March 4, 1886
C. H. SPURGEON
"Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD."Psalm 31:24.
There is no preaching like that which grows out of our own experience. You perceive, dear friends, that David had trusted in the Lord; in very sore and singular trouble God had delivered him; and at the close of that deliverance he wrote this Psalm, to be sung by the faithful of all time and every clime, and then he gave this exhortation which grew out of his own experience. O my brethren, we shall never speak to the heart of our hearers, unless what we say has been first engraver on our own hearts. The best noses of a sermon are those that are written on our own inner consciousness. If we speak of the things which we have tasted, and handled, and made our own, we speak with a certainty and with an authority which God is pleased to use for the comfort of his people. Think, then, that you can hear David, who has long since fallen asleep, speaking out of his royal tomb, and saying, as the result of his own happy experience, "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord."
I. In considering this text, I would first of all bid you notice AN APPROVED COMPANY, to whom the psalmist is speaking: "all ye that hope in the Lord."
We must not regard all parts of the Bible as alike addressed to every individual. It has many messages to all the sons of Adam, but there are certain portions of it which are enclosed, and belong only to that seed according to promise which is distinguished by faith, whereby it is known to be in covenant with God. Holy Scripture discriminates; it makes some general promises, but its choicer words are given to persons of a special character. Judge for yourselves how far you come under the description of the text, "all ye that hope in the Lord."
You perceive, first, that they are men of hope. They have not yet all they expect to have; they have not yet entered into possession of their full inheritance; they have a hope which is looking out for something better on before; they have a living hope which peers into the future beyond even the dark river of death, a hope with eyes so bright that it seeth things invisible to others, and gazes upon glories which the unaided human eye has never beheld. Have you this good hope? Do all your measures lie about you, or behind you? If so, the text speaks not to thee; this arrow flies beyond thee. If thou art indeed a child of God, thy hope lieth where, as yet, thine eye does not see, nor thy hand grasp. God's people are a hoping people, and therefore hoping for the fulfillment of the promises God has made to them.
Next, they hope for good things, for this is implied when the psalmist speaks of those that hope in the Lord, for no man hopes for evil things whose hope is in the Lord. We are not led, by hoping in the Lord, to hope even for temporal things beyond a certain limit. We hope not for riches; we hope not for a long continuance here, for we have heard a voice saying unto us, "This is not your rest, for it is polluted." Our hope could not, even if it would, content itself with the things which are seen and temporal; we are hoping for a city whose Builder and Maker is God! We are hoping for joys which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man. We are hoping for things so good that they can only come from God himself; our hope about them, therefore, is entirely in him. Are you a man with this good hope? Are you a man with a hope that you would not exchange for ten thousand worlds? Perhaps, out of your box, like Pandora's, everything that seemed solid has gone; but at the bottom there lies a hope, which does not fly away. This is the bird which sitteth and singeth both day and night within your soul, even though you are shut up from going into the common haunts of men. You have a hope, a good hope, a hope of good things to come, in the hereafter, in the islands of the blessed, where you shall be for ever at home with your God.
If you are the persons spoken of in the text, this hope of yours is rooted, and grounded, and established in the Lord: "all ye that hope in the Lord." You have not a hope apart from the ever-blessed Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. To the Father, you look with the expectation of a child who is an heir. To the Son of God you look, waiting for that wedding feast which shall be kept with him to whom you are affianced by a betrothal that never can be contravened. To the Holy Ghost you look, for he is with you even now as the earnest of your inheritance, and you expect your inheritance to be of the same nature as the earnest which you already enjoy, and that you will be filled with his light, and love, and purity, and blessedness. For this you are looking, "My soul, wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from him." Can you say that? We are men of great expectations; but our expectations are not in men that die, or men that live, our expectations are in him who never dies, and never fails, and never disappoints those who put their trust in him. Say, dear hearer,I cannot come round, and put the question to all of you individually,but say, Dost thou belong to this approved company of men that hope in the Lord?
I may further say that some of them do not get much beyond hope. I would not condemn them because of this; I must not judge those whom God hath not condemned. I like to hear a child of God speak of the full assurance of faith, for full assurance is the proper tone of an educated faith. He that believeth ought to be assured of the thing which he believeth; else, why doth he believe it? And it is good when the milk of faith has stood quiet so long that you can see the cream of full assurance floating upon the surface of it. Yet I do know that, if you have not full assurance, and if the most you say is, "I hope," you are included in the blessed company to whom the psalmist speaks: "all ye that hope in the Lord." O Little-faith, and Miss Much-afraid, and Mr. Feeble-mind, and Mr. Fearing,all of you who belong to that very numerous family, all of you who are like Pharaoh's lean kine,God loves you! These feeble ones are carried in the Savior's bosom, or gently led by his loving hand. Do not exclude yourself, I pray you, from any sweetness which lies in the text, "all ye that hope in the Lord." Indeed, my text seems to me to have an arm like that of the Good Shepherd. "He shall gather the lambs with his arm," as if he would put his arm around them to draw them close up to his heart.
"All ye that hope in the Lord,"-you who are so little, you who are so useless, you who are so trembling, you who are not what you want to be, you who can see rather your own imperfections than anything else, you who groan rather than sing because you cannot as yet overcome your besetting sins,do you hope in the Lord? My text speaks to all that hope in the Lord, and I should like so to preach from it that, if I should omit any of you who are strong, I should at any rate apply the text to those who are very weak and trembling. "All ye that hope in the Lord." This passage picks up the undermost, it seems to come, like the men with the ambulance, to look after the wounded, and carry them on at the same pace as those who march in the fullness of their strength.
This, then, is the approved company: "all ye that hope in the Lord." Not, "you that hope in yourselves;" not, "you that hope in your priests;" not, "you that have any confidences anywhere else;" but you who hope in God alone.
II. Well now, secondly, my text seems to intimate that there is AN OCCASIONAL WEAKNESS,I might say, A FREQUENT WEAKNESS which is apparent in many of those that hope in the Lord.
It is a dangerous weakness, for it is a weakness of the heart. The text says, "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart;" wherein it is implied that, sometimes, the heart of them that hope in the Lord grows weak. As you well know, heart disease is a very dangerous disease; even if a very little is wrong with the heart, it is a serious matter, for every other part of the body will be affected. Some of God's own people are occasionally, and many of them very often, subject to a weakness of the heart. They lose their courage, their joy departs from them, and they become timorous and fearful.
This weakness occurs on many occasions. Sometimes we have seen those who hope in the Lord very weak in heart under great suffering. Pain follows pain; it seems as if every cut of the knife went deeper than the last, and that the knife was sharper every time. Oh, let me tell you, who are in vigorous health, and have no bodily pain, and do not always sympathize as you might with those who are the subjects of acute suffering,it is not so easy as you think to bear such pain as some of us have to endure. Let a man have an intolerable headache by the week together, or it may be a sharp attack of rheumatism; let sciatica come upon him, or some of those terrible nerve pains that touch us to the very quick; and you will see whether he who boasted of his strength finds that he has any strength to spare. At such times, the spirits sink, and the heart's action grows feebler and feebler.
So is it also in the battle of life. A man is struggling hard to gain a livelihood; perhaps he has not any means of earning even bread for his wife and children, and it is very trying for a man when the cupboard is bare, and the children's clothes scarcely cover them from the cold. In such circumstances, his heart sometimes fails him, and then it is that God bids him be of good courage, and strengthens his heart.
This weakness of heart is particularly felt in times of temptation. I have known Christian men who have had to work among ungodly companions, and their spirits have been vexed every day with the filthy conversation of the wicked, and their taunts, and jeers, and blasphemies; and in such cases the heart has oftentimes grown very heavy, and sick, and faint. Those of us who love the old-fashioned gospel cannot look abroad to-day, and see many pulpits turned against our God, and many so-called "thinkers" deserting the old faith, without feeling that this is a burden which presses upon us very sorely, and our heart grows heavy, and perhaps becomes weak.
