The Mighty Put Down, and the Lowly Exalted - Part 2
3. But we will proceed to the other characters, which are not only distinct, but diametrically opposite. The poor, and those of low degree, not merely differ from the mighty and the rich, but are poles asunder from them. These represent those of God s people, in whose hearts he has wrought a sense of poverty, beggary, and utter insolvency; and whom, having thus brought down, he proceeds to lift up and bless.
The first character that we will take notice of is, he who is called in the text "of low degree." "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree." The translation here seems rather to have departed from the original; and I prefer the old rendering preserved in the Common Prayer-book, "the humble and meek." For the word here has a reference not only to degree and station of life, but to spiritual qualities. I would, therefore, rather call them "lowly," than of low degree, -"humble," as made spiritually so by God himself. These lowly souls, then, whom God exalts, are such as he himself has first brought down. For "the Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich; he bringeth low, and lifteth up." This humility, then, is not feigned, but real humility; not tongue humility, whilst all the time the heart is as proud as Satan; not a humility of dress, or of countenance, or of manner and appearance, or of religious regimentals, still less of hypocrisy, can t, and whine; but a humility of soul, wrought there by the hand of God himself. If a man is humble, he must have had something to humble him, or else it is the worst covering of hypocrisy. Humility is not to be cultivated; no, nor plucked out of the Scriptures, as a man plucks a flower of the garden, but is to be beat, driven, and forced into a man. He that is really humble has had a true right of himself, and carries about with him a deep and abiding sense of his vileness and filthiness. The base pride, presumption, and hypocrisy, of his fallen nature has been turned up by the share of God s plough in his conscience. He therefore loathes himself in his own sight as a monster of iniquity, and feels that he has sin enough in his heart to damn a thousand worlds. He sees and feels himself one of the most abominable, carnal, sensual, earthly, and vile wretches that can crawl on God s earth. He feels that he contains in himself the seeds and buddings of those crimes that have brought hundreds to the gallows. And these feelings he carries about with him, not as a theory floating in his brain, nor as a doctrine gathered from the Scriptures, but as a solemn reality, lodged and planted by God himself in his soul, a conviction fastened and screwed into him by an Almighty hand. This is the way that a man learns humility, not as a cultivated grace or religious duty, but as a lesson spiritually taught him. Now, he sees what a base, helpless, needy, naked wretch he is. Such were David s feelings when he exclaimed, "From the ends of the earth will I cry unto thee when my heart is overwhelmed." Ps 61:2 As though he were the farthest distance possible from God -the whole width of the earth asunder from him. And what drove him thus, as it were, to the end of creation? It was the solemn sense he had of God s holiness, and of his own filthiness before him. This infinite disparity between a holy God and a guilty soul, drove him, as it were, to the very limits of creature existence, the remotest spot where man could dwell. The Lord never throws away his favours. He will teach us to prize them before he bestows them. He never clothes the already dressed, sends bread to a full cupboard, or enriches those who have money in the bank. Nor does he give the Spirit to those who can do with the letter, nor communicate power to those who are satisfied with the word. But those who are nothing, and have nothing, who cannot stir an inch, nor lift a finger to help themselves -to these he freely communicates out of Jesus fullness. "He exalts them of low degree."
But how does he exalt them? In self? Oh, no! not in self. He has dethroned that idol; he will not set it up again, as the image of jealousy in the holy place. But he exalts them out of self into Christ. He sets before their eyes Jesus and his great salvation, holds up in their heart his suitability, grace, glory, atoning blood, dying love, and justifying righteousness. He shows them that he is mighty to save, able to save to the uttermost, all that come to God by him. The Holy Spirit kindles faith in the soul to receive the testimony that he has given of Jesus in the Word, and thus exalts Christ in the affections, as all its salvation, and all its desire. In Jesus they see all that they want for time and eternity; and receiving him into their souls as their only hope, cling and cleave to him as their all in all. Instead of exalting this debases self. The vile monster self is never so low as when the soul is brought in faith and feeling to sit at Jesus feet. Thus the Lord exalts the lowly, and lifts them up into a knowledge of Christ, into an experimental acquaintance with the treasures of his atoning blood and justifying righteousness. They are thus made to sit together with Christ in heavenly places, and they love him as the only salvation for their needy guilty souls.
4. But we find the living family of God set forth also under the character of the hungry, whom he feedeth with good things. Let us see what they are hungering after. Is it pleasure, honour, promotion, respectability? Oh, no; these toys and baubles cannot satisfy the spiritual hunger of a living soul. They cannot hunger after that on which they cannot feed. They hunger, then, after righteousness, as the Lord said -"Blessed are ye that hunger and thirst after righteousness." They hunger after God himself in his blessed manifestations -"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God." Ps 42:1 They hunger after the bread of life which came down from heaven, that a man should eat thereof and not die. They hunger after Christ and his manifestations of himself. Christ, in the letter of the word, cannot satisfy their keen appetite. They must feed upon him internally, or their famine still continues. Hunger implies desire accompanied with pain, an appetite after food which must be gratified or the body perishes, and this is, appetite after suitable food. To these hungry famishing souls, to have Christ in the letter is like a starving beggar standing outside a shop where there are plenty of provisions, and not to have a farthing to buy them with. What is Christ in the letter? Will a sight of Christ in the Word of God remove the burden of guilt, bring peace into the soul, purge the conscience, subdue the power of sin? Will the mere doctrine of Christ draw up the affections to him, cast out the world, dethrone self, or purify the heart? Alas! we say, by painful experience, not one jot, not one jot. But the presence of Christ in the soul can at once do all these things. Thus a hungry famishing soul can only be pacified by Christ coming into his heart, as the hope of glory.
I spoke of a standard in the beginning of this discourse with two ends to it, -the one dipping down into the felt misery, ruin, and helplessness, that the awakened soul groans under; the other reaching up to the discoveries of mercy and love. Cannot you come in at one end, if you cannot reach the other? What are you hungering after? Can anything satisfy your soul but a revealed Christ, and are you not at times earnestly panting after the visitations of his blessed presence? Are you not longing after the dew drops of God s favour in your soul, to fill you with that peace which passeth understanding? What are all your sighs, cries, groans, tears, and midnight wrestlings, but after the coming down into your soul of a loving Jesus; and do you not cast aside all consolations but those which spring from him? Then you are one of the hungry whom the Lord will feed with good things. A child of God cannot do with counterfeit food, and his appetite soon teaches him to see through all deceptions.
But what are some of "the good things" that the Lord feeds the hungry foul with? Whatever he feeds them with must be good, as coming from the source and fountain of all good.
Pardon of sin is one of these good and perfect gifts. Guilt makes the soul hunger after pardon, and fits the conscience for the reception of it. A filthy conscience and atoning blood sweetly suit one another, just as a starving body and a loaf of bread are well met. None of God s children can die until fed with this good thing, for "he pardons all those whom he reserves." But he does not say how much, or how long they shall hunger after it before they are fed.
A drop of God s love is another good thing that he feeds, sooner or later, all his hungry children with. But what a previous longing, panting desire, what a stretching forth of the hands, what a reaching forth of every breath of the soul after it! "Oh," says the soul, "were it only a drop! I want no more. One drop! one drop!" And what anxious listening after the voice that shall inwardly whisper it! what sinking down into the old spot of condemnation, doubt, and fear, when denied the eagerly sought favour!
Communion with God is another good thing that he feeds the hungry soul with. What is all prayer, falling down upon one s knees, and offering words to the Most High, where the heart is not engaged in the work? This will satisfy Pharisees and hypocrites. But living children are hungering after soul communion; to feel their whole heart and affections drawn upwards to God; to be enabled and privileged to drink at the fountain head; to feel able to walk with God and talk with God, as though they and he were alone in one solemn sacred spot, and there was no other believer on the face of the earth.
Deliverance from temptation is another good thing that the Lord feeds his hungry people with. Oh, the power of temptation over a man! Oh, his weakness and helplessness against it! Oh, the struggles, groans, sighs, prayers, and tears to be delivered from it! Oh, the importunate, almost angry, petitions to be saved from its power and presence! None but tempted souls know these conflicts. When the Lord delivers the godly out of these temptations it is a good thing; for none but he can break the hurtful snare, and let the poor prisoner free.
A good hope through grace that we belong to Jesus is a good thing that the hungry soul is sometimes fed with. When the Lord gives the tempest-tost soul to feel that there is for it a peaceful haven and quiet dwelling place after all the storms of life, and drops down some foretaste of it, and enables the soul to cast anchor within the veil, until that harbour is entered, that is indeed a good thing.
Time will not suffer me to enumerate all the good things that the hungry are fed with, as they include all the spiritual blessings that God hath blessed the Church with in Christ.
But, my friends, in order to get at any or all of these good things a certain path must be travelled in. There is no climbing over or creeping under the strait gate and the narrow way. It is a path which the vulture s eye hath not seen, contrary to flesh and blood, opposed to human reason, and mortifying to all the pride of man. None are in the path of life but those that are, more or less, lowly, teachable, sincere, simple, hungering and thirsting, tender hearted, and feeling. Oh, it is a good thing, when inwardly, in the depth of soul extremity, in poverty and nakedness, we can feel and find something stirring in our hearts, which has been breathed there out of the eternal fountain of life and love. To have something brought into our heart that wears a spiritual stamp, and carries God s own impress upon it.
But he that will get at these things must get at them in God s way. And, therefore, the soul that is anxious after these blessings, so great, so unspeakable, speaks thus -"My flesh shrinks from the trials, but my spirit wants the blessings. Has God joined them together? let me not seek to put them asunder. Let me be made willing to walk in a painful path, not one strewed with flowers, but of the Lord s own choosing. Though my flesh may rebel, make me, 0 Lord, willing to be nothing. Let me only be favoured with thy smiles, and not be one of the rich whom thou sendest empty away."