Sermon 1672. The Voice Behind Thee
Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, July 23rd, 1882, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
'And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, andwhen ye turn to the left.'Isaiah 30:21.
ON the Sabbath before last we spoke concerning 'the still small voice.' After the thunder and the fire and the earthquakehad passed away, for the Lord was not in them, there came a still small voice unto Elijah, which reached the prophet's heart,and brought him back to his former condition of communion with God. This hopeful morning we shall hear that same 'still smallvoice' actually speaking a warning and teaching word, and we shall see how it operates upon the sinner,reaching both his ear and his heart. God calls to the rebellious, and by his gentle word they are brought to his feetwith repentance, turned from their evil wandering, and led in the way of obedience.
The word behind us which is spoken of in the text is mentioned as one among other covenant blessings. No 'if' or 'but' isjoined to it. It is one of those gracious, unconditional promises upon which the salvation of the guilty depends. There aremany comforts of the new life which depend upon our own action and behaviour, and these come to us with 'ifs'; but those whichare vital and essential are secured to the chosen of God without 'but' or 'peradventure.' It shall beso: God declares it shall, and he has power to carry out every jot and tittle of every promise that he makes to his people.I shall ask you at this good hour mainly to admire the free and sovereign grace of God in making such a promise as this toanybody, and especially in making it to a people whom he speaks of as 'a rebellious people, lying children, children thatwill not hear the law of the Lord.' He severely upbraids them, and then in great patience he says to them, even to them, 'Yourears shall hear a word behind you.' God's grace is marvellous in itself, but its most marvellous point is the singularchannel in which it chooses to flow: it runs down into the Dead Sea of sin and makes the waters pure.
I. I invite you to notice first of all THE POSITION OF THE WANDERER to whom this special blessing comes. How does God findmen when he declares that they shall hear a word behind them? First, he finds them with their backs turned to him. This is clear enough, if you remember that the word is to be heard 'behind' them. The sinner has gone away from God, andGod calls after him from behind. He has turned his back upon his true Friend, his best Friend, his only capableFriend, but that Friend does not therefore change his temper and resent the insult; nay, he is provoked to a love morepleading and persuasive than ever, and calls to him to come into the right way. After having transgressed wilfully and wickedly,the rebel now distinctly turns his back on God and truth; according to the Lord's complaint, 'they have turned unto me theback, and not the face.' He turns his back on the law, on the gospel, on mercy, on eternal life. He turns his back on theadoption of the great Father, on pardon bought with the blood of Jesus, on regeneration which can alone be wrought bythe Holy Spirit: he turns his back upon holiness, happiness, and heaven. He turns away from sunlight, and wanders down intodeeper and yet deeper night, striving to get away from God and holy influences. Yet the Lord follows him, and with a voiceof touching love and tender compassion he calls to him, 'This is the way, walk ye in it.' The word of warning, instruction,andentreaty follows the wanderer, and with ever-increasing pathos beseeches him to turn and live. Again and again the wise,earnest, personal voice assails his ear, as if love resolved that he should not perish if wooing could win him to life. Thewanderer seeks not God, but his God seeks him. Man turns from the God of love, but the love of God turns not away from him.
What matchless grace is this, that God should thus call after sinners when they openly renounce his rule, and flee from hismercy. Oh, if the Lord had turned his back on us, where had we been? If he had given us up to our own devices, and left usto ourselves, then our eternal ruin would want but a few more days and months to consummate itself, and we should be drivenfor ever from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power. Have we not said unto God, 'Departfrom us: we desire not the knowledge of thy ways'? If he had replied to us, 'Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting firein hell,' it had only been the echo of our own words. When we said to him 'Depart,' suppose he had turned round and said,'Depart, depart yourselves.' But instead of that, while we turn ourselves deliberately away from God, he still calls afterus; he will not let us go. We have a freedom of will, but it is by that freedom of will that men are damned, since they willnot comeunto Christ that they might have life, but they will to follow the devices and desires of their own hearts. Free-will,thus held in chains by evil lustings, becomes the most destructive agency in the world; but, blessed be God, he has freedomof will too, and that freedom of sovereign grace will not have its hands bound nor its lips closed, but it will act and speakin omnipotent love. So when the Lord sees us in the wantonness of our wickedness, dead in trespasses and sins, his great lovewherewith he loves us seeks us out, and from the lips of that love come tender accents bidding us return to God, saying,'This is the way, walk ye in it.'
