see a mountain of
difficulties before your eyes. If you know anything inwardly and
experimentally of yourself—of the evils of your heart, the power of sin, the
strength of temptation, the subtlety of your unwearied foe, and the daily
conflict between nature and grace, the flesh and the Spirit, which are the
peculiar marks of the true child of God—you will find and feel your need
of salvation as a daily reality.
How shall you escape the snares and temptations
spread in your path? How shall you get the better of all your
enemies—external—internal—infernal—and reach heaven's gates safe at last?
There is present salvation, an inward, experimental, continual
salvation communicated out of the fullness of Christ as a risen Mediator.
Don't you need to be daily and almost hourly saved? But from what? Why, from
everything in you that fights against the will and word of God. Sin is not
dead in you. If you have a saving interest in the precious blood of
Christ—if your name is written in the Lamb's book of life, and heaven is
your eternal home—that does not deliver you from the indwelling of
sin, nor from the power of sin—except as grace gives you present
deliverance from it. Sin still works in your carnal mind, and will
work in it until your dying hour! What then you need to be saved from is the
guilt, filth, power, love and practice of that sin which ever dwells and
ever works in you—and often brings your soul into hard and cruel bondage.
Now Christ lives at the right hand of God for His dear
people, that He may be ever saving them by His life. There He reigns and
rules as their glorious covenant Head, ever watching over, feeling for, and
sympathizing with them, and communicating supplies of grace for the
deliverance and consolation for all His suffering saints spread over the
face of the earth. The glorious Head is in heaven, but the suffering members
upon earth—and as He lives on their behalf, He maintains by His Spirit and
grace, His life in their soul.
Each Christian has to walk through a great and terrible
wilderness, wherein are fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought (Deut.
8:15)—where he is surrounded with temptations and snares—his own evil heart
being his worst foe! How can he travel through this waste-howling
wilderness unless he has a Friend at the right hand of God to send him
continual supplies of grace—who can hear his prayers, answer his petitions,
listen to his sighs, and put his tears into his bottle—who can help him to
see the snares, and give him grace to avoid them—who observes from his
heavenly watch tower the rising of evil in his heart, and can put a timely
and seasonable check upon it before it bursts into word or action? He needs
an all-wise and ever-living Friend who can—save him from pride by
giving him true humility—save him from hardness of heart by bestowing
repentance—save him from carelessness by making his conscience
tender—save him from all his fears by whispering into his soul, "Fear
not, I have redeemed you."
The Christian has to be continually looking to the Lord
Jesus Christ—to revive his soul when drooping—to manifest His love to his
heart when cold and unfeeling—to sprinkle his conscience with His blood when
guilty and sinking—to lead him into truth—to keep him from error and evil—to
preserve him through and amid every storm—to guide every step that he takes
in his onward journey—and eventually bring him safe to heaven. We need
continual supplies of His grace, mercy, and love received into our hearts,
so as to save us from the love and spirit of the world—from error—from the
power and strength of our own lusts—and the base inclinations of our fallen
nature. These will often work at a fearful rate—but this will only make you
feel more your need of the power and presence of the Lord Jesus to save you
from them all.
You are a poor, defenseless sheep, surrounded by
wolves, and, as such, need all the care and defense of the good Shepherd.
You are a ship in a stormy sea, where winds and waves are all contrary,
and therefore need an all wise and able pilot to take you safe into harbor.
There is not a single thing on earth or in hell which can harm you—if you
are only looking to the Lord Jesus Christ, and deriving supplies of grace
and strength from Him.
Trifles, toys, empty vanities
What trifles, what toys, what empty
vanities—do the great bulk of men pursue!
If God left us for a single hour
"Don't leave us!" Jeremiah 14:9
How much is summed up in those three words! What would it
be for God to leave us? What and where would we be—if God
left us for a single hour? What would become of us? We would fall
at once into the hands of sin, of Satan, and of the world. We would be
abandoned to our own evil hearts—abandoned, utterly abandoned to the
unbelief, the infidelity, to all the filth and sensuality of our wicked
nature—to fill up the measure of our iniquities, until we sank under His
wrath to rise no more!
An idol is an idol
"Son of man, these men have set up idols in their
heart, and put the stumblingblock of iniquity before their face."
An idol is an idol, whether worshiped inwardly in
heart—or adorned outwardly by the knee.
A worldly spirit will ever peep out
"Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us
from this present evil world." Galatians 1:4
The first effect of sovereign grace in its divine
operation upon the heart of a child of God, is to separate him from the
world by infusing into him a new spirit. There is little evidence that
grace ever touched our hearts if it did not separate us from this ungodly
world. Where there is not this divine work upon a sinner's conscience—where
there is no communication of this new heart and this new spirit—no infusion
of this holy life, no animating, quickening influence of the Spirit of God
upon the soul—whatever a man's outward profession may be, he will
ever be of a worldly spirit. A set of doctrines, however sound, merely
received into the natural understanding—cannot divorce a man from that
innate love of the world which is so deeply rooted in his very being. No
mighty power has come upon his soul to revolutionize his every thought, cast
his soul as if into a new mold—and by stamping upon it the mind and likeness
of Christ to change him altogether. This worldly spirit may be
checked by circumstances—controlled by natural conscience—or influenced by
the example of others—but a worldly spirit will ever peep out from
the thickest disguise, and manifest itself, as occasion draws it forth, in
every unregenerate man.
Enticing words of man's wisdom
"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing
words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
1 Corinthians 2:4
The word "enticing" is as we now say, "persuasive." It
includes, therefore, every branch of skillful oratory, whether it be logical
reasoning to convince our understanding—or appeals to our feelings to
stir up our passions—or new and striking ideas to delight our
intellect—or beautiful and eloquent language to please and captivate our
imagination. All these "enticing words" of man's wisdom—the
very things which our popular preachers most speak and aim at—this great
apostle renounced, discarded, and rejected! He might have used them all if
he liked. He possessed an almost unequaled share of natural ability and
great learning—a singularly keen, penetrating intellect—a wonderful command
of the Greek language—a flow of ideas most varied, striking, and
original—and powers of oratory and eloquence such as have been given to few.
He might therefore have used enticing words of man's wisdom, had he wished
or thought it right to do so—but he would not. He saw what deceptiveness was
in them, and at best they were mere arts of oratory. He saw that these
enticing words—though they might touch the natural feelings, work
upon the passions, captivate the imagination, convince the
understanding, persuade the judgment, and to a certain extent
force their way into men's minds—yet when all was done that could thus be
done, it was merely man's wisdom which had done it.
Earthly wisdom cannot communicate heavenly faith. Paul
would not therefore use enticing words of man's wisdom, whether it were
force of logical argument, or appeal to natural passions, or the charms of
vivid eloquence, or the beauty of poetical composition, or the subtle nicety
of well arranged sentences. He would not use any of these enticing words of
man's wisdom to draw people into a profession of religion—when their heart
was not really touched by God's grace, or their consciences wrought upon by
a divine power. He came to win souls for Jesus Christ, not converts to his
own powers of oratorical persuasion—to turn men from darkness to light, and
from the power of Satan unto God—not to charm their ears by poetry and
eloquence—but to bring them out of the vilest of sins that they might be
washed, sanctified, and justified by the Spirit of God—and not entertain
or amuse their minds while sin and Satan still maintained dominion in
All the labor spent in bringing together a church and
congregation of professing people by the power of logical argument and
appeals to their natural consciences would be utterly lost, as regards fruit
for eternity—for a profession so induced by him and so made by them would
leave them just as they were—in all the depths of unregeneracy, with
their sins unpardoned, their persons unjustified, and their
souls unsanctified. He therefore discarded all these ways of winning
over converts, as deceitful to the souls of men, and as dishonoring to God.
It required much grace to do this—to throw aside what he might have used,
and renounce what most men, as gifted as he, would have gladly used.
What a lesson is here for ministers! How anxious are
some men to shine as great preachers! How they covet and often aim at some
grand display of what they call eloquence to charm their hearers—and win
praise and honor to self! How others try to argue men into religion,
or by appealing to their natural feelings, sometimes to frighten them with
pictures of hell, and sometimes to allure them by descriptions of heaven.
But all such arts, for they are no better, must be discarded by a true
servant of God. Only the Spirit can reveal Christ, taking of the things of
Christ, and showing them unto us, applying the word with power to our
hearts, and bringing the sweetness, reality, and blessedness of divine
things into our soul. "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing
words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
Unless we have a measure of the same demonstration of the Spirit, all that
is said by us in the pulpit drops to the ground—it has no real effect—there
is no true or abiding fruit—no fruit unto eternal life. If there be in it
some enticing words of man's wisdom, it may please the mind of those who are
gratified by such arts—it may stimulate and occupy the attention for the
time—but there it ceases, and all that has been heard fades away like a
dream of the night.
A peculiar, indescribable, invincible power
"Our gospel came to you not in word only, but also in
power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance." 1
The gospel comes to some in word only. They hear
the word of the gospel, the sound of truth—but it reaches the outward ear
only—or if it touches the inward feelings, it is merely as the word of men.
But where the Holy Spirit begins and carries on His divine and saving work,
He attends the word with a peculiar, an indescribable, and yet an
invincible power. It falls as from God upon the heart. He is heard to
speak in it—and in it His glorious Majesty appears to open the eyes, unstop
the ears, and convey a message from His own mouth to the soul.
Some hear the gospel as the mere word of men, perhaps
for years before God speaks in it with a divine power to their conscience.
They thought they understood the gospel—they thought they felt
it—they thought they loved it. But all this time they did not see any
vital distinction between receiving it as the mere word of men, and
as the word of God. The levity, the superficiality, the emptiness
stamped upon all who merely receive the gospel as the word of men—is
sufficient evidence that it never sank deep into the heart, and never
took any powerful grasp upon their soul. It therefore never brought with
it any real separation from the world—never gave strength to mortify the
least sin—never communicated power to escape the least snare of Satan—was
never attended with a spirit of grace and prayer—never brought honesty,
sincerity, and uprightness into the heart before God—never bestowed any
spirituality of mind, or any loving affection toward the Lord of life and
glory. It was merely the reception of truth in the same way as we receive
scientific principles, or learn a language, a business, or a trade. It
was all—shallow, superficial, deceptive, hypocritical.
But in some unexpected moment, when little looking
for it, the word of God was brought into their conscience with a power
never experienced before. A light shone in and through it which they
never saw before—a majesty, a glory, an authority, an evidence accompanied
it which they never knew before. And under this light, life, and power they
fell down, with the word of God sent home to their heart. When then Christ
speaks the gospel to the heart—when He reveals Himself to the soul—when His
word, dropping as the rain and distilling as the dew, is received in faith
and love—He is embraced as the chief among ten thousand and the altogether
lovely One—He takes His seat upon the affections and becomes enthroned in
the heart as its Lord and God.
Is there life in your bosom? Has God's power
attended the work? Is the grace of God really in your heart? Has God spoken
to your soul? Have you heard His voice, felt its power, and fallen under its
influence? "For this cause we also thank we God without ceasing, that, when
you received from us the word of the message of God, you accepted it not as
the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also
works in you who believe." 1 Thess. 2:13
The deep things of God
"But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. For the
Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God." 1
The Spirit of God in a man's bosom searches the deep
things of God, so as to lead him into a spiritual and experimental
knowledge of them. What depths do we sometimes see in a single text
of Scripture as opened to the understanding, or applied to the heart?
