Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Preached at Zoar Chapel, London, on July 26, 1846, by J. C. Philpot
"Call unto me, and I will answer thee; and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not."
These words were spoken by the Lord unto the prophet Jeremiah under peculiar circumstances. We read in the first verse of this chapter, "Moreover the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet confined in the court of the prison." Jeremiah, at this time, then was a prisoner. But what brought him into prison? The real cause of his imprisonment was his faithfulness; as we find in the preceding chapter. "Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the court of the prison, which was in the King of Judah's house. For Zedekiah king of Judah had confined him, saying, Why do you prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord, Behold I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it." (32:2, 3.) Jeremiah's faithfulness, in the exercise of his prophetic office, was then the real, substantial cause of his imprisonment. But it would not do to assign this as the real cause; they must needs therefore lay hold of a pretext; and this pretext was, that Jeremiah was a traitor to Judah and Jerusalem. For when the army of the King of Egypt came up to deliver Jerusalem from Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, going out of the city, was apprehended in the gate of Benjamin, and imprisoned as intending to desert to the Chaldeans. (Jeremiah 37:11-15.)
But what were the circumstances of the city itself? Jerusalem at this time was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar. For nearly a year had that mighty conqueror hemmed her in; the sword was made bare against her bosom; famine and pestilence were walking in her streets; and God was about to bring down upon her those judgments which he had so long denounced. It was a time of general mourning; a period of universal sorrow. Deeply was the heart of the prophet bowed within him; not merely by his own personal calamities, of which he had so very large a share, but also by the dark cloud of destruction which he saw was about to burst forth upon the city of Zion.
It was, then, under this trying state, and amid these perplexing circumstances that the Lord spoke these words to Jeremiah—"Call unto me, and I will answer you; and show you great and mighty things, which you know not."
Two things strike my mind as particularly worthy of notice in the text.
I. The invitation—"Call unto me."
II. The promise connected with the invitation—"And I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you know not."
I. The INVITATION—"Call unto me." It seems to me, that the condition of Judah and Jerusalem at this time is emblematic of the state of God's people before the Lord stretches forth his right arm to deliver them. If you read this chapter attentively, you will find it contains a whole cluster of the richest blessings for God's people. "Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth; and I will cause the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them as at the first. And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities whereby they have transgressed against me." (verses 6-8.)
What, then, was the season, and what the opportunity, that the Lord took to give these blessed and unconditional promises? When Judah and Jerusalem were sunk to the very lowest point; when there was no hope, nor help; when Nebuchadnezzar was about to burn the city with fire, and to drag into a miserable captivity those of her children who would escape the sword. At that very gloomy time, at that very hopeless season, God revealed these promises, which he fulfilled in a measure when he restored Judah from the Babylonish captivity; and which, I believe, he will one day more fully accomplish, when he sets his hand the second time to bring back his own for a time cast-off Israel.
Judah's sunken condition seems, then, emblematic of that of the Lord's people before there is any real deliverance. They have to sink down into similar spots of helplessness and hopelessness, out of which he, and he only can deliver them. And when all that the creature can do is thoroughly exhausted, when the right arm of man's strength is withered, then is the time that the Lord usually appears, and manifests himself as "the God of all grace." Jerusalem must be besieged, and Jeremiah imprisoned, before any promise can come to the one or the other.
But let us, with God's blessing, look a little more closely at the invitation before us; for it is applicable not merely to Jeremiah under his distressed circumstances, but to all the family of God under similar states spiritually. "Call unto me."
True prayer is the gift of God. It is one of those "good gifts," and those "perfect gifts," which "come down from the Father of light, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17.) The Lord, therefore, says, "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication." (Zech. 12:10.) And again, "Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Rom. 8:26.) There is no real, no spiritual, no acceptable prayer to the Lord except that which is created by the operation of God the Spirit upon the heart of a believer. The invitation, therefore, is not addressed to men generally; no more, it is not addressed to the people of God generally; but it is addressed to the people of God under peculiar circumstances. It belongs to them only so far as they are brought into those trying circumstances and perplexing states into which God is pleased to bring them, that he may enable them to cry and sigh unto himself. The gracious invitation, "Call unto me," is made to that prayer only which enters into the ears of the Lord almighty, and brings down in God's own time and way the desired answer.
But it is necessary for several things to be wrought with divine power in the soul before we can spiritually act upon this invitation. The Lord says, "Call unto me." Can I therefore at once call unto him? can I seek his face? can I pray unto him acceptably? I cannot, except he is first pleased himself to work certain things in my soul. What are these things?
1. The first is, a deep sense of my sinfulness, guilt, and vileness. There is no real prayer to the Lord except the soul is abased, humbled, and laid low. And what abases, humbles, and lays low? Reading about sin, hearing about sin, talking about sin? No—a spiritual sense of our guilt, our shame, our vileness, our pollution, our unworthiness, divinely wrought in the soul, abases, humbles, and lays low at the footstool of mercy. And I am bold to say, no prayer will rise up with acceptance into the ears of the Lord of hosts, except that which springs out of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, made so by the blessed Spirit of God, discovering to us what we are, and thus humbling us, laying us low in our own eyes, and making us to feel guilty and filthy in our own sight.
2. A sense of our ignorance is another gracious qualification before we can call upon the Lord. As long as we think we can teach ourselves, instruct our own minds, and bring into our own hearts, by dint of creature exertion, the truth of God, we shall never pray sincerely, earnestly, and spiritually for divine teaching. But when we are brought to this point, that we know nothing, absolutely nothing, except what God himself is pleased to teach us by the special operation of the Spirit; when we feel so shut up in blindness, darkness, and folly, that nothing short of God's light, nothing short of divine manifestation, can communicate to our souls that which we want to feel and enjoy—then we begin to pray aright. This knowledge, then, of our own ignorance, blindness, and folly is absolutely necessary to make us cry to the Lord with sincerity and earnestness that he himself would be pleased to teach us. If I can teach myself the truth as it is in Jesus; if I can bring into my own heart with sweet and unctuous power the word of God's grace; if I can feed upon it, enjoy it, and sit under the shadow of it by my own exertions, it is but awful mockery in me to pretend to go to the throne of grace to ask the Lord to do it for me. But if, on the other hand, I am oppressed by a sense of my ignorance; if this feeling is deeply wrought in my heart, that I know nothing, absolutely nothing, except so far as the Spirit of God is pleased to unfold the truth to my soul, then I come to the Lord to ask him to teach me, not because I have read in the Scriptures of such a doctrine as divine teaching; nor because I have heard others ask the Lord to teach them; but because I feel utterly unable without this teaching to bring into my soul those heavenly realities which it longs to experience.
3. A sense of our helplessness, inability, and impotency in divine things is a third qualification before we can truly and spiritually call upon God. How much there is of false prayer in us! How much there is of formality and self-righteousness even in true Christians! How much bowing of the knee without God's hand bowing down the heart! How many words escape from the lips that have never been indited by the Holy Spirit in the soul! But a sense of our helplessness, insufficiency, and inability must be created by the hand of God in our souls before we can sincerely and spiritually ask him to bless us, manifest himself unto us, shine upon our hearts, and lift up upon us the light of his countenance.
4. A glimpse of the things which we desire to experience, is another qualification before we can put in practice this divine invitation. It is not because we read about certain blessings in God's word, that we are enabled to go to a throne of grace, and ask the Lord to confer these blessings upon us. We may do it naturally; but this reading and praying in the letter will not profit; for "the flesh profits nothing." But, on the other hand, when the Lord is pleased to shine upon the sacred Scriptures; to give us glimpses in our hearts of the blessings revealed in them; to show us the promises which are all "yes and amen in Christ Jesus;" and the blessings which are stored up in him for those who fear God—when we enjoy glimpses of these heavenly blessings, then we rightly, sincerely, and earnestly call upon God to bestow them upon us.
5. Faith in the promises; faith in God who gives them; faith in Jesus in whom they are stored; faith in the blessed Spirit through whom they are communicated—this precious faith, God's gift and work, is absolutely indispensable before we can call upon God aright. "Let him," says James, "ask in faith, nothing wavering." (1:6.) "The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." (Heb. 4:20.) If there be no faith in our prayers they are not acceptable to God; they do not enter his ears; they do not bring down the promised blessing. Therefore, before we can call upon the Lord aright, we must have a living faith raised up in our heart, whereby we believe that God hears us, and that he will in his own time and way communicate his blessings to us. It is thus that we find access through the Mediator into God's presence, and plead with him for those blessings which he has to bestow.
6. Hungering, thirsting, panting, longing, and languishing after those blessings which God has to grant, is another qualification before we can call upon him to bestow them upon us. Is it not mockery, awful mockery, to go to the Lord in prayer, and to ask him to give us this, and to give us that; to bestow this mercy, to enrich our souls with that blessing; to apply this and that promise; and all the time have no earnest longings, pantings, thirstings, hungerings, and breathings after them? It is awful mockery to ask God for a blessing, and have no desire in the soul after that blessing; to ask him for food, and have no hunger; to beg of him the water of life, and feel no thirst; to request divine clothing, and to know no nakedness; to implore sweet manifestations of his favor and love, and not desire them above thousands of gold and silver. It is but awful mockery, I repeat it, to go with these pretended petitions, and all the while have no earnest, sincere longings or languishings after the blessings which God has to bestow.
7. The last qualification I shall mention is, patience and perseverance to wait at God's footstool; as we read, "Be followers of those, who, through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Heb. 6:12.) We must resemble the woman, of whom the Lord spoke in the parable, that though the unjust judge feared not God, nor regarded man, yet he was overcome by her importunity; we must be like the man who was in bed with his children, but was brought out of it by the importunity of his friend to give him all that he needed. So must the Lord's people not only seek, cry, and beg, but also wait and persevere until he arise to satisfy their desires.
If, then, these qualifications are absolutely needful; if there is no right calling upon God except this experience has been wrought in the heart by God the Spirit himself, how much true prayer is there in the world? How much true prayer is there in our hearts? And is not this the reason why there are so few answers? why we pray so much, and get so little? why we have so little prevalency with God? why we seek, and so seldom find? knock at the door, and find it so rarely opened? May not this be the reason, that with all our calling upon God, we lack these needful qualifications? They are indeed God's own gifts, God's own work; but still, if we lack these needful qualifications, prayer is but empty breath, and the words of the lip but idle mockery.
