<< Psalm 40: Being Lifted from the Pit >>
1I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
2He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
3And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
4Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
5Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
6Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
7Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,
8I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
9I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.
10I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
11Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O LORD: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
12For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.
13Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me: O LORD, make haste to help me.
14Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.
15Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha.
16Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The LORD be magnified.
17But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.
The human mind is a wonderful thing ; it became the custom of the benighted philosophers of the last century to represent it to be as nearly like nothing as possible. Instead of looking at it from its own wonderful principles, powers, and qualities as seen in themselves, and revealed by the workings of the soul in its own sphere, and in the wonders of social, domestic and scientific life, they looked at it from the properties of matter. They asked for its material bulk, weight, and tangible parts ; and as they could not find these palpable to their outward senses, they concluded that it was fine as breath, and small as a formless atom. Strange and vain delusion ! To ask matter what spirit is, is not so reasonable as to attempt to judge of light by the ears, or the world of harmony by the smell. The world of light, though real and marvelously glorious to the eyes, is nothing to any other sense : the universe of sound, though including all the marvels of speech, and all that music and discord can impart, yet to the taste, the touch, the eyes, the smell, it is nothing at all. Each sphere of existence, though comprising innumerable wonders and beauties, speaks only to the sense appropriate for its observation. So is it with the soul. It must be examined not by the body, but by itself, and its own senses. Let a person feel for his soul with his material hand, and he will not find it, but let him notice his thoughts within, and he will observe there multitudes of affections, desires, feelings, sentiments, emotions, purposes and principles of action. There are also plainly manifest to every one’s experience, masses of science and knowledge within the soul, ideas erroneous or true, intellectual views, and wise determinations. All these form an inner man, living in a world of his own, and connected with a grander world of all spiritual beings. Or if the soul is degraded, it is an inner monster living among distorted images, perverse imaginings, and vile impurities, acting upon others, and being acted upon by others, its like. The soul is an inner being, living now obscurely in an inner universe, but hereafter broadly and openly; its states are not those of the body, but they correspond to those of the body; its world is not the world of nature, but it corresponds to the world of nature. Sometimes it stands on the mountains of glowing emotion, and gratefully gazes on the Lord, the Sun of the eternal world. Sometimes it walks upon the plain of direct principle, sometimes it is busy in the valley of earthly cares and pursuits, and sometimes it sinks into a pit. And this last is the state treated of in the subject before us. ” Thou hast brought me,” says the Psalmist, ” out of a horrible pit.Let us inquire, then, what is meant: by being in a pit, and next, what by being brought out of it.
A person in a pit, especially if it is a deep pit, is confined, depressed, chilled, imprisoned. The soul is in a pit when it sees but little out of itself, is discouraged in temptation, harassed, cast down, and miserable ; when, it sees little brightness, little hope, scarcely anything, but is surrounded by its own troubles, perplexities, and fears, which are to it a pit. Occasionally, this sad condition will continue long, and gather vexation. A wearisome time of straitness and bitterness will set in. We look before and behind, but there is no opening. Our own sad thoughts and harassing suggestions from without are our only companions. It seems as if no man cared for our souls.
This correspondence of being in a pit is often employed in the Divine Word, and easily recognised in human experience. Who has not been in states of depression and distress, in which a chill cold atmosphere is around the spirit, and it feels narrowed in its views and impressions, confined for comfort only to memory and hope, and surrounded by false suggestions in thousands ? This is to be in the pit, and to have the soul in prison. “O Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from the grave : Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit” (Ps. xxx. 3). ” For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul” (Ps. xxxv. 7). Here the snare of falsehood is likened to the net placed in a pit to entrap an animal in the forest. Atother times, the pit is represented as almost closing itself over the imprisoned and infested soul, as if only a little light descended through the aperture overhead. ” Let not the water-flood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me” (Ps. lxix. 15). And, when we have been the subjects of continued sorrow and infestation, our hopes defeated, our prospects blighted, our best efforts unavailing, and plans unblessed with success, while prosperous vice intrudes itself incessantly upon our notice, painful doubts of the Divine justice, mercy, and providence straiten our minds, but very little light comes down to us. These distressing states are more deeply felt by those who are most interiorly desirous of coming into the order of heaven. They seek in every thought and every sentiment to be in harmony with God, and to think worthily of Him. But when bowed down in temptation by unworthy ideas which they cannot drive away, their pain of mind is intense, and they cry out, ” My soul is full of troubles : and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down to the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps” (Ps. lxxxviii. 4, 6). None but God, and the heart itself, can know the bitter agony which is experienced; it is as though it were caged in hell. False and gloomy views of itself and of all things surround it, and sometimes it becomes weary of life itself.
