"Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning; Thou hast the dew of Thy youth." (Psalm 110:3)
WE may say with propriety that neither the proclamation of salvation by the death of Christ, by all the apostles, nor all the servants of Christ since their day, would ever have brought one poor sinner out of darkness into light, had it not been for a day of God's omnipotent power,--power invincible going forth with the Word preached. The atoning work of Jesus Christ is the meritorious cause of every sinner's salvation who is saved; and His death just as much secures the putting forth of the almighty power of God in the hearts of the elect in the Lord's own time as it secures every other blessing which flows from His death. But whilst it is a solemn truth that we never can be saved but by the sacrificial work of Jesus, it is no less true that God Himself must put forth His exceeding great power in our souls to quicken us in our condition of death into spiritual life, and to bring us into an experience of our lost, ruined, and damnable state by nature, and to make us in heart and soul willing,--wholly willing, from first to last, to be saved in God's way, which is by grace, to the utter exclusion of our works, lest we should boast.
Now I would hope I really am speaking to some here tonight who are in truth concerned about being saved. It is a great point with me whether a person is really concerned about being saved. And should I be speaking to any here tonight who are really and in truth concerned about being saved, if salvation be the one thing needful with you, if this solemn matter be uppermost in your thoughts, if your concern drives you daily to God, and if you feel a hearty willingness to be saved on God's terms and in God's way, namely, by Jesus Christ, I would say for your encouragement, God has done great things for you, whereof you have cause to be glad. I might say to you that flesh and blood have not revealed these things unto you, but your Father which is in heaven.
I. Let us, in the first place, dwell for a few moments upon the corruption of the human will of every man by nature. This is a fundamental doctrine. Some of you may have read Luther on the Bondage of the Will. He is very masterly; just as his treatise is perhaps the most masterly treatise ever published on the doctrine of Justification by Faith. And nothing is more important, beloved friends, than to be clearly taught of God upon this great truth, the bondage of the will. God help us, then, for a few moments to be somewhat clear and scriptural upon it. We shall endeavor to show that the bondage of the will, as implied by this text, can only be removed by the grace of God.
Every man's will by nature is obdurate and obstinate, and in a state of bondage. It is like an iron sinew that nothing can break but the mighty arm of the Lord. The question whether man by nature has any power of his own to go to God, and any power to believe, to repent, and to pray, and so save himself by seeking after salvation, I suppose has provoked about as much controversy amongst professors of religion as any other point in theology. But nothing can more clearly and indubitably prove a man's ignorance of all Divine teaching, and his ignorance of himself as a lost, ruined, helpless sinner, and his ignorance of the work of the Holy Ghost in the heart and conscience, than to contend that man by nature has a power of his own to go to God, to believe, to pray, to repent, and so the save himself. Nothing would prove more clearly to me a man's ignorance of himself and of God's truth than for him to contend for such a doctrine as that. But then it is not only that man has no power; he has no will. That makes him worse. "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. 8:7) If God, my dear friends, were to put Christ and the devil, life and death, heaven and hell, before all the world tomorrow, and make the offer to every man to choose for himself according to his own will, there is not an unregenerated man living in the wide world that would choose Christ and life instead of the devil and death. Every man, if he were left to his own will, would go his own way; and that way would be the way of death, and not the way of life. Has God taught you that? Have you been brought to feel in your experience that that is just the way you would have gone had not sovereign grace arrested you, and brought you, who were sometime afar off, nigh unto God by the blood of Christ? How very few in the present day who profess to preach the Gospel really do preach it! It is impossible to preach the Gospel unless man's total apostasy from God, his total ruin, his death in sin, his impotence, weakness, and helplessness, are scripturally preached and set forth. The Gospel of God loses all its charms unless we set forth the condition of the sinner to be such that nothing but the almighty power of God can bring him from the horrible pit and the miry clay, change his heart, conquer his stubborn will, overcome his implacable enmity to God, and make him in heart and soul willing to be saved alone by the blood and righteousness of God's dear Son. Put the Gospel in any other way than that, and I say again, it loses all its charms.
