LET THY WORK APPEAR
Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. Psalm 90 v.l6, 17.
This sermon was preached shortly after the opening of the new Sunday School building at Forest Fold, Crowborough. It bears some similarity to a sermon printed in Gospel Tidings, Vol. Ill page 1,1969.
This Psalm is entitled “A Prayer of Moses the man of God”. It is not absolutely certain that these headings of the Psalms are correct. Although they are known to be very ancient they do not enter into the inspiration of the Psalm itself and no one exactly knows when they were added. However, there seems to be good reason to feel that this was indeed written by Moses, and written by Moses under the solemn visitations of God upon the people of Israel in his forty years’ travelling in the wilderness; for Moses lived to see all the generation pass away which he had been the means of bringing out of Egypt, that is, all the adult generation. This Psalm is really most sublime, both in conception and in expression. It is one of the most ancient as well as one of the most sublime of all poetic compositions.
Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sets in most impressive contrast the eternal changeless nature of God with the brief mortal passings of the generations of men. “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carries! them away as with a flood.” The concept is of generation after generation rising up in their day and fulfilling their brief span of life, and then being irresistibly swept away from the face of the earth by the power and hand of death, to be no more known in this world. The Psalmist sets in solemn, impressive, and sombre contrast the eternity of God with the mortality of man. But the same consideration may affect the mind very differently. Consider the brevity of our lives. What shall we say concerning that? Some will say, “Well, if our life is so short, what is there in it, but let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. Let us make the best we can of it, enjoy as much as we can for it will soon be all over with us.” But the same consideration may affect another mind, and especially a more sober and gracious mind, just the opposite in this way. “Time is short, then, Lord, do enrich my passing days with Thy mercies. They are short enough and let them not pass unblessed. My life is running away like the water down the stream, but, O Lord, let it not run to waste and since my days are so short, then, Lord, do help me to fill my days usefully, and to Thy honour and Thy glory. Lord, help me to do the work that is given to me to do while I have my life to do it, for the night cometh when no man can work.” So the
same consideration will lead to such opposite reactions in the mind, and the Psalmist shows that better reaction in his mind, as though he would say, “Lord, our days are short, help us to apply our hearts unto wisdom. Our life is brief, satisfy us early with Thy mercy, that our brief days may be blessed, and that we may rejoice and be glad in them before they are gone. And as regards our work. Lord, help us to do that which is laid upon us to do, the work of our hands, Lord, help us to do that work, and establish it upon us before our working days are ended and we depart hence and are no more.”
If our days are brief and passing, if the generations rise and are swept away from the face of the earth, there is something that endures from generation to generation, and that is the Lord’s work. That stands. Death does not sweep that away. That does not terminate in oblivion. The Lord’s work stands. O, Lord, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.”
There are two considerations in the text, first, the Lord’s work, and secondly, our work. “Let thy work appear, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us.” There is the Lord’s work that we pray may appear, and there is our work that we pray He may establish.
The Lord’s Work
The text is a prayer, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants”. Let us consider this, that we do need, we do long to see the Lord’s work appearing. For the Lord’s work is often, especially in individual cases and in the commencement of it, a hidden work. The kingdom of God as it is established in the soul comes not with observation, that is, not with an outward appearance but with an inward operation of the Holy Spirit of God secretly within the soul itself. And unless the Lord causes His work to appear, how do we know whether it is going on at all? Brethren, is the Lord’s work going on amongst us? That is the great consideration. Is the Lord’s work going on in your heart? As you sit before me and listen to the word of His truth and grace, is the Lord working with it and through it in your hearts? For that is what we do long to see.
I must say this, that it does encourage me from Sabbath to Sabbath to see so many gather together in this sanctuary, especially in these sad days. There is certainly a field for me to sow the good seed of the gospel in, for unless there are hearers to hear the Word, to what purpose is it that the Lord’s servants should labour? I know it is written “How shall they hear without a preacher?” but then it is equally true: How shall they preach to any purpose without hearers? The Word cannot prosper unless there are hearers to hear the Word, and unless the Holy Spirit causes the Word to be effectual in their hearts. However well we may preach we can make no saving
impression on empty seats, although I must say, that empty seats make a great impression on us preachers, a most depressing impression! But still, that is not our case here. I am thankful to say the Lord has not left me with empty seats to preach to. But then, my friends, the great question is, “Is the Lord working in our hearts?” Sabbath after sabbath after sabbath you hear the sacred Word of the gospel. It is that gospel which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone listening to me this morning, if faith is given to them to believe the Word and receive it into their hearts. It is the Word that will bring salvation. But what is there to show for it all? O how the Lord knows we long to see His work appearing – that it is really going on. O how often, as my mind ponders over the congregation and individual friends, do I wonder whether the Lord is working in this one, and that one, and another one. Let me speak freely and feelingly and affectionately. Is the Lord working? Is there any real effect of the Word of the Gospel that is continually preached?
