The Ordering of the Cause before the Mercy Seat - Part 1
Preached at Gower Street Chapel, London, on Lord s Day Evening, 29th July, 1866.
THERE was a reality in Job s religion. It was not of a flimsy, notional, superficial nature; it was not merely a sound Calvinistic creed, and nothing more; it was not a religion of theory and speculation, nor a well-compacted system of doctrines and duties. There was something deeper, something more divine in Job s religion than any such mere pretence, delusion, imitation, or hypocrisy. And if our religion be of the right kind, there will be something deeper in it, something more powerful, spiritual, and supernatural, than notions and doctrines, theories and speculations, however scriptural and correct, merely passing to and fro in our minds. There will be a divine reality in it, if God the Spirit be the Author of it; and there will be no trifling with the solemn things of God, and with our own immortal souls.
But, before we enter into the text, let us look a little at the character of Job, the speaker here. Not that I mean to enter at any length into the spiritual character of Job, for that would take up the whole of the discourse; but just to drop a few hints, so as to throw, if God enable me, some little light upon the words of the text.
Job, then, had been a highly favoured child of God, and had known divine consolation in his soul, previous to this period. Upon that favoured state he looked back with fond regret, when he said "O that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle." Job 29:2-4 But those consolations and those sweet visitations Job had lost. And how came he to lose them? The Holy Ghost has, if I may use the expression without irreverence, admitted us behind the scenes to explain this mystery.
In the first and second chapters of Job, we find out how he lost all those precious consolations that his soul had once enjoyed. Up to the time of the circumstances recorded there, he had known but little of his own heart; the awful depth of nature s depravity had not been opened up to him; and he knew little of the temptations of Satan, and of the fiery darts which he throws into the carnal mind. We, therefore, find Satan taunting God respecting him: "Doth Job," he asks, "fear God for nought? Hast not thou made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side?" Job 1:10 This hedge, set up by the favour of God, kept off the fiery darts which Satan would otherwise have shot into his soul. But when the hedge was removed, we find Job believing that all the dreadful things his soul was exercised with, came from himself; and all the rebellion, blasphemy, and enmity that worked in his heart, he, not knowing that Satan was the secret author of them, took as his own. The Lord too having testified, as he thought, his displeasure against him by visiting him with calamities so great, with stroke upon stroke, and blow upon blow, he felt deserted by God and man. Where his religion was, what and where he himself was, and how he stood, he knew not, for "he walked in darkness, and had no light:" all his evidences were obscured and he could not tell what to make of himself. Now it was in this darkness, this horrible darkness, that fell upon him, that he poured forth his soul in the words of the text. "Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments."
Job, then, had found the Lord, and Job had lost him too. And you may depend upon it, it is a solemn truth that none but living souls ever find the Lord, and none but living souls ever lose the Lord; that none but those whose hearts God has touched ever feel the Lord s presence, or ever mourn the Lord s absence; and that none but God s children ever walk in the light of his countenance, or in such thick darkness, as not to see a single evidence, or trace out a solitary waymark.
But the desire of Job s soul was, to find the Lord. And if he could but find him, O, then he would pour out his very heart before him, and tell him all that he wanted. I can conceive bear with me a conclave of ministers sitting upon Job s case. When a patient is very ill naturally, you know there is often a consultation of physicians; and I can picture to myself a consultation of ministers on Job s case, with the various opinions they would give, and the various remedies they would propose. Here is the poor patient, and he keeps crying out, "O that I knew where I might find him!" The chief Rabbi of the Pharisees would say, "Kneel down Job, and say your prayers; is not that sufficient?" The Puseyite clergyman would urge, "Hear the voice of the only true Church; attend daily upon her admirable Liturgy; come to the altar, and partake of the flesh and blood of the Lord." The Wesleyan minister would cry, "Up and be doing; try your best; exert your free will, and shake off this gloom and despondency." The general Dissenter would advise "cheerful and active piety, to subscribe to Societies, and exert himself in the Lord s cause." And the dry doctrinal Calvinistic minister, with a look of contempt, would say, "Away with your doubts and fears, Job; this living upon frames and feelings, and poring over yourself. Do not gloat over your corruptions; look to Jesus; you are complete in him; why should you fear? you are quite safe." But the sick patient would still groan out, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" He would say, "You may all be very wise men, but to me you are physicians of no value. Oh that I knew where I might find him! "
And this will be the feeling of every God-taught soul. Men may say, "Away with your doubts and fears;" but he cannot away with them at the exhortation of letter ministers. They may cut down frames and feelings, and yet the poor soul who has frames and feelings knows that all his religion consists in them. They may tell him to look to Jesus: but, as Bunyan says in his experience, "they might as well tell him to reach the sun with his finger." After all, the poor soul would still groan out in darkness and sorrow, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" "If I could but once find him whom my soul loveth, there would be an end to all my darkness." But it is in the possession of these feelings of light and darkness, life and death, the Lord s presence and the Lord s absence, the finding of Jesus and the losing of Jesus, that "the secret of the Lord" which "is with them that fear him" Ps 25:14 consists: and those that know these things have the Lord in their hearts and will be with him in glory when the world is in a blaze.
But with God s blessing, we will look a little more closely at the words. We find, first, Job breathing out his desire after a certain object which he was earnestly pursuing; and that is couched in the two first clauses of the text-"Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!" And then he tells us what he would do, if the Lord would so favour his soul-"I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments."
Let us look at these two distinct portions of the subject. This desire of Job to obtain a certain object-and, what he would do, when that object was attained.
I.-The first object that he desired was this-"Oh that I knew where I might find him!" But how was it that Job could not find him? Job must have known what it was to find the Lord, or he would not have desired now to find him in his soul s experience. He must have tasted, felt, and known something of the Lord s presence, or he would not so sadly have mourned over the Lord s absence. He must have walked in the light of God s countenance, to make him feel what the darkness was when the Lord forsook him.
(i) This, then, is the grand goal toward which every runner in the heavenly race strains every nerve and sinew: this is the grand object of every quickened soul-to find the Lord. The Lord himself creates these desires in the heart; and certifies in every awakened conscience that the soul must find him by a living faith and by a divine revelation, or eternally and inevitably perish. Now, it is this conviction, thus fastened by God himself upon the conscience, that there is such a reality as finding the Lord, that so winnows out false religion from a man s heart. O what heaps of chaff are there in our hearts when God first takes us in hand! What mistakes, what blunders we make as to what true religion is! And though, wherever the fear of the Lord is, the heart is right in the main, yet we are continually mistaking the way.
But in spite and in the midst of all these blunders and mistakes, there is this conviction created by the power of God in the soul, that it must feel something, know something, enjoy something, and have something let down from heaven; must experience dew, savour, unction, power, love, blood and salvation. Thus when the Lord leads the soul under the law, and reveals his wrath in the covenant of Mount Sinai, what refuge can it find in the works of righteousness? The hailstones come down, the waterflood rises, and these drive the soul out of its refuges of lies. And thus, its own righteousness being beaten to pieces by the sentence of inward condemnation from a fiery law, the soul knows that unless pardon, mercy, and justification are sealed upon the conscience by the power of God the Spirit, it will live and die in its sins.
Wherever this conviction is fastened on the conscience, the soul, sooner or later, must come right; it cannot be deluded long; it cannot hide its head for any length of time in false refuges: it cannot take up with mere empty or insufficient evidences. Being hunted out of false refuges, it is brought to this solemn, deep, and inward conviction, that there is no peace but what the Lord speaks with his own voice to the soul; no pardon but what springs out of his atoning blood sprinkled upon the conscience; and no justification except in the application of Christ s righteousness, received and put on by a living faith. And you may depend upon it, if God the Spirit has wrought that conviction with power in a man s conscience, he never can be fully nor finally deceived; he will never long call evil good, nor good evil; he will never mistake darkness for light, nor light for darkness; he will never put bitter for sweet, nor sweet for bitter. He cannot be plastered over with untempered mortar; he will not let man or woman sew pillows under his armholes; he cannot be satisfied with the opinions of men, nor daubed over with an empty profession of religion; because he feels that he must have the light, the life, the power, and the witness of God in his conscience. The soul that knows this, knows something of the experience which Job breathed out from his soul-"Oh that I knew where I might find him!"
But some might say, "Is there not a Bible to read! Cannot you find him there?" Another might say, "Is there not a mercy-seat! Cannot you find him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such and such a chapel! Cannot you find him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such a duty! Cannot you find him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such a doctrine! Cannot you find him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such an ordinance! Cannot you find him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such a gospel church! Cannot you find him there?" But the poor soul still groans out, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" for I have tried all these things; and I cannot find him in these doctrines, duties, privileges, ordinances, in hearing, reading, or in talking. "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" though at the very ends of the earth, though through flames of persecution, or through the waters of affliction, though it were inside the walls of a Union Workhouse! "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" says the poor sorrowing, groaning soul. "If I could but find the Lord in my heart and conscience, if I could but taste his blessed presence in my soul, I should want no more, but be certain of going to heaven; glory would be begun, and the first-fruits of heaven be realised."
Now, such a one is perfectly safe, though he has not arrived at the desired enjoyment; the Spirit is secretly guiding him right by stripping him of all lying refuges, pulling the down out of the pillows sewed to the armholes, and digging the trowel into the untempered mortar that so many servants of Satan are plastering souls with. Eze 13:15,18 The soul is safe that is here; for none ever breathed out these sighs, groanings and cries into the bosom of the Lord, and said, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" that did not find him sooner or later, and embrace him in the arms of faith and affection as the "altogether lovely."
(ii) But this experience which I have endeavoured to trace out is not exactly that of the text, because Job had known something of the Lord s presence. The secret of the Lord had been upon his tabernacle; the dew of the Lord had rested upon his branch; and by the light of the Lord he had walked through darkness. Job 29:3,4 But the Lord had withdrawn himself; and a cloud in consequence had come over his soul, through which neither prayer nor faith could pierce. He looked "backward" to see the path in which he had been led, but darkness rested upon it; he could not run back to his past experience, and find the Lord there. He looked "forward," but he could not see any gleam of light there; dark clouds so hovered over his soul that he could not see the face of the Lord. If he looked "to the left hand" to see if he could trace out the Lord s hand in providence, he could not behold him through the cloud of his afflictions; and if he turned "to the right hand" where once he had set up his Ebenezers, they were all effaced. And therefore, not knowing which way to go, backward or forward, to the left hand or to the right, he could only sigh out, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" What he wanted was, the sweet presence of the Lord in his soul, access unto him by faith, some testimony from the Lord s lips, some sweet and precious discoveries of the Lord s grace, mercy and peace. And satisfied I am in my conscience, that nothing but what Job wanted can ever satisfy one that fears God.
(iii) But there is another clause of the text in which Job breathes out the fervent desire of his heart- "That I might come even to his seat!" The Lord, we read, "waits to be gracious." There is a mercy-seat where he sits to receive the petitions of his people. This was beautifully prefigured by the mercy-seat in the temple, that golden covering of the ark, where the Shechinah, the glory of God, was manifested, which hid the broken tables of the law, and which once a year, on the day of atonement, was sprinkled with the blood of the sin-offering. This was typical of the mercy-seat above, where mercy, grace, pardon, peace and salvation shine forth with glory and lustre, far beyond the Shechinah of the Tabernacle, in the Person, love, blood and work of Jesus. It was to this seat that Job desired to come. He wanted to be indulged with nearness to the Lord, with some sense that He was looking upon him, and with some testimony and inward witness that He was listening to and accepting his requests.
What a different thing is this spiritual access from mere wordy prayer! People talk about the duty of prayer, and how right it is and it is right, it is my daily privilege to bend the knee morning and evening before the Lord. But to bend my knees, and use words, is not necessarily to come near to the mercy-seat. I may bend my knees, and use words, may have my mind engaged in what I am saying, and be free from wandering thoughts. I may tell the Lord what I honestly want; I may confess my sins, and seek for mercy; I may ask for all the blessings that my soul really stands in need of; and yet not come in faith to the mercy-seat, have no sense of access, no enlargement of heart, no melting down of soul, no felt presence of God in my conscience, no sweet testimony that my prayers are heard and answered, no inward witness and token of the indwelling Spirit.
You may depend upon it, a living soul can never be satisfied with mere wordy prayer; I mean by the expression, words and no more. O, true prayer is something deeper than this! it is to have the groans, sighs, pantings, breathings, longings, hungerings and thirstings of a believing heart. Nor do these satisfy a living soul; he is glad to have them, and he is condemned when he has them not. But he can never put hungering instead of eating; nor thirsting instead of drinking; nor running instead of winning the race; nor wrestling instead of gaining the prize. To come in faith to the mercy-seat, to see it sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb, to view the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, to receive atoning blood into the conscience, and to enjoy the sweet witness and testimony of acceptance in the heart-this is what Job wanted to feel, and nothing but this can really satisfy a heart made honest and tender in God s fear.
How few know what prayer is! How little they know of the secret intercourse that a living soul carries on with the Lord! How few we hear at a prayer-meeting whose prayers drop into our conscience! and, though I am a minister myself, yet, I must say, there are very few men who stand up in the pulpit whose prayers seem indited by the Holy Ghost in their souls. They appear to have no reverence for the great God to whom they draw near; no pantings and longings for his felt presence; no hungerings and thirstings after the dew of his Spirit on their branch: but round and round they travel through their usual form, as though they were speaking to man, and not to the Lord of heaven and earth. But Job did not want any such mere wordy prayer. He knew there was something deeper, something higher, something more real, something more blessed, something more spiritual in coming to the mercy-seat than in any mere words that may come out of the lips; he wanted to be drawn by the Holy Ghost, to feel his power in the heart, to come near to the throne of grace, and there in all filial boldness and sweet confidence, with divine access, to breathe out his wants and petitions.
II.-But we pass on to consider what Job declared he would do, if the Lord would thus indulge him. You see, Job would not have been satisfied with merely drawing near; he wanted to have something done for him and in him. What this was, with God s help, I shall endeavour now to trace out.
(i) The first thing he would do, if the Lord would but indulge him with access to his seat would be this "I would order my cause before him!" But did not Job all this time feel pantings and longings after the Lord? Did not his soul groan out its desires through a sense of felt necessity, and was he not really pleading with the Lord all the time? But still he had not a sense of access in his soul; he could not tell the Lord all that was in his heart; he could not pour out his soul before the Lord. How much there is in that expression! Shall I use a familiar figure to illustrate it, as sometimes familiar figures are best adapted to that purpose? Look at a sack of corn: you know, when the mouth of the sack is tied up, there is no pouring out its contents; but let the sack be opened and thrown down, and then its contents are immediately poured out, and the rich grain falls upon the floor. Our hearts are sometimes like the sack with the mouth tied; there are desires, pantings, and longings; there are wants, and these urgently felt; but we cannot give them utterance. As we read, "I opened my mouth and panted." Ps 119:131
But the Lord in mercy at times opens the mouth; and then when the mouth is opened, the heart can pour out its desires, just as the rich grain is poured out of a sack when the mouth is untied. But must not the sack be full before the grain is poured out? If there are but a few grains at the bottom, or only half-a-pint of wheat in one corner of the sack, though you open the mouth, there is no pouring out of the rich grain. So with our hearts. If the heart be not full; if there be no vehement desires struggling for utterance, we may open the mouth, but there is no pouring it out in pantings and longings. This is to pour out the soul before the Lord. If you want a scriptural instance of it, read the first chapter of the first book of Samuel, where you will find a gracious woman, Hannah, so agitated, and so discovering the state of her mind by the convulsive movements of her frame, that the High Priest charged her with being drunken; but though her heart was so full that her lips quivered, and her very features betrayed what was passing within, yet she meekly replied to his chiding speech, when he bade her to put away her wine, "No, my lord, I am a women of a sorrowful spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord." 1Sa 1:15 That was something like prayer! And we know what a blessed answer the Lord gave her, and how the Holy Ghost has recorded her triumphal song.
If Job, then, were thus enabled by the Holy Ghost to come to the mercy-seat, he says, "I would order my cause before him!" The eternal work of the Spirit of God on the heart is sometimes compared in Scripture to a cause, or law-suit. For instance, "Let my sentence come forth from thy presence" Ps 17:2; where the Lord is requested, as a judge, to pronounce the decision in his favour. So, "Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment even unto my cause, my God and my Lord." Ps 35:23 "I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor." Ps 140:12 So in Mic 7:9: "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me."
The Lord is often spoken of as an Advocate, who pleads the cause of his people; and thus the work of grace in the heart is compared to a cause to be decided, and, the soul hopes, in its favour. Job therefore says, if he were but privileged and enabled to come before the mercy-seat, he would "order his cause" before the Lord; that is, he would spread it out before the divine tribunal in all its bearings. He would tell the Lord that there was a great cause to be tried, a law-suit to be decided, a judgment to be passed; and what he wanted was, to lay before him all that was going on in the court of conscience. He "would order his cause;" he would draw it out, in regular order, like a brief; would spread before the Lord all the pros and cons; would explain it thoroughly, and tell Him all that was for, and all that was against him, and draw it out that the Lord might decide upon it.
Now, you may depend upon it, that when the Lord makes a man honest by His grace, he will have a cause; and when He brings him before His mercy-seat, he will "order that cause before Him." It will not be just a word of confession, and then all passed over; but everything will be raked up from first to last; all the exercises of his mind, all the perplexities of his soul, all the temptations he has been harassed by, all the snares his feet have been caught in; -in short, the whole work of God on his conscience, in all its puzzling points, mysterious turnings, and intricate workings, will the soul order before the Lord, and spread out before His mercy-seat.
If a man is heir to an estate, and yet be kept out of it because he cannot establish a legal title, he will go to a lawyer, and when he gets his attention, how he will keep dinning into his ears all the particulars of his case; how he will bring out his pedigree, and weary the man by telling him how this is in his favour, and that is in his favour; and how he fears this point may be against him, and that may be against him; and how he considers this or that will turn the scale. He will "order his cause," and spread it out in all its intricacies and all its bearings, all its difficulties and niceties, and endeavour to make it out as plain as he can. And why? Because he is deeply interested in it; the point at stake is so valuable, that he wants a decision in his favour to put him in possession of the property.
The man who feels the importance of eternal things will be like the person I have just described as wanting to get the estate. He cannot be satisfied with telling the Lord a few things about his soul; but he will spread out the whole case before the Lord, from the beginning to the end, that all that is for him and all that is against him may be examined and looked at in their various lights, and weighed up in the balances of the sanctuary.
Are there not some here who make a great profession of religion, and perhaps are members of churches, who have never done this in their lives? Are there not those who have never weighed up their religion, never been tried about it, never have had doubts and fears to shake them to the very foundation, never turned the whole work over from first to last, never examined how the Lord dealt with them, when the work began, how it was carried on, where they are now, and what state their souls are in? Are there not some before me at this present moment, confident of their state, who have yet never spent half-an-hour in their lives in looking over their religion, in examining it from the very foundation, and scanning it through with all the anxiety that an heir to an estate examines the documents, and looks over the title-deeds to establish his title.
Why, surely, if your souls are at stake, and you feel the solemn importance of the things of eternity, there will be times and seasons when you will be examining how your souls stand for another life: you will be looking over all the work of grace from the beginning, at all its weak points and all its strong points. When a general knows the enemy is about to besiege a fortified town, he minutely examines all the works; and as he goes over them he sees there is a weak point here; and a strong point there; here the curtain needs to be defended, there the bastion needs to be fresh armed; he looks over all the fortress, and sees where the enemy can come in, and where he can be kept out. So an honest man before God will look at his religion; here is a weak point in his experience; it had not a striking beginning; here the enemy may come in; he has not been led deeply enough into a knowledge of his own heart. But here is a strong point, a clear manifestation.
Thus he will review his religion as a skilful general looks over a fortress, and examines every weak point, and every strong point, to see how the weak may be strengthened, and the strong be confirmed: for he knows, unless this is done, if the enemy come against him, he will be more than a match for him. When we come to look at religion in this way, and bring it to the test of God s word, what a mere shallow pretence to vital godliness satisfies most ministers, most hearers, and most congregations! How they take up with the flimsiest evidences of the work of grace, not considering their immortal souls are at stake! But that would not do for Job, nor will it do for me; nor will it do for anyone that fears God.