A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, December 14, 1862, By Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
The Lord frees the prisoners. (Ps 146:7)
1. When preaching last Tuesday in Dover, the mayor of the town very courteously lent the ancient townhall for the service, and in passing along to reach a private entrance, I noticed a large number of grated windows upon a lower level than the great hall. These belonged to the prison cells where people committed for offences within the jurisdiction of the borough were confined. It at once struck me as a singular irony, that we should be preaching the gospel of liberty in the upper room, while there were prisoners of the law beneath us. Perhaps when we sang praises to God, the prisoners, like those who were in the same jail with Paul and Silas, heard us; but the free word above did not give them liberty, nor did the voice of song loosen their bonds. Alas! what a picture this is of many in our congregations. We preach liberty to the captives; we proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord; but how many remain year after year in the bondage of Satan, slaves to sin. We send up our notes of praise very joyously to our Father who is in heaven, but our praises cannot give them joy, for alas! their hearts are unused to gratitude. Some of them are mourning on account of unpardoned sin, and others of them are deploring their blighted hopes, for they have looked for comfort where it is never to be found. Let us breathe a prayer at the commencement of the sermon this morning, “Lord, break the fetters, and set the captives free. Glorify yourself this morning by proving yourself to be Jehovah, who frees the prisoners.”
2. The little circumstance which I have mentioned, fixed itself in my mind, and in my private meditations it thrust itself upon me. My thoughts ran somewhat in an allegory, until I gave imagination its full rein and bid her bear me at her will. In my daydream I thought that some angelic warden was leading me along the corridors of this great world’s prison, and asking me to look into the various cells where the prisoners were confined, reminding me always and immediately since I looked sorrowful, that “Jehovah frees the prisoners.” What I thought of, I will now relate to you. The form of the sermon may be metaphorical; but my only aim is to utter comforting, substantial truth, and may the Master grant that some of you who have been in these prisons, as I have been, may today come out of them, and rejoice that the Lord has freed you.
The Common Prison
3. I. The first cell I visited is called the common prison. In this common prison, innumerable souls are confined. It would be useless to attempt to count them; they are legion; their number is ten thousand times ten thousand. This is the ward of SIN. All the human race have been prisoners here; and those who today are perfectly at liberty, once wore the heavy chain, and were incarcerated within the black walls of this enormous prison. I stepped into it, and to my surprise, instead of hearing, as I had expected, notes of mourning and lament, I heard loud and repeated bursts of laughter. The mirth was boisterous and obstreperous. The profane were cursing and blaspheming; others were shouting as though they had found great spoil. I looked into the faces of some of the criminals, and saw sparkling gaiety: their appearance was rather like that of wedding guests than prisoners. Walking to and fro, I noticed captives who boasted that they were free, and when I spoke to them of their prison house, and urged them to escape, they resented my advice, saying, “We were born free, and were never in bondage to any man.” They challenged me to prove my words; and when I pointed to the irons on their wrists, they laughed at me, and said that these were ornaments which gave forth music as they moved; it was only my dull and sombre mind, they said, which made me speak of clanking fetters and jingling chains. There were men fettered tightly and firmly to foul and evil vices, and these called themselves libertarians, while others whose very thoughts were bound, for the iron had entered into their soul, with braggart looks, cried out to me, that they were freethinkers. Truly, I had never seen such bondslaves in my life before, nor any so firmly manacled as these; but I always noticed as I walked this prison through and through, that the most fettered thought themselves the most free, and those who were in the darkest part of the dungeon, thought they had most light, and those whom I considered to be the most wretched, and the most to be pitied, were the very ones who laughed the most, and raved most madly and boisterously in their mirth. I looked with sorrow but as I looked, I saw a bright spirit touch a prisoner on the shoulder, who left with the shining one. He went out, and I knew, for I had read the text — “The Lord frees the prisoners,” I knew that the prisoner had been freed from the house of bondage. But I noted that as he left, his former bond fellows laughed and pointed with the finger, and called him sniveller, hypocrite, base pretender, and all bad names, until the prison walls rang and rang again with their mirthful contempt! I watched, and saw the mysterious visitant touch another, and then another, and another, and they disappeared. The common conversation in the prison was that they had gone mad; that they were become slaves, or miserable fanatics, however I knew that they were gone to be free for ever; emancipated from every bond. What struck me most was, that the prisoners who were touched with the finger of delivering love were frequently the worst of the whole crew. I saw one who had blasphemed, but the divine hand touched him, and he went weeping out of the gate. I saw another who had often scoffed the loudest when he had seen others led away, but he went out as quietly as a lamb. I observed some, whom I thought to be the least depraved of them all, but they were left, and oftentimes the blackest sinners of the whole company were first taken, and I remembered that I had read somewhere in an old book these words — “The tax collectors and the prostitutes enter into the kingdom of God