The Middle Passage, by C. H. Spurgeon
This sermon was delivered May 18th, 1879 in commemoration of the completion of Spurgeon’s twenty-fifth year of ministry over the church meeting in the Metropolitan Tabernacle.Â
â€œO Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid; O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.â€ –Habakkuk 3:2.
HABAKKUK had the sadness of living at a time when true religion was in a very deplorable state. The nation had to a great extent departed from the living God; there was a godly party in the kingdom, but the ungodly and idolatrous faction was exceedingly strong. The Lord threatened judgment on the people on account of this, and it was revealed to the prophet that an invasion by the Chaldeans was near at hand. The prophet, therefore, was filled with anxiety as to the future of his country, because he saw its sinful condition and knew where it must end. The book of his prophecy begins with the earnest question of intercession, â€œO Lord, how long?â€ His spirit was stirred within him at the sin of the people, and his heart was broken by a vision of the chastisement, which the Lord had ordained. It becomes all who bear witness for God thus to be stirred in soul when they see the name of God dishonored, and have reason to expect the visitations of his wrath. A man without bowels of compassion is not a man of God.
Yet Habakkuk was a man of strong faith, a happy circumstance indeed for him in evil times, for if faith be wanted in the fairest weather much more is it needed when the storm is gathering; and if the just must live by faith even when the morning begins to break, how much more must they do so when the shadows are deepening into night? Those who have tender hearts to weep over the sins of their fellows need also brave hearts to stay themselves upon God.
Habakkukâ€™s name by interpretation is the embracer, and I may say of him truly that he was one who saw the promises afar off, and was persuaded of them and embraced them. He took fast hold upon the goodness of the Lord and rested there. In reading his one is struck by the way in which he realized the presence of God. Fitly does he entitle his book â€œthe burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see,â€ for in the vividness of his apprehension he is eminently a â€œseer.â€ He perceives the presence of God, and bids the earth keep silence before him. He beholds the divine ways in the history of the chosen people, and feels rottenness entering into his bones, and a trembling seizing him. God was very real to him, and the way of God was very conspicuous before his mental eye. Hence his faith was as vigorous as his reverence was deep. It is in his prophecy that we read that wonderful gospel sentence upon which Paul preaches many sermons, â€œThe just shall live by faith;â€ and it is in this prophecy too that we find that notable resolution of faith when under the worst conceivable circumstances she says or sings, â€œAlthough the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the â€œGod of my salvation.â€ Now, beloved, it will be well for us if we have much of Habakkukâ€™s spirit, and are grounded and settled by a strong confidence in God; for if so, while we may have sombre views both as to the present and the future, we shall be freed from all despondency by casting ourselves upon him whose ways are everlasting. His goings forth of old were so grand and glorious that to doubt him is to slander him, and his nature is so unchangeable that to reckon upon the repetitions of his gracious deeds is but to do him the barest justice.
In the text which I have selected this morning with an eye to the celebration of the twenty-fifth year of our happy union as pastor and people, I see three points upon which I wish to dwell. The first is, the prophetâ€™s fear, â€œO Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid;” the second is the prophetâ€™s prayer, â€œO Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known;” and the third is the prophetâ€™s plea, â€œIn wrath remember mercy,â€ coupled with the rest of the chapter in which he practically finds a plea for Godâ€™s present working in the report of what he had done for Israel in the olden times.
I. First, then, I want you to NOTICE THE PROPHETâ€™S FEAR: â€œI have heard thy speech, and was afraid.â€ It is the fear of solemn awe; it is not dread or terror, but reverence. Read it in connection with the twentieth verse of the preceding chapter: â€œBut the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid.â€ All else was hushed, and thenÂ in the solemn silence he heard Jehovahâ€™s voice and trembled. It is not possible that mortal men should be thoroughly conscious of the divine presence without being filled with awe. I suppose that this feeling in unfallen Adam was less overwhelming because he had no sense of sin, but surely even to him it must have been a solemn thing to hear the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Though filled with a childlike confidence, yet even innocent manhood must have shrunk to the ground before that majestic presence. Since the fall, whenever men have been favored with any special revelation of God they have been deeply moved with fear. There was great truth in the spirit of the old tradition that no man could see Godâ€™s face and live; for such a sense of nothingness is produced in the soul by consciousness of Deity that men so highly favored have found themselves unable to bear up under the load of blessing. Isaiah cries, â€œWoe is me! for I am undone; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts;â€ Daniel says, â€œThere remained no strength in me;â€ Ezekiel declares, â€œWhen I saw. it, I fell upon my face;â€ and John confesses, â€œWhen I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.” You remember how Job cried unto the Lord: â€œI have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.â€ Angels, who climb the ladder which Jacob saw, veil their faces when they look on God; and as for us who are at the foot of that ladder, what can we do but say with the patriarch, â€œHow dreadful is this place?â€ Albeit that it is the greatest of all blessings, yet is it an awful thing to be a favorite with God. Blessed among women was the Virgin Mother, to whom the Lord manifested such high favor, but for this very reason to her it was foretold, â€œYea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.â€ Blessed among men was he to whom God spoke as a friend, but it must needs be that a horror of great darkness should come upon him. It is not given to such frail creatures as we are to stand in the full blaze of Godhead, even though it be tempered by the mediation of Christ, without crying out with the prophet, â€œI was afraid.â€ â€œWho would not fear thee, O King of nations?â€
Habakkukâ€™s awe of God was quickened by the â€œspeechâ€ which he had heard â€œO Lord, I have heard thy speech,â€ which is by some rendered â€œreport,â€ and referred to the gospel of which Isaiah saith, â€œWho hath believed our report?â€ But surely the meaning should rather be looked for in the context, and this would lead us to interpret the â€œreportâ€ as relating to what God had done for his ancient people, when he came from Teman, cleaving the earth with rivers, and threshing the heathen in anger. The prophet had been studying the history of Israel, and had seen the hand of God in every stage of that narrative, from the passage of the Red Sea and the Jordan on to the casting out of the heathen and the settlement of Israel in Canaan. He had heard the speech of God in the story of Israel in the silence of his soul; he had seen the deeds of the Lord as though newly enacted, and he was filled with awe and apprehension, for he saw that while God had a great favor to his people yet he was provoked by their sins, and though he passed by their transgressions many and many a time, yet still he did chasten them, and did not wink at their iniquities. The prophet remembered how God had smitten Israel in the wilderness till the graves of lust covered many an acre of the desert; how he had smitten them in Canaan, where tyrant after tyrant subdued them and brought them very low. He recollected the terrible judgments which the Lord had sent one after another thick and threefold upon his guilty people, fulfilling that ancient word of his â€œYou only have I known of all the nations of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.â€ He saw that burning text, â€œI the Lord thy God am a jealous God,â€ written in letters of fire all along the history of Jehovahâ€™s connection with his elect people, and so he cried, â€œO Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid.â€
Probably, however, Habakkuk alludes to another source of apprehension, namely, the silent speech of God within his prophetic bosom, where, unheard of men, there were intimations of coming vengeance which intimations he afterwards put into words and left on record in the first chapter of his book. The Chaldeans were coming up a people fierce and strong, a bitter and a hasty nation, terrible and dreadful; swifter than leopards and fiercer than evening wolves. These were hastening towards Judah as mighty hunters hurry to the prey, and in the spirit of prophecy Habakkuk saw the land parched beneath the fire-hoofs of the invading horses, princes and kings led away into captivity, the garden of the Lord turned into a desolate wilderness, and Lebanon itself shorn of its forests by the hand of violence. The fear of this frightful calamity made him tremble, as well it might, for Jeremiah himself scarce found tears enough to bewail the Chaldean woe. Now, my brethren, when the Lord leads his servants to look from their watchtowers, and to guess the future by the past, we also are afraid. When we see Godâ€™s chastisement of a sinful people in years gone by, and are led therefrom to prognosticate the probable future of a sinful people in the present day, then do our hearts fail us for fear lest the Lord should avenge himself upon the guilty nation in which we dwell. We are afraid for ourselves also with great fear, for we also have sinned.
Thus, you see, the prophetâ€™s fear was made up of these three things: first, a solemn awe inspired by the near presence of the Lord, who cannot look upon iniquity, lest haply he should break forth upon the people as a consuming fire; secondly, an apprehension drawn from the past report of Godâ€™s ways which he made known to Moses, and his acts to the children of Israel, lest he should again smite the erring nation; and then, thirdly, a further apprehension which projected itself into the future, that the Lord would execute the threatenings which he had so solemnly uttered by his prophets, and permit the Chaldeans to treat his people as though they were so many fishes of the sea, to be taken in their net, and devoured.
Putting those three things together, I advance to the prophetâ€™s special subject of fear, which has been generally overlooked but is very conspicuous in the text. The prophet was afraid because of the particular period of national life through which his people were passing. They had come, if I read his prayer aright, to â€œthe midst of the years,â€ or the middle period of their history. Habakkukâ€™s ministry was not exercised in the first ages when Moses and Samuel prophesied, nor yet in these latter days wherein we live, upon whom the ends of the earth have come. He probably ministered six hundred years before the coming of Christ, somewhere in the very center of human history, if that history is to make: a week of thousands as to its years as many have imagined. With regard to the Israelitish people, they were now far removed from the day â€œwhen Ephraim was a child:”Â they were in their middle life when the best things ought to have been developed in them. The heroic age was gone, and that unpoetical, matter of fact era was come in which men labored in the very fire, and wearied themselves for very vanity; and therefore, like a tender intercessor, the prophet cries, â€œO Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.â€ The application to ourselves which I want to make this morning is drawn from the fact that we also, as a church, have reached â€œthe midst of the years.â€ Under the present pastorate we are like mariners in mid ocean, distant twenty-five leagues, or rather years, from the place of our departure, and making all sail for the further shore. As to any service we may expect personally to render we are certainly in the midst of the years, if not near to their end. In the course of nature we could not expect that more than another twenty-five years of service could be compassed by us, nor are we so foolish as to reckon even upon that: we have at any rate come to middle life in our church relationship, now that we celebrate our silver wedding.
Brethren, there is about â€œthe midst of the yearsâ€ a certain special danger, and this led the prophet, as it shall lead us at this time, to pray, â€œO Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.â€ Youth has its perils, but these are past; age has its infirmities, but these we have not yet reached; it is ours then to pray against the dangers, which are present with us â€œin the midst of the years.â€ The middle passage of life with us as individuals and with us as a church is crowded with peculiar perils.
Have you never noticed how previous dispensations have all passed away in their prime, long before they had grown grey with years. Upon the golden age of paradise and perfection the sun went down ere it was yet noon. The patriarchal period saw a few of its hoary fathers wearing the veneration of centuries, but in a few generations men with lengthened lives had grown so skilled in sin that the flood came and swept away the age ere yet it had begun to fade. Then came the Jewish state with its judges and its kings, and scarcely have we read that Solomon built a great house for the Lord, ere we perceive that Israel has gained the zenith of her glory, and her excellence declines. Even so was it in the Christian church of the first ages, so far as it was a visible organization. It began well, what did hinder it? It was in fullest health and strength when it defied the lions and the flames, and laughed emperors to scorn, but ere long Constantine laid his royal hand upon it, and the church became sick of the kingâ€™s evil, the cruelest of all diseases to the church of God. This malady, like a canker, ate into her very heart and defiled her soul, so that what should have been a spiritual empire, chastely wedded to the Lord Christ, became the mistress of the kings of the earth. Her Middle Ages were a night of darkness, which even yet casts its dread shade across the nations. It seems as if the middle passage of communities cannot be safely passed except by a miracle of grace. The morning comes with a dawn of bright beams and sparkling dews, but ere long the sun is hot and the fields are parched, or the sky is black with clouds, and the glory of the day is marred. This is a matter of constant anxiety to the lover of his race, who knows the jealousy of God and the frailty of his people, lest in the midst of the years the people should turn aside from their faithfulness and forget their first love, and, therefore, the Lord should be provoked to remove their candlestick and leave them to their own devices. O Lord, my God, grant this may not happen unto this thy church.
What, then, are the dangers of this middle passage?
First, there is a certain spur and stimulus of novelty about religious movements which in a few years is worn out. I well recollect when we were called â€œï»¿a nine days wonder,ï»¿â€ and our critics prophesied that our work would speedily collapse. Such excitement had been before and had passed away, and this would be one among other bubbles of the hour. The nine days have lasted considerably long may nine such days follow them in Godâ€™s infinite mercy. Now, whatever detractors might say, we know that there was then a life, an energy, a freshness about everything which was done by us as a church which we could hardly expect to continue with us for all these years. Youthful novelty has certainly gone, and the danger is that a community should be greatly weakened by the ceasing of that force, which in some cases has been all the power possessed. Lady Huntingdon, in a letter to Mr. Berridge, deplored the fact that every new work after a season seemed to grow lifeless, and Berridge remarks that in this the primitive churches were much like our own, and that after the former rain which falls at seed-time there is often a dry interval until the latter rain descends. I fear the good manâ€™s remark is sadly correct. From an admirable fervor many cool down to a dangerous chill. This is to be bemoaned where it has occurred, and it is to be feared where as yet it has not happened, for such is the natural tendency of things. Beloved brethren, I have prayed to God that when what is called the esprit de corps is gone from us the Esprit de Dieu may still abide with us: that when the spirit which grows out of our association with each other declines we may be sustained by the Spirit which unites us all to the Lord Jesus.
The middle passage becomes difficult, then, because things grow ordinary and commonplace which aforetime were striking and remarkable. I do not know that this would matter much if it were not too often the case that with the stimulus of novelty certain other excitements vanish also. We tremble lest the people who prayed mightily at first should restrain prayer before the Lord; lest those who made many self-sacrifices should think that they have done enough; and lest those who have consecrated themselves unto the Lord should imagine that they began upon too high a key and cannot keep up the music to such a pitch. A people who have loved the souls of men and have been like mighty hunters before the Lord after sinners, may suddenly dream that they are excused from farther effort, and may leave others to do mission work for their Lord. It is an ill day when a feeling of satisfaction begins to creep over us, but this is one of the perils of â€œthe midst of the years.â€
If reliance in which we began should ever depart from us. It often happens in the commencement of religious movements that men are weak and few and feeble and despised, and they trust in God, and so they grow strong, but their strength becomes their overthrow. The tendency of our proud nature is to cease from childlike confidence in God when once it feels strong enough to rely upon itself. The Lord sayeth not by many nor by few, and if even for a moment we should glory in our numbers and think that now we are powerful for the achievement of any work which we may undertake we shall grieve the Spirit of God, and he may in holy jealousy leave us to barrenness. This is to be dreaded beyond all things. My brethren, it is a glorious thing to be weak that we may have the strength of God resting on us; it is a glorious thing to be poor and mean, and despised, that the Lord may take such weak instruments and get unto himself glory by the use of them; but it is a grievous evil if in the mid-day of prosperity the church should vex the Spirit of God by self-confidence and cause him to withdraw his sacred succours.
Another danger arises out of the pride of achievement. When men are beginning to work for Christ they feel that they cannot do anything without him, and they trust in God to give them strength, and he answers their humble cry, and does great things by them. But when a good work is wrought we are apt to feel, â€œWe have won our laurels. We have borne the burden and heat of the day, and we may now rest.â€ This is fatal to progress. We shall do no more when we imagine that we have done enough. You know the story of the painter who broke his palette and put down his brush, and told his wife that he should never paint again, for the artistic faculty had departed from him. When she enquired how he was aware of the sad fact, he answered, â€œThe last picture I produced realized my ideal and satisfied me, and therefore I am certain that I have lost my power as a painter.â€ It certainly is so, that we are fit for Christâ€™s service so long as we feel that we have as yet done nothing, and are merely at the beginning of our purposed service. Those who pine for greater exploits have not yet spent themselves, but the danger lies in saying, â€œI have finished my dayâ€™s work. Soul, take thine ease.â€ From my heart I dread the middle hour of lifeâ€™s day, both for myself and you, for therein so many think it no ill, like the Italians, to take a siesta, or mid-day sleep, and then it is that the enemy is upon them.
There is, too, a pride of experience, which is apt to grow upon churches and individuals, like moss upon old knit trees, when men are â€œin the midst of the years.â€ They feel– “We are not now the young, simple, silly people that we once were, we are not now to be overcome by temptation or misled by error; we shall beyond all doubt remain sound in faith and pure in life even to the end.â€ It is from the egg of carnal security that the canker worm of backsliding is hatched; therefore we must mind what we are at â€œï»¿in the midst of the years.â€
Besides, I think, dear brethren, all Christians must be conscious that after a continuance in well doing we are apt to be assailed by weariness. Apart from our Lordâ€™s promised aid we faint, we die in the long race which he has set before us. Labour leads to lassitude, and suffering to impatience. Grace is needed to prevent the decays of nature. When the natural spirits sink, we grow depressed and complain that our warfare is hard and our travail bitter; and with this there is apt to mingle a sense of disappointment, because we have not achieved all that our sanguine hopes expected. We scarcely rejoice that something has been done, because so much remains unaccomplished. When the mind is thus wearied the spirit faints at the prospect of a further and perhaps a heavier strain, and this makes the central regions of life wonderfully trying to Zionâ€™s pilgrims. We are apt to be slack in the service of God by reason of what we have already done, though that we must confess is little enough. Satan knows how to take advantage of our fainting moments, to make cowards of us if he can, therefore be ye aware of his devices.
If we have stood like watchmen on the walls for years the tendency is to relax our vigilance. If we have borne a protest for many years the thought will suggest itself that it will be folly to be singular any longer, and wise to yield to the current of the times. Then the enemy sneering whispers, â€œWho art thou, and what hast thou done with all thy testifying and separate walking and Puritanic precision? All that thou hast accomplished is insignificant enough! The world still lieth in the wicked one, and error is still rampant. Give up the battle, for thou canst not win.â€ In the midst of the years, what with weariness and want of faith, the heart is apt to yield to the infernal suggestion; therefore, brethren, let a mighty prayer go up from the whole church to our Redeemer God, â€œO Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.â€
II. Thus have I indicated the prophetâ€™s fear, and now I would conduct you, secondly, to consider THE PROPHETâ€™S PRAYER: â€œO Lord, revive thy work.â€ His first request is for revival. He means, â€œLord, put new life into us. Thy cause began with life, but the tendency of all around it is to make it die; therefore, Lord, quicken it anew, give it another birthday, and restore all the force and energy of its first love, Give a new Pentecost, we beseech thee; give all the spiritual endowments which came with the tongues of fire, and so enrich us anew. Revive us! Help us to begin again; start us anew in life.â€ That is the petition, and it seems to me to be one of the wisest requests that ever fell even from prophetic lips. Let us use it. Lord, now that we have been twenty-five years together, let us feel as fresh as If the race were now beginning. Give us back the dew of our youth that we may do our first works, and something more. Let us have with the maturity of age the freshness of youth, and let us run without weariness in thy ways, because thy Spirit has quickened us. Our dependence is upon thee even for life itself; breathe thou on us once more.
And that life, as I understand it, is to come upon Godâ€™s people themselves,-â€Revive thy work.â€ What is Godâ€™s work? Why, it is Godâ€™s people; for we are his workmanship. True revival must first come upon the churches themselves. In all churches there is much that is not Godâ€™s work, and we do not ask to have it revived, but rather that it may be put away: but wherever there is anything that is Godâ€™s work, any of the mind of Christ, any sincere prayer, any faith, any hope, any love, any consecration, we earnestly cry, â€œO Lord, revive thy work.â€ Living saints alone are, in the exact sense of the word, capable of revival; we can only revive those in whom life is already found. O Lord, quicken thy people!
He means Godâ€™s work in each one of us, for we each want revival; may the Lord send it to us now, so that if grey hairs are upon us here and there, and we know it not, we may become young again through his free Spirit. If the fountain of our life runs low, may the Lord touch the secret springs and flood us again with holy zeal. To save us from the perils of â€œthe midst of the yearsâ€ we need to have life anew imparted to us.
But the prophet also refers to Godâ€™s work by his people as well as in them. May the Lord put new life into his cause. It is an awful thing to see a dead church. I have seen such a thing with my own eyes. I recollect very well preaching in a chapel where the church had become exceedingly low, and somehow the very building looked like a sepulcher, though crowded that one night by those who came to hear the preacher. The singers drawled out a dirge, while the members sat like mutes. I found it hard preaching; there was no go in the sermon, I seemed to be driving dead horses. After sermon I saw two deacons, the pillars of the church, leaning against the posts of the vestry door in a listless attitude, and I said, â€œAre you the deacons of this church?â€ They informed me that they were the only deacons, and I remarked that I thought so. To myself I added that I understood, as I looked at theta, several things, which else would have been a riddle. Here was a dead church, comparable to the ship of the ancient mariner, which was manned by the dead. Deacons, teachers, minister, people, all dead, and yet wearing the semblance of life.
â€œThe helmsman steered, the ship moved on,
Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all began work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do.
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools
We were a ghastly crew.â€
The Lord save us from becoming such a ghastly crew. Now, to prevent our getting into that state, and we easily may, so that instead of devotion there shall be routine, instead of life and energy there shall be dead orthodoxy and dull propriety, we must cry, â€œO Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years.â€
The prophet further asks for a fresh revelation of the Lord– “In the midst of the years make known.â€ When thou hast made us live then shall we have power to know, and therefore make the truth known unto us. Did he not intend by this petition that the Lord should make known that the work was his own? â€œRevive thy work; in the midst of the years make known,â€ that men may not say, â€œthis was only an excitement which the spirit of the people carried on for a few years,â€ but may be forced to confess that this is the finger of God because it continues and abides. O Lord, in our case make the world know that it is thy work, because thou dost not forsake it. Again, convert multitudes, build up the church again, increase the people again, multiply the joy again, pour out the Holy Spirit upon thy witnesses again with signs following.