Observe that these persons had not only turned their backs on God, but they were going further and further away from him. Of course, when you have once turned your back upon the right, the further you travel the more wrong you become. They werenot content to be near to God, even with their backs to him, but they hastened away. They are eager and quick to escape fromtheir own mercy. Like the prodigal, they are not satisfied till they get into 'a far country': theycannot rest in the same land with their God: they journey with all speed away from the Lord, and the greater the distancethat they can set between themselves and their Father the more are they at ease. In forgetting God they find a horrible peace:the peace of death, a peace which will stupefy them into eternal destruction. Now, it is while they are thus going hot footaway from God, further and further every day, madly rushing along the downward road, never satisfied with the sin to whichthey have attained, flying from God as if he were their terror and would be their destroyer, it is even then that theword sounds behind them and they are startled into thought. They have a powerful voice pleading with them thus,'Turn ye, turnye; why will ye die, O house of Israel? This is the way, walk ye in it. The way you are now pursuing is not the way to peaceand safety; return at once, for this is the way, walk ye in it.' Here again I admire the overflowing riches of the grace ofGod, that he should call men to himself when they are altogether taken up with other things, when every thought, and everyword, and every act is in rebellion against him. Paul saith, 'Doth God care for oxen?' but here is a far greater wonder, 'DothGod care for worthless revolters?' When a chosen man is desperately set on mischief, determined to destroy himself, God isyet more determined to save him. The two determinations meet, and we shall see which of the two will prove itself the strongerone. We soon find that the determination of God overcomes the determination of man. The iron breaks the northern ironand the steel. 'Thus saith the Lord; your covenant with death is broken, and your league with hell is disannulled:' for therewas a prior covenant, a covenant of grace made by God himself, which stands fast for ever; and there was a prior league whichGod made with his Son on our behalf, and that league shall overthrow our league with death and hell. Glory be to God thatevenwhen the sinner is still rebellious, and shows no signs of repentance, nor is conscious of any wish to turn from the errorof his ways, even then, while his heart is black as night, and his spirit is choke-full with rebellion, God calls to him,'Return, O backsliding children.' 'They shall hear a voice behind them, saying, This is the way.'
More than this, however, is true. They had turned their backs on God, and were going further from him, though they were warnednot to do so, and they were pursuing their course in spite of warning. Read the twentieth verse: 'Thine eyes shall see thy teachers': there they stood, good men, right in the way, entreating theirhearers to cease from provoking their God and destroying their own souls. Hear them cry, 'Turn ye from your iniquities, forthis way leads todeath: turn ye, turn ye.' They can see their teachers stretching out their hands with eager importunity, pleading evenunto boiling tears, persuading them to turn from the way and the wages of sin. Still they push on, as if eternal destructionwere a prize to be sought rather than a doom to be dreaded. Was it not so with many of us in the days of our unregeneracy?Mother and father endeavored to block up the evil road: in them our eyes beheld our teachers. How they taught us: how theyprayedwith us: how they laboured if possible to turn us from the error of our ways! But we persevered with obstinate resolve.It is hard going to hell over a pleading mother, and equally hard to destroy one's self by pushing aside an earnest father'sgood advice; but we seemed resolved to do so. Then perhaps followed Sunday-school teachers, full of intense love to us; andhow they pleaded! How wisely they set the case before us, and how tenderly they pleaded: our eyes did see our teachers, butstillour eyes would not see the right way, nor would our hearts desire it; we were determined that we would by hook or by crookland ourselves in hell. Our soul was given to her idols, and after those idols we resolved to go. We loved the wages of iniquity,the pleasures of the flesh, the pride of life, the conceit of self-salvation: we loved anything better than our God; and thoughour teachers were before us, ready to help and eager to teach we made