God’s Overtaking Mercy

“And He [the Angel of the Lord] said, Hagar, Sarah’s maid, where have you come from? And where will you go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarah.”

Genesis 16:8

HAGAR had lived for many years in Abraham’s family. This was no small advantage. While all the rest of the world was in heathendom, the Light of God shone brightly in Abraham’s tent. Not only was Abraham, himself, a worshipper of the Most High God, but he commanded his household after him. We may rest assured that there were family gatherings for devotion–that the Patriarch took occasion, both by precept and example, to teach the knowledge of the true God to all who were in his service. His was the central spot of the Light of God in the world–and all around him was the thick gloom of heathenism. Yet I do not find that Hager, during the years she lived with Abraham, even when she saw his faith in going forth from his kindred and his country, and dwelling in tents in the promised land–I do not find that she, herself, received any personal call from God, or had a word from the Angel of Mercy to her own soul. And truly in this she is like very many servants, yes, and sons and daughters, too, in godly families who are surrounded by the Light of God, but yet see not–who are where God speaks–and yet He has not spoken personally to them. Who enjoy the means of Grace, but have never yet got the Grace of the means–who are themselves strangers in the midst of Israel, foreigners, though they dwell in the land, itself! Now it would be a source of the greatest imaginable joy to many of us if some of these should be called as Hagar was–should hear the voice from Heaven and be enabled to make the double discovery which she made, namely, that God saw her, and that she might come into contact with God–might look to Him who had seen her!

At this time I shall first direct your attention to a very interesting circumstance, namely–

  1. THE SINGULAR SEASON CHOSEN BY GOD FOR THE INTERPOSITION OF HIS MERCY. Let us dwell on that a moment. God displays His Sovereignty in saving souls, both in the souls whom He chooses to save, in the instrumentality He uses in calling them, and in the conditions of mind in which He finds them when He is pleased to look upon them in mercy.

Now Hagar at that time–at the time when the Angel called to her seemed to be in somewhat an unlikely state to be visited of God. She was, first of all, at that moment smarting under a sense of wrong. She felt that Sarah had not treated her well and in all probability Sarah had not. The Eastern mistress is often very tyrannical towards her servants, and Hagar stood very much in the position of a slave. We do not doubt but what the jealous wife had been very severe–unjustly severe towards the woman. There she sat by the well, feeling bitterness in her own soul, that in the house of good people where she had expected better things, she had been treated with injustice. It did not seem likely that the God of Abraham would call her when her heart was seething like a pot with indignation against the household where God was worshipped! At the same time, as she turned the matter over and her soul grew more and more bitter within her, I should not wonder but what she felt she had brought a good deal of it upon herself. She was but the servant and she had desired to play the mistress. She had despised the mistress–no doubt spoken to her very contemptuously–and now it had returned upon her and she was made to suffer for her own pride. Her proud, fierce spirit, perhaps, did not admit it, but yet she must have felt in her conscience that much of what was wrong about her she had, notwithstanding, brought upon herself. Now when a person is under such a feeling as that, disturbed, tossed to and fro, vexed, distracted–it does not seem a likely time for them to hear the voice of God speaking to their souls!

Moreover, at that moment she was leaving all that was good. She had turned her back upon the household, the chosen household–left it, I will not say deliberately, but at any rate she had left it. She was going down into Egypt–going “anywhere, anywhere out of the world,” so that she could but get away from the place where her bondage had become irksome. She was going, she scarcely knew where, but she probably did know that she was going into heathendom, among heathen people. The best she could hope to meet with was separation from God. She could not but feel that it was black darkness which was before her and she was rushing madly into it because her high spirit would not bend–would not bow–would not yield before the majesty of the Most High. I think I see her there, her eyes red with weeping, her spirit broken down with the hunger of her journey, sitting a while and refreshed a moment, and resolved not to stoop and never to go back–and then, again, shuddering at the darkness that lay before her and afraid to go on. It was in such a state as that that God met with her! To all intents and purposes she was a friendless, outcast woman. She had left the only tents where she could claim a shelter. She had gone into the wilderness–no father, no mother, no brother, no sister to care for her. She turned her back upon those who had any interest in her and now she was left alone–alone, alone in a desert land without an eye to pity or a hand to help! It was then, under those peculiar circumstances of trial and of sin commingled, that God met with her!

