Sunday, February 28, 2010


"Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen."
(1 John 5:21)

Idolatry is a sin very deeply rooted in the human heart. We need not go very far to find of this the most convincing proofs. Besides the experience of every age and every climate, we find it where we would least expect it—the prevailing sin of a people who had the greatest possible proofs of its wickedness and folly, and the strongest evidences of the being, greatness, and power of God.

It amazes us sometimes in reading the history of God's ancient people, as recorded in the inspired page, that, after such wondrous and repeated displays of his presence, glory, and majesty, they should again and again bow down before stocks and stones. That those who had witnessed all the plagues of Egypt had passed through the Red Sea by an explicit miracle, were daily living on manna that fell from heaven and water that gushed out of the rock, who had but to look upward by day to behold the pillar of the cloud, and by night the pillar of fire to manifest the presence of Jehovah in their midst—that this people, because Moses delayed coming down from the Mount, should fall down before a golden calf, and say, "These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt," does indeed strike our minds with astonishment.

And that this sin should break forth in them again and again through their whole history down to the period of the Babylonish captivity, in spite of all the warnings of their prophets, all the terrible judgments of God, all their repeated captivities, and, what would be far more likely to cure it, all their repeated deliverances, does indeed show, if other proof were lacking, that it is a disease deeply rooted in the very constitution of fallen man.

If this be the case, unless human nature has undergone a change, of which neither scripture nor experience affords any evidence, the disease must be in the heart of man now as much as ever; and if it exists it must manifest itself, for a constitutional malady can no more be in the soul and not show itself, than there can be a sickness in the body without evident symptoms of illness.

It is true that the disease does not break out exactly in the same form. It is true that golden calves are not now worshiped, at least the calf is not, if the gold be, nor do Protestants adore images of wood, brass, or stone. But that rank; property, fashion, honor, the opinion of the world, with everything which feeds the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, are as much idolized now as Baal and Moloch were once in Judea, and Juggernaut now is in the plains of Hindostan, is true beyond all contradiction.

But what is idolatry? To answer this question, let us ask another. What is an idol? Is not this the essence of the idea conveyed by the word, that an idol occupies that place in our esteem and affections, in our thoughts, words and ways, in our dependence and reliance, in our worship and devotedness, which is due to God only? Whatever is to us what the Lord alone should be, that is to us an idol. It is true that these idols differ almost as widely as the peculiar propensities of different individuals. But as both in ancient and modern times the grosser idols of wood and stone were and are beyond all calculation in number, variety, shape, and size, so is it in these inner idols of which the outer are mere symbols and representations.

Nothing has been too base or too brutal, too great or too little, too noble or too vile, from the sun walking in its brightness to a snake, a monkey, an onion, a bit of rag, which man has not worshiped. And these intended representations of Divinity were but the outward symbols of what man inwardly worshiped—for the inward idol preceded the outward, and the fingers merely carved what the imagination had previously devised. The gross material idol, then, whether an Apollo, "the statue which enchants the world," or a negro fetish, is but a symbol of the inner mind of man.

In that inner mind there are certain feelings and affections, as well as traditional recollections, which sin has perverted and debased, but not extinguished. Such are, a sense of a divine Creator, a dread of his anger and justice, a dim belief in a state after death of happiness or misery, an accountability to him for our actions, and a duty of religious worship. From this natural religion in the mind of man, a relic of the fall, sprang the first idea of idolatry—for the original knowledge of God being lost, the mind of man sought a substitute, and that substitute is an idol—the word, like the similar term "image," signifying a shape or figure, a representation or likeness of God.

Against this therefore, the second commandment in the Decalogue is directed. Now, this idea of representing God by some visible image being once established by the combined force of depraved intellect and conscience, the debased mind of man soon sought out channels for its lusts and passions to run in, which religion might consecrate; and thus the devilish idea was conceived and carried out, to make a god of SIN. Thus bloodshed, lust, theft, with every other crime, were virtually turned into gods named Mars, Venus, Mercury, and so on; and then came the horrible conclusion, that the more sin there was committed, the more these gods were honored. Need we wonder at the horrible debasement of the heathen world, and the utter prostration of moral principles produced by the worship of idols—or at the just abhorrence and wrath of God against idolatry?

But we need not dwell on this part of the subject. There is another form of idolatry much nearer home; the idolatry not of an ancient Pagan or a modern Hindoo, but that of a Christian.

Idolatry is the very breath of the carnal mind. All that "the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts," desires, thirsts after, is gratified by, or occupied with, is its idol—and so far as a Christian is under the influence of this carnal mind, this old man, this evil heart of unbelief, this fallen Adam-nature, this body of sin and death—all which are Scripture terms to express one and the same thing—he bows down to the idol set up in the chambers of imagery.

There is an old Latin proverb, that "love and a cough are two things impossible to be concealed;" and thus, though an idol may be hidden in the heart as carefully as Laban's teraphim in the camel's saddle, or the ephod and molten image in the House of Micah, (Judges 18:14), yet it will be discovered by the love shown to it, as surely as the suppressed cough of the consumptive patient cannot escape the ear of the physician.

Nor need we go far, if we would but be honest with ourselves, to find out each our own idol—what it is, and how deep it lies, what worship it obtains, what honor it receives, and what affection it engrosses. Let me ask myself, "What do I most love?" If I hardly know how to answer that question, let me put to myself another, "What do I most think upon? In what channel do I usually find my thoughts flow when unrestrained?" for thoughts flow to the idol as water to the lowest spot in a field.

If, then, the thoughts flow continually to the farm, the shop, the business, the investment, to the husband, wife, or child; to that which feeds lust or pride, worldliness or covetousness, self-conceit or self-admiration—that is the idol which, as a magnet, attracts the thoughts of the mind towards it.

Your idol may not be mine, nor mine yours; and yet we may both be idolaters. You may despise or even hate my idol, and wonder how I can be such a fool or such a sinner as to hug it to my bosom; and I may wonder how a partaker of grace can be so inconsistent as to love such a silly idol as yours. You may condemn me, and I condemn you; and the word of God's grace and the verdict of a living conscience condemn us both.

O how various and how innumerable those idols are! One man may possess a refined taste and educated mind. Books, learning, literature, languages, general information, shall be his idol. Music, vocal and instrumental, may be the idol of a second; so sweet to his ears, such inward feelings of delight are kindled by the melodious strains of voice or instrument, that music is in all his thoughts, and hours are spent in producing those harmonious sounds which perish in their utterance. Painting, statuary, architecture, the fine arts generally, may be the Baal, the dominating passion of a third. Poetry, with its glowing thoughts, burning words, passionate utterances, vivid pictures, melodious cadence, and sustained flow of all that is beautiful in language and expression, may be the delight of a fourth. Science, mathematical or mechanical, the eager pursuit of a fifth. These are the highest flights of the human mind; these are not the base idols of the drunken feast, the low jest, the mirthful supper, or even that less debasing but enervating idol—sleep and indolence, as if life's highest enjoyments were those of the swine in the sty.

An idol is not to be admired for its beauty or loathed for its ugliness, but to be hated because it is an idol. You middle-class people, who despise art and science, language and learning, as you despise the ale-house, and ballfield, may still have an idol. Your garden, your beautiful roses, your verbenas, fuchsias, needing all the care and attention of a babe in arms, may be your idol. Or your pretty children, so admired as they walk in the street; or your new house and all the new furniture; or your son who is getting on so well in business; or your daughter so comfortably settled in life; or your dear husband so generally respected, and just now doing so nicely in the farm. Or your own still dearer SELF that needs so much feeding, and dressing and attending to—who shall count the thousands of idols which draw to themselves those thoughts, and engross those affections which are due to the Lord alone?

You may not be found out. Your idol may be so hidden, or so peculiar, that all our attempts to touch it, have left you and it unscathed. Will you therefore conclude that you have none? Search deeper, look closer; it is not too deep for the eye of God, nor too hidden for the eyes of a tender conscience anointed with divine eye-salve. Hidden love is the deepest of all love; hidden diseases the most incurable of all diseases. Search every fold of your heart until you find it. It may not be so big nor so ugly as your neighbor's; but an idol is still an idol, and an image still an image, whether so small as to be carried in the coat pocket, or as large as a gigantic statue.

Every man has his idol; but it is not every man who sees it. Few groan under it.

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen." 1 John 5:21

"The dearest idol I have known,
Whatever that idol be,
Help me to tear it from my heart,
And worship only Thee."

J. C. Philpot, October, 1855

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Justification: Sinners Righteous in Christ, by Dr. John Gill.

Paperback; 95 pages;

Published by Gospel Standard Trust Publications.

For years we have thought that booklets of this kind should be published.
Dr. Gill was a great and godly theologian, perhaps the foremost among the Particular Baptists. His Body of Divinity is a mammoth work, but in small print, and the sections set closely together. What has been needed is for someone to take a section on a vital subject, divide it up and space it suitably, omit unnecessary footnotes and Latin quotations – which has now been done, superbly, by Timothy Abbott, who has also provided an excellent introduction.

So now we have a valuable, suitably priced, easy-to-be-read booklet on a vital subject.

Justification by faith is a truth which is still being assailed today.

Dr. Gill believed in eternal justification – that is, an eternal act of God in
which He viewed and declared His people righteous as He saw them in Christ.

Sometimes people, wrongly, speak of this as being opposed to the doctrine of justification by faith.

The doctrine of justification by faith stood in opposition, not to eternal justification, but to justification by works, the Roman Catholic doctrine. The vital ground of justification is Christ’s righteousness imputed to the sinner.

We have never understood why there has been such an outcry against eternal justification, which in no way denies justification by faith. In former days eternal justification was spoken of by some as “antinomianism,” why we do not know.

God’s viewing His people as righteous in Christ before time began is no more a cause for antinomianism than is eternal election, or eternal union, or everlasting love.

Recent writers have suggested that if God’s people are justified from eternity, then what they need to do is to just find out if they are or not. But surely the gospel plan is for a sinner, feeling he has no righteousness of his own, to flee for refuge by faith to trust in the righteousness of Jesus, and so be justified by faith (as a sure proof that in God’s sight he has been viewed as righteous in Christ from eternity).

May the Lord bless this book.

By B.A. Ramsbottom.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


"Have you heard what has happened at such-and-such a place?"

"Have you heard what so-and-so has done?"

Sadly, this kind of talk is too common. He was a wise minister who, whenever confronted with this kind of question, met it with one of his own: "Is it something good you are going to tell me?"

The Word of God abounds with advice and warnings concerning the use of our tongue, "that unruly member," as James describes it. We are told that "the words of a wise man's mouth are gracious."

How sad it is that the people of God do not always speak graciously!

A man (or woman) who would be shocked at the thought of theft or adultery seems to have so little conscience about the way he speaks.

What is slander?

Saying untrue things about a person. It is as simple (and solemn) as that. God's word is very express:

"Thou shalt not raise a false report"
(Exodus 23:1)

"Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile"
(Psalm 34:13)

"Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off"
(Psalm 101:5)

But how is it possible that God's people can be guilty of slander?

Usually through careless repetition. Some story is misheard, or the person gets the wrong name, or the wrong place, or there is some exaggeration.

But O the havoc it causes!

The psalmist David found that, among his many trials, "the slander of many" was not the least.

But what if the tale is true? (This is the usual justification.)

Well, there are solemn warnings given against talebearing. Again the Word of God is express:

"Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people."
(Leviticus 19:16)

"And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not"
(1 Timothy 5:13)

We well remember seeing a little plaque on the wall of a friend's house with the following inscription:

(Proverbs 26:20)

It was very true what cursed Ham knew about his father's dreadful fall; but he was the one who bore the punishment for exposing it. And his two brothers were honoured for taking a garment and walking backwards to cover their father's nakedness.

