And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and ,their wives apart; all the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. — (Zechariah 12:12-14.)
ACCORDING to prophecy, we expect in the latter days the conversion of the Jews to Christianity and their restoration to their own land, but it will not be brought about in any manner otherwise than the way by which the conversion of others is brought about: it will be by a visitation of the Spirit of God. He will come to them, and He will be poured out upon them, according to the words of this prophecy: “I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplication.” As the result of this visitation of the Spirit they will turn their eyes to Christ, whom they once rejected and crucified; they will come to believe in Him, and that faith will produce the same result in them as it has done in others: it will lead them to mourn — to mourn for their sin — not with the desperate remorse which sees no mercy, but with that sweet evangelical penitence which is a mourning for Christ and a mourning in connection with Christ — a mourning which will soon turn into joy and melt into intense delight and peace.
Now, I am not going to speak any more upon that matter. We shall labor and pray for the conversion of the Jews, and hope that this will be the result. But to-night we are going to talk to ourselves, to the present congregation here.
And we shall begin by remarking that all true grace in the soul always comes through the agency of the Holy Spirit. There is no conversion that is worth having which is not wrought by Him. Not the eloquence of the preacher, nor the cogency of his reasoning will ever melt a soul so as to create it anew. God must work, and God alone can work so as to re-create a soul. Beloved, we have no hope for this congregation, no hope in your prayers, no hope in the Gospel itself, apart from Him who alone can apply it to the hearts and consciences of men and make it the power of God unto salvation to them.
And the next remark is that wherever true grace comes it always leads the soul to Christ. If ever the Lord gives a man the eye of faith, that eye of faith looks to Him who was pierced. Any faith that rests short of the Cross is a faith that will land you short of Heaven. Unless the atoning sacrifice be perceived and rested in, unless, like the Jew of old, you come and lay your hand upon that sacrifice and accept it as yours, you may have a faith that believes the Bible and a great deal about God, and even have a faith which gives you a presumptuous confidence, but you have not the faith of God’s elect. Brother, is Christ all in all to you? Sinner, do you look to Christ wholly and alone for your cleansing from sin? If not, may the Spirit of God come upon you and give you to look away from all else to the Savior lifted upon Calvary, for, until you do, there is no hope for your soul.
And then, next, the context of the verses we have chosen leads us to say that every true and genuine look of faith to Christ is attended with more grief on account of sin. I am more and more afraid of that dry-eyed faith which I hear preached so continually. I have been alarmed when I have heard repentance spoken so lightly of by some. It is a mere change of mind, they say, and they quote the Greek word for it. Believe me, it is a change of mind, but it is no superficial change of mind. It is not such a change of mind as some suppose it to be. If you have never wept for sin, I weep for you; and if you have a faith in Christ that never made you regret your transgressions and loathe yourself in God’s sight because you committed them, then your faith is but a dream; you have never looked on Him whom you pierced, or else you would mourn and be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. Why, beloved, repentance for sin is not a thing that takes place just during the period of conviction; repentance is a perpetual grief; and the more advanced a Christian is, the more he repents of sin, and the more he laments that he should ever have fallen into it, and that he may fall into it again. If there be no tears in Heaven, and I suppose there will be none, yet, if I might make an exception, I would almost ask to be permitted to shed the sweet tear of penitence even there. Oh, beloved, it becomes such a blessed sweet bitterness to mourn for sin, that I would say with our poet — Lord, let me weep for nought but sin, And after none but Thee, And then I would, oh, that I might A constant weeper be.
Yes, true faith has a tear in her eye. The faith of God’s elect sees Christ through the drops of penitence, and it is a blessed sight to look on Him who bleeds while our heart bleeds for Him.
Now, to none of these things am I about to call your special attention, but to one point only — it was needful to mention all these to come to it, viz., that in true sorrow for sin, that true sorrow which accompanies faith, there always will be a degree of separateness, a great degree of personality and individuality, and, consequently, of loneliness — -very family apart and their wives apart; and my special prayer to-night is that God would give to this congregation that kind of mourning for sin which would come to families apart and to individuals apart.