What a depth in the blood of Christ—how it cleanses from all sin—even
millions of millions of the foulest sins of the foulest sinners! What a
depth in His bleeding, dying love, that could stoop so low to lift us so
high! What a depth in His pity and compassion to extend itself to
such guilty, vile transgressors as we are! What depth in His rich,
free, and sovereign grace, that it should superabound over all our
aggravated iniquities, enormities, and vile abominations! What
depth in His sufferings—that He should have voluntarily put Himself
under such a load of guilt, such outbreakings of the wrath of God—as He felt
in His holy soul when He stood in our place to redeem poor sinners from the
bottomless pit—that those who deserved hell, should be lifted up into the
enjoyment of heaven!
The religionists of the day
"You will be hated by all men for My name's sake."
Professors of religion have always been the deadliest
enemies of the children of God. Who were so opposed to the blessed Lord as
the Scribes and Pharisees? It was the religious teachers and leaders who
crucified the Lord of glory! And so in every age the religionists of the
day have been the hottest and bitterest persecutors of the Church of
Christ! Nor is the case altered now. The more the children of God are firm
in the truth, the more they enjoy its power, the more they live under its
influence, and the more tenderly and conscientiously they walk in godly
fear, the more will the professing generation of the day hate them with a
deadly hatred. Let us not think that we can disarm it by a godly life—for
the more that we walk in the sweet enjoyment of heavenly truth and let our
light shine before men as having been with Jesus, the more will this draw
down their hatred and contempt. So don't be surprised, dear brothers and
sisters, if the world hates you.
My leanness, my leanness!
"My leanness, my leanness! Woe is me!" Isaiah
There is no more continual source of lamentation and
mourning to a child of God than a sense of his own barrenness. He would be
fruitful in every good word and work. But when he contrasts
his own miserable unprofitableness—his coldness and deadness—his proneness
to evil—his backwardness to good—his daily wanderings and departings from
God—his depraved affections—his stupid frames—his sensual desires—his carnal
projects—and his earthy grovelings—with what he sees and knows should be the
fruit that should grow upon a fruitful branch in the only true Vine, he
sinks down under a sense of his own wretched barrenness and unfruitfulness.
Yet what was the effect produced by all this upon his own soul? To wean him
from the creature—to divert him from looking to any for help or hope, but
the Lord Himself. It is in this painful way that the Lord often, if not
usually, cuts us off from all human props, even the nearest and dearest,
that we may lean wholly and solely on Himself.
Those poor stupid people!
"The world doesn't know us." 1 John 3:1
Both the openly profane world, and the professing world,
are grossly ignorant of the children of God. Their real character and
condition—state and standing—joys and sorrows—mercies and miseries—trials
and deliverances—hopes and fears—afflictions and consolations—are entirely
hidden from their eyes. The world knows nothing of the motives and feelings
which guide and actuate the children of God. It views them as a set of
gloomy, morose, melancholy beings, whose tempers are soured by false and
exaggerated views of religion—who have pored over the thoughts of hell and
heaven until some have frightened themselves into despair, and others have
puffed up their vain minds with an imaginary conceit of their being especial
favorites of the Almighty. "They are really," it says, "no better than other
folks, if not worse. But they have such contracted minds—are so obstinate
and bigoted with their poor, narrow, prejudiced views—that wherever they
come they bring disturbance and confusion."
But why this harsh judgment? Because the world knows
nothing of the spiritual feelings which actuate the child of grace, making
him act so differently from the world which thus condemns him. It cannot
understand our sight and sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin—and that
is the reason why we will not run riot with them in the same course of
ungodliness. It does not know with what a solemn weight eternal things rest
upon our minds—and that that is the cause why we cannot join with
them in pursuing so eagerly the things of the world, and living for time as
they do—instead of living for eternity. Being unable to enter into the
spiritual motives and gracious feelings which actuate a living soul, and the
movements of divine life continually stirring in a Christian bosom, they
naturally judge us from their own point of view, and condemn what they
You may place a horse and a man upon the
same breathtaking hill—while the man would be looking at the woods and
fields and streams, the horse would be feeding upon the grass at his feet.
