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The Discouraged Counselled

by Rev. J. H. Evans

J.H. Evans was pastor of John Street Chapel, Bedford Row, London an independent congregation. This sermon (the introductory paragraphs are omitted) was preached on November 14, 1843. It is from a volume of sermons selected from "The Thursday Penny Pulpit" which gives no biographical detail. It seems that Evans had strong sympathies with the men of the Disruption as on March 17, 1844, he made a collection for the Free Church of Scotland and had Dr. Robert Buchanan of Glasgow preach for him.

Published in thePresbyterian Standard, Issue No. 16, October-December 1999.

"And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way."
– Numbers 21:4.

O NE can hardly look at any subject, that has a greater sweetness and more deep instruction in it, than the true Israel of old as typical of the true Israel of God. In their troubles, in their temptations, in their fears, in their wanderings, in the bread they ate, in the water they drank, in the meat that fed them, and in enemies that surrounded them, one sees that which unfolds our state and our condition at this present moment. And the truth is, that the spiritual Israel had the key of all this in their own hearts; for they lived above their dispensation. They felt themselves a tempted people, and they lived upon that that was the substance; they rose above the type, and they found the reality – CHRIST. They looked forward, and they found their rest in Him.

There are two points for our consideration in this passage before us. First of all, I would remark on some of those discouragements, that do oftentimes assail the people of God in their way; and that will prepare us, secondly, for the consideration of their vast, their unutterable encouragements.

I. Now in introducing this subject, let no-one imagine one would desire to draw a gloomy picture of the religion of the Gospel.

If the religion of the Gospel is not the basis of all happiness, where is happiness to be found? Where can we find it but in a life of faith, a life of hope, a life of prayer, – so far as we live in Christ? Even the very contest, the daily contest has a blessing in it; and every act of self-denial brings with it its own mercy. As I have oftentimes placed before you, oh! how it does rebuke the poor world to nothing, when one says, the very tears of a child of God have more of happiness, than all London – unregenerate London – knows or ever can know. To look up with a blessed hope of acceptance; to realise God as a Father; to repose in Him as our portion; in the deepest view of our sin and sinfulness, to see the complete blotting out of sin in the precious blood-shedding of the Son of God; with the deepest conviction that "our righteousnesses are as filthy rags," to repose in the perfect righteousness of God in our nature; if this be not happiness, where is happiness to be found?

Yet there are peculiar discouragements: circumstances that in themselves have a discouraging tendency. The very path is a strait one. It is a very narrow course, between licentiousness and liberty; between the holy liberty of a child and the abuse of that liberty. I do not say they come near; but I would say, through our depravity we find the way to be very narrow between them. Oh! it is a narrow path – to exalt the free grace of God, and to steer clear of the abuse of that grace; to exalt grace to the uttermost, and yet to lay the sinner under his own responsibility; to glory in election as the very establishing point of our salvation, and yet to say to the sinner, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself ;" to lift up the Saviour's righteousness, and equally to exalt Jesus as oursanctification.

The very path of Truth is a narrow path. The least to the right, and we are beyond the mark; the least to the left, and we verge to error. And if it be so, that the path of truth is so narrow, what is it to walk in it? – to hold fast the truth, to exhibit all earnestness for the truth, and to contend for it in the meekness of truth: to be "not of the world," and to "love not the world," but yet to have pity upon the world: to show at once faithfulness and tenderness: to be upright, and yet gentle: to be courageous, and yet "turn the right cheek" when smitten on the left: to "hold fast one's integrity" (shall I give it you in few words?) amongst our friends, relatives, families. There is that which tries you and me.

Ah! it is a strait and a narrow path. It is not a light thing, to walk with God. It is not a light thing, toaim at it. It is not a light thing, to place this before us as we rise in the morning – "Whether I eat or drink, orwhatsoever I do, doingall to the glory of God." It is not easy, to carry this as the ruling principle in the secret transactions of the day: in little things – talk not of great things – in little things as well as great things. I believe, we are most known in little things. My dear hearers, this very straitness of the path, this narrowness of the path, doth have in it something discouraging.

This path runs through a desert. We may say indeed it does so literally, to thousands and tens of thousands around us, especially in these our days. All the discomforts of existence are theirs – none of its comforts; poverty, wretchedness, penury of bread, lack of clothing, no fire, no friends, hard usage, oppression – horrible oppression I hesitate not to say it, hateful, loathsome oppression; and this, day by day, week by week, and month by month, and year by year. To them, indeed, it is literally a desert.

