For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance." (Psalm 32:6,7)
After much conflict as to the text that I should preach on this evening, I have been (I trust by my blessed Master), minded to fix upon this portion of God's holy word, to preach (through grace), a useful sermon my hearers, to you. To preach, not to please men, but to profit men--to preach to edify His poor before me--aye, and if it be His blessed will, to preach so as to cause some Zaccheus to "come down" from the sycamore tree--some Mary Magdelene, to weep behind the Son of God--to preach so, that that great word in the gospel, may now be exemplified: "verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." (John 5:25)
I cannot imagine, beloved, that, in such a crowded congregation as this, all can be believers. I would not, in saying this, harbor an uncharitable thought; but, I must be faithful in the pulpit, and if amongst this mass of persons that I see before me, there be even one, not a Christian, I would for that one, send up an earnest, silent cry to God, that He would now use me as a means, and an instrument in His own blessed hand, and so "pluck" that one by the power of the preached gospel, "as a brand from the burning," saved through the blood and the love of Christ, for ever.
There is a remarkable passage in the book of Haggai, and quite applicable to what I have just set before you, "Then spake Haggai the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord." (Hag. 1:13)
I should have preached on that verse, if I had not taken the text in the Psalm. Remarkable words! "The Lord's messenger in the Lord's message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord."
Now, if He is with us tonight, I shall be a conqueror in the pulpit--if He is with you to-night, you will be glad and thankful that you have come to this evening's service. That is in His hands entirely! "My times (said the faithful David), are in Thy hand."
"My times are in Thy hand,
My God, I wish them there."
"In Thy presence I am happy,
In Thy presence I'm secure,
In Thy presence all afflictions
I can easily endure.
"In Thy presence I can conquer,
I can suffer"
(There must be suffering for Christ's sake),
Mark that word, "I can die." We must die--you and I must die--but mark the expression--
that is, die like a Christian, die in quietness and peace, die in hope, and so through the grave and gate of death, pass to a joyful resurrection!
"Far from Thee I faint and languish,
Oh! My Saviour, keep me nigh."
But without further preface, I must go to the text. We want, my hearers, as the Bishop of London said in his charge--we want plain-speaking men in our pulpits, and plain-spoken sermons! May God now enable me to preach the gospel in the simplicity of it. This is what we want. We do not want eloquence in the pulpit. We value this in its place, and in its way. Eloquence is very well, and very telling in a Gladstone debating in the House of Commons, but what we want in the pulpit is heart-searching truth, to come through the preacher's tongue, into the hearts of his hearers. And if God did not, in mercy, own me at times in this way, as an instrument in His sovereign hand, I should never desire to occupy a pulpit again! Faithful preaching is to touch the heart, to arouse, to awaken sinners, to break hearts, to bind up and heal hearts. We hold a hammer (as it were) in our hands. "Is not My word like as a fire? Saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29)
Oh! My hearers, if that word find you out, it will break the heart in pieces!
The text is in one of David's penitential psalms! It begins with a blessing, declaratory of the blessedness of him "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." (Ps. 32:1) Let me for an instant put that expression before you, "covered sin!" When anything is covered you cannot see it, it is hid! So Solomon, in Proverbs, declares, "Love covereth all sins." Now you and I are full of sin in ourselves. You and I are a mass of sin, no better than others. But the distinction, the only distinction is, that which grace makes--Free, and full pardon. Transgression forgiven! Iniquity blotted out, sin, all sin, each sin, every sin covered!
What were you singing just now?
