A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, July 8, 1877, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *7/30/2012
Suddenly my tents are plundered, and my shelters in a moment. [Jer 4:20]
And when you are plundered, what will you do? [Jer 4:30]
For other sermons on this text:
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 349, “Wailing of Risca, The” 339]
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1363, “Sudden Sorrow” 1354]
Exposition on Jer 3:6-4:29 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3426, “Sore Grievance, A” 3428 @@ "Exposition"]
Jeremiah was describing the havoc of war, a war which was devastating
his country and bringing untold miseries upon the people. He says
concerning it, “My soul, my soul! I am pained at my very heart; my
heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have
heard, oh my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is
plundered; suddenly my tents are plundered, and my shelters in a
moment. How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the
trumpet?” [Jer 4:19-21] How grateful we ought to be that war is
not raging in our own land. We should read those terrible stories
which come to us concerning the destruction of human life by the two
armies in the east with the utmost regret. [a] On whichever side the
victory may turn it is still to be daily lamented that men should
slaughter men, and glory in wholesale murder. How true it is neither
the elements in their fury, nor wild beasts in their rage, have ever
been such terrible enemies to man as men. We should thank God that we
live separated from the continent by the English channel, and see our
harvests ripening without the dread of their being reaped by
invaders; we walk our streets without the fear of bursting shells,
and seek our bedrooms without the apprehension of being awakened in
the dead of night by the shouts of advancing adversaries. Blessed be
the Lord who has given centuries of peace to the fertile hills and
valleys of his chosen isle.
Oh Britain, praise thy mighty God,
And make his honours known abroad;
He bade the ocean round thee flow;
Not bars of brass could guard thee so.
Let the name of Jehovah our God be praised this morning, for giving peace in our borders, and filling us with the finest of the wheat.
2. There are, however, in this land, and in all lands, whether at war or peace, many calamities which come suddenly upon the sons of men, concerning which they may bitterly lament, “How suddenly are my tents plundered, and my shelters in a moment.” This world at its best is not our rest. There is nothing settled beneath the moon. We call this terra firma, but there is nothing firm upon it; it is tossed to and fro like a troubled sea for evermore. We are never in one state for very long; change is perpetually operating. Nothing is sure except what is divine; nothing is abiding except what comes down from heaven. All things change as they pass before us, and perish in the using. At this moment your ship lies motionless; do not be too secure, for within the next few minutes you may be driven by a hurricane with bare masts. Today your garden is planted with blooming flowers, which are filling the air with their perfume; do not rejoice too much in their sweetness, for within a short time nothing may remain, the destroyer may tear them up by the roots, and your garden may become a desolation. There is nothing bright, beautiful, fair, lovely, or desirable beneath the sun which may not be speedily withered. Even like a vision are all these things; they are, and lo, they are not. They flash upon us as the meteor which blazes in the midnight sky, and then leaves the darkness to be blacker than before. “Do not boast yourself about tomorrow,” yes, do not boast yourself about today, lest perhaps tomorrow, or even in this very day, you may have to cry with Jeremiah, “How suddenly are my tents plundered, and my shelters in a moment.”
3. This expression may be, without any straining, very readily applied to many matters, and to three especially. First, to the sudden destruction of all human righteousness; secondly, to the sudden destruction of all earthly comfort; and, thirdly, and this is by no means an unusual thing, to the sudden destruction of human life itself. May the Holy Spirit bless our meditations upon the instability of all earthly born things, so that we may despise the things which are seen and temporal, and follow after the things unseen and eternal.
4. I. A SUDDEN DESTRUCTION HAPPENS TO HUMAN RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Beloved, when I put those two words together, “human
righteousness,” I inwardly smile; it sounds like a comedy, or a
satire, I scarcely know which. “What is man that he should be clean?
and he who is born of a woman that he should be righteous?” Mere
human nature and righteousness are two things not easily joined
together, and when they are united for a time they soon separate, for
they mix no better than oil and water. There is a divine
righteousness, accomplished by our dear Redeemer and imputed to all
his believing people, which will remain:
That glorious robe the same appears
Then ruined nature sinks in years;
No age can change its glorious hue,
The robe of Christ is ever new.
But the righteousness which comes from man is a dream — how suddenly does it vanish from our view. Lighter than the gossamer’s web, more subtle than the mist, more fleeting than the wind, its very name is vanity.