I have also seen some Christians troubled with this complaint in the midst of great labor for the Lord. They are doing all they can do, and yet they do not see the success they expected. They are not weary of the work, but they are weary in it. They see very clearly the imperfections in their service, and they are further troubled, because some who should help them, do not help them. They meet with cold hearts where they reckoned on enthusiasm; instead of generosity, it may be that there is niggardliness; and, instead of prayerfulness burning like coals of juniper, there is lukewarmness or spiritual death. At such times, the man of God puts his hand into his bosom, and he says, "My heart, my heart faileth me." Then the message of the text comes in, "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord." Host men are subject to fainting fits at times. Even David became weak and faint; and Samson, after he had cried exultingly, "With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass, have I slain a thousand men," yet, for want of a draught of water, was ready to lie down, and faint and die. The best of men are but men at the best; and, therefore, who wonders if their heart sometimes faileth them in the day of suffering, in the hour of battle, or under the broiling sun, when they are laboring for their Lord?
If this weakness of the heart should continue, it will be very injurious. At the present time, I believe that it restricts enterprise. That young man would go as a missionary to China, but his heart fails him. There is another who would be found on the Congo, seeking to preach Christ, but he has not the needed courage. There is a sister who would be taking a Bible-class, or visiting in the district where she lives, but she cannot summon the resolution to begin. Oh, how many good resolves, and holy projects, never come to anything! We see the bud and blossom, but they do not knit into fruit as they ought to do. I hardly dare to think of the vast quantity of talent in the Redeemer's kingdom that lies unused, often for want of moral courage and confidence in God. I do not think that we are at all lacking in confidence in ourselves,at any rate, some of us are not; but it is confidence in God which is wanted, and that is quite another thing. This confidence makes the feeble strong, and the timid brave; may we all have a large share of it! God deliver us from faintness of heart, lest we injure the kingdom of our Lord by withholding our service!
And, dear friends, this weakness of heart endangers the success of the best worker. He who fights most valiantly may be on the verge of victory, and yet be defeated, if his heart should then fail him. I have no doubt, in reading the records of many campaigns, you must have noticed that men have gone on from victory to victory, and suddenly there has been a pause because their hearts failed them, just when, had they followed up their previous successes, they must have swept all before them. Beware, you who have served God with courage, lest fear should take hold upon you, and you should flinch in the day of battle, and miss that which you might have won for your Lord.
This feeble heart pleads many excuses. I do not marvel that it does so; how can I, when I know myself? O brothers, sisters, if you look within, well may your hearts fail you; and if you look without, upon the temptations that waylay you, upon the powers of darkness so strongly entrenched within their fortresses, well may you faint! What a task we undertake in trying to win a single soul, much more in seeking to win a city or the world for Christ! Well may our hearts fail if we begin to look off from God. The fable is told of Hercules, that he fought with a famous giant, whom he could not for a while overcome because he was born of the earth, and every time he was hurled to his mother-earth, he rose renewed in strength. Hercules tugged and strove with his gigantic foe, and felt that the struggle was hopeless, till he discovered his adversary's secret; then he took him in his arms, and hugged the monster to death. You and I are invincible, though a thousand stronger than Hercules should be against us, as long as we can fall back on our God; and the only hope of the enemy's victory is if he can keep us away from God. But even if he should throw us down, and seem to break us in pieces, yet in that fall we fall upon our God, and rest on him alone. We may lie prone upon the earth, and cry, "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise." Come into contact with your God, fall upon divine power, and you will rise with new force and new strength; but, if you should once be separated from him, then would it be all over with you. Yet, blessed be his name, nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
III. Now, thirdly, I call your most earnest heed to the trumpet voice of the exhortation in the text, A SEASONABLE EXHORTATION: "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart."
I like the way this is put. It is not alone, "Be of good courage;" there is an "and" with it: "and he shall strengthen your heart." At the same time, the exhortation is not omitted. It does not say, "He shall comfort your heart, therefore you need do nothing." They err from the Scriptures who make the grace of God a reason for doing nothing; it is the reason for doing everything. They who say that predestination and the working of a living God put man out of the field, make a gross mistake; it is these facts that bring man into the field. The sternest predestination is not the least in conflict with the most perfect freedom of the human will. I may not be able to explain to you how it is so, but I know that it is so as a matter of fact; and that God requires us to be of good courage at the same moment that he says that he will strengthen our heart.
Dear friends, if you want to get out of diffidence, and timidity, and despondency, you must rouse yourselves up. This is incumbent upon you, for the text puts it so: "Be of good courage." Do not sit still, and rub your eyes, and say, "I cannot help it, I must always be dull like this." You must not be so; in the name of God, you are commanded in the text to "be of good courage." If you are indolent, like that, you must not expect the grace of God to operate upon you as though you were a block of wood, and could be made into something against your will. Oh, no! you must determine to be of good courage. Wherefore, arise, and shake yourself from the dust. Believe thou, dear friend, put thy trust in God. "Give to the winds thy fears." Take down thy harp from the willows. "I cannot play it," say you. Get it down, all the same for that; even if you cannot play it, lay your fingers upon the strings; it is wonderful how, when once those accustomed fingers touch the well-beloved strings, it seems as if they were charmed into music. Do thou what thou canst, and God will do for thee what thou canst by no means do for thyself.
I know that a great many, who are very sad and low in spirit, come in here on a Thursday night; and their friends say to them, "We wish that we could cheer you up." I do not say that, but I do say this, "Be of good courage. Be of good courage." It is the Lord's command to you. Do you not think that your God deserves to be trusted? What has he ever done that you should doubt him? Does he not deserve your most confident faith? And what do you expect to get out of your timidity? He that is afraid of the weather,can he change it? He says that there will be a long frost; can he shorten it by a single day by fretting over it? There is great depression in business, and he will be ruined: will he be less likely to be ruined by worrying? Seest thou not, then, that thy God deserves thy trust, and that common wisdom bids thee be of good courage?
If thou art not of good courage, what will happen to thee? I will not say that thou wilt be a coward, but I will say that thou wilt look very much like one. I have heard of one who said that he was of a very retiring disposition; he could not take a Sunday school class, or speak to anybody a word for the Master, he was so retiring! I have also heard of a soldier who, in the day of battle, was so very retiring that they shot him as a deserter! I would not have you deserve the coward's doom, and speak of it as "retiring." No, get not into that class; be thou rather like that soldier of Alexander, who was always to the front, and the reason was that he bore about with him what was thought to be an incurable disease, and he suffered so much pain that he did not care whether he lived or died. Alexander took great pains to have him healed, and when he was quite well, he never exposed his precious life to any risk again. Oh, I would rather that you should be stung into courage by excessive pain than that you should be healed into cowardice! Christ ought not to be served by feather-bed soldiers. He deserves that we trust him, and bring ourselves into his service with a courage that cannot be daunted. Though it be upon the pikes of his adversaries, let us find paradise there, for we shall find it if we follow Christ faithfully to the death. God grant us, then, to be of good courage!
Why art thou afraid? Is God with thee, and yet art thou afraid? What aileth thee? Hath God forsaken thee? Hath he forgotten to be gracious? Has omnipotence grown weak? What canst thou be about? Has he been a wilderness to thee? Has the manna ceased to fall, or the waters to flow? Go, yield thyself up to him; ask him, by his grace, to make thee heroic, instead of being numbered among the fearful and the unbelieving, who turn their backs in the day of battle, and seek their own selfish ease and comfort.
