Stones in the Way
George Everard, 1874
We imagine a highway to the Heavenly City, with travelers are here and there passing along — but there are many difficulties and hindrances.
Some carry heavy burdens, and do not always see the Friend who would carry them for them.
Some are tired and weary by the length of the way, or the burning heat of the sun.
Besides this, there are stones — large rough stones — here and there placed by one who hates the pilgrims; and when night comes, and the light is dim, many a pilgrim is apt to stumble and fall, and thus lose much time and be sore troubled.
Now it would be a great advantage if we could remove these stones, or some of them, or at least warn travelers of the danger they are likely to meet with — so that they may not dash the foot against them, but pass by on the other side. Besides, it was the command of the King that we should take up the stumbling-block out of the way of His people — and we ought to do our best to obey this command.
There are many of these stones of stumbling, and I will do my best to remove a few. Very thankful shall I be, dear reader, if I could remove any one that may hinder you.
(1) "I can't pray."Here is a very common difficulty. You kneel down and try to be very earnest, and wish to confess your sins and ask God for His grace and mercy — but your heart feels cold and dead, and wandering thoughts come in, and you think about things you ought not, and you rise from your knees with less hope and comfort than when you knelt down!
It may help you to overcome this, to remember when you kneel down that Jesus is close by, and places His ear so as to catch your faintest whisper. Do not think too much about your praying — but rather think of Jesus, and His loving invitations, and how great is the privilege He grants you of asking whatever you will in His name. If you think of this, you will find that it helps you in prayer. And be assured, too, that a wish, a look, a sigh is acceptable to Him.
It may help you, too, if, before you begin to pray, you call to mind some promise, as Matthew 11:28, or Hebrews 4:16, or John 14:13, 14.
Or try to think of Christ as your High Priest standing before the throne of God, presenting your petitions.
Then, too, it is a comfort to remember God has promised His Spirit to help us pray. He will give you, by and by, such happy, trustful thoughts of the Father and of Jesus, that prayer will cease to be a burden and become to you a real pleasure.
(2) "I fear I am not one of the elect."Here is another objection to the exercise of faith in Christ. It is the purpose of our great enemy, by any means, to keep back souls from trusting the Savior — and so we find he often strives to pervert the doctrines of the Bible for this purpose. But you never find the doctrine of election so taught in Scripture as to discourage anyone — it is never placed between the sinner and Christ. You are never told to find out that you are one of God's elect before you may trust Christ. It is never intended to interfere with the free promise, "Him that comes unto Me, I will never cast out." You must rise up from the lower step to the higher — you must begin with acknowledging your sin and simply trusting in Christ — and you will rise at length to the assurance of your election.
We read in the Epistle of Peter, that those to whom he wrote were "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." Take hold of these lower links of the chain: see that you go to Jesus to sprinkle you with His blood; see that you look for the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit; see that you are walking in obedience to God's commands — and then you may be assured that God holds in His hand the uppermost link of your salvation — His own everlasting purpose of mercy towards you. This is the only possible way. No one can look into the book of God's purposes. But if we trust Jesus, and follow Him, and long to love God and walk in His commands — then we need not doubt for a moment, His everlasting love to us.
If any reader is tempted to stay away from Christ because of this fear, I would remind such a one of the woman of Canaan. The Savior Himself seemed to place a barrier somewhat of this kind in her way. He said, "I am sent only unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But what did she do? Did she go away saying, "I see it is useless for me to expect the blessing"? Nay! She went closer — she fell at His feet and worshiped Him. She cried, "Lord, help me!" Her persevering faith overcame this and every obstacle, and Christ crowned her faith with a glorious reward.
Even thus let it be with you — let nothing keep you back. Only trust Christ — only continue at His footstool — and this and every other hindrance will be removed.
(3) "I often think I have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, and that God has forsaken me. Therefore it is of no avail for me to think of being saved."
Such a temptation as this is a fearful stumbling block in the path of some few. It comes about in many ways — very often from having made an inconsistent profession, or from having been drawn back into a worldly life, or from some particular sin. Or perhaps from reading the life of some very devoted Christian who has risen to a very high standard of love and holiness. It is very often grounded on a mistaken view of such passages as Hebrews 6:4-6, or Hebrews 10:26-29.
I have no doubt whatever that these solemn words were spoken to warn the Hebrews against apostasy from faith. After having embraced the Gospel, if they cast it off and rejected it — where could they look for help? Other sacrifice but that of Christ, there was none; and if they refused this, and trampled on the precious blood, they must perish in their sins.
Besides, they might grieve the Spirit in so doing that He might leave them to utter indifference, blindness, and impenitency — and then with a hardened heart and seared conscience, they would live and die in their sins. But from the whole tenor of Scripture, it is quite out of the question that such passages are intended to shut the door against any who have fallen, however greatly or willfully, if only they will yet turn again.
I feel perfectly certain that if any person is anxious with reference to this sin, or if they have one desire to be forgiven and saved by Christ — it is a manifest proof that, however sinful and unworthy they may be, they have not committed the unpardonable sin.
(4) "I am too wicked to hope for mercy."There was once a man in Wolverhampton lying on a sick bed, and a friend came to speak with him about the Savior. When the friend entered his room, he fixed his eyes on him and said, "I am such a sinner that even God Almighty can't save me!"
"Very well," said the friend, "then you can do something greater than God; if your sin is greater than His mercy — then you must be greater than God." The thought startled him, and he was led to see the evil of limiting the Holy One of Israel.
