The Birth-day of Blessing!
Archibald G. Brown, August 7th, 1870, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"From this day I will bless you." Haggai 2:19
The affairs of the Jewish church had a remarkable turn given to them, both in history and prophecy, by the captivity in Babylon. Nine out of twelve of the prophets that are known to us as "the minor," lived and prophesied before the captivity, and often the "burden of the Lord" was denunciations of the people's sins, and stern threatenings of the punishment in store for them. With sad heart and in solemn language they foretold the doom that hung over the heads of the guilty nation.
The three remaining minor prophets commenced their work sometime after the return of the captivity — Haggai and Zechariah about eighteen years after. The building of the temple was at this time being greatly neglected, not only through the opposition of the enemy — but far more through the lack of spirit on the part of Israel. Both of these prophets sought by strong and stirring words to arouse the energy of the people in the prosecution of so good, as well as so national a work. Haggai began his exhortations some two months prior to Zechariah — but the latter continued them about two years longer.
In the chapter from which I have selected my text, you will find three distinct sermons for the encouragement of those who, under the influence of the words recorded in the previous chapter, had at last commenced the work in right down earnest.
1. From the first to the ninth verse he cheers the builders by the declaration that the house they were now rearing would far exceed in spiritual glory, though not in outward splendor, the one that bore the name of Solomon. It was in this temple that the Desire of All Nations, Hag 2.7 the "greater than Solomon," Mat 12.42, would walk and speak.
2. From the tenth verse to the nineteenth he comforts them with the assurance that though their own prosperity had been blasted through their previous slothfulness in the matter — yet from the time of their revival in the work, a renewed blessing would be given them.
Surely we may learn from this in passing, that neglect of God's work is often, to say the least, bad policy for our own success. They are short-sighted people indeed, yes, blind as bats, who imagine that by stinginess in the work of God, they will gain personal advantage. I venture to assert that the cause of much ill-success in life is often to be found in the lack of zeal for God's house. With the knife of their so-called economy, they cut their own fingers, and prune away their own fruitfulness. As they put their own affairs before God, He permits them to have but little to put. The best investment is consecration to the Lord and His work; and often the quickest way to fill our own barns is by emptying them into His lap. You look after God's cause — and He will look after yours.
Doubtless many of these Jews, like those of the present day, thought they could ill afford the time or expense of looking after a work not connected with their own private advancement; but they had to learn by experience the folly of their calculations, for God struck the produce of their selfish labors with mildew and with blasting.
3. In the third and last sermon, the prophet assures Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and the foremost in the work, that he would have the high honor of being one of the ancestry of the Messiah. It is from the closing sentence of the second sermon I would speak to you this evening, "From this day I will bless you."
I think you will at once perceive the drift of my sermon when I remind you that the temple was a type of that church of which every individual believer is a living stone. From the day when the foundation of that temple is laid, the promise is ours.
When is the foundation day from which the blessing dates? This question may be answered in more than one way.
1. In one sense it is from everlasting, for God's people are in purpose part of the building from before all time. That day when sovereign love chose me, and enrolled my name in the list of the elect, was a day from which God says, "I will bless you" — that day when Jehovah chose me in the rubbish of the fall, to be a stone later quarried out and planted in the walls of his mystic temple. Every child of God will be able to trace back the blessing that has culminated in glory to the fountainhead of divine and imperial decree.
2. In a second sense, the foundation day may be dated as the day on which the atoning sacrifice was made. That day constitutes an epoch in the history and genealogy of blessing. It was the wondrous method of carrying out the gracious purposes of eternity. It was there that the rough material was bought at an dreadful cost. It was then gushed forth with the blood and water from the Savior's side, the silver stream of blessing, the praises of which we desire this night to sense. Every trembling penitent and humble saint can read o'er Calvary's cross, "From this day I will bless you!"
