AND the Master said further, |We read in the lesson to-day a verse which tells us that the Lord has a pleasant land to give us, a goodly heritage of the hosts of the heathen' (Jer. iii.19). And He has also said that He hath shewed His people the power of His works, that He may give them the heritage of the heathen.'
|What, dear children, is this pleasant land? and what is the heritage of the heathen the Lord has promised you? The pleasant land is none other than the heritage of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is the heir of His Father, and we are joint-heirs with Him. And what is the heritage of the heathen?
|Children, the heathen are people who have no claim upon God, they have no holiness, no ground to stand on, but all they can receive must be by God's free grace, without any deserving on their part.
|But the Jews had a ground on which they stood, of works and doings, of ceremonies and laws, and many a thing of which they boasted themselves.
|But the heathen had nothing to build on but the grace and mercy of God. And that is your heritage and mine, for we have nothing else but grace and mercy upon which we can set our foot. We have no worthiness, and no fitness -- we have nothing to bring to God.
|But many a Jew is now to be found, standing upright on his own ways and his own doings, propped up by his own works. If I have not done my part,' they say, then all is lost,' and on the other hand they think that if they do their part, all is well. They have no need to believe in God, nor in any one but themselves.
|Do not mistake me, as if I meant to say that there are no works for a godly man to do. But a godly man does not take his stand upon them, or lean upon them. Many a one, on the contrary, is trusting the whole of his salvation to his hair shirt, and his iron collar, and his fastings, and his vigils, and his prayers. Perhaps he has taken a vow of poverty, and kept it for forty years. And thus he thinks he has paved the way to God, and if you could take away all his holy deeds, you would take away all his hope and all his confidence.
|But suppose a man could have done in his own person all the good works that had ever been done by all the holy people in the world, now, and in all the ages that are past, he would have no more ground to stand on than a man who had never done a good work at all, great or small. And he would have nothing else to rest upon but the free grace of God, grace upon grace, bestowed upon him for no deserving of his own.
|And that, dear children, is the heritage of the heathen.
|May God give it to each one of us, and then shall we say My Father! and we shall not turn away from Him.
|And suppose, dear children, you could be satisfied with yourselves and your doings, that is the greatest evil that could happen to you. The Holy Ghost leads a man to judge himself, and condemn himself, and to feel deeply sorrowful, intolerably sorrowful, in thinking of his sinfulness, and of the resistance of his heart to the will of God. This is a sorrow the world knows nothing about, and therefore it is the surest sign of the working of the Spirit of God. We should be very thankful if we are brought to see that we have done wrong in any one thing. For a thousand sins which a man confesses, and for which he judges and condemns himself, are not nearly so dangerous to him as one sin that he does not find out, and will not own.
|Therefore remember, whenever you meet with any of those spiritual people, who are well pleased with themselves and their doings, they are living in the most dangerous sin, and their end is destruction, if they remain in that condition.
|Ah, merciful God! what a poor, scanty, wretched thing in Thine eyes is our righteousness! Woe be to us for our righteousness, dear children, for the Lord spake by Isaiah, All your righteousnesses are but as filthy rags.'
|People who have that righteousness say their prayers, but instead of getting bread thereby, they get a stone. But that is not the fault of God. The stone they get is a hard stony heart, dry, and barren, and cold, like ashes when the fire is all gone out, no communion with the Lord, and no grace. They read their religious books from beginning to end, one after another, but they get no food, and no water, for they are neither hungry nor thirsty. They have not even a desire for the true bread. And having gone through their round of religion, in their blind and ignorant way, they lie down and sleep, and begin again next morning, the same thing all over again, and when they get to the end of their prayers they think that will do.' And by means of this religion of theirs, their hearts become as hard as a millstone, that can neither be broken nor bent. This is proved, as soon as anything happens that crosses their will, you can find out then how impossible it is for them to give way, or yield themselves to God.
|Dear children, when you meet with such people; take care; it is best not to argue with them, but to say a word of warning and then to leave them. You may get a stone thrown at your head, or you may be led to throw a stone in return. One finds great people and small people of this sort, stones and pebbles. Beware of them all.
|I have known such people go to confession, twenty or thirty years, but never once have they truly confessed their sins, and they go to the Sacrament, because they have received absolution.
|But the absolution of the Pope himself would not release them from one of their sins, and the more they go to the Sacrament, and the more they pray, and the more good works they do, the more blind, and hard, and stony and stupid in heart they become, for they grow more and more pleased with themselves, and put more confidence in their goodness. Better were it they did nothing at all, for all will be brought into judgment at last, and then they will find that instead of the fish they expect, God will give them a serpent.
|Meanwhile they work and pray and sing, and read good books, and the world says they are good and pious people. It is Satan who makes their way so smooth, that he may keep them in his dungeon, to all eternity.
|And if any warn them of the awful danger in which they are living, and of the sorrowful end that is before them, they mock such persons, and say they belong to some of these new-fangled sects.
|For them, unless they repent, and confess their sins, there remains nothing but to be shut out of the presence of God for ever.
|Why so?' they say, we should be very sorry to do anything wrong.'
|Think you then that you are doing anything good? You give to God your mutterings and vain repetitions, your reading and your praying, all done with the mouth. But your love, and your heart, that which Christ died to win, you give to yourselves and to other creatures. Ah, for such a service as that the Lord will not give you three beans.
|Such people are the ninety and nine, who are left to themselves, whilst the Lord goes to seek the sheep that was lost.
|Are you lost sheep, dear children? God is not seeking great horses, and strong oxen; not the men who are doing great wonders and great works. He is looking for the small and the weak, and the lost and the forsaken, He is looking only for His sheep.
|O children, what does the Lord do when He finds His sheep at last? He puts it on His shoulder, and He calls His friends and His neighbours together, and He says Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep.'
|The friends and neighbours -- who are they? They are the holy angels, and all the dear friends of the Lord in heaven and on earth. And they all are glad, and the gladness is exceeding great, and all because of this little lost sheep. No one can understand or conceive such joy as that, it is like a bottomless sea.
|Then the Lord holds fast the beloved sheep, and carries it on His shoulder -- and the sheep no longer walks, for He carries it home, and all the work is His alone.
|Before that, dear children, we talked of our works, and did them out of our own minds, but after that, God carries us, and it is He who works all the works in us, and by us. Whether we walk, or stand, or eat, all the works we do are wrought by God in us, we dwell in God and rest in God.
|Let us cast away boldly all outward services and works that hinder that blessed joy of the rest in God, and let our hearts flow forth in love and delight whilst we look unto Jesus, Jesus who died and suffered for us pain and sorrow so sharp and bitter -- Jesus whose precious blood flowed down for us -- Jesus, the eternal God, the everlasting love.
|For the blessed life is not blessed because it is long, nor because it is a life of many works, but because it is love eternal.
|How many men there are who are hard at work in the cornfields, and in the vineyards of noble wine, but who are living on rye-bread and cold water, and who never know what it is to feast upon the finest of the wheat, and the wine of the joy of God.|