Only A Prayer Meeting by C. H. Spurgeon
In the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, there are three “THENS”, which will afford us instruction if the Spirit of God will shine upon them. Turn to the passage, and read for yourselves. We have first the THEN of promise and threatening repeated several times. The children of Israel were not to make any graven images, nor to set up any images made by others, nor to bow to those already set up, but to keep clear of idolatry in every shape, and worship only their great invisible God, Jehovah, whose Sabbaths they were to keep, and whose precepts they were to obey; and then the Lord says, “Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people.” Very rich are the blessings which the Lord lavishes upon an obedient people; peace and plenty, conquest and communion, are the portion of believers whose hearts are chaste towards the Lord.
But should Israel refuse to hearken to the Lord, the chastening would be terrible indeed. Listen to these verses from the fifteenth to the eighteenth: “And if ye shall despise My statutes, or if your soul abhor My judgments, so that ye will not do all My commandments, but that ye break My covenant: I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set My face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.”
Is not this first “then” a very terrible one? But this is not all; more sorrows are added if their sins be multiplied. Read verses 23 and 24: “And if ye will not be reformed by Me by these things, but will walk contrary unto Me, then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.” Here we have stroke upon stroke to break a hard heart. Nor even there does the judgment rest. Hear again the Word of the Lord; “And if ye will not for all this hearken unto Me, but walk contrary unto Me; then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.”
Brethren, read these words with holy trembling – they are written not for strangers, but for the seed of Israel, and for us also who are grafted in unto the true olive. Those who are written in the eternal covenant will find it a hard thing to sin against the Lord their God. The utterly ungodly often go unpunished in this life, for their punishment is reserved for the world to come, where the due reward of their deeds shall be meted out to them for ever and ever; but the Lord dealeth far otherwise with His own, whose transgressions He hath blotted out. These are absolved in their relation to Him as a Judge, but as children they come under His fatherly discipline, and out of love to them He causes them in this life to smart for their sins if they break the law of His house. As our covenant God, the Lord is jealous. He is no Eli who ruins his sons by indulgence, but He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.
Very heavily has the Lord chastised some of His children. I ask you not to judge of one case by another, nor suppose that all the family must needs be scourged in the same measure. The Lord speaks of the Church as having compassion, and making a difference, and He in mercy makes differences in discipline, because real differences of character exist. Certain of the Lord’s beloved ones were happily led to Christ in their early days, and therefore know nothing of those sins which are the torment of others; when these are kept by Divine grace from all inconsistency, the rod is little needed, and few clouds darken their path; but there are others, of rougher mould and sadder experience, who smarted much at their first conversion, and having wandered again, are brought back with heavy chastisements, and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. The Lord may be dealing in discipline with some among you; and if so, you will smart indeed, for our Heavenly Father never plays with the rod, but uses it in real earnest. It may be that sorrow of heart consumes your eyes, and your strength is spent in vain – a blight from the Lord seems to have fallen upon you both in temporal and in spiritual things; you sow, but you do not reap; you labour, and obtain not. A faintness is in your head, so that the sound of a shaken leaf doth chase you, and you have no power to stand before your enemies. Sin and Satan, doubt and desolation, triumph over you, and you flee when no man pursueth. To you it has happened according to the threatening in the nineteenth verse, “I will break the pride of your power,” for now you find no spiritual power within you, even power in prayer is gone, and all around you is barren; God hath made your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass. Ah, me! you are in a woful plight, for your strength is spent in vain, and your plagues are multiplied according to your sins.
It comes to this, my dear brother, that you are to be driven from your sins. God is “avenging the quarrel of His covenant,” as He solemnly says in verse twenty-five. Read that word, and mark it. It is an awful thing to have God walking contrary to you; and yet He told you that He would do so if you walked contrary to Him. What else could you expect? If you are His dear child, He will be much grieved if He sees you act like a traitor; if you have leaned upon His bosom as a favoured friend, He has a greater interest in you than in others; and He cannot therefore endure to see you polluted. The dearer you are to God, the more angry will He be with you when you sin. The more He loves you, the more determined will He be to drive out the evil, and rid you of the abominable thing which His soul hateth.
A judge, when he is sitting upon the bench, may feel a great indignation against a robber, or a murderer; yet he does not show it, but calmly condemns him to suffer the penalty of the law. See that judge without his robes, acting as a father at home: his child has transgressed, and now he is really angry, and shows far more sharpness towards his child than towards the offender. He who spoke in cold measured tones to the gross criminal now speaks severely, and with heat of spirit to his own offending boy. You all understand why he feels and acts thus; his wrath is of that kind which grows out of the truest love, a love which cannot suffer evil in its darling object. The child does not think his father loves him much when, he makes him tingle and smart beneath his strokes, but we who are wiser understand that “herein is love.” When God chastens you, my brother, yield at once, and yield completely. If you do not, you may take warning from this chapter, for the Lord puts His threatening before you three times over: “And if ye will not be reformed by Me by these things, but will walk contrary unto Me; then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.”
The old Roman judges, when they passed along the streets, were attended by lictors; and those lictors carried an axe bound up in a bundle of rods, to signify this, that offenders should first be beaten with rods, but if these rods were of no use, they should be slain with the axe. I beseech every soul that is under the striving influences of the Spirit, or suffering from the trials of Providence, to hear at once the warning voice of the rod; for those who will not hear the rod must feel the axe. The Lord useth great discretion and deliberation, for He doth not afflict willingly – when little will suffice, He will smite but little. If men humble themselves under His mighty hand, He will exalt them in due time; but, if they refuse and rebel, He will smite them more and more, till He has chastened them seven times for their sins. “Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.”
We have known some men lose all their goods before they have turned to their God. Diseases, accidents, sicknesses have followed each other in quick succession, and hardly would they repent when they were all wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. Death has rent away their darlings; lovely children have been followed to the grave by their yet more precious mother; and hardly then has the proud spirit broken down. It has seemed as if Pharaoh was alive again, and the plagues were being repeated. Alas! in some cases, there has even been a hardening as the result of affliction; the man has accused God of harshness, and has refused to turn to the chastening hand. Ah, me! what sorrows such are preparing for themselves! Those whom the Lord means to bless He will go on smiting till they bow before Him, and make a full surrender. THEN, when they continue to rebel; then, when they still harden their neck; then, when they will not hear the rod; then, when they cleave to their idols, and depart from the Most High; then, He will make them to pine away in their iniquity, and will set His face against them.
We are glad to come to the second THEN of wise and penitent action. In the fortieth verse of this chapter we read, “If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that also they have walked contrary unto Me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” They were brought very low: they were even driven out of their land to perish among the heathen; and God seemed utterly to have cast them off, but He declares that even then He would remember His covenant, and restore them, if they would turn from their iniquities,- their turning from iniquity would be the turning-point of their affairs; the end of woe, and the dawn of hope.
I beg you to listen to this call of mercy, and to note when judgment would stay its hand. They were first to “confess their iniquity,” and then would come the mercy, but not till then. O you chastened ones, are you prepared to acknowledge your transgressions, and your doings which are not good? They were to confess their trespass, their own peculiar trespass, whatever that might be; their hearts were to search out sin, confess it, and mourn over it; then would forgiveness come,- there can be no pardon till this is done. We must take sin to ourselves before God can put it away from us.
Next, their heart was to be humbled; see the forty-first verse: “If their uncircumcised hearts be humbled.” Proud sinners cannot be pardoned sinners. If we are not submissive, there are more plagues in store for us. They were to be lowly, and then they would be cleansed from sin. Humility dates the hour of comfort. Observe, also, the peculiar point, that they were to accept the punishment of their iniquity, by which, I suppose, is meant that they must see their sorrow to be the result of their sin, and must own that it was a just infliction, a natural fruit of their own conduct. We are to have no quarrel with God, but to own that we deserve all that He has put upon us; and confess that, if He should cast us into hell itself, He would be just: then, may we look for grace.
If a child should say, “Father, you do well to punish me, for I deserve it,” the father would put up the rod, for it would have wrought its end; and when a soul has been sore broken, till it sobs out in its agony, “I deserve Thy rod; I deserve Thine eternal wrath, O God,” then, then, then it is that the Lord accepts the repentance, and looks with an eye of mercy upon the contrite one.
The third THEN will be observed in the forty-second verse: “Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised My judgments, and because their soul abhorred My statutes.” “Yet for all that,” He mentions all their sins, and He says in the forty-fourth verse, “Yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”
Now, fellow-sinner, when the Lord has brought you down to accept the punishment which He has laid upon you, then will He remember His covenant, that old and glorious covenant of grace which was made with faithful Abraham, which, better still, is made with every believer in the person of the Lord Jesus. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and the covenant is made with all the faithful, with all the trusters, and God will remember it towards them. What is the tenor of it? “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” This is the covenant of grace; and, oh! it is a blessed thing when God remembers it on our behalf, for then He remembers no more the iniquities of His people. Poor sinner, though He has hunted you down, and pursued you in His fierce anger; though conviction has broken you as a lion tears its prey; though you fear that the Lord has cast you away from all hope of grace, and outlawed you from all hope; yet, if you accept your punishment, then you, even you, shall sing of pardon bought with blood.
“Then” when you are proud, He will smite you; “then,” when He has smitten you, you are to accept your punishment; “then” when you have accepted your punishment, and confessed your sin, the Lord will remember His covenant, and forgive all your iniquity. Observe well the three steps: chastisement when you are wrapped up in your iniquities; genuine submission when you feel the chastisement; and full covenant blessing when your submission is fully made. If any of us are now smarting, may we hasten there and then to full confession, and may we then receive restoration and comfort! God is very punctual; may He never find us procrastinating!
God grant that we may be kept from sin, or if we fall into it, may He deliver us from its power; and if one of these thens happens to us, may the others follow in merciful succession! Amen.