"When free from envy, scorn and pride.
Our wishes all above,
Each can his brother's failings hide,
And show a brother's love."

This does not mean sin is to be connived at. There is a clear, scriptural pattern, if we hear of something that distresses us: to go directly to the person concerned and speak to him in love. (And it is always wise to begin by enquiring if what we have heard really is true.)

Idle gossip is of no value to the church of God. In days of real prosperity "they that feared the Lord spake often one to another" not one about another. It will be remembered that John Bunyan speaks of passing a few old women outside a cottage and he says they were "gossipping the gospel." O for more of this!


May the Lord deliver us and our churches from these three evils.

You remember the story of the old lady who, before repeating anything, put it through three sieves (as she called them):




It was said of the younger Ryland (author of "Sovereign Ruler of the skies") that his word could be relied on as much as the Angel Gabriel's oath!

"Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt"
(Colossians 4:6)

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you"
(Ephesians 4:31-32)

The Lord Jesus never spake an untrue, an unkind, an unnecessary word.

"Brethren, suffer the word of exhortation." It is needful. We think often of the dear old godly lady who, when people were speaking to her, would say, "We do need to ask the Lord to set a watch over the door of our lips."

One final word:

"If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain"
(James 1:26)

By B.A. Ramsbottom


The complete works of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) are now on the market, probably for the first time this century. They are strongly recommended by Sword and Trowel as "a magnificent collection of moving sermons and longer works," and are sold by the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

It will be remembered that William Gadsby felt strongly moved to denounce "Fullerism," and really the separation at the time of Gadsby, Warburton and Kershaw and their followers was in opposition to Fuller's teaching.

What, then, was the teaching of Fuller?

Really he taught that redemption is indefinite, neither general nor particular, and emphasized man's duty savingly to repent and believe: "If the satisfaction of Christ was in itself sufficient for the whole world, there is no further propriety in asking, Whose sins were imputed to Christ? or, For whom did He die as a substitute?"

We recommend William Rushton's A Defence of Particular Redemption — whose sub-title is "Wherein the doctrine of Andrew Fuller relative to the atonement of Christ is tried by the Word of God." (This little book is obtainable from Gospel Standard Trust Publications.)

It was against Fullerism that William Gadsby so strongly protested, and it was the infiltration of Fullerism into the old Particular Baptist denomination which, on the one hand, led to our churches coming into being as a separate group, and, on the other hand, the other churches moving towards generalism.

We were, therefore, very sorry to read a review (Evangelical Times, August) of a book on Baptist history (1688 to early 19th century) which, having spoken of "the deadening effect of 'high Calvinism/ and the implications of the views of Dr. Gill . . . this deviation from biblical Christianity," ended: "One thing is evident, the overall spiritual condition of the [Particular Baptist] churches was deplorable by the time that the Lord raised up Fuller, Booth, Carey, and their colleagues. Nowhere was the evangelical revival more needed than among the Particular Baptists."

To say the least, this is a rash and doubtful statement.

It was gratifying, therefore, to read a reply which confirmed our opinion of the unsoundness of Fuller's writings when we first read them many years ago. We wonder how many present day Reformed Baptists who exalt Andrew Fuller have ever actually read his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation!

He comments on the disparaging statements concerning "that great saint John Gill," and from his own study of the works of Fuller concludes:

"Gill preached the fallen nature of man, a holy and unchangeable God, free grace, a full redemption in Christ and a partaking of His imputed righteousness. Fuller believed these doctrines had made a 'dunghill1 of the Baptist Movement and sought to make its theology 'less contemptible. 1 How he did so can be read in his books The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation and Dialogues, Letters and Essays ....

Fuller denies the redemptive nature of Christ's atonement and looks upon His death merely as a sign of God's moral displeasure against sin. The shedding of Christ's blood to pay the debt of sin is a mere "metaphor' and not to be taken literally. Christ did not really become sin for the sinner's sake and the elect sinner does not really become righteous through Christ's indwelling in the new man."

We have felt it right only to include those things we ourselves have personally observed.

We wonder if those who make so much of Andrew Fuller and exalt his position in church history know what he really did believe?

May our young people be warned and stick fast to Gadsby and Kershaw.

By B.A. Ramsbottom


There is so much evil in the world that we do not normally turn aside to comment on most of the dreadful happenings that take place.

However, we feel we must make an exception in the case of the film, “The Passion of Christ,” released in the United Kingdom on March 26th.

This is a film about the last twelve hours of the life of the Lord Jesus, and we understand His agonizing bodily sufferings are shown in detail.

We feel we must write, at least for three reasons:

1. Incredible interest has been shown in the U.S.A., amounting almost to fanaticism, and people have spoken of wonderful spiritual experiences in viewing the film.

2. In this country the film is being used as “a tool for evangelism.”
It is one thing for the Pope to recommend, but another for Baptist churches, professedly evangelical, to promote it.

3. But details have even been sent to us personally by the promoters, addressed to the Editor of the Gospel Standard, naively expecting our support and recommendation.

In the Word of God the Holy Ghost has reverently drawn a veil over the deep sufferings of the Son of God. It is most solemn to seek to portray them in a film, and blasphemy for a sinful man to impersonate the Lord Jesus. Moreover, no picture, image or representation of the Lord Jesus, however reverently intended, can ever set forth His glorious Person as God as well as Man.

We understand the portrayal of the Saviour’s sufferings is gruesome and horrifying.

But how can anything be shown of the deeper sufferings of His holy soul under the weight of imputed sin and the wrath of the Father?

But what especially appears to be dreadfully lacking in the whole of the carnal performance is the purpose of the Saviour’s death – the great theme of the New Testament.

No wonder that a leading atheist (completely unaware of the plan of salvation) should comment, “If there is a God, and this is His Son, why did He allow it?”

May it be our blessed portion reverently by faith to approach the cross of Christ, as Joseph Swain did, who having sung of the death and resurrection of Jesus, concludes:

“No nearer we venture than this,
To gaze on a deep so profound,
But tread, whilst we taste of the bliss,
With reverence the hallowed ground.”

By B.A. Ramsbottom


Phoebe Brown's life (1783-1861) was one of poverty and sadness. Orphaned at the age of two, she was brought up by a relative who kept the county gaol, and she had to endure years of intense and cruel suffering. Escaping at the age of eighteen, she was helped by kind friends and about this time was brought to a knowledge of the truth as in Jesus.

At the age of twenty-two she was married, and lived first at East Windsor and then at Ellington (in Connecticut, U.S.A.). It was a small, unfinished house where the Brown family lived. The husband was a painter, but they were very poor. There were four little children whilst an invalid sister was looked after in the only finished room. Perhaps Mrs. Brown's chief trial was that there was nowhere she could retire in secret to pour out her heart to God.

Not far away stood the most beautiful house in the neighbourhood with a large, lovely garden. Towards this magnificent place the poor woman used to bend her steps each day at dusk. Here in the solitude of the evening it was her delight to smell the fragrance of the fruit and flowers and to hold communion with the Lord.

But she was watched - and completely misrepresented and misunderstood. One day the lady of the mansion met her and spoke to her most unkindly and harshly. She enquired why evening after evening she came up towards the house and loitered.

"If you want anything, why don't you come in and ask for it?" she rudely added.

This was more than Phoebe could bear. She went home, put all the children except the baby to bed, and burst into a flood of tears. Then, holding her baby with one arm, she took pen and paper and wrote: "An apology for my twilight rambles, addressed to a lady, August 1818."

The following are five of the nine verses she wrote:

I love to steal awhile away
From every cumbering care;
And spend the hours of setting day
In humble, grateful prayer.

I love in solitude to shed
The penitential tear;
And all His promises to plead,
When none but God can hear.

I love to think on mercies past,
And future good implore;
And all my cares and sorrows cast
On Him whom I adore.

I love by faith to take a view
Of brighter scenes in heaven;
The prospect doth my strength renew,
While here by tempests driven.

Thus, when life's toilsome day is o'er,
May its departing ray
Be calm as this impressive hour,
And lead to endless day.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


A few interesting memories of an old barber in Chatham - By John Kershaw, 1865.

"The Lord will provide." The following circumstances will
demonstrate this fact.

Many years ago, being engaged to supply at Zoar Chapel, Great Alie Street, London, when I arrived at my lodgings I found a letter waiting for me, requesting me to go down to Chatham to preach the Word of life, giving me directions to go by the steamer to Gravesend, and from thence to Rochester by an omnibus; and that when I arrived at the inn where it stopped, I was to inquire for old Mr. Taylor, the barber, in College Yard. From these directions I found the old man's house, it being near at hand.

He gave me instructions where I was to make my home during my stay amongst them. From several years' acquaintance with him, I found him to be a humble, God-fearing person, well known to William Huntington, who would always have him to shave him when he visited Chatham, and each time gave him half-a-crown. The good old man related to me, at different times, several of the Lord's gracious and providential dealings with him, which greatly interested me, proving that "Jehovah Jireh will provide."

The following is an instance. That dear and esteemed man of God, William Tiptaft, like myself was for several years one of the regular supplies at Zoar Chapel. He also received an invitation to preach the gospel at Chatham, to go by the packet and omnibus, and call at Mr. Taylor's, College Yard. When it was made known at Chatham that he was coming, a friend of Mr. Tiptaft's, who had lived in Berkshire but was then residing at Chatham, wrote to invite him to make his house his home when he came. With this request he complied.

He left London by the steamer. As they went down the river, the question arose in his mind, "Shall I first go to my friend, with whom I am to stay, and after dinner go to Mr. Taylor's, or shall I go to the latter first?" The conflict and exercise of his mind for some time was so great that he felt certain something of importance would be the result, and he besought the Lord to decide the matter for him.

Before he left the steamer, he felt his mind settled to call at Mr. Taylor's before proceeding to his friend's.

When he entered the house, he made himself known, and the dear old man, much agitated, said, "I am glad to see you; but sorry you have called at this time. I have been fearing the arrival of the omnibus, as I did not wish you to witness my present distress. These two men you see here are bailiffs, whom my landlord has put into the house for rent. I have lived in the house more than twenty years, and have always been enabled to pay my rent until this year, and what I owe is ten pounds, due six weeks since."

Mr. Tiptaft at once saw the reason he was to call at College Yard first, and that the Lord meant him to pay the rent. He inquired if the landlord lived near and, being informed he lived in the town, he sent one of the bailiffs for him. When he came, Mr. Tiptaft said to him, "You are distressing these old people for rent who have lived in the house more than twenty years, and have paid their rent up until the last year; and as it has only been due six weeks, it appears to me harsh and unfeeling to come upon them so hastily."

He replied, "Sir, it may appear so to you; but I have my family to maintain out of my rents, and if my tenants cannot pay me, I must have them out, and get others who can."

Mr. Tiptaft requested him to remove the men, promising, on his return to Abingdon to remit the ten pounds. The landlord replied, "I cannot remove them on the word of a stranger. You may, or may not send me the money." Mr. Tiptaft then asked him if he knew Mr ____, mentioning his friend from Berkshire. He replied, he did, and considered him highly respectable. He was requested to see him, and state to him the circumstance, and Mr. Tiptaft's promise to remit the money.

He did so, and shortly returned, telling Mr. Tiptaft he had seen his friend, who said, "If Mr. Tiptaft fails, you may look to me for the money." "That is enough for me, and I will dismiss the men."

