I will hear what God, the Lord, will speak; for He will speak peace unto His people, and to His saints; but let them not turn again to folly. — (Psalm 85:8.) It would be difficult to say how low a true Christian might fall as to inward grace and as to consolation. I hope none of us will ever make the experiment; but certain it is that there are times with some Christians when they walk so carelessly that by-and-bye the joy of their religion departs from them, the confidence of their faith becomes weakened, their love becomes so dim as to be like an expiring spark, and they themselves walk in darkness and see no light. We have known them at such times entertain doubts as to whether they ever had any religion, whether, after all, they have not been deceived, if not deceivers; and then at such times their conscience will grievously lash them, reminding them of the joys they once possessed, of the days when the candle of the Lord shone round about them, and if they have been highly favored saints before, so much the greater will be their anguish of spirit when they seem to hear the Lord saying, “I will go and return unto My place until they confess their transgressions. Surely in the days of their affliction they will seek Me earnestly.”
It may be even, and it often is so, and it is a blessing it is so, too, that while the heart is thus brought down with anguish the hand of God also goes out against His erring child in providence. We have known the backsliding Christian’s business begin to slack and to fail him. We have known, at the same moment, sickness come into his family, children have died, the wife has sickened. Or, perhaps, the hand of God has gone out against his body; there has been some disease in his person or some damage to his limbs; he has known what wearisome days and sleepless nights mean. Now, when two seas of inward trial and of outward affliction meet, the Christian will be awakened to cry unto his God. If he can continue to sleep then, ay, and if he become provoked against the Most High, and be led to go from one sin to another and from bad to worse, there will be in that man a sign of reprobation, not of election; but if he be a child of God when he feels first of all his own heart smiting him — that is a hard blow — and then feels God’s chastisements smiting him at the same time, he will discover that he is in a very evil case, and he will lift his eyes up towards his God to know what he may do to be delivered therefrom.
The mercy is that out of this state there is a way of escape. No child of God ought to sit down contented in it. It is for every Christian that has lost his first love to seek it again, for every believer who has descended from his former lofty estate to pine and sigh and cry until the Lord shall bring him up again, yea, and lift him up to yet a loftier position than he occupied before. It is not the Lord’s will that His children should be in bondage: it is not at His desire that they are brought low. Even their affliction He sends unwillingly, for “He doth not grieve the children of men for nought.”
Now, this evening’s text will be mainly’ useful to those who are in the condition I have indicated; but some of you who are not in that state may lay it by in store for the possibilities which you may have, and, perhaps, the word spoken to-night may be in readiness against some evil time which may be drawing near.
Notice that the text divides itself very naturally into three parts. The first part we shall call the resolution of wisdom : — “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” The second part is an expectation of confidence” For He will speak peace unto His people and to His saints.” But the third is a warning of prudence” But .let them not turn again to folly.”
I. First, then, we have before us in the text a resolution of wisdom on the part of one who desires revival, feeling that he is wandering from God and is suffering in soul. Notice the resolution : — “ I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” It is the man brought up to a dead stand. He has wandered; he has lost his way; he is in the thick darkness and he stands still. His soul had before been gadding abroad, and wandering after a thousand objects, but now in his deep distress he says, “I will wait upon my God. I will hear what God Jehovah will speaks” There is evidently upon the mind here a sense both of divine majesty, which awes him, and also of divine faithfulness, which encourages and attracts him. “I will hear what God the Lord shall speak.” I ought to hear what He speaks. Is He not God? Is He not the self-existent Jehovah, the I Am That I Am? My heart, thou hast got into this low estate by listening to other voices; thou hast deprived thyself of comfort by forgetting His promises; thou hast brought thyself into sin by being unmindful of His commands; thou hast been negligent of His voice of love and of His voice of rebuke.
Stand still now, and be ashamed of thyself, and be humbled, and from this time close thine ear to all other sounds and resolve to hear what God the Lord shall speak. You see it is a sense of the authority of the divine voice that comes over the soul, and therefore it resolves that to whatever else it shall be deaf it will certainly listen to the voice of God.
And then that same authority seems to prompt the spirit of confidence, for it saith within itself, “Now I am in this condition — that none can help me but God. No voice but God’s can direct me; no voice but His has power in it to deliver me, therefore for this very reason I will not wait to hear what anyone else may say, but I will go direct to God and hear what He has to say. Perhaps if I wait upon the preacher he may not understand my experience, or he may come without being sent, and what are a mortal’s words if there be no God at the back to inspire him? I will not run to Christian friends and ask their advice; that may be useful at some other time, but I have come to this position that nothing will suit me now but the voice of God. When I have wandered so far, no brother’s voice can call me back: the Father Himself must call me. When I have sunk so low as to be like Lazarus in his grave, no disciple’s voice can call me forth to newness of life; the Master Himself must speak. Therefore I will hear what God the Lord shall speak.”
Oh, there is great wisdom in this resolution to anyone at any time, but especially to anyone who knows that he has come into a low state of grace.
Dear brother, dear sister, I know you desire to get out of that condition.
Now, sitting in the pew, let this be your resolve — and may grace sustain you in the carrying of it out — “ I will now hasten to my God; my spirit shall say to Him, ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.’ I will get me to my first husband, though I have wandered, for it was better with me then than it is now. I will go back to my Noah, to my rest, as the dove did, which, though it flew over the waste of waters, could find no resting place for the sole of its foot. I will go back to that ark. I will go back to my God.
I will hear what God the Lord will speak.”
That seems to me the first point in the resolution — the prominence that it gives to the divine authority and the implicit, though unexpressed, confidence which is placed in the voice of God, if it be but heard.
Now, let us note, dear brethren and sisters, in trying to carry out this resolution, that God speaks to us in various ways, and if we will hear what God the Lord shall speak we must be attentive to the many voices.
Of course, He speaks to us in His Word. This is the surest light of prophecy, and we do well to take heed to it. This is the chart of every Christian mariner. These are the commands of the great captain of our Holy War, and we ought to be more diligent in reading the Bible — not only in reading more of it — perhaps we do not err there — but in reading it more solemnly — not reading it with the eyes, as some do, but reading it with the very soul, sucking in the Scripture as the sponge drinks in the water, being filled with it to the very full, with holy spiritual thought after the Word of God.. If you have backslidden, my dear brother, you cannot do better than become a more constant searcher of Scripture. Say, “I will hear what God the Lord shall speak. Perhaps I have become discouraged because I did not hear His promises; perhaps I have grown careless because I did not hear His admonition; perhaps I have grown weak because I did not receive strength through feeding upon the manna of His Word: I will, therefore, go to Scripture again and hear what God the Lord shall speak.”
And, beloved, you must also hear that word as it is spoken by God’s servants. Alas, I am afraid there are many Christians who do not care to hear God’s word in the pulpit. I mean this, that in the choice of a ministry they seek after that which may be fashionable, or attractive, or pleasing to the ear, whereas the true gauge of a ministry is, Does God speak through it to the soul? If not, beware of it. Though it be called your own Parish Church, it is no better to be starved in a Parish Church than anywhere else.
Though it may be the meeting house your fathers always attended, it is no better for your soul to be famished in the family meeting house than anywhere else. Seek not after the best garnished, not that which most charms your ear, but that which feeds your soul. Be resolved that Sundays are too precious to be wasted in listening to displays of oratory and say, “I will hear what God the Lord shalt speak.” “Take heed what you hear,” and “Take heed how you hear,” for both precepts are equally valuable. May that be our resolve that we will hear God’s voice as it speaks to us from the ministry.
But then the Lord speaks to His people in another way, viz., in providence, and I wish we had an ear to hear there. Christians with little troubles should hear the twigs of the rod, for those that won’t hear the twigs will have to hear the harder part of the rod. If we would hear God whisper we should not need to hear God thunder. No doubt many of our trials come upon us severely because lesser trials are of no service. A good physician does not administer to a patient the most violent drug at first, but, if there must be medicine, he begins with that which is weaker, for, perhaps, that may meet the case. But, if not, sooner than the patient should die, he will be sure to give the most violent medicines he can. And it is so with God.
He dealeth tenderly with us. “Be not as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle lest they come near unto thee.” For many sorrows must be with the wicked. If we were not so prone to go with the wicked our sorrows might be less. Let us ask God in every providence, “Lord, what dost Thou mean by this ?” for providence is like a hieroglyphic from God — only some eyes can make out the meaning. God writes to us in everything that happens to us through the day. Not without God doth anything happen, and God doth nothing without a meaning.. Now, very frequently, if a man would read, he might read his sin in his chastisement. He might discover wherein he had erred by the very form of the chastisements that came upon him. May we have grace, then, since there are ways of understanding God’s meaning, to find it out and to profit by it. “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” Besides that, God has a voice in our hearts. There is a voice in His withdrawing from us. Have you lost the light of God’s countenance? He need not speak: there is a voice in that. What doth He say but this, “I cannot walk with thee, for thou dost not walk with Me aright. Have I not said, ‘With the forward I will show Myself forward? Can two walk together except they be agreed ?’” The Lord, in leaving you to yourself, is saying, “Thou hast trusted too much to thyself, Thou didst try to do without Me. Now see how thou canst! I leave thee to thyself that thou mayest discover how weak a thing is an arm of flesh.” And truly there may be often heard in the heart, if we listen to it, the voice of God’s Spirit suggesting many things. I do believe the Spirit of God brings constantly to our view all the things within us and all the things of Christ for us; but, alas! there are some spirits that do not seem to be susceptible to the motions of the Holy Spirit at all. The Lord deliver us from that spiritual hardness of heart! “I will hear what God the Lord shall speak.”
