THE BEGINNING, INCREASE AND END OF THE CHRISTIAN’S PILGRIMAGE
(A comforting sermon for all of God’s Elect who are vexed with fears and disquieted with doubts)
“Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase.” [Job 8:7]
We have here a great principle—a principle against which none can ever contend. The beginning of the godly and the upright man may be but very small, but his latter end shall greatly increase. Evil things may seem to begin well, but they end badly; there is the flash and the glare, but afterwards the darkness and the black ash. They promise fairly: their sun rises in the zenith, and then speedily sets, never to rise again. Evil things begin as mountains; they end as mole-hills. You sail upon their ocean at first, and as you sail onward it shrinks into a river, and afterwards into a dry bed, if not into burning sands. Ay, the path of evil is down hill, from its sunny summits, to its dark ravines—from the loftiness, which it assumes when it professes to be a cherub, to that lowliness in which it finds itself to be a fiend. Evil goeth downward; it hath its great things first, and then its terrible things last.
No so, however, with good. With good the beginning is even small; but its latter end doth greatly increase. “The path of the just is as the shining light,” which sheds a few flickering rays at first, which exercises a combat with the darkness, but it “shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” [Prov 4:18]
The principle, then, upon which I have to speak this morning, is this,—that though the beginnings of good things are small, yet their latter end shall greatly increase. Instead, however, of dealing with this as a mere doctrine, I propose to use it practically; assume the fact, and then make a practical use of it. Three ends shall I hope to serve—first, TO QUIET THE FEARS OF THOSE WHO ARE BUT BEGINNERS IN GRACE; SECONDLY, TO CONFIRM THEIR FAITH; AND, THIRDLY, TO QUICKEN THEIR DILIGENCE.
First, then, for THE QUIETING OF YOUR FEARS. Perhaps thy first fear, if I put it into words, is this:—”My beginning is so small that I cannot tell when it did begin, and therefore, methinks I cannot have been converted, but am still in the gall of bitterness.” O beloved! How many thousands like thyself have been exercised with doubts upon this point! They were not converted in an instant; they were not stricken down as in the Revivals; they were not nerved with terrible alarms, such as John Bunyan describeth in his “Grace Abounding;” but they were called of God, as was Lydia, by a still small voice.
Their hearts were gradually and happily opened to receive the truth; it was not as if a tornado or a hurricane rushed through their spirits; but a soft zephyr below, and they lived and came to God. And you doubt, do you, because from this very reason you cannot tell WHEN you were generated; it is but necessary for you to know that YOU ARE SO. If thou canst set no date to the BEGINNING of thy faith, yet if thou dost believe NOW, thou art saved. If in thy diary there stands no red-letter day in which thy sins were pardoned, and thy soul accepted, yet if thy trust be in Jesus only, this very day thou art pardoned, and thou art accepted, despite thy ignorance of the time when.
God’s promises bear no date; our notes are dated because there is a time when they run due, and we are apt to forget them; God’s promises bear none, and his gifts sometimes do not bear any. If thou art saved—though the date be erased—yet do thou rejoice and triumph evermore in the Lord thy God.
True, there are some of us who can remember the precise spot where we first found the Saviour. The day will never be forgotten when these eyes looked to the cross of Christ and found their tears all wiped away. But thousands in the fold of Jesus know not when they were brought in; be it enough for them to know they are there. Let them feed upon the pasture, let them lie down beside the still waters for whether they came by night or by day they did not come at a forbidden hour. Whether they came in youth or in old age, it matters not; all times are acceptable with God, “and whosoever cometh,” come he when he may, “he will in no wise cast out.”
Another doubt also arises from this point. “Ah! sir,” saith a timid Christian, “it is not merely the absence of all date to my conversion, but the extreme weakness of the grace I have.” “Ah,” saith one, “I sometimes think I have a little faith, but it is so mingled with unbelief, distrust, and incredulity, that I can hardly think it is God’s gift, the faith of God’s elect. I hope sometimes I have a little love, but it is such a beginning, such a mere spark, that I cannot think it is the love which God the Holy Spirit breathes into the soul; my beginning is so exceeding small, that I have to look, and look, and look again, at times, before I can discern it for myself. If I have faith, it is but as a grain of mustard seed, and I fear it will never be that goodly tree, in the midst of whose branches the birds of the air might rest.”
Courage, my brother, courage; however small the beginnings of grace, they are such beginnings that they shall have a glorious end. WHEN GOD BEGINS TO BUILD, IF HE LAY BUT ONE SINGLE STONE HE WILL FINISH THE STRUCTURE; when Christ sits down to weave, though he casts the shuttle but once, and that time the thread was so filmy as scarcely to be discernable, he will nevertheless continue till the piece is finished, and the whole is wrought. If thy faith be never so little, yet it is immortal, and that immortality may well compensate for its littleness. A spark of grace is a spark of Deity—as soon may Deity be quenched as to quench grace—that grace within thy soul given thee of the Spirit shall continue to burn, and he who gave it shall fan it with his own soft breath, for “he will not quench the smoking flax;” he will bring it to a fire, and afterwards to a furnace, till thy faith shall attain to the full assurance of understanding.
Oh! Let not the littleness of God’s beginnings stagger you. Who would think, if he stood at the source of the Thames, that it would ever be such a river as it is—making this city rich? So little is it that a child might stop it with his hand, and but a handful of miry clay might dam its course, but there it rolls a mighty river that man cannot stop. And so shall it be with thee; thy faith is so little that it seems not to exist at all, and thy love so faint that it can scarcely be called love, but thy latter end shall greatly increase, till thou shalt become strong and do exploits; the babe shall become a giant; and he that stumbled at every straw shall move mountains, and make the very hills to shake.
Having thus spoken upon two fears, which are the result of these small beginnings, let me now try to quiet another. “Ah!” saith the heir of heaven, “I do hope that in me grace hath commenced its work, but my fear is, that such frail faith as mine will never stand the test of years. I am,” saith he, “so weak, that one temptation would be too much for me; how then can I hope to pass through yonder forest of spears held in the hands of valiant enemies? A drop makes me tremble, how shall I stem the roaring flood of life and death? Let but one arrow fly from hell it penetrates my tender flesh; what then if Satan shall empty his quiver? I shall surely fall by the hand of the enemy. My beginnings are so small that I am certain they will soon come to their end, and that end must be black despair.”
Be of good courage, brother, have done with that fear once for all; it is true, as thou sayest, the temptation will be too much for THEE, but what hast THOU to do with it? Heaven is not to be won by THY might, but by the might of HIM who has promised heaven to thee; thy crown of life is to be obtained, not by THY ARM, but by THAT ARM which now holds it out, and bids thee run towards it. If thy perseverance rested upon thyself thou couldst not persevere an hour; if spiritual life depended on itself it would be like the shooting-star, which makes a shining trail for a moment and then is gone; but thanks be unto God, it is written—”Because I live, ye shall live also.” “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
“The feeblest saint shall win the day,
Though death and hell obstruct the way,”
because that feeble saint is girded with Jehovah’s strength.
Thus have I dealt with a third fear. Let me seek to quiet and pacify one other fear. “Nay, but,” say you, “I never can be saved; for when I look at other people, at God’s own true children,—I am ashamed to say it,—I am but a miserable copy of them. So far from attaining to the image of my Master, I fear I am not even like my Master’s servants. Look at such-an-one, how he preaches the truth with power, what fluency he has in prayer, what service he undertakes! But I—I am such a beginner in grace, that –
‘Hosannas languish on my tongue,
And my devotion dies.’
I live at a poor dying rate. I sometimes run, but oftener creep, and seldom or ever fly. Where others are shaking mountains, I am stumbling over mole-hills. The saints seem to bestride this narrow world like some great colossus, but I walk under their huge legs, and peep about, to find myself a poor dishonoured slave. I have no power, no strength, no might.”
Pause, brother, pause; stop thy murmuring for a moment. If some little star in the sky should declare it was not a star, because it did not shine as brightly as Sirius or Arcturus, how foolish would be its argument! If the moon should insist upon it that she was never made by God, because she could not shine as brightly as the sun, fie on her pale face, that she cannot be content to be what her Lord hath made her! If the nettle would not bloom, because it was not a pine, and if the hyssop on the wall refused to grow, because it was not a cedar, oh! What dislocation would there be in the noble frame of this universe! If these murmurings that vex us vexed the whole of God’s creatures, then were this earth a howling wilderness indeed.
Now, let me talk to thee a moment, to calm thy fears. Hast thou, my brother, ever learned to distinguish between grace and gifts? For know that they are marvellously dissimilar. A man may be saved who has not a grain of gifts; but NO MAN CAN BE SAVED WHO HATH NO GRACE. Yonder brother who prayed, yonder friend who preaches, yonder sister who spoke—all these perhaps acted so well, because God had given them excellent gifts. It might not be that it was because of grace. When you are in the prayer-meeting, and hear a brother extremely fluent, remember that there are men quite as fluent about their daily business, and that FLUENCY IS NOT FERVENCY, and that even the appearance of fervency is not absolutely an evidence that there is fervency in the soul. If thou art so mean a thing that thou canst not spell a word in any book, or put six words together grammatically, if thou canst offer no prayer in public, if thou art so poor a scholar that every fool is wiser than thou art, yet if thou hast grace in thy heart, thou art saved, and that is the matter in point just now, whether thou art saved or not.
“Covet earnestly the BEST gifts;” but still, sit not down and murmur because thou hast them not, for ONE GRAIN OF GRACE OUTWEIGHS A POUND OF GIFTS; one particle of grace is far more precious than all the gifts that Byron ever had, or that Shakespeare ever possessed within his soul, vast and almost infinite though the gifts of those men certainly were.
And yet another question would I put to you. My dear brother, have you ever learned to distinguish between grace that saves, and the grace which develops itself afterwards? Remember, there are some graces that are absolutely necessary to the saving of the soul; there are some others that are only necessary to its comfort.
Faith, for instance, is absolutely necessary for salvation; but assurance is not. Love is indispensible; but that high degree of love which induces the martyr’s spirit, does not reign in the breast of ever one, even of those who are saved. The possession of grace in some degree is needful to salvation; but the possession of grace in the highest degree, though it be extremely desirable, is not absolutely necessary for an entrance into heaven.
Bethink thee, then, thus to thyself, if I be the meanest lamb in Jesus’ fold, I would be happy to think that I am in the flock; if I be the smallest babe in Jesus’ family, I will bless his name to think that I have a portion among the sanctified. If I be the smallest jewel in the Saviour’s crown, I will glisten and shine as best I can, to the praise of him that bought me with his blood. If I cannot make such swelling music in the orchestra of heaven as the pealing organ may, then will I be but as a bruised reed, which may emit some faint melody. If I cannot be the beacon fire that scares a continent, and throws its light across the deep, I will seek to be the glow-worm that may at least let the weary traveller know something of its whereabouts.
O Christians! Ye that have but little beginnings, quiet your fears; for these little beginnings, if they be of God, will save your soul, and you may in this rejoice, yes, rejoice exceedingly.
[ Read the full sermon – http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0311.htm ]