6. Let us look at the history of human righteousness, and begin in the garden of Eden, and lament the fall. Human righteousness existed in the bowers of Paradise, and man was happy with his God. Adam was created sinless, his mind was equally balanced, and without evil tendencies. He was placed in a garden of delights, with only one commandment to test him, and that a very simple one, costing very slight self-denial to obey. We do not know how long Adam was in the garden, but we know that man being in honour does not continue, and in a very short time he and our mother Eve were robbed of all that they had. The serpent crept in and beguiled them; he who was a murderer from the beginning plundered them. How suddenly were their tents plundered, and their shelters in a moment, for their eyes were opened, and they perceived that they had lost everything. The righteousness which covered them much better than a vesture had been taken from them, so that they were utterly naked before the eyes of the living God. He is a cruel robber indeed who strips a man of every garment, but completely were our first parents robbed and plundered like this: they found that they had lost the garden where they had lived in such contentment, lost peace, lost happiness, lost themselves, lost their posterity, lost everything. Everything was taken from them except what infinite mercy stepped in to give them in the form of a gracious promise concerning the restoring seed of the woman. Whenever we think of the Fall we ought to be humbled, and to be restrained from all idea of self-righteousness, for if Adam in his perfection could not maintain his righteousness, how can you and I, who are imperfect from the very birth, hope to do so? If the thieves broke in and stole our ancestor’s righteousness, when his tent was pitched amid the sunny glades of Eden, how much more will our shelters be plundered in this land of the Ishmaelite and the Amalekite? If the old, wily serpent found a way into the unfallen hearts of our first parents, when they had no surroundings to mislead them, how vain it is for us to hope to overcome the evil one in order to attain everlasting life by the works of the law.
7. A second example of this very commonly occurs in the failure of the moralist’s resolutions. See those young people, tutored from their childhood in everything that is good: their character is excellent and admirable, but will it endure? Will the enemy not plunder their tents? It is often so. The young man starts in life with the conviction that he is not of the common herd of sinners, and will never descend to their level. He has heard of other youths who have fallen into temptation, and destroyed themselves by dissipation, but he feels certain that he shall do nothing of the kind. Like Hazael, he cries, “Is your servant a dog that he should do this thing?” He imagines that his barque can weather all storms, and he plumes himself upon the idea that the record of his life will be very different from that of other men. How truly lovely at first sight he seems! How honest, generous, and true! Even looking upon him with the eyes of Jesus, we might love him, and only mourn that he lacks one thing. The righteousness which he wears is merely a human one, and it is altogether in his own keeping, but he believes that he shall hold it firmly, and never let it go. His tent is so well pitched that no wind from the wilderness will ever overturn it. Have not these delusions been sadly dispelled in hundreds of cases? A fierce temptation arises, and the man’s resolutions are carried along by it like thistle-down in the wind. The young man did not think that such a temptation could ever happen to him. He had been kept by his parents and friends like a flower in a conservatory, and he could not believe that the nights could be so bitterly frosty in the cold world outside; but now he has to feel the nipping influence of sin, and he speedily withers. Satan, discovering his weakness, takes him at a tender point, brings before him that lust to which he has the greatest tendency, sets before him that dainty delicacy of sin to which he has the sweetest tooth, and eventually the hopeful youth can no longer talk about his virtues nor boast about his purity, for he has fallen low. The ship Boastful has struck on a rock, and is going down. The self-confident young man now finds himself to be human; being human, to be liable to temptation; being tempted, to be ready to yield to sin. “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction, and the shelters of the land of Midian trembled,” for the cords of resolution are broken and the stakes of principle are pulled up. Alas, poor human righteousness, you are soon struck on the forehead, and speedily rolled in the dust. How soon does the beauty of human nature pass away in the hour of trial!
8. Many a young man and young woman, opening their eyes suddenly after temptation, have had to cry, “How suddenly are my tents plundered, and my shelters in a moment.” Ah, you who think yourselves beyond all danger of falling into sin you do not know yourselves; you do not understand the plague of your own hearts, for if you did you would see that you carry within your souls all manner of iniquity, which only waits for an opportunity to develop itself, and when it finds a fit occasion it will display its deadly nature, and then you will mourn that you did not seek a new heart and a right spirit from the hand of Christ.
9. My second text says, “And when you are plundered, what will you do?” And I would earnestly answer it for any of you who have gone through this experience. Do not try to re-establish that righteousness of yours which has been so thoroughly ruined, but look for something better. Leave the tent for a mansion, flee from the shelters of self to the walls of salvation. Your own resolutions have failed you, therefore leave such a sandy foundation and build upon the rock of divine strength! Go and confess your sin with deep contrition; ask the Lord Jesus to wash you in his precious blood, and then desire truth in the inward parts, and ask that the Holy Spirit may make you to know wisdom in the hidden part. So it shall come to pass that you shall no longer build upon the sand, nor yet with wood and hay and stubble, but on the rock with gold and silver and precious stones.
10. Another liability of human righteousness is one which I must not call a calamity, seeing it is the beginning of the greatest blessing; I mean when the Spirit of God comes to deal with human righteousness, by way of illumination and conviction. Here we can speak of what we know from experience. How beautiful our righteousness is, and how it flourishes like a beautiful flower until the Spirit of God blows upon it, and then it withers quite away, like the grass in the hot Sirocco. [b] The first lesson of the Holy Spirit to the heart is to lay bare its deceitfulness, and to uncover before us its loathsomeness, where we thought that everything was true and acceptable. What a different character you gave yourself, dear friend, before the Spirit of God dealt with you, to what you were compelled to give afterwards. Truly, your beauty consumed away like a moth. You began to mourn over your holiest things, for you saw the sin which polluted them; and as for your transgressions, which you thought so little of, when the Spirit of God set them in a true light you found them to be hideous and horrible offences against the God of love. Previously you emblazoned your name in letters of gold, but when you learned the truth you chose a black inscription, and with a heavy hand you wrote out your own condemnation, feeling that you were bound to do so. Now, it is a great mercy when the Spirit of God brings home the truth to the heart and makes a man see the deceptiveness of outward appearances. I pray that it may happen to you all if it never has done so. May your tents be plundered until you see yourselves to be utterly undone; for you are so by nature whether you see it or not.
11. I would ask all who are under conviction of sin to answer this question, “When you are plundered, what will you do?” May you reply, “We know what we will do. We will flee away from self to Jesus. Our precious things are removed, and our choice treasure is taken from us; therefore we take the Lord Jesus to be our all in all.” If such is your resolve, you are fulfilling the objective and design of the ever-blessed Spirit, who works in order to wean man from self and to remove pride from him. For this reason he plunges man into the ditch until his own clothes abhor him, for then he turns to Jesus and seeks for that clothing which the matchless righteousness of Christ Jesus alone can afford.
12. But there will come to all human righteousness one other time of plundering if neither of those should happen which I have mentioned before. Remorse will come, and that very probably in the hour of death, if not before. Apart from the Holy Spirit, conscience often does its work in a very terrible fashion, and tears to pieces before a man’s eyes the shelters of righteousness which he had so laboriously created. Have you never seen a sinner happy and contented, because he is self-deluded? But suddenly he has found out that his falsehood and hypocrisy were known to God, and would be all exposed and punished. At such a time instead of turning to God, he has despaired and said, “I am lost, there is no hope for me,” and therefore he has plunged into deeper sin and become a worse man, while all the while, like the vulture at the liver of Prometheus, [c] conscience has continued tearing away at his heart, eating into his very soul, and drinking the blood of joy out of his life, until he has been dried up by an anguish from which he could not escape. I have seen men die like that; the consolations of the gospel have been sounded into a deaf ear, they have lifted up their hands as though they would thrust the minister away, when he talked about mercy they replied that there was none for them, and when he spoke of cleansing they declared that their sin was of more than scarlet hue, and never could be washed away. Oh, how suddenly are their tents plundered, and their shelters in a moment, and when destroyed like that, what does a man do? What except give himself up to that everlasting despair, which has at last overtaken him. While any man is yet alive I would exhort him still to apply to Christ; though it were the last breath he breathed I would still hold up the Redeemer before his expiring gaze, but when remorse has fully set in, this is seldom of any avail. They cry, “Too late, too late!” they continue to refuse their Saviour, and pass away naked, and poor, and miserable, to stand before God’s righteous judgment bar to hear the sentence of their conscience confirmed for ever by the mouth of the Eternal Judge. In that dreadful day their overthrow will be terrible indeed. May God save us from this.
