A Call To The Depressed
“Shake yourself from the dust, arise and sit down, O Jerusalem: loosen yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.
I SHALL not attempt at this time to decipher the history of the prophecy with which these words are associated. To the Hebrew nation they were big with counsel, bright with hope. Apart, however, from the connection in which it stands, this verse supplies a pointed practical address of sterling value not to be limited by any private interpretation. Such a charge was well fitted for Israel of old. Such counsel would be suitable to any Church in a low condition. Such advice is equally adapted to any Christian who has fallen into a low state, who is groveling in the dust or among the ashes of Sodom. He is told to rise from the ground and sit down upon a throne, for Christ has made him a king and a priest. He is admonished to unbind all the cords that are upon him, that he may be free and happy in the Lord. To those of you, then, who have sunk into this distressing plight, my text contains a vigorous appeal! Let me try to interpret it. First of all, I notice the obvious fact–
- SOME OF GOD’S TRUE PEOPLE ARE IN A VERY SAD CONDITION.
This is an important consideration to us just now. If just on the eve of battle a commander should discover that an epidemic has broken out among his troops, he will be extremely anxious that any available remedy shall be tried, for if the soldiers are sick, how can they be expected to behave well on the morrow? So it will sometimes happen that when we mean to serve our Master most, we are impeded in Church action by the prevalence of some spiritual disease among the members of the Church. Perhaps I may be the means, tonight, of finding out the sick ones, and indicating their symptoms, and–who can tell–perhaps this very night, before you come to the Table, the blessed remedy may be applied, and at the Table, while you are feasting with Christ, your souls may become perfectly restored!
Sometimes the children of God fall into a grievous state as to their faith and their assurance of their own interest inChrist. They doubt whether they are Christians at all, whether their experience is genuine, whether they ever did really repent with a truly broken heart, whether they have received the precious faith–the faith of God’s elect. At such times they question all their graces and they are not able to get a satisfactory answer from anyone. At the same time these people of God may be so walking in outward consistency that everybody else thinks well of them. No one has any suspicion of them, but they grievously suspect themselves and are tormented with the fear that they have a name to live, and are dead. I have known at such times that there will come at the back of all this some terrible doubts about the substantial Truths of our faith. “What?” You say, “doubts about the Godhead–doubts about the Savior–doubts about the world to come?” Yes, yes, and to the true people of God! They will hate these doubts and, in their hearts they will still believe all the great fundamental and cardinal Truths–but yet will they be sore put to it and be frequently distressed. Thoughtful minds, and men of reading will have philosophical doubts buzzing about them like mosquitoes on a summer’s day. Others who are ignorant of philosophy and, perhaps, it is well that they are, will be troubled with doubts of a rougher, coarser quality. Although they will not permit them so to dwell in their hearts so that they actually become unbelievers–yet they will be sorely distressed with questions which they cannot answer, with enigmas which they know not how to solve, and with strange intertwistings of difficulty which they know not how to untie. Perhaps, too, at such a time as this, there will be over all and worse than all, a state of dreadful indifference creeping over them. They want to feel, but cannot feel. They would gladly wring tears of blood out of their eyes, but not even an ordinary tear will drop. They want to be cut to pieces! They would welcome the most poignant sorrow, but they can only say–
“If anything is felt, ‘tis only pain,
To feel I cannot feel.”
In such cases, true Believers are sure to resort to the extraordinary use of the means of Grace. I mean they will add to their ordinary use, something more. Have you never been in such a state that the Bible has become uninteresting, or the only passages of Scripture that seemed to strike you were dreadful threats concerning your Own coming doom, as you thought–not a word of comfort, not a syllable that makes glad your spirit? You have gone to prayer and the heavens have seemed to be brass! And worse still, your own heart seemed to be brass, too, and you could not stir it up to anything like an intensity of desire. You did not wonder that you got no answer. You would have wondered if such a prayer as yours could be heard at all! Ah, and then you have gone up to the assembly of God’s people where at other times your heart has danced within you with holy joy! The minister was not changed. Perhaps at first you thought he was, but on more attentive bearing, you noticed that there was the same Truths of God and spoken in the same honest fashion, but you could not hear it as you once did. Clouds without rain and wells without water–all the ordinances seemed to be to you. And all the while, though you felt that you could not live like this, and said–
“Dear Lord, and shall I always live,
At this poor dying rate?”
yet somehow or other you could not get out of it. You felt like one manacled, as though a nightmare were upon you. You were distressed. You could not stir to break the spell! Your spirit cried out as best it could, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But the worst of it was that you did not feel that you were wretched enough, and you did not seem to cry enough! You were afraid you would sink into a terrible lethargy which would be the forerunner to a spiritual death altogether.
