THE YEAR OF GRACE, 1872.
BY C. H. SPURGEON.
WE adopt the above title, because our sincere prayer and earnest expectation would verify it. There is great need for a season of revival among the churches, and we have personal reason to believe that it is coming. If it be the Lord’s will, a gracious time of refreshing will occur, and we think we have good warrant for anticipating it. In a hopeful spirit, anxiously expectant, we sit down to write this brief paper, the first in another volume of the Sword and Trowel , intending to make it in part a history, and in part an exhortation. How happy shall we be if it shall, in even the least degree, contribute to the consummation for which our spirit pines!
Some three months ago, having newly risen from a sick bed, our heart felt heavy for the souls of dying men. Our ministry has never been without large results in conversion, but we were discontented and ill at ease because to such multitudes the Lord Jesus appeared to be without form or comeliness. Especially did it burden us to see so many of our regular hearers undecided. After so much preaching, were they after all to perish?
Were they to find no Savior in the gospel but that of death unto death?
These questions pricked us in our reins, and gave us no rest.
We should have become too sad for efficient service, had not another circumstance comforted our soul; for at this time instances of conversion, through the printed sermons, were brought before us in unusual abundance, so that, for a considerable period, we heard of perhaps twenty each week who had been led to find rest in the atoning blood. Some of these saved ones lived in remote parts of the world, and met with our sermons at sea, or in the bush, or in foreign hospitals, or in the backwood.
This was cheering, but the former pang was not diminished in bitterness, Did the Lord intend to bless his word by us to strangers and foreigners, and were the sheep of our pasture at home, the peculiar objects of our care, to remain without his favor? Our desire and anguish grew, and acted upon each other until both became, regnant within our spirit, beyond all else. Then spake we with our tongue. We laid their case before the unregenerate, begging them to consider their state of condemnation, and to abide no longer in horrible indifference, while the wrath of God was resting upon them. Whether they felt it or not, our own spirit was stirred, and we were greatly disquieted.
It happened, as God would have it, that one of the female members of the church accosted us in this way: — “Dear pastor, I am sorely troubled for souls; I cannot rest unless they be saved.” This word we laid up in our heart. A short time after an elder of the church expressed himself in almost similar terms; and, unknown to him, another came to us with a similar confession of painful solicitude for the unconverted, the confession in each ease being very emphatic, and relating to no ordinary emotion, but to an agony intense and unspeakable. We saw that the Lord was mowing in other hearts besides our own, and were encouraged to feel a yet more vehement travail of soul.
Spontaneously, as a work of God, of which we may say, It groweth, but “thou knowest not how,” a prayer-meeting began among the elders, from to 6 on Monday evenings, before the usual business meeting, at 6. These meetings have been times of sacred weeping and importunate intercession, and the very hour has seemed consecrated to us; we were of one accord, if we could not all be actually in one place. If ever men prayed, the pastors and elders of The Tabernacle did so; nor was faith lacking either, for we spake to one another with words of good cheer, and talked of the coming blessing, though no unusual means had been used to obtain it, and though no artificial effort would have been tolerated, if proposed.
A deacon who had been traveling on the Continent, upon his return, declared that he had been greatly stirred in heart, and had made a vow unto the Lord, though he was quite unaware that the pastor and elders had been subjects of similar inflamings of the Spirit of God. He had it on his heart to propose some special meetings, and had determined to bear any expense which they might involve. This, however, he left until such time as might seem good to the pastors and brethren. Like every one of the children of God upon whom the Holy Ghost was brooding, he felt afraid to push any suggestion, or to urge any plan, but coincided with his brethren in the belief that the Lord was about to work in the church, and that we must continue to wait upon him in prayer.
Signs of the sure answer to intercession began to appear and were joyfully welcomed; and, meanwhile, the circle of fervent ones daily increased, and comprised both men and women. As a specimen of the feeling which pervaded each heart, among the quickened ones, we will quote from a private letter which, we received from one of the elders, and it may well stand as a sample of all, for his inward experience precisely tallied with that of others, who perhaps imagined that they alone were sighing and crying unto the Lord. This brother wrote us as follows “Mr.DEAR PASTOR, — That fire which God has lit up in your soul for the conversion of sinners has become apparent to every one. It has increased from a flame to a glowing heat; that fire has kindled a flame in others; glory be to God for this. I am convinced that the Lord is about to work mightily among us. When I heard Mr. C.’s prayer last Monday evening, that prayer told out all that I had been passing through. His troubled soul, his restless hours, and his cry in the night watches, were like mine. The Lord had been dealing with me in the same way, and at the same time. My soul has been troubled and refused to be comforted. My sleep departed from my eyes. I could not rest on my bed. At one, two, and three, in the morning, I have been constrained to cry unto the Lord that he would hasten the time to favor our land, and turn the barren wilderness into a fruitful field, and that he would purge and revive his church. With Mr. C., I have asked (yes, before I knew what was passing through his soul), Has God put this desire into our souls for nought? Has he made our hearts to long and pant for the salvation of souls, without having some precious design? I come to his house at the time of prayer, and find he has been dealing with a brother just in the same way as with myself; surely God is moving among us, or it would not be so. I have been anxious about this thing, and troubled as I look it in the face.”
Other words of like import came to us from divers of our dear fellow helpers, and we waited to see what the end would be, as, indeed, we are waiting still. It could not be thought of that this was a mere spasm of pious feeling, it occurred so spontaneously, it moved in so many, and it was most evident in men of a cheerful heart, not at all prone to be unduly excited.
Week by week we inquired of the Lord for guidance, but held no meetings of an unusual sort. We thought of asking certain valued evangelists to visit us and hold special meetings, and the brethren only replied, “Do as you judge best, we shall only pray that you may not follow, our own mind, but be led wholly of the Lord. Whatever you decide upon, we are with you heart and soul.” Impressed with a feeling of deep responsibility, we turned over plan after plan, and at last determined upon that which we thought would savor least of trusting in man, and show most that we believed the Lord had already heard prayer, and had made the preaching of his word effectual. We gave notice that the pastor would sit two whole days to see inquiring souls, and that each evening there would be meeting a which he would speak upon the discouragements and encouragements of seekers, and any of the elders who felt moved to do so would exhort.
Blessed be the Lord for the ingatherings of those two days; they wearied the reaper with very joy. As soon as the hour appointed struck, several were waiting, and they streamed in all day. We looked for anxious persons, but the great majority who came were already believers in Jesus, brought to God during the former weeks of prayer. There were many weepers, it is true, but the most were persons who could tell of pardon bought with blood. The number was too great for us to see all privately one by one, so we had to appoint another season to see many of them. In the evening there were more than two hundred and fifty seekers present, and they were seekers indeed. We spoke to them for an hour of their discouragements, and it was a delightful duty, for they were all eye, and ear, and heart. No need to employ attractive illustrations; they drank in the truth, and cared nothing for the language: they wanted to be saved, and listened as for life and death. Our preaching would be joyful work indeed, if we always had such a congregation. Our elders who exhorted spoke under manifest impulse from on high; their addresses were not wordy and windy, but personal, affectionate, and telling. The Lord was there, and we knew it, and many remained behind to tell what they had felt, and to ask for more guidance and consolation. Sweet was our sleep that night.
