A CALL TO NATIONAL REPENTANCE
(Re-printed from The Gospel Standard, September 1982)
Sermon preached by J. K. Popham at Galeed Chapel, Brighton, on January 3rd, 1932, the day appointed by King George V for national prayer. How many of the solemn things said on that occasion are even more needful today!
Our King wishes that today prayer be made for the nation. As a loyal Protestant congregation we obey. We have grievously sinned in departing from the living God and His pure worship and holy Gospel. Prayer, therefore, to be acceptable must be accompanied with confession. May we thus pray. For my text I will read:
Text: “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord” (Lam. 3:40).
There was one particularly solemn word in the chapter I read just now (Jer. 13): “Be not proud.” May the Lord grant that individually we may not be proud. I suppose with regard to England, there never was a nation that more needed to heed that word, “Be not proud.” We are deeply humbled now. One of the saddest things to myself that I read in the daily Press is what many leading men, so called, are saying. “We will get through, we will hold on.” No recognition of God. I am sorry that Parliament has made no recognition of God in this case. I am glad the King recognises Him. But what becomes us is in the text, “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.”
Israel had turned away from Him. The beginning of all evil is turning away from God. You who do not know Him and do not fear Him, if grace prevent not, will prove the truth of that; the beginning of all evil is turning away from God. Go back to Adam. Happy he was in the happiest imaginable position; but he turned away from Him who had placed him in that position. The result to himself personally was to be driven out of Eden; and to his posterity, to us personally, driven away from happiness, because we went away from God. Search this. You will say that you never turned away from God. “Be not proud.” The Pharisee was proud – he strutted up into the temple to pray, and boldly boasted; but God took no favourable notice of him. “Be not proud,” and do not say, “What have we done?” Do not say, “What has England done to deserve all this that has come, and more (one would fear) that is coming?”
I know England has been favoured, and speaking naturally, we may well feel proud that we are English people. I am proud naturally to be an Englishman. England has been greatly honoured; she has done much good. And there are two or three things which I long have believed will stand her in good stead, as God is a God of judgment, and deals with men and with nations according to their deeds. One is this: that since the Reformation, that blessed Reformation that God gave to us, we have never persecuted the Jews. Abraham’s seed has never been oppressed by us. And the second thing is, the very high privilege that God has given to us to scatter by innumerable millions His Holy Scriptures. We have thus far been a nation honoured to honour Him in that great particular. May that be continued to us. We have need of the word, “Let us search and try our ways.”
Shall we begin at the bottom, that is to say, shall we begin with ourselves? I think that would be the best thing. Shall I begin with the pulpit? You might think, if I were to tell you what passes between God and myself night and day (often in the night), that I was exaggerating. There is great reason for the pulpit to be searched. Let the church of God take heed to this.
Has the Minister always sought God’s honour? Has be been diligent in seeking the good of his hearers? Has he laboured for them night and day, that they may be brought to God, and matches be made between Christ and souls? Has he sought to pull down human nature, to trample that beast under his foot in the pulpit? Has he sought always to encourage the life of God, wherever it might be in any poor creature?
Let the hearers search themselves, and “be not proud.” How have you come? Have many tears dropped on the pavements as you have trodden them to come? Have many sighs risen up from your oppressed hearts to God that He would bless you? That He would open your hearts to the Word? That you might not reject it, even though it pleased you not? Have your ears been open to reproof? Have you received reproof, reproof unintended personally, yet appointed by God? Have you rejected such reproof? Or have you been enabled to humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God?
Let us divide ourselves as to families. How have we lived? How has the husband behaved? How has the wife conducted herself? How have the children walked? How have the masters ruled? How have the servants obeyed? Has God been feared and obeyed in all these relations? Has He been first in them? “Let us search and try our ways.” Is there not a blight on your blessings and do you seek the reason? Is there affliction in the church? Does it humble you? Is there affliction in your families? Does it exercise you? Does it bring you before the Lord to enquire why? Not to enquire fretfully why, but to enquire humbly, feeling sin, guilt?
Now I would for a moment we should just exclude ourselves from all men, and examine ourselves as it becomes us, and prostrate ourselves before Almighty God omniscient; believing that not only our outward lives, but our inward lives, the very thought of our minds and the imaginations of the thoughts of our hearts, our idle words and foolish speeches, and jesting which is not convenient, are evil. Let us look at these things. I must be personal, though I am not intending any one person in the congregation; yet these things must be personal to you. Who would dare in this congregation to stand up and say, “Lord, Thou knowest I am an innocent person?” If then we be guilty; if by searching we find out imperfections; if some sins are on the skirts of garments, so that anyone may read them; and yet if deeper and deeper there be things in our hearts which God may never allow a neighbour to know – if we see these things, may we be enabled to humble ourselves.
Now let us rise, and go to the highest rank, to our King and our Queen. It would be good, in my opinion, if one were raised up to say to them, “Humble yourselves, sit down; your principalities shall come down, even the crown of your glory.” What other nation in the world has been favoured as we have been? And the King has partaken of the benefits of God. The Lord knows that I am an intensely loyal subject, and desire not to say any improper or seemingly disloyal word; it is common knowledge that what is forbidden to royalty has been done by royalty in this nation. That is to say, friendship has been made with the Pope; and not one but many have said that therefore the crown has been forfeited. It is an evil thing to make friendship with the enemy of God and man. God will deal with that. We must leave that, but God will deal with it. O! it would be becoming the King and Queen to humble themselves and to sit down. Look at the solemn threatening: “Shall not My soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” the King representing and influencing it.
Take the nobility of the land. Very few of them comparatively, as far as we know by the Press of their public lives, may be said to set a good example to us.
Let us search the religious teachers and teaching, and what have we? There are few colleges in England that own openly, and steadfastly acknowledge the inspiration of Scripture, Holy Scripture. Modernism has invaded the colleges, and this inspired Book is criticised; and students of the Bible have discovered by their learning and the “assured results” of their scholarship that this Book is not entirely inspired. Where were these men when God mysteriously possessed and inspired a writer of one part of Holy Scripture to write profane history, what parts to write and how to express those parts; or when God would express to man His decrees, and took possession of a man of God and, whilst not in the least affecting or destroying his personality and idiosyncrasy, but using them, made him an infallible pen to write Divine decrees and mysteries? I have long held the opinion, and have expressed it, that very much of the profanity that mars England today is the immediate result of Modernist teaching.
If any of you in this congregation should be left to reject the Scriptures as uninspired, then there will be let loose your passions in some form, and no restraint from them will be upon you; because if this Book, which we proclaim to be inspired of God, be not inspired, and you receive that infidel statement, why should you respect it as sacred and binding? If God has not given it by inspiration, what claim has He on you for your respect and obedience to it? Profanity results from denying the Scriptures. It is in the national church where you would hardly expect it. In the great bodies of Non-conformists it prevails; and where young men are trained to be Ministers, they are not required to pass any test with regard to Scripture doctrine.
Now this of course is out of my usual way, but we have to search out why this nation is under God’s heavy hand of displeasure and judgment. There is plenty of gold in the world, but it is locked up chiefly by two nations. Plenty of food, but there is not enough money to purchase it for all. Plenty of clothing, but there is not the wherewith to purchase it. Why? Answer, “God is angry with the wicked every day.” And His judgments are ripening.
Let this, then, be part of your business and mine, to “search and try our ways.” Let us examine ourselves, and examine the nation as far as we know its conduct; and we shall find that the word I have quoted has marvellous application. Would that it were applied: “Be not proud.” “Only acknowledge thine iniquity;” only confess that nationally we have turned away from God; that personally we have turned away from God; that every station and every relation in life is more or less tainted by sin, tainted in the root, even in fallen nature; and in all the branches of our national life.
We are influenced by example; everyone is under some kind of influence. No creature is independent of all others; everyone has some influence over another. Mind your friendships, young people; be careful of your friendships, be careful of your books. I often think of a very old friend of mine, who has been in Heaven nearly fifty years. When he was offered the loan of a book, which he heard was erroneous, he said, “Thank you, I won’t try how much poison I can take without killing myself.” Be careful of your reading. Be careful of your friendships. Watch your actions. Remember God sees every action of your heart, every action of your mind, every word of your tongue, every thought and every wish. It is a very serious thing to be a creature; very solemn and awful to be a sinner; and may the Lord grant that we may be diligent in this prescribed word, this prescribed obligation, “Let us search and try our ways.”
If we are to “search and try our ways,” there must be a standard. You cannot try anything without a standard. To try what seems to be gold, you must have a standard. Now what is our standard? The Bible. What is the standard for a creature as such? That he should “love God with all his heart, and all his mind and all his soul and all his strength, and his neighbour as himself” – the two first great commandments. Not one person in this congregation is exempt from that standard. It is your duty, it is my duty, as God’s creatures, to obey Him in that awful, solemn, exacting claim. It is His claim on us. O sinner, how do you stand here, when you try your ways by that word? Do you love God? Do you serve Him with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your strength? Do you love your neighbour as yourself? This is the standard. What is the standard for my neighbour with regard to myself and my conduct to him? To do to him as I would he should do to me. Judge righteous judgment. Bad habits are not easily broken off. If now you have contracted the bad habit of judging without knowing both sides of the question, then you have sinned, and you will find it very hard to break that habit; only pray that it may be broken for you.
What is the standard for sinners who have broken the law, who have been convinced of their having broken the law; who know there is no escape from the wrath to come by the law? Sinner, what is your standard? “Search and try.” It is this: when a sinner is convinced, and says, “What shall I do to be saved?” – says the Scripture, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Now search. How many Christians are there in this congregation?
This nation will be found guilty by the one standard – the inspired Bible. It was the Word of God in the hand of the Spirit by which the Reformation came, by which the nation grew in righteousness, strength and importance. Time was when we could say to the Pope that his evil deeds in some particulars must cease; and they ceased. God was with us. We honoured His Word, and He honoured us. But now we have dishonoured Him, and are more and more dishonouring Him. We have rejected His Word, and what wisdom is in us? The further we go from our only Defence, our Help, the more will He afflict us.
But we will now look at the second part of the text: “And turn again to the Lord.” Allow me to repeat what I just now said; “The beginning of evil is turning away from God.” Here I say, “The beginning of wisdom and righteousness is turning again to Him.”
There may be a national turning again to Him. Reformation principles should be taken up and practised. Friendship with the Pope of Rome and the apostate Church should be broken. The holy, inspired and inerrant Scripture should be restored to its proper place and honoured, and false Modernist teachers should have neither hearers nor readers. Then Arminianism would lose its attraction. A proper observance and keeping of the Lord’s Day would gladden the people of God. The morals of the nation would speedily improve, and beautiful chastity would adorn many homes now torn and desolated by the breach of the most sacred vows.
The Church of God would be revived. The famine of the Word, which is now being experienced in many places, would cease out of the land of promise, and the reproach of famine would be removed. Israel’s Glory would appear, even the Lord Jesus. What hearings there would be, as with authority true Ministers would preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ!” Then would be the promised sweet mourning for the pierced Saviour, looked upon by the eye of faith; also a walking, as Divinely led, by the rivers of water in a straight way, while the voice of the Bridegroom and the voice of the Bride would be heard. This gracious turning would be marked by sincere confession and forsaking of sin. You cannot sin wilfully if you have grace.
Then this turning to the Lord is to worship Him. Idolatry was the cause of Israel’s defeats and captivities and their shame. Truly to worship God is to worship in spirit and in truth. The names of idols are cast out by the Lord. “God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Where is He worshipped? In His own house, His tabernacle, which is with men. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” So when we turn again to the Lord by the grace of the Spirit, we worship God in Christ as in first love. There is an infinite depth in that word which we commonly use when we conclude the service: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost.” There is a depth unfathomable to ourselves also in Christ’s word; “If ye shall ask anything in My Name, I will do it.” Do you worship God in Christ when you attempt to pray? Is He set before you again? Does the Gospel shine as formerly, as the glorious Gospel of Christ, so as that when you kneel before Him, or when you are walking or working, or on your beds, your hearts kneel before Him, and plead, “For Christ’s sake?”
To turn again to Him is to ask Him to revive, to renew, to forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses; forgive this turning away from Thee of which we have been guilty, and are now convinced.” To turn to Him is to turn to the atonement of Jesus Christ. “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
The blood of Christ, a precious blood,
Cleanseth from all sin – doubt it not
And reconciles the soul to God,
From every folly, every fault.”
This turning again is to seek that God’s hand should be upon the Man of His right hand, upon the Son of Man whom He made strong for Himself; that the wasted vineyard might be restored (Psa. 80).
When Jerusalem was in captivity, she remembered her Sabbaths; she had despised them, now she remembered them; but she fled before the pursuer without strength. She was in a sad condition, and she said, “The Lord has done it. He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out. He hath made my chain heavy.” Do you feel that – that your chain is made heavy, that you cannot escape the condition into which you are brought? “Be not proud.” Humble yourself, sit down; sit down until God shall lift you up. If He has put you in the dust, do not attempt to get out of it by any means of your own. All escape from an evil condition that is not made by God is a worse evil and captivity. It is only getting into something worse.
To turn again to the Lord is to turn to the Holy Ghost; and many a time you may say to Him, “O Thou Divine Spirit, I rejected Thy influences, Thy touches, Thy checks on my conscience; and I gave way to sin. I turned from the Heavenly counsel, I hardened my heart against Thy fear, and rebelled and vexed Thee, and Thou hast fought against me in my conscience. But O, now mercifully return to me, and cause me to return to God.” Let us return again to God.
To turn again to Him is to be sorry for our sin. David said, “I said, I will be sorry for my sin.” Every child of God, brought by the Spirit rightly to the throne of grace, is really sorry for his sin. It is to turn to the simple worship of God; away from the many devices that men make; but to turn in simplicity with nakedness of your sin, the shame of your sin, the grief for your sin, all which God works; and then you ask Him that He would take away those evils, guilt and shame and the weakness and the pain, and heal you by the blood of Christ. “Heal me, O Lord, for I have sinned. My bones are vexed, for I have sinned.”
This is one of the blessed privileges and blessings we get by prayer. Approach the throne of grace. There Jesus sits upon the throne; there He is to welcome sinners. And the bread which they, being hungry, ask of Him, is His own flesh. He gives them this bread to eat. He gives them to see the love that sent Him, the love that brought Him, the curse that overtook Him, the death that He died, the life that He now lives at the right hand of God, ever to intercede for His people. They get a sight of Him. It is not a fancy; it is not a notion in the head; it is not a doctrine dry and hard in the judgment. It is a real, living truth in their souls, the effect of which may to their sense quickly pass away, but never wholly. It will be revived by the Spirit in the memory from time to time.
One day you may be before God sensible of your guiltiness, when there may come to you a sight of the infinite value of the death of Christ. That sight you will never totally forget, if once you have it – the infinite value of the death of Christ. I heard two voices in my heart the other day. I was with one voice confessing my sins and my sinfulness; and in a moment the other voice was this – of the worth of Christ, the death of Christ, the infinite worth of His precious blood. Peace comes that way. And this is obtained by prayer: “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” It is in the covenant, it is an absolute truth – the infinite value of the death of Christ. Says God to His people “You need this, ask Me for it; you will die without it, ask Me for it, come and pray for it; I will be inquired of. It is already provided for you; now come and receive it.” This is a good Gospel; therefore pray for it.
Another sweet mercy attending prayer is this, that the Lord causes His voice to be heard. We heard it “in the secret place of thunder,” the law; and now we hear it occasionally in the everlasting Gospel. When you ask Him to let you know that He loves you, He may let that word fall that has fallen on thousands of hearts: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love”; or He may bring it to you as it is said in John’s Gospel: “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” And this kiss comes from Heaven. You can say, “I did not fetch it, it came; I had an open hand, I had a hungry heart, I had a needy soul, I had a bad case; and with them I went to the Lord, and He graciously spoke to me.” This is what God does to His people when they pray. “I will be inquired of. It is a mercy that they need, a mercy that I have eternally in My covenant of grace provided for them; and I will answer when they call on Me.” When you pray earnestly, out of real need, for the revelation of Jesus Christ to you, you will receive it one day.
“Sudden He stands confessed; we look, and all is light.”
This is different from general ideas of Christ and of knowing Him as light is different from darkness. It is a living thing, a true experience that the Holy Ghost gives as “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge” of Christ; whereby the soul sees Him, feels Him, embraces Him, closes with Him, receives Him fully as the Lord his Righteousness, as the Redeemer, as the ever-living Intercessor. The sinner receives a revealed Christ. It is a true experience. Perhaps comparatively few today have received it, for this is a grievously dark day with us, and the church of God manifests it by her leanness and her ignorance of “the secret of the Lord.” But when by the Holy Ghost some pray, then they are heard. You will be sure to receive it if you are led to go for it.
“Christ has blessings to impart,
Grace to save thee from thy fears.
O the love that fills His heart!
Sinner, wipe away thy tears.”
This is what comes in answer to prayer – full deliverance.
When the Lord’s people are in tribulation, then they pray. He said by Moses, “When thou art in tribulation….if thou turn to the Lord,” He will remember His covenant, and He will come and bless you, restore you. So His people find it. When you are in trouble, in tribulation that makes you pray, “Lord, help me to bear it, sanctify it to me; whatever I miss in this affliction, do not let me miss the sanctification of it to my soul,” it is a good thing. There is such a blessing as sanctified affliction, a being bettered by the cross. It will enable you to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes.” “Before I was afflicted I went astray.” So it is a good thing.
Now let me just say a word in conclusion: that is, it will be a mercy if ascending prayer today enters into the ear of the Lord God of Sabaoth, if this nation should be heard by Him. And if He will not take away all the judgments that are threatening, that the portentous, black clouds may not entirely empty themselves upon us, that there might at least be a mitigation, a moderation – it will be a great matter. Only do not expect more than there is prayer for. I put it so: as prayer is, so will come returns. If prayer be formal, without heart, there will be no returns; but if it be sincere, and by the Holy Ghost, attended with confession and forsaking, then answers, returns will come; for God is a Hearer of prayer.
In persons, in churches, in nations, He is the Hearer of prayer. Many a poor church has been revived when God has stirred up one or two to seek His face. Cyrus was moved to proclaim liberty to the captives, to go to Jerusalem and build a house; and then there were two or three particular men raised up to be leaders in the reformation and in the return. They were men of prayer. Who knows if the Lord will return, and leave a blessing behind Him? May the Ministers of the Lord weep between the porch and the altar, and cry, “Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach.”
May the Lord hear us, and accept us in this our offering up of prayer before Him and to Him, seeing that we have grievously sinned against Him. Amen.
1. See, gracious God, before thy throne
Thy mourning people bend;
’Tis on thy sovereign grace alone
Our humble hopes depend.
2. Tremendous judgments from thy hand
Thy dreadful power display;
Yet mercy spares this guilty land,
And still we live to pray.
3. Great God! and why is Britain spared?
Ungrateful as we are;
O make thy awful warnings heard,
While mercy cries, Forbear!
4. What numerous crimes increasing rise
Through this apostate isle!
What land as favoured of the skies,
And yet what land so vile!
5. How changed, alas, are truths divine,
For error, guilt and shame!
What impious numbers, bold in sin,
Disgrace the Christian name!
6. Regardless of thy smile or frown,
Their pleasures they require;
And sink with gay indifference down
To everlasting fire.
7. O turn us, turn us, mighty Lord,
By thy resistless grace;
Then shall our hearts obey thy word,
And humbly seek thy face;
8. Then, should insulting foes invade,
We shall not sink in fear;
Secure of never-failing aid,
If God, our God, is near.