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Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, ©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This sermon, preached by Tony Capoccia, is now available on Audio CD and MP3: www.gospelgems.com
June 11, 1874
Charles H. Spurgeon
“Who are you that…live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?” [Isaiah 51:12-13]
Things often influence us out of proportion to their value because of their closeness. For instance, the moon is a very small insignificant body compared with the sun, yet it has far more influence over the tides and many other matters in the world than the sun has, simply because it is so much closer to the earth than the sun is. The life that is to come is infinitely more important than the life that now is, and I hope that, in our innermost hearts, we consider that the things that are seen and temporal are mere trifles compared with the things which are not seen and eternal; yet it often happens that the less important matters have a greater influence over us than those which are far more important, simply because the things of earth are so much closer to us.
Heaven is infinitely more to be desired than any joy on earth, yet it seems so far off, and therefore these fleeting joys here may give us greater present comfort. The wrath of God is far more to be dreaded than the anger of man, yet sometimes a frown or a rebuke from a fellow creature will have more effect upon our minds than the thought of the anger of God. This is because the one appears to be remote, while, being in this body of flesh, we are so near to the other. Now, beloved, it will sometimes happen that a matter, which is scarcely worthy of the thought of an immortal spirit, will trouble and worry us from day to day. There is some oppressor, as the text puts it, whom we dread and continually fear, yet we forget the almighty God, who is on our side, who is stronger than all the oppressors who have ever lived, and who has all people and all things under his control. The reason why we act this way is because we think of God as if he were far off, while we can see the oppressor with our eyes, and we can hear with our ears his threatening words.
I want, this morning, to be the means in the hands of God of turning the thoughts of his people away from the distress of the present to the joy and comfort which, though more remote, ought still to be more powerful over the mind and heart because of the real inherent greatness.
I. And, first, I want to speak upon this point – that MANY FEARS, WHICH ARE EXPERIENCED BY CHRISTIAN MEN AND WOMEN, ARE REALLY GROUNDLESS.
Our text says, “You live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction, but where is the wrath of the oppressor?” The probable meaning of this verse is that the oppressor never came, so those living in fear never did feel the force of his fury; and, in like manner, many of God’s people are constantly under apprehensions of calamities which will never occur to them, and they suffer far more in merely dreading them than they would have to endure if they actually came upon them. In their imagination, there are rivers in their way, and they are anxious to know how they shall wade through them, or swim across them. There are no such rivers in existence, but they are agitated and distressed about them. An old proverb says, “Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it;” but these timid people are continually crossing bridges that only exist in their foolish fancies. They stab themselves with imaginary daggers, they starve themselves in imaginary famines, and even bury themselves in imaginary graves. We are such strange creatures that we probably suffer more under blows which never fall upon us than we do under those which do actually come. The rod of God does not strike us as sharply as the rod of our own imagination does; our groundless fears are our chief tormentors, and when we are able to abolish our self-inflictions, all the worries of the world become light and easy. However, it is a pity that Christians who have the gift of faith in Christ given to them, should fall into so guilty and at the same time so painful a habit as this of fearing the oppressor who does not come, and who never will come.
Some people are very troubled by the fear of man.
That is exactly the case mentioned in our text: “the wrath of the oppressor.” He was a very oppressive man, hard, unfeeling, proud, strong, exacting, and they were afraid of him. In addition to this, he must have been a person of impulsive temper, one with whom you could not reason, and so passionate that they were not merely afraid of the oppressor, but of “the wrath of the oppressor.” He is the kind of person whom you don’t know how to meet, or how to escape from him. If you run away from him, he will pursue you in his wrath. If you remain quiet, your patience will not make him quiet; and if you resist him, his wrath will be so much the greater. That appears to have been the character of the oppressor feared by those with whom the Lord was reasoning with at the time; and we have known believers who have been afraid of what a certain powerful person might do if they acted as their conscience told them they ought to act. He would evict them from their property, or they could lose their jobs as a result of this person’s influence.
Perhaps the fearful one is some young person who has a relative who hates religion, and what this powerful relative may do they cannot imagine; or the oppressor is an arbitrary employer, and if his employees don’t obey his orders exactly, even though those orders happen to be wrong, they will lose their jobs. They may be out of work for months, and they and their children may then go without food. They imagine a long series of trials and troubles that will come upon them because of “the wrath of the oppressor.”
