The Question Between The Plagues
“How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?”
PHARAOH is the type and image of proud men. God permitted him to be left to the natural hardness of his heart and he stood up against Jehovah in a very remarkable way. Those who are students of the ancient history of Egypt, those especially who have seen the remains of the colossal statues of the kings and those tremendous pyramids which probably were the places of their sepulture, will know that man worship was carried on to the very highest degree in connection with the ancient kingdom of Egypt. Our modern civilization has deprived kings of much of the dignity which once hedged them round. We have grown wonderfully familiar with our fellow men in the very highest places of the earth, but in those old monarchies, when the king was absolute and supreme, when his wish, even though he was little better than a maniac–was the law that governed the people–when not a dog dared move his tongue against the despot, then kings seemed to be like little gods and they lorded it over their subjects with a vengeance!
No doubt they grew intoxicated with the fumes of the incense which their subjects willingly offered to them and so came to think themselves almost, if not quite, Divine–and assumed the position and honors of God, Himself. It is not so very amazing, therefore, that Pharaoh should have thought that, in the God of the Hebrews, he had merely met with just another one of the same stamp as himself, against whom he could carry on war and whom he might even subdue. He said within himself, “Who are these Hebrews? Their fathers were a company of shepherds who came and settled in Egypt! And as for these people, they are my slaves. I have built cities with their unpaid labor and I mean to hold them in captivity.They talk about their God, their ‘Jehovah.’ Who is Jehovah that I should obey His voice? Let it be a battle of Pharaoh against Jehovah and let it be fought out to the bitter end! I will show these people that I care not for them, or their Prophets, or their God.”
That same pride which grew so strong in Pharaoh–growing upon that whereon it fed until it came to a colossal form–that same kind of pride is in the hearts of men even to this day! They do not take upon themselves the same high and mighty airs, but, as far as their circumstances will allow, it is still a duel between man and his Maker, between the sinner and his Judge. In the case of some here present, there is now going on a battle between yourselves and your God. Oh, that you would consider this matter in the right light! That you would look at it with calm, steady and reasonable consideration, for then, I think, you would at once throw down your weapons and beg for peace on Gospel terms–and this would be the happiest hour that you have ever lived! God grant that it may be so! I am going to make a running application of my text all through my discourse, and I pray that the Holy Spirit, Himself, may make a direct application of it to anyone whom it may concern.
- To aid your memory, let me say, first of all, that THIS QUESTION HAS ABOUT IT AN AIR OF ASTONISHMENT–“How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” I have no doubt that as Moses and Aaron uttered this question, they put it in tones indicative of surprise–“How long is it to be that you, proud Pharaoh, will refuse to humble yourself before the only living and true God?”
And, surely, that astonishment must have arisen partly from the judgments which God had inflicted upon Pharaoh.You know what Jehovah had already done. He had turned the water into blood and destroyed the fish. He had made frogs to come even into the king’s bedchamber. He had brought innumerable lice and flies throughout all the land. He had sent disease upon the cattle, boils and sores upon man and beast, storms of hail and rain and mighty thunder! With stroke after stroke, almost without a pause, Jehovah had smitten the proud king! Yet still, after seven plagues, Pharaoh stood out as proud and obstinate as ever and, therefore, the Lord sent to him the question of our text, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?”
I think I know some cases that are almost parallel with that of Pharaoh. Here is a man who has been very lofty and proud, but already he has been brought from wealth to poverty. At this moment he scarcely knows where to lay his head, yet in his poverty he has not turned to God. He has been smitten with sickness and that not merely once or twice, but many times. Turning over the pages of his diary he can note on such a day, fever–on such a day some other deadly disease–and these strokes have followed one after another. Yet, on being able to creep out again and to come into the place of public worship, he is still found as hardened in heart as ever he was. How long will it be, my Friend, before you humble yourself before God? The Prophet Isaiah might well ask concerning you the question he put in his day, “Why should you be stricken any more?” The rod seems to be wasted upon you–you have been struck till “the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint,” and you are covered with “wounds, bruises and putrefying sores.” Yet you turn not unto the God who smites you, but you grow prouder and yet prouder still notwithstanding all His chastisements and judgments!
What shall God do next with you? Where shall the next arrow be aimed? An eye, a hand, a foot–shall these be struck? Or shall the Lord lay the cold hand of death upon your heart? Shall “the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern”? I cannot tell how or when the summons may come for you, but I would very earnestly say to any of you who have been the subjects of many Providential trials and Divine judgments, “How long will it be before you humble yourselves before God?”