Now, as God speaks in different ways, so He also speaks in different tones, and it should be ours to desire to hear His voice in whatever tones He addresses us. Sometimes it is with rebuke, “My child, thou hast erred; thou hast gone astray; thou hast grieved My Spirit.” Hear it! Hear it! Though the sound pierce through your heart, hear it. Who is there among you that desireth to be negligent at the rebuking voice of God? For if you are so, you will go into greater evil, and then, instead of rebukes, the Lord will have to use His rod to thee. It is always well for us to be willing to read and hear that which searches and tries us rather than that which continually comforts us. I know some hearers who always want sweet promises to be expounded. These are like little children that must always have sweets in their mouths, but wise men know that this is not the best of health. A tonic often does us good, and a soul-searching ministry is that which our soul should seek after. Be willing to hear God speak, though He speak no sweet things, but sharp things that go through and through your soul At the same time the Lord does speak very encouragingly and sweetly, and we ought to be just as willing to hear. You say, “Of course, we are,” but I reply that there are some who are not; for there are children of God in a certain state who always put all encouragements away. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat. If it be encouraging, “Oh,” they say, “it can’t be for me! It’s too good to be true.” Say not so, dear brother, but, rather, resolve, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak. As I would have heard Him had He spoken roughly to me, much more if He speaks sweetly to me will I give my ear and my heart to Him: let Him say what he will.”
And we ought especially to hear the Lord when we are in a sad condition if He speaks in a directing, teaching manner. No doubt many believers might rise into a refreshed state and again enjoy light and liberty, if they minded the directions of the Gospel. Sometimes a forgotten duty will be just like a decayed bone in the system, or a sin — perhaps a sin not known to be a sin — will be like a thorn in the foot which had not been perceived until it lamed the traveler. None of us know how much we may lose every day through neglecting to do the Lord’s will in some point which we have considered to be non-essential. Every Christian duty is essential, not to salvation, but to consolation, and the omission of any known, aye, and I will say any unknown duty may involve great loss to us. It is ours, therefore, always to be saying, “Lord, tell me what I ought to be in any other point, and I will hear what Thou shalt have to say to me.”
Now, I must note for a second or two how we ought to hear what God speaks to us.. When the Psalmist said, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak,” he did not mean, “I will casually hear it, as men hear a story in the streets,” but, “I will hear it attentively, incline my ear to it, drink it in, hear it distinctively. I will detect the difference between man’s voice and God’s voice. I will not be misled by the human gloss, but I will hear the divine text; I will hear, separating as a sieve the chaff from the wheat, the precious from the vile, and I will hear with discrimination, and when I have heard it I will hear it with submission. If it be God’s voice, I will not cavil at it. If the Lord shall say it, it shall not be for me to question. Has He said it? It must be right. And then I will hear it obediently. Whatever His word is, by His grace I will do as He bids me. If He saith, ‘ Go!’ I will go; if He saith, ‘ Stay ! ‘ I will stay.”
I tell you, brethren and sisters, a man is not far from a very gracious state of soul-revival when he can use the words of the text in the sense which I have put upon them. If he be resolved now henceforth to be obedient unto the Word of God, it is not long before his brightness shall break forth as the morning and His glory as a lamp that burneth. He that stands in the thick darkness in the midst of a tempest in the mire, the deep waters all around him, yet standeth in a blessed and a hopeful state, if upon his heart and upon his tongue there are these gracious words, “I will hear what God the Lord shall speak,” May that be the resolve of everyone here, for it is a personal resolve — “I will hear, if others do not: if there shall be no general revival of religion, no desire after it, yet I will hear what God the Lord shall speak. I will not be a mere talker; I will not merely enter into Christian conversation; I will not even work on with a deaf ear, but I will submit myself in quiet and bow before my Savior. With Mary, I will sit at the Master’s feet. This shall be my happy choice henceforth.” So much for this wise resolve.
