Watch-night Service

“Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up your hands toward Him for the life of your young children that faint for hunger in the top of every street.”

Lamentations 2:19

IF it is enquired why I held a Watch-Night, let the answer be because I hoped that the Lord would own the service and thus souls might be saved. I have preached at all hours the Gospel of Jesus and see no reason why I may not preach at midnight if I can obtain hearers. I have not done it from imitation but for the best of reasons–the hope of doing good–and the wish to be the means of gathering in the outcasts of Israel. God is my witness, I would preach every hour of the day if my body and mind were equal to the task. When I consider how souls are being damned and how few there are who cry and mourn over them, I am constrained to cry with Paul, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.” Oh, that the new year may be far better than the last.

I am almost sorry to see this service in print and fear it will rob many of their week’s food from the regular Sermon–but as it is done, I will pray the Lord to own it for Jesus' sake.–C. H. S.

The chapel being densely crowded in every part, the preacher entered the pulpit and after prayer, solemnly read the verse–which the congregation then sang–

“You virgin souls, arise!
With all the dead awake;
Unto salvation wise,
Oil in your vessels take–
Upstarting at the MIDNIGHT CRY,
Behold your heavenly Bridegroom near.”

Two brethren then offered prayer for the Church and the World, that the new year might be clothed with glory by the spread of the knowledge of Jesus.–Then followed the EXPOSITIONPSALM 90:1-12

“Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

Yes Jehovah, WE, Your children, can say that You have been our home, our safe dwelling place. And oh, what joy, what peace have we found in His sacred bosom. No home like the breast of the Lord to which, in all generations, true Believers fly. Let me ask the unbelievers where their joy is. Where has your habitation been you Sons of Sin and Daughters of Folly?

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

And the same God, too, loving His people, passing by their sins and remembering not their iniquities. Oh, Beloved, let this thought cheer you, He was, He is, He will be God. Here change cannot climb, here mutation must not approach. Forever and ever He is God.

“You turn man to destruction. And say, Return, you children of men.”

How many this year have departed? Oh, where had we been had this been our case? Many of us can say we should have been in bliss and we should have returned unto God, but alas, many here would have entered the fires of Hell and commenced their never-ending torture.

“For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night.”

“You carry them away as a flood.”

Who are they who are carried away as a flood? Yourselves, my Hearers. And myself. Though we know it not, we are always in motion. The impetuous torrent of time is carrying us along like a mighty rolling river. We cannot stand against the force which drives us onwards. As powerless as the straw are we. We can by no means resist it. Where are we going? Where is the river carrying us? We cannot stem its torrents. We cannot escape its floods. Oh, where? Oh, where are we going?

“You carry them away as with a flood. They are as a sleep–in the morning they are like grass which grows up.”

“In the morning it flourishes and grows up. In the evening it is cut down and withers.”

“For we are consumed by Your anger and by Your wrath are we troubled.”

No man better understands this than the convicted sinner when smarting under the rod of God. Truly our strength is then utterly consumed and the troubles of our heart are enlarged.

“You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.”

Hear that! “Our secret sins.” Some of you bear Hell’s mark on your forehead. Some of you, like Cain, have the mark of justice on your very brow. Your sins are beforehand with you in judgment. Ah, they are there tonight, blabbing out the tale of your sad, sad history. But there are persons here who have “secret sins.” You have not been found out yet. The night was too dark for human eyes to see you. The deed was too secret for mortal to behold. But it is set somewhere. Just as we set a stone in a golden ring, so has God set your “secret sins in the light of His countenance.” Your sins are this night before the eyes of the infinite Jehovah.

“For as our days are passed away in Your wrath. We spend our years as a tale that is told.”

The Vulgate translation has–“Our years pass away like those of a spider.” It implies that our life is as frail as the thread of a spider’s web. Constituted most curiously the spider’s web is. But what more fragile? In what is there more wisdom than in the complicated frame of a human body? And what more easily destroyed? Glass is granite compared with flesh. And vapors are rocks compared with life.

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten.”

Mark, the Psalmist says, “the days of our years.” How seldom we think of that! Our years we think of, but not “the days of our years.”

“And if [it is a great "if” indeed, for how many die before they attain to it!] by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow. For it is soon cut off and we fly away."

