God’s Mercy Going Before
“The God of my mercy shall prevent [go before] me.”
IF you read this Psalm, you will find that David was in a very grievous plight. He was surrounded by the most cruel and the most false of men. They were ravening like wolves over carrion and endeavoring to destroy his character–and even to take his life. David knew where his resort was. As the conies make their dwellings in the rocks, and as the swallows have built a nest for themselves at God’s altar, so David resorted to his God, and to his God alone.
All the skin bottles may be dry, but there is water in the well. And all creature comforts may fail but there is an allsufficiency in an unfailing God. If all is false to you, God will be true! And if all hate you, God is Love–and if you are in Him, He cannot be angry with you, nor rebuke you–love towards you, and love only, shall rule the day!
Let me persuade every child of God here in the hour of his trouble to resort to the comfort which David found so availing. Away, as a bird to the mountain–away, away to your God! If you have Rabshekeh’s letter about you, go and spread it before the Lord. If you have, today, an inward sorrow that you cannot tell into any other ear, go, like Hannah, and stand before God, and there let your soul pour out its bitterness. You shall find that in consulting human sympathy, there is some gain–often very little–but in seeking the sympathy of your great High Priest above, there is much gain and there never can be failure. When David returned to Ziklag, he found it burned and his wives carried away captive. He and his men had lost all their property and all their families. His men spoke of stoning him, but it is written, “David encouraged himself in his God.”
Now, if you have come to something like the same plight. If your affairs are at the lowest ebb and there is the sharpest winter passing over all your prospects, now turn to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope! Trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. Be of good courage, for He shall strengthen your heart. If we learn only that lesson–and do but put it into practice throughout our life–we shall have a good reward for coming up to the assembly of God’s people tonight.
But now, a few words upon this text of David’s. He declares that the God of his mercy would go before him, or forestall him. The word “prevent,” when it was used by our translators, did not mean at all what it does now. It means here that God would provide, would forestall, would be beforehand in loving kindness with him–and the two points we will speak of tonight are these–it has been so. It shall be so. First–
- IT HAS BEEN SO.
The God of our mercy has gone before us and outrun us. It has been so in the salvation of all His people. Long beforetime had begun, God had foreknown His chosen, and foreordained them unto eternal life. They had not chosen Him, for they were not in existence! He chose them as He saw them in the glass of His decrees. It must always be that God goes before or outruns His people, since from before the foundation of the world He had loved them–loved them with an everlasting love. There can be nothing before this. We know of nothing that can stand side by side with it, so far as we are concerned, for we had no being, except in the purpose of God. But even then He loved us. He loved us when we were dead in sins, when we had not a heart with which to love Him, when we were rejecting Him altogether and did evil even as we could–yet He loved us notwithstanding all. It must always be true if we think of the Doctrine of Election that He went before us with His mercy!
It was so also, with redemption. Where were we when Christ redeemed us? My Brothers and Sisters, our sins werelaid on Christ, but they were not then committed. Our transgressions were then taken by Him, but we had not even perpetrated them then! We were not yet living and yet a Savior was provided for us before we were, by any actual sin, personally lost. A fountain filled with blood was provided for us before we had, by any actual guilt, become defiled. Oh, here was Divine forethought–here was a precious going before, of God’s goodness! How He must have loved us, that knowing what our needs would be, foreseeing the abundance of our sins, He laid by in store the Divine Atonement, the sacred Propitiation by which all our sins should be put away. This was another going before of His mercy!
Indeed, Brothers and Sisters, if you think of it, the whole Gospel is a going before of us. There was that Book writtenexactly to meet your case and mine, when as yet our case was not in existence. Here was a Covenant “ordered in all things and sure” and made for us in the Person of Christ. We were not parties to it, for as yet had not any being. Here was mercy laid by in the Covenant, everything that our necessities could require! Grace for Grace supplies for all the needs of our nature, treasured up for the poor mendicants before we ever became beggars, or knew that we were in need!
Think of the fullness that there is in Jesus Christ, and all these 1,800 years ago in matter of fact, and there from the foundation of the world in the Divine Purpose for every elect soul, though many of them would not come into being until remote centuries had flown by! All this forestalled, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, too, by which the saints are now called unto repentance, and unto a new life and all the operations and influences of the Holy Spirit which are all provided for in the Covenant of Grace–all bestowed upon the saints as one by one, they come into life, but all provided for long before they were born! My God, your goings forth were of old, from everlasting, and all your goings forth were full of love to me, and to all them that love You! How marvelous are You in Your condescending Grace! Where shall I find words with which to adore You? How shall I sufficiently give you the gratitude of my heart in outward expression for this, Your ancient, Your everlasting love towards those whom you have chosen? Bless His name, oh, you His people! Live to His praise and love Him all day long!
But this Truth of God met with a further illustration in our experience at the time of our conversion and before it.Observe the preventing goodness or God with many of us before conversion. We might have committed the unpardonable sin, but we were always kept from that–how, we may not know, and probably never shall until we are in Heaven. We might have put ourselves into positions where instrumentalities which were blessed to us might never have reached us. We have sometimes been on the verge of committing sins which might have led us in a downward career of vice, farther and farther, and might even have led us to destroy ourselves! Speaking after the manner of men, our soul has run innumerable risks, each one of which could have led to eternal destruction from the Presence of the Lord, had it not been that going before mercy was beforehand with us and would not let us commit the fatal act which would have consigned us to everlasting perdition! Many and many a time has He held back His servants when they were just on the edge of the fatal precipice, when they were about to take the deadly poison which would have eternally destroyed their souls! His mercy, in some Providence which they did not understand, has interposed. And you who are here tonight, you have been sick lately. Well, that sickness has kept you out of a sin into which you were beginning to slide. You have lately been overtaken with a very terrible loss. Yes, but your soul was getting eaten up with covetousness, and if it had not been for that loss, you had not been here tonight–you would have been still seeking after the world with both your hands–and you would not have had an ear for anything like a message from the Throne of God! It may be a part of the joy of Heaven to be permitted to see the manifold wisdom of God in His dealing with us even before we were quickened by His Spirit. There are marvelous preparations, I do not doubt, which are going on in human hearts for the more effectual work of Grace, for there are many who are not converted, but whose case is very hopeful. They are like what our Lord called “honest and good ground,” ready for the living Seed. Holy teachings at home, Godly examples, works within the mind that have tended to elevate the taste and purify the morals–and a thousand other things may come in as a sort of preparation for the true work of Divine Grace–and in looking back, while we must, first of all, see the preventing Grace of God in keeping us back from sin, we can next see it in gently leading us, though we knew Him not, as He did Israel of old, taking us by the arms and teaching us to go, sweetly inclining us, gently drawing us until the time should come when He should pass by us and say unto us, “Live.” All the history of an elect child of God, even before conversion, will be found to be full of traces of the going before goodness of the Lord.
But probably we noticed this most at the time of our conversion. Some of us recollect when we first began to sighand cry after a Savior, but oh, how He then went before us with His mercy! The sermon that we heard seemed exactly to suit our case, though the minister knew nothing of us. And when we turned to the Word of God, there were texts there, some of them very terrible ones, and they did for us just exactly what ought to have been done–they helped in the cutting and tearing process that was necessary before the pierced hands should come and bind up our wounds! God’s mercy in going before us helped us to the tenderness of heart that we were seeking after, helped us to the repentance that we longed to feel, helped us to the contrition which we desired to experience. It helped us, in fact, to have done with self, and to begin with Him! It helped us to see the depravity of our hearts as soon as ever we began to desire to see it and to be humbled on account of it.
But do you not remember when those desires began to assume the form of prayer–when you got some light as to theway of salvation and desired how to close in with Christ and to trust Him? How swiftly did the Divine Father then run to meet His prodigal child! Oh, happy day when He fell upon our neck and kissed us, when He took off our rags and put on the raiment of joy, and bade the music and dancing go on in the house because the lost one was found! Oh, at that time, in gracious answer to prayer almost as soon as we began to pray, perhaps, we had an instance of how He goes before us with the blessings of His goodness! We were not fit to receive His mercy–so we thought–but His mercy came. We were not ready for Christ, but Christ came to us. We felt ourselves so hardened, but He came and softened us. We could not squeeze out a tear, but He accepted the dry bottles that would have had tears in them if they could. We felt as if we were just nothing–but Christ knew that our nothingness made room for Him to be everything–so He came and took us at our worst and gave Himself to be ours forever and ever! Oh, if He had waited until we had washed that foul face, and taken away every stain with floods of tears–oh, if He had waited until we had cleansed those filthy hands and washed them snowy white, until we had found a wedding dress in which we should have been fit to come–ah, Savior, You would have waited even till now and even forever, for we never could have been fit for You! But no sooner did we long to come, no sooner did we feel that we would gladly come if we dared, but felt that we were all unfit to come, than Your swift feet of mercy brought You to Your children, and the Grace was given for which we scarcely dared to hope! That is my experience, Brothers and Sisters, and I know that it is yours–God in the matter of conversion going before us with His mercy!
