(Preached April 9th, 1872)
“Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning; Thou hast the dew of Thy youth.” (Psalm 110:3)
We may say with propriety that neither the proclamation of salvation by the death of Christ, by all the apostles, nor all the servants of Christ since their day, would ever have brought one poor sinner out of darkness into light, had it not been for a day of God’s omnipotent power,–power invincible going forth with the Word preached. The atoning work of Jesus Christ is the meritorious cause of every sinner’s salvation who is saved; and His death just as much secures the putting forth of the almighty power of God in the hearts of the elect in the Lord’s own time as it secures every other blessing which flows from His death. But whilst it is a solemn truth that we never can be saved but by the sacrificial work of Jesus, it is no less true that God Himself must put forth His exceeding great power in our souls to quicken us in our condition of death into spiritual life, and to bring us into an experience of our lost, ruined, and damnable state by nature, and to make us in heart and soul willing,–wholly willing, from first to last, to be saved in God’s way, which is by grace, to the utter exclusion of our works, lest we should boast.
Now I would hope I really am speaking to some here tonight who are in truth concerned about being saved. It is a great point with me whether a person is really concerned about being saved. And should I be speaking to any here tonight who are really and in truth concerned about being saved, if salvation be the one thing needful with you, if this solemn matter be uppermost in your thoughts, if your concern drives you daily to God, and if you feel a hearty willingness to be saved on God’s terms and in God’s way, namely, by Jesus Christ, I would say for your encouragement, God has done great things for you, whereof you have cause to be glad. I might say to you that flesh and blood have not revealed these things unto you, but your Father which is in heaven.
I. Let us, in the first place, dwell for a few moments upon the corruption of the human will of every man by nature. And nothing is more important, beloved friends, than to be clearly taught of God upon this great truth, the bondage of the will. God help us, then, for a few moments to be somewhat clear and scriptural upon it. We shall endeavor to show that the bondage of the will, as implied by this text, can only be removed by the grace of God.
Every man’s will by nature is obdurate and obstinate, and in a state of bondage. It is like an iron sinew that nothing can break but the mighty arm of the Lord. The question whether man by nature has any power of his own to go to God, and any power to believe, to repent, and to pray, and so save himself by seeking after salvation, I suppose has provoked about as much controversy amongst professors of religion as any other point in theology. But nothing can more clearly and indubitably prove a man’s ignorance of all Divine teaching, and his ignorance of himself as a lost, ruined, helpless sinner, and his ignorance of the work of the Holy Ghost in the heart and conscience, than to contend that man by nature has a power of his own to go to God, to believe, to pray, to repent, and so to save himself. Nothing would prove more clearly to me a man’s ignorance of himself and of God’s truth than for him to contend for such a doctrine as that. But then it is not only that man has no power; he has no will. That makes him worse. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Rom. 8:7) If God, my dear friends, were to put Christ and the devil, life and death, heaven and hell, before all the world tomorrow, and make the offer to every man to choose for himself according to his own will, there is not an unregenerated man living in the wide world that would choose Christ and life instead of the devil and death. Every man, if he were left to his own will, would go his own way; and that way would be the way of death, and not the way of life. Has God taught you that? Have you been brought to feel in your experience that that is just the way you would have gone had not sovereign grace arrested you, and brought you, who were sometime afar off, nigh unto God by the blood of Christ?
How very few in the present day who profess to preach the Gospel really do preach it! It is impossible to preach the Gospel unless man’s apostasy from God, his ruin, his death in sin, his impotence, weakness, and helplessness, are scripturally preached and set forth. The Gospel of God loses all its charms unless we set forth the condition of the sinner to be such that nothing but the almighty power of God can bring him from the horrible pit and the miry clay, change his heart, conquer his stubborn will, overcome his implacable enmity to God, and make him in heart and soul willing to be saved alone by the blood and righteousness of God’s dear Son. Put the Gospel in any other way than that, and I say again, it loses all its charms.
What is the Gospel? Very few people know what it is. Put the simple question to most that make a profession of religion; ask them what the Gospel is. Their definition of the Gospel would never be received by a spiritually-taught man of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. But how could it be the power of God unto salvation if man had any power to save himself? The Gospel in that case would be nothing more than God’s message to man to tell him what power he possessed, and that nothing was needful but that he should put forth that power, and make a right use of it, and then he would be saved.
I bless God, I hope feelingly, for His great mercy in having taught and convinced me in my own experience that nothing but the invincible power of His Spirit attending His truth to my heart ever could have brought me to feel my perishing condition, and to feel that if God, as the sovereign Jehovah, had not been pleased to pardon me, justify me, and save me by His free and unmerited grace, I must have been damned as a transgressor of the law of God. I bless God that I have been taught that.
I have sometimes illustrated the freedom of man’s will as a fallen sinner by nature in the following way: Take a stone or a marble, put it on a very steep inclined plane, then let it go according to its own freedom; which way will it go? Downwards; it could not go upwards; it has no power to go upwards; so that it would only be free to go downwards. And such is the will of man by nature. It is free to go downwards, but not upwards to God. Man has no other freedom of will than that. So you see that, if God had only left us in that state of alienation and darkness and spiritual death in which we were born into this world, and as a Sovereign had withheld His quickening grace, and kept that invincible power which made us quail as sinners before Him, where should we have been tonight? Should we have been worshippers? Should we have been objects of God’s mercy, with the love of God shed abroad in our hearts? No, my dear friends; far from that.
I remember two seasons in my life, and I often think of them both, because they were spent in London. In the first season I refer to, I was a poor, blind, ignorant, dead sinner. Well, I had a will, and I followed that will; and whither did it lead me? Downwards, downwards, to the theater, to profligacy, to sin, to vice, to cursing, to swearing. But at a subsequent period of my life, I spent another season in London; and that was some years after the Lord in mercy had opened my eyes, had set my sins before me, and my secret sins in the light of His countenance. At this time, I was truly low and sorrowful. The friend with whom I was staying not being able to accommodate me with a bed, I had to procure one where I could. I slept in Oxford Street, it was a Saturday night. I got up on the Sunday morning, fell upon my knees in much distress, dejected and downcast, and I begged of God that He would give me a blessing that day. I wrestled and pleaded with Him that He would give me a little comfort, a little hope, a little faith to believe in Him as being my God. I came here to this place. I heard the Word; and I heard it with blessed power.
I will not mention his name, but the good brother that preached here that morning knows about it. He preached from the words: “I am your brother and companion in tribulation.” (Rev. 1:9) I sat with my eyes in tears, with a softened heart; and I was able to bless God for His manifested mercy. How, then, my dear friends, shall we account for this marvelous change in my will? It was by the power of God; it was by the quickening grace of the Holy Ghost, the might invincible power of the Spirit by which I was made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Old things had passed away, and all things had become new. And this is how God deals with all His regenerated people. “A new heart will I give you, and a right spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your fresh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek. 36:26) If the Ethiopian can change his skin, and the leopard his spots, then may they who are accustomed to do evil learn to do well. (Jer. 13:23) But we know the leopard cannot change his spots, nor the Ethiopian his skin.
You that are taught of God know in your own experience that what you are tonight as believers, you are by the grace of God. What obligation, then, does the grace of God place us under to Him who has stooped so low as to take our nature, to tabernacle here as the man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, in order that He, by fulfilling the law, and all stipulations, might become “The Lord our righteousness,”–the end of the law to every one that believeth.
Then, again, observe how very special, and specific, and definite, the expression of the text is: “Thy people.” David does not simply say “any people” or “all people;” but he says “Thy people.” Now, my dear friends, I love the truth of God too well ever to wish to evade a particle of it; therefore I assert tonight, as I have asserted before, that “Thy people” does not mean everybody, but a peculiarly favored people, a predestinated people, a chosen people. God, for the glory of His own grace, chose a specific people in Christ before the foundation of the world, and gave them to Christ. Christ said when upon earth to His Father, “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me, and they have kept Thy word.” (John 17:6)