"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found". - Isa. iv.6
If Adam and Eve were somewhat ignorant, as we suppose them
to have been, of God's omniscience, no wonder that they attempted to escape his
notice. "The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth." Nothing more natural for them
than, as soon as they heard his step in the garden, to run, and make for the
nearest and thickest bush. They had broken his law, and knew the consequences -
" In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." To have waited
by the tree when they heard God, would have been to wait for death; to have
left the bush where they lay concealed would have been to court it. To that
guilty pair, as they crouched in fear and terror under the tree, the words of
the text were the last we should have addressed; and the last they would have
listened to. Their interest appeared to lie, not in seeking the Lord, but in
fleeing from him; and such counsel as this would have appeared to come from
that malignant devil who had planned, and now wished to complete, their ruin.
No angel, ignorant of God's purpose, and looking with pity on our fallen
parents, none but the fiend who gloried in the mischief he had wrought, would
have given them at that moment the advice that the Bible now gives us - " Seek
ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near."
Why so? why would it have seemed to be for Adam and Eve's interest to reject the counsel which it is so much for ours to take? Is there not the same law both to us and them - " The soul that sinneth, it shall die?" Is not God known to both as a God of justice to enact such a law, and of truth to execute it? Are not both the children and the parents conscious that as sinners, they stand equally exposed to its tremendous punishment? Why, then, is it not natural for us, instead of seeking the Lord, to flee his presence in dread of his avenging power? The difference between their circumstances and ours lies in this - that when they fled from God in Eden, their knowledge of him was circumscribed as compared with ours. Ignorant as yet of a mercy which was about for the first time to be revealed, they knew him only as a God of justice, of holiness, and of truth. But what makes it your plain as well as highest interest to seek the Lord, is that you know what they did not - that he is very pitiful and of great mercy; that he is not willing that any should perish; that he hath no pleasure in the death of the sinner; and that if he stands with the sword of justice glittering in one hand, in the other he holds out for your acceptance an ample pardon, and a blood-bought crown.
Had Adam and Eve known that he, whose voice they heard with such terror in the garden, had come not to slay but to save them; not to destroy them, but their enemy; not to give them a grave, but hope in the promise of a Saviour, how had they hastened to fall at his feet, and cry, 'Father forgive us, we knew not what we did' - flying as fast to God as they fled from God? Now, what they would have done had they known this, knowing it, we should certainly do. To seek him, were he merely a God of unbending justice, would be to rush on the bosses of the Almighty's buckler, and precipitate our ruin. But to all who seek him through a Redeemer, he is merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and slow to wrath, abundant in goodness and in truth. Our highest interests, therefore, our present, and future, and eternal happiness, lie in yielding implicit and immediate obedience to the call, Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. How does the lapse of years, the close of every day, enforce this? The setting sun; the clouds that, like the infirmities of age, gather round his sinking head; the fading light; the workman wending homeward, the peasant leaving his plough in the furrow, the weaver his shuttle on the loom; the larks that have dropped out of silent skies ; the birds sitting mute on the branches; the flowers with their eyes closed and leaves folded up ; the tenants of lone cottages and crowded city retiring to rest ; and by and bye the silence of a world wrapped in darkness and sleep - these are suggestive to a thoughtful mind of the close of life, the sleep of death, and our bed beneath a grassy sod. And each night that sun, whose lines go throughout all the earth, and his words to the ends of the world, with the heavens for his pulpit and the world for his audience, seems as he leaves us to say, Work while it is called to-day, seeing that the night cometh when no man can work.
I. Consider what we are to understand by seeking the Lord.
The sense in which this is to be taken is explained by the succeeding verses "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." It is as a God, therefore, who will have mercy on the worst, and abundantly pardon the wickedest, that we are to seek the Lord - seeking him without a day's, or even an hour's, delay. To approach him in any other character, would be to throw ourselves on a naked sword - were in effect to offer the profane swearer's prayer, to pray that God would damn us.
We may, as man has often done, stand at a human bar conscious of our innocence. Strong in our integrity, and confident that the day of trial will prove us guiltless of the crimes laid to our charge, roll the cloud from our character, and cover our accusers with shame and confusion, we may refuse te put in a plea for mercy; boldly declaring that we want nothing more, and will accept of nothing less, than justice - impartial justice. At God's tribunal, however, it a very different. There, simple justice were sure damnation. The Lord said to the Devil, "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil ?" yet, this perfect and upright man asks, "How should man be just with God? if he will contend with him, he cannot answer one in a thousand?" The Psalmist was "a man after God's own heart," the most devout of men; yet he trembles at the thought of being dealt with on mere principles of justice. He deprecates it; he prays expressly and earnestly against it - saying, enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.