In this Psalm (a penitential one), great experimental realities are set forth; and between its opening verse and the text I am preaching on, we see the wonderful soul-battle that David fought; there is the exercise, the wrestling, the struggling, the day and night realities of a saved sinner's conflict; and then the confessional (not to man! Not to priest! Let the papists keep their confessionals to themselves)--the confession of sin, the acknowledgment of all iniquity, the humbled, broken-hearted sinner laying his sins, and his case all before God. Oh! That's a reality! That is more, much more, than a mere profession, or a mere talking! Oh! It is a deep struggling of and in the soul. David says, "I acknowledged my sin unto thee"--and "mine iniquity have I not hid"--"I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord"--(then came pardon)! "And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." (Ps. 32:5)
Thus sin felt, sin abhorred, sin confessed, sin smarted under, is pardoned freely and fully! This is experimental truth! The sins of the church were everlastingly pardoned in eternity. The election of grace are all pardoned! But every elect sinner must be brought first to feel and groan under sin, and then confessing it, and repenting of it, must cry for forgiveness, and shall realize the full, and free, and entire pardon of it. And all this is effected and done at the appointed time, and in the appointed way. The heart of the sinner is (when God's set time arrives), made to hear and hearing to obey his command, "Come unto me, all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)
"Rest for my soul I long to find;
Saviour! If mine indeed Thou art,
Give me Thy meek and lowly mind,
And stamp Thine image on my heart."
And now, my hearers, I come to the practical point, that I would preach on to you--"For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when Thou mayest be found." Mark the words! I put it before you simply, plainly, so that the poorest person may understand it. "For this." What is that? What is this this? It is the pardon of sin! The forgiveness of iniquity! It was for this that the cry, that the prayer was poured forth! And now who is it that is said to pray for this pardon, for this mercy, for this forgiveness. Every one that is "godly;" mark the character, "godly." I was last evening preaching to some of you on these words "But to this man will I look, to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." (Isa. 66:2)
By a godly man, a godly person, "every one that is godly," we mean a child of God, one who stands distinguished from the worldling, and the mere carnal professor; and one evidence of being such an one is, if we suffer persecution, for Paul declares, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim. 3:12)
Now this is the character set forth in my text, "For this shall everyone that is godly"--that is, every honest, poor, repenting, Christ-seeking sinner who longs for peace, pardon and mercy in Christ.
Now we hold and preach the highest doctrines of free grace. We are not ashamed of our creed. These are the doctrines of the Church of England. Look at, and mark the seventeenth article of our church! Election, redemption, and conversion by the Holy Ghost, we hold these as the three cardinal doctrines of the Church of England. Do not tell me, that some professing themselves, Church of England men, are offended at these doctrines, that they do not hold them; then, if so, they are dissenters. But, while we hold, yea, faithfully hold, and believe these great and glorious doctrines, we do not wish to be continually preaching nothing but doctrines; the soul would grow lean in that case, but we take the doctrines as the ground-work of all our preaching, and every orthodox nonconformist holds these same doctrines as true. I have heard of one who has well said, "That he has his harp of three strings, viz., election, redemption, and regeneration; and that on these three strings, he plays every tune of the gospel," (or words to that effect). It is on these great and glorious doctrines that man's salvation depends; but the people of God want, and must have food, and mere dry doctrine will not feed the soul. What do we want when we sit down to dinner? Something to eat! And what does the really hungry soul want when he comes to church? It is not from curiosity! It is not merely to pass away an hour! It is not from custom, or because one's father has done so before us! It is not for the mere sake of attending on, or observing forms and ceremonies! Oh! No! It is because the hungry and thirsty soul wants, longs for meat and drink, and that meat and drink is Christ and the blood of Christ alone and only. Hence, the poor in spirit, and the broken in heart, love to hear the Truth preached, and longing for the bread and water of life, they desire to realize the promise in David's psalm, "I will satisfy her poor with bread." (Ps. 132:15)
The text says, "For this shall every one that is godly!"--I have shown you the meaning of "for this," and what that "this" is, namely, pardon, peace, forgiveness; and the man who prays--who pleads for that, is the "godly" man. Meditate on this word--"the godly." And this, as I have said, is the broken-hearted sinner; the sinner who feels his depravity; who groans under a body of sin and death; who has been made to see the reality of Isaiah's word, "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." (Isa. 1:6) Such an one is a godly man; and a godly man is a child of God, and a member of the Church of God. By the church I mean no particular sect, or party--I mean that church which Paul defines in Acts 20:28, "The church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood." Every member of that church, redeemed by blood, and baptized by the Holy Spirit, is taught, and made to feel, and feeling to bewail, his exceeding great sinfulness; and so to cry for pardon; and to look to Christ as the life and salvation of the sinner, the all in all of "His own elect."
