Let not your heart be troubled
Rev. Jonathan Ranken Anderson *
Preached on 16 May, 1852, at John Knox Tabernacle, Glasgow, and now abridged and edited.
TEXT: Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. John 14:1
THE disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, from the time they were first called to follow Him, had to pass through many severe trials the sorest of which they had yet to encounter, and it now lay very near to them. In all their former trials they must have felt it a source of seasonable support and relief to find their Lord with them, to administer to them counsel, rebuke and encouragement, as they required. But now heavy tidings had fallen on their ears, when it was intimated to them that He was about to leave them. They were thereby thrown into deep dejection, their hearts sunk within them and they were exceedingly disconsolate. It was in those circumstances that our Lord addressed to them these words, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
First, we have here a caution, and secondly, an admonition.
First, a caution: “Let not your heart be troubled.”
It is very obvious that this was a word in season. It was needed by the disciples. Just as it was needed by His disciples then, so it has frequently been needed by all who have followed Him since. What is it in the disciples of Christ, and the people of God in all ages, that renders such a caution necessary? The obvious reply is that they are liable to have their hearts
But who is that is not liable to have his heart troubled at times? It would be confusion, however, to suppose that the caution of the text is applicable to all that are liable to have their hearts troubled. It is to the followers of Christ that it is specifically addressed; and it is necessary to notice this if we would understand the nature of the caution and how suitable it is.
The hearts of the disciples were troubled because they feared the consequences of His leaving them. It is evident that they knew what it was to have the Saviour, and that is, I suppose, more than can be said of most now present. It was more than could be said of the disciples at one period of their lives; and more than can be said of those who are still in their natural state, for Scripture tells us that such are “without Christ”. Now, do you know what it is to be without Him? If not, you cannot know what it is to have Him. He will not be found with any that do not value Him. He is infinitely precious in Himself, and infinitely precious in the eyes of the Father. Herein is love in its richest expression that the Father gave His Son, who was the love of His love and the heart of His kindness. When a man gets a womans heart, he is quite sure he will get her to be his wife in due time. The Son is the heart of the Fathers love if you get that, you have everything. He remains among a people as long as they think Him to be precious. He will not go away from this congregation as long as there are two or three who value Him.
It is an indication of His preciousness that He departs from where He is not valued. If you do not value Him you will not be able to keep Him though you gave your bodies to be burned and all your goods to feed the poor, but if you value Him you have a chain by which to hold Him. He may say, “Let me go, for the day breaketh,” and the soul that values Him will reply, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me” (Gen. 32:26). He can step over every barrier to go away from a people, except the barrier of valuation of Him. “Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me” (Song 6:5).
How are poor, Christless sinners to learn to value Him? It is by being awakened to a sense of their need of Him, and to have some taste of the bitterness and dread consequences of being without Him in time, and especially in eternity. The disciples learned this lesson. You who are the people of God have learned it also. And you who would be joined to the people of God must learn it too. There is but one way of salvation to have Christ. Know ye anything aright today of your state as sinners? Has there ever been concern regarding your sinful state? Has the distant echo of the thunders of Jehovahs wrath fallen upon your ears, and made your hearts to palpitate? Satan will harass poor sinners with this temptation: “Your conviction is not strong enough; your distress is not deep enough; see how short a time it lasts. Do you mean to say you are subjects of conviction?” This is one way that the enemy uses to keep poor sinners from the Saviour, to their destruction. Dont listen to him; dont believe him; he will cheat you if he can! Oh! that you had but the slightest feeling of concern, for this generation is largely made up of people who have no concern. Oh, that you had but a moments distress, for the people of this generation shun distress and have a religion which is an effectual preventive against distress. Do you dread the serious consequences of being without the Saviour in this world? Maybe some of you think you would be the better of having the Saviour when you are about to step into eternity, but you see no need of Him at present you think you can manage to get through life well enough without Him.
The disciples knew that there would be very serious consequences, even in this world, of their being left without the Saviour and all who are truly awakened are afraid of the consequences of being left without Christ. Oh, to be without Christ is to be shut out from life and shut up in death; it is to be excluded from light and encompassed in thick darkness, in slavery and in helplessness. A man without Christ is dead while he lives, blind while he sees, deaf while he hears, motionless while he walks and cursed while he gets blessings. What is daylight to a soul without Christ? It is just to discover to him a wilderness. What is a meal without Christ? Very insipid. What is a Sabbath without Christ? A believers burden. What is a sermon without Christ? A shell without a kernel. What is secret prayer without Christ? A body without the spirit. And oh, what will death be without Christ? Emphatically the king of terrors! What will the judgment be without Christ? A dreadful meeting! What will eternity be without Christ? Blackness of darkness for ever! Are you afraid of these things?