I have been wondering in my soul, when I turned over this text, whether there would stray into this Tabernacle some kindred case, and whether, though no angel spoke, yet the voice of man might be tonight the voice of the Messenger of the Covenant to some poor soul? I know you not by name, nor face, yet I know well your feelings! It may be tonight you are sorely angry, greatly vexed, smarting, wrathful! You have made up your mind to choose the world and give up every semblance of that which is good. It may be tonight that you have lost everything that makes earth worth living in. You long for death–you would almost seek the place where the lamps quiver on the dark river, for your spirit is bitterness, itself, your lamp of hope is gone out! Oh, but it may be that this is the night when God’s mighty mercy is ordained to meet with you–the very evening in which the Lord shall call out your name and you shall feel that He knows you, your case, your circumstances and that He has come to call you to Himself and you never might have been called had not these extremities of yours brought God to your rescue and to your salvation! I do not suppose that there will be anyone whose case exactly resembles that of the text, but it has sometimes happened that the turning point of human life has been the point of great sorrow, great penury and distress of mind on account of some gigantic fault, or it has been the time of some dreadful alternative put before the soul in which it seemed as though it must be God or devil that night–Heaven or Hell that night–eternal joy or eternal misery that night! On some such strange occasion as this in your mental history you have come here tonight–may God, who is here, speak with you! A singular season for mercy! Now, secondly, let us look at–


She is sitting there by the well. It is in a desert. It may be a little oasis on the road, but there is no one within sight, nor any probability of any caravan passing that way. As she sits quite still, she hears a voice, “Hagar.” She starts, she looks up and there is a brightness like the sun above her–it shines brighter than the sun at noonday! She can scarcely bear the light, and she hears it again, “Hagar, Sarah’s maid.” Whoever it is that is speaking knows who she is, and what she is, and all about her. “Where have you come from? And where will you go?” She is so startled–she has just been thinking of the place from where she came–and that dismal question had just been starting her mind. “Where will you go?” She felt that there was no place for her to go. It was only a choice of equal horror–she knew not where to go. Now remark this, that very often the Gospel call comes to the sons of men not by a voice heard by the ear, but through the ministry in the way of describing the person’s case with minute accuracy. It was the Savior’s way of doing it when He was on earth. The woman was by the well. The Savior spoke to her. The words did not seem to take effect. He turned the subject, and He said, “Go, call your husband and come here.” “I have no husband,” she said. If she could blush, she blushed then–“I have no husband.” “You have said well, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband. In that you said truly.” Then the shock went to her very heart! She perceived that He who spoke was something more than man. And when the Gospel fully preached describes the sinner, paints him, photographs him, holds it before him and makes him say, “Why, that is me–he speaks of me–it is even me,” then it is that the soul perceives what Hagar perceived–that God saw her–and that she might look to God!

Now I shall not endeavor to make any picture of you, dear Hearer. If I were to try it, I could not do it–it is only the come into the condition in which you now are out of a godly parentage? Have you got into London sin, but was there a time when you once knelt at your mother’s knee at eventide and repeated a gracious prayer? Ah, you have spent many a day and many a night in the haunts of sin! You were once a teacher in the Sabbath school–once a lover of the Gospel (at least professedly so) which now you turn from and abhor! “Where have you come from?” From old impressions that have been forgotten? From an old profession that has been disgraced? Were you once honorable, but now dishonorable–once a servant of God, but now a servant at the devil’s altar–a ringleader in sin it may be, though once you were at Heaven’s own gates? “Where have you come from?” Remember from where you have fallen, and repent! And “where will you go?” Oh, let me put the question! You stand tonight just here, “Where will you go?” Another sin tempts you tonight–will you commit it? I would gladly stand with you, as the old Scythian did of old when his country was about to be invaded by the foe. He drew a line before the chieftain of the invading host, and said, “Cross that line, and there is war forever! Stay there and there may be peace.” I put a line before your steps tonight! In the name of the everlasting God, I charge you cease from that sin! Once more commit it and it may be that no mercy’s trumpet shall ever sound out a message of forgiveness to you again! “Where will you go?” Oh, go not like a dog to your vomit, like the sow that was washed to her wallowing! Go no further, for “where will you go” in the future? A man who sins today will sin worse tomorrow, and the next day even worse. Many a young man, when he has commenced with what are called the follies of London life, had no idea that he would end it debauched, depraved and abandoned! Many a woman, when she has once begun to trifle with sin, had no idea that her name would be coupled one day with infamy! Many a young man at his master’s till is scrupulously honest, today, and never dreams that he will one day be a thief–yet he is about to take a step that will surely make him so–the first step to evil!