And now in the text we have these words, "For this shall every one that is godly pray into Thee." Here then is the subject of prayer--prayer to God. Let me in all earnestness ask, What do you know of prayer? And my hearers, remember prayer, real prayer, is God's gift. He is the Author, the Beginner, as well as the Hearer of prayer. No man can pray without grace. When God has begun His work in any sinner's soul, prayer is the effect of it--the cry comes forth. How was it with Saul of Tarsus--that notorious persecutor of the church--that once gospel-hater--that once Christ-despiser? But when sovereign grace had begun the work in him, it was said, "Behold, he prayeth."
Prayer has been truly and beautifully defined to be "the breath of God in man." Do you know anything of that breathing? Prayer, the cry of the soul is a real thing. But "for this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found." Mark those words! "In a time when Thou mayest be found."
I know well the difficulties of prayer; I know how continually deadness and darkness prevail when we would pray. Oh! The hard and bitter exercise in prayer. But it is not always so, there is a time when God may be found and when He is found. When the Lord touches the heart; when He energizes prayer in such a wretch as I am, I do pray, prayer is easy then.
"The Christian's heart his prayer indites,
He speaks as prompted from within;
The Spirit his petition writes,
And Christ receives and gives it in."
We speak of sending a petition to Parliament.--Do we know what it is to petition the King of kings? But the point I am preaching on is a special one. And mark God's sovereignty in prayer: "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found." Mark this word. Oh! How sweet to know this in the experimentality of it; to find God, to have access to God through Christ. When on our knees, and after many a dead, and cold, and lifeless prayer, amidst the wrestlings (as it were) of a benighted heart, to feel the spring rise, and the dew fall, and Hosea's word exemplified, "I will be as the dew unto Israel." (Hos. 14:5) This, this is reality indeed.
It was the sweet idea of Dr. Hawker (would that we had now a Dr. Hawker in every pulpit in the country), "That when in a dry season we walk in the garden and see the plants droop and hang down in the heat of noon, and this because of the heat and drought--but early the next morning the very same plants are seen all fresh and verdant, and the reason is, because the dew has refreshed and nourished them." So it is with poor, harassed, cast-down sinners. But God is "as the dew unto Israel." He is the refreshing! Christ is our life! And mark me further. When is it the dew falls! It is in the night. And so also in the night, the midnight of the soul, when distress, and anguish, and sorrow, and trial, all but overwhelm us.--Then to feel and experience those visitations and anointings--those manifestations of love and mercy, which only God can give; and none but a poor and contrite-hearted sinner appreciate and understand. You that are, or have been, cast-down; you who experience at times the soul to hang down as a bulrush; you that are tried and harassed, and distracted by the temptations of the world, the flesh, and Satan; you, and you only, can understand that which I cannot attempt to explain. You know your temptations--I know mine. And when the Lord vouchsafes His presence and power in the unction of His grace (sufficient for us at all times), then we know that He is "as the dew unto Israel." Then the drooping soul lifts up itself, and then the sorrowful soul rejoices. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found." There is the sovereignty of God. There is a time to find God, and a time when He will reveal Himself to His seeking people. Oh! What a subject for you and me to contemplate. A manifest Christ. Manifested not merely in the flesh, manifested as the incarnate God--but manifested to me, and in me; to you, and in you--as my Christ, and as your Christ; as my God and your God. "The kingdom of God is within you," and of that kingdom He is the King, the Prince, the Governor. Is that kingdom within you, and is "Christ in you the hope of glory?"