small account of them. In after-life it may beour teachers were earnest pastors, who could not preach dull, dead sermons, and would not suffer us to sleep ourselvesinto perdition. They cried aloud and spared not: they were in anguish about us: they gave themselves no rest until we wouldturn from our iniquities. We could see our teachers, and we had a loving respect for them too, yet we cast their word behindour back: it was of no use to us: we loved iniquity, and that way we would go, come what might of it. Yet even then, whenwe weredespising God's prophets and paying no regard to all the words of warning, the Lord was still loving us, looking afterus, and crying after us, and saying, 'This is the way; this is the way: walk ye in it. Come back, come back, come back: youare destroying yourselves: return unto your Father and your God.' Why did he not throw the reins on our necks, and say, 'Letthem alone; they are given unto idols: I have hewed them with the prophets, I have ploughed them with men of God, but allhas cometo nought; they have stiffened their necks, they have hardened their hearts, they have made their forehead like unto anadamant stone; therefore let them reap the result of their transgressions'? But it was not so, for God had made this wordan unconditional promise of his covenant, 'They shall hear a voice behind them.'
One more mark of the ungodly condition of those whom God would call was this, that they had many ways in which to wander. Sometimes they roamed to the right hand, at other times they wandered to the left, but they never turned face about. Hearye the way to heaven; it is right about face then keep straight on to glory. Nay, but we will turn this way, we will turnthat way, we will turn any way except to God. Some men have right-hand sins, respectable iniquitieswhich challenge little censure from their fellows; not black, but whitewashed sins. Such men are not thieves, they arenot licentious, they are not drunkards, but their sins take a quieter form; they mock God with their self-righteousness, andinsult him with their prayers, which are no prayers, but only pretences and fictions, and not the real prayers of God's electones. Others have left-hand sins; they plunge into the sins of the flesh; no vice is too black for them. Only propose to havealittle pleasure and they will plunge into any vice to gain it: ay, and almost without pleasure, altogether without presentprofit, they will sin, as if for sin's own sake. When they have burned their finger in the candle they will after that holdtheir arm in the fire; when they have brought disease into their bodies by sin they will return to the evil which caused it;when they have beggared their purse by their extravagant lusts yet still they will go on playing the profligate; when theyhavefilled themselves with despair till they are as a bucket running with gall and wormwood, and this has been emptied outfor them by God's grace, they will fill it up again, for they are infatuated with sin; they find a delight in it and theywill not, they cannot give it up. Shall the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may they that have beenaccustomed to do evil learn to do well. Alas, such a miracle has not happened to them. They choose all shapes of evil, butthe goodthey will not have. I say their right-hand sins, their left-hand sins, sins of their life, sins of their heart,'they willfollow all these eagerly, but unless God by his own omnipotent voice shall call them back they will not come to him, to Jesus,to grace, to holiness, and heaven. Tell it, tell it, tell it; sound it forth beneath the sky for ever and ever, that the Lorddoes call to himself such wanton wanderers. 'Go and proclaim these words toward the north, saith the Lord: Turn, Obacksliding children; for I am married unto you.' Oh, the pity of God, not only for the miserable, but for the wicked;it surpasses thought. 'In due time Christ died for the ungodly.' Favour to the guilty is the choicest of favour. We come notto preach salvation to the righteous'for where shall we find them?'but we proclaim it to the unrighteous and to the ungodly.'The whole have no need of a physician; but they that are sick'; and Christ has come after the sick, calling, not therighteous, but sinners to repentance. Oh, if anything will touch the heart it should be this word of free grace, thisfact that God doth bid men return to him. Mercy is full of patience; it bears and forbears, and still it cries, 'This is theway, walk ye in it'; oh, who would be so cruelly ungrateful as to close his ear against its pleadings?
Thus I have spoken sufficiently upon the position of the wanderer.