The dear old couple, like Manoah and his wife, looked on with wonder, that the very man whom he was afraid of seeing should be the honoured instrument of his deliverance, and could joyfully sing with the poet:

"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform."

The first time I went to London after these things had taken place, I received another letter to go to Chatham, and to call at Taylor's in such a street. I was surprised to find he had left the house where he had followed his calling for so long a time, and when I arrived, inquired the reason, and received from him the information above stated.

He also told me that before Mr. Tiptaft left Chatham, he had consulted with some of the friends, and they came to the conclusion that Taylor had better leave the house as, through advanced age, he would be unable to meet the rent and would be again in the same difficulty, and it would be better to have a smaller place, with less rent. So he removed.

Another year rolled round, when I had to pay my annual visit to the metropolis, and received my usual letter to go to Chatham, requesting me to call at old Taylor's, College Yard. At this I was greatly surprised, wondering how it could be that he was again in the old house. When I got there, I inquired the cause from my poor brother.

He replied, "You know all about my having to leave." I replied, "I do."

"Well," said he, "the Lord is very good to us. Before we left this place it had got into a very dilapidated state, and you know we could not pay the rent, much more repair it, and the Lord very kindly removed us out of the way to the house you saw us in last year. When we were gone, the landlord gave it a thorough repair, making it as you now see it, which, had it been done while we were in, would have much inconvenienced us with work-people and other things.
Several months after it was completed, my late landlord called upon me quite unexpectedly and inquired if my present house or the house in College Yard was the better for my business. I replied, The house in College Yard by far is the better.' He then told me that after I left his house, he had it put into good repair, and put a notice in the window, 'This house to be let,' but never had a person to inquire the rent; so 'I am come to tell you that if you will go back, you shall have it for the same rent as you pay for this; and if you are never able to pay me any rent, I will never send any more bailiffs to trouble you.' "

As the dear man related these things to me, his countenance shone, while he blessed and praised the Lord for His great goodness to such poor, unworthy creatures.

How true it is,
"The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010


On one occasion our Lord was confronted by people who judged that great tragedies and disasters came upon others because of the greatness of their sins. They judged themselves to be better than the victims of these tragedies. They cited an incident when Pilate slaughtered some Galileans who were engaged in worship.

The Lord asked, "Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans , because they suffered such things?" (Luke 13:2)

He answered, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3)

All human tragedy should teach us that we are all sinners who deserve nothing but death and condemnation under God's judgment against our sin. We should learn that we are totally at God's mercy, and we must repent. When we see tragedies and disasters upon people in this world, such as the recent tragedy in Haiti, we should not conclude that those people deserved what they got because of the greatness of their sins and that we deserve better because we are not as sinful as they. The fact is this - BASED ON OUR SINS, WE ALL DESERVE WORSE THAN PHYSICAL PUNISHMENT AND DEATH.


"If Thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?"
(Psalm 130:3)

We should mourn and grieve over tragedies such as the one in Haiti. We should mourn and seek to help those people who have survived. But above all, such tragedies should humble us to realize that we are ourselves great sinners, and the fact that we all do not suffer such devastation unto death is due to God's merciful goodness.

We should realize that life is fragile temporary, and we should live our lives in light of judgment and eternity, knowing that one day we must all face God at Judgment. We should flee to HIM and cling to HIM by faith. We should repent of our own dead works, self-righteousness, and idolatry.

Any who died recently in Haiti who knew and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ will stand before God at Judgment washed from all their sins in the blood of Christ and justified in Christ's righteousness imputed. They shall live forever with Him. Any who died without Christ will suffer eternal damnation forever. O God, be merciful to us in Christ!


Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford, on December 23rd, 1860, by J. C. Philpot

"Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips:
In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow."

(Isaiah 17:10-11)

Ever since the fall, sorrow and disappointment have been the decreed lot of man; for on that sad and evil day when Adam sinned and fell, God cursed the ground for his sake, and declared that in sorrow he would eat of it all the days of his life. Thorns also and thistles--emblems of vexation and disappointment--was it to bring forth to him, and in the sweat of his face he was to eat bread, until he returned unto the ground from whence he was taken. "Dust," said God to him, "you are, and unto dust shall you return." Ge 3:17-19.

Sorrow, therefore, and disappointment being, by God's decree, the determined lot of man, no exertion of human skill or subtle contrivance of earthly wisdom can possibly avert them. As, then, a sailor putting out to sea, however softly the wind may blow, feels sure of encountering storms before the end of his voyage, and makes provision accordingly, so it will be our wisdom, however fair may be our present sky, to anticipate stormy winds and rough seas before we reach our destined harbor. But of all sorrows, the most cutting is that which we bring upon ourselves; and of all disappointments, the most keen is that of which we feel ourselves to be the main and miserable authors. There is not a more true nor a more stinging reproof from the mouth of God to one under his chastening hand than this, "Have you not procured this unto yourself, in that you have forsaken the Lord your God?" nor a severer sentence against a disobedient child than, "Your own wickedness shall correct you, and your backslidings shall reprove you--know, therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter that you have forsaken the Lord your God, and that my fear is not in you, says the Lord God of hosts." Jer 2:19.

Let me illustrate this point, for it is one of much importance, by one or two figures. When a ship leaves the harbor on a foreign voyage, it is naturally expected that she will be tossed by wind and wave; and no skill or care of the captain can always preserve her from being cast upon the rocks. But if the captain of a ship, from sheer wilfulness or drunkenness, when he hears the cry "Breakers ahead!" still holds on his course without slackening his sail or shifting his helm, and thus rushes on to destruction, although the eye of pity may drop a tear over the loss of vessel and crew, yet it can scarcely compassionate the case of the author of the calamity as perishing by his own madness and folly.

But you will perhaps say, "We do not dispute your figure, but we think that such a fact must be most improbable, if not utterly impossible." I will not admit its improbability, still less its impossibility, for it is what many a drunken captain has done. But were it even so, literally and naturally, it is too possible, may I not say too frequent in grace. Deer, with all his deep experience, never wrote a truer verse than this, in which he expresses, with contrition of heart, his own mad folly in having so acted–

O what a fool have I been made,
Or rather made myself!
That mariner's mad part I played
Who sees yet strikes the shelf.

But take another figure to illustrate the same point, which shall also be borrowed from melancholy facts. Among those who have been condemned in these last few years to penal servitude for life, have been some who occupied at one time respectable if not high positions in society, and as such were intrusted with sums of money to a large amount. Seduced by the love of gain or a passion for pleasure, they were tempted to commit the crime of forgery, or in some way embezzle money entrusted to their charge. Detection, the almost invariable consequence of crime, followed. They were arrested, tried, and condemned, and are now in penal servitude. Now when clothed in the prison dress, he has none other for his daily and hourly companions but the vilest felons that by their conduct or conversation can disgrace human nature--would not such a man feel this to be the deepest aggravation of his miserable case, that he had brought upon himself that intolerable weight of woe, and that none but himself had been the guilty cause of all his ruin? So in grace--there is no sorrow so keen, no disappointment so cutting, as to reflect that whatever we may suffer under God's chastening strokes, even were he to visit us with his eternal displeasure, we ourselves have been the authors of our own misery.

But you may say, "What has all this to do with the text? I do not see any connection between it and the truth which you have been seeking by your figures to impress upon our minds." Allow me to say that I do. I see a connection between the text and the rueful consequences of our own madness and folly, and that is the reason why I have given you this introduction; for I see in the words before us that in them the Lord sharply reproves his people for "forgetting the God of their salvation and not being mindful of the Rock of their strength." I see also that He tells them the consequences of their forgetfulness, that though they had planted pleasant plants and had set strange slips; that though in the day they had made their plant to grow, and in the morning had made their seed to flourish; yet, instead of reaping as they expected a bountiful crop, they would find the harvest to be "a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow."

I have thus given you a plain sketch, a simple outline, of the meaning of the text, which I shall, with God's help and blessing, now proceed more largely to fill up; and in endeavoring to do so, I shall bring before your notice these four leading features–

1. First, our sin in forgetting the God of our salvation, and being unmindful of the Rock of our strength.

II. Secondly, the consequence of this forgetfulness and of this unmindfulness; that in our folly and madness, we plant pleasant plants and set our garden with strange slips.

III. Thirdly, that a temporary success often attends this planting and setting, "In the day shall you make your plant to grow, and in the morning shall you make your seed to flourish."

IV. But fourthly, what is the harvest? A crop or a failure? Alas! Miserably, most miserably of the latter. For it is but "a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow."

I. OUR SIN in forgetting the God of our salvation, and being unmindful of the Rock of our strength.

The Lord in our text speaks to his people--it is to them in fact and for them, speaking generally, that the whole Bible is written. Not but what God does speak in his holy word in many passages to men generally, that he may clear himself of all injustice, and leave without excuse those who neglect so great a salvation as he has there brought to light. Heb 2:3 But viewed as a divine revelation, the Bible is written, for the most part, for the saints of God, for they really are the only people who can read it with enlightened eyes, believe its promises, obey its precepts, and live under its sanctifying power and influence. Here certainly, whatever other parts he may address generally to the sons of men, he speaks to his people, and this not in love but in displeasure; for he brings against them a heavy charge, of which the import is, that they have "forgotten the God of their salvation, and not been mindful of the Rock of their strength." Let us examine this charge, and weigh well the words of this indictment, for they are addressed to us as much as to Israel of old, and in them, if we have but ears to hear, we may find the Lord speaking to our consciences.

But before I draw the bill of indictment and bring the contents to bear upon your consciences, I must show you how it is aggravated by the character of him from whom it comes. Were he only great we might tremble at his authority without being smitten into contrition at his mercy; but he is good as well as great; and as this aggravates our offence, so it magnifies his grace. The title which he gives himself, is "the God of our salvation." This part then of God's character I have to unfold; and as he gives a prospective glance to the Son of his love, the Lord Jesus Christ, for he is spoken of here as the "Rock of our strength," I must also direct your thoughts to the Lord of life and glory as that Rock on which the church is built.

In speaking thus, I speak in the fullest harmony with the oracles of God, for the Bible, first to last, ascribes all salvation to Him, not only in its manifestation in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in its eternal outcome in deliverance of all who fear his name from everlasting destruction, but in that original contrivance in which infinite wisdom combined with infinite grace to save millions of sinners through the blood of the everlasting covenant. Thus, because all salvation is in, and from, and of him, he is called here and elsewhere "the God of our salvation;" for He so took the whole of salvation into his own hands that he is the very God of it, as calling it all his own and appropriating to himself its beginning and end, its design and execution, all its grace on earth and all its glory in heaven.

But to establish this more plainly and clearly, I shall endeavor to show that he is "the God of our salvation" in four distinct particulars–

A. First, he is so, as the eternal designer and PLANNER of it. Thoughts how the church should be saved, occupied the divine mind from all eternity. Not that God knew not what to do; not that he had to take long and laborious counsel with himself before he could originate or fix the plan. I mean not that; but I see that in the Scripture the way of salvation, as originated in the mind of God, is ever spoken of as the highest display of God's wisdom. Thus the Apostle speaks--"To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eph 3:10,11 So again, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory." 1Co 2:7 And filled, as if fired with a gracious admiration of this infinite wisdom, the same blessed man of God cried out, as in an ecstasy of holy wonder, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God." Ro 11:33

The difficulty, so to speak, was to harmonize the jarring claims of justice and mercy. If mercy triumphed, justice must be violated. If sin be not punished, every perfection of God might be violated with impunity. If justice be avenged, what escape is there for the criminal? To harmonize then these jarring claims, that mercy and justice might meet together, and righteousness and peace might kiss each other, was indeed a task beyond the united wisdom of men and angels. But God contrived a way, and in the gift of his dear Son as a sacrifice for sin designed a plan for the salvation of sinners, by which they might be everlastingly saved, and he himself eternally glorified.