My hearers, let me ask, Do you know what prayer, real prayer is? I ask you earnestly; I preach to you from my heart. I am too old a soldier now in the pulpit, not to know that unless it comes from heart to heart; unless the preacher's heart is in his work, there will be, there can be, no edification, no benefit to the hearers. There must be (and when God blesses a man), there shall be, earnest simplicity in the pulpit.
"Shall pray," not only "pray," but "shall" pray. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found."
It is the striking idea of a minister of God, that in God's dealings with the soul of a saved sinner, He varies the course different to what is the case in the seasons of the year. In the seasons it is thus--spring, summer, autumn, winter; but in the seasons of the soul, it is different; the course varies, and is thus--spring, summer, winter, autumn. Now observe, after the conversion of the soul, the new birth--("Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3)--after this spring time of the sinner's soul has taken place--after the bright shining of summer days, when the soul has flourished and grown (it may be) too fast (if there are any high-sounding professors and talkers here, let them listen to what I say), then comes winter of the soul--the cutting, chilling frost; then comes the desertion, the exercise, the keen temptation, and the blighting blast. This is the December of the soul! And then (different from the seasons of the year) comes the rich and fertile autumn.
"A barren tree that bears not fruit,
Brings no great glory to its root;
When on the boughs rich fruit we see,
'Tis then we cry a goodly tree."
Depend on it, my hearers, the fruit is produced only by God's work in His people; and this fruit is brought forth through trial, temptation, and exercise, and trouble. I hope I am understood in this; it is practical, it is experimental; the hypocrite cannot understand such things; it is too deep for him to fathom; he may talk, he may profess, he may confess, he may preach; aye! And preach sound doctrine too; but he cannot understand what I have just set before you--he knows nothing of the cutting blasts of the December of the soul.
But to the point--"For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found." Allow me to ask you each, what do you know of prayer? And what it is you pray for? Is it but a mere habit, a sort of custom? Is it from mere ceremony and form? Or is it to find God? If you have a friend you love, and you go and call on him, and take a great deal of pains to do so, how disappointed if the servant tell you that he is not a home; you feel that you have had a lost journey. Now, when you want to pray, whom do you want to find? "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found." What does a "godly" person pray for? For the pardon of sin. This is the experience. "For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me, my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." Look at the reality of it--"I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid; I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin."--"For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found." Now, my hearers, brethren in Christ, distinct from every one else in the church, may this be made of God a sweet encouragement to you from my mouth to preserve in the hard work of real prayer--to be much in prayer. I think last evening I hinted, as I was preaching, at the fact of "mental prayer." And oh! You men of business, of commerce, and of trade, in this your great and wonderful city of London; you who are hurried about from morning to evening; and so that you may say you cannot, and do not, make time for prayer.--Oh! That I could drop a word from the pulpit, effectual and blessed of God, to make you understand, and to incline you, at your desks, or behind your counters, and in your counting-houses, to the exercise of mental prayer. Oh! How privileged the merchant, pen in hand, and "not slothful in business," to be thus "serving the Lord," and (if I may so speak) telegraphing in mental prayer a message from a broken heart to God in heaven. And oh, how blessed when the answer is telegraphed back into the soul--"Your sins are pardoned, you stand before ME accepted in the Beloved!" This is prayer, and the answer too; it is reality. The invention and discovery of the telegraph is a vast stride in science--one of the wonders of the age; but oh! Reflect on the idea of the telegraph of prayer; the message sent by the poor sinner up to God; the beggar's petition to the great King. Do you know it?
"The godly shall find God." The seeking soul shall find. Jehovah continually hides Himself from His people to make more blessed and precious discoveries of Himself to them. Hence it is so sweet to trace throughout the Bible such promises and encouragements to seekers. "Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Matt. 7:7) But mind, my hearers, that is a command joined with a promise to the elect of God. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Grace makes the sinner ask, and the same grace enables him to have. Through grace he is brought to seek, and by the same power he finds. It has been recorded of a great man, that he said to his daughter, "Tell your sister, that to be a seeker, is to be of the best sect next to a finder; none that ever sought after Christ failed to find Him."
