Our text shows us a peculiar people, a people God has formed for Himself. It is not man that can form them for God, God must form them Himself; if you are to live with God you must be formed by Him.
On the past day I spoke to you about God's chosen people, and I said that God would work miracles for some people. He says, "I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert," (Isa. 43:19). I will be a creator. Sooner than My people shall be lost in the intricacies of the wilderness, I will make a way for them there; and sooner than they shall die in the wilderness of thirst, I will make rivers in the desert. Oh what a gracious God we have to deal with! These people for whom God will do this were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. The prophet goes on to speak more particularly in the words of our text of the people for whom God would do these things: "This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise.
There are three things I want to speak to you about, and there is a sort of chain work between the things; they seem to hang one upon another. There is a blessed chain work in the Bible, and there should be in our sermons according to the ability God gives us.
(I). I want to speak to you about the Speaker in our text.
(II). In the second place, I want to speak of this forming work: "This people have I formed," that they may be Mine, and I may be theirs; it is a forming of character.
(III). I want to speak of the results of this forming: "They shall show forth My praise."
(I). Let us look at the Speaker in our text. I need hardly tell you, for you must be all aware of it, the Speaker is God, God in Christ, not God merely in the law as the Law-giver. How can people show forth God's praise if they are dealt with only in a broken law? The Psalmist says in the 130th Psalm: "If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?"
The Speaker in this particular case, and the former too, He who forms these people, is God in Christ. Now let us look at a few things God spoke about Himself, and what He would do in Christ. We will select a few, we cannot speak of nearly all.
The first thing I shall select is in the Epistle of John, a name God gives Himself; it has particular reference to God the Father, not excluding God the Son and God the Holy Ghost: "God is love." This is one of the descriptions God gives of Himself; He is full, free, sweet, eternal love.
Those poor people, then, who come to God in Christ, God wills them to look upon Him as love. If He uses the rod to a person it is in love; if He uses the rod to a people it is all in love. God designs His people to look upon Him as pure, free, unbounded love. If God smiles, He would have them look on it as love; and if He frowns, He would have them look on it as love; but the difficulty is when He frowns to look upon it as love. If I smile on my child he knows I love him; but if I chide him, he does not think directly that I do not love him. God may chide us for our benefit, as well as smile upon us for our benefit; and He may frown upon a people for their benefit, as well as smile upon them. Whether He frown or smile, He is a God of love, full, free, boundless, eternal love. He is a God of love, when He appears to desert us. Jesus Christ cried, "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Yea, we may even say, "Why hast Thou hardened our hearts from Thy fear?" I do not encourage you to say this, but even if you feel like this, God is still a God of love. If God permissively suffers His people to go astray, (as, alas! My poor fickle, feeble soul has gone astray hundreds of times), yet He has not altered His Fatherly character: "God is love."
Another description of God we shall speak of you will find in Peter's Epistle. There God gives Himself this title: "God of all grace," (1 Pet. 5:10). He is a "God of all grace," grace, that if you are walking in His fear, can keep you; and His grace is sufficient to keep you all your life long, walking in His fear, that you may never defile your garments.
Oh, but what a mercy He is a God of all grace to raise us up when we have fallen! Perhaps a poor person here may say, "It is no use for me to hear about upholding grace, I am a poor fallen thing;" and if we were to say the truth, I am afraid all of us would have to make this confession. Oh, then, God has grace to lift you up; He is the God of all grace to raise up poor fallen things.
In my own church, if one of my members falls into any sin, I feel that it reflects the state of the church, and I begin to think, "Have I done my duty?" If you feel as I do, that if any members fall it reflects the state of the church, and reflects your state, you would not want to blaze it all over England. You would feel: "Oh, I fell there; it reflects my state; and I am afraid it reflects the state of the churches generally." If we hear of anyone's falling, we should feel that if grace had not kept us, we should have fallen too. When I hear of anyone's going to be executed, I feel like John Bradford did: "There goes Grey Hazlerigg, but for the grace of God." He is, "the God of all grace," to preserve from falling, and we have reason to thank God that He is the God of all grace to raise up when we have fallen.
Another description of Himself is this: "The Father of mercies." When God uses figures I believe He designs us to work out the figures; here He speaks of the figure of a father. I, as a father, love my children, I am delighted with them; little things in my children please me more than superior things in other people's children; I do not scruple to say it. If one of my children does a little drawing and brings it to me to look at, I admire it; of course, I may not think it very artistic, but then my child did it, and I am pleased with it.
Do you not see what I am driving at? God uses this figure to show His tenderness. He is, "the Father of mercies." Oh how different to those people who are all judgment! With God, "mercy rejoices against judgment;" but if judgment rejoices against mercy with you, take care that you do not receive all judgment from God; let us take care, let us take care. God delights in mercy, He is the Father of mercies. God delights to give you Christ, poor sinner, and you delight to receive Him. You delight to receive mercy, but God delights to give you mercy more than you delight to receive it.
Another description is this: "Forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin;" and that is what God does to sinners who come to Him in Christ; all kinds of sin shall be forgiven to the poorest sinner that comes to God in Christ. What a royal invitation! "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men." Oh, does it not make you forgive your fellow-men?" You dare not be resentful, because how could you stand if God should be resentful with you? It makes you lean to mercy's side; it makes you lean to the tender side; it makes you lean to the Gospel side, because you want God to mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand?" If God should mark one day's sins where would you be? In hell. But He is a God that multiplieth forgiveness.
There is another name I want to speak to you about, and oh how sweet it has been to me:
"Long time beneath the law I lay,
In bondage and distress;
I toiled, the precept to obey,
But toiled without success."
I knew something about a Saviour, and yet I was afraid He could not be just and justify such a sinner as I. Have you ever been exercised about this? If not, I am afraid you are not much exercised about anything. I was exercised about this, then how sweet was that name to me, "God that justifieth the ungodly." "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly;" oh, how sweet to me, what music this made in my heart!
When I felt this, another description of God was exceeding sweet to me: A God, "able to save to the uttermost;" let the world do its worst, and it does a great deal with some; there are filthinesses of the spirit as well as filthinesses of the flesh; a worldly spirit is a filthiness of the spirit, a covetous spirit is a filthiness of the spirit.
A certain person who had committed a particular sin was brought to Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees for Him to condemn her, but Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her;" and what did they do? They all went out from the eldest to the youngest; there is a lesson in it for us. Let the world do its worst, (and it has done a great deal with many professors, the world has slain its thousands); let the devil do his worst, and let sin do its worst, (I would say it with all tenderness, mind, don't you do your worst); but they cannot reach beyond God's uttermost. I am certain no arm can reach my case unless that arm can reach to the uttermost.
Another name, and this is particularly applied to the Spirit is, God the Comforter: I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate." Oh what a blessed description this is: "A new heart will I give you;" and God can give you a new heart.
One more description I want to mention, and this is a promise for churches. God says, "I will increase them with men like a flock." I have sometimes found that when God means to increase a church He puts the church into the sieve first, and then a good deal of chaff appears. When my church has been put in the sieve, it has made the chaff fly, but I believe there is some good wheat too. But oh what a mercy God speaks such things as these: "I will increase the churches with men like a flock."
(II). Now God says: "This people have I formed for Myself." There is a wonderful simplicity in the Word of God; God forms that He may bestow Himself; if He does not form you, He will never bestow Himself.
First, how does He form? I want to speak of three particular ways in which God forms His people, but I shall be very brief.
(1). How does God form His people? Of course, He does it by His Word; the people of God are a people formed by the Word and conformed to the Word. When God begins to form His people the Word of God begins to have an effect upon them. I would have you look to it, poor sinner, has the Word done anything for you? What is the Word of God to you?
(2). Again, God uses providences. He sometimes plunges individuals into depths, and He sometimes plunges churches into depths, and when He does this there is a good deal got rid of.
(3). But principally God forms His people by His blessed Spirit; all the providences in the world will not form people for God without the Spirit. You may hear the Word, and you may read the Word, and I will go farther than this, (I like to preach to myself as well as to you, I often hit myself, I send most of my blows home to myself), I say, then, we may hear the Word, and read the Word, and we may even preach the Word, and unless the Spirit form us it is no good. Now is it not so? God forms His people by His Word, by providences, but most of all by His Spirit.
Now look at the character of the formation. How is our text fulfilled in any way but this? I said that God revealed Himself in His Word as a God of love. How do we know it? By being formed for love. We are formed for a God of love by being made to feel self-abhorrence. Have you ever felt it? Jeremiah felt this. But here I will throw in a word, when a church member falls into sin his brethren should take it to themselves as their own sin, and pray as though they had committed the sin. In the ninth chapter of Daniel we find that Daniel takes the sins of the people to himself; he does not fly out against them, but confesses their sins as though they were his own; that is the way of grace. He says, "We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day." Jeremiah says: "We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness, we have sinned against Thee; do not abhor us, for Thy name's sake." He knew he deserved the abhorrence of God, he felt this; and the people of God feel they deserve the abhorrence of God. I am satisfied that this is the way God forms His people for Himself; He shows them they deserve Divine abhorrence, and are, "hateful, and hating one another;" and when they feel this it makes room for God as the God of love. I do not know any other way in which we learn these things.
