Looking Unto Jesus!
The Believer Gladdened on His Journey Zion-ward
By John Ross MacDuff, 1856
While the word of God is "profitable for correction and instruction in righteousness," it is also profitable for support and consolation. The Apostle speaks of "the comfort of the Scriptures," and the people of God, in all ages, have realized it in their own happy experience. They have "drawn water with joy out of the wells of salvation," and were enabled in consequence "to go on their way rejoicing."
The great central Object of revelation — in whom all its truths and promises meet, and from whom their vitality and preciousness are derived — is emphatically called "the Consolation of Israel;" and it is only as we look to Him, that we shall have "the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." Hence, in endeavoring "to comfort those who mourn," great prominence must be given to his glorious person, and his atoning work. Whether we are dealing with the convinced sinner, or the doubting and disconsolate believer, we cannot do better than point him at once to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
At the same time it must be borne in mind that the things concerning Him, in order to produce the fruits of joy and peace, must be applied to the soul by the power of the Divine Spirit. It is his special work to reveal the Savior in all his characters and offices, as "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Thus, as the Spirit of Truth, and the Testifier of Jesus, He is the "other Comforter," who is to abide with his people forever.
In the following pages the writer has endeavored to set forth, in a clear and condensed form, some of those blessed truths which are calculated to minister to the consolation of the Savior's followers. Like the Israelites of old, they may be often discouraged because of the difficulties and dangers of the way; and it is hoped that these brief meditations may be the means of refreshing their spirits, and renewing their strength. May all the readers of this little work be led daily to "consider Him who endured the cross, and bore the contradiction of sinners against himself, lest they become wearied and faint in their minds." And may "our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, who has loved us, and has given us everlasting consolation, and a good hope through grace, comfort their hearts, and establish them in every good word and work."
"Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God." Isaiah 41:1.
It is abundantly evident that God desires the happiness of his people. This is a very cheering and supporting truth, especially to those who are afflicted and distressed, whether in mind, body, or estate; and it is to such, that the gracious exhortation before us is particularly addressed.
In connection with this subject, let us think of the representations which are given of God in his word. In one passage he is emphatically called "the God of consolation;" and in another "the God of all comfort." Addressing the Corinthians, the Apostle says, "Nevertheless, God who comforts those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus." What an endearing view is that which is here given! He . . .
who is the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity,
who dwells in glory inaccessible,
who covers himself with light as with a garment,
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
who makes the clouds his chariot, and
who walks upon the wings of the wind —
He it is who comforts those that are cast down! How great his condescension, and how amazing his love!
In the prophecies of Jeremiah, the Divine Being represents himself as "the fountain of living waters." He thus shows that he is the only source of true and abiding consolation. And is not this the case? All the blessedness of the inhabitants of Heaven, is derived from him. In his presence, is fullness of joy; from his right hand, rivers of pleasure are flowing for evermore. And all the happiness enjoyed in this valley of tears, this wilderness of woe — emanates from the same source. He who is the fountain of glory to the church triumphant above — is the fountain of grace to the church militant on earth. Hence the cry of every sanctified soul is that of the Psalmist of old, "Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon me!" And when that is done, he is enabled to say, "You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the time when the corn and wine of the wicked increased."
The mission of the Son of God confirms the same truth. In his first sermon at Nazareth this was clearly shown. He came from Heaven to this lower world; and he commenced his public ministry by stating the object for which he came. It was "to comfort all who mourn; to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." In full accordance with his opening address, were all his subsequent declarations. Did he not appear as the comforter of those who mourn when he said, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest?" He here invites the weary and wretched to come to him, that they might be made happy in the enjoyment of his redeeming love. He promises to . . .
fill their empty souls with heavenly peace,
subdue the evil passions of their nature,
bid the rising storm be still; and
bless them with those blessings
which no time can impair,
which no calamity can affect,
which no violence can ever destroy.
This is his special office — his divinely-appointed work; and it is one in which his soul delights.
That he might, as the Consolation of his people, be fully qualified for this high function, it pleased his heavenly Father that he should experimentally know what trials and temptations were. The Apostle speaks of the great Captain of our salvation, as being made perfect through suffering, that he might be able to sympathize with those who are in sorrow. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin." "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
O believer, think of this. Whatever your trials may be — he knows of them; and he will sympathize with you, and impart help and support to you.
Are you struggling with the evils of poverty? Ah! he knows what they are. "The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of Man had not where to lay his head." He was a poor houseless, homeless wanderer, in that world which his own hands had made, and which is preserved by his mighty power. "Although he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich."
Are you suffering under slanderous and unjust accusations? When he performed his mighty deeds, he was charged with having fellowship with the powers of darkness. When he wrought his works of mercy and love on the Sabbath, he was accused of breaking that law which he came to fulfill. When he mixed with sinners, they called him a glutton and a drunkard. Never did anyone experience, so fully as he did, the folly, the ingratitude, the betrayal, the malice, the madness of the children of men. "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Are you the subject of pining sickness? Are your days wearisome, and your nights restless? He can sympathize with you, for he took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses. The pain which racks and pierces; the debility which unnerves; the disease which wastes away — he well knows what they are.
Is Satan casting his fiery darts at you? Those darts were cast at him!
"Touched with a sympathy within,
He knows our feeble frame;
He knows what sore temptations mean,
For he has felt the same.
But, spotless, innocent, and pure,
The great Redeemer stood;
While Satan's fiery darts he bore,
And did resist to blood."
O believer, for being cheered and supported under your sorrows, of whatever nature they may be — look to Jesus! Think of him as your sympathizing High Priest; and in his name draw near to the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Let us think again of the character and work of the Holy Spirit. He is emphatically called the "Comforter." And there are two ways in which he comforts the believer. He does so, in the first place, by revealing the person and offices of the Savior; and, in the second place, by assuring the believer of his saving interest in him. In reference to the former it is said, "He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." And again, "But when the Comforter has come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father — he shall testify of me." He testifies . . .
of the perfection of his work,
of the value of his righteousness,
of the infinite merits of his sacrificial death.
And he testifies that from this source alone — from his stripes and bruises, from his bleeding veins and opened side — true happiness can flow.
There is an incident recorded of a poor Hindu, who sought for peace to his troubled conscience by performing the rites of that cruel system under which he had been brought up. He was convinced of his sinful condition, and in order to atone for his guilt, he had a number of sharp iron spikes driven through his shoes, with the points inward; and he undertook to walk a journey of 400 miles in this agonizing manner. One evening, being overcome by pain and fatigue, he sat down to rest. On a bank near him, a number of people were collected together. It was a Christian service; they were engaged in worshiping the true and living God; and a missionary was preaching to them. The subject of his discourse was Jesus Christ. He spoke of the atonement which the spotless Lamb of God had made on the cross; how he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; how he died the just for the unjust, that the wretched and guilty, might have life through his name. The attention of the Hindu devotee was attracted; he listened for his life, to the glad tidings which the man of God proclaimed; and before the sermon was over, he threw his spiked sandals away, exclaiming in an ecstacy of delight, "This is what I want! This is what I want!" He was led to embrace that blessed Savior, of whom he had now heard for the first time, and he found joy and peace in believing.
Now as it was with this poor Hindu, so will it be with all who are truly convinced of their misery and guilt. O! when the Eternal Spirit reveals the Savior in the glories of his mediatorial character, the language of the oppressed and burdened conscience will be, "This is what I want!" When he unfolds the wonders of his redeeming grace and dying love; when he applies to the heart such words as those of the Apostle, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace," the feeling will surely be, "This is what I want!" Having this, I shall be happy; my soul will then magnify the Lord, and my spirit will rejoice in God my Savior.
But another part of the work of the Spirit, is to assure the believer that he is a personal partaker of Christ. To possess a saving interest in Him is one thing; to have an undoubted assurance of it is another thing. But in order to realize substantial happiness, it is essential that this assurance be possessed. Now to impart such a consciousness of our acceptance, is the work of this Divine Agent; and in granting it, he is emphatically the Comforter. "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
O how desirable is it that Christians should live up to their privileges! It is the will of God that they should be happy, and that, here as well as hereafter. Of this he has given the most abundant proofs, at some of which we have briefly glanced. If this is so, be not satisfied, O believer, to remain destitute of those rich enjoyments which he is infinitely ready to bestow.
All who are strangers to God, are strangers to true happiness. In his favor is life; and that favor, they possess not — being enemies to him by wicked works. There is no peace to the wicked; they are like the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. And those who seek happiness in any other way than that which the gospel reveals, are sure to be disappointed.
"Found peace this way alone who sought it else,
Sought mellow grapes beneath the icy pole;
Sought blooming roses on the cheek of death;
Sought substance in a world of fleeting shades."
"To the dear fountain of your blood,
Incarnate God! I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul,
From crimes of deepest dye!
"A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On your kind arms I fall;
O be my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all."
None but Jesus
"And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only!" Matthew 17:8
The concluding words in this passage may be profitably contemplated, apart from the interesting narrative in which they are found. They may be viewed, in the first place, in reference to the great subject of the sinner's acceptance in the sight of God. In order to possess that high privilege, we must rest upon Jesus only. He is the only way to the Father, and all whom He receives are received through him alone. We are accepted in the Beloved, to the praise of the glory of his grace.
Of this great truth, no one had a clearer knowledge, or a deeper conviction of its importance, than the Apostle Paul. There was a period when he knew nothing of it, and when his hopes of Heaven were built upon other objects. This he strikingly shows in his epistle to the Philippians: "though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." Philippians 3:4-9
It thus appears that what was formerly the Apostle's all — was to him now less than nothing. The privileges of his birth; the zeal he displayed as a Pharisee; his submission to ceremonial rites; his performance of moral duties — all these were now entirely worthless in his estimation, and his hopes for acceptance and eternal life were built upon Jesus, and Jesus only. To win Christ, and be found in him, were all his salvation, and all his desire.
Now all who are ignorant of God's righteousness, go about as Paul did, and as the Jews at large — to establish a righteousness of their own. Self-righteousness, in some form or other, is the great idol of the carnal mind. But, when the Spirit convinces of sin; when the spirituality of the divine law is perceived; and when the sinner, in the light of that law, has a proper view of his own character — oh! what a blow does his self-righteousness then receive! As it was with Dagon, the prostrated idol of Philistia, before the ark of God — so will it be with his idol. He may at first endeavor, like the priests of that false deity, to replace it in its former position; but as light increases in his mind, and the good work of grace advances in his heart — it will be toppled again and again. Not merely will the head and hands be broken, leaving the stump entire; but the whole framework will be shattered into atoms. And then, when his favorite idol is destroyed, all his long-cherished expectations will perish. Being shut up to the faith of the gospel, his hopes will be now fixed upon Jesus alone. In the sweet strains of the poet, his language will be —
"Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Guilty, to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow;
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and thou alone!"