13. I hope, dear friends, that all of us know what it is to have seen all our tents plundered of all the precious things in which our pride boasted itself, and that we have now become rich in the riches of the Lord Jesus, and secure in the cleft of the rock which was opened in his side. If we have done so we shall not regret, but greatly rejoice, that our tents were suddenly plundered, and our shelters in a moment.
14. II. The words of our text are exceedingly applicable to THE DESTRUCTION OF ALL EARTHLY COMFORTS.
15. Sudden destruction of all our earthly comforts is common to all kinds of men. It may happen to the best as well as to the worst. Did it not happen to Job, who on a certain morning was amazed by messenger after messenger hurrying to tell him that all his property was swept away? Last of all came one who told him that his entire family had been destroyed by tempest. Sudden sorrow happened also to rebellious Pharaoh as well as to pious Job, for at the dead of night he was aroused to bewail the firstborn of him who sat upon the throne, and heard throughout all the land of Egypt a chorus of lamentations on account of a similar calamity which had happened to every household. Neither the just nor the unjust can tell when tribulation will befall them. David returns from among the Philistines and he finds Ziklag burned with fire, and his wives and his children carried away captive; yet not to the righteous only are such trials, for Belshazzar feasts in his palace in Babylon, but that same night Belshazzar was killed. An arrow pierces wicked Ahab, but gracious Josiah fell in the same manner; with impartial foot calamity comes to the door of all kinds of men. As the hawk plunges upon its prey, so affliction falls upon the unsuspecting sons of Adam. Just as the earthquake suddenly overthrows a city, so does adversity shake the estate of mortals.
16. Sudden trial comes in various forms. Sometimes it is the loss of property, as in the case of Lot when the kings came and took him captive and all that he had: then he was utterly plundered. The same thing has happened in ordinary business, as in the case of Jehoshaphat when he made ships to go to Tarshish and they were wrecked at Eziongeber. The merchant who thought himself rich as a prince were opened his letters one morning and found that he had become bankrupt. These are only common things in days of panic and convulsion. Frequently the calamity comes in the form of the loss of one dear to us. So it came to the Shunammite, whose child had been such a comfort to her, but it happened one day as he went into the field to the reapers, and he said, “My head, my head,” and very soon the little gift from heaven had left a childless mother to weep over his little lifeless form. So it happened to Jacob, who sent his darling son away with a kiss, but before many days had passed he saw his garment covered with blood, and exclaimed, “A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” You cannot be sure of child, or wife, or husband. The fondest lover may be torn from your side, and the dearest babe may be torn from your bosom. Here below nothing is certain but universal uncertainty. One way or another God knows how to bring the rod home to us, and to make us smart until we cry out, “How suddenly are my tents plundered, and my shelters in a moment.”
17. Now, this might well be expected. Do we wonder when we are suddenly deprived of our earthly comforts? Are they not fleeting things? When they came to us did we receive a lease on them, or were we promised that they would last for ever? Jonah sat under his withered gourd wringing his hands and complaining to God, but if you and I had been there we might have said “What ails you, man? Are you surprised that gourds wither?” “I murmur,” he said, “because I have lost the shade which screened me from the sun.” “But, man, is it not the nature of a gourd to die? It came up in a night, do you marvel that it perished in a night? A worm at the root of a gourd surely is no novelty. Oh prophet, do not be angry with your God, this is what you should look for from such a growth.” If our tents are plundered, we should remember that they are tents, and not fortresses; shelters, and not bulwarks. The thief can readily enough enter and plunder the habitation which is made of such frail material. Do you wonder that your offspring die? Why so? Across your children’s brows there is written the word “mortal,” if you read properly. Did you expect a mortal mother to have an immortal son? Did you, a dying father, expect to be the parent of a daughter who would never see death? Your love is astonished, but your reason is not; your affection considers it strange, but your understanding judges it to be according to the frequent course of nature. Your children came to you, and you received them into your heart and home, with the knowledge that they were mortal, and therefore you are not deceived. Bow, therefore, to the divine will and say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.”
