I just want to read one verse with you this evening, that we'll be thinking about a little later, from the book of Proverbs. Proverbs chapter 29 and verse 1, Proverbs chapter 29 and verse 1: "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy". I'll read it again: 'He', or [she], 'that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy'.
Not very many words in this little proverb - like most proverbs - but there is profound truth within it. 'He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy'. Another translation puts it like this: 'He, who is often reproved yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken without healing'. Another translation, again, says: 'The man who is often reproved, but refuses to accept criticism, will suddenly be broken and never have another chance'.
The subject I wish to preach on this evening, from this verse, is: 'A Bridge Too Far'. Perhaps you've seen the film, you've seen how those troops in the second world war - they got so far, only to go a bridge too far, where they met their end. We can think of many illustrations, many instances, within our own lives where we could say that we have gone a bridge too far. Perhaps in education we've achieved something and we thought we'd go on a little further - and we got a little further, until we got greedy about it, and we went a little more further to only fail and realise we'd went a bridge too far. Perhaps in business we've found it, and we've got that scent - that scent of the bait, if you like - and we go a little bit further in business, and we try to gather a bit more money, and we go too far - only to fall and lose a bit of money. It's a bit like gambling as well, isn't it? You get a scent, and you get a feel, you get an emotion for the gambling and you go a little bit further - and the more you win, the more you want to go on, until you fall because you go a bridge too far.
'He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy'. The picture that the man who is writing this proverb has in his own mind, I believe, is perhaps the picture of the oxen. A picture of a bullock - and the farmer is walking along, and he's about to start his work early in the morning, and he's about to plough the field. And he goes into the field and he takes the yoke - that big long panel of wood for the shoulders of the oxen, [with] which they will plough that field and work hard for his labours. And he goes over to those beasts, and he goes to put the yoke upon their shoulders but they turn their heads - they turn away, they refuse his yoke, they're rebellious, they don't want anything to do with it - and he can't seem to put the yoke upon their shoulders, for the purposes and the labours which he has in mind.
It's the picture of little dog, isn't it? You go over to the cloakroom, and you open the door and he sees you getting the coat - and then he goes frantic, and he's jumping and shouting, jumping on your knees - and then you go to put the lead on him, and then there's a growl. He just won't let you put that lead on him, and he moves, and he turns his neck away - and he'll bite you, but he won't have the lead round his neck. The [writer] put it: the man - the women, the teenager, the boy or girl - who hardens his neck, who stiffens the muscles and the sinews and the flesh of his neck against God, who refuses the yoke of God, who refuses God's will, God's way upon his life, who refuses the lead of God whereby He may walk him in His paths of righteousness - he says that that man who hardens his neck, who has a brass neck, suddenly that man will be broken. And he will be broken in a way that is irrevocable - it will not be able to be brought back, it will not be able to be mended or, as the translation I read said, it won't be able to be healed. There will never, ever again be another chance to be the way that man was.
I don't want to go any further, but I really want to apply this now. People who come Sunday evening after Sunday evening, Sunday morning, perhaps go to Youth Fellowship, or the organisations within our fellowship - and week after week they hear the message of the Gospel, and week after week they harden their heart and their neck against God! Is that you tonight? Be honest with yourself here. You know who you are, you know if God is speaking or singling you out this evening in our gathering. I don't know who you are, but God does - and listen, He has a message for you tonight: that you who would harden your heart, and who week after week go out the back doors, and perhaps you have a sense of the presence of God when you're in here, but when the cold day air hits your face - all those spiritual realities seem to fade away. And you begin to think about what you're going to do tomorrow, the week of work that lies ahead - and those deep spiritual thoughts that have been brought before you here in the pew, they're gone, suddenly, in a flash, and again you harden your neck against God and you reject Him once more!
How many walk away...how many see the Saviour, almost visibly in their own minds eye, bleeding, dying, crying out for their soul - can you remember those times, friend? When you thought you could nearly see Him calling your name, when you heard the preacher, as it was, pointing out and singling out aspects - specific events in your life - that he was convicting you over. And you thought to yourself, 'How does that man know about my life? How could God know about that?'. Yet those times, you walked away from God. The Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish - and we praise God for that truth, that God does not want to see people going to hell. It says God is long-suffering, He's patient towards us and He doesn't want us to go to hell - He wants us to be saved, He wants us to live for Him, to give everything for Him. But! Although God is patient, and although God is long-suffering, even God's patience can run out!
We, in our country, are very fixed in our minds, aren't we? In our own little town, the people of our town picturing the whole of our nation, are fixed in their mind in certain ways: political ways. But listen, this evening, you could be a symptom of that in your religious or your spiritual ways. You could be fixed in your mind. Perhaps you've decided years ago, 30 years ago, perhaps a couple of years ago, that you would have nothing to do with this Gospel. Perhaps you decided that you were going to live for yourself, for your business, for your wealth, for your health! And you didn't want anything to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and you've made your mind concrete - or as another man says: 'thoroughly fixed and mixed, and permanently set'. Have you a concrete mind tonight? Is your mind set? That you're not going to accept this Gospel - and no matter if God, in Christ, could come before you tonight bodily, visibly and show you the nail prints in His hands, the scar in His side: you still, like Thomas, will not believe! He saw it, and he believed - but if you saw it tonight you wouldn't believe, because you've made your mind up! You're set in your ways, and you're thoroughly fixed.
Now, I know nothing about farming, but I'm sure some boys here you could tell you a little bit about it. But I've been told that if you push a cow one way, it'll go the other way - and sometimes we can be like that. We can be like the oxen, we can harden our necks, we can harden every sinew and muscle in our body against God, spiritually speaking. We can refuse His grace, refuse His goodness, close our ears to His word, our hearts to His light, and we reject Him in every conceivable way - and we would not thank Him for anything that He gives us! Could that be you tonight? Could you be one who is hardening his neck against God? Well, I want to talk to you, just for a few moments tonight, about God's patience.
God's patience: even God's patience - and I say this reverently, and He's more patient than anyone upon the face of the earth - but even His patience runs out! Usually His patience runs out with those who have heard. That's right, those who He has spoken to before, those who He has come to, who He has pleaded with, who He has revealed certain truths to - it's usually with those whom His patience runs out. The children of believers, those who have parents who are born-again, who've grown up under the sound of the Gospel and have been sent to Sunday School, and the children's meeting, and the Campaigners* and so on - and they heard the Gospel since they were knee-high, yet they grow up and whatever happens - perhaps they've been offended or annoyed, or something they have seen makes them rebel against God and God's people - and they turn away and refuse the gospel of Jesus Christ. People in families, husbands, wives - wives who have been married to godly husbands, and vice versa - and they have seen a witness, and they've seen Christ through the loving kindness of their husband or wife, yet they go on rejecting Him! And no matter how much God tries through that witness, through the fleshly witness of His Spirit within those people, they refuse Christ as their Saviour. Through churches, perhaps it's this church, perhaps it's another church - I don't care what church it is - but a church who presents the Gospel from the Bible, and you've heard it over and over again - but no matter how many times you hear it, you reject it!
*uniformed Christian youth organisation
I want to tell you what God thinks, this evening, what God's patience is this evening with regard to your rebellion and your rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We find it in Proverbs 1 and verse 24, and God says in Proverbs 1 and 24: 'Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded...' - I've called to you and you refused My voice, and no man has seen it, but I have put My hand out against you - '...But you have set at nothing all my counsel, and would none of my reproof...'. God is saying, 'You wouldn't listen to one thing I said to you!'. '...I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh...' - when you want Me, when you need Me, when there's a time in your life when you cry out to Me, I will look upon you and think 'It's too late!'. 'When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord'.
Aren't those sobering words, tonight? We all know the verses: 'Them that seek the Lord will find Him, if they search with all their heart', we know that, and we love quoting it - and some people are sitting, sitting in some kind of security, remembering those verses. And they say, 'Some day I'll trust Him. Some day when I'm older, when I'm on my deathbed, when I really need Him - I don't really need Him now - but then I'll trust Him!'. But oh, that we would believe our whole Bible and oh, that we would hear God saying to you, perhaps tonight, and sit in fear of these words this evening: 'Then shall they call upon me...'. That day that you're thinking of, when you're on your deathbed, you could call upon Him - but He will not answer! And no matter how early you seek Him, you will not find Him! We find it again in Zechariah chapter 7, verse 11, where God says to the people of Israel - and He could be saying to you tonight: 'You refused to hearken', you didn't want to listen, 'you pulled away the shoulder'. You know when you put your [hand on the] shoulder of someone whom you love, and they have a grudge against you and they turn away - have you done that with God? Is that what you're doing to God this evening? You refuse, you turn away the shoulder and stop the ears, that you should not hear what He is saying? 'Yea, you have made your hearts as adamant stone, lest you should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets', you've hardened your heart against God!
Listen, friend tonight: has God been speaking to you? Have you heard God on a Sunday evening or a Sunday morning? Have you heard the still small voice of God through your circumstances in your life? Have you heard God's voice through an illness that has been recent? Have you heard God's voice through problems that have come across your daily path? Have you heard God's voice through the death of a loved one, or a friend in your family, or a husband, or a wife? And you've heard God speaking, but you don't want to hear Him because you blame Him for those things that have come into your life! Has God been speaking to you through an accident? Perhaps a car accident? And you got out of it, and you don't know how you got out of it, and the police and the ambulance don't know how you got out of it - but you got out of it! And God is speaking to you, He is wanting you to know that He has a purpose for your life, He wants to save you, He wants to use you, but you turn your neck away from Him, you turn away the shoulder.
There was once a revival in a Presbyterian church, in Pennsylvania in America. There were thousands of people being saved, it was glorious - it was like heaven came down to earth - in every Gospel meeting there were people being saved, it was glorious! But there was one girl and she felt God speaking to her soul - and she came along to the meetings, but she would come to them on alternate evenings: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the other evenings, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday she would go to the dances. Her week, her routine over the two weeks of the mission was: the meeting, the dance, the meeting, the dance, the meeting, the dance. And the documents of the church have it as such, that the second week, I believe, of that mission, her calendar was: the meeting, the dance, the meeting, the dance, the meeting, the dance, the coffin! And what a sobering reality it was for the elders of that church to look upon that, and to hear, perhaps, the word of God, by the Spirit of God speaking to them: 'She that hardeneth her neck against God shall be swiftly reproved, and that without remedy'. Do you hear God speaking to you tonight?
You know, God spoke to so many people in His word. He spoke to Sodom and Gomorrah over and over again, He warned them of their sin - that came up to Him as a stench to His holy nostrils. For what they had done, He warned over and over again and again - but His patience ran out! And He destroyed them. He spoke to Pharaoh, He said over and over again, 'Let my people go'. He sent ten plagues, and every time Pharaoh said ,'I'll let them go now', but then he hardened his heart against God - and eventually God ran out of patience and slew his firstborn child! Eli's sons, bringing offerings to God in the temple - and what did they do? They came in and they offered strange fire, a wrong sacrifice - we believe, perhaps, they were even drunk as they came to God to worship Him - and God said, 'I've warned you enough, sons - that's it! My patience has run out!' - and He struck them down! What greater example is there than Judas Iscariot? Three years with the Lord Jesus Christ, seeing the honey words dropping from His lips, from the mouth of incarnate God. Hearing the teaching, first-hand, from the Lord Jesus Christ, witnessing His miracles, Judas beside Him every day of His life - yet he betrayed Him!
Perhaps you could be like the surgeon tonight: the surgeon, who when he operates on his first patient, and the patient dies - perhaps that night is a sleepless night, perhaps the rest of the week he thinks, 'I wonder is there something I could have done? If I had done this procedure, rather than the other one that I did do, or if I'd listened to another doctor, or one of the nurses beside me. If I wasn't quick enough...', and all these thoughts course across his mind - and he thinks of these things. But in 30 years time when he is over a patient and that patient passes away, he will feel sorry, he will feel, 'Maybe she would have lived - or he would have lived - if we did something else', but he will quickly forget and he will go on to the next patient, because there's work to be done. And he, over time, has become de-sensitised to death.
Perhaps you, tonight, are de-sensitised to the gospel of Jesus Christ. You remember, when you were a child and you heard about the person in your family, the first person closest to you who died - and it was tragic, and you cried, and every time you thought, or saw a photograph of them, it brought those pains to you. But as you grow older, and more people die, you become a little more accustomed to it - and eventually you can become hardened to it. Listen to the word of God tonight, to your soul: 'He that hardeneth himself against God'! You're like the frost - you know the frost - one layer comes down, another layer comes down, and the more layers that come down the harder the ground gets, the more dangerous it gets. And you're just like that, the more you harden your heart - listen! - the more dangerous it becomes for you! And God says in 1 Thessalonians, that like a pregnant woman who's walking down the street one day, and the pains, and the pangs of childbirth come upon her - listen! - if you refuse God, if you harden your heart and your neck against Him, judgement will come upon your life because you refused His instruction!
Why does God's patience run out? Well, God's patience ran out with the children in Genesis, just before the flood had happened - what happened? It says that, listen: 'The imaginations of every man's heart was only evil continually' - now, I know things are bad today, but I wonder are they as bad as that? The only thoughts that men had were 'only evil continually' - and God said: 'That is enough! My patience has run out!'. And He said to them, 'I'll give you 70 years to live - but listen, My Spirit shall not always strive with man', and His Spirit ceased to strive with those men when He sent the flood and destroyed them. That's why God's patience runs out - for as He says in Hosea, and I want these words to burn into your heart, not because I want to frighten you, not because I want to be morbid or solemn tonight, but because this is the truth of God and you need to know it! God said, in Hosea 4 and verse 17, about one of the tribes of Israel, Ephraim - He said these sobering words, listen: 'Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone'. Did you hear those words? Ephraim - this tribe of Israel - they're joined to idols, they're following after their own gods, they're following after materialism, their car, their business, their wife, their lover, they're following after their education, they have made idols to themselves - listen to the voice of God, how horrifying it must have been to them: 'Let him alone!'. Can you imagine this evening, if you, sitting in your pew tonight, heard the voice of God, or lying in your bed with a cold sweat upon your brow, you heard the words of God: 'Let him alone! Leave him! He's refused Me enough'.
