Sermon 262. Distinguishing Grace

(No. 262)

Delivered on Sabbath Evening, February 6th, 1859, by the


at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

"For who maketh thee to differ from another?"-1 Corinthians 4:7.

OR, AS IT IS in the Greek: "For who distinguisheth thee?" "Who giveth thee distinguishing and discriminating mercy?" "Whomaketh thee to differ from another?" Pride is the inherent sin of man, and yet it is of all sins the most foolish. A thousandarguments might be used to show its absurdity; but none of these would be sufficient to quench its vitality. Alive it is inthe heart, and there it will be, till we die to this world and rise again without spot or blemish. Yetmany are the arrows which may be shot at the heart of our boasting. Take for instance the argument of creation; how stronglythat thrusts at our pride. There is a vessel upon the potter's wheel, would it not be preposterous for that clay which thepotter fashioneth to boast itself and say, "How well am I fashioned! how beautifully am I proportioned; I deserve much praise!"Why, O lump of clay, whateverthou art, the potter made thee; however elegant thy proportions, however matchless thysymmetry, the glory is due to him that made thee, not to thyself; thou art but the work of his hands. And so let us speakunto ourselves. We are the thing formed; shall we say of ourselves that we deserve honor because God hath formed us excellentlyand wondrously? No, the fact of our creation should extinguish the sparks of our pride. What are we, after all, but as grasshoppersin his sight, as drops of the bucket, as lumps of animated dust; we are but the infants of a day when we are mostold; we are but the insects of an hour when we are most strong; we are but the wild ass's colt when we are most wise,we are but as folly and vanity when we are most excellent-let that tend to humble us. But surely if these prevail not to clipthe pinions of our high soaring pride, the Christian man may at least bind its wings with arguments derived from the distinguishinglove and peculiar mercies of God. "Who maketh thee to differ from another?"-This question should be like adagger put to the throat of our boasting;-"and what trust thou that thou didst not receive;"-it would be like a sword thrust through the heart of our self-exaltation and pride.

We shall now for a moment or two endeavor to put down our pride by observing wherein God hath distinguished us and made usto differ, and then by noticing that all this cometh of him, and should be a reason for humiliation, and not for boasting.

1. Many of us differ from others in God's providential dealings towards us. Let us think a moment how many there are of God'sprecious and dearly beloved children, who at this moment are in the depths of poverty. They are not walking about in sheepskinsand goatskins, persecuted, afflicted, and tormented; but still they are hungry, and no man gives them to eat; they are thirsty,and no man furnishes them with drink, their fires are wasted in poverty and their years indistress. Some there are of God's children who were once in affluence but have been suddenly plunged into the lowest depthsof penury; they knew what it was to be respected among the sons of men, but now they are among the dogs of the flock, andno man careth for them. There are some of us who are here present who have all that heart can wish: God hath given us foodand raiment, the lines have fallen unto us in pleasant places, and we have a goodly heritage. Let us gratefully ask-"Who makethus to differ? "Let us recollect that all we have is the gift of his providence. Not to you, O my hands, do I sacrificebecause ye have toiled for bread; not to you, O ye brains, will I offer incense, because ye have thought for my daily livelihood;not to you, O my lips, will I offer my adulation, because ye have been the means of furnishing me with words. No; unto God,who giveth power to get, and to have, and to enjoy; unto him be all the praise for what he hath done for us. Never let oursongs cease, for his goodness is an ever flowing stream. Perhaps none of us can ever know, until the great day shall revealit, how much some of God's servants are tried. To this day they have "perils by land, and perils by sea, and perils by falsebrethren;" to this hour they are pinched by want, they are deserted by friends, they know what despondency means, and allthe ill which dejection and disappointment can bring to them; they have dived into the lowest depths of the sea of trouble,andhave walked for many a league over the hot sand of the desert of affliction. And if God hath delivered us from these things,and hath made our path more pleasant, and hath led us beside the still waters, and into the green pastures,-if he hath distinguishedus by the common gifts of his providence above many others of his children who are far better and far more holy than we, whatshall we say? It is owing only to his grace towards us, and we will not exalt ourselves above our fellows, wewill not be high-minded, but condescend to men of low estate; we will not lift our necks with the proud, but we will bowdown our brows with the humble; every man shall be called our brother, not merely those who are arrayed in goodly raiment,but those who are clothed in the habiliments of toil, they shall be confessed to be our kindred, sprung from the same stock;for what have we that we have not received, and what maketh us to differ from another? I wish that some of the stiff-neckedgentryof our churches would at times recollect this. Their condition is smooth as oil, and as soft as young down, but theirhearts are as high as poplars, and their manners as stiff as hedge-stakes. There have been many who would do well if theywould learn that they have nothing beyond what God has given them. And the more God has given them, the more they are in debt.Why should a man boast because he is deeper in debt than another? Do the debtors in the Queen's Bench say to one another,"You areonly a hundred pounds in debt, and I a thousand, therefore I am a greater gentleman than you?" I think not. But, nevertheless,if they did so, they would be as wise as men who boast beyond their fellow-creatures because they happen to have more of rank,wealth, honor, and position, in this world. "Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst notreceive?"

But the best way for you to feel this part of the discourse is, to go to-morrow into the hospital, and walk along the wards,and see how poor men's bodies suffer, and then go into the operating-room and see what flesh and blood may have to endure.Then when you have done, go round the neighborhood to see the sick who have lain for ten, or twelve, or fifteen years uponthe same bed, and after that go and visit some of God's poverty-stricken children who just exist in thisworld, and it is but a bare existence, maintained on bread and butter and a little tea, and but too little of even suchthings as those. Go and see their poor, miserable, unfurnished rooms, their cellars and their attics, and that will be a bettersermon to you than anything I can utter. You will come home and say, "Oh my God, I bless thee for thy kindness towards me.These temporal mercies which I once thought so little of, I must heartily blest thee for. I must thank thee for what thouhastgiven to me, and I will ascribe it all to thy love, for thou makest me to differ. I have nothing that I have not received."

2. But this is not the most important point for us to observe. We are now going to look at, not matters of providence, butthe things of God's grace. Here it is that we who are now assembled as a church have most reason to bless God, and to say,"Who maketh us to differ from others?" Take, my dear friends, in your mind's eye the cases of the careless, the hardened,and the thoughtless, of even this present congregation. Side-by-side with you, my brother, there may sit aman, a woman, who is dead in trespasses and sins. To such the music of the gospel is like singing to a dead ear, and thedropping of the word is as dew upon a rock. There are many in this congregation whose position in society, and whose moralcharacter are extremely excellent, and yet before God their state is awful. They attend the house of God as regularly as wedo. They sing as we sing, sit as we sit, and come and go as we do, and yet are they without God and without hope in theworld-strangers from the commonwealth of Israel, and aliens from the covenant of promise. Yet what maketh us to differ?Why is it that I this day am not sitting down a callous hearer, hardened under the gospel? Why am I not at this very hourhearing the Word with my outward ear but rejecting it in my inward heart? Why is it that I have not been suffered to rejectthe invitation of Christ to despise his grace-to go on, Sunday after Sunday, hearing the Word and yet being like the deafadderto it. Oh, have I made myself to differ? God forbid that such a proud, blaspheming thought should defile our hearts. No, beloved;

"'Twas the same love which spread the feast,

That sweetly forced us in;

Else we had still refused to taste,

And perished in our sin."

The only reason, my brother, why thou art at this time an heir of God, a joint-heir with Christ, a partaker of sweet fellowshipwith Jesus, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, is because HE hath made thee to differ. Thou wast an heir of wrath, evenas others, born in sin and shapen in iniquity. Therefore must thou give all the glory to his holy name, and cry-"Not untous, not unto us, but unto thy name be all the praise." Even this one thought when fully masticatedand digested might feed up our gratitude and make us humbly bow before the footstool of God's throne with joyful thanksgiving.

3. Will you please, however, to think of other cases? Who maketh thee to differ from others of this assembly who are morehardened than those to whom we have alluded? There are some men and women of whose salvation, if it were to be wrought byman, we must indeed utterly despair; for their hearts are harder than the most stubborn steel. The hammer of the Word makesno impression on such souls. The thunders of the law roll over their heads, but they can sleep in the midstof the tumult-the lightnings of Sinai flash against their hearts, but even those mighty flames seem as if they recoiledfrom the attack, Do you not know such? they are your own children, your husband, your wife, some of your own family, and asyou look upon them, though you have longed, prayed, and wept, and sighed for their souls, you are compelled to say in yourheart, "I half fear that I shall never see them converted." You say with sorrow, "Oh, if they are saved it will be a wonderofdivine grace indeed. Surely they will never yield their souls to God. They seem as callous as if their conscience wereseared with a hot iron; they appear to have the stamp of condemnation upon their brow, as if they were marked and sealed,and had the earnest of the pit upon their hearts before they came there. Ay, but stop-"Who maketh thee to differ?" Why amI not at this day among the most hardened of men? How is it that my heart is melted so that I can weep at the recollectionof theRedeemer's suffering? Why is it that my conscience is tender, and that I am led to self-examination by a searching sermon?How is it that I know how to pray and to groan before God on account of sin? What has brought the water from these eyes, butthe selfsame power which brought the water from the rock? And whathath put life into my heart but the self-same Omnipotencewhich scattered manna in a hungry desert? Our hearts had still been like the wild beasts of the forest, if it had not beenforDivine grace. Oh! I beseech you, my dear friend, every time you see a hardened sinner, just say within yourself,"Thereis the picture of what I should have been, what I must have been, if all-subduing, all-conquering love had not melted andsanctified my heart." Take these two cases then, and you have, heaven knows, reason enough to sing to the praise of sovereigngrace.

4. But now another, the lowest class of sinners do not mingle with our congregations, but are to be seen in our back streetsand lanes, and sometimes in our highways. How frightful is the sin of drunkenness, which degrades a man into a beast, whichsinks him lower than the brutes themselves! How shameful is the iniquity of blasphemy, which without any object or any chanceof profit brings a curse upon its own head! How awful are the ways of the lascivious wretch who ruinsboth body and soul at once, and not content with his own destruction ruins others with him. Cases that come under ourobservation in the daily newspapers, and that assail us in our daily observation and hearing are too vile to be told. Howoften is our blood chilled with the sound of an imprecation, and how frequently our heart is made to palpitate with the daringimpieties of the blasphemous. Now let us stop; "Who maketh thee to differ?" Let us recollect that if we live very near toChrist, weshould have lived quite as near to hell if it had not been for saving grace. Some of you here present are special witnessesof this grace, for you have yourself experienced redemption from these iniquities. Look back some four years with some ofyou and recollect how different were your surroundings then to what they are now. Mayhap four years ago you were in the tap-roomsinging the song of the drunkard as readily as any; but a little while ago you cursed that Saviour whom now you love. Onlyafew months have flitted over your head since you ran with the multitude to do evil; but now,"Who maketh thee to differ?""Who hath brought this miracle of grace. Who has led you to the stool of the penitent and the table of communion, who hathdone it? Beloved, you are not slow to answer, for the verdict of your heart is undivided; you do not give the glory in partto man and in part to God. No, you cry loudly in your hearts, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whichaccording to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from thedead." Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, and ye have been washed in the Redeemer's blood, and sanctified with the Spirit.Ye have been made to differ, and ye will confess it; ye have been made to differ by distinguishing grace, and distinguishinggrace alone. And what upholds the rest of us from being what these my reclaimed brethren once were, and what they will becomeagainunless saving grace keeps them? What preserves the preacher this day from being a lecturer to Infidels, dishonoring thegrace of God which now he glories to magnify? What prevents the deacon from being an assistant in the courts of Satan? Whatforbids those who open the doors at the house of our God, and who serve him on the Sabbath-day, from being door-keepers inthe tents of the sons of Belial? Why nothing; they had been there unless grace had prevented them. Grace hath done it, andnothingelse. When we pass a prostitute in the street, we say, "O poor creature! I can pity you. I have not a harsh word for you,for I had been as you are had not God preserved me." And when you see the reeling drunkard, be not too hasty to condemn, recollectyou had been as a beast before God unless the Lord had kept you, and when ye hear the oath and shudder at it, imagine notthat you are superior in yourself to the man who curses God, for perhaps you once cursed him too; and certainly you wouldhave done had not the Holy Spirit sanctified you and implanted in you a hatred of that which the wicked so greedily follow.Have you seen a man hanged for murder? Have you seen another transported for the most infamous of crimes? If you hear of onewho sins against society so foully that mankind excommunicate him, pause, and say, "Oh! but I should have gone as low as that,I should have been as black as he, unless restraining grace had kept me back in my unregeneracy, and unless constraininggrace had pushed me forward in the heavenly race, ever since I have known the will of Jesus."

5. And now we will pause again, and think over another evil which stares us in the face in connection with every church. Thereare most melancholy cases of backsliding in so large a church as this. We are compelled often to discover the character ofmen and women who once seemed fair for heaven, but who manifested that they never had the root of the matter in them. Oh!well did the poet say,-

"When any turn from Zion's way,

Alas! what numbers do!"

No trial is greater to the true minister than the apostacy of his flock. All the rage of men is quite unable to bring tearsto our eyes, but this has done it. Alas! when those whom I have loved have turned aside from the way of God, when those whohave sat with us at the same table, and have joined with us in church communion, have gone out from us, and have brought dishonorupon the Church, and upon the name of Christ, there has been woe in my inmost spirit. Sometimesthere are cases as glaring as they are painful, and as vile as they are grievous. Some of those, who were once in themidst of God's sanctuary, have become drunkards and whoremongers-and God in heaven only knows what. They have sinned againsteverything that is seemly, as well as everything that is holy. At the recollection of these our eyes are filled with tears."Oh that our head were waters, and our eyes fountains of tears, that we might weep day and night for the slain of the daughterofour people." No mischief-makers are so powerful as deserters. None cause so much agony as those who have nestled beneathour wings, and then have flown away to feed with carrion vultures on the putrid carcases of lust and sin.

But now let us pause. How is it that the minister has not forsaken his profession, and gone back like a dog to his vomit,and like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire? How is it that the deacons of this church have not turned asideunto crooked ways, and denied the faith, and become worse than infidels? How is it that so many members of this church havebeen kept so that the wicked one toucheth them not? O beloved! I can say for myself, I am a continualmiracle of divine grace. If thou leave me, Lord, for a moment, I am utterly undone.

"Leave, O leave me not alone!

Still support and comfort me"

Let Abraham be deserted by his God, he equivocates and denies his wife. Let Noah be deserted, he becomes a drunkard, and isnaked to his shame. Let Lot be left awhile, and, filled with wine, he revels in incestuous embraces, and the fruit of hisbody becomes a testimony to his disgrace. Nay, let David, the man after God's own heart, be left, and Uriah's wife shall soonshow the world that the man after God's own heart hath still an evil heart of unbelief in departing fromthe living God. Oh! well doth the poet put it-

"Methinks I hear the Saviour say,

Wilt thou forsake me too?"

And now let our conscience answer:-

"Ah, Lord! with such a heart as mine,

Unless thou hold me fast,

I feel I must, I shall decline

And prove like them at last."

Oh be not rashly self-confident, Christian man. Be as confident as you can in your God, but be distrustful of yourself. Yemay yet become all that is vile and vicious, unless sovereign grace prevent and keep you to the end. But remember if you havebeen preserved, the crown of your keeping belongs to the Shepherd of lsrael, and ye know who that is. For he hath said "Ithe Lord do keep it. I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." "Yeknow who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before his presence with exceeding great joy."Then give all glory to the King immortal, invisible, the only wise God your Saviour, who has kept you thus.

6. Allow me one more contrast; once again let your gratitude go with me since you and I have joined the church how many whowere once our companions have been damned whilst we have been saved, how many who were no worse than we were by nature havesunk into the lowest pit of hell. Conceive their unutterable torments; imagine their inconceivable woes; depict before theeye of your fancy their indescribable agonies. Descend in spirit for a moment to the gates of fire; enterinto the abode of despair where justice reigns supreme on her iron throne; pass by the dreary cell of those who are everlastinglydamned. Behold the twisting of that worm that never dies, and the bleeding hearts that are crushed within its coils. Lookye at that flame unquenchable and behold the souls that are sweltering there in torments to us unknown, and look if ye canlook, but ye cannot look, for your eyes would be stricken with blindness if ye could see their torments. Your hair shouldbeblanched withbut a moment of that horrible exhibition. Ah! while you stand then and think on that region of death, despair,and damnation, recollect that you would have been there if it had not been for sovereign grace. You have a harp prepared foryou in heaven, a crown laid up for you when you have finished your course. You have a mansion, a house not made with hands,eternal in the heavens. Oh, why is it you are not already a fiend; who is it that has given you a good hope through gracethatyou shall never come into that place of torment. Oh! tell it the wide world over. Tell it in time and in eternity, free grace hath done it. Free grace hath done it from the first to the last. I was a brand in the fire, but he plucked me from the burning,quenched me in his blood, and now he declares I shall be with him for ever in heaven. But oh! pause brethren and think thatsome of your former pot-companions, some of the companions of your revere and debaucheries are now in hell, andyou are not there, and by the grace of God never will be there. Oh! why this, why this? Blessed be the Lord my God fromthis time forth and for ever. Praise ye his name. Grace has done it. Grace has done it all.

No, I never shall wear the chain, I ne'er shall be stretched upon that rack, nor feel that fire-

"But I shall see his face,

And never, never sin,

But from the rivers of his grace

Drink endless pleasures in."

But I most confidently proclaim that the reason why I shall escape and shall be glorified, is not to be found in me, but inhim. He hath made me to differ. I have nothing but what I have received.

Now what shall we say to these things. If God has made you to differ, the first prayer we should now utter should be, "Lord,humble us. Take away pride out of us. O God forgive us, that such beasts as we are should ever be proud." We might have beenwith our father the devil at this very hour, if it had not been for Divine love. And if we are now in the house of our Fatherwhich is in heaven shall we be proud? Avaunt thou monster! Go and dwell with the Pharisee. Prideagreeth well enough with the man who has in his own esteem been always virtuous. Go thou away and live with him who hashad good works from the first day until now; but away from me.

"I the chief of sinners am,"

and saved by sovereign grace shall I be proud. It is not fit that thou shouldest live in my heart, thou monster! Begone! BegonelFind a fitter habitation than my soul. Should I be proud after such mercy, after such ill-deserving, but such God-receiving.Begone, pride! Begone!

Another lesson: if God alone hath made us to differ, why may he not make others to differ too? "After the Lord saved me,"said one, "I never despaired of anybody;" and let us each say so too. If you were brought in why not another? Will you evergive up praying for anybody now that you are saved? I once heard one say concerning his child, "I think I must give her up,I can scarcely think she ever will be converted." Why you have been pardoned yourself; and if the Lord cando that, he can do anything. I am sure if the Lord has brought me to his feet there does not remain in the world a casethat can ever equal mine; if he has brought me to receive his free grace, his sovereign love, his precious blood, and hathmade me to love him, then there can be nothing too hard for him. O Lord, if thou hast melted this metal heart, and dissolvedthis stony soul, thou canst break anything. If thou hast broken the northern iron and the steel, then what remains beyondthypower? Go back then, Christian, armed with this fact, that God who hath made thee to differ can make anybody to differ.There can be no case beyond his strength; if he brought you in he can bring all in. If he doth but stretch out his hand, noman need despair. Therefore, "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest notwhither shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good."

Again, who hath made me to differ? Hath my Lord done it?-then let me serve him more than others. There was a question askedonce by our Saviour, "What do ye more than others?" That question might well be put to each child of God here present. Mydear friends, we must not be content with doing as much as other people do; in fact, we must never be contented with our doingsat all, but always be trying to do more for him who hath done so much for us. Should I give my bodyto be burned, my flesh piecemeal to the knife, my nerves to the rack, and my heart to the spear, yet should I not givehim all that he deserveth. No, if I should pass through the horrors of martyrdom, it were but a poor tribute to love so amazing,so divine. What are you doing my friends, what are you doing my brothers and sisters for Christ? But I will not name you,I censure myself if I censure you; but I will confess my own iniquities and leave you to confess yours. I do try to servemyMaster, but I do not serve him as I would. Each act that I perform is marred, either by want of prayer for a blessingupon it, by want of faith in my Lord, or by pride in looking back upon it. I find too continually a tendency to serve myselfinstead of serving Christ, a constant longing rather to get through the work than to do it accceptably. And oh! when I thinkupon all, I must say I am an unprofitable servant. Have mercy O gracious Lord on my good works as well as on my bad ones,for mygood works are but bad in the best and cannot be acceptable in themselves. I am certain some of you have a little moreneed to say that than I have. Let us cease boasting any more. I know there are some here who are not serving Christ; somemembers in this church are doing nothing. You have not thought of doing anything for Christ, have you? You pay your regularsubscriptions, you do what you are told to do, but do you give to Christ secretly? do you devote your substance unto him whenno oneknows it? do you spend your time for him? have you chosen a sphere, and have you said, "This is my work, and by the graceof God I will do it." Oh! ye cannot tell how much there is to do, and how few, there are to do it. I would I could have achurch all alive, all active, so that there never could be a want but those who have would be ready to supply, and never awork but those who are qualified would be ready to fulfll. Never fear but we should find too many rather than too few to aiditsaccomplishment. Oh that we had the good spirit of the ancient church, the spirit to propagate our Christianity everywhere.There needs to be in many of the suburbs of London fresh gospel churches springing up. I can point to many places in my ownvicinity, seven or eight, nine or ten in a row, where there is a chapel needed. In each place there are believers living,who do not think about uniting to establish a fresh cause; but as long as their peculiar wants are satisfied, by journeyinga longway off perhaps, they forget the hundreds and thousands who are pressing around them. Oh! there is much to be done, andvery little time to do it in. A very few weeks, and those of us who have been loved more than others, those of us who havethought we could wash Christ's feet with our tears, and wipe them with the hair of our heads, will hare no more opportunitiesfor spreading the name and fame of our glorious Redeemer. Let us give of our substance to his cause, give of our time to hisservice and have our hearts in his love, and so shall we be blessed, for in returning Christ's love we shall feel thathis love is shed abroad more fully in our hearts and more fully in our understandings.

May the Holy Spirit add his blessing upon these broken words-they have been broken because they have broken my heart, andtherefore I could not help their coming out in a broken way. God accept them; and dear brothers and sisters, may he blessthem to you by helping you to love him more, who is my hope, my joy, my consolation, and my all.