The question of our text may have been put in astonishment from another point of view, namely, because of the manyfalse pretences of humility which Pharaoh had made. When he was struck, he sent for Moses and Aaron again and again, and he cried out to them, “I have sinned, pray for me. Forgive me just this once.” Then, when his prayer had been heard and the plague had been removed, Pharaoh went back to his old natural hardness and said, “I will not let the people go.” Therefore the Lord sent to him the question, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” Is it not much the same with some of you, my Hearers? I want to speak right home to your hearts and consciences! Have you ever, in the time of your sickness, promised God that if you should get better, your life should be altogether different? Yet, though the Lord spared you, there has not been any true change in you! Did you not say, “Please God, if I am delivered this time, I will be a better man in all respects”? Yet you are not any better than you used to be! Remember that those resolves of yours are all preserved upon God’s file in Heaven–you have the counterfoils of those resolutions in your memory, but the resolutions, themselves, are registered in the Court of King’s Bench above! And one of these days you shall see those broken resolutions again and, as you hear them read, you shall have to answer for having acted falsely towards the Omniscient God and for having lied to Him! God deliver you from the great sin of thus mocking Him!
Meanwhile, I press this question upon the heart and conscience of any to whom it applies, “How long will it be before you humble yourselves before the Lord? Will you go on all your lifetime with the mimicry of repentance, with the mere pretense of faith? Will you always be trying to play fast and loose with God? Will you never shake yourselves clearof this shameful play-acting and come to downright earnest repentance before your God? Will you play yourselves into Hell? Will you go on sporting with eternal realities as if they were only a child’s game?” Oh, let it not be so! Let this question of the Lord, Himself, come rolling, like a peal of thunder, into your heart and conscience, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?”
Do you not think, too, that this question came from Moses with surprise as remembered the many mercies of God to Pharaoh? God had heard the prayers of Moses on behalf of Pharaoh. The proud king might think it a little matter, but he who had prayed for him and obtained the answer to his petitions did not think it a small thing. When the frogs were in all the land–only by the prayer of Moses were they all slain! When the swarms of flies came and defiled the whole country, it was the prayer of Moses that removed the plague so that there remained not one! It might be a little matter to Pharaoh–for men who receive favors often think but little of them–but they who win favors from God by prayer always highly esteem them! So Moses seems to be astonished as he says to Pharaoh, “Has God done all this for you? Has He removed His rod from you? Has He said to the executioner, ‘Put back the axe’? Has He fetched you out of the prison of His judgments, taken the chains off your wrists and set you free–and do you still stand out against Him? How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Him?”
Let me put this question to some who are here. God has been very gracious to you, my Friend, in delivering you from many accidents and diseases–and you are spared till your hair is turning gray. It would have been easy enough for your life to have come to an end long ago, yet here you are, still spared by God’s mercy! You are not a pauper, as you once thought you would be. You are still living in comfortable circumstances and that great trial which, at one time, darkened your life like a heavy cloud, has passed away. And you can now look up with a cheerful countenance and remember times of great despondency and threatened distress. Will you not, then–won by this mercy, subdued by this great love–humble yourself before your God? What more can He do for you than He has already done? See how He has made you the special objective of singular Providential care! I refer you to your diary and ask you to remember how kindly and tenderly and graciously God has dealt with you these many years. O Sirs, if terrors will not move you, let love subdueyou! Oh, that the Grace of God might find out the secret spring of your heart and bring you now, at once, to humble yourselves before the Lord!
So I think I am right in saying, in the first place, that there is an air of surprise about this question to Pharaoh, because of wasted judgments, forgotten promises and neglected mercies–“How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?”
II. Now, in the second place, to change the strain a little, and but a little, let me add that THE QUESTION BREATHES A SPIRIT OF KINDNESS.
You know that when a person does not intend another’s good, he strikes the fatal blow at once without a word of warning. But he who is a father, though he must use the rod, speaks many times and pleads, and admonishes, and persuades before he gives a stroke. This is just what God did with Pharaoh by His servants Moses and Aaron. He said, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?”
In Pharaoh’s case, that which God required of him was right. It was humbling to his pride, but it was right. What right had Pharaoh to hold the Israelites as his slaves? They were not his people–they had been admitted into the kingdom as honored guests. One of that race had saved the nation in the time of famine. Joseph had preserved Egypt and made the king strong in the midst of his people. Gratitude to Joseph ought to have caused the Israelites to be treated in a very different way. At any rate, if Pharaoh did not wish to have them in Egypt, he ought, at least, to have permitted them to go in peace and not to have held them in bondage. This was all that God asked of him–“Let My people go. They are none of yours, they are Mine. Let them go that they may serve Me.”
