Disaster after disaster is proclaimed, for the whole land is laid waste. My tents are destroyed in an instant, my curtains in a moment.
Jeremiah 4:20, 30
"Suddenly are my tents spoiled." "When thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?"
I. THE CONFESSION. "Suddenly," etc. This confession.
1. Not that of the child of God, for his tents cannot be spoiled.
(1) The peace of mind which he enjoys. That rests on the sure basis of what Christ has done for him. The varied disturbing powers of this world cannot touch that. Nothing can separate him from the love of God (Romans 8. at end).
(2) The righteousness which God has given him. That springs from a source, and is sustained by a power, that is supernatural and therefore beyond the power of this world to give or take away.
(3) His most cherished possessions. True, the child of God is subject, like other men, and at times it seems more than other men, to sudden reverses of fortune, to loss, bereavement, and the other manifold sorrows of this life. But though he cannot but lose his earthly treasures, and deeply feel their loss, yet all the while his true treasure remains intact, for it is not here, but yonder. And even when with one hand God takes away his earthly treasures, with the other he so graciously ministers support and consolation that, in the might of a Divine faith and love, he is able to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord."
(4) His life. That is not capable of being spoiled. If he is called upon suddenly to lay it down, or to give it up amid much pain and distress, he is able to say, as dear old Richard Baxter did when he lay a-dying, and when asked by a friend how he was, "Almost well." Yes, the nearer death, the nearer life to the child of God. It is a blessed exchange for him, come how, come when, come where it will Therefore this confession cannot be his. But, as it was in the days of Jeremiah, it is:
2. The confession of the worldling and all those who are living without God. For their tents are suddenly spoiled.
(1) The peace of mind in which they often seem so established. To our eyes they appear not to be troubled, neither to be plagued as other men are (cf. Psalm 37.). How easy and unconcerned they are! but the text comes true to them. Remorse may suddenly spoil their tents. Like "Esau, who found no place of repentance, though," etc. The events of God's providence may be the spoiler; carrying off their riches, striking down their wealth, turning away their friends. Everything may seem to be slipping away from them. And then, oh how true our text is of them then! And the approach of death, with the "fearful looking for of judgment." And should none of these have succeeded in this life to shatter their false trust, how will the dread solemnities of God's judgment day certainly do this! See the consternation of those on the left-hand side of the Judge, who asked, "When saw we thee," etc.?
(2) The moral rectitude, the credit for righteous character, on which they have stayed their souls. This too may be, will be, suddenly spoiled. Sometimes sudden temptation will do this. Unguarded by any Divine power, the man's weak resolves give way under unusual pressure, and character is blasted and the good name gone, as m a moment. Transient visions of the Divine holiness, the claims and requirements of God's Law flashing upon him as did the lightnings from Mount Sinai, - such manifestations will reveal the man to himself, and "spoil his self-complacency forever. The light of eternity must do this. Tried by the standard God has given, self-righteousness must give way.
(3) His external prosperity on which his heart was fixed. To have nothing but what this world can give, and to have that suddenly taken away, as it often is, as at death it all must be, - whose should this confession be if not his of whom we are speaking?
(4) His life itself, to which he clung so tenaciously, oh, what a wrench that will be when the man to whom this life was all is by the hand of death ruthlessly torn away from it! And oftentimes this is sudden, unlooked for, at such an hour as he thinks not, as he has made up his mind that it will not come. Like him to whom God said, Thou fool!" These, then, are they from whom this confession - bitter lamentation and wail of woe rather should it be called - is heard. What agony of heart can be conceived more awful than that of the worldling and the godless, when "suddenly their tents are spoiled?" God grant it may not be ours. Note -
II. THE QUESTION, "What wilt thou do," etc.? Who can tell what the delirium of dismay and despair will drive a man to under such circumstances? See Judas the traitor. Suddenly his tent - the hope of his gains - was "spoiled," and we know what, in the remorse and despair which fastened upon him, he did. But some will harden themselves still more. Others will plunge into business, pleasure, sin, and there seek to drown the tortures of the mind. It is impossible to forecast what one and another will do, and least of all can they tell themselves. But it is God who asks this question, and that with the gracious intent that we should turn to him for the answer. Let us do so. Perhaps your tents are spoiled already. Before, therefore, you say what you will do, ask of God what thou shouldest do.
1. Is it thy inward peace, the calm and unconcern of thy life, that is spoiled? Then "acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace."
2. Is it thine estimate of thine own righteousness? Do not seek to mend or patch it up in any way (cf. Philippians 3.). Seek from Christ the righteousness that is of faith.
3. Is it thine earthly prosperity that is shattered? "Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth." Have your treasure for the future in heaven. There, "where neither moth nor rust," etc.
4. Is it thy very life that is being taken from thee? Oh, wait not until this tent is actually spoiled.
"To Jesus do thou fly, III. THE ORDER IN WHICH THIS CONFESSION AND QUESTION ARE PLACED. The question is asked before the spoiling takes place. Like as it is asked, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?' The intent is that we should, by turning to God and coming within his sure defense, escape that spoiling of our tents which must come on all not within that defense. And so in the other question, which is like unto it, the intent manifestly is that we should not neglect so great salvation. Then let this good will of the Lord be done. Come over amongst those whose tents cannot be spoiled, and away from those upon whom the spoilers shall fall certainly, suddenly, and soon. - C.
III. THE ORDER IN WHICH THIS CONFESSION AND QUESTION ARE PLACED. The question is asked before the spoiling takes place. Like as it is asked, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?' The intent is that we should, by turning to God and coming within his sure defense, escape that spoiling of our tents which must come on all not within that defense. And so in the other question, which is like unto it, the intent manifestly is that we should not neglect so great salvation. Then let this good will of the Lord be done. Come over amongst those whose tents cannot be spoiled, and away from those upon whom the spoilers shall fall certainly, suddenly, and soon. - C.
I. Our first sorrowful theme is SUDDEN BEREAVEMENTS. Alas! alas! how soon may we be childless; how soon may we be widowed of the dearest objects of our affections! Ah! this were a sad world indeed, if the ties of kindred, of affection, and of friendship all be snapped; and yet it is such a world that they must be sundered, and may be divided at any moment.
Suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment.terra firma, but there is nothing firm upon it; it is tossed to and fro like a troubled sea evermore. We are never for any long time in one stay; change is perpetually operating. Nothing is sure but that which is Divine; nothing is abiding except that which cometh down from heaven.
I. A SUDDEN SPOILING HAPPENS TO HUMAN RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. Let us look at the history of human righteousness, and begin in the garden of Eden, and lament the fall. Adam in his perfection could not maintain his righteousness, how can you and I, who are imperfect from the very birth, hope to do so?
2. A second instance of this very commonly occurs in the failure of the moralist's resolutions. See yonder young people, tutored from their childhood in everything that is good: their character is excellent and admirable, but will it so abide? Will not the enemy despoil their tents?
3. Another liability of human righteousness is one which I must not call a calamity, seeing it is the commencement of the greatest blessing: I mean when the Spirit of God comes to deal with human righteousness, by way of illumination and conviction. Here we can speak of what we know experimentally. How beautiful our righteousness is, and how it flourishes like a comely flower till the Spirit of God blows upon it, and then it withers quite away, like the grass in the hot sirocco. The first lesson of the Holy Ghost to the heart is to lay bare its deceivableness, and to uncover before us its loathsomeness, where we thought that everything was true and acceptable. I would ask all who are under conviction of sin to answer this question, "When thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?" May you reply, "We know what we will do. We will flee from self to Jesus. Our precious things are removed, and our choice treasure is taken from us; therefore do we take the Lord Jesus to be our all in all."
4. But there will come to all human righteousness one other time of spoiling, if neither of those should happen which I have mentioned before. Remorse will come, and that very probably in the hour of death, if not before.
II. The words of our text are exceedingly applicable to THE SPOILING OF ALL EARTHLY COMFORTS.
1. Sudden destruction to all our earthly comforts is common to all sorts of men. It may happen to the best as well as to the worst. As darts the hawk upon its prey, so does affliction fall upon the unsuspecting sons of Adam. As the earthquake on a sudden overthrows a city, so does adversity shake the estate of mortals.
2. Sudden trial comes in various forms. Here below nothing is certain but universal uncertainty. One way or another, God knoweth how to bring the rod home to us, and to make us smart till we cry out, "How suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment."
3. Now this might well be expected. Do we wonder when we are suddenly deprived of our earthly comforts? Are they not fleeting things? When they came to us did we receive a lease of them, or were we promised that they should last forever? All that we possess here below is God's property; He has only loaned it out to us, and what He lends He has a right to take back again. We hold our possessions and our friends, not upon freehold, but upon lease terminable at the Supreme Owner's option; do you wonder when the holding ceases?
4. Since these calamities may be expected, let us be prepared for them. "How?" say you. Why, by holding all earthly things loosely; by having them as though you had them not; by looking at them as fleeting, and never expecting them to abide with you.
5. Let us take care to make good use of our comforts while we possess them. Since they hastily fly by us, let us catch them on the wing, and diligently employ them for God's glory. Let us commit our all to the custody of God, who is our all in all. Such a blessed thing is faith in God that if the believer should lose everything he possesses here below he would have small cause for sorrow so long as he kept his faith.
6. But let us solemnly remind you that in times when we meet with sudden calamity God is putting you to the test, and trying the love and faith of those who profess to be His people. "When thou art spoiled, what writ thou do?" You thought you loved God: do you love Him now? You said He was your Father, but that was when He kissed you; is He your Father now that He chastens you?
III. There may come A SUDDEN SPOILING OF LIFE ITSELF. In a moment prostrated by disease and brought to death's door, frail man may well cry out, How suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment!"
1. It is by no means unusual for men to die on a sudden.
2. Not one man or woman here has a guarantee that he or she shall live till tomorrow. It is almost a misuse of language to talk about life insurance, for we cannot insure our lives; they must forever remain uninsured as to their continuance here. "When thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?" When on a sudden the curtains of our tent shall rend in twain, and the tent pole shall be snapped, and the body shall lie a desolate ruin, what shall we then do? I will tell you what some of us know that we shall do. We know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. As poor, guilty sinners we have fled to Christ for refuge, and He is ours, and we know that He will surely keep what we have committed to Him until that day: therefore are we not afraid of all that the spoilers can do. We are not afraid of the spoiler; but, O worldling, when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Let us learn to sit loose by our dearest friends that we have on earth. Let us love them — love them we may, love them we should — but let us always learn to love them as dying things. Oh, build not thy nest on any of these trees, for they are all marked for the axe. See thou the disease of mortality on every cheek, and write not "eternal" upon the creature of an hour.
2. Take care that thou puttest all thy dear ones into God's hand. Thou hast put thy soul there, put them there. Thou canst trust them for temporals for thyself, trust thy jewels with Him. Feel that they are not thine own, but that they are God's loans to thee; loans which may be recalled at any moment — precious benisons of heaven, not entailed upon thee, but of which thou art but a tenant at will.
3. Further, you who are blessed with wife and children and friends, take care that you bless God for them. Sing a song of praise to God who hath blessed you so much more than others.
4. And then permit me to remind you that if these sudden bereavements may come, and there may be a dark chamber in any house in a moment, and the coffin may be in any one of our habitations, let us so act to our kinsfolk and relatives as though we knew they were soon about to die.
II. SUDDEN DEATH, AS WE VIEW IT MORE PARTICULARLY IN RELATION TO OURSELVES. There are a thousand gates to death. How many there be who have fallen dead in the streets! How many sitting in their own homes! Well, our turn must come. Perhaps we shall die falling asleep in our beds after long sickness, but probably we shall be suddenly called in such an hour as we think not to face the realities of eternity. Well, if it be so, if there be a thousand gates to death, if all means and any means may be sufficient to stop the current of our life, if really, after all, spiders' webs and bubbles are more substantial things than human life, if we are but a vapour, or a dying taper that soon expires in darkness, what then?
1. Why, first, I say, let us all look upon ourselves as dying men, let us not reckon on tomorrow. Oh! let us not procrastinate; for taken in Satan's great net of procrastination, we may wait, and wait, and wait, till time is gone, and the great knell of eternity shall toll our dissolution.
2. And then take care, I pray you, that you who do know Christ not only live as though you meant to die, but live while you live. Oh, what a work we have to do, and how short the time to do it in!
3. And let us learn never to do anything which we should not wish to be found doing if we were to die. We are sometimes asked by young people whether they may go to the theatre, whether they may dance, or whether they may do this or that. You may do anything which you would not be ashamed to be doing when Christ shall come.
III. THE SUDDEN CHANGE WHICH A SUDDEN DEATH WILL CAUSE. You see yonder Christian man. he is full of a thousand fears, — he is afraid even of his interest in Christ, he is troubled spiritually, and vexed with temporal cares. You see him cast down and exceeding troubled, his faith but very weak; he steps outside yon door, and there meets him a messenger from God, who smites him to the heart, and he is dead. Can you conceive the change? Death has cured him of his fears, his tears are wiped away once for all from his eyes; and, to his surprise, he stands where he feared he should never be, in the midst of the redeemed of God, in the general assembly and church of the first-born. If he should think of such things, would he not upbraid himself for thinking so much of his trials and of his troubles, and for looking into a future which he was never to see? See yonder man, he can scarcely walk, he has a hundred pains in his body, he is more tried and pained than any man. Death puts his skeleton hand upon him, and he dies. How marvellous the change! No aches now, no casting down of spirit, he then is supremely blest, the decrepit has become perfect, the weak has become strong, the trembling one has become a David, and David has become as the angel of the Lord. But what must be the change to the unconverted man? His joys are over forever. His death is the death of his happiness — his funeral is the funeral of his mirth.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Wise to do evil.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(H. G. Salter.)
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