II. Now, for a little while, we will dwell upon THE CALL OF MERCY. 'Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee.'
Notice, it is a call that is altogether undesired, and comes unsought to the man who has gone astray. He hears the inward call whose voice is 'Return:' he looks for a moment,and then puts his foot down to pursue his journey. 'Never,' he says, 'will I alter my course,' and he boldly hastens on, thoughbefore him lie death and hell. As he is persevering in his ruinous course the same word again bids him 'Return.' He hearsthe admonition, but still he pushes on; hemust not and will not return from the way of evil. If he could reach a spot where such disturbing voices would never troublehim how gladly would he hasten towards it. Hence so many altogether forsake the place of worship: they prefer the stagnantpool of stupid obstinacy to the sweet river of the water of life. So far from desiring to be warned, if they could voyageto a distant Tarshish, where voices of warning would never reach them more, it would be a delightful journey; and if shipcouldbe taken, they would, like Jonah, pay the fare to the shipmaster, and secure a berth in the next vessel. I have heardof one in the backwoods of America who was unloading his furniture, and while doing so up rode a Methodist minister. 'Confoundyou,' said he, 'I have moved half-a-dozen times to get away from you Methodist fellows: I am never comfortable where you are.I will put the things on the cart again, and find a spot where I shall be free from you.' On they went to another clearing,butwhen they reached it the first thing that happened, before the man took up his lodging, was the appearance of a Methodistminister. 'Where shall I go to get away from you Methodist preachers?' 'There is nowhere I know of,' said the minister, 'thatyou can go, for I am afraid if you go to hell you will find some of them there, for preachers have been lost. The very bestthing you can do is to yield at once, and let me hold a service to-night in your camp.' That was sound advice; and so someofyou will be pestered and worried as long as you live if you will not come to Christ. Omnipotence has servants everywhere,and these are all charged to warn you of your peril. I knew one who would not go to a place of worship, and turned every Bibleout of his house; but he found a copy of the holy Book in his house, and as he cursed and swore he learned that it was theproperty of a daughter whom he loved too much to scold, and he was obliged to let the sacred volume rest where she had placedit. A Bible in a house where it is forbidden to be read is a splendid power for good, as he soon discovered. In a housewhere it is outwardly honoured the Bible may have little influence, but if it gets where it must not be allowed, everybodyreads it. If you can make God's Word to be forbidden fruit, Eve will feed on it, and Adam will follow her. Thus the graceof God came into the house, and it would never be expelled. Down by Mitcham, when the lavender is growing, if you take a housethereyou will discern a smell of lavender; you may shut the windows and close the doors, but when any persons enter a whiffof lavender enters with them, you cannot help it; and if you live where the gospel is preached at all you will be sure tohear it, and made to know of it. It is God's intention that you should. It is a voice that comes unasked and undesired, butcome it does.
'A word behind thee'; it is the voice of an unseen caller whose existence has been almost forgotten. It is not the teachers that speak in this powerful way. The teachers you haveseen with your eyes, and they have done you no good; but someone calls whom you never saw and never will see till he sitson the throne of judgment at the last great day; but still he utters a word which cannot be kept out of your ears. It willcome to you mysteriously at all sorts of hourscrying, 'Return, return, return.' It will sound often at dead of night, and make the chambers of conscience ring withits notes. I have known it to wake a man out of his slumbers: I have known it sound in his dreams till he dreamed of hell,and woke up and felt the torment in his own conscience. Though he has done all he could, has been off to the theatre, to thegay party, to the entertainment, to deeper sin, yet still even there the word has haunted him. I recollect one who in thisvery cityplunged into all manner of gaiety to try to get rid of this word, yet God met him in a play; words were used in the performancewhich touched his conscience, and he fled from the playhouse as from a burning building, fell on his knees, and sought andfound the Saviour. This call of mercy is the word of a hidden One: you cannot see who it is that speaks, yet you cannot shutyour ears to his admonitions nor refuse reverence to his warnings.
