rss

CMF eZine


The online magazine of the Christian Military Fellowship.


Farm Labourers

Farm Labourers

Farm Labourers

"I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry."—1 Corinthians 3:6–9.

I SHALL begin at the end of my text, because I find it to be the easiest way of mapping out my discourse. We shall first remark that the church is God’s farm: "Ye are God’s husbandry." In the margin of the revised version we read, "Ye are God’s tilled ground," and that is the very expression for me. "Ye are God’s tilled ground," or farm. After we have spoken of the farm we will next say a little upon the fact that the Lord employs labourers on his estate: and when we have looked at the labourers—such poor fellows as they are—we will remember that God himself is the great worker: "We are labourers together with God."

I. We begin by considering that the church is God’s farm. The Lord has made the church his own by his sovereign choice. He has also secured it unto himself by purchase, having paid for it a price immense. "The Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." Every acre of God’s farm cost the Saviour a bloody sweat, yea, the blood of his heart. He loved us, and gave himself for us: that is the price he paid. Henceforth the church is God’s freehold, and he holds the title deeds of it. It is our joy to feel that we are not our own, we are bought with a price. The church is God’s farm by choice and purchase.

And now he has made it his by enclosure. It lay exposed aforetime as part of an open common, bare and barren, covered with thorns and thistles, and the haunt of every wild beast; for we were "by nature the children of wrath, even as others." Divine foreknowledge surveyed the waste, and electing love marked out its portion with a full line of grace, and thus set us apart to be the Lord’s own estate for ever. In due time effectual grace came forth with power, and separated us from the rest of mankind, as fields are hedged and ditched to part them from the open heath. Hath not the Lord declared that he hath chosen his vineyard and fenced it?

"We are a garden wall’d around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot, enclosed by grace
Out of the world’s wide wilderness."

The Lord has also made this farm evidently his own by cultivation. What more could he have done for his farm? He has totally changed the nature of the soil: from being barren he hath made it a fruitful land. He hath ploughed it, and digged it, and fattened it, and watered it, and planted it with all manner of flowers and fruits. It hath already brought forth to him many a pleasant cluster, and there are brighter times to come, when angels shall shout the harvest home, and Christ "shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied."

This farm is preserved by the Lord’s continual protection. Not only did he enclose it, and cultivate it by his miraculous power, to make it his own farm, but he continually maintains possession of it. "I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." If it were not for God’s continual power her hedges would soon be thrown down, and wild beasts would devour her fields. Wicked hands are always trying to break down her walls and lay her waste again, so that there should be no true church in the world; but the Lord is jealous for his land, and will not allow it to be destroyed. A church would not long remain a church if God did not preserve it unto himself. What if God should say, "I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down"? What a wilderness it would become. What saith he? "Go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel." Go ye to Jerusalem, where of old was the city of his glory and the shrine of his indwelling, and what is left there to-day? Go ye to Rome, where once Paul preached the gospel with power: what is it now but the centre of idolatry? The Lord may remove the candlestick, and leave a place that was bright as day to become black as darkness itself. Hence God’s farm remains a farm because he is ever in it to prevent its returning to its former wildness. Omnipotent power is as needful to keep the fields of the church under cultivation as to reclaim them at the first.

Inasmuch as the church is God’s own farm, he expects to receive a harvest from it. The world is waste, and he looks for nothing from it; but we are tilled land, and therefore a harvest is due from us. Barrenness suits the moorland, but to a farm it would be a great discredit. Love looks for returns of love; grace given demands gracious fruit. Watered with the drops of the Saviour’s bloody sweat, shall we not bring forth a hundredfold to his praise? Kept by the eternal Spirit of God, shall there not be produced in us fruits to his glory? The Lord’s husbandry upon us has shown a great expenditure of cost, and labour, and thought; ought there not to be a proportionate return? Ought not the Lord to have a harvest of obedience, a harvest of holiness, a harvest of usefulness, a harvest of praise? Shall it not be so? I think some churches forget that an increase is expected from every field of the Lord’s farm, for they never have a harvest or even look for one. Farmers do not plough their lands or sow their fields for amusement; they mean business, and plough and sow because they desire a harvest. If this fact could but enter into the heads of some professors, surely they would look at things in a different light; but of late it has seemed as if we thought that God’s church was not expected to produce anything, but existed for her own comfort and personal benefit. Brethren, it must not be so; the great Husbandman must have some reward for his husbandry. Every field must yield its increase, and the whole estate must bring forth to his praise. We join with the bride in the Song in saying, "My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred."

But I come back to the place from which I started. This farm is, by choice, by purchase, by enclosure, by cultivation, by preservation, entirely the Lord’s. See, then, the injustice of allowing any of the labourers to call even a part of the estate his own. When a great man has a large farm of his own, what would he think if Hodge the ploughman should say, "Look here, I plough this farm, and therefore it is mine: I shall call this field Hodge’s Acres"? "No," says Hobbs, "I reaped that land last harvest, and therefore it is mine, and I shall call it Hobbs’s Field." What if all the other labourers became Hodgeites and Hobbsites, and so parcelled out the farm among them? I think the landlord would soon eject the lot of them. The farm belongs to its owner, and let it be called by his name; but it is absurd to call it by the names of the men who labour upon it. Shall insignificant nobodies rob God of his glory? Remember how Paul put it: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos?" "Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" The entire church belongs to him who has chosen it in his sovereignty, bought it with his blood, fenced it by his grace, cultivated it by his wisdom, and preserved it by his power. There is but one church on the face of the earth, and those who love the Lord should keep this truth in mind. Paul is a labourer, Apollos is a labourer, Cephas is a labourer; but the farm is not Paul’s, not so much as a rood of it, nor does a single parcel of land belong to Apollos, or the smallest allotment to Cephas; for "Ye are Christ’s." The fact is that in this case the labourers belong to the land, and not the land to the labourers: "For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas." "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake."

II. We have now to notice, as our second head, that the great husbandman employs labourers. By human agency God ordinarily works out his designs. He can, if he pleases, by his Holy Spirit get directly at the hearts of men, but that is his business, and not ours; we have to do with such words as these: "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." The Master’s commission is not, "Sit still and see the Spirit of God convert the nations;" but, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Observe God’s method in supplying the race with food. In answer to the prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," he might have bidden the clouds drop manna, morning by morning, at each man’s door; but he sees that it is for our good to work, and so he uses the hands of the ploughman and the sower for our supply. God might cultivate his chosen farm, the church, by miracle, or by angels; but in great condescension he blesses her through her own sons and daughters. He employs us for our own good; for we who are labourers in his fields receive much more good for ourselves than we bestow. Labour develops our spiritual muscle and keeps us in health. "Unto me," says Paul, "who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."

Our great Master means that every labourer on his farm should receive some benefit from it, for he never muzzles the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. The labourer’s daily bread comes out of the soil. Though he works not for himself, but for his Master, yet still he has his portion of food. In the Lord’s granary there is seed for the sower, but there is also bread for the eater. However disinterestedly we may serve God in the husbandry of his church we are ourselves partakers of the fruit. It is a great condescension on God’s part that he uses us at all, for we are poor tools at the best, and more hindrance than help.

The labourers employed by God are all occupied upon needful work. Notice: "I have planted, Apollos watered." Who beat the big drum, or blew his own trumpet? Nobody. On God’s farm none are kept for ornamental purposes. I have read some sermons which could only have been meant for show, for there was not a grain of gospel in them. They were ploughs with the share left out, drills with no wheat in the box, clod-crushers made of butter. I do not believe that our God will ever pay wages to men who only walk about his grounds to show themselves. Orators who display their eloquence in the pulpit are more like gipsies who stray on the farm to pick up chickens, than honest labourers who work to bring forth a crop for their master. Many of the members of our churches live as if their only business on the farm was to pluck blackberries or gather wild flowers. They are great at finding fault with other people’s ploughing and mowing; but not a hand’s turn will they do themselves. Come on, my good fellows. Why stand ye all the day idle? The harvest is plenteous, and the labourers are few. You who think yourselves more cultivated than ordinary people, if you are indeed Christians, must not strut about and despise those who are hard at work. If you do, I shall say, "That person has mistaken his master; he may probably be in the employ of some gentleman farmer, who cares more for show than profit; but our great Lord is practical, and on his estate his labourers attend to needful labour." When you and I preach or teach it will be well if we say to ourselves, "What will be the use of what I am going to do? I am about to teach a difficult subject: will it do any good? I have chosen an abstruse point of theology: will it serve any purpose?" Brethren, a labourer may work very hard at a whim of his own, and yet it may be all waste labour. Some discourses do little more than show the difference between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee, and what is the use of that? Suppose we sow the fields with sawdust, or sprinkle them with rosewater, what of that? Will God bless our moral essays, and fine compositions, and pretty passages? Brethren, we must aim at usefulness: we must as labourers together with God be occupied with something that is worth doing. "I," says one, "have planted": it is well, for planting must be done. "I," answers another, "have watered:" that also is good and necessary. See to it that ye can each bring in a solid report; but let no man be content with the mere child’s-play of oratory, or the getting up of entertainments and such like.

On the Lord’s farm there is a division of labour. Even Paul did not say, "I have planted and watered." No, Paul planted. And certainly Apollos could not say, "I have planted as well as watered." No, it was enough for him to attend to the watering. No man has all gifts. How foolish, then, are they who say, "I enjoy So-and-so’s ministry because he edifies the saints in doctrine; but when he was away the other Sunday I could not profit by the preacher because he was all for the conversion of sinners." Yes, he was planting; you have been planted a good while, and do not need planting again; but you ought to be thankful that others are made partakers of the benefit. One soweth and another reapeth, and therefore instead of grumbling at the honest ploughman because he did not bring a sickle with him, you ought to have prayed for him that he might have strength to plough deep and break up hard hearts.

Observe that, on God’s farm, there is unity of purpose among the labourers. Read the text. "Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one." One Master has employed them, and though he may send them out at different times, and to different parts of the farm, yet they are all one in being used for one end, to work for one harvest. In England we do not understand what is meant by watering, because the farmer could not water all his farm; but in the East a farmer waters almost every inch of his ground. He would have no crop if he did not use all means for irrigating the fields. If you have ever been in Italy, Egypt, or Palestine, you will have seen a complete system of wells, pumps, wheels, buckets, channels, little streamlets, pipes, and so on, by which the water is carried all over the garden to every plant, otherwise in the extreme heat of the sun it would be dried up. Planting needs wisdom, watering needs quite as much, and the piecing of these two works together needs that the labourers should be of one mind. It is a bad thing when labourers are at cross purposes, and work against each other, and this evil is worse in the church than anywhere else. How can I plant with success if my helper will not water what I have planted; or what is the use of my watering if nothing is planted? Husbandry is spoiled when foolish people undertake it, and quarrel over it; for from sowing to reaping the work is one, and all must be done to one end. Let us pull together all our days, for strife brings barrenness.

We are called upon to notice in our text that all the labourers put together are nothing at all. "Neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth." The workmen are nothing at all without their master. All the labourers on a farm could not manage it if they had no one at their head, and all the preachers and Christian workers in the world can do nothing unless God be with them. Remember that every labourer on God’s farm has derived all his qualifications from God. No man knows how to plant or water souls except the Lord teaches him from day to day. All these holy gifts are grants of free grace. All the labourers work under God’s direction and arrangement, or, they work in vain. They would not know when or how to do their work if their Master did not guide them by his Spirit, without whose help they cannot even think a good thought. All God’s labourers must go to him for their seed, or else they will scatter tares. All good seed comes out of God’s granary. If we preach, it must be the true word of God, or nothing can come of it. More than that, all the strength that is in the labourer’s arm to sow the heavenly seed must be given by the Master. We cannot preach except God be with us. A sermon is vain talk and dreary word-spinning unless the Holy Spirit enlivens it. He must give us both the preparation of the heart and the answer of the tongue, or we shall be as men who sow the wind. When the good seed is sown the whole success of it rests with God. If he withhold the dew and the rain the seed will never rise from the ground; and unless he shall shine upon it the green ear will never ripen. The human heart will remain barren, even though Paul himself should preach, unless God the Holy Ghost shall work with Paul and bless the word to those that hear it. Therefore, since the increase is of God alone, put the labourers into their place. Do not make too much of us; for when we have done all we are unprofitable servants.

Yet, though inspiration calls the labourers nothing, it says that they shall be rewarded. God works our good works in us, and then rewards us for them. Here we have mention of a personal service, and a personal reward: "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour." The reward is proportionate, not to the success, but to the labour. Many discouraged workers may be comforted by that expression. You are not to be paid by results, but by endeavours. You may have a stiff bit of clay to plough, or a dreary plot of land to sow, where stones, and birds, and thorns, and travellers, and a burning sun may all be leagued against the seed; but you are not accountable for these things; your reward shall be according to your work. Some put a great deal of labour into a little field, and make much out of it. Others use a great deal of labour throughout a long life, and yet they see but small result, for it is written, "One soweth, and another reapeth"; but the reaping man will not get all the reward, the sowing man shall receive his portion of the joy. The labourers are nobodies, but they shall enter into the joy of their Lord.

Unitedly, according to the text, the workers have been successful, and that is a great part of their reward. "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." Frequently brethren say in their prayers, "A Paul may plant, an Apollos may water, but it is all in vain unless God gives the increase." This is quite true; but another truth is too much overlooked, namely, that, when Paul plants and Apollos waters, God does give the increase. We do not labour in vain. There would be no increase without God; but then we are not without God: when such men as Paul and Apollos plant and water, there is sure to be an increase; they are the right kind of labourers, they work in a right spirit, and God is certain to bless them. This is a great part of the labourers’ wages.

III. So much upon the labourers. Now for the main point again. God himself is the great Worker. He may use what labourers he pleases, but the increase comes alone from him. Brethren, you know it is so in natural things: the most skilful farmer cannot make the wheat germinate, and grow, and ripen. He cannot even preserve a single field till harvest time, for the farmer’s enemies are many and mighty. In husbandry there’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip; and when the farmer thinks, good easy man, that he shall reap his crop, there are blights and mildews lingering about to rob him of his gains. God must give the increase. If any man is dependent on God it is the husbandman, and through him we are all of us dependent upon God from year to year for the food by which we live. Even the king must live by the produce of the field. God gives the increase in the barn and the hayrick; and in the spiritual farm it is even more so, for what can man do in this business? If any of you think that it is an easy thing to win a soul I should like you to attempt it. Suppose that without divine aid you should try to save a soul—you might as well attempt to make a world. Why, you cannot create a fly, how can you create a new heart and a right spirit? Regeneration is a great mystery, it is out of your reach. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." What can you and I do in this matter? it is far beyond our line. We can tell out the truth of God; but to apply that truth to the heart and conscience is quite another thing. I have preached Jesus Christ with my whole heart, and yet I know that I have never produced a saving effect upon a single unregenerate man unless the Spirit of God has opened the heart and placed the living seed of truth within it. Experience teaches us this. Equally is it the Lord’s work to keep the seed alive when it springs up. We think we have converts, and we are not long before we are disappointed in them. Many are like blossoms on our apple trees; they are fair to look upon, but they do not come to anything; and others are like the many little apples which fall off long before they have come to any size. He who presides over a great church, and feels an agony for the souls of men, will soon be convinced that if God does not work there will be no work done: we shall see no conversion, no sanctification, no final perseverance, no glory brought to God, no satisfaction for the passion of the Saviour, unless the Lord be with us. Well said our Lord, "Without me ye can do nothing."

Briefly I would draw certain practical lessons out of this important truth: the first is, if the whole farm of the church belongs exclusively to the great Master Worker, and the labourers are worth nothing without him, let this promote unity among all whom he employs. If we are all under one Master, do not let us quarrel. It is a miserable business when we cannot bear to see good being done by those of a different denomination who work in ways of their own. If a new labourer comes on the farm, and he uses a hoe of a new shape, shall I become his enemy? If he does his work better than I do mine, shall I be jealous? Do you not remember reading in the Scriptures that, upon one occasion, the disciples could not cast out a devil? This ought to have made them humble; but to our surprise we read a few verses further on that they saw one casting out devils in Christ’s name, and they forbade him because he followed not with their company. They could not cast out the devil themselves, and they forbade those who could. A certain band of people are going about winning souls, but because they are not doing it in our fashion, we do not like it. It is true they have odd ways; but they do really save souls, and that is the main point. Instead of cavilling, let us encourage all on Christ’s side. Wisdom is justified of her children, though some of them are far from handsome. The labourers ought to be satisfied with the new ploughman if their Master smiles upon him. Brother, if the great Lord has employed you, it is no business of mine to question his choice. Can I lend you a hand? Can I show you how to work better? Or can you show me how I can improve? This is the proper behaviour of one workman to another.

This truth, however, ought to keep all the labourers very dependent. Are you going to preach, young man? "Yes, I am going to do a great deal of good." Are you? Have you forgotten that you are nothing? "Neither is he that planteth anything." A divine is coming brimful of the gospel to comfort the saints. If he is not coming in strict dependence upon God, he, too, is nothing. "Neither is he that watereth anything." Power belongeth unto God. Man is vanity and his words are wind; to God alone belongeth power and wisdom. If we keep our places in all lowliness our Lord will use us; but if we exalt ourselves he will leave us to our nothingness.

Next notice that this fact ennobles everybody who labours in God’s husbandry. My soul is lifted up with joy when I mark these words, "For we are labourers together with God:" mere labourers on his farm, and yet labourers with him. Does the Lord work with us? We know he does by the signs following. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work," is language for all the sons of God as well as for the great Firstborn. God is with you, my brethren, when you are serving him with all your heart. Speaking to your class concerning Jesus, it is God that speaks by you; picking up that stranger on the way, and telling him of salvation by faith, Christ is speaking through you even as he spoke with the woman at the well; addressing the rough crowd in the open air, young man, if you are preaching pardon through the atoning blood, it is the God of Peter who is testifying of his Son, even as he did on the day of Pentecost.

But, lastly, how this should drive us to our knees. Since we are nothing without God, let us cry mightily unto him for help in this our holy service. Let both sower and reaper pray together, or they will never rejoice together. If the blessing be withheld, it is because we do not cry for it and expect it. Brother labourers, come to the mercy-seat, and we shall yet see the reapers return from the fields bringing their sheaves with them, though, perhaps, they went forth weeping to the sowing. To our Father, who is the husbandman, be all glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

The Conqueror from Edom

The Conqueror from Edom

The Conqueror From Edom

Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?  Isaiah 63:1.

Trinity College Chapel, 3rd Sunday in Lent, 1868.

The feud between Edom and Israel had been long and bitter. The descendants of the brothers Jacob and Esau, living as near neighbours, viewed each other with no brotherly or neighbourly eye. The conflict began at a very early date. When the Israelites, set free from Egypt and traversing the desert, asked permission to pass through the territory of the Edomites, the request was churlishly refused. In vain did they plead that they would do no injury to person or property; that they would avoid fields and vineyards and keep to the highway; that they would even pay for the water which they might drink. ‘Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border; wherefore Israel turned away from him.’

This rude and unbrotherly repulse was neither forgotten nor forgiven. Established in the land of promise, the Israelites appear very frequently at war, very rarely in alliance, with the Edomites. ‘Who will lead me into the strong city? Who will bring me into Edom? Wilt not Thou, O God, go forth with our hosts?’ This is the climax of the Psalmist’s prayer—repeated in two different psalms—when Israel is engaged in a fierce contest with this brother tribe.

And this hereditary feud continued to the latest days of Israel, now smouldering treacherously and now bursting out into flames—a feud far worse than the generous antagonism of declared enemies. For there is always a wretched meanness, a low malice, an exaggeration of bitterness—arising out of the false position—in the quarrels of those, whom God and nature have intended to be friends. It is when two peoples of the same race and language go to war, when a nation is divided against itself by civil dissensions, when members of one family fall out, that the worst passions of man’s nature have full play.

But it was in the day of Israel’s deepest sorrow, that Edom’s iniquity reached its climax. When their sharpest pang overtook the Israelites, when their enemies beleaguered them, when their palaces were rifled and their walls thrown down, when their sons and their daughters were swept away into captivity, some change might have been looked for in the attitude of the Edomites. Surely now the moment was come, when past injuries and long-embittered feuds should be forgotten, when the true fraternal love should well up in their hearts, when brother once more should run to meet brother, and embrace him and fall on his neck and kiss him. But, unlike his forefather, Edom had now no tenderness, no compassion for Israel’s sorrow. With a fiendish glee he looked on at the catastrophe. The great Babylonian conqueror was delivering him from a dangerous enemy, a troublesome neighbour—a troublesome brother, it might be said, but what cared he for this? Who made him his brother’s keeper? It was this heartless display of cruel satisfaction, which called forth the bitter cry for vengeance from the exiles on the banks of the Euphrates, interrupting so strangely the plaintive elegy of the mourners: ‘Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Jerusalem; how they said, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.’

Then it was, in the hour of Israel’s humiliation, that Edom ‘stood on the other side;’ that ‘in the day that the stranger carried away captive Israel’s forces and foreigners entered into his gates,’ Edom was ‘even as one of them;’ that ‘in the day of their destruction’ Edom ‘rejoiced over the children of Judah,’ and ‘in the day of distress spake proudly;’ that Edom ‘stood in the cross-way to cut off them that did escape.’

It was for this, that the prophet Obadiah predicted a terrible vengeance on this unfeeling race. ‘The day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.’ ‘The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them.’ It was for this that the two great prophets of the fall and captivity, the one an exile on the banks of the Chebar, the other lingering still among the ruins of the holy city, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, the strophe and antistrophe of the same tragedy, ‘deep answering deep’ (as it has been said) ‘across the Assyrian desert,’ join in denouncing God’s judgment on the offending Edom.

And in this chorus of inspired utterances, early and late, the voice of the Evangelic prophet is not silent. Raising his eyes, he sees approaching from the south-eastern frontier, from the direction of Edom, and of Bozrah the capital of Edom, a sublime form, as of some mighty hero, advancing with majestic step, and clad in the scarlet robes of a victorious captain. Awed at the sight, he asks, ‘Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of His strength?’ A voice replies, ‘I am He that speaketh in righteousness, mighty to save.’ It is the just and upright judge, the terrible avenger, the powerful and saving ally, the triumphant king, the Lord Jehovah Himself. As the sublime form approaches, the prophet sees that His scarlet robes are reeking with purple stains. Again he asks, ‘Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth the wine-fat?’ Again the voice replies to his question. The winepress is the visitation of God’s wrath: the purple stains are the blood of slaughtered enemies, trampled and crushed under foot by His heavy judgments. ‘I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me: for I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment. For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed is come.’

This then is the force of the passage. It is a prophetic announcement of Israel’s triumph at the moment of Israel’s deepest humiliation; a prophetic denunciation of vengeance on Israel’s enemies, when those enemies were proudly triumphing over their prostrate foe. The chief offender, the bitterest and most insolent foe, is Edom, Israel’s brother Edom. In the day of vengeance Edom’s punishment shall be the greatest, because her crime was so unnatural, her hostility so uncalled for. Though the horizon is now so dark and stormy, though all hope seems to have vanished, though Israel stands alone among the nations, while her enemies are many and strong and unscrupulous, yet there is One Whose arm is all powerful, One Whose aid is never invoked and never rendered in vain, One Who will silence all insolence and crush all opposition, the never-failing ally of Israel, the Lord Jehovah Himself. This reliance on God alone in the absence of all human aid is the leading idea of the passage. Again and again it is reiterated, ‘I have trodden the winepress alone. Of the people there was none with Me. I looked, and there was none to help; I wondered that there was none to uphold. Therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me!’

And yet in contrast to the feebleness and prostration of Israel, Edom possessed just those advantages which seemed calculated to secure success in her enterprises, and impunity in her insolence. In two most important respects Edom was favourably circumstanced among the nations around. Her position was strong, and her inhabitants were sagacious.

Edom was strong. Her fortresses were almost impregnable with the appliances of ancient warfare. The most famous of her strongholds, the rock-bound city of Petra, the wonder of modern travellers, is only accessible by one narrow gorge, which is easily defended. The strength of Edom is more than once celebrated by the Israelite prophets. ‘Thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rocks,’ ‘thou exaltest thyself as the eagle, thou settest thy nest among the stars.’ ‘Who will lead me into the strong city? Who will bring me into Edom?’

But Edom was not only strong, Edom was wise also. The wisdom of Edom was proverbial. When the sacred historian wishes to extol the wisdom of Solomon, he cannot do so better than by saying that it ‘excels the wisdom of all the children of the East country,’ that is, of these Edomites. ‘Shall I not in that day,’ writes Obadiah again, ‘destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?’ ‘Concerning Edom,’ says Jeremiah also, ‘thus saith the Lord of Hosts; is wisdom no more in Teman? Is counsel perished from the prudent? Is their wisdom vanished?’ In this land also seems to be laid the scene of that marvellous book, in which human and divine wisdom are confronted, and the perplexing problems of human life are discussed with such profound intuition. The interlocutors of the Book of Job are chiefly, if not solely, Edomites. And still after the lapse of centuries this nation seems to have retained its character. From Idumea came ‘that fox,’ the second Herod—the crafty son of a crafty father—retaining the peculiar gift of his race, though degrading it into an instrument of licentiousness and cruelty.

Against these advantages of Edom combined, against the strength of the strong and the wisdom of the wise, Israel, fallen and desolate, had one hope, one ally only. But her faith in this ally rides triumphant over all present disasters and all dark forebodings. The prophet’s voice assures her of complete victory; and the later history of the nation is the answer to this appeal.

I have explained the passage thus at length, because from very early times it has suffered much from misinterpretation. It has been supposed that the prophet’s words refer immediately to the scene on Calvary; that the figure seen approaching is our Lord Himself; that the solitary treading of the winepress represents His submission to the Father’s wrath endured for our redemption. I think it will be plain from what has been said, that this view does not at all meet the requirements of the context. I think it will be seen, also, that the image of treading the winepress, till the garments of the treader are drenched with the blood of the crushed grape-clusters, must signify, not the endurance of punishment, but the infliction of punishment. And, if so, we need not stop here to enquire whether in any proper or natural sense our Blessed Lord could be said to endure the Father’s wrath when He ended a life of self-devotion by this sublime act of self-sacrifice, which was the fulfilment of His Father’s will.

Far different is the lesson which the text sets forth. It is the lesson of dependence on God’s help, in desertion and loneliness, against enemies the most powerful and sagacious, amid circumstances the most adverse, despite all the calculations of human foresight. In some respects we cannot apply the prophet’s words to ourselves without limitation or correction. The Gospel has supplanted the Law. The Israel after the spirit has taken the place of the Israel after the flesh. The prophet’s utterance expresses the indignant cry of an outraged people demanding justice on their enemies, the indomitable enthusiasm of a nation yearning for the restitution of its national life by the mighty arm of the national and yet omnipresent, omnipotent God. To ourselves all men are fellow-countrymen, are brothers in Christ. A larger, more comprehensive, more spiritual conception of God’s triumphs is vouchsafed in the Gospel. Our vision is enlarged; our point of view is changed; but the main lesson of the passage—the heroism of loneliness, the trust in God, the assurance of victory—has the same binding force now as then.

It may be that the interpretation of the passage, to which I have already referred, has led other Churches besides our own to select this passage in place of one of the Epistles in Passion Week. But, whatever motives may have influenced the choice, it is very appropriate for that solemn season. I do not mean only that, as speaking of a redemption, it may be taken to have a Messianic reference, but that it sets forth the very lesson, of which the scene on Calvary was the most signal manifestation ever held out to a sinning, suffering world. The Passion and Death of Christ were preeminently the victory of loneliness through faith in the power of the unseen God. He, Who had gathered about Him admiring multitudes in Galilee, Who had been accompanied from village to village, and from city to city, by eager and attentive throngs, now at length in the hour of deepest trial, in the face of cruel sufferings and ignominious death, was abandoned by all. Loneliness, entire loneliness, only the more painful by contrast with the crowded audiences and the enthusiastic welcomes of the past, was the keenest pang of that painful crisis. In the agony of Gethsemane His nearest and best beloved disciples could not even watch with Him for a single hour. At the moment of His betrayal one and all ‘forsook Him and fled.’ And so the cruel taunts of the Roman soldiers, the insolent ribaldry of the Jewish mob, the cold injustice of Pilate, the bigoted hatred of Caiaphas, were encountered and endured without one friendly eye to gladden Him or one friendly voice to console Him; till at length, when His sufferings had reached their climax, and the agony of death was upon Him, even the Father Himself seemed for the moment to have veiled His face, and in anguish of spirit He cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ In that awful solitude the triumph over the enemies of God was complete—the triumph over sin, over the world, the flesh, and the devil. For then, when He was all alone, the Almighty Conqueror drew near, with arm upraised to maintain the righteous cause, even as of old He was seen in the prophet’s vision approaching from Edom. ‘I looked and there was none to help.’ ‘Who is this that cometh? This that is glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of His strength?’ ‘I am He that speaketh in righteousness, mighty to save.’

And so also it must be with us. Our most heroic achievements, our most signal victories, must be wrought in solitude. With God, and God alone, on our side, we must fight, and we must conquer. There is indeed a solitude, which is due to our own faults, which arises from a cold or churlish disposition, from our imperfect sympathy, from our indolence or our selfishness. We not unfrequently hear persons complain that they are misunderstood or neglected, that no one seems to care for them, that they are very lonely in the world; when they have taken no pains to consult the well-being, or win the affections, of others. It is not of this loneliness that I speak.

But there is also the loneliness of a great moral purpose. A man steps forward as the advocate of some forgotten truth, or the champion of some neglected cause. Or he devotes himself to the reform of some flagrant social abuse, or to the amelioration of some degraded class. The truth, the justice, the expediency, of his cause seem to him very manifest. He sets about his work with high hopes. He feels confident of enlisting the sympathies, and securing the aid, of all honest and fair-judging men. He forecasts a complete and speedy triumph. But his bright anticipations soon fade into the sickly light of experience. He encounters prejudice, ignorance, misunderstanding, the inertia of habit and the obstinacy of self-interest, secret obloquy and open antagonism, a thousand unforeseen difficulties lying across his path. Each fresh effort seems to start some new form of opposition. At length, worn out and desponding, he begins to ask himself, whether it is worth while persevering at so much cost, whether he is bound by any obligation to so vast a self-sacrifice, whether success is not wholly beyond his reach, whether he may not be wrong and others right after all, for who is he against so many? Then is the trial of his heroism: then is the discipline of his faith. In this hour of loneliness the prophetic vision will be his comfort and stay. He sees the form of the Almighty Conqueror, emerging from the moral confusion of his soul, from the gloom of distraction and despair. He feels that, though alone, he is not alone. He knows that his victory is secure. He, Who speaks in righteousness, will maintain the righteous cause. He, Who is mighty to save, will rescue him from the perplexity of his position. ‘I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me.’

I will take one more example. It is not now the loneliness of a great purpose which must be worked out without the sympathy of others, but the loneliness of a sinful temptation, which must be fought and conquered in the secrecy of our own heart. For the struggle with temptation, whatever form our special temptation may take, must be, in most cases and at most seasons, of this kind. The companionship of friends, the experience and advice of wise counsellors, the precepts gathered from books, may do something: but at best it will be very little. Our own temptation depends too much on our character, has too great individuality, is too much part of ourselves, to be communicated absolutely and unreservedly to others, even if it were right so to communicate it. The fight must be fought in solitude. The combat must be single-handed. Against the subtle disguises under which our foe seeks to ensnare and ruin us, against the sudden surprises by which he would strike us down unawares, against the harassing doubts which tempt us to elude the combat, whispering that expediency alone has value and that sin is no sin, against the despair of a protracted and wearisome struggle with our worst self, we must fight alone. Alone and yet not alone. We shall have the consciousness of an Almighty Presence, encouraging, sustaining, strengthening us; the vision of the Lord of Hosts, Who triumphs over all opposition, and tramples down all temptation under foot, as the purple clusters are crushed in the winepress. ‘I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me.’

In the lonely championship of right and truth against foes without, in the lonely struggle against temptation and trial within, may this consciousness, this vision, be vouchsafed to us—the vision of Him, Who is glorious in His apparel, Who travels in the greatness of His strength; the consciousness of Him, Who speaketh in righteousness, and is mighty to save.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

Easter 1608 - Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

Easter 1608 - Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

Easter 1608 — Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

Mark 16:1–7

And when the Sabbath day was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet ointments, that they might come and embalm Him.

Therefore early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre, when the sun was yet rising.

And they said one to another, Who shall roll us away this stone from the door of the sepulchre?

And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it was a very great one.

So they went into the sepulchre, and saw a young man sitting at the right side, clothed in a long white robe; and they were afraid.

But he said unto them, Be not afraid: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, Which hath been crucified; He is risen, He is not here; Behold the place where they put Him.

But go your way and tell His disciples, and Peter, that He will go before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you.

The sum of this Gospel is a gospel, that is, a message of good tidings. In a message these three points fall in naturally: I. the parties to whom it is brought; II. the party by whom; III. and the message itself. These three: 1. the parties to whom,—three women, the three Maries. 2. The party by whom,—an Angel. 3. The message itself, the first news of Christ’s rising again. These three make the three parts in the text. 1. The women, 2. the Angel, 3. the message.

Seven verses I have read ye. The first four concern the women, the fifth the Angel, the two last the Angel’s message. In the women, we have to consider 1. themselves in the first; 2. their journey in the second and third; and 3. their success in the fourth.

In the Angel, 1. the manner of his appearing, 2. and of their affecting with it.

In the message, the news itself: 1. that Christ "is risen;" 2. that "He is gone before them to Galilee;" 3. that "there they shall see Him;" 4. Peter and all. 5. Then, the Ite et dicite, the commission ad evangelizandum; not to conceal these good news but publish it, these to His Disciples, they to others, and so to us; we to day, and so to the world’s end.

As the text lieth, the part that first offereth itself, is the parties to whom this message came. Which were three women. Where, finding that women were the first that had notice of Christ’s resurrection, we stay. For it may seem strange that passing by all men, yea the Apostles themselves, Christ would have His resurrection first of all made known to that sex. Reasons are rendered, of divers diversely. We may be bold to allege that the Angel doth in the text, verse 5. Vos enim quœritis,* for they sought Christ. And, Christ "is not unrighteous to forget the work and labour of their love" that seek Him. Verily there will appear more love and labour in these women, than in men, even the Apostles themselves. At this time, I know not how, men were then become women and did animos gerere muliebres,* and women were men. Sure the more manly of the twain. The Apostles, they set mured up,* all "the doors fast" about them; sought not,* went not to the sepulchre. Neither Peter that loved Him, nor John whom He loved, till these women brought them word. But these women we see were last at His Passion, and first at His Resurrection; stayed longest at that, came soonest to this, even in this respect to be respected. Sure, as it is said of the Law, Vigilantibus et non dormientibus succurrit Lex, so may it no less truly be said of the Gospel. We see it here, it cometh not to sleepers, but to them that are awake, and up and about their business, as these women were. So that there was a capacity in them to receive this prerogative.

Before I leave this part of the parties, I may not omit to observe Mary Magdalene’s place and precedence among the three. All the Fathers are careful to note it. That she standeth first of them, for it seemeth no good order. She had had seven devils in her,* as we find, verse 9. She had had the blemish to be called peccatrix,* as one famous and notorious in that kind. The other were of honest report, and never so stained, yet is she named with them. With them were much, but not only with them, but before them. With them;—and that is to shew Christ’s resurrection, as well as His death, reacheth to sinners of both sexes; and that, to sinners of note, no less than those that seem not to have greatly gone astray;—but before them too, and that is indeed to be noted; that she is the first in the list of women, and St. Peter in that of men. These two, the two chief sinners, either of their sex. Yet they, the two, whose lots came first forth in sorte sanctorum,* in partaking this news. And this to shew that chief sinners as these were, if they carry themselves as they did, shall be at no loss by their fall; shall not only be pardoned but honoured even as he was,* like these, with stolâ primâ, "the first robe" in all the wardrobe, and stand foremost of all. And it is not without a touch of the former reason, in that the sinner, after his recovery, for the most part seeketh God more fervently, whereas they that have not greatly gone astray, are but even so so; if warm, it is all. And with God it is a rule, plus valet hora fervens quam mensis tepens, ‘an hour of fervour more worth than a month of tepor.’ Now such was Mary Magdalene, here and elsewhere vouchsafed therefore this degree of exaltation,* to be "of the first three;" nay, to be the first of the three, that heard first of His rising; yea, as in the ninth verse, that first saw Him risen from the dead. This of the persons.

And now, because their endeavours were so well liked as they were for them counted worthy this so great honour, it falleth next to consider what those were, that we being like prepared may partake the like good hap. So seeking as they, we may find as they did. They were four in number. The first and third in the second, the second in the first, and the last in the third verse. All reduced, as Christ reduced them in Mary Magdalene, to dilexit multum, ‘their great love,’ of which these four be four demonstrations; or, if love be an "ensign" as it is termed Cant. 2.,* the four colours of it. 1. That they went to the sepulchre;—love to one dead. 2. That they bought precious odours;—love that is at charges. 3. That out they went early, before break of day;—love that will take pains. 4. That for all the stone, still they went on;—love that will wrestle with impediments. The first is constant as to the dead; the second bounteous, as at expense; the third diligent, as up betimes; the last resolute, be the stone never so great. According to which four, are the four denominations of love: 1. Amor, a mor-te, when it surviveth death. 2. When it buyeth dearly, it is charitas; 3. When it sheweth all diligence, it is dilectio; 4. When it goeth per saxa, when stones cannot stay it, it is zelus, which is specially seen in encountering difficulties. It shall not be amiss to touch them severally; it will serve to touch our love, whether ours be of the same assay.

The first riseth out of these words, "They went to the sepulchre;" and indeed, ex totâ substantiâ, ‘out of the whole text.’ For, for whom is all this ado, is it not for Christ? But Christ is dead, and buried three days since, and this is now the third day. What then, though He be dead, to their love He liveth still: death may take His body from their eyes, but shall never take His remembrance from their hearts. Herein is love, this is the first colour, saith a great master in that faculty,* fortis sicut mors, "love, that death cannot foil," but continueth to the dead, as if they still were alive. And when I say the dead, I mean not such as the dead hath left behind them, though that be a virtue, and Booz worthily blessed for it that shewed mercy to the living for the dead’s sake;* but I mean performing offices of love to the dead himself; to see he have a sepulchre to go to; not so to bury his friend, as he would bury his ass being dead. To see he have one, and not thither to bring him, and there to leave him, and bury him and his memory both in a grave. Such is the world’s love.* Solomon sheweth it by the lion and the dog. All after Christ living, but go to His sepulchre who will, not we. The love that goeth thither, that burieth not the memory of Him that is buried, is love indeed.

The journey to the sepulchre is iter amoris; had it been but to lament, as Mary Magdalene to Lazarus:—but then here is a farther matter, they went to anoint Him. That is set for another sign,* that they spared for no cost, but bought precious odours wherewith to embalm Him.

1. To go to anoint Christ, is kindly; it is to make Him Christ, that is, "Anointed." That term referreth principally to His Father’s anointing, I grant; but what, if we also anoint Him, will He take it in evil part? Clearly not, neither quick,* nor dead. Not quick, Luke 7. Mark 14. Not dead; this place is pregnant,* it is the end of their journey to do this. He is well content to be their, and our Anointed, not His Father’s only; yea, it is a way to make Him Christum nostrum, ‘our Christ,’ if we break our boxes, and bestow our odours upon Him.

2. To anoint Him, and not with some odd cast ointment, lying by them, kept a little too long, to throw away upon Him; but to buy, to be at cost, to do it emptis odoribus, ‘with bought odours.’

3. This to do to Him alive, that would they with all their hearts; but if that cannot be, to do it to Him dead, rather than not at all. To do it to whatsoever is left us of Christ, to that to do it.

4. To embalm Christ, Christ dead, yea though others had done it before,* for so is the case. Joseph and Nicodemus had bestowed myrrh and aloes to that end already. What then? though they had done it, it is not enough, nay, it is nothing. Nay, if all the world should have done it, unless they might come with their odours and do it too, all were nothing. In hoc est charitas, ‘herein is love,’ and this a sign of it. A sign of it every where else, and to Christ a sign it was. Indeed, such a sign there was, but it is beaten down now. We can love Christ absque hoc, and shew it some other way well enough. It sheweth our love is not charitas, no dear love; but vilitas, love that loves to be at as little charges with Christ as may be, faint love. You shall know it thus: Ad hoc signum se contrahit, ‘at this sign it shrinks,’ at every word of it. 1. "They bought,"—that is charge; we like it not,* we had rather hear potuit vendi. 2. "Odours." What need odours? An unnecessary charge. We like no odour but odor lucri. 3. To Christ. Nay, seeing it is unnecessary, we trust Christ will not require it. 4. Not alive, but especially, not dead. There was much ado while He lived to get allowance for it; there was one of His own Apostles, a good charitable man,* pater pauperum, held it to be plain perditio. Yet, to anoint the living, that many do, they can anoint us again; but to the dead, it is quite cast away. But then, if it had been told us, He is embalmed already, why then, take away their odours, that at no hand would have been endured. This sheweth our love is not charitas. But so long as this is a Gospel, it shall sound every Easter-day in our ear, That the buying of odours, the embalming of whatsoever is left us of Christ, is and will be still a sign of our loving and seeking Him, as we should; though not heretofore, yet now; now especially, when that objection ceaseth, He is embalmed enough already. He was indeed then, but most of the myrrh and aloes is now gone. That there is good occasion left, if any be disposed in hoc signo signari, ‘with this sign to seal his love to Christ anew again.’

From this of their expense, charitas, we pass to the third, of their diligence, dilectio, set down in the second verse in these words "very early," &c. And but mark how diligent the Holy Ghost is in describing their diligence. "The very first day of the week," the very first part of that first day, "in the morning;" the very first hour of that first part, "very early, before the sun was up," they were up. Why good Lord, what need all this haste? Christ is fast enough under His stone. He will not run away ye may be sure; ye need never break your sleep, and yet come to the sepulchre time enough. No, if they do it not as soon as it may be done, it is nothing worth. Herein is love, dilectio, whose proper sign is diligentia, in not slipping the first opportunity of shewing it. They did it not at their leisure, they could not rest, they were not well, till they were about it. Which very speed of theirs doubleth all the former. For cito we know is esteemed as much as bis. To do it at once is to do it more than once, is to do it twice over.

Yet this we must take with us, Διαγενομένου σαββάτου. Where falleth a very strange thing, that as we have commended them for their quickness, so must we now also for their slowness, out of the very first words of all. "When the Sabbath was past," then, and not till then, they did it. This diligence of theirs, as great haste as it made, stayed yet till the Sabbath were past, and by this means hath two contrary commendations: 1. One, for the speed; 2. another for the stay of it. Though they fain would have been embalming Him as soon as might be, yet not with breach of the Sabbath. Their diligence leapt over none of God’s commandments for haste. No, not this commandment, which of all other the world is boldest with; and if they have haste, somewhat else may, but sure the Sabbath shall never stay them. The Sabbath they stayed, for then God stayed them. But that was no sooner over, but their diligence appeared straight. No other thing could stay them. Not their own sabbath, sleep—but "before day-light" they were well onward on their way.

The last is in the third verse, in these words, "As they went, they said," &c. There was a stone, a very great one, to be rolled away ere they could come at Him. They were so rapt with love, in a kind of ecstacy, they never thought of the stone; they were well on their way before they remembered it. And then, when it came to their minds, they went not back though, but on still, the stone non obstante. And herein is love, the very fervor of it, zeal; that word hath fire in it. Not only diligence as lightness to carry it upward, but zeal as fire to burn a hole and eat itself a way, through whatsoever shall oppose to it. No stone so heavy as to stay them, or turn them back.* And this is St. John’s sign: foras pellit timorem, "love, if it be perfect, casts out fear;" et erubescit nomen difficultatis, ‘shames to confess any thing too hard for it.’ Ours is not so; we must have, not great stones, God wot, but every scruple removed out of our way, or we will not stir. But as, if you see one qui laborem fingit in prœcepto, ‘that makes a great deal more labour in a precept’ than needs, that is afraid where no fear is;* of leo in viâ, "a lion" or I wot not what perilous beast "in the way," and no such matter; it is a certain sign his love is small, his affection cold to the business in hand; so, on the other side, when we see, as in these here, such zeal to that they went about, as first they forgot there was any stone at all, and when they bethought them of it, they brake not off, but went on though; ye may be bold to say of them, dilexerunt multum, ‘their love was great’ that per saxa, ‘through stones’ and all, yet goeth forward; that neither cost nor pains nor peril can divert. Tell them the party is dead they go to; it skills not, their love is not dead; that will go on. Tell them He is embalmed already, they may save their cost; it is not enough for them except they do it too, they will do it nevertheless for all that. Tell them they may take time then, and do it; nay, unless it be done the first day, hour, and minute, it contents them not. Tell them there is a stone, more than they remember, and more than they can remove; no matter, they will try their strength and lift at it, though they take the foil. Of these thus qualified we may truly say, They that are at all this cost, labour, pains, to anoint Him dead, shew plainly, if it lay in them to raise Him again, they would not fail but do it; consequently would be glad to hear He were risen, and so are fit hearers of this Gospel; hearers well disposed, and every way meet to receive this Messenger, and this message. Now to the success.

We see what they sought, we long to see what they found. Such love and such labour would not be lost. This we may be sure of, there is none shall anoint Him alive or dead, without some recompense or consideration; which is set down of two sorts. 1. "They found the stone rolled away," as great as it was. That which troubled them most, how it might be removed, that found they removed ere they came. They need never take pains with it, the Angel had done it to their hands. 2. They found not indeed Whom they sought, Christ; but His Angel they found, and heard such a gospel of Him, so good news, as pleased them better than if they had found His body to embalm it. That news which of all other they most longed to hear, that He they came to anoint needed no such office to be done to Him, as being alive again. This was the success.

And from this success of theirs our lesson is. 1. That as there is no virtue, no good work, but hath some impediment, as it were some great stone to be lifted at,—Quis revolvet? so that it is ofttimes the lot of them that seek to do good, to find many imaginary stones removed to their hands; God so providing, ut quod admovit Satanas, amoveat Angelus, ‘what Satan lays in the way, a good Angel takes out of the way;’ that it may in the like case be a good answer to Quis revolvet? to say, Angelus Domini, "the Angel of the Lord," he shall do it, done it shall be: so did these here, and as they did, others shall find it.

2. Again, it is the hope that all may have that set themselves to do Christ any service, to find His Angel at least, though not Himself; to hear some good news of Him, though not see Him at the first. Certain it is with ungentes ungentur, ‘none shall seek ever to anoint Him but they shall be anointed by Him again,’ one way or other; and find, though not always what they seek, yet some supply that shall be worth the while. And this we may reckon of, it shall never fail us.

To follow this farther. Leave we these good women, and come first to the Angel, the messenger, and after to his message. An Angel was the messenger, for none other messenger was meet for this message.* For if His birth were tidings of so great joy as none but an Angel was meet to report it, His resurrection is as much. As much? nay, much more. As much; for His resurrection is itself a birth too. To it doth the Apostle apply the verse in the Psalm,* "This day have I begotten Thee." Even this day when He was born anew, tanquam ex utero sepulchri, ‘from the womb of the grave.’ As much then, yea much more. For the news of His birth might well have been brought by a mortal, it was but His entry into a mortal life; but this here not properly but by an Angel,* for that in the Resurrection we shall be "like the Angels," and shall die no more; and therefore an immortal messenger was meetest for it.

We first begin with what they saw,—the vision. They saw an Angel in the sepulchre. An Angel in a sepulchre is a very strange sight. A sepulchre is but an homely place—neither savoury, nor sightly, for an Angel to come in. The place of dead men’s bones, of stench, of worms, and of rottenness;—What doth an Angel there? Indeed, no Angel ever came there till this morning. Not till Christ had been there; but, since His body was there, a great change hath ensued. He hath left there odorem vitœ, and changed the grave into a place of rest. That not only this Angel here now, but after this,* two more, yea divers Angels upon divers occasions, this day did visit and frequent this place. Which very finding of the Angels thus, in the place of dead bodies, may be and is to us a pledge, that there is a possibility and hope, that the dead bodies may come also into the place of Angels. Why not the bodies in the grave to be in Heaven one day, as well as the Angels of Heaven to be in the grave this day?

This for the vision. The next for the manner of his appearing, in what form he shewed himself. A matter worth our stay a little as a good introduction to us, in him as in a mirror to see what shall be the state of us and our bodies in the Resurrection, inasmuch as it is expressly promised we shall then be ἰσάγγελοι,* "like and equal to the Angels themselves."

2. They saw "a young man," one in the vigour and strength of his years, and such shall be our estate then; all age, sickness, infirmity removed clean away. Therefore it was also that the Resurrection fell in the spring, the freshest time of the year; and in the morning, the freshest time of the day,* when saith Esay "the dew is on the herbs." Therefore, that it was in a garden, (so it was in Joseph of Arimathea’s garden) that look, as that garden was at that time of the year, the spring, so shall our estate then be in the very flower and prime of it.

They saw him "sitting," which is we know the site of rest and quietness, of them that are at ease. To shew us a second quality of our estate then; that in it all labour shall cease, all motions rest, all troubles come utterly to an end for ever, and the state of it a quiet, a restful state.

They saw him sit "on the right side." And that side is the side of pre-eminence and honour, to shew that those also shall accompany us rising again. That we may fall on the left side,* but we shall rise on the right; be "sown in dishonour," but shall "rise again in honour," that honour which His Saints and Angels have and shall have for ever.

Lastly, they saw him "clothed all in white." And white is the colour of gladness, as we find Eccles. 9:8. All to shew still,* that it shall be a state, as of strength, rest, and honour, so of joy likewise. And that, robe-wise; not short or scant, but as his stole, all over, down to the ground.