The horse, if it could reason, would say—"What a fool my master is! How he
is staring and gaping about! Why does he not sit down and open his basket of
provisions, and feed as I do? I know he has it with him, for I carried it."
So the worldling says—"Those poor stupid people,
how they are spending their time in going to chapel, and reading the Bible
in their gloomy, melancholy way. Religion is all very well—and we ought all
to be religious before we die—but they make so much of it. Why don't they
enjoy more of life? Why don't they amuse themselves more with its innocent,
harmless pleasures—be more gay, cheerful, and sociable, and take more
interest in those things which so interest us?" The reason why the world
thus wonders at us is because it knows us not, and therefore cannot
understand that we have sublimer feelings—nobler pleasures—and more
substantial delights—than ever entered the soul of a worldling!
Christian! the more you are conformed to the image of
Christ—the more separated you are from the world, the less will it
understand you. If we kept closer to the Lord and walked more in holy
obedience to the precepts of the gospel, we would be more misunderstood
than even we now are! It is our worldly conformity that makes the world
understand many of our movements and actions so well. But if our movements
were more according to the mind of Christ—if we walked more as the Lord
walked when here below—we would leave the world in greater ignorance of us
than we leave it now—for the hidden springs of our life would be more out of
its sight, our testimony against it more decided, and our separation from it
We were not always a set of poor mopes
"If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the
things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set
your mind on things above, not on things that are on the earth. For you
died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." Colossians 3:1-3
Men's pursuits and pleasures differ as widely as their
station or disposition—but a life of selfish gratification reigns and rules
in all. Now it is by this death that we die unto the things of time
and sense—to all that charms the natural mind of man—to the pleasures and
pursuits of life—to that busy, restless world which once held us so fast and
firm in its embrace—and whirled us round and round within its giddy dance.
Let us look back. We were not always a set of poor
mopes—as the world calls us. We were once as merry and as gay as the
merriest and gayest of them. But what were we really and truly, with all
our mirth? Dead to God—alive to sin. Dead to everything holy and
divine—alive to everything vain and foolish, light and trifling, carnal and
sensual—if not exactly vile and abominable. Our natural life was with all of
us a life of gratifying our senses—with some of us, perhaps, chiefly of
pleasure and worldly happiness—with others a life of covetousness, or
ambition, or self-righteousness. Sin once put forth its intense power and
allured us—and we followed like the fool to the stocks. Sin charmed—and we
listened to its seductive wiles. Sin held out its bait—and we too greedily,
too heedlessly swallowed the hook. "But far be it from me to boast, except
in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been
crucified to me, and I to the world." Galatians 6:14
You were secretly lifted up with pride
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into
various temptations." James 1:2
You might have walked for some time in the ways of the
Lord without any deep experience of the infidelity, blasphemy,
rebelliousness, enmity, and horrid wickedness of your fallen nature. This
being the case, you were secretly lifted up with pride and
self-righteousness. You had not yet had that deep discovery of yourself
which was needful to humble you in the dust. You did, it is true, look in
some measure to the Lord Jesus Christ, for salvation—but not knowing your
utter ruin and the desperate wickedness of your heart, you looked with but
half a glance—though you took hold of Him, it was but with one hand—and
though you walked with Him, it was but with a limping foot.
The reason was that temptation had not yet—shorn your
locks—bound you with fetters of brass—and put you to grind in the
prison-house. But you suddenly fell into one of these "various temptations."
The poisoned arrow is rankling in the heart. There are temptations so
thoroughly adapted to our fallen nature—snares so suited to our lusts—and
Satan has such a way of seducing his victim little by little into the trap
until it falls down upon him—that none can escape but by the power of God.
None can deliver the soul from these snares of the fowler—except that mighty
hand which brings up out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay!
