A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, March 9, 1862, By Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did you at all fast to me, even to me? And when you ate, and when you drank, did you not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves.” (Zec 7:5,6)
1. After the Jewish people had been thoroughly cured of their idolatrous tendencies by their seventy years of captivity, they fell into another evil; they became superstitiously regardful of ceremonies but they lost the life and spirit of devotion, and neglected the weightier matters of the law. Phariseeism, in the spirit of it, had commenced, in the time of Zechariah. Great attention was paid to the formalities and externals of worship, but the vitality of godliness was unknown. The mint, the anise, the cummin of religion—these were all strictly tithed; but truth, mercy, love, justice, were trodden underfoot. They multiplied ceremonies to themselves, apart from God’s Word. They had fasts which Moses never commanded, and feasts of which the tabernacle in the wilderness knew nothing. They had ordained for themselves a certain fast for the burning of the temple by the Chaldees, and a question which seemed to them very important had arisen, as to whether this fast should be observed now that the temple was rebuilt. The Jews in Persia, sent an honourable deputation to Jerusalem concerning this important matter. They received no direct answer, for it was nothing to the Lord their God whether they fasted or not, since he had not commanded it, and could not accept their voluntary worship from their hands. Learn this, then, with regard to all religious ceremonies whatever; if they are not expressly commanded of God it is a small matter how men keep them; in fact, it would be vastly better if they left them alone. Some time ago in Convocation, the very wonderful question was discussed, as to whether a child’s father and mother might be its godfather and godmother. Is there not a prior question? Does the Lord ordain such offices in his Word? And yet again, has he anywhere commanded infants to be sprinkled? What does it matter how the deed is done if the Lord has not ordained it in Holy Scripture? To the law and to the testimony; if you do not find it there, although you keep every rubric of your church, you have not done it to God, for he has not required it at your hands. “In vain they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” I wish that all our Churches were willing to search for the foundation of all their ceremonies in Scripture. This is the way to promote true Christian unity; not to hide our views, but to speak plainly; not to settle down upon our old rituals, but to examine them and see whether they are of God or not, for let us be sure of this, that if we do anything which is not according to God’s Word, in whatever spirit we may do it, or however well we may perform it, it is not a service that God can accept from us. However, although these deputies obtained no answer about that point, since it did not matter whether they fasted or not, yet they had some information upon a much more vital matter. They were informed by the questions asked of them, that all religion must have God for its object, or else it was nothing before him. The question was solemnly asked of them, and upon its answer all depended:—“When you fasted did you fast to me? or when you feasted on your solemn feast days did you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” I shall try this morning to work out the great scriptural truth, first showing that in our religious worship our doing it to God is a main thing; secondly, that in the world our service to God must be done for his own sake, or else it is nothing; and, thirdly, we shall use our text as a test of our condition before God, asking ourselves solemnly whether we have lived for God, or whether we have been all this while living for ourselves, eating for ourselves, and drinking for ourselves.
Our Religious Worship
2. I. First of all, then, WITH REGARD TO OUR RELIGIOUS WORSHIP.
3. You know, brethren, there are various modes in which the Christian Church attempts to worship God; and we are not about this morning to discuss the acceptableness of these different methods—whether it shall be by book or extemporary; whether it shall be with sound of music or with the joyous voices of men and women; whether the ceremony shall be pompous or simple; whether it shall be under the consecrated dome, or in an ordinary room. These are matters of secondary importance, for they concern only the carcass, while we now have to deal with the soul of worship. We are apt to fall into a mistake, and value the services of the Sabbath day for something which God does not regard. For instance, in the singing of God’s praises, it is well to have melody that we may sing with our understanding as well as with our spirit; but after all, if any man shall rest satisfied because his voice has been in tune and time, in singing the words of the Psalm, if he shall think that therefore he has praised God, alas, how mistaken he is! Or in the prayer, if we shall think that a certain fluency, an apparent reverence and propriety of expression are the only needful things, and if we forget that we are worshipping God, alas! what is our prayer? We might as well have been dumb. And if in preaching, our hearers shall merely regard the orthodoxy of the doctrine, or the eloquence, or the fitness of the style, alas! they have not worshipped God, because in all this they forget the question “Have you heard as to God? Have you sung as to God? Did you pray as to God?” For if not, though the sermon is orthodox and eloquent, though the singing be as the voice of many waters, though the prayer go up to heaven, and seem to be exceptionable in expression, yet the worship is only vain and worthless, lacking holiness to the Lord, since it is not done as to God, and is not really an offering to him. Take that as the guide this morning, and I think I may drive it home to your consciences. How many, who frequent the house of prayer, worship God carelessly? They sing, but with no more heart than if they were singing in their own houses some common ditty. The prayer is offered, and often that is the dullest part of the service, and their eyes are gazing around here and there; or if the eyes of the head be shut, the eyes of their heart are open enough, do not looking, however, to God, but to vanity. And when the sermon is delivered they care very little for its precious message, or if they lend some attention, yet what a weariness it is! You see in some congregations nodding heads, and eyes that are given to slumber. They think there is nothing particular in hearing the gospel; they listen to the entreaty of God’s ambassador as to a thrice told tale, but that is all. If it was an oration upon politics, they might be a great deal more enthusiastic than they are, and if it were anything which touched their personal estates, they would be eager to catch every word, but since it is only about their souls, only about eternity, only about God, it does not mean anything. Now, do you think that your coming up to God’s house like this is acceptable in his sight? If you come like this, you have not come to him. You have not come to worship him; how can he receive this from your hands? What do you think if a courtier who should pretend to be doing honour to his monarch, should be nodding before the throne, sleeping in the audience room? What do you think if some person should have audience with a king, and while the petition is yet in his hand should be gazing about with a vacant stare, or turning his back upon the throne? Surely this would insult, instead of homage, and well might the gates of the palace be barred for ever against the wretch whose conduct should be so infamous. Let us take care that we are not satisfied with merely sitting in our pews, and maintaining an apparently decorous behaviour in God’s house, for
God abhors the sacrifice,
Where not the heart is found.
4. A larger number of our attendants miss the mark in another way. They are not altogether careless, but still their worship is not done as to God, for they are content with the service itself. Provided they have sung—have somewhat joined in the prayer—and to some degree enjoyed the service, they are content, although no dew from heaven rests upon their hearts. They look merely to man, and no further, and if the minister should be in a low frame of mind,—and what mortal can help that at times?—these people never having learned to seek God in his sanctuary, say that it was no means of grace to their souls. The pitcher was empty, and since they had not learned to draw direct from the well they went home thirsty. They looked to the man, and never thought of his Master; it is no marvel that the opportunity has been a lost one to them. Blessed are those who come up to God’s house to use the means but not to rest in them; desiring to find the God of the means in the means! Oh! how glorious it is the time when the song carries me up to heaven’s courts! How blessed when the prayer is offered, if my soul can breathe its desire into the ear of Christ and have fellowship with him. Oh! it is blessed to be in God’s house when the Lord himself is in our midst. What if the preacher should miscarry?—yet if all the while I am lifting up my heart to God, desiring that the truth should be blessed to me, I shall profit under him. He may be clownish, but he will not be so to me. His expressions may be out of order but they will reach my heart; and even if his heart should not be affected, yet mine will be if I am having dealings with God, and not with man. Oh! how many of you come here to hear the man, to gratify your curiosity, to regale your ears, to find matter for conversation, but not to behold the beauty of the Lord, nor to enquire in his temple. Well, we are glad to see you anyway, for we hope that being in the way God will meet with you, but I wish to have you savingly converted, and then you will come here to hear God’s Word, to talk to God, to speak to God. Is it not true that some of you do not use the day of rest and the house of prayer for their real purpose, which is that man may meet with God? There was a man who professed great love to his friend, and therefore he wished to spend a day in his company. He rapped at the door, and the servant said the master was not at home. “It does not matter,” he said, “I will wait inside and take my ease; I shall do quite as well though the master is not at home if you will bring me abundance to eat and drink.” So he entered, and took a chair and made himself very comfortable, and feasted to his heart’s content; and he went home boasting that he had enjoyed the visit. Then his companions asked him—“Was the master there?” “Oh no, he was not there.” “But I thought you went to see him?” He had pretended a great desire to have conversation with his friend but evidently he was false, for if he had gone to see the master, and the master had not been at home, he would have said—“Well, I will even call another day, but I have missed my errand this time.” So there are some who go up to the house of God; they think they go there to worship the Lord; they have no enjoyment of his presence, they have no communion with his Son, they have no indwellings of his Spirit, but they enjoy the day for all that, which shows they did not go to worship God at all. When we ask the question of them—“Did you at all fast to the Lord” their answer must be—“No, truly, we only sought self; we did not seek the Master’s presence.”
5. But there are others, and these are not a few, who think they worship God acceptably when they merely do so as a matter of custom. It is a lamentable fact that in many of the suburban parts of this great city, where new villas are rising up, thousands of the people never attend any place of worship: I will not say because, being in the country, they are withdrawn from the wholesome restraints of society, but because at any rate they do not feel its constraints. They can spend the morning in bed, or the afternoon in the garden, too glad that they are not under the sorrowful necessity of going to a place of worship. But with some of you it is the reverse. You are in such a position that you would hardly be counted respectable if you did not frequent a church or chapel: and so you go. The Sunday morning very properly sees you arrayed in your best clothes, and you enter the house of God with the multitude; but if you go there only as a matter of custom do not think that God accepts your worship, for you rather obey your neighbours than your God. Have you ever heard of the traveller, who, when he was in Protestant England, was accounted a devout follower of the Reformers. Sometime later his travels took him to Rome, and as often as there was the mass he might be observed among the crowd, bowing as they bowed, a thorough Papist. Soon he made a journey to Mecca so that he might see the world, and there, among the Mohammedans he was as reverent as any; quite willing to receive the dogma of the prophet. Some who heard of it said, “What is this? Why so you act like this?” and he said, “Oh, when I am at Rome I do as Rome does, and when I am at London I do as London does, and when I am at Mecca I do as Mecca may do; it is all the same to me;” and immediately all who knew him despised him. We have some like that in England. They happen to live near Christian people and they do the same as they do. Oh, my dear hearers, I fear many of you would have been idolaters if that had been the custom of the country, and if so what is the value of your worship?
6. No doubt, also, there is a small sprinkling of people attending all places of worship who come as a matter of profit, which is detestable. We have heard of some country towns,—I do not think it takes place much in London, for it does not pay,—where people ask “Which is the most respectable congregation in this town? We must take a seat there.” Now what are they doing when they pretend to be worshipping God? Why, sirs, if that is the reason why they go to a certain place of worship, they are following their business on the Lord’s day, and as far as the sin of it goes, they might as well have their shop open as shut, for they carry their shops on their backs to the place of worship. We suspect that some come among us for this reason. Christ had such followers. There were loaves and fishes to be given away, and therefore they fell into raptures; “What a sweet preacher! What a profitable ministry! We are so fed under him:” and they flocked in multitudes to listen to him so that they might afterwards eat and be filled. I remember one case of this kind that came to my attention. Preaching around in the country, I had often noticed in a certain county, a man in a smock frock who was a regular follower. He seemed to be amazingly attentive to the service, and thinking that he looked an extremely poor man, I one day gave him five shillings. When I preached twenty miles off he was there again, and I gave him some more help imagining that he was a tried child of God. When I was preaching in another place in the same county, he was there again, and the thought suddenly struck me whether that man did not find something more attractive in the palms of my hands than in the words of my lips, so I gave him no more. The next time I saw him he put himself in my way, but I avoided him; and then at last being again in the same county, he came up and asked me to give him something. “No,” I said, “you will not have anything now; I see what you have come for; you have only come pretending to delight in the Word, and to be so profited by it, whereas it is profit you get out of me, not profit from the gospel.” These people—there are such in all congregations—ought, at least, to be well aware that their pretended worship of God is detestable in his sight. If you have had meat in your hands, and a dog has followed you, you might feel pleased that the dog had taken a great affection to your person, but as soon as the meat was gone, when he turned his tail, you discovered that it was an affection for the meat, and not for you. Such are some who come to God’s house. They have an affection for what is given by the charity of the saints; but they have no love for the saints nor for the saints’ Master. The sooner such people mend their ways the better. This cupboard love, this love of God for what they get out of him, is despicable to honest men, and it must be an abomination in the sight of the Most High.
