Only A Prayer Meeting by C. H. Spurgeon
“When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than.” – Psalm 61:2.
David’s prayer is a very wise and appropriate one. He is in great sorrow, and asks that he may be enabled to rise above it; he has great faith, and therefore is sure that there is a safe refuge for him; and he is conscious of great weakness, for he does not speak of climbing the rock of safety by himself, but implores Divine leading that he may come to it. His prayer will well befit the lips of men like ourselves who dwell where troubles rage and toss their waves on high.
By many forces the heart may be overwhelmed. A sense of guilt may do it. Carelessness and indifference are swept away when the Holy Ghost works conviction of sin upon the conscience, reveals the justice of God, and leads a man to see that he is in danger of the wrath to come: then heart and flesh fail, courage and hope depart, and the man is overwhelmed. Such a season is the fittest time for crying, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” If you can but find shelter in the rifts of the Rock of ages, what security will be yours! The rock of atoning sacrifice rises higher than your sin, and upon it the most guilty may stand far above the surging billows of vengeance. Led by the Divine hand to cling to the great Redeemer and Substitute, the utterly shipwrecked soul is safely landed, and may sing because of his escape.
Sometimes, however, believers in Jesus, though quite secure from Divine wrath, are, nevertheless, overwhelmed with trouble. They should not be so; for, if their faith acted as it ought, no fear would fasten upon them; but through the infirmity of the flesh, and, partly, also through inbred sin, unbelief comes in like a flood, and drenches and deluges the anxious heart. At times also, the trials of life roll onward like enormous Atlantic billows, and toss our poor bark till we reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man. The ship becomes waterlogged, and does not answer to the helm of reason; she drifts with the adverse current whithersoever it pleases to hurry her, and eternal shipwreck seems near at hand. It is good for a Christian then to cry, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I;” for, though a rock is to be avoided in a natural storm, yet in our spiritual tempests there is a high rock which is to be sought unto as our shelter and haven. Truly, that rock is higher than we are, and its very height is our comfort. God, the infinitely high and glorious, is not troubled nor dismayed. His purposes are far above and out of our sight, and they are also far beyond the operation of evil; hence, by confidence in God, we leave the storm beneath us, and smile at the hurlyburly down below.
To me, my brethren, the most overwhelming thoughts do not come to my heart from my own personal sin, for I know it is forgiven, nor from worldly trouble, for I am persuaded that all things work for my good; but I am deeply distressed by the present condition of the Church of God. Men, who are called of God to care for His flock, are grievously bowed down when the signs of the times are dark and lowering. Moses carried the whole people of Israel in his bosom in the wilderness, and they were sometimes a heavy load to him; and thus each true minister bears the Church upon his heart, and is often sorely burdened. At this moment, I can sorrowfully cry, with Jeremiah, “My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart. I cannot hold my peace.” It is overwhelming to my spirit to see the growing worldliness of the visible church. Many professed Christians – the Lord alone knows whether they are true believers or no,- give us grave cause for apprehension. We see them tolerating practices which would not have been endured by their fathers; my blood chills when I think of how far some fashionable professors go astray. There are families in connection with our churches in which there is no household prayer; but much luxurious eating, and drinking, and extravagance. I have my suspicions that there are, among professors, a considerable number who attend the theatre, spend their evenings in card-playing, read the most frivolous and foolish of books, and yet come to the Lord’s table. If they differ from the world, it is hard to see how or where. Neither in their dress, nor in their speech, nor in their mode of trading, nor in their habits at home, are they at all superior to the unconverted. Is not this an evil under the sun? When the Church descends to the world’s level, her power is gone. Yet we cannot root up these suspected tares; we are even forbidden to do so, lest we root up the wheat with them. If false professors were more open in their conduct, we should know them; but their evil is secret, and therefore we are obliged to let them grow together with the wheat; yet, sometimes, the sorrowful husbandman goes to the great Owner of the farm, and cries, “Didst Thou not sow good seed in Thy ground? From whence, then, hath it tares?” The answer is that “an enemy hath done this,” and we are overwhelmed in spirit because we fear that our sleeping gave the enemy the opportunity.
I look again, and see numbers of professors apostatizing altogether. In this great London, many persons, who were members of churches in the country, fall into the habits of their neighbours, and absent themselves altogether from the means of grace; or treat the worship of God on the Lord’s-day as if it were optional; and when they attend to it, they go tripping from one place of worship to another, and forget the duties of Christian fellowship. Many others are content to hear noted preachers; not because they preach the Gospel, but because they are reputed to be “clever men.” Once, ministers were esteemed for soundness, unction, and experience; but, now, men crave after popularity and cleverness.
Some, who call themselves Christians, make fine music their grand requisite. If they need that gratification, why do they not content themselves with a week-day concert in the proper place for such displays? God’s house was never meant to be made into a hall where tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum may vie with each other in pleasing man’s ears. Not a few choose their Sunday resort because the “church” is an imposing structure, and the congregation is composed of “very respectable people.” If they seek society, let them go where the elite may fitly gather, and keep themselves select; but, in the worship of God, “the rich and poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all.” It is an ill sign when God’s poor saints are despised; but so it is in this day. If tradesmen save a little money, they grow too great for the assembly in which they were once at home, and must needs make part of a more fashionable congregation. These things also cause my spirit to be overwhelmed; not because, in one single instance, it has happened to members of my own church; but because the fact is open to the view of all, and is the subject of general remark.
Equally grievous to the heart is it to see the spread of superstition. You can hardly go down a street but you will pass some Popish joss-house, called an Episcopal church, where self-styled “priests” entice silly women to the confessional, and amuse them with masses and processions. Vile impostors! Clergy of an avowedly Protestant church, and supported by this nation, they are yet ravenous to eat out the very vitals of Protestantism. Fools enough are found to believe in these priests, and bow before their crucifixes, and their stations of the cross, and the like rubbish, and the abomination evidently spreads like the leaven among the meal as described by our blessed Lord. Heaven alone knows where this England of ours is going, and he who loves his country feels his spirit overwhelmed within him.
Nor do I think this to be the worst sign of the times. All around us there is growing up in tangled masses the ill weed of “modern thought” which is nothing better than an infidelity too cowardly to wear its proper name. There are preachers, in Christian pulpits, who deny the authenticity of various Books of the Bible, and reject plenary inspiration altogether. There is not a doctrine of the Gospel which is not denied by some “thinker” or other, and even the existence of a personal God is by the more advanced regarded as a moot point; yet the churches bear with them, and allow them to pollute the pulpits once occupied by godly preachers of Christ. After having denied the faith, and plunged their daggers into the heart of vital doctrines as best they can, they still claim to be ministers of the Gospel, and ask to be received into union on the ground of some peculiar inward virtue which exists in them apart from all doctrinal belief. Men, who might justly be prosecuted for obtaining property under false pretences by violating the trust-deeds of our churches, may well wish to abolish creeds and articles of faith, because these are perpetual witnesses against their knavery. I would not care what became of the pelf if the churches were saved from error. I see this leaven of unbelief working in all directions, and many are tainted with it, in one point or another; it eateth like a cancer into the very soul of the churches. God deliver us from it!
It is hard to know what to do, for no one wishes to suspect his fellow, and yet a pest seems to be in the very air, so that it penetrates into the best guarded chambers. We hear of this man and then of another broaching strange notions, and those who were thought to be pillars suddenly become rolling stones. Who will go next ? And what will happen next? In the midst of this confusion, our heart is apt to be overwhelmed within us. Is there not a cause? It is not our household, it is not our estate, it is not our bodily health which is in danger, or we would bow in silence, and bear it; but it is the household of God, it is the estate and Kingdom of Christ, it is the Church of God on earth, which is thus suffering; and well may those, who love the Lord, and His Christ, and His truth, tremble for the ark, and feel a holy jealousy burning within them. At such a time, the prayer of David is priceless, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Let us see how this petition meets the case.
First, let us remember that God lives. Glorious thought! “The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.” “The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice.” Still He effects His purposes and accomplishes His will. It would be very childish if we were afraid for the moon because dogs bay her when she walks in her splendour, it would be very absurd to fear for the eternal mountains because the winds blow upon their granite peaks, and it would be equally idle to tremble for the truth of God. The stable things will stand, and those which cannot stand are better gone. God liveth, and everything that is of God liveth in His life. On this rock let us rest.
“Error must die, and they who love her most,
And suck the poison from her venomed lips,
Will find her vaunted strength an empty boast,
And share the horrors of her last eclipse.”
“But truth is strong, and worthy of our trust,
And truth shall stand when time no more shall be,
And man is levelled to his native dust,
For God is truth to all eternity.”
Next, let us remember that God’s truth is still the same. It does not matter whether fifty thousand espouse its cause, or only five, or only one. Truth does not reign by the ballot box, or by the counting of heads: it abideth for ever. All the tongues of men and angels cannot make truth more true; and all the howlings of devils and doubters cannot transform it into a lie. Glory be to God for this! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. The eternal verity holds its deniers in derision, for they are as the chaff which the wind driveth away. “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”
Another rock may also afford us shelter, namely, the high doctrine that the Lord will save His own. The much-despised truth of election stands us in good stead in troublous times. We sigh, and cry, because so many worship the deity of the hour; but the Lord answereth, “Yet have I reserved unto Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” The words of the apostle are true at this moment, “The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded, according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day.” I bow before the awful sovereignty of God, and the clamour of the people comes not into mine ears. Jehovah’s purpose shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. No drop of the redeeming blood shall be spent in vain, no line of the everlasting covenant shall be erased, no decree of the Eternal shall be disannulled. This angers the adversary, but in its Divine truth we find our consolation while the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing.
A rock that is higher than I may be useful, not only for shelter, but for elevation. If you stand upon high ground, though you may be a dwarf, you can see farther than the tallest man who remains below; and now, standing upon the high rock of God’s Word, what do we see? Look! Clear your eyes of doubt and mist, and look! Forget the present for a while, and gaze through the telescope of faith. What do we see? Systems of error broken in pieces, superstitions given to the moles and to the bats, the clouds vanishing, the darkness of night disappearing, and the beasts going back to their dens, for the Sun of righteousness arises with healing beneath His wings. The day of the triumph of the truth must dawn. If it shall not come before the advent of our Lord, it shall come then, to the confusion of His adversaries, and to the delight of His saints, and there shall be new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. If this old earth will still reject the truth, and the old heavens still look down on a reign of error, they shall be utterly consumed with fire; and on this very earth, on which we stand, renewed and purified, there shall be placed a throne as glorious and terrible as the cross of Christ was ignominious and shameful. The blood of Jesus has fallen on this world, and guaranteed its redemption from the curse; and, one day, when He has delivered the subject creation, our Lord will dwell here, and reign amongst His ancients gloriously.
We can afford to wait, for eternity is on our side. We can afford to see the ranks of the Lord’s army pushed back for a while; we can afford to see the standard fluttered by the rough winds; we can afford to hear the “Aha! Aha!” of the Philistines; for when the Prince cometh, they shall know His Name and the power of His might. If they will not yield to Him now, and kiss His sceptre silvered with love, they shall bow before Him when they see the naked iron of His rod breaking them in pieces like potters’ vessels. Oh, to be on God’s side! The whole root of the matter lies there. If a man knows that his heart and soul are given to the cause of God and truth, he is entrenched within an impregnable fortress, and he shall find in the eternal verities munitions of stupendous rock. He shall be steadfast “though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”
What, then, are we to do? We are to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure. See to that, for, though some denounce such holy care as selfishness, our Lord and Master knows best, and He charged His servants not so much to rejoice in their power over devils as in the fact that their names were written in Heaven. Watch over your own spirit, and cast not away your confidence. Then, zealously, in dependence upon God, do the little you can do; do it well, and keep on doing it. You and I are not called upon to regulate the world nor to stay the raging sea of human sin. Let us not attempt to wield the Divine sceptre; it befits us not. Naturally, you would like to set all people right, and make all preachers orthodox. But, my brother, the task is beyond you. Be careful to be right yourself in your own life, and be resolute to bear your complete, honest, obedient testimony to all the truth you know; and there leave the business, for you are not responsible beyond your possibilities.
No one of us is much more than an emmet on its little hill. Now, if yon tiny ant were to indulge in serious reflections upon the state of London, and forget to assist in the labours of the insect commonwealth, it would be a foolish creature; but if it will let those great matters alone, and go on doing its ant-work, as an ant, it will fill its little sphere, and answer the purpose of its Maker. A mother teaching her little ones, and doing all she can to bring them up in the fear of God; a humble village pastor with his score or two of people around him; a teacher with her dozen children; a quiet Christian woman in her domestic circle bearing her godly testimony; a young man speaking for Jesus to other young men; – there is nothing very ambitious about the sphere of any one of these, but they are wise in the sight of the Lord. Leave the reins of the universe in the hand of the Maker of the universe, and then do what He has given you to do, in His fear, and by His Spirit, and more will come of it than you dare to hope.
We are like coral insects building each one his minute portion of a structure far down in the deeps of obscurity. We cannot as yet war with those vaunted ironclads which sweep the ocean, and hurl destruction upon cities; and yet-who knows?- we may build and build until we pile up a reef upon which the proudest navies may be wrecked. By the steady, simple, honest, Christian upbuilding of holiness and truth,- defying no one, attacking no one,- we may nevertheless create a situation which will be eminently perilous to the boastful craft of falsehood and scepticism. A holy, earnest, Gospel church is a grand wrecker of superstition and of infidelity. The life of God in man, patience in suffering, perseverance in well-doing, faithfulness to truth, prayer in the Holy Ghost, supreme zeal for the Divine glory, and un-staggering faith in the unseen God,- these are our battleaxe and weapons of war; and, by the aid of the Holy Ghost, we shall win the battle ere the day comes to its close. Till then, O Lord, when our heart is overwhelmed, lead us to the rock which is higher than we are!