Jesus said, `I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’
SEEKING THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH A Sermon preached by Mr S. Delves at the opening services
of Providence Chapel, Forest Row, Sussex on April 25th 1928. ‘Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good.’ Psalm 122.9.
This psalm was sung, so we are told, when the tribes of Israel went
up to Jerusalem on their annual visit to the Temple, and we can well understand the gladness of spirit with which they would go, how Jerusalem would fill their minds, and they would speak of Jerusalem
and of what the Lord had done for it, how it was builded and established, and of the worship of God there.
Without dwelling upon that aspect of the psalm, we may consider it in a Gospel light.
We may speak of Jerusalem as typical of the Church of Christ, the heavenly Zion, the city of our God. Jerusalem, considered spiritually, is builded as a city that is compact together. The Person and work of Jesus Christ is its foundation. It is compact together, every member being united in an eternal union of heart, life, and love – a union of people who are joined together – not only in the same doctrines but in the life of God in the doctrines, for we may be one in doctrine and yet not know true spiritual oneness.
It is this Divine life that unites heart to heart, the life of God in one with the life of God in another, makes the living stones form a spiritual house; also the compactness stands in the teaching of the Holy Spirit, which, being the same in its nature in every case, brings union and fellowship. `Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.’ David sought the good of Zion because the Lord’s house was there, and he loved the house of God and longed for its peace and prosperity. `Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces.’
I feel that we may adapt the language of this psalm to this special – occasion and speak a little of seeking the good of the house of the Lord, as this is a place where His people meet in the worship of His name. I can never understand how people who profess to love the truth can treat – lightly the means of grace; and if there is love, and a hunger and thirst after spiritual things, how the house of prayer can be neglected. I know that people say, `We can read our Bible and other good books at home and have a good time with them,’ but I wonder if they do really read their Bible, and if they ever read this, `Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is.’ I feel there is a peculiar blessing upon the public means of grace, for in them the Lord has promised to meet His people, and to bless them. I believe that all who desire the Lord’s honour and glory will seek the good of His house and the good of His dear people. `I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord.’ Such feel at home in His house and with His dear people; and can truly say, With them numbered may I be, now
and through eternity.’ If we love the Lord’s house, we shall long for its prosperity and to see it increase. It will grieve our spirit to see it in a low place, and we shall pray for its revival. May the Lord revive His Church, His people, His ministers, and let Zion arise and put on her beautiful garments. `For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.’
My brethren.’ It is a word that means relationship, union and love. It is a blessing to feel a union to the Lord’s people and a love to the brethren. It is an evidence of life in the soul. `We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.’ We know we have that evidence if we can say we love the Lord’s people and desire their good, and it rejoices our hearts to hear of the Lord blessing any of them.
`And companions.’ David says, `I am a companion of all them that fear thee.’ You cannot say of everyone you meet that he is your companion; you may just know him and speak to him, but he is not your companion. Companionship means mutual knowledge and understanding of each other and having something in common. `I am a companion of them that fear thee,’ means I understand them and can go with them. I am a companion in their desires, exercises, and trials of mind, I can walk together with them in the things of God, and see and feel with them. I have something in common with them even if it’s only a sense of poverty and want, for we want the same blessed things. `For my brethren and companions’ sakes,’ not only for my own sake, but for theirs also I seek the Lord’s blessing upon the cause of truth.
I feel to love them, and therefore I desire that they may be favoured; it would rejoice my heart to see their prosperity.
`Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good,’ not only for my sake or my companions’ sakes, but because it is the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good. We hope that the Lord’s glory is dear to us, that there is love in our hearts to His name. I see around me a number of people who have come from other Causes to meet our friends here at these opening services. I hope we have come with this spirit in us, that we desire their good and the good of His cause.
Now for a few moments this evening I will endeavour to set before you what the good is that we seek for the Lord’s house. First, I would say this, many things are done in places of worship that we cannot say are for good, we cannot feel any satisfaction or any comfort of mind in them, we want the real good, the spiritual good, and that is that the Lord will manifest His presence, that is what we desire. It is the Lord’s presence that sanctifies the house of prayer, there is nothing in formal dedication that can make a place holy, but the Lord’s presence makes a place sacred in itself and sacred to the Lord’s people, and makes it the house of God. It was so with Jacob when he journeyed and collected a few stones for his pillows for the night, and the Lord appeared to him,
then Jacob said, `This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.’ The Lord’s presence made that the house of God to Jacob, and though it is solemn to feel this yet the building is nothing without it. Our friends have built a very nice, neat Chapel here, suitable for its purpose in every way, but they will need something more than that to feed their souls. May the Lord very graciously sanctify it with His presence and so condescend to be here, that His people may feel He is in their midst and that their hearts may be warmed and nourished. How shall we know whether the Lord is in this place or in any place? We shall know whether the Lord is near by the power of His presence, and it will make us that we shall not be in a trifling state of mind, but feel a reverent awe upon our spirits. The Lord’s presence is also known by this: `Oh, that the mountains would flow down at thy presence!’ How hard we sometimes feel, how little brokenness of spirit; we go through the service but nothing touches us, we hear but our heart doesn’t move; but if the Lord is graciously pleased to bless us, then there is a flowing together, and love, sweetness, power, and life manifest His presence. Have you ever felt this? If you have, you could say, `The Lord is here.’ The place itself is holy to you by reason of it. I do know that where the Lord blesses His dear people, they feel their hearts knit to the place, they feel to love the very stones of the house, for we read, ‘Thy servants take pleasure in her stones.’ My friends, seek this great good, it is everything. It is all very well to have a nice building and an increasing congregation, but without the Lord’s presence `Ichabod’ is written on it all. Do you seek the good of the house of God, seek it prayerfully, and when you meet together, do you come with the desire that the Lord will graciously speak to you and give you some profitable experience in your own soul?
Another thing that is good to seek for the house of God is this – Life and power in the ministry. Without it, no ministry can be profitable; I know of nothing more wearying than a multitude of words without unction, but there is power, there is an unction when the Holy Spirit of God is with a minister! What is preaching without that’? What are gifts without unction? – eloquence without power. What are gifts to a soul longing for some Divine testimony that he is born of God? What is eloquence to a poor broken-hearted sinner who, feelingly, wants the precious blood of Christ applied to his conscience? We do need life and power in the ministry. What will make the ministry profitable? what will give it life? The presence of the Holy Ghost. I have often considered those words in Peter’s epistle, `That have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.’ Dear ministers of the Gospel, do we preach the Gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven’? We read how Peter and the apostles preached, and how conviction of sin, concern of soul, and repentance in many attested the Divine vitality of their preaching, for they spake not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power.
This is a matter that weighs much with me; it is not just getting through the sermons, though sometimes one feels unable to do that, but what comes of all our preaching, and what effect is it having on the people`? I speak for myself, there are many ministers here this evening, I hope they won’t feel that I take advantage of my position to speak particularly to them, or that I consider myself able to do so, yet it comes to this, our ministry is either invigorating the Church of God with life or sterilizing it with death. We are a cause of either life or death among our people. That comes to my spirit very closely. I don’t want to be a savour of death unto those in whom there is life. Yet you see the life is not in us, it is for the Lord to bless, therefore may we be led to seek this great good. May the Lord fill His ministers and their ministry with the blessed spirit of life and power and unction, and set His seal upon it in confirming it by signs following.
A living ministry is a great blessing in any Church and congregation. It feeds the souls of the Lord’s people, it sometimes relieves them, it sometimes tries them, and they go away wondering if they do know anything; it sometimes confirms, revives, helps, and sometimes searches and reproves, but in either case it is profitable. What we need today is that the ministry of the Gospel should be with power. It seems to me that our preaching is not the same as in years past, that is, forming a judgment by what we have read. We do not preach anything different from that which the old ministers of the Gospel preached, but do we preach as they preached – into people’s hearts and souls?
I understand that when people came away from those ministers they would ask themselves what they knew about what they heard. Do our people go away examining themselves? Is this word being fulfilled in us? – `The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach.’ We do long for a revival in the Church of God.
We say, `Oh, LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years.’ Should such a revival be given us, it will come, I feel, through the power of the Spirit of God being poured out on the ministry. May we seek this good, may ministers seek it for the good of the people, and may the people seek it for the good of the ministers and pray much for them.
Another good thing to seek for the house of God is this, that many might be born again therein. `And of Zion, it shall be said that this and that man was born in her.’ We do want to see the Lord’s work going on. Oh, how many times this has been my feeling, `Let thy work appear unto thy servants!’ And it is God’s work to quicken the dead and to bring souls to the new birth. What a blessed thing it will be if this new Chapel is to be a birth-place of souls, and why should it not be so’? The Gospel is the same, the power is the same, and the promise is the same which says, `My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it.’ Oh, that the Lord would make His word a quickening word to many and cause them to cry, `Jesus, save me or I die!’ We desire to see one
generation after another raised up to praise Him. It must be so if our causes of truth are to be maintained. My gracious predecessor spoke at the opening of the old Chapel here, now he has passed away and the generation of that day is passing away, and it has fallen to my lot to speak on this occasion of opening this new Chapel, and another generation is around me. We hope that there may be a spiritual generation raised up to praise the Lord here, how else can the cause be kept up? May we, indeed, see the Lord’s work, because we know that what is of God will abide. One looks round and sees how many things are done to keep up some appearance of prosperity, anything to get the people in, and that is called prosperity, but what will it all end in? We want to see the causes prosper, but unless it is through the Lord’s work amongst us the prosperity will come to nothing. We long to see the Church of God built and increased with living stones, it is to no purpose to build with wood, hay and stubble, it must be gold, silver and precious stones, or all will be consumed, as Paul writes to the Corinthians.
`Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.’ I will seek the peace, the unity of the Lord’s dear people. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. `Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.’ Not any kind of unity however, not peace at the expense of truth, but that unity of mind and heart which stands in the Spirit’s teaching and in the life and love of God. It is a very gracious unity, for it is in the bond of that peace which Jesus’ blood imparts. Brethren, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, there is unity. This is the good we seek for the Church of God. The Lord’s blessing does not rest on strife and bitterness amongst those who profess His name. I hope that I may never be a means of strife in the Church of God. There is much of this kind of thing amongst us as a body, and it ought not to be. May the Lord cleanse us from it and establish the unity of the Spirit amongst us, and we shall truly say,
`May love and unity
Among Thy saints abide;
Thy presence set each bosom free
From enmity and pride.’
Dear friends, there is no pride or enmity felt in our hearts when we enjoy the Lord’s smile and are under the sweetness and power of His forgiving love. At such times we love the Lord, His truth, His ways and His people. `I will seek thy good.’ Follow after it, seek it, pray for it, and cleave to it. How many true lovers of the prosperity of Zion are there here tonight who can say from their hearts, `Lord, it is my real desire that Thou would’st bless Thy dear people, and give true union, peace and concordthat Thou wouldst fill Thy ministers with life and power, that it might be for Thy glory and the good of souls, and that we might have and feel Thy with us
Now I do believe I express the desire of the many friends who have come here today on this occasion when I say that we wish well to our friends at Forest Row. We hope they may have good days before them, and that the Lord may often sanctify this place of worship with His presence; that the ministers who speak here may preach the Gospel with the Holy Ghost and with power and unction, and that there may be true prosperity. And we desire the same blessing for every Cause of Truth, and for every true minister, and for all who fear and love the Lord in sincerity and in truth.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with them all. Amen