And not merely is the Lord Jesus the ground of the sinner's hope, but he is the only source of the believer's consolation. All his springs are in him. All his enjoyment and support flow from him. It is in the Lord, that he has righteousness, but it is also in him that he has strength. Without him, severed from him — the believer can do nothing; but he can do all things through Christ who strengthened him. His grace is sufficient for him, and he has promised to perfect his strength in weakness. All that concerns the believer in his daily course — his strength to suffer, and his will to serve, are derived from Jesus only.
But while such is the case in reference to his life, it is peculiarly so in reference to his death. At that solemn season, when the powers of nature are failing, and when the world is forever disappearing, it can be said of every dying saint, with the fullest emphasis, that he has nothing — nothing as the ground of his acceptance, and nothing as the source of his support and consolation, save Jesus only.
There is a striking harmony in the experience of all God's people; amid a circumstantial diversity — there is a marked identity. It is in grace, as it is in nature. Bruce, the traveler, says, that he heard the sky lark singing in Abyssinia, and its notes were the same there as in England. The circumstance, he states, simple though it was, solaced his mind, while pursuing his weary way through those distant and dismal wilds. Nature, through all her dominions, is essentially one; and so with grace — wherever it exists, in whatever regions or climates — its strains are always similar.
In confirmation of this, abundant evidence might be adduced. Some years ago there was a meeting in America, at which people were present from the four quarters of the globe. It was a service of a social and devotional character; and being struck with the circumstance that there were among its members, individuals from such widely different parts, it was proposed that one from each quarter should give an account of the rise and progress of religion in his soul. The occasion, as may be supposed, was particularly refreshing; and several remarks were called forth after each had concluded his narration. But what most struck and delighted the assembly, was the wonderful similarity which marked the accounts they gave. Their views were, in substance, the same; their emotions the same; their conflicts the same; their sorrows and joys, their hopes and fears, the same. There was an essential harmony in the experience of all — a harmony which furnishes a striking proof of the divinity of our holy religion.
But if there is one point more than another in reference to which this oneness holds true, it is the point on which we are insisting; and if there is one season in which it more prominently appears than another, it is the solemn season to which we have alluded. On the bed of death, the believer has but one note — it is, Jesus only! Go where you will in search of him, it will be found to be so. Is he one of the favored sons of Britain? With him, it is Jesus only! We do not ask by what name he was known among men, or what were his peculiar sentiments on minor matters; if he is a true Christian, this will be his experience — Jesus only!
Go to the islands of the distant seas, where heathenism of the foulest kind prevailed a few years ago; yet there — in Tahiti, and Raiatea, and Raratonga, and other places, living and dying exemplifications will be found of the fact that true religion is one, and that its essence is Jesus only. Go to Africa, to Greenland, to India — go wherever the gospel has gone, and where the Spirit of God, in his convincing and regenerating influences, has gone with it; and indubitable evidence will be furnished to the truth, that Jesus is the sinner's only hope, and the believer's only consolation.
We have this fact further confirmed, not merely in the experience of believers of all countries, but of all grades of intellect. The source of consolation to the Christian peasant and to the Christian scientist, is the same. It is so in life, and especially so in death. The greatest divine, either of ancient or modern times; though he may have traversed the whole round of theological learning; though he may have explored its depths, and scaled its heights; though he may have argued with metaphysical skill, and illustrated all its points with matchless eloquence; though he may have read, and have written volumes upon volumes; yet when he comes to die, after all his researches, he has found nothing that will then do for him, save Jesus only! Thus the rich and poor, the learned and the illiterate, meet together; the Lord being, not merely the Maker, but the Redeemer and Comforter of them all.
O Christian, seek to realize in your own experience more and more of the blessed truth on which we have been enlarging. Look to Jesus, to Jesus only. In all your duties and in all your trials — look to him only. In life and in death, let your watchword be, "Jesus only!"
The Christian's Solace in Distress
"Touched with a sympathy within,
He knows our feeble frame;
He knows what sore temptations mean,
For He has felt the same.
Then let our humble faith address
His mercy and His power;
We shall obtain delivering grace
In the distressing hour!"
"John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus!" Matthew 14:12
The conduct of John's disciples on the occasion here referred to, is worthy of our imitation. In all our distresses — we should go and tell Jesus. Whatever their nature may be — we are permitted and encouraged to unbosom ourselves to him, and that with the full assurance that he will listen to the voice of our supplication.
The sympathy of Christ should encourage us to disclose to him all our wants and woes. We do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. In all our afflictions he can feel for us, having been himself tried and tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Are we struggling with the evils of poverty? Do want and destitution stare us in the face? Jesus can sympathize with us. No home sheltered him; no daily table was spread for him. He was homeless, and, had it not been for the attachment of a few devoted friends, he would have been a poor houseless wanderer, during the whole course of his earthly sojourn.
Are we assailed by distressing temptations? Are we suffering under slanderous and unjust accusations? Are we deserted by our friends? Do those who ought to have supported and protected us, treat us unkindly? He was thus treated, and is therefore able to enter into our feelings on such occasions. Are we walking in darkness, and having no light? He can sympathize with us then. Never will he forget what he felt when he uttered the heart-rending cry, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" In a word, He was in all points tempted like as we are; and if we resort to Him, we shall find him ready to listen to our tale of lamentation and woe.
Let the distressed believer draw from the sympathy of Christ, the consolation which the precious truth is so peculiarly adapted to impart. Although he is now exalted in the heavenly places far above all principalities and powers — yet he can sympathize with his suffering people still.
"Though now ascended up on high,
He bends on earth a brother's eye;
Partaker of the human name,
He knows the frailty of our frame.
Our fellow-sufferer yet retains
A fellow feeling of our pains;
And still remembers in the skies,
His tears, his agonies, and cries.
In every pang that rends the heart,
The Man of sorrows had a part;
He sympathizes with our grief,
And to the sufferer, sends relief."
Let us also think of the power of Jesus, as well as his sympathy. In earthly friends, these two qualities are not always united. There are many to whom we might repair in our distress, who clearly show that they feel for us; but it is beyond their power to relieve us from our difficulties. Were they able to assist, we have that confidence in them that they would; but, alas! they cannot. Here, however, is a Friend, whose ability is equal to his sympathy. Not merely can he feel — but he can help; not merely can he sympathize — but he can support and deliver. And it is the combination of both, which affords us such encouragement in going to tell Jesus of all our sorrows.
We have a striking proof of this in the Savior's dealings with the family of Bethany. The two sisters were sorely distressed on account of the sickness of their brother. And what did they do in their trouble? They went and told Jesus. They did not do so personally, it is true; but they sent a short and simple message to him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."
The message was not attended to as soon as they expected; and, like the mother of Sisera, how anxiously would they be looking out for his return, saying, "Why is he so long in coming?" But the Lord's time is always the best. The delay was for the more striking manifestation of the glory of God, and that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. At length Jesus appears; and oh! what a combination of tender sympathy and Almighty energy did he display! With touching simplicity it is said, "Jesus wept." It appears to have been a weeping scene throughout; for Mary and Martha wept, and the devout Jews who came to comfort them wept, and Jesus also wept. Such was his deep sympathy with the devoted sisters whom he loved. But sympathy was not all. He had said a short time before, "I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." And he was now going to establish his claim to that high character. And hence, after commanding them to remove the stone, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"
The command was at once obeyed. The corpse begins to move. The current of life instantly rushes through his veins. The rigid muscles relax. The stiff limbs become pliant. The powers of nature resume their usual functions. The eyelid is upraised; and instead of that dim and heavy eyeball which it before concealed, the bright index of intelligence beams forth; and he who was dead moves forward to salute his enraptured sisters and his astonished friends. Such was the power of Christ — a power by which he conquered death in his own dark dominions; so that the spectators of this amazing scene might have exclaimed —
"O death, your bands are burst asunder now,
There stands beside the grave a mightier power than thou!"
We do not mean to say that we have any grounds for expecting any such miraculous manifestation of power as that which was here given. The age of miracles is past. The Savior's power is, however, as great as it ever was; and if not in miraculous, yet in truly marvelous ways is it often exerted still. You downcast believer, fear not then to acquaint him of your wants and distresses. Say to him, Lord, if you will, you can remove my load; you can scatter the dark clouds which have gathered over me, and turn even the shadow of death into a gladsome morning.
We may again refer to the promise of Christ. He has assured his people that he will support them; He has given them his word that he will graciously interpose on their behalf. We have thus . . . .
His sympathy, which disposes him to help;
His power, which enables him to help; and
His promise, which binds him to help.
The time would fail us to go over those exceeding great and precious promises which, as a rich legacy, he has bequeathed to his people. One is, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God! I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." Another is, "Call upon me in the day of trouble."
It matters not what the trouble may be, whether bodily trouble, or spiritual trouble, or family trouble, or church trouble, or national trouble. Each and all are embraced; and the assurance given is, "I will deliver you — and you shall glorify me." And so with many more which encourage us, whatever our difficulties and distresses may be — to go and tell Him of them. Call upon him, then, O afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted — call upon him, and the blessed consequence will be that you shall, not merely obtain mercy, but find grace to help in time of need.
We see, from what has been said, that the believer has a refuge in distress, and we see what that refuge is. False refuges, there are in abundance — refuges of lies! O reader, never, never, repair to any of them! Let others go to the world, to its amusements and pleasures — hoping to forget their sorrows there. Let others go and tarry at the wine, and mingle strong drink — seeking to drown their sorrows there. Let others go to the haunts of superstition, to penances and pilgrimages — to seek relief there. On the contrary, be this your language, "Lord, to whom shall we go, but unto You?" In reference to all other sources of relief, it can be said, "Miserable comforters are you all! But in repairing to Jesus, the result will be unspeakably blessed; for he gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
And so with the convinced sinner. Do you feel your inward wretchedness? Are you mourning over your manifold transgressions? Are you convinced that the world, and the things of the world, can never make you happy? If so, go and tell Jesus! Abundant encouragement have you from his tender sympathy, his boundless power, and his unfailing promise, to do so. O apply to him, then, and peace and pardon will be yours!
The Holy Mount
"Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross I spend;
Life, and health, and peace possessing,
From the sinner's dying Friend!
Here I sit, with transport viewing
Mercy's streams, in streams of blood;
Precious drops, my soul bedewing,
Plead and claim my peace with God."
"The place which is called Calvary." Luke 23:33
No spot connected with the Savior's history, can be devoid of interest to the Christian. Every place which he honored with his presence, is consecrated ground. And often does the believer, in the exercise of faith and of devout meditation, visit the scenes which are associated with the life and labors of his incarnate Lord. He thus often repairs to Bethlehem, and with the eastern sages he presents his gifts, and with the angelic hosts he pays his homage to the Holy Child. He visits Bethany beyond the Jordan, where he was baptized, and as often as he does so, he hears the voice proclaiming from the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. He visits Tabor, where the Redeemer's countenance beamed like the sun, and where his clothing was white and glistening. And so with Bethany, where, retired for a while from the noise of the busy world, the Savior enjoyed, with the family whom he loved, the sweets of hallowed communion.