7. I have only one more thought upon this point. Beyond a doubt, some public worship is offered by those who attend our sanctuaries, with the idea that they are getting merit by it. Well, sir, and so you prayed because you thought to atone for sin by it; you sang to help yourself to heaven; you heard a sermon to help yourself to be accepted before God? You have done it for yourself, and the Lord’s voice to you is: “Did you at all fast to me, even to me?” “Did you not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?” All religious worship done with a view that we may be meritoriously saved by it, is really only a service rendered to our own interests, and not to God. How can we expect the Eternal One to accept as an offering to himself, what is really an offering to our own selfishness? “But is not a man to do anything to save himself?” you ask. No, I answer; No. He is to let Christ save him. By faith, he is to put himself in Christ’s hands, so that Christ may save him; then after that he may do as much as he ever can out of gratitude to his Saviour. Why, sirs, when your servile works are done to gain a righteousness, do you think you win the approbation of heaven? What, build a palace for God out of the mud of your own selfishness? Do you think that God can be bribed to bless you by deeds which you have done with self as a motive? God hates what a man does with the idea that he can win the Lord’s love by it; you must come to God as undeserving of anything from his hands; take his love and his mercy freely, and then go and do good works, and pray, and sing, and preach if you can, but never with a view of getting good for yourselves by it, but only that you may glorify him, and at last may enter into his rest. I say, and with this I leave the point, that that worship, and that worship only which is for God and not for self in any sense, God accepts; and whether it is with a view for temporal profit, or from mere custom, or with a view to merit, that we attend to spiritual ordinances, rites ceremonies, or whatever, we have done nothing that God can receive, and we might as well have left the whole undone.
Other Religious Acts of Men
8. II. But now I shall turn to a wider circle for a moment or two. BY THIS WE MAY TEST ALL THE OTHER RELIGIOUS ACTS OF MEN.
9. Many a brave deed has been done with the sound of which the world has rung for years which nevertheless has never been received by the Most High. Some have served God out of ostentation, so that they might show what great things they could do. Remember Jehu when he said, “Come, see my zeal for the Lord God of Hosts.” Jehu has many imitators. “Lend me your pen, sir.” “Yes.” “I hereby write my name for five thousand pounds at the head of the list. Is not that an acceptable offering to God? There are very few in England that will give as much as I have; put it in all the newspapers; the world should know that there still exists one liberal man?” Is not that splendid gift accepted? No, brethren, certainly not, because was given for his own praise, and for his own glory, and not for the glory of God. So, if it is our earnestness in preaching the gospel, if we are only earnest in order that people may think us earnest—if we are only zealous so that men may say of us, “That man does more than the rest; what a zealous, earnest man he is,”—we have offered nothing to God; we have been sacrificing on our own shrines, and offering incense before our own image. A certain king had a minstrel, and he asked him play before him. It was a day of high feasting; the cups were flowing, and many great guests were assembled. The minstrel laid his fingers among the strings of his harp and woke them all to the sweetest melody, but the hymn was to the glory of himself. It was a celebration of the exploits of song which the bard had himself performed. He had excelled high Howell’s harp, and emulated great Llewellyn’s song. In high sounding strains he sang himself and all his glories. When the feast was over the harper said to the monarch, “Oh King, give me my wages; let the minstrel’s mede be paid.” And the king said, “You have sung to yourself; pay yourself; your own praises were your theme; be yourself the paymaster.” He cried, “Did I not sing sweetly? Oh, king, give me the gold!” But the king replied, “So much the worse for your pride that you should lavish such sweetness upon yourself.” Brethren, even if a man should grow grey headed in the performance of good works, yet when at the last, it is known that he has done it all for himself, his Lord will say, “You have done well enough in the eyes of man, but so much the worse, because you did it only for yourself, so that your own praises might be sung, and that your own name might be extolled.” That is a singular text in Hosea—“Israel is an empty vine; he brings forth fruit for himself;” there was fruit, only it was brought forth for himself, which before God is emptiness. Beware of ostentation. Be ready to serve God when no one can see you. Do not let your right hand know what your left hand does. Shun the very thought of drawing attention to yourself for your own honour. Go behind the wall and serve the Master, sooner than sound the trumpet before you in the streets. When Mr. Morrison, the Missionary to China, needed an assistant, Mr. Milne, afterwards the celebrated Dr. Milne, offered himself. As soon as the examiners had talked with him, they saw that his heart was in the right place, but he had a clownish look, and a dullness of expression; when the youth was gone out of the room, one of the examiners said, “He is scarcely a proper person to send, we need a man of greater intellect.” At last they agreed that they had better send him as a servant, the servant of the mission, to do the work of the household, clean Dr. Morrison’s boots, and such like things, I suppose. So Dr. Phillip was requested to communicate this to him, and he told him that the committee did not feel he was qualified to go as a Missionary, would he mind going as a servant? The youth’s eye sparkled and he said “It is too much honour for me even if I am but a hewer of wood and a drawer of water for the Lord my God.” And thus he went out, and afterwards, as you know, became one of the most useful of missionaries. How many a man