First, to families apart let us speak about that. He begins with the family of the house of David apart. That was the royal family. In the day when grace visits households, it brings the same mourning into every house. A king must weep for sin as well as a peasant. The man after God’s own heart and his family must be bowed down with the same grief for transgression as the poorest in all the tents of Judah. So, brethren, there are families here in this country that are royal, and I would God there were royal mourning, for there has been royal sin. God send it! And there are noble and princely houses in this land. It would be the best news that should ever be heard if amongst them there should come a mourning for sin, for in the high places of this land sin hath still her stronghold, and may God grant that repentance may come there. We have not any such here to-night, and therefore it is little needful to speak of it; but I will liken those households amongst you that are rich and influential to the house of David. There are special sins that belong to rich families, and I would that rich families would come together and confess apart their special sins. There are sins of luxury, sins of worldliness, sins that come from following the fashions of the world.
There are sins that spring up out of the prosperity with which God surrounds us, sins that arise from a lack of carrying out our stewardship when God’s cause has not been remembered in fair proportion, when the poor have not been succored, when the sick have not been tended. Let me put it to every family here that God has prospered — have not you sins to remember before the Lord? It would be a blessed sign of grace if the father and mother should call the household together and say, “Let us apart acknowledge our transgression and cry unto the Lord that in His pity He would save us.” For there are some of you that have not all your children saved yet. You have not your servants converted yet. Let the family of the house of David be apart. There is no need that it should begin to make confession about the sins of the poor and about the turbulence of the many.
Leave that alone, and confess your own. House of David, confess your own sin; keep to that, and be humbled for it before the Lord.
Then came the house of Nathan, and that had to be apart. I suppose it is Nathan the prophet. And in the prophet’s house there must be confession of sin, for the prophet is not sinless, neither the prophet’s family. Alas ! how often have the ministers of God been the parents of godless children, and what the father has built up on the Sabbath his sons have pulled down in the week. The name of Eli startles some of us. It had been better for us that some of our children should perish at the birth than act as Eli’s sons did at the tabernacle door; yet it may be so if in the prophet’s house there be not the confession of sin and prayer apart. Let the minister call together; as the Lord speaks by him to the people, let him take care that he speaks to the people also through his management of his own house, for if we rule not in our own house, how shall we rule well in the house of God? And if we have no concern for the salvation of our own children, how shall we be as nursing fathers in the house of God? It would be a happy sign for England if to-morrow all its ministers had this mourning apart in the midst of our families, and I would to God it might be so.
But,- then, the text goes on to speak of the house of Levi; and I hope I do not strain metaphors when I say that this may refer spiritually to all the families of Christian people, for we have no priesthood now except the general priesthood of all the people of God. Christ hath made us priests and kings. So, then, I say, let every Christian man at the head of a family call his children and his servants together, and let there be prayer and supplication apart.
Now, I come home to many of you. You are working as Sunday school teachers, you are working as evangelists, you are going from house to house as tract distributors. Beloved brethren and sisters, never let even the tongue of scandal be able to say of you that you cared for other households, but not for your own. I remember well a man — his ease was a warning to me, and I hold it up as such to you. He was always ready to attend the open-air preacher and pitch the tunes; he was always glad to walk into the country when the lay preacher went to a cottage meeting.
There was scarcely a prayer-meeting at which he was not present. He was a man with a large family in poor circumstances. He ought often to have been at work with his boots and shoes when he was attending a prayermeeting, and he ought oftener to have been praying with his boys at home than to have been out helping others to do good in the street; for I saw his boys grow up one by one. I knew and I often had told him of it, that, as children, they frequented the public-house, as lads they were found in the theater. He seemed everything that was devout and earnest, and I believe he was so, and about everybody’s children he was careful except his own, and for the conversion of everybody else he prayed except for the conversion of his own children. To them he never spake — they said he never did; with them certainly he never prayed; and he was constantly out, so that, whatever good example he did give them, they could not see. And his sons grew up and died, one or two of them, in my presence through drunkenness ere they had completed the age of manhood — through drunkenness and vice — and none could say to that father a word of consolation, because he had kept the vineyard of others but his own vineyard he had not kept. It is right that you should take a class in the Sunday school, but not if your own children are neglected. It is right that you should go out and work for others, but not if your own household is uncared for. Therefore, I say to every Christian, call your children and your household together, and make a solemn approach unto the Most High with this prayer, “O God, save this household, for Thy mercy’s sake.”
