“Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song. Arise, Barak and lead your captivity captive, you son of Abinoam.”
MANY of the saints of God are as mournful as if they were captives in Babylon, for their life is spent in tears and sighing. They will not chant the joyous Psalm of praise and if there are any that require of them a song, they reply, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” But, my Brethren, we are not captives in Babylon. We do not sit down to weep by Babel’s streams. The Lord has broken our captivity, He has brought us up out of the house of our bondage. We are freemen. We are not slaves. We are not sold into the hand of cruel taskmasters, but, “we which have believed do enter into rest” (Heb. 4:3).
Moses could not give rest to Israel. He could bring them to Jordan, but across the stream he could not conduct them–Joshua alone could lead them into the lot of their inheritance and our Joshua, our Jesus, has led us into the land of promise. He has brought us into a land which the Lord our God thinks on. A land of hills and valleys. A land that flows with milk and honey. And though the Canaanites still are in the land and plague us full sore, yet is it all our own and He has said unto us, “All things are yours. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours. And you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
We are not, I say, captives, sold under sin. We are a people who sit every man under his own vine and his own fig tree, none making us afraid. We dwell in “a strong city. Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks” (Isa. 26:1). We have come unto Zion, the city of our solemnities and the mourning of Babylon is not suitable to the palace of the great King, which is beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth. Let us, “serve the Lord with gladness, and come before His presence with singing” (Psa. 100:2).
Many of God’s people live as if their God were dead. Their conduct would be quite consistent if the promises were not yes, and amen. If God were a faithless God. If Christ were not a perfect Redeemer. If the Word of God might, after all, turn out to be untrue. If He had not power to keep His people and if He had not love enough with which to hold them even to the end, then might they give way to mourning and to despair. Then might they cover their heads with ashes and wrap their loins about with sackcloth.
But while God is Jehovah, just and true. While His promises stand as fast as the eternal mountains. While the heart of Jesus is true to His spouse. While the arm of God is unpalsied and His eye undimmed. While His Covenant and His oath are unbroken and unchanged–it is not comely, it is not seemly for the upright to go mourning all their days. You children of God, refrain yourselves from weeping and make a joyful noise unto the Rock of your salvation. Let us come before His Presence with thanksgiving and show ourselves glad in Him with Psalms–
“Your harps, you trembling saints,
Down from the willows take;
Loud to the praise of love Divine,
Bid every string awake.”
First, I shall urge upon you a stirring up of all your powers to sacred song. “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song.” In the second place, I shall persuade you to practice a sacred leading of your captivity captive. “Arise, Barak and lead your captivity captive, you son of Abinoam.”
- First, then, A STIRRING UP OF ALL OUR POWERS TO PRAISE GOD, according to the words of the holy woman in the text, “Awake, awake”–repeated yet again “Awake, awake.”
What is there that we need to awaken if we would praise God? I reply, we ought to arouse all the bodily powers. Our flesh is sluggish. We have been busy with the world, our limbs have grown fatigued, but there is power in Divine joy to arouse even the body itself, to make the heavy eyelids light, to reanimate the drowsy eyes and quicken the weary brain. We should call upon our bodies to awake, especially our tongue, “the glory of our frame.” Let it put itself in tune like David’s harp of old. A toil-worn body often makes a mournful heart. The flesh has such a connection with the spirit that it often bows down the soul.
Come, then, my Flesh, I charge you, awake! Blood, leap in my veins! Heart, let your pulsing be as the joy strokes of Miriam’s timbrel! Oh, all my bodily Frame, stir up yourself now and begin to magnify and bless the Lord, who made you and who has kept you in health and preserved you from going down into the grave.
Surely we should call on all our mental powers to awake. Wake up, my Memory, and find matter for the song. Tell what God has done for me in days gone by. Fly back, you Thoughts, to my childhood–sing of cradle mercies. Review my youth and its early favors. Sing of longsuffering grace, which followed my wandering and bore with my rebellions. Revive before my eyes that gladsome hour when first I knew the Lord and proclaim again the matchless story of the, “Streams of mercy never ceasing,” which have flowed to me since then and which, “call for songs of loudest praise.”
Awake, my Judgment, and give measure to the music. Come forth, my Understanding, and weigh His loving kindness in scales and His goodness in the balances. See if you can count the small dust of His mercies. See if you can understand the riches unsearchable which He has given to you in that unspeakable gift of Christ Jesus my Lord. Reckon up His eternal mercies to you–the treasures of that Covenant which He made on your behalf, before you were born. Sing, my Understanding, sing aloud of that matchless wisdom which contrived–of that Divine love which planned–and of that eternal grace which carried out the scheme of your redemption.
