The Dayspring from on High (Part 1)
WHEN the following sermon was preached by me at Zoar Chapel. Great Alie Street. London, I had not received the slightest previous intimation that there was an intention to take it down from my lips, and put it into a more permanent form than as it issued with fleeting breath. When however, I learnt that it had been taken down, I did not consider it right to object to its publication, as I indulged a hope that it might thereby be blessed beyond the immediate occasion on which it was delivered.
Though from various circumstances, chiefly connected with health and other engagements, I am not now able to accept repeated invitations to occupy the Zoar pulpit as in former years, I still bear in affectionate remembrance the days gone by, to which some allusion will be found in the following pages. I did not wish to speak of myself, still less in any self-exalting manner: but old associations so came over my mind when I entered the pulpit and looked round upon the congregation, that I could not but give them expression, and make some allusion to the sermons which I had preached there in times past, and which have become so widely spread. My feelings on this point are these. Let all that man says or does be passed by in deserved silence: but let not any of the words and works of the Lord be forgotten. I have had many testimonies, and frequently receive them still, that the Lord has graciously condescended to bless the sermons which I formerly preached at Zoar. Let him have all the glory. I never sought or desired their publication, as it was commenced and carried on without consulting me, beyond submitting them to my revision. I never derived any pecuniary profit from them; I have never moved a finger to spread them except, as a mere matter of convenience, supplying a few friends at home who wished to have them. If the Lord blessed them, I was thankful. He alone enabled me to preach them, supplied me with every gracious thought and feeling found in them, and gave me a door of utterance to deliver with my lips what I believed and felt in my heart. I often feel that they are not mine -at least not anything in them that is truly spiritual and gracious. All their failings, infirmities, deficiencies, shortcomings, -I will not add errors, for I would not knowingly permit the least error to go abroad in them, -are mine. To me belongs all in them that is deficient, and all that is objectionable. To the Lord belongs everything in them that is truly spiritual, edifying, instructive, reproving, or consoling to the Church of God.
I sometimes seem to see in my own mind what true preaching should be; how pure and clear in doctrine, how sound and deep in experience, how firm and faithful in precept. I have a view before the eyes of my enlightened understanding what the ministry of the Spirit is, as distinct from the ministry of the letter. I see that there is a power, a savour, an unction, an authority, a weight, a reality in the ministry of men taught and sent to God, as distinct from the ministry of men untaught and unsent, as the miracles of Moses were distinct from the miracles of the magicians, or the preaching of Paul from that of the seven sons of Sceva. Let none here mistake my meaning. I do not wish to -nay, I dare not set up my preaching as that which I see the ministry of the Spirit is or should be. I desire with all my heart that it should be such; it is enough to make me quake and tremble with fear to think it is not so; for there are no half ministers, as there are no half Christians. An almost minister is as far from the ministry as an almost Christian from Christianity. If God has not sent a man to preach, he can no more profit his people Jer 23:32, than if God has not called a man by grace, he can obtain a crown of glory. I am not saying what I am, or what others are; I leave all personalities; I am merely speaking God s truth as I see it in his own inspired word, and as I feel it in my own heart. Let the word of God be the standard, not my word, nor any man s; though what we believe in accordance with that word we may freely speak 2Co 4:13. And following still the same unerring testimony, I believe that the sovereignty of God is as much displayed in choosing ministers to preach as in choosing men to be saved. If, in the exercise of that sovereignty, the Lord has seen good not only to call me by his grace to fear and love his great and glorious name, but has also called me from academic halls and seats of lettered ease, which once were as my life blood, to preach his truth among his despised people, he surely had as much right to do so as to call others of his servants from the loom or the plough. What we, what any of us are worth being, what we have worth possessing, what we feel worth enjoying, what we know worth proclaiming, and what we preach worth hearing, we are indebted for to sovereign grace, and to sovereign grace alone. On this point I will yield to none. Let some of my brethren in the ministry have more grace, others a deeper experience, others more ministerial ability, others more unction and savour, others a more godly, devoted life, I will willingly yield to them in all these the palm so far as I see and feel they are thus blessed and favoured: but I will not yield to them in one point, that we are what we are only by sovereign grace. On this ground we may safely meet. Here Ephraim envies not Judah, nor Judah vexes Ephraim. Here pride and self-exaltation fall; here strife and contention cease; here self drops into its right place -the dust; and here Jesus is exalted to his rightful place as Lord of all.
I did not mean to write a preface, still less so long a one, but there being a blank page or two before the sermon, I was asked to contribute a few lines to fill up the vacant space. This I have done; and now I cannot arrest my pen without commending the following pages to the blessing of that most gracious Lord whom I desire ever to serve, and whose name I wish ever to be exalted and glorified.