The second day found more waiting, and still the preponderating number were not merely convinced souls, but rejoicing converts. They told us that they had believed in Jesus, and we had but to question them as to their change of heart and life, and their renunciation of self and the world. There was gladness that day in many hearts. One who came inquiring left us in deep sorrow, but came back an hour afterwards, for on the road home he had found Jesus, and came to tell us so at once. That evening there were from 400 to 500 present in the Lecture Hall, and the attention was almost oppressive to the pastor’s soul: it was intense to the utmost degree. Far more remained and our helpers, both of the sisterhood and brotherhood, had their hands more than full. There was not even the shadow of the excitement which reveals itself in noise and indecorum; all was as quiet as usual, more so indeed, and we were rejoiced to see it, for when intelligent people are on a life and death business, they are little inclined to bawl and shout. There is an emotion which blusters, but the deeper kind is too earnest to cause its voice to be heard in the streets. Eternity alone can know what the Lord wrought those two rights, and the secrets of how many hearts were then revealed. To us it sufficed that sixty persons were proposed for fellowship on the following evening; and these were, in every case, those who professed faith in the Lord Jesus, and were able to give a reason for the hope that is in them.
We write these few lines hundreds of miles away from the spot; but we are confident, that on our return, we shall find the good work vigorously progressing, and far larger numbers ready to join themselves with the people of God. We have not to deal with a God who begins and ends in a day. He has eternity before him and works steadily on, and we also are not in the hurry of unbelief though we would use the diligence of love.
Officers of churches, if you love one another and love your pastors, you will sometimes be actuated by one common impulse; and if you are living near to God, that impulse will be compassion for the souls of men. Should the Lord the Holy Spirit visit you with his flames of fire, you will glow, and, glowing, you will flame forth in ardent entreaties and labors. Then God will bring about his set time for Zion to be favored; and multitudes of her sons will be born at once. May heaven so ordain it, and glorify himself by so ordaining. A perishing world calls upon you, hastening time and nearing eternity admonish you, while all the promises encourage you. Only be very zealous for the Lord God of Israel, and we shall have truly named this new year THE YEAR OF GRACE, 1872 PARIS AND LONDON A WARNING WORD, BY C. H.SPURGEON.
WE have been saddened by the sight of the ruins which commemorate the reign of the Commune in Paris. The devastations of the great German army have left no mark upon the city itself to be mentioned in the same hour with the scars of the wounds received in the bourse of her friends. The Hotel de Ville stands a ghastly but classical ruin, in fellowship with the Tuilleries, the Palais Royal, the great Granaries, and many other vast and once magnificent public buildings. Churches, houses, and docks have shared the same fate as palaces and courts of justice. The madness of the hour spared nothing on account of its sacredness, patriotic associations, antiquity, or serviceableness. The column recording successful war, so dear to the French vanity, is utterly fallen; and even the memorial of successful revolution, in the shape of the column of July, has not escaped the ruthless hand of the spoiler. Republicans, in firing upon republicans of a redder hue, have not spared the splendid pillar of bronze which records the names of liberty’s martyrs, but have pierced it through and through with their cannon-shot. To both parties that pillar was more sacred than almost any other erection in the city, yet their fury spared it not; and the huge gilded angel at the top must have found it hard to continue his long poise upon one leg, and have had many inclinations to add to the number of the fallen angels who were creating a horrible Pandemonium below.
It was a most pitiable sight to see the many houses beyond the Arc de Triomphe, with their roofs gone, and in many cases gutted, riddled, rent, and made a heap of ruins. There, on the bridge of Neuilly more than six months after the conflict, you may stand and mark enough of the horrors of civil war, to sadden any heart capable of feeling; and yet we suppose that what is now visible is a mere flea-bite compared with what could have been seen directly after the struggle; indeed, it must be so, for on all sides there are evidences of extensive repairs. The bridge itself is broken about in scores of places, huge stones being dislodged from its parapets, and all corners being chipped off, as if angles were objectionable to republicans, and dead levels alone tolerable. Yonder is another bridge, one traversed by a railway, but now broken in halves. On the right, over the river, stand, or rather lean, a nest of houses, all roofless, with their floors broken through and their fronts gone; to be let cheaply on a repairing lease, we should think. On the left, on this side, are shops in a similar condition of distress: we step into one where business is being carried on, and note how the floor is propped up with timbers, holes in the wall filled up with plaster, and great cracking, bulging walls shored up to prevent a general collapse.
There are scores, perhaps we should not exaggerate if we said hundreds, of such damaged domiciles. There was hot work here, for you observe that windows are still filled in with great lumps of clay, and roofs are in a highly ventilated condition; the trees which once adorned the noble roadway are almost all gone, and even the fortifications are tossed about as if an earthquake and a hurricane together had labored, diligently to level them.
To peace-loving English people this is a sight nothing less than horrifying; for one begins to calculate the loss in money, in domestic happiness, and, worst of all, in blood, which all this indicates. The stone and mortar are something more than mere building material out of order, for they once sheltered living palpitating hearts of men and women, now dislodged without fear and trembling, and an incalculable amount of lamentation. One house, ruined from roof to basement, involves a calamity to the landlord, to the tenant, the inmates, their servants, their business, and their out-door dependants; in fact, no one knows all the ramifications of one such disaster; but who shall estimate the amount of misery involved in a whole street reduced to fragments by a storm of shot and shell? Driven from home, or lingering there in deadly fear, the mental suffering to the inhabitants must have been beyond conception; and then the sad return to the wreck of all they valued, and the drain upon their substance to rebuild their desolated abodes, must have involved anxieties and woes not easily estimated. Happy are they to whom such things are but a rumor from afar; happy those who dwell in the peaceful homes of England, where the noise of civil war and insurrection has long been unknown.
The mere observer of the surface of things passes by the painful scene before us with a flimsy remark upon the volatile character of the French people, and their need of a firm hand to govern them; but, there is far more than this to be learned, if we are inclined to learn it. No doubt, there are differences of race, and it is true that the Anglo-Saxon is more law-abiding than the Gaul; the islander is naturally conservative, and advances in the pathway of liberty with caution always, if not always with courage; but this is not all; nay, nor the thousandth part of what these violent convulsions would suggest to us. What has been done in Paris, may be done in London, and will be done, unless some far stronger restraints are brought to bear upon the working-classes than any which are involved in the temper of the race. Whether it be Gallic or Saxon, human nature is everywhere very much the same, and it is silly patriotic vanity to suppose our countrymen to be by nature so much better than our neighbors as to be incapable of riot and pillage. Mobs in England are, when infuriated, not very much superior to mobs in France. Where baby-farming can be practiced, petroleuses may be produced; and there are not wanting among us desperadoes who only need the occasion and they would at once develop into human butchers.
We may lull ourselves into a deadly security, if we carry too far the notion that the populations are differently constituted, and that Englishmen never could become such furies and demoniacs as the Communists have been.
We give the fullest legitimate weight to the supposed superior subordination of our countrymen, and we confess that it does not remove our disquietude, or even very much allay it.
Let us look at facts. Those bullet-holes, which pock the face of fair Paris, are hieroglyphic warnings to those whom it may concern. In London, we have a population far larger, quite as poor, and with the same passions and desires. Under like circumstances and conditions, why should not the many in London act as the many have done in Paris?’ God forbid it should ever be so; yea, we say, God forbid it, a thousand times: but what is to hinder it? Our form of government gives no greater guarantee for security against insurrection than that of the Emperor, our troops are less numerous, our police not more skillful or forcible, Reasons for complaint may be fewer, but as grievances are not always based on fact, but usually grow out of sentiment, they may soon multiply, perhaps have already multiplied, in thousands of minds, and lie festering there, to produce mischief by-and-by.
The vast difference between rich and poor is ever before the workman’s eye, and, what is worse, before the eye of the loafer who hates work, and this alone is the great standing cause of envy, and the provocative to dissatisfaction. Already mutterings are heard of the word “republic,” and that not alone or altogether from plebeian mouths; thousands have cheered the utterance, and a far greater number have heard it with silent complacency. There can be no doubt that a grave discussion is going on upon a point which, not long ago, seemed as fixed as the eternal hills, and among the many that discussion is taking a form most natural, but not most reassuring, to timid minds. There is activity in the political market, and all the business is not done at the “Hole-in-the-Wall,” or the Old Bailey. Your republican clubs are mere foam, but here is a sea which will not always rest and be quiet unless something is done, and continuously done, to say to its billows, “Peace, be still.” Under a virtuous queen, few will support a change which, under a dissolute king, fewer still will oppose. We have few fears about that formal political change, whether it come or come not; we look further down, and see far greater convulsions imminent before this generation has passed away, unless timely warning shall arouse those able to avert them.
