"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found."--ISA. lv: 6.
Isaiah stands head and shoulders above the other Old Testament authors in vivid descriptiveness of Christ. Other prophets give an outline of our Saviour's features. Some of them present, as it were, the side face of Christ; others a bust of Christ; but Isaiah gives us the full-length portrait of Christ. Other Scripture writers excel in some things. Ezekiel more weird, David more pathetic, Solomon more epigrammatic, Habakkuk more sublime; but when you want to see Christ coming out from the gates of prophecy in all His grandeur and glory, you involuntarily turn to Isaiah. So that if the prophecies in regard to Christ might be called the "Oratorio of the Messiah," the writing of Isaiah is the "Hallelujah Chorus," where all the batons wave and all the trumpets come in. Isaiah was not a man picked up out of insignificance by inspiration. He was known and honored. Josephus, and Philo, and Sirach extolled him in their writings. What Paul was among the apostles, Isaiah was among the prophets.
My text finds him standing on a mountain of inspiration, looking out into the future, beholding Christ advancing and anxious that all men might know Him; his voice rings down the ages: "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found." "Oh," says some one: "that was for olden times." No, my hearer. If you have traveled in other lands you have taken a circular letter of credit from some banking-house in New York, and in St. Petersburg, or Venice, or Rome, or Antwerp, or Brussels, or Paris; you presented that letter and got financial help immediately. And I want you to understand that the text, instead of being appropriate for one age, or for one land, is a circular letter for all ages and for all lands, and wherever it is presented for help, the help comes: "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found."
I come, to-day, with no hair-spun theories of religion, with no nice distinctions, with no elaborate disquisition; but with a plain talk on the matters of personal religion. I feel that the sermon I preach this morning will be the savor of life unto life, or of death unto death. In other words, the Gospel of Christ is a powerful medicine: it either kills or cures. There are those who say: "I would like to become a Christian, I have been waiting a good while for the right kind of influences to come;" and still you are waiting. You are wiser in worldly things than you are in religious things. If you want to get to Albany, you go to the Grand Central Depot, or to the steam-boat wharf, and, having got your ticket, you do not sit down on the wharf or sit in the depot; you get aboard the boat or train. And yet there are men who say they are waiting to get to heaven--waiting, waiting, but not with intelligent waiting, or they would get on board the line of Christian influences that would bear them into the kingdom of God.
Now you know very well that to seek a thing is to search for it with earnest endeavor. If you want to see a certain man in New York, and there is a matter of $10,000 connected with your seeing him, and you can not at first find him, you do not give up the search. You look in the directory, but can not find the name; you go in circles where you think, perhaps, he may mingle, and, having found the part of the city where he lives, but perhaps not knowing the street, you go through street after street, and from block to block, and you keep on searching for weeks and for months.
You say: "It is a matter of $10,000 whether I see him or not." Oh, that men were as persistent in seeking for Christ! Had you one half that persistence you would long ago have found Him who is the joy of the forgiven spirit. We may pay our debts, we may attend church, we may relieve the poor, we may be public benefactors, and yet all our life disobey the text, never seek God, never gain heaven. Oh, that the Spirit of God would help this morning while I try to show you, in carrying out the idea of my text, first, how to seek the Lord, and in the next place, when to seek Him. "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found."
I remark, in the first place, you are to seek the Lord through earnest and believing prayer. God is not an autocrat or a despot seated on a throne, with His arms resting on brazen lions, and a sentinel pacing up and down at the foot of the throne. God is a father seated in a bower, waiting for His children to come and climb on His knee, and get His kiss and His benediction. Prayer is the cup with which we go to the "fountain of living water," and dip up refreshment for our thirsty soul. Grace does not come to the heart as we set a cask at the corner of the house to catch the rain in the shower. It is a pulley fastened to the throne of God, which we pull, bringing the blessing.
I do not care so much what posture you take in prayer, nor how large an amount of voice you use. You might get down on your face before God, if you did not pray right inwardly, and there would be no response. You might cry at the top of your voice, and unless you had a believing spirit within, your cry would not go further up than the shout of a plow-boy to his oxen. Prayer must be believing, earnest, loving. You are in your house some summer day, and a shower comes up, and a bird, affrighted, darts into the window, and wheels about the room. You seize it. You smooth its ruffled plumage. You feel its fluttering heart. You say, "Poor thing, poor thing!" Now, a prayer goes out of the storm of this world into the window of God's mercy, and He catches it, and He feels its fluttering pulse, and He puts it in His own bosom of affection and safety. Prayer is a warm, ardent, pulsating exercise. It is the electric battery which, touched, thrills to the throne of God! It is the diving-bell in which we go down into the depths of God's mercy and bring up "pearls of great price." There was an instance where prayer made the waves of the Gennesaret solid as Russ pavement. Oh, how many wonderful things prayer has accomplished! Have you ever tried it? In the days when the Scotch Covenanters were persecuted, and the enemies were after them, one of the head men among the Covenanters prayed: "Oh, Lord, we be as dead men unless Thou shalt help us! Oh, Lord, throw the lap of Thy cloak over these poor things!" And instantly a Scotch mist enveloped and hid the persecuted from their persecutors--the promise literally fulfilled: "While they are yet speaking I will hear."
Oh, impenitent soul, have you ever tried the power of prayer? God says: "He is loving, and faithful, and patient." Do you believe that? You are told that Christ came to save sinners. Do you believe that? You are told that all you have to do to get the pardon of the Gospel is to ask for it. Do you believe that? Then come to Him and say: "Oh, Lord! I know Thou canst not lie. Thou hast told me to come for pardon, and I could get it. I come, Lord. Keep Thy promise, and liberate my captive soul."
Oh, that you might have an altar in the parlor, in the kitchen, in the store, in the barn, for Christ will be willing to come again to the manger to hear prayer. He would come in your place of business, as He confronted Matthew, the tax commissioner. If a measure should come before Congress that you thought would ruin the nation, how you would send in petitions and remonstrances! And yet there has been enough sin in your heart to ruin it forever, and you have never remonstrated or petitioned against it. If your physical health failed, and you had the means, you would go and spend the summer in Germany, and the winter in Italy, and you would think it a very cheap outlay if you had to go all round the earth to get back your physical health. Have you made any effort, any expenditure, any exertion for your immortal and spiritual health? No, you have not taken one step.
O that you might now begin to seek after God with earnest prayer. Some of you have been working for years and years for the support of your families. Have you given one half day to the working out of your salvation with fear and trembling? You came here this morning with an earnest purpose, I take it, as I have come hither with an earnest purpose, and we meet face to face, and I tell you, first of all, if you want to find the Lord, you must pray, and pray, and pray.
I remark again, you must seek the Lord through Bible study. The Bible is the newest book in the world. "Oh," you say, "it was made hundreds of years ago, and the learned men of King James translated it hundreds of years ago." I confute that idea by telling you it is not five minutes old, when God, by His blessed Spirit, retranslates it into the heart. If you will, in the seeking of the way of life through Scripture study, implore God's light to fall upon the page, you will find that these promises are not one second old, and that they drop straight from the throne of God into your heart.
There are many people to whom the Bible does not amount to much. If they merely look at the outside beauty, why it will no more lead them to Christ than Washington's farewell address or the Koran of Mohammed or the Shaster of the Hindoos. It is the inward light of God's Word you must get or die. I went up to the church of the Madeleine, in Paris, and looked at the doors which were the most wonderfully constructed I ever saw, and I could have stayed there for a whole week; but I had only a little time, so, having glanced at the wonderful carving on the doors, I passed in and looked at the radiant altars, and the sculptured dome. Alas, that so many stop at the outside door of God's Holy Word, looking at the rhetorical beauties, instead of going in and looking at the altars of sacrifice and the dome of God's mercy and salvation that hovers over penitent and believing souls!
O my friends! if you merely want to study the laws of language, do not go to the Bible. It was not made for that. Take "Howe's Elements of Criticism"--it will be better than the Bible for that. If you want to study metaphysics, better than the Bible will be the writings of William Hamilton. But if you want to know how to have sin pardoned, and at last to gain the blessedness of Heaven, search the Scriptures, "for in them ye have eternal life."
When people are anxious about their souls--and there are some such here to-day--there are those who recommend good books. That is all right. But I want to tell you that the Bible is the best book under such circumstances. Baxter wrote "A Call to the Unconverted," but the Bible is the best call to the unconverted. Philip Doddridge wrote "The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul," but the Bible is the best rise and progress. John Angell James wrote "Advice to the Anxious Inquirer," but the Bible is the best advice to the anxious inquirer.
O, the Bible is the very book you need, anxious and inquiring soul! A dying soldier said to his mate: "Comrade, give me a drop!" The comrade shook up the canteen, and said: "There isn't a drop of water in the canteen." "Oh," said the dying soldier, "that's not what I want; feel in my knapsack for my Bible," and his comrade found the Bible, and read him a few of the gracious promises, and the dying soldier said: "Ah, that's what I want. There isn't anything like the Bible for a dying soldier, is there, my comrade?" O blessed book while we live! Blessed book when we die!
I remark, again, we must seek God through church ordinances. "What," say you, "can't a man be saved without going to church?" I reply, there are men, I suppose, in glory, who have never seen a church: but the church is the ordained means by which we are to be brought to God; and if truth affects us when we are alone, it affects us more mightily when we are in the assembly--the feelings of others emphasizing our own feelings. The great law of sympathy comes into play, and a truth that would take hold only with the grasp of a sick man, beats mightily against the soul with a thousand heart-throbs.
When you come into the religious circle, come only with one notion, and only for one purpose--to find the way to Christ. When I see people critical about sermons, and critical about tones of voice, and critical about sermonic delivery, they make me think of a man in prison. He is condemned to death, but an officer of the government brings a pardon and puts it through the wicket of the prison, and says: "Here is your pardon. Come and get it." "What! Do you expect me to take that pardon offered with such a voice as you have, with such an awkward manner as you have? I would rather die than so compromise my rhetorical notions!" Ah, the man does not say that; he takes it! It is his life. He does not care how it is handed to him. And if, this morning, that pardon from the throne of God is offered to our souls, should we not seize it, regardless of all criticism, feeling that it is a matter of heaven or hell?
But I come now to the last part of my text. It tells us when we are to seek the Lord. "While He may be found." When is that? Old age? You may not see old age. To-morrow? You may not see to-morrow. To-night? You may not see to-night. Now! O if I could only write on every heart in three capital letters, that word N-O-W--Now!
Sin is an awful disease. I hear people say with a toss of the head and with a trivial manner: "Oh, yes, I'm a sinner." Sin is an awful disease. It is leprosy. It is dropsy. It is consumption. It is all moral disorders in one. Now you know there is a crisis in a disease. Perhaps you have had some illustration of it in your family. Sometimes the physician has called, and he has looked at the patient and said: "That case was simple enough; but the crisis has passed. If you had called me yesterday, or this morning, I could have cured the patient. It is too late now; the crisis has passed." Just so it is in the spiritual treatment of the soul--there is a crisis. Before that, life! After that, death! O my dear brother, as you love your soul do not let the crisis pass unattended to!
There are some here who can remember instances in life when, if they had bought a certain property, they would have become very rich. A few acres that would have cost them almost nothing were offered them. They refused them. Afterward a large village or city sprung up on those acres of ground, and they see what a mistake they made in not buying the property. There was an opportunity of getting it. It never came back again. And so it is in regard to a man's spiritual and eternal fortune. There is a chance; if you let that go, perhaps it never comes back. Certainly, that one never comes back.
A gentleman told me that at the battle of Gettysburg he stood upon a height looking off upon the conflicting armies. He said it was the most exciting moment of his life; now one army seeming to triumph, and now the other. After awhile the host wheeled in such a way that he knew in five minutes the whole question would be decided. He said the emotion was almost unbearable. There is just such a time to-day with you, O impenitent soul!--the forces of light on the one side, and the siege-guns of hell on the other side, and in a few moments the matter will be settled for eternity.
There is a time which mercy has set for leaving port. If you are on board before that, you will get a passage for heaven. If you are not on board, you miss your passage for heaven. As in law courts a case is sometimes adjourned from term to term, and from year to year till the bill of costs eats up the entire estate, so there are men who are adjourning the matter of religion from time to time, and from year to year, until heavenly bliss is the bill of costs the man will have to pay for it.
Why defer this matter, oh, my dear hearer? Have you any idea that sin will wear out? that it will evaporate? that it will relax its grasp? that you may find religion as a man accidentally finds a lost pocket-book? Ah, no! No man ever became a Christian by accident, or by the relaxing of sin. The embarrassments are all the time increasing. The hosts of darkness are recruiting, and the longer you postpone this matter the steeper the path will become. I ask those men who are before me this morning, whether, in the ten or fifteen years they have passed in the postponement of these matters, they have come any nearer God or heaven?
I would not be afraid to challenge this whole audience, so far as they may not have found the peace of the Gospel, in regard to the matter. Your hearts, you are willing frankly to tell me, are becoming harder and harder, and that if you come to Christ it will be more of an undertaking now than it ever would have been before. Oh, fly for refuge! The avenger of blood is on the track! The throne of judgment will soon be set; and, if you have anything to do toward your eternal salvation, you had better do it now, for the redemption of your soul is precious, and it ceaseth forever!
Oh, if men could only catch just one glimpse of Christ, I know they would love Him! Your heart leaps at the sight of a glorious sunrise or sunset. Can you be without emotion as the Sun of Righteousness rises behind Calvary, and sets behind Joseph's sepulcher? He is a blessed Saviour! Every nation has its type of beauty. There is German beauty, and Swiss beauty, and Italian beauty, and English beauty; but I care not in what land a man first looks at Christ, he pronounces Him "chief among ten thousand, and the One altogether lovely." O my blessed Jesus! Light in darkness! The Rock on which I build! The Captain of Salvation! My joy! My strength! How strange it is that men can not love Thee!
The diamond districts of Brazil are carefully guarded, and a man does not get in there except by a pass from the government; but the love of Christ is a diamond district we may all enter, and pick up treasures for eternity. Oh, cry for mercy! "To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." There is a way of opposing the mercy of God too long, and then there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversary. My friends, my neighbors, what can I say to induce you to attend to this matter--to attend to it now? Time is flying, flying--the city clock joining my voice this moment, seeming to say to you, "Now is the time! Now is the time!" Oh, put it not off!
Why should I stand here and plead, and you sit there? It is your immortal soul. It is a soul that shall never die. It is a soul that must soon appear before God for review. Why throw away your chance for heaven? Why plunge off into darkness when all the gates of glory are open? Why become a castaway from God when you can sit upon the throne? Why will ye die miserably when eternal life is offered you, and it will cost you nothing but just willingness to accept it? "Come, for all things are now ready." Come, Christ is ready, pardon is ready! The Church is ready. Heaven is ready. You will never find a more convenient season, if you should live fifty years more, than this very one. Reject this, and you may die in your sins. Why do I say this? Is it to frighten your soul? Oh, no! It is to persuade you. I show you the peril. I show you the escape. Would I not be a coward beyond all excuse, if, believing that this great audience must soon be launched into the eternal world, and that all who believe in Christ shall be saved, and that all who reject Christ will be lost--would I not be the veriest coward on earth to hide that truth or to stand before you with a cold, or even a placid manner? My dear brethren, now is the day of your redemption.
It is very certain that you and I must soon appear before God in judgment. We can not escape it. The Bible says: "Every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him, and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him." On that day all our advantages will come up for our glory or for our discomfiture--every prayer, every sermon, every exhortatory remark, every reproof, every call of grace; and while the heavens are rolling away like a scroll, and the world is being destroyed, your destiny and my destiny will be announced. Alas! alas! if on that day it is found that we have neglected these matters. We may throw them off now. We can not then. We will all be in earnest then. But no pardon then. No offer of salvation then. No rescue then. Driven away in our wickedness--banished, exiled, forever!
Have you ever imagined what will be the soliloquy of the soul on that day unpardoned, as it looks back upon its past life? "Oh," says the soul, "I had glorious Sabbaths! There was one Sabbath in autumn when I was invited to Christ. There was a Sabbath morning when Jesus stood and spread out His arm and invited me to His holy heart. I refused Him. I have destroyed myself. I have no one else to blame. Ruin complete! Darkness unpitying, deep, eternal! I am lost! Notwithstanding all the opportunities I have had of being saved, I am lost! O Thou long-suffering Lord God Almighty, I am lost! O day of judgment, I am lost! O father, mother, brother, sister, child in glory, I am lost!" And then as the tide goes out, your soul goes out with it--further from God, further from happiness, and I hear your voice fainter, and fainter, and fainter: "Lost! Lost! Lost! Lost! Lost!" O ye dying, yet immortal men, "seek the Lord while He may be found."
But I want you to take the hint of the text that I have no time to dwell on--the hint that there is a time when He can not be found. There is a man in New York, eighty years of age, who said to a clergyman who came in, "Do you think that a man at eighty years of age can get pardoned?" "Oh, yes," said the clergyman. The old man said: "I can't; when I was twenty years of age--I am now eighty years--the Spirit of God came to my soul, and I felt the importance of attending to these things, but I put it off. I rejected God, and since then I have had no feeling." "Well," said the minister, "wouldn't you like to have me pray with you?" "Yes," replied the old man, "but it will do no good. You can pray with me if you like to." The minister knelt down and prayed, and commended the man's soul to God. It seemed to have no effect upon him. After awhile the last hour of the man's life came, and through his delirium a spark of intelligence seemed to flash, and with his last breath he said; "I shall never be forgiven!" "O seek the Lord while He may be found."