Now, sometimes, there is a reason for this kind of fear, for men sometimes act in a very intimidating manner to others, and the very persons who talk most about being liberal in their views are generally the greatest persecutors. If I must have a religious enemy, let me have a professed and avowed bigot, but not one of the “free thinkers” or “liberal theologians” as they are called, for there is nobody who can hate like they can; and these lovers of liberal-mindedness who have no creed at all, think it is their special duty to be particularly contemptuous to those who have some degree of principle. There is no doubt that there are still trials of cruel mockings to be borne by those who are true to Christ. “The cold shoulder” is given in society; in other company, harsh words are used, and coarse jokes are made. Christians must expect to bear the opposition of men and women. It has always been this way, and it always will be. If you turn from the ways of the world, and basically accuse the world of being wrong, the world will resent it. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” [John 15:19]
But, in the end, isn’t there a great deal more attention given to this matter than there should be, for “where is the wrath of the oppressor?” I have known young Christians afraid of someone, and thus are afraid to share the convicting truths of the Scriptures, and when they finally built up enough courage to do so, they have been surprised that the person they expected to oppose them has been quite favorable to them. A wife has been afraid to mention to her husband that she desires to unite with the local church, but when he hears of it, he thinks that he too will go and hear the minister. I remember a man and his wife who came to join our church. They were each afraid to tell the other of what they had planned to do, and when they met each other on the night that they were present with other new member candidates, they were greatly surprised to find that, instead of having any reason to be afraid of one another, they had the utmost cause to rejoice in one another. They said that it was like a new marriage to them when each found the other to be in Christ Jesus, yet each of them had thought the other to be so strongly opposed to Christianity that they had dared not to mention their conversion until thus they made their mutual discovery. Perhaps, dear friend, you have no more need to be afraid than they had. Go on, and the giant that stands in your way may turn out to be only a shadow, or if he really is a giant, God will help you to fight against him, and make you more than a conqueror.
Some have a fear of another kind—not of any opposition to themselves, but they are afraid for the Church and the truth it teaches being utterly destroyed by the opposition of wicked men and women.
Haven’t you many times noticed a kind of panic going through the churches because of some supposed discovery in science, or some new doctrinal error that has appeared? One Christian meets another, and begins trembling as he talks about what was going to happen. He said, “Oh, the old days were so much better than these, and here is a new danger, how are we going to fight against it? It was anxiously asked, a few years ago, “How are we to meet these new discoveries of geology?” Yet we hardly ever hear about them now; or, if we do, we don’t trouble ourselves about them. At that time, a Dr. Colenso had made certain calculations which were very terrifying to timid folk, and Huxley tried to prove that we had descended or ascended from monkeys; but who cares about their theories now? Yet I have met with nervous people who greatly feared the wrath of this tyrant, Science, which was to utterly destroy us; but has had no effect whatever against the truth.
Today, as you are well aware, it is the belief of a great many people that, owing to the spread of Ritualism in the Church, that the candle that Latimer lit will be blown out, and we shall all be in the dark, or at least shall have nothing better than the ceremonial candles of the Roman Catholic Church to light us. I constantly receive articles that prophesy the most terrible times; according to them, some of us will no doubt be burned alive at the stake. Well, I know that the devil can blow very hard, but I don’t believe that he can blow out the candle that God lights; much less can he blow out the bright sunshine of the gospel which has burned on now for hundreds and hundreds of years. Blow, devil, blow as hard as you can, but you will never be able to blow out this light, for it will still shine on to the end of time. You may blow in a cloud or two which partially obscures the light, but the light itself will be as bright as ever.
It may be that, in the place where you live, there has arisen a new doctrinal error. Somebody has discovered that men are nothing but a species of large apes, and that only those who believe in Christ are immortal, all the rest will die out eventually; annihilation is to be their doom. Many are dreadfully frightened by that doctrine, but I believe it is too contemptible a doctrine to alarm anybody who studies the Scriptures. It is a very pretty toy, and many will play with it, but after a certain time, there will come another pretty toy, and they will play with that; and so it will be till Christ himself comes, and breaks up all the toys, and brings his Church back to the grand old truth which will stand firm in spite of all the assaults of men or demons. But you and I needn’t fear, beloved, because of any of these things; what is there, after all, to cause us to worry or tremble for the church of the Living God? Just nothing at all. Never let any member of this church start whining in this way, and saying that the gospel will die out. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord shall endure forever; that which the Lord has declared in his blessed Book shall stand firm throughout all eternity.
