Thursday, May 11, 2023

“The War of Truth” | Charles Spurgeon Sermon (Historic Homilies)

Note: This version of the text contains minor changes I made while recording the sermon. Some of these changes were accidental reading errors, while others were intentional in order to aid understanding.

“The War Of Truth”
by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
January 11, 1857

“And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.” – Exodus 17:9

The children of Israel were led out of Egypt with a strong hand and an out-stretched arm. They were conducted into the vast howling wilderness, where there were few, if any, permanent abodes of men. For some time they pursued their march in solitude, discovering wells and traces of a nomadic population, but not meeting with any to disturb their loneliness. But it appears that then, as now, there were wandering tribes who, like the Bedouin Arabs, wandered to and fro through that very country which the people of Israel were now treading with their feet. These people, excited by the hope of spoil, fell suddenly upon the rear of the children of Israel, smote the hindmost of them in a most cowardly manner, took their spoil, and then swiftly decamped. Gathering strength and courage from this successful foray, they then dared to attack the whole host of Israel, which at that time must have amounted to two or three millions of souls, who had been brought out of Egypt and fed by miracle in the wilderness. This time Israel was not to be surprised; for Moses had said unto Joshua—“Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand;” pleading with God, in order that every blow struck with the sword might be made doubly powerful by the mighty assistance of God.

We are told that a great victory was achieved; the Amalekites were put to the rout, and because of their unprovoked attack upon the children of Israel, they were condemned to extermination; for we find it written thus:—“Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi. For he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

Now, beloved, this scene of warfare is not recorded in Scripture as an interesting circumstance to amuse the lover of history, but it is written for our edification; for we remember the text which says—“Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our profit.” There is some profit to be derived from this—and we believe a peculiar profit, too, since God was pleased to make this the first writing commanded by Divine authority as a record for generations to come. We think that the journeys of the children of Israel furnish us with many emblems of the journey of God’s church through the world; and we believe, that this fight with Amalek is a metaphor and an emblem of that constant and daily fight which all God’s people must carry on with sins without and sins within. This morning I shall more particularly confine myself to sin without; I shall speak of the great battle which at the present moment is being waged for God and for his truth, against the enemies of the Cross of Christ. I shall endeavour, first, to make a few remarks upon the war itself, then to review the authorised method of warfare, which is twofold—hard blows and hard prayers, and then I shall finish by stirring up God’s church to great and earnest diligence in the warfare for God and for his truth.

I. First, then, we shall make some remarks upon the great warfare which we think is typified by the contest between the children of Israel and Amalek.

First of all, note that this crusade, this sacred, holy war of which I speak, is not with men, but with Satan and with error. “We wrestle not with flesh and blood.” Christian men are not at war with any man that walks the earth. We are at war with infidelity, but the persons of infidels we love and pray for; we are at warfare with any heresy, but we have no enmity against heretics; we are opposed to, and cry war to the knife with everything that opposes God and his truth: but towards every man we would still endeavour to carry out the holy maxim, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” The Christian soldier has no gun and no sword, for he fights not with men. It is with “spiritual wickedness in high places” that he fights, and with other principalities and powers instead of those that sit on thrones and hold sceptres in their hands.

I have marked, however, that some Christian men—and it is a feeling to which all of us are prone—are very apt to make Christ’s war a war of flesh and blood, instead of a war with wrong and spiritual wickedness. Have you never noticed in religious controversies how men will fall foul of each other, and make personal remarks and abuse each other? What is that but forgetting what Christ’s war is? We are not fighting against men; we are fighting for men rather than against them. We are fighting for God and his truth against error and against sin; but not against men. Woe, woe, to the Christian who forgets this sacred canon of warfare. Touch not the persons of men, but smite their sin with a stout heart and with a strong arm. Slay both the little ones and the great; let nothing be spared that is against God and his truth; but we have no war with the persons of poor mistaken men. Rome we hate even as we abhor hell, yet for her followers we ever pray. Idolatry and infidelity we fiercely denounce, but the men who debase themselves by either of them are the objects not of wrath, but pity. We fight not against the men, but against the things which we consider in God’s sight to be wrong.

Let us always make that distinction, otherwise the conflict with Christ’s church will be degraded into a mere battle of brute force and garments rolled in blood; and so the world will again be an Aceldama—a field of blood. It is this mistake which has nailed martyrs to the stake and cast confessors into prison, because their opponents could not distinguish between the imaginary error and the man. While they spoke stoutly against the seeming error; in their ignorant bigotry they felt that they must also persecute the man, which they need not and ought not to have done. I will never be afraid to speak out my mind with all the Saxon words I can get together, and I am not afraid of saying hard things against the devil, and against what the devil teaches; but with every man in the wide world I am friends, nor is there one living with whom I am at enmity for a moment any more than with the babe that has just been brought into the world. We must hate error, we must abhor falsehood; but we must not hate men, for God’s warfare is against sin. May God help us always to make that distinction.

But now let us observe that the warfare which the Christian carries on, may be said for his encouragement, to be a most righteous warfare. In every other conflict in which men have engaged, there have been two opinions, some have said the war was right, and some have said it was wrong; but in regard to the sacred war in which all believers have been engaged, there has been only one opinion among right-minded men. When the ancient priest stirred up the Crusaders to the fight, he made them shout Deus vult—God wills it. And we may far more truly say the same. A war against falsehood, a war against sin, is God’s war; it is a war which commends itself to every Christian man, seeing he is quite certain that he has the seal of God’s approval when he goes to wage war against God’s enemies. Beloved, we have no doubt whatever, when we lift up our voices like a trumpet against sin, that our warfare is justified by the eternal laws of justice. Would to God that every war had so just and true an excuse as the war which God wages with Amalek—with sin in the world!

Let us recollect again, that it is a war of the greatest importance. In other wars it is sometimes said—“Britons! fight for your hearths and your homes, for your wives and for your children—fight and repel the foe!” But in this war it is not merely for our hearths and for our homes, for our wives and for our children, but it is for something more than this. It is not against them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but it is a fight for souls, for eternity, against those who would plunge man into eternal perdition, a fight for God, for the deliverance of men’s souls from wrath to come. It is a war which ought, indeed, to be commenced, to be followed up, and carried out in spirit, by the whole army of God’s elect, seeing that no war can be more important. The instrumental salvation of men is above all things the highest object to which we can attain, and the routing of the foes of truth is a victory beyond all things to be desired. Religion must be the foundation of every blessing which society can hope to enjoy. Little as men think it, religion has much to do with our liberty, our happiness, and our comfort. England would not have been what it now is, if it had not been for her religion; in that hour when she shall forsake her God, her glory shall have fallen, and “Ichabod” shall be written upon her banners.

In that day when the Gospel shall be silenced, when our ministers shall cease to preach; when the Bible shall be chained; in that day—God forbid it should ever come to pass—in that day, England may write herself among the dead, for she has fallen, since God has forsaken her, seeing she has cast off her allegiance to him. Christian men, in this fight for right, you are fighting for your nation, for your liberties, your happiness and your peace; for unless religion, the religion of heaven be maintained, these will most certainly be destroyed.

Let us reflect, in the next place, that we are fighting with insidious and very powerful foes, in this great warfare for God and Christ. Let me again make the remark, that while speaking of certain characters, I am not speaking of the men, but of their errors. At this time we have peculiar difficulties in the great contest for truth—peculiar, because very few appreciate them. We have enemies of all classes, and all of them far wider awake than we are. The infidel has his eyes wide open, he is spreading his doctrines everywhere; and while we think—good easy men—that full surely our greatness is a-ripening, that frost is nipping many of our fair shoots, and unless we awaken, God help us! In almost every place infidelity seems to have a great away; not the bold bragging infidelity of Tom Payne, but a more polite and moderate infidelity; not that which slayeth religion with a bludgeon, but that which seeks to poison it with a small dose of poison, and goes its way, and says still it has not hurt public morals. Everywhere this is increasing; I fear that the great mass of our population are imbued with an infidel spirit.

Then we have more to fear than some of us suppose from Rome; not from Rome openly; from that we have little to fear; God has given to the people of England such a bold Protestant spirit, that any open innovation from the Pope of Rome would be instantly repelled; but I mean the Romanism that has crept into the Church of England under the name of Puseyism. Everywhere that has increased; they are beginning to light candles on the altar, which is only a prelude to those greater lights with which they would consume our Protestantism. Oh! that there were men who would unmask them!

We have much to fear from them; but I would not care one whit for that if it were not for something which is even worse. We have to deal with a spirit, I know not how to denominate it, unless I call it a spirit of moderatism in the pulpits of protestant churches. Men have begun to rub off the rough edges of truth, to give up the doctrines of Luther and Zwingle, and Calvin, and to endeavour to accommodate them to polished tastes. You might go into a Roman Catholic chapel now-a-days, and hear as good a sermon from a Popish priest as you hear in many cases from a Protestant minister, because he does not touch disputed points, or bring out the angular parts of our Protestant religion. Mark, too, in the great majority of our books what a dislike there is to sound doctrine! the writers seem to fancy that truth is of no more value than error; that as for the doctrines we preach, it cannot matter what they are; still holding that

“He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right.”

There is creeping into the pulpits of Baptists and every other denomination, a lethargy and coldness, and with that a sort of nullification of all truth. While they for the most part preach but little notable error, yet the truth itself is uttered in so minute a form that no one detects it, and in so ambiguous a style, that no one is struck with it. So far as man can do it, God’s arrows are blunted, and the edge of his sword is turned in the day of battle. Men do not hear the truth as they used to. The velvet mouth is succeeding to the velvet cushion, and the organ is the only thing in the building which giveth forth a certain sound.

From all such things, “good Lord deliver us!” May heaven put an end to all this moderatism; we want out-and-out truth in these perilous days; we want a man just now to speak as God tells him, and care for nobody. Oh! if we had some of the old Scotch preachers! Those Scotch preachers made kings tremble; they were no men’s servants; they were very lords, wherever they went, because each of them said, “God has given me a message; my brow is like adamant against men; I will speak what God bids me.” Like Micah, they said, “As the Lord my God liveth, whatsoever my God saith unto me, that will I speak.” Heroes of the truth, soldiers of Christ awake! Even now there are enemies. Think not that the fight is over; the great warfare of truth waxes more hot and fierce than ever. Oh! soldiers of Christ! take your swords from your scabbards! stand up for God and for his truth again, lest a free grace gospel should be forgotten.

Let me just say, once more, concerning this war, that it is one that is to be of perpetual duration. Let us recollect, my beloved, that this war between right and wrong must be continued, and never must cease until truth has the victory. If you suppose that our forefathers did enough for truth and for God, that you may be idle, you have made a great mistake. Until that day when the might with the right, and the right with the might shall be, we must never sheathe our swords; until that happy hour when Christ shall reign, when he shall be Master of all lands, when “swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks,” and men shall not learn war any more; until that day the conflict is to be kept up.

Let no man think we are in such a position that we have no need for watchfulness: terrible as the war has been before, it is as terrible now, though in another manner. We have not now to resist unto blood, striving against sin, but we have need of as stern a power of resistance as ever was possessed by martyrs and confessors in days gone by. Brethren, we must awake; the army must be aroused, the soldiers of the Lord must be quickened to a consciousness of their position. Now, now, we blow the trumpet; rush to the fight you slumbering soldiers! Up, up, up! Let your banners wave, and let your swords be taken from your scabbards; it is a day of fight—a day of war and contention.

I cannot, however, conclude this section of my discourse without remarking that it is not merely error in religion with which we have to fight, but error in practice. Oh! beloved this world is a wicked world still, and London is an abominable city still. We have a fine gloss everywhere—a fair exterior, but, alas, within the hidden parts sin is still dominant. This is the great city of pretence, the gaudy house of sham, the foul home of pollution. Our streets are lined with fair houses; but what have we behind them? what have we there, in the very vitals of our city? This city is a colossal culprit, it is a behemoth sinner, and everywhere there are those who live in the vilest of vices, and yet go unchecked and unreproved, for it is unfashionable to tell men of their sins and there are few who have the spirit to speak out plainly of men’s sins. When we consider the mass of female profligacy which numbers it adherents by tens of thousands, are we not driven to conclude that the same sin must be rife enough with men. And ah! that there should be need to utter it. Are not the men who ensnare and seduce the poor unfortunates, allowed to enter society as respectable and moral. What is this but abominable hypocrisy.

We are greater sinners in London than many suppose. Everything is painted over. But think not that you can deceive God in this way? Sin is stalking through the land at a horrid pace; iniquity still runs down our streets, covered up, it is true, not open sin, but still offensive alike to God and to good men. Oh! my brethren, the world is not good yet; it is filmed over, but all the while the loathsome disease lurks within. Up, again, I say, soldiers of Christ; the war against sin is not finished, it is scarce begun.

II. But now, secondly, we have to notice, briefly the appointed means of warfare. When Amalek came out against Israel, God appointed two means of combating them. If he had chosen, he could have sent a wind and driven them away, or have cut off their hosts by the blast of the pestilence; but it did not so please him; for he would put honor upon human effort, and, therefore, he said to Joshua, “Choose out your men, and go fight with Amalek.” It is true Joshua might, by God’s strength, have overcome the foe; but God says, “While I honor human effort, I will still make men see that God does all. Moses! go up to yonder hill; stand there in prayer, hold up your rod, and whilst the soldiers of Joshua rush into the fight, Moses shall plead, and you shall be unitedly successful. Your prayers, O Moses, without the sword of Joshua, shall not prosper; and the sword of Joshua, without the rod of Moses, shall not be effectual.” The two ways of fighting sin are these—hard blows and hard prayers.

First, the church must employ hard blows and hard fighting against sin. It is of no use for you to shut yourselves up in your houses, and pray to God to stay sin, unless you go and do something yourselves. If you pray away till you are dumb, you shall never have a blessing unless you exert yourselves. Let the farmer pray for a harvest; will he ever have it, unless he ploughs the field and then sows his seed? Let the warrior pray for victory, and let his soldiers stand peacefully to be shot at, will he gain a triumph? No, there must be an active exercise of the power given by God, or else prayer without it will be of no avail.

Let us, then, brethren and sisters, each in our spheres, deal hard blows at the enemy. This is a fight in which all can do something who are the Lord’s people. Those who halt upon their crutches can use them for weapons of war, as well as the mighty men can wield their swords! We have each an allotted work to do, if we are the Lord’s elect; let us take care that we do it. You are a tract distributor; go on with your work, do it earnestly. You are a Sunday-school teacher; go on, do not stop in that blessed work, do it as unto God, and not as unto man. You are a preacher; preach as God gives you ability, remembering that he requires of no man more than he has given to him; therefore, be not discouraged if you have little success, still go on. Are you like Zebulon, one that can handle the pen? Handle it wisely; and you shall smite through the loins of kings therewith. And if you can do but little, at least furnish the shot for others, that so you may help them in their works of faith and their labours of love. But let us all do something for Christ.

I will never believe there is a Christian in the world who cannot do something. There is not a spider hanging on the king’s wall that does not have its errand; there is not a nettle that grows in the corner of the churchyard that does not have its purpose; there is not a single insect fluttering in the breeze that does not accomplish some divine decree; and I will never have it that God created any man, especially any Christian man, to be a blank, and to be a nothing. He made you for an end. Find out what that end is; find our your niche, and fill it. If it be ever so little, if it is only to be a hewer of wood and drawer of water, do something in this great battle for God and truth.

Joshua must go out and take his men. I think I see him; he appears to have been a man of war from his youth; but what a motley host he had to choose from! Why, they were a set of slaves; they had never seen a sword in their lives, except in the hands of the Egyptians; they were poor, miserable creatures; they were cowards when they saw their old enemies at the Red Sea, and now their weapons were those which were washed up from the Red Sea, and their regimentals were of all descriptions upon earth. Joshua, however, chooses out the strongest of them, and says, “Come with me.” It was indeed, as one called it, a “ragged regiment” with which he went to fight: and yet the ragged regiment was the victorious one. Joshua won the day against the Amalekites, who had been trained to a predatory life. So, you children of God, you may know little of the tactics of warfare, your enemies may overthrow you in arguments, and annihilate you in logic; but, if you are God’s children, they that are with you are more than a match for your foes; you shall live to see them yet dead upon the field; only fight on with faith in God, and you shall be victorious.

But this is not all. Joshua might have fought; but he would have been routed, had it not been for Moses on the brow of the hill. They were both necessary. Do you not see the battle! It is not on a very large scale, but it is still worthy of your earnest attention. There is Amalek, rushing to the war with discordant cries; see, Israel is repulsing them, and Amalek flees! But what is it that I notice? Now Israel turns back and flees; now again they rally and Amalek is put to the flight! Lo! they are cut to pieces by the sword of Joshua, and mighty Amalek wavers like the corn beneath the mower’s scythe. The crowd of Amalek are drooping. But again! again the battle wavers; Joshua flees; but once again he rallies his troops!

And have you not observed the wondrous phenomenon? There, on the brow of the hill stands Moses. You will notice that when his hands were outstretched, Israel routed Amalek; but the moment when from weariness he dropped his hands, then Amalek had a temporary victory; and when again he held up his rod, Israel routed the foe. Each time the hand of prayer fell down, victory wavered between the combatants. Do you see the venerable intercessor? Moses, being an aged man, becomes weary from standing so many hours, they seat him upon a stone; still, arms are not iron, and the hands are drooping; but see! his eyes are flashing fire, and his hands are lifted up to heaven; tears are beginning to flow down his cheeks and his repeated prayers are going to heaven like so many darts, which shall find their target in the ear of God.

Do you see him, he is the hinge of victory; as he falters Amalek prevails; and as he is strong the chosen people gain the victory. See! Aaron is holding his hand for a moment; and soon Hur is supporting it, and the good old man changes his hands, for the battle lasts all day long, and in the hot sun it is wearisome work to hold them in one position. But see how manfully he holds them; stiff, as though they were cut out of stone; weary and worn, still his hands are out-stretched, as if he were a statue, and his friends assist his zeal. And see now, the ranks of Amalek are broken like thin clouds before a Biscay gale. They fly! they fly! Still his hands are motionless; still they fight; still the Amalekites fly; still Joshua prevails, until at last all the foes lie dead on the plain, and Joshua returns with the shout of joy.

Now this teaches that there must be prayer as well as effort. Minister! preach on; you shall have no success unless you pray. If you do not know how to wrestle with God on your knees, you will find it hard work to wrestle with men on your feet in the pulpit. You may make efforts to do so, but you shall not be successful, unless you back up your efforts with prayer. You are not so likely to fail in your efforts as in your prayers. We never read that Joshua’s hand was weary with wielding the sword, but Moses’ hand was weary with holding the rod. The more spiritual the duty, the more apt we are to tire of it. We could stand and preach all day, but we could not pray all day. We could go forth to see the sick all day, but we could not be in our closets all day one-half so easily. To spend a night with God in prayer would be far more difficult than to spend a night with man in preaching.

Oh! take care, take care, church of Christ, that you do not cease your prayers! Above all, I speak to my own much loved church, my own people. You have loved me, and I have loved you, and God has given us great success, and blessed us. But, mark, I trace all of it to your prayers. You have assembled together in multitudes, perfectly unparalleled, to pray for me on each Monday evening, and I know I am mentioned at your family altars, as one who is very dear to your hearts; but I am afraid lest you should cease your prayers. Let the world say, “Down with him;” I will stand against them all, if you will pray for me; but if you cease your prayers it is all up with me and all over with you. Your prayers make us mighty; the praying legion is the thundering legion.

If I might compare myself to a military commander, I should say, that when I see my men rise to pray in such large numbers, I feel like Napoleon, when he sent out his old guards. The battle had wavered; “There,” said he, “they go; now the victory is sure.” Or, like our own guards, the black caps, who, wherever they went carried victory with them. The praying legion is a thundering legion everywhere. Men can stand against anything but prayer. We would pray the very gates of hell off their hinges, if we could pray as some men have done. Oh! that we had might in prayer. Do not, I beseech you, I entreat you, do not cease to pray; cease what you please, but do not give up that; down on your knees, wrestle with God, and verily the Lord our God will bless us, “and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.”

III. And now I am to close up with just a few remarks, in the third place, to stir you up to the warfare

Remember, O children of God, that there are many things that should make you valiant for God and for his truth. The first thing I will bring to your remembrance is the fact, that this warfare in which you are engaged is a hereditary warfare; it is not one which you began, but it is one which has been handed to you from the moment when the blood of Abel cried aloud for vengeance. Each martyr that has died has passed the blood-red flag to the next, and he in his turn has passed it on to another. Every confessor who has been nailed to the stake to burn, has lit his candle, and handed it to another, and said, “Take care of that!” And now here is the old “sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Remember what hands have handled the hilt; remember what arms have wielded it; remember how often it has “pierced to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow.” Will you disgrace it. Will you disgrace it? There is the great banner: it has waved in many a breeze; long before the flag of this our land was made, this flag of Christ was born aloft, Will you stain it? Will you stain it? Will you not hand it to your children, still unsullied, and say, “Go on, go on; we leave you the heritage of war; go on, go on, and conquer. What your fathers did, do you again; still keep up the war, till time shall end.”

I love my Bible because it is a Bible baptized with blood; I love it all the better, because it has the blood of Tyndale on it; I love it, because it has on it the blood of John Bradford, and Rowland Taylor, and Hooper; I love it, because it is stained with blood. I sometimes think I like the baptismal pool because that has been stained with blood, and is now upon the continent, forbidden by law. I love it, because I see in it the blood of men and of women who had been martyred, because they loved the truth. Will you not, then, stand by the banner of truth, after such an illustrious pedigree of warriors have held it in their hands?

I would that I could have addressed you as I desired, but my voice fails me; I cannot, therefore, urge you, except by one consideration, and that is, the prospect of ultimate victory. It is certain that before long we shall triumph; therefore let us not give up the fight. I have been much gratified of late to hear that there is a revival in the ranks of Christ’s church; here and there I hear of great evangelists who are starting up. Some have said to me, when they have mentioned their names, “What say you to them?” My answer is, “Would God that all the Lord’s servants were prophets!”

Oh! that God might send thousands and thousands of men, who would gather multitudes together to hear his word. I would that the day were come, when every church and every chapel in England were as full of souls as this, and as large as this. I do think the churches are reviving; but if they are not, still victory is certain—God will still get the victory; Jehovah will triumph. Satan may dream he will, but he will not. Therefore, men and brethren, on to victory; let the crown that is before you, embolden you to the fight; to victory; to victory; and on, on, on! for God is with you. Remember the great intercessor; Christ is on the hill, and while you are in the valley he pleads, and must prevail, therefore, go on, and conquer, for Christ’s sake!

I can no longer address you, but must finish up by repeating the words with which I always like to conclude my sermons: “He that believeth on the Lord Jesus and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned!” Oh! that you would believe in Christ; oh! that God would give you faith to put your trust in him; this is the only way of salvation. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.”

Friday, April 28, 2023

“Secret Sins” | Charles Spurgeon Sermon (Historic Homilies)

Note: This version of the text contains minor changes I made while recording the sermon. Some of these changes were accidental reading errors, while others were intentional in order to aid understanding.

“Secret Sins”
by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
February 8, 1857

Self-righteousness arises partly from pride but mainly from ignorance of God’s law. It is because men know little or nothing concerning the terrible character of the divine law, that they foolishly imagine themselves to be righteous. They are not aware of the deep spirituality, and the stern severity of the law, or they would have other and wiser notions. Once let them know how strictly the law deals with the thoughts, how it brings itself to bear upon every emotion of the inner man, and there is not one creature beneath God’s heaven who would dare to think himself righteous in God’s sight in virtue of his own deeds and thoughts. Only let the law be revealed to a man; let him know how strict the law is, and how infinitely just, and his self-righteousness will shrivel into nothing—it will become a filthy rag in his sight, whereas before he thought it to be a goodly garment.

Now, David, having seen God’s law, and having praised it in this Psalm, which I have read in your hearing, he is brought, by reflecting on its excellency, to utter this thought, “Who can understand his errors?” and then to offer this prayer, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

In the Lateran Council of the Church of Rome, a decree was passed that every true believer must confess his sins, all of them, once in a year to the priest, and they affixed to it this declaration, that there is no hope of pardon but in complying with that decree. What can equal the absurdity of such a decree as that? Do they suppose that they can tell their sins as easily as they can count their fingers? Why, if we could receive pardon for all our sins by telling every sin we have committed in one hour, there is not one of us who would be able to enter heaven, since, besides the sins that are known to us and that we may be able to confess, there are a vast mass of sins, which are as truly sins as those which we do observe, but which are secret, and come not beneath our eye.

Oh! if we had eyes like those of God, we should think very differently of ourselves. The sins that we see and confess are but like the farmer’s small samples which he brings to market, when he has left his granary full at home. We have but a very few sins which we can observe and detect, compared with those which are hidden to ourselves and unseen by our fellow creatures. I doubt not it is true of all of us who are here, that in every hour of our existence in which we are active, we commit tens of thousands of unholinesses for which conscience has never reproved us, because we have never seen them to be wrong, seeing we have not studied God’s laws as we ought to have done. Now, be it known to us all that sin is sin, whether we see it or not—that a sin secret to us is a sin as truly as if we knew it to be a sin, though not so great a sin in the sight of God as if it had been committed presumptuously, seeing that it lacks the aggravation of willfulness. Let all of us who know our sins, offer this prayer after all our confessions: “Lord, I have confessed as many as I know, but I must add an etcetera after them, and say, ‘Cleanse thou me from secret faults.’”

That, however, will not be the pith of my sermon this morning. I am going after a certain class of men who have sins not unknown to themselves, but secret to their fellow creatures. Every now and then we turn up a fair stone which lies upon the green grass of the professing church, surrounded with the verdure of apparent goodness, and to our astonishment we find beneath it all kinds of filthy insects and loathsome reptiles, and in our disgust at such hypocrisy, we are driven to exclaim, “All men are liars; there are none in whom we can put any trust at all.” It is not fair to say so of all; but really, the discoveries which are made of the insincerity of our fellow-creatures are enough to make us despise our kind, because they can go so far in appearances, and yet have so little soundness of heart. To you, sirs, who sin secretly, and yet make a profession; you break God’s covenants in the dark and wear a mask of goodness in the light—to you, sirs, who shut the doors and commit wickedness in secret—to you I shall speak this morning. O may God also be pleased to speak to you, and make you pray this prayer: “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

I shall endeavour to urge upon all pretenders present to give up, to renounce, to detest, to hate, to abhor all their secret sins. And, first, I shall endeavour to show the folly of secret sins; secondly, the misery of secret sins; thirdly, the guilt of secret sins; fourthly, the danger of secret sins; and then I shall try to apply some words by way of remedy, that we may all of us be enabled to avoid secret sins.

I. First, then, the folly of secret sins.

Pretender, you are fair to look upon; your conduct outwardly upright, amiable, liberal, generous and Christian; but you do indulge in some sin which the eye of man has not yet detected. Perhaps it is private drunkenness. You do revile the drunkard when he staggers through the street; but you can yourself indulge in the same habit in private. It may be some other lust or vice; it is not for me just now to mention what it is. But, pretender, we say unto you, you are a fool to think of harbouring a secret sin; and you are a fool for this one reason, that your sin is not a secret sin; it is known, and shall one day be revealed; perhaps very soon. Your sin is not a secret; the eye of God has seen it; you have sinned before his face. You have shut-to the door, and drawn the curtains, and kept out the eye of the sun, but God’s eye pierceth through the darkness; the brick walls which surround you were as transparent as glass to the eye of the Almighty; the darkness which did gird you was as bright as the summer’s noon to the eye of him who beholdeth all things.

Do you not know, O man, that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do?” As the priest ran his knife into the entrails of his victim, discovered the heart and liver, and what else did lie within, so are you, O man, seen by God, cut open by the Almighty; you have no secret chamber where you can hide yourself; you have no dark cellar where you can conceal your soul. Dig deep, ay, deep as hell, but you cannot find earth enough upon the globe to cover your sin; if you should heap the mountains on its grave, those mountains would tell the tale of what was buried in their bowels. If you could cast your sin into the sea, a thousand babbling waves would tell the secret out. There is no hiding it from God. Your sin is photographed in high heaven; the deed when it was done was photographed upon the sky, and there it shall remain, and you shall see yourself one day revealed to the gazing eyes of all men, a hypocrite, a pretender, who sinned in fancied secret, observed in all your acts by the all-seeing Jehovah.

O what fools men are, to think they can do anything in secret. This world is like the glass hives wherein bees sometimes work: we look down upon them, and we see all the operations of the little creatures. So God looks down and sees all. Our eyes are weak; we cannot look through the darkness; but his eye, like an orb of fire, penetrates the blackness; and reads the thoughts of man, and sees his acts when he thinks himself most concealed. Oh; it were a thought enough to curb us from all sin, if it were truly applied to us—“Thou, God, seest me!” Stop thief! Drop that which you have taken to yourself. God sees you! No eye of detection on earth has discovered you, but God’s eyes are now looking through the clouds upon you. Swearer! hardly any for whom you care heard your oath; but God heard it; it entered into the ears of the Lord God of Sabbaoth. Ah! you who lead a filthy life, and yet are a respectable merchant bearing among men a fair and goodly character; your vices are all known; written in God’s book. He keeps a diary of all your acts; and what will you think on that day when a crowd shall be assembled, compared with which this immense multitude is but a drop of a bucket, and God shall read out the story of your secret life, and men and angels shall hear it.

Certain I am there are none of us who would like to have all our secrets read, especially our secret thoughts. If I should select out of this congregation the most holy man, should bring him forward and say, “Now, sir, I know all your thoughts, and am about to tell them,” I am sure he would offer me the largest bribe that he could gather if I would be pleased to conceal at least some of them. “Tell,” he would say, “of my acts; of them I am not ashamed; but do not tell my thoughts and imaginations—of them I must ever stand ashamed before God.” What, then, sinner, will be your shame when your private lusts, your closet transgressions, your secret crimes shall be announced from God’s throne, published by his own mouth, and with a voice louder than a thousand thunders preached in the ears of an assembled world? What will be your terror and confusion then, when all the deeds you have done shall be published in the face of the sun, in the ears of all mankind. O renounce the foolish hope of secresy, for your sin is this day recorded, and shall one day be advertised upon the walls of heaven.

II. In the next place, let us notice the misery of secret sins.

Of all sinners the man who makes a profession of religion, and yet lives in iniquity, is the most miserable. A downright wicked man, who takes a glass in his hand, and says, “I am a drunkard, I am not ashamed of it,” he shall be unutterably miserable in worlds to come, but brief though it be, he has his hour of pleasure. A man who curses and swears, and says, “That is my habit, I am a profane man,” and makes a profession of it, he has, at least, some peace in his soul; but the man who walks with God’s minister, who is united with God’s Church, who comes out before God’s people, and unites with them, and then lives in sin, what a miserable existence he must have of it! Why, he has a worse existence than the mouse that is in the parlour, running out now and then to pick up the crumbs, and then back again to his hole. Such men must run out now and then to sin; and oh! how fearful they are to be discovered! One day, perhaps, their character turns up; with wonderful cunning they manage to conceal and gloss it over; but the next day something else comes, and they live in constant fear, telling lie after lie, to make the last lie appear truthful, adding deception to deception, in order that they may not be discovered.

“Oh! ‘tis a tangled web we weave,
When once we venture to deceive.”

If I must be a wicked man, give me the life of a rowdy sinner, who sins before the face of day; but, if I must sin, let me not act as a hypocrite and a coward; let me not profess to be God’s, and spend my life for the devil. That way of cheating the devil is a thing which every honest sinner will be ashamed of. He will say, “Now, if I do serve my master I will serve him out and out, I will have no sham about it; if I make a profession, I will carry it out; but if I do not, if I live in sin, I am not going to gloss it over by empty words and hypocrisy.” One thing which has hamstringed the church, and cut her very sinews in two, has been this most damnable hypocrisy. Oh! in how many places have we men whom you might praise to the very skies, if you could believe their words, but whom you might cast into the nethermost pit if you could see their secret actions. God forgive any of you who are so acting! I had almost said, I can scarce forgive you. I can forgive the man who riots openly, and makes no profession of being better, but the man who fawns, and deceives, and pretends, and prays, and then lives in sin, that man I hate, I cannot bear him, I abhor him from my very soul. If he will turn from his ways, I will love him, but in his hypocrisy he is to me the most loathsome of all creatures.

‘Tis said the toad wears a jewel in her head, but this man has none, but beareth filthiness about him, while he pretends to be in love with righteousness. A mere profession, my hearers, is but painted pageantry to go to hell in; it is like the plumes upon the hearse and the trappings upon the black horses which drag men to their graves, the funeral array of dead souls. Take heed above everything of a waxen profession that will not stand the sun; be wary of a life that needs to have two faces to carry it out; be one thing, or else the other. If you make up your mind to serve Satan, do not pretend to serve God; and if you serve God, serve him with all your heart. “No man can serve two masters;” do not try it, do not endeavour to do it, for no life will be more miserable than that. Above all, beware of committing acts which it will be necessary to conceal. There is a singular poem by Hood, called “The Dream of Eugene Aram”—a most remarkable piece it is indeed, illustrating the point on which I am now dwelling. Aram has murdered a man and cast his body into the river—“a sluggish water, black as ink, the depth was so extreme.” The next morning he visited the scene of his guilt:

“And sought the black accursed pool,
With a wild misgiving eye;
And he saw the dead in the river bed,
For the faithless stream was dry.”

Next he covered the corpse with heaps of leaves, but a mighty wind swept through the wood and left the secret bare before the sun:

“Then down I cast me on my face,
And first began to weep,
For I knew my secret then was one
That earth refused to keep;
On land or sea though it should be
Ten thousand fathoms deep.”

In plaintive notes he prophesies his own discovery. He buried his victim in a cave, and trod him down with stones, but when years had run their weary round the foul deed was discovered and the murderer put to death.

Guilt is a “grim chamberlain,” even when his fingers are not bloody red. Secret sins bring fevered eyes and sleepless nights, until men burn out their consciences, and become in very deed ripe for the pit. Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at, for it is one deceiver against many observers; and for certain it is a miserable trade, which will earn at last, as its certain climax, a tremendous bankruptcy. Ah! you who have sinned without discovery, “Be sure your sin will find you out;” and mind you, it may find you out before long. Sin, like murder, will come out; men will even tell tales about themselves in their dreams. God has sometimes made men so pricked in their consciences that they have been obliged to stand forth and confess the story. Secret sinner! if you want the foretaste of damnation upon earth, continue in your secret sins; for no man is more miserable than he who sins secretly, and yet tries to preserve a character. Yon stag, followed by the hungry hounds, with open mouths, is far more happy than the man who is followed by his sins. Yon bird, taken in the fowler’s net, and labouring to escape, is far more happy than he who has weaved around himself a web of deception, and labours to escape from it day by day by making the toils more thick and the web more strong. Oh! the misery of secret sins! Truly, one may pray, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

III. But now, next, the guilt, the solemn guilt of secret sin.

Now, John, you do not think there is any evil in a thing unless somebody sees it, do you? You feel that it is a very great sin if your master finds you out in robbing the till—but there is no sin if he should not discover it—none at all. And you, sir, you fancy it to be very great sin to play a trick in trade, in case you should be discovered and brought before the court; but to play a trick and never be discovered, that is all fair—do not say a word about it Mr. Spurgeon, it is all business; you must not touch business; tricks that are not discovered, of course you are not to find fault with them.

The common measure of sin is the notoriety of it. But I do not believe in that. A sin is a sin, whether done in private or before the wide world. It is unique how men will measure guilt. A railway servant puts up a wrong signal, there is an accident; the man is tried, and severely reprimanded. The day before he put up the wrong signal, but there was no accident, and therefore no one accused him for his neglect. But it was just the same, accident or no accident, the accident did not make the guilt, it was the deed which made the guilt, not the notoriety nor yet the consequence of it. It was his business to have taken care; and he was as guilty the first time as he was the second, for he negligently exposed the lives of men. Do not measure sin by what other people say of it; but measure sin by what God says of it, and what your own conscience says of it.

Now, I hold that secret sin, if anything, is the worst of sin; because secret sin implies that the man who commits it has Atheism in his heart. You will ask how that can be. I reply, he may be a professing Christian, but I shall tell him to his face that he is a practical Atheist, if he labours to keep up a respectable profession before man, and then secretly transgresses. Why, is he not an Atheist, who will say there is a God, yet at the same time thinks more of man than he does of God? Is it not the very essence of Atheism—is it not a denial of the divinity of the Most High when men lightly esteem him and think more of the eye of a creature than of the observation of their Creator? There are some who would not for the life of them say a wicked word in the presence of their minister, but they can do it, knowing God is looking at them. They are Atheists. There are some who would not trick in trade for all the world if they thought they would be discovered, but they can do it while God is with them; that is, they think more of the eye of man than of the eye of God; and they think it worse to be condemned by man than to be condemned by God. Call it by what name you will, the proper name of that is practical Atheism. It is dishonoring God; it is dethroning him; putting him down below his own creatures; and what is that, but to take away his divinity?

Brethren, do not, I beseech you, incur the fearful guilt of secret sins. No man can sin a little in secret, it will certainly engender more sin; no man can be a hypocrite and yet be moderate in guilt; he will go from bad to worse, and still proceed, until when his guilt shall be published, he shall be found to be the very worst and most hardened of men. Take heed of the guilt of secret sin. Ah! now if could I preach as Rowland Hill did, I would make some people look to themselves at home, and tremble too! It is said that when he preached, there was not a man in the window, or standing in the crowd, or perched up anywhere, but said, “There, he is preaching at me; he is telling me about my secret sins.” And when he proclaimed God’s omniscience, it is said men would almost think they saw God bodily present in the midst of them looking at them. And when he had done his sermon, they would hear a voice in their ears, “Can any hide himself in secret places that I cannot see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” I wish I could do that; that I could make every man look to himself, and find out his secret sin. Come my hearer, what is it? Bring it forth to the daylight; perhaps it will die in the light of the sun. These things love not to be discovered. Tell your own conscience, now, what it is. Look it in the face; confess it before God, and may he give you grace to remove that sin and every other, and turn to him with full purpose of heart! But this know—that your guilt is guilt discovered or undiscovered, and that if there be any difference it is worse, because it has been secret. God save us from the guilt of secret sin! “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

IV. And note, next, the danger of secret sin. One danger is, that a man cannot commit a little sin in secret, without being by-and-by betrayed into a public sin. You cannot, sir, though you may think you can preserve a moderation in sin. If you commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps; the others must follow in time. As certainly as you heap one stone upon the mound to-day, the next day you will cast another, until the heap, reared stone by stone, shall become a very pyramid. See the coral insect at work, you cannot decree where it shall stop its work. It will not build its rock just as high as you please, it will not stay until it shall be covered with weeds, until the weeds shall decay; and there shall be soil upon it, and an island shall be created by tiny creatures.

Sin cannot be held in with bit and bridle. “But I am going to have a little drink now and then, I am only going to be intoxicated once a week or so. Nobody will see it; I shall be in bed directly.” You will be drunk in the streets soon. “I am only just going to read one lascivious book; I will put it under the sofa-cover when any one comes in.” You will keep it in your library yet, sir. “I am only going into that company now and then.” You will go there every day, such is the bewitching character of it; you cannot help it. You may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws: neither can you regulate sin. Once go into it, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed. You may be such a fortunate individual, that like Van Amburgh you may put your head in and out a great many times; rest assured that one of these days it will be a costly venture.

Again, you may labour to conceal your vicious habit, but it will come out, you cannot help it. You keep your little pet sin at home; but mark this, when the door is ajar the dog will be out in the street. Wrap him up in your bosom, put over him fold after fold of hypocrisy to keep him secret, the wretch will be singing some day when you are in company; you cannot keep the evil bird still. Your sin will gad abroad; and what is more, you will not mind it some of these days. A man who indulges in sin privately, by degrees gets his forehead as hard as brass. The first time he sinned, the drops of sweat stood on his brow at the recollection of what he had done; the second time, no hot sweat on his brow, only an agitation of the muscle; the third time there was the sly, sneaky look, but no agitation; the next time, he sinned a little further; and by degrees he became the bold blasphemer of his God, who exclaimed, “Who am I that I should fear Jehovah, and who is he that I should serve him?”

Men go from bad to worse. Launch your boat in the current—it must go where the current takes it. Put yourself in the whirlwind—you are but a straw in the wind: you must go which way the wind carries you—you cannot control yourself. The balloon can mount, but it cannot direct its course; it must go whichever way the wind blows. If you once mount into sin there is no stopping. Take heed if you would not become the worst of characters, take heed of the little sins, they, mounting one upon another, may at last heave you from the summit and destroy your soul for ever. There is a great danger in secret sins.

But I have here some Christians who indulge in secret sins. They say it is but a little one, and therefore do they spare it. Dear brethren, I speak to you, and I speak to myself, when I say this—let us destroy all our little secret sins. They are called little and if they be, let us remember that it is the foxes, even the little foxes, that spoil our vines; for our vines have tender shoots. Let us take heed of our little sins. A little sin, like a little pebble in the shoe, will make a traveller to heaven walk very wearily. Little sins, like little thieves, may open the door to greater ones outside. Christians, recollect that little sins will spoil your communion with Christ. Little sins, like little stains in silk, may damage the fine texture of fellowship; little sins, like little irregularities in the machinery, may spoil the whole fabric of your religion. The one dead fly spoils the whole pot of ointment. That one thistle may seed a continent with noxious weeds. Let us, brethren, kill our sins as often as we can find them. One said—“The heart is full of unclean birds; it is a cage of them.” “Ah, but,” said another divine, “you must not make that an apology, for a Christian’s business is to wring their necks.” And so it is; if there be evil things, it is our business to kill them. Christians must not tolerate secret sins. We must not harbour traitors; it is high treason against the King of Heaven. Let us drag them out to light, and offer them upon the altar, giving up the dearest of our secret sins at the will and bidding of God. There is a great danger in a little secret sin; therefore avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and shun it; and God give you grace to overcome it!

V. And now I come, in finishing up, to plead with all my might with some of you whom God has pricked in your consciences. I have come to intreat you, if it be possible, even to tears, that you will give up your secret sins. I have one here for whom I bless God; I love him, though I know him not. He is almost persuaded to be a Christian; he halts between two opinions; he intends to serve God, he strives to give up sin, but he finds it a hard struggle, and as yet he knows not what shall become of him. I speak to him with all love: my friend, will you have your sin and go to hell, or leave your sin and go to heaven? This is the solemn alternative: to all awakened sinners I put it; may God choose for you, otherwise I tremble as to which you may choose. The pleasures of this life are so intoxicating, the joys of it so ensnaring, that did I not believe that God works in us to will and to do, I should despair of you. But I have confidence that God will decide the matter.

Let me lay the alternative before you:—on the one hand there is an hour’s merriment, a short life of bliss, and that a poor, poor bliss; on the other hand, there is everlasting life and eternal glory. On the one hand, there is a transient happiness, and afterwards overwhelming woe; in this case there is a solid peace and everlasting joy, and after it overflowing bliss. I shall not fear to be called an Arminian, when I say, as Elijah did, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. If God be God, serve him; if Baal be God serve him.” But, now, make your choice deliberately; and may God help you to do it! Do not say you will take up with religion, without first counting the cost of it; remember, there is your lust to be given up, your pleasure to be renounced; can you do it for Christ’s sake? Can you? I know you cannot, unless God’s grace shall assist you in making such a choice. But can you say, “Yes, by the help of God, earth’s gaudy toys, its pomps, pageantries, gewgaws, all these I renounce?

“These can never satisfy,
Give me Christ or else I die.”

Sinner, you will never regret that choice, if God help you to make it; you will find yourself a happy man here, and thrice happy throughout all eternity.

“But,” says one, “Sir, I intend to be religious, but I do not hold with your strictness.” I do not ask you to do so; I hope, however, you will hold with God’s strictness, and God’s strictness is ten thousand times greater than mine. You may say that I am puritanical in my preaching; God will be puritanical in judging in that great day. I may appear severe, but I can never be so severe as God will be. I may draw the harrow with sharp teeth across your conscience, but God shall drag harrows of eternal fire across you one day. I may speak thundering things! God will not speak them, but hurl them from his hands. Remember, men may laugh at hell, and say there is none; but they must reject their Bibles before they can believe the lie. Men’s consciences tell them that

“There is a dreadful hell,
And everlasting pains;
Where sinners must with devils dwell,
In darkness, fire and chains.”

Sirs, will ye keep your secret sins, and have eternal fire for them? Remember it is of no use, they must all be given up, or else you cannot be God’s child. You cannot by any means have both; it cannot be God and the world, it cannot be Christ and the devil; it must be one or the other. Oh! that God would give you grace to resign all; for what are they worth? They are your deceivers now, and will be your tormentors for ever. Oh! that your eyes were open to see the rottenness, the emptiness and trickery of iniquity. Oh! that God would turn you to himself. Oh! may God give you grace to cross the Rubicon of repentance at this very hour; to say, “Henceforth it is war to the knife with my sins; not one of them will I willingly keep, but down with them, down with them; Canaanite, Hittite, Jebusite, they shall all be driven out.”

“The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee.”

“But oh! sir, I cannot do it; it would be like pulling my eyes out.” Ay, but hear what Christ says: “It were better for thee to enter into life with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” “But it would be like cutting my arm off.” Ay, and it would be better for you to enter into life disabled or maimed, than to be cast into hell fire for ever. Oh! when the sinner comes before God at last, do you think he will speak as he does now? God will reveal his secret sins: the sinner will not then say, “Lord, I thought my secret sins so sweet, I could not give them up.” I think I see how changed it will be then. “Sir” you say now, “you are too strict;” will you say that when the eyes of the Almighty are glowering on you? You say now, “Sir, you are too precise;” will you say that to God Almighty’s face? “Sir, I mean to keep such-and-such a sin.” Can you say it at God’s bar at last? You will not dare to do it then.

Ah! when Christ comes a second time, there will be a marvellous change in the way men talk. I think I see him; there he sits upon his throne. Now, Caiaphas, come and condemn him now! Judas! come and kiss him now! What do you stick at, man? Are you afraid of him? Now, Barabbas! go; see whether they will prefer you to Christ now. Swearer, now is your time; you have been a bold man; curse him to his face now. Now drunkard; stagger up to him now. Now infidel; tell him there is no Christ now—now that the world is lit with lightning and the earth is shaken with thunder till the solid pillars thereof do bow themselves—tell God there is no God now; now laugh at the Bible; now scoff at the minister. Why men, what is the matter with you? Why, can’t you do it? Ah! there you are; you have fled to the hills and to the rocks—“Rocks hide us! mountains fall on us; hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne.” Ah! where are now your boasts, your vauntings, and your glories? Alas! alas! for you, in that dread day of wonders.

Secret sinner, what will then become of you? Go out of this place unmasked; go out to examine yourself, go out to bend your knee, go out to weep, go out to pray. God give you grace to believe! And oh, how sweet and pleasant the thought, that this day sinners have fled to Christ, and men have been born again to Jesus! Brethren, before I finish, I repeat the words at which so many have cavilled—it is now, or never, it is turn or burn. Solemnly in God’s sight I say it; if it be not God’s truth I must answer for it in the great day of account. Your consciences tell you it is true. Take it home, and mock me if you will; this morning I am clear of your blood: if any seek not God, but live in sin, I shall be clear of your blood in that day when the watchman shall have your souls demanded of him; oh, may God grant that you may be cleared in a blessed manner!

When I went down those pulpit stairs a Sabbath or two ago, a friend said to me words which have been in my mind ever since—“Sir, there are nine thousand people this day without excuse in the day of judgment.” It is true of you this morning. If you are damned, it will be not for want of preaching to you, and it shall not be for want of praying for you. God knows that if my heart could break of itself, it would, for your souls, for God is my witness, how earnestly I long for you in the bowels of Christ Jesus. Oh, that he might touch your hearts and bring you to him! For death is a solemn thing, damnation is a horrible thing, to be out of Christ is a dreadful thing, to be dead in sin is a terrifying thing. May God lead you to view these things as they are, and save you, for his mercy’s sake! “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.”

“Lord, search my soul, try every thought;
Though my own heart accuse me not
Of walking in a false disguise,
I beg the trial of thine eyes.

Doth secret mischief lurk within?
Do I indulge some unknown sin?
O turn my feet whene’er I stray,
And lead me in thy perfect way.”

Thursday, April 20, 2023

“The Conditions of Power in Prayer” | Charles Spurgeon Sermon (Historic Homilies)

Note: This version of the text contains minor changes I made while recording the sermon. Some of these changes were accidental reading errors, while others were intentional in order to aid understanding.
“The Conditions of Power in Prayer”
by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
March 23, 1873

“And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him. because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” – 1 John 3:22–24

I thought of addressing you this morning upon the importance of prayer, and I designed earnestly to stir you up to pray for me and for the Lord’s work in this place. Truly, I do not think I could have had a more weighty subject, or one which weighs more upon my soul. If I were only allowed to offer one request to you it would be this— “Brethren, pray for us.” Of what use can our ministry be without the divine blessing, and how can we expect the divine blessing unless it be sought for by the Church of God? I would say it even with tears, “Brethren, pray for us:” do not restrain prayer: on the contrary, be abundant in intercession, for so, and so only, can our prosperity as a church be increased, or even continued.

But then, the question occurred to me, what if there should be something in the church which would prevent our prayers being successful? That is a previous question, and one which ought to be considered most earnestly even before we exhort you to intercession; because as we have already been taught by the first chapter of Isaiah, the prayers of an unholy people will soon become abominations to God. “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear.” Churches may fall into such a state that their devotions will be an iniquity; “even the solemn meeting” will be weariness unto the Lord. There may be evils in the heart of any one of us which may render it impossible for God, in consistency with his own character and attributes, to have any regard to our intercessions. If we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not hear us. According to our text, there are some things which are essential to prevalence in prayer. God will hear all true prayer, but there are certain things which the people of God must possess, or else their prayers will fall short of the mark. The text tells us, “Whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” Now this morning, the subject of consideration will be the essentials to power in prayer; what we must do, what we must be, what we must have, if we are to prevail habitually with God in prayer, as a matter of constant fact. Let us learn how to become Elijahs and Jacobs.

I. I shall begin, first, by considering the essentials of power in prayer. We must make a few distinctions at the outset. I take it there is a great difference between the prayer of a soul that is seeking mercy and the prayer of a man who is saved. I would say to every person present, whatever his character, if you sincerely seek mercy of God through Jesus Christ you shall have it. Whatever may have been your previous condition of life, if now penitently you seek Jehovah’s face, through the appointed Mediator, he will be found by you. If the Holy Spirit has taught you to pray, hesitate no longer, but hasten to the cross, and there rest your guilty soul on Jesus. Qualifications for the sinner’s first prayer I know of none except sincerity; but we must speak in a different way to those of you who are saved. You have now become the people of God, and while you shall be heard just as the sinner would be heard, and shall daily find the needful grace which every seeker receives in answer to prayer, yet you are now a child of God and you are under a special discipline peculiar to the regenerated family. In that discipline answers to prayer occupy a high position, and are of eminent use. There is something for a believer to enjoy over and above bare salvation; there are mercies, and blessings, and comforts, and favours, which render his present life useful, happy and honourable, and these he shall not have irrespective of character. They are not vital matters with regard to salvation; those the believer possesses unconditionally, for they are covenant blessings; but we now refer to the honours and the dainties of the house, which are given or withheld according to our obedience as the Lord’s children. If you neglect the conditions appended to these, your heavenly Father will withhold them from you.

The essential blessings of the covenant of grace stand unconditioned; the invitation to seek for mercy is addressed to those who have no qualifications whatever, except their need: but come inside the divine family as saved men and women, and you will find that other choice blessings are given or withheld according to our attention to the Lord’s rules in his family. To give a common illustration: If a hungry person were at your door, and asked for bread, you would give it to him, whatever might be his character; you will also give your child food, whatever may be his behaviour; you will not deny your child anything that is necessary for life; you will never proceed in any course of discipline against him, so as to deny him his needful food, or a garment to shield him from the cold; but there are many other things which your child may desire, which you will give him if he be obedient, but which you will not give if he be rebellious to you. I take it, that this illustrates how far the paternal government of God will push this matter, and where it will not go.

Understand also, that the text refers not so much to God’s hearing a prayer of his servants now and then, for that he will do, even when his servants are out of course with him, and when he is hiding his face from them; but the power in prayer here intended is continuous and absolute with God; so that to quote the words of the text, “whatsoever we ask of him we receive.”

For this prayer there are certain pre-requisites and essentials of which we have now to speak, and the first is child-like obedience: “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments.” If we are destitute of this the Lord may say to us as he did to his people Israel, “Ye have forsaken me, and served other gods, wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen.” Any father will tell you that for him to grant the request of a disobedient child would be to encourage rebellion in the family, and render it impossible for him to rule in his own house. It is often incumbent upon the parent to say, “My child, you did not listen to my word just now, and, therefore, I cannot listen to yours.” Not that the father does not love, but that he does love the child, and because of his love, he feels bound to show his displeasure by refusing the request of his erring offspring. God acts with us as we should act towards our stubborn children, and if he sees that we will go into sin and transgress, it is a part of his kind paternal discipline to say, “I will shut out your prayer, when you cry unto me; I will not hear you when you entreat of me; I will not destroy you, you shall be saved, you shall have the bread of life, and the water of life, but you shall have no more: the luxuries of my kingdom shall be denied you, and anything like special prevalence with me in prayer you shall not possess.”

That thus the Lord deals with his own people is clear from the Eighty-first Psalm: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.” Why, if the disobedient child of God had the promise put into his hands— “Whatsoever ye ask in prayer, ye shall receive,” he would be sure to ask for something that would bolster him up in his rebellion, he would be asking for provision for his own lust, and aids for his rebellion. This can never be tolerated. Shall God pander to our corruptions? Shall he find fuel for the flames of carnal passion? A self-willed heart hankers after greater liberty that it may be the more obstinate; a haughty spirit longs for greater elevation that it may be prouder still; a slothful spirit asks for greater ease that it may be yet more indolent; and a domineering spirit asks for more power that it may have more opportunities of oppression. As is the man such will his prayer be— a rebellious spirit offers self-willed and proud prayers. Shall God listen to such prayers as these? It cannot be. He will give us what we ask if we keep his commandments, but if we become disobedient and reject his government he also will reject our prayers, and say: “If ye walk contrary to me, I also will walk contrary to you: with the froward, I will show myself froward.” Happy shall we be if through divine grace we can say with David, “I will wash my hands in innocency; so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.” This will never be perfect innocency, but it will at least be innocence of the love of sin and of wilful revolt from God.

Next to this is another essential to victorious prayer, namely, child-like reverence. Notice the next sentence: We receive what we ask “because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” We do not allow children when they have a command from their father to question its propriety or wisdom; obedience ends where questioning begins. A child’s standard of its duty must not become the measure of the father’s right to command: good children say, “Father has bidden us to do so and so, and therefore we will do it, for we delight to please him always.” The weightiest reason for a loving child’s action is the persuasion that it would please his parents; and the strongest thing that can be said to hold back a gracious child, is to prove that such a course of action would displease his parents. It is precisely so with us towards God, who is a perfect parent, and therefore we may without fear of mistake always make his pleasure the rule of right, while the rule of wrong may safely remain that which would displease him.

Suppose any of us should be self-willed, and say, “I shall not do what God pleases, I shall do what pleases myself.” Then, observe, what would be the nature of our prayers? Our prayers might then be summed up in the request, “Let me have my own way?” And can we expect God to consent to that? Are we to be, not only lords over God’s heritage but over God himself? Would you have the Almighty resign the throne to place a proud mortal there? If you have a child in your house who has no respect whatever for his father, but who says, “I want to have my own way in all things;” if he comes to you with a request, will you stoop to him? Will you allow him to dictate to you, and forget the honour due to you? Will you say, “Yes, my dear child, I recognise your importance, you shall be lord in the house, and whatsoever you ask for you shall have!” What kind of a house would that be? I fear there are some such houses, for there are foolish parents who suffer their children to become their masters and so make a rod for their own backs: but God’s house is not ordered so: he will not listen to his self-willed children, except it be to hear them in anger, and to answer them in wrath.

Remember how he heard the prayer of Israel for flesh, and when the meat was yet in their mouths it became a curse to them. Many persons are chastened by obtaining their own desires, even as backsliders are filled with their own devices. We must have a child-like reverence of God, so that we feel, “Lord, if what I ask for does not please you neither would it please me. My desires are put into your hands to be corrected: strike the pen through every petition that I offer which is not right, and, Lord, put in whatever I have omitted, even though I might not have desired it had I recollected it. Good Lord, if I ought to have desired it, hear me as if I had desired it.  Not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” Now I think you can see that this yielding spirit is essential to continual prevalence with God in prayer; the reverse is a sure bar to eminence in supplication. The Lord will be reverenced by those who are round about him. They must have an eye to his pleasure in all that they do and all that they ask, or he will not look upon them with favour.

In the third place, the text suggests the necessity of child-like trust: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Everywhere in Scripture faith in God is spoken of as necessary to successful prayer. We must believe that God is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, or else we have not prayed at all; but in proportion to our faith will be the success of our prayer. It is a standing rule of the kingdom, “According to thy faith, so be it unto thee.” Remember how the Holy Spirit speaks by the mouth of the apostle James: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, not wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”

The text speaks of faith in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, which I understand to mean faith in his declared character, faith in his gospel, faith in the truth concerning his substitution and salvation. Or it may mean faith in the authority of Christ, so that when I plead with God and say, “Do it in the name of Jesus,” I mean, “Do for me as you would have done for Jesus, for I am authorised by him to use his name; do it for me as you would have done it for him.” He that can pray with faith in the name cannot fail, for the Lord Jesus has said, “If ye ask anything in my name, I will do it.” But there must be faith, and if there be no faith we cannot expect to be heard.

Do you not see that? Let us come back to our family similitudes again. Suppose a child in the house does not believe his father’s word, and is constantly saying that he finds his mind full of doubts as to his father’s truthfulness; suppose, indeed, that he tells his brothers and sisters that his faith in his father is very weak. He mentions that wretched fact, but is not at all shocked that he should say such a thing, but he rather feels that he ought to be pitied, as if it were an infirmity which he could not avoid. Somehow or other he does not believe that his father speaks the truth, and he declares that, though he tries to believe his father’s promise, yet he cannot. I think a father so basely distrusted would not be in a very great hurry to grant such a son’s requests; indeed, it is very probable that the petitions of the mistrustful son would be such as could not be complied with, even if his father were willing to do so, since they would amount to a gratification of his own unbelief, and a dishonour to his parent.

For instance, suppose this child should take it into his head to doubt whether his father would provide him with his daily food; he might then come to his father and say, “Father, give me enough money to last for the next ten years, for I shall then be a man, and shall be able to provide for myself. Give me money down to quiet my fears, for I am in great anxiety.” The father replies, “My son, what should I do that for?” And he gets for a reply, “I am very sorry to say it, dear father, but I cannot trust you; I have such a weak faith in you and your love that I am afraid one of these days you will leave me to starve, and therefore I should like to have something sure in the bank.” Which of you fathers would listen to a child’s request, if he sought such a thing? You would feel grieved that thoughts so dishonouring to yourself should pass through the mind of one of your own beloved ones; but you would not, and could not, give way to them.

Let me, then, ask you to apply the parable to yourselves. Did you never offer requests which were of much the same character? You have been unable to trust God to give you day by day your daily bread, and therefore you have been craving for what you call “some provision for the future.” You want a more trusty provider than providence, a better security than God’s promise. You are unable to trust your heavenly Father’s word, a few bonds of some half-bankrupt foreign government you consider to be far more reliable; you can trust the Sultan of Turkey, or the Viceroy of Egypt, but not the God of the whole earth! In a thousand ways we insult the Lord by imagining “the things which are seen” to be more substantial than his unseen omnipotence. We ask God to give us at once what we do not require at present, and may never need at all; at bottom the reason for such desires may be found in a disgraceful distrust of him which makes us imagine that great stores are needful to ensure our being provided for. Brethren, are you not to blame here, and do you expect the Lord to aid and abet your folly? Shall God pander to your distrust? Shall he give you a heap of cankering gold and silver for thieves to steal, and chests of garments to feed moths? Would you have the Lord act as if he admitted the correctness of your suspicions and confessed to unfaithfulness? God forbid! Expect not, therefore, to be heard when your prayer is suggested by an unbelieving heart: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass.”

The next essential to continued success in prayer is child-like love: “That we should believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he gave us commandment.” The great commandment after faith is love. As it is said of God, “God is love,” so may we say that “Christianity is love.” If we were each one incarnations of love, we should have attained to the complete likeness of Christ. We should abound in love to God, love to Christ, love to the church, love to sinners, and love to men everywhere. When a man has no love to God, he is in the condition of a child without love to his father. Shall his father promise absolutely to fulfil all the desires of his unloving, unfilial heart? Or, if a child has no love to his brothers and sisters, shall the father trust him with an absolute promise, and say, “Ask and it shall be given thee?” Why, the unloving son would impoverish the whole family by his selfish demands; regardless of all the rest of the household, he would only care to indulge his own passions. His request would before long be— “Father, give me all the inheritance;” or, “Father, regulate the home to suit me, and make all my brothers submit to my wishes.” Vain of his personal appearance, like Absalom, who was proud of his hair, he would soon seek the kingdom for himself.

Few Josephs can wear the garment of many colours, and not become household tyrants. Who would allow a prodigal to run off with the estate? Who would be so unwise as to install a greedy, domineering brother in the seat of honour, above his brethren? Hence, you see that selfishness cannot be trusted with power in prayer. Unloving spirits, that love neither God nor men, cannot be trusted with great, broad, unlimited promises. If God is to hear us we must love God, and love our fellowmen; for, when we love God, we shall not pray for anything that would not honour God, and shall not wish to see anything happen to us which would not also bless our brethren. Our hearts will beat true to God and to his creatures, and we shall not be wrapped up in ourselves. You must get rid of selfishness before God can trust you with the keys of heaven; but when self is dead, then he will enable you to unlock his treasuries, and, as a prince, shall you have power with God and prevail.

Next to this, we must have childlike ways as well. Read the next verse: “He that keepeth his commandments, dwelleth in him, and he in him.” It is one of a child’s ways to love its home. The good child to whose requests its father always listens, loves no place so much as the dear old house where its parents live. Now he who loves and keeps God’s commandments is said to dwell in him— he has made the Lord his dwelling place, and abides in holy familiarity with God. In him our Lord’s words are fulfilled, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Faith and love, like two cherubic wings, have borne up the believer’s soul above the world, and carried him near to the throne of God. He has become like God, and now it is that his prayers are such as God can answer; but until he is thus conformed to the divine mind, there must be some limit to the potency of his pleadings. To dwell in God is needful to power with God.

Suppose one of you had a boy, who said, “Father, I do not like my home, I do not care for you; and I will not endure the restraints of family rule; I am going to live with strangers, but mark, father, I shall come to you every week, and I shall require many things of you; and I shall expect that you will give me whatever I ask from you.” Why, if you are at all fit to be at the head of the house, you will say, “My son, how can you speak to me in such a manner? If you are so self-willed as to leave my house, can you expect that I will do your bidding? If you utterly disregard me, can you expect me to support you in your cruel unkindness and wicked insubordination. No, my son; if you will not remain with me and own me as a father, I cannot promise you anything.” And so is it with God. If we will dwell with him, and commune with him, he will give us all things. If we love as he should be loved, and trust him as he ought to be trusted, then he will hear our requests; but if not it is not reasonable to expect it. Indeed, it would be a slur upon the divine character for him to fulfil unholy desires and gratify evil whims. “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he will give thee the desires of thine heart,” but if you have no delight in God, and he is not your dwelling place, he will not answer you. He may give you the bread of affliction and the water of affliction, and make life bitter to you, but certainly he will not give you what your heart desires.

One thing more: It appears from the text that we must have a child-like spirit, for “Hereby we know that he abideth in as, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” What is this but the Spirit of adoption— the Spirit which rules in all the children of God? The wilful who think and feel and act differently from God, must not expect that God will come round to their way of thinking and feeling and acting. The selfish who are actuated by the spirit of pride, the slothful who are actuated by the love of ease, must not expect that God will indulge them. The Holy Spirit if he rules in us, will subordinate our nature to his own sway, and then the prayers which spring out of our renewed hearts will be in keeping with the will of God, and such prayers will naturally be heard. No parent would think of listening to a wilful child, to a child that said, “I know my father does not wish me to have this, but I will have it.” Why, as a man you would not thus be twisted about by an upstart youngster. Shall God grant us that which we ask for when it is contrary to his holy mind? It must not be: such a possibility is not conceivable. The same mind must be in us which was also in Christ Jesus, and then we shall be able to say, “I know that thou hearest me always.”

But we must pass on, and occupy your attention for a few minutes, with another branch of the same subject.

II. In the second place we shall notice the prevalence of these essential things. If they be in us and abound, our prayers cannot be barren or unprofitable.

First, if we have faith in God, there is no question about God’s hearing our prayer. If we can plead in faith the name and blood of Jesus, we must obtain answers of peace. But a thousand cavils are suggested. Suppose these prayers concern the laws of nature, then the scientific men are against us. What of that? I will glory in giving these scientific men scope enough— I had almost said rope enough. I do not know of any prayer worth praying which does not come into contact with some natural law or other, and yet I believe in prayers being heard. It is said that God will not change the laws of nature for us, and I reply, “Whoever said he would!” The Lord has ways of answering our prayers irrespective of the working of miracles or suspending laws. He used to hear prayer by miracle, but as I have often said to you, that seems a rougher way of achieving his purpose; it is like stopping a vast machine for a small result, but he knows how to accomplish his ends and hear our prayers by I know not what secret means. Perhaps there are other forces and laws which he has arranged to bring into action just at times when prayer also acts, laws just as fixed, and forces just as natural as those which our learned theorizers have been able to discover. The wisest men know not all the laws which govern the universe, nay, nor a tithe of them.

We believe that the prayers of Christians are a part of the machinery of providence, cogs in the great wheel of destiny, and when God leads his children to pray, he has already set in motion a wheel that is to produce the result prayed for, and the prayers offered are moving as a part of the wheel. If there be but faith in God, God must either cease to be, or cease to be true, or else he must hear prayer. The verse before the text says, “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask, we receive of him.” He who has a clear conscience comes to God with confidence, and that confidence of faith ensures to him the answer of his prayer. Childlike confidence makes us pray as none else can. It makes a man pray for great things, which he would never have asked for if he had not learned this confidence; and makes him pray for little things which a great many are afraid to ask for, because they have not yet felt towards God the confidence of children.

I have often felt that it needs more confidence in God to pray to him about a little thing than about great things. We fancy that our great things are somewhat worthy of God’s regard, though in truth they are little enough to him; and then we imagine that our little things must be so trifling that it would be almost an insult to bring them before him; whereas, we ought to know that what is very great to a child may be very little to its parent, and yet the parent does not measure the thing from his own point of view but from the child’s. You heard your little boy the other day crying bitterly. His mother called him and asked what ailed him? It was a splinter in his finger. Well, that was a small affair, you did not want to call in three surgeons to extract it, or raise a hue and cry in the public press. Bring a needle, and we will soon set it right. Oh, but what a great thing it was to that pretty little sufferer, as he stood there with eyes all wet with tears of anguish. It was a great concern to him.

Now, did it occur to that boy that his pain was too small a thing, for his mother to attend to? Not at all; what were mothers and fathers made for but to look after the little wants of little children? And God our Father is a good father, he pities us as fathers pity their children, and condescends to us. He tells the number of the stars, and calls them all by their names, yet he heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds. The same God who kindles the sun, has said, “I will not quench the smoking flax.” If you have but confidence in God, you will take your great things and your little things to him, and he will never belie your confidence, for he has said they that trust in him shall never be ashamed or confounded, world without end. Faith must succeed.

But next, love must succeed too, since we have already seen that the man who loves in the Christian sense is in accord with God. If you confine your love to your own family, you must not expect God to do so, and prayers narrowed within that circle he will disregard. If a man loves his own little self, and hopes everybody’s crop of wheat will fail, that his own produce may fetch a higher price, he certainly cannot expect the Lord to agree with such mean selfishness. If a man has heart enough to embrace all the creatures of God in his affection, while he yet prays specially for the household of faith, his prayers will be consistent with the Divine mind. His love and God’s goodness run side by side. Though God’s love is like a mighty rolling river, and his is like a trickling brooklet, yet they both run in the same direction, and will both come to the same end. God always hears the prayers of a loving man, because those prayers are the shadows of his own decrees.

Again, the man of obedience is the man whom God will hear, because his obedient heart leads him to pray humbly, and with submission, for he feels it to be his highest desire that the Lord’s will should be done. Hence it is that the man of obedient heart prays like an oracle; his prayers are prophecies. Is he not one with God? Does he not desire and ask for exactly what God intends? How can a prayer shot from such a bow ever fail to reach its target? If your soul gets into accord with God’s soul, you will wish God’s own wishes. The difficulty is that we do not keep, as the word is, en rapport with God; if we did, then we should strike the same note as God strikes; and though his would sound like thunder, and ours as a whisper, yet there would be a perfect unison— the note struck by prayer on earth would coincide with that which sounds forth from the decrees in heaven.

Again, the man who lives in fellowship with God will assuredly speed in prayer, because, if he dwells in God, and God dwells in him, he will desire what God desires. The believer in communion with the Lord desires man’s good, and so does God; he desires Christ’s glory, and so does God; he desires the church’s prosperity, and so does God; he desires himself to be a pattern of holiness, and God desires it too. If that man at any time has a desire which is not according to God’s will, it is the result of ignorance, seeing that man is but man, and not God, even when he is at the best he must err; but he provides for this defect by the form of his prayer, which always has this addendum at the end of it— “Lord, if I have asked, in this my prayer, for anything which is not according to your mind, I beseech you, do not regard me; and if any wish which I have expressed to you— even though it be the desire which burns in my bosom above all other wishes— be a wish that is not right in your sight, regard me not, my Father, but, in your infinite love and compassion, do something better for your servant than your servant knows how to ask.” Now, when a prayer is after that fashion, how can it fail? The Lord looks out of the windows of heaven and sees such a prayer coming to him, just as Noah saw the dove returning to the ark, and he puts out his hand to that prayer, and as Noah plucked the dove into the ark, so does God pluck that prayer in unto him, and put it into his own bosom, and say, “You came out of my bosom, and I welcome you back to me: my Spirit gave you expression, therefore will I answer you.”

And here, again, let us say, our text speaks of the Christian man as being filled with God’s Spirit: “We know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” Who knows the mind of a man but the spirit of a man? So, who knows the things of God but the Spirit of God? And if the Spirit of God dwells in us, then he tells us what God’s mind is; he makes intercession in the saints according to the will of God. It is sometimes imagined that men who have prevalence in prayer can pray for what they like; but I can assure you any one of these will tell you that that is not so. You may call upon such a man and ask him to pray for you, but he cannot promise that he will. There are strange holdings back to such men, when they feel, they know not how or why, that they cannot pray effectual fervent prayers in certain cases, though they might desire to do so. Like Paul, when he attempted to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit did not allow him; so there are requests which we would naturally like to put up, but we are bound in spirit. There may apparently be nothing objectionable about the prayer; but the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he gives secret intimations when and where his chosen may hope to prevail. He gives you the promise that he will hear your believing prayer, you being a man that walks with him, filled with his Spirit; but he does not at the same time give you faith about every thing that everybody likes to put before you: on the contrary he gives you a discretion, a judgment, and a wisdom, and the Spirit makes intercession in the saints according to the will of God.

Thus I think I have laid down the doctrine pretty clearly. Now a few minutes of practical improvement, as the old Puritans used to say. I only wish it may be of improvement to many of us.

The first is, we want to pray for a great blessing as a church. I think I should command your suffrages if I said we intend to pray God to send a blessing on the church at large. Very well. Have we the essentials for success? Are we believing in the name of Jesus Christ? Well, I think we are. I do not think fault could be found with the soundness of our faith, though much is to be confessed about the weakness of it. Let us pass on to the next question. Are we full of love to God and one another? The double commandment is, that we believe on the name of Jesus Christ and that we love one another. Do we love one another? Are we walking in love? There are none of us perfect in it. I will begin to confess by acknowledging I am not what I should be in that respect. Will you let the confession go round, and each one think how often we have done unloving things, and thought unloving things, and said unloving things, and listened to unloving gossip, and held back our hand unlovingly when we ought to have rendered help, and put forth our hand unlovingly to push down a man who was falling?

If in the church of God there is a lack of love, we cannot expect prayer to be heard, for God will say, “you ask for prosperity. What for? To add more to a community which does not already love itself! You ask for conversions. What! to bring in others to join an unloving community.” Do you expect God to save sinners whom you do not love, and to convert souls whom you do not care a bit about? We must love souls into Christ, for, under God’s Holy Spirit, the great instrument for the conquest of the world is love, and if Christians will love more than Mahommedans do, and Jews do, they will overcome Mahommedans and Jews; and if they show less love, Mahommedans and Jews will overcome them. The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is the master weapon, and next to that, is the loving conduct and generous ways of Christians towards their fellow-men. How much of that have we got? Shall I say, how little?

Next, are we doing that which is pleasing in God’s sight? We cannot expect answers to prayer if we are not. Put the enquiry to yourselves all round. Let each church member, especially, answer that question. Have you been doing lately that which you would like Jesus Christ to see? Is your household ordered in such a way that it pleases God? Suppose Jesus Christ had visited your house this week, uninvited and unexpected: what would he have thought of that which he would have seen? “Oh,” says one, “I know so-and-so acts very inconsistently.” Sir, I pray you think of yourself! There is the point. Correct yourself. Unless the members of God’s church do that which is pleasing in his sight, they bar the door against prosperity; they prevent the prayers of the church from succeeding. Who wishes to be the man that stands in the way of the prosperity of God’s church through inconsistency of conduct? Who would be so guilty? God forgive some of you. We could speak of some even weeping, for, alas! though they profess to be the followers of Christ, they are so inconsistent that they are not friends, but enemies of the cross of Christ.

The next question is, do we dwell in God? The text says that if we keep his commandments God dwelleth in us and we in him. Is that so? I mean, during the day do we think of God? In our business are we still with God? A Christian is not to run unto God in the morning, and again at night, and use him as a shelter and a makeshift, as people do of an arch or a portico which they run under in a shower of rain; but we are to dwell in God, and live in him, from the rising of the sun until the going down thereof, making him our daily meditation, and walking as in his sight, feeling evermore, “Thou God seest me.” How is it with you, dear friends! O, let the question go from pew to pew and heart to heart, and mind— let each one answer for himself.

Lastly, does the Spirit of God actuate us, or is it another spirit? Do we wait upon God and say, “Lord, let your Spirit tell me what to say in this case, and what to do; rule my judgment, subdue my passions, keep down my baser impulses, and let your Spirit guide me. Lord, be thou to me better than myself; be soul and life to me, and in the triple kingdom of my spirit, soul, and body, good Lord, be thou supreme Master, that in every province of my nature your law may be set up, and your will may be regarded.” We should have a mighty church if we were all of this mind; but the mixed multitude are with us, the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt, and these fall a-lusting; the mischief always begins with them. God save us as a church from losing his presence! The mixed multitude must be with us to test us, for the Lord has said, “Let both grow together till the harvest,” and if we try to root up the tares we should root up the wheat also,— yet, at any rate, let us pray God to make the wheat be the stronger.

One of two things always happens in a church. Either the wheat chokes the weeds or the weeds choke the wheat. God grant that the wheat may overtop the weeds in our case. God grant grace to his servants to be strong enough to overcome the evil which surrounds them, and, having done all, to stand to the praise of the glory of his grace, who also hath made us accepted in the Beloved. The Lord bless you, and be with you evermore. Amen and Amen.