Where do we fly to? Is it upwards that we wing our way, on more than eagles wings, to realms of joy unknown? Or is it downward that we sink with all our sins round our necks like millstones? Oh, shall we go down, down, till in Hell we lift up our eye, being in torment?

“Who knows the power of Your anger? Even according to Your fear, so is Your wrath.”

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

Here is heavenly arithmetic. An application of numeration seldom thought of even by the wise. May we, during the next year so measure out our time that we may apply our hearts to Jesus, who is true Wisdom. Amen! Lord, may that be granted!

Now we will sing a verse of that solemn hymn–

“When You my righteous Judge shall come,”

and then the Pastor will make an evening’s prayer for you before he comes to speak with your souls on God’s behalf. HYMN

“Let me among Your saints be found
Whenever the archangel’s trump shall sound,
To see Your smiling face–
While Heaven’s resounding mansions ring
With shouts of sovereign grace.”


O GOD, save my people! Save my people! A solemn charge have You Given to your servant. Ah, Lord, it is all too solemn for such a child. Help him! Help him by Your own grace to discharge it as he ought. O Lord, let your servant confess that he feels that his prayers are not as earnest as they should be for his people’s souls. That he does not preach so frequently as he ought with that fire, that energy, that true love to men’s souls. But O Lord, damn not the hearers for the preacher’s sin. Oh, destroy not the flock for the shepherd’s iniquity. Have mercy on them, good Lord, have mercy on them, O Lord, have mercy on them!

There are some of them, Father, that will not have mercy on themselves. How have we preached to them and labored for them! O God You know that I lie not. How have I strived for them that they might be saved! But the heart is too hard for man to melt and the soul made of iron too hard for flesh and blood to render soft. O God, the God of Israel, only You can save. There is the pastor’s hope. There is the minister’s trust. He cannot–but You can! Lord, they will not come but You can make them willing in the day of Your power. They will not come unto You that they may have life. But You can draw them and then they shall run after You.

They cannot come. But You can give them power, for though, “no men comes except the Father draw him,” yet if He draw him then he can come. O Lord, for another year has Your servant preached–You know how. It is not for him to plead his cause with You–that is in Another’s hands and has been there, thank God, years ago. But now, O Lord, we beseech You, bless our people. Let this our Church, Your Church be still knit together in unity. And this night may they commence a fresh era of prayer. They are a praying people–blessed be Your name. And they pray for their minister with all their hearts. O Lord, help them to pray more earnestly.

May we wrestle in prayer more than ever and besiege Your Throne until You make Jerusalem a praise not only here but everywhere. But, Father, it is not the Church we weep for. It is not the Church we groan for. It is the world. O Faithful Promiser, have You not promised to Your Son that He should not die in vain? Give Him souls, we beseech You, that He may be abundantly satisfied. Have You not promised Your Church that she shall be increased? Oh, increase her, increase her! And have You not promised that Your ministers shall not labor in vain? For You have said that, “as the rain comes down and the snow from Heaven and returns not there, but waters the earth, even so shall Your Word be–it shall not return unto You void.”

Let not the Word return void tonight but now may Your servant in the most earnest manner, with the most fervent heart–burning with love to His Savior and with love to souls–preach once more the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. Come, Holy Spirit! We can do nothing without You. We solemnly invoke You, great Spirit of God! You who did rest on Abraham, on Isaac and on Jacob. You, who in the night visions speaks unto men. Spirit of the Prophets, Spirit of the Apostles, Spirit of the Church, be You our Spirit this night–that the earth may tremble, that souls may be made to hear Your Word–and that all flesh may rejoice together to praise Your name. Unto Father, Son and Holy Spirit the dread Supreme, be everlasting praise. Amen. SERMON"Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like waterbefore the face of the Lord: lift up your hands toward Him for the life of your young

children that faint for hunger in the top of every street."

Lamentations 2:19

This was originally spoken to Zion, when in her sad and desolate condition. Jeremiah, the weeping Prophet, had wept his eyes dry for the slain of the daughters of his people. And when he had done all he could himself to pour out tears for poor Jerusalem, he then begged Jerusalem to weep for herself. Methinks I might become a Jeremy tonight and weep as he, for surely the church at large is in almost as evil a condition. O Zion, how have you been veiled in a cloud and how is your honor trod in the dust! Arise, you sons of Zion and weep for your mother–weep bitterly–for she has given herself to other lovers and forsaken the Lord that bought her!

