A Rough Night at Sandown
Archibald G. Brown, November 6, 1892, East London Tabernacle
"Hitherto shall you come but no further — and here shall your proud waves be stayed!" Job 38:11
The night was a wild one on the southern shore of the Isle of Wight. Throughout the day the wind had been blowing with increasing strength; and, as evening came on, the sea rose mightily, so that when the darkness settled down there was a fair storm blowing. The moon struggled through the tattered clouds, for the lightning-flash was flying fast, and looked, with all its ragged edges, as if it had been suddenly torn from the black canopy of Heaven by the giant hand of the storm. The fitful moonbeams fell upon a wild, tumbling, roaring, waste of waters. It was near high tide.
We came out in front of our house and stood in the balcony watching the seething mass of water. It was a fine sight. The waves curled and broke upon the sea wall. Hurled back, they only returned to meet the next advancing wave, and then in a wild embrace the two together thundered on, and so over and over again.
Far away were to be seen, in the moonlight, line after line of advancing billows. They looked like chargers rushing on against that wall, and each one seemed to hiss to its fellow, 'I will back you up!' Endless reinforcements seemed to be coming towards the shore. There was but a roadway between us and the deep, and it sounded almost like presumption to say, 'Well, it is time to go to bed now.' What? Go to rest with destruction so near? Talk about calmly sleeping when, within a few yards, there is power enough to sweep everything away? Yet we said, 'Better go to rest now', for, taking out our watch and looking at the hour, we saw that it was high tide. 'It will not come any further', we remarked.
No sooner had we uttered these words, than they started this train of thought: What perfect faith in the law of nature does this sentence set forth. I dare to stand within a few yards of a roaring sea like this, and calmly suggest that it is time to go to rest, because it has reached its highest point and there will be nothing more to see. What faith in the law of the tide! Yes, behind those crested waves there was a power mightier than the storm, unseen — but wondrously real. Driven by those winds, the waves, like mad chargers, may leap and rush — but there is an unseen hand holding them, and saying, 'Thus far. No further. It is high tide. It is time to go back.'
The sea cannot go beyond the line of decree. The Lord has said, 'Here shall your proud waves be stayed.' No sooner had we said, 'It cannot come any further; it is time for the tide to turn', than it flashed through our mind, 'But suppose that it should forget to turn. It is all very well to talk like this and be so calm — but suppose that it should not turn, and that for the next six hours, instead of receding, it should still advance. Where would you be, and where your abode, and where all your loved ones?' But then we remembered, 'But this law is as certain in its action, as the rising and setting of the sun.'
The others went to rest — but I remained for some time gazing out upon that wild surging sea. I know not how long I stood — but, as I gazed upon it, it preached to me; and, as I looked at it, it seemed to assume different forms.
I want it now to preach to you, as I tell you as far as I can what I saw in that raging sea trying to get beyond the barrier that God had set, and yet finding that the eternal word is true, 'Thus far, no further!' God has a 'Here' at which the wildest waves must stop.
As I looked I saw, first, Hell's forces restrained.
Then the scene changed, and I beheld temptations limited.
And then a cough upstairs reminded our heart of sorrows measured.
And then, lastly, as I looked out, I saw apostasy arrested.
Let me try to give you these different lessons of a stormy night.
I. First, we have HELL'S FORCES RESTRAINED.Now, I know that Satan in his personality, Satan in his craft, Satan in his power, Satan in his wrath — is very far from being a reality even to a great many professing Christians. I know that the spirit-world is all too little thought of, and the world that we can see, is to us ten thousand times more real than the world which we cannot see; though, in my heart of hearts, I believe that there is a spirit-world, not thousands of miles away — but all round about us, and as real as the world of men and women which we see. We pass in and out among spirits, good and bad. They are round about us on every hand.
But that foaming sea spoke to me, not of the gentle ministry of the unfallen angels — but of the awful, damning ministry of Satan and his followers. I said just now that Satan is all too little of a reality with most of us, and yet, mark you, if the Bible is true, Satan is the most dreadful reality conceivable! I ask you to listen for a moment to words in which this truth is better put than I can express it on the spur of the moment: 'The question of Satan's personality is one relating to the credibility of the Scriptures. The existence of the devil is so clearly taught in the Bible, so necessary a part of the revealed word, so legible on its very face, and so thoroughly interwoven with all its utterances — that to doubt it is to doubt the authenticity of the Bible itself. The entire system of revelation stands or falls with the personality of Satan, not that he is essential to truth — but that the very verity of the record concerning him is essential to God's honor and our hope. This fact has worked itself out in history.'
Let me say for a moment, in parenthesis, mark and see whether this next sentence is not true of today: 'In all ages of the church, unbelief in this doctrine has been marked by a corresponding unbelief in the Scriptures. The man who can reject a doctrine so fully revealed as this, will find no difficulty in rejecting all if it ever suits him to do so.'
So long as we accept this Bible as a revelation from God, we are bound to accept this solemn, mysterious truth — 'that there is a being of fearful might and power who is wicked, always wicked, totally wicked, incurably wicked; a being who is an absolute stranger to all love, all pity, all goodness; a being who is the embodiment of all malignity, the concentration of all wrong, the essence of all vice; a being who has no one bright spot in his black character; a being who, if he could, would quench every sun that shines, extinguish every star that twinkles, blight every flower that blooms, and turn every song that rises from consecrated lips into a lewd lascivious song; a being who, if he could, would turn Heaven itself into Hell. He is one whose heart is hate, whose mind is revenge, and whose life is an eternal damnation.'
And this bizarre, inscrutable awful being, we are told, is the master of uncounted legions who serve their captain with an unswerving fidelity such as an earthly monarch never knows. At his beck and call are spirits that are lying, seducing, unclean, and murderous; and these forces of Hell never cease to surge and roll on God's fair earth. Without pause or hindrance, Hell seeks to swamp, damage, and damn the works of God. I say not that the storm is always equally high. It is not so. I believe that there are times when Hell's power is greater than at others. Beyond all question it was so when the Son of Man walked this earth. Oh, how the ocean boiled then! It seemed as if the word had gone forth through all the hosts of perdition, 'Fight neither with small nor great but with the King only.' None of us can ever tell what Christ passed through in personal combat with Satan.
Now, mark, if you are going to make a semi-joke of the devil, if you are going to speak of Satan as simply a name for something that is impersonal, you are doing an awful wrong to your Lord. If you can only prove your point, you prove too much, for you prove that Christ himself was a dupe. I find the Savior, when he stood foot to foot in the wilderness, saying distinctly, 'Get you hence, Satan.' I never find our Lord explaining away demoniacal possession as it is fashionable to do now. Jesus came to reveal truth. Jesus came to clear the world of superstition. If the poor creatures whom he healed simply had epilepsy or fits, our Lord knew it; and yet he never uttered a word to clear away the common superstition. Indeed, he endorsed the superstition of the day, for he said, 'Come out of him, you unclean spirit.' We say with all reverence that in such a case our Lord added the weight of his personal testimony to a popular fallacy. But he knew, and he saw demon power working on every hand. When he is arrested in the garden, what does he say? Not only, 'The hour is come' — but he adds, 'and the power of darkness.' The tide of Hell reached its highest point at Calvary; and, as I gazed from the balcony upon the boiling waters beneath, I seemed to see the scene.
Behold Jesus there upon that tree. How do the billows beat upon that breast! How do they roar upon him! He is enveloped. He is drenched with the spray. We hear in the darkness, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' and my heart asks, 'Will the tide never turn?' and I think I hear a voice saying, 'The tide has reached its highest point. It can go no further now.' He lies there dead in the tomb. But look you. On the third morning he comes forth in resurrection beauty. Ah, Satan, how are you defeated! God said by that tomb, 'Thus far, no further.' He said at that tomb, 'Here shall your proud waves be stayed.' Having no personal Christ on earth to contend with, Satan now devotes all his power to Christ's people, and he is seeking ever to swamp the church. Christ said, 'Upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.' Jesus knew very well that the gates of Hell would ever be belching forth their animosity and power against the church. At your leisure read the 6th chapter of the Ephesians. The Holy Spirit there says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood — but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world of rulers of this darkness, and against wicked spirits in high places. O brethren and sisters, round about each one of us there is a roaring tide of hellish hatred. There is enough to make each one ask, 'Can I ever be kept? Must I not be swept away by this irresistible flood?'
Thank God that there is a 'Thus far', for, listen: Christ said to Peter, 'Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat — but I have prayed for you.' O you blessed living Christ, we look to you. Fling back the advancing tide, and, by your power, the very weakest saint shall be more than a match for Hell. Come, dear soul, though you may be belted with Hell's power, there is a 'Thus far and no further.' A mightier power than the mighty one, holds back the tide of Hell. 'Here shall your proud waves be stayed!'