But over and above such places, there is one which has to the Christian an interest all its own — it is "the place which is called Calvary." And there we would now conduct the reader, and may the visit not be in vain! Calvary was a small eminence on the north-west of Jerusalem, a short distance outside the city. The name, which signifies a skull, or the place of a skull, was given to it, either because its shape resembled that part of the human frame; or, which is more probable, because of the skulls which lay scattered there, it being the place where criminals were generally executed. The evangelists frequently call it Golgotha, a word of the same meaning — Golgotha being the Hebrew, and Calvary the Latin term.
But it is in connection with the sufferings and death which the Savior there endured, that we have now to regard this memorable place. And that we might have, in some measure, a realizing view of the sorrowful scene, let us imagine ourselves to be present on the occasion, to witness all that is transpiring:
There is the crowd rushing out through the gates of the holy city. It is a motley throng, and various are the emotions of those who compose it. There are priests and scribes, with a smile of triumph on their countenances; but there are others, especially a group of females, on whose cheeks may be discerned the big tears flowing down. The Roman soldiers, with their gleaming helmets, and their waving plumes are there, some of them heading the procession, and others marching to and fro, for the purpose of preventing any tumult or disorder. But the chief object of interest in the dense throng is One in the center, of whose person we can catch an occasional glance, as the multitudes pass hither and thither. We can see his dress; he has on a long flowing robe, girded about his loins, a robe without seam from top to bottom. He carries a large piece of crossed wood upon his shoulders, and wears on his head an unusual ornament, even a crown of thorns. He appears exceedingly faint, as if ready to sink under the heavy burden he bears; so much so, that, fearing lest he should die on the way, the cross is taken from his shoulders, and a certain stranger, whose color proclaims him to be an African, is made to carry it in his stead. But though faint, he is perfectly composed; and while the females behind him are lamenting his fate, he chides their sorrows, saying to them, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children."
The summit of the mount, the appointed place of execution, is at length reached. And there the Roman guards are busily engaged in keeping the crowd back, that an open space might be left for the executioners to perform their duty. The first thing they do is to strip the holy sufferer of his garments, and that is done in the rudest and roughest manner. His body, it will be perceived, is quite raw, and streaming with blood from his recent scourging. In this state he is thrown down upon his back on the cross which is laid on the ground, and his hands and feet are nailed thereto. Iron spikes, strong enough to bear the weight of a man's body, are hammered through them — through nerves and tendons, and the most sensitive parts of his frame. The wood is then uplifted, while the lower end is sunk into a hole which has been dug for the purpose; and the sufferer appears a spectacle of shame and agony — naked, wounded, and bleeding, before the thousands who are assembled together.
The death of the cross was distinguished by two peculiar features. In the first place, it was shameful and ignominious. It was a punishment inflicted upon none but slaves, and those criminals who had committed the most enormous crimes. The degradation it involved appears from the fact that Cicero, in one of his orations, brings it as a most solemn charge against a certain Consul, that, unawed by the majesty of the Roman Commonwealth, he had caused a Roman citizen to be nailed to the cross. "It is an outrage," is his language, "to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an atrocious crime; to put him to death is almost parricide; but to crucify him — what shall I call it?" And yet that death, with all its infamy, did the Son of God endure!
But it was, secondly, a death preeminently painful. It appears to have been devised, with savage ingenuity, to cause as much suffering as possible. Hence the vital parts are left untouched; the wounds are inflicted upon the extremities of the body, iron spikes being driven, as we have seen, through the hands and feet; while the poor sufferer has to hang in a position which admits of no change or rest, and burning inflammation works its way gradually to the seat of life. It was doubtless a death painful in the extreme; so much so, that the strongest term we have for expressing intense agony, the term excruciating, is derived from it.
In addition to the shame and suffering of the cross, the Savior while stretched thereon, was mocked and reviled in the most inhuman manner. Those who passed by, while wagging their heads, in mock imitation of his convulsive agonies, addressed him in the language of sarcastic scorn. "You who destroy the temple," did they say, "and build it in three days, save yourself. If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders said, "He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God, let him deliver him now if he will have him; for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also who were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth." He had thus to bear the contradiction of sinners against himself; he had to endure the cross, with all its insults, and all its shame.
The scoffs of the Savior's enemies at his crucifixion, have been repeated by their infidel successors in every age. Thus Celsus, one of the earliest and most violent of the adversaries of Christianity, after representing Christ as despitefully treated, arrayed in purple robes, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the tree, asks, "Why, in the name of wonder, does he not now act as God, and hurl his vengeance on the authors of his insults and agonies? Any madman on earth, or fury in Hell, is capable of anger and revenge!"
If it be the glory of a man to pass by a transgression, and the noblest triumph to overcome evil with good, then he died gloriously beyond all example.
But the outward sufferings which the Savior bore on Calvary were nothing, when compared with his inward sufferings. His bodily agonies, as great as they were, were as light as a feather, in comparison with the agonies of his soul. The sufferings of his soul — were truly the soul of his sufferings. But of those sou-lsufferings, what can we say? We may, in some measure, describe what was going on without — but who can describe what was passing within? We may describe the derision of the Jews — but who can describe the desertion of his Heavenly Father? We may describe the soldiers spear — but who can describe the arrows of the Almighty? We may describe the nails piercing his sacred flesh — but who can describe eternal justice piercing both flesh and spirit? We may describe the cup of vinegar which he tasted — but who can describe the cup of wrath which he drank to its lowest dregs? We may describe the accursed tree on which he hung — but who can describe the curse of the law which made it so? In such an attempt language fails, and it is felt how poor is thought, and how impotent are the most emphatic representations. Truly, his soul-sufferings are unfathomable!
We have regarded "the place which is called Calvary" as one of shame and suffering; but there are many other aspects in which it may be viewed. It is a place of conflict and victory, for He spoiled principalities and powers and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them on the cross. It is a place of heavenly instruction. The truth of God's word is there confirmed; all the attributes of his glorious character are there manifested; the way of salvation is there opened. It is a place of blessed consolation. It was at the cross that Bunyan's pilgrim lost his burden; and it is there, and there only, that our mourning can be turned into joy. Reader, would you have your heart softened, and your love inflamed? Go to Calvary, to gaze on the wondrous spectacle which is there presented. While so doing let your language be,
"Was it for crimes that I have done,
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!"
It is also a place to which we should repair in order to learn our obligations, and where, by feeling and acknowledging them afresh, we should resolve, by the help of his grace, to devote ourselves unreservedly to his praise. We there see what he has done for us, and there we should ask ourselves in return: What are we doing for him? While prostrate at the foot of the cross, our language should be that of the awakened persecutor, "Lord, what will you have me to do?"
And the sinner should pay a visit there. The Son of God is bleeding and dying for you. And can you still rebel against him? Can you continue to despise his offered grace, and neglect so great salvation? O that his matchless love might subdue your stubborn will, and draw your affections to himself!
The Covenant of Grace
"Since you, the everlasting God,
My Father have become;
Jesus, my guardian, and my friend.
And Heaven my final home.
Your covenant in the darkest gloom
Shall heavenly rays impart,
Which, when my eye-lids close in death,
Shall warm my chilling heart."
"He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure; for this is all my salvation and all my desire." 2 Samuel 23:5
The Scriptures inform us that God has entered into a covenant with his Son; who is called the Mediator of the new covenant. The language of Christ as the covenant Head of his church is, "All whom the Father gives me shall come unto me; and him that comes to me, I will never cast out."
But God enters into an engagement, which is expressed by the same term, with each of his people. "I entered into a covenant with you," is his language, "and you became mine." This covenant, every believer lays hold of; its gracious terms he embraces; and, as the blessed consequence, God becomes his God; a covenant relationship is formed between them; a relationship which neither life nor death can destroy.
In entering into a covenant with man, the condescension of God strikingly appears. This is evident if we consider, in the first place, his INFINITE GREATNESS. If one who is a little exalted in the world becomes familiar with those who move in the lower walks of life, it is looked upon as a great thing. But what is the distance between the loftiest prince and the meanest peasant — when compared with the distance that exists between God and us! He is the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity; and for him to enter into a covenant with poor dust and ashes — who can conceive the amazing condescension which such an act involves!
If we think, in the second place, of the HOLINESS of God, his condescension will appear still greater. Not merely does the infinitely great God make a covenant with poor, insignificant man — but the infinitely holy God makes a covenant with sinful and rebellious man. In the old covenant God had to do with man as a creature; but in the new covenant, the covenant of grace, he has to do with him as a sinner, which makes the condescension far more amazing.
And then, in the third place, there is the ALL-SUFFICIENCY of God. Though he is thus great and holy, yet he does not require our services — as the mighty of this world stand in need of the services of their inferiors. To this the Psalmist shall reply. "O my soul, you have said unto the Lord, You are my Lord" — here the covenant relationship is declared. But what of that? Can you be of some great value to him in consequence? Not so; for it is instantly added, "My goodness extends not to you." All the goodness, all the benefit is on the other side. Our goodness, truly, extends not to God — but unless his unmerited goodness is extended to us, we shall be undone forever. O that his condescension may have its due influence upon our minds! "But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" was the language of Elizabeth. How much more may the believer say, "But why am I so favored, that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ should not merely come to me, but enter into a gracious covenant with me?"
This covenant is variously represented in the sacred records. It is called an EVERLASTING covenant. In its CONTRIVANCE, it is so. It is in time, that the believer lays hold upon it; but it existed before the foundations of the hills were laid. "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you." And it is everlasting in its CONTINUANCE. All its blessings reach beyond the bounds of earth and time, and will enrich their possessors forever and ever!
It is also a covenant ORDERED in all things. Everything pertaining to it is properly arranged. There is nothing redundant, incongruous, defective. It is perfectly harmonious in all its parts, and fully adapted to accomplish the great ends designed. It is a covenant, consequently, in which the infinite wisdom of its adorable Author conspicuously appears.
There are two leading desires in the heart of every believer. One is that God's name may be glorified, and the other that his own soul may be saved. He cannot be satisfied with the one, without the other. To desire the glory of God, in his own destruction is impossible; and to desire his own salvation in a way that would dishonor God, is equally so. But, oh! to have some contrivance whereby both objects might be accomplished — whereby God may be glorified, and his own salvation secured. Now such a contrivance is that of which we are speaking. It is so ordered as to harmonize the glory of God, and the well-being of man. Hence when the wondrous plan was announced by angelic messengers, they spoke of "Glory to God in the highest," in connection with "peace upon earth and good-will to men."