Perhaps some may be saying, “What we are afraid of is that we have reached such hardness, that you might as well speak to a stone as to us!” Well, the arrows of the King can go through hearts of adamant and He may one day pierce your hearts, hard though they be. He likes to get extreme cases. Some people, when they get a little experience of darkness, cry, “Oh for a Saviour, to give us light.” Wait a little, till the darkness is deeper. Some, when they feel a pang of spiritual bondage, cry, “Oh for a Saviour.” Wait a little, till the bondage is heavier. When they feel a little death, they cry, “Oh for a Saviour to give us a resurrection.” Wait till you are dead and buried, and beginning to stink, then He will come and make good His word: “O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (Ezek. 37:12).
As the disciples learned their need of the Saviour, so they found Him in “the word of the truth of the gospel”. To learn ones need of the Saviour is a very precious part of the work of grace in the soul, effected by the Spirit of all grace but it would be incomplete were it left by itself. It is preparatory to something else. The soundness and value of it has to be tested by what follows. There are such things in the spiritual world as miscarriages. “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). What will it be like in a lost eternity for a man to think of how near he was to the kingdom but yet came short of it? Do not, I pray you, undervalue the work of sound conviction leading you to feel your need of a Saviour but do not rest in that work. It is needful and dutiful to listen, as it were, to John the Baptist preaching the baptism of repentance, but to listen as an introduction to Him who baptises with the Holy Ghost. It is faithful to ones soul to look at the signposts, but only if the signposts are made use of to guide the eye to Him that saves. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Some people get saviours that do not increase that are great at first but become smaller and smaller but the Christ of God is like that shining path “which shineth more and more unto the perfect day”. Not so the religion of Jesus Christ, it is small, unpretending and modest at the beginning, but it expands, enlarges and lives until it is transplanted into the kingdom of heaven the earth not being large enough to hold it.
“Who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10). Dont you despise it! And take care not to trifle with these small things in your own souls; dont treat them rashly. I am afraid some of my poor people are very cruel to something very precious in their souls. Take care, child of God, and do not act presumptuously; if you cannot say there is grace, do not say there is absolutely none; though you cannot see His steps of majesty in your souls, do not say they are not, and have never been, there. Remember the words of Jacob. “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (Gen. 28:16). Oh, the great murderer is specially intent upon making people murder the work of grace in their souls.
Well, if you know anything of your need of a Saviour and of the dreadful consequences of being left without Him, lift up your eyes to the gospel hills whence cometh your aid. Lift up your eyes! “But they are sightless eyes,” says one. Lift up your sightless eyes and direct them towards the gospel of the grace of God, so that it would touch His compassionate heart and He would make haste and say, “I will; receive thy sight.” “But I have not even sightless eyeballs to direct towards the light of life,” you may say. Well, though it would be a sad and terrible sight to see a sort of skeleton turning in this direction, yet if you can get no further, see if you can get that far. Lift up your eyes to the gospel hills, whence cometh your aid. The gospel is preached to those who need the Saviour.
The people of this land feel no need of the Saviour, and hence, bye and bye, there will be no gospel to be preached to them. You will not find the gospel of the grace of God continuing long, where there are none who want the Saviour. Why is there no gospel in the Church of Rome? They have no need of the Saviour; they are satisfied with the Virgin Mary, popes and penances and they are left with what they lust after. And so it is with others. There is little or no gospel in many places because there are few there that know their need of the Saviour. If you say that you need Christ, it is not in the power of Satan, or any of his agents, to take Him away.
Christ will not be content to be without a sinner if that sinner cannot be satisfied without Him. He is the satisfying water of life for which no price is asked. Water is sometimes got for the buying. The water of life is got freely, as was the water from the rock smitten by the rod of Moses no price was asked and no labour was imposed for the supply of it. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is. 55:1). Get it freely.
This is the very thing which exercised souls find most difficult. Christians who are young in the faith do not see this difficulty so clearly. Why? The Lord deals tenderly with them, just as a tender nurse caresses her infant, and dandles it upon her knees. Why is the little one treated in this way? It is suitable to its condition. So at first, and sometimes for a considerable time, the Lord gives sweet frames and lively feelings to believers young in the faith. Their affections are just like a flowing stream and very warm the gospel is very sweet, yet it is just the surface of the gospel that their warm frames touch, but, bye and bye these frames are taken away. The fountains of the great deep in the soul are opened, corruption begins to prevail, the soul is darkened and deadened, and cast into sore troubles. Will you believe now? “I might as well move a mountain.” Will you have this gospel freely? “Oh, that is just the point where I stick.” The reason of this is that there is repugnance in the soul of man against the gospel of God. Hence it is that believers becoming better acquainted with the gospel, become better acquainted with the corruption of their hearts, and learn the prodigious difficulty of yielding to a gospel invitation. But these difficulties lead the soul into very precious things. You are not to think less of the Christian life, because it is attended with troubles “we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” (Ps. 66:12). They would not be in a wealthy place if they did not go through fire and water, and they sometimes enter the hottest fire and the coldest water when they are to be ushered into the wealthiest place of all.