II. Now, secondly, we have in our text an expectation of confidence — “ For He will speak peace unto His people and to His saints.” What a charming sentence that is! How full of joy! How it makes the heart leap! “I will hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace.” No dreadful things after all! Though He speak rebukingly, though He speak in tones of thunder, yet the sum and substance, the drift and end of what He will have to say shall be peace to His people and to His saints.
I find that the word here might be rendered “prosperity.” We will render it so, putting “peace” with it. “God will speak peace and prosperity to His saints ere long.” And, dear brethren, is not this certain? Must not God speak peace to His people, for is it not their portion? Is not peace given to them in the covenant? Let us go back again to where we were. Then God must give peace and prosperity’ to His children because it is guaranteed to them in the covenant of grace. Jesus Christ left it to them as a legacy, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you.” And I cannot believe that the Holy Father will hold back from His people the legacy which His own Son has given to them.
Oh, no, every drop of the blood of Jesus pleads for peace. All His wounds speak and plead for the prosperity of His people; and, therefore, surely, the Lord will visit us again and bring us up even from the depths of the sea.
Moreover, is it not God’s will that His people should be full of peace and happiness? Think you He delights to ‘see His people cast down and unhappy and declining and backsliding? Far from it. As a father delights in the healthiness of his son, so does our Father delight in our prosperity. In asking, therefore, for that which we know it will be His delight to give, we may ask with perfect confidence. “He will speak peace unto His people.”
And is it not for His own glory? Can it ever be for God’s glory for His people to go downcast and weak and trembling, to lead useless and doubtful lives and to have “Ichabod” written upon the walls of His Church? And shall His mighty Zion, which ought to be the glory of all lands, become dishonored, and His mighty name blasphemed thereby? No, beloved, it is for God’s glory that His people shall arise and shine. The dead shall not praise God; those that go down into the pit shall not give Him thanks. If He deliver the soul of His turtle-dove to his adversaries, those adversaries will not praise Him. If He forsake His people that will not enrich Him; if He withdraw His mercy, that will not honor Him. On the contrary, to lift up the hands that hang down, and to confirm the feeble knees, will produce many a joyous song of praise and fill both earth and heaven with hallelujahs. Therefore, since it is for God’s glory, we may rest assured He will speak peace unto His people.
Now, Satan will be saying to some of you who have gone astray and backslidden, “The Lord will never have another good word for you. You have left Him, forsaken Him: His wrath is hot against you.” Beloved, believe not every spirit, and especially believe not the evil spirit, for, be assured of this one thing, that the Lord who loved His people once loves them once for all. They say, “If a woman leave her husband and commit adultery, shall he return unto her again? Shall not the land be polluted ?”
These are the words of God Himself. “Yet,” saith he “Return !” Oh, glorious grace! He represents the soul of His servant as having committed the foulest of transgressions, and yet He says, “I am married unto thee, saith the Lord. Return, ye backsliding children !”
Oh, may we feel that there is hope; that however low we may have fallen, there still is hope. Surely, if God meant to cast away His servants, He would have cast away some of us long ago; but He has restored our souls, and He will restore your soul and lead it in the way of righteousness, for His name’s sake. Go to Him, go to Him with the resolve of our text, “I will hear what God the Lord shall speak,” and He will speak to you — not words that shall say, “Depart, ye cursed,” but He will put words into your mouth, and teach you to confess your sin and to humble yourself before Him, and then He will apply His promise with power to your soul.
III. Now a third point of the text is a caution to prudence: “But let them not turn again to folly.” Should your Lord visit you again, drive Him not away.
Should you ever be restored to your former joy and peace, it will behoove you to walk very carefully and guard your restored treasure with a double jealousy. It was folly, first of all, when you turned to sin. Sin is always folly. Now and then, men in business think that to do wrong will be a prudent thing under the circumstances; but sin is always folly. Sometimes it looks as if to lower the rigid standard of duty might, perhaps, be prudent for the occasion; but sin is always folly — always folly — and they that sin find it to be so. When their God is gone, when the light of the Savior’s love is hidden, when the Spirit of God no longer quickens them to joy and strength, then they know that sin is folly. But let not the man that is restored from that folly go back to it again. When a child has eaten something which it has found in the fields which looked like a sweet berry and turns out to be poisoning, if after weeks of sickness it is still saved, even that child would have wisdom not to go back again to that. Master Bunyan represents young Matthew and others as eating some plums which grew in the devil’s garden. The boughs hung over the wall where the pilgrims went, and. he tells us how sick he was and long ill. We do not find that he went to eat of those plums again. “Let him not turn again to folly.”
We say, “a burnt child dreads the fire.” There are some that burn their fingers first, and go and burn their arms; afterwards. I know some professors who smarted under a sin at the beginning, and began to feel they were sliding little by little, and yet they have gone into it worse and worse, pursued it farther and farther, not only turning again to folly, but, as it were, being two fools in one, for he who, being a fool once, has learnt he was a fool, and then goes back to play the foot again is a fool with an emphasis. May we be delivered from ever turning again to such folly.
But I think ! hear one of you say, “If ever ! am restored and brought into full liberty, ever once again sit at the banquet of wine with the King and lean my head upon His bosom, I will never turn to folly again.” “Thou art already, foolish; thou speakest as one of the foolish women speak !” as job said to his wife. Why, man, if God were to catch thee up into the third heaven, and then put thee down on earth again and leave thee one minute to thyself, thou wouldst play the fool with the worst of beings. There is no sin of which men would not be capable, if the Lord left them to themselves.
The caution is needed: “Let them not turn again to folly.” “Nay,” says one, “I am cured of one sin; I shall never go into that.” It is where thou thinkest thyself to be best cured that disease is most likely to break out again.
Wherever thou canst say, “I am safe,” be sure thou art in danger. Where thou hast a fear and trembling, there thou art probably secure, but where thou art carnally secured there it is that the evil comes. “Whereas thou sayest, I am rich and increased in goods, thou art naked and poor and miserable.” From the very fact that thou boastest, thy glorying is not good, but is folly. “Let him not turn again to folly.”
But there might be something plaintive in this in the dear Redeemer. When His sheep has gone astray, and He has gone weary miles to find it and brings it back upon His shoulders and puts it down, He might well say, “My sheep, turn not again to wander.” To the prodigal restored to his father’s house with a ring upon his finger and with shoes upon his feet, surely it might be said by a father’s affectionate and anxious heart, “My son, turn not again to folly. Already thy follies have grieved thy Lord, have grieved His Church, have caused His name to be blasphemed, have robbed thee of the light of God’s countenance and brought grey hairs upon thee here and there and spiritual debility. Wilt thou turn again to folly? Thou hast tasted the poisoned cup and thou knowest there is bitterness in the dregs thereof: wilt thou turn again to folly ?” I feel as if I could stand here and plead with the tears in my own eyes with some members of Christian churches who did once run well, and then slipped, but have been set up again and persevered for a long time, but begin to be slack again. Was not once enough? Why, the times past, before your conversion, might have sufficed thee to have wrought the will of the flesh: why wilt thou go back to work that will a second time? Having been forgiven, wilt thou turn again to folly? “Thus saith the Lord, What hast thou ,to do in the way of Egypt to drink the waters of Sihor, or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria to drink the waters of the river? Turn thou unto the Lord, for He shall give thee to drink of the waters of life, clear as crystal! Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy ways? Go to them not, but follow Him, and keep close in the footprints of thy Savior.” “Let him not turn again to folly.”
What was the folly? I will hope it was not some gross folly, some sin of the flesh. Oh, by the blood of Jesus, be thou clean from that ! And if it was thy pride, if it was thy angry temper that broke loose, if it was thy self-reliance, if it was thy worldliness, if it was thy love of dress — whatever it was (I will not go into details) — turn not again to folly. Oh, mark that sin! mark that sin. It has cost thee too much already. Turn not to that again. Thou wilt not a second time plead that thou wast deceived. “Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird.” Will the game come into the trap which it knows to be a trap? The very birds seem wiser than ourselves, if we turn again to folly; and yet, dear friends, we need to turn this into a prayer, and while God saith to us, “Let him not turn again to folly,” we have need to say it again, altering only one word, “Let me not turn to folly.” Oh, how grievous it is to think that those of us who have borne an honorable character for twenty, thirty, or forty years may, in five minutes, blast it all, though we may have lived in the esteem of Christian brethren. One folly like a fly in a pot of ointment may make the sweetest nard of the apothecary to stink in the nostrils of men. “Hold Thou me up and I shall be safe !” Infinite Jehovah, preserve Thy servants ! We will hear what Thou speakest. Thou wilt speak prosperity to our souls. Oh, let us not turn again to folly!
We ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen !