PAUL’S FIRST PRAYER

The New Park Street Pulpit

Paul’s First Prayer

 

A Sermon
(No. 16)
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, March 25th, 1855, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.


“For behold he prayeth”—Acts 9:11.

OD has many methods of quenching persecution. He will not suffer his church to be injured by its enemies, or overwhelmed by its foes; and he is not short of means for turning aside the way of the wicked, or of turning it upside down. In two ways he usually accomplishes his end; sometimes by the confusion of the persecutor, and at others in a more blessed manner, by his conversion. Sometimes, he confuses and confounds his enemies; he makes the diviner mad; he lets the man who comes against him be utterly destroyed, suffers him to drive on to his own destruction, and then at last turns round in triumphant derision upon the man who hoped to have said aha! aha! To the church of God. But at other times, as in this case, he converts the persecutor. Thus, he transforms the foe into a friend; he makes the man who was a warrior against the gospel a soldier for it. Out of darkness he bringeth forth light; out of the eater he getteth honey; yea, out of stony hearts he raiseth up children unto Abraham. Such was the case with Saul. A more furious bigot it is impossible to conceive. He had been bespattered with the blood of Stephen, when they stoned him to death; so officious was he in his cruelty, that the men left their clothes in the charge of a young man named Saul. Living at Jerusalem, in the college of Gamaliel, he constantly came in contact with the disciples of the Man of Nazareth; he laughed at them, he reviled them as they passed along the street; he procured enactments against them, and put them to death; and now, as a crowning point, this were-wolf, having tasted blood, becomes exceeding mad, determines to go to Damascus, that he may glut himself with the gore of men and women; that he may bind the Christians, and bring them to Jerusalem, there to suffer what he considered to be a just punishment for their heresy, and departure from their ancient religion. But oh, how marvelous was the power of God! Jesus stays this man in his mad career; just as with his lance in rest he was dashing against Christ. Christ met him, unhorsed him, threw him on the ground, and questioned him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” He then graciously removed his rebellious heart—gave him a new heart and a right spirit—turned his aim and object—led him to Damascus—laid him prostrate for three days and nights—spoke to him—made mystic sounds go murmuring through his ears—set his whole soul on fire; and when at last he started up from that three days’ trance, and began to pray, then it was that Jesus from heaven descended, came in a vision to Ananias, and said, “Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus; for, behold, he prayeth.”
    First, our text was an announcement; “Behold, he prayeth.” Secondly, it was an argument; “For, behold, he prayeth.” Then, to conclude, we will try to make an application of our text to your hearts. Though application is the work of God alone, we will trust that he will be pleased to make that application while the word is preached this morning.
    I. First, here was AN ANNOUNCEMENT; “Go to the house of Saul of Tarsus; for behold, he prayeth.” Without any preface, let me say, that this was the announcement of a fact which was noticed in heaven; which was joyous to the angels; which was astonishing to Ananias, and which was a novelty to Saul himself.
    It was the announcement of a fact which was noticed in heaven. Poor Saul had been led to cry for mercy, and the moment he began to pray, God began to hear. Do you not notice, in reading the chapter, what attention God paid to Saul? He knew the street where he lived; “Go to the street that is calledStraight.” He knew the house where he resided; “inquire at the house of Judas.” He knew his name; it was Saul. He knew the place where he came from; “Inquire for Saul of Tarsus.” And he knew that he had prayed. “Behold,he prayeth.” Oh! It is a glorious fact, that prayers are noticed in heaven. The poor broken-hearted sinner, climbing up to his chamber, bends his knee, but can only utter his wailing in the language of sighs and tears. Lo! That groan has made all the harps of heaven thrill with music; that tear has been caught by God, and put into the lachrymatory of heaven, to be perpetually preserved. The supplicant, whose fears prevent his words, will be well understood by the Most High. He may only shed one hasty tear; but “prayer is the falling of a tear.” Tears are the diamonds of heaven; sighs are a part of the music of Jehovah’s throne; for though prayers be

“The simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;”
so are they likewise the

