Sermon 1826. The Horns of the Altar

(No. 1826)

Delivered by


At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington,

On March 23rd, 1884,

"And he said, Nay; but I will die here."-1 Kings 2:30

WE MUST tell you the story. Solomon was to be the king after David, but his elder brother, Adonijah, was preferred by Joab,the captain of the host, and by Abiathar, the priest; and, therefore, they got together, and tried to steal a march upon dyingDavid, and set up Adonijah. They utterly failed in this; and when Solomn came to the throne Adonijah was afraid for his life,and fled to the horns of the altar at the tabernacle for shelter. Solomn permitted him to findsanctuary there, and forgave him his offence, and said that if he proved himself a worthy man he should live without furthermolestation. But very soon he began plotting again, and sought to undermine Solomon now that their venerable father was dead.It became therefore necessary, especially according to oriental ideas, for Solomn to strike a heavy blow; and he determinedto begin with Joab-the bottom of all the mischief, who, though he had not followed after Absalom in David's time, was nowfollowing after Adonijah. No sooner had the king determined upon this, than Joab, conscience-stricken, begin to look tohimself and fly. Read the twenty-eighth verse. "Then tidings came to Joab: for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turnednot after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the Lord, and caught hold on the horns of the altar." I suppose thathe thought that, as Adonijah had done this successfully before, Joab might repeat it, and have some hope for his life. Ofcourse. he had no right to enter into the holy place, and lay hold on the horns of the altar; but being driven to desperation,he knew not what else to do. He was a man of hoary head, who had thirty or more years before committed two atrocious murders,and now they came home to him. He did not know where to fly except he fled to the horns of an altar, which he had very seldomapproached before. As far as we can judge, he had shown little respect to religion during his lifetime. He was a roughman of war, and cared little enough about God, or the tabernacle, or the priests, or the altar; but when he was in danger,he fled to that which he had avoided, and sought to make a refuge of that which he had neglected. He was not the only manthat had done the same. Perhaps there are some here who before long will be trying to escape from impending woe by like means.

Now, I want you to notice that when Joab fled to the tabernacle of the Lord, and took hold of the horns of the altar, it was of no use to him. "And it was told king Solomon that Joab was fled unto the tabernacle of the Lord; and, behold, he is by the altar. Then Solomnsent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, Go, fall upon him. And Benaiah came to the tabernacle of the Lord and said untohim, Thus saith the king, Come forth. And he said, Nay; but I will die here.And Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, Thus saith Joab, and thus he answered me. And the king said unto him,Do as he hath said, and fall upon him, and bury him; that thou mayest take away the innocent blood, which Joab shed, fromme, and from the house of my father. And the Lord shall return his blood upon his own head, who fell upon two men, more righteousand better than he, and slew them with the sword, my father David not knowing thereof, to wit, Abner the son of Ner, captainofthe host of Israel, and Amasa, the son of Jether, captain of the host of Judah. Their blood shall therefore return uponthe head of Joab. So Benaiah the son of Jehoida went up, and fell upon him, and slew him: and he was buried in his own housein the wilderness."

I have two lessons I am anxious to teach at this time. The first is derived from the fact that Joab found no benefit of sanctuaryeven though he laid hold of the horns of the altar of God's house, from which I gather this lesson-that outward ordinances will avail nothing. Before the living God, who is greater and wiser than Solomn, it will be of no avail to any man to lay hold upon the hornsof the altar. But, secondly, there is an altar-a spiritualaltar-whereof if a man do but lay hold upon the horns, and say, "Nay; but I will die here," he shall never die; but heshall be safe against the sword of justice for ever; for the Lord has appointed an altar in the person of his own dear Son, Jesus Christ, where there shall be shelter for the veryvilest of sinners if they do but come and lay hold thereon.