And, Brothers and Sisters, that which God requires of a sinner is a right thing. He bids you leave your sin. Is not that right? He bids you break off your sins by righteousness. Is not that right? He has provided a way of salvation through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, and He bids you accept it. Is not that right? All that He asks you to do is to confess and forsake your sin. Is not that right? If you cannot undo your sin, the least you can do is to acknowledge it like a man–and that is what God asks of you. He bids you trust His dear Son. Is that a hard thing, an unreasonable thing? If He has appointed a Savior and equipped Him for the service of salvation, and has bid you, who need salvation,to trust Him to save you and never think of self-salvation, but to take Jesus Christ to be the beginning and the end of salvation to you–is not that a right thing? Well, then, how long will it be that you will still refuse to humble yourself before Him? A right-minded man never desires to postpone a right action! If it is just and right, He wishes to let it be done at once. And, oh, dear Friends, it is the most just and right thing that can be conceived of, that a sinner, guilty against the God of Love, should confess his guilt, seek mercy and accept pardon in the way in which God provides it for men!
This question is put in a spirit of kindness and I desire to put it very kindly to any one of you who has not yet yielded to the Lord–“How long will you refuse to humble yourself before God?” Dear Friend, you say that you intend, one day, to humble yourself beneath the mighty hand of God. Do you think it will grow any easier while you delay? Is it difficult, now, to yield yourself to the Lord? It will be more difficult in a year’s time, even if you are spared till then, for a man’s habits harden every day that he lives! They spin new webs about him. They hold him fast, poor fly that he is, every hour that he lives. If it ever is an easy matter to bow before the Lord, it is easier at this moment than it will be tomorrow. Say not, therefore, “I am waiting for a more convenient season,” for the most convenient season that ever can come is now! There will be greater inconveniences tomorrow than there are tonight–and so will it be ad infinitum! If you wouldbe free from your bondage, break loose at once! You have waited too long, already, and you do not find it easier from day to day, neither will you if you still delay to submit to the Lord. Therefore, yield to Him at once. God help you to do so!
Do you not know that if God means to save you, He will send heavier plagues upon you than any you have felt as yet?If you will not come to Him with one blow, you shall have two! And if two will not suffice, you shall have twenty, for He will have you. It would be better to yield at once! There is no greater wisdom than the moment the Lord says, “Seek you My face,” to answer, “Your face, Lord, will I seek.” “Be you not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding,” which must be driven to their work and goaded on in their labor. There are some who come to Christ like vessels towed into port, all but wrecked, with torn sails and broken timbers. It is better by far that you be gently wafted into the haven by the soft south wind of Love, or that you spread your canvas to a favoring gale and fly before the breeze into the Fair Havens of salvation by Christ! I would put it to you, dear Friend–Why do you want to be beaten, bruised, cut and wounded? Why not, as you are, say tonight–
“Just as I am–without one plea
But that Your blood was shed for me,
And that You bid me come to You,
O Lamb of God, I come”?
At any rate, there is one other thing I will say to you–a time for decision should be set. I would like to press thequestion of the text, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” I remember a man of God who was talking with a young lady to whom he had spoken many times about her soul. At last he said to her, “Well, Hannah, you do intend to come to Christ one day?” “Yes, Sir,” she replied, “I do intend.” “Well, now,” he said, “will you give me a date when you will come to Christ? You are 20 now, will you come to the Lord Jesus Christ when you are thirty? Will you put that down as a definite promise?” The young lady answered, “Well, Sir, I should not like to promise that because I might be dead before I was thirty. Ten years is a long time and I might be dead and gone before that time. I hope I shall know the Lord before that.” “Well, Hannah,” the good man said, “we will say nine years, then. That is to be the time that you fix when you will yield to the mercy of God.” “Well, Sir,” she said, “I hope it will be before then.” “No,” he said, “the bargain is made–you will have to run risks for nine years, you know. You make the bargain that you will come to Christ in nine years' time. Let it stand so and you must run the risk.”
“Oh, Sir!” she exclaimed, “it would be an awful thing, a dreadful thing, for me to say that I would wait nine years, because I might be lost in that time.” The friend then said, “Well, suppose we say that you will serve the Lord in 12 months' time? Will you just take this year and spend it in the service of Satan, and then, when you have enjoyed yourself that way, give your heart to Christ?” Somehow, the young woman felt that it was a long time and a very dangerous time, so she answered, “I should not like to be hung over an awful chasm and for somebody to say, ‘I will pull you up at the end of a year and set your feet on a rock.’” No, she could not bear that thought! And as her minister pressed her to set a time and brought it down by little and little, at last she said, “Oh, Sir, it had better be tonight! It had better be tonight! Pray to God that I may now give my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, for it is such a dreadful thing to be without a Savior! I would have Christ as my Lord this very night.” So I put it to you–yield to Christ at once and do not keep on saying, “I hope it will not be long before I become a child of God.”