To walk after the flesh
"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are
in Christ Jesus, who don't walk after the flesh, but according to the
Spirit." Romans 8:1
To walk after the flesh carries with it the idea of the
flesh going before us—as our leader, guide, and example—and our following
close in its footsteps, so that wherever it drags or draws we move after it,
as the needle after the magnet. To walk after the flesh, then, is to move
step by step in implicit obedience to the commands of the flesh—the
lusts of the flesh—the inclinations of the flesh—and the
desires of the flesh—whatever shape they assume, whatever garb they
wear, whatever name they may bear. To walk after the flesh is to be
ever pursuing, desiring, and doing the things that please the flesh—whatever
aspect that flesh may wear or whatever dress it may assume—whether molded
and fashioned after the grosser and more flagrant ways of the profane
world—or the more refined and deceptive religion of the professing
But are the grosser and more manifest sinners the only
people who may be said to walk after the flesh? Does not all human
religion, in all its varied forms and shapes, come under the sweep of
this all-devouring sword? Yes! Everyone who is entangled in and led by a
fleshly religion, walks as much after the flesh as those who are
abandoned to its grosser indulgences. Sad it is, yet not more sad than true,
that false religion has slain its thousands, if open sin has slain
its ten thousands. To walk after the flesh—whether it be in the
grosser or more refined sense of the term—is the same in the sight of God.
The very thought is appalling!
"You, being in past times alienated and enemies in your
mind in your evil works." Colossians 1:21
All man's sins, comparatively speaking, are but 'motes in
the sunbeam' compared with this giant sin of enmity against God. A
man may be given up to fleshly indulgences—he may sin against his fellow
creature—may rob, plunder, oppress, even kill his fellow man. But viewed in
a spiritual light, what are they compared with the dreadful, the damnable
sin of enmity against the great and glorious Majesty of heaven?
This is a sin that lives beyond the grave! Many sins, though not their
consequences, die with man's body, because they are bodily sins. But this is
a sin that goes into eternity with him, and flares up like a mighty volcano
from the very depths of the bottomless pit! Yes, it is the very sin of
devils, which therefore binds guilty man down with them in the same
eternal chains, and consigns him to the same place of torment! O the
unutterable enmity of the heart against the living God! The very thought
is appalling! How utterly ruined, then, how wholly lost must that man's
state and case be, who lives and dies as he comes into the world—unchanged,
I will not dwell longer upon this gloomy subject, on this
sad exhibition of human wickedness and misery, though it is needful we
should know it for ourselves, that we should have a taste of this bitter cup
in our own most painful experience, that we may know the sweetness of the
cup of salvation when presented to our lips by free and sovereign grace.
Nothing but the mighty power of God Himself can ever turn this enemy
into a friend! "You, being in past times alienated and enemies
in your mind in your evil works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of
His flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and
blameless before Him."
I will give you rest
Are you ever weary—of the world—of sin—of
self—of everything below the skies? If so, you desire something to
give you rest. You look to SELF—it is but shifting sand, tossed here
and there with the restless tide, and ever casting up mire and dirt. No
holding ground—no anchorage—no rest there. You look to OTHERS—you see what
man is, even the very best of men in their best state—how fickle, how
unstable, how changing and changeable—how weak even when willing to help—how
more likely to add to, than relieve your distress—if desirous to sympathize
with and comfort you in trouble and sorrow, how short his arm to help, how
unsatisfactory his aid to relieve! You find no rest there. You lean upon the
WORLD—it is but a broken reed which runs into your hand and pierces you. You
find no rest there. So look where you will, there is no rest for the sole of
your foot. But there is a rest. Our blessed Lord says, "Come to Me, all you
who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest."
That which is highly esteemed among men
"That which is highly esteemed among men is an
abomination in the sight of God." Luke 16:15
The pride—the ambition—the pleasures—the amusements—in
which we see thousands and tens of thousands engaged, and sailing down the
stream into a dreadful gulf of eternity—are all an abomination in the sight
of God. Whereas, such things as faith, hope, love, humility, brokenness of
heart, tenderness of conscience, contrition of spirit, sorrow for sin,
self-loathing, self-abasement, looking to Jesus, taking up the cross,
denying one's self, walking in the strait and narrow path that leads to
eternal life—in a word, the power of godliness—these things are despised
by all—and by none so much as mere heady professors who have a name to
live while dead. "That which is highly esteemed among men is an
abomination in the sight of God."