What then? Do we suggest stringent measures of repression, or the denial of further reforms so earnestly demanded? Far from it. Such a course would be the readiest way to produce the evils which threaten the state. It is poor policy to refuse men their rights in order to preserve order; it is indeed the surest method to create rebellion. In England, especially, repression is out of date; we may be led, but we will not be driven. In the age of the Stuarts, force did not suffice to ensure the domination of mere power, much less will it in the days of the newspaper and household suffrage. No, we are no advocates of any order which requires tyranny at its head. and slavery at its foot. Let every right be acceded to every man, and let no man suffer injustice even on the pretext of the commonwealth’s necessity.
To what then do we look? We answer, we believe that national peace, and the security of our great cities, can only be guaranteed for a long future, by the recognition of the religion of Jesus Christ, and the wider spread of its principles. We do not mean by this an increased number of clergymen or ministers, or the erection of more churches or tabernacles these, of course, so far as they are necessitated by the main matter; but we mean something more spiritual and potent by far. Let the spirit, the essence, the governing power of our holy faith predominate, and the work is done. Not as a charlatan puffs his nostrum, but with honest and cogent reasoning do we back our eulogism upon the one and only panacea for ills to be dreaded in London, and bemoaned in Paris. Dost thou sneer, O doubting critic? Sneer on, but hear.
It would greatly tend to allay all feeling of popular discontent, if all employers acted as true Christians should in the matter of wages. Political economy gives the workman what it must, but Christianity commands that we give him what we should. “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal,” is a plain command of the Christian’s law-book; and at the peril of being unknown by the Lord at the last, may the master give his servant less. But the question occurs, “What is just and equal?” It is not always that which the worker asks, or even strikes to obtain, for he may demand what is unjust and cannot fairly be paid without damage to the employer; but one thing is clear as the sun, it cannot be just and equal to give a man a pittance upon which he can barely exist, and which compels him to live in a hole unfit for a dog or a horse. What can be said for employers who give to an able-bodied man in London fifteen shillings for a hard week’s work? What indeed; but that they are the true sowers of sedition and fomenters of dissatisfaction. We are not aware of the remuneration of agriculturalists, and their rent and other expenses are far less burdensome than in town, consequently their earnings would naturally be less; but if in either city, town, or village, men or women are paid less than they should be, the wrong ought to be remedied by every employer professing to be a Christian. I may be a heathen and grind the faces of the poor, but a Christian I cannot be. A personal, independent, and upright course of action on this point, on the part of every follower of the Lord Jesus, would go far to influence other employers, and lay the ax at the root of much of the evil which is leavening the community. We are all in the ship together, and though we pay no attention to those able-bodied seamen who threaten us with mutiny unless they are paid as well as the mate or the captain, and still less to those lubberly fellows who will not lend a hand except at mealtimes; yet if there are honest, hardworking sailors who have not their fair share of beef and biscuit, and have no hammocks, we cannot allow the thing to go on; all hands must see justice done, or else, if the poor, half-starved fellows get together in the steerage, and concoct a plan to seize the vessel, the captain and officers will be as much to blame as they are. It is true it may be possible to knock them on the head, or put them in irons, but then it would be a loss to the ship if it were done, and besides, two can play at that game, and who knows which might win? Where the Lord Jesus is the Admiral, the order will be passed round to do unto others as we would they should do unto us; and, if that does not stop a mutiny, nothing will.
We have made a remark upon the laws of political economy, to which we will revert. It is a fact that supply and demand regulate the labor market, and, therefore, it has been called a law. A law it is, in the sense that men are usually governed by it, but a law it is not in the sense that men ought to be so governed. It is no law of God, but the reverse. It is a law of human nature to follow its own devices; but those devices are, nevertheless, sins, and will in due time be punished; and in the same way it is a law of society that men will only give for labor what others will give, but if that price is unfairly low, the transaction is a robbery, and will cry out to heaven against the perpetrator of it. It is a law of garrotters to squeeze men’s throats, but we flog them for it despite their law; and, if it be a law of communities to underpay the worker, they will have to answer for it also, in a higher court, as also will all personal offenders. The law of political economy can no more be denied than that of gravitation; sinners will give no more than they can help, and the worth of a thing is, to the most of our race, what it will fetch; be it added, also, that the souls of those who act by this rule will have to submit to a further immutable rule of fact, and of sublimely political economy: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God.” What they want is hard fact, and they shall have it, and find God’s vengeance on oppressors a matter of fact of an emphatic character.
This much being done, the work has only begun; for much is needed on the worker’s side. Many a man is now a grumbler because he has faculties untrained, and is following a mode of labor uncongenial to his nature.
There must be education, that such men may find their true pursuit, the calling for which they are adapted, and in which they would be of the greatest service to their fellow men. Education is also required for those unhappy beings who now seek their pleasures in the indulgence of the baser passions, because they are unaware of the joys of knowledge and intellect. Perhaps they would cease to be discontented if they could appreciate the heritage which belongs to every man of understanding. We doubt not that many a working man has imagined happiness to be the product of politics, and so has raved deliriously, who would have found quiet for his mind, and have been a good citizen, had he spent the hours between his daily labors in some intellectual pursuit. Drink is still the curse of the working-classes, and what justice can we expect from beery politicians? If our workers abhorred drunkenness because Christ has forbidden it, there would be no more boisterous demands for share and share alike; the tankard and such talk go together. When the artisan or laborer becomes a Christian, he is at once removed from the ignorance and excess which are so damaging to social order, and he becomes at the same time an advocate for justice between man and mart. If true to his profession, he gives a fair day’s work for his wage, which, begging the pardon of thousands, is by no means a common thing. He is no eye-server, but labors diligently, doing in his sphere as he would have others do to him, were he their employer. Talk comes to him of forcing the price of work upwards, and he is glad enough of it if it can be fairly done, but he disdains to ask for other than justice, or even to fight for his rights in an unrighteous manner. He is no milksop; nay, of all men the Christian is or should be the most manly, but he is no lover of agitators who set class against class, and he is man enough to tell them so and to judge for himself and not be a joint in the tail of some class combination. Not that he condemns combination when it aims at a just end, but he loathes it when its object is injustice.
The Christian workman is the hope of the age. It has been our lot to work with hundreds of such, and they are among our most earnest helpers. We never perceived in them the remotest objection to the discipline of our religious organizations; they will not obey mere power, but they love to see right made as strong as you will. Having rendered their own homes happy, they are not likely to desire to break up the peace of others. They are rejoicing in hope of God’s glory, and in the present enjoyment of his favor, and they are not apt to be envious of men of this world, even though they are clothed in fine linen and fare sumptuously every day. Desire to benefit their fellow men is a far more predominant passion with them than jealousy; and a wish to loot an alderman’s house, or burn down the Mansion House, never crosses their mind. To see a Christian working man voting boldly against the iniquity of endowing a favored sect, and standing up for the political privileges of his order at a public meeting, is not unusual or otherwise than praiseworthy; but we are unable to imagine a Christian man exciting a riot, burning a palace, or pillaging a town-hall.
Fustian jacket or broad cloth makes no difference; the Christian contends for justice for all ranks, and takes care to act justly himself.
