by JOSEPH IRONS - Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Sunday Morning, July 23rd, 1848
Discrimination of character is essential to faithful gospel preaching, and the great lack of success in the preaching of the present day is, in my opinion, to be traced to the want of that discrimination, to the absence of that discrimination. It runs through the whole book of God, and to attempt to unite what God has eternally separated, is to offer an insult to the Most High, as well as to deceive the people. The direction given to the prophet Jeremiah by Jehovah Himself was, "If thou shalt take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth." The reproof which He delivered by His servant Ezekiel to the priests of his day, runs in these severe terms: "They have violated my law, for they have put no difference between the clean and unclean, and between the precious and the vile" (Jer. 15:19). And then the promise by the same prophet, with which he almost closes his book, runs in these words relative to gospel time, "They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the profane; and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean."
Turn to New Testament declarations, and hear what the Son of God Himself says about it. "Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." How clearly did He keep up this distinction between the Church and the world in His own preaching! He addressed the Pharisees as such, He addressed the publicans and harlots as such, He addressed the rulers as such, and He addressed His own disciples as such, and called them the children of His heavenly Father. And in the chapter which we have been reading, the solemn injunction has been left on record by the pen of inspiration through the apostle, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, "saith the Lord, "and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters" (2 Cor. 6:17,18). The Old Testament Scripture closes with, "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God, and him that serveth Him not" (Mal. 3:18). And the New Testament windeth up with, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Rev. 22:11). In a word, discrimination of character is the running title of the word of God, discrimination of character is coupled with every doctrine in the word of God, with every promise, with every precept, and with every feature of character which is drawn in the precious oracles of God. Whoever, therefore, would attempt to throw out, if I may so speak, the precious truths of the gospel in a desultory manner, as if they belonged to any one or no one, is guilty of violating God's directions, of dishonouring His name, and deceiving the people, and proves himself to be an hireling, and not a sent servant of God.
I have opened my discourse with these strong declarations on purpose to prepare the minds of my hearers for the subject fastened on my mind for the present week, and I entreat you to give me your prayerful attention to three things which present themselves to our view from the language of my text. Grace Divine. Yea, the God of grace distinguishes Israel from the world. The operations of that grace make that distinction manifest and evident. And the design specified, "to be thine inheritance." Oh, may the God of Israel enable every one of us to stand ready this morning to answer old Elijah's question, "Who is on the Lord's side? Who?" May we be prepared to prove that we belong to Jesus, that God has separated us from all other people, and chosen us to be His own inheritance.
1.) I propose, first of all, to glance at this separation, as originating with God's grace. It is found in Solomon's dedicatory prayer when he dedicates the temple to God. He did not erect his temple, you are to observe, for the Philistines, for the Ammonites, nor for the Moabites. He did not invite them all within its wall at the consecration, but it is Israel, thy people Israel. And concerning Israel, for whose use the temple was built, the service was instituted, and God especially invoked at the dedication of the temple, it was for Israel, apart from all nations on the face of the earth, that Solomon presented prayer before the throne of God. He recognizes them in the 51st verse thus, "For they be thy people and thine inheritance;" and that there should be no mistake, he adds, "which thou broughtest out of Egypt." Why not the Egyptians and all? Why not Pharaoh and his host? and why not, according to the universal charity system, insisting on having all that remained in Egypt? No; it is written that the wise King had set His heart on the welfare of Israel; and therefore it is said, "Let thine eyes be opened unto the supplication of thy servant, and unto the supplication of Israel, thy chosen tribes; and then the language of the text is used as a plea and argument before the throne. "For" here is the substantial reason why their prayers and supplications should be heard, regarded, and answered "for thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth, to be thine inheritance."
If you look a little at the history of this people, you will find that the first notice of them as a separate people is that of their being set apart in the covenant Head. When Abraham had no seed, no posterity, nor any probability of posterity, nor, I was going to say, according to nature, any human possibility, then it was that God promised him that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude; and that he would give them the land on which he then lay, and choose them as his inheritance. So that when not one of them was born, they were set apart in Abraham, their covenant head, as the lot and inheritance of Jehovah. And "Jacob, the lot of his inheritance," presents to our view a most striking type of what Jehovah had done ages before in the person of our glorious Christ as our covenant Head. All His members, all the true Israel of God, all the election of grace, all that shall ultimately inhabit eternal glory, were set apart in the covenant Head by predestinating love ere time began, ere angels fell, ere sin existed. And this is the grand origin, the grand first cause. Thou didst separate them, even them. This is most strikingly marked out in the account of Moses in the early account of the division of the world after the flood, "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." Their lot was first, that He should have an eye on His chosen beloved family, seen in Christ from everlasting, and adopted as His own.
Now if we begin not here, we have nothing firm to rest upon. We have no foundation. All our rest is on mere quagmire and sand, and will deceive the closest inspection and the most scrutinizing inquirer, and he will find himself without guide or direction, that is correct and true, if he lose sight of the eternal predestinating love of God the Father, setting apart all His people personally and individually in Christ Jesus before time began. Is it not this which the Holy Ghost has in view respecting Christ, when, by the pen of the Psalmist, the dear Redeemer appears before the Father and says, "In Thy book were all my members written." Now I am quite ready to admit that David himself might have had nothing more in view than the fearful and wonderful manner in which human nature is formed, and might himself have viewed it no further; but the spirit of prophecy and the Spirit of Christ rises infinitely higher than human nature can comprehend; and while David might have been speaking with astonishment of the wonders of creation, and the manner in which God forms the members of our bodies before they are brought forth in birth, Jesus was speaking of the members of His body, "In thy book were all my members written;" and then He adds, "which in continuance were fashioned when as yet there was none of them." Their origin is their being written in the book, their being chosen in Christ, and viewed as one with Him, their being accepted in the Beloved, their being predestinated unto eternal life, and distinguished as God's property. "Know thou," saith the Holy Ghost, by the Psalmist, "that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself." Mark, not merely that He will do it; but that He hath done it; and I am the more concerned in putting this before you in the strongest light, because the trimming practice of this day is to destroy God's line of distinction, and unite Jacob and Esau's posterity, Isaac's and Ishmael's, Israelites and Moabites, indeed, to abolish all distinction between the Church and the world. By the help of God, I shall protest against this as long as I live. Thousands who pass for ministers of God have been, ever since I can remember, publishing the banns of marriage between the Church and the world. God refuses to give His consent to the union; and if I hear it said in my presence, "Does any man know any just cause or impediment why these two should not be joined together," I shall instantly start forth and answer, "I do;" for the one is carnal, the other is spiritual, the one is of the devil, the other of God, the one is an Infidel, the other a believer, the one is earthly, selfish, and devilish, the other born from above, and destined to eternal glory; and I think this is a sufficiently just cause and impediment why the Church and the world should not be joined together.
I pray you mark, further, they were not only set apart by predestinating love in the covenant Head, but were destined to a covenant portion. You must bear in mind, the people of Israel were so chosen. Abraham was commanded to lift up his eyes, and look towards heaven, and tell the stars "if thou be able to number them;" and he is told in the most positive manner by Jehovah, "that so should his seed be;" and that they should possess the gate of their enemies, and inherit the land which God had given unto him. Now learn a spiritual lesson from this, for all was typical in that dispensation. Mark, not only were the people of God set apart in Christ by predestinating love; but their portion, their salvation and eternal glory were all designed, settled, endowed in covenant for their possession and everlasting inheritance. So that the matter of fact concerning the Church of the living God is, that she is not in a state of uncertainty in God's esteem, though she may be in her own esteem until the full assurance of faith is bestowed upon her. There is no contingency in God's esteem, there is no possibility of failure; for the Church is chosen for His inheritance, and her inheritance is settled and chosen for her, and both are settled and set apart for each other in covenant love.
I recollect a controversy which occurred some years back between two good men, in which one contended for the possession being purchased for the people, and the other contended that the people were purchased for the possession. I listened to their cabal for some time, until at length I said, "You are both right, and you are both wrong. You are both right to include either; but you are wrong to exclude either; for I find from the precious statements of God's word, that His people were redeemed to Himself to be a peculiar people, and that their inheritance was a lost inheritance; and that therefore it is called by the apostle 'the redemption of the purchased possession." So that from all these quibbles and coils, in which multitudes of Christians differ on points on which there is, in fact, no difference, we come to this sacred point, that it is God's doing to separate and set apart His people for His inheritance, and to set apart the inheritance for them; and the land of Canaan, literally, could no more have been withheld from the tribes of Jacob than the God of heaven could be dethroned or his word violated, because his fixed decree goes forth to them, and they must be put in possession of it. Just so the glorious Canaan above, with all the spiritual covenant privileges we enjoy on our way to it, are secure and certain; "for the Lord God will give grace and glory, and no good thing will be withhold." Now since the Lord has given grace, and pledged Himself to give the glory which includes the whole land of the heavenly Canaan, and as He has made choice of us for its enjoyment, who shall dare to throw in contingency when God has made all certainty? "Thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth , to be thine inheritance."
Just glance here a moment longer at His providing for a covenant people so separated as they passed on their journey. There is nothing uncertain here. Now one would be ready to calculate according to carnal reason when he saw the poor Israelites hurried out of the land of Egypt at midnight with little or no provision for so extensive a journey. Well, God may have chosen them in Abraham, and God may have promised them the land of Canaan; but that vast desert they will never cross: they will all perish there. There are no fields of corn, no fruit trees abounding; they will all perish in their way. No, no; God knew how to cater for His family. He knew the whole length of the journey, and marked it on His map before it was marked on ours; and every movement, every retrograde zigzag crossing of lines as they journeyed, led on by the pillar of cloud and of fire; and all the way they marched for forty years He fed them with bread from heaven, gave them water out of the rock, supplied them from His own hand as He had determined to do, all their provisions being laid up for them; and therefore the Psalmist says, "Oh, how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee."
Now, believer, let me address the most timid amongst you on this point for a word of encouragement. No doubt you have felt, an I have often during the wilderness journey, as if heaven could not be reached ere you perished in your way to it, as if you would not have strength enough to go on, or provisions to supply the next day's cravings, and as if all must be a failure. Sometimes, too, unbelief will be ready to say, "Would to God we had died in Egypt;" and old nature will go a long way in rebellion with us. But how has it been with us? Hath not God provided? Hath not your "bread been given, and your water sure?" And hath not spiritual strength been supplied? Cannot we, some of us, trace back twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty years, during which the tempter hath been defeated, the world kept at a distance, and supplies of nature and grace vouchsafed, "no good thing withheld;" and we have sung with the apostle, "Having obtained help from God, we continue unto this day?" And shall we now distrust Him when He has condescended to be the Provider and the Steward; and, as I said just now, the Caterer for His people. Can He withhold any good thing from them? They are such a peculiar people, however, that none but God can provide for them. Their wants are so different from the world. Not all the riches and treasures of the world would be sufficient for the heaven-born soul who must have his supplies from above, who can live on nothing inferior to the "bread of life," even the precious Christ sent down from heaven.
Moreover, it is a peculiarity of God's people that they cannot mingle with the Heathen, and so peculiar in their worship that they cannot be satisfied with forms and externals. They must worship God in spirit and in truth. They cannot go to the crucifix and the wafer as if these were gods, and take up with the semi-popery with which dear old England is poisoned. No, they would as soon fly to Paganism, or worship the devil himself as do this. They are so peculiar. I repeat, that they must worship God in spirit and in truth. This is provided. "I will put my Spirit into them," said He, "and they shall live." The Bible, too, is a provision from God. The throne of grace is a provision from God. The fullness of the covenant is a provision from God. Yea, all the means of grace are of His providing, and are specially provided to be such by His putting grace into the means, and causing grace to flow into our souls through those means, and by the use of them. I never read of His feeding the Egyptians with manna, or the Ammonites, or the Moabites. No, Israel was a separate people. I never knew of a worldling who could feed on my precious Christ, or of an unregenerate carnal man who could taste the provisions of the gospel, or eat of the paschal Lamb, and relish the bitter herbs with it. I never heard of a carnal man who could take the sincere milk of the word, pure and unskimmed, or worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and reject all confidence in the flesh. No, there is a distinction, there is a separation between God's peculiar people and all the people on the face of the earth. And it is God's work, "Thou didst separate them." I know the disposition there is in men to unite; and even the children of God think sometimes that is a pity they cannot extend mercy further than God does, that it is sad and sorrowful that they cannot put it into this or that man's heart; and sometimes with a sigh they say as Abraham did, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee!" "Oh, that my son, my child, my husband, my wife, my brother, my friend, might be the recipient of the grace of God!" Nature will at times breathe this, and I will not censure it; but God alters not his plans, and steadily pursues his undisturbed arrangements, concerning Jacob and Esau, setting them apart from each other, loving the one and hating the other.
2.) Let me now invite your attention, in the second place, to the operations of this grace making the separation manifest and plain. The secret purposes of God can never be violated; but they are unknown to us until they are made manifest. "Say not who shall ascend into heaven, to bring Christ down from above," or who shall ascend there to attempt to read the secrets of the book of life. "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart;" and "this is the word of faith which we preach, that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead thou shalt be saved." Here is a manifestation of God's separating work. He had separated them in eternity in the counsels of peace, He had separated them by giving them to Christ for redemption purposes, He had separated them for their inheritance, and their inheritance was secured to them, He had separated them on their journey, and He made ample provision for them amidst all the peculiarities which belonged to his tribes. But now they must be so separated as to be distinct, as to be marked from the world, as to be men wondered at.
And suffer me at the very onset of this part of our subject to remind you that if your religion has nothing in it that attracts worldly attention, there is much reason to fear that it is not worth your possessing. One of the first things that God does in the operation of His grace to make His separate people manifest, is that which He did for Saul of Tarsus; and I will give it you in His own words. "I follow after," says he, "if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." The first thing God did for Saul, then, was to "apprehend " him. The term signifies the laying fast hold of a delinquent, and Paul was just then apprehended. He had robbed God of His glory as long as he could, he had sought to imprison and murder the saints, he had fought against the Lord Jesus Christ, and "breathed out threatenings and slaughter" against his followers; and away he ran from Jerusalem down to Damascus to carry on his diabolical plans and purposes there, in full pursuit of his mad career, as he himself says, "exceeding mad against" the disciples of Christ; as he is pursuing his course an invisible hand lays fast hold of him. He is apprehended. He is called by name that there may be no mistake, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" A mighty grasp has got hold of his conscience. In one moment possession was taken of all the powers of his soul. Not another step could he advance as a persecutor, though he still had the carnal man. The voice of the Son of God changes, transforms, regenerates, renews, makes the man a new creature; and he who had left Jerusalem as a thief with the purpose of robbing God of His glory, and of plundering Damascus of all the valuable jewels that he could find in it, the jewels of Christ's crown, is apprehended just under the walls, is stopped short in his career, his feet are turned in the way of righteousness, and he declared to be a chosen vessel to preach Christ's name to the Gentiles. Now I do not say that every instance of conversion is equally conspicuous, though equally a miracle of Grace. And when people say that the age of miracles has ceased, I do not believe it. There is not one of Christ's posterity, in his natural condition, but is running as far from God as he can, "dead in trespasses and in sins," led captive by the devil at his will, "far off from God by wicked works;" nor will he ever return repentant, nor ever desire to return; he has neither the power nor the inclination to do so, until the mighty, irresistible hand of Omnipotent grace lays fast hold of him, stops him in his career, calls him by his name, brings him to the feet of Jesus Christ, and laying down the weapons of his warfare, puts the cry into his heart, "O Lord, our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over me; but by thee only will I make mention of thy name."
I should like to pause here to give you the opportunity of asking, "Have I been apprehended after this manner? Has an invincible power, a mighty hand laid fast hold of me, to stop me in my career of sin and folly?" Now your's may have been a very mild career, and you may be very amiable in your own circle. It may have been a very moral career, and even a benevolent career, in which you were running, but still a hostile career to Christ. It is, "I will not have this man to reign over me." It is in pursuit of creature applause, and not the honour and glory of Christ. It is a perverse road. It is, according to the Holy Ghost, by Isaiah, that "all we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way" (Isa. 53:6), not one to God's way. Oh, how solemn the statement, "every one to his own way," and none to God's way. What, then, makes a Christian? Omnipotent grace apprehending the soul, Omnipotent grace fastening on the conscience, Omnipotent grace asking no one's leave, but saying, "that is an elect vessel of mercy; come down to my feet;" just as Jesus spoke to Zaccheus, who was separated to bring salvation to his house at the proper day and hour. He had tried, in a certain sense, to separate himself as all Pharisees, and sometimes even Publicans, do. He ran away, and climbed into a sycamore tree that he might see the Saviour; and all men will climb if they can; but the precious Christ comes by, and observes him. This man was an enemy to Him, to morality, and to good works, and a great extortioner; but Jesus, when he espied him, did not say, "If you will repent, and amend your life, Zaccheus, I will forgive you;" or as the Popish priest says, "If you will pay me a large sum of money, I will grant you absolution." No, the command was, "Zaccheus, come down, and make haste about it; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully." Had there been nothing but nature in Zaccheus's heart he would have spurned the Saviour, and rebelled at His command. He would have said,, "I shall not come down at your call. I shall wait my own time, and I don't want to be catechized and exposed by you." But mighty grace went forth with the word. It was an apprehending warrant that seized his conscience, and therefore down he came in haste at Christ's command, and received him into his heart and into his house: and then he did what all should carry out. He made restitution. "I have been a tax-gatherer; I have wronged many by false accusations, and I am now ready to restore to every one four-fold." This ought always to be done. But I merely name this instance to illustrate what I mean by "apprehending;" that the commencement of Christianity in the poor sinner's heart is not his own act or deed, that it is not his minister's act and deed, that it is not the creature's act and deed, but that it is God's own work. "Thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth to be thine inheritance;" and the sinner who flies from Satan's drudgery is the recipient of Divine grace, and made to differ by God Himself that he may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.
We pass on, to remark that the operations of grace are not transient and temporary, but permanent and lasting, for they always proceed to regeneration. Another life is communicated. A life divine is implanted in the soul. Now, do not mistake that blessed word "regeneration," for the common enemies of God and man, the Papist and semi-Papist Puseylites, (and I make no apology for calling them that) have done all in their power to explain away that word "regeneration." I do not suppose that there is a word in our vocabulary which the devil hates more that that, because he knows that it lies at the root and foundation of all personal godliness, and that there is no such thing as Christianity in any man's heart if there be not regeneration. And therefore they endeavour to explain it away to mean renovation, or a little water employed in baptism, which we know to be nothing more than an emblem, though a just and true emblem. Anything that can be substituted for the thing itself, Satan will try to palm upon the ignorance and superstition of mankind. Therefore we will pause a moment to see what regeneration is. It is nothing more nor less than Jehovah the Spirit infusing, imparting, communicating the life of God into the soul of man without man's act or deed, in the most sovereign way accomplished, so that the man who is dead in trespasses and in sins begins to live a new holy life. The man who is estranged from God, and without the capacity to enjoy Him, has powers and faculties bestowed and communicated which enable him to hold fellowship and intercourse with the Most High, in all the personalities of the Deity and all the attributes of the Godhead. This regeneration makes the man manifest, issues in the new birth, brings him forth into a spiritual world, into the Church of the living God, into new enjoyments, celestial, supernatural, and divine, into new employments, to serve God with all his powers and faculties, as he has served Satan with them before; and it brings him into new enjoyments, the spiritual foretaste of heaven and eternal bliss, instead of being carnal, sensual; and serving Satan and divers lusts and passions. This vast change is apparent in all that God separates in the eternal purpose of His love. And having done that, He distinguishes them from the world with new life, with holy principles, with powers, and with faculties to walk with God, and glorify God as they advance through the wilderness. I hope you will never give up this Scriptural sense of the word "regenerate" the imparting of the life of God to the soul of man.
Then, observe that God's separation of His people is made manifest under the operations of His grace by their acceptance. That is a beautiful piece of advice which is given by the wise man, where he says, "Go thy way, and eat thy bread with cheerfulness, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works." That makes the man manifest. He is accepted in his person and in his works. In what is he accepted in his person? I might point you to Abel, and then to his sacrifice, to which God had respect; and I find the apostle enjoining the Church, that they should be to "the praise and the glory of His grace, wherein (His grace) He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." Now, the manifesting of this is by the Spirit of God, when He so far calls His grace into exercise in the regenerate soul that has been apprehended by Omnipotent grace, and brought to the feet of Jesus, as to give him the sweet assurance of his being justified in the righteousness of Jesus, accepted in the merits of Jesus, transformed to the image of Jesus, of being adopted into the family of Jesus, of his having salvation complete in the person and official and perfect work of Jesus. So that the view which the poor soul hath, who is thus turned and regenerate, of his standing in Christ enables him to receive the congratulation of the apostle to the Colossians, "Ye are complete in Him."
And will not such souls be called out of the world, and distinguished from those who do not love God? Is not carnality abhorred by them? If they have sorrows, troubles, difficulties, and enemies to encounter, they trim their lamps, they gird up their loins, and press towards the mark for the prize of their high calling of God in Christ Jesus. They are not pining after worldly vanities and pleasures, or the toys that the worldling pants after and pursues. They are not pining after what they shall eat or what they shall drink, and wherewithal shall they be clothed. No; their affections are set on things above. They learn to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. They "lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." They are apart from the world and its company. They are separated from carnal men. They are disgusted with the practices of those they were formerly accustomed to esteem, and they go to their own company and enjoy fellowship with the saints of God.
Before I proceed to the third particular of my subject, let me beg of you to come to close examination on this point. Let me again ask the question, because I am fully bent upon discrimination of character, if God spares me through the whole of this week. Let me ask, now, what sign, mark, or evidence you have that God has separated you? "Oh," say you, "I dare not presume on covenant transactions; I dare not presume on predestinating purposes." I do not ask you, but will you presume to decide whether you have been apprehended by Almighty grace, and could not get away? Will you presume, if presuming you call it, to decide whether the Lord Jesus has converted your stubborn heart and brought you to His feet? Will you decide whether He, by the mighty power of His arm and the operations of His Spirit, has made you "willing in the day of His power," to accept of salvation as His own gift, and Himself to be received in vital union with Him? Will you presume to decide whether He has taught and enabled you to relinquish all confidence in the flesh, being regenerated with newness of life, a capacity to enjoy God, so as to look for nothing in old Adam nature but sin, pollution, and corruption, and to look for everything in Christ as the Father's gift, constituting the covenant fullness, and securing all that relates to your salvation? Now this will give evidence of God having separated you manifestly; and then if you can come to the other point, and enter into a review of what God has wrought in your soul since He regenerated you, of the way in which He has called His grace into exercise, admitting you into His presence, filling you with a sweet satisfaction that you stand related to the Most High, that He is your Father, and loves you as His child, that you are welcome to ask every thing you need at His hands, satisfied that you are "accepted in the Beloved," and never can come to condemnation if God has brought you to this point of experience, surely you may exult that He has separated you from the world. And if He has separated you from the world, surely you may come to the conclusion that He separated you for His eternal inheritance; and so coupling and linking everything together which God Himself has coupled together in the grand scheme of redemption, you may look forward to the "glory that shall be revealed," for God has separated you to be His inheritance.
3.) This brings me to make a few remarks upon the last particular of my text. "Thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth to be thine inheritance." A wonderful phrase, marking wonderful condescension: "to be thine inheritance." What! has not God a sufficient inheritance without a parcel of poor sinners, the worms of the earth, when the heavens have been the Lord's from eternity, and all Divine perfections His own, all the myriads of created angels his own, and fly at His bidding, all the attributes of Deity His own, all world's His own, the "cattle upon a thousand hills His own?" Is not this inheritance enough but He must have a "multitude which no man can number" of poor, wretched, ruined, depraved, lost sons and daughters of Adam, and claim them for His own inheritance, and cultivate them for His own use? Oh, wondrous condescension! I remember, some years back, when I was much younger in the Divine life and experience, as well as in years, that I used to stand amazed at that one passage of the apostle's writings, and thought it must, in someway, be paraphrased, in order to understand it "That we should know the exceeding riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." I used to think, in my early days that if it had been written that we should know the exceeding riches of the glory of the saints' inheritance in Him I could have understood it; but when I came to look at it as it stands in the precious book of God, I wondered, until God opened my eyes to see it, what it could possibly mean. Now I see that the Lord hath set apart His people from among all the people of the earth to be His inheritance; and this inheritance in the saints is exceedingly rich and glorious, because He makes it so. He takes them up from the ruins of the fall as His jewels. He arranges, qualifies, appoints, and calls them all for His own use. Just as a man would go to some wild waste or desert, and separate a portion of it for his own inheritance. He fences it round. He builds his habitation upon it. He cultivates every spot, and provides himself with the best seeds and plants that he can get, that he may make it in all points fit for his residence. So with God and the election of grace. He fixes on the whole number. He separates them from among the sons of men. He calls them by His grace. He sets a hedge around him, as John says, with His own hand. It must be God's inheritance, and therefore He makes it fit for him to dwell in, even in this poor dying state. "This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it, saith the Lord." "Know ye not that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost that dwelleth with you?" Know ye not that the mystery now made manifest is Christ in you? Have you not read that the Father of mercies hath sworn, "I will dwell in them, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God?" This constitutes the dignity of the Church on earth; Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, taking up an abode in the midst of His people. You will recollect how beautiful this was typified under the Mosaic economy, when injunctions were given so strictly, and repeated so often, that there should be no uncleanness in the camp, and every possible precaution was taken, and every direction and command was given that all things should be pure, because "the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy; that He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee." And may I say to the Christian Churches, See that all is clean; see that the corruptions of the world are absent, rejected, and destroyed amongst you. The Lord thy God dwelleth in the midst of thee. The Lord thy God walketh in the camp of Israel. The Lord thy God hath chosen the living Church for His inheritance. Here He fixes His throne. Here He spreads a "feast of fat things," and rules and governs according to His infinite wisdom and everlasting sovereignty. Talk they about believers falling from a state of grace, of their being lost, and of Satan plucking them out of the hands of Christ. Why, they have forgotten that it is God's own inheritance. Let me use a familiar simile here. If any of you should have taken very great pains in the selection, the enclosure, the planting, and the cultivation of an inheritance to dwell in, and had comfortably taken up your abode therein, I wonder if you would allow thieves to come in the night and pluck and destroy the choicest fruit trees you had planted, if you could avoid it. Why, there is not a man upon earth who would allow it; or, if he allowed it, it would be only because he did not know of it, or had not the power to prevent it. Now, according to the Arminian system, this may be done in the garden of the Lord. But if so, then He can be no longer God. Is He a God? Then His will is immutable. Is He a God? Then His power is omnipotent, and not all the powers of darkness, or their agents on earth, shall ever pluck one vessel of mercy from Christ's hands, or one tree of righteousness out of His garden and His inheritance. They shall stand, and grow, and thrive, and bring forth fruit eternally, to the glory of His name. Just mark, further, that His inheritance is not only God's dwelling, where He manifests Himself, and holds communion, and imparts special blessings, dispenses royal favours, and takes special care of His own, but eternity shall witness the people of the Most High dwelling with Him, and glorified with Him. I have more than once said, that I conceive the main difference between my present and my eternal state to be just simply this: Whilst I am here my God comes down and dwells with me, and when I go home I shall go up to dwell with Him. His presence makes my heaven now, and it will constitute my heaven to all eternity. Oh, amazing bliss! May you, and I, and may the weakest, most helpless, most ignorant, and stumbling child of God, that is able to grasp the promise as his own, draw this conclusion: God apprehended me to take me home to glory. God apprehended me to regenerate me. And He regenerated me to make me capable of enjoying Himself. And having regenerated me, and brought me to the knowledge and enjoyment of acceptance with Him, "now my Beloved is mine, and I am His;" ere long I shall be with Him, be like Him, and see Him as He is. Ere long His own declaration shall be carried out and published, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." Ere long I expect Him to give His commission to the pale messenger, "Fetch home that child of mine redeemed with precious blood, fetch home that heir of bliss renewed by God the Holy Ghost, fetch home that jewel for my crown. I will have it, wear it, love it unto eternity; fetch home that soldier of the cross; he has fought and conquered, and now shall reign with me in bliss unknown on high; fetch home that gift my Father has bestowed; dear to my heart, more dear to my heart than all the blood I have shed. I will have him to sit with me on my throne."
And shall a soul, with such a prospect in view, unite with the world? Shall a soul, expecting such glory, stoop to beggarly elements? Shall a soul, that is on the "tip-toe of expectation," if I may so speak, to be glorified with Christ, grovel in time, as if the miser's portion were good enough for him, whereas it is but "sordid dust," a cumbrous load of clay? May God raise our affections above.
And may He command a blessing on these few hints, and His dear and precious name shall have all the praise. Amen