A Sermon Delivered By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. 8/9/2011*8/9/2011
I will say to the north, “Give up”; and to the south, “Do not keep
back.” (Isaiah 43:6)
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1. In the fulness of the promised days when the Jews shall be restored from their wanderings, and all the seed of Jacob shall again meet in their own land, God in his mighty providence will speak to all the nations, saying: “To the north, ‘Give up’; and to the south, ‘Do not keep back’ ”; and at the divine bidding free passage shall be given, all prohibitions and hindrances shall be removed, and his own people shall come to their own land. Bequeathed on Abraham’s seed by a covenant of salt, the Holy Land shall again receive its rightful heirs, the banished shall come to their own again, and no nation or people shall keep them back. So much for the literal meaning. I am unable to indulge you with fuller details, for I have no skill in guessing at the meaning of dark passages, but leave such things to those to whom it is given, or who think it is given to them. We shall now pursue the spiritual teaching of the passage.
2. At this moment, my brothers and sisters, we who follow the footsteps of King Jesus are soldiers of an army which has invaded this world. This land belongs to our great Leader, for he made it. It was right that everywhere, all around the globe, his name should be honoured, for he is the King among the nations, and their governor. But our race has revolted, set up another monarch, and yielded its strength to support another dynasty — the dynasty of darkness and death. Our race has broken the good and wholesome laws of the great Lord, the rightful King, and set up new laws and new customs altogether opposed to right and truth. This is the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of Manhood, the Sedition of Sinners. Now, no king will willingly lose his dominions, and therefore the Great King of kings has sent his Son to conquer this world by force of arms, though not by arms of steel, or weapons that cut and kill, and wound, yet by arms more mighty by far; and this earth is still to be subdued to the kingdom of the Crown Prince, the Prince Imperial of heaven, Jesus Christ, the Lord. We, his regenerated people, form part of the army of occupation. We have invaded the land. The battle has been hard and stern up to this point. We have had to win every inch of ground by sheer push of pike. Effort after effort has been exerted by the church of God under the guidance of her heavenly leader, and none has been in vain. So far the Lord has helped us, but there is much yet to be done. Canaanites and Hivites, and Jebusites have to be driven out; yes, in fact, the whole world still seems to lie in darkness, and under the dominion of the wicked one. We only hold here and there a sacred fortress for truth and holiness in the land; but we must retain these until the Lord Jesus shall send us more prosperous times, and the battle shall be turned against the foe, and the kingdom shall come to our prince. Nor is there any fear except that such a time will come, therefore let us have courage. Soldiers of the cross, have faith; have faith in your great leader, for behold he is still at the head of you, and is still omnipotent. The hour of his weakness is past. His sun set once in blood, but it has risen to go down no more. Once it was eclipsed at noonday; but now the Sun of Righteousness arises with healing beneath his wings. He who died once and for all, is now life’s source, centre, and Lord. The living Christ is present among us as the commander-in-chief of the church militant. Let us refresh our souls by drawing near to him by the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. The text has two grand matters in it: — First, here is the royalty of the word — where the word of this king is, there is power. Secondly, here is the word of royalty, and that word we may well consider, for where the word of this king is, there is wisdom.
4. I. First, here is THE ROYALTY OF THE WORD. It is more than an imperial edict; it is the fiat of omnipotence. Jesus Christ says to the north, “Give up,” and it does give up; and to the south, “Do not keep back,” and it cannot keep back.