18. You lament that you have lost your riches. Are you surprised at that? Do you keep birds? Do you wonder when they fly away? What are riches except birds with golden feather? They take to themselves wings, we are told, and fly away. It is not the most marvellous thing in the world if your boy has a tame bird if he comes to you and says, “Father, my bird has taken wings and fled away.” “Dear child,” you say, “I always wondered that it did not do so before.” So may you say to the merchant who has lost his property in business — the marvel is not that wealth departs but that it stays by any man, seeing it is the nature of winged things to fly away. Clouds dissolve, bubbles burst, snowflakes melt, and even so do this world’s treasures waste away.
19. Moreover, our earthly comforts were never given to us to be held for ever by a covenant of salt. They are always loans, and never gifts. All that we possess here below is God’s property; he has only loaned it out to us, and what he lends he has a right to take back again. We hold our possessions and our friends, not upon freehold, but upon lease terminable at the Supreme Owner’s option; do you wonder when the holding ceases? Do you know the parable of the wise Jewish woman? When her husband, the Rabbi, had gone out to teach his disciples, certain neighbours in great sorrow brought home to her the corpses of her only children, two sweet boys, who had been drowned. She took them upstairs, and laid them upon the bed, and covered them with a sheet, and waited in her deep affliction until her husband came home, grieving most of all for the sorrow which would overwhelm him. She stood at the door and mournfully said, “My husband, do you know that a great tribulation has happened to me? A friend had lent me a treasure, and, while I have had it, it has been a great joy to me, but today he has taken it back again, and I do not know what to do.” “My beloved,” said the Rabbi, “Do not speak like that. Can it be a sorrow to you to return what you have borrowed? Oh daughter of Abraham, you cannot harbour dishonesty in your soul. If the treasure has been lent, be grateful to him who permitted you the loan, and send it back with cheerfulness.” “Do you say so?” she said; “Come here.” Then she turned back the coverlet, and he gazed upon the cold faces of his two children, and he said, “You have spoken wisely, oh woman, for I understand that God has lent these children to me, and that I must not complain because he has taken back his own.” Do you not see how natural it is that loans should be returned to their lender in due time? Do not say, “I am the man that has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath,” as though you were the chief or the only sufferer, for in this thing there no trial has happened to you except what is common to men. Do not cry in dismay, “How suddenly are my tents plundered, and my shelters in a moment!” for when war is raging it is not surprising that tents should be plundered. It is according to the nature of things that in a world which produces thorns and briars in all its furrows some of the sharp points should pierce your flesh.
20. Once more, we live in a world that is full of thieves, and it is no wonder if our joys are stolen. Our Master has warned us that our habitations here below are not thief proof; he forbids us, therefore, to lay up our treasure where thieves break through and steal. The mud houses of the East are easily entered by burglars; they break a hole wherever they please, and steal a man’s wealth while he sleeps, and this present life is just the same. This world swarms with thieves such as false friends and deceivers, slanderers and critics, losses in business and crosses in our expectations, unkindness of enemies and fickleness of acquaintances, and especially sickness and death. We must not marvel, therefore, if some thief or other should take away the dear delight which makes our tent so happy.
21. Beloved, since these calamities may be expected, let us be prepared for them. “How?” you say. Why, by holding all earthly things loosely; by having them as though you did not have them; by looking at them as fleeting, and never expecting them to remain with you. Love the creature in the measure in which the creature may be loved, and no more. Mortal things may only be loved in their proportion; never make them your gods, nor allow your heart to live upon them or sustain itself upon them, for if you do you are preparing sorrow for yourself, and “When you are plundered, what will you do?” You will cry with Micah, “They have taken away my gods.” If you allow your heart to be filled with earthly things while you have them, you will have your heart broken when they are taken away.
22. Let us take care to make good use of our comforts while we possess them. Since they hastily fly by us, let us catch them on the wing, and diligently employ them for God’s glory. Let us be careful to place our chief treasure in heaven, for, as old Swinnock says, “A worldling’s wealth lies in the earth, therefore, like wares laid in low damp cellars, it corrupts and rots; but the godly man’s treasure is in heaven, and, like commodities laid up in high rooms, it continues safe and sound.” Treasure in the skies is treasure indeed. Where moth and rust and thief can enter is no fit place for us to store our treasures in. Let us commit our all to the custody of God, who is our all in all. Such a blessed thing is faith in God that if the believer should lose everything he possesses here below he would have little reason for sorrow as long as he kept his faith. If a great landed proprietor in walking down the street were robbed of his handkerchief, he would not lie down in despair, nor even make a great noise over his loss. “Ah,” he says, “they could only steal a mere trifle, they could not rob me of my parks and farms, and yearly income.” Believers invest their true wealth in a bank which never fails, and as for their earthly substance it is not theirs at all, but their Lord’s, and they only desire to employ it for his cause; so that if he takes it away they are bound to look upon themselves as no losers, but as in some measure released from responsibility, and they may thank their Lord for such relief. Be sure you use this world as not abusing it, and fix all your joy and love and hope and trust in the eternal God, and then, come what may, you will be safe. “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
But let me solemnly remind you that in times when we have a sudden
calamity God is putting us to the test, and testing the love and
faith of those who profess to be his people. “When you are plundered,
what will you do?” You thought you loved God: do you love him now?