Another fear which sometimes comes over truly godly people is that, perhaps, in time, they will lose their salvation, and perish forever.
There may come a temptation which will find the Christian’s weak point, and conquer them. Their ship through life has sailed well up till now, though not without a few rough seas and storms; but, perhaps, it will strike a rock, and be utterly broken into pieces. They know how weak and frail they are, and how many temptations surround them; how treacherous and cunning the devil is; how compelling the world is with its many enticements. King David feared that he would perish one day by the hand of Saul, and these fearful souls, as they pass into some new phase of life, or encounters some new trial, are terrified, for fear that the day may come when grace would not be sufficient for their needs, and they would come to a wretched end. I know this fear; who among us has not felt it? Who among us can honestly examine his own heart, and not feel it? Yet, dear friends, there is really nothing in it to trouble the true child of God. If our Christianity is a religion of our own making, it will perish; and the sooner is goes, the better; but if our religion is truly from God, we know that he never takes back what he gives, and that, if he has begun his good work in us by his grace, he will never leave it unfinished. If the covenant God made with us was based upon works, it would fail; if it depended upon us, it would surely fail but if it is the “everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part” [2 Samuel 23:5], then it can never fail. If the promise, is the promise of God, who cannot lie, then he will surely keep his promise to the very end. Therefore, we ought not to be burdened with this anxiety, but simply go on in our daily walk being watchful with humble dependence upon the preserving power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we shall find that we shall get safely into heaven in the end.
We have known some, too, who have been afflicted with a fear of poverty coming upon them as a result of a loss of income.
One says, “The giant of poverty will surely seize me! I don’t have enough money put away to furnish me with a adequate living.” I have known some people who even dread not having enough money for their own funeral; as if that would be a concern of theirs at that time. The living will surely take care to bury the dead. I have known others who say, “If I were to lose my job; if such-and-such a thing were to happen; if so-and-so were to die, what would I do?” Ah! and if we fret over all the “if’s” that we can imagine, we shall certainly never be without apprehension; but where is your dependence, Christian, for this world? Have you placed it upon man? Then I don’t wonder that you are full of fear, but why don’t you simply trust your body where you trusted your soul? If you have trusted Jesus to be the Savior of your immortal spirit, can’t you also trust him to be the Provider for this poor flesh which eventually perishes?
God feeds the ravens; won’t he feed you? Up till this very moment, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe has never failed, for the billions of living creatures have received from his hand all they have required; then is he likely to forget you? He has never done so yet; your food has been given to you, your water has been sure, why should he change his practice, and let his own dear child to starve. “Oh, but!” say you, “the brook that Elijah depended on for water dried up.” Yes, but when the brook dried up, God sent his servant Elijah to Zarephath, where there was a widow who would provide food and water for him. When one door shuts, another opens; and if one well goes dry, the water bubbles up somewhere else. The means may change, but the God of the means does not change. He will supply your needs. Live wherever he places you, do your duty, obey his will, and he will not fail you, but bring you safely to the place where you will never fear again.
Another fear is the fear of death.
Some even among God’s people try hard not to think of dying. It is a dreary requirement with them that they must die, and they needlessly fret and trouble themselves about it; but, beloved, if we had perfect peace with God, we would not fear dying. I have known some who have thought that they would rather be taken to heaven like Elijah was, in a chariot of fire being pulled by horses of fire, but I wouldn’t. If I were out walking tomorrow evening, and I saw horses of fire and chariots of fire standing ready to take me up, I would feel a great deal more fearful about getting into a fiery chariot than about going home to my bed and lying down to die. If my Lord and Master shall choose to let me live till he comes, and so prevent my death, his will be done, but the Holy Spirit says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” [Revelation 14:13], so let us be content with that blessedness.
But there is a fear of death in some Christians’ minds, and they cannot always shake it off; yet, beloved, there is nothing in it. If you are in Christ, you will never know anything about dying. I don’t believe that Christians feel anything in death. If there are pains, as there often are, they are not the pains of dying, but of living. Death ends all their pains. They shut their eyes on earth, and open them in heaven. They have shaken off the burdensome clay of this mortal body, and found themselves disembodied, in a instant, before the throne of the Most High, there to wait till the trumpet of the resurrection shall sound, and they shall put on their bodies once again, transformed and glorified like the body of their Lord. Get rid of that fear of death, beloved, for it is not becoming in a Christian. The believer’s heart should be so focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, that they should leave themselves in their Heavenly Father’s hands to live or die, or to wait till the Lord comes, whatever is the will of the Lord.