And how has it been since then? Take another illustration from your life. Have you not oftentimes been prevented bythe God of your mercy–by directions given when you were just about to take a wrong step? I remember well, and never can forget, how the whole turn of my life was made by the Providence of God in what we would call an accident.
I certainly, in all probability, had not been here tonight if it had not been that an engagement made to meet a certain gentleman at a certain time was punctually kept by us both, but a servant showed him into one room on one side of the passage, and showed me into another on the other side–and we sat there two hours waiting for one another, but missed each other–and so the whole current of my life flowed in another direction! I recollect a course of action which I would have adopted, but from which I was altogether turned by hearing, as I thought, as I walked alone and sought direction, such a voice as this, “Seek you great things for yourself? Seek them not.” That text guided me in what I believe was a right, prudent and certainly has been a happy way! Had it not been for that, I might have gone astray, unwittingly, but still unwisely, into all sorts of paths! Have you not found it so? Just when you did not know which way to go you had the direction when you sought it. If you applied to God, He gave you guidance by some means, just as surely as the Jew had it when he resorted to the priest who wore the Urim and the Thummim. Take care that you always recollect this in the future, if it has been so in the past. God has gone before you, and marked out your path for you–and given you a plain map of the way. Has it not been so?
Moreover, He not only tells us the way, and so prevents us, but He clears the way for us. Great difficulties have frequently run in our way in Providence and in Grace, and we have been like the women who went to the sepulcher. We have said, one to another, “Who shall roll away the stone for us?” But when we have come there, behold, “the stone was rolled away for it was very great.” God had made a road where we could not see any and could not make any. What? Have you never gone through the Red Sea? Have the waters never stood upright as a heap on either side while you, as God’s chosen, went through? I know you have had an experience analogous to that! Then treasure up the memory of it. Do not be ashamed now, in your talks with your fellow Christians, to tell that the Lord has gone before you with His goodness, in clearing the way for you!
How frequently, too, has He gone before us with His goodness, by supplying our needs! Like the Israelites, who,however early they rose in the morning, found the manna from Heaven awaiting them, so has it been with you, with all who trust God! Your needs have not come as quickly as the supplies. In fact, some of us have only known our needs by finding the supplies sent! And we have said, “Then I must have needed this, or it would not have come.” And we have blessed the Lord as we have seen our soul’s necessities in the light of the Grace that has come to supply them! Oh, it has been so with you–you know it has! You have had to move, perhaps, from place to place, and God has prepared the place for you. It may be that your life has consisted much of wandering to and fro, and tossing about, yet, though you seemed like a football, you have never been tossed anywhere but what you have fallen on your feet, and fallen into the place, too, that God had provided and prepared for you! So it has been up to the present, has it not? Has He not thus gone before you with His goodness?
And once again, how often, dear Friends, when we have begun to pray for a mercy, we have had the mercy while wehave yet been calling–while we have been speaking He has heard us! How frequently have we desired to return from our backslidings, and while we have been desiring to return, He has appeared and melted us down in penitence and gratitude. We have desired sanctification, and we have had the rod sent to our house directly, which was probably the very speediest way to ensure our growth in that respect. Whatever we have actually needed of the Lord, our God, He has not withheld it from us in its season, so that we will join in saying that until now it has been so, it has been so. The God of our mercy has gone before us. Now, in the second place–
II. IT SHALL BE SO.
It shall be so with you who are seeking Christ tonight. God’s rule for the future is His action and conduct in the past.He never changes. You must not imagine that Jesus Christ will be sterner with you than He has been with others like you. If it has been His custom to reject those who have come, He will reject you. But if it has never been so, it never shall be so, for, “Him that comes to Me, I will in nowise cast out.” Hearken, then, to Jesus now! God will go before you with the blessings of His goodness. Now, you have been thinking lately–
“I’ll to the gracious King approach,
Whose scepter mercy gives.”
