Sunday, January 31, 2010
Preached at Eden Street Chapel, on August 10, 1851, by J. C. Philpot.
"A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory."
A child of God in himself is all weakness. Others may boast of their strength; but he has none, and he feels he has none. But it is one thing to subscribe to this truth as a matter of doctrine, and another to be acquainted with it as a matter of inward, personal experience. It must be learned, painfully for the most part, inwardly learned under the teachings of the Spirit. Now it is this weakness, experimentally known and felt, that opens the way for a personal experience of the strength of Christ; for when Paul was groaning under the buffetings of Satan and the festering throbs of the thorn in the flesh, the Lord himself said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." If, therefore, we know not experimentally what weakness is, we cannot know experimentally what it is to have the strength of Christ made perfect in that weakness.
In our text a tried Christian is set forth under two striking similitudes. He is compared to a "bruised reed;" and "smoking flax."
And of the Lord it is most graciously said, that this "bruised reed" he will not "break," and this "smoking flax" he will not "quench." No more, so far from breaking the one, or quenching the other, he will never leave his gracious work in the soul until he "sends forth judgment unto victory."
In looking, then, at the words this evening, I shall, as far as the Lord may enable–
I. Consider the character of the tried Christian under these two similitudes– "A bruised reed," and "smoking flax."
II. Show that the gracious Redeemer will not "break" the one, nor "quench" the other.
III. Show that he will eventually "send forth judgment unto victory."
I. The character of the tried Christian under these two similitudes– "A bruised reed," and "smoking flax."
1. Can we find a more striking emblem of weakness than a REED? A Christian is not here compared to an oak that spreads its roots deep in the soil, and tosses its sturdy arms abroad into the sky, that stands the brunt of a thousand storms, and outlives revolving centuries. That were an inappropriate emblem of so feeble, so frail a creature as a needy, necessitous sinner. But when the blessed Spirit would use a similitude most strikingly descriptive of a dependant upon grace, of a pauper dependant upon charity, he takes that simple yet familiar figure of a reed. Let us examine the points of resemblance–
1. A reed, though lowly, humble, despicable, unknown, and unnoticed by the eye that rests with admiration on the towering oak or spreading cedar, is yet a partaker of life; and this life is deep down in the root. But the bed in which this root lies, the soil in which and out of which it thrives, spreads, and grows, is not the rich soil of the garden, but the mud and slime of the ditch. Yet, buried as it is in, and overwhelmed beneath this slimy bed, the very region of coldness and death, it is utterly and entirely, in its nature and essence, distinct from it. It is in the ditch, yet not of it; surrounded with its slime, but uncontaminated with its filth; ever in contact with its mire, but clean to the heart's core, and without one particle of mud penetrating into its living tissues.
Such is the life of God in the soul; surrounded with all the mud and mire of nature's corruption, yet not only distinct from it, but uncontaminated by it. Did deadness mortify, did temptation smother, did sin corrupt the pure, holy life of God in the soul– long, long ago would it have dropped limb from limb, like the gangrened body of a leper.
2. But secondly, in its first growth the seed pushes its infant stem, its tender bud, through the mud and mire in which it finds its root into the pure light and genial warmth of day. It does not, like a stone, lie dead and motionless at the bottom of the ditch, but presses onward and upward into a purer, brighter atmosphere. So, in the first teachings of grace, does the infant seed of divine life rear its head above the corruptions by which it is surrounded. And, as the reed seeks the light of day, and though flooded with water, and often buried by it, yet lifts up its infant head to catch the warm vivifying beams of the sun; so the life of God in the soul, though often overborne by the swelling tides of corruption, lifts up its infant head to catch the warm beams of the Sun of righteousness.
What a blessed moment is that when grace first lifts up its head above the slime of corruption and the waters of darkness! when the green shoot is for the first time blown upon by the southern breeze, and basks in the vivifying beams of spring! when after a long struggle with the suffocating mire of sin, and the waves of temptation and guilt, it emerges into day! What a start it then makes in growth, and how it seems when the head is lifted up, to have forgotten the mud and mire in which the root lies, as well as the waves that once beat over its head!
Such is a young Christian, who, after many doubts, fears, temptations, and exercises, is indulged with some manifestations of the Lord's mercy and love! I compare sometimes young Christians to hedge-rows in spring. How verdant they are; how tender every leaf! how full of sap and juice every shoot! how bright and refreshing the hawthorn blossom to the eye! And how, when the rays of the sun play upon the green leaves, they reflect its hues, and shine forth with transparent brightness!
But let a few weeks or months pass; let there be a long season of drought; let the dust of the road settle in thick clouds upon the leaves, ah! what a change! how fallen the flower! how shriveled up, how burnt and dried the branches! Yet is the change more apparent than real; no, a change for the better rather than the worse. The hedge is stronger in autumn than it was in spring. Though it looked then so beautiful, and every leaf and shoot were so tender, there was little strength in it. But rain and storm, and heat and drought, with revolving nights and days, have produced an effect.
When winter comes, the wood is ripened; and though the leaves are burnt and shriveled, yet the hedge-row is all the stronger for having experienced the midday heat and the midnight cold, the summer sun and the autumn frost. So with the Christian. When he has lived some years, gone through some storms, been dusted over by the world, got burnt and blackened, like the bride Song 1:6, by the sun of temptation, and been chilled by the cold of desertion, he is ripened and matured. What he has lost in loveliness he has gained in strength; and though the wintry blast may howl through his branches, it does not break them off, nor freeze them up as it would the immature juicy roots of spring. Yes, after all, there is a strength in him, and a ripening, which the young wood has not.
But to revert to our figure. Hitherto we have traced the progress of our "reed," from the struggling of the germ beneath the mud until the tender shoot emerges from the water. Having reached the region of light, warmth, and air, it makes rapid progress. Every ray of the sun draws it up day by day into more vigorous growth.
But a change takes place. The text speaks of a "BRUISED reed;" and the reed we have been considering is not yet bruised. Nothing yet has taken place to bruise or crush it. The mud, it is true, seemed to impede its progress, the depth of the water prevented its emerging easily, and its infant head had sometimes to buffet with the wave. But it grew up thus far without serious injury. But now bruising comes. A Christian, then, must pass through a certain experience in order to bring him into the position spoken of in the text, and make him the character there intimated, "a bruised reed." For what is a bruised reed? It is not a broken reed; the head does not fall off, nor does it sink under the water and die. But it is bruised.
Whence arises this experience? What makes a Christian "a bruised reed?" Several things–
1. The holy LAW of God. It is true, that usually the law is applied to the conscience in the very first convictions of sin. But it is not always so, or at least not with the same power. When did Paul learn the experience contained in Romans 7:9-11? Was it during the three days at Damascus, or afterwards in the deserts of Arabia? Ga 1:17 It would seem that his distress of soul at Damascus arose chiefly from his having kicked against the goads of conscience in persecuting the saints. Stephen's murder lay heavy on his soul. But in Arabia "the commandment came, and he died;" and in those gloomy deserts, "sin taking occasion by the law wrought in him all kinds of forbidden desires." There the law bruised him. It bruised the holy Lamb of God; and, by bruising the reed, bruises it into conformity to the suffering Man of Sorrows in the garden and on the cross.
2. But AFFLICTION also bruises. Let a Christian pass through much trouble in mind, family, body or circumstances; let him in that trouble be denied the sweet presence of God; let trial upon trial beat on his head, like wave after wave on the ocean shore. It will bruise him. He will not have the strength of mind or body, the light step, the cheerful countenance, the buoyant spirit that he had before. Though it does not break him utterly, nor crush him into despair, yet it bruises his spirit. And this is the purpose of God in sending affliction. He means to bruise him thereby.
His own dear Son was bruised by grief and trouble, for he was a "Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Grief and he were not strangers; they were intimate acquaintances; and by grief was he bruised, so as to be "a worm, and no man." This indeed was "the affliction of the afflicted" Psalm 22:24. Grief broke his heart, bruised him into obedience and resignation to the will of God; for "though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered." If, then, we are to have fellowship with the Son of God in his sorrows, we must have our measure of the same afflictions, that we may have some sympathy with the broken-hearted Lord. Without this we can have neither union nor communion with Him; for, as Deer says,
Union can be none
Between a heart as soft as wax,
And hearts as hard as stone:
Between a head diffusing blood,
And members sound and whole;
Between an agonizing God, And an unfeeling soul.
We perhaps sometimes long after closer union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, lament our distance from him, and the alienation of our affections toward him. But do we ever think of the way whereby we are to be brought near– that affliction is the appointed path? That to enter into union and communion with a broken-hearted Lord, we also must have broken hearts; that to be brought into intimate relationship and acquaintance with the Man of Sorrows, we too must have sorrows? We dare not, we must not pray for affliction; that were too venturesome a prayer; but if we pray for union with the Lord Jesus Christ, we are indirectly praying for it. I would counsel no man to pray for affliction. Young Christians have done so until the answer has made them tremble. But if we pray for union with the Lord Jesus Christ, we are really praying for a path of tribulation.
3. But TEMPTATION also sadly bruises the "reed." There are few things that bruise it more. But why should the "reed" be thus bruised? Why should powerful and painful temptations fall upon it to crush it? Because unbruised, it is too strong. It needs to be taught, sensibly taught, its weakness; and there is nothing, I believe, which makes us feel that weakness so much as an acquaintance with temptation. Temptation brings to light the evils of the heart. These are, for the most part, unnoticed and unknown until temptation discovers them. David's adulterous, murderous heart, Hezekiah's pride, Job's peevishness, Jonah's rebellion, Peter's cowardice, all lay hidden and concealed in their bosoms until temptation drew them forth. Temptation did not put them there, but found them there.
Our nature is the fuel to which temptation is the fire. But the shavings lie harmless enough in the grate until the lucifer match touches them. It is this ready-laid fuel that makes temptation so dangerous. Well therefore is the prayer and the precept, "Lead us not into temptation; Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation." Were there in us no sin, we would be like Jesus, when he said, "The Prince of this world comes, and has nothing in me." But he has everything in us; and therefore when temptation is presented by him, it sets the carnal mind all on fire. This grieves and distresses the new man of grace, bruises the tender heart, and chafes and galls the conscience.
But these temptations also bruise our own strength, wisdom and righteousness. Did not Job come out of his temptations with his self-righteousness bruised? And what but this mallet crushed David's pride, Hezekiah's ostentation, Jonah's rebellion, and Peter's strength?
But when the reed is bruised, it impedes the flow of sap. So under temptation and the guilt that it produces, there is less flowing into the soul of the sensible presence and grace of God. And this makes temptation doubly trying.
4. But SATAN, especially, is permitted in God's wonderful providence to bruise the "reed." It was declared in the first promise, that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head;" but it was added, that "the serpent should bruise his heel." The very part that trod upon him the serpent was allowed to bruise. And if he was allowed to bruise "the seed of the woman," much more, much more may he bruise us. And bruise us he will to some purpose. How the apostle Paul had a painful experience of this! Satan, we read, buffeted him 2Co 12:7. The word "buffet" means to beat with the fist. Satan's assaults are knock-down blows, not gentle taps. He strikes with the strength and skill of the professional boxer; his blows therefore stun. Sometimes, for instance, he strikes us with an infidel suggestion. How this stuns and confuses the mind! Sometimes with a blasphemous insinuation. How this bruises the tender conscience! Sometimes with enmity, rebellion, or despair. How these wound and distress the feelings! But by these and similar temptations two effects are produced–
1. Pride, strength, and self-righteousness are more or less crushed.
2. The heart is bruised and made tender. Thus, as in the smitten reed, the outer coat and the inner pith are bruised by the same blow, so in the exercised believer, the outer life and the inner life, the outward peel of creature religion and the inward heart of vital godliness, are bruised by the same trials and temptations.
5. But Sin, too– I mean the guilt of it, when laid on the conscience– sadly bruises. You get entangled perhaps in a snare, you are overtaken by some stratagem of Satan, or some besetment from within. And what is the consequence? Guilt lies hard and heavy upon your conscience. This bruises it, makes it tender and sore, often cuts deeply into it until it bleeds at well-near every pore.
6. God, also, not only indirectly and permissively through Satan and temptation, but directly and immediately bruises the reed. "Your hand," cries the Psalmist, "presses me severely." "Day and night your hand was heavy upon me." "Remove your stroke from me, I am consumed by the blow of your hand." We read, also, of Christ, that "it pleased the Lord to bruise him." And as he bruises the Head, so he bruises the members. By his reproofs, his frowns, his awesome majesty, his unspeakable holiness, he bruises them into contrition before him.
Here, then, is the "bruised reed," drooping its head over the water, ready to sink beneath the wave, and fall down into its native corruption there to die. Is this bruised, tottering, trembling thing the emblem of a Christian? blown by the wind, washed by the wave, hanging over the stream only by the skin, sometimes in and sometimes out as the gust swells or sinks? Who would think that this was a Christian? Who would credit that this was the way to prove experimentally the love and power of the Savior? Who would suppose, until taught of God, that this is the way to get at right religion, true religion, an experimental knowledge of the work of God upon the soul, an experimental acquaintance with the Man of Sorrows, inward union and communion with the Lord of life and glory?
If we were called upon to choose a path, this is the last we would think of. Our view would be this--every day to get better and better, holier and holier, more and more spiritual, and thus by degrees grow up into a deeper and closer knowledge of Jesus Christ. But God has not appointed such a way. His way is to make "strength perfect in weakness," and therefore he makes a Christian feel himself "a bruised reed," that in him his mighty power may be made known.
2. But the blessed Spirit, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ and his work, compares a tried Christian also to the "smoking flax." The word "flax" here rather means what we call tow, that is, the refuse of the hemp, or of the flax. This refuse it seems to have been the custom to set on fire; and, as there was much dirt and filth in it, the flame burnt in a very smouldering manner. This smoking flax is the figure, then, that the Holy Spirit has employed to set forth the life and work in a Christian's bosom. What is this "flax?" Is it not the filth and corruptions of our evil nature, the refuse, the scum, as it were, of the Adam fall? And what is the fire that makes the smoke? Is it not the life of God within– that fire which is kindled by a live coal from off the altar?
A Christian, then, is spoken of, not as breathing forth into a bright and shining flame; but "as smoking flax," just so much of the life of God in the soul as to make a smoke without much flame or heat. Many, many of God's children are here– feeling, deeply feeling their corruptions, and yet burning in the midst of their heart, a fire, a blessed fire of God's own kindling. They would, if they could, burst forth into a holy flame; they would not have their eyes so continually annoyed with the smoke of their own corruptions; they would flame up unto God in the sweet breakings forth of faith, hope, and love. But their corruptions and unbelief, their sin and shame, all seem to press down the life of God in the soul. As in the smoking flax, the filth and refuse so choke the fire that it smokes and smoulders, but cannot break forth into a lively flame, so the filth and folly of our corrupt nature seem to stifle the holy flame of grace in the soul.
What heaps of rubbish overspread the inward life of God! You whose souls are exercised, do not you find how family cares, occupation in business, crowds of foolish and worldly thoughts, sinful and sensual desires, and a whole dust-bin of vain, idle imaginations, all suffocate the flame that is struggling upwards. Thus days and weeks are spent in a 'dying life', and a 'living death'. The fire neither goes out, nor burns up. Sometimes the smoke rises up thicker and higher; sometimes it dies away so as scarcely to be seen--and sometimes a passing breeze wafts it up into a transient flame. But its general character is to smoulder.
Where there is this in the soul, there is life. There is a struggle now against corruption, as the fire in the midst of the smoking flax struggles against the refuse by which it is surrounded; but, alas! it needs a vigorous breath to make it brightly glow; it needs the south wind from the mountains of spices to burn through the overlying mass of corruption, and mount up like the flame in which the angel of the Lord ascended when Manoah and his wife looked on. But there is life, where there is even smoke. Where it merely moulders and smoulders, there is fire. It is not merely a heap of dead refuse; there is a holy fire beneath that causes the flax to smoke.
Such is very much the experience of the day. Things are low for the most part in Zion. Take almost any Christian, and you will find that he is at best but a "smoking flax;" and especially perhaps in London. I do believe in my very conscience there is more real religion in the country than in London– more feeling in the heart, more life in the soul. The people are less cumbered with worldly anxieties, and less overborne by the broad, deep, rapid stream of carnality. But Zion, generally, in town or country, is in a low place; the flax is smoking, and that is all. There is enough fire to show that the life of God is within, and yet not enough to break forth into a glowing flame.
II. But we pass on to consider how the blessed Redeemer "will not break" the "bruised reed;" nor "quench" the "smoking flax." "He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." Here, then, is a "BRUISED REED," a poor child of God, ready to give up all hope, to sink beneath the wave no more to rise, expecting that the next blow will sever the stem, or suffocate and bury him in his native mire and mud.
But O how graciously, how tenderly and gently does the Redeemer deal with this timid, tried member of his mystical body! He deals with him neither according to his merits nor his fears. The "bruised reed" deserves to be broken again and again; and it fears it because it deserves it. But the gracious, tender-hearted Redeemer, so far from breaking gently binds. And how he can in a moment bind up the "bruised reed!" By one word, one look, one touch, one smile, he can in a moment raise up the drooping head. This is his blessed office. The disciples would have broken the bruised Syrophenician woman, when they said, "Send her away, for she cries after us." But not so their heavenly Master. He dealt not so with her. His holiness, his purity, his hatred of sin, his zeal for the glory of his Father, would indeed all lead him to break– but his mercy, grace, compassion, and love, all lead him to bind.
You may perhaps feel yourself a poor "bruised reed"– bruised by afflictions, by temptations, by guilt, by Satan, ready to perish, to give up all hope, and droop away and die. O remember– may the Lord give us ever to remember– that this blessed Man of Sorrows "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." "Being touched with the feeling of our infirmities," he can sympathize and support, and therefore will never, no, never break a "bruised reed." If our poor soul is bruised by affliction, by temptation, by doubt and fear, by Satan's suggestions, be it known for our comfort and encouragement, that the condescending and tender-hearted Redeemer will never, no, never break that "bruised reed," but will most graciously, in his own time and way, bind it up.
"The SMOKING FLAX," it is said also of Him, that "he will not quench." O what does the "smoking flax" not deserve! Does it not merit that the foot of God should stamp it out? When you think for a moment how filthy and abominable your corruptions are; how strong and powerful your lusts and passions; how many and grievous your slips and falls; how carnal your mind; how cold and lifeless too often your frame; how wandering your prayers; how worldly your inclinations; how earthly and sensual your desires– is it not sometimes a wonder to you, that the Almighty God does not in righteous wrath put his foot upon you and crush you into hell, as we crush a spider?
We deserve it every day that we live. I might almost say, that with well-near every breath that we draw we deserve, deeply deserve, to be stamped out of life, and crushed into a never-ending hell. But herein is manifested the tender condescending mercy and grace of the compassionate Redeemer, that "he will not quench the smoking flax," but will keep the flame alive which he himself so mercifully in the first instance kindled. The hand that brought the spark must keep alive the flame; for as no man can quicken, so no man can keep alive his own soul.
How it is kept alive is indeed most mysterious; but kept alive it is. Does it not sometimes seem to you as though you had no life of God in your soul, not a spark of grace in your heart? Where is your religion? where is your faith and hope and love? Where your spirituality and tenderness of heart, conscience, and affections? where your breathings after God? Gone, gone, gone! And gone all would be utterly, irrecoverably, if it were in your own hands, and consigned to your own keeping. But it is in better hands and better keeping than yours, "Because I live, you shall live also." "He who believes on me has everlasting life, and shall never come into condemnation but is passed from death unto life." "My sheep shall never perish, and none shall pluck them out of my hand." Christ is our life; it is hid with him in God.
And thus it comes to pass, that the "smoking flax" is never quenched. O how quickly would Satan throw water upon it! He would soon, if permitted, pour forth the flood of his temptations, as he is said to do against the church in the wilderness Re 12:15, to extinguish the holy flame that smoulders within. How sin, also, again and again pours forth a whole flood of corruption to overcome and extinguish the life of God in the soul! The world, also, without, and the worse world within, would soon drown it in his destruction and perdition, were the Lord to keep back his protecting hand. But he revives his own work.
Have you not wondered sometimes that when you have been so cold, dead, stupid, hardened, as if you had not one spark of true religion or one grain of real grace, yet all of a sudden you have found your heart softened, melted, moved, stirred, watered, and blessed, and you have felt an inward persuasion that in spite of all your corruptions and sins and sorrows there is the life of God within. It is thus that the blessed Lord keeps alive the holy flame which he himself has kindled. It would soon else go out; no, it must go out, unless he keeps it alive.
The very dust and dirt of the tow would suffocate it, unless he again and again stirred it up and kept it smouldering in the soul. The very words, that "he will not quench it," connected with what is afterwards said, show that he will one day make it burst forth, for he keeps it smouldering on until it flames out. And when it bursts forth into a holy flame, it burns up the corruptions, devours them, swallows them up, and suffers not one to live.
Let the Lord sweetly bless the soul; let the holy flame of his love and grace burn in the heart; this flame, like the fire that fell down from heaven in the days of Elijah, licks up all the waters in the trench, and consumes, while it lasts, the filth and corruption whereby it was surrounded. But alas, alas! it soon gathers again. The cares of business, the things of time and sense, an evil heart, a defiled imagination, soon gather together the dust and refuse; and then it has to go on smoking and smouldering as before. It cannot, no, it cannot of itself break forth into a holy flame. But it will one day burn brightly in a blessed eternity, when there shall be no refuse of sin and corruption to stifle the ever-mounting flame of praise, adoration, and love.
III. But we pass on to our third and last point– What the Lord will eventually do, and what he will never desist from, until he is completely done. This last clause seems to cast a gleam of light upon the whole of the preceding, "Until he sends forth judgment unto victory." While the reed is being "bruised," and while the flax is "dimly burning" as we read in the margin, or smouldering, "judgment" is going on; that is, the court of judgment is set up in the conscience, and verdicts are passing against the soul.
Wherever there is the life of God within, there will be a bar at which and before which the soul will be arraigned– the bar of a tender CONSCIENCE. God's Viceregent, the blessed Spirit, sits there, and with the word of God in his hands and its spiritual application in his lips, he summons the soul to stand before him.
Do you not find something of this going on daily? You speak a word amiss; does not the Viceregent bring you to the bar, and condemn you for it? There is a rising up or breaking forth of unseemly temper. The father or the mother, the master or the mistress, gives vent to some sudden violent outburst of anger, mastered, overmastered by the impetuosity of natural temper. Does the Viceregent of God pass this by, and take no notice? He brings up the delinquent, summons him to the bar, condemns him. Or there may be a word spoken in business which is not the strict truth. You would not, you cannot, must not tell a lie; but still there is something not very, not very unlike lying. There are these goods to be recommended, or this customer not to be turned away; and by some little delicate maneuvering the whole affair is managed very nicely, as a Regent Street tradesman would say. No 'outright lie' has been told, but a little 'equivocation' has been practiced. Ah! where is conscience? The Viceregent has seen all, marked all, and now brings the criminal to feel and confess all.
Or the eye has been wandering and lusting after some evil thing, or, not to particularize too minutely, in some way or other sin and temptation have got the better of you. Is God's Viceregent silent? Does Mr. Recorder, as Bunyan calls him, keep silence? No; he speaks, and loudly too; and when he speaks, all the city trembles. During this time as the reed is bruised with these exercises, and the flax smoulders amid these temptations, judgment is going on, condemnation is felt; there is guilt of conscience, a writing of bitter things against one's self, with a whole host of doubts and fears for, as Deer most truly says, "Sin engenders doubt."
It is our slipping and being overcome by temptation which opens a way for a whole army of doubts and fears to push in through the breach. Were the sentry duly on guard, were the soldiers on the battlements pointing their artillery heavenwards, and, above all, were the great Captain of their salvation at their head, no enemy would dare to attack. But when the sentry is asleep, the artillery silenced, the Captain gone, and a breach made, a whole troop pours in from the black camp to storm and plunder the city.
But, to revert to the figure of our text– O how tenderly is the blessed Lord watching all this time! Here is a "bruised reed," bruised by the law, sin, Satan, sorrow, and temptation; without strength, ready to sink and die. Jesus does not, as he might justly do, crush it with a blast of his dreadful displeasure. Again– Here is a "smoking flax" who deserves a thousand times a day to be stamped under foot. But the gracious Man of Sorrows "will never break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax." It is true, that "he sends forth judgment," for he means to bring the soul down into the dust; but while this judgment is going on, he secretly supports; for he kills that he may make alive; he brings down to the grave that he may bring up. But in sending forth this "judgment," it is "unto victory." Conquest is at the end; victory is sure. There may be a long conflict; a hard and fearful battle, with the garments rolled in sweat and blood; but victory is sure at last. For he will never rest until he fully gains the day.
O how Satan would triumph if any saint ever fell out of the embraces of the good Shepherd; if he could point his derisive finger up to heaven's gate and to its risen King, and say, 'Your blood was shed in vain for this wretch; he is mine, he is mine!' Such a boast would fill hell with a yell of triumph. But no, no; it never will be so; the "blood that cleanses from all sin" never was, never can be shed in vain. Though the reed is "bruised," it will never be broken; though the flax "smokes," it will never be extinguished; for He that "sends forth judgment" sends it "unto victory."
Long indeed may the battle fluctuate; again and again may the enemy charge; again and again may the event seem doubtful. Victory may be delayed even unto a late hour, until evening is drawing on, and the shades of night are about to fall; but it is sure at last. And it is the Lord that does the whole. We have no power to turn the battle to the gate. Is there one temptation that you can master? Is there any one sin that you can, without divine help, crucify? Is there one lust that you can, without special grace, subdue? We are total weakness in this matter. But the blessed Lord makes his strength perfect in this weakness. We may and indeed must be bruised, and under painful feelings may think no one was so hardly dealt with, and that our case is singular. But without this we would not judge ourselves; and "if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged of the Lord." If you justify yourself, the Lord will condemn you; if you condemn yourself, the Lord will justify you. Exalt yourself, and the Lord will humble you; humble yourself, and the Lord will exalt you.
This ought to encourage every one that feels bruised in spirit, and to smoke and smoulder. I do not mean to say, I can give the encouragement; I am not the man to say that either I can give, or that you can take it. But if you are the character here pointed out, all your questionings of what the Lord has done, or what he will do, does not alter the case. Questionings do not make Jesus, not to be Jesus; they do not make the word of God, not to be the word of the most High. "If we believe not, he abides faithful; he cannot deny himself."
You, as a "bruised reed," may write a thousand bitter things against yourself; you, as a "smoking flax," may fear there is no life of God in your soul. But Jesus, if he has made you a "bruised reed," or "smoking flax," will carry on his own work; for we read, in connection with the very passage in the prophet Isaiah, "He shall not fail, nor be discouraged, until he has set judgment in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law" Isaiah 42:4. The words are remarkable. They show that he has, so to speak, amazing difficulties to encounter. But he will not fail in what he has undertaken; he will not be discouraged by all the opposition he may meet with, until he has accomplished his holy purpose. For it is "his own right arm which has gotten him the victory." Ever bear in mind, that as the Lord said of old, "I do not do this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for my holy name's sake;" so it is not for your sake– base, poor, and vile sinners– but for his own name's sake, truth's sake, word's sake, and eternal honor and glory's sake, that he "sends forth judgment unto victory!"
What a mercy it is that the fulfillment of the Lord's promise depends upon his own veracity; that it does not depend upon our feelings; no, nor upon our experience, but upon his own veracity– "Has he said, and will he not do it?" And therefore here is ground for hope and faith, not in ourselves who are always poor, weak, miserable creatures– but in the Lord's mercy, goodness, and truth. The foundation of our trust is in the character of the Son of God, that he is what he is– a blessed Jesus, able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him. He who puts his trust in Him will never be confounded; he that hopes through grace in his mercy, will never be put to shame; and he that believes in Him will surely reap the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul.
Preached at Gower Street Chapel, London, on June 18, 1865, by J. C. Philpot
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
(1 John 4:1)
Has it never struck you as a remarkable circumstance that in what are called primitive times, no, in the very days of the apostles themselves, there should spring up in the professing church a crop of men, some of whom were abandoned to the vilest sins, and others given up to believe and propagate the grossest errors and heresies? We would naturally have thought that when such manifest dangers awaited every one who professed to believe in Jesus Christ; when Christians were objects on every side of the deepest enmity and hottest persecution; when every convert carried his life as if in his hand; above all, when there was such a large outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the churches, that there would have been generally, as well as individually, both purity of doctrine and purity of life. But that such was far from the case is evident from the testimony of the New Testament Scriptures.
With what burning words, for instance, does holy Jude stamp some of the professors of his day– "These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear– clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." What! were there such men as are thus described in the primitive church? and not merely here and there, timidly and cautiously concealing themselves and their real sentiments, but avowing themselves without shame? "Ungodly men," that is, openly so, "godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality" by their base and licentious conduct, and "denying by their works as well as their words the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ;" as ignorant as they were impudent, "speaking evil of those things which they know not;" not merely falling through the power of temptation and mercifully restored, but "walking," that is, habitually living "after their own lusts," and debasing themselves to the lowest level "as brute beasts, in what they know naturally corrupting themselves."
Now how gross must have been their errors, how abandoned, their conduct, that an inspired apostle of God should denounce them in language which, for a parallel, has scarcely an equal in the word of truth, except such as Peter, in his second Epistle, has made use of to describe the character and end of the same or similar ungodly professors. You will have observed that those against whom Peter and Jude drew their flaming pens were chiefly men of ungodly, abandoned life– whom we should call in our day "vile Antinomians."
But besides this crop of openly ungodly professors, there were in those days very many erroneous men, I mean such as held great doctrinal errors. Some, for instance, denied the resurrection altogether, as was the case at Corinth (1 Cor. 15:12); others, as Hymeneus and Philetus, said that it was past already. (2 Tim. 2:18.) John tells us in the verse from which my text is taken that "many," not a scattered few, but "many false prophets are gone out into the world." Of these, some denied both the Father and the Son; others that Jesus was the Christ; others that he was come in the flesh, that is, had only come in a kind of mystical way, and that his human nature was not real flesh and blood, but only so in appearance– the effect being to deny altogether the reality of the atonement. Into these various errors I cannot now enter, contenting myself with this observation, that there is scarcely an error, a false doctrine, or a heresy that has ever come abroad in the professing church, of which we have not some indication or intimation in the New Testament, either in a way of positive denunciation, or of solemn, affectionate warning, or of prophetic anticipation.
Of this last we have a remarkable instance in both the Epistles to Timothy, where the apostle declares in the spirit of prophecy the corrupt doctrines and no less corrupt practices which would be manifested in the last days (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-5); describing errors which had not then made their appearance in the professing church, or, at least, only in their first buddings.
But if it excites our wonder that such fearful errors and such gross evils should have manifested themselves at so early a period, yet it may also raise our admiration at God's providence, if they were to appear at all, in allowing them at that time to appear. It certainly was a very remarkable provision of the wisdom of the all-wise God, that, if error and sin were to spring up in the church, as tares among the wheat, they would first raise their head in the apostolic times, when inspired men of God could denounce it with their pen, and leave upon record, for our instruction in all ages, a clear description of who the men were that gave them birth, both in their character and in their end. The church was thus forewarned, forearmed. Spiritual weapons were laid up as in an armory, which every Christian warrior might take down as fresh enemies of truth in its purity or in its practice might arise, and hew them down, as Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal. Those who contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, are generally accused of a bad and bitter spirit. Such accusations have often been launched at my unworthy head. But that there may be a union of the tenderest spirit of love with the sternest denunciation of error and evil, is very plain from the character and writings of John; for which, of all the inspired epistles, breathes a more tender spirit of love, and yet contains stronger denunciations of error and evil?
But let us now approach the words of our text. John gives us in it a very solemn warning– "Beloved"– addressing himself in most tender and affectionate language to the church of God– "Beloved, believe not every spirit." Do not receive everything which comes abroad under the name and guise of religion. "Try the spirits." Weigh the matter well; examine for yourselves whether these spirits are of God. And why? "Because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
Believing that John's words and John's warnings are as applicable now as they were then or ever have been, I shall endeavor, with God's help and blessing, to lay open the mind of the Spirit in the words before us, and, in doing so, to bring these three things before you:
First, the false spirit– what holy John calls in a succeeding verse "the spirit of error."
Secondly, the true spirit, or what he calls "the spirit of truth."
Thirdly, the trying of the spirits, "whether they are of God."
I. "The spirit of error." But before I show you the marks and features of the false spirit, I must explain a little what is intended by the word "spirit," or, rather, what meaning it bears generally in the New Testament, and especially in the words before us; for you will observe that John does not bid us try men or the words of men, but try the spirits, that is, as I understand, the minds, breathings, and influences of men.
A. There is something in "spirit," in its New Testament sense, which goes far beyond words. In spirit; taking a broad view of the subject, there is something eminently subtle. We see it in the very wind, of which the word "spirit" is merely another name. There is something keen and penetrating in the wind. Some of us feel how it can search the very bones, especially where there is not much flesh upon them to keep it out. By this subtlety it can, so to speak, propagate itself as well as penetrate into every corner. Like the air, it cannot be kept out, but will enter through the least opening, and make itself felt wherever it penetrates. Words come and go– they are mere sounds, which have often no more real power or effect than the beating of a drum or a shrill blast from a trumpet. Thousands and tens of thousands of words have been spoken, aye, and sermons preached, which have had no more influence on the minds of men than the tunes of a organ in the street.
But in spirit there is something eminently penetrating, diffusive, suggestive, influential. Have you caught my idea? Do you see the distinction between the words of a man and the spirit of a man, whether for good or evil? And do you not see that it is not what a man says, nor even what a man does, but the spirit which a man breathes which carries with it the influence which acts upon the minds of others?
In nothing is this more true than in religion. Observe this especially in the ministry of the word. It is not a man's speech which has an influence, that is, a vital, permanent influence upon the church and congregation. It is the spirit which proceeds from him; the spirit which he breathes, whether it be a spirit of error or a spirit of truth, the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan, which stamps his ministry with its peculiar effect. I have watched and observed this for years, and have seen how a hard spirit in the pulpit communicates a hard spirit to the pew; and, on the contrary, that a tender, Christian spirit in the minister, a humble, solemn, reverent, God-fearing spirit in the ministry of the word carries with it a similar influence, and moulds according to the same pattern the minds of the people who habitually listen to it. We almost insensibly catch and drink into the tone and spirit of those with whom we associate; and though we scarcely understand the process, or mark its growth and progress, we gradually drop into it, become, as it were, imbued with it, and in our turn propagate it to others.
It is quite right that we should try men's words; for, as Elihu speaks, "the ear tries words as the mouth tastes food" (Job 34:3); and we should also narrowly watch men's actions, for our Lord has said, "You shall know them by their fruits." (Matt. 7:16.) But neither words nor works so much discover the real minds of men as their spirit. Is it not the possession of a tender, gracious, humble, and godly spirit which so particularly distinguishes the living family of God, which indeed we can hardly describe, yet sensibly feel when we are in their company? that meek and lowly spirit of Christ in them, which draws our heart towards them in admiration and affection, creating and cementing a love and union which cannot be explained, and yet is one of the firmest, strongest ties which can knit soul to soul? And do we not see also in most that we casually meet with– a worldly, carnal, selfish, proud, unhumbled spirit, which sets us as far from them as the broken spirit of which I have spoken brings us near to the others?
B. Having thus taken this slight view of the meaning of the word "spirit," as bearing upon the words of our text in which we are bidden to try the spirits, I will now bring forward, as the Lord may enable, a few marks of this false spirit, the spirit of error, against which we are to be upon our guard. And do try the spirits as I go on, and see whether you can trace anything in your bosom of the false spirit; for bear this in mind, that we would not be interested in such an admonition as John has given us, unless there was in our nature a corrupt principle, which could drink into a wrong spirit. If we could stand separate and isolated from the influence of a spirit, whether good or bad, it would little affect us what spirit we inhaled from others, or breathed in turn ourselves. But our soul, in one sense, resembles our body, to which it makes a great difference whether we breathe pure or impure air, whether we inhale the breeze which brings health in its wings, or that which comes loaded with the vapors of the pestilential marsh. The pure air can purify the blood, as well as the impure can taint and defile it; the one can be the source of health, the other of disease. Let us not think that our soul is so fortified as to be able to neglect all precaution. Our blood may be tainted before we are aware, and poison may even now be circulating in our veins, which will not indeed kill us if we are the Lord's, and yet may have a very pernicious influence upon our spiritual health. It is because we have deeply imbedded in our very nature a corrupt principle, which is akin to, and but for God's gracious help and interference, would greedily drink into a wrong and false, a corrupt and erroneous spirit, that we need some close self-examination to ascertain whether we have drunk into that spirit or not.
Let no man think himself beyond the necessity of self-examination. How strongly does the apostle urge this Christian duty– "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves." (2 Cor. 13:5.) It marks an honest spirit when we can say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart– try me, and know my thoughts– and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm. 139:23, 24.) The Lord give us grace and wisdom to "prove all things; and hold fast that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21.) "That we may approve things that are excellent; that we may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:10, 11.)
1. There is first, then, an ANTINOMIAN spirit, and that spirit has been, if not now is, very prevalent in the Calvinistic churches. In avoiding one rock men have fallen upon the other. Disclaiming, justly disclaiming, and disavowing all good works as matters of justification, many professors of the doctrines of grace seem utterly unconcerned whether there should be in heart, lip, or life any good works at all; setting aside, justly and properly, human merit upon which to stand before God, and making salvation to be, as indeed it is, wholly of grace; men, many men, both ministers and people, have, I am sorry to say, perverted and abused these glorious doctrines of grace to bad ends. I am well convinced from long observation, that among many professors of the glorious truths of the gospel, there is a sadly and widely prevailing Antinomian spirit– that is, an ungodly spirit, a spirit of carelessness, if not open immorality, a spirit of worldliness and self indulgence, of levity and looseness in their general conduct and conversation, a spirit of hardness, negligence, and allowed indulgence in things which are altogether opposed to the fear of God in a tender conscience. We may almost wonder that there could be such characters among those who profess "the doctrine which is according to godliness."
A little examination however will clearly show us the reason why this Antinomian spirit manifests itself in the way that I have described. The word of God has very clearly pointed it out in various places. The way in which this subtle spirit works and acts seems to be much in this way. Convictions of sin lay hold upon men's 'natural' conscience, the effect of which is to compel them to relinquish their sins, that is, the open practice of them. This change in them taking place under a minister of truth, attaches them to his ministry; and therefore the next step is to receive from his lips and the example and conversation of the people who meet at the same place, a scheme of sound doctrinal truth into their natural mind, without any real change of heart or any work of grace upon the soul. Thus by a conjunction of convictions in the natural conscience with a knowledge of the truth in the judgment, they, as Peter speaks, for a time "escape [literally, fly from] the pollutions of the world," make a profession of religion, consider themselves, and are often considered by others, true and undoubted children of God.
But not having the right spirit, the fear of God in a tender conscience; not having the teaching and operation, work and witness of the Holy Spirit in their bosom, it happens to them, as Peter speaks, "according to the true proverb; The dog returns to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."(2 Pet. 2:22.) The reason of this is because they never were really divorced from sin by the separating power of the Holy Spirit, piercing by the word of God even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow." (Heb. 4:12.) Thus, the tie that united them to the works of darkness was really never broken. The Spirit of God never really broke up the love and power of sin in their breast, either by a series of spiritual convictions, or by planting the fear of God in their heart, or by a gracious discovery of the Person and work, love and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Their old corrupt nature was 'covered over by a gilded profession'; but after all it was only the original, rotten, worm-eaten wooden casket. When, then, their convictions had become lulled asleep by a reception of the truth merely into their 'judgment', without any real work of grace upon their 'heart', the natural bent of their mind towards sin began to manifest itself; and as they could not decently throw away their profession; and as this was their grand salve if conscience felt uneasy, they became in spirit if not in practice Antinomians.
But we would greatly err if we thought that none had this spirit except such characters as I have just described. For a time and to a certain extent, through the power of temptation; the influence of a loose and careless ministry, or the example of ill-chosen associates, even one who fears God may be entangled in this Antinomian spirit; and as this spirit is very subtle, he may hardly see how far he is possessed of it until the Lord is pleased to break the snare, and by his chastening rod convince him what secret poison he has drunk of, and how it has enervated his strength, hidden from him the face of God, and brought leanness and death into his soul. There are few of us of any long standing in a profession who have not at some period or other of it been tempted by this spirit, or been entangled in it, like Bunyan's pilgrim, falling asleep in the arbor, or turning into By-path meadow.
2. But there is a spirit the exact opposite to this. I mean a SELF-RIGHTEOUS spirit. You may divide men, generally speaking, who have a wrong spirit, into two grand classes– there are those who have drunk more or less deeply into an Antinomian spirit, who think little of sin, and indulge it secretly or openly. And there are those, who, from natural temperament, general strictness of life and conduct, absence of powerful temptations, and having been shielded by various restraints from the commission of open evil, are secretly imbued with a strong spirit of self-righteousness. These having been preserved from the corruptions of the world and the open sins of the flesh, frequently manifest in their religious profession a Pharisaical, self-righteous spirit, which, though not so gross or so palpable as an Antinomian spirit, is hardly less dangerous, and casts almost as much contempt upon salvation by grace as that which abuses it to licentiousness.
Deer justly observes, that the space between 'Pharisaic zeal' and 'Antinomian security' is much narrower and harder to find than most men imagine. It is a path which the vulture's eye has not seen; and none can show it to us but the Holy Spirit. This witness is true; and the longer we live and the further we walk in the ways of God, the more do we find it so. As the same vessel in the same voyage may have to encounter opposite winds, and be exposed to the same peril from both, though in opposite directions, so the very same believer may sometimes be caught by an Antinomian spirit, and be driven out of his course in one direction, and sometimes by a self-righteous spirit, and driven out of his course in the other.
3. A WORLDLY spirit is another spirit of error, against which we have to be upon our guard, and to try ourselves whether this spirit be in us or not.
The first effect of sovereign grace in its divine operation upon the heart of a child of God is to separate him from the world by infusing into him a new spirit, which is not of the world, but of God. We see this in the case of Abraham. When God called him by his grace, he was bidden to "get out of his country, and from his kindred, and from his father's house." (Gen. 12:1.) The words of the Lord to his chosen Bride are– "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget also your own people, and your father's house; so shall the king greatly desire your beauty, for he is your Lord; and worship him." (Psalm. 45:10, 11.) When our gracious Lord called his disciples, they forsook all and followed him. The apostle expressly tells us that Jesus "gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4); and God's call to his people is, "Come out from among them, and be separate." (2 Cor. 6:17.) Indeed there is little evidence that grace ever touched our hearts if it did not separate us from this ungodly world.
But where there is not this divine work upon a sinner's conscience; where there is no communication of this new heart and this new spirit, no infusion of this holy life, no animating, quickening influence of the Spirit of God upon the soul, whatever a man's outward profession may be, he will ever be of a worldly spirit. A set of doctrines, however sound, merely received into the natural understanding, cannot divorce a man from that innate love of the world which is so deeply rooted in our very present being. No mighty power has come upon his soul to revolutionize his every thought, cast his soul as if into a new mold, and by stamping upon it the mind and likeness of Christ to change him altogether. It may be checked by circumstances, controlled by natural conscience, or influenced by the example of others; but a worldly spirit will ever peep out from the thickest disguise, and manifest itself, as occasion draws it forth, in every unregenerate man.
4. A PROUD spirit, an unhumbled, self-exalting, self-esteeming spirit, is a spirit of error. It is not the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus. It savors not, it breathes not of the spirit of Christ, who said of himself, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." The foundation of this proud spirit lies deeply imbedded in the human heart, and is one of the most marked features of the fall. Wherever, then, you see pride, whatever form it assume, worldly or religious, pride indulged, pride not confessed, mourned over, and fought against– for we all have pride working in us– there is the very spirit of anti-Christ; there is the false spirit, the spirit of error.
6. Again, a CARELESS spirit, a reckless, thoughtless, light, and trifling spirit, is a spirit of falsehood and a spirit of error. To trifle with God in a light, frivolous manner; to profess the solemn verities and heavenly realities of our most holy faith, and yet to carry into the house of God or into the things of God that light, trifling spirit which we see manifested in the world– all with eyes to see and heart to feel must see and feel that this is opposed root and branch to the Spirit of Christ. And yet how prevalent it is in the professing church! How we seem surrounded on every hand with a company of light, trifling, carnal professors, who not only in their habitual life and demeanor, but even at those very moments when we think their minds should be solemnized and their levity subdued, seem more given up to it than at almost any other time. Mark them as they come tumbling out of the house of prayer; hear their light conversation with each other; watch their smiling countenances, and the loud familiar greetings with which they hail those of the same spirit as themselves; and see how all those solemn impressions, and that grave, reverential demeanor which befit the saints of God after hearing the word of life are swallowed up and buried in an overflowing tide of almost crude merriment. Surely there is enough of what we see and feel of evil within us and evil about us, and of what the Lord suffered to deliver us from it, to solemnize if not sadden our spirit. But instead of this chastened spirit of grave and solemn recollectedness, which is a very different thing from a mere sanctimonious appearance, in how many places are rather seen almost the exuberant spirits of a worldly holiday.
6. An UNFORGIVING spirit, a bitter, harsh spirit, a dividing spirit, a spirit that, like the storm-bird, is most at home in a storm; that loves contention for its own sake, and is never so pleased as when it is in the midst of it, has marks upon it of being the very spirit of falsehood, the very spirit of error; for it is directly opposed to the gentle, kind, loving, affectionate, tender spirit of Christ. How this bitter, contentious spirit has again and again ruined the peace of churches, rent asunder the dearest friends, sown the seeds of prejudice and ill-will in fellow-worshipers and fellow-members never to be eradicated, broken the heart of godly ministers, grieved and troubled tender consciences, scattered causes of truth to the winds, made truth contemptible, and put into the hands of its enemies one of their strongest weapons against it.
II. But I pass on now to show you by way of contrast some of the marks of the true spirit.
But here, at the very outset, lies a great difficulty, because as we possess a corrupt nature, as well as a nature born of God, both of these two spirits will be in our own bosom! It is as the apostle speaks, "the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other." Now the effect of this is, that a man who truly fears the Lord, finds in his bosom two different spirits, two adverse winds blowing opposite ways, and driving him, or threatening to drive him into two contrary directions. But in this as in so many other instances, God has given us a gracious provision to meet with and overcome this difficulty. First, he has given us his holy word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, which is full of instruction to show us the difference between these two spirits; and secondly, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, he gives his people a measure of spiritual discernment to guide them aright in this important matter. He therefore enlightens the eyes of their understanding to see, and renews them in the spirit of their mind to feel, what the true spirit is as distinct from the false. He plants his fear in their heart as a fountain of life to depart from the snares of death, of which this false spirit is one of the most subtle and seducing. He makes them of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, for his fear is their treasure. He gives them the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:16.) And as he thus breathes the Spirit of Christ into their soul, that Spirit of Christ in their bosom becomes a guiding light, who sheds his rays and beams through all the secret recesses of their breast. He searches out, brings to light, and passes sentence upon everything which is evil, for it is "the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the heart."(Prov. 20:27.)
And thus, with all the sagacity of a detective hunting out the perpetrator of some crime, or of a policeman turning the eye of his lantern to bear upon a suspected man in the dark, so the spirit of Christ in a believer's bosom hunts up each track of evil, and casts a clear broad light on everything which would hide itself in the dark chambers of imagery. In fact, so needful is the possession of this inward light, that if a man has not in his bosom a measure of the Spirit of Christ, of the grace of Christ, of the presence of Christ, and of the power of Christ, he is not in a position to see the spirit of error or of sin in himself or others. He follows blindly on where Satan leads him. Traps and snares are spread for his feet, and into them he recklessly falls. There is nothing in him to keep him back from evil or to hold him up from error. He has not the guiding light of the Spirit of God in his breast, nor any warm, tender life breathed into his soul out of the fullness of Christ. Therefore, lacking light to see, and life to feel, and destitute of the spirit of gracious discernment, he is almost sure to slip into some evil, or be entangled in some error.
This point, however, I shall have occasion to enter more fully into when we come to the last head of my discourse. Bearing then in mind these remarks which I have thrown out by way of anticipation to guide your judgment for the present, now look at a few marks of the TRUE spirit– the Spirit of Christ in a believer's bosom.
1. The first mark of that spirit, due to its birth and origin, and as being a copy of the Spirit of Jesus, is that it is a TENDER spirit. I pointed out as one of the marks of a false spirit, a spirit of error, that it was a hard, harsh spirit, what the Scripture calls "a heart of stone." Now the opposite to this, as the Spirit of Christ in the believer's bosom, is a spirit of tenderness. We see this eminently in young Josiah, and it was that special mark on which God put the broad seal of his approbation, "Because your heart was tender." (2 Chron. 34:37.) But what makes the heart tender? When God begins his work of grace upon a sinner's soul, he puts his finger upon his heart, thus doing to it what he did to that band of men who went home with Saul, of whom we read, "whose hearts God had touched." (1 Sam. 10:26.) The touch of God in a man's soul makes it soft and tender. It is with the soul as with the earth and the hills– "He uttered his voice, the earth melted." "The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord." (Psalm. 46:6; 97:5.)
This tenderness of spirit thus produced, manifests itself in its actings, movements, and dealings towards God and man. First, it is tender toward GOD; for it is often very sore under divine pressure. The hand of God is very weighty and powerful wherever strongly laid on. This made the Psalmist cry, "Day and night your hand was heavy upon me." (Psalm. 32:4.) "Your hand presses me sore." (Psalm. 38:2.) So also, "Remove your stroke away from me; I am consumed by the blow of your hand." (Psalm. 39:10.) Under the pressure, then, of this hand, sin is felt as a heavy burden, and very many keen sensations agitate the breast, making the conscience sore, and causing it to smart under painful apprehensions of the anger of God, and of his displeasure against the sins we have committed and the evils that work in us. This tenderness of spirit, God notices and approves of, for there is in it that brokenness of which we read– "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" (Psalm. 51:17), rising up as it were before him like the smoke of an acceptable sacrifice.
Now it is by the keen sensations which are thus produced by the Spirit of God in the soul, that the gracious convictions of a child of God are distinguished from the natural convictions of a reprobate. A man may have the deepest convictions, may be, to use a common expression, shaken over the mouth of hell, and yet never have the fear of God in his soul, never possess any one feature or mark of that tenderness of spirit of which I have spoken, of that contrite and humble spirit with which God dwells (Isa. 57:15), or of that poor and contrite spirit that trembles at God's word, to which he especially looks. (Isa. 66:2.)
Natural convictions, however severe, if they are but natural, may drive a man to desperation, but they will never produce real tenderness of spirit Godwards. After a time they will wear off, and his heart will become as hard toward God as a piece of the nether millstone; hardened, one may say, as the blacksmith's anvil, by the very blows which have fallen upon it. But the grace, the Spirit, and the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is tenderness itself, will ever manifest themselves by producing in the soul a tender spirit Godwards. This is especially shown in the tender sensations of a living conscience under a sight and sense of sin, not only in its guilt but in the discovery of the dreadful evils of the heart as they rise up to view, and as their exceeding sinfulness is more and more opened up as being hateful and detestable to God.
But as this tender spirit is thus manifested toward God and the things of God generally, so it is also to the PEOPLE of God. The soul under divine teaching is led to see and feel that he who touches God's people touches the apple of God's eye. This makes him tender of wounding the feelings of God's saints, of speaking anything to their injury, even thinking anything to their detriment; for having a tender feeling toward the Lord, he has a tender feeling toward those who are the Lord's. This tender spirit manifests itself as one of the first evidences of divine life in the warm love and gentle affection which spring up in the believing heart toward the people of God. The grace of God making the heart and conscience tender, kindles, produces, and keeps alive a tender affection toward God's saints as a conspicuous part of this tenderness; and it thus becomes the first sensible evidence of its divine origin; as John speaks– "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." (1 John 3:14.) And again– "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God." (1 John 4:7.)
2. But this spirit, this new spirit, this true spirit, this Spirit of Christ in a believer's bosom, is a PRAYERFUL spirit. I have no good opinion of any man's religion which did not begin with a spirit of prayer. I know that mine began so, and that it came upon me without my seeking to produce it, and has more or less abode with me to this day. This spirit of prayer indeed is one of the chief marks which distinguish gracious convictions from those which are merely natural. Do you find that Saul, or Ahithophel, or Judas ever prayed? "They have not cried unto me with their hearts," says the prophet, "when they howled upon their beds." (Hosea 7:14.) Is not this spirit of prayer a special gift of God? Has not he declared that he will pour upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and supplication? (Zech. 12:10.) And what is the effect of this heavenly shower? "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son."
Here we have the union of three gracious marks– a spirit of prayer to cry for mercy, a looking unto and upon Jesus whom they have pierced, and repentance and godly sorrow over their sins and over him. None of these things are found except in those on whom God shows mercy.
The same mark is given by another of the prophets– "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them." (Jer. 31:9.) We see this mark eminently in the case of Saul. "Behold, he prays," was God's word to Ananias to assure him that this bloodthirsty persecutor was a new-born soul; and that he who had no mercy upon Stephen was crying to God for mercy to himself. (Acts 9:11.) Wherever then there is a prayerful spirit, it is a blessed mark, and that it is the Lord's purpose to grant him every desire of his heart. Indeed, until God is pleased to pour out upon us the spirit of grace and of supplications, we cannot worship him aright; for God is a Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24); nor can we, without this Spirit, offer up that spiritual sacrifice which is acceptable to him through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5.)
When this spirit has been once given and kindled in a believer's breast, it never dies out. It is like the fire upon the bronze altar, which was first given by the Lord himself from heaven, and concerning which God gave this command– "The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out." (Lev. 6:13.) This fire might sink low; it might be covered with the ashes of sacrifice, but it never was allowed to go out for lack of supply of fuel.
So at times it may seem to you as if there were scarcely any spirit of prayer alive in your bosom; and you may feel as destitute of a spirit of grace and of supplication as if you had never known its lively movements and actings. But you will find it drawn out from time to time by circumstances. You will be placed under peculiar trials, under which you will find no relief but at a throne of grace; or God will in tender mercy breathe again upon your soul with his own gracious Spirit, and by his quickening breath will revive– I will not say kindle, for it is not gone out, that holy fire which seemed to be buried under the ashes of corruption, that inward spirit of prayer which he gave you at regeneration, and which will never cease until it issues in everlasting praise.
3. This new and true spirit is also a CAREFUL spirit– by which I mean, it is utterly opposed to, and distinct from that careless spirit which I have denounced as eminently a spirit of falsehood and error. There is nothing of this recklessness and thoughtlessness in the new spirit, the spirit of truth. On the contrary, it is jealous over itself with a godly jealousy. It fears to be wrong, it desires to be right. Whatever the consequences or the sacrifices which to walk in the right way of the Lord may entail, the soul born of God desires to be right. "Lord, lead me right;" "Lord, keep me right," is the constant, the earnest desire of every new-born soul. And by this spirit of godly jealousy over self, by this earnest and unceasing desire to be made right and kept right, it is preserved from many of those snares into which others heedlessly fall, and by which they bring either destruction or misery upon themselves.
4. Again, it is a spirit of FAITH. There is a distinction to be made between faith and the spirit of faith. "We having," says the apostle, "the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believe, and therefore have I spoken, we also believe, and therefore speak." (2 Cor. 4:13.) The spirit of faith is faith in exercise. Faith sometimes is like a day in which there is no wind blowing. It is so calm, that there scarcely appears to be any air stirring to move a leaf. But after a time a gentle breeze comes and blows over the earth. Thus it is with faith and the spirit of faith. Faith in repose is like the calm air of a summer's day, when there is nothing moving or stirring; faith acting, faith in exercise, is like the same air in the gentle breeze which makes itself sensibly felt. If God has given me faith, that faith is never lost out of my breast. If once a believer, I always am a believer; for if I could cease to believe, I would cease to be a child of God; I would lose salvation out of my heart, for I am saved by grace through faith.
And yet there may be many times and seasons when I may not have much of the spirit of faith. Faith may be very inactive, I will not say stagnant, for that would almost imply death, but still, quiet, calm, sleeping like a bird with its head under its wing. But in due time there is a stirring, a movement; a gracious blowing of the Spirit– "Awake, O north wind, and come O south wind; blow upon my garden." (Song 4:16.) "Come from the four winds, O breath." (Ezek. 37:9.) This heavenly breath of the Holy Spirit acts upon faith, awakens it, revives and reanimates it, and draws it forth into lively operation. It thus becomes a spirit of faith, acting spiritually and energetically according to its measure. John was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day." (Rev. 1:10.) He was not always in the Spirit by lively action, though he was never out of the Spirit by his extinction. So faith is sometimes, so to speak, in the Spirit; and then its eyes are open, like the eyes of John, to see spiritually what he saw visibly, the Person of Christ, and its ear open to hear inwardly what he heard outwardly, the words of Christ.
5. But the spirit of LOVE is one of the grand characteristics of this new and true spirit; for "love is of God, and he that loves knows God and is born of God." I can have no satisfaction, real satisfaction, that I am a partaker of the Spirit and grace of Christ except I feel some measure of the love of God shed abroad in my heart. I may have hopes, expectations, and evidences, fainter or brighter; but I have no sure, clear evidence in my own soul that I have the Spirit and grace of Christ there, except I am blessed with the love of God; for until love comes, there is fear which has torment. And while we have fear which has torment, there is no being made perfect in love. You have no clear assurance in your own breast that God has loved you with an everlasting love; nor have you any bright testimony that the Spirit of God makes your body his temple until this love comes into your soul. But when the crowning blessing comes of the love of God experimentally felt and enjoyed by his own shedding of it abroad in the heart, with the communication of the spirit of adoption to cry "Abba, Father," that is the sealing testimony of your possession of the true spirit; for it is "a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind;" and where there is this there is also a spirit of love and affection to all the family of God.
I am obliged to pass by various other marks of this true spirit, for I must not omit to bring before you the 'trying of the spirits' as one prominent feature of my present discourse.
III. The TRYING of the spirits. Observe the strong and striking language of John– "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
A. John here addresses himself to the family of God. "Beloved." It is these beloved ones, beloved of God and of himself, whom he warns, and upon whom he urges the necessity and the importance of this trial. He would not encourage that foolish, childish credulity which receives everything and everybody that makes a profession of religion. And this warning cry is addressed to us as well as to them, if we are among the "beloved;" and indeed was never more needed than now. There is much delusion abroad, many errors, many abounding evils. There is then with us a kind of spiritual necessity not to believe every spirit, not to receive with superstitious credulity whatever any man or minister, however high in a profession, may tell us. We are to be upon our guard not to be imposed upon by erroneous men, however plausible or however popular, not to be beguiled by any false spirit, from whatever quarter it blows or from whatever mouth it comes; but in the calm, quiet depths of our own bosom, in all simplicity and godly sincerity, with meekness and humility, to try the spirits, to weigh them, to examine them well, and come to some decision in our own conscience what manner of spirit that is, which calls upon us for our acceptance as of God.
We are continually thrown into the company of professors of religion. What must we test then, in them that we may follow John's directions? Not their words altogether, though words sometimes are quite sufficient to manifest a man's real character, for a "fool's voice is known by the multitude of words." (Eccles. 5:3.) But men may say anything; and the more men's consciences are hardened the more boldly and presumptuously they can speak. What man in business trusts men's words, unless they have other evidence? How deceptive words are! What imposition is continually practiced by plausible words and strong protestations, loud declarations, and repeated promises. Men of business look for something beyond all these words– they want realities, substance, facts, deeds and documents, responsibility and security. And shall we be less wise than they? Shall the children of this world be wiser in their generation than the children of light? We then have to try the spirits, our own and others, to see whether they are of God, leaving to novices and self-deceivers to be beguiled by the plausible words of 'hypocrites in Zion'.
B. But how shall we try them? There are four ways whereby we may try the spirits, whether they are of God.
1. The first is by the word of truth. God has given us the Scriptures, blessed be his holy name, as a perfect revelation of his mind and will. There he has deposited his sacred truth in all its purity and blessedness, that it may shed a continual and steady light from generation to generation. We must then bring ourselves and others to the test of the Scriptures to know whether the spirit which is in us or in them is of God or not. Now in this chapter John gives us several tests whereby to try the true spirits. One is the confession that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. In those days there was a set of pestilent heretics who denied the real humanity of our blessed Lord. They held that his body was not real flesh and blood of the substance of the Virgin, but a mere shadowy appearance. But what was the effect of this vile and damnable error? To destroy in a moment all the effects of Christ's suffering and death; for if his body were a shadowy body, there could be no taking of the nature of the children, no substitution of himself in their place and stead, and therefore no true sacrifice, no real atonement for sin. In this day we do not hear much of an error like this, for it seems quite to have died out. And yet men may deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh if they deny the fruits that spring out of his coming in the flesh.
An Antinomian, for instance, still denies it, because Jesus Christ came to make us holy, to keep us from ungodliness, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works. The Antinomian spirit, therefore, really denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; for it denies the power of his resurrection in raising us up to a new life, the efficacy of his blood to sanctify as well as to atone, and indeed all that Jesus has done to reconcile us unto God, as far as regards its manifestation in our hearts and lives.
So also the Pharisaic spirit equally denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. If you can save yourself by your own works, what do you need Jesus Christ for? Why need Jesus Christ have come in the flesh if your works could save you, and you can stand upon your own righteousness? Thus the Pharisee denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh as much as the Antinomian.
And could we pursue the point through all its various bearings, we would find that every manifestation of the spirit of error is a virtual denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; for his coming in the flesh is the root of all blessings and of all blessedness, as the root of all our standing in him and of every blessing with which we are blessed in him. The spirit, therefore, of error, in all its branches is a virtual denial of Jesus Christ having come in the flesh.
But again, John gives us another test, the hearing of the apostles. "He that is of God hears us." A listening to God's word as revealed in the Scriptures, a drinking into the very spirit of truth as delivered by the apostles and handed down in the word of God, a receiving tenderly and graciously, with a child-like spirit, God's truth, so as to be saved and blessed thereby, is a test to which we must bring every spirit, whether the spirit of truth or the spirit of error.
2. But I said that there is another test whereby we are to try the spirits, and that is by the work of God upon our own soul. Many have the word of God in their hands and in their mouths; but what is the word of God to them? They have no light to see its meaning; no understanding to enter into its holy and gracious declarations; no faith to believe what it reveals; in a word, it has no effect upon them. To bring them therefore to the word of God would be like taking a blind man and putting scales in his hands to weigh an article of merchandise. He has no eyes to see scales or weights. You must have eyes to see the tests in God's word that you may apply God's word as a test to try whether you possess a true or false spirit. The work of God upon your own soul, the life of Jesus in your own breast, the operations of the Spirit upon your own conscience, the gracious feelings produced within you by the power of God– this is a test besides the Scriptures whereby we try the spirits.
Let me open up this a little more fully and clearly by appealing to your own experience. You are thrown sometimes into the company of some of those characters which I have just described, and get into conversation with them; for they are generally very forward to talk. Say then that you meet with a man, a great professor of religion, but full of that light, trifling, carnal, careless spirit, which I have pointed out as marking a spirit of error. Is not your soul grieved? Do you not see, do you not feel that the grace of God is not in that man, or, at least, sadly buried by his worldly spirit? Can you not come to some decision in your own breast that this carnal, trifling, worldly, proud, covetous spirit which you see in him or in others is not the Spirit of Christ, and that the man who is so thoroughly under its influences and manifests it so clearly and visibly in his life and conduct, is not a partaker of the grace of Christ? But why do you come to this decision? Because you know what the Spirit of Christ does in you, and that you are a living witness of the tenderness it communicates, the fear of God it implants, the reverence of the name of God it produces, the carefulness and jealousy over self, the desire to be right, the fear to be wrong, which are the effects and fruits of the grace of God. You find these things in your own breast if you are a partaker of the grace of Christ. You bring then the spirits which you daily encounter in your path to the test; and if these are directly opposed to what the Spirit of Christ has done for and in you, you say, "The Spirit of Christ is not here. There is no tenderness of conscience in this man, no reverence of God, no fear of his great name, no sense of the evil of sin, no holy mourning nor godly sorrow for it, no forsaking it, no walking as becomes a Christian. Call this the Spirit of Christ? The Spirit of Christ is not in it."
Thus, as you have divine teaching in your own bosom, you bring to that inward test the spirits which are continually presenting themselves; and by weighing them tenderly, cautiously, and carefully– not in a proud, dictatorial way, but with great caution, fearing lest you may deceive yourself from a wrong judgment, you weigh in this inward balance the true spirit and false, and from the inward testimony of God in your soul spiritually discern for your own guidance which is the spirit of truth and which is the spirit of error.