Oh, “where will you go?” I believe that many a man, many a woman, if they could go back 20 years and be young people, again, and have their history written, the true history as they lived it, would say, “I never shall live so. Is your servant a dog that he should do this thing?” They would have been indignant at the supposition that they could ever be capable of the transgression into which they have now actually fallen! “Where will you go?” Stop! Stop! You who are marching on to evil, stop! In the name of Him that lives, stop, lest you march to damnation and take one step that shall be your inevitable ruin, for this is the worst of it! “Where will you go?” The way of sin is the way of destruction! Men cannot sin and be happy. The end, the end, the end, the end of it, oh, think of it! It is not today, nor tomorrow, but it is that dying hour–no, it is not that only–it is that hour when, up from among the dead, you shall arise amidst the ringing of the Last Judgment trumpet! It is that opening of the books, that reading of the several dooms–that separation of the righteous from the wicked–it is that which hangs upon this question, “Where will you go?” Oh, go not to the Judgment unforgiven! Go not to the Judgment to be condemned, to be cast into the place “where their worm dies not, and their fire is not quenched.” God save you, Sinner! May He save you tonight instrumentally by the force of those two questions–“Where have you come from? Where will you go?”

And now let us notice, attentively, having observed the remarkable season and the home questions, let us notice attentively–


The description had been so accurate–“Hagar, Sarah’s maid.” The questions had been so pertinent, had stuck so close to her soul–“Where have you come from? And where will you go?” that she said, “It is God, it is God that speaks to me.” And there came home to her what she had often heard before, but never felt. “There is a God. God is not an impalpable somebody up there who has nothing to do with me, but there is God here, here, and He sees me! It is God that deals with me–not far away, asleep, or blind, but God sees me!” Oh, it is a glorious thing when a soul starts up to that conviction, “I am not alone, I am not friendless, after all. There is a God and a God who sees me and who takes such notice of note that He speaks to me.” A man is never saved until he gets to feel something of the nearness of God, God in Christ Jesus, but yet God. Consciousness of Deity is one of the marks of salvation. Now Hagar’s thoughts must have been something like this. “After all, there is Somebody that has seen me and marked all my past life, though I did not see Him. He knows everything that I have done or thought, or said, and I perceive now that He has spoken to me, that He cares about me. I thought Abraham did not care for me, Sarah was angry, and then I said, ‘No man cares for my soul, and I will go away.’ Now I see that God was watching me and He has cared about me, and though He did not interpose to help me just then, just when I was so bitterly oppressed, yet I know He has cared for me, for at last, when I was sitting on this well, alone, He spoke to my soul.” Sinner, I pray the Holy Spirit to make just this discovery to you, that, after all, God does care about you! He who made the heavens and the earth does think of you! Though you are little, and less than noth

“Well,” Hagar said in her soul, “seeing that He cares for me, He will interpose on my behalf.” The Angel, who spoke, spoke words of comfort to her heart–told her that there was a happier future in store for her than she dreamed–sent her away with a comfortable word ringing in her ears! Oh, Soul, I pray God to do that for you tonight! You have said, “God has forgotten me.” He knows all about you. It may be this is the Truth of God–I hope it is–that your name is written on the palms of Jesus' hands! What if it should turn out that you, rebellious sinner that you are, are one whom God loved before the foundation of the world? What if you are one of His chosen, whom the Savior bought with His blood? What if you are one who shall surely sit in Heaven, wear the white robe and sing the new song–what if you are a favored one of the Most High? Oh, I think I hear you say, “If I had half a thought that that was true, I would not lie down in despair–I would up and bestir myself and I would have done with my old companions! I would have done with my old sins, if that were true!” Oh, Soul, I cannot tell you that it is true–I hope it is–but I can tell you one thing that is true, namely, that if you will now come and put your trust in Jesus Christ, and repent of your iniquities,then it is all true! I can only know your election by your calling! I can only tell your calling by your repentance and by your faith! And if you should find peace, tonight, and I pray you may, then you are God’s beloved! He who made the heavens loves you! He who made the earth bought you with His blood and Heaven would not be complete without you! What if you have been far off by wicked works, yet still you are a child and Heaven shall yet ring with music on your return! What if you have been lost in the filth of drunkenness and all manner of lasciviousness, yet still a piece of God’s precious silver, the house shall be swept for you and the candle lit, and you shall yet be found and put into the Savior’s treasury! Oh, what hope this ought to make well up in the poor hopeless sinner’s heart! It is not because of your goodness, but because of His Infinite goodness that He comes to meet with you, unworthy as you are, for He sees you–He sees you–with thoughts of love He sees you and tonight He interposes as He calls you by your name!