These states occur with every sincere soul, and are severe in proportion to the genuine character of our conversion, and the purity of our religious principles. A person of flippant, unreflecting character, who hears something glibly uttered about salvation, by believing this or that which the preacher utters, readily accepts it, believes as he thinks accordingly, and supposes very complacently that all is right with him. Though he is steeped in spiritual pride, he is not aware of it; though he is too selfish to give a single practical thought for the good of others, he never suspects that anything is wrong with him; though he is full of bigotry and fierce sectarianism towards those who in any wise differ from him, he never suspects that he is not a man after God’s own heart. He does not unfold the windows of his soul to the light of heaven, and therefore he cannot see the dust of its dark and narrow chambers. Were he tried as stronger Christians are, he would be swept by the dark flood to utter perdition. Such a person often takes upwith the pleasing phantasy that he is one of an especial few, the elect of God, the special favourites of a capricious deity who singled out, and preserved them from no purpose more reasonable than that he would. But men of deeper thought and more conscientious self-knowledge are very different, they aim to be what the Gospel invites them to be. They will not deceive themselves with fancy that they have virtues which they have not, or have not faults which they have. They see their failings and their sins, and mourn over them deeply. They find their sins do not vanish for mere wishing ; they will, and work to remove them. They cannot believe they are removed while they are still there. They are earnest with themselves, faithful with themselves. They are gentle and sympathizing with others, but they never spare themselves. These are the persons who find difficulties, who labour, who fall down in discouragement, and cry to the Lord for help. They obtain and make some progress, but again temptations come on. They long to be like their Lord and Saviour ; they find they are not so, but they pray, and strive and mourn, and pant for purer states, and holier habits. Then come on periods of despondency, a sense of being forsaken of God. It appears to them that they are more tried than others are. They do not see why it should be so, and hence come suggestions of doubt respecting the Lord’s care, and love and justice; and when the darkness thickens, there come fearful dark dreams of the possibility of chance or necessity ruling the world ; of there being no truth in revelation, no truth in a hereafter. Then will sometimes follow a weariness of life, a loss of hope, a fearful sinking lower and lower to utter darkness, and if the person has been one educated in the idea that some are incapable of salvation, not infrequently this horrid falsehood presses heavily then, and he trembles on the verge of insanity, and sometimes utterly sinks there.
In such a state of despair, it is said, Cowper had been when he composed the beautiful hymn : —
” God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform ;
He plants His footsteps on the sea.
And rides upon the storm.”
He had, however, found help at the most fearful moment of mental agony, and hence he could write these verses for comfort : —
” Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take.
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break.
In blessings on your head.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense.
But trust his constant grace ;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
” His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour ;
The bud may have a bitter taste.
But sweet will be the flower.”
The pit in our text is called a horrible pit. The term horrible is hardly as definite as the original word would warrant. It is strictly, a pit of noise. It is a word which implies the tumult, alarm, and crash of an assailing army. It is thus an intimation of the bitter and malicious infestation of evil spirits in our temptations. They infuse slanders against God ; they rail at our faith and our virtue ; they suggest that we are altogether corrupt and condemned : that our faith has been fancy, our religion a delusion, our heaven a dream. These are continued with a frightful reality and perseverance, until the spirit becomes conscious almost of the personal presence of the tormenting fiends. Most likely the visions of Luther in the castle of Wartzburg, in which he assures us he saw and heard the spirits of darkness, were only a very strong form of this interior temptation — the pit of noise. The whole kingdom of darkness is called “the bottomless pit,” because the infernals are in states of confirmed falsehood from confirmed evil. In them, therefore, are engendered new fallacies, and denser lies without end. When a person in this world loves darkness rather than light, he is ever fertile in delusive reasonings. There is no end with him of ingenious excuses, and justifications of the worst vices which he can furnish. And so it is with such spirits in the eternal world. They immerse themselves in false persuasions, deep, dark, frowning, and horrible. This gives rise to the position they occupy in that world by correspondence. It is an awful pit. Because of their persistence the falsehoods they love, their understandings having become everlasting slaves of their wills, they go deeper and deeper folly, delusions, and deceptions. Theirs is a bottomless pit. When the soul in its sorrows is exposed to their fearful tempting influences, it is brought in a less degree, it is true, but with a fearful vividness under their sphere, like a lurid cloud. Their noise, their persuasions, their insolence, and their reproaches attack it on every side. There is indeed a partial connexion opened with hell. They entice, they persuade, they inject doubts, they harass, and at last they mock, deride, and insult, and this with a cruel obstinacy. This is the pit of noise, the pit of misery, the horrible pit. The only shield for the tried one, in cases like these, is the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked, and the only temper which ensures a victory is patience. ” I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit.” With faith, with patience, and prayer, the conflict will assuredly end, and end in victory. The soul will come out of its pit, as out of hell itself, and express the feeling uttered by the Psalmist : “I will praise the Lord my God, with all my heart ; and I will glorify Thy name for evermore. For great is Thy mercy toward me ; and Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.”
