Archibald G. Brown, August 17, 1873, East London Tabernacle
"The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes; the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah." [Margin, 'Meditation'.] Psalm 9:16
You who worship here regularly will, I know, bear me witness that my general theme is the love of God — his compassion towards the fallen, and his willingness to save the vilest. The themes we love to dwell on are the all-glorious sufficiency of the atonement, and the unutterable love of that heart that broke with anguish on Calvary's cross. We most frequently have the flute of mercy's invitation to our lips, and most love to make our harp strings vibrate, as we sweep our hands across them — with the melody of redeeming love. But there are seasons for all things, and there are times for everything; and sometimes the day dawns when the preacher would be false to himself and false to his people, if he did not declare to them the other side of the subject. Yes, I know not how he could answer for it at the last day, or how his garments could be clear of the blood of souls — if he never put down mercy's invitation, and lifted up the war trumpet to his lips, trusting to God to awaken a thousand echoes of alarm in as many hearts. If he would be true to himself, to his people, and to his God — he must sometimes make the strings of his harp tremulously vibrate to the mournful notes of a judgment to come.
It behooves him sometimes to declare that the Lord is known not only by his matchless mercy — but by the holy judgment which he executes; and if it is right for him to say 'Come' it is as right for him to thunder 'Higgaion' — 'Meditate on the threatened judgments of an offended Jehovah.'
In our experience we have found that God uses all kinds of instrumentality for the ingathering of souls. While there are numbers allured by mercy's music — there are almost as many driven into the arms of Heaven by the alarm bells of wrath to come. As there is a diversity in the operations of the Spirit, so is there a diversity of instrumentality, and we are bound to employ all means, yes, to 'become all things to all men, if by any means we may save some'.
The burden of our heart is the unsaved portion of this night's congregation, and that which makes the burden the heavier is the remembrance that 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes' — that 'the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.' O sinner, I pray you have a 'Higgaion' this evening. If you have never been serious before, be serious now, if but for forty minutes. If you never think of Heaven or Hell again, give me for a short time not only your ears, but your attention as I say to you 'Higgaion'; meditate — dare to look the fact in the face that Jehovah has said he is known by the judgment which he executes.
I shall want then, first of all, to speak to you about the truth that is here stated, and then, secondly to cry 'Higgaion' concerning it.
First of all then, let me try and state THE TRUTH OF THE TEXT.The truth is, that the Lord makes himself known by his judgments; that is, that not only is the character of God discernible in the gentle mercy that he showers down on every hand — but that the same character is as distinctly set forth in his sterner actions.
There is a fashion in theology as well as in everything else, and the fashionable thing at the present day seems to be to depreciate entirely divine justice and pooh pooh the idea of God possessing such a prerogative as vengeance. The fashionable thing now is to let all the sterner lines of Jehovah's character evaporate, until nothing is left but a dreamy misty thing called 'the universal fatherhood of God'; and I suppose a more treacherous dangerous falsehood than this has never been launched by the father of all lies. It is just because this thing is so abroad and finding its way everywhere, that we want to clear our souls in your case and to say 'the Lord is known by the judgments which he executes'.
Let us then look at what God's thoughts in relation to sin are as demonstrated in his judgments, and I am inclined to think that we shall find there are far sterner traits in Jehovah's character, than these prophets of sentimental theology imagine — we shall see that although his love to the sinner is wonderful indeed, there is dire wrath for him that refuses to accept the mercy offered through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
Let us then have a look at God as he has made himself known by his judgments.
What ages have passed since first man fell. What centuries have rolled by since God first pronounced the threatened judgment on sin. Now, if God's hatred to sin were anything less then intense, there would surely have been a mitigation of the sentence before this. If I can show you that although ages have rolled by since man fell, yet God's threatened punishments are as real and tremendous now as ever — I think I shall have shown you that God's hatred to sin is something terrible beyond all description.
One judgment was that the earth should bring forth briars and thorns to scourge the laborer after food. Now surely if there were unmixed mercy on the part of God — if there were this universal commiseration at the expense of his own justice and truthfulness — such a light and additional part of the curse must have been altered before this. But what is the state of the case? The earth tonight brings forth her briars and her tangled thickets. To this day the earth suffers for sin's sake, and 'the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now'.
There was also a solemn judgment pronounced in the ears of Eve, the first mother. Has that become obsolete? 'In sorrow shall you bring forth children.' You may say that had we refined taste, we should not even refer to so delicate a subject. But we answer that we have to prove our point — not conciliate hyper-critical hearers. Has there been any mitigation of this? Are mothers' sorrows less than they were? Even in the common sorrow of motherhood, I see a tremendous proof that God will not lessen one atom of the threat he pronounced.
'In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.' Has death become a thing of the past? Is not this world fast becoming a huge cemetery? Has the scythe of the mower become less sharp? Has he put his sickle away? Are not men dying now as regularly as when Cain and his children died? They are; and the cemeteries on every hand, and the funeral bells that toll, tell me that God is known by the judgment which he executes.
He must be besotted, indeed, who, having eyes and using them, can see anything else than fearful proofs on every hand that while God is love he is also inflexible in his justice.
But let us take up this book, and see what God's character is, as revealed by his judgments here in this world — and I think I shall be able to show that there is something in the character of God very different to that which is so universally represented now.
Let us proceed to review the days of Noah. The world had become exceedingly sinful, its crimes cried to Heaven — then did the great fountains of the deep break up. Do you see how the black clouds gather? Do you hear the piteous pelting of the storm as it comes down? Do you mark the waters, how they rise? The hills are covered. Do you see the mad fight, the desperate struggle for the highest part of the mountain-peak? Can your eye see those corpses floating far and wide on every hand? Think of the time when a billow swept round and round the world without a mountain crag to break on. From the awful silence of a drowning world, there breaks upon mine ear, 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes!' And in that judgment I see something far sterner and more dreadful and terrible than universal fatherhood. Those cold billows say to me that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God; and a drowned world tells me that he who dares to war against God, wars against one who has a thousand weapons in his hand, and says 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay!'
Come later on. There are cities full of iniquity. They burn with unnatural lust — so God decrees that they shall burn with unnatural fire. Do you see the sulphurous torrent as it pours down on those cities of the plain? Do you hear the crackling of the timbers, and the shrieks of the men, and the women and the children? Do you remember that woeful sentence, 'He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace'? I see no universal fatherhood of God there. 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes', and the sea of death (Dead Sea) in the Holy Land still bears its testimony to the fact that God abhors the sin, and has judgments for sinners.
'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes.' Israel, not satisfied with the bread that comes from Heaven, lust after the food of Egypt, and, forgetting all previous mercies, insult their God by murmuring and longing after Egypt; they cry for meat and they have it — but while it is still between their teeth, the wrath comes down upon them, and a great plague sweeps through the camp; graves are dug by hundreds and the rebels flung into them, and the place is called Kibroth-hattaavah, that is, the graves of lust. Go walk among those numerous graves, and remember that in every one there lies a sinner smitten down by the hand of God in the very midst of his iniquity, and then talk to me, if you can, about a God that is weakly merciful and will in no wise punish any.
'The Lord is known by the judgments which he executes', and let every man woman and child in this Tabernacle tonight say 'Higgaion', and meditate on the tremendous truth.
Korah, Dathan and Abiram insult God through his servant Moses. 'Stand back, stand back', cries a warning voice, 'back every one of you', and all Israel stands grouped at a distance around those tents. Mark the wives and the children of Korah, Dathan and Abiram are there and their household goods and their cattle, besides. Do you see the earth yawn as down its horrid throat households, wives, children, tents, cattle, furniture, all are swallowed as in a living grave — while Israel terrified flees at their cry? The Lord is known by the judgments which he executes. Therefore let all the world give ear, and take to heart.
But after all, these instances are only in the retail; there is a wholesale judgment I must call to mind. Do you remember how it is said concerning the people of Israel that out of the entire multitude that went out of Egypt only two entered the Holy Land — Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun? Where are the hosts of people that came out of Egypt? Where are the people that Moses and Aaron numbered in the wilderness of Sinai? Their carcasses are lying in the wilderness as the Lord threatened, and I stand aghast at this stupendous judgment. Here is a people brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and God smites all the chivalry of Egypt for their sakes — and yet as the fruits of rebellion only two out of the hundreds of thousands enter the Holy Land. Let the carcasses in the wilderness declare, 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes', and let every heart here give the echo — 'Higgaion', pause, meditate.