But when the Lord himself would give us a blessing; when it is in his heart to bestow a favor, he raises up these divine qualifications in the soul; he puts us spiritually where Jeremiah was naturally—in the prison; shuts us up, lays burdens upon us, makes our chain heavy, brings upon us troubles, trials, temptations, afflictions, sharp distresses, perhaps outward persecutions; in a word, puts us into those spots and states out of which none but he can deliver. When then, in this state, the divine "Author and Finisher of faith," the bounteous Giver of every good and perfect gift, begins to raise up desires and breathings in the soul; prayer at once springs up out of the heart, and enters into the ears of the Lord almighty; and, in God's own time and in God's own way, brings down the blessed answer.
And this leads us to the second branch of the subject.
II. The PROMISE connected with the invitation—"Call unto me, and I will answer you; and show you great and mighty things which you know not."
Let us cast a glimpse at the state of Jerusalem at that time. It is, as I before observed, emblematic of the state of God's people before he answers their prayers, and reveals to them the abundance of peace and truth. Was not Jerusalem sinking as low as she could possibly fall? Was not the sword of destruction hanging over her head by a single thread? Was not Nebuchadnezzar about to thrust the edge of his slaughter-weapon into her very bosom? It was so. And did she not justly deserve it? Had not her sins and iniquities drawn down divine indignation? Could she plead innocent? Could she justly say, 'I have not sinned! these things have come upon me unmeritedly?'
The carnal and self-righteous might have said so; as we know there were some who uttered that language in her streets, "Yet you say, because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with you, because you say, I have not sinned." (Jer. 2:35.) But the God-fearing people of the city could not say so. When the Lord said, "Have you not procured this unto yourself?" (Jer. 2:17,) each and all who feared God would answer, 'Yes, yes; we have, we have.' And thus no God-fearing man, who has had a discovery of his own sinfulness, can ever plead innocent. Whatever he suffers, he suffers deservedly; whatever he endures, he has justly merited. This makes him put his mouth in the dust; because he knows that every suffering, yes, hell itself, is his just desert.
In this state, then, when the cloud of destruction was lowering over Jerusalem; when the lightning-flash at times was bursting through the heavens; when the harbingers and precursors of the coming storm were falling thick and fast, and it seemed as though Judah and Jerusalem were about to be swept utterly away—then God reveals the promise, that "he would bring her health and cure; would cause her captivity to return, would cleanse her from all her iniquity, and make her a name of joy, and praise, and an honor before all the nations of the earth." O how wonderful that God should take that very time and that very occasion to lay open the bounty of his loving bosom, and assure her, that his heart was full of love to her! At the very time that his sword, bathed in vengeance, hung over her to destroy, he tells her there was love in his heart towards her; that his covenant should stand forever, and the purposes of his heart be fulfilled.
Is not this emblematic? Is not this strikingly descriptive of the dealings of God with his people? That he smites with one hand, while he blesses with the other; and that while he holds the sword of chastisement over their head, yet his heart is full of love and mercy? He, therefore, says to Jeremiah, '"Call unto me;" I have blessings to bestow; my heart is full of love to Judah and Jerusalem; I have promises to bestow upon her; I will never leave her, nor forsake her; I will forgive her; I will restore her; she shall be a name and praise to all around her; my covenant with her shall stand for evermore. "Call unto me," you have but to ask, you have but to seek, you have but to beg, you have but to implore; I will show her mercy, I will make known my love, I will reveal pardon and peace, I will comfort her, I will bless her and do her good.'
How suitable is this for a child of God in a similar state! And to such a soul, he says, '"Call unto me." You have but to plead, but to beg, but to petition; the blessing is in my bosom—you have but to draw it forth. My heart is full of love; it only waits for you to open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with every good thing. "Call unto me, I will answer you;" not by the sword, not by judgments, not by pestilence, not by famine. "Call unto me, I will answer you; and show you great and mighty things, which you know not."'
But what are these "great and mighty things" which Jeremiah knew not? He could not believe that God had love in his heart towards Jerusalem. But the Lord says, 'Only seek me, only supplicate me; I will show you these great and mighty things.' So he says to his people—'Though you are deeply sunk under a sense of your sinfulness, ignorance, helplessness, yet "Call unto me, I will show you great and mighty things, which you know not."'
What are some of these "great and mighty things" which they know not?
1. One is, Divine sovereignty—that God "does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and that he will fulfill all his pleasure." The doctrine of God's sovereignty is very easily learned—it may be caught up under one sermon, or by reading half a page of a tract; it may be known in theory in less than half an hour. But have I then learned it? Have I got it aright? Say, I have read an author, Elisha Coles for instance, who writes admirably on God's sovereignty—can I learn it thus? I might walk by the Bank of England, and say, 'What a noble building! what beautiful architecture! its cellars bursting with gold!' But is it all mine because I walk by and look at it? Just as much might I lay hold of divine sovereignty by merely reading a book, or hearing a preacher explain it, as I can lay claim to all the gold in the Bank cellars by walking round it, and admiring it as a beautiful structure.
I must learn divine sovereignty in a very different way from merely reading, hearing, or talking about it. I must know and feel it in my heart by a divine power. And how must I learn it there? For the most part, by having this divine sovereignty cross me at every turn. If I lay plans—to have divine sovereignty overthrowing them; if I wish for something very much—to have divine sovereignty thwarting me in it; if I want to be something—to have divine sovereignty in that very thing pulling me down; no, if I want something really good—to find divine sovereignty bestowing it in a way most painful to my flesh. Thus we learn divine sovereignty where Jeremiah learned it—in the prison-house, amid persecutions, through afflictions, in sharp temptations, and having the corruptions of our heart laid bare. Here we learn God will execute his own purposes, let proud nature kick and rebel, pine and fret her utmost.
When, then, you "Call unto the Lord," he begins to show you a little of divine sovereignty; and not merely shows it you, but brings you to submit to it. That is a very hard thing to be brought to—to submit to God's sovereignty when it is thwarting some desired purpose, some deeply cherished and much longed-for plan, crossing you at every turn, disappointing the wishes of your heart! Can man, proud, rebellious, independent man, submit to God's sovereignty? Yes! he can, when he is brought down by the Spirit of God, laid low, and made to find and feel that God will execute his own purposes, whether man kicks against it or submits. To learn God's sovereignty thus is somewhat different from lying on a sofa on a May morning, and reading Elisha Coles.
2. The salvation of the soul by the blood and obedience of God's only-begotten Son, is another of these great and mighty things which God reveals in answer to true prayer. Is that point easily settled? the salvation of our souls? our saving interest in the love of the Lamb? our election before all time? our redemption by the precious blood of Jesus? our regeneration by the power of the Spirit? and our certain perseverance unto the heavenly kingdom? Is all this easily learned? If you have learned it so easily, you will have to go to another school. You have got to learn it again, to know it in a different way.
Salvation, as a doctrine, may be learned in a quarter of an hour; salvation, as a blessing, may not be learned in many years. When a vessel of mercy becomes exercised to know whether his name is in the Book of Life; whether the work of the Spirit is begun upon his heart; whether he is one of those for whom the Lamb of God shed his atoning blood; whether he is one of the sons or daughters of the Lord God Almighty; and becomes restless, tried, and exercised upon this point, he will call upon God to make that point clear in his soul. And it will be made manifest in God's own time and way; he will in answer to prayer give clearer or fainter testimonies to the soul's eternal salvation in the blood and righteousness of his dear Son.
3. The reason of all our trials; the end to be answered by all the providential circumstances through which we pass; the cause of all the afflictions, temptations, and distresses that the soul has had to endure; is another of those great and mighty things which God makes known in answer to true prayer. Can I often see the reason of them? I cannot. And I must say, if you often or usually can, you are favored. There are some who, directly a trial comes, say, 'I know why this trial befalls me;' directly an affliction visits them, 'O , I see the reason of this affliction, and I am sure it will be a blessing to my soul.' If you can feel and speak in this way, you have stronger faith than the majority of God's people.
The usual operation of affliction on the souls of God's people is this—they know not why it has come upon them; they see not what profit it is to produce; they cannot believe any blessing is couched beneath it. As we cannot perceive the sun behind the cloud, so they cannot see the Lord's face when he hides himself behind a cloud of afflictions and sorrows. But the Lord says to his afflicted people, "Call unto me; seek my face; lay your petition at my footstool; press earnestly forward with your request. I will show you great and mighty things which you know not. You know not what this trial is for; you know not what is the benefit of these temptations you are laboring under; you know not what this affliction is to produce; you know not what this reverse in circumstances is to bring about. You are therefore tried, perplexed, exercised. But do not go to man; do not look to the creature; seek not to unravel it yourself—call unto me—I will show you great and mighty things, which you know not. I will show you what this trial is for, what this temptation is to do—to humble you; this trouble is to wean you from the world, this affliction to break some snare, this exercise to meeken and soften your heart, and bring you to the footstool of mercy. You shall see that there is a blessing lodged beneath this trial and couched in this affliction, which you will have reason to bless God for to the latest day of your existence."
And I believe (it is not part of my 'theory', but, through mercy, part of my 'experience',) that our greatest blessings spring out of our greatest trials; and that those clouds which seem most dark, so dark that we think we never shall see a ray of light upon them, in God's own time and way disperse; light bursts through them—and we bless God for the very trial, however heavy it may have been at the time, however much we may have despaired of seeing it made a blessing to our souls.
4. That all things work together for good to our souls; that whatever we pass through in providence or in grace, is for our spiritual profit—is another thing that God will show us when we rightly call upon his name. He says, "Call unto me." 'Do not go to the creature—that is but a broken reed; do not trust to an arm of flesh—that will fail you when you need it most; come to me, to my bosom—pour out your petition in my ear; seek my face; lay your needs at my footstool. "Call unto me, I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you know not."'
To believe that all our trials, temptations, and afflictions are working together for our spiritual good—is a great, a mighty thing, which often we know not. 'How can that be for my good, and how can this be for my good?' Is not our mind often thus perplexed? But the Lord says, "Call unto me, I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you know not;" among them, that "all things are working together for good;" and that spiritual profit will be answered by all and each.
