A Sermon



"The hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place."--Isaiah xxviii.17.


A refuge is, of course, a place to which resort is had in time of distress; a place of protection and security against danger. A hiding place, has also attached to it much the same idea--a place in which an individual secures himself against danger. The figure used in the text is a hailstorm, a sweeping hailstorm that carries all before it, even the places of refuge into which people have run for shelter from its desolating power; and so great is the flood that it fills up all the low places, the caves, the hiding places, to which they have betaken themselves.

The connection in which these words are found is very simple: they were addressed by the prophet Isaiah to the Jewish church; who were, of course, professors of religion, professing to be saints. At the ninth verse he says--"Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; for with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, this is the rest wherewith ye cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing that ye would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken." God was determined to leave them wholly without excuse; if they would deceive themselves, they must bear the guilt and punishment, he had by the mouth of his prophets set them "line upon line, and precept upon precept. Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem"--that is the religious rulers of those days--"because ye have said we have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement." They thought they were sure of their salvation; that they were God's people; they regarded themselves as being justified and accepted in so high a sense, that they were ready to say, "we have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement;" "When the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves; therefore, thus saith the Lord God, behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report. For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than he can wrap himself in it." A figure representing the character of their righteousness--their religion upon which they placed so much dependence,--it was like a bed "so short that a man could not stretch himself on it; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it." Thus their religion which they depended upon, was utterly inefficient. "For the Lord shall rise up in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth." The prophet delivers this very solemn message, and he warns the people from dissembling,--for that is the true idea of "mocking" in this place--do not dissemble, he says, do not play the hypocrite, do not deceive yourselves; "for I have heard from the Lord God of Hosts, a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth."

My object this morning is to point out some of those refuges to which men betake themselves in our day, and shew that they are really refuges of lies. It is oftimes of great importance to have the attention called directly to those refuges to which men are in danger of betaking themselves, and to which too many do betake themselves. It is very remarkable to what an extent men will deceive themselves on the subject of religion. In connection with this subject, more than any other, we find the most remarkable cases of self-delusion: they are so very remarkable sometimes, as to appear altogether incredible, that men with reason and in possession of the Bible, should ever betake themselves to such refuges--should by any possibility make themselves believe that in the way they take they are even likely to get to heaven.