B. But secondly, not only was this salvation to be devised and its foundations laid deep in the eternal counsels, but it had to be EXECUTED. An architect may have in his mind a beautiful plan, and with much thought and care may have designed a noble structure--but while it is yet in his mind or only on paper, it is a shadow without a substance. It must be executed that it may be seen, erected that it may be admired, constructed that it may be a monument of his ability, as well as a permanent object of beauty and use.

So the plan of salvation which had been contrived in the mind of God, had to be executed by the hand of him from whom it originated. Its execution commenced on the day that the Son of his love came into this world and took our nature into union with his own divine Person. And as its execution then commenced, so it was gradually carried on during the time that our blessed Lord sojourned here below, for during that time he was ever doing the will of God. Thus he said "I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day" Joh 9:4; and again, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work." Joh 4:34 When, then, that blessed God-man went about doing good; when that man of sorrows and acquainted with grief sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane's gloomy garden; when he bore our sins in his own body on the tree; when by his active and passive obedience he wrought out and brought in a glorious righteousness, then God's eternal plan of salvation was fully executed. Did not the blessed Lord himself attest this with his dying lips, when he cried in a loud voice, that heaven and earth might hear, "It is finished!" As though he should say "The work is done; salvation is accomplished; my people are ransomed; justice is satisfied; every perfection of God glorified, and all his attributes harmonized. It is enough. I have finished the work which you gave me to do." Then he bowed his dying head and gave up the spirit, committing his departing spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father.

C. But there is, thirdly, the APPLICATION of this great salvation to the heart; for though we may hear of this salvation as being planned in the mind of God, or read in the scriptures what Jesus did and suffered in its execution; yet until that salvation is brought near to our heart, revealed and applied to our conscience, what do we really know of it as designed or executed for us? Are there not thousands who live and die without any personal knowledge of, or saving interest in, this great salvation? And will not this be our case also, unless it be brought with a divine power into our soul? As, then, he is the "God of our salvation," the same God who designed it in his own eternal mind, and executed it in the Person and work of his dear Son, reveals it, manifests it, and brings it near to believing hearts, according to his own words, "I bring near my righteousness." And it is the personal experience of this which alone can assure us that we are saved in the Lord Jesus Christ with an everlasting salvation.

D. But fourthly, as being the God of our salvation, he has to MAINTAIN this salvation, as well as to apply it; because we are ever backsliding from it, forgetting it, and becoming unmindful of it. Is not this the very charge that he brings against his people in the words of our text, "Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation?" But because we forget him does he forget us? Does he not rather say, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget, yet will I not forget you" Isa 49:15; and do we not also read, "I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely, for my anger is turned away from him?" Ho 14:4 Where would be the 'temple of mercy' if the same hands of the spiritual Zerubbabel which laid the foundation, did not finish it? And where would be the shoutings of eternal joy if he did not bring forth the head stone amid the universal cry, "Grace, grace unto it?" Zec 4:7

But before I proceed to the main object of my discourse, I must drop a word upon the title given in our text to the Lord Jesus Christ, for he is here spoken of under the name of "the Rock of our strength." He is often called a "ROCK" in Scripture, and we may therefore well ask what ideas does the name thus given to him convey? It conveys several. The leading idea is that of a fortified place, for as in Palestine they were much exposed to hostile incursions from the border nations, rocky hills were strongly fortified, and were thus made great use of as places of defense against the enemy. We thus read of the "munitions of rocks." that is places not merely steep and mountainous, but so artificially fortified and strengthened by walls and bulwarks, that the enemy was not able to penetrate them, except by siege, which in those days, at least by the border tribes, was but rarely employed. Thus David says, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress." In this sense, then, Christ is "the Rock of our strength," as being the refuge of our soul, in whom we may take shelter from every foe, as the Benjamites in the rock Rimmon Jud 20:47--as Samson in the top of the rock Etam Jud 15:8--and David in the rock cave of Adullam.

But another idea conveyed by the term rock, is that of a solid foundation. Thus, as being the foundation on which God has built his Church, Jesus is indeed "the Rock of ages" that God has laid in Zion, for he is "a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation." Isa 28:16 Did not he himself say to Peter "On this rock I will build my Church?" Mt 6:18 And what is this rock but he himself in his glorious Deity, eternal Sonship and suffering humanity?

But it is not my present object so much to dwell upon the points I have just brought before you, as to show you the miserable consequences of forgetting "the God of our salvation," and becoming unmindful of "the Rock of our strength." This is indeed a heavy charge, but there are few of the family of God to whom it is not, in greater or less measure, applicable.

When the Lord is first graciously pleased to bless the soul with some manifestation of his great salvation, and to reveal, by the unction of his grace and the teaching of his Spirit, the Rock of our strength, then we cleave to him with purpose of heart; we worship him in spirit and in truth. His yoke is then easy and his burden light; and we run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. But after a time, when the Lord begins to withdraw his presence, deadness, coldness, darkness, and a general stupidity and lethargy gradually come over the mind. And if we give way to this spirit of slumber, and we often do give way--for even the wise virgins as well as the foolish slumbered and slept in the absence of the bridegroom--what is the consequence? We forget the God of our salvation, and become unmindful of the Rock of our strength.

II. But as one sin is almost sure to draw on another, the blessed Spirit in our text has pointed out the CONSEQUENCE, the miserable consequence, of this backsliding from the Lord; which I proposed to unfold as the second point of my bill of indictment this morning, and which springs out of the Lord's judicial displeasure for our sad forgetfulness of the God of our salvation. "Therefore shall you plant pleasant plants, and shall set it with strange slips."

The Church is compared in the song of Solomon to a garden--"A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse." So 4:12 And this garden the Holy Spirit represents in that sacred Book, as planted with trees of the greatest fragrance and beauty, such as "Pomegranates, camphire, spikenard, and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices." The climate of the east is for the most part too dry and scorching for flowers such as deck our English gardens. Trees therefore, such as the vine, the pomegranate, and the citron, and fragrant shrubs, of which we here know little but the names, occupy their place. Spiritually viewed, these are the graces of the Spirit, which not only give forth a fragrant odor to gladden, but food also to feast the heavenly Bridegroom; for he delights in the fruits and graces of his own Spirit. This made the Bride say, "Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits;" to which he answers, "I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice." So 4:16 So 5:1

But not only is the Church, viewed generally, a garden in which the Lord takes supreme delight, but each individual soul in which he works by his Holy Spirit may be represented by the same figure; for it is thus that general truths are brought home to particular cases, and what is true of the Church as a whole is true of each member of it as an individual. This seems to be the garden referred to in the text, in which we unhappily too often plant our pleasant plants and set it with strange slips. Now this garden should have nothing in it, as the garden of the Lord, but the graces and fruits of the Spirit. Weeds will spring up; scarcely any amount of careful cultivation can keep them down; for as charlock and thistles will grow in the field, so chick-weed and groundsel will start up in the most carefully cultivated garden.

But this is not the charge brought against the Church here. The Lord does not reprove her for neglect of her garden, nor for the weeds that spring up in the borders. This were fault enough, but there is a much greater; that with her own hand she plants pleasant plants in the Lord's borders, and sets strange slips in those beds in which he himself had planted myrrh, and aloes, and all the chief spices. This, of course, has a mystical and spiritual meaning, and what this is I have now, with God's help and blessing, to open; and first I have to consider what are these pleasant plants.

Every man has his peculiar propensity, which, even after he is called by the grace of God, still clings closely to him, and as being that in which he naturally takes delight it is to him "a pleasant plant." This delight in what is not of God, this seeking of pleasure and happiness outside of God, first broke forth in our nature in Paradise. Tempted by Satan, Eve, our first parent, was taken with the appearance of that tree of good and evil which she was forbidden to touch or taste. For we read that "when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat." The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye combined to seduce her from the path of innocency, and not only did she eat herself, but gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat Ge 3:6; and thus they plunged themselves and all their future race into sin and woe. Now we all have this propensity. Eve's blood runs in our veins. Our fingers itch to touch what Eve took; and as no tree of good and evil grows up before our eyes, we plant instead thereof our pleasant plants, and by them bring ourselves into misery and trouble. But look at this in a variety of instances.

A. A person may be called by the grace of God early in life, before the cares and anxieties of this present evil world may have come upon him; and being blessed and favored with spirituality of mind, his affections may be strongly fixed upon the Lord, and be much set upon things above. He has then no pleasant plants to draw away his heart from heavenly things, and can thus serve the Lord without distraction. But after a time he sees good to change his situation in life, and to take to himself a partner of his sorrows and joys. None can object to this, for marriage is honorable in all. But what is often the result? That the wife or husband becomes the pleasant plant; the affections which were once fixed upon the Lord are in a measure withdrawn from him, and rest too much upon the partner of the bosom; and this becomes a snare which entangles the feet and often casts the believer down into carnality and death. But it may please the Lord, after a time, to crown the union with children as a heritage of the Lord, and then there may arise a succession of pleasant plants.

Now there is no objection to our loving our wives and children, for the Scripture bids husbands love their wives, and wives love their husbands. This is Scriptural precept and Gospel practice; but the Scripture has not bidden us set them as idols in the very bosom where God has erected his throne. If then, these pleasant plants draw away the affections from God, are they not snares and traps? Is it not full of danger to idolize wife and children? How the wives of Solomon drew him into idolatry and befooled the wisest of men! What a snare was Hagar even to Abraham, and Michal all but proved the ruin of David! What a snare too were the sons of Eli to their indulgent Father! And when Jacob set his Joseph, and David his Absalom as pleasant plants in their garden, what trouble and sorrow did they bring upon their heads! It would argue lack of common affection if children were not pleasant plants to their parents. At this time of the year especially, do not parents love to see the olive branches round the Christmas table! But though the branches may hang round the table, the roots must not twine round the heart where Jesus should be supreme, lest they hide the beams of the Son of Righteousness, by surrounding his altar with their noxious stem and overshadowing leaves.

B. But all who fear God have not wives or children, or may love them without idolatry, yet may they have pleasant plants no less dangerous to their soul's profit and peace. There is, for instance, your business, your farm, your profession, your daily occupation, and in carrying on this, you are and should be diligent. "Not slothful in business" is a Gospel precept; but you may make it a pleasant plant far beyond the requirements of diligence and industry. I well know that in these times it is almost impossible for a man to pay his way who does not throw his whole mind into his business. But the whole mind is one thing and the whole heart another. It is through the avenue of these pursuits that sin comes in, and too often like a flood. You may take so much pleasure in your business or occupation that it may steal away well near every thought from God, and morning, noon, and night your heart may be in it so as to engross your affections, and fill you with darkness, barrenness, and deadness to everything that is spiritual and godly.

And if your business increases, if your farm becomes prosperous, if money comes rolling in, how easily you may make of this a Christmas tree! As you hang upon its branches the gains of the year, it may be to you the pleasantest plant that your eyes ever rested upon; and yet it may not be one of God's own planting. We shall see before we are done, what may become of this pleasant plant that you have taken such care to plant and water, and which under such care is every day growing in your admiring eyes more and more vigorous and beautiful.

C. But all good men are not in business, or even if they are, do not make it their idol; yet each may still have his natural propensity, which may be to him his pleasant plant. Take the figure naturally, how widely tastes differ even in such a matter as flowers in a garden! To some there is no flower like the rose; others see no beauty but in a geranium, and others say, "Give me the fuchsia." So each may have his pleasant plant to which he gives his chief thoughts and attention. I have my pleasant plant, and perhaps more than one, and you have yours. I believe if God had not called me by his grace, I would have spent my life in study, in reading books, acquiring languages, and devoting my whole mind to various branches of human knowledge, for there is scarcely one to which I have not a strong natural inclination. This was my pleasant plant which I cultivated up to the very time when eternal realities, impressed upon my mind by divine power, turned me from it to fall in love with the Rose of Sharon.

But I still find that the pleasant plant, from long cultivation, has struck a deep root into my natural being, and I have carefully to guard against it to this day, or it would soon spread into the borders of my spiritual garden, and fill up those beds which should alone be occupied by the trees of frankincense planted in them by the blessed Spirit. Your pleasant plant may not be my pleasant plant, nor my pleasant plant your pleasant plant. My pleasant plant may look very ill in your eyes, and be considered rather a noxious weed than a blooming flower--and so your pleasant plant may in my eyes be but a thorn or a thistle, and better rooted up by your own hand than allowed to grow.

But time will not suffice to point out the various pleasant plants, which, when we forget the God of our salvation and become unmindful of the Rock of our strength, we set in our border. They may be innocent in themselves--they might be planted and cultivated in some back border where the sun might never shine upon them, and where we would rarely walk except by constraint. The sin is planting them in the Lord's borders--placing them in the beds appropriated to the Owner of the garden. It is the forgetting the God of our salvation, who has done so great things for our souls, and setting up an idol in his place, that makes the sin so grievous. Thus the Lord remonstrates with his people by the prophet Jeremiah, and calls upon the very heavens to be astonished at their sin in this matter. "Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be very desolate, says the Lord. For my people have committed two evils--they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."

There was no sin in having cisterns, but the sin was in forsaking for them the fountain of living waters. Thus, then, whatever we love more than God; whatever be our besetment or propensity, if indulged and delighted in; whatever occupies our mind as an object of eager pursuit; whatever we give our late and early thoughts to; whatever through the day steals in, catches our affections, and draws away our heart from the Lord, so as to love it more than Him who is the altogether lovely One--this is a pleasant plant that we have planted in God's border, and by doing so have in heart departed from the Lord our God.

But there is worse than this, a still more grievous, a still further departure from the Lord; for one sin is almost sure to draw on another, and the farther we go from the Lord, the worse we become. There is "a setting of strange slips." You know that in a garden there are beds open to view, and there are back places out of sight. In the beds and borders open to view, we have our geraniums, our roses, and our verbenas, with other many-hued flowers to please the eye. But then there are back borders in what we call the kitchen garden, where the cabbages and potatoes grow, besides out-of-the-way places under the hedge, or in the dark shrubbery, where henbane and hemlock, and poisonous weeds may thrive out of sight. So in the garden of the soul, there are the "pleasant plants" open to view, which we are not ashamed that our friends should see, and there are "the strange slips" set in the back borders, which we are glad enough to put out of sight.

But why are these out of sight productions, called "strange?" The word "strange" in Scripture often means what is ungodly, and carries with it the idea of wickedness. The reason why it bears this signification arose from the peculiar position of the children of Israel. They were a nation separated unto the Lord from every other. They were God's peculiar people, consecrated by external covenant, and therefore God said to them, "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." Ex 19:5,6 Therefore, all foreign customs, foreign dresses, and foreign ways were ungodly, as breaking down that peculiar relationship in which they stood as a separate people to God. For this reason, the word "strange" came to signify anything unholy or ungodly. Thus, Nadab and Abihu "offered strange fire before the Lord" Le 10:1; that is, fire which had not been kindled by God himself upon the altar. So we read of "strange incense" Ex 30:9; of "a strange vine" Jer 2:21; of "strange wives" Ezr 10:2; and of "strange women, whose mouth is a deep pit." Pr 22:14 In this sense, therefore, "strange slips" mean anything set in the Lord's garden of an ungodly nature--what, in one word, we may term poisonous plants.

But the question arises at once in your mind, "Can anyone who really and truly fears God ever set strange slips in his garden?" Let me answer this question by another. Are there no back borders? Are there no hedgebanks or ditches, no secret corners and low shrubberies out of sight, and yet still a part of the garden? Are there no dark corners, no hidden spots in your heart, in which you have at various times set strange slips; and have set them perhaps by night, as being ashamed of doing so in open day?

If you say, "No; my garden may have a few weeds in it; but I have never been so base as to set poisonous plants in the back borders;" either your case is singular, or what is more probable, you have never taken a thorough and complete view of the garden; you have overlooked those hidden spots of your heart that the eye of God scans, or may be so ignorant as not to know a weed from a flower. Does not our text address itself to the people of God? For to whom else is he "the God of their salvation," and to whom else is Jesus "the Rock of their strength?" How, too, can they "forget" him, or be "unmindful" of him who never was in their hearts? Thus we have God's own testimony that even those who fear his great and glorious name, do, when they forget him, plant their pleasant plants and set their strange slips.

And has conscience no voice in your bosom here? Is there no secret sin that you want to indulge--no base lust--no filthy desire; no vile passion; no craving after iniquity? Are these vile weeds always torn up the moment that they peep out of the soil? To let them grow is the same thing as to set them; for where is the difference between letting a noxious weed grow when it might be pulled up and planting another by its side? Every time, then, that you secretly indulge the movement of any sin, you are setting a strange slip, fostering a poisonous plant in the garden of God.

But again, if free from such sins as these, have you no self-righteousness shooting and growing up in your heart--Are there no liftings up of Pharisaic pride? Do you never think, if not say, "Stand by yourself; I am holier than you?" Are you never pleased with your prayers and performances; with your good feelings and intentions? Do you never look with complacency upon a consistent life, and not having been entangled like so many others in slips and falls? What is this but a strange slip, for I am sure that the blessed Spirit never planted it in your heart?

Have you never feelings of enmity against the saints of God? Have you no malice, no suspicion, no jealousy, no envy, no unkind thoughts, no vile workings against those whom you can hardly deny to be the children of God, if any strife or division has broken out between you and them; or if they have given you real or supposed cause of offence? Are not these strange slips? And where have you set them? Out of sight; under the hedge behind the shrubbery. You can show your roses, geraniums, and verbenas, and even be pleased that they should be admired; but you won't show the dark hemlock, the stinking henbane, the pricking brier, the stinging nettle, all of which are growing so strongly, and tendered and nurtured so secretly, yet so carefully, in this back-border of yours.

But you will say, "I do not cultivate them. I know they are there; but I do not foster them." Why then do you not pull them up; why do you allow them to grow unchecked? But you must be conscious that often you even do cultivate them by indulging them as much as you dare.

But these strange slips are so many that I cannot enumerate them. I must, therefore, take them as they grow, thick and noxious in the border. Have you, then, no pride, no self-exaltation, no presumption, no vain confidence, no unbelief and infidelity, no hardness, carelessness, recklessness, darkness, and deadness of spirit? Have you made your heart wholly clean? Can you stand before God, the holy, heart-searching Jehovah, and say that your hands, eyes, ears, lips, and every member of your body are free from iniquity? These, then, are the strange slips that you have been planting in the back borders.

We are all guilty here. I do not stand before you as if I were free from iniquity and sin. I know what my heart is, and I know that I have, when left to myself, been truly guilty in this matter; for I have again and again planted pleasant plants and set strange slips. Such, too, would I plant and set every day of my life, except as kept back and held up by the mighty power of God. No, I believe that every man that knows his own heart must with me plead guilty here, for none are altogether free from these charges--and he that knows most of himself will acknowledge that he thus sins, and that just in proportion as he forgets the God of his salvation and is unmindful of the Rock of his strength.

III. But it is time to pass on to our next point, which is the TEMPORARY SUCCESS which seems to crown this planting and setting. "In the day shall you make your plant to grow, and in the morning shall you make your seed to flourish."

I wish to observe that all the way through the Lord is speaking as if judicially. When, then, he says, "Therefore shall you plant pleasant plants, and shall set it with strange slips," it is not that he either compels his people to plant or approves of their setting, but denounces against them this as the threatened consequence and punishment of their departing from him. In a similar way, when he says "In the day shall you make your plant to grow," he neither compels nor commends such a course, but predicts it as the judicial result. Thus for a time the Lord seemingly winks at all these evils; no more, he allows them a season of passing prosperity; for having lost the light of his countenance, the planters and setters do not seem to be conscious of the evil of which they are guilty. Their eyes have become so blinded, their hearts so hardened, and their judgment so obscured by forgetting the God of their salvation and being unmindful of the Rock of their strength, that they have lost in good measure that tenderness of conscience which would have shown them the snares in which they were being entangled, and the temptations by which they were being overcome.

But such, unhappily, is the power of sin, the strength of temptation, and the subtlety of Satan, that a man may be grievously entangled in many evil courses, or be much given up to carelessness and carnality, and yet scarcely see or feel, from sheer stupor of mind and callousness of conscience, into what a state of backsliding and alienation of heart from God he has fallen. Thus Ephraim is said to have been "broken in judgment"; and "strangers" are declared to "have devoured his strength and he knew it not; yes, grey hairs were here and there upon him and he knew it not." Ho 7:9 This was the reward and the consequence of his backsliding. He had left God, and therefore for a time God left him. When a man falls into this sad state of soul, "in the day he makes his plant to grow, and in the morning he makes his seed to flourish."

Have you not done this? and have you not been very much pleased when you have gotten your plant to grow? When you have a pleasant wife, or an affectionate husband, healthy and handsome children, a comfortable house, good furniture, with money coming in so as to afford you every comfort and indulgence consistent with your situation in life; when, too, you can look around you and see all these pleasant plants before your eyes, and that you have been successful not only in planting them but in making them to grow, do you not feel very comfortable, and indulge at times in no small amount of self-complacency that such a measure of success and prosperity attend you?

If you are in business, are you not very pleased if a growing number of customers come to your shop--and if your business should increase, your profits be augmented, and if day by day you should become better off in worldly circumstances, are you not tempted to increase your establishment, and thus make your pleasant plant to grow larger and larger and look handsomer and handsomer? As, then, you look sometimes at your prospects, are you not tempted to think and say, "How pleasant everything is around me! What a wonder-working God he is to give me all this prosperity! I wonder there is so much poverty and discontent in the world! Why are not people more industrious and happy?"

Or say that you are a farmer, and there are times when circumstances are so are flourishing and things looking up. Is there not such a thing as standing upon a hill and looking around with complacency, "Here I have a good farm, good land, good crops, a good landlord, and I hope to leave all this to my son by and by?" Or if not in business, you may still look round you and say, "What an excellent wife I have, or good husband, what a pleasant home, and how much I am generally respected! I have health and strength and every worldly comfort, and how happy and pleasant things seem to be just now!" Now is not this happy, easy life, this health and success, just what your carnal heart loves? Is not this prosperous and comfortable state just the very thing that suits your natural mind?

But this is the very thing upon which God puts his finger, in the text. This is the very carnal ease, to which he is giving you up, that you may one day rue its miserable consequences. This is in the day making your plant to grow; for you keep watering your plant; you want it to grow larger and larger, until it overtop all your neighbor's trees. It is nothing to you, that the fowls of the air rest in its branches, so long as your tree bears more abundant crops of fruit. Do you want your pleasant plant cut down, or even a single branch lopped off? No! You don't want any disappointment, any vexatious law-suit, any secret drain upon your gains, any heavy losses, any short crops, failing business, bad debts, an uncomfortable home, sickly children, an invalid wife, or a dying husband. That would be indeed a reverse; that would be death to your pleasant plant; that would be a worm at the root of your gourd. You want no path of trial and tribulation, but to sit under your spreading fig tree. You want still to enjoy a strong, healthy body, plenty of food and clothing, money at command, everything pleasant at home, everything prosperous in business, and everything successful in life.

And so you keep watering, watering, watering your pleasant plant, and the more you can make it grow, and the more you can bring it up in the sun, and the better and healthier it looks, the more you are pleased. The stronger the root, the longer the stem, the larger the leaves, and the more abundant the fruit, the more you admire the pleasant plant which you have set in your garden.

Alas! You little care what becomes of the myrrh and aloes, and all the chief spices which this pleasant plant of yours has so overgrown, so starved, so stunted, and so overshadowed, until all their scent is gone, and they themselves scarcely seen. The Lord seems to let you go on; and you may even so forget the God of your salvation, and be so unmindful of the Rock of your strength--that smitten Rock who sweat blood and agonized on the cross to save your soul--that you may take all this prosperity as a mark in your favor, and put God's providences in the place of God's graces!

But there is worse even than this, for there is making your seed to FLOURISH; for this seed is "the strange slips" before spoken of as set by your own hand in the back borders. It is bad enough to be ever watering your pleasant plant and making it grow, but it is far worse to make the "strange slip" to flourish. But even this you do. Let me appeal to your conscience. Have you never nurtured your pride, your self-righteousness, your vain confidence? Have you never enfolded and swaddled your bosom idol, which is as misshapen and ugly a god as ever a Hindoo worshiped? Have you never fed your jealousy, your enmity, your suspicion, your revengeful thoughts, your unkind feelings, and the flame that has burnt in your bosom against an enemy, or even against a brother? Have you not nurtured these devilish feelings, and done all that you could to make them flourish, thinking all the time, perhaps, what a wonderful Christian you were, while God looked at all this abomination, and hated what he saw going on?

Have you not built your airy castles, planted visionary paradises, and thought what you would do and how you would act, if ever they were realized? Though you may not have had money or opportunity to build a new house, or even leave your old one; yet you have built a castle every day, though it has been a castle in the air; and though you may not have an inch of ground to call your own, you have had a garden within, which you have planted with all care, and watered morning and evening. O, if a man does but take a faithful view of his own heart, of what is continually passing in his own mind, he will not think this an overdrawn picture! He will not start back with horror from the portrait, and cry out "What base wretch are you describing? Can such a man live and move, and yet have the fear of God in his heart?"

If I dip my brush into God's own book and use no other colors than are spread on God's own palette, you must not say I paint man too black; and if I dip it also into my own heart, I believe that from mine I can pretty well describe yours. Instead of finding fault with my portrait, you had better view it as your own; you had better first look into your own garden and examine the pleasant plants and the strange slips, and then you will be a better judge whether it be wholly a paradise of God's planting, or whether many a noxious weed does not grow there which his hand never set in its beds and borders.

IV. But we now come to our fourth and last point, which is the HARVEST reaped from all this planting and setting. This of course is the grand, the expected, and long-looked for consummation of the whole. Is not the farmer ever fixing his eye upon his harvest? What else is to pay him for all his cost and trouble? This with him is the crowning of the year. So you all have your harvest. You are not, it is true, all of you farmers; but you have all a harvest in prospect or in possession; for the harvest, in our text, is the success of your pleasant plants, and the crop which you would reap from your strange slips.

The harvest may at present be but in your own brain--merely in that busy, active, speculating imagination of yours which would gladly have, not only one harvest in a year, but a harvest every month. You have not been engaged all this time in planting pleasant plants and setting strange slips, without expecting you are to get something from it. And what you are to get from it is to be your "harvest"--a harvest of pleasure, of enjoyment, of delight, of profit, or of something of which you can say, "I shall fill my barns with it; and when I have filled my barns and there bestowed all my fruits and my goods, I shall say to my soul, Take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."

But God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways; he has other thoughts concerning the harvest than what you have been dreaming of, and other intentions respecting it than those which you have been speculating upon, and in prospect almost insured. "But the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow."

These words seem this year to have been literally fulfilled. I heard a cry this autumn which I hope I shall never hear again, and that some of you young people may never hear for the whole of your lives; for I heard the farming boys with the last load of corn cry "Harvest home" in the month of November, and this may not occur again for another century. And as to the harvest being "a heap," I saw with my own eyes acres of mown barley lying in the fields in October, that seemed to my unpracticed gaze more fit for the ash-heap than to be gathered into the barn. So literally and naturally, through the rainy season, the harvest to many a farmer has been but "a heap;" and to those already crushed by preceding bad times and heavy losses, instead of finding in it a means of extrication, it has been but a "day of grief and of desperate sorrow."

But view it spiritually, for I speak to spiritual people, and desire, as a servant of the Lord, to handle the subject with spiritual fingers. Where then is the harvest which you have been expecting to reap from your pleasant plants and strange slips? Has it not been to you spiritually what the harvest has been literally to many a poor farmer this year--ruined by incessant rains, swept away by floods, or tossed into a heap, and carried away to the ash-heap?

Where are your "pleasant plants" that you planted years ago? Where the "strange slips" that you watered and cultivated and took such care of? What has been the harvest? You who married early in life, have things turned out just as you expected? You expected to go down to the grave without trouble in your families, sickness in your houses, affliction in your bodies, poverty in your circumstances, or those deep and heavy trials that have made all your harvest to be "a heap;" a heap of wet straw, instead of ripe and rich and full ears.

O, the wisdom, and may I not add, the goodness and mercy of a wonder-working God, to confound all our prospects, pull down our airy castles, root up our pleasant plants and strange slips, and with his own fingers throw them into a heap, and make them fit only for the ash-heap! How many bosom idols you have indulged; how many sins you have fostered; how much pride you have nursed; how many envious suspicions, cruel jealousies, and bitter feelings have you warmed in your bosom! What care you have taken of your pleasant plants! How you have in winter put a hand-glass over them to keep the frost out, and watered them in summer lest they should die of drought! Nor have you taken less care of your strange slips! How often and how long you have harbored unkindly feelings against some offending brother, and nursed your wrath to keep it warm!

But let us see in what way the harvest is made "a heap." The Lord works in various ways, but they all tend to the same end. Thus He may lay you upon a sick bed, bring trouble and distress into your soul, set before you your grievous backslidings, and lay the guilt of them so upon your conscience as almost to sink you into despair. The day of reckoning is now come, when the Lord brings to light the secret thoughts of the heart, and lays His chastening hand upon the backslider, filling him with his own ways. Where, and what is now your harvest? What has now become of your pleasant plants that you took such delight in, and those strange slips that you cultivated with such care? Why, nothing but a heap!

We reap what we sow. "If we sow to the flesh, from the flesh we reap corruption." Here is the end of all idols; here is the termination of all prospects of happiness independent of God. Here is the fruit of carnal ease, worldly security, spiritual pride, towering presumption, vain confidence, thinking highly of ourselves, and despising others. Look at that poor backslider, lying upon a sick bed, with the frowns of God in his soul, Jesus absent, Satan present, faith at its lowest ebb, hope scarcely lifting up its head, and love dwindled down to the lowest spark. See how he loathes what he has loved; listen to his almost despairing language of self-condemnation, "O that I had lived more in the fear of God, had walked more circumspectly and uprightly, had watched against bosom sins, mortified my lusts, crucified the flesh with its affections, not indulged every vain thought, nor nurtured every bad passion. O that I had walked, and spoke, and lived, and acted more as becomes the Gospel, and the profession which I made, and sought more to adorn the doctrine of God in all things."

Is not this now with him "the day of grief and of desperate sorrow?" And so it will be with us, if we have been planting pleasant plants and setting strange slips, and been allowed by God to do so, so as to have walked in a path of ease and carnal security. Then, indeed, shall we see what backsliders we have been, what base wretches, when the harvest lies before our eyes "a heap," only fit for the ash-heap, and we mourn before the Lord in "the day of grief and desperate sorrow."

But let me not leave you mourning here. Let me show you mercy and grace mingled with, and shining through all this. Is not God rich in mercy, in bringing all this secret backsliding to light, in making the harvest to be a heap? Is it not still His gracious hand made manifest, in bringing sickness or painful bereavements into your families, visiting you with heavy trials and painful afflictions, and by these timely chastisements, to make you feel, and that deeply, the miserable consequence of not walking more in His fear, and thus make you reap the bitter fruit of backsliding? Is not all this not in wrath, but in mercy? Is it not for the good of your soul, that you may not go on adding sin to sin and iniquity to iniquity, and die at last under the wrath of God? For by these things God brings his erring, backsliding children to their senses; and thus stops them before they have altogether given up God and godliness.

But as He afflicts for their good, and only takes away one harvest to give another, one that shall endure forever and ever in His eternal kingdom, He will bring in due time a word of consolation to lift up their drooping spirit, and to show those who notwithstanding all their sins, he is still "the God of their salvation," and that Jesus is still "the Rock of their strength." Thus by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of their spirit. By these mingled dealings of judgment and mercy--the rod and kiss, the frown and smile, we learn to loathe ourselves. "You will remember your sins and cover your mouth in silence and shame when I forgive you of all that you have done, says the Sovereign Lord." Ezekiel 16:63

Thus we learn to hate our own folly and our own sin, and to see and feel more and more the super-aboundings of grace over all the aboundings of our iniquity. As, then, we are blessed with a feeling sense of the Lord's goodness and mercy in not dealing with us after our sins nor rewarding us after our iniquities, we shall learn to cleave to Him more closely with purpose of heart. Thus, though there is no excuse for us, for we must still plead guilty, all these varied dealings in the hands of God eventually work for our spiritual good--and the effect ever will be and must be to humble the sinner in the dust, and to crown Jesus Lord of all.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Preached at Zoar Chapel, London, on Thursday Evening, 17th June, 1841, by J. C. Philpot.

"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand."
(Proverbs 19:21)

Divine sovereignty is stamped upon every page of the Scriptures. I do not mean that the doctrine of divine sovereignty is stated in every chapter of God's Word, but that we shall not find a chapter in which divine sovereignty may not, more or less, be traced. If we open, for instance, the prophecies, divine sovereignty is the basis of them all. If we read the historical books of the Old Testament, divine sovereignty is to be traced in the actions which are there recorded. If we look at the promises which are made to God's people, divine sovereignty is stamped upon them, for they all rest on the immutability of God's counsel; and therefore we may take almost any chapter of the Scriptures at random, and we shall find divine sovereignty engraved upon it.

But divine sovereignty is not merely a matter of inference--not merely a doctrine to be gathered from the prophecies and their fulfillment, from the lives of the patriarchs, or from the promises that God has given, and has accomplished to His people. If divine sovereignty were a matter of mere inference, the enemies of God's truth might challenge us to bring forward direct passages of Scripture, where the sovereignty of God is set forth; and, therefore, besides the general current of the Scriptures, we have express texts, so as to leave the enemies of God's truth without excuse, and to afford us power to answer their challenge, when they demand of us something more positive than inference. Thus we read, that the Lord will "fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power" 2Th 1:11; that He "works all things after the counsel of His own will" Eph 1:11; that "He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth--and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What are You doing?" Da 4:35. And in the verse which I have just read, and from which I hope, with God's blessing, to deliver a few thoughts, we have the same doctrine declared, "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."

Now this doctrine of divine sovereignty, nature can never brook. It is so contrary and so repugnant to every feeling of our carnal minds, that nature will not submit to it as a truth from God. But say some, "I do you think must be mistaken in this assertion. Is it not a matter of daily experience, and do we not hear from the mouths of ministers, yourself among them, that there are many characters in the professing Church of God, who have received the doctrine into their judgments, without feeling the power of it in their hearts?" Certainly. But is that any proof that nature can receive the doctrine of divine sovereignty?

Let those very persons who have received this doctrine into their judgment, be tried to the quick upon the point; let them be put, for instance, into that situation where Job was placed, let God "put forth His hand, and touch all that they have;" then those who have received the doctrine of divine sovereignty into their judgment, but have never had the feeling power of it in their hearts, would do that which Job did not, "curse God to His face." It is one thing to receive the doctrine as a doctrine, and another thing to submit to it as the truth of God; and no man knows this who has not felt God's eternal and unalterable counsels clash with the purposes of his heart and the intentions of his will, and overturn well near every scheme and plan that he has chalked out; and so to have come, by inward experience, to the spot to which the Lord brought His prophet Jeremiah--"You are stronger than I, and have prevailed" Jer 20:7. "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."

Now the Lord, in these words, seems to open up to us a little of what the real state of the case is between man and Himself. He gives us a glimpse of what is going on in the restless bosom of man; removes the veil, as it were, from that busy workshop, displays to us the craftsman in full operation, and shows us what is transacting in that busy scene. "There are many devices in a man's heart;" and if you and I know anything of our hearts, we shall say, that God has well depicted what they are, and that which takes place in our minds, day by day, continually.

We gather also from these words that there is an opposition and a conflict between the devices that are in a man's heart, and "the counsel of the Lord;" that these do not move parallel with one another--are not in strict accordance--do not run side by side in concurrent harmony, but that there is an opposition between the two; and yet, though there is this opposition between the "devices in a man's heart" and "the counsel of the Lord," yet "the counsel of the Lord" must stand, and the "devices of a man's heart," when they are opposed to that counsel must go to wreck.

If we look a little through the Old Testament Scriptures, we shall see how the Lord frustrated, in a way of divine sovereignty, the devices that were in a man's heart. For instance, there was the device of the brethren of Joseph; their secret thought was to bring his dreams to nothing, to frustrate, if it were possible, those intimations which the Lord had miraculously given, and to overturn those purposes of God, whereby He was about to manifest Joseph's superiority and their inferiority. They had many devices in their hearts, but "the counsel of the Lord" stood; and He made use of their very device to sell Joseph into the hands of the Ishmaelites as a means to bring to pass that which He had purposed in His own eternal mind.

We have another striking instance in the case of Haman. Haman had purposed to cut off the whole nation of the Jews; that was the "device of his heart;" that was the darling project which he indulged in his mind, for the gratification of which he was willing to make the greatest sacrifices, and to run the greatest hazards. But "the counsel of the Lord" stood, and "the counsel of the Lord" was, that Haman should be hanged upon the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai; "the counsel of the Lord" was, that Mordecai should be "the man whom the king delights to honor," and that Haman, who hated him, should be the very person that should put that honor upon him.

But perhaps the conduct of the Jews, when Christ was upon earth, was one of the most striking instances of the devices in a man's heart, and yet of "the counsel of the Lord" standing in opposition to these devices. What was their infernal project? It was utterly to destroy and get rid of Him, who, by His preaching "tormented" them; it was to remove Him out of the way, by putting Him to a violent death. Well, these devices in part succeeded. They were allowed to do that which they had purposed, but the Lord wonderfully overruled the very devices of their hearts, that they, by fulfilling their own purposes, might fulfill His and that His counsel might yet stand, though their devices seemed for a time to succeed.

Now, these which I have mentioned, are cases in unregenerate men, but we find it also to stand good in regenerate men, that "there are many devices in a man's heart," but that "the counsel of the Lord" alone shall stand. What a crafty device there was in David's heart, to hide his adultery! What base methods he took to conceal that crime from coming to light! But "the counsel of the Lord" was that that crime should come to light, that it should be made manifest before the eyes of men; and therefore, whatever were the devices of David's heart, the Lord took care that His "counsel should stand."

So in the case of Abraham and Sarah, there was a device in their hearts, that they should have a son in some way which was not appointed of the Lord, that they should hurry the Lord's work, and hasten the Lord's time, and thus introduce the child of promise, not, as the Lord had purposed, in a way of miracle, but in a way accordant with nature. Such was the device of their hearts, but "the counsel of the Lord still was made to stand." Isaac must be the seed of promise; and their devices, in a measure, succeeding, only served to introduce bondage and misery into their house.

But to come to those particulars which more immediately concern OURSELVES.

Let us look then at a child of God, before the Lord is pleased to quicken his soul into spiritual life. Though dead in sin, he is "a vessel of mercy prepared beforehand unto glory," yes, chosen before the foundation of the world as a vessel, to be made fit for the master's use. But how many devices are there in that man's heart, to frustrate the purposes of God concerning him! How he would have damned his soul a thousand times, if the Lord had let him! How he was suspended continually, as it were, by a hair, over the very brink of the precipice, and how in those times, though he knew not the Lord, yet still the Lord "girded him," as He girt Cyrus Isa 45:5, and he was preserved in Christ, before he was "called" Jude 1:1 to the knowledge of "the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent!"

All through the life, then, of a vessel of mercy, before the Lord calls him by His grace, there is the standing of "the counsel of the Lord," in opposition to the "devices" that have been working in that man's heart.

But we will now look at him, just a little before the Lord begins the work of grace upon his soul. I believe in most cases, there is a concurrence of providential circumstances, often in a way of affliction; the Lord perhaps brings down the body by disease, or removes some idol, or cuts off the desire of his eyes at a stroke, or brings him into circumstances of temporal distress, and thus, usually speaking, there are some concurrent circumstances, which, though they do not prepare a man's heart to receive grace for "the preparation of the heart in man is from the Lord", yet they put a man into a certain posture, place him in a certain position which is the most suitable place for God to meet his soul in, and to visit him with the Holy Spirit.

Well then, here is one whom the Lord is about to meet with His grace--whom He is about to quicken into spiritual life. Now the Lord shall perhaps give a stab to all that man's worldly prospects; he shall make, as it were, a cut at every fond desire and every airy vision and every lofty castle, which that man is endeavoring to erect--or He shall bring sickness and disease upon him; or some cutting disappointment, so as to separate him from the world--so that the things of time and sense shall wear a sickly aspect, and he shall find no pleasure, and take no comfort in them. Yet all this time the man is devoid of spiritual life--destitute of the grace of God, but still, through a concurrence of providential circumstances, brought into that posture, and into that place where the grace of God, when it comes into his heart, will find him in a position suitable to receive it.

I have often thought of the way in which the Lord seemed pleased to begin His work of grace in my heart. I was, at that time, a young man at Oxford, not indeed what is called "a gay young man"--not living an immoral life, but still utterly dead in sin, "without God and without hope in the world," looking forward to prospects in life, surrounded by worldly companions, and knowing as well as caring absolutely nothing spiritually for the things of God. Well, the Lord, in His mysterious providence, removed me from that place, and took me to Ireland, contrary to the wishes of my friends, and shut me up, as it were, for more than a year and a half away from the society of the world, brought me into great natural affliction of mind, and then, in that affliction of mind He was pleased, as I trust, to communicate His grace to my soul, and quicken me into spiritual life.

Now I have looked sometimes with wonder upon the circumstance of His taking me from all my former companions, and putting me there in quietness and solitude. When life came, this quiet and secluded nook seemed to be like a little nursery, where the infant plant of grace might for a while be fostered, before I was thrust out into a crude world. It seemed to be a little spot, where the Lord might not merely begin His work of grace, but strengthen it in some measure, that when I was thrown back among my old companions, I might have power sufficient to resist their wiles, and that I might be separated, as indeed I most effectually was, from them. And thus looking at the Lord's dealing with my own soul, and at His way of working with others, I have sometimes seen what a concurrence there has been of providential circumstances, which, though they were not grace, yet were so necessary in the chain of divine appointments, that could one link have been broken, the whole chain must have fallen to the ground.

But we pass on to look at the first beginning of the work of grace upon that man's soul whose case we are attempting to describe. "There are many devices in that man's heart" when the Lord first begins with him--and one of his first devices is to please God, and to work out a righteousness which shall be acceptable in His holy and pure eyes. Not knowing in its full extent the breadth and spirituality of God's law, not being deeply and powerfully acquainted with the corruptions of fallen nature, not being led into "the chambers of imagery," so as to see all the idolatrous tracings upon the wall, he seeks for the most part to establish his own righteousness, and thus, in some manner, to conciliate the favor of God.

Well here is a device in a man's heart; but the "counsel of the Lord" is that he shall not establish that righteousness, that his attempt shall not prosper; and therefore by bringing powerful convictions into his conscience, by thrusting "the sword of the Spirit" into his "joints and marrow," by laying open the requisitions and spirituality of His holy law to his soul, He frustrates those devices, He roots up those plans, He breaks down those airy castles; and this foolish creature, who was fostering a pleasing device, in some way to gain God's favor, He levels and prostrates as a ruined wretch before Him. Well then the devices of this man's heart have been frustrated.

He has been trying to gain the favor of God, and instead of gaining the favor of God by his righteousness, he only finds himself farther from the mark than ever. He has been trying some method to conciliate God's favor, and to please Him, and to serve Him, love, honor and obey Him; and yet the more he labors in tugging and rowing his boat against the stream, the more violently does the current of sin come down, to bear him away from the point to which he is aiming, and carry him into a wide and vast sea, where he has neither chart, nor rudder, nor compass. Then, in this state "he knows not what to do;" he comes, as the Psalmist says, to "his wit's end" Ps 107:27. If he cannot please God by his own righteousness, he knows no other method of gaining his favor; for Christ, at this time, is not made known to him, he has no spiritual acquaintance with the sacrifice of the Son of God; his eyes have not been anointed, so as to discover any glimpse of that righteousness, which is unto all, and upon all those who believe. Therefore, in this bewildered state, he comes to "his wit's end," feeling that the only thing that he knows of to gain God's favor is effectually frustrated, that all his props are removed, and all his confidence clean taken away.

"The counsel of the Lord" then, is that Christ should be made known to this man. The Lord has two grand outlines of divine counsel in this matter, for though they in effect center in one, yet, as far as our experience is concerned, there are two. The one, the humbling and breaking down of the creature into nothingness; the other, the exalting and setting up of Christ upon the wreck and ruin of the creature. Then "the counsel of the Lord" is, that Christ should be set up in this poor creature's heart, that the Lord of life and glory should be exalted in his broken spirit and contrite soul. And therefore He brings Christ near, He raises up faith in the soul, whereby Christ is apprehended, He drops in some sensations of Christ's preciousness, and bedews the conscience with some drops of the Savior's atoning blood, whereby a measure of divine peace is experienced, a sense of heavenly love is enjoyed, an embracing of the Savior in the arms of faith is experimentally known.

Now, as "the devices in a man's heart" are many, there is a new device that comes into the heart of the soul whom the Lord has thus blessedly healed by atoning blood, which is, to maintain those sweet views which he has experienced, to keep firm and safe hold of these sensations which he has enjoyed, and not to lose out of his heart that taste of pleasure which he is experiencing. These are the "devices in the man's heart," but "the counsel of the Lord" shall stand in spite of all these devices. "The counsel of the Lord" is that Christ should be all in all, that He should stand exalted upon the wreck and ruin of the creature.

