Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.The Church a Blessing in the World
As a rule, the pious and good are of little value in the eyes of the world, and are despised often as foolish and 'narrow' men. The 'religious public' is spoken of contemptuously and scornfully. But God's judgment is a different one. It is the judgment that Abraham recognized when he pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of even (at length) ten righteous persons. It is the judgment of the text. The vinedresser is about to hew down the unfruitful tree, but espies a rich cluster in one part, and it is spared, and so orders are given that it shall be spared. Thus is the world itself indebted for its preservation to the 'cluster' of the righteous. The Church is the 'blessing' in the world. 'Ye are the salt of, the earth.' The text teaches us:—
I. Why God's Judgment on the World is Restrained.—1. Because He is a righteous God, Who will not destroy the guiltless with the guilty (Genesis 18:25). Rather will He remove the righteous from the world or save them from the danger (as Noah, Lot, Isaiah from the Babylonian exile, etc.).
2. Because He is a merciful God, Who must hear the prayers and petitions of His children and let Himself be entreated (Ezekiel 22:30). As a rule, we think too little of the power of prayer. If we only knew what a power it possesses and how it avails with God, we should knock at the door of heaven until heaven itself resounded (Psalm 50:14-15; St. Matthew 7:7; Matthew 7:18-20; Abraham, Jacob, David, Elias).
3. Because He is a wise God, Who has certain great purposes to fulfil, and proceeds with calm leisure to carry them out in His own way. He desires that none should perish, and He sets before the evil the example of the pious for their salvation. How many a trifling mind has been made serious by a single casually spoken word of the good? How many a home has been blessed because a pious Joseph is in it? How many a house prospered like the house of Obed-edom because of the ark of God? How many cities and lands are spared because of a 'cluster' of the good and holy in it? The land of Israel is not utterly corrupt, destroyed, and degenerate while there are the seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal—life in the very midst of putrefaction. The influence of pious men will be seen in eternity, if it is lightly esteemed here. There are great names in the world, artists, poets, sculptors, statesmen, princes, who have done great things, broken up new paths, provided bread for thousands; but what are these to 'the blessing' which Moses gave mankind in his law, David by his Psalms, St. Paul by his letters, Thomas à Kempis by his 'De Imitatione Christi,' Bunyan by his 'Pilgrim's Progress,' Charles Wesley by his 'Hymnology?' Truly a blessing is in it, this poor degenerate humanity. The text equally teaches us:—
II. Why God's Judgment on Individual Sinners is Restrained.—' Wherefore do the wicked live?' As long as there is a spark of good left, He will not quench it in anger, if it be even natural goodness, uprightness, like that of Nathanael, 'in whom there was no guile'; benevolence, as in Cornelius, 'thine alms are come up as a memorial before God'. He recognizes it, does not overlook it, fans it to a flame. And so the great Daysman, the Vinedresser, says, 'Spare it; there is a blessing in it'. The man is not all degenerate, his heart not all rottenness.
1. What an infinite mercy! We should long ago have given up the fickle, unfaithful man, but not so the mercy of our great God.
2. What a comfort! If we can only discern a spark in the ashes of our sinful hearts, a fire may yet be enkindled. Deal not rashly with yourself. Do not despair. There is a blessing in it.
3. What a warning! Not to judge harshly of our fellow-men, nor to condemn them as long as our Lord will hear them, and says, 'There is a blessing in it'. This may also teach us charity towards those who have for various reasons split up the Catholic Church of God into sects, parties, and denominations. So long as the fundamental truths are not cast aside, it is not all bad, though greatly to be deplored. There is a 'blessing in it,' some good in each.
References.—LXV. 8.—J. C. Miller, Disestablishment, p. 5. H. Hensley Henson, Christ and the Nation, p. 17. LXV. 16.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 237. LXV. 17-19.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2211.
On Keeping Young and Getting Old (Sunday School Anniversary)
I. You cannot quite see how a child can die a hundred years old. No, but it is possible for a man with a great weight of years to live and die just as hopefully and happily as a child lives. It is possible to have a very old body and a very young heart; and it is just as possible to be only thirty or forty years old, and yet to be as weary, and sad, and heavy-hearted, and gloomy-hearted, as if you were tottering down to the grave with a hundred winters on your shoulders.
II. A real Christian calls himself a child of God. It is no empty figure of speech. He is a child of God, and feels it. He is ever learning like a child, and he is as trustful as a child, and as restful; and he looks forward to a bigger life, and dreams beautiful dreams and his heart sometimes dances for joy, though his feet have not much spring and movement left in them. I tell you it is not the calendar and the birthday book that determine your age. It is the soul within, and the eyes you look out with, and the mind that thinks, and the heart that feels. It is health that makes young blood, not mere health of body, but health of spirit, health of temper, health of affection. A bad life, as this Prophet says, comes to bear the weight and weariness of a hundred years upon it.
III. There are three things in a child which makes child-life happy and beautiful—faith, hope, and love. Faith in God, mother, friends, and all men. Hope of tomorrow, hope for the years which are coming, hope of the better things which lie beyond; and love: the joy of loving, and the joy of being loved. There you have all the best things in a child's life. And these three things are in the life of every good man and woman. Certainly they are in the life of every Christian. They never leave him however long he lives. They are with him through all life's rough scenes. They are with him on his dying bed. Now abideth these three—faith, hope, and charity.
—J. G. Greenhough, Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, p. 150.
