Sermon 1224. Jesus, The Stumbling Stone Of Unbelievers
C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed,the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at theword, being disobedient." 1 Peter 2:7,8.
So it always is where Jesus comes-He divides the company into Believers and unbelievers-the obedient and the disobedient.But why are unbelievers, here, called disobedient? Is faith a matter of law and because a man does not believe, does he thereforedisobey? How can it be otherwise? Is it not a natural duty for every man to believe that which is true? Let the very leastamong us judge in so simple a matter! It so happens that in the very form and sound of the words in the original tongue, tobelieve and to obey are much the same and, certainly, to disbelieve and to disobey are things of very near relationship. Todisbelieve is in its very essence disobeying, for he who disbelieves the Word of the King is disloyal at heart.
If I doubt the veracity of God I have assailed His authority and if, when He sets forth His Son to be a Propitiation for sin,I refuse to accept Him, disobedience is included in that rejection. As it were difficult to tell by which form of sin ourfather, Adam, fell, for all sins were wrapped up in the taking of the forbidden fruit, so unbelief contains within itselfthe eggs of all sins possible to men. Moreover, unbelief of God's Word is the root of all other sin. A man who does not believehis God is a man who casts off the Law of God. He has already rejected God's Gospel-why should he respect the Law?
If the silken cords of love are broken asunder, how much less is the man likely to bear the bonds of law? Now, inasmuch asit is painfully certain that a very large proportion of these who hear the Gospel are unbelieving and disobedient, it becomesimportant to consider, What is the result of this disobedience? This disobedience leads them into violent opposition. Whateffect does their opposition produce? The text tells us the result of human opposition upon Christ Himself, and, secondlyupon the persons who offer it.
I. Let us consider, in the first place, then, THE RESULT OF THE UNBELIEF AND THE OPPOSITION OF MEN AGAINST THE LORD JESUSCHRIST. We are told that, as far as He is concerned, "the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head ofthe corner"-in one word, it has not affected Him at all! The opposition of mankind has, by no means, and in no degree, lessenedthe Glory which God has put upon His dear Son. The builders rejected the stone with disdain-"It shall not be built," theysaid, "in the temple of our hope."
But, God has said, "It shall be the top stone," and the top stone it is, and shall be, despite all the opposition of earthor Hell. The rage of puny man shall no more defeat the Lord than the anger of a gnat can affect the sun! Human oppositionshall no more thwart the Divine will than a sere leaf cast into Niagara can block the water flow. He that stumbles upon thisstone shall be broken, but the stone itself will not be injured. Observe how the Lord Jesus has been rejected of man and yetHis cause has stood against all opposition.
First came the Jew. He had the pride of race to maintain. Were not the Jews the chosen people of God? Was not Israel set apartby the Most High? Jesus comes preaching the Gospel to every creature. He sends His disciples even to the Gentiles and, therefore,the Jews will not have Him. They have been looking for a temporal prince. Jesus does not come with the magnificence they expected-Heis a root out of a dry ground, without form or comeliness-they see nothing of Solomon's splendor in the poor scion of thedried-up stock of David. Therefore, "Away with Him! Let Him be crucified!"
But the opposition of His countrymen did not defeat the cause of Christ. If rejected in Palestine, His Word was received inGreece. It triumphed in Rome, it passed onward to Spain, it found a dwelling place in Britain and at this day it lights upthe face of the earth! The persecution of the Apostles at Jerusalem hastened the spread of the Gospel, for they that werescattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word, so that Jewish enmity was overruled for good and the foolish builderswere made subservient to the uplifting of the rejected headstone!
Next arose the philosopher to be the Gospel's foe. Different schools of thought held sway over the more cultivated minds ofthe period and no sooner did Paul begin to preach where these philosophies were known than they called him a babbler. Theyheard what he had to say and condemned him as a fool. This resurrection from the dead, this doctrine of an Incarnate God whosuffered for human sin-it was too simple for them, too plain to fit in with their subtle philosophies. But though philosophymade terrible inroads, for a while, on the Church of God in the form of the Gnostic heresy, did it really impede the chariotwheels of Christ? Did it conquer the faith?
