“Your judgments are a great deep.”
CONSIDER the word, “judgment,” in whatever light you please, this sentence is true. There is much of mystery connected with the terrible calamities which afflict the earth, devastate nations, destroy cities and sweep away the relics of the past. There is much of mystery about the judgments of God upon the wicked in this life–how they prosper for awhile and are suddenly cut down–how they grow fat like oxen and then are taken away to the shambles. The judgments of God regarding the wicked in the world to come are also “a great deep,” not to be spoken of with levity. A solemn subject is that of the future punishment of the ungodly–“a great deep,” a deep where some, I am afraid, speculate so deeply that the risk they run is imminent–they may drown themselves in Hell.
But I prefer tonight to take the text as it may refer to God’s dealings with His own people. He deals with them injudgment, not, I think, penally, vindicating the inflexible justice of the Law by the terrible vengeance He inflicts on the transgressor as He will deal with the wicked at the last dread assize. I mean not that. I rather interpret it of the salutary discipline and painful chastisements of God’s hand which are called “judgments” in Scripture. They do not come by chance, nor upon us at all merely as a matter of sovereignty, but they are sent in wisdom, because God judges them to be necessary. They are weighed out to us with discretion–given to us by prudence. It is a sweet name, I think, for affliction–not that I look upon affliction as a judgment upon me for sin, which I cannot do, now that I have seen sin punished in Christ, but I look at my afflictions as being sent to me according to the all-wise judgment of a kind Father, not at all without consideration, but always according to His Infinite wisdom and prudence, dealt out in measure and at proper times, according to the Infinite judgment and wisdom of God. In a word, they are called, “judgments,” not because they are judicial, but because they are judicious!
Now, these dealings of God with His servants, always wise and prudent, are frequently like great deeps. This evening I shall simply work out three or four thoughts which arise out of that metaphor.
- THE DEALINGS OF GOD WITH HIS PEOPLE ARE OFTEN UNFATHOMABLE.
We cannot discover the foundation or cause and spring of them. Some of God’s servants who are earnestly desirous to provide things honest in the sight of all men, though they are industrious and energetic and use proper prudence, do not find themselves able to prosper in trade. They are thwarted in all their purposes. There seems to be a kind of fatality connected with all their enterprises. If they do but touch a business or a bargain which will turn into gold with the traffic of others, it melts under their hand into dross. Now, it is not always that this can be explained. “Your judgments are a great deep”–a matter to be perceived as a fact, but not to be explained by reasoning.
Sometimes in a family a dear child is born and is a great comfort to its parents. It seems, indeed, to be sent in love, to heal some old wound and to make the house happy! And then just as suddenly as it came, it is removed. Why? Ah, here, again, is another deep which a mother’s anxious heart would like to fathom, but which it is not for her to explore. It is a great deep.
Children will be spared to us and just when they are ripening to manhood and womanhood, and we hope to see them settled and established in life, it happens–as it happened to one of our beloved friends in this Church this afternoon–that we have to stand at the open grave, and say, “Earth to earth, dust to dust.” Why God takes away the holy and the good, the amiable and the lovely when they appeared to be most useful, we cannot understand. It is a great deep.
Oftentimes, too, it happens that when a man is surrounded by his family and all his household are dependent upon his exertions with a business just beginning to prosper, while he bids fair to live for many years, he is cut down as in a moment–his wife is left a widow–his children are orphans. He seems to be taken away at the very worst time, just when he could least be spared. The anxious wife may say to herself, “Why is this?” but she can only say in return, “I cannot comprehend it, it is a great deep.”
I might thus go on recounting instances, but they have transpired before us all in our lifetime. And if they have not occurred to us yet, they certainly will. Trials and troubles will come upon us quite beyond our measuring line. We shall have to do business in deep waters where no plummet can by possibility find a bottom! “Your judgments are a great deep.”
But why does the Lord send us an affliction which we cannot understand? Your child must not expect to understand all his father does, because his father is a man of ripened intellect and understanding, and the child is but a child. You, dear Brother, however experienced you may be, are but a child and, compared with the Divine mind, what intelligence have you? How can you expect, therefore, that God shall always act upon a rule which you shall be able to understand? He is God and, therefore, it becomes us oftentimes to be dumb, to sit in silence and feel and know it must be right, though we equally know we cannot see how it is so.
