Sermon 987. Marah; or, The Bitter Waters Sweetened
Delivered On Lord's-day Morning, April 23rd, 1871, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah for they were bitter: therefore the name of it wascalled Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord, and the Lordshowed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet."-Exodus 15:23-25.
WHAT A SUDDEN CHANGE from the sound of the timbrel to the voice of murmuring! You saw the maidens dancing three days ago,and you little dreamed that they would make part of yonder clamorous throng who surround the servant of God, and cry, "Whatshall we drink?" Such are the changes of our outward conditions and of our inward feelings, so fickle and so mutable is man.What is there that can be rested upon in this mortal life? We say to-day, "My mountain standeth firm, Ishall never be moved;" to-morrow, terra firma there is none, and we are tossed upon a stormy sea. Our life is like an April day, the sunshine alternates with the shower;or like each day of all the year, the morning and the evening are needful to complete it. Quick on the heels of light treadsthe darkness, followed with equal haste by light again. The sun's rule, at this golden hour, is but temporary; he must abdicatein favor of the usurping stars, but they, in their turn, must giveway before his lordly presence yet again. This world, which is our inn, owns to the sign of the "chequers"-the blacksand whites are everywhere. We can be sure of nothing between here and heaven of the things which are seen; but of this wemay be certain, that underneath all the outward change there is the immutable love of God towards his people, and that, afterall, the change lies only in the seeming things, not in the things which truly are; for the things which are not seen areeternaland changes come not there; it is but in the things which are seen that the change occurs. Let us set the less store byearth, because its fashion abides not. Let us prize heaven more, because it cannot fade.
I. The text directs your attention, first of all, to THE EVILS OF THE WILDERNESS. We need not spend much time in thinkingof these evils, because they throw themselves in our way often enough; and the tendency of our mind is unduly to exaggeratethem. Notice that the perils and trials of the wilderness occur very early in the pilgrim life. It is a notion, I have no doubt, of very young Christians who still have the shell upon their heads and are scarce hatched,thattheir trials are over now that they have become winged with faith; they had far better have reckoned that their trialshave begun with tenfold force, now that they are numbered with the servants of the Most High. Whatever else comes not to thee,O servant of God, this will surely be fulfilled, "In the world ye shall have tribulation." "What son is he whom the Fatherchasteneth not?" Some privileges are not common to ail the adopted, but the privilege of chastisement is universal to alltruesons. It is the token of bastardy if the rod be escaped, but scourging, is the sure pledge of paternal love. I say, however,that these trials come very soon. Israel was no sooner across the Red Sea than they went three days into the wilderness ofShur, but found no water; and on the third day, when they did arrive at a fountain, they found worse than no water, for itwas so brackish, so altogether unfit for drinking, that though they thought they would have drunk anything, they could notpossibly drink this. What, in three days, must they that sang unto the Lord because he triumphed gloriously, nauseatethe water for which their thirst makes them pant? In three days shall they be reduced to such straits that they must drinkor die, and yet feel that they should die if they were to drink of such nauseous streams? Ah yes, with some of us our delightat conversion was very great, our exhilaration at finding the Savior was something never to be forgotten, and yet only a dayor soafter we were stumbled with great temptation, amazed at the discovery of the evil of our hearts, or tried by the coldnessof our fellow Christians, or the cruelty of the outside world, so that we found we had come to Marah. And this was all theseverer trial, because some of us had found a degree of pleasure in the ways of sin, and now it stumbled us to find sorrowin the ways of God. When Israel was in Egypt, they drank of the river Nile. No ordinary water that. To this day the dwellerson thebanks of the Nile assert that the water has a peculiar taste not to be discovered in any other stream, and they preferthe waters of the Nile to all the waters in the world besides. What a change from the sweetness of the Nile to the bitternessof Marah! Did not the suggestion rise in their hearts, "It was better with us in the bondage of Egypt, with water in abundance,than it is now in the liberty of the wilderness with the bitterness of Marah?" The devil tempted some of us at the very firstby saying: "See what you have got by being a Christian. While you were as others are, your mind had mirth; now you havecome out and followed the Crucified, you have lost the liveliness of your spirits, the brightness of your wit-that which madelife worth having is taken away from you." Young Christian, is that your case to-day? Be not stumbled, neither believe theenemy. Man, it were better to die at Marah free, than live a slave by the sweet Nile. Even men that know not the Spirit ofGodhave felt it were better to die free than live slaves, and truly to be a slave to Satan is so degrading a thing, thatif this mouth were for ever filled with Marah's bitterness, yet were it better to be so than to be enchanted with the pleasuresof sin. Yet these early trials are very severe, and need much grace lest they cause us great mischief.
