A Word With A Handle To It
by John Dickie
THE words of some men seem to be weighed and measured. When they speak at all, they mean precisely what they say; and the hearer may safely take their statement at its full apparent value. They are as scrupulously exact with their spoken words as they are with their written bonds; and they would no more think of using indefinite language, than they would think of issuing a bill without filling in the exact sum which it was meant to represent.
There are other men, whose speech is of a very different character. You need more than a grammar and a dictionary, in order to get at the exact equivalent of their words. Their lowest degree of comparison begins with the superlative; and anything above this flies away up into the region of extravagant hyperbole. One soon comes to learn that a heavy discount has always to be deducted, in fixing the true value of their words; if, indeed, one does not, in the impatience of disappointment, conclude that their words are without any reliable value at all. The expressions are large enough, strongly spoken, often full of kindness, and oftener of compliment; but they are always vague and indefinite, as huge and as impalpable as a cloud of mist. They have no handle by which you can seize them, or by which you can hold them when you have seized them; and woe to the inexperienced man who finds, in his hour of need, that he has staked his safety on some large, windy, smooth, unhandled word of some hyperbolical promiser,—a word which, when he attempts to catch its smooth contour more firmly, slips completely out of his grasp.
The words of God are never like these. Every one of them may safely be taken without discount, as worth the full value which it seems to bear. Every one of them has also a ready handle, by means of which it may be easily grasped and firmly held.
Some men are very quick-witted in discerning, and very ready in seizing the word of a fellow-man by its handle, when it offers them any advantage; and this whether the advantage was designed to be offered or not. This is one of the characteristics of a man of tact in every sphere of life. "Thank you, captain," said the first Napoleon to a common soldier who had recovered the emperor's runaway horse and had restored it to him. The soldier bowed, and smartly inquired, "Of what regiment, sire!" thus dexterously transforming what might have been meant only for a mere compliment into an actual promotion. The emperor smiled—for, above all things, he liked such readiness of resource—and on the spot appointed him to the captaincy of the Guards. This expression of Napoleon's illustrates what we mean by a word with a handle to it. All the words of God are furnished with similar handles, and liveliness of faith is manifested very much by the hearer's readiness to discern and his eagerness to avail himself of the handles to these words of God.
In Ahab's interview with the servants of Benhadad, we see a scriptural illustration of a word with a handle to it, and of the way in which these handled words can be cleverly appropriated. When the servants of the vanquished Benhadad, girded with sackcloth, and with ropes on their heads, delivered their master's message to the king of Israel, "Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live,"—the feeble Ahab exclaimed, "Is he yet alive? He is my brother." "My brother!"—what a handle was this! And the narrative goes on to tell us that they were diligently watching for some such handle, and that, "they did hastily catch it; and they said, 'Thy brother Benhadad.'"
In a similar way the words of God have all handles to them—handles which faith is ever quick to notice and eager to seize. In the case of the gospel invitations, these handles are easily seen, nay, they are made obtrusively manifest; and they lay themselves within the fingers of a troubled sinner, as if to provoke him to close his hand upon them. Such a beautiful handle is to be seen in the word "whosoever," in John iii. 16; Rev. xxii. 17; or in the word "sinners," in 1 Tim. i. 15. Indeed, the gospel message bristles with handles; although, alas! the blind eyes of anxious unbelief cannot clearly see them, neither can its numbed fingers feel their kindly and suggestive touch.
But while this is true of the plain and simple words of the gospel offer, and of the ordinary promises of Scripture, it is also true that every word of God has a handle to it, and brings us mercy, if we have only spiritual discernment to discover the handle, and the courage of faith to lay hold upon it. His threatenings as well as his promises, his seeming refusals as well as his loving invitations, have all gracious handles to them; though, ofttimes, it is only the fathers and the men of might who can make a good use of them. To many a tried disciple, the word of the strong angel at Peniel, as he wrestled with the weeping and wearied Jacob, would have ended the strife,—"Let me go, for the day breaketh." Many—perhaps most—would, at such a word, have loosened their grasp in very awe, and let the mighty wrestler free. But Jacob acted differently. The word, at first sound, was certainly unfavourable; but practiced Jacob speedily discovered that it had a handle to it, and he boldly laid a sturdy grasp upon it. "Let me go,"—"LET ME"—did you say "let me?" Ah, then, it seems that your going depends on my consenting, and, if so, I will never consent to thy going. No; "I will NOT LET THEE GO, except thou BLESS me." "And," it is added, "he blessed him there." My brother, hast thou skill in ordering thy speech before God in fashion like this; canst thou thus turn his seeming refusals into prevailing pleas!
