by JOSEPH IRONS
Preached at Bury Street, Thursday Evening, August 14th, 1828
Can anything be more blessed to God's people than the assurance of the everlasting relationship existing between Himself and them? This everlasting relationship is a sheet anchor to the soul, which you must use if you get into a storm, or be wrecked upon the rocks of doubt and uncertainty. This everlasting relationship is a hiding-place, refuge, and defence in this desert, dreary, weary land; a safe retreat, where the soul may obtain repose, satisfaction, rest, peace, serenity, tranquillity, in trying moments. I wonder not at the souls of Christians being overwhelmed and wrecked in the stormy voyage, who shall, nevertheless, get safe to glory.
Wherever the man is found who can really and experimentally use the language of my text, who lives in enjoyment of that relationship, then let the waves beat against his ship, let the surges rise, let the winds blow, let the man be the victim of suffering and sorrow, and all that is adverse and disastrous, he shall not be wrecked; his rigging, cordage, sails, and masts may all be driven away, and nothing but the bare hull be left, yet his is a secure Christianity. Jesus is with him, manifesting His covenant love and faithfulness; and because of this covenant love and faithfulness, nothing can untwist or break, or cut, or in any manner divide this threefold cord of Divine relationship; it ever remains unbroken, immoveable, and secure. When all else fails, when every other anchor is lost and every cable snapped by the violence of the gales, this everlasting relationship will bear up, this covenant union will hold fast the soul of the tempest-tossed, weather-beaten Christian.
I have been sailing with Paul when neither sun, nor moon, nor stars, have appeared for days together. A tempest is always dismal under any circumstances; but darkness adds to the terrors of the sea. I have looked at Paul's shipwreck with peculiar interest; their tackling and wares were thrown overboard; they were driven up and down in unknown seas, not knowing where they were tossed. On a sudden, the Lord appears to Paul, saying, "Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar, and lo! I have given thee all them that sail with thee." There shall be no loss of life; every one shall come safe to the land. How sweet it is to see, to embrace, to know, to feel a promise like this. Whilst storms assail us, and clouds, and fogs, and darkness shut us in, to be enabled to trust and confide in our Pilot, and sing with the poet,
"I'll sail to heaven with thee and thine."
To say that eternal relationship leads to licentiousness, and induces a disregard to all moral and social duties, is the same as to say, that to bring any individual into the clear, bright light of the sun will cause a pebble to become a stumbling-block unto him. Here is a threefold assertion of relationship in my text, which relationship now is but rarely known, little understood, still less enjoyed, appreciated, and claimed; and often reviled, slandered, and trampled under foot. Thus the infinite, the greatest act of condescension and mercy on the part of God is despised, slighted, and neglected by the creatures of a day. Yet without receiving this relationship, enjoying, appropriating, embracing it, there is but little joy, little peace, little done for the honour of God, little comfort, no settled assurance or abiding tranquillity. Now this relationship arises from the paternal, sovereign, electing love of God, of which we were not the seekers nor the finders. We never merited, earned, or deserved it; we had no right to look for it, or expect it. In our natural state we were of the wild olive, unregenerate, dead in trespasses and sins; children of wrath, even as others, belonging to a dead stock, without God or Christ, or hope in the world. Yet, even then, this relationship existed; yet, even then, our names were written in the book of life, written there as Jehovah's own chosen people. He claims all the Church. Jesus bears all our names on His breast, and has them graven on the palms of His hands. Oh, why all this mercy to ruined worms? Oh, why all this love to wicked sinners? It is because He has loved us. As one of the poets says,
"My Jesus has loved loved me, I cannot tell why."
But, now, notice the nature of this relationship. It is a relationship of a Father, a Brother, a Comforter, a Guide, a Preceptor. It is a relationship of King and subject, Parent and child, Husband and wife, Friend and friend. The great Jehovah shines forth as belonging to His people by every right, and tie, and claim, which can possibly exist; in every endearing bond, connection, and affinity, which is known in this world, or the world to come. There never was a period in which Jehovah was not the Father, Preceptor, Quickener, Sovereign, Husband of His Church; and He will never abandon this relationship, deny its claims, burst its bonds, forget its ties, or be insensible to its calls. It is asserted three times over in my text; thus reminding us of the three distinct personalities in the Godhead. Jehovah the Father, the Origin, the great First cause, says, "I am thy God."
When redemption is spoken of it points to God the Son, saying, "I brought thee out of the land of Egypt to be thy God." It is seen, applied, communicated, witnessed by God the Holy Spirit, saying, in the concluding words, "I am the Lord your God." Thus God, in His Trinity of Persons, is the portion, the inheritance, the everlasting all of His saints. The Lord Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, is my portion, saith my soul. This relationship brings all the Persons and perfections of Deity into covenant compact, covenant engagement, and covenant responsibilities for His Church. All the Persons and perfections of the eternal Jehovah are adored by and in the Church; are engaged for the Church; are employed in the redemption, and salvation of the Church; and are all honoured and glorified by bringing home the Church to eternal bliss. Here is solid ground for our highest hopes, our most exalted joys, our most triumphant expectations; here is a firm foundation for our peace; here is an immovable basis for our confidence and assurance; here is a refuge, a hiding-place, a covert, a rock, a defence, a strong tower, a shield, a buckler, a shelter, a protection, into which we may flee in all circumstances, and be safe. All the perfections of Deity are made over to His Church for their enjoyment here, as well as for their final salvation hereafter; for their present as well as their endless happiness. All the attributes of God are a source of delight to His people now in preserving them from sin, and sensuality, and defilement here, as well as in saving them from death, and condemnation, and hell hereafter. Observe, that I do not say, that all or any of the perfections of Deity are entrusted to mortal; not a human being is invested with one of them; but there is not a perfection that is not employed in effecting my soul's salvation. There is not a single perfection that is communicable to me, but all and every perfection will be violated and dishonoured, tarnished and sullied, disgraced and degraded, if one elect soul, one chosen sinner, one redeemed blood-bought descendant of Adam was to perish. Not one perfection of Deity can be exercised by an elect soul, either in earth or heaven; but for them His justice, love, mercy, truth, holiness, faithfulness, infinitude, are engaged in covenant compact, by them they are all to be enjoyed, and with them they are all to become intimately acquainted by the leadings and teachings of His grace.
Beloved, there is such a thing as enjoying the perfections of Deity, and, as it were, feasting on the fullness of the Godhead. Have you never rejoiced and triumphed in the fact, that Divine inflexible justice was as much on your side, and as much demanded your salvation as mercy desired it or grace determined it? That the immutability of God is your security as much as the long-suffering of God? Have you never taken hold of, appropriated, and felt satisfied that the love of God, the sovereign, free, eternal love of God, was fixed on you in the Person of Christ before the foundation of the world, and that this love cannot vary or decline, cannot wax or wane, cannot rise or set, but remains in the full, and in one high noon for ever? Has not the truth and faithfulness of God constituted the sum and substance of your hope, trust, and dependence? Thus, amidst all his failings, departures, wanderings, and backslidings, thus the believer enjoys the fact, and feasts, and triumphs, and rejoices in it; that God Himself, in all His Persons, attributes, and perfections, is pledged on his behalf, and engaged to bring him home to glory. This knowledge and assurance of this Divine relationship is of infinite importance when the soul is brought into deep waters, hot fires, and distressing circumstances. Then there is no other firm ground, no sure refuge, no quiet resting-place, but this Divine relationship. All else is falling, frail, and mutable; all beside is treacherous, deceitful, and fallible. Overtures, offers, proposals, terms, conditions of salvation, are all in vain; ifs, buts, peradventures, are so many earthquakes, shaking our shattered hope to its foundation, are so many billows driving our souls out into the open sea of doubt and uncertainty. In these circumstances the mind requires some stronghold to which it may retreat, some sheet anchor which may hold it fast, when wave comes rolling upon wave, and sorrow accumulating upon sorrow, and persecution, unkindness, falsehood, deceit, and trial, come fast and thick upon it. Then the mind wants Divine faithfulness and Divine relationship to lean upon, to rest in, to retire to; then the mind wants mercy and truth to make me free, and justice to step forward for my defence and support. It is in this sense He is the God of His people. All that is requisite for salvation, for present bliss, and for the consummation of eternal enjoyment, for the creation of anticipations now, and for the realization of eternal glory hereafter, is included in this, "I am the Lord thy God." I expect no other heaven than the full enjoyment of my text; of Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, revealed, unveiled, opened to my view, my soul being made capable of being filled with all the fullness of God.
The deliverance effected as a proof of this relationship. The proof is that He brought His people out of Egypt. "Oh!" says one doubting, timid soul, "but I do not belong to Him. I do not think the Lord speaks to me." Well, I do not wish you to claim it. I do not desire you to make the assertion, unless God has brought you from Egypt. But mock not His love, deny not His grace, insult not His Spirit by questioning the relationship if He has delivered you, if He has rescued you from the bondage of sin, Satan, and self, the world, the flesh, and the devil, a set of hard Egyptian task-masters, it is only because He is the Lord your God, and He has delivered you on purpose to be your God, manifestly, openly, and avowedly. He did not deliver His people from the land of Egypt till they had been there a long time, estranged many years from the knowledge, worship, and love of God, enslaved by their enemies, their lives made bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field, and all their service wherein they made them serve, was with rigor. So are God's children for years bound with transgressions and sins, and esteeming their fetters to be ornaments, chained with iniquities and lusts, and hugging their chain, servants of corruption, fancying themselves at liberty, and their own masters, in darkness, and loving that darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil, in slavery more degrading than that of Egypt, in captivity more galling than that of Pharaoh, seeking death in the error of their ways, involved in gloominess that might be felt, doing the drudgery of the prince of darkness, and liking it, well contented with their wages of sin, pleasures for a short and uncertain season, degraded, filthy, vile, far from God, making bricks without straw, that is, seeking for happiness without materials to compose it.
Has grace brought you out of this bondage? Has it delivered you from your old task-masters? You feel, that you cannot go a brick-making now as you used to do, that you cannot go now among the devil's slaves as your formerly did, that you cannot run with them to the same excess of riot as in the time past of your lives, when you walked in the flesh to the lusts of men. Now, you doubting souls, that are always disputing God's work, you timid souls, that are always scrupling your interest in Christ, go along with the devil's brick-makers to the theatre, or the card-table, or those open air scenes of riot, a disgrace to a Pagan country, which we shall have at Camberwell by-and-bye; go with the devil's servants, to seek the honours, the fame, the renown of the world. No, you feel you cannot make one brick of happiness from them all; they are not substantial; not one brick of solid satisfaction can you compose out of them all, you discard them all, and you gladly shake off the dust of the brick-kiln; and yet, with all this, you deny that God did anything for you. What base ingratitude! if God had not brought you out, you would still be very well pleased with Pharaoh's orders; you would be walking after you former lusts, you would not be anxious about the God of Israel, nor concerned for His honour, you would be careless about the land of Israel, having no regard for this Divine relationship, no desire to be numbered in the family of God's saints. Now, go and make bricks again. "No," say you, "I cannot bear brick-making, I hate my former task-masters, I loathe the flesh-pots of Egypt, I love Abraham's name, and if I thought I was a child of Abraham's I should rejoice with joy unspeakable." My brother, do you wish for Abraham's promises, do you desire Abraham's privileges, do you desire a little of the milk and honey of Abraham's land, have you a taste and a relish for a few of the first ripe grapes of Eshcol, what, all this, and not brought out? what, all this, and you dare to say that God has done nothing for you? it is telling a falsehood, it is asserting an untruth. He has brought you out manifestly with a high hand and an outstretched arm. He has brought you out by His own sovereign irresistible hand, without asking your leave, or consulting your caprice. So by His own power He rescues the sinner from the love and practice of sin. Conversion is wholly the Lord's work, His own arm brought salvation. His discriminating grace, His distinguishing love, singled you out, fixed upon you, and passed by others as good, nay, perhaps in moral rectitude and propriety of conduct surpassing yourself, made you a son, and left some in the same household, a child, a parent, a brother, a sister, a father, a mother, a wife, a husband, a friend, members of the same family, left them in slavery and in bondage, why were you made to differ? Why were you brought out? My brother, it is the Lord's work; unless He brings His people out, they never come out, never, till God makes bare His arm. Doubt is the cradle of Arminianism.
Now this deliverance confirms the relationship, and confers a Divine dignity upon you. The man that is renewed and delivered is no longer a slave, but the Lord's free man, he is made a new creature in Christ Jesus; and in the very change of heart and life which he then experiences, we see God confirming this eternal relationship. But, remember, it did not begin when you were converted, and called, and brought out, any more than the relationship of God to Israel began, when they were brought out of Egypt. That relation commenced in the covenant engagements, in the oath and promise of God to Abraham 430 years before; but the relationship existing between God and my soul commenced more than 430 years ago in the everlasting covenant made with the covenant Head, when Jesus undertook the responsibility of His Church; and the deliverance effected in a man's soul is a confirmation of this blessed fact, in his own personal individual experience. It is your privilege, if God has brought you out, to say, "My God, and my Lord." May God give you grace to use and claim it. The fact that God gives us liberty to claim Him as our God, that He gives His people power to lay all their wants before Him, that He allows them fellowship, communion, intimacy with Himself, are so many confirmations of His love, so many proofs that they are His, so many evidences of the existence of this relationship; and by these we are carried back to the consideration of its antiquity, and to inquire the reason why he brought us out. It was, beloved, because He loved us, and set His heart and affections upon our person; and therefore He wrote our names in the Lamb's Book of Life, and covenanted and engaged in solemn compact to bring us to glory. Now observe the dignity conferred by this relationship, observe the dignity of the Christian. Let the world degrade Him, despise him, revile him, it shall be an honour "This honour have all His saints." It is part of our dignity; not the dignity of humanity, nor of our persons as men, but a dignity of Christianity, the life of God in the soul; not the dignity of nature, but of the Divine nature which is bestowed upon us. "As Peter says, "We are made partakers of the Divine nature." Every child of God, as a child of God, is an heir of God, not merely of blessings by God, and a joint-heir with Christ. They are made kings and priests, to reign for ever and ever, separated from the world, educated for court, admitted to intercourse with the King, keeping company with the Sovereign, receiving marks of Divine favour from the throne, wearing His robe of Christ's righteousness, receiving communications from His fullness, adorned as a Bride, walking with God, having their conversation in heaven, maintaining habitual correspondence with heaven, participating day by day in blessings fresh from heaven. Their hope, portion, treasure, wealth, riches, happiness, are not beneath the skies, their father, brother, teacher, kindred, friends, mansion, glory, crown, harp, are all in heaven; and yet, though we are the children of a King, though we are thus divinely related, we are so earthy, and so cling to the things of time, that we grudge those who have got a few steps before us, so that, if we could, we would wish them back again.
Beloved, the claim of God is upon us, for devotedness to His glory and activity in His cause. He has brought you out for His own use; and, since He has done so much for you, He has a right to all the ardour of your spirit, all the activity of your life, all the affections of your soul. Remember, you are not your own, but bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body and spirit, which are His. (1 Cor. 6:20) Remember, you are not your own; and therefore, whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Thus God proclaims His will "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise." (Isa. 43:21) If God has brought you out, He has brought you out for Himself; if He has taught you to aspire, He has a right to the aspirations of your better part.
Numbers put these things in the wrong place; and they who talk loudest upon moral duties, right doings, and good works, are most lazy; and this perversion of things is the reason why nothing is done. They put as a cause and ground that which is a result and effect. Suppose a wagon heavily laden; you take the horses out, and put them behind the wagon; no work is done, no progress is made. So you may urge the sinner to do, to work, to labour, to toil, so you may exhort him to strive, to contend, till doom's-day, to obtain the favour of God; but nothing is done for the honour of God, for he is lazy as sin and the devil can make him. But let the man know that Jehovah is his God, that all the Persons and perfections of Deity are on his side, let him be brought out to enjoy fellowship with God, and be made acquainted with this relationship, and this, and this alone, will make him exclaim, "What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits towards me?" This, and this alone, will make him zealous and solicitous how he can most serve God, glorify His name, extend the triumphs of the cross, and advance the Redeemer's kingdom. This is most on his mind, this is his anxiety; and nothing is a greater cause of sorrow and regret than the lamentable want of more ardour, more love, more likeness to God, more ability to live above the world in the enjoyment of Jehovah's smiles. Thank God, the want of this cannot ruin me. Divine relationship is my security; it cannot be broken, it shall not be denied. But I would not dishonour this relationship; I would not be a discredit to my Father, a reproach to my Elder Brother, a disgrace to my Preceptor. I want to be habitually active, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
Oh! what ties bind us to devotedness to His name, ties of blood, ties of love, ties of grace. As a King, He created me His subject; as a Deliverer, He brought me to liberty; as my God, He allied me to Himself in everlasting relationship. And if all these ties fail to produce the effect of consecration of heart, and soul, and life to Him, I have one more tie left, namely, the constraint of love. I feel at liberty to question the love of that man to Jesus, who is not constrained to honour Him, and advance His cause according to the utmost of his power, who does not exemplify brotherly love in deed and truth. If your love to Jesus be not active, operative, constraining love, suspect it to be spurious. If your conduct display no marks of affection towards Jesus, where is your love towards Him? My brethren, do your secret cries mark how you thirst and groan for the progress of His kingdom and the welfare of His people? Do you look and pray for this? How often do you bear His ambassadors upon your hearts? Are you zealous in attendance on the means of grace, longing to meet with the King, not as a stranger, but as a child? What says your life with regard to your love to Jesus? Does it exhibit His likeness, and display any resemblance in Him? What says your book-keeping, your counter, your customers, your employers, your masters, your servants? Do all these tell that you are a Christian? Are your spirit, conduct, deportment, daily walk, conversation, such as become the gospel of Christ, such as befit the Christian character, such as adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things? Let them call you an Antinomian, or a Calvinist, or any other ugly name, if they will, on account of your likeness to Christ. I look for fruit where I see trees. What fruits do you bear to the glory of God?