God’s Prison, Warden And Prisoner
THIS exhortation is not addressed to all who are here present. It is only addressed to those who “are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.” It is, in fact, addressed only to the true Christian who has passed from death unto life–who is a new creature in Christ Jesus–and in whom dwells the Holy Spirit. To such persons the Apostle Jude says in the text, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” To other persons we have this to say–You cannot keep yourselves in the love of God, for you never knew what it was to be in it. You have lived–with shame and sorrow be it spoken–you have lived all this while in a world that is full of God and yet you have never perceived Him! You have been a pensioner upon His bounty, clothed by His charity, protected by His Providence and yet you have been altogether forgetful of the God whom you ought to have loved with all your heart, soul and strength! Ah, little do you know what you have lost by living without the love of God! The love of God is that which fills our mortal existence with the brightness of Heaven and makes us feast on immortal joys, even in this vale of tears! If some men were born and bred in mines, where they saw not the light of day, I can suppose that they would think themselves possibly better off than those who had lived above and who had walked abroad in the light. I can suppose them to be even conceited because they found themselves better able to find their way about in the gloomy caverns below than those would be whose eyes had been used to the light–more at home there in the gloomy bowels of the earth than the sons of light who had lived above. I can imagine their getting much conceit to themselves because of their enjoying the darkness which is beneath. But still, what a miserable life would it always be to live in that gloom–and what a change to be taken suddenly and for the first time from the dark pit out into the light–to look upon the green fields, the god of day, the flashing waves of the sea and the glories of the starry night! So I can conceive many of my hearers having lived so long in the dark world where there is no light, that they have acquired the art of living in this gloom until they are “wiser in their generation than the children of light.” They can do a thousand things better than God’s people can do and they, therefore, perhaps despise the Christian. But oh, my Friends, if you could but be brought out into the world of love, the world of light, where God, the blessed Sun of Love who floods the earth with peace and blessedness could shine upon those darkened eyeballs of yours–if you could but “know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” –you would think that you had never lived beforeand would pity yourselves to think you could have spent so many years without knowing what true life means! May that come to pass with some tonight! Pray, Christian, pray for those who know not God, that He may be found of them. Ask for them that mighty Grace may come and meet with them and that they may also begin to understand what “the love of God” means!
But the text is spoken to Christians and we must keep it to them and come at once to apply it to the Believer.
The word, “keep,” which is used here, has in it, in the Greek, the idea of keeping under a guard, or of keeping a prisoner in custody. There is the thought of watchfully regarding one who is likely to escape–and so we are told to keep ourselves in the love of God as the warden keeps his prisoner in his cell. I do not like to use such a metaphor in connection with so sweet a text, and yet I must, and so we will have three thoughts. First, we will speak a little about this prison–oh, that we may be always shut up in it!–“the love of God.” Secondly, about the earnest warden who is told to keep theprisoner. in heavenly custody, being never so free and never so happy, as when shut up in this Divine enclosure!
I really do not like to use the text with such a meaning, but I cannot very well bring out the meaning of it in any better way. Let us speak, then, first of–
- THE HEAVENLY PRISON OF “THE LOVE OF GOD.”
There is no restraint about this prison. He who gets into it finds, for the first time, true liberty! Then his mind is free from all its bondage. Then his faculties find themselves in a sea where they may swim. Then are his purest longings gratified. Then are his passions allowed to take wing and mount as they will. Then the soul has space to float onwards and when it comes fully to the love of God, the new-born soul is in its element!
But what is the meaning of this “love of God,” in which we are to keep ourselves? It means, first, Believer, that you are to keep your mind in the remembrance of the love of God to you. We, alas, forget too often what a Friend we haveabove. Keep up, Christian, the recollection of what the Father did for you when He chose you before all worlds! Be continually mindful of what the Son did for you when He poured out His precious blood upon the Cross and gave His life a ransom for many. Never be unmindful of what the Holy Spirit did for you when He called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. About the neck of memory let the glittering pearls of God’s mercy always hang! Take care, whatever else you may forget, that you forget not the love of God to you! As the Krishna said–
“Let every idol be forgotten,
But oh, my Soul, forget Him not.”
Let your ear be bored to this doorpost of God’s love to you! Set this as a seal upon your arm and as a ring upon your finger. Brand it into your inmost heart and let your soul’s core always wear in it the thought of God’s love to you. Queen Mary said that when she died they would find the word, “Calais,” written upon her heart, for the loss of that town hadgrieved her so. But while the Christian lives–for he shall not die–there shall always be engraved upon his heart the name of Christ, for the love of Christ shall abide there! Yes, we will remember You–“we will remember Your love, for Your love is better than wine!”
The Apostle means, too–Keep yourselves in the assurance of the Divine Love. Brothers and Sisters, you have knownthat Christ loves you. You have had it proven to you as clearly as a mathematical demonstration, that God loves you. You have even been able to speak in the singular, and say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” There have been blessed moments when no ripple of doubt disturbed the glossy surface of your calm and peaceful soul. Oh, keep that assurance! Pray that no evil doubt may come in to make you think that God does not love you. Ask that you may be always able to say, “This is my Beloved: my Beloved is mine, and I am His.” Do not sometimes climb the mountain and then slip down into the treacherous mists of the valley, but ask that you may always bathe your forehead in the sunlight of the Divine Assurance of the love of God to you! And so keep yourselves in the love of God.
It means next, keep yourselves
in the enjoyment of the love of God. No one knows what the enjoyment of the Divine
Love is but the man who has experienced it. Oh, the calm which a sense of that Divine Love will bring to the heart! Our Lord said to the noisy billows of the lake, “Be still,” and they quickly hushed their raging and there was a great calm! But the love of Christ is more than peaceful–it is joyful, it is inspiring! The man who has it has a cup filled to the brim and running over! And he who drinks of that holy chalice can say, “There is none like it.” Like the water of the well of Bethlehem by the gate, if any of God’s people should not be able to get at it, they will sigh for it and say, “Oh, that one would give me a drink of that water again!” Some of us know what mirth means–we are of a genial nature and can enter into the common joys of men. We can sit around the social hearth and feel the joys of childhood’s prattle and the glee of the little ones. We thank God we are not stoics–we can share the joys that are common to mankind, but oh, we do proclaim and bear our witness that all the joys of earth heaped together are as nothing compared with the bliss of having the love of God shed abroad in the heart! The others are but common joys, but the love of God is Heaven’s own joy! They are but husks, which are well enough in their way, but the kernel of joy lies in a full understanding of the love of God in the soul. Oh, that we could always live upon it! That this manna dropped from Heaven every morning, that we gathered our omer of it as soon as the sun dawned and fed on it till the sun went down! Happy Christians, seek to keep yourselves thus in the love of God!
But, Brothers and Sisters, this is not all. The Apostle also means, “Keep yourselves in the power of the love of God."Oh, the power of the love of God has in governing and influencing a man! Nothing can master a strong temper, a forceful will, an obstinate disposition, or a wayward heart like the love of God! Even God’s Law is but a frail reed compared with God’s love, which is the rod of Omnipotence. If the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the idols will soon depart and the love of sin will take its flight–and the wickedness which you and I could not conquer without it will be driven out with this two-edged sword of the power of the love of God manifested in the soul! I love to feel myself bowed down under this power until I would sacrifice my own interest, relinquish all self-seeking, abandon all care of being obedient too my own will and be passive in the hand of the Omnipotent Ruler to mold me, rule me and govern me just as He wills! We are not like the horse and the mule that have a bit in their mouths and that require the rod, but when love impels us, our willing feet in swift obedience move and we feel it to be a blessed thing to obey His commandments, or even His gentle leadings by His gracious Spirit!
Brothers and Sisters, I pray you take this exhortation in its practical, as well as its experimental form. Keep yourselves in the love of God , in the manifestation of it. Love the souls of your fellow men! Pity the poor and needy. Havecompassion upon the ignorant and the wicked. Let no strangeness nor excess of sin prevent your loving the sinner–and let no extravagance or unkindness prevent your forgiving one another even unto 70 times seven! Keep yourselves in the love of Christ under provocations as multiplied as those which fell upon your Master’s shoulders and so prove that your charity suffers long and is kind, hopes all things, endures all things because it is not mere human charity, beautiful as that is, but is the love of God reigning and commanding your heart! “Keep yourselves in the love of God” in your relations one to another. May no root of bitterness spring up in this Church, nor in any other. Love one another as one happy family. Love one another, for you will have to dwell together forever in Heaven! Bear with each other, as you hope to be borne with by your loving Savior. Be knit together in brotherly love! Be as one man–be forceful like a phalanx of soldiers marching on to victory. Let the love of God reign in your hearts! Let it gleam from your eyes! Let it flash radiantly from your countenance! Let it bedew your lips and let its savor sweeten your words! Let it give a holy blessedness to your deeds and your thoughts!
Keep yourselves, in all these senses, in the love of God. It is a wondrous prison for a man to be in a blessed paradise for him to walk in. Paradise had a gate and once Adam never wanted to get out of it–just in that sense keep yourselves in this blessed paradise of the love of God and wander not from it. And now, secondly and briefly, let us say two or three words about–
II. THE EARNEST WARDEN WHO IS TO KEEP HIMSELF IN THE LOVE OF GOD.
This warden is not the minister. The minister has to preach and assist me, but the minister is not to take care of my soul as though I had nothing to do with it. I do not believe in any such nonsense as that you can be responsible for other people’s souls, so that others may assist you with their vigilance. Never, I beseech you, Englishmen and Englishwomen, never be such fools as to put yourselves at the feet of a priest! Believe that you have as much prevalence with God as these pretenders have and that if you go to God, and take your burden of sin, you will get it taken off–but if you go roundabout to seek relief and pardon through them–you will never get it, for you insult God in the way by which you go to work! Oh, may God grant that we may never live to see our countrymen so befooled as to put their necks under the Romish yoke once again! May England never be beneath a Pope’s feet, but may we always have too much manliness ever to fall to the snare of this cunning fowler! May we always be kept from it and so may always keep ourselves in the love of God.
And now, Mr. Warden, we are to say a word or two to you. See, then, your prisoner. He is one, alas, who is very apt at escaping from the gracious prison. So infatuated does he become with worldly joys that he will oftentimes let his God, his Savior, go. And besides this, there are many who are prison breakers and who will break his prison bars for him. Shall I tell you their names? There is one fellow called sin. Sin will soon prevent your enjoying the love of God. Let theChristian hesitate to walk disorderly and he will soon begin to talk lightly of his wickedness, and this, again, will soon stop his communion with God. Though the Christian shall not perish, yet many of his joys shall–though God will keep him so that he shall not be utterly destroyed–yet the gladsome sense of the love of God will soon depart when sin comes in to lead astray!
And so it shall be when another breaks the prison, namely, those under the command of idolatry. Let your hearts begin to idolize an earth-born creature and very soon you will not be able to keep yourselves in the love of God. Father, that dear child of yours may become as much an idol to you as even the golden calf was to the Israelites! Husband , wife,friends, acquaintances, brothers, sisters, our goods, our persons, our fame, our reputation–any one of these may become our idol–and when this is the case, there is no keeping the heart in the love of God, for the prison doors are opened and the prisoner, unhappily, comes out.
Warden, if you would keep your prisoner, remember he cannot well come out except through the doors, and, therefore, watch well the door by which he has communications with the outward world. If you would keep yourself in thelove of God, Christian, watch yourself well when you are in business! Watch yourself when you are in the family. Watch the door in private. Watch the communications which you have with the ungodly–and as it is here that you would be apt to fritter away your joys and lose the richness of your communion–be the more watchful here. And, Warden, watch in the night, when it is dark in your soul, for many a prisoner has made his escape at nightfall. Watch well when trouble comes, lest doubts and fears should come in. And if you would lock your prisoner securely in and keep him from escaping from the all-surrounding love of God, watch yourself carefully at all times, lest by any means you slip from this good way!
And, Warden, I would recommend you to take care that every bolt in the prison door is securely fastened. God has given you certain Gospel ordinances and if you would keep yourself in the love of God, read His Word, for it will stir you up to bind yourself to Him! Be much in private prayer, for this has a force like a bolt to keep out the world and keep you in.
Come to the Communion Table, for at the time when Christ is known in the breaking of bread, another bolt is put between you and the world! In fine, whatever He says unto you, do it, for in keeping of His commandments there is great reward.
And, Warden, since you have a prisoner to keep who needs much watching, load him well with chains. Do you thinkthis is a hard suggestion? The chains are such that the more of them the prisoner wears, the more free, light, and happy he will be! Shall I tell you how to forge them? Forge them on the anvil of meditation! Think of what God did before the earth was. Think of eternal love before the day star had begun to shine. Think of what Jesus did for you in the Covenant and in the suretyship engagements of eternity! Bind about your soul the chain of the Savior’s pangs and griefs. If you would keep your heart a blessed prisoner in the love of God, nail it with nails which pierced the hands of Christ and bind it to the pillar where the Lord was scourged! Make every drop of blood which Jesus sweat in the Garden and shed upon the Cross, to be a course of mighty network bound about your heart to hold it a fast prisoner forever!
Oh Brothers and Sisters, we have indeed enough to bind us to Christ if we were not the most willfully forgetful men and women in the world! Oh, what has Jesus done for me? Rather, what has He not done for me? He is All-in-All andbeing to me more than all, let me bind the sacrifice with cords, even with cords to the horns of the altar! Let the hands of a man and the cords of love be cast about this prisoner so that he may never get out of the Divine enclosure of the love of God!
I cannot set before you as I would, nor with all the earnestness I want to command, the necessity of thus binding your heart to the love of Christ, but I will add this. Warden, take care to call in help and remember there is One who can helpyou very efficiently. It is the Holy Spirit. You keep yourself in the love of God? Indeed, you cannot do it unless you call inDivine Power. If ever you get the love of God in your heart, go down on your knees and ask the Holy Spirit to always keep it there! You shall never catch this bird and shall never be able to keep it unless the Holy Spirit helps you. Oh, to be crucified with Christ! We may well desire it–to be fastened to His Cross so that we shall never again desire to wander, but feel ourselves the happy bond-slaves, the free servants of our Lord Jesus Christ! And now, time flies and we have, thirdly, to say a word or two about–
III. THE FREE, THE HAPPY AND THE BLESSED PRISONER who is thus exhorted to keep himself in the love of God.
My dear Brothers and Sisters, if by the help of God we shall be able to do this, how happy we shall be. I would makeno stipulation of any kind if God would grant me one request, namely, that He would keep me in His love. If I might but have this request granted, I am sure it would be equal to me whether He may have appointed me life or death, or whether He may have appointed me weal or woe! It would make no difference where one lived, if one lived in the love of God!
It would make no difference, either, whether one were in wealth or poverty, if the love of Christ had consumed all care about self. When once the love of God, like a devouring flame, has consumed and destroyed all care about self, then we are perfectly happy. It is impossible to then be miserable–all that the heart wants is to be kept in the love of God–for then it would always be in a state of true blessedness! Dear Brothers and Sisters, how important it is that we should be happy! Moses, without the brightness of his face, would be little more than other men. And a Christian without holy joy–what is he? I am certain that nothing has done more mischief to Christianity than the loss of joy of some professors. Why, there are some of you that only dishonor your religion by your constant moans and groans! If we are not happy, who ought to be? Children of God, heirs of Heaven, accepted in the Beloved–all our sins forgiven and we ourselves on the way to Heaven–if we do not sing, who can sing? If there is no holy mirth in our hearts, no joyous songs set to glorious tunes in our souls as we go along our pilgrimage to Heaven, then it must be a miserable world indeed! But a happy Christian entices others to Christ. His very face and bearing are a Gospel ministry of invitation to others. And those otters say, “We will go with you, for we perceive that the Lord is with you.”
And there is another thing. If you are kept in the love of God, besides being happy, you will be so useful. If we do notenjoy the love of God, ourselves, we cannot do much good to others. You will be blessed to your families. You will be blessed to the ungodly and you will be blessed wherever you are if you are kept in the love of God. I can conceive that a man with the love of God in his heart, if he saw a stranger here, would be pretty sure to have a word with him and, perhaps, the stranger would be very glad. I am sure there are here every Sunday a great many people who would be quite willing to have a little talk about Divine things and to whom a little private conversation might be far more useful than any sermon that I could deliver. You who have the love of God in you will look after such–you cannot help it. You love, and God loves. God is blessing you and you want to bless men–and you will pine and pant to bring others to the Savior! I need you, the members of this Church, particularly to have the love of God in your hearts just now, so that these daily Prayer Meetings of ours may be seasons of great and miraculous power! When a cold heart comes into the Prayer Meeting, if it does not hinder, at any rate it brings no help–but every warm and loving heart that comes increases the general fire. You each bring your bundle of wood, as it were, and put it on the hearth, and so it makes one great blaze! Oh, when a thousand hearts that are full of love come together, then prayer is sure to speed!
If your heart is full of the love of God, it will keep on going up to Heaven in prayer, even when you are at your business or your work, as well as when you are in the House of God. Brothers and Sisters, we shall yet have great times! God is going to bless us and we shall see greater things than the world has ever beheld since the day of Pentecost! I trust we are seeking for it and expecting it–and if so, we shall get it! Let us seek to have the blessing in ourselves and ask to be kept in the love of God!
It would not do for the farmer to have his men ill in harvest time–they must be strong and hearty and robust when they have to reap. Oh, that you and I may be made strong to reap here! At such times they bring out the big bottle and though some of us do not think that that is the best thing that could be done for the workman, yet I would like, tonight, to bring out among you the big bottles of the promises of God of which you may drink without any fear of getting intoxicated! Oh, that you could drink of such a promise as this, “I will be with you,” and then, full of strength, go out into the fields and work for Christ without weariness! When Heaven begins to open its golden gates and throw open its windows, and cast out its blessings, then, at all events, let us open the doors of our hearts, throw them wide open in expectancy and open the doors of our mouths wide that God may fill them! Let us come up to this House and go to our own houses, too, with the love of God plenteously shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and let this be always our prayer–
“Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,
With all Your quickening powers.
Come, shed abroad a Savior’s love,
And that shall kindle ours.”
Now, to many here I am afraid I have been saying some things which are no more understood by them than Latin or Greek would be! You could not understand it, but there is one thing I want you to understand before you go tonight, and that is this, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” and whoever here believes in Him–that is, trusts Christ to save him–shall not perish, but have everlasting life! Whatever his past life may have been, however black his character may be, if he will but come to the Heavenly Father, through Christ, trusting in Christ who bore the punishment for sin, such a man or woman or child shall be forgiven! They shall be saved, shall be made a new creature, shall go on their way rejoicing! And they will be filled with the love of God and, with all the blood-washed, shall pass through the pearly gates–and in Heaven shall join with them in singing of the love of God, world without end! May you and I have a portion there, for Christ’s sake.