You said he was your Father, but that was the time when he kissed
you; is he your Father now that he chastens you? The ungodly kick
against God; they can only rejoice in him while he gives them sweet
things, but his true children learn to kiss the rod. Can you
believe in Jesus when distress is upon you, and when poverty assails
you as an armed man? You talked about your faith in summer weather;
do you have faith now in the long, wintry nights? Can you trust the
Lord when the fierce winds from the wilderness threaten to overturn
your tent? Has the Holy Spirit given you the faith of God’s elect,
which can bear a strain? That faith which cannot endure trial is no
faith at all, and if the death of a child, or the loss of wealth, or
being struck down by disappointment or sickness shall make you doubt
your God, what will you do when you come to die? If in running with
footmen you are wearied, what will you do when you contend with
horses? If these minor trials overwhelm you, what will you do in the
last dread day, when all things pass away from your sight? This is a
trying time for your heart, a testing time for your graces. If all
things are right within us, when our tents are plundered we shall
live closer to God than ever, and thus we shall be gainers by our
loss, because it has increased our spirituality and our peace. It
would be a blessed thing to be like the planet Venus, of which it is
certain that the earth can never come between her and the sun. The
world often hides our God from us, and when our comforts are swept
away there is all the less likelihood of its doing so. If our
bereavements bring us into the clear and ever abiding sunlight of the
Lord’s own face, we may be thankful to lose what previously caused
Nearer, my God, to thee!
Nearer to thee!
What though it be a cross
That raiseth me,
This still my cry shall be,
Nearer to thee, Nearer to thee!
Blessed is he who is resolved with Job, and by grace is enabled to stand by it, “Though he kills me, yet I will trust in him.” We should learn to give up everything that is dear to us in this present life, and find our comfort in the hopes of the next world; so that, like David when his darling child had been taken away, we may say, “I shall go to him: he shall not return to me.” Happy and blessed is the man who acts like this. He shall not be cast down in the cloudy and dark day; “he shall not be afraid of bad news, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.”
24. Oh, you worldlings, what will you do in the time of trouble? How will you comfort your hearts in the day of visitation? Most of you young people are full of fun and mirth, and I am glad you have happy times; but the holidays of youth do not last for ever, your tents will be plundered one of these days, as surely as you live, and what will you do then? All the joy which you can draw from this world’s wells will turn to brackish water before long, and you will loathe it: what will you do then? Nothing will remain of all this momentary mirth when the heyday of your youth is over and the evil days come, and the days draw near when you shall say, “I have no pleasure in them.” Why, then, are you so taken up with fickle, fleeting joys? I beseech you to seek substantial happiness. Ask for eternal blessings. Draw near to God by Jesus Christ and seek unfading bliss in his abiding love.
25. III. In the third place there may come A SUDDEN DESTRUCTION OF LIFE ITSELF.
In a moment prostrated by disease and brought to death’s door, frail
man may well cry out, “How suddenly are my tents plundered, and my
shelters in a moment!” It is by no means unusual for men to die
suddenly. One does not wish to suggest an unhappy thought, but this
is so salutary a consideration that it ought never to be absent from
us, — we are only dust, and may be dissolved in an instant by death. We
are continually surprised that one and another have suddenly been
called away; yet it is more strange that so many remain.
Our life contains a thousand springs,
And fails if one be gone,
Strange that a harp of thousand strings
Should keep in tune so long.