God sends us trials of this sort for the exercise of our Divine Graces. When you cantrace it, you cannot trust it. If you can understand all that He does, there is room, then, for your judgment rather than for your faith and for your reliance on His judgment. But when you cannot understand it, submit yourself to Him! Say, “I know that God is good. Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him; though I walk in darkness and see no light, yet shall not an unbelieving word cross these lips, for He is good and must be good, become of me what may.” Oh, then it is that faith is faith, indeed–the faith that brings glory to God and strength to your soul! Here is room, too, for humility.Knowledge puffs up, but the feeling that everything is beyond our knowledge, that we are nonplussed and cannot understand–the sense of ignorance and incapacity to understand the dealings of God–brings humility to us and we sit down at the foot of Jehovah’s Throne. Beloved, I think there is hardly a Grace which the Christian has which is not much helped by the deeps of God’s judgments. Certainly love has frequently been developed to a high degree in this way, for the soul at last comes to say, “No, I will not ask the reason–I will not desire the reason–I do so love Him! Let His willstand for a reason. That shall be enough for me. It is the Lord–let Him do what seems good to Him.” We love not those whom we are always bringing to book and questioning about all they do, but when love comes to perfection it admires all, it believes all to be right and to be perfect. And so, when love comes to perfection with reference to the most perfect God, then it is that everything that is done is endorsed without examination–everything, even though it is shrouded in darkness–is believed in without a question. It must be right, for You, Lord, have done it!
Many other reasons why God calls His people thus to feel His judgments occur to me. One I may give, then I will leave this point. We have sins which we cannot fathom, dear Brothers and Sisters, and it is little marvel, therefore, if wehave also chastisements which we cannot fathom! There are depths of depravity within our heart that call for other deeps, as deep calls unto deep, and there are consequences of sin within us which we are not able yet to reach, consequences that are following us in secret and damaging us in very vital point. It needs that the medicine should be of a searching kind to follow the disease into the recesses of our soul where understanding cannot pry. Some of those deep judgments are like secret, potent, subtle medicines, searching out certain secret devils that have found their way into the caverns of our spirit and hidden there. Perhaps an affliction which I can understand is meant to direct my attention to some known sin–but it may be that the trial which I cannot understand is dealing deadly blows against a mortal ill, which, if not thus destroyed, might have been solemnly prejudicial to my own spirit.
I leave that thought with you–expect that God’s judgments will sometimes be unfathomable. In the next place–if God’s judgments are a great deep–
II. THEN THEY ARE SAFE SAILING.
Ships never strike on rocks out in the great deeps. Children, perhaps, may fancy that a shallow sea is the safest, but an old sailor knows better. While they are off the Irish coast the captain has to keep a good look out, but while he is crossing the Atlantic he is in far less danger. There he has plenty of room and there is no fear of quicksands or of shoals. When the sailor begins to come up the Thames, then it is that there is first one sandbank and then another, and he is in danger, but out in the deep water, where he finds no bottom, he is but little afraid. So, mark you, in the judgments of God. When he is dealing out affliction to us, it is the safest possible sailing that a Christian can have. “What?” says one, “trial safe?” Yes, very safe. The safest part of a Christian’s life is the time of his trial. “What? When a man is down, do you say he is safe?” “Yes, for then he need fear no fall! When he is low, he need fear no pride. When he is humbled under God’s hand, then he is less likely to be carried away with every wind of temptation. Smooth water on the way to Heaven is always a sign that the soul should keep wide awake, for danger is near! One comes at last to feel a solemn dread creeping over one in times of prosperity. "You shall fear and tremble because of all the good that God shall make to pass before you,” fearing not so much lest the good should depart as lest we should make an ill use of it and should have a canker of sloth, or self-confidence, or worldliness growing up in our spirits! We have seen many professed Christians who have made shipwreck–in some few instances it has been attributable to overwhelming sorrow–but in ten cases to the one, it has been attributable to prosperity! Men grow rich and, of course, they do not attend the little Chapel they once went to–they must go somewhere where a fashionable world will worship! Men grow rich and immediately they cannot keep to that road of self-denial which once they so gladly trod. The world has got into their hearts and they need to get more. They have got so much and they must get more! An insatiable ambition has come over them–and they fall–and great is the sorrow which their fall brings to the Church! Great the mischief which it does to the people of God!