Well, my dear Friends, I should not wonder but you brought this very much upon yourselves. If you are in this state tonight, I would exhort you to question whether this is not the result of what you have often been warned of. Perhaps you slackened prayer. Perhaps in your happier days you grieved the Holy Spirit just when you were most joyful and happy in His love. It may be that you grew worldly, or, perhaps, a long succession of little things, none of which you noticed at the time, have contributed to swell the stream of your present distress. At any rate, whatever may be the cause of this state, I grieve that you are in it–grieve for my own sake, for your sake, for the sake of this Church–and for the sake of the world around you, for, my Brothers and Sisters, your testimony is, to a great extent, silenced and your strength to bear it weakened. That face of yours, once so happy, was a living advertisement of the Gospel! Your cheerful temperament under trial was an invitation to sinners to come and find a like joy. But now you are distressed and you go mourning without the light of the sun. What can you do while you abide in such a state as that? You are like the bruised reed out of which no music can come, or like the smoking flax that yields no light, but only a dolorous and nauseous smoke. I am grieved that it should be so, because were you now to attempt a verbal testimony for Christ, it would be feeble and could not produce any great result. I remember when I began to teach in the Sunday school. I was very young in Grace then, having said to the class of boys whom I was teaching that Jesus Christ saved all those who believed in Him. One of the boys asked me the question, “Teacher, do you believe in Him?” I replied, “Yes, I hope I do.” And he enquired again, “But are you not sure?” I had to look to myself to know what answer I should give. The lad was not content with my repeating, “I hope so.” He would have it, “If you have believed in Christ, you are saved.” And I felt at that time that I could not teach until I could say, “I know that it is so.” I must be able to speak of what I had tasted and handled of the good Word of Life! So, Brothers, you will find that you only perplex those whom you gladly would persuade if, by your doubts, you provoke them to say, “How can you expect us to believe at our mouth what you hesitate to seal with the witness of your own heart?” Unless the joy of the Lord is your strength, your soul will breathe a heavy atmosphere and your utterance will be checked, if it is not choked by your misgivings! It is your confidence in Christ and the peace it bringsyou, that helps you to speak to others as a true witness, because you are an experimental witness of the power of true religion. Your verbal testimony, I say, is weakened–I fear to a very great extent by the fog and vapor of your scruples, the scruples of a conscience that droops and flags. It is sad to think that while you are looking to your own soul in doubt whether you are saved or not, you have but little energy to spare in caring about the souls of others! Indeed, it is your first concern to see that you, yourself, are saved. Till that all-important matter is resolved, your zeal for your neighbor’s welfare is ill-timed. Why busy yourselves to keep other men’s vineyards, while your own is left to be overgrown with to your fellow Christians. It is hard enough to fight with Satan, but it is all the harder work for the army to have to carry so many sick folk with it, for it involves much more toil. You, whose faith is all but gone, are like the baggage of an army–you hinder the rapid march of the brave soldiers of the Cross! How you depress others that are around you! Once your voice was that of a brave hero and you encouraged the troops, but now you pine and cry, and make others hang their harps upon the willows and learn the same doleful tune as your own! It is a sad thing. I do not condemn you, but I greatly pity you, and I also greatly pity the Church of God, and the cause of God, that it loses so much by you who ought, in gratitude to Christ, do so much for Him. Alas, that the people of God should be sunk into so mournful a condition!
II. THERE IS A SPECIAL EXPECTATION FOR THEM.
This is pressed in all earnest. Hear, it, oh, ailing Christian! “Shake yourself from the dust, arise and sit down, O Jerusalem: loosen yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”
Now, my Brother, content not yourself any longer with the state into which you have fallen. May the Holy Spirit come to you and prompt you to strike. Strive to get out of this condition into one of happiness and strength. Let me try to encourage you a little, and may God enable you to the utmost.
Remember, my dear Friend–suppose I am now talking to you, alone. I almost wish I could grip your hand and look you close in the face–remember from where you have fallen. Think of the peaceful hours you once enjoyed. Oh, yourstony heart was not always so cold! The Word of God was not always so dry! The sanctuary was not always so unprofitable! You have wrestled and prevailed–you know you have! You have pleaded with God and you have had the desire of your heart. You have communed with Christ and your soul has been like the chariots of Aminadab! And can you bear to think of this and not cry–
“Return, O Holy Dove, return,
Sweet Messenger of rest!”?
Can you once have known these things and had the flavor of them in your mouth, without hungering and thirsting after them again? Think of them and, perhaps, while you are musing upon the past, you may be helped by strong desires to return unto the place from which you went out.
