GOD’S WILLINGNESS TO BLESS SAINTS AND SINNERS
WE have been pleading with God. Prayer after prayer has knocked at Heaven’s gate, entreating for the conversion of souls, and the upbuilding of the church. I have no doubt that our prayer has been, in itself, acceptable with God, through Jesus Christ. It is in itself a form of worship to which our gracious God hath much respect. The golden vials of the elders before the throne are said to be full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. Prayer is typified by sweet incense, because God delights in it. He loves to see our desires for the accomplishment of His purposes. It is very pleasing to a father, as you who are parents can testify, to see his child in full sympathy with him, and anxious to help him in his work. Though he can do but little, and that little feebly and faultily, yet his eagerness to work with his father, and for his father, gives his father joy.
Even thus does our Heavenly Father take pleasure in us, and in our desires for His glory. “Thou didst well in that it was in thine heart,” said the Lord to David, even when He did not accept what David proposed to do; and I believe there may be glory brought to God, not only by those prayers which are manifestly answered, but by those which for wise reasons the good Lord is pleased to lay on one side. We are nothing better than children even in prayer, and therefore it is not every request that is wise; but yet we are children, and therefore the cries which come from our hearts touch the heart of our great Father in Heaven. Our desires that souls may be saved, and that the church may prosper, are so much in accordance with the mind of God that they must be a sweet savour unto Him. Therefore, brethren, let us pray on as long as breath remains. If prayer pleaseth God, it should always please us.
There are two things, however, which sometimes puzzle us.
One is, to see a child of God anxious to bring others to Christ, and perseveringly using the ordained means, and yet success is not given him, and men are not brought to Jesus; at least, they are not brought in such numbers as the eager worker desired and expected. Strange sight! Are we really more anxious to save souls than God Himself is? It would be a marvelous spectacle if it were actually the case! It certainly looks so. This is the appearance upon the surface. Our earnest spirits long for the salvation of men. If we could save them, we would save them at once. If it were possible for us, when we speak, to convince and convert every sinner within hearing, it should be done. It looks, for the moment, as though we were more merciful than the All-merciful, more compassionate than He is of whom it is written, “God is love.”
Ah, my brethren, it only seems to be so: we humbly ask pardon for yielding to the illusion even for an instant! It is our ignorance of our own hearts which makes us think ourselves so supremely kind and loving. Somewhat of pride mingles with this fond conceit of our own goodness. I fear that, if we were weighed in the scales of the sanctuary, it would be found that we do not possess all that agonizing pity which we suppose ourselves to possess. Too often our compassion shows itself in spasms, and is not a matter of fixed principle. Our zeal comes and goes; but if we felt it as intensely as we think we do, or as intensely always as we do sometimes, then we might have more reason for our complaining and wondering. For the present, we may rather blush for ourselves than complain of our God. We have not yet done all that lies in our power, and therefore we have no ground upon which to complain of our God.
If we are disappointed about our success in Christ’s work, what shall we say? Shall we not first look for the cause within ourselves? From observation and experience, I have learned to look very hopefully upon dissatisfaction and anguish when they are seen in Christian workers. It gives me no sorrow to see my brethren unhappy and miserable because others are not saved. It would be a far sadder thing to see them useless and yet contented. If ever I have been satisfied with what I have done for the Lord, I have invariably found my service to prove barren.
Pangs go with birth, and anguish precedes success. So far as I am able to judge, it does not seem that the Lord can wisely bless people who are satisfied with themselves, and with their own efforts. It would not be safe to trust the conceited with any large measure of success: they might be injured for life by such honour. Certainly God Himself would have small honour, for the individual would steal every bit of it, and wear it himself. When you get to feel, “I am not satisfied, for God is not blessing me as I long to be blessed, and therefore I fear something must be hindering the blessing;” then you are advancing towards a right condition,—a condition favourable to success.
The Lord is always willing to bless us up to the measure of our fitness to be blessed; and sometimes it is absolutely necessary that we should be distressed, broken-hearted, and brought to an agony of prayer, before we can hold the choice gift of the God of grace. I am sure it is so. We are straitened in ourselves. Our own unfitness turns aside the Divine benediction. The Lord will have us know the value of the blessing before He gives it to us; and He will also have us know our own inability, apart from His Holy Spirit, to perform any good work, or bring forth any holy fruit.
Our God takes care always to have security that, if He works a great work by us, we shall not appropriate the glory of it to ourselves. He brings us down lower and lower in our own esteem, until we feel that we are nothing at all, and then He condescends to use us. Some trumpets are so stuffed with self that God cannot blow through them. Some pitchers are too full of their own muddy water for God to pour the water of life into them. However much we may wish for a blessing, God will not set the seal of His blessing to work which is begun and carried on in the power of self.
Besides this, the Lord wants us to be more thoroughly in sympathy with Himself. He has two designs in making use of us in His service, not only to save souls, but also to bless us as the instruments of such salvation. There are always two edges to God’s sword; so that, while He kills sin in the hearer, He strikes a blow at sin in the preacher also. God has a way of killing two birds with one stone; or, if I may use such an expression, of making two birds alive with one quickening word. He has a way of blessing the very channel through which the blessing comes, as well as the people who receive the blessing. It was grace to the Gentiles to be preached to; but Paul called it “grace” to be permitted to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. The Lord intends to educate us by non-success as well as by success, and therefore He causes us to sigh and cry until His Spirit puts forth His power.
It is a natural law in the spiritual world that joy is not born without sorrow.
We must travail in birth before Christ will be formed in men’s hearts. There is no reaping in joy without a previous sowing in tears. As Christ Himself suffered to make us blest, so, in our measure, must we endure pain of heart in order to give men peace of mind. We must die that others may live. We must agonize that the tempted may rest. We must mourn that mourners may rejoice. It is a noble thing for a Christian man to act as a priest before the Lord, and, in a certain manner, to take upon himself the sins of the people, confessing them as though they were his own, and mourning over men’s hardness of heart as though it were his own hardness of heart.
We do well to take the sinner’s place in prayer even as our Lord took that place in sacrifice. It is ours to lay ourselves before God, and cry out of the depths of our souls, as Moses did, “If Thou wilt forgive their sin——; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” Moses was now in a prepared state to see the nation saved. Some try to make out that Moses did not mean what he said; but he did mean it, and the Lord did not rebuke him for excess of zeal or unguardedness of speech. Remember that, for speaking unadvisedly with his lips on another occasion, Moses was shut out of the land of promise, yet for this language he received no check whatever, but prevailed with the Lord to turn away His anger from Israel. He felt, in the compassion of His soul, much more than could be justified by reasoning in cool blood, even as Paul did when he wrote, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
If you ever reach such a stage of compassion, you will feel ready, if it were possible, as it were, to put your own soul in pawn for the souls of others; and you will express yourself in words which others may call fanatical. When it comes to that pass with you, the Lord will hear you. If you cannot live without a blessing, you shall not live without it. He who weeps for souls shall before long weep for joy. When we live, men will live; when we are quickened to fulness of life, the living waters shall flow out of us. Perhaps we have to reach a higher point of grace and love before we shall receive the fulness of the blessing.
At any rate, I put the case very strongly, on purpose that you may see the wrongfulness of the supposition that the fault of our non-success lies with the Lord. It cannot be that God is less willing for men to be saved than we are; it cannot be that we have outrun love itself on its own ground. We cry, “Arm of the Lord, awake!” and He replies, “Awake, awake, O Zion!” The slumber is with us, and not with Him. We must not think that the Lord has set a barrier in the way of our efforts, but we must be encouraged to feel that, if we love the souls of men, the Lord must love them more; and that, if we would do anything and everything in our power to secure their salvation, we may depend upon it that the Lord is not slack in grace.
A second matter equally causes a difficulty in people’s minds, and that is, to see sinners more willing to be saved than God is to save them.
I have often seen this to be the case apparently. Apparently, I say, for it could never be really so. According to the statement of the anxious, it is the case; but their statements are born of confusion, and not of the truth. It cannot be that a sinner should be eager for reconciliation, and the Lord be hard to bring to terms.
Did you ever hear of a flock of sheep in the Highlands traveling all over the hills, and roaming down the glens, trying to find their shepherd? Have you seen reports in the newspapers of the efforts made by the lost sheep to discover their shepherd, when he has been buried in the snow, and needed to be dug out? You smile, but the parable is to the point. I have observed several singular facts in natural history, but I have never heard of anything so remarkable as sheep seeking out their shepherd, and tracking his wandering footsteps in the cloudy and dark day. Yet this is what we might expect if it be true that sinners seek after the Lord Jesus, and cannot find Him.
They say, “I have sought the Lord, and He has not been found of me; I have cried to Him in prayer, and He has not regarded me. Alas, I have hungered and thirsted for Christ, but He is not willing that I should enjoy Him!” What singular spectacles! A sheep seeking its straying shepherd! A piece of money searching for its mistress! A prodigal son rejoicing over his lost father! The supposition is altogether too absurd. Is it not? Can it be that, in this race of love, you, a poor, dead sinner, have outstripped the living Saviour? We sometimes sing,—
“No sinner can be beforehand with Thee,
Thy grace is most sovereign, most rich, and most free;”—
and I believe it. If I were to see a needle running across a table all by itself, I should know that under the table a magnet was at work out of sight. When I see a sinner running after Christ, I feel certain that Divine love is drawing him: the cords may be invisible, but we are quite sure that they are there. If you are seeking Christ, it is because He is seeking you. The desire for grace is caused by the very grace which we desire. You must not dare to charge the Lord Jesus with unwillingness to save, seeing He has laid down His life to prove His eagerness to redeem.
No, it is not possible that there can be any backwardness with the Saviour; the backwardness lies with you. Get rid of the unbelieving and dishonouring notion that Jesus is unwilling to forgive, and at once throw yourself into His arms. He thirsts to bless men; it is His meat and His drink in this respect to do the will of Him that sent Him. You are being drawn by His loving hands; those warm desires for salvation are created in you by His Holy Spirit: believe this, and thus recognize the bond which unites you to the Lord; by faith, that bond will become consciously stronger from day to day. Trust wholly in Jesus, and the work is done. Trust Him simply; trust Him solely; trust Him without hesitation, and you are saved.
It is remarkable that, very often, the most commonplace things that we say in our preaching strike attention and convey blessing.
An evangelist, some time ago, while he was explaining faith, took up a book, and handed it to a friend. “Now,” said he to his friend, “suppose this to be salvation; I freely present it to you. Have you got it?” “Yes, I have it.” “How did you get it? Did you buy it? Did you work for it? Did you make it?” “No, you gave it to me, and I took it.” “I gave it to you, and you took it;” and that is how we receive salvation from the Lord. He gives it to us freely, and we take it by faith; that is all. Did the friend wash his hands, or put on kid gloves, before he took the book? No. If he had done so, he would not more surely have received the book; his hand did very well just as it was. It is just so with the gift of God.
If a very poor man asks you to help him, and you offer him a shilling, he does not say, “Please, sir, I cannot accept your money, for I am not dressed in good enough clothes.” He is not so foolish; he asks no questions, but gladly takes what is freely given. Even so, let us accept Christ as the gift of God. The worse we are, the more we need Jesus; and the more unprepared for Christ we seem, the more prepared we are for Him, in the unquestionable sense that need is the best preparation for receiving charity. When the housewife looks out the linen for the laundry, she does not say, “This garment is too dirty to be washed.” No, no. As she looks over the household linen, there may be a piece or two so little soiled that she questions whether she shall send them to be washed; but if one piece is worse than the rest, she is quite sure that it is fit to go, and she puts it without a question into the bag.
O my sinful friend, your sinfulness is the reason why you should go to Christ for cleansing!
Did you ever know a man stop away from dinner because he was hungry? Did you ever say, “I must not drink because I am thirsty”? Do men say, “When I am not quite so thirsty, then I will drink; when I am not quite so faint, then I will eat”? Does any sick man say, “I am so ill that I shall not send for a doctor till I am better”? We do not talk in this fashion about other matters; then why do we talk so about our souls? Jesus Christ asks nothing of us except that we will receive Him; and He presents Himself to us freely. We say, “There is nothing freer than a gift,” so there is nothing freer than the grace of God. “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Jesus and His salvation are matters of pure gift; then why will you not have them?
Do you say, “Oh, that we might receive them”? Do you still say that you are more willing to receive than God is to give, when God has already given, and you have not received? You know the message of the king who had invited many guests to his son’s wedding-feast, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fat-lings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.” It was pitiful that everything should be prepared, and yet the guests should not come. My good sister, how would you feel if you had invited your friends to see you, and then, when everything was ready, you found that nobody came to partake of your feast? Would you not cry, “What am I to do? Here is everything ready, but no one to eat it!” One thing, however, would be clear, nobody could say that you were unwilling that they should come. All things are ready, and everything will be spoiled if there are no guests: the hostess longs to see every seat at the table filled.
Jesus Himself, that great provision of God, will be of no use if sinners do not come to Him to be saved: the substitutionary sacrifice will be an eternal waste if men are not redeemed thereby: the provisions of atoning love will be a superfluity if the guilty do not come and partake of them. “My oxen and my fat-lings are killed. Then, if nobody comes to the wedding, all my preparations will be in vain.” The king must have guests for his feast, and therefore he said to his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” When this was done, and there was still room, he said to his servant, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
A mingled company sat down to the feast. You fancy that they appeared very odd and out of place. Poor people, picked from the streets, how would they appear at a royal table feasting upon dainties? Ah, you make a great mistake if you imagine that they looked to be a motley crew! The spectacle was magnificent; they were all dressed as ladies and gentlemen, for they had put on wedding-garments furnished by the giver of the banquet. As they sat at table, they looked like courtiers, for they were all dressed in robes worthy of the great occasion. They hardly knew themselves, or one another. One of them would look across the table to a man who used to be his companion in poverty, and he would say, “Is that you?” And the other would reply, “It is, and it is not. I have undergone a great change. I have put off my rags, and I am covered with beauty.”
If you come to Christ, the poorest of you shall be made to sit among princes.
You, who are covered with leprosy and pollution, may come just as you are, and the Lord will welcome you, will heal you, and bid you be at home at His table, where fat things full of marrow prove the splendour of His love. Come to Jesus, and see if it be not so.
Some of you seem to me like the poor dogs that go about muzzled; if there is a bone, they cannot get at it. It seems as if the devil had muzzled some of you, so that you dare not take the good things of the Gospel to yourselves. O Lord, be pleased to take the muzzles off these poor dogs! Oh, that they could but get a taste of what the Lord has prepared for them that love Him! You may have any and every Gospel blessing if you dare to take it. Make a dash for it. Believe that Jesus Christ is able to save you. Trust Him, and He has saved you.
Do you say that you will not now believe, but will wait till your own heart is better, and you feel more inward encouragement? How foolish! You will wait in vain. Did you ever hear of the deaf man who waited to hear the ticking of a sun-dial? He was as wise a man as you are. Cease to look within, and begin to look up. Jesus saves all those who trust Him to save them. End all questions and delays, and be saved at once.
C. H. Spurgeon, Only a Prayer Meeting: Forty Addresses at Metropolitan Tabernacle and Other Prayer-Meetings,