The Heir of Heaven Walking in Darkness and the Heir of Hell Walking in Light - Part 1
The HEIR of HEAVEN
The text opens a very striking and solemn way. It begins with a question, an appeal, as it were, to the consciences of those to whom it is addressed, "WHO IS AMONG YOU THAT FEARETH THE LORD?" Now the very form in which this striking question is put to the HEIR OF HEAVEN, when compared with the mode of address employed in the next verse to the heirs of hell, seems to show that the first of these characters is very rare, the second very frequent.
Thus, the question, "Who is there among you" is worded as if the blessed Spirit were selecting one person out of a crowd, as if He were pointing out a solitary character amidst a numerous company. Whilst the word "you"-"Who is there among you"-seems to show that this company is a troop of professors, the same who are afterwards addressed, "Behold, all ye that kindle a fire." We have, then, a character pointed out by the finger of God Himself, separated by His distinguishing hand and sealed with His own divine mark as belonging to Himself. This living soul, this gracious character, this heir of heaven, whom God has here singled out, is stamped by the blessed Spirit with three marks. The first is, that "he fears the Lord;" the second, that "he obeys the voice of God s servant," the third, that "he walks in darkness, and has no light." We will, with God s blessing, then consider these three remarks separately.
1. He Fears God. The first mark, then, of that heir of heaven whose character we are endeavouring to trace is, that "HE FEARS GOD." "Who is among you that feareth the Lord?" But here the question at once arises: What sort of fear is this which the Holy Ghost has thus stamped with His divine approbation? "Is it of heaven or of men?" To err here is to stumble at the very outset, and to throw the whole into confusion. We must therefore, at the very threshold of our inquiry, lay it down as a positive principle, that the fear here spoken of is not a fruit of the flesh, but the work of the Spirit; not a product of nature, but the offspring of the Holy Ghost. And this distinction needs to be drawn, and to be insisted on, with greater carefullness, because there is a natural fear of God as well as a spiritual one.
The very devils believe and tremble. The children of Israel whose carcases fell in the wilderness, feared God when they heard "the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud" Ex 19:16, "so that all the people that were in the camp trembled." Saul feared God when that awful sentence fell upon his ear: "Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me," and "he fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel" 1Sa 28:20. Felix feared God when "he trembled, as Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and "judgment to come"Acts 24:25. "Terrors are upon the hypocrite," said Zophar Job 20:23,25 when God casteth forth the fury of His wrath upon him, and the glittering sword cometh out of his gall." And "terrors," saith Bildad Job 18:11, "shalt make the wicked afraid on every side, and shall drive him to His feet." The fear of the Lord, then, spoken of in the text is no natural dread of God, no fleshly alarm of a guilty conscience, no late remorse of an enlightened judgment, trembling at the wrath to come. Nor, again, is it any such fear of God as is impressed upon the mind by what is called "a religious education." Against this the Lord especially directs a sentence of condemnation: "Their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men." Isa 29:13.
The fear of God, then, which He has in the text and elsewhere stamped with His divine approbation, is that which He Himself implants with His own hand in the soul. As it is written, "I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me" Jer 32:40. This is the fear which is called "the beginning of wisdom" Pr 9:10; and is said to be "the fountain of life," "the strong confidence" Pr 14:26-27, and "the treasure" Isa 33:6 of a child of God, and that which "endures forever" in his heart Ps 19:9.
But how is this divine fear, this godly awe, this holy trembling, produced in the soul? It is not sufficient to say: "It is implanted by the hand of God," and so leave it. The question arises: How does the blessed Spirit work it in the soul? To this I answer, that in producing it God works by certain means. A spiritual man is not a steam-engine, or a piece of machinery, driven round and round by cogs and wheels in a certain mechanical course, without feeling and without consciousness. The grace of God indeed works invincibly and irresistibly upon the soul, and produces certain effects in it; but not in the same way as a weaver s loom makes a piece of cloth, or as a spinning jenny makes cotton thread. God works, then, by means. But by means I do not understand what are usually called "means of grace," such as preaching, praying, reading the Word, etc., which many persons speak of, as though, if made use of by carnal men, they would bring grace into their hearts almost as necessarily as a water-pipe carries water into a cistern. No. For though prayer and hearing the Word, etc., contain in them blessings for the spiritual, thousands have used what are called "the means of grace," who have lived and died without grace; for "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." "Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded." By "means," then, and "God s working by means," I understand not means on our part, but means on God s part. I intend by "the Word," those gracious and powerful operations of the blessed Spirit on the soul, which produce a certain effect and create a certain experience within.
