I always appreciate Spurgeon’s sermons, as they always provide good material for devotion and meditation. Yet Spurgeon, as with all of us, had his high marks, better sermons—though this is somewhat subjective; we all have our favorite sermons. Spurgeon’s textual preaching often shows itself in heavily allegorical sermons, in which Spurgeon makes great points, all biblically correct—yet what does it have to do with this particular passage of scripture? Thus, Spurgeon’s best sermons, for me at least, are the ones that most relate to the actual text, a more expository style of considering the content of the text itself. In previous posts I have noted a few of these, such as one about King David and his wife Michal’s scorn. I recently read another good, on-topic sermon, from the 1866 volume: sermon #704, about the last recorded incident in Hezekiah’s life—his visit with the Babylonian ambassadors.
In this sermon Spurgeon considers all the circumstances of the event and temptations for pride: Hezekiah’s background up to this point; the great favor he had been shown, the miraculous deliverance from the Assyrian army, the sun changing its course for him. Spurgeon even adds another interesting point, one that we have lost a sense of in our day of modern medicine, a point also brought up recently by Al Mohler:
Halfway through the lecture, Oberman, through no fault of our own, became exasperated with the class. “Young men,” he said, “you will never understand Luther because you go to bed every night confident you will wake up healthy in the morning. In Luther’s day, people thought that every day could be their last. They had no antibiotics. They didn’t have modern medicine. Sickness and death came swiftly.”
This idea certainly is brought out frequently in the reading of Spurgeon and other pre-20th century preachers—the uncertainty of life, of death at any time—and thus Spurgeon observed this in Hezekiah’s case also:
Remember also that he (King Hezekiah) had this to try him above everything else—he had the certainty of living 15 years. …Mortals as we are, in danger of dying at any moment, yet we grow secure; but give us 15 years certain and I know not that heaven above would be high enough for our heads, or whether the whole world would be large enough to contain the swellings of our pride. We would be sure to grow vain-gloriously great if the check of constant mortality were removed. The king might in his self-complacent moments have said to himself, “Not only am I thus immortal for 15 years, but the very heavens have been disturbed for me. See what a favorite of heaven I am!” He did not say with David, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars which You have ordained, what is man, that You are mindful of him?”
Spurgeon also addressed the issue of our relationships and offenses, how we expect more from those closer to us, and how God expects more from us, His people, than from unbelievers:
When we admit persons into intimacy and reveal our hearts to them, we expect them to act toward us with a tenderness and a delicacy which it were utterly unreasonable to expect in strangers, and we judge their actions by a peculiar standard; we weigh as it were, the actions of ordinary men in the common rough scales which would not turn with an ounce or even a pound, but the doings of our friends we weigh in such sensitive balances that even though it were but a feather from the wing of a fly the scale would turn. It is a solemn thing to be a favorite of heaven, for where another man may sin with impunity, the beloved of God will not offend without grievous chastisement.
Another sin of Hezekiah’s was his unholy silence concerning his God. When given the opportunity of meeting the Babylonian ambassadors, he should have been giving praises to God instead of boasting of himself.
Meanwhile, mark that Hezekiah sadly made up for his silence about his God by loudly boasting about himself. If he had little to say of his God, he had much to say about his spices, his armor, and his gold and silver; and I dare say he took them to see the conduit and the pool which he had made, and the various other wonders of engineering which he had carried out. Ah, brothers and sisters, etiquette lets us talk of men, but about our God we must be silent. God forbid we should defer to such a rule. Hezekiah did as good as say, while he was showing them all his wealth, “See what a great man I am!”
After considering the numerous aspects of Hezekiah’s sin – including his delight in the company of the unbelieving ambassadors, leaning toward alliance with them, and putting himself on their level, focusing on material possessions – this sermon considers the punishment and the pardon. The consequences are not removed, but we must humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. For our own application, several lessons:
- See, then, what is in every man’s heart.
- tremble at anything that is likely to bring out this evil of your heart.
- cry out every day against vainglory, and
- see the sorrow which it will bring you, and if you would escape that sorrow imitate Hezekiah and humble yourself.
- Finally, let us cry to God never to leave us.
Spurgeon’s conclusion on this last point is a great prayer, so needed by all of us:
Lord, keep me everywhere! Keep me in the valley that I murmur not of my low estate! Keep me on the mountain that I become not giddy through pride at my being lifted up so high! Keep me in my youth, when my passions are strong! Keep me in my old age, when I am conceited of my wisdom, and may therefore be a greater fool than even the young! Keep me when I come to die, lest at the very last I should deny You! Keep me living, keep me dying, keep me laboring, keep me suffering, keep me fighting, keep me resting, keep me everywhere, for everywhere I need You, O my God.
Continuing in James White’s Holiness Code series, the following three messages look at Leviticus 19:
Many misconceptions have abounded regarding this chapter. Some have taken a superficial look at what seem to be miscellaneous or “sundry” laws, all thrown together, and treat this chapter as a justification for claiming that the Mosaic law was “all one law,” with no distinction between moral, civil and ceremonial aspects. The general idea that the Mosaic law, and especially Leviticus 19, was “only for the Jews,” persists with many evangelicals, who have discarded this portion of God’s word as completely irrelevant to Christians today.
Then, especially ironic, are the unbelievers who quip that we should put aside all those antiquated, “iron age morality” ideas, and just love our neighbor as ourselves; they who object to the words against homosexuality, found in Leviticus 18 and 20, are completely unaware that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is also found here – sandwiched in between those two chapters, here in Leviticus 19. Leviticus 19 also answers the modern evangelical idea that in the Old Testament age everything with Israel was all about externals only, nothing about their heart motive (the erroneous NCT idea that Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was something completely new and unknown before that point: verse 17 says “you shall not hate your brother in your heart.”
White instead approaches Leviticus 19 from the perspective of Israel as the covenant people of God; how should the people of God live? Similar to handling the book of Proverbs, we look at the context – which in this case is not necessarily the immediate verses around it, but the same idea expressed elsewhere in God’s word—in this case, similar passages in Deuteronomy. The context includes also the actual practices of the pagans surrounding Israel, and also, especially, the moral precept behind the laws, which pertain to our relationship to our neighbor as well as or our relationship to God (such as verses 26-31, in reference to idolatry – the negative commands as well as the positive in verse 30).
What about verse 19, the laws forbidding the breeding of different kinds of cattle, the sowing of different kinds of seed, or garments of different materials? Some of the laws were not in themselves moral, but had the purpose of keeping God’s people separate from the rest of the world. These laws emphasized separateness, dedication and purity (not mixing, no division, in regards to your cattle, seed, and garments). Another interesting feature, seen in these laws, is that to be in covenant relationship with God meant a disadvantage, in the world’s economy, compared to other people. The laws regarding cattle, seed, and garments, brought a disadvantage compared to the worldings – as did laws in this chapter that curbed greed and provided for the poor (harvesting, gleaning the fields, verses 9-10) . Unregenerate Israelites would chafe under the restrictions, but the true, regenerate believer in relationship with God (and such did exist in the Old Covenant era; mankind have always been saved by faith, some Israelites were regenerate believers) would be willing to accept these disadvantages, trusting that God will take care of us and He is first in our lives.
James White’s “The Holiness Code for Today” is a very interesting and edifying series, one that looks at texts generally ignored and not taught in sermons or Bible teaching. Later lessons in this series look at Leviticus 20, chapters in Deuteronomy, and will address the issue of slavery in the Bible, noting the differences between Hebrew slavery, Roman slavery, and our own, much later history, American Slavery.