It is therefore, in his double aspect, combined but not contradictory character, as at once just and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus, as a God of justice to punish sin in the surety, and as a God of mercy to pardon it in the sinner, that we are to seek the Lord; and all the blessings which in that gracious character he has, and he promises, to bestow. Thus, to seek the Lord is just to approach him by faith; and in the pardon of sin and our sanctification, in a blood-bought title, and a Spirit-wrought meetness for the heavenly kingdom, to seek those benefits of redemption which Christ so dearly purchased, God so freely gives, and man so fully needs. "How shall we escape if we neglect this great salvation ?" Therefore seek the Lord while he is to be found.
II Inquire when these things are to be obtained, or, to use the words of my text, when the Lord is to be found? - and we remark,
1. That the Lord, as bestowing the pardon of sin and salvation of the soul, is to be found in this world, not in another.
Our spirits pass into the eternal world so soon as death dissolves the union that binds body and soul together. And what gives an awful solemnity to the last breath, the last quiver of the lips, that long shivering sigh which tells that all is over, is the thought that at, that moment the condition of the dead is forever fixed While the last groan is sounding in our ears, ere we have time to close the filmy eyes, to imprint a kiss on the marble brow, to move one step from the bedside, the soul has entered on a destiny of inexpressible happiness, or unutterable woe. The case of any, in whose fate we have felt a tender interest, but who died, alas, without leaving us any good ground for hope, nay, the awful, but certain fact, that many thus die, would make us, had we the shadow of a ground for it, believe, and cling to the belief, that hope survives this life ; and that a man might be pardoned in another world who went unpardoned out of this. What God might have done had he so chosen, I dare not say. Whether he might have made one offer more of mercy to the disembodied spirit; whether, after revealing to its astonshed gaze the glories of heaven and the misery of hell, letting it hear the praises of the saved and the groans of the lost, he might have made one last offer of a Saviour, I dare not conjecture. There are truths in his word more or less clear to our eye, more or less comprehensible by our understanding; there are passages in the Holy Scriptures where a child may walk through, and others where a giant must swim. But if there is one doctrine more clearly revealed than another it is this - that God has made no such offer; and makes none. As the tree falleth so it lieth - the law of the other world this, He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
Who doubts that they who pass out of this life rejecting Christ shall not have taken one step into another when they shall regret, bitterly regret, their folly? It shall be too late for regrets then. The cry has arisen; the lamps are lighted; the bridegroom has entered; he door is shut-and now they who would not open to Christ, nor receive him into their hearts, when he stood knocking at their doors, shall in vain knock at his, crying, Lord, Lord, open unto us. What a change What a change to any at the moment of departure - from the seen to the unseen; from the society of men to that of angels; from the symbols of communion to the living presence of Christ; from the darkness of a dying scene to the light that is inaccessible, and full of glory; from the echo of our own groans, and the sounds of weeping, to the burst of ten times ten thousand voices, singing the songs of the redeemed. But greater changes than these to the impenitent and unbelieving, when the Father who gave up his Son to die for us, shall turn a deaf ear to their cries for mercy; and the Son who dyed his cross red with the blood of love, and invited sinners to his arms, will bid them begone, saying, "Depart from me, I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity". To seek the Lord, therefore, while he may be found, in other words, to seek pardon and reconciliation when they may be obtained, is to seek them in time. Here is a throne of grace, but yonder a throne of justice; here Christ is a saviour, but yonder be acts the part of a judge. That judge is at the door - therefore, whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
2. That the Lord, as bestowing the pardon of sin and salvation of the soul, is not to be found on a death-bed.
Yet that is the place, and the last hours of life the time, when many intend to seek him. They buoy themselves up with the hope of procuring the salvation then, which, till then, they have resolved to reject or at least to neglect. It is with dim and dying eyes they are to read their Bibles; it is with panting, faltering, dying voice they are to pray for mercy; it is when the hand of Death is thundering loud at the door, and he stands grim by their bedside, that they are to take the advice of my text and turn to the Lord. What folly! Is this your plan? And what is it in this scheme that makes you think it safe and good? It appears to me a desperate venture; so desperate, that I wonder that the Devil, with all his arts and power to deceive, can persuade any man to venture on it who is endowed with reason, and possesses a glimmering of sense. "Surely in vain," says Solomon, "the net is spread in sight of any bird ;" but here, not as there where the trap is temptingly baited and cunningly masked, the meshes of the net and the person of the fowler are patent to all eyes. Look at it!
