THERE must be, my friends, a sovereign change wrought in the heart by the blessed Spirit of God before this can be done; for man's heart is set upon gold; I mean natural man. The natural or carnal man, his heart and his mind, are set upon the things of this world; and gold is the principal thing of this world. But when the Spirit of God begins a soul-saving work in the sinner's heart, there is a something more precious to him than gold. Gold will lose its charm when the Spirit of God is at work upon the heart.
In looking at these words, we will just notice that in this chapter we have the threatening of the destruction, or of the overthrow of Babylon; and it indicates that there is something of the same kind and of the same nature goes on in the heart of every child of God. There is a threatening law enters into the sinner's conscience. The commandment comes, and the sinner dies, before ever Christ can be made precious unto a soul.
There are a few, according to the election of grace,—a remnant they are called in the word of God, "according to the election of grace,"—to whom the Lord Jesus Christ is exceedingly precious. And if there are any here this morning to whom he is precious, he is exceedingly precious; he is more precious than wealth; he is more precious to you than earth's deceitful name; or he is not precious at all. To those to whom he is precious, he is most precious; yea, he is the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely unto their souls; and they, at times, can appeal before the throne of grace to God in secret, and say,
"I could from all things parted be,
But never, never, Lord, from thee."
Now, there is a plain truth. There are many things that are entwined round near and dear to God's children. I say many things; the world sometimes, the family sometimes, the business sometimes, cleave very closely; but the real child of God, with the work of God's Spirit upon his heart, can appeal unto God, and say he could from all these things be parted. Business and I must part; the world and my soul must part; the family ties must part;
Look for a moment at the work of God upon the sinner's heart, and a man in a state of nature without the quickening power of the Spirit of God upon his heart. He may be compared to this Babylon. And O what a Babylon, my friends, to live in! What a Babylon is carnal nature! What a Babylon, I say, is carnal nature, in and of itself. The apostle tells us that man in a carnal state has no fear of God before his eyes, and that the poison of asps is under his tongue. What a state he is in! But he is not shown this, nor convinced of sin until taught by the Spirit of God. We may speak this morning before you of the state of fallen nature; but only those whose eyes are opened to see, and whose hearts are broken to receive, can perceive the ruined state of fallen nature.
We will try and look for a moment or two at the people of God to whom the Lord Jesus Christ is exceedingly precious. The apostle, speaking of them, says, "And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and in sin." Now, you see, while in a state of nature there is no manifest difference between the election of grace and the world at large; for the apostle says, "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." (Eph. 2:8) No difference, you see. There we were, one and all, running the downward road that leadeth to destruction. We were all in that broad road that leadeth to eternal ruin. And O, what an unspeakable mercy it is for as many of us as are born of the Spirit of God to know that he stopped us in our mad career of sin and folly. There must be, my friends, a beginning of the work of grace upon a sinner's heart. He is not brought from the broad road that leadeth down to destruction and to hell's jaw and raised to heaven without something being known in his heart. We must insist this morning upon a beginning of the work of grace upon a sinner's heart; for the word of God tells us that "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." The way that the Spirit of God begins a soul-saving work upon a sinner's heart is to wound before he heals, to show what he is as a poor guilty, hell-deserving sinner, before he reveals the preciousness of a precious Christ to him. There are two sides, you see, my friends, to the experience of the saved soul; and therefore, in noticing the people to whom the Lord is precious, they are the people who are taught by the blessed Spirit of God their lost estate before a just and righteous God, the depths of depravity in which the heart is sunk; for when the Spirit of God begins with a sinner, he begins with the heart. When a sinner begins with God, he begins with his head. My friends, where did our religion begin? Have we any religion at all? When did our religion begin? Where is it, and how is it carried on? Is it in our souls? Many persons begin a religion themselves, begin, as they say, to seek God, begin to love him, begin to serve him, and they carry it on by the work, the power of their own strength, by their good doings, and by their tongue. That is the way their religion is carried on, and they always have a stock of religion. Their mouths are always full of religion, and they are always telling what they are doing for the Lord. As a man said to me not long since, he hoped that when he came upon his dying bed he should have a well-spent life to account for. O! If you have no better religion than that, friends, than a well-spent life to look back upon, there is no salvation for you. We must have something more than a well-spent life. Where the grace of God reaches a sinner's heart, that grace of God teaches a man what bringeth salvation; teaches him the depths of the ungodliness of his heart and this present evil world. But if you have the grace of God, and have the fear of God shed abroad in your heart, you will have to come to God like old Jacob when you are come upon your dying bed, and say, "Few and evil have the days of my life been."