5. The super-aboundings of God's grace over the aboundings of our sin, is another great and mighty thing that God will show and make known to those who call upon him. What a blessed truth is this—the super-aboundings of grace over the aboundings of sin! yet how painfully learned. How the soul must grapple hard with sin and temptation! What workings up of the depth of our fallen nature before we can know anything of the super-aboundings of grace over it! But the Lord says, "Call unto me, I will answer you; and show you great and mighty things, which you know not"—and among them, the super-aboundings of my mercy and grace over the aboundings of your iniquity. Have iniquity and sin abounded in us? Have we felt and known it, and been so filled with it, as to have sunk very low at times with a sight and sense of what we have thought, said, or done? Have our backslidings, our vain thoughts, our inward adulteries and idolatries, and the workings of our fallen nature, sometimes made us sink very low, and to feel that sin has indeed abounded in us? "Call unto me, I will answer you; and show you great and mighty things, which you know not." Among them shall be the super-aboundings of my grace over the aboundings of your sin; that though "sin has reigned unto death, grace shall reign through righteousness unto everlasting life;" that God takes occasion by the very sins of his people to manifest more of his mercy in forgiving them, his love in covering them, and his grace in superabounding over them.
Are not these rich blessings? Time will not suffice to enumerate more, such as—
the pardon of sin,
the sweet enjoyment of God's favor,
testimonies of his eternal love,
smiles of his loving countenance,
the witness of the blessed Spirit,
the leadings, guidings, and teachings of that divine Comforter.
These are the "great and mighty things" that God's people are longing from time to time to experience. And is not the Lord from time to time drawing us to his bosom? and raising up sighs and cries in the soul? When the Lord has raised up these inward desires, he answers them, and begins to show the "great and mighty things" which we know not, and to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.
If you have gathered my meaning (however feebly and faintly expressed,) from what I have endeavored to speak this morning, you will have observed, that there are two leading features in every gracious man's experience—
1. a sense of his own sinfulness, ignorance, and helplessness;
2. a longing and languishing after those blessings which God has to bestow.
And these the Lord from time to time opens up to his soul, revealing to his heart, and discovering by the teaching and operations of his blessed Spirit those blessings, favors, and mercies, that he is longing to enjoy. And I believe, if you will look at your experience under the teachings and leadings of God in your soul, you will know something of this. You will find, that your experience may be summed up in these two features. Sometimes you have sunk very low, have been tried in your mind, harassed in your soul, deeply perplexed, everything making against you and little for you. But the Lord from time to time has raised up desires, sighs, cries, and groans in your heart, draws you to his footstool of mercy, and there enables you to tell him all that you are, and all that you need. And then, there are times and seasons when the Lord graciously and mercifully opens his hand, gives you a testimony, bestows upon you a word, a visit, a whisper, a smile, softens your heart, melts your soul, raises up some evidence, and blesses you more or less with that blessing which makes rich, and adds no sorrow with it.
Do you expect to have any other experience all your life long? Do you expect to find 'the dream of your early youth' ever realized—to be better and better, holier and holier, wiser and wiser, stronger and stronger; every day that you live? I never expect to find the fond dream of my early religious youth thus fulfilled. But I believe, so far as God is our teacher, this will be, more or less, our daily experience, so long as we are tenants in this fallen world—a growing sense of our sinfulness, ignorance, helplessness, nothingness, inability, and impotency. At times (for the Lord only at times makes us to feel our complete dependence upon him) we shall cry, sigh, and groan, breathe out our heart, wrestle with the Divine Majesty, and supplicate at his footstool. And then, there will sometimes come a word, a promise, a testimony, a token, a smile, a whisper, a melting, a softening, a breaking down, an encouragement; and this produces a going forward in the strength of the Lord. It is thus, and thus only, that we shall live to praise his name, and crown Jesus Lord of all.
Is not this the way which is most glorifying to God, though so humbling to man? And must not this be a right way? Shall you and I be such sacrilegious wretches, as under the cover of religion to creep into the very sanctuary, and snatch the Redeemer's crown off his head? But to be nothing but what God makes us, know nothing but what God teaches, feel nothing but what God inspires, enjoy nothing but what God communicates—this is to bless him for everything which he freely imparts. And therefore, in order to keep a sinner at the footstool of mercy all his days; to hide pride from man, and abase him in his own eyes; to break to pieces all his wisdom, strength, and righteousness, God keeps his people ever poor and needy, ever crying, sighing and begging for what he has to bestow.
And when he gives it, it is in a gracious, in a sweetly manifestative way, that the creature shall know from whom it comes, and not be able to take to itself an atom of glory. And thus, by these gracious dealings upon the hearts of his people, contrary to flesh and blood, contrary to our fond dream of early days, contrary to all the arguments and reasonings of our reasoning mind, and to the creed of all the world, religious or profane, the Lord carries on his own work in his own way.
And thus, when a man is sufficiently humbled to be raised; sufficiently brought down to be made to stand; sufficiently stripped to be clothed; and sufficiently emptied to be richly filled—then, the Lord begins to manifest his favor, grace, and love; and thus he covers the creature with shame, while he crowns himself with glory!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Preached on December 27, 1840, by J. C. Philpot, at Trinity Chapel, Alfred Street, Leicester.
"And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully."
(2 Timothy 2:5)
The Holy Spirit appears to have made much use of figures and illustrations in the word of God; and I believe we may find more or less of this mode of instruction from Genesis to Revelation. For instance, immediately after the fall, the Lord made use of a visible figure, when he made coats of skins, and clothed in them our first parents. What was this but a visible sign of the garment of imputed righteousness, in which alone they could stand accepted before him, connected with Christ's sacrifice, as the skin of the sacrificed animal was with its poured out blood?
So, after the flood, the Lord set his rainbow in the cloud, that, spanning earth and heaven, it might be a visible sign of his covenanted mercy from generation to generation. When we come a little lower down to the period when the Lord brought the children of Israel out of Egypt that they might be to him a peculiar people, He still chose the same visible mode of instruction by type and figure. The paschal lamb, the blood sprinkled on the lintel and the two side-posts, the ark of the covenant, the whole train of sacrifices, rites, and ceremonies, with all the furniture of the tabernacle, were all so many speaking figures, whereby spiritual instruction was communicated to those who had eyes to look through the type to the thing typified.
So when we come down to the times of the prophets, types and figures were still employed. Jeremiah is sent down to the Potter's house to learn God's absolute sovereignty; was commanded to wear a linen belt, and then hide it in a hole of the rock by the river Euphrates, to show how the Lord would mar the pride of Judah; Jer 13:1-11 and was shown the two baskets of figs, to teach them the difference between the precious and the vile. Jer 24 So Isaiah walked barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder upon Egypt and Ethiopia; Isa 20:3 and Ezekiel was commanded to take a tile and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem, and lay siege against it. Eze 4:1,2
When we come to the New Testament, we find the Lord making great use of this mode of instruction. All his parables were so many speaking figures, under which spiritual wisdom was couched. The sower going forth to sow, the woman hiding the leaven in three measures of meal, the man finding a pearl of great price, the net cast into the sea, the door, the shepherd, the vine to which he compares himself--what are all these but natural figures, which the Lord employs to convey spiritual instruction?
Indeed so apt and so beautiful are some of these figures, that it has been a question with some, whether God had not in the original creation of all things a special view to spiritual truths. For instance, when he created the sheep, whether he had not a special eye to the elect; and when he created the vine, whether he had not a spiritual reference to Christ and his members. They thus look upon all outward creation as a type and figure of the new creation. But I think there is one consideration which shows that this view is not founded on truth. We find the apostle Paul employing figures not only altogether of man's invention, but even such as contain in themselves much evil. For instance, in four different places he has borrowed an illustration from the public games of the Greeks, which, like all large and promiscuous assemblies, were doubtless accompanied with much evil. Thus we find him speaking, 1Co 9:24-26 "Don't you know that those who run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain. And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air." The figure here is clearly drawn from the foot race and the boxing match in use among the Greeks at their public games. So again Heb 12:1 he says, "Therefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," alluding to the multitude of spectators that surrounds the runners for the prize, as a cloud "let us lay aside every weight and the sin that does so easily beset us," as the racers threw aside all useless encumbrances "and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." So speaking of his own experience, Php 3:13,14 he says, "Brethren, I count myself not to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Here he clearly alludes to the runner in the foot race who never thinks of the ground over which he has passed, in his eagerness to press forward and carry off the prize.
The fourth place where the same apostle borrows the figure of these public games, is the verse from which I intend, with God's help and blessing, to deliver a few thoughts this morning. "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully."
In order to enter into the spiritual meaning of this text, I must detain you for a few minutes with the natural explanation of it. The Holy Spirit has chosen by the mouth of Paul to convey spiritual instruction under this natural figure; we must therefore break through this shell to get at the kernel, for unless we have a clear view of the figure itself, we shall have a confused idea of its spiritual signification.
The apostle then, as I have already shown, borrows a figure here from the public games in his time, where there were prizes given to those who obtained the victory in one of these five contests, the chariot, and the foot race, wrestling, boxing, and a combat made up of the two last. The "man that strives for masteries," means he who wrestles, or otherwise contends for victory, the prize being a crown of leaves, which was given publicly to the victor. Now there were certain rules and conditions, laid down beforehand, which were to be rigidly observed by all the candidates for the prize, and if any one of these what we may call "rules of the game" were broken by a candidate, then though he came in first, yet he lost the prize, because "he had not striven lawfully," that is, had not complied with the rules. To borrow a comparison from the horse-races of this country, a practice I condemn, though I use the figure to throw a light upon the text if a horse runs the wrong side of the post, or carries less weight than the rule of the race requires, he loses the prize, though he comes in the first.
Having thus far opened up the natural meaning of the figure, we will now proceed to the spiritual instruction conveyed by it. We gather from it, then, that in spiritual things, there is a striving lawfully, and a striving unlawfully; and that the prize is not necessarily given to him who wins the race, if he has not complied with certain rules laid down. I think then we may say that there are three distinct ways of striving.
1. There is an unlawful striving after unlawful objects.
2. An unlawful striving after lawful objects.
3. A lawful striving after lawful objects.
Of these three kinds of striving two are wrong, and one is right. To strive unlawfully after unlawful objects is clearly wrong. To strive unlawfully after lawful objects deprives a man of the prize, and it is therefore wrong too. To strive lawfully after lawful objects is the only strife that the Lord crowns, and therefore the only strife that is right.
1. There is an unlawful striving after unlawful objects.
But as what is right is often more clearly shown by holding up what is wrong, I shall attempt to describe first what it is to strive unlawfully after unlawful objects.
1. To strive then after the pre-eminence, to be a Diotrephes in a church, 3John 9 is an unlawful striving after an unlawful object. There is to be no superiority, or pre-eminence among the followers of Christ. "You are all brethren," said Jesus to his disciples; Mt 23:8 "the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is he who is most like a child." Mt 18:4 "The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and those who are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Mt 20:25-27 Pre-eminence among brethren is an unlawful object, and must therefore be always unlawfully striven after.