Dear reader, do not be guilty of the same thing. God delights in mercy, and He will abundantly pardon. You are but a man, and therefore your sins — however great — are but finite. But God is God, and His mercies are infinite.
Remember, too, the infinite efficacy of the blood of the cross. So precious is that blood in the sight of God, that if your sins were as many as the united sins of the whole world, and at the moment you read these lines you take shame to yourself on account of them and come near to God, trusting only in that precious blood — this very hour, this very moment, they shall all be cast into the depth of the sea, and you may stand before God as free from all charge of guilt as if you had never sinned!
(5) "If I were to come to Christ, I would never be able to persevere, and therefore it is wiser not to begin."Until the last few years of my ministry, I had no idea that a thought of this kind was so great an obstacle to many, who are yet very seriously impressed. It takes various shapes: sometimes it refers to one particular hindrance in a man's family, or business, or in the society in which he mingles. It may be a quarrel that has long existed, or a bitter feeling cherished in the heart of a relative, or a course of petty dishonesty in trade that a man knows not how to break through. Sometimes it is a kind of general persuasion, that the religion of Christ demands a walk and conversation which is impossible in the common routine of daily life — and this being so, a man argues, that as backsliding is so dangerous a sin, he will not yet enter on a Christian course.
But this objection arises very much from a partial view of Christ's salvation. People do not see how completely Jesus saves those who come to Him. Take an illustration — it is a thought I lately met with, but it may be carried further than was done by the writer.
Suppose you were drowning in the water, and the sea-shore not far off. But this shore was a long distance from your own home and the journey home was a very dangerous one. A friend comes to rescue and save you from a watery grave. But would you refuse his help, because you might meet with perils afterward on your way home?
But suppose that friend not only offered to save your life, but to accompany you along your way and not leave you until he had conducted you in safety to the town or village you desired to reach. Surely now you will thankfully accept his offered help.
But how is it with Jesus? He sees you perishing in your sins; He comes near; He offers at once to lift you up from your present condition of guilt and condemnation, and place your foot on the solid rock of acceptance and justification before God. But He offers more than this:
He will be your Guide, Protector, Shepherd.
He will go with you every step of your homeward journey.
He will shield you in the hour of temptation.
He will keep you from the power of the great adversary.
He will not leave you until He has done all that He has promised.
Let not then the fear of the future keep you from Christ. Cast upon Him . . .
the Past, for He will forgive;
the Present, for He is near, by your very side;
the Future, for He can keep and save to the uttermost.
Not a sorrow lies before you — but His arm will sustain you in the endurance of it. Not a temptation will meet you — but He will be ready to supply grace to overcome it.
A few years ago a young lady was anxiously seeking Christ; but her chief anxiety was a fear that she would fall back. She could not see how it was possible she could overcome all the snares that might entangle her. But one day she opened a small Testament which she carried in her pocket. She noticed the precious assurance given in Jude 24 verse: "Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." This was enough. She saw that Christ could keep the soul that leaned on Him, even to the day of His appearing. She trusted the Savior fully. She honored Him by a holy, devoted life. And not long ago, after a very happy Christian course, she fell asleep in Christ.
There is one other stone in the way that ought not to be passed over.
(6) Many inquirers find little comfort because they have a divided heart."Their heart is divided — now shall they be found faulty." "Woe be to the double-minded and to the sinner that goes two ways." "The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."
A partial obedience like that of Saul in the matter of Amalek, or a partial surrender as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira — brings great disquietude, and fails to impart any true rest of spirit. Too many are determined to hold the world fast — and yet wish to have the peace of Christ. Too many wish to live for themselves and to walk in their own ways — and yet would have Christ by their side to forgive and to save. And so they journey on — sometimes with a ray of hope, and sometimes all in darkness, because Christ will not be the minister of sin, or give His Spirit to abide with those that keep back from Him a part of their heart, or walk in ways that grieve and dishonor Him.
Perhaps, dear reader, conscience whispers, "This has been my case — but what can I do? The world has great power over me — but I would follow Christ fully if I could."
Then I would say: Let there be a full trust in His love, a full reliance on all His gracious promises, an entire dependence on Him for everything — for pardon, for holiness, for happiness, for things temporal and things spiritual. And then in the strength of this faith, make an unreserved surrender of yourself and all you have to His service. Be assured, it is the lack of faith that leads to this half-heartedness and reserve in our obedience. He who asks with a wavering and doubting spirit, is the double-minded man. (See James 1:6-8.)
On the other hand, Abraham, so strong in faith, was a very Prince among those remarkable for their obedience. And it is easy to see why this is so. Faith puts men in possession of riches and peace and joy in God — and where a man has these, he is satisfied, though all else should fail. While unbelief robs men of their true portion, or of their enjoyment of it — and so they run hither and thither to find a little comfort and help in some earthly thing.
Be it yours then to find your all in God. Drink more and more deeply of His deep river of pleasure. When disappointment and sorrow darken your path, flee immediately to your Hiding-Place, and find in God the solace for all human woe. When cares and anxieties oppress your spirit, spread them before the mercy-seat, as Hezekiah spread the letter of the King of Assyria — and with an eye of humble expectation wait for deliverance from God alone.
Beware of all human reliances and the very least departures from a plain obedience to His commands. Trust in God, wait on God, keep the strait path of His precepts — and in the end, the rough shall be made smooth, and all that seems for a time dark and gloomy shall be made as clear as the day.