“O you hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be as a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?” —Jer. 14:8
Every now and then I read an old sermon that seems to bring me under conviction. I came across this sermon by Robert Murray McCheyne entitled, “Why is God a Stranger in the Land?” In the message, he highlights the spiritual stupor that had come over much of Scotland in the 1800’s, and the found the root of that stupor in the failings of Scotlands ministers, believers, and even the unconverted. I offer here the first two points of the sermon, addressing the Ministers and the Christians; reading in this message many things that apply even in our day.
Caution: no one comes away from this reading without at least some rebuke!
In most parts of our land, it is to be feared that God is a stranger, and like a wayfaring man who turneth aside to tarry for a night. What are the reasons why God is such a stranger in this land?
I. In ministers.—Let us begin with those who bear the vessels of the sanctuary.
(1.) It is to be feared there is much unfaithful preaching to the unconverted. Jeremiah complained of this in his day: “They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Is there no reason for the same complaint in our own day? The great part of all our congregations are out of Christ, and lying night and day under the wrath of the Lord God Almighty; and yet it is to be feared that the most of the minister’s anxiety and painstaking is not taken up about them, that his sermons are not chiefly occupied with their case… There is little of this persuading spirit among ministers now. How can we wonder that the dry bones are very, very dry—that God is a stranger in the land?
(2.) It is to be feared there is much unfaithfulness in setting forth Christ as a refuge for sinners. When a sinner is newly converted, he would fain persuade every one to come to Christ,—the way is so plain, so easy, so precious. He thinks, Oh, if I were but a minister, how I would persuade men! But oh, how little is there of this among ministers… Many do not make it the end of their ministry to testify of Jesus as the hiding-place for sinners… We do not invite sinners tenderly; we do not gently woo them to Christ; we do not authoritatively bid them to the marriage; we do not compel them to come in; we do not travail in birth till Christ be formed in them the hope of glory. Oh, who can wonder that God is such a stranger in the land?
II. In Christian people
(1.) In regard to the word of God. There seems little thirst for hearing the word of God among Christians now. As a delicate stomach makes a man eat sparingly, so most Christians seem sparing in their diet in our day. Many Christians seem to mingle pride with the hearing of the word. They come rather as judges than as children.
(2.) In regard to prayer. There is much ploughing and much sowing, but very little harrowing in of the seed by prayer. God and your conscience are witnesses how little you pray. You know you would be men of power if you were men of prayer, and yet ye will not pray. Unstable as water, you do not excel. Luther set apart his three best hours for prayer. How few Luthers we have now!
It is to be feared there is little intercession among Christians now. The high priest carried the names of the children of Israel upon his shoulders and breast when he drew near to God—a picture of what Christ now does, and all Christians should do. God and your conscience are witnesses how little you intercede for your children, your servants, your neighbours, the church of your fathers, and the wicked on every side of you,—how little you pray for ministers, for the gift of the Spirit, for the conversion of the world,—how selfish you are even in your prayers!
It is to be feared there is little union in prayer. Christians are ashamed to meet together to pray. Christ has promised, “If two of you shall agree on earth, touching something that ye shall ask, it shall be done for you of my Father.” Many Christians neglect this promise. In the Acts, we find that when the apostles and disciples were praying together, “the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” Oh, how often and how long have we despised this way of obtaining the outpouring of the Spirit! Do not some persons speak slightingly of united prayer? Here is one reason why God commands the clouds that they rain no rain on us. He waits till we seek Him together, and then He will open the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing. Oh that all Christians would lift up the cry, “Oh the hope of Israel!”