You know how people often talk when they owe you money–they promise to pay you “next Monday.” Then, when the next Monday comes, they say that, unfortunately, there was a remittance which they fully expected on the Saturday, but it did not come. They feel quite certain it will come on Wednesday morning, so they will be round at your house with it, or, would you mind calling upon them at noon on Wednesday? When you call on Wednesday, they are so sorry–such a thing never happened to them before, but they lost a purse when they were out in the street, so could you allow them another month’s credit? That is how they go on, until at last you say, “Well now, look here, will you tell me once and for all when you will pay me? Do fix a day.” And you think you have done something when you get a day for payment fixed at last. So shall I think that there is something gained–though, mark you, I have not much confidence in such an arrangement–if there is a deliberate attempt made to fix some kind of time when you will yield yourself to Christ! And, of all the times that I can think of–if I may, for once, be your solicitor and sit down quietly and give you my best advice–my experience suggests to me that I had better quote to you this passage of Scripture, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Today is in your power, it is here at present! It has almost gone, flying with the setting sun, but
The question of our text is asked, then, not only with an air of surprise, but also with a great measure of kindness. And in that kindly spirit I wish you to suppose that I am walking round the front of this lower gallery and shaking hands with every unconverted person and asking, “How long will it be before you trust in Jesus?” And then, mounting the stairs to get to you who are in the upper gallery, that I may put to you the same question. And, after making the round of the whole building, threading my way as best I can through these crowded aisles and taking each one by the hand, giving a hearty grip, and saying, “How long is it to be? How long is it to be?” And, “Had it not better be now?” God grant that it may be now that you will humble yourself before the Lord, for Jesus' sake!
III. In the third place I will deal with the text in rather a different style, yet still keeping to the same objective though I change the line of argument. THIS QUESTION IS ASKED IN A TONE OF POWER.
If I could speak it as Jehovah would speak it by His servant Moses, I think it would run like this–“Thus says Jehovah, God of the Hebrews, How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go that they may serve Me.” God as God says to Pharaoh, “ It is no use for you to stand out against Me. As well might a moth contend with thefurnace. It is of no use for you to lift your puny hand against Me. You know not how great My power is. I have given you a taste of it, but I have yet more terrible plagues in the rear which I will bring forward–and you will have to bow before Me.” And you know, Brothers and Sisters, how Pharaoh did at last have to bow before Jehovah! The firstborn of hisstrength was cut off in the dead of night and there was wailing in the palace and in all the land. And then, when Pharaoh said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil. My lust shall be satisfied upon them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them”–he dashed forward to pursue the hosts of the Lord and you know what followed. “For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them.” Then was heard the song of Miriam, “Sing you to Jehovah, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea.” As the rushing waters bore him away, proud Pharaoh learned when, too late, how great a fool he had been to contend against the Infinite Majesty of Almighty God!
And I say to you, Brothers and Sisters, who are fighting against God, you must either bend or break! As God lives,you must bow before Him in repentance, or you shall be crushed beneath Him in the day of His anger! Think not, when we talk to you of God’s mercy, that we come to you as your equal might come, and reason with you as though God were afraid of you! Do you talk of your great strength? He is almighty! As for you, your breath is in your nostrils and the Lord could cause you, in a moment, to fall dead in a fit, as many have done before you! If you will not yield to Him, He is infinitely glorious without you! And if you rebel against Him, in what way can you affect the supremacy of His empire? As well might a drop of spray hope to shake the cliffs of Albion as for you to contend against the Majesty of God!
O Brothers and Sisters, fight not against your God! What profit can there be to you in this rebellion? Already you have found no profit in it. Therefore be not so mad as to continue warring against your God. “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” He is a God ready to forgive! “He delights in mercy.” He wills not the death of any, but that they turn to Him and live. Still, if you will persist in contending against Him, see what your end will be–“Everlasting destruction from the Presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.” Jesus Himself put the final issue thus, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.”
IV. I conclude my sermon by trying to show that THE QUESTION OF OUR TEXT IS OF WIDE APPLICATION.
Let me try to put the case to you who are here present. Forget Pharaoh and only think of yourself. Let the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, with the thorn-crowned head and the pierced hands stand by your pew and, looking right down into your soul, say in His matchless tone of music–the music of the heart of love–“How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?”
