Sermon 3381 – The Broken Fence
published on Thursday, November 20th 1913.
Delivered by C. H. Spurgeon
at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and to, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down, Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it and received instruction.”–Proverbs 24:30-32.
This slothful man did no hurt to his fellow-men: he was not a thief, nor a ruffian, nor a meddler in anybody else’s business. He did not trouble himself about other men’s concerns for he did not even attend to his own–it required too much exertion. He was not grossly vicious; he had not energy enough to care for that. He was one who liked to take things easily. He always let well alone, and for the matter of that, he let ill alone too, as the nettles and the thistles in his garden plainly proved. What was the use of disturbing himself? It would be all the same a hundred years hence, and so he took things just as they came. He was not a bad man, so some said of him; and yet perhaps it will be found at last that there is no worse man in the world than the man who is not good, for in some respects he is not good enough to be bad; he has not enough force of character about him to serve either God or Baal. He simply serves himself, worshipping his own ease and adoring his own comfort. Yet he always meant to be right. He was not going to sleep much longer; he would only have forty winks more and then he would be at his work and show you what he could do. One of these days he meant to be thoroughly in earnest, and make up for lost time. The time never actually came for him to begin, but it was always coming. He always meant to repent, but he went on in his sin. He meant to believe, but he died an unbeliever. He meant to be a Christian, but he lived without Christ. He halted between two opinions because he could not trouble himself to make up his mind; and so he perished of delay.
This picture of the slothful man and his garden and field overgrown with nettles and weeds represents many a man who has professed to be a Christian, but who has become slothful in the things of God. Spiritual life has withered in him. He has backslidden; he has come down from the condition of healthy spiritual energy into one of listlessness and indifference to the things of God; and while things have gone wrong within his heart and all sorts of mischiefs have come into him and grown up and seeded themselves in him, mischief is also taking place externally in his daily conduct. The stone wall which guarded his character is broken down, and he lies open to all evil. Upon this point we will now meditate. “The stone wall thereof was broken down.”
Come then, let us take a walk with Solomon and stand with him and consider and learn instruction while we look at this broken-down fence. When we have examined it, let us consider the consequences of broken-down walls; and then in the last place, let us try to rouse up this sluggard that his wall may yet be repaired. If this slothful person should be one of ourselves, may God’s infinite mercy rouse us up before this ruined wall has let in a herd of prowling vices.
I. First, let us take a look at this broken fence. You will see that in the beginning it was a very good fence, for it was a stone wall. Fields are often surrounded with wooden palings which soon decay, or with hedges which may very easily have gaps made in them; but this was a stone wall. Such walls are very usual in the East, and are also common in some of our own counties where stone is plentiful. It was a substantial protection to begin with, and well shut in the pretty little estate which had fallen into such bad hands. The man had a field for agricultural purposes and another strip of land for a vineyard or a garden. It was fertile soil, for it produced thorns and nettles in abundance, and where these flourish better things can be produced; yet the idler took no care of his property, but allowed the wall to get into bad repair and in many places to be quite broken down.
Let me mention some of the stone walls that men permit to be broken down when they backslide. In many cases sound principles were instilled in youth, but these are forgotten. What a blessing is Christian education! Our parents, both by persuasion and example, taught many of us the things that are pure and honest and of good repute. We saw in their lives how to live. They also opened the Word of God before us, and they taught us the ways of right both toward God and toward men. They prayed for us and they prayed with us till the things of God were placed round about us and shut us in as with a stone wall. We have never been able to get rid of our early impressions. Even in times of wandering, before we knew the Lord savingly, these things had a healthy power over us; we were checked when we would have done evil, we were assisted when we were struggling towards Christ. It is very sad when people permit these first principles to be shaken and to be removed like stones which fall from a boundary wall. Young persons begin at first to talk lightly of the old-fashioned ways of their parents. By-and-by it is not merely the old-fashionedness of the ways, but the ways themselves that they despise. They seek other company, and from that other company they learn nothing but evil. They seek pleasure in places which it horrifies their parents to consider. This leads to worse, and if theft do not bring their fathers’ grey hairs with sorrow to the grave, it is no virtue of theirs. I have known young men who really were Christians sadly backslide through being induced to modify, conceal, or alter those holy principles in which they were trained from their mother’s knee. It is a great calamity when professedly converted men become unfixed, unstable, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. It shows great faultiness of mind and unsoundness of heart when we can trifle with those grave and solemn truths which have been sanctified by a mother’s tears, and by a father’s earnest life. “I am thy servant,” said David, “and the son of thy handmaid”: he felt it to be a high honor, and at the same time a sacred bond which bound him to God, that he was the son of one who could be called God’s handmaid. Take care you who have had Christian training, that you do not trifle with it. “My son, keep thy father’s commandment and forsake not the law of thy mother: bind them continually upon thine heart and tie them about thy neck.”
Protection to character is also found in the fact that solid doctrines have been learned. This is a fine stone wall. Many among us have been taught the gospel of the grace of God and have learned it well, so that they are able to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Happy are they who have a religion that is grounded upon a clear knowledge of eternal verities. A religion which is all excitement and has little instruction in it may serve for transient use, but for permanent life-purposes there must be a knowledge of those great doctrines which are fundamental to the gospel system. I tremble when I hear of a man’s giving up, one by one, the vital principles of the gospel and boasting of his liberality. I hear him say, “These are my views, but others have a right to their views also.” That is a very proper expression in reference to mere “views,” but we may not thus speak of truth itself as revealed by God; that is one and unalterable, and all are bound to receive it. It is not your view of truth, for that is a dim thing; but the very truth itself which will save you if your faith embraces it. I will readily yield my way of stating a doctrine, but not the doctrine itself. One man may put it in this way, and one in another; but the truth itself must never be given up. The spirit of the Broad School robs us of everything like certainty. I should like to ask some great men of that order whether they believe that anything is taught in the Scriptures which it would be worth while for a person to die for, and whether the martyrs were not great fools for laying down their lives for mere opinions which might be right or might be wrong. This broad-churchism is a breaking down of stone walls, and it will let in the devil and all his crew, and do infinite harm to the church of God if it be not stopped. A loose state of belief does great damage to any man’s mind.
We are not bigots, but we should be none the worse if we so lived that men called us so. I met a man the other day who was accused of bigotry, and I said, “Give me your hand, old fellow. I like to meet with bigots now and then for the fine old creatures are getting scarce, and the stuff they are made of is so good that if there were more of it, we might see a few men among us again and fewer mollusks.” Lately we have seen few men with backbone; the most have been of the jelly-fish order. I have lived in times in which I should have said, “Be liberal, and shake off all narrowness”; but now I am obliged to alter my tone and cry “Be steadfast in the truth.” The faith once delivered to the saints is now all the more attractive to me because it is called narrow, for I am weary of that breadth which comes of broken hedges. There are fixed points of truth and definite certainties of creed, and woe to you if you allow these stone walls to crumble down. I fear me that the slothful are a numerous band, and that ages to come may have to deplore the laxity which has been applauded by this negligent generation.
Another fence which is too often neglected is that of godly habits which had been formed; the sluggard allows this wall to be broken down. I will mention some valuable guards of life and character. One is the habit of secret prayer. Private prayer should be regularly offered, at least in the morning and in the evening. We cannot do without set seasons for drawing near to God. To look into the face of man without having first seen the face of God is very dangerous: to go out into the world without locking up the heart and giving God the key is to leave it open to all sorts of spiritual vagrants. At night, again, to go to your rest as the swine roll into their sty without thanking God for the mercies of the day is shameful. The evening sacrifice should be devoutly offered as surely as we have enjoyed the evening fireside: we should thus put ourselves under the wings of the Preserver of men. It may be said, “We can pray at all times.” I know we can; but I fear that those who do not pray at stated hours seldom pray at all. Those who pray in season are the most likely persons to pray at all seasons. Spiritual life does not care for a cast-iron regulation, but since life casts itself into some mold or other, I would have you careful of its external habit as well as its internal power. Never allow great gaps in the wall of your habitual private prayer.
I go a step farther, I believe that there is a great guardian power about family prayer, and I feel greatly distressed because I know that very many Christian families neglect it. Romanism at one time could do nothing in England because it could offer nothing but the shadow of what Christian men already had in substance. “Do you hear that bell tinkling in the morning! What is that for! …. To go to church to pray.” “Indeed,” said the Puritan, “I have no need to go there to pray. I have had my children together and we have read a passage of Scripture, and prayed, and sang the praises of God, and we have a church in our house.” Ah! there goes that bell again in the evening. What is that for? Why, it is the vesper bell. The good man answered that he had no need to trudge a mile or two for that, for his holy vespers had been said and sung around his own table, of which the big Bible was the chief ornament. They told him that there could be no service without a priest, but he replied that every godly man should be a priest in his own house. Thus have the saints defied the overtures of priestcraft, and kept the faith from generation to generation. Household devotion and the pulpit are, under God, the stone walls of Protestantism, and my prayer is that these may not be broken down.
Another fence to protect piety is found in weeknight services. I notice that when people forsake weeknight meetings, firm power of their religion evaporates. I do not speak of those lawfully detained to watch the sick, and attend to farm-work and other business, or as domestic servants and the like; there are exceptions to all rules: but I mean those who could attend if they had a mind to do so. When people say, “It is quite enough for me to be wearied with the sermons of the Sunday; I do not want to go out to prayer-meetings and lectures and so forth”–then it is clear that they have no appetite for the Word, and surely this is a bad sign. If you have a bit of wall built to protect the Sunday, and then six times the distance left without a fence, I believe that Satan’s cattle will get in and do no end of mischief.
Take care also of the stone wall of Bible reading and of speaking often one to another concerning the things of God. Associate with the godly and commune with God, and you will thus by the blessing of God’s Spirit keep up a good fence against temptations, which otherwise will get into the fields of your soul and devour all goodly fruits.