The Remembrance of Christ
Sermon 1.2 January 7, 1855
This do in remembrance of me.
1 Cor. 11:24
This sermon breaks out into five sections:
The Object of Memory
The Benefit of Memory
The Aid to Memory
The Command to Remember
Rather than tell a story (as is common in current preaching), Spurgeon picks up his text and makes an observation:
If memory is a command, then it implies that we might not remember:
The text implies the possibility of forgetfulness concerning him whom gratitude and affection should constrain them to remember.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Remembrance of Christ,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 9. He will then do two things in the introduction: create an emotional connection; then, analyze the trouble.
First, to grain attention, he is going to elongate the “crime”, enforce the matter by means of a repetition of the initial word “forget”, and then turn the question upon his listeners (this is not the entire section) by means of asking two parallel questions:
It seems at first sight too gross a crime to lay at the door of converted men. It appears almost impossible that those who have been redeemed by the blood of the dying Lamb should ever forget their Ransomer; that those who have been loved with an everlasting love by the eternal Son of God, should ever forget that Son; but if startling to the ear, it is alas, too apparent to the eye to allow us to deny the fact.
Forget him who ne’er forgot us!
Forget him who poured his blood forth for our sins!
Forget him who loved us even to the death!
Can it be possible?
Yes it is not only possible, but conscience confesses that it is too sadly a fault of all of us, that we can remember anything except Christ.
The object which we should make the monarch of our hearts, is the very thing we are most inclined to forget. Where one would think that memory would linger, and unmindfulness would be an unknown intruder, that is the spot which is desecrated by the feet of forgetfulness, and that the place where memory too seldom looks. I appeal to the conscience of every Christian here:
Can you deny the truth of what I utter?
Do you not find yourselves forgetful of Jesus? etc.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Remembrance of Christ,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 9. By means of the rhetorical structure, he has made them “feel” the importance of what he has to convey. Notice he doesn’t say, “this is very important listen to me.” Rather, he forces them to confront the issue and then describes what they both see. The listener comes to know that the question is important: there is no telling them: this is showng them.
Having then draw their hearts to the “crime” of forgetting, he asks the question What causes us to forget? In this section, he lessens the rhetorical intensity because his purpose here is more to think about the matter than feel the enormity of forgetting.
Introduces the answer:
The cause of this is very apparent: it lies in one or two facts.
First answer: In the first section he gives the answer in terms of “we”:
We forget Christ, because regenerate persons as we really are, still corruption and death remain even in the regenerate. We forget him because we carry about with us the old Adam of sin and death. If we were purely new-born creatures, we should never forget the name of him whom we love. If we were entirely regenerated beings, we should sit down and meditate on all our Saviour did and suffered; all he is; all he has gloriously promised to perform; and never would our roving affections stray; but centred, nailed, fixed eternally to one object, we should continually contemplate the death and sufferings of our Lord.
He then turns the knife upon himself:
But alas! we have a worm in the heart, a pest-house, a charnel-house within, lusts, vile imaginations, and strong evil passions, which, like wells of poisonous water, send out continually streams of impurity. I have a heart, which God knoweth, I wish I could wring from my body and hurl to an infinite distance; a soul which is a cage of unclean birds, a den of loathsome creatures, where dragons haunt and owls do congregate, where every evil beast of ill-omen dwells; a heart too vile to have a parallel—“deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” This is the reason why I am forgetful of Christ.
By making himself the object of failure, he brings himself into the world of his listeners. He is not talking down to them; he is coming along side them. By confessing his weakness, he lessens the resistance that might come at this point. He will make the same shift in pronouns in the second answer:
Nor is this the sole cause; I suspect it lies somewhere else too.
We forget Christ because there are so many other things around us to attract our attention. “But,” you say, “they ought not to do so, because though they are around us, they are nothing in comparison with Jesus Christ: though they are in dread proximity to our hearts, what are they compared with Christ?” But do you know, dear friends, that the nearness of an object has a very great effect upon its power? The sun is many, many times larger than the moon, but the moon has a greater influence upon the tides of the ocean than the sun, simply because it is nearer, and has a greater power of attraction.
So I find that a little crawling worm of the earth has more effect upon my soul
than the glorious Christ in heaven;
a handful of golden earth,
a puff of fame, a shout of applause,
a thriving business,
will affect me more than all the glories of the upper world; yea, than the beatific vision itself: simply because earth is near, and heaven is far away.
What we would most often hear in this sort of section is a series of questions: “Do you love fame more than Christ?” And the effect is for the listener to drop out: No, I love Christ more. But Spurgeon takes away that defense by saying “I” love all these things more. And in hearing him charge himself, we see the same fault in ourselves.
He then ends with an encouragement:
Happy day, when I shall be borne aloft on angels’ wings to dwell for ever near my Lord, to bask in the sunshine of his smile, and to be lost in the ineffable radiance of his lovely countenance. We see then the cause of forgetfulness; let us blush over it; let us be sad that we neglect our Lord so much, and now let us attend to his word, “This do in remembrance of me,” hoping that its solemn sounds may charm away the demon of base ingratitude.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Remembrance of Christ,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 9–10.
