Different Stages Of Gracious Experience
A Fragment of a Sermon
“One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of ]acob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”—Isaiah 44:5
The three characters spoken of in my text were children of God in different stages of experience: the first, in the full assurance of faith, with the enjoyment of peace and pardon in the soul; the second seemed to embrace by far the largest number of God’s family—poor, fearful, staggering, doubting sinners, yet spiritual Jacobs; and the third, those who possessed some good degree of confidence, whose desire was unto the Lord, to serve him with purpose of heart.
I. “One shall say, I am the Lord’s.” Highly favoured and greatly blessed is the soul that can feelingly, honestly and, with the Spirit of God testifying to the conscience, humbly say, “I am the Lord’s.” How many are there of my hearers in the chapel this morning who can thus unhesitatingly declare, “I am the Lord’s”? “My Beloved is mine, and I am his”? I do not think there are many who without a doubt or without fear could say so. Now, if we were in private conversation together, there would be many, doubtless, who would say, “I hope and trust I am the Lord’s; but I fear to be presumptuous.” But there are some here, I dare venture to say, who can well remember the time when the Lord appeared so graciously, and manifested himself so sweetly to the soul, that they were enabled in all holy confidence to say, “I am the Lord’s”; “I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” “Lord, I am thine,” said one, “save me.” And again: “For there stood by me this night,” said the apostle, “the angel of God, whose I am.”
II. “And another shall call himself by the name of Jacob.” Now, I think I have before me many Jacobs this morning. But what do we understand by Jacob? What does Jacob say of himself? For if the account he gives, and the confession he makes to the Lord, do not agree in some measure with our case and feelings, we have no right to call ourselves by the name of Jacob. But what does Jacob say on that memorable occasion when he was about to meet his brother Esau, armed with four hundred men? I need not go into the history; but let us just see what Jacob says to the Lord: “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant.” “Ah,” says some poor soul, “then I am a Jacob: I am not worthy of the least of God’s mercies; I am the greatest sinner, the vilest wretch, a worthless worm.”
And what does the Lord say to these poor things? Why, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob.” For what was spoken to Jacob of old—these very promises were made to all and every one of the seeking seed of Jacob down to the end of time. In Hosea we find a remarkable passage: “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us”—with us. So that what the Lord said to Jacob, he said to all his spiritual seed in him. And why does the Lord say, “Fear not, worm Jacob”? Because they are often so full of fears: they fear sin, fear Satan, fear themselves, fear various things as they pass along. But the Lord says, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob.”
I have often thought and said, there is a verse of one of our poets that describes the substance of all my religion. You will say, “It must be very little, then, for a single verse of a hymn to contain it all.” Well, but it does. And what is that? Why—
“A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus and my all.”
There, my dear friends, is the sum and substance of my religion. And again:
“Great God! how infinite art thou! What worthless worms are we!”
III. “Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” Jacob was the first name of every true Israelite. The name of Israel was given to Jacob on the occasion before referred to, when he wrestled with a man until the breaking of the day. Who was this man? Why, the Angel of the Covenant—God and Man—Emmanuel: God with us. And he said, “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” But Jacob said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” O, the power of faith! that this poor worm should be enabled to wrestle with the Lord, the God of heaven and earth! to hold him so firmly by the arms of faith and prayer, as for God himself to say “Let me go”! But no, “I will not,” cannot, “let thee go, except thou bless me.” And he said unto him, “What is thy name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Thou shalt be no more called Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
What a mercy for poor sinners, when enabled to wrestle with the Lord in times of trouble. How many times have I gone to my closet, in real earnest prayer to God, when I should never have gone there but for trouble! So that I bless God for trials and troubles which have brought me to him, wherein I have seen the goodness of God in hearing and answering my prayers and working deliverances for me. There is no real crying to the Lord until we are brought into trouble and necessity of some kind or in some measure; though the Lord, in his sovereignty, does not deal with all his people just alike. O, no; though all must be brought at length to be nothing that the Lord may be all in all.
God says, by his prophet Hosea, “I will be unto them as a lion.” This is his way of working with some. He stops them at once; causes them to feel such deep and cutting convictions—so terrible, it may be, that there appears to be no way of escape; nothing before them but destruction: and this may be for weeks or months, and even years, before they are enabled to lay hold of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was a wealthy banker in our town some years ago, a man of education and standing in life, whom the Lord met with in this way: “met him as a lion,” cut his soul in pieces, and brought him down into the very dust. He would come down to my house sometimes and, with a countenance expressive of the real earnestness with which he spake and felt, would clench one hand and beat it on the palm of the other, saying to me, “I don’t care how proud a man may be; let him be as stubborn, hard-hearted and determined in sin as he may, let the Lord meet with him as he met with me, he will be brought down.” Nothing else may be able to do it; but when the Lord meets the soul like a lion, this will be sure to humble the proud, rebellious heart of any sinner.
But this is not the Lord’s way with all. In some cases he brings them to a knowledge of themselves and of their sins in a more gradual, gentle way, according to his word: “I will be to Ephraim as a moth.” Yes, my dear friends, the Lord works with some of his children as a moth. Now, there is a great difference between a moth and a lion. But what does the moth effect, literally? Why, when it gets into a garment, it begins fretting it into small holes; and as soon as we discover it, if we wish to preserve the garment, we try this remedy and the other, but the work of destruction goes on till at length the garment is cast aside as useless and worthless. So it is with the sinner: let the Lord come in this manner and enter the heart of a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and begin fretting his garments into holes, discover to him the evil of his nature, make him sick of himself, even of his good works, and thus go on fretting and fretting his garments, till he is led to cast them all entirely away as filthy rags. Then, and not till then, feeling stripped and emptied, will he at last be brought down to seek help and righteousness alone from the Lord, whose work it is to save sinners, and to stop them at the first. Who stopped me in my mad career, going in the broad way of sin and death? Did I stop myself? O, no!
“And another shall subscribe with his hand, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” But Paul says, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.” “But we,” he says, “are the true circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Circumcision was a type; and though it is now done away literally, yet every spiritual Israelite must be circumcised in his heart.
Some poor souls—poor dear children of God—are so afraid of their sins, they think they are so great that they never can be pardoned; that there can be no mercy for such wretches as they feel themselves to be. But, poor soul, you need not in reality fear. O, no! Well, but some will say, “Then you encourage sin, and the doctrines you preach lead to licentiousness.” No, my dear friends, not for a moment. But sin shall not have dominion over God’s children; it is for ever put away, and buried in the sea of forgiving love and mercy, which
“Rises high, and drowns the hills,
Has neither shore nor bound;
Now, if we search to find our sins,
Our sins can ne’er be found.”
In connection with the worm Jacob, I will just quote a portion of a verse by dear Berridge:
“Such a worm of nothing worth,
Crawling out and in the earth.”
Yes, these poor worms come out of their holes sometimes. And what brings them out? Why, the rain and dew of heaven distilled on their precious souls; this will make them come forth to the light.
 John Roby. John Kershaw’s autobiography gives a most interesting account of him (pages 285-297, 1994 edition).
John Kershaw (1792-1870) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Hope Chapel, Rochdale, serving this position for fifty-three years. John Hazelton wrote of him:
“His autobiography is one of the best books of its kind and one striking incident we will quote. It is his account of his interview in Edinburgh with Dr. John Duncan, often called "Rabbi" Duncan, because of his profound knowledge of Hebrew. Dr. Duncan (1796-1870) was Professor of Hebrew in New College, Edinburgh, and was a man of the most acute and profound intellectual powers, and at the same time a deeply spiritual and Scriptural preacher. In learning and associations he was at the antipodes of plain John Kershaw. In November, 1861, Mr. Kershaw preached in Edinburgh, arrangements having been made through Lady Lucy Smith, who was desirous that his original and powerful ministry should be exercised there. He writes:—"Another of my visitors was Dr. Duncan, who I was told by one of the ministers understood fourteen languages and that there was only one in the City who surpassed him in learning. He told me he had heard me preach three sermons, and he quite agreed with me in every statement that I had made, both in doctrine, experience and practice, save one, and that I had not fully entered upon, namely, 'the extent of the call of the gospel.' He candidly told me that his human learning had for years past been a great hindrance to his coming to a saving knowledge of the truth, and he had proved Paul's words, that the world by wisdom knew not God; and referring me to 1 Cor. 1:21,22 said he was for a long time like a wandering star or a ship at sea without a compass, ready to settle in every 'ism'—sometimes Arianism or Socinianism; and sometimes his mind was bordering upon infidelity. He declared himself much ashamed of many of his theological productions. When it pleased the Lord to work in his soul by the power of the Spirit he was for a long time in a distressed state, not knowing what to do to get peace and comfort. A conversation with another minister was made useful to him and he was enabled to go to the feet of Jesus as a little child and beg Him to teach him, a poor ignorant sinner, by His Spirit and His Word. The Lord graciously heard prayer and revealed Himself as his Saviour and Redeemer. We spoke of Scott's 'Force of Truth,' in which the author confessed he had been priding himself on his human attainments, opposing the doctrines of grace, and despising his neighbour, that dear man of God, John Newton, who eventually was made a blessing to him; also of John Berridge, who preached some years before the Lord stripped him and caused him to flee to Jesus for refuge. The conversation I had with this man I hope never to forget."