"Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more." -- Proverbs 31:6, 7.
These somewhat singular sentences were spoken by the mother of Lemuel to her son, who was probably Solomon. She had already said to him, "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted." But such a king as Solomon was must have had an abundant store of wine of all kinds, so his mother urged him to give it to the sick and the sad and the poor who needed it more then he did. The Jews were in the habit of giving a cup of strong drink, usually with some potent drug in it, to stupefy those who were about to be executed. Perhaps that is the meaning of the words, "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish." We know too how persons who have been very weak and ill, on the very borders of the grave, have often been medicinally relieved by wine given to them which they could not possibly purchase for themselves. I believe this is the literal meaning of the text, and that if any man should be wicked enough to draw from it the inference that he would be able to forget his misery and poverty by drinking, he would soon find himself woefully mistaken; for if he had one misery before he would have ten miseries afterwards; and if he was previously poor he would be in still greater poverty afterwards. Those who fly to the bottle for consolation might as soon fly to hell to find a heaven; and instead of helping them to forget their poverty, drunkenness would only sink them still more deeply in the mire.
I am going to use my text spiritually for I believe it has a far deeper meaning than that which glistens upon its surface. There are many persons who are doubting and despairing, spiritually "ready to perish," and there is in the Word of God a rich store of comforting truths which are far more cheering to the spirit than wine can ever be to the body; and we are to give this gospel cordial to those who are heavy of heart, that they may drink and forget their misery and remember their doubts and despair no more.
In attempting to obey the precept of the text, I am going to speak upon three topics; first, that there is a most comforting cordial in the gospel; secondly, that it is our duty and privilege to give this cordial to all who need it; and thirdly, that when it is given to such people it is their duty and privilege to drink it, and forget their spiritual poverty and misery.
I. So first, there is most comforting cordial in the Gospel. Dr. Watts truly sings --
"Salvation! oh, the joyful sound!
Tis pleasure to our ears;
A sovereign balm for every wound,
A cordial for our fears."
I will take first, the case of a true believer in Jesus who is sorely tried with cares and losses and crosses. I will suppose that you have come in here to-night dreading what may happen to you to-morrow. Perhaps your trouble my brother, is that your business is failing and that want is staring you in the face. Possibly you, my sister, are sorrowing over that dear child who lies in her little coffin in the quiet room upstairs at home. Or it may be that you, my friend, have a sick wife, and day by day you see fresh signs and tokens of the great loss that is surely awaiting you. I cannot mention all the causes of sad heart in the believing members of this great assembly, but my Master has sent me here with his own blessed cordial, which is more than sufficient to comfort every sorrowing saint here.
Remember beloved, that all that happens to you comes in the course of divine providence. Your loving heavenly Father has foreseen, foreknown, and I venture to say, foreordained it all. The medicine you have to drink is very bitter, but the unerring Physician measured all the ingredients drop by drop, and then mixed them in the very way in which they could best work for your highest good. Nothing in this world happens by chance. That great God - who sitteth upon the circle of the heavens, to whom all things that he hath made are but as the small dust of the balance, who maketh the clouds his chariot, and rideth upon the wings of the wind - that same God careth for you with such special care that he has even numbered the very hairs of your head and put your tears in his bottle. You may therefore rest assured that even those experiences which are causing you so much sorrow are all in accordance with his eternal counsel and decree. Doth not this divine cordial make you forget your poverty and remember your misery no more?
Remember too that everything that happens to believers is working for their present and lasting good. "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." If you could have chosen your own circumstances and condition in life, you could not have made so wise a choice as God has made for you. The gardener knows where his plants will flourish best. Some of them might wish to grow in the sunshine although like the fern family they are better in the shade. Some of them would prefer to be on yonder mossy bank, but the gardener puts them in sandy soil because he knows that it is better suited to the requirements of their nature. You may depend upon it that there never was any earthly father who was so attentive to the needs of his child as your heavenly Father is to yours. When you decide as to the occupation you think is best for your son to follow, you may select the very career that will prove to be his ruin; but when God plans your future he takes more care in arranging for you than you do in arranging for your boy. Seeing as he sees the end from the beginning, which you cannot see either for yourself or for your child, he chooses for you with infinite and unerring wisdom. Do not wish to have it otherwise dear brother or sister in Christ; be not only content with such things as you have, but say with David "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage." So I say, drink this divine cordial and forget your poverty, and remember your misery no more.
