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Online Text Sermon - How sinners get to heaven, Psalm 107 v.7

Date09/11/2003
Time11:00
PreacherRev. James Clark, Inverness
Sermon TitleHow sinners get to heaven
TextPsalm 107 v.7
Sermon ID704

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"And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation" (Psalm 107, 7).

Here we have the way to heaven. We have the Guide, the way - by implication, the wrong way - and the destination. We also have the purpose of this deliberation: that men might praise and give thanks to God.

1. THE LEADER

2. THE WAY

3. THE DESTINATION

4. THE PURPOSE

In verse one, we have the motive of the Lord in doing this: "His mercy endureth for ever." This mercy, like Himself, is unchanging. If He has purposed it, it shall come to pass and if you look carefully at v.7 it says, "he led them." As far as God is concerned, the work is finished; just as Christ said before His crucifixion, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). He led them. When God puts forth His mercy in His purpose - "it is finished". Mr. Spurgeon has a sermon on two phrases in Genesis, spaced apart in Genesis but he brought them together: "and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came" (Genesis 12, 5), "He led them forth by the right way "because His mercy endureth for ever". Because His mercy is unchanging, they arrived. He is the same, and as we can see from this Psalm, His people are the same in their experiences as they go along that way. What is true of the church as a whole is true of every individual member of the invisible church - not the visible but the invisible church. We read that He gathered them - now spiritually and eternally that means gathering them into Christ not simply gathering them together as a people who profess His name. He gathers them, He leads them, He brings them to their destination.

Consider the very first word of our text - "And". You can find many doctrines in Scripture based on this conjunction. The word "and" directs us back to what has gone before. What has gone before? - prayer: a recognition of their helplessness, a looking out beyond themselves for someone else to help them and deliver them. They see no hope in themselves. This pattern is repeated in the four word-pictures which we have in this Psalm. We have the traveller- the exiles returning to Zion; we have the prisoners; we have the sick and the sailors on the ocean. In each case, they cry to the Lord and He delivers them. "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee" (Psalm 50, 15). You will never cry to the Lord if you believe that you can fend for yourself. That is why it is a matter of life and death that you know for yourself that you are on the right way. If God is your guide, you are on the right way and you will reach your destination. This was actually typified - the return of the exiles - in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In Ezra 8, before they return to Zion - to Jerusalem - Ezra called for a day of prayer. He said he disdained to ask the king for an escort but they prayed that day and asked for God's help and He delivered them and He brought them safely to their destination, Zion - Jerusalem. That typifies the starting-out and the journey and the end of God's people as they go through this wilderness. What is true of the church is true of every traveller on this road. Have you recognised yourself to be by nature an exile from God, a child of wrath even as others? If you have then you will cry to the Lord because you will see no way of escape for yourself. You will not even be able to see the way to heaven. You will have your thoughts, you may follow others, but it is when you cry to the Lord... Obviously, if you think you know the way, you will never ask for directions, will you? It is people who have come to their wits' end, people who feel they are in the dungeon of the darkness of sin and unbelief, and they cannot make any escape - people who do not know the way, who cry to the Lord, "Teach me Thy ways." These are the people in this way - the way to heaven.

1. THE LEADER

Let us first of all look at their Leader: "He led them forth" (text). "He," being their Redeemer. This is the way of the redeemed - v.2: "the redeemed of the Lord." Just as He led them out of Egypt in the Exodus, so He leads us out of the power in which we were held captive: a power greater than Egypt, which Egypt typified; a power from which we cannot escape by our own efforts, but "He" led them forth by the right way. If you have come to faith in this Guide, you will be able to say with the Psalmist that this God is our God for ever. He will be our Guide unto death and over death. The Lord Jesus said that He calls His sheep and He leads them forth.