Now, in noticing a little of the work of the Spirit of God upon the sinner's heart, we ask, Have we any religion at all, and where did our religion begin? The whole saving work of grace in the sinner's heart gives him a pain at heart which the world cannot ease; it gives him a distress of heart which the world cannot cure. He may seek for it in the world, he may expect it in the world, and may be looking for it in the world; but his eyes will fail in looking for it here. There is a real state of heart-leprosy that nothing but the blessed Physician of souls can heal or ease.
Has the blessed Spirit of God ever opened our blind eyes and shown us what we are as guilty sinners before a just, a holy, and a righteous God? I know he will do the work in a sinner's heart, and will bring to pass his strange acts there, according to his own mind and will; and, therefore, when the blessed Spirit of God begins, he begins very sovereignly, at times very gradually, very tenderly, very gently, as it were; while at another time he cuts down the sinner as he cut down Saul of Tarsus. We read of a Timothy in the word of God, and we read of a Saul of Tarsus in the word of God; but we read that Timothy was brought to the same place that Saul of Tarsus was brought to. However quietly the Spirit may begin the work of grace upon the heart, he brings the sinner by and by into a stripped state:
"Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked come to thee for dress."
Now, we see when the blessed Spirit of God begins a soul-saving work upon the sinner's heart, however gently it may be done, the Spirit will never leave nor forsake the work of his own hands, but will carry it on to the day of Jesus Christ, and perfect that work in the sinner's heart; and his killing power and killing process upon the heart is to teach a sinner what he is as a guilty, hell-deserving sinner before a just, a holy, and a righteous God. The blessed Spirit, however long he may be at work in the soul, will not leave the sinner till he has opened up and discovered to him the true state in which he stands before God. Now the sinner stands a law-breaker before God; he stands a law-condemned sinner before God; and he goes to the word of God to see if there can be any comfort or consolation there, to know whether there can be any hope for him in the word of God; for such a miserable sinner as he sees and feels himself to be. He looks the word of God through, perhaps, from Genesis to Revelation, and he finds the word of God to be a killing word in the soul. O friends, what a marvel is the soul-killing power of the Spirit in the soul. He wounds the soul before he heals it. But, blessed be his great and holy name, wheresoever he kills he makes alive, and whom he wounds he heals. He does not leave the soul dead. He does not leave the soul wounded only; but he must kill before he makes alive, and he wounds before he heals.
And now, then, we notice further "the election of grace" that the Lord is precious unto; I say they are condemned by the law of God. They see all their own condemnation in the word of God, and they ofttimes feel condemned under the ministry of the word, and they feel condemned when they come to bend their knees before the throne of grace. They feel an evil heart in them, and they are in a miserable state and condition. They feel themselves to be condemned sinners at the throne of grace; and when they come before the Lord, Satan himself comes and presents himself; and as the sinner begs for mercy, the enemy of souls whispers in his ear, "You go before a throne of grace! Such a sinner as you appeal for mercy? You know your own sins; you know your own crimes; you know what you are as a guilty sinner before a holy God; you have sinned beyond the reach of mercy; you are a miserable sinner indeed. It is of no use to appeal; it is of no use your pouring out your heart; it is of no use your seeking for mercy. You may as well throw it all up, and spend the few days of your miserable life to this world, and make the best of it." Now, my friends, we have to say,
"The vilest sinner out of hell,
That lives to feel his need,
Is welcome to a throne of grace,
The Saviour's blood to plead."
