SERMON BY CHARLES FINNEY
"Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."--PSALM. lxxxi. 10.
These words were addressed by God to the Church. There is nothing in the connexion in which they are found that particularly demands explanation. I would, therefore, proceed at once to say, that this promise and injunction being addressed to the Church, was also, of course, addressed to individual Christians. Whenever a promise or an injunction is applicable to the Church, it is also applicable to each individual composing that Church. This reveals to us the principle on which God deals with his people; the spirit, then, of what is here written is ever more true. In briefly considering this subject, I propose to inquire,
I. WHAT THIS LANGUAGE MEANS?
II. WHAT IT IMPLIES?
III. WHAT IS ITS RELATION TO OUR RESPONSIBILITIES?
I. What this language means? Of course it is figurative language--"Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it." Does it mean literally to open the mouth wide, and that he will fill it with something, without giving us to understand what? "I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt." This was addressed to the Church of old, and the spirit of it is addressed to the Church in all ages. It is said in the eighth verse, "Hear, 0 my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; there shall be no strange God in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange God. I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt. Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." The language, then, is figurative, and is to be understood--1. As an injunction, on the part of God, to ask of him great things. The injunction is not only, "Open thy mouth," but open it wide; open it fully, to its utmost capacity; by which it is to be understood that we are to ask of God great things, as great as we can conceive. We are merely creatures, and therefore our conceptions are low, and the spirit of the injunction tells us that we should ask as great things of our heavenly Father, as, with our finite powers, we can conceive--"who is able to do for us abundantly above all that we can ask or think." Let the request be ever so great, he can grant it. In your petitions to him, therefore, "Open thy mouth wide," ask for things as great as you can conceive. 2. But another thing we are to understand by this language is, that, of course, we are to expect those great things for which we ask. We are required to ask believingly, in expectation that he will give the things which we ask. 3. The spirit of this injunction also means that we are to attempt to accomplish great things for God. We are to ask earnestly, to ask largely, to ask perseveringly, in order that we may honour and glorify him; and here, I might add, we are to understand that all our petitions must be addressed in the name of Christ, from right motives. I pass to notice,
II. What is implied in this injunction--"Open thy mouth wide." This is the injunction, and then the promise is, "and I will fill it." 1. We say this language implies that God is interested in us? What should move him to say this to his people if he is not interested in them? Why should he enjoin it upon us to open our mouth wide, and ask of him great things, if he had no interest in us? We say, then, this language must surely imply, for some reason or other, he has great interest in his Church, and, of course, in each individual composing that Church. 2. It implies that he is interested in that which he requires us to do. That he is interested in giving us the great things which he has promised, and in our possessing them, to enable us to do what he requires of us. 3. It implies that he does not require us to make brick without straw. He does not require great things of his people, without promising them the grace to help them in the performance of that which he requires of them. But he does require many and great things of his people. He requires them to go forth to the conquest of the world; and many other things he requires of them in the various relations that they sustain to the world and to society. Now, you must not complain that you cannot accomplish what is required of you, that you cannot do this or that, because of your littleness and insufficiency, for God says, open your mouth wide, for ability to do his will, and he will fill it; he will enable you to do what is required of you. I say, then, that this language implies his interest in us personally, and that he is greatly interested in giving us the things for which we ask,, for he is quite able, out of his fulness, to supply all our need, to give us everything we want to enable us to accomplish everything he requires of us. Here, I might say, this language is addressed to different classes of individuals, who maintain particular relations in life, as being applicable to special and particular circumstances. For example, it is addressed to magistrates, to ministers, to parents, and to private Christians. Whatever the circumstance in which you may be placed, the language is in relation to your particular wants--"Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." It is of great importance, therefore, for every one to understand that God is interested in each individual, whatever relation he may happen to sustain. He takes all things into account; he places us in the various relations that we sustain, and therefore he must be interested in us, and is able to make his grace sufficient for us, to enable us to do all that is required of us, and that we may honour and glorify his name. People can never be too well assured of this. "I am Jehovah, thy God." What is implied in that? "Thy God." "Open thy mouth," therefore, "wide, and I will fill it." These words apply to every individual, in all the relations of life. Now, my dear hearers, think of what your relations are; think of your circumstances; think of the peculiar trials, difficulties, and responsibilities, that you are called upon to sustain; and the duties you are called upon to perform--no matter what they be. Only understand God as addressing you by name--old and young, rich and poor, influential or otherwise--whether you sustain great public relations, are called to perform great public duties, have laid upon you great public responsibility, or more private, no matter--only understand God as saying to you, under your identical circumstances, "I am Jehovah, thy God: Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." He is interested in your maintaining these responsibilities in a manner worthy of him, as being his children. I have often thought of the greatness of men's unbelief. The unbelief of many is so great that they entirely overlook the secret depths of meaning that the promises of God contain, and stumble at some of the plainest things in the Bible.