This may seem harsh doctrine; and indeed it would be so unless it were scriptural, and unless this spirit of judgment were carefully regulated by the Spirit's inward teaching. Does not the apostle say, "He that is spiritual judges [or "discerns," margin] all things?" (1 Cor. 2:15.) "You have an unction from the Holy One," says John, "and you know all things." But where is this unction? "The anointing which you have received of him abides in you." (1 John 2:20, 27.) In this way the Lord is "a spirit of judgment to him that sits in judgment." (Isa. 28:6.) Are you not sensible, you discerning people of God, what spirit is breathed from the pulpit by the minister under whom you sit?
And here let me drop a word to all who fear God now before me. Don't look to the words of the minister you hear so much as to his spirit. Of course, if he preaches the truth, his words will be in harmony with it; but he may preach the letter of truth without being under the influence of the Spirit of truth. Is the Spirit of Christ in him? Does the blessed Spirit communicate through him any gracious influence to your soul? Is there any softening of your spirit under his word; any unction resting upon your soul; any tenderness drawing up your affections Godwards; any sweet reviving and blessed renewing of the love and power of God in your soul, as known and experienced in the days of old? Or are you searched, rebuked, reproved, admonished, warned, cautioned by an inward light, life, and power which flow into your heart through his word? Are you sensibly humbled, broken down, and softened into contrition, humility, meekness, and quietness of spirit, with confession and supplication before the Lord? I repeat the word– Try the man's spirit; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
How many ministers breathe a harsh, proud, contentious, self-exalting spirit; a spirit which, call it what you will, or disguise itself as you may, is alien altogether to the Spirit of Christ. No humility, no brokenness, no tender regard for God's honor and glory, no separation of the precious from the vile, and no commending themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God, show themselves in them. Again, I say, try the spirits whether they be of God.
3. There is a third test, whereby we try the spirits; that is, the effects and influences of this spirit in our own bosom.
This test is closely allied to the preceding, but is of a more practical nature. If you are possessed of the light and life of God in your soul, you will watch the influence of your own spirit. You will observe how it influences your thoughts, your movements, your words, your actions; how it is in you as a guiding light to all that is good, and a sensible bar to all that is evil. Sometimes, for instance, you feel softened, humbled, melted down before the footstool, sweet spirituality of mind flowing in, heavenly affections flowing out, a separation from the spirit of the world, making you desire to be alone with God, and to enjoy a sense of his presence and love in your heart. This is a right spirit– the very spirit of truth, the very spirit of Christ. It has right effects, right influences, and by this you see it is the spirit of truth.
Or sometimes you may find a different spirit working in you– pride, harshness, self-justification, covetousness, rebellion, self-pity, entanglement in business and worldly cares, and all these secretly quenching the life of God in your soul. You are sensible of this wrong influence in your breast; you can see it is not the spirit of holiness nor the Spirit of Christ, but an alien spirit, a spirit diametrically opposed to the spirit of truth and love.
4. There is another test, the influence which the spirit has upon others. You will have an influence upon those with whom you live. There will be an influence emanating from you towards your families, your servants, your friends, and those with whom you are brought into daily contact. And you may trace in your own bosom, for you will be honest with yourself, the workings of a gracious spirit and the workings of an ungodly spirit. Sometimes you find peevishness, fretfulness, hasty temper manifesting itself in words and expressions highly unsuitable the grace and spirit of Christ. You are condemned; you go to bed with a heavy heart; you can hardly go to sleep because through the day you have manifested an angry temper, or been too much entangled in business. Here you trace the effect of a wrong spirit.
Or you get into argument and find working in you a dividing spirit, a spirit of jealousy, or prejudice, or enmity, or dislike to some of the dear family of God. You are conscious you have an unforgiving spirit that you cannot master, but you are not insensible to it; you hate its workings and abhor its influence. Now watch the influence of your spirit upon others.
And a minister has to watch this especially– the influence his spirit has upon the people. Are there effects and fruits following his word? Are they searched, tried, examined? Is their conscience made more alive and tender? Is there a gracious influence attending the ministry of the word? I would not be fit to stand here in the name of the Lord unless I stood up in the Spirit of Christ; and if I stand up in the Spirit of Christ, and with the grace of Christ in my heart, the word of Christ in my mouth, there will be communicated to you a gracious influence which you will sensibly feel– not always feel; but from time to time there will be a gracious influence attending the word to your heart, by which sometimes your doubts and fears are removed, your burdened soul encouraged, your difficulties cleared up, Christ made precious, and the things of God sealed upon your heart with fresh life and power.
Thus, by these tests–
the word of God,
your own experience,
the effect and influence of the Spirit upon yourself,
the effect and influence of your spirit upon others–
we may try the spirits whether they are of God. And if we find that we have the right spirit, or are seeking more of its influence, let us thank God and take courage.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Preached at Gower Street Chapel, London, on July 19, 1868, by J. C. Philpot
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
(1 John 2:15-17)
The VARIOUS WRITERS of the Epistles of the New Testament, though all equally inspired of God, though they all preach the same doctrine, unfold the same experience, and enforce the same practice, yet differ widely in their mode of setting forth divine truths. Thus Paul shines conspicuously in setting forth the grand doctrines of the gospel, such as the union of the Church, as chosen in Christ, with her great covenant Head, salvation by free, sovereign, distinguishing, and super-abounding grace, justification by faith in the Son of God, and the blessed and abundant fruits and privileges which spring out of the relationship of the Church to God from her union with the Son of His love. It was necessary for the instruction, edification, and consolation of the Church of God that these grand and glorious truths should be not only revealed in the gospel, and preached by the Apostles, but be put upon permanent record for all ages as a part of the inspired Scriptures. God therefore chose Paul and endowed him with the largest of intellects, the greatest amount of grace, and the fullest possession of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which perhaps ever met in any one man. Thus to him was given to write the greater part of the inspired Epistles of the New Testament.
James keeps on lower ground. He does not soar into those sublime heights in which his brother Paul found himself borne up and sustained with his strong pinion; but directing his pen against the perversions of Paul's gospel, which had crept into the Churches, and aiming his keen arrows against the Antinomians of his day, shows that there was no use talking about being justified by faith without works, if they meant thereby to exclude works altogether from having part or lot in the ministry of the gospel or the walk of a believer; and that it would not do to say if men only believed in Christ they might live as they wished, without paying the least regard to doing the will of God, or bringing forth the fruits of righteousness. All this loose, licentious, Antinomian doctrine, James cuts up root and branch.
Peter, melted and mellowed in the furnace of affliction, writes as one who had experienced much inward conflict, and therefore deals much with the trials, temptations, and sufferings of the Church of God; yet looks with steady eye, and points with clear pen, to the glory which is to be revealed that shall make amends for all.
Jude bursts forth into a stern and severe denunciation against the ungodly men, who, in his day, had abused the grand truths of gospel grace to walk after their own lusts. He points his keen pen against "the spots in their love-feasts," who would seem in those days to have sprung up to defile the clean garments which should have been worn at such holy celebrations of the love and blood of the Lamb. He denounces the judgment of God against the "trees twice dead, plucked up by the roots .... the clouds without water, and the wandering stars, to whom was reserved the blackness of darkness forever."
When we come to John, we seem to come into a different atmosphere – an atmosphere of love and holiness. He in his youth had laid his head upon the Redeemer's bosom, and there had drunk in large and deep draughts of love. He had stood by Him when upon the cross, had witnessed His agonies, heard His dying words, and seen the spear of the Roman soldier pierce His heart, so that out of it came blood and water. It seems, therefore, as if the reflection of what he had thus tasted, felt, and handled, tinged as it were his Epistle with golden light. If I may use a figure, it seems almost to resemble what we see on a summer eve, when the setting sun sheds a bright glow of golden light upon every object; or if I may borrow an illustration from art as well as nature, as we see it transferred to the canvas of great painters, such as Claude or Turner, where every object seems lit up with this golden beam. Thus when we come to this Epistle, it seems as if a ray of golden light, the light of holiness and love, spread itself over every word and bathed it with the hues of heaven. It is this peculiar atmosphere of love and holiness which makes every word of this Epistle so full of light, life, and power.
Standing then as if upon this high and holy ground, and breathing this heavenly air, this atmosphere of purity and love, the disciple whom Jesus loved sends a warning voice to the children of God in the words of our text, and solemnly cautions them against the love of the world. He knew their propensity, what was in the heart of man, and that though the saints of God were redeemed by the blood of Christ, taught by His Spirit, and wrought upon by His grace, yet still there was in them a carnal, earthly principle, which cleaved to, and loved the world. He therefore lifts up a warning voice – "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
And to show that this was not a matter of small importance, but involved in it life or death, he goes on to testify that whatever profession a man might make, if he really loved the world, the love of the Father was not in his heart. He then takes a rapid view of all that was in the world, and summing it up under three heads, as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, passes upon it this condemning sentence, that it is not of the Father, but of the world. He then lifts up in still stronger strain his warning voice, that the world is passing away and the lust thereof, and that there will be a speedy end to all this show and glitter. But he adds, to encourage those who, in spite of all opposition, are doing the will of God, that when all things here below shall pass away and perish, they themselves shall abide forever.
This is a simple sketch of the way in which I shall this morning attempt to handle the subject before us; and you will see it is in close accordance with the outline of our text.
I. Let us first then consider John's solemn admonition – "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
II. Secondly, the reasons why we should not love the world, which are:
1. That if we love the world, the love of the Father is not in our heart.
2. That all that is in the world is ipso facto condemned as being not of the Father, and therefore opposed to and alien from Him.
3. That the world is passing away and the lust thereof.
III. Thirdly, the blessing that rests upon him that does the will of God – that he abides forever.
I. John's solemn admonition – "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." If there were not a strong tendency in the heart of the partakers of grace to love the world, why would we need this admonition be dropped by holy John? It is because there is so strong a tendency in the human mind to love the world, that this caution is needed; and happy are those by whom it is taken, heeded, and acted upon.
But what are we to understand by the expression "world," as used here? For if we are warned against the love of the world, we ought to have some clear understanding what is meant by the term, in order that we may know whether we love it or not. The word "world" then, in Scripture, has various significations.
1. It signifies sometimes the material world; as in the passages, "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." In these passages is meant the material world, this lower sphere in which our earthly lot is cast.
2. Sometimes it signifies men and women generally, human beings, man viewed simply as man. It seems to have this meaning in the passage, "God so loved the world." We cannot understand by "the world" here, the whole of the human race, as all being alike personal and definite objects of the love of God; for such a view would exclude the love which God has to His chosen people in Christ; and would make Him love Esau as much as Jacob, and Judas as well as John. Our Lord says to His heavenly Father in His special prayer, "You have loved them as you have loved me." John 17:23 But if He loved the whole world with the same eternal love as He loved those whom He gave unto His dear Son, what becomes of this special appeal of the Lord in the days of His flesh to His heavenly Father? It would have been no prevailing plea for God to keep them from evil, if every man in the world were loved with the same love as that with which He loved those for whom the Lord so specially and earnestly prayed. When, then, we read that "God loved the world," it must mean not every individual of the human race, but men and women, as partakers of flesh and blood, and thus distinct from angelic beings.
3. Sometimes "the world" means the Gentiles as distinct from the Jews; as in that passage where Abraham is said to be "the heir of the world." Romans 4:13 This is an explanation of the promise that "in him and in his seed, all the nations of the earth, should be blessed;" by which was meant, that salvation by the promised seed should not be limited to the lineal descendants of Abraham, but that the Gentiles also should have an interest in the work of redemption, and that Abraham should be the father, not only of the Jew, literally and lineally, but the father of the Gentile also, as walking in his steps.
4. But in our text the expression "world" signifies, as it often does in the Scripture, that general state of things here below, that moral, or rather immoral world, which consists in the aggregate of men and women, who live, move, and act without the fear of God, dead in sin, who have no regard to the word of God, pay no heed to the will of God, and are altogether under the influence of the god and prince of this world. This, then, is the world which we are not to love.
Why should we not love it? There are many reasons, as I shall presently show; but the chief is, because it is a fallen world; fallen from its proper allegiance. Man was made in God's image, in God's likeness; therefore he owed allegiance to God as his Creator, and the least he could do was to serve Him to whose creating hand and inspiring breath he owed the possession of body and soul. Nor was this difficult in him, as it is difficult in us; for sin had not corrupted his mind, nor deprived him of the power of obedience, as it has deprived us. As he bore the image of God stamped upon him, he could approach God in the purity of his native innocence, and his worship was acceptable to God as a pure offering. But when he sinned and fell, sin at once broke off that obedience, that allegiance, and that pure and simple dependence upon God which he had in his primitive innocence.