3. But the day whose blessing I want to tell, is the day when the result of the two previous ones mentioned, actually becomes ours. Not the day in which the rough material is chosen, nor the day on which the purchase price is paid — but rather the day in which the elected, blood-bought stone is raised from the dark quarry, and with shouts of "grace, grace to it," it is triumphantly placed on the rising walls. In other words, the day of conversion — the day in which is laid, as far as our experience is concerned, the foundation of our salvation — the day of which we often sing,
"Oh, happy day, that fixed my choice,
On You, my Savior and my God;
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.
Happy day! Happy day!
When Jesus washed my sins away!"
Let us then look at the subject in this light. And to do so, we will divide our subject into two divisions, both found in the text.
First we have a specified day; and
secondly we have a declared blessing commencing from that day.
I. A Specified Day. This blessed day of conversion goes by different names in Scripture. It is too glorious to be described by any one name alone. I will mention only three.
1. The day of conversion is termed the "day of espousals" in Song of Solomon 3:11. It is the day in which Jesus, our Heavenly Bridegroom, wins the heart of His bride. He . . .
reveals to her His love,
shows her His beauties,
tells her of His sufferings for her sake.
He woos her by His sighs and tears and agonies, and lays siege to her heart on every side — while His lips drop honey-words of loving affection. Unable to resist such heavenly importunity, she finds her prejudices melting fast away; one barrier after another is broken down, and at last, allured by the magnetic power of His love, she gives herself to Him, and with tears of joy exclaims, "My Beloved is mine — and I am His!"
Oh, happy day, when the soul is espoused to Christ. All Heaven looks on and rings a marriage peal, while the sweetest music fills the new-born heart!
2. The day of conversion, is also spoken of as the "day of power." Psalm 110.3. This gives us a different view of the same transaction. It is a mighty act to convert a sinner — infinitely beyond the power of man, and glorifying even to the omnipotence of God. The sinner has been a rebel in arms, defying his God to the battle. There has been, if I may so express it, many a skirmish, in which the Lord has withheld His great strength. He has struck only lightly, and the sinner has been astonished and dismayed — but now in this day of conversion, He comes forth to certain victory. The strong man armed, may fight with all the fury of despair but 'tis a hopeless conflict, for the one "stronger than he" has taken the field against him, and taken it to win. Rampart after rampart is taken — stronghold after stronghold is carried. Before His mighty blows, doors of adamant give way, and bars of brass and steel are shivered to pieces. And now that the combatants have met, one sweep of the God's sword breaks down the uplifted shield and cleaves the boasted helmet. It is the day of the Lord's power, and conquered at His feet the rebel cries, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
Behold, mercy triumphs in the triumph. The same hand that struck the rebel down — now raises him from the dust! The arm that fetched the blow — now brings the balm! He who killed — now makes alive, and the repentant singer sings for his defeat
"Your mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart;
Dissolved by Your goodness, I fall to the ground,
And weep to the praise of the mercy I've found!"
3. The day of conversion, is moreover spoken of as "the day of salvation." Isaiah 49.8. There is no need for me to spend much time on this. The name describes itself. It is the day of salvation. It is the day in which the man is saved. It is the day in which the purposes and plan of salvation receive in him, their fulfillment. It is a glorious day, by whatever name it is called. I would to God that everyone in this great company had seen it.
We will now endeavor to speak a little about this day in detail, and first I would remark:
1. This day often has a CLOUDY MORNING. As in the creation of nature — so in the commencement of grace — the evening and the morning constitute the first day. The day of grace begins before there is actual light. The evening of the conviction of sin must be reckoned among the hours of the day. And how dark often is this night, and with what lowering clouds the dawn at last appears. The old adage says "it is always darkest just before dawn." Whether it is so in nature or not, I am not prepared to say — but I am sure of this, that it holds true to the breaking of this blessed day. Just before the light breaks in — the power of darkness makes its most desperate resistance. Just prior to the gladsome entrance of hope — the soul is often nearest to despair. And when standing closest to the frontier of salvation — it feels, it trembles, nearest Hell. Let those who like, make little of conviction of sin — we dare not. It is the evening that forms the early hours of the day.