And yet I feel that up to the present I have only been showing you God's hatred of sin as it gleams. I have yet to show you the lurid light of its glare.
I have only given you the milder specimens of God's wrath — not the most terrible. Oh, would that the Holy Spirit might give power to our lips for a few moments to tell you how God has once in boundless degree shown his abhorrence of sin!!
If you desire to see the most dreadful specimen of God's wrath, I ask you to come with me now, to a place called Calvary. I want you to gather together on that little spot just outside the city, and see such a sight as Moses never saw when he beheld the bush burning. I want you to see on Calvary, the Lord making Himself known by the judgment which He executes.
Who is that upon the tree in agonies and blood? The answer is, Jehovah's Son! What, His one beloved Son? Yes, His beloved and only Son. But mark His agony. Do you see that ashen face, furrowed deep, turned up to Heaven? Do you hear that anguished cry that seems to pierce the clouds, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' When the Lord looked at the adorable Jesus, He saw in Him not only His own Son — but the sinner's substitute. He saw on Him my accursed sins — He saw yours also! And oh, awful truth, although the Substitute was His own Son, He would not, He could not spare the blow! That heaving breast of His beloved Son, was made the sheath of the sword of His inflexible justice!
God must undeify himself, before He can wink at sin or fail in the execution of His threatened wrath against iniquity. He must cease to be the Holy One, before mercy can ride rough-shod over justice and truth. But righteousness and mercy, truth and peace all meet in the atoning sacrifice. 'The Lord is known by His judgment which He executes.' Above all, by His judgment of sin at Calvary.
Oh, am I speaking to any who imagine sin to be a trifle? I beg you to measure sin by the woes of Christ! If you think that iniquity is but a small thing, understand that iniquity can only be understood as it is measured by the agonies of a dying God. Probe those wounds — and fathom that depth of anguish if you can. Tell me how hot the fire burned within that loving heart; and when you have told me that — you have told me how much God hates sin!
While Calvary is the most matchless exhibition of mercy — it is also the most dreadful exhibition of holy wrath. In one and the same person, and at one and the same time — there is illimitable love to the sinner and there is illimitable hatred to his sin. Go to Calvary, not to Sinai, to learn how much God abhors this accursed thing, sin!
Ah; but I think I can hear one of you saying, 'We agree with you thus far; but have there been any such declarations of hatred to sin since that time? Remember, we are living in the New Testament days — in another dispensation. Does God make himself known by his judgments now?'
Well, let us come to a later time than the death of Christ. Behold Herod taking to himself praise that he has no right to, and insulting Heaven by allowing himself to be called a God. There he lies, eaten up with worms, smitten and blasted in a moment! That putrid mass of corruption, from which the courtiers shrink with horror, says, 'The Lord is known by the judgments which he executes! Higgaion. Meditate.'
'Ah', you say, 'that is an exceptional case. Herod was a king, so God noticed him more than if he had been a private individual.' Indeed! Then listen. Ananias tells a lie — he falls a corpse. Sapphira, his wife, endorses the lie, and the young men returning from carrying him out — are just in time to bear away her body. What do you think of that? 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes. Higgaion.'
Do you still doubt the existence of any present judgment whereby the Lord is known? Then have one other tremendous proof — THERE IS A HELL TONIGHT. Its fires have not gone out nor burned down. Oh, will you doubt God's vengeance against sin, when there is a Hell burning at this moment? Will you call in question Jehovah's wrath, when at the very moment I am warning you there are souls suffering it? Ah, you may turn away in scorn and say, 'That is the antiquated subject when preachers are hard-up and know not what to talk about.' Say what you like — God knows the thought is an agony to me — but there the fact remains. There is a Hell somewhere tonight, and that Hell ought to say to every soul in this Tabernacle, 'Higgaion', 'meditate' — 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes.'
Observe, too, that these judgments are wonderfully just, for the text says, 'The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.' The sinner after all, ruins himself, and the vile man becomes his own executioner. This is even true on earth. The drunkard burns his entrails and maddens his brains. The prodigal beggars himself until he envies the swine he feeds. As for the wicked, we won't talk of the dire judgments they bring on themselves; but if in this company there are found licentious young men, or an abandoned sisterhood, I say to you, 'The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.' 'Higgaion', both of you!
