The Precious Taken Forth from the Vile - PREFACE & Part 1
When the following sermon was preached by me I had not the slightest idea that a reporter was present to take down the words as they fell from my lips: nor indeed was I made acquainted with that circumstance until the Ms., some time afterwards, was put into my hands. A hasty glance, however, over its pages at once convinced me that either I had given a most inadequate and imperfect exposition of the text, or that it was a most incomplete record of it; in other words, either that I had preached a very bad sermon, or had fallen into the hands of a bad reporter. I have learnt since I penned this that he took down much of the sermon in the dark. Which of the two was in fault, and I do not wish to throw the blame wholly off my shoulders on those of the reporter, I saw in a moment that the sermon could not go forth in the same shape as that in which it thus came before my eyes. Perfectly willing, then, should I have been that, according to Job s wish concerning himself, "it should have been as though it had not been, and have been carried from the womb to the grave," Job 10:19, -that grave of oblivion which has swallowed up thousands of far better sermons, but which still is never satisfied, nor ever says, "It is enough." Pr 30:16 But besides parental affection, which somehow or other makes preachers cleave to their own offspring, and plead for their life when born, though I have had too large a family in the sermon way to hail with pleasure any such increase, two feelings have concurred to make me willing to send forth the following discourse under its present amended shape:
1. That I might not shrink from giving my testimony in favour of the step, which has been taken to dissolve and re-constitute the church at Zoar. With that step I had nothing to do. I was not consulted upon it before it was taken, nor had I at the time any hand in it, directly or indirectly. But when made known to me I approved of it, highly approved of it, and therefore thought it right, when I was asked to preach at Zoar, to give my public testimony in its favour.
2. That my testimony, if of any value, might, with God s help and blessing, a little strengthen the hands of the Zoar friends in their present trying circumstances, by showing them from the word of truth that there must be a taking forth of the precious from the vile, if the servants of God are to be as God s mouth.
I have no doubt that the following pages will be considered by some as very personal. If by "personal" is meant pointed, separating preaching, I admit the truth of the charge, for if I am to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, it will have both point and edge, unless it be a wooden sword -a dagger of lath, more fit for the stage than the pulpit. But if by "personal" be meant an attack upon individuals, I disclaim the charge, and upon this plain and simple ground, that I do not personally know a single individual of those who once were but are now no longer members of the church at Zoar. I have attacked here and elsewhere their error, and justified the step which has issued in their separation; but of the individuals I know nothing, and therefore could not personally attack them. Personality in controversy I abhor. I have had indeed enough of it directed against myself to provoke me to retaliate in its sharpest form; but to make libellous attacks upon opponents under cover of religious controversy is abhorrent to every right feeling in my bosom. I wish to spare no man s error, but I ever desire to spare both his character and person. I could, indeed, in several flagrant cases, easily lay rough hands on both, for some of their deeds, or rather misdeeds, have for some years not been hidden in a corner; but I know that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal," and that "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."
J.C.P. Aug. 5th, 1861
THE PRECIOUS TAKEN FORTH FROM THE VILE Part 1
Preached at Zoar Chapel, Great Alie Street. London, on Thursday Evening, July 18th. 1861.
OF all the prophets of the Old Testament, Jeremiah appears to have undergone the largest amount as well as greatest variety of suffering for his Lord s sake. Many circumstances concurred to produce this. First, his lot was cast in a time of great general suffering. The Lord was pouring out his wrath upon the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. His sore judgments, long denounced, were now being executed. Sword, pestilence, and famine were stalking through the land; and as these were national judgments, the righteous and the unrighteous, the true prophet and the lying priest, the king on the throne and the captive in the dungeon, alike partook of them.
But he had not only a large measure of personal, individual suffering, but, as deeply sympathising with a captive people, a besieged city, and a fallen church, and as identifying himself with the afflictions of Zion, as an eye-witness of the fearful scenes of desolation that were daily spread before his eyes, "for these things he wept; his eye ran down with water, because the Comforter that should relieve his soul was far from him, and his children were desolate because the enemy preveiled." La 1:16
Another ingredient in the cup much also embittered his lot -the persecution and opposition that he met with in the discharge of his prophetical office. The false prophets of those days always prophesied good and not evil; and thus, by their lies and deceptions, buoyed up the people in a vain security. Their language to the people, -and this they pretended they spoke by the inspiration of God, -was, "Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place." Jer 14:13 Thus they "prophesied lies in the Lord s name," telling the people, even when surrounded by the invading armies of Nebuchadnezzar, that they should not go down to Babylon: that there was to be no captivity of the nation, no destruction of their city, or desolation of their temple: crying out continually, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these:" as if, because they were the Lord s people in external covenant, he would never punish them for their sins.
And is not this the exact feature of the false prophets of our day, who will not allow that the people of God ever undergo chastisement for their sins and backslidings? who cry, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace? who neither preach nor practise the precepts of the gospel, but wrap all their ministry up in a system of dry doctrine, and thus deceive the people in the Lord s name, by pretending to be his servants when he has neither taught nor sent them? As Jeremiah, then, was raised up of the Lord for a special purpose, and "set over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down," as well as "to build, and to plant," Jer 1:10 he could not but speak all that the Lord put into his mouth. His tidings, therefore, were heavy tidings, for he had to declare to them that they were to go into captivity, even unto Babylon; that their city was to be taken; their temple to be burnt with fire; and the whole land to be made utterly desolate. This unwelcome news, therefore, stirred up the enmity of the princes, the priests, and the whole people of the land, who had been all propped up by the false prophets, to whom they looked as the mouth of God, to believe themselves sure of his protecting hand.
But in addition to these outward troubles, Jeremiah appears to have possessed naturally a very rebellious spirit, which, as stirred up by opposition and persecution, often made him very fretful and unbelieving; and this evil appears at times to have gained great power and prevalence over him, for under its sad influence he was even sometimes permitted to use toward the Lord most unbecoming language, as, for instance, in the words immediately preceding our text, "Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?" What rebellious, inconsistent, unbecoming language is this! With the exceptions of Job and Jonah, there is scarcely any saint of God through the whole Scripture who fell into such rebellious language against the Majesty of heaven. But no doubt this rebellious spirit and murmuring tongue, falling back upon him in guilt and shame, produced a large additional measure of grief and trouble.
But in addition to this he had to endure great depths of personal affliction. He was committed into the court of the prison, and had for his subsistence but a piece of bread daily, given him until all the bread in the city was spent. Thence he was cast into the dungeon full of mud and mire; where he was like to die of hunger, for there was no more bread in the city Jer 37:21 Jer 38:6,9.
And when we add to this that the light of God s countenance was often withdrawn from him as a chastisement for his rebellion, we may well see that all this complication of circumstances filled his soul with trouble, and his mind with confusion. If rebellion against the Lord could be ever excusable, it was in the prophet Jeremiah; for we may be well sure that nothing but such a weight of sorrow could have drawn from him the passionate words that I have quoted, "Why is my pain perpetual," &c.
But how does the Lord answer this complaint? What is the solace, which he gives to his mourning prophet? What is the balm of consolation, which he pours into his bleeding wounds? Not what we should expect, and yet, seen in the light of the Spirit, a relief most blessedly adapted to all the circumstances of his case: "If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth." It is as if the Lord said, "Jeremiah, my own prophet, whom I have commissioned to bear my tidings to the nations: thou whom I expressly called by my Spirit and grace to this office, that thou shouldest be as my mouth, did I not set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to throw down every plant and every tree not of my setting, and every building not of my rearing? Why art thou thus filled with rebellion and self-pity at witnessing the effects of thine own work, which I gave thee to do? Why art thou weeping over the miseries of the people whom I am justly punishing? Why, as a soldier of the truth, art thou shrinking from the field of battle, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting? Or why fearest thou persecution from the enemies of God? Know this, for thy comfort and encouragement, that thy highest office and greatest privilege is to be my mouth. Dream not of worldly comfort: think not of a false and unrighteous peace with the ungodly, or of freedom from their persecution, as if, by some compromise, you might disarm their enmity or win their favour. Banish the thought of such carnal ease, and be satisfied with this one most blessed privilege, that thou art my mouth: that I do thee the honour to speak in thee and by thee: that whatsoever thy sufferings are, or shall be, thou still art my faithful servant: that I will still support thee, hold thee up, and bless thee, and make it manifest to thee and to all around thee that I have sent thee, and that my words in thy mouth shall be fulfilled, so that not one jot or tittle of them shall fail." This word from the Lord, as it dropped into the prophet s soul, calmed, no doubt, his rebellious spirit, and brought him to feel, if not to say, "Well, Lord, if I am to be thy mouth, I can bear all that thou mayest be pleased to lay upon me. As thy son and servant, as thy prophet and minister, let me speak thy words, not my own. I want not the smiles of men, I only want thy support, thy power, and thy presence, my God, my Father, and my Friend." Such, I believe, is the spirit and such the feeling of all who are sent to do Jeremiah s work, and through whose lips the God of Jeremiah speaks.
In opening up the words of the text, I shall, therefore, with God s help and blessing, show,
I. First, what is the "precious" and what is the "vile" mentioned in it;
II. Secondly, how the servant of God is to "take forth" the precious from the vile:
III. Thirdly, that so far as he does this he is "as God s mouth;" and,
IV. Fourthly, as, the Lord may enable, I shall drop a few remarks on the word given by the Lord to his prophet by way of holy caution: "Let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them."
I. Three things at once strike our mind as springing, as it were, out of the very bosom of our text: first, that in the professing church, for it is with that with which we have mainly to do, as Jeremiah had of old, there are things "precious" and things "vile:" secondly, that these are so mixed together as to require separation: and thirdly, that it is the main office of the servant of God to take forth one from the other. I am called upon. therefore, by the very position which I now occupy as standing up in the Lord s name in your pulpit, to show you what in the light of God s truth, is "precious" and what is "vile," that I may do what Jeremiah was told to do, and speak what Jeremiah was told to speak; and thus be to you as God s mouth, speaking with authority and power to your consciences.
What, then, is "the precious" and what is "the vile?" There may be others, but I shall chiefly confine myself to four distinct classes of precious things and vile things. There are, then, precious characters and vile characters; precious doctrines and vile doctrines; precious experience and vile experience; and precious practice and vile practice; and these precious characters and these vile characters, these precious doctrines and these vile doctrines, this precious experience and this vile experience, this precious practice and this vile practice, are so mingled together in the professing church that it needs the hand of the servant of God, as enabled by his Master, to take forth the one from the other, that he may be as God s mouth to God s people.
i. We will, then, first, look at precious characters and vile characters; and show, from the word of truth, who they are and what are their distinguishing features. But let us examine, in the light of the Scripture, the meaning of the word, "precious," for unless, as seeing light in God s light, we can clearly and plainly determine the meaning of the words, "precious" and "vile," we shall miss our mark at the very outset. What, then, is the literal and, I may add, scriptural meaning of the word, "precious?" First, then, it means something exceedingly valuable. Thus we speak of precious stones, such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. And this idea we find in the word of God, for there we read of "precious stones," 1Co 3:12, of "wisdom" being "more precious than rubies," Pr 3:15 and of "the precious onyx, or the sapphire." Job 28:16 These gems are called "precious," as containing large value in a small compass, and, as coveted objects of ornament, use, or beauty, worth large sums of money. But there is another idea attached to the word. "precious." as signifying articles exceedingly scarce, and, therefore, to be obtained only with great difficulty -for some things are precious, that is, bear a large nominal value on account of their rarity, which are not in themselves intrinsically valuable, such as old books and old china, which are precious in the eves of connoisseurs, often not from any real value but from their extreme scarceness. Take these two ideas, and apply them to the case before us. There are in the sight of God precious characters. But who are they? The elect of God, the church, of which Jesus is the glorious Head: the bride, the spouse of the Lord the Lamb. These are they to whom the Lord speaks, addressing himself to the church of God, "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee." Isa 43:4 These are "the precious sons," and we may add, "daughters," of Zion, La 4:2 of whom the prophet speaks as "comparable to fine gold," and who will one day be gloriously manifested when the Lord makes up his "jewels." Mal 3:17 These are unspeakably "precious," because, in God s sight, they are immeasurably valuable. But what gives them this value? Nothing in themselves, for they are all sunk in the ruins of the Adam fall, and in their carnal nature full of everything filthy and vile. But as members of the mystical body of Jesus, as chosen from all eternity in the glorious Person of the Son of God, as washed in the fountain of his most precious blood, and as justified by his perfect obedience, they stand before the throne of God "without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." And when in due time they are quickened into divine life by the invincible power of the Holy Ghost, are sanctified by his heavenly grace, and conformed to the suffering image of God s dear Son, they are, so to speak, doubly precious in the sight of God.
But as these glorious truths are so opposed by the pride of man s heart, let us look at them in the light of the Scripture. First, then, view the elect of God as given by the Father to the Son in eternity, according to the Lord s own words, "Thine they were, and thou gavest them me;" and again, "And all mine are thine and thine are mine." And do look at that wondrous language which, as it were, opens to us the depths of eternity and of that eternal love wherewith the Father loved the Son and his people in him: "And hast loved them. as thou has loved me." Joh 17:6,10 Jn 17:23 Must they not be in the eyes of God inconceivably precious if loved with the same love as that wherewith the eternal Father ever loved his eternal Son?
But they are precious also in his eyes as redeemed by the Son of his love. The Apostle therefore says. "Ye are bought with a price:" 1Co 6:20 and again it is declared, "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." 1Pe 1:18,19
But the real family of God, as compared with the great bulk of the profane and the professing world are very scarce -exceedingly rare, and that makes them, in the second sense of the word, "precious." Whatever deceptive speeches false charity may utter, it is most evident from the whole current of God s truth that his people, all through the Scriptures, are spoken of as exceedingly rare. How the Lord, for instance, speaks by this very prophet, "Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it." Jer 5:1 So when the prophet Ezekiel saw the six men commissioned to slay utterly old and young, every man having his slaughter weapon in his hand, how few were those that "sighed and cried for all the abominations," and upon whose foreheads the man clothed with linen set his mark! Eze 9:4-6 And if you answer that those were Old Testament times, what will you say to the words of the blessed Lord himself? "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Popular ministers, large congregations, and a motley mixture of worldly professors may give to the professing church a great appearance of outward prosperity; yet were you to weigh them in the balance of the sanctuary, how many of the precious children of God would you find amongst them? God and man view things and persons with different eyes. Man looketh on, as he only can see, the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. None are more overlooked, or, if known, more despised in our day than those precious characters whom the Lord loves, for few are favoured with spiritual discernment to distinguish between the living family of God and the hypocrites in Zion. The day will indeed come when "the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken:" but until then "the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy and to utter error against the Lord." Isa 32:3,6
Let us now, however, look at "the vile," as opposed to the precious: and as we have thus far spoken of precious characters, we will now fix our eyes upon vile characters. But as I showed the literal meaning of the word, "precious," before I traced out its experimental signification, so look with me first at the word, "vile." It means, first, cheap, worthless; an object of no real or intrinsic value. Such, in the sight of God, are all but those who have a personal interest in the Person and work of his dear Son. Whatever may be their rank or station, whatever be their natural abilities or acquired learning, whatever be their moral conduct, religious profession, sect or denomination, whatever others may think of them, or they may say or think of themselves, they are all worthless and vile in the sight of God who have no standing in the Person or place in the heart of the Son of God. They are, therefore, spoken of as chaff, which "the wind driveth away" Ps 1:4 and which is burnt "with unquenchable fire." Mt 3:12 They are also compared to "tares" among the wheat; Mt 13:25 to "dross," as in the expression, "Thou puttest away the wicked like dross;" Ps 119:119 and to "reprobate" or "refuse silver;" Jer 6:30 all which figures point to things worthless in themselves, and yet mingled with what is valuable. Sin having taken full possession of them, and they not being washed from their iniquity in the atoning blood of the Lamb, nor clothed in the spotless righteousness of the Son of God, they are in the sight of him who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity," altogether worthless and vile. That the word, "vile," in Scripture has the meaning of worthless and refuse is plain from a remarkable passage in the history of Saul, when, contrary to God s command, he and the people with him spared Agag, and "the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good; but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly." 1Sa 15:9
But take another signification of the word, "vile," as meaning base and corrupt. This is the most usual sense of the term: for, as the saints of God are "precious." not only from their intrinsic value as elect jewels in the mediatorial crown, but as redeemed from all their iniquities by the precious blood of Christ, so the vile are not only cheap and worthless, as having no union with Christ, but are, in the eyes of God, corrupt and impure, as lying naked before him in all their iniquities, and, like the child spoken of by the prophet, polluted in their own blood, and cast out in the open field to the loathing of their persons. Eze 16:5,6 They are, therefore, "vile" in the sight of God, not only as sunk in the ruins of the Adam fall, but as additionally stained and polluted with thousands of crimes, their throat being an open sepulcher, the poison of asps under their lips, their mouth full of cursing and bitterness, their feet swift to shed blood, and destruction and misery in all their ways. Ro 3:13-16 And we may observe, in passing, that as the precious and the vile are mixed together, and the servant of the Lord has "to take forth" one from the other, it is very plain that these vile characters are in the professing church, and therefore, besides the sins of their former profanity, are wrapped up in the additional iniquity of a false, hypocritical profession. Such were the sons of Eli, who, as priests, offered sacrifice at Shiloh, and "made themselves vile," according to God s testimony, by wrapping up their sins under priestly garments. 1Sa 3:13 So Jeremiah had two "baskets of figs" set before him, of which the one were "good, very good," and the others "evil, very evil;" yet both fruit that grew on the same tree. The professing church is full of these "vile figs that cannot be eaten, they are so evil;" Jer 29:17 and all the servant of God can do is to take forth the precious from the vile, as the good figs are picked out to be eaten, and the vile tossed away into the hog trough.
ii. But there are also precious doctrines and vile doctrines: and as the precious characters and the vile characters are mingled together, as on a barn floor, in the same heap, lie wheat and chaff, so vile doctrines and precious doctrines may be seemingly so mixed together that it needs the hand of the servant of God to take forth the one from the other. What. Then, are precious doctrines? and why are they precious? They are precious as dear to God: and because they have been revealed by the Holy Ghost in the word of truth they are made precious to believing hearts. Among these precious doctrines, and indeed the foundation of them all is the great and glorious doctrine of a Three-One God -a real Trinity of Persons in a Unity of Essence. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not mere characters and offices, or mere names and titles, but express what they are in their eternal being anterior to and independent of any covenant relationship. Thus the Father ever was ever is and ever must be, the eternal Father: the Son ever was, ever is and ever must be the eternal Son: and the Spirit ever was, ever is, and ever must be the eternal Spirit; and yet not Three Eternals but One Eternal: for though they are Three in distinctness of Person, yet are they One in Unity of Essence: and there can no more be three distinct Eternals than there can be three distinct Gods.
I cannot be silent, standing, as I do here, at such a crisis in the history not only of the well-being but the very being itself of you as a church, on such a foundation truth as this. The true, proper, and eternal Sonship of our glorious Lord has been made very precious to my soul, and if I have found an indescribable blessedness and preciousness in the vital truth that Jesus was from all eternity the Son of God, why should I keep it back because so many preachers and professors have lifted up their heel against it? And am I the only one to whom this blessed truth has been made precious? What a mighty array of men of God, whose writings now live, though they are dead, might be summoned as witnesses of this blessed truth; and some of you can testify that God has himself revealed it to your hearts. Were we, then, silent, would not the very stones be ready to cry out? But as this precious doctrine has been so much opposed, and such awful language held against it by its opponents, I feel I must drop a word, not in a way of controversy, but to relieve the difficulty of any timid, unestablished child of God who may stumble at an objection often brought against the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of the blessed Lord. You know that it is brought against us that we thereby hold "a begotten God." Not to speak of the irreverence of such unbecoming language, I will show you the fallacy of that objection. What fundamental truth do we lay down as the basis of all our faith? That there is but one God. "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one LORD." De 6:4 The essential Unity of God is the very basis of revelation itself: so that to depart from it is to deny the foundation of all religion, and to be an avowed infidel. See then, the consequence if we held, as we are charged, the doctrine of a begotten God. If that charge be true, we must hold not a Trinity of Persons in a Unity of Essence, but three distinct Gods: first, a begetting God: secondly, a begotten God; and thirdly, a proceeding God. But such three Gods would not be three distinct Persons, but three distinct Gods, which would at once contradict the very foundation principle of One God, from which we start and upon which we stand. It is, therefore, a "vile" perversion of our doctrine, and such as only a "vile" person would slander us with, knowing, as he must know, that we firmly hold the doctrine of the Trinity, of which the essential feature is, that whilst there is but one God there are three distinct Persons in one undivided Essence. To say, then, that we hold a begotten God is a vile perversion of that glorious truth which we feel so unspeakably precious.