And you have thought to yourself, “Before I can come, I must feel my need aright.” Now, you think you do not feel your need and you have been troubled a great deal lately because you have not that tenderness of heart that you ought to have. Now, if you cannot come to Christ with a broken heart, come to Christ for a broken heart! He is ready to give it to you.The preparation of the heart in man is from the Lord in this respect. Come and tell Him that you need a broken heart. One of the best prayers you can pray is, “Lord, create a right spirit within me.” You say, perhaps, “Sir, I need more than a broken heart–I need even to learn to pray.” Well, I remember what Mr. Fuller once said to a young man who was trying to pray and could not. He whispered to Mr. Fuller, who was kneeling by his side, “I cannot pray.” “Tell the Lord so,” said Mr. Fuller. So, Brothers and Sisters, when you say, “I cannot pray as I would. I cannot express myself as I desire,” go and tell the Lord that you are a poor, ignorant soul, and that you do not know how to pray, and say, “Lord, teach me.” “Oh, but I do not feel the desire I need to feel.” I have often found that those who have most of desire think they have not any. Well, go and tell the Lord about that, and ask Him to give you the desire which shall be necessary to make earnest prayer, that you may begin to pray, that you may have a broken heart. Wherever you like to go back to, I will go back with you, but I will tell you that Jesus Christ was there before you, and that He will meet you there with just what your souls need! He is there ready with it. He will go before you with the blessings of His goodness. The God of my mercy shall go before! “Well,” says one, “but I think that I ought to have some sort of preparation for God. I do not mean merit, but still, there must be the cleansing of the hands and the reformation of the heart.” Yes, I know there must,and I know what is more–that there will be all that if you come to Christ for it–but if you try to work this in yourselves, before you come to Him, you will certainly fail!
Now, instead of going roundabout to find preparations for Christ by way of reformation, come to Him as you are, for He will give you all the fitness that you think you ought to bring. He has got it all. Christ did not come to save the righteous, but sinners, just as a physician does not present himself to heal those who are whole, but to heal those who are sick. “But I do not feel my sickness.” That is part of your sickness that you do not feel your sickness. Come and have that cured as well as all the rest! Do not think that you are to patch up a part of the cure and then to come to Him! But oh, stand to one side and let Him go before you with the blessings of His goodness, of His love, His blood and His Holy Spirit. He will meet you just where you are.
“But I am desirous to be saved,” says one “and I do not think that Christ is willing to have me.” Ah, but remember the verse we sometimes sing–
“No sinner can be beforehand with Thee–
Your Grace is most Sovereign, most rich, and most free.”
If you have a heart-felt desire after Christ, I know where you obtained it. It never grew in your garden. The dust heap of your heart would never yield so sweet a flower as that! It is the Grace of God that has made you desire Christ and for every spark of desire that you have to Christ, Christ has a volcano full of desire after you! Oh, if you have but a farthing’s worth of desire for Him, He has ten thousand pounds worth of desire towards you! You cannot outrun Christ, I am sure. “I would gladly be at peace with God,” says one. “I throw down the weapons of my rebellion tonight! I will say, ‘Lord, accept me.’” And do you think that He is unwilling to be at peace with you? Why, there never was any unwillingness on His part! He wills not the death of a sinner, but had rather that he would turn unto Him and live. Oh, do not imagine, do not imagine, any of you, that if there is any distance between you and God, God makes the distance! No, it is your own heart, your own unbelief, your love of sin–something sinful on your side–it is no lack of Grace on His side! I do not say that God will meet you half-way–I do not believe He will–but I believe He will meet you all the way, every inch of it, that He will meet you just where you are! Like the poor man that was left between Jerusalem and Jericho, of whom it is said that the good Samaritan came “where he was,” so Jesus will come and pour in the oil and the wine to heal and quicken. Only cry unto Him! If you cannot frame words, groan out your prayer! Let your aching heart but cry, “My God, have mercy on me! For Jesus' sake, forgive me!” and He will outrun you, Sinner! He will outrun you! He will anticipate the prayer and grant the blessing! Why are you afraid to come? You know not what God is, or you would come right willingly and tell Him all your case. He can meet it! He understands it! He knows it now! Oh, come! Seek the secrecy of your chamber. Tell out as best you can, your sins, your fears, your weaknesses and unbelief–and trust in that Son of God, who became Man that He might lift men up to God–and as surely as you trust Him, you shall be saved!
But now, it shall be so, to you who are the people of God. He will go before you with the blessings of His goodness inthe future, as He has done in the past. Now, you are, perhaps, going across the sea to America or Australia. Well, He will be there before you. All is well! He has arranged it for you before you get there, and you shall have reason to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord, He has come where His servant should come and has prepared a place for him, and made him a sphere of labor.” Or it may be, my dear Friend, that you do not know just where you are going. Well, I do not know that you need fret yourself about it, for if you walk by faith in the living God, you are going just where He knows it is best for you to go–and He will go before you. As surely as ever His glorious marching was through the wilderness with the hosts of Israel, so will there be glorious marching at your head to lead you in a right way and to bring you to a city to dwell therein. Trust in Him with full confidence and go onward, for He shall be your Guide and lead the van.