Now when Hagar made that discovery, she made another at the same time. She said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”–as much as to say, and probably she had not known it before, that as God could come to her, so she could go to God. “God has looked after me, and now I can look after Him.” There is not a great gulf between the creature and the Creator. We can send messages to Heaven and receive blessings from Heaven. She felt from that moment that God was real, living, appreciable and that God would hear her prayers and answer her petitions–and had really and literally spoken to her. Oh, I do not know anything that puts such strength into a man, such encouragement, such joy makes him so patient as the belief that God has spoken to him–that God has spoken in words of love and promise to him! Why, from that day poor Hagar would say, “I will go back. I will go back. The God of Abraham has spoken to me. Abraham may be unkind, but I will bear it, for Abraham’s God has spoken to me. Sarah may be more cross than ever–never mind, I do not know that I can tell her of it, but oh, it will be such a joy in my soul–God has spoken to me, assured me of His favor, given me a blessing!” Now that young man who thinks he has been so badly treated, if he gets his sins pardoned tonight, and the Lord speaks with him, he will go back and say, “I daresay I was as much to blame as anybody, but, whether or not, I am saved and I can now put up with anything!” And that man who is so poor that he would hardly dare come even into this Tabernacle because his clothes were so shabby, and he was ready to say, “I will give up the battle of life. I will never try again”–oh, if he were able to say, “I know that God has spoken with me tonight, brought me to the Savior’s feet and blotted out my sin”–oh! dear Brother, you will pick up the weapons, again, and go to the battle of life once more, and your poverty will seem to have lost its edge! The bitterness will have departed! The iron will not enter into your soul! Get a word from God and know that you are His child, and you can say, “Now blow, you winds, rage, you waves, and all you elements let forth your fury–the God that rules you all is now my Friend! No hurt can you do to me!”

If you notice, it was just so with Hagar when she had heard the voice of the Lord and perceived that God saw her and that she could speak to God–then at once she went back. Told to go back, back she went–submitted herself. You don’t find her again personally–though the old blood came up afterwards in her son–you don’t find her quarrelling with her mistress, but she patiently bears her lot in the recollection of the blessing that she had received. This is just the way with men, willful, wayward, headstrong–but when they get the Grace of God, they bend their shoulders to Christ’s yoke and they become tame and gentle. Because they are happy in God’s love, they are patient in the ills of this life. Remember the story of the poor raving maniac. They had often bound him with chains, but he snapped them asunder. He had left his family and gone to dwell among the tombs. He made night hideous with his screams and howls. Men dared not pass that way, for he was worse than a wild beast! He had cut himself and torn his flesh, torn himself with stones and briars–none could tame him! But after Jesus had said to the evil spirit, “I charge you that you come out of him,” we spirit is here now, some spirit driven to it by suffering, by neglect, by injustice from others–and also by its own personal sin–if the Lord brings you to trust in Jesus, His dear Son, and see your sin all laid upon Him, then you will, even at this moment, be a different man! Your wife will scarcely know you, nor your children, either! You will become another than you have ever been before. You will go back to your business, back to your burdens, back to your sufferings and bear them all for the sake of Him that spoke out of Heaven and saved your soul!

Now the most of this I daresay is not applicable to the most of you. You know I have been thinking, while preaching, that you might say I had not been preaching except to some one or two that were here. Well, I will tell you my excuse. “What man of you, if he has an hundred sheep, if he loses one, does not leave the ninety and nine, and go after that which is gone astray?” After that “gone-astray one” I have gone! And my Master, too! Amen.