THE MEMORY OF THE JUST
Mr. B. Ramsbottom
Mr. J. C. Philpot Centenary Service at Stamford 9th December, 1969
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work Thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How Thou didst drive out the heathen with Thy hand, and plantedst them; how Thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy countenance, because Thou hadst a favour unto them. Psalm 44, 1-3.
It is the purpose of God that former mercies shall never be forgotten. This is a gracious principle which runs right through the Word of God. Past favours, former mercies are not to be forgotten either nationally, or in the church of God, or personally. This is a principle the Lord clearly establishes. You find it especially so concerning the PassoverÂ—that remarkable occasion when the blood was shed and sprinkled; when those sheltering beneath the blood were saved, and all others were not saved. Where there was the blood there was life; where there was no blood there was death, and Israel never had to forget this. They had to remember it; generation by generation it had to be recalled.
The Lord would have His people ever remember the great things He has done in days past. Especially among God’s ancient people it was the custom for fathers to instruct their children in what the Lord had done in past days. There seems to be a reference to that here. “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us”, and this gracious principle still stands. Friends, time spent in recalling what the Lord has been, what the Lord has done, is time spent profitably. In a special sense it is so in our souls’ concerns, when the Lord enables us to look back and to remember what He has been to us and what He has done for us in past days, to remember His matchless mercy, the riches of His grace, to feel something like this:Â—
“Kind Author and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee for my God I avow,
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.”
These are favoured seasons when you can look back. And so it is also with the church of God.
The occasion of our meeting today is to remember the work and witness of J. C. Philpot. In the Word of God when the Lord bade His people remember former favours, it was for three purposes. The first thing was that He might be remembered with
gratitude. The secondÂ—that He might be honoured. It does not say, “We have heard with our ears what Moses did, what Joshua did.” “We have heard with our ears what Thou didst in the times of old.” The third thing is that there might be a remembering that our God never changes. It is a sweet thing, at times, to view what the Lord did for His saints in the Word of God and to feel that “This God is our God”. Psalm 48, 14.
“His grace sufficed saints of old
It made them strong; it made them bold
And it suffices still.”
It is the same God, and it is the same grace.
Now I would desire today that there might be a little gratitude to the Lord in remembering the witnesses He has raised up in days past and that He might be honoured. It is the work that He did in the days of old. May it also be a sweet encouragement to us in this our day that this Almighty God still lives, still reigns.
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work Thou didst in their days, in the times of old.”
Mr. J. C. Philpot’s days were days of real spiritual prosperity in the church of God. I should say it was the time in the history of our land when the churches and chapels were better attended than at any other time. This little town of Stamford was a centre of spiritual prosperity. The Lord raised up Mr. J. C. Philpot. As I discern it, it was something like this. From the time of the glorious Reformation the truth had been preached in our land. Then there came a time, after about two hundred years, when there were many who held the truth and yet contended only for the letter of it; and this was specially so of the Baptist denomination. There was a contending for the truth, but only in the letter of it. Then also there was a mixture of religion following the evangelical revival. Now in our midst the Lord raised up, first of all, William Gadsby, and the Lord graciously used him. He had such clear views of divine truth and contended for them so ably. He also insisted on vital spiritual experience. So there was a re-establishing of old truths and those who had a real heavenly appetite were graciously drawn to men like Gadsby. I believe the work of Mr. J. C. Philpot was a work of gracious establishment, establishing the churches in the truth; and he was able to go further than Gadsby in this. As he was a man of such natural ability, united with grace, and such a gifted writer, the truth was spread, not just through our country but throughout the earth. From Stamford the ‘Gospel Standard’ went forth, not only through England. We read that there were those out in the Australian Bush who read it; there were some in shacks on the gold-fields who read it; there were poor soldiers during the Crimean War who were reading it, and there were some soldiers outside the walls of Delhi during the Indian Mutiny who were reading it. He had such a blessed ability in setting forth the truth clearly and simply, and insisting on vital,
gracious experience. I believe this was the work to which Mr. Philpot was calledÂ—under God an establishing of that gracious revival of vital godliness which was known under Gadsby’s ministry. The wonderful thing is thisÂ—it is still continued today. We can say “He being dead yet speaketh.” Hebrews 11,4. There are few ministers whose sermons are more widely read, not only in this country, but in Scotland and in Holland, and in the States.
I want to pause here to make two observations. 1. I would encourage you to read the writings of godly men of old, men like Mr. Philpot. My mind has gone a few times to a word in the 8th chapter of Job which is seldom quoted. “Inquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers:
. . . Shall not they teach thee, and tell thee. And utter words out of their heart?” (Job 8, 8 & 10). There is much to learn from them. I would encourage you to read the blessed writings of eminent men of oldÂ—not to idolise them, not to set them up as a standard, but to follow them as they followed Christ. Much profit can be gained from them. 2. I believe the right way to read the writings of the saints of old is with a gracious exercise and with an eye upwards to the Lord. It is not just reading it because it was Mr. Philpot. As you read these writings with perhaps a little holy jealousy flowing forth because of those blessed views they had of the dear Son of God; that nearness, that union and communion they knew; those sweet seasons of meditation they were so often favoured with; do you ever find this cry from your heart, “Lord, be their religion mine”? I believe this is the right way to read their writingsÂ—not just out of interest; not just so you can say that you have read them; but with a gracious exercise of soul, “Be this religion mine.” And do you ever find thisÂ— that you come to a pause now and again and you have to confess before the Lord, “Lord, how little I know of this! How far short I come here! That which I see not teach Thou me?” (Job 34,32). “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, What work Thou didst in their days, in the times of old.”
Perhaps I may be permitted just to say this. Apart from Philpot’s sermons, I have found specially profitable his gracious spiritual letters in which he deals with points which are rarely mentioned in his sermons, his “Meditations”, specially his “Meditations on the Sacred Humanity of the Redeemer” and his “Answers to Enquiries.” He does not hedge round a point. He is not afraid of it. He fully and clearly deals with some weighty, difficult matters.
“How Thou didst drive out the heathen with Thy hand, and plantedst them; How Thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.” “We have heard” of this, says the Psalmist.
This Psalm is one of those Psalms entitled Maschil. Now, as you are well aware, this means that it is a Psalm of instruction. Some Psalms are specially Psalms of praise. Some are Psalms of confession. This is especially a Psalm of instruction.
The Psalmist states at the beginning this is a Psalm of instruction Â—MaschilÂ—and immediately he begins to speak of the days of old. There is something to be learned, instruction in what the Lord has done with the saints of old, the godly writers. His favours are not to be forgotten.
Now, concerning this second verse, I would ever be kept from wrongly spiritualising the Word of God. I feel this does not honour the Lord’s Name and it is not profitable. Yet I believe it would be fair to speak in this senseÂ—this “driving out the heathen” can set forth a contending for the truth and an opposing of error. This is what Philpot did. There was a driving out of the heathen as he contended for the truth. “And plantedst them.” I believe this can be taken as a gracious establishing of the people of God. They were planted. “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace,” (Hebrews 13, 9). Then this afflicting the people, I consider as overthrowing all religion which came short of reality. These three things stand out. But the point is thisÂ—it was the Lord’s work. And this gracious heritage is ours. There was this contending for the truth and overthrowing error. There was this gracious establishing of the people of God in their faith. And there was a pulling down of everything short of reality.
“For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: But Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy countenance. Because Thou hadst a favour to them.” The Psalmist looks back to days of victory, days when the Lord’s Name was honoured, days of real prosperity. As we look back to former days in this town and in this landÂ—days of real, vital godliness and spiritual prosperityÂ— what was it that marked it? It was what the Lord was performing. I just want to touch, briefly, on these vital things. It was not what man was doing. It was not man’s ability; it was not man’s intellect;
it was the Lord’s work and, friends, whenever there is real prosperity in the church or in your soul, it is the Lord’s work, and I believe you will find these things presentÂ—i. “Thy right hand and Thine arm”Â—that is the Lord’s power, ii. “The light of Thy countenance”Â—that is, the shining forth of His glory, iii. “Because Thou hadst a favour unto them”Â—that is the riches of His grace. Whenever there is real prosperity these things are found.
You will find it so in the church. If we are favoured again with real prosperity these things will be there and, when the Lord blesses you in your own soul, you will find these things are present. It is this same God “of Whom we have heard what work He did in the days of old”Â—still the same in His power, in His favour, and in the riches of His grace.
“But Thy right hand and Thine arm.” We read in the Word of God that “the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save.” (Isaiah 59, 1). Real religion begins with the mighty hand of God. That almighty hand of God which created the earth touches a sinner’s heart. I have been much struck by the 8th Psalm (v.3).
We read that creation was the work of God’s fingers. You know, if you do something with one of your fingers, it is only a very easy thing; if it is anything important you have to use your hand and, if it needs strength, you have to use your arm. The 8th Psalm tells us that creation was the work of God’s fingers. It was an easy thing for God to create, but redemption was the work of His right hand and His arm. Do you ever get a little glimpse of it, friends, the power of God put forth in the work of redemption? The dear Son of God going to Gethsemane and Calvary and grappling with sin and Satan, death and hell and the grave? His right hand. His almighty arm!
“I sing my Saviour’s wondrous death:
He conquered when He fell.”
This is the power of the Lord’s right hand and His arm in redemption. This is where real religion begins, “His right hand and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory.” (Psalm 98, 1). He made an atonement for sin; He died. An end was made of sin and an everlasting righteousness brought in, the Father’s Name glorified, the law of God honoured and His people saved with an everlasting salvation. These are the accomplishments we have heard of, of His right hand and His holy arm. And then He rose, triumphant, “travelling in the greatness of His strength. I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” (Isaiah 63, 1). There is power in true religion, and it is this right hand, this arm which takes hold of a sinner. We sing:Â—
“Grace is a firm but friendly hand
Put forth by God to save His own.”
Oh! it is an almighty hand, an almighty arm. The Lord does not try to save or, propose salvation. He saves by grace. Was there ever a time when the Lord laid His right hand upon you in power? It brought you to feel your need, brought you to tremble before a never-ending eternity, brought you to know yourself as a sinner and your own unworthiness. “the Lord’s right hand, the Lord’s holy arm”Â—”We have heard of it in the days of old, our fathers have told us.”
Now, I ask, do you know anything of it in your soul’s experience, His right hand. His arm? As this gracious hand takes hold of you, it is to snatch you “as a brand from the burning” and, as it takes held of you, it never puts you down till it puts you down
in glory. Oh! the safety of a sinner when this almighty hand lays hold of him.
“Thy right hand and Thine arm.” As the Lord takes hold of you. He leads you. I like that sweet truth, “The day when I took thee by the hand to lead thee,” and where does He lead you? Out of the world and away from self. And he leads you to Jesus and as this gracious hand brings you to Jesus, you find everything thereÂ—
that glorious righteousness which is to justify and that precious blood to atone and that intercession to avail, that “mercy which endureth for ever,” that “love that is strong as death”, that divine faithfulness. Has the right hand of God, His arm, brought you there?
And then you will need this arm to lean upon. You will have a pilgrimage to walk out. But there is an almighty arm to lean upon, and you cannot lean on it too hard. You cannot lean on it too often. You will not lean on it in vain. Perhaps some of you today feel ten thousand things to weaken you and cast you down, but this almighty arm is still there for the people of God to lean on. You will need it to defend you when the enemy comes in like a flood, when Satan opposes and, at times,
“From sinner and from saint
You meet with many a blow.”
“This tried almighty hand
Is raised for their defence;
Where is the power can reach them there,
Or what can force them thence?”
A religion of powerÂ—”Thy right hand. Thine arm”. And here is the safety, the eternal security of the people of God. There will be times when you think everything is against youÂ—everything without and everything withinÂ—but if you have this gracious, almighty arm for you, then you will get to heaven. A religion of power!
“And the light of Thy countenance.” This is the shining forth of the glory of God.
“See where it shines in Jesus’ face,
The brightest image of His grace!
This is where the divine countenance shines. This is where heavenly light is to be seen, “God Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4, 6). This divine light shines forth. Real religion is a religion of power, but it is also a religion of light. It is a religion of divine enlightenment, and, apart from this, we are in darknessÂ—we are blind, but the Holy Spirit enlightens the eyes, divine light shines and it shews you your need, your danger. The Lord never enlightens a sinner to shew him his need and his danger and leave him to sink there. You are not going to be enlightened just to see dismal things. You are to be brought to see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ”Â—the light of His countenance. Friends, is not this where we come short? We read the Word of God; we often go to the house of God, but how little do we know of the shining of God’s countenance in our soul!
But have there not been times when you have had just a little glimpse of it, when you have viewed that divine light shining in the face of Jesus, and when the Lord has lifted up the light of His countenance upon you and blessed you? I think there are two aspects of it. One aspect of it is this. “Unto you that fear My Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings.” (Malachi 4, 2). A dark, gloomy, overcast day and then the sun breaks through. There are times in your soul when everything is dark, but, let the Lord Jesus shine in His Word, in the promises, in His precious Gospel in your soul, then everything is different. You feel the warmth of it; you feel a little revival in
your heart and you feel a little softening. The other thing is this. We sing:
“The smilings of Thy face,
How amiable they are!
‘Tis heaven to rest in Thy embrace,
And nowhere else but there.”
It is when the Lord smiles, “the light of Thy countenance.” It is a wonderful thing when the Lord smiles.
We had a case recently of a person being brought out of deep trouble into Gospel liberty and the great point in it was thisÂ— the Lord Jesus smiled upon her. Well, it is real. There is everything in it. You do not need anything else. One thing I have noticedÂ—how many of the godly hymnwriters speak in so many places of a smile from the Lord. You will find it is not the same hymnwriter. You will find many of them speak of the Lord’s smile; and why was it? I believe in a former day it was so much known and experienced. We have heard of the two on the road to Emmaus. Everything was dark with them; they were sorrowful and, the more they reasoned, the deeper their sorrow and perplexity grew. But, when “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them,” then they knew something of the light of His countenance.
“Because Thou hadst a favour unto them.” The church once said, “Then was I in His eyes as one that found favour.” (Song Sol. 8, 10). Friends, every mercy, every blessing ever received flows from the free, sovereign, eternal favour of God in Jesus, flows eternally from the covenant of grace, flows through the merit of a crucified Jesus, flows through the work and teaching of the Holy Ghost; and you are blessed characters if you know anything of divine favour flowing into your heart.
I believe these were the vital truths that Philpot loved and for which he contendedÂ—a religion of power, a religion of divine light, a religion all of grace. May we contend for it, and may we never be satisfied until we know more of it.