References.—LXV. 22.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 275. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. ii. p. 185. LXV. 24.—" Plain Sermons "by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. x. p. 208. LXVI. 1, 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1083. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 57. A. J. Parry, Phases of Christian Truth, p. 74. LXVI. 2.—Spurgeon Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2071. LXVI. 8.—R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 328. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1009. LXVI. 10.—Ibid. vol. xxxv. No. 2085. LXVI. 11.—J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 45. LXVI. 13.—P. M. Strayer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx.. 1901, p. 39. S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 1. J. T. Stannard, The Divine Humanity, p. 1. LXVI. 13.—T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 157. LXVI. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 992. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 332.
The Prayers of the Saints
All through the great ages of the Christian Church the people of God have been a people of prayer. They have had their faults, they have had their grievous inconsistencies, but, throughout, they have clung to the Throne of Grace, and, with all the differences which divide good and Christian people of the Church of God Today, the true men of Christ are men of prayer. The first evidence that a man shows in his life that there is a work of grace in his heart is his desire to pray. When St. Paul's heart was opened, St. Paul's lips were opened too, and somebody said at once, 'Behold, he prayeth'.
I. The measure of our real religion is the measure of our prayer-life, and no less the measure of our love to Christ is the frequency, the earnestness, the heartiness with which we come to God in prayer, because, depend upon it, what we really are before God is what we are when nobody is with us but Himself. Is it not a very lamentable thing to know how often there is a spirit of great earnestness in the public gathering, and yet that we go home to sometimes a very slight and slender approach to God in secret prayer? We catch the spirit of the day, and the spirit of the place, and the spirit of the people, and we seem to be in earnest, and we are; but how often we go home to a comparatively neglected Mercy-seat, and to an unknown God! Gauge your religious life by the earnestness and the heartiness and the warmth of your secret addresses to God.
II. The praying Christian is, above all, the Christian that grows and the Christian that thrives. It is so in the material life. The material life is built up not half so much, we should say, by the food which we eat, as by the atmosphere that we breathe The conditions of health are not only good food and pure water, but they are sweet air as well. And the soul that lives, and moves, and speaks, and thinks, and acts with a very distinct and definite sense of the Divine nearness is a thriving one and a growing one. There is feebleness and sickliness in the souls and the spiritual lives of those who are neglecting the secret Throne, but the breezes of heaven are blowing on those who are, again and again, kneeling at its Court.
III. Then the third thing is this. A praying Christian is the Christian who gets the most from God. The praying Christian is the Christian who gets everything from God. How is it that this is so? Because he goes where everything is; that is the reason, and no other. He goes to the Throne of Grace, where is the residue of grace. He goes to the very seat over which Jesus Christ not lingers but permanently sits, and Jesus Christ shows to those who come to Him in secret prayer what, otherwise, the world cannot see. The greatest trophies of the Christian soul that have ever been taken have been taken on the field of prayer. I believe with all my heart, that whether a prayer is answered, or whether it is unanswered, it is impossible for a Christian to syllable one single prayer without that prayer bringing in some way a blessing to his own soul. Some of our prayers seem to go a very long voyage, but they are not lost at sea, and it may happen that the prayer that is latest in port may, after all, be richest in blessing.
Let me offer three or four suggestions in reference to secret prayer.
1. First of all in prayer be careful that you have a cleansed conscience.
2. And, secondly, let there be a felt need. You cannot express a thing till you feel a need. We kneel down to pray, sometimes because it is the time to pray, or the place to pray, or the hour of prayer, not because we have a real urgent need that makes us importunate before God, and we feel we must speak to Him. Get a sense of need, and if you have not one, tell the Master so, and He will give it you, and you will find that the sense of need is a means of grace.
3. And then, thirdly, disentangle yourselves, if you can—it is difficult to do so sometimes—disentangle yourselves from the things that hinder you. The Apostle speaks of 'hindered prayers'. He says: 'That your prayers be not hindered'. They are hindered, perhaps, by their wretched coldness, perhaps by their want of faith, perhaps by their want of believing reverence to Jesus. Sometimes we hinder our own prayers by not being conformed to the Will of God because, if we are not willing to do the Will of God, how is it to be expected that He will trouble to do our will?
4. And then remember, fourthly, that prayer is not only an act, but a state and a spirit. God, I daresay, loves the act of prayer, but He likes the spirit of prayer better, because an isolated act of prayer on your own part or on mine may be absolutely unworthy.
5. And, lastly, remember that in the midst of all your weakness and infirmities, you have the power of God's Spirit to help you, if you will only ask for it. It is difficult to pray without the Spirit; it is drudgery. If we come pleading the merit, the mediation, and the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and trusting to the Spirit to help our infirmity, then depend upon it, again and again, in your believing experience, you shall know the truth of these glorious words and promise of the text: 'It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear'.
6. Learn to be definite. Generalities are the death of prayer, and they will kill the spirit of it. Learn to be thankful, because the way to get new blessings is to be thankful for old ones. Learn to trust, because God is worthy of our confidence. Learn to persevere, because God has plenty of time, and what He does not give Today He may give tomorrow. And learn to wait, because oftentimes the richest fruit is that which comes latest in the autumn. To such souls He graciously says, as He did to the humble suppliant who came to Him of old, 'Be it unto thee even as thou wilt'.
This text was quoted by Henry Venn in the last report he drew up for the Church Missionary Society. He pointed out that 'one of the richest promises of answer to prayer is given in immediate connexion with the full establishment of Christ's kingdom'.
I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;
A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;
Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;
Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.
Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom,
Your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the LORD, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills: therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom.
Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all.
And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.
And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for the herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me.
But ye are they that forsake the LORD, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number.
Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed:
Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.
And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name:
That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes.
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.
And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.