But a man in trouble–did you ever notice a real child of God in trial? How he prays! He cannot live without prayer! He has got a burden to carry to his God and he goes to the Mercy Seat again and again. Notice him under depression of spirits. How he reads his Bible! He does not now care for that lighter literature which beguiled him many an hour before. He needs the solid promise, the strong meat of the Kingdom of God! Do you notice now how he hears? That man does not care a fig for your flowers and your fine bits of rhetoric–he needs the Word of God! He needs the naked Doctrine. He needs Christ! He cannot be fed on whims and fancies. He cares a great deal less about theological speculation and ecclesiastical authority–he needs to know something about eternal love, everlasting faithfulness and the dealings of the Lord of Hosts with the souls of His people, of the Covenant and of the suretyship engagements of Christ! Ah, this is the man who, if you notice him, walks tenderly in the world. He walks holding the world with a very loose hand. He expects to be often in the way, and hopes to be up out of the way, for the world has lost its attraction for him!
I say again, God’s judgments are a great deep, but they are safe sailing and, under the guidance and Presence of the Holy Spirit, they are not only safe but they are advantageous. I greatly question whether we ever grow much in Grace,except when we are in the furnace! We ought to do so. The joys of this life with which God blesses us ought to make us increase in Grace and gratitude, ought to be a sufficient motive for the very highest form of consecration, but, as a rule, we are only driven to Christ by a storm–the most of us, I mean. There are blessed and favored exceptions, but most of us need the rod, must have it and do not seem to learn obedience except through chastening–the chastening of the Lord! Here I leave that second thought. Thirdly, God’s judgments are a great deep–
III. BUT THEY CONCEAL GREAT TREASURE.
Down in those great depths, who knows what there may be? Pearls lie deep there–masses of precious things that would make the miser’s eyes gleam like a star. There are the wrecks of old Spanish galleons lost these centuries ago and there they lie, huge mines of wealth, but far down deep! And so with the deep judgments of God. What wisdom is concealed there, and what treasures of love and faithfulness and what David calls, “very tenderness,” “for in very tenderness,” he says, “have You afflicted me.” There is as much wisdom to be seen in some of the deep afflictions of God–if we could but understand them, we would see as much wisdom in them as in the creation of the world! God smites His people artistically. There is never a random blow. There is a marvelous degree of skill in the chastening of the Lord. Hence we are told not to despise it, which, in the strongest meaning of it, means that we are to honor it! We honor the chastisements of our parents, but infinitely more the chastisements of God. “For they verily chastened us for a few days after their own pleasure, but He for our profit,” and there is a way of chastening us for profit.
Now, Brothers and Sisters, I said there were treasures concealed in the great deeps which we cannot yet reach, and so in the great deeps in which God makes us to do business there are great treasures that we cannot come upon at present. We do not, perhaps, as yet, receive, or even perceive, the present and immediate benefit of some of our afflictions. There may be no immediate benefit–the benefit may be for hence and to come. The chastening of our youth may be intended for the ripening of our age. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” The affliction of today may have no reference to the circumstances of today, but to the circumstances of 50 years ahead! I do not know that that blade required the rain on such a day, but God was looking not to February as such, but to February in its relation to July, when the harvest should be reaped. He considered the blade not merely as a blade and in its present necessity, but as it would be in the full corn in the ear. There are certain marks that an artist makes upon the block that you cannot see the reason of as yet–and they spoil the apparent likeness of the block and marble to the image which you know he wishes to produce–but then those lines are to be worked out, by-and-by! They are scratches now, but they will be lines of beauty soon, when he comes to finish them. So, a present trial may even lame us for present service, damage us–I will even go the length of saying–for years to come and make us go groaning and brokenhearted, so as to be of comparatively little service to the Church and of very little joy to ourselves. But then afterwards–afterwards as Paul puts it–it bears the peaceable fruits of righteousness in those that are exercised thereby. Why will you not let the Lord have time? Why will you be in a hurry? Why will you stand at His elbow and perpetually say, “Explain this today and show me the motive and reason of this in this present hour”? A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night! The mighty God takes mighty time in which to work out His grand results! Therefore, be content to let the treasures lie at the bottom of the deep for awhile. But then faith may see them. Faith can make the deep translucent till it sees the treasure lying there–and it is yours and though you may not at this hour be able to be at it–yet you shall have it, “for all things are yours.” Everything that is stored up in the great deep of the Eternal Purpose, or in the deep of the manifest judgment, everything there belongs to you, O, Believer! Therefore rejoice in it and let it lie there till such a time as God may choose to raise it for your spiritual enrichment. God’s judgments are a great deep–
