Sinners Seeking the Lord and His Strength
by J. J. WEST - Preached on Lord's Day Morning, March 12th, 1865, at Winchelsea Church, Sussex
NOW, I have often before insisted upon the great fact, that "God's commandings are enablings," and that we have no power to obey a single command but by the enabling power of the Holy Ghost; and hence that verse in Rev. 22:14, "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates of the city." I have no occasion to annotate that vast passage, because I have explained it again and again that it has reference to those various commandments in God's Book, which can only be done as HE HIMSELF gives the power!
In this passage in the text, there are three of four such commands:
1. "Glory ye in HIS holy name."
It is upon these words that I am to preach the gospel to you.
1. "Glory ye in His holy name" and here I must pause over those vast words, "HIS HOLY NAME!"
"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21) JESUS means HEALER! And who is it that wants a physician? The sick man. "But when Jesus heard, He said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." (Matt. 9:12) In Isaiah 9:6, HIS name is again set forth "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." And in Acts 4:12, we have the same holy name declared: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." My text says, "HIS HOLY NAME!" and mark this, there is a great point in this "HIS HOLY NAME." Some persons are (if I may so speak) so familiar with God, destitute of that becoming reverence with which "HIS HOLY NAME" should be used. Bear in mind that our God is HOLY: HE is a HOLY GOD! "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of Him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isa. 6:3-5)
Now, upon this point the point of the HOLINESS of GOD! Where could we shelter ourselves from HIS infinite holiness, except in that mercy which is treasured up in CHRIST JESUS! "For He shall save His people from their sins." "A just God and a Saviour, none beside me." (Isa. 45:21)
Whilst we view JEHOVAH'S holiness, and practically estimate our own exceeding and terrible sin, we sink into the very dust, and should sink also into utter despair, except as we are enabled to plead (and this is all the plea we have) the name of JESUS! the blood of Jesus! and the finished work of Jesus! O! that blessed, that holy, that one all-prevailing name! "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal. 6:14) Paul was brought to that: and is it so with each of you? Do you really "Glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?" Is the world crucified unto you, and are you crucified unto the world? I do not suppose that half of our are!
Now mark these words in Jeremiah 9:23,24:"Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these I delight, saith the Lord." What a searching Word is that! how it cuts up root and branch, all creature-boasting, and all vain-glory. The wise of this world the scholar is not to boast of his wisdom or his scholarship; nor is the mighty to glory in his might, nor the rich man to be proud of his riches. But here is the secreta secret which I can never preach out fully, nor adequately proclaim: it is embodied in these vast words: "But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these I delight, saith the Lord." O! to be made to understand and to know the Lord! to grasp a something of HIS lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness! and mark: to know something of these vast attributes of God, as exercised by Himself towards ourselves! Is it so with us with you, and with me? What do we really know of God of a gracious God?
You and I must die! and what do we know, for ourselves, of God, as a pardoning Jehovah in Christ Jesus? O! how He proved His love, His everlasting love, by the death of His Son! How Christ suffered! how shamefully He was treated! how He was buffeted and slain! That cruel and insulting taunt "He saved others: Himself He cannot save!" Such was the mocking cry of the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders. O! the bitterness of their enmity. And mark, also, the Arminian boast and free-will heresy of these men, in these words that they shouted out while standing round the cross of the then dying Saviour: "He saved others: Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him." (Matt. 27:42) Specially see their delusion, as expressed in these words "and we will believe Him." O! how their eyes were blinded, and their hearts hardened! What Arminians they were in creed! how powerless to grasp the secrets of the Christian!
But, my hearers, are you and I enabled to glory only in HIM in Jesus? in His holy name? This is the point. And do we simply and only glory in this, that we understand and know the Lord? "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." (Eph. 2:8) Are you and I brought to know that? and do we feel our sins, and feel that salvation is by blood and love alone?
I am purposely pausing over this thought, that it may please God to put it into your hearts, and that He may use me as the pipe through which He may now speak to you.
2. I now come to these words, "Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord! (or, "Their heart shall rejoice that seek the Lord!")
But there is such a thing as seeking and not finding. "Then said one unto Him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And He said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." (Luke 13:23,24) Now I feel that I am a seeker, but is it a right kind of seeking? that's the point! All would seek, all would hope to be saved: but there is a right way and a wrong way, both, of seeking and hoping. The most abandoned characters murderers and others would hope to be saved from what might be only, perhaps, a mere carnal, coward fear of hell; but if a sinner really and truly seeks the Lord, it is simply because the Lord has sought out that sinner. "I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name." (Isa. 65:1) Mark this! "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)
My hearers, if we are seeking the Lord, we must know something of following Him, and what self-denial is. "And when He had called the people unto Him, with His disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:34-36) Christ must be pre-eminent.
Can you, and do you, say that? Are you seeking are you following the Lord? Paul instructs Timothy about this following. "But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses." (1 Tim. 6:11,12) And mark the title "O man of God!" How many such are hearing me here? how many men and women of God are assembled here?
If the Queen called a commoner to bestow on him a peerage, she confers on him a title, and he is registered in the peerage, and takes his seat amongst the peers in the House of Lords. But that title "O man of God!" is one that no earthly sovereign can bestow; it is in the gift of the King of kings: a title to be borne by all Jehovah's registered ones, and it ensures a place in God's everlasting kingdom. "In my Father's house are many mansions: if not, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:2,3) But while the crown is sure to, and for, all God's poor ones, in heaven hereafter, they must, while in this pilgrimage state here, endure and bear the cross, and as in that passage in 1 Tim. 6:11,12: the saved sinner must "Follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness, "So he must also "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses." The fight, the conflict, is often hard, but the victory is sure and certain.
"My soul followeth hard after Thee: Thy right hand upholdeth me." (Ps. 63:8) Are you and I following after Jesus Christ? Our doing so is because of that right hand upholding: in that is our enabling. Do you know what temptation is? what fiery trials are? what the conflict and struggle between the flesh and spirit are? Do you know what the bitterness and hatred of the world is? Are you belied, and hated, and despised, by the professor, and scorned by old friends and acquaintance, and many of your own kindred? This is something of the "hard following!" but the prop, the stay, the support, is the right hand upholding.
But the point is, that "The heart of them shall rejoice that seek the Lord." It is difficult to preach this point fully. The seekers and the followers of the Lord are mourners and sorrowing ones, and yet they know a secret joy, with which "a stranger cannot intermeddle." We must bear the cross here, but there is real joy and rejoicing in reserve for the Church of God! and we taste of this, every now and then, here, but the fullness of joy will be in God's everlasting kingdom.
Those professors who are now always rejoicing, the so-called "always rejoicing party," know nothing of these things. "There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen." (Job 28:7) But when I see a poor broken-hearted sinner bemoaning himself because of his iniquity and sin, and yet struggling up and down the narrow pathway, and seeking for true and abiding joy in Christ Jesus, then I know that there is something real and genuine in that. Look at the case of the woman in the gospel (she affords a pattern to my female hearers): "And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away; for she cried after us. But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, Help me. But He answered and said, it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." (Matt. 15:22-28) What a picture Christ drew of that poor woman, in verse 24:"But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." She saw the reality, her own self therein described, and immediately as a poor lost one, dropped at the feet of Israel's Shepherd, and worshipped Him. "Then came she and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me." At first she received no answer to her cry for mercy: "But He answered her not a word." And so it is with all God's children: at times He does not answer, but, as it were, "shutteth out our prayer," but His answers come at the right and appointed time. And so in her case: "But He answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
3. "Seek the Lord and His strength."
What have you come to this House of God for? Are you here really seeking after Him, and longing to know your interest, personally and individually, in Him and His finished work? is this really so?
Are you interested in that? Suppose you had an estate left you, how anxious you would be to see and know that your title-deed was all right. Now apply this to the one thing needful. The Church is an entailed estate, and the point is, Am I one, and are you one! Look at the case of Esau and Jacob. The blessing was Jacob's and not Esau's, simply because God had so decreed it: decreed that "the elder shall serve the younger." And so the old man shall serve the new man! "For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary, one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." (Gal. 5:17) And thus, the new-born sinner is forced to shriek out as Rebecca did: "And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." (Gen. 25:22,23) And so it is with the strugglings within us, when new-born. "If it be so, why am I thus?" is the cry of our hearts. Why such inward warfare? Why such a mass of sin within me? Why such thoughts? Why such corruption? Why, if I am a child of God, born from above, am I such a sinner? You cannot help these indwelling corruptions, but can you say with Paul, "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." There is blessed reality in that: "It is no more I, but sin" indwelling sin.
In Gen. 25 it is said, "And the boys grew." Esau grew, and Jacob grew; they both grew. So does the old man so does the new: hence the conflict!
Where are your progressive sanctificationists? That is an awful heresy, for the old man never improves, but GRACE reigns triumphant! But if you and I hate our sins, and mourn because of them, and if we cry for mercy and forgiveness, that is a test and a "token for good," in ourselves. I say, progressive sanctification is a heresy; but mark me, the more we grow in GRACE, and increase in the knowledge of God and of ourselves, the more we bewail and hate sin, and flee to Him to help and save, who only can deliver the poor sin-burdened soul!
All this drives us to "Seek the Lord and His strength," when we practically feel that we have no strength of our own. Hence that cry, "Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies." (Ps. 27:11) And also those words that I took for a text last week, in London, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." (Ps. 119:117) We have no power you and I have no strength to seek God of ourselves; and if we seek Him, it is because He has sought us. O! those words in Ezekiel 16:5,6"None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out into the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee in thy blood, Live." And also Isaiah 65:1"I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name."
Those words in Isaiah 65:1, were blessed to me years ago. I had been preaching error and heresy here, and also at Hastings; but the Truth, as embodied in those words, and applied with power, set me from Arminianism and free will, and shivered it to pieces.
When the Shepherd seeks out His own sheep, then, and not till then, the sheep will seek the Shepherd. But what is the profession and the system generally of the day? Why it is this: they say, that "If you will only seek you will find." But this is not the gospel! this is not the truth! "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44) No sinner can believe, no sinner can seek the Lord, till God Himself gives the will, and with that will, the power! Grace, freely given, works this in His people; and driving us away from every other shelter, forces us to seek and to flee to Him for strength, and peace, and all things. But if we are really seeking Him for His strength, we must renounce all other dependence, and be looking unto Him for all things: We must have the heart; and a sense of our own weakness and helplessness will force us, through Grace, to seek Him and His strength, and hence, we must renounce all our idols.
The word of command by John is "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," (1 John 5:21) "Little children!" such is the title of the elect of the children of God; and whether it be a little child in the pulpit, or little children in the pews, the command to each of such is, that we keep ourselves from idols! but we can only do so as God, by His grace, keeps us from them. O! it is a hard and rugged way: but do we feel the right hand upholding us, and we seek the Lord and His strength as earnestly as we often seek after earthly things?
If we are made to seek after the Lord, our name will be cast out as evil mind that! In that list of blessings in Matthew 5, this is one. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (ver. 11,12) And so it ever was: so it is now: and so it ever will be. It is the family mark! Prophets endured it: apostles suffered it: and God's children now are undergoing it. It is, in 1865, the same as in times of old!
My hearers, are you really seeking the Lord? that is the point before us. But O! how cold our love is our love to God love to one another. "By this shall all know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35) But the salvation of the elect is ensured, because of God's everlasting, unchanging love to His people. "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." (Jer. 31:3) And how that love has saved some of the vilest and worst of men. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:9-11) The bolt and the bar (if I may so speak) are on heaven's door, against all the unrighteous: but O! see the mercy they that are righteous, not in themselves, but in Christ Jesus, these shall inherit the kingdom of God; and in all, such a change shall be effected by sovereign grace, and these shall be made to hate sin and seek the Lord. O! those searching words "and such were some of you!" O! how humbling. "Who maketh to differ." And mark the words and the ground of the safety of the saved ones "but ye are washed!" Mark the grammar, here, of the word, "ye are washed." The thing is done, and not to be done. "But ye are sanctified" "are sanctified;" "but ye are justified" "are justified." O! those three "buts!" "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." And all this, "in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." And in this consists the freeness and fullness of the gospel. Salvation by Grace, "without the deeds of the law." "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." (Ezek. 36:25-27)
Death stares us all in the face, and O! what a thing to die, if not washed, if not sanctified, if not justified! Are we then "Seeking the Lord, and His strength?" We must be made to know and feel our own weakness. "And lest I should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Cor. 12:7-10) What a God, what a Father the Church has! He will not allow His children to be too happy here, and so He reproves, and chastens, and afflicts, and allows Satan to buffet them. The effect of Satan's buffeting Paul was, that it made him pray made him continue praying. "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me." "Thrice" he besought the Lord!
Do we know the mystic meaning of "the thorn in the flesh?" To illustrate this, have you ever had a thorn in the finger, festering there, and so paining you, fretting you? But when the thorn was out, the pain ceased. But Paul must bear this buffeting, this exercise, in order to realize the practical experience, spiritually. "And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (ver. 9,10) Nothing but experience can teach us this. Schools cannot teach it colleges cannot impart it: human learning and human power are helpless in this. We can only learn all this in the school of God. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." (Heb. 12:11)
4. "Seek His face evermore."
"When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face, my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." (Ps. 27:8) This is the secret. When God says to a sinner, "Seek ye My face," then the sinner so commanded obeys and says, "My heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." Are you each so seeking? Have you forgotten my text last Sunday afternoon? "My night on my bed I sought Him whom my soul loveth: I sought Him, but I found Him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek Him whom my soul loveth: I sought Him, but I found Him not. The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye Him whom my soul loveth?" (Songs 3:1-3) What do mere professors know of this? According to them, they can always see, and always find and put the devil behind them, as they choose. I wish I could do so: but I am powerless to do so of myself, and this drives me to Him who only can do it for His poor ones. But see in that Scripture in Solomon's Song, which I referred to, see how intensely the Church seeks her Husband how her soul loves Him, how she seeks after Him, and would obey and do His word and will (a good example, this, to you females)! And oh, in this seeking Christ, what a reality it was, as set forth in these words: "It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found Him whom my soul loveth: I held Him, and would not let Him go, until I had brought Him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me." (ver. 4) "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the word." (Eph. 5:25,26) Christ is the alone Healer Christ is the one Redeemer of His Church. Seek none but Him. Are you brought to Jesus?
"And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to Me." (Matt. 17:16,17) The disciples could not cure this poor afflicted one. But O! that word of command! "O Faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" "Bring him hither to Me." "Faithless and perverse," indeed: and just so, and just such, are you and I, in ourselves. "Lord, increase our faith."
Well now, my hearers, I have finished at least, run through this text; and so, I have done my part, instrumentally: but see for yourselves whether God has engrafted the word in your hearts. Everything here is fading away, and though we often want to have things according to our way and our mind, yet remember the text: "Glory ye in His holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord and His strength: seek His face evermore." I have not half preached out these words. It is a sense of guilt and sin that forces us out of self to seek Christ and our interest in Him, and so to see whether our sin is "covered." "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, sin covered. Blessed the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto Him. Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will instruct thee and teach thee with Mine eye." (Ps. 32:1-8) May you and I realize that for ourselves; and glorying in His name, and seeking Him in hope of eternal life and joy, may we "Seek the Lord and His strength" here, on earth, and so seeking, find Him and see His face, in eternity for evermore! "Glory ye in His holy name! let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore." (Ps. 105:3,4)
May God bless His own word, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.