“Sublimest strains that reach The majesty on high.”
Let me dilate on this thought a moment. Prayers are noticed in heaven. Oh! I know what is the case with many of you. You think, “If I turn to God, if I seek him, surely I am so inconsiderable a being, so guilty and vile, that it cannot be imagined he would take any notice of me.” My friends, harbor no such heathenish ideas. Our God is no god who sits in one perpetual dream; nor doth he clothe himself in such thick darkness that he cannot see; he is not like Baal who heareth not. True, he may not regard battles; he cares not for the pomp and pageantry of kings; he listens not to the swell of martial music; he regards not the triumph and the pride of man; but wherever there is a heart big with sorrow, wherever there is an eye suffused with tears, wherever there is a lip quivering with agony, wherever there is a deep groan, or a penitential sigh, the ear of Jehovah is wide open; he marks it down in the registry of his memory; he puts our prayers, like rose leaves, between the pages of his book of remembrance, and when the volume is opened at last there shall be a precious fragrance springing up therefrom. Oh! Poor sinner, of the blackest and vilest character, thy prayers are heard, and even now God hath said of thee, “Behold, he prayeth.” Where was it—in a barn? Where was it—in the closet? Was it at thy bedside this morning, or in this hall? Art thou now glancing thine eye to heaven? Speak, poor heart; did I hear thy lips just now mutter out, “God have mercy upon me, a sinner?” I tell thee, sinner, there is one thing which doth outstrip the telegraph. You know we can now send a message and receive an answer in a few moments; but I read of something in the Bible more swift than the electric fluid. “Before they call I will answer, and while they are speaking I will hear.” So, then, poor sinner, thou art noticed; yea, thou art heard by him that sitteth on the throne.
    Again; this was the announcement of a fact joyous to heaven. Our text is prefaced with “Behold,” for doubtless, our Saviour himself regarded it with joy. Once only do we read of a smile resting upon the countenance of Jesus, when, lifting up his eye to heaven, he exclaimed, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” The shepherd of our souls rejoices in the vision of his sheep securely folded, he triumphs in spirit when he brings a wanderer home. I conceive that when he spoke these words to Ananias, one of the smiles of Paradise must have shone from his eyes. “Behold,” I have won the heart of my enemy, I have saved my persecutor, even now he is bending the knee at my footstool, “behold, he prayeth.” Jesus himself led the song, rejoicing over the new convert with singing. Jesus Christ was glad, and rejoiced more over that lost sheep than over ninety and nine that went not astray. And angels rejoiced too. Why, when one of God’s elect is born, angels stand around his cradle. He grows up, and runs into sin: angels follow him, tracking him all his way; they gaze with sorrow upon his many wanderings; the fair Peri drops a tear whene’er that loved one sins. Presently the man is brought under the sound of the gospel. The angel says, “Behold, he begins to hear.” He waits a little while, the word sinks into his heart, a tear runs down his cheek, and at last he cries from his inmost soul, “God have mercy upon me!” See! The angel claps his wings, up he flies to heaven, and says, “Brethren angels, list to me, ‘Behold, he prayeth.'” Then they set heaven’s bells ringing; they have a jubilee in glory; again they shout with gladsome voices, for verily I tell you, “there is joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” They watch us till we pray, and when we pray, they say, “Behold, he prayeth.”
    Moreover, my dear friends, there may be other spirits in heaven that rejoice, besides the angels. Those persons are our friends who have gone before us. I have not many relations in heaven, but I have one whom I dearly love, who, I doubt not, often prayed for me, for she nursed me when I was a child and brought me up during part of my infancy, and now she sits before the throne in glory—suddenly snatched away. I fancy she looked upon her darling grandson, and as she saw him in the ways of sin, and vice, and folly, she could not look with sorrow, for there are no tears in the eyes of glorified ones; she could not look with regret, because they cannot know such a feeling before the throne of God; but ah! That moment when, by sovereign grace, I was constrained to pray, when all alone I bent my knee and wrestled, methinks I see her as she said, “Behold, he prayeth; behold, he prayeth.” Oh! I can picture her countenance. She seemed to have two heavens for a moment, a double bliss, a heaven in me as well as in herself—when she could say, “Behold, he prayeth.” Ah! young man, there is your mother walking the golden streets. She is looking down upon you this hour. She nursed you; on her breast you lay when but a child, and she consecrated you to Jesus Christ. From heaven, she has been watching you with that intense anxiety which is compatible with happiness; this morning she is looking upon you. What sayest thou, young man? Does Christ by his Spirit say in thine heart, “Come unto me?” Dost thou drop the tear of repentance? Methinks I see thy mother as she cries, “Behold, he prayeth.” Once more she bends before the throne of God and says, “I thank thee, O thou ever gracious One, that he who was my child on earth, has now become thy child in light.”
    But, if there is one in heaven who has more joy than another over the conversion of a sinner, it is a minister, one of God’s true ministers. O, my hearers, ye little think how God’s true ministers do love your souls. Perhaps ye think it is easy work to stand here and preach to you. God knows, if that were all, it were easy work; but when we think that when we speak to you, your salvation or damnation, in some measure, depends upon what we say—when we reflect that if we are unfaithful watchmen, your blood will God require at our hands—O, good God! When I reflect that I have preached to thousands in my lifetime, many thousands and have perhaps said many things I ought not to have said, it startles me, it makes me shake and tremble. Luther said he could face his enemies, but could not go up his pulpit stairs without his knees knocking together. Preaching is not child’s play; it is not a thing to be done without labor and anxiety; it is solemn work; it is awful work, if you view it in its relation to eternity. Ah! How God’s minister prays for you! If you might have listened under the eaves of his chamber window, you would have heard him groaning every Sunday night over his sermons because he had not spoken with more effect; you would have heard him pleading with God, “Who hath believed our report? To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Ah, when he observes you from his rest in heaven—when he sees you praying, how will he clap his hands and say, “Behold the child thou hast given me! Behold, he prays.” I am sure when we see one brought to know the Lord, we feel very much like one who has saved a fellow-creature from being drowned. There is a poor man in the flood; he is going down, he is sinking, he must be drowned; but I spring in, grasp him firmly, lift him on the shore, and lay him on the ground; the physician comes; he looks at him, he puts his hand upon him, and says, “I am afraid he is dead.” We apply all the means in our power, we do what we can to restore life. I feel that I have been that man’s deliverer, and oh, how I stoop down and put my ear beside his mouth! At last I say, “He breathes! He breathes!” What pleasure there is in that thought! He breathes; there is life still. So when we find a man praying, we shout—he breathes; he is not dead, he is alive; for while a man prays he is not dead in trespasses and sins, but is brought to life, is quickened by the power of the Spirit. “Behold, he prayeth.” This was joyful news in heaven, as well as being noticed by God.
    Then, in the next place, this was an event most astonishing to men.Ananias lifted up both his hands in amazement. “O my Lord, I should have thought anybody would pray but that man! Is it possible?” I do not know how it is with other ministers, but sometimes I look upon such-and-such individuals in the congregation, and I say, “Well, they are very hopeful; I think I shall have them. I trust there is a work going on, and hope soon to hear them tell what the Lord has done for their souls.” Soon, perhaps, I see nothing of them, and miss them altogether; but instead thereof, my good Master sends me one of whom I had no hope—an outcast, a drunkard, a reprobate, to the praise of the glory of his grace. Then I lift up my hands in astonishment, thinking “I should have thought of anybody rather than you.” I remember a circumstance which occurred a little while ago. There was a poor man about sixty years old; he had been a rough sailor, one of the worst men in the village; it was his custom to drink, and he seemed to be delighted when he was cursing and swearing. He came into the chapel, however, one Sabbath day, when one nearly related to me was preaching from the text concerning Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. And the poor man thought, “What! did Jesus Christ ever weep over such a wretch as I am?” He thought he was too bad for Christ to care for him. At last he came to the minister, and said, “Sir, sixty years have I been sailing under the standard of the devil; it is time I should have a new owner; I want to scuttle the old ship and sink her altogether! then I shall have a new one, and I shall sail under the colors of Prince Immanuel.” Ever since that moment that man has been a praying character, walking before God in all sincerity. Yet, he was the very last man you would have thought of. Somehow God does choose the last men; he does not care for the diamond, but he picks up the pebble-stones, for he is able, out of “stones, to raise up children unto Abraham.” God is more wise than the chemist: he not only refines gold, but he transmutes base metal into precious jewels; he takes the filthiest and the vilest, and fashions them into glorious beings, makes them saints, whereas they have been sinners, and sanctifies them, whereas they have been unholy.