Secondly, these evils assume varied shapes. You noticed that for the first three days in the wilderness they found no wafer; that is one trial. But the next day, orat the end of the third day, they found water. Now they thought their trial was over: alas! it had only changed its shape.They found water, but it was too bitter to drink. Do not be in a hurry to change your trials, dear friends. We have heardof some who have repined that they had no children, and,like Rachel, their cry was, "Give me children, or else I die." Ere long they have had children who proved to be far worsethan none. Better no son than an Absalom. We have known those who were in good health, but discontented because they had nowealth; they have gained wealth at last, but with an injured constitution, they have had no power to enjoy it. If we couldchoose our trials, we might well remember the wisdom of the old philosopher, who told the people oppressed by a tyrant tobecontent with his tyranny, "for," said he, "it is with oppressors as with mosquitoes, let those suck which are now uponyou, for if you drive those off, the fresh ones which will succeed them will be hungrier than those that are there now: betterbe content with the tyranny you have, than seek a new one." It is much the same with the trials we now feel you will get usedto them by degrees: they will spend their force. Desire for a change of trials may only be a wish for a worse affliction,forwhether was the worse, to have no water, or to have the water and to find it to bitter that you could not drink it?
Yet when God changes the trial be well satisfied that it should be changed. You may anticipate, Christian, that you will haveyour trial changed: indeed, you must reckon that it is so. I mean, that if today it is smooth sailing with you, though yesterdaywaves rolled mountains high, it is only a change of trial you are now tried by prosperity, which may prove to be a more severetest for you than adversity. Is the wind balmy, blows it from the south? Is it but anothertrial for thee, be sure of that, for they who have withstood the northern blast and grown the ruddier and stronger forits influence, have often grown faint and weary under softer airs. Watch thou in all things, thy trials are with thee constantly;the crucible is changed, the fire still burns.
Note again, that as the trials of the wilderness came soon, and assumed various shapes, so often do the trials of the Christtouch very vital matters. They found no water, or finding it, it was bitter. It is not said they found no wine-a small trial indeed; it is not saidthey found no milk, yet might the infant children have been sorely troubled by such a want; but they found no drinkable water.Here was a denial of an essential of life. They must have water, itwas no luxury, it was a necessity; with the hot, burning sand beneath them reflecting the fierce heat of a cruel sun,not to have water in the wilderness is to feel an urgent necessity producing a terrible pain. God may touch us, and probablyhas done so or will, in points most vital. To be tried in the loss of some of your superfluities, my brethren, is but little;but to lose even the little that you had to live upon, to be brought to straitness of bread, this is real tribulation. Tohave thehand put forth to touch your bone and your flesh, this is affliction. Believe me, our virtues and graces look very fine,and we think much of them until they undergo that ordeal, but that test often takes from them their gloss and beauty; we findhow great our weakness is when the very marrow of our bones seems to be a den in which pains, like robbers, hide themselves.God may touch you in the most beloved object of your heart. It is not one child that is taken out of many, but the only one;itis not a friend, or distant relative, but the partner of your bosom is laid low. Do not wonder if the trial affects yougreatly, and comes home to your soul and heart. It is one of God's determinations that trials shall not be mock trials withhis servants, and the grace given shall not be imaginary, but true. God never plays at chastening his children. No trial forthe present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous. By the blueness of the wound the heart is made better; if it do not bruise,itdoth not benefit. Very much in proportion to the bitterness felt will be the benefit that will come of it. They foundno water. O my God, to what straits dost thou reduce thine own people; thine own people who carry with them the title-deedsof a land that flows with milk and honey! Jordan and Kishon are theirs, and yet they find only Marah to drink while they arehere; thine own people for whom thou hast appointed that they shall dwell in a land of brooks and rivers of water, where theyshallsit every man under his vine and fig-tree; these, thy darlings, whom thou hast brought out with a high hand and an outstretchedarm, are brought to the extreme of poverty, and the little that they have has often a bitter taste infused into it.
Notice once again, there is a reason why the earthly mercies which supply our necessities must be more or less bitter. When Israel received water out of the rock it was not bitter, but this water came out of the sand. To this day in the desertwater is found in different places, but where it oozes up from a sandy bed it is almost without exception so brackish andbitter, by reason of the sand, that it is not fit for human drinking; and even the camels, unless theyare sore pressed, turn away from it with great aversion. The sand has tainted it, the flavour of earth has got into theblessing. So it is with most of our blessings; by reason of our sin and infirmity too much of the flavour of earth entersinto the gift of heaven. Our common mercies, when we receive them direct from heaven as God gives them, are mercies indeed-cool,flowing streams that gush from the rock of his favor; but we are so apt to trace them to the creature, so ready to look uponthem as derived from earth instead of coming from heaven; and just in that proportion may we expect to find bitternessin them. What can you hope for in a wilderness, but productions congruous to it? Canaan! who looks for bitterness there? Isit not the land that flows with milk and honey? Sweet land, when shall we reach thee? Thy sweetness is but congruous to thyself:But here, in this wilderness, where we have no continuing city, who looks for the streams of Lebanon? who hopes to findCanaan's fruits in the wilderness of Sin? As well seek to gather from the briny sea the sweet fruits of the palm or theluscious clusters of the vine, as hope to find, amidst these changing scenes, comforts that shall be all comfortable and joysthat shall be all joyous. No, they will be comforts, but they will be often embittered; they will be joyous somewhat, butthe earthy flavour in them will make us remember that this is not our rest.
I know not that I ought to detain you longer with these evils of the wilderness. I do not feel it is wrong to speak of them,for we do not mention them with any view of discouraging those who have set out on pilgrimage; we are not like those who holdup their hands and say, "The lions, the giants, the dragons; young pilgrim, you will never reach the land of promise;" butyet we would imitate the Savior, who said to the follower who thought he could follow him whithersoeverhe might go, "Sit down, and count the cost." There are trials for you, ye followers of Christ, if there are none for others-peculiartrials for you, peculiar joys ten thousand times outweighing them, but yet peculiar griefs, new griefs of a new life of whichit will be a blessed thing to have been a participant; but there they are, and we will not deceive you. For you there willbe Marahs that others may not know, and for you there will be long thirsts where others drink to the full;nevertheless, we will take Christ and his reproach, Christ and his Marah, rather than the world with its sweetness, forwith every drawback that is supposable to Christ Jesus, he is better than the world with all the additions that can be inventedby the sons of mirth.
II. Thus much on the first point, the evils of the wilderness. Now, secondly, THE TENDENCY OF HUMAN NATURE. The people murmuredagainst Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" Do not say "human nature," says one; say, "the tendency of Jewish nature." Ah,but if anything, I would prefer the people in the wilderness to any other: rest assured that they were no worse than we are.They are an example to us of what our heart is; and whatever we see in them we have but to watch alittle, and we shall see it all in ourselves. It was not Jewish nature that God proved in the wilderness so much as humannature at its very best estate. Assuredly, the tendency of human nature is to murmur. They murmured, complained, found fault.A very easy thing, for the very word "murmur," how simple it is, made up of two infantile sounds-mur mur. No sense in it, no wit in it, no thought in it: it is the cry rather of a brute than of a man-murmur-just a double groan.Easy is it for us to kick against the dispensations of God, to give utterance to our griefs, and what is worse, to theinference we drew from them that God has forgotten to be gracious. To murmur is our tendency; but, my dear brethren and sistersin Christ, do we mean to let the tendencies of the old nature rule us? Will we murmur? O that we might have grace rather tosay with Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him!" Shall a living man complain? Have we not received so much goodfromthe hands of the Lord that we may well receive evil without rebellion? Will we not disappoint Satan, and overrule thetendency of the flesh, by saying in the might of God's Spirit, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be thename of the Lord." I know we are apt to say, "Well, that is human nature," and when we have said it is human nature, we supposewe have given a very excellent excuse for doing it. But is human nature to rule the divine nature? You, believer, professto be apartaker of the divine nature. Let the superior force govern, let that which cometh from above be uppermost, and put thelower nature down; let us eschew murmurings and complainings, and magnify and adore the God who lays our comforts low.
Observe-and this is worthy of note-that the murmuring was not ostensibly against God. They murmured against Moses. And haveyou ever noticed how the most of us, when we are in a murmuring vein, are not honest enough to murmur distinctly against God.No: the child is dead, and we form a conjecture that there was some wrong treatment on the part of nurse, or surgeon, or ourselves;we lay our hold on that for which there may not be a shadow of proof, and the murmuring isupon that point. Or we have lost money, and have been brought down from opulence to almost poverty; then some one personwas dishonest, a certain party betrayed us in a transaction by failing to fulfill his part; all the murmuring is heaped onthat person. We deny, perhaps indignantly, that we murmur against God; and to prove it we double the zeal with which we murmuragainst Moses. To complain of the second cause is about as sensible as the conduct of the dog, which bites the stick withwhichit is beaten. It owes no anger to the stick, but to the person who uses it. Is there evil in the city and the Lord hathnot done it? Whoever is the instrument, the Lord overrules. In our heart of hearts our rebellion is against the Lord himself.We have not quite honesty enough to rail against God openly and avowedly, and so we hypocritically cover up our repining againsthim by murmuring against some person, occasion, or event. "If I had not happened to go out on such an occasion I might nothave had that cold and been laid aside." Thus we blame an accidental circumstance, as if it were not part of the divinearrangement. Is this complaining of the second cause better than railing against God? I trow not, for, in very deed, it israiling against God, and it is, in addition, an injustice to the second cause, so made a butt of. When Pharaoh bade the Israelitesmake bricks, and gave them no straw, there was injustice; but when the Israelites gathered around Moses and virtually toldhim that he ought to supply them with water, it was much the same thing. Whence should this man have water to give themto drink? How could he sweeten Marah? They knew right well that it was not possible for him to open a well for them in thewilderness; they complained, I say, in their hearts, really against God, but they added to this the hypocrisy and the injusticeof veiling their murmuring against the Most High by an unjust and clamourous complaint against his servant Moses. Stop thytongue, my brother; cease thy cavilling against this and that, against him or her; for be sure that thou art doing injusticeto thy fellowman as well as a wrong to thy God.
Once more, while we speak of this tendency in human nature, I want you to observe how they betrayed an utter unbelief of God.They said unto Moses, "What shall we drink?" They meant by it, "By what means can God supply our want of water?" What a question!They were at the Red Sea, and God cleft the intervening gulf in twain, through the depths thereof they marched dryshod; thereis Marah's water-shall it be more difflcult for God to purify than to divide? To sweeten afountain-is that more difficult than to cleanse a sea? Is anything too hard for the Lord? A great miracle had been wrought;had they but considered it, and exercised even the lowest degree of faith, they must have seen that he who could work sucha miracle as they had seen could work yet another; and they might joyously have stood at Marah's brink, and have sung, "Hewho cast Pharaoh and his chosen captains into the Red Sea, and delivered his people, can give his chosen drink, thereforesingwe, Spring up, O well, and let thy waters be sweet and clean." O that they had faith in God but as a grain of mustardseed, and they would have seen great things, and glorified his name. Do you blame them? Do so; blame them much, but includeyourselves in the censure. How often has it been so with us? We have said, "I will never distrust my God after this memorabledeliverance, this singular display of his power has slain my unbelief;" yet a new trial has occurred, and our faith, wherewas it?Had the Son of Man himself been on the earth with those quick eyes to discern the faith which he himself creates, couldhe find faith in us in the hour of tribulation? Be humbled as ye see yourselves in this mirror. Behold your instability, whichis as water. How like to reeds shaken with the wind are we; or like to meteors, which flash across the brow of night, to leavethe darkness denser than before. How soon is the glory of our confidence spent, and the excellence of our faith withered.Hold thou our feet in life, great God, or we shall soon be silent in darkness.
III. Now, thirdly-and may divine help, the help of the Holy Ghost be given me-I will speak upon THE REMEDY OF GRACE. I haveshown you the evils of the wilderness and the tendency of nature: it is delightful to behold the remedy of grace. First, ifthou wouldst have Marah's bitterness healed, take the case in prayer to God. God begins by making us begin. The people complained to Moses; Moses took the complaint to his Master. In all trials, thesurest way to aremedy is prayer. In heavenly pharmacy, prayer is a catholicon; it healeth all things. Prayer, which overcomes heaven, will certainly never be overmatched on earth. Neither men nor devilscan stand against prayer: it smites them hip and thigh like another Samson. The bow of prayer returns not empty; it is swifterthan an eagle, it is stronger than a lion. Take thy case to God, O heir of trouble; unroll Rabshakeh's letter before the HostHigh, and the Lord will silence his revilings. Halfthe work is done when it is brought before God in supplication.
Note, next, that as soon as we have a prayer God has a remedy. The remedy is near at hand; but we do not perceive it till it is shown us. "The Lord showed him a tree." The tree had beengrowing for years on purpose to be used. God has a remedy for all our troubles before they happen to us. A delightful employmentit is to notice how God forestalls himself; how long before we reach the encampment, if there be the bitter well, there isalso the healing tree. All isready between here and heaven. He that has gone to prepare a place for us by his presence, has prepared the way to thatplace for us by his providence. But, brethren, though for every trouble in this mortal life there is a remedy, you and I donot always discern it. "The Lord showed him a tree." I am persuaded that for every lock in Doubting Castle there is a key,but the promises are often in great confusion to our minds, so that we are perplexed. If a blacksmith should bring you hisgreatbundle of picklocks, you would have to turn them over, and over, and over; and try half of them, perhaps two-thirds, beforeyou would find the right one; ay, and perhaps the right one would be left to the last. It is always a blessing to rememberthat for every affliction there is a promise in the word of God; a promise which meets the case, and was made on purpose forit. But you may not be always able to find it-no, you may go fumbling over the Scriptures long before you get the true word;but when the Lord shows it to you, when it comes with power to the soul, when the heart can grasp it, and cry, "Ay, thatis the word, my Master; indeed and of a truth that is the precious truth which can sweeten my sad discomforts," oh, what abliss it is! All glory be unto the Holy Ghost, who to this day is ever ready to show unto his praying servants the sweeteningtree when they come to the bitter streams.
Now that remedy for the healing of Marah's water was a very strange one. Why should a tree sweeten the waters? I do not suppose there was any natural efficacy in the tree, although that would notbe altogether impossible, since there are trees, so travelers tell us, which have been used in the sweetening of waters. Thereis in South Africa a certain river, which water cannot be drunk until branches of a certain tree are placed in it, and thenthe bitterness which isin the stream is deposited at the bottom, and the water becomes drinkable. The thing is not unnatural nor altogether necessarilysupernatural, though I think in this case it was supernatural, for there are no trees found now in the wilderness of Shurthat would have the effect of sweetening brackish waters. This was no doubt a miraculous incident, and it was also meant toteach us something. The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was eaten by our first parents and embittered all;there is a tree of life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations. Blessed is he that eats of this treeof life; it shall take away from him the bitterness which the first forbidden fruit brought into the world. A tree is a livingthing: may we not learn that there are living principles in true religion which will sweeten our adversities? Mere doctrinesmay not, but living principles will; these cast into our troubles will assuage our grief.
Best of all, may not this tree cut down be an emblem of the Savior? A glorious tree indeed was he, with spreading branches,and top reaching to heaven-but he must suffer the axe for our sakes; and now, to-day, contemplating his atoning sacrifice,and by faith resting in him, the troubles of life and the troubles of death are sweetened by his dear cross, which, thoughit be a bitter tree in itself, is the antidote for all the bitterness that comes upon us here andhereafter.
That remedy was most effective. When they cut down the tree, and put it into the water, it turned the water sweet-they could drink of it; and let me assureyou, that in the case of our trouble, the cross is a most effective sweetener. Shall I put the tree into the water for a minute,and then ask you to drink Have you been suffering pain, or any other form of tribulation? I will lay the cross asoak in itfor a minute, and your first reflection will be-"In allthis that I am called to suffer there is not even a single particle of punishment for my sin; God has punished Christ,consequently he cannot punish me: to punish two for one offense would be unjust, therefore there is nothing penal in all thatI am suffering." I do not know of any reflection more consoling than this, that my sorrow is not laid on me by a judge, norinflicted on me as the result of divine anger. There is not a drop of wrath in a riverful of a believer's grief. Does notthattake the bitterness out of affliction and make it sweet? And then the reflection goes further. Since Christ has died forme, I am God's dear child; and now if I suffer, all my suffering comes from my Father's hand-nay, more, from my Father's heart.He loves me, and therefore makes me suffer; not because he does not love, but because he does love does he thus afflict me.In every stripe I see another token of paternal love. This it is to sweeten Marah's waters indeed.
Then will come the next reflection-that a Father's love is joined with infinite wisdom, and that, therefore, every ingredientin the bitter cup is measured out drop by drop, and grain by grain, and there is not one pang too many ever suffered by anheir of heaven. The cross is not only weighed to the pound but to the ounce ay, to the lowest conceivable grain. You shallnot have one half a drop of grief more than is absolutely needful for your good and God's glory. Anddoes not this also sweeten the cross, that it is laid on us by infinite wisdom, and by a Father's hand?
Ravishing, indeed, is the reflection in the midst of all our grief and suffering, that Jesus Christ suffers with us. In allthine affliction, O member of the body, the Head is still a sharer. Deep are the sympathies of the Redeemer, acute, certain,quick, infallible; he never forgets his saints.
All the while the Lord lays his chastening hand upon his servants they may be cheered by this reflection, that in this heis making them conformable unto Christ. What should they know of Gethsemane if they had no sweat of pain? What should theyknow of the passion if they never had to cry, "I thirst," or "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" They were poor scholarsin the school of Christ's sufferings if they endured no sufferings themselves; and it is a blessedthing, a sweet thing to drink of his cup, and to be baptised with his baptism.
Moreover, when the child of God is in his right state, it is always enough for him that his condition is the result of hisFather's will. Is it God's will? Is it Christ's will? Then it is my will. How could I dare to wish anything to be otherwisethan divine love appoints?
I do not know but what it will become sometimes to the Christ a subject of joy that Marah is bitter. For suppose Marah hadbeen sweet, then, Moses had not prayed to God, and then the tree had not been cut down, and they had never known the powerof God to sweeten bitter waters. It must be an awful thing to live an unafflicted life on earth. You say it must be a verydelightful thing. I have no doubt it may be from some aspects; but a person who has had no sickness, how canhe have a sympathetic heart? What service can he render in cheering the people of God? If you never had any trials, Ishould suppose, unless something very extraordinary happened, that you would become harsh, and untender; I am afraid somewould grow brutal, coarse, hard of heart. Who wishes, where others have to suffer, to claim an immunity from a blessing whichbrings rich consolations with it, and works eternal benefits? Beloved, this is ever one thing that sweetens Marah that itafterwardsbringeth forth the comfortable fruits of righteousness. Our trials are not sent to us alone and by themselves; there isa quantum suff. grace sent with them, by which they are made available as means to sanctify us, and make us meet to be partakers of the inheritanceof the saints in light.
I will not keep you much longer upon this point, but I must notice, that while I have shown you that the remedy is very efficacious,it is something more than efficacious: it is transcendant. The water was bitter, but it became absolutely sweet. The samewater that was bitter became sweet, and the grace of God, by leading us into contemplations that spring out of the cross ofChrist, can make our trials themselves to become pleasant to us. It is a triumph of grace in theheart when we not only acquiesce in trouble, but even rejoice in it. "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulationworketh patience." It is a grand thing when we can truly say that as to the rod of the covenant we would not escape it ifwe might. It becomes in the judgment of wisdom so good a thing to be tried, that though we would not seek it yet we acceptit with something more than readiness, and the bitter thing becomes sweet to us.
Let me say, and have done with this part of the subject, that the remedy which is suggested to us by a spiritualizing of text,is efficacious for all trials, and will be found especially so for the bitter waters of death at the last. With all that canbe said about death it is not a pleasant subject for contemplation, and needs to be viewed in connection with covenant consolations.Certain brethren buoy themselves up with the hope of escaping death by the second Advent. Iam not certain that they are wiser than David who did not hope to omit the valley of the shadow of death, but trustedthat he should fear no evil therein, because the rod and staff would be his stay. The death of Christ robs death of its terrors.The prospect of the resurrection and the certainty of immortality make us say, "Surely the bitterness of death is past!"
Be it remembered, that if the cross avails to sweeten all the bitterness of our mortal life, and even the last bitternessof death, it is assuredly available this morning to sweeten the bitterness of our present sorrow. Did you drink the quassia-cupthis morning before you came here? Do you feel desponding at this moment, my brother, my sister? Go to your Savior at once,view him suffering on your behalf, behold the completion of your reconciliation to God, mark thesecurity of your soul through the finished work of your glorious Surety, take down your harps from the willows, put awayyour ashes, ask the Lord to anoint you with the oil of joy instead of mourning, and even at the waters of Marah lift up yoursong again, and let the timbrel still be heard. "Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: Marah's bitternesshath he turned to sweetness, he hath cut down the mighty tree which he gave for us, and which yielded itself to the axe forus, andinto the bitter stream the tree is cast, and now henceforth, O Marah, thou art sweet indeed." Did you come here this morningas Naomi when she returned to her city and said, "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterlywith me." Ah, when she dandled on her knee and held in her fond bosom the child of Ruth and Boaz, the joy of her old age,she was glad to think the neighbors had not changed her name, and she was willing enough to be called Naomi still. Call notyourself Marah, but remember the new name which the Lord hath named upon you. The bitter pool itself call it not Marah;be not so ready to affix names of sad memorials, your griefs are apt enough to gall your memory; do not aid them to stingyou. Call the well by another name; forget Marah, and remember Jehovah Rophi, the Lord that healeth both thee and the waters.Record the mercy rather than the sorrow, and give thanks unto the Most High.
Now, in closing, somebody will say, "This is a very curious missionary sermon." Yes, but you see I did not appoint the missionarysermon for to-day: my brethren did that, and certainly I did not arrange my own sickness, so as to make it fall on this day.How can I dance to the sound of the timbrel when I am feeble and sad? If I had the choosing of my own state of health andmind, I would have the choosing of my own texts, and make them always suitable to the occasions asthey arise; but I am obliged to preach what I can preach, and as I know pretty well the flavor of Marah, and a littleabout the sweetness which the healing tree can give it, I can only tell you what I know by experience.
But it is a good missionary sermon for all that. Let us show you how. Here is A SUGGESTION OF COMPASSION.
Brethren, all the world over, the heathen have trials, bitternesses, woes. I said that Christ have peculiar woes, but thedark places of the earth have direr sorrows. Some nations are devastated with war; others are tormented with diabolical customsand rites: their actions even towards themselves through their superstition are brutal. I may well liken the world that liethin darkness to a thirsty caravan gathered around Marah's well where the water is too bitter to drink.Oh, the woes, the woes of mankind! High are the Andes, lofty the Himalayas, but the woes of the sons of Adam are higher,huger still. The Ganges and the Indus, and other mighty streams, pour their floods into the ocean; but what mighty deep couldcontain the torrents of human grief? A very deluge is the sorrow as well as the sin of man. And, my brethren, the heathenknow nothing of the healing tree, the tree cut down of old, which still hath power to sweeten mortal misery. You know it,you haveyour trials, and you surmount them by the appeals you make to your Lord, and by the power of his consolations; but alas!these sons of darkness have your griefs, and more, but they have not your Comforter. For them the deluge, but not the ark;for them the tempest, but not the refuge. And you are so sure that you have that which would cheer them: no doubt passes acrossyour mind as to the gospel. These are wavering times in which some professors, and even some teachers, almost believe, thatthegospel is but one theory of many, and will have to stand its test, and, in all probability, will fail as many human systemsof thought have done. You think not so; you believe that God's gospel is a verity, a revelation of Jehovah Heaven and earthmay pass away, but not his word, his Christ, his decree, his covenant. You know that you have a tree that can heal the bitterfountains. No doubt comes across your mind as to that: what then? By common humanity, much more by the tender movements ofthe grace of God upon your souls, I conjure you present this remedy to those who need it, and who need it so much. Willanything suffice as a substitute for it? Is there anywhere on earth another healing tree beside that which fell beneath theaxe at Calvary? Are there other leaves for the healing of the nations? On the seven-hilled city of Rome, grows there a treethat can heal man's diseases? No; it is a deadly upas. Cut it down, and burn the very roots thereof. Amongst the fancies ofidolatry are there any inventions of man that can cool his fevered brow and sooth his griefs? Does Mohammedanism offerhopes for eternity that can light up the grave to an awakened sinner? Are there thoughts of bliss in idolatry calculated tocheer the sepulcher? All religions answer, "Comforts are not in us." It is only at the cross, it is only by Jesus crucifiedthat the world can be healed. Hitherto little has been accomplished compared with our desires; and in contrast to our ambitions,next to nothing; but faith, darting beyond the things that are seen, flying into the presence-chamber of God, can beholdhim writing with the eternal pen, "All flesh shall see the salvation of God;" and she is sure that the tree will sweeten thewaters yet. Come, brethren, let your faith prove itself by your works. Help to-day-to-day, by your gifts; help to-morrow-to-morrow,by your prayers. Help, some of you, by consecrating yourselves to mission labor. There is a prayer I mean to continueto offer until it is answered, that God would pour out on this church a missionary spirit. I want to see our young mendevoting themselves to the work, some that will not be afraid to venture and preach Jesus Christ in the regions beyond. Ihave not much faith in missionary societies; it gets less, I must protest, each year; yet we must never put aside one instrumentalityuntil we have a better ready. If the Lord would send the living fire through the churches of England, if he would send fromon high a divine impulse, we should see starting up here and there men who would say: "Here are we: send us." The Spiritof God will say, "Separate me Paul and Barnabas for the work," and when this is done I look to see far happier days.
We have sweetened the waters a little; no more the suttee burns; the African is free; the slave-ship crosses no more the deep.In some regions exterminating wars have ceased; the white dove of peace flies where the raven of war was seen. Glory be toGod. A few leaves cast into the waters have done this. Let us bear a whole Christ and a whole gospel amongst the nations,and lay the tree in this Marah, until at last the whole world shall drink of the sweet waters of divinelove, and God shall be all in all. God bless you, beloved, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Exodus 15.