It is plain, then, that the religion of Jesus, when it creates obedience to its golden rule, becomes the Savior of Society; and as it has other and equally effective modes of operation, it affords multiplied securities for peace and order. Spread it then, as it never has been spread. Educate, but let the faith of Jesus be the point to which men shall be led. Suffer no child to grow up unacquainted with the Scriptures; no adult to die unenlightened as to redeeming love. Paris is full of anarchy because steeped in atheism. The priests have made religion a farce; and so the great bond of order has been snapped. London would long ago have drifted in the same direction, had it not have been for her working men who are converted to God: that these are not more numerous is deeply to be regretted; that they are far more numerous than is generally believed is our assured conviction. Take away the working men from the dissenting churches of London, and many of them would become extinct, and nearly all would be brought very low, both in numbers and grace. Not empty profession, but genuine godliness, is the cement of our social fabric. England will suffer nothing, whether her government be of one form or another, so long as her people love God, and, therefore, love righteousness. Wrong-doing in any quarter divides, distracts, and incites to rebellion; but when all seek the right for all, mutual confidence creates union, union strength, and strength prosperity.
Let us, then proclaim a new crusade, and lift again the cross of Jesus. The Ragged-schools must go on till none are ragged. If as yet the people will not come to us, we must go to them, and their fellow workmen must be the missionaries of our churches. We must teach the rich to do right and the poor to do the same, regarding no man’s person in our teaching, but dealing faithfully with all. Our churches, built up of good men and true, of all ranks, must be multiplied, and most of all where poverty abounds. Let us bring the lever to the load and lift it. Let us cry to heaven for help, and then put our shoulder to the wheel. Heaven and hell are warring with each other for London; may God send victory to his living truth, and give our city to his Son, then shall we fear no carnival of fire and blood.
A SABBATH IN ROME.
WITH no ordinary feelings we found ourselves on the Lord’s-day in the city where Satan’s seat now is, but where once the gospel gained its grandest triumphs. We had trodden the Appian way, peered into the gloom of the Mamertine prison, and threaded the mazes of the catacombs, and now we were to preach the gospel in Rome also, and salute the saints which be in Rome, and devout strangers out of every nation. Of superstition we do not possess a particle, and even sentimental reverence for places has small power over us. It might be said of us most truly “A brickbat from Jerusalem, A bit o brickbat was to him And nothing more.” For all that, an unusual condition of heart was upon us, and we felt the spell of Rome. That, spell, however, did not move us in the direction of the old heathenish Papacy, but in the opposite path once trodden by an older, holier, and more truly Christian church, which is at this time reviving in the city of the Caesars. If the church of the catacombs still exists — and we are sure it does, for we have seen it, it — it certainly finds no shelter beneath the dome of St. Peter’s, or within the walls of the Vatican, for there an utterly alien system holds sway. Peter would be filled with wrath at the idolatry which defiles St. Peter’s, and Paul would wonder how Pio Nono could dare to claim apostolical succession, when his palaces, and his teachings, and his pretensions are things unknown in the word of God.
We started early to find our Baptist friends and break bread with them, but as they had told us the hour only, and not the place of meeting, we wandered about in a hopeless search. Our walk, however, took us by the English Episcopal church, outside the walls, hard by the public slaughterhouse.
Here the Pope in the days of his reign allowed our countrymen to worship, but their heretical rites were not allowed to defile the holy city.
This church is reputed high, so high, that a rival church is opened on the opposite side of the road, offering a resort for those of a lower or more evangelical creed. The church which boasts of her unity thus exhibits a schism in the presence of the lynx-eyed church of Rome — a schism which one would think would not have arisen — as there is yet a third Episcopal congregation, called the American church. A man must be hopelessly infatuated who sets up High Church in Rome; carrying coals to Newcastle is nothing to it. If a man wants the genuine Popish article, he is not likely to deal with a Ritualistic peddler, when so many wholesale warehouses are all around him. We sincerely hope the Low Church will snuff out the High, and present to the Roman people something better than the sham fineries of Puseyism.
We missed the meeting for communion, which we had much anticipated, and turned in to wait for the service it the neat and elegant meeting-house of Dr. Lewis, of the Free Church of Scotland. Our Free Church brethren, wherever they exist, gather around them all the Nonconformist element; and their general liberality of heart, and orthodoxy of doctrine, render them a very attractive center for all Non-episcopal believers. In Dr. Lewis’s church we had the great privilege of preaching the gospel to a numerous audience of all classes of the community, including not a few eminent persons among our fellow countrymen. At the remembrance of that service our heart is glad, for we are persuaded that the Lord was among us of a truth. Pleasant, indeed, it was to meet with old friends and acquaintances, after the service, and receive their Christian salutations.
In the evening our sermon within the gates, in the very center of Rome, was addressed to the Italians. It was in an upper room near the Forum of Trajan that we spoke to a crowded little gathering, our beloved brother, Mr. James Wall, acting as interpreter. This dear friend we have known and esteemed for years; he is an able preacher, has thoroughly mastered the language, and speaks with the fluency of a native. He is sanguine, zealous, warm-hearted, intense man; in all respects well fitted to be the pioneer of the Baptized churches in Rome. Withal, he is cheerful, and of a generous spirit, and large-hearted enough to work with the Vaudois, the Wesleyans, and others who are evangelizing Italy. He deserves the prayers and cooperation of Christians in England, and we trust he will not be without them. In connection with his excellent fellow laborer, Mr. Cote, who represents the American Baptists, and of whom we will say more anon, Mr. Wall is doing a good and great work among the Romans.
Mr. Wall gave out a hymn, read a portion of Scripture, and prayed in Italian, and then began our part of the proceedings. It is always dull work to speak through an interpreter. One has to utter a few sentences and pause, and then begin again. It is as murderous to all oratory as the old method of lining out the hymn was deadly to all music. Your train of thought hardly starts, before it has to pull up. There is no opportunity for warmth or vehemence. Still, by keeping to the marrow of the gospel, giving short sentences, and plentiful illustration, attention can be gained and held. So far as we could judge, the best of feeling pervaded the meeting, and the truth was received with joy, though many there were strangers to it.
This was too good to last; and accordingly, as Satan would have it, a question was asked by some one near the door, which, being answered, a well-dressed personage attempted to prolong the inquiry and raise difficulties. As he had no right by law to disturb the assembly, he was requested to wait till the preacher had done. In all probability, our close would have been a little more remote, but so unusual an experience flurried us a little; and, with a prayer for divine guidance, we ended our exhortation, and prepared for war. Mr. Wall was coolly expectant, being well used to such debates. We being only able dimly to guess what the objector had to say, felt uneasy and impatient. The voice was at first that of a caviler from a free-thinker’s point of view, but an assault being made in Mr. Wall’s rejoinder upon the church of Rome, the gentleman threw off the mask and spoke as a Romanist. Thereupon, an esteemed Waldensian Pastor rose and addressed him with great energy, and even rose to indignant eloquence, denouncing the Jesuitism displayed by the caviler. He carried all the people with him, so that general acclamation followed, which could scarcely be hushed. The objector, with violent gesticulation and affected nonchalance, commenced again, but many rose to reply, and we could see that the battle was in excellent hands. It was a hotly contested field, but the enemy made no headway, even the common hearers were eager to answer him. We asked him, through Mr. Wall, one or two questions, at which he bit his lips, but which he did not attempt to answer, as for instance, this “What are the great advantages offered by the church of Rome? Seeing that masses are said for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Wiseman, it is clear that this eminent divine has gone where he is not in repose. If such is the future prospect of your best and greatest men, there must be but a poor look-out for common people; would they not be better off if they turned heretics and went to heaven at once when they died?”
The people tried to hold him to these questions, but he backed out of them, and endeavored to talk on other points.
Just then a letter was passed up, saying that the writer knew the objector to be a secular priest, of remarkable ability, and a personal friend of the Pope.