I bear witness this night, in the midst of this solemn assembly, that the Church at large is wickedly departing from the living God. She is leaving the Truth which was once her glory and she is mixing herself among the nations. Ah, Beloved, it were well if Zion now could sometimes weep. It were well if there were more who would lay to heart the wound of the daughter of His people. How has the city become a harlot! How has the much fine gold become dim! And how has the glory departed! Zion is under a cloud. Her ministers preach not with the energy and fire that anciently dwelt in the lips of God’s servants. Neither is pure and undefiled doctrine proclaimed in her streets.

Where are her Evangelists who with earnest hearts traversed the land with the Gospel on their lips? Where are her Apostolic preachers who everywhere declared the good tidings of salvation? Alas for the idle shepherds! Alas for the slumbering ministers! Weep sorely, O Zion! Weep sorely, until another reformation comes to sweep your floor. Weep, Zion–weep until He shall come whose fan is in His hand, who shall thoroughly purge His floor. For the time is coming when judgment must begin at the house of God. Oh, that now the princes of Israel had wisdom, that they might seek the Lord. But alas, our leaders have given themselves to false doctrine. Neither do they love the thing which is right. Therefore I charge you, “Arise,” O Zion, “cry out in the night in the beginning of the watches. Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.”

We leave Zion, however, to speak to those who need exhortation more than Zion does–to speak to those who are Zion’s enemies, or followers of Zion–and yet not belonging to her ranks–to them we shall have a word or two to say tonight.

First, from our text we gather that it is never too soon to pray. “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.” You are lying on your bed. The gracious Spirit whispers–“Arise and pray to God.” Well, there is no reason why you should delay till the morning light. “In the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.” We are told here that it is never too soon to pray.

How many young persons imagine that religion is a thing for age, or at least for maturity? They conceive that while they are in the bloom of their youth they need not attend to its admonitions. How many have we found who count religion to be a crutch for old age? They reckon it an ornament to their gray hairs, forgetting that to the young man religion is like a chain of gold around his neck and like an ornament set with precious jewels that shall array him with honor. How many are there who think it is yet too soon for them to bear for a single moment the Cross of Jesus? They do not want to have their young shoulders galled with an early burden. They do not think it is true that “it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.”

And they forget that that “yoke is easy,” and that “burden is light.” Therefore, hour after hour and day after day the malicious Fiend whispers in their ear–“It is too soon, it is too soon! Postpone, postpone, postpone! Procrastinate!” Need we tell you once more that oft-repeated axiom, “Procrastination is the thief of time”? Need we remind you that “delays are dangerous”? Need we tell you that those are the works of Satan? For the Holy Spirit, when He strives with man, says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” It is never, Beloved, too soon to pray.

Are you a child tonight? Your God hears children. He called Samuel when he was but a child. “Samuel, Samuel,” and Samuel said, “Here am I.” We have had our Josiahs. We have heard of our Timothys. We have seen those in early youth who have been brought to the Savior. Oh, remember it is not too soon to seek the Savior, before you arrive at manhood. If God in His mercy calls you to Him, I beseech you think not for a moment that He will not hear you. I trust I know His name–more than that, I know I do. “I know whom I have believed.”

But He did not call me too early. Though but a child, I descended into the pool of baptism there to be buried with my Savior. Oh, I wish I could say that all those fourteen or fifteen years of my life had not been thrown away. Blessed be His name, He never calls us too soon. If He rises early in the morning and sends some into His vineyard to labor, He does not send them before they should go–before there is work for them to do. Young man, it is not too soon. “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.”

Again–it is not too late to cry to the Lord. For if the sun is set and the watches of the night have commenced their rounds, the mercy seat is open. No shop is open so late as the House of Mercy. The devil has two tricks with men. Sometimes he puts their clock a little backward and he says, “Stop, there is time enough.” And when that does not work, he turns the hands up and he cries out, “Too late! Too late!” Old man, has the devil said, “It is too late”? Convicted sinner, has Satan said, “It is too late”? Troubled, distressed one, has the thought risen in your soul–a bitter and a dark one–“It is too late”?