Neither serves it alone to shew us, what then we shall be, but withal what now we ought to be this day, the day of His rising.* In that we see, that as the heavens at the time of His Passion were in black, by the great eclipse shewing us it was then a time of mourning; so this day the Angels were all in white, to teach us thereby with what affection, with how great joy and gladness, we are to celebrate and solemnize this feast of our Saviour’s rising.

Their affection here was otherwise, and that is somewhat strange. In the apparition there was nothing fearful as ye see, yet it is said, "they were afraid." Even now they feared nothing, and now they fall to be afraid at this so comfortable a sight. Had they been guilty to themselves of any evil they came to do, well might they then have feared, God first, as the malefactor doth the judge, and then His Angel, as the executioner of His wrath. But their coming was for good. But I find it is not the sinner’s case only, but even of the best of our nature.* Look the Scripture; Abraham and Jacob in the Old,* Zachary and the Blessed Virgin in the New,* all strucken with fear still, at the sight of good Angels; yea even then,* when they came for their good.

It fareth with the Angels of light, as it doth with the light itself. Sore eyes and weak cannot endure it, no more can sinners them. No more can the strongest sight neither bear the light, if the object be too excellent, if it be not tempered to a certain proportion; otherwise, even to the best that is, is the light offensive. And that is their case. Afraid they are, not for any evil they were about, but for that our very nature is now so decayed, ut lucem ad quam nata est sustinere nequeat, as the Angels’ brightness, for whose society we were created, yet as now we are, bear it we cannot, but need to be comforted at the sight of a comfortable Angel. It is not the messenger angelical, but the message evangelical that must do it.

Which leadeth us along from the vision that feared them, to the message itself that relieved them; which is the third part. The stone lay not more heavy on the grave, than did that fear on their hearts, pressing them down hard. And no less needful was it, the Angel should roll it away, this spiritual great stone from their hearts, than he did that other material from the sepulchre itself. With that he begins.

1. "Fear not." A meet text for him, that maketh a sermon at a sepulchre. For the fear of that place maketh us out of quiet all our life long.* It lieth at our heart like a stone, and no way there is to make us willing to go thither, but by putting us out of fear; by putting us in hope, that the great stones shall be rolled away again from our sepulchres, and we from thence rise to a better life. It is a right beginning for an Easter-day’s sermon, nolite timere.

2. And a good reason he yields, why not. For it is not every body’s case, this nolite timere vos, "fear not you." Why not? For "you seek Jesus of Nazareth Which hath been crucified." "Nazareth" might keep you back, the meanness of His birth, and "crucified" more, the reproach of His death. Inasmuch as these cannot let you, but ye seek Him; are ashamed neither of His poor birth, nor of His shameful death, but seek Him; and seek Him, not as some did when He was alive, when good was to be done by Him, but even now, dead, when nothing is to be gotten; and not to rob or rifle Him, but to embalm Him, an office of love and kindness, (this touched before) "fear not you," nor let any fear that so seek Him.

Now, that they may not fear, He imparts them His message full of comfort. And it containeth four comforts of hope, answerable to the four former proofs of their love: "1. He is risen;" 2. But "gone before you;" 3. "Ye shall see Him;" 4. "All His Disciples," "Peter" and all; "Go tell them so."

In that you thus testify your love in seeking Him, I dare say ye had rather He ye thus come to embalm, that He were alive again; and no more joyful tidings could come to you than that He were so. Ye could I dare say with all your hearts be content to lose all your charge you have been at, in buying your odours, on condition it were so. Therefore I certify you that He is alive,* He is risen. No more than Gaza gates could hold Samson,* or the whale Jonas, no more could this stone keep Him in the sepulchre, but risen He is.

First, of this ye were sure, here He was: ye were at His laying in, ye saw the stone sealed, and the watch set, so that here He was. But here He is not now; come see the place, trust your own eyes, non est hîc.

But what of that, this is but a lame consequence for all that; He is not here, therefore He is risen. For may it not be, He hath been taken away? Not with any likelihood; though such a thing will be given out,* that the Disciples stole Him away while the watch was asleep. But your reason will give you; 1. small probability there is, they could be asleep, all the ground shaking and tottering under them by means of the earthquake.* 2. And secondly, if they did sleep for all that, yet then could they not tell sleeping, how, or by whom, He was taken away. 3. And thirdly, that His Disciples should do it; they you know of all other were utterly unlike to do any such thing; so fearful as miserably they forsook Him yet alive, and have ever since shut themselves up since He was dead. 4. And fourthly, if they durst have done such a thing, they would have taken Him away, linen, clothes, and all, as fearful men will make all the haste they can possibly, and not stood stripping Him and wrapping up the clothes, and laying them every parcel, one by one in order, as men use to do that have time enough and take deliberation, as being in no haste, or fear at all. To you therefore, as we say, ad hominem, this consequence is good; not taken away, and not here, therefore risen He is.

But, to put all out of doubt, you shall trust your own eyes; videbitis, ‘you shall see’ it is so; you shall see Him. Indeed, non hîc would not serve their turns; He knew there question would be, Where is He? Gone He is; not quite gone, but only gone before, which is the second comfort; for if He be but gone before, we have hope to follow after; I prœ, sequar; so is the nature of relatives. But that we may follow then, whither is He gone? Whither He told ye Himself, a little before His Passion, chap. 14:28. "into Galilee."

1. No meeter place for Jesus of Nazareth to go, than to "Galilee:"* there He is best known, there in Nazareth He was brought up,* there in Cana He did His first miracle, shewed His first glory—meet therefore to see His last; there in Capernaum, and the coasts about, preached most, bestowed most of His labour.

2. "Galilee;" it was called "Galilee of the Gentiles,"* for it was in the confines of them; to shew, His resurrection, tanquam in meditullio, ‘as in a middle indifferent place,’ reacheth to both;* concerneth and benefiteth both alike. As Jonas after his resurrection went to Nineveh, so Christ after His to Galilee of the Gentiles.

3. "Galilee;" that from Galilee, the place from whence they said, No good thing could ever come, He might bring one of the best things, and of most comfort that ever was; the sight and comfort of His Resurrection.

4. "Galilee" last, for Galilee signifieth a revolution or turning about to the first point, whither they must go that shall see Him, or have any part or fellowship in this feast of His Resurrection. Thither is He gone before, and thither if ye follow, there ye shall see Him.

This is the third comfort, and it is one indeed. For sight is the sense of certainty, and all that they can desire, and there they did see Him. Not these here only, or the twelve only,* or the one hundred and twenty names, in Acts 1. only, but even five hundred of them at once,* saith the Apostle; a whole "cloud of witnesses,*" to put it clean out of question. And of purpose doth the Angel point to that apparition, which was the most famous and public of all the ten.

This was good news for those here, and they were worthy of it, seeking Him as they did. But what shall become of the rest, namely of His Disciples that lost Him alive, and seek Him not dead? They shall never see Him more? Yes (which is evangelicum, ‘good tidings’ indeed, the chief comfort of all) they too that left Him so shamefully but three days ago, them He casts not off, but will be glad to see them in Galilee. Well, whatsoever become of other, Peter that so foully forsook, and forsware Him both, he shall never see Him more? Yes, Peter too, and Peter by name. And indeed, it is more than needful He should name him, he had greatest cause of doubt; the greatest stone upon him to be rolled away of any, that had so often with oaths and execrations so utterly renounced Him.* This is a good message for him, and Mary Magdalene as fit a messenger as can be to carry it, one great sinner to another. That not only Christ is risen, but content that His forsakers, deniers, forswearers, Peter and all, should repair to Him the day of His Resurrection; that all the deadly wounds of His Passion have not killed His compassion over sinners; that though they have made wrack of their duty, yet He hath not lost His mercy, not left it in the grave, but is as ready to receive them as ever. His Resurrection hath made no change in Him. Dying and rising, He is to sinners still one and the same, still like Himself, a kind, loving, and merciful Saviour. This is the last; Peter and all may see Him.

And with this He dismisseth them, with ite et dicite, with a commission and precept, by virtue whereof He maketh these women Apostolos Apostolorum, ‘Apostles to the Apostles themselves,’—for this article of the Resurrection did they first learn of these women, and they were the first of all that preached this Gospel—giving them in charge, that seeing this day is a day of glad tidings, they would not conceal it, but impart it to others, even to so many as then were, or would ever after be Christ’s disciples.

They came to embalm Christ’s body natural; that needs it not, it is past embalming now. But another Body He hath, a mystical body, a company of those that had believed in Him, though weakly; that they would go and anoint them, for they need it. They sit drying away, what with fear, what with remorse of their unkind dealing with Him; they need to have some oil, some balm to supple them. That they do with this Gospel, with these four; of which four ingredients is made the balm of this day.

Thus we see, these that were at cost to anoint Christ were fully recompensed for the costs they had been at; themselves anointed with oil and odours of a higher nature, and far more precious than those they brought with them,* Oleum lœtitiœ, saith the Psalm,* Odor vitœ, saith the Apostle. And that so plenteously, as there is enough for themselves, enough too for others, for His Disciples, for Peter and all.

But what is this to us? Sure, as we learned by way of duty how to seek Christ after their example, so seeking Him in that manner, by way of reward we hope to have our part in this good news no less than they.

1. "Christ is risen."* That concerneth us alike. "The head" is got above the water,* "the root" hath received life and sap, "the first fruits" are lift up and consecrate;* we no less than they, as His members, His branches, His field, recover to this hope.

2. And for His going before, that which the Angel said here once, is ever true. He is not gone quite away, He is but gone before us; He is but the antecedent, we as the consequent to be inferred after. Yea, though He be gone to Galilœa superior, ‘the Galilee that is above,’ Heaven, the place of the celestial spheres and revolutions, even thither is He gone, not as a party absolute, of or for Himself, but as "a Harbinger,"* saith the Apostle, with relation to others that are coming after, for whom He goeth before to take up a place. So the Apostle there, so the Angel here. So He Himself, Vado;* not Vado alone, but Vado parare locum vobis, "I go to prepare a place wherein to receive you," when the number of you and your brethren shall be full.

3. To us likewise pertaineth the third videbitis, that is, the Gospel indeed. "He is risen." Rising of itself is no Gospel, but He is risen and we shall see Him; that is it. That the time will come also, that we shall see Him in the Galilee celestial that is above;* yea, that all shall see Him, even "they that pierced Him." But they that came to embalm Him,* with joy and lifting up their heads they shall see Him; with that sight shall they see Him, That shall evermore make them blessed.

4. Lastly, which is worth all the rest, That we shall not need to be dismayed with our unworthiness, in that willing He is Peter should have word of this, and Mary Magdalene should carry it. That such as they were, sinners, and chief sinners, should have these tidings told them, this Gospel preached them; that He is as ready to receive them to grace as any of the rest, and will be as glad to see them as any others in Galilee.

But then are we to remember the condition, that here we get us into Galilee, or else it will not be. And Galilee is ‘a revolution, or turning’ ad principia ‘to the first point,’ as doth the Zodiac at this time of the year. The time of His resurrection is pascha, ‘a passing over;’ the place Galilee, ‘a turning about.’ It remaineth then that we pass over as the time, and turn as the place, putteth us in mind. Re-uniting ourselves to His Body and Blood in this time of His rising, of the dissolving and renting whereof our sins were the cause. The time of His suffering, keeping the feast of Christ our new Passover offered for us; leaving whatsoever formerly hath been amiss in Christ’s grave as the weeds of our dead estate, and rising to newness of life, that so we may have our parts "in the first resurrection;"* which they are happy and blessed that shall have, for by it they are sure of the second. Of which blessing and happiness, He vouchsafe to make us all partakers, That this day rose for us, Jesus Christ the Righteous!

Andrewes, L. (1841). Ninety-Six Sermons (Vol. 2). Oxford: John Henry Parker. (Public Domain)

Esau

Esau

Esau

And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.  Genesis 27:34.

Trinity College Chapel, 24th Sunday after Trinity, 1861.

It is to be feared that even those who are most ready to confess that all Holy Scripture was written for our learning, do yet practically derive very little instruction from large portions of the Old Testament History. There are certain broad features indeed which we can scarcely mistake. When the flagrant sinner is struck down by divine vengeance in the midst of his crimes, or when blessings are showered on the faithful servant of God, the lesson is too plain to escape us. The history of David or of Ahab cannot be misread. But there are other parts of Holy Scripture which appear to us very perplexing and unintelligible, which we are disposed perhaps to give up in despair. We cannot understand for instance why in certain cases grave sins are dealt with so lightly, or slight offences visited with so heavy a punishment. We feel that our measure of right and wrong would have been very different; that we should have established another law of retribution. There are many reasons for this. It arises in part no doubt because we are judging of past ages by the conventional standard of good and evil in our own, and are therefore unwilling to view some of the more current and respectable sins in their true light. But it is still more due to the circumstance, that the point which decides the true character of the action frequently does not lie on the surface of the narrative, and that it requires more pains perhaps than we are disposed to give, in order to appreciate its moral significance. And yet it is just those lessons requiring the most study to master which are the most valuable, when once learnt. For they not only give us the broad features of God’s dealings with His creatures. They bring out the finer lines in the portraiture of good and evil. They develope the faint shadows of the picture. They discriminate between the real and the seeming. And thus they bring home to us our true position in the sight of God. They pluck off the mask, which we have worn to ourselves as well as to others. They penetrate the inmost depths of our spirit. And thus ‘the word of God is’ indeed ‘quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,’ a very ‘discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’

And it happens very frequently in such cases—where the lesson conveyed does not appear at once on the face of the narrative, and where consequently there is a danger of our passing it over in a careless reading—that our attention is arrested by some casual but pointed allusion to it in the writings of an Apostle or Evangelist, or in the words of our Blessed Lord Himself. And thus the light of the New Testament is shed upon the Old. The narrative assumes a new aspect. We at length recognise its importance. We are led to study it afresh, and each time we read it we are more fully impressed with the depth of the lesson it conveys.

The instances of Balaam and of Esau both illustrate the truth of what I have been saying. They are in many respects parallel. The difficulty is much the same in either case. We are at a loss to account for the extreme severity, as we are disposed to regard it, with which the offender is treated in the sacred narrative. Both alike are referred to in the New Testament. ‘The way of Balaam the son of Bosor’ is a by-word for disobedience and ungodliness. The ‘profane’ Esau, ‘who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright’, is the very picture and type of the hopelessly and irrevocably fallen.

Yet this is certainly not the estimate we should have formed by ourselves. Our first impression of Balaam is of one, who—if he fell short of the highest perfection, if his duty to God was not all in all to him—yet at all events cannot be said to have gone very far wrong. We read of his consulting God in all he does. We find him acting as God commands him to act. We marvel at his subsequent history, and we are perplexed at the language which Scripture holds regarding him. So again with Esau. We have a sort of feeling that he too, like Balaam, is somewhat hardly dealt with. We are not sure that we should have given the preference to his brother Jacob—nay, we more than suspect that we should have reversed the judgment: that, instead of depriving him of the blessing, we should even have restored him the birthright. We have a lurking regard for his rough, impetuous, simple character, for his undesigning and generous spirit. The treachery which is practised upon him, and the success which attends his brother’s plots, enlist our sympathies in his favour. It is only when we have examined the narratives more closely, giving them more thought and trying to divest ourselves of our prejudices, that we see their history in its true light. Then at length we acknowledge the justice of God’s rebuke of Balaam; and we cease to marvel at his fall, because we can now see that, when he acted aright, he acted from fear and not from love. Then at length we discover the superiority of Jacob; and we wonder no more that Esau was deprived of the blessing and rejected as a profane person: for we see that Jacob—though amidst many imperfections, despite many grievous sins—did place his reliance on God; did look to Him, as the Giver of all good things; did live for more than the passing moment. In short Jacob was spiritually minded; while Esau—with much in him to like, and something to admire—was careless and indifferent to all higher things, influenced only by passing impulses and momentary impressions, without foresight, without reflection, the type of that hopeless class of men, whose maxim is, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die’.

To this latter narrative, the history of Esau, I will ask your attention for a few moments this morning. I know of no sadder story. I can imagine none. If the character of Esau had been less attractive, his fall would have excited less pity. If his prospects had not been so brilliant, his fate would have been less terrible. But it is the combination of these two circumstances in the narrative—the ruin of a character which we are disposed to admire, and the unspeakable value of the birthright and the blessing which he recklessly threw away—that gives the interest to the story, and rivets our attention to the lesson which it contains. The destruction of so many bright hopes, the dissipation of so many glorious visions, the hopeless and irrevocable ruin of one so simple and honest and open-hearted—what can be more touching than this? And hence it is that we seem to hear ringing sharply above the most piercing shrieks of pain, and the loudest wailings of grief, that one exceeding bitter cry, uttered in the agony of despair, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father.’

And perhaps it may be that the narrative comes home with peculiar force to ourselves, that we are conscious of some crisis in our own lives, or recall some incident in the career of others whom we have known and loved, which reminds us only too painfully of the fate of Esau, and gives point to the lesson. Is it so with any of us? May it not be so in some degree or other with most or all of us? Or is it a mere form that we bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses; that we confess the remembrance of them to be grievous unto us, the burden intolerable? Have we not each our special temptation, our besetting sin? And it may be that at one time or other this has culminated in some act, more heinous than we had supposed possible—some breach of the law of love, or of truth, or of purity, according to our special temptation—one act which has seemed to shut us out from the presence of God, and to leave us to darkness and despair. And then at length we have learnt in our bitter anguish to measure the exceeding great value of that heavenly birthright, which as sons of God we have inherited only to spurn and to set at naught, and—in remorse, if not in penitence—have striven by the importunity of our cries to arrest the blessing, ere it has passed away from us for ever.

I need scarcely dwell on the character of Esau, as it is painted in the sacred narrative. Making allowance for the rude habits of the patriarchal age, he is not essentially different in character from a very large number among ourselves. He has just the same virtues, and just the same faults. He is the father’s favourite son. He is born to great hopes. He has brilliant prospects before him. His career is in his own hands. His lot may well be envied by others. But all is thrown away upon him. He is reckless of his opportunities. He is insensible to his blessings. He loses everything by one desperate act of folly. He finds out too late the value of what he has lost. He would give anything to recover it, when recovering it is hopeless. And yet his character is far from utterly vicious. Of such a man we might say, that he is no one’s enemy but his own. If his bad passions are strong, his impulses for good are strong also. If he is reckless and undisciplined, he is simple and honest and open-hearted. He is in short not so very much worse—perhaps not at all worse—than a great number, who are admired and loved among ourselves, and whose manifest faults are forgiven for the sake of many rough virtues and generous affections.

Nor do I think that the guilt of Esau will seem so much deeper in comparison with that which we may incur, when we consider the nature of the privilege which he despised, of the blessing which he threw away. True it is that the promise which pertained to Esau—the promise given to Abraham and renewed to Isaac—was something more than the possession of lands and flocks and houses; that his birthright implied more than mere rank or wealth or earthly power. He knew that by virtue of his birthright he was destined to be the father of the chosen seed; that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed; that from his race as concerning the flesh Christ was to come, the Redeemer of the whole world. This he knew, or might have known. This inheritance he bartered for a morsel of meat. For this he is condemned and branded as a profane person.

It was no common offence then of which Esau was guilty. It was perhaps as great an offence as in his position he could have committed. Yet it is not greater than that which we shall commit, if like him we despise our birthright. For have we not an inheritance more precious still—we who are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ—a name more glorious than his, for it is a name better than of sons and of daughters? If he might have been the father of Messiah’s race, how much greater is our privilege, to whom is accorded a far more intimate, because a spiritual, relationship? ‘Whosoever shall do the will of My Father Which is in heaven, the same is My brother and sister and mother.’ Are we tempted for some worldly consideration, for some momentary advantage, for wealth or popularity or fame or ease or pleasure, to barter away this brilliant inheritance? Is not the price we give as ruinous, the exchange we get as worthless, as it was with Esau?

There are two circumstances however in the story of Esau, which it may be well to dwell on more at length: for from these we may derive the most valuable lesson. Yet at first sight they only perplex us. They seem not only to palliate the guilt, but almost to obliterate the offence. They lead us to look upon him as the victim rather than the culprit, as sinned against rather than sinning. The first of these is the circumstance that he is surprised into selling his birthright. It is a momentary, unpremeditated act; he falls into a snare laid for him; we feel disposed therefore not to judge him too harshly: we cannot regard his offence as very heinous. In the second place, though the loss of the birthright was certainly his own act, whatever excuse we may make for it, yet he was deprived of the blessing by no fault of his. By no reasonable foresight could he have prevented it. He made some efforts at least to obtain that blessing. He did not throw it away. He was robbed of it. Surely this can not be laid to his charge. Of this at least he is innocent.

In considering the first of these points, let us ask ourselves what is meant by being surprised into such and such a sinful act—what leads to it, what state of mind it supposes, how it comes about? In a certain sense indeed Esau is surprised into selling his birthright. He returns from the field hungry and faint. He asks for food. His brother will not give it him except at the price of his birthright. He yields. ‘Behold,’ he says, ‘I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?’ But is this yielding an isolated act? Does it not show a defective character? Does it not betoken a certain spiritual depravity, a low, worldly view of his position? He ‘despised his birthright,’ We are told, and therefore he is branded as ‘a profane person.’

For indeed surprise would be utterly powerless, unless the character were previously undermined. And so it is no excuse for a sinful act; it is scarcely in any degree a palliation. It is rather a revelation of secret depravity in a man, hidden successfully from his neighbours, ignored by, but not unknown to, himself. After the flagrant deed is committed, others may be at a loss to account for it. It is unexplained to them by anything in his previous career. But to himself it is clear enough. To him it is not an isolated act, but one link in a long chain of evil. He has been aware all along that he was sinking into sin. He has thrust away the troublesome thought, but he has been aware of it. He has taken no measure, it may be, of the growth of his guilt. It has ripened into grievous sin unnoticed. In no other sense can it have been a surprise to him. For all the while the seed was there, and had taken root, and the noxious plant was growing; and he knew it, and he hid it from others, and he would not confess it perhaps even to himself.

Is it an act of sensuality into which he has been betrayed? One act perhaps, which has poisoned the fountains of his spiritual life, which has bound his outward existence with heavy chains which he cannot shake off. The temptation took him unawares, we say. He was startled into sin. But is this the whole account of the matter? Is it natural, is it reasonable, that this should be so? Who shall dare to trace the secret history of that man’s soul, to lay open the hidden springs of his guilt? Who shall venture to say what forbidden thoughts he has admitted, perhaps welcomed, how recklessly he has lingered on the border line of good and evil, how longingly he has hovered about the accursed thing, before he dared to touch it?

Or again, is it a palpable breach of truth or honesty? He has committed some act of fraud or treachery, which has destroyed his good name for ever. How came this to pass? Were there no antecedents in his career which led naturally to that result? Had he not contracted a habit, for instance, of saying less or more than he meant, of expressing an enthusiasm or an interest which he did not feel, of paring down the truth to fit it into some conventional mould, of suppressing a little here or exaggerating a little there? Or if he fell, not from moral cowardice or from the desire to please, but from greed of gain, were there not here also insidious influences at work? There are many cases, where the question of right is doubtful. These he has decided in his own favour. There are others, where, if he investigated, he might find that he was defrauding his neighbour. These he will not enquire into. He will not be dishonest knowingly, but he will take no pains to find whether he is so or not. These are the beginnings of his guilt. By these a fraudulent habit is created. By degrees he goes on from bad to worse. He avails himself of his superior cunning; he defrauds his neighbour in little things where he is sure of escaping observation. By this time he has ceased to respect honesty as a thing to be prized in itself. To him it is so much capital to trade upon—and for this purpose the semblance is as good as the reality. Hitherto he has preserved his reputation before the world. But at length he is surprised, as we say, into some flagrant act of dishonesty. Society lays him under a ban. His character is irrecoverably lost.

And so it was with Esau. It was not that one act of selling his birthright which constituted his guilt. That was but the revelation of his true character, the summing up, as it were, of his depravity.

But fearful as is the lesson which this incident suggests, it is not half so fearful as that which we derive from his subsequent fate. He bartered away his birthright, but how was it with the blessing? It was by no act of his own that he lost this. There is nothing in the narrative which leads us to such a supposition. There was no unholy traffic here, no profane contempt here. He did not drive the blessing away. It went in spite of him. The key to this difficulty is found in the allusion in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The loss of the blessing is there represented as the inevitable consequence of the sale of his birthright. ‘Ye know that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected.’ His fate up to a certain point was in his own hands. After that it was placed beyond his reach. So it was with Esau, and so it is always with the downward course of guilt. We may wade for a time amidst the shallows of sin, feeling our footing and heedless of danger. A single step more places us at the mercy of the waves, and we are swept away into the ocean of ruin. When we read of God’s hardening the sinner’s heart, we are perhaps startled at the phrase, yet there is no doubt that it represents a fearful moral truth. The sinner after a time ceases to be his own master. He has coiled a chain about him, which binds him hand and foot. He is dragged helplessly down. There is no more terrible passage in classical literature than that in which the Roman poet describes the guilty man trembling in his secret soul, as he sees himself falling, falling headlong, unheeded and unsuspected by those nearest to him. With a true moral insight he regards this state as the just retribution of offended heaven—the heaviest punishment which can be inflicted on the most heinous guilt. Such indeed it is. Translating it into the language of Scripture we should say, that God has hardened such a man’s heart. Surely we need not call to our aid the terrors of an unseen world—however true those terrors may be—to deter us from the path of guilt. The thought that our hearts also may be hardened, that we too may shut ourselves out from the presence of God, should be sufficient to check us in our downward career.

And even supposing this deadness should not pervade our whole spiritual being, may not the yielding to our special temptation, the indulgence in our favourite sin, stiffen and paralyse some limb or other of our moral frame? Do we not every now and then see an instance of this? We are brought in contact with some one, who, thoroughly conscientious in most things, keenly sensitive on many points of duty, is yet hardened in some one point of his moral constitution, seems dead to some moral virtue. Yet such cases are exceptional. It is the tendency of this paralysis to spread. It seizes on one limb first, but presently it extends to all. The moral frame, like the bodily, is compacted and knit together in a marvellous way. There is a wonderful sympathy between limb and limb. ‘Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.’

In what I have said, I have been speaking the language of warning, and not the language of despair. Despair is no word of the Christian’s vocabulary. So long as there is any heavenward aspiration, any loathing of sin, any yearning after better things, however slight, however feeble, there is still hope. Cherish these higher feelings. Quench not the Spirit, though it flicker faintly and lowly. From these few sparks a bright flame may be kindled, which shall cheer your heart, and throw a light upon your path, and guide you home to your heavenly rest.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

The Folly and Danger of being not righteous enough

The Folly and Danger of being not righteous enough

The Folly and Danger of being not righteous enough

Eccles. 7:16

Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over-wise: why shouldst thou destroy thyself?

NOTHING is more frequent, than while people are living in a course of sin, and after the fashion and manner of the world, there is no notice taken of them; neither are their ways displeasing to their companions and carnal relations: but if they set their faces Zion-ward, and begin to feel the power of God on their hearts; then they are surrounded with temptations from their friends, who thus act the devil’s part. The enemies, the greatest enemies a young convert meets with, my dear brethren, are those of his own house. They that will be godly, must suffer persecution; so it was in Christ’s time, and so it was in the Apostles time too; for our Lord came not to send peace, but a sword. Our relations would not have us sit in the scorner’s chair; they would not have us be prodigals, consuming our substance upon harlots; neither would they have us rakes or libertines, but they would have us be contented with an almost christianity. To keep up our reputation by going to church, and adhering to the outward forms of religion, saying our prayers, reading the word of God, and taking the sacraments; this, they imagine, is all that is necessary for to be christians indeed; and when we go one step farther than this, their mouths are open against us, as Peter’s was to Christ: "Spare thyself, do thyself no harm."

And of this nature are the words of the text. They are not the words of Solomon himself, but the words of an infidel speaking to him, whom he introduces in several parts of this book; for Solomon had been shewing the misfortunes which attended the truly good, as in the verse before our text.

Upon this the infidel says, "Be not righteous over-much, neither be thou over-wise: why shouldst thou destroy thyself?" i. e. Why shouldst thou bring these misfortunes upon thyself, by being over-strict? Be not righteous over-much; eat, drink, and be merry, live as the world lives, and then you will avoid those misfortunes which may attend you, by being righteous over-much.

This text has another meaning; but take it which way you will, my brethren, it was spoken by an unbeliever; therefore it was no credit for the person who lately preached upon this text, to take it for granted, that these were the words of Solomon: the words of an infidel was not a proper text to a christian congregation. But as David came out against Goliah, not armed as the champion was, with sword and spear, but with a sling and stone, and then cut off his head with his own sword; so I come out against these letter learned men, in the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ; and, my dear brethren, I trust he will direct me to use my sling, so that our enemies may not gainsay us; and by the sword of God’s word, cut off the heads of our Redeemer’s enemies.

But though they are not the words of Solomon, yet we will take them in the same manner the late writer did; and, from the words, shall,

First, Shew you what it is, not to be righteous over-much, that we may not destroy ourselves.

Secondly, I shall let you see what it is to be righteous over-much. And then,

Thirdly, Conclude with an exhortation to all of you, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, to come to the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, The first thing proposed, is shew you what it is not to be righteous over-much, And here,

It is by no means to be righteous over-much, to affirm we must have the same Spirit of God as the first Apostles had, and must feel that Spirit upon our hearts.

By receiving the Spirit of God, is not to be understood, that we are to be inspired to shew outward signs and wonders, to raise dead bodies, to cure leprous persons, or to give sight to the blind: these miracles were only of use in the first ages of the church; and therefore christians (nominal christians, for we have little else but the name) may have all the gifts of the Spirit, and yet none of the graces of it: Thou, O man, mayest be enabled by faith to remove mountains; thou, by the power of God, mayest cast out devils; thou, by that power, mayest speak with the tongues of men and angels; yea, thou mayest, by that power, hold up thy finger and stop the fun in the firmament; and if all these are unsanctified by the Spirit of God, they would be of no service to thee, but would hurry thee to hell with the greater solemnity. Saul received the spirit of prophesying, and had another heart, yet Saul was probably a cast-away. We must receive the Spirit of God in its sanctifying graces upon our souls; for Christ says, "Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." We are all by nature born in sin, and at as great a distance from God, as the devils themselves. I have told you often, and now tell you again, that you are by nature a motley mixture of the beast and devil, and we cannot recover ourselves from the state wherein we have fallen, therefore must be renewed by the Holy Ghost. By the Holy Ghost, I mean, the third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, co-equal, co-essential, co-eternal, and consubstantial with the Father and the Son; and therefore, when we are baptized, it is into the nature of the Father, into the nature of the Son, and into the nature of the Holy Ghost: and we are not true christians, till we are sanctified by the Spirit of God.

Though our modern preachers do not actually deny the Spirit of God, yet they say, "Christians must not feel him;" which is in effect to deny him. When Nicodemus came to Christ, and the Lord Jesus was instructing him, concerning the new birth, says he to our Lord, "How can these things be?" Nicodemus, though a master of Israel, acts just as our learned Rabbi’s do now. The answer that Christ gave him should stop the mouths of our letter-learned pharisees: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth." Now till the Spirit of God is felt on our souls as the wind on our bodies, indeed, my dear brethren, you have no interest in him: religion consists not in external performance, it must be in the heart, or else it is only a name, which cannot profit us, a name to live whilst we are dead.

A late preacher upon this text, seems to laugh at us, for talking of the Spirit in a sensible manner, and talks to us as the Jews did to Christ: They said, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So he asks, "What sign or proof do we give of it?" We do not imagine, that God must appear to us, and give it us: no; but there may be, and is, a frequent receiving, when no seeing of it; and it is as plainly felt in the soul, as any impression is, or can be, upon the body. To what a damnable condition should we bring poor sinners, if they could not be sensible of the Spirit of God; namely, a reprobate mind and past feeling?

"What proof do they give?" says the writer. What sign would they have? Do they expect us to raise the dead, to give sight to the blind, to cure lepers, to make the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear? If these are what they expect, I speak with humility, God, by us, hath done greater things than these: many, who were dead in sin, are railed to scripture-life: those, who were leprous by nature, are cleansed by the Spirit of God; those, who were lame in duty, now run in God’s commands; those, who were deaf, their ears are unstopped to hear his discipline, and hearken to his advice; and the poor have the gospel preached to them. No wonder people talk at this rate, when they can tell us, "That the Spirit of God, is a good conscience, consequent thereupon." My dear brethren, Seneca, Cicero, Plato, or any of the heathen philosophers, would have given as good a definition as this: It means no more, than reflecting that we have done well. This, this is only Deism refined: Deists laugh at us, when we pretend to be against their notions, and yet these men use no other reason for our differing from them, than what is agreeable to Deifts principle.

This writer tells us, "It is against common-sense to talk of the feeling of the Spirit of God." Common-sense, my brethren, was never allowed to be a judge; yea, it is above its comprehension, neither are, nor can the ways of God be known by common-sense. We should never have known the things of God at all by our common senses: no; it is the revelation of God which is to be our judge; it is that we appeal to, and not to our weak and shallow conceptions of things. Thus we may see, it is by no means to be righteous over-much, to affirm we must have the Spirit of God as the Apostles had. Nor,

Secondly, Is it to be righteous over-much to frequent religious assemblies.

The preacher, upon this text, aims at putting aside all the religious societies that are in the kingdom: Indeed, he says, "You may go to church as often as opportunity serves, and on Sundays; say your prayers, read the word of God; and, in his opinion, every thing else had better be let alone: and as for the Spirit of God upon your souls, you are to look upon it as useless and unnecessary." If this, my brethren, is the doctrine we have now preached, christianity is at a low ebb indeed: but God forbid you should thus learn Jesus Christ. Do you not forbear the frequenting of religious assemblies; for as nothing helps to build up the devil’s kingdom more than the societies of wicked men, nothing would be more for pulling of it down, than the people of God meeting to strengthen each others hands; and as the devil has so many friends, will none of you be friends to the blessed Jesus? Yes, I hope many of you will be of the Lord’s side, and build each other up in christian love and fellowship. This is what the primitive christians delighted in; and shall not we follow so excellent an example? My brethren, till christian conversation is more agreeable to us, we cannot expect to see the gospel of Christ run and be glorified. Thus it is by no means to be righteous over-much, to frequent religious assemblies. Nor,

Thirdly, Is it to be righteous over-much, to abstain from the diversions and entertainments of the age.

We are commanded to "abstain from the appearance of evil," and that "whatsoever we do, whether we eat or drink, we shall do all to the glory of God." The writer upon this text tells us, "That it will be accounted unlawful to smell to a rose:" no, my dear brethren, you may smell to a pink and rose too if you please, but take care to avoid the appearance of sin. They talk of innocent diversions and recreations; for my part, I know of no diversion, but that of doing good: if you can find any diversion which is not contrary to your baptismal vow, of renouncing the pomps and vanities of this wicked world; if you can find any diversion which tends to the glory of God; if you can find any diversion, which you would be willing to be found at by the Lord Jesus Christ, I give you free licence to go to them and welcome; but if, on the contrary, they are found to keep sinners from coming to the Lord Jesus Christ; if they are a means to harden the heart, and such as you would not willingly be found in when you come to die, then, my dear brethren, keep from them: for, indeed, the diversions of this age are contrary to christianity. Many of you may think I have gone too far, but I shall go a great deal farther yet: I will attack the devil in his strongest holds, and bear my testimony against our fashionable and polite entertainments. What satisfaction can it be, what pleasure is there in spending several hours at cards? Strange! that even people who are grown old, can spend whole nights in this diversion: perhaps many of you will cry out, "What harm is there in it?" My dear brethren, whatsoever is not of faith, or for the glory of God, is a sin: Now does cards tend to promote this? Is it not mispending your precious time, which should be employed in working out your salvation with fear and trembling? Do play-houses, horse-racing, balls and assemblies, tend to promote the glory of God? Would you be willing to have your soul demanded of you, while you are at one of those places? Many of these are, (I must speak, I cannot forbear to speak against these entertainments; come what will, I will declare against them) many, I say, of these are kept up by public authority: the play-houses are supported by a public fund, and our newspapers are full of horse-races all through the kingdom: these things are sinful; indeed they are exceeding sinful. What good can come from a horse-race; from abusing God Almighty’s creatures, and putting them to that use he never designed for them: the play-houses, are they not nurseries of debauchery in the age? and the supporters and patrons of them, are encouragers and promoters of all the evil that is done by them; they are the bane of the age, and will be the destruction of those who frequent them. Is it not high time for the true ministers of Jesus Christ, who have been partakers of the heavenly gift, to lift up their voices as a trumpet, and cry aloud against these diversions of the age? Are they not earthly, sensual, devilish? If you have tasted of the love of God, and have felt his power upon your souls, you would no more go to a play, than you would run your head into a furnace.

And what occasions these places to be so much frequented, is the clergy’s making no scruple to be at these polite places: they frequent play-houses, they go to horse races, they go to balls and assemblies, they frequent taverns, and follow all the entertainments that the age affords; and yet these are the persons who should advise their hearers to refrain from them; but instead thereof, they encourage them by their example. Persons are too apt to rely upon, and believe their pastors, rather than the scriptures; they think that there is no crime in going to plays or horse-races, to balls and assemblies; for if there were, they think those persons, who are their ministers, would not frequent them: but, my dear brethren, observe they always go disguised, the ministers are afraid of being seen in their gowns and cassocks; the reason thereof is plain, their consciences inform them, that it is not an example fit for the ministers of the gospel to set; thus, they are the means of giving that offence to the people of God, which I would not for ten thousand worlds: they lay a stumbling-block in the way of their weak brethren, which they will not remove, though it is a stumbling-block of offence. "Woe unto the world because of offences, but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh." The polite gentlemen of the age, spend their time in following these diversions, because the love of God is not in their hearts; they are void of Christ, and destitute of the Spirit of God; and not being acquainted with the delight there is in God and his ways, being strangers to these things, they run to the devil for diversions, and are pleased and delighted with the silly ones he shews them.

My dear brethren, I speak of these things, these innocent diversions, as the polite part of the world calls them, by experience; perhaps none, for my age, hath read or seen more plays than I have: I took delight in, and was pleased with them. It is true, I went to church frequently, received the sacrament, and was diligent in the use of the forms of religion, but I was all this while ignorant of the power of God on my heart, and unacquainted with the work of grace; but when God was pleased to shine with power upon my soul, I could no longer be contented to feed on husks, or what the swine did eat: the Bible then was my food; there, and there only I took delight: and till you feel this same power, you will not abstain from the earthly delights of this age, you will take no comfort in God’s ways, nor receive any comfort from him; for you are void of the love of God, having only the form of godliness, while you are denying the power of it; you are nominal christians, when you have not the power of christianity.

The polite gentlemen say, "Are we to be always upon our knees? Would you have us be always at prayer, and? reading or hearing the word of God?"

My dear brethren, the fashionable ones, who take delight in hunting, are not tired of being continually on horseback after their hounds; and when once you are renewed by the Spirit of God, it will be a continual pleasure to be walking with, and talking of God, and telling what great things Jesus Christ hath done for your souls; and till you can find as much pleasure in conversing with God, as these men, do of their hounds, you have no share in him; but when you have tasted how good the Lord is, you will shew forth his praise; out of the abundance of your heart your mouth will speak.

This brings me to the second thing proposed, which is an extream that very seldom happens:

Secondly, To shew what it is to be righteous over-much. And here,

First, When we confine the Spirit of God to this or that particular church; and are not willing to converse with any but those of the same communion; this is to be righteous over-much with a witness: and so it is, to consine our communion within church-walls, and to think that Jesus could not preach in a field as well as on consecrated-ground; this is judaism, this is bigotry: this is like Peter, who would not go to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, till he had a vision from God: and when his conduct was blamed by the disciples, he could not satisfy them till he had acquainted them with the vision he had seen. And, therefore, we may justly infer, the Spirit of God is the center of unity; and wherever I see the image of my Master, I never enquire of them their opinions; I ask them not what they are, so they love Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth, but embrace them as my brother, my sister, and my spouse: and this is the spirit of christianity. Many persons, who are bigots to this or that opinion, when one of a different way of thinking hath come where they were, have left the room or place on the account: this is the spirit of the devil; and if it was possible that these persons could be admitted into heaven with such tempers, that very place would be hell to them. Christianity will never flourish, till we are all of one heart and of one mind; and this would be the only means of seeing the gospel of Jesus to flourish, more than ever it will by persecuting those who differ from us.

This may be esteemed as enthusiasm and madness, and as a design to undermine the established church: No; God is my judge, I should rejoice to see all the world adhere to her articles; I should rejoice to see the ministers of the Church of England, preach up those very articles they have subscribed to; but those ministers who do preach up the articles, are esteemed as madmen, enthusiasts, schismatics, and underminers of the established church: and though they say these things of me, blessed be God, they are without foundation. My dear brethren, I am a friend to her articles, I am a friend to her homilies, I am a friend to her liturgy; and, if they did not thrust me out of their churches, I would read them every day; but I do not consine the Spirit of God there; for I say it again, I love all that love the Lord Jesus Christ, and esteem him my brother, my friend, my spouse; aye, my very soul is knit to that person. The spirit of persecution will never, indeed it will never make any to love Jesus Christ. The pharisees make this to be madness, so much as to mention persecution in a christian country; but there is as much the spirit of persecution now in the world, as ever there was; their will is as great, but blessed be God, they want the, power; otherwise, how soon would they send me to prison, make my feet fast in the stocks, yea, would think they did God service in killing me, and would rejoice to take away my life.

This is not the Spirit of Christ, my dear brethren; I had not come to have thus preached; I had not come into the highways and hedges; I had not exposed myself to the ill treatment of these letter-learned men, but for the sake of your souls: indeed, I had no other reason, but your salvation; and for that (I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not) I would be content to go to prison; yea, I would rejoice to die for you, so I could but be a means to bring some of you to Jesus: I could not bear to see so many in the highway to destruction, and not shew them their danger: I could not bear, my brethren, to see you more willing to learn, than the teachers are to instruct you: and if any of them were to come and preach, to you, I should not envy them, I should not call them enthusiasts or madmen; I should rejoice to hear they had ten thousand times more success than I have met with; I would give them the right-hand of fellowship; I would advise them to go on; I would wish them good luck in the name of the Lord, and say as Christ did, when the disciples informed him of some casting out devils in his name, and were for rebuking of them, "Forbid them not, for they that are not against us are for us;" or as St. Paul says, "Some preach Christ of envy, and some of good-will; notwithstanding, so Christ is but preached, I rejoice; yea, and will rejoice." The gospel of Jesus, is a gospel of peace. Thus you may see, that to be righteous over-much, is to be uncharitable, censorious, and to persecute persons for differing from us in religion.

Secondly, persons are righteous over-much, when they spend so much time in religious assemblies, as to neglect their families. There is no licence given by the blessed Jesus, for idleness; for in the very infancy of the world, idleness was not allowed of. In paradise, Adam and Eve dressed the garden, Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel was a keeper of sheep; and there is a proverb amongst the Jews, "That he who brings his son up without a business, brings him up to be a thief:" and therefore our Saviour was a carpenter; "Is not this the carpenter’s son," said the Jews: and St. Paul, though brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, was a tent-maker. Labour, my brethren, is imposed on all mankind as part of the divine curse; and you are called to be useful in the society to which you belong: take care first for the kingdom of God, and all things necessary shall be added. To labour for the meat that perisheth, is your duty; only take care, that you do not neglect getting the meat for the soul: that is of the greatest consequence, for this plain reason, the things of this life are temporal, but those of the next are eternal. I would have rich men to work as well as poor: it is owing to their idleness, that the devil hurries them to his diversions; they can be in their beds all the morning, and spend the afternoon and evening in dressing, visiting, and at balls, plays, or assemblies, when they should be working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Such a life as this, occasions a spiritual numbness in the soul; and if Jesus Christ was not to stop those who thus spend their time, they would be hurried into eternity, without once thinking of their immortal souls. But Jesus Christ has compassion upon many of them, and while they are in their blood, he bids them "live." And though I preach this doctrine to you, yet I do not bid you be idle; no, they that do not work should not eat. You have two callings, a general one, and a special one: as we are to regard the one in respect of our bodies, so we are to regard the other on account of our souls. Take heed, my brethren, I beseech you, take heed, lest you labour so for the meat that perisheth, as to forget that meat which endureth for ever. Seek the things of God first; look well to obtain oil in your lamps, grace in your hearts. I am not persuading you to take no care about the things of the world, but only not to be encumbered with them, so as to neglect your duty towards God, and a proper concern for your souls. It is meet, it is right, it is your bounden duty, to mind the callings wherein God hath placed you; and you may be said to be righteous over-much not to regard them. This brings me,

Thirdly, To give you another sign of being righteous over-much; and that is, when we fast and use corporal austerities, so as to unfit us for the service of God.

This, my brethren, you may think there is no occasion at all to caution you against, and indeed there is not a great necessity for it; however, many persons, upon their first being awakened to a sense of their sin, are tempted to use austerities to that excess which is sinful. It is our duty to fast, it is our duty to fast often, and it is what we are directed to by Jesus Christ himself; but then we are to take care to do it in a proper manner: to bring our bodies under for the service of God, is that which we are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ.

The late preacher upon this text, runs into great extremes, and charges us with saying and acting things, of which we never thought; but I do not regard what he said of me: I do not mind his bitter invectives against my ministry; I do not mind his despising my youth, and calling me novice and enthusiast; I forgive him from my very heart: but when he reflects on my Master; when he speaks against my Redeemer; when Jesus Christ is spoken against, I must speaks, (I must speak indeed, or I should burst:) when he gives liberty to persons to take a chearful glass, and alledges Christ for an example, as in the marriage-feast, saying, "Christ turned water into wine, when it is plain there had been more drank than was necessary before;" what is this, but to charge Christ with encouraging drunkenness? It is true, the Governor says, "Every man in the beginning sets forth good wine, and when men have well drank, that which is worse; but thou hast kept the good wine until now:" but it does not at all follow, that it was not necessary, or that there had been a sufficient quantity before: I would not speak thus slightingly of one of my Master’s miracles, for the to whole world. And we may observe, that as Christ chiefly visited poor people, they might not have wherewithal to buy a sufficient quantity of wine; or having more guests than were expected, the wine was expended sooner than they thought; then the Mother of Jesus tells him, "They have no wine;" he answers, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? My hour is not yet come." After this he commanded them to fill the water-pots with water, and they filled them to the brim, and this water he turned into wine: now it does not at all follow, that there was more drank than was necessary; neither would the Lord Jesus Christ have continued in the house if there had. But we have an excellent lesson to learn from this miracle: by the water-pots being empty, we may understand, the heart of man being by nature destitute of his grace, his speaking and commanding to fill them, shews, that when Christ speaks, the heart that was empty of grace before, shall be filled; and the water-pots being filled to the brim, shews, that Christ will fill believers hearts brim full of the Holy Ghost: and from the Governor’s observing, that the last wine was the best, learn, that a believer’s best comforts, shall be the last and greatest, for they shall come with the greatest power upon the soul, and continue longest there: this, this my dear brethren, is the lesson we may learn from this miracle.

But one great inconsistency I cannot avoid taking notice of in this late learned preacher. In the beginning of his sermon, he charges us with "laying heavy burthens upon people, which they are not able to bear;" in the latter part he charges us with being Antinomians, whose tenets are, "So you say you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you may live the life of devils." Now, he charges us with being too strict, and by and by with being too loose. Which side, my brethren, will you take? Thus you see, when persons my forsake Christ they make strange mistakes; for there can be no greater opposition of sentiments than this letter-learned writer has made: as opposite as light and darkness, good and evil, sweet and bitter. And, on this account, to find out these lettered-learned gentlemens notions of the new-birth, I put a paragraph in my Journal; and, blessed be God, I have obtained my desires, and have plainly perceived, that the persons who have lately written concerning the new-birth, know no more of it than a blind man does of colours, nor can they have any more notion of it, (by all their learning, falsely so called) than the blind man, who was to give an account what the sun was, and, after a considerable time allowed for study, he said, "It was like the sound of a trumpet." And till they are taught of God, they will be unacquainted with the new-birth: therefore, if you have a mind to know what the devil has to say against us, read Dr. Trapp’s sermons.

It is with grief I speak these things, and were not the welfare of your souls, and my Redeemer’s honour at stake, I would not now open my mouth, yea I would willingly die (God is my judge) for the person who wrote such bitter things against me, so it would be a means of saving his soul. If he had only spoken against me, I would not have answered him; but, on his making my Redeemer a pattern of vice, if I was not to speak, the very stones would cry out; therefore, the honour of my Redeemer, and love to you, constrains me to speak. It is of necessity that I speak, when the divinity of Jesus Christ is spoken against, it is the duty of ministers to cry aloud, and spare not. I cannot forbear, come what will; for I know not what kind of divinity we have how among us: we must have a righteousness of our own, and do our best endeavours, and then Christ will make up the deficiency; that is, you must be your own Saviour, in part. This is not the doctrine of the gospel; this is not the doctrine of Jesus: no; Christ is all in all; Jesus Christ must be your whole wisdom; Jesus Christ must be your whole righteousness, Jesus Christ must be your whole sanctification; or Jesus Christ will never be your eternal redemption and sanctification. Inward holiness is looked on, by some, as the effect of enthusiasm and madness; and preachers of the necessity of the new-birth, are esteemed as persons fit for Bedlam. Our polite and fashionable doctrine, is, "That there is a fitness in man, and that God, feeing you a good creature, bestows upon you his grace." God forbid, my dear brethren, you should thus learn Jesus Christ!

This is not the doctrine I preach to you: I say, salvation is the free gift of God. It is God’s free grace, I preach unto you, not of works, lest any one should boast. Jesus Christ justifies the ungodly; Jesus Christ passed by, and saw you polluted with your blood, and bid you live. It is not of works, it is of faith: we are not justified for our faith, for faith is the instrument, but by your faith, the active as well as the passive obedience of Christ, must be applied to you. Jesus Christ hath fulfilled the law, he hath made it honourable; Jesus Christ hath made satisfaction to his Father’s justice, full satisfaction; and it is as compleat as it is full, and God will not demand it again. Jesus Christ is the way; Jesus Christ is the truth; and Jesus Christ is the life. The righteousness of Jesus Christ, my brethren, must be imputed to you, or you can never have any interest in the blood of Jesus; your own works are but as filthy rags, for you are justified before God, without any respect to your works past, present, or to come. This doctrine is denyed by the learned rabbi’s; but if they deny these truths of the gospel, they must not be offended, though a child dare speak to a doctor; and, in vindication of the cause of Jesus Christ, a child, a boy, by the Spirit of God, can speak to the learned clergy of this age.

If I had a voice so great, and could speak so loud, as that the whole world could hear me, I would cry, "Be not righteous over-much," by bringing your righteousness to Christ, and by being righteous in your own eyes. Man must be abased, that God may be exalted.

The imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ is a comfortable doctrine to all real christians; and you sinners, who ask what you must do to be saved? how uncomfortable would it be, to tell you by good works, when, perhaps, you have never done one good work in all your life: this would be driving you to despair, indeed: no; "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved;" therefore none of you need go away despairing. Come to the Lord Jesus by faith, and he shall receive you. You have no righteousness of your own to depend on. If you are saved, it is by the righteousness of Christ, through his atonement, his making a sacrifice for sin: his righteousness must be imputed to you, otherwise you cannot be saved. There is no difference between you, by nature, and the greatest malefactor that ever was executed at Tyburn: the difference made, is all owing to the free, the rich, the undeserved grace of God; this has made the difference. It is true, talking at this rate, will offend the pharisees, who do not like this levelling doctrine, (as they call it); but if ever you are brought to Jesus Christ by faith, you will experience the truth of it. Come by faith to Jesus Christ; do not come, pharisee-like, telling God what you have done, how often you have gone to church, how often you have received the sacrament, fasted, prayed, or the like: no; come to Christ as poor, lost, undone, damned sinners; come to him in this manner, and he will accept of you: do not be rich in spirit, proud and exalted, for there is no blessing attends such; but be ye poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God; they shall be made members of his mystical body here, and shall be so of the church triumphant hereafter. Acknowledge yourselves as nothing at all, and when you have done all, say, "You are unprofitable servants." There is no salvation but by Jesus Christ; there is no other name given under heaven amongst men, whereby we may be saved, but that of the Lord Jesus. God, out of Christ, is a consuming fire; therefore strive for an interest in his Son the Lord Jesus Christ; take him on the terms offered to you in the gospel; accept of him in God’s own way, lay hold on him by faith.

Do not think you are christians; do not flatter yourselves with being righteous enough, and good enough, because you lead moral decent lives, do no one any harm, go to church, and attend upon the outward means of grace; no, my brethren, you may do this, and a great deal more, and yet be very far from having a saving, experimental knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Beg of Christ to strike home upon your hearts, that you may feel the power of religion. Indeed, you must feel the power of God here, or the wrath of God hereafter. These are truths of the utmost consequence; therefore, do not go contradicting, do not go blaspheming away. Blessed be God, you are not such cowards to run away for a little rain. I hope good thing of you; I hope you have felt the power of God; and if God should bring any of you to himself through this foolishness of preaching, you will have no reason to complain it was done by a youth, by a child: no; if I could be made an instrument to bring you to God, they may call me novice, enthusiast, or what they please, I should rejoice; yea, and I would rejoice.

O that some sinner might be brought to Jesus Christ! Do not say I preach despair: I despair of no one, when I consider God had mercy on such a wretch as I, who was running in a full career to hell: I was hasting thither, but Jesus Christ passed by and stopped me; Jesus Christ passed by me while I was in my blood, when I was in polluted with filth; he passed by me, and bid me live. Thus I am a monument of God’s free grace; and therefore, my brethren, I despair of none of you, when I consider, I say, what a wretch I was. I am not speaking now out of a false humility, a pretended fanctity, as the pharisees call it: no, the truth in Christ I speak, and therefore, men and devils do your worst; I have a gracious Master will protect me; it is his work I am engaged in, and Jesus Christ will carry me above their rage.

Those who are come here this night out of curiosity to hear what the babbler says; those who come to spend an idle hour to find something for an evening-conversation at a coffee-house; or you who have stopped in your coaches as you passed by, remember that you have had Jesus Christ offered to you; I offer Jesus Christ to every one of you: perhaps you may not regard it because it is in a field. But Jesus Christ is wherever his people meet in sincerity and truth to worship him: he is not confined to church walls: he has met us here; many, very many of you know he has; and therefore you may believe on him with greater confidence.

Can you bear to think of a bleeding, panting, dying Jesus, offering himself up for sinners, and you will not accept of him? Do not say, you are poor, and therefore are ashamed to go to church, for God has sent the gospel out unto you. Do not harden your hearts: oppose not the will of Jesus.

O that I could speak to your hearts, that my words would centre there. My heart is full of love to you. I would speak, till I could speak no more, so I could but bring you to Christ. I may never meet you all, perhaps, any more. The cloud of God’s providence seems to be moving. God calls me by his providence away from you, for a while. God knows whether we shall ever see each other in the flesh. At the day of judgment we shall all meet again. I earnestly desire your prayers. Pray that I may not only begin, Jehu-like, in the spirit, but that I may continue in it. Pray that I may not fall away, that I may not decline suffering for you, if I should be called to it. Be earnest, O be earnest with God in my behalf, that while I am preaching to others, I may not be a cast-away. Put up your prayers for me, I beseech you. Go not to the throne of grace, without carrying me upon your heart for you know not what influence your prayers may have. As for you, my dear brethren, God knows my heart, I continually bear you on my mind, when I go in and out before the Lord; and it is my earnest desire, you may not perish for lack of knowledge, but that he would send out more ministers to water what his own right-hand hath planted. May the Antient of Days come forth upon his white horse, and may all opposition fall to the ground. As we have begun to bruise the serpent’s head, we must expect he will bruise our heel. The devil will not let his kingdom fall without raging horribly. He will not suffer the ministers of Christ to go on, without bringing his power to stop them. But fear not, my dear brethren, David, though a stripling, encountered the great Goliah; and if we pray, God will give us strength against all our spiritual enemies. Shew your faith by your works. Give the world the lye. Press forward. Do not stop, do not linger in your journey, but strive for the mark see before you. Fight the good fight of faith, and God will give you spiritual mercies. I hope we shall all meet at the right-hand of God. Strive, strive to enter in at the strait gate, that we may be borne to Abraham’s bosom, where sin and sorrow shall cease. No scoffer will be there, but we shall see Jesus, who died for us; and not only see him, but live with him for ever.

Which God, of his infinite mercy, &c.

Whitefield, G. (1772). The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield (Vol. 5). London: Edward and Charles Dilly. (Public Domain)

Lead by Example

Lead by Example

Lead by Example

Why is leading by example so important?  6 Attributes to Consider While Walking in Leadership

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:2-5

We hear it all the time: “Lead By Example” but do we ever take the time to conduct a self-check to ensure that we have an understanding of the breadth and depth of the application?  What makes leading by example so important to the hierarchal health of the organization?  In order to answer the questions, we’ll need to break down the approach through the lens of others.  Firstly, we need to consider the “whys” in order to understand why leading by example is important to our flock, our subordinates, our children and our followership.  Then we need to understand the application of the “whys” so that we can fill the gaps.

1.  Modeled Traits

How do our children first begin to learn?  From the time that we are babies, naturally we begin to behave in ways that we learn from our environment.  Some things are inherent and God-given.  Have you ever watched an infant stretch and yawn?  How do they know how to do that?  They just do, they didn’t have to model your behavior in order to learn how to do those things.  But what about other learned habits and traits, where do they first learn how to behave and how is their journey of personality and character development shaped?  It’s shaped through your behaviors and your habits.  When you get angry, they cry.  When you are happy and playful, they respond in kind (usually).  They learn how to treat others and how to make decisions by your example and your tutelage.  Plan accordingly and be aware of the weight of your role.  Jesus compels us to model His behavior, as this is pleasing to the Lord as evidenced through scripture:

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

As parents of young children, we’re thrust into the office of overseer, whether we’re prepared for it or not and the child will flourish and naturally follow your example.

In leadership, whether explicit or implicit, all eyes are on you, constantly measuring whether or not you’re to be trusted, and whether or not you’re worthy of a followership.  Think about how you gauge a good leader.  What attributes do they possess that you respond to and want to follow?  How do you behave if your boss or church pastor is not practicing what they preach?  How do you view that leader and how does that effect your perception of the organization?  Your decisions and behaviors have a direct impact on the lives, perceptions, and character development of your followership.

While those are the “whys”, what do they imply (in our leadership behavior)?

2.  Responsibility

Where we’re responsible for the well-being of others, we have a greater level of responsibility, not only for the “care and feeding” of those within our sphere of influence, but for continuous improvement and professional (and often personal) development of those within our care.  Having and understanding our roles as leaders, having responsibility for others causes us to place the needs of others before our own. 

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

3.  Sacrifice

Placing the needs of others before our own will ultimately lead to times of self-sacrifice.  We have to give of ourselves for the betterment of others.  In the new-baby example, we sacrifice many things as new parents, primarily our sleep as we adjust to the new “baby-schedule”.  As leaders in the military, business, or church we sacrifice our time as we pour into our subordinates, protégés, or our flock.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

4. Integrity

The definition of integrity is: “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  You may have also heard the application of integrity as “doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking.”  Either definition gives you a moral and ethical framework and compass for which to gauge your decisions and your activities.  Acting with integrity is important in the eyes of your followership as it creates and nurtures trust within your relationship and can foster as a culture of trust within your organization.  Having integrity in your actions, and being trustworthy to your subordinates creates an open and healthy work environment for your people.

“My lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.” Job 27:4-6

5.  Consistency

Above all, we need to remain consistent.  Consistency provides a safe-haven within a messy and inconsistent world.  Where you’re consistent in your behaviors as a leader, your followership will benefit.  If you’ve displayed that you’re approachable, methodical, intentional, and deliberate then your followership will know where they stand with you, and can be made to feel comfortable to confide in you during times of indecision or workplace conflict.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

6.  Continuous Improvement

How do you measure up?  They say that a true scholar never stops learning. I’ll say the same of a true student of leadership, in that we never stop improving or adding tools to our leadership toolbox.  Whether you lead at home, as a parent, or you lead in your church ministry, your role at work, or just in general as the “leader” within your sphere of influence as somebody that people trust to make decisions; we never stagnate, we never stop improving ourselves as the landscape of leadership is an often fluid and dynamic environment.  The ways we lead in the military, don’t always transition to the ways we lead in our homes, or in our civilian work occupation, or in our church ministry leadership role.  Understanding situational leadership implies a well-rounded approach so in that, we need to stay relevant and up to date with the traditions of leadership so that we can continue to lead effectively in our roles.  What courses are you enrolled in for this year?  How are you improving in your role?

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,” Hebrews 5:11-12

Shalom.

Spring in the Heart

Spring in the Heart

Spring in the Heart

"Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof."—Psalm 65:10.

THOUGH other seasons excel in fulness, spring must always bear the palm for freshness and beauty. We thank God when the harvest hours draw near, and the golden grain invites the sickle, but we ought equally to thank him for the rougher days of spring, for these prepare the harvest. April showers are mothers of the sweet May flowers, and the wet and cold of winter are the parents of the splendour of summer. God blesses the springing thereof, or else it could not be said, "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness." There is as much necessity for divine benediction in spring as for heavenly bounty in summer; and, therefore, we should praise God all the year round.

Spiritual spring is a very blessed season in a church. Then we see youthful piety developed, and on every hand we hear the joyful cry of those who say, "We have found the Lord." Our sons are springing up as the grass and as willows by the watercourses. We hold up our hands in glad astonishment and cry, "Who are these that fly as a cloud and as doves to their windows?" In the revival days of a Church, when God is blessing her with many conversions, she has great cause to rejoice in God and to sing, "Thou blessest the springing thereof."

I intend to take the text in reference to individual cases. There is a time of springing of grace, when it is just in its bud, just breaking through the dull cold earth of unregenerate nature. I desire to talk a little about that, and concerning the blessing which the Lord grants to the green blade of new-born godliness, to those who are beginning to hope in the Lord.

I. First, I shall have a little to say about the work previous to the springing thereof.

It appears from the text that there is work for God alone to do before the springing comes, and we know that there is work for God to do through us as well.

There is work for us to do. Before there can be a springing up in the soul of any, there must be ploughing, harrowing, and sowing. There must be a ploughing, and we do not expect that as soon as ever we plough we shall reap the sheaves. Blessed be God, in many cases, the reaper overtakes the ploughman, but we must not always expect it. In some hearts God is long in preparing the soul by conviction: the law with its ten black horses drags the ploughshare of conviction up and down the soul till there is no one part of it left unfurrowed. Conviction goes deeper than any plough to the very core and centre of the spirit, till the spirit is wounded. The ploughers make deep furrows indeed when God puts his hand to the work: the soil of the heart is broken in pieces in the presence of the Most High.

Then comes the sowing. Before there can be a springing up it is certain that there must be something put into the ground, so that after the preacher has used the plough of the law, he applies to his Master for the seed-basket of the gospel. Gospel promises, gospel doctrines, especially a clear exposition of free grace and the atonement, these are the handfuls of corn which we scatter broadcast. Some of the grain falls on the highway, and is lost; but other handfuls fall where the plough has been, and there abide.

Then comes the harrowing work. We do not expect to sow seed and then leave it: the gospel has to be prayed over. The prayer of the preacher and the prayer of the Church make up God’s harrow to rake in the seed after it is scattered, and so it is covered up within the clods of the soul, and is hidden in the heart of the hearer.

Now there is a reason why I dwell upon this, namely, that I may exhort my dear brethren who have not seen success, not to give up the work but to hope that they have been doing the ploughing, and sowing, and harrowing work, and that the harvest is to come. I mention this for yet another reason, and that is, by way of warning to those who expect to have a harvest without this preparatory work. I do not believe that much good will come from attempts at sudden revivals made without previous prayerful labour. A revival to be permanent must be a matter of growth, and the result of much holy effort, longing, pleading, and watching. The servant of God is to preach the gospel whether men are prepared for it or not; but in order to large success, depend upon it there is a preparedness necessary amongst the hearers. Upon some hearts warm earnest preaching drops like an unusual thing which startles but does not convince; while in other congregations, where good gospel preaching has long been the rule, and much prayer has been offered, the words fall into the hearers’ souls and bring forth speedy fruit. We must not expect to have results without work. There is no hope of a church having an extensive revival in its midst unless there is continued and importunate waiting upon God, together with earnest labouring, intense anxiety, and hopeful expectation.

But there is also a work to be done which is beyond our power. After ploughing, sowing, and harrowing, there must come the shower from heaven. "Thou visitest the earth and waterest it," says the Psalmist. In vain are all our efforts unless God shall bless us with the rain of his Holy Spirit’s influence. O Holy Spirit! thou, and thou alone, workest wonders in the human heart, and thou comest from the Father and the Son to do the Father’s purposes, and to glorify the Son.

Three effects are spoken of. First, we are told he waters the ridges. As the ridges of the field become well saturated through and through with the abundant rain, so God sends his Holy Spirit till the whole heart of man is moved and influenced by his divine operations. The understanding is enlightened, the conscience is quickened, the will is controlled, the affections are inflamed; all these powers, which I may call the ridges of the heart, come under the divine working. It is ours to deal with men as men, and bring to bear upon them gospel truth, and to set before them motives that are suitable to move rational creatures; but, after all, it is the rain from on high which alone can water the ridges: there is no hope of the heart being savingly affected except by divine operations.

Next, it is added, "Thou settlest the furrows," by which some think it is meant that the furrows are drenched with water. Others think there is an allusion here to the beating down of the earth by heavy rain till the ridges become flat, and by the soaking of the water are settled into a more compact mass. Certain it is that the influences of God’s Spirit have a humbling and settling effect upon a man. He was unsettled once like the earth that is dry and crumbly, and blown about and carried away with every wind of doctrine; but as the earth when soaked with wet is compacted and knit together, so the heart becomes solid and serious under the power of the Spirit. As the high parts of the ridge are beaten down into the furrows, so, the lofty ideas, the grand schemes, and carnal boastings of the heart begin to level down, when the Holy Spirit comes to work upon the soul. Genuine humility is a very gracious fruit of the Spirit. To be broken in heart is the best means of preparing the soul for Jesus. "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." Brethren, always be thankful when you see high thoughts of man brought down; this settling the furrows is a very gracious preparatory work of grace.

Yet again, it is added, "Thou makest it soft with showers." Man’s heart is naturally hardened against the gospel; like the Eastern soil, it is hard as iron if there be no gracious rain. How sweetly and effectively does the Spirit of God soften the mau through and through! He is no longer towards the Word what he used to be: he feels everything, whereas once he felt nothing. The rock flows with water; the heart is dissolved in tenderness, the eyes are melted into tears.

All this is God’s work. I have said already that God works through us, but still it is God’s immediate work to send down the rain of his grace from on high. Perhaps he is at work upon some of you, though as yet there is no springing up of spiritual life in your souls. Though your condition is still a sad one, we will hope for you that ere long there shall be seen the living seed of grace sending up its tender green shoot above the soil, and may the Lord bless the springing thereof.

II. In the second place, let us deliver a brief description of the springing thereof.

After the operations of the Holy Spirit have been quietly going on for a certain season as pleaseth the great Master and Husbandman, then there are signs of grace. Remember the apostle’s words, "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." Some of our friends are greatly disturbed because they cannot see the full corn in the ear in themselves. They suppose that, if they were the subjects of a divine work they would be precisely like certain advanced Christians with whom it is their privilege to commune, or of whom they may have read in biographies. Beloved, this is a very great mistake. When first grace enters the heart, it is not a great tree covering with its shadow whole acres, but it is the least of all seeds, like a grain of mustard seed. When it first rises upon the soul, it is not the sun shining at high noon, but it is the first dim ray of dawn. Are you so simple as to expect the harvest before you have passed through the springing-time? I shall hope that by a very brief description of the earliest stage of Christian experience you may be led to say, "I have gone as far as that," and then I hope you may be able to take the comfort of the text to yourselves: "Thou blessest the springing thereof."

What then is the springing up of piety in the heart? We think it is first seen in sincerely earnest desires after salvation. The man is not saved, in his own apprehension, but he longs to be. That which was once a matter of indifference is now a subject of intense concern. Once he despised Christians, and thought them needlessly earnest; he thought religion a mere trifle, and he looked upon the things of time and sense as the only substantial matters; but now how changed he is! He envies the meanest Christian, and would change places with the poorest believer if he might but be able to read his title clear to mansions in the skies. Now worldly things have lost dominion over him, and spiritual things are uppermost. Once with the unthinking many, he cried, "Who will show us any good?" but now he cries, "Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me." Once it was the corn and the wine to which he looked for comfort, but now he looks to God alone. His rock of refuge must be God, for he finds no comfort elsewhere. His holy desires, which he had years ago, were like smoke from the chimney, soon blown away; but now his longings are permanent, though not always operative to the same degree. At times these desires amount to a hungering and a thirsting after righteousness, and yet he is not satisfied with these desires, but wishes for a still more anxious longing after heavenly things. These desires are among the first springings of divine life in the soul.

"The springing thereof" shows itself next in prayer. It is prayer now. Once it was the mocking of God with holy sounds unattended by the heart; but now, though the prayer is such that he would not like a human ear to hear him, yet God approves it, for it is the talking of a spirit to a Spirit, and not the muttering of lips to an unknown God. His prayers, perhaps, are not very long: they do not amount to more than this, "Oh!" "Ah!" "Would to God!" "Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner!" and such-like short ejaculations; but, then, they are prayers. "Behold he prayeth," does not refer to a long prayer; it is quite as sure a proof of spiritual life within, if it only refers to a sigh or to a tear. These "groanings that cannot be uttered," are amongst "the springings thereof."

There will also be manifest a hearty love for the means of grace, and the house of God. The Bible, long unread, which was thought to be of little more use than an old almanack, is now treated with great consideration; and though the reader finds little in it that comforts him just now, and much that alarms him, yet he feels that it is the book for him, and he turns to its pages with hope. When he goes up to God’s house, he listens eagerly, hoping that there may be a message for him. Before, he attended worship as a sort of pious necessity incumbent upon all respectable people; but now he goes up to God’s house that he may find the Saviour. Once there was no more religion in him than in the door which turns upon its hinges; but now he enters the house praying, "Lord, meet with my soul," and if he gets no blessing, he goes away sighing, "O that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat." This is one of the blessed signs of "the springing thereof."

Yet more cheering is another, namely, that the soul in this state has faith in Jesus Christ, at least in some degree. It is not a faith which brings great joy and peace, but still it is a faith which keeps the heart from despair, and prevents its sinking under a sense of sin. I have known the time when I do not believe any man living could see faith in me, and when I could scarcely perceive any in myself, and yet I was bold to say, with Peter, "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." What man cannot see, Christ can see. Many people have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but they are so much engaged in looking at it that they do not see it. If they would look to Christ and not to their own faith, they would not only see Christ but see their own faith too; but they measure their faith, and it seems so little when they contrast it with the faith of full-grown Christians, that they fear it is not faith at all. Oh, little one, if thou hast faith enough to receive Christ, remember the promise, "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." Poor simple, weak-hearted, and troubled one, look to Jesus and answer, Can such a Saviour suffer in vain? Can such an atonement be offered in vain? Canst thou trust him, and yet be cast away? It cannot be. It never was in the Saviour’s heart to shake off one that did cling to his arm. However feeble the faith he blesses "the springing thereof." The difficulty arises partly from misapprehension and partly from want of confidence in God. I say misapprehension: now if like some Londoners you had never seen corn when it is green, you would cry out, "What! Do you say that yonder green stuff is wheat?" "Yes," the farmer says, "that is wheat." You look at it again and you reply, "Why, man alive, that is nothing but grass. You do not mean to tell me that this grassy stuff will ever produce a loaf of bread such as I see in the baker’s window; I cannot conceive it." No, you could not conceive it, but when you get accustomed to it, it is not at all wonderful to see the wheat go through certain stages; first the blade, then the ear, and afterwards the full corn in the ear. Some of you have never seen growing grace, and do not know anything about it. When you are newly converted you meet with Christians who are like ripe golden ears, and you say, "I am not like them." True, you are no more like them than that grassy stuff in the furrows is like full-grown wheat; but you will grow like them one of these days. You must expect to go through the blade period before you get to the ear period, and in the ear period you will have doubts whether you will ever come to the full corn in the ear; but you will arrive at perfection in due time. Thank God that you are in Christ at all. Whether I have much faith or little faith, whether I can do much for Christ or little for Christ is not the first question; I am saved, not on account of what I am, but on account of what Jesus Christ is; and if I am trusting to him, however little in Israel I may be, I am as safe as the brightest of the saints.

I have said, however, that mixed with misapprehension there is a great deal of unbelief. I cannot put it all down to an ignorance that may be forgiven: for there is sinful unbelief too. O sinner, why do you not trust Jesus Christ? Poor quickened, awakened conscience, God gives you his word that he who trusts in Christ is not condemned, and yet you are afraid that you are condemned! This is to give God the lie! Be ashamed and confounded that you should ever have been guilty of doubting the veracity of God. All your other sins do not grieve Christ so much as the sin of thinking that he is unwilling to forgive you, or the sin of suspecting that if you trust him he will cast you away. Do not slander his gracious character. Do not cast a slur upon the generosity of his tender heart. He saith, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Come in the faith of his promise, and he will receive you just now.

I have thus given some description of "the springing thereof."

III. Thirdly, according to the text, there is one who sees this springing. Thou, Lord—thou blessest the springing thereof.

I wish that some of us had quicker eyes to see the beginning of grace in the souls of men; for want of this we let slip many opportunities of helping the weaklings. If a woman had the charge of a number of children that were not her own, I do not suppose she would notice all the incipient stages of disease; but when a mother nurses her own dear children, as soon as ever upon the cheek or in the eye there is a token of approaching sickness, she perceives it at once. I wish we had just as quick an eye, because just as tender a heart, towards precious souls. I do not doubt that many young people are weeks and even months in distress, who need not be, if you who know the Lord were a little more watchful to help them in the time of their sorrow. Shepherds are up all night at lambing time to catch up the lambs as soon as they are born, and take them in and nurse them; and we, who ought to be shepherds for God, should be looking out for all the lambs, especially at seasons when there are many born into God’s great fold, for tender nursing is wanted in the first stages of the new life. God, however, when his servants do not see "the springing thereof," sees it all.