would have said, “Gentlemen, I did not come for that; this is treating me with a lack of respect. Surely you do not know who I am, or else you would not suppose for a moment that I would be willing to be a mere drudge and menial servant!” They do not know the Lord who only desire his service for the honour which it brings, but they have their hearts right before him who want no honour for themselves, but only desire that his name may be extolled above the hills, that he may be made famous in the earth. What would you say about a workman whom you should employ to build a house for you, and who, when the house was done, should prepare a piece of stone with his own name upon it to be put right in the front so that everyone might say that he had built it? Why, you would say, “No, sir, it is mine to choose the inscription; it is my house, not yours.” Did you ever hear of a pen that after a book had been written, required its own name placed at the bottom? It was enough for the real author to be known; what did it matter whether it was a gold pen, or a steel pen, or a quill pen that wrote it? So you and I are only God’s pens; he uses us, and why ought we to care to be known? No, let the real author be known, for “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works.” That was the difference between John Wesley and George Whitfield. Mr. George Whitfield had all the popularity of Mr. Wesley, and all the opportunity that John had to make a denomination, but he said, “No; I do not condemn my brother John, but I could not do what he does; let my name perish; let only Christ’s name last for ever.” The day will come when the man who was willing that his name should perish rather than it should supplant the brighter name of Christ, will shine all the brighter for this self-denial. Let us beware that we have no sinister ends, no selfish objects in view; but let it be God alone, Christ alone, and his glory alone, or else we may ask ourselves the question afresh: “Did you at all fast to me, even to me? And when you ate, and when you drank, did not you eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?”
10. Again upon this point. How many of our religious actions, our attempts to propagate the gospel of Christ have been very greatly promoted by strife and emulation. Sometimes the strife has occurred in a single congregation, and a new chapel has been built because a few disrespectful words were spoken, and a slight disagreement ripened and rotted into a quarrel. The general public have thought, “Well, the people who contributed to that new place must certainly have done some service to God,” whereas it may be that it was really service to the devil, for they only built it so that they might gratify their own resentments, and say to those whom they left, “See how well we can do without you.” How often have different Christians striven to increase their congregations or their denominations out of a spirit of emulation. The Wesleyans were awake, therefore the Baptists must be; or the Church of England had a school, and therefore the Dissenters must; how many have run in the race so that they might keep up with or excel their rivals. Now concerning religious rivalry and religious strife, whatever others may have said about it, we only say, “These things are not from God.” The Lord may say of all that we have ever done out of mere denominational pride, out of emulousness, and to make our own names great in the earth—“Did you at all fast to me, even to me? When you ate and when you drank, did you not do it for yourselves?” I wish that we were all contending earnestly for the faith, and provoking one another to love and to good works, but to do good for the mere sake of doing more than some person whom I look upon as my rival is not serving God; it is indulging my weaker passions under the pretence of honouring the Lord. Oh! brothers and sisters, I have had to ask myself this question many a score of times, “Have I done it for God?” I have gone groaning from this platform because I could not preach as I wished, but this has been my comfort, “Well; I desired to glorify Christ; I desired to free my conscience of the blood of men; I wanted to tell men the whole truth whether they liked it or not.” But sometimes when I have done better, and the words have flowed fluently, and the sentences have had a little polish about them (they have not much at any time) I have thought, “Well, I did pretty well this morning;” just then my conscience has struck me,—“You made the people pleased, but did you glorify your Master? Did you lay the axe at the root of the tree? Did you come down on their consciences? Did you strive to drive the nail right into their hearts? You might have done better with rough words than with those garnished utterances.” I have no uneasiness about rough sentences, but I have when I have not been earnest in my Master’s cause. Oh! I think it must be so with you sometimes. You Sunday School teachers, are you sure that you teach for Jesus Christ? May it not be possible that you teach for custom, or that you do it because you like the association of your fellow teachers? You tract distributors, are you sure that when you distribute the tracts it is with an idea of winning souls for Christ? Is it not because your conscience tells you that you ought to be doing something? And you who go out preaching, are you sure that you preach only for Christ’s glory? Does it not sometimes happen that you are tempted to glorify yourselves and try to be fine and great when you ought to be simple, and plain, and earnest with the souls of men? Oh! when I think of some who spend all the week writing out their sermons, and touching up every line and every sentence, I fear there must be something of self there; and when I hear some preachers with such splendid diction, with words so nicely picked, I cannot help thinking that there must be a sacrificing to the genius of oratory or to the beauty of eloquence, rather than to the Master’s cause. I say of everything that is done for self—down with it, down with it, let Dagon fall. Break these images, every one of them, strike them like the proud Philistine or the boastful Babylonian king. What have we to do with idolatrous self-worship? Oh Lord, deliver us from it.
11. I shall not detain you longer upon this point until I give you one more thought. Although this is a Protestant land it is beyond all question that there are some Popish enough to perform great religious acts by way of merit. What a goodly row of almshouses was erected by that miserly old grinder of the poor as an atonement for his hoarding propensities! What a splendid donation to that hospital! A very proper thing indeed, but the person who left it never gave a farthing to a beggar in his life, and he would not have given it now only he could not take it with him, and so he has left it as an atonement for sin. Sometimes people think that the doing of some outrageous religious act will take them to heaven; frequenting Church prayers twice a day, fasting in Lent, decorating the altar with needlework, putting stained glass in the window, giving a new organ or such like, at the suggestion of their priest they do many such things, and thus they go on working like blind donkeys at a mill, from morning to night, and make as much real progress. Do I address any one such person here? I do not find fault with you for what you do, but I do find fault with you for why you are doing it. If you dream that you are saving yourselves by it, remember that your acts are selfish acts, and that there is nothing good in them. They may be good things in themselves, but since they are not done for God, but evidently with a view to your own welfare, they are done for yourselves, and he cannot therefore accept them. Let there never be such splendid deeds of alms giving, never such marvellous mortifications of the flesh, never such devout attendings at daily prayer, they avail nothing before God, when they proceed from a self-righteous heart. Away with them, away with them all; they are dross and dung before the Most High, if you bring them to him with a view of purchasing salvation by it. No, you must be done with these and trust in Jesus only. When a man can say, “I am saved; Christ is mine:” then he can serve God acceptably, and his deeds shall be received through Christ Jesus.
A Test of Our Spiritual State
12. III. Now for our last point. It seems to me that our text may be a TEST OF OUR SPIRITUAL STATE.
13. Brethren in Christ Jesus, may I solemnly ask you now to put your souls into the scales for a few minutes by way of self-examination. What can you and I say with regard to our lives since we have known the Lord? Have we lived for Christ? Dare we take the Apostle Paul’s motto—“For me to live is Christ, to die is gain?” Oh, beloved, it is not what we have done, so much as why we have done it; for every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. Have we in our hearts longed to serve him? “Oh,” I hear one say, “it was little I could do, sir; I was poor; I could not give him gold; I was uneducated, I could not give him words.” Ah, my brethren, it is possible that what you have been able to do may be more acceptable than what some others have done, if you can say, “I did not desire my own honour. I was content to be humble, to be obscure, to be unknown, and to be forgotten, if I might only lift him up and praise him in my little sphere, and make him glorious among men.” I fear, beloved brethren, that some of us do very little for Christ even outwardly, and I blush to confess that in that little which we do there is so much that is spoiled by our looking after self. Have we not sometimes prayed at the prayer meeting with the view of being thought to be gifted men! Have we not joined a church so that we might be a little better thought of? May we not have laboured more abundantly that there might be the whisper about—“So-and-so is a flourishing Christian, a useful man?” Do we not compliment ourselves thus—“Well, people think very highly of me; they say so-and-so, and it must be all right?” Are we not smuggling over the frontier some of the merchandise of pride? It has been recently noted and not before it was necessary, that this is an age in which the word “pride” means what it never meant before. You hear gentlemen on the platform say, “I am proud;” you hear the minister himself when speaking of something that has been done for him, “I am proud.” The words, “I am proud,” do not mean any harm now, because we have forgotten that pride in every shape and form is detestable in the eyes of God. We talk of a decent pride. I saw a good young woman the other day—I dare say she is here this morning—and she told me she could not come now on a Sunday because her clothes were getting so bad, and she said, “I thought it was decent pride to stay away.” And I said, “No, my sister, no pride is decent.” I saw her last Sunday standing down there, and I have no doubt she enjoyed what was said as well in her cotton dress as she would have done if she could have worn her silk one. All pride is indecent. A few Sundays ago, when we had the mourning for Prince Albert, some people could not go to church because the dressmakers had been so busy that they could not get their black things ready, and it was called decent pride which kept them at home, but I say again it was indecent pride—indecent pride such as the Lord God of Hosts abhors. We must be done with these prides, but yet I do fear that pride has so mixed with all we have done, and so stained our best acts, that we have reason to cry out this morning, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; Lord have mercy upon us, for Jesus’ sake.”