The great sin of Adam was, that he sinned wilfully, deliberately, and with his eyes open. The woman was deceived by the craft of Satan; but "Adam was not deceived" as she was, but sinned, knowing what he was doing, and not entangled in temptation, or persuaded to it by another. By thus deliberately disobeying God's command, he cast off his allegiance to God; and as man is, from his very nature in body and soul, a dependent creature, by withdrawing himself from dependence upon God, he fell under the dominion of Satan. Thus Satan, through whose temptation in the first instance sin was introduced, set himself up, with God's permission, as man's god and king. As, then, Adam's race all inherit Adam's sin and nature, Satan became the prince of this world, and brought the whole in subjection to himself; setting up his laws against God's laws, his maxims against God's maxims, his policy against God's counsel, and his infernal and wicked will against the pure and holy will of God.
Sin is of that nature that it is ever generating itself, and like fire, spreading as it goes. Thus when once Satan had breathed into the heart of man, and infected his nature with his own infernal spawn, it generated there and produced a crop similar to the spawn itself. As we see in the case of natural disease, a breath of infection once caught will generate fever or smallpox through the whole body, so by the fall, human nature became thoroughly depraved, alienated from the life of God, subservient to Satan, madly in love with sin, opposed to God, and hostile to Him at every point.
It is this infection of our nature which makes the precept not to love the world so suitable and so important. As the subjects of regenerating grace, as having a living faith in the Lord Jesus, as having a good hope through grace, as loving the Lord, and cleaving to Him with purpose of heart, we publicly and openly profess to be the children of God; and as such we profess to come unto Him as the object of our worship, to obey Him as our Prince and King, to whom we owe allegiance. So also, as believers in the word of His grace, we profess to take His word to be our guide, His will to be our law, and His precepts to be the directing principle of our words and works.
But we daily find, from painful experience, that there is not in us that willing heart, and that obedient mind, so as to make God's word and will the guide of our life. We fully acknowledge, and for the most part sincerely and earnestly desire, to walk in obedience to what He, in His holy word, has laid down as incumbent upon those who fear His name. But through the perversity of our mind, the weakness of the flesh, and the deeply set corruption of our fallen nature, we find that there is in us a contrary and opposing principle to our better mind and will.
We fully see at times what this world is; how sunk in sin, how full of rebellion, perversity, and alienation from the life of God; how desperately and determinately opposed to everything that is holy, heavenly, or spiritual; how it is under the sentence of God's wrath, and that most justly. All this we see and feel. God, we trust, has given us a new heart and a new spirit, which has separated us from the world that lies in wickedness. And yet, strange to say, there is in us a cleaving to, and a loving the world, though we see it and feel it too, as I have described it. Now, how can this be explained, except that there is in us a corrupt principle in union with the world, and opposed to that inward life of God which hates it and is separate from it? Is not this what the apostle found when he said – "The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not that I do? I find then a law that when I would do good evil is present with me." Romans 7:19,21
Now the question is, which principle is to reign and rule? Am I, if I possess and profess the fear of God, to obey God, to listen to His word and will, to seek to do those things which are pleasing in His sight? Or am I to love what God abhors, and thus really place myself among the ranks of the enemies of God and godliness? Surely it is by our love to things, that the point is decided where our heart and treasure is. And this will even hold good whether we apply the rule to measure the whole or to measure a part. I may not, I hope I do not love the world in the same full way as a carnal man loves it, to whom it is his all; but I may love it partially, if I do not love it fully, love a little of it, if I do not love the whole of it, long after a slice of the cake, if I do not want to have and eat it all.
But, just so far as I love the world and the things that are in the world, I love God's enemy; I love a state of things which is in direct opposition to the revealed will of God; I forsake my banner and range myself under the opposite flag; I stand in the ranks of those who are fighting against God and against whom God fights; and by my love toward them, I show my approbation of their principles, their maxims, their pursuits, their customs, and their ways, and so in heart, if not in person, I side with those who lie under the wrath and condemnation of God.
This, then, is the reason why God bids me not love the world; for if I love the world, my heart declines from the strait and narrow path, slips into an easy groove, walks in compliance with those who are traveling down the broad road, and like Ephraim, though armed, turns back in the day of battle. God, therefore, by His inspired apostle, drops this caution in my ears, and O that God the Holy Spirit would convey it into my heart and yours in all its sacred light, life, and grace – "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
If this precept is to be carried out, we must not love the men and women of the world; we must not love their company, nor seek and take a pleasure in their society. The calls and claims of business, and in most of your cases the daily duties of your vocation in life, may, and indeed must take you into the world. The professional man must attend to his clients or patients; the tradesman must wait upon his customers; the mechanic must work at the same bench with his mate; and even those of us who are not so engaged are sometimes obliged to transact with worldly characters. But all this is a very different thing from loving their company and seeking their society. If your heart is under divine influence, the world will not hurt you so long as you do not mix with it more than you are absolutely compelled.
We are not called to go out of the world and shut up ourselves in monasteries and nunneries. What we have to shun, is the company of the world on those occasions when it is not needed. Thus you need not go out of the world to be separated from it. You may be out of the world and love it; you may be in the world and hate it. It is where our heart is, where our affections are, and what we inwardly love, which shows whether we are of the world or not; for you will observe, that the main force of the precept lies in this, "Love not the world." John does not say 'Leave the world', but 'do not love it'. And why should John bid us so forcibly not to love it? For this simple reason, that love is the strongest passion of the human breast, and never can be satisfied without enjoyment and possession. If a man loves a thing, he will have it if he can, sooner or later, by hook or by crook, by foul means or by fair means. If he is desperately in love with an object, he is miserable until he gains it; for love is the strongest passion that moves the human breast. You all know this who have ever been, to use a common expression, "in love;" and, though this is especially true of the love which man has for woman and woman for man, it is also true of all other love, though not perhaps to the same intense degree. If, therefore, a man loves the world, he is sure to be straining every nerve to get at, and to possess the object of his love; and nothing will satisfy him but the enjoyment of that upon which his heart is set.
Now, viewing this love of the world as a disease, if we could find some mysterious remedy which would cure that propensity at the very root; if there were, say, some holy balm brought us by an angel from heaven, like the oil which, according to the Romish legend, was brought to anoint the kings of France, and we could drop, drop, drop it into the seat of all this worldly love and purge it out, cleanse, and remove it; and if, by the dropping in of this mysterious yet blessed oil, there could be communicated another love of a purer kind, of holier nature, which was fixed upon God Himself, and the things of God, how by this mysterious yet blessed remedy the disease would be removed, and how the love of the world would at once be purged out by the entrance of a better love, which would, so to speak, reach down to, and wither it, and put another in its place, as a new root.
It is in grace as in nature. A strong love will drive out a weak one. Take the instance of a young man or young woman who may have a kind of roving affection toward some object; but let another object come before them who is more attractive, more winning, more beautiful, or more engaging, and let that new object not merely strike the eye, but strike a root into the natural affections, the old object is immediately dropped, and the roving affections, at once center in the new object and there remain fixed and firm.
So it is in divine things. You have, by nature, a roving eye and roaming heart, ever roaming after this and that idol, and that lover. And thus you go on for months or years, roving in affection after a multitude of worldly objects. But you are arrested by the power of God. The arrows of conviction pierce your conscience – you are made to cry for mercy, and in due time the Lord reveals Himself with power in your soul. Now when the Lord is pleased thus to shed abroad His love in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and to drop into the bosom a holier and purer, because a heavenly and spiritual love, then those roving affections which were loosely roaming after every worldly object, are gathered up, and the love of God coming into the soul in divine power, sets before us Jesus as the only object of our love. It is thus that another higher, purer, and more powerful love cures and purges that love of the world which, though it pleased us in our carnal days, yet was found in the end to bring with it only misery, bondage, and death.
2. You will observe that the precept takes a very wide range; it says – "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." This is a very wide sentence. It stretches forth a hand of vast grasp. It places us, as it were, upon a high mountain, such as the Lord stood upon when tempted of Satan, and it says to us, "Look around you – now there is not one of these things which you must love." It takes us, again, to the streets of a crowded city; it shows us shop windows filled with objects of beauty and ornament; it points us to all the wealth and grandeur of the rich and noble, and everything that the human heart admires and loves. And having thus set before us, as Satan did before our Lord upon the high mountain, the kingdoms of the world, it says, not as he did, "All this will I give you," but, "All this I take from you. None of these things are for you. You must not love one of these glittering baubles; you must not touch one of them, or scarcely look at them, lest, as with Achan, the golden wedge and the Babylonish garment should tempt you to take them and hide them in your tent."
The precept takes us through the world as a mother takes a child through a bazaar, with playthings and ornaments on every side, and says, "You must not touch one of these things." In some such similar way the precept would, as it were, take us through the world, and when we had looked at all its playthings and its ornaments, it will sound in our ears, "Don't touch any one of them; they are not yours; not for you to enjoy, not for you even to covet." Can anything less than this be intended by those words which should be ever sounding in the ears of the children of God, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world?"
II. Now come the REASONS why Christians should not love the world, the first of which is as plain as it is decisive – "If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." We may take it in two points of view – first, as a test; secondly, as a remedy.
1. Take it first as a TEST. Some of you may say, "I am very fond of hearing the gospel faithfully preached, and I could willingly walk any distance to hear a sound, experimental minister, a real servant of Jesus Christ, who preached with savor, unction, and power. I have many years professed to know the things of God for myself, and I am very fond of hearing the truth set forth in accordance with my feelings." All this sounds well, and is indeed, more or less, the language of those who know and love the truth. But words at best are but words; and many speak well with their lips who speak very badly with their feet.
Apply, then, this test to your heart and to your life. Do you love the world, the things of time and sense? Are they entwined round your affections? Do they occupy the chief place in your heart? What are your pursuits, when free to follow them? I say pursuits, for I do not mean necessary engagements. Who are your companions? Whose society do you prefer? That of the light, vain, and trifling, the carnal and the worldly, or the tried, afflicted, exercised children of God? What subject most engages your mind, occupies your thoughts, dwells with you night and day, is to you your all in all? Is it the things of God, or the things of the world? What are you most bent upon attending to and acquiring? Is it the manifestation of the Lord's goodness and mercy, the breakings in of His pardoning love, the application of His atoning blood, the secret whispers of His favor to you, and the enjoyment of His presence? Or are you satisfied without these divine realities, and spend days and hours without ever longing after, or looking out for them? Now if so, the love of the Father is most certainly not in you. Talk as long and speak as loudly as you may about religion, this one thing will stamp "Tekel" upon it all. Weighed in the balance it is found wanting – If you love the world, and the things that are in the world, the love of God is not in your heart.
2. Now view it as a REMEDY. We all by nature love the world; and if you said you did not, I would not believe you, for I know you do. But is there no remedy for it? There is; and if you had it revealed to your heart you would find its effects. For what would the love of God do if it were in your heart?
1. First, it would show you, by the contrast, what a wretched, ungodly, miserable world this is, and how different the love of God is from the love of the world. It would teach you that we cannot love God and mammon; and that either the love of the world must prevail and shut out the love of God; or the love of God prevail and keep out the love of the world.
2. Secondly, you would find very gracious fruits and effects springing from it. If the love of God were in your heart, it would spiritualize your mind; it would draw forth every tender affection of your soul; it would make you seek and love communion with God and His dear Son; it would make you love the word of God, and be, from time to time, searching the Scriptures to know the mind and will of God, that you might walk before Him in the light of His countenance.
You would also find, that all this would have a very separating effect upon your spirit, and would throw a great light upon what the world and the spirit of it really are; so that when you were forced unwillingly into it, you would continually sigh and say, "O, what a miserable world this is! I see nothing in it but sin and death, misery and bondage; and if I get entangled with the spirit of it, how it deadens my soul, canalizes my mind, robs me of every tender, gracious feeling, fills me with lightness and frivolity, and stamps inward death, darkness, and bondage upon my soul."
Now try this test by your own experience. You come from your chamber sometimes in the morning, with your mind in some measure fixed upon divine things. You have been favored during the night, or in getting up, or on your knees, or in reading a portion of the word, with some nearness to the Lord; and have felt a sweetness and blessedness in waiting upon Him. But you leave your peaceful home to follow the pursuits of your temporal calling; you go into the world, not willingly but of necessity, and mix with your fellow men. O what a change from your feelings in your bedroom, and the savor of which still abides upon your spirit. It is like going from day to night, or rather, from heaven to hell. What levity, what carnality, what worldly-mindedness, often what filthy and disgusting language, what a contempt of God's will and word, what dislike of His people and ways, and what a thorough determination to enjoy sin, cost what it will and may.
What a poor, miserable creature do you feel yourself to be in such a scene and such society; and yet you cannot help saying to yourself, "O what a contrast! Am I, can I, be happy here? Do I feel at home with these wretched men and women? Is there any comfort to my soul in their society? Do I feel I can join with them in their light, vain, and trifling conversation, and unite in spirit with their worldliness? O no, I feel I cannot do so; for what they hate I love, and what I love they hate." Thus you may judge, from your own experience, if you have any of the right sort, what the effect is of a little drop of the love of God shed abroad in the heart; what is the fruit of a gentle gale from the everlasting hills, a little of John's holiness and happiness breathed into the soul. Does it not clearly show you what the world is, and does it not produce in your spirit such a separation from it, that you cannot but wonder at and adore the grace of God which has made such a difference between you and them?
John goes on to unfold more fully and clearly what is in the world, that he may give us another reason why we should not love it, summing up the things of the world under these three pregnant and pointed heads – "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."
