I Cor. x. 11
The Two Ways; or, Brick for Stone and Slime for Mortar, Contrasted with The Tent and the Altar in the Promised Land.
by Andrew Jukes
Notes of Two Lectures on Genesis 11, 12.
A STORY is still current in the East respecting Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which, though unrecorded in the Word of God, is not without instruction, nor unworthy of the wisdom of David's peaceful son. We are told that the Queen of Sheba was anxious to prove the king. She had already in many ways tried his wisdom by her hard questions; but her subtleties had not perplexed him; every difficulty which she could suggest, found its solution when submitted to his wisdom. At last, as a practical trial of his powers, she brought in her hands two bouquets, the one of artificial, the other of real flowers; and standing at some distance from him, she demanded of the king that he should, without nearer inspection, point out which was the real flower, and which the work of art. "I desire," said she, "to try your wisdom and that of your lords by this test. Can you or they, without further examination, tell me which is man's work, and which is God's work?" The king turned to those about him and bid them give an answer; but none were found before him who would venture, without nearer inspection, to pronounce on this question. For a moment, the queen seemed to think that she had overcome the boasted skill and penetration of him who sat on David's throne. But her thought was checked that instant. The king's voice was again heard, gently reproving his servants for their want of understanding. "Can you not," said he, "even here discern the things that differ? Open the casements and let in the bees. They shall teach you at once which are the true flowers." The command was obeyed, and in an instant, the bees buzzed throughout the hall and were then seen crowding upon one of the bouquets, without deigning even to touch the other. "There," said the king, "is the work of God; it has in it, food and sweetness; therefore, it is attacked. There is no food or sweetness in man's imitations."
In this world, many are the imitations of the work of God. Some of these are so nearly perfect, so much like the truth, that they are enough to perplex even the faithful Israelite. But though too much for the narrow wisdom of many of God's elect, they are not too much for the wisdom of the true Solomon. He has ways of instantly detecting all counterfeits, for he is "THE TRUTH," and of discerning and distinguishing genuine things from the most cunning imitations. And such as dwell near His throne of grace, though they be but babes and sucklings, shall learn, in His presence, to discern the things that differ, which wiser souls, out of His presence, fail to apprehend.
I have been led to this train of thought in meditating on the character of that great apostacy which was foretold that it should come and deceive all nations. Of that apostacy, it is again and again declared that it should ape the truth, that it should be a counterfeit, an imitation of the truth, so close, that none but God's elect shall know it from the very truth itself; and so powerful that all shall be taken and enslaved by it, but those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. I have thought that in handling this subject, it would be better rather to dwell upon the general character of the apostacy, than upon its particular details, which will find their place elsewhere. I will therefore bring before you, God's own outline of the matter, as set forth in type, trusting Him to open it and to bless it to your souls, and to His own glory. [The Lecturer here read from the first to the ninth verse of the eleventh chapter of the book of Genesis.]
Now this passage, if through grace I am permitted to open it to you, will be found to contain God's own revelation, though in mystery, upon this important subject. In the letter, it describes the last phase of that apostacy which was consummated on that renovated earth, to which God had brought an elect people, in an ark of gopher-wood, through an awful flood of waters. In spirit, it sets forth the apostacy which we see around us among those who have been brought through the baptismal waters, who, professing to have come from the first creation on to resurrection ground, to be regenerated, and washed, and saved in Christ, do yet, like those we read of in the text, turn their backs upon the East or dayspring, and end by building great Babylon, with "brick for stone and slime for mortar;" out of which state of confusion, God again calls His elect Abraham to walk as a stranger and a pilgrim with his tent and altar.
But, before I go further into the subject, I would clear my way, by premising a few words as to the character and contents of that wonderful book from which my text is taken.
Many of you, I doubt not, are generally aware that the book of Genesis deals very largely with typical representations, that is, with figures of spiritual things, both facts and doctrines, connected with the Christian dispensation. You cannot carefully read St. Paul's epistles without coming to the conclusion, that he saw far more in the histories of Genesis than the mere letter. Take, for instance, the use he makes of the facts of the creation, and of the story of Sarah, and Hagar, and Melchizedek, and some others. Clearly the apostle takes the creation as the figure of another work, which God accomplishes in every saved sinner. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts." Then "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things pass away; all things become new." As much as to say,—indeed, he does say it,—that just as God began to work upon this earth, when all was dark and without form and void, and worked upon it step by step, bringing forth fruits and forms of life, until the image of God, the man created in righteousness, was seen to rule it all; so is it with the soul of man, from—"Let there be light, and there is light," until the image of God, the new man is seen ruling every faculty in us to God's glory. So with Hagar and Sarah; the story, as is well known, has a sense far deeper than the mere letter. So again with Melchizedek, the import of whose name and acts is familiar to all readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews. These, and other Scriptures, such as St. Peter's allusion to the flood, as a figure of that judgment of the first creation which baptism typifies, are too well known to require comment. In every age, they have witnessed to the most unwilling, that Genesis has treasures, richer than those upon its surface, secrets of God's purpose and of man's ways which the spiritual man may search, for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
But though many have a general notion that Genesis contains types, few have any idea of the immense extent or depth of this hidden wisdom. Just as in nature, the distinct classification under which flowers are found to range themselves, is quite beyond the thoughts of any but a botanist, though every one must have generally noticed their great differences, or marked some peculiarity of this or that flower. Just as it needs the patient study of years to make an astronomer, though every educated man can tell you something of the phenomena of the heavenly bodies. So is it with the Word. And in this book of Genesis, diligence and prayer, with the teaching of God's Spirit, will bring to light, worlds of truth infinitely beyond the conception of the carnal mind; and humble faith will discover systems of wisdom as complete and wondrous in the Word, as Science with all her researches has found in the material universe. We may indeed read the Scriptures, as men cultivate the earth, simply to find food to support the life which God has given. But we may also read with higher views to know the ways of God. And though with the secrets of grace; as with those of nature, some may yet be found, who making their own ignorance the measure of all things, refuse to receive anything which may make their darkness felt; the truth, because it is the truth, once discovered, shall not be lost, but shall beam brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