And this precious Man that we have to speak of, his blood cleanseth from all sin.
Now we will notice how the blessed Spirit makes the law of Jesus Christ precious unto the soul; for he, having begun the good work of grace in a sinner's heart, will not leave nor forsake this grace. It is a good work; it opens the mind's eye and shows what he is. I say it is a good work indeed. It is the commencing of a work upon a sinner's heart; but he does not know it. How many have not been shown their true state and standing before the Lord. If you are brought before the throne of grace, it is the work of grace upon your heart. "He will perfect that which concerneth you." And what is it that concerneth you? If you are a law-breaker and condemned before the legal righteousness of God, the thing that concerns you is, "How can God be just and save your immortal soul?" He will make that plain also how he can be just and yet save such sinners as you and I feel ourselves to be.
We will notice when the sinner is cut off by sin, he will come before the throne seeking for mercy, and he will come with his miserable tale again and again to tell the Lord how miserable and wretched he is, and how, if he were sent to hell, the righteous law of God would approve it well. He comes with his miserable case again, and again, and again. You would go to a physician with your whole case, with the real malady. Christ is a blessed Physician of souls, and understands all sicknesses and disorders; and we are welcome to the throne of grace the sovereign blood to plead, and welcome to tell the Lord Jesus Christ what sinners we are:
"The door of his mercy stands open all day,
For the poor and the needy, who knock by the way."
His grace is all precious and free, and therefore his grace is open and free to you, poor needy ones; and Jesus sits upon the throne of grace, and loves to hear poor sinners coming to state their cases before him. How can a sinner come before the throne of grace? Now, friends, I know this part well, and I believe there are some here who know this part. They seem to have no ray of hope in their hearts, so benighted are their souls, yet he still enables the poor things to come again and again. "Do, Lord, show me if there is any way; I don't know what it is." It is by the power of God, and by the power of the Spirit of God, and by the enablings and drawings of that blessed Spirit who enables you to keep on as you do before you get any comfort or any promise. There was a doubt sometimes in my heart whether God would be gracious to me, and I used to tell my sad case and implore his mercy. I remember well on one occasion, while at the throne of grace, I thought I must give up the means of grace; sinking down in such a state of soul before God, and almost at the gates of despair; but I went once more to the throne of grace; and while upon the bended knee, the Lord spoke these words to me with power, sweetness, comfort, and consolation: "But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, fear not; for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." What does it mean? I said. The blessing seemed too great. It took hold upon my heart with a power, and with precious unction, sweetness, dew, and savor, and there was a believing in the Lord Jesus Christ; and the Lord Jesus Christ was to me at that moment more precious than gold. I tell you how it was. When the Lord was precious to and blessed me; when the word and his promise dropped into my heart, my burden was gone, my disease was gone, my malady was cured, and I was perfectly whole, and perfectly new, and perfectly clean, and perfectly white, and perfectly holy before the Lord. I tell you this blessing had such an effect upon my heart that when I looked for my sins I could not find them. I wanted to bring some of my trouble back again, but I could not. My sins were completely gone, and the love of Christ was shed abroad in my heart. I was in a new world, and I went to God's word and found it to be a new book. All the precious promises which I had overlooked or could not see were applied with precious power to my heart; God's Book was a new book, and I entered into God's word with the burden removed from off my back, with the condemnation off my soul, and it seemed like a new world, everything seemed new. The change was in my heart. Here was condemnation taken away, and strong consolation came into its place; and here the Lord Jesus Christ, and his word, and his gospel, were very precious to my soul.
Now, then, we pass on, friends. I always like to know how a minister got his religion; and, therefore, we shall try to speak a little this morning upon it, and about him who is now addressing you. God worked in his heart, God burned it in his soul, and God, I trust, the blessed Saviour, is carrying it on in his soul. Ofttimes, according to my experience, I think I shall not have the word again; my religion seems to be going at times. O friends, I tell you what I have then experienced:
"Their pardon some receive at first,
And then, compell'd to fight,
They find the latter stages worst,
And travel much by night."