In this large congregation death’s work is very obvious to one who stands upon this central tower of observation. During the last few days we, as a church and congregation, have lost several from our midst. I will not point out the seats which are today occupied by others, where old friends have sat for many years, but so it is, that some have gone quite suddenly from us, and their graves are scarcely filled in. Who will be the next? It frequently happens that those who are apparently very hale and strong men are among the first to fall. Our friends who are continual invalids remain with us, some of them many months, and even many years after we have sorrowfully given them up. Consumption keeps many for long months lingering slowly into everlasting life, while strong, hearty people are taken away in an instant. It is therefore no new thing for men to die suddenly.
27. Not one man or woman here has a guarantee that he or she shall live until tomorrow. It is almost a misuse of language to talk about life insurance, for we cannot insure our lives; they must for ever remain uninsured concerning their continuance here. If I could be a prophet this morning, and point out one and another and say, “That man will be dead before next Sunday,” or “That woman will not live a week,” I should feel I had a very painful duty to discharge; but is it not wise for us to reflect that it may happen to any one of us? There are no reasons by which we can prove that we shall escape the mighty hunter for another day. We are ready enough to think of this for others, for all men think all men mortal except themselves; but practical wisdom would lead us to suggest to ourselves that we are mortal, and that perhaps the death arrow which has just left the bow of God may be aimed at our hearts. The question is, “When you are plundered, what will you do?” When suddenly the shelters of our tent shall be torn in two, and the tent pole shall be snapped, and the body shall lie a desolate ruin, what shall we do then? I will tell you what some of us know that we shall do. We know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. As poor, guilty sinners we have fled to Christ for refuge, and he is ours, and we know that he will surely keep what we have committed to him until that day; therefore we are not afraid of all that the plunderers can do. We are not afraid of you, oh Death, for you are the porter that shall open the gates of immortality. And you, you worms, we are not afraid of you; for though you devour this body, yet you shall not destroy it, for in our flesh we shall see God. Oh Grave, we are not dismayed at your gloom, for what are you except a refining pot, out of which this poor earthy body shall arise set free from all corruption. Time, we do not fear your trials! Eternity, we do not dread your terrors. Our soul shall dwell at ease, come what may. Glory be to the blessed name of the Lord Jesus we shall rise because he has risen, we shall live because he lives, and reign because he reigns.
28. We are not afraid of the plunderer; but oh, worldling, when you are plundered, what will you do? Rich man, your acres will be yours no longer; no park for you to roam over, no fine trees to boast about, nor ancestral halls in which to glorify yourselves. You will have nothing left to you; no barns, no ripening harvests, no noble horses or fattened sheep: you must leave them all, and if these are your treasures, what will you do when God requires your soul of you? Then the largeness of the amount invested will only make it all the harder to die, and palaces and gardens will make the pang of separation even more keen. You will find it a dreadful wrench to be torn away from that in which your heart so much delighted. “When you are plundered, what will you do?” Your money bags will not ease your conscience; all the leases, and title-deeds, and mortgages that you can heap upon you will not warm your dying heart into the life of hope. What will you do? Alas, what will you do?
And you, you worldlings, who have no wealth, but live for present
pleasure, — where then will your wine cups and your dances be? Where
your draughts of mighty ale, your oaths and blasphemies? Where now
your midnight revelry and lewdness? When you shall appear before the
Judge of all the earth, what will be left to you? When all these
unhallowed pleasures are swept away, what remains? Yes, you lover of
pleasure, make merry and rejoice today, but “when you are plundered,
what will you do?” With your children all around you, rejoice in your
home and live at ease without God, but “when you are plundered, what
will you do?” Despise religion if you wish, and consider it all a
dream invented to make men sour and wretched, but when you are dying,
and your pulse is faint and failing, what will you do? What can you
do? Opportunities are over, and time for repentance is nearly run
out, — what will you do? Maybe the thought will seize you then, “Too
late, too late! you cannot enter now.” The voice which says, “Behold
the bridegroom comes,” will startle you in the midnight of your
ignorance just as you are about to die, and then you will wring your
hands in everlasting despair, because you did not in due time seek
him who can save you from the wrath to come. Awaken, I beseech you,
your sluggish hearts, and look forward to your latter end. I pray
that I may leave one or two solemn thoughts upon the minds of the
careless; better still, I pray God the Holy Spirit to lead them now
to believe on the Lord Jesus to the saving of their souls.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Ps 71]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Spirit of the Psalms — Psalm 73” 73 @@ "(Part 3)"]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Spirit of the Psalms — Psalm 74” 74]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “God the Father, Attributes of God — Lovingkindness” 196]
[a] The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878: This was a conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Eastern Orthodox coalition led by the Russian Empire and composed of several Balkan countries. See Explorer "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russo-Turkish_War_(1877%E2%80%931878)"
[b] Sirocco: An oppressively hot and blighting wind, blowing from the north coast of Africa over the Mediterranean and affecting parts of Southern Europe. OED.
