Sermon 1490. Contention Ended and Grace Reigning
DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, AUGUST 17, 1879,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"For I will not contend forever, neither will I always be angry; for the spirits would fail before Me, and the souls whichI have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I angry, and smote him: I hid and was angry, and he went on backslidingin the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will also lead him, and restore comforts to him and tohis mourners." Isaiah 57:16-18.
The high and holy One that inhabits eternity is here speaking with Himself concerning Israel. The Lord is holding high soliloquy.He is not so much addressing the sons of men, bidding them do this or that, as speaking to Himself of what He intends to doamong them. He allows His Prophet to stand where he can hear the sacred soliloquy of the great Supreme. And he hears it andthen, under the dictate of the Divine Spirit, he records it in the Inspired Book where it remains to this day for our instruction.Hear, then, these words of the living God and let your hearts be satisfied concerning the secret purposes of Jehovah!
Although the Lord may say many things to Himself which we do not hear and which it were not well that we should hear, yetHe never retracts in secret what He has spoken in public! So we may rest assured that He never speaks in the dark places ofthe earth concerning the house of Jacob, "Seek you My face in vain." No decree of God is contrary to the Gospel-we may alwaysbe sure of that. Whenever He unveils before us His private thoughts, we never find them to be less gracious than His publishedWords. The same love which spoke itself through Prophets and Seers dwells in the silent heart of God and abides forever atthe fullest even when it finds no voice.
In the verses before us we find words of exceedingly great mercy and special tenderness. And we see moving before our adoringeyes the eternal Wisdom, the infinite Patience and the immutable Love of the great Father. May it please the Lord, in verytruth, to restore comforts unto His mourners by the subject which shall now engage our attention, for under the blessing ofthe Holy Spirit it is in every way calculated to cheer the contrite heart.
I. The first Truth of God to which I call your attention is that God contends with men and that THE DIVINE CONTENTION IS WELLDESERVED on their part. He says, "I will not contend forever," in which it is implied that He does contend sometimes. WhereHe has purposes of eternal Grace, the Lord, at the opening of His saving work, comes into contention with men. Smiting comesbefore saving. He bends His bow and points His arrow against the heart's sin before He pours out His balm for the heart'swound. He usually gives the spirit of bondage before He sends the spirit of sonship-He thunders by the Law before He watersthe soul with the soft shower of the Gospel. Nor need we wonder at this, for there is so much in man that is altogether opposedto the Divine Nature and alien to the object and design of God, that there must be a conflict till the opposing principleis overcome and removed. The strong man will not go out except by force and neither will the Lord enter the soul except asa Conqueror.
First I would speak of this to the seeking sinner. It may be that there are, in this house, anxious persons who were oncecareless and at ease, but now there is a striving within them and a conflict which rages terribly. The Lord has a controversywith them. However unhappy it makes them, I am right glad that they are feeling the inward strife. Anything is better thanthe horrible calm of the dead sea of spiritual indifference! My Friend, your deadly peace is broken; your fatal sleep is ended;the magic spell of Satan has lost all its power; you are awakened and sadness rules the hour. Your wisest friends are gladof this-they welcome your return to feeling even as we rejoice to discover signs of life in one who has been snatched froma watery grave!
There is now some hope for you. The Spirit of God has come to you as a spirit of bondage and this makes you fear, but fearis often the outrider of faith. The Lord's design in contending with you is to convince you of your sin. You will never seesin to be exceedingly sinful unless the Holy Spirit throws His own light upon it. You love sin too much to deal with it impartially-youare so tainted by it in your nature that your conscience by no means censures you so much as your iniquity deserves. Thoughsome say that conscience is the vicegerent of God, there is nothing in the Scriptures to prove that statement, neither isit true. Conscience is an imperfect guide and monitor-and like all the other faculties, it is weakened and vitiated by theFall so that it is a very prejudiced judge of right and wrong-and too often it puts bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
Conscience is often blinded by self-love and at all times apt to slumber. Until the Holy Spirit quickens your conscience,you will never discover the enormity of sin. You may know it to be evil as a matter of dogma, but you will not feel it tobe evil as a matter of experience, nor will you see how greatly, how continually, how wickedly you have offended the Law ofGod unless the Lord opens your eyes. This He intends to do and He will not cease to strive with you till His purpose is performed!My dear Friend, the Lord will probably keep up the controversy in your soul until your beauty consumes away and, instead ofadmiring yourself, you come to loathe yourself! Though you wash yourself with snowwater and make yourself ever so clean, yetwill He plunge you in the ditch till your own clothes shall abhor you. You shall see your righteousness to be filthy ragsand your person to be under the curse-and then part of the Lord's design will be accomplished!