He was informed of this and asked if it were so. He pretended astonishment, but could not deny it. He was thereupon challenged by Mr. Wall to a public discussion, but wisely declined it. He was then informed that the time was come to close any debate for the evening, and he thereupon left the assembly. We then proceeded again to talk to the people; and, after many salutations to the brethren, went our way to our hotel, attended by the two evangelists and other friends.
Our brethren in Rome view the conflict of the evening with great satisfaction. To them it appears needful to break their way in a manner unusual and undesirable in England. The disputing brings hearers, and lets in light where otherwise indifference would have reigned. For our part we shall be glad when it can be dispensed with, for our fear is that it prevents the due influence of gospel preaching upon the hearer, and is likely to confound the weaker sort, and wound quiet spirits. For the present it is like the backwoods-man’s ax, needful to hew a way through the dark forests of ignorance, superstition, and skepticism.
So ended our Sabbath in Rome, joyously and well. We hope that ere long we may be allowed to spend many days in this city, for a great door and effectual is open unto us and there are many adversaries. Since that Sabbath, we have had further intercourse with our Baptist brethren, and have broken bread with them, and quietly preached the word of life. A church is growing up in Rome, full of hope, living, suffering, and increasing. There are four preaching rooms in Rome, a small Pastors’ College, and several out-stations. Mr. Cote is a solid and energetic man, exactly fitted to work with Mr. Wall; and the two together make up an apostolic agency of the right kind. They ought never to lack funds or friends. Prayer should be made for them continually: they need it and deserve it. What is most wanted is a large central meeting-house where all could meet for worship. Their rooms are as good as they can afford, and are just now in capital situations to reach the poor; but, in addition, they ought to have a permanent site and a neat but handsome room. If they were only half as well off as our Presbyterian friends, it would be an improvement indeed. American and English Baptists must unite in this work; why should they not? Would to God we were knit together by closer bonds. We are one race and have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; let us labor together for the common cause. Would it not be possible to have a Baptist Union for all the world, and meet in brotherly conference to look each other in the face? It might be a step to increased unity in the entire Christian world. Meanwhile, Rome must have a chief place in all our hearts.
Besides the English churches, and the two brethren we have mentioned, who labor among the Italians, there are in Rome two ministers of the Waldensian church with their congregations, one Italian Wesleyan, and we believe two Italian Free churches. There is therefore a hopeful agency at work, a wonderful agency indeed, considering that religious freedom has only been enjoyed since September, 1870, when the Italian troops entered the city. Everywhere priests are despised. Convents find nunneries are in the progress of suppression, church lands are being sold, and public opinion fulls strongly on the side of unbounded liberty. Skepticism is widespread, and is an enemy equally to be dreaded with superstition, but the tongue and the pen of the evangelist are free, and the gospel slowly but surely is winning its way. If we had to choose our life-work, we would prefer to labor in Rome. It is a clear site, no other man’s foundation is there, and he who is first at work will be the architect of the future. The Lord bless those who are already laboring there, and raise up many helpers of their toil. May his Holy Spirit richly rest on all that is done in the name of the Holy Child Jesus, both at Rome and throughout the world.
THE BLESSED POOR BY C. H. SPURGEON.
THE seventy-second Psalm reveals the king in his beauty, and side by side with it, the poor in their necessities a singular but most appropriate connection. It is the greatest honor of our eternal King that he cares for the poor, and it is their greatest happiness to be cared for by him. His sovereign grace would not be so resplendent, if it did not embrace such needy objects; neither would they be otherwise than wretched if he did not look upon them.
The King is said in the second verse to judge or rule his poor people, thus, he displays his own impartial righteousness, and they enjoy secure protection. It little matters to them how the world may condemn, for the Divine Judge will hold the scales impartially, and give forth his sentence according to truth. Then shall slanderous tongues be silenced for ever.
Then, in the fourth verse, the king saves the needy, and, by breaking in pieces their oppressors, reveals his own power, while they, in their weakness, magnify his might, and rest in peace. Persecutors shall have but a brief day. The iron rod of the coming king will make short and sharp work of them, dashing them in pieces like potters’ vessels. In the twelfth verse, the Prince of Peace delivers the poor and helpless when they cry, and so proves his faithfulness to his promises, and makes them confide in him without fear. In verses thirteen and fourteen, he is said to spare and redeem the needy, he bears long with them, and spares them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him; while, by the merit of his blood, and the might of his arm, he, both, by price and power, redeems his chosen. All the attributes of the covenant God are displayed in saving the needy clients of mercy, while the Lord’s poor people bless him with all their hearts.
From this we learn the blessedness of the spiritually poor. It is for them that the Son of David rules; all the statutes and ordinances of his government have a special eye to them. The poor in spirit are the courtiers of heaven, the favorites of the Great King; their lowliness is their livery of state, their humility the insignia of honor. Men count themselves happy in great possessions, but the saints find their wealth in being and having nothing of their own. To be nought in self and to have all things in Christ, are the true riches of believers. Emptiness of self leads to fullness in Christ.
When we are weak, then are we strong. Often do we forget this, and labor after the self-sufficiency which would inevitably be our ruin; but, in our best frames, we feel it to be both most safe and most right for us to bow lower and lower before the Lord. As the poor have the gospel preached to them, so, in a deeper sense, the poor have the gospel. By so much as I think I have of my own, I am most truly poor; I may estimate my real poverty by my supposed self-sufficiency. As merchants labor to be rich so should Christians labor to be spiritually poor. To divest ourselves of all our own hopes, trusts, joys, and aims is the most rapid way of being clothed with the royal apparel. Perfect man was naked, and when we are made perfect we shall not wear a rag or thread of our own: our beauty and adornment shall be all in Jesus. Downward, as to self, lies the way to heaven. We fight against that which we should covet, for the flesh lusteth after somewhat to flatter its own pride, and will not submit to be dead and buried, that Christ may be all in all. My Lord, grant me grace to sink deal graciously with me by starving all my self-content, and allowing me no provision for self congratulation! Let me never lift my horn on high, but rather let me lie low in the dust before thee, that I may share the benedictions which are reserved for thy poor people, and may not be the object of thy wrath, as the world’s mighty ones have been!
Another precious truth taught us in this Psalm is, that the Lord’s poor have no cause to be afraid of divine sovereignty. As a rule, the more emptied of self a man is, the less does he quarrel with reigning grace. The selfrighteous are all fierce disputers against the doctrines of election and eternal love, because they have an inward instinct which makes them feel that, if these things be true, their boastings are futile. Proud hearts; see that the doctrines of grace abase the lofty pretensions of the flesh, and, therefore, they cannot endure them; but such as feel themselves guilty before God, and heartily confess that salvation must be all of grace, are the very men to allow that the Lord has a right to do as he wills with his own.
The ninth of the Romans is a pricking thorn to unregenerate minds. It afflicts them greatly to be told that the Lord “will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom he will have compassion.” They call the Lord a tyrant, but his own elect are content that none should say unto him, “What doest thou?” His absolute dominion is their delight. The King of Zion loves his poor, and his poor love him. They are too low in their own esteem to set up any fancied rights of their own in limitation of his sovereignty; and he, on the other hand, is so full of compassion towards them, that his throne is ever a rock of comfort and defense to them. They are both of one mind; he will be all in all, and they delight that he should be so; they feel that it is their exaltation to see him exalted, and hence, the delight to be less than nothing that he may be all in all. Happy people of a happy king! Lord, let me never quarrel with thy crown rights, but be among those who bless thy glorious name for ever and ever. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Save whomsoever thou wilt save; for thy poor and needy people own thy sovereign prerogatives, and rejoice in them from the bottom of their hearts.