And after twenty-four years of the Lord's delivering power to my soul, I am led sometimes to question it, and the question with me is, "Heaven or hell?" Such is the powerful temptation of the enemy upon the souls of the election of grace. God will have them to walk by faith, and not by sight. O, no. Don't you think, because God brings a soul into trouble and then delivers him, that he always walks in light. O, no. That is not the way. He will find the way so close that there seems to be no path at all.
Now we would notice, Christ is precious to the people of God in his incarnation. And we have a witness from God's word to it. There was good old Simeon in the days of Christ, in the Temple; and he was a man full of the Holy Ghost, a just, a holy, and an upright man, and it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost that he should not die until he had seen the Lord's Christ. What a blessed revelation was that? And, therefore, as the parents of the Lord Jesus Christ brought him into the Temple, in the manner and custom of the law, good old Simeon came in at the same moment, and he knew him, and he took him up in his arms, and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." There was God in the heart. Now, my friends, you and I know what it is to value this precious Christ of God:
"Till God in human flesh I see,
My thoughts no comfort find;
The holy, just, and sacred Three
Are terrors to my mind.
"While some on their own works rely,
And some of wisdom boast,
I love the Incarnate Mystery,
And there I fix my trust."
The Incarnate Mystery; and Christ incarnate, I tell you, is very precious indeed to my soul. Is the babe in Bethlehem precious to your soul? He is, if you are manifestively the people of God, the election of grace:
"Almighty God sigh'd human breath;
The Lord of life experienced death;
How it was done, we can't discuss;
But this we know, 'twas done for us."
0, what a solemn verse is this! It needs to be written in letters of gold. He who lay in his Father's bosom from all eternity, condescended to be a worm. O the condescension of the Lord of life and glory! He condescended to be a worm. He condescended to come down in this our world to suffer, bleed, and die; to suffer for the unjust, to bring sinners to God. Again, friends, look how the Lord Jesus Christ is precious to you by the covenant of grace; I say we must look back to the ancient settlements of the covenant of grace when the blessed Trinity of Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, in covenant, agreed to ransom and redeem the church of God, and to save a peculiar people, zealous of good works. And here we have God the Father choosing us. He chose a number that no man could number, among black and white, high and low, rich and poor, and made them all one in Christ; and each one is made experimentally to know what the apostle said: "And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ." Here is the work of the Spirit of God upon the soul.
But we notice their quality for a moment. He did not choose out the best of mankind, but he chose sovereignly, richly, and freely, and set his love upon one here and another there, and wrote their names down in the Lamb's book of life that there may be no mistake about the election of grace; and if we are not written in the Lamb's book of life we are passed by.
He is precious in the gospel that we have to preach to you. Sovereign love, friends. God set his love upon his people in eternity. Now, I have thought sometimes that God seemed as if he chose the worst. Some I know amongst them were the very worst of sinners, and were the very ringleaders of sin while in their natural state; but God chose them and wrote their names down in the Lamb's book of life. The Lord Jesus Christ in the councils of Jehovah was needed, much needed. As dear Mr. Gadsby says in one of his hymns:
"In the councils of Jehovah,
He was needed much indeed;
There to stand (a mighty Lover!)
In the church's room and stead,
As her Surety,
And her everlasting Head."
But he saw them ruined in the fall. We look in the covenant of grace, and there we see how God saves his people. He saves them because he will save them, saves them for his blessed name's sake.
Just one word upon his incarnation. He took unto his heavenly nature our human nature, because God saw that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins, he saw how necessary it was, how essential it was, that the Lord of life should take the course that I have mentioned and come and die; and therefore he took our human nature, was born in a stable, and laid in a manger,—took our nature upon him to be able to die and to be able to plead for the church of God.
