Charles H. Spurgeon
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted ã 1999 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved.
‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!’—Job 23:3
For awhile the woundings of Jesus are given in the dark, and we do not recognise the hand which strikes us; but it is not always to be so. Incessant disappointments causes us to lose heart with the former refuges of our souls, and renewed discoveries make us sadly aware of the superlative evil dwelling in our flesh; thus stripped of all outer covering, and trembling at our own shameful impotence, we hail with gladness the news of a Saviour for sinners. Like being on the frail raft, the almost skeleton mariners, having long ago devoured their last morsel, raise themselves with all their remaining strength to catch a glimpse of a passing sail [another ship], if by chance it may bring relief, so does the dying sinner receive with eagerness the message of coming grace. He might have scorned the terms of mercy once, but, like a city that has been under a siege for a long time, he is now very happy to receive peace at any price. The grace which in his high estate he counted as a worthless thing, is now the great object of all of his desires. He pants to see the Man who is ‘mighty to save,’ and would count it honour to kiss his feet or loosen his sandals. No quibbling at sovereignty, no murmuring at self‑humiliation, no scorning the unpurchasable gifts of discriminating love; the man is too poor to be proud, too sick to struggle with his physician, too much afraid of death to refuse the king's pardon because it puts him under obligation. We will be happy if we understand this position of utter helplessness into which we must all be brought if we would know Christ!
It is one of the strange things in the dealings of Jesus, that even when we arrive at this state of entire spiritual destitution, we do not always become at once the objects of his justifying grace. Long seasons frequently intervene between our knowledge of our ruin, our hearing of a deliverer, and the application of that deliverer's hand. The Lord's own called ones frequently turn their eyes to the hills, and find no help coming from there; yes, they wish to look unto him, but they are so blinded that they cannot discern him as their hope and consolation. This is not, as some would rashly conclude, because he is not the Saviour for people like them. Far be from that. Unbelief cries out, ‘Ah! my vileness disqualifies me for Christ, and my exceeding sinfulness shuts out his love!’ How disgustingly does unbelief lie when it has just slandered the tender heart of Jesus! How inhumanly cruel it is when it thus takes the cup of salvation from the only lips which have a right to drink of it!
We have noticed in the preaching of the present day too much of a saint's gospel, and too little of a sinner's gospel. Honesty, morality, and goodness, are commended not so much as the marks of godliness, as the life of it; and men are told that as they sow, so shall they reap, without the absolutely necessary caveat that salvation is not of man, neither by man, and that grace comes not to him that works, but to him that believes on Him that justifies the ungodly. Our ancient preachers did not speak this way, for in all its fulness they declared—
‘Not the righteous, not the righteous—
Sinners, Jesus came to save.’
The words of a much maligned preacher are just as bold and true:
‘There is nothing in men, though ever so vile, that can bar a person from a part in Christ. Some will not have Christ, except they can pay for him; others dare not meddle with Christ, because they are such vile and wretched creatures, that they think it impossible that Christ should belong to such wretched persons as they are. You do not know (says one) what an abominable sinner I am; you look upon others, and their sins are but ordinary, but mine are of a deep dye, and I shall die in them: the rebellion of my heart is another kind of rebellion than is in others. Beloved, let me tell you freely from the Lord, let men deem you as they will, and esteem yourself as bad as you can, I tell you from the Lord, and I will make it good, there is not a sinfulness that can be imagined in a creature that can be able to separate or bar any of you from a part in Christ; even though you are that sinful, Christ may be your Christ.’
‘No, I go further; suppose one person in this congregation should not only be the vilest sinner in the world, but should have all the sins of others, besides what he himself has committed; if all these were laid upon the back of him, he would be a greater sinner than he is now; yet, if he should bear all the sins of others, as I said, there is no bar to this person, but Christ may be his portion. “He bore the sins of many” (says the text), but he bore them not as his own, he bore them for many. Suppose the many, that are sinners, should have all their sins translated to one in particular, still there is no more sin than Christ died for, though they all be collected together. If other men's sins were transferred to you, and they had none, then they needed no Christ; all the need they had of Christ was transferred to you, and then the whole of Christ’s obedience would be yours. Do but observe the strain of the Gospel, you shall find that no sin in the world can be a barricade to hinder a person from having a part in Christ; look upon the condition of persons (as they are revealed in the Gospel) to whom Christ has reached out to; and the consideration of their persons will plainly show to you that there is no kind of sinfulness that can bar a person from having a part in Christ. Consider Christ's own expression, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance; those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;” here still the persons are considered in the worst condition (as some might think) rather than in the best. Our Saviour is pleased to express himself in a direct way contrary to the opinion of men. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners;” the poor tax collector that had nothing to plead for himself went away more justified than the proud Pharisee, who pleaded with God, “I thank you that I am not like other men.”’
‘Men think righteousness brings them near to Christ; beloved, our righteousness is that which drives a man away from Christ; do not stumble at the expression, it is the clear truth of the Gospel; not simply does the doing of service and duty drive men away from Christ; but the doing of duty and service to expect acceptance with Christ or participation in Christ—this kind of righteousness is the only separation between Christ and a people; and whereas no sinfulness in the world can exclude a people, their righteousness may exclude them’ [Crisp].
Possibly some may object to such terms as these as being too strong and unguarded, but a full consideration of them will show that they are such that would naturally flow from the lips of a Luther when he repeated over and over that faith alone was the means of our salvation, and are fully borne out by the strong expressions of Paul when writing to the Romans and Galatians. The fact is, that very strong terms are necessary to make men see the whole of this truth, for it is one which of all things the mind can least receive.
If it were possible to make men clearly understand that justification is not in the least degree by their own works, how easy would it be to comfort them! but herein lies the greatest of all difficulties. Man refuse to be taught that his goodness provides no increase to God's wealth, and his sin no decrease of divine riches; he will forever be imagining that some little presents must be offered, and that mercy can never be the gratuitous bounty of Heaven. Even the miserable creature who has learned his own bankruptcy and extreme poverty, while assured that he cannot bring anything, yet trembles to come naked and as he is. He knows he cannot do anything, but he can scarcely believe the promise which seems too good to be true—‘I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for my anger has turned away from him’ [Hosea 14:4]. Yes, when he cannot deny the evidence of his own eyes, because the kind word stares him in the face he will turn away from its glories under the sad supposition that they are intended for all men except himself. The air, the stream, the fruit, the joys and luxuries of life, he takes freely, nor ever asks whether these were not intended for a special people; but at the upper springs he stands afraid to dip his pitcher, lest the flowing flood should refuse to enter it because the vessel was too earthy to be fit to contain such pure and precious water: conscious that in Christ is all his help, it yet appears too great a presumption even to touch the hem of the Saviour's garment. Nor is it easy to persuade the mourning penitent that sin is no barrier to grace, but that ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded much more;’ and only the spirit of God can make the man who knows himself as nothing at all, receive Jesus as his all in all. When the Lord has set his heart on a man, it is not a great difficulty that will move him from his purpose of salvation, and therefore ‘he devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from him’ [2 Samuel 14:14]. By the divine instruction of the Holy Spirit, the sinner is taught that Jesus is the sinner's friend, adapted to his case, and ‘able to save to the uttermost.’ Even then, too often, the work is not complete; for the soul now labours to find him whom it needs, and it often happens that the search is prolonged through months of weariness and days of languishing. If the Church, in the Song of Solomon, confesses, ‘By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. I will rise now, and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love. I sought him, but I did not find him’ [Song of Solomon 3:1, 2] surely, even if our reader's history does not confirm the fact that grace is sometimes hidden, he will at least assent to the probability of it, and pray for the many who are crying, ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!’