Invincibly & irresistibly drawn
As the Lord is pleased to enlighten his mind, the
Christian sees such a beauty—such a blessedness—such a heavenly
sweetness—such a divine loveliness—such a fullness of surpassing grace—such
tender condescension—such unwearied patience—such infinite compassion in
the Lord of life and glory—that he is as if invincibly and
irresistibly drawn by these attractive influences to come to His feet to
learn of Him. So far as the Lord is pleased to reveal Himself in some
measure to his soul, by the sweet glimpses and glances which he thus obtains
of His Person and countenance, he is drawn to His blessed Majesty by cords
of love to look up unto Him and beg of Him that He would drop His word with
life and power into his heart.
Woman's chief besetting sins
"The Lord will strip away their artful beauty—their
ornaments, headbands, and crescent necklaces; their earrings, bracelets, and
shimmering veils. Gone will be their scarves, ankle chains, sashes,
perfumes, and charms; their rings, jewels, party clothes, gowns, capes, and
purses; their mirrors, linen garments, head ornaments, and shawls."
"The Lord shall have washed away the filth of the
daughters of Zion." Isaiah 4:4
These women of Zion are typical representatives of women
professing godliness in all ages. The Lord looked at their hearts—and the
motives of their gaudy attire. There He saw pride, luxury, love of
dress and admiration—woman's chief besetting sins—and all this
was in His eyes so much filth! But as I do not wish to be too hard
upon the women, I may say, that we men have our hidden
filth to as great, or worse degree, than they. In us there are many
secret and powerful lusts—much hypocrisy, self-righteousness, pride, and
various other sinful and sensual abominations.
Not your own!
"Don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy
Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own,
for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in
your spirit, which are God's." 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20
Your eyes are not your own—that you may feed your
lusts—that you may go about gaping, and gazing, and looking into every shop
window to see the fashions of the day—learn the prevailing pride of life—and
thus lay up food for your vain mind, either in coveting what must be
unfitting to your profession, or applying your money to an improper use, or
being disappointed because you cannot afford to buy it. Your ears are
not your own—that you may listen to every foolish tale—drink in every
political, worldly, or carnal report which may fall upon them—and thus feed
that natural desire for news, gossip, and even slander—which is the very
element of the carnal mind. Your tongue is not your own—that you may
speak what you please, and blurt out whatever passes in the chambers of your
heart, without check or fear. Your hands are not your own—that you
may use them as implements of evil—or employ them in any other way than to
earn with them an honest livelihood. Our hands were not given us for sin—but
for godly uses. Your feet are not your own—that you may walk in the
ways of the world—or that they should carry you to haunts where all around
you are engaged upon errands of vanity and sin. All must be held
according to the disposal of God, and under a sense of our obligations to
But perhaps you will say, in the rebellion of your carnal
mind, "What restraint all this lays upon us. Cannot we look with our eyes as
we like—hear with our ears as we please—and speak with our tongues as we
choose? Will you so narrow our path that we are to have nothing of our
own—not even our time or money, our body or soul? Surely we may have a
little enjoyment now and then—a little recreation, a little holiday
sometimes, a little relaxation from being always so strict and so
religious—a little feeding of our carnal mind which cannot bear all this
Well, but what will you bring upon yourself by the roving
eye, the foolish tongue, the loose hand, the straying foot? Darkness,
bondage, guilt, misery, death! "But," you say, "we are not to be tied up so
tightly as all this! We have gospel liberty, but you will not allow us even
that!" Yes, blessed be God, there is gospel liberty, for there is no real
happiness in religion without it—but not liberty to sin—not liberty to
gratify the lusts of the flesh—not liberty to act contrary to the gospel we
profess, and the precepts of God's Word—for this is not liberty but
licentiousness. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you
and was given to you by God. You do not belong to yourself, for God bought
you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
Do you seek great things for yourself?
"Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them
not." Jeremiah 45:5
O the pride of man's heart! How it will work and show
itself even under a guise of religion and holiness! Few can see that in
religion, what are considered great things, are really very little—and what
are considered little, are really very great. How few can see that a broken
heart—a contrite spirit—a humble mind—a tender conscience—a meek, quiet, and
patient bearing of the cross—a believing submission and resignation to the
will of God—a looking to Him alone, for all supplies in providence and
grace—a continual seeking of His face—a desiring nothing so much as the
visitations of His favor—a loving, affectionate, forbearing, and forgiving
spirit—a bearing of injuries and reproaches without retaliation—a liberal
heart and hand—and a godly, holy, and separate life and walk—are the
things which in God's sight are great, while a knowledge of doctrine,
clear insight into gospel mysteries, and a ready speech are really very
little things—and are often to be found side by side and hand in hand
with a proud, covetous, worldly, unhumbled spirit, and a living in what is
sinful and evil.
How many ministers are seeking after great
gifts—thirsting after popularity, applause, and acceptance among men! They
are not satisfied with being simply and solely what God may make them by His
Spirit and grace—with the blessing which He may make them to a scattered few
here and there. This inferior position, as they consider it, so beneath
their grace and gifts, their talents and abilities—does not satisfy their
restless mind and aspiring desires. Their ambition is to stand at the
very head of their peers—be looked up to and sought after as a leader and a
guide—have a larger building—have a fuller congregation—have a better
salary—and have a wider field for the display of their gifts and abilities.
Gladly would they stand apart from all others, brook no rival to their
'pulpit throne,' and be lord paramount at home and abroad. And what is the
consequence of this proud, ambitious spirit? What envy, what
jealousy, what detraction do we see in men who want to stand
at the top of the tree! How, again and again, do they seek to rise by
standing, as it were—on the slain bodies of others! Do you seek
great things for yourself? Seek them not!
We would not be such muck-worms!
"Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may
know what is the hope of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory
of His inheritance in the saints." Ephesians 1:18
If the Spirit would but enlighten the eyes of our heart,
how this would lift us up out of the mud and mire of this wretched world!
We would not be such muck-worms, raking and scraping a few straws
together—or running about like ants with our morsel of grain! We
would have our affections fixed more on things above. We would—know
more of Christ—enjoy more of Christ—be more like Christ—walk
more like Christ walked—and look forward to our glorious inheritance. If
these things were brought into our hearts with divine power—how they would
sweeten every bitter cup, and carry us through every changing scene, until
at last we were landed above—to see the Lord as He is, in the full
perfection of His infinite glory!
"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your
lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of Your tender mercies
blot out my transgressions." Psalm 51:1
What a sweet expression it is—and how it seems to convey
to our mind that God's mercies do not fall 'drop by drop'—but are as
innumerable as the sand upon the sea-shore—as the stars that
stud the midnight sky—as the drops of rain that fill the clouds
before they discharge their copious showers upon the earth. It is the
multitude of His mercies that makes Him so merciful a God. He does not
give but a drop or two of mercy—that would soon be gone, like the
rain which fell this morning under the hot sun. But His mercies flow like a
There is in Him a multitude of mercies, for a multitude
of sins, and a multitude of sinners! This felt and received in the love of
it—breaks, humbles, softens, and melts a sensible sinner's heart—and
he says, "What, sin against such mercies? What, when the Lord has remembered
me in my low estate, and manifested once more a sense of His mercy? What,
shall I go on to provoke Him again—walk inconsistently again—be entangled in
Satan's snares again? O, forbid it God—forbid it gospel—forbid it tender
conscience—forbid it every constraint of dying love! Have mercy upon me, O
God, according to Your lovingkindness—according unto the multitude of Your
tender mercies—blot out my transgressions!"