Now, the book from which my text is taken, like all the other books of Scripture, has its own special end, and that end is to exhibit the outcome or development of Adam or human nature. Its object is to reveal to us all that can spring out of poor fallen Adam. In the letter, it gives you the story of Adam and his sons. Here, you may read how Adam behaved, and what races and peoples sprung out of him. In spirit, you may learn how old Adam behaves, what the old man is in each of us, and all the immense variety which can grow out of him. And what an outcome it is! Some forms of life there are which spring out of Adam or human nature, simply by nature, according to the course of nature; and some forms of life there are which spring out of Adam by grace, which are the results of a divine seed sown in that poor soil, contrary to nature, and to the common course of nature. To illustrate this subject alone, as it deserves, would require many lectures. But I may say here, that there are seven very distinct forms of life owned by God, which this book of Genesis fully reveals to us. First Adam, then Abel, then Noah, then Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph. Connected with all these, there are many other minor forms. But these seven lives give us the marrow and backbone of the book of Genesis. These are all representative men. In Adam you see the old man, human nature as it is in itself, ready to trust the tempter, and to distrust God, and rob Him of His true glory; then hiding from His presence, and covering its nakedness with fig-leaves, and laying the blame on the very gifts which God has given it; yet pitied and visited with a promise and a gift—a promise that, ruined as he is, the seed of the woman shall at length prevail —a gift by which, naked as he is, his nakedness may be covered. All that can be said of mere human nature—of man as man—is set forth in the history of poor fallen, yet pitied and redeemed, Adam. Soon we have another stage or picture. In Adam's sons, the elder and the younger, a type is given us of the two seeds, the flesh and the spirit,—the natural and spiritual—which have grown by nature or grace out of the root of old Adam. That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural. Both are seen here in all their main outlines. The worship of the one is an offering to God of the fruit and cultivation of the fallen creature; a worship blinking the fact of the fall, and offering to God the fruits of the cursed earth as a sufficient offering. The worship of the other is a confession of sin, a recognition that death is in the world, and that through death alone, there is atonement. Then we have the paths of the two seeds; for Abel's line (there is a mystery in this) is raised up and renewed in Seth and his children. The one goes out from the presence of the Lord with God's curse upon him, and there attempts to make a ruined world happy without God; the other is happy in God without the world. The one strives and slays; the other will not judge even the murderer; but since the world is not purged from blood, they are as strangers in it. The one call lands after their own names, and cities after the names of their sons; the other desire to be called by the name of the Lord. The one strives to make life easy, inventing harps and organs; the others are content to die in hope of resurrection. "And he died, and he died,"—never spoken of Cain's seed—is the universal note to all Seth's line, save to him who was caught up to Heaven, and was not, because God took him. Then comes Noah. Here another picture is set before us. Noah is more than the spiritual man; for there were spiritual men under the law who yet did not know, as we may, what it is to pass safely through the waters. Noah is the type of the regenerate, of those who know what it is to be taken out of one world and placed in another. His seed (and this brings us to our subject), show us all the works which may be, and have been wrought by those who have been brought through the mystic waters. The other lives of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, I will not follow here, save to say, that in them respectively, are set forth four great forms of life, which are known and enjoyed after regeneration or resurrection life has been fully reached by us. In Abraham, we have the life of faith in all its fulness; how the man of faith goes forth out of the far country, not knowing whither he goes, yet seeking to go to Canaan. In Isaac, we have another picture. Isaac is the life of sonship. This life is wholly in the land; he lives in Canaan. From first to last, the land of promise is his home and country, and there, by wells of water, digging fresh ones, and opening old ones, he lives with many joys and few conflicts. In this aspect, the elect is seen, not as in the world, nor as called out of the world and journeying heavenwards, but as abiding an heir of promise in heavenly places. In Jacob, the view is different. Here we have the type of service; the elect is seen here, not as in Abraham coming from the ground of nature to the ground of promise. Jacob is born on resurrection ground, and thence goes down into the far country to win a bride and flocks, whom he may bring back with him into heavenly places. Joseph is the last and most perfect life, the life of suffering which ends in glory. The elect is not here seen either as going forth in the energy of faith, nor as enjoying the sweets of sonship, nor as serving to win flocks which he may bring back to Canaan. Joseph represents that form of life, which late developed, first dreams of rule, and ends with all things brought into subjection to it.
I feel that some apology is needed for so long an introduction; but I have, at the risk of wearying, given you this connected sketch of the contents of Genesis, to show you that the application which I shall make of my text is not arbitrary, but is a part of that vast series which God foreknew, and which seems to be the almost necessary and natural result of the planting of the seed of grace in the soil of human nature. To come then to my text. It describes an event which soon disfigured that earth to which a saved seed had been brought through the waters. Two great points here strike me; first, the immense variety of seeds, which, in the course of a few generations, sprung from Noah, the catalogue of which occupies the whole of the tenth chapter; and secondly, the chief forms of failure recorded of this race, Noah's failure, that of his sons, and that of his grand-children.
Of the first of these, I will only say that in type, it gives us the birth and parentage of every sect, which has sprung out of and troubled the bosom of the regenerate church. Here, could we read it, we might see the lineage of faith and love, as well as of fanaticism, and ignorance, and superstition. Here you might see how, from the pure gospel, and from the saints who preached it, has sprung, as from a common source, all that list of endless error which is seen around us in the different forms of Popery and Protestantism in the professing church. Here you have the true theory of "development," of which some speak so much. But this subject is far too deep for a lecture like the present. I do not even attempt to enter on it.
The other point, or rather a part of it, I will attempt to touch, namely, the failure of those who passed the mystic waters. Three chief forms of failure are noticed; first Noah's failure, then Nimrod, then that connected with great Babel. Each differs in character, and in each succeeding act, there appears an evident advance in crime. In Noah, we have blessings external to him, misused to his own hurt. This is the failure of the true elect, who take the wine and become drunk; who, misusing their principles, become intoxicated even with the cup of blessing, until their nakedness and their shame is seen. Has there been no such failure in the church? has the cup of the Lord never been taken and perverted to men's own condemnation? Alas! not a few, like Noah, have misused that which was given to "make us forget our poverty," to make themselves drunken withal, and so to expose their shame. The truth of Christ's sufferings for us, carnally received, used as a reprieve to the flesh, has come back as a curse to those who have so regarded it; for, "the grace of God being turned into lasciviousness," those who profess to be satisfied with it, do but "eat and drink their own damnation." Nor can the preciousness of the gift hinder its becoming a curse. To how many, through Antinomian views, has the truth of Christ's blood been intoxication. Instead of partaking of it with self-examination, and watchfulness, and prayer, men have placed it in the place of watchfulness. They have not ''watched and kept their garments;" and the result has been, "they have walked naked, and men have seen their shame."
Nimrod's failure is still worse. In him we see personal gifts misapplied to injure and enslave others. Moreover, his kingdom was over brethren, for, of those over whom he ruled, all had sprung, and this within a few generations, from one common father. It is too well known how that which was first shown in Nimrod, again appeared on resurrection ground, and was again enacted in that redeemed family, of which the Lord said, "Ye all are brethren." As it was foretold, antichrist should come, so did he come; and the success of the "rebel," or "lawless one," (Nimrod means "the rebel"), is but, too well known. Men arose with mighty gifts, used first to slay the lion and the bear, but soon to bring the congregation of the Lord into bondage. They stood in the church for God and His Christ, as though God and His Christ were absent, rather than as witnesses that "the Lord God yet dwelt among them." Thus, did the best gifts become curses. Nimrod's curse became a proverb. ''Wherefore it is said, “Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord." Is it not a proverb that spiritual dominion, or rather that which has claimed to be such, is too often a "mighty hunter," a spirit of domination, ever seeking to enslave and to impose a yoke, not on the bodies only, but upon the minds of brethren? These two, Noah and Nimrod, present us with examples of good things perverted. In Babel, we have more open apostacy. Here is no good gift misapplied, but a systematic departure from the right position, with untrue and creature things substituted for true, and self-glory for God's worship.
The course of this apostacy is soon traced; and nothing can be more striking than the contrast here drawn between the primitive state of the redeemed family, and that which their sin brought upon them. Their original state is thus described:—"And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech." Difference of age, we know there was; difference too, we know there was in character; some were Shems, some Hams, some Japhets. But in spite of this, as yet "they all spake the same thing;" as yet "there were no divisions among them." As in the early church, where the multitude of them that believed were "of one heart," there was but "one lip and one speech" among them. Love enabled them, though not of one stature, to be of one mind; as yet, they could understand one another and walk together. Not long did this continue. Soon apostacy begins. The first step is, "They journeyed from the east." The dayspring is in the east. There, to them that love the light, "the Sun of Righteousness ariseth with healing in His wings." But now the company of resurrection pilgrims are seen with their backs toward the East; their faces see not this light; they are turned away from it. Then "they found a plain." They leave their first high ground. This plain, doubtless, like a plain of Sodom to Lot, had its attractions. So "they dwelt there." And now, their pilgrim character being at an end, their thoughts turn to their own glory and establishment. Great Babel is the result. "And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to Heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth." Thus arose great Babylon. Let us not pass from this scene till we understand it, for even yet Babylon is "mystery," a thing unintelligible, to not a few.
Its preparatory stages, we have noticed. Men journey from the East; then they settle down; then they begin to build. At this stage, the scene presented, is man taking counsel of man and not of God. "They spake one to another;" and the result of the deliberation, is an attempt to imitate God, first in His words, then in His works. They said, "Let us make." God once had said, "Let us make." Here man takes upon him to speak as God. Then comes out their work. "They had brick for stone, and slime for mortar." Brick is stone artificially made, man's imitation and substitute for God's creative work. Babylon is built of brick. So too Nineveh is built of brick. The prophet who foretells her downfall, notes this, bidding her to "tread the clay, and make strong her brick-kilns, yet shall the fire devour them all." In Egypt too, brickmaking is common. Egyptians like nothing better than to see captive Israelites toil in making brick. Great Babel is built of brick. "And slime had they for mortar." This slime was that sulphureous compound, of which the region of the Dead Sea and the plain of Babylon are even now so full; a compound formed, as it is supposed, from the corruption of animal and vegetable substances. Well does it represent that dangerous cement, so ready to burst forth into a blaze, that cement of self-love and lust, by which mystic Babylon is now held together. It is a "daubing of untampered mortar." Jerusalem is not so built, nor of her, does man say, "Let us make," but the Lord Himself says, "I will, Thus sayeth the Lord, Behold, I will lay My stones with fair colours. I will lay My foundations with sapphires, and I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones." So also, another saith, "Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house;" and again, ''Ye are God's building."
And here may I digress one moment to call your attention to the difference between the covenant of law, with its "Thou shalt," and the new covenant of grace secured by God's "/ will." Would that this distinction between law and gospel were understood as it should be, and that in all your souls, the "Thou shalt” had given place to God's "/ will." The old covenant says, ''Thou shalt," or ''Thou shalt not." "Thou shalt love the Lord with all thine heart,—thou shalt not covet." Such a covenant requires works or doings, for there is a command to be fulfilled by man; and therefore, its validity depends entirely on man's part being performed as well as God's. Such a covenant can never stand sure, for man ever fails on his part. Thus, the covenant of law or works is to man only condemnation. The new covenant, the gospel, says not, ''Thou shalt," but "I will." It is "the promise," as St. Paul says to the Galatians. All that it requires is simple faith. ''This is the covenant I will make in those days saith the Lord; / will put my laws in their hearts; I will write them in their minds; I will be merciful to their transgressions; / will remember their sins no more; / will dwell in them; I will walk in them." Here it is all, "I will." Its strength is that God is the worker, and by such strength is His holy city Zion built.
Babel is built by other hands, and with other aims. Here, man is working to ascend up to Heaven, —self-elevation is the aim; self-energy the means. It is but consistent that self-glory,—"to make a name,"—should be the end. And withal (let not this be forgotten), the reason assigned seemed good. They wished for unity. Their fear was "lest they should be scattered." Therefore, they builded. We know too well how others with the self-same aim, professing, and perhaps really seeking catholic unity, have likewise builded; and the result has been only greater scattering among those who were to be united. But when man builds for self-glory, and with imitations of the true, instead of the true, the end may surely be foretold. When will men learn that catholic unity is not to be so attained. On such ground we may build "lest we be scattered;" but the labour is in vain where man's counsel is the source, and man's praise the end. Such labour shall only cause the more scattering. The present state of Christendom, only more and more divided, the more carnal union is sought, should at last teach us by sight, even if we cannot walk by faith. But indeed, if men believe not Moses and the prophets, all other signs are in vain.
It remains for me to show some instances of "brick for stone," some examples of the imitation of truth in Great Babylon as it is at this day. For this is the city which is not only built up, but filled with images of the truths of God; yea, real vessels of the sanctuary may be found there, but not to God's glory. On her outside, as one has said, is the likeness of a church, the likeness of service and ministry, the likeness of the ordinances, duties, and ways of holiness. On her inside, there is the likeness of good knowledge, the likeness of repentance. and conversion, the likeness of faith, the likeness of zeal for God, the likeness of love to God and His saints, the likeness of the Lamb's meekness, the likeness of justification, the likeness of sanctification, the likeness of mortification, the likeness of peace, joy, rest, and satisfaction; but the substance, the truth, the virtue of all these is wanting to her; and she herself is found persecuting that very thing, where it is found in truth, the image of which she cries up so boastfully. This is the woman that hath bewitched the whole earth, even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, by imitating the works of God's elect. And of what truth shall we not find the likeness in great Babel. She has priesthood, and altars, and fine linen, and the cross, and incense, and chrism, and rule, and discipline. She has the form of every truth. Is Zion a mystic city? Then Babel is a city, a mystic city, too. As the Father of lights has built His city, so has the king of darkness his, to draw souls from the city of the mystery of life, to the city of the mystery of deceit and imitation. God builds His city of hewn stones, of squared stones, of living stones; so also, the king of darkness has his preparations for his buildings. The works are indeed "of brick," not of stone, but so good is the deceit, that as it was said of Babel of old, that her walls looked more like the works of nature than of art, so is it with Babel now. Again, God's Zion is a city which did overcome the world and overspread the nations. How did the faith of the gospel overrun the world in early days. So has this city overrun the world. What kindreds and tongues have drunk of her cup, as she took, first whole territories from the holy seed, and then, as far as she might, laid Zion in the dust, and led her children captive.
The following examples, taken at random, may, perhaps, suffice to show how close the likeness is.
Take then, as one point in which we can discern the "brick for stone," the Romish doctrine of Transubstantiation. I have met with Christians, whom I respect and love, who tell me that the Lord's Supper is merely and solely a commemorative act; that it is only in remembrance of Christ, and never was, and never can be any more. My deep conviction is that such brethren might learn a lesson even from the doctrine of Transubstantiation. I believe that if we rightly eat the Lord's Supper, if we receive it with faith and love to Christ Jesus, there is not only a memorial of His death, but a spiritual reception of the Lord Himself; that we may eat His flesh and drink His blood. I cannot conceive that it would entail such awful effects on those who eat unworthily, if it were not something more than a mere outward commemoration. I come to that feast of love, desiring that my soul may find satisfaction, by feeding and living upon Him, and I find true satisfaction. He is not only remembered, He is my meat and drink, as I hold communion with Him, and with His church through Him. I believe that when the Roman Catholic says that Christ's body is our meat, he speaks the truth. The vile imitation of the truth, "the brick for stone," is the Popish doctrine of Transubstantiation.
Again, we are often told that to interpret scripture aright, we need an infallible interpreter of the mind and Word of God; that he who reads without a teacher, cannot fully receive God's mind; that the letter may be wrested to our own condemnation. I believe this. I entirely believe that a guide is needed. But who is this Interpreter—who is this sufficient Guide? We are directed by the Romanist to the Pope or councils, or the Pope with the councils. Is this God's promised Guide? Rather, here is "brick for stone." Only think what is assumed in the notion that the Pope is here to act for Christ. It assumes that Christ is absent; that Christ is not here but far away; and therefore, we must have some man instead of Christ; in a word, we must have antichrist; that is, something or someone in the place of Christ. Often have I asked, Can these men believe that the Lord Himself is in the church? If Christ is absent and far away, then indeed a Pope may perhaps be borne with. But if Christ is present, may we not wait on Him—may He not speak and teach us by His promised Spirit, that "other Comforter'' whom He gave to be for ever with us. But who shall hear Christ speak? He Himself tells us,—"lf any man love me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come and make Our abode with him." A Pope, instead of Christ, to teach us, practically denies to Christ His place; practically denies to the Lord the liberty to speak to His own children, except through this or that channel. If a man has never heard Christ, he may be deceived. If he has, he knows the voice, and the difference between the hireling's words and those of the Great and Good Shepherd. His words cannot be mistaken, nor is His teaching like to that of many who profess to speak for Him. Here is one unfailing mark. The Lord is never content in His teachings merely to set points right. His one great aim Is ever to set souls right. Men who profess to stand here for Him, are on the contrary, busy to set points right; how the poor soul gets on, whether the conscience is clear or not, is quite a secondary matter. Some poor soul Is, I will suppose, in doubt. With antichrists of all kinds, it seems to be sufficient if the matter is settled as a point of doctrine. You must do so and so or believe so and so; conscience has nothing to do with it. Is this the voice or manner of the Good Shepherd? No. You may set points right by articles; but the true interpreter sets souls right; for He knows how much, or how little, scraps of neglected paper, right as they may be in the letter, can weigh with God.
Take another point. The church of Rome speaks much of catholicity; she urges the truth, as if she only held it, that the church of God is one catholic and apostolic body; she declares that local churches, with earthly headships, cannot be the church; that the true church, like Jerusalem which is above, is the one mother. l too believe in one catholic and apostolic church. But to substitute for this a Roman Catholic church, to fight for a man at Rome instead of some man here, is surely "brick for stone, and slime for mortar." The fact is, that with all its pretenses, the church of Rome is not catholic. I say nothing of the other outward sections of the professing church, some (as for instance, the Greek church), quite as ancient as the church of Rome. But, I say, that to cut off those whom the Lord has called, is strange catholicity. It is the counterfeit palming itself off for the true and pure gold. Take an example of this catholicity. I lately met a priest, who has more than once asked me why l did not join his church. I asked him what I should gain by doing so. ''You will gain peace," was his reply. "Being justified by faith," I answered, "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "You are self-deceived," said he; "you have not peace at all; you cannot have it, for you do not believe." It happened that a Bible lay on the table. I took it up, and it opened at the general Epistle of John, where the apostle writes to warn the church of many antichrists, and teaches how we may escape, by "that anointing that abideth with us," by which we may try the spirits, whether they are of God. The words which my eye fell upon were these: "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." I put the book into the priest's hands, directing him to these words, and saying, "I believe on the name of the Son of God; and, if an apostle speaks truly, faith on Him secures eternal life." He very quickly answered, "You do not believe." ''Then," said I, "will you kindly look upon me as a poor lost soul, and this hour make known to me the name of the Son of God, and I will by grace believe on it, even at your mouth." He looked at me for a moment but said no more. What he thought is known to him and God. And this he would have me receive as catholicity; this he would call truth and grace, but it is "brick for stone, with slime for mortar."
Another point has often struck me, in which it seems to me the Roman Catholics have the outward representation and likeness of the truth, on a question not sufficiently considered now by many Christians. I refer to the distinction they draw between the spiritual and the carnal in the church. With them, priests and monks are spiritual; the rest of the church not spiritual. Here again we have the imitation of a most important truth, that in the church, there are some, who as "babes" must needs be carnal, and others, who as fathers or young men in Christ, have attained by grace to overcome the wicked one. This distinction is very much overlooked by some Protestants, who speak at times as if justification by faith were the one single truth of Christianity. But is there no truth in the distinction between spiritual and carnal Christians? St. Paul distinctly recognizes in his Epistles, these two classes. He calls the Corinthians "babes in Christ:" he "cannot write to them as unto spiritual;" he therefore "determines to know nothing among them, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Nevertheless, he "speaks wisdom among them that are perfect." See the whole context of the second and third chapters of his First Epistle to the Corinthians. But while he recognizes this distinction, he does not pretend to make spiritual men. Rome may make her spiritual men;—bricks are quickly made in a frame;—but God alone can make the truly spiritual man. God alone can make the living stones to be builded together a temple to His own glory.
This subject would fill a volume. I will only say further, that I cannot doubt that the Romish vow for spiritual men,—the vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience,—is like innumerable other things in the system, an imitation, the human copy of Divine work. Poverty, chastity and obedience, must ever be necessary steps for the spiritual man, who is not only a debtor to Christ, but who seeks through grace to be His imitator. But very different is the poverty and obedience of the true spiritual man, from the counterfeit as we see it too often in the Romish system. I think I have seen the real gem, the true spiritual man, who, living in obedience to the word "Sell that thou hast, and give to him that needeth," is oft in straits, where from day to day, he lives on God, few knowing what his path costs him, daily dependent for help on God, with no credit from men for greater sanctity; but with a life of daily death, having nothing, yet possessing all things, as poor, yet making many rich. And I have seen the imitation; the monk without a care, without a trial of faith, with a house and all necessary things always secured to him, satisfied that he is "not as other men," but has quite done with the world, while he passes through it without a single want. I think, too, I have seen what is the true obedience, a soul exercised toward God, sifting its motives backwards and forwards, to know what is Indeed the will of God; learning in His presence, where the flesh must die; to trace its depths of sin and deceit, and, through many mistakes, to despair of self, and to trust in God only. And I have seen the imitation—the man walking with men by this outward rule, and then by that satisfying the requirements of this or that order, little knowing what it is to walk tremblingly with God; but puffed up rather than humbled by the formal round of his obediences. The imitation is very good, I admit it, but the work of God need not be ashamed to be compared with the tinsel brightness of its more showy counterfeit.
Such are a few examples of the imitations we find in Babylon the Great; did time serve I might with ease multiply them tenfold. But the hour warns me that I must conclude. There is, however, one other point, closely connected with what I have noticed, which I would not overlook; I mean the Romish church's own professions. As if no voice had warned us of such a snare, her cry from morning to night is, "Lo, here is Christ—Lo, this is Christ's body—This is the church—We are the church—Christ is here, and nowhere else." These are the cries which are ceaselessly borne to us out of the so-called catholic church of Rome. Now this very cry is a witness against her. Well said one of old, "Whenever you hear a body of professed Christians saying, This is Christ's body —Lo, here is Christ, believe them not, for Christ need not say, I am Christ; His works show Him; nor need His true body, the true church, say, we are Christ's body; the works will bear witness. Christ Himself hath warned us that with such boastings shall antichrists come but believe them not." This witness is true. We feel it at once in worldly things. What would you think of the man who should go from street to street repeating, "I am a Christian, I am a Christian." What would you think of one who should say, "I am a hero, I am a hero." Would not your suspicions at once be aroused that here was some counterfeit? And then, if you turn to scripture, and found that this was a sign of antichrist, that they should come saying, "Lo, here is Christ; and, I am Christ." If further you found that "the synagogue of Satan said they were Jews,”—that false apostles "said they were apostles,"—of Jezebel, that she "said she was a prophetess,"—would not all this, so unlike to Him who referred to His works as His witness, lead you to suspect a system which so ceaselessly bears witness to its own merits. The Lord's witness was very different. John's disciples ask, "Art thou the Christ?" His answer is not, "I am Christ," but "Go and tell John what things ye see." So again, the Pharisees ask, "How long makest thou us to doubt? Tell us plainly, Art thou the Christ?" His answer is, "The works which My Father giveth Me to do, they bear witness of Me." And the works which the Father giveth to the true church to do, they bear witness of her. A lamb need not say, "I am a lamb." But if a wolf is in sheep's clothing, it may suit its purpose to say, "I am a lamb." But the lamb is known by its life, and yet more by its death. The true church dies and suffers, only to rise again.
And this leads us to another mark to know the true church from the false. The true church, like her Head, dies on earth, to live in Heaven; like the true flowers shown by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, she attracts enemies, who will seek to feed upon her, while the artificial flower remains unhurt from year to year. The true church lives in Heaven, not on earth. To last on earth, there is nothing equal to a mummy. Give me Egyptian priests to embalm dead Adam. Their work will last on earth, when the living prophets shall have passed away to rest in Heaven.
Need I say, in conclusion, that though I speak thus of Rome, I am no disdainer of any Roman Catholic, because he is a Roman Catholic. I know that Daniel, greatly beloved, lived and died in Babylon, prime minister of that great empire, which had led Israel captive, far from the holy hill of Zion, and yet because he walked with God, he shall, among his brethren, stand in his lot at the end of the days. So, of the three children in the furnace; for the sin of Judah, they were captives, but their hearts were true to Him that made them. And so, of many in every age, who have been servants of that "Great City," which has bewitched and ruled the whole world. They have walked with God, though far from Zion; and, like those of old, they too shall stand in their lot at the end of the days. Dare I speak lightly of such? Let those rage against them, who know not how many a living soul is captive through the sin of those around them. Let those rage against them who know not that the secret root of the same evil is in each of us, a Babel, a beast, a flesh, a self, an antichrist, ever watching to betray and ruin us, if we depart from the Cross of Jesus Christ; striving to make the temple of God, (the temple of our bodies,) his seat, and to show himself sitting as God in the temple of God within us. Let those speak hardly, who have not felt this. But as I wish for myself that this evil should be judged in me, so would I have it judged in all others. Therefore have I spoken, that Romanists with us may overcome the Evil One, and know that life, which is not in names and forms, but in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jerusalem, which is above, is the mother of us all, who really are sons of God by Christ Jesus; a mother who gives pure milk, and would lift us up to Heaven, from all forms of godliness without the power, to the life of godliness which is in Christ Jesus. Oh, that all, both Protestant and Romanist, knew more of this mother, and lived as her true sons, caught up from earth, to dwell above.
IN the former lecture, my aim was to show what man could extract from the gifts bestowed by grace upon him. It is happier work to turn and trace what God can bring out of man; how where sin abounds, grace can and will yet more abound. And if in this fallen world, we need at times to look at man, and at what he has done with God's blessings, far more needful is it often to turn and see what God's grace can bring out of man and man's sin. Having therefore already briefly traced the leading forms of that apostacy which so soon ruined the once united church, let us pass on to mark some of the steps of faith, as showing the experience of those who, in the midst of this apostacy, by grace are drawn to walk with God. The subject is very fully treated in the life of Abraham, the opening stage of which, in Genesis 12, I now follow. The wide difference between his path and that of Nimrod and Babel, must, I think, strike every reader. First, a direct call of God leads to a walk with Him. How this call is obeyed,—the trying position into which it brings the called one,—the failure, and lastly the deliverance, of the believing pilgrim,—all this is here told out as God alone can tell it.
The call is thus described: ''The Lord said unto Abram, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
Thus, the path of the faithful begins with God. His word it is that starts Abram. "Now the Lord had said, Get thee out." Had He not called, Abram had never turned pilgrim. But He spake, and as at the creation, so here, great results followed. It is God's revelation of Himself, through the Word, which is the source and spring of all that follows. Babels grow from the words and thoughts of men:—''They said one to another, Go to, and let us make." The path of faith begins not from men's "Go to.” Abram hears not their counsel as to their intended work. But he hears God's voice. Thrice happy those, who, like him, deaf to men's plans, have heard the Lord calling them.
Then as to the called one. Three things are recorded, each showing that as God's call is ''without repentance," so does it begin "of grace." For the called one was one of an apostate race, an idolater, and the husband of a barren woman. During the ten generations from Shem to Abram, the elect line had sank by degrees until the Lord was forgotten, and other gods were worshipped. So the Lord says by Joshua: ''Thus saith the Lord, Your fathers dwelt on the other side the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abram, and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods." As with Israel and the church, so Shem's seed also had failed; the gold had become dim, the fine gold changed itself. Such was Abram now; further, his wife was barren. What hopes could such a one have of being blessed and made fruitful? Yet to such did the God of glory appear.
As to the call, it was, and to this day, is personal. God said, "Get thee out, and I will bless thee." This is specially noticed by the prophets. Speaking of this act, the Lord says, "I called him alone, and blessed him." This is important. The call of God, to be of any use, must be personally felt and realized by us. Others may hear of it, yea, as in the case of Paul, they may be struck to the ground by the glory of the revelation; they may witness some of the outward circumstances accompanying the call; but, as Paul says, "they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me." Such know not the call of God. And such will prove that they know it not, by abiding as they were, in idolatry and barrenness, without God.
This call of God contains both grace and truth; grace in the promise, the new covenant "I will," which here shines so brightly; truth in the separating word, "Get thee out," obedience to which was the proof that Abram believed the "/ will." This promise was the gospel. So St. Paul, alluding to it, says, that in it "the gospel was preached to Abram." The gospel is—I must repeat it—a promise of God; a report concerning future glory and an inheritance, which men may believe or disbelieve, but which is true, because it is God's Word; and to meet, which faith alone is needed. Men are slow to apprehend this. Feelings, or works, or something in us, is looked for as the ground of future blessing and salvation. But the Spirit and the Word, with one voice, testify that it is the Lord Himself who saves; and that to receive the salvation, faith, that is, taking God at His word, is the simple and blessed means. God is the Saviour; and faith takes God to be God, resting on Him in every fresh discovery of need and barrenness, and finding Him to be all He has promised, in His own unfailing "I will." He that believeth hath the witness in himself. He that believeth not hath made God a liar. To Abram the word was,—"/ will bless thee—/ will show thee a land,—/ will make thee fruitful." To us it is no other. It is still God's "/ Will." This is the new covenant. Blessed are they, who, believing it, obtain a rest.
But there is more than promise in the call. Promise is its strength; but linked with this, there is the separating word, "Get thee out." Grace saves. It is the promise which sets the heart at rest, which brings us from idolatry and distance to happy confidence. But the faith which rests on God's "I will," hears God's purpose also to separate His saved ones unto Himself. There is to be, not only peace through faith, but separation. So, the Word of truth comes, sanctifying or separating us to God. Man has often divided these, preaching grace, God's "/ will," without God's truth, the accompanying "Get thee out." Or attempting to preach the truth, to separate men with a "Get thee out," without a full apprehension of God's "/ will." The result has proved that this is not God's call. I find that where He calls, both grace and truth are ever found. So with the Apostles; Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee, (Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that sat in great darkness), saw two brethren, Simon and Andrew, casting a net into the sea. And He called them. And He said unto them, "Follow me,"—here we have separation—and "I will make you fishers of men"— here is the never failing "I will." So again, "Come unto me, all ye that labour''—here is separation, for He was "separate;" then follows the "I will give you rest." So again, in the well-known words, "I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you."
And these two parts are yet in the Lord's call, nor can the elect part with either. At times indeed —for "the flesh is weak" —even the elect may shrink from all that the separating word claims from him. We are slow to believe that apostate things are to be forsaken, not improved. We would fain mend them, rather than leave them. How many, both as respects the world and their own flesh, are attempting to put the evil to rights, when God's mind respecting both is only—"Get thee out." But the Lord is faithful, who hath called us unto the fellowship of His Son; and as the Head was "separate," so must be the members. The Lord Himself hath prayed for them, "Sanctify them by thy truth;" and that prayer cannot but be answered. We may not indeed fully see our calling at first. We may at first shrink from it, partially obeying it, not wholly. But if the God of glory hath really appeared to us, the way of separation or sanctification must be trodden, and indeed, "the spirit is willing," if the flesh is weak.
But this leads us to the way in which the call was obeyed. This is very striking. Even Abram, the father of the faithful, if he have whereof to glory, hath it not before God. "Now the Lord had said to Abram, Get thee out from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house." Abram got him out from his country, and even from his kindred, but not from his father's house. He obeys, but not wholly. He attempts to take his father and his father's house with him. In other words, he endeavours to take with him into the land of promise, some who had never realized the call of God. And such, though ready to start for the land of Canaan, never reach it. They care not to go so far. Nay, while they live, even the called one, if he abides with them, cannot reach his destination. They get but half-way to Canaan. So we read: "And Terah took Abram, his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and they came to Charran, and dwelt there." And there they stopped until the old man died. Then Abram starts again. Now, nothing mars his progress. So, we read—"They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came." Stephen, alluding to Abram's call, specially marks this;—The God of glory appeared to our father Abram, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Charran. And from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell." "So, Abram departed." So does the elect now depart. Long is the struggle to leave "father's house." To go forth "not knowing whither we go" is trial enough. To go forth "from father's house" at once seems impossible. Thus, the old man, natural affection, though it cannot really help us to Canaan, is still clung to. Indeed, at first it seems to help us. It is written, not Abram took Terah, but "Terah took Abram;" for often some energy of the flesh is active, apparently in a good direction, when the elect is called. But Terah never passes Jordan; he can reach Charran; no further. Having got thus far, he has been long enough a pilgrim—"he dwells there."
We are slow to learn this lesson; but we must learn it at last. The elect can take none into the place of promise, but the children of the promise. The church has tried, even as Abram did, to take with it the uncalled. It has taken them a considerable distance, but it cannot bring them into heavenly places beyond mystic Jordan. Very soon they settle down. And if the church will hold by such, she must occupy their half-way ground; with them, she can go no further. So with individuals. There is in each of us a Terah, the old man, natural affection, or natural ties. These are very strong, even after we have heard the call—even though the God of glory hath appeared. A new bond draws us heavenward, but the old one yet binds us. So we start with both. We get "out of our country," and "the old man" bears us company. But soon he is weary, and with him we settle down. Are any of us better than Abram here? But the Lord in due time frees us. The time at last comes, when we discover that the old man is dead, and that he must be buried out of sight. Hitherto, spite of the call, we have acted as though the old man might be saved, or improved, or taken with us. But now the meaning of our baptism dawns upon us; the call is recollected; we become once more pilgrims. He that has heard the call, knows this is no fable. Once, with the old man leading us, we went forth to go into the land of Canaan; but we only got to Charran and dwelt there. But the old man was buried; then again, we started to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan we came.
Having thus got over Jordan, let us mark well the position into which the elect of God is now brought. Many, for lack of knowing this, are stumbled, even when through grace they are on the right ground, finding it so unlike that which flesh and blood would have chosen. We read here of pilgrimage, and difficulty, and want; yet of communion with God, and happy worship. And these are still some of the chief characteristics of the true position of the called of God.
Pilgrimage is noticed first. "Abram passed through the land, to the place of Sichem, and to Moreh. And he removed from thence into a mountain, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east. And Abram journeyed, going, and journeying still toward the south." Nahor abides without change, where his fathers dwelt before him, and "builds a city, which he calls after his own name." Abram, the called one, dwells in tents; even to the end, he is a pilgrim, possessing nothing abiding here, save a burial place.
And he who obeys God's call, will even yet find that he must dwell in tents, and be a pilgrim. Others may rest in ease, having a certain dwelling place. But "even to the present hour," as Paul says, "the elect has no certain dwelling place." Doubtless, Abram's tent could not boast the stability of Nahor's city. A tent, pervious to rain and wind, is but a poor shelter. Nevertheless, let pilgrims keep their tent. It will save them from many snares. The called one cannot be as Moab, "settled on his lees." "Moab hath been at ease even from his youth; he hath settled on his lees; he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel; neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore, his taste remaineth in him; his scent is not changed." Abram, and David, and Israel, have all been emptied and poured from vessel to vessel. Pilgrimage is their appointed lot. In the course of this discipline, trials befall them which others never meet with; in the course of this discipline too, failures are seen, such as we never see in the unregenerate. When did Nahor go down to Egypt, or deny his wife? When did Saul, like David, go down to Achish, and play the madman? But in this same course, God is seen, and man is learnt. Man indeed is abased, but God is glorified. The pilgrim "learns what is in his heart." He cannot easily forget what his pilgrimage has taught him of his own weaknesses. Once he might, like Eve, have been willing to listen to the word—"Ye shall be as gods." Pilgrimage has proved to him that he is no god, nor like God, but a poor failing mortal. But pilgrimage has proved more. In it, the living God has been found, and the true discovery of Him more than compensates for all the self-despair, which has been the means of making us acquainted with Him.
I must add, Abram passed from place to place; from Ur to Haran—to Sichem—thence to Moreh —thence to Bethel—and so on. He was what some now call changeable. And, further, he went "he knew not whither." This is yet the common charge against the walk of faith. How often have I heard it urged against those who desire to obey the call of God, and who to do so, have made no small sacrifices, that they are changeful—to-day here, to-morrow there—that it is difficult to know where to find them. Others, if they are snugly housed in some "city of the nations," some great or small system or polity of man's making, may be reckoned on with some certainty. We can tell where to find them even to the end. They can boast of their consistency; where they were at first, there they are still. They have never altered a single view because they have never taken a single step forward. But these men who talk of God's having called them are unmanageable. However comfortably settled they are to-day, they may be off to-morrow. And what do they get by it? Plainly nothing. They had a tent when they started, and they have but a tent yet, and little else which they can call their own. It is quite incomprehensible. One thing only is plain. A man who obeys the call of God, is not the man to be trusted with the care of the world's cities. He is a madman. So the world has judged long since; so it judges yet; nor indeed is it wholly in the wrong. A madman is one who sees or thinks he sees what others see not; and seeing such things, he walks accordingly. The called of God has seen what others see not, and he walks accordingly; and those who see not what he has seen, must think him mad. And his failures and inconsistencies, the fruits of his unbelief in the path of faith, only make him more unintelligible. Nevertheless, the Lord knoweth them that are His. And much as there is for self-humiliation in the path of such, there are eyes which can see how these very changes and even failures only show more clearly that the path trodden is one, not of sight or nature, but of faith. All this will probably appear very absurd to those who think that a walk of faith begins or is carried on from some calculations of its effects on others, or of the credit it may bring. Those who hear God's call, and walk with Him, are led, often they know not whither. Scarcely understanding themselves, often misunderstanding their appointed way, no wonder if others misunderstand them. But the Lord knoweth the path which they go, and when He hath tried them, they shall come forth as gold.
But the elect has "an altar'' as well as "a tent”;—he is not a pilgrim only, but a true worshipper; in worship, receiving fresh revelations from his God, and larger promises. For now, "the Lord appeared again to Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land. And there he builded an altar unto the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord." In Ur of the Chaldees, God had said, "A land which I will show thee;" now He says,—"A land which I will give thee."—lt is to men in trial that the Lord shows Himself. Angels' visits are only few because we so seldom are in the place to really need them. And as in trials, Abram again had fresh revelations, which led to worship; so have Abram's seed to this day. Pilgrimage, with all its cares, is the path where worship may be found. In Egypt, Israel had no altar. They went out, they knew not whither; the Lord met them; then the altar smoked in the camp. Men may cry to the Lord in Egypt; but worship is more than a cry. Worship is "giving to the Lord" in return for His great works to usward. Worship is sacrifice. Neither Abram nor Israel sacrificed till they became pilgrims. As pilgrims, they needed God; He met that need, and then they praised Him.
And yet, with all their joy, sore trial comes in the path. We read,—"the Canaanite was then in the land;" and again,—"there was a famine, a grievous famine in the land." The land was still a "land of promise," not of present joy. Even yet, Abram possesses "not so much as to set his foot on." The Canaanite holds it, and famine strips it, till the pilgrim scarcely knows which way to tum. And this is "the walk with God," with Canaanites around, and sore trial pressing on us every day. We may once have hoped through obedience to be free from such. We may yet think it strange that such fiery trial should be needed, or that the inheritance so surely promised, should yet be occupied by others, and they the Lord's enemies. Yet such is the path. For the question is,—Can we be satisfied with God? And many a weary step is trodden before we have made this attainment.
In Abram's case, the trial led to failure for a while. The Canaanite and the famine drove him down to Egypt. He who had faith to get into the place of promise, has not faith to stand there. Indeed, it requires more grace to stand on the ground to which faith brings us, than to get upon it. Peter had faith to step out on the waters, but he had not faith to walk when there; he had faith to follow Jesus into the High-Priest's palace, but he lacked faith while there to be faithful. Every act of faith brings us into greater trials, where greater faith will be needed. Thus, it is that many who walk by faith, have failures which those know not who do not attempt so much. So it was with Abram. Two stages are marked in his failure; first, trial leads him down to Egypt; and then Egypt leads him to deny his wife. The first step led to the second; for one wrong step, like one lie, if it be not immediately retraced, requires another. The first error was walking by circumstances, not by faith. Then a step is taken to avoid trial, without asking the Lord's counsel. Then the Lord, and His counsel, and care, being for the time forgotten, His promise respecting the seed is forgotten also. And the result is—Sarah is soon in Pharaoh's house, while unfaithful Abram is well entreated for her sake;—he had sheep and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels."
Egypt is the world. We all know the tendency, when there is trial in heavenly places, to seek a rest in the world. And as with Abram, so with his children; for unbelief still bears the same fruits. Then in Egypt, Sarah is denied with an equivocation. Men, in the types, are the actings of the elect; women, the principles they are connected with. Sarah, as we learn from St. Paul, represents the principles of the new covenant. In Egypt, Sarah is denied. The elect hopes by denying her, to gain greater liberty for himself; spiritually, by denying his principles to obtain greater liberty for his actings. Who knows not how common this is? Sarah, the principle of grace, is denied that unfaithful Abrams may have, as they say, greater liberty, a wider field of usefulness. Take an example: Circumstances of trial have brought the elect into the world, as we see beloved brethren in the. different world-churches. Such love Sarah. Nothing is dearer to them than the covenant of grace. Yet Sarah is again and again denied. And, as of old, so now, the thing is done with an equivocation. "Say, thou art my sister." Words are used to the Egyptians, which, though true in a sense, are not true in the sense in which the Egyptians take them. So now, men called of God, who believe we are saved by grace, and that neither ordinances nor flesh can make a Christian, will so far, practically give up Sarah as to thank God for spiritually regenerating every unconscious infant brought to the font. Every child throughout the land may be taught to say, "My baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom." But the men, who know the truth and love it, and yet use this language, have an equivocation which they think clears them. They do not mean by the word "regenerate," what others gather from it. And though they see they are misunderstood, they still persist. According to these men, the equivocation,—"Say, thou art my sister,"—is all right. It is no harm running the risk of mixing or defiling the holy seed. According to these men, Sarah may be made a mother of Egyptians; and no thanks to such, if God's grace prevents it. The consequence is, even an Egyptian can rebuke Abram. So far from a greater sphere of usefulness, the equivocation deprives the elect of all power over the other's conscience. But what are the Lord's thoughts, yea, what, at times, must be the elect's thoughts, though this course obtains for him "oxen, and maidservants, and she-asses, and camels"?
How does this teach us the value of a right position—the almost inevitable consequences to faith of a wrong one. On right ground, Abram walks with his tent and altar. On right ground, if God says, "Where is Sarah thy wife?" Abram can answer, "She is in the tent." The same man, through pressure of circumstances, gets into Egypt; there the altar is forgotten, and Sarah is in Pharaoh's house. And the same thing happens again and again, (chaps. 20 and 24,) as often as Abram or his seed get off the ground of promise, into fellowship with the ungodly. A wrong position is the fruitful cause of a thousand failures and inconsistencies.
It only remains here to notice the deliverance of the elect. This, even as his call is all of grace. We do not read of Abram taking a single step to free himself or his wife from this disgraceful situation. Had God not interfered, the former pilgrimage, and the promise of the seed and inheritance, might have been all forgotten. So intoxicating are "the pleasures of Egypt." But Sarah cannot be a mother of Egyptians. The Lord appears to vindicate Himself, and free His servant. "And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues, because of Sarai, Abram's wife. And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, she is my sister? So I might have taken her to me for wife. Now, therefore, behold thy wife; take her and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him, and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had." Thus was Abram delivered; thus even now are individuals freed; thus shall the poor captive church escape at last. The world will not have us among them, because our principles judge them; and God will not have us there. In this one thing, God and the world agree. Both at last say to us,—"Behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way."
Such of old was the path of faith, and such it yet remains. To not a few now living, these first stages are well-known and familiar as household words. I knew a man in Christ, about eighteen years ago,—no question is it, whether he was in the body, who being called by grace when he was serving other gods, obeyed in part, seeking to take the uncalled with him into the promised land. And I knew such a man, that, though he went forth to go into the land, yet he only got half-way, and dwelt there; the old man, whom he took with him, hindering his advance, until, as days passed on, he found the old man dead; when, having buried him, he became what the men of that country called "unsettled," seeking to go further. So he went forth again to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan now he came. Heavenly things and places, once heard of, now were seen; but withal, there was trial, and ere long famine. Then Egypt was turned to, and Sarah was denied, till grace restored the wandering pilgrim. And that grace is yet as near as of old. None can look for it far off or near and look in vain. Is a ruined world around us, with monstrous births, gigantic evils, the fruit of strange unions between the sons of God and men;—then an ark is prepared, to admit not only the righteous Noahs, but even for unclean and creeping things, if they will enter it; which shall take them from the world of the curse and of the thorn, to the world of the covenant and the rainbow, beyond the waters. Is the ruin deeper still—a ruined church, which, brought through the waters, has misused its blessings and exposed its shame; which has bred great hunters, or built great Babels;—God yet remains, and His grace, if sought, is yet enough for every failure, in the world, in the church, in our flesh, or in our ways. He cannot fail. He grudges nothing. He has freely given His only Son. In Him are hid for us eternal countless gifts. In Him, the true restorer of all things, we are accepted; and he waits that those things, which are hid in Him for us, may by Him be wrought in us through His Spirit, and if to know His fulness, we need to know our emptiness;—if our ruin Is the complement of His sufficient grace,—most gladly let us glory in our Infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us.
And now, praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore. For the Lord is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens; nevertheless, he raiseth the poor out of the dust, and the needy from the dunghill; that He may set him with princes, even with the princes of His people. Praise ye the Lord!
London: William Yapp, 4, Old Cavendish Street