May 19: A Sermon by Rev. Ashbel Green

greenAshbelBorn in Hanover Township, New Jersey on July 6, 1762, Ashbel Green grew to become one of the more notable Presbyterians in the early years of this nation. During the Revolutionary War, he served with the New Jersey militia. Following the War, he studied theology under the Rev. John Witherspoon and graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1783.  From 1792 to 1800, he served as Chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives. And from 1812 to 1822, he served as President of the College of New Jersey. Rev. Green, who was closely tied to the establishment of the Princeton Theological Seminary, died on May 19, 1848.

Today’s sermon comes from a volume of Rev. Green’s, titled Practical Sermons, published in 1834.



1 Cor. 10:4 – “For they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.

By figurative representations some of the most important instructions of divine revelation are communicated. Under the typical dispensation of Moses especially, there was scarcely any public act, occurrence or institution, which did not import more than at first appeared; and while it served some obvious present purpose, did not point also to some more remote and hidden, but yet more spiritual and important object or end. This spiritual signification of the ancient Jewish symbols, though it was often perceived, and was highly beneficial to the believing Israelites, was not intended merely, nor perhaps principall, for their benefit. It is under the gospel dispensation that the intention of all the types is most clearly unfolded; so that by viewing them in retrospect, and with the advantage derived from the light of the gospel, more may be discovered by a Christian than could be known to a Jew.

To aid us in this useful investigation, the inspired writers of the New Testament often become our teachers and guides. They frequently advert to the Hebrew scriptures for the illustration and enforcement of what they deliver: and thus by a kind of double revelation, the wisdom of God is most conspicuously displayed, the faith of believers most powerfully confirmed, the beauty of sacred truth most engagingly exhibited, and its whole design most fully accomplished. Among innumerable passages which show the truth of this representation, the text [1 Cor. 10:4] is one of the most striking.

The apostle labours in the context to excite a holy circumspection in the Corinthian Christians, lest slighting or misimproving their peculiar privileges, they should lose the blessings which these privileges were calculated to convey. With this view, he points their attention, both for encouragement and warning, to the history of the people of Israel under the conduct of Moses in the wilderness. Speaking, in this connexion, of the miraculous supply of water which followed them on their journey, he denominates it “spiritual drink;” and then to explain the reason of his giving it this appellation, he says—”For they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.” By a figure of speech, too frequent in its use and too obvious in its import to be misapprehended, the people are here said to have drunk of the rock that followed them, instead of the water which flowed from it; and comprehensive metaphor which is used, when the apostle affirms that this rock was Christ.

To unfold the intention of this metaphor, and explain and apply the design of the whole expression, is the object of the present discourse. In doing this, it will be useful, in order to avoid the danger of torturing the figurative language of the inspired penman to a meaning foreign to his own, to consider attentively the spiritual truth intended to be conveyed; to state this truth distinctly and summarily at once; and then to recall the sensible images, only for the purpose of illustration or enforcement. Agreeably to this, let it be carefully remarked, that there are three distinct things comprehended in the type we consider. First,—The rock, which was the source, or fountain, from which the water flowed: Secondly—The streams themselves, by which the thirst of the people was allayed, and their strength invigorated: Thirdly—The ultimate object for which the whole was done; namely, to conduct the Israel of God to the promised land. Now, as the apostle asserts that this rock was Christ, I think the propositions of evangelical truth corresponding to the sensible and temporal things just stated, are plainly the three following—

I. That the believer’s hope of salvation must derive its very origin from Christ Jesus, or be placed on him alone.
II. That a resort must constantly be made to the never-failing fulness of the Saviour, for all those supplies of grace and strength, which are necessary to refresh and invigorate the Christian, in his passage through the world.
III. That the ultimate design, and the sure result of all, is, that the faithful disciple of Christ shall at length possess the heavenly inheritance.

After speaking very briefly to each of these points, the discourse shall be concluded with a practical application.