Now, you silent, retired spirits, who dare not speak to father or mother, or brother or sister, this text ought to be a sweet morsel to you. "Thou blessest the springing thereof," which proves that God sees you and your newborn grace. The Lord sees the first sign of penitence. Though you only say to yourself, "I will arise, and go to my Father," your Father hears you. Though it is nothing but a desire, your Father registers it. "Thou puttest my tears into thy bottle. Are they not in thy book?" He is watching your return; he runs to meet you, and puts his arms about you, and kisses you with the kisses of his accepting love. O soul, be encouraged with that thought, that up in the chamber or down by the hedge, or wherever it is that thou hast sought secrecy, God is there. Dwell on the thought, "Thou God seest me." That is a precious text,—"All my desire is before thee;" and here is another sweet one, "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in them that hope in his mercy." He can see you when you only hope in his mercy, and he takes pleasure in you if you have only begun to fear him. Here is a third choice word, "Thou wilt perfect that which concerneth me." Have you a concern about these things? Is it a matter of soul-concern with you to be reconciled to God, and to have an interest in Jesu’s precious blood? It is only "the springing thereof," but he blesses it. It is written, "A bruised reed he will not break, and the smoking flax he will not quench, till he bring forth judgment unto victory." There shall be victory for you, even before the judgment-seat of God, though as yet you are only like the flax that smokes and gives no light, or like the reed that is broken, and yields no music. God sees the first springing of grace.

IV. A few words upon a fourth point: what a misery it would be, if it were possible, to have this springing without God’s blessing!

The text says, "Thou blessest the springing thereof." We must, just a moment, by way of contrast, think of how the springing would have been without the blessing. Suppose we were to see a revival amongst us without God’s blessing. It is my conviction that there are revivals which are not of God at all, but are produced by excitement merely. If there be no blessing from the Lord, it will be all a delusion, a bubble blown up into the air for a moment, and then gone to nothing. We shall only see the people stirred, to become the more dull and dead afterwards; and this is a great mischief to the church.

In the individual heart, if there should be a springing up without God’s blessing, there would be no good in it. Suppose you have good desires, but no blessing on these desires, they will only tantalize and worry you; and then, after a time, they will be gone, and you will be more impervious than you were before to religious convictions; for, if religious desires are not of God’s sending, but are caused by excitement, they will probably prevent your giving a serious hearing to the Word of God in times to come. If convictions do not soften they will certainly harden. To what extremities have some been driven who have had springings of a certain sort which have not led them to Christ! Some have been crushed by despair. They tell us that religion crowds the madhouse: it is not true; but there is no doubt whatever that religiousness of a certain kind has driven many a man out of his mind. The poor souls have felt their wound but have not seen the balm. They have not known Jesus. They have had a sense of sin and nothing more. They have not fled for refuge to the hope which God has set before them. Marvel not if men do go mad when they refuse the Saviour. It may come as a judicial visitation of God upon those men who, when in great distress of mind, will not fly to Christ. I believe it is with some just this—you must either fly to Jesus, or else your burden will become heavier and heavier until your spirit will utterly fail. This is not the fault of religion, it is the fault of those who will not accept the remedy which religion presents. A springing up of desires without God’s blessing would be an awful thing, but we thank him that we are not left in such a case.

V. And now I have to dwell upon the comforting thought that God does bless "the springing thereof." I wish to deal with you who are tender and troubled; I want to show that God does bless your springing. He does it in many ways.

Frequently he does it by the cordials which he brings. You have a few very sweet moments: you cannot say that you are Christ’s, but at times the bells of your heart ring very sweetly at the mention of his name. The means of grace are very precious to you. When you gather to the Lord’s worship you feel a holy calm, and you go away from the service wishing that there were seven Sundays in the week instead of one. By the blessing of God the Word has just suited your case, as if the Lord had sent his servants on purpose to you: you lay aside your crutches for awhile, and you begin to run. Though these things have been sadly transient, they are tokens for good.

On the other hand, if you have had none of these comforts, or few of them, and the means of grace have not been consolations to you, I want you to look upon that as a blessing. It may be the greatest blessing that God can give us to take away all comforts on the road, in order to quicken our running towards the end. When a man is flying to the City of Refuge to be protected from the man-slayer, it may be an act of great consideration to stay him for a moment that he may quench his thirst and run more swiftly afterwards; but perhaps, in a case of imminent peril, it may be the kindest thing neither to give him anything to eat or to drink, nor invite him to stop for a moment, in order that he may fly with undiminished speed to the place of safety. The Lord may be blessing you in the uneasiness which you feel. Inasmuch as you cannot say that you are in Christ, it may be the greatest blessing which heaven can give to take away every other blessing from you, in order that you may be compelled to fly to the Lord. You perhaps have a little of your self-righteousness left, and while it is so you cannot get joy and comfort. The royal robe which Jesus gives will never shine brilliantly upon us till every rag of our own goodness is gone. Perhaps you are not empty enough, and God will never fill you with Christ till you are. Fear often drives men to faith. Have you never heard of a person walking in the fields into whose bosom a bird has flown because pursued by the hawk? Poor timid thing, it would not have ventured there had not a greater fear compelled it. All this may be so with you; your fears may be sent to drive you more swiftly and more closely to the Saviour, and if so, I see in these present sorrows the signs that God is blessing "the springing thereof."

In looking back upon my own "springing" I sometimes think God blessed me then in a lovelier way than now. Though I would not willingly return to that early stage of my spiritual life, yet there were many joys about it. An apple tree when loaded with apples is a very comely sight; but give me, for beauty, the apple tree in bloom. The whole world does not present a more lovely sight than an apple blossom. Now, a full-grown Christian laden with fruit is a comely sight, but still there is a peculiar loveliness about the young Christian. Let me tell you what that blessedness is; you have probably now a greater horror of sin than professors who have known the Lord for years; they might wish that they felt your tenderness of conscience. You have now a graver sense of duty, and a more solemn fear of the neglect of it than some who are further advanced. You have also a greater zeal than many: you are now doing your first works for God, and burning with your first love; nothing is too hot or too heavy for you: I pray that you may never decline, but always advance.

And now to close. I think there are three lessons for us to learn. First, let older saints be very gentle and kind to young believers. God blesses the springing thereof—mind that you do the same. Do not throw cold water upon young desires: do not snuff out young believers with hard questions. While they are babes and need the milk of the Word, do not be choking them with your strong meat; they will eat strong meat by-and-by, but not just yet. Remember, Jacob would not overdrive the lambs; be equally prudent. Teach and instruct them, but let it be with gentleness and tenderness, not as their superiors, but as nursing fathers for Christ’s sake. God, you see, blesses the springing thereof—may he bless it through you!

The next thing I have to say is, fulfil the duty of gratitude. Beloved, if God blesses the springing thereof we ought to be grateful for a little grace. If you have only seen the first shoot peeping up through the mould be thankful, and you shall see the green blade waving in the breeze; be thankful for the ankle-deep verdure and you shall soon see the commencement of the ear; be thankful for the first green ears and you shall see the flowering of the wheat, and by-and-by its ripening, and the joyous harvest.

The last lesson is one of encouragement. If God blesses "the springing thereof," dear beginners, what will he not do for you in after days? If he gives you such a meal when you break your fast, what dainties will be on your table when he says to you, "Come and dine"; and what a banquet will he furnish at the supper of the Lamb! O troubled one! let the storms which howl and the snows which fall, and the wintry blasts that nip your springing, all be forgotten in this one consoling thought, that God blesses your springing, and whom God blesses none can curse. Over your head, dear, desiring, pleading, languishing soul, the Lord of heaven and earth pronounces the blessing of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Take that blessing and rejoice in it evermore. Amen.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

The Necessity and Benefits of Religious Society

The Necessity and Benefits of Religious Society

The Necessity and Benefits of Religious Society

Eccles. 4:9, 10, 11, 12

Two are better than One, because they have a good Reward for their Labour.

For if they fall, the One will lift up his Fellow: But woe be to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

Again, if Two lie together, then they have heat; but how can One be warm alone?

And if One prevail against him, Two Shall withstand him; and a threefold Cord is not quickly broken.

AMONG the many reasons assignable for the sad decay of true christianity, perhaps the neglecting to assemble ourselves together, in religious societies, may not be one of the least. That I may therefore do my endeavour towards promoting so excellent a means of piety, I have selected a passage of scripture drawn from the experience of the wisest of men, which being a little enlarged on and illustrated, will fully answer my present design; being to shew, in the best manner I can, the necessity and benefits of society in general, and of religious society in particular.

"Two are better than one, &c."

From which words I shall take occasion to prove,

First, The truth of the wise man’s assertion, "Two are better than one," and that in reference to society in general, and religious society in particular.

Secondly, To assign some reasons why two are better than one, especially as to the last particular. 1. Because men can raise up one another when they chance to slip: "For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow." 2. Because they can impart heat to each other: "Again, if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone?" 3. Because they can secure each other from those that do oppose them: "And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." From hence,

Thirdly, I shall take occasion to shew the duty incumbent on every member of a religious society.

And Fourthly, I shall draw an inference or two from what may be said; and then conclude with a word or two of exhortation.

First, I am to prove the truth of the wise man’s assertion, that "two are better than one," and that in reference to society in general, and religious societies in particular.

And how can this be done better, than by shewing that it is absolutely necessary for the welfare both of the bodies and souls of men? Indeed, if we look upon man as he came out of the hands of his Maker, we imagine him to be perfect, entire, lacking nothing. But God, whose thoughts are not as our thoughts, saw something still wanting to make Adam happy. And what was that? Why, an help meet for him. For thus speaketh the scripture: "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make an help meet for him."

Observe, God said, "It is not good," thereby implying that the creation would have been imperfect, in some sort, unless an help was found out meet for Adam. And if this was the case of man before the fall; if an help was meet for him in a state of perfection; surely since the fall, when we come naked and helpless out of our mother’s womb, when our wants increase with our years, and we can scarcely subsist a day without the mutual assistance of each other, well may we say, "It is not good for man to be alone."

Society then, we see, is absolutely necessary in respect to our bodily and personal wants. If we carry our view farther, and consider mankind as divided into different cities, countries, and nations, the necessity of it will appear yet more evident. For how can communities be kept up, or commerce carried on, without society? Certainly not at all, since providence seems wisely to have assigned a particular product to almost each particular country, on purpose, as it were, to oblige us to be social; and hath so admirably mingled the parts of the whole body of mankind together, "that the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again, the hand to the foot, I have no need of thee."

Many other instances might be given of the necessity of society, in reference to our bodily, personal, and national wants. But what are all these when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, in comparison of the infinite greater need of it, with respect to the soul? It was chiefly in regard to this better part, no doubt, that God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone." For, let us suppose Adam to be as happy as may be, placed as the Lord of the creation in the paradise of God, and spending all his hours in adoring and praising the blessed Author of his being; yet as his soul was the very copy of the divine nature, whose peculiar property it is to be communicative, without the divine all-sufficiency he could not be compleatly happy, because he was alone and incommunicative, nor even content in paradise, for want of a partner in his joys. God knew this, and therefore said, "It is not good that the man shall be alone, I will make a help meet for him." And though this proved a fatal means of his falling; yet that was not owing to any natural consequence of society; but partly to that cursed apostate, who craftily lies in wait to deceive; partly to Adam’s own folly, in rather chusing to be miserable with one he loved, than trust in God to raise him up another spouse.

If we reflect indeed on that familiar intercourse, our first parent could carry on with heaven, in a state of innocence, we shall be apt to think he had as little need of society, as to his soul, as before we supposed him to have, in respect to his body. But yet, as God and the holy angels were so far above him on the one hand, and the beasts so far beneath him on the other, there was nothing like having one to converse with, who was "bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh."

Man, then, could not be fully happy, we see, even in paradise, without a companion of his own species, much less now he is driven out. For, let us view him a little in his natural estate now, since the fall, as "having his understanding darkened, his mind alienated from the life of God;" as no more able to see his way wherein he should go, than a blind man to describe the fun: that notwithstanding this, he must receive his sight ere he can see God: and that if he never sees him, he never can be happy. Let us view him in this light (or rather this darkness) and deny the necessity of society if we can. A divine revelation we find is absolutely necessary, we being by nature as unable to know, as we are to do our duty. And how shall we learn except one teach us? But was God to do this himself, how should we, but with Moses, exceedingly quake and fear? Nor would the ministry of angels in this affair, be without too much terror. It is necessary, therefore (at least God’s dealing with us hath shewed it to be so) that we should be drawn with the cords of a man. And that a divine revelation being granted, we should use one another’s assistance, under God, to instruct each other in the knowledge, and to exhort one another to the practice of those things which belong to our everlasting peace. This is undoubtedly the great end of society intended by God since the fall, and a strong argument it is, why "two are better than one," and why we should "not forsake the assembling ourselves together."

But farther, let us consider ourselves as christians, as having this natural veil, in some measure, taken off from our eyes by the assistance of God’s holy Spirit, and so enabled to see what he requires of us. Let us suppose ourselves in some degree to have tasted the good word of life, and to have felt the powers of the world to come, influencing and moulding our souls into a religious frame: to be fully and heartily convinced that we are soldiers listed under the banner of Christ, and to have proclaimed open war at our baptism, against the world, the flesh, and the devil; and have, perhaps, frequently renewed our obligations so to do, by partaking of the Lord’s supper: that we are surrounded with millions of foes without, and infested with a legion of enemies within: that we are commanded to shine as lights in the world, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation: that we are travelling to a long eternity, and need all imaginable helps to shew, and encourage us in our way thither. Let us, I say, reflect on all this, and then how shall each of us cry out, brethren, what a necessary thing it is to meet together in religious societies?

The primitive christians were fully sensible of this, and therefore we find them continually keeping up communion with each other: for what says the scripture? They continued stedfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, Acts 2:42. Peter and John were no sooner dismissed by the great council, than they haste away to their companions. "And being set at liberty they came to their own, and told them all these things which the high priest had said unto them," Acts 4:23. Paul, as soon as converted, "tarried three days with the disciples that were at Damascus," Acts 9:19. And Peter afterwards, when released from prison, immediately goes to the house of Mary, where there were "great multitudes assembled, praying," Acts 12:12. And it is reported of the christians in after-ages, that they used to assemble together before day-light, to sing a psalm to Christ as God. So precious was the Communion of Saints in those days.

If it be asked, what advantages we shall reap from such a procedure now? I answer, much every way. "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour: for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe be to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

Which directly leads me to my Second general head, under which I was to assign some reasons why "two are better than one," especially in Religious Society.

1. As man in his present condition cannot always stand upright, but by reason of the frailty of his nature cannot but fall; one eminent reason why two are better than one, or, in other words, one great advantage of religious society is, "That when they fall, the one will lift up his fellow.

And an excellent reason this, indeed! For alas! when we reflect how prone we are to be drawn into error in our judgments, and into vice in our practice; and how unable, at least how very unwilling, to espy or correct our own mis-carriages; when we consider how apt the world is to flatter us in our faults, and how few there are so kind as to tell us the truth; what an inestimable privilege must it be to have a set of true, judicious, hearty friends about us, continually watching over our souls, to inform us where we have fallen, and to warn us that we fall not again for the future. Surely it is such a privilege, that (to use the words of an eminent christian) we shall never know the value thereof, till we come to glory.

But this is not all; for supposing that we could always stand upright, yet whosoever reflects on the difficulties of religion in general, and his own propensity to lukewarmness and indifference in particular, will find that he must be zealous as well as steady, if ever he expects to enter the kingdom of heaven. Here, then, the wise man points out to us another excellent reason why two are better than one. "Again, if two lye together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone?". Which was the next thing to be considered.

2. A second reason why two are better than one, is because they can impart heat to each other.

It is an observation no less true than common, that kindled coals, if placed asunder, soon go out, but if heaped together, quicken and enliven each other, and afford a lasting heat. The same will hold good in the case now before us. If christians kindled by the grace of God, unite, they will quicken and enliven each other; but if they separate and keep asunder, no marvel if they soon grow cool or tepid. If two or three meet together in Christ’s name, they will have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

Observe, "How can one be warm alone?" The wise man’s expressing himself by way of question, implies an impossibility, at least a very great difficulty, to be warm in religion without company, where it may be had. Behold here, then, another excellent benefit flowing from religious society; it will keep us zealous, as well as steady, in the ways of godliness.

But to illustrate this a little farther by a comparison or two. Let us look upon ourselves (as was above hinted) as soldiers lifted under Christ’s banner; as going out with "ten thousand, to meet one that cometh against us with twenty thousand;" as persons that are to "wrestle not only with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, and spiritual wickednesses in high places." And then tell me, all ye that fear God, if it be not an invaluable privilege to have a company of fellow soldiers continually about us, animating and exhorting each other to stand our ground, to keep our ranks, and manfully to follow the captain of our salvation, though it be through a sea of blood?

Let us consider ourselves in another view before mentioned, as persons travelling to a long eternity; as rescued by the free grace of God, in some measure, from our natural Egyptian bondage, and marching under the conduct of our spiritual Joshua, through the wilderness of this world, to the land of our heavenly Canaan. Let us farther reflect how apt we are to startle at every difficulty; to cry, "There are lions! There are lions in the way! There are the sons of Anak" to be grappled with, ere we can possess the promised land: How prone we are, with Lot’s wise, to look wishfully back on our spiritual Sodom, or, with the foolish Israelites, to long again for the flesh-pots of Egypt; and to return to our former natural state of bondage and slavery. Consider this, my brethren, and see what a blessed privilege it will be to have a set of Israelites indeed about us, always reminding us of the folly of any such cowardly design, and of the intolerable misery we shall run into, if we fall in the least short of the promised land.

More might be said on this particular, did not the limits of a discourse of this nature oblige me to hasten,

3. To give a third reason, mentioned by the wise man in the text, why two are better than one; because they can secure each other from enemies without. "And if one prevail against him, yet two shall withstand him: and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

Hitherto we have considered the advantages of religious societies, as a great preservative against falling (at least dangerously falling) into sin and lukewarmness, and that too from our own corruptions. But what says the wise son of Sirach? "My son, when thou goest to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation:" and that not only from inward, but outward foes; particularly from those two grand adversaries, the world and the devil: for no sooner will thine eye be bent heavenward, but the former will be immediately diverting it another way, telling thee thou needest not be singular in order to be religious; that you may be a christian without going so much out of the common road.

Nor will the devil be wanting in his artful insinuations, or impious suggestions, to divert or terrify thee from pressing forwards, "that thou mayst lay hold on the crown of life." And if he cannot prevail this way, he will try another; and, in order to make his temptation the more undiscerned, but withal more successful, he will employ, perhaps, some of thy nearest relatives, or most powerful friends, (as he set Peter on our blessed Master) who will always be bidding thee to spare thyself; telling thee thou needst not take so much pains; that it is not so difficult a matter to get to heaven as some people would make of it, nor the way so narrow as others imagine it to be.

But see here the advantage of religious company; for supposing thou findest thyself thus surrounded on every side, and unable to withstand such horrid (though seemingly friendly) counsels, haste away to thy companions, and they will teach thee a truer and better lesson; they will tell thee, that thou must be singular if thou wilt be religious: and that it is as impossible for a christian, as for a city set upon a hill, to be hidden: that if thou wilt be an almost christian (and as good be none at all) thou mayest live in the same idle, indifferent manner as thou seest most other people do: but if thou wilt be not only almost, but altogether a christian, they will inform thee thou must go a great deal farther: that thou must not only faintly seek, but "earnestly strive to enter in at the strait gate:" that there is but one way now to heaven as formerly, even through the narrow passage of a found conversion: and that in order to bring about this mighty work, thou must undergo a constant, but necessary discipline of fasting, watching, and prayer. And therefore, the only reason why those friends give thee such advice, is, because they are not willing to take so much pains themselves; or, as our Saviour told Peter on a like occasion, because they "favour not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men."

This then, is another excellent blessing arising from religious society, that friends can hereby secure each other from those who oppose them. The devil is fully sensible of this, and therefore he has always done his utmost to suppress, and put a stop to the communion of saints. This was his grand artifice at the first planting of the gospel; to persecute the professors of it, in order to separate them. Which, though God, as he always will, over-ruled for the better; yet, it shews, what an enmity he has against christians assembling themselves together. Nor has he yet left off his old stratagem; it being his usual way to entice us by ourselves, in order to tempt us; where, by being destitute of one another’s help, he hopes to lead us captive at his will.

But, on the contrary, knowing his own interest is strengthened by society, he would first persuade us to neglect the communion of saints, and then bid us "stand in the way of sinners," hoping thereby to put us into the feat of the scornful. Judas and Peter are melancholy instances of this. The former had no sooner left his company at supper, but he went out and betrayed his master: and the dismal downfal of the latter, when he would venture himself amongst a company of enemies, plainly shews us what the devil will endeavour to do, when he gets us by ourselves. Had Peter kept his own company, he might have kept his integrity; but a single cord, alas! how quickly was it broken? Our blessed Saviour knew this full well, and therefore it is very observable, that he always sent out his disciples "two by two."

And now, after so many advantages to be reaped from religious society, may we not very justly cry out with the wise man in my text, "Woe be to him that is alone; for when he falleth, he hath not another to lift him up?" When he is cold, he hath not a friend to warm him; when he is assaulted, he hath not a second to help him to withstand his enemy.

III. I now come to my third general head, under which was to be shewn the several duties incumbent on every member of a religious society, as such, which are three. 1. Mutual reproof; 2. Mutual exhortation; 3. Mutual assisting and desending each other.

1. Mutual reproof. "Two are better than one; for when they fall, the one will lift up his fellow."

Now, reproof may be taken either in a more extensive sense, and then it signifies our raising a brother by the gentlest means, when he falls into sin and error; or in a more restrained signification, as reaching no farther than those miscarriages, which unavoidably happen in the most holy men living.

The wise man, in the text, supposes all of us subject to both: "For when they fall (thereby implying that each of us may fall) the one will lift up his fellow." From whence we may infer, that "when any brother is overtaken with a fault, he that is spiritual (that is, regenerate, and knows the corruption and weakness of human nature) ought to restore such a one in the spirit of meekness." And why he should do so, the apostle subjoins a reason "considering thyself, left thou also be tempted;" i. e. considering thy own frailty, left thou also fall by the like temptation.

We are all frail unstable creatures; and it is merely owing to the free grace and good providence of God that we run not into the same excess of riot with other men. Every offending brother, therefore, claims our pity rather than our resentment; and each member should strive to be the most forward, as well as most gentle, in restoring him to his former state.

But supposing a person not to be overtaken, but to fall wilfully into a crime; yet who art thou that deniest forgiveness to thy offending brother? "Let him that standeth take heed left he fall." Take ye, brethren, the holy apostles as eminent examples for you to learn by, how you ought to behave in this matter. Consider how quickly they joined the right hand of fellowship with Peter, who had so wilfully denied his master: for we find John and him together but two days after, John 20:2. And ver. 19, we find him assembled with the rest. So soon did they forgive, so soon associate with their sinful, yet relenting brother. "Let us go and do likewise."

But there is another kind of reproof incumbent on every member of a religious society; namely, a gentle rebuke for some miscarriage or other, which though not actually sinful, yet may become the occasion of sin. This indeed seems a more easy, but perhaps will be found a more difficult point than the former: for when a person has really sinned, he cannot but own his brethrens reproof to be just; whereas, when it was only for some little misconduct, the pride that is in our natures will scarce suffer us to brook it. But however ungrateful this pill may be to our brother, yet if we have any concern for his welfare, it must be administered by some friendly hand or other. By all means then let it be applied; only, like a skilful physician, gild over the ungrateful pill, and endeavour, if possible, to deceive thy brother into health and foundness. "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and malice, and evil-speaking, be put away" from it. Let the patient know, his recovery is the only thing aimed at, and that thou delightest not causelesly to grieve thy brother; then thou canst not want success.

2. Mutual exhortation is the second duty resulting from the words of the text. "Again, if two lye together, then they have heat."

Observe, the wise man supposes it as impossible for religious persons to meet together, and not to be the warmer for each other’s company, as for two persons to lye in the same bed, and yet freeze with cold. But now, how is it possible to communicate heat to each other, without mutually stirring up the gift of God which is in us, by brotherly exhortation? Let every member then of a religious society write that zealous apostle’s advice on the tables of his heart; "See that ye exhort, and provoke one another to love, and to good works; and so much the more, as you see the day of the Lord approaching." Believe me, brethren, we have need of exhortation to rouse up our sleepy souls, to set us upon our watch against the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; to excite us to renounce ourselves, to take up our crosses, and follow our blessed matter, and the glorious company of saints and martyrs, "who through faith have fought the good fight, and are gone before us to inherit the promises." A third part, therefore, of the time wherein a religious society meets, seems necessary to be spent in this important duty: for what avails it to have our understandings enlightened by pious reading, unless our wills are at the same time inclined, and inflamed by mutual exhortation, to put it in practice? Add also, that this is the best way both to receive and impart light, and the only means to preserve and increase that warmth and heat which each person first brought with him; God so ordering this, as all other spiritual gifts, that "to him that hath, i. e. improves and communicates what he hath, shall be given; but from him that hath not, or does not improve the heat he hath, shall be taken away even that which he seemed to have." So needful, so essentially necessary, is exhortation to the good of society.

3. Thirdly, The text points out another duty incumbent on every member of a religious society, to defend each other from those that do oppose them. "And if one prevail against him, yet two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

Here the wise man takes it for granted, that offences will come, nay, and that they may prevail too. And this is no more than our blessed matter has long since told us. Not, indeed, that there is any thing in christianity itself that has the least tendency to give rise to, or promote such offences: No, on the contrary, it breathes nothing but unity and love.