Suppose the King of England should send his son to travel on the Continent, or in America, and should say to him--Now, son, you are going among strangers, remember your great responsibilities: you are my son, and you are my representative; when the people see you they will form an opinion of me, and they will estimate my character very much by yours, as a natural consequence. Now, remember, wherever you are, that the eyes of the people are upon you, and my honour is concerned in your behaviour. I have great interest in you; first, because you are my son; and second, because you are to be my representative among those who do not know me personally. I am, therefore, greatly concerned that you should not misrepresent me. For particular and weighty reasons, therefore, I want you to conduct yourself like a prince, and that you may do so, you shall always have the means. Remember never to exercise any kind of economy that will disgrace your father, and the nation whom you represent--draw upon me liberally. Of course, you will not squander needlessly upon your lusts, for such conduct would disgrace yourself and dishonour me: but what you want represent fully the Sovereign of England you can have. Draw largely; always remember this!
Now, observe, God has placed his people here in a world of strangers to him. He has placed them in various relations, and he has admonished them to remember that they are his children, and that they are also his representatives in this world. God says to them, I have placed you in these relations, that you may honour me; I love you as my own children; I have given my Son to redeem you, and thus I have proved my personal regard for you. I am always desirous that you should walk worthy of the high vocation wherewith ye are called. Remember, you are my representatives in the midst of a rebellious world; therefore, "let your light so shine before men, that others, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven." Now, this is a correct view to take of this subject. It is God's own interest in us that leads him to tell us to ask largely of him. The fact is, that his intrinsic regard for us as our Father, as his redeemed children, is very great; yes, indeed, in every point of view, he has the deepest interest in us. Now, that we may not dishonour him, he tells us that he will give us grace to meet all our responsibilities, and discharge our duties. "Open your mouths wide," he says, "and I will fill them." I will "supply all your needs," all your wants; l am glad to do it; I shall delight to do it; I am interested in doing it; now, never you forget this. Ask largely enough, ask confidently enough, and ask perseveringly enough, to meet all your wants. Now, I suppose that no one is disposed to call in question the truth of any of these principles. 4. Again: These words, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," implies that provision is made to supply our wants, and that God's capability is so great, that he does not at all fear that we shall need anything, or be able to conceive of anything, beyond his power to grant. Hence, he tells us that his grace is sufficient for us. Observe, he does not caution us not to ask too much, but he tells us here, as in many other parts of the Bible, to make our requests unlimited--"Ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." Of course, it means, "what you will," for a right reason, and not for a selfish and improper reason. 5. Another thing is implied in this--that we are not straightened at all in him. It is not intended that we should hesitate to accomplish anything which he requires of us, we are not straightened in him, for he says, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." In any of the circumstances, or relations in which we may ever be placed, or whatever we may be called upon to accomplish, we are never to regard ourselves as straightened in him. If he requires his people to go forth to the conquest of the world, they are abundantly able to take possession of the land. We are to have confidence in him, and to take possession of it in his name and in his strength. If he tells us to compass the city and blow with the ram's horns, the walls of Jericho shall surely tumble down--there is no mistake about it. In this injunction and promise is implied that if we fail in anything to perfectly represent or obey him in every respect, and in all things to be and do what he requires of us, the fault is not his but ours--it is not to be resolved into "the mysterious sovereignty of God," for the fault is ours. If we fail, it is not because God, by any arbitrary sovereignty, withheld the power, but because as a matter of fact in the possession of our liberty, we failed to believe and appropriate the promises. 7.*[no #6 in original] This injunction and promise implies that God considers himself honoured by the largeness of our requests. If we ask but a trifling thing, it shows that we find ourselves either unable or unwilling to expect or believe any great thing of him. What does it imply when persons ask small favours of God? why, I know very well what people say--that they are so unworthy that they cannot expect to get any very great things in answer to their poor requests. But is this real humility, or is it a voluntary humility? Is it a commendable state of mind? "Our prayers are so poor, are so unworthy, that we cannot expect to receive much in answer to them, and therefore, we have not confidence enough to ask great things, and so we only ask for small things that we may without presumption expect to receive." Is this a right disposition of mind? This is that voluntary humility which God denounces: it is self-righteousness. What state of mind must that individual be in, who, instead of measuring his requests by the greatness of God's mercies, the greatness of his promises and the largeness of his heart, shall measure them by his own worthiness or unworthiness? Why, the fact is, if an individual will measure his requests by such a standard, he will ask nothing better than hell, and he may expect nothing better. This is applicable to all men in all ages, if they make themselves the standard of their requests. But if we are to rely upon God's promises, God's faithfulness, God's abounding grace in Christ Jesus, and God's eternal love, then there are infinite blessings in store for his people, and which the goodness of his heart is trying to force upon them. Then, pray, what has our great unworthiness to do, only to commend us to God's grace and mercy? Whenever, therefore, we ask great things of God, and expect great things from him, we honour him, inasmuch as we say, "Lord, although we are infinitely unholy and unworthy of thy blessings, yet we judge not of what thou art willing to give us, measured by our unworthiness, but by thine own wonderful love to the world, as shown in the gift of thine own and well-beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ: therefore we will not ask small things of so great a God--we will ask great things, because it is in thine heart to give them, and thou findest it more blessed to give than we do to receive." Now, it is by this sort of confidence that we honour God. But, to take another view of the subject, ask scantily, sparingly, for fear of overtaxing or overburdening God. What a mean, low, and contemptible view this is of God! Suppose the prince, of whom we spoke just now, had been very sparing in his drafts upon his father; suppose that he drew only five or ten pounds at a time; the strangers among whom he was living would have noticed it, they would have said, "What can it mean? why does he not draw more? how is he so poor? Is his father so penurious or so poor?" Thus dishonour would be brought upon his father and his country, because the prince drew so sparingly when he might have had plenty. Now, God has sent his children to this land, and he has told them that they are the "light of the world," the "salt of the earth," a "city that is set upon a hill;" and he says, "Let your light shine," show yourselves worthy of your heavenly Parent. Now, suppose that from a want of confidence, or for some other reason, they draw very sparingly, everybody will see that they get but little from God in answer to prayer. A miserable, lean, famishing supply is all they get from their heavenly Father. There is but a slight spiritual distinction between them and the world in which they live, they have so little grace, so little faith, so little of anything that it might be supposed natural for God to provide for his children. And is this honourable to God? What, profess to be children of God, and never realise your high distinction! Living in a world of rebels, having no more grace than you have, you never thought of the dishonour you bring upon God. What do you think of your Father? and do you think that God your Father is satisfied? To see you, people would think you had no Father, that you were poor orphans: and yet God says, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it;" ask of me such things as you need. Why, then, do you go about in such a miserable condition? Why live at such a dying rate, always in doubt, darkness and trouble? Do you not know that I am the Lord your God, and that if you open your mouth wide, I will fill it? Now, brethren, is not this true? Is this some new-fangled doctrine not taught in the Bible? Or is it true that professors generally have infinitely misconceived this matter, not understanding what God requires of them, or that they have dishonoured him in the highest degree by such conduct. They the light of the world! Why, their lamps are gone out, they cannot get any oil; and if they could, they have got no money to buy it with . Why is your lamp gone out? Has God your Father failed to send you a remittance? At all events, the lamp's gone out, and left you in obscure darkness--a worldly spirit has come over you. What is the matter? You have been going by little and little, till you have lost almost all confidence in God, and scarcely expect to receive anything from Him in answer to your prayers.
I don't know how it is with you brethren, you are all strangers to me, but I know that the great mass of professors are in this miserably low state, and they seem neither to know that they dishonour God by their conduct, or that God is ready and willing to give them abundance of grace, if they will believingly seek for it. 7. Of course, if God considers himself honoured by the largeness of our requests, it must be upon the condition that we really have confidence in him, and expect to receive those things which we ask for. If we should ask great things in words but not mean what we ask, or expect to receive answers to our petitions, we do not honour God, but dishonour him by mocking him. Always observe, and remember this, a man that really does expect the great things that he asks of God in faith, and from right motives, will receive them. Those that honour God, God will honour. 9. I remark, in the next place, that God regards himself as honoured by all things which we may, in his name, accomplish. Not only by our asking of him great things, but by our attempting great things in his name. Suppose a man goes forth in the name of the Lord Jesus to carry the Gospel to those who are in darkness, believing what Jesus has said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Suppose that in this confidence he attempts great things, and aims at the conquest of cities and nations, the greater his aims in God's name and strength, so much the greater is the honour that redounds to God. He goes forth relying on God, as God's servant, as God's child, to accomplish great things in his name and strength,--Why God considers himself as honoured by this. The same is true of the attainments of his children, God considers himself as honoured by their high attainments, and dishonoured by their low attainments. Honoured in the fact that their graces so shine forth that it shall be seen by all around that they have partaken largely of his Spirit. Exalted piety is honourable to God, the manifestation of great grace and spirituality of mind, and God is greatly honoured by the fruits of righteousness that they bring forth. Christ himself says, "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bring forth much fruit." Ministers should be greatly fruitful. They should bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in their tempers, in their lives, in the strength of their faith, and labours of love. Can you doubt that God has great interest in all these things? Indeed his great desire, that you should bring forth fruit to his glory, is shown in the fact that he says, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." And it must imply, also, that he is greatly dishonoured by the opposite of all this. Professors who have but little faith, make but feeble efforts, and have but very little to distinguish them from the world around them. Nothing can be more offensive to God than for his professed servants to have so little confidence in him, which causes them to ask sparingly, and to receive sparingly. It must be admitted, I suppose, that the conceptions of the generality of professors are very low--they expect but small things of God; but this is dishonourable to God, as I have said, and he is endeavouring by every possible means to encourage our faith. At one time he will go into the nursery, where the mother is with her children, and say, "Mother, if thy son should ask for bread, would you give him a stone? or if he should ask a fish, would you give him a serpent? or if he should ask an egg, would you give him a scorpion to sting him to death?" The mother is surprised, and can scarcely contain herself. "Well," he says, "I did not suppose you would do so; but if these things would be far from you--if you would by no means do them, and feel indignant at the bare suggestion of the possibility of such a thing, 'how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?'" "How much?" Why, as much as he is better than you are. A parent has no higher happiness than to give his little ones what they ask for, if it is for their good. A father or a mother purchase some dainty thing; they can hardly bear to taste it themselves--the children must have it. "If ye, then, being evil"--compared with God, infinitely evil--"know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give?" What, oranges, sweets, candy? No; "the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." That is the great blessing which you need. Oh, if we could only have more of the Spirit! Christians live as if God had but little of the Holy Spirit to give. But is this the representation of the Scriptures? No, indeed; but infinitely the reverse of this. Some professors live like spiritual skeletons, and, if they are reproved for it, they say, "Oh, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit." Indeed, and is that the reason that you are so much like the world?--why you do not prevail with God to convert your children, your domestics, and the clerks and people around you? Grieve not the Holy Spirit with such excuses; seek, and ye shall find. God is infinitely more ready to give you his Holy Spirit, than you are to give good gifts to your own children. 9. Again: When God enjoins upon his people to open their mouths wide, and promises to fill them, we are to understand that he seeks in them a clear medium through which to communicate his blessings to those around them. This is a natural law of the Divine economy. If you are parents, and have unconverted children, or have those around you unconverted, God seeks to make you a medium by which he can communicate the blessings of salvation to them. 10 Again: When God thus urges men to open their mouths wide, in order that he may fill them, we are to understand that his heart is very much set upon their having the things which he is seeking to give them--that he takes the highest interest in their having these things--a greater interest than they do themselves. He restrains not his gifts at all; the infinite fountain of his love and blessing flows everlastingly, so that every empty vessel may be filled; and, when they are all full, this living stream still flows on for ever. We must not be afraid of asking too largely. When we seek a favour from a finite being, we might ask so much as to be thought unreasonable; but, when we come to an infinite being, we cannot ask too largely. Oh, brethren, always remember this. We will now say a few words, in the third place, on
III. The relation of this injunction and promise to our responsibilities. 1. I remark, we are entirely without excuse to God for not being and doing what would, in the highest degree, satisfy his Divine mind. We are not straightened in him, but in ourselves. 2. We are not only without excuse to God, but we are cruel to ourselves. How cruel a man would be to himself if he starved himself to death in the midst of plenty, of which he might freely partake. Now, what excuse can a Christian have for all his doubts, fears, darknesses, and perplexities, and how cruel he is to himself, when such marvelous provision is made to set the Christian free from all such unhappy experiences. Do we live under such circumstances, and yet live a life of complaining? Indeed! and is it a law of God's house that his children should almost starve? Is it a rule of God's house that his children should not have grace enough to lift them above perplexities and unbelief? Does God starve his children to death? "They do all they can; can't they get grace enough," says the devil, "to prevent their living so much like my own servants? So much alike are they, indeed, that nobody can distinguish them from my children!" Dear brethren, is there not an infinite mistake here? Are we not dishonouring God if we do not avail ourselves of the great things which God has provided us. 3. It is cruelty to the world also. God has said, Go forth and conquer the world--disciple all nations. Has he said this to his people, and do they slumber, do they hesitate? What is the matter, brethren, what is the matter? Are not the words, "Come over and help us," borne on the four winds of heaven? "Come over into Macedonia and help us;" send us missionaries, send us Bibles, send us tracts, send us the Gospel! And is the Church unable to do it? What is the matter? Do let me ask, is there not something entirely wrong here? Does God require his people to make brick without straw? Has the world any right to expect the Gospel of salvation to be sent to them by the Church or not? Brethren, consider! 4. What cruelty it is to those around us and those who sustain relations to us. We have such a promise in the Bible, and our children unconverted! Think of it! 5. If Christians would but avail themselves of all the blessings which God has provided, and really become filled with the Spirit, what do you suppose would be the result? Let me ask this question, Suppose that every Christian in this great city should really comply with the appeal, and be filled with the Holy Spirit, what do you suppose would be the natural effect upon the city? Suppose that every Christian were to open his mouth wide, and should receive the Holy Spirit, do you not believe that in one year a very great change would occur in London, so that you would scarcely know it? I have not the least doubt that more good would then be done, than has been done since it has been a professedly Christian city. Could one Church be thoroughly awakened, another and another would follow, till the whole city would be aroused, and every chapel would be filled with devout inquirers after salvation. This has been the case frequently in American cities; and the like may occur in any city, if Christians are but thoroughly alive to their duties and responsibilities. If every Christian in this city would make up his mind to take hold of the promise of God, and thus come into deep sympathy and fellowship with him, the effect would be astonishing. Like the lamps of the city, Christians are scattered over it, that they may give light to the multitudes around them, but if they are not lighted up, the purpose for which they were intended is not answered. Let every Christian in this city be filled with the Holy Spirit, and what would be the result? London would move! Ireland would move! The world would move!
Now, brethren, does this appear extravagant? If so, it is because you do not consider the power of the promises of God, and what the churches are able to effect in his name. The guilt and the weakness of the Church is her unbelief. This is so great that she does not expect to do much. We must now conclude with a few observations. 1. Many people so confound faith with sight that they are ready to say, "If God should make windows in heaven, then might this thing be." A great many persons have no faith except in connexion with sight: give them the naked promise, and they cannot believe it; they must have something they can see. But few individuals can walk by faith. When they see a thing accomplished, they think they have strong faith; but only let this appearance be put out of sight, and their faith is gone again. Now, what a Christian ought to be able to do, is this--take God's promises, and anchor right down upon them without waiting to see anything; because, somebody must believe simply on the strength of God's testimony, somebody must begin by naked faith, or there will be no visible testimony. 2. God always honours real faith; he is concerned to do so. God often greatly honours the faith of his people; he frequently gives them more than they expected he would give them. Persons often pray for one individual, and God will often honour their faith by not only converting that individual but many others also. I once knew a man who was sick, and a neighbour of his, an unconverted man, frequently sent from his store things for his comfort. This poor man said to himself, "I cannot recompense Mr. Chandler for his kindness, but I will give myself up to pray for him." To the surprise of all the neighbourhood, Mr. Chandler became converted; this he testified before the whole congregation, which had such an effect that a great revival ensued, and many souls were brought to God. Thus you see this poor man gave himself up to pray for one individual, and God honoured his faith by converting many; thus fulfilling the declaration of his Word, that he will "do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think." 3. Instead of finding that God giveth grudgingly and sparingly, he giveth abundantly--just like himself. God always acts worthy of himself. You ask a blessing of God in faith, and he says, "Be content, and take a great deal more," so that your cup shall run over. The fact is, where but little is attempted, little expected, little will be received; but where little is really obtained, the fault is not with God, but entirely with us. My time is expired, and I must now close. Amen.
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