II. The scene changed, and, as I looked out on the sea, I beheld TEMPTATIONS LIMITED.This is a branch of our previous head, and yet it is quite distinct from it. The first is the objective fact — and this is the subjective experience. Satan may set the waves rolling — but there would be very little weight in them apart from the aid of my own sinful nature. If there were only an outside Hell, there would be but little danger. There is, alas! an inside nature that is corrupt. I daresay that I shall be speaking to some who will not understand much of what I am saying. For years there may be little more than the ordinary swellings of temptation. I think that, generally speaking, the young convert knows but little of the wild scene which I want to portray. He knows something of being tried by the ordinary temptations of daily life — but nothing else.
But there will come the day when the wind blows from the right quarter to make a heavy sea. Everything depends upon the quarter from which the gale comes. The wind may be blowing ever so strongly from the west — but you will have it calm in the bay of Sandown. That which sends the thundering billows on the shore at Black Gang will raise no sea at Sandown. So every one of us has his right — or rather wrong — quarter; and here may be the reason why some have never yet known any awful temptation; that which fills a brother's soul with a boiling ocean of spiritual agony, does not affect you.
But wait. There will be a time when the wind will be dead on shore for you. Some particular temptation will awake you to the fact that you have within you a capacity for sinning of which you never dreamed. I think that it was Martin Luther who said that no man could be a good preacher without having had much temptation. Oh, what degrees of temptation there are! I can say before God, that I think I have known more temptation this one year than I have known in any five that have gone by.
Did you ever know, man, what it is not only for the wind to be in the right quarter — but to have a high spring tide at the same time? What a sea runs then! You can look out and see not only one billow — but another billow behind it, and another behind that, and another behind that — temptations physical, temptations mental, temptations social — one rolling after another.
And then, when, in the power of God, you have hurled away the first one, it only goes back to meet the next, and the two together leap upon you. You know then what it is to be in the condition which John Bunyan described when he said that he knew not which was his own voice and which was the voice of the tempter. You are only conscious of a roar of temptation in your ears; and you sometimes ask the question (I am sure that I have asked it often), 'Can I stand? Must not the sea wall give way? Can it forever fling back these surges?' And then faith pulls out her watch and says, 'It is high tide now. It cannot come any further.'
You tempted ones, turn with me to a passage or two. You will find them sweet to your soul. Read the 13th verse of the 10th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It is God's 'Thus far.' 'There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able — but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.' It is 'Thus far and no further.' The God of decrees has his high-water mark for temptation. He says, 'Here shall your proud waves be stayed.'
I think that I see one of you (ah, there you are) just marking that verse down, and you say, 'I will have a look at that again when I get home. What, is that true — that God is faithful, and will not allow me to be tempted above what I am able? Come on, then, you black billows, and in the name of God I defy you all.'
But do you want something else to help you? Then turn to the 2nd chapter of Hebrews and the eighteenth verse. There is a sea wall. 'For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to support those who are tempted.' Then the 15th verse of the 4th chapter: 'We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities — but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.' Does unbelief say, 'But oh! if the tide should forget to turn?' God is faithful. The tide has never forgotten to turn yet in the channel; and never yet was God less faithful in the working out of spiritual law than of natural. You may look therefore upon Hell's waters surging within your own soul, and, while you deplore them, yet say, 'The God of the storm has said, Thus far and no further!'
III. Perhaps I may come nearer to some of you in the next point. As I looked, the scene changed again, and those wild waters were neither Hell nor temptation — but they were sorrows; and I saw in them SORROWS MEASURED. Have you had long continued trouble? It is not a mere day of trouble that tries you so much; it is not even a week. But I am speaking to some of you who are able to look back long, long months, and there has been nothing but trouble, trouble, trouble! The constant washing of water will wear away even a stone, and perhaps some of you are beginning to think, 'I cannot stand it, and, as far as I can see, I perceive that there are other troubles coming.'
At Sandown I not only saw the waves that curled over in the moonlight on the shore — but I could see out in the Channel those big hills of water that were coming in. And you, looking out into the future, can say, 'Why, I can see other troubles advancing. There are troubles in the family, troubles financial, troubles physical, each one following to join its fellow! No sooner does one trouble roll back from me, than it joins another rolling towards me.'