1. The first is "the lust of the flesh." By this we may, in the first place, understand those base sensual lusts which I shall not enlarge upon in a mixed congregation, as it would not be prudent, or scarcely consistent with modesty and propriety, to do so; and yet it is a feature in our fallen nature with which most of God's children are acquainted, and some by very painful experience.
The expression, 'lust of the flesh', embraces a very wide scope – and yet every part and portion which it reaches and denounces is opposed to God and godliness; for not only are there those baser lusts and more sensual propensities, at which I may hint and no more, intended by the expression, but it includes also gluttony in all its various branches. This is one of the commonest sins in the rich and prosperous, but is shared also with them by every rank and class, from the alderman to the mechanic, and indeed all who find a pleasure in stuffing and gorging themselves with acceptable food, or even take a delight in eating for eating sake.
"The lust of the flesh" embraces also the love of strong drink in all its various degrees and ramifications, from a propensity to, and an indulgence in moderate sips and drams and stimulating liquors, to positive drunkenness. There are many secret, greedy, and gluttonous professors whose god is their belly, and many hidden sippers of strong drink who carry a good face in the visible church of God; and who, as being undetected and unsuspected, feel no condemnation for their gluttonous appetite, or their secret indulgence in strong drink, excusing themselves with a plausible pretext that their health requires it, or they only take just so much as does them good, when all the while they are under the dominion of the love of food, or the love of drink. A tender conscience will feel the least excess in either. Solomon says, "Put a knife to your throat if you be a man given to appetite," Pr 23:2; as though he would say, "Stick a knife into your gluttony; let out its life-blood, if such be your besetment; hold your hand when you are tempted to take too much food and to eat it too greedily and pleasurably." What secret glutton, what sly lover of strong drink ever manifested spirituality of mind in lip or life, or ever was a pattern and an example to the church of God?
Every fleshly lust, whether they be the base and sensual lusts of our vile nature, or gluttony and love of drink, are all under the same marked disapprobation of God. They all come under the same unqualified sentence, that they are things in the world and of the world, and that God is not in them, but opposed to them. It matters not, therefore, what lust of the flesh it be, whether open or secret, whether strong or weak, whether countenanced by the example of others or generally disapproved of. If a man be under the influence and power of any lust of the flesh, so far he is not under the influence and power of the love of God.
You will observe, also, that it is not the actings of the flesh only, but the lusts of the flesh which John condemns. Thus it is not only gross acts of criminal sin, indulged gluttony, or habits of secret drink, which John condemns, but the very desire after them. The Apostle declares that "they who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," and that we are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh; "For if you live after the flesh, you shall die – but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live." Romans 8:13 Now, nothing short of the love of God shed abroad in his heart will cleanse and purge a man from the lusts of the flesh, by operating upon his mind in the way I have described. As so taught and blessed, he will see such evil in sin, and especially in the lust of the flesh, that he will learn to hate it and himself for it; and as the Holy Spirit draws and guides his affections into a purer channel, and by the fear of God, in living exercise, subdues and mortifies the lusts of the flesh which he may painfully feel, he will not allow them to have dominion over him.
2. The next thing, which John denounces is "the lust of the eyes." This seems to include everything that gratifies the natural eyesight. What an avenue is the eye to sin, and how quickly, how instantaneously sin can pass in the way of lust through the eye into the inner chambers of the mind. Job made a covenant with his eyes, that he would not look upon a maiden. And our Lord tells us, "Whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart." No one scarcely ever fell under the power of this special temptation but it first entered into his heart through his eye. It was so with David; it was so with Solomon; it was so with Samson. The man after God's own heart, the wisest, and the strongest of men, alike fell, and foully fell, through the lust of the eye.
Look also at the love of dress and display, and see the influence it exercises upon the weaker, or to speak more politely, the fairer sex. I believe that I shall not go very far wrong when I say that there is scarcely a woman of any age, except the very old, or of any rank or station, high or low, who is not, more or less, under the influence of this lust of the eye – who does not seek to adorn her person with dress to the utmost of her power, that she may raise envy in the eyes of her own sex, or please the eye of the opposite one. It is so deeply ingrained in the female bosom, that it is continually manifesting itself, and even under the most unlooked for and extraordinary circumstances.
I remember reading some time ago an account given by a matron of some jail where female prisoners were confined, and where of course all wore the prison dress; but O the glee if one of these poor prisoners could get hold of a piece of ribbon and stick it in her dress. Thus even when shut up in a prison where they could see nobody but a jailer and their imprisoned companions, the love of dress, so innate in the female heart, displayed itself in putting on the prison dress, the ornament of a paltry piece of ribbon.
Are not all of us, whether men or women, guilty of the lust of the eye besides in the mere love of dress? How attractive to the eye of man is beauty and grace in woman, and I suppose I may add, how attractive to the eye of woman is manly vigor, with lovely features set off by the bloom of health and youth on the cheek of man. And yet all this is but the lust of the eye; it only feeds the carnal mind; it only gratifies our natural senses, and if this lust be indulged in and carried out, none know into what paths of sin it may not lead. Many a woman has been seduced into sin by the love of dress and admiration; and many a man, attracted by the charm of female beauty, has made dreadful shipwreck concerning the faith.
We need well guard our eye – you, the female sex, lest you spend your time and thoughts upon making yourselves attractive to men; and you men, beware of being seduced by the charms and beauty of women. The lust of the eye has made even many a poor child grieve and groan during life, and perhaps made many a restless, if not dark and mournful death-bed. Therefore, God keep us from gratifying the lust of the eye, as well as the lust of the flesh. We can only do it at the expense of conscience; we can only do it to the robbery of our soul.
3. John lifts up his voice a third time, and denounces "the pride of life." O how this reigns in this great metropolis! What an aspiring after living above their station in life seems to animate both high and low. What a spirit there is abroad to set men and women grasping after something to feed their pride and swell themselves into some kind of imaginary importance. How many seem willing almost to starve themselves and their families, and wear rags at home to make a display abroad, and are making every exertion to feed the pride of life, not only in dress, but in furniture; in living beyond their means; contracting debts which they will never be able to pay, and outrunning their annual income by extravagant expenditure. How many are drawn aside by this pride of life out of their right sphere; and sad to say, there are too many instances in which even the children of God have been so influenced by it as to wander sadly from the strait and narrow path.
Now all this lust of the flesh, and of the eye, as well as pride--that river in which the world swims, and in which too many, even of those who fear God, are tempted to dabble--is obviously condemned as not from the Father, but of the world. God is not here; His word is not here; His will is not here; His wisdom is not here; His love, goodness, presence, power--none of them are here. It is all man, false, fallen, deceived and deceiving man; it is all the spawn of maxims, pursuits, delight, and approbation of a world lying in the wicked one; of a world under the dreadful curse and denunciation of the Almighty.
On which side, then, will you rank yourself? A lover of the world, or a lover of God? Which are you? "Well," some of you perhaps may say, "I scarcely know." You scarcely will know as long as you are halting between two opinions; as long as by your life and conduct you are walking hand in hand with the world. But if there be the life and fear of God in your breast, you must be a very miserable being in this state of doubt and uncertainty. You must have many cutting reflections upon your bed; must often hang your head before God, and before His people too, and gloom must spread itself over your face, when silence and solitude leave you time to think and feel.
If the fear and life of God be in your soul, you cannot go out in affection after the world--and God take no notice of it in your conscience, and never bring down His frown upon it sensibly in your heart. But you may say, "I would be more free from this wretched love of the world, but I cannot deliver myself." No, nor will you ever be freed until you fall down flat before God, crying to Him to deliver you from it. But should He answer your prayer, and bless you with a sense of His love, you would find when it came into your soul in divine power, it would in a moment effect what you could not do for yourself in a century. It would cleanse and purify you from that wretched love of the world which is now both your temptation and your burden, by giving you a better object of love; for it would take your affections and fix them upon things above, where Jesus sits at the right hand of God.
Observe what is to be the end of all these things, which is another reason why we should not love the world – "The world passes away and the lust thereof."
The world and all that is in it comes to an end. Where are the great bulk of the men and women who fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago trod London streets? Where are they who rode about in their gay carriages, gave their splendid entertainments, decked themselves with feathers and jewels, and enjoyed all the pleasures of life? Where are they? The grave holds their bodies, and hell holds their souls.
"The world passes away." It is like a pageant, or a gay and splendid procession, which passes before the eye for a few minutes, then turns the corner of the street, and is lost to view. It is now to you who had looked upon it just as if it were not, and is gone to amuse other eyes. So, could you go on for years enjoying all your natural heart could wish; lay up money by thousands; ride in your carriage; deck your body with jewelry; fill your house with splendid furniture; enjoy everything that earth can give; then there would come, some day or other, sickness to lay you upon a dying bed. To you the world has now passed away with all its lusts; with you all is now come to an end; and now you have, with a guilty soul, to face a holy God. "The world passes away, and the lusts thereof."
All these lusts for which men have sold body and soul, half ruined their families, and stained their own name; all these lusts for which they were so mad that they would have them at any price, snatch them even from hell's mouth; all these lusts are passed away, and what have they left? A gnawing worm – a worm that can never die, and the wrath of God as an unquenchable fire. That is all which the love of the world, and all that is in it, can do for you, with all your toil and anxiety, or all your amusement and pleasure. You have not gained much perhaps of this world's goods, with all your striving after them; but could the world fill your heart with enjoyment, and your money bags with gold, as the dust of the grave will one day fill your mouth, it would be much to the same purpose. If you had got all the world, you would have got nothing after your coffin was screwed down but gravedust in your mouth. Such is the end of the world. "It passes away and the lust thereof." This rings the knell of all that is in the world, the passing-bell which announces the coming of the great extinguisher of all human hopes and pleasures – the great and final extinguisher, death. Just as you put an extinguisher upon your candle before you step into bed, and all is dark, so the great extinguisher death extinguishes all the light of man. Only look and see how he sickens and dies, and is tumbled into the cemetery, where his body is left to the worms, and his soul to face an angry God, on the great judgment day.
III. Now look at the BLESSING which rests upon him "that does the will of God." He abides forever.
Compare the two characters. Take first, a man of the world, who says in his heart, "I will have as much of the world as ever I can get; I will spend my time, thoughts, money, all that I have to gain what my heart loves, to enjoy myself if I possibly can. I will not keep my heart back from any lust – whether lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, or the pride of life. I will have them all."
Now, contrast with this wretched worldling, the believing, obedient child of grace, who does the will of God in coming out of the world, in being separated from it, in abstaining from its society, in leaving it, as far as he can, consistently with his calling in life; and above all things, by having the love of God shed abroad in his heart. Mark how he seeks and endeavors not to love the world, nor the things that are in the world, but by the power of God's grace, to be separated from it in body, soul, and spirit. This man does the will of God, for God's command is, "Come out from among them, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing." He does the will of God in coming out and being separate; he does also the will of God in believing in His dear Son; he does the will of God by repenting of his sins with godly sorrow, which needs not to be repented of; he does the will of God by keeping close to His word, ever desirous to know His will and do it; he does the will of God by seeking to have testimonies, tokens, manifestations of the pardoning mercy and love of God to his soul, prizing the application of atoning blood and love, more than thousands of gold and silver; he does the will of God when he chooses to suffer afflictions with the people of God, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. He does the will of God when he chooses to suffer persecution rather than deny his Master; when he would bear any amount of shame and scorn sooner than comply with the maxims and invitations of an ungodly world; and when he would sooner live alone with the Bible in his hand, and God's presence in his soul than be introduced to the highest company, mix with the most refined and educated, or the most polished society upon earth. He does the will of God when he seeks to have his life regulated by the revealed will of God, repents early of his sins when he is entangled in them, and seeks to have the blood of the Lamb sprinkled upon his conscience to purge it from their guilt, love, and power. And he does the will of God by ever laboring still to look right on, still to believe that what God has said is true, to stand by the truth and power of God's word, come what will, and suffer what he may.
Now such a man does the will of God, and God declares of him that "he abides forever." The work of God is in that man's heart, and that work abides forever. When all empty profession comes to nothing; when all boasting ceases; when loud talkers are silent in darkness, then the quiet, secret, and sacred work of God upon that man's soul will shine forth more and more. It abides, and therefore he abides. It is God's work in his heart and is not to be put out by the great extinguisher, nor blown out by the gusts of temptation, like a candle in a gale of wind. The love and goodness of God are with him in all his troubles, attend a dying bed, and go with him into eternity; when the work of God's grace upon his soul will be crowned with everlasting glory. Then he will stand forever as a pillar in the temple of God and go out no more.
Now contrast the two. Here are two people now before me, sitting in the same pew, both professors of religion, but one, a secret lover of the world, and the other, a secret lover of God. They both can talk pretty much the same language, read the same Bible, sing the same hymns, and hear the same preaching; but one's heart goes out after his covetousness, after his lusts; and the other's heart goes out after his God. Now what will be the end of these two men? The one, when death, the great extinguisher comes, will be silent in darkness; and the other will shine like the stars forever and ever. He lives well, will die well, and will rise well; for he will rise to immortal glory, when the Lord comes to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all those who believe.