The Psalmist speaks of being delivered also from the miry clay. And by this language is designated the pollution of the unregenerate heart. ” For from within, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these things come from within and defile the man.” — Mark vii. 21 — 23.
The miry clay, natural impurity, is the image of tendencies and feelings, which is spiritual impurity. The awful pollution of our fallen nature no language can adequately describe. It is veiled from our view in infancy by the goodness implanted in our nature by the Lord. It comes out somewhat in the passions of youth. But its full manifestation is only beheld in the worst dens of infamy, and the interior discoveries of man to himself, which take place in the unveiling of temptation. ” The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” said the prophet: “who can know it?” — Jer. Xvii. 9. Few read the pages of their own heart under the light of heavenly wisdom ; but those who do, shudder at themselves. The imagination of the sensual voluptuary reeks with pollution. It is an Augean stable which nothing can cleanse but the Divine Truth. When we dig through the wall of outward decency, without which society could not subsist, we find now what the prophet found, “Every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel , portrayed upon the wall round about.” — Eze. viii. 10. But the impurities of the imagination are still far surpassed by the depths of pollution which are contained in the lusts of the fallen will itself. Their direful character is, of infinite mercy, only exposed to the Christian when he has strength to bear it; he learns then by the successive sad revelations which disclose man’s vileness to himself, that the most impure of the impurities the universe contains is the uncleansed human heart. Avarice, and its constant attendant sensuality, which gloats in grossness are represented in the Scriptures by the swine and its filthy habits. Hypocrisy and its impurity are portrayed whited sepulchre full of dead men’s bones, and all uncleanness. Dead bodies with their corruptions are the types of dead souls with their defilements. Only partially and by degree is man made conscious of his own defiled selfhood. —
” Heaven’s Sovereign saves all beings but Himself,
That hideous sight— a naked human heart”
When, however, he is strong enough to do some of the work of , abhorring, subduing, and expelling sin from its hidden recesses, then comes interior temptation. Then he is shown the miry clay ; then filled with horror at himself, he cries to Him whom he feels to be the only Saviour : “Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink ; let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.” He would rush affrighted away, but he cannot. He must read the lesson that teaches him to deny himself, and lean upon his Saviour. He must learn to abhor his corrupt nature, and receive a new heart and a right spirit from his Regenerator. He knows now why it is said, “Ye MUST be born again.” He waits, therefore, humbly and patiently, but longingly, for the redeeming hand which can alone raise him from the MIRY CLAY, and make him pure in heart.