I speak now especially to the members of this Church. It is a blessed thing to reflect upon, that in all Christian service, God will go before us. When our missionaries have gone to foreign lands, it has often happened that before the missionary has arrived, there has been a tradition in the minds of the people that there would be white men who would come to teach them some new thing–and thus they have been prepared for it and frequently whole tribes have speedily given ear to the Gospel of Christ, because for many years God had been leading them to expect His Gospel! Now, what has happened in heathen countries is happening every day in our own country! I believe that God prepares the minds of the people for the preacher as much as ever He does prepare the preacher for the people! I ask the Lord to give me preparation for the pulpit, but I often think that the other side of it–the preparation of the people for the pulpit–is equally important, and that the Lord will give it in answer to prayer! Now, how often, dear Friends, when you try to do good, you will discover that the person you are anxious about has been prepared by God on purpose for you? For instance, a man has been sick and ill. Ah, you see he had been thoughtless, before, and God has just been plowing the soil by making the man thoughtful and careful, in order that he may now listen to the Gospel. There are a thousand different sorrows that Cross over men’s minds. A working man, for instance, may during the day feel depressed, and he does not know why. Some recollections of his early childhood may come across him, but he cannot tell why, and you, perhaps, meet him ten minutes after that. If you would but speak to Him of Christ, you would be surprised to find that you had come just in the very nick of time, when God had made the man ready for you and then sent you as a messenger from Him! Believe it, that whenever you feel an extraordinary anxiety after a soul, you may take it as an indication that that soul is as much needing you as you are needing it! There is a something that will attract that person to you, as well as you to that person. Or if you should seem to be repelled, God has still a design there, and you must try again, and labor again–for a blessing will certainly come. God is preparing the man even while that man repulses you–preparing him for the time when at last he shall cheerfully accept that Savior whom you propose to him!
My Brothers, as God’s servants, we are very much in the position of Joshua with the Israelites when they came up to Canaan. They were to conquer Canaan, but do you know Canaan had been conquered long before? For if you conquer a man’s heart, it is merely a matter of detail to go and conquer his body, and God had sent before a rumor of what He would do, and Rahab told them that she knew that the hearts of the Canaanites were melted in them for fear. Moreover, God sent diseases and sent the hornet so that these people were dying, and those who were living were weakened by disease and stung by hornets, so that the Jewish hosts had an easy work. They had but to take what God had made ready for them! Go up, go up, O hosts of the Lord, for God has conquered the land beforehand for you! All these sorrows and griefs, all the calamities of wars, all the miseries of nations are but convincing them, as they shall be convinced, that their idols cannot help them! And even as to the Antichrist of Rome, all the kings that have committed fornication with her shall hate her, and shall burn her flesh as with fire! God is working secretly, God is working mysteriously and mightily! Only be encouraged, O Church of God, to go up and take the prey, for Jericho shall fall before your shouts, as God, even the Lord, your God, shall be exalted, as you win the last great victory! Think of all this through this month when you will be hard at work and just go in to win a soul. Go in for God has gone before you! You, dear Teacher, be earnest with that child, for God is intending to bless it and is getting that child ready! Your instrumentality shall fit to that heart as a key does to the wards of the lock. God is preparing you and preparing it, and good will come of it!
And now, lastly, Brothers and Sisters. We shall soon expect to have done with laboring for Christ and to have done with pilgrimage and all its cares, except that we shall have the last river to pass over. But then, “the God of my mercyshall go before me.” There shall be the delightful Presence of Jesus and the shining company of angels, and the visions of Glory yet to be revealed–and we shall forget the pangs of earth in the joys of the heavenly land! Like one drop of bitterness that is drowned in the flood of sweetness, death shall be swallowed up in victory, and when we come to Heaven, itself, we shall discover that our God has gone before us there. “Behold,” says the Redeemer, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Oh, how delightful it is to think of going to Heaven where there will be nothing to get ready, but where all will be just as we need it–all that can be required to give to us the highest conceivable happiness, all ready, and all made ready by Christ! Rejoice, then, Believer! He will go before you through this earth and before you into Heaven, where He has already gone, bless His name! Live happily! Live happily! Live to serve Him out of gratitude for what He has done, and the Lord bless you evermore. Amen and Amen!