Moreover beloved friend, dost thou not know that the Lord Jesus Christ is with thee in all thy poverty and misery? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego never realized the presence of the Son of God so blessedly until they were cast alive into Nebuchadnezzar's burning fiery furnace; but his presence with them there was so manifest that even the heathen king exclaimed, "I see four men loose walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." There is many a child who has no special petting and fondling so long as it keeps well; but as soon as it is ill it seems as though all the mother's love was concentrated upon that particular member of the family; and it is to you who specially need such a cheering message that the Lord says, "As one whom his mother comforteth so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted." It was to his ancient people that he gave the gracious promise, and it was concerning them that it was said "In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old." It is thus that he still tenderly and lovingly deals with his tried and afflicted people, and this thought ought to be like a cordial to make them forget their poverty and misery.
I might keep on all night trying thus to comfort tried saints, but I must content myself by giving them just one more sip of this divine cordial, and that shall be this - remember how soon all these trials will be over. Be of good courage, weary pilgrim; the heavenly mansion where thou art to rest for ever is almost in sight; and thou mayest well sing --
"My Father's house on high,
Home of my soul! how near,
At times, to faith's foreseeing eye,
Thy golden gates appear!"
How fast the years fly by, and our trials and troubles are flying just as fast. Beloved, Paul truly wrote concerning "our light affliction which is but for a moment;" for after all, our afflictions are only like a troubled dream, a little starting in the sleep of life, and then we wake to sleep no more for ever. This world is, to the believer, like a country inn by the wayside, where there are many constantly coming and going, and there are such disturbing noises that no one can rest. Well, never mind, thou art only tarrying there for one short night, and then thou shalt be up and away to thine eternal home, to go no more out for ever. Will not this divine cordial make thee forget thy poverty and remember thy misery no more?
Now I will take the case of a true believer in Jesus who is suffering from soul-desertion. You, my friend, are inclined to say with Heman the Ezrahite, "O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee!.... Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.... Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?" You are even inclined to think that you now can understand that cry of Christ upon the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The Lord seems to turn a deaf ear to your supplications, prayer itself is a heavy burden to you, you have no comforting visions of the Saviour's face, past seasons of holy enjoyment are only remembered by you with regret that you no longer have such happy experiences; even when you turn to the Word of God itself, your eye seems to fix only upon the threatenings, and never to notice the many "exceeding great and precious promises"; and your soul is "ready to perish" in despair. Well, my poor brother, if there ever was a time when you needed the spiced wine of God's covenant faithfulness, and the luscious, nutritious nectar of Jesus Christ's everlasting love, it is now. I wonder what Arminians do when they are seized with this kind of spiritual ague, and shake in terror from head to foot; I know that when I have these attacks - and I do have them very badly sometimes - I turn to those texts that say most about God's free and sovereign grace, and I try to get the marrow and fatness out of them to feed my starving soul. Those who spiritually "do business in great waters" find that nothing will serve their turn but God's eternal decrees, God's unchanging purposes, God's never-failing faithfulness, God's distinguishing, discriminating grace; at least that is my own experience, and I urge you my despairing brother or sister, to take a deep draught of the same divine cordial that you may forget your spiritual poverty, and remember your misery no more. You are not likely to turn the high doctrines of the gospel to evil account, so come and feed upon them till your soul is satiated with these dainties of your Lord's banqueting house. Accept his own gracious invitation, "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."
Among the other comforting things that I should say to those suffering from soul-desertion would be this - Remember brother, if you ever were a child of God you are a child of God now. You pass through many changes, but you have a Saviour who is ever the same; "Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, and today, and forever." You have your ups and downs, you change with every phase of the moon; but with the great "Father of lights" there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning." We rightly sing --
"Unchangeable his will
Whatever be my frame;
His loving heart is still
Eternally the same:
My soul through many changes goes,
His love no variation knows."
He never began a work of grace in anyone and then left it unfinished. He never adopted a child into his family and then cast him out to perish. The Lord Jesus Christ never first married any soul and then divorced her, for he hateth putting away. He will never part with any member of his mystical body; if he could do such an outrageous thing he would himself be incomplete. So, my despairing brother, I say to you that if you have ever had the light and the love of God in your soul, not only are you still a saved man, but the time will yet come when you will know that it is so. Like Jonah you will yet come up out of the depths, and with him you will ascribe all the glory of your salvation unto the Lord.
I want also to try to comfort some true believers in Jesus who are afraid they are not really the Lord's. I am glad that John Bunyan mentioned some of their names in his immortal allegory, for we still have among us swarms of people who answer to his description of Mr. Fearing, Mr. Feeble-mind, Mr. Despondency and his daughter Miss Much-afraid, Mr. Ready-to-halt, a Mr. Little-faith, though we have only here and there a Mr. Great-heart, or a Mr. Stand-fast, or a Mr. Valiant-for-Truth. Well dear friends, if you are here to-night let me remind you that although you are the little ones in God's family, you are not little in God's sight. He loves you just as much as he loves the greatest saint who ever lived. When the Lord gave the commandment to Moses concerning the ransom for every soul numbered among the children of Israel, it was expressly stated "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls." It is the same in the atonement wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ, it cost him just as much and no more, to ransom the least of his people or the greatest, and he loves them equally. He may use some of them as his instruments more than he uses others, but he has the same regard for all of them. If he ever makes any difference in his treatment of them, it is the weak ones who have the preference; he carries the lambs in his bosom, but he allows the strong sheep to follow in his track.
So be of good comfort, you feeble folk who belong to Christ, and remember also that little saints are just as safe as big saints. If we are with Christ in the vessel of his Church we are just as safe as all the rest of those on board; and we may rest assured that we shall never perish, for if we could Christ would perish too, and that can never be. The greatest saint who ever served his Lord with apostolic zeal or even Christlike self-sacrifice, has to rely for his salvation upon the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the feeblest saint has to do just the same, and the one is no more saved and safe than is the other. So Mr. Fearing and Miss Much-afraid, drink that diving cordial and be no longer either doubtful or sad.
I think my text has also a special message to the sinner who is heavy of heart and desponding in spirit. To such an one I would present the gospel cordial thus. My friend, remember that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." That word "sinners" includes you; and if you ask me "What must I do to be saved?" I answer as Paul did when that question was put to him, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." So, as you are commanded to believe on Christ, to rely upon him, to trust to him to save you, it cannot be presumptuous on your part to do so. Jesus Christ is "mighty to save;" he is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him. If there is a sinner here who is so bad that I could not describe his case to you, he is not too bad for Christ to save; then why dost thou despair, O thou who art "ready to perish," seeing that God has given up his well-beloved Son to die for just such sinners as thou art? Thy sins are great, I know, and they cry aloud for punishment; but the moment that thou dost repent of them, and trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse thee from them, thou shalt be made perfectly whole. Thy sins shall be so completely put away that God says that if they are searched for, they shall not be found; yea, they shall not be. They shall be as absolutely annihilated as if thou hath never committed them. What more comforting cordial than that canst thou possibly have set before thee? Then drink of it, and forget thy poverty, and remember thy misery no more.
II. I can only speak very briefly upon the second point, which is that it is our duty and privilege to give this cordial to all who need it.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I want you all to obey the injunction of the text by giving this gospel cordial to those who are heavy of heart and "ready to perish." Some of you can do this by talking to them of your own experience. When you meet with doubting and desponding souls, tell them how the Lord delivered you from old Giant Despair's grim dungeon in Doubting Castle; remind them of that key called Promise which can unlock the doors of the prison where they lie bound in fetters of iron. We are told that Origen, so long as his strength permitted, used to go to the prisons where the Christians were confined during the Decian persecution, and afterwards went with them to the stake, comforting them from the Scriptures which he had found to be such a support to his own soul; imitate him so far as you can even though Christians are not now persecuted unto death.
Many of you can give away this gospel cordial by visiting the sick and the poor. In so vast a church as this, it is impossible for the pastor or elders to visit all the members, much less can they visit all who compose our great congregation; so I would urge you to do the visiting yourselves as far as you are able. Especially would I invite you who are the most deeply experienced in the things of God to find out the sin and the sorrowing in your own neighbourhoods, and to comfort them with the comfort wherewith you yourselves have been comforted of God.
Then, many more of you than are at present doing it, can give away this gospel cordial by preaching wherever and whenever you have the opportunity. In such a city as London, where every street corner can furnish a pulpit, and every street can supply a congregation, there is no excuse for the man with only one talent if he does not use it for Christ. The good news you have to tell, my brother, is so sweet that it should be told over and over and over again till every gale shall spread the tidings to --
"All people that on earth do dwell."
I pray the Lord also to raise up many brothers and sisters from our midst to go to "the regions beyond" as missionaries of the cross, and to move you who cannot yourselves preach, to give of your substance either for the training of our brethren in the College or for the support of those who are called of God to preach and teach the Word in distant lands where Jesus is not known. "In that way, you too will be helping to give the gospel cordial to those who are heavy of heart and ready to perish."
III. Now lastly and but briefly, when this Gospel cordial is given to such people it is their duty and privilege to drink it and forget their spiritual poverty, and remember their misery no more.
We can bring a horse to the water but we cannot make him drink it; and we can carry this gospel cordial to the sinner, but only the Holy Spirit can sweetly constrain him to take a full, deep draught of it. I have been trying to give this cordial again to-night to those who need it, as indeed I have been doing ever since the Lord first opened my mouth to speak for him; but what about your part of the business, my dear hearers? It is my duty and privilege to preach the gospel, but it is just as much your duty and privilege to believe it when it is preached. "Faith cometh by hearing;" but, alas! there are many who hear the Word who are like those of whom the apostle wrote, that "the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." To have the healing medicine in thy hand and yet not to drink it is to commit spiritual suicide; I beseech thee, sinner, not to add that crowning crime to all thine other iniquities; but I pray thee this very hour to accept the proferred boon. The water of life is set before thee; drink and live. The bread of life is placed within thy reach, why should thine immortal soul be starved and perish?
Dost thou fear that thou art too black a sinner to be saved? Remember Agur's words concerning one of the "four things which are little upon the earth," but which "are exceeding wise." He said, "The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces." It may be, that Agur had seen a big black spider in Solomon's palace, and that as he mused upon it, he said to himself, "That ugly creature is very wise, for there was a great storm coming on, and her usual home would have been unsafe; so looking about for a place of shelter she espied an open window in the king's palace, and in she went. She had no right there, no one had invited her, but there she was." Now, poor sinner, that spider was not as full of venom as thou art full of sin; there is a greater storm coming on than that spider dreaded, and the door of God's mercy is as surely open as was that window in Solomon's palace; and thou art invited to enter as that spider never was invited. O sinner, be at least as wise as a spider, and come in to God's royal palace of salvation; for once thou art inside, thou shalt never be cast out!
Art thou still afraid to come to Jesus? Then let me remind thee of that poor woman who came and touched the hem of his garment, and was instantly cured of her long-standing malady. You remember that she was ceremonially unclean, she had no business to be in a crowd; yet she was so eager to be healed that she worked her way through the throng until she was near enough to Jesus to touch the border of his seamless robe, for she said, "If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole." She did so, and Christ at once honored her faith and gave her the gracious assurance that she might "go in peace," and keep the cure that she had, as it were, obtained by stealth. O sinner, wilt thou not be as wise as that poor woman was? Thou needest not attempt to steal the blessing for thou art invited to come and take it openly. Jesus still says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Rest is what you need - rest of mind, rest of heart, rest of conscience; that rest can only come to you by faith, "for we which have believed do enter into rest." O ye poverty-stricken and miserable sinners, believe in Jesus; take his yoke upon you and learn of him, for so shall you find rest unto your souls; and then shall you also realize that "there remaineth" another rest, a fuller and yet more blessed one, even that eternal "keeping of Sabbath" which is the blissful portion of all "the people of God." There is the divine cordial which we are commanded to place within your reach; drink it and forget your poverty and remember your misery no more. God bless you, for Jesus' sake! Amen.