The Church Trials and Consolations
by J. J. WEST
Preached on Wednesday evening, September 5th, 1860
When I last occupied this pulpit I think my subject was the calling in of a notorious profligate to a knowledge of him "whom to know is life eternal;" and as certain as Christ is the Son of God, so sure it is that every elect sinner shall be called to a feeling sense of guilt and sin, and to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as the Saviour; and the sinner made to seek in earnest shall realize that on which I am about to speak in the text before us. I have before said, my hearers, to some of you, I do not know why we take a text at all. It is a custom. But when a man stands in the position I now occupy before you, it is to preach the Gospel; in so doing we have only one subject, only one text "Christ and him crucified." And so I, with the Apostle Paul, am "determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2) I would know nothing among you save "Jesus Christ and him crucified."
In the reading of the first chapter, which we Churchmen call a "lesson," I caught, just now, and with some unction to my soul, these words "But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." (Amos 6:6) I could have taken them as a text. You heard also in that chapter what they did do, and you heard also the summing up of it all" that they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph."
Now there is not a man nor a woman in this house of prayer who can understand anything of a Saviour not a man nor a woman here who has a desire to seek a Saviour unless the Third person in the Godhead has convinced you of your own personal sin, depravity, and guilt. The first work of God the Spirit on a saved sinner's soul is the conviction of sin that we are sinners and wherever there is a conviction of sin, depravity, and guilt, there will be, there must be, deep heart-sorrow and conviction, and a cry for mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.
Now my text contains vast subjects, subjects which I shall not get through in a sermon. "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
O! look at the love of that! I am here, my hearers, "drawing a bow at a venture." I may be speaking to some who know nothing of that "peace" some to whom Christ has not spoken "these things." Let me ask each one in this Church. Has Christ spoken at all to you? Do you call this going too far. Has the God of all grace spoken to your heart? Have you been arrested as Zaccheus was? My subject here a month ago was on these words Zaccheus, make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thy house." (Luke 19:5) There is the effectual call. Now the first head in my text is distinctly this "These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace." Now what do I deduce from these words? That God speaks to his own people that he begins the work in the saved sinner's heart and here is the distinction between Protestantism and Popery. We hear a great deal of discussion about what Popery is; but what is the distinction between Protestantism and Popery? The Papist contends, in the pride of his heart, that he begins with God; the Protestant, and the man who is taught of God, says that God begins with the sinner! Popery works for life, Protestantism says that we can do nothing till Divine life is put into the sinner's heart; and hence the child of God, taught of him works not for life, but from life. Do you see the difference, my hearers?
Now what are these things that I am to preach to you? Look at the context. What are "these things" specially referred to? "These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended." (John 16:1)
To sum up all in one word they ("these things") describe the persecutions which the Church of God must always experience they set forth the trials, the troubles of the way, and also the consolations and comfortings and the peace that is in him.
Last evening, in the vestry at St. Barnabas, a friend, asking me about a faithful brother clergyman, Mr. Harris (whom some of you know) and, on my mentioning the persecution that he is now undergoing for the gospel which he is faithfully preaching in Somersetshire "Ah!" said my friend, he must be hated of all for Christ's sake." Beloved" If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:19) Mark that! That is Christ's own word Did not the world hate Christ? and must not the servant be as his Master? And hence look at the love, look at the mercy, look at the grace enunciated in the first part, in the opening verses of this chapter "These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me." (John 16:1-3) And so also in the text, in the first head that I am preaching on "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace." Now take this for ourselves! "I speak these thing unto you "I prepare you, I school you, I discipline you "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace." But let me put this solemn question to each person in this house of prayer Has God spoken to you? Is the work begun? Remember "He openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth." (Rev. 3:7) Christ begins with the sinner. Who was it began with Saul of Tarsus? he who was afterwards such an earnest contender for the faith! Remember what he was when a Pharisee! armed with authority, commissioned to persecute and attack the Church then it was that God, with a purpose of mercy to the soul of Saul, felled his adversary to the earth, blinded him for three days, and began the work of mercy in his soul. And when Ananias (summoned by the Lord to go to Saul) stood in doubt about him, remember how God commanded silence in his soul by these memorable words "But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (Acts 9:15,16) And did not the Lord thus speak to Saul himself "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest?"
But I want to preach to God's elect before me here. I want to show the church before me the mercy of the God I preach to you, that he speaks to his elect people for a specific purpose. He knows our sorrows, he knows our troubles. He knows what we must suffer in his cause and service, and, therefore, with a love that cannot be expressed by any human tongue, He says, "These things I have spoken unto you that in me ye might have peace;" and I know well from a tried pathway that there is peace in nothing else. That peace is in none other to be found. It is that "peace which passeth understanding." (Phil. 4:7)
"Love divine all love excelling."
Or, as another hymn has it
"Love's abyss there's no exploring,
This verse was penned by an uneducated man in Plymouth dockyard. See how the Holy Ghost educates a poor man, and makes a scholar in the school of God. Have you been, my hearers, to this school? the school of God? I am purposely pausing; I ask you, have you ever been to the school of God? If you have really been to that school then you will be prepared for that which I am now going, secondly, to preach on out of this text. "In the world ye shall have tribulation." Now mark! observe the contrast, "In me ye shall have peace" "in the world ye shall have tribulation." I must tell you what I tell my own home flock if you have no trouble you have no grace! If you are not brought into trouble about your soul you have no right to calculate that God has begun a work in you! Let me put this earnestly before you! Mark the sovereignty of God! "Shall have tribulation" "shall have tribulation." One said to me the other Sunday, in my home flock, "I know not what we should do if it was not for the shalls and wills of God in the Bible."
As Kent says
O! those "shalls" and "wills" are the stronghold of my broken heart! Listen! "I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jer. 31:33) The devil cannot stop that, no! nor sin, nor anything else not all your own sin, nor all your own depravity, nor all your own corruptions!
O! mark these "shall" and "wills." "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37) Am I preaching to poor ones? I see some that I believe are poor! You will know what I mean. Jehovah's shall is your will! O! look at the mercy? There is no doubt about it. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)
Now, my hearers, the point I am insisting on from the text before me is this God's purpose and God's decree! about his people. I do not want to preach mere dry doctrines to you; but (as I preached to some of you on the past evening) I want to preach what springs out of doctrines. As a Churchman you are to suppose me sound in all the doctrines of the grace of God. Look at our Articles in the Prayer Book. Do not tell me some men do not preach them. I have nothing to do with men. The Church of England is sound in her Articles. She holds forth and proclaims election, which is the pillow of my broken heart. But (as I said) I want to show you what springs out of election. I want to ask you whether you know anything about real soul trouble? "In the world ye shall have tribulation." Tribulation is the Church's portion here. We must be tried. We never pray till we have been in trouble. We do not cry for mercy from our God till we have been in the valley of Achor! That beautiful imagery of the prophet, "The valley of Achor for a Door of Hope," (Hosea 2:15) Now what is the meaning of "Anchor?" Trouble it is in the valley of trouble that the door of hope is opened, and what is that door? "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." (John 10:9) And that door is Christ.
My hearers, there are several before me who know what trouble is. The prophet declares, "I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord." (Zeph. 3:2) And what is the great source of all our trouble? It is our sin and depravity! our liability to sins of all sorts; and this troubles and perplexes a child of God. Sin is no trouble to a worldling. But when the grace of God has brought a man into trouble, and the Holy Spirit has shown him that he is a sinner, then he is brought to inquire and to seek whether he is one for whom Christ died whether his guilt and sin is atoned for in that finished work which was accomplished when Christ bowed his head and gave up the ghost, O! what a word was that read just now in the second lesson! What a proclamation of grace and mercy to the Church of God! "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14) That moral law, if you were under it, must bring you to hell. What do you mean? some one may say. Hear what the apostle declares. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10) My brother, you cannot keep the law of the ten commandments, printed over the communion table! "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." I repeat those words. Then one single thought brings in a verdict of guilty against us. Hence there is no perfection in the flesh. We deny sinless perfection! The Church of England denies it. It is rank Arminianism.
The perfection of the church all centers in her glorious Christ (as Dr. Hawker used to say,) "our glorious Christ." Again I say, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." But what is Christ? "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Rom. 10:4) I know a Church in the City where the truth of the gospel was faithfully preached, and when that church underwent repair and painting, the then rector put under the ten commandments those words of Paul, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." What a secret exposition upon the moral law! Christ is the "end" of that law. What do you mean by the "end" of a thing? What do you mean by the "end" of a journey? What do you mean presently when I finish preaching by the "end" of my sermon? That it is over. That it is finished. Now, beloved, what is "the end of the law?" Christ has finished it, and brought in a perfect obedience, and hence I deduce this great fact, that God looks to Christ, and not to his people, for a perfect obedience! He has magnified the law, and made it honourable; (Isa. 42:21) and then look at him not only as our lawgiver, but as our lawfulfiller! and hence the mercy to all his people, for the perfection of the Church centers wholly and entirely in him, who is her glorious head and Lord and Saviour. But now, you poor ones! here may be a word of comfort to some of you as you go home. Look at what Christ says, "In the world ye shall have tribulation." Look at sovereignty! What! do you expect to escape it? Suspect your state if you do. "Confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (that is in the Acts of the Apostles.) We must have trouble. What may be a trouble to me, however, may not be a trouble to you. I like plain speaking in the pulpit "No one knows where the boot pinches but the person who has it on." We have our trials. We have our besetting sins, and the Church of God is a suffering Church.
Sin felt, and depravity grieved for, is trouble. I may refer to the words I preached on last evening in King Square "O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name's sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?" (Jer. 14:7,8) The testimony of our own sins witnessing against us that brings trouble into the soul! "But sin hangs heavy on the soul." But listen
O! what a precious Christ! "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." And these words followed up by that blessed Scripture, John 17., the intercessory prayer of Christ, which he offered up for his people just before he suffered on the cross. Now, let me give you one distinguishing passage out of it. Listen to me, my hearers! May it search every man in this congregation. "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them!" (John 17:9,10) Oh! do you feel an interest in the prayer of Christ? Have you ever experimentally felt and known the power of his intercession and advocacy when under some keen and cutting temptation? Have you felt relief in your soul when in trouble, and when you have been sore cast down? Has relief and help been afforded by him who alone can "raise the poor out of the dust, or lift up the beggar from the dunghill." (1 Sam. 2:8)
See how the Apostle encourages the people of God in the eighth of the Romans "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again." Look at the peculiar wording "It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God." (Now, mark! we cannot do without the climax.) "Who also maketh intercession for us." Oh that intercession of Christ! In illustration of this in a lawsuit, or where a criminal is to be tried, the retaining fee is given to the most eminent pleader. Sir Alexander Cockburn, when he was at the bar, how often was he specially retained? But, my hearers, consider the fact of an interceding Christ! "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) He is now engaged in intercession. He intercedes now (if it be a time of mercy) That I may preach with power and unction, so that the word may be blessed to some soul to whom God now intends favour. He never forsakes his Church. He never takes his eye off her. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb; yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." (Isa. 49:15) Now there is the mercy he never forgets his people. He never ceases to think of his Church. His Church is his care! Look at him! He must needs go through Samaria to plead with the wicked adulteress there, and to bring her, by the gift put into her, to a knowledge of that blood and love which saves the Church from the curse of sin, and hell, and death eternal. And then the Apostle states "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The Church and Christ are inseparable. Nothing can separate the Church from him. Nothing can divorce the Church; no, not even her own sin! Oh, no! "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14) And again "Where sin abounded grace did much more abound." (Rom. 5:20) And so the Apostle says, that they "May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:18,19)
Now look at the energy of Paul's prayer, that they might know something of the love of God! that love which Solomon speaks of when he says, "Love covereth all sins." "In the world ye shall have tribulation" troubles of various sorts. This is what distinguishes the people of God. If you do not have trial in one way you must have it in another. It must be so with the saved people of God. Take the case of John Newton. As a sailor he was a most profligate man, but afterwards subdued by grace, was the faithful Vicar of Olney, the friend of the godly Cowper. Now we know from one of his hymns how God tried him. When God made the prodigal repent and mourn over his sin and depravity this was his experience
Well, now, is not that a right prayer? a most blessed petition? But how did God answer it?
This is the way in which God answered Newton's prayer; and now look at God's purpose in all this.
(As I might break one of these glasses at my side.)
I have had my earthly schemes broken, and he will break your schemes, mark that, if there is a "schemer" here! It is the beautiful statement in the Pentateuch, that when the time is come for the young birds to leave the nest the eagle stirs it up. Let me before I finish turn to that Scripture. Now give me your attention, my hearers "In the world ye shall have tribulation." That is my point. Now listen. The eagle builds her nest with thorns; and such is her instinct in this, that in building her nest she lays the thorns all downwards, so that the young ones feel nothing. But when the time arrives for them to leave the nest she turns the thorns upwards. Listen. "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him." (Deut. 32:11,12) And you, my hearers, must be stirred up, and I must be stirred up. Ministers of the gospel cannot preach to others who are tried and harassed and distressed unless our own trials, harassings, and distresses have stirred us up in our own souls. I never preached with power till God stirred up my soul. But mark the beautiful wording of the Holy Ghost in this passage. The old bird first stirs up the nest. Then "fluttereth over her young," "spreadeth abroad her wings," "taketh them," "beareth them on her wings." Some one has beautifully said on these words, showing the safety of God's elect, that as the young birds are all borne on the wings of the old one, the gunner underneath must first shoot through the heart of the parent eagle before he can hit her brood; so the Church, borne on the heart of Christ, is indestructible because her life is "hid with him in God." Christ bears his people on his heart.
Now the practicality of this that I am attempting to set before you is this, that in all our exercises, temptations, and trials, the Church's peace is in Christ. "Every one in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one discontented" (or, as it is in Hebrew, "bitter of soul,) "gathered themselves unto him, and he became a Captain over them." Christ came down on a mission to redeem his Church "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:14-16) Now these words in the text are blessed words to the Church of God in all her troubles, trials and exigencies "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." You must have tribulation if you are a child of God. The world knows nothing of this! Hence the distinction! The Church is a troubled Church. The Church is tried, the Church is exercised, the Church is harassed! Oh! that sweet experience of the Psalmist "From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher that I." (Ps. 61:2) And that sweet hymn of Augustus Toplady's
(And we are to bring nothing in our hands.)
I ask you, my hearers, if you feel your need of atoning blood? Then you are safe for heaven. So you know the meaning of those words? "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." In the world we must have trials, we must have troubles, we must have the cross
And yet how we rebel! But, O! how blessed it is when we, like our glorious head, are made to say "Not my will, but thine be done." The child of God dies to go into a state of perfect blessedness ."And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours." (Rev. 14:13) But here, during our pilgrimage state in all trials, in all temptations, in every trouble, in each disappointment, the child of God has "peace" in Christ, that "In me ye might have peace." These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." "Come unto me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) O! the mercy!
But one word on the state of those not in Christ those on the other side of that fearful "gulf" spoken of in God's word. Remember the happiness of the beggar. Remember the torments of the rich man. O! those words! "And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." (Luke 16:26) And when he found that his own everlasting state of anguish and misery was fixed for ever! "Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment." (Luke 16:27) But what was the answer "Abraham said unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:29-31) What solemn words!
In the interval, my hearers, between this and the period of our dying hour, may we be content to bear the cross; and to hear, and to realize in all their freegracefullness, those blessed words that I have attempted now feebly to set before you "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world." Amen.