But it is so spiritually to every man that "knows the plague of his own heart." There is no bread in it, no food in it, no rest in it, no home in it, no shelter in it, no quietness in it. To have quietness, we must rise above it, and live above it. Suppose a man under deep convictions of sin; suppose he is brought to know himself; suppose he is laid low in the dust before God; suppose the eternal Spirit has stripped him of all self-confidence, and brought him low before a heart-searching, rein-trying God: what can the world do for him? Suppose a person under deep bereavement, the husband losing his wife, the wife losing her husband, the father losing perhaps his only child, the child following a beloved parent to the grave: what can the world do for them? Suppose an honest man, yet through the dishonesty of others the ruin of many, it may be of thousands, or tens of thousands, their hopeless ruin: what will the world do for him? Suppose a man in health, robust health, brought at once to sickness, disease, misery, agony: what can the world do for him? I will suppose a stronger case still stronger to those who know what Christ is – a case of great mental darkness; a man that takes up his Bible, but he can find nothing in it to suit his soul; he bends the knee, but he can find no access to God; he hears the truth, but he can find no delight in the truth; he speaks to the saints of God, but he finds no echo to their words in his heart; all seems dark and dreary and desolate: what can the world do for him? Ah! he is passing through a desert, a mere desert. The world has not a thing to give him; it has no relief. I do not deny the sympathy of friends; I do not deny the soothing kindnesses of those who love me; they may mitigate – they cannot heal. The wound is too deep. It requires Omnipotence, it requires the very touch of the "Brother born for adversity," to meet the case. Nothing short of it can meet the case; the world has no power.

Yea, beloved, and this very desert too is full of thorns. Oh! how much a man may feel the puncture of one false doctrine! He takes up a specious book; it is beautiful in style; there is a story in it – that takes thousands in the present day; and beneath the smooth, fair surface, there is some viper some pestilent error, that may cleave to him, and he may have it for years, and years, and years. And all coming through a sanctified-looking man; nay, through a child of God it may be, for a child of God may hold error and pervert the truth; if left to ourselves, what can we not do?

It is a world full of thorns. Oh! how often are we wounded by false brethren! How often, by some fairtalking professor! How often, by some specious hypocrite and varnished deceiver! What cannot wound us? We can wound ourselves. There is not a thing in life, but what may be a thorn to the flesh, and to our spirits too. We are passing through a desert and a thorny world.

There is something also to be considered, in the tediousness of our path. It is sometimes so very tedious: to go on fighting the same enemies, the world and the flesh and the devil. One looks at the believer, in a sense, just as a man struggling with the torrent – as one might look upon a man struggling near the summit of the Falls of Niagara; the moment he stops, the moment he sinks, he is plunged down the cataract. So is it with ourselves; the moment we cease to struggle, that moment we are carried down with the torrent. It is no little trial, to have to meet these constant enemies of ours, ceaseless in their malignity. They cease not for one moment. It is not by the day, it is not by the year; it is all our days, it is all our years.

I will acknowledge, that grace in the believer is a victorious principle; I will acknowledge, that the believer is a conqueror; but one is also constrained to acknowledge, that he is not always a conqueror; he is often worsted in the fight. And this very thing oftentimes makes the way exceedingly tedious and trying to him. To meet an enemy that has mastered me; to have to meet him again! For though finally a victor, and on the whole a victor, yet there is not a believer here, but has been mastered again and again by the enemies of his soul. Oh! it is no light matter, to go on in this way through the desert; it oftentimes seems tiresome to our souls.

And there is one thing, that seems to affect us still more: we have but few companions with us. There are but few in the way: "few there be that find it." Enlarge your hearts as you will in love towards the whole family of God – take a large view, pray for a large heart, pray for width, pray for breadth, pray for largeness – yet beware of letting down the truth, and with that truth before you, you will be forced to acknowledge, "Few there be that find it." If a clear creed, if clear views of doctrine, if a little alteration of conduct, if addicting ourselves to our party – if this is Christianity, then we must change the text, and confess, many "there be that find it;" but if it be walking with God, living in Christ, aiming to please Him, if it be those who "know the plague of their own hearts," and feel sin to be their burden, if this be the characteristic of the family of God, that the desire of their souls is to consecrate themselves to that God, who loved them and gave His Son to die for them, then it still remains a solemn truth, "Few there be that find it." Some that once walked with us, have dropped away; they walk with us no more. Some have never walked with us, though they walk with Christ; they have out-walked us, out-run us, out-talked us. Some rejoice so much, they seem but little affected by the inward plague – though they may yet have to endure it, and will, if they are the children of God; and some there are, that think so much of their plague, they never rejoice. We can have but little communion with them. And some have dropped away, gone away, left the way, because they have entered upon their holy home. Some – oh! it is touching – some that walked once with us in the house of God, and with whom "we took sweet counsel" – where are they? In the world. Awful thought; fearful thought! Oh! it is amongst the things, that make us feel our path to be a trying path; and oftentimes "our soul is much discouraged because of the way."

II. But observe now, secondly, what are those vast encouragements, that ought to cheer, and comfort, and enlarge the heart of a child of God.

What are the reasons, that do so much discourage him? Why, one among many is this: he looks at his way, more than he looks to God. He looks at the trials of his way, more than he looks to the God who has appointed them. For every trial, every crook, every thorn, every briar, every enemy that we meet with, is ordained of God for our soul's good. Oh! if you allow but one thing to the contingency of chance, you may as well acknowledge the whole to be the effect of contingency. My dear brother, to repose in a wisdom that can never be deceived, to repose in a power that nothing can oppose, to repose in a tenderness that nothing can weaken, to repose in a faithfulness that never can be violated, to repose in a love that never can be shaken – this is confidence indeed. This was David's consolation; see how he reasoned. They thought of stoning him; and how did he act? Observe, (1 Sam. 30:6) "David was greatly distressed, for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved; but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Still more striking is the case of Jehoshaphat; observe, it is said, (2 Chron. 17:6) "His heart was lift up in the ways of the Lord;" in the margin – "he was encouraged." So encouraged, that he was lifted up above all circumstances, lifted up above all that was in himself, lifted up above his fears. He was "high and lifted up;" never more truly abased, and yet never so truly lifted up. Oh! my dear hearers, it is a soul's acquaintance with God, that lifts him up above his troubles. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee." "Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace." Oh! that great secret – turning off from our path, looking off our path, looking away from our own way, and looking to Jesus, resting in Him, reposing in Him!

But there are other reasons, that often discourage the believer in his way. He looks more to his way, than he looks to Jesus, who has travelled the same way. Oh! if there be one thing that ought to cheer our souls more than another, surely it is this: every trial, every sorrow, every care, every grief of my heart, my blessed Lord has known before me. His feet have left a sweet perfume in this very way. He has trod it before me. He the great Forerunner, He the prevailing Advocate, He the blessed Mediator, my "Brother born for adversity," my Brother who "sticketh closer than a brother" – He is gone before me in this path; cheering, comforting my soul in the hallowed remembrance of Him.

There is a truth, that would cheer us exceedingly, if we well considered it: that if we talk with any who have walked in this way, if we ask all that have ever trod it, whether there was one soul that ever repented of it, they will all declare – This is the way, the right way, the only way, "the way of pleasantness, the path of peace."

But there is a point, on which I would desire to lay some stress in the consideration of this interesting subject – interesting to me because one feels one's own soul so prone to be "discouraged because of the way:" it is the retracing of one's own mercies in the way. We are but insignificant creatures, we acknowledge; we hardly know how little we are, we hardly know how poor and feeble we are; and yet perhaps, next to this Book, the history of our life would be the most important history we could ever read. What has it been, but the exhibition of thousands of pardons from the heart of God? What has it been but the development of mercies, countless as the sand upon the sea shore? How it has exhibited His comfortings, His restorings, restoring times out of number! the consolations He has poured in, in the hour of distress and sorrow! the anticipations He has given us of glory! Oh! it ought to cheer and animate our souls, in all the paths in which we are travelling.

And besides this, and more than this, how soon it will end in glory! The pathway leads us to our home. What is it, that cheers the weary traveller? It is the happy home before him. What is it, that cheers the soldier, worn out with fatigues, and wasted with disease? Returning home; this is that, that animates him, lifts him up, cheers him, dries his tears, quiets his complainings. Oh! to have the bright prospect of a glorious eternity clear before us! Be assured, there would be less of discouragement, and more of holy confidence, if that were our portion day by day, and hour by hour.

And now, my hear hearers, are you and Iin the way? Have we been brought, through God's wondrous grace, into the way? Have we had our feet turned out of the broad road, into this strait and narrow way? Oh! I would say, then admire and adore the distinguishing grace of God to you-ward. Look into the world; think of the millions, that have never heard of Christ; think of the millions that have heard of Him and despise Him; think of the millions in this our favoured land, that know no more of Christ than the heathen; think of the hundreds of thousands of London only, who are as great "strangers to the covenant of promise," as if there were no such covenant; think of the hundreds upon hundreds, that come and hear sermons week after week, and have never "tasted that the Lord is gracious," and never yet mourned for sin. And then ask, How came it to pass, and how comes it to pass, that you can say, your happiest moments are with God, your rest is in Jesus, your confidence beneath His cross? How comes it to pass, that you can say, 'Still is my back turned upon the world, and my face is Zionwards'? How comes it to pass, thatyou can say to this present moment, "Kept by the power of God"? – and with so many wanderings too, so many mistakes, so many errors, so much going out of the way! Oh! admire and adore the distinguishing grace of God to you-ward, my brother.

There is one thing, that I would desire to lay upon your heart; and that is be abased that you have been so often discouraging your soul in the way. There are some sins, I quite feel persuaded, we think far too little of. If there be gross departures from God in temper, if there be gross departures from God in want of uprightness, if there be gross departures from God in anything, the blessed Spirit lays us low before God; but I believe there are sins we often pass over, make excuses for, and are but little humbled on account of, that are as heinous in His sight. And one is this: that we are so prone to be discouraged in the ways of God. What! with all the covenant of grace in our behalf, what! with a covenant Father for our portion, an interceding Saviour for our all, an indwelling Spirit for our sustainer, what! with all the promises of God in our behalf, is it a light thing, is it a little sin, that we so discourage ourselves in the ways of our God?

You that are parents, ye little think what a sermon ye read your children, when they see you discouraged in the ways of God. Children are more accurate reasoners, than you oftentimes think them to be. If a child sees a parent in trouble cast down, in difficulties disheartened, making the most of sorrows, passing through the world but little lifted up in God on account of His promising mercies, what is the conclusion that child will draw? 'It is easy for my father to say there is a God to go to, it is easy for my mother to say there is a God that promises to uphold, but the conduct answers not to it, the conduct belies it; how can that be true, that is not found to be a reality, when it is wanted?' Oh! ye little know how it weakens your testimony, when ye show your heart discouraged in the ways of your God!

And see what are the blessed effects of showing a strong confidence in the Lord. What weight does it give, what importance does it attach, when the spirit seems under the anointing of the Spirit of adoption, and when quietness, patience, holy confidence in God, is the motto of our day, and carried out in our life! Oh! we little know the strength of that principle, when it animates the heart, and shows itself in the conduct.

Be assured of this, my dear hearers, that there is no cause for a child of God to be "discouraged because of the way." This is his motto – "Strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." See what the apostle Paul felt. "This one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Did he look at his way? He pressed forward. Didhe look at his difficulties? He leaned upon Christ. Washe overcome by the straitness of his path? He leaned the more entirely upon his Beloved. He looked off himself to Jesus, found his strength in Jesus, went forward, went upward, and "pressed toward the mark." And what was the confidence that he had? "I can do all things, through Christ which strengtheneth me." Oh! blessed, happy path!

My dear hearers, are any of you, at this present moment, cast down by reason of the way? We are but few in number; yet it may be, we have such trials and such difficulties in our path, that we may say to all the assembled saints upon earth, and all the saints in heaven, 'Ye cannot relieve me.' Who can ? A covenant God can; a faithful Jesus can; a comforting Spirit can; a covenant "ordered in all things and sure," can. "The promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" – this is enough. May you and I find it to be enough, day by day, and hour by hour!

The Lord condescend to give us His blessing-His own blessing – a Father's blessing; doing better for us than we can ask or think, and cheering our souls with the bright prospect, the glorious hope before us, so soon to be realised in the hearts of all that know and love the Lord, in an eternity of glory, purity, holiness, and happiness.