First, then, we are to consider—That the believer’s hope of salvation must derive its very origin from Christ Jesus, or be placed on him alone. As the rock smitten by Moses furnished the fountain, from which sprang forth the water which saved the thirsty Israelite from death, so Christ, when “stricken, smitten of God and afflicted,” poured forth that blood of the atonement, which alone can save from eternal death, the perishing soul, which hastens to it for relief. Hence the Saviour himself, “in the last day, that great day of the feast, stood and cried—if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” His atonement and righteousness only, are the “fountain opened to the house of David and inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.” Or if, taking another figure furnished by the sacred writers, you view this rock, not as a fountain, but as a foundation, on which the hope of eternal life is built,—then we are assured that “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ—Behold I lay in Zion, a chief corner stone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” But, my brethren, to the fountain contemplated none will come, on the foundation laid in Zion none will rest, till the absolute necessity of doing it is felt, in a manner the most urgent and pressing.

Till a sinner see clearly and undoubtingly, that without a vital union with Christ he is sure to perish, he will never embrace the Saviour “as all his salvation and all his desire.” Without such a perception indeed, it is impossible that the necessary application should be made. How great is the number of those who enjoy the gospel, to whom the Redeemer never appears precious? They hear the declarations of his suitableness, and the invitations of his grace, without interest or concern. Asleep in their sins, they perceive not the burning gulf that is working beneath them, and therefore see no necessity of escaping for their lives to a place of safety.

Nor is it enough merely that the sinner be alarmed. Many have had their fears excited, who have never “fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them” in the gospel. If the awakened conscience be quieted with the belief that some tears of penitence, a partial reformation, or abstaining from gross sins, will be sufficient—nay, if making many prayers, attending on all ordinances, attempting all duties, and exhibiting an unexceptionable deportment, be relied on as the meritorious cause of acceptance with God, the sinner is miserably deluded.

Ah!, my brethren, this specious self-righteousness, in whatever way, and many are the ways, in which men attempt to build upon it, is not the rock which will sustain the fabric of your eternal hopes. Here is “the sandy foundation,” against which our Lord himself hath warned us; and whoever builds upon it, will find that in the day of trial, when the wind shall blow, and the storm shall beat, and the floods shall come, this “refuge of life” will be swept away, and he who had taken shelter in it will be lost in the abyss of final ruin. But when, under the influences of the Spirit of grace, an effectual conviction of guilt takes hold on the conscience of the sinner; when he sees the depths of depravity which exist in his very heart and nature, and the violations of the holy law of God which have filled up his whole life; when he sees that he can offer no excuse and make no escape; when he is made impressively sensible that nothing he can do, or work out of himself, can be any recommendation of him to the divine favour; when he realizes that an infinite atonement and a finished righteousness is what he needs, and must have, or be undone forever; then in very deed he is “shut up unto the faith” of the gospel.

And when, by the enlightening and regenerating influences of divine grace, he is made to discern clearly, that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth;”—that in him there is all that can be asked in a Saviour; that the veracity of God offers him even to the chief of sinners who will accept him freely; that “whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life;” and when the will and affections fully and delightfully approve of this plan and offer; then the soul is won to Jesus. Then, throwing away with abhorrence every remnant of his own righteousness, abandoning every plea, and every hope, and every wish of deliverance from any other quarter; viewing with holy rapture the glory of God displaying its splendours in the gospel plan of salvation, the sinner grasps the Saviour as his all — choosing with infinite preference that Christ should be “made of God unto him wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption;” then the soul is founded on the rock Christ Jesus—the rock of ages, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.

Now, “being justified by faith, the believing penitent has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”—The sweet sense of this “peace which passeth all understanding,” the joy which arises from the humble confidence of pardoned guilt, the assurance that sin shall not have dominion over him, and that all that God hath promised he is not only able but assuredly engaged to perform; this is the first draught of the fountain of life flowing from the rock Christ Jesus, which rejoices and enlivens that which a little while before was a weary and heavy laden spirit. But still, though the believer be thus comforted and strengthened for the present, the wilderness is not yet passed; it is only entered, and through it lies yet before him the tedious and trying journey which leads to the heavenly rest—And, therefore, I have said—

II. That a resort must constantly be had to the never-failing fulness of the Saviour, for all those supplies of grace and strength, which are necessary to refresh and invigorate the Christian in his passage through the world.