I shall not have time to notice a great many of the present prevailing forms of error and sin, but I will advert to a few that are very common amongst men. The first thing that I notice, as a false refuge in which many indulge, is a selfish religion. And here let me say--and I am sorry to be able to say it--that the longer I live, and the more acquaintance I have with men in general, and especially with professing Christians, the more am I afflicted with this conviction, that multitudes are perfectly mistaken with regard to the nature of religion--with great multitudes it is only a form of selfishness. A whole sermon might be occupied on this subject, but I must make only a very few remarks upon it. Let me say, selfishness in any form is in exact opposition to religion. It makes no difference as to the type which selfishness puts on. The question is does a man make his own interest the object of pursuit? If so, such conduct is the exact opposite of that benevolence which Christ manifested, when he laid himself out for the good of mankind and the glory of God. He lived not to please himself, but to please God. And the Apostle says, "look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." Indeed, everywhere, both in the law and the gospel, religion--true religion, is presented to us as disinterested benevolence. By disinterested benevolence of course I do not mean a want of interest in the great subject of salvation itself; but I mean that we should be religious not from any selfish motives or reasons, but that we should love God for what God is, and that we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Supreme devotion to God; to God's interest as supreme, and to his nature as a God of holiness. Where there is true religion it will manifest itself, in prayer, praise, and obedience. It will manifest itself with respect to God in efforts to please him, to honour him, and to glorify him, and an earnest desire to secure the love, confidence and obedience of all men. Now this must be naturally so. With respect to man true religion will manifest itself, in simplicity of character, in seeking the good of all men, in caring for them as we care for ourselves; in caring for their interests as we care for our own interests; in caring for their salvation as we care for our own salvation; rejoicing in their prosperity as we would in our own, sympathizing with their afflictions, as if they were our own--in a word, there will be a setting ourselves with a single eye to promote the interests of mankind and the glory of God. Now this is the natural result of faith in Christ. All selfishness is sin. But mark! it is not selfishness for a man to have a proper regard for his own salvation; but it is for him to regard his own salvation only, and care not for the salvation of his neighbour. Suppose a man cares ever so much about his own salvation, but cares not for the salvation of his neighbour, this is supreme selfishness right on the face of it; and the more intensely anxious a man is about his own soul, if he cares nothing about the salvation of his neighbour, the more intensely selfish he is. This should always be understood. Men that are very regular at the means of grace, and who make their own salvation a matter of deep concern, but who after all care little or nothing for the salvation of others, are deceiving themselves--trusting in a false refuge. Why it is perfectly plain in such cases that their religion is mere selfishness. For let me ask, where does the Bible allow men to make any separate, selfish interest their great object of pursuit? The teaching of Christ is, "thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself," and Christ himself acted upon this principle, and the apostles did so too; instead of making their own enjoyment, happiness, or salvation the great end of pursuit, they laid themselves out for the good of the world. And further, this is the true way for a man to secure his own salvation; by caring for the salvation of others. "Whosoever will save his life," said Christ, "shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Now it should always be remembered, therefore, that all religion which terminates upon ourselves, or upon our friends, whom we regard as parts of ourselves, is a religion of supreme selfishness, and not the religion of the Bible--but the exact opposite. Now a great many persons fall into this mistake. They think that persons may be selfish in religion and be real Christians. They know that when men are worldly, engrossed with the world, why, of course, that is not religion, they most admit that. But when individuals are found at the meeting, and found at the ordinance, especially, and are found saying their prayers, for themselves, and those who are parts of themselves,--they are thought to be very pious! But this is a grand mistake; for after all they have not escaped the narrow circle of their own selfishness. Selfishness has changed its type, to be sure; it was once worldly; directed to some worldly object, glory, wealth, character, or something else; but some circumstance led them to change their course, and now they have begun to care about religion, but they are just as selfish now as when they were in the world--the form of selfishness is changed, but the principle is not removed. Before they speculated out of men; and now they attempt to speculate out of God! They set themselves before to make something out of men; and now they set themselves to make something out of God! Instead of having come into sympathy with the benevolence of God; instead of having laid themselves on the altar, they are as selfish as ever. They are as selfish in seeking to secure their own salvation, as they would be to secure a worldly estate. The end they have in view is a selfish end. I will tell you how it may be known, right on the face of it, whether a man, professing to be religious, is a selfish man. When he was engaged in worldly matters, his object was entirely self: how much he could make for himself--all his bargains and tradings were to this end. If he cared about a man's bankruptcy, it was for some selfish reason; in the hope that he would be able to make something out of it. Look at a selfish man in trade, he cares only for his own business; he does not "look also on the things of others," according to the apostle's injunction: while trying to please himself, and to benefit himself. Now he becomes what is called a religious man: well, look at him now, is he any more really benevolent in his religion than he was in his business? Does he give any indications of his selfishness having been given up? Suppose he observed the business relations of society: why it was his interest to do so, he had a good reason for it. Look at the man when he has become a religious man, after he has been introduced to the church of God, if you please; and what proofs does he exhibit that he has undergone a radical change? Does he care for his own salvation? Is he labouring for the salvation of others? Is he anxious for others? Does he pray for others, care for others, rejoice with others? Does he mourn over the desolations of Zion? Has he come into full sympathy with Christ? Does he feel a deep concern for the souls that are around him? Does he care nothing for worldly things, only so far as they may be made the instruments of saving the souls of men? Does he pray for grace that he may be useful; that he may be able to save souls, pulling them out of the fire, and is he engaged in building up the true church of God? Now you can easily see if you have fled to a refuge of lies in this respect. Have you felt awakings of soul when you have heard or read of the awful things that God has said about the wicked? Has his hand come near you, and stricken down a companion, a friend, a neighbour, and has your heart awakened from your dream of worldly mindedness? Have you been led to see that life is short and death is near, and that a solemn judgment is to follow? Have you understood the value of religion? and further, have you so studied its nature as to see that the starting point is a firm resolution in regard to the great end of your life? That to begin, you must renounce self, and live for God: if not, you are self-sufficient still, and know nothing about religion at all. Suppose that you are selfish in religious matters instead of worldly matters, what are you the better? There is no real difference, which you will see if you think of it. Selfishness has put on a new type, but the man is not new, and therefore you are none the better. Selfishness may often change its type. It puts on one form in the child, another in youth, and another in manhood. It is manifested in ambition, the love of fame, the love of character, the love of power, and so on. I might chase these things down from one stage to another, and selfishness would everywhere unfold itself. In almost every man's history we should find that at some period of his life it put on a religious type, sometimes in youth, and sometimes in riper age. Observe, that against which I would warn you is this--making such a mistake as to suppose that religion at all consist in mere attention to religious things, but from selfish motives, always terminating at last upon self.