The Lord’s poor must expect to be despised of men. The wicked delight to shame the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is their refuge. But there is no cause for dismay on this account: the favor of the king is a more than sufficient compensation for the malice of all his foes and ours. He shall redeem our souls from deceit and violence, and precious shall our blood be in his sight; therefore, let us cease from all fretfulness and impatience, and spend our days in praising and serving our gracious Lord, in whom our souls are blessed. “Blessed be his glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with his glory.” Amen and Amen GOLD RIMS IT is astonishing how far mere polish will go with certain hearers. Let a man affect fine language and pompous manners, and there are professed Christians who will delight in him. Though there may be no spiritual food in his sermons, nor even a single original idea, he will be preferred by some to the most instructive preacher, whose style appears to be less refined. We have no reason to believe that Caligula’s horse liked his oats any the better for their being gilded, but with certain persons the gilt is everything. Manly Christians look more to the meat than the garnishing, but the present feeble generation runs mad after flowers and finery. Paul discarded excellency of speech, and enticing words of man’s wisdom; but among the moderns these carry the highest price in the market. Combine scraps of Tennyson, obscure and suspicious, metaphysical jargon from the Germans, a spice of heresy from Maurice or Voysey, and a pinch of hair-splitting criticism, and you will have prepared a bait which will entrap hundreds of the would-be intellectuals, who, having little or no brain, give themselves credit for a double measure of it. Wrap up the half of nothing in poetical phrases and philosophical affectations, and you shall be cried up as a man of culture; but if you preach the old-fashioned, unadulterated gospel, with plainness of speech, refinement will turn up her nose at you, even though the Lord should convert hundreds of sinners by your ministry, and build up his people in their most holy faith. Somewhere or other we came across the story of an old lady who persisted in wearing a pair of spectacles which were of no earthly use to her, for she always looked over them, and not through them. She preferred them far beyond another most serviceable pair, and why? Because they had gold rims . There are old women of both sexes who attach themselves to a weak-minded man of veneer, and cannot appreciate a solid gospel preacher of vigorous intellect and extended usefulness. The gold rims go a very long way with fastidious simpletons.
Taplash with his scented pocket handkerchief and faultless cambric cravat is their choice; his flowing utterances and well turned periods are their admiration; and they like him and his rhetoric none the less, but perhaps all the more, because there is nothing in either. Reader, be not thou enchanted with childish things, but feed on sound doctrine, which is both milk for babes and meat for men. — C. H.S. LOOKING FOR ONE THING AND FINDING ANOTHER A DISCOURSE. BY. C. H. SPURGEON.
“And the asses of Kish Saul’s father were lost. And Kish said to Saul his son, Take now one of the servants with thee, and arise, go seek the asses.” — 1 Samuel 9:3. “And as for thine asses that were lost three days ago, set not thy mind on them; for they are found. And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on thee, and on all thy father’s house.” — 1 Samuel 9:20.
SAUL went out to seek his father’s asses, he failed in the search, but he found a crown. He met with the prophet Samuel, who anointed him king over God’s people, Israel, and this was far better than finding the obstinate colts. Let us consider this singular incident, perhaps, though it treats of asses, it may yield us some royal thoughts.
Our first remark shall be —OBSERVE HOW THE HAND OF GOD’ S PROVIDENCE CAUSES LITTLE THINGS TO LEAD ON TO GREATMATTERS.
This man Saul must be placed in the way of the prophet Samuel. How shall a meeting be brought about? Poor beasts of burden shall be the intermediate means. The asses go astray, and Saul’s father bids him take a servant and go to seek them. In the course of their wanderings, the animals might have gone north, south, east, or west; for who shall account for the wild will of run-away asses? But so it happened, as men say, that they strayed, or were thought to have strayed, in such a direction that, by-andby, Saul found himself near to Ramah, where Samuel, the prophet, was ready to anoint him. On how small an incident the greatest results may hinge! The pivots of history are microscopic. Hence, it is most important for us to learn that the smallest trifles are as much arranged by the God of providence as the most startling events. He who counts the stars has also numbered the hairs of our heads. Our lives and deaths are predestinated, but so also are our downsitting and our uprising. Had we but sufficiently powerful perceptive faculties, we should see God’s hand as clearly in each stone of our pathway as in the revolutions of the earth. In watching our own lives we may plainly see that on many occasions the merest grain has turned the scale. Whereas there seemed to be but a hair’s breadth between one course of action and another, yet that hair’s breadth has sufficed to direct the current of our life. “He,” says Flavel, “who will observe providences shall never be long without a providence to observe.”
Providence may be seen as the finger of God, not merely in those events which shake nations and are duly emblazoned on the page of history, but in little incidents of common life, ay, in the motion of a grain of dust, the trembling of a dew-drop, the flight of a swallow, or the leaping of a fish. “He that scrutiniseth trifles hath a store of pleasure to his hand.
If pestilence stalk through the land, ye say, This is God’s doing; Is it not also his doing when an aphis creepeth on a rosebud?
If an avalanche roll from its Alp, ye tremble at the will of Providence.
Is not that will concerned when the sere leaves fall from the poplar?
A thing is great or little only to a mortal’s thinking.” But that is not the consideration to which we now invite you. Our drift is this — as Saul went out to find asses, but found a crown; so,IN THE MATTER OF GRACE,MANY AMAN HAS RECEIVED WHAT HE LOOKED NOT FOR.
That is a remarkable text in Isaiah — “I am found of them that sought me not.” Sometimes the sovereign grace of God is pleased to light on persons who had no thought abut it, who were to all appearance quite unprepared for it, nay, even opposed to its divine operations. These persons have stumbled on the treasure hid in the field when they were only thinking of their plough, they have met Jesus at the well when they only purposed to fill their waterpots, they have heard glad tidings of the Savior when they were only caring for their flocks.
On ground unfurrowed the rain of heaven has fallen; grace has come unasked. We have emblems of this in the Scriptures, in the miracles which were wrought by our Lord and his apostles. There was a young man dead, carried out to be buried, and around his bier were his weeping mother and relatives. Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth, was entering in at the gate of the city, but we do not read that any of the mourners sought a miracle at his hands. They had not the faith to expect that he would raise the dead. The young man, being dead himself, was far beyond the possibility of like seeking help for himself from the miracle-working hand of Jesus. But Jesus interposed, and commanded the bearers to stand still they did so, and then, unsought and unasked, Jesus said, “Young man, I say unto thee, arise,” and he arose, to be delivered to his mother. Many a young man has been in like plight; he has been dead in trespasses and sins, Christ’s interposition has not been sought by him: he has not trembled at his lost position; he has not even understood it, being utterly dead and therefore insensible of his ruined state. The Redeemer has sovereignly interposed, the Holy Spirit has poured light into the darkened conscience, the man has received grace, and has lived a new and spiritual life, a life for which he had never sought.
Of a like character was the miracle of casting out devils from the two demoniacs among the Gergesenes, in which case the unhappy men were moved by the evil spirits to adjure the Savior to let them alone. Such also were the miracles of restoring the man with the withered hand, the feeding of the multitudes, and the healing of the ear of Malchus. Here swift-footed mercy outran the cry of misery.
Take another case from apostolic times. A poor beggar, extremely lame, hobbled one morning up to the Beautiful gate of the Temple, and there took his daily place, and began his incessant cry for a little charitable aid for a poor paralyzed man. Peter and John came up to the temple to pray.
He looked upon them doubtless, but it never entered into his heart to ask them to heal him. He asked alms. Drop a few Roman pennies into his palm, and he would be contented with the gift. But, Peter and John gave to him what he had not sought for. They bade him, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk, and up he leaped, delivered from his infirmity, without having expected such a deliverance.
These emblems can be interpreted by kindred facts of grace. Christ has often met with individuals and saved them, when they have not been seeking him. Matthew was not seeking Jesus when the Lord bade him leave the table at which he was receiving custom, and follow him. The case of Zaccheus was similar: he came in the way of Christ’s preaching, but his motive was purely one of curiosity — he wished to see Jesus, who he was.