Thus the means which God employs to raise up a holy fear of His great name in the soul, is to cast into it a ray of divine light out of the fullness of the Godhead. "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness," says Paul 2Co 4:6, "hath shined in our hearts." "In Thy light," says David Ps 36:9, "we see light;" and again: "The entrance of Thy words giveth light" Ps 119:130. Until, then, this supernatural light out of the fullness of God enters into the soul, a man has no knowledge of Jehovah. He may say his prayers, read his Bible, attend preaching, observe ordinances, "bestow all his goods to feed the poor, and give his body to be burned;" but he is as ignorant of God as the cattle that graze in the fields. He may call himself a Christian, and be thought such by others, may talk much about Jesus Christ, hold a sound creed, maintain a consistent profession, pray at a prayer meeting with fluency and apparent feeling, may stand up in a pulpit and contend earnestly for the doctrines of grace, may excel hundreds of God s children in zeal, knowledge and conversation; and yet, if this ray of supernatural light has never shone into his soul he is only twofold more the child of hell than those who make no profession-"The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." But the same ray of supernatural light which reveals to us that there is a God, manifests also His purity and holiness, His universal presence, His abhorrence of evil and His heart-searching eye. And this it manifests not as a mere doctrine, to form an article of a creed or a part of a system, but as a mighty truth, a divine conviction, lodged and planted in the depths of the soul, which becomes, so to speak, a part of ourselves, so as never more to be sundered from us or lost out of the heart.
But it may be asked, how are we to know whether we possess this spiritual and genuine fear of God, and how are we to distinguish it from all counterfeits? Like all other graces of the blessed Spirit, it must be seen in its own light, tasted in its own savour, and felt in its own power. But wherever this divine fruit of eternal election grows, it will be manifested by the effects which it produces. And thus, those children of God, who have not faith to believe, nor spiritual discernment to see, nor divine unction to feel, that they are true partakers of this heavenly fear, may have it manifested to their consciences that they really possess it, when they hear its effects and operations traced out, and have an inward witness that they have experienced the same. And this is the grand use of experimental preaching, against which so many proud professors shoot out their arrows, even bitter words; that, under the Spirit s unction, it sheds a light on the path of those that walk in darkness, removes stumbling stones out of the way of those that are ready to halt, strengthens the weak hands, and confirms the feeble knees. To see the sun shining in the mid-day sky and to feel its cheering beams is the surest evidence that he is risen; but to see him reflected in the trembling waters of a brook, or to trace him dimly through clouds and mists, is a proof also that it is day.
And thus, those dear children of God, who cannot behold the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, nor feel His warmth in their souls, may see Him reflected in the experience of their trembling hearts, or trace His work within through the mists of unbelief. A child of God may not be able to see the fear itself, yet may feel that he has experienced its effects and operations, when he hears them traced out by a minister of Christ, who speaks out of the fullness of an exercised heart.
One evidence, then, of our being partakers of this godly fear is the INWARD FEELING OF GUILT and the SENSE OF OUR EXCEEDING VILENESS which always accompanies it. The same ray of divine light which manifests Jehovah to the soul, and raises up a spiritual fear of Him within, discovers to us also our inward depravity. Until we see heavenly light we know not what darkness is, until we view eternal purity we are ignorant of our own vileness, until we hear the voice of inflexible, Justice we feel no guilt; until we behold a heart- searching God we do not groan beneath our inward deceitfullness; and until we feel that He abhors evil we do not abhor ourselves.
Thus all supernatural communications from God and manifestations of Him show us, at the same moment and in the same light, a holy Jehovah and a fallen sinner, heavenly purity and creature vileness, God on the throne of light and a worm of the dust, a righteous Judge and a leper on the dunghill. The regenerate soul looks with the spiritual eye which the Holy Ghost has planted in it, first up unto God, then down into itself. So it was with Moses, when he heard "the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words" and said, "exceedingly fear and quake" Heb 12:19,21. Thus was it with Job, when he said: "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" Job 42:5-6. Isaiah, on a similar vision of the glory of the Lord cried out: "Woe is me! for I am undone" Isa 6:5. Daniel s "comeliness was turned in him into corruption" Da 10:8, and John "fell at Christ s feet as dead" Re 1:17. If you have never felt guilt, nor abhorred yourself in dust and ashes, you may depend upon it that you have never "seen God" 3Jo 1:11-, and if you have never seen God with the spiritual eye of a living faith, you are dead in sins, or dead in a profession. As Job says: "Your excellency may mount up to the heavens, and your head reach unto the clouds" Job 20:6; but if you have never felt in your mouth "the wormwood and the gall," have never groaned, being burdened, nor roared for very disquietness of heart; if you have never cried as a criminal for mercy, nor put your mouth into the dust-you are a dead branch, a rotten hypocrite, an empty professor. You may talk about the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, be one of those "prating fools that shall fall" Pr 10:10; but if the plague of leprosy has never broken out in you, and that "deeper than the skin" Le 13:25; and if you have never as a loathsome wretch, a monster of inward pollution and iniquity, had your clothes rent, your head bare, and a covering upon you Le 13:45, you have never tasted the love, nor felt the atoning blood of the Saviour. He is to you a name, not a person; an idea, not a reality; a Saviour in the letter, not a Saviour in the Spirit; a Christ in your Bible, not a Christ in your heart; an Immanuel of whom you have heard, but not an Immanuel whom you have seen. and who is "God with you."
Another evidence of the reality and genuineness of the fear of the Lord in the soul is THE WAY IN WHICH WE APPROACH GOD IN SECRET PRAYER. Until we see God in the light of His own manifestations, we cannot worship Him in spirit and in truth. We may utter prayers in public or in private, written or unwritten, taught in childhood or learned in age, repeated from memory or suggested at the moment; and yet, if we have never seen God in the light of His holiness, we have never prayed to Him in our lives. Some of you in this congregation may have had family prayers, and others of you may have prayed at prayer meetings, and been so pleased with your own gift and the applause of empty professors as to think yourself fit for the ministry, and have got your foot almost on the steps of a pulpit. And what advantage have you reaped by your fleshly prayers? Are you nearer to heaven or more acceptable to God ? No. But on the contrary, to the long, black catalogue of your sins you have added that blackest of all-presumption.
Instead of pleasing God, you have offended Him; instead of worshiping, you have mocked Him; and instead of taking so many steps nearer and nearer to heaven, you have only been taking so many steps nearer and nearer to hell. "Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth, they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear" Isa 1:14-15. "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye devour widows houses, and for a pretence make long prayers, therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation" Mt 23:14. Now the only cure for this awful presumption and hypocrisy is the fear of God planted by His own divine hand in the soul. He that is blessed with godly fear, as an internal, abiding principle, cannot mock God. He cannot offer Him the dead sacrifice, the stinking carcase of formality, superstition, tradition, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He cannot go on, year after year, to mock the ever-living Jehovah to His face, as thousands do in the Church of England, and out of it, by confessing grief for sins for which they never felt sorry, asking for blessings which they never desired, and thanking God for mercies for which they have no gratitude. His soul will be, more or less deeply, and more or less frequently, penetrated with such an inward reverence, such a holy awe, such a realizing sense of the solemn presence of the great holy God of heaven and earth that he will confess his sins, not out of a Prayer Book, but out of the depth of a contrite heart; will beg for mercy, not as a child repeats his A B C, but as a sinking criminal at the bar of judgment; and will cry for the light of God s countenance, not as a Parish Clerk mumbles forth, "Hear us, good Lord," but as one in whom "the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered."
2. He Obeys The Voice Of His Servant
But that "he fears God" is not the only mark given in the text of that heir of heaven, whose path we are endeavouring to trace.
He is said also "TO OBEY THE VOICE OF HIS SERVANT." To discover whom the Holy Ghost means in this place by "the Servant of God" is perhaps not a matter of much difficulty. It is a name and an office which the adorable Redeemer Himself condescends to bear. "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold, Mine Elect in whom My soul delighteth" Isa 42:1, was the title by which He was addressed by God the Father more than seven hundred years before He appeared upon earth. Again, it is said of Him Isa 53:11: "By His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many-," and not to multiply instances, the promise runs Zec 3:8: "Behold. I will bring forth My Servant, the Branch. Thus the voice of God s Servant in the text may justly be explained to refer to that ever-blessed Mediator, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a Servant, and was made in the likeness of men" Php 2:6-7.
But what sort of voice is this? Is it the mere voice of Christ in the Scriptures? Is it the naked precept, the naked promise, or the naked invitation? No. What is the Bible more than any other book when it is not clothed by the Spirit with almighty power and irresistible energy? The Bible is nothing without the Spirit. It is in itself a mere list of words and syllables, an assemblage of vowels and consonants, a collection or printers types and inks, which, without the Spirit s divine application, can no more convey life and light into the soul than a letter sent by the post can communicate its contents to the eyes of a man born blind. Unless the Eternal Spirit give a voice to the dumb letter, and take truth out of the Bible, and rivet it in our hearts, the Bible is no more to us than another book. If your religion is only in the Bible, and has no existence out of the Bible in your own soul, which is the case with thousands who are considered great Christians, the same fire that will at the last day bum up the Bible will bum up your religion with it. No, my friends, we must have the truths of the Bible, which were written there by the finger of the Holy Ghost, taken out of the Bible, and written by the same Holy Ghost upon our hearts. To have the truth in the Bible only is like having the Ten Commandments written up at the east end of a church, which, with their gilt letters and flourished capitals, mightily please the eye of a Pharisee, but which differ as much from "the commandments s coming" with power Ro 7:9 as the prayer of a dead formalist differs from the cries and groans of a broken-hearted saint.
The Bible is a mighty magazine, a vast reservoir of blessed truth, but the precepts and promises of the Bible have no more power in themselves to convince or comfort the soul than the swords and muskets in the Tower of London have power to start from their places and kill the spectators. Both are merely dead instruments, lifeless weapons. and need a mighty hand and an outstretched arm to give them power and efficacy. "The words that I speak unto you," says the Redeemer Joh 6:63, "they are spirit and they are life;" "Written not in tables of stone," says Paul 2Co 3:3, "but in fleshy tables of the heart." Thus, "the voice of God s Servant," which those in the text said to "obey," is not the mere voice of Christ in the Scriptures, but such a voice, "powerful and full of majesty," as called Lazarus forth out of the tomb. This voice, heard by the sheep alone Joh 10:27, raises up the dead in sins Joh 5:25; penetrates the conscience Heb 4:12; casts a flood of light within, and carries conviction into the inmost recesses of the soul. Not that I mean any voice is heard by the outward ear; the voice that I speak of is the voice of Christ in the Scriptures, applied with divine authority and power to the soul by the Holy Ghost.
Thus, to some He applies by His Spirit a word of encouragement suited to their case. "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give, you rest," may be the voice of God s Servant to a burdened child. The suitability of the invitation to the wants of the weary soul, the tender kindness of the Speaker, the sweetness that distills from every word of the passage, all meet at once with hope springs up in the heart, strength is communicated to believe, a spirit of prayer rises up from the very bottom of the soul, and strong desires after the enjoyment of Christ within, pour themselves forth in wrestling cries. But whatever be the word of encouragement which the voice of Jehovah s Servant speaks to him that fears God, the effect is one and the same.
That voice is as powerful, and as full of majesty now Ps 29:4, as when it said, "Let there be light, and there was light." But though it never speaks in vain, for "He spoke, and it was done: He commanded, and it stood fast" Ps 33:9; yet the different degrees of strength in which this voice speaks to the soul vary as much as the loudest voice from the feeblest whisper, or the strongest wind from the gentlest breeze. And just according to the strength in which that voice speaks to the soul will there be all the different degrees of encouragement and consolation, from the feeblest, faintest glimmering of hope to the full blaze of the assurance of faith. But promises are not the only parts of the Word which the voice of Christ addresses to those that fear God. The threatenings and warnings contained in the Scriptures He speaks home to the soul as well as the promises. The shepherd drives his flock at times before him, as well as draws them at others by going before them. The wise parent chastises his child when needful as well as fondles it. There is much presumption, pride, hypocrisy, deceit, delusion, formality, superstition, will-worship and self-righteousness to be purged out of the heart; and "as the blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil, so do stripes the inward parts of the belly" Pr 20:30. I look upon the road to heaven as a narrow path that lies between two hedges, and that on the other side of each hedge is a bottomless ditch. One of these ditches is despair, and the other is presumption. The hedge that keeps the soul from falling into the pit of despair is that of the promises; and the hedge that keeps the soul from sinking into the abyss of presumption is that of warnings, precepts and threatenings. Without the spiritual application of the promises the soul would lie down in despair, and without the spiritual application of the precepts and warnings it would be swollen with arrogance, puffed up with pride, and ready to burst with presumption.