First, Is this plan honouring to God, that we expect him, in the pardon of sin and salvation of our souls, to grant us at death what we have obstinately and persistently refused all our days? It is a plain mockery of God. It says, I will not turn to him till I can do no better - I will trample on his laws as long as I can do it safely - I will keep his Son standing at the door, till, weary, he turns to depart, and his last knock warns me that it is high time to open - I will give my health and vigour, the bloom of my youth, the mature powers of my manhood, the morning, the noon-day, even the evening of my life to the devil, the world, and the flesh - and the God that loved me, and the Saviour who pitied me and died for me, I will put off with the few, weak, worthless hours that precede the fall of the curtain; the close of life. How can a plan so insulting to God, and dishonouring to his Son, succeed? Be not deceived. God is not mocked. He refuses these vile dregs of life. "If ye offer," he says, "the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? If ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Offer it now to thy governor, will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts. A son honoureth his father and a servant his master; if, then, I be a father where is mine honour, If I be a master, where is my fear?"
Secondly, Is it because death is a suitable and convenient period for seeking the pardon of sin and salvation of the soul, that we propose to delay this matter till then? Suitable, convenient! Does death send us warning of his approach; giving due and timely notice that after so many weeks or days, we may look for a visit from the Ring of Terrors? Like other kings, is he always preceded by messengers to prepare the way, and make all things ready for his reception? No. The robber comes under the cloud of night; steals quietly into your house; treads the floor with muffled feet; and before you wake to seize his hand, has you by the throat, and plants a dagger in your heart. So death may come. "I come," says our Lord, "as a thief in the night - " "Behold I come quickly." Coming so, the procrastinating die without hope. And though death should make no such stealthy attack, nor leap on us with the suddenness of a tiger's spring, whoever looked on a dying scene to make resolutions such as these - I will delay seeking the Lord till my body is racked with these pains, my mind reeling in this wild delirium; not till I cannot lift my head from its pillow, not till I cannot read a line of the Bible, not till I can neither pray nor listen to the prayers of others, will I seek the Lord! I venture to say that wherever man made such a resolution, no man in his sober senses ever made it by a dyingbed. No. Death has enough to do with itself. It is a time not to seek, but to enjoy the comforts of religion; and if there is one impression which life's closing scene makes most strongly and deeply on the spectator, it is this, Now is the accepted time, this is the day of salvation.
Thirdly, Is it because experience and the Bible encourages us to believe that the pardon of sin and salvation of the soul are most likely to be found at death, that we do not seek and call upon the Lord now? Who believes that there are many in heaven, and but few in hell, who deferred the duty of my text to dying hours? The reverse is the case. I have no doubt of that. Hell is paved with good intentions; and as there are few in the place of misery but intended before they left the world to seek the Lord, there are few in glory, who were called, justified, and sanctified, so late as the eleventh hour. The Bible records the names and history of many who are there now; and how many of them were saved on a death-bed? Many? a few of them? No. One single case of a call at the eleventh hour is all we find. One, as has been said, to teach none to despair, and but one to teach none to presume.
3. The Lord, as bestowing pardon and salvation, is more likely to be found now than at any future time. We can foretell neither what, nor where we shall be to-morrow. By to-morrow, the place that now knows us may know us no more forever. This may be our last Sabbath on earth; this the last occasion on which we shall ever all meet together till the resurrection; this the last time we may ever look on an earthly church and ere these doors are agained opened for worship, for some of us a grave may have opened, and over us a grave may have closed. Sudden death either by accident or disease, the sun rising on a healthy form and setting on a breathless corpse, such events are ever warning us. And in the face of such warnings what folly it is to fold the hands, and compose ourselves anew to sleep, counting on this day being as yesterday, and to-morrow as to-day!
Suppose it were so; and that, like Hezekiah, we had other fifteen years added to our life, I still stand upon my ground; and maintain that we are more likely to find the Lord this day than during any other period of this new lease. Sin is like the descent of a hill, where every step we take increases the difficulty of our return. Sin is like a river in its course ; the longer it runs, it wears a deeper channel, and the farther from the fountain, it swells in volume and acquires a greater strength. Sin is like a tree in its progress ; the longer it grows, it spreads its roots the wider ; grows taller ; grows thicker ; till the sapling which once an infant's arm could bend, raises its head aloft, defiant of the storm. Sin in its habits becomes stronger every day - the heart grows harder; the conscience grows duller; the distance between God and the soul grows greater; and, like a rock hurled from the mountan's top, the farther we descend, we go down, and down, and down, with greater and greater rapidity. How easy, for example, is it to touch the conscience of childhood; but how difficult to break in on the torpor of a hoary head! A child, with few sins on his young head, will tremble at the idea of death and judgment; while the old man lies on his dying bed, and whether you thunder in his ears the terrors of a broken law, or, holding up the cross before his dim eyes, tell him of the love of Jesus, no tears run down these furrowed cheeks, nor prayers move lips, whose oaths are recorded in the books of judgment.