He was curious to know what kind of a man was this who had set all Judea on a stir? Who was this that made Herod tremble, was reputed to have raised the dead, and was known to have healed all manner of diseases?
Zaccheus, the rich publican, is a lover of sights, and he must see Jesus. But there is the difficulty — he is too short; he cannot look over the heads of the crowd. Yonder is a sycamore tree, and he will for once imitate the boys and climb. Mark how carefully he conceals himself among the thick branches, for he would not have his rich neighbors discover him in such a position. But Christ’s eye detected the little man, and standing beneath that tree, unasked, unsought, unexpected, Jesus said, “Zaccheus, make haste and come down, for to-day I must abide in thy house,” and so soon as he had come down these words were spoken — “This day is salvation come to thy house.” Deeds of grace have been wrought in this Tabernacle after the same fashion. Men and women have come hither out of curiosity, a curiosity created by some unfounded story, or malicious slander of prejudiced minds; and yet Jesus Christ has called them and they have become both his disciples and our warm-hearted friends. Some of the most unlikely recruits have been our most valuable soldiers. They began with aversion, and ended with enthusiasm. They came to scold, but remained to pray. These seats could tell many an incident of the “romance of grace,” more wonderful than the marvels of fiction.
Nay, brethren, such is the surprising grace of God, that he has not only been pleased to save men who did not expect it, but he has even condescended to interpose for the salvation of men who were fighting with his grace and violently opposing his cause. Read yon story which will never lose its charm, of which the hero is one Saul of Tarsus. What a singular subject for converting grace! He had resolved to hound the saints to death.
He would exterminate them if he could. His blood boiled against the followers of Jesus; he could not speak of them calmly; he was mad with rage. Hear him rave at them! What? Would these men oppose the traditions of the fathers and of the Pharisees? If they are allowed to multiply, there will be no respect paid to our holy men or their weighty sentences! He will persecute them out of existence not in Jerusalem alone but in Damascus. Yet, in a few days, this hater of the gospel was touched by the gospel’s power, and never did Christendom gain a braver champion.
Nothing could damp his fervor or quench, his zeal; persecuted, beaten with rods, ship-wrecked thrice — nothing could stop him from serving his Lord.
What a complete reversing of the engine, and yet it was going at express speed! When he was most at enmity, then was his turning-point. As though some strong hand had suddenly seized by the bridle a horse that had broken loose, and was about to leap down a precipice, and had thrown it back on its haunches, and delivered it at the last moment from the destruction on which it was impetuously rushing; so Christ interposed and saved the rebel of Tarsus from being his own destroyer.
Another case rises before us most vividly, it is that of the jailer. He did not look like seeking the gospel and being converted. He received Paul and Silas and made their feet fast in the stocks, — a piece of superfluous brutality; they could not have escaped from the inner prison, and it was needless to lay them by the heels. No doubt he wished to please his masters, and felt a contempt for the apostles. The jailers in those days had usually been soldiers, and camp life amongst the Romans was rough indeed; his nature evidently furnished very flinty soil for the gospel to grow in. But, an earthquake comes; the prison shakes; it is a mysterious earthquake, for the prison doors are lifted from their hinges and the prisoners’ fetters are unbound; the jailer trembles, and, to make short work of the story, he believes in Jesus, he is baptized with all his house, he invites the Apostles to his table, entertains them, and becomes one of the first members of the Church of God at Philippi. What cannot the gospel do when it comes in its power? And where may it not come? May it not, at this moment, visit another prison, and save another jailer, though his thoughts are far otherwise.
We have ourselves met with similar cases. Many old stories are current which we do not doubt are true. There is one of a man who never would attend a place of worship until he was induced to go to hear the singing.
He would listen to the tunes, he said, but he would have, “none of your canting preaching” — he would put his fingers in his ears. He takes that wicked precaution, and effectually blocks up ear-gate for awhile, but the gate is stormed by a little adversary, for a fly settles on his nose; he must brush it off, and, as he takes out his finger to do so, the preacher says — “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The man listens, the Word pierces his soul and he is converted. I remember quite well, and the subject of the story is most probably present in the congregation, that a very singular conversion was wrought at New Park Street Chapel. A man who had been accustomed to go to a gin-palace to fetch in gin for his Sunday evening’s drinking, saw a crowd round the door of the Chapel, he looked in, and forced his way to the top of the gallery stairs. Just then I looked in the direction in which he stood, I do not know why I did so, but I remarked that there might be a man in the gallery who had come in there with no very good motive, for even then he had a gin-bottle in his pocket. The singularity of the expression struck the man, and being startled because the preacher so exactly described him; he listened attentively to the warnings which followed; the word reached his heart; the grace of God met with him; he became converted, and he is walking humbly in the fear of God.
These cases are not at all uncommon. They were not unusual in the days of Whitefield and Wesley. They tell us in their Journals of persons who came with stones in their pockets to throw at the Methodists, but whose enmity was slain by a stone from the sling of the Son of David. Others came to create disturbances, but a disturbance was created in their hearts which could never be quelled till they came to Jesus Christ and found peace in him. The history of the Church of God is studded with the remarkable conversions of persons who did not wish to be converted, were not looking for grace, and were even opposed to it, and yet by the interposing arm of eternal mercy were struck down, and transformed into earnest and devoted followers of the Lamb.
That fact being established, we may now range our thoughts around the question,WHAT SHALL WE SAY ABOUT IT?
What shall we say about these acts of sovereign preventing grace? Why, first, we will say, behold the freeness of the grace of God . It is like the dew that cometh on the earth, which stayeth not for man, neither waiteth for the sons of men. It is like the sunbeam shining into the hovel, and finding its way through grimy window panes, more calculated to shut it out than to admit it. It is like the wind which whistles among the cordage, whether the mariners desire it or no. God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion: not because of any goodness in the sinner, or because of any preparedness in the creature, but simply because he wills it, he visits men with salvation. He is so able to work salvation that he waits not for any contributory arm; but when the creature is most dead, and most corrupt, then cometh in the quickening grace of God, and getteth to itself all the glory of salvation. If every convert were brought in through the usual. means of grace, we should come to regard conversion as a necessary result from certain fixed causes, and attribute some mystic virtue to the outward means; but when God is pleased to distribute the blessing entirely apart from these, then he shows that he can do without means as well as with means, that nothing is too mighty a work for him, that his arm is not shortened at all, so that he needs to use an instrument to make up the length of it; neither has he lost any strength, so as to be forced to appeal to us to make up the deficiency. If it were God’s will he could by a word convert a nation. If so he chose, he is such a master of human hearts that as readily as the corn waves in the breath of the summer’s wind, so could he make all hearts bow before the mysterious impulses of his Holy Spirit. Why he doth it not we know not, it is among his secrets; but when he works in a marked and decided way beyond all expectation, he doth but give us a proof of how he is able to work as he wills amongst the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of this lower world. Oh! the richness, the freeness, the power of the grace of God!
The richness of it, that it comes to those who sought it not! The freeness of it, that it waits no for preparation on man’s part! The power of it, that it makes the unwilling willing when the appointed hour has come! Brethren, let us join together heartily in adoring this grace of God, which reigns through righteousness unto eternal life in as many as it pleaseth the Lord our God to call.
What shall we say further about this? We will gather this consoling inference from it: if the Lord is thus found of those that seek him not, how much more surely will he be found of those who seek him . If he has been known to give sight to those who did not ask it, how much more will he bestow it upon those who cry, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” If e saved Saul who hated him, much more will he listen to him that crieth, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” If he called careless, curious Zaccheus, much more will he speak to you, my anxious, earnest hearer, who are saying, Oh, that he would speak to me!” If a man opens his door and voluntarily call to a passing beggar and says, “Here, poor man, here is relief for you,” why, then, the man who begs importunately will not be sent away — will he? He who is so liberal that he will dispense his liberality unasked, surely he will never turn away one who pleads with tears, and sighs, and groans. If I were in the case of the seeker, I should be mightily encouraged by the subject before us. I should say, “Does he thus call those who were not hungering and thirsting, and does he bring them into the gospel feast?
