Rain and Grace — A Parallel
April 5th 1883
“Who hath divided
a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of
thunder; to cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness,
wherein there is no man; to satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause
the bud of the tender herb to spring forth? “ — Job 38:25–27.
Job was an admirable man, but the Lord meant to make him still better. The best of men are but men at the best; and though Job was in a certain sense perfect, yet he was not perfectly perfect, there was a further stage beyond that which he had reached, else would he not have been tried as he was. But, because the Lord knew that there was something better for Job than he had already attained, he had to be subjected to extraordinary trial. He was such a valuable diamond that there had to be more cutting for him than for a common stone. He was made of such good metal that he paid for being put into the furnace; there would come out something still more pleasing to the great Refiner if he cast that which was so precious into the most fervent heat. Hence it was that Job was so greatly tried; yet, after all his trials, it seemed as if he would miss their blessed result; or his three friends — the miserable comforters — appeared to be the marplots of the whole design. By their cruel, cutting, sarcastic observations, they irritated Job, so that it looked as if he would be harder instead of softer because of the fires. Sometimes, when a man knows that he is being unjustly and unfairly treated, he stiffens his back, and hardens himself, and influences which, by themselves, might have wrought great tenderness of spirit, are spoiled because something else is thrown in. Job was in this condition, and he therefore seemed to rise in his own estimation rather than to sink, as was desired, until at last the Lord ended the dispute by manifesting himself. Out of the whirlwind he spoke to Job, and bade him gird up his loins, and meet his Maker if he dared; then it was that Job was brought to his right position, and at the end he said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Then Job realized the benefit of his affliction; but not till then. When the Lord revealed to Job his supremacy, his eternal glory, and in that light compelled him to see his own imperfection and nothingness, then the patriarch’s trials became sanctified to him.
Our text is a part of God’s challenge to Job. The Lord seemed to say, “If Job is indeed as great as he half thinks he is, let him see whether he can do what his Creator does.” He is challenged about so slight a matter, apparently, as the sending of the rain. Does Job know how it is done? Can he explain all the phenomena? Our modern scientists tell us how rain is produced, and I suppose their explanation is the correct one; but they cannot tell us how it is that power is given to carry out what they call “the laws of nature,” neither can they make the rain themselves; nor, if a drought were to continue till the nation was on the verge of famine, would they be able to cover the skies with blackness, or even to water a single acre of land. No; with all our explanations, it is still a great mystery, and it remains a secret with God how it is that he waters the earth with rain.
I am not going into that matter at this time; I intend to use the rain as an emblem of the grace of God, as it usually is in Scripture, — a figure of that blessed overflowing of the river of God’s love which comes down to quench our thirst of sin, to refresh us, to enliven us, to fertilize us, to soften us, and to cleanse us. This matchless water of life has all sorts of uses, and God sends it, when he pleases, in abundant showers upon his own people according to that ancient word, “Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.” The Hebrew means, “Thou didst pour out blessings,” as from a cornucopia, and so “Thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.” There are many here who are weary, they want to be refreshed, and they are praying to God to send a gracious shower, a copious distilling of his matchless grace upon their hearts and lives. I am going to preach upon this passage with the desire that, while I am speaking, such a blessing may come upon us, or that, at any rate, we may begin to pray for it.
I. My first point is that, As God Alone Giveth Rain, So God Alone Giveth Grace.
Jehovah asks of Job the question, “Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; to cause it to rain on the earth?” It is God, and God only, who creates rain. We cannot make it, but he can and he does give it; and it is absolutely so with his grace, The Lord must give it, or there will be none. If it had not been for his eternal plan, whereby he purposed to give grace to the guilty, the whole race of mankind would have been left, like the fallen angels, without hope and without mercy. The angels that kept not their, first estate, but rebelled against God, were given over to punishment, without any intimation whatever of redemption for them, or of any possibility of their restoration. God, who does as he wills with his grace which is most sovereign and free, passed over the fallen angels, and made his grace to light on insignificant and guilty men. And it has been after the same fashion in all history; if God has withholden the blessings of his grace from any of the nations, they have not been able to procure them for themselves. One lone light Burned in Israel for hundreds of years, while the rest of the inhabitants of the earth were left in darkness; and the world, with all its wisdom, could not and did not find out God. Men, in their ignorance, set up idols almost as numerous as their worshippers, and in their blindness they went way and that way, but always astray from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from Father of lights,” as certainly as the rain comes down from heaven. There is but one source of supply for grace, and that source is God himself. He giveth grace, and “he giveth more grace;” else there would be none whatever amongst the sons of men.
And, moreover, it is God who finds the way by which his grace can come to men. I will not enter into any elaborate explanations of my text; it signifies that God finds a way by which the ram comes down from the upper regions to water the thirsty fields. “Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters?” Only God himself has made a channel for the rain; we could not have made it. So is it with his grace; otherwise, how could grace have come to man? How was it possible for the thrice-holy God to deal leniently with sinners who had provoked him to anger? How could it be that the Judge of all the earth, who must be just, should, nevertheless, pass by transgression, iniquity, and sin? This is a problem which would have perplexed a Sanhedrim of seraphim. If all the mightiest intelligences that God has ever made had sat together in solemn conclave for a thousand years, yet they would not have been able to solve this problem, — How can God be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly? Infinite wisdom devised that matchless way of substitution, by which, through the death of the Son of God, men might be saved. There is the stamp of Divinity about that verse, “the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
It is God who gives grace, and God who, in a divinely-gracious way, has given his only-begotten and well-beloved Son to be the channel through which grace can come down to guilty men. Blessed be God for this; and let his name be adored for ever.
Having thus resolved upon giving grace to men, and having made a channel in which his grace might flow to men, let it never be forgotten that God now directs the pathway of all the grace that comes into the world. Our parallel, in the natural world, is that, according to the original of our text, there is a sort of canal, or trackway, made for every drop of water as it descends from the heavens to the earth. There is not the most minute particle of rain that is left to fall according to its own fancy or will; each single drop of water, that is blown aslant by the March wind, is as surely steered by God as are yonder glorious stars revolving in their orbits. There is a purpose of God concerning every solitary flake of snow and every single portion of hail that comes clown from heaven; all these are ordered according to his eternal counsel and will. God alone can arrange all this. It always seems to me to be a very wonderful way in which the world is watered. If all the rain were to pour upon us at once in a deluge, we should all he drowned; but it comes down gently, drop by drop, and thus it effects God’s purpose much more surely than if it burst in one tremendous waterspout destroying everything. God, by the mysterious laws by which he governs inanimate matter, has so planned it that the rain shall come in drops exactly of the right size, such drops as shall hang upon a tiny blade of grass, and scarcely shall bend it. See how the bright drops, like so many diamonds, hang in myriads on the hedgerows, just the right size to hang there, — neither too large nor too little; so is it with the grace of God, it is given sovereignly and wisely.
I daresay some Christian people think that they would like to have, in their first five minutes after believing in Christ, all the grace they ever will have; but it cannot be so. I have often admired that expression of the apostle Paul, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” God teaches us his will, but he does not teach us too much at a time. Have you never seen children, who have been put to school, so hardly driven by their masters, that they have been crippled mentally, and have never made the advance they ought to have made because they were overdriven at the first? I have met with this sort of thing spiritually; in several cases I have known, men and women have learned so much of the things of God in a short time that their reason has been most seriously jeopardized. I have often had to look at young converts, and almost to pray that they might not learn too much at once, for the deep things of God are so wonderful to a man who is just plucked out of the world that, if the cases of insanity through religion were much more frequent than they are, I should not be at all astonished. I wonder how any of us can bear what God has taught us already. If you could give eyesight to a man born blind, and then, in a moment, were to place him in the full blaze of the sun, it would be a serious danger to him; if he has been long in the darkness, he must see the light by degrees. In like manner, we ought to thank God that he does not deluge us at once with all the grace we ever shall have; but he gives it to us gently, as soft vernal showers which, in infinite wisdom, distil upon the thirsty earth.
So we have seen that God giveth grace, God finds a way of giving grace, and then God directs the way of his grace, and the measure and the manner of it; and he does it all in wisdom and prudence.
See, then, my dear friends, — I hope you all do, — our absolute dependence upon God for all spiritual blessings. A farmer may do all he likes with his ground, but he will never have a harvest if God withholds the rain. He may be the most skillful agriculturist who ever lived, but he can do nothing if the heavens above him are as brass. If he were to call in the most learned astronomer of the day, there is not one who, with his wand, could move the stars, or cause the clouds to open, and pour down rain upon the earth. If there were sore trouble in the land Because farming was failing lot lack of ram, if both Houses of Parliament were to be called together, and the Queen were to sit upon her throne of state, and they were unanimously to pass an act ordering the rain to fall, he that sitteth in the heavens would laugh, the Lord would have them in derision, tot the key of the rain is in no hand but that of Jehovah. It is exactly so with the grace of God. You and I cannot command it. The presence of the most holy men in our midst would not of itself bring it. The most earnest preaching, the most Scriptural doctrine, the most faithful obedience to ordinances, would not make it necessary that we should receive grace. God must give it; he is an absolute Sovereign, and we are entirely dependent upon him.
To what does this fact drive us? It drives us to prayer. When we have done all that we can, — and surely we can scarcely pray if we have neglected anything that we can do, — but when we have done all that lies within our power as earnest-hearted Christian workers, then we must come to the Lord himself for strength, and unto the God of our salvation for all power. This has been said so many times that, when I say it again, someone may reply, “That is a mere platitude.” Just so, and the mischief is that the Church is beginning to think it is only a platitude; but if we all felt that the most important thing for the Church of Christ to do, after she has borne her testimony to the world, is to pray, what a different state of things there would soon be! But now you know what they are doing in far too many places; they push the prayer-meeting up into a corner, and if there is anything to be put off, they give up the prayer-meeting. In some of our places of worship, we might search a long time for the prayer-meeting. It is somewhere in the back settlements, down in some small room which is too big for it even then. People plead that they cannot get out to the prayer-meeting; they will go out to a lecture, or to spend the evening for pleasure; but they do not care to go out when it is “only a prayer-meeting.” Just so; and as long as that is the estimation in which professing Christians hold it, so long must we cease to expect showers of blessing from on high. The main thing is for the Church to pray. She knows that she is dependent upon her God; let her show it by crying day and night to him that he would send a blessing.
There is a big mill, with all its spindles and all its workers; I think I see it now as we speed along in the train through one of our Northern counties. It is all lit up to-night, and many busy hands are at work; but where is the power that makes those spindles move? In that little shed outside, where there is a man, with black hands, stirring the fire, and keeping up the pressure of steam. That is where the power is; and that is a picture of the prayer-meeting. It is the source of the Church’s energy; and if public prayer be neglected, or if private prayer be slackened, or if family prayer be held back in any degree, we lose the power which brings the blessing; and this will be acknowledged when we come truly to know that all the power is of God, and that, as we cannot command a drop of rain, but must leave it in the hands of God, so we cannot command an ounce of grace, — if grace is to he so measured, — it must come from God, and from God alone.
II. Now, secondly, dear friends, notice in my text that, As God Gives Rain, So Rain Falls Of Men: “Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; to cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man?”
I daresay you have often thought it strange that it should rain on! at sea, where it cannot water a single furrow, or apparently benefit any human being. Is it not still more strange that the water should fall so abundantly on vast tracts of sand, and on plains that as yet have never been trodden by the foot of man, and on those lofty peaks, those virgin hills, where a human being has never yet been found? Men have a notion that nothing is good for anything if it is not good for them; but they are very foolish for thinking so. If what God does in providence is good for nothing but for a rat, it is not unwise for him to do it. He has other creatures to think of beside men, and he does think of them. The little fish in the sea, and the birds of the air, and even the worms in the earth, are remembered by the Most High; and, sometimes, that weather which we say is so bad is only bad because it is bad for us, — the rebels against God. It may have been given specially for the birds; and perhaps, sometimes, God thinks that it is better to have weather that is good for birds than good for men, for he has to provide for us all, and they at least have not sinned; and if he thinks of them, there is as much of mercy in the thought as when he thinks of us rebellious creatures. He makes it “to rain on the earth, where no man is.”
Now the parallel in grace is this, — that God’s grace will come without any human observation. If the grace of God comes to some of us, thousands will see it, for they will mark the working of his grace in our life and conversation. But there sits a dear friend, over yonder, so obscure that possibly only two or three will ever know anything that she does. Perhaps, my brother, only half-a-dozen are affected by your influence. Do you not rejoice that God, who makes the rain to fall where no man is, will make his grace to come to you, though nobody, or, at most, only two or three, may see it? I have delighted sometimes to wander into the middle of a wood, and get far away from all sound of the voices of fallen men, and then to spy out some little flower growing right amongst the big trees. The sun gets at it, somehow, for a few hours in the day, and in his golden beams that little flower rejoices; and as I have looked at it, and seen its beauty, I have remembered the words of the poet, —
and I have not at all agreed with him when he added, —
“And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
It is God’s flower; God made it grow that he might look at it himself, and, therefore, its sweetness was not wasted, for God was there to appreciate and accept it. The most beautiful places in the world are, doubtless, places where men have never been. The most lovely gardens are those that God himself keeps, where no Adam has been placed to till the soil. His trees, untouched by the axe, and unpruned by the knife, grow gloriously: “The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted.” My heart has rejoiced as I have thought of God walking among the great trees of the far-off West, — those mighty monarchs of the forest that seem to touch the stars, — walking among them when nobody was there but himself, looking at the works of his own hands, and admiring what he had made. Well, now, if you happen to be a solitary person, quite alone, one who will never make a noise in the world for all that God does for you; never mind about that. He causes it to rain on the earth, where no man is; and your obscurity shall not keep back the blessing.