    The conversion of Saul was a strange thing; but, beloved, was it stranger than that you and I should have been Christians? Let me ask you if anybody had told you, a few years ago, that you would belong to a church and be numbered with the children of God what would you have said? “Stuff and nonsense! I am not one of your canting Methodists; I am not going to have any religion; I love to think and do as I like.” Did not you and I say so? And how on earth did we get here? When we look at the change that has passed over us, it appears like a dream. God has left many in our families who were better than we were, and why has he chosen us? Oh! Is it not strange? Might we not lift up our hands in astonishment, as Ananias did, and say, “Behold, behold, behold: it is a miracle on earth, a wonder in heaven?”
    The last thing I have to say here, is this—this fact was a novelty to Saul himself. “Behold he prayeth.” What is there novel in that? Saul used to go up to the temple twice a day, at the hour of prayer. If you could have accompanied him, you would have heard him speak beautifully, in words like these: “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men are; I am not an extortioner, nor a publican; I fast twice in the week, and give tithes of all I possess;” and so on. Oh! You might have found him pouring out a fine oration before the throne of God. And yet it saith, “Behold, he prayeth.” What! Had he never prayed before? No, never. All he had ever done before went for nothing; it was not prayer. I have heard of an old gentleman, who was taught when a child to pray, “Pray God bless my father and mother,” and he kept on praying the same thing for seventy years, when his parents were both dead. After that it pleased God, in his infinite mercy, to touch his heart, and he was led to see that notwithstanding his constancy to his forms, he had not been praying at all; he often said his prayers, but never prayed. So it was with Saul. He had pronounced his magniloquent orations, but they were all good-for-nothing. He had prayed his long prayers for a pretense; it had all been a failure. Now comes a true petition, and it is said, “Behold, he prayeth.” Do you see that man trying to obtain a hearing from his Maker? How he stands! He speaks Latin and blank verse before the Almighty’s throne; but God sits in calm indifference, paying no attention. Then the man tries a different style; procures a book, and bending his knee again, prays in a delightful form the best old prayer that could ever be put together; but the Most High disregards his empty formalities. At last the poor creature throws the book away, forgets his blank verse, and says, “O Lord, hear, for Christ’s sake.” “Hear him,” says God, “I have heard him.” There is the mercy thou hast sought. One hearty prayer is better than ten thousand forms. One prayer coming from the soul is better than a myriad cold readings. As for prayers that spring from the mouth and head only, God abhors them; he loves those that come deep from the heart. Perhaps I should be impudent if I were to say that there are hundreds here this morning who never prayed once in their lives. There are some of you who never did. There is one young man over there, who told his parents when he left them, that he should always go through his form of prayer every morning and night. But he is ashamed, and he has left it off. Well, young man, what will you do when you come to die? Will you have “the watchword at the gates of death?” Will you “enter heaven by prayer?” No, you will not; you will be driven from his presence, and be cast away.
    II. Secondly, we have here AN ARGUMENT. “For, behold he prayeth.” It was an argument, first of all, for Ananias’ safety. Poor Ananias was afraid to go to Saul; he thought it was very much like stepping into a lion’s den. “If I go to his house,” he thought, “the moment he sees me, he will take me to Jerusalem at once, for I am one of Christ’s disciples; I dare not go.” God says, “Behold, he prayeth.” “Well,” says Ananias, “that is enough for me. If he is a praying man, he will not hurt me; if he is a man of real devotion, I am safe.” Be sure you may always trust a praying man. I do not know how it is, but even ungodly men always pay a reverence to a sincere Christian. A master likes to have a praying servant after all; if he does not regard religion himself, he likes to have a pious servant, and he will trust him rather than any other. True, there are some of your professedly praying people that have not a bit of prayer in them. But whenever you find a really praying man, trust him with untold gold; for if he really prays, you need not be afraid of him. He who communes with God in secret, may be trusted in public. I always feel safe with a man who is a visitor at the mercy-seat. I nave heard an anecdote of two gentlemen traveling together, somewhere in Switzerland. Presently they came into the midst of the forests; and you know the gloomy tales the people tell about the inns there, how dangerous it is to lodge in them. One of them, an infidel, said to the other, who was a Christian, “I don’t like stopping here at all; it is very dangerous indeed.” “Well,” said the other, “let us try.” So they went into a house; but it looked so suspicious that neither of them liked it; and they thought they would prefer being at home in England. Presently the landlord said, “Gentlemen, I always read and pray with my family before going to bed; will you allow me to do so to-night?” “Yes,” they said, “with the greatest pleasure.” When they went up-stairs, the infidel said, “I am not at all afraid now.” “Why?” said the Christian. “Because our host has prayed.” “Oh!” said the other, “then it seems, after all, you think something of religion; because a man prays, you can go to sleep in his house.” And it was marvelous how both of them did sleep. Sweet dreams they had, for they felt that where the house had been roofed by prayer, and walled with devotion, there could not be found a man living that would commit an injury to them. This, then, was an argument to Ananias, that he might go with safety to Saul’s house.
    But more than this. Here was an argument for Paul’s sincerity. Secret prayer is one of the best tests of sincere religion. If Jesus had said to Ananias, “Behold, he preacheth,” Ananias would have said, “that he may do, and yet be a deceiver.” If he had said, “He has gone to a meeting of the church,” Ananias would have said, “He may enter there as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But when he said, “Behold, he prays,” that was argument enough. A young person comes and tells me about what he has felt and what he has been doing. At last I say, “kneel down and pray.” “I would much rather not.” “Never mind, you shall.” Down he falls on his knees, he has hardly a word to say; he begins groaning and crying, and there he stays on his knees till at last he stammers out, “Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner; I am the greatest of sinners; have mercy upon me!” Then I am a little more satisfied, and I say, “I did not mind all your talk, I wanted your prayers.” But oh! If I could trace him home; if I could see him go and pray alone, then I should feel sure; for he who prays in private is a real Christian. The mere reading of a book of daily devotion will not prove you a child of God; if you pray in private, then you have a sincere religion; a little religion, if sincere, is better than mountains of pretense. Home piety is the best piety. Praying will make you leave off sinning, or sinning will make you leave off praying. Prayer in the heart proves the reality of conversion. A man may be sincere, but sincerely wrong. Paul was sincerely right. “Behold, he prayeth,” was the best argument that his religion was right. If any one should ask me for an epitome of the Christian religion, I should say it is in that one word—”prayer.” If I should be asked, “What will take in the whole Christian experience?” I should answer, “prayer.” A man must have been convinced of sin before he could pray; he must have had some hope that there was mercy for him before he could pray. In fact, all the Christian virtues are locked up in that word, prayer. Do but tell me you are a man of prayer, and I will reply at once, “Sir, I have no doubt of the reality, as well as the sincerity, of your religion.”
    But one more thought, and I will leave this subject. It was a proof of this man’s election, for you read directly afterwards, “Behold, he is a chosen vessel.” I often find people troubling themselves about the doctrine of election. Every now and then I get a letter from somebody or other taking me to task for preaching election. All the answer I can give is, “There it is in the Bible; go and ask my Master why he put it there. I cannot help it. I am only a serving man, and I tell you the message from above. If I were a footman, I should not alter my master’s message at the door. I happen to be an ambassador of heaven, and I dare not alter the message I have received. If it is wrong, send up to head-quarters. There it is, and I cannot alter it.” This much let me say in explanation. Some say, “How can I discover whether I am God’s elect? I am afraid I am not God’s elect.” Do you pray? If it can be said, “Behold, he prayeth,” it can also be said, Behold, he is a chosen vessel.” Have you faith? If so, you are elect. Those are the marks of election. If you have none of these, you have no grounds for concluding that you belong to the peculiar people of God. Have you a desire to believe? Have you a wish to love Christ? Have you the millionth part of a desire to come to Christ? And is it a practical desire? Does it lead you to offer earnest, tearful supplication? If so, never be afraid of non-election; for whoever prays with sincerity, is ordained of God before the foundation of the world, that he should be holy and without blame before Christ in love.
    III. Now for the APPLICATION. A word or two with you, my dear friends, before I send you away this morning. I regret that I cannot better enter into the subject; but my glorious Master requires of each of us according to what we have, not according to what we have not. I am deeply conscious that I fail in urging home the truth so solemnly as I ought; Nevertheless, “my work is with God and my judgement with my God,” and the last day shall reveal that my error lay in judgment, but not in sincere affection for souls.
    First, allow me to address the children of God. Do you not see, my dear brethren, that the best mark of our being sons of God is to be found in our devotion? “Behold, he prayeth.” Well, then, does it not follow, as a natural consequence, that the more we are found in prayer the brighter will our evidences be? Perhaps you have lost your evidence this morning; you do not know whether you are a child of God or not; I will tell you where you lost your confidence—you lost it in your closet. I speak what I have felt. I have often gone back from God—never so as to fall finally, I know, but I have often lost that sweet savor of his love which I once enjoyed. I have had to cry,