We see a similar illustration in the story which is given us of Moses on the mount. God had told him there how Israel had sinned in making themselves a molten calf to worship it, and he ends with saying,—"Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them, and I will make of thee a great nation." "Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot!"—what a tempting handle! It seems that the wrath shall not wax hot, and Israel shall not be consumed, unless Moses let God alone. So Moses took the hint, and casting himself with all his might into the breach, he did not let God alone, but he besought and remonstrated till, "the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." What a lesson to all, "the Lord's remembrancers!" How much does feeble faith overlook in its semi-blindness, and how much does it lose by an unholy bashfulness which leads it to take the first word of refusal, and to be too easily persuaded to let God alone?
A still more encouraging example is to be found in the exquisitely beautiful little story of the Syrophaenician woman. To her first earnest entreaties for mercy, Jesus answered her not a word. When at length he did speak, he spoke only to the disciples, and he did so in the language of almost direct refusal. "I am sent," he said, "but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Still she kneels, and still she supplicates. Will the Lord not open his lips to her at all? At length he speaks, but his words were more trying than his silence. In most of suppliants, they would have utterly extinguished every hope. "And Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled; for it is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it unto the dogs." What a trying answer! Had that humble spirit been in the least degree less humble, the degrading epithet of "dog" would have roused its pride; had that earnest pleader been less earnest, the blunt rebuff would have quenched her ardour. But her faith was too firmly rooted to be overturned by any blast; her humility was incapable of being offended by any expression, however slighting. So, in an instant, the sharp-sighted pleader discerned at least two handles on the word, where ordinary faith would have been unable to discover any handle at all. "Let the children first be filled," he says. Ah, then, it is merely a question of time, and he does not absolutely refuse to help me, though, indeed, I must be patient till my betters are fully served. And, again, though I am only a dog, and have no right to the portion of a child, still he acknowledges me to be a dog; and surely I am not going out of my place if I put in my humble claim to the dog's portion, and if I crouch beneath the feet of the children to gather the waste crumbs which drop from their abundant feast. Crumbs and castaway fragments, from a table like this, will form an ample feast for a hungry dog like me! Astonishing triumph of faith! Few have ever entered with a sympathy so perfect into the mind of Christ. Instantly the stern look relaxed into the softest of gracious smiles, for its sternness had been assumed only for the strong trial of a strong believer. "O woman," he said, "great is thy faith; my table lies spread before thee, choose and eat to satisfaction on its finest dainties, for thou art one of the dearly-beloved children; yea, be it unto thee even as thou wilt." And her daughter was made whole from that hour.
Faith in God needs, in every case, to be exercised in a measure of darkness; indeed, if there were no perplexing darkness, there would be no room for the exercise of confiding faith. The gulf to be bridged may be wider or it may be narrower; the venture which faith is called to make may be more or less perilous in the eyes of reason; but there is always a gulf, always a venture, which is proportioned to the spiritual condition of the person under trial; and each individual shall find his own testing-time to be trying enough to fleshly reason.
"He knows how much the weak can bear,
And helps them when they cry;
The strongest have no strength to spare,
For such he'll strongly try."
The closer a man's walk is with his Saviour, and the more extensive his past experience of that Saviour's perfect faithfulness, the higher will be his present estimate of the real help which the word of the gracious Promiser secures to him. Whatever might be Mary's motive for calling her son's attention to the fact that they had no wine at the marriage feast of Cana, his reply,—"Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come,"—seems to have inspired her with the assurance that, in due time, he would supply their need. She therefore turns at once to the servants, and confidently charges them to do whatsoever he shall bid them. Now, when we look carefully at the words of our blessed Saviour, the promises from which Mary drew so confident a conclusion seem to be very slender indeed. We can find in the words themselves scarcely more than the mere absence of a blank refusal. And yet, perhaps, it was from the mere absence of this refusal that Mary drew her warrant for speaking so confidently. Through long experience, she had come to know the exact value of his slightest word, and she had learned that in every case he always did much more than he had encouraged his hearer to expect. She had made her formal appeal to him in regard to their want of wine; and if, in replying to this appeal, he did not absolutely refuse, but only spoke of the fitting time being not yet come, she counted with confidence on his help when the right season should arrive. And be it noted, that when Mary set us this example of seizing by their ready handles the words of her divine son, she had, for the warrant of her implicit faith, nothing but the word itself, and her past experience of his peculiar style of fulfilling his promises, whether direct or implied—for hitherto he had never wrought any miracle. What a key does this little narrative afford us for the correct interpretation of all the words of Jesus. He will do everything that his word can he shown to imply; and he will do something more. He will never do less than he has said. Faith like Mary's he delights to honour, by fulfilling to the uttermost, and beyond the uttermost, the word on which he has caused us to hope. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we even think. All who have ventured on his promises, have had to say with good John Bunyan, "God has a bigger mouth to speak with than I have a heart to conceive with."
Even the words of divine threatening have gracious handles affixed to them, which, if a man will only seize, he may use them to his own great blessing and comfort. Such a word, for instance, is that in Luke xiv. 21, "Then the master of the house, being angry.'' What a startling word to a presuming sinner is that word, "angry!" And yet, when looked at by eyes which are beginning to see things in God's light, what a blessed handle is affixed to it. Angry!—then God is at least sincere in making all these most gracious invitations and communications, else he would not be angry when they are neglected. Insincerity often offers help which it feels constrained to offer, merely for sake of appearances; but the insincere offerer is never angry when his disingenuous overtures are declined. Indeed, he is rather pleased, for the hollow-hearted man has now the credit of having made the offer, while yet he is spared the cost of having his offer accepted. But the invitations and promises of God are not of this kind. Infinitely sincere, they are meant to be heartily accepted; and if the anxious soul will look with care at this alarming but nevertheless comforting word "angry," he will see a handle on it which almost provokes his ready grasp; and, if he will lay hold on it and cling to it, he will find that the very word which thunders forth threatenings of anger to the careless, can sweetly whisper love and mercy in the ear of a believing penitent.
As in all other things, our blessed Saviour is in this also our perfect pattern. In teaching us how we should grasp the words of God by their right handles, he has left us an example that we should follow his steps. In his own temptation in the wilderness, he has shown his tried disciples where to find, and how to wield, our only infallible weapon. "It is written;" "It is written;" and, "Again it is written." And who would have thought that there lay hid, in the divine words which he quotes, such depths of meaning and such force of power as our Lord has shown us may be found in them? Again, in his encounter with the Sadducees, what an overwhelming argument does he bring out of the simple words of Exod. iii. 6—an argument which any eye can see after it is pointed out, but which the sharpest eye had not been able to detect, till he indicated it. And let us particularly notice that, in making this quotation, our Lord does so in terms which assure us of our personal right and title to appropriate every word which stands on the sacred page, whether in the New Testament or in the Old; no matter to whom it was originally addressed. He says (Matt xxii. 31), "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham," &c. SPOKEN UNTO YOU! Why, these words were spoken to the ears of Moses alone, as he stood in stricken awe before the burning bush, amid the profoundest solitudes of Horeb. Yes; and if they had been left unrecorded, they might have concerned Moses alone; but having been recorded for us in the Book of God, they are there, not for Moses' sake, but for ours; spoken not to Moses only, but spoken for "unto YOU" as well. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for OUR learning" (Rom. xv. 4). Let us then encourage our feeble faith by assuring ourselves that we are granted full right and title to grasp every word in God's Book by its readiest handle, if we only see to it that it is the hand of faith, and not of presumption, which lays hold on it. The words of Tyndale the martyr, are not too strong, "As thou readest, think that every syllable pertaineth to thine own self; and suck out the pith of the Scriptures."
In its beginnings, true faith always consists in the believer thus taking God's words by the handles. For faith, though it always leads to doing as its fruit, is, in itself, not a doing, but a receiving. Our legal and self-reliant heart, eager to establish our own righteousness and to stand by our own strength, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God, and having the strength of Jesus made perfect in our weakness, would turn Calvary into a second Sinai, and distill a new law out of the grace of the gospel promises. But the gospel is no modified, mitigated law. It is a message of simple mercy, taking, of course, ample care of the glory of God, while amply provided for the need of man. In it, God holds out to the sinner his word of richest mercy, with its handle obtrusively turned towards him, saying, "I am Jehovah, your Holy One" (Isa. xliii. 15) and, individual faith grasps the gracious word by its handle, and joyfully responds, "O Lord my God, mine Holy One." (Hab, i. 12)
Before there can be true faith in God, each of these two distinct actions must have been accomplished. There can be no faith till God has spoken, and till man has trustingly responded to the divine speech. If God has not spoken, then there is neither word nor handle on which to operate. Let us be especially careful on this point; for our perverse hearts are quite as ready to trust without any warrant, as they are slow to believe when God has plainly spoken. How many are there who seem to think that the faith is all right, if the confidence be only confident enough, in utter ignorance, that confidence is not faith at all, unless it be building on a divinely given promise. Faith comes only by hearing, and this kind of hearing comes only by the word of God; so then, if there be no word of God on the matter, there can be no hearing and no faith. This divine word constitutes the sure foundation on which every true preacher builds his discourse, and the believing hearer his faith. Without such promise, confidence may be sufficiently strong; but such confidence is not faith—it is only presumption. The man who, in business, should attempt to deal with the drafts and bonds of his fellow-men, as thousands are daily doing with the promises of God's word, would find himself very speedily in the bankrupt list, if not in the criminal cell. What folly then it is—not to speak of sin—to handle with such unwarrantable presumption the awful words of God!
And this same word of God, which is the sole foundation of our faith, is also useful to us in the way of suggesting our need. Herein lies one of the most notable benefits which are derived from the continual perusal of Holy Scripture. The eye powerfully affects the heart, as we see daily in ordinary life. How frequently have we been taught to need various little appliances and comforts, only by seeing them in the hands of others, or even on the tradesman's counter? Without the suggestive sight of them, we would scarcely have discovered that we wanted them. In a sufficiently similar way we are taught what our spiritual wants are, by having them suggested to us in the holy word. When we listen to it as it tells us of the blessings which have been abundantly enjoyed by God's children in former ages, we are stirred up to desire them for ourselves; when we allow our souls to dwell in devout meditation on the exceeding great and precious promises, we are powerfully stimulated to set our hearts on the obtaining of their fulfilment. The recorded experiences of the saints in former days, together with abundant allusions to the grace which in Christ Jesus has been provided to meet our need, as well as theirs, suggests to us a sense of these needs, and awakens within us longings which might never have existed without this impulse. It is the very handle of the word which often provokes the languid soul to grasp it, and thereby to receive, in its first stages, the grace which shall go on to display its energy by intensifying the desire for further grace, and by preparing the heart to receive it.
But while there can be no faith in God unless when he has spoken; on the other hand, there can be no faith unless we commit ourselves to the perfect truthfulness of his spoken word. It is as necessary that we, on our side, grasp his word by the handle, as it is needful that he, on his side, give us a word with a handle to it. It will not be enough for us to examine the word, or to talk eloquently about the word—nay, it will not avail us in the least though we should study it and analyze it, till, like some question in philosophy or in science, we understand it perfectly. The ancient Jewish rabbis searched the Scriptures till they could tell how often every letter of the alphabet was repeated in them; and yet our Lord might have met the most letter-learned of them all with the serious charge, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures." Indeed, one of his most frequent queries addressed to these adepts in the verbalism of the Bible was, "Have ye never read? Have ye never read?" indicating that a man may know all that is to be known of the mere letter of Scripture, while yet he knows nothing whatever of the Word of God. To know this we must cling to the word by its handle, and venture our all upon it; we must have head, and heart, and conscience all actively engaged, all filled and satisfied with the light, and love, and awe of the divine utterance. And this we can do, even though there may be on our part great mental darkness; whether it arises from ignorance or from sore temptation; for, while intellectual light as to the qualities of the word can be no substitute for the hearty seizing of it by its handle, neither will great measures of intellectual darkness prevent the blessing, if the handle be only seized and firmly held. Does any one of all the blessed words of God fit thy case, O sinful man? Then grasp the fitting word as firmly as thou canst, for it was given thee for this end. In darkness, in weakness, in felt sinfulness, cling to it, and the faithful speaker of it shall not disappoint thy faith—nay, he has been already stirring thee up with the handle of the very word which thou admirest, and the groanings and yearnings of thy soul, thy irrepressible hopings and fearings, are all the effect of this very word, as he thrusts the handle of it into thy palm. Seize it at once, and hang on it for comfort and for safety.
When a believing man thus seizes a divine word by its handle, it is not a mere word of which he has hold—it is God. An honest man identifies himself with his word; when you have his word, you have himself. He cannot preserve his own credit, if he suffer the credit of his word to fail. God's word, too, is as trustworthy as God himself—nay, we can only rely on himself by relying on his uttered word. As Ambrose Serle says, "The covenant of God is as firm and stable as the very being of God himself." The written word is but the medium through which the living Word makes himself recognizable by our faith; and when our faith accepts the uttered statement, we really stir up ourselves to lay hold on God (Isa. Ixiv. 7). And who can measure the power which lies in the least of the divine words? "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth." "For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast." And this word is still almighty as ever. He sustaineth all things by the word of his power. Worlds, systems, and firmaments wheel through their tremendous cycles just as he bids. And that same voice, O mortal! which speaks with such effect to worlds, is speaking now to thee. Listen to it, trust it, venture every length on its ample warrant, and thou shalt find to thy joy that the word in which thou confidest is nothing less than almighty. It will not, cannot fail. Heaven and earth, star and system, firmament and universe shall pass away before the least jot or tittle of God's promise shall ever fail. The Scripture cannot, CANNOT be broken. Why then should any of us step so timidly on the footing of a word of God, as if it were a perilous venture, while we tread so stoutly on the solid earth, which derives all its firmness from the command of God, and which keeps us from falling through into the internal fires, only because he bids it thus sustain us? Let us be ashamed of our unreasonable and needless fears, and let us never forget that he who has but one sure word of God to stand on has the firmest foothold in all the universe.
The whole life of the believer is designed to be throughout a life of such faith. Born at first of the word, he is to be sustained simply by the word. We walk by faith, not by sight; and this humble, trying, happy walk of faith continues to the journey's end. To meet every possible requirement, the Bible is filled with fitting promises, warnings, reproofs, and instructions, that the man of God, exercising faith in them all, may be throughly furnished unto all good works. And the simpler our faith is, the more does it honour God, as well as bless ourselves. If there be a single lesson which is impressed on us more forcibly than another by the history of God's dealings with his children, it is that the Lord takcth special pleasure in them that fear him, in those who with the most childlike trust hope in his mercy. The wise—and this, in their own sphere, applies to believers also—he taketh in their own craftiness.
No hand save the hand of faith can rightly lay hold on a word of God. Reason cannot do it; for much of the word lies beyond the reach of reason, although simple faith in a divine Witness is always a most reasonable thing. Still the truth which is revealed often lies beyond the range of reason, but it never can go beyond the reach of childlike faith. Let God speak whatever he may please, the lively believer will at once accept every one of his words; and this, equally, whether he have or have not other grounds for faith besides the divine testimony. There is often a danger that we permit reason to trespass, Hagar-like, on the loftier functions of faith; and if this be allowed, the disorders in the soul of the over-reasoning believer will at least equal the discords which prevailed in the household of Abraham. Nay, in trying to clear away difficulties, both those which perplex our own minds and those which perplex the minds of others, there is danger lest the overzealous explanation lead to the substitution of some very accommodating word of man for the less manageable word of God, and lest the soul be thus led to patronize a human theory, instead of clinging to a sure and strengthening word of God. Even when the evil is not permitted to extend quite so far, this practice of overzealous explanation, unless it be most carefully guarded, tends to shift entirely the true grounds of genuine faith. Without formally avowing the principle, it is apt to make the unspoken impression that we are to believe chiefly because we understand, and that, therefore, we can be reasonably expected to believe only so far as we are able to understand. No abandonment of the true ground and measure of faith, as they are taught us in the Bible, could be more complete than this. In it, God demands that we believe whatever he may say to us, and that we believe it simply because it is he who says it. True faith, then, looks only to two points—who it is that speaks, and what it is he says. In the first point it finds its only warrant for its unhesitating confidence; in the second it finds the formal statement of the truth of which it is now perfectly assured.
This is, practically, a matter of considerable importance. Faith in God's word cannot be strengthened by over-indulgence in our own reasonings, when these are meant to give additional and independent support to the point on which we are called to exercise faith. Faith finds its sure conviction, not in the plausible demonstration of man's wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. The word of God blazes before believing eyes in the brightness of its own light; and though the healthy believer will not fanatically despise external corroborations, but will wisely use them in their own humble sphere, still he does not need such corroborations to induce him to receive the most trying of all the words of God. What such a man believes, he knows to be infallibly true; and as he knows this by a much better evidence than that of any human reasonings, so he holds it with a strength of conviction which no reasonings could produce. The assurance of conviction which the philosopher is able to attain in his department is much less decided than this, for the convictions of the philosopher are scarcely better than fluctuating opinions; but the humble believer not only thinks that the case is as he believes it to be, he actually knows it to be so, for his convictions are based on nothing lower than the infallible testimony of God. The sure way, then, to weaken faith, is to attempt to bolster it up by adding man's authority as a sort of supplement to the authority of God. The assurance which arises from faith in God, and the assurance which arises from argued convictions, are essentially incompatible with each other; and if we persist in mixing up our own reasonings with the testimony of God, we only increase our difficulties, till, after a certain point, simple faith becomes impossible to the over-reasoning man. "Kill reason," says Luther, in his decided way, and "believe in Christ"
In attempting to lay hold on a divine word, we must not only see to it that it is really a genuine word of God, and that we are grasping it by its proper handle, but it is of equal importance that we lay hold on it with the hands of faith. The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, and, in incompetent hands, it is a most dangerous weapon. A man may seize it with the hand of pride, or presumption, or sloth, or of some one or other of his fleshly lusts; but, wielded by such hands, it will only wound his neighbours and destroy himself. Pride is never so proud, presumption is never so presuming, sloth is never so shameful, covetousness is never so grasping, as when they cling to some word of God, and carry on their unholy work under the vaunted sanction of divine authority. "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, which spoil the vines," said Bishop Fisher, in the days of Henry VIII., quoting the Song of Solomon. "This means," he added, "that heretics are to be suppressed when they are small and insignificant; once you let them be full-grown, there is no dealing with them." How often have holy words been similarly misused!
It is generally sheer necessity—a painful sense of a man's own desperate condition—which stirs him up at first to lay violent hands on a word of God. A bather floundering about the edge of the sea may be annoyed by the floating timber against which he bruises himself; but if the same man were foundered far from shore, he would clutch the piece of wood with tears of joy, knowing that it was his only chance for seeing his pleasant home again. And similarly welcome is the gospel word to a self-despairing sinner. All others will assuredly trifle with it, if, indeed, they be not annoyed with it; but such an one will grasp it with the energy of a man who is fully aware of his tremendous danger.
And this same principle applies equally to the believer in the matter of his personal sanctification. With what horror should Christ's redeemed ones look on sin! With what shame and penitential sorrow should we regard our condition, after all our fruitless efforts to cleanse ourselves from its loathed pollutions! Alas! that believers generally show so little eagerness of desire to escape wholly from the power of sin, compared even with what they once manifested when they sought to escape from its dreaded punishment. Alas! that, like the Israelites, we who have already ventured into the depths of the Red Sea, driven thither by the fear of Pharaoh, should now shrink from the less formidable dangers of the sons of Anak. We are not drawn by the love of the pleasant land so powerfully as we were once driven by the terrors of Pharoah and his host. But, to the soul that has been taught to abhor sin with a perfect hatred, and to seek deliverance from its loathed tyranny as it never sought deliverance from the dreaded hell; to the soul which has tried the last of its own expedients for self-sanctification, and has found it worthless, how welcome to such an one is the word which comes to offer him the desired blessing. As sweet, at least, as was the soft word of mercy which spoke of pardon to his troubled conscience at the first, comes now this second gospel, which offers his groaning spirit the better grace of growing holiness. Ah, that each one of us were more powerfully impressed with a sense of our real condition, that we might lift up our loud outcry to God for complete deliverance from it, and that we might grasp with becoming eagerness the divine word which brings it to us. God's word about the blood of Jesus may be regarded as pre-eminently the gospel for the sinner; God's word about the grace of the Holy Spirit is the peculiar gospel for the believer. Let us never misplace them. On no account, let the sinner be sent for justification to any work but that of Christ upon the cross; neither let the believer foolishly starve his soul by confining himself exclusively to what is peculiarly the gospel for the sinner. The saint never can outgrow his need of daily and hourly resort to the Redeemer's cross; but while he strengthens his grasp on the word which continues to speak to him of the cleansing blood, let him reach forth his other hand to grasp with equal firmness the gospel, which is now emphatically his own gospel—the good news about the Holy Spirit.
It is chiefly because afflictions serve to intensify this sense of urgent need, that they are of use in helping a man to discern the handle of some precious promise, and in stirring him up to lay vigorous hands upon it. The eye of the prosperous reader glides listlessly over a psalm like the fiftieth, and perhaps he never notices that there is such a verse in it as the beautiful fifteenth. Its gentle words make as feeble an impression on his retina as the soft tinkle of the time-piece, striking the hours beside him, makes on his ear when he is occupied. But let the same man be led through fire and through water, and let this psalm again recur to him for reading. The gracious words of the fifteenth verse will probably start out from the page in obtrusive conspicuousness; and so perfectly adapted to his case do they now appear, that he cannot understand how he could have overlooked them before. Indeed, affliction is of service to us only in so far as it helps us to understand the word, to value its hidden treasures, and to appropriate them for our spiritual nutriment. As the ploughman's toil would be wasted unless the soil on which he has laboured receive the sower's seed, so the sufferings of the afflicted shall have been borne in vain, if they have not helped him to say, "Thy word have I hid in my heart."
The Word of God is not only teaching men, it is trying us as well. Some reject it rudely, saying, "Go thy way." Some bow it out politely saying, "I must needs attend to more pressing matters; I pray thee have me excused." Others receive it, but they do so with the left hand; while not a few are reverently, joyfully seizing its handle with the right. Among many other testing matters, perhaps the grand peculiar test of the present age turns on this: Will men subject themselves to the Word of God simply because it is the Word of God? Shall you, shall I, be persuaded to cast aside all our self-reliance, and our idolatrous creature-confidences, and submit our judgments, our affections, our consciences, not to a selected Bible, not to a corrected Bible, not even to an interpreted Bible, but to the Bible as it is, with all its forms, and with all its unexplained and hitherto inexplicable mysteries? This is the test, and this test is bringing out melancholy results in very many cases. With all our zeal to circulate the Bible, and there is not zeal enough—with all the warm commendations bestowed upon it, and no commendation can be warm enough—we need to watch ourselves, lest the busy band and the fervent lip be only the lifeless substitutes for a loving and obedient heart; lest, in short, while we suspect not our own unbelief, the Bible may really be to us anything rather than the awful word of the living God.