Think of the danger you are in at present. Who are they that are most likely to fall into open sin? They are those who walk at a distance from Christ. If you live in close communion with Jesus, you shall so share of your Shepherd’s company that you shall hear the wolf’s howl, but you shall not be likely to feel his fangs. I believe that when any professor falls into a filthy sin, it is not the beginning, but the culmination of a process and growth in iniquity! The open sin comes at the heels of a long succession of neglected prayers, of neglected worship of God in the family, a neglect of all communion with Christ and negligence of every good thing. It is the fruit, not the seed of the evil, which poisons the air and excites the public contempt. Beware, then, O professor!–you who have lost the light of God’s Countenance–beware! Beware, I pray you, of that ill-condition of soul which is the prolific parent of all distempers!
Remember, too, that there is real cause for apprehension that you never were safe. It is just possible that those doubtsyou feel are no insinuations of Satan, but the suggestions of an enlightened conscience, or even the whispers of the Holy Spirit! Unless you are, indeed, a Christian, in all probability, unless you now turn to God, you will become the willing servitor of the Devil. Unless you now, with full purpose of heart, seek Christ, perhaps the time has come when you will turn aside, like Balaam, for reward, or perish in the gainsaying of Korah. In some of those shapes in which wicked men have perished, you may despondingly or presumptuously rush on to destruction and precipitate your final doom! Beware again, I say, O cold professor–in God’s name, beware of trifling when you have so much reason to tremble!
My dear Friend, I would put another thought into your mind which may help you. Perhaps you may think it is rather hampering than helping you and tends more to depress than to deliver you. Remember how justly you might now beleft to your own devices. You became carnally secure. You sinned away the light of God’s Countenance. You grieved His Spirit. What if He were now to say, “He is given unto idols, let him alone”? What if from this day the Spirit should no more strive with you? What if, after all, though you have talked and preached to others, you yourself should be a castaway? I do but mention this to awaken you, my Brother, if you are insensible. You know how sometimes the surgeon fears that a man should sleep himself to death, and he will even drive pins into him, or make him walk and drag him about the chamber so as to awaken him. I would say anything, however sharp, if I might but wake you out of your lethargy! I know you would welcome it and, in due time, thank me for the severity of the operation.
But I shall refrain, for I think there is a better way than this. I want you to arise and shake yourself from the dust, my poor desponding Friend, because if the worst is the worst and you are no Christian, no true Believer, yet, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as wool. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be white as snow.” What if it has been all a mistake and you never ought to have made a profession? Remember Jesus Christ receives sinners–come to Him now! I always find this the short way out of a long dreary road, aquick relief for acute maladies, a ready antidote for doubts and fears. The Devil has been arguing with Christians for so many years that he understands the case against them a great deal better than any of us do, and if we begin to controvert with him, we shall soon find that that old hater of man will soon get the mastery over us! But if we say, “I give in, Satan–I give in. I am a sinner–the chief of sinners–have you anything more to say? I give in, but I answer you with this–‘The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. I believe in Him and my sins are, therefore, washed away!’” This is the high road to perfect comfort! I beg you, my dear Brother, to take it at once! Hear the Word of the Spirit, which says, “Repent, and do your first works.” The very first works were repentance and faith, and so even begin again! Away to the Fountain filled with blood! Away to the Cross, and give that life-look once more! Away to the finished Substitutionary Sacrifice and beneath the crimson canopy of the Atonement, hide your guilty head! Oh, if you do this, your light shall break forth as the morning, and your glory as the noonday! The Lord help you to do this, now, and end the strife!
Let me also remind any Christian here who is full of doubt and with the bands of his neck tight upon him, that theblood has not changed its power to cleanse. If it cleansed you 20 years ago, it can cleanse you still! Remember, Jesus has not lost His power to save, nor has He changed His Character for willingness to save to the uttermost–
“Jesus sits on Zion’s hill,
He receives poor sinners still.”
Come, then, to the unchanging Savior! You who have been treacherous–you whose hearts have played the harlot to Christ–come back, for His love to you has not waned! “Return unto Me, O backsliding daughter, says the Lord; for I am married unto you.” The prodigal’s heart may change towards his Father, but his Father’s heart never changes towards him. Return, then, for mercy waits you, and not judgment! He is God and not man, else you had been consumed! Return tonight, for He will put away your sin like a cloud, and your transgressions like a thick cloud. Duly acknowledge your wandering. Humble yourself because of your treachery and say, “My Father, You shall be the guide of my youth,” and you shall be restored perfectly, and your former joy shall come back to you!