We must not quit this part of the subject without noticing the wonderful mercy of our Heavenly Father and Saviour, who tempers our trials to our strength. When we turn from evil, at first we see only those gross forms of sin which are easily marked, and not so difficult to renounce. We march out of Egypt, and cross the Red Sea of those opinions, customs, and false maxims, which form the boundary between vice and virtue. We renounce the grossness of wickedness, and we sing the song of victory. We suppose that all we have to do is to make good our ground, and never return to our old state. We are grateful and happy. We imagine that if the pearly gates of Paradise were to be opened before us, we should have nothing to do but to walk in, and be everlastingly blessed. The Israelites thought they should soon reach the promised land when they commenced their march, But it was forty struggling years, and after many changes, that their hopes were crowned with success. The first generation died in the wilderness, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, before Canaan was entered and possessed. So it is with us ; we suppose the work is done, when it is only commenced. The Lord favours us in this ; He gives us His sanction and blessing ; He permits us to be encouraged by this feeling, and the angels rejoice with us, and welcome us to their glorious company. How beautifully and cheeringly this is represented in the parable of the returning prodigal : ” And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” Luke xv. 20. While ” he was yet a great way off, his father saw him.” Our Divine Father sees the first movement of contrition, and while we are yet very far off in thought, and sentiment, and feeling, and purity, He still comes forward, and gives us the encouraging kiss of of His divine benediction, and says to His angelic servants: Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son who was dead is alive again; he was lost, and is found”(Luke xv. 22-24).
But not withstanding this welcome, much still remains to be done; and when we are strong enough to bear it, the Lord permits us gradually to come into trials; first gentle, then severe, gradually increasing in difficulty until little by little the full deep depravity of our corrupt nature is revealed to us. The horrible pit and the miry clay come full into view again, and our heartfelt prayer is that the All-good will save us from ourselves, and create in us a new heart and a right spirit.
“ All my powers may thy wisdom prepare,
Against my corruptions to fight;
O make me resigned to Thy care,
For Thy dispensations are right!
And since of myself I am weak,
My soul with Thy influence fill;
And be, when I act and I speak,
The spring of my thoughts and my will.”
To arrive, however, at these states of trial and complete deliverance, patience is needed. From toils, and experience we obtain patience. ” I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry.”
The want of patience is the cause of many a failure. No virtue is a surer forerunner of success than patience. We often have to lament for too great hurry, but never for too much patience. This is especially the case in spiritual things. We wish to be perfect, but we wish for perfection all at once. We wish to be delivered quickly from sin. We desire to be rid of our troubles as shortly as possible, not reflecting that freedom from pain, unless at the same time we are free from the evil, would be a short-lived benefit. ” It is good for a man that he hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord,” said the prophet; and here in our text it is written, ” I waited patiently.” This celestial virtue of patience is the source of inestimable blessings. Patience alone can bring any work to perfection, said St. James: ” Let patience have her perfect work, that she may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (chap. i. 4). ” In patience possess ye your souls,” said the Lord. And if this glorious virtue were always cherished, we should succeed much oftener than we do. As it is, after many failings through tribulation we learn patience. From toils and experience we obtain patience, and patience is crowned at all times by complete deliverance. ” I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined His ear unto me, and heard my cry.”
“Tis patience, the beloved of heaven ! the meek,
The mild, the lowly, and the gentle patience
Whose eye looks up to God ; and ne’er unbends
Its fixed and placid gaze to look upon
The thorns that tear her bleeding breast: who stands
Pale, calm, unmoved amid the storms of life:
Whose soul weeps not for heart’s torture, patience,
The meek-eyed pilgrim of the earth, that chilld
Of heaven—perfection’s crown.”
Let us, my beloved hearers, never forget this inestimable virtue—patience. By it the husbandman watches and tends the seed until it ripens into the golden grain. Though he wait for it long, it surely comes. By patience, time brings a balm for every sorrow. By patience, the load of impurity which composed the old man is subdued and removed, and the new man grows up to the full stature of a man in Christ Jesus. Are you suffering, then, my beloved friend ?—have patience. Are you longing to be entirely freed from everything that can impede your spiritual growth and happiness ?—have patience. By patient diligence all that is rough now will be polished, and you will acquire a brilliancy and a beauty which will be fully known in the day that the Redeemer makes up His jewels.