[c] Prometheus: Greek Mythology. Name of a demigod (son of the Titan Iapetus), who was fabled to have made man out of clay, and to have stolen fire from Olympus, and taught men the use of it and various arts, for which he was punished by Zeus by being chained to a rock in the Caucasus where his liver was preyed upon every day by a vulture. OED.
Spirit of the Psalms
Psalm 73 (Part 1)
1 Lord, what a thoughtless wretch was I,
To mourn, and murmur, and repine,
To see the wicked placed on high,
In pride and robes of honour shine.
2 But, oh their end! their dreadful end!
Thy sanctuary taught me so:
On slipp’ry rocks I see them stand,
And fiery billows roll below.
3 Now let them boast how tall they rise,
I’ll never envy them again;
There they may stand with haughty eyes,
Till they plunge deep in endless pain.
4 Their fancied joys, how fast they flee!
Just like a dream when man awakes:
Their songs of softest harmony
Are but a preface to their plagues.
5 Now I esteem their mirth and wine
Too dear to purchase with my blood;
Lord, ‘tis enough that thou art mine;
My life, my portion, and my God.
Isaac Watts, 1719.
Psalm 73 (Part 2)
1 God, my supporter and my hope,
My help for ever near,
Thine arm of mercy held me up,
When sinking in despair.
2 Thy counsels, LOrd, shall guide my feet
Through this dark wilderness;
Thy hand conduct me near thy seat,
To dwell before thy face.
3 Were I in heaven without my God
‘Twould be no joy to me;
And whilst this earth is mine abode,
I long for none but thee.
4 What if the springs of life were broke,
And flesh and heart should faint?
God is my soul’s eternal rock,
The strength of every saint.
5 Still to draw near to thee, my God,
Shall be my sweet employ;
My tongue shall sound thy works abroad,
And tell the world my joy.
Isaac Watts, 1719.
Psalm 73 (Part 3)
1 Whom have we, Lord, in heaven but thee,
And whom on earth beside;
Where else for succour shall we flee,
Or in whose strength confide?
2 Thou art our portion here below,
Our promised bliss above;
Ne’er can our souls an object know
So precious as thy love.
3 When heart and flesh, oh Lord, shall fail,
Thou wilt our spirits cheer;
Support us through life’s thorny vale,
And calm each anxious fear.
4 Yes, thou, our only guide through life,
Shalt help and strength supply;
Support us in death’s fearful strife,
Then welcome us on high.
Harriett Auber, 1829.
Spirit of the Psalms
1 Of every earthly stay bereft,
Beset by many an ill,
One hope, one precious hope is left,
The Lord is faithful still.
2 His church, through every past alarm
In him has found a Friend;
And, Lord, on thine almighty arm
We now for all depend.
Henry Francis Lyte, 1834.
God the Father, Attributes of God
196 — Lovingkindness
1 Awake, my soul, in joyful lays,
And sing thy great Redeemer’s praise:
He justly claims a song from me,
His loving kindness, oh, how free!
2 He saw me ruin’d in the fall,
Yet loved me, notwithstanding all;
He saved me from my lost estate,
His loving kindness, oh, how great!
3 Though numerous hosts of mighty foes,
Though earth and hell my way oppose,
He safely leads my soul along,
His loving kindness, oh, how strong.
4 When trouble, like a gloomy cloud,
Has gather’d thick and thunder’d loud,
He near my soul has always stood,
His loving-kindness changes not.
5 Often I feel my sinful heart
Prone from my Jesus to depart;
But though I have him oft forgot,
His loving kindness changes not.
6 Soon shall I pass the gloomy vale,
Soon all my mortal powers must fail;
Oh may my last expiring breath
His loving kindness sing in death!
7 Then let me mount and soar away
To the bright world of endless day;
And sing with rapture and surprise,
His loving-kindness in the skies.
Samuel Medley, 1787.