What is your difficulty, dear Friend? What is the cause of your quarrel with your Lord? Do you even refuse to thinkabout religion? I know that many do. They get up late on Sunday morning and loiter about the house all day, with no care to go to what they call these “preaching-shops.” They would rather go for a walk. The Bible is never read by them–they say that it is such a dreary book–which shows how unacquainted they are with its contents. Religion they regard as a mere make-up of priests, though they have never fairly examined its claims. Well, Friend, will you not at least give the Gospel a hearing before you condemn it? Will you not listen to God’s message of salvation that you may form a sober judgment concerning it? Will you not, at any rate, read that Book which you have hitherto despised, that you may find out whether it really is the Book of God? Oh, no, you know too much to read the Bible! You are far too cultured to listen to the common preaching of such poor folk as we are. That is how you talk, but are you not ashamed to speak so? Do you not, yourself, judge that when a man thinks he knows everything, he really knows very little? And that when he affects to be such a very superior person, he is not so high and mighty as he thinks himself to be? Humble yourself enough, at least, to be wise? Humble yourself enough to listen to this question of Nicodemus, “Does our law judge any man before it hears him and know what he does?” Hear the story of Christ and examine and weigh the evidence of His Messiahship. Consider the claims of Christ and confess that you have not met them. And then give your whole heart and soul to seek to know the way of salvation!
But, suppose you have thought of religion, what is your trouble? You say, “Well, I understand that I cannot besaved except by confessing myself a sinner.” You would not need salvation, would you, if you were not a sinner? Surely, there is no hardship in refusing to you what you profess you do not need! If I opened a doctor’s shop and posted in the window a notice stating that I would give away no pills or draughts to men who were perfectly well, nobody would accuse me of a lack of humanity because I acted like that. Those who are well have no need of a physician! So, to qualify yourself for being saved, you must first confess that you need to be saved! Come, Friend, have you always been perfect? I should like to see you stand in the middle of the congregation and let us all look you up and down! If you did not blush, I should know that you were not perfect–and if you did blush, it would be a confession that you were imperfect! We have all transgressed the Law of our God. Some in one way and some in another, but, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and we must confess that it is even so. When we have done this, then will be fulfilled to us the ancient promise, “Whoso confesses and forsakes his sins shall have mercy.”
If you have made a confession of sin, what is further the matter with you? “Why,” you say, “I am told that I must besaved by Divine Grace.” Yes, and how else would you like to be saved? Do you wish to be saved by your own merits? You have not any! You would like to set up some merit of your own, but why try to set up a lie? God is the God of Truth and He cannot endure that which is false. If ever any of us gets to Heaven, it will be by the free and undeserved mercy of God–why should you quarrel with such terms as these? When a thing is to be given away for nothing, I would be the last man to try to run it up in price! The richest man can have it for nothing and that is a price which exactly suits the poorest. Blessed be God that salvation is all of Grace from first to last! Humble yourself to accept it “without money and without price.”
“But I understand,” says one, “that I am to be saved simply by believing in Christ, and I do not like that way of salvation.” Why do you not like it? Salvation by the atoning Sacrifice of Christ, through the sinner simply trusting in Christ, will greatly glorify Him. This makes the way of salvation possible to lame feet, blind eyes, deaf ears and enables poor guilty souls to find perfect righteousness which they could never find in any other way! Humble yourself, therefore, and submit to God’s plan of salvation! Really, it seems to me that if a man gives anything away, he has a right to give it in his own way. And if God gives salvation, surely He has the right to give it in His own style! And if He will give it to all who confess their need of it, and come and freely accept it because Christ has worked it out, who shall quarrel with such terms as these?
In closing, I would very affectionately press home this passage upon all whom it concerns. Listen to the Lord, Himself, as He puts to you this solemn question, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” Here are many of us who, long ago, came to Jesus and humbled ourselves before Him, and we did not think it any degradation. I would sooner have some men to put their foot on my neck than I would have the best words of certain other men. One might be willing to sit still and be abused by some men and then say, “It is a pleasure, even, to be noticed by such persons,” while, if certain others were to praise you, you might ask as the philosopher did of old, “What have I been doing amiss that this wretch should speak well of me?”
Ah, poor Sinner! If you once get a view of the Lord Jesus Christ and know who He is, and what He is–if you can, by faith, perceive His beauties, you will say, “To fall at His feet is a high privilege! To submit myself to such an One as Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a higher honor than to receive a peerage from an earthly sovereign.” Therefore, let us go together–you who never went and some of us who have often been–let us go together and let us cry to Christ, “Lord, receive us! We are nothing but a mass of sin and misery! Receive us and save us, for Your mercy’s sake, and unto Your name shall be the glory forever and ever!” Amen.