Embracing the Rock
by JOSEPH IRONS
Preached at Jewin Crescent Chapel, 1828
JOB was a man of God, and a man of truth; and his visiting friends were notorious Armininians, and these never very well agree. Job's visitors accuse him of injustice, selfishness, secret crimes, upon account of which God was now visiting him with just punishment; he replied to all their taunts and accusations, "My witness is in heaven, and my record is on high." (Job 16:19) If the dealings of God with men are regulated by their own conduct and merits, I ask how you will account for the distress, the persecutions, the sorrows, which the children of God suffer, and the prosperity which the wicked enjoy? Job, in pleading his cause, let all some most blessed truths, most precious sentences, most sacred statements; which, having a spiritual interpretation, have been a blessing to the Church in all ages. He, like our spiritual Boaz, let fall some handfuls in the field of the Church, from which we may glean something most precious and comforting to our souls. We have here the experience of the Lord's family, they "embrace the Rock for want of a shelter."
We have, first, the only refuge and asylum, the Rock; secondly, the conduct they embrace, the Rock; thirdly, the blessedness and security they realize in it.
I. I have been drawn to this text, having been led to embrace the Rock this day; so that I am about to speak to you from experience. We must notice here the company of refugees. They come, as he tells us in the verse before out text, "naked, and without clothing, and having no covering in the cold, wet with the showers of the mountains." They are refugees, ruined persons, houseless, homeless, driven out, ready to perish, so ruined, that they have not an atom of creature excellence, not one farthing to pay to the law, not a plea to bring before stern justice, no reason to assign why they should not be dealt with by the vengeance of the Almighty, they have no home, they are wanderers on the face of the earth. Ever since man was turned out of Eden, he has been a wanderer and a refugee, until he embraces the Rock. They have no friends; they are all over wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have no succour, and no helpers; and all the powers of darkness are pursuing them, for their everlasting ruin and destruction. But perhaps some of you are saying, "All this does not apply to us." My brother, if you do not know it, and feel its application, you are blinded by the god of this world. In the fall of Adam, every one is involved in ruin; and such of you as do not think that this applies to yourselves, are like the Church of Laodicea, "because thou sayest thou art rich, and increased with goods, and hast need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art poor, and blind, and naked." (Rev. 3:17) That boast is Arminianism, and ignorance is at the bottom of the system. They boast that they are rich, because they feel not that they are poor. Poor sinner, have you found it out? Has the Lord the Spirit convinced thee that thou art undone by sin, under the curse, and that all thy righteousness is only filthy rags? Until this is done, nothing is done for you. I feel more and more deeply the importance of using a bold hand to tear the rags of Arminianism, the tatters of self-righteousness, from men's backs; I feel more and more deeply the importance of the power of the Holy Ghost to discover to men their sin, their ruin, their thraldom. None prize Christ till they find that they are ruined refugees: none flee to Him for shelter till they feel they are rejected characters; when they find that they are outcasts, and ready to perish, and that none can harbour them, away they run to Moses, and ask for shelter from him. He shows the fiery law; he cries, "Pay me what thou owest!" (Matt. 18:28) he thunders out, "Cursed, cursed, cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them!" (Gal. 3:10) There is no shelter there. The poor wretch goes all round Mount Sinai again and again to court Moses to smile upon him, if possible. Not a smile can he obtain; there is nothing but the sound of the trumpet waxing louder and louder, and he exceedingly fears and quakes. But men will not come to the Rock yet; although rejected by Moses, away they go to self, they will find shelter in vows, resolutions, reformations, they will seek to find an asylum in their repentance, their prayers, their faith, they will seek to find a refuge in ordinances, duties, and religious exercises. You will never love Christ while this is the case. You must be rejected and an outcast; or finding shelter in anything beside Christ, you will never embrace the Rock. A man seeks refuge in his repentance, but he wants to be satisfied that his repentance is of such a kind and such a nature as shall render him acceptable in the sight of God. At length he finds that his repentance needs to be repented of; and there is no shelter for him there. And if his repentance is genuine and spiritual, it is the work of God, it is the gift of God, and there is no merit in it. Next he turns to faith, as multitudes in the present day are deceived, seeking shelter in believing, making faith meritorious, a condition and term of acceptance with God; thus taking shelter in something of their own. But when faith is assaulted by Satan, and an attack made upon it by unbelief, they will soon find that they want a better shelter. To suppose that faith is the price and condition of the atonement, and of the righteousness of Christ, is to give that credit to faith which belongs to its Author. When faith is attacked by some subtle Socinian, some deep-reasoning Infidel, some Sadducee, the man knows not how to meet the arguments adduced; he finds no refuge, no shelter there. He says to himself, "Whither can I flee? where can I hide?" He goes to creatures, to fellow-mortals. He asks, "Did you ever pass through such distress?" He inquires of the minister, "Can you tell me of a remedy?" The minister smites him, and takes away the veil. Away he goes to a Christian, he cannot understand him; he is bewildered and confused; he sighs out a suspicious that he is deceived. In the terror of his soul, the fear of dying, the dread of hell, houseless and homeless, he begins to cry for mercy "From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee; when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I." (Ps. 61:2)