Let me say in the next place. Another refuge of lies to which mankind betake themselves is, religious impulse. By this I mean they are excited purely by their feelings. This is a prevailing form of selfishness. This delusion consists in appealing to the feelings instead of to God's law as developed in the conscience and reason. Such persons as these think themselves very religious, because they feel deeply upon the subject. You will very often hear persons when spoken to on the subject of religion, say something about their feelings--they will tell you that they feel so and so; but take away their feelings and they have no religion. Now mark! I call this a religion of impulse, because it is not a religion of principle. These people become religious in proportion as their own feelings are excited; bring them under exciting means, and they are very religious. Nay! strongly excite them, and they will do almost anything; excite and rouse their feelings, and you can carry them along. But let the circumstances subside which excited their feelings, and you see that they have not the root of the matter within them. Now it is remarkable to what an extent we see the religion of impulse prevail--they are wonderfully religious while excitement prevails; but let it be swept away by neglect of the means of grace, and they will be very dull, and know very little about piety. If they do attend to means at all, it will perhaps be only the communion. Perhaps they will be superstitious enough to hold on to the ordinance--for there is a vast deal of this in every country that I have visited. Persons who are not really religious in their daily life, will yet make a point of appearing at the ordinance. Now it is very evident that such persons have no religion, and they make an ordinance of religion a refuge of lies in which they trust. They are like the Roman Catholics, who are very careful about attending to their Masses--they make attention to ordinances one of the prominent features of their religion. Now let me tell you right here--and you may set it down as a universal truth, that wherever the prominent feature of a person's religion is attendance upon ordinances, it is a sure sign that he is not a Christian. What are ordinances? They are the means of perpetuating certain truths in the world. The design of the Lord's Supper was to perpetuate the remembrance of the Lord's death. "As often," said the apostle, "as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." It is symbolic and commemorative: the same by baptism. They commemorate two great truths, and are very important as such; but no Christian makes them his religion. He is not sanctified by baptism and the Lord's Supper, but by the reality which they represent. He has got the reality in his own heart--he leans on Christ, he feeds on Christ, he loves to commemorate the ordinances of Christ;--but mark! if he is not self-denying, prayerful, anxious for the salvation of others, and making efforts for this end, but merely cares about ordinances, he is not religious, but merely superstitious. Look at the Roman Catholics for example--and I do not wish it to be supposed that I mean to say no Roman Catholic is pious, for some of them may be, and doubtless are--who make ordinances the chief feature of their religion; and the same may be said of some other denominations to a considerable extent. They make so much of their mass, and of the ordinances, that instead of laying themselves out to do good, instead of leading holy lives, instead of being religious in everything, why, their religion is confined to certain ceremonies. Now mark, this is an infinite mistake--religion is not a form, it is not an ordinance, it is a life. True religion must, from its very nature, show itself in a man's business as well as in his prayers. Nay! inasmuch, as his business occupies six-sevenths of his time, the principal place in which to see his religion, if he has any--is in the daily walk of life. It will be seen there the most, if he has any. Now if you see persons religious on the Sabbath day; religious in ordinances; religious in particular forms, but not in their every-day life, you may be quite sure that their religion is mere superstition--nothing else. Some men are very particular in attending to what they call their religious duties. They make a distinction between religious duties and their duties to their fellow men. Now this is a fundamental mistake, for mark me! a man who does not live a religious life cannot be religious on the Sabbath; if he is not religious in his business he cannot be religious at the communion, and he has no more business to be there than the devil has--not a bit more! If he is not religious in his daily business, he has no more right to be at the table of the Lord than those harlots have who spend their lives in abominations, too horrible to be mentioned.