5. I understand from reading this declaration, that there is a general opposition in the world to the cause and kingdom of God; for until he says, “Give up,” and “Do not keep back,” men do not crowd to Emmanuel’s feet, and even the chosen of God do not come out from their hiding places. All the world over there is a general opposition to the cause of Christ, to the doctrine of truth, to the throne of God. Go where you wish, in the highest places of the earth, you shall find true religion despised; among the lowest of the land you shall find that same religion blasphemed; and in the middle classes, where some seem to imagine that all virtue resides, you shall find carelessness about the things of the world to come, and carking carefulness about the selfishness of this present life. Jesus Christ is despised everywhere in comparison with the things that perish. They will not have this man to reign over them. The trees of the wood reject heaven’s cedar, and choose hell’s bramble. Even the eleven sell the true Joseph into Egypt, nor is there one found who will defend the chosen of God. Go among savage nations, and there the idol is worshipped, but Jesus is not known. Go among civilised nations, and, lo, they have only changed their idols; they have rebaptised their images, given new names to the objects of their superstitious reverence, but the true Christ is misunderstood and rejected. Go to the swarthy Hindu, the man of deep philosophy and sophistry, and you shall find his heart set against the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth; and then sail over the blue sea to the islands of the deep, and man in his simplicity worships what he does not know, but not the incarnate God. Traverse the central parts of continents where as yet civilisation has scarcely reached, and you shall find that man is still opposed to his Maker, and hates the name of the only begotten Son of God. Nor need we travel or even look abroad; the opposition is universal among ourselves, among the old, among the young. That text is striking, “They go astray from the womb, speaking lies.” An old Puritan puts it; “They go astray before they go: they speak lies before they speak”; and so it is. Before it comes to acts, the evil propensity is in the heart; and before the lips can frame the falsehood, there is the lie within the soul. From the earliest infancy to palsied age, nothing seems to cure manhood of its rebellious disposition; the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not reconciled to God, neither indeed while it remains what it is, can it be. There is a general opposition to the cause and kingdom of Christ.
But the text seems to hint that there is a particular form of that
opposition in each case. There is a word to the north, a different
word from what is given to the south. The north holds firmly, and
therefore the word is, “Give up”: the south retires, is despairing,
therefore it is said, “Do not keep back.” The opposition takes
different forms, and there is a different word to answer its ever
varying forms. How true is Dr. Watts’s verse —
We wander each a different way,
But all the downward road.
7. As each land has its own kinds of wild animals, so has each heart its indigenous sins. All land will grow weeds, but you will not find the same kind of weed equally abundant in every soil: so in one heart the deadly nightshade of ignorance chokes the seed, and in another the prickly thistle of malice crowds out the wheat. There are difficulties in reaching the heart of any man, but not the same difficulties in all men. Some, for example, cannot be influenced because of their lack of intelligence; others because of their supposed learning. Some cannot be approached because of their presumption; others because of their despondency. Some spend their all upon the pleasures of this world, others spend nothing, but find their pleasure simply in hoarding, yet they are equally averse to heavenly things. Whatever form sin takes, it is the same opposition, but still it may need a different mode of treatment, and by a different weapon it will have to be overcome. My dear brother in Christ, you perhaps have a different personal, spiritual difficulty from mine. I have no wish to change places with you, and I should not advise you to change places with me. The same is true with our trials in winning souls. We each have our difficulties, but they are not precisely alike in detail. You have to fight the north perhaps, and I the south; but the same Lord and Master can make us victorious, and without him we shall be equally defeated. The opposition which we encounter in serving our Lord is the same, depend upon it. You need not say, “Mine is a particularly hard task,” or if you do, I may say the same of mine. After all, both tasks are impossibilities without God, and both labours shall be readily performed if Jesus speaks the divine fiat, and says “To the north, ‘Give up’; and to the south, ‘Do not keep back.’ ”
8. Furthermore, as there is in all an opposition, and as there is in each a distinct opposition, so no power can in any case subdue any part of the world to Christ apart from him. It is possible that you may fall in with a family which seems to be naturally religious: you may even meet tribes of people who appear to be spontaneously inclined to godliness; but if you bring the religion of Christ to them, you will find that their very religiousness is the greatest difficulty you have to deal with. Some, on the other hand, never could be superstitious: the inclination of their mind is that of practical, sound, common sense; but do not deceive yourself with the idea that their conversion is any the easier. You may preach the gospel in the most forcible way to them, and you will find that this very common sense of theirs will be the main difficulty to be overcome. Believe me, however intent you may be in winning souls to Christ, you shall never meet one who can be subdued to him by any persuasions of yours apart from the working of his own power. I know the preacher has thought within himself, “I only have to express the truth in a reasonable way, and the man will see it.” Ah! sir, but sinners are not reasonable: they are the most unreasonable of all creatures: none are so senseless, none act so madly as they do. “But,” one says, “if I were to tell them about the love of Christ in an affectionate loving way, that would reach them.” Yes; but you will find that all your affection and your tears, and earnest description of the love of Jesus, will be powerless against human hearts, unless the Eternal Spirit shall drive home your appeals. We know some who have been reasoned with, and if logic could win them, they ought to have been won long ago: they have also been persuaded, and if rhetoric could reach them, they ought to have turned away from their evil ways years ago; but all human skill has been tried and tried, and tried in vain; yet there is no room for despair, for Jesus can conquer the unconquerables, and heal the incurables. Do not be disappointed, dear brother, if you have so far failed in your efforts; you have only proven that “vain is the help of man.” You see now by experience that, “It is not by him who wills, nor by him who runs, but by God who shows mercy.” It is yours to try and bring that soul to Jesus; but it lies with him to perform the work. Duty is ours, the result is God’s. If the soil of the field committed to me will never yield a harvest, I am still bound to plough it, if my Lord commands. If I could foresee that my child would never turn to the Lord, yet I ought not to slacken my efforts for his conversion. I have to do my Master’s command, and what he orders me to do I am bound to do it. Never let us be surprised when we are defeated, for we ought to know that old Adam is far too strong for us, if we assail him single handed. We cannot expect to cast out the devil: he laughs us to scorn if we attempt to exorcise him in our own name. We may speak as we wish, but if it is only we who speak, the devil will say, “Jesus I know, and the Holy Spirit I know — but who are you? I do not yield to you. I will not go out of this sinner, through all your persuasions and all your arguments.” Do not forget then that there is a general opposition to the kingdom of Christ — such opposition as no human power can by any possibility overcome.