So, you see, rain comes without human observation. And it also comes without human co-operation, for it often rains “where no man is.” Therefore, no man helps God to send the rain. As to grace, it also often comes where there is no man to bring it. When a person has not heard a sermon, when he has been on the sea, far away from all means of grace, yet God has caused it to rain upon him. There is here to-night, I think, a brother, who left this country unimpressed by the gospel, who, nevertheless, when near the shores of Australia, sat down, and read a sermon which his wife had put into his box, and God met with him there. The Lord has many ways of proving that his grace descends upon men without any help from them, and that he can send it where he pleases by ways of his own. If the ordinary means should seem to fail, he can cause it to rain “where no man is.”
Perhaps there is somebody here who is going right away from the usual means of grace. Possibly, dear friend, you are fretting to yourself as you think, “I shall never come to this place of worship again; perhaps I may never hear the gospel to my soul’s comfort again.” Suppose you are right away in the bush of Australia, God can send his grace to you there just as easily as he can send it here. If you are going to the backwoods of America or Canada, do not be afraid; the Lord is at home there. If you have to settle down in a log-hut, and are miles from any meeting of Christian people, be not dispirited or cast down; but, in your loneliness, sit and sing, and let this be a part of your song, “He maketh a way for the overflowing of waters, to cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man.” Wherefore be encouraged by this second thought.
III. I had many other things to say to you upon this point, but time fails, so I must notice, thirdly, that Both Rain And Grace Fall Where We Might Least Have Expected Them: “To satisfy the desolate and waste ground.”
Grace comes where there was no grace before. Where all was desert and waste, there comes the rain; and where all was graceless and godless, there comes the grace of God.
Grace comes where there is the greatest need of it. Here was a dreadful place; it was waste; it was a wilderness; yet the rain came there; and where there are men who feel themselves to be just as dead and barren as a desert, grace will come even there. The rain comes to wildernesses, and grace can come to you, poor guilty sinners. If you have nothing with which to entertain the grace, grace will bring its own company with it. It will come into your empty heart, and make you one of the “people prepared for the Lord.” Grace waits not for men, neither tarries for the sins of men. We call it prevenient grace, because it comes before it is sought, and God bestows it on a people who are utterly undeserving of it.
Grace comes where, apparently, there is nothing to repay it for coming. When the rain falls on the wilderness, it does seem as if no result could follow from its fall. What a mercy it is that, when we have nothing to pay, God lavishes his mercy upon us, and in due time we do repay him in the way he expects. I do not suppose that many of you have ever seen the great steppes of Russia; but I have been told that, for thousands of miles, they are like our London streets, without a single blade of anything green, — a horrible desolation; yet after the snow has gone, and spring time comes in, and summer with its wonderful heat, that plain is covered with grass and with abundant flowers of the field; and the grass continues until it is cut for use, and then the land returns to just that same barren appearance which it wore before. It is singular, is it not, that showers of rain and the warmth of the sun should produce vegetation where, apparently, there seemed to be none whatever?
Just so does the grace of God come to a sinner’s heart, It is all hard, dead, black, hopeless; but when the grace comes, it brings life with it, and suddenly there spring up in the man all manner of good works, and holy words, and gracious thoughts, and everything that is sweet and pleasing in the sight of God. And what is best of all, it continues to produce a harvest that never dries up, and never does the soil return to its former barrenness again. Wherefore, beloved, let us take heart concerning the grace of God. If the rain comes where there seems to be no argument in favor of its coming, so may the grace of God come to you who have no right to it, — no expectation of it, — no hope of it, — nay, are even filled with despair concerning it. While you are sitting here, the Lord can meet with you, and save you. Be of good comfort; to you is the gospel sent, saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Trust thy guilty soul with him, and thou, even thou, shalt receive the showers of love that come from God’s right hand. There is nothing in the covenant of grace that shall be held back from you, even though you are the very worst and vilest one in this place, if you only trust the Savior. Though you may write yourself down as most surely lost, and given up to barrenness, like the heath that is nigh unto burning, yet it shall not be so with you, God shall bless you, and that right early.