J.C.P. Stamford, Sept. 13th, 1858.
THE DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH
Preached at Zoar Chapel. Alie Street. London, on Thursday evening, July 29th, 1858
IF I use the words without any irreverence to the Sacred Majesty of heaven, I might, in standing here this evening, almost adopt the language addressed by the Lord to Jerusalem by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals." Jer 2:2 May I not almost say, "I remember thee, O Zoar, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals," in those days, some seventeen or eighteen years ago, when I used to stand up in this pulpit, for six Lord s Days at a time every summer, and the Lord seemed at times to fill this house with his presence and his glory; when every corner was filled with a listening congregation, and among them, doubtless, many who feared God, and believed in his dear Son?
I wish ever to speak of myself, and all I have or am, say or do, with the deepest self-abasement, for I know I have nothing in myself by nature but sin and death, filth and folly; but I cannot forget that for several years nearly all my sermons preached in this place were taken down from my nips, and that these have, in the providence of God, been spread far and wide, and been, I trust, made a blessing to many. From that circumstance, therefore, were there no other, I shall always affectionately remember Zoar. And now that, in an unexpected manner, I am come once more to this place, I hope, though I see a great alteration, and that for the better outwardly, that inwardly it may be old Zoar still. Though you have painted the chapel, and given us more light, though the air of heaven comes in rather more freely than in those dark and dingy days when I have gasped for breath in your crowded house, yet may it be old Zoar still, with the same good old doctrines, the same old life and power, the same presence of "the Ancient of days," and the same blessing from him "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." Though I miss many old familiar faces, though many a young and many an aged head is now laid low, and many a dear saint of God is now before the throne, blessing Father. Son, and Holy Ghost, who used to hear me and the servants of God years ago in this place, yet Jesus lives, whoever dies: Jesus abides faithful, whoever declines: and where two or three are gathered together in his name, he has promised his presence and blessing. May we realise this this evening, and to him will we freely ascribe all the praise, honour, and glory.
The words of our text were spoken by Zacharias, the father of John, when he "was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied," and had a view of the grace and mercy of the Lord God of Israel in "visiting and redeeming his people." Addressing, therefore, his infant son as he lay in his mother s arms, he spoke to him in the language of inspiration, "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins." Then follow the words of the text, "Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
In opening up these words I shall, with God s blessing,
I. First, endeavour to describe who the people are that are spoken of as "sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death."
II. Secondly, what "the dayspring from on high" is, of which our text speaks;
III. Thirdly, how this dayspring from on high "visits" them, and what it does by its blessed visitations-it "gives them light," and "guides their feet into the way of peace;"
IV. and Lastly, the source and spring of all these blessings; all are "through the tender mercy of our God."
I. How shall I clearly and faithfully describe the state and condition of the people here represented as "sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death?" But comparing scripture with scripture, and taking a broad survey of the children of men as they everywhere stand before an enlightened eye, we may view them first as descriptive of the general condition of man.
i. Man, then, viewed generally, looked upon in his fallen condition, as "dead in trespasses and sins." as "having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart" Eph 2:1 Eph 4:18, is sitting in darkness and in the very shadow of death. He is sitting, as the posture implies, at his ease, quiet and unconcerned, in all that the word "darkness," as a scriptural term, means or implies. Does darkness mean ignorance of God and godliness, of sin and salvation, -ignorance of all that it is light and life, grace and glory, holiness and happiness to know? In that darkness he sits, surrounded by it, wrapped up in it, as in a dark night, without moon or star, a forlorn wretch, meditating suicide, may sit on the steps of London bridge, with the gloomy river flowing before his face. Does darkness mean sin? In that he sits up to his neck, diving ever and anon into its hidden depths to pluck up some root of sensual delight. Does darkness mean or imply "the blackness of darkness for ever?" He is sitting in what will prove its certain forerunner, unless grace deliver him from those terrible chambers of woe, for he is sitting in the very "shadow of death." Death in sin is even now casting over him its killing shade; soon death of the body will prove a substance of which the shadow is already stretched over his head; and then over body and soul will the eternal wrath of God cast that shadow of wrath and despair, out of which he will never come.
ii. But looking at the words in a spiritual and experimental sense, I shall view them rather as descriptive of the saints of God when they are brought, by the entrance of divine light and life, to see and feel their real position as sinners before the eye of infinite Purity and Holiness. It is true that all men are really sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. But who see it, who know it, who feel it? Not the dead, but the living; for the dead know nothing, see nothing, believe nothing, feel nothing, and therefore neither know nor see, believe nor feel that they are sitting in such darkness and in such a shadow. But the quickened family of God, like "the living creatures" whom holy John saw in vision, are "full of eyes within" Re 4:8, and by these eyes see their state nature.