These difficulties prepare the soul for the reception of Christ in “the word of the truth of the gospel”. Christians young in the faith think they have Him in their own hands; further advanced Christians are often shut up in the exercise of waiting upon Him. They wait for Him in secret prayer, family worship, the preaching of the Word, the appointed ordinances, dispensations of providence, and the other ways in which He may come. They look out for Him; they wait for Him. Some may say that this is downright enthusiasm. Well, I hope there are some here who understand these things, who are shut up to waiting for Him.
Sometimes, having waited for Him, they know not how He comes into the soul to say, “Peace be unto you” (Luke 24:36). What does He do? He shows them His hands and His side Christ crucified, who is the gospel of the gospel. Just in proportion as the soul, in the way indicated, gets into the mystery of Christ crucified, in that proportion the soul gets into the marrow of the gospel. No doubt it is through much tribulation they get into fellowship with Him in His sufferings through sorrows of which the world knows nothing, and which nominal professors look down upon and condemn. But He gives them discoveries of the plan of salvation, the work He has accomplished in order to procure salvation for His people, and the work He designs to carry forward and complete in their souls. He imparts, by His Spirit, grace here and glory throughout Eternity.
It is here that faith is set working so as to make use of Him for all the purposes for which the soul needs Him. The soul finds its need of a Saviour for an endless variety of things. The conscience is sometimes put into a state where it appears as if the fires of hell were kindled in it, by the guilt which lies upon it; and then Satan comes with his accusations to pour oil on this fire, and it burns with an exceeding vehement flame. The soul may say, “What is this that has come over me? Now the sorrows of death seem to compass me, the pains of hell lay hold of me, and I find trouble and sorrow.” If that precious blood, so to speak, extinguished the pure holy infinite fire of divine wrath, as it respects the people of God, has it not enough virtue to extinguish the fire kindled in thy conscience? “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9: 13,14). So when Christ reveals Himself to the believer in his trouble faith finds in Him balm for every wound, food for every appetite, clothing for all nakedness, support under all pressure, comfort under all grief, hope in contrast to all dejection, and joy in the midst of all trouble.
Thus the disciples knew what it was to have the Saviour. Is it not wonderful their hearts should be troubled at the thought of the want of Him? Therefore the caution is introduced: “Let not your heart be troubled.”
Secondly, we have the admonition: “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
We have in this admonition, firstly, an assertion: “Ye believe in God.” The disciples were no atheists not but that they were so naturally; we are all by nature fools who say in our heart that there is no God, the wish being parent of the thought and of the speech; we by nature wish there were no God. The disciples, however, had been brought out of this state. They had in their souls, by grace, spiritual illumination in the knowledge of the true God. They had what the Apostle prayed that others would have: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). They had a revelation of the living and true God in their souls; they received the revelation by faith and embraced Him.
The disciples had dealings with Him in whom they thus believed. Many professed Christians have not as much faith in the living and true God, as the heathen have in their lying vanities. The heathen have dealings with their idols; but many professed Christians have not so much faith in God as to have dealings with Him. The disciples, however, believing in God, had dealings with Him. They learned that it was with Him they had to do, in all matters pertaining to the life that now is, and also to the salvation of their souls. They had to do with Him as Creator; they had to do with Him as Lawgiver He gave them His holy, just, and good law, laid them under it, and bound its precepts upon them. They had to do with Him as one in whose mercy alone they could have hope, from whose mercy alone good can spring, and from whose hand alone, in His mercy, they could obtain help. So also will it be found with those to whom the Saviour says, “Let not your heart be troubled.” They are persons that believe in God; if this were not their character they could not receive the caution, neither could they take it up or make use of the exhortation connected with it.
It is true that those who answer to the description given do sometimes lose their faith in God, they sometimes, through carelessness or through the pressure of trouble, seem to let go their hold of His mercy as set forth in His holy Word; they lose sight of Him as one with whom they have to do, and they may slip back and back, till they are in the dungeon of atheism. It is a mockery to tell such people, “Let not your heart be troubled,” but are we to leave them in the dungeon of atheism without hope? Far from it, the truth of God must be handled in an orderly way: let each case stand in its own place, and receive its proper treatment; and when people plunge into atheism, let appropriate cures be applied to them.