And it is an arrangement which secures, not merely that one of the divine perfections should be glorified — but that they should all shine with united luster. Had God damned the world for its sins, his justice would have been infinitely glorious, for it would be nothing but what the world deserved; but mercy in that case could not make her appearance. On the other hand, had God saved the world in its sins — that is, had he granted pardon to sinners without any satisfaction being rendered to that holy law which they had violated; his mercy would then be glorified, but by such an act, justice would be under an eternal cloud. But, oh! wondrous plan! Here mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Here God appears a just God, and a Savior; he is just, while the justifier of those who believe in Jesus.
Another feature belonging to this covenant is its SURENESS — a feature which should lead the soul to repose with full confidence upon it. That such is its character, is evident from the fact that God is its author. On this, the Psalmist lays the greatest stress. "He," the rock of Israel, who is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent, "He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure; for this is all my salvation and all my desire."
This truth is strikingly set forth by the Apostle Paul, when addressing the Hebrews. They had to suffer much on account of their attachment to Christ and his cause; therefore, he endeavors to console them under the painful circumstances in which they were placed; and it is by directing their thoughts to this unfailing covenant that he did so. "When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, "I will surely bless you and give you many descendants." And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 6:13-20
Such were the Apostle's sentiments; sentiments which had yielded support and consolation to his own soul, and which he could therefore recommend with full confidence to others.
Yes, it is a covenant that is sure. All its blessings, all its promises, all its consolations — are sure. He who rests his hopes upon it, shall not be ashamed nor confounded, world without end. With unfaltering assurance can he sing,
"My God, the covenant of your love,
Abides forever sure;
And in its matchless grace I find,
My happiness secure!"
How great then is the blessedness of true believers! God says, "I will be their God — and they shall be my people." 2 Corinthians 6:15. This is a promise in which every other is included. Sometimes God says to the Christian, I will be your strength, your righteousness, your deliverer, your shield, your reward; but these are nothing but modifications of the former. Believer! endeavor to realize something of the blessedness involved in having God for your God. For this purpose think of the representations he gives of himself in his word. Think of him in all the perfections of his nature — in his unsearchable riches — in his unspeakable glory — in his omnipotent power — in his universal dominion — in his spotless purity — in his eternal veracity — and, above all, in his infinite grace and mercy. And having viewed him thus, you may venture to say, with unwavering faith and adoring gratitude, "This God is my God forever and ever, and he will be my guide even unto death!" Psalm 48:14
From God's everlasting covenant, let all our consolation be drawn. It was from this source that David drew his; and hence he calls it all his salvation, and all his desire. And no wonder, for he found in it, everything he required. And what he found in it — we may find. Here is . . .
supply for every exigency,
the pardon we require for our innumerable offences,
the grace that can reach to the extent of our unworthiness,
the fountain in which we can be washed from all our stains, peace for the troubled conscience,
hope that makes not ashamed,
victory over sin, and death, and Hell,
a present Savior, a powerful Advocate, an everlasting Friend!
Should we not make it, then, all our salvation, and all our desire?
In seasons of sorrow or distress, whether in mind, body, or estate; whether arising from the condition of our families, as it was with David, or whatever its, nature may be; we should especially repair for consolation to this blessed covenant. It was to those who were tossed with tempest, and not comforted, that God applied the consolations of his covenant through the Prophet Isaiah: "For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord that has mercy on you.'
In every sorrow, then, let us rejoice in this well-ordered, this sure, this unfailing covenant. If we are the people of God, it is at once our duty and our privilege to do so.
Those who are strangers from the covenant of promise are in a fearful condition. They have no hope, and they are without God in the world. To be uninterested in God's covenant, is the concentration of all miseries into one. But He is willing to receive returning prodigals, and take them into a covenant relationship with himself. "Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come you, buy and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfies not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." Reader, this blessedness will be yours, if you hear the voice of God, submit to the terms of God, and make an unreserved surrender of yourself to God. O be persuaded so to do, and that without delay.
Divine Mercies Called to Mind
"Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you." 1 Samuel 12:24
The things which God did for his ancient people were, in some respects, more marvelous than what he is doing for his people now. Yet his interpositions on our behalf, call for our devout contemplation, and our fervent praise. He has, truly, done great things for us; and we should be guilty of the basest ingratitude if we permitted —
"The wonders he has wrought,
To be lost in silence, and forgot."
Let us think of what he has done for us in his providential dispensations. The reader may remember the language of good old Jacob, a short time before his death, when blessing his son Joseph. "And he blessed Joseph and said unto him, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked; the God who fed me all my life long unto this day, bless you and your children." How touching the representation which he here gives of that great and gracious Being, whose benediction he now implored on behalf of his favorite son! He speaks of Him as the God who fed him all his life long until that day. Chequered had been the course of this patriarch's pilgrimage. It was not with flowers that his path had been strewed. And yet this is the testimony he gives to the divine goodness and care, now that that pilgrimage was about to close. And can not you, O Christian, raise up a similar Ebenezer? Has not he who fed Jacob, fed you? Are not you a living demonstration of the truth of the promise, "Your bread shall be given you, and your water shall be sure!"
O look back upon the past years of your life — have they not been all years of mercy? How many days of peace and comfort have you enjoyed? Through how many nights of ease and security have you passed, when, sunk in the arms of repose, there was no one to keep you, but he who keeps Israel, who never slumbers nor sleeps? And every night has he kept you — every night has he given charge to his angels concerning you. Have you enjoyed health? It was God who gave it. Have you been visited with sickness? It was he who gave that too; but, oh! how light was the stroke, and how short was its stay! From the bed of languishing he raised you up, and brightened your pallid countenance with the bloom of returning health! In reviewing many a long year, can you not say, God never forgot me, for a single day, during them all. My life, he has spared; my needs, he has supplied; my poor labors, he has blessed. Truly goodness and mercy have followed me, from the drawing of my first breath even to the present hour.
How truthful, as well as graphic and touching, are the well-known strains of the poet:
"When all your mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys;
Transported with the view I'm lost,
In wonder, love, and praise!
Your providence my life sustained,
And all my wants redressed,
When in the silent womb I lay,
And hung upon the breast.
Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Your tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those comforts flowed.
When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran;
Your arm, unseen, conveyed me safe,
And led me up to man.
When worn by sickness, oft have you
With health renewed my face;
And when in sins and sorrows sunk,
Revived my soul with grace.
Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ,
Nor is the least a cheerful heart,
That tastes those gifts with joy.
Through every period of my life
Your goodness I'll pursue;
And after death, in distant worlds,
The glorious theme renew!
Through all eternity to you
A joyful song I'll raise;
But oh! eternity's too short
To utter all your praise!"
But, after all, what are God's providential interpositions, when compared with those of his grace! Christian, what has he done for you, as the God of salvation? Did he not send his Son to suffer, bleed, and die for you? And can you tell how great a thing that was? Think of the dignity of the person he sent — not one of those bright seraphs which surround his throne — but One who is co-equal and co-eternal with himself. Think of the unspeakable glories he possessed before the worlds were made. Think of his infinite condescension in assuming our nature, and that in its very lowest form, sin only excepted. Think of the unknown agonies he endured in the garden and on the cross. O think of these things, and then say, if you can — what great things were done for you!
Had we a realizing view of this glorious subject, our language would be, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to he the atoning sacrifice for our sins!" He sent him, not as a mere ambassador to make known his will; not merely to tell us of mercy if we repented, and of a blessed immortality if we returned to him from whom we had wandered; not merely to present a perfect pattern of obedience for our imitation; but he sent him to be an atoning sacrifice; to bear our sins, as well as to carry our sorrows; to pay to divine justice the dread penalty which we had incurred.
But what, Christian, has God done for you in his grace? Not merely has he sent his Son to die in your stead, but he has made you a personal partaker of those blessings which flow from his atoning work! What has he done for you? He has blotted out your sins from the book of his remembrance; he has regenerated your sinful nature, and made you a new creature in Christ Jesus; he has destroyed the enmity of your carnal mind, and shed abroad his love in your heart, by the Holy Spirit which he has given you; he has delivered you from the tyranny of Satan, and translated you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son; he has, in a word, reconciled you to himself, justified you freely by his grace, adopted you into his family, and given you a name and place in his house, better than that of sons or of daughters!
The account given by the Evangelists of the demoniac is highly instructive, and may be applied to illustrate our present subject. He was possessed with an unclean spirit, and had his dwelling among the tombs. Such was his ferocity, that he burst the chains which bound him in sunder, and no man could tame him. There he was crying out in doleful strains, and cutting himself with stones night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains. But one day Jesus came to that coast, and, coming in contact with this miserable object, he displayed his power over Hell and her legions, by commanding the evil spirit to depart. His orders were instantly obeyed; and he who had been so long tormented, was now seen sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.
In a short time, the Savior set out to depart from the place; but to this the poor man could by no means give his consent, not, at least, unless he should accompany him. "And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you. And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled." Mark 5:18-20
Christian, have you not in this history a type of your own? Was he possessed with an evil spirit? So were you; you were under the power of Satan, and led captive by him at his will. Did he dwell among the dead? So did you. Although now among the living, you were once sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. Was he in a state of utter wretchedness, naked, houseless, friendless? And was it not so, spiritually, with you? Were you not wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked? But a mighty and glorious change has been effected, and that by Him who performed the miracle of which we have been speaking. And to you would we say, Go and tell what great things the Lord has done for you, that your friends and companions may be led to marvel at the miracle of mercy which has been wrought.
In connection with this subject, how appropriate is the question, "How much do you owe unto your Lord?" How much reverence, how much homage, how much gratitude, how much service, how much love? While contrasting your condition with that of thousands around you; and while regarding what God has already done as the pledge of all he will yet do, in the boundless future which stretches before you — you may well inquire what returns you should yield for such matchless benefits!
God's Care for His People
"Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7
"What you shall today provide,
Let me as a child receive;
What tomorrow may betide,
Calmly to your wisdom leave.
'Tis enough that you will care,
Why should I the burden bear?
As a little child relies
On a care beyond its own;
Know's he's neither strong nor wise,
Fears to stir a step alone;
Let me thus with you abide,
As my Father, Guard, and Guide."
That God cares for his people is a truth capable of the most abundant confirmation. It may be clearly inferred from the general care which he has for all his creatures, even the feeblest and most insignificant. The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. The eyes of all wait upon him, and he gives them their food in due season; he opens his hand, and satisfies the desire of every living thing. He gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry. However disregarded by men, he whom the Heaven of heavens cannot contain, cares for them, and that with a constant care.
Now, from the general care of God for these lower creatures, with what confidence may we infer his special care for his people, who are his by so many close and tender ties! This argument is urged by the Savior in one of the earliest of his discourses, in a very beautiful and conclusive manner. We refer the reader to the latter part of the sixth chapter of Matthew. The representations which are there given, and the inferences which are there deduced, are cheering in the highest degree. "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" Matthew 6:26
Are the birds of the air fed? Do they find their food provided by a hand which they cannot recognize? Does He who gave them being, and who has assigned to them their appointed place in the ranks of creation, supply their daily needs, so that none of their species perish for lack of sustenance, but continue, from age to age — a standing monument of his providential goodness? And will he feed his birds — and starve his children? Will he care for the one — and neglect the other? It cannot possibly be! The Savior refers to their comparative value, and asks, "Are you not of more value than they?" You are rational creatures, spiritual creatures, immortal creatures, yes, redeemed creatures — and therefore unspeakably more important than they are. If he then cares for them — oh! will he not care for you?
"Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" Matthew 6:27-30
And as regards clothing, only look at the lilies — observe how they grow — into what grace and beauty; and though they neither toil nor spin, yet so splendidly are they adorned, that Solomon himself, in all his pomp and glory, was not arrayed like one of these! And if God so clothe the lilies — shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
In connection with the above consideration, we may refer to the relationship that exists between God and his people. He is their Father — and they are his sons and daughters. Now a kind father has it in him, as a natural instinct, to care for his children. His heart is set upon helping, supporting, directing, comforting, and blessing them. Such a concern has he for their well-being, that scarcely any sacrifice is deemed too costly by which that concern shall appear in practical manifestation. And should his concern for them be repaid by nothing but ingratitude, as, alas! is often the case — yet even this cannot destroy his affections and feelings.
And if earthly fathers care for their children, will not our heavenly Father care for his? If they are full of concern for their offspring — then is it to be supposed that He, who implanted those kindly principles in their hearts, can be unconcerned about his offspring? Can that be in the stream — which is not in the fountain whence the stream, flows?
In the discourse to which we have already alluded, the Savior strikingly refers to this point: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children — how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:9-11
How clearly and forcibly is the principle we have stated, applied here! Are there any of you, he asks, so cruel, so destitute of natural feeling, as to refuse what your children crave from you, or to give them instead what would be useless or injurious? On the contrary, will not your hearts be drawn out to them in the tenderest concern, and be disposed to meet, as fully as you can, all their wishes? "If you then being evil" — possessing a nature that is corrupt at best, and having therefore much imperfection cleaving to all your doings, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children — how much more will your Father in Heaven" — in whom no defect exists — in whom nothing in the shape of imperfection can be found, "how much more shall He give good gifts to those who ask him!" To the question — How much more? Our reply is: As much more as God is higher, and holier, and better, and kinder than man — so much more will he grant all needful things to those who ask him.
That God cares for his people appears, in a manner the most conclusive — from what he has done for their redemption. And what has he done in connection with this great object? He has done that which fills Heaven with amazement, and that which will fill unending ages with praise. O mighty mystery of unexampled love! He gave the Son of his bosom, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, whom all the exalted intelligences of Heaven delighted to honor and adore — he gave him to suffer, bleed, and die, in their stead. Oh! could he have done, could he have given more?
Now the giving of his Son to die for his people, clearly proves that everything else shall be given them that they really require. "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32. As infinitely dear as that Son was, yet he spared him not, but delivered him up to pain and reproach, to unparalleled sufferings, and to an excruciating and ignominious death. This was truly a proof, a proof altogether overwhelming, of the greatness of God's regard for us! And
"Since his own Son for us he gave,
What else can he withhold?"
Is not the bestowal of the greatest favor — an ample guarantee for the bestowal of those which are less? Is not the unspeakable gift of his only-begotten Son a sure pledge, an unfailing earnest, of every other gift that can contribute to the Christian's well-being?
And it is not his soul only, which is redeemed — but also his body. As both soul and body are forfeited by sin, so both are ransomed by the Savior. "What! Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. The body and spirit are his, and that not merely by creation, but redemption. Both are bought, and therefore with both, the Apostle shows, should God be glorified. Now if the bodies of the saints are thus the purchase of the Savior's priceless blood, it cannot be supposed that even their needs will be disregarded.
We may observe, once more, that God's care for his people appears from his actual dealings with them in all ages. He has done great things for them; things which we cannot contemplate without exclaiming, "Who is a God like unto you? — a God who does wonders!" Have they been afflicted with sickness? He has said to diseases, to plagues and pestilences, Go! — and they have gone at his orders. Have they been oppressed with poverty? He has furnished them with angel's food; he has given them manna from Heaven from day to day; he has even sent the voracious ravens to feed them. Have they been thirsty? He has commissioned his servants to strike the flinty rocks; and streams of water have abundantly flowed. Have they been lodged in dungeons? He has sent his angels to deliver them; and their fetters have fallen off, and the iron doors of their prisons have opened of their own accord. Have they been in perils of waters? The winds and waves have obeyed his voice; he has merely said, Peace, be still! — and the roaring winds have been hushed, and the proud billows have at once been calmed. Have they been exposed to ravenous beasts? He has stopped the mouths of lions. Have they been cast into burning fiery furnaces? He has quenched the violence of the flames, and enabled them to walk in the midst thereof, uninjured and undismayed.
These are some of the great things which God wrought for his people in former generations. With truth could the Psalmist say, "Our fathers trusted in you, and you delivered them: they cried unto you, and were delivered; they trusted in you, and were not confounded."
Such miraculous interpositions, it is true, are not now to be expected. But although the age of miracles is past, God frequently interposes still in behalf of his people in ways truly marvelous. And hence all the wonders he performed of old are adduced by the inspired writers, as so many arguments to lead us, upon whom the ends of the world are come, to put our trust in Him as the Lord Jehovah, in whom there is everlasting strength!
Child of God, in all your circumstances however peculiar, in all your difficulties however great — cast your care upon your heavenly Father! Do so, as the saints of old did, by a spirit of implicit confidence in him. "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shall you dwell in the land, and truly you shall be fed. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord" — or, as the margin reads, "Roll your way upon him" — implying that the burden may be so heavy that it cannot be carried; all that can be done is to roll it. "Roll then your burden upon the Lord; trust also in Him, and he shall bring it to pass; and he shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noon day." Psalm 37:3-6
And with a spirit of trust, connect a spirit of prayer. "Do not be anxious," inordinately "about anything; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus." O blessed man! who thus casts all his anxieties upon God, by earnest and constant prayer to him. Peace, perfect peace will he enjoy. Every irritating passion, and every corroding care, will be allayed. The soul will be serene and calm — as calm as the sea upon a fine summer's evening. The storms will be all hushed, and the golden beams of the great Sun of Righteousness will be shining in heavenly radiance upon it. Reader, may such a blessed state of mind, in life and death, be yours!
The Robe of Righteousness
"But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." Philippians 3:7-9
"No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of your Son!
The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before your throne;
But faith can answer your demands,
By pleading what my Lord has done."
It is said of all the unregenerate, that they are without a saving interest in him — without love to him, faith in him, or any longing after him. This is the state of nature; and an inconceivably fearful state it is. Those who are without Christ are without hope, and without God in the world.
We read of others that they are "with Christ." That is the state of the perfected spirits in the abodes above. In their happy experience, the Savior's intercessory prayer is answered, "Father, I will that those also whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory which you have given me."
But between these two, there is an intermediate state — the state of grace; the distinctive feature of which is, that all its subjects are in Christ. And it befits us to be fully assured of this, that none but those who are in Christ here — shall dwell with Christ hereafter.
The principal thing involved in being found in Christ, is a vital union of the soul with him. Our connection with our first progenitor is set forth by the same expression. The whole human family are represented as being in Adam. He was their covenant head, and what he did in performing or transgressing the conditions of the covenant which God made with him, was done, not in a personal, but public and representative capacity. Hence the curse and condemnation, in consequence of his disobedience, became ours. "For as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."
Now of a similar nature is the connection, between Adam and his seed as that which is formed between Christ and his seed. "For as in Adam all die; even so in Christ, shall all be made alive." "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous." We have thus fallen in virtue of our union with the one, and can only be restored through our union with the other.
This doctrine of the union between Christ and believers prominently appears in the Scriptures. It is there repeatedly shown that they are so in him, that they are said to have done what he did for them. When he died — they died with him; when he was buried — they were buried with him; when he rose again — they rose again with him; and when he ascended to Heaven — they ascended with him.
"God," says the Apostle, "even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." In harmony with this, are the many passages in which the Savior is shown to identify himself with his people. He who touches them — touches the apple of his eye. When the members are wounded on earth — the Head feels it in Heaven: "Saul, Saul, why persecute you Me?" In opposing those despised followers of mine — you are, however unconsciously, opposing Me. And so with the views given of the judgment of the great day. "I was hungry — I was naked — I was sick — I was in prison; and forasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these my brethren — you did it unto Me."
Of all important things, to be savingly united to Christ is the most important. This will appear if we only think of what a saving interest in him secures. It secures our deliverance from condemnation; it secures our acceptance with God; it secures, in a word, our full and final salvation. It is to this that the words before us have immediate reference. The Apostle was now in a state of grace, and had been for many years; and yet he says, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" — or that full perfection both of soul and body which all the saints shall then enjoy.
But an interest in Christ secures our present acceptance, as well as our final salvation. And in no other way can this blessedness be attained. Paul had once thought otherwise, and there are many who think otherwise still. There is a natural bias in the heart of man, which leads him to seek acceptance by the works of the law, or by his own deeds and deservings. Bunyan, aware of such a bias, in his matchless allegory, represents Christian, in an early stage of his pilgrimage, as coming in contact with a Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Ascertaining the distress that Christian was in, he said to him, "In a village, not quite a mile from this place, there resides a person whose name is Legality; upon application to him, he will relieve you of your burden, and remove the pain which it occasions you. His practice in this way is considerable, and his success has been very great. The name of the village is Morality; and as the houses there are very cheap, and many of them now unoccupied — it would be advisable for you to send for your family, and to settle there. Provisions also are cheap and good, the neighborhood is respectable, and you may live in credit and good fashion." In his distress, Christian listened to Worldly Wiseman's advice, and complied with his directions. But he had not gone far before he had bitterly to bewail his folly, and call himself a thousand fools, for having done so. He expected nothing but instant destruction when he came to that terrific mountain, from whose summit lightnings were flashing, and at whose base earthquakes were heaving. He sweat profusely, and quaked for fear, thinking that the mountain which projected above his head, would have fallen upon him, and crushed him into a thousand atoms. He was met, however, by Evangelist, who, restoring him from his wanderings, again pointed him to the Wicket Gate.
Now it is with many still, as it was with this pilgrim. They look to the law for peace, but they look in vain. From Sinai there is no voice to be heard but the dread anathema, "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." How welcome then to those who are almost sinking under the burden of their guilt, must be the glad tidings of the gospel, which tell of Him who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes. To have an interest in Christ will be regarded by such a one, as all his salvation, and all his desire. He will have but one prayer to offer, and that prayer will be, "That I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having my own righteousness."
The reason why our righteousness is unavailing, is because of its imperfection. Nothing less than sinless obedience, will the law of God accept. Now the Savior's obedience was perfect. It was perfect in respect to every individual precept; nothing was committed by him, which was forbidden — and nothing omitted, which was required. It was perfect in respect to the principle from which it flowed — his heart was altogether right, being full of love to God and love to man. It was perfect in respect to the ends at which he aimed — his eye being simply fixed on the divine glory and our good. It was also perfect in respect to its constancy and perseverance — there being nothing of fits and starts, nothing of occasional ardor, followed by seasons of lukewarmness; but there was a holding on, through every toil and trial, until he exclaimed on the cross, "It is finished!"
If any proof of the fact, that the obedience of Christ was a perfect obedience, were required — what ample proof might be produced!
Ancient prophets testified of his spotless purity, saying, "that he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."
Angelic messengers, descending from the skies to announce his incarnation, proclaimed to his virgin mother, "That holy One who shall be born of you, shall be called the Son of God."
"I do always those things which please the Father," he could say of himself; and again, "The prince of this world comes, and he has no claim on me."
His Apostles, ever and always, represent him as being "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners."
Even his most inveterate enemies, who were brimful of prejudice against his person and claims, when they received the challenge, "Which of you convinces me of sin?" had nothing to do but hold down their heads in shame and silence.
Judas, who had been thoroughly acquainted with his most secret privacies, having been behind the scenes from the beginning, under the agonies of bitter remorse, exclaimed, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood."
His judge Pilate, too, who with a singular mixture of weakness and inconsistency pronounced his doom, and delivered him up to death, declared, "I find no fault in this man."
Pilate's wife also, in great distress of mind, came to the judgment seat, saying, "Have you nothing to do with that just man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him."
The centurion likewise, who presided over the crucifixion, on witnessing the strange convulsions which had seized universal nature, cried out, "Truly this was a righteous man."
And finally, even fallen spirits from the nether spheres, acknowledging his supremacy, were forced to confess, "We know you who you are, the Holy One of God!" It is thus abundantly manifest, that the Savior's character was altogether stainless, and, consequently, that his obedience was perfect and complete.
But with the perfection of that obedience which he rendered during his life — we are to connect the wondrous scenes connected with his sufferings and death, when he gave himself as an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor. He who knew no sin — who was free from the least taint of moral pollution — was made sin for us. By a strange and mysterious transfer, our sins were charged against him; our iniquities were laid upon his holy head. But this first transfer was made, that a second transfer might follow; for as the blessed consequence of our transgressions becoming his, through faith in his name — his perfect obedience becomes ours. The glorious outcome of his being made sin for us is, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him!
Reader, what are your feelings in reference to what Jesus did and suffered? Can you say with Paul, "Yes, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ and be found in him?" Is he your life, your hope, your refuge? Is his cross, your crown; his love, your great attraction; his glory, the supreme object of all your pursuits?
O how blessed is the present state, and how inconceivably glorious are the future prospects of the believer!
His person is accepted in the Beloved;
his life is hid with Christ in God;
to his charge, nothing can be laid;
his sins are purged in the Lamb's atoning blood;
to all the glories of Heaven, he has a rightful title; and there he will be presented before long — without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Such being the case, he may well join in the song of triumph, and say with the church of old, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in her God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." Or in the sweet strains of the poet, he can join in singing —
"Jesus, your blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
'Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
When from the dust of death I rise,
To claim my mansion in the skies;
Even then shall this be all my plea,
Jesus has lived and died for me!"
God's Darling Attribute
"Though my sins as mountains rise,
And swell, and reach to Heaven;
Mercy is above the skies,
And I shall stand forgiven!
Mighty is my guilt's increase,
But greater is your mercy's store;
Love me freely, seal my peace,
And bid me weep no more."
"Unto you, O Lord, belongs mercy." Psalm 62:12
The mercy of God may be viewed, in order to having a correct view of its nature — in relation to those kindred attributes which are more immediately connected with it. It may be especially considered in reference to the love and grace of God. In the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, we find the three strikingly linked together; although it is evident that the Apostle regarded them as distinct. "Rich in mercy", "his great love" — and "the exceeding riches of his grace."
The LOVE of God signifies his good-will towards those who are the objects of his choice, and the special delight and approbation with which he regards them. The GRACE of God signifies that the objects of his favor are altogether undeserving — that there is nothing in them to merit the blessings they enjoy. But the MERCY of God denotes, not merely that its objects are undeserving, but also that they are in a state of misery and wretchedness. Grace, in a word, is love to the undeserving — and mercy is love to the miserable.
The mercy that belongs unto God possesses several striking properties.
It is a mercy which is SOVEREIGN in its source. The language of God to Moses was, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy" — that is, I will do it how and when I please, according to my own will and pleasure.
The exercise of divine justice differs materially from that of divine mercy. In the former there is no sovereignty displayed. Justice requires that every sin should be punished. Were God in any case to treat sin with impunity, he would cease to be what he is — the infinitely perfect Jehovah, the just governor of his universe — and there would be an end of his moral government, which consists in ruling his intelligent creatures according to a law of perfect rectitude, holiness, and truth. The existence of sin is a sufficient reason why punishment should be inflicted; but the existence of misery is no reason why mercy should be dispensed, for misery is richly deserved as the just consequence of sin. God would have been the infinitely perfect Ruler of the universe — if he had never extended mercy to a single sinner; and this will be his character when thousands and millions will be adjudged to endless punishment on the last day.
God's mercy is also BOUNDLESS in its nature. Hence we read of God being plenteous in mercy; and of his keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. There is a fullness in the divine mercy which is inexhaustible. It is an ocean without a bottom or a shore!
Its greatness will appear if we think of the sins which it pardons. Take the guilt of a single individual. Who can form a proper estimate of the crimes he has committed, in their number, their hideous nature, and their awful aggravations! If we daily sin against God — and his word declares that we do, either in thought, word, or deed — oh! what must be the total amount of guilt contracted during the course of a long life? "To write down the pardons," says an old writer, "which have been granted to one heir of salvation — would soon tire the hand of the strongest archangel!"
And if the sins of one of the redeemed are so innumerable; if the errors of a single individual cannot be computed; what must be the sins of those countless myriads whose robes have been washed, and made white in the blood of the Lamb! And yet all those sins, divine mercy has pardoned! How boundless then must its nature be. Every saved sinner can say,
"My sins are many, like the stars,
Or sands upon the shore;
But yet the mercies of my God,
Are infinitely more!"
And then God's mercy is PERPETUAL in its duration. The mercy of man is, at best, but frail and fleeting; but the mercy of God is like himself — it is immutable, eternal, and divine! The Psalmist makes this mercy, the theme of his almost constant adoration; and there is no feature of it which he more devoutly celebrates, than its continuance. "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting, the LORD's mercy is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children — with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts." Psalm 103:15-18
"Mercy," it has been strikingly observed, "dwelt in the bosom of God from eternity; it glowed in his sacred breast countless ages before the first seraph was formed. At the dawn of time, when the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy — it appeared in our lower world. It entered the garden of Eden, and dwelt there with our first parents. It followed them from Paradise, when they were expelled from its peaceful bowers on account of their sin, and supported their drooping spirits by the promise of One who would appear to regain their lost inheritance. It was an inmate with Noah and his family in the ark. To the patriarchs it was exhibited in a manner the most gracious and benign. It was with Joseph in Egypt — with Elijah in the desert — with the poor widow when the barrel of meal wasted not, and when the cruise of oil did not fail. It attended the ark of God during its wanderings in the wilderness. It settled with the Israelites in Canaan, and followed them to the land of their captivity. It appeared again in all its glory, when, in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son. It was seen in all the lessons he taught — in all the miracles he performed — and especially, in the sufferings he endured, and the death that he died! Since then, nearly twenty centuries have rolled away, but mercy has not taken its flight. It has shed its rays over thousands and millions of benighted souls — their despairing spirits, it has gladdened — their broken hearts, it has bound — their misery, it has removed — their dying chamber, it has irradiated with celestial brightness — and they have gone down to the silent grave in the blessed hope of seeing it again. And see it again, they shall! On the morning of the resurrection, its notes will be heard in the archangel's trumpet. On the day of judgment, it will shine with rays that will eclipse the brightness of the sun, for its triumphs will be then displayed before assembled worlds. And in those Heavenly mansions to which the redeemed will then be conducted, mercy will reign forever. It will shine in the celestial diadem with unfading radiance, while endless ages will be rolling their mighty rounds!"
What should the feelings of the believer be, in contemplating this mercy! God has, according to his abundant mercy, visited him; he has plucked him out of the horrible pit, and the miry clay; he has set his feet upon a rock, and established his goings. He knows, by happy experience, that to the Lord belongs mercy — pardoning mercy, renewing mercy, preserving mercy, preventing mercy, comforting mercy. With what propriety then, may he adopt the strains of the Psalmist, and exclaim, with a heart full to overflowing, "Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies!" Psalm 103:1-4
O how great the blessedness of the individual who can say with the Apostle, "But I obtained mercy!" Paul had been a persecutor and blasphemer, but he was made a trophy of God's mercy, that He may be feared. And the feeblest believer can exult, as he exulted, in the possession of the same precious blessing.
Reader, have you scriptural grounds for concluding that you have obtained mercy? Then you have nothing to fear. Have you obtained mercy? Then there will be no sting in the last enemy for you; no terrors at the judgment bar; no exclusion from Him in whose favor is life; no lake of fiery woe; no doleful shadows where hope and rest can never come. But there will be indescribable blessedness — a blessedness which it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Eternal happiness, eternal purity, eternal peace, eternal liberty, eternal love, eternal life — will be your portion. O happy man! who, with humble confidence, and adoring gratitude, can exclaim, "I obtained mercy!"
But if the reader has not obtained mercy, his state is an awful state, and his prospects are inconceivably fearful prospects. To have no mercy from God, is to have no shelter from the storm of wrath that is coming; it is to have no friend in the time of the most urgent need; it is to have no support in the hour of death, and no plea to offer on the day of judgment; it is to have no security in time, and no hope for eternity. You may have riches, and talents, and, perhaps, many amiable qualities; but the solemn fact of having no mercy from God, will render the possession of such things unavailing.
We have, however, something to say to you besides telling you of the dreadfulness of your state, and the danger to which you are exposed. We have to tell you that mercy may still be obtained. To the God, against whom you have rebelled, there belongs mercy; and from no returning prodigal will his mercy be withheld. The gracious language of his word is, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord — and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." O seek that mercy through Jesus Christ. Cry with the publican, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" Draw near thus to the Divine footstool, and you will not be frowned upon, nor driven empty away!