“Those peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.”
I have gone up to God’s house to preach, without either fire or energy; I have read the Bible, and there has been no light upon it; I have tried to have communion with God, but all has been a failure. Shall I tell where that commenced! It commenced in my closet. I had ceased, in a measure, to pray. Here I stand, and do confess my faults; I do acknowledge that whenever I depart from God it is there it doth begin. O Christians, would you be happy? Be much in prayer. Would ye be victorious? Be much in prayer.

“Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright.”
Mrs. Berry used to say, “I would not be hired out of my closet for a thousand worlds.” Mr. Jay said, “If the twelve apostles were living near you, and you had access to them, if this intercourse drew you from the closet, they would prove a real injury to your souls.” Prayer is the ship which bringeth home the richest freight. It is the soil which yields the most abundant harvest. Brother, when you rise in the morning your business so presses, that with a hurried word or two, down you go into the world, and at night, jaded and tired, you give God the fag end of the day. The consequence is, that you have no communion with him. The reason we have not more true religion now, is because we have not more prayer. Sirs, I have no opinion of the churches of the present day that do not pray. I go from chapel to chapel in this metropolis and I see pretty good congregations; but I go to their prayer-meetings on a week evening, and I see a dozen persons. Can God bless us, can he pour out his Spirit upon us, while such things as these exist? He could, but it would not be according to the order of his dispensations, for he says, “When Zion travails she brings forth children.” Go to your churches and chapels with this thought, that you want more prayer. Many of you have no business here this morning. You ought to be in your own places of worship. I do not want to steal away the people from other chapels; there are enough to hear me without them. But though you have sinned this morning, hear while you are here, as much to your profit as possible. Go home and say to your minister, “Sir, we must have more prayer.” Urge the people to more prayer. Have a prayer-meeting, even if you have it all to yourself; and if you are asked how many were present, you can say, “Four.” “Four! How so?” “Why, there was myself, and God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; and we have had a rich and real communion together.” We must have an outpouring of real devotion, or else what is to become of many of our churches? O! May God awaken us all, and stir us up to pray, for when we pray we shall be victorious. I should like to take you this morning, as Samson did the foxes, tie the firebrands of prayer to you, and send you in among the shocks of corn till you burn the whole up. I should like to make a conflagration by my words, and to set all the churches on fire, till the whole has smoked like a sacrifice to God’s throne. If you pray, you have a proof that you are a Christian; the less you pray, the less reason have you to believe your Christianity; and if you have neglected to pray altogether, then you have ceased to breathe, and you may be afraid that you never did breathe at all.
    And now, my last word is to the ungodly. O, sirs! I could fain wish myself anywhere but here; for if it be solemn work to address the godly, how much more when I come to deal with you. We fear lest, on the one hand, we should so speak to you as to make you trust in your own strength; while, on the other hand, we tremble lest we should lull you into the sleep of sloth and security. I believe most of us feel some difficulty as to the most fit manner to preach to you—not that we doubt but that the gospel is to be preached—but our desire is so to do it, that we may win your souls. I feel like a watchman, who, while guarding a city, is oppressed with sleep; how earnestly does he strive to arouse himself, while infirmity would overcome him. The remembrance of his responsibility bestirs him. His is no lack of will, but of power; and so I hope all the watchmen of the Lord are anxious to be faithful, while, at the same time, they know their imperfection. Truly, the minister of Christ will feel like the old keeper of Eddystone lighthouse; life was failing fast, but, summoning all his strength, he crept round once more to trim the lights before he died. O may the Holy Spirit enable us to keep the beacon-fire blazing, to warn you of the rocks, shoals, and quicksands, which surround you, and may we ever guide you to Jesus, and not to free-will or creature merit. If my friends knew how anxiously I have sought divine direction in the important matter of preaching to sinners, they would not feel as some of them do, when they fancy I address them wrongly. I want to do as God bids me, and if he tells me to speak to the dry bones and they shall live, I must do it, even if it does not please others; otherwise I should be condemned in my own conscience, and condemned of God. Now, with all the solemnity that man can summon, let me say that a prayerless soul is a Christless soul. As the Lord liveth, you who never prayed are without God, without hope, and strangers from the commonwealth of Israel. You who never know what a groan is, or a falling tear, are destitute of vital godliness. Let me ask you, sirs, whether you have ever thought in what an awful state you are? You are far from God, and therefore God is angry with you; for “God is angry with the wicked every day.” O, sinner! Lift thine eyes and behold the frowning countenance of God, for he is angry with you. And I beseech you, as you love yourselves, just for one moment contemplate what will become of you, if living as you are, ye should at last die without prayer. Don’t think that one prayer on your deathbed will save you. Deathbed prayer is a deathbed farce generally, and passes for nothing; it is a coin that will not ring in heaven, but is stamped by hypocrisy, and made of base metal. Take heed sirs. Let me ask you, if you have never prayed, what will you do? It were a good thing for you, if death were an eternal sleep; but it is not. If you find yourself in hell, oh, the racks and pains! But I will not harrow up your feelings by attempting to describe them. May God grant you never may feel the torments of the lost. Only conceive that poor wretch in the flames who is saying, “O for one drop of water, to cool my parched tongue!” See how his tongue hangs from between his blistered lips! How it excoriates and burns the roof of his mouth, as if it were a firebrand. Behold him crying for a drop of water. I will not picture the scene. Suffice it for me to close up by saying, that the hell of hells will be to thee, poor sinner, the thought that it is to be forever.Thou wilt look up there on the throne of God, and it shall be written “forever!” When the damned jingle the burning irons of their torments, they shall say “forever!” When they howl, echo cries “forever!”

“‘Forever’ is written on their racks,
‘Forever’ on their chains;
‘Forever’ burneth in the fire,
‘Forever’ ever reigns.”
    Doleful thought! “If I could but get out, then I should be happy. If there were a hope of deliverance, then I might be peaceful; but I am here forever!” Sirs, if ye would escape eternal torments, if ye would be found amongst the numbers of the blessed, the road to heaven can only be found by prayer—by prayer to Jesus, by prayer for the Spirit, by supplication at his mercy seat. “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that he should turn unto me and live.” “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” Let us go unto him and say, “He shall heal our backslidings, he shall love us freely and forgive us graciously, for his Son’s name’s sake.” Oh! If I may but win one soul to-day, I will go home contented. If I may but gain twenty, then I will rejoice. The more I have, the more crowns I shall wear. Wear! No, I will take them all at once, and cast them at Jesus’ feet, and say, “Not unto me, but unto thy name be all the glory, forever.”

“Prayer was appointed to convey
The blessings god designs to give;
Long as they live, should Christians pray,
For only while they pray, they live.”And wilt thou still in silence lie,
When Christ stands waiting for thy prayer?
My soul, thou hast a friend on high,
Arise, and try thine interest there.