But someone may say, “What then is the use of the exhortation, Let not your heart be troubled? If one has faith in God, one has everything ones heart desires and has no need of the exhortation.” Is that all you know of it? Job had faith in God, and was he not in the midst of great trial? Jonah had faith in God, and was he not in the whales belly? And was it not most seasonable to say to them in their trying circumstances, “Let not your heart be troubled”? Do you not know that gracious souls are admitted to faith in God not only as the Lord God, merciful and gracious, but also as a great God, and a great King? They have faith in exercise upon Him as the God of holy law and righteous vengeance; as one in whom is terrible majesty, sometimes setting His terrors against them. They have faith in Him as raising a wall between Him and their souls, as leading them into darkness and not into light; they have faith in Him so as to expostulate with Him, “Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” (Is. 63:17) as to say “How long wilt Thou forget us?” “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” (Ps. 13:1,2). Is it not a word in season to such to say to them, “Let not your heart be troubled”? You who have not faith in God cannot be Christians; you will have to be brought to faith in God before you can be brought to faith in Christ.
Secondly, in this admonition there is an exhortation, “Believe also in me.” The disciples thought He was going to forsake them for ever, and that He would be lost to them. So many a poor creature often thinks he has lost the Saviour; that he has no saving interest in Him. “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
What is the force of the “also”? It is as if the Saviour said, “The same evidence you have for believing in God, you have for believing in Me. Where do you see God? In His Word. Do you not see Me in that same Word? Whence come these bitter sorrows? From the Godhead. Wicked men think they will desolate the people of God. Ah, little do they know; one reproving look from the living God will affect a gracious soul more than all men on earth and devils in hell put together. If God be against them, who can be for them? Well, whence did I come? From the Godhead, where there is also all light, all strength, all fulness and all sufficiency for the troubled, gracious soul. Believe also in Me.”
Lastly, a word of application
First, learn to what troubles the people of God are exposed. They do business in deep waters of tribulation. It is there they find their proper element. Jonah had a most important part of his work in the whales belly, at the bottom of the sea. No man is fit to be of any service, worthy of the name, to God in this world, who does not do business in deep waters.
The people of God go down to the depths and see His wonders in the deep, and they are led to say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Do not think the worse of Christ or His cause because of these troubles. You may thus distinguish between His people and those that are not: the wicked have no changes, therefore they fear not God, they are not troubled as other men, their eyes stand out with fat, they have more than heart could wish, (see Psalm 73); they are fattening for the slaughter. Cast in your lot with the troubled people of God, and you will never regret it.
Secondly, see the position occupied by this troubled people. They rest in the Lord. They, in common, have faith in God. There are times when their feet slip, but they soon recover. It is this faith in Him that opens to them their greatest terrors, their bitterest sorrows, their severest sufferings. Atheists have no such troubles through want of faith in God. The brightest example of faith in God is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And where is the most remarkable case of suffering? It is in the Saviour. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Thirdly, see from where the comfort of the people of God comes faith in Christ. The heart of the Father rested in the death of Christ. The heart of the believer never rests, till it rests in the same place.
The Father delights in showing Himself in Christ, and the gracious soul never delights so much as when it is delighting in Christ. There is heaven upon earth for the gracious soul when the Father and the soul meet together in the Beloved in Christ who is the Fathers Beloved and the believers Beloved. Satan hates that the soul should have this blessing. The soul may lose it for a time, but he gets it back, till the whole is wound up and perfected, and he gets home to be for ever with the Lord.
* The Rev. Jonathan Rankin Anderson (1803-59), ordained in the Church of Scotland in 1834, was minister of Kirkfield Chapel of Ease in Glasgow. In 1839-40, many in his own and other congregations were savingly changed under his preaching. He left the Church of Scotland at the Disruption in 1843, and he and his people formed the Free John Knox congregation in Glasgow. He preached the gospel there with much success for almost ten years. He also faithfully witnessed against worldliness among professing Christians, and the doctrinal drift in the Church which culminated in the Declaratory Act of 1892. The Rev. Neil Cameron said that he was not “rightly understood by his brethren at the time”, and that he may have been too sweeping in applying to the ministers of the Free Church the charges which he very justly made against some of them. “We think that the painful events which have taken place since,” stated Mr Cameron, “have fully justified his warnings against these men.” Mr Anderson and most of his congregation, which included more than 200 communicants, separated from the Free Church in 1852, and built the John Knox Tabernacle church. There he ministered until his death at the age of 56, having continued to hold the doctrines and principles for which he stood in 1843. (In 1895, his congregation joined the Free Presbyterian Church. The Rev. James Sinclair became their pastor in 1896). Mr Anderson was author of Sermons on Sacramental Occasions, and of the series of short, simple and clear John Knox Tracts. He also edited the magazine Alarm for some years. Information about his life and preaching may be found in Life and Diary of Rev. Jonathan R. Anderson, (1914), The Life and Sermons of the Late Rev. J. R. Anderson, (1934) and The Spirit of Grace and of Supplications Sermons by Rev. Jonathan Rankin Anderson, (1946). Ed