Sermon 1510. The Hunger-Bite
C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"His strength shall be starved." Job 18:12.
Bildad was declaring the history of the hypocritical, presumptuous and wicked man. And he intended, no doubt, to insinuatethat Job was just such a person-that he had been a deceiver and that, therefore, God's Providence had at last revealed himand was visiting him for his sins. In this, Bildad was guilty of great injustice to his friend. All the three miserable comfortersof Job were mistaken in the special aim of their discourses and yet, concerning the speeches of each one, it may be said thattheir general statements were, for the most part, true. They uttered truths, but they drew mistaken inferences and they wereungenerous in the imputations which they cast upon Job. It is true that, sooner or later, either in this world or the next,all conceivable curses fall upon the hypocrite and the ungodly man, but it is not true that when a Christian is in trouble,we are to judge that he is suffering for his sin! It would be both cruel and wicked for us to think so.
Nevertheless, because what Bildad said was, in the most part, true, though unkindly and wrongly applied, we feel ourselvesquite at liberty to take a text out of his mouth. It is true of many persons that their strength shall be starved- and I shallspeak concerning these words in three ways, noticing, first, that this is a curse which will surely be fulfilled upon theungodly. Secondly, this is a discipline which God often exercises upon the self-righteous when He means to save them. And,thirdly-and it is grievous work to have to say it-this is a form of chastisement upon Believers who are not living near toGod as they ought to be-their strength becomes starved or weak.
I. First we shall view our text as A CURSE WHICH WILL BE FULFILLED UPON THE UNGODLY. "His strength shall be starved." It isnot said that they are starved merely, but that their strength is. And if their strength is starved, what must their weaknessbe? When a man's strength is bitten with hunger, what a hunger must be raging throughout the whole of his nature! Now, a largeproportion of men make their gold to be their strength, their castle and their high tower and, for a while they rejoice intheir wealth and find great satisfaction in gathering it, in seeing it multiplied and in hoping, by-and-by, that it shallcome to great store.
But every ungodly man ought to know that riches are not forever and often they take to themselves wings and fly away! Menof colossal fortunes have dwindled down to beggars-they made great ventures and realized great failures. None are secure.As long as a man is in this world, he is like a ship at sea, he is still liable to be shipwrecked. O you that are boastingin your gold and calling your treasure your chief good, the day may come when your strength will be starved and, like thevictims of famine, you will find yourselves helpless-you whose money answered all things and made you feel omnipotent!
But it will be said, of course, that it is not in every case that the ungodly man's strength of wealth is starved and I willinglyconcede it. But it comes to pass in another fashion. How many there are who keep their wealth and yet, for all that, are verypoor? It is not that the gold goes, but it stays by them and does not comfort them! I do not know which would be the worseof the two-to be hungry for lack of bread, or to have abundance of bread and yet remain hungry, eat whatever you might. Thousandsin this world are precisely in that condition! They have all that heart could wish, if their heart were right, but it seemsnothing to them because they have envy in their spirits.
Remember Haman. He is invited to the banquet of wine. He is a chief noble of the empire. He has his monarch's favor. But allthat avails him nothing because Mordecai sits in the gate. Envy has cankered his soul and if he were able to mount to thethrone of Ahasuerus, himself, it would make no difference to him-he would be unhappy there-and all because one poor Jew willnot bow to him! There are persons going up and down Cheapside every day who are intolerably wretched about a something whichthey would hardly like to mention to reasonable men. A wretched trifle frets them like a moth in a garment and all the gloryof their position is eaten away-their strength is starved.
Where the canker does not happen to be envy, it may come to be a passion akin to it, namely, revenge. Alas, that we shouldhave to talk of revenge as still existing upon this earth after Christ has been here and taught us to pray, "Forgive us ourdebts as we forgive our debtors." Yet there are ungodly men who even think it right to foster resentments. A word uncourteouslyspoken; a deed unkindly done will be laid up and an opportunity sought for retaliation. Or, if not, a hope will be cherishedthat some blight, or blow from God may fall upon the offender. And if that offender still bears himself aloft, lives rightmerrily and makes no recompense for the wrong done, the aggrieved one has eaten out his own heart with chagrin and the strengthof his wealth has been starved!
Where this has not been the case, it has, perhaps, more frequently happened that persons have been afflicted by avarice. Nothingmore tends to impoverish a man than being rich. It is a hard thing to find a rich man who enjoys riches! A rich man is a manwho has all he wants and many a man is rich on a few shillings a week. A poor man is a man who does not get what he wantsand people with thousands a year are on that list. In fact, where shall you find such poverty as among those poor rich men?The miser is often pictured as afraid to sleep because thieves may break in-he rises at midnight to look over his hoardedtreasure! He is afraid lest bonds, securities, mortgages and the like may, after all, turn out to be mere waste paper! Hefrets and stews and mars his life because he has too great a means of living-such a man may not be very common, but it isan easy thing to find people who have very much and yet are just as careful, just as grasping, just as fretful after moreas if they had but newly started in business and were almost penniless-their strength is starved.
If somebody had told them, "You will one day reach to so many thousand pounds," they would have said, "Ah, if ever I get thatamount I shall be perfectly satisfied." They have saved that sum long ago and 10 times as much! And now they say, "Ah, youdon't know what it is to want money till you have a good portion of it. Now we have so much we must have more. We are up toour necks in the golden stream and we must swim where the bottom cannot be touched." Poor fools! They have enough water tofloat them, but they must have enough to drown in! One stick is a capital thing for a lame man, as I know right well, buta thousand sticks would make a terrible load for a man to carry! When anyone has a sufficiency, let him be thankful for soconvenient a staff, but if he will not use what he has until he has accumulated much more, the comfort of his substance isgone and his strength is starved.
There are cases in which the hunger-bite does not take a shape which I could well describe. Instances are met with of personswho have made their gold their strength who are altogether unrestful. Some have thought that their brain was diseased, butit is likely that the disease was lower down in their hearts. We have known wealthy men who believed themselves to be poorand were haunted with the idea that they should die in the poor house, even when they were worth a million! And others whohave quarreled about the division of a farthing, when the loss of 10,000 pounds would have been a flea bite to them! In greatsubstance they have found no substantial rest.
They have often wished they could be as cheerful as their own menial servants. As they have lolled in their carriage and lookedat the rosy cheeks of the urchins in the village, they have coveted their health and felt willing to wear their rags if theycould possess their appetites. As they have looked upon poor persons with family loves and domestic joys- and felt that theirown joys were few in that direction-they have greatly envied them. It is a great mercy when the worldling is made uneasy inthis world-it is a ground for hope that God means to wean him from his idols! And, alas, there are some who do not rest hereand will not rest hereafter. They have no rest in all that God has given them under the sun and yet they will not fly to Himwho is the soul's sure repose. I need not dwell for another moment upon the failure of the strength which is found in riches.It is the same with all sorts of men who try to find comfort out of Christ and away from God-"their strength shall be starved."
What a melancholy instance of this is Solomon. He had an opportunity to try everything in his quest for the chief good and,in fact, he did test everything-so that we need not repeat the experiment. He was the great alchemist who tried to turn allmanner of metals into gold, but failed with them all. At one time he was building great palaces and when the building fitwas on him, he seemed happy. But when once the gorgeous piles were finished, he said, "Vanity of vanities: all is vanity."Then he would take to gardening and to the planting of rare plants and trees and to the digging of fountains. But when hehad done enough of this he looked upon his orchards and vineyards and again muttered, "Vanity of vanities: all is vanity."
Then he thought he would try laughter and madness- he would test the comic side of human life, as well as the useful. So heplunged into all manner of pleasures and gathered to himself singing men and singing women and all delights of the flesh.But after he had drank deep of that cup, he said, again, "Vanity of vanities: all is vanity." Poor Solomon! He had great strength,but his strength was starved! He looked here and there, up and down, on the right hand and on the left and found no breadfor his soul. He snatched at shadows and tried to feed himself with bubbles! He was devoured with hunger in the midst of plenty!And where the humble people of Israel were blessing the God who satisfied their mouth with good things and renewed their youthlike the eagles, poor Solomon was complaining that there was nothing new under the sun and that it was better for a man notto be born than to have lived at all!
Now remark that if this hunger does not come upon the ungodly man during the former part of his life, it will come to himat the close of it. While we have much to do and our minds are occupied, we may be able to put off thought, but when, at last,God sends us that messenger with the bony hand, whose oratory is soul piercing-the dullness of whose eyeless eyes darts fireinto the soul-then will all human strength be starved! When death is left alone with the man, then he perceives that his moneybags contain nothing precious because he must leave them. How now with his broad acres? How now with his large estates? Hownow with his palatial residence? How now with all that he called dear? How now with his doctor's degree and his learning?How now with his fame and his honor? How now, even, with his domestic comforts and the joys of life? They are all hunger-bitten!
When he comes to die they cannot help him. The soul that is within him, which he would not allow to speak, now opens its hungrymouth and cries, "You have denied me bread! God, and God alone, could fill me and you have denied me God! And now you feelthe hunger which has come upon me and you must feel it and feel it, too, forever." Alas, alas, alas, for a man to have spentall his life in earning a disappointment, laboring hard to lose his soul, sweating and straining to lose the race, tuggingand toiling to be damned! But that is the case of many a man and that is where the tide drifts with all mankind who seek forlasting good apart from God and apart from the blood and righteousness of God's dear Son. Of each one of them it shall besaid, "His strength shall be starved."
I have said these things mournfully to my own heart. But I would say to any of you who may not be rich, but who are lookingfor your good in your own little home and the comforts of it-any of you young men who are seeking the great object of lifein learning or the like-if you are not living for God, your strength will be starved! If you do not "seek first the kingdomof God and His righteousness," whatever you gain and however satisfied you may be for a little while, an awful hunger mustultimately come upon you and you will then lament that you spent your money for that which is not bread and your labor forthat which satisfies not!
II. Briefly, in the second place, we shall speak of our text as indicating A KIND OF DISCIPLINE THROUGH
WHICH GOD PUTS THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS WHEN HE MEANS TO SAVE THEM. Many people are very religious
and yet are not saved. They are unsaved because they go about to establish their own righteousness and have not submittedthemselves to the righteousness which is of God in Jesus Christ. Now, these persons may, for a while, be very well satisfiedwith their own righteousness and if they are not the children of God they will be satisfied with it for life. Some of themtalk in this way-"I don't know that I ever wronged anybody. I have always been honest and honorable in my transactions andI have brought up my children respectably. I have had a hard fight of it and, for all that, nobody could say that I ever disgracedmy character."
It is not very long ago that I was driven by a cabman, an aged man, and when I got out of his cab I referred to his age andhe remarked upon it himself. I said, "Well, I trust when this life is over you will have a portion in a better world." "Yes,I think so, Sir," he said. "I was never drunk, that I know of, in my life. I was always reckoned a civil man. I never usedbad language and I go to Church sometimes." He seemed to be perfectly satisfied and was quite astonished that I did not expressmy assurance of his safety. His confidence is the common reliance of all classes of Englishmen and though they may not alwaysput it in that shape, yet that is the notion-that by a sort of goodness, a very poor and mangled goodness-men may, after all,enter Heaven.
Now, when God means to save a man, the hunger of the heart comes in and devours all his boasted excellence. Why, a spirituallyhungry soul would take 50 years of self-righteousness and swallow them up like a morsel and cry for more! Our goodness isnothing compared with the demands of the Law and the necessities of the case. Our fine righteousnesses, how they shrivel uplike autumn leaves when the Spirit of God acts as a frost to them! Our virtues are as a meadow in the
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spring bedecked with golden kingcups, but when the Spirit of God blows upon it, the grass withers and the flowers fade, forall flesh is grass and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of grass. It is a part of the operation of the Holy Spiritto wither all the goodliness of human nature and to destroy all those lovely flowers of natural virtue in which we put suchstore, cutting them down as with a mower's scythe. In truth, there is none good, no, not one! We are all shut up in unbeliefand sin by nature. In the best of natures, sin affects the whole body, "the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint"-andit is a great blessing when the Holy Spirit makes us feel this! Painful is the feeling, but blessed is the result when, onceand for all, our strength is starved.
Yes, and there are some who are very satisfied because, in addition to a commendable life, they have performed certain ceremoniesto which they impute great sanctity. There is a theory abroad, nowadays, which some persons who are not in either the lunaticor the idiot asylum believe, namely, the theory that sacramental performances convey Grace! It is wonderful how a rationalbeing can ever think so, but there are persons who are, apparently rational in other things, who believe that the sprinklingof drops of water upon an infant's brow regenerates it! They believe, also, the absurdity that the eating of bread and thedrinking of wine really convey Christ to the soul, and so on! They insist that aqueous applications and materialistic festivitiescan bring spiritual good to the heart-a monstrous doctrine worthy of the priests of Baal-but so foolish as to make one doubthis ears when he hears it stated!
Because they have gone through these operations and have been confirmed and I do not know what besides, many are content!Others, who happen to belong to a dissenting community, have passed through the ordeal of joining the Church or have attendedclass meetings and have subscribed to the various societies and so, they think, they are saved! Heirs of Hell will rest contentwith such outward things, but heirs of Heaven never can! Their strength, if they make external religion their strength, will,by-and-by, be starved and they will cry out," My God, my soul pants for You as the hart pants for the water-brooks. I cannotbe satisfied with outward forms, I need inward Grace and I cannot be content with being told that the Grace went with theform! I need to know the Grace of God in truth! I long to feel it! I pine to exhibit it in my own life."
To be told I was born again when I was a babe will not satisfy me! I need to feel the inner life, the new life of God withinmy spirit! To be told that I did eat Christ when I ate the bread will not content me! My heart longs to know that Christ isreally the hope of Glory in me and that I am living upon Him! If I cannot have communion with God and with His dear Son formyself in my very soul, I turn with loathing from every substitute-ritualistic, priestly, or otherwise! Beloved, I would haveyou flee from every sacrament to the Savior! I would have you flee away from ceremonies to the Cross of Christ! There is youronly hope! Look to Him by faith-for all the rest without this is but outward and carnal-and can minister no good to your spirit.May your strength be starved if you are resting in anything which is external and unspiritual!
Many a person has known what it is to have this hunger-bite go right through everything he rested in. I once knew what itwas to get a little comfort from my prayers before I found the Savior. But when the Spirit of God dealt with me, I saw thatmy prayers needed praying over again. I thought I had some sort of repentance and I began to be content with it. But whenthe Spirit of God came, I found that my repentance needed to be repented of! I had felt some confidence in my Bible readingsand hoped that my regular attendance at public worship would bring me salvation, but I found that I was only reading the Wordof God-not believing it! I was hearing it, but not accepting it! I was increasing my knowledge and my responsibility and yetwas not rendering obedience to God!
Dear Soul, if you are resting anywhere short of Christ, may your strength be starved! You are at your strongest when you areutter weakness apart from Him. When you rest in Him completely and only in Him, then is salvation accomplished in you, butnot till then! May God, in His infinite mercy, grant that all your strength apart from Christ may be starved and that speedily!
III. Lastly, and very earnestly-and perhaps this last part may have more reference to most of you than anything I
have said-I believe THERE ARE MANY OF GOD'S SERVANTS WHOSE STRENGTH IS LAMENTABLY
HUNGER-BITTEN. In this age we are all busy and through being busy we are apt to neglect the soul-feeding ordinances. I meanthe reading of Scripture, the hearing of the Word, meditation upon it, prayer and communion with God. Some of you do not riseas soon as you might in the morning and prayer is hurried over. And too often at eventide you are half-asleep with the manycares of the day and prayer is offered in a slovenly way.
Nor is this all, for during the day when, if you were as you should be, you would be praying without ceasing, there is thisto think of and that and the other-and such a pressure of business that prayers are few. How can you pray? You did at onetime! You used to get a text of Scripture in the morning and chew it all day-and you used to get much sweetness out of itand your soul grew. But now, instead of a text of Scripture, you have pressing engagements as soon as you are out of bed!You would, now and then, steal into a mid-day Prayer Meeting, perhaps, or get two or three minutes alone. But you have graduallydropped that habit and you have felt justified in doing so for, "really, time is so precious and there is so much to do inthis age of competition."
Dear Friend, I am not your judge, but let me suggest that you are becoming starved through not feeding upon the Word of God.Souls cannot be strong without spiritual meat any more than bodies can be well when meals are neglected. There is a good ruleI have heard mothers say about children and chickens-"little and often"-and I think it is true with Christians. They needlittle and often during the day-not a long passage of Scripture, perhaps memory would fail-but a short passage now and a shortpassage then and a little prayer here and a little prayer there. It is wonderful how souls grow in that way. Alas, I fearall this is neglected and spiritual strength is starved! Let us begin, from this time forward, to give attention to the sustenanceof our souls! Let us daily feed upon the Word of God that we may grow- and so shall our strength no more be starved.