May Jesus smile on our humble endeavour to trace the steps of our own soul, so that any who are in this miserable condition may escape by the same means! O you prisoners of hope, who are seeking a Redeemer who apparently eludes your grasp, let your earnest prayer accompany your reading, while you fervently cry—
Saviour, cast a pitying eye,
Bid my sins and sorrows end:
Where should a sinner fly?
Are you not the sinner's friend?
Rest in you I gasp to find,
Wretched I, and poor, and blind.
‘Did you ever see a soul
More in need of help than mine?
Then refuse to make me whole;
Then withhold the balm divine:
But if I do want thee most,
Come, and seek, and save the lost.
‘Haste, oh haste to my relief;
From the iron furnace take;
Rid me of my sin and grief,
For your love and mercy's sake;
Set my heart at liberty,
Show forth all thy power in me.
‘Me, the vilest of the race,
Most unholy, most unclean;
Me, the farthest from thy face,
Full of misery and sin;
Me with arms of love receive;
of sinners chief—forgive’
I. To mark the hopeful signs connected with this state of heart;
II. To give certain excellent reasons why the soul is permitted to tarry in it; and
III. To hold forth various plain directions for behaviour in it, and escape from it.
I. It is our pleasant duty
to note the hopeful signs which gladden us when reviewing this state.
1. We are encouraged by observing that the longing of the spirit is now entirely after Jesus—
‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!’ Once, like the many whom David mentions, the question was, ‘Who will show us any good?’ A question indiscriminately addressed to any and all within hearing, eagerly demanding any good in all the world. But now the desires have found a channel, they are no longer like the widespread sheet of water covering with shallow depth a tract of marsh teeming with malaria and pestilence, but having found a channel, they rush forward in one deep and rapid stream, seeking the broad ocean, where sister streams have long since mingled their floods.
For most men the complaint is true, that they will ‘search and track the stars’ with the ‘quick, piercing eye’ of the astronomer, or ‘cut through the strong wave’ to win the pearl, or wear themselves out in smoky toil, while they separate and strip the creature naked, till they find the raw principles within their nests; in fine, will do anything and everything of inferior importance, but here are so negligent that it is truly asked,
What has man not sought out and found
But his dear God?" [Herbert]
When the heart can express itself in the words of our text, it is quite different, for to it every other subject is trivial, and every other object vain. Then, too, there was the continual prayer after pardon, conversion, washing, instruction, justification, adoption, and all other spiritual blessings; but now the soul discerns all mercies bound up in one bundle in Jesus, and it asks no more for the incenses of cassia, aloes, and camphire, but asks for Him who has the savour of all good ointments. It is no small mark of grace when we can esteem Jesus to be all we want. He who believes there is gold in the mine, and desires to obtain it, will not waste time before he has it; and he who knows Jesus to be full of hidden treasures of mercy, and seeks him diligently, shall not be too long detained from a possession of him. We have never known a sinner anxious for Jesus—for Jesus only—who did not in due time discover Jesus as his friend, ‘waiting to be gracious.’
Our own experience reminds us of the period when we panted for the Lord, even for Him, our only want. Vain to us were the mere ordinances—vain as bottles scorched by the simoom [a strong, hot, sand-laden wind of the Sahara and Arabian deserts], and drained of their waters. Vain were ceremonies—vain as empty wells to the thirsty Arab. Vain were the delights of the flesh—bitter as the waters of Marah [Exodus 15:23], which even the parched lips of Israel refused to drink. Vain were the directions of the legalist preacher‑-useless as the howling of the wind to the wanderer overtaken by darkness. Vain, worse than vain, were our
refuges of lies, which fell about our ears like Dagon's temple on the heads of the worshippers. We only had one hope, one sole refuge for our misery. Except where that ark floated, north, south, east, and west, were one broad expanse of troubled waters; excpet where that star burned, the sky was one vast field of unmitigated darkness. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! he alone, he without another, had become the solitary hiding place against the storm. As the wounded, lying on the battlefield, with wounds which, like fires, consume his moisture, utters only one monotonous cry of insistent demand, ‘Water, water, water!’ likewise, we perpetually send our prayer to heaven, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! 0 Jesus, come to me!’
Lord! incline your ear,
My requests consent to hear;
Hear my never ceasing cry—
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘Wealth and honour I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘Lord, deny me what you wilt,
Only ease me of my guilt;
Suppliant at your feet I lie,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘All unholy and unclean,
I am nothing else but sin;
On your mercy I rely,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘You do freely save the lost,
In your grace alone I trust;
With my earnest suit comply,
Give me Christ, or else I die.
‘You do promise to forgive,
All who in Your Son believe;
Lord, I know you cannot lie,
Give me Christ, or else 1 die.
‘Father, does your justice frown?
Let me shelter in your Son!
Jesus, to your arms I fly,
Come and save me, or I die.’
As he that tantalises thirst with painted rivers—as he that embitters hunger’s pangs by the offering of pictured fruits, so were they who spoke of anything else except Christ and him crucified. Our heart ached with a void the whole earth could not fill; it heaved with a desire as irresistible as the mountain torrent, and as little able to be restrained as the volcano when swelling with its fiery lava. Every power, every passion, every wish, moved onward in one direction. Like an army pressing upwards through a breach, did our united powers rush forward to enter the city of salvation by one door—that door Jesus the Lord. Our soul could spare no portion of itself for others; it pressed all of its strength into service to win Christ, and to be found in him. And oh! how glorious did Jesus then seem! what would we not have given to have had the scantiest morsel of his grace? ‘A kingdom for a horse!’ cried the routed monarch. ‘A kingdom for a look—a world for a smile—our whole selves for one kind word!’ was then our far wiser prayer. Oh what crushing we would have endured, if in the crowd we could have approached his person! what trampling would we have borne, if our finger might have touched the lowest hem of his garments! Bear us witness, you hours of ardent desire, what horrors we would have braved, what dangers we would have encountered, what tortures we would have suffered, for one brief glimpse of Him whom our souls desired to know! We could have trodden the burning marl [a crumbly mixture of clays] of hell at his bidding, if his face had but been in view; and as for Peter's march upon the deep, we would have waded to our very necks without a fear, if it were but with half a hope of a welcome from the Lord the other side. He had no robbers then to share his throne, no golden calf to provoke him to jealousy. He was the monarch reigning without a rival. Then, no part of our heart was shut up from him; he was welcomed in every chamber of our being. There was not a tablet of the heart which was not engraven with his name, nor a string of our harp which did not vibrate with his praise, nor an atom of our frame which would not have leaped for joy at the distant sound of his footsteps. Such a condition of longing alone for Jesus is so healthy, that many advanced believers would nearly be content to retrace their steps, if they might once more be fully occupied with that desire to the exclusion of every other.
If my reader is fully resolved to satisfy his hunger only with the manna which comes down from heaven—if he is determined to stake his thirst at no stream except that which gushes from the Rock—if he will accept no drink of comfort except that which is mixed with the herbs of Gethsemane—it is, it must be, well with him. If no one but Jesus is your delight, take heart. Augustine threw away Tully's works because there was no Christ in them; if you, like him, do renounce all but Christ, Christ will never renounce you.
2. Another, pleasing feature of this case is, the intense sincerity and ardent earnestness of the soul.
Here is an ‘Oh !’—a deep, impassioned, burning exclamation of desire. It is no fanciful wish, which a little difficulty will presently overcome—it is no sparkle of excitement, which time will remove; but it is a real want, fixed in the core of the heart so firmly, that nothing but a supply of the need can silence the persistent petition. It is not the passing sigh, which the half‑awakened heave as a compliment to an eloquent discourse or a stirring article—it is not the transient wish of the awestruck spectator who has seen a sudden death or a notable judgment—it is not even the longing of a soul in love for a time with the moral excellences of Christ; but it is the prayer of one who must pray, and who cannot, who dare not, rest satisfied until he finds Jesus—who can no more restrain his groaning than the light clouds can refuse to fly before the violence of the wind.
We have, we hope, many times enjoyed nearness to the throne of grace in prayer; but perhaps never did such a prayer escape our lips as that which we offered in the bitterness of our spirit when seeking the Saviour. We have often poured out our hearts with greater freedom, with more delight, with stronger faith, with more eloquent language; but never, never have we cried with more vehemence of unquenchable desire, or more burning heat of insatiable longing. There was then no sleepiness or sluggishness in our devotion; we did not then need the whip of command to drive us to the labours of prayer; but our soul could not be content unless with sighs and lamentations—with strong crying and tears it gave vent to our bursting hearts. Then we had no need to be dragged to out closets like oxen to the slaughter, but we flew to them like doves to their windows; and when there we needed no pumping up of desires, but they gushed forth like a fountain of waters, although at times we felt we could scarcely find them a channel.
Mr. Philpot justly observes, ‘When the Lord is graciously pleased to enable the soul to pour out its desires, and to offer up its fervent breathings at his feet, and to give them out as He gives them in, then to call upon the Lord is no point of duty, which is to be attended to as a duty; it is no point of legal constraint, which must be done because the Word of God speaks of it; but it is a feeling, an experience, and inward work, which springs from the Lord's hand, and which flows in the Lord's own divine channel. Thus when the Lord is pleased to pour out this ‘Spirit of grace and of supplication,’ we must pray; but we do not pray because we must; we pray because we have no better occupation, we have no more earnest desire, we have no more powerful feeling, and we have no more invincible and irresistible constraint. The living child of God groans and sighs, because it is the expression of his wants—because it is a language which pours forth the feelings of his heart—because groans and sighs are pressed out of him by the heavy weight upon him. A man lying in the street with a heavy weight on him will call for help; he does not say, ‘It is my duty to cry to the passers‑by for help;’ he cries for help because he wants to be delivered. A man with a broken leg does not say, ‘It is my duty to send for a surgeon;’ he wants him to set the limb. And a man with a raging disease does not say, ‘It is my duty to send for a Physician;’ he wants him to heal his disease. So when God the Holy Spirit works in a child of God, he prays, not out of a sense of duty, but from a burdened heart; he prays, because he cannot but pray; he groans, because he cannot but groan; he sighs, because he must sigh, having an inward weight, an inward burden, an inward experience, in which, and out of which, he is compelled to call upon the Lord.’ [Sermon on Prayer and its Answer].
The supplication of the penitent is not a mechanical form of devotion, followed for the sake of merit; it is the natural consequence of the wounding of Jesus; and the one who offers it thinks nothing of merit in presenting it, any more than in breathing, or any other act which necessity prevents him from suspending. This ‘Oh!’ is one which will not rise once and then sink forever; it is not the explosion of a starry rocket, followed by darkness; but it will be an incessant exclamation of the inner man. For example, at some of our doors, every hour brings a letter, so also at the door of mercy, prayer will be heard at every hour from the sincere penitent; in fact, the soul will be full of prayer even when it is not actually praying itself—even as a censer may be filled with incense when no fire is burning in it.
Prayer will become a state of the soul, perpetual and habitual, needing nothing but opportunity to develop itself in the outward act of petitioning at the feet of mercy. It is well when Mr. Desires‑awake is sent to court, for he will surely prevail. Violence takes the kingdom by force; hard knocks open mercy's door; swift running overtakes the promise; hard wrestling wins the blessing.
When the child cries clearly, his lungs are sound; and when the seeker can with spontaneous earnestness plead for pardon, he is most surely not far from health. When the soil of our garden begins to rise, we know that the bulb will soon send forth its shoot; so also, when the heart breaks for the longing which it has for God's testimonies, we then perceive that Jesus will soon appear to gladden the spirit.
We rejoice to observe the sense of
ignorance which the seeker here expresses--
’Oh, that I knew where I might find him!’ Men are by nature very wise in matters of religion, and in their own opinion they might easily be chosen for Doctors of Divinity without the slightest spiritual enlightenment. It is a remarkable fact that men who find every science in the world to be too much for them, even when they have only waded ankle-deep in the elements of [theology], can still assume to be masters of theology, and competent, yes, infallible judges in matters of religion. Nothing is more easy than to pretend to be a profound acquaintance with the religion of the cross, and even to maintain a reputation as a well taught and highly instructed disciple of the Lamb; and, at the same time, nothing is more rare than to be really taught by God, and illuminated by the Spirit; and yet without this the religion of Jesus can never be really understood. Natural men will array themselves in robes of learning, ascend the chair of profession, and from there teach to others doctrines with which they fancy themselves to be thoroughly conversant; and if a word were hinted of their deficiency in knowledge, and their inherent inability to discern spiritual things, how wrathful would they become, how fiercely would they denounce the bigotry of such an assertion, and how furiously would they condemn the hypocrisy and fanaticism which they conceive to be the origin of so humiliating a doctrine!
To be as little children, and bend their necks to the yoke of Jesus, the Master, is quite out of the question with the men of this generation, who love to philosophise the Word, and give what they call ‘intellectual’ views of the Gospel. How little do they suspect that, professing themselves to be wise, they have become fools! How little do they imagine that their grand theories and learned essays are but methods of the madness of folly, and, like paintings on the windows of their understanding, assist to shut out the light of the Holy Spirit. Self‑conceit, in men who are destitute of heavenly light, unconsciously exercises itself on that very subject upon which their ignorance is of necessity the greatest. They will acknowledge that when they have studied astronomy, its magnificence is beyond them; they will not claim for themselves a lordship of the entire regions of any one kingdom of knowledge: but here, in theology, they feel themselves abundantly qualified, if they have some keenness in the original languages, and have visited the schools of the universities; where a man might, with as much justice, style himself professor of botany, because he knows the scientific names of the classes and orders, although he has never seen an actual flower arrangement—for what can education teach of theology but names and theories? Only experience can bring the things themselves before our eyes, and only in the light of Jesus can we discern them. We are pleased, therefore, to discover in the utterance of the awakened soul a confession of ignorance. The man asks ‘Where can I find the Lord?’ He is no longer self-confident, but is willing to ask his way to heaven; he is prepared to go to the school of piety, and learn the alphabet of godliness. He may be distinguished for his learning, but now a little child may lead him; his titles, his gown, his diploma, his dignity, all these are laid aside, and he sits down at the feet of Jesus to begin again, or rather to commence learning what he never knew before.