The text continues : ” And set my feet upon a rock.” Here the correspondence appears in a striking form. Feet, the lowest portion of the body, representing the operative energies which are exhibited in the outward life ; these are the lowest affections of he soul. This correspondence of feet appears everywhere in the Word, and we readily perceive its cogency. It was said of Asher by Moses, “Let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil ;” where it is easy to see, that what is commanded to Asher is, that he should be gentle in heart, and gentle in act. Some persons who mean well, defeat their own kind intentions by the rude and repulsive manner with which they act to others. They do not dip their foot in oil. True Christian courtesy is such a sweetness in demeanour, that a kind action is made doubly kind by the earnest tenderness with which it is done. Even a refusal in such a spirit is deprived of ungraciousness. The oil of heavenly charity is admired by all when it flows down into all the daily acts of common life : when not only the heart, but the foot also is dipped in oil. In this book of Psalms, the foot is mentioned very frequently indeed, appearing as the correspondence of the outward life. Thus in the ninety-first, “For He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (verses 11, 12). Where to dash the foot against a stone is to impair our daily life by some false and spurious teaching. “For I said, Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me ” (Ps. xxxviii. 16). The truly good man desires to be preserved in a blameless life, not only for his own sake, but that no harm may come to the cause of religion on his account. He prays that the evil may not have cause to exult through any fault in him : for if his foot should slip, they would magnify themselves against him. ” When I said, My foot slippeth, Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up” (Ps.xciv. 18). Here the constant watchfulness and constant prayerfulness of the good man in daily life is manifested. He feels that he needs the Divine Helper to prevent him from failing in some duty, or from failing into some misconduct, and the interior quiet prayer of the heart goes up, “O Lord, my foot slippeth,” and the strength of heaven descends, and the sinking spirit is sustained. This religion of the feet is of far greater importance than many suppose. For want of sound feet religion can often neither stand, nor walk, and yet many dream that they will be saved by their faith, whatever their life may be. But it isnot so. The feet must be regulated by the principles of justice and judgment, or there is no safety for the soul. The Word says, “Our feet shall stand within thy gates O Jerusalem.”
O let us, my beloved hearers, as members of the New Jerusalem, never forget that our feet should be within her gates. We must do justly, as well as will and think justly. It is only thus religion becomes real, and stands upon solid ground. At first, when we become religious, we do not admit this truth in all its force. We are more intent upon seeing the truth than upon doing it. We say, as Peter said to the Saviour, ” Thou shall never wash my feet.” Out daily acts seem to us beneath the dignity of our sublime views. But if we are earnestly seeking to be right, we shall hear the Divine Master saying, ” If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in Me. Every act is the outbirth of good or of evil, and is fraught with salvation or destruction ; it is the ally either of heaven or of hell. When, therefore, the deep fountains of impurity within us are opened to our gaze, and, after a patient endurance, the temptation has passed by, with our lives more firmly grounded in what is good and true than before, how gratefully we can say, Thou hast set my feet upon a rock ; Thou hast confirmed me in right : Thou hast given me power to stand against the excitements of evil ; my life shall now more than ever be based on the Word of God, which is the Rock of Ages.
What a difference is implied between the confident safety now attained, and the horrors from which the soul has escaped. It is depicted in our text by the representation of a person in a pit of miry clay, dark and horrid, with confused noises of terrible foes around, and seeking destruction, and then the same person delivered from his miserable position, brought out into the, sunlight, and placed upon a rock. Lately all was threatening and awful, now all is free and gladsome. Then all was slippery, now-all is solid. Then danger lurked everywhere, now all is calm, secure, and certain. “Thou hast set my feet upon a rock.”