IV. AND THEY WORK MUCH GOOD.
The great deep, though ignorance thinks it to be all waste–a salt and barren wilderness–is one of the greatest blessings to this round world! If, tomorrow, there should be “no more sea,” although that may one day be a blessing, it would not be so today, but the greatest of all curses! It is from the sea that there arises the perpetual mist which, floating by-and-bye in mid-air, at last descends in plenteous showers on hill and vale to fertilize the land. The sea is the great heart of the world–I might say the circulating blood of the world! We must have it. It must be in motion. Its tides, like a great pulse, must be felt, or the world’s vitality would cease. There is no waste in the sea–it is all needed. It must be there. There is not a drop of it too much. So with our afflictions which are Your judgments, O God! They are necessary to our life, to our soul’s health, to our spiritual vigor. “By all these,” said one of old, “do men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit.” Rising up from my trouble is the constant mist which is afterwards transformed into sacred dew, which moistens my life. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” said David. “Amen!” say all the afflicted ones. A thousand sick beds shall bear witness to the blessedness of the trial. A thousand losses and crosses that have been borne by the faithful now help the sweetness of the harmony of everlasting hymns in the land of the blessed. “Oh, blessed cross,” said one, “I fear lest I should come to love you too much! ‘Tis so good to be afflicted!” May God grant to us that at all times, instead of trying to fathom the deep, we may understand that it is useful to us and be content. Lastly, if God’s judgments are a great deep–
- THEN THEY BECOME A HIGHWAY OF COMMUNION WITH HIMSELF.
We thought at one time that the deep separated different peoples–that nations were kept asunder by the sea. But lo, the sea is today the great highway of the world! The rapid ships cross it with their white sails, or with their palpitating engines they soon flash across the waves. The sea is the world’s great canal–a mighty channel of communication. And so, Brothers and Sisters, our afflictions–which we thought in our ignorance would separate us from our God–are the highway by which we may come nearer to God than we otherwise could! They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business on the great waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. You that keep close in shore and have but small trials, you are not likely to know much of His wonders in the deep–but if you are made to put out far to sea, where deep calls unto deep and the noise of God’s waterspouts astounds the spiritual mariner, then it is that you shall see God’s wonders–wonders of faithfulness, wonders of power, wonders of wisdom, wonders of love! You shall see them and you shall rejoice to see them! These troubles shall be as fiery chariots to bear you up to God. Your afflictions, wave upon wave, shall wash your soul, like a tempest-tossed boat, nearer to the haven. Oh, but this is a blessed thing when God’s judgments bring us nearer to Him! Old Quarles has a quaint idea when he represents God as swinging a flail in judgment–he says if you would get away from it, you must got close to His hands, and then you are out of the reach of the swing of the blow. Get close up to God and He will not smite! Get near to God and the trials cease!
You know, trials are sometimes weights to keep men down, but you have seen many a machine in which one weight going down lifts another weight up. And there is a way by faith of adjusting the consecrated pulleys so that the very weights of your affliction may lift you up nearer to God! The bird with a string and a stone to its feet cannot fly and yet there is a way that God has of making His birds fly even when they are tied to the ground! They never mounted till they had something to pull them down! Never ascended till they were compelled to descend! They found the gates of Heaven not up there, but down here! The lower they sank in self-estimation, the nearer they came to the everlasting God who is the foundation of all things!
Thus, Brothers and Sisters, I have brought you to the last thought–may the Holy Spirit bring you to make it your own. May God’s deep judgments lead you to deeper communion.
Dear child of God, you that are in trouble tonight, the voice of that trouble is to you–get nearer to God! Get nearer to God. God has favored you, favored you with an extraordinary means of growth in His Grace. To use Rutherford’s simile, He has put you down in the wine cellar in the dark. Now begin to try the wines on the lees well-refined. Now get at the choice treasures of darkness! He has brought you on to a sandy desert–now begin to seek the treasures that are hid in the sand. Believe that the deepest afflictions are neighbors always to the highest joys and that the greatest possible privileges lie close by the darkest trials. If the bitterer your sorrow, the louder your song at the last–there is a reason for that–and that reason faith may discover and experience live upon.
May God bless the tried ones here! But there are some here, perhaps, who are in trial and have no God to go to. Poor souls! Poor souls! Poverty and no God! Sickness and no God! A life of toil, and no Heaven! A slavery of penury on earth and then driven forever away from God’s Presence! Oh, how pitiable! How pitiable! Pity yourselves and remember that it need not always be so. You may have a Heaven, you may have present bliss. Here is the Gospel–“He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Oh, if you can but trust Him who bled upon the Cross, you shall have comfort for your present trouble! You shall have pardon for your past, present and future sins! The Lord bless each one of you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.