“‘Tis prayer supports the soul that’s weak,
Though thought be broken, language lame;
Pray, if thou canst, or canst not speak,
And pray with faith in Jesus’ name.”

HOW TO BE SAVED

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How tragic it would be if we went through life thinking we were saved and then woke up on Judgment Day to find out we were mistaken! But the Bible teaches that this will be the case with many people. Christ said, “Many will say unto Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23).

However, we do not have to go through life without the assurance of salvation. In 1 John 5:13 the apostle says, “These things have I written unto you…that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” How then can we have this assurance? This is the most important question we will ever face in life because our eternal destiny is at stake! The Bible teaches that those who remain unsaved will spend eternity in a place of perpetual torment (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11).

The reason for this is because their sin has not been paid for, and God’s perfect justice requires that payment be made for sin (“the wages of sin is death” Rom. 6:23). Therefore, it is vital that we know the answer to this question. This is why the Apostle Peter wrote, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).

It is true that we must believe in Christ in order to become saved (Acts 16:31), but how can we be sure we have savingly believed in Him? Certainly we cannot rely upon our feelings since feelings can be misleading. Some might suggest we can be sure by acknowledging the facts of the gospel or saying “the sinner’s prayer.” However, the Bible teaches that it is not possible to be saved without being regenerated. Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Therefore, we cannot know we have savingly believed in Christ until we know we are born again.

But what does it mean to be born again? Is this some kind of emotional experience? No, the Bible teaches that being born again means our life is changed. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The Bible also tells us what changes will take place in our life when we are born again.

First, we will not habitually commit sin.

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.”—1 John 3:9

“How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”—Romans 6:2

Though we will continue to sin because of indwelling corruption, we will no longer practice it for its dominion has been broken in our life, and God has instilled in our heart a hatred for it.

Second, we will seek to live a holy life by obeying God’s Word.

“Everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him.”—1 John 2:29

“And hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.”—1 John 2:3

We will not obey God’s Word perfectly as long as we still have a sinful nature. But we will obey it purposefully because of an ongoing, earnest desire to do God’s will.

Third, we will love others, regardless of who they are or what they have done.

“Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—1 John 4:7-8

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”—1 John 3:14

Since God is love He has given us a desire to love others, especially believers. We may not always feel love towards them, yet we will show love by seeking to do them good when we have the opportunity.

Fourth, our affections will not be set upon the things of the world.

“If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”—1 John 2:15

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit…But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”—Romans. 8:5, 9

Though we can and should enjoy the things of the world God has given us, our heart will not be set upon them because Christ is our all in all.

These changes are not the cause of our salvation for we are saved by Christ (as our propitiation and as the giver of the gift of perfect righteousness) through faith—even that is not of ourselves but is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). Rather, these changes are the evidence that we truly have been born again. If they are not evident in our life, it is likely we have not savingly believed in Christ. And therefore, it is vital that we diligently read the Bible until we are assured of having saving faith in Him. The Bible says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). A good place to start is 1 John and James for they deal extensively with the changes that result from being born again.

A New Year’s Resolution

“I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” Psalm 17:3

“Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” Daniel 1:8

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.

Resolved, never to do anything, whether in soul or body — but what tends to the glory of God.

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time — but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, never to do anything, which I would be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of Hell.

Resolved, if I take delight in any gratification of pride or vanity — immediately to throw it aside.

Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor — upon no account except for some real good.

Resolved, that I will so live as I shall wish I had done, when I come to die.

Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and the eternal world.

Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do, if I expected to hear the last trumpet in the next hour.

Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

Resolved, never to do anything, which if I would see in another — I would count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the less of him.

Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the eternal world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence I am capable of.

Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

Resolved, never to say anything against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule.

Resolved, never to speak anything but the pure and simple truth.

Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sins I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself — also at the end of every week, month and year.

Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.

Resolved, never henceforward, until I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s.

Resolved, that no other end but religion shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it.

Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to do whatever is most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper.

Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the eternal world.

I frequently hear people in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again. Resolved, that I will live just as I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it.

Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I would do, if I had already seen the happiness of Heaven, and torments of Hell.

Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation — but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and kindness.

Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then to do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man, “knowing that whatever good thing any man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord.”

Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, namely, to lay open my soul to God — all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every circumstance.

Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have gotten by them, and what I might have gotten by them.

“Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying Your decrees!” Psalm 119:5

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

The Best Friend! J.C. Ryle, 1878

“This is my Friend!” Song of Solomon 4:16

A friend is one of the greatest blessings on earth. Tell me not of money — love is better than gold; sympathy is better than lands. He is the poor man — who has no friends!

This world is full of sorrow — because it is full of sin. It is a dark place. It is a lonely place. It is a disappointing place. The brightest sunbeam in it, is a friend. Friendship halves our troubles — and doubles our joys!

A real friend is scarce and rare. There are many who will eat, and drink, and laugh with us in the sunshine of prosperity. There are few who will stand by us in the days of darkness — few who will love us when we are sick, helpless, and poor — few, above all, who will care for our souls!

Does any reader of this paper want a real friend? I write to recommend one to your notice this day. I know of One “who sticks closer than a brother!” (Proverbs 18:24.) I know of One who is ready to be your friend for time and for eternity, if you will receive Him. Hear me, while I try to tell you something about Him.

The friend I want you to know is Jesus Christ. Happy is that family in which Christ has the foremost place! Happy is that person whose chief friend is Christ!

I. Do we want a friend in NEED? Such a friend is the Lord Jesus Christ!

Man is the neediest creature on God’s earth, because he is a sinner. There is no need as great as that of sinners: poverty, hunger, thirst, cold, sickness — all are nothing in comparison. Sinners need pardon — and they are utterly unable to provide it for themselves; they need deliverance from a guilty conscience and the fear of death — and they have no power of their own to obtain it. This need, the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to relieve. “He came into the world to save sinners!” (1 Tim. 1:15.)

We are all by nature, poor dying creatures. From the king on his throne, to the pauper in the workhouse — we are all sick of a mortal disease of soul. Whether we know it or not, whether wefeel it or not — we are all dying daily. The plague of sin is in our blood. We cannot cure ourselves — we are hourly getting worse and worse! All this, the Lord Jesus undertook to remedy. He came into the world to bring in health and cure; He came to deliver us “from the second death;” He came “to abolish death, and bring life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (Jeremiah 33:6; Rev. 2:11; 2 Tim. 1:10.)

We are all by nature imprisoned debtors. We owed our God millions — and had nothing to pay. We were wretched bankrupts, without hope of freeing ourselves. We could never have freed ourselves from our load of liabilities, and were daily getting more deeply indebted. All this the Lord Jesus saw, and undertook to remedy. He engaged to “ransom and redeem us.” He came to “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” “He came to redeem us from the curse of the law.” (Hos. 13:14; Isaiah 41:1; Galatians 3:13.)