Confidence in Christ
"Jesus, my God! I know his name,
His name is all my trust;
Nor will he put my soul to shame,
Nor let my hope be lost.
Firm as his throne his promise stands,
And he can well secure
What I've committed to his hands,
'Till the decisive hour."
"I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day!" 2 Timothy 1:12
The sufferings of the Apostle Paul were truly great. His whole life was almost one unvaried scene of persecution. But what were his feelings under the multiplied and protracted distresses which he had to endure? His own language clearly shows: "For which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed." As if he had said: Never have I felt a single pang of regret in consequence of the path I have pursued, and the object to which my life has been devoted.
And what was it that supported his mind, and enabled him to rise superior to all the difficulties to which he was exposed? It was the fact that he knew whom he had believed, and the full persuasion he felt that Jesus was able to keep what he had committed unto him, against the great day. It was his unwavering confidence in the Lord Jesus which inspired his soul with such feelings.
Believing in the Savior is variously represented in the scriptures; and by attending to those representations we may be materially assisted in ascertaining whether we truly believe in him or not. It is represented as coming to Christ: "Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes on me shall never thirst." It is here clearly shown that coming to Christ, and believing on him, signify the same thing. His gracious invitation is, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden; and I will give you rest." Have we then listened to his voice? Have we gone on our bended knees to his footstool, earnestly supplicating the blessings he has promised to bestow?
Believing is also represented as receiving Christ. "He came to his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name." He is freely offered in the gospel as an Almighty Savior; but the great point is: Have we embraced him in the face of those offers?
Believing is again represented as committing the soul to his care and keeping. Such is the view given in the passage before us. Now the question is, Have we done so? Have we made an unreserved surrender of ourselves unto Him? Has our language been, and is our language still —
"Here, Lord, I give myself away,
'Tis all that I can do!"
It is evident that the Apostle regarded believing in Christ, and committing his soul to the keeping of Christ, as synonymous; or, if not actually identical, yet so closely connected, that the one may be taken as a sure indication of the other.
Having thus committed his spirit into the Savior's hands, he felt, in consequence, that he had nothing to fear. As if he had said, Whatever may be the fate of this perishable body — my deathless soul is in secure custody. My soul is in the hands of Him who sits upon heaven's throne, and who has at his belt, the keys of death and Hell. My soul is in the hands of Him who can crush my adversaries to the dust; who can break them as with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. My soul is in the hands of Him who has all power in Heaven and on earth; and therefore my mind is at ease. Come what may, my life is hid with Christ in God!
O how blessed, how truly enviable a state! Reader, are you fearful that such a state is not yours? If so, be persuaded to do what the Apostle did — commit your soul, with all its vast concerns, into the Savior's hands; and then you will be safe — safe in life, safe in death, and safe forever. By committing the keeping of your soul unto Him in well doing as unto a faithful Creator, you will realize the blessedness that Paul enjoyed.
The importance of this matter may be shown by a familiar illustration. Let it be supposed that we had to travel through a certain country, which was infested with robbers, and that we carried with us a jewel of inestimable value. Suppose that the robbers knew of us, and that they lay in wait to take away our life, that they might become possessed of our treasure. Suppose, as we were about entering on our journey, that some distinguished personage, who had power to repel every attack, should offer us his guidance and protection; and that he promised to take charge of our jewel, and guaranteed to deliver it up to us in safety when we reached the place of our destination. Now if we had full confidence in him, with what joy would we accept his proposal, and how would we rejoice in the prospect of arriving at the end of our journey in safety, with our treasure uninjured and secure!
The application is obvious. We are traveling through the wilderness of this world. We carry about with us a gem more costly than all the gems of the East put together. That gem is the never-dying soul. There is a mighty One who offers his assistance; it is Jesus Christ, who asks us to commit our gem to his care, and who promises that it shall be kept secure. And all who accept of his offer will find him fully qualified for the task he has undertaken. Reader, accept of his offer, and then to whatever danger you may be exposed, all will be well.
But the Apostle's faith had special reference to a certain period, which he emphatically calls "that day." He looked forward to it because then his faith would receive its full accomplishment, even the salvation of his soul. He looked forward to it because the great object of his faith would be revealed in all the glories of his Godhead, to his ineffable satisfaction, and unspeakable joy. It will be the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ, in prospect of which believers are exhorted to gird up the loins of their minds, to be sober and hope to the end for the grace which will then be brought to them. And he looked to it because his own character would be cleared, and his enemies be brought to see that the opprobrium they had cast upon him, was cast upon his great Master; who will then publicly vindicate his insulted majesty, and make it manifest to assembled worlds, that no weapon formed against him shall prosper.
And so with the whole family of the redeemed. They are all looking forward to that day. It will be the day of their complete redemption — the day of their full acquittal from every charge. What must have been the emotions of the Jews looking forward to their Jubilee! How frequently would they be thinking of it! How ardently would they long for it! Now what the Jubilee was to the Jews — that the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ will be to his people. Should they not then be looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ? When the Apostle says, that "the Lord himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God," there is evident allusion to the Jubilee. As the sounding of the Jubilee trumpet was the signal for the captives to be released from their bondage; so at the judgment trumpet will the whole body of the faithful be released from the captivity of the grave; their forfeited inheritance will be fully restored; and being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, they shall dwell eternally with him.
Tried and afflicted child of God, look forward to that day! Is your cross hard to be borne? There will be no trace of it on that day. Are your storms many? They will all have been blown away on that day. Are your enemies malicious and powerful? They will all be vanquished on that day. Lift up your head therefore, and rejoice in the blissful prospects which are before you; and reckon, as did the distinguished individual whose words we have been considering, that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will then be revealed!"
The Future Blessedness of the Believer
"Content, obscure, I pass my days
To fame and rank unknown,
And wait till you your child shall raise,
And your adopted own.
No name, no honor, here I crave,
Well pleased with those beyond the grave.
When Christ, in robes divinely bright,
Shall once again appear,
You, too, my soul, shall shine in light,
And his full image bear!
Enough! I wait the appointed day;
Blessed Savior! haste, and come away."
"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is." 1 John 3:2
We have here a striking view given of the future condition of the believer. That view is two-fold, namely, negative and positive. The former is in beautiful harmony with the many analogies employed by the sacred writers when setting forth the coming glory of the saints. The Christian's state on earth is that of childhood — but his future state will be that of perfect manhood. A child is weak, ignorant, inexperienced; but what he may eventually become no one can tell. Think of those who have risen to eminence in the church and the world. Think of our Luthers, our Baxters, our Owens, our Howes — of our Bacons, and Newtons, and Miltons — of them it might have been said in their childhood and youth, that it did not yet appear what they would be. Some indications of genius might, it is true, have early appeared, which betokened that they were destined to become something; but what that would be did not, until the full development of their powers, become apparent. And so with the Christian. He is now a child — he thinks, speaks, and acts as a child; but the period will arrive when he shall attain to the complete manhood of his being. It is, however, at present unrevealed what that manhood will be.
Let us think again of the hour of early dawn. Who could infer from it, if otherwise uninformed, what will follow in the course of not many hours? The few faint rays which streak the eastern horizon afford no indication of that flood of living splendor which is diffused over the fair face of creation, after the monarch of day has fully emerged from his chamber, and is careering his majestic course in the skies. Let a person, if we could suppose such a case, who was altogether ignorant of what was coming, be conducted to some mountain summit to gaze upon the scene to which we have referred. As he witnessed the break of day, he could not but exclaim, How beautiful! Yes, might his companion say to him, beautiful indeed! — but it does not yet appear what it will be. As the day gradually advanced — as the sky became tinged with a ruddy glow, the beauty would become more apparent, and the admiration of the observer become more intense; but still it does not appear what it will be. He must wait until the noon-day, when the shining orb will be seen in all his pomp and splendor, pouring forth the fullness of his beams on every hand, filling all nature with smiles, and clothing her with the richest beauty.
Well, just so with the Christian. "The night," says the Apostle, "is far spent, and the day is at hand." It has already dawned. But as no conception can be formed from the natural dawn of the splendor of the natural day; so no conception can be formed from the spiritual dawn of the splendor of the eternal day. The difference in the one case is but a faint emblem of the difference in the other. We should magnify the name of our God and Savior for the dawn, it being the prelude and pledge of day: but what that day, in its meridian splendor, will be, does not now appear.
To these analogies others of a similar kind might be added. Such as that of winter in contrast with the beauties of the coming spring; such as that of the stream, in the insignificance of its source, in contrast with the majestic river, bearing stately vessels upon its broad bosom; and such as that of the paltry hamlet in contrast with the mighty city, commanding, like ancient Rome, the destinies of the world.
The negative view here given evidently arises from the greatness of the glory to be revealed. "It does not yet appear what we shall be;" it being so surpassingly glorious that no representation can adequately set it forth. Well may it be said, "That eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to conceive — what God has prepared for those who love him!" The eye has seen many wondrous things; it has seen all the wonders of the ancient and modern world. The ear, again, what has it not heard? It has heard the most enchanting sounds, and the most ravishing melodies, and the music of the spheres. But the mind, above all, what cannot enter there? What cannot the heart of man imagine? It can imagine, what no language can express; to give utterance to its amazing conceptions, the most emphatic strains are altogether inadequate. But what God has prepared for his people, infinitely transcends the loftiest imaginations of the most soaring and seraphic minds.
But although there is so much that is unknown, yet all is not unknown. While, in reference to not a little that pertains to the future blessedness of the believer, we are profoundly ignorant; there is something we know notwithstanding — and what that is the Apostle, under the influence of the inspiring Spirit, reveals. "We know that when He," the great Head, "appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is!"
The first thing here specified, is full conformity to the image of Christ, "We shall be like him." O wonderful words! And having such an assurance, we need not complain that so many things are hidden from us. We ought to be satisfied to remain in ignorance concerning them, since we are thus so explicitly assured concerning this.
To aspire after conformity to Christ should be the believer's great object here below. He is called upon to have the same mind in him which was also in Christ Jesus, who has left us an example that we should follow his steps. It is said of a certain Grecian mother, that when Alexander the Great was passing by, with his gleaming helmet and waving plumes, followed by his captains and guards, that she raised up her child in her arms, and exclaimed, "There, my child, that is Alexander, and you must be another such as he!" Well, similar to this is the language of God's Word to us in reference to the great Captain of our salvation. It says, "There is Jesus — and you must be another such as he!" There he is . . .
in his spotless purity,
in his submission to the Divine will,
in his lowliness of mind,
in his deadness to the world,
in his unwearied compassion and benevolence, going about doing good continually — and you must be another such as he!