Oh, Londoners! Remember, that it is only when God makes you seek Him with your whole heart, that you shall find Him. Mental prayer! The mind going up for peace, pardon, acceptance! And now in the text, mark! "Surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him." Oh, those water-floods, those deluges of sin and unbelief. Who were the ones safe in the ancient deluge, when the flood came and destroyed them all? Who then were saved? Only Noah, and those that were with him, in the ark. And his only safety was in this, "the Lord shut him in."
It has been beautifully observed, that, the very waters which drowned the world, the deeper they became, and so added to the destruction of the lost, raised up the saved in the ark nearer to God and heaven. Those great water-floods! My hearers. Kent's words are sweet--
"At every time, in every place,
In safeguard thou shalt be;
And find My everlasting grace,
Sufficient still for thee."
Oh, to know that verse! But we only learn it in trial, in trouble, in distress, under exercise, when harassed by legions of foes, "when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. (Isa. 59:19) "Kept," Peter said, "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." (1 Pet. 1:5)
Cowper has truly said--
"The billows swell, the winds are high,
Clouds overcast my wintry sky;
Out of the depths to Thee I call,
My fears are great, my strength is small.
"O! Lord, the pilot's part perform,
And guide, and guard me through the storm;
Defend me from each threatening ill,
Control the waves, say, 'Peace be still.'"
Do you know anything of such an experience? Can you test yourself as a godly person? That is the point in my text; and such a man prays, and prays for pardon and forgiveness. Is it so with you? Is this applied as an evidential test within you? Is the new birth felt? I cannot imagine a more striking question for a faithful minister to put to his hearers than this, "Are you godly?" I do not ask whether you are perfect in the flesh; that you never can be. That is the heresy of the Wesleyans. The Church of England holds no such trash as that. Perfection is in Christ alone, and only.
There is a remarkable passage in Job 27:8-10, "For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him? Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?" A man may gain much and yet be nothing; he may gain a name, and this and that, and the other, and yet what is the hope of such a man when God taketh away his soul. What can the hypocrite's hope be? He may gain much in many ways here, but how will it be hereafter? It has ever been the experience of free-grace preachers, that many who have attended on their preaching have been nothing but hypocrites. It was so, I believe with one of the greatest nonconformists that ever preached, who was made a blessing to hundreds, yet many hypocrites flocked to hear him. It was the same, I believe, with the faithful Hawker. I speak, remember, to warn, to search, to be made a blessing to you! It is indeed a solemn thing to remember, that to some it will be said, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
Whitfield (I think it was, who) said of the three wonders in heaven: "The first will be--Is not such a person, who was such a professor on earth, is not he here? The second, And is this one here who made no pretensions at all?--But the third and greatest wonder will be, That I am in heaven."
But let me ask you, Do you know what it is to cry in trouble unto God, and to have some hope, some test, that he hears you? Do you "delight yourselves in the Almighty?" Do you "always call upon God?" I mean, is this the spirit in which you live? And are you grieved, and exercised, and harassed, when you come short of these things? Form, ceremony will not do; it must be the power and the unction--and power cometh from God only, and the anointing, also.