But I think he chiefly means make known thyself. In the midst of the years make known thyself, O Jehovah; reveal in the midst of thy church thy power to save. Make known the person and sacrifice of the Well beloved in whom thy grace and vengeance strangely join. Make known the power of the Holy Ghost, who convinces of sin and afterwards comforts by leading the sinner to the cross. Make known thyself Eternal Father as thou dost receive prodigals into thy bosom and kiss them with the kiss of love, and make high festival concerning their return to thee. The prophet longed that God would be seen in the midst of his people, and this, above all things, is our heartsâ€™ desire. Oh, my brethren, it is vain and idle for us to think that any good can come of human speech or human song or human worship of any kind apart from God himself being there. There must be supernatural power put forth or men will never turn from darkness to light, nor rise from death to life. What is the church worth if the Lord be not known in the midst of her? Write ye Ichabod upon her walls, for the glory has departed when her God has gone.
The prophet virtually prays that God would do for his church again what he did for her in the olden time. We have just read the whole chapter, what a wonderful poem it is! We can only in a very prosaic way condense its meaning.
First, with the prophet we exult in the manifestation of the divine glory. â€œHis glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise, and his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand.â€ Thus was Jehovah seen, and our heartâ€™s prayer is â€œLord, show thyself in this way again. Once more display thy glory. Stretch out that hand of thine which hath the horns of power going forth out of it. Exalt thyself in the conversion and the salvation of men that the multitude may see how glorious is the Lord our God.â€
Observe how the prophet speaks of Godâ€™s power against his enemies. The Midianites came up upon Israel in such numbers that, like grasshoppers, they could not be counted; but the Lord smote them and utterly cut them off. Hear how the prophet describes their overthrow: â€œï»¿I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.ï»¿â€ And well they might when Jehovah came forth to smite them. Now our prayer is that the Lord would shine forth so gloriously in the midst of his church that the powers of superstition and skepticism may be made to tremble at his presence. I have looked upon their tents, wherein I have seen them multiplying their idols and their gods; I have looked upon their curtains, within which they have spoken proud words of carnal wisdom against the Most High, and my heart has said, â€œLet the Lord dwell in the midst of his people and manifest his power as in former ages, and these tents shall be in affliction and utterly pass away.â€ Moreover, the prophet sees all nature and providence subservient to God, and so he grandly sings, â€œWas the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation.
If God be with his people all things are on their side, the stars in the heavens fight for them, the wheels of everlasting providence full of eyes revolve with watchful wisdom, working out purposes of benediction. â€œAll things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.â€ And all this he says was done for the saving of his people. Pharaoh and his horses were drowned in the sea, but as for Jehovah when he went to save his people, the seas could not overwhelm him, â€œThou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.â€ Can you not see the horses and the chariot ploughing through the midst of the sea, while the Eternal King darts his arrows on either side, that he may deliver his people? This is the language of imagery, but the facts surpass all poetry. God can be with a people, and he can leave them, but when he is with them their horn is exalted by his power and majesty, and the truth which they uphold is as a banner borne aloft to continuous victory. Only we must wait upon the Lord in prayer, and seek his face in faith, crying from our hearts, â€œï»¿O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.ï»¿â€
