A TABLE IN THE WILDERNESS
A Communion Sermon preached by Stephen Towgood of Axminster (d. 1722) on 6th September 1685 in a
“secret cave of the earth” near Axminster, Devon.
“And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” Rev. 12.6.
Beloved, God hath placed us in the wilderness. He hath brought us into a state of obscurity and dispersedness. We are now amongst thorns and briers, but hath not God provided refreshment for us? O let us come and see whether our God hath not been indulgent to His people in their wilderness, desolate condition. What, is there nothing in this wilderness but briers and thorns? Is there nothing but sandy mountains, barren deserts, prospects of blackness, wild beasts, and furious enemies to assault us? O hath not our God provided for us both a place and provision for our refreshment and nourishment? Cannot He make a wilderness a place of delight? Cannot His gracious presence make a wilderness a heaven? It was the murmuring infidelity of the children of Israel when they said, “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” God did furnish a table for them, and God can furnish a table for His people in their wildernesses in gospel times. O beloved, is there not in this ordinance unto which we are now approaching such soul satisfying provisions as may mitigate the troubles, afflictions, and sorrows we may meet with in the wilderness? Consider here the provisions Jesus Christ makes in the wilderness, and then see what this wilderness is.
First of all, Jesus Christ, by these provisions He makes for His people, doth turn the wilderness into a Patmos, a valley of visions. Ah! what did John see when he was in the Isle of Patmos in a banished and exile state. What revelations were made to him. What discoveries had he of wonderful things to come. He was wrapped up and ravished in his spirit. This wilderness may be a valley of visions. In this ordinance here we may see the Lord Jesus Christ presenting Himself to us. Here we may see the banner of His love displayed. Here we may behold the glory of His grace beaming forth in His love. Here we may see the law’s enmity slain by a dying Jesus, and the devils dragged in chains at his chariot. Here we may see justice satisfied, sin pardoned, the favour of God bestowed upon us. O here are other kind of prospects in the wilderness than the prospect of ruin and desolation, blackness and darkness.
Since then we may see such glorious sights, O let us open our eyes at this time, let us behold the Lord Jesus Christ in His glory. He will come to visit us in the wilderness. He will be an habitation in the wilderness. He will spread a table gloriously in the wilderness. Open therefore your eyes; come and see what Christ
is, what Jesus Christ hath done, what Jesus Christ hath suffered for poor souls. And oh! in this, let your eye affect your heart. When you see these things, ah! do you see them with an affected heart? Let your hearts bleed for your sins that hath brought such dolours on Jesus Christ, and let your hearts love the Lord Jesus Christ, who is willing to come from heaven into the wilderness to see you, to commend to you the love of His Father, and His own love, by laying down His life for you, and shedding His blood for you. Behold Him with desire. Be enamoured at Him. O look at Him as God and your salvation. “Looking unto Jesus.” Look off from yourselves. Look off from your sins. Look off from the world to the Lord Jesus Christ, so the word in the original imports; not only a looking on, but a looking off. Poor soul, thou lookest upon thy sins? Thou dost well, if thou dost not so look upon them as to conclude thou art a damned creature. O look upon thy sins so as to mourn for them, to be humbled for them; but look off from their damning power to Jesus Christ. Look off from thy works, from all thy righteousness, from all thy frames, and look wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ. What are your works, but defilements, and cannot stand before the justice of God, when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary will be found too light. The wilderness may become a valley of vision to you, in which you may see glorious things.
Secondly, the wilderness may be made a garden of Eden. a place of sweet delight. So Eden signifies. Ah! the wilderness may be made this to you. Look upon the provisions the Lord Jesus Christ makes for you in the wilderness, and you will find the wilderness a place of sweet delights to you. ‘Tis true, there’s a great deal of affliction the people of God meet withal, but this may be made delightful, O! if the Lord Jesus Christ shall feed your souls with the application of the pardon of sin to you, and the revelations of the love and favour of God unto you, and with the abundant pourings out of the Spirit upon you, and sealing to you all the promises and blessings of the covenant. Will not this be sweet unto you? All your wearisome paths, all your troublesome walks will be made easy. Christ will bring His bottles to stay your spirits; here they are in this ordinance. Since then, the Lord Jesus Christ can make the wilderness as a garden of Eden to you, do you apply to your souls the blessings the Lord Jesus Christ hath purchased for you that the wilderness may be pleasant to you, that your troubles may be more light.
Thirdly, the wilderness may be made a land of springs. Ah Beloved! all our springs are in Jesus Christ, and all our streams are in Him. If He will be pleased to open to us springs in the wilderness we may refresh ourselves with the sweet waters thereof. God will make us to drink of the brook in the way. God will give us water out of the Rock, streams flowing from Christ. Then may we have comfort, refreshment and much satisfaction in this wilderness. Ah! sirs, Jesus Christ is living waters to poor souls that will feed on Him. And then,
Fourthly, the wilderness, through the provisions Jesus Christ makes for His people, may become a little heaven. What is it that makes heaven? Is it not the presence of Christ? In this ordinance you may have the glorious manifestations of God in Christ to you, and this ordinance may become a little heaven to you, a heaven before heaven. O you may see Christ here by an eye of faith; here you may enjoy Him; here you may satisfy yourselves in Him. You may rest in His bosom, be dandled upon His knee. You may have an earnest of the blessed inheritance. These things will make a little heaven in your souls. What though you be, as to your outward state and condition, in the wilderness, your souls may be in heaven, and heaven in your souls, through the precious manifestations of Jesus Christ to you. Here’s a table for you in the wilderness. Here you may have all you want, pardon of sin, peace of conscience, victory over corruptions, the love of God sealed up to you. Whatever you can desire, here you may have it. Therefore now, souls, long for His coming, expect His appearance, make ready for Him. Call forth your graces that they may be all in readiness to praise Him as He comes by. Reach forth the hand of faith as Christ passeth by. Look up to the top of Pisgah. God is pleased yet to continue His ordinances and doth rain down manna. We have not that peace which formerly we had; we are not in those circumstances as formerly we were, but in far worse circumstances. Therefore, let us eat and drink heartily, for we know not how long and tedious a way we may go, and how many brunts we may meet with, and how many thorns and briers we may go through. Therefore, let us feed heartily in this ordinance, whilst in this wilderness.
From the Axminster Ecclesiastica 1660-1698, to be published by Gospel Tidings Publications, March 1976.