9. But, my brethren, here is the point of the text. That opposition, whatever form it assumes, though not to be subdued by our efforts alone, shall assuredly yield before the fiat of our great King, when he says “to the north, ‘Give up’; and to the south, ‘Do not keep back.’ ” His word is a word of power wherever it goes. Let us rejoice then, wherever we live, that we only have to ask the King himself to come there, and to speak with power, and we shall see conversions, conversions most numerous, that shall glorify his name. I fully believe that the darkest time of any true Christian church is just the time when it ought to have most hope, for when the Lord has allowed us to spin ourselves out until there is no more strength in us, it is then that he will come to our rescue. What could have been lower than the condition into which we, as a church, had sunk about seventeen years ago? Only a little faithful band used to meet in that dreary chapel in Park Street, and cry to the Lord, never ceasing their prayers. And, oh! how soon the house began to fill, and how speedily our tent was too small for us, and we broke out on the right hand and on the left, and God made the desolate places to be inhabited. Members of other churches, you have the same God to go to. Go to him, for he can work the same wonders for you. Look to the Most High, and not to man, or ministers, or modes, or methods, but only to him, and the guidance of his Spirit. “Well, but ours is a village,” one says. And is he not the Lord of the villages? Is he the Lord of the cities, and not the Lord of the hamlets? “But our chapel is ugly, and built on a back street,” one says. “No one knows of its existence. We shall never get the people within its obscure and dreary walls.” Is God the God of the wide thoroughfares and not of the lanes? Does not the Lord know the back streets as well as the broad ones? Was not that the question in dispute of old? Is he the God of the hills, and not the God of the valleys? I have already expressed it in another way to you. In his name I ask you, can anything be too hard for the Lord? Perhaps in your sphere of service you have grown so dispirited that you are inclined to say, “I may as well give up all further effort; no good will result from my endeavours.” But what have you told the Master, and what have you sought at his hand? Have you told him all your discouragements? Have you asked him to speak with power, and has he refused you? If so, then give it up, but not until then, for he can even now “say to the north, ‘Give up’; and to the south, ‘Do not keep back’ ”; and just as when he said to the thick primeval darkness, “Let there be light,” and the light leaped into being, and the darkness fled, so can he, amid the gross darkness of our huge city, or the no less dense darkness of our villages, create light to our astonishment and to his glory. It is the King’s word we need — nothing short of it, and nothing more. We must get that by prayer: we must wait upon him with importunity. If there are only two or three whose hearts break over the desolations of the church, if we have only half a dozen who resolve to give the Lord no rest until he establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth, we shall still see great things. A handful of people who resolve if a blessing is to be had they will have it, and that if souls are not saved it shall be the sovereignty of God that prevents it and nothing else: such a mere handful shall win the day. If they will have souls saved; if they plead so and agonize, oh! then the Lord will turn his gracious hand, and send a plentiful stream of blessing upon their district; for where he wills it the blessing must come, and he always wills to display his grace where and when he leads his people to pray for it.
10. Before I leave this point, let me say the power of the King’s word is always exercised in full consistency with the free agency of man. You must not think when we say that Christ has his will, and works omnipotently in men’s hearts, that we imagine that he violates the free agency which he has created. He says to the north, “Give up,” and that word does it; for a word is a suitable instrument by which to rule a free agent. The way to make blocks of timber move would be to drag them, and if we wish to shape them we must hew them with the axe, or cut them with a saw; but the way to deal with men is to speak with them. That is how Jesus operates. His power is exerted in conformity with the laws of the human mind. He does not violate the free agency of man, though he does as he wishes with man: his word is an instrument consistent with our mental nature, and he uses that word wisely. He says to the north, “Give up”: he says to the south, “Do not keep back.” His word touches the secret spring, and sets all in motion. No man is ever taken to heaven against his will, though I do not believe any man ever went there of his own free will until God’s sovereign grace enlightened him and made him willing. You must not suppose that Christ conquers human hearts by physical compulsion, such as the King of Prussia used, for example, in subduing France, (a) or such as a man uses in driving a horse. The Lord knows how to leave us free, and yet to make us do his bidding, and in this lies the beauty of gospel influences. Suppose man’s will to be a room; if you and I want to open it, we smash the lock; we do not understand the true method; but the Lord has the key, and knows how to open the door without the use of a hammer. Without violating even the most delicate spring in the watch, the maker knows how to regulate it. Grace draws, but it is with bands of a man; it rules, but it is with a sceptre of love. The fact is, the great dispute between Calvinists and Arminians has arisen very much through not understanding one another, and from one brother saying, “What I hold is the truth” — and the other saying, “What I hold is truth, and nothing else.” The men need someone to knock both their heads together, and fuse their beliefs into one. They need one capacious brain to hold both the truths which their two little heads contain; for God’s word is neither all on one side nor altogether on the other: it overlaps all systems, and defies all creeds. It lays the full responsibility of his ruin on man, but all the power and glory of grace it ascribes to God; and it is wise for us to do the same. The great King does as he wishes among men as well as among the armies of heaven. Who shall restrain his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?” He rules men as men, and not as inanimate stones. He has a sceptre which is adapted to the mind and spirit. The weapons of his warfare are not carnal: his forces rule the heart, the mind, the whole manhood as he has made it; and so he conquers, and becomes the happy king of willing subjects, who, though subdued by power, are happy to acknowledge his sway. So much on the first point — the royalty of the word.
11. II. Now we will consider THE WORD OF ROYALTY. The King says “to the north, ‘Give up’; and to the south, ‘Do not keep back.’ ”
12. We will not spend many minutes over these words, but just briefly hint at what meaning may be drawn from them. There are some people to whom, when the powerful word of grace comes, it speaks in this way — “Give up; give up.” There are other people in another state of mind to whom, whenever the word of salvation comes, it says, “Do not keep back; do not keep back.” Now, to some we find that it comes in this way: “Give up; give up.” You say, “I am righteous; I am no worse than others. I have broken the law, but not much; my sins are trivial. I do not deserve to be cast into hell for my small offences. I have not been perfect, but as righteous as most. I have done this, I have done that, I have done the other.” Ah, dear friend, the sword of divine grace will kill all this; and the message that God’s mercy sends to you today is, “Give up.” Renounce your imagined goodness and deceitful self-esteem. Oh, give up that spinning; it is a poor business to spin cobwebs. Give it up. Your father, Adam, taught you to make aprons from fig leaves; but it was after he had fallen. It is a bad business: give it up. Your own works will never cover you as you should be covered; there is a better righteousness than yours to be had; there is a better footing to stand before God upon than anything you have done. Your refuges are all refuges of lies; give them up. That pretty righteousness of yours, which looks so white, is only white because your eyes are blind; if you could see it, it is all as black as filth can make it. You conceive your robe to be new and fair, but it is all riddled through and through with holes. The worms have devoured it; it is all motheaten and decayed. Give it up. Oh give up that Pharisaic mouthful, “God, I thank you,” and use the tax collector’s prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Give up your self-trust; it is a painted lie, a rotten plank, a foul deception, a false traitor; it promises salvation, but it brings certain damnation. Jesus is the sinner’s only hope. Give up every other reliance.
Then, too, you have an opposition in your hearts to the gospel.