before you.” As I gazed intently, I saw some of those men who had once been prisoners come back again into the prison — not in the same clothes which they had worn before, but arrayed in white robes, looking like new creatures. They began to talk with their fellow prisoners; and, oh! how sweetly they spoke! They told them there was liberty to be had; that that door would open, and that they might escape. They pleaded with their fellowmen, even to tears. I saw them sit down and talk with them until they wept upon their necks, urging them to escape, pleading as though it would be their own life that was at stake. At first I hoped within myself that all the company of prisoners would rise and cry, “Let us be free.” But no; the more these men pleaded the harder the others seemed to grow, and, indeed, I found it so when I myself tried to be an ambassador to these slaves of sin. Wherever the finger of the shining one was felt our pleadings easily prevailed; but except in those who were thus touched by the heavenly messenger all our exhortations fell upon deaf ears, and we left that den of iniquity crying, “Who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Then I was cast into a muse, as I considered what a marvel of mercy it was that I myself should be free; for well do I remember when I spurned every invitation of love; when I hugged my chains, dreamed my prison garb to be a royal robe, and took the meals of the prison, called the pleasures of sin, and relished them as sweet, yes, dainty morsels, fit for princes. How it came to pass that sovereign grace should have set me free I cannot tell; only this I know, I will sing for ever, while I live and when I die, that “The Lord frees the prisoners.” Our gracious God knows how to bring us up out from among the captives of sin, set our feet in the way of righteousness and liberty, make us his people, and keep us so for ever. Alas! how many have I now before me who are prisoners in this common prison?
Oh! sovereign grace, their hearts subdue;
May they be freed from bondage too;
As willing followers of the Lord,
Brought forth to freedom by his word.
The Solitary Cell
4. II. I asked the guide where those were led who were released from the common ward. He told me that they were taken away to be free, perfectly free; but that before their complete jail deliverance it was necessary that they should visit a house of detention which he would show me. He led me there. It was called the solitary cell. I had heard much of the solitary system, and I wished to look inside this cell, supposing that it would be a dreadful place. Over the door was written this word — “PENITENCE,” and when I opened it I found it so clean and white, and as well so sweet and full of light, that I said this place was more suited to be a house of prayer than a prison, and my guide told me that indeed so it was originally intended, and that nothing except that iron door of unbelief which the prisoners would persist in shutting firmly made it a prison at all. When once that door was open the place became so dear an oratory, that those who were once prisoners in it were accustomed to come back to the cell of their own accord, and begged permission to use it, not as a prison, but as a closet for prayer all their lives long. He even told me that one was heard to say when he was dying, that his only regret in dying was, that in heaven there would be no cell of penitence. Here David wrote seven of his sweetest Psalms; Peter also wept bitterly here; and the woman who was a sinner here washed the feet of her Lord. But this time I was regarding it as a prison, and I perceived that the person in the cell considered it so. I found that every prisoner in this cell must be there alone. He had been accustomed to mix with the crowd, and find his comfort in the belief that he was a Christian because he was born in a Christian nation; but he learned that he must be saved alone if saved at all. He had been accustomed previously to go up to the house of God in company, and thought that going there was enough; but now every sermon seemed to be aimed at him, and every threatening struck his conscience. I remembered to have read a passage in the same old book I quoted just now — “I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; all the families who remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.” I noticed that the penitent, while thus alone and apart in his cell, sighed and groaned very often, and now and then mingled with his penitential utterances some words of unbelief. Alas! if it were not for these, that heavy door would long ago have been taken from its hinges. It was unbelief that shut the prisoners in, and if unbelief had been removed from this cell I say it would have been an oratory for heaven, and not a place for disconsolate mourning and lamentation. As the prisoner wept for the past, he prophesied for the future, and groaned that he should never come out of this confinement, because sin had ruined him utterly, and destroyed his soul eternally. All men might see how foolish his fears were, for as I looked around upon this clean and white cell, I saw that the door had a knocker inside, and that if the man had only the courage to lift it there was a shining one standing ready outside who would open the door at once; yes, more, I perceived that there was a secret spring called faith, and if the man could only touch it, though it would be only with a trembling finger, it would make the door fly open. Then I noticed that this door had on the lintel and on its two side posts the marks of blood, and any man who looked on that blood, or lifted that knocker, or touched that spring, found the door of unbelief fly open, and he came out from the cell of his solitary penitence to rejoice in the Lord who had put away his sin, and cleansed him for ever from all iniquity. So I spoke to this penitent, and asked him to trust in the blood, and it may be that through my words the Lord afterwards freed the prisoner; but this I learned, that no words of mine alone could do it, for in this case, even where repentance was mingled with only a little unbelief, it is the Lord, the Lord alone, who can free the prisoners.
The Silent Cell
5. III. After I had left that cell, although I would have been content to linger there, and I stopped at another; this, also, had an iron gate of unbelief, as heavy and as ponderous as the former one. I heard the warden coming, and when he opened the door for me it grated horribly upon its hinges, and disturbed the silence, for this time I was come into the silent cell. The wretch confined here was one who said he could not pray. If he could pray he would be free. He was groaning, crying, sighing, weeping because he could not pray. All he could tell me, as his eyes rolled in agony, was this — “I wish to, but cannot pray; I wish to plead with God, but I cannot find a word, my guilt has struck me dumb.” Back he went, and refused to speak again, but he kept up a melancholy roaring all the day long. In this place no sound was heard except that of wailing; all was hushed except the dropping of his tears upon the cold stone, and his dreary misery of sighs and groans. Truly I thought this is a sad and singular case, yet I remember when I was in that cell myself I did not think it was strange. I thought that the heavens were brass above me, and that if I cried ever so earnestly the Lord would shut out my prayer. I dared not pray, I was too guilty, and when I did dare to pray, it was hardly prayer, for I had no hope of being heard. “No,” I said, “it is presumption; I must not plead with him”; and when at times I wish to have prayed, I could not; something choked all utterance, and the spirit could only lament, and long, and pant, and sigh to be able to pray. I know that some of you have been in this prison, and while I am talking to you this morning you will remember it, and bless God for deliverance. Perhaps some of you are in it now, and though I say I think your case is very strange, it will not seem so to you. But do you know, there was a little table in this cell, and on the table lay a key of promise, inscribed with choice words. I am sure the key would unlock the prison door, and if the prisoner had possessed skill to use it; he might have made his escape at once. This was the key, and these were the words on it — “The Lord looked down from the height of his sanctuary: from heaven the Lord saw the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to free those who are appointed to death.” Now, I thought, if this man cannot speak, yet God hears his groans; if he cannot plead, God listens to his sighs, and sees him all the way from heaven, with this purpose, that he may catch even the faintest whisper of this poor man’s broken heart and set him free; for though the soul feels it can neither plead nor pray, yet it has prayed, and it shall prevail. I tried to get the attention of my poor friend for a little while, and I talked to him, although he would not speak with me. I reminded him that the book in his cell contained instances of dumb men whom Jesus had taught to speak, and I told him that Christ was able to make him speak plainly too. I turned to the book of Jonah, and read to him these words, — “Out of the belly of hell I cried, and you heard me.” I quoted the words of Elijah, “Go again seven times.” I told him that the Lord needed no fine language, for misery is the best argument for mercy, and our wounds the best mouths to speak into God’s ear. Besides, I told him we have an Advocate with the Father who opens his mouth for the dumb, so that those who cannot speak for themselves have one to speak for them. I told the man that whether he could pray or not he was asked to look at the blood marks over his door; that the tax collector was justified by the blood, although he could only cry “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I pleaded with him to receive the Lord’s own testimony, that the Lord Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him,” that he waited to be gracious, and was a God ready to pardon; but after all, I felt that the Lord alone must free his prisoners. Oh, gracious God, free them now!
The Cell of Ignorance
6. IV. We did not have time to stay long at any one place, so we hurried to a fourth door. The door opened and shut behind me and I stood alone. What did I see? I saw nothing! It was dark, dark as Egypt in her plague! This was the black hole called the cell of ignorance. I groped as a blind man gropes for the wall. I was guided by my ear by sobs and moans to a place where there knelt a creature in an earnest agony of prayer. I asked him what made his cell so dark. I knew the door was made of unbelief, which surely shuts out all light, but I marvelled why this place should be darker than the rest, only I remembered to have read of some who sat “in darkness, and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron.” I asked him if there were no windows in the cell. Yes, there were windows, many windows, so people told him, but they had been covered up years ago, and he did not know the way to open them. He was fully convinced that they never could give light to him. I felt for one of the ancient light holes, but it seemed as if, instead of giving light, it emitted darkness; I touched it with my hand and it felt to me to have once been a window such as I had gazed through with delight. He told me it was one of the doctrines of grace which had greatly perplexed him; it was called Election. He said he should have had a little light if it had not been for that doctrine, but since God had chosen his people, and he felt persuaded that he had not chosen him, he was lost for ever, since if he were not chosen, it was hopeless for him to seek for mercy. I went up to that window and pulled out some handfuls of rags; filthy rotten rags which some enemies of the doctrine had stuffed into the opening; caricatures and misrepresentations of the doctrine maliciously used to injure the glorious truth of divine sovereignty. As I pulled these rags out, light streamed in, and the man smiled as I told him, “It is a mercy for you that there is such a doctrine as election, for if there were no such doctrine, there would be no hope for you; salvation must either be by God’s will or by man’s merit; if it were by man’s merit, you would never be saved, but since it is by God’s will, and he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, there is no reason why he should not have mercy on you, even though you may be the chief of sinners.” Meanwhile he asks you to believe in his Son Jesus, and gives you his divine word for it, that “Him who comes to him he will in no wise cast out.” The little light thus shed upon the poor man led him to seek for more, so he pointed to another darkened window which was called — The Fall — or Human Depravity. The man said, “Oh, there is no hope for me for I am totally depraved, and my nature is exceedingly vile; there is no hope for me.” I pulled the rags out of this window too, and I said to him, “Do you not see that your ruin prepares you for the remedy? It is because you are lost that Christ came to save you. Physicians are for the sick, robes for the naked, cleansing for the filthy, and forgiveness for the guilty.” He said very little, but he pointed to another window, which was one I had long looked through and seen my Master’s glory by its means; it was the doctrine of Particular Redemption. “Ah!” he said, “suppose Christ has not redeemed me with his precious blood! Suppose he has never bought me with his death!” I knocked out some old bricks which had been put in by an unskilful hand, which still blocked out the light, and I told him that Christ did not offer a mock redemption, but one which really did redeem, for “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” “Ah!” he said, “but suppose I am not one of the ‘us!’?” I told him that he who believes and trusts Christ, is obviously one of those for whom Jesus came to save, for he is saved. I told him that inasmuch as universal redemption obviously does not redeem all, it was unworthy of his confidence; but a ransom which really did redeem all believers, who are the only people for whom it was presented, was firm ground to build upon. There were other doctrines like these. I found the man did not understand any of them; that the truth had been misrepresented to him, and he had heard the doctrines of grace falsely stated and caricatured, or else had never heard them at all. He had been led by some blind guide who had led him into the ditch, and now when the windows were opened and the man could see, he saw written over the door, “Believe and live!” and in the new light which he had found he trusted his Lord and Saviour, and walked out free, and marvelled that he had been so long a slave. I did not marvel, but I thought in my heart how accursed are those teachers who hide the light from the eyes of men so that they do not understand the way of life. Ignorant souls, who do not know the plan of salvation, will have many sorrows, which they might avoid by instruction. Study your Bibles well; be diligent in attending upon a free grace ministry; labour after a clear apprehension of the plan of salvation, and it will often please God that when you come to understand his truth your spirits will receive comfort, for it is by the truth that “the Lord frees the prisoners.”
7. V. I left and came to another cell. This room, marked number five, was large, and had many people in it who were trying to walk to and fro, but every man had a chain around his ankle, and a huge cannon ball fixed to it — a military punishment they said for deserters from the ranks of virtue. This clog1 of habit troubled the prisoner much. I saw some of them trying to file their chains with rusty nails, and others were endeavouring to rust the iron by dropping tears of penitence on it; but these poor men made very little progress at their work. The warden told me that this was the chain of Habit, and that the ball which dragged behind was the old propensity to lust and sin. I asked him why they did not get the chains knocked off, and he said they had been trying a long time to be rid of them, but they never could do it in the way they were trying to, since the proper way to get rid of the chain of habit was, first of all, to get out of prison; the door of unbelief must be opened, and they must trust in the one great deliverer the Lord Jesus, whose pierced hands could open all prison doors; after that, upon the anvil of grace with the hammer of love, their fetters could be broken off. I stayed awhile, and I saw a drunkard led out of his prison, rejoicing in pardoning grace. He had previously laboured to escape from his drunkenness, but at least three or four times he broke his pledge, and went back to his old sin. I saw that man trust in the precious blood and he became a Christian, and becoming a Christian he could no more love his cups; at one stroke of the hammer the ball was gone for ever. Another was a swearer; he knew it was wrong to blaspheme the Most High, but he still did it, until he gave his heart to Christ, and then he never blasphemed again, for that foul thing was abhorred. I noticed some, and I think I am one of them myself, although they had the ball taken away, yet on their hands there were the remains of old chains. Like Paul, in another case, when we rejoice in all things we have to say, “Except for these bonds.” Once we were chained both hands together; the divine hammer has struck off the connecting links, but still one or two are left hanging there. Ah! often has that link made me cry out — “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” Although I am free, yet still the iron clings to its hold, and will hang there until I die. “When I wish to do good evil is present with me.” Oh that old Adamic nature, the corrupt flesh, oh that we were rid of it! Blessed be the Lord, as the pulse begins to beat high with heaven’s glory, the band will burst, and we shall be perfect for ever. There is no way of getting rid of the links of old habits except by leaving the prison of unbelief and coming to Christ, then the evil habits are renounced as a necessary consequence although the temptation will remain. Though sometimes we have to feel a link of the chain, it is a subject of unbounded thankfulness that the link is not fastened to the shackle. We may sometimes feel it dragging behind, enough to trip us up, so that we cannot run in the path of obedience as swiftly as we wish, but it is not in the shackle now. The bird can fly; although there is a remnant of its cord around its foot it mounts up to heaven, singing its song of praise. The Lord must free prisoners from their evil habits. He can do it; a drop of Jesus’ blood can eat the iron all away, and the file of his agonies can cut through the chain of long acquired sins, and make us free. “The Lord frees the prisoners.”
A Hard Labour Room
8. VI. I must take you to another cell. In almost all prisons where they do not want to make vagabonds worse than when they entered, they have hard labour for them. In the prison I went to see in my reverie there was a hard labour room. Those who entered it were mostly very proud people; they held their heads very high, and would not bend; they were birds with fine feathers, and thought themselves quite unfit to be confined, but being in vile bondage, they resolved to work their own way out. They believed in the system of human merit, and hoped in due time to purchase their liberty. They had saved up a few old counterfeit farthings, with which they thought they could eventually set themselves free, although my bright attendant plainly declared their folly and mistake. It was amusing, and yet sad, to see what different works these people were doing. Some of them toiled on a treadmill; they were going to the stars they said, and there they were, tread, tread, tread, with all their might; but although they had been labouring for years, and were never an inch higher, yet still they were confident that they were mounting to the skies. Others were trying to make garments out of cobwebs; they were turning wheels, and spinning at a great rate, and although it came to nothing they worked on. They believed they should be free as soon as they had made a perfect garment, and I believe they will. In one place a company laboured to build houses of sand, and when they had built up to some height the foundation always gave way, but they renewed their efforts, for they dreamed that if a substantial edifice were finished they would then be allowed to go free. I saw some of them, strangely enough, endeavouring to make wedding garments out of fig leaves, by sewing them together, but the fig leaves were of a kind that shrivelled every night, so that they had to begin the next morning their hopeless toil. Some, I noticed, were trying to pump water out of a dry well, the veins stood out upon their brows like whipcords while they worked hard without result. As they laboured, like Samson when he was grinding at the mill, I could hear the crack of whips upon their backs. I saw one ten thonged whip called the Law, the terrible Law — each lash being a commandment, and this was laid upon the bare backs and consciences of the prisoners; yet still they kept on work, work, work, and would not turn to the door of grace to find escape. I saw some of them fall down fainting, causing their friends to strive to bring them water in leaking vessels, called ceremonies; and there were some men called priests, who ran about with cups which had no bottoms in them, which they held up to the lips of these poor fainting wretches to give them comfort. As these men fainted, I thought they would die, but they struggled up again to work. At last they could do no more, and fell down under their burdens utterly broken in spirit; then I saw that every prisoner, who at last fainted giving up all hope of his own deliverance by merit, was taken up by a shining spirit, and carried out of the prison and made free for ever. Then I thought within myself, “Surely, surely, these are proud self-righteous people who will not submit to be saved by grace, ‘therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down and there was no one to help; then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses.’?” I rejoiced and blessed God that there was such a prison house to bring them to Jesus; yet I mourned that there were so many who still loved this house of bondage and would not escape, although there stood one with his finger always pointing to the words — “By the works of the law shall no living flesh be justified”; and to these other words, “By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” I had seen enough of that prison house, for I remember being there myself, and I have some of the scars upon my spirit now. I do not desire to go back to it, but since I have received Christ Jesus the Lord so I would walk in him, knowing that if the Son makes me free I shall be free indeed.
The Low Dungeon of Despondency
9. VII. We must not leave these corridors until we have peered into all the cells; for we may not come here again. As I passed along, there was another cell, called The Low Dungeon of Despondency. I had read of this in the book of Jeremiah — a pit in which there was no water, of which the prophet said, “He has led me and brought me into darkness and not into light.” I looked down. It was a deep, dark, doleful place; down in it I saw by the gloomy light of the warden’s lantern a poor soul in very deep distress, and I asked him to speak to me, and tell me his case. He said he had been a great offender, and he knew it; he has been convicted of sin; he had heard the gospel preached, and sometimes he thought it was for him, but at other times he felt sure it was not; there were times when his spirit could lay hold of Christ, but there were times when he dared not hope. Now and then, he said, some gleams of light did come; once a week when he had his provision sent down, a little fresh bread and water, he felt a little encouraged, but by the time the Monday came — for his provision was always sent down on Sunday — he felt himself as low and miserable as ever. I called out to him that there was a ladder up the side of the prison and if he would only climb it, he might escape, but the poor soul could not find the steps. I reminded him that he need not be where he was, for a divine hand had let down ropes to draw him up, with soft cushions for his armpits; but I seemed as one who mocked him, and I heard some who tormented him tell him to call me “liar.” These were two villains called Mistrust and Timorous, who were bent upon keeping him here, even though they knew that he was an heir of heaven, and had a right to liberty. Finding myself powerless, I thus learned the more fully that the Lord must free these prisoners or else they must be prisoners for many a day; yet it was a great comfort to remember that no soul ever died in that dungeon if it had really felt its need of Christ, and cried for mercy through his blood. No soul ever utterly perished while it called upon the name of the Lord; it might lie in the pit until it seemed as if the moss would grow on its eyelids, and the worms eat its mildewed corpse, but it never did perish, for in due time it was brought by simple faith to believe that Christ is “able to save, even to the uttermost,” and then they come up, oh how quickly, from their low dungeon, and they sing more sweetly than others — “He has brought me up out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay; he has set my feet upon a rock, and put a new song in my mouth, and established my going.”
The Inner Prison
10. VIII. Do not shudder at the clinging dampness, for I must take you to another dungeon deeper than this last one; it is called the inner prison. Paul and Silas were cast into the inner prison, and their feet held firm by the stocks, yet they sang in their prison; but in this dungeon no singing was ever heard. It is the hold of despair. I need not enlarge much in my description. I hope you have never been there; and I pray you never may. Ah! when a spirit once gets into that inner prison, comforts are turned at once into miseries, and the very promises of God appear to be in league for the destruction of the soul. John Bunyan describes old Giant Despair and his crab tree club better than I can do it. Sorrowful is that ear which has heard the grating of the huge iron door, and full of terror is the heart which has felt the chilly dampness of that horrible pit. Are any of you in that dungeon today? Do you say, “I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; my day of grace is over; I have sinned against light and knowledge; I am lost?” Oh man, where are you? I wish to have you freed. What a splendid trophy of grace you will make! My Master loves to find such great sinners as you are, so that he may exhibit his power to save. Oh! what a platform for my Lord to rear the standard of his love upon, when he shall have fought with you and overcome you by his love. What a victory this shall be. How will the angels sing to him who loved the vilest of the vile, and ransomed the despairing one out of the hand of cruel foes. I have more hope for you than I have for others; for when the surgeon enters the hospital after an accident, he always goes to the worse case first. If there is a man who has only broken his finger, “Oh! let him be,” they say, “he can wait”; but if there is a poor fellow who is much mangled, “Ah!” says the surgeon, “I must see to this case at once.” So it is with you; but the Lord must free you; I cannot. I only know this, if you would only believe me, there is a key which will fit the lock of your door of unbelief. Come, look over this bunch of keys: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him.” “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “He who believes on him is not condemned.” “Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Brother, this inner dungeon can be opened by the Lord Jesus.
The gates of brass before him burst,
The iron fetters yield.
The Devil’s Torture Chamber
11. IX. I am getting to the end of this dark story now, but wait a moment at the grating of the Devil’s Torture Chamber, for I have been in it; yes, I have been tormented in it, and therefore I tell you no dream; I stayed in it until my soul melted because of agony, and therefore I know what I am speaking about, and not what I have learned second hand. There is a chamber in the experience of some men where the temptations of the devil exceed all belief. Read John Bunyan’s “Grace Abounding,” if you wish to understand what I mean. The devil tempted him, he says, to doubt the existence of God; the truth of Scripture; the manhood of Christ; then his deity; and once, he says, he tempted him to say things which he will never write, lest he should pollute others. Ah! I remember a dark hour with myself when I, who do not remember to have even heard a blasphemy in my youth, much less to have uttered one, heard rushing through my soul an infinite number of curses and blasphemies against the Most High God, until I put my hand over my mouth unless they should be uttered, and I was cast down, and cried to the merciful God that he would save me from them. Oh! the foul things which the fiend will inject into the spirit; the awful, damnable things, the offspring of his own infernal den, which he will foist upon us as our own thoughts in such hosts, and so quickly the one after the other, that the spirit has hardly time to swallow down its spittle, and although it hates and loathes these things, still it cannot escape from them, for it is in prison. Ah! well, thank God no soul ever perished through such profanities as those, for if we hate them they are not ours; if we loathe them it is not our sin, but Satan’s, and God will in due time liberate us from these horrors. Although the hosts of hell may have ridden over our heads, yet, let us cry “Do not rejoice over me oh my enemy, although I fall yet I shall rise again.” Use your sword, poor prisoner! You have one. “It is written” — “the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” Give your foe a deadly thrust; tell him that “God is, and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him,” and you may yet see him spread his dragon wings and fly away. This, too, is a prison in which unbelief has confined both saint and sinner, and the Lord himself must free these prisoners.
The Condemned Cell
12. X. Last of all, there is one dungeon which those who are confined there have called the condemned cell. I was in it once. In that room the man writes bitter things against himself; he feels absolutely sure that the wrath of God abides on him; he wonders that the stones beneath his feet do not open a grave to swallow him up; he is astonished that the walls of the prison do not compress and crush him into nothingness; he marvels that he has his breath, or that the blood in his veins does not turn into rivers of flame. His spirit is in a dreadful state; he not only feels he shall be lost, but he thinks it is going to happen now. The condemned cell in Newgate, I am told, is just in such a corner that the condemned can hear the erection of the scaffold. Well do I remember hearing my scaffold constructed, and the sound of the hammer of the law as piece after piece was put together! It appeared as if I heard the noise of the crowd of men and demons who wish to witness my eternal execution, all of them howling and yelling out their accursed things against my spirit. Then there was a big bell that tolled out the hours, and I thought that very soon the last moment would arrive, and I must mount the fatal scaffold to be cast away for ever. Oh! that condemned cell! Next to Tophet, there can be no state more wretched than that of a man who is brought here! And yet let me remind you that when a man is thoroughly condemned in his own conscience he shall never be condemned. When he is once brought to see condemnation written on everything that he has done, although hell may flame in his face, he shall be led out, but not to execution; led out, but not to perish, “he shall be led forth with joy, and he shall go forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before him into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” As we read in history of one who was greeted with a pardon just when the rope was around his neck, just so does God deal with poor souls; when they feel the rope around their necks, acknowledge that God’s sentence is just, and confess that if they perish they cannot complain, it is then that sovereign mercy steps in and cries, “I have blotted out like a cloud your iniquities, and like a thick cloud your sins; your sins which are many are all forgiven you.”
13. And now, oh glorious Jehovah, the Liberator, to you be praises! All your redeemed bless you, and those who are today in their dungeons cry to you! Stretch out your bare arm, you mighty Deliverer! You who sent your Son Jesus to redeem by blood, send now your Spirit to set free by power, and today, even today, let multitudes rejoice in the liberty by which you make them free; and to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Israel’s one Redeemer, be glory for ever and ever! Amen.