Awake, my Imagination, and dance to the holy melody. Gather pictures from all worlds. Bid sun and moon stay in their courses and join in your new song. Constrain the stars to yield the music of the spheres. Put a tongue into every mountain and a voice into every wilderness. Translate the lowing of the cattle and the scream of the eagle. Hear the praise of God in the rippling of the rills, the dashing of the cataracts and the roaring of the sea, until all His works in all places of His dominion bless the Lord.
But especially let us cry to all the graces of our spirit–“awake.” Wake up, my Love, for you must strike the keynote and lead the strain. Awake and sing unto your Beloved a song touching your well-Beloved. Give unto Him choice canticles, for He is the fairest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely. Come forth, then, with your richest music and praise the name which is as ointment poured forth.
Wake up, my Hope, and join hands with your sister–Love. And sing of blessings yet to come. Sing of my dying hour, when He shall be with me on my couch. Sing of the rising morning, when my body shall leap from its tomb into her Savior’s arms! Sing of the expected advent, for which you look with delight! And, O my Soul, sing of that Heaven which He has gone before to prepare for you, “that where He is, there may His people be.” Awake my Love–awake my Hope–and you, my Faith, awake also! Love has the sweetest voice, Hope can thrill forth the higher notes of the saved scale. But you, O Faith–with your deep resounding base melody–you must complete the song.
Sing of the promises sure and certain. Rehearse the glories of the Covenant ordered in all things and sure. Rejoice in the sure mercies of David! Sing of the goodness which shall be known to you in all your trials yet to come. Sing of that blood which has sealed and ratified every Word of God. Glory in that eternal faithfulness which cannot lie and of that Truth of God which cannot fail.
And you, my Patience, utter your gentle but most gladsome hymn. Sing today of how He helped you to endure in sorrows' bitterest hour. Sing of the weary way along which He has borne your feet and brought you at last to lie down in green pastures, beside the still waters. Oh, all my Graces, Heaven-begotten as you are, praise Him who did beget you. You children of His Grace, sing unto your Father’s name and magnify Him who keeps you alive. Let all that in is me be stirred up to magnify and bless His holy name!
Then let us wake up the energy of all those powers–the energy of the body, the energy of the mind, the energy of the spirit. You know what it is to do a thing coldly, weakly. As well might we not praise at all. You know also what it is to praise God passionately–to throw energy into all the song and so to exult in His name. So do you, each one of you, this day. And if Michal, Saul’s daughter, should look out of the window and see David dancing before the ark with all his might and should chide you as though your praise were unseemly, say unto her, “It was before the Lord, which chose me before your father and before all his house … therefore will I play before the Lord” (2 Sam. 6:21).
Tell the enemy that the God of election must be praised, that the God of redemption must be extolled–that if the very heathen leaped for joy before their gods, surely they who bow before Jehovah must adore Him with rapture and with ecstasy. Go forth, go forth with joy, then, with all your energies thoroughly awakened for His praise!
But you say unto me, “Why should we this day awake and sing unto our God?” There be many reasons. And if your hearts are right, one may well satisfy. Come, you children of God and bless His dear name. For does not all nature around you sing? If you were silent, you would be an exception to the universe. Does not the thunder praise Him as it rolls like drums in the march of the God of armies? Does not the ocean praise Him as it claps its thousand hands? Does not the sea roar and the fullness thereof? Do not the mountains praise Him when the shaggy woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Does not the lightning write His name in letters of fire upon the midnight darkness?
Does not this world, in its unceasing revolutions, perpetually roll forth His praise? Has not the whole earth a voice and shall we be silent? Shall man, for whom the world was made and suns and stars were created–shall he be dumb? No, let him lead the strain! Let him be the world’s high priest and while the world shall be as the sacrifice, let him add his heart and thus supply the fire of love which shall make that sacrifice smoke towards Heaven.
But, Believer, shall not your God be praised? I ask you, shall not your God be praised? When men behold a hero, they fall at his feet and honor him. Garibaldi emancipates a nation and lo, they bow before him and do him homage. And You, Jesus, the Redeemer of the multitudes of Your elect, shall You have no song? Shall You have no triumphal entry into our hearts? Shall Your name have no glory? Shall the world love its own and shall not the Church honor its own Redeemer?
Our God must be praised. He shall be. If no other heart should ever praise Him, surely mine must. If creation should forget Him, His redeemed must remember Him. Tell us to be silent? Oh, we cannot. Bid us restrain our holy mirth? Indeed, you bid us do an impossibility. He is God and He must be extolled. He is our God, our gracious, our tender, our faithful God, and He must have the best of our songs.
You say, Believer, why should I praise Him? Let me ask you a question, too. Is it not Heaven’s employment to praise Him? And what can make earth more like Heaven, than to bring down from Heaven the employment of glory and to be occupied with it here? Come, Believer, when you pray, you are but a man, but when you praise, you are as an angel. When you ask a favor, you are but a beggar, but when you stand up to extol, you become next of kin to cherubim and seraphim. Happy, happy day, when the glorious choristers shall find their numbers swelled by the addition of multitudes from earth! Happy day when you and I shall join the eternal chorus. Let us begin the music here. Let us strike some of the first notes, at least. And if we cannot sound the full thunders of the eternal hallelujah, let us join as best we may. Let us make the wilderness and the solitary place rejoice and bid the desert blossom as the rose.
Besides, Christian, do you not know that it is a good thing for you to praise your God? Mourning weakens you, doubts destroy your strength. Your groping among the ashes makes you of the earth, earthy. Arise, for praise is pleasant and profitable to you. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” You grow in grace when you grow in holy joy. You are more heavenly, more spiritual, more Godlike, as you get more full of joy and peace in believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
I know some Christians are afraid of gladness, but I read, “Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” If murmuring were a duty, some saints would never sin and if mourning were commanded by God they would certainly be saved by works, for they are always sorrowing and so they would keep his Law. Instead the Lord has said, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice.” And he has added, to make it still more strong, “Rejoice evermore.”
But I ask you one other question, Believer. You say, “Why should I awake this morning to sing unto my God?” I reply to you, “Have you not a cause?” Has he not done great things for you and are you not glad thereof? Has he not taken you out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay? Has he not set your feet upon a rock and established your goings and is there no new song in your mouth? What? Are you bought with blood and yet have you a silent tongue? Loved of your God before the world began and yet not sing His praise?
What? Are you His child, an heir of God and joint-heir with Jesus Christ and yet no notes of gratitude? What? Has He fed you this day? Did He deliver you yesterday out of many troubles? Has He been with you these thirty, these forty, these fifty years in the wilderness and yet have you no mercy for which to praise Him? O shame on your ungrateful heart and your forgetful spirit. Come pluck up courage, think of your mercies and not of your miseries. Forget your pains awhile and think of your many deliverances. Put your feet on the neck of your doubts and your fears and God the Holy Spirit, being your Comforter, begin from this good hour to utter a song.
“But,” says one, “WHEN shall I do this? When shall I praise my God?” I answer, praise you the Lord, all His people, at all times and give thanks at every remembrance of Him. Extol Him even when your souls are drowsy and your spirits are inclined to sleep. When we are awake there is little cause to say to us four times, “Awake, awake, awake, awake, utter a song.” But when we feel most drowsy with sorrow and our eyelids are heavy–when sore afflictions are pressing us down to the very dust, then is the time to sing Psalms unto our God and praise Him in the very fire.
But this takes much grace and I trust, Brethren, you know that there is much grace to be had. Seek it of your Divine Lord and be not content without it. Be not easily cast down by troubles, nor soon made silent because of your woes. Think of the martyrs of old, who sang sweetly at the stake–think of Ann Askew, of all the pains she bore for Christ and then of her courageous praise of God in her last moments. Often she had been tortured, tortured most terribly. She lay in prison expecting death and when there she wrote a verse in old English words and rhyme–
“I am not she that lyst
My anker to let fall,
For every dryslynge myst;
My shippe’s substancyal.”
Meaning thereby, that she would not stop her course and cast her anchor for every drizzling mist. She had a ship that could bear a storm, one that could break all the waves that beat against it and joyously cut through the foam. So shall it be with you. Give not God fine weather songs, give Him black tempest praises. Give Him not merely summer music, as some birds will do and then fly away–give Him winter tunes. Sing in the night like the nightingales, praise Him in the fires, sing His high praises even in the shadow of death and let the tomb resound with the shouts of your sure confidence. So may you give to God what God may well claim at your hands.
When shall you praise Him? Why, praise Him when you are full of doubts, even when temptations assail you, when poverty hovers round you, and when sickness bows you down. They are cheap songs which we give to God when we are rich. It is easy enough to kiss the hand of a giving God, but to bless Him when He takes away–this is to bless Him, indeed. To cry like Job, “though He slay me yet will I trust in Him,” or to sing like Habakkuk, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines. The labor of the olive shall fail and the fields shall yield no meat–the flocks shall be cut off from the fold and there shall be no herd in the stalls–yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
Oh Christian, you ask me when you shall rejoice, I say today, “Awake, awake, O Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song.”
Yet once more, you reply to me, “But HOW can I praise my God?” I will be teacher of music to you and may the Comforter be with me. Will you think this morning how great are your mercies? You are not blind, nor deaf, nor dumb. You are not a lunatic. You are not decrepit. You are not vexed with piercing pains. You are not full of agony caused by disease–you are not going down to the grave. You are not in torments–not in Hell. You are still in the land of the living, the land of love, the land of grace, the land of hope.
Even if this were all, there were enough reasons for you to praise your God. You are not this day what you once were, a blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious. The song of the drunkard is not on your lips, the lascivious desire is not in your heart. And is not this a theme for praise? Remember but a little while ago, with very many of you, all these sins were your delight and your joy. Oh, must not you praise Him, you chief of sinners, whose natures have been changed, whose hearts have been renewed? You sons of Korah, lead the sacred song!
Remember your iniquities, which have all been put away and your transgressions covered and none of them laid to your charge. Think of the privileges you enjoy this day–elect, redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, adopted and preserved in Christ Jesus. Why Man, if a stone or rock could but for a moment have such privileges as these, the very adamant must melt and the dumb rock give forth hosannas. And will you be still when your mercies are so great!? Let them not lie–“Forgotten in unthankfulness and without praises die.”
Remember yet again how little are your trials, after all. You have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin. You are poor, it is true, but then you are not sick. Or you are sick, but still you are not left to wallow in sin. And all afflictions are but little when once sin is put away. Compare your trials with those of many who live in your own neighborhood. Put your sufferings side by side with the sufferings of some whom you have seen on their dying bed–compare your lot with that of the martyrs who have entered into their rest. And oh, I say, you will be compelled to exclaim with Paul, “These light afflictions which are but for a moment are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Come, now, I beseech you, Brothers and Sisters, by the mercies of God, be of good cheer and rejoice in the Lord your God, if it were for no other reason than that of the brave-hearted Luther. When he had been most slandered–when the Pope had launched out a new bull and when the kings of the earth had threatened him fiercely–Luther would gather together his friends and say, “Come let us sing a Psalm and spite the devil.”
He would ever sing the most Psalms when the world roared the most. Let us today join in that favorite Psalm of the great German, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried in the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and are troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (Psa. 46:1-3). I say, then, sing to make Satan angry. He has vexed the saints. Let us vex him.
Praise the Lord to put the world to the blush. Never let it be said that the world can make its votaries more happy than Christ can make His followers. Oh, let your songs be so continual and so sweet, that the wicked may be compelled to say, “That man’s life is happier than mine. I long to exchange with him. There is a something in his religion which my sin and my wicked pleasures can never afford me.” O praise the Lord, you saints, that sinners' mouths may be set a watering after the things of God.
Specially praise Him in your trials, if you would make the world wonder–strike sinners dumb and make them long to know and taste the joys of which you are a partaker. “Alas,” says one, “but I cannot sing. I have nothing to sing of, nothing without for which I could praise God.” It is remarked by old commentators that the windows of Solomon’s temple were narrow on the outside, but that they were broad within and that they were so cut, that though they seemed to be but small openings, yet the light was well diffused. (See Hebrew of 1 Kings 6:4.)
So is it with the windows of a Believer’s joy. They may look very narrow without, but they are very wide within. There is more joy to be gotten from that which is within us than from that which is without us. God’s grace within, God’s love, the witness of His Spirit in our hearts, are better themes of joy than all the corn and wine and oil, with which God sometimes increases His saints. So if you have no outward mercies, sing of inward mercies. If the water fails without, go to that perpetual fountain which is within your own soul. “A good man shall be satisfied from himself” (Prov. 14:14). When you see no cheering Providence without, yet look at grace within. “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song.”
II. I now turn to the second part of my subject, but very briefly. I know not whether you feel as I do, but in preaching upon this theme, I mourn a scantiness of words and a slowness of language. If I could let my heart talk without my lips, methinks, with God’s Spirit, I could move you, indeed, with joy. But these lips find that the language of the heart is above them. The tongue discovers that it cannot reach the fullness of joy that is within. Let it beam from my face, if it cannot be spoken from my mouth.
And now the second part of the subject. “ARISE, BARAK AND LEAD YOUR CAPTIVITY CAPTIVE, YOU SON OF ABINOAM.”
You understand the exact picture here. Barak had routed Sisera, Jabin’s captain and all his hosts. She now exhorts Barak to celebrate his triumph. “Mount, mount your cart, O Barak and ride through the midst of the people. Let the corpse of Sisera, with Jael’s nail driven through its temples, be dragged behind your chariot. Let the thousand captives of the Canaanites walk all of them with their arms bound behind them. Drive before you the ten thousand flocks of sheep and herds of cattle which you have taken as a spoil.
“Let their chariots of iron and all their horses be led captive in grand procession. Bring up all the treasures and the jewels of which you have stripped the slain–their armor, their shields, their spears, bound up as glorious trophies. Arise, Barak, lead captive those who led you captive and celebrate your glorious victory.”
Beloved, this is a picture which is often used in Scripture. Christ is said to have led captivity captive, when He ascended on high. He led principalities and powers captive at His chariot-wheels. But here is a picture for us–not concerning Christ, but concerning ourselves. We are exhorted today to lead captivity captive. Come up, come up, you grim hosts of sins, once my terror and dismay. Long was I your slave, O you Egyptian tyrants. Long did this back smart beneath your lash when conscience was awakened and long did these members of my body yield themselves as willing servants to obey your dictates.
Come up sins, come up, for you are prisoners now. You are bound in fetters of iron–no, more than this, you are utterly slain, consumed, destroyed. You have been covered with Jesus' blood. You have been blotted out by His mercy. You have been cast by His power into the depths of the sea–yet would I bid your ghosts come up–slain though you are and walk in grim procession behind my chariot. Arise, celebrate your triumph, oh people of God! Your sins are many, but they are all forgiven. Your iniquities are great, but they are all put away. Arise and lead captive those who led you captive–your blasphemies, your forgetfulness of God, your drunkenness, your lust, all the vast legion that once oppressed you. They are all totally destroyed. Come and look upon them, sing their death psalm and chant the life psalm of your grateful joy–lead your sins captive this very day.
Bring here in bondage another host who once seemed too many for us, but whom, by God’s grace, we have totally overcome. Arise my trials–you have been very great and very numerous. You came against me as a great host and you were tall and strong like the sons of Anak. Oh, my Soul, you have trod down strength. By the help of our God have we leaped over a wall–by His power have we broken through the troops of our troubles, our difficulties and our fears. Come now, look back and think of all the trials you have ever encountered. Death in your family. Losses in your business. Afflictions in your body. Despair in your soul.
And yet here you are, more than conquerors over them all. Come, bid them all walk now in procession. To the God of our deliverances–who has delivered us out of deep waters–who has brought us out of the burning, fiery furnace, so that not the smell of fire has passed upon us–to Him be all the glory, while we lead our captivity captive!
Arise and let us lead captive all our temptations. You, my Brethren, have been foully tempted to the vilest sins. Satan has shot a thousand darts at you and hurled his javelin multitudes of times. Bring out the darts and snap them before his eyes, for he has never been able to reach your heart. Come, break the bow and cut the spear in sunder–burn the chariot in the fire. “Your right hand, O Lord, Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed in pieces the enemy. You have broken, You have put to confusion them that hated us. You have scattered the tempters and driven them far away. Come, children of God, kept and preserved where so many have fallen–lead now this day your temptations captive.
I think that you as a Church, and I as your minister, can indeed lead captivity captive this day. There has been no single Church of God existing in England for these fifty years which has had to pass through more trial than we have done. We can say, “Men did ride over our heads.” We went through fire and through water and what has been the result of it all? God has brought us out into a wealthy place and set our feet in a large room and all the devices of the enemy have been of no effect.
Scarcely a day rolls over my head in which the most villainous abuse, the most fearful slander, is not uttered against me both privately and by the public press. Every engine is employed to put down God’s minister–every lie that man can invent is hurled at me. But up to now the Lord has helped me. I have never answered any man, nor spoken a word in my own defense–from the first day even until now. And the effect has been this–God’s people have believed nothing against me. They who feared the Lord have said often as a proof-verse, “Know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen. I will be exalted in the earth.”
Church of God, come forth with songs, come forth with shouting to your last battle. Behold the battle of Armageddon draws near. Blow the silver trumpets for the fight, you soldiers of the Cross. Come on, come on, you leaguered hosts of Hell. Strong in the strength of God most High, we shall dash back your ranks as the rock breaks the waves of the sea. We shall stand against you and triumph and tread you down as ashes under the soles of our feet. “Arise, Barak and lead your captivity captive, you son of Abinoam.”
Would to God that the joy of heart which we feel this morning may tempt some soul to seek the like. It is to be found in Christ at the foot of His dear Cross. Believe on Him, Sinners, and you are saved.