The shepherd in those days went before the flock. Christ is all around His flock. We read in 2 Corinthians 10 that the spiritual Rock which followed them was Christ. The Lord God brings up the rearward also. He leads them - not only from the front but also, like the pillar of fire and cloud, when there is danger, He moves around to the rear to protect His people as they go forward in their journey. We read that He is still leading them: "unto living fountains of water" (Revelation 7:17). He is still leading them; He is still feeding them. There is still growth in their souls, in their knowledge, in their love throughout eternity. He is still leading them from the front, gathering up the rearward stragglers; being at the sides to protect them, He keeps them going. When any of God's people stumble, they fall forwards. Even the backslider, spiritually speaking, is still being brought forward. Day-by-day they are being brought forward. This Leader is Almighty, He has to be otherwise you would never be on that way, otherwise you would never make it because we read that Christ is upholding all things by the Word of His power. It is Christ Who holds up your goings. If the power of God were somehow to be cut off from our souls, we would fall back into the sin and unbelief from whence we came. He holds up our goings; He maintains us on the way. We read, "the righteous also shall hold on his way" (Job 17, 9). Consider, is that a small 'h' or a capital 'H'? - "the righteous will hold on his way." God will hold him on His way - the right way. He is almighty; how else could we have supply for the journey?

We do not feed ourselves on things which are seen - whether ceremonial or worldly. We feed on what we may call the hidden manna. The Lord said, "I have meat to eat that you know not of" (John 4, 32). This way is invisible to sense. It is as Job said, "a path which no fowl knoweth" (Job 28, 7); they cannot see it. We have an invisible way, we have an invisible Guide, we have invisible feeding - supernatural feeding by the Holy Spirit. The things of sense, the things which are seen, are not sufficient to feed us; they cannot strengthen us, indeed, they will weaken us if we keep our eyes too much upon them. We need to be fed along the way; just as God gave manna, so He feeds us in the inward man. The outward man may perish on the journey but the "inward man", we read, "is renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4, 16) - fed from the inside. This is the King's highway and every person on it has a safe conduct. God leads and befriends them. He has pledged Himself: "because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14, 19); "I will walk among you, and will be your God: and ye shall be my people" (Leviticus 26, 12); "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13, 5); "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15, 1).

Do we not give thanks that He is longsuffering? Who else could have borne with you along this way, even so far? How many wonderings, how many murmurings, how many mistakes made in providence in God's dealings with you, how many confessions and then returning to make the same mistake? He has the longsuffering of a Father. "Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord of hosts is his name" (Jeremiah 50, 34). He does not change in His love: "having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (John 13, 1) -nor in His longsuffering, He will never abandon us and it is because of His grace that we shall never abandon Him - because we would! It is God's power in us; it is God's love in us, which reflects back to Himself. We will continue to love Him because he first and eternally loved us. That is why the righteous will hold on his way. Any other guide would have abandoned us long ago, and we Him.

You see this reflected in Psalm 105/6: you have all the murmurings and rebellions. However - as we were singing in Psalm 106, 8 - though they "provoked Him grievously, nevertheless He saved them, even for His own name's sake." For His own name's sake we are accepted, we are loved, we are kept in the Beloved. All that we have eternally is to be found in Christ Jesus. If this has touched your heart, you may be saying to yourself, "O that I could love Him more!" Well my friend, God's love to you, if you are a believer, is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. You may comfort yourself with the fact that although your love for Him is not infinite, it is eternal and is unchangeable - by God's grace.

2. THE WAY

Secondly, let us come to the way. "He led them forth by the right way" (text). This is the way of the redeemed. It is the right way as far as God is concerned. Many think it is the wrong way, as we shall see, but God has made a way back to Himself, a way even from the Garden of Eden where we fell in Adam. In this way, He is just and the Justifier of those who believe in Christ Jesus. In this way, "Mercy and truth are met together" (Psalm 85, 10). This is a way He has made for the exiles to return. "Deliver him from going down to the pit:" He says, "I have found a ransom" (Job 33, 24).

There is a significant and spiritual verse regarding this. A woman of Tekoah comes to David and says, "For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him" (2 Samuel 14, 14). Christ is that means - the Way, the Truth and the Life. That is how you must come to the Father: along this right way, this new and living way, this "path which no fowl knoweth" (Job 28, 7), this way from earth to heaven. It is the right way. Sometimes in your experience, you may be questioning that. There are all kinds of contradictions and incongruities found in the Christian's life. Sometimes we wonder, like Rabbi Duncan, that we know all the doctrines, yet, he said, "I wonder if I am a Christian." We find so many contradictions in ourselves, so many in God's providences, so much mistaking of God's dealings. Jacob said, "All these things are against me" (Genesis 42, 36), when in actual fact, all things were working for his good (Romans 8, 28) and Joseph's.