II. My second observation is this. THERE ARE SOME FEARS WHICH WOULD DIE IMMEDIATELY IF WE DARED TO QUESTION THEM.
Did you notice that our text is a question? “Who are you that...live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?” My dear friends, did you ever question your fears? I mean you, Miss Despondency over there, and you, Mr. Much-afraid. Did you ever question your fear? If not, question it right now, put it through interrogation.
Suppose it is the Church of our Living God that is afraid of the oppressor, let the Church ask, Where is the oppressor of which she needs to be afraid?
Is it a doctrinal error? Well, the Church was once overrun with Arianism that denied that Jesus was truly God, and it did seem as if the heretics had killed the doctrine of the Deity of Christ; but the Lord was pleased to raise up his valiant servant Athanasius, and very soon Arianism was defeated. The Church of our Precious Christ scarcely remembers or understands the scars of all the conflicts through which she has passed. Those which threatened to destroy her have never really injured her, rather she has come out of the furnace all the more pure. As for persecution, has it not been commonly proved that the more the saints have been persecuted the more they have prospered, and that the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the Church? Suppose there should again come days when Christians will be martyred, suppose there should again come days of heresy; well, the Church has had such days before, yet she has survived them. The grand old ship has been in many hurricanes and storms before now, yet she still sails steady and true to her final destination. Therefore, why should she be afraid now?
Ask the question again, “Where is the wrath of the oppressor?” And the answer comes, it is under the control of God. Even Satan, your fiercest foe, was created by God; God rules over him, God does with him just as he pleases. Then as to that poverty of which you are afraid, it will not come unless God permits it; and if it does come, the Lord can alleviate it. You are afraid you will lose a very dear child; but you will not lose her unless the Lord takes her. You are fretting because you fear that a special friend of yours will soon be taken away; but he cannot be taken away till the Lord takes him. What are you afraid of? Is it your own death? Learn to sing good old John Ryland’s hymn, —
“Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till he commands I cannot die;
Not a single arrow can hit
Till the God of love sees fit.”
Again, the Lord asks us, “Where is the wrath of the oppressor?” Some man oppresses you; well, he shall die, perhaps soon. The trouble that now upsets you will soon be gone in the twinkling of an eye. If not soon so far as this life is concerned, yet, when you get to heaven (and that will not be long), how short a time will your trial seem to have lasted! “Our light and momentary troubles,” says the apostle, “are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” [2 Corinthians 4:17]. You fret about your trouble, and continually worry yourself about it, but our text seems to ask you, “Where is it?” It is a meteor that flashes across the sky, and is gone. Ask your troubles such questions as these, and they will soon vanish.
I will ask you a few more questions. You have fears with regard to a great trouble that threatens you. Well, will it separate you from the love of Christ?
If you cannot answer that question, let Paul answer it for you: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:38-39]. You say that your enemies slander you; but will Christ believe them? They are trying to destroy your good name and reputation; but will your Lord think any less of you? Will HE be deceived by their lies? You say that friends are forsaking you; but will they take Jesus away, and make him forsake you?
You say that your enemies are doing all that they can to destroy you, but can they destroy the divine promises?
The Lord has promised to give his sheep eternal life; can they take that promise from you, or make it of no value? They may fight against you, but can they keep you out of heaven? They may threaten you, but can they make the covenant of grace to be of no effect? Since eternal things are safe, we can be content to let other things come or go just as God wills.
Again, can anyone do anything to you which God does not permit? And if God permits it, can any real harm come to you?
God’s Word says, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” [1 Peter 3:13].