2. All strife about vain and idle questions is unlawful strife. "Of these things," says Paul, "put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers." 2Ti 2:14 So he speaks of those who "dote about questions and strifes of words, whereof comes envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds." 1Ti 6:4,5 When men of this caviling, contentious spirit arise in churches, woe to their peace.
3. To seek after a form of godliness, while secretly denying the power thereof, or to have a name to live when dead in sin, is an unlawful striving after an unlawful object. To strive to be a whited sepulcher, a painted hypocrite, a deceiver of the churches, is dreadful striving indeed.
4. To strive after fleshly holiness and creature perfection is an unlawful strife. God never designed that the flesh should be holy. In his discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus laid it down at the very entrance in the divine life, that "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," thus establishing an eternal and unalterable distinction between them. "I know that in me," says Paul, "that is, in my flesh, there dwells no good thing." "The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other." Ga 5:17 All attempts therefore to improve or sanctify the flesh, are bidding "the leopard change his spots, and washing the Ethiopian white."
5. Again, all attempts to please God by anything that we ourselves can do, is an unlawful striving after an unlawful object. He cannot be so pleased. The corrupt fountain of our heart is continually pouring forth its polluted streams, and therefore all that comes out of it is polluted. Nothing short of perfect purity can please a perfectly pure God; and as no thought, word, or deed has passed from us by nature which is not defiled, it cannot please God. But how many think that their prayers or their tears or their good actions are acceptable to Him.
6. All attempt to keep the law in its strict requirements is an unlawful striving. That is, it is not done as God would have it done. Jesus, and He alone of all the sons of men, kept the law; and he who would go about to establish his own righteousness, to the neglect or contempt of Christ's righteousness, strives unlawfully.
7. To strive to convert the world, and to turn goats into sheep, to seek to overthrow the eternal lines of distinction between the elect and the reprobate, and frustrate Jehovah's sovereign decrees of judgment and mercy, is an unlawful strife after an unlawful object. To break down the barriers of the church and the world, and reduce to mere nullities the distinguishing doctrines of grace, is indeed to strive contrary to every rule in the word of God.
8. To seek to find an easier and smoother path than the strait gate and the narrow way; to come into the fold, but not through the door of regeneration, as the Porter opens it; to be aiming at any other salvation than an experimental acquaintance with Christ and the power of his resurrection; to set up human talents, and creature religion as sufficient with, or without the Holy Spirit's heavenly teachings; to strive after natural faith, hope, repentance, and love--all are so many branches of unlawful striving after unlawful objects.
By unlawful is meant as I said before, not that which is contrary to the letter of the law, not that which is not in strict accordance with the moral law, or the ten commandments, or any branch of the Mosaic law. The words "lawful" and "unlawful" in the text have no reference whatever to the law properly so called. The words "lawfully" and "unlawfully" mean a complying, or a not complying with certain rules and conditions, laid down in God's word. The laws and rules are not legal, old covenant rules, but gospel, law covenant conditions. Mistake me not. I do not here mean conditions to be performed by the creature, but certain rules, according to which the Holy Spirit works. "We are the clay, and He the Potter;" but the heavenly Potter works according to certain rules; and could it be possible for a vessel to be made contrary to these rules, it would not be a vessel of honor fit for the master's use. I wish to explain myself clearly, for directly a man begins to talk about rules and conditions, there are plenty of people so ignorant or so prejudiced, that they will be sure to make him an offender for a word. Remember this then, that by the word rules, laws, or conditions, I mean certain modes laid down in God's word, according to which the Holy Spirit acts, when he works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure.
All the striving then of carnal unregenerate professors is an unlawful striving after one or more unlawful objects. Being destitute of heavenly teaching, lawful objects, that is, such objects as are set before the eyes of the elect, are never striven after by them. God has never enlightened them into the depths of the fall, nor brought his holy law into their conscience in its depth and spirituality. The fountains of the great deep in their heart were never broken up, nor their secret corruptions laid bare. Sin is a burden under which they never groaned, unbelief never grieved and plagued them, the utter alienation of their heart from God was never so discovered to them as to convince them of their helplessness and hopelessness. Isaiah's experience was never theirs, when he cried out, "Woe is me, for I am undone; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Their loveliness was never turned into corruption like Daniel's; nor did they ever abhor themselves in dust and ashes, like Job. Had this work been wrought with divine power on their consciences, had the law been inwardly applied, it would effectually have cut them off from all unlawful striving.
Nor on the other hand did the Holy Spirit ever set before the eyes of their mind the gospel of the grace of God. No carnal professor, whether Calvinist or Arminian, ever had a spiritual knowledge of law or gospel. Had he experimentally known the law, it would have cut him off from unlawful striving. Had he known experimentally the gospel, it would have cut him off from unlawful objects. Thus they never had any inward taste of the sweetness of the gospel. The outward scheme and theory they might perfectly understand, and discuss it most exactly and learnedly; but the inward power, the heavenly sweetness, the divine application of it they had never the least acquaintance with. Their heads may be at Mount Zion, but their hearts are at Mount Sinai.
These unlawful strivers after unlawful objects are never crowned. They may indeed seem to arrive first at the goal; and we well know how an unburdened professor outstrips in zeal, activity, and outward religion, the poor heavy laden, panting child of God. But he is not crowned. He has carried no weight. He has run the wrong side of the post. He has won the race and lost the prize. We hear the great Judge at the last day, in reply to all his declarations of his having prophesied in his name, cast out devils, and done many mighty works, refuse the crown of eternal life with this dreadful sentence; "Depart from me, I never knew you."
I shall have occasion to show as I proceed with my subject, that the Judge of the living and the dead gives the lawful victor two crowns, a crown here and a crown hereafter--the crown of his love and approbation in the conscience on earth, and the crown of eternal glory in heaven. The unlawful striver after unlawful objects has neither of these crowns bestowed upon him, for the one is but the foretaste and sure forerunner of the other. He has therefore no secret crown of divine approbation set on his heart. God never smiled into his soul, nor sanctioned with a divine manifestation in his conscience his words and works. Professors of every degree may have praised him; but the sealing of the Spirit, the heavenly diadem of God's own putting on, was never felt nor known.
God's children themselves are often entangled in this freewill strife, especially younger days, before the Lord has purged away their filth by the Spirit of Judgment, and the Spirit of burning. We find this much in the case of the disciples, while their Lord was with them, before they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Though quickened into spiritual life, they were continually striving after pre-eminence, each wishing to be greatest. Thus the sons of Zebedee, fearful of their own persuasive powers, must needs employ the persuasive tongue of a woman--that powerful weapon which so few men can withstand, to induce their master to seat them on his left hand and his right hand in his kingdom. So, on another occasion, the same two disciples would have had fire come down from heaven to consume the Samaritans, when they would not receive Christ Lu 9:54.
Thus we in our youthful religious day were striving after many unlawful objects. Holiness in the flesh, to please God by our own exertions, to make ourselves religious, and understand the doctrines of grace by reading all sorts of religious books, to please professors, conciliate the world, avoid the cross, shun the imputation of uncharitableness, soften down carnal relations, and keep up old acquaintances--who of us has never thus striven after these unlawful objects? But we could never get the Searcher of hearts, to put on our consciences the crown of his approbation. We strove for the mastery but were never crowned because we strove unlawfully.
2. But now I come to another kind of striving, which is unlawful striving after lawful objects. The strife we have just been describing was unlawful strife after unlawful objects. In that the things aimed at and sought after were as contrary to the rules of the word of God as the mode of striving to obtain them. In the strife that we are about to consider now, the objects aimed at are lawful and good, but they are sought after in an unlawful, wrong way.
I repeat again, that lawful and unlawful here do not mean, and have nothing to do with the law properly so called, but signify a compliance or a noncompliance on the part of the striver with certain rules, which God has laid down in his word. What those rules are we shall see before long.
There are then certain lawful objects, set forth in the word of God, as the things to be aimed at by everyone who runs the race set before him by the Holy Spirit. These lawful objects are the blessings which God blessed his church with in Christ Jesus. Who sits at the end of the race to award the prize? What says Paul? "Let us run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Heb 12:1,2 Now to whom can the runners in a race look, but to him who sits at the goal? They leave the spectators behind, and without stretched necks look forward to the Judge of the prize. He is "the Author of their faith," giving them power to run, and "the Finisher," by crowning it with his approbation.
To "win Christ" then is the object set before the soul that runs the heavenly race. "That I may win Christ," says Paul. Php 3:8 But what is it to win Christ? Why, to have him in our hearts as the hope of glory, to embrace him in our arms of faith and affection, and to be able to say feelingly, "My beloved is mine, and I am his." Again, pardon of sin, manifestations of mercy, visitations of God the Father's presence and love, the Spirit of adoption enabling the soul to cry, "Abba, Father," applications of Christ's atoning blood, and gracious discoveries of his glorious righteousness, these are lawful objects for the living family to strive after. Lawful, not because the law, strictly so called, speaks of them, for the law never did testify of them either outwardly or inwardly, but because the believer's rule, the glorious gospel of the grace of God, sets forth these blessings as the portion of the people of God in the New Testament.
Now none but a living soul ever panted and longed after these spiritual blessings. Hypocrites and reprobates may desire heaven to escape hell, as Balaam desired to die the death of the righteous. But I never can believe that any but a living soul desired an eternal heaven. Pardon of sin a reprobate may desire, to escape the gnawing of the never dying worm, and the fire that is not quenched; but I feel fully persuaded, that no one dead in sin longed and panted with intense breathings and burning desires after the manifestations of the pure love of an all pure God.
No natural man, no, not the highest doctrinal professor, ever poured out his soul after the blessed overshadowings of the Holy Spirit. It was never his daily longing, nor midnight cry. Such a blessing he has neither a heart to ask, nor a heart to receive.
But in his gracious dealings with his own children, the Lord usually sets before them certain blessings, of which he makes them feel their deep need, and after which he kindles in their soul intense desires. I well remember how ardently not quite fourteen years ago my soul longed after the knowledge of God. It came upon me in the depths of affliction, unsought, and abode with me for weeks at times night and day. O what a spirit of grace and supplication I then had after the internal knowledge of God in Christ!
But there is an unlawful striving in quickened souls after these lawful objects. Now God has laid down in his word of truth three solemn rules, laws you may call them if you like, which constitute lawful striving.
1. The Holy Spirit must begin, carry on, and finish the inward work of grace.
2. The soul must be brought under his divine teaching to be thoroughly stripped and emptied of all creature wisdom, strength, help, hope, and righteousness.
3. The glory of a Triune God must be the end and motive of all.
Any departure from these three rules of striving makes a man strive unlawfully.
Now in early days with us we are often striving after lawful objects, but our manner of striving after them is not in compliance with these three rules, and therefore we strive unlawfully. We are not stripped and laid low in a day. It is often the work of time. I can speak well from experience here. I was not stripped, nor brought down for several years after, as I trust, the Lord quickened my soul, though from the first I was led to strive more or less after lawful objects, and could not do without an internal religion. But thorough soul poverty had not laid hold of me, shame and confusion of face had not covered me. I had not then felt what a vile monster of iniquity I was, nor loathed and abhorred myself in dust and ashes. Man's utter helplessness was to me more a doctrine than a truth; I was not acquainted with the mighty overwhelming power of sin, nor had the ploughshare of temptation turned up the deep corruptions of my heart. I therefore strove unlawfully. When I fell as I fell continually, I had some secret reserve in SELF, some prayers, or repentance, or hopes, or resolutions to help me out of the ditch.
Have we not all been more or loss here? We had a 'legal spirit' influencing us, and there was a kind of dead hope that if we lived holy lives, believed the promises, looked, as we thought looking then was, to Christ, and kept perseveringly on, we would get the object of our desires. And though we never got a step forward in the matter, there was a dim struggling after progressive sanctification, and seeking the blessings of the gospel by the works of the law. Now what was the result of all this unlawful striving? Did God ever crown it with his gracious smiles and heavenly approbation? We know that he never did. When is the crown put on? "In the day of the espousals, and in the day of the gladness of the heart." So 3:11 And there can be no espousals, no manifested betrothing of the soul unto Christ in loving kindness, in mercies, in faithfulness, until we are dead to the law, our first husband. Then the crown is put upon the heart. God is a jealous God, and will not give his glory to another. Our own strivings shall never procure us the looks of his love. Now this denial of the crown to all their ardent desires and earnest strivings sadly puzzles and bewilders the seeking soul. No he is almost ready to quarrel with God, and accuse him of unfaithfulness, because he will not smile, and speak peace and pardon. Jeremiah was here, when with intemperate complaint, he cried aloud, "Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Will you be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?" Jer 15:18
But we cannot learn spiritual religion, as we learn arithmetic; we cannot take the slate, and copy out the rule, and work the sum. God's teachings are of a very different nature, intended to baffle and confound all the pride and wisdom of the creature. Nor can we hasten God's work. His teachings are not hasty teachings for the most part, but line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a little. I cannot stand in your experience; you cannot stand in mine. Neither of us know one jot more nor one jot less than the Holy Spirit has written upon our heart. We do not learn religion in a day. The way from Egypt to Canaan was but a few days journey, but the Lord choose to lead his people about in the wilderness, amid fiery flying serpents, drought, and famine, for forty years. And why?--but "to humble them, and test them, and know what was in their heart?" This was one part of the lesson; and the other was that "he might make them know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." De 8:2,3 And thus we have to learn by painful experience the uselessness of all creature strivings, and to be brought down into that state where all exertions fail.
3. But we come now to the only striving which the Lord crowns--a lawful striving after lawful objects.
Of the other two kinds of striving, the first was chiefly the striving of reprobates; therefore not crowned. The second was the striving of quickened souls, but not crowned, because they strove not according to gospel rules.
But now we are dealing with characters brought down to poverty and utter insolvency, in the state described in the parable of the two servants, "when they had nothing to pay." What Deer calls "perfect poverty."
'Tis perfect poverty alone
That sets the soul at large;
While we can call one mite our own,
We have no full discharge.
To bring this about is the work of the law. The gospel does not reduce the soul to beggary. It only steps in as a friend to pay the debt when all one's own money is gone. The law draws all the money out of the pocket by crying, "Do, do," "work, work." But when all is gone, the law can do no more. The law then has done its office. The law puts a burden on, which burden is carried until the heart is brought down with labor, and the soul falls down, and there is none to help. Ps 107:12 As Paul says, "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." By this death the soul becomes dead to the law, as Paul says again, "don't you know, brethren, (for I speak to those who know the law) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives." Ro 7:1 When then he dies under the law, he dies to the law, and the law ceases to have dominion over him. All strivings therefore of the elect under the law, end sooner or later in death to the law. Now I appeal to your consciences, whether God ever crowned your legal strivings. What has the law done for you? what can the law do for you, but to bring its curse in your heart, lay guilt on your conscience, and stir up slavish fear in your mind? To strive lawfully then, is not to strive after the law, but after certain rules laid down in the gospel.
Well then, they are called laws, as the Holy Spirit uses the word when he says, "I will put my laws into their hearts, and write them in their minds." Now we will begin with the first rule, which is this, that the Holy Spirit must work in us all the power, wisdom, grace, faith, strength, and life, that we strive with. This work the apostle calls a law in Ro 8:2 "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." "Whatever is not of faith is sin." "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." "The things of God knows no one but the Spirit of God." "When the Spirit of truth has come, he will guide you into all truth." Now while striving in our own strength, the power and reality of the Spirit's teachings were little known. We could not lie passive, as helpless as the Potter's clay. All creature strength was not gone; some little reservoir was left.
The second rule of lawful striving is, that the runners in this race should have no strength. "He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might he increases strength." "When we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly." "Without me," said Jesus, "you can do nothing." The Lord opened his ministry with setting forth his covenant character to the poor and needy. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to set at liberty those who are bruised." So he said, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted."
All the blessings of the gospel are promised to the poor in spirit, the outcasts of Israel. But who makes them poor? The Lord surely, according to that word, "The Lord makes poor, and makes rich." A man may indeed after a form make himself poor by wearing rags, and assuming the garb of poverty. I have read of a man who, from some whim or kind of madness, went about the country dressed and living as a common beggar. He had abundance of property, but he chose to dress in rags, and live on alms. Such a man was not really poor, as his apparent poverty was but a mask and a cheat. So spiritually, he that makes himself poor is not one of God's poor; and he infringes just as much upon the work of the Spirit, and is as much guilty of presumption and hypocrisy, as if he made himself rich.
And a child of God who strives to make himself poor, strives unlawfully, for he acts against the rule, that all we are and have, all we know and feel aright, must be the whole and sole work of the blessed Spirit. A man who makes himself poor by throwing away external pride, and putting on external humility never passes in his soul through the feelings that God exercises his children with. The living family are stripped unwillingly; they cannot believe the Lord is leading them in the right way. Despondency, unbelief, rebellion, infidelity work up in their heart against His teaching. Their former enjoyments, and what they thought communion are taken away, and they feel as Isaiah speaks, left as "a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on a hill." Isa 30:17 The word beacon is in the margin, "a tree bereft of branches." And thus they stand bereft of all their spreading boughs of religion, a leafless trunk stripped of flowers and fruit--naked and bare.
Perhaps some of you here never were in this spot--never lost all your religion, and stood before God without a grain, like the tall, leafless, branchless tree on the top of the hill, "O no," say you, "I have been very far, but was never driven into this spot yet." Then I will tell you a secret; If you belong unto God, you have to be driven farther than you have been yet. We read Eze 17:24 that "the Lord dries up the green tree, and makes the dry tree to flourish." Then you must be dried up, for you are a green tree still, before you can flourish in the courts of the Lord. And perhaps when you get to have no religion of your own, it will be the very time for the Lord to give you some of his. We are "to buy from him gold tried in the fire."
Now if we look into the fire, where the gold was being tried, what would we see? why a crucible, that is a kind of earthen pot, with scum and dross and foam, bubbling and boiling. O where is the gold? Out of sight, at the bottom of the vessel, covered with scum and foam. So it is with the soul that is in the furnace. Faith, hope, and love, are all hidden at the bottom of the heart, and the scum and dross of unbelief, despondency, and rebellion are alone seen. But when the refiner removes the scum with his rod, then the pure gold shines forth. Now while passing through this experience, you are striving lawfully, for you are fulfilling the second rule of the Christian strife. You are a poor needy outcast, who can do nothing. You now are where Paul was, "though I be nothing." 2Co 12:11
And this enables you to comply with the third rule of lawful strife– to give God all the glory. Surely you can take no glory to self, when self has been proved, and found lacking. Then if the Lord has made you poor, in order to make you rich, naked that he may clothe you, a beggar that he may relieve you, a bankrupt that he may pay all your debts, an insolvent that he may take you out of jail with flying colors in the face of your creditors, and has brought you down to the gates of hell to lift you up to the door of heaven, then surely you must give him all the glory. He has solemnly declared that "no flesh shall glory in his presence," and "he that glories let him glory in the Lord." But what is so staggering to nature and reason is the way that he brings about this taking to himself the glory. No man in his senses would walk in this way. But God does not act according to our senses, but "according to the counsel of his own will."
Thus we never strife lawfully until we cease to strive naturally. Then the Holy Spirit begins to strive within with groanings which cannot be uttered. No pretty prayers to tickle rotten professors; no cut and dried sentences with texts nicely assorted and fitted in like the squares of a chess-board; no flowers of eloquence to please those who are all for word and hate power. But the real striving is all inward work, sighing, crying, and groaning to the Lord. "Oh!" say you, "I will tell you what I call striving. It is to go to chapel three times on the Lord's day, attend prayer meetings, pray privately seven times regularly every day." Ah, my friend, this is striving after the flesh. The only striving that God acknowledges is the striving of the Spirit and the Spirit never strives effectually, until the flesh has ceased to strive.
Now this inward striving of the Spirit are a fulfilling of the experience Paul describes. 2Co 12:9,10 "When I am weak, he says, then am I strong." Why so? Because "the strength of Christ is made perfect in weakness." Then if I am saved, I am saved as a vile wretch, a monster of iniquity, by rich, free, sovereign, distinguishing grace. Not a drop of heavenly favor can reach my heart by my own exertions. I might as well think of taking up the whole Atlantic ocean in the hollow of my hand, as bring down into my soul a drop of God's love, or a single smile of his countenance. I may sigh, cry, groan, long, and pant after the shedding abroad of his love, but I cannot bring down one grain or atom of it within. Then if felt, must not we give to God all the glory?