In Pilgrim's Progress there is a story about a man that was found in a cage - and Pilgrim's Progress is a story, a picture, an allegory of the Christian walk and the Christian life, and the chief character is the man who is called Christian. He flees from the City of Wrath, which is about to be destroyed, and he's walking, and journeying, and [is on a] pilgrimage to a city, a Celestial City which is heaven. But along his path, he meets this man and I want to read it out to you tonight, I want you to listen, picture it:
And [the writer] says, "So he took him by the hand again and led him into a very dark room, where there sat a man in an iron cage. Now the man to look on seemed very sad and he sat with his eyes looking down to the ground, his hands folded together, and he sighed as if he would break his heart.
Then said Christian, 'What means this?', at which the Interpreter - or the Holy Spirit - bid him talk with the man. Then said Christian to the man, 'What are you?'.
The man answered, 'I am what I was not once'.
'What were you?'.
The man said, 'I was once fair, a flourishing person who said they were a Christian, both in my own eyes and also in the eyes of others. I once was - as I thought - fair for heaven, the Celestial City, and even then I had joy at the thoughts that I should get there'.
Christian said, 'Well, but what are you now?'.
'I am now a man of despair. I am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out! Oh! Now I cannot get out!'.
Christian said to him, 'But how came you to this condition?'.
He said, 'I left off to watch and to be sober, I laid the reigns upon the necks of my own lusts. I sinned against the light of the world and the goodness of God, I have grieved the Spirit and He is gone. I tempted the devil and he has come to me. I have provoked God to anger and He has left me! I have so hardened my heart that I cannot repent!'.
Then said Christian, 'But is there no hopes for such a man as this?'.
'Ask him', said the Interpreter.
Then said Christian, 'Is there no hope, but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair?'.
The man replied, 'No, none at all'.
'Why? The Son of the Blessed is very pitiful and merciful and long-suffering'.
Listen to the man's words: 'I have crucified Him to myself afresh. I have despised His person, I have despised His righteousness. I have counted His blood as an unholy thing. I have done despite to the spirit of grace. Therefore I have shut myself out of all the promises, and now there remains nothing for me but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings of certain judgement and fiery indignation which shall devour me as an adversary'.
Christian asked him, 'For what did you bring yourself into this condition?'.
He replied, 'For the lusts, the pleasures, the profits of this world, in the enjoyment of which I did then promise myself much delight. But now every one of those things also bite me and gnaw me like a burning worm'.
Christian says, 'But canst thou not now repent and turn?'.
Listen: 'No! God hath denied me repentance! His word gives me no encouragement to believe. Yea Himself has shut me up in this iron cage - nor can all the men in the world let me out! Oh! Eternity, eternity, how shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in eternity?'.
Then said Interpreter to the Christian, 'Let this man's misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee'.
Listen, friend, our time has gone this evening, but listen! Could that be you tonight? 'Oh! Eternity! Eternity!' - perhaps you're so close, a foot off rejecting Christ for the last time, and He will say: 'It is enough!'. You could be a backslider tonight, and if you're truly a backslider you will never lift up your eyes in hell if you were saved in the first place - but listen, believer who is outside the path, and the will, and the walking of God's precepts - listen! 1 John chapter 4 says that there is a sin unto death, and if you walk in disobedience to Christ and go too far on this earth, He will take you from this scene of time to protect His testimony - He'll take you to glory! But for this cause, many are sickly among you and do sleep.
I want you to see, as we close, not just God patience, but God's provision. Now listen, if God is speaking to you tonight - and I believe He could be speaking to someone here this evening for the very last time: Christ for sin atonement makes. Christ can cover your sin. Christ, by His blood that He shed at the cross, He can provide a covering, a veil for your guilt - to plunge it away, to separate your sins as far as the east is from the west, to dig them deep into the depths of the ocean. He can take them away, tonight! Will you listen to His voice? Or will you harden your heart and be swiftly destroyed?
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church in Portadown, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "A Bridge Too Far" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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