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” [Romans 8:28]. Then how can anything work against you if you are really the Lord’s? Can anyone curse those whom God blesses? Are you like those foolish persons who are afraid of a witch’s curse, or of some spell that the wicked may cast over you? Even Balaam said, “There is no sorcery that can succeed against Jacob, no divination that can affect Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel” [Numbers 23:23]. Balak might summon Balaam to his aid, and the two together might stand and look on Israel, and wish to curse them, but they cannot curse those whom God has blessed. If all the demons in hell could fill your house, and seek to injure you, there is no need for you to fear or tremble more than Martin Luther did when his friends were afraid for him to go and be examined by the Roman Catholic leaders who were trying to get him to recant, but Luther said to his friends, “If there were as many devils there as there are tiles on the roofs of the houses, I would face them all in the name of God.” And you may say the same. If all the armies of the earth came against you, and all the demons in hell, had come up to join with the world against you, you could still say, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge;” and charge them in the name of the Most High, and cause all of them to flee in defeat, because the One who is in you is greater than the ones who are against you [1 John 4:4].
III. Now, lastly, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if these fears are groundless, and if a few questions will remove them, I appeal to you who are fearful to CRY OUT TO GOD TO DELIVER YOU FROM THIS STATE OF BONDAGE.
If there is no basis for your fears, what is the use of tormenting yourself for no reason at all, and if God is indeed with you, don’t you dishonor him by your apprehensions and your fears?
What would you think of a little child, in its mother’s arms, who was always afraid that it was not safe there? Would it not look as if there was a complete lack of the child’s loving confidence in its mother?
God is able to keep that which you have committed to him; so, if you don’t trust him, you really dishonor him. The commander of an army, who would see his soldiers turning pale with fear and trembling as they marched to the conflict, would say to himself, “These soldiers of mine are no credit to their leader;” and will you, who have a Captain who is so completely able to protect you, show your complete lack of courage because of fear? Shall a cowardly spirit be permitted in the service of our Holy God? Shall the Captain of our salvation have to lead a fearful army to the fight with the powers of darkness? I have sometimes thought, when I have heard about the fears of God’s people concerning the times in which we live, and what is going to become of them; surely they did not know that the King is in our midst, that the Lord is as a wall of fire all around us, and his glory is in our midst; for if they only knew that he is our Protector and Defender, they could not be so fearful as they are.
Besides, in addition, you who are of an anxious spirit, often grieve other Christians.
There are others who are like you, and they become even more fearful by coming into contact with you. Your anxiety is catching, like a disease. Every now and then, I meet with Christians who like to hear sermons that make them miserable. I had a letter from one, some time ago, who said that, as soon as he came here, and saw how cheerful the people looked, he felt certain that he was not among the suffering people of God, so he went away, and turned into a little chapel where there were only fifteen or sixteen people, and he heard a good sermon about the corruption of the heart, and there he felt at home. For my part, I like such texts as these, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.” We have plenty of troubles and trials, and if we like to fret over them, we can always do that; but, then, we have far more joys than troubles, so our songs should exceed our sighs. We have a good God, who has promised that, as our days, so shall our strength be.
“Why should the children of a King
Go mourning all their days?”
“Ah!” says one, “but this is a wailing wilderness.” Yes, if you wail in it, it will wail back in response; but if you sing in it, it will sing back to you. Remember the ancient promise, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus” [Isaiah 35:1].
“Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry:
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.”
And lastly, don’t you think that a dull, heavy, murmuring spirit is a great hindrance to the unconverted?
If they find you in this state, they will say, “This person’s religion does not appear to do him much good.” Worldly people often say that Christians are the most miserable people in the world. I think that is a great mistake on their part, and that they don’t really know us; for if they knew some of us, they would find that we have cheerful spirits in spite of a good deal that might depress us. Don’t any of you Christians cause the world say that Christ is a hard master. I would not like to ride a horse that was all skin and bones, for people would say that it was because his master didn’t take care of him and give him food to eat. I would not like to have, in my house, a servant who was always wringing her hands, and whose eyes were usually full of tears. Visitors would say, “Her mistress is a wretched woman, you may be sure of that;” and if professing Christians are always seen to be in a wretched, unhappy state, people are sure to say, “Ah, they serve a hard master! The ways of Christ are ways of unpleasantness, and all his paths are misery and wretchedness.” Sinner, that is not true; but it is true that “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” [Psalm 97:11], and we earnestly wish that you would come and prove the truth of it for yourself. Believing in Jesus, you would have a perfect peace, and a bliss that nothing can destroy; you would have a little heaven below, and a great heaven above. You would be able to take your troubles to your God, and leave them there; and you would march along with songs of rejoicing till you come to that blessed place where there are pleasures for evermore.
May God bless you, for Christ’s sake! Amen
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