III. In the third place, let us consider THE PROPHETâ€™S PLEA, that it may be our own this morning.
He had first this plea: â€œLord, it is thy work; therefore revive thy work.â€ We take the words out of his mouth and pray in like manner, â€œLord, if this is our work, end it; if it is manâ€™s work, break it down; but if it be thy work, revive it.â€ Have we not said unto our souls that we will preach and we will believe nothing but what is revealed of God in the Scripture, but we will not yield one hairâ€™s breadth to the opposers of revelation, because of their so-called science and thought? Is it not even so? We have lifted the old banner of our fathers and preached the doctrines of the grace of God, whereof the very center is Christ crucified, a substitute for believing men. This has been our one theme, our staple subject in preaching and ministering at all times. Now, Lord, if this be not thy truth, for thy nameâ€™s sake blight it, and let us follow it no more; but if it be thy truth, set thy seal to it here and in every other place where the name of Jesus is proclaimed. This is good pleading. â€œIt is thy work. We cannot do it, we will not attempt to do it, but Lord, if it be thine, thou must do it, we hold thee to it by humble faith.â€
But the best plea is the one he mentions, â€œIn wrath remember mercy;â€ that is a plea which suits everyone of us mercy, mercy, mercy. Thou mightest well smite both the shepherd and the sheep, but have mercy! Thou mightest well take away the candlestick and leave us in the darkness, but in wrath remember mercy! Thou seest the coldness of heart and the inconsistency of life of some of thy professed people, and thou mightest therefore give up thy Zion to desolation, but, Lord, remember mercy! Remember it, for thou knowest it; for mercy is a dear attribute of thine. Remember thy mercy in the everlasting covenant when thou didst choose thy people. Remember thy mercy in the seal of that covenant when thy only begotten Son was given up to death. Remember all the mercy thou hast had upon us these many years of our provocation; remember mercy and still favor us, not because we have any good thing in us or about us that call deserve thy love, but for thy mercyâ€™s sake. Out of thy free rich sovereign grace, for mercyâ€™s sake still â€œrevive thy work in the midst of the years.â€ It is good pleading; be sure to use it.
One more plea is implied in the rest of the chapter, namely, â€œThou hast wrought great wonders, O Lord, do this again in the midst of the years.â€ Here hast thou heard our prayers; Lord, hear our prayers in the midst of the years; hear them now. Here hast thou helped the feeble against the strong; Lord, strengthen us yet again. Here hast thou brought the chief of sinners to Jesusâ€™ feet; Lord, do the like again! That is our prayer. By all thy glorious marching through the wilderness when thou didst lead thy people and scatter their foes before them, when the rocks gave them water and the heavens dropped with bread; by all the wonders of thy grace to thy people of old, since they are still thy people, â€œrevive thy work in the midst of the years.â€
With this I finish, observing that when the prophet had pleaded, and his soul was at rest, he sat him down, and there were three things, which remained upon his mind. Peering into the future he saw the sheen of the Chaldean helmets and the brightness of their cruel swords. He saw the whole land turned into a wilderness, and as he watched he saw that the fig trees did not blossom, the vines brought forth no fruit, the olives withered, lowing of cattle there was none, bleating of sheep was hushed, famine covered all the land, and he said, “Lord, let it all come as I have seen; but thy ways are everlasting, and in the thick darkness thou hast always wrought thy will. Thou hast never been defeated, and thou hast never failed thy people; therefore, as for me I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.â€ That is the posture in which I want you all to be found. We have been assured by people who think they know a great deal about the future that awful times are coming. Be it so; it need not alarm us, for the Lord reigneth. Stay yourself on the Lord, my brother, and you can rejoice in His name. If the worst comes to the worst, our refuge is in God; if the heavens shall fall the God of heaven will stand; when God cannot take care of his people under heaven he will take them above the heavens, and there shall they dwell with him. Therefore, as far as you are concerned, rest; for you shall stand in your lot at the end of the days.
And then there came over Habakkuk a second spirit. Now, said he, seeing God hath wrought all these wonders of old, and is capable of doing them over again, I will go back to my work despite the lowering clouds, for â€œthe Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hindsâ€™ feet,â€ –like the gazelleâ€™s feet upon the crags of the mountains– “and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.â€ O for this assurance of safety and strength in the Lord! We are in the middle passage, but if we have faith in God all is safe. We may go and leap in our duties over the mountains and the hills, and not be afraid that our foot shall slip. We fall without our God, but with God our feet shall never slide. He keepeth the feet of his saints, and when the wicked shall be silent in darkness then shall the strength of the Lord be seen.
Having thus felt that he could always trust God whatever might happen, and that he should be upheld whatever might occur, what does Habakkuk say? He goes home about his business, and what is the one business he is set upon? He indicates it in his last sentence, which is not a sentence at all, but the final words of his prayer. â€œTo the chief singer on my stringed instruments.â€ He seems to say, â€œAll that remains for me is but to love and sing, and wait until the angels come to bear me to their King.â€ â€œAll that I have to do now,â€ he seems to say, and I want you to say the same, â€œis just to feel that all is safe in the Eternal hands.â€ As for me:
â€œIâ€™ll praise him while he lends me breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall neâ€™er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures.â€