Sometimes in providence, we have to exercise patience. We tend to think, poor souls that we are, that God's providence will be like a straight line - like the hand fitting the glove. There are all kinds of anomalies: "Neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 55, 8)"; I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known" (Isaiah 42, 16). Joshua said to the people, "Ye have not passed this way heretofore" (Joshua 3, 4). Sometimes "we are perplexed", as the apostle says, "but not in despair" (2 Corinthians 4, 8). We are perplexed because sometimes we do not know the direction; sometimes we do not know what choice to make. Sometimes we wonder if we are going to escape from the dreadful predicament in which we have found ourselves or perhaps put ourselves into. You have an example of that with Israel at the Red Sea. They were following in the right way and they came to a dead end: the sea before them, the mountains on either side of them, the enemy behind them and no way of escape. It wasn't that there was a way and they just didn't see it; there was no way to escape! That is why Moses said, "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exodus 14, 13). There was no way until God made a way. As it is written, "perplexed, but not on despair" (2 Corinthians 4, 8); He "will with the temptation (or trial) also make a way to escape" (1 Corinthians 10, 13). "Make a way to escape." Therefore, my friend, sit still. Perhaps God has not yet made the way and that is why you are vainly looking for it. "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exodus 14, 13). "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established" (Isaiah 7, 9), says the Lord. He also says, "He that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28, 16). Is it not a question of trust or confidence? How often our impatience turns delay in to a great trial instead of waiting patiently upon the Lord. Yet, who can do that? There is belief and unbelief; part of unbelief is impatience: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9, 24).

Mr. Spurgeon said that many of God's people travel much of the way to heaven by night - in the darkness. Jeremiah said, "He hath led me, and brought me into darkness" (Lamentations 3, 2). Isaiah said, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? (Isaiah 50, 10). Spiritual darkness can afflict many souls while being on the right way: they fear the Lord and hearken to the voice of His servant and yet they walk in darkness. "He hath led me, and brought me into darkness" (Lamentations 3, 2), said Jeremiah. Spiritual darkness is when all your comforts and sense of God's presence and love have been suspended and you wonder what has hit you. You say with Rabbi Duncan, "I wonder if I am a Christian?" You went out at conversion with rejoicing, with much of God's presence - that He was leading you - then suddenly all support for your soul is gone. Now you know what it is to walk by faith, without sight and without feeling. What is the counsel to such? The Bible says, "Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God" (Isaiah 50, 10). To 'stay' is to lean. Remember the Pilgrim in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, with his crutches? These were his promises. You are to lean upon what God says. As William Jay put it, "When you do not understand God's actions, rely upon God's words". William Jay, that excellent minister at Bath. How do you follow someone in the dark? You must listen to their voice. You cannot see Him, you cannot feel Him but you must listen to His voice. Like Moses, he endured as seeing Him who was invisible. Listen to His voice! You are still led, and remember - "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119, 105).

It is a strange experience but one which benefits your growth in grace: when the Lord withdraws the support of feelings. Then you know what it is to walk by faith alone. We believe in the perseverance of the saints not the' easy walk' of the saints. It is a mark of grace that when you are suffering in your soul with doubts and unbelief and a lack of sense of God's presence, feeling darkness - it is a mark of grace that you go on, despite all these things. You go on; you do not go back. You are, perhaps, in many ways like Mr. Fearing; though there were great tantrums and crying in his fears, one thing was noticed - he would not go back. Just like Job in his darkness, he was ready to curse a few things - the day of his birth - but he would not curse God. He blessed God: "I know that my redeemer liveth" (Job 19, 25); even in the darkness, "He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me", and it is a trial, "I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23, 10).

By implication, there is a wrong way. I will briefly mention what this wrong way is. In Proverbs we read, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25). The emphasis there is on the fact that the way seems right. It falls in with the desires and expectations of fallen nature. It 'seems'; it has an appearance; you can see it: its ceremonies, its religion, its doings, its works, its attendance, its duties. It's attractive and it seems right because you can see it. Without faith you are repelled from the spirituality of God's Word, God's way and God's guidance. That is why many people flock to services of worship which give an abundance of material and physical things. There is no reliance there of exercising faith. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man" (Proverbs 14, 12 and 16, 25) but if you are on that way it leads to death; indeed, the way is death itself. It doesn't just say that those on the way shall perish as in Psalm 2; it says in Psalm 1 that the way of the ungodly shall perish - the very way they are on. How can the wrong way be at one and the same time the way and yet the destination? Illustrations are limited but if you think of what it is like in an earthquake. You can be walking or driving along the road when it comes. The road becomes a pit - there is subsidence. The way just drops - it isn't there any more. Spiritually speaking we are talking about a bottomless pit. The end of that way is the way of death. Many are sacrificing their future for the present but how long will the present be? God has told you there is a right way. Christ Jesus said, "I am the Way", guaranteed - "the Truth", and the destination - "the Life". It is all in Christ. You must look away from yourselves to Christ Jesus because that is the essence of faith. Moses, we read, rejected all the pleasures of Egypt because "he had respect unto the recompence of the reward" (Hebrews 11, 26). "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15, 1). The words there - "he had respect" - mean he looked away from Himself, from the world, to Christ. Christ says to sinners, "Follow me" (Matthew 4, 19) - which they do! It means eyes up, heads up: "set your affection on things above" (Colossians 3, 2).

In the early centuries - second, third, fourth century AD - one of the first things the minister in the pulpit said to the congregation was "Lift up your hearts". Lift them up above the weak and beggarly elements. Remember that man in Bunyan's picture looking down when all the time there was a crown suspended above his head. "Follow me" (Matthew 4, 19), says the Lord; look up and look away from self and from the world. Remember, there is a way that seems right and Satan will do all he can to keep you on that wrong way; he has his flock that he leads forth: "Like sheep they are laid in the grave" (Psalm 49, 14). Not God's sheep. Like the strong man armed, he will do all he can to keep you, his goods, in peace lest you be disturbed by the thought - Am I on the wrong way?

Hugh Latimer - that godly Bishop and martyr in the English Reformation - said in one of his sermons, "Who is the busiest minister in England today? Who is always going round visiting his parishioners? Who is always encouraging them and soothing their souls? He said, "it's the devil; it is Satan"." He is always at work. He is never out of his parish. He has his mind on one thing - keep them in that wrong way. It was the Almighty God the Lord and it is the exceeding greatness of His power - nothing else and nothing less - that can put you on to that way, keep you on it and bring you to your destination which He has purposed.

3. THE DESTINATION

Thirdly, let us move on quickly to the destination. You read of this city that its Builder and Maker is God (Hebrews 11, 10). God is not ashamed to be called their God because He has built for them a city; Zion typifies the Jerusalem which is above. It is interesting that one of the first things Cain did after he went out from the presence of the Lord was to build a city. This world is building an imitation and attracting everyone of all kinds to this city. Augustine's great work - written after the collapse of Rome, which in one sense personified this city on earth - was called 'The City of God', and how spiritual it was. There are many imitations of this city in the world today and they are all designed to fill up the emptiness which a sinner will find in his or her soul. God describes this world as a wilderness and in a wilderness you will find nothing to satisfy you. Satan, the great counterfeiter, builds his own city - Cain's city, Babylon, Rome and many others. He is out selling his wares, making his attractions and appearances appeal to your fallen nature.

Many go in to what Bunyan called Vanity Fair. If God has built a city and has given His people a spirit of pilgrimage, He will not let them settle down here. Many a time He will restore that spirit to your soul because many a time you will think that this world is not such a bad place after all. Just as the eagle stirs up her nest, God will stir you up: "He restoreth my soul" (Psalm 23, 3). God, in His Word and in His providence and in the movements within your soul, says to you: "Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction" (Micah 2, 10). Augustine said, "Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

There is great danger if you are a pilgrim. When Abraham went on pilgrimage, he took Terah with him. However, Terah stopped half way in Haran; he didn't make it. God stirred up Abraham and called to him again. That seems to be the correct interpretation: God had to call him a second time to leave Haran and to go to that Promised Land.

None of us should 'think that we stand', lest we fall. Lot, we read, was a righteous man. There is a very spiritual article by the late Professor Finlayson, written some fifty years ago at least in the church magazine. He calls Lot's story the history of a sin. See how Lot was attracted: Lot looked toward Sodom. It reminded him, we read, of Egypt. Then Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom - getting nearer. Then we read, Lot sat in the gates of Sodom and God had to stir him up violently. The further you go away from God and the more sleepy you become in your soul, then it is in the Lord's faithfulness to stir you up. "Thou in faithfulness," saith the Psalmist, "hast afflicted me" (Psalm 119:75). God corrects; God brings us back. "None shall perish," said the Lord. The Father has given His people in to the hand of Christ; none can pluck them out. Sometimes He has to stir us up. When He does that, He strengthens our faith to get back to the foundation of things that are not seen, and the conviction of things also which are not seen; the foundation of things hoped for: to lift up our eyes above the earth, above sense, above ourselves.

It is tragic to see so many who say they are on pilgrimage, looking at themselves and at the things that are seen. A person on a journey with desires - "so he bringeth them unto their desired haven" (Psalm 107:30) - is looking ahead. They are not looking out of the carriage windows; they are looking ahead to the destination where Christ is. Bunyan said, "Which when I saw, I wished myself among them." Many are disappointed with this world, but they don't look for a better country!! It is easy to be disappointed, but we read that God restores his people to faith - "out of weakness were made strong" (Hebrews 11:34). How is faith made strong? - by going back to the things that are not seen: the things that God has prepared for them that love Him.

4. THE PURPOSE

Fourthly and finally: the purpose of God's deliverance. "O that men would praise the Lord..." (Psalm 107:8). The purpose is thanksgiving. Is it not tragic that the apostle Paul has to put in this command to God's people - "And be ye thankful" (Colossians 3:15). Does that not imply that we do not often think enough of our distress and of our deliverance and of our demerit? "And be ye thankful" (Colossians 3:15). Legion, remember, when he came and he wished to be with Christ in Mark 5, the Lord told him to go back to his home and tell his friends what great things the Lord had done for him "and for His wonderful works to the children of men" (Psalm 107, 8). "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul" (Psalm 66, 16). The Lord sent him back: "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee" (Mark 5, 19); give thanks within and give thanks also around. Our debt to this Physician, as Spurgeon said, was thankfulness, for all that He has done for us - thankfulness: "O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107, 8).

Now a word for the young people here. Much prayer is spent on the young people in this congregation and throughout this land, indeed; but are you able to say with Jeremiah, "Thou art the Guide of my youth" (Jeremiah 3, 4)? There is a danger in simply saying that, or learning it, and not having it in the heart. You can only go to this destination by going on "the right way" (text) and you can only go on the right way by having God as your Guide unto death, for ever. "Thou art the Guide of my youth" (Jeremiah 3, 4).

Let me speak a word to the elderly who are nearing their destination. James Renwick was afraid of denying the cause when Peden said to him, "Thou shalt win through and get cleanly off the stage." "The righteous also shall hold on his way" (Job 17, 9). In a sense, you should be spiritually rehearsing for the place which you will have in the presence of the Lord in glory. "O that men would praise the Lord..." (Psalm 107, 8). "Thou shalt win through and get cleanly off the stage" and leave an example behind, just like the elders who are in office; it can be applied also to the elders who are not in office: "whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation (conduct), " (Hebrews 13, 7). As Samuel Rutherford put it -

Soon shall the cup of glorywash down earth's bitterest woes,Soon shall the desert briarbreak into Eden's rose.The curse shall change to blessing,the Name on earth that's bannedbe graven on the white stonein Immanuel's land.

"Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107, 6-8).


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