Seeking Souls Directed
by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Sunday Morning, Jan. 26th 1851
This verse is in perfect accordance with a remark we are frequently called to make, that all the invitations and exhortations of the precious word of God for spiritual blessings are accompanied with a description of character. It is in my opinion one of the most perverse violations of the spirit of the Scriptures to attempt to deliver their truths, however clearly stated, in an indiscriminate manner, as if they belonged to all hearers or none, as might occur perchance; and thus to run counter to the Lord's express direction, "Give not that which is holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine." (Matt. 7:6) Description of character is essential to the faithful preaching of the gospel. Without this, how can a minister be a good steward, dividing to every one his portion in due season? I suppose a good steward in a large establishment would divide his different portions to different parties. The master's table would perhaps be differently supplied, at any rate, first supplied, and then the servants in their different grades, where there are many; and if there should be any of the brute creation in the house, of course a different portion would be allotted to them. Now if I were to preach the truths of the everlasting gospel in a vague manner, as is generally done, giving you no clue whereby you might judge of your personal interest therein, I should be guilty of treachery to you and high treason to God. I will not, God helping me, be guilty of either; and therefore, if I am not to give that which is holy to dogs, nor take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs, I must mark the children as distinct from the dogs.
On this principle, I view the verse I have read. "Hearken to me." "Ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord." They are the persons described. And what are we to listen to? "Hearken to me." Verily there is good advice and most interesting exhortation to such persons. They are not only to listen to the voice of Christ, and the voice of His Spirit in His word, and the voice of His prophet moved by inspiration, but also to the voice of the ministers of His own sending. What is the exhortation? "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged." Figurative language we grant, and we shall endeavour to enter a little into the Spirit's meaning, as we pass on. Only be it observed that the worshippers thus described are presented to our view to be addressed in peculiar phraseology in every part of Scripture. When our blessed Lord drew His disciples about Him He says, "Ye are the children of your Father which is in heaven." When He addressed the Pharisees and the profane multitude around Him, He says, "Ye are of your father the devil." (John 8:44) They both had fathers; they were two families perfectly distinct. And who is to reply, if God says He loves Jacob and hates Esau? (Rom. 9:13) Who is to call Jehovah to account, unless he be Arminian enough to be God himself, and drag God from His throne? I look all through the Bible, and find this to be a prominent leading characteristic. There is a prominent line of demarcation drawn by the Holy Ghost between the Church and the world, and it is as unpassable as the gulf between heaven and hell; so that those who would pass cannot, and those who could pass are forbidden. I do not care how harsh this statement appears to carnal minds, it is the marrow of the gospel; and I shall keep to it as long as I am permitted to speak in God's name.
Now with this principle distinctly in view, I would invite your attention to two prominent features in the text. The first is the worshippers described; the second the exhortation addressed to them. It is of vast importance that we should understand character. As regards natural character, we can read it in some men's countenances; but with regard to Christian character, we must come to the word of God. We must hold up this mirror, and find out who those persons are that are described in my text; and I beg the Holy Ghost to give you a spirit of self-examination, that you may not make a mistake in this matter, nor that you may be suffered to halt between two opinions, but that you may come to the decision whether the Lord is your God, or no.
I. In the first place, we shall remark that these characters who follow after and seek after must be spiritually alive. It would be strange to talk of a corpse in a churchyard following after or seeking any favours at our hands. As strange would it be to talk of a post in the street following after us, and pursuing us for the same purpose. Why so? Because it is dead. My Bible tells me the whole posterity of Adam as they come into this world, are dead in trespasses and sins, without God, and without hope in this world. (Eph. 2:1,12) If, then, you bring to my view some seekers whom we shall presently have to describe, and some who are following after an object worth attaining, I should pronounce at once that they must be spiritually alive by quickening grace: that they really must be sensible that they want the things they follow and seek after; that they are stirring and active in the pursuit; that they are sincere before God. "Then shall they find me when they seek me with their whole hearts sincerely." Think for a moment what it is for a child of Adam to be sensible of his real state. He never is till quickening grace makes him alive, and therefore I would address the feeblest, the weakest, the most tempted, the most tried of my hearers this morning upon whom Satan may be let loose with his fiery darts, and say, "If you really are sensible of your state as a sinner, sensible of your being amenable to a law which you cannot fulfil, sensible of its spirituality and extent, and that its curse has reached you; and sensible of the fact that, by the deeds of the law, no flesh shall be justified; I tell you that you are the persons of whom my text speaks, and that every comfort and consolation of the gospel are proclaimed to you; and I pray God to enable you to take them." It is remarkable that the souls of the Lord's family in their first awakenings, their first beginnings to cry for mercy, in their first anxiety about their souls, in their first convictions about the law, its spirituality, and its extent, call all in question, as if it were not the work of God. Why, my hearers, there is not a child of Adam under heaven, who knows and feels these things, that is not under the quickening operation of the Holy Ghost, I am as sure of this as I am of my own existence, when the man is made conscious of what he is as a sinner in the sight of God, that there is something wanting which he cannot lay his hand upon, something of which he has not in his possession, and therefore he is set to follow after, to pursue it, to seek it.
Well, then, there is a stirring in the living persons that begins to render them somewhat conspicuous. I was a little pleased in my meditations yesterday with that word "stirring." People talk about a stirring ministry, that stirs up every power and faculty of the soul of the person that hears the discourse. Verily we want a stirring ministry in these days, for the greater part of the professors sink into such a Laodicean spirit that they want something to stir them. Now when the Holy Ghost commences His work, there is a stirring in the soul that nothing can still, or silence, or quench, or quell, a stirring of alarm, or anxiety, of activity, of inquiry, a stirring in reading, aye, and a stirring in prayer, too; so that, although the prayers themselves may be almost wordless, or so incoherent that the poor sinner is ashamed of them when he has uttered them, there is a stirring, a longing, and a desire after God. These are the persons my text addresses. You never knew anything like a dead man stirring. If you were to look into the coffin of a relative or friend, and he were to stir, you would say that he was alive, or else he would not stir. My hearers, believe me wherever there is the stirring enquiry, there is life Divine.
Well, then, there must be sincerity, according to the text I have before cited, "then shall ye find me, when ye seek me with your whole heart." Oh, the vast importance of these two words of the apostle, "simplicity and godly sincerity." The man has not put on his religion as a mask, because he thinks it will serve his turn for secular or temporal purposes, but he is sincere before God, sincere in his application to the throne; and he is so sincere about himself, that he dare not say anything of himself but, "Lord, I am vile," and he is obliged to cry, "Unclean, unclean," before God; and he is so sincere relative to the things of God, that he ceases to seek for the righteousness he needs by the deeds of the law, so sincere, that he tells the worst of his own case, even to a fellow Christian that may enquire of him, and so sincere (now conscience speaks) that he wishes the minister to probe him to his very heart, and turn out the worst of his state to his view. Oh, the importance of this sincerity before God! These are the persons in the first part of their description.
Now we will go on to notice their eager following after righteousness. Now, beloved, if you would follow after righteousness, let me give you a few descriptions of what sort of righteousness it must be, or else it will not satisfy you nor me. It must be a righteousness that will justify without a flaw, that will sanctify without a spot, that will glorify without the possibility of failure, a righteousness both imputed and imparted, or you will never be the better for ita righteousness imperishable, that shall wear out the world, outlive dying old time, and last to all eternity in the presence of God.
It must be a righteousness that will justify. I am sure, that if I had all the righteousness that the Pharisees in our Lord's day presumed to claim as their own, it would not justify me, because He said to His disciples, in their presence, "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in nowise enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:20) Now the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was held in those days in such high repute, that it had become proverbial, and it was thought that very few of the human race would get to heaven besides. But our Lord cuts this down by saying, "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in nowise enter into the kingdom of heaven." Then it follows that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees will not justify. "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight." (Rom. 3:20) It must be a perfect righteousness a righteousness that God can find no fault with, a righteousness quite sinless, a righteousness which presents a perfect obedience to the holy law, in every department of it, in thought, word, and deed, a righteousness which presents entire satisfaction to all the attributes of Deity. Where can it be found? "Not having mine own righteousness," said Paul, "which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Phil. 3:9) I would that none of my hearers should longer be ignorant of the righteousness of God, or go about to establish their own, but be brought to submit to the righteousness of Christ. Now this the quickened and alarmed soul I have been attempting to describe follows after; and when he discovers the matter of fact, as regards theory, he will never give up his pursuit till he puts it on and wears it, till he has wrapped it about him and gone to court in it, to plead the perfect righteousness of the Son of God.
Moreover, it must be a righteousness that will sanctify. The righteousness of the creature never does. People talk about sanctification in a very vague sense, and some have got a very neat, cant phrase they employ, "progressive sanctification." I have asked some of them what they mean by it, and they could not tell me. If men cannot tell me the meaning of their own phrases, I am sure I cannot understand them. But when I speak of a righteousness which will sanctify, it cannot be creature-righteousness, for that will puff up with pride. No righteousness will sanctify but that which will justify; and when the imputed righteousness of Christ is received and embraced by faith for our entire justification before God, its holy influence and heavenly unction accompanying the certain possession of it, will make the sinner hate sin with a perfect hatred, and love holiness, and pant after it. That is a sanctifying righteousness.
Then, again, it must be a righteousness that will glorify, a righteousness that will go within the veil, and appear with boldness and confidence, a righteousness that shall cover me completely, and adorn me thoroughly in the presence of a heart-searching God. Believe me, beloved, there is not a child of Adam before the throne of God dressed in creature rags, or clad with anything of his own performance. All who are there employed with their golden harps, are clad in the righteousness of the Son of God, which is "unto all and upon all them that believe."
Just mark, further, that this is imputed to them, placed to their account. A holy, a sacred exchange has been made. Their guilt, their sins, their transgressions, all imputed to their glorious Surety and Substitute His merit, His obedience, His righteousness, wrought out by Himself, placed to their account, as though they themselves had wrought it, as perfect and completes, in transferred to the sinner's Surety and covenant Head, righteousness transferred or imputed unto the sinner that has none of his own. I think I hear some one beginning to exclaim, How may I know that the righteousness of the Son of God is imputed to me? Can you tell me? Yes, I can, if you can answer a question or two. The Lord Jesus Christ never communicates His righteousness to any poor sinner without stripping him, without washing him, without transforming him. Has He done this to you? If He has, I can tell you that His righteousness is imputed to you. But I am not to content myself with this imputation alone; I must have it imparted. I know that I differ here from some folks, but that does not cost me the least concern. I learn my divinity from heaven, I get it from God, and I believe in the personal instruction and teaching of the Holy Ghost, and I would not give a straw for any part of theology that I do not get from God. I come to His precious word, and ask Him to explain it; and I come to this conclusion, that the precious righteousness of Jesus Christ is imparted as well as imputed, that the soul who receives it for justification and acceptance is ardently concerned to wear it before men, and angels, and devils, that the mind of Christ, the graces of the Spirit, the life of God in the soul, the new nature, the new creation, may be paramount, and rule over and subdue, mortify, crucify, put off, and keep under the old man and his deeds, being strengthened by the Spirit with might in the inner man, to go on with these victories and with this progress.
One word more about this righteousness we are to pursue (and those who are quickened by God's grace will pursue it) it is imperishable. For the confirmation of this I have only to refer to the 7th and 8th verses, and part of the 6th verse of the chapter before us. "My salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation." Who shall contradict God's words, repeated thus close together, as if once were not sufficient? You will find the apostle also dwelling largely upon this in his epistle to the Romans, and I cannot do better than refer you to poor, neglected Priscilla, to see what the Holy Ghost has written concerning it, and what He has instructed me to write.
Follow on to the next description of character: "Ye that seek the Lord." Ay, but, say some poor-doubting souls, we have been trying to seek the Lord for some time, and we are afraid we do not seek Him in the right way. Perhaps not; let us define it, that you may know. In the same epistle to the Romans the apostle speaks of some who did not seek righteousness in the right way, and of other who did. "What shall we say, then?" he says, "That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness (in the manner I have been describing) have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith." (Rom. 9:30) Mark that. "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness", "be particular in your attention to this; the Gentiles did not follow after it at all, they were given up to heathenism", But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness." (Rom. 9:31) The apostle then asks the question, which it would be very natural for any of us to ask. "Wherefore?" How is it that those who did seek it lost it? "Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone." (Rom. 9:32) Now surely it cannot be difficult for the most doubting soul here, that trembling child of God whom the devil is harassing to the greatest degree about whether he is seeking right or not, to say, "Am I seeking after righteousness and salvation by the deeds of the law, or by faith in Jesus Christ?" Surely every child of God, however feeble, must be ready at once to say, "I am fully convinced that no doings of mine can by any possibility justify, that it is utterly hopeless to seek after righteousness or salvation by the deeds of the law." Well, then, are you seeking it by faith? The poor soul says again, "I do not know whether I have any faith?" Now put it to the test. Do you credit what is said of the Christ of God, and His perfect righteousness? Do you long after it? Do you ask for it? I will not ask you whether you can claim it, blessed be God I can, and I hope you will by-and-bye, but if you can credit what the Lord says about the righteousness of Christ, and can ask it of God as a free gift, I tell you, you shall receive it, for God is faithful who has given you this earnest desire after it. We want you to seek God after this method; and the seekers must be described as those who are seeking the exercise of living faith. Poor trembling souls may be very apt to say, "I know very well that the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ is perfectly suitable for the justification of all the election of grace, but I want to possess it, I want to know it is mine." And so you shall. "I know that this statement is true, that we are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, but I want to possess the joy of it." Wait God's time, and you shall have it. These are the seekers that seek by faith. You do not expect to be justified, and accepted, and saved because you are somewhat better than others as regards your morality; but if you belong to the class of persons I am describing, you will be brought at once to the acknowledgment of Paul, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief;" (1 Tim. 1:15) and you are made willing to be saved in the very way that the thief upon the cross was saved, the very way that Mary Magdalene was saved, the very way that Peter and Manasseh were saved, by Jehovah's rich, and free, and sovereign grace. Just mark a few characteristics of these seekers of the Lord.
Observe, first, that they seek him privately. They get opportunities of retiring alone, attending to the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut thy door about thee, and pray to thy Father which seeth in secret, and He shall reward thee openly." (Matt. 6:6) And who can describe (I am sure I cannot) the sweetness and preciousness of those solemn seasons, when the soul is shut in from the world, and the world is shut out from it and shut in with God, caught up and introduced, in the sacred breathings and actings of faith, in holy intimacy with all the Persons of Deity, moved by the Holy Ghost, pleading the merits of Christ, and approaching the throne of the Father with holy longings, and filial pleadings, and fervent desires, a catalogue of woes detailed, and the outpouring of a torrent of gratitude? My hearer, believe me, Christianity thrives well on the knees, in closet intimacy with God, and I would constantly cry for myself, as we sometimes sing
Moreover, these seekers seek the Lord, where He is often found, in the place where His honour dwelleth, in the footsteps of the flock, where Jesus the great Shepherd leads them, and makes them to rest at noon, as described in the Canticles; and often in the public means of grace, in the house of prayer, when the preacher is little conscious of what is going on in the hearts of any of his hearers, Jesus manifests Himself as He does not to the world. He is sought after and found, His goings are seen in the sanctuary, and sometimes in the public petitions that the preacher is enabled to put up in the name of the congregation, their hearts glow, and go forth earnestly seeking the Lord; and when the text is named and expatiated upon, the soul is pleading for Divine unction to apply it with mighty energy, and give it to feast upon it. This is seeking the Lord.
Then, again, you must seek Him in His word, for it is there that He has manifested Himself, it is there that He has revealed His glory, it is there that He has shown forth His official character and covenant relationship to His Church.
Again, these seekers seek Him perseveringly. They are not content with now and then appearing among the followers of the Lamb, but they are habitually concerned to visit the house of God as often as it is open, because they have every reason and ground to expect that the Lord is always there, having said, "Where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20) Then if He is to be present I will go and seek Him. Who can tell but He will speak a word of love, a word of comfort, a word of joy, to my soul? Who can tell but that I may get a sight of His hands and His side? Who can tell but that I am witness a smile from His countenance, and have some precious promises applied with invincible power to my heart, so that I shall be obliged to retire, and say to all the Nathaniels I meet, "We have found Him whom our souls love," "We have found Him who is called the Messiah, the Christ?"
Will the souls of the Lord's people present look well to these few descriptions of the seekers, while I just lead them on to the fact of all such being known in heaven, earth, and hell? Seeking souls are well known before the throne. The Father knows them, for it is He who said, "Seek ye my face;" and then they replied, "Thy face, Lord, will we seek." The Son knows them, and recognizes them as marked with His blood, sprinkled with the atonement, applied by the power of the Spirit, and recognizes them as the persons for whom He bled, and is ever living to intercede. The Holy Ghost knows them, because He put the spirit of prayer into their hearts, poured out on them the spirit of grace and supplication, which constrained them to seek after the Lord. The powers of darkness know them, as one of our old poets sings
Do you want to make the devil tremble? Then go on your knees and plead earnestly with God. The world will know them, for they have renounced their company, their associations, their foolery, their kill-time pursuits. I have heard it said, "Why is not so-and-so here at our midnight revels?" "Oh," says one," he has turned Christian; we shall never see any more of him." Very true; he will never be found at such scenes after the Lord has set him to seek after righteousness. I remember, in the case of a young man brought to know the Lord under my ministry, some eight-and-thirty years ago. He was about two-and twenty years of age, and had been the ringleader of all the frolics, if I may so call them, in the village. The Lord met with him, made him a new creature; he lived many years to adorn the doctrine of God his Saviour, became a deacon of the Church, and died happy in the Lord. Shortly after the Lord met with him, there was one of those village fooleries going on, a dance and a fiddle, and I do not know what beside in their stupid, Pagan-like uproar, and the question went forth, "Where is so-and-so? What has become of him? We shall have no fun without him." The answer was, by-and-bye, sourly and surlily growled out, "Oh! he has turned Christian, he has gone to hear Irons, we shall see no more of him." "Well," I said, "that is capital. I do like a religion that distinguishes a man from the world, and spoils him for the devil's fooleries." Let a man begin to seek the Lord, and you may seek for him in vain in the world, for you will not find him. Moreover, the Church will know them. They may come creeping behind some full-grown Christians, and perhaps their face may be half covered, and they never utter a word, but want to hear what Christians have to say about Christ and His preciousness, and snug themselves in some corner of some nook in the place of worship where they are not seen, and if asked a question they give only a sigh. Ah, that sigh, and that constancy in the house of prayer, and that change of character, will tell the minister, and tell the Church too, that he is seeking the Lord, and is one of the characters described in my text. And they are known of all the world, "known and read of all men."
II. Let me now hasten to the second particular of the subject, the exhortation given. "Look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye were digged." The hearkening, I apprehend, is already gained, but it seems like a further exhortation to be constant and vigilant in attending the means of grace, with "I will hear what God the Lord will say to my soul, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints." "Hearken to me." And I will just drop this illustration here, that when companions, visitors, matters of business, or any entertainment that may appear innocent at first, should say, "Hearken to me", on Tuesday night, for instance, or at any other time, it is important to remember that God says, "Hearken to me." Only think of the matter of fact. The minister may or may not be there (it may so be some day or other with you), but God is coming down to speak peace to His people and to His saints, to pardon that guilty soul, to comfort that mourning soul, to satisfy that seeking soul. "Hearken to me."
But more especially would I invite you to the part of the verse which appears to me sadly mangled by most that I have read upon it. I grant that it has a literal sense, but I cannot detain you long enough to dwell upon it. The next verse may be taken as the exposition, "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you." I do not want to rob any text of its literal meaning, and I am quite willing to give it to this passage, but not exclusively. I am ready to admit that the exhortation would give you a very just estimate of your origin in nature. Indeed, you will never distinguish anything rightly if you have not this. And this is the first view I take of it. A just estimate of your origin by nature, from Abraham and Sarah, and, be it remembered, that Abraham and Sarah were idolaters, before the Lord called them out of Ur of the Chaldees. And, be it remembered, that our base origin was of the same description, not of lovers of God, but lovers of sin, descendants of a fallen parent, far off from God, rebels and traitors in His sight, depraved and corrupt; nay, more, I believe every man who is not regenerate is an idolater. If he do not set up a block of wood or stone, or a crucifix, like the poor dupes of Popery, yet he will idolize either himself, or his gold, or his merchandize, or something earthly. Well, then, these seeking souls follow the exhortation, and look to their origin. It is as though the inspired penman, or the Holy Ghost speaking through him, should say, "Do not pride yourselves on the dignity of human nature; recollect what Abram was and what Sara was before the Lord called them to worship Him, and taught them the way of salvation."
But while this origin is seen, I pray you take not off your gaze until fully convinced of the extent of ruin the fall has brought upon you. And I urge this with the more anxiety, because very few, even of those who pass for Christians, believe that it is as bad as I have just stated, with regard to Abraham before he came from Ur. They think there is something wrong, a sad departure, a great deal that is amiss in man's natural state, but that he is not so far gone but that he may recover himself, and rebuild himself from the ruins, by a little effort of his own. I was told the other day, by one of that Pharisaic order, that the gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to appeal to the reasoning and rational powers of man. I said, "Is that all?" "Yes." "Then," I said, "you will live and die in your sins, and be accursed for ever. I learn that the religion of Jesus must be taught by the Holy Ghost." "What, do you believe in personal inspiration?" "Indeed I do; and I believe there is no real Christianity without it; for it is written, 'All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be their peace.' (Isa. 54:13; John 6:45) But 'the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.'" (1 Cor. 2:14) It is only he that is spiritual that discerneth all things, because he is taught of God the Holy Ghost; and, when so taught, he will be brought to acknowledge that the fall of Adam left him and his posterity utterly helpless and hopeless, deaf, dumb, blind, and dead with regard to everything spiritual; and, consequently, to begin to seek the Lord, and to be able to look aright to the rock whence he was hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence he was digged, he must be taught from above, and, as a proof of this, must be a possessor of life Divine.
Moreover, you should mark, that Abraham was a type of the covenant Head. We are not told to look to any of the Chaldees, though they were equally idolaters, but to Abraham, as the typical representative of the covenant Head. And this leads me to take a view which, I trust, God has shown me of the term, "Look to the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged." That rock, I believe is Christ, and all the members of the living Christ of God were hewn out of that rock, in the purposes of immutable grace from everlasting, and by the operations of grace in the fullness of time, in the work of conversion. Now that seems to me to brighten the subject a little. I may look at Abraham long enough before I get much comfort, except as he was the representative of the covenant Head; but when I come to look to the Rock Himself, to the Rock of Ages, the everlasting Rock, the Rock that defies all waves and billows, the Rock on which Christ's Church is built, and on which He Himself says that He would build His Church, and the gates of hell should not prevail against it. I will look to that Rock. "When my heart is overwhelmed within me," said the Psalmist, "lead me to the Rock that is higher than I," that I may get a look at it, the Rock whence I was hewn. Now I would have my hearers fix their attention, according to the exhortation of the text, on the precious Person, official character, and perfect work of Christ in this very sense, so that they may discover that they have their origin, their grace origin, their covenant origin, their relative origin as the children of God in Christ from everlasting, as settled by the purposes of grace and love between the eternal, undivided Three.
Well, then, we will look at the hewing them out in the fullness of time. "The rock whence ye were hewn." Every instance of saving conversion to God is a fresh discovery that that sinner is hewn out of the rock, that he is of the seed of Christ, a partaker of the life of Christ, really in union with Christ, never to be separated from Christ. Well, with respect to the other part of the verse, "the hole of the pit whence ye were digged." The Church while on earth will always consider herself, viewed in herself, as a hole of the pit, unworthy of any claim to the excellencies that belong to Christ, except as He puts them upon her. The glorious covenant Head is to have all the honour as the firm, immutable, eternal Rock of Ages. The Church dwells here below as in the hole of the pit, she lives too much on earth, cleaves to the dust, and frequently grovels in it, and yet it is in the Church of the living God that these portions of the rock are found, and they are hewn out from the world, and distinguished as belonging to God.
Just mark here the sovereignty of distinguishing grace. This seems to be implied in the exhortation. As though the prophet should say, "To what can you attribute the distinction of Abraham from the rest of the idolaters in Ur, but the fact recorded that God called him alone?" But why not call more? "Who art thou that repliest against God?" (Rom. 9:20) I do not read that Abraham was any better than any of the rest of the inhabitants of Ur, and yet God called him alone. Beloved, if you are really partakers of God's grace, I am sure you will be willing enough to own the absolute sovereignty that made you to differ. I am quite sure that the doctrine of absolute sovereignty is not pleasant to carnal minds, because it cuts off all their proud pretensions. It gives all the honour to God, and lays man in the dust; and therefore the carnal man does not like it. No matter whether you like it or not, you shall hear it if you come within the sound of my voice. Sure I am, the absolute sovereignty of God makes every Christian what he is, and he will be forced to own with Paul, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor. 15:10) In earlier days, he would have said, "By Gamaliel's teaching I am what I am; by my long robe and broad phylactery, I am what I am; by the multitude of my prayers and my doing God service, I am what I am." But in after days, when he began to seek the Lord, all that is renounced and cast aside as dung and dross, and he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am."
A word more. Union with the covenant Head is positively proved to all those whom we have described as seekers and followers after Christ. I do not mean to quit my ground here, because I want to drop a word to the feeblest, and weakest, and most tried of the Lord's family. Some of you may have come here hesitating this morning, "Shall I go, or shall I not? There will be nothing for my soul. I am a hypocrite, and only mock Christ by pretending to appear among Christians." Did the devil tell you all that pretty tale? What say you to the description this morning about seeking souls spiritually alive following after righteousness that will justify, sanctify, and glorify? "Why," say you, "we thought we could get a little hold; it was surely descriptive of what is going on in our hearts." Then do not allow the birds of the air to carry away the precious seed sown, but beg of God that He may sink it deep into your heart, too deep for the birds to get at it. Then mark that your union with Christ is hereby positively proved, and you may claim it as orthodox. Oh, the blessedness of this! Look at that expression of the dear Redeemer in John 17, "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one." (John 17:23) Look at chap. 15, the branches on the vine bringing forth fruit to the glory of God. Then look at the declaration of Paul in Rom. 8, "I am persuaded that there can be no separation;" and he challenges all worlds. "Who can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?" Now, poor, trembling soul, I tell you there is a threefold cord of Triune love thrown round your soul, binding you to Christ for time and for eternity; and nothing can break it, no fire can burn it, no time can rot it. Eternity itself shall but preserve it and keep it. Everlastingly one with Christ.
Just close by remarking the security of heaven. If my Master has said, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you;" and as if this were not enough, has doubled the encouragement in the next verse, "For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth;" as sure as Christ is in heaven, you will reach it, and find joy and peace in store for you in the mansions He has prepared, in His own time, and you shall go no more out for ever. Go on, beloved, to seek Him perseveringly in all the appointed means of grace, and especially in secret communion, and ere long you shall say with the spouse in the Canticles, "I found Him whom my soul loveth. I held Him fast, and would not let Him go. I brought Him into my mother's house, into the chambers of her that bare me." Oh, how sweet will be the communion then and there opened and maintained between Jesus and thy soul, while He opens the secrets of His heart to the perusal of thy faith, and enables thee to pour out the secrets of thine heart into His. This will, indeed, be the seeking of goodly pearls until the one pearl of great price is found, and the finder is thereby enriched for ever. Hear Jehovah's own proclamation by His servant Isaiah, "I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain." (Isa. 45:19) Now all these seekers, such as I have described, are of the seed of Jacob spiritually, and consequently cannot seek the Lord in vain, because He hath said so. Oh, that this may encourage the weakest and most tempted soul in this congregation to imitate the conduct of the poor Gentile woman, who seemed to be repulsed by our Lord as if she were a dog, but persevered with her suit, seeking until she found, and was amply paid for her perseverance, with the "O, woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
What a grant to a seeking soul, "even as thou wilt." The whole fullness of Christ seems thrown open to such, and all the stores of the covenant of grace are unlocked with this key, to supply all the needs of the weakest and worst of the praying family, out of the riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Only come to Him, beloved, with empty vessels, and you shall be filled with all the fullness of God. Oh, may He, whose office it is to comfort all that mourn in Zion, send down His Holy Spirit to apply these things to your hearts with power Divine and invincible, so as to cheer and comfort those who may have been hanging down their heads like the bulrushes through unbelief and the tempter's wiles; thus giving them "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;" (Isa. 61:3) and Israel's Triune Jehovah shall have all the glory.