Oh no, my Brethren, for at this day where are these philosophies? Who now believes in the Stoics? Who would care to be calledan Epicurean? These philosophies have passed away-the stone cut out of the mountain without hands has broken them in pieces!The stone from the sling of Christ has struck the heathen philosophy in the forehead. We see its corpse lying headless inmany an ancient book, while the Son of David goes forth conquering and to conquer. After those days there came against theChurch of God the determined opposition of the secular power. The imperial authorities saw danger in Christianity. These peasantsand boors and mechanics set up a new religion, a religion which spoke of another king, one Jesus.
They met together on the first day of the week and sang hymns in His honor as to God. Moreover, they refused to keep the holydays of the gods, nor would they worship the images of the emperors, either departed or living. Everybody else paid homageto these imperial demons except these Christian people, so the secular power said, "We will put them down. Let them be draggedbefore the judgement seat. Let them be imprisoned, let them be stripped of their goods and if that does not drive them outof this new doctrine, let us try the rack and such like tortures-and if that does not end them let them die! Why cannot menworship the gods of their fathers?
Thus they tried to stamp out the faith of Jesus, crowding their prisons, flooding their theatres with blood and wearying theexecutioners. All that cruelty could do was done! But, my Brothers and Sisters, what was the result? The more the Christianswere oppressed, the more they multiplied! The scattering of the coals increased the conflagration. The tribunals of judgementbecame pulpits from which Christianity was preached and men who stood burning at the stake commanded mighty audiences, amongwhich they proclaimed Jesus Christ as king! The martyr's courage made men enquire, "Is there not something here, the likeof which we have never seen before?" And it was not long before imperial legions bowed before the Cross of Christ and theGalilean had won the day.
Since that period the Church has been attacked in various modes. The Arian heresy assaulted the Deity of Christ, but the Churchof God delivered herself from the accursed thing, as Paul shook the viper into the fire. Then came popery, the antichrist,and counterfeit of His Sacrifice. Now they set up the cross of ivory, hung round with gems, to mimic the King of kings onHis Cross of shame. They thrust before us the crucifix of man's making instead of Jesus, Himself, upon the tree. Now we areasked to worship saints and relics and images, and I know not what else, and a man is lifted into the throne of the InfallibleGod!
Some timid minds fear that Jesus Christ, as a stone rejected, will be cast out of sight, while high over all, the "Vicar ofChrist at Rome" shall be made the head of the corner, but the Lord will not allow it. Brethren, have faith in God and thinknot so! The differing modes of Popery, Roman and Anglican, shall pass away as all things else have done that withstood theCross and cause of Jesus Christ! Even as a moment's foam dissolves into the wave that bears it and is gone forever, so shallall these disappear! Jesus Christ's holy Gospel and Himself, the Savior, shall yet be set on high as a rock defying the billows!
What a day that was when Luther's rough protest broke the silence of the dark ages! When the clear teaching of Calvin followedand the bold notes of Zwingle were heard and a thousand voices shouted in chorus! What a day was that when the nations awokefrom their long sleep to lie no longer under priestly domination, resolute to be free! Cannot God, who sent one Reformation,send another? Be of good courage, for brighter days are on the way! There shall come
yet greater awakenings! The Lord, the avenger of His Church, shall yet arise and the stone which the builders disallowed,the same shall be the head stone of the corner!
By prophetic vision I see gathering another opposition which will be as difficult to cope with as any that has gone before.I see mustering within the ranks of the Church of God men who say they hate all creeds, meaning that they despise all Truth.They are they who would gladly be ministers among us and yet tread under foot all that we hold sacred, not teaching, at first,the fullness of their infidelity, but little by little gathering courage to vent their unbelief and heresies! Credophobiais maddening many! They appear to fear lest they should believe anything and to hope that there is something good to be foundin atheism, or devil worship-indeed, in all religions except the only true one.
We lift our earnest protest, but if it should be lost amidst the general popular clamor, and if the nations should be drunk,again, with the wine of this fornication and turn aside to error, what matters it to the ultimate success of the eternal cause?Yet has Jehovah set His king upon His holy hill of Zion and yet shall the ancient decree be fulfilled! The Throne of Christshall stand and the Covenant sealed with blood shall be sure to all the chosen seed! Let us have comfort, for despite allthat can be done by men or devils, not one elect soul shall be lost, not one soul redeemed by blood shall be snatched outof the Redeemer's hand!