"God is light;".... he dwelleth "in the light which no man can approach unto," in all the infinite glory and unspeakable holiness of his own perfections. "Light," therefore, as a sacred emblem and spiritual figure, is an expression of all that God is in his essential being and glorious perfections, as also of the grace which he communicates, and the glory which he bestows. As, then, light contains in it the seeds of grace and glory, of happiness and holiness, for "light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart," the opposite idea, darkness, seems to concentrate in itself all that state and sense of sin, gloom, misery, and despair that a soul can feel, in the borders of time, or in the depths of eternity.
The very expression, "sitting in darkness," implies life. They are not said to lie in darkness, as a corpse, but to sit, which is a posture not of the dead, but of the living; and further, it implies feeling, for if a man sit in darkness, the very life that is in him, and maintains him in that waiting posture, will make him feel the darkness that surrounds him. To see, then, and feel the darkness that fills us within, and envelopes us without, is a sign of spiritual life, for when the Spirit of God, by his quickening breath, makes the soul alive unto God, it becomes, for the first time, sensible of this darkness, and feels, as it never did before, the misery and wretchedness of a state of condemnation before God. It feels, too, how it has all its life been immersed in the thickest, grossest darkness, and, it may be, rebelling against light, if ever a ray of conviction flashed across the conscience. Darkness is a feeling. When "a horror of great darkness" fell upon Abraham Ge 15:12, he certainly felt the dark cloud over his soul. When Jeremiah said, "He hath led me, and brought me into darkness," La 3:2, and Heman cried, "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps," Ps 88:6, surely these saints of God felt the darkness gathered around them as sensibly in their soul as we see and feel the dark gloom of a wintry night, when we look out of doors from our warm, well-lighted room. The blind naturally see no darkness, for they see no light. Day and night are all one to them; for to see darkness as much needs eyesight as to see light. So, in grace, to see darkness implies that we possess light and sight. As in an ocean cave a degree of light is needed in the very entrance to see the dark recesses stretching themselves far away out of sight, so, in grace, the quickened sinner needs divine light to view the dark recesses of his fallen nature, with all their hideous gloom.
He sees, also, that there is something in true religion which he has never known something in the things of God, as made known to the soul by a divine power, of which he is not yet in possession. This is the case and state of many a dear child of God. He has light to see his darkness, life to feel his death, faith to believe his condemnation, and sincerity to acknowledge the justice of his sentence, but no power to see himself in the light, or to come forth into liberty. He is "sitting in darkness," unable to stand or walk, go forward or backward. This he knows and feels for and in himself, and as such he has more real truth and honesty in his heart, more grace and true religion, more light and life, more faith and feeling than hundreds of high professors, who walk in the light of their own fire, and by the sparks that they have themselves kindled.
But besides this feeling of darkness from a sight of one s own heart, and of an aching void which love and mercy have not yet filled up, there are other causes at work which contribute to increase its density. Heavy afflictions, providential trials, or sore temptations, will often combine to sink the awakened sinner deeper still into misery and gloom. The work of grace upon the heart generally begins under some afflicting stroke of God, to bring us, as it were, to our senses. In body or in family, in circumstances or in mind, a stunning blow is given. Some heavy stroke seems, indeed, absolutely needed to awaken the conscience and pierce the callous, insensible heart into some feeling. Why this affliction is sent he at present sees not. He sits in darkness, and therefore the dealings of God with him in providence and grace are both hidden from his eyes. He is, if I may use the figure, like one in a railway tunnel, with the engine at a stand through some accident. He is afraid to get out of the carriage, and afraid to stay in. Neither line is safe; the up train or the down train may either next moment dash in upon him. So he sits in darkness, unable to move; but longs for deliverance, and cries to God for help, for all other is vain.
Some of you may at this moment be thus sitting in darkness: you may have had a very dark and gloomy week; you may have felt. this very day, much of the hiding of God s face and the miserable darkness of your own soul, so that you have gone about of all men most wretched. Even you, who have been highly favoured in times past, who have had most blessed manifestations of the Lord s goodness and mercy. and clearly seen and rejoiced in your interest in the blood of the Lamb, may have had this day, or during this past week, a gloomy season, and been sitting in much darkness of soul. You may have had trying circumstances in providence. Your poor body may at this very moment be bowed down with pain and disease. You may have just left at home an afflicted husband or child, or escaped here from the persecutions of a scolding wife; or some tidings may have come this morning to distress your mind, or fill it with rebellion and self-pity. Satan this day may have been haunting you with his horrible suggestions, and hurling dart after dart into your troubled soul, so as to make you tremble at yourself, fearing there is not a spark of grace, or a grain of vital godliness in your heart.
Sin, too, may have been working at a fearful rate; or the old trial, which has half killed you again and again, has once more broken out to fill you with fresh sorrow, and almost sink you into despair. What is worse, the Lord does not appear to hear any of your cries for help; and thus, wherever you turn your eyes, within or without, "through the wrath of the Lord is the land (your soul) darkened;" Isa 9:19; " he hath fenced up your way, that you cannot pass, and set darkness in your paths." Job 19:8 Thus you sit in darkness, and can, in a measure, say with David, "For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate" Ps 143:3,4.
iii. But the Holy Ghost has added another word to describe the experience of those whom the dayspring from on high, visits. He speaks of "the shadow of death" as a spot in which they are also sitting. Let us examine the meaning of this striking expression. Death must ever be a solemn, if not gloomy subject to the children of men. We can scarcely hear a tolling bell, or see a hearse passing along the street, without a solemn feeling coming across our mind towards that pallid corpse which we know is stretched in the coffin. And when death comes nearer home, when we have perhaps to go into the chamber shaded in gloom, to gaze upon, for the last time, those loved features that we have seen a thousand times full of life and animation, but now pale, rigid, motionless, with that indescribable aspect that a corpse always wears, such a sight must needs cast a gloomy shade over our minds.
Even where grace has gilded the dying bed with heavenly light, and we can, in faith, follow the departed soul up to the gates of glory, we shrink instinctively from the soulless body. "That I may bury my dead out of my sight," was the feeling of Abraham. But where this consolation is denied, and this dear relative has passed out of time into eternity, without leaving behind that blessed evidence which gives us a hope beyond the grave, what a still deeper gloom does that pallid corpse then create! Or when we think of our own approaching end, when we feel that death may soon invade our earthly tabernacle, and consign these lips that speak and those ears that hear, the heart which beats and the lungs which breathe, to the cold ground, no more to see or be seen by relative or friend, it casts a shade of gloom over our minds, unless we are blessed at the moment with the enjoyment of the love of God, and can smile at death,
When I can read my title clear To mansions in the skies.
The Holy Ghost, then, taking up this feeling, which is common to us all, speaks of "the shadow of death," intimating thereby the gloom that it produces. You were all, some months ago, witnesses of the great solar eclipse 1858; you saw how the sun became slowly darkened in the noonday sky, how gradually a shade spread itself over the earth, and a gloom, as of approaching night, settled over this vast metropolis. The moon, interposing her dark body between the sun and the earth, intercepted the bright beams of the king of day; he lost his glory, and went down, as it were, at noonday; and though the period was short, earth, as she sat in the shadow, mourned the eclipse of her sovereign. So death, when the Sun of Righteousness is hidden from view, and his bright beams are eclipsed, spreads a dark gloom over the soul, which gloom is here called the shadow of the king of terrors. Allow me another figure. You leave for a little while this smoky city to resort to the beautiful sea-side, and after you have been walking on the sea-beach, under the blazing sun, gazing with calm delight on the ceaseless waves as they roll in all their majestic grandeur, and feeling the southern breeze blow upon your face, carrying health with every breath, you pass suddenly into some cool cave or ocean grotto that runs deep into the bosom of the lofty chalk cliff that overhangs the shingly beach. As you pass in, what a difference you feel between the bright beams of day that filled the sky and warmed the earth into life and fruitfullness, and that dark and gloomy shade into which you enter.
I use these figures to convey the thought more strikingly to your mind. So Death, the gaunt king of terrors; Death, who with his scythe in his resistless hand, mows down whole millions of the human race; Death, who awaits his victims at every corner; Death, that soon must lay you and me low in the grave-casts a shadow wherever he comes. He visits the sick room, and casts a shadow there; he hangs over the cradle, and his shadow falls on the infant s face; he comes in the Indian letter from abroad, or with the black seal and mourning envelope put into our hand at home; and these tidings or these tokens cast a deep shadow over our hearts. Indeed, where is the place where death does not cast his shadow? where the house where this shade has never fallen? In fact, he never comes without it. He is "the last enemy;" he is the final fulfilment of the original curse. And though death, to a saint of God, is stripped of its terrors, robbed of its sting, and disarmed of its victory; though, to the expiring believer it is but a portal of life into the mansions of eternal bliss, yet, say what we may, the portal casts a shadow. Even David, though full of sweet confidence that "the Lord was his shepherd," at the very time when "his cup ran over" with the Lord s goodness and love, calls it "the valley of the shadow of death." Ps 23:4 "The rod and the staff" comforted him, and "he feared no evil," but it was still "a valley," overhung by frowning mountains and dark, over-arching woods, and "the shadow of death" was spread upon it from the entrance to the end.