This voice pursues and overtakes the sinner. Do you see him running,'with all his might rushing to his own destruction? The word comes, at first, rather feebly'Return.'He scarcely looks back, but on he flies. Lo, the voice follows. He runs faster from it to show his determination to carryout his own will. The voice still follows him, saying, 'Return.' Then he stops a minute, but being desperately enamoured ofhis transgressions, he again takes to his heels tofly away from God; still the word pursues his footsteps, and in pleading accents cries,'Return, return, return, return;'till at last he is constrained to sit down and listen to the word which comes from he knows not where. He cannot understandhow and why it comes so home to him, but it is a fulfillment of the promise; it is the word behind him saying, 'This is theway, walk ye in it.'
That voice when it comes to sinners is generally most opportune, for according to the text they are to hear this voice behind them when they turn to the right hand or to the left. A manmay go steadily plodding on in his course of ungodliness and hear no such word of pleading, but how often it has happenedthat there has been a temptation of a more than usually forceful character, and the traveller was about to turn to the right,and then, at that precise moment, hehas heard the word of God behind him giving him warning. His feet had almost gone; his steps had well-nigh slipped, butthe word of the Lord upheld him, and he went not into the deadly sin. Or it may be it is what I have described as a left-handedsin: the man was carried on to an action which, if he had actually performed it, would have involved his sure destruction;but just as he was about to turn down Deadman's Lane there came a voice behind him, 'Return, return.' Often it is so, andevenif the man does not return and seek the right way, but keeps steadily on as carelessly as ever, still he is slackeninghis speed, and he dares not take that left-hand turning into gross sin which he would have followed if the word had not checkedhim. Even where the Spirit of God does not save a man it keeps him from many a sin; and when men rebel against the light andwill not yield to it, yet still that light has a restraining influence over them of which they may be unconscious. Those whowatch them know that if that bit and bridle had not been supplied by the word they would have gone to an excess of riotwhich would have been dangerous to others as well as totally destructive to themselves. Blessed be God for the opportunenessof the word of mercy. Men delay to come, but God does not delay to call.
And you see, to close this second point, that it is absolutely necessary that the potent word should be spoken and should be heard. For the man had seen his teachers, but they had not wrought himany good. How often the Lord seems to put us ministers right up in the corner with our faces to the wall, till we are littlein the eyes of our hearers and little in our own eyes. He does so with me, and while I can glorify his name and bless himabundantly for the manythat are brought to Christ, yet I never take the slightest congratulation to myself about it, for what am I but the driestand most barren stick that there is in all my Master's garden apart from his watering? If sinners had nothing to save thembut us poor preachers, not one of them would be brought up from death and hell. Sinners would laugh at us as simpletons ifGod were not with us: they do so as it is, and I do not wonder at it, because there is enough in us that deserves to be laughedat. They are ready to despise us, and we cannot be broken-hearted if they do, for we ourselves used in former days todespise the servants of God, and if we do not do so now, it is because the grace of God has made a change in us: we cannotexpect better treatment than we ourselves rendered to better men when they pleaded with us. The word behind us is needful,that 'still small voice' which no mortal man can speak, but only God himself, that inward monition of the conscience, thattouchinglanguage of the heart which is as much beyond the power of man as to make a world or breath life into an image of clay.Therefore pray ye mightily to the blessed Spirit that he may breathe on men and save them, and that the word of God may stillfollow and pursue them till they turn from the way of transgression.
I leave that point. You have seen the position of the rambler, and the grace of God in the call of mercy.
III. But what was THE WORD OF THAT CALL? It is stated at full length, 'This is the way, walk ye in it.' That is the word ofthe call. It contains within itself, first, specific instruction. 'This is the way.' There is a kind of preaching which has nothing specific, definite, and positive in it: it is a bit ofcloud-land, and you may make what you like out of it'God's grace or man's merit, faith in Christ or faith in self. You needto be your own instructor, andthen like the child looking into the fire you will see whatever your own eye chooses to create. Too much preaching isof a kind so mixed that it reminds me of the showman when his visitors asked, 'Which is Wellington and which is Napoleon?''Whichever you please,' said he; 'you have paid your money and you may take your choice.' So it seems to be with many preachersas to doctrine. You may have what kind of doctrine you like so long as you pay your pew-rent. 'Cleverly put,' cries one, whenhehad heard a smart sermon. Is not that enough? I answer, it is not enough: we want the sure testimony of revelation, sealedin the heart by the Holy Ghost. Cleverness is not God's way of blessing men. Conjectures and loose opinions are not worththe breath which is expended in expressing them. The Lord lays down a definite pathway, and he says, 'This is the way.' 'Believein the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved; this is the way. Repent and be converted, every one of you; this is theway. To leave sin, to quit self, to trust in Christ: this is the way.' Something definite is laid down before those whodesire to be taught of God, and they are told what is to be done, what is to be received, what is to be given up. 'This isthe way.' Definite instruction is given. This may not suit the Broad School, but it is exactly what the anxious seeker needs.
This definite instruction may also be said to be a special correction. When the voice behind says, 'This is the way,' it does as good as say that the opposite path is not the way; for there isonly one way to heaven, and there never will be two; and when men hear a voice saying, 'This is the way,' it does in effectremind them that the opposite is not the way. If ye are going the reverse of the right way, turn ye from it, and ye shalllive. How much we ought tobless God that the gospel comes in as a corrective, kills the false and introduces us to the true. May falsehood be slainwithin us, and truth reign there for ever. May we leave all other roads, since the Lord has said of one road only, 'This isthe way.'
It is also a word of sure confirmation. 'This is the way.' When that is heard many times,'This is the way,' 'This is the way,' 'This is the way;' when, accordingto our hymn,
'We hear our Saviour say,
'Come hither, soul, I am the Way,'
if we have already believed it to be the way we are strengthened in that conviction. Hearing the mysterious word declaringagain and again, 'This is the way,' men grow to believe the truth of God's word, and out of that by-and-by there is begottena living faith in a living Saviour. Oh, this is a great mercy, to hear the same thing many times, to hear the voice proclaimagain and again and again, 'This is the way,' 'This is the way.' 'Other foundation can no man lay thanthat which is laid, Jesus Christ, the righteous.' May the repetitions of the Spirit effectually preserve us from the deadlyshadow of doubt, and fix us as a nail in a sure place.
This is followed up by a word of personal direction. 'Walk ye in it.' Do not merely hear about it, but 'walk ye in it.' Be not content to be critics, thinkers, and considerers,but become doers of the word. 'This is the way,'here is the doctrine: 'Walk ye in it,'there is the practice. Well is it whenthe Lord by his Spirit speaks to the runaway sinner and tells him what he is to do and to believe; then he makes the way andthe walk to be vividlypresent,'This is the way, walk ye in it' without delay.
This takes the form of encouraging permission. Some think they may not come to Christ. They actually ask the question, 'May I believe in him? Is there salvation for me?'Why, saith the text, 'This is the way.' Do not sit looking at it: 'walk ye in it.' 'But I am so big a sinner.' 'Christ isthe way; walk ye in it.' There is room enough for big sinners in Jesus. 'But I have been so long coming.' Never mind: thisis the way, 'walk ye in it.' Never mind if you havebeen seventy years coming if you have come to the way at last, 'Walk ye in it.' 'But I am afraid my feet are so pollutedthat I shall stain the way:' 'This is the way, walk ye in it.' You are not told to stand on one side and wait till somethingshall happen to you which shall persuade you to come, but here is the king's highway, walk ye in it. Walking is the simplestof all exercises. There is no great artistic skill required in order to walk, but walking is all that is wanted. Come toChrist,'come to him anyhow. Oh soul, tumble to him somehow; trust him as best you can: and if you cannot do it withoutquestion, trust him because you must trust him, since you have nobody else to trust to. Throw yourself into Jesus' arms; swoonaway on the bosom of Christ. It is the essence of faith, to die into the life of God in Christ Jesus. This is the messagewhich comes behind many a runaway sinner,'This is the way, walk ye in it.'
IV. According to our text success is promised to the word. 'Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.' Notice, THE SUCCESS OF THE WORD,'thine ears shall hear. God not only gives us something to hear, but he gives us ears to hear with. Oh, the mercy of God! he spreads the table, andthen he gives the appetite; he furnishes the garments, and he gives us the sense of nakedness, and so leads us to put themon. Everythingthat is wanted to bear a man from the gates of hell to the gates of heaven free-grace provides. Nothing is left out: thecatalogue is complete: he that sends the tidings also opens the ears. 'Thine ears shall hear.' This is effectual grace. Teachers cannot make men hear. They can appeal to the external ear, and after that they have no more that they can do; butGod can make men hear. Without violating the freedom of their wills he can get at their hearts, at their consciences, at theirunderstandings, and he can press the truth home to their souls. When the Lord does it, it is done. When we do it, it isoften so done that afterwards it is undone, but verily I know that what God doeth shall be for ever. All that is of nature'sspinning will be unravelled one day; but when God spins, it will last throughout eternity.
I take it when we read here, 'Thine ears shall hear,' it means first, that the message of divine love shall come to the man'smind so as to create uneasiness in it. He is jauntily traversing the road to destruction: he has chosen the path, and he delights in it. It often looks tohim to be a flowery way, a pleasant road. So he walks on, and he would be very happy but for that word behind him crying,'Turn ye! turn ye! turn ye!' Just as he was turning down that gladein the wood to the right, where all the flowers of spring are found in profusion, that call troubled him again! He wouldsooner have seen a serpent hissing in the pathway, or heard a lion roar from the thicket, than have heard that word. The mansays, 'I never can be quiet: I can see other people going to amusements and pleasures, and they heartily enjoy themselves;but the fact is, the more amusement I have the less I am amused, and I am never more miserable than when everybody else islaughing. Why am I thus?' He thinks he is hardly done by, and is the special object of God's hatred. Everybody else isjolly, but he is gloomy. They can look on the wine when it is red, when it moveth itself aright, when it giveth its colourin the cup; and so could he once look into the rosy depths, but now he sees that serpent at the bottom of it, and he is afraidto touch it lest the draught should turn to venom in his veins. He almost curses the arrangements of heaven which have madehim soill at ease. He wishes he had never heard the parson preach the sermon which bothered him so; he wishes he had never hada godly mother at all, that he might have gone straight away into sin, and have been as merry as a cricket; but now thereis that voice again behind him, boring its way into his tingling ears. For a moment he had forgotten it, but there it comesagain'Turn! turn! turn! turn!' He stops his ears; but it bombards his soul with worse than cannon balls; as if the word ofGodpounded him with shells, he hears the thunders of the cannonade,'Return! Return! Return!' What can he do? He longs toescape from the divine rebuke. The word has made him quiver and quake. So far so good. We shall see next what will happento him.
After a while there gets to be a desire in his heart. It is only a faint and spasmodic desire,'nothing very strong or constant'but there it is, and it cannot bequenched. 'I wish I could get right somehow: for in my present condition I am in an evil case; I am sailing in the wrong boat;I wish I could land somewhere, and take the return boat and get to my home. I do not feel at all easy; I wish I knew whatto do to be saved. I do know it somehow, for I haveheard it every Sabbath day, but yet I do not understand it; I cannot get hold of it; I wish I could, for I am anxiousto be forgiven, to be renewed in the spirit of my mind, to be made a new creature in Christ Jesus.' 'Do you know,' he saysto someone, 'that voice I could not bear, that used to wake me up at nights, that kept me out of pleasure? There is a kindof music in it now; I like to hear it: I wish I heard it so that it had an effect upon me, for I am afraid I shall go downto the pit,and be lost under accumulated responsibilities for having neglected the call of divine love. Oh, help me to come to Christ,for I am anxious to reach him, but I feel as if I could not come. I do not feel as I ought. I am told to believe, but I donot know what it means, or I cannot do it.
'I would but can't believe,
Then all would easy be.
I would but cannot, Lord, relieve:
My help must come from thee.'
He is getting on all right, friends. We shall have a better bulletin concerning him directly. He is wonderfully improving:a great deal of the fever of pride has gone out of the man; we shall have him yet in perfect health. He could not rest becausehe heard too much of the word behind him, and now he cannot rest because he cannot hear enough of it: he desires that it maypenetrate his soul and change him from darkness to light.
What shall happen next? As that voice continues to sound, it pulls him up, and leads to resolve. The word of the Lord has put a bit into his mouth and a bridle between his jaws; he does not dare go any further; he sitsdown to consider. I think I saw him on his knees too, and he is resolved if heaven is to be had he will have it; if mercyis to be found he will find it; he will rake the world over, but he will gain the pearl of great price. I think I heard himsayhe would not go to sleep till he found Jesus. I am glad he has come to that pass. Friend, you are just like the prodigalwhen he said, 'I will arise and go to my father'; only take care you do not end in resolutions. Let it be said of you as ofthat same prodigal, 'He arose, and came to his father'; for all our resolutions are not worth the making unless they be mostearnestly and speedily carried into effect. Observe the effect of the word behind the wanderer. Cannot you see the man whowasrunning so fast? He has pulled up. He sees a line drawn across his path, and he must not go over it. He feels that ifhe goes further he may never have another call of mercy, and this makes him pause. Did not we sing this morning,
'Soon that voice will cease its calling'?
The man is anxious to obey while he may. He is not yet resolved to go back, but he dares not go further.
Watch him, for the voice is calling again, and he is every now and then turning his ear round as if he wanted to hear it.'Return, return, return.' He smites upon his breast and cries, 'Would God I could return; I will return, for I cannot perish;I cannot let things go as once I did; I cannot leave everything to take its own way while I take my chance. No, I must haveChrist or else I die, and I must have him soon, or else I shall seal my eternal destiny, and prove acastaway for ever. O God, call again, call again; keep on calling, till I come; for lo, my spirit answers, 'Draw me, andI will run after thee.' When thou saidst unto me, 'Seek ye my face,' my heart said unto thee, 'Thy face, Lord, will I seek.'
What will be the last stage of this inner work? Since the man dares not go any further in this wrong way, what is he to do?He cannot turn to the right or to the left, for God has hedged up his way with thorns. Now, listen to what he will say, 'Iwill return unto my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.' This poor soul looks on him whom he pierced.He did not know he was piercing his Redeemer; but now he sees it all, and while his eyes begin to streamwith tears, he turns unto this Christ upon the cross, and finds life while looking at him. See him get up and feel asif he did not know what to do with himself as he cries,
'Blest cross; blest sepulchre; blest rather be
The man that here did shed his blood for me.'
Now he enquires, 'Which is my way? Speak, sweet voice; speak, sweet voice; tell me which is my way.' And now the voice movesand speaks in front of him; for shepherds go before their sheep. The man looks and sees the Crucified One with pierced handsand feet leading the way, and he delights to follow him: ay, and he shall follow him until at the last he shall see his facein glory everlasting. Redeemed by blood and rescued by power eternal, and brought home to the greatShepherd's fold, to go no more out for ever, the sinner shall be filled with gladness. Listen, then, listen, ye that haveturned your backs on God! Infinite mercy woos you, boundless compassion entreats you to be saved. Turn ye; turn as you are,all black and filthy and bemired; tarry not to mend or wash, but come to Jesus all unholy and unclean, without a single soundspeck upon your leprous frame, utterly lost and ruined. Christ died for such as you. I say again, tarry not to improveyourselves, but come now, while mercy's voice incites you, while the Holy Ghost not only entreats, but sweetly constrains.Come and welcome, sinners, come. The Lord bless you. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON'Isaiah 30.
HYMNS FROM 'OUR OWN HYMN BOOK'909, 496, 497.