“I was left.”
THE vision of Ezekiel which is recorded in the previous chapter brought to light the abominations of the house of Judah. The vision which follows in this chapter shows the terrible retribution that the Lord God brought upon the guilty nation, beginning at Jerusalem.
He beheld the men of slaughter who come forth with their weapons. He marked them begin the destroying work at the gate of the Temple. He saw them proceed through the main streets and not omit a single lane–they utterly slew all those who were not marked with the mark of the writer’s inkhorn on their brow. He stood alone–that Prophet of the Lord–himself spared in the midst of universal carnage and, as the carcasses fell at his feet, and the bodies stained with gore lay all around him, he said, “I was left.” He stood alive among the dead because he was found faithful among the faithless–he survived in the midst of universal destruction because he had served his God in the midst of universal depravity.
We shall now take the sentence altogether apart from Ezekiel’s vision and appropriate it to ourselves. And I think, when we read it over, and repeat it, “I was left,” it very naturally invites us to take a review of the past. It also very readily suggests a prospect of the future .
- First of all, then, my Brothers and Sisters, we have here a pathetic reflection which seems to invite us to take A SOLEMN REVIEW–“I was left.”
You remember, many of you, times of sickness, when cholera was in your streets. You may forget that season of pestilence, but I never can–when the duties of my pastorate called me to continually walk among your terror-stricken households and to see the dying and the dead. Impressed upon my young heart must ever remain some of those sad scenes I witnessed when I first came to this metropolis and was, really, employed at that time to bury the dead rather than to bless the living. Some of you have passed through not only one season of cholera, but many, and you have been present, too, perhaps, in climates where fever has prostrated its hundreds and where the plague and other dire diseases have emptied out their quivers and every arrow has found its mark in the heart of some one of your companions. Yet you have been left.
You walked among the graves, but you did not stumble into them. Fierce and fatal maladies lurked in your path, but they were not allowed to devour you. The bullets of Death whistled by your ears and yet you stood alive, for his bullet had no billet for your heart. You can look back, some of you, through fifty, sixty, 70 years. Your bald and gray heads tell the story that you are no more raw recruits in the warfare of life. You have become veterans, if not invalids, in thearmy. You are ready to retire, to put off your armor and give place to others. Look back, Brothers and Sisters, I say, you who have come into the sere and yellow leaf–remember the many seasons in which you have seen death hailing multitudes about you–and think, “I was left.”
And we, too, who are younger, in whose veins our blood still leaps in vigor, can remember times of peril when thousands fell about us, yet we can say, in God’s house, with great emphasis, “I was left”–reserved, great God, when many others perished. Sustained, standing on the rock of life when the waves of death dashed about me, the spray fell heavily upon me and my body was saturated with disease and pain–yet am I still alive– still permitted to mingle with the busy tribes of men!
Now, then, what does such a review as this suggest? Ought we not, each one of us, to ask the question, Why was I spared? Why was I left? Many of you were, at that time–and some of you are even now dead in trespasses and sins! You were not spared because of your fruitfulness, for you brought forth nothing but the grapes of Gomorrah! Certainly God did not stay His sword because of anything good in you. A multitude of clamorous evils in your disposition, if not in your conduct, might well have demanded your summary execution. But you were spared. Let me ask you why? Was it that mercy might yet visit you–that Grace might yet renew your soul? Have you found it so? Has Sovereign Grace overcome you, beaten down your prejudices, thawed your icy heart, broken your stony will in pieces? Say, Sinner, in looking back upon the times when you have been left, were you spared in order that you might be saved with a great salvation?
And if you cannot say, “Yes,” to that question, let me ask you whether it may not yet be so? Soul, why has God spared you so long, while you are yet His enemy, a stranger to Him and far off from Him by wicked works? Or, on the contrary, has He spared you–I tremble at the bare mention of the possibility–has He prolonged your days to develop your propensities, that you may grow riper for damnation–that you may fill up your measure of crying iniquity and then go down to the Pit a seared and dry sinner, like wood that is ready for the fire? Can it be so? Shall these spared moments be spoiled by more misdemeanors, or shall they be given up to repentance and to prayer? Will you now, before the last of your sins shall set in everlasting darkness, will you now look to Him? If so, you will have reason to bless God through all eternity, that you were left–because you were left that you might yet seek and might yet find Him who is the Savior of sinners!
Do I speak to many of you who are Christians, who, too, have been left? When better saints than you were snatched away from earthly ties and creature kindred–when brighter stars than you were enclouded in night–were you still permitted to shine with your poor flickering ray? Why was it, great God? Why am I now left? Let me ask myself that question. In sparing me so long, my Lord, have You not something more for me to do? Is there not some purpose, not conceived in my soul, which You will yet suggest to me–and to carry out which You will yet give me Grace and strength and spare me a little while longer? Am I yet immortal or shielded at least from every arrow of death because my work is incomplete? Is the tale of my years prolonged because the full tale of the bricks has not yet been made up? Then show me what You would have me do! Since thus I have been left, help me to feel myself a specially-consecrated man, left for a purpose, reserved for some end, otherwise I had been worms many years ago and my body had crumbled back to its mother earth! Christian, I say, always be asking yourself this question, but especially be asking it when you are preserved in times of more than ordinary sickness and mortality. If I am left, why am I left? Why am I not taken home to Heaven? Why do I not enter into my rest? Great Lord and Master, show me what You would have me do and give me Grace and strength to do it!
Let us change the review for a moment and look upon the sparing mercy of God in another light. “I was left.” Some of you now present, whose history I well know, can say, “I was left,” and say it with peculiar emphasis. You were born of ungodly parents. The earliest words you can remember were base and blasphemous–too bad to repeat. You can remember how the first breath your infant lungs received was tainted air–the air of vice, of sin and iniquity. You grew up, you and your brothers and your sisters, side by side. You filled the home with sin. You went on together in your youthful crimes and encouraged each other in evil habits. Thus you grew up to manhood and then you were banded together in ties of immorality as well as in ties of blood. You added to your number–you took in fresh associates. As your family circle increased, so did the flagrancy of your conduct. You all conspired to break the Sabbath. You devised the same schemes and perpetrated the same improprieties. You recollect how one and another of your old comrades died–you followed them to their graves and your merriment was checked a little while–but it soon broke out again. Then a sister died, steeped to the mouth in infidelity. After that, a brother was taken–he had no hope in his death–all was darkness and despair before him. And so, Sinner, you have outlived all your friends! If you are inclined to go to Hell, you must go there along a beaten track–a path which, as you look back upon the way you have trodden, is stained with blood, for you can remember how all who have been before you have gone to the long home in dismal gloom, without a glimpse or ray of joy.
And now you are left, Sinner, and, blessed be God, it may be you can say, “Yes, and I am not only left, but I am here in the House of Prayer! And if I know my own heart–there is nothing I should hate so much as to live my old life over again. Here I am and I never believed I would ever be here! I look back with mournfulness, indeed, upon those who have departed, but, though mourning them, I express my gratitude to God that I am not in torments–not in Hell–but still here! Yes, not only here, but having a hope that I shall one day see the face of Christ and stand amidst blazing worlds robed in His righteousness and preserved by His love.”
You have been left, then–and what ought you to say? Ought you to boast? Oh, no! Be doubly humble! Should you take the glory to yourself? No! Put the crown upon the head of free, rich, undeserved Grace! And what should you do above all other men? Why, you should be doubly pledged to serve Christ! As you served the devil through thick and thin until you came to serve him, alone, and your company had all departed, so, by Divine Grace, may you be pledged to Christ–to follow Him, though all the world should despise Him–and to hold on to the end, until, if every professor should be an apostate, it might yet be said of you at the last, “He was left. He stood alone in sin while his comrades died and then he stood alone in Christ when his companions deserted him.” Thus of you it shall always be said, “He was left.”