We venture to declare that only those are pardoned — who have seen themselves condemned. Only those are saved — who have known themselves as lost! Amid the number of the white-robed saints in Heaven, there are none but those who have worn the sackcloth of repentance.
There are also many who are quite unable to call to remembrance the experience we have described. Their change has been so gradual, that no clear line is visible between the darkness and the light. But that does not alter the fact. The evening may have melted very slowly into day — and if you ask them now, they will with tears plead guilty to every sin, and say they were but Hell-deserving wretches when the grace of God first appeared to them — though when the grace of God appeared in all its fullness, they cannot now determine.
There are many here this evening now experiencing the darkness prior to the dawn. Legal terrors frighten them. Past sins appall them, and doubts and fears rend their hearts with anguish. They see their need of a Savior — but not the Savior whom they need. They behold a Hell that yawns to engulf them — but not the road that leads from the wrath to come. Their sins stare them in the face, and dazzle them by their scarlet hue — but at present they cannot perceive the atoning blood that washes white as snow. All the lightnings of Sinai flash before them, and its deep thunder they hear rolling over head — but as yet they have been unable to leave Sinai for Calvary, or hear the sound "that mercy utters from the cross."
With them, it is a season of gloom and struggle. Night and Day are doing battle in their breast, and it is no wonder if their soul is torn asunder between such mighty combatants. Satan, seeing he is about to lose them, makes one final horrid effort to retain them. Their case becomes the same as that lad possessed with the devil, who as he was still coming to Jesus, was hurled to the ground, and torn by the demon within. The most crushing falls and the most dreadful tearings are those the sinner has as he comes. Few, if any, find that the blessed day of our text commences as a "morning without clouds." 2 Samuel 23.4.
Now, dear friends, and I speak to those of you who are anxious — is there not something here to comfort you and cheer your hearts? Your sorrow of soul is only the dawn — your tears are only the harbingers of morning.
There was a time when you felt none of these things; when you lived in a deathly calm. Would you like to return to it? "Ah no," I hear you reply, "painful though it is, it is better than that. I would sooner spend years of anguish seeking Him, than be dead to all desire." True, dear friend; but believe me, the time of your rejoicing is at hand. The very darkness of your night tells me the dawn is near. Does your heart cry out as one of old from Seir, "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" Listen then to the answer, "The watchman said, The morning comes." Isaiah 21.11-12. You will yet thank God for your griefs, and praise Him for your sorrows. Do not think, dear friend, that there is no "blessed day" for you — there is! The hour of dawn is just about to chime, for this, the brightest of days, usually has the darkest of dawnings.
2. This day often has a SECRET DAWNING. I now desire to say a few words of encouragement to an exceedingly large class of Christians — a class I have already alluded to — those who cannot say exactly how or when they were converted. Every minister of the gospel is sure to have many come to him in anxiety, because they lack the clear remembrance many possess of the day of their espousals. Foolishly they fear that they can never have been converted at all, as they are unable to say it exactly when it was.
Am I speaking to such now? My dear friend, there is no cause why this should trouble you. If you know it is daylight with you now, then what does it matter as to what precise moment the dawn first broke? Indeed, I doubt if there are any of God's saints who do know the precise moment. They know the time when they were first conscious of the light; but before that, there had been the breaking of the day.
Can you tell me the exact moment when this morning commenced? Where there are two consecutive minutes in which you could say "now it is night" — and "now it is day"? No! Imperceptibly the darkness melted into dawn. Undetected by your eye, the night began to ebb and the light began to flow. Will you say on this account there is no day? You cannot; there are a thousand things that prove it.
You see its light — you feel its warmth — you have done its work. So it is with your spiritual life. You are not what you were — your loves and fears and hopes are the very reverse of what they used to be. You see things you once did not — you feel things you once did not — you delight to do things you once did not. "Old things have passed away, all things have become new." 2 Cor 5.17. Rejoice in the light, dear friend and be glad in the day, for it is not one whit the less real, because its dawning is too secret for you to detect.