You have come into this Tabernacle this morning about as down and depressed as mortal man can be. The spray of life's troubles has been washing over life's parade. You are drenched right through with it; and unbelief says, 'Everything will go at last.' Wait a moment. Do you know that you are not the first man who has said so?
Read that story of Job again. See how the billows came upon him one after another. I am not surprised that Job was ready to curse the very day that he was born, and yet, when I come to the last chapter, I find that he was made a better man than ever he was before. 'And the Lord turned the captivity of Job.' It was, 'Thus far and no further.'
Remember David, again, when he said, in the 42nd Psalm, 'All your waves and your billows are gone over me.' But what does David say afterwards? 'For the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day-time, and in the night his song shall be with me.'
But I think that the most exquisitely beautiful illustration is in the 22nd Psalm. You know it well, do you not? Read right away from the 1st verse until you get down to the 21st. 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' That is the key-note. It is the outcry of an agonized heart; but when you come to the 25th verse, what a change. The one who said, 'Why have you forsaken me?' — says, 'My praise shall be of you in the great congregation.' Jesus Christ found that there is a high-water mark in sorrow. It is, 'Thus far — but no further.' Behind the billows there is God. Behind the storm that I saw, there was a tide; and, thank God, behind our troubles there is an eternal decree, and at the back of our sorrows there is eternal love. Only trust him.
God says, 'Here shall your proud waves be stayed.' I want to emphasize that word 'here'. Where? In the matter of trouble I think it is just where faith has been perfectly tried. There will the waves be stayed. God is glorified in the trial of our faith. You have talked a good deal about believing. Now God is going to make you show to other people what a reality there is in it.
'Here shall your proud waves be stayed.' That is, just where you have learned the lesson which you need to learn. You have naturally a proud spirit and a nasty temper. God means to keep you in the school of sorrow until you have learned there to be humble and gentle and forbearing and tender. Then when you have learned those lessons God will say, 'Here shall the proud waves of your sorrow be stayed.' 'Here', where we have learned to trust God solely; 'here', where we learn to bow with delight before the uncontrolled and uncontrollable will of God. Look up, brother. It may be that the lesson is nearly learned. It may be that already the angel-watch is saying, 'It is just high tide with that man. The water will rise no further.'
IV. Lastly, I looked out, and in that scene I saw APOSTASY ARRESTED.The sight that presents itself to the eyes of spiritually taught men today is something appalling. Look abroad which way you will, there is a surging sea of infidelity; the wind has been blowing very strongly from Germany for some years. Oh, what mighty blasts of scepticism have come across, and what a sea is now rolling! How the waters thunder! As I looked I seemed to see billow after billow of 'higher criticism' sweeping in. Oh, how they broke upon this sea wall, the Bible! And I noted how the men who ought to have been preachers of the truth, were themselves its critics; and the men who ought to be leading their congregations into faith in God, were busy making infidels.
And I heard the shout, 'Genesis is rocking. It will soon be down. Exodus is reeling. Leviticus is giving way. Deuteronomy is all but swept away. David and Goliath are but a parable. The story of Jonah is ridiculous, and condemned by reason.' I listened, and I heard the scoffers say, 'We will clear all the Old Testament off before long.'
I noticed that the billows, though they were flung back, returned in strength; and I thought, 'O God, if that Old Testament goes, I am done for. If your Book is swept away, I have not a foothold of hope for time or eternity.' But a voice said, 'You can go to rest. There is no real danger whatever. It is just about high tide now. The waters cannot come any further, for the Son of God is going to be revealed soon in flaming fire, taking vengeance upon those who believe not the gospel of God.' Oh, when he shall come, then will the Lord rebuke the apostasy of the day. Then shall men see in the returning Christ, that every jot and every tittle of this Book is God's. It has stood the storm, and it will, for God's decree is sure. Faith hears the voice of God saying to all the infidel criticism of the day, 'Thus far. Your higher criticism has gone as far as I can allow it to go. Here shall its proud waves be stayed.'
I know not which part of the subject will suit you best — but whether you have regard to Hell's forces, or inbred temptations, or earth's sorrows, or Christendom's apostasy — you may say, 'It is about high tide. It cannot go further.' These are the thoughts that flitted through my mind as, in the moonlight, I looked out upon a raging sea that could not pass God's decree. May God bless them to us all for his name's sake. Amen.