This suggests also one more form of the same review. What a special Providence has watched over some of us and guarded our feeble frames! There are some of you, in particular, who have been left to such an age that, as you look back upon your youthful days, you recall far more of kinsfolk in the tomb than remain in the world, more under the earth than above it! In your dreams you are the associates of the dead. Still you are left! Preserved amidst a thousand dangers of infancy, then kept in youth, steered safely over the shoals and quicksands of an immature age and over the rocks and reefs of manhood, you have been brought past the ordinary period of mortal life–and yet you are still here. Seventy years exposed to perpetual death and yet preserved till you have come almost, perhaps, to your fourscore years! You have been left, my dear Brother or Sister–and why are you left? Why is it that brothers and sisters are all gone? Why is it that the ranks of your old schoolmates have gradually thinned? You cannot remember one, now alive, who was your companion in youth. How is it that now, you, who have lived in a certain quarter so long, see new names there on all the shop doors, new faces in the street and everything new to what you once saw in your young days? Why are you spared? Are you an unconverted man? Are you an unconverted woman? To what end are you spared? Is it that you may, at the 11 th hourbe saved? God grant it may be so! Or are you spared till you shall have sinned yourself into the lowest depths of Hell, that you may go there the most aggravated sinner because of the oft-repeated warnings so often neglected–are you spared for this, or is it that you may yet be saved?
But are you a Christian? Then it is not hard for you to answer the question, “Why are you spared?” I do not believe there is an old woman on earth, living in the most obscure cottage in England and sitting this very night in a dark attic, with her candle gone out, without means to buy another–I do not believe that old woman would be kept out of Heaven five minutes unless God had something for her to do on earth! And I do not think that yon gray-headed man would still be preserved unless there was something for him to do. Tell it out, tell it out, you aged man! Tell the story of that preserving Grace which has kept you up till now! Tell to your children and to your children’s children what a God He is whom you have trusted! Stand up as a hoary patriarch and tell how He delivered you in six troubles and in seven suffered no evil to touch you! Bear to coming generations your faithful witness that His Word is true and that His promise cannot fail! Lean on your staff and say, before you die in the midst of your family, “Not one good thing has failed of all that the Lord God has promised.” Let your ripe days bring forth a mellow testimony to His love and, as you become more and more advanced in years, so be you more and more advanced in knowledge and in confirmed assurance of the Immutability of His counsel, the truthfulness of His oath, the preciousness of His blood and the sureness of the salvation of all those who put their trust in Him! Then shall we know that you are spared for a high and noble purpose, indeed! You shall say it with tears of gratitude and we will listen with smiles of joy–“I was left.”
II. I must rather suggest these reviews than follow them up, though, did time permit, we might well enlarge abundantly and, therefore, I must hurry on to invite you to A PROSPECT.
You and I shall soon pass out of this world into another. This life is, as it were, but the ferry–we are being carried across and we shall soon come to the true shore, the real terra firma–for here there is nothing that is substantial. When we shall come into that next world, we have to expect, by-and-by, a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust. And in that solemn day we are to expect that all that dwell upon the face of the earth shall be gathered together in one place. And He shall come, who came once to suffer–He shall come to judge the world in righteousness and the people in equity! He who came as an Infant shall come as the Infinite! He who lay wrapped in swaddling bands shall come girt about the waist with a golden girdle, with a rainbow wreath and robes of storm! There shall we all stand, a vast, innumerable company–earth shall be crowned from her valley’s deepest base to the mountain’s summit–and the sea’s waves shall become the solid standing-place of men and women who have slept beneath its torrents. Then shall every eye be fixed on Him, every ear shall be open to Him and every heart shall watch with solemn awe and dread suspense for the transactions of that greatest of all days, that Day of Days, that sealing up of the ages, that completing of the dispensation!
In solemn pomp the Savior comes and His angels with Him. You hear His voice as He cries, “Gather together the tares in bundles to burn them.” Behold the reapers, how they come with wings of fire! See how they grasp their sharp sickles which have long been grinding upon the millstone of God’s long-suffering, but have become sharpened at the last. Do you see them as they approach? There they are, mowing down a nation with their sickles! The vile idolaters have just now fallen and yonder a family of blasphemers has been crushed beneath the feet of the reapers! See there a bundle of drunkards being carried away upon the reapers shoulders to the great blazing fire. See again, in another place, the whoremonger, the adulterer, the unchaste and such like, tied up in vast bundles–bundles the ropes of which shall never be cut–and see them cast into the fire and see how they blaze in the unutterable torments of that Pit! And shall I be left? Great God, shall I stand there wrapped in His righteousness, alone, the righteousness of Him who sits as my Judge, erect upon the Judgment Seat? Shall I, when the wicked shall cry, “Rocks, hide us; mountains, on us fall,” gaze upon Him? Shall these eyes look up, shall this face dare to turn itself to the face of Him that sits upon the Throne? Shall I stand calm and unmoved amidst universal terror and dismay? Shall I be numbered with the goodly company, who, clothed with the white linen which is the righteousness of the saints, shall await the shock, shall see the wicked hurled to destruction and feel and know themselves secure?
Shall it be so or shall I be bound up in a bundle to burn and swept away forever by the breath of God’s nostrils, like the chaff driven before the wind? It must be one or the other! Which shall it be? Can I answer that question? Can I tell? I can tell it–tell it now–for I have in this very Chapter of God’s Word, that which teaches me how to judge myself! They who are preserved have the mark on their foreheads! And they have a character as well as a mark–and their character is that they sigh and cry for all the abominations of the wicked. Then, if I hate sin, and if I sigh because others love it–if I cry because I, myself, through infirmity fall into it–if the sin of myself and the sin of others is a constant source of grief and vexation of spirit to me–then I have that mark and evidence of those who shall neither sigh nor cry in the world to come, for sorrow and sighing shall flee away!
Have I the blood-mark on my brow today? Say, my Soul, have you put your trust in Jesus Christ, alone, and as the fruit of that faith, has your faith learned how to love, not only Him that saved you, but others, too, who as yet are unsaved? And do I sigh and cry within while I bear the blood-mark without! Come Brother, Sister, answer this for yourself, I charge you! I charge you do so by the tottering earth and by the ruined pillars of Heaven that shall surely shake! I pray you, by the cherubim and seraphim that shall be before the Throne of the Great Judge by the blazing lightning that shall then illumine the thick darkness and make the sun amazed, and turn the moon into blood–by Him whose tongue is like a flame, like a sword of fire! I charge you by Him who shall judge you, and try you, and read your heart, and declare your ways, and divide unto you your eternal portion! I charge you by the certainties of death, by the sureness of judgment, by the glories of Heaven, by the solemnities of Hell–I beseech, implore, command, entreat you–ask yourself, now, “Shall I be left? Do I believe in Christ? Have I been born-again? Have I a new heart and a right spirit? Or am I still what I always was–God’s enemy, Christ’s despiser, cursed by the Law of God, cast out from the Gospel, without God and without hope–a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel?”
I cannot speak to you as earnestly as I would to God that I could. I want to thrust this question into your very loins and stir up your heart’s deepest thoughts with it. Sinner, what will become of you when God shall winnow the chaff from the wheat? What will be your portion? You that stand in the aisle, yonder, what will be your portion? You who are crowded over there–what will your portion be when He shall come and nothing shall escape His eyes? Say, shall you hear Him? Say, and shall your heart-strings crack while He utters the thundering sound, “Depart, you cursed”? Or shall it be your happy lot–your soul transported all the while with unutterable bliss–to hear Him say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”? Our text reveals a prospect, I pray you to look at it, gaze across the narrow stream of death, and say. “Shall I be left?”–
“When you, my righteous Judge, shall come
To fetch Your ransomed people home,
Shall I among them stand?
Shall such a worthless worm as I,
Who sometimes am afraid to die
Be found at Your right hand?
I love to meet among them now,
Before Your gracious feet to bow,
Though vilest of them all!
But can I bear the piercing thought–
What if my name should be left out
When You for them shall call?
Prevent, prevent it by Your Grace!
Be You, dear Lord, my hiding place
In this the accepted day–
Your pardoning voice, oh let me hear
To still my unbelieving fear
Nor let me fall, I pray.”
III. But now we come to A TERRIBLE CONTRAST which I think is suggested in the text, “I was left.”
Then there will be some that will not be left in the sense we have been speaking of–and yet who will be left after another and more dreadful manner. They will be left by mercy, forsaken by hope, given up by friends and become a prey to the implacable fury, to the sudden, infinite and unmitigated severity and justice of an angry God! But they will not be left or exempted from judgment, for the sword shall find them out, the vials of Jehovah shall reach even to their heart! And that flame, the pile whereof is wood and much smoke, shall suddenly devour them and that without remedy. Sinner, you shall be left! I say, you will be left of all those fond joys that you now hug–left of that pride which now steels your heart–you will be low enough, then! You will be left of that iron constitution which now seems to repel the darts of death. You shall be left of those companions of yours that entice you on to sin and harden you in iniquity. You shall be left by those who promise to be your helpers at the last. They shall need helpers, themselves, and the strong man shall fail. You shall be left, then, of that pleasing fancy of yours and of that merry wit which can make sport of Bible Truths and mock at Divine solemnities!
You shall be left, then, of all your buoyant hopes and of all your imaginary delights. You shall be left of that sweet angel, Hope, who never forsakes any but those who are condemned to Hell! You shall be left of God’s Spirit, who sometimes now pleads with you. You shall be left of Jesus Christ, whose Gospel has been so often preached in your ear. You shall be left of God the Father–He shall shut His eyes of pity against you–His heart of compassion shall no more yearn over you, nor shall He regard your cries. You shall be left but, oh, again I tell you, you shall not be left as one who has escaped, for, when the earth shall open to swallow up the wicked, it shall open at your feet and swallow you up! When the fiery thunderbolt shall pursue the spirit that falls into the Pit that is bottomless, it shall pursue you, reach you and find you! When God tears the wicked in pieces and there shall be none to deliver, He shall tear you in pieces! He shall be unto you as a consuming fire, your conscience shall be full of gall, your heart shall be drunk with bitterness, your teeth shall be broken, even as with gravel, your hopes melted with His hot thunderbolts and all your joys withered and blasted by His breath!
O careless Sinner, mad Sinner, you who are now dashing yourself downward to destruction, why will you play the fool at this rate? There are cheaper ways of making sport for yourself than this! Dash your head against the wall. Go there and, like David, let your spittle fall upon your beard, but let not your sin fall upon your conscience–and let not your despite of Christ be like a millstone hung about your neck with which you shall be cast into the sea forever. Be wise, I pray you. O Lord, make the sinner wise! Hush his madness for a while. Let him be sober and hear the voice of reason! Let him be still and hear the voice of conscience! Let him be obedient and hear the voice of Scripture! “Thus says the Lord, because I will do this, consider your ways.” “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.” “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”
I do feel that I have a message for someone tonight. Though there may be some who think the sermon not appropriate to a congregation where there is so large a proportion of converted men and women, yet what a large proportion of ungodly ones there is here, too! I know that you come here, many of you, to hear some funny tale, or to catch at some strange, extravagant speech of one whom you repute to be an eccentric man. Ah, well, he is eccentric and hopes to be so till he dies! But it is simply eccentric in being in earnest and wanting to win souls! O poor Sinners, there is no odd tale I would not tell if I thought it would be blessed to you! There is no grotesque language which I would not use, however it might be thrown back at me, if I thought it might but be serviceable to you! I set not my account to be thought a fine speaker–they that use fine language may dwell in the king’s palaces. I speak to you as one who knows he is accountable to no man, but only to his God–as one who shall have to render his account at the Last Great Day.
And I pray you will not go away to talk of this and that which you have marked in my language. Think of this one thing, “Shall I be left”? Shall I be saved? Shall I be caught up and dwell with Christ in Heaven, or shall I be cast down to Hell forever and ever?“ Turn over these things! Think seriously of them. Hear that voice which says, "Him that comes to Me I will in nowise cast out.” Give heed to the voice which expostulates, “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.”
How else shall your life be spared when the wicked are judged? How else shall you find shelter when the tempest of Divine wrath rages? How else shall you stand in the lot of the righteous at the end of the days?