Speaking of our blessed Lord, the author of our text asserts that “it hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell:” yea, that “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily:” And the apostle John affirms, that “of his fulness have all we received and grace for grace.” By the most various and impressive language of inspiration is the doctrine taught and inculcated, that all the spiritual wants of the believer are provided for in the Redeemer, and that from him relief is to be sought and obtained. Like the unfailing and inexhaustible streams that followed the chosen people of Heaven through all the dry and inhospitable deserts which they had to pass; so the streams of divine grace which flow from the fulness of their redeeming God, follow his chosen ones through all the thorny and thirsty wilds of their mortal life.

And happy is it, beyond estimation, that such is the fact; for their wants are both numerous and incessantly recurring. He can only have entered the school of Christ, who supposes that when a vital union with him is effected, every difficulty is past. Alas! they who know most by experience of the Christian course, can tell most of the various difficulties that lie in the way. When, indeed, a full draught has been received of “that water of life,” whether at the beginning of a converted state, or after much progress in it, the soul is so cheered and satisfied, that it seems as if distress was gone forever. Like one who has just extinguished all his natural thirst by drinking largely at a pleasant fountain, the idea can scarcely be realized that the painful sensations, now completely removed, will speedily return. The present relief is so complete, that it seems as if it must be lasting. But in both cases the event is the same.

As the natural refreshments which we take to-day, however agreeable or abundant, will not serve us for to-morrow, so in the spiritual life, no comforts or cordials of which we have tasted in time past, will suffice us for the time to come. “Give us day by day our daily bread”—is a petition not more applicable to the body than it is to the soul. It was not more necessary for the Hebrew in the wilderness to go daily, and more than once in a day, to “the rock that followed him,” than it is for the Christian pilgrim, in the wilderness of this sinful world, to go as frequently to the rock of his salvation,—to the fulness of Christ, there to beg and to receive the supply of his new necessities.

It is an important advice given by the penman of the text, in his epistle to the Colossians, “as ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk ye in him.”—That is—”Be careful to preserve inviolate the union that is formed between your souls and the Redeemer; and in the same manner in which you came to and embraced him at first, continue to come, to the end of life—Continue, after you have known him ever so long, to receive him by the acts of faith, just as you received him at first; as a complete Saviour, to pardon freely all your sins, and to quicken, sanctify, uphold and preserve you.” The present state, my Christian brethren, was intended to be a constant trial of the faith and patience of the saints. The world, the flesh and the devil, are their enemies; and in all the multiform ways in which they can produce annoyance, it will to the very last be experienced. A volume would scarcely suffice to delineate all the difficulties and distresses, all the doubts, fears, conflicts and temptations, that may assail the Christian pilgrim who has set his face toward Mount Zion above. But blessed be God, there is not one case, nor one situation, in which a child of his ever can be placed, but there is provision made for it in the covenant of grace, in the fulness of Christ.

To him, therefore, let the constant resort be made; to him let the importunate application be incessantly addressed; and though for a time, and for a trial of faith, he may seem to refuse, yet in the end he will assuredly afford relief. If your necessities, Christian brethren, be frequent, numerous and pressing, let your entreaties be as frequent, numerous and pressing as your wants. When you suffer most, imitate your Saviour in his agony, and cry to him the more earnestly. When you are the most thirsty, come the most frequently to the fountain:—”To him that is athirst will I give (saith Christ), of the fountain of the water of life freely.” And to thy Saviour, in the hour of death, as in every past hour, be thy soul, O believer! committed; and he will not fail either to cheer it by his sensible presence, or to keep it in safety by his almighty power. For we are now to show—

III. that the ultimate design and the sure result of all this provision of grace is, that the faithful disciple of Christ shall, at length, possess the heavenly inheritance.

The miracle which was wrought by the instrumentality of Moses to supply the camp of Israel with water, was only a mean necessary to an important end. The God of their fathers had engaged to give them the land of Canaan for an inheritance and possession.—To preserve them from death, in crossing the parched and barren regions which lay between them and the promised land, the waters were made to flow at their side. The relief which these waters afforded from threatening death, and the temporary comforts which they produced in a sultry climate, were indeed blessings in themselves; but still they were only preparatory to greater and more durable blessings in reserve. They were but the indispensable provision for those who were traveling to a fixed home and a settled rest, and were given to insure an arrival there.

To read the rest of this sermon, click here. This sermon appears on pages 62-69 of that volume.

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