The next reason for the Lord's contending with you will begin to operate when the first purpose has been accomplished. Youwill, in your self-abasement, be driven to look to the Grace of God. It is hard to part a man from his sin. It is still harderto divorce Him from his self-righteousness and this is a part of the Lord's contention with awakened souls-He determines torid them of all self-confidence because it is false confidence-and they, on their part, appear to be resolved to hold to selfas long as there is a rag or a thread left. That our salvation is entirely of the Grace of God is a lesson which we are slowto learn and yet we must learn it or perish.
Dear anxious one, if ever you are saved it must be by an act of undeserved favor on God's part! I do not care who you are,you are guilty and if you escape execution, a free pardon will have to be given to you by the Great King for reasons foundin Him alone, for there is nothing in you which can constitute a claim for mercy. You may never have fallen into adulteryor murder, nor even have committed theft or false witness, but the same Grace is needed to save you as to save an adulteressor a murderer! You have no merit to plead, nor any claim upon God-such claims as you had as a creature you have forfeitedand you have done nothing to create any other. You have committed treason against God and you are already condemned by Hisunquestionable justice. If you shall ever be saved, it must be by a high act of the Lord of Mercy, passed in His infiniteSovereignty, not because of anything in you deserves it, but because He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and Hewill have compassion on whom He will have compassion.
So stands the matter and this controversy between you and your God is meant to bring this fact before you and push the questionto an issue with you. When the Lord contends with a Mansoul and the Law of the Lord enters his spirit, it hides pride fromhim and lays his glory in the dust. In fact, the truly awakened man cannot find a place low enough to lie in, nor words blackenough in which to describe himself! He is driven to a deep spiritual despair of self and to a horror of soul at his presumptionin having dared to offend against the God of Heaven-and a still deeper horror that he should have transgressed against theChrist of Love and should have rejected Him year after year! May God bring you down to this prostrate condition if He hasnot done so already!
If the Lord has now begun to trouble you, He will not have done with you till He has laid you even with the ground! This willnot only make you know that you must be saved by Grace alone, but it will cause you to value Grace, itself, as more to bedesired than much fine gold! A soul with whom God has entered into the lists prizes every Word of promise and every singlelook of Grace, for he sees himself to be in an evil plight unless Divine Grace shall intervenes. The tears of Jesus over sinnersare very precious to hearts with whom God is contending. But more precious is the blood, the blood of Jesus with which Hetakes away sin. They can speak lightly of Grace who have never had a heavy heart on account of their transgression-but givea man to feel the burden of sin and the faint hope of Grace will be worth all the king's jewels to him!
O Sirs, sin is a burden such as an angel's shoulders could not bear! It crushes a man not only into the dust but into thegrave! No, even there he cannot find rest! If nothing else were prepared for the impenitent in the next world except a sightand sense of their own sin, it would, of itself, create a Hell within the human bosom! Stake and rack are nothing comparedwith the torments of remorse! It is God's design to make us feel something of this, that we may bless His name if He doesbut look upon us or think upon us in a way of Grace and that we may praise and magnify Him with all our hearts forever andever when He freely pardons us for His own sake and accepts us in Christ Jesus. Do you wonder that God has a contention withseeking souls when such necessary and beneficent designs are answered thereby?
Moreover, no one can be surprised that the Lord lets forth a measure of His wrath upon seeking sinners when we see how theybehave, even while they are seeking. We have known them red hot one day and icy cold another and, albeit that they long formercy, you will see them, at certain seasons, acting as if they despised it! At times they tremble at God's Word and thenthey are hardened against it. I may be speaking to some of you who know that during the time of your conviction of sin youhave tried to stifle your feelings and you have sought to kill the messenger within who has so effectually awakened you. Manyof you have run after carnal amusements and evil pleasures in order to drown conscience and escape from rebuke. Others ofyou have run to this, that and the other pretended way of salvation instead of running to Christ, alone, for His free Grace.All this provokes the Most High and, therefore, it cannot be amazing that the Lord should have a contention with you.