No one can break through any of God's hedges, but that an adder is sure to sting him! And he who hurls his sins against God, shall find them come down on his own head like a thunderbolt!
But oh, beloved, how awfully true is it that the sinner is snared in the work of his own hands in eternity! There is one place where the justice of God in punishment is never called in question. There is a place where no whisper has ever yet been heard against the righteousness of divine anger, and that place is Hell. God's inflexible justice is believed in Hell. The rich man may lift up his eyes in torment, but I do not find that he calls in question the justice of his doom. Every sinner damns himself; and in Hell men and women acknowledge the they are reaping the righteous fruits of their own sinful sowing! 'Higgaion! Meditate!'
This brings us, you see, to the close of this subject. I have tried to state the truth of the text. If it is unpalatable to any of you, remember it that it is not my truth; it is God's. If it seems dreadfully strong to some of you, bear in mind it is the Holy Spirit that has put it there, not the preacher. Therefore 'Higgaion.'
II. We have now, in our second and closing place, simply to CRY OUT ONE WORD, AND THAT WORD 'HIGGAION!'When the psalmist wrote this verse, and reached the words 'The wicked shall be snared in the work of his own hands', he seemed to be overpowered at the terror of the thought, and so put a full stop and wrote in the word 'Higgaion!' As much as to say, 'O my soul, meditate on the tremendous truth my hand has penned, and let all who read the same meditate.' And then after 'Higgaion' he puts 'Selah'. He would have there to be a solemn pause. Oh, I would that there could be just one moment's solemn pause in our meeting tonight. Would that there could be a Selah, a Higgaion! Friends, shall there be? I put it to you. 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes; and the wicked shall be snared in the work of his own hands!'
Now let us just for a moment meditate on that. Let there be a solemn Higgaion, and let every heart ask itself the question, 'How do I stand in reference to this tremendous truth?' I shall now for a minute or two call out Higgaion to a few different people.
And the first I shall call it out to is the true believer. O saint of God, Higgaion! It is for you to meditate on this solemn fact — the threatened judgment of God against sin.
First of all, let the minister have his Higgaion. Oh, what a grand thing it would be for this land of ours if every minister went into his pulpit under the power of a text like this! Higgaion! Yes, let the preacher remember that nicely turned sentences are, after all, poor things for perishing souls. Higgaion! Yes, let the minister understand that his congregation must be either damned or saved, and that the Lord is known by the judgment which he executes. Do not think I am speaking to others, and not to myself. God knows that I am condemning myself wholesale tonight. If I realized this truth more, do you think I should be preaching with a dry eye, as I am tonight? If I said 'Higgaion' to my soul, as I ought, do you think I could look upon you without anguish?
God is my witness, I have my Higgaion sometimes, and when I meditate on these pews full and these aisles full, I am ready to exclaim, 'O Lord, it is more than heart can bear!' I tell you, sirs, I have had my Higgaion, and I have meditated on your doom; and the idea of this Tabernacle being a mere channel to Hell to any of you, has wrung tonight's sermon from my inmost soul. O that this text had more power over me, and that I might be clear of the blood of every one of you.
And Sunday school teachers, let the Higgaion come to your soul. You are entrusted with those young immortals. Do you believe the truth that God's wrath is out against sin? Oh, if you do, you will not be content with going through a mere formal routine of lessons. You will travail in birth that these little ones may be saved.
But to come nearer home. Parents, I want you to have a Higgaion tonight. Do you ever meditate on the possibility of a child of yours being damned? Have you ever really dared to entertain such contemplation? Then I ask you in the name of God, 'What are you doing for the conversion of your children?' Brother, what are you doing for that unsaved sister? Sister, are you seeking the salvation of that brother? Higgaion, all of you, meditate on the truth that 'God is known by the judgment which he executes.' May the Higgaion come with power upon the heart of every saint, until we each know what it is to plead with souls, as if we saw the waves of eternal wrath coming nearer every moment to the objects of our love!
But, perhaps, there may be in this throng, a bitter scoffer. I know not — but likely enough there are some here who glory in their hatred of all that belongs to Christ. Ah, sir, you give your godly wife a hard time of it, and you are not ashamed to boast of your deeds!! Bitter are the scoffs that come from your lips, and cruel the words that cut her soul. Higgaion!!!