Again: God reveals Himself as, "the God of all grace." How do we know Him as such? Is it by feeling what worthy persons we are? Grace means free unmerited favor; then it is by being stripped of all our fancied worthiness we are formed for, "the God of all grace."
"'Tis not for good deeds, good tempers, nor frames;" not for any good in us, but all of grace. This is the way God forms His people for Himself: "The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein."
How are we formed for a God of mercy? Is it by thinking we can do with a God of justice only? Now to be plain, I will put it in this sort of way. Supposing mercy were to come upon this earth, and mercy did once come in the form of Jesus Christ; but supposing mercy were to come again. She goes to that person and enquires whether there is a lodging place there for mercy; but that person is a light, trifling sinner, there is no room for mercy there. But here is a neater looking abode; mercy goes again and taps at the door; this person is filled with his own worthiness, a Pharisee, (oh, he would not do such things as his neighbor does)! And mercy turns away and shakes her head in even a sadder way than before, for, alas! There is no room for mercy there. But then mercy goes to a poor broken hearted sinner, and here she finds a home; misery makes room for mercy; a heart of misery is a home for mercy.
So, in other cases, how does God form His people for Himself as a "God forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin?" By making them feel their sins. God does not make a man a sinner, but He makes him feel his sins; sin is yours, my friend, sin is mine.
How does God form His people for Himself as a God that justifies the ungodly? By making them feel their need of Him as such, by making them feel their ungodliness.
How does God form His people for Himself as one "that saves to the uttermost?" Cannot you answer? Yes, it is by making them feel how they need a God that can save to the uttermost. In my simple way I go to God and say, "I stand in need of a great deal of saving." Perhaps you do not; at least, you do not feel it; but I believe that these people God forms do feel it; they feel they stand in need of a great deal of saving, and they want a God that can save to the uttermost.
How is God known as a Comforter? By our being comfortless. "He comforteth those that are cast down."
"O Zion, afflicted with wave upon wave,
Whom no man can comfort, whom no man can save."
God speaks to churches, and God will comfort churches as well as people individually. Who are the people who know God as building the ruined places and planting the desolate ones? Those who feel ruined and desolate.
Who are the people who know God as a God that increases with men like a flock? The people who know that none can increase a church but God; those who look to God, not to the minister, to do it. And it makes these people pray to God for it. God says, "I will increase them with men like a flock;" and these people pray, "Lord, do increase us with men like a flock."
Now am I true or not? I appeal to you as men of understanding, is this the way God forms His people for Himself, by making them feel poor, needy, helpless sinners, and stripping them of all worthiness in self?
(IV). Lastly, The Results: "They shall show forth My praise." Let us look when and how this is done. First, when do these people show forth God's praise? When God gives Himself to them, when God appears for them, and does something for them; they cannot before. When they are under the law they cannot praise God; they may justify Him, but they cannot praise Him. But when God appears as the God of love to a poor sinner that feels his worthlessness, then he praises God; when God appears as the God of all grace, either to uphold from falling or to raise a poor fallen sinner, then he praises God. Oh we do praise Him for restoring grace when He lifts us up. When God appears as the Father of mercies, and we have got in such a low place we feel nothing can raise us up to life again, then we praise God. When God makes Himself known to us as a God, "forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin," then we feel with the Psalmist: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy Name. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities." When God comes as the Justifier of the ungodly, imputing to you the obedience of Another, then you praise Him. When you are almost gone, like Jonah at the bottoms of the mountains, and the earth with her bars about you for ever, then when God comes to you as God that saves to the uttermost, oh! Then you praise Him. When God comforts you who are cast down, when He plants the desolate hearts, when in other words, God gives Himself to you, then you praise Him.
"This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise." But now how do they praise God? With their lips sooner or later; but before they can praise Him with their lips they do it in their hearts; there is a speech of the heart. There is a speech of the heart of a naughty kind too, and God listens to it; but there is a speech of the heart in praise. A man may praise God in his heart before he can with his lips, but sooner or later these people God has formed for Himself praise Him with their lips as well as with their hearts.
But there is another way they praise Him, not only with their lips and in their hearts; but, though the believer deplores his shortcomings, he praises God in his life, he wants to live as becometh the gospel of Christ. When God visits you with His blessing, you praise Him with your lips, and want to praise Him with your life. I verily believe that there are some in this place of worship who would live a holy life. You have felt at times when God has visited your souls a desire that you might never sin again all your lives; you would show forth His praises in your lives. But here I must leave it.