Every temptation, in which we have been victorious, has made us stronger. The virtue we have struggled for becomes more completely ours. Principles which have stood the test of seducing influences and urgent assaults, become confirmed and established as settled habits. This is expressed by the Psalmist in the next sentence : ” Thou hast established my goings.” Our steps are made firm. The effect of temptation properly met and resisted is most salutary, not only in leading to a steadier grasp of the virtues which have been endangered, but to a firmer trust in the
Divine Providence. An army that has not met its foes is diffident, and without the steady confidence of veteran troops. So is it with the soul in its spiritual conflicts. When we have endured temptation, we know what we can bear, and what we can resist. We have been tried, and not found wanting. We have acquired new abhorrence of evil, from the very odiousness with which it has pressed itself upon us. We have been into the depths of iniquity, and we know how vile they are. But we have also acquired fresh faith in the Lord. We know that though He seemed long in manifesting His power, it came at last, and we have seen that His was the right time. Our foes have been scattered ; our heads have been lifted up. ” Peace, be still,” was uttered, and all our fears were hushed. Like the calm sunshine after rain, the presence of the Lord has gone forth like the morn. Hitherto has the Lord helped us, and we set up our stone of testimony, as the Israelites at Ebenezer, and feel assured that the same kind and victorious hand will be outstretched for us in every future danger. ” The Lord is my light, and my salvation ; whom shall I fear ? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
The Divine Word adds, “And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto the Lord. Many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”
Well does praise become the mouth, when deliverance so signal has been experienced. The whole heart should melt itself in song. Praise unto our God is the grateful expression of the delivered soul, for experience has taught the sacred truth that God is our Saviour and Friend, and the powers of evil are our only enemy. There is a mistaken theology which attributes man’s danger to God, and says, there is a second Divine Person, who is the Saviour. But no, says the Scripture : “Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved; for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. xlv. 22). It is not God we are to be saved from; He is the Saviour Himself, and the only Saviour. Evil and hell are the sources of danger. “God is our help ; God is our refuge and strength ; a very present help in trouble;” or, as the French version with great simplicity and beauty renders it, “And very easy to find” (Psalm xlvi. i). Let us, then, ever look up to the Lord Himself as our best friend. He is not an incomprehensible essence; He has brought Himself near to us in the person of the Lord Jesus. In Him He is easy to find. Think, then, in every hour of need, of the adorable Saviour, the Divine Man, He who was the first, the Maker of all things—your Maker; He became the Last, God visible in the lower world, that He might be a Saviour to the uttermost Trust in Him, serve Him. Expect Him as your Divine Deliverer, and you will find Him sufficient for all your needs—the Creator, the Saviour, the Friend of His people. He will give you cause to offer up praise unto Him our God.
An influence will also be exercised upon others. Many shall see it, and fear, and trust in the Lord. We are not alone in anything we do. We are connected from the cradle to the grave with many others. We have our family, and our kindred, our social friends, our business connections, our neighbours and fellow-citizens. Upon all these we exercise influence, both consciously and unconsciously. By our uprightness they are strengthened, by our courage they are cheered, by our perseverance they are confirmed in the love of right. Every person is thus a preacher to his neighbour; and the most powerful of all eloquence is the eloquence of a virtuous life. It is a testimony to the whole world that religion is not Utopian. It can be practiced and realized; for here it is done. When a parent adds to the gentle precepts of true religion, delivered to his children, the practice of a just, a patient, loving life, he preaches his household golden words. When a Christian tradesman shows a spirit of honour and rectitude in his dealings, a desire to afford full justice to his customer, as well as to himself, he preaches with the utmost force the sermon, ” Go thou and do likewise.” The best sermon any one can preach on patience, is actual calmness under provocation. The preaching of truly good lives is what the world now most needs. It is the one sweet note having the power to reduce to harmony all the discords of mankind. Alas ! the world has too long heen taught, and been all too ready to believe, that the Lord’s commandments — those great laws of heavenly order— cannot be practised, are impossible to be kept. The grand means of proving the contrary is to do them. When men declare that their gods many and lords many do not enable them to do works of faith, and love, and duty ; let our lives convince them that our one Lord Jesus Christ, Jehovah in His humanity, does give us power to show we love Him, by keeping his commandments. Do we find that in the world it is practically assumed that selfishness and evil are indigenous, and without remedy, in this world let our lives teach that our Saviour gives us power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt us. This is the sublime mission of the New Jerusalem in the world. To show in our lives that goodness is the true source of happiness, and truth is the way to goodness, and its defence ; to show that evil, however specious, leads only to misery, and we reject it. We reject what is inconsistent with love to God and man, however seductive it may appear, however pressing to be accepted, however specious, however powerful; we will live by the lord’s law of love and light, and when in our course we endure trials, sufferings, sacrifices, foregoing the gilded baubles of pampered crime, and when to outward loss, inward sorrow is superadded, opening to us inward impurities, which disgust and horrify us, we will still wait patiently upon the Lord; we doubt not that He will incline His ear unto us, and hearken unto our cry. He will lift us from the horrible pit, and from the miry day. He will put our feet upon a rock and establish our goings. He will put a new song into our mouth, even praise unto our God. Yes, our God, the Lord Jesus, the First and the Last, is alone worthy of praise. From Him, the truths of the New Dispensation descend, and from Him all the power to practise them. From Him comes victory over hell, and Victory over sin. From Him comes light to see the path ; power to walk in it; patience to persevere; and blessing to encourage us. Let then the praise of every virtuous affection, thought, word, and work be unto Him our God. In His strength let us so unfold the light of His holy city, that the kingdom of this World shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He (the One Divine Person) shall reign ever and ever. Many shall see it, and fear, and trust in the Lord.