But so it is, that ever since the fatal sentence pronounced by God, after our first parents fall, "I will put enmity between thy feed and her feed;" he that is born after the flesh, the unregenerate unconverted sinner, has in all ages "persecuted him that is born after the spirit:" and so it always will be. Accordingly we find an early proof given of this in the instance of Cain and Abel; of Ishmael and Isaac; and of Jacob and Esau. And, indeed, the whole Bible contains little else but an history of the great and continued opposition between the children of this world, and the children of God. The first christians were remarkable examples of this; and though those troublesome times, blessed be God, are now over, yet the apostle has laid it down as a general rule, and all who are sincere experimentally prove the truth of it; that "they that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must (to the end of the world, in some degree or other) suffer persecution." That therefore this may not make us desert our blessed master’s cause, every member should unite their forces, in order to stand against it. And for the better effecting this, each would do well, from time to time, to communicate his experiences, grievances, and temptations, and beg his companions (first asking God’s assistance, without which all is nothing) to administer reproof, exhortation, or comfort, as his case requires: so that "if one cannot prevail against it, yet two shall withstand it; and a threefold (much less a many-fold) cord will not be quickly broken."

IV. But it is time for me to proceed to the fourth general thing proposed, to draw an inference or two from what has been said.

1. And first, if "two are better than one," and the advantages of religious society are so many and so great; then it is the duty of every true christian to set on foot, establish and promote, as much as in him lyes, societies of this nature. And I believe we may venture to affirm, that if ever a spirit of true christianity is revived in the world, it must be brought about by some such means as this. Motives, surely, cannot be wanting, to stir us up to this commendable and necessary undertaking: for, granting all hitherto advanced to be of no force, yet methinks the single consideration, that great part of our happiness in heaven will consist in the Communion of Saints; or that the interest as well as piety of those who differ from us, is strengthened and supported by nothing more than their frequent meetings; either of these considerations, I say, one would think, should induce us to do our utmost to copy after their good example, and settle a lasting and pious communion of the saints on earth. Add to this, that we find the kingdom of darkness established daily by such like means; and shall not the kingdom of Christ be set in opposition against it? Shall the children of Belial assemble and strengthen each other in wickedness; and shall not the children of God unite, and strengthen themselves in piety? Shall societies on societies be countenanced for midnight revellings, and the promoting of vice, and scarcely one be found intended for the propagation of virtue? Be astonished, O heavens at this!

2. But this leads me to a second inference; namely, to warn persons of the great danger those are in, who either by their subscriptions, presence, or approbation, promote societies of a quite opposite nature to religion.

And here I would not be understood, to mean only those public meetings which are designed manifestly for nothing else but revellings and banquetings, for chambering and wantonness, and at which a modest heathen would blush to be present; but also those seemingly innocent entertainments and meetings, which the politer part of the world are so very fond of, and spend so much time in: but which, notwithstanding, keep as many persons from a sense of true religion, as doth intemperance, debauchery, or any other crime whatever. Indeed, whilst we are in this world, we must have proper relaxations, to fit us both for the business of our profession, and religion. But then, for persons who call themselves christians, that have solemnly vowed at their baptism, to renounce the vanities of this sinful world; that are commanded in scripture "to abstain from all appearance of evil, and to have their conversation in heaven:" for such persons as these to support meetings, which (to say no worse of them) are vain and trifling, and have a natural tendency to draw off our minds from God, is absurd, ridiculous, and sinful. Surely two are not better than one in this case: No; it is to be wished there was not one to be found concerned in it. The sooner we forsake the assembling ourselves together in such a manner, the better; and no matter how quickly the cord that holds such societies (was it a thousand-fold) is broken.

But you, brethren, have not so learned Christ: but, on the contrary, like true disciples of your Lord and Master, have by the blessing of God (as this evening’s solemnity abundantly testifies) happily formed yourselves into such societies, which, if duly attended on, and improved, cannot but strengthen you in your christian warfare, and "make you fruitful in every good word and work."

What remains for me, but, as was proposed, in the last place, to close what has been said, in a word or two, by way of exhortation, and to beseech you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to go on in the way you have begun; and by a constant conscientious attendance on your respective for societies, to discountenance vice, encourage virtue, and build each other up in the knowledge and fear of God.

Only permit me to "stir up your pure minds, by way of remembrance," and to exhort you, "if there be any consolation in Christ, any fellowship of the spirit," again and again to consider, that as all christians in general, so all members of religious societies in particular, are in an especial manner, as houses built upon an hill; and that therefore it highly concerns you to walk circumspectly towards those that are without, and to take heed to yourselves, that your conversation, in common life, be as becometh such an open and peculiar profession of the gospel of Christ: knowing that the eyes of all men are upon you, narrowly to inspect every circumstance of your behaviour: and that every notorious wilful miscarriage of any single member will, in some measure, redound to the scandal and dishonour of your whole fraternity.

Labour, therefore, my beloved brethren, to let your practice correspond to your profession: and think not that it will be sufficient for you to plead at the last day, Lord have we not assembled ourselves together in thy name, and enlivened each other, by singing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs? For verily, I say unto you, notwithstanding this, our blessed Lord will bid you depart from him; nay, you shall receive a greater damnation, if, in the midst of these great pretensions, you are found to be workers of iniquity.

But God forbid that any such evil should befal you; that there should be ever a Judas, a traitor, amongst such distinguished followers of our common master. No, on the contrary, the excellency of your rules, the regularity of your meetings, and more especially your pious zeal in assembling in such a public and solemn manner so frequently in the year, persuade me to think, that you are willing, not barely to seem, but to be in reality, christians; and hope to be found at the last day, what you would be esteemed now, holy, sincere disciples of crucified Redeemer.

Oh, may you always continue thus minded! and make it your daily, constant endeavour, both by precept and example, to turn all your converse with, more especially those of your own societies, into the same most blessed spirit and temper. Thus will you adorn the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in all things: Thus will you anticipate the happiness of a future state; and by attending on, and improving the communion of saints on earth, be made meet to join the communion and fellowship of the spirits of just men made perfect, of the holy angels, nay, of the ever-blessed and eternal God in heaven.

Which God of his infinite mercy grant through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, be ascribed, as is most due, all honour and praise, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.

Whitefield, G. (1772). The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield (Vol. 5). London: Edward and Charles Dilly. (Public Domain)

The Principle Wheat

The Principle Wheat

The Principle Wheat

"The principal wheat."—Isaiah 28:25.

THE prophet mentions it as a matter of wisdom on the part of the husbandman, that he knows what is the principal thing to cultivate, and makes it his principal care. The text, with the connection, runs thus,—"Does not the husbandman cast in the principal wheat?" He does not go to the granary and take out wheat, and cummin, and barley, and rye, and fling these about right and left, but he estimates the value of each grain, and arranges them in his mind accordingly. He does not think that cummin, and carroway, which he merely grows to give a flavour to his meal, are of half such importance as his bread-corn; and, though rye and barley have their values, yet he does not reckon that even these are equal to what he calls "the principal wheat." He is a man of discretion, he arranges things; he places the most important crop in the front rank, and spends upon it the most care.

Here let us learn a lesson. Do keep things distinct in your minds—not huddled and muddled by a careless thoughtlessness. Do not live a confused life, without care and discretion, running all things into one; but sort things out, and divide and distinguish between the precious and the vile. See what this is worth, and what the other is worth, and set your matters in rank and order, making some of them principal, and others of them inferior. I suggest to you young people especially that, in starting life, you say to yourselves, "What shall we live for? There is a principal thing for which we ought to live, what shall it be?" Have you turned over that question, or have you gone at it hit or miss? What are you living for? What is your principal aim? Is it going to be that of the old gentleman in Horace who said to his boy, "Get money: get it honestly, if you can; but, by all means, get money." Will you be a money-spinner? Shall coin be your principal corn? Or will you choose a life of pleasure—"a short life and a merry one," as so many fools have said to their great sorrow? Is it in dissipation that your life is to be spent? Are thistles to be your principal crop? Because there is a pleasure in looking at a Scotch thistle, do you intend to grow acres of pleasurable vice? And will you make your bed upon them when you come to die? Search and see what is worthy of being the principal object in life; and, when you have found it out, then beseech the Holy Spirit to help you to choose that one thing, and to give all your powers and faculties to the cultivation of it. The farmer, who finds that wheat ought to be his principal crop, makes it so, and lays himself out with that end in view: learn from this to have a main object, and to give your whole mind to it.

This farmer was wise, because he counted that to be principal which was the most needful. His family could do without cummin, which was but a flavouring. Perhaps the mistress might complain, or the cook might grumble, but that did not signify so much as it would do if the children cried for bread. They certainly must have wheat, for bread is the staff of life. It is bread that strengtheneth man’s heart, and therefore the farmer must grow wheat if he does not grow anything else. That which is necessary he regarded as the principal thing. Is not this common sense? If we were wisely to sit down and estimate, should we not say, "To be forgiven my sins, to be right with God, to be holy, to be fit to live eternally in heaven, is the greatest, the most needful thing for me, and therefore I will make it the principal object of my pursuit." A creature cannot be satisfied unless he is answering the end for which he is created; and the end of every intelligent creature is first, to glorify God, and next, to enjoy God. What a bliss it must be to enjoy God himself for ever and ever. Other things may be desirable, but this thing is needful. A competence of income, a measure of esteem among men, a degree of health—all these are the flavouring of life, but to be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation is life itself. Jesus Christ is the bread by which our soul’s best life is sustained. Oh, that we were all wise enough to feel that to be one with Christ is the one thing needful; that to be at peace with God is the principal thing; that to be brought into harmony with the Most High is the true music of our being. Other herbs may take their place in due order, but grace is the principal wheat, and we must cultivate it.

This farmer was wise, because he made that to be the principal thing which was the most fit to be so. Of course, barley is useful as food, for nations have lived on barley bread, and lived healthily too; and rye has been the nutriment of millions: neither have they starved on oats, and other grains. Still, give me a piece of wheaten bread, for it is the best staff for life’s journey. This farmer knew that wheat was the most fitting food for man, and so he did not put the inferior grain, which might act as a substitute, into the prominent place; but he gave his wheat the preference. He did not say, "the principal barley," or "the principal rye," much less "the principal cummin," or "the principal fitches," but "the principal wheat."

And what is there, brethren, that is so fit for the heart, the mind, the soul of man, as to know God and his Christ. Other mental foods, such as the fruits of knowledge, and the dainties of science, excellent though they may be—are inferior nutriment and unsuitable to build up the inner manhood. In my God and my Saviour, I find my heaven and my all. My soul sits down to a crumb of truth about Jesus, and finds great satisfaction in living upon it. The more we can know God, and enjoy God, and become like to God, and the more Christ is our daily bread, the more do we perceive the fitness of all this to our new-born natures. O beloved, make that to be your principal object which is the fittest pursuit of an immortal mind,

"Religion is the chief concern
Of mortals here below;
May I its great importance learn,
Its sovereign virtue know!

"More needful this than glittering wealth,
Or aught the world bestows;
Not reputation, food, or health,
Can give us such repose."

Moreover, this farmer was wise, because he made that the principal thing which was the most profitable. Under certain circumstances, in our own country, wheat is not the most profitable thing which a man can grow; but, ordinarily, it is the best crop that the earth yields, and therefore the text speaks of "the principal wheat." Our grandfathers used to rely upon the wheat stack to pay their rent. They looked to their corn as the arm of their strength; and though it is not so now, it always was so of old, and perhaps it may yet be so again. Anyhow, the figure holds good with regard to true religion. That is the most profitable thing. I am told that rich men find it very hard to get hold of anything which yields five per cent. nowadays; but this blessed fear of the Lord is an extraordinarily profitable investment, for it does not yield a hundred per cent. or a thousand per cent., but a man begins with nothing and all things become his by faith. Being freely discharged of our sins, we are by overflowing grace greatly enriched, so that we number among our possessions heaven itself, Christ himself, God himself. All things are ours. Oh, what a blessed crop to sow! What a harvest comes of it! Godliness is profitable for the life that now is, and for that which is to come. Godliness is a blessing to a man’s body, it keeps him from drunkenness and vice; and it is a blessing to his soul, it makes him sweet and pure. It is a blessing to him every way. If I had to die like a dog, I would like to live like a Christian. If there were no hereafter, yet still, for comfort and for joy, give me the life of one who strives to live like Christ. There is a practical everyday truth in the verse—

"’Tis religion that can give
Sweetest pleasures while we live;
’Tis religion must supply
Solid comfort when we die."

Only that religion must not be of the common sort; it must have for its root a hearty faith in Jesus Christ. See ye to it. Our religion must be either everything or nothing, either first or nowhere. Make it "the principal wheat," and it will richly repay you.

II. Secondly, the husbandman is a lesson to us because he gives this principal thing the principal place. I find that the Hebrew is rendered by some eminent scholars, "He puts the wheat into the principal place." That little handful of cummin for the wife to flavour the cakes with he grows in a corner; and the various herbs he places in their proper borders. The barley he sets in its plot, and the rye in its acre; but if there is a good bit of rich soil—the best he has—he appropriates it to the principal wheat. He gives his choicest fields to that which is to be the main means of his living.

Now, here is a lesson for you and for me. Let us give to true godliness our principal powers and abilities. Let us give to the things of God our best and most intense thought. I pray you, do not take religion at second hand from what I tell you, or from what somebody else tells you; but think it over. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the word of God. The thoughtful Christian is the growing Christian. Remember, the service of God deserves our first consideration and endeavour. We are poor things at our prime, but we ought to give the Lord nothing short of our best. God would not have us serve him heedlessly, but he would have us use all the brain and intellect and mind that we have in studying and practising his word. "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace." "Meditate upon these things. Give thyself wholly to them." If your mind is more clear and active at one time than at another, then sow the principal wheat. If you feel more fresh and more inclined to think at one time of the day than at another, let your mind then go towards the best things.

Be sure, also, to yield to this subject your most earnest love. The best field in the little estate of manhood is not the head, but the heart; sow the principal wheat there. Oh, to have true religion in the heart; to love what we know—intensely to love it; to hold it fast as with the grip of life and death—never to let it go! The Lord says, "My son, give me thy heart," and he will not be contented with anything less than our heart. Oh, when your zeal is most burning, and your love is most fervent, let the warmth and the fervency all go towards the Lord your God, and to the service of him who has redeemed you with his precious blood. Let the principal wheat have the principal part of your nature. Towards God and his Christ also turn your most fervent desires. When you enlarge your desire, desire Christ; when you become ambitious let your ambition be all for God. Let your hunger and your thirst be after righteousness. Let your aspirations and your longings be all towards holiness, and the things that shall make you like to Christ. Give to this principal wheat your principal desires.

Then let the Lord have the attentive respect of your life. Let the principal wheat be sown in every action If we are truly Christians we must be as much Christians outside the church as in it. We shall try to make our eating and our drinking, and everything we do, tend to the glory of God. Draw no line between the secular and the religious part of your conduct, but let the secular be made religious by a devout desire to glorify God in the one as much as in the other. Let us worship God in the commonest duties of life, even as they do who stand before his throne. So it ought to be. Let us sow the principal wheat in all the fields of our conversation, in business, in the family, among our friends, and with our children. May we each one feel, "For me to live is Christ. I cannot live without Christ, or for anything but Christ." Let your whole nature yield itself to Jesus, and to none else.

We should give to this principal wheat our most earnest labours. We should spend ourselves for the spread of the gospel. A Christian man ought to lay himself out to serve Jesus. I hate to see a professing man zealous in politics and lukewarm in devotion; all on fire at a parish vestry, and chill as winter when he comes to a prayer-meeting. Some fly like eagles when they are serving the world, but they have a broken wing in the service of God. This should not be. If anything could rouse us up, and make the lion within us roar in his strength, it should be when we confront the foes of Jesus or fight in his cause. Our Lord’s service is the principal wheat, let us labour most in connection with it.

This, I think, should also take possession of us so as to lead to our greatest sacrifices. The love of Christ ought to be so strong as to swallow up self, and make sacrifice our daily joy. For Christ’s name’s sake we should be willing to endure poverty, reproach, slander, exile, death. Nothing should be dear to a Christian in comparison with Christ. Now, I will put it to you whether it is so or no. Is the love of Jesus the principal wheat with us? Are we giving our religion the chief place or not? I am afraid some people treat religion as certain gentlemen treat an off-hand farm; they put a bailiff into it, and only give an eye to it now and then. Their minister is the bailiff, and they expect him to see to it for them. These off-hand farms are losing concerns. Look at these half-and-half brethren. They have religion? Certainly. But they are like the man of whom the child spoke at the Sunday-school. "Is your father a Christian?" said the teacher. "Yes," said the child, "but he has not worked much at it lately." I could point out several of this sort, who are sowing their wheat very sparingly, and choosing the most barren patch to sow it in. They profess to be Christians, but religion is a tenth-rate article on their farm. Some have a large acreage for the world, and a poor little plot for Christ. They are growers of worldly pleasure and self-indulgence, and they sow a little religion by the roadside for appearance sake. This will not do. God will not thus be mocked. If we despise him and his truth we shall be lightly esteemed. O come let us give our principal time, talent, thought, effort to that which is the chief concern of immortal spirits. May we imitate the husbandman who gives the principal wheat the principal place in his farm.

III. Let us learn a third lesson. The husbandman selects the principal seed-corn when he is sowing his wheat. When a farmer is setting aside wheat for sowing, he does not choose the tail corn and the worst of his produce, but if he is a sensible man he likes to sow the best wheat in the world. Many farmers search the country round for a good sample of wheat for sowing, for they do not expect to get a good harvest out of bad seed. The husbandman is taught of God to put into the ground "the principal wheat." Let me learn that if I am going to sow to the Lord and to be a Christian, I should sow the best kind of Christianity.

I should try to do this, first, by believing the weightiest doctrines. I would believe not this "ism," nor that, but the unadulterated truth which Jesus taught; for a holy character will only grow by the Spirit of God out of true doctrine. Falsehood breeds sin: truth begets and fosters holiness. You and I therefore ought to select our seed carefully, and cast out all error. If we are wise we shall think most of the most important truths, for I have known people attach the greatest importance to the smallest things. They fight over the fitches, and leave the wheat to the crows. As for me, those who will may dispute over vials and trumpets, I shall mainly preach the doctrine of the precious blood and the glorious truths of substitution and atonement. These doctrines are the principal wheat, and therefore these shall have my choice.

Next to that, we ought to sow the noblest examples. Many men are dwarfed because they choose a bad model to start with. They imitate dear old Mr. So-and-so till they grow wonderfully like him with the best of him left out. A minister happens to be of a gloomy turn of mind, and he preaches the deep experience of the children of God, and in consequence a band of good people think it their duty to be melancholy. Why need they fall into a ditch because their leader has splashed himself? We should never copy any man’s infirmities. To be like Paul there is no need to have weak eyes; to be like Thomas there is no necessity to doubt. If you copy any good man, there is a point at which you ought to stop short. If I must have a human model, I would prefer one of the bravest of the saints of God; but oh how much better to follow that perfect pattern which you have in Christ Jesus!

We should sow the best wheat by seeing that we have the purest spirit. Alas! how soon do spirits become soiled by self or pride, or despondency or sloth, or some earthly taint. But what a grand thing it is to live in the spirit of Christ. May we be humble, lowly, bold, self-sacrificing, pure, chaste, and holy.

And, then, there is one more mode of sowing selected seed. We should endeavour to live in the closest communion with God. A dear brother prayed just now that we might have as much grace as we were capable of receiving, and that God would bring us into such a state that we might not hinder him in anything which he willed to do by us. This is a good prayer. It should be our desire to rise to the highest form of spiritual life. If you sow this principal wheat, get the best sort of it. There is a spirit and a spirit; and there are doctrines and doctrines; the best is the best for you. O young men, if you mean to have piety, go in for it thoroughly. Do not sneak through the world as if you were ashamed of your Lord. If you are Christ’s show your colours. Rally to his banner, gather to his trumpet call, and then stand up, stand up for Jesus. If there is any manhood in you, this great cause calls for it all; exhibit it, and may the Spirit of God help you so to do.

IV. Fourthly, the husbandman grows the principal wheat with the principal care. Some critics say that the proper translation is that the husbandman plants his wheat in rows. It is said that the large crops in Palestine in olden time were due to the fact that they planted the wheat. They set it in lines, so that it was not checked or suffocated by its being too thick in one place, neither was there any fear of its being too thin in another. The wheat was planted, and then streams of water were turned by the foot to each particular plant. No wonder, therefore, that the land brought forth abundantly.

We should give our principal care to the principal thing. Our godliness should be carried out with discretion and care. Brethren, are we careful enough as to our religious walk? Have you ever searched to the bottom of your profession? Why do you happen to be members of a certain church? Your mother was so. Well, there is some good in that reason, but not enough to justify you in the sight of God. I pray you judge your standing. If any Christian minister is afraid to urge you to this duty I stand in doubt of him I am not at all afraid. I beg you to examine all that I teach you, for I would not like to be responsible for another man’s creed. Like the Bereans, search and see whether these things be according to Scripture or not. One of the greatest blessings that could come upon the church would be a searching spirit which would refer everything to the Holy Scriptures. If they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them. Do your service to God as carefully as the eastern farmer planted his wheat, when he set it in rows with great orderliness and exactness. You serve a precise God, therefore serve him precisely. He is a jealous God, therefore be jealous of the least taint of error or will-worship.

Take care, also, that you water every part of your religion, as the farmer watered each plant. Pray for grace from on high that you may never be parched and dried up. Perform to your faith, to your hope, to your love, and to all the plants that are in your soul every other service which the husbandman renders to his wheat. Give grace your principal care, for it deserves it.

V. With this I close. Do this, because from this you may expect your principal crop. If religion be the principal thing, you may look to religion for your principal reward. The harvest will come to you in various ways. You will make the greatest success in this life if you wholly live to the glory of God. Success or failure must much depend upon the fitness of our object. It is of no use my attempting to sing, for I shall never be able to conduct a choir. I could not succeed in that, but if I preach, I may succeed, for that is my work. Now you, Christian man, if you try to live to the world you will not prosper, for you are not fitted for it. Grace has spoiled you for sin. If you live to God with all your heart you will succeed in it, for God has made you on purpose for it. As he made the fish for the water, and the birds for the air, so he made the believer for holiness, and for the service of God; and you will be out of your element, a fish out of water, or a bird in the stream, if you leave the service of God. The Eastern farmer’s prosperity hinges on his wheat, and yours upon your devotion to God. It is to Godliness that you must look for your joy. Is there any bliss like the bliss of knowing that you are in Christ, and are the beloved of the Lord? It is to your religion that you must look for comfort on a sick and dying bed, and you may be there very soon.

In the world to come what a crop, what a harvest will come of serving the Lord! What will come out of all else? What but mere smoke? A man has made a million of money, and he is dead. What has he got by his wealth? A man’s fame rings throughout the earth as a great and successful warrior, and he is dead. What has he as the result of all his honours? To live to the world is like playing with boys in the street for halfpence, or with babes for bits of platter and oyster shells. Life for God is real and substantial, but all else is waste. Let us think so, and gird up our loins to serve the Lord. May the divine Spirit help us to sow "the principal wheat," and to live in joyful expectation of reaping a happy harvest according to the promise, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

Easter 1607 - Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

Easter 1607 - Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

EASTER 1607 — Biship Lancelot Andrewes

1 Corinthians 15:20

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and was made the first fruits of them that sleep.

The same Apostle that out of Christ’s resurrection taught the Romans matter of duty, the same here out of the same resurrection teacheth the Corinthians matter of hope. There, similiter et vos,* by way of pattern to conform ourselves to Him "in newness of life;" and here, similiter et vos, in another sense by way of promise; that so doing, He shall hereafter conform us to Himself,* "change our vile bodies," and make them like "His glorious body." That former is our first resurrection from sin, this latter our second resurrection from the grave; this, the reward of that. In that, the work what to do; in this, our reward, what to hope for. These two, labour and hope, the Church joineth in one Anthem to day, her first Anthem. They sort well, and being sung together make a good harmony. But that without this, labour without hope, is no good music.

To rise, and to reclaim ourselves from a sinful course of life we have long lived in, is labour sure, and great labour. Now labour of itself is a harsh unpleasant thing, unless it be seasoned with hope.* Debet qui arat in spe arare, saith the Apostle above at the ninth chapter, in the matter of the Clergy’s maintenance,* "He that plows must plow in hope;" his plough will not go deep else, his furrows will be but shallow. Men may frame to themselves what speculations they please, but the Apostle’s saying will prove true: sever hope from labour, and you must look for labour and labourers accordingly, slight and shallow God knoweth. Labour then leads us to hope.

The Apostle saw this, and therefore is careful, whom he thus presseth to newness of life and the labour therefore, to raise for them, and to set before them, matter of hope. Hope here in this life he could set them none. They were, as he was himself,* at quotidie morior every hour,* in danger to be drawn to the block. It must therefore be from another, or at least as the text is, by a hope of being restored to life again. It was their case at Corinth, here in this chapter, plainly: If we must die to-morrow, if there be all that shall become of us,* then "let us eat and drink" while we may. If we be not sure of another life, let us make sure of this. But when in the sequel of the chapter, he had shewed there was restoring, and that so sure he was of it that he falls to insult over them in these terms, they gird up their loins again, and fall to their labours afresh,* as knowing their labour should not be "in vain in the Lord." This hope leads us to our restoring.

