The Grateful Christian Rehearsing What God Hath Done For His Soul
On few of our race has the great Giver of every good gift, bestowed more temporal blessings than on David. He gave him, while yet a stripling, courage to attack, and strength to subdue, the lion and the bear; he rendered him victorious over the giant of Gath; he took him from the sheep-fold to be king over Israel, in his own time placed him on the throne, and crowned his reign with almost unexampled prosperity. A person destitute of religion, on hearing this highly favored monarch express a determination to declare what God had done for him, would naturally, therefore, have expected to hear him mention those temporal blessings as the principal favors for which he was indebted to the bounty of heaven. But such an expectation would have been disappointed. So far from mentioning these things as his greatest blessings, David does not even mention them at all. Not that he was insensible to these favors. Not that he did not consider them as great and deserving his thanksgivings. But in comparison with his spiritual blessings, in comparison with what God had done for his soul, he regarded them, and justly regarded them as nothing. Instead, therefore, of calling men to hear of his deliverance from the lion, the bear, the Philistine, the tyrant; and his exaltation to the throne of Israel, he says, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul,” [Ps. 66:16].
My hearers, every real Christian, when he feels like a Christian, will wish to make the language of this passage his own. However great, however numerous may be the temporal blessings which he has received, he will consider them as nothing in comparison with what God has done for his soul. God has done substantially the same things for the soul of every Christian which he did for the soul of David; and every Christian will wish to declare what God has done to those that fear Him. To illustrate this remark is my present design. With this view, I shall attempt to answer the three following questions:
- What has God done for the soul of every Christian?
- Why does the Christian wish to declare what God has done for his soul?
- Why does he wish to make this declaration to those only who fear God?
I. What has God done for the soul of every Christian? Before I answer this question, it may be proper to remind you that the Christian’s God has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each of this Divine Three has done many things for his soul, and whatever is done by either of them is done by God. An answer to the question before us, must, therefore, include everything which has been done for the soul, either by the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. The answer I shall give in the name of a Christian, or in the language which he might be supposed to adopt, while making such a declaration as that in our text.
Come then, all ye that fear God; see a Christian, meditating in deep and silent thought on the spiritual blessings which God has bestowed on him; see the expression of self-abasement, penitence, faith, hope, love, wonder, admiration and gratitude, which his countenance assumes, till at length, unable any longer to contain or repress his emotions, he breaks forth in a humble, affectionate, thankful declaration of what God has done for his soul.
Before my soul began to exist, he says, God began to provide for its salvation. He loved it with an everlasting love; he chose it to be a vessel of mercy, in which he might show forth the riches of his glory, chose it in Christ Jesus before the world began. All that he has done for me was done according to an eternal purpose, which he purposed in himself. Before I knew that I needed a Saviour, before I existed, before the foundations of the world were laid, he provided for me a Saviour, in the person of his Son, and gave me to that Saviour in the covenant of redemption, as a part of his promised reward. When in his own appointed time he called me into being, he who fixes the bounds of every human habitation, placed me in a part of the world where he knew I should have the opportunity to acquire a knowledge of himself, and to hear the gospel of salvation. He watched over my soul during the helpless years of infancy, the inexperienced season of childhood, and the dangerous period of youth; and did not suffer death to bear it away to perdition in an unprepared state.
While I lived without him in the world, scarcely sensible that I had a soul to lose, his guardian care shielded me from a thousand dangers which would have proved fatal; by the secret influence of his restraining grace, he prevented me from yielding to many temptations, and held me back from many sins, into which my own wicked heart, aided by the great deceiver, would have otherwise plunged me; he guided and led me along by an unseen hand, when I knew him not, and by his providence ordered all my concerns in such a way as to bring me to the place where I should find salvation. Then, when I lay dead in trespasses and sins; when I was a child of wrath, justly doomed to everlasting burnings; when I was daily, by new sins, increasing my guilt and provoking him to cast me off forever; when the enemy of God and man kept my heart as his castle, like a strong man armed; when self-ignorance, unbelief, hardness of heart and opposition to the truth combined to chain me down in a hopeless state, and when I loved my chains too well to make any struggle for liberty;—even then he began to employ means to effect my deliverance. His Spirit came to awaken me from my lethargic state; truths which I had a thousand times heard in vain, were made to affect me, my conscience was awakened to reprove me, and I was led to inquire, What shall I do to be saved?
But the answer which inspiration gives to this inquiry, my darkened mind did not understand, and my proud, wicked heart would not believe. In various ways I resisted the blessed Guide who would have led me to a Saviour’s feet. When Christ knocked at the door of my heart, I refused him admission; I sought salvation by the works of the law, by my own merits; I was unwilling to repent, forsake sin and deny myself; and eagerly sought destruction, when, as I fondly imagined, I was seeking salvation. But my merciful and unchangeable God would not give me up, as I so richly deserved. He caused light to shine into my benighted mind. He led me to see the justice of my condemnation, and my inability to escape from it. He made the way of salvation appear plain to me. He subdued my proud heart and stubborn will, reconciled me to himself, gave me repentance, drew me with cords of love to a Saviour’s feet, broke my chains, delivered me from my tyrants, freely forgave my numberless offences, put his law of love in my heart, enstamped upon me his image, and came to dwell in my before disconsolate, polluted breast. He adopted me as his child, and constituted me an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ, of the heavenly inheritance. He filled me with joy and peace in believing, and taught me to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost. Thus, when I was slumbering on the verge of hell, he roused me; when I was dead in sins, he raised me to life. When I was a slave, he set me free; when I was a child of disobedience, he made me a child of God; when I was an heir of perdition, he made me an heir of glory; when my heart was like a cage of unclean birds, he transformed it into the temple of the Holy Ghost. Ever since that time he has been watching over me, and carrying on his work of grace in my heart. He has taught and assisted me to pray, and has answered my prayers. He has corrected my errors and mistakes; he has assisted me in subduing my sins and in resisting temptation; he has borne with my numberless infirmities; he has granted me ten thousand pardons; he has healed my frequent backslidings; he has strengthened me when weak, he has encouraged me when desponding, he has healed my soul when sick and wounded, he has consoled me when afflicted, he has wrought in me to will and to do of his own good pleasure; he has often refreshed me by his ordinances, and has sometimes caused me to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. No day, no hour has passed in which he did not do something for my soul.
And as if all this were not enough, he has engaged to do, and will do still more. He will strengthen me, yea he will help me, yea he will uphold me by the right hand of his righteousness. He will keep me by his power through faith unto salvation. He will be with me and comfort me when I am called to pass through the dark valley of the shadow of death, and will receive my disembodied and perfected spirit to be with himself till the resurrection. He will then bring me with him when he comes to judgment. He will raise my body immortal, incorruptible and glorious, like his own; he will pronounce me blessed, and in the presence of the assembled universe, call me to inherit the kingdom prepared for me from the foundation of the world. To the possession of this kingdom I shall again ascend with him to heaven, and receive the crown and the throne which he has promised to them that overcome. Then, in the enjoyment of perfect holiness, glory and felicity, I shall be forever with the Lord.
All this he has, in effect, done for me already, since he has promised it, and with him, promise and performance are the same. For my security he has given me his eternal purpose and his solemn oath; two immutable things in which it is impossible for him to lie. Who, then, shall lay anything to my charge? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that shall condemn me? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who also maketh intercession for me. And what shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall persecution, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things I am more than a conqueror through him that loved me; and I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor the world, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus my Lord.
Such is the answer which every real Christian may give to the question, What has God done for my soul? I do not, however, assert that all real Christians will venture to give this answer. Many of them may, and do doubt whether they are real Christians; whether they are not deceived by a false conversion. Hence the greater part would perhaps venture no farther than to say, I hope God has done these things for my soul. Their doubts do not, however, if they are Christians, affect their salvation. It is certain, whether they know it or not, that God has done, or will do everything for their souls which has now been mentioned; for he knows, if they do not, that they are Christians, and he will treat them accordingly.
II. The second question which it was proposed to answer, is, Why does the Christian, when he feels like a Christian, wish to declare what God hath done for his soul? This question has been, in part, at least, already answered. While stating what God has done, we have indirectly assigned a sufficient reason why Christians should wish to declare what he has done; for who can receive favors so great, so overwhelming, and not wish to speak of them? If we have seen or met with anything wonderful, we naturally wish to speak of it. That God should do such things for a sinful soul is beyond measure wonderful. It is by far the most wonderful of all his works. He himself represents it as such. Well then may every one for whom he has done such wonders of grace and mercy, wish to declare it.
We find that those whom our Saviour miraculously cured when he was on earth, loudly proclaimed and published every where how great things God had done for them. They could not keep silence, even when he charged them to do it. His power, his goodness, and the benefits he had bestowed on them appeared so great, so astonishing, that they could not hold their peace. Much more, then, may Christians whose spiritual maladies have been healed, to whom God has made far greater and more astonishing displays of his power and grace, feel unable to conceal what God has done for their souls. They must speak of them for the same reason that saints and angels in heaven sing God’s praises, because they are so full that they cannot contain themselves. They must give vent to their feelings. Gratitude constrains them to speak. It is a relief to their bursting hearts, burdened and overwhelmed with the weight of inestimable favors, to show what great things God has done for them, and how he has had mercy on them.
Regard for God’s glory also prompts the Christian to speak. He feels that what God has done for him is a most glorious work; that it involves a most glorious display of the divine perfections. He wishes therefore to proclaim it, that men may know how wonderfully merciful and gracious God is. Thus the Samaritan leper, when cleansed from his leprosy, turned back, and, with a loud voice, glorified God.
The Christian, farther, wishes to declare what God has done for his soul, in order that others may assist him in praising the bountiful Benefactor. His own unassisted voice is not loud enough. His own praises seem altogether insufficient. He would have his praises and thanksgivings heard through the world. He would have the whole human family, were it possible, join with him in one universal chorus of praise to God; and while he tells what God has done for his soul, his desires are expressed in the words of the Psalmist, O come, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. Such are some of the reasons why every Christian wishes to declare what God has done for his soul.
III. Why does he wish to make this declaration to those only who fear God. He does so,
First, Because they alone can understand such a declaration. He might indeed speak to others of temporal favors, or what God has done for his body; but should he begin to declare what God had done for his soul, his language would be scarcely intelligible, and they would regard him as an enthusiast or a madman. Conviction, conversion, the pardon of sin, adoption into God’s family, communion with God, and a title to heaven, are expressions which convey almost no meaning to the mind of an irreligious man. Agreeably, we are told that to such the gospel is foolishness, and that they receive not the things of the spirit of God, neither can they know them because they are spiritually discerned. Hence the apostle, after exclaiming, Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God, adds; The world knoweth us not, that is knows nothing of the blessings and privileges which we enjoy, because it knew him not. Paul, also, speaking in the name of Christians, says, now we have received not the Spirit of the world, but the spirit of God; that we may know the things that are freely given us of God; thus plainly intimating that those only who have been taught by the Holy Ghost, know or understand the spiritual blessings which God bestows on his people. And in the same chapter he adds, He that is spiritual discerneth all things, but he himself is discerned of no man; that is, no man discerns or knows what he has received and what he enjoys.
The Christian wishes to make this declaration to those only who fear God, in the second place, because they alone will really believe him. As those who have no fear of God, do not understand what blessings he has bestowed on his people, so neither do they believe that such blessings are ever bestowed. Hence, should they hear a Christian declaring what God has done for him, they would either despise him as a proud boaster, or pity him as a weak, deluded fanatic, whose vain fancies had bewildered him into a fool’s paradise. Accordingly, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes represents the wicked as ridiculing the righteous, for calling themselves the children of the Lord, and making their boast that God is their father.
In the third place, the Christian wishes to make this declaration to those only who fear God, because they only will listen with interest, or join with him in praising his Benefactor. Men destitute of godly fear, would listen to an idle tale or empty dream with more interest than to his relation; and even did they understand and believe it, they would not praise God on his account, but would rather murmur at God as partial, because he had not conferred similar blessings on them also. But not so they that fear God. These will listen with interest, for they love to hear of God’s wondrous works of mercy and grace. They will join with him in his joyful and grateful expressions of praise, for they know in some measure the dangers from which he has been rescued, and the number, worth, and magnitude of the blessings which he has received. They know that God has indeed done great things for the soul of everyone who is saved; they can, like the angels, rejoice over every sinner that repenteth; nay more; they can sympathize in his joy, for they have themselves been in the same situation, and tasted of the same deliverance. Hence, while the Christian exclaims, The Lord hath done great things for my soul, whereof I am glad; they can respond, yes, he has done great things for you, and for us also, and blessed be his name.
Thus have been answered the three questions suggested by the text. It remains only to make some improvement of the subject.
To those of us who have publicly professed ourselves the disciples of Christ, this subject is peculiarly interesting. By making such a profession, we expressed a persuasion, or at least a prevailing hope, that we were Christians; and of course that God either had done, or in due time would do for us, everything which has now been mentioned. I have a right, then, my professing hearers, to address you as persons who, at least, hope that God has done these things for your souls. Permit me then to ask you, in view of this subject,
Whether the returns which God requires of you in the gospel, are not most reasonable? He there tells you that you are not your own, that you are bought with a price, and requires you, therefore, to glorify him in your bodies and spirits which are his; —to feel that you are his property, to act as his servants, to consecrate yourselves and all that you possess to him. Now, is not this requisition most reasonable? Has he not a right to expect that we should comply with it? Even if he had not created us, if he were not our rightful sovereign, if he had no rights but those of a benefactor, no claims but those which are founded on what he has done for our souls, might he not still justly expect from us all that he requires, all that we can render? What, O what can be too valuable to give to him who gave his own Son to die for us? What, O what can be too difficult to do, or too painful to suffer, for him who has done and suffered so much for us? What returns may not he justly expect who, at an expense so infinite, redeemed our immortal souls from eternal death, and bestowed on them everlasting life? Surely we must forget what God has done for us, if we can think his requisitions hard or unreasonable; if we ever hesitate to perform any duty, or to make any sacrifice which he requires. And have any of you, my professing friends, been guilty of this forgetfulness? Have you hesitated to make the returns, to perform the duties, to offer the sacrifices which your Benefactor requires. Has it ceased to be your habitual language, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits? If so, you may,
Learn from this subject how inexcusable is your ingratitude, how much reason you have for sorrow, shame and self-abasement. In order to this, review once more what God has done for you, and contrast it with your returns to him. Have you not, in multiplied instances, rewarded him evil for good? Do you not discover in your past conduct, innumerable proofs of unkindness, unfaithfulness and ingratitude? And O, how black, how base is ingratitude in us! Of all beings that exist on earth or in heaven, the Christian has by far the most cause to be grateful even more than the blessed angels themselves. Of course, ingratitude in a Christian is more criminal and hateful than it would be in any other being. O then, what deep, what bitter repentance ought we to feel! And can you avoid feeling it? Can any Christian be otherwise than broken-hearted when he contemplates God as his Father, Benefactor, and Redeemer, loving him with an everlasting love, promoting his happiness with unceasing care, and doing so much, so very much for his salvation? Can any Christian recollect without a pang, that he has neglected, disobeyed and grieved his Father, his Sovereign, his Benefactor, through fear of offending a fellow-worm, or to gratify some base lust, or to avoid some trifling evil, or to obtain some imaginary good? O, it may well wring our hearts with anguish to reflect what weak temptations, what insignificant trifles have led us to sin; have had more weight with us than the wishes, the commands, the entreaties of that Friend for whom we ought to think it an honor and a privilege to shed our blood. Surely then, my brethren, we cannot but repent. Surely the overwhelming goodness of God must lead us to repentance, and constrain us to turn to him with our whole hearts, with weeping and mourning and humble confession. Surely, we must approach the table of our still forgiving, though often offended Lord, with feelings like those of the penitent who washed the Saviour’s feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. And we shall go from his table, crying, What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits? and resolving to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. By all your hopes of heaven, by all that God has done for your souls, by the dying love of his Son, who is here set forth crucified before you, and of whose flesh and blood you are now to partake, I beseech and conjure you to do this; to live as becomes those for whose sakes so much has been done, and to present yourselves afresh, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. If you refuse or neglect to do this, how can you any longer profess a hope in Christ, or come any more to his table? As often as you approach it, you publicly profess a hope that God has done, or will do for your souls, everything which has now been mentioned. And can you express such a hope as this, without living in a corresponding manner? Can you bear to say, one hour, I believe, or hope that God has done all this for my soul, and the next hour, say by your conduct, I feel no gratitude, and shall make him no returns? Can you bear that the world should have occasion to say, there is a man who professes to believe that God has done, we know not how many wonderful things for his soul, and yet he shows little more thankfulness, or religious sensibility or concern for his Master’s honor, than we do, who profess nothing? O, my brethren, we must, we must, be consistent. We must either cease to express a hope that God has done all this for us, or we must live as becomes those for whom so much has been done. We must either love much, or cease to express a hope that much has been forgiven us.
I need not tell you that nothing is more irksome than to hear a person whose life exhibits little of the power of religion, adopt the language of our text, and relate a long tale of his conversion and religious experience. The language of open impiety itself is not so disgusting. How inexpressibly loathsome, then, must we appear to the holy, heart-searching God, if we call him our God, style ourselves his children, address him in long prayers, and come to his table, while he sees little or no love, zeal or sincerity in our hearts. Well may he compare such persons to lukewarm water, and cast them from him with disgust, exclaiming, I would thou wert either cold or hot.
Yet even such characters he will freely forgive, if they now repent. Let none be driven away by a sense of guilt. Let us come rather and present him that sacrifice of a broken heart which he will never despise, however unworthy the hand that offers it. Do this, my brethren, and the reception of new pardon and new mercies, will give you new reason to cry, Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.