There is a time coming when all your scoffing will be taken out of you. There is a day yet to dawn when even your brazen face shall turn ashen white. There is a moment yet to tick, when you will tremble before an insulted God. I know you will laugh at all we have said tonight, and make merry at our expense. I have no doubt you will crack your jokes over the sermon at your supper table. But even in your laughter, may the awful word 'Higgaion' rise like a spirit from the deep, and stand before you! O, meditate, sinner, and remember that there is a God in Heaven, and he is known by the judgment that he executes!
Poor thoughtless pleasure-seekers — and I know we have plenty of you here — I want to give you also this word. I see you putting the cup of sparkling dissipation to your lips — but before you drink it, I wish to drop something in — it is only one word — 'Higgaion!' Let that fall into your cup of pleasure, and I think it will spoil its taste. If you can be merry, remembering the judgments of God — then you are a strange being.
O, poor sinner, you who are leading a butterfly life, and entirely thoughtless about eternity, won't you listen, as I say 'Higgaion'? Will you meditate just for a moment, and work out this problem? Is it worth while being damned for a little frothy pleasure on earth? Are the frivolities of time worth the woes of Hell? Some of you will be off to the theater tomorrow; well, I pray that amidst the glare and the glitter of that soul-trap, a word may ring right round the place and in your ears, and that word be 'Higgaion!' Some of you will be off next Tuesday to your Festival, and you will be swept along on the tide of your wild mirth — Higgaion!! Remember this, amidst all your boisterous laughter, that the truth remains untouched, 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes!'
But, alas, there are some who are just stupidly indifferent, and I suppose we have as many of those here as of any sort — people who do not seem ever to trouble themselves about eternity at all. They are not pleasure-seekers or God-seekers either — they are content just to jog on without a thought either way. It struck me that this word might serve as a kind of bombshell to drop down under your window, and I wish it would explode and wake you up out of your stupid lethargy! You indifferent one, HIGGAION!! Will not the thought of the judgment to come rouse you from your slumber; or are you so dead asleep that even the roar of perdition shall fail to awake you? Sleeper, awake! Higgaion!!
And you, money-maker, who have got every atom of your heart and soul in your business, look at your money and see if there is not a word tonight stamped on them, and that word 'Higgaion!' How many of them will you take with you when you die? How many of your bank notes are you going to cram into your coffin with you? 'What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?' Do you think you can cash a check in Hell, or buy your freedom from perdition by your gold? Your money will perish with you! 'Higgaion!'
And, lastly, I would speak to some of you here who have been somewhat impressed by what they have heard. I know you have. I have seen the tear in your eye, and I have marked the way you have listened. Well, dear friend, remember that impression is not conversion; and the mere shedding of a tear is not coming to Christ; nor is the feeling uncomfortable under a sermon, a change of heart. To the most impressed I say, 'Higgaion!' Now may you hear the sound of the flood of condemnation, as it comes running after you with race-horse speed, gaining ground every moment. O God, come and arouse the lethargic tonight! Come and wake the sleepers now, and let there be a Higgaion in every heart!
Do you say 'WHEN shall we meditate? When shall we look these facts in the face?' I have but one answer to give. Now! Now! Tomorrow may be too late! There are many having their Higgaion in Hell. They meditate over invitations that they refused, and warnings that they scoffed — but now it is too late!
Ah friends, I am afraid there are some of you who will meditate upon this sermon in Hell! God forbid it.
Oh, that you would meditate now!
Now while mercy holds out her golden scepter!
Now while divine patience keeps back the thunder-bolt!
Now while God says 'Come!'
Now before Hell embraces you!
Now while the bosom of Christ is open to welcome you!
Now while God's children pray for you.
HIGGAION! When? Oh, this moment! The rush of time says 'Now!' And the song of the angels says 'Now!' And every ransomed heart that is here tonight says 'Now!' Methinks even Jehovah, looking from his eternal throne, says 'Now!' And, deep hollow-toned, there comes from the bottomless pit the word 'Now!'
Oh, may God either draw you or drive you; but if you forget every word we have uttered, let the text be engraved as in brass upon your soul — 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes. The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.'
May God give the Higgaion, for his name's sake. AMEN.