We were all by nature shipwrecked and cast away. We could never have reached the harbor of everlasting life. We were sinking in the midst of the waves — hopeless, helpless, and powerless; tied and bound by the chain of our sins, foundering under the burden of our own guilt, and likely to become a prey to the devil. All this the Lord Jesus saw and undertook to remedy. He came down from Heaven to be our “mighty helper.” He came to “seek and to save those who are lost;” and to “deliver us from going down into the pit.” (Psalm 89:19; Luke 19:10; Job 33:24.)

Could we have been saved without the Lord Jesus Christ coming down from Heaven? It would have been utterly impossible. The wisest men of Egypt, and Greece, and Rome never found out the way to peace with God. Without the friendship of Christ — we would all have been lost for evermore in Hell.

Was the Lord Jesus Christ obliged to come down to save us? Oh, no! no! It was His own free love, mercy, and pity — which brought Him down. He came unsought and unasked — because He was gracious.

Let us think on these things. Search all history from the beginning of the world — look around the whole circle of those you know and love — you never heard of such friendship among men. There never was such a real friend in need as Jesus Christ!

II. Do you want a friend in DEED? Such a friend is the Lord Jesus Christ.

The true extent of a man’s friendship must be measured by his deeds. Tell me not what he says, and feels, and wishes; tell me not of his words and letters — tell me rather what he does. “A friend is measured by what he does.”

The doings of the Lord Jesus Christ for man are the grand proof of His friendly feeling towards him. Never were there such acts of kindness and self-denial — as those which He has performed on our behalf. He has not loved us in word only — but in deed.

For our sakes, He took our nature upon Him, and was born of a woman. He who was very God, and equal with the Father, laid aside His glory for a season, and took upon Him flesh and blood like our own. The almighty Creator of all things — became a little babe like any of us, and experienced all our bodily weaknesses and infirmities, sin only excepted. “Though He was rich — He became poor; that we through His poverty — might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9.)

For our sakes, He lived thirty-three years in this evil world, despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Though He was King of kings — He had nowhere to lay His head; though He was Lord of lords — He was often weary, and hungry, and thirsty, and poor. “He took on Him the form of a servant, and humbled Himself.” (Philippians 3:7, 8.)

For our sakes, He suffered the most painful of all deaths, even the death of the cross! Though innocent, and without fault, He allowed Himself to be condemned, and found guilty. He who was thePrince of Life — was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and poured out His soul unto death. He “died for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:10.)

Was He obliged to do this? Oh, no! He might have summoned to His help, more than twelve legions of angels, and scattered His enemies with a word. He suffered voluntarily and of His own free will, to make atonement for our sins. He knew that nothing but the sacrifice of His body and blood — could ever make peace between sinful man and a holy God. He laid down His life — to pay the price of our redemption. He died — that we might live. He suffered — that we might reign. He bore shame — that we might receive glory. “He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us — so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21.)

Such friendship as this surpasses man’s understanding. Friends who would die for those who love them — we may have heard of sometimes. But who can find a man who would lay down his life for those that hate him? Yet this is what Jesus has done for us. “Christ died for the ungodly. God commends His love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners — Christ died for us. When we were God’s enemies — we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son!” (Romans 5:6, 8, 10.)

Ask all the tribes of mankind, from one end of the world to the other — and you will nowhere hear of a deed like this! None was ever so high and stooped down so low — as Jesus the Son of God! None ever gave so costly a proof of his friendship! None ever paid so much and endured so much to do good to others. Never was there such a friend in deed as Jesus Christ!

III. Do we want a MIGHTY and POWERFUL friend? Such a friend is Jesus Christ.

Power to help, is that which few possess in this world. Many have desire enough to do good to others — but no power. They feel for the sorrows of others, and would gladly relieve them if they could; they can weep with their friends in affliction — but are unable to take their grief away. But though man is weak — Christ is strong; though the best of our earthly friends is feeble — Christ is almighty! “All power is given unto Him in Heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18.) No one can do so much for those whom He befriends, as Jesus Christ. Others can befriend their bodies a little — He can befriend both body and soul. Others can do a little for them in time — He can be a friend both for time and eternity!

(a) He is able to pardon and save the very chief of sinners. He can deliver the most guilty conscience from all its burdens, and give it perfect peace with God. He can wash away the vilest stains of wickedness, and make a man whiter than snow in the sight of God. He can clothe a poor weak child of Adam in everlasting righteousness, and give him a title to Heaven that can never be overthrown. In a word, He can give any one of us peace, hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God — if we will only trust in Him. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin!” (1 John 1:7.)

(b) He is able to convert the hardest of hearts, and create in man a new spirit. He can take the most thoughtless and ungodly people, and give them another mind by the Holy Spirit whom He puts in them. He can cause old things to pass away, and all things to become new. He can make them love the things which they once hated — and hate the things which they once loved. “He can give them power to become the sons of God.” “If any man is in Christ — he is a new creature.” (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

(c) He is able to preserve to the end all who believe in Him, and become His disciples. He can give them grace to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, and fight a good fight until the last. He can . . .
lead them on safely in spite of every temptation,
carry them home through a thousand dangers, and
keep them faithful, though they stand alone and have none to help them. “He is able to save them to the uttermost, all who come unto God by Him.” (Hebrews 7:25.)

(d) He is able to give those who love Him the best of gifts. He can give them in this life — inward comforts, which money can never buy — peace in poverty, joy in sorrow, patience in suffering. He can give them in death — bright hopes, which enable them to walk through the dark valley without fear. He can give them after death — an unfading crown of glory, and a rewardcompared to which, the Queen of England has nothing to bestow.

This is power indeed! This is true greatness! This is real strength!

Go and look at the poor Hindu idolater, seeking peace in vain by afflicting his body; and, after fifty years of self-imposed suffering, unable to find it.

Go and look at the benighted Romanist, giving money to his priest to pray for his soul — and yet dying without comfort.

Go and look at rich men, spending thousands in search of happiness — and yet always discontented and unhappy.

Then turn to Jesus, and think what He can do, and is daily doing for all who trust Him. Think how He . . .
heals all the broken-hearted,
comforts all the sick,
cheers all the poor that trust in Him,
and supplies all their daily need.

The fear of man is strong,
the opposition of this evil world is mighty,
the lusts of the flesh rage horribly,
the fear of death is terrible,
the devil is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour
— but Jesus is stronger than them all, Jesus can make us conquerors over all these foes!

And then say whether there was ever was so mighty a friend as Jesus Christ.

IV. Do we want a LOVING and affectionate friend? Such a friend is Jesus Christ.

Kindness is the very essence of true friendship. Money and advice and help lose half their grace, if not given in a loving manner. What kind of love is that of the Lord Jesus toward man? It is called, “A love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:19.)

Love shines forth in His reception of sinners. He refuses none who come to Him for salvation, however unworthy they may be. Though their lives may have been most wicked, though their sinsmay be more in number than the stars of Heaven — the Lord Jesus is ready to receive them, and give them pardon and peace! There is no end to His compassion! There are no bounds to Hispity! He is not ashamed to befriend those whom the world casts off as hopeless. There are none too bad, too filthy, and too much diseased with sin — to be admitted into His home! He is willing to be the friend of any sinner. He has kindness and mercy and healing medicine for all. He has long proclaimed this to be His rule: “Whoever comes unto Me — I will never cast out.” (John 6:37.)

Love shines forth in His dealings with sinners, after they have believed in Him and become His friends. He is very patient with them, though their conduct is often very trying and provoking. He is never tired of hearing their complaints — however often they may come to Him. He sympathizes deeply in all their sorrows. He knows what pain is — He is “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3.) In all their afflictions, He is afflicted. He never allows them to be tempted above what they are able to bear. He supplies them with daily grace for their daily conflict. Their poor services are acceptable to Him. He is as well pleased with them as a parent is with his child’s endeavors to speak and walk. He has caused it to be written in His book, that “He takes pleasure in His people,” and that “He takes pleasure in those who fear Him.” (Psalm 147:11; 119:4.)

There is no love on earth that can even be named together with this! We love those in whom we see something that deserves our affection, or those who are our relatives — but the Lord Jesus loves sinners in whom there is no good thing. We love those from whom we get some return for our affection — but the Lord Jesus loves those who can do little or nothing for Him, compared to what He does for them. We love where we can give some reason for loving — but the great Friend of sinners draws His reasons out of His own everlasting compassion. His love is purely unselfish — purely free. Never, never was there so truly loving a friend as Jesus Christ.

V. Do we want a WISE prudent friend? Such a friend is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Man’s friendship is sadly blind. He often injures those he loves by injudicious kindness. He often errs in the counsel he gives — he often leads his friends into trouble by bad advice, even when he means to help them. He sometimes keeps them back from the way of life, and entangles them in the vanities of the world, when they have well near escaped. The friendship of the Lord Jesus is not so — it always does us good, and never evil.

The Lord Jesus never spoils His friends by extravagant indulgence. He gives them everything that is really for their benefit. He withholds nothing from them that is really good. He requires them to take up their cross daily and follow Him. He bids them endure hardships as good soldiers. He calls on them to fight the good fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. His people often dislike it at the time, and think it hard — but when they reach Heaven, they will see it was all well done.

The Lord Jesus makes no mistakes in managing His friends’ affairs. He orders all their concerns with perfect wisdom — all things happen to them at the right time, and in the right way. He gives them . . .
as much of sickness — and as much of health,
as much of poverty — and as much of riches,
as much of sorrow — and as much of joy —
as He sees their souls require.

He leads them by the right way to bring them to the city of habitation. He mixes their bitterest cups like a wise physician, and takes care that they have not a drop too little — or too much.

His people often misunderstand His dealings — they are silly enough to imagine their course of life might have been better ordered. But in the resurrection-day, they will thank God that not their will — but Christ’s will was done.

Look round the world and see the harm which people are continually getting from their friends. Mark how much more ready men are to encourage one another in worldliness and levity — than to provoke to love and good works. Think how often they meet together, not for the better — but for the worse; not to quicken one another’s souls in the way to Heaven — but to confirm one another in the love of this present world. Alas, there are thousands who are wounded unexpectedly in the house of their friends!

And then turn to the great Friend of sinners, and see how different a thing is His friendship from that of man. Listen to Him as He walks by the way with His disciples — mark how He comforts, reproves, and exhorts with perfect wisdom. Observe how He times His visits to those He loves — as to Mary and Martha at Bethany. Hear how He converses, as He dines on the shore of the sea of Galilee: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21:16.)

His company is always sanctifying.
His gifts are always for our soul’s good.
His kindness is always wise.
His fellowship is always to edification.

One day with the Son of Man — is better than a thousand in the society of earthly friends! One hour spent in private communion with Him — is better than a year in kings’ palaces. Never, never was there such a wise friend as Jesus Christ.

VI. Do we want a TRIED and PROVED friend? Such a friend is Jesus Christ.

Six thousand years have passed away since the Lord Jesus began His work of befriending mankind. During that long period of time, He has had many friends in this world. Millions on millions, unhappily, have refused His offers, and been miserably lost forever; but thousands on thousands have enjoyed the mighty privilege of His friendship and been saved. He has had great experience.

(a) He has had friends of every rank and station in life. Some of them were kings and rich men, like David, and Solomon, and Hezekiah, and Job. Some of them were very poor in this world, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, and James, and John, and Andrew. But they were all alike Christ’s friends.

(b) He has had friends of every age that man can pass through. Some of them never knew Him until they were advanced in years, like Manasseh, and Zacchaeus, and probably the Ethiopian Eunuch. Some of them were His friends even from their earliest childhood, like Joseph, and Samuel, and Josiah, and Timothy. But they were all alike Christ’s friends.

(c) He has had friends of every possible temperament and disposition. Some of them were simple plain men, like Isaac. Some of them were mighty in word and deed, like Moses. Some of them were fervent and warm-hearted, like Peter. Some of them were gentle and retiring spirits, like John. Some of them were active and stirring, like Martha. Some of them loved to sitquietly at His feet, like Mary. Some dwelt unknown among their own people, like the Shunamite. Some have gone everywhere and turned the world upside down, like Paul. But they were all alike Christ’s friends.

(d) He has had friends of every condition in life. Some of them were married, and had sons and daughters, like Enoch. Some of them lived and died unmarried, like Daniel and John the Baptist. Some of them were often sick, like Lazarus and Epaphroditus. Some of them were strong to labor, like Persis, and Tryphena, and Tryphosa. Some of them were masters, like Abraham and Cornelius. Some of them were servants, like the saints in Nero’s household. Some of them had bad servants, like Elisha. Some of them had bad masters like Obadiah. Some of them hadbad wives and children, like David. But they were all alike Christ’s friends.

(e) He has had friends of almost every nation, and people, and tongue. He has had friends in hot countries and in cold; friends among nations highly civilized, and friends among the simplest and rudest tribes. His book of life contains the names of Greeks and Romans, of Jews and Egyptians, of bond and of free. There are to be found on its lists . . .
reserved Englishmen and cautious Scotsmen,
impulsive Irishmen and fiery Welshmen,
volatile Frenchmen and dignified Spaniards,
refined Italians and solid Germans,
crude Africans and refined Hindus,
cultivated Chinese and half-savage New Zealanders.
But they were all alike Christ’s friends!

All these have made trial of Christ’s friendship, and proved it to be good. They all found nothing lacking when they began — they all found nothing lacking as they went on. No lack, no defect, no deficiency was ever found by any one of them, in Jesus Christ. Each found his own soul’s needs fully supplied; each found every day, that in Christ there was enough and to spare. Never, never was there a friend so fully tried and proved as Jesus Christ.

VII. Last — but not least, do we want an UNFAILING friend? Such a friend is the Lord Jesus Christ.

The saddest part of all the good things of earth is their instability.
Riches
make themselves wings and flee away;
youth
and beauty are but for a few years;
strength
of body soon decays;
mind
and intellect are soon exhausted.
All is perishing.
All is fading.
All is passing away.
But there is one splendid exception to this general rule, and that is the friendship of Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus is a friend who never changes. There is no fickleness about Him. Those whom He loves — He loves unto the end. Husbands have been known to forsake their wives; parents have been known to cast off their children; human vows and promises of faithfulness have often been forgotten. Thousands have been neglected in their poverty and old age — who were honored by all when they were rich and young. But Christ never changed His feelings towards one of His friends. He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8.)

