Now we're turning in our Bibles to Jeremiah, Jeremiah chapter 29. Let me just say that the message I want to bring to you has been burning on my heart in my own personal experience in the last week or so and I hope that I deliver it from my heart, not from notes or not from a sermon as such, but as a message I believe God has been burning on my heart for years now. You've heard it before, but you're going to hear it again because it's there for a reason, because God has put it there - and if I am to be faithful to the capacity I am in here in the Iron Hall, I have to deliver what God puts on my heart. I can't tell Him what I'm going to preach, I have to preach what He burns onto my heart.
Now, if you were at the prayer meeting on Thursday evening - turn to Jeremiah 33 for a moment - our brother Nair from India gave out a prayer letter and at the bottom of it, if you read it, it said that we were to pray that revival would come to India. Well, if you were to read his prayer letter and listen to what he was speaking about, you would nearly think revival had hit India - what he was talking to us about, of how since the last time he visited us about 4 years ago or so, there have been thousands of people converted to Christ. Now that doesn't happen overnight, and it's not going to happen overnight here either - no way. He exhorted us from Jeremiah 33 and verse 3: "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not". You remember, he told us that the children of Israel were captives in Babylon - they were downhearted, they were depressed at the prospect of what was happening to them spiritually speaking and as the nation of God - and God's prophet came to them and exhorted them, encouraged them: "Call upon me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, that thou knowest not".
Now, our text this morning fits in very nicely with what our brother brought to us. Jeremiah 29, and we'll read from verse 10 - our text is verse 13, but we'll read from verse 10 to understand the flow of what Jeremiah is saying. Now, first of all, Jeremiah is writing to captives in Babylon - he is writing, so chapter 29 is a letter, it's not a prophecy that he delivered by his mouth, but it's a letter that he wrote because he couldn't get to the people in Babylon. In verse 10 he says this: "For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive".
Let us pray: Our Father, we pray this morning that as we come to Thy word that You would quieten our hearts, still our thoughts - and whatever is being pushed into our mind to distract us from these spiritual nuggets, we ask, in Jesus name, that by Thy Spirit You would banish them - that our minds and our hearts would be a cleared, empty place for the Spirit of God to construct His building in. Lord, we seek Thee, oh God we cry to Thee to come and meet us in this place, to come and meet us face to face, to come and do a spiritual work in some hearts here today - that You will manifest Yourself to them, that You will revive hearts, quicken spirits, breathe by the breath of God, set alight we pray. Oh God, we cry for that power, Lord God the Holy Ghost, in this accepted hour as on the day of Pentecost, descend in all Thy power. We meet with one accord in our appointed place and await the promise of the Lord, the Spirit of all grace. In Jesus name, Amen.
It is not without significance that the pilgrimage of the heart that we have been going through in recent weeks has brought us, the second time, to the prophet Jeremiah. We looked [at] how the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? And, ironically, as we come to 'The Seeking Heart' we find that our footsteps bring us again to the prophet of the Lamentations. It is significant that the very presence of the seeking heart within the word of God is found in the weeping prophet. If you turn to Jeremiah chapter 9 for a moment, Jeremiah chapter 9 and verse 1, you find that the lamenting prophet Jeremiah - who wrote the book of Lamentations as well as this prophecy - cries to God from the depths of his soul and says: 'Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!'. In chapter 4 and verse 19, he cries again: 'My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war'.
The weeping heart, the seeking heart, is found in the prophet Jeremiah - for I believe that God's heart is found in the man or the woman who weeps and mourns for their own sin, and for the sin of the nation, and for the sin of the church of Jesus Christ. That is where you find the heart of God! The occasion that we have found our text in, in chapter 29 of Jeremiah - as I've already said, was a letter to the captives in Babylon. And the reason why Jeremiah was writing to them, they were sitting in Babylon dejected, far from home - and you remember how we studied in the books of Haggai and Habakkuk, how they were far away from their temple, the place where they worshipped, the place where they wanted to be. As far as the Psalmist was concerned, it was from the ends of the earth that they were crying unto them - and that is an idiom, a description, of how they were so far from the place where they were to worship God in Jerusalem. Jeremiah can't get to them, so he writes them a letter and the reason why he writes the letter is not unlike the reason why Paul wrote letters in the New Testament. Jeremiah was writing to warn them of false prophets.
False prophets were rising from among them in Judaism and they were standing in Babylon, where the children of God were captives, and they were saying to them - listen: 'Peace, peace, everything is all right. Don't worry, you'll not be here for long, God's going to come in, God is going to deliver you!' - and these false prophets were giving the people of God false hopes. Jeremiah writes to them, and he says: 'You better prepare for a long stay' - in verses 1 to 7 we find he says that: 'Build a house for yourself, plant a vineyard, make sure your garden is pretty because you're going to be in this place of captivity for a very long time'. The prophets say: 'Peace! Peace!', but there is no peace - why? Because God's people hadn't changed their heart! The children of Israel were expecting to be delivered, they were expecting the voice of the false prophet to come true, that they would be free and their God would come and deliver them - yet they were not prepared to change their heart and change their ways! And Jeremiah tells them: 'Settle down, get ready, for God has brought you into this place. God has delivered you into the hand of the Babylonians. Well might you sit down by the rivers of Babylon and weep and cry as you remember Zion - but God has brought you here!'.
My friend, those must have been shattering words for the children of God. 'God has brought you, and He's going to leave you here for 70 years, He's going to knock the sin out of you! And then He will deliver you again'. The Psalmist says in Psalm 139: 'How precious are thy thoughts toward us, O God!' - and we find that almost mirrored in these verses that we've read together already. Verse 11: 'I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you'. God had good thoughts! God didn't want them in Babylon - although God had led them into Babylon because of their sin - but God led them there to discipline them.
In the older generation I hear, almost echoed, the words of the children of Israel in Babylon: 'By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, there we wept as we remembered Zion' - 'I remember years ago. I remember the blessings that God brought down upon His people. I remember when there were many souls converted to Christ'. Some of you maybe can remember the days of W.P. Nicholson, where revival hit this part of East Belfast and further afield. We read books about 1859, we read books about Crusades that went across America, we read about Charles Finney - the greatest revivalist in all America, D.L. Moody, R.A. Torrey - and we look back and we say: 'We wept!', as we remember. But the glory has departed and 'Ichabod' can be written over our spiritual experience - and I believe that we are in the Laodicean age spiritually speaking. In chapter 3 of Revelation, if you wish to turn to it for a moment, chapter 3 of Revelation - and, by the way, I don't happen to believe that all the world is in the Laodicean age, but I believe that we in the West are. God speaks to seven churches, and to one of the churches He speaks to in chapter 3, He says this - verse 14: 'And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, increased with goods, I have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked'.
The word 'apathy' could characterise the church of Jesus Christ here today. It's like the teacher who went into the class - they were assigned to teach a class that no one want to do, but it was compulsory - and it was teeming over with students that didn't want to be there and were totally apathetic. And one day, that teacher walked down to the front of that lecture hall, it was one of those classes that everybody - a bit like church! - tries to get to the back few rows to get there first. But these two fellows came in and they longed to be at the back, but there were only two seats at the front. And they came to the front and the teacher began to teach his class, and it was self-evident to that teacher that no-one wanted to be there. The two fellows at the front were totally bored out of their minds, and the teacher got so frustrated that he took a piece of chalk and twirled round on his feet, and wrote in foot high letters on the board 'A-P-A-T-H-Y'. Apathy! Apathy! As he put the final exclamation mark, the chalk broke, and one of the wee fellows in the front row turned round to the other, and then he looked at the board and he looked at the word and the letters, and he turns to his friend: 'What in the world is 'A PATHYI'?'. And the other friend turned to him and, in a yawn, said 'Who cares?'. I think that is, perhaps, the way Jeremiah felt. He was weeping his eyes with tears, so much so, that there was no water left! He had to cry to God that his head would melt! He was pained at the situation of God's people, of their sinfulness, of their apathy. They just didn't care [about] anything!
My friend, I pray that God would deliver us from such a heart, for the heart that God wants is found in verse 13, this is the type of person that...I find perhaps within the word of God there are four types of hearts in relation to our zeal after God. First is the passive heart, the second I want to bring before you is the partial heart, the third is the persistent heart and the fourth is the prized heart. Let's look at the first one: the passive heart. God says to us, verse 13: 'Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart' - but there are, within Christendom, passive hearts. What is an example of a passive heart? It is a heart that can come along to church, to the Bible reading, to the prayer meeting. It is a heart that can listen and walk out with a smile upon its face. It is the heart in the office and in the school and the university who can identify with the name of Christ and perhaps wears a badge upon their breast. It is a heart that is filled with theology and everything that is right, doctrinally speaking. It is a heart that says within it: 'I am in need of nothing!'. Passivity is to stand or to sit and do nothing, and to have everything done for you. It is the heart that, theologically speaking, believes that they were given absolutely everything at their conversion and therefore are in need of nothing. It is the heart that can quote to you the date and the time and the place they were converted of God, but have never ever moved on from that spot in time.
My friend, that is not the heart God wants. In fact, that is not the salvation I find within the word of God - and I fear that there is a day coming when many of us here will stand before the Throne and realise that we have fallen foul of a false gospel! God - and I've said it - does not ask for a date, He does not ask for a place, He does not ask the name of the preacher, or a decision card - God asks a life that is holy! And if He sees a life that is holy, He sees a child that is His - for when Christ took the cross, He gave you a cross, a cross for you to die on. I have, burned into my heart, the theology of revival - and it is there, not by persuasion but by conviction, I believe it with every bone in my body. But I see a problem, I see a problem within evangelicalism and particularly within fundamentalism - and it is this Laodicean mentality that we are in need of nothing. A.W. Tozer put it like this: 'It is the ignoble contentment that takes place of the burning zeal. We are satisfied to rest in our judicial possessions and, for the most part, we bother ourselves very little about the absence of personal experience'. How many times have you heard it said within the word of God: 'If it says it' - and I've said it - 'If it says it, I believe it and that settles it'? Well, there is a measure of truth within that statement but I believe that within our circles - particularly here in Iron Hall - we may have fallen into a trap that has been laid by the devil himself, and it is the trap of evangelical fundamental textualism. That you take the letter of the law and you give an intellectual, mental assent to it and that takes the place of your personal everyday experience - it does not!
Tozer went on to say: 'This textualism assumes, for instance, that if we have the word for a thing', the word of God on a thing, 'we have the thing itself'. 'If it's in the Bible it is in us, if we have the doctrine in the word of God, we automatically have the experience within the word of God. If something was true of Paul it is true of necessity of me, because I accept Paul's epistles and letters as divinely inspired'. The Bible tells us how we can be saved, doesn't it? But textualism tells us that the Bible tells us we are saved! Because Christ died, does that save you? Does it? Because you know, from this book, that Christ died and even that Christ died for sinners, will that save you? When you stand before God, will you say: 'It says here that Christ died for sinners' - but you, in your life, have never had a personal experience of the regeneration of God in your heart - of course it doesn't matter! Because the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, does that mean you are filled with the Holy Spirit? Because Paul the apostle was converted on the road to Damascus, does that mean you have been converted? Of course it doesn't! Because Paul fought a good fight, does that mean that you have fought a good fight? And as I hear it said of many people that pass on - because many have had it heard in their ears in eternity: 'Well done thou good and faithful servant' - does it mean we'll hear it? I think not. And I feel the Holy Spirit saying to me - as I look into the New Testament especially, and take all the experiences of men of God for my own because I believe they happened - I hear Him say to me, as I say 'Lord, what shall this man do?': 'David, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me, follow Me!'. My friend, the passive heart sits and says: 'I have need of nothing'. It doesn't find a place within its heart for the hymn we've sung: 'We taste Thee, oh Thou Living Bread, and long to feast upon Thee still' - they have tasted and they don't long to feast any more, they're quite happy with enough of Him that they've got!
Then there is the partial heart, what are the examples of them? It is the one who knows what to do, the one who knows how to live but just can bring themselves to it - they're blown about by every wind of doctrine. One week they're spiritual, the next week they're carnal - and they're trying their best, and they're double-minded the word of God would say. Perhaps they're disillusioned, perhaps they're doubting and asking the question, 'Is it worth it all? Is it worth to pay the cost for this Christianity? I just can't give up my sin, I just can't follow Christ the way I would long to'. And it even brings to their eyes that, when they look at people who seek after God, they think to themselves: 'They're a bit fanatical, aren't they?'. I heard a preacher say recently on tape: 'Strange, isn't it, that a Christian never sits beside you in the pew and puts his arm around you and says: 'Now, I'm getting a bit concerned about you because you're getting to rich. And you know, I've been looking at you and the clothes that you're wearing, you're starting to show fashion I'm getting a bit concerned about you'. Or maybe you put the arm around some intellectual that goes to college and is doing a PhD, and you say: 'I'm getting worried about your education, you're getting too clever' - but we have reams of people in the church of Jesus Christ that will look us eyeball to eyeball and say: 'Watch you don't become fanatical! Be careful now, you'll harm yourself, you'll go mad! Oh, I know it's the word of God and all - but if you just stick to the word of God and prayer, you'll go barmy!'. That is the partial heart.
Can I turn you to Paul, who said this in Philippians 3:13, listen: 'This one thing I do' - can a soldier fight in the army if he's got affairs at home? That's what he said to Timothy. How can you do it? How can you be a pastor and a businessman? How can you be a Christian and your heart is not with Christ? How can you be a Christian and your heart is not within the local assembly, the body of Christ represented here in this part of the vineyard? How can you do it? You can't do it! You can't be a Christian with a passive heart, you can't be a Christian with a partial heart! You must be a Christian who - it says in verse 13 - seeks God with all their heart! It is the persistent heart.
What is the persistent heart? Turn with me to Luke chapter 18, Luke chapter 18 - a fascinating story - the Lord says in verse 1: '[Speaking a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint], There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily'. It's interesting, the phrase that He finishes the story with: 'Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?'. I wonder, my friend, when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find a persistent heart in all of humanity - that's what He's saying. This little woman, I imagine, day by day that she was at the very door of this judge - perhaps she wouldn't let him get to sleep, she was giving him no rest hammering on the door for her answer - persisting, why? Because she had a heart after her desire. And our desire is God - or it ought to be - and we need to have a heart after God.
In Luke chapter 11 we find a similar story. We find about a man on his journey and he knocks the door, and a man has to get out of bed and he complains about how he's been in bed, and the whole family's in bed - and this man wants a bit of bread. And after - because of the man at the doors importunity, the word of God says, because of his persistence, he brings him the bread - and Jesus says: 'How much more', listen!, 'How much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?'. Because He gave it to Paul, does that mean you have it? Because Paul had experiences of God in a living way throughout his life? My friend, can I ask you: are you giving God no rest in your life - as the Psalmist says, are you following hard after God: 'As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so my soul panteth after thee, O God'! You know that Christianity is more than doctrine held, it's life enjoyed, isn't it? It's life abundant - the Levitical priest would go into the tabernacle and they would see the flame of the presence of God, and that would testify to them that God was there - not only because they knew it, but because they saw it! I imagine that little Jewish boy peeking out of the tent, just around there, the tabernacle, at night in the wilderness, and at night he could see the pillar of fire, and during the day when he peeked out of the tent he could see the cloud of smoke - and he looked, and he could say: 'God is with us!'.
Paul sought God and he found God. Ezekiel sought God, as a watchman of God, and he found God. Daniel sought God three times a day and he found God. David found God, 'Evening, and morning, and afternoon will I pray and cry aloud, and seek Thy face, and I shall hear Thy voice', he found God because he persisted after God. Paul prayed without ceasing after God. Jacob was woken in the middle of the night and he wrestled with God. I imagine, if I was wakened in the middle of the night by an angel I would turn over and go back to sleep. This wasn't the kind of Christianity the disciples followed, this wasn't the kind of practice they had. I wonder if an angel from heaven came and visited us here in the Iron Hall, or in your home, and he saw the way we lived - and perhaps he had visited ages gone by, Paul the apostle, and great Augustine, and David Brainerd, and Martin Luther, and Finney, and all the rest, Moody, and he saw their lives, their apostolic lives - and then he comes to us and he looks, and maybe he sits in on one of our Bible readings on Ephesians, and he hears about all the possessions that we're claiming as our own: 'We're blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places'. And then he goes home in the car with us and he sees the reality of our life - would he not be right in asking the question: 'Is there not a contradiction here between what you think you are and what you really are?'. Could he not point the finger at us and accuse us of trifling with words as our souls are starving? - and he might well conclude that we are spiritual liars!
My friend, we need to get back to God! God - remember Him? - who it is all about! The One with whom we will have to do, the One whom we need, the One whom we cannot do without - we need to get back to Him! We need to search for Him, we need to seek after Him with all our hearts! The disciples couldn't feed the thousands until they received bread from the Lord Himself - isn't that right? They couldn't flow out the living water of the Spirit of God until they had that living water welling up within their souls. And the great tragic cry in the Song of Solomon is this: 'Anothers vineyard have I kept, but mine own vineyard have I not kept'. If Paul was preaching today, I imagine they'd all be lining up and saying: 'Now, Paul, you've got to watch your health. Now, Paul, you're going to make people think that these Christians are abnormal. You're going to get a reputation as an extremist. You better watch, mentally you could become unbalanced' - and the theologians would all be lining up with their Bibles, edited by men, and their schemes and say: 'Now Paul, this says you're accepted in the well-beloved. Now Paul, it says you're already blessed with all the blessings in Christ'. But we need to follow Paul, not just from the mountains of doctrine, but we need to go with him through the valleys and the peaks of his experience! That's what we need. We need, in seeking God, to search for Him - for God says: 'Never, ever has a man sought Me in vain'.
Finally, as we finish, we find that this persistent heart is a prized heart. Verse 14 says: 'I will be found of you' - isn't that beautiful? I love the story of Moses in Exodus chapter 33 - and Moses is there before God and it says, on one occasion, that whenever Moses went to meet God, he went in and out of the tent and he talked with God as a man talked with his friend. One day Moses was in before God - face to face with the living God! - and he says: 'Lord, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me Thy way', he said, 'Lord, show me Thy glory!'. And the word of God says that when Moses sought God, and searched for Him with all his heart, the very next day, in solemn procession, God paraded past him in all His majesty.
Augustine was right when he said: 'Thou hast formed us for Thyself and our hearts are restless 'til they find rest in Thee'. Paul said: 'I count all dung, that I might win Christ'. Oh, we would come up to Paul and say: 'But you have Christ! You have need of nothing! You have every spiritual blessing in heavenly places!' - 'I count all dung, oh, that I might know Him!' - 'But Paul, you do know Him!'. Do you remember Elijah's mantle? You know how Elisha got it? By following hard after Elijah and not taking his eyes off him.
My friend, Faber was right when he said:
'Tis not enough to save our souls, to shun eternal fires,
The thought of God will raise the heart to more sublime desires!'.
Madame Guyon said:
'Still, still without ceasing,
I feel it increasing,
The fervour of holy desire.
And often exclaim:
'Let me die in the flame'.
Oh, a love that can never expire!'
Is that our desire? Is our desire after God? Is our desire to know God, and to search for God, and to seek God until we find God with all our heart, until He says to us in a voice that we cannot put our hands on our ears to - we will have to listen to it! - 'Thou art found of Me'. How will you do it? There's an old Chinese sage that says this: 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step' - and I say to us all today, listen: draw near to God, and He will draw near to thee.
Let us pray together and bow our heads. The Lord told His children in captivity that He would be found of them when they began praying - and you know, a sure sign that God wants to work among His people is when He sets them praying. Now, if you're in the meeting today and you feel, and you've the spirit that you're in need of nothing, I say this reverently: even God can't do anything with you. You should forget about all this church, you'd be better off leaving if God can't work in your heart because you've need of nothing. But if you have been made naked before God today, in Christ's name I implore you to follow hard after Him and to never rest until you know the flame of His presence in your soul.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the blessing of God Almighty, we thank Thee for the delight of communion with God. But, oh, we feel that Thou art standing at the door of this very place today, and Thou art knocking, but You can't get in. You can't get into our lives, into our homes, into our career, into our minds, into our pocket - oh God, we pray, may we be given grace today to open the door and start supping with the Son of God. For it is in His name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth tape in his 'The Heart Of The Matter' series, titled "The Seeking Heart" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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