Now these lawful strivers after lawful objects are crowned, and they only. This CROWN is two-fold--a crown here and a crown hereafter, a crown of grace set on the heart below, and the crown of glory set on the head above. Thus Paul says, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all those also that love his appearing." 2Ti 4:8 This crown none will have but those who have striven, striven lawfully to enter in at the strait gate, and striven successfully.
The CROWN BELOW is the crown spoken of in, Eze 16:12 "I put a beautiful crown on your head;" and which the church laments to have lost, "The crown is fallen from our head." La 5:16 This crown is put on the heart, when the Lord smiles approbation and acceptance in the Son of his love. As David speaks, Ps 103:4 "Who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies." Now this inward crown is never set on the heart of any but a beggar, that has been on the ash-heap. "He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the ash-heap, to set them among princes, and make them inherit the throne of glory." This beggar is one who is begging for a manifested interest in God's great salvation, clothed in rags and sitting in dust and ashes on the ash-heap of his own corruptions. He and he only is raised up in his soul to sit among princes, the priests and kings, the royal generation, who are invariably crowned with divine favor below, and inherit the throne of glory above.
Now of this internal crowning I believe there are different degrees. There are no degrees in glory, but there certainly are degrees of grace. There are no 'pious eminent saints' above close to the throne, while the thief on the cross and Mary Magdalene stand at the door as having been such great sinners. But below there are degrees of manifested favor; there are babes, young men, and fathers. Whenever then you have been enabled by faith to rest on Christ's blood and righteousness, whenever a drop of God's favor has flowed into your soul, whenever peace has been felt and known, and a solemn sense of God's goodness and mercy through the blood of the Lamb has been tasted; whenever in the depths of soul poverty and helplessness, help and strength have been found to cast your burden on the Lord, then and there you have been crowned as a lawful striver.
O, say some, "We must have full assurance, and there is no faith without it." I believe that all true faith has a measure of assurance in it, but who can say how full it shall be. The leper who merely cried, "If you will, you can make me clean," had faith, and so had the woman who pressed through the throng to touch Jesus' garment, and so had the Canaanitish woman who sought but for a crumb from the children's table. This was a venturing faith, a faith of necessity, a faith working up and out of trials and burdens.
This faith the Lord crowns as his own work, for he never crowns anything else. He crowns not our strivings but his own, not our work but the work of Jesus Christ. Have you then never felt a little of this soul melting work? "Aye," say you, "but it did not last long, and has been but rarely felt." But where is it said how long it is to last, or how often to be felt? To have had the crown on but once, and that but for a few moments, is to have been crowned. You complain that you have lost these sweet feelings. But how could you have lost what you never had? You are saying, "the crown has fallen from my head." Then it must have been there. And I will tell you another thing, that if the crown was ever set on your heart, the rim of it has left its mark behind, and upon that spot where it has left its impression, you are longing to have it again set on.
See then to it that you are striving lawfully. Have you run yourself out of breath yet? are your arms withered, your legs and back broken? Then will the Lord himself bear you, as on eagles' wings, to the end of the race, and lay you at the feet of the Judge, where you will learn that "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong," but that "God has mercy upon whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens."
Preached at Eden Street Chapel, London, on August 30, 1846, by J. C. Philpot
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it."
I do not know a more striking or more deeply important portion of God's Word than that which is contained in the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation. What a solemn vision was John favored with, when the Lord of life and glory appeared unto him in the manner described in the first chapter! "And standing in the middle of the lampstands was the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow (evidencing his eternity). And his eyes were bright like flames of fire (to show how he looks into the heart, and searches the thoughts). His feet were as bright as bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was as bright as the sun in all its brilliance." Rev. 1:13-16
Though John was the beloved disciple, and had even lain in the Lord's bosom while upon earth, yet this glorious vision took such an effect upon him, that he "fell at his feet as dead." This vision was preparatory to the messages which the Lord gave him to the seven churches of Asia Minor. It is worthy of remark, that in every message there are three things repeated to each church. To all of them the Lord says, "l know your works;" to all of them he declares, "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches;" and to all of them a promise is made, though to each of a different nature, "to him who overcomes."
What do we learn from these three features which are thus stamped upon every message to the churches? We learn, first, that the Redeemer looks into all hearts, and searches all thoughts. We learn, secondly, the deep importance of the message he delivers; and yet that none will hear and attend to it, but those to whom the Lord has given an ear to hear. And we learn, thirdly, what sweet promises the Lord gives to him who overcomes in the spiritual conflict.
I shall this evening, with God's blessing, dwell chiefly upon two features which strike my mind as flowing out of the words before us; and shall endeavor to describe, in the first place, the CHARACTER pointed out under the words "him who overcomes;" and in the second place, as the Lord may enable, to enter more fully into the PROMISE which the Lord gives to him who overcomes, containing three distinct blessings–
1. that he shall "eat of the hidden manna;"
2. that the Lord "will give him a white stone;" and
3. "on the stone a new name written, which no man knows but he that receives it."
The Lord's purpose and object in his dealings with the souls of his people is, to glorify himself. The glory of God must ever be the end of all his works; the glory of man therefore must give way. The glory of God and the glory of man can never stand upon the same pedestal. Man therefore must sink, and be reduced to a sense of his real state and character, that the glory of a Three-One God may shine forth brightly and conspicuously.
I. The Lord in the text speaks of THE CHARACTER THAT BEARS THIS DESIGNATION--"he who overcomes." The promise is therefore limited to that character; it is his alone; and in his case alone will the Lord fulfill it to the uttermost.
But who is this character? Where shall we find the man to whom this promise is made--"him who overcomes?" Let us see if we can find such a one. When the Lord is first pleased to begin a work of grace upon the soul, he convinces a man of his lost state by nature. He sets before him eternal life as an object to be obtained--and without which, he convinces him, he must be of all men the most miserable here, and the most miserable hereafter. But in early days, the veil of ignorance remaining much upon the heart, having imbibed many superstitions and ignorant ideas from our very cradles, and not being illuminated by the Spirit's teaching, to know Jesus to be "the way, the truth, and the life," we make many efforts to win the prize by nature's strength, and to reach the goal by creature righteousness.
Now the Lord's purpose is to make us "overcome;" for the promise is only "to him who overcomes." But he purposes to make us "overcome" in His strength alone, and not in our own--and this for the most part we learn very slowly. We set before us the commandments; and we think if we keep them diligently, we shall at last obtain God's favor, and arrive safely in heaven. But as in this obedience we continually fail, yet not knowing the strictness of God's commandments, the spirituality of the law, nor the breadth of the precept, we think the fault must surely be in ourselves--that we have not watched enough, nor kept a sufficient look-out upon the avenues of our heart, nor done what we really might have done.
Not knowing at this time that the inherent depravity of man is such that he never can keep God's law; not knowing that the Lord intends by these means to teach us our weakness, like a person who falls down, we get up again, and try to run the race anew. But to our surprise we find ourselves continually defeated; that we cannot be what we would. We would be righteous--we would be holy; we would not sin--we would watch our eyes, our ears, our hearts; we would not break out on the right hand, we would not break out on the left. The Lord may allow us for a season to go on in these labor-in-vain paths; but after a time there shall be some outbreak; some temptation may take us unawares, which is so sweet and suitable, that we are entangled in a moment, and down goes all our strength; our resolutions for the future are broken in an instant; and we slowly begin to learn how very weak we are against any one temptation.
But again. We are not at first fully alive to the breadth and spirituality of God's law. But as the Lord begins to show us more and more clearly what we are, makes us to feel more and more our helplessness and weakness against temptation, he also unfolds more and more clearly the breadth and spirituality of his law--he shows how it reaches to the very thoughts and intents of the heart; and not only so, but that it is connected with a curse to every soul which is found under it, and that it genders to bondage.
Who would think that this is the way to "overcome"? When a man is continually being overcome; when sometimes his lusts surprise him; sometimes despair overtakes him; sometimes pride breaks forth; sometimes covetousness and carnality manifest themselves; sometimes one evil displays itself, at other times another, and anon a third monster lifts up its hateful head--who would think that this is the man who is to gain the victory, when he is so continually vanquished and so perpetually defeated?
But there is one portion in God's word which shows us wherein the secret of their overcoming lies--"And they overcame"--How? By their own strength? by their own wisdom? by their own righteousness? by their own resolutions? No. "They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of his testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." So that when a poor sinner, feeling deeply and daily that he has nothing but sin and has entirely given up all hopes whatever of being any better, sinks down at the footstool of mercy as a lost, guilty, condemned wretch; if indulged then with a glimpse of "the blood of the Lamb," which speaks pardon and peace to the guilty conscience, and the "word of God's testimony" comes into his heart with divine power, then he "overcomes," not by his own strength, his own wisdom, or his own righteousness, but by the blood of the Lamb being applied to his conscience, and by the word of God's testimony being applied with divine power to his heart. This is the only way to "overcome."
1. But if we are to "overcome," we must have enemies. Among these the things of time and sense will be one. How many of God's family find the world to be continually entangling them, sometimes with its cares and anxieties, sometimes with its vain company and its pleasures, falsely so called, for really there is no pleasure in them. Thus they are drawn aside by a multitude of vain things that only leave sorrow and vexation behind them. How then are they to overcome the WORLD? Only by faith in the blood of the Lamb; as we read, "Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" 1Jo 5:5 "And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." When the Lamb of God is pleased to manifest himself to the conscience of the sinner, and to raise up in his heart living faith whereby he is looked unto and embraced, this faith will give him the victory over the world which he never could obtain by any strength or resolutions of his own.
2. Again, there is a whole army of DOUBTS AND FEARS rising up against God's family; a whole array of apprehensions whether the work of grace is begun upon their heart; a whole host of alarms whether they are anything more than hypocrites. And this company of doubts and fears wars against every testimony that God has dropped into their soul. How, then, are they to "overcome" this company of doubts and fears? By arguing against them? Satan laughs at their arguments. By trying to persuade themselves they are children of God? Satan is a better logician than they; he can soon pour contempt upon all their attempts to persuade themselves they are interested in atoning blood and dying love. But when "the blood of the Lamb" is applied to their conscience, and the "word of God's testimony" is spoken by God's own lips to their heart, realizing to them, that they are interested in his eternal favor--then they overcome this company of doubts and fears; not by any arguments they bring from nature or reason, but by the sweet unctuous teachings of the Spirit in the court of conscience, and by that blood of sprinkling "which speaks better things than the blood of Abel."
