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Spiritual Times and Seasons

J.C. Philpot

Preached at Zoar Chapel, London, on Thursday evening, July 8, 1841


"A time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance."

Ecclesiastes 3:3,4.

What an instance is King Solomon of the vanity of all creature enjoyments, and the emptiness of all creature attainments! The wisest of men, and yet often doing actions of which a fool might be ashamed! Speaking, by divine inspiration, in the Proverbs, the language of most blessed instruction, and yet in conduct violating well near every precept which he had given, and acting in direct opposition to every proverb which he had inculcated! Seated in peace upon the throne of his father David, enjoying every pleasure which wealth could minister, supplied with every gratification that his senses could delight in, and then forced in his old age to write "vanity and vexation of spirit" upon them all! In his declining years reaping the bitter fruits of backsliding from God, and giving to us in this book of Ecclesiastes which appears to be the expression of his repentance his own dearly-bought experience of the utter vanity and instability of all creature enjoyments and expectations, and brought to see that there was nothing worth having but the fear of the Lord in the heart in blessed exercise, and the testimony of God in the soul!

Now, in this diversified experience through which King Solomon passed, he learned lessons which were not to be arrived at through any other channel. It was not in vain that he had every gratification presented to his carnal mind; it was not in vain that "he made himself gardens and orchards," and "got male and female singers," that "whatever his eyes desired he kept not from them, and withheld not his heart from any joy;" for "he looked on all the works that his hands had wrought, and on the labor that he had labored to do; and behold, “all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 2:5,8,10,11). He has thus set up a beacon that we might, with God's blessing, avoid the shoals on which he struck; a lighthouse blazes forth, that we might not fall foul on the sands on which his frail bark too often ran; and thus, the Spirit of God sealing the instruction upon our souls, that we might steer clear of those reefs which the Holy Spirit has traced out by his pen in this chart of his perilous navigation.

Let no one misunderstand me. I believe that Solomon was a saved person, and that he is now in glory; but the Lord left him to do many things which showed plainly that he was but a man, and which clearly prove that he, of his own power, was not able to act up to the lessons of divine wisdom which he taught. And he is a striking instance how that, placed as he was in an eminent situation, and not being kept by the grace of God from the many temptations to which his very wealth and station exposed him, he was carried away by them to the future distress of his soul. But in this chequered path of experience he learned a lesson, the fruit of which is recorded in this chapter, that "the times and the seasons the Father has put in His own power" (Acts 1:7).

Solomon's experience gave the free-will that lurked in his bosom a fatal stab, turned upside down the wisdom of the creature, broke into a thousand pieces, all his fleshly righteousness, and convinced him deeply of the sovereignty of God reigning over all his purposes, words, and works. And therefore, as the fruit of this wisdom, which was communicated through the channel of personal experience, he came to this solemn conclusion, that "for everything there was a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven;" that these times are in the hands of God; not to be precipitated, not to be retarded; not depending upon the movements of the creature; not fluctuating with the restless tide of human will and purpose, but fixed in the sovereign decrees of Jehovah, and fulfilled at such a moment and in such a manner as it pleases Him "who works all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11).

But the chief point to which I wish, with God's blessing, to call your attention this evening, is that portion of experimental truth which is set forth in the words of the text.

The work of grace upon the soul may be divided into two distinct operations of the Spirit of God upon the heart; the one is to break down the creature into nothingness and self-abasement before God; the other is to exalt the crucified Jesus as "God over all, blessed forever," upon the wreck and ruin of the creature. And these two lessons distinct, and yet so far combined as to tend to one center– the glory of God in the salvation of the soul. The blessed Spirit writes with power upon every quickened vessel of mercy– "A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."

I. There is, then, "a time to kill"– that is, there is an appointed season in God's eternal counsels when the sentence of death is to be known and felt in the consciences of all His elect. That time cannot be hurried, that time cannot be delayed. All the counsel of parents, all the advice of instructors, all the sermons of gospel ministers, all the reading of religious books cannot hurry forward that time; and all the wretched recklessness and profaneness of our base hearts, all the snares and temptations that Satan is continually seeking to entangle the feet in, all the desperate pride, presumption, hypocrisy, unbelief, and self-righteousness of the carnal mind have no power to retard that time. The hands of that clock, of which the will of God is the spring, and His decrees the pendulum, are beyond the reach of human fingers to move on or put back.

But we observe from the text that the killing precedes the healing, and that the breaking down goes before the building up; that the elect weep before they laugh, and mourn before they dance. In this track does the Holy Spirit move; in this channel do His blessed waters flow. The first "time" then of which the text speaks is that season when the Holy Spirit takes them in hand in order to kill them. And how does He kill them? By applying with power to their consciences the spirituality of God's holy law, and thus bringing the sentence of death into their souls– the Spirit of God employing the law as a minister of condemnation to cut up all creature righteousness.

Every vessel of mercy must experience more or less of this killing work in his conscience. God has not indeed, in His Word, fixed any certain mode in which the sword shall enter a man's heart, but He has said positively and decisively that there is "a time to kill". This must be understood spiritually and experimentally, unless we believe that any "time" can legalise murder. No, the very words that follow, "a time to heal," prove that spiritual, not natural, killing is intended. The killed soul can be healed, but not the killed body. But if none are spiritually healed before they are spiritually killed, and if none shall see "the Sun of righteousness" but those upon whom He "arises with healing in His wings," every vessel of mercy, according to the depth of the Spirit's work in his heart, must know what it is to have the sentence of death and condemnation take place in his conscience.

But some shall say, "HOW am I to know whether I have been spiritually killed?" I will tell you. Have you experienced the effects of death? When we see a corpse lying in a coffin, it is not a question with us whether it is living or dead, for we see the pallid features of death stamped upon it. Thus it is with the elect of God. Do you want to know whether you have been killed? Have you experienced the fruits and effects of that killing? Has death been stamped upon your own righteousness? Has the sentence of guilt and condemnation fallen with weight and power into your conscience? Have you seen nothing in self to deliver you from "the wrath to come?" Have you stood before the bar of God an arraigned and guilty criminal? Have you gone to Him, with a halter round your neck, waiting only for the sentence of execution to drop from the mouth of the king? Has all your loveliness been turned into corruption, so that the steam of putrefaction has come up into your nostrils, and you have been in the valley of Hamon-Gog? (Ezekiel 39:11).

These are the fruits and effects of death. I believe we are to measure our experience of this spiritual death, not so much by the way in which we have died, as by what fruits and effects have been felt in our souls. Now you must know very well whether, when you come before God, you come before Him as a guilty criminal or an accepted child; whether you call upon Him as having the sentence of condemnation in your heart, or as having the sweet voice of the blood of Jesus speaking in you better things than the blood of Abel Heb 12:24. You must know, if you will be but honest with yourself, whether in solemn moments you expect doom as your portion, or the realms of eternal light, peace, and love. You must know whether you are laboring under the "spirit of bondage," or enjoying some measure of blessed liberty; whether in your solemn approaches to God you see anger and wrath in His countenance, and tremble under His frowns, or whether you bask beneath His approving smiles. These are matters of conscience; these are things in experience which cannot be wrapped up, blinked at and evaded by a living soul.

Everyone quickened into spiritual tenderness of heart must have an inward witness that he is on one side of the line or the other. A living man whose religion moves only as the Spirit moves, and whose "faith stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God," is not to be hoodwinked and blindfolded, and led away from inward teachings into uncertainties. The man who has any experience at all cannot get away from that which takes place in those secret chambers, because conscience, though it has a still voice, can neither be bribed into a false verdict, nor overawed into mute acquiescence; though it only speaks inwardly, it speaks with authority; though like Him who is the Author of it, it lifts not up its voice in the streets, yet it secretly bears an inward testimony, which must be heard and submitted to. If you, then, feel a poor, guilty, wretched criminal, condemned to die, one who sees no hope of escape from "the wrath to come" through CREATURE-RIGHTEOUSNESS, but one that stands self-condemned and self-abhorred before the bar of the most righteous God– know this, if you feel these things, if you sigh and groan and cry under