My brother, let me ask, have you been rejected and refused by law and justice, found no shelter in frames, and feelings, and ordinances, found no security nor safety in faith or repentance, or duties? Oh, it is a mercy to be stripped, and exposed, and impoverished in our own sight and esteem, for then we look out of self and beyond mortals for a refuge. And this brings us to notice the only refuge and asylum, Christ. He is the Rock. Says the prophet, "A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest: as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." (Isa. 32:2) "The Lord is my rock, my refuge, my shield, my buckler," cries David. This Rock is the Rock of Ages. Mark its antiquity. The work, the dying, the suffering, the righteousness of Christ are of ancient date. He was set up from everlasting. The devil has stirred up a great mass of hatred against this word "eternal." I am astonished at the ignorance of the word of God, and of the being and perfections of Deity, which men must have, to suppose that anything emanating from the eternal mind can be otherwise than eternal. I cannot understand times and dates in reference to God and the things of God. He is the Rock of Ages, and the eternal Rock; and His offices, His covenant engagements are all eternal. The spiritual blessings with which the Father has blessed us in heavenly places in Christ are all eternal. I should not enjoy a promise with half the savour and relish, if I did not conceive it to be an eternal promise, copied from the Lamb's book of life, into this precious book, my Bible. Oh, what is all that is written here but an abstract of the decrees of heaven, an epitome of the covenant of grace, an extract from the book of life, copied out of the archives of glory? Our brothers and sisters above have no other Bible, it is the same truth above, sent down for the enjoyment of the family of God travelling home.
If a man will be so absurd as to assign the dates of time to the decrees of eternity, he is as bad as a dishonest lawyer, who, to suit his own purposes, or the caprice of his client, will fraudulently alter the dates of a deed or settlement submitted to him for his perusal. I would caution my hearers against such dishonesty. It is an insult to God. Before time began, before the foundations of the world were laid, before He made the curtains of night, or fixed the orb of day, before He spread the flowing deep, or built the mountains, He set up the Rock. "I was set up," says Christ, speaking in His wisdom character, "from everlasting." (Prov. 8:23) Let one thing be granted, was Christ Himself set up from everlasting for His Church? Deny this, and the whole Bible is denied at once. If this be conceded, then all salvation was set up in Him, pardon, peace, sanctification, perseverance, justification, glorification, all were set up in Him. When we see Christ set up as the salvation of His Church, and view all complete in Him, when we regard the operations and communications of His grace as emanating from the eternal purposes of God, and all things carried on according to His will and pleasure, then we see an asylum opened to all such refugees as I have described. Never an instance was known in which a poor guilty condemned ruined sinner betook himself to this rock and was rejected. He will be rejected by modern professors, by Pharisees, but he will never be rejected by the Rock, he will never be rejected by Christ the Son of God. I congratulate you poor sinner, lift up your head with joy. I bring you a proclamation of salvation that will suit the guilty, the vile, the diseased. Sinners, Jesus came to call, "Welcome to the Rock." Christ will receive you, and never cast you out, though your sins may be of the most awful description, of crimson hue, of the deepest dye. If your eyes are open, and your heart broken for sin, the Rock is open for you, flee to it and embrace it. Now, this Rock is so firmly fixed that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This thought afforded me much comfort amidst distressing circumstances. Every effort is made to prevail against this Rock, to overturn it from its base, or to divert the poor refugee from attaining to it. While many depart from the faith, and some have their faith overthrown, "nevertheless," says the apostle, "the foundation of God standeth sure." (2 Tim. 2:19) How blessedly he adds this "nevertheless;" though they have given heed to seducing spirits the foundation of God standeth sure, the foundation of his holy mountain, the blessed lofty rock, Christ is laid as a stone in Zion; attacked by the prince of darkness, and assailed by his emissaries upon earth, but never overthrown; a firm, unshaken, immovable, precious Rock. It is also a smitten Rock; they drank of that rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. If the Rock had not been smitten it would not have afforded shelter; it was smitten that you and I might not be smitten, it was smitten to afford a chasm, a cleft, a crevice in which you and I might hide, when the justice of God passes by.
Oh, the condescension of Christ, not only to be found as a Rock, but in the fullness of time to suffer Himself to be smitten. Mark how He stands to receive the smitings of God and man in the land of Judea. The law brings the rod, justice the sword, hell its malice, earth its rage, Jehovah His wrath, and the Rock is smitten to constitute an asylum for the sinner. When God the Holy Ghost leads them to it, they find it a high Rock, higher than they. "Oh," say some, "let us not have any more of those high things." No, you shall not, if you can get me down from this high Rock, high things are very blessed things. I want to get above self, above creatures, above man, above all that pertains to mortals. I want to get out of that filthy, dark, dirty dungeon, self; I am tired of self, I loath self, I must get above self to enjoy heavenly blessings, which are high blessings, proceeding from a high God, from a high authority, from a high office, a high King, a high dignity, a high glory "for Him the Father hath highly exalted." (Phil. 2:9) Beloved, are your feet upon the Rock? are you taking your stand there? you will never be too high if this is the case. It is too high if a man's head-notions are higher than his heart. He is really too high whose notions are higher than the experience of his bosom and the practice of his life; but he is not too high who rejoices in the perfection of the salvation of Christ; His covenant relationship and oneness with His Church, and whose heart is influenced to cling to the highest summit of the Rock, and whose steps and life are ordered and sanctified by that clinging. May God help me to climb high, and higher yet, and higher still; and we shall never be high enough till we shall see Him as He is, till we shall walk with Him in white, till we shall have climbed up to and sat down with Him upon His own throne. If the world count me too high, I look down with contempt upon the world and all that belongs to it. The higher we go the purer the air we breathe, the more extensive the prospect we attain. "Friend, come up higher," why so fond of Arminianism? why cling so to the dust? "Friend, come up higher."
II. We come now to notice the conduct of the refugees, they embrace the Rock. They cling to Him just as a shipwrecked man will cling to a rock on the shore, lest the waves dash him into the deep and drown him. So the awakened sinner clings to Christ, so the soul taught of God, when it has found the way to Mount Calvary, clings to the cross. Fix your attention upon a man naked, houseless, far from home, far from help, among storms, winds, and waves, see how he holds to the crag of the rock, how fast he hugs the shelter. "By night upon my bed I sought Him whom my soul loveth: I found Him, I held Him fast." (Songs 3:1,4) Oh, the mighty power of a clinging faith; a clinging faith is as safe, though not so triumphant, as a waiting, resting, confident faith. Whither under exposure to the law's curses, justice's demand, hell's terrors, have you fled for refuge? Helpless and defenceless, have you gone to Christ for shelter in His all-glorious work and suretyship? or have you fled for want of a home of safety and security for shelter elsewhere? Be not decoyed and allured by modern divinity; it is like a sea-boy upon a plank, saying to the man of the rock, "I will stay where I am, till the rock sink I cannot sink." Beware of leaky boats, which modern divines launch to take you to heaven, and cling to the Rock for want of a shelter. I will cling to it, though such is the depravity of my heart that I would not have embraced it if I could have found shelter anywhere else. Count this Rock very precious. I have heard of instances of mariners, and persons who have been wrecked, and who wanted a refuge, after having suffered the extremity of danger, when they have reached a safe place, falling down upon the ground and kissing the earth. Perhaps there may be some here who have done it; if there are any, they will say, that no expression, no language, could sufficiently set forth the delight they felt that they were once more in a place of safety, and again in a situation of security. Such an illustration only faintly sets forth the joy felt by the shipwrecked sinner, when he embraces the Rock for want of a shelter. Oh! the joy of having our feet firmly set upon the Rock, and our goings established. "O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise." Every expression of affection proves how precious the Rock is to the man who has embrace it; to the man fixed upon Christ He is altogether lovely, the chiefest among ten thousand. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth I desire beside thee." My Beloved, my Lord and my God. Suffer me to ask what you know of this preciousness of Christ to your heart? Is He embraced with heavenly ardour and Divine affection? To you which believe He is precious, delightful, valuable, reigning over your souls, standing highest in your affection, all your powers and faculties bending and bowing to His gracious sceptre.
III. We notice the security, advantage, and blessedness of embracing the Rock. Some have embraced Sociniaism, others have embraced Arminianism, and they might as well go and embrace a dunghill. When the Rock is precious to a man, when it becomes dear to his heart, when he becomes one of its inhabitants, then he has a right to sing. "Let the inhabitants of the Rock sing, for they are safe." Whoever is enabled to embrace the Rock is safe, the devil cannot hurt him; neither life nor death, time nor eternity, sickness nor health, pain nor pleasure, night nor day can injure him. His comforts may be marred, his prospects blighted, his consolations interrupted, but he is still on the Rock; he cannot be hunted, or driven out, or decoyed from it; he is an everlasting inhabitant of an everlasting Rock; he is kept from every evil, from the law's terrors, its curses, its commands, in a covenant sense; he is kept from all annoyances of the wilderness, the depravity of his heart, the malice of the price of darkness; he is kept secure from all. Jesus is engaged to protect, succour, and support His own Church. Now this Rock is amply stored with provisions, the inhabitants of it cannot be starved. Many have perished for want of a supply of food, even though they found an entrenchment, and a safe place. We eat the Rock itself, a precious Christ is the food of His saints. All who shelter there drink His blood and have life in themselves.
Embracing this Rock, and entering into it, we find kindred, and friends, and the whole Church of the firstborn sheltered there; and we are surprised as a wrecked sailor would be surprised, who, creeping into a cleft, discovers a vast cavity, in which he finds the ship's crew, in which he finds father, and mother, wife and children, and all his relations, got safe in there before him. So we find the whole election of grace, the ransomed of the Lord; brothers and sisters partakers of like precious faith; but not a Socinian, free-willer or an Infidel, or a Christ-despiser there. Embracing the Rock, they find an asylum every way congenial to their souls; they find kindred spirits there; they find all the Persons and perfections of the Deity in the Rock; and they then see that all the shipwreck that befell them, and the tempest that overtook them, was only to drive them to the best company, the company of a covenant God and His covenant people, and they learn to say, "Kind the wave, kind the billow, kind the storm," which has thus driven them to embrace the Rock. Though they have been obliged to leave many things behind them, yet they count them but dung and dross, that they may win Christ and be found in Him. Till then they thought it very hard to be driven backwards and forwards, up and down, by the violence of the waves; but when they have found Him, then they see that eternal love raised the tempest, and almighty goodness ruled the storm. Art thou in the sea, my brother, in mighty billows? Do the surges foam around thee? Bid them come faster, bid them come higher, they will drive thee the sooner to the Rock, where you will find kindred and friends sheltered before you. Oh, the mercy that placed the Rock in view! Oh, the condescension of Him who became a Rock for us! Oh, the hard heart of mortals which reject this Rock to the last! Oh, the vast, the rich, the sovereign grace which brings the sinner to rest upon this Rock, cling to it, and embrace it for want of a shelter.