Christ shall not lose so much as a grain of glory neither in earth nor in Heaven. His people's earnest contention for thefaith shall honor Him. Their patient suffering shall give Him praise-Heaven shall be the sweeter rest to them and the brighterplace of Glory to them when He shall return with them from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, travailing in the greatnessof His strength, having trod the winepress and overcome His foes. Then shall His rest be glorious and His joy complete! Thusmuch, then, upon the effect of human opposition. "The stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of thecorner."
II. A far more painful subject must now occupy our attention, namely, THE CONSEQUENCE OF THIS OPPOSITION TO THE OPPOSERS.Let us dwell with great solemnity upon one or two points. When men stumble at the plan of salvation by Christ's sacrificialwork, what is it that they stumble at? The reply must be a somewhat wide one, but it cannot possibly comprehend all the reasonsfor man's wicked opposition to his best Friend. Some stumble at the Person of Christ. Jesus, they will admit, was a good Man,but they cannot accept Him as co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.
Oh, my Hearer, if you would be saved, stumble not at this, for who but a God could save you? And how could the Justice ofGod have been satisfied unless One of Infinite Nature had become the Propitiation for sin? My soul falls gratefully back uponthe doctrine of the Deity of Christ for her deepest comfort, and I pray that none of you may reject it, for be assured thatapart from it there is no true ground of peace for the conscience. Some stumble at His work. Many cannot see how Jesus Christis become the Propitiation for human guilt and, we fear, the reason why they cannot see must lie in that Word of our Lord,"You believe not because you are not of My sheep."
We fell, my Brothers and Sisters, not personally, but in another. It was our first father, Adam, who first ruined us, notwe, ourselves. Perhaps it was because we so fell that it was possible for us to be restored. As we fell in another, therewas a loophole for mercy, for the Lord, having dealt with us under one federal head, could justly deal with us under anotherfederal head! And thus fallen in another, we now rise in Another! As by the offense of one, the condemnation came upon allmen, so by the righteousness of One does the forgiveness come to as many as believe in Him.
The Doctrine of Substitution or representation begins at the fountain of human history and runs through its whole course.I beseech you, do not quibble with it! It is rich balm and comfort to us who have received it. It has turned our Hell to Heaven.The Spirit, by its means, has renewed our nature and has made us other than we were-and today we have no hope apart from thevicarious Sacrifice of Emmanuel. Oh that you who are objectors would accept that which today you stumble at! Some stumbleat Christ's teaching and what is it they stumble at in that? Sometimes it is because it is too holy-"Christ is too Puritanical-Hecuts off our pleasures." But it is not so. He denies us no pleasure which is not sinful. He multiplies our joys! The thingswhich He denies to us are only joyous in appearance, while His commands are real bliss.
"Still," say some, "His teachings are too severe." Yet from others I hear the opposite accusation, for when we preach FreeGrace, objectors cry, "You encourage men in sin!" There is little chance of pleasing the sons of men, for what gratifies some,offends others. But truly, there is no just reason on either ground to stumble at the Gospel, for though it does place goodworks where they should be placed, as gifts of the Spirit and not as things of merit, yet it is a Gospel accord-
ing to holiness, as those know who have proved its power. We have found some object to the teachings of Christ because theyare too humbling. He destroys self-confidence and He presents salvation to none but those who are lost. "This lays us toolow," says one.
Yet I have heard from the opposite corner of the house an objection to the Gospel because it makes men proud, for some say,"How dare you speak of being certain that you are saved? That is a boastful speech and ill befits a lowly sinner." Friend,do not stumble at the blessed Truth of God, for Believers are certainly saved and may know it-and yet be all the humbler forthe knowledge. You are humbled, it is true, by Christ, and laid low-but He exalts you in due time-and when He exalts you,by His Grace, there is no fear of boasting, for boasting is excluded by Grace.
Still, I have known others object that the Gospel is too mysterious-they cannot understand it, they say. While again, fromthe other corner of the compass, I have heard the objection that it is too plain! This being saved by simply believing inChrist is too plain for many and too hard for others. Beloved, do not quibble at it for either reason. What if there are mysteriesin it? Can you expect to comprehend all that God knows? Be teachable as a child and the Gospel will be sweet to you. We haveknown some who have stumbled at Christ on account of His people and, truly, they have some excuse.
They have said, "Look at Christ's followers, see their imperfections and hypocrisies!" But why judge the Master by His servants?I could weep while I confess how much there is of truth in your accusations, but let me beseech you-lay the fault at our door,not at our Master's-for there is nothing in His teaching that encourages our sinning, and none can be more severe towardshypocrisy than is Christ Jesus our Lord! This stumbling at His people is, however, frequently founded on another reason. Thelovers of the Gospel, it is said, are generally very poor and unfashionable. To unite with them is to lose caste.
Now that is true and it always has been so. From the first day until now, the Gospel has flourished most where there has beenleast care for fashion and honor among men. But, I know, if you are men, this will be a small concern with you. Only thosewho are not men, but mimics of men, care for these small matters. You, if your manhood is as it should be, will feel thatto follow the Truth of God barefooted through the mire is better than to ride with the lie in all her pomp. Besides, takingthe great ones of the earth as a class, is their society so specially desirable? Are the rich so very virtuous? Are the greatso peculiarly good? I think not.
We have noble exceptions. There are a few who wear the coronet and yet will wear a crown in Heaven, but taking them as a class,the honorable among men are no better than they should be. No order of men have more to answer for, than kings and princes.At their will human blood has flowed like water and nations have been consumed by famine and pestilence as the result of theirwars. Why, then, account their favor to be so precious a thing? We can turn the tables upon those who sneer at Christ's servantsfor their lowness of rank, for before the eyes of God, the great ones are the most evil of all when they become leaders ininiquity. Now, if these are your objections, I pray God to give you Grace to play the man and bear joyfully the reproach ofChrist.
What does this stumbling at Christ cost the ungodly? I answer, it costs them a great deal. Those who make Him a rock of stumblingare great losers by it in this life. Opposition to Jesus is, to many men, a kicking against the pricks. When the Eastern farmerdrives his bullock and it moves amiss, he goads it. And if the bullock is not broken in, it kicks against the goad as soonas it is pricked-and the consequence is, it drives the goad into itself more deeply-and if it then kicks violently, the goadpierces and wounds it still more. It is so with rebellious men. Their persecutions hurt themselves-they cannot really injureour Lord.
The hammer said, "I will break the anvil," and the anvil did not answer, but stayed in its place, while the hammer smote itday after day. Month after month, year after year, the anvil patiently received the blows, but after awhile the hammer broke,and though it did not say so, for it was too quiet to speak, the anvil might have said, "I have broken hundreds of hammersbefore, and I shall break hundreds more by patient endurance." It is so with Christ and His Church, and His Gospel-the persecutormay smite, and smite, and smite-the true Christian makes no reply, but patiently bears, and in the long run that patient endurancewill break the persecutor down.
What anger it costs ungodly men to oppose Christ! Some of them cannot let Him alone! They will rage and fume. Concerning Jesusit is true that you must either love or hate Him-He cannot long be indifferent to you-and therefore inward conflicts cometo opposers. I remember an ungodly man who was a raving hater of Christ. A Bible was brought
into his house, he seized it and destroyed it in his wrath. He did not know that when his daughter went to bed her eyes werewet with tears at what her father had done and that the next night there was a New Testament under her head. When by-and-byhe found out that she attended the House of God, there were great threats and I do not know what, of blustering.
But it was done, all the same for that, and his anger was patiently borne. "Well," he thought, "she is a foolish girl, itwill end there," but very soon another daughter became pious and then he was furious. He took his wife into his counsels,to help him, but by her quivering manner she betrayed that she did not like his proceedings. And after awhile he found outthat she, when he was away, had snuck into the little Meeting House, too, and that she was feeling with her daughters thevalue of eternal things. Well, at least he had a boy left! The women were always fools, he said, but his boy, he hoped, wouldshow more sense, and not be deluded. Like his father, he would never fall into superstition, would he?
He would see about it and question him. What was his surprise to find the boy speak up like a man, and say, "Yes, Father,I believe as my sisters do, and I go to the House of God whenever I can, and I mean to do so." To his surprise, he found allhis house inclined to hear the Gospel and most of them believers in it! It did him no good to be in a passion about it, buthe used to rave horribly, and I fear he thereby shortened his days. But the thing went on in spite of all he did-the servantsof the house also joined the people at the meeting, and his laborers went in the same way. God intended to bless the familyand the enemy was powerless to prevent it, though it cost him much anger and wrath.
Ah, what it costs some men when they come to die! In the days when persecution was more public than it is now, many personswere guilty of being informers against the Puritans, or the Quakers. These traitors' deaths were, in many cases, appalling,not because of any peculiar pains they endured, but because how their persecuting innocent neighbors came up to their memoryin their last moments. And some of them could not rest for crying out and making acknowledgment of the injustice that theyhad done to good men in hunting them into prisons for worshipping God.
If any of you do not believe in Jesus and will not be saved by Him yourselves, I would recommend you to let Him and His peoplealone, for if you oppose Him, you will be the losers, He will not. Your opposition is utterly futile! Like a snake bitinga file you will only break your own teeth. You cannot hurt the Church, nor hurt the Word of God. Perhaps your very oppositionis one cog in the wheel to urge it on. If the things are of God, it is in vain that you fight against them. Be as wise asHaman's wife when she warned her husband that if Mordecai was of the seed of the Jews, before whom he had begun to fall, itwas no use to take up the cudgels against him. This warning was proven to be true when Haman was hung upon the gallows fiftycubits high! To oppose the royal Seed of Heaven is of no use whatever, but assures ruin to those who engage in it.
Now, suppose a man says, "I am not going to believe that Jesus Christ came into this world and died for the guilty, neitherwill I have Him for my Savior! I will run the risks." Well, remember, if you do it, it is at your own cost. Do it if you dare.Many years ago a captain was sent out in one of the Government ships, the Thetis, to discover a shoal, a rock, or some otherobstruction said to exist in the Mediterranean Sea. The captain was an old salt who knew little about navigation as a science,and cared less for rules, books, theories and so on. He always sneered at scientific works. Though he sailed near the spot,he did not discover the rock and came back.
But one of his officers was persuaded that, nevertheless, there was something in the report. So, sometime after, when he hadbecome, himself, a first officer in another vessel, he sailed near the spot and discovered it. It was marked on the chartsof the Admiralty and he received a considerable reward for having made the discovery. The old captain cursed and swore atthese newfangled fellows who could find what he could not! He would not believe the shoal was there-one thing he would do-theymight call him a liar if he did not drive the Thetis right over the spot where the rock was marked and so prove it to be allnonsense.
He had an opportunity, sometime later, when he was out upon a cruise. He sailed close to the spot marked on the chart, andthinking he had passed over it, he cried out to those who were standing round, with many expressions of blasphemy, that hehad proved these whippersnappers to be fools and liars! Just as he uttered his boast there came a crash, the ship was on therock, and in a few minutes she was sinking. By the good Providence of God all on board escaped except the captain. He wasin such a desperate state of mind that when last he was seen he was on deck in his shirt sleeves rushing about as if he hadgone mad! You see, his firm belief that there was no rock there did not alter the case-he was wrecked for his obstinacy.
There are a great many who say, "Oh, I do not believe it, I shall not bother my head about it." Well, you are warned! Youare warned, remember that! There is a way of salvation by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, and we implore you to accept it.If you do not, this rock of unbelief will be your eternal shipwreck. I pray God that every one of us may bow before Christand accept Him as our King. He will shortly come to be our Judge! Oh, let us worship Him as our Mediator! Look to Him! Lookto Him on His Cross, for you must soon look to Him on His Throne. Look to His wounds! Behold the atoning blood! Look to Himand find salvation!
Whether you look to Him now, or not, you will have to look to Him in that day when Heaven and earth shall rock and reel, thetrumpet shall sound, the dead shall rise and you among them! Then the books shall be opened and the sentence of eternal wrathshall be uttered against the disobedient and unbelieving! God save us all for Jesus' sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-1 Peter 2. HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"-118, 2, 961.