Our restoring is but a promise—shall be restored: that necessarily refers to a party that is to make it good. Who is that? Christ.* "Christ is our hope." Why, "hope is joined to the living,"* saith the Wise Man. Christ is dead; buried last Friday. If He be our hope, and He be dead, our hope is dead too; and if our hope be dead, our labour will not live long, nay both are buried with Christ in His grave. It was their case this day that went to Emmaus: say they, supposing Christ to be dead,* nos autem sperabamus, "we were once in good hope" by Him, that is, while He lived; as much to say as ‘Now He is in His grave, our hope is gone, we are even going to Emmaus.’ But then after, as soon as they saw He was alive again, their hope revived, and with their hope their labour; and presently back again to Jerusalem to the Lord’s work, and bade Emmaus farewell. So He leads us to labour; labour, to hope; hope, to our restoring; our restoring to Christ’s, Who, as He hath restored Himself, will restore us also to life. And this keeps us from going to Emmaus. It is used proverbially. Emmaus signifieth ‘a people forlorn:’ all that are at sperabamus, have lost their hopes, are said to go thither; and thither we should all go, even to Emmaus, but for the hope that breathes from this verse, without which it were a cold occupation to be a Christian.

This then is the hope of this text, spes viva, spes beata, worth all hopes else whatsoever. All hopes else are but spes spirantium, ‘hopes while we breath;’ this is spes expirantium, ‘the hope when we can fetch our breath no longer.’ The carnal man—all he can say is, dum spiro spero, ‘his hope is as long as his breath.’ The Christian aspireth higher, goeth farther by virtue of this verse and saith, dum expiro spero; ‘his hope fails him not when his breath fails him.’* Even then, saith Job, reposita est mihi spes in sinu meo; this hope, and only this, is laid up in our bosom, that though our life be taken from us, yet in Christ we to do it, and it to us shall be restored again.

Our case is not as theirs then was: no persecution, nor we at quotidie morior, and therefore not so sensible of this doctrine. But yet to them that are daily falling toward death, rising to life is a good text; peradventure not when we are well and in good health, but the hour is coming, when we shall leave catching at all other hopes, and must hold only by this; in horâ mortis, when all hope save the hope of this verse shall forsake us. Sure it is, under these very words are we laid into our graves, and these the last words that are said over us, as the very last hold we have; and we therefore to regard them with Job, and lay them up in our bosom.

There is in this text, I. a text, and an II. exposition. I. The text, we may well call the Angels’ text, for from them it came first. II. The exposition is St. Paul’s. These words,* "Christ is risen," were first uttered by an Angel this day in the sepulchre;* all the Evangelists so testify.

This text is a good text,* but reacheth not to us, unless it be helped with the Apostle’s exposition, and then it will. The exposition is it that giveth us our hope, and the ground of our hope. "Christ is risen," saith the Angel. "Christ the first fruits," saith the Apostle. And mark well that word "first fruits," for in that word is our hope. For if He be as the "first fruits" in His rising, His rising must reach to all that are of the heap whereof He is the "first fruits." This is our hope.

But our hope must have "a reason," saith St. Peter, and we be ready with it.* The hope that hath a ground, saith St. Paul, that is,* spes quæ non confundit. Having then shewed us this hope,* he sheweth us the ground of it. This: that in very equity we are to be allowed to be restored to life, the same way we lost it. But we lost it by man, or to speak in particular, by Adam we came by our attainder. Meet therefore, that by man, and to speak in particular, that by Christ, we come to our restoring. This is the ground or substance of our hope.

And thus he hath set before us this day life and death, in themselves and their causes, two things that of all other do most concern us. Our last point shall be to apply it to the means, this day offered unto us toward the restoring us to life.

The doctrine of the Resurrection is one of the foundations, so called by the Apostle. It behoveth him therefore, as a skilful workman,* to see it surely laid. That is surely laid that is laid on the rock,* and "the rock is Christ." Therefore he laid it on Christ by saying first, "Christ is risen."

Of all that be Christians, Christ is the hope; but not Christ every way considered, but as risen. Even in Christ un-risen there is no hope. Well doth the Apostle begin here; and when he would open to us "a gate of hope,"* carry us to Christ’s sepulchre empty; to shew us, and to hear the Angel say, "He is risen." Thence after to deduce; if He were able to do thus much for Himself, He hath promised us as much, and will do as much for us. We shall be restored to life.

Thus had he proceeded in the four verses before, destructive.* 1. Miserable is that man, that either laboureth or suffereth in vain.* 2. Christian men seem to do so, and do so, if there be no other life but this. 3. There is no other life but this, if there be no resurrection.* 4. There is no resurrection, "if Christ be not risen;" for ours dependeth on His. And now he turneth all about again. "But now," saith he, 1. "Christ is risen." 2. If He be, we shall. 3. If we shall,* we have, as St. Paul calleth it, a "blessed hope," and so a life yet behind. 4. If such hope we have, we of all men "labour not in vain." So there are four things: 1. Christ’s rising; 2. our restoring; 3. our hope; and 4. our labour. All the doubt is of the two first, the two other will follow of themselves. If a restoring, we have good hope; if good hope, our labour is not lost. The two first are in the first; the other, in the last words. The first are, "Christ is risen;" the last, we shall be restored to life. Our endeavour is to bring these two together, but first to lay the cornerstone.

"Christ is risen," is the Angel’s text, a part of the "great mystery of godliness,"* which, as the Apostle saith, was "seen of Angels," by them "delivered," and "believed on by the world." Quod credibile primum fecit illis videntium certitudo, post morientium fortitudo, jam credibile mihi facit credentium multitudo. ‘It became credible at first by the certainty of them that saw it, then by the constancy of them that died for confession of it, and to us now the huge multitude of them that have and do believe it, maketh it credible.’ For if it be not credible, how is it credible that the world could believe it? the world, I say, being neither enjoined by authority, nor forced by fear, nor inveigled by allurements; but brought about by persons, by means less credible than the thing itself. Gamaliel said,* "If it be of God, it will prevail." And though we cannot argue, all that hath prevailed is of God, yet thus we can: that which hath been mightily impugned, and weakly pursued, and yet prevailed, that was of God certainly. That which all the powers of the earth fought but could not prevail against, was from Heaven certainly. Certainly, "Christ is risen;" for many have risen, and lift up themselves against it, but all are fallen. But the Apostle saith, it is a "foundation," that he will not lay it again; no more will we, but go forward and raise upon it, and so let us do.

"Christ is risen:" suppose He be, what then? Though Christ’s rising did no way concern us or we that, yet 1. first, In that a man, one of our own flesh and blood hath gotten such a victory, even for humanity’s sake; 2. Then, in that One that is innocent hath quit Himself so well for innoceney’s sake; 3. thirdly, In that He hath foiled a common enemy, for amity’s sake; 4. lastly, In that He hath wiped away the ignominy of His fall with the glory of His rising again, for virtue and valour’s sake; for all these we have cause to rejoice with Him, all are matter of gratulation.

But the Apostle is about a farther matter; that text, the Angel’s text, he saw would not serve our turn, farther than I have said. Well may we congratulate Him, if that be all, but otherwise it pertains to us, "Christ is risen." The Apostle therefore enters farther, telling us that Christ did thus rise, not as Christ only, but as "Christ the first fruits." "Christ is risen," and in rising become the "first fruits;" risen, and so risen; that is, to speak after the manner of men, that there is in Christ a double capacity. 1. One as a body natural, considered by Himself, without any relative respect unto us, or to any; in which regard well may we be glad, as one stranger is for another, but otherwise His rising concerns us not at all. 2. Then that He hath a second, as a body politic, or chief part of a company or corporation, that have to Him, and He to them, a mutual and reciprocal reference, in which respect His resurrection may concern us no less than Himself; it is that He giveth us the first item of in the word primitiæ, that Christ in His rising cometh not to be considered as a totum integrale, or body natural alone, as Christ only; but that which maketh for us, He hath besides another capacity, that He is a part of a corporation or body, of which body we are the members. This being won, look what He hath suffered or done, it pertaineth to us, and we have our part in it.

You shall find, and ever when you find such words make much of them, Christ called a "Head,"—a head is a part; Christ called a "Root,"*—a root is a part; and here Christ called "first fruits,"* which we all know is but a part of the fruits, but a handful of a heap or a sheaf, and referreth to the rest of the fruits, as a part to the whole. So that there is in the Apostle’s conceit one mass or heap of all mankind, of which Christ is the "first fruits," we the remainder. So as by the law of the body all His concern us no less than they do Him, whatsoever He did, He did to our behoof. Die He, or rise, we have our part in His death and in His resurrection, and all: why? because He is but the "first fruits."

And if He were but Primus, and not Primitiæ dormientium, there were hope. For primus is an ordinal number, and draweth after a second, a third, and God knoweth how many. But if in that word there be any scruple, as sometime it is, ante quem non est rather than post quem est alius, if no more come by one; all the world knows the first fruits is but a part of the fruits, there are fruits beside them, no man knoweth how many.

But that which is more, the "first fruits" is not every part, but such a part as representeth the whole, and hath an operative force over the whole. For the better understanding whereof, we are to have recourse to the Law, to the very institution or first beginning of them.* Ever the legal ceremony is a good key to the evangelical mystery. Thereby we shall see why St. Paul made choice of the word "first fruits," to express himself by; that he useth verbum vigilans, ‘a word that is awake,’* as St. Augustine saith, or as Solomon, "a word upon his own wheel." The head or the root would have served, for if the head be above the water, there is hope for the whole body, and if the root hath life, the branches shall not long be without; yet he refuseth these and other that offered themselves, and chooseth rather the term of "first fruits." And why so?

This very day, Easter-day, the day of Christ’s rising, according to the Law, is the day or feast of the "first fruits;" the very feast carrieth him to the word, nothing could be more fit or seasonable for the time. The day of the Passion is the day of the Passover, and "Christ is our Passover;"* the day of the Resurrection is the day of the first fruits, and Christ is our "first fruits."

And this term thus chosen, you shall see there is a very apt and proper resemblance between the Resurrection and it. The rite and manner of the first fruits, thus it was. Under the Law, they might not eat of the fruits of the earth so long as they were profane. Profane they were, until they were sacred, and on this wise were they sacred. All the sheaves in a field,* for example’s sake, were unholy. One sheaf is taken out of all the rest, which sheaf we call the first fruits. That in the name of the rest is lift up aloft and shaken to and fro before the Lord,* and so consecrated.* That done, not only the sheaf so lifted up was holy, though that alone was lift up, but all the sheaves in the field were holy, no less than it.* The rule is, "If the first fruits be holy, all the lump is so too."

And thus, for all the world, fareth it in the Resurrection. "We were all dead,"* saith the Apostle, dead sheaves all. One, and that is Christ, this day, the day of first fruits, was in manner of a sheaf taken out of the number of the dead, and in the name of the rest lift up from the grave, and in His rising He shook,* for there was a great earthquake, by virtue whereof the first fruits being restored to life, all the rest of the dead are in Him entitled to the same hope, in that He was not so lift up for Himself alone, but for us and in our names; and so the substance of this feast fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection.

Now upon this lifting up, there ensueth a very great alteration, if you please to mark it. It was even now, "Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits"—it should be of the dead too, for from thence He rose; it is not so, but "the first fruits"—"of them that sleep;" that you may see the consecration hath wrought a change. A change and a great change certainly, to change νεκροὶ into κεκοιμημένοι, a burial place into a cemetery, that is a great dortor; graves into beds, death into sleep, dead men into men laid down to take their rest,* a rest of hope, of hope to rise again. "If they sleep, they shall do well."

And that which lieth open in the word, dormientium, the very same is enfolded in the word "first fruits:" either word affordeth comfort. For first fruits imply fruits, and so we, as the fruits of the earth, falling as do the grains or kernels into the ground, and there lying, to all men’s seeming putrified and past hope, yet on a sudden, against the great feast of first fruits, shooting forth of the ground again. The other of dormientium the Apostle letteth go, and fastens on this of fruits, and followeth it hard through the rest of the chapter;* shewing, that the rising again of the fruits sown would be no less incredible than the Resurrection, but that we see it so every year.

These two words of 1. sleeping and 2. sowing would be laid up well. That which is sown riseth up in the spring, that which sleepeth in the morning. So conceive of the change wrought in our nature; that feast of first fruits, by "Christ our first fruits." Neither perish, neither that which is sown, though it rot, nor they that sleep, though they lie as dead for the time. Both that shall spring, and these wake well again. Therefore as men sow not grudgingly, nor lie down at night unwillingly, no more must we, seeing by virtue of this feast we are now dormientes, not mortui; now not as stones, but as fruits of the earth, whereof one hath an annual, the other a diurnal resurrection. This for the first fruits, and the change by them wrought.

There is a good analogy or correspondence between these, it cannot be denied. To this question, Can one man’s resurrection work upon all the rest? it is a good answer, Why not as well as one sheaf upon the whole harvest? This simile serves well to shew it, to shew but not prove. Symbolical Divinity is good, but might we see it in the rational too? We may see it in the cause no less; in the substance, and let the ceremony go. This I called the ground of our hope.

Why, saith the Apostle, should this of the first fruits seem strange to you, that by one Man’s resurrection we should rise all, seeing by one man’s death we die all? "By one man,"* saith he, "sin entered into the world, and by sin death;" to which sin we were no parties, and yet we all die, because we are of the same nature whereof he the first person; death came so certainly, and it is good reason life should do so likewise. To this question, Can the resurrection of one, a thousand six hundred years ago, be the cause of our rising? it is a good answer, Why not, as well as the death of one, five thousand six hundred years ago, be the cause of our dying? The ground and reason is, that there is like ground and reason of both. The wisest way it is, if wisdom can contrive it, that a person be cured by mithridate made of the very flesh of the viper bruised, whence the poison came, that so that which brought the mischief might minister also the remedy; the most powerful way it is, if power can effect it, to make strength appear in weakness; and that he that overcame should by the nature which he overcame, be "swallowed up in victory." The best way it is, if goodness will admit of it, that as next to Sathan man to man oweth his destruction, so next to God man to man might be debtor of his recovery. So agreeable it is to the power, wisdom, and goodness of God this, the three attributes of the blessed and glorious Trinity.

And let justice weigh it in her balance, no just exception can be taken to it, no not by justice itself; that as death came, so should life too, the same way at least. More favour for life, if it may be, but in very rigour the same at the least. According then to the very exact rule of justice, both are to be alike; if by man one, by man the other.

We dwell too long in generalities; let us draw near to the persons themselves, in whom we shall see this better. In them all answer exactly, word for word. Adam is fallen, and become the first fruits of them that die. "Christ is risen, and became the first fruits of them" that live,—for they that sleep live. Or you may, if you please, keep the same term in both, thus: Adam is risen, as we use to call rebellions risings;* he did rise against God by eritis sicut Dii; he had never fallen, if he had not thus risen; his rising was his fall.

We are now come to the two great persons, that are the two great authors of the two great matters in this world, life and death. Not either to themselves and none else, but as two heads, two roots, two first fruits, either of them in reference to his company whom they stand for. And of these two hold the two great corporations: 1. Of them that die, they are Adam’s; 2. Of them that sleep and shall rise, that is Christ’s.

To come then to the particular: no reason in the world that Adam’s transgression should draw us all down to death, only for that we were of the same lump; and that Christ’s righteousness should not be available to raise us up again to life, being of the same sheaves, whereof He the first fruits, no less than before of Adam. Look to the things, death and life; weakness is the cause of death, raising to life cometh of power.* Shall there be in weakness more strength to hurt, than in power to do us good? Look to the persons, Adam and Christ: shall Adam,* being but a "living soul," infect us more strongly than Christ, "a quickening Spirit," can heal us again?* Nay then, Adam was but "from the earth, earthy, Christ the Lord from Heaven." Shall earth do that which Heaven cannot undo? Never. It cannot be; sicut, sic, ‘as’ and ‘so,’—so run the terms.

But the Apostle, in Rom. 5. where he handleth this very point,* tells us plainly, non sicut delictum, ita et donum; "not as the fault, so the grace;" nor as the fall, so the rising, but the grace and the rising much more abundant. It seemeth to be a pari; it is not indeed, it is under value. Great odds between the persons, the things, the powers, and the means of them. Thus then meet it should be; let us see how it was.

Here again the very terms give us great light. We are, saith he, restored; restoring doth always presuppose an attainder going before, and so the term significant; for the nature of attainder is, one person maketh the fault, but it taints his blood and all his posterity. The Apostle saith that a statute there is,* "all men should die;" but when we go to search for it,* we can find none, but pulvis es, wherein only Adam is mentioned, and so none die but he. But even by that statute, death goeth over all men; even "those," saith St. Paul,* "that have not sinned after the like manner of transgression of Adam." By what law? By the law of attainders.

The restoring then likewise was to come, and did come, after the same manner as did the attainders; that by the first, this by the second Adam, so He is called verse 45. There was a statute concerning God’s commandments, qui fecerit ea,* vivet in eis; ‘he that observed the commandments should live by that his obedience,’ death should not seize on him. Christ did observe them exactly, therefore should not have been seized on by death; should not but was, and that seizure of his was death’s forfeiture. The laying of the former statute on Christ was the utter making it void; so judgment was entered, and an act made, Christ should be restored to life. And because He came not for Himself but for us, and in our name and stead did represent us, and so we virtually in Him, by His restoring we also were restored, by the rule,* si primitiæ, et tota conspersio sic; "as the first fruits go, so goeth the whole lump," as the root the branches. And thus we have gotten life again of mankind by passing this act of restitution, whereby we have hope to be restored to life.

But life is a term of latitude, and admitteth a broad difference, which it behoveth us much that we know. Two lives there be; in the holy tongue, the word which signifieth life is of the dual number, to shew us there is a duality of lives, that two there be, and that we to have an eye to both. It will help us to understand our text. For all restored to life; all to one, not all to both. The Apostle doth after, at the forty-fourth verse, expressly name them both. 1. One a natural life, or life by the "living soul;" the other, 2. a spiritual life, or life by the "quickening Spirit." Of these two, Adam at the time of his fall had the first, of a "living soul," was seized of it; and of him all mankind, Christ and we all, receive that life. But the other, the spiritual, which is the life chiefly to be accounted of, that he then had not, not actually; only a possibility he had, if he had held him in obedience,* and "walked with God," to have been translated to that other life. For clear it is, the life which Angels now live with God, and which we have hope and promise to live with Him after our restoring,* when we "shall be equal to the Angels," that life Adam at the time of his fall was not possessed of.

Now Adam by his fall fell from both, forfeited both estates. Not only that he had in reversion, by not fulfilling the conditions, but even that he had in esse too. For even on that also did death seize after et mortuus est.

Christ in His restitution, to all the sons of Adam, to all our whole nature, restoreth the former; therefore all have interest, all shall partake that life. What Adam actually had we shall actually have, we shall all be restored. To repair our nature He came, and repair it He did; all is given again really that in Adam really we lost touching nature. So that by his fall, no detriment at all that way.

The other, the second, that He restoreth too; but not promiscue, as the former, to all. Why? for Adam was never seized of it, performed not that whereunto the possibility was annexed, and so had in it but a defeasible estate. But then, by His special grace, by a second peculiar act, He hath enabled us to attain the second estate also which Adam had only a reversion of, and lost by breaking of the condition whereto it was limited. And so to this second restored so many as, to use the Apostle’s words in the next verse, "are in Him;" that is, so many as are not only of that mass or lump whereof Adam was the first fruits, for they are interested in the former only, but that are besides of the nova conspersio, whereof Christ is the primitiæ.

"They that believe in Him,"* saith St. John, them He hath enabled, "to them He hath given power to become the sons of God," to whom therefore He saith, this day rising, Vado ad Patrem vestrum;* in which respect the Apostle calleth Him Primogenitum inter multos fratres.* Or, to make the comparison even, to those that are—to speak but as Esay speaketh of them—"His children;"* "Behold, I and the children God hath given Me." The term He useth Himself to them after His resurrection,* and calleth them "children;" and they as His family take denomination of Him—Christians, of Christ.

Of these two lives, the first we need take no thought for. It shall be of all, the unjust as well as the just. The life of the "living soul," shall be to all restored. All our thought is to be for the latter, how to have our part in that supernatural life, for that is indeed to be restored to life. For the former, though it carry the name of life, yet it may well be disputed and is, Whether it be rather a death than a life, or a life than a death? A life it is, and not a life, for it hath no living thing in it. A death it is, and not a death, for it is an immortal death. But most certain it is, call it life if you will, they that shall live that life shall wish for death rather than it, and, this is the misery—not have their wish, for death shall fly from them.

Out of this double life and double restoring, there grow two resurrections in the world to come, set down by our Saviour in express terms. Though both be to life, yet, 1. that is called "condemnation to judgment;"* and 2. this only "to life."* Of these the Apostle calleth one "the better resurrection," the better beyond all comparison. To attain this then we bend all our endeavours, that seeing the other will come of itself, without taking any thought for it at all, we may make sure of this.

To compass that then, we must be "in Christ:" so it is in the next verse;* to all, but to "every one in order, Christ" first, "the first fruits, and then, they that be in Him."

Now He is in us by our flesh, and we in Him by His Spirit; and it standeth with good reason, they that be restored to life, should be restored to the Spirit. For the Spirit is the cause of all life, but specially of the spiritual life which we seek for.

His Spirit then we must possess ourselves of, and we must do that here; for it is but one and the same Spirit That raiseth our souls here from the death of sin,* and the same That shall raise our bodies there from the dust of death.

Of which Spirit there is "first fruits," to retain the words of the text, and "a fulness;" but the fulness in this life we shall never attain; our highest degree here is but to be of the number whereof he was that said,* Et nos habentes primitias Spiritus.

These first fruits we first receive in our Baptism, which is to us our "laver of regeneration,"* and of our "renewing by the Holy Spirit," where we are made and consecrate primitiæ.

But as we need be restored to life, so I doubt had we need to be restored to the Spirit too. We are at many losses of it, by this sin that "cleaveth so fast" to us. I doubt, it is with us,* as with the fields, that we need a feast of first fruits, a day of consecration every year. By something or other we grow unhallowed, and need to be consecrate anew, to re-seize us of the first fruits of the Spirit again. At least to awake it in us, as primitiæ dormientium at least. That which was given us, and by the fraud of our enemy, or our own negligence, or both,* taken from us and lost, we need to have restored; that which we have quenched,* to be lit anew; that which we have cast into a dead sleep, awaked up from it.

If such a new consecrating we need, what better time than the feast of first fruits, the sacrificing time under the Law? and in the Gospel, the day of Christ’s rising, our first fruits, by Whom we are thus consecrate? The day wherein He was Himself restored to the perfection of His spiritual life, the life of glory, is the best for us to be restored in to the first fruits of that spiritual life, the life of grace.

And if we ask, what shall be our means of this consecrating? The Apostle telleth us, we are sanctified by the "oblation of the body of Jesus." That is the best means to restore us to that life.* He hath said it, and shewed it Himself; "He that eateth Me shall live by Me." The words spoken concerning that,* are both "spirit and life," whether we seek for the spirit or seek for life. Such was the means of our death, by eating the forbidden fruit, the first fruits of death; and such is the means of our life, by eating the flesh of Christ, the first fruits of life.

And herein we shall very fully fit, not the time only and the means, but also the manner. For as by partaking the flesh and blood, the substance of the first Adam, we came to our death, so to life we cannot come, unless we do participate with the flesh and blood of the "second Adam," that is Christ. We drew death from the first, by partaking the substance; and so must we draw life from the second, by the same. This is the way; become branches of the Vine, and partakers of His nature, and so of His life and verdure both.

So the time, the means, the manner agree. What letteth then but that we, at this time, by this means, and in this manner, make ourselves of that conspersion whereof Christ is our first fruits; by these means obtaining the first fruits of His Spirit, of that quickening Spirit, Which being obtained and still kept, or in default thereof still recovered, shall here begin to initiate in us the first fruits of our restitution in this life, whereof the fulness we shall also be restored unto in the life to come;* as St. Peter calleth that time, the "time of the restoring of all things." Then shall the fulness be restored us too, when God shall be "all in all;" not some in one, and some in another, but all in all. Atque hic est vitœ finis, pervenire ad vitam cujus non est finis; ‘this is the end of the text and of our life, to come to a life whereof there is no end.’ To which, &c.

Andrewes, L. (1841). Ninety-Six Sermons (Vol. 2). Oxford: John Henry Parker. (Public Domain)


Christian Military Fellowship

An Indigenous Ministry • Discipleship • Prayer • Community • Support
Encouraging Men and Women in the United States Armed Forces, and their families, to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Contact Us

  • Address:
    PO Box 1207, Englewood, CO 80150-1207

  • Phone: (800) 798-7875

  • Email: Office@cmfhq.org

Webmaster

Book Offers