Concerning that also the word says to you, “Give up.” Perhaps you
were foolishly and ignorantly prejudiced against it; before you ever
heard it you felt persuaded you would not like it. Possibly you have
been brought up to a religion of forms; you hardly think that
salvation can be by simple faith in Jesus Christ; you feel a great
deal of attachment to that regeneration of yours which was performed
in your baptism, and to that confirmation of yours bestowed by the
bishop’s fingers. Besides, you have been so regular in your religion
up until now, that you can hardly stand to be told that the whole
bundle of it is mere rubbish, not worth the time you have spent on
it. You cannot endure to be told that —
“None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good.”
But rest assured, the sooner you give up all those flattering reliances of yours, the better for you, for there is nothing in them. Even ceremonies that God has commanded are only of spiritual use to spiritual men, and since you are not a spiritual man they cannot profit you. Do you have in your heart an opposition to Christ? Can you not yield to him as God? Can you not stoop to be saved entirely by his merits, and acknowledge him for your Lawgiver, and Teacher, and Guide? Then as the text says so I would say, and may the Lord apply the word: “Give up; give up.” There is no salvation for you until you “give up” all ceremonial hopes and formal confidences. Strike the colours, man, before a broadside goes through you; for depend upon it, if you do not yield in one way you will in another. You shall either break or bow; you shall either turn or burn; that is the alternative to every man born of woman: he must turn away from his enmity to Christ, and yield himself up to his love, or else he shall find the power of God in Christ to be his destruction.
It is possible, dear friends, that your opposition to Jesus Christ
has taken the form of the love of a favourite sin. Now, there is
nothing more certain than this, that you cannot be saved and keep
your sins: they must be parted with. No man can carry fire in his
bosom and still be safe from burning. While you drink the poison, it
must and will work death in you. The thief cannot expect mercy while
he keeps the goods he has stolen. John Bunyan says that one day, when
he was playing “cat” (b) on a Sunday, on the village green, he
thought he heard a voice saying to him: “Will you have your sins and
go to hell, or leave your sins and go to heaven?” That question is
asked of every man who hears the gospel faithfully preached. Most men
in their heart of hearts would like to have their sins and go to
heaven too. But that cannot be; while God is just, and heaven is
holy, and truth is precious, it cannot be. What then? “Let the wicked
forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him
return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.” Give up, give up; give up your sin.
What is the sin? The drunkard’s cup? Away with the bewitching
draught. Is it the drunkard’s company? That is as damnable as his
cup; renounce such associations at once. Is it blaspheming? Oh man,
may God rinse your mouth out of such black stuff as that! Do not
commit a sin for which there cannot be any excuse, for it cannot
bring you any pleasure or profit, nor can there be any necessity for
it: it is a degrading, useless, senseless, God provoking crime. Is it
some secret sin that must not be named lest the cheek of modesty is
reddened? Give it up, friend; it will be much better for you to lose
it although it were as precious as your right arm or your right eye,
than to keep it and be cast into hellfire. The chamber of lewdness is
the gate of death, flee from it without delay. The sins of the flesh
are a deep ditch, and the abhorred of the Lord fall into it; but
since you love your soul, oh young man, escape like a bird from the
fowler’s snare. Here is the message of God to you: “Give up, give up
your sin.” Perhaps although you hear the summons, you trifle with it,
and reply, “Yes; I mean to give them all up, and I hope by doing so I
shall find my way to heaven. I shall deserve well from my Maker when
I have denied myself all sinful pleasures.” But stop; let me not
deceive you: this is not all. I fear that some men are not improved
in their hearts when they are altered in their outward behaviour. I
am glad for the outward improvement, but I have sometimes imagined
that they have only replaced their sins, but not given them up. They
show no leprosy in their skin, but it lies in their bone and their
flesh. It is little use merely to move the region in which sin sets
up its throne if its dominion is still undestroyed. It reminds one of
the verse —
So when a raging fever burns,
We shift from side to side by turns;
And ’tis a poor relief we gain
To shift the place but keep the pain.
What if the man does not go to hell as a drunkard, it will not correct it if he is ruined by being self-righteous: as long as he is lost I do not see that it materially matters how. Many, many a man has given up outward sins and set up a self-righteousness of his own, and said, “These are your gods, oh Israel”; and so he fled from a bear, and a lion killed him; he leaned on a wall, and a serpent bit him. All sin must be cast out of the throne of the heart, and whatever righteousness that is not Christ’s righteousness must go with it. I would gladly put the point of the sword to your heart, oh sinner, and say, “Give up all that opposes Christ”; for if you do not give it up, your soul will be lost.