There are many things happening here, but need to notice his shifts between reason and emotion, between “we” and “I”, between charge (we forget) and the end point of encouragement: some day we will not.
The sum effect of his introduction is make them listener feel and know that the subject matter is of great importance. By moving from a charge to an encouragement, he makes space to want to follow him into this question of forgetting.
By comparison with Spurgeon’s “argumentation”, here is a section from Thomas Manton who is in fact making an argument. In the First Sermon of Twenty Sermons (Vol. 2, pp. 175, et seq.) Manton is Psalm 32:1-2:
Psalm 32:1–2 (AV)
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Manton purposefully makes an argument, stating propositions and inferences which lead from one to the other:
The necessity that lies upon us, being all guilty before God, to seek after our justification, and the pardon of our sins by Christ. That it may sink the deeper into your minds, I shall do it in this scheme or method:—First, A reasonable nature implies a conscience; a conscience implies a law; a law implies a sanction; a sanction implies a judge, and a judgment-day (when all shall be called to account for breaking the law); and this judgment-day infers a condemnation upon all mankind unavoidably, unless the Lord will compromise the matter, and find out some way in the chancery of the gospel wherein we may be relieved. This way God hath found out in Christ, and being brought about by such a mysterious contrivance, we ought to be deeply and thankfully apprehensive of it, and humbly and broken-heartedly to quit the one covenant, and accept of the grace provided for us in the other.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 2 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 178–179.
Here, Manton is not interested in necessarily creating an emotional response but rather in providing information: He is making an argument to change the way in which his hearers think: “That may sink deeper into your minds.” This is ultimately a mechanism to transform another’s affections, but the effect — if successful — is more lasting than merely provoking an emotion.
It is possible to provoke an emotion which results in no change. An emotion can arise and subside — and be very powerful in while in crest, but become invisible when it wanes.
Interestingly, in the first section of his argument, Manton notes how an emotion can have a passing effect, for the worse:
A reasonable nature implies a conscience; for man can reflect upon his own actions, and hath that in him to acquit or condemn him accordingly as he doth good or evil, 1 John 3:20, 21. Conscience is nothing but the judgment a man makes upon his actions morally considered, the good or the evil, the rectitude or obliquity, that is in them with respect to rewards or punishment. As a man acts, so he is a party; but as he reviews and censures his actions, so he is a judge. Let us take notice only of the condemning part, for that is proper to our case. After the fact, the force of conscience is usually felt more than before or in the fact; because before, through the treachery of the senses, and the revolt of the passions, the judgment of reason is not so clear. I say, our passions and affections raise clouds and mists which darken the mind, and do incline the will by a pleasing violence; but after the evil action is done, when the affection ceaseth, then guilt flasheth in the face of conscience. As Judas, whose heart lay asleep all the while he was going on in his villainy, but afterwards it fell upon him. Thou hast ‘sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ When the affections are satisfied, and give place to reason, that was before condemned, and reason takes the throne again, it hath the more force to affect us with grief and fear, whilst it strikes through the heart of a man with a sharp sentence of reproof for obeying appetite before reason. Now this conscience of sin may be choked and smothered for a while, but the flame will break forth, and our hidden fears are easily revived and awakened, except we get our pardon and discharge. A reasonable nature implies a conscience.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 2 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 179. Let’s pick apart the psychology of the conscience and passions:
First provides a definition for conscience:
Conscience is nothing but the judgment a man makes upon his actions morally considered
Conscience is a internal examination of our actions: Was that good or bad? Well, if we have this ability to judge ourselves, why do we not always choose the good? Because conscience varies in its strength:
After the fact, the force of conscience is usually felt more than before or in the fact;
Here is an interesting notice: we feel conscience more plainly after we sinned than before. Manton places the fault in a thoughtless flood of “passions”:
because before, through the treachery of the senses, and the revolt of the passions, the judgment of reason is not so clear.
In short, the desire for sin will swamp our conscience. The reason cannot function in the face of the dark desire:
I say, our passions and affections raise clouds and mists which darken the mind, and do incline the will by a pleasing violence; but after the evil action is done, when the affection ceaseth, then guilt flasheth in the face of conscience.
The result of this passion and sin is the return of conscience, which leaves us alone with guilt:
As Judas, whose heart lay asleep all the while he was going on in his villainy, but afterwards it fell upon him. Thou hast ‘sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ When the affections are satisfied, and give place to reason, that was before condemned, and reason takes the throne again, it hath the more force to affect us with grief and fear, whilst it strikes through the heart of a man with a sharp sentence of reproof for obeying appetite before reason.
Then passions — being a sort judgment — will appear pile upon the judgment of the conscience and bring on to despair. What then can be done in such a circumstance:
Now this conscience of sin may be choked and smothered for a while, but the flame will break forth, and our hidden fears are easily revived and awakened, except we get our pardon and discharge. A reasonable nature implies a conscience.
In the Immutability of God, Spurgeon first speaks in great praise about the immutability of God. Rather than merely saying that this is something which should excite you, he speaks in such a way, using a combination of concrete imagery and a variety of rhetorical forms of repetition (for an excellent discussion of rhetoric, and these figures see http://rhetoric.byu.edu), “Repetition is a major rhetorical strategy for producing emphasis, clarity, amplification, or emotional effect.” (You will notice such repetition on occasion, but it is usually quite stilted in the mouth of preacher — you get the sort of feeling that he is wearing someone else’s clothes and he’s terribly afraid he’ll be found out.)
But having concluded with his praise of God’s immutability, Spurgeon now raises the implicit question — is this true:
Thus having taken a great deal too much time, perhaps, in simply expanding the thought of an unchanging God, I will now try to prove that he is unchangeable, I am not much of an argumentative preacher, but one argument that I will mention is this: the very existence, and being of a God, seem to me to imply immutability.
Here is his proposition: if there is a God, then such a God must be immutable. His argument here seems to derive from Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God, in the chapter “On the Immutability of God” (To be fair, his first section roughly tracks Charnock’s discussion of the subject. There is certainly nothing approaching copying between Spurgeon and Charnock — but rather Spurgeon makes good use of Charnock’s masterwork and turns into propositions which could be understood from a pulpit.)
His first argument is really no more complicated that it doesn’t even make sense to say one could be God and one could change — anymore than one could be a married bachelor.
Or here is the second argument raised by Spurgeon:
Well, I think that one argument will be enough, but another good argument may be found in the fact of God’s perfection. I believe God to be a perfect being. Now, if he is a perfect being, he cannot change. Do you not see this? Suppose I am perfect to-day. If it were possible for me to change, should I be perfect tomorrow after the alteration? If I changed, I must either change from a good state to a better — and then if I could get better, I could not be perfect now-or else from a better state to a worse-and if I were worse, I should not be perfect then. If I am perfect, I cannot be altered without being imperfect. If I am perfect to-day, I must keep the same to-morrow if I am to be perfect then. So, if God is perfect, he must be the same- for change would imply imperfection now, or imperfection then.
He takes a very narrow idea: if something is perfect, it cannot be more perfect. If it could be more perfect then it wouldn’t be perfect now. This is the second argument raised by Charnock for the proof of God’s immutability, “If God were changeable, he could not be the most perfect Being.” And lest anyone think that Spurgeon was merely cribbing from Charnock it is only fair to compare Spuregon’s summary with Charnock’s original
If God were changeable, he could not be the most perfect Being. God is the most perfect Being, and possesses in himself infinite and essential goodness (Matt, v, 48): “Your heavenly Father is perfect.” If he could change from that perfection, he were not the highest exemplar and copy for us to write after. If God doth change, it must be either to a greater perfection than he had before, or to a less, mutatio ‘perfectiva vel amissiva; if he changes to acquire a perfection he had not, then he was not before the most excellent Being; necessarily, he was not what he might be; there was a defect in him, and a privation of that which is better than what he had and was; and then he was not alway the best, and so was not alway God; and being not alway God, could never be God; for to begin to be God is against the notion of God; not to a less perfection than he had; that were to change to imperfection, and to lose a perfection which he possessed before, and cease to be the best Being; for he would lose some good which he had, and acquire some evil which he was free from before. so that the sovereign perfection of God is an invincible bar to any change in him; for which way soever you cast it for a change, his supreme excellency is impaired and nulled by it: for in all change there is something from which a thing is changed, and something to which it is changed; so that on the one part there is a loss of what it had, and on the other part there is an acquisition of what it had not. If to the better, he was not perfect, and so was not God; if to the worse, he will not be perfect, and so be no longer God after that change. If God be changed, his change must be voluntary or necessary; if voluntary, he then intends the change for the better, and chose it to acquire a perfection by it; the will must be carried out to anything under the notion of some goodness in that which it desires. Since good is the object of the desire and will of the creature, evil cannot be the object of the desire and will of the Creator. And if he should be changed for the worse, when he did really intend the better, it would speak a defect of wisdom, and a mistake of that for good which was evil and imperfect in itself; and if it be for the better, it must be a motion or change for something without himself; that which he desireth is not possessed by himself, but by some other. there is, then, some good without him and above him, which is the end in this change; for nothing acts but for some end, and that end is within itself or without itself; if the end for which God changes be without himself, then there is something better than himself: besides, if he were voluntarily changed for the better, why did he not change before? If it were for want of power, he had the imperfection of weakness; if for want of knowledge of what was the best good, he had the imperfection of wisdom, he was ignorant of his own happiness; if he had both wisdom to know it, and power to effect it, it must be for want of will; he then wanted that love to himself and his own glory, which is necessary in the Supreme Being. Voluntarily he could not be changed for the worse, he could not be such an enemy to his own glory; there is nothing but would hinder its own imperfection and becoming worse. Necessarily he could not be changed, for that necessity must arise from himself, and then the difficulties spoken of before will recur, or it must arise from another; he cannot be bettered by another, because nothing hath any good but what it hath received from the hands of his bounty, and that without loss to himself, nor made worse; if anything made him worse, it would be sin, but that cannot touch his essence or obscure his glory, but in the design and nature of the sin itself (Job xxxv. 6, 7): “If thou sinnest, what dost thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what dost thou unto him? if thou be righteous, what givest thou him; or what receives he at thy hand?” He hath no addition by the service of man, no more than the sun hath of light by a multitude of torches kindled on the earth; nor any more impair by the sins of men, than the light of the sun hath by men’s shooting arrows against it.
Spurgeon’s summary and reworking of Charnock on this point demonstrates that Spurgeon had ingested Charnock, and understood the argument well enough to teach it. He didn’t merely read Charnock, he taught Charnock.
I am going to compare this simplicity in argumentation with the rigor and logic of Manton’s preaching.
Continuing with Spurgeon’s Sermon, The Immutability of God
The next aspect of God’s immutability considered by Spurgeon is that God does not changes his plans. The purpose of this section of the sermon is dissuade anyone from thinking either that God does not go through with his plans, cannot go through with his plans or does not plan. To do this, he breaks up this section of his sermon along three questions. The rhetorical structure is less complex than the previous section. There are a couple of reasons for this one. One, varying up the speed of the information and density of the structure makes it easier to listen to. The rapid fire question and assertions of the previous section would quickly become overwhelming.
A second reason for the difference in structure concerns the amount of information he is trying to cover within a short period of time. The attributes of God entails everything about God. To make this point, Spurgeon asks and asserts about many attributes in clipped demanding sentences. In this section, he is considering God’s plans. Here has only one point: God makes plans and does not change them. He is not trying to lay what sort of plans God may have; only the proposition that God does not change his plans.
Spurgeon also does not consider every possible counter argument or consideration. Again, he makes a straightforward analysis: God plans and does not change his plans. Yes, of course God makes plans. God could not plan poorly and be thwarted. Therefore, God does not change his plans.
He introduces the proposition and gives a concrete example (a man planning to build); a man may build a building, but God builds planets:
Then again, God chances not in his plans. That man began to build, but was not able to finish, and therefore he changed his plan, as every wise man would do in such a case- he built upon a smaller foundation and commenced again. But has it ever been said that God began to build but was not able to finish? Nay. When he hath boundless stores at his command, and when his own right hand would create worlds as numerous as drops of morning dew, shall he ever stay because he has not power? and reverse, or alter, or disarrange his plan, because he cannot carry it out?
This introduces a technique which Spurgeon will often use, a hypothetical objector “some”. Spurgeon anticipates a question someone in his audience may have, raises and then answers the question:
“But,” say some, “perhaps God never had a plan.” Do you think God is more foolish than yourself then, sir? Do you go to work without a plan? “No,” say you, “I have always a scheme.” So has God. Every man has his plan, and God has a plan too. God is a master-mind; he arranged everything in his gigantic intellect long before he did it- and once having settled it, mark you, he never alters it. “This shall be done,” saith he, and the iron hand of destiny marks it down, and it is brought to pass. “This is my purpose,” and it stands, nor can earth or hell alter it. “This is my decree,” saith he, promulgate it angels- rend it down from the gate of heaven ye devils; but ye cannot alter the decree; it shall be done.
He argues from analogy: if even a human has a plan, how much more God. He responds to the objection with a question which undercuts the objection. He then repeats the argument in the form of an assertion: Do you use plans? Yes. How much more God. Men plan, God plans.
But not only that: God is a “master-mind”. God’s plans come to fruition and do not change. In fact, nothing could change it. The last bit reinforces the overall proposition of the section: God does not alter his plans.
Spurgeon could have raised any number of other objections than this argument. I don’t know why this particular objection seemed appropriate to him at this time.
We then come to the final third of this section of his argument: Why are even asking this question about God changing his plans. If God does plan, then what could stop it (this picks up on the last sentence – not even Hell could stop him. But here he pivots a bit: God does not have any lack which would cause him to alter his plans: he lacks neither intellect nor power.
God altereth not his plans; why should he? He is Almighty, and therefore can perform his pleasure. Why should he? He is the All-wise, and therefore cannot have planned wrongly. Why should he? He is the everlasting God, and therefore cannot die before his plan is accomplished. Why should he change?
He ends with a coda and interim application: How different is the enteral God from us. God will never change his plan — and what is his plan: to save me (which is a comfort):
Ye worthless atoms of existence, ephemera of the day! ye creeping insects upon this bay-leaf of existence! ye may change your plans, but he shall never, never change his. Then has he told me that his plan is to save me? If so, I am safe.
He concludes with a stanza from a hymn
“My name from the palms of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impress’d on his heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace.”
By ending with a hymn known to the congregation, he solidifies this point in their hearts. They could even begin to hum the words to themselves as he spoke. This form of writing where someone stops to accentuate a point was quite common in the 19th Century. When I have seen done in sermons, it most often comes across as stilted and awkard. If you are going to quote a poem, be familiar with the text; practice saying it aloud. There is a great beauty in quoting some lines if it is done well. When it is done poorly, it loses the emotional benefit and just sound uncomfortable.
This hymn is “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” by Toplady:
A debtor to mercy alone, Of covenant mercy I sing; Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on, My person and offering to bring. The terrors of law and of God With me can have nothing to do; My Savior’s obedience and blood Hide all my transgressions from view
2. The work which His goodness began, The arm of His strength will complete; His promise is yea and amen, And never was forfeited yet. Things future, nor things that are now, Not all things below nor above Can make Him His purpose forego, Or sever my soul from His love.
3. My name from the palms of His hands Eternity will not erase; Impressed on His heart it remains In marks of indelible grace. Yes, I to the end shall endure, As sure as the earnest is given More happy, but not more secure, The glorified spirits in heaven.
This is again from “The Immutability of God” , volume 1, sermon 1, the Parkstreet Pulpit. This continues at the next paragraph.
When Spurgeon comes to the next section he enlists a completely different rhetorical strategy. In this section he uses a series of repetitions at the beginning of the lines.
First, he announces the proposition:
He changes not in his attributes.
He then expands the original proposition. But note that he does not merely repeat it, but it adds some new information.
Whatever the attributes of God were of old, that they are now; and of each of them we may sing ’As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.
To underscore the point, he quotes from a familiar hymn:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son:
and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be:
world without end. Amen.
Thus, the proposition attaches to something the hearer already knows. Having established the proposition, he then sets forth a series of questions which make the abstraction real:
Was he powerful?
Was he the mighty God when he spake the world out of the womb of non-existence?
Was he the Omnipotent when he piled the mountains and scooped out the hollow places for the rolling deep?
He asks three questions, which all have the implied answer “Yes”. Each question has a varied length but all questions can be said in a single breath (albeit with varied speed of speech). Note also have concrete he makes the second two question. The world comes from a womb. When it comes to mountains, he scoops them out of hollow places There is a concrete, tangible action in the physical world.
Then to avoid tedium, he makes a series of direct propositions:
Yes, he was powerful then,
and his arm is unpalsied now;
he is the same giant in his might;
the sap of his nourishment is undried,
and the strength of his soul stands the same for ever.
In this section he uses alliteration to balance the lines in sound (just as they are balanced in thought). Not the “powerful” and “unpalsied”. Then notice the “s” which ties the next lines together: “same”, “sap” “nourishment”, “strength” “soul” “stands” “same”.
We could also look at these lines as having (almost) the structure of Old English poetry (four beats, alliteration and a major pause in the middle of the lien”
Yes, he was Powerful then, and his Arm is unPalsied now
He is the Same Giant in his Might, the Sap of his Nourishment undried
And the Strength of his Soul Stand the Same forever
Spurgeon then returns to the question
Was he wise when he constituted this mighty globe,
when he laid the foundations of the universe?
Had he wisdom when he planned the way of our salvation,
and when from all eternity he marked out his awful plans?
Notice that these two questions are balanced by both having a second half of the question which begins with the word “when”.
Again following the pattern above, he answers with a “Yes”.
he is wise now
he is not less skillful,
he has not less knowledge,
his eye which seeth all things is undimned,
his ear which heareth all the cries,
sighs sobs, and groans of his people,
is not rendered heavy by the years which he hath heard their prayers.
There are three “he” and two “his”. The final line is far longer and thus signals that he has come to the end of the section.
Spurgeon now turns to a different section which repeat a propositional structure built around “he is unchanged”.
The first section contains an initial clause “he is unchanged” and three subordinate clauses which explicate the original line:
He is unchanged in his wisdom;
he knows as much now as ever, neither more nor less;
he has the same consummate skill, and the same infinite forecastings.
He is unchanged, blessed be his name, in his justice.
Notice also the relationship between this section and the preceding section. Both work upon the idea of God’s wisdom. The first section emphasizes God has skill: which is an aspect of wisdom. The skill of God expends to specific action: seeing, hearing. The second section returns to “wisdom” but emphasizes the intellectual aspect of knowing. This little section begins and ends with the same phrase “He is unchanged”.
The final unchanged aspect is “justice”, which Spurgeon turns into its own couplet:
Just and holy was he in the past,
just and holy is he now.
Then he turns to truth, which is spoken. Thus, he begins with the general “truth”, provides a concrete aspect, “promise”; provides a fulfillment; and then repeats a line at the end which summarizes and emphasizes the aspect:
He is unchanged in his truth;-
he has promised,
and he brings it to pass;
he hath said it, and it shall be done.
He then turns to the a three line section on goodness:
He varies not in the goodness,
and benevolence of his nature.
He next applies what this means:
He is not become an Almighty tyrant,
whereas he was once an Almighty Father;
but his strong love stands like a granite rock,
unmoved by the hurricanes of our iniquity.
His goodness means we are not consumed: he is a gracious father. He turns that love and patience into a remarkable image: His love is a granite rock and our sin is a hurricane of iniquity. His love cannot be altered by the monster of our sin.
He ends at last with the emphatic application of God’s love:, the sending of His Son to die. This is really a remarkable section, because it makes the love of God concrete: it stands in a covenant, ratified by His Son’s cruel death.
And blessed be his dear name, he is unchanged in his love.
When he first wrote the covenant, how full his heart was with affection to his people.
He knew that his Son must die to ratify the articles of that agreement.
He knew right well that he must rend his best beloved from his bowels,
and send him down to earth to bleed and die.
He did not hesitate to sign that mighty covenant;
nor did he shun its fulfillment.
He loves as much now as he did then;
and when suns shall cease to shine,
and moons to show their feeble light,
he still shall love on for ever and for ever.
He ends and emphasizes the point by using the same beginning emphasis, but by using a different phrase “Take any one”
Take any one attribute of God,
and I will write semper idem on it (always the same.)
Take any one thing you can say of God now,
and it may be said not only in the dark past,
but in the bright future it shall always remain the same: “I am Jehovah, I change not.”
How then could someone do this who was not Spurgeon? First, there is the initial proposition: God is immutable. Okay, in what ways is God immutable? You then make a list, and on that list of immutabilities is “God’s attributes”. What then are the attributes of God? Or we could ask, How did Spurgeon come up wit this list?
Q: What is God?
A: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
Compare that list and order to Spurgeon’s sermon. How would the average preacher work through those aspects?
The first word here is “being”, being comes from the Greek ….. At which point the congregation knows they are in for a poorly constructed lecture designed to prove to the congregation the pastor has studied — a lot — and does nothing to make them care. Spurgeon quotes a song. He then takes the rest of the attributes and provides some concrete instance.
This would be a good exercise: What is a concrete example of the impossibilities of God? What is infinite? Maybe you would quote a math definition. But before you do that, how does the Scripture convey the idea of God’s immensity such that the writers of the Westminster Confession come up with that list? How does the Bible describe wisdom? How does it describe God’s wisdom or power? Take a look through the Psalms or Job. You will be given specific concrete images of God’s wisdom, power, holiness et cetera. Use those images.
How do you know when to answer questions and when to ask? You listen — it takes a trained ear. How did Spurgeon gain an intuitive grasp of when to shift, how many questions to ask, et cetera? He read a great deal and listened to the movement of the language. By the way, very little contemporary writing will provide any good sense of the right use of language — and the theology books provided to seminary students often seemed as if they had been written for the sole purpose of tormenting the English language and making the greatest glory of all the ages dull (I have thrown books at the wall in disgust and anger at how a teacher could make such wonders annoying.)
Here are some observations from the Sermon The Immutability of God (vol. 1, sermon 1). The sermon begins with a problem: how is one to explain the fact that God’s essence does not change. This is a profoundly difficult abstraction, and can easily become a thousand page book of philosophy. So how does Spurgeon preach on this subject without being either abstruse or banal:
Here is how he made the doctrine concrete:
He begins with a doctrine which is necessarily abstract: God’s divine nature — his essence — is unchangeable. The divine nature is pure abstraction for us: we have no experience of anything like this (other than God’s self-revelation). Therefore to make it concrete and comprehensible, Spurgeon uses two moves. First, he proves the point by a series of concrete examples from a contrast: God is not like the creation — nor us.
First, he states the doctrine and proposes the problem, “We cannot tell you what the Godhead is”:
I shall offer some exposition of my text, by first saying, that God is Jehovah, and he changes not in his essence. We cannot tell you what Godhead is. We do not know what substance that is which we call God. It is an existence, it is a being; but what that is we know not. However, whatever it is, we call it his essence, and that essence never changes.
Then he gives a series of examples from the physical creation. He sets up a series of changing things: the world in its seasons; even the sun which shines on the world:
The substance of mortal things is ever changing. The mountains with their snow-white crowns, doff their old diadems in summer, in rivers trickling down their sides, while the storm cloud gives them another coronation; the ocean, with its mighty floods, loses its water when the sunbeams kiss the waves, and snatch them in mists to heaven; even the sun himself requires fresh fuel from the hand of the Infinite Almighty, to replenish his everburning furnace.
Then he brings the proposition more to a point: Humanity changes, I change, my body changes:
All creatures change. Man, especially as to his body, is always undergoing revolution. Very probably there is not a single particle in my body which was in it a few years ago. This frame has been worn away by activity, its atoms have been removed by friction, fresh particles of matter have in the mean time constantly accrued to my body, and so it has been replenished- but its substance is altered.
He then makes a return to the original imagery of nature. This creates a logical A – B – A’ flow, like a simple piece of music:
The fabric of which this world is made is ever passing away; like a stream of water, drops are running away and others are following after, keeping the river still full, but always changing in its elements.
He then uses anthropomorphism to describe God, but saying that God is not like man:
But God is perpetually the same. He is not composed of any substance or material, but is spirit-pure, essential, and ethereal spirit-and therefore he is immutable. He remains everlastingly the same. There are no furrows on his eternal brow. No age hath palsied him- no years have marked him with the mementoes of their flight- he sees ages pass, but with him it is ever now. He is the great I AM-the Great Unchangeable. Mark you, his essence did not undergo a change when it became united with the manhood. When Christ in past years did gird himself with mortal clay the essence of his divinity was not changed; flesh did not become God, nor did God become flesh by a real actual change of nature the two were united in hypostatical union, but the Godhead was still the same. It was the same when he was a babe in the manger, as it was when he stretched the curtains of heaven- it was the same God that hung upon the cross, and whose blood flowed down in a purple river, the self-same God that holds the world upon his everlasting shoulders, and bears in his hands the keys of death and hell. He never has been changed in his essence, not even by his incarnation- he remains everlastingly, eternally, the one unchanging God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither the shadow of a change.
Now let us consider some the rhetorical and logical moves he makes in the second half of this paragraph:
He creates a logical contrast between the mutable human flesh and immutable divine nature. First, he asserts and “clears” the doctrine:
He is the great I AM-the Great Unchangeable. Mark you, his essence did not undergo a change when it became united with the manhood.
He then restates and clarifies the doctrine:
When Christ in past years did gird himself with mortal clay the essence of his divinity was not changed; flesh did not become God, nor did God become flesh by a real actual change of nature the two were united in hypostatical union, but the Godhead was still the same.
He then underscores that doctrinal position with a series of rhetorical contrasts. Note that the rhetorical form of contrasts and similarity — the same God despite the incarnation — serves to underscore the logical assertion. The rhetoric is not mere decoration but is used to make the point clearer:
It was the same when he was a babe in the manger,
as it was when he stretched the curtains of heaven-
it was the same God that hung upon the cross,
and whose blood flowed down in a purple river,
the self-same God that holds the world upon his everlasting shoulders,
and bears in his hands the keys of death and hell.
Tell them what you’r going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve told them. This is a form used remarkably by Thomas Brooks (who was apparently Spurgeon’s favorite Puritan):
He never has been changed in his essence, not even by his incarnation- he remains everlastingly, eternally, the one unchanging God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither the shadow of a change.
At this point, Sibbes takes a turn which is contrary to the thinking of most people in this world at this time. Everything thinks that he will gain heaven. I one-time spoke with members of a gang, whose fellow had been murdered in a shooting. They were quite certain he was in some sort of “heaven”, where he evil actions could be taken with full vent to his desires and without the fear of the police or rival gangs. The men and women with whom I spoke seemed quite certain that his end was not in doubt – but to make sure, a few had lit the candles bearing a supposed picture of Mary, which candles can be purchased at a dollar store.
But Sibbes makes plain, it matters quite a bit whether one is “godly” or “wicked” at death:
Obs.3. There is a wide, broad difference between the death of the godly and of the wicked.
Even Balaam knows this – but he seems unable to see the way there:
The godly are happy in their death, for here we see it is a matter desirable. This caitiff, this wretched man Balaam, Oh, saith he, ‘let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.’ It being the object of his desire, it is therefore certainly precious, ‘the death of the righteous.’
However, unlike Balaam, the godly have a happiness which begins here and which fully comes to fruition after death:
And indeed so it is; holy and gracious men, they are happy in their life. While they live they are the sons of God, the heirs of heaven; they are set at liberty, all things are theirs; they have access to the throne of grace; all things work for their good; they are the care of angels, the temples of the Holy Ghost. Glorious things are spoken of these glorious creatures even while they live.
But they are more happy in their death, and most happy and blessed after death.
In their death they are happy in their disposition, and happy in condition.
That is, there is a subjective (disposition) and objective (condition) basis for the happiness of the godly. Sibbes does not present this as mere wish fulfillment or psychological word-games, but as an incontestable fact. I wonder the extent to which our apologetics suffers at this point with the question of “proof”. Very few people have much reason at all for those things which they assuredly believe. The default of a culture is not the product of consideration, but rather the laziness of the people who have other things taking their attention. Even though I have not taken a statistically significant survey, I would imagine that most people have more certain reasons for their expectations of a sports team or their enjoyment of a movie than they have believe in some god – or do not – or believe their morals are rights, and other are wrong, or any of the other things which one would think are “most important.”
Anyway, Sibbes first asserts, that faith in God itself creates a subjective disposition of happiness:
(1.) Happy in their disposition. What is the disposition of a holy and blessed man at his end? His disposition is by faith to give himself to God, by which faith he dies in obedience; he carries himself fruitfully and comfortably in his end. And ofttimes the nearer he is to happiness, the more he lays about him to be fruitful.
His last point is certainly true. I have often seen Christians who know they will die soon possessed of an ease and joy, coupled to a profound desire to work for God. It is not an urgent hope to be good enough at the end – that question of “good enough” seems to not enter their thinking. They know salvation is of grace, and think nothing of their works. Indeed, the harder they work at their end, the less their works hold “merit” for them.
What then are the blessings which come with death:
(2.) Besides his disposition, he is happy in condition;for death is a sweet close. God and he meet; grace and glory meet; he is in heaven, as it were, before his time. What is death to him? The end of all misery, of all sin of body and soul. It is the beginning of all true happiness in both. This I might shew at large, but I have spoken somewhat of this point out of another text. They are happy in their death, for ‘their death is precious in God’s sight.’ The angels are ready to do their attendance, to carry their souls to the place of happiness. They are happy in their death, because they are ‘in the Lord.’ When death severs soul and body, yet notwithstanding neither soul nor body are severed from Christ. ‘They die in the Lord;’ therefore still they are happy. Much might be said to this purpose, and to good purpose, but that the point is ordinary, and I hasten to press things that I think will a little more confirm it. They are blessed in death.
And even death is not the end of their hope and expectation:
(3.) And blessed after death especially;for then we know they are in heaven, waiting for the resurrection of the body. There is a blessed change of all; for after death we have a better place, better company, better employment; all is for the better.
Here he makes a kind of digression: he backs up and examines the matter from a slightly different vantage point. He explains the life of the godly as an ever increasing freedom; it is a movement toward greater liberty (and the wicked are moving toward the close world of the grave):
There are three degrees of life:
The life in the womb, this world, heaven.
The life in the womb is a kind of imprisonment; there the child lives for a time. The life in this world, it is a kind of enlargement; but, alas! it is as much inferior to the blessed and glorious life in heaven, as the life in the womb is narrower and straiter and more base than this life wherein we behold the blessed light and enjoy all the sweet comforts of this life. They are happy after death; then the image of God is perfect in the soul. All graces are perfected, all wants supplied, all corruptions wrought out, all enemies subdued, all promises accomplished, waiting their time for the resurrection of the body; and then body and soul shall sit as judges upon the wretches that have judged them on earth, and they shall be both together ‘for ever with the Lord.’ I might enlarge the point much. It is a comfortable meditation; and before I pass it, let us make some use of it.
What then does all this amount to:
If godly men be blessed and happy, not only before death, in the right and title they have to heaven, but in death, because then they are invested into possession of that that makes them every way happy,
What do we do with this promise of happiness? Sibbes makes two applications: a correction of our thinking, and an encouragement toward our action. First, are thinking:
Use1. Therefore this may teach us who are truly wise. A wise man is he that hath a better end than another, and works to that end.
Having made the assertion, Sibbes then explains the basis of his meaning by drawing in brief the nature of the contrast. This is a good example of how to teach well. State the proposition to be known. Then explain the proposition at some length – here by dividing it into its two parts to better see the wisdom of the godly by contrasting it with the foolishness of the “worldling”. He will then repeat and expound the original point: tell them what you’re going to say, say it, tell them what yous said. First, the Christian:
A true Christian man, he hath a better end than any worldling. His end is to be safe in another world, and he works and carries his forces to that end. ‘Let my last end be like his,’ saith Balaam, insinuating that there was a better end in regard of condition and state than he had aimed at. A gracious man, his end is not to be happy here; his end is to enjoy everlasting communion with God in the heavens, and he frames all his courses in this world to accomplish that end, and he is never satisfied in the things that make to that end.
Here he raises the worldling; he does not over pain the worldling’s vice (this is a common filler of many preachers; it is easier to ramble on about sin, because it is easier to know and describe; it is also an error in almost all cases). Notice how he says the worldling “prowls”; this both makes the worldling more an animal than a man; second, it alludes to the Devil prowling about as a lion:
A worldling he hath no such end. He hath a natural desire to be saved,—as we shall see afterwards,—but a man may know that is not his end, for he works not to it. He is not satisfied in prowling for this world; he is not weary of getting wealth; he is not satisfied with pleasure. So that his end is the things of this life.
He then concludes and repeats:
Therefore let him be never so wise, he is but a fool, for he hath not the true end, nor works to it. Wicked men are very fools in the manner of their reasoning; for they will grant that there is a happy estate of godly men in death, and after death better. If it be so, why do they not work and frame their lives to it? Herein they are fools, because they grant one thing and not another which must needs follow. They do believe there is such a happiness to God’s children, and yet seek not after it.
Note that last bit: their foolishness exists because they will not seek that which they hope to obtain. Rather than seek the life which cannot end, they prowl about.
Next, he makes an exhortation to live in accordance with wisdom:
Use2. If there be such a blessed estate of God’s children in death and after death, I beseech you let us carry ourselves so as that we may be partakers of that happiness;let us labour to be righteous men, labour to be in Christ, to have the righteousness of Christ to be ours, to be out of ourselves, in Christ; in Christ in life, in Christ in death, and at the day of judgment in Christ, ‘not having our own righteousness,’ as the apostle saith, ‘but his righteousness,’ Philip 3:9, and then the righteousness of grace and of a good conscience will alway go with the other. For this makes a righteous man to be in Christ, and to have his righteousness, and to have his Spirit, and the beginnings of the new creature in us. Let us labour to be such as may live and die happily and blessedly, and be for ever happy. So much for that third point.