And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.
~ Zechariah 13:9, Philippians 1:29, Job 23:10, Proverbs 17:3, Malachi 3:2-3
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
~ Matthew 5:10-12, Romans 5:3, Romans 8:28, Romans 8:17-18
Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
~ Isaiah 48:10, James 1:12
Why Do Bad Things Happen? or, The Barley-Field on Fire, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Therefore Absalom sent for Joab, to have sent him to the king; but he would not come to him: and when he sent again the second time, he would not come. Therefore he said unto his servants, See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire. And Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?
~ 2 Samuel 14:29-31
I trust that you remember the historical narrative. Absalom had fled from Jerusalem fearing David’s anger, and in time he was permitted to return, but he was not admitted into the presence of the king. Sincerely desiring to be restored to his former posts of honour and favour, he begged Joab to come to him, intending to ask him to act as mediator. Joab, having lost much of his fondness for the young prince, refused to come; and, though he was sent for repeatedly, he refused to submit to Absalom’s desire. Absalom therefore thought of a most wicked, but most effective plan of bringing Joab into his presence. He commanded his servants to set Joab’s field of barley on fire. This made Joab very angry and caused him to go to Absalom to ask the question, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” This was all that Absalom wanted; he wanted an interview with Joab, and he was not scrupulous as to the method by which he obtained it. The burning of the barley-field brought Joab into his presence, and Absalom’s ends were accomplished.
Ignoring the sin of the deed, we have here a picture of what is often done by our gracious God in His wisest and best plan. He often sends for us, not for his benefit, but for ours; he wants us to come near to him and receive a blessing from his hands, but we are foolish, and cold-hearted, and wicked, and we will not come. Knowing that we will not come by any other means, He sends a serious trial-he sets our barley-field on fire, which he has a right to do, seeing that our barley-fields are far more his than they are ours. In Absalom’s case it was wrong: in God’s case he has a right to do what he pleases with his own. He takes away from us our most choice pleasures, on which we have set our heart, and then we ask him, “Why do you contend with me? Why am I struck with your rod? What have I done to provoke you to anger?” And thus we are brought into the presence of God, and we receive blessings of infinitely more value than those temporary mercies which the Lord had taken from us. You will see, then, how I intend to use my text this morning.
As the pastor of this large Church, I am constantly brought into contact with all sorts of human sorrow. Frequently it is poverty-poverty which is not brought on by laziness or wickedness-but real poverty, and a most distressing and afflicting poverty too, because it visits those who have valiantly fought the battle of life, and have struggled hard for years, and yet in their old age scarcely know where the next meal will come from, and are trusting in the promise, “Your bread will be given to you, and your water will be sure.” Members of our church come to me, sometimes as fast as they came to Job, bearing sad tidings concerning their lives. One says, “Sir, I ask for your prayers for me; God has been pleased to take away my wife with a stroke; she now lies in the cold grave.” Another cries, “O sir, my wife is very sick, and the physician says that there is very little hope: pray for her, that she may be strengthened in the hour of her death, and for me, that I may be enabled to praise the Master’s wisdom.” Then comes another, “My son is very sick; he is to undergo a painful operation; pray that the surgeon’s knife may not cause my son’s death, but that he may be enabled to bear up under it.” And when I have sympathised with all these sad situations, more suffering brothers and sisters will be waiting at the door. How few families experience life without severe trials: hardly a person escapes for any period of time without tribulation. With an impartial hand sorrow knocks at the door of the palace and the cottage. Why does all of this happen? The Lord, we know, “Does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” without reason. Yet we wonder why he uses so many frowning servants, and so often sends out his usher of the black rod? Why is this? Perhaps I may be able to give an answer to this very important question, and it may be that I can be as helpful to the afflicted as the jailer was to Paul and Silas, when he washed their wounds.
I will use my text, first of all, in reference to believers; and then, with regard to the unconverted. O for help from above!
I. First of all, brothers and sisters, let us apply the text with reference to believers in Christ.
My beloved brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, we cannot expect to avoid suffering. If other men’s barley-fields are not burned, ours will be. If the Father uses the rod nowhere else, he will surely make his true children feel the sting of it. As Paul said, and as our hymns declare it:
“Illegitimate children may escape the rod,
Sunk in earthly vain delight,
But the true-born child of God
Must not–would not if he might.”
Your Saviour has left you a double legacy, He said, “In this world you will have trouble, but in me you will have peace.” You enjoy peace: you must not expect that you will escape without the privilege of the trouble. All wheat must be threshed: and God’s threshing-floor witnesses to the weight of the beating as much as any other. Gold must be tested in the fire: and truly the Lord has a fire in Zion and his furnace in Jerusalem.
But you, beloved, have four very special comforts in all your trouble.
1. First, you have this sweet reflection, that there is no curse in your cross.
Christ was made a curse for us, and we call his cross the accursed tree, but truly since Jesus hung on it, it is most blessed; and I may now say concerning the cross of affliction, “Blessed is every man who is hung on this tree.” The cross may be very heavy, especially while it is green, and our shoulders unused to carrying it; but remember, though there may be a ton of sorrow in it, there is not a single ounce of the curse in it. God never punishes his children in the sense of avenging justice: he chastens as a father does his child, but he never punishes his redeemed as a judge does a criminal. It would be unjust to exact punishment from redeemed souls since Christ has been punished in their place. How can the Lord punish twice for one offence? If Christ took my sins and stood as my substitute, then there is no wrath of God for me; and though my cup may be bitter, yet there cannot be a single drop of Almighty wrath in it. I may have to feel the sting, but it will never be beneath the avenger’s rod of justice, but under the Parent’s rod of wisdom. O Christian, how sweet this ought to be to you! There was a time when you were under conviction of sin, when you thought you would rot in a dungeon or burn at the stake most cheerfully, if you could only get rid of the sense of God’s wrath; and will you now become impatient? The wrath of God is the thunderbolt which torments the soul; and now that you are delivered from that tremendous peril, you must not be overwhelmed with the few showers and storms which Providence sends to you. A God of love inflicts our sorrows: he is as good when he chastens as when he caresses: there is no more wrath in his afflicting providences than in his abundant blessings. God may seem unkind to unbelief, but faith can always see love in his heart. Oh! what a mercy that Sinai has ceased to thunder! Lord, let Jesus say what he will so long as Moses is quieted forever. Strike, Lord, if you will, now that you have heard the Saviour’s plea and justified our souls.
2. Secondly, we have another ground of comfort, namely, that your troubles are all allocated to you by divine wisdom and love.
As for their number, if God appoints that you have ten trials then there can never be eleven. As for the weight of your troubles, he who weighs the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance is careful to measure your troubles, and you will not have an ounce more than his infinite wisdom sees fit. It may seem that the devil has been turned loose on you, but remember he is always a chained enemy. There is a tether to every trouble, and it can never stray beyond that tether. Nebuchadnezzar may heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual, but God’s thermometer measures the exact degree of heat, and the flame cannot rage beyond that, even though a thousand Nebuchadnezzurs would command, with all their breath and fury, that the flames be made hotter. Consider everything that you have to suffer as the appointment of divine wisdom, ruled by love, and you will rejoice in all your tribulation, knowing that it will reveal to you the loving-kindness and wisdom of your God.
3. You have a third comfort, namely, that under your cross you have many special comforts that are refreshing tonics which God gives to sick saints which he never puts to the lips of those who are in health.
Dark caverns don’t keep back the miners, if they know that diamonds are to be found there: you needn’t fear suffering when you remember what riches it yields to your soul. There is no hearing the nightingale without night, and there are some promises which only sing to us in trouble. It is in the cellar of affliction that the good old wine of the kingdom is stored. You will never see Christ’s face so clearly as when all others turn their backs on you. When you become confused in your suffering that human wisdom is at a loss to explain, then will you see God’s wisdom manifest and clear. Oh! the love-visits which Christ pays to his people when they are in the prison of their trouble! Then he lays bare his very heart to them, and comforts them as a mother does her child. Those who have made Jesus their bed enjoy sweet sleep. Suffering saints are generally the most flourishing saints, and well they may be, for they are in the special care of Jesus. If you want to find a man whose lips drop with pearls, look for one who has been in the deep waters.
We seldom learn much except what is beaten into us by the rod in Christ’s school house under Madam Trouble. God’s vines owe more to the pruning-knife than to any other tool in the garden; extra shoots are sad spoilers of the vines. But even while we carry it, the cross brings comfort for the present; it is a dear, dear cross, completely draped with roses and dripping with sweet smelling myrrh. Rutherford at times seemed to doubt which he loved best, Christ or his cross; but then, good man, he only loved the cross for his Lord’s sake. Humble souls count it a great honour to be thought worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. If heaven is ever opened at all to the gaze of mortals, the vision is granted only to those who dwell in the Patmos of need and trouble. Furnace-joys glow quite as warmly as furnace-flames. Sweet are the uses of adversity and sweet are its accompaniments when the Lord is with his people.
“‘Mid the gloom, the vivid lightnings
With increasing brightness play;
‘Mid the thorns grow lovely flowers
Looking so beautiful and gay.
So, in darkest dispensations,
Does my faithful Lord appear,
With his richest consolations
To revive and cheer.”
But this is the point to which my text brings me, and everything I have already said is going astray from it, you have this comfort:
That your trials work for your eternal good by bringing you nearer and nearer to your God.
This point we will illustrate by the narrative before us. My dear friends in Christ Jesus, our heavenly Father often sends for us and we will not come.
He sends for us to exercise a more simple faith in him.
We have believed, and by faith we have passed from death to life, but our faith sometimes staggers; we have not yet attained Abraham’s confidence in God; we do not leave our worldly cares with him, but like Martha, we hinder ourselves with our many acts of service. We have the faith to hold onto little promises, but often we are afraid to open our mouths wide even though God has promised to fill them. He therefore calls to us, “Come, my child, come and trust me. The veil is removed; enter into my presence, and boldly approach the throne of my grace. I am worthy of your fullest confidence, cast all your cares on me. Come into the sunlight and clearly read your deed to heaven. Shake off the dust of your cares and put on your beautiful garment of faith.” But, sadly! though we are called with words of love to be blessed by this comforting grace, we will not come.
At other times he calls us to closer communion with himself.
We have been sitting on the doorstep of God’s house, and he commands us to come into the banqueting hall and eat with him, but we decline the honour. He has admitted us into the inner rooms, but there are secret rooms not yet opened to us; he invites us to enter them, but we hold back. Jesus longs to have close communion with his people. It is a joy for a Christian to be with Christ, but it is also a joy for Jesus to be with his people, for it is written, that he “delights in mankind.” [Proverbs 8:31]. Now, one would think that all Christ had to do was to merely summon us with his finger and say to us, “Come near, and commune with me,” and we would fly, as if we had wings on our feet; but, instead, we cling to the dust of this world-we are too busy, we have too many cares, and we forget to come, though it is our beloved’s voice which calls us to himself.
Frequently the call is to more fervent prayer.
Don’t you feel in yourself, at certain times, an earnest longing for private prayer? You have felt as if you could not rest until you have drawn near to God and told him all your needs; and yet, maybe, you have quenched the Spirit in that respect, and still have continued without drawing near to God. Every day the Lord commands his people to come to him and ask whatever they want, and it will be given to them. He is a benevolent God, who sits on the mercy-seat, and he delights to give to his people the greatest desires of their hearts; and yet, shame on us, we live without exercising this power of prayer, and we miss the fullness of his blessing which would come out of that abundance of grace-prevailing prayer with God. Oh, brothers and sisters! Most of us are truly guilty of this. The Master calls for us to come to him and pray, and we will not come.
In addition he often calls us to a higher state of holiness.
From this pulpit I have labored to stir you up to nobler attainments; I have pleaded with you to no longer be satisfied with your nominal attainments, but to press forward to things more sublime and heavenly. Haven’t I cried to you, beloved, and commanded you to forget the steps you have already taken and focus on the glorious path ahead of you.
I am persuaded there are Christians living lives of holiness well beyond that of ordinary Christians, just as ordinary Christians lives are beyond the lives of the wicked. There are heights which ordinary eyes have never seen, much less scaled, Oh! there are nests among the stars where God’s own saints dwell, and still many of us are content to go creeping along like worms in the dust:
“Oh that we would have grace to cling to the clouds and climb into the pure blue sky of fellowship with Christ! We do not serve God as we should. We are cold as ice when we should be like molten metal burning our way through all opposition. We are like the barren Sahara desert when we should be blooming like the garden of the Lord. We give to God pennies when he deserves dollars, no, rather he deserves our heart’s blood to be coined in the service of his Church and of his truth. Oh! we are nothing but poor lovers of our sweet Lord Jesus, not fit to be his servants, much less to be his bride. If he had put us in the kitchen to be servants, I fear we would be barely fit for the service, and yet be has exalted us to be bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, married to him by a glorious marriage covenant. O, brothers and sisters, God often calls us to higher degrees of holiness, and yet we will not come.
Now, why is it that we permit our Lord to send for us so often, without going to him? Let your own heart give the reason in a humble confession of your offences. O my brothers and sisters, we never thought we could have been as bad as we are. If an angel had told us that we would be so indifferent towards Christ we would have said, as Hazael did to Elisha, “How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?” If any of us could have seen our own history written out by a prophet’s pen, we would have said “No, it can’t be; if Christ forgives me I must love him; if he is pleased to make me his own brother or sister, I must serve him; if I am the recipient of such splendid mercies I must do something commensurate with his gift.” And yet, up till now, we have been ungrateful, unbelieving, and even have refused to listen to his call, or come at his command. He has said, “Seek my face;” and our heart did not respond with, “Lord, I will seek your face.” Because of all this, because we will not listen to the gentle call of God, there comes trouble, just as there came the burning of the barley-field of Joab, because he would not come when the young prince called him.
Trouble comes in all sorts of shapes. It matters little what form it comes in, as long as it answers the purpose of making us obey the divine calling.
Some Christians have their trial in the shape of sickness: they drag around a diseased body all their lives; or they are suddenly cast on the bed of sickness, and they toss back and forth, night and day, in pain and weariness.
This is God’s medicine; and when God’s children take it, they should not think it is sent to kill them, but rather to heal them. A lot of the medicine which the physician gives out makes the person feel even more ill for a while: he is worse with it than he would have been without it; but if he is a smart physician, he knows that this is the consequence of the medicine, and thus he is not at all alarmed by the pain of his patient, for he expects that all of this will work for good, and seek out, as it were, the original disease. When the Lord sends us painful sickness, it will, for a while perhaps make our former spiritual illnesses grow worse, for sickness often causes impatience and murmuring against God, but in due time our proud spirits will be broken, and we will cry out for mercy. Just like a metal file removes rust, so does sickness frequently remove our deadness of heart. The diamond undergoes many cuttings, which causes its value to increase: and so it is with the believer under the loving discipline of God. I have heard it said of many ministers that they preach best after a time of sickness, and their preaching was so much improved that their congregations have hardly regretted all the pains their minister had suffered when they have discovered how good and full of substance his sermons have been. My brothers and sisters, if you will not come to God on your own, then he will send to you a sick bed that you may be carried on it to him. If you will not come running, he will make you come limping. If you will not come when your eyes are bright and your body is full of health, he will make you come when your eyes are dull and heavy, and your body is sickly and sad. But you will come, and if not by other means, sickness will be the black chariot in which you will ride.
Losses, too, are frequently the means God uses to bring home his wandering sheep; like fierce dogs they use fear to move the wanderers back to the shepherd.
One cannot tame a lion if they are too well fed; they must be brought down from their great strength, and their stomachs must be a bit hungry, and then they will submit to the tamer’s hand; and we have often seen that the Christian is made obedient to his Lord’s will by the loss of some of their wealth and easy living. When rich and prosperous, some who profess to be Christians become proud and begin to boast. Like David, they boast, “My mountain stands firm; it will never be moved.” When the Christian is wealthy, has a good reputation, has good health, and a happy family, he too often admits Mr. Carnal Security to feast at his table. If he is a true child of God, there is a rod being prepared for him. Wait awhile, and it may be that you will see his life melt away like a dream. There goes a portion of his estate-how soon the acres change hands. There goes a part of his business-no profits will ever come to him again from that area. A sudden unexpected loss occurs-a customer refuses to pay their debts to him: Oh, how fast his losses come, where will they end? Now as these embarrassments and frustrations come in one after another, he begins to be distressed about them, and goes to his God. Oh! blessed waves, that wash the man on the rock of salvation! Oh! blessed cords, though they may cut the flesh, they draw us to Jesus. Losses in business are often sanctified to enrich our souls. If you will not come to the Lord in your days of wealth, you will come to him in your days of poverty. If God, in his grace, finds no other ways of making you honor him among men, if you cannot honor him on the pinnacle of riches, he will bring you down to the valley of poverty.
Bereavements, too-Oh! what sharp cuts of the rod we get with these, my brothers and sisters!
We know how the Lord sanctifies these to the bringing of his people near to himself. How glad we would be to remember that Christ himself once suffered bereavements as we have. Tacitus, the Roman Historian from the 1st century, tells us, that an amber ring was thought to be of no value among the Romans until the emperor started to wear one, and then right way an amber ring was held in high esteem. Bereavements might be looked on as very sad things, but when we remember that Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus, then we will see that they are choice jewels, and special favors from God. Christ wore this ring: therefore I must not be ashamed to wear it. Many a mother has been caused to live a holier life because of the death of her infant. Many a husband has been led to give his heart more to Christ by the death of his wife. Don’t departed spirits, like angels, summon us up to heaven? “Come, come away,” they say, “this is not your place of rest. I once lived in the same tree, and sang sitting on the same branch, but now I am taken from you; now I rest in heaven. Come up here, you who were once my loving spouse, come up here, for all the trees where you are building your nests are marked for the axe: therefore come away now, and live with me!”
Yes, we must look on the fresh graves of our loved ones in this light, and pray for the Lord to dig into our hearts with the funeral shovel, and bury our sins just like we bury our departed ones.
Trials in your family, in your children, are another form of the burning barley field.
I don’t know, brothers and sisters, but I think a living cross is much heavier to carry than a dead one. I know some among you who have not lost your children: I wished some of you had, for they have lived to become your grief and sorrow. Ah! young man, it would have been better that your mother should have seen you perish during your birth than that you should have lived to disgrace your father’s name. Ah! You, grown man, it would have been better that the funeral procession had gone winding through the streets, carrying your corpse down to the grave, than that you should live to blaspheme your mother’s God, and laugh at the Bible which is her treasure. It would have been better that you had never been born, and better for your parents too. Ah! but dear friends, even these trials are meant to draw us nearer to Christ. We must not make idols of our children, and we dare not do it, when we see how clearly God shows us that, like ourselves, they are by nature children of wrath. Sharper than a viper’s tooth is an unthankful child, but the venom is turned to medicine in God’s hand. God’s birds would often remain in their nests, but he fills their nests full of thorns, and then up they fly, and sing as the lark as they climb towards heaven. You must look on these family trials as invitations from God-sweet pressure to make you seek his face.
Many are afflicted in another way, which is perhaps as bad as anything else-by a deep depression of spirit. They are always depressed; they don’t know why.
There are no stars in the night for them, and the sun gives no light in the day; depression has claimed them for her own; but even this, I think, is often the means of keeping some of them nearer to God than they would be. You know there are some of our plants which grow best in damp, moist places found under trees; if the sun were to shine on them, they would die: perhaps some Christian minds are of the same order. Too many sweets make children sick, and bitters herbs are a good stimulant. A veil is needed for some delicate complexions, lest the sun shine too fiercely on them; it may be, these mourners need the veil of sorrow. It is good that they have been afflicted, even with this heavy depression of spirit, because it keeps them near their God.
Then there is that other affliction, the hiding of God’s face-how hard to bear, but oh how beneficial!
If we will not stay near to our Lord, he is sure to hide his face from us. You have seen a mother walking outside with her little child, when it has just learned how to walk, and as she goes through the street, the little one sometimes runs away to the right, and sometimes to the left, and so the mother hides herself a moment; then the child looks around for the mother, and begins to cry, and then out comes the mother. What is the effect? Why, the little child will not run away from mother any more; it is sure to keep hold of her hand from now on. In the same way, when we start wandering from God, he hides his face, and then, since we have a love for him, we begin crying after him; and when he shows his face again, we cling to him more than ever. So the Lord is pleased to bless our troubles to us.
Now, Christian, what about all this?
Why, just this. Are you under any severe trouble now? Then I pray that you go to God as Joab went to Absalom-“Why have your servants set my field on fire?” “Tell me what charges you have against me.” “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Make this a special time of humbling and heart-searching. Now let every sin that easily entangles us be driven out. When you begin to feel the discipline of the Lord, make it your practice to make a full confession of past sins and pray to be delivered from their power in the future.
Or, do you have no trial today, my friend? Then see if there is not something which may provoke God to send one, and begin now to purge yourself from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit by the Holy Spirit. Prevention is better than a cure, and sometimes a timely searching of the heart may save us many a heartache. Let us see to that then.
Or have we been afflicted, and is the affliction now over? Then, let us say with David, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” Let us bless God for all that he has done, saying, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted;” let us join together in one common hymn of praise for all the goodness and mercy which God has been pleased to show us in the sharp blows from his rod.
I have said enough I think, to the Christian, to explain the little picture before us. God has burned your barley-field, dear friends, now go to him, and the closer you can approach to him, and the more firmly you can cling to him, the better for your soul’s health and comfort throughout your life. In the end, you and I will sing to the praise of our afflicting God.
II. Now, A few words to the unbeliever will form the second part of our sermon-May God make them mighty to the sinner.
God has also sent for you. O unconverted man, O unconverted woman, God has often sent for you. Early in your childhood your mother’s prayers sought to woo you to a Savior’s love, and your godly father’s first instructions were like the many meshes of the net in which it was desired that you should be taken; but you have broken through all these and lived to sin away all the early impressions and promises of God’s Word. Since your childhood you have often been called under the preaching of the Word. Our sermons have not all missed their targets, but sometimes a clear shot has made its way into your conscience and have caused you to tremble; but sadly! the trembling soon gave way to your old sins. Up till now you have been called, but you refused to come to God. The hands of mercy have been stretched out, and you have not paid attention to them. You have had calls too, from your Bible, from Christian books, from Christian friends. Holy zeal is not altogether dead, and it shows itself by looking after your welfare. Young man, your coworker has some times spoken to you; young woman, your friends have wept over you. There are some of you now present who have been called by the most loving of voices in our Sunday-school classes; men and women with deep love for the souls of those committed to them-tender hearts and weeping eyes; you have been wept over that you might come to Christ, but still all the activity that has been employed has been up to this moment without effect, you are a stranger to the God who made you, and an enemy to Christ the Saviour.
Well, if these gentle ways will not cause you to come to the Lord, then God will employ other means. Perhaps he has tried them already. If not, if he intends in the divine decree to save you then he will use stronger ways with you, and if a word will not do, he will come with a blow, though he loves to try the power of the Word first. You too, my listener, unconverted and unsaved, have had your trials. You weep as well as Christians. You may not weep for sin, but sin will make you weep. You may detest repentance because of its sorrow, but you will not escape sorrow, even if you escape repentance. You have had your sickness: don’t you remember it, when in the quiet of the night you heard the clock ticking out, as you thought, your last few minutes and foretelling your doom? Don’t you remember those weary days, when you tossed from side to side and moved all around to try to ease the pain but it didn’t really help?
Can you remember your vows, which you have lived to break, and your promises with which you lied to the eternal God? You said that Sunday worship would be your delight, if you were spared, and also that the Church and the people of God would be dear to you and you would seek his face? But you have not done so; you have broken your covenant and have despised your promise made to God. Or, have you had losses in business? You began life well and with great hope, but nothing has worked out well for you. I am not sorry for it, for I remember it is of the wicked and the reprobate that it is written, “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” I am glad that you were plagued. I would sooner see you whipped to heaven than coached to hell. Doubtless many live a life of ease and pleasure and suddenly are killed and sent to hell, while others go sorrowing to eternal glory.
You have had losses: but what are these but God’s rough messengers to tell you that there is nothing beneath the sky worth living for, to wean you from the breasts of earth and cause you to look for something more substantial than worldly riches can give you? And you, too, have lost friends; may I recall those graves, whose turf is freshly laid? May I remind you of children fair and beautiful in your eyes, taken away from you, despite your tears? Will I remind you of the parent who died and went to be with Jesus, of a sweet young sister who withered like a lily because of tuberculosis? Will I bring these thoughts back to you? I really don’t wish to open these old wounds causing them to bleed again, but it is for your own good that I beg you to listen to their solemn voice, for they say to you, “Come to your God! Be reconciled to him!” I do not think you ever will come to Jesus, unless the Holy Spirit will employ trials to bring you. I find that the woman never found her lost coin until she swept the house. The prodigal son never came back till he was hungry. I only hope that these troubles may be blessed to you.
Besides all this, you have had your depression of spirit-if I am not mistaken, I address some who are under such depressions now. You don’t know why it is, but nothing is pleasant to you. You went to the theatre last night; you wished you had not: it gave you no joy; and yet you have enjoyed going to the theater many times before. You go with your friends, and going out with them to have a good time has become to you a very painful waste of time. You have lost the zest of life, and I’m not sorry for it if it causes you to look for a better life, and trust in a world to come.
My friends, again I say, this is the burning of your barley-fields. God has sent for you, and you would not come, and now he has sent messengers who are not so easily refused; he has sent these with sterner and rougher words which speak to your flesh, if your spirit will not listen.
Well now, unbeliever, if God is sending these, are you listening to them? My friends, if God has sent these, have you listened to them?
There are some of you of whom I almost have no hope for your salvation. God can save you, but I can’t figure out how he will do it. Certainly the Word does not seem likely to be blessed.
You have been called and pleaded with: early and late in your life we have pleaded with you. Our hearts have yearned with tenderness for you, but up to now it has all been in vain. God knows I have been hammering away at the granite, and it has not yielded yet. I have struck hard at the flint, and it is not broken. Some of you almost break the plow; you are such hard rocks that it seems in vain to plow on you. As for all your troubles, I don’t see that they will likely do you any good; for if you are struck again, you will revolt more and more; your whole head is sick already, and your heart is faint; you have been beaten, till from the top of your head to the sole of your foot, there is nothing but wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores. You are poor-perhaps your drunkenness has made you so; you have lost your wife-perhaps your cruelty helped to kill her; you have lost your children, and you are left a penniless, friendless, helpless beggar, and yet you will not turn to God! What now is to be done with you? O what will God do to you? Will he give up on you? How can he give up on you? How will he make believe? The heart of mercy still yearns after you. Return to God! Return to God! God help you to return, even now!
Others of you have not suffered any of this in the past, but are just now enduring a part of it. Let me beg you by the mercies of God and by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that you do not despise him who speaks to you. God does not continue to send his messengers forever. After he has labored with you for a time he will leave you in your sins and to face his eternal wrath. Patience does not last forever. Mercy has its day. Look, the king runs up the white flag of peace and comfort today, and he invites you to come to him. Tomorrow he may run up the red flag of warning, and if that red flag will not make you turn, he will run up the black flag of execution, and then there will be no hope. Beware! The black flag is not run up yet: the red flag is there now in trials and troubles, which are God’s warnings to you, commanding you to open your heart that grace may enter: but if the red flag fails, the black flag must come. Perhaps it has come! God help you with a broken heart to cry to him that you may be saved, before the candle is blown out and the sun is set, and the night of the dead comes without the hope of another sun rising on a blessed resurrection.
What is the point of all this? My point is this. If right now, some of my words could make you come to the king this morning-I know it won’t unless God the Holy Spirit compels you to do so by his irresistible power-but if he would bless my words, I would rejoice as one who finds great treasure. Why do you resist God? If the Lord has chosen to give you eternal salvation, then your resistance will be in vain, and how will you hate yourself in later years to think that you resisted for so long and enduring all that pain and suffering! Why do you resist? God’s battering-ram is too mighty for the walls of your resistance; he will make them fall. Why do you stand against your God, against him who loves you, who has loved you with an everlasting love and redeemed you by the blood of Christ? Why stand against him who intends to set you free from the slavery of sin, and to make you his rejoicing child? “Oh!” says one, “if I thought there were such mercy as that, I would yield.” If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, this will be evidence that such mercy is ordained for you. O that the Spirit of God would enable you, sinner, to come just as you are and put your trust in Christ. If you do so, then it is certain that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that you were chosen of God and are precious to him, and that your head is one on which the crown of immortality is to glitter forever. O that you would trust Christ! The joy and peace it works in the present is worth more than money could ever buy, but oh! the glory, the overwhelming glory which will come after death will belong to those that trust in Jesus! May God give you this morning the faith to cast your souls upon the finished work of Jesus. His blood can cleanse; his righteousness can cover; his beauty can adorn; his prayer can preserve; his coming will glorify; his heaven will make you blessed. Trust him! God help you to trust him; and he will have all the praise, both now and forever. Amen and Amen.