The Precious Taken Forth from the Vile - (Part 2)
But besides these foundation doctrines of our most holy faith, there is a whole chain of divine truth, of which every link is "precious" to believing souls. Such, for instance, are the doctrines of "an everlasting Covenant, ordered in all things and sure;" of the incarnation of the Son of God by taking upon him a real yet pure humanity in the womb of the Virgin; of the full, perfect, and complete redemption of the church of Christ by the shedding of his precious blood upon the cross; of the free and full justification of their persons by the imputation of his perfect obedience to the law of God; of regeneration of the vessels of mercy in the appointed season by the power of the Holy Ghost; and of their being kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation. All these doctrines, with everything good and God-like that springs out of them, are precious to those that believe.
But there are also "vile" doctrines, and they are "vile" because opposed to pure and precious truth. They are not only cheap and worthless, mere chaff and dross, but they are "vile" as polluted by the corrupt mind of man which gave them birth. One of these "viles" doctrines is that of man s righteousness, as able, wholly or in part, to save his soul, and thus bringing in a way of salvation independent of the blood of the Lamb. However it may be wrapped up by specious arguments and a show of holiness, any such doctrine is "vile," as casting dishonour upon the blood and righteousness of the Son of God, and thus robbing God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost of their equal glory, as planning and accomplishing the scheme of eternal redemption.
But the professing church, by which I mean those who profess the doctrines of grace, with which we have chiefly to do, is full of "vile" doctrines. That a believer, for instance, cannot backslide, is a "vile" doctrine, because contrary both to the express declarations of God s word, and to the daily experience of all his children. It is a "vile" doctrine also from its tendency to harden men in sin, and to make the slips and falls of believers of no consequence: and "vile" because it virtually confounds the very principles of right and wrong, overthrows all godly fear, and encourages a whole tribe of wanton professors to mock a holy, heart-searching God, and trifle with their own immortal souls.
A kindred doctrine, and equally "vile," is, that God does not chastise his people for their sins, which is a direct contradiction to the plainest testimonies of God s word, as, for instance, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Heb 12:6 How "vile," then, must that doctrine be, which thus sets itself in direct opposition to the plain and positive testimony of God, and encourages vile professors to dally with their sins as not chastised for any of them.
I may also add, if a doctrine be "precious," whatever denies it must be "vile;" and therefore all those views and arguments which have been lately set up, in a whole shower of pamphlets, against the eternal Sonship of our blessed Lord, must be essentially vile, as contradicting precious truth, and alike dishonouring God the Father by denying that he has a Son, and God the Son by denying that he has a Father, and God the Holy Ghost by denying his testimony to both Father and Son.
iii. But there is also precious experience as there is vile experience. All experience wrought in the soul by the power of God is "precious" experience, as being in itself of unspeakable value as the gift of God, and as the pledge, earnest, and foretaste of eternal life. Thus, everything that God is pleased to do in and for a believer: every promise applied with power to his soul: every sweet word of encouragement: every manifestation of Christ and inward revelation of him as the Son of God, are all so many parts and portions of a precious experience: for their sure fruit is to make Jesus precious. And as Jesus is revealed to faith, as hope anchors in him, and love flows forth toward him, every act of living faith, of hope, and of affection, is precious experience. So also is every feeling of simplicity and godly sincerity: of tenderness of conscience, and filial fear: all meltings into contrition and penitential sorrow for sin: all true self-loathing and self-abhorrence: all crucifixion of the flesh, with its affections and lusts: all putting off of the old man and putting on of the new: all spirituality of mind: all fellowship with the Father and the Son -in a word, all that life of God in the soul by which a living branch is distinguished from a dead and fruitless bough, may be called precious experience, as being wrought in the heart by the power of God.
But there is vile experience: an experience of corruption but not of salvation and sanctification: of the malady, but not of the remedy: of temptation, but not of deliverance; of slips and falls, but not of any recovery from them; of sinning, but not of repenting; of the evils of the heart, but not of the grace that subdues them; of darkness, coldness, and hardness, but not of light, life, liberty, and love. Such an experience is a vile experience, because cheap and worthless, the mere refuse of a corrupt nature in which and under which there may not be one mark or feature of a work of grace. Possessors and professors of this vile experience will sometimes get together, and turn out their hearts to one another. They will talk of their barrenness, darkness and hardness; and well they may, for they have neither life, nor light, nor grace to make them otherwise. Peter has well described their character as "servants of corruption," for they were never delivered from it by the power of grace; and vet they speak great swelling words of vanity, sporting themselves with their own deceivings, beguiling unstable souls, and speaking evil of the things (the things of the Spirit) that they understand not. 2Pe 2:12-19 Of what use or value is a knowledge of sin and corruption without a knowledge of the remedy for them?
What should we think of a surgeon in the London Hospital, close by, uncovering wound after wound, probing and laying open to view all the ulcerous matter, and then neither to swathe, bind, nor cure them? Any rough medical student could tear away the bandage, lay open the wound, and pass on to another patient. But this is not surgery. This is not the healing hand, the soft bandage, or the soothing balm. So it is in grace. It is true that God the eternal Spirit lays bare the depths of the fall: uncovers the ulcerous wounds that sin has made: strips off the bandages and plaisters wherewith physicians of no value would "heal the hurt of the daughter of God s people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, where there is no peace." But if he make us feel the deep pollution of our fallen nature, he does not leave us to die in our corruption, still less to mistake the ulcerous sore for the healing plaister: but in due time he brings the balm of a Saviour s love and blood to cure every gaping, bleeding wound. And when the soul enjoys the sweet manifestations of super-abounding grace and of pardoning love, the same heavenly Testifier of Jesus raises up and draws forth a holy fear of sinning against so merciful and gracious a God: and this constraining love of Christ gives power and motive to crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts, to mortify the whole body of sin, and to do those things which are pleasing in God s sight. This is a "precious" experience, for it is fruitful in every good word and work. But an experience of corruption, without a groan under it; of temptation, without any deliverance from it; of sin, without any mortification of it; of the flesh, without any crucifixion to it: of the world, without any deadness to it, is a "vile" experience- an experience rather of the pot-house or the brothel than of the love of God and the work of faith with power.
iv. But again. There is "precious" practice and "vile" practice. Precious practice is that which springs out of a vital, abiding union with Christ as the only true vine, according to the Lord s own words: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in me, I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." Joh 15:4,5 No practice, therefore, can really be called "precious," unless first wrought by the power of God in the heart, and issuing thence in the lip and the life. Thus "the precious sons" and daughters of Zion are distinguished from the vile professors of the day, not only by the possession of a precious experience, but by the performance of precious practice: and thus they bring forth "the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." Indeed none but they bring forth good fruit, speak good words, or do good works: for in order "to give goodly words." like Naphtali, the soul must be "satisfied with favour and full with the blessing of the Lord." Ge 49:21 De 33:23
So in order to do good works, and thus bring forth good fruit, the tree must be first made good: Mt 12:33 and this cannot be unless it be a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. Isa 61:3 The grand mark of the living branches in the vine is that they bear fruit; and "every branch that beareth fruit the Father purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit." Under, then, his purifying, cleansing hand the branch brings forth increasing fruit to his praise, as the Lord himself speaks: "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." Joh 15:8 To love God s people, to do what lies in our power for their profit and benefit; to be separate from the world in heart and life; to live, speak, and act in the daily fear of God, desiring to know his will and do it; to watch against besetting sins; to be upon our guard against every temptation; to set a watch over the door of our lips; to be just and honourable in all our dealings; to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world; meekly to bear reproach, shame, and persecution for the Lord s sake: and to walk in the precepts of the gospel in all holy obedience as it becomes our profession -this is "precious" practice, and without it there is little evidence of the grace of God being in our hearts. But where do you hear these gospel fruits brought forward and insisted upon by the ministers of the letter? When and where do you hear them contending for the fruits of righteousness and a consistent walk and conversation: and that it is vain to talk of believing in Christ unless we walk in Christ s footsteps, are conformed to Christ s image, and imitate Christ s example? Doctrine, doctrine, doctrine -and all as hard and dry as hard hearts and brazen throats can make it, is their constant theme; but like "the troops of Tema," or "the companies of Sheba," we may look in vain, and wait, and wait long, for any breaking forth of a living experience like a brook in the desert, or any practice hanging upon their bough as a cluster of gospel fruit.
But what is "vile" practice? We may divide it into practice that is cheap and worthless, and practice that is polluted and corrupt.
1. There is much practice, which appears to be good, but is cheap and worthless, as not springing from grace. Such is all the practice, which does not spring out of a vital union with the Son of God: for if "without him we can do nothing," all practice without him is nothing worth. This cuts off at a stroke all the good works of men profane or professing who have no union with the living vine.
2. But how much practice in our day is "vile" in the worst sense of the word. What a vast amount there is of pride, covetousness, cheating, lying, and, it is to be feared, secret drunkenness, amongst those who profess the truth in the letter. The late controversy has disclosed a vast amount of error in the professing churches; and I am strongly of opinion that if our professing Jerusalem were searched as with candles, there would be found as appalling a mass of evil as there is of error. I have thought sometimes of London and its scenes of misery and crime, say at 10 o clock at night. Could we be, as it were, suspended aloft, and see the whole of this seething, reeking Metropolis spread before our eyes as a panorama underneath -I need not say more; how we should shrink at the sight as we witnessed tens of thousands of crimes, perhaps including murders, passing before our eyes which at present are hidden from view. Now, if in a similar way the vail could be suddenly removed off the churches, what evils should we see committed which now are only viewed by God s omniscient eye.
But apart from these more glaring evils, what a vast amount there is of enmity, violence, slander, and calumny displayed by those who are deeply sunk in the error which you have had, even in these walls, to combat. Is not this vile practice? And has anything more clearly manifested the spirit of the men who hold the error than the weapons which they have made use of to defend it, and to beat down, if possible, both the truth itself and its champions? But there is a mercy in this, for they have been thus more clearly manifested as under the power and influence of the spirit of error, and as defending a bad cause with bad weapons.
II. But to pass on to our second point. What is the main office of the servant of God, as pointed out in our text? He is to take forth the precious from the vile. The very form of this expression clearly implies that the precious and the vile are mingled together in such a heap that it needs the power of God, as manifested in the ministry of his servants, to take forth one from the other. And you will observe that the command is not to take forth the vile from the precious, but the precious from the vile. The servant of God, therefore, must needs be blessed with three things to enable him to do this -a discerning eye, a courageous heart, and a strong hand. If he have not a discerning eye, he cannot know the precious from the vile: if he have not a courageous heart, he will falter from the fear of man; and if he have not a strong hand, he will not be able to take forth the one from the other, as they are so closely and firmly blended together. But who is sufficient for these things? None but he whose sufficiency is of God.
But how is he to take forth the precious from the vile? Not by the hand of violence or persecution, for the tares are to be allowed to grow with the wheat to the harvest; nor in his own spirit, for there is such a thing as preaching Christ of contention: Php 1:16 nor by carnal argument, and "enticing words of man s wisdom," for the faith of God s saints is not to "stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." 1Co 2:4,5 But he is to take forth the precious from the vile by the power of God resting upon his testimony. He sees with a discerning eye how they are mingled one with the other, feels at times a holy zeal of heavenly warmth in his bosom, such as Phinehas felt when he was zealous for God s sake among the children of Israel, Nu 25:11 and as he is aided by God putting words into his mouth, to show who are precious characters and who are vile characters, what are precious doctrines and what are vile doctrines, what is a precious experience and what is a vile experience, what is precious practice and what is vile practice, he instrumentally and ministerially takes forth the precious from the vile. We are to expect in the professing church of God this apparently strange mixture. It is so as regards characters, according to the Apostle s testimony. "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth: and some to honour and some to dishonour." 2Ti 2:20 The vessels of gold and silver are "precious" characters, for they are made and used "to honour;" but the vessels of wood and of earth are "vile," for they are made and used "to dishonour." But the Apostle adds, "If a man, therefore, purge himself from these," that is, if he purify himself by a godly separation from these vessels of wood and of earth, "he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master s use, and prepared unto every good work." 2Ti 2:21 Before, then, a servant of God can take forth "precious" characters from "vile" characters, he must be himself separated from them in heart, in spirit, in walk; for only in proportion to his own actual separation from them can he take forth the precious from the vile in his ministry. How can he, at least with any consistency, condemn those with whom he associates? How can he be sanctified and meet for the Master s use, if openly and visibly intermingled with vessels made to dishonour?
In a similar way, before he can take forth "precious" doctrines from "vile" doctrines, he must have known and felt the liberating and sanctifying power and influence of truth in his own heart, and also seen the polluting influence of error on the minds of others. Then he can take forth "precious" doctrine from "vile" doctrine with keenness of eye, courage of heart, and strength of hand.
So must he know something in his own soul of the blessedness of a "precious" experience, and see the awful delusion of a "vile" experience- loving the one as the work of God s grace, and hating the other as a deception of the devil. As, then, he sees and feels this, he can stretch forth his hand and take the "precious" experience of the saints of God from the "vile" experience of the servants of sin and Satan.
Constrained also by the love of Christ, and influenced by godly fear, he will be ever desiring to live to God s praise: and as, from time to time, the "vile" practices of ungodly professors are brought before his eves, he will take forth "precious" practice from vile practice by showing that the one is a fruit of the Spirit and the other a fruit of the flesh.
III. Now, so far as he does this, he is "as God s mouth:" that is, he speaks not only in the name but in the very power of God: for God speaks through him as if he were his own mouth. "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin." Mic 3:8 Look at your own experience, and see if you have not had some testimony in your own soul of the truth of this. When a servant of God has described God s people, held them up, as it were, before your eyes, as drawn by the finger of God, have you not had some witness in your bosom that it was the truth of God which fell from his lips? While he was discriminating between the possessor and the professor, and thus was taking forth the precious from the vile, you could read your spiritual features, as a child of God, and could bless him for any marks of his discriminating grace thus experimentally set up. But if he had huddled together saints and sinners, sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, without any separation or discrimination between the precious and the vile, what would his words have been to you but wind and confusion -an empty noise, in which there was no voice from God or testimony to conscience?
So again, when the servant of God is enabled to preach God s truth clearly and experimentally, to open it up and, at the same time, point out the errors by which it is opposed and contradicted -as he thus takes forth "precious" doctrines from "vile" doctrines, and the blessed Spirit accompanies his word with power to your soul, you know that God is speaking in him by the same power which has at various times made his truth precious to your soul. So, when he points out error, disentangling it from all its glosses and its interminglings with truth, as dressed up in its garb by erroneous men, it is made clear to you how "vile" it is, as robbing Jesus of his glory, and contradicting that truth of which you have felt the power and blessedness. Thus, as you see the beauty and feel the preciousness of truth in its purity and power, so you see the ugliness and feel the vileness of error.
So as to experience. When the servant of God has described what "precious" experience is, and taken it forth from a "vile" experience, you feel a sweet testimony that you are a partaker of grace, and blessed and taught of God. So when you hear a "vile" experience described, such as an experience of corruption without any groaning under it, a knowledge of sin without any deliverance from it, a continual entanglement in snares without their being ever broken, and an indulgence of every vile lust without any repentance for them or forsaking of them, you feel that this "vile" experience is hateful to God and his people, as a delusion of Satan or a mask of hypocrisy. As the precious experience of the saint of God is then taken forth from the vile experience of a hypocrite in Zion, your own spirit bears an inward testimony that God is speaking to you through his servant, for his word comes with power to your soul.
So as the servant of God takes forth the "precious" practice that springs out of the two-fold constraint of the love of Christ and the fear of God, from the vile practice of hardened professors, who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, and continue in sin that grace may abound, you have the witness in your own conscience that he is speaking for God as his mouth to your soul by way of instruction, encouragement, reproof, or caution; and as his words fall with power into your heart you receive them as if God himself were speaking to you by him.
Now, if a minister cannot or does not thus "take forth the precious from the vile," he cannot be God s mouth. How can he be? Does God mix wheat and tares in the same field? Does he put together sheep and goats into the same fold? It is true that in his providence he permits these things so to be; but it was "an enemy" that sowed the tares in the field. It is Satan who mingles his own seed, the seed of the serpent, with the children of God. Does the Lord approve of vile doctrines? Does he smile upon vile practices? Can, then, a man be a faithful servant of his, whose ministry never winnows the chaff, never separates truth from falsehood, never exposes the delusions of Satan, never denounces practical ungodliness? True it is that such a ministry will fill men s minds with enmity and wrath, and even some of the Lord s people may think it severe and cutting; but sooner or later, as their consciences are more abundantly wrought upon, they will have a testimony that it is God s mouth which speaks with power to their hearts.
We live in a day of little power in the ministry of the word. A spirit of slumber seems poured out upon our Zion. Ministers and congregations, like the wise and foolish virgins, seem generally slumbering: and we now seem to have come to that point where there is little taking forth of the precious from the vile, and therefore but few are as God s mouth.
IV. But we come now to our last point. "Let them return unto thee: but return not thou unto them." There will be, there must be, a separating fan where God s truth is faithfully preached. We are warned that "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine," that is, salutary teaching, "but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears: and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." 2Ti 4:3,4 When, then, the servants of God take forth the precious from the vile, those who are convicted by their ministry, either as vile characters, or as holding vile doctrines, or as deluded by a vile experience, or of being guilty of vile practices, not being able to bear the condemnation of their own conscience, go out one by one, like the accusers of the woman taken in adultery. Jeremiah saw friends turn into enemies, and one after another drop off; and there might have been a temptation in his mind to go after them, in order to bring them back. But God said to him, "Let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them." There was to be no compromise of truth to win any back. If they went they were to go, and he was not to go after them. He was to stand firm if he stood alone. Some of them might return to him as being convinced that he was right and they were wrong. These he might receive, but he was not to deviate one jot from God s truth, or turn one step out of the way to gain their approbation or win their friendship.
So would I say unto this church as re-constituted upon a new basis- the basis of truth, and especially upon that vital, essential, and fundamental truth, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the true, proper, eternal, and only-begotten son of God. Let them, therefore, if the Lord should convince any of their error who are now no longer members of the church, return unto thee, but return not thou unto them. If there has been a pulling down of an old building, in which, through length of years and other circumstances, dry rot had made some of the beams and rafters rotten, to pull it down was far better than to patch it up. Like the leprous house, if the plague were widely spread, and no scraping or plastering could remove the fretting leprosy, the best, the wisest, the only course was "to break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house." Le 14:44,45 Error must needs be "a fretting leprosy." I rejoice, therefore, that this church has acted as it has done. I am convinced that there was no other way for the maintenance of the truth of God, or for the peace and prosperity of Zoar. I have considered the subject in all its bearings, as far as I could, and I have been brought to the fullest persuasion in my own mind that there was no other course to be taken but to dissolve the old church and to constitute a new one upon the grand foundation principles of our most holy faith. And I hope the Lord will give his testimony to the step so well, so wisely, and so firmly taken, by often visiting you in this place with his gracious power and manifested presence. This you will value more than the smiles of men, and supported by this, you will fear no frowns of preachers or professors. The Lord make it manifest that though the church be new, it is old Zoar still, and that it still retains those vital truths, older than the everlasting hills, which, as preached here, have been blessed for more than 50 years. I can say no more, and, as called to stand up before you this evening, I could say no less. I trust I have not spoken in my own spirit, with any wrath or any bitterness, but have preached what I believe is God s truth, with, I hope, a single eye to his glory, and your souls profit. In his hands therefore I leave it, that he may commend it with his own divine power to your hearts and consciences.