What is the Gospel? Very few people know what it is. Put the simple question to most that make a profession of religion; ask them what the Gospel is. Their definition of the Gospel would never be received by a spiritually-taught man of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. But how could it be the power of God unto salvation if man had any power to save himself? The Gospel in that case would be nothing more than God's message to man to tell him what power he possessed, and that nothing was needful but that he should put forth that power, and make a right use of it, and then he would be saved.
I bless God, I hope feelingly, for His great mercy in having taught and convinced me in my own experience that nothing but the invincible power of His Spirit attending His truth to my heart ever could have brought me to feel my perishing condition, and to feel that if God, as the sovereign Jehovah, had not been pleased to pardon me, justify me, and save me by His free and unmerited grace, I must have been damned for ever as a transgressor of the law of God. I bless God that I have been taught that. I have sometimes illustrated the freedom of man's will as a fallen sinner by nature in the following way: Take a stone or a marble, put it on a very steep inclined plane, then let it go according to its own freedom; which way will it go? Downwards; it could not go upwards; it has no power to go upwards; so that it would only be free to go downwards. And such is the will of man by nature. It is free to go downwards, but not upwards to God; free to commit evil, but not free to do good. Man has no other freedom of will than that. So you see that, if God had only left us in that state of alienation and darkness and spiritual death in which we were born into this world, and as a Sovereign had withheld His quickening grace, and kept that invincible power which made us quail as sinners before Him, where should we have been tonight? Should we have been here as worshippers? Should we have been here as the objects of God's mercy, with the love of God shed abroad in our hearts? No, my dear friends; far from that.
I remember two seasons in my life, and I often think of them both, because they were spent in London. In the first season I refer to, I was a poor, blind, ignorant, dead sinner. Well, I had a will, and I followed that will; and whither did it lead me? Downwards, downwards, to the theater, to profligacy, to sin, to vice, to cursing, to swearing. But at a subsequent period of my life, I spent another season in London; and that was some years after the Lord in mercy had opened my eyes, had set my sins before me, and my secret sins in the light of His countenance. At this time, I was truly low and sorrowful. The friend with whom I was staying not being able to accommodate me with a bed, I had to procure one where I could. I slept in Oxford Street, it was a Saturday night. I got up on the Sunday morning, fell upon my knees in much distress, dejected and downcast, and I begged of God that He would give me a blessing that day. I wrestled and pleaded with Him that He would give me a little comfort, a little hope, a little faith to believe in Him as being my God. I came here to this place; the first time in my life that I ever crossed the threshold of your chapel doors. I heard the Word; and I heard it with blessed power. I will not mention his name, but the good brother that preached here that morning knows about it. He preached from the words: "I am your brother and companion in tribulation." (Rev. 1:9) I sat just a few pews before him, with my eyes in tears, with a softened heart all the time of the service; and I was able to bless God for His manifested mercy. How, then, my dear friends, shall we account for this marvelous change in my will? It was by the power of God; it was by the quickening grace of the Holy Ghost, the might invincible power of the Spirit by which I was made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Old things had passed away, and all things had become new. And this is how God deals with all His regenerated people. "A new heart will I give you, and a right spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your fresh, and I will give you a heart of flesh." (Ezek. 36:26) If the Ethiopian can change his skin, and the leopard his spots, then may they who are accustomed to do evil learn to do well. (Jer. 13:23) But we know the leopard cannot change his spots, nor the Ethiopian his skin.
You that are taught of God know in your own experience that what you are tonight as believers, you are by the grace of God. What obligation, then, does the grace of God place us under to Him who has stooped so low as to take our nature, to tabernacle here as the man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, in order that He, by fulfilling the law, and all covenant stipulations, might become "The Lord our righteousness,"--the end of the law to every one that believeth.