I know that God, bending stubborn knees, and breaking the hardest heart, can call at the eleventh hour. Is anything too hard for me? saith the Lord. He saves at the very uttermost. But I would say to him who tries how near he may go to hell, and yet be saved, It is a dangerous experiment-a desperate venture. It provokes God to recall his Spirit, and leave you to your fate, saying, He is joined to his idols, let him alone.
III. The shortness and uncertainty of life are strong reasons for seeking pardon and salvation now.
There is nothing so certain as death; and what more uncertain than life? How brief it is! Who stood sentinel by the gate of Shushan when the royal couriers, bearing hope to the Jews, dashed through, burying their spurs in their horses' flanks - who lately stood on the platform by the iron rails that stretch from Holyhead to London, when, signals flashed or along the line to stop the traffic and keep all clear, an engine and carriage dashed by with tidings of peace or war from America - -saw an image of our life. The eagle poising herself a moment on the wing, and then rushing at her prey; the ship that, throwing the spray from her bows, scuds before the gale; the shuttle flashing through the loom; the shadow of a cloud sweeping the hill-side, and then gone for ever, nor leaving a trace behind; the summer flowers that, vanishing, have left our gardens bare, and where were spread out the colours of the rainbow, only dull, black earth, or the rotting wrecks of beauty - these, with many other fleeting things, are emblems by which God through nature teaches us how frail we are; at the longest, how short our days. What need, therefore, there is to seize the passing moments - seeking the Lord while he is to be found.
We put this off by taking a wrong measure of our days. There are standard measures, imperial measures, as they are called, by which the business of our shops and markets, selling and buying, the transactions of commerce, are regulated. And if men would only be persuaded to regulate the business of their souls, the transactions between them, their conscience, and their God, by the royal standard and measure of human life, with what earnestness should we now seek the Lord? what crowds would throng the door of mercy - each one trembling lest it should be shut before he got in!' But, alas, many take a false measure; and conclude that there is no hurry; no need of haste in seeking salvation. For example, My father, says one man, lived to such and such an age-my grandfather was an old man before he died - I am come of a long-lived race ; and such persons, taking the age of their ancestors as the measure of their life, count on many years, and time enough left to seek a Saviour. Another says, I enjoy the best of health, my constitution is sound my frame is robust; no drunkard nor libertine, nor given to any excess, my habits are temperate; every thing about me is favourable to longevity. And so, a every child hopes to be a youth, and every youth man, such men expect to reach old age; while old men grey-headed, bent under the weight of years, and tottering on the brink of the grave, count on growing older still. Why not? Don't they know people who have lived to greater years than theirs? Thus men play with the great work my text calls us to do - playing at a game where the devil will cheat them, and beat them. They stake their salvation on a cast of the dice.
May God persuade you to do otherwise! None else can. In vain the orator here plies his arts The Devil laughs at oratory. He stands in more fear of a poor saint on his knees than of the greatest eloquence of the pulpit. Man may produce a temporary, surface impression, like the preaching friar who once resorted to a violent stroke of rhetoric. Addressing an audience in Italy at Lent time, with great power and pathos, on such topics as judgment and eternity, he drew a graph. In picture of man's death - the dying struggles; the corpse; the funeral; the grave; its loathsome horrors; the vanity it pours on youth, and all the bravery and glory of this world. This done, amid the breathless silence of his congregation, he wound all up by fixing his eyes on a lovely woman before him - startling her, as, pulling from the folds of his gown a naked skull, he thrust it, grinning, in her face, and said, Such you shall be! The effect was electric. It drove the colour from her rosy cheek, and sent a thrill of horror through the whole assembly - yet but a passing shock
This was summoning Death to the pulpit. But I have no faith in his preaching. A daily preacher and a great preacher, none seems to have a more drowsy, inattentive, unreflecting audience. He can pluck a king from his throne in the midst of his guards; but not a sinner from perishing. He severs the bond that binds husband and wife, the mother to her darling, my spirit to this flesh; but not the feeblest tie that binds a soul to sin. How solemn, startling, are the sermons he preaches on my text, on the shortness of life, on the vanity of the world; yet there is no blessing but with the Lord. With him is the residue of the Spirit - and without that, whether Death or dying man be the preacher, sermons are seed without the shower, Therefore with Moses, we address ourselves to God, praying, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom " - seeking the Lord while he may be found1 and calling upon him while he is near.
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