Conviction of ignorance is the doorstep of the temple of wisdom. ‘It is said in the Creed that Christ descended into hell: descendit ut ascendat—He took his rising from the lowest place to ascend into the highest; and herein Christ reads a good lecture to us—he teaches us that humility is the way to glory!’ [Ephr. Udall’s Sermons] Seneca remarked, ‘I suppose that many might have attained to wisdom, had they not thought that they had already attained it.’ [Seneca de Ira, lib. Iii. C. 36]
We must first be emptied of every particle of fleshly wisdom, before we can say that ‘Jesus became for us wisdom from God’ [1 Corinthians 1:30]. We must know our folly, and confess it, before we can be accepted as the disciples of Jesus. It is marvellous how soon he strips us of our grand apparel, and how easily our wisdom disappears like a bubble vanishing in air. We were never greater fools than when, in our own opinion, our wisdom was the greatest; but as soon as real wisdom came, right away our opinion of ourselves fell from the clouds to the bottom of the mountains. We were no divines or doctors when we were under the convincing hand of the Spirit; we were far more like babes because of our ignorance, and we felt ourselves to be nothing but beasts because of our folly [Psalm 73:22]. Like men lost in dark woods, we could not find our paths; the roads which were once apparent enough, were then hedged up with thorns; and the very entrance to the narrow way had to be pointed out by Evangelist [Bunyan’s Pilgrim from Pilgrim’s Progress], and marked by a light. Nevertheless, blessed is he who desires to learn the fear of the Lord, for he shall find it to be the beginning of wisdom.
Nor, in the present case, has a sense of ignorance driven the man to pry into secrets too deep for human wisdom. He does not exclaim, ‘Oh that I knew the origin of sin, or how predestination joins with the freewill of man’ No; he seeks only this, ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find Him! Many are puzzling themselves about abstract questions while their eternal interests are in imminent peril; such men are like the man who counted the stars, but taking no heed to his feet, fell into a pit and perished. ‘We may sooner think to span the sun, or grasp a star, or see a gnat swallow a leviathan, than fully understand the debates of eternity . . . . . Too great a inquisitiveness beyond our line is as much a provoking arrogance as a blockish [unwise, stupid] negligence of what is revealed, is a slighting ingratitude’ [Charnock’s Divine Attributes]. The spirit that is made alive disdains to pluck the wild flowers of carnal knowledge; he is not ambitious to reach the tempting beauties blooming on the edge of the cliffs which skirt the sea of the unrevealed; but he anxiously looks around for the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley. Therefore, he who studies only to know Christ, shall soon, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, learn enough to spell out his own salvation.
4. An evidence of grace is presented to us by the absence of all choice as to where the Saviour is discovered.
‘Oh, that I knew where I might find him!’ Here is no stipulation; Jesus is wanted, and let him be wherever he may, the soul is prepared to go after him. We, when in this state of experience, knew little of sect or denomination. Before our conviction we could fight for names, like mercenaries for other men’s countries. The mottos of our party were higher in our esteem than the golden rules of Christianity; and we should not have been grieved at the destruction of every other division of religious professors, if our own might have been elevated on the ruins. Every rule and form, every custom and relic, we would have stained with our blood, if necessary, in order to preserve them; and mightily did we shout concerning our own Church, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’ [Acts 19:28]. There was not a nail in the church door that we did not revere—not a vestment which we did not admire; or, if we did not love pomp, then simplicities were magnified into our very household gods. We hated the doctrines, practices, and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church, but were essentially a Roman Catholic; for we could have joined His Unholiness [the Pope] in all his anathemas [formal curses, excommunications], if he would but have hurled them against those who differed from us. We too did, in our own fashion, curse by bell, book, and candle, all who were not of our faith and order; and could scarcely think it possible that many attained salvation beyond the light of our Church, or that Jesus condescend to give them so much as a transient visit.
How changed we were when, by Divine grace, the sectarianism of our ungodliness hid its head in shame! We then thought that we would go among Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Independents, Presbyterians, or anywhere, so that we could but find a Redeemer for our guilty souls. It is more than probable that we found it necessary to shift our quarters, and attend the very house which we recently detested, to bow with the people whom we once held in abhorrence. All the fancies of our former lives dissolved before the heat of our desire. The hunter loves the mountain which shades his valley more than all its giant brothers; but nevertheless, when in hot pursuit of the chamois [extremely agile goat], he leaped from crag to crag, and does not ask what the name of the rock is upon which the object of his chase has bounded; so the sinner, ardently following after the Saviour, will pursue him wherever he goes.
Nor at such seasons did we regard, the respectability of the denomination or the grandeur of the structure in which God was adored. The chapel in the dark alley, the despised and deserted church, the disreputable schoolroom, were now no longer noticed with a sneer; but whether under the vaulted sky of heaven, the
cobwebbed roof of a barn, the dingy ceiling of a village station, or the magnificent roof of the temple of the great assembly, we only sought one thing, and when that one thing was found, then all places were equal. No praising of a church for its architectural beauty—no despising of a meeting‑house for its native ugliness; both buildings were valued not by their shape but by their contents; and where Jesus was more easily to be found, there did we make our haunt. It is true our servants, our farmers, and our paupers, sat with us to hear the same word; but we did not observe the difference, though once perhaps we might have looked aghast if any but my lady in satin, or my lord in superfine broad cloth, had ventured into a pew within the range of our breath. To us the company did not matter, so long as the Master of the Feast would just reveal himself. The place might be unconsecrated, the minister unordained, the clerk uneducated, the sect despicable, and the service unpretending, but if Jesus just showed his face, then that was all we wished for. There is no authentic account of the dimensions, the fashion, or furniture, of the room in which Jesus suddenly appeared and pronounced his ‘peace be with you.’ Nor do we think that any one of the assembly even so much as thought about the layout of the room while their Lord was present. It is good when we are content to go wherever the Lamb leads us. Doubtless, the catacombs of Rome, the glens of Scotland, and the conventicles [A religious meeting place, especially a secret or illegal one] of England, have been frequented more by the King of kings than cathedrals or royal chapels: therefore the godly are not concerned so much where they worship, looking only for His presence which makes a hovel glorious, and deplore His absence, which makes even a temple desolate. We would in our anxious mood have followed Jesus into the cave, the mountain, the ravine, or the catacomb, so that we might but have been within the circle of his influence.
Nor would we have blushed to have sought Jesus among his kinsfolk and acquaintances—the sick, the poor, the uneducated, but yet sincere children of light. How we delighted to sit in that upper room where stars looked between the tiles, and hear the heavenly conversation which, from a dull platform surrounded by ragged hangings, a feeble saint of the Lord held with us! Like divers, we valued the pearl, even though the shell might be a broken one, nor did we care where we went to get it. When those creaking stairs trembled beneath our weight, when that bottomless chair afforded us uneasy rest, and when the heat and odorous fumes of that sickroom drove our companion away, did we not feel more than doubly repaid while that friend of Jesus told us of all his love, his faithfulness and grace? It is frequently the case that the most despised servants of the Lord are made the chosen instruments of comforting distressed souls, and building them up
in the faith.
The writer confesses his eternal obligations to an old cook, who was despised as an Antinomian [a person who denies the fixed meaning or universal applicability of moral law], but who in her kitchen taught him many of the deep things of God, and removed many a doubt from his youthful mind. Even eminent men have been indebted to humble individuals for their deliverance: take, for instance, Paul, and his comforter, Ananias; and in our own day, John Bunyan, instructed by the holy women at Bedford. True seekers will hunt everywhere for Jesus, and will not be too proud to learn from beggars or little children. We take gold from dark mines or muddy streams; therefore it would be foolish to refuse instruction in salvation from the most unlettered or uncouth. Let us be truly sincere in seeking Christ, then circumstance and place will be lightly esteemed.
