Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday evening, 25th October, 1953
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare
ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."
MARK introduces us to his Gospel with a quotation from the Old Testament. It is a sombre picture that Isaiah presents and which Mark feels exemplifies the situation in his own time. Isaiah made the declaration to a people in exile, bewildered and at a loss to know how national life could be restored. Mark refers to the days prior to the birth of our Lord when the religion of the synagogue was unrelated to the deep emotions and spiritual needs of the people. The institution that ought to have been the instrument of national blessing was itself spiritually incompetent, although still claiming spiritual rights and powers that were in truth a masquerade.
The words "desert" and "wilderness" accurately suit the
situation for the times of Isaiah and Mark as, indeed, they do for our own time
as well. Making highways in the desert when one has lost all sense of direction
is no easy matter. Finding springs when every attraction is a mirage is desolating
in the extreme. Yet to Isaiah and to Mark the outlook was as forbidding as the
desert. A way out was needed, but who should tell the direction? It is a tragedy
indeed when guides are blind, when those who profess the light have no experience
of it and when, as they are followed, there is nothing at the end but exhaustion
and despair. All issues in the life of mankind go back to God. There is no circumstance
or situation from which God is absent. He is basic to all the real solutions
of men, no matter how the trouble or difficulty is expressed. We are in a wilderness
now, men have lost their way, the springs are unknown, and in such a time as
this the cry of the prophet and of the evangelist is
the cry of the Church: "Prepare ye the way of thc Lord, make His paths straight."
Two truths are implicit in the text. First, that the hour for God to work has come. He wants and intends to do a new thing, to set His people free and to step in, personally, into the arena of men. Carnal Christians place their confidence in men who have no clear purpose, and ask God to bless their efforts. Enlightened Christians believe that God has His own purpose. It is that purpose that alone has any abiding value, and that God will most assuredly pursue. It is a purpose hidden in the main, from the people whose eyes are darkened, but brought to manifestation in the glory of the Lord, which, as Isaiah, in the same passage of his prophecy, declares, all flesh shall see together. If therefore, any generation of Christians is in line with prophetic and apostolic truth, it will hear the call to prepare, it will obey it and keep steadily in its view the hour when all flesh shall see the glory of God. It is for that that Isaiah cries, it is that which the evangelists echo, and it is that word "Prepare" which must animate and inspire the people of God to day.
What, then, can we do to prepare the way of the Lord? The answer will not, of course, be clear until we are well assured in our own hearts that God designs to act. We may be sure that He does and that the times in which we are living are critical. It is obvious that it is a matter of time only before the whole of our civilisation will disintegrate. Here in London are 2,800 men who have so little regard for their responsibility to the society in which they live, that they are prepared to bring the life of London to a standstill. It is not isolated, it is symptomatic of our times. Life is difficult enough for most and they are prepared to make it more so. In every direction it is the same, and anybody can see that unless a new spirit is created amongst mankind, the future is hopeless. The new era will certainly come in one way, although I think it will come in in twoways. It is bound to be consummated in the glory of the coming of the Lord, and that coming I think may be in the lifetime of the present generation. It will also come, I believe, in a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all God's chosen, elect and believing people. For these two tremendous interventions of God we are to prepare the way. How shall it be done? What shall be our preparation?
1) THE DEDICATION OF THE INDIVIDUAL
The world is composed of millions of people just like each one of us. Our feelings and emotions are shared by all and if there is any trouble in the world, it is trouble of the kind and character within our own hearts. Hence any preparation for the way of the Lord must be personal. Now, it is a hallmark of the darkness of democracy that it wants a new world without any interference with the desires of the individual. The world wants to put things right, God wants to put men right. Hence, if we are in any real sense to prepare the way of the Lord and to make His paths straight, we must deal with the way in our own heart and the paths must be straightened out within.
The Scriptures teach us plainly that not one of us is able to detect his own sin or to judge his own heart. God only can make us to know our transgression and our sin. Therefore, we must dismiss that self-righteous attitude that refuses to think there is any wrong within and to submit ourselves to God that we may know what is our true condition. God never reveals sin in the believer until we submit to His judgement without reserve, and it is this that constitutes the first step in preparation.
If this step is definitely taken, then inevitably we shall be brought to a consideration of the life and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. For however much we may truly believe that we have received the Holy Spirit, we may not be giving Him His liberty in our lives. How the Spirit prepares the way of the Lord in the heart of the believer we may read in the Scriptures and see in the lives of God's saints. We may appreciate the mighty working of the Spirit in the life of another, and even desire it in our own experience, without recognising that in some way we have arrested His activity in our hearts. We must, therefore, be prepared for the way of the Lord by the exercise of the Spirit upon our carnal nature. We must see, believe and sincerely commit ourselves to that way of the Cross that brings to death the old nature within us in order that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith and the Spirit may be free to manifest the will of God to us and to bring us to the doing of it.
What can we do in a practical way in regard to our own hearts? We may be here this evening with a definite conviction of a known and recognised sin. We know it and may in some sense deplore it, and yet have to acknowledge that it is so deeply rooted in our affections that we cannot deal with it. Actually the sinner or the saint is quite unable to deal with the power of any sin. All we can do, all we must do and all we need to do is to keep it before the Lord as a recognised sin and ask Him to deal with its power in our hearts. That will surely be preparing the way of the Lord and we count upon deliverance by His grace. Or the sin or sins may not be recognised. All we know is that having, as children of God, received the Holy Spirit, we are, nevertheless, conscious of a strange paralysis, a helplessness in which the things of God are a vain aspiration and the pull of the world almost invincible. There is no way out but to confess the state as one which is other than the will of God and therefore sin, and to ask the Lord to make us to know our sin and to deliver us from its power. Such a prayer will surely prepare the way of the Lord.
While it is true that oftentimes God has to exaggerate in one individual a truth in order to bring home its importance to all, nevertheless we should note well in the lives of apostles and of saints their zeal for God, their love for the Word of God and their devotion in prayer. We should candidly recognise without reserve that if the way, of the Lord was fully prepared in our hearts, we, too, should be men and women manifesting our greatest enthusiasm in the holy things of God. Do not let any one of us further excuse himself or herself, or view with equanimity our deadness towards God, but let us stir up ourselves by the grace of God to prepare the way of the our own hearts.
No Christian can give God a chance in his life until he resolutely sets aside time every day to wait upon God to listen to His voice through the Word, and without hesitation commit themselves to obedience in what He shows them. That practice in itself, pursued resolutely day by day would bring the light of the Holy Spirit in a new way, and with the light there would be power and love.
2) THE DEDICATION OF THE CHURCH
Only as individuals respond can a Church respond. If individuals make straight the paths of God in their lives, they will inevitably see what to do in the life of the Church. We do not know what to do in the Church because we do not will to do in our own hearts. When a Church really begins to prepare the way of the Lord it will manifest certain characteristics. It will begin with the meetings for prayer. Now it may well be possible that prayer meetings are dull, but that can only be because they are in fact dull by reason of the low standard of life of individual believers, or they appear dull because Christians have no desire for them. No doubt the Third programme on the B.B.C. is dull for most people, but that may not be a criticism of the programme but a reflection on those who do not enjoy classical music. If we feel that in the prayer meeting there are long gaps of silence, let us come along and fill one of them. If too many prayers are too long and wearisome, let us come along and present our petitions more briefly. If some speak incoherently and cannot be heard or understood, let us help the meeting with a prayer that can be heard and to which all the people may say "Amen."
Of this we may be sure, nothing will prepare the way of the Lord in a Church without seasons of prayer. If a Christian has no real interest in the gathering for prayer, he has no real spiritual value for the Church. We shall know that the way of the Lord is being prepared when our School Hall is filled every Monday night, when members are eager to come, arranging their affairs to keep that evening free and counting it most important.
It will be manifested no less when we constrain everything to a unity. Satan is always seeking to create division in a Church, and if he cannot do that he creates diversion. All the subsidiary societies in a Church should work to a unity. That unity is expressed in a fostering of the family spirit and the family spirit is where all the members find a common life together. In the home you may find grandparents, parents and children. While they may be occupied in different ways, yet they gather into a unity. All this is important because in almost all our Churches we have so divided and sub-divided our interests that a young person never really joins the Church at all! Their names are placed on the Church register, but in their own consciousness they are engrossed in only one aspect of its life and witness. It seems to be altogether wrong that a Church should institute a meeting for the study of the Bible and that time and labour should be exerted for it, and then the night is quite impossible for many who, for their own soul's good, should be there. The problem is not easily solved, but the Church should arouse itself to see that there is something radically wrong when the main meetings of the Fellowship are depleted permanently through the many encroachments of other demands. Let us be sure the way of the Lord in a Church will be promoted by the Church, gathering as a Church, praying as a Church, meditating together on the Word with a sense of our oneness in the Word.
To this I would add that the way of the Lord can never be prepared without love. Every believer who seeks to promote love, unity, forgiveness, and kindness, is preparing the way of the Lord. Let us be done with harsh words, unkind actions; let us ask the Lord to cleanse our hearts from unworthy thoughts about others. When we think upon these things and begin to cherish love, we shall as a Church be preparing the way of the Lord.
3) THE DEDICATION OF THE MESSAGE
In this Church there is probably little difference of judgement concerning
the supremacy of the message that centres in Jesus Christ our Lord. The Church
of the Living God can alone give that message, and it is so committed to it
that it can give no other. We here believe that the minister should be wholly
devoted to it, and in that absorption in it he should have no time for the secular
interests of the world. "Let the dead bury the dead," said
our Lord, "but go thou and preach the Gospel."
But there are other aspects of this matter, which we need to remember. Any one of us can be so involved in religious work that we fail to bear our witness and testimony. I am not sure that I am happy about teams of witness and such like; for I do not think anybody should give their testimony except with a view to leading others to the Saviour. It is so easy to give a testimony, which rather reflects on oneself than speaks to the conscience of those who listen.
When, however, we are preparing the way of the Lord we shall be like the apostles who could not hold their peace. The impetus within us will be of God, the longing for the salvation of men and women will be a spiritual travail, and the issues of life and death, the tragedy of the lost, the passion of the blood will be facts so real that our hearts will be truly burdened not only on account of the dire needs of others, but for the satisfying of the heart of our Lord. We shall find ourselves as individuals under real pressure from the Spirit and instinctively we shall be sharing with our Lord in the suffering agony of a lost world.
If revival came to the church the members would have a new sense of the blessing of salvation and would come to the services anticipating with joy the manifestation of the work of God in grace. We should come with great desire and longing and with equal faith and we should see God working. God forbid that we should ever attempt to stimulate the work of God but at least as we go home this evening we should feel that this is what should have happened and we might begin to pray that it may happen. As Sunday by Sunday the drought continues, the prayer for the showers will increase until what we know should be will be, and the way of the Lord will have been prepared.
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