Now, when the soul is brought to know a little of Christ's atoning blood, and to have by faith a sight and an enjoyment of Christ's glorious righteousness, it does not see what a secret reservoir there is of creature strength in the heart, nor what inward pride and self-righteousness are working up from the bottom of the carnal mind. It does not see that self has not yet been thoroughly humbled and abased, nor yet Christ made known in that way in which He is to be made known hereafter. And therefore the creature not being at this time humbled, the devices in this man's heart are, to retain that which the Lord has given, to keep firm hold of that which the Lord has put into his hand; and by his spirituality of mind, earnestness in prayer, continually searching God's Word, abstaining from "all appearance of evil," and living to the best of his power to God's glory, to maintain firm possession of that which has been given him by God.

But "the counsel of the Lord" is, that the creature should learn its weakness, that helplessness should not be a mere doctrine received into the judgment, but that it should be a solemn truth which is experienced in a man's soul. This weakness a man can only learn by being placed in that position, where, when he would make use of his strength, he finds it is all gone, and is become total weakness. Little by little his sweet sensations evaporate; little by little he loses the light and life and consolation and peace, which has been enjoyed; little by little he is not so spiritual as he was, nor so earnest at "the throne of grace;" the Word of God does not seem so precious, the companionship of the people of God not so eagerly sought after, and the ordinances of God's house lose their relish.

And as these heavenly feelings disappear, and get dispersed out of a man's heart, there arises a succession of very different things which come to take their room. As spirituality diminishes, worldliness increases; as humility abates, pride resumes strength; as the sight of Christ's righteousness is diminished, his own righteousness rises to view; and as the Lord's favor is less sweetly and blessedly felt, there must be a kind of making up for it by some work of the creature.

Well then, here are "devices in this man's heart," but "the counsel of the Lord shall stand." And "the counsel of the Lord," is this, to exalt Christ upon the abasement of the creature, to make the strength of Christ perfect in our weakness, and the wisdom of Christ perfect in our folly, and to establish Christ's righteousness upon the ruin of the creature's righteousness. Now the man does not understand what the Lord is about, in frustrating his devices, and establishing His own counsel; nor does he see what the Lord is really doing, by leading him into this strange mysterious path; nor can he readily believe that the Lord is working at all, because His hand is concealed. But the Lord's work is to pull down as much as to build up, to root out as much as to plant, to bring the beggar to the dung-hill just as much as to raise him among princes, and exalt him to a throne of glory; it is just as much His work to kill as to make alive, to make poor as to make rich, to reduce to hunger as to "feed with the bread of life," and to cast the soul down into the dust of self-abasement, as to lift it up by a sweet manifestation of Christ.

"The counsel of the Lord," then must stand, whatever be the devices in this man's heart; and this counsel is to bring the creature low, that he may exalt Jesus high, to strip the creature of all its attainments, to pluck out the peacock-feathers, that it may be poor and needy and naked and empty and bare. Well now, when a man is in this state, he will begin to sigh and cry and to groan unto God "being burdened." And now, perhaps, a fresh device will work in his heart, "Oh, now that I am groaning to the Lord, the blessing will soon come; now that I am humbled, and lying at the foot of the cross, surely the Lord cannot be very far from me. Am I not just the character that the Lord has described in His Word, 'poor and needy'? Do I not stand before Him an undone wretch? Surely the Lord will appear very shortly." Now these are some of the devices that are in this man's heart, but "the counsel of the Lord" is distinct from this man's devices, and "the counsel of the Lord shall stand."

Not deep enough yet; there must be another plunge down into the billows. The creature is not stripped enough yet; self-righteousness is not taken away enough yet; self-sufficiency is not broken down enough yet. Another stripping must yet take place, another crushing into the dust, another breaking up and breaking down, another bringing the soul lower than ever it was before. The delay then of this answer to his prayers, the Lord not appearing just when he wants Him to appear, slighting his requests, denying a listening ear to his cry, hiding Himself altogether, not giving him any glimpse of His countenance, and drawing back as he would gladly draw near--all these things so puzzle, and seem to be so opposed to the "devices in a man's heart," that he is brought into a greater strait than ever he was before.

And now he seems brought to this point, that he never shall have the blessing at all; that as the manifestation has been so long delayed, as the Lord does not appear when he calls upon Him, as He hides His face so from him, and will not be prevailed upon by any of his petitions to give him one look of mercy, the Lord never will come; and he says, "Surely all my past experience must have been a delusion. It could not have been from God. My liberty must have been false liberty. My peace must have been false peace. My joy must have been the joy of the hypocrite. It never could have been from God, or else I would not be in that miserable state in which I am now." Well, the device in this man's heart now is that his experience is not of God.

The device in his heart before, was, that he was so humble, that the Lord was going to appear immediately; but now when the Lord has given him another plunge, brought him deeper still, he says, "the Lord will not appear at all." But, however many be the devices in a man's heart, "the counsel of the Lord still shall stand;" and that counsel shall be to come with favor, to give him some sweet discovery of Christ, to bring a sense of reconciliation into his soul, to revive his spirit, and to make Christ ten thousand times more precious and ten thousand times more lovely than He was before. Well then, this "counsel of the Lord shall stand," whatever be the devices in a man's heart that stand in opposition to it. And we almost always find that all "the counsels of the Lord" stand in opposition to our devices, and that all our devices must be frustrated, in order that "the counsel of the Lord" should stand.

We will go a little farther. The devices of our heart are generally to find some easy, smooth, flowery path. Whatever benefits we have derived from AFFLICTION, whatever mercies we have experienced in tribulation, the flesh hates and shrinks from such a path with complete abhorrence. And, therefore, there is always a secret devising in a man's heart, to escape the cross, to avoid affliction, and to walk in some flowery meadow, away from the rough road which cuts his feet, and wearies his limbs.

Now then, in the execution of this device, a man shall sometimes come to this point, "I have had a good experience, I have known the Lord, I have felt the power of the gospel, I have tasted the misery of sin, as well as the sweetness of Christ; the Lord has delivered me in many instances, He has blessed my soul in many difficult and dangerous straits, He has raised up in my heart confidence in Him. Well now, why should I not stand in this liberty? Why should I not rest in this experience? Why should I not take up my firm footing upon that ground, which the Lord seems to have set my feet upon?" Here then is a "device in a man's heart," and this device in his heart he will try to execute--that is, instead of being, day by day, a poor, needy, naked wretch who needs deliverance; instead of being, day by day, a helpless creature, who needs the help of the Most High; instead of carrying the cross, suffering tribulation, and walking in a path of temptation and distress, he rests upon the old experience, and takes a natural and carnal footing upon that former work, without the Lord, from time to time, leading him into fresh experience of his mercy, by leading him into fresh experience of his own misery.

Now, I believe that there are some good men in that spot. We read of people being "at ease in ZION;" well, they are "at ease in Zion," not at ease in Sinai, nor at ease in Egypt, but they are at ease in Zion. And there are sometimes gracious men who have had a good experience, and have been led by God Himself into an acquaintance with the truth, and yet the Lord for wise purposes ceasing to exercise them, and to plunge them into tribulation, they get into a carnal state, resting upon their former experience, without, having daily instruction from the Lord Himself, and being continually led into those paths in which, and in which alone, Christ is really precious and suitable.

It resembles the case of a man who has been wading through deep poverty. When he was struggling through this slough, if he was a child of God, he knew much of God's providence, and when wonderful help came to him in most trying straits, he would bless, thank, and praise God for succouring him in these difficulties. But the man has emerged from this miry path; he is now settled in some good measure of worldly prosperity. Does he need a God of providence any more? Does he need the postman to bring a letter to his door, containing the very sum which he needed to pay his rent, lest he be dragged to a prison? No. All he has to do is to open his strong box, or to go to his banker, in order to pay every man his due, and discharge every bill. Then a God of providence is no longer known to him as before.

Well, so it is, in an analogous way, with the man who has been deeply exercised and tried in grace. His very deep exercises, his very painful trials, have been a means of showing him what a God of grace is, because they have so emptied his heart, that nothing but grace would do to come in, and fill that empty spot. Then when grace has come, it has so thoroughly filled up the void, that there was a sweet reception of "the truth as it is in Jesus," an embracing of it with all the strength of affection that he had. But when a man gets out of the trying path, when he gets into those circumstances spiritually, that I have been describing naturally, why then, just as there he lost sight of a God of providence, so, in a great measure, here he loses sight of a God of grace. Therefore, nothing but trials and exercises and temptations and distresses, can ever make a man know a God of grace, in the same way as nothing but temporal poverty can make a man acquainted with a God of providence.

But though some of God's people are allowed to walk in this easy path, yet there are those whom He will not allow thus to be "at ease in Zion," and the devices of whose hearts He frustrates by causing His own counsel to stand; for He has "chosen Zion in the furnace of affliction," He has purposed that His people should pass through the fire, he has chosen "an afflicted and poor people, that they should trust in the Lord;" and therefore, though the Lord does see fit, that some shall be like those described in Amos, who "stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock," yet He takes care that there shall be a remnant of His people that shall be severely exercised and oppressed and troubled and distressed in their minds, so as to bring them, day by day, to a feeling necessity of a God of all grace, to bless, teach and comfort them.

Another "device in a man's heart" is, that he shall have worldly prosperity; that his children shall grow up around him, and when they grow up, he shall be able to provide for them in a way which shall be best suited to their station in life; that they shall enjoy health and strength and success; and that there shall not be any cutting affliction in his family, or fiery trial to pass through. Now these devices the Lord frustrates. What grief, what affliction, what trouble, is the Lord continually bringing into some families! Their dearest objects of affection removed from them, at the very moment when they seemed clasped nearest around their hearts! and those who are spared, perhaps, growing up in such a searedness of conscience and hardness of heart, and, perhaps, profligacy of life, that even their very presence is often a burden to their parents instead of a blessing; and the very children who should be their comfort, become thorns and briars in their sides! Oh, how the Lord overturns and brings to nothing the "devices of a man's heart" to make a paradise here upon earth.

Again, a man in his fleshly mind is generally devising some method or other, whereby he may escape a practical subjection to the gospel--some way or other whereby he may escape walking in the path of self-denial and mortification of the flesh, and crucifixion of "the old man with the affections and lusts." He is generally seeking some way or other to indulge the flesh, and yet, at the same time, to stand in gospel liberty, to have everything that can gratify his carnal mind, and, at the same time, have a well-grounded hope of eternal life. But the Lord says, "No, these two things are not compatible; he that shall live with Christ must die with Christ; he that shall reign with Christ must suffer with Christ; he that shall wear the crown must carry the cross." So that whatever devices there be in a man's heart, or whatever ways and plans he shall undertake to bring his devices to pass, "the counsel of the Lord that shall stand."

When a man is brought to the right spot, and is in a right mind to trace out the Lord's dealings with him from the first, he sees it was a kind hand which "blasted his gourds, and laid them low;" it was a kind hand that swept away his worldly prospects--which reduced him to natural as well as to spiritual poverty--which led him into exercises, trials, sorrows, griefs, and tribulations; because, in those trials he has found the Lord, more or less, experimentally precious.

"Many are the devices of a man's heart." Now you have all your devices; that busy workshop is continually putting out some new pattern; some new fashion is continually starting forth from the depths of that ingenious manufactory which you carry about with you, and you are wanting this, and expecting that, and building up airy castles, and looking for that which shall never come to pass--for "many are the devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord that shall stand;" and so far as you are children of God, that counsel is a counsel of wisdom and mercy. The purposes of God's heart are purposes of love and affection toward you, and therefore you may bless and praise God, that whatever be the devices of your hearts against God's counsel, they shall be frustrated, that He may do His will and fulfill all His good pleasure.