II. The prophet then mentions the house of Shimei, and as we know nothing about Shimei, though many have guessed a great deal, it may be sufficient to say, let his household stand for everybody. As Levi’s may stand for the Christian, let Shimei’s stand for those who make no profession. And there I could wish that where as yet there has been no family altar set up, where as yet there has been no profession of the faith of Christ, I could wish that the Spirit of God would move the parents of the household this very night to call the house together and to say, “Let us pray !” It were a good beginning if someone who stepped in here to-night, not accustomed to the house of prayer on the Sabbath, should say, “There is good sense in that ! I am a father of a family, and where is my family going? I fear going down to hell ! Where am I going myself? Certainly not to Heaven. This very night ! will say to my wife, ‘Wife,, let us pray together; let us pray for the children.’ I am afraid it will be poor praying, but everything must have a beginning.” Oh, sir, what hope ! should have of you if you had once got that length! I should trust that the Lord would never let you go back again, but that, having begun to pray, you would continue to pray till you had found peace and pardon. Why, there are some who might say, “This house of mine has been a drunkard’s house. Forgive the sin! This house has heard the sound of profanity; the oath has defiled this house. God forgive us f This house has been a Sabbath-breaker’s house. This house has been the house of dishonesty. This house has been the house of quarreling, of wrath, of envying and strife and bitterness! Lord, forgive us!” Oh that it might be said this night, “Salvation has come unto this house,” if God should see here and there and in this city gatherings of families who have shut the doors and drawn down the blinds, and, now apart, are turning unto the living God! Thou blessed Spirit, grant it may be so, and Thou shalt have all the praise.
But now I must pass on, because the main point is the individuals apart. “The house of Levi apart and their wives apart.” Wherever there is real repentance for sin there will be secret prayer, secret confession, secret crying unto God. I shall speak about that now. No man is really impressed with a sense of true religion till he does begin to feel that he must get apart.
I have seen the huntsman with his gun intending to take a stag. He has got a herd before him; he is riding through. They know him, and are not much alarmed; but his object as he rides by them is to single out one. He must get that one apart and alone if he means to have it for himself; he must separate it. I often feel when I am preaching as if I were riding among a great herd of deer, and I want to single out one. I cannot tell him; I do not know him, but oh, the Lord does, and I have known many a time the man has been singled out and the gun of the Gospel has gone off and he has fallen. The Lord has saved that man and brought him down. It is a sure mark that God is at work when the man gets separate, when he feels himself to be alone. If you hear in a great crowd, no good will come of it, and when you come and pray with a number of persons and feel as if you were only a part of the company and not yourself praying, no good ever comes of that. National religion! Well, what is the national religion of England worth? If it were sold for a button with the shank off wouldn’t it fetch a dearer price than it is worth? There is nothing in it: it is merely a name. You may call it “a Christian country” or anything else you like with almost as great truth. Personal religion is the only religion that is of any value, and until you get a man to feel, “I must have that thing for myself ! I must be born again ! I must have a new heart! I must have a right spirit! I must be washed in the precious blood of Christ! I must escape from the wrath to come!” — until he has got there is nothing good in his soul. But the getting apart is one of the earlier signs of a work of grace. For, my dear hearer, have you not personal sins which you would not like to tell to anyone, but which must be confessed to God apart. I am sure if anybody here could tell to me or to any other living man all his actions he must be as shame-faced as well could be. While the soul has any modesty left, confession to a priest is impossible. It is only when it has a brazen forehead and is utterly shameless than it can empty out itself before its fellow man. I question if it is ever done even then, but before the Lord we lay bare our head. 0 God, thou knowest the sins of my youth. Thou knowest the transgressions which my father knew not of. Thou knowest where my heart has gone, and where my feet have gone, and what my hands have done, and what all the members of this flesh of mine have done. Thou knowest it all. And I say, dear friends, it is only apart that a man can tell what he really feels.