It is not. Within another fifteen minutes another year shall have come. But if the Spirit of God calls you this year, He will not call you too late in the year. If to the last second you should live, if God the Holy Spirit calls you then, He will not have called you too late. Ah, you desponding ones, who think it is all too late. It is not–

“While the lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner that returns”

shall find mercy and peace. There have been some older than you can be–some as sinful and vile and heinously wicked–who have provoked God as much, who have sinned against him as frequently–and yet, by His grace, they have found pardon.

If He calls you, Sinner, if He calls you tonight, 12 o'clock is not too late, as 1 o'clock is not too early. If He calls you, whether it is at midnight, or cockcrowing, or noonday, we would say to you, as they did to the blind man, “Arise. He calls you.” And as sure as ever He calls you, He will not send you away without a blessing. It is not too late to call on God. The darkness of night is gathering. It is coming on and you are near to death. Arise, Sleeper, arise! You who are now taking the last nap of death, “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.”

Next–we cannot pray too vehemently, for the text says, “Arise, cry out in the night.” God loves earnest prayers. He loves impetuous prayers–vehement prayers. Let a man preach, if he dare, coldly and slowly, but never let him pray so. God loves crying-out prayers. There is a poor fellow who says, “I don’t know how to pray.” “Why, Sir,” he says, “I could not put six or seven words together in English grammar.” Tush upon English grammar! God does not care for that, so long as you pour out your heart. That is enough. Cry out before Him.

“Ah,” says one, “I have been supplicating to God. I think I have asked for mercy.” But perhaps you have not cried out. Cry out before God. I have often heard men say they have prayed and have not been heard. But I have known the reason. They have asked amiss if they have asked. And those who cry with weak voices, who do not cry aloud, must not expect to get a blessing. When you go to mercy’s gate, let me give you a little advice. Do not go and give a gentle tap, like a lady. Do not give a single knock, like a beggar. But take the knocker and rap hard, till the very door seems to shake. Rap with all your might! And remember that God loves those who knock hard at mercy’s gate. “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

I picture that scene at midnight, which our Savior mentioned in the parable and it will suit the present occasion. A certain man wanted some bread. A friend of his on a journey had come to his house and was very faint and needed bread to eat. So off he went to his next door neighbor and rapped at his door, but no one came. He stood beneath the window and called out his friend’s name. His friend answered from the top of the house, where he had been lying asleep, “My wife and children are with me in bed and I cannot rise and give to you.” But the man did not care about that. His poor friend wanted bread, so he called out aloud–“It is bread I want and bread I must have!”

I fancy I see the man lying and sleeping there. He says, “I shan’t get up. It is very cold tonight. How can you expect me to rise and go down stairs to get bread for you? I won’t. I can’t. I shan’t.” So he wraps himself very comfortably again and lays down to sleep once more. What does the man down below do? Oh, I hear him still. “Awake, Sir! I must have it! I will have it! My friend is starving.” “Go home, you fellow! Don’t disturb me this time of night.” “I must have bread! Why don’t you come and let me have it?” says the other. But the friend, vexed and angry, lies down again on his bed. Still at the door there comes a heavier and a heavier rap and the man still shouts–“Bread, Sir, bread! You will not sleep all night till you come down and give it to me!”

And verily I say unto you, though he will not rise and give it to him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as much as he needs. “Arise, cry out in the night,” and God will hear you, if you cry out with all your souls and pour out your hearts before Him.

And now our last remark–we cannot pray too simply. Just hear how the Psalmist has it–“pour out your hearts before Him.” Not, “pour out your fine words,” not “pour out your beautiful periods,” but “pour out your hearts.” “I dare not,” says one. “there is black stuff in my heart.” Out with it then–it is better out than in. “I cannot,” says another, “it would not run freely.” Pour it out, Sir. Pour it all out–like water! Do you not notice something in this? Some men say–“I cannot pray as I could wish. My crying out is a feeble one.” Well, when you pour out water it does not make much noise. So you can pour out your heart like water and it will run away and you can scarcely know it. There are many prayers uttered in an attic that nobody has heard–but stop!–Gabriel heard it! God Himself heard it.

There is many a cry down in a cellar, or up in an attic, or some lonely place where the cobbler sits mending his shoes beneath a window–which the world does not hear but the Lord hears it. Pour out your heart like water. How does water run out? The quickest way it can–that’s all. It never thinks much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have it. Some of your gentry offer prayers which are poured out drop after drop and must be brought to a grand, ecclesiastical, prayer-book shape. Now, take your heart and pour it out like water. “What?” says one, “with all the oaths in it?” Yes. “With all my old sins in it?” Yes.

Pour out your heart like water. Pour it out by confessing all your sins. Pour it out by begging the Lord to have mercy upon you for Christ’s sake. Pour it out like water. And when it is all poured out, He will come and fill it again with “wines on the lees, well refined.” “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.” Thus do I speak to all who will acknowledge themselves to be sinners in the sight of God–but even these must have the assistance of the Holy Spirit to enable them to cry out–O my Lord, grant it!

And now, dear Friends, may grace be given unto you that you may be able to pour out your hearts this night! Remember, my Hearers, it may seem a light thing for us to assemble tonight at such an hour, but listen for one moment to the ticking of that clock! [Here, the preacher paused and amid solemn silence everyone heard the clock with its tick, tick, tick.] It is the beating of the pulse of eternity. You hear the ticking of that clock?–It is the footstep of death pursuing you. Each time the clock ticks, death’s footsteps are falling on the ground close behind you. You will soon enter another year. This year will have gone in a few seconds.

1855 is almost gone–where will the next year be spent, my Friends? This one has been spent on earth–where will you spend the next? “In Heaven!” says one, “I trust.” Another murmurs, “Perhaps I shall spend mine in Hell!” Ah, solemn is the thought, but before that clock strikes 12, some here may be in Hell. And, blessed be the name of God! Some of us may be in Heaven! But O, do you know how to estimate your time, my Hearers? Do you know how to measure your days? Oh, I have not words to speak tonight. Do you know that every hour you are nearing the tomb? That every hour you are nearing judgment? That the archangel is flapping his wings every second of your life and, trumpet at his mouth, is approaching you? That you do not live stationary lives, but always going on, on, on, towards the grave?

Do you know where the stream of life is hastening some of you? To the rapids–to the rapids of woe and destruction! What shall the end of those be who obey not the Gospel of God? You will not have so many hours to live as you had last year! See the man who has but a few shillings in his pocket–how he takes them out and spends them one by one? Now he has but a few coppers and there is so much for that tiny candle, so much for that piece of bread. He counts the articles out one by one–and so the money goes gradually from his pocket. Oh, if you knew how poor you are, some of you! You think there is no bottom to your pockets. You think you have a boundless store of time–but you have not!

As the Lord lives, there is a young man here that has not more than one year to live. And yet he is spending all that he is worth in time in sin, in folly and vice. Some of you have not that to live. And yet how are you spending your time! O take care! Take care! Time is precious! And whenever we have little of it, it is more precious. It is most precious. May God help you to escape from Hell and fly to Heaven. I feel like the angel, tonight, who put his hand upon Lot and cried–“Escape! look not behind you! Stay not in all the plain–flee to the mountain, lest you be consumed!”

And now, I appreciate the power of silence. You will please observe strict and solemn silence until the striking of that clock. And let each one spend the time as he pleases. [It was now two minutes to twelve and profound silence reigned, save where sobs and groans could be distinctly heard from penitent lips seeking the Savior. The clock having struck, Mr. Spurgeon continued–] You are now where you never were before. And you never will be again where you have been tonight. Now we have had a solemn meeting and let us have a cheerful ending of it. As we go away let us sing a sweet hymn to encourage our hearts. [A hymn was then sung.]

Now may the Lord bless you and lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace! May you, during this year of grace receive much grace. And may you proceed onwards towards Heaven! And may we as a Church, as members of churches, as ministers, as deacons mutually strive together for the faith of Jesus and be edified therein! And may the Lord save the ungodly! If the last year is clean gone and they are not yet pardoned and forgiven, let not another year roll away without their finding mercy!

The Lord dismiss you all with His sweet blessing, for His blessed Son’s sake, Amen. And may the love of Jesus Christ, the grace of His Father and the fellowship of His blessed Spirit be yours, my Beloved, if you know Christ, world without end. Amen.

Now, my Friends, in the highest and best sense, I wish you all a happy new year.