3. SIN, again, is an enemy. How many of the Lord's people are continually under bondage to evil! What power the lusts of the flesh have over some! How perpetually they are entangled with everything sensual and carnal! What power the pride of the heart has over another! and what strength covetousness exercises over a third! What power the love of the world and the things of time and sense exercise over a fourth! How then are they to overcome sin? By making resolutions? by endeavoring to overcome it in their own strength? No; sin will always break through man's strength; it will ever be stronger than any resolution we can make not to be overcome by it.
But when the blood of the Lamb is applied to the sinner's conscience, and the word of God's testimony comes with power into his soul, it gives him the victory over those lusts with which he was before entangled, it brings him out of the world that had so allured him, and breaks to pieces the dominion of sin under which he had been so long laboring. "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace" Ro 6:14
"To him who overcomes." A man must be overcome, then, in this battle before he can shout victory; and therefore the Lord allows his people to be so long and often entangled, perplexed, exercised, and distressed, that they may learn this secret, which is hidden from all but God's living family--that the strength of Christ is made perfect in their weakness. Have not some of you had to learn this lesson very painfully? There was a time when you thought you would get better and better, holier and holier; that you would not only not walk in open sin as before, but would not be entangled by temptation, overcome by besetting lusts, or cast down by hidden snares. There was a time when you thought you were going forward, attaining some more strength, some better wisdom than you believed you once possessed. How has it been with you? Have these expectations ever been realized? Have you ever attained these fond hopes? Has sin become weaker? Has the world become less alluring? Have your lusts become tamer? Has your temper become milder? Have the corruptions of your heart become feebler and feebler? No!
If I can read the heart of some poor tried, tempted soul here present, he would say, "No; to my shame and sorrow be it spoken, I find on the contrary that sin is stronger and stronger, that the evils of my heart are more and more powerful than ever I knew them in my life; and as to my own endeavors to overcome them, I find indeed that they are fainter and fainter, and weaker and weaker. This it is," says the soul, "that casts me down. If I could have more strength against sin; if I could stand more boldly against Satan; if I could overcome my besetting lusts; live more to God's glory, and be holier and holier, then, then," says some poor distressed child of God, "I could have some comfort; but to feel myself so continually baffled, so perpetually disconcerted, so incessantly cast down by the workings of my corrupt nature, it is this, it is this that cuts so keenly; it is this, it is this that tries me so deeply."
My friend, you are on the high road to victory. This is the very way by which you are to overcome.
If you, on the other hand, were sailing upon this tack--getting better and better, sin weaker and weaker, and your heart holier and holier, by and by you would look forward to a complete victory. But depend upon it, you would be then sailing upon the wrong tack altogether. But, on the other hand, when you feel weaker and weaker, poorer and poorer, guiltier and guiltier, viler and viler, so that really through painful experience you are compelled to call yourself, not in the language of mock humility, but in the language of self-abhorrence, the chief of sinners, then you are on the high road to victory. Thus when the Lord is pleased to bring a sense of his atoning blood with power into his conscience, and to speak a word with his own lips to the poor child of God, then he overcomes, not by his own strength, his own wisdom, or his own righteousness, but by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of his testimony, revealed to his heart by the power of God himself. Be certain, if we overcome in any way but this, we do not overcome so as to gain a real and spiritual victory.
II. Now to such the Lord gives three distinct SPECIAL PROMISES. "To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no man knows but he that receives it."
1. The first promise is, "I will give to him to eat of the hidden manna." What is this hidden manna? Is it not God's word applied with power to the heart? What says Jeremiah? "Your words were found, and I did eat them; and your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" Jer 15:16 When the Lord is pleased to drop a word into the heart from his own lips; to apply some promise; to open up some precious portion of his word; to whisper softly some blessed Scripture into the heart--is not this manna? Whence did the manna flow? Was it cultivated by the hand of man? Was it gathered, as infidels tell us, from the ash trees that grew in the wilderness? No; it fell from heaven. And is not this true of the word of the Lord applied with power to the heart? It is not our searching the Scriptures, though it is good to search the Scriptures; it is not our comparing passage with passage; but it is the Lord himself being pleased to apply some precious portion of truth to our hearts; and when this takes place, it is "manna;" it is sweet, refreshing, strengthening, comforting, encouraging--yes, it is angels' food; the very flesh and blood of the Lamb with which the Lord is pleased from time to time to feed and favor hungry souls.
But, in the text it is called "hidden." Why "hidden"? Because hidden from the eves of the wise and prudent, as the Lord says, "I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight." Lu 10:21 Hidden from the eyes of self-righteous pharisees; hidden from those that fight in their own strength, and seek to gain the victory by their own brawny arm; hidden from all but God's tried and tempted family; hidden from all but those who know the plague of their own hearts; hidden from all but those who have learned the secret of overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of his testimony.
Say, that you have been entangled in some snare; say, you have been cast down by some of Satan's temptations; was there not some hidden manna for you? Did not the Lord apply some portion of his word to your heart with sweetness? There was conviction indeed, cutting conviction; there was guilt, deep, black guilt; there was shame, for you were covered with it; there was confusion, for your heart could say, "I am full of confusion." But was there not some sweet promise? Was there not a portion of Scripture opened up with divine power to your soul? Was there not some testimony of the Spirit of God to your spirit that you were one of his people? Was there no word, like hidden manna, dropped with power and sweetness into your heart?
There was no manna, and never will be, while guilt remains upon the conscience, while sin has dominion, while we are entangled in and cast down by Satan's snares, while we are overcome with the lusts of the flesh, while pride and covetousness and every evil bear the sway.
But when the Lord leads us into this path--to sink down into weakness, and in weakness to find his strength made perfect; to fall down all guilt, and then to feel the application of atoning blood; to tremble under the weight of doubts and fears, and then to have the precious word of his testimony dropped into the heart--this is manna. The children of Israel had to endure hunger in the wilderness before manna fell; and thus the Lord's people learn the value of the hidden manna, the sweet communications from above, by hungering and thirsting in a waste howling wilderness.
But there is something more implied by the word "manna" than this. The Lord Jesus Christ himself tells us that he is "the true bread that came from heaven;" and that the manna represented his flesh which he gave for the life of the (elect) world. Now, when we are in bondage to sin, when our lusts and passions get the victory over us, when guilt lies hard and heavy upon the conscience, when little is experienced but darkness and confusion--then there is no feeding upon the flesh of Jesus, no tasting how sweet and precious he is, no embracing him in the arms of faith, no enjoying glimpses and glances of his surpassing beauty.
But, on the other hand, when the Lord is pleased to give power to the soul to overcome by "the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony," then his flesh and blood become sweet to him who thus overcomes. When do I value a discovery to my heart of redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ? When I am strong? When I am wise? When I am holy? When I am righteous? These things set me far from Jesus. But when I am bowed down with guilt, cut up by temptations, tried and exercised with a whole company of doubts and fears--then if the Lord be pleased to draw me to his footstool; then if he opens up what he has done and suffered upon the cross; then if he raises up faith in my soul to look to him, believe in his name, and receive him as the crucified Son of God--then there is a feeding upon the manna; his flesh becomes food indeed, and his blood becomes drink indeed. But this is hidden from all eyes except those that are anointed by the Spirit to see it, and hidden from all hearts except those that are prepared to receive and feed upon it.
2. The next promise is, "And I will give him a white stone." In ancient times, they used to decide cases by white and black stones. The judges (for they were rather judges than jury) did not give their verdict upon the prisoner by oral testimony, "Guilty," or "Not Guilty," as in our country, but by dropping into a urn a white stone to express their opinion that the prisoner was innocent, or a black stone to declare their judgment that the prisoner was guilty. The Lord has made use of this figure. He says, "To him who overcomes I will give a white stone;" that is--I will give into his conscience a sentence of acquittal. As the white stone was dropped into the urn, so peace and pardon are dropped into the sinner's bosom; and just as the judge, when he deposited the white stone in the urn, declared thereby the prisoner's innocence; so when the Lord is pleased to speak peace to the soul, he drops into the heart a white stone, to proclaim him discharged from the law's accusations, and interested in his love and blood.
But how is this figure applicable? Why, he that overcomes treads the same path whereby the poor guilty criminal came to receive the white stone. The promise is made to him who overcomes. Should not we think that this is setting a TASK before him which he is to perform? that he has to fast, to pray, to attend sacraments, to offer up so many prayers, and thus by degrees overcome sin and gain the prize? Would not that be fallen human nature's interpretation? But it is not grace's interpretation. This is grace's blessed interpretation, consistent with the experience of the saints and with divine teaching in their souls--that he overcomes by being overcome, for this opens a way for the Lord to bring a sense of his blood into the conscience, and speak a word of testimony to his heart. Then he receives "a white stone," deposited by the Lord himself in his bosom, whereby he declares that all his sins are forgiven--peace is sealed upon his conscience, and he goes free, walking in that liberty which the gospel proclaims to those that are in the prison-house.
But we may say, that every testimony from the Lord is "a white stone." Every token that the Lord ever bestowed upon you that you are a child of his, every promise that has ever come into your heart, every answer to prayer that you have ever received from his lips, every deliverance that you have ever experienced from his hand, is "a white stone."
Every application of truth with divine savor and unction to your soul, every reviving or refreshing season, every sweet manifestation, every breaking down or softening of heart, every melting of spirit at the Redeemer's footstool, is "a white stone." Every time that you felt Jesus precious to your heart--every time that you washed his feet with your tears, and wiped them with the hairs of your head--every time that you embraced him in the arms of faith and affection, and could say, "Dear Lord, how precious you are to my soul!"--was "a white stone." The Lord has given you "a white stone" with every visit of his gracious presence, with every communication of his eternal and never-ceasing love. And what a mercy it is for the child of God to have even one white stone!
Suppose to revert to the custom from which the figure is borrowed, there was any doubt as to whether a prisoner had been acquitted, could he not point to the white stones that were in the urn? And if he could produce them in his hand, and say to the judges, "Here are the white stones that you have put into the urn; you yourselves have acquitted me;" would not the production of them declare him vindicated from the charges brought against him? And what a mercy it is for a child of God to have a white stone that he can present before a throne of mercy! to have some testimony, some token for good, some promise brought into his heart with power, some sweet visit from the Lord! to have realized his presence, to have had faith in his blood, to have known his love! so that when doubts and fears, difficulties and perplexities beset him, he can, as the Lord the Spirit enables, look back to those times when "a white stone" was given as a proof on the Lord's part of his soul's entire acquittal from law charges, and a sure testimony that his name is in the book of life.