Then, again, observe how very special, and specific, and definite, the expression of the text is: "Thy people." David does not simply say "any people" or "all people;" but he says "Thy people." Now, my dear friends, I love the truth of God too well ever to wish to evade a particle of it; therefore I assert tonight, as I have asserted before, that "Thy people" does not mean everybody, but a peculiarly favored people, a predestinated people, a chosen people. God, for the glory of His own grace, chose a specific people in Christ before the foundation of the world, and gave them to Christ. Christ said when upon earth to His Father, "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me, and they have kept Thy word." (John 17:6) And Christ was so delighted with His bride, He was so pleased with His spouse, He took such solace and such complacency in the gift of the Father, that He gave Himself for the Church. "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the Word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." (Eph. 5:25-27)
Now God from everlasting determined to save His people. It is of no use to conceive that it ever entered into the heart of God to save any others; because I do not for a moment believe that it did. I like to dwell upon God's truth as presented under this particular aspect,--salvation, the sinner's salvation. Here, you see, we have a very discriminating doctrine. God was determined to save all His chosen; He was determined that nothing should frustrate His counsel or nonplus the execution of His project; and therefore God says, "My people shall be willing in the day of My power." "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord." (Isa. 54:13; John 6:45) It is His elect sons and daughters that the Lord calls by His grace. He opens up to them the mystery of iniquity; teaches them their complete ruin, and the plague of their hearts; teaches them the truth as it is in Christ, here a little and there a little, line upon line, and precept upon precept. (Isa. 28:13) By His Spirit He leads them to the fountain of love, to His well-beloved Son, as Peter so beautifully expresses it: "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious." (1 Pet. 2:4) God strips us, empties us, beggars us in ourselves, and by such disciplinary means purges out of us our dross and our tin; He tears away from our backs our own rotten covering of creature legal righteousness, and leads us in our experience again and again to see an end of all perfection. God not only does this at the beginning of a good man's experience, but He continues to do it all the time His children are passing on in this waste howling wilderness. I scarcely know a day but what I get more or less emptied, stripped, and pulled down, and feel more or less of reproof and rebuke, and a wrestling, not with flesh and blood, but with principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places. And one no sooner gets a little victory, but there is another cry: "To the battle-field again!" Thus, my dear friends, with the living children of God it is their watchword day after day: "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but in Me peace." And it is by these terrible things in righteousness that we are brought down, reduced in our creature strength, and see our own glory withered and blasted like grass beneath the sun before our eyes. And in this experience I have come, crawling like a worm to God, and said, "Lord, smite no more; I can stand no more. Thou hast smitten; now heal, comfort, bless. I feel I have nothing to be proud of; I am a poor, wretched, empty beggar. Lord, save me; save me by grace. Sprinkle me with blood. Let the glory of Thy Son's righteousness be upon me; that just as Aaron's sons in Aaron's robes stood in the same relation to God as Aaron stood, so may I, in Christ's righteousness, stand in the same relation to the Father as does the Son."
II. Just a few remarks upon this day of power. It was a day of power with Israel after their 400 years' bondage, when God brought them out with a high hand and an outstretched arm. "The self-same day," we read, "all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt;" the self-same day, because it was the day of God's power. Their groanings did not effect their deliverance. Their cries to God did not bring down the Lord any the sooner; He had been attentive to their cry. Do not let that remark discourage you, poor exercised child of God. If the Lord has put a cry into your heart, go on crying; the Lord hears. God has said in His Word, for your comfort: "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him." (Ps. 12:5) Cry unto the Lord as He may help you; and though the vision tarry, wait for it. Israel were kept 400 years in bitter bondage; and then how blessedly did God appear for His people! When He revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush, He said, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I have surely seen the affliction of My people, and have heard their cry; and I am come down to deliver them." And God by His omnipotent power brought them out on the self-same day. So, on the appointed day, at the fixed time, every vessel of mercy, known by God from everlasting, is brought by the quickening grace of God from the world, from Satan, and from the dominion of sin, and is brought into the kingdom of God's dear Son. So it was with Saul of Tarsus. Though a Pharisee of the Pharisees, as touching the law blameless, on his way to Damascus he saw a great light, and he was thrown from his horse, brought down to the ground, and he heard a voice: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" He said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest." This was the day of God's power. No longer a Pharisee of the Pharisees, as touching the law blameless; no longer pursuing and hunting up, like a thirsty hound, the blood of God's saints; but low in the dust. It was the same with Zaccheus when the Lord spoke to him as he was secreted in the sycamore tree, and said, "Make haste, and come down."
These cases are quite sufficient to set forth that there is a day of God's power in the life of every elect vessel of mercy, and that the Holy Ghost, who is cognizant of the mind of God, and knows the things of God, knoweth the very day and the very hour and the very moment, according to the counsel of Jehovah, when the arrow of conviction must be directed to that man's heart, to that woman's heart, to this poor sinner's conscience, and to that poor sinner's conscience. And the blessed Spirit being a Divine Person in the glorious Godhead, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son, is infinite in His wisdom; and therefore, He is never a day too soon, never a day too late, never sends a wrong arrow, never inflicts a blow that is too severe; but is always correct with regard to time, discipline, and process. When the time comes, the Spirit sends forth the arrow of conviction, and the poor sinner, like Saul of Tarsus, is brought down from his summit of creature conceit and importance into the dust, and is made to put his hand to his breast, and to cry like the contrite publican, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
Has this day of Divine power passed over you? Can you go back to the time when the Lord in infinite mercy called you by His grace? Some of the Lord's dear people cannot; and they are very much tried about it. But I have said in your hearing that there is no necessity for any child of God to cast away his confidence, and to look suspiciously upon himself, simply because he cannot remember the very day, or the very week, or the very month, when God began the saving work in his heart. But what I have many times said I repeat tonight; it always seems to me that a man must know something as to the time, because we did not come into this world regenerated. We came into this world alienated from God, and went astray from the womb, speaking lies. If this day of God's power has taken place in your experience, I think you must be able tonight to go back to some past period--I will not say a week, or a month, but I will say a period in your life when you felt sin to be a burden, and felt the realities of eternity weighing heavily upon your soul, and when for the first time you felt so wretched, so miserable, so pressed down, so overborne with your burden of sin, that you were driven literally to go on your knees, either in your bedroom, or in the shop, or in the field, somewhere. There must have been a spot where for the first time your bended knees were seen by God, and where with a poor troubled heart and a poor burdened mind, you said in substance, "Lord, have mercy upon me. O Lord, I am troubled; I am a sinner; I have sinned against Thee; I deserve Thy wrath. I can do nothing; I cannot save myself. Have mercy upon me!" The Lord thus, by a strong hand, and by terrible things in righteousness, brought you down at His feet. And since that time the Lord has been teaching you more and more, and bringing you more clearly into the truth; enabling you by His grace to see with an enlightened understanding, much more clearly than you saw at first, the blessed plan of salvation and the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. And as you grow up in years, I trust in some blessed measure you are growing in grace, and arriving unto the statureship of a man in the Lord; and sometimes, through the sweet earnest which the Lord gives you, I hope you are looking forward to the time when mortality shall be swallowed up of life.
Just one word more. "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning; Thou hast the dew of Thy youth." Now here I do not express myself in any persistent way and manner, but I speak just according to my judgment. I take the womb of the morning to be the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, embracing, as we know it does, the resurrection of His mystical body, the Church. We have this prophecy: "Thy dead men shall live, together with My dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." (Isa. 26:19) Again, in Hosea's prophecy: "Come, and let us return unto the Lord; for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us; in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord; His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth." (Hos. 6:1-4) You remember what I stated on Sunday evening from the words in Rev. 1:18, that the death of Christ, His obedience to the law, and all His work, would have gone for nothing, would have fallen to the ground, would have been unavailable for the ends for which He laid down His life, had the monster death triumphed over Him in the tomb. "Therefore," says Paul, "if Christ be not raised, ye are yet in your sins." But by His resurrection from the grave He was declared authoritatively in the high court of heaven to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by His resurrection from the grave. His resurrection was the receipt in full of all demands. His resurrection was not like a blank check, but like a check reading thus: "I promise to pay the bearer such a sum," with the name of an honorable man, whose banking account stands good, attached to it. And so the resurrection of Christ was an infallible seal upon His work. It was that which stamped validity upon His work, that filled His work with a glorious power, and that gave Him a legal right to demand the opening of doors and gates when He went up and back to God. And upon His resurrection from the grave God responded to His appeal, and said, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." (Ps. 24:7)
Every blessing we ever get comes through His death and resurrection. Not more truly does the infant born yesterday draw milk from its mother's breast than you and I draw blessed spiritual nutriment from our God, from His heart, His Word, and His Gospel, through the mighty trials and conquests of His Son over death, hell, and the grave, and by virtue of His finished work upon the cross, and that work ratified for ever and ever by His resurrection from the dead.
God comfort your hearts with more and more of His power. And, beloved friends, with such a glorious Christ as we have got, may our God enable us to love and praise Him more, for Christ's sake. Amen.