If anybody was listening, you could not say to the Lord, “Lord, thou knowest how I feel! I would come to Thee, but I cannot. I would melt before Thee, but my soul seems as if it were made of steel that had been hardened in the vaults of hell ! My God, I would repent, but my heart is like a rock: only Thou canst smite it and make the streams of penitence gush forth. I want to come to Thee but Satan holds me back; or perhaps it is myself, worse than Satan, and I am accusing Satan when I ought to blame myself.” But alone we can tell to the Lord our fears, our doubts, our difficulties, the hardness that we feel within. We could not do it if we detected somebody else’s ear at the key-hole; we should have to stop at once. Therefore, to offer acceptable mourning before the Lord, the soul must get apart.
III. And then, beloved, we should never forget that in our coming before the Lord what we want is personal pardon and personal cleansing. That is a good hymn we have in our book which ends every verse with “even me, even me.” My God, my Father, if Thou wert to forgive all Thine erring children and not me, of what avail were that to me? If peace and pardon were scattered amongst all the thousands of this congregation, if I were left out, it would but make my case the darker. To see the gleams of Thy love shining yonder and sit myself in outer darkness — -oh, that were to make my case worse than before ! Beloved hearer, you have personal sin; you want personal pardon. You have gone personally away from your Father, and you must, like the prodigal, go personally back; you must have His arms about your neck and have His kiss upon your lips and hear Him say, “I have blotted out thy sin.” Nothing short of this will ever give peace to your spirit. Do you not feel it so? Well, then, get apart, and as if there were not another sinner in the world go and confess your sin; as if there was no other sinner that ever wanted a Savior, go to the Cross and take the whole Savior to yourself; and as if no other soul ever wanted the work of the Holy Spirit to work upon it, go to the Holy Ghost and commit yourself to Him and say. “Renew and sanctify me! Purify me, O blessed Spirit, by Thine infinite power.” May God send us very much of the confession and the resulting comfort which alone can bring peace to the soul.
I think I hear somebody say, “I understand that if I am to find peace and pardon as a sinner I must go alone and cry to God for it apart: when shall I do it? To you I reply, “Now.” 1 would not like to take the risk of saying, “Wait half an hour,” for within that time the iron gate may have closed upon you. The only time I am ever bidden to speak of is” to-day.” “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” You tell me that time does not suit you; you do not know when you could get apart and alone. If there be no other hour, the dead of night will serve your turn; God is awake. Rise before the break of day, if your labor calls you early away; rise betimes, spurn the soft couch, and cry to God in prayer. Man ! if thou shouldst break any engagement, whatever it might be, it were worth while to do it to find mercy. But to-morrow is a holiday. A great many of you working people will have nothing to do to-morrow and are going to spend it in merriment, and I shall not condemn you for that; but if you have not found a Savior, don’t say to me, “I have no time for prayer.” It were a blessed thing if you spent all Whit Monday in prayer, so long as you did but find Christ. Go to your chamber and say, “We will not leave this place till Christ reveals Himself to us! He has promised to be the Savior of all that trust Him, and we will go and trust Him, and from His Cross we will never stir until the blood-drops fall upon our guilty souls, and we can rise and say we are forgiven.” Oh, it were a blessed Pentecostal Monday if the Lord moved many to pray apart — pray right on till they found a Savior. I knew one who once came to London and who was living in the country, irreligiously without thoughts of God. He came to London and heard a Gospel sermon. He was a gentleman who liked to hunt, and when he came home, one of his companions said, “Well, what’s the best news you’ve heard in London?” “I have heard,” said he, “that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” The other said, “I think you’ve gone out of your mind !” It was a blessed going out of his mind. I could point him out to you. The Lord has kept him out of his mind ever since, He is here tonight.