We also note that there is no condition for distance in this question, it is only ‘where;’ and though it be a thousand miles away, the man’s feet are ready for the journey. Desire leaps over space; leagues to it are inches, and oceans narrow into straits. Where, at one time, a mile would tire the body, a long journey after the Word is counted as nothing: yes, to stand in the house of God for hours during service is considered a pleasure and not a hardship. The devoted Hindu, to find a hopeless salvation, will roll himself along for hundred of miles: it seems only natural then, that we, when searching for eternal life, should ‘count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord’ [Philippians 3:8]. Mary Magdalene only needed to know where they had laid her Lord and her resolve was, ‘I will take him away;’ for surely, she thought, her bodily strength could never fail under such a burden, and she measured the power of her body by the strength of her love. So do destitute sinners, who need a Saviour, utterly laugh at hazards or hardships which may intervene. Come mountain or valley, rapid or rock, whirlpool or tempest, desire has equipped the traveller with an omnipotence of heart, and a world of dangers is trodden beneath the feet, with the shout of Deborah—‘O my soul, march on in strength!’ [Judges 5:21]
‘I doubt not,’ said Rutherford to Lady Kenmure, ‘that if hell were betwixt you and Christ, as a river which ye behoved to cross ere ye could come at him, but ye would willingly put in your foot, and make through to be at him, upon hope that he would come in himself into the deepest of the river, and lend you his hand.’ Doubtless it is so with you, reader, if you are as we have described.
We also think we may be allowed to add, that the earnest inquirer does not object to any position of humiliation which may be required of him before he can ‘see Jesus.’ It is only demanded ‘where?’ and though the reply may be, ‘Over there, in the cell of repentance, on your bended knees, stripped of all your glories, shall you alone behold him,’ your lurking pride will be revealed without delay; but an instantaneous and joyful obedience will manifest that the one absorbing passion has entirely swallowed up all ideas of dignity, honour, and pride.
Like Benhadad, when in danger, hearing that the king of Israel is a merciful king, we will consent to put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes on our necks, and go in to him, hoping for some words of favour. We surrender to discretion, yielding the weapons of our sins and the baggage of our pleasures. He that is down so low as to be wholly submissive, will find that even justice will not strike him. Mercy always flies near the ground. The flower of grace grows in the small valley of humility. The stars of love shine in the night of our self‑despair. If truth does not lie in a well, certainly mercy does. The hand of justice spares the sinner who has thrown away both the sword of rebellion and the plumes of his pride. If we will do and be anything or everything, so that we may but win Christ, we shall soon find him to be everything to us. There is no more hopeful sign of coming grace than an emptiness of our own selfish terms and conditions, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ [James 4:6]
Thus we have tried to sum up all the promises which this state affords, but cheering though they may be, we fear few will accept the comfort they afford; for ‘like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart;’ [Proverbs 25:20] and it is generally useless to express sympathy to a patient undergoing an operation, by reflecting on the benefits of that operation, seeing that while the pain lasts he will still cry out and groan. Nevertheless, we who have escaped cannot refrain from singing outside the walls of the dungeon, in the hope that some within may hear and take heart. Let us say to every mourner in Zion, Be of good cheer, for ‘He who walked in the garden, and made a noise that made Adam hear his voice, will also at some time walk in your soul, and make you hear a more sweet word, yet ye will not always hear the noise and din of his feet when He walketh’ [Rutherford]. Ephraim is bemoaning and mourning [Jeremiah 31:18] ‘when he thinks God is far off, and does not listen; and yet God is like the bridegroom, standing only behind a thin wall, [Song 2:9] and he himself says, I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself.’ ‘I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord’ [Jeremiah 31:20]
You be of good cheer, O seeker; go on, for hope prophesies success, and the signs of your case predict a happy deliverance. None who are like you have failed in the end; persevere, and be saved.
II. We have now arrived at our second division, wherein we proposed to consider the reasons of this tarrying. May our Divine Illuminator enlighten us while we write!
We believe that many are delayed because they do not seek in the right way, or because they do not eagerly seek, we have nothing to do with these persons at this time; we are dealing with the genuine convert, the sincere searcher, who still cannot find his Lord. To the exercised mind no question is more difficult to answer than this, ‘Why does he not hear?’ but when delivered from our distress, nothing is more full of joy than the rich discovery that ‘he has done all things well.’
If our reader is now in sorrow, let him believe what he cannot see, and receive the testimony of others who now bear witness that ‘God's way is in the sea, and his path in the great waters.’
1. We now perceive that it afforded pleasure to Jesus, to view the labours of our faith in pursuit after him.
Jesus does often hide his face from his children, that he may hear the sweet music of their cry. When the woman of Canaan came before our Lord, he did answer her at all; and when her insistence prevailed somewhat, a harsh sentence was all she obtained. Yet the blessed Jesus was not angry with her, but was pleased to behold her faith struggling amid the waves of his seeming neglect, and finding anchorage even on that hard word which appeared like a rock ready to wreck her hopes. He was so charmed with her holy daring and heavenly resolution, that he detained her for a time to feast his eyes upon the lovely spectacle. The woman had faith in Christ, and Jesus would let all men see what faith can do in honour of its Lord.
Great kings have among their attendants certain well trained artistes who play before them, while they, sitting with their court, behold their feats with pleasure. Now, Faith is the king's champion, whom he delights to put upon labours of the most herculean kind. Faith has, when summoned by its Master, stopped the sun and chained the moon; it has dried the sea and divided rivers; it has dashed bulwarks to the ground; quenched the violence of fire; stopped the mouths of lions; turned to flight the armies of the aliens, and robbed death of its prey.
Importunity is the king's running footman; he has been known to run month after month without losing his breath, and over mountains he leaps with the speed of Asahel; therefore, the Lord at times tries his endurance, for he loves to see what his own children can perform. Prayer, is also one of the royal musicians; and although many do prefer his brother, who is called Praise, yet this one has always had an equal share of the king's favour. His lute played so sweetly that the heavens have smiled with sunshine for the space of three years and six months [James 5:17, 18], then at the sound of lute; and when again the melodious notes were heard, the same skies did weep for joy and rain descended on the earth. Prayer has made God's axe of vengeance stop in mid air, when hastening to cut down hindrance to the ground; and his sword has been lulled to sleep in its scabbard by the soft sonnets of prayer, when it sung of pardons bought with blood. Therefore, because Jesus delighted in these courtiers [an attendant at a sovereign's court] whom he has chosen, he always finds them work to do, whereby they may minister unto his good pleasure. Surely you who walk in darkness, and see no light, may be well content to grope your way for a while, if it is true that this midnight journey is but one of the feats of faith, which God is pleased that you should perform. Go on then in confidence.
2. We may sometimes regard this delay as an exhibition of Divine sovereignty.
God is not bound to persons nor to time; as he gives to whom he pleases, so he also bestows his favours in his own time and manner. Very frequently the prayer and the answer attend each other, as the echo does the speaker's voice. Usually it is, ‘Before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear’ [Isaiah 65:24]. But Divine prerogative must be manifested and maintained, and therefore he sometimes gives temporary denials or protracted delays. Through some of our village squares the right of way is private, and in order to maintain the right, although the road is usually open, yet there are gates which at times are closed for a season, lest anyone should imagine that they could demand a passage; so, although mercy is free and speedy, yet it is not always immediate, so that men may know that the giver has a right to refuse. Jesus is no paid physician, who is obligated to give us his calls; therefore he will sometimes step in late in the day, that we may remember that he is not our debtor.
Oh! our hearts loathe the pride which does not bow to Divine sovereignty, but arrogantly declares God to be under obligations to his creatures. Those who are full of this satanic spirit will not assert this in plain language, but while they quibble at election, talking with sinful breath about ‘partiality,’ ‘injustice,’ ‘respect of persons’ and other things like these, they too plainly show that their old nature is yet unhumbled by Divine grace. We are sure of this, that no convinced sinner, when under a sense of his deserved punishment, will ever dispute the justice of God in damning him, or quarrel with the distinguishing grace which Heaven gives to one and not to another. If such a person has not yet been able to subscribe to the doctrine of sovereign, discriminating, electing grace, we do not wonder that he has found no peace; for truly Jesus will have him know that his bounties are in his own hand, and that no one can lay any claim to them.
Herbert, in his Country Parson, says, ‘He gives no set pension unto any, for then, in time, it will lose the name of charity with the poor, and they will reckon upon it, as on a debt;’ truly it would be so even with the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, if they were always bestowed when man at first desires them. There is nothing over which the Lord is more jealous than his crown—his sovereignty—his right to do as he will with his own. How grateful should we be that he uses such lenient and gentle means to preserve his dignity; and that while he might, if he pleased, blockade the gates of salvation forever, he does only for a moment cause them to be closed, that we may sing all the more loudly when we obtain an entrance through them.
3. A ministry devoid of gospel grace is a frequent cause of long delays in finding the Saviour.
Some of us, in the days of our sorrow for sin, were compelled by circumstances to sit under a legalist preacher who only increased our pain, and aggravated our woe. Destitute of all joy and mercy, but most of all lacking a clear view of Jesus the Mediator, the sermons we heard were wells without water, and clouds without rain. Elegant in diction, admirable in style, and faultless in composition, they fell on our ears even as the beautiful crystals of snow fall upon the surface of a brook, and only tend to swell its floods. Good morality, consistent practice, upright dealing, amiable behaviour, gentle bearing, and modest behavior, were the everyday themes of the pulpit; but, alas! they were of as little service to us as instructions to dance would be to a man who has lost both his legs. We have often been reminded by such preachers, of the doctor who told a poor penniless widow that her sick son could easily be cured if she would give him the best wine, and remove him at once to Baden‑Baden [A city in Germany, which has long been one of Europe's most fashionable spas.]—the poor creature’s fingers staring all the while through the tips of her wornout gloves, as if they wished to see the man who gave advice so profoundly impracticable.
Far be it from us to condemn the preaching of morality by such men, for it is doubtless all they can preach, and their intentions being good, it is probable they may sometimes be of service in restraining the community from acts of disorder; but we do deny the right of many to call themselves Christian ministers, while they constantly and systematically neglect to declare the truths which lie at the very foundation of the Gospel. A respected bishop of the Episcopalian denomination [Bishop Lavington], in addressing the clergy of the last century, said, ‘We have long been attempting to reform the nation by moral preaching. With what effect? None. On the contrary, we have dexterously preached the people into downright infidelity. We must change our voice; we must preach Christ and him crucified; nothing but the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.’ We fear that in some measure this is the case even now—oh, that we would dare to hope otherwise! Let those of us who are engaged in the work of the ministry take heed to ourselves, and to our doctrine, that we cause no needless pain, and retard no man’s progress to a Saviour; and let our reader look to his own soul’s salvation, and select his pastor, not for his eloquence, learning, friendliness, or popularity, but for his clear and constant testimony to the Gospel of Christ. The witness of the pulpit must be incessantly evangelical, nor is a single exception to be allowed. A venerable theologian justly writes, ‘Faithful preachers never preach mere philosophy, nor mere metaphysics, nor mere morality’ [Emmons]. How many poor souls may now be in bondage by your lifeless preaching, O you who love anything better than the simple Gospel! What are you but polished bolts on the door of the dungeon of the distressed, or a well‑dressed enemy soldier, scaring men from the palace of mercy? Ah! it will be good for some if they shall be able to wash their hands of the blood of souls, for truly in the cells of eternal condemnation there are heard no yells of horror more appalling than the shrieks of damned ministers. Oh, to have misled men—to have ruined their souls forever!
Happy suicide [Mr. Sadlier], who by his own hand escapes the sound of the curses of those he victimized! happy in comparison with the man who will forever hear the accusing voices of the many who have sunk to perdition through the rottenness of the doctrine which he offered them for their support. Here, on our knees we fall, and pray for grace that we may ever hold up Jesus to the sinner; not doctrine without Jesus, which is as the pole without the brazen serpent, but Jesus—a whole Jesus—to poor lost sinners. We are sure that many convinced souls have tarried long in the most distressing condition, simply because, by reason of the poverty of their spiritual food, their weakness was so great that the cry of Hezekiah was theirs—‘This day is a day of trouble; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth’ [Isaiah 37:3]. May our glorified Jesus soon come into his Church, and raise up shepherds after his own heart, who, endowed with the Holy Spirit, full of sympathy, and burning with love, shall visit those who are out of the way, and guide the wanderer to the fold. Such men are still to be found. O reader, search them out, sit at their feet, receive their word, and do not be disobedient to the commands which they utter from heaven.
4. Misunderstanding of the nature of salvation, in some cases, delays the happy hour of Christ's appearance.
A natural tendency to legalist ideas dims the mind to the perception of the doctrine of Jesus, which is grace and truth. A secret desire to do something in part to aid Jesus, prevents us from viewing him as ‘all our Salvation, and all our desire.’ Humbled though we have been by the cutting down of all our righteousness, yet the old root will sprout—‘at the scent of water it will bud;’ and so long as it does so, there can be no solid peace, no real cleaving to Christ. We must learn to spell the words law and grace, without mingling the letters.
While sick men take two kinds of medicine there is little hope of a cure, especially if the two drinks are compounded of opposing ingredients; the bird which lives on two trees builds its nest on neither; and the soul halting between grace and works can never find rest for the sole of its foot. Perhaps, my reader, a secret and almost imperceptible self‑trust is the very thing which shuts out Christ from your soul. Search and look.
Many seekers are expecting some extraordinary sign and wonder before they can believe. They imagine that conversion will come upon them in some marvellous manner, like Mary's visitation by the angel. Like Naaman, they are dreaming that the prophet will strike his hand over the place of disease, and they shall recover. ‘Go and wash in Jordan seven times’ has not enough mystery in it for their poor minds: ‘Unless these people see signs and wonders, they will by no means believe’ [John 4:48]. However, let no one hope for miracles; wonders do occur: some are brought to Jesus by vision and revelation, but far more are drawn by the usual means of grace, in a manner which is far removed from the marvellous. The Lord is not in the whirlwind, the Lord is not in the fire; but usually he speaks in the still small voice. Surely it should be enough for us, if we find pardon in the appointed method, without desiring to have rare and curious experiences, with which, in later years, we may gratify our own self-love, and elevate ourselves as singular favourites of heaven.
Regeneration is indeed a supernatural work, but it is usually a silent one. It is a pulling down of strongholds, but the earth does not shake with the fall; it is the building of a temple, but there is no sound of hammer at its erection; like the sunrise, it is not heralded by the a trumpet blast, nor do wonders hide beneath its wings. We know who the mother of mystery is; do we desire to be her children? Strange phantoms and marvellous creatures find their dwelling place in darkness; light is not in relationship with mystery; let none be hoping to find it so. Believe and live is the plan of the Gospel; if men would but lay aside their old ideas, they would soon find Jesus as their very present help; but because they look for unpromised manifestations, they seek in vain, until disappointment has taught them wisdom.
5. Although the seeking penitent has renounced all known sin, yet it may be that some sin of ignorance yet remains unconfessed, and unrepented of, which will frequently be a cause of great and grievous delay.