Sometimes this day has an early dawn — and sometimes a long delayed dawn. God has no fixed age at which to convert. I grant that the vast majority are brought to the Lord in the days of youth and early manhood; but at the same time, there is no restriction to that age. The sun does not rise at the same hour all year round. Sometimes the early hours witness his glory, and at another season, those hours are dark as night; and it is left to later ones to see his light.
So it is in grace. Now it is the child in whose heart the dawn breaks — and now the aged white-haired sinner. I would remark here that sometimes the sun rises very early in the soul; far earlier I believe than many think.
There is, we know, a certain class of Christians — a class that we hope is lessening daily — which makes it a point to sneer at the idea of children Christians. "Pack of stuff!" they say "what can they know about these things; they don't know their own minds yet." And when the little ones are received into the Church, these wiseacres shake their silly heads, and say, "it will be the ruin of the Church." For a soul not to have been permitted by God to wallow in sin before conversion, seems to them rather a pity and a drawback.
I think those who know the most about Churches will bear me out in saying that it is not these little ones who generally bring disgrace upon their profession — but the contrary.
At all events, it is summer when the sun rises early, and winter when it rises late; and who would not rather have the long bright day than the short cold day? We have known Christians of seven years of age, whose piety it would be atrocious to doubt, and whose devotion and consecration would make many of riper years blush. Yes, thank God, in childhood's day the blessed day may have its dawn.
But it can rise late. Long may anxious friends have cried, "Watchman, what of the night?" Long may the answer have been, "Tis dark, 'tis dark, 'tis murky dark!" And yet, just when despair was about to set in, and hope flee, the joyful sound has been heard in the aged sinner's heart, "the morning comes!"
3. This day, like all others, has a SILENT DAWN. It is seen, but not heard. "Wait," says one, "is that correct? Can I not hear the rooster crowing and the tramp of the laborers going to their work? Is that not the dawn?" No, it is the result of the dawn — but not the dawn itself. If I may so express it, when she comes to open the gates of light, and unbar the doors of day — she comes with a tread so light, that it does not shake the dew from the blade of grass; and she draws on so silently, the keenest power of hearing finds the silence still unbroken. As silently as the snow melts upon the hillside, revealing by slow degrees the verdure that it covered — the darkness of night departs.
The work of grace within the heart can be perceived by its results — but not heard in its working. One yonder sighs, and says, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Give thanks for it; it is the music of the dawn; but before that cry was heard, the dawn had come. "Lord save me, or I perish," prays another. It is a precious prayer; the dawn has given it birth — but not it the dawn. Perhaps the very one, who is now sitting by your side, has within his heart the breaking of day — but do you hear it? Like the dawn, grace comes with noiseless step.
4. The dawning of the day, like the dawning of all other days, is IRRESISTIBLE. Who can say to the advancing morn, "thus far but no further"? Suppose all the parliaments of the world were to decree that the dawn of the following day should fail. What effect would it have? Why, while they were resolving, the rosy light would come, and gliding through the windows of "the house," they would gently laugh in the faces of the senators, and bid them see their folly. If all the armies of the earth were to gather themselves together to war with the advancing dawn, it would but shine upon their weapons, and tell them they had no arms to combat her.
So it is with grace in the heart. No power of earth or Hell, or both combined, can delay the day of God's power for one moment. Scoffing shop-mates may say of the newly converted hand, "we will soon laugh religion out of him," but they will find their boast is vain. If the work is of God, it must stand. O, persecutors and opponents of the convert, your opposition is miserably futile. Go place a bit and bridle on the dawn, and hold it back — before you talk of arresting the onward march of this blessed day in the weakest saint.
