The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 183
Isaiah 50:3. “I clothe the heavens with blackness”
If there be sermons in stones, there must be a great sermon in the sun; and if there be books in the running brooks, no doubt there is many a huge volume to be found in a sun suffering eclipse. All things teach us, if we have but a mind to learn. Let us see whether this may not lead us into a train of thought which may, under God’s blessing, be something far better to us than the seeing of an eclipse.
I. Eclipses of every kind are part of God’s way of governing the world. In olden times the ignorant people in England were frightened at an eclipse; they could not understand what it meant. They were quite sure that there was about to be a war, or a famine, or a terrible fire, &c. So it still is in the East. By many an eclipse is looked upon as something contrary to the general law of nature. But eclipses are as much a part of nature’s laws as the regular sunshine; an eclipse is a necessary consequence of the natural motion of the moon and the earth around the sun, &c. Other eclipses happen in God’s providence and in God’s grace. Here, as in nature, an eclipse is part of God’s plan, and is in fact involved in it.
1. Let me invite your attention to providence at large. How many times have we seen providence itself eclipsed with regard to the whole race. God sends a flood, famine, war, plague, &c. It is just the same with you in your own private concerns. When you were rejoicing in the brightness of your light, on a sudden a mid-day midnight has fallen upon you; to your horror and dismay you are made to say, “Whence does all this evil some upon me? Is this also sent of God?” Most assuredly it is. Your penury, sickness, bereavement, contempt, all these things are as much ordained for you, and settled in the path of providence, as your wealth, comfort, and joy. Think not that God has changed. It involves no change of the sun when an eclipse overshadows it. Troubles must come; afflictions must befall; it must needs be that for a season ye should be in heaviness through manifold temptations.
2. Eclipses also occur in grace. Man was originally pure and holy; that is what God’s grace will make him at last. Some of you are in the eclipse to-day. I hear you crying, “O that it were with me as in months past,” &c. You are apt to say, “Is this a part of God’s plan with me? Can this be the way in which God would bring me to heaven?” Yes, it is even so. In God’s great plan of grace to the world, it is just the same. Sometimes we see a mighty reformation worked in the Church. God raises up men who lead the van of the armies of Jehovah. A few more years and these reformers are dead, and their mantle has not fallen upon any, &c. Think not that eclipses of our holy religion, or the failure of great men in the midst of us, or the decline of piety, is at all apart from God’s plan; it is involved in it, and as God’s great purpose, moving in the circle, to bring forth another gracious purpose on earth must be accomplished, so an eclipse must necessarily follow, being involved in God’s very way of governing the world in His grace.
II. Everything that God does has a design. When God creates light or darkness He has a reason for it. He does not always tell us His reason. We call Him a sovereign God, because sometimes He acts from reasons which are beyond our knowledge, but He is never an unreasoning God. I cannot tell you what is God’s design in eclipsing the sun; I do not know of what use it is to the world. It may be, &c. However, we are not left in any darkness about other kinds of eclipses; we are quite certain that providential eclipses, and gracious eclipses, have both of them their reasons. When God sends a providential eclipse He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men for nought. It is to draw our attention to Himself. Doubtless, we should entirely forget God, if it were not for some of those eclipses which now and then happen.
Sometimes troublous times tend to prepare the world for something better afterwards. War is an awful thing; but, I doubt not, it purges the moral atmosphere, just as a hurricane sweeps away a pestilence. It is a fearful thing to hear of famine or plague; but each of these things has some effect upon the human race. And evil generally goes to make room for a greater good. God has sent thee providential trouble. He has a gracious design in it. Many men are brought to Christ by trouble. Eclipses of grace have also their end and design. Why has God hidden His face from you? It is that you may begin to search yourself, and say, “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (H. E. I. 1644–1648). God’s people are afflicted in order that they may not go astray (H. E. I. 66–70, 190–194).
III. As all things that God has created, whether they be light or whether they be dark, have a sermon for us, no doubt there are some sermons to be found in this eclipse. What is it that hides the sun from us during an eclipse? It is the moon. She has borrowed all her light from the sun month after month; she would be a black blot if the sun did not shine upon her, and now she goes before his face, and prevents his light from shining upon us. Do you know anything at all like that in your own history? Have you not a great many comforts which you enjoy upon earth that are just like the moon? They borrow all their light from the sun, &c. Oh, how ungrateful we are when we let our comforts get before our God! No wonder that we get an eclipse then.
1. Let the Christian recollect another sermon. The sun is always the same, and God is unchangeable.
“My soul through many changes goes,
His love no variation knows.”
2. A total eclipse is one of the most terrific and grand sights that ever will be seen. If on a sudden the sun should set in tenfold darkness, and never should rise again, what a horrid world this would be! And then the thought strikes me—Are not there some men, and are there not some here, who will one day have a total eclipse of all their comforts? What ever eclipse happens to a Christian, it is never a total eclipse: there is always a crescent of love and mercy to shine upon him. But mark thee, sinner, when thou comest to die, bright though thy joys be now, and fair thy prospects, thou wilt suffer a total eclipse. Can you guess what the Saviour meant, when He said “outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth?” Hear me while I tell thee the way of salvation.