Now the true Christian cannot be unconcerned about complying with such a call — about aspiring after the imitation of such an example. He feels that, as a follower of Christ, he ought to possess the mind of Christ. But alas! as he looks at the perfect pattern on the one hand — and his own blotted, disfigured copy of it on the other — he deeply feels that shame and self-abasement befit him! Great indeed, as far as the most eminent saint is concerned, is the disparity between the one and the other.
But, O sweet thought! when Jesus shall appear, we shall be like him! The outline which, through divine mercy, is marked here, but which, in the very best, is faint and feeble in the extreme, will then be filled up, and the coloring will be complete. We shall be as pure as he is pure, and as perfect as he is perfect. The resemblance will be entire — as entire as their respective natures and capacities will admit of.
A full view of the glory of Christ, is connected with conformity to his blessed image. There is such a thing as beholding the Savior's glory on earth. And among the many feelings which have a place in the heart of all true believers, there is not one more powerful than that which leads them to say with those of old, "Sir, we would see Jesus!" Nor is the wish altogether ungratified. There are times when they can say, whether in the public means of grace, or in their more private exercises, "We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." But what is seeing him by faith on earth — compared to seeing him with open face in Heaven! Here the vision is obscure; there it will be clear and unclouded. Here it is only in occasional glances; there it will be uninterrupted forever and ever.
Think then, O child of God, of the view here given of the blessedness that awaits you. You shall see the Savior as he is! Not as he was — a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief — the object of human hatred, the victim of human scorn — mocked, buffeted, crowned with thorns, covered with the scarlet robe, and pierced with the soldier's spear. But you shall see him as he is — in the beauty of his person, and in the dazzling splendors of his throne — with ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels and archangels, bowing before him, and hymning his praise! And what, oh what will that be? The time, however, is coming, if you are one of those who see him by faith here, when you shall know what it is by blessed experience. You shall know what it is "to see the King in his beauty, and to behold the land that is very far off." You shall know what it is "to behold his face in righteousness, and to be satisfied when you shall awake with his likeness!"
Such are the chief elements of the future blessedness of the saints, as here set forth. They will be fully conformed to the image of Christ, and they will be favored with a complete view of the glory of Christ. And there is a close connection between the one and the other, for the Apostle represents the latter as the cause of the former. "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." The vision will be transforming! It will be the perfection of that gracious process which is commenced here, to which another Apostle refers, when he says, "But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
There is, however, another connection referred to — a connection upon which all we have stated will depend. It is that between our present state and our future prospects. The question: What is our present state? is of all others the most important. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God," the Apostle could say, when speaking of himself and of his Christian companions. Reader, is that your character. If not, be assured that you have no part nor lot in this matter. O examine yourself with the view of ascertaining whether you are in the faith — whether you truly are one of the accepted and adopted children of God or not.
If you are fearful that such is not the case, and if you are anxious to be of the number of those who have God for their Father and Friend — allow the word of exhortation, while we endeavor to point out the way whereby you may be brought to the possession of that glorious relationship. "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not: but as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name." O then receive Jesus Christ as he is freely offered in his word — receive him as your prophet, as your priest, and as your king. His gracious language is, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
May God grant that your instant response may be, "Come in, blessed of the Lord; why do you stand outside?" Do this, and instead of being an alien — you will become a friend; from being a stranger and foreigner — you will become a fellow-citizen with the saints, and be adopted into the family of Heaven.
Finally, let the Christian exult in the blessedness of his present state, and of his future prospects. Here is sufficient to support the mind in every scene of sorrow. Here is sufficient to animate us to the performance of the most arduous duties. Here is sufficient, whatever be our outward circumstances, to reconcile us to the divine will. Here is sufficient to keep us from coveting the condition of the most prosperous of the children of this world. Whatever they may be able to say, of their treasures and dignities, of their pompous titles and large estates, of their high birth and noble pedigrees — let us be satisfied, and more than satisfied, if we can truly say, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is!"
Look and Live!
"Look upward in the dying hour,
And live, the prophet cries.
But Christ performs a nobler cure
When faith lifts up her eyes."
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:14, 15
The scheme of salvation, as revealed in the gospel, as strange as it may appear, is opposed by many on account of its simplicity. They suppose that there is something great and arduous to be done by them, in order to secure their eternal well-being. When it is said to them, "Only believe!" they seem confounded, and are ready to exclaim: Can that be all that is needed? It is true that the enjoyment of the divine favor is a blessing so transcendently momentous, that no effort should be thought too great to procure it. Were the requirements of the various false systems of religion binding upon us — however painful and self-denying, however expensive and inconvenient — yet we ought cheerfully to comply with them all, if by so doing, we could propitiate an offended Deity, and obtain the remission of our sins. Were we required to set out on a pilgrimage to Rome, to kiss the feet of his Holiness, the vicar of Christ, the viceregent of God, the infallible Head of the only true and infallible church; were we required to take a voyage to the distant continent of India, in order to wash away our spiritual pollutions in the sacred streams of the Ganges River; were we required to journey across the Arabian desert, even to Mecca, for the purpose of paying our homage to the great prophet; in a word, were we required to go to the uttermost ends of the earth to seek an answer to the all-important question, "With what shall I appear before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?" — so vast are the interests which are at stake that, without any consultation with flesh and blood, such toils and travels would at once be undertaken.
But that is not required. There is no need to ask "Who shall go over the sea, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? For the word is near you, even the word of faith which we preach; that if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved."
Thus while many are disposed to say, with Naaman of old, that they expected to be called to do some great thing; it may be observed in reply, in the language of his servant, that if they had, would they not have done it? How much more then should they be ready to comply when they are exhorted merely to "Wash and be clean!" — when they are simply directed to believe, and be saved!
God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor his ways as our ways. Hence the children of men in all ages have neglected the plan of salvation which God has devised — and have had recourse to some scheme of their own. But it would be well for those who reject the counsel of God, to consider what the consequences are likely to be. Of one thing we should be well assured, that the blessings which God bestows are only to be obtained in his own way.
Take the case of the Israelites when bitten by the fiery serpents. Moses was commanded to set a serpent of brass upon a pole in the midst of the camp; and those who were bitten were told that if they only looked at it, that they would at once be cured. But let it be supposed that someone among them should reason with himself somewhat as follows: Of what use can this strange contrivance be? I cannot see what connection there is between my looking at this serpent of brass, and obtaining the promised relief. Why cannot I address myself personally to God? If I cry to him in sincerity, I will be far more likely to succeed than in this way. To do so would be more rational in itself, and more consistent with proper views of the character of Him, who is rich in grace, and plenteous in mercy. I will arise and go to him. I have sinned; I am suffering; I am dying. But I will approach even to his seat; I will prostrate myself before him; I will entreat him to forgive the iniquity of my sin, to ease me of the pains under which I groan, and remove this awful malady which has seized me.
Now, such an one might go, and do as he had determined; but is it likely that God would hear him? Most assuredly not. The poison would continue to burn through his fevered frame; and even while wrestling with God in prayer, he might die — and his death would be nothing but what his impious rejection of God's plan, and his pertinacious adherence to his own — richly deserved.
But while he thus perished, another, quite as ignorant as he of the reason and adaptation of the appointment, but who believed the testimony respecting it — would look at the brazen figure, and looking, he would live. Honoring God's method, God would honor him, and bless the means for the accomplishment of the end designed. O reader, beware of setting your own wisdom against the wisdom of God. Submit to his plan; comply with his conditions — and salvation, rich, full, free, overflowing, everlasting, will be yours!
When referring to the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness as an emblem of the lifting up of himself upon the cross, the Savior says, "That whoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life." As those who were bitten among the various tribes, were cured by the mere act of turning their languid eyes to the one — so those who are bitten by the "old serpent" will be healed by looking with the eye of faith upon the uplifted Jesus.
To the command of "Look and live," there was no limit — for "it shall come to pass that every one who is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live;" neither is there any limit to the command, "Believe and be saved." "That whoever believes" — oh, sweet word! Whoever — let him he the humblest peasant — or let him be the highest prince; whoever — let him be learned — or let him be barbaric; whoever — let him be young — -with the ruddy glow of health upon his cheeks, and with his limbs full of vigor — or let him be sinking under the infirmities of declining years; whoever — let his outward character be fair and decorous — or let his whole life be stained with immoralities the most revolting, with crimes and excesses the most degrading. Blessed be God for this word whoever — a word full of hope and encouragement!
The writer may fill it up with his name; the reader may fill it up with his. Each may fill it up with each; all may fill it up with all. Here none are excluded but those who, in their unbelief and impenitence, willfully exclude themselves. We bid you then, reader, to look to Jesus! He is able to save to the uttermost — and "who but a God can tell how far the uttermost of a God can go!"
Do you want some proof of his power? Think of David, who was guilty of the double crime of adultery and murder. Think of Manasseh, that cruel idolater, who made his children pass through the fire unto demons, and led the Israelites to the commission of the vilest abominations. Think of the thief who reviled him even in death, but who, notwithstanding, was taken at once from the ignominy of the cross, to the joys of Paradise. Think of Saul of Tarsus, who, from a blasphemer and persecutor, became one of the brightest ornaments of that faith which he once endeavored to destroy. These, and countless myriads besides, furnish indubitable evidence to the truth of the character ascribed to him as One "mighty to save."
Is the reader conscious of his danger, and concerned about being delivered from the wrath to come? There is only one quarter from which the light of hope can dawn upon his dark and benighted soul. When we think of such an one — in himself altogether helpless and miserable, laden with guilt, covered with pollution, bound under the chains of sin, a rebel against God, an outcast from his favor — to what object can such a character turn his eyes? If he looks upward, God — that God whom he has so often offended, meets his wandering eye. If he looks downward — Hell from beneath seems ready to enclose him in its quenchless flames. If he looks back upon the past, his sins, more numerous than the hairs of his head, stare him in the face, and cover him with confusion. If he looks onward, the great white throne appears; the day of judgment, with all its unutterable terrors, torments him before the time; the sentence of damnation appears to sound upon his ears, while his awakened conscience, with unbribed fidelity, acknowledges the justice of that fearful and final doom.
O! there is one object, and only one, in the wide universe to which he can turn, and that object is Jesus, the bleeding Lamb of God, who died on the accursed tree, the just for the unjust, the sinless for the sinful, by whose stripes all our wounds may be healed, and in the fountain of whose atoning blood, our filthiest offences may be washed away!
To Him, then, as the only, but all-sufficient Savior, let us be constantly looking. If we resort to some other refuge — it will be a refuge of lies. If we build upon some other foundation — it will be a foundation of sand. If we cherish some other hope — it is a hope that will perish. There is salvation in no other, neither is there any other name given among men, whereby we can be saved.
Let the reader, therefore, beware of neglecting "the salvation which is in Christ Jesus." While so many judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, and are thus guilty of a foolish mistake which will require eternity to comprehend, and eternity to deplore; be it yours, on the contrary, to comply with the gracious call, "Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other!"