He has a very different sort of mind. He is now rejoicing and delighting to serve God, and a happier man there is not in this place than he, I believe. May God bring many to find true happiness and give up sham happiness, which the world tries to tempt us with. “Well, but,” says somebody, “where’s the place I could get to be alone?” Place? Anywhere.
In your chamber where you rest. Any little place where you can shut yourselves in. Why, the very streets of London may serve you for loneliness; for sometimes one can walk along them and be as much alone as in the Desert of Arabia. Many a soul has found Christ in a hay-loft. I know one who found him in a saw-pit. He, having no other place to get to, went there. Behind the hedge, on the house-roof — anywhere where you can without disturbance tell out your soul to God. Anywhere. God does not care where it is, Sacred p]aces this day there are none, save that all places are sacred where loving hearts look after their Lord. “But, oh,” says one, “suppose the time and place are ready, in what manner shall I come? Could you lend me a book to pray with ?” No, not I ! Let the books to pray with be burned. A blessed day when every one of them was done with! Perhaps we might have a little real prayer if the books of prayer were all destroyed.
Go to God and tell what is in your heart. Never mind the words. Any words will do if they spring from your soul. “But I have not any words,” say you. Never mind words: go and weep before the Lord. Groan before Him and cry. Let your heart speak, and if it be language that no ear can understand, God knows heart-language. He is a Spirit, and He knows the language of spirits, and He will read the desire of your soul. There is no standing upon etiquette and fine manners and goodly periods and choice sentences. Say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner[Save me, Lord, for Jesus’ sake,” and there will be more prayer in it than in all the collects and all the prayers that the most learned divines were ever able to compose.
The fact of the case is this: you will soon have to die apart. At that bedside there will stand kind friends who must bid you adieu. They will have come with you up to the brink of Jordan, but through the cool, chill stream they cannot go. Your solitary spirit must go on its lonely way through the gate of iron. Oh, as you must live alone and die alone, may His Spirit help you!
And the time is coming when you will have to be judged alone, for, though amidst the countless throng, you will have to stand before the judgment seat yet, to all intents and purposes, each man will have a separate judgment. Upon each man the eye of fire will rest; for each man shall the books be opened, and upon each man will the sentence come, “Depart, accursed.” As you will sink alone into the pit that is bottomless, and burn alone in you Tophet, where the fire never shall be quenched, I pray thee — and God speaks through me to some of you to-night — I pray you turn and live; and may His Spirit turn you — even His infinite and omnipotent Spirit — that you may seek the lonely place and with the lonely cry of a broken heart cry, “Lord, save me! I believe in Jesus! Save me for the sake of Thy dear Son! Save me, and I will give Thee praise.”
Some will say, “Well, you teach these people to be selfish — -each one looking to himself.” Yes, but no man can be unselfish till first of all his soul is saved. A man that is drowning — I need not talk to him about unselfishness. Fling him a rope, and when he can seize it and drag himself out of the waters, then he can help others, but not till then. “But,” saith one, “you may drive these people to be melancholy.” Would God I could, if it led them to abiding and perpetual peace! A man without God ought to be melancholy. Damocles, when he sits at table to feast, with a sword hanging by a single hair, ought to be unhappy. He must either be unhappy or mad ! But when the sword is taken away, when repentance hath cried to God, and mercy hath forgiven sin — then will be the time to have peace and joy; not till then. God make you miserable until you have found a Savior. Then you shall know a joy and a peace which only Heaven can equal. God grant you to know it to-night ! May you not give sleep to your eyes nor slumber to your eyelids till you have nestled in your Savior’s bosom where the spear-print is still fresh — memorial of His dying love.
Come, nestle there, and trust Him, and you shall be saved.
God bless you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.