God, who searches Jerusalem with candles, will have us examine ourselves most thoroughly. He has issued a search warrant to conviction, which gives that officer a right to enter every room of our house, and command every Rachel to rise from her seat lest the images should be beneath her [Genesis 31:34, 35]. Sin is so skilful in deception, that it is hard to discover all its lurking places; neither is it easy to detect its character when brought before our eyes, since it will often borrow the garb of virtue, and appear as an angel of light; nor should we ourselves use sufficient diligence in its destruction, if the delay of the needed mercy did not urge us to a more vigorous pursuit of the traitors who have brought us into grief. Our gracious Lord, for our own sake, desires the execution of our secret sins, and by his frowns he causes to be on guard lest we should indulge or harbour them.
Never, perhaps, shall we again possess so deep a horror of sin as in that moment when we almost despaired of deliverance from it, and therefore never shall we be so fully prepared to exterminate it. Eternal wisdom will not allow a season so favorable to pass without improvement; and having melted our heart in the furnace till the scum floated on the surface, it does not allow it to cool until the dross has been removed. Look to yourself, O seeker, for perhaps the cause of your pain lies in your own heart. How small a splinter prevents the healing of a festered wound; extract it, and the cure is easy. Be wise; what you do, do quickly, but do it perfectly; thus you shall do good work for eternity, and speed the hour of your acceptance. Be sure sin will find you out, unless you find it out first. A warrior stimulated the valour of his soldiers by simply pointing to the enemy and exclaiming, ‘Lads, there they are, if you do not kill them, they will kill you.’ Thus we would remind you, that sin will destroy you if you do not destroy it. Be concerned, then, to drive it from your heart.
6. Usefulness in after life is often increased by the bitter experience with which the soul is exercised while seeking after Jesus.
Since this has already received our attention, we will close our meditations on the reasons for protracted delay, by the simple remark, that it is of far more importance to a penitent to use every means for obtaining the Saviour's blessing, than to inquire into the motives which have, up till now, made him deaf to his petitions. Earnestly do we entreat the mourner to strive to enter in at the narrow gate, and to continue his cry—‘Oh, that I knew where I might find him!’
III. It is now our pleasant duty to direct the troubled spirit to the means of obtaining speedy and lasting peace.
May the God who opened the eyes of the desolate Hagar
in the wilderness, and guided her so that she saw a well of water where she
filled her empty bottle, use us as his finger to point the thirsting, dying
sinner to the place where He stands,
who once said, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ [John 7:37].
Our rules shall be expressed in simple words—that the wayfaring man, though a
fool, may not err therein.
1. Go where he goes.
Do you desire to present a petition to the king‑-will you not go to his palace to do it? Are you blind—where should you sit but at the wayside, begging? Have you a painful disease—where is there a place more fitting for you than the porch of Bethesda, where my Lord walks? Are you affected with palsy—do you not desire to be in his presence, though on your bed, you will be let down to the spot where he stands?’ Did not Obadiah and Ahab journey through the whole land of Israel to find Elijah? and will you not visit every place where there is hope of meeting Jesus? Do you know where his haunts are? Have you not heard that he dwells on the hill of Zion, and has fixed his throne of mercy within the gates of Jerusalem? Has it not been told to you that he often comes up to the feast, and mingles with the worshippers in his temple? Have not the saints assured you that he walks in the midst of his Church, even as John, in a vision, saw him among the golden lampstands? Go, then, to the city which he has chosen for his dwelling place, and wait within the doors which he has condescended to enter. If you know of a gospel minister, sit in the solemn assembly over which he is leader. If you have heard of a church which has been favoured with visits from its Lord, go and sit in their midst, that when he comes he may bid you to put your hand into his side, and do not be faithless but believing. Lose no opportunity of attending the word: Thomas doubted, because he was not there when Jesus came.
Let sermons and prayers be your delight, because they are roads on which the Saviour walks. Let the righteous be your constant company, for such persons always bring Him when they come. The least thing you can do is to stand where grace usually dispenses its favour. Even the beggar writes his petition on the flagstone of a frequented thoroughfare, because he hopes that among the many that pass by, a few at least will give him charity; learn from him to offer your prayers where mercies are known to move in the greatest number, that among them all, there may be one for you. Keep your sail up when there is no wind, that when it blows you will not have to prepare for it; use means when you see no grace attending them, for thus will you be in the way when grace comes. It is better to go fifty times and gain nothing than lose one good opportunity. If the angel does not stir the pool, yet still lie there, for it may be that the moment when you leave it, that it will be the season of his descending [John 5:4-8]. ‘Being on the way, the Lord met with me,’ said one of old; you be on the way, that the Lord may meet with you. Old Simeon found the infant Messiah in the Temple; had he deserted its hallowed courts he might never have said, ‘My eyes have seen your salvation’ [Luke 2:30]. Be sure to stay in mercy's way.
2. Cry after Him.
You have been lying in his path for many days, but he has not turned his eye on you. What then? Are you content to let him pass you by? Are you willing to lose so precious an opportunity? No! you desire life, and you will not be ashamed to beg loudly for it: you will not fear to take him for an example of whom it is written, ‘When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”’ [Mark 10:47, 48]. It is an old proverb, ‘We lose nothing by asking,’ and it is in older promise, ‘Ask, and you will receive.’ Do not be not afraid of crying too loudly. It is recorded, to the honour of Mordecai, that he cried with a loud cry; and we know that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. Do not think it is possible to pray too frequently, but at morning, at noon, and at evening time, lift up your soul to God. Do not let despondency stop the voice of your supplication, for He who hears the young ravens when they cry, will in due time listen to the trembling words of your desire. Give Him no rest until he hears you; like the persistent widow, you always be at the heels of the great One; do not give up because the past has proved apparently fruitless, remember Jericho stood firm for six days, but yet when they gave a great shout, it fell flat to the ground. ‘"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Let tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; give your eyes no rest’ [Lamentations 2:19, 18]. Let groans, and sighs, and vows keep up a perpetual assault at heaven's doors.
‘Groans freshened with vows, and vows made salt with tears;
Unscale his eyes, and scale his conquered ears:
Shoot up the bosom‑shafts of your desire,
Feathered with faith, and double‑forked with fire;
And they will hit: fear not, where heaven bids come,
Heaven is never deaf, but when man's heart is dumb.’
Augustine sweetly writes, ‘Thou mayest seek after honours, and not obtain them; thou mayest labour for riches, and yet remain poor; thou mayest dote on pleasures, and have many sorrows. But our God of his supreme goodness says, Who ever sought me, and found me not? whoever desired me, and obtained me not? whoever loved me, and missed of me? I am with him that seeks for me: he hath me already that wisheth for me; and he that loveth me is sure of my love.’ O reader, try it and see whether it is not so, for we have found it so.
3. Think of his promises.
He has uttered many sweet and gracious words, which are like the call of the hen, inviting you to nestle beneath his wings, or like white flags of truce bidding you to come without fear. There is not a single promise which, if followed up, will not lead you to the Lord. He is the centre of the circle, and the promises, like the radius, all meet in him, and then become Yes and Amen. As the streams run to the ocean, so do all the sweet words of Jesus tend to himself: launch your small vessel upon any one of them, and it shall bear you onward to the broad sea of his love. Lost on a dreary moor, the wanderer discovers his cottage by the light in the window casting a gleam over the darkness of the waste; so also must we find out ‘our dwelling place’ by the lamps of promise which our Saviour has placed in the windows of his word. The handkerchiefs brought from the person of Paul healed the sick; surely the promises, which are the garments of Christ, will benefit all diseases. We all know that the key of promise will unfasten every lock in Doubting Castle; will we be content to lie any longer in that dungeon when that key is already in our hand? A large number of the ransomed of the Lord have received their liberty by means of a cheering word applied with power. Be constant in reading the word and meditation upon it. Amid the fair flowers of promise grows the rose of Sharon—pluck the promises, and you may find Him with them. He feeds among the lilies—do you feed there also. The sure words of Scripture are the footsteps of Jesus imprinted on the soil of mercy—follow the track and find Him. The promises are cards of admission not only to the throne, the mercy seat, and the audience chamber, but to the very heart of Jesus. Look up to the sky of Revelation, and you will yet find a constellation of promises which shall guide your eye to the star of Bethlehem. Above all, cry aloud when you read a promise, ‘Remember the word to your servant, upon which you have caused me to hope’ [Psalm 119:49].
4. Meditate on
his person and his work.
If we were better acquainted with Jesus, we would find it easier to believe him. Many souls mourn because they cannot make themselves believe; and the constant exhortations of minister, persuading them to faith, cause them to sink deeper in the mire, since all their attempts prove ineffectual. It would be good for both if they would remember that the mind is not to be compelled to belief by exhortation or force of will; a small acquaintance with the elements of mental science would suffice to show them that faith is a result of previous states of the mind, and flows from those antecedent conditions, but is not a position to which we can attain without passing through those other states which the Divine laws, both of nature and of grace, have been made into the stepping stones. Even in natural things, we cannot believe a thing simply because we are persuaded to do so; we require evidence; we ask, ‘What are we to believe?’ we need instruction on the matter before we can lay hold of it. In spiritual things, we especially need to know what we are to believe, and why. We cannot by one stride mount to faith, and it is at least useless, not to say cruel, to urge us to do so, unless we are told the grounds on which our faith must rest. Some men endeavour to preach sinners to Christ; we prefer to preach Christ to sinners. We believe that a faithful exhibition of Jesus crucified will, under the Divine blessing, beget faith in hearts where fiery and vehement oratory have failed. Let this be borne in mind by those who are bewailing themselves, in the words of John Newton:
‘Oh, could but I believe,
Then all would easy be;
I would, but cannot—Lord, relieve!
My help must come from thee.’
You will not need to have to pray in this fashion very long, if you can obey the rule we would put before you, which is, meditate on Jesus; reflect upon the mystery of his incarnation and redemption; and frequently picture the agonies of Gethsemane and Calvary. The cross not only demands faith, but causes it. The same Christ who requires faith for salvation infuses faith into all those who meekly and reverently meditate upon his sacrifice and mediation. We learn to believe in an honest man by an acquaintance with him, even so (although faith is the gift of God, yet he gives it in the use of the means) it comes to pass that by frequent consideration of Jesus, we know him, and therefore trust in him. You go to the gloomy brook of Kedron, make Gethsemane your garden of retirement, tread the blood‑stained Gabbatha, climb the hill of Calvary, sit at the foot of the accursed tree, watch the victim in his agonies, listen to his groans, mark his flowing blood, see his head bowed on his breast in death, look into his open side; then walk to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, behold him rise, witness his ascension, and view him exalted far above principalities and powers, as the mediator for sinful men: thus shall you see and believe, for truly hard is that unbelief which can endure such sights; and if the Holy Spirit leads you to a true vision of them, you shall inevitably believe, finding it impossible to any longer be incredulous. A true view of Calvary will strike unbelief with death, and put faith into its place. Spend hours in holy retirement, tracing his pilgrimage of woe, and you shall soon sing,
‘Oh how sweet to view the flowing
Of his soul-redeeming blood;
With Divine assurance knowing
That he made my peace with God!’
5. Venture on Him.
This is the last but best advice we can give you, and if you have attended to that which precedes it, you will be enabled to follow it. We have said ‘venture,’ but we imply no venture of risk, but one of courage. To be saved it is required of you to renounce all hope of salvation by any means except Jesus—that you have submitted to. Next you are called upon to cast yourself entirely on him, prostrating yourself before his cross, content to rely wholly on Him. Do this and you are saved, refuse and you are damned. Subscribe your name to this simple rhyme‑
’I'm a poor sinner, and nothing at all,
But Jesus Christ is my all in all;’
and, doing this, you are secure of heaven.
Do you delay because of unworthiness? Oh, do not do so, for he invites you just as you are. You are not too sinful, for he is ‘able to save to the uttermost.’ Do not think little of his power or his grace, for he is infinite in each; only fall flat upon his gracious declaration, and you shall be embraced by his mercy. To believe is to take Jesus at his word, and when all things deny you the hope of salvation, still call Him yours. Now we beseech you launch into the deep, now cut your moorings and give yourself up to the gale, now leave the rudder in his hands, and surrender your keeping to his guardianship. In this way alone shall you obtain peace and eternal life.
May the Directing Spirit lead us each to Him in whom there is light, and whose light is the life of men.
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER
FRIEND,—Love for your
soul constrains us to set apart this small attachment for your special benefit.
Oh that you had as much love for your own soul as the writer has! Though he may
have never seen you, yet remember when he wrote these lines he prayed a special
prayer for you, and he had you on his heart while he penned these few but
O Friend, you are no seeker of Jesus, but the reverse! To your own confusion you are going from him instead of to him! Oh, stop a moment and consider your ways—your position—your end!
As for your ways, they are not only wrong before God, but they are uneasy to yourself. Your conscience, if it is not seared with a hot iron, is every day thundering at you on account of your paths of folly. Oh that you would turn from your error, while you can still hear the promise, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon’ [Isaiah 55:7]. Do not be betrayed into a continuance in these ways in the vain hope that your life will be prolonged to an indefinite period, in which you hope to accomplish repentance; for life is as frail as the bubble on the breaker, and as swift as the Indian arrow. Tomorrow may never come, oh use ‘today’—
‘Now, is the constant syllable ticking from the clock of time;
Now, is the watchword of the wise; Now, is on the banner of the prudent.
Cherish your today, and prize it well, or ever it be engulfed in the past;
Husband it, for who
can promise if it shall have a tomorrow?’
[Tupper’s Proverbial Philosophy]
‘Tomorrow is a fatal
lie—the wrecker's beacon—wily snare of the destroyer;’ be wise, and see to your
ways while time waits for you.
Next, consider your position. A condemned criminal waiting for execution; a tree, at the root of which the axe is gleaming ; a target, to which the shaft of death is speeding; an insect beneath the finger of vengeance waiting to be crushed; a wretch hurried along by the strong torrent of time to an inevitable precipice of doom.
Your present position is enough to pale the cheek of carelessness, and move the iron knees of profanity. A man asleep in a burning house, or with his neck upon the block of the headsman, or lying before the mouth of a cannon, is not in a more dangerous situation than you are. Oh you must think, before desolation, destruction, and damnation, seal up your destiny, and stamp you with despair!
Be sure, also, that you consider your final end, for it is yours whether you consider it or not. You are ripening for hell; oh, how will you endure its torments! Ah! If you would afford a moment to visit, in your imagination, the cells of the condemned, it might benefit you forever. What! are you afraid to examine the house in which you are to dwell? What! rush to a place and be afraid to see a picture of it? Oh let your thoughts precede you, and if they bring back a dismal story, it may induce you to change your mind and tread another path! You will lose nothing by meditation, but rather gain much by this means. . Oh let the miseries of lost souls warn you lest you also come into this place of torment! May the day soon arrive when you can cry after the Lord, and then even you shall be delivered!
Transcribed and updated (English) by: