The Mighty Worker and His Gracious Work
"Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul."
A sermon preached at Salem Chapel, Portsmouth, on Wednesday Evening, October 21st, 1931, by Ernest Roe.
The first thing we have to attend to this evening is the Author of the work that is done in the soul: "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul." It is difficult really to believe in God; that there is a God. One of the commonest and easiest expressions of the Creed is, "I believe in God the Father Almighty." But there is a people present this evening whose hearts God has circumcised to fear him, who will agree that there are periods in their experiences when the existence of God is difficult to believe. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalm 53:1). And the more it pleases God to dwell in you, the more you will discover the amazing power of the deceitfulness, the enmity, and the carnality of your own heart against God; and when this is connected, as it often is, with exceedingly heavy providential trials; when your expectations upon which you have built perhaps for years are cut off, and your cherished schemes and plans pertaining to this life for you and yours are blasted; and when probably affliction is added to your loins, either to your own personally or to those who are near to you; and when God seems to take you by your neck and shake you as a man of war, and permits the vile and infernal devil, the implacable enemy of God and man, to assault your soul to its utmost depths; you will say with me that there are times when it is difficult purely, composedly, graciously, feelingly, and lovingly to believe in God. But let me hasten to say that this experience of yours, becomes a blessing, the devil is defeated, and out of it and because of it you eventually become more stabilised in the incalculably precious doctrine of the existence and reality of Almighty God; because sooner or later it pleases God, in the exercise of his lovingkindness to you, to remove the affliction, to subdue the devil, to allay carnality and enmity, to "turn your captivity as the streams of the south" (cf. Psalm 126:4), to bring brighter days to pass in your experience, to visit you with his own love, to satiate your soul with his own rich goodness; and just according as has been the measure of the depth of your infidelity, so becomes the height of your real, hearty faith in the existence of God, and you believe it out of a chastened, solemn, soberising experience of the truth, mark you, so as to say, "Now I know" (and that is better than all your imagination). "Now I know that thou favourest me, because my enemy triumpheth not over me" (cf. Psalm 41:11).
After we have been brought by the power of God on our heart to believe really in the existence of God, we are made to tremble - to tremble at the purity of that God with whom we have to do. I have been wrong with a great many people, I would not willingly do it, I would not needlessly do it, but I have got so sadly wrong with many people, because of my insistence on the purity of God. To a large extent, even in our own congregations, let me speak faithfully, at whatever cost; it will cost me more to be faithless, but many in our own congregations have a God of their own making, a God of their own imaginations, a God like a lump of putty that they can squeeze into any shape that they feel disposed. "Thou thoughtest," it is a solemn charge, and God lays it! "that I was altogether such an one as thyself." The imagination of the heart of an unrenewed man has a wrong conception of God, and he cannot have a right one until he is regenerated. Every man and woman, until a real work of sovereign grace has passed on their hearts, will not, cannot, and do not, believe in the spotless holiness of God, and hence you will hear murmurs, and little pieces of conversation, such as: "Well, after all, God is not as strict as that." "God, after all, is merciful and very pitiful, and he won't do this, and he won't do that." When you hear any person talking like that, it is an evidence that his soul has not stood in the secret place of thunder, and that he has not been brought into the pavilion of God where Isaiah was brought, and where I hope some of you have been brought. Isaiah was brought to have a view of God, of his train or retinue filling the temple and of the seraphim crying one to another, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts," and the majesty and the glory of the holiness of God penetrated Isaiah's heart, and brought up that great confession, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isaiah 6:3,5). Friend, has God taken you alone, singly, brought you to realise your own individuality, that you are a unity, that you cannot be saved by proxy, that you must he dealt with by him personally? Has he made you as a single sinner stand in the light of his blazing holiness, that consumed you, and withered you, and blasted you as to your own righteousness and creature goodness? Has he ever done it for you? What do you know, what can you know, of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour, unless some measure of this powerful, wonderful realistic work has passed upon your heart? It is the first lesson (but not the last) to stand before this holy God, feeling in your heart a lost man! There! A lost man! You don't meet with many people like that at Portsmouth, or anywhere else today, do you? It is a day of dark things for the churches, friends. Oh, we are grieved that we do not come into contact with many people now who seem to enter into the old-fashioned ways of God. There is a superficiality, a lightness, a frivolity, a veneer of religion, and the deep heart and soul work of the Eternal Spirit illuminating the soul with respect to sin and a holy God, are largely conspicuous by their absence. Oh that God would come back to us!
Well now, a third thing. When God has shown us a little of his holiness - because we do not, see much of it. Pardon my just going back for a moment, but I believe this, that if God were to show you and me tonight what one day he will show us, namely, the perfection of his holiness, we should go raving mad! We should! The human frame could not possibly stand up under it. When the last great day comes, my friends, if you or I should be found at his left hand, we shall not need him to read out to us our doom. One look of his holy eye will do it. Let that holy eye of his fasten on you or me at that great day, and our conscience will tell us what is coming. "Depart, depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire. I never knew you." Oh, when God has shown us a little of his holiness, what then? The way is prepared for God to show us his dear Son. And what does he show us with respect to his dear Son? Two or three things. Briefly, a word upon each:
First of all, he will show you that his dear Son became incarnate on purpose to deal with one thing - Sin! "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jno. 3:8), the works of the devil in your own heart. You must have the personal element kept before you, and the Holy Ghost will keep it before you if he is your Teacher. The works of the devil are manifold, and can neither be enumerated nor fuIly understood. The devil is such a past master at deceit, and can work such a labyrinth of devilry in you and me that only the Son of God incarnate can pull it to pieces. Well, "for this purpose the Son of God was manifested," to destroy, to undo, to bring to naught the works of the devil in our hearts. But how did he do it? I have often hesitated in speaking of the death of the Son of God, not because I do not believe it, but because I feel it is a sacred theme to talk about. I am afraid lest I should darken counsel by words without knowledge, and I would not do that. But just simply, what did the Son of God do in his death? He was treated by God, acting in the capacity of a Judge. God the Father was the Judge, the Son of God the Surety. The Surety for whom? His people, whom he had been pleased to take into union with his own Person and constitute them his Bride, his peculiar, loved and chosen Bride. And he said, "I will put away their sins, I will pay their debts;" and he voluntarily undertook in the covenant of grace to discharge their obligations to that law that held them, and would have held them to all eternity, as debtors, and treated them as such.
Now, with the Son of God standing responsible for his people's debts under the law, there was no alternative but that God as a Judge should proceed to deal with him in accordance with his suretyship engagements. And he did deal with him thus, really, truly, properly. God the Father imputed the sins of his people to the Person of his own dear Son. Mark this! God make it very distinct to you; it is a distinct and important piece of New Testament theology that God sets in his own people's hearts. For the church of God there cannot be a shadow of sin unatoned for. Should there exist the slightest vestige of sin that was not put away by the atonement of the Son of God, then the church of God must be condemned. There is no alternative. But God was pleased in the exercise of his loving sovereignty to take the accumulated sins and guilt of the church and impute it to his Son. Yet some people have the audacity to say that God was wrong in punishing an innocent Person! Oh! where do they get that from? They do not get it from this Book. "Oh," they say, "but his Son was innocent." We know he was in one sense, but in another he was not. In the former sense "He knew no sin;" that is, by personal experience of committing it. Bless his holy Name! He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). But in the other sense, God says this: "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin" (2 Cor.5:21); and when God imputed sin to him as the Surety, he, as the Surety, became liable to the guilt and to the punishment of the persons for whom he stood Surety. Only the dear Son of God can tell to the deepest limit what sin is, and yet he never committed one sin. He had all the church's sin on him, really, truly, absolutely. Here he stood as the antitypical scapegoat. The scapegoat had the priest's hands placed on its head, and in that act there was the typical transference of the sins of Israel to its head. Then, with the sins in type upon its head, it was taken into the wilderness by the hand of a fit man. So the Son of God was really made sin by imputation, and by his own death took the sins of his people clean away. They are gone, my friends, they are gone; finished with, done with. In this particular God can do what nobody else can. He can take a sinner and separate his sin from the sinner; and he did it in the Person of his dear Son. I repeat it: it is so vitally important. God separated the sins of his church from the church, and put them on his dear Son, and his dear Son, making an atonement for those sins, has fulfilled the prophecy in Daniel: "He shall make an end of sin" (chap. 9:24); and when you have made an end of a thing, there is an end of it. Thus God has made a blessed final end of sin with respect to his people, and has cast their sins behind his back into the sea, and they will not be remembered against them for ever. Oh, when God, by his good and blessed Spirit, gives a poor man who has stood consumed, withered and lost under his holiness a sense of this, the man leaps for joy; he knows the Gospel's joyful sound. God has done something for his soul, so much that he is pardoned every whit. Here it is, my friend, where you will stand at peace with God; here it is where you will enter into the secret place of the Almighty, and love him, and bless him, and praise him because he is holy. That which before was your dread and terror, namely, his holiness, will now become to you a blessed, glorious thing, and you will "give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness" (Psalm 30:4) because that holiness, through the atonement, is no barrier to the forgiveness of your sins. Well, the Holy Ghost will show you that. He will give you that work in your soul sooner or later, if he is your Teacher.
But perhaps I am taking too high ground for some who are young in these things. You may not have come to this point through the revelation of Jesus Christ to your heart, so I will go a little way with you and show that God may bring your soul along by easy stages. He may work in your heart a firm persuasion. You cannot account for it, you cannot express how it comes, but you do know he has given you a persuasion that he will one day give you that which you want the most - forgiveness. But while that persuasion in your mind is contested by the devil, he will whisper to you, "What! you, man! Do you think that a holy God will forgive you your sins? You are a perfect fool to think of such a thing. It is impossible!" Thus the devil will preach to you the absurdity of it, and that you have nothing to contemplate but everlasting damnation, which you have richly deserved, and your soul will say, "Ah, true!" And yet, a little while after, the persuasion revives, and you say to your spirit, "I do believe God will one day speak pardon to my heart." Now that conviction is the work of the Spirit, quietly, silently, secretly moving in your heart. The Lord help you to bless him for it!
Then a Scripture may he wrought in you. Sometimes you will find either in reading the Bible, or perhaps when you are not reading it, that a part of the Word comes into your soul absolutely like fire, and it opens of its own accord, and its blessed diamonds of truth sparkle in your soul. That builds you up in the hope that God is going to visit your soul with his great salvation. The Word speaks to you, and enables you to plead with God with a confidence you have never before had. It furnishes you with arguments, and you say," Lord, do as thou hast said." Then perhaps after a time Satan, who hates you, and who won't let you have a crumb of comfort if he can help it, will say, "Man, that was your memory!" and this seems to knock you over. But after a time, if the Scripture came from God, it will come bubbling up again. It gets renewed, it bums in your heart, and speaks perhaps with even more sweetness and joy to you, and enables you to press your case with God. Now when this is passing, God is at work in your soul and doing great things for you.
Then a third stage may be reached. It may be that God puts you into a deep trouble. He has a "furnace of affliction," "a fire in Jerusalem" for his people, and you must go into it. You cannot get over it by aeroplane, or under it by tunnel. You have to go through it, and you are not going through it by express train either! "They went through the flood on foot" (verse 6). So you have to foot it. You are in a hurry, but God says, "No!" He brings you into the net, lays affliction upon your loins, and "causes men to ride over your head" (verse 12). You go through fire and water, and seem to lose all your hope, all your persuasion of those Scriptures, and everything seems to tumble to ruins. You say, "Lord, I have lost what little religion I had. It all seems gone;" and this brings you to the place that you have been singing of this evening. It is one thing to sing it, but quite another to go through with it in soul experience:
Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Black, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Now you notice this, if you have not experienced it already, fellow believer, I guarantee you on the authority of God's own Word that in that deep and heavy trouble in which (as you suppose) you have lost everything, God will come to you, and will speak the richest, the most blessed revelation to your heart, and make you say, "The very thing I felt sure would destroy me has enriched me the most;" and so you come out of it into a wealthy place, the wealthy place of the experience of the forgiveness of your sins; for when God comes into the furnace, into the trials, and says, "Thy sins are put away; I freely pardon thee," why, we have no trials then, no darkness then, no bondage then. We are joyful, we are happy. We then enter into that word in Romans: "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ." We joy in God, mark, not in our circumstances, not in our relatives, not in our churches and chapels, but we joy in God, which is infinitely better than them all, "through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement" (chap. 5:11). Is it not wondrous, is it not good of God to look upon poor men and women, drenched in sin, soaked in sin, with sin oozing out of them, and to say, "I forgive you"?
Well, just one more thing that God does for the soul. The Holy Ghost will often have cause to come to you and graciously correct you. After he has set you down in the knowledge of the forgiveness of your sins, you may walk for a period in your first love. Ah, everything is beautiful and joyous! In prayer you get access, in hearing the Word you are at the breasts of consolation, every sermon is made life and power to you. It is with you as with the Jew who had married a bride; he was not to go to war for a year. And I sometimes think that that may be a type that when God sets his people at happy liberty in the revelation of Jesus Christ to their heart, they have a happy time of it, a time of heavenly honeymoon with their heavenly Bridegroom, and there is no war for a period. But after a time the soul sensibly feels those joys decline; the Bible becomes a sealed book, prayer becomes a burden, the hearing of the Word becomes barren, and everything belonging to God seems to dry up. You get into an apathetic condition. It may very well be that you begin to go after idols, you are negligent where you ought to be diligent, and, in short, your own conscience, if God touches it, will show you that you have been doing "things that were not convenient." Well now, what is going to happen? The blessed Spirit who began the work will not leave you. He comes and corrects you. Suppose you have spoken unadvisedly with your lips to somebody; he will say, "Go to that man. Acknowledge your wrong. Ask his forgiveness." "Oh," you say in the pride of your heart, "I will never do it!" But you will, you will if the Holy Ghost is behind it, and, what is more, you will have no peace till you do so. You will have to go under the power of the Spirit and say to that brother, "I am sorry I spoke as I did. Forgive me! forgive me"! And what a blessed thing it is for God to do that in your soul, to rebuke you thus. Sometimes you may be about to take a wrong step in providence. "Ah," you say, "but I have prayed over it." We may pray over things, but the point is this, you can deceive yourself and say, "I know it is the will of God." Time will tell whether it is or not. I am not saying it is not, but I am asserting what is true; time will tell! We can so beg of God not to let us have our own way, and yet we do want it! until he in mighty power breaks us down under his divine goodness, and works real submission in our heart to his will. And if say, we do take a wrong step, and the Holy Ghost comes to us in circumstances, or, it may be, through friends, or through his Word, our conscience begins to feel very uneasy, and we say, "Lord, have I done right? Have I done right?" Now, some people make a laugh of all this. Well, I do not want to. He walks safely who walks humbly. He gets along most quickly who goes along on his knees, and if you and I really fear God, we shall want him to take pains with us and stop us from having our own will, and to lead us in his own particular path, for how else shall we ever get to heaven?
Sometimes the blessed Spirit will do this in your soul; he will give you a blessed melting, and, you know, this does not always come as we anticipate. I have known what it is to go to chapel as hard as iron. Not that I would be so; oh no! I like a soft heart. In fact, I believe that every godly minister abhors standing in a pulpit and saying what he does not feel. But sometimes we have to do it. I have to; I am ashamed to say it, but I will speak the truth, come what may. But the Lord has dissolved that hard heart. Sometimes one has had a very powerful dissolving under a hymn. By a striking and remarkable coincidence the very hymn you sang tonight they sang last night where I was preaching, and to the same tune. There is Gospel truth in that hymn, and last night I had a little melting under it:
Take him for strength and righteousness;
Make him thy refuge in distress;
Love him above all earthly joy;
And him in everything employ.
You cannot explain exactly how these Scriptures and hymns do dissolve your heart, but you have tears of love and blessed joy; and if it were the will of God, you would have much more love than you do. I do love a feeling religion; and I do not believe there is a real religion without feeling. I love a tearful religion, not sentiment, but a religion that makes one cry tears of sorrow and of joy. Sometimes you will find that the Holy Ghost will not only melt you, but he will edify you and build you up. You will find, perhaps, that you have heard a doctrine for years, and never understood it, though you felt so sure that you did that you were ready to argue about that doctrine with any minister. But when the Holy Ghost was pleased to open that doctrine graciously to you, and put your heart under its sweet power, you then said, "What a fool I was years ago to dispute on that doctrine with so and so. I thought I knew something about it, but now I enter into its meaning, suck honey and sweetness out of it, and find it filling my understanding, and grounding me in the truth of the living God."
Sometimes the Holy Ghost will do this for your soul: he will bring you out of the grossest darkness into the clearest light. The saint of God sometimes travels much by night, and seldom sees the day, and day does not come till the Spirit brings it. He can then see what the providences of God are meaning for him; he has light on his circumstances, light in regard to his family, and, above all, light in his soul, and he can see where he stands for a never-ending eternity.
Now, as I end, what do I, what do you, know of these things for ourselves? Do observe here that the Psalmist is not speaking about his body, though that may be included, for the providences of God do entwine with the experience of the soul. But beware of a "providential" religion. There are many who appear to make a religion for their soul out of God's kind providences. Now everything is subject to God's providence, and the people of God do have special, marked providences. But it is necessary to make a distinction in this matter. God's people can speak of what God has done for their souls as well as for their bodies. Now, have we anything of this that we can speak about? If so, the injunction is, "Come and hear." You will speak of it humbly. "By the grace of God," you will say, "I am what I am." You will speak of it with timidity; not so much toward your fellow-men, but timidity Godward. So great, so wonderful a thing will you feel it to be to have the great God do anything for your soul that you will speak of it with holy timidity, with gracious fear. You will declare it in your life, you will seek to live correspondently with the work of God in your soul. You will desire to declare it with your latest breath, and when dying to
Raise your fainting voice and say,
'Let grace triumphant reign.'
Oh, how blessed it is to have a testimony to bear for God! May he add his blessing.