Brought Up from the Horrible Pit
A Sermon No. 1674)
Delivered on Lord’s-Day Morning, August 13th, 1882, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
“I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3.
THIS PASSAGE HAS BEEN USED with great frequency as the expression of the experience of the people of God, and I think it has been very rightly so used. It is a very accurate picture of the way in which sinners are raised up from despair to hope and salvation, and of the way in which saints are brought out of deep troubles, and made to sing of divine love and power.
Yet I am not certain that the first verse could be truthfully uttered by all of us; I question, indeed, whether any of us could thus speak. Could we say “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Think ye, brethren, might it not read “I waited impatiently for the Lord,” in the case of most of us? All the rest may stand true, but this would need to be modified. We could hardly speak in our own commendation if we considered our conduct in the matter of patience, for that is, alas, still a scarce virtue upon the face of the earth.
If we read the psalm through we shall see that it was not written exclusively to describe the experience of God’s people. Secondarily we may regard it as David’s language, but in the first instance a greater than David is here. The first Person who uttered these words was the Messiah, and that is quite clear if you read the psalm through; for we fall upon such language as this: “Sacrifice and offering, Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened; burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required. Then said I, come I in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” We need not say with the Ethiopian, “Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself or of some other?” For we are led at once by the plainest indications to see that He is not speaking of Himself, but of our Lord and if we needed confirmation of this we get it in Hebrews 10, where Paul expressly quotes this passage as referring to the Lord Jesus. To Him, indeed, alone of all men can it with accuracy be applied. So this morning I shall have to show that this text of ours is most fