I shall not occupy much of your time this evening in noticing the history of which our text forms a part, but just remark these words of good King Hezekiah were spoken under very peculiar circumstances. If you read the chapter preceding our text, you will find an account then of what were the exercises of this man's mind during his painful affliction, when the prophet was sent to him with this message, "Thus saith the Lord, set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live." (2 Kings 20:1) It is evident, my friends, that the king was at that time in great darkness of soul, as he tells us he came to the conclusion, "that he should not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living." At the same time, it is evident, the Blessed Spirit operated most powerfully in his soul as a spirit of grace and supplication, though it seems the king could not give utterance to his feelings. The deep exercises of his mind were so weighty, the sorrows of his soul were so great, that they were beyond any language of which he was master to express. He could not express what he felt in words, therefore with sighs and groans he poured out his complaint to God. He tells us, "like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter; I did mourn as a dove; mine eyes fail with looking upward: O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me." (Isa. 38:14) Yet it would seem he had not faith to believe that the Lord would answer his prayer, and grant him the request of his lips; and therefore he comes to the conclusion that "I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul, and then lie down in sorrow;" for he goes on, "Behold, for peace I had great bitterness (but mark the wonderful change); but thou hast in love to my soul (not for worth or worthiness in me) delivered it from the pit of corruption; for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back." (Isa. 38:17) He then breaks out in blessing and praising God. But the enemy, taking advantage of these things, proves the truth of Mr. Hart's words, namely, "The heart uplifts with God's own gifts, and makes even grace a snare." For when the king of Babylon sent ambassadors to King Hezekiah to congratulate him on his wonderful and marvelous recovery, he showed the men everything that he possessed, all that was in his own house, and all that was in the house of the Lord. It was under these circumstances the prophet was sent to him to make enquiry whence these men came, and what they had seen? Hezekiah acted in a very straightforward manner, as every one that fears God should. He tells all the truth, keeps nothing back; he does not attempt to hide anything he had done, but tells the man of God that he had showed these men everything. Then said the prophet, "Hear the word of the Lord of Hosts, Behold the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried into Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith the Lord; and of thy sons which shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." When the king heard these words, he said, in the language of our text, "Good is the word of the Lord. Is it not good, for there shall be peace and truth in my days?"
Now we must not confine the goodness of the Lord's word to this special occasion, or in these two particular things that related to the king, namely, peace and truth in his day; because "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope." (Rom. 15:4) Also "how all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." (1 Cor. 10:11) Therefore, in speaking from the words tonight, I shall endeavor to point out some of the good things in God's word. "Good is the word of the Lord."
I must first remark, by the word of God something more than the letter of truth as recorded in this book is intended, and certainly something more than simply preaching the word is meant. For man, vile wretched man, we see, continues to turn a deaf ear to the voice of God in the Scriptures; hence we read of the Lord's calling and man's refusing to answer. The Lord calls by the written word; in fact, this is the voice of God to the children of men.
In the patriarchal age, the Lord's general way of communication to man was by dreams or visions. In the prophetic age, Paul tells us, "God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these days spoken unto us by His Son." (Heb. 1:1,2) When the Lord Jesus Christ came, the seventy weeks had expired, and He appeared to make an end of sin, to finish transgression, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness; then the visions of God were sealed up. (Daniel 9:24) And God the Father speaks to the children of men by His dearly beloved Son; but after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost was poured out in an extraordinary manner on the followers of the Lamb, who were to be His witnesses: the twelve apostles were to go forth, they were the twelve ministerial foundations; and upon the word of God, the Old and New Testament being completed, from that time to this the Lord's general way of speaking is by the written word. But, as I said, fallen ruined man turns a deaf ear to this; so in respect to the preached word. The Lord raises up, commissions, and sends forth men to preach the everlasting Gospel: and in this preached Gospel, He says, "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men." (Prov. 8:4) But unless a supernatural power attends the word preached, it is not effectual to the conviction and conversion or salvation of ruined man; therefore something beyond the written word, or the preached word, is here intended by the "word of the Lord."
Having made these few remarks, in the first place, I would say, whatever is intended by "the word of God" in the text, and other places, it is certain, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty; and until it is so in your case and mine, we are in nowise benefited by God's word, though it is a good word. We read, "The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord shaketh both heaven and earth."
Now, my friends, hearing the word preached cannot of itself accomplish these things. Therefore, by "the word of the Lord" something beyond this is intended. But not to keep you any longer upon the threshold of the subject, I will, by the Lord's help, endeavor to point out to you what "the word of God" does on behalf of a ruined sinner. Passing over the Lord Jesus Christ, (when I say passing over the Lord Jesus Christ, I do not mean in any way to leave Him out of the question, but simply this, not to employ your time tonight by entering into the glorious purpose and design of the Son of God, who is expressly said to be the Word of God. For "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," John 1:1,14 and so on). If we were to attend to this, we should find indeed, that "Good is the Word of the Lord!" What preciousness, my friends, is found in this Incarnate Word! There is such a large field here, that I must not presume to enter it tonight, but confine my few remarks to "the word of God" as relating to the soul's experience. If God's word is powerful, you must feel the powerful effects of that word to experience any benefit from it. If the voice of the Lord is full of majesty, it must come to us with majestic power ere we receive any benefit therefrom. When have we felt the power of God's word? When that word has been attended with majesty to our souls; we can then indeed say, in the language of Scripture, "The voice of the Lord is powerful," and in this case we speak from heartfelt experience.
The first good thing I shall notice relative to "the word of God," and which all the Lord's children experience, is this, light; for we are told, "the entrance of Thy word giveth light." (Ps. 119:130) Now this appears to me to be the first thing in the conversion of a sinner: say what you will, this is the first thing that leads savingly to the conversion of a ruined sinner to a precious Jesus. Man by nature is in a state of blindness and gross darkness, "For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people." (Isa. 60:2) And we are told that this darkness is in the mind or heart; "that the understanding is darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." (Eph. 4:18) "But if our Gospel be hid it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." (2 Cor. 4:3,4) Now, as this blindness is in the heart, this light shines not merely in the head or judgment, for the veil of ignorance may be taken away from the judgment, and a person may have clear views of truth; they may have a clear head, may be sound in doctrinal truths, yet be still blind in their mind, alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; consequently God's word is a light that comes into this dark, benighted heart. Hence the apostle saith, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6) This light shining into a sinner's heart is the light of life, and one thing that distinguishes them from the children of the flesh; for we are told that the children of God are children of light, and the children of the day, not children of the night, nor of darkness; for "the entrance of Thy word giveth light." If this light hath shined into thy heart and mine, it has discovered things that were previously hid from our view, "Whatsoever maketh manifest is light." Truly the Lord discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death. I must not dwell here, else I could notice many things, the fruits and effects of this true light, as there is a false light as well as the true light.
One effect of this true light shining into thy heart, is the opening up and disclosing to thy view the exceeding sinfulness of sin; the heinous nature of sin; the awful consequences of sinning against God, and the awful position in which you stand as a guilty sinner before God. These things thus opened up are disclosed in such a manner as they never were before. All men will confess they are sinners. If I were to go through this large place, and put the question to every individual, he would say, "Yes, most assuredly, I am a sinner;" and he would speak from his heart. "I know I am a sinner; I know it from facts, and facts are stubborn things, that cannot be withstood." But the question may be taken in this way: they confess with their mouth they are sinners; but, as to the feeling part, they are like a person guilty of a capital crime who has not yet been apprehended, not taken into custody; he knows he is guilty, but as he has escaped detection, he is not so deeply concerned about it as if he were brought to justice; his motto is, "No catch me, no have me." Consequently all the time he is at large, though he is conscious of his guilt, still he is not distressed about it. But let him be apprehended, brought to justice, and placed at the bar, put upon his trial, the witnesses have been examined, the evidence conclusive, his guilt confirmed, and the jury brought in their verdict of guilty, the sentence is passed--then the man knows what it is to break the law. Thus, in a spiritual sense, when the Holy Ghost brings a sinner to book; when judgment begins at the house of God, he knows what sin is; the demerit of sin, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the awful consequences of sinning against God; this brings him to make the same confession with the prophet, "Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." (Isa. 6:5) This is one thing which has been disclosed and made known to him as the effect of light shining into his heart.
Another thing, the effect of this light, is a discovery of the nature of God's Holy and righteous law, the law in its spirituality being applied to his conscience, as the ministration of death; like to a looking glass, in which he sees his features exactly portrayed, and his character set forth in the Scriptures of truth.
Another thing disclosed to his view is the insufficiency of his own righteousness to justify him before God; the insufficiency of all his doings, promises, and vows, to atone for his past crimes. This brings him to the place of the stopping of mouths. He is brought to despair of all hope from a covenant of works. This may be the work of many months, or the Lord may cut the work short, accomplish it in a shorter period: in this respect the Lord is a Sovereign. But, ultimately, the poor sinner shall have the light of life shining into his heart; he shall have his eye directed to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only door of hope opened for a poor sinner, as the only way of access to the Father, as the only way of justification, as the only way to eternal life, as the only salvation, as the only Mediator between God and man. When this is the case, it may be truly said that "light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." When the sinner's eye is directed to the glorious Person of the Son of God as every way suited to his ruined state and condition, Christ appears to the poor sinner's view as the fairest among ten thousand; and, though he may not be able at present to appropriate the benefits of the Saviour's death for want of faith, still he discovers that in Christ which is exactly suited to his need, consequently Christ becomes exceedingly precious to his ruined soul; and in the Lord's own time he shall have a believing view of the Lord Jesus. When this is the case he says with Job, "Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another." (Job 19:27) Then is brought to pass the words in the Proverbs, "The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart, and a good report maketh the bones fat." (Prov. 15:30) When the eye of faith is fixed upon Christ the sinner is enabled to believe in Christ to the joy and rejoicing of his heart. "Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire;" (Eccl. 7:9) for "light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." (Eccl. 11:7)
These few things are the effects of the true light shining into the sinner's heart. "The entrance of Thy word giveth light." (Ps. 119:130)
In the next place, God's word being quick and powerful, brings life with light into the soul. I have heard men contend about this point:--which enters the soul first, light, or life? I think there is no need for this contention, no need for this nice distinction. This light is the light of life. You might as well attempt to separate heat from light as to make a distinction between light and life. Christ came a light into the world, and this life was the light of men.
We are told also, God's word is "quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb. 4:12) David drew comfort in after days from his former experience, that God's word had quickened him. "This is my comfort in mine affliction, Thy word hath quickened me." (Ps. 119:50) We are told by the Saviour Himself, "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." (John 5:25) This precious word, which quickens dead sinners into newness of life, must be immediately from God, because this life is everlasting life. True spiritual life in a poor sinner's soul is eternal life, one of the streams that flow from that river, the river of God's pleasure, as an earnest of their future inheritance. Consequently those who are blessed with this light in their souls, are passed from death to life, and shall continue to live. Thus the voice of God is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord is powerful, inasmuch as it quickens the soul into newness of life.
In the next place, the word of God is good, inasmuch as it ofttimes raises a sinner to a hope in His mercy. Hence you find David speaks on one occasion: "Remember Thy word unto Thy servant upon which Thou hast caused me to hope." (Ps. 119:49) Now, my friends, upon what is our hope grounded? Is it on what we do? Or on what we have done, or what we purpose doing? Or is it grounded on what the Lord hath said, not merely what the Lord hath left on record, but what the Lord hath spoken to my soul individually? "Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, upon which thou hast caused my soul to hope." Religion is a personal thing; we must have the Lord speak to us individually ere we are raised to a sweet comfortable hope in the Lord's mercy. As the Lord spoke to David so He speaks to His children, not merely by the written word, or by the ministry of the word, but He speaks to the heart. "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her;" (Hosea 2:14) or, as it reads in the margin, "I will speak to the heart." Now sometimes the Lord says to a poor sinner, one overwhelmed with grief and sorrow, with distressing and disquieting fears on his mind, ready to conclude he shall never obtain mercy or find favor with God; one who is led out in earnest prayer and supplication to the Lord day by day, to give him a token for good, to show him mercy, and grant him salvation. The Lord is pleased at times to speak some precious word home to his heart. Some passage of scripture may be fastened on his mind, attended with the power of the Holy Ghost, with savor, dew, and unction, this raises his poor soul to a hope in God's mercy; so the Holy Ghost is pleased to speak secretly to the heart: He whispers, as it were, to the mind of the poor sinner, saying, "Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." (Isa. 41:10) No matter how the Lord speaks, what the Lord says, for He always accomplishes the end He has in view, and the soul is raised to a comfortable hope in the mercy of God. I shall never forget some time back, one Saturday night retiring to rest, I had been so tried, the trouble was so heavy upon me that I was almost overwhelmed, and the next day, being the Lord's day, I knew, if spared, I should have to meet the people. In the morning I awoke with these words on my mind, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony that he pleased God." (Heb. 11:5) The words did not seem applicable to my case; but they were attended with unction, dew, savor, and power to my soul. The grief, sorrow, and despondency of my mind was gone; the Lord had dispersed it, and I had a sweet and blessed enjoyment of the Lord's presence in my soul, such as I can never describe. I went to chapel, and preached from these words, and some present here tonight do perhaps recollect hearing the discourse, though it was many miles distant from this place:--"Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, on which Thou hast caused me to hope."
Now, my friends, bear in mind, "Good is the word of the Lord." Has the Lord opened thy blind eyes to see thy ruined state? To see the position in which you stand? Has he opened thy blind eyes to see a door of hope? A way of escape in the Person and finished work of a precious Jesus? Then I will say here, as I said the other evening at Nottingham, that the eye affects the heart; the eye is the inlet or high road to the heart. If your eye has seen Jesus, as the way, the truth, and the life, as the foundation of life, so that thy heart has been sensibly touched, sensibly affected, you know what it is to have your heart and soul drawn forth in earnest prayer and supplication for a faith's view of interest in a precious Jesus, after a revelation and a manifestation of Him, and his great and precious salvation, to your poor lost, ruined miserable soul. Thus thine eye effects thine heart. Has the Lord spoken the word of life to thy soul? Has He granted thee newness of life, delivered thee from a state of death in trespasses and sin? Time will not admit of my going into many particulars, as a sure evidence of the life of God in the soul. But, I would ask, has the Lord spoken a cheering word to your heart? Has He spoken a word in season to your soul? Has He enabled you by faith to receive the word, to rest on what the Lord has said? Then he that believeth is passed from death unto life; a sweet sensible hope has sprung up in thy soul; this has made way for patience. The language of your heart is under this work; "I will quietly wait, and patiently hope for Thy salvation." And, in the language of the prophet, you say, "Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me." (Micah 7:7) This will be the effect of the soul's having been raised to a sweet, sensible hope in God's precious word. Now the soul will, with David, remind the Lord of what He has said, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour Thou bearest unto Thy people! O visit me with Thy salvation! Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope!"
In the next place the word of the Lord is good, inasmuch as it is food to our souls. A man once said to another, under trying circumstances in Providence, "You must live by faith." My friends, faith will not feed our hungry bodies, though it oftimes strengthens a poor sinner's soul, and enables him to trust God as the God of providence under trying circumstances. Still the body must be fed, food must be administered to it, nature requires it, else we should ultimately starve to death; nor will faith feed a hungry soul. We read, "The just shall live by faith;" yet faith is not the food, faith is to bring the food, which is something else, into the sinner's heart. By faith he receives the food, which food is a distinct thing from faith; he feeds upon that which faith brings in. As we commonly say in our ordinary conversation, such a man lives by his calling, another lives by his trade, and a third lives by his labor; so that what a man lives upon spiritually is distinct from faith. Then, say you, What is it? It is "the word of God," "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord shall man live." (Matt. 4:4) "Thy words were found," saith the prophet, "and I did eat them;" "and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart." (Jer. 15:16) The Lord oftimes pleased to make the written word meat and drink to the sinner's soul. He is oftimes by faith enabled to feed on a precious Jesus, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed; and oftimes the Lord is pleased to feed His children through the medium of preaching. He declares He will send them pastors after His own heart, who shall feed them with knowledge and understanding. Peter was commanded to feed the flock of Christ and not to overlook the Lambs. "Feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) The Lord's ministers are to place provision before the people, to spread the Gospel table as instruments in the Lord's hands. The Lord alone can give an appetite for the provision; the Lord alone can give power to partake; the Lord alone can feed the soul; and the Lord alone can cause them to understand and digest the food. The Lord is oftimes pleased to attend the ministry of His word with power. When this is the case, the following text is the experience of His family: "They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places; (Isa. 49:9) they shall feed, and lie down, and none shall make them afraid." (Zep. 3:13) Now, it is oftimes the case, in hearing God's word, that the sinner's path is cast up, his experience is traced out, the very feelings of his soul are described. What he wants, the things after which he presses, are described. In the sermon preached, the Holy Ghost is pleased to apply the word with divine power to his heart. He receives the truth, he feeds upon it, and returns from the house of prayer somewhat refreshed in mind, and satisfied in soul; and therefore will say, "Good is the word of the Lord." "It was truly precious, I was enabled not merely to hear with the outward ear, but was enabled to hear to my soul's profit, the comfort of my heart, and the joy and rejoicing of my soul; indeed it was a word in season to me; it was a pleasant word, it was health to my soul, and strength to my bones." Thus a man lives by the word of God daily. It is by faith we are enabled to rest on the Lord under the most trying circumstances, as our bodies are strengthened and refreshed by partaking of food day by day, so our souls are strengthened in the Lord through faith, resting on what the Lord hath said unto us. It is said of Abraham, he was "strong in faith, giving glory to God;" in proof of which he offered up Isaac, his only begotten son. It may be said of Habakkuk he had a strong faith in God's providential mercies, presupposing a famine in the land, "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vine; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." (Habak. 3:17,18) Here is indeed living by faith on what the Lord hath said, "Good is the word of the Lord."
In the next place, God's word is good, inasmuch as it heals all our maladies, of which David had a very blessed experience, when he said, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies." (Ps. 103:1-4) How many maladies have we got? Yet God's word is a sovereign balm for the whole of them. The dreadful malady of unbelief, how often does the word of God, as it were, put this enemy to flight, so that we are healed, at least for a time, from this dreadful malady. Thomas would not believe; he seemed determined not to believe. As if he had said, "You will not impose upon me"--"Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe." (John 20:25) He might as well have said, "Faith in my case must come in seeing, as well as hearing." But when the Lord said, "Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing," Thomas answered and said, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:27,28) He did not want to thrust his hand into the Lord's side; it was enough for him: the Lord spoke, and it was done; his unbelief was put to the blush, his unbelief fled. The Lord oftentimes speaks, my friends, and heals the soul's dreadful malady.
Another dreadful malady is a hard heart, a benumbed conscience, the depravity of our nature, the overspreading plague in every faculty of the soul, the fountain of the great deep broken up. "My heart is hard," says the man, "and my conscience is benumbed." But oftimes the Lord has spoken and healed us of this malady; our heart has been made soft. "A soft word breaketh the bone," puts feeling into the benumbed conscience, lays us low in the dust of self-abasement. The goodness of God leads the soul to repentance; true contrition, compunction, and godly sorrow flow into the heart; the darkness then flies away, the sun ariseth, and then is fulfilled this scripture, "Thou makest darkness, and it is night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The sun ariseth; they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. Man goeth unto his work and to his labour until the evening." (Ps. 104:20,22,23) Man goeth forth to his work of faith, his labour of love, and the patience of hope till the evening.
Another dreadful malady is the guilt of sin. If you know what it is to have the guilt of sin on your conscience, the Lord has a remedy suited to the malady. He said to Mary Magdalene, "Her sins which are many, are all forgiven." He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The guilt of sin is removed from the conscience, that heavy weight is taken from the mind, the sackcloth is put off, and the soul is girded with gladness. The soul is brought out of the horrible pit and miry clay; his feet set upon a rock, his goings established, a new song put into his mouth, even praise unto God. We are told of Mary, that, having had much forgiven her, she loved her Saviour much. This word of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. "Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saveth them out of their distresses. He sent His word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction."
Now, again. The word of God is good, inasmuch as it has cleansing properties as well as healing. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:25,26) "Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor. 7:1) We must have the externals as well as the internals of religion. If we have the latter, we are sure to have the former. If the malady of the soul be healed, certainly we shall know what it is to be cleansed as well as healed, washed in the water of regeneration--"And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (Eph. 4:23,24) "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him." (Col. 3:9,10) "As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, mortifying the deeds of the body, putting on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering. Let the word of Christ dwell richly in your heart." (Col. 3:12,16)
If we have been convicted by the word, quickened by the word, raised to a hope by God's word; if we have had the malady of our souls healed by God's truth, then, my friends, we shall know what it is for the word to cleanse us, what it is to be cleansed by the washing of water by the word, walking circumspectly in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, having the guilt of sin removed from the conscience, the affections purged from idols, and the heart purified from dead works, serving the living and true God. "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Heb. 9:14) That which separates between an ungodly world and you, between empty professors and those that love God. Having this influence upon your soul, showing itself in your whole conversion before men, is the effect of God's word: therefore it may be truly said in this respect, "Good is the word of the Lord."
I shall notice, in the next place, that it is "the word of God" that liberates the captive sinner. "The king sent, and loosed him, even the ruler of the people, and let him go free." (Ps. 105:20) Here is, my friends, a jail delivery from the right quarter, not brought up and bailed, or let out the wrong way. No, no. But the king sent and loosed him, even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. The Saviour saith, "If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36) And speaking of His own children, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) If we consult what the Prophet Isaiah says relating to the Saviour, we shall see he speaks in the following manner: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek: he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God: to comfort all that mourn." (Isa. 61:1,2) Here we have the Saviour commencing preaching glad tidings to the meek, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives. This is a very blessed proclamation; still something more is wanted. Every man sent to preach the Gospel makes proclamations of peace to the lost, ruined sinners, yet something more is wanted. They are not only to preach glad tidings to the meek, but to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives, the opening of the prison to them that are bound. Something more than this is needed; something more than this is done. There is not only the opening of the prison doors, but the Saviour actually brings the prisoner out of the prison-house. We must preach to you as the Lord has commanded the heralds of salvation, the ambassadors of peace, to proclaim in your ears a full, free, and finished salvation by a precious Jesus. What is the Gospel? It is a proclamation of good news and glad tidings; it proclaims pardon for the base, the vile, and forgiveness for culprits. But this is not enough for you. Good news it is, you are constrained to say. So it is, but it does not gladden my heart, because I am shut up in prison. We will go a step further, we will proceed gradually: He opens the prison door that you may come out. The minister opens up the scriptures of truth, opens up particular things, shows the way in which Christ has freed His Church and people, which is like to opening the door. But, though the door is opened, still something is wanted. Proclamation is made in your hearing, but something more must be done. You cannot free yourself; your soul is locked in irons. You cannot go forth, though the door is open; the Saviour must do the next kind act--bring the prisoner out of the prison house. When a ruined sinner is set free by a precious Jesus, and the proclamation of the Gospel is attended with the power of the Holy Ghost to his heart, he is loosed from his bonds, the fetters are knocked off from his soul, he is taken by the hand, and led out of the prison house, and his soul is set at happy liberty. Then, in that sinner's case, it is the same spiritually as was in Lazarus bodily. When he came forth from the grave, with the grave-clothes about him, the Saviour said, "Loose him, and let him go." His hands and feet were unbound, the napkin was taken from his face, and the man was set at liberty. When these things take place in a sinner's soul, we can then compare him with Napthali, or pronounce him to be a Napthali in the true sense of the word. "He is a hind let loose," (Gen. 49:21) set at happy liberty, and giveth goodly words. And when this is the case, who is to bring the sinner back? Who is to file a second indictment against him? I answer none. "If the Son make you free, you are free indeed." "But," say you, "will the soul always be thus free, and not entangled again with the yoke of bondage?" (Gal. 5:1) The Lord oftimes lays His people in the stocks, so that they have to complain, and say with David, "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name." (Ps. 142:7) But I maintain, if the Lord makes free the sinner, he is free indeed, is delivered in a legitimate way--it is not for men to bring him back again. "It is God that justifies, who is he that condemns?" (Rom. 8:33,34) Thus the truth makes free, and whatever change takes place in the feelings, they are the Lord's free men still. If you have enjoyed this liberty, had your pardon sealed home upon your conscience, your soul unfettered, and set at happy liberty, you can say, in the language of the text, "Good is the word of the Lord," Good indeed was the word when He spoke pardon to my soul, liberated my captive mind, brought my soul into the liberty of the children of God. I run the way of His commands then with alacrity and delight. "I will run the way of Thy commands when Thou hast enlarged my heart." (Ps. 119:32) "Good is the word of the Lord."
Once more. God's precious word will sanctify the soul. Hence Christ, in His address to His Father, "Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth." (John 17:17) If the word of truth has a sanctifying influence, it must be good. But it may be asked, "What is sanctification?" It certainly is a very important subject, and there is a great deal of contention in the religious world about it. Some talk of "progressive sanctification." If they mean by this a person gets more righteous and holy until he arrives at last to sinless perfection, I must say there is no such sanctification to be found only in the minds of deluded men and women, for the Scriptures declare no such doctrine; "for if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8) My views of sanctification are simply these:--Firstly, one very important part, or branch of sanctification consists in the Father setting apart in the decree of election His own blessed family, as we read, "He hath set apart Him that is godly for Himself; that is, for a special purpose and special end, as the things in the temple. The priests that ministered in the sanctuary service were set apart to that work and place to which they were appointed: so the children of God were sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus, and called. Secondly, these are all sanctified with the blood of Christ. His righteousness justifies from the curse of a broken law, and His blood cleanseth from all sin; it delivers from all sin, and from going down into the pit of hell, which is the wages due to sin; and in this precious blood we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins. Hence we read, "That He might sanctify the people with His own blood, He suffered without the gate: let us, therefore, go forth to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." (Heb. 13:13) In this way, "Christ is made of God unto us righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30) Take away sin from man, and you leave him a righteous man; impute to him the righteousness of Christ, and he becomes the righteousness of God in it: consequently, the Lord doth not behold iniquity in Jacob, or perverseness in Israel. (Numbers 23:21) But, thirdly, We are sanctified by God the Holy Ghost. All those who are sanctified by God the Father, and made perfect by Christ, are by the Holy Ghost called with a holy calling, gathered from the east, west, north, and south, set apart from the world, vessels of mercy prepared for the Master's service; as the Lord saith, "This people have I formed for myself, they shall show forth my praise;" (Isa. 43:21) and the Holy Ghost, working powerfully in the sinner's heart, makes him willing to give himself into the hand of the Lord, to take up his cross and follow Christ, and is solemnly dedicated to the service of the Lord--"Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power." (Ps. 110:3) I do not know what kind of doctrine you get in Coventry as to perfection, but I think the apostle here certainly explains himself. He says "Let us go on unto perfection." (Heb. 6:1) What does he mean? He tells us, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man; not tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but built up in the truth, rooted, settled, and grounded in the truth." (Eph. 4:13,14) This is perfection--first, babes in knowledge, then little children, then young men, and afterwards fathers. First the blade, afterwards the ear, then the full corn in the ear. The grain is ripened, the sickle is thrust in, the corn cut down, and gathered into the garner. In this respect the saints do progress, but as to getting better or holier, is like the Ethiopian expecting to change his colour, or the leopard his spots. (Jer. 13:23) Depraved nature is ever the same, unchanged and unchangeable. The grace of God is a distinct thing. Grace and flesh are very near neighbors, but in no ways related, but quite distinct. Unless we are able to distinguish between these two, we shall never understand the Scriptures, nor the mystery of faith in a poor sinner's conscience--the flesh and spirit--the old man and the new--the law in the members, and the law in the mind. These are found in the self-same soul. The old man will not get better, but the soul will grow "in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ:" (2 Pet. 3:18) they go from strength to strength till they all appear in Zion before God. This is being sanctified by God's truth. We frequently beg of God to sanctify our trials; now, in this respect, how often the truth has had its sanctifying influence in our souls. The Lord often overrules or manages our trials for us, that they end in profit to our souls, and bring glory to his precious name. "Good is the word of the Lord."
I will close the whole by saying, one word of the Lord is peculiarly good--God promises never to leave or forsake us, or the work of His own hands. "He is the Rock, and His work is perfect, for all His ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is He." (Deut. 32:4) "He will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Heb. 13:5)
The Lord grant you and me to know from heartfelt experience that the word of God in this respect is truly good. May the Lord add His blessing. Amen.