Sermon 1454A. The Empty Seat
WRITTEN WHEN AWAY FROM HIS PEOPLE,
BY C. H. SPURGEON.
"David's place was empty." 1 Samuel 20:27.
IT was quite right that David's place should be empty because Saul sought to slay him and he could not safely sit in the presenceof an enemy who had twice before cast a javelin at him to "smite him even to the wall with it." Self-preservation is a lawof Nature which we are bound to obey-no man should needlessly expose himself to sudden death. It were well if many a seatwere empty for this reason, for there are places exceedingly dangerous to the soul from which men should rise and flee atonce. Where Satan sits at the head of the table, no man should tarry. There is the seat of the scorner, of which the Psalmistspoke-God grant that those who have occupied it may leave it in trembling haste. There is the settle of the drunkard, thechair of the presumptuous and the bench of the sluggard from each of which it were wisdom to depart.
May the Grace of God make such a change in all who have frequented the gatherings of the frivolous and the assemblies of thewicked that they may never be found in them again, but may be missed by their old companions who shall ask, "Why did the sonof Jesse come not, neither yesterday nor today?" The javelin of temptation may soon destroy character, prospects and life,itself, and he is guilty of the grossest folly who exposes himself to it by placing himself where the arch-enemy finds chosenopportunities to work his deadly will.
At this time I shall use David's empty place for quite another purpose and shall note, first, that in your assemblies at thistime there are SEATS EMPTIED BY DEATH. Before I had left the shores of England for the space of two days I received the grievousintelligence that two out of the membership of my Church had been called Home in one day. Of a Sister, the wife of an earnestand well-beloved Deacon it must be said-her place is empty. And of a Brother who had been her friend and mine, the same expressionmust be employed. Our sympathies must now flow forth to a bereaved husband and also to a widow in whose hearts there are placessorrowfully emptied and in whose homes there will be an empty chair and an empty couch which will force from their eyes riversof tears whenever they look upon them.
It is our firm hope and confident belief that in these cases the loss of the House of God below is the gain of the House ofGod above-they fill other and better places and even those who loved them best and miss them most would not wish to call themback again. Jesus wills that His own should be with Him where He is and we cannot deny that He has a right to have them. Donot their eyes behold the King in His beauty? Would we deprive them of the vision? May the thought of the bliss of the departedyield solace to the surviving and may Divine consolations be richly given by the Holy Spirit in the hour of painful bereavement.
Our places will be empty soon and we shall be missed from our accustomed pews in the House of Prayer-let the seats which havebeen just vacated remind us of this and silently call to our remembrance the precept-"Be you also ready." Use well your placesfor hearing the Gospel, for gathering at the Communion Table and for meeting for prayer while yet the opportunities remainto you, for the time is short and an account will have to be rendered. Love well those who are spared to you and do them allthe good you can, for their places will not hold them forever. Cheer the aged, console the desponding, help the poor, forthey will soon be beyond your reach and when you look for them you will be told that David's place is empty.
Permit me also to remind you that among your assemblies there are SEATS EMPTIED BY SICKNESS for a while. You will not forgetone place, the most conspicuous, which would be empty were it not filled by willing ministers who supply our lack of service.The Providence which empties that place is so wise and good that, though we cannot understand its object, we are sure thatit will work for good and for the Glory of God. May I ask that, often as I am missed, I may have a fresh interest in yourprayers, for these are a minister's wealth and a pastor's portion. Many others of the Lord's family are also sick and detainedat home. They sigh as they remember the happy days when they went up to
the House of God in company and mingled in the solemn feasts of Zion-but for them there are now no more the thunders of ourunited shouts of praise, nor the deep Amens of our forms of prayer-and they envy the very swallows that build their nestsunder the eaves of the sanctuary.
Many of us have such afflicted ones in our own families and God forbid that we should cease to sympathize with them in theirdeprivations. Yet long continuance of health may dry the fountains of pity and lead to forgetfulness of the sorrows of others.Therefore it is no superfluity when we remind the healthy that there are others far less favored to whom it is one of theirsharpest sorrows that their places at public worship are empty. Let us pray that a portion may be sent to their homes, accordingto the old Law of David, "as his part is that goes down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarries by the stuff: theyshall part alike." Let us try to make this rule of battle a matter of fact by carrying home to the Lord's prisoners as muchof the sermon as we can.
Jacob did not go down at the first to Egypt, for he was aged and infirm, but his sons brought back corn for him, none theless. In telling the sick and bedridden the Truths of God which we have heard, our own memories will be refreshed. We arebound with those who are in bonds and we suffer with the suffering and, therefore, if we are living members of our Lord'smystical body, it is to us a matter of personal interest that David's seat is empty. In every well-ordered congregation thereare SEATS EMPTIED BY HOLY SERVICE. Many Christian professors appear to think that their entire religious duty begins and endswith attendance upon the means of Grace-no village station receives their ministry, no ragged school enjoys their presence,no street corner hears their voice-but their pew is filled with commendable constancy.
We do not condemn such, yet show we unto them a more excellent way. We know scores of Brothers and Sisters who come to oneservice on the Sabbath for spiritual food and then spend the rest of the day in active labor for their Lord. They are notso unwise as to leave their own vineyard untended by neglecting personal edification, but when this is earnestly attendedto, they hear their Master's call and go forth into the great harvest and use the strength which their spiritual meal hasgiven them. In this way they are even more benefited than if they were always "feeding," for holy exercise helps their mentaldigestion and they all the more completely assimilate their sacred food! And, in addition, they have struck a blow at thespiritual selfishness which tempts us to enjoy religious feasts and to make ourselves comfortable while sinners are perishingaround us.
Many are the Christians whose places ought to be empty during part of the Lord's Day-they are able-bodied and gifted and theyought not to eat the fat and drink the sweet all day long but should be engaged in carrying portions to those for whom otherwisenothing would be prepared. When the great king made a wedding feast for his son, he sent forth his servants into the highwaysand hedges to compel the wanderer's to come in. Did he starve those servants? Assuredly not! Yet he was not content to invitethem to the table and leave the outsiders to hunger and faint. His servants found it to be their meat and their drink to dothe will of him that sent them and to finish his work. Even so will Believers receive edification while they are seeking thegood of others-like swallows, which feed on the wing-they shall find heavenly meat while they fly in the ways of service.
The Holy Spirit delights to give more "oil for the light" to those who are diligently shining amid the darkness. Yet, letme add a warning here-I have known some young Believers who have lacked prudence and have carried a good thing too far. Beforethey have well learned, they have been eager to teach and to do so they have ceased learning! Their multiplied engagementshave left them no time for their own instruction and they have left an edifying ministry to enter upon labor for which theywere not qualified. Wisdom is profitable to direct. The most of Christians need to fill their seats for a part of the Sabbathto hear the Word of God and very few can afford to spend the whole day in seeking the good of others. We grieve to meet withsome who are absent from the Lord's Table for months because of their zealous occupations. This is presenting one duty toGod stained with the blood of another!
It is the positive duty of every disciple to obey the Lord's command, "This do you in remembrance of Me" and efforts whichnecessitate neglect of the Divine precept must be curtailed. Often ought we to show His death until He comes. School teaching,street preaching, visiting the sick and so forth cannot be regarded as a substitute for hearing the Word and commemoratingthe death of the Redeemer! We must have time to sit at the Master's feet with Mary, or soon, like Martha, we shall be cumbered.Nevertheless, despite this word of caution, I am often glad to hear that "David's place was empty."
It is to be feared that too easily we could find SEATS EMPTIED FOR NO GOOD REASON. Ministers in many congregations are distressedby the irregular attendance of their hearers. A little rain, a slight indisposition, or some other frivolous excuse will keepmany at home. A new preacher has come into the neighborhood and the rolling stones are moved in his direction for a seasonto the grievous discouragement of the pastor. This evil of irregular attendance is most manifest at weekday services-there,often enough, David's seat is empty. No, not David's, for he longs to be even a doorkeeper in the house of his God-we meanthe seat of Didymus, who was not with the Apostles when Jesus came-of Demas, who loved this present evil world and of manya Hearer who is not also a doer of the Word of God!
In many a congregation those who gather at meetings for prayer are shamefully few. I have no reason to complain of this asa fault among my own beloved people to any large extent and yet I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that there are some membersof the Church who would have to carry their memories a long way back to remember what a Prayer Meeting is like. Little dothey know what they have lost by their neglect. Ah, my Friend, does that refer to you? Is David's place empty? Then mend yourways and fill it! Of all soul-refreshing seasons, I have often found week-night services to be the best. Like oases in a desert,these quiet periods amid the cares of the week wear a greenness peculiar to themselves. Come and try whether your experiencewill not tally with mine. I believe you will find it good to be there.
Children, it is said, should be fed like chickens, "little and often," and to my mind, short, lively services coming frequently,on Sundays and week-days, are more refreshing than hearing two or even three long sermons on one day in the week only. Atany rate it is good for us to keep the feast with our Brethren and not to make them ask, "Why did not the son of Jesse comeeither yesterday or today?" I must take the liberty of being very personal to the usual attendants at the Tabernacle. DearFriends, do not let your seats be empty during my absence. I shall be distressed beyond measure if I hear that the congregationsare declining!
The best preachers we can obtain are selected to address you and, therefore, I hope you will see no need to forsake your usualplace. If you do so, it will reflect but small credit upon your pastor's ministry, for it will be manifest that you are babesin Grace, dependent upon one man for edification. "All are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas," and if you are menand women in Christ Jesus, you will get good out of them all and will not say, "Our own blunt Cephas is away and we cannothear anyone else."
I beseech you be very regular in your attendance during my absence, lest those who preach to you should be discouraged andourselves, also. Above all, keep up the Prayer Meetings. Nelson said, "England expects every man to do his duty" and, at thistime, which is an emergency in our Church history, I would say-the Church expects every member to sustain all meetings, laborsand offerings with unflagging energy-and especially to keep up the Prayer Meetings. There, at any rate, let it not be saidof any of you, "David's place was empty."
Grace, mercy and peace be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.