A Sermon Preached By James John West, Rector Of Winshelsea, At The Parish Church, Hurstpierpoint, On Wednesday Evening, April 16, 1851
“I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.”—Zephaniah 3:12.
“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” is the command of my eternal and blessed Master. “And if thou take forth the precious from the vile thou shalt be as my mouth” is his encouraging injunction to Jeremiah. Again “He that hath my word let him speak my word faithfully,” and also the apostle Paul says, “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things.”
It is under the touching authority and unction of these scriptures, dear hearers, that I, in “weakness, in fear” and, (in a certain sense), “in much trembling,” stand up before you in this house of prayer, and, God, giving me the power, determine, “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
And now, in dependence upon the teaching of the third person in the Godhead, without whom all our teachings from the pulpit are nugatory and vain, by the irresistible power of that Holy Spirit I desire to speak to you under two or three distinct heads, out of this passage in the text before us: “I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.”
What a beautiful picture of the suffering church of Christ gathered from all quarters!!! What a beautiful and touching image of her for whom the eternal and blessed Saviour was content to suffer, to bleed, and to die upon the cross! “A poor and an afflicted people!”
Now, mark me, my hearers:
1st of all. “I will leave in the midst of thee.”
There is the purpose of God! Despite men and devils, despite sin and self, despite all the sad havoc of the fall in Adam, see how God speaks as a sovereign, “I will also leave in the midst of thee.” As the apostle says, “a remnant according to the election of grace.” That is my first head.
2ndly. The character of that people! The left people—the remnant- the church, “I will also leave in this midst of thee an afflicted and poor people.”
There is the character of the church of God! Not a high standard, nor a low standard, but a scriptural standard. “A poor and an afflicted people!” That is the character of the church! Pastors and people, if of the church of God, are all poor and must be afflicted. That is my second head.
Now, 3rdly. The sovereignty in the text. The sovereignty of God, as stated in the passage here, “They shall trust in the name of the Lord.”
Those are my three headings, dear hearers.
1. A left people. “I will also leave in the midst of thee.”
2. The character of that people. “Poor and afflicted.”
And 3rdly. The decree of Jehovah concerning them. “They shall trust in the name of the Lord.”
Now, first of all, the church of God—“the remnant according to the election of grace”—as stated in the word of God; and as scripturally and faithfully set forth in the 17th article of the Church of England; so that my first heading is a Bible truth, and a pure Church of England truths.
“I will also leave in the midst of thee.” Now, friends, the gospel is discriminating! There must be, whenever a faithful ambassador of Jehovah occupies the pulpit, a severing amongst the hearers, a bringing out the sheep from the goats—as Toplady says in a published sermon of his. “Profession is not Possession,”—and none have any right to calculate that they are the people of God, but those that have got a broken and a changed heart by the influences of the Holy Spirit of God. “I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people” “A remnant’’ a left; but a preordained people, as in the Acts of the Apostles, “as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed.” Now this is sufficient, my hearers, on my first head, “I will also leave in the midst of thee.” Oh! yes, in every parish; and in every country, this is the description of the church of God,—a left people, a predestined people, “a remnant.” In preaching high truths I desire to do so in God’s own words, and that “remnant is according to the election of grace.” Christ himself says in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in nowise cast out.” It is only the given ones who can come, “All that the Father giveth me” We must take the whole verse, not half only. We must take the full statement. Here is the inspired statement of God’s holy word. His positive and firm decree, despite men and devils, despite all the sin of the church—“all that the Father giveth me shall come to me,” (nothing can alter this) and “him that cometh to me” (there is encouragement for the poor coming sinner!) “him that cometh” I will in nowise cast out. Are you coming? Do you know what it is to come to Christ? Let me give you scripture. “Come unto me all that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Here is the qualification of the coming sinner, he labours, and is heavy laden, not stout hearted, not a pharisee. No! as some one says, “a whole-hearted sinner has no sympathy with a broken hearted Jesus.” “Reproof has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness.”
Again, as to the Coming sinner, in Isaiah 55, “Ho! every one that thirsteth”—there is the qualification—”every one that thirsteth” I put this to your consciences; I am speaking to strangers here. I am drawing “a bow at a venture,” may God take the aim, and shoot through my tongue the arrows into your hearts. Are you “thirsty?” “Ho! every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money,”—O, no! there must be no taking “down the man a present, a little balm and a little honey.” Joseph was going freely to receive his family, and so does our antitypical Joseph. He receives “every one that thirsteth.” This is not setting up a high standard; but it is going into your consciences and asking the poor and the afflicted who hear me whether they do hunger and thirst? Blessed are ye that hunger and thirst after righteousness for ye shall be filled, but there must be hunger and thirst, that is the qualification.
“I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people.’’ I come now to the second head of my subject,—“an afflicted and a poor people.” Christianity not tried, is nothing, a mere name that ends in a name. Christianity brings its own peculiar trials. Christianity whenever it enters into the heart of a “vessel of mercy afore prepared unto glory,” breaks that heart. That is the only sacrifice the poor sinner can offer unto God; as stated in the Psalms, “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Here are the two titles (if I may so speak) of the suffering church! “An afflicted and a poor people.” We have David’s testimony about affliction, he says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” and this is his own experience,—“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept Thy word.” And you that are Christian people now before me, know that such is the pathway. Suffer me to put a verse of a hymn before you on the subject—
“Preserved in Jesus.
When my feet made haste to hell,
And there should I have gone,
But thou dost all things well;
They love was great,
Thy mercy free,
Which from the pit
And Jude says, “Sanctified by God the father. Preserved in Jesus Christ (or as it is in the margin), preserved for Jesus Christ and called.” There is nothing so humbling, nothing so melting, to the man who knows the gospel and the Truth, as to think of God’s long-suffering mercy to him when in unregeneracy. “The carnal mind is enmity against God,” but it is not so when the poor sinner is brought submissively to the feet of Jesus. Oh, to have a melting season there. To know that it is good to be under such affliction,—the affliction of sin. I do not speak of mere world affliction. Oh! no dear hears. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” Trials, exercises, afflictions, are all good. As it is in the Book of Samuel—“Every one in destress, and every one in debt, and every one discontented (or as it signifies in the Hebrew), bitter of soul, gathered themselves into him, and he became a captain over them.” The bitterness of soul that poor Hannah felt. She poured out her soul unto the Lord, and said to Eli, “Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.” She had really a broken heart: and she was in the very essence of prayer,—she was pouring out her soul! Do you know what pouring the soul out is? This is prayer! To pour out the soul—and to cry “God! Be merciful to me a sinner.” Take that parable—the pharisee and the publican! The conceited and self-satisfied pharisee daring to thank God that he was not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican, pointing contemptuously at a child of God. But mark the difference. The publican could only pour out a broken heart, and cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” That is prayer.
“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Utter’d or unexpressed.”
“An afflicted and poor people!” “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” was the opening sentence of their sermon of Him who spake as never man spake. And again, immediately after it, in the same sermon, “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” What, then? (Some one who hears me may say) is it such a state of trial, and does it subject the child of God to such a state of affliction? Yes, my dear hearers, it is indeed so. And yet we can say and do say:—
“Boast not, ye sons of earth,
Nor look with scornful eyes;
Above your highest mirth
Our saddest hours we prize;
For tho’ our cup seems fill’d with gall,
There’s something secret sweetens all.”
“The secret of Jehovah,” says the psalmist, “is with them that fear Him, and He will shew them His covenant,” And Solomon says, “The secret of the Lord is with the righteous.” Christianity is a secret and God himself is the revealer of that secret. He reveals it only to His elect,—the people for whom He gave his Son! For whom He suffered—for whom he died. Have you ever seriously pondered over the great event which our church celebrates at his particular season. The passion of the Saviour! The sufferings of Gethsemane, and the agonies of Calvary? Have you contemplated the illustrious Sufferer as he was pacing up and down that memorable—that never-to-be-forgot garden, every inch of whose consecrated ground was marked with the blood and tracked with the sweat of an agonizing Redeemer! I say, have you pondered over the suffering of the gracious and blessed God-Man? Mark me! an afflicted church Has an afflicted husband. “In all their affliction,” (is the statement of the inspired Isaiah) “In all their affliction He was afflicted.” And the apostle Paul catching up the same inspired sentiment says, “for in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted.” He was a tired Christ and therefore he is just the savior that such a tried sinner as I am, need. But there may be here before me, some old soldiers in the battle (for, as I said, I am speaking “at a venture.” May God direct every word that falls from my tongue in Hurst church tonight), there may be some here more deeply tired than others. Dear friends! It is a mercy to know that you have a sympathetic Saviour in heaven above, over you, and over all your trials. “Seeing then, that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession; for wet have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, (look at that!) but was all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”And what is Paul’s summing up of this statement? “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. And what is it that enables such a wretch as I am—and oh! If I were not a wretch I could not preach to you—to go “boldly” to the feet of infinite holiness, to spotless perfection? How could I venture even as a beggar to His footstool? It is, because He is my priest, the only priest that can offer an atonement for my sins. Oh! Friends,—there may be, there are, I believe, tried souls around me,—
“In all our worst afflictions,
When furious foes surround us;
When troubles vex,
And fears perplex,
And Satan would confound us.”
That is a trail to be in! And what says the apostle Paul? “The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” “For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.” There must be the power! Every child of God has the desire to be eminent in “all holy conversation and godliness;” but the enemy is suffered at time to balk him in that,
“When like the restless ocean,
Our hearts cast up uncleanness,
Flood after flood,
With mire and mud
And all is foul within us.
When love is cold and languid,
And different passions shake us;
When hope decays,
And God delays,
And seems to quite forsake us.”
There is an experience of the church of God!
“Then to maintain the battle
With soldier-like behavior;
To keep the field,
And never yield,
But firmly eye the Saviour.”
This is reality!
“To trust his gracious promise,
Thus hard beset with evil:
This, this is faith
Will conquer death,
And overcome the devil.”
That is the gospel! that is experience! How does the apostle speak of his affliction, in the opening of the second epistle to the church at Corinth? “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort them that are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” Oh! it is this which fits a man for the pulpit! I never could preach faithfully till God cast me into the deep pit and into the hot furnace. Then I could go
and speak to my fellow-sufferers something of the secrets of the narrow path, of that path which leads to life eternal. The apostle has the same experience. I often feel that I have to go through double fires in order that I may be enabled to feed the church of God that hears me Sunday after Sunday, and Thursday after Thursday. It was so with the apostle. “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted it is for your consolation and salvation which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted it is for your consolation and salvation.” See now dear hearers what a reality it is to be a Christian! It is a real thing to be a sufferer for Christ’s sake! Talk of martyrdom! The saints of God suffer martyrdom! Salvation by grace alone, is the charter of the church,—“by grace ye are saved” in every sense of the word!
“An afflicted people.” And there is a sweet scripture that now comes into my heart. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” “Our light affliction!” Life is but a vapor! three score years and ten will soon be gone! “Our light affliction!” Oh! friends, to live by faith upon this blessed Saviour! How precious is His word in Isaiah. “Fear not.” “Fear not:” why are there so many “fear nots” in the Bible? The word of God abounds with that expression. “Fear not, Abraham!” “Fear not,” so and so; people of God now assembled in Hurst church tonight. In Isaiah 43. “Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” And then, as to affliction and trial, see the promise—“When thou passes through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” What a blessed scripture. It is enshrined in the hearts of the people of the Lord! But before you can understand this, you must have had a call. A call! The same as the apostle Paul had! A call from God. “I have called thee by thy name.” This is the scripture! This is the word of God! And I say therefore with the apostle Paul, “let God be true, and every man a liar.” “I have called thee by thy name!” Individually, personally, saved, and called by grace! The world may laugh, the mere professor may scorn, the pharisee may resist this, but I repeat, “let God be true, and every man a liar.” Here it is in the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, “I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine,” and being so, being His, then whenever you are in suffering, He thy God, will support thee. He will defend thee, the fire shall not burn thee, the rivers shall not drown thee, nothing shall hurt thee, nothing destroy thee! But friends, there is a purpose in all our afflictions and trials. Newton formerly at Onley told us—
“Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer,
Trials bring me to his feet:
Lay me low and keep me there.”
And, my dear hearers, believe me, when I say, nothing but suffering and this kind of affliction will ever enable us to understand the secrets of God’s narrow pathway!
Now, secondly, I come to the expression in the text before me, “a poor people,” a “nothing-to-pay” people! As in the Gospel by Luke. “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.” They were both in debt, but one owed five hundred and the other fifty. When did pardon come? “And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” Simon was only fifty pence in debt; Mary owed five hundred; but
when they had nothing to pay he frankly forgave then both.” Then mark the question! “Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most?” “I suppose,” was the answer, “that he to whom He forgave the most.” “And He said unto him, Thou has rightly judged.” Hence, dear hearers, we see the two characteristic emblems of the church of God, “an afflicted and poor people.” Now, how does the apostle Paul speak of the poor, in the opening chapter to the church at Corinth. “Not many wise men after flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” (Oh! No. Grace does not always flow in aristocratic veins) “Which were born, not of blood (not by family descent), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but God.” There is but one aristocracy, redeemed by blood, and saved by grace, even all the sons and daughters of the Eternal Jehovah! “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea and things which are not to bring to nought things that are.” Why? “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” And there is another sister passage in Ephesians—“By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” See how God hates boasting—“lest any man should boast.” If there was the least degree of merit! If I could do a single thing, even the raising a finger!, to help my own salvation, I should boast of it. But God has provided against all boasting! And therefore he says, “By grace,” free grace, unmerited grace, “are ye saved.”
“This is the gospel’s glorious news,
Salvation’s glorious plan,
God’s everlasting changeless love
To ruin’d, helpless man.”
But there may be some before me, who may probably flinch from these glorious TRUTHS. There may be some that may be conscientiously afraid that they may tend to Antinomianism. I hate Antinomianism! And I tell you that the people of God are a people desirous to serve Him. “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” and the Church of England in her ordinance service of the Lord’s Supper has the very echo of that scripture, “all such good works as Thou has prepared for us to walk in.” “We are His workmanship.” O! What a blessed piece of machinery! “A vessel of mercy! Afore prepared unto glory!” Saved by the blessing of God! “We are His workmanship!” I speak as a Christian! “Shall we continue in sin then?” Rather let right hands be chopped off, right eyes plucked out, right feet cast from us. The desire of our soul is, that our conversation may be in heaven, as “it becometh the gospel of Christ.” There is no Antinomianism in that, is there? How was it with the apostle Paul? He was a preacher of FREE unconditional grace! And would have been called in England, in the times, a high Calvinist. But what was his statement? “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain. But I labored ore abundantly than they all.” (There was practical conformity to God’s will, and all under the influence of grace.) “Yet not I,” Paul had a tender conscience, (he checks himself, he would not exalt self in any way). “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Thus you see, there is no danger of Antinomian errors from the gospel faithfully preached!, though there be the charge of preaching high Calvinism! I am sure the church of God does not desire to make John Calvin a Pope; John Calvin, like all other men, had his errors, but the gospel which I would preach is Jesus Christ’s! And I can say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” “The power of God.” That power is only known in poor men. That power subdues pride. O! That pride of man! It was cursed pride that brought the curse in Paradise upon our fallen parent. “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” I know what it is to be pestered by pride, there is only one spot where one ever gets free from pride,—
“Thy garden is the place,
Where pride cannot intrude,
For should it dare to enter there
’Twould soon be drown’d in blood.”
Friends, the people of God are a poor people, I might turn to almost every psalm and prove that. David felt his poverty,—he says in Psalm 70. “But I am poor and needy, make haste unto me O God. Thou art my help and my deliverer, O Lord make no tarrying.”
“Poor and needy.” There is a distinction in these words! A distinction between poverty and need! In a Christian sense. The poor man! Self-empties, knows he has need of everything; he need power—will—everything. This is the doctrine of the Church of England. Amidst all the events of our day we still have the articles in the Prayer Book, and may God never suffer any unhallowed hand to pluck those scriptural truths from the same. It insists on the great fact, that man has no free-will, and hence after we have in the first instance been brought to Christ, we must continually be receiving fresh supplies of grace, in order that we may come to Him, day by day, for the supply of our entire necessity and need. We have no power to pray. No power to praise. No power to preach. No power to hear the preacher, except God gives us that power! We are in need of everything! We are bankrupts.
“’Tis perfect poverty alone
That sets the soul at large.”
The Psalms are full of this experience, “I am poor and needy!” But why do I speak of the psalmist, why do I not at once refer to the Fountain-head? “Is not this the son of the carpenter?” It was the gracious God-Man who said to one, who said that he would follow Christ, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests, but the son of man hath not where to lay his head.” My friends, if you are content to follow Jesus, you much be despised on earth. “Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab.” Such is the state of the church.
I have endeavored cursorily just to sketch before you, as God has taught me, “O! That it may be with power to the hearts of my hearers,) the three first heads of my subject. And now I come to the ending one, “And they shall trust in the name of the Lord.” “The Name!” “Thou shalt call his name Jesus,” Why? “For he shall save His people from their sins.” Now, there is no doubt about it, for all His people shall be saved. Jesus signifies a healer! What a beautiful description of the church is given in Isaiah 61. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preached good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted. To proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God. To comfort all that mourn. To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion. To give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” This described the church! And you that have broken-hearts, and sit mourners on the benches of this house of prayer, you that can bless God, and say, “I know the meaning of this passage for He has Himself printed it on my heart.” Unto you therefore which believe He is precious, (I can hardly utter that term forcibly enough), “He is precious.” And if He is precious to you, mark me, that is evidence that you are precious to Him!
It was that memorable passage in the 61st Isaiah that the Saviour took as his text in his native town when He came to preach the gospel there, an account of it is stated in Luke 4, and as the Christ was preaching the gospel in the synagogue of old, and as that attentive auditory charmed with his preaching hung upon His lips, how as the feeling of his hearers changed when He began to apply the subject. So indignant then were they against the Saviour’s Sermon, that they were going to thrust Him out of the city, to lead him to the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong; when he came to apply His preaching. “Verily I say unto you no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but into none of them was Elias sent save unto Sarepta.” This gave offense. When a subject comes to be applied faithfully! Then arises the enmity against the faithful preaching of the gospel. It says, “all they in the synagogue when they heard these things were filled with wrath.” God grant, that such may not be the case in Hurst church tonight.
I have come into this pulpit in earnest prayer, and with only one object,—to win souls, and to build up the church of God. May He Himself give me the power! “And they shall trust in the name of the Lord.” Are you, dear hearers, (and without fearing the charge of tautology, I repeat it again,) are you quite satisfied that you do believe the gospel? I ask each one who hears me. Have you a right faith? A correct and a scriptural creed, or is it merely notional? There are two faiths spoken of in the Bible. Mark me! There is the faith of the devils! “The devils also believe and tremble,” says the apostle James, and Toplady has this idea, that the fatih of devils is entirely orthodox, that their creed is sound, but it is not “the faith of God’s elect.” It is “the faith of God’s elect,” which is Jehovah’s gift!
There are also two hopes in the Bible, “the hope that maketh not ashamed,” and “the hope of the hypocrite which shall perish.” There are also two repentances in the Bible,—Judas repented—he “repented himself,” and hung himself. Peter repented, and wept at the redeemer’s feet, “bitterly!” But what is true repentance? It is “godly sorrow.” Mr Hart says in a hymn—
“For wheresoever faith is strong,
Repentance is so too.”
They are twin gifts, you cannot separate them. “What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder.”
But what is repentance? It is godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of.” And as to faith, there is such a thing as a notional faith, a barren faith; but that is not “the faith of God’s elect.
“Notion’s the harlot’s test,
By which the truth’s reviled,
But not the living child.
Faith is by knowledge fed.
And with obedience mix’d.
Notion is empty, cold and dead,
And fancy’s never fix’d.”
You see that obedience follows faith:
“True faith’s the life of God,
Deep in the heart it lies,
It lives and labors under load,
Though damp’d, it never dies.”
That is true faith. Now the test is when we “trust in the name of the Lord.” We are told in the book of Jeremiah, “cursed is the man that trusted in man;” and I am not straining scripture when I annotate that passage thus, “cursed is the man that trusteth in himself.” “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and taketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert and shall not see when good cometh, but shall inhabit parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited.” And the antithesis! “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is, for he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green, and shall not be careful in the year of drought; neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” There is no Antinomianism in that. Jeremiah immediately adds, “The heart is deceitful above all, and desperately wicked.” But there is no option given to the church. It is the decree of God that His people shall trust in Him. Solomon says “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” It is the only way of salvation. In the Acts of the Apostles we read, “through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
Suffer me to show you the distinction between law and gospel? We can never attain to salvation, neither can we entitle ourselves to the favor of God in any way by the law. Salvation is entirely FREE through the blood of Jesus. “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” Has God ever marked that scripture in the hearts of all His people here? Has it ever been a subject of deep enquiry in your hearts whether you have each undergone that which I may technically call a law-work! The apostle says, “I was alive without the law once,” (or formerly) “but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Ah! Friends, there is a great difference between the sinner coming to the commandment, and the commandment coming to the sinner. When the commandment comes, the sinner cannot escape; there is death in the law. “I was alive” (says the apostle) “without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” That commandment is the transcript of Jehovah’s purity! That law is the very copy of God’s holiness; it demands implicit obedience. What says the apostle James? “If a man keep the whole law and yet offends in one point he is guilty of all.” We are guilty by one ungodly thought, and unchaste glance of the eye, is sin; and thus you infringe the whole law of God! Can you stand before God, then, on such a ground as this? Has the law been your “schoolmaster?” Have you been schooled by Moses? The apostle says, “the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” “But before faith came we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” It is a great comfort, knowing what a faithless creature a Christian is, how continually he is trespassing and sinning against Jehovah, how he has to bewail his own sins, and how faith seems sometimes gone.—It is a great comfort and mercy that God’s word stands unalterably true.—“They shall trust in the name of the Lord.”
I have thus endeavored, as God hath taught me, to preach to you a few salutary things from this passage in Zephaniah. May they enter into your souls, and may you be by grace enabled to contemplate on them alone. “To examine your own hearts,” to see “whether you are in the faith,” and to “prove your own selves.” God’s decree and purpose is, that He has a church. He has left “a remnant according to the election of grace.” And as the apostle says, “if by grace then is it no more works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” That is positive! “And if of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.” “What then?” “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it and the rest were blinded.” How true that is—“blinded”—no more power to see the truth than a blind man has to behold a beautiful prospect. But “I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.”
Now, dear hearers, if this truth is by grace really impressed on your hearts, you will renounce all errors. Dead in sin, in trespasses and sins, have you been quickened? “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God.”—Oh! That sweet statement of Paul’s—“The gift of God!”, is “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Look at that ere we separate. Ere I leave the pulpit let me leave it on your memory. “But the gift of God!”, is, “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What is the meaning of a gift? A thing freely given—“without money, without price.” If you buy a thing and pay for a thing, it is your own, you have bought it. “Ye are bought,” the apostle tells the church in Corinth, “Bought with a price.” The precious blood of Jesus has been paid for the church,—“The church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood.” And Christ says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.” Look at the flock of Christ! They have two special marks. A shepherd in the country has a mark on his own flock; so has the great shepherd of the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,”—that’s an ear-mark, “and they follow me,”—that’s a footmark!! Now there is no tendency to licentiousness in the gospel which I have preached to you. Has God called you? Has he whispered to you “thou art mine!” On beds of sickness, or in any other adversity, have you, humbled under a sense of sin been raised to hope that pardon has been granted you in Jesus; and have you realized that God has “crowned you with loving-kindness and tender mercies,” and so been constrained to shout out in estatick praise, “Bless the Lord, Oh! My soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”
“As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was another strange God with him.” Oh! That the God of all grace may enable me to be the means of stirring up your nests. Someone beautifully says that as this is true of the eagle, so our God stirs up His people, watches and hovers over them. And as the parent eagle takes her brood and bears them on herself, so that the gunner underneath must in aiming at the young ones, first shoot through the heart of the old bird. So my Christ, in whom and with whom my life is “bound up” and “hid” must first be destroyed, before the enemy can destroy my soul. All the sins that I have ever done, sins of thought, word or deed; sins under the law, sins under the gospel, sins at school, sins at college, have all absolute pardon in Christ—“for the blood of Jesus Christ cleanest us from all sin.” This is faith, not a duty faith, but “the faith of God’s elect.” This is faith! This is hope! This is repentance! A faith which is the gift of God, a hope which hovers round the Saviour, and anticipates in and thro’ and by Him a blessed immortality; a hope that hangs all her dependance on the blood of Jesus. That clock tells me, dear hearers, that it is time to stop. May God bless the words that I have spoken. I have had only one object, and if I have gained one soul at Hurst this evening, that object is accomplished, and I have not come here then in vain. “I will also leave in the midst of an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.” May God bless the gospel, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.