The Lord Jesus never goes away from His friends. There is never a parting and good-bye between Him and His people. From the time that He makes His abode in the sinner’s heart — He abides in it forever. The world is full of leave-takings and departures; death and the lapse of time break up the most united family; sons go forth to make their way in life; daughters are married, and leave their father’s house forever. Scattering, scattering, scattering — is the yearly history of the happiest home. How many we have tearfully watched as they drove away from our doors, whose pleasant faces we have never seen again! How many we have sorrowfully followed to the grave — and then come back to a cold, silent, lonely, and blank fireside! But, thanks be to God, there is One who never leaves His friends! The Lord Jesus is He who has said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5.)

The Lord Jesus goes with His friends wherever they go. There is no possible separation between Him and those whom He loves. There is no place or position on earth that can divide them from the great Friend of their souls. When the path of duty calls them far away from home — He is their companion. When they pass through the fire and water of fierce tribulation — He is with them. When they lie down on the bed of sickness — He stands by them and makes all their trouble work for good. When they go down the valley of the shadow of death, and friends and relatives stand still and can go no further — He goes down by their side. When they wake up in the unknown world of Paradise — they are still with Him. When they rise with a new body at the judgment day — they will not be alone. He will own them for His friends, and say, “They are mine! Deliver them and let them go free.” He will make good His own words: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20.)

Look around the world, and see how failure is written on all men’s schemes. Count up the partings, and separations, and disappointments, and bereavements which have happened under your own knowledge. Think what a privilege it is that there is One at least who never fails, and in whom no one was ever disappointed! Never, never was there so unfailing a friend as Jesus Christ!

And now, allow me to conclude this paper with a few plain words of APPLICATION. I know not who you are or in what state your soul may be; but I am sure that the words I am about to say deserve your serious attention. Oh, that this paper may not find you heedless of spiritual things! Oh, that you may be able to give a few thoughts to Christ!

(1) Know then, for one thing, that I call upon you to seriously consider whether Christ is your Friend, and you are His.

There are thousands on thousands, I grieve to say, who are not Christ’s friends. Baptized in His name, members of a Christian Church, attendants on His means of grace — all this they are, no doubt. But they are not Christ’s friends.

Do they hate the sins which Jesus died to put away? No.

Do they love the Savior who came into the world to save them? No.

Do they care for the souls which were so precious in His sight? No.

Do they delight in the His Word? No.

Do they try to speak with the Friend of sinners in prayer? No.

Do they seek close fellowship with Him? No.

Oh, reader, is this your case? How is it with you? Are you or are you not, one of Christ’s friends?

(2) Know, in the next place, that if you are not one of Christ’s friends — then you are a poor miserable being.

I write this down deliberately. I do not say it without thought. I say that if Christ is not your friend — then you are a poor, miserable being.

You are in the midst of a failing, sorrowful world — and you have no real source of comfort, or refuge for a time of need. You are a dying creature — and you are not ready to die. You have sins — and they are not forgiven. You are going to be judged — and you are not prepared to meet God: you might be — but you refuse to use the one only Mediator and Advocate. You love the world better than Christ. You refuse the great Friend of sinners, and you have no friend in Heaven to plead your cause. Yes, it is sadly true! You are a poor, miserable being! It matters nothing what your income is — without Christ’s friendship, you are very poor.

(3) Know, in the third place, that if you really want a friend — then Christ is willing to become your friend.

He has long wanted you to join His people, and He now invites you by my hand. He is ready to receive you, all unworthy as you may feel, and to write your name down in the list of His friends. He is ready to pardon all the past, to clothe you with righteousness, to give you His Spirit, to make you His own dear child. All He asks you to do, is to come to Him.

He bids you to come with all your sins; only acknowledging your vileness, and confessing that you are ashamed. Just as you are — waiting for nothing — unworthy of anything in yourself — Jesus bids you come and be His friend.

Oh, come and be wise! Come and be safe. Come and be happy. Come and be Christ’s friend.

(4) Know, in the last place, that if Christ is your friend — then you have great privileges, and ought to walk worthy of them.

Seek every day to have closer communion with Him who is your Friend, and to know more of His grace and power. True Christianity is not merely the believing a certain set of dry theological propositions — it is to live in daily personal communication with an actual living person — Jesus the Son of God. “To me,” said Paul, “to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21.)

Seek every day to glorify your Lord and Savior in all your ways. “He who has a friend, should show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24), and no man surely is under such mighty obligations as the friend of Christ. Avoid everything which would grieve your Lord. Fight hard against besetting sins, against inconsistency, against backwardness to confess Him before men. Say to your soul, whenever you are tempted to that which is wrong, “Soul, soul — is this your kindness to your Friend?”

Think, above all, of the mercy which has been shown you, and learn to rejoice daily in your Friend! What though your body is bowed down with disease? What though your poverty and trials are very great? What though your earthly friends forsake you, and you are alone in the world? All this may be true; but if you are in Christ, then you have a Friend, a mighty Friend, a loving Friend, awise Friend, a Friend that never fails. Oh, think, think much upon your friend! Yet in a little while, your Friend shall come to take you home, and you shall dwell with Him forever. Yet in a little while, you shall see as you have been seen, and know as you have been known. And then you shall hear assembled worlds confess, that he is the rich and happy man, who has had Christ for his friend!

POOR MISS SMITH, WHERE IS SHE NOW?

image

(Mary Winslow, “Words of Loving Counsel and Sympathy”)

She entered the train in full expectation of many years of health, wealth, and happiness in this world–and in a few hours was gone forever! Poor Miss Smith–where is she now?

Oh to live for eternity, a glorious eternity! What madness not to be preparing for it. There is nothing on earth so important as to be ready for eternity. Like Miss Smith, you may leave your home in health and in high spirits, in the anticipation of meeting dear friends–and in a few hours be ushered into the presence of the great Judge of Heaven and earth, to be tried at His bar, and acquitted or condemned. But this is a subject ridiculed and slighted by the ungodly.

Try to live on earth, as you expect to live in Heaven. Walk holy and uprightly–just as if the Lord were with you, and in your midst.

I often long to see Jesus–and also Heaven. Heaven is an ocean of love!

Earth is a weary place to me–and Heaven looks very inviting!
To be freed from a body of sin and death,
to be done with the conflict,
to shed no more tears,
to breathe no more sighs,
to have grappled with, and to have overcome the “last enemy,”
to enter into an eternal rest,
to behold Jesus in all His beauty and glory,
to unite my praises with those who are dear to me by nature and by grace,
Oh is not this worth living for, and is it not worth dying for!
O blessed hope of immortality!

A few more steps, and I too am there–a sinner saved by sovereign grace!

I want to have all my thoughts centered on Jesus–He is all and everything to my soul. As I near my home in Heaven, He grows more and more endeared. I feel that Heaven would be no Heaven to me, were He not there.