But now I turn to the people of God. Sometimes, my Brothers and Sisters, our Lord has a contention with us. And then He coversthe daughter of Zion with a cloud in the day of His anger and He burns against Jacob like a flaming fire which devours roundabout! This is not at all amazing when we consider how unworthy we often live towards His sacred name. Indeed, "it is of theLord's mercies that we are not consumed." His contention with us will show itself, occasionally, in adverse Providences. Hewill aim a deadly shaft at the beloved objects of our heart-perhaps not once, alone, does the arrow fly, but He seems to emptyout His quiver and finds no other targets but the breasts of those who are our other selves. With one Believer the Lord contendsby a sickness in his own person. With another by the pining away of a beloved wife or child.
The contention which the Lord has with His elect frequently displays itself in troubles connected with their temporal circumstances.Nothing prospers with them. They make a ship to go to Tarshish for gold and it is broken by a storm. A worm eats up all theirincrease. The caterpillar devours the garden and the locust, or the blight, or the drought, or the exceeding moisture destroysthe produce of the field. When God has a controversy with His own people He smites again and again in this fashion. Nor doesHe stop at bruises and bleeding wounds. Our heavenly Father never spares the rod! No sin of Eli can be alleged against Him.
Even more severe are His blows when it comes to be a controversy carried on by His Spirit within the mind. When the lightof God's Countenance is withdrawn. When conscience is allowed to point out inconsistencies, hypocrisies and wanderings ofheart. When the promises cease to be wells of comfort; when the means of Grace appear to be dry and barren. When private prayerbecomes rather a task than a pleasure and communion with God seems to be little more than looking up to an angry Father whoonly frowns-this is much worse than any Providential chastisement! When God smites a man in the heart, the blow is a staggeringone.
The affliction of the soul is the soul of affliction. God will touch His people in their bone and their flesh and in theirvery hearts. Ah, my Brethren, if you remember your laxity in life, your dullness in prayer, your forgetfulness of God's Word,your hardness of heart at times towards poor sinners, your indifference to the Lord's cause, the lack of life, the need oflove, the absence of power, the need of holiness, the need of the mind of Christ within, the lack of delight in the Divinewill-you will perceive that there is quite enough in us to lead the Lord to have a controversy with us! Has He not said thatHe will walk contrary to us if we walk contrary to Him? Is it not His special Word to us, "You only have I known of all thepeople of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquity"?
Chastisement must come to the beloved child of a wise father. The servant may escape. The bastard may know no touch of therod. But the true-born and well-beloved child of God must smart if he sins, not because his Father dislikes him, but becauseHe loves him! The dearer we are to the heart of God the more jealous He is and the more does He resent any wandering of ourheart from Him. His love is strong as death, blessed be His name! But as a natural consequence His jealousy is cruel as thegrave! He will not endure impurity of heart in the beloved object of His eternal choice.
I have, however, said enough upon this topic, if we are now ready to confess that the Divine contention with us is well deserved.
II. We now advance to the next Truth of God, namely, that THIS DIVINE CONTENTION WILL COME TO AN
END WITH THE CONTRITE. We know that it will be so, for the Words are very clear-"For I will not contend
forever, neither will I be always angry." Oh, hear this, you humble and contrite ones with whom God has been contending! Hereis a word of gracious, absolute, unconditional promise for you! May the Holy Spirit enable you to draw consolation from it!
The question arises-when may we expect that this promise will be fulfilled? Kindly notice the verse which precedes the text,for that assures us that God has no controversy with the humble and the contrite. This is self-evident, for He declares thatwith such He will dwell and the God of Grace will not dwell in a house that is full of contention! He contends where He doesnot abide, but where He abides there is peace. When a man is humble and contrite, then God's contention with him has cometo an end. Omnipotence will not lift its hand to overthrow one who yields himself up. Greatness does not strike a fallen foewho craves forgiveness. Majesty will not wreak vengeance upon suppliant misery. Crouch in the dust and Jehovah's wrath, whichlike His thunderbolt smites lofty things, will pass you by!
Surrender unconditionally, be you saint or sinner! Throw down the weapons of rebellion, doff the plumes of pride and sue outa pardon on your bended knee. Cry out, "Lord, I am undone, for I have done ill! I am cast away, for I have cast Your fearaway! I must die, for I have slain myself! But God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Majesty is ever pitiful to misery. Nor isit majesty, alone, that you may look to with hope, but Mercy, also, is your friend. Mercy is very speedy where confessionis complete. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Be humbled, for to such God gives Grace.The river of His goodness flows along the low valleys. Talk no more of your good works. Boast no longer of your Christianexperience, your bright profession, your precise religiousness-but fall at Jesus' feet and lie down.
Tears for your eyes are more becoming than rings for your ears! Sackcloth suits your case rather than fine attire. Be humblebecause you are a nobody! Be contrite because you are a sinner. It is wonderful how the pity of God has, in some cases, beenexcited even by a temporary repentance. When wicked Ahab rent his clothes and put sackcloth upon himself, the Lord took noteof it and said, "Do you see how Ahab humbled himself before Me? Because he humbled himself before Me I will not bring theevil in his days." When the Ninevites repented, though probably there was very little spiritual about their humbling, yetit was sincere as far as it went and the Lord turned from His fierce anger and there was a reprieve for the wicked city! Thisplainly shows that the Lord is speedily moved by true humiliation-and if any soul will but lie before Him in self-abasementand lowliness-He will no longer contend, but will put away His anger.
Besides, His truth is compromised in this matter for He has given a promise of Grace which runs thus, "Humble yourselves inthe sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up" (James 4:10). He cannot spurn those who submit themselves before Him, for it is written, "Though the Lord is high, yet has He respectunto the lowly." He is full of Grace and that Grace is for the poor and needy. Condescension to the lowly is His Glory, asthe blessed Virgin sang of old, and as many fainting ones may sing at this moment if they will-"He has put down the mightyfrom their seats and exalted them of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent away empty."
The Lord delights in mercy and His mercy delights to come to those who are most abased in their own esteem and judge themselvesto be least worthy of it. We are quite sure that the Divine contention will come to an end with the humble and contrite because,as we have said, the promise is, "I dwell in the high and holy place with him, also, that is of a contrite and humble spirit."Do not say, dear cast down one, "God will never look at me. I have no hope, no strength, no merit." This self-abasement preparesyou for Him! By this is your house swept and emptied for God to dwell in! He has two houses-one is above, in Glory, and thathigh house above is none too high for Him.
His other dwelling is below in all His condescension and the lowliest heart is none too lowly for Him. He comes not to wholeheartedmen who bear their heads aloft and scarcely acknowledge their need of His favor-He comes not to those who trust in themselvesand think but little of His Grace-
"He bids His a wful chariot roll Far downward from the skies, To visit every humble soul That low before Him lies."
Lowly roofs attract Deity. He comes to those who are broken in heart and when He comes, the contention is over. And what elsedoes the Lord promise to do? He says He will dwell with the humble and He adds that He will revive them. You are faintingnow, poor Soul. You are very feeble. You are as one that is slain-the Lord will come and revive you-that is, give you newlife. He will give you life enough to hope in His mercy; life enough to believe in Jesus Christ, His dear Son; life enoughto see your transgression covered forever, never to be laid to your charge. He will not contend forever, for, on the contrary,He will revive the spirit of the humble.
Perhaps He means, by adding a second, "revive," to make us a promise of comfort, "to revive the heart of the contrite ones."Weeping one, He will wipe away those tears! Despairing sinner or desponding saint, if you will lie low at His feet, He willstoop to you and cheer your heart! So anxious is He to cheer His mourners that the third Person of the blessed Trinity hasundertaken this special work! The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, loves to come where there is comforting work to do! Look up,now, from your beds, you soul-sick ones, for the Great Physician comes to heal you! He ends the inner conflict of your natureby becoming, Himself, your peace! Look up now, you that sit in darkness, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, bound withaffliction and iron, for the time of your deliverance has come!
I know your plight, for I have been in it myself, and while I am speaking to you I am remembering the time when my chainsclanked as I walked and when, as I lay down to sleep, they entered into my soul so that the visions of the night alarmed me!Job's cry was mine-"I was at ease, but He has broken me asunder! He has also taken me by my neck and shaken me to pieces andset me up for His mark." Thus was it with me once, but it was not so forever, for in tender pity my Lord laid down the swordand spoke comfortable words to me. Just when I had come to the worst and I thought no hope would ever visit me, I was madeto realize the blessed Truth of the text, "I will not contend forever, neither will I be always angry," and of that otherpromise, "With this man will I dwell, even with him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and that trembles at My Word."
Encouraged by my own experience of great love, I feel bound to comfort others! Penitent hearts, He will revive you! He willgive you comfort again! Your mourning He will turn to dancing and your sackcloth into beautiful array! Do not, I pray you,sorrow as those that are without hope! This is not the den of despair-so long as this life lasts, it is the hill of hope!Neither are you a person who has any cause to despair, since those whom the Lord chastens, He certainly has not cast away.Men do not prune the vine which they mean to root up and cast into the fire! This chastening is not unto death. There is ameasure to your stripes which cannot be passed and there will be a speedy and happy end to the scourging!
The Lord's anger endures but for a night and that night will end in a hopeful dawn. When your proud spirit is conquered, theLord's controversy with you is ended!
III. I would now ask your loving attention to this choice fact, that GOD HIMSELF FINDS REASONS FOR ENDING THE CONTENTION.We could not have found any, for in ourselves there is much cause for the Lord's anger and none for His Grace. A convincedsinner can give no reason why he should be saved. It is a part of his conviction that his mouth is closed as to self-justification.He can make neither apology nor appeal-he feels that he will have to say, "Amen," to his own damnation if God drives him awayfrom the Mercy Seat. But the Lord Himself finds reasons for His Grace! Two of these He mentions in our text.
The first is found in human weakness, and its inability to bear the Divine contention. "I will not contend forever, neitherwill I always be angry; for the spirits would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made." The Lord's chastisement ismeant to be corrective, not destructive! His intent is curing, not killing and, therefore, He will not make His medicine toopotent, or His surgery too severe. He presses His heavy hand on the sinner until he cries out with David, "Day and night Yourhand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." He felt as destitute of life-moisture as if Godhad wrung him out as men do a wet sheet and made him dry as cloth which has hung up in the hot sun. All his life and spiritswere gone out of him and he felt that his bones were dried and fit only for the morgue.
When things have come so far, the merciful Lord says, "But I do not desire to kill him. I do not purpose his destruction,for I hate nothing that My hands have made. No, I love with all my heart this poor, troubled soul whom it is in My mind tobless." "The Lord does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." He aims at whipping self out of us, but itis not His will to crash the humble under His feet. In measure will He debate with us, for He aims at our
conviction and conversion-not at our condemnation. If He were to go forth to fight against us, it would be as when fire entersinto battle with briars and thorns! He would go through us and burn us all together.
Our weakness shall plead for us, even as it is said in the 78th Psalm, at the 38th and 39th verses-"But He, being full ofcompassion, forgave their iniquity and destroyed them not: yes, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir upall His wrath. For He remembered they were but flesh; a wind that passes away, and comes not again." Upon certain strong mindsGod lays a heavy lead of conviction, as, for instance, upon John Bunyan, whose five years of inward contention you will findmapped out in his, "Grace Abounding." But these cases are not the rule and in such instances the Lord means to make a peculiarlyuseful and experienced man. In the formation of a competent leader and a spiritual champion, the Lord exercises the man tomake him expert in dealing with others.
But He does not do this with poor, weak minds which are rendered still weaker by the assaults of Satan and their inward fears."He gathers the lambs in His bosom and does gently lead those that are with young." "I will not contend forever," He says,"for the spirits should fail before Me, and the souls which I have made." Some men, under a sense of sin, have been drivento lay violent hands upon themselves. Others have been scarcely able to eat or drink and many have been severely injured intheir health by the inward corrosion caused by strong conviction. A sense of sin fills some souls with gall and wormwood tosuch a degree that they are drunk with it and are as men at their wits end-but God stays His rough wind and holds in the rageof His tempest.
In due time He says to Moses, "Stand back, and let your law-work cease; you have been faithful as My servant, now retire andlet My Son come in, for He is meek and lowly in heart, and those who tremble at My Word shall now find rest unto their soulsby His knowledge." Yes, this is God's reason for being gentle with His people-"For My name's sake will I defer My anger, andfor My praise will I refrain for you, that I cut you not off." Sometimes when He sends them correction after correction, chastisementafter chastisement, they can scarcely bear up under it. But it is never His intention to destroy His own children and, therefore,He stays His hand and says that He will not always chide, nor keep His anger forever, for, "Like as a father pities his children,so the Lord pities them that fear Him; for He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust."
If any of you are enduring such a variety of troubles that you are staggered and feel that you can hold up no longer, thenyou must appeal to the pity of the Lord. If your heart is like a lily when the stalk is bruised, drooping on its stem, andyour soul is pining like a consumptive child and your heart is melted like wax in the midst of your bowels, let your weaknessappeal to God! Yes, it is appealing even now! He says, "I know their sorrows. I have surely seen the affliction of My peopleand I have heard their cry. I have visited their transgression with the rod and they are brought very low, but they can bearno more, therefore shall the sighing of the prisoner come before Me." The Lord marks man, "fragile," as we do boxes of glasswhich must not be roughly handled lest they are broken. In this frailty He finds a reason for tenderness-let His name be adoredfor it!
His second reason is, to my mind, even more extraordinary. It is given in the next verse-"For the iniquity of his covetousnesswas I angry, and smote him: I hid and was angry, and he went on backsliding in the way of his heart." This argument is foundedon the inoperativeness of the Divine contention upon the heart which is to be won. The Lord says, "I was angry with him andsmote him." Did he repent? No. I hid My face from him. Did he humble himself? "He went on backsliding in the way of his heart."What is the reason of this wicked petrifying of the heart? Here is the key to the cause-
"Law and terrors do but harden
All the while they work alone.
Nothing but a blood-bought pardon
Can dissolve a heart of stone." Affliction often drives the child of God into impatience and, of itself, it has a hardeningand not a softening influence. Even the convictions worked in us by the Spirit of God are often perverted into causes of unbeliefand Satan comes in and drives the soul to unworthy thoughts of God. Such is our evil heart that it even curdles self-loathingand hatred of sin into a reluctance to go to God and into a persuasion of the impossibility of mercy! I have known humiliationand self-despair, which are so much to be desired, lead to unbelief which is the saddest of all crimes. "Therefore," saysthe Lord, "I will not contend any longer; for My anger seems to excite rebellion rather than to subdue
See a wise father when he has a proud and obstinate boy who has become estranged. He puts him under strict rule and disciplineand he chides and chastens him. But if the child evidently grows more stubborn; if he is manifestly of such a spirit thatthe more you drive him, the more he will not be driven, his father says within himself, "I will try other methods with himand see what gentleness will do." Such is the mind of God who says-"For the iniquity of his covetousness was I angry and smotehim: I hid and was angry and he went on backsliding in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways and will heal him: I willalso lead him, and restore comforts to him and to his mourners."
If wrath will not humble us, the Lord may yet, in His Grace, try what love can do. He will love us to a better mind, tillour heart sings-
"And do You still invite my love, And court me to be blessed? Will You my friend and patron prove, My refuge and my rest?Convinced, ashamed, amazed, I now Obey Your gracious call. To love's command I freely bow, And offer You my all."
IV. This brings us to the fourth and last point which is this-God Himself, having found a reason why He should cease fromcontention, no, two reasons, the one in our weakness and the second in the failure of His own chastisement by reason of theflesh-HE INVENTS AND PROPOSES ANOTHER METHOD FOR ENDING HIS CONTENTIONS and making us right with Himself. Here it is and wenote, in the first place, that it is an astonishing method-"I have seen his ways, and will heal him." Hear this, O you heavens,and be astonished, O earth! God's mercy is not blind mercy! He is merciful in spite of His clear vision of our sins! "I haveseen his ways, and yet I will heal him." If God had not seen man's sin, His passing by it would be easy to understand. Whatthe eye does not see, the heart does not regret.
But it is wonderful that it should be written, "I have seen his ways, and will heal him." The Lord seems to say, "I see himbecome more obstinate the more I smite him. I see him provoking Me over and over again though I chide with him. I see notonly his ways, but I see through his ways the rebellious heart which dwells within. I see that he is worthless, undeserving,ill-deserving and Hell-deserving! I see that his mind is set on mischief, that he is altogether estranged from Me, even fromhis birth, and that his whole nature is tainted with rebellion." Yet the Lord adds that astonishing word of Grace, "I haveseen his ways, and will heal him." O Soul, God sees what you are! He knows your secret wickedness and you have not half suchan idea of your own sin and perverseness as He has! And yet, over the head of it all leaps the eternal, boundless mercy, "Ihave seen his ways, and will heal him."
Note that it is an effectual method. "I have seen his ways, and will heal him"-not, "I will smite him again," but, "I willtreat his sin as if it were a disease." That is a very wise thing to do with persons who grievously offend you. When a man'saction is very provoking, I like to hear people say, "Surely he must be a little wrong in the head. Poor man, he must be outof order or he would not act so." Put the best construction you can upon an offense and treat it as if it arose out of disease.It is true that sin is much more than a disease and God might treat us altogether and only from its criminal side, but stillit is a disease and, therefore, He resolves to treat it as such.
Our great Lord in effect cries, "Oh, this wicked creature of Mine will not acknowledge its Creator! This sinful child of Minewill persist in rebelling against My love! Surely something ill's him. I will not chasten him again, but I will treat himas a sick man and I will heal him. I will change his nature. I will take away the heart of stone out of his flesh. I willgive him a heart of flesh. I will take those dry eyes and fill them with tears. I will take that dumb tongue and inspire itwith prayer. I will take that careless heart and melt it with holy penitence. I have seen his ways and will heal him." Itis an astonishing way! It is an effectual way!
Notice further that it is a tender way-"I will also lead him." Observe that word. The sinner will have his own way and theLord has been driving him into another, but he will not go. Now the Lord will come to him in gentleness and lead him. He willsay, "Come now, let us reason together." He will appeal to him, and say, "Do not contend with Me any longer. I can strikehard and I could, if I would, strike you into Hell! Do not fight with Me. Let us make peace." "As I live," says the Lord,"I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, but that he should turn unto Me and live." Come unto the Lord, you poorbroken-hearted one! He has only strived with you to wean you from your sin and make it
possible for Him to save you! Stand not up in your puny insignificance to contend against your God! Do not brazen it out withHim-the mere strap of His belt will break you-as for His sword, if He uses it upon you, you are utterly slain!
Come, for He will put your sin away. He will cease from His fierce anger and reveal His love. He proclaims pardon. Free Graceand dying love are the charming bells which ring you into the banquet of Grace. The Lord leads the contrite soul step by step-thereis no driving-but like as a shepherd goes before his sheep, so the Lord Jesus goes before broken, humble and contrite spirits-andthey know His voice and follow Him.
Observe, also, how complete is this method. As if all that went before were not enough, it is added, "I will restore comfortsto him and to his mourners." How tender this is! He will take away the sorrow as well as the sin, the killing grief as wellas the killing disease! He will give us the true balm of Gilead and will pour such wine and oil into our gaping wounds thatall shall be healed and the bones which He had broken shall rejoice! I do not know whether I have succeeded in striking youall with an impression of my Master's great love, but it is very much upon my soul at this time. It amazes me that thoughHe has been contending with us, after all it is no contention of His heart, but only of His hands!
When we have resisted and kept up the contention, He says, "I have struck you and you revolt more and more. Why should yoube struck any more? Your whole head is sick and your whole heart faint with My striking you. I will chasten you no more, butchange My method. I have brought you down almost to death's door by affliction and yet you still kick and struggle, as ifthe last breath in you should be spent in fighting against Me. I will conquer you, but if it cannot be accomplished by fear,it shall be achieved by love. If you will not yield to My thunder, you shall yield to My sunshine! If you will not bow beforeMy Throne, you shall fall before My Cross. I will die for you and so I will win you. I will let My own heart be broken foryou, that at last you shall look at Me and your heart shall be broken. I will love you. I will love you into life. I willlove you up from the very gates of Hell. I will love you till you love Me."
O irresistible Love! Who can stand against You? O Lord, this morning Your people, if they have rebelled, come weeping backto You to ask You, again, to give the kiss of reconciliation! We yield! We yield, submitting ourselves without reserve toYou! Many a poor sinner who has given up the hope of being saved under the crushing blows of conviction and chastisement,should now cry, "I can hold out no longer-
"Lord, what hard heart can still withstand,
And still rebellious prove?
Refuse to bow to Your command,
Or to accept Your love?
O'ercome by glorious Grace,
I now my former war give over.
To Your command I gladly bow,
And would contend no more."
Oh, come, you wanderers, and rest in Jesus! Come, you most lost, most ruined, most hopeless and find Heaven begun in Christ!Oh, you that sit on the edge of Hell, who have made a Covenant with Death and a league with Satan, whose death warrant seemsto be signed and put into your hands so that you read it by the flames of Hell, whose fury you anticipate-come to Jesus andthat handwriting of death shall be blotted out! The impending judgment seems even now to scorch your souls-come and find deliverancefrom it, for God Himself invites you! Tarry no longer! May Jesus sweetly lead you to Himself. Amen.