Prisoners Delivered

“As for you also, by the blood of your covenant I have sent forth your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto you."Zechariah 9:11, 12.

THIS text primarily relates to Israel–to the Jews–and there can be no doubt whatever that there are great blessings in store for God’s ancient people. Although blindness in part has happened unto Israel, yet, in due time, we knowfrom the Word of God that the seed of Abraham will recognize our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the long-promised Messiah. When that happy day comes, the Lord will give to the whole world times of amazing blessing. The fullness of the Gentiles also will then be experienced. Then, too, shall come the latter-day glory of Jerusalem and all nations shall rejoice with her.

You notice that the text begins with the words, “As for you also,” which might be translated so as to run parallel with that pathetic exclamation of our Savior when He wept over Jerusalem and said, “If you had known, even you, atleast in this, your day, the things which belong unto your peace: but now they are hid from your eyes.” The Hebrew of our text might be rendered, “As for you, even you,” and the meaning of the expression is, “There is some very specialblessing for you, O Jerusalem! It is not for the heathen, but, as for you, O Zion–you seed of Abraham according to the flesh–there is something special in store for you.” I think we ought to pray for the Jews more often than we do, and to look more hopefully upon the Jews than we usually do–and not to speak of them as an unbelieving race. The fact is, they have been, in some respects, too believing, for they have blindly clung to the old faith of their fathers instead of going on to know the Lord Jesus Christ. When they do accept Him, that firm adherence which they have shown to the traditions of their sires will make them grandly strong in faith in the only true Messiah. I suppose, however, that we have no Jews with us here, so it is no use, just now, for me to address them. But I may use the text as a message to ourselves. While I do so, may the Holy Spirit bless it to us all! When we read in the Scriptures concerning Israel, we may fairly translate it to mean, spiritually, the Church of God, for, as all who believe are the children of believing Abraham, so all who have been born-again, by the power of the Holy Spirit, belong to the chosen Seed and may be rightly called, “Israel.” In this spiritual sense, how sweetly has our text been fulfilled in the experience of many of us who are the true Israel of God, though Abraham is ignorant of us and Sarah acknowledge us not!

What a wonderful history “the Church of the living God” has had! She has been, so Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” I have sometimes seen, in Scotland, what they call vitrified forts which have, evidently, passed through the fire to such an extent that the whole of the wall has become vitrified into one firmly united mass–and the Church of God seems to me to have been like those vitrified forts, for the fire has been concentrated upon her seven times hotter than anywhere else. Yet to this day the Church of Christ still firmly stands! The Truth of God is still to the front and the name of Jesus is still–

“High over all,
In Hell, or earth, or sky
Angels and men before it fall–
And devils fear and fly.”

So shall it be even to the end!

The 48 th Psalm reminds us of the glory of the ancient “city of the great King,” and of the terror that fell upon heradversaries–“For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled and hastened away. Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail.” So shall it be with the present race of skeptics and rejecters of Christ! Hundreds of generations of skeptics have come and gone like the sere leaves of autumn. They were fresh and green for a little while and then they professed to be a shade to the Church with their philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world–but not after Christ. And before long they withered, fell and rotted into the soil from which they sprang. Yet still the Truth of God abides and “the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth,” still stands fast, awaiting the grand consummation when the topstone shall be placed upon the glorious temple amid shouts of “Grace, Grace unto it.”

Looking into this passage, we notice, first, that there are some prisoners mentioned and they are said to be in a terrible plight.

  1. First, THERE ARE SOME PRISONERS MENTIONED AND THEY ARE SAID TO BE IN A TERRIBLE PLIGHT. We need not look long to find those prisoners, for some of them are here in our midst–and there are others here who were once imprisoned thus–but they have been set free.

These prisoners are said to be

in a pit. It was a common custom and still is, in the East, not to go to the expense of

building prisons, but to make use of dry wells–and the authorities were not always very particular in seeing that they were dry. They just let the prisoner down by a rope, which they pulled up, leaving him in what was, usually, a very secure prison, indeed. No trouble was taken to fit up a proper cell. No money was expended upon ventilation, or anything of the kind. The pit was usually deep and dark–and a great stone was rolled over the mouth of it–and there the prisoner was left, in solitary confinement, often to die of hunger and thirst. If anyone thought or cared to bring him bread and water, it was well for him, but, in many cases, the prisoners were forgotten and nobody ever heard of them anymore. In fact, they were buried alive–and that was, spiritually, our condition when we were in the pit where there is no water.

I look back, 20 years or so, ago, and see myself, as I then was, in that horrible pit–consciously in that pit. We were all there by nature, but we did not know it. But, at the time I am recalling, I did know it. The Lord had opened my eyesand led me to see that I was in a deep, waterless pit by reason of the original sin in the fall of Adam. I saw that I was cast down into a deep pit from which I could not get out by my own exertions–with a nature averse to everything that was good–with a will that was strong for evil, but impotent for good–with a judgment that was out of gear–a taste that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter–a heart that had turned aside unto idols–with everything about me as wrong as wrong could be! I distinctly remember that I did not trouble so much about the original sin through the Fall as I did about my own actual sins and transgressions. Oh, those dreadful walls of guilt that rose up all around me! Dense was the darkness in which I was enveloped and the few gleams of light that ever pierced that darkness only made me see more clearly the huge black walls of my old sins–my youthful sins, not forgotten to this day, but remembered with deep regret–sins of thought, sins of imagination, sins of word, such sins as I was capable of committing at that period of my life. Well do I remember that pit of actual sin. Perhaps some of you are in it at this moment. It is a horrible pit for anyone to be in and it is peculiarly so to some men. If a man has lived for many years in sin, but only in his later life–perhaps when verging on old age–has begun to get enough of the Light of God to show him what he really is in God’s sight, it is an awful thing for him to wake up and find himself in the pit of condemnation as the result of both original and actual sin!

There was a man, once, who lay asleep and, as he slept, he dreamt that he was in a gorgeous palace with marble halls and gold and gems in the utmost profusion. But, as a matter of fact, he was all the while asleep in a loathsome hole where everything was polluted and foul. When he awoke, the gilded walls had all gone and the marble halls had all vanished–and, realizing where he was, the fleeting pleasure of his dream was changed to the abiding misery of the actual facts of his sorrowful experience! Possibly I am addressing some who have just awakened out of their life’s dream and have discovered where they are–where they are by nature and where they are by practice, too–down, down, down in a deep pit where there is no water! For, be it known to you that whenever a man finds himself lost by nature, and by practice, too, he very soon finds that he is also lost by the just condemnation of God–for the thrice-holy Jehovah cannot look upon a polluted heart without abhorrence! It is not possible for Him to see sin without being angry. Some people, in these degenerate days, have invented for themselves a god who equally loves all men whatever their characters may be–who looks upon loathsome imaginations and filthy thoughts with an altogether indifferent eye–and still goes on to bless, let men do what they may. But such a god as that is not the God revealed to us in this old-fashioned Book! Nor is he my father’s God, nor mine, nor yours! Indeed, he is like the idols that are no gods at all! No, where there is sin, justice demands that there should be condemnation–and it also requires that there should be punishment as well. So this is the dreadful thing about our condition by nature–that when we were held in the bonds of sin, we were also condemned and lay in the condemned cell, only awaiting the hour of execution. That was our condition, spiritually–like prisoners in a pit.

We are also told, in our text,

there was no water. Now, generally, in a pit, you do find some water–it drops from

the clouds, if it comes from nowhere else. When Jeremiah was let down, with cords, into the dungeon of Malchiah, we read that, “in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sank in the mire.” It is only natural that in deep holes sunk in the earth, the water should stand in a pool at the bottom. But this pit, of which our text speaks, has all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of an ordinary pit. It is called, as though with an emphasis, “ the pit wherethere is no water”–and there are some ungodly men who are in just such a pit as that. There are others who are up to their armpits in water–very muddy stuff it is–I should not like to drink it, yet they seem able to quench their thirst with it. They are the men who take pleasure in sin and enjoy iniquity!

But Brothers and Sisters, when God means to save a man, He makes him realize that he is in a pit in which there is no water. When a man has reached that point, all “the pleasures of sin” have vanished. He finds that he cannot any longer be pleased with that which once used to afford him great delight. Some of you know what this strange experience means–that the very things you used to crave have become most loathsome to you. Your soul lusted after them and you said, in your youth, “If I could only have these things, I would be the happiest mortal on the earth.” Well, you have had your fill of them and you do not want any more! You are sick of them, as one may eat honey till he loathes the very sight of it. I have heard of a poor flower girl in the streets of London who used to sell violets all day long, taking home at night those she had left. Having them always about her, she said that she hated the smell of violets–and God can make men hate the smell of their sweetest sins and flee from them with disgust! He can turn their sweet wine into the most sour vinegar so that they will be as glad to get away from it as they once were fond of running to it!

When a soul is in this condition, in the pit where there is no water, it often happens that even the lawful comforts of earth lose their usual comforting force. Well do I recollect the time when I was in this waterless pit. It mattered very little to me what I ate or drank. It made but a slight difference to me whether it was day or night, for, by day I dreaded the wrath of God. And if I fell asleep at night, I dreamt of it and wondered, when I awoke, that I was not already in Hell. Even those youthful games and those lawful amusements into which, as a lad, I entered, lost all charm for me. If you have read John Bunyan’s “ Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” you know that at the time when he was under conviction of sin, nothing comforted him at all. There seemed to him to be no brightness in the sky, no flowers on the earth, and no melody in the sweetest songs of the birds. Well, if it is so with any of you, dear Friends–if you are in a pit where there is no water–none whatever–I hope my text applies to you and that you belong to the special class of prisoners to whom the Lord thus speaks–“As for you also, by the blood of your covenant I have sent forth your prisoners from the waterless pit.”

The Lord is speaking of those who secretly belong to the Covenant race of Israel, His own chosen and redeemed ones. Though you know it not as yet, your name is recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Though His love has not, as yet, been fully made known to you, He has ordained you unto everlasting life and, therefore, though you are at present in the pit, you cannot die there and you cannot always lie there. Though you are at present without water, you shall never perish of thirst. You may be brought to dire distress, but you shall then prove that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. As the Lord lives, who chose you by His Grace long before He made the heavens and the earth, He will bring you, as His prisoners, out of the horrible pit and the miry clay, set your feet upon a rock and establish your goings!

That is the first thing mentioned in the text–prisoners in a very terrible plight.

II. Secondly, THE TEXT SPEAKS ABOUT EMANCIPATION. AND THE CAUSE OF THAT EMANCIPATION IS MENTIONED–“By the blood of your covenant I have sent forth your prisoners from the waterless pit.”

Delivered from that horrible pit! How did they get out? The text tells us that God sent them out of it. Oh, that awfulpit of natural depravity–that dreadful pit of actual sin–that fearful pit of just damnation! Nobody ever yet came out of that pit except by Divine Power–nor need anybody ever wish to escape by his own power, for if he did so escape, he might be dragged back again into the dungeon. If a prisoner is released by the king himself, who will dare to re-arrest him? If the Lord, Himself, delivers us, where is the power that can put us back into the pit? It is Jehovah who says, “I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit where there is no water.” Some of us recollect the time when the Lord did thus send us forth. None but He could have done it, but He did it–and did it thoroughly! He snapped every fetter that was upon us, lifted us right up out of the abyss and fully and forever emancipated us–all glory to His ever-blessed name! Then our text tells ushow God did it–“By the blood of your covenant.” Oh, what a grand way of deliverance thisis! Do you know what this expression, “by the blood of your covenant,” means? There was a Covenant between God and His chosen people, made of old, before the day star had first cast his bright beams into the darkness. To make that Covenant sure, God’s only-begotten and well-beloved Son had agreed with His Father that He would ratify it with His own blood. And, in due time, He came to this earth and fulfilled that Covenant by offering up Himself as the God-appointed Victim in the place of guilty men. Now, Brothers and Sisters, it is by that blood of the Everlasting Covenant, offered in our place, that we were set free from the bondage of sin! I heard, the other day, that some wise man had said that if a preacher wanted to be popular–by which I suppose he meant to draw many to hear the Gospel–He must preach blood, and fire, and smoke! I do not know what the smoke has to do with it but I do know that there is nothing that has such power as the precious blood of Christ which cleanses from all sin, and that, next to the blood of Jesus, there is nothing that has such power as the blessed fire which comes down from Heaven, touches the preacher’s lips and makes him speak with fervor and enthusiasm of that precious blood!

There is no man, either living or dead, who was ever sent forth out of the pit of soul-despair except by the blood of the covenant. I can assure you of one thing–the man who can do without the atoning Sacrifice of Christ has never known what true conviction of sin is. Men and women who received their “religion” by natural descent, or who jumped into it in the excitement of a revival meeting, may, perhaps, be content to do without the blood, but, if the Lord has put you into the pit where there is no water and brought you up out of it, you know that there was no deliverance for you until God, in human flesh, made Atonement for your sin by His blood. And, to this hour, if ever you are disturbed and doubtful concerning your true position in God’s sight, you always come back to the blood of the Everlasting Covenant offered upon Calvary’s Cross! And you sing–

“Dear dying Lamb, Your precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Is saved to sin no more.”

If, Sirs, you take away the atoning Sacrifice, you make that blessed Book to be a mere husk from which the kernel has been withdrawn. If you take away expiation by the precious blood of Jesus, you tear away the sinner’s only ground of hope! Indeed, his only hope–and you leave us, of all men, most miserable. I know that when I understood that Jesus Christ bore, in my place, all that I deserved to bear of the wrath of God–and that His death had made the Law of God honorable, so that the Lord Jehovah could pardon me without doing an injustice to the rest of mankind and without suffering the honor and glory of His righteous rule to be tarnished–I grasped it at once. It seemed to me to be far better than the balm of Gilead to my wounds when the great Physician laid His pierced hand upon me and the blood of His Covenant cleansed me from all guilt. And I pray that many others here may have the same experience. Of one thing I am sure–if you really grasp this Truth of God, you will never let it go–you never can let it go! This precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, will be to you, your hope, your rest, your joy, the seal of your Covenant with God and the cause of your walking at liberty forever, for if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed!

I should like to have said more upon this blessed theme, but time fails me, so I must only say, in passing–“Let every Christian remember that if once he knows the power of the blood of Jesus, there is a Covenant existing between him and his God, and he can say with David, "He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” Believer, between your soul and the Maker of Heaven and earth there is a compact which can never be broken! Though earth’s huge pillars bow and break, this Covenant stands forever sure. You being in Christ and Christ being in you, you shall be saved, world without end, for God has declared it and His truth stands fast forever!

III. Thirdly, our text contains A RECOMMENDATION TO THOSE WHO ONCE WERE PRISONERS–“Return been made prisoners again? If it is so, it is very sad, but you can never be imprisoned as you were before. Perhaps you have not been living as carefully as you ought. Or, for some other reason your faith has become weak and so you have fallen into the pit again. But you are not now in prison as you were before, for now you believe you will get out again. No, better than that, you are sure that you will. Albeit that sometimes Giant Despair tells you that you will die in thedungeons of Doubting Castle, you know that you have a key called, "Promise,” in your bosom–and though you have not used it as you should have done, you have the firm conviction that it will open any lock that old tyrant has made–and you hope, some day, to employ it to such good purpose that you will again be free! But, Sirs, you had no business to get into that pit again. When the Lord once set you free, you should have taken good care not to go back again into bondage.

It is a great mercy that you can never go back to such bondage as you once experienced. You are prisoners, it is true, but

you are “prisoners of hope.” Therefore, take the good advice of the text–“Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope.” That same Lord Jesus Christ, who, by His precious blood, once set you free, is still a refuge from every storm and every enemy. And if you are wise, you will cry to Him to deliver you this very hour! I address myself to every Brother and every Sister in Christ who has, in any sense, and to any degree, become a prisoner again. My dear Friend, the Lord delivered you, years ago, did He not? Do you not recollect, with intense gratitude, what He did for you then? Well, He can deliver you again at this very moment! You remember how joyfully you sang–

“He took my feet from the miry clay,
And set me upon the King’s Highway”?

Well, He can do the same thing, again, and do it now. Go to Him at once! You do not need a better Deliverer than the Lord who is “mighty to save,” do you? And as He was able to deliver you when you were so far gone as you used to be, He can surely deliver you now. You say that you are so foolish and so insensible that you cannot make yourself enjoy the means of Grace as you once did. It seems to you that as you get older you get more insensible. Well, but, my dear Brothers and Sisters, you are not spiritually dead, are you? And yet, when you were really dead in trespasses and sins, Christ quickened you! Then, surely He can bring you out of this state of torpor and restore you from this strange swoon into which your soul has fallen. Return to Jesus now, just as you came to Him at the first! If you cannot come to Him as a saint, come as a sinner!

Oh, the many hundreds of times that I have done that! And I expect to do it many more times before I get to Heaven. “What?” someone asks, “do you have to do that Mr. Spurgeon?” Oh, yes, that I do! The devil says to me, sometimes,“you are no child of God.” It is no use to begin arguing with him about that matter! The best way to answer him is to say, “Well, Satan, if I am not a child of God, I soon will be, for I will receive Christ as my Savior and that will make me God’s child.” “Then,” says the devil, “you talk about your faith, but you have no faith to talk about.” “Very well,” I reply, “if I have not any, I soon will have some, for I will begin to believe in Jesus now.” Then he says, “Your Christian experience, as you call it, is all a delusion.” Well, I never argue with him about that, but I say, “Suppose it is a delusion, it is still true that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ and He has promised to save all who trust in Him. So, here and now, I do trust Him and I am saved.” Satan is a very old lawyer. He has been in the profession for many centuries and he knows how to raise all manner of quibbles and difficulties–and he can argue and reason in a very crafty fashion. So your best plan is not to answer him at all, except to say, “I have put my case into the hands of my great Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you have anything to say, you must say it to Him.”

That is my earnest advice and it is the advice of the text, too, to all Christians who have, in any sense, come into bondage again–“Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope.” If you do that, you shall soon come once more into light and liberty and joy and peace!

IV. The last thing in our text is A DOUBLE BLESSING PROMISED–“Even today do I declare that I will render double unto you.” If you turn to Christ, you shall get a double blessing! What does this part of the text mean?

Well, it means that God has such abundant Grace to give that He will not only give you what you really need, but Hewill give you twice as much as that! All the flowers in God’s spiritual garden bloom double. There never was any mercy of His which had not many other mercies wrapped up in it. Every one of them contains far more blessing than we thought it did. Now, dear Brother, dear Sister–can you open your mouth wide and ask from God some great thing? If you do so, you shall receive from God twice as much as you asked for! Do you feel a great need within your soul–a need that is truly dreadful? It craves so much that it seems to be like the two daughters of the horseleech, crying, “Give, give!” Well, God will give you so much that you shall have enough to satisfy that craving twice over! Have you had some very great trouble? Then believe in the Lord and you shall have double as much joy! Have you had deep depression of spirit? You shall have double as much of holy exultation and delight! Has the Lord laid His rod very heavily upon you and made you sorely smart? Then He will give you two kisses to every blow! Has He made you drink out of the bitter cup? Then He will bring you a double draught of the spiced wine of the juice of His pomegranate, two cups of that heavenly nectar for every cup of quassia that you have had! He will make you consolations to abound and super-abound far above all your tribulations!

“Well,” you say, “I am expecting something very great from the Lord.” I am glad of it, but you will receive twice as much! The Queen of Sheba expected a great deal when she went to see Solomon, yet she had to say, “The half was not told me.” So shall you find it with God. I read in the Scriptures that God is Love, but His love to me has been a thousand times better than I ever expected it would be! I thought that when I came to trust under the shadow of His wings, that I should have mercy and Grace and peace–but I never dreamt how much mercy, Grace and peace I would have! And, Brothers and Sisters, I believe it is better than before and that there is something brighter and sweeter than anything I have ever known yet to come! And it shall be the same with you. The Lord will go on to double your blessings and give you yet more and more, according to that blessed text, “Of His fullness have we all received, and Grace for Grace”–Grace upon Grace.

I especially beg you to notice that this is a present promise–do I declare that I will render double untoyou.“ Then why should you not get some of this double joy this very moment? I know that you said, as you were coming to this service, "I do not think I ought to stay for the Communion–I do not feel fit to go to the Table of the Lord. I seem to be as lifeless as a log. If I go and sit there, it will merely be to eat the bread and to drink the wine, but not to enjoy real fellowship with the Lord.” Ah, my Brother, my Sister, if that is true concerning you, it is to you that the text says, “Return to the stronghold.” Turn to Christ as you did at the first and then it may be that your fellowship with Him will be sweeter than even that which you enjoyed when first you came to His Table! It is the Lord who says, “Even today do I declare that I will render double unto you.” Plead the promise in silent prayer right now–if you do so in faith, I shall be surprised if you do not get a double blessing from the Lord very speedily.

Finally, note how true the promise is. When God says, “Even today do I declare that I will render double unto you,"who among us dares to doubt His declaration? I have sometimes heard people say, when they have needed to be believed, "I declare to you that it is so.” And you know that the law of the land now allows those of us who object to the taking of an oath, to make an affirmation and to say, “I do solemnly declare that such-and-such is the fact.” And, in that fashion, God says, “Even today do I declare that I will render double unto you.” Well, then, take Him at His word and “turn you to the stronghold.” While you are sitting here, trust the Lord to give you the double blessing that He has promised! If you do that, you may, each one, say, as you go home, “‘Before I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.’ I had no idea, when I went into the House of Prayer, that I could be so changed. I was singing, no, I mean, howling or growling–as I went up the steps–

“‘Dear Lord, and shall I always lie
At this poor dying rate?
My love so faint, so cold to You
And Yours to me so great?’

yet, when I came out, I was able to sing, and almost to shout–

“‘If ever I loved You, my Jesus, it is now.’”

God grant that this may be the happy experience of many of you, for Christ’s sake! Amen.