Now, when I read this word “O let thy work appear unto thy servants”, I say “Lord, that is just how I feel, O let it be seen that Thou really art working silently, secretly, powerfully, and graciously, in the hearts of the people.” Well, I cannot sufficiently emphasize that unless our religion stands in the work and power of God in our souls it won’t last, it certainly won’t avail us at the last.
The Work of Salvation
What is the work that we do so long may appear unto us? Well, first, we do long to see souls saved. Let me put it in that plain, simple way – we long to see souls saved. If souls are not saved, well, what does it all amount to? And this we know, that it is the Lord’s work to save souls. It is a work so great it needs such power that unless the Lord is pleased to put His hand to it, our work with regard to the salvation of souls, whether young or old, will end in just nothing at all. We may well plead with the Lord that He would save souls because to begin with. He has the power to do it, and this work needs power. Think what it means for a soul to be saved! It means, for one thing, that what prevails so effectively in the natural heart and mind must be broken down. Here is a man who will say, “I don’t believe there is anything in it, I don’t think there is any truth in it at all”. Now, what can you do with a man like that? You just cannot do anything at all, while that spirit of unbelief prevails in the mind. Whatever you say, if the mind rejects it in unbelief, does not believe it is true, well, what can you do? But the Lord can break that down and give such a conviction to the mind that these things are true, His holy Word is true, as entirely to overcome that barrier to salvation. A soul to be saved means to be brought into a state of personal
concern. Now we preach things enough to give anyone a concern if only they felt them. There are such solemn truths in the Word, and there is such a solemn responsibility of the Lord’s servants to proclaim them, that there is enough in them to cause anyone to feel a concern. But it is the Lord’s work to cause the Word to have that sffect. If the Lord causes the Word to have that effect then the concern will most certainly be felt. Now, is the Lord working like this? Is the Lord working faith to believe, and repentance for sin? for that is the Lord’s work. This is very certain, that “except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish”, and, “he that believeth not the Son of God hath not life but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Is the Lord working that repentance and that faith in the hearts of those who hear the Gospel? For this is a secret matter in the commencement of it. These things work in the heart and there may be very little evidence externally that the Lord is working like that. We cannot see the feelings of the heart; only the Lord discerns that. So we say, “Lord, do save souls, O do save souls. Do make thy Word effectual to convince them of their condition, to bring them to repentance and the acknowledging of the truth, and do bring them to believe in Jesus Christ and to obtain salvation by faith through His precious person and through His redeeming blood. Now that is the Lord’s work.
The Work of Liberation
The work which we also pray may appear unto us, is that He would bring souls into the experience of gospel liberty and blessedness. Now if there is faith to believe in Jesus Christ, that soul is thereby brought into a state of salvation. There is no question about that. If the Word of God is mysterious on some matters, it is not mysterious on that matter. It is as plain as day that whoever believes on the Son of God has everlasting life. He is brought from death unto life, from a state of condemnation into a state of salvation, and it is not a question of the degree or depth of the faith. It is simply and solely and only a matter of believing in Jesus Christ from the heart. No one has any real reason to doubt his salvation, if he find it in his heart to believe on Jesus Christ, to venture on Him, and to cleave to Him and to trust in Him. How is it then, that there are those who are in a state of salvation, and do not enjoy gospel liberty in their souls? And if you say “What do you mean by gospel liberty?” I mean the enjoyment of the gospel, and the blessedness of it; peace, pardon, and love, and freedom in their souls. Well, my friends, it is the Lord’s work to bring them into Gospel liberty, and that is the truth of the matter. It is the Lord’s work to do it, and although we desire to labour to this end, unless the Lord establish the work of our hands upon us, souls remain more or less in a state of
spiritual bondage. There is a new birth, but no freedom, no liberty of spirit, no sense of pardoning love. O how we do long to see this work appearing! Brethren, you should seek for this. I am sure that there is such an experience as gospel liberty, and the forgiveness of sins enjoyed, and the love of Christ felt, and the blessed hope confirmed.
The Work of Direction
“Let thy work appear unto thy servants”, not only in saving souls and then bringing them into the enjoyment and liberty of the gospel, but directing and constraining them to walk in the ways of Thy appointing. This is the Lord’s work too. For the Lord has appointed ordinances, and these are before His children to walk in to the honour and glory of His name. Why is there not more walking openly in these paths of His appointments? O, when will He work in this matter? Surely among us there must be those who have been brought to believe in Jesus, and felt some measure at least of gospel liberty and blessing in their souls. Now to profess faith and to walk in the paths of the Lord’s appointing, is honouring to Him and glorifying to His great name, and it is really all we can render to Him for all His favours to us. I might set before you reason after reason, why those who believe in Jesus should come forth and openly walk in His appointments, but I know that will not bring the matter to pass. I know it must be the Lord’s work, and in this matter we do long to see His work appearing unto us.
In what sense is this the Lord’s work?
First, it is the Lord’s work to direct the mind in this matter, for although it is clearly enough set before us in the Scripture, there is no doubt about that, but still it is surprising how much there is in the Word of God that does not exercise the mind, unless the Lord is pleased to direct the mind to that particular thing.
It is the Lord’s work also to influence the heart, for the preparation of the heart in man is of the Lord, and unless the Lord prepare the heart, it’s a heartless matter to walk in His ways. There is nothing that I know of that will affect the heart so much as the constraining influence of the love of Jesus Christ. If but the love of Christ is so felt in the heart with a constraining influence and power, that brings the thing to pass. The Lord alone can make the love of Christ, sweet, deep, holy, precious as it is, as to have such an effect .upon us as to constrain us like that. Now we want to see this. We want to see the constraining power and influence of the love and grace of Jesus Christ working to this end.
Again, it is the Lord’s work to give that spirit of venturing confidence in Him; to uphold us in the way; to strengthen us in the matter; to enable us to say “I will go in the strength of the Lord
God”. “I will go depending on Him to uphold me, to strengthen me, to support me”.
“Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children”. Consider now the words, “Thy glory unto their children”. We are not to understand that the Lord’s work is something different from His glory, or His glory something different from His work, in the sense that we pray His work may appear unto us, and His glory unto our children. The composition of the Psalms is poetical, and it is the nature of Hebrew poetry to express the same thing, in a different way, in two such phrases. Really. His work and His glory mean the same thing from two aspects. His work reveals His glory and His glory appears in His work.
Now, what of the children? We may take this in two ways. First, with regard to the children of Thy servants personally, and then with regard to their children as the rising generation of children. I speak tenderly because I know I am touching a very tender feeling, for there is nothing lies so near the heart of the Lord’s servants, as the spiritual state of their children. There is nothing that affects the heart and the mind of the Lord’s people so much as that He should show His glory to their children. If the Lord has blessed you to be parents, and He has so blessed many of you, then one of the greatest blessings He could ever bless you with, is to bless your children. And if you perceive that He shows His glory to your children you will say, “Lord, that makes my cup run over”. Now is not that true? And you who are gracious parents, are not you responding to every word that I am saying in this matter? There is nothing other than the salvation of your souls, that would give you such happiness, and satisfaction, and comfort, as to see the Lord’s glory in your children. How wonderful it is when the Lord is pleased to manifest His glory to the children of His dear people, and often it is so. I feel sure that, could the matter be really assesed, it would be found for the most part the people of God have godly parents who have prayed for them. We know very well that grace is not hereditary, does not come through the blood, through parentage, but it often comes through parents’ prayers, and I believe most godly people have had godly parents. For the most part, God works according to the prayers, and through the prayers of godly parents for their children. Many of us here this morning, in whom the Lord has worked, have cause to be thankful for parents’ prayers, and I hope you little children appreciate this. O! do be thankful for the prayers of your parents. It is wonderful how the Lord can answer prayers. I had
praying parents. My father’s prayers were weighty, simple, solemn. They influence me now. When I was standing with my brothers round his deathbed he said, (and it shows how a doubtful spirit can work even with faith), “I often prayed for my children but I never thought I should live to see them called by grace as I have done”. My Father lived to see that. I am glad that he did. O! what a feeling text his is this morning. “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children”.
Then again, by their children we must understand the whole rising generation. Now our hearts are very much concerned about the rising generation. We feel they are born into a different kind of life and world than we were born into, and they come into difficulties and problems and questions that never so much perplexed our minds fifty or sixty years ago. Generations differ, and the conditions under which generations are born and brought up differ. It has always been so. I feel very much for the rising generation, especially in a spiritual point of view, and unless the Lord is pleased to show His glory to the rising generation, how is the cause of God and truth to be maintained? The cause of truth cannot be maintained by the immortality of its members. They must pass way in due course. No church as such, no congregation, can be kept up by the immortality of its members. It can only be maintained by the Lord’s work in the next generation. How often I think about the future now for, of course, by far the most of my life and preaching is now over, and I wonder how things will be with the next generation. O! friends, will there be another generation raised up to serve the Lord here and everywhere, to call the Redeemer blessed? O! how it would rejoice my heart to know that, when I, and my contemporaries are gone, you young people, you young men and young women, that your hearts will believe, your tongues express, and your lives glorify the dear Redeemer. I think I cannot express how deeply I am feeling this this morning. “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto Their children”, the glory of Jesus Christ, the glory of the gospel. For there is a glory in it, believe me, and some of us have seen it in our hearts, and felt the glory that there is in Jesus Christ and in the gospel. O! that He would show you His glory, and then you would rejoice and be glad all your days, if he showed you His mercy early like that.*
*A second sermon on the same text was preached on the same day. It is hoped this will be printed in our next issue.