And now, my beloved hearers, be not surprised if you should at times be brought into the pit of noise. The Lord alone knows what is best for us. He sees our interior condition, and observes how prone we often are to self-conceit, and self-indulgence. We are apt to settle upon our lees, and suppose we are quite right as we are, and need no further purification. A merciful voice says, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire.” Our gold at present is greatly mixed with dross; it must be cleansed by trial and temptation. The fire will sometimes blaze fiercely; but He who watches over us will take care, if we look to Him, it shall be a friendly flame. So we may, to induce in us a deeper dependence upon the Lord and a greater distrust of ourselves, be brought into the pit ; and it may be a horrible pit, a pit of noise and alarm, in which too there is miry clay, and scarcely any standing. Fear not; but be patient. Hope still in God, and you shall yet praise Him. Joseph was cast into a pit, and after that into a prison, before he was elevated to share the throne of Pharaoh. Daniel was cast into the pit of lions, before he was raised to sit over the province of Babylon. Jeremiah was cast into the pit, but he was lifted thence unharmed. Rest patiently upon the Lord Jesus, and no pit can finally hold you, for He has said,
” Fear not, I am with thee, I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
But above all things we must be mindful of our lives— our feet. If we suffer ourselves to do evil we sink under the temptation and give infernals the victory over us. We take no harm, however severe the temptation, from temptation itself. ” It is that which goeth into a man which defileth him ;” our “Divine Master said, ” but that which goeth out.” We cannot prevent tempting thoughts coming into the mind, but we may prevent them flowing into acts. Let us keep a tight hand upon their outgoings : ” Whatsoever we shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven.” If in the struggle we stay long in the pit, heed it not ; wait patiently. We may hear the noise and alarm of spiritual foes, but we are safe in the protection of the Lord, and He will bring us to the promised blessings. “Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. I will pay thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows” Ps. lxvi. 12, 13. Such will ever be our experience if we abide trustfully and lovingly during the tribulation we experience, until the Lord sees good to end them.
It may be that some of my beloved hearers are even now in the pit, even now feel the presence of the miry clay. Suffer me to speak words of comfort to you. Think not that you are less the objects of divine care because of your sorrows : ” Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.”
It is not a sign of your external character that you are tempted, but rather that you are strong enough to be trusted to fight the good fight. Never forget that you are under the especial providence of Him who said : ” Come unto Me, all ye that are weary, and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The blessed Lord you serve is too powerful to be overcome, too wise to be deceived, and too good to forsake you. He descended from heaven for you ; He gave Himself for you, and will surely in His own good time bring you into the peace which passeth all understanding. In all your trials, therefore, wait patiently upon the Lord. Take the beautiful language of the apostle James for your comfort : “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient ; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” — James v. 8.
But if the reward of the husbandman is the golden grain which waves in plenty over the fields, blest with an abundant harvest, what is that to the glorious reward which awaits the tried but triumphant Christian ? His harvest, the very end for which he was created, is secured — peace on earth and peace for ever. His mind, brought into the image of heavenly order, is now a little heaven. His impurities removed, no longer distress him, but all is harmony, purity, and confidence within him. For this, His God has watched over him, waited for him, defended him, and now is about to remove him to His heavenly garner.
They who die in Christ are bless’d—
Ours be then no thought of grieving!
Sweetly with their God they rest,
All their toils and troubles leaving ;
So be ours the faith that saveth,
Hope that every trial braveth,
Lore that to the end endureth,
And from Christ the crown secureth.”
He knows the nature of heaven and its joys, for he already dwells in the love which produces them. ” He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, for God is love.” He has no fears; “perfect love casteth out fear.” He knows he will not be forsaken in any future trial, as he has not been forsaken in the past. Death, terrible to most, has no terrors to him. It is the messenger of a loving Father, to call him home. Death lost his sting when sin was conquered : and since then, his dart has been turned into a golden sceptre. He takes a heaven of love, wisdom, peace and joy with him, and hopes and joys, like angel crowds, swarm within and bless him with a foretaste of heaven.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)