In conclusion, dear friends, speaking to the children of God as well
as to such as are not converted, I say, give up all and have Christ;
give up all attempts to save yourself, and let Christ save you. Work
afterwards, because he works in you to will and to do; but now do
nothing, either great or small, to make yourself righteous, for Jesus
did it, did it all, long, long ago. Do nothing by way of straining
for merit, but begin to do everything by way of gratitude. “Give up”;
that is, give yourself up to Christ, whatever his will may be. If
it is his will that you are sick, that you are poor, that you die,
give all up, and say, “Your will be done. I resign all to you, my
God.” Does Jesus command you to do anything? Do not let it be irksome
to you. Whatever he says to you, do it. Let there be no backstairs by
which to play the truant; no keeping back part of the price as though
you would not do Christ’s will, except in some points. Give up
unreservedly, and make no provision for the flesh. Let his will be
your will. Yield entirely; and if you have anything in this world of
substance, of talent, of opportunity, “Give up.” Begin with
resignation, go on to obedience, and finish with consecration. “Give
up, give up” until all is given up, body, soul, and spirit, a
reasonable sacrifice to him, until you can say:
Now, Lord, I would be thine alone,
And wholly live to thee.
I perceive that my text has grown from a word to the sinner who has to be conquered into a word directed to Christ’s nearest and dearest friends, even to those who are the soldiers of his army. It is in effect a lofty, far reaching precept, and oh that we could live up to it, by presenting our all to Jesus our Lord.
16. Let us now spend a minute or two on the second word of the King: “Do not keep back.” Is there some person within this assembly who feels within his heart the desire to come and confess his sins to his God? Standing at the filthy swine trough, does the prodigal say within himself: “I will arise and go to my Father, and say to him, Father, ‘I have sinned?’ ” “Do not keep back”: do not quench that holy flame. If you have a desire to come and acknowledge your transgressions to the pardoning Saviour, let nothing keep you back — neither fear, nor shame, nor procrastination, but do not rest until you have reached the bosom of your God and acknowledged all your guilt before him. A repulse need not be feared, nor even an upbraiding — a rich, free, loving welcome is certain. “Do not keep back.”
17. But is there another who has confessed his sin, but still has found no peace? Do you see Christ on the cross over there? “Yes,” you say, “I know there is life in a look at him, but may I look?” My Master’s message to you is, “Do not keep back; do not keep back,” for whoever looks shall be made whole, and none are forbidden to look. Does the crowd around the Saviour hinder you, you sick and dying soul? Do not be baffled by difficulty, but persevere. Press into the thickest of the throng, for if you only touch the hem of his garment you shall be made whole. “Do not keep back; do not keep back.” You may believe in Jesus now! May I? Indeed, you are commanded to do it; and you are threatened if you do not, which proves that you have permission and something more. It is written: “He who does not believe shall be damned.” Oh man, it is only another way of saying you have full permission to do it, for you are threatened if you do not do it. Come, then, come, now, very joyfully. “Do not keep back.” Confess your sin with repentance, and lay it on Christ by faith, and you shall be saved.
18. Dear brothers and sisters, many of you have come to Christ and have been saved, and to you the text says, “Do not keep back,” in another sense. Do not keep back from confessing Christ. If you have the love of Jesus Christ in your soul, confess it, tell it to others. Never be ashamed of your Lord and Master. Come and unite with his church and people. It is due to the church; it is due to the preacher who was the means of your conversion; it is especially due to your Lord and Master that you “do not keep back.” I have heard of some who keep back because the church is not perfect. And you are very perfect I dare say! Why, if the church were perfect we would not endure you in it, my captious friend. I have no doubt whatever that you will find the church quite as perfect as you are. There are others who keep aloof from the people of God because they feel they are not perfect themselves. My dear friend, if you were perfect we should not want you, because you would be the only perfect member among us, and having a very imperfect pastor, I do not know what we should do with you; we should find you such a speckled bird among us, that we should probably pray to the Lord to take you home to heaven at once. I should like to have you become perfect, and the nearer perfection the better — but still if you make no profession of faith until you are sinless, it will not be on this side of the grave. Indeed, confess Christ, for is it not written: “He who with his heart believes, and with his mouth makes confession of him, he shall be saved?” Do not forget the confession of the mouth. “Do not keep back.” And when you have done that, if there is any Christian excellency that can be reached, do not despair of reaching it. “Do not keep back.” And if perfection itself is attainable, never be content until you attain it. If you are a child of God you never will be self-satisfied, you will be always crying: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Oh that you may never be content with yourself! Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. You have come into the lowest seat at the feast, but Jesus says: “Friend, come up higher”; and when you get into a higher room, and enter into closer communion with him, he will say to you, “Friend, come up higher.” Do not hesitate to climb higher in grace and fellowship. Let your prayer be, “Nearer to you, my God, nearer to you.” Be insatiable in the longings of your soul; hunger and thirst after righteousness; covet earnestly the best gifts. Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. “Do not keep back.” There is no point in grace which we are prohibited from striving for. None of us ought to say, “I am all I can ever be.” Oh, no, let us reach to the front ranks by God’s grace; for he says, “Do not keep back.”
