THE PRISO ERS OF HOPE. BY REV. WM. S. PLUMER, D.D.
Turn you to the strong-hold, ye prisoners of hope : even to-day do I declare that I will render double unto thee. — Zech. ix. 12. Christ and his salvation were to the prophets such welcome themes that they often speak of them without any previous notice. They break forth at once into words of gladness and praise. The. text is
THE PRISO ERS OF HOPE. 109 one of many proofs of this. The prophet had been speaking of very diflferent subjects, when all of a sudden he dropped them, and said, " Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion ; shout, daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee." And so he goes on with like words till he utters the text, in which we have the blessed gospel. I. Men ARE PRISO ERS. Many boast of their freedom and say they are not in bondage at all. The greatest slaves of sin and Satan are often th© loudest in telling how free they are. But all this boasting is vain. 1. By nature men are prisoners to ignorance. They know not God, nor Jesus Christ whom he has sent. They know not the true nature and intent of the law. They see not the real spirit and aim of the gospel. Their understanding is darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance
that is in them. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God : for they are foolishness unto him : neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned," 1 Cor. ii. 14. A thick veil is over the unregenerate heart. Men have eyes, but they see not. Clouds of smoke and darkness have risen up from the bottomless pit and settled over their souls. 2. Men are prisoners' to justice. The law which
110 THE PRISO ERS OP HOPE. they have broken is holy, just, and good in all it requires, and in all it inflicts. Its righteous penalty is death. We are all sinners, criminals. We have not done what we ought to have done> and we have done that which we ought not to have done. Our aims have not been holy. We have not laid out our strength to serve and please God. Hence justice is against us. We are fairly bound by its chains, and may at any time be punished. or can we escape by any acts or doings of our own. Tears cannot wash away our sins. Anguish of heart cannot burst our chains. 3. We are by nature ^prisoners to sin. The world, the flesh, and the devil fearfully have us in their power. We are led captive by the devil at his will. We are the servants of sin. The world easily overcomes us. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life are our masters. That is a sad account of the state of a bad man, " His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins," Prov. v. 22. History tells us of a bloody warrior, who at last was overcome, and his captors put him in an iron cage, and set food and drink around him, but at such a
distance that he could not reach them with the tip of his finger ; and so they let him die of hunger and
THE PRISO ERS OF HOPE. Ill thirst with a plenty right before him. This is Hke the case of poor sinners, to whom the bread and water of life are freely offered, set right before them, but they are in a cage — ^not of iron indeed, but of pride, unbelief, and ingratitude. They perish with the Saviour fuU in view. 4. Men are prisoners to misery. They are separated from God. An arm cut off from the body might as well be expected to live and be strong as a soul cut off from God. All the wicked feed on husks and vanities. They have no solid good. Sin's promises are fair enough, but it belies all its promises. The immortal mind cannot be satisfied with a lie. The poor aching heart cannot feed on w^ind. Then, the vile passions are unsubdued. Hatred, envy, malice, pride, vanity, discontent, and all the brood of hateful feelings torment the man. Then conscience with her dreadful power scourges the soul. Her whip is a whip of scorpions. or can any man tell at what moment she may come forward, and tear his soul as a lion teareth his prey. Herod was a Sadducee. He believed in neither angel nor spirit. He said there was no resurrection. Yet when Christ began to do his mighty works, some said he was Elias ; some, that he was one of the prophets. But Herod, in defiance of all his principles, said "that
112 THE PRISO ERS OF HOPE. John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and there-
fore mighty works do show forth themselves in him/' Mark vi. 14. The ghost of the murdered Baptist followed him. or could he get rid of the haunting. Well does the prophet speak of poor sinners as in a "pit wherein is no water/' Zech. ix. 11. IT. But prisoners as men are, those who STILL HEAR THE GOSPEL MAT BE CALLED PRISO ERS OF HOPE. The day of grace lasts. The door of mercy is not shut. God calls. Jesus invites. Words of love are spoken to the prisoners. Kinder offers were never made. The Spirit calls. His voice is not loud and noisy, but small and gentle. Oh how he draws men. And Christ is able and willing to save — to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him. And every day sinners are turning to God. Some, who are bound in affliction and iron, and have long had a sad time of it, call on his name, and come forth from their prison-house. The mercy . they receive is freely offered to others. You are not yet a prisoner of despair. There is hope for you, if you will now repent and live. III. Do YOU ASK WHITHER YOU SHOULD TUR ? The text says, Turn you to the strong-hold. We read a good deal in the Scriptures about holds and strongholds. The cave of Adullam was a strong-hold to David
THE PRISO ERS OF HOPE. 113 and his friends in their flight from Saul. Any high rock, where one might defend himself against many enemies, is called a strong-hold. Om* strong-hold is Jesus Christ, the Rock of ages. The prisoners can come out of the pit only " by the blood of the covenant," Zech.
ix. 11. That blood was shed by Jesus. The gates of hell shall never prevail against him. He is " mighty to save." He is " the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." " Who is he that condemneth ? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God." " If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from aU unrighteousness,'' 1 John i. 9. We need no other strong*-hold. IV. But if we would have Christ for our STRO G-HOLD, WE MUST TUR TO HIM. We mUSt hide ourselves in him. We must flee to him for refuge. The brazen serpent was the type of Christ. Lifting it up on a pole saved no Israelite from the poison of the fiery serpent, unless he turned his dying eyes towards the image on that pole. If you wish Christ to save you, you must look to him. He says so himself : " Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth : for I am God, and there is none else," Isa. xlv. 22. V. If tou will thus turn to him, he will render DOUBLE unto YOU. Ycs, he will do so to each one of 8
114 THE PRISO EKS Of HOPE. you- You that have been darkness shall become light in the Lord. You that are now so guilty shall be graciously forgiven. " Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts : and let him. return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon," Isa. Iv. 7- He will render you double for all your sins.
C!ome, pleading, not that you have sinned Uttle, but much. Like the Psalmist cry, " Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.'' In like manner he will set you free from the bondage of corruption. He is stronger than the strong man armed. He can bind the tyrant sin and set you free. The leprosy was a striking type of sin, incurable by human power > yet Jesus healed ten lepers at a word. And he will give you double for all your misery — ^riches unsearchable — ^honours inamortal — ^pleasures evermore. All true penitents find God more gracious than they dared to hope. It is a more blessed thing to be a Christian than any one supposes . VI. This matter must be attended to to-day. God himself says so : " Even to-day do I declare that I will render double unto thee." He may not do it hereafter. To-morrow is not yours. Ere it comes you may be in the eternal world. ow is your time. Oh that you may be wise and take the ojffered grace, and lay hold on eternal life. You may be old. Then you
THE PRISO ERS OF HOPE. 115 must die soon. Are you ready to give up your account ? It will be horrible to go to the judgment bar with the sins of fifty or sixty years resting on your poor soul. Hear God's oflfer : " Even down to old age I am he ; and to hoar hairs will I carry thee." If any sight might fitly melt a heart of stone, it is that of an old man going into eternity with all his sins upon him. Perhaps you are in middle life, and full of cares and toils. You have a great deal to do to support your family. But your greatest work is that of saving your soul. What will it profit you if you gain ever so much, and come short of heaven ? The bqst thing you can do for yourself and your family is to make peace with God through Jesus Christ. The best portion you
can leave to others is a holy example and a life of prayer. Or perhaps you are young. Your heart is not yet hardened by a half-century of sinning. At times you are tender and almost persuaded to be a Christian. To-day turn to your strong-hold. Jesus says, " I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me." Why will you wage this unequal war with God, and give yourself up to sins of which you must repent for ever ? Most of those who ever become true Christians in a land where the gospel has long been preached, flee to Christ early in life. " Wilt thou not from this time cry unto God, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth? " Jer. iii. 4.
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