14. There is another arrow in my quiver and it must be shot out. Alas! alas! I address some this morning who never did anything for God in their lives; to whom it would make no difference if there were no God at all, except that they would be rather glad than otherwise. A man; a man, notice that, made in the image of his Maker, and yet he has never said a good word for his Creator! The breath in his nostrils this morning is the gift of God; the comforts of his home are gifts from the liberality of the God who has made him, and yet he has never done anything for that God in his life! Touch him upon the point of what he has done for man, and he may have done much; let men applaud him. If a great general has won battles for men let men honour him. If a philanthropist has done much for men let men be grateful. If you have spent your time for your families let your families thank you. But there are some here who have done nothing for God. “Hear, oh Heavens, and give ear oh Earth; I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me; the ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib, but they do not know, neither do they consider.” A man would not keep even a dog which never looked at him with thankfulness; never frisked around his feet with joy for his liberality; and yet here are men more brutish than their own dogs—fed by God and never thankful to him, they have never done anything for him in all their lives! I know there are many here who, if their consciences do not sleep, must stand convicted. Again I repeat it, we will not touch you upon the point of what you have done for man, but let me remind you that man did not make you, that it is not your deeds for others that can save you, it is not your nation that can save your soul; it is God; it is God, and yet you have forgotten him, and he is not in all your thoughts. You can go to bed without a prayer to him; you can rise in the morning without a hymn of thankfulness! A God forgotten in his own world, a God unknown by his own creature, a God—and such a God! so good, so gracious, so tender, so loving—a God who has given his own Son to die, and yet by his own creature so lightly esteemed that he does not give him a word or thought. Well, soul, well, sinner, what a mercy it is that God has not forgotten you; if he had forgotten to give you your bread, where would you have been? If he had forgotten to let the sun shine on you—if he had forgotten to let the fields yield their harvests—if he had forgotten to keep back the fever—if he had forgotten you when you were lying last year upon a sick bed—or when you were out in that storm at sea, and the wind had torn away the mast—or when your gun exploded in your hand—you had been howling in hell now, but he has not forgotten you and you are still alive. Oh! may his longsuffering lead you to repentance for having lived as if there was no God to love, and yourself the only thing worth caring for.
15. But, soul, let me remind you that longsuffering does not last for ever. The Roman judges were attended by lictors, as you know; these lictors carried on their shoulders a bundle of rods, and in the centre an axe. Now, when the judge condemned any man to be beaten by the rods, the following scene always took place. The rods were tied about with leather thongs, which were knotted a great many times. When the judge condemned the man to be beaten, his back was stripped, the lictor then untied one knot, and then another, and another, which took a little time, and during all this time the judge was looking in the face of the person to be scourged, watching him if he saw hardness of heart and rebellion there; then the blows came heavy, and perhaps the axe followed; but if he looked in the criminal’s face, and saw repentance expressed there, it often happened that before the last knot was untied, the judge would say, “the punishment is remitted, tie up the rods again.” Now, you who have forgotten God, remember his rods, too, are bound up with many knots. Many of those knots have been untied for some of you. Six years ago you laid ill with the cholera; there was a knot untied then. Before that you had had many warnings that were like loosenings of the knots. And now, this morning, the fingers of Eternal Justice are loosening another of the knots. Sinner, it may be it is the last, and God is looking in your face now, and what does he see there? Does he see a brow of brass? Is your heart saying, “I have loved pleasure and I will go after it?” Then it is possible that justice will untie the last knot, and then comes the axe. Take heed, sinner, when once God’s axe is taken, you cannot escape it, he shall dash you in pieces, and there is no one to deliver. Oh God of mercy, touch the sinner’s heart, and make him repent, compel him to feel his need for Christ. Lord, lead him to Jesus, and then the rods shall never be untied, and he shall never be struck!