And how many doubts and fears, dark seasons, distressing moments, what sharp convictions, heavy burdens, hard bondage the soul must labor under from the lack of "a white stone!" To be accused, accused, accused, and not to find one "white stone!"--does not this try you sometimes? Perhaps some illness seizes you; or you feel some symptoms of disease; you are afraid that fever or cholera will lay hold of you, or that you are going into a decline, and your tabernacle is about to be taken down. You have been a professor some years; but doubts and fears now arise in your mind, convictions of guilt seize you, and you begin to quake and tremble--to fear that you never had pardon proclaimed or peace manifested, never had a visit from the Lord, never had an answer to prayer, never had a manifestation of God's presence, never felt his dying love, never had his word applied with power to your heart. If you have a tender conscience, made alive in God's fear, it must bring bondage and distress into your soul to have all these doubts and fears working in your mind, and not have one "white stone" to produce, not one testimony, not one clear evidence that the Lord has visited your soul, and begotten you unto eternal life. But does that prove you are not a quickened soul? No, no--it is a proof that you are a quickened soul. If you were a 'rotten professor', you would not desire "a white stone;" but it is because you are a poor guilty, trembling sinner that you feel you need "a white stone."
Suppose we were in some ancient court, where cases were decided by these black and white stones dropped into the urn. Would the bystanders want them? No; only one would want them--the guilty criminal trembling at the bar. He would anxiously watch the hands of the judges, to see whether they dropped the white or the black stones into the urn. So you, who doubt and fear, who are distressed in your minds, cut up in your feelings, and harassed by convictions--all for the lack of a sweet manifestation, all for the lack of a clear testimony, all for the lack of pardon and peace being sealed upon your heart; these very exercises, these very trials of mind, all prove that you have the life of God in your soul--for having the life of God, you are anxious after manifestations from the Lord; and nothing else can satisfy you. Now you are upon the high road to victory. Your doubts and fears, your cutting convictions, your sharp exercises, your numerous temptations, your many perplexities--what is their effect? To beat you down, to defeat, to overcome you, to prove stronger than all your attempts to master them.
But these things are to bring you to the foot of the cross. They are to cut up 'creature righteousness' root and branch; they are to strip you of every rag of fleshly holiness, and bring you to that safe spot where you will one day "overcome by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of his testimony"--the blood of the Lamb applied to your conscience, and the word of God's testimony spoken with sweet delivering power to your heart.
But only the Lord's family want these white stones. They want the Lord to give something to them, and to do something in them--to speak something to them and in them. It is not what this man may say, or the other man may say, that satisfies a conscience made tender in God's fear. It is what the Lord does in, and speaks to him. This, and this alone, can satisfy one that has the life of God ebbing and flowing in his heart.
3. "And on the stone a new name written, which no man knows but he who receives it." Here is another custom alluded to. In ancient times it was customary to write upon a stone the name of the candidate for whom they intended to vote. If there were two, three, four, or ten candidates for an office, when a person would express his opinion that such a candidate should be chosen; in other words, when he would give a vote for a particular candidate, he wrote the name of the candidate upon a stone, and put that stone into a urn; and he whose name appeared most frequent was considered chosen by the majority of the people. The Lord alludes to this in the text, where he says, "On the stone a new name written, which no man knows but he that receives it."
What is this new name? Is it not a new heart, a new nature--Christ in the soul the hope of glory? This is the "new name which no man knows but he that receives it." New affections flowing towards the precious Lord, new breathings of a heart made tender in his fear, new enjoyments of his manifested presence, new sensations from the work of the Spirit upon the soul; in other words, a new heart, a new nature, made new by him who sits upon the throne. When the Lord's people are exercised with doubts and fears, and cast down by many temptations, what are their two greatest trials? The workings of the old man of sin, and the few communications that they have of power from the Lord. Does not this sometimes trouble your mind? There is a sad darkness in your soul. You go to a throne of grace; you plead with the Lord; you ask him to give you a word. But there is no answer, no manifestation, no sweet whisper, no discovery of Jesus to your soul. You go away worse than you came. Or, you are tempted with some sin; some snare is spread for your feet; some besetment holds you fast--you are cut up with guilt, and distressed in your mind. "O wretched man that I am!" is your constant cry. But you cannot break the snare, cannot deliver your own soul, cannot overcome the besetment that works so powerfully in your carnal mind. Under these feelings you have no communication from God, no sweet testimony, no answer to prayer, no divine light nor liberty, nothing to strengthen, nothing to comfort, nothing to encourage your soul; darkness, guilt, bondage, lay hold of you, and press you down into the deep and dark dungeon.
Now, at this time there is no new name. When you pray, it is with sighs and groans; if you read, you can find nothing but what condemns you; if you hear, your conscience fastens upon everything that describes hypocrites in a profession, but can take nothing that seems to strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. At this time there is the old man of sin, an accusing guilty conscience, a troubled mind, a tempting devil, but alas! no "white stone," no "new name."
But after a time, when the Lord brings you a weeping sinner to the cross, a poor guilty criminal to his feet, and then begins to open up in your soul salvation through the blood of the Lamb, and to apply the word of his testimony with power in your heart, then no sooner is the "white stone" given, than the "new name" is given with it, "which no man knows except he that receives it." There are new sensations, new feelings, new affections, new thoughts, new desires, and everything is made new in a man's soul.
But "no man knows this, except he that receives it." New thoughts of Jesus; new openings up of Scripture, new meltings of heart, new softenings of spirit, everything made new by Him who renews us "in the renewing of our mind"--no man knows these things except he who receives them. It is all between the Lord and the soul--it is all between a pardoning God and a pardoned sinner; it is all mercy, all grace, all love, from first to last. Grace began, grace carries on, and grace finishes it; grace must have all the glory, and grace must crown the work with eternal victory.
But what says the Lord in the context? "He that has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Have you an ear? Do you hear these things? I do not mean with the outward ear; we all have that. But do you hear with the ear of the heart? with the ears of a conscience that falls under the power of truth? with an ear that receives God's truth into it, "mixed with faith in those who hear it"?--sometimes trembling, sometimes hoping, sometimes sinking, sometimes rising. You cannot put away these things, and say, 'It is all lies.' There is that inward voice, that living witness in your conscience that knows it is the solemn truth of God. You have ears to hear. The Lord has unstopped the deaf ears; he has given you a conscience to feel, and has raised up faith in your heart, which mixes with the word which comes from his own mouth to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, to hear what the Spirit says to those who fear his name, to hear the promises that drop from his gracious lips--these have ears to hear.
The Lord fulfill these things in your experience. Did you ever eat of the hidden manna? Was Christ ever precious to your soul? Have you ever had "a white stone" given you that you could look upon, and believe the Lord had dropped a testimony into your heart? With that "white stone" was there given you "a new name," a new heart, a new nature, new affections, new feelings, new desires; in a word, all things new? 'Yes,' says one, 'I have through mercy experienced all this.' Well, to whom is the promise made? "To him who overcomes."
Are you that character? And if you are, how did you overcome? Was it according to the Scripture description, by "the blood of the Lamb, and the word of his testimony"? There is no other way. It is not because you have embraced certain tenets, or are a sound Calvinist, or 'approve of these things' when you hear them with the ear. A man may do all that, and yet know nothing feelingly of the work of grace upon the conscience. But this is the question, whether you have overcome, or are in the way to overcome? If you have never overcome, nor are striving to do so, all your knowledge of these things is but in the brain; it is not vital, it is not spiritual, it is not experimentally wrought in your heart by the power of God.
But perhaps there are some here whose conscience bears a secret testimony--"I know I have never eaten of the hidden manna, never had a white stone, never had a new name." Well, where are you? "O," say they, "if I could tell you my heart, I would say, it was full of doubts and fears whether I ever should get to heaven; I would tell you, it was full of carnality, wickedness, and sin; overcome by Satan, easily mastered by temptation, weak and worthless, poor and needy, filthy and polluted--such is a faint description of my heart!"
But what is the effect of all these feelings that are passing in the chambers within? Are they emptying you of creature strength? Are they stripping you of creature righteousness? In a word, are they bringing you to the footstool of mercy, to the cross of Jesus, to the throne of grace, as a poor guilty sinner, that there you may receive the sweet communications of his love and blood to your soul?
Mercy is in store for you. The Lord is leading you to overcome. You are learning a great lesson by doubts and fears. You are getting very salutary instructions by knowing the corruptions of your heart, and the snares of the flesh, the world, and the devil. Your guilty conscience, often plunged in seas of guilt, is thus being prepared for the sweet reception of the blood of sprinkling, which speaks better things than the blood of Abel. The voice of conscience in your bosom, continually crying, 'Guilty, guilty!' is but the prelude and harbinger of another voice that will one day speak to your inward heart, and be as marrow and oil to your bones--"Son, or daughter, your sins are forgiven; go in peace." Then you will know something of the "hidden manna," of the "white stone," and of the "new name" written in the white stone, "which no man knows except he that receives it."
These are solemn realities. This is a religion which no man can get for himself, and which no man can communicate to another. This is a religion wholly dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit--and no other religion is worth a straw. All other teachings but God's teachings will leave our souls needy, naked, and undone. All other coverings but the covering of God's Spirit will leave the soul under the wrath of an avenging Jehovah. All other knowledge, except spiritual experimental knowledge, wrought in our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, will leave us in the hands of Him who "is a consuming fire." I would not drop a word to cast down any of God's poor family, to disquiet the troubled, to burden the sinking, to add weights to those whose feet are in the stocks, or stumbling in the mire. But I would not hold out any encouragement to those who think to gain the victory by their own strength, wisdom, or righteousness. I know that such are not under the teachings of the Spirit, such are not in the high road to victory.
But you that are really the people of God, you that doubt and fear, you that are exercised in your souls, and that sharply and strongly--grace and truth are yours. These trials and temptations are to empty you, strip you, and lay you low. They are meant to bring you to the footstool of mercy, there to overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of his testimony; there to have hidden manna dropped into your heart; there to have a white stone lodged in your conscience; there to experience the sweetness and blessedness of the new name, "which no man knows except he who receives it."
Do you approve of this religion? Are you sure in your souls it will stand the trying hour? And is this the feeling of your heart?--"Lord, let me have your grace, mercy, and truth experienced in my soul!" Depend upon it, those whom the Lord thus leads, he will enable to overcome in his strength; and He who has given the promise will fulfill it in their hearts and consciences, to his own glory and their unspeakable joy.