5. The dawn is but the COMMENCEMENT of the day. There is a vast difference between the misty beauty of the early morning — and the magnificent glory of the noon tide. Yet they are but one day. The morning is the noon in childhood — and the noon is but the dawn fully developed. There is yet a greater difference between the trembling sinner as he casts himself in half despair upon the atonement — and the same soul as he stands in white before the throne; and yet the two things are but the result of the same grace. When he sought the Lord with tears — it was grace in the bud. And when he stands arrayed in glory — it is the same grace in full bloom. The one leads to the other, as surely as the dawn ripens into day.
And now, before we pass into the second part of our subject, for which only a few minutes remain, I want to ask my soul and yours one question of supreme importance: Have we ever known this day in our own experience? Has this red letter day — this never-to-be-forgotten day — dawned upon us? May the Lord help us now to answer this question as in His sight. And if we are obliged out of truthfulness to say, "No," then let the prayer now arise, "O, you, who said in creation's morn, 'Let it be light,' speak that word to me; and concerning my benighted heart, may rejoicing angels cry: Behold the dawn!"
II. A Declared Blessing.I will only be able to give you the outlines of this part of the sermon, and leave it to you, in quiet meditation, to fill up the details.
"I will bless you." A sermon might be preached from every word.
"I" — Behold here the person who blessed — The God of Heaven.
"Will" — Behold here the certainty.
"Bless" — Behold here the promise. What does this word not include?
"You" — Behold here the condescension.
We will, however, take it as a whole, and try, in a few words, to show what the blessing is.
1. It includes, first — all SPIRITUAL blessings.
Is PARDON a blessing? It comes with the dawn of this day, for in its hours the soul hears with joy, "your sins, which are many, are all forgiven!"
Is PEACE with God a blessing? It is on this day that Jesus walks upon the troubled waters of the soul, as He did on the waves of the lake of Tiberias, and says, "Peace, be still!" — and at his word there comes a great calm.
It is a blessing to be ADOPTED into God's family. From this day the sinner can look up and say with truth, "My Father, who is in Heaven."
Time would fail to tell of all the spiritual blessings with which we are blessed in Christ Jesus. The rosy hand of morn as it unbars the gates of light, throws open at the same time the treasury of God, and says to the new illumined one, "Take whatever you will." "Take whatever you will."
2. But this blessing is not confined to only mercies for the soul. It rests on all our temporal affairs. Do you ask, "How?" I answer, "It makes our little much, and our much a great deal more. The dry crust with His blessing — satisfies far more than the banquet without it. All comforts with His blessing, are multiplied a thousand-fold. Doubtless you have often had in your hand the ripe fruit and admired its beauty. But was it not "the bloom" upon the fruit that gave it, in your eyes, its special loveliness? Yes — God's blessing is the bloom that rests upon His gifts.
This blessing, moreover . . .
sanctifies our troubles,
removes the sting from our trials, and
takes away the bitterness of our grief.
God's blessing . . .
abides on our persons,
dwells in our homes, and
descends on our experiences.
3. Lastly, God's blessing extends to all future things. I can imagine one of you saying, "If it commences from this day — then how far does it reach?" Let us take a few steps and see.
The first step is to the SICK BED. All of us must come to that. Does the blessing extend to here? Listen! "You will make all his bed in his sickness," or as it may be translated, "you will turn his bed," even as the considerate nurse does. The blessing reaches here.
Let us take the next step. It is to the DEATH BED. Can you ask if His blessing abides here? The triumphant happy departure of a host that no man can number declares it to be so. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Psalm 116.15
Shall we take another step? It is to the GRAVE. Lo! Here we find the blessing, for the grave has no longer any victory, and it is now but the quiet resting place of dust that is dear to God, and which He will raise again at the resurrection morning.
One step more, and it is the last. HEAVEN! Here is the blessing that dates from the conversion day — now crowned! I read that there is no curse there. Blessing, and nothing but blessing, fills the heavenly courts.
Oh! What a happy thought it is that in the day of conversion, a seed of blessing is sown that shall bloom with increasing splendor throughout the ages of eternity!
Poor sinner, attracted by this thought, cry out this evening, "Lord, give the dawn — Lord, give the dawn, even to this dark heart, for Jesus' sake!" Amen.