Do I hear you say, “But I am not fit to come back to Christ, and have joy in Him at once”? Oh, Sir, were you fit at first? No! And you are not fit now, but come and welcome! Christ wants nothing from you! Come and trust Him and perfect salvation is yours. “Oh, but I cannot bear to look Him in the face, for I have lived so long without walking in His counsel.” So much the more reason that you should not live another hour without Him! I charge you, my poor distressed Brother–I charge you, my troubled Sister–by the love that Christ has to you, come to Him now! Behold, He stands at the door and knocks! If you will open to Him, though the house is not furnished, nor the table covered with a festival for Him as it should be, yet will He come in and sup with you, even with you, and you shall sup with Him tonight! I see no reason why the most desponding Christian, here, should not rejoice before he comes to the Table of the Lord! I do not know why the most barren among us should not be made fruitful! This I do know, that we are not straitened in Him, we are not straitened in His willingness to bless, nor in His ability to comfort! Oh, believe in Him, Christian! Believe Him. If you are not a Christian, cast yourself at His feet. He will not let you perish! Lay hold, if it is but of the hem of His garment and do not let Him go! Even now shake yourself from the dust and put on your beautiful garments.
III. A GLAD OBLIGATION HENCEFORTH RESTS UPON THEM.
I must close with this remark. I know there are many of God’s people in the state I have been describing. I have the pain, sometimes, of trying to cheer them. I only hope that what I have said tonight may be blessed of God to them. I fully anticipate it. Here, then, is the practical point. “ When you are converted, strengthen your Brothers and Sisters.”
Look out for those who are in the same state as you have been in–and be very tender toward them. As you know their case, and have traversed that howling desert, you will be able to direct them. I have described your case because I fear that I have sometimes been on the verge of it myself. I have found recovery by a fresh resort to the love of Christ and a simple renewal of my trust in Him. I can, therefore, enter into your feelings and ask you to try the same remedy. After you have found the remedy to be a good one, it is but a small return, and certainly it is due from you, to tell others how you have been restored!
Some of you, Beloved, have never been thus carried into captivity. I pray God you never may be. There is no necessity for it, but let me entreat you to walk very tenderly with your God. We serve a jealous God. He will wink at many an act of insubordination done by His enemies, the one-tenth of which, if done by His favorite ones, His elect, His darlings–He will hide His face from them at once! “You, only, have I known of all the people of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.” Says He not, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten”? A sinner may go on wantonly unrebuked. He may add house to house and field to field, and he may think himself secure–God will deal with him in the next world. But the heir of Heaven is under a discipline of Divine Love and God will deal with him in this world! And among the chastisements of departure from Christ will be the loss of comfort, the loss of power to do good and I know not what other affliction added thereunto in his soul or in his circumstance. Dear Brothers and Sisters, walk carefully, then–while you have the Light of God, walk in the Light! Oh, prize the sweet love of Christ! Never, never let it go. Say unto your soul, when Christ is in your heart, “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that you stir not up nor wake my Love until He pleases.” Introduce no rival’s love, and no worldliness! Fall into no inconsistencies, but pray for Grace that with holy jealousy you may still dwell in the Light of God and find favor in His eyes.
And being thus kept near to God, and being strong in the power of His might, come and give back the strength toHim from whom you derived it. Stand up for Christ! I believe we are never happier than when we have plenty to do. Idleness is the mother of vexation. A Christian who does but little for Christ, unless he is prevented from doing it by suffering, will, as a rule, be a miserable man or woman! You active Christians, active in body and nimble in spirit–you joyous Christians who walk in the Light of God’s Countenance–“work while it is day, for the night comes when no man can work.” Let us pledge each other tonight that we will now seek the good of Zion. Members of this Church, none of you be unfaithful to the loyalty which you owe to Christ in this, the hour when we seek to press forward as one man in the battle of our Master! I would stand side by side with you to take my share–but what can one do if he works alone? My Brothers in office will not be backward, I know, but what can we do? Keep step with us, my Brothers and Sisters, in pleading for souls, in proclaiming the Gospel, in seeking to win the many to the knowledge of the Savior–and the Lord will bless us, even our own God will bless us! Shaking ourselves from the dust, and breaking off the bands of our own sloth, God will come with His crown of benediction and place it on His Church’s head! And when we get that coveted prize, let us hold it fast, that no man take it from us. Let us go forward as a Church in indissoluble union and in unwearied service, until He shall come whose, “Well done!” shall be our best reward!
The Lord bless you! And at His Table may the King’s sweet spikenard give forth a delightful perfume to every spiritual heart. Amen.