Then when I, a poor hungry thirsty sinner, come wringing my hands and saying, ‘Oh, that he would give me to drink of the water of life. Oh, that he would let in e feed on the blessings of his grace!’ Surely he will receive me.” Be cheered, ye humble penitents, the Lord’s heart is too large to permit him to send you away empty. Be encouraged at this moment to breathe the silent prayer —“O God! the Lord and giver of grace, give thy grace to me who seek it now.” Why, dear heart, you have grace already, or you would not seek it; for grace must first come to you to make you seek grace. Be thankful, for salvation has come to your house. Dead men do not long for life. In the marble limbs of the corpse there are no strugglings after life, no pangs of desire for health. God has looked on thee in love; look thou to Jesus and live.
What Shall we say about this doctrine? There is one other thing we will say about it — from this time forward we will never despair of anybody. If the Lord Jesus Christ called Saul of Tarsus when he was foaming at the mouth with wrath, there are none among the wicked who are beyond the reach of hopeful prayer. Your boy breaks your heart, dear mother. You have wept over him many tears. He is far away now, and the last you heard of him wounded your soul, and unbelief said, “Do not pray for him again.” Ah! that is the devil’s counsel; he is no good messenger who bids a mother cease praying for her child, while that child is out of hell; have faith in the divine power, and pray for your boy yet. Who knows what the Lord may make of him? There is me living in your parish, a swearer, and everything that is bad. You did once think of asking him to come and hear the gospel, but you said, “It is of no use; he will be sure to turn it into ridicule.” How do you know? It is the very boast of grace that it shines into the unlikeliest hearts. God’s electing love has in many cases selected great fools, and great sinners: at least, I know God’s people think themselves such. I have said, never despair of your child, and I will put it to you again — if you have friends who are infidel, or persecuting, or profane, yet, as long as you live and they live, it is your business to labor for their conversion, and to weep and pray for them. Oh! brethren, if the lives of some of us before conversion had been known, good men might have denied the possibility of our salvation. If all the secrets of our hearts had been written, some would have said, “This is a hopeless case.” But mercy saved us , and therefore it can save anybody. Never say of any place, “It is such a den of iniquity, I can do no good there.” Never say, “That workshop is so profane, I could not speak of religion there.” Oh you do not know — you do not know!
With God at your back, if it were possible to save the damned in hell, you might go and preach there and win trophies for Christ. Never think any too bad or too vile, but labor on still, for God can work wonders in every case.
We will close, when we have noticed with great brevity, what we ought not to say about these things.
We have told you what we should say about these remarkable conversions, — we should behold the freeness and sovereignty of the grace of God; we should be encouraged to seek it for ourselves, and we should hope for the conversion of others, But now, what ought we not to say? One thing we ought not to say is this: — “Then I shall sit still, and perhaps the grace of God will come to me; I shall not seek, nor pray, nor desire, for if I am quite unconcerned, grace may yet visit me.” Now, my dear hearer, if you make such an excuse as that for your spiritual indolence, you will find the covering too thin to conceal your nakedness. You know better. A man suddenly stumbles upon wealth, by a windfall or a speculation. Do you therefore say — “I shall not keep the shop open, I shall leave business, I shall not go to work again, for Robinson has found a thousand pounds; I shall stay at home, and perhaps, I shall do the same?” No, you know that all the examples in the world of sudden wealth only go to prove the rule that he who would gain riches must find them in the appointed way. So all the examples of these remarkable interpositions of God only go to prove the rule that he who would have mercy must seek it. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found” is the fixed rule, and though God comes to some who seek him not, yet the rule still holds good. Do you not know that all the while you remain impenitent your soul is under condemnation? Some men have run this awful risk, and yet have escaped; is that any reason why you should? I have heard of a man who took poison, but so rapid was the action of a surgeon in the neighborhood, that by means of the stomach pump the man’s life was preserved: is that a reason why you should swallow poison too? Because providence has preserved some while they were running on in sin, is that a reason why you should continue to rebel against God? I have heard a story of an English sailor in a foreign port; when the foreigners were manning the yards and performing their maneuvers in honor of a royal personage, our countryman, in order to show what an Englishman could do, climbed to the top of the mast and stood there on his head. On a sudden the ship lurched and he fell, but by a happy providence he caught at a rope as he fell, and descended safely to the deck. “There,” said he, “you fellows, see if you could tumble down like that.” Are you surprised that no one accepted the challenge? Who but a fool would have thought it worth his while to imitate the example?
Because here and there a man who runs solemn risks is by the interposition of divine grace saved from the consequences of his folly, is that a reason why you should run those hazards yourselves? God does thus interpose; nobody can doubt it, but still his sovereign rule is “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,” and his gospel cries daily “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Trust the merits of Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, for our gospel is not “Sit still and wait for divine interpositions,” but “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Moreover, we should never say, “Why use means for saving others; God can do his own work.” Brethren, a man is always in a vicious state of heart when he speaks so. He knows he talks nonsense, and he only does so as an excuse for his indolence, and to quiet his conscience. We are to labor to win souls, for men are brought to God by instrumentality. Where God has appeared to save without any means, if you could have the whole matter before you, you would find that means were used. For instance, take Saul’s conversion. You will ask, “What means were used in his case?” We do not know, but possibly the dying martyr Stephen, when he prayed for his enemies, may have been the secondary cause of the young man’s call by grace. At any rate, he was included in Stephen’s intercession, and that prayer went up to God for Saul, and was prevalent with heaven. And then, look again, after Saul had been arrested from above — Ananias must come in to open his eyes, so that even in that case there was the instrumentality of prayer before, and the instrumentality of instruction afterwards. So it may be with many a one who has been suddenly converted. There was a mother, perhaps, in heaven who had prayed for the man forty years before, for prayer will keep, and be fragrant many a year. And let me say that if neither father nor mother ever prayed for that conversion, perhaps a grandfather did, for prayer has power for hundreds of years; and a greatgrandfather’s prayers may be the instrumentality of the conversion of his great grandchildren. There is no end to the efficacy of prayer. Good Dr. Rippon used often in the pulpit to pour out his soul in prayer that God would bless the church of which he was the pastor, and the members at the Tabernacle have been the inheritors of the blessings brought down by his intercession. Pray on then. Your prayers may not be answered for the next five centuries; those prayers of yours may be lying by till Christ comes, but they will avail in some way. So that you see when we think there is no instrumentality, there really is an instrumentality, if we could but see it.
These remarkable cases must never be used as a reason why we are not to do all that we can to bring sinners to Christ. God’s work in such instances, instead of discouraging us, should stimulate action on our part. Because God works, are we to be still? Nay, but because God works let us be workers together with him, that through us, directly and indirectly his purposes may be fulfilled. Suppose, now, it were known that the events of a certain battle would depend entirely on the skill of the general. The two armies are equally balanced, and everything must depend upon the tact of the commander; would the soldiers therefore conclude that they needed not to load, or fire, or draw a sword, because. everything depended on the commander? No, but the commander works and his soldiery work together with him. So is it with us. Everything depends on God, but we are his instruments. We are his servants, and because he is at our back, let us go forward with courage and zeal. The results are certain, God being our helper.
I charge you, my brethren and sisters, to take heart from the fact that God. works great wonders. Go to your classes, or wherever else you may be laboring, singing cheerfully the song of hope, and offering the prayer of full assurance. When we feel that we must have souls saved, souls will be saved. For my part, I cannot be happy unless sinners are led to Jesus. We must have it, the Holy Ghost will not let us rest without it; we shall have it, and God shall have the praise. Amen.