We come now to the precious doctrine of redemption. It is sin imputed unto a precious Christ, and his precious righteousness imputed unto us. O what a sweet theme is this,—our sin imputed unto him,—the sins of the whole church of God upon him; made to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Sin in the church of God must be cleansed, the mighty debt must be paid, the broken law must be fulfilled; and so Christ went to the very end of the law to satisfy justice on the church's account. Christ has redeemed us. Here comes the glorious gospel,—Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; there is no salvation seen out of a precious Christ, and we see he was made sin for the election of grace, and he redeems the election of grace from the curse, being made a curse for them; for Scripture says, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree."
Now we were all deficient, and in consequence of that, the law sounds in our ears, "Pay me what thou owest." We must be bankrupts, you see, my friends:
"'Tis perfect poverty alone
That sets the soul at large;
While we can call one mite our own,
We have no full discharge."
We come now to the very pith and to the very marrow of the glorious gospel of the grace of God. And now, then, says the apostle, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth." God justifies the elect sinner that has nothing to pay. Though he is a bankrupt upon the dunghill, he is a beggar for mercy and pleads for mercy for Jesus' sake; and who shall lay anything to his charge? "It is God that justifieth." God justifies the sinner because he has loved him, and the Lord Jesus Christ is made exceedingly precious unto him. The world and all its pleasures lose their charms when the Lord Jesus Christ is made precious to the soul, when a man is made a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; as the apostle Peter tells us: "Unto you that believe he is precious." And as the soul is brought to believe in Jesus, and to hang on him, being taught by the blessed Spirit of God, he will come and say,
"I can but perish, if I go.
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, I know
I must for ever die."
Here is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ; here is the venturing upon him; here is the trusting in the arms of Jesus, sink or swim: "If I sink, I sink. I will trust in a precious Jesus."
"It is God that justifies;" and now God justifies this sinner, as he comes pleading the merits and righteousness of a precious Jesus. He has nowhere else to trust. He is one of the election of grace; he comes trusting in the mercy of God; and who shall charge him with anything? Who is he that condemns such a sinner? Who can condemn when God justifieth? Now hear what Paul says: "It is Christ that died; yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Who can condemn such a soul as this? Here is one of the election of grace, and here is one of whom we may say, "I will make a Man more precious than fine gold, even a Man than the golden wedge of Ophir." Who shall condemn him? It is Christ that died; and if the law condemns the soul, if guilt and sin condemn the soul, yet it is Christ that died for him. Does the world not condemn thee, poor soul? Does sin not condemn thee? Dost thou not condemn thyself sometimes? Yet who is he that condemns thee? Not Christ; for he died. There is my precious rock; there is where I am trusting. He is more precious to me than fine gold.
Now, then, here is a little sweet comfort and consolation for thee, poor condemned sinner:
"For all that come to God by him
Salvation he demands;
Points to their names upon his breast,
And shows his bleeding hands."
And this just brings us to where the apostle says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom. 8:35) Who shall separate thee, poor soul, from this precious Jesus that we are speaking of this morning? This is a precious love. To know in your mind how precious Christ is to you in his blood, and how precious he is in his righteousness; and therefore to say, " Who shall separate us from the love of Christ." It is an unchangeable, immutable love.
"My soul through many changes goes;
His love no variation knows."
It is everlasting; the love of Christ to his people is unchangeable. O how precious he is in his love! How precious he is in glory! How precious to know a precious Christ! And you and I have to say
"Paid is the mighty debt we owed;
Salvation is of grace."
Again. He is precious in his blood; because here the soul comes and hides under the precious love and blood of Christ. I have no other hope in death, but only in the love, blood, and righteousness of Christ. I feel that I can live with such a religion as this, and I feel that I can die with such a religion as this, centering wholly and solely in a precious Christ. His perfect obedience, his precious love, his dying blood, and the robe of righteousness he wrought out and brought in for poor sinners. And it is all of rich, free, and sovereign grace. "Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name." To him be all the praise, and all the power, and all the glory.
May the Lord add his blessing. Amen.