19. Let me add if there is a brother who could do more for Christ than he is doing, let him “not keep back.” Could you preach? Well, there are plenty of places needing occasional ministers, and others that are quite destitute. I do not know a nobler occupation for a man who is in business in London than for him to be maintaining himself by his shop, or whatever else his calling may be, and going out to suburban villages on the Sabbath to preach. I often wonder why more people do not imitate the example of some good brethren, whom I could name, who are diligent in their business and who are also fervent in spirit in their Master’s work. What reason can there be that for every little church there should be a pastor especially set apart for the work? It is a very desirable thing wherever there are enough Christian people to be able to support the minister that there should be such; but I believe we very much hamper ourselves in our Christian work through always imagining that a paid person set apart to preach is necessary for every Christian church. There ought to be more farmers who educate themselves, and preach in their own barns or on the village greens. There ought to be more men of business in London who seek to improve their minds, so that they may preach acceptably anywhere the gospel of Jesus Christ; and I hope the time will come when our dear friends, the members of churches in London, will not be so backward as they are, but will come forward and speak to the honour of the Lord Jesus. If you cannot edify a thousand, perhaps you can influence ten; if you cannot with a regular congregation continue to find fresh matter year after year (and believe me that is a very difficult thing), still you can preach a sermon here and a sermon there, and tell to different groups the same story of the Saviour’s love. I do not know what special work you can do, but something is within your power, and from that “Do not keep back.” Besides, there are all our street corners. In spring and summer, how delightful to stand in the thick of the throng and uplift the Crucified One! Of course, you are sure to have a congregation out of doors, and a congregation that is rather attentive, and sometimes rather inquisitive, and do not need to be so inconveniently crowded as we are in this Tabernacle. Take the wide sweep, cast the big net, and hope for fish. If you have any grace or gift, “Do not keep back.” “Alas!” murmurs the glowworm, “I intend to turn off my lamp, and hide under those damp weeds, and never shine again.” What is the matter with you? “Why,” he says, “I have seen the sun; I shall never shine again after seeing the sun.” That glowworm is stupid. If it were wise, it would say, “I have looked upon the sun; and I perceive with shame that my lamp is only a poor light, but for that reason I must use it all the more diligently. The sun may well hide its light after twelve hours are over; but I must try to glimmer during the whole twenty-four hours, and so give as much light as I can, though it is little.” You complain that you have only one talent; that is the reason for being doubly diligent with it. If you had five, they ought to be fully used; but if you have only one, you must put all your wits to work to make something more of it. At any rate, “Do not keep back.”
“Well,” one says, “I think I could do something, but I am of a
retiring disposition.” I am afraid if I had been in the French army
in the recent war, I should be very much of the same disposition; but
in a soldier, as a rule, a retiring disposition in the hour of battle
is not much commended by his captain. You who are so modest (shall I
say so cowardly?) that you cannot do for Christ what you ought to do,
will have an account to settle with your consciences one of these
days, which will cost you a world of sorrow. Break through this
bashfulness, this laziness (for it comes to that in the long run),
this silly, wicked shame. Pride must also be slain, for this hinders
many. They cannot be as prominent as others, and therefore shun the
work altogether. Get rid of all that cripples you, shake it all off
by the power of the Holy Spirit, my dear brethren, and “Do not keep
back,” for who knows — you may still bring sinners to Jesus, may save a
soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins, through God’s eternal
Spirit. May it be so, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
[Portion of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Isaiah 43]
(a) Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871
(b) Tip-Cat: A game in which the wooden cat or tip-cat is struck or “tipped” at one end with a stick so as to spring up, and then knocked to a distance by the same player. OED