I. To begin, then, first, OUTWARD ORDINANCES AVAIL NOT. The laying hold upon the literal horns of an altar, which can be handled,availed not Joab. There are many-oh, how many still!-that are hoping to be saved, because they lay hold, as they think, uponthe horns of the sacraments. Men of unhallowed life, nevertheless, come to the sacramental table, looking for a blessing. Do they not know that they polluteit? Do they not know that they are committing a highsin, and a great misdemeanour against God, by coming amongst his people, where they have no right to be? And yet theythink that by committing this atrocity they are securing to themselves safety. How common it is to find in this city, whenan irreligious man is dying, that someone will say, "Oh, he is all right; for a clergyman has been, and given him the sacrament."I often marvel how men calling themselves the servants of God can dare thus to profane the ordinance of the Lord. Did he everintend the blessed memorial of the Lord's supper to be a kind of superstitious vialicum, a something upon which ungodly men may depend in their last hour, as if it could put away sin. I do not one half so muchblame the poor ignorant and superstitious persons who seek after the sacrament in their dying hours, as I do the men who oughtto know better, but who pander to what is as downright a superstition as anything that ever came from the church of Rome,or, for the matter of that, fromthe fetish worship of the most deluded African tribe. Do they conceive that grace comes to men by bits of bread and dropsof wine? These things are meant to put us in memory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, as far as they do that, and quicken ourthoughts of him, they are useful to us; but there is no wizardry or witchcraft linked with these two emblems, so they conveyas form of grace. If you do rely upon such things, I can only say that this error is all of a piece: it is a superstitionwhichbegins with, "In my baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom ofheaven"; which statement is altogether false; and then it continues the delusion by prostituting an ordinance meant for theliving child of God, and giving it to the ungodly, the ignorant, and the superstitious, as though it could make them meetfor entering heaven. I charge you, as before the Lord, cleanse yourselves of this superstition. There is no salvation apartfrom faithin the Lord Jesus Christ; and you might as well trust in your sins as in sacraments. In fact, the sacraments become sinsto men who trust in them, for those men sin against the ordinances of the Lord by putting them where they never ought to be,and making an Antichrist of them, so as to push Christ out of his place with their baptisms and their masses. If you diedwith the sacramental bread in your mouths, ye will lost unless your faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Your hands, whicharesuperstitiously laid upon the altar's horns, might as well be placed upon your weapons of rebellion. Outward emblems cando you no good whatsoever if you remain unspiritual. Without faith in Christ, even the ordinances of God become things tocondemn you. If ye eat and drink unworthily ye eat and drink condemnation to yourselves, not discerning the Lord's body; and,if this be true, how dare any unconverted, unbelieving man put his trust in the outward ordinance of which he has no righttopartake?

There are others who put their trust in religious observances of sundry kinds. Their visible altar-horn is something which they believe to be very proper and right, and which, indeed, may be so if wiselyused, for the thing is good if used lawfully; but it will be their ruin if it be put out of its own place. For instance, thereare, doubtless, some who think that they are all right because they frequent sermons. They delight to be found hearing the gospel.Now, in this you do well, for, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"; but, if you suppose that themere hearing of a sermon with the outward ear can save you, you suppose what is untrue, and you build the house of your hopeon sand. "Oh, sir, I have sat to hear the true gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ these many years." Yes, and these many yearsyou have rejected it. The kingdom of God has come nigh unto you, but I fear it will work your damnation through your unbelief;forit will be a savour of death unto you. I fear that in the last great day it shall be seen that I have ministered untosome of you to your hurt. It will not be laid to my charge, but to yours, if I have been faithful in the declaration of theword. Oh, may God grant that no man or woman among you may ever put the slightest faith in the mere hearing of the word! Exceptye receive it by faith ye deceive your own souls; if ye are hearers only, what good can come of it?

"Oh, but," says another, "I attend prayer meetings." I admit that it is not every hypocrite that will regularly come to prayer-meetings, but there are some that do; and, thoughyou are so fond of prayer-meetings, yet, my dear friend, unless it can be said of you, "Behold he prayeth," you need not make sure of safety. Your being found in the place where prayer is wont to be made may be no true sign of grace."Ay, but I do more than that, for I have prayers inmy own house." Yes, and very proper , too. I would that all did the same; I am grieved that any should neglect the ordinanceof family prayer. But yet, if you think that the reading of a form of prayer in your household, or even the use of extempore prayer, is a thingto be relied upon for salvation, you do greatly err. "He that believeth in him hath everlasting life", but he that believesnot in the Lord Jesus Christ does but offer unbelieving prayer to God; and what is that but a vainsacrifice which he cannot accept? Oh, do not rely upon the habit of outward worship, or you will lean on a bulrush!

"But I regularly read a chapter," says one. I am extremely glad you do, and God bless that chapter to you! I would that all were in the habit of reading rightthought the Bible regularly, and endeavouring to understand it; but, if you trust in your Bible-readings as a ground of salvation,you are resting upon a mere soap-bubble which will burst under your weight. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, producing in thesoul a change of heart, a new birth unto God, this iswhat is wanted; and, apart from that, all the Bible reading you ever practice can do you no good whatsoever. "Ye mustbe born again. Ye must be born again"; and if they be not this inward change, then vain is all outward observance. You maywash a corpse, you may clothe that corpse in the purest white shroud that was ever woven, but when all is done it does notlive; and what are all the outward devotions of a carnal man but dead things which bring no life with them to men dead insin?

Some are foolish enough to put their confidence in ministers. It would seem to me to be the maddest thing in all the world for anybody to have confidence in me as to helping him in hissalvation; and I trust that nobody is such a fool. I cannot even save myself; what can I do for others? Do not come to mewith "Give us of your oil," for I have not enough for myself, except as I keep on begging a supply. When I look at the priestsin whom some trust, especially suchas I have seen abroad, they may be very fine fellows, but I would not trust some of them with a half-crown, let alonemy soul. The very look of most priests makes me wonder how they manage to secure power over people's minds. They may knowa great deal, but they do not look as if they were overdone with wit. I would as soon trust my soul in the hands of a gipsywith a red cloak as I would with the best-ordained priest or bishop that ever lived. There is one Mediator between God andmen, the manChrist Jesus, and he who sets up another is an enemy of souls. There is but one who can be trusted with our soul affairs,even the Lord Jesus Christ; and woe to us if we put our confidence in men! Ordained or unordained, shaven or unshorn, theycannot help us. Yet I know that people do trust in ministers most foolishly. I remember years ago being at three o'clock inthe morning in a house now pulled down, which stood not far from the London Bridge railway-station. A gentleman of considerablemeans had spent the Sunday at Brighton, had come home, and had been taken with cholera on a sudden, and nothing woulddo him, when he was in the pangs of death, but he must send for me. I went, not knowing what was required of me. But whenI got there what could I do? There was a little consciousness left to the man, and I spoke to him of Jesus. I asked if hehad a Bible. The people of the house searched high and low, but there was no such thing to be found. The mind was soon toobeclouded forfurther comprehension, and as I came away I asked, "Has he ever gone to a place of worship?" No, never-never cared forsuch a thing; but as soon as he was ill, then, "Oh, send for Mr. Spurgeon!" He must come, and nobody else: and there I stood,and what could I do? There died in the City of London, not long ago, a tradesman of much wealth; and when he came to die,though I had never seen the man in my life before, he importunately asked for me. I could not go. My brother went to see him,and,after setting before him the way of salvation, he enquired, "What made you wish to see my brother?" "Well," he said, "youknow whenever I have a doctor I always like to get the best; and when I employ a lawyer I like a man who is high in the profession.Money is no object. I want the best possible help." Ah me! I shuddered at being so regarded. The best help he could get! Thatbest is nothing-less than nothing, and vanity. What can we do for you, dear hearts, if you will not have our Saviour?We can stand and weep over you, and break our hearts to think that you reject him; but what can we do? Oh, if we couldlet you into heaven, if we could renew your hearts, how joyfully would we perform the miracle; but we claim no such power,no such influence! Go you to Christ, and lay hold upon the true altar-horn; but do not be so foolish as to put confidencein us or in any other ministers.

"Ah, well," says one, "I am free of that. I am a professor of religion, and have been a member of a church now these twenty years." You may be a member of a church fifty years, but you will bedamned at last unless you are a member of Christ. It matters not though you are a church-officer, a deacon, an elder, a pastor,a bishop, or even Archbishop of Canterbury, or an apostle, you will perish as surely as Judas, who betrayed his Master witha kiss, unless your heartis right with God. I pray you, put no confidence in your profession. Unless you have Christ in your heart, a professionis but a painted pageantry for a soul to go to hell in. As a corpse is drawn to the grave by horses adorned with nodding plumes,so may you find in an outward profession a pompous way of being lost. God save us from that!

"No," says one, " but I do not trust in mere profession. I have great reliance upon orthodoxy. I will have sound doctrine." That is right, friend, I would have all men value the truth. "My confidence is in my sound doctrine."That is not mine, friend, and I hope that it will not be yours long, for many lost souls have firmly believed orthodox doctrine.In fact, I question whether any one is more orthodox than the devil, for the devils believe and tremble. Satan isno skeptic; he has too much knowledge for that. Devils believe and tremble, and yet they are devils still. Put no confidencein the mere fact that you hold to an orthodox faith, for a dead orthodoxy soon corrupts. You must have faith in Christ, orelse this altar-horn of a correct creed, on which you lay your hand, will bring you no salvation.

I will not enlarge upon this topic. Whatever you depend upon apart from the blood and righteousness of Christ, away with it!Away with it! If you are even depending upon your own repentance, and your faith, away with them! If you are looking to yourown prayers or alms, I can only cry again,-Away with them! Nothing but the blood of Jesus; nothing but the atoning sacrifice;but, if you come and lay your hand upon that, blessed shall you be.

II. That assurance is the second part of our discourse, on which I will speak briefly. COMING TO THE SPIRITUAL ALTAR, ANDLAYING OUR HAND UPON IT, WILL SAVE US.

Now, notice first, the act itself. Joab came within the tabernacle. So, poor soul, come and hide yourself in Christ. Joab took hold of the horns, the projectingcorners of the altar, and he would not let go. Come, trembling sinners, and take hold on Christ Jesus.

"My faith doth lay her hand

On that dear head of thine;

While like a penitent I stand,

And there confess my sin."

Lean with your hand of faith upon your Lord, and say, "This Christ is mine. I accept it as the gift of God to me, unworthythough I be."

When that is done, a fierce demand may be made upon you. The enemy will probably cry, "Come forth! Come forth!" The self-righteous will say, "What right hasa sinner as you to trust Christ? Come forth!" Mind you say to them, "Nay, but I will die here." Your sins and your guiltyconscience will cry to you, "Come forth! Come forth! You must not lay hold of Christ. See what you have been, and what you are, and what you are likely to be." Answer to these voices,"Nay, but I will die here. I will never give up my hold of Christ." Satan will come, and he will howl out, "Come forth!What right have you with the Lord Jesus Christ? You cannot think that he came to save such a lost one as you are." Do notlisten to him. As often as he howls at you, only say to yourself, "Nay, but I will die here." I pray God that every sinnerhere may be brought to this desperate resolve, "If I perish, I will perish trusting in the blood and righteousness of JesusChrist. IfI must die, I will die here." For certain, we shall die anywhere else. If we trust in any but Jesus, we must perish. "Otherfoundation can no man lay than that is laid." "Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin." "He that believethon him is not condemned: but he that believeth not,"-whatever else he trusts to,-"is condemned already, because he hath notbelieved in the name of the only-begotten Son of God." Make, then, this desperate resolve-

If I must die, here will I die,

Here at the cross I bide;

To whom or whither should I fly?

Where else can I confide?

Say to all those who call you away, "Nay, but I will die here"; for nobody ever did perish trusting in Jesus. There has notbeen through all these centuries a single instance of a soul being cast away that came all guilty and hell-deserving, andtook Christ to be its salvation. If you perish, you will then be the first that perished with his hand laid upon Christ. Hislove and power can never fail a sinner's confidence. Wherefore, may God the Holy Spirit lead you toresolve, "If I must die, I will die here." Listen to me, soul, whoever thou mayest be out of the crowd, man or women,whatever thy life may have been, even though it should have been that of a harlot or a thief, a drunkard or a profligate,if thou wilt now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, thou shalt be saved; for, if not, then God himself will have missed his greatest design. What did he give Jesus for but to save sinners? What did he lay sin upon Jesus for, but that he might take itoff the sinner, and let him go free, and be pardoned? If, then, Christ fails, God's grandest expedient has broken down.That method by which the Lord resolved to show what his almighty grace can do has proved to be a failure if a believing sinneris not saved. Dost thou think that such a thing can ever be? It is blasphemy to think that Jehovah can be defeated. He thatbelieves in Christ shall be saved; nay, he is saved.

If thou art not saved believing in Christ, then Christ himself is dishonoured. Oh, let them once know, down in the dark abode of fallen spirits, that a man has trusted in Christ and yet has not been saved,I tell you that they will make such exultation over Christ as Philistia made over Samson when his eyes were put out. Theywould feel that they had defeated the Prince of Glory. They would trample on his blood, and ridicule his claim to be the Saviourof men. Ifany soul can truly say hereafter, "I went to Christ, and he refused me," then Christ does not speak the truth when hesays, "Him that cometh to me I will in nowise cast out." Then he has changed his nature, foregone his word, and foreswornhimself. But that also can never be. Wherefore, dear heart, cling to Jesus, and say still, "If I die, I will die here."

Moreover, if thou canst perish trusting in Christ thou wilt discourage all the saints of God; for if Christ can break his promise to one, then why not to another? If one promise fails, why not all the promises? If theblood has lost its power, how can any of us ever hope to enter heaven? I say it will breed great discouragement in the heartsof all people if this be true; for what a wet blanket would e throne over all thy fellow-sinners! If they are coming toChrist, they will start back, and say, "What is the good of it? Here is one that came to Jesus, and he did not save him.He trusted in the precious blood, and yet his sin was laid to his charge." If one fails, why not the rest? I must give uppreaching the gospel when once I hear of a man trusting Jesus and not being saved; for I should be afraid to speak with boldness,as I now do.

If one poor soul that puts his trust in Christ should be cast away it would spoil heaven itself. What security is there for glorified spirits that their splendours shall endure except the promise of a faithful, covenant-keepingGod? If, then, looking down from their celestial seats, they behold the great Father breaking his promise, and the Son ofGod unable to save those for whom he died, then will they say, "We will lay our harps aside, and put our palms away, forwe, too, after all, may perish." See, then, O man, heaven and earth, ay, God and his Christ, as to their credit and theirglory, do stand and fall with the salvation of every believing sinner. If I were in your stead tonight, I think that I shouldbless God to have this matter put so plainly to me. I know that years ago, when I was under a sense of sin, if I had heardeven such a poor sermon as this I should have jumped for joy at it, and would have ventured upon Christ at once. Come, poorsoul; come at once. You have heard the gospel long enough; now obey it. You have heard about Christ long enough; now trustin him. You have been invited and entreated, and pleaded with; now yield to his grace. Yield to joy and peace by trustingin him who will give you both of these as soon as you have rested in him.

Look! sinner, look! A look out of thyself will save thee. Look away from all thy works, and prayers, and tears, and feelings,and church-goings, and chapel-goings, and sacraments, and ministers. Look alone to Jesus. Look at once to him who on the bloodytree made expiation, and who bids thee look, and thou shalt live.

God make this present hour to be the period of thy new birth. I pray it, and so do his people. The Lord hearken to our intercessions,for Christ's sake. Amen.

Portion of Scripture read before Sermon-Psalms 61 and 62.

Hymns from "Our Own Hymn Book"-560, 589, 514.


DEAR FRIENDS AND BRETHREN,-As I am expected to report myself weekly, and have only this corner left to do it in, the bulletinshall be brief. Weather unsettled; progress fair, but not rapid. I find myself too readily depressed with small matters, and I have a senseof unfitness for my future work. This shows that while rest has done much, there is more to be done. Three weeks have workedsuch marvels that I hope in due time to return in full vigor.

My heart is with the Special Services at the Tabernacle; for which I beg every reader to pray daily.

C. H. Spurgeon

Mentone, February 21st, 1885.