IV. I finish up with A CHEERING PROMISE: "He shall strengthen your heart."
God alone can strengthen the heart. I suppose that physicians can do something for weakhearts, though I do not know. As a general rule, when a man dies suddenly, and they do not know what it is that killed him, they say, "It is disease of the heart." The heart is a mysterious portion of our being, and needs great care. Spiritually, the mercy is that God, who made the heart, understands the heart; and he who sees its weakness, knows how to strengthen it.
How does God strengthen men's hearts? Well, sometimes, by gracious providences. Something very unexpected happens; I have, myself, learnt to expect the unexpected. I have known what it is almost to wish to get into a defile, through which there was no way of escape, on purpose that I might see the Lord cleave the hills asunder, or divide even the sea, to make a way for his people. It is a grand thing to get into such deep water that you cannot touch the bottom, and must swim, and then to feel the eternal buoyancy of Gods providence bearing you up. It is grand swimming when there are ten thousand fathoms of ocean below you, there is no fear of knocking your foot against a rock then; and when you get right out into a simple dependence upon the living God, and feel the waves of his eternal influences round about you, then will you be happy and blest.
The Lord has also a way of strengthening men's hearts by the kindly fellowship of friends. Paul was often much refreshed by Christian associates. The Lord can send someone who, "as iron sharpeneth iron," may sharpen you, and make you ready for service. "A word fitly spoken""a word upon wheels"as the Hebrew has it,how good it is when it comes in just at the right time! It "is like apples of gold in baskets of silver." Such are goodly words brought to us by men of faith and experience, whom God sends to us.
So, too, have I known a man's heart to be mightily strengthened by a precious promise. Who knows the wonderful power of a text of Scripture? We used to have, thirty years ago,I do not know whether you have them now,"poor men's plasters" which we used when we felt weak in the back; but a promise out of the Scripture is a poor man's plaster indeed. What strength it gives to the loins! How we seem to be braced up when we truly lay hold of a promise of God, and it really gets a grip upon our spirit!
Beside all that, God the Holy Spirit has a secret way of strengthening the courage of God's people, which none of us can explain. Have you never felt it? You may have gone to your bed, sick at heart, "weary, and worn, and sad," and you wake in the morning ready for anything. Perhaps, in the middle of the night, you awake, and the visitations of God are manifested to you, and you feel as happy as if everything went the way you would like it to go. Nay, you shall be more happy that everything should cross you than that everything should please you, if it be God's sweet will. You feel a sudden strengthening of your spirit, so that you are perfectly resigned, satisfied, prepared, and ready. I have known a man of God on 'Change. Everything has seemed to be going wrong, and he has got worried and troubled, till he has stepped aside, and retired for a little prayer to his God. He has not been absent five minutes, yet he has come back feeling, "Now I am ready for you." All the flurry has gone, all the worry has gone, God has revived his spirit, and strengthened his heart. I have seen a good woman, when her husband has just died, and all her hope has seemed withered. The first burst of grief has passed, and she has bowed by the side of that bed, and lifted up her heart to God, and then has brushed her tears away, and given herself up to fight the battle of life for her children, and God has strengthened her heart, as in a moment. Oh, do not give way! You need not be cowards; do not give way. Do not say, "I must be beaten, I must always be despondent, my life is crushed." You need not be so. "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart." Get you to your chamber, fall upon your knees, pour out your heart before God, tell your trouble to the Most High, and, as the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, he must and will help those who put their trust in him. Has he ever failed any who trusted in him? Who has ever stayed his hand, or withdrawn him from his designs? Who has ever made him deny his promise, or retract his word? If thou wilt trust him, he will be better to thee than thy fears; nay, better to thee than thy beliefs, or thy largest hopes. Stay yourselves upon him; lean upon the bosom of eternal love; lean hard, lean all your weight there, and leave that weight there, and the Lord be with you, and bless you! Blessed are all they that trust in the Lord.
How I wish that all here had trusted in the Lord, or that they would seek him even now if they have never yet found him! The Lord be gracious to every one of you, for Jesus' sake! Amen.
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