But now I must leave this, and come to the other great and glorious fact enunciated in my text; so practical, so personal, so identical. "Thou art my hiding-place." Look at the pronouns, "thou" and "my." "Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance." "Hiding-place!" Oh, my hearers, when you and I are exercised and cast down, and ashamed because of our sins; when iniquity and temptations harass and tease; and so, that at times, existence itself becomes almost intolerable--then to know the only hiding-place--and that sweet word in Proverbs, and which is a sister passage to this portion of the text I am now preaching on--"Thou art my hiding-place"--that word in Proverbs, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe." (Prov. 18:10)
"Thou art my hiding-place!" And this is Christ, and Christ only! Hid in Him from the wrath of a holy God--hid in Him from the stern and just demands of a righteous law, and from all its curses--hid in Him when that law (to quote the words of the parable) comes with its "Pay me that thou owest," and you have nothing--then to have in Him, Christ, a surety, a hiding-place from the law, sin, Satan, temptation, man, woman, and self--a refuge, and a shelter from all evil. Oh! To be hid in Christ, sheltered in and by Him--like the chicken protected and brooded under the feathers of the parent hen; and that bird never broods her young ones so securely or so tenderly, as when the bird of prey hovers above her in the air; and so, I believe verily, that Christ never watches the church so lovingly, and so graciously, as when temptation, and Satan, and the enemy, lurk near to catch us and betray us in the narrow pathway.
This is experimentality! The Christian is in a desperate state; he has a desperate disease, and his recovery has been effected by a desperate remedy--nothing less than the death, the precious, and sinner-saving blood of Jesus Christ. Oh, the love and blood of Christ!
"Love's abyss there's no exploring,
'Tis beyond the seraph's ken;
Prostrate at Thy feet adoring,
We revere Thy love to men."
Oh, the wondrous love of God in Christ; and that wonder is increased when we remember that He knows exactly what we are--that He sees us as we are. Man may deceive his fellow-man; he may pass among men for this and the other; he may have a name--but God knows, God sees the heart. And hence, what a mercy to have a "hiding place" a shelter from the curse of the law, and wrath, and sin.
It is the love of God in Christ that hides the redeemed. If you were at church last Sunday, my hearers, you heard read in the service (that which we churchmen call the first lesson, and it is well to be taught such things)--the account of the fall in Eden: after which Adam and Eve hid themselves amongst the trees of the garden; but that voice, "Adam, where art thou?"--That voice penetrated Adam's soul; he had transgressed the command;--he was "afraid"--and he knew that he must have a hiding-place. This was natural religion (if I may so term it), and he and Eve hid themselves amongst the shrubberies of Paradise. But that would not do. No covering will hide the sinner but Christ: it is His robe: it is His righteousness alone and only, that will cover sin, and hide the sinner from God's wrath and vengeance.
My brother and sister, allow me to ask you in love, Is Christ your righteousness, your only righteousness? Are you covered in Him! Is your "life hid with Christ in God?" Then, "When Christ our life shall appear, shall ye also appear with Him in glory." (Col. 3:4) O that hiding! Hid from the curse of sin, and a broken law--hid from all transgression--hid in the perfect robe of that blessed Christ, who died "the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18)--He presents us to His Father all perfect in Himself.
The Queen has been holding a levee today! She has received her aristocracy and others in state: but there must have been a presentation at Court; no one could have gone into the royal presence; none would be allowed the entree there without a ticket from the Lord Chamberlain, and some one to present the new comer to the presence of the Queen. But, oh, mark my words! There is another levee (may I so term it?), a gathering, a spot to which the Queen (God bless her), and you and I, must one day come. The Man who died will then be sessioned on His throne; and then, whatever be our rank on earth, whether the king, or whether queen, whether prince or beggar, or peasant cottager--the only presentation will be by the God-man--Jesus Christ. And further, there must be a court dress; and that is the perfect Righteousness of the King of kings.
My hearers, was it the last time I was preaching from the place I now stand in, that I reminded you of that tremendous parable that sometimes makes me tremble? "And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 22:11-13) That man, as far as mere moral goodness was concerned, might have been quite as good as the others; but, but! He had not on a wedding-garment!
Oh! My hearers, a man must be honest in the pulpit. Remember "the Lord's messenger, in the Lord's house, to the Lord's people."--When we know that, and feel that, I must be honest. And when I look at you here crowding this church, and remember that my voice is proclaiming the gospel; oh! What would be my feelings, if, when I leave the pulpit, and finish this service, I should have "shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God?" We may have, we shall have, and I have had, our persecutions for preaching the gospel of Christ. But, "Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel." Bear with me then--and if there be one man here that hates me for what I preach, remember the ground on which I preach it; remember the feeling that animates my heart--it is to warn you--it is to instruct you (and if it be God's will to bless the word)--it is to win and to woo you to the saving knowledge of God in Christ--to bring you down from the sycamore tree, and that you may know Jesus Christ as your hiding-place, and be made to say, "Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance."
Every sinner that is saved must be brought into bondage. The first work of the Holy Spirit is to do this--to convince of sin, and this conviction of sin cause bondage; and in that we remain till we are brought into liberty. "When He is come, He will convince the world of sin." But "Thou shall compass me about with songs of deliverance." Not only deliver us, but "put a new song in my mouth." "I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, praise unto our God: many shall see and fear, and shall trust in the Lord." (Ps. 40:1-3) This statement of David's is very comforting. And mark in the text, Jehovah's sovereignty, "Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance."
David was then delivered from his fears, he had then ascended on the summit of assurance. Thou shalt compass me about." Do you know how the soul feels in bondage? David says in the 142nd Psalm, "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name! The Righteous shall compass me about." And who is that--"the righteous?" May it not mean the righteous Father, the righteous Son, the righteous Holy Spirit? "The righteous God shall compass me about." No man can fathom that great fact, but the sinner who has been in the deep. "A night and a day I have been in the deep" says Paul. But when we get to heaven we shall have no prayer there! It will be all praise then; and it is sweet to have a taste of it now and then by the way. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name."
There may be trials before you. You and I are helpless, but if we have, and if we know, a Hiding-place; if we have in Christ a Preserver--then trials may come, troubles may thicken, and if, like Zaccheus, we have been commanded to come down and receive Jesus Christ into our hearts, then He is our hiding-place, "and all is well."
I must not dwell upon the second point. "Thou shall preserve me from trouble." Trouble we must have; trouble we must all experience--but trouble is the great help to prayer.
"Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer,
Trials bring me to His feet,
Lay me low and keep me there."
Troubles and trials work good. There are those before me whom I know and love, and you know that these things are so. There are many strangers also here, of whom I know nothing. But, I am stating in this, the experience of every Christian man! It is God only who can, and who does preserve us from trouble. "He will keep the feet of His saints;"--"When I am weak, then am I strong."
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" That's a question! And which is a sort of idiom in the Bible, by which, a fact is stated more strongly, and implies, that "nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ." Nothing ever can! Nothing ever shall! No! Not all our sins! Not all our disobedience! Nothing can! Nothing ever shall! "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us." (Rom. 8:35-37)
"More than conquerors, through Him that loved us." "We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter"--and Zechariah speaks of "the flock of slaughter." Are you a member of that flock? How it pleases a man to become a member of Parliament! It is an honorable ambition! But are you a member of the one church? Of "the flock of slaughter?" Then you have a promise--"I will feed the flock of slaughter, you, O poor of the flock." (Zech. 11:7) "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38,39)
Oh! The fears of God's poor ones! "Nor things to come"-- and David says, "He shall not be afraid of evil tidings--his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." (Ps. 112:7)
The poor man knows what it is to fear, and to tremble, but he shall not be afraid! The plague shall not come nigh thee. "Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Trials, and distresses, and sins, may all but overwhelm us; but we know who held out His hand to Peter, as he was beginning to sink, in answer to the cry, "Lord, save me." These are the things God has given me (I hope), for you. May they be blessed by the Holy Spirit to your minds. "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely, in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him." Look at the protection! The water floods all round you; but they shall not come nigh nor swamp you. "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." "Kept as the apple of the eye," kept from every danger on every side. Oh! Ye "poor in spirit," look at your mercies, see your one only protection. "Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about" (encircle me all round, inside and outside)! "Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance." "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come high unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance." (Ps. 32:6,7). May God bless the gospel for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen; amen.