"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
It behoves us patiently to wait and quietly to hope for his salvation. We cannot alter God's will, yet "we must pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thess. 5:17,18) Go right on through frames and feelings, unbelief and all other opposition. "And he spake a parable to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint." (Luke 18:1) I do not think that I shall ever be plunged again into the same depths where I have been, and I say so from my hope in this word. "Hear now this, thou afflicted and drunken, but not with wine....Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again." (Isa. 51:21,22) This is enough for me. God does not plead the cause of his people because it is a good cause, but because they are his people. How few know what it is to be saved by grace only. The Lord says, "My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." God's grace goes in a sovereign way. Your better judgment may go one way, and your feelings and actings another. In this chapter we read of a Pharisee who was a ruler, and yet a little man and a good man--Nicodemus. These little ones stood by the Lord Jesus when the others fled. These will always stand the test. He came to Jesus by night. Whether we are afraid or ashamed all that shall come do come. How do we come? By divine power. "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (John 6:44) No man can come unto me, except it were given him of my father." (John 6:65) We are not brought into such close trials as they were when Christ was upon earth, but I think such a day is now coming, and I must sound the alarm. I am called to do this. What did Nicodemus say? "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God." This would have elated me, but Christ had no pride in him, and therefore he was never lifted up. David says, "I am troubled: I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long." (Ps. 38:6) This and the loss of God's presence principally make my troubles. Don't you find this trouble? I cannot say I have made my heart clean. It is foul and filthy. The Lord, answering Nicodemus, insists on regeneration. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." This doctrine is confirmed by six verilys. Nicodemus takes this in a carnal way, "How can a man be born when his is old?" Jesus goes on, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." This kind of flesh can never enter heaven. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." Every one of God's children is born of the Spirit. It is not water baptism that does this work. This is a sign and no more. But it is an ordinance of the Lord equally with the Lord's supper, and baptism seems to be enforced in the Word even more than the Lord's Supper. If you are in real earnest you will search for God's word more than for gold. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare....For the love of money is the root of all evil,"--not money itself, but the love of it. "But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness," etc. It is well when we can do this. The young man whom Jesus told to sell all that he had and give to the poor, went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. He was one of those who make a god of their riches. Abraham was a very rich man. He was of a noble spirit, and would not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet of the king of Sodom. See how tender he was of God's honor. I began with this doctrine of regeneration in my preaching. Are you made to mourn over your shortcomings? Pent up grief is worse than shedding tears. There are weepers mentioned in Scripture for different causes. Peter wept bitterly, but some had more sweetness than bitterness in their weeping, as it was with her who wept and washed Jesus' feet with her tears.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son man be lifted up." This refers to the account in Numbers 21. The people were much discouraged because of the way, and they spake against God and against Moses. Instead of committing themselves to God, they showed a great deal of what I have, that is, self-pity. Here is not only bitterness in the heart, but it comes out at the mouth. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people. The Lord sent them. "Shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not done it?" It was good, and would be good though it were Satan's messenger, as in Paul's case. Then they came to Moses and entreated him to pray for them. They were stung, and when a person is stung it brings him to his senses. Moses could not pray for Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; but he could pray for these stung people. When do you go to Jesus? Is it not when you are stung? Moses was a type of Christ--stung with a sense of your guilt and anguish of spirit. The Lord directs Moses to erect a serpent of brass. We should have thought that the very sight of this would have made them worse. Go to Jesus when you are stung with anything. "Ye people, pour out your hearts before him: God is a refuge for us." There is no merit in being thus stung, but it brings us to Christ. Every one that beheld the serpent of brass lived. It does not do for us to reason about this, but it was God's way. Those that were rebellious and would not look, died. "Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth." (Isa. 45:22) "Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." If I look to anything that may be seen with the natural eye it is vanity. If I look to my own heart it deceives me. Look to Jesus Christ alone. "Even so must the Son of man be lifted up," that is, by the Gospel--by every sent servant of the Lord Jesus. Paul says to the Corinthians, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified." Is not everything included in believing? The Lord said to the ruler, "Fear not, believe only," though your daughter be dead.
"To trust him endeavour;
The work is his own:
He makes the believer,
And gives him his crown."
What shall we do? "This is the work of God that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."
"Great are the graces he confers,
But all in Jesus' name;
He gladly dictates, gladly hears,
Salvation to the Lamb.
I think there is not any hymn by which you may judge yourself more than that. If you wish to know whether you are under the right spirit, it is an evidence of it when it glorifies Christ and humbles you. "Try the spirits whether they are of God." (1 John 4:1) It is the especial work of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ. "God so loved," etc. The love of God is the source from which all blessings flow. "The world," not the whole world, but the elect world--as many as Christ died for and intercedes for. This is a world within the world. This is the people. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," (Rom. 5:8) that is, manifested his love. Here the love of the Father is set forth. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God." (1 John 3:1) That love is manifested in the gift of his Son. "He gave his only begotten Son." And again it is said, "He sent his Son." He loved us first, and then manifested his love by sending his Son. The Father loved us, Christ loved us, and the Holy Spirit loved us. That is the fountain of all happiness in time and eternity. The love of the trinity in unity--three persons in one God. The doctrine of the trinity in glorious. Some say that Christ was not the Son of God until he was made man, but I believe in the eternal generation of the Son. "Very God, of very God, begotten, not made." I approve of this as scriptural. Don't lose sight of this when you see the love of God in sending his only begotten Son into the world. Are you convinced that you cannot believe in Christ, that it is a supernatural work to believe, and God's work? A receiving of Christ into the heart is a believing him. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power (right or privilege) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." (John 1:11,12) A receiving of Christ into the heart is in fact true believing. I can trace my own experience more clearly this way than any other. The Jews, his own nation, generally rejected the Lord, and were given up to unbelief. Can you come to this receiving Christ, and look back to the time when you did so? "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." I often read these texts over and try myself by them. In the cordial receiving of Christ, in the conscience and affections, you will find pardon and peace. By faith we receive him, and by faith he becomes manifest in our conscience and affections. This secures our eternal salvation. Your believing proves that you are beloved of God, and that secures you. Can you come in here? "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious." (1 Pet. 2:7)
"Sinners can say,
And none but they,
How precious is the Saviour."
You may by this prove the genuineness of your faith. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." (Rom. 8:16) "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us." (1 John 4:16) This faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. How do we receive Christ? Generally through the preached word. "He that receiveth you receiveth me." (John 13:20) You may trace this throughout the Scriptures. See the account of Lydia. She received the word from Paul, and she also received the preacher, and thus she received Jesus Christ. He is sometimes received in private meditation--so I have found him. He takes up his abode in the heart. "This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it." These are essential points, and if you secure them you secure heaven. "For ye are all the children of God (manifestly) by faith in Christ Jesus." You will find more or less the sealing of the Holy Spirit.