Now this is no new doctrine! This is no American heresy! It is God's naked truth! If you don't believe it, you have fled to a refuge of lies.

But let me say again: others have a mere religion of opinion, which is just the opposite of a religion of impulse. The religion of impulse implies that a man feels strongly, and he acts in accordance with his feelings. But right over against this is the religion of opinion, which is another refuge of lies. These men hold very strongly a set of opinions--right or wrong they hold on to them. These opinions do not mould their lives nevertheless; but they hold the doctrines, the opinions, and make a great deal of them; yet they don't obey the commands involved in them. They live very careless and worldly lives, but no matter how corrupt, they think themselves to be Christians. But their religion is a mere matter of opinion, a mere question of doctrines, a mere holding on to certain dogmas, that do not mould, and fashion, and influence the life: dogmas that lie in their minds, but have never come into sympathy with their hearts; and while this is the case with men, they are only trusting in a refuge of lies: they have no real religion. They make much of their orthodoxy. They cannot bear to hear a word said that does not accord with their particular notions of orthodoxy. They come to meeting, and they hear a sermon, and when it chimes in with their views, they say it is sound doctrine. Now the question is, do these doctrines affect their hearts? If so, it is well; but if it is otherwise, then sound doctrine is only leading them the shortest road to hell. Their orthodoxy is the most direct road to hell, because they are living in the full blaze of light. They will speculate about doctrines, but they make no efforts to pull sinners out of the fire, and to build up the kingdom of Christ. They are selfish, and close fisted; you would think that they were holding their worldly possessions with a death grasp. Now mark, they are very orthodox, and you cannot offend them more than by touching their orthodox[y], but they are not living for God, and are not laying themselves out for the salvation of men--they live for themselves, and are maintainers of certain opinions; and if the doctrines which are involved in them were taken to the heart and moulded to life, they would stand forth as beautiful specimens of Christianity. But I repeat, much of the religious opinion is only a refuge of lies.

But another refuge of lies is the religion of sectarianism. I have seen much of this, and might tell of much. We see this largely in the Romish church, for she tells everybody not within her communion that they will go to hell; but it is not confined to that church; it is the doctrine of every church, who says that in their church only is salvation to be obtained. One particular sect sets itself up and claims to have apostolic succession, and everybody who is not of it is out of the church--that church is right, and every other church is wrong. When these sectarians, to whatever party they belong, speak of "the church," they do not mean the congregation of believers in every community, but their particular system or form which they call "the church." In this country, I believe that most of those who claim to themselves the right of being called the church, do admit that Dissenters from them may be Christians; and Dissenters will not deny that there may be good people in the church which is established by law in this land. But mark! there is a vast deal of zeal that is mere sectarianism. Really I have been astonished sometimes in this country to hear ministers "thank God for Methodism." I do not know how many times I have heard that! The first meeting that I attended in England was a missionary meeting, especially connected with the Wesleyan body, and I was astonished and appalled at the first that so much was said about the glory of Methodism; thanking God for Methodism, and so on. I had not been in the habit of hearing such things in a missionary meeting, and it struck me as very astonishing, that they should have invited people of different communities to be present, and talk thus while they knew that the very man who occupied the chair was not a Methodist! They had got together a multitude of people not belonging to their section of the church, in order to take up a collection for the missionary cause, and yet there was so much glorifying of methodism! I did not rebuke it at the time, but I felt it, and I have since made up my mind, that if I ever hear it again under such circumstance, or any other, I will rebuke it! I will rebuke either the glorifying of Methodism, or the putting forward of any other species of sectarianism whatever, when Christianity ought to have been the theme. It is not to be tolerated. It is no part of religion. For my life I cannot enter with zeal into any efforts to build up any particular sect. I have my own notions, but I know that others hold opinions different from mine, with as much honesty as I hold mine. I do not mean therefore that I have no particular opinions, but I will not glorify any particular denomination, and spend my life in building up a party. There is a vast deal too much of this party spirit, and what is the effect? Selfishness of heart, and no openness of soul--no going out for the salvation of the world. I do not mean to say that I do not regard any of the distinctions which prevail as of any importance, because I do; but I do not regard them of such importance as to merge everything in their favour. I can respect the gospel and myself too, and therefore I cannot devote my time to the building up of a sect. The salvation of men is the great question! The salvation of men's souls is the first concern! Do not lay too much stress upon sectarian differences. Make your great aim the good of souls and the glory of God!

But let me say once more: another refuge of lies is having regard to what is outward, the performance of certain external actions without love to God in the heart. Religion is often, with many people, only a mere outward act; there is no spiritual life in the heart. This is ungodliness, in the true sense of the word which means unlikeness to God!

There are a vast many men who think themselves very religious because they pay their debts. They make a great deal of that. If you question them about their lives, they have everything on which to pride themselves. But is honesty, Christianity? There are many infidels who are amiable in their daily life, and are honest towards their fellow men, and are what are called good neighbours, good husbands, good wives--persons who in their intercourse with men, may be depended on in worldly matters; men whose opinions are sound on worldly questions, men who are trustworthy in business; and they are all this upon a worldly principle, and for a worldly motive. Now let me say that these things are all needful in a certain sense: but I say also that in all this there is no virtue; there is not a particle of piety in it, as there is no recollection and recognition of the claims of God, no living to God, for if there were, it would express itself in prayer and praise, and in all those forms of sympathy with God, which piety always puts on. There must be supreme love to God wherever there is true piety. And mark! There will always be true love to man wherever there is real love to God.

Let not men deceive themselves, and suppose that because they are moral, they have done all that is required of them! Suppose a man is exempted from punishment, is he fitted for heaven? Has he come into sympathy with God? Is he prepared to enjoy God? could he dwell happily with the righteous in heaven? What sort of place could heaven be if you could enjoy it? You have not come into sympathy with Christ; you reject Christ; you reject the Sabbath; you reject the Holy Ghost; and can you think that a supposed morality will answer your turn? Let me warn you to flee away from such a refuge of lies as that!

Let me say before I sit down to those who profess to be religious, who profess to be born of God. Is your religion a thing which can be known? Do your neighbours know it? Do your family know it? or are you hiding somewhere? behind some refuge of lies? Have you got behind that deacon? for you may make a refuge of lies of him! Have you got behind your minister? for you may make a refuge of lies of him! Don't hide yourselves anywhere! Be satisfied with nothing but Christ. Don't get behind that woman! Put no false standard before you. Set no standard but Christ before you! Be satisfied with no opinions that don't mould your life. Be satisfied with no religion that is not the life of your souls. Flee away from every source of error, every refuge of lies, and trust only in that which will mold your character, sanctify your life, and make you blessed forever. I beg of you to think upon these things.


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