“Oh, if he does!” says one, “I will bless his name.” Theft that is one reason why he will do it, that you may bless his name. I have often told you of one who said, “If God saves me, he shall never hear the last of it.” Well, that is the sort of people he likes to save, — people who, with glad heart and voice, will tell out, and tell out again, and tell out to all eternity that the Lord saved them, — even them. Remember the text of last Sabbath night, for it is just in the same key as the text of tonight: “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” He has caused it “to rain on the earth where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; to satisfy the desolate and waste ground;” for it is to these waste grounds, these desolate places, that God specially looks with favor. If you are great in your own esteem, he will make you little; but if you are little, he will make you great. If you live by your own power, you shall be slain; but if you are slain, and dead beyond hope of recovery in yourself, you shall be made alive. You empty ones shall be filled; and you filled ones shall be emptied. You that are up shall be down; and you that are down shall be lifted up, for God turns things upside down; and when he comes to work, he effects marvellous changes in the condition of the hearts of men.
IV. Now I close by noticing, in the fourth place, that Rain, When It Comes;, Is Most Valued By Life, for we read in our text, that it comes “to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth.”
You may water a dead post as long as you like, yet nothing will come of it; but the tenderest, tiniest little herb, that has a bud fast shut, knows when the rain comes, and begins to develop its hidden power, and open its bud to the rain and to the sun. That is why the grace of God comes, “to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth.” I hope that there is here a good deal of budding life. The Lord has looked upon you, and has made you feel uneasy; that is a bud. Oh, that the uneasiness might open into full repentance! The Lord has looked upon you, and he has given you desires. Oh, that the grace of God may increase those desires till they shall open into resolution and determination! The Lord has sent the dew from on high upon your soul, dear friend, and you are beginning to hope that there is salvation somewhere, and perhaps for you. Oh, that the hope may open, like a bud that has been shut up, — -open into faith in Jesus Christ, so that you shall say, “I will trust in him.” All the buds everywhere just now are trying to get out into the sunshine; they seem bound up in gummy envelopes, but they are beginning to open in the sunshine. I like to sit under the fir trees, and hear the crack of the opening caused by the heat of the sun. You can almost see the trees rejoicing that summer-time is coming. So may you see young converts open when the grace of God is displayed abundantly; they grow before your very eyes till, sometimes, you are astonished at what the grace of God does, with wise prudence, but yet with a sweet readiness, upon the hearts of the sons of men.
How far have your buds developed? Have you begun to pray a little? Oh, that your prayer might be more intense! I hope that little bud of private prayer will grow till it comes to family prayer,-so that you can pray with your wife and children. You have been reading your Bible lately, have you? Oh, thank God for that! Now I hope that bud of Bible-reading will open into the daily habit of feeding upon the Word of God. Go right through the Bible if you can. Pray to God to give you a solid knowledge of its contents, that you may be rooted and grounded in what his Spirit teaches you there. Some of you have another sort of bud; you have been thinking of what you can do for Christ. You thought you were converted, but you have never done much for Christ. I do not use any whips, but sometimes I am tempted to take a good long one to some of those lazy folk who do nothing, and yet hope to go to heaven. One says, “I think, my dear Pastor, that I must try to do something for Christ.” Well, that is a bud; may the grace of God be so abundant that you will leave off trying, and get actually to doing! “How am I to serve God?” said one to me, the other day. I answered, “My dear brother, get at it. ’Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.’ Don’t come and ask me, for where there is so much to be done, the man is idle who asks, ’What am I to do?’ Do the first thing that comes to hand” If a soldier in battle saw that the enemy was winning the day, he would not be hesitating, and asking, “Captain, what can I do?” He would kill the first fellow that came near, and so must you, in a spiritual sense. Do something for Christ. Oh, that this church might begin to open all its buds! May every little one become a thousand, and every small one a great multitude, to the praise of the glory of the grace of God! O you little ones, you hidden ones, you timid ones, you trembling ones, the grace of God is abundant! Open to receive it. See how the crocus, after having been long hidden beneath the soil, knows when the new year begins, and as soon as the sun smiles on the earth, it gently lifts up its golden cup; and is there anything more beautiful in all the world than the crocus cup when God fills that chalice with the light of heaven? What a depth of wonderful brightness of color there is within it! All the crocus can do is to open itself; and that is all you can do, — just stand and drink in God’s light. Open yourself to the sweet influences of the grace of God. The fair lilies of the garden left not, neither do they spin; but yet they glorify God. How they seem to stand still and just show what God can do with them! They just drink in the light and heat, and then pour it all out again in silent, quiet beauty. Now you do just the same; let the purity of your life, like the purity of the lily, glorify the God who created it in you. So may his blessing rest upon you all, clear friends, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.
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