“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Matthew 5:5
Spiritual poverty is a miserable feeling of soul-emptiness before God, an inward sinking sensation that there is nothing in our hearts spiritually good, nothing which can deliver us from the justly merited wrath of God, or save us from the lowest hell. And intimately blended with the poignant feelings of guilt and condemnation, there is a spiritual consciousness that there is such a thing enjoyed by the elect as the Spirit of adoption, that there are such sweet realities as divine manifestations, that the blood of Jesus Christ is sprinkled by the Holy Ghost upon the consciences of the redeemed to cleanse them from all guilt and filth. And thus by comparing its own wants with their blessings, and having an inward light wherein the truth of God’s word is seen, and an inward life whereby it is felt, a soul wading in the depths of spiritual poverty, is brought to feel that it must be the manifestation of the light of God’s countenance which can alone deliver; that it must be the testimony of God spoken by his own lips to the heart that alone can save; and that the want of this is the want of everything that can manifest it to be a vessel of mercy here, and fit it for, as well as carry it into, eternal glory and bliss hereafter.
To be poor, then, is to have this wretched emptiness of spirit, this nakedness and destitution of soul before God. Nor is it, perhaps, ever more deeply felt than in the lonely watches of the night, when no eye can see, nor ear hear, but the eye and ear of Jehovah; in these solemn moments of deep recollection, when the stillness and darkness around us are but the counterpart of the stillness and darkness of the soul, he that is spiritually poor often feels how empty he is of everything heavenly and divine, a sinking wretch without a grain of godliness; and without drawing too rigid a line of exclusion, we may unhesitatingly say that he who has never thus known what it is to groan before the Lord with breakings-forth of heart as a needy, naked wretch, he that has never felt his miserable destitution and emptiness before the eyes of a heart-searching God, has not yet experienced what it is to be spiritually poor.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” Psalm 84:7
As the Lord is true, no spiritual pilgrim will ever fall and die in the valley of Baca. Some may fear that through temptation their strong passions or boiling lusts will one day break out and destroy them. No, not if they are pilgrims. “Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” Others may think they never shall have a testimony; they never shall read their name clearly in the Book of Life; the Lord will never appear in their heart or bless their soul; they never shall be able to say, “Abba, Father.” If Jesus is theirs, they shall. But are they spiritual pilgrims? Do they find it a vale of tears? Are their faces Zionward? Have they come out of the world? Do they sometimes make the valley of Baca a well? And does the rain fill the pools? And have they ever had strength made perfect in weakness? Then every one of them will appear before God in Zion. Blessed end! Sweet accomplishment of the pilgrim’s hopes, desires, and expectations! The crowning blessing of all that God has to bestow! “Every one of them appeareth before God,” washed in the Saviour’s blood, clothed in the Redeemer’s righteousness, adorned with all the graces of the Spirit, and made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. No weeping then! The valley of Baca is passed, and tears wiped from off all faces. No thorns to lacerate the weary feet there; no prowling wild beasts to seize the unwary traveller there; no roving banditti to surprise stragglers there; no doubts and fears and cutting sorrows to grieve, perplex, and burden them there. Safe in Zion, safe in the Redeemer’s bosom, safe in their Husband’s arms, safe before the throne, every one of them appeareth before God in glory.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“They go from strength to strength.” Psalm 84:7
“They go from strength to strength.” It is in the margin, “from company to company.” I rather think, that the meaning implied is, “they go from halting place to halting place.” There were certain fixed spots where the whole company rested at night; as we read, when the infant Jesus tarried at Jerusalem, his parents knew it not: they supposed that he was “in the company;” that is, had gone on with the travelling pilgrims; but when night came, and they looked for him, he was not there.
These halting places were certain spots where the caravan of the travelling pilgrims rested at night; by these successive haltings their strength was recruited, and they were enabled to bear the long journey, rising in the morning refreshed with their night’s rest.
The Psalmist viewing it spiritually says, “They go from strength to strength.” At each halting place they received fresh strength to pursue their journey onward. And is not this true in grace? There are halting places in the divine life, spots of rest, where the true pilgrims renew their strength. For instance, every manifestation of the Lord is a communication of divine strength, a recruiting place, where the soul renews its strength to travel onward. Every promise that comes with sweet power is another halting place where the traveller may rest. Every discovery of interest in Christ; every glimpse of the grace and glory of Jesus; every word from the Lord’s lips; every smile from the Lord’s face; every token for good; every thing that encourages, supports, blesses, and comforts the soul, enabling it to go onwards towards its heavenly home, is a halting place, where the pilgrim rests, and where he recruits his weary limbs. And where can we rest, except where God rests? But does not God “rest in his love?” And can we rest anywhere short of God’s love shed abroad in our heart? Does not God rest in his dear Son? Did not this voice come from the excellent glory, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased?” All the satisfaction of God centres in Jesus; all the delight of the Father rests in the Son of his love. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth!” Can we then rest anywhere but where God rests? Is it not spiritually with us as with the Israelites of old? When the cloud tarried, they tarried; when the cloud went, they went; when the cloud moved onward, they followed it; and when the cloud stopped, they halted, and rested beneath its shadow.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.” Psalm 84:5, 6
David casts a glimpse here at those pilgrims who were taking their upward journey to worship God in Zion. He marks their road, and takes occasion to spiritualize it; for he says, “In whose heart,” in whose experience, in whose soul, “are the ways” of these pilgrims Zionward.
What are these “ways?” It is this, that “passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a well.” This valley of Baca appears to have been a very perilous pass, through which pilgrims journeyed toward Jerusalem; and on account of the difficulties, dangers, and sufferings that they met with, it was named “the valley of Baca,” or “the valley of weeping,” “the vale of tears.”
But the Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man in whose heart are the ways of them, who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well.” Here is the distinctive character of the true pilgrim. Not that he is journeying merely through the “valley of Baca;” not that his eyes are drowned in tears; not that his heart is filled with sorrows; not that his soul is cut with temptations; not that his mind is tried by suffering. But this is his distinctive feature—he “makes it a well.” This the ungodly know nothing of; this the professing world, for the most part, are entirely unacquainted with; but this is the secret which “no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen.”
One feature of the “valley of Baca” was, that the burning sun above, and the parched ground beneath, at the time of year when the pilgrims travelled, made the whole valley arid and dry. But “they made it a well.” There were wells dug in this valley of Baca for the pilgrims to slake their thirst at. And David, looking at these wells dug for the pilgrims, applies them spiritually to the refreshment that the Lord’s people meet with in their course Zionward.
“Make it a well;” that is, there are from time to time sweet refreshments in this valley of tears; there are bubblings up of divine consolation; there are fountains of living waters, streams of heavenly pleasures.
I remember a friend of mine telling me, that once while journeying through one of the deserts in Asia, he and his companions came to a well; and their disappointment when they found the well was dry he said no language could depict; their grief and trouble when, after hours’ travelling, they came at night to encamp by the well, and found that the sun had dried it up, were indeed most acute. As, therefore, none but pilgrims through the dry and parched valley could adequately feel the sweetness of the natural well; so none but spiritual pilgrims, afflicted, exercised, and harassed, can appreciate the sweetness of the “pure water of life” with which the Lord at times refreshes the soul.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.” Deuteronomy 32:10
“He led them about.” This was true literally. What a circuitous, tangled, backward and forward route was that of the children of Israel in the wilderness! Yet every step was under God’s direction; they never moved till the cloudy pillar led the way.
But how does the Lord lead about in grace? By leading his Israel into a path of which they do not see the end. One turn of the road hides the next. I have read that you may make a road with a curve at every quarter of a mile, and yet in a hundred miles the distance will not be so much as a mile more than a perfectly straight line. So in grace. The length of the road swallows up the turnings. But these turnings make the road seem more round about than it really is. All before us is hidden. For instance, when the Lord begins a work of grace, he brings convictions of sin, opens up the spirituality of the law, makes the soul feel guilty, guilty, guilty in every thought, word, and deed. But does a man in that condition know what the Lord is about? Can he clearly trace out the work of God upon his soul? Is he able to say, “This, this is the work of God upon my heart?” For the most part, he knows not what is the matter with him; why he is so distressed; why he can take no rest; why the things of eternity keep rolling in upon his soul; why he stands in continual dread of the wrath to come; why his mind is so exercised with thoughts upon God; why he feels condemnation, bondage, and misery. Nor even when the Lord is pleased to raise him up to some hope, to apply some sweet promise to his soul, to encourage him in various ways under the ministry of the word, can he often take the full comfort of it. He may for a time, but it is soon gone, and he can scarcely believe it to be real. Unbelief suggests that it did not come exactly in the right way, or did not last long enough, or did not go deep enough, or was not just such as he has heard others speak of; and so he is filled with doubts, fears, and anxieties whether it was really from the Lord. But when God leads him on a step further; opens up the gospel, reveals Christ, drops into his heart some sweet testimony, gives him some blessed discovery of his interest in the Lord Jesus, and seals it with a divine witness in his heart, this banishes all his doubts and fears, and fills his soul with joy and peace. Yet even after this, when the sweet feeling is gone, he may sink again very low, and may question the reality of the revelation he has enjoyed. All this is “leading about;” for one turn of the road hides the other.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105
O what a change takes place in the soul’s feelings toward the word of God when God is pleased to quicken it into divine life! Nor, indeed, need we wonder why there is such a marked revolution in our feelings toward it; for it is by the power of God’s word upon the heart that this wondrous change is effected. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:18). Other books may instruct or amuse; they may feed the intellect, charm the imagination, and cultivate the mind. But what more can they do? I do not mean by this to despise or set aside every other book but the Bible, for without books society itself, as at present constituted, could not exist; and to burn every book would be to throw us back into the barbarism of the Middle Ages. Let, then, books have their place as regards this life; but what can they do for us as regards the life to come? What can our renowned authors, our choice classics, our learned historians, our great dramatists, or our eloquent poets do for the soul in seasons of affliction and distress? How powerless all human writings are in these circumstances. Is it not as Hart well says,
“What balm could wretches ever find
In wit, to heal affliction?
Or who can cure a troubled
mind With all the pomp of diction?”
Now here is the blessedness of the word of God, that when everything else fails, that comes to our aid under all circumstances, so that we can never sink so low as to get beyond the reach of some promise in the word of truth. We may come, and most probably shall come, to a spot where everything else will fail and give way but the word of God which for ever is settled in heaven. Then the word of grace and truth which reaches down to the lowest case, the word of promise upon which the Lord causes the soul to hope, will still turn towards us a friendly smile, and still encourage us under all circumstances to call upon the name of the Lord, and to hang upon his faithfulness who hath said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Thus, under circumstances the most trying to flesh and blood, where nature stands aghast and reason fails, there the word of God will come in as a counsellor to drop in friendly advice, as a companion to cheer and support the mind by its tender sympathy; and as a friend to speak to the heart with a loving, affectionate voice. We need not wonder, then, how the word of God has been prized in all ages by the family of God; for it is written with such infinite wisdom, that it meets every case, suits every circumstance, fills up every aching void, and is adapted to every condition of life and every state both of body and soul.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6, 7
It is a goodly sight to see a noble tree; and we may gather from the strength of the tree the strength of the soil, for only in deep and good soil will such trees grow. But look at the trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified! What depth and richness there is in the heavenly soil in which they are planted! View the true, real, and eternal Sonship, the glorious Deity of Jesus, and view that Deity in union with his suffering humanity! What soil is there! What breadth to hold thousands and thousands of noble trees! What depth for them to root in! What fertility to clothe them with verdure and load them with fruit! The most fertile natural soils may be exhausted, but this is inexhaustible. For can Deity be exhausted? Is it not its very nature to be infinite? And when we view what our most blessed Lord now is at the right hand of God, what a perfect and complete Saviour he is for the soul to lay hold of! Again, as the more deeply and widely that a tree spreads its roots into the soil, the more nourishment does it suck up; so it is with a believing heart. The more Christ is laid hold of by faith, the more the soul roots down into him; and the firmer hold it takes of him, and the more deeply it roots into him, the stronger it stands, and the more heavenly nourishment it draws out of his fulness. This is being “rooted in Christ.” A religion must always be a shallow, deceptive, and ruinous religion if it has not Christ to root in, for then it must be rooted in self. But if it is planted and rooted in Christ, then there is a sufficiency, a suitability, a glorious fulness in him in which the soul may take the deepest root, and not only for time but for eternity; for such a faith can never be confounded, such a love never perish, and such a hope be never put to shame.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 1:12
Wherever faith is given to the soul to “receive” Christ, there will be mingled with this faith, and blessedly accompanying it, love to the Lord of life and glory; and sometimes we may know the existence of faith when we cannot see it, by discerning the secret workings and actings of love towards that Saviour, in whom God has enabled us to believe. There will be, from time to time, in living souls a flowing forth of affection towards Jesus. From time to time, he gives the soul a glimpse of his Person; he shews himself, as the Scripture speaks, “through the lattice;” passing perhaps hastily by, but giving such a transient glimpse of the beauty of his Person, the excellency of his finished work, dying love, and atoning blood as ravishes the heart, and secretly draws forth every affection of the soul, so that there is a following hard after him, and a going out of the desires of the soul towards him. Thus, sometimes as we lie upon our bed, as we are engaged in our business, as we are occupied in our several pursuits of life; or at other times under the word, or reading the Scripture, the Lord is pleased secretly to work in the heart, and there is a melting down at the feet of Jesus, or a secret, soft, gentle going forth of love and affection towards him, whereby the soul prefers him before thousands of gold and silver, and desires nothing so much as the inward manifestations of his love, grace, and blood.
And thus a living soul “receives” Christ; not merely as driven by necessity, but as also drawn by affection. He does not receive Christ, merely as a way of escape from “the wrath to come,” merely as a something to save the soul from “the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched;” but mingled with necessity, sweetly and powerfully combined with it, and intimately and intricately working with it, there is the flowing forth of genuine affection and undissembled love, that goes out to him as the only object worthy our heart’s affection, our spirit’s worship, and our soul’s desire. And we cannot say that less than this comes up to the meaning of the Scripture expression—”to receive Christ.”
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Hebrews 6:9
What is “salvation?” In looking at salvation, we must consider it in two points of view; salvation wrought out for us, and salvation wrought out in us. Salvation was wrought out for the Church by the finished work of the Son of God, when he cried with expiring breath, “It is finished.” The salvation of “the remnant according to the election of grace” was then completely accomplished, so that nothing could be added to, or taken from it; for “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified;” and thus the Church stands complete in Christ, “without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
But there is a salvation which is wrought out in the soul; the manifestation and application of that salvation which Jesus wrought out by his sufferings, blood-shedding, and death; and this we can only know experimentally so far as the blessed Spirit brings it into our hearts, and seals it there with holy unction and heavenly savour.
But all the people of God cannot feel sure they have this salvation as an experimental reality; doubts, fears, darkness, and temptations becloud their path; Satan hurls his fiery darts into their souls; and they are often unable to realise their interest in the Lord Jesus Christ and his salvation. They do not doubt that the Lord Jesus is the Saviour of those that believe; they know that there is no other refuge for their guilty souls but the blood of the Lamb. They are effectually stripped from cleaving to a covenant of works; they are not running after things that cannot profit them, nor hiding their heads in lying refuges; from all these things they are effectually cut off by a work of grace on their souls. But through the unbelief of their hearts, the deadness of their frames, the barrenness of their souls, and the various temptations they are exercised with, they fear they have not the marks of God’s family, and are not able to realise their interest in the love and blood of the Lamb. The Apostle, therefore, speaks of “things that accompany salvation;” that is, certain marks and signs, certain clear and indubitable tokens of the work of grace on the soul. And, speaking to the Hebrews, he says for their comfort and encouragement, “We are persuaded,” whatever be your doubts and fears, whatever the darkness of your mind, however exercised with sharp and severe temptations, “we are persuaded” you are in possession of those “better things,” of those “things that accompany salvation;” and that this salvation is therefore eternally yours.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869
“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.” Isaiah 27:13
Called by the sounding of the great trumpet, the perishing and outcasts “come.” And what do they when they come? Do they trifle with sin, mock God, and abuse his grace? We read not so. They “worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.” They worship him in spirit and in truth; they worship him in the beauty of holiness. With purified hearts, purged consciences, and spiritual affections, they fall down before him, and their souls are impressed with a sense of the greatness of his love. They had no such heavenly feelings before; they could not therefore worship the Three- One God in the holy mount nor at Jerusalem. The great trumpet had not been blown, the jubilee had not come, the chains had not been knocked off, the shackles not loosed, and the prison-gates not thrown open; they could not therefore worship God freely, fully and calmly, with liberty of access and freedom of spirit.
But where do they worship him? “In the holy mount.” The holy mount we may understand to signify spiritually Mount Zion, the place where Jesus sits in glory. This is the ancient declaration of the Father, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” Here Jesus ever sits with love in his heart, grace in his lips, and the gospel in his hands. He sits on a holy hill, sways a holy sceptre, and rules in the hearts of a holy people. Men talk much of holiness; and indeed they may well talk of it, for it is a most solemn declaration, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” But what sort of holiness are most men seeking after? A holiness of the flesh, a sanctity of the creature. They must do this and abstain from that; and if they do this and abstain from that, then they are holy. So many prayers must be said, so many chapters read, so many duties done. This is a Popish holiness, the sanctified austerity of a St. Dominic, not that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. That is of a very different nature—different every way, in source, way, means, and end. The only true holiness is that which is produced by the Spirit of God in the soul. Other source or fountain there is none. And how does he produce it? By the law or the gospel? By the gospel, certainly. When the great trumpet of jubilee sounds in the soul, when it listens to the notes, and comes obedient to its call, it is to worship the Lord in his holy mount at Jerusalem. True holiness is then produced in the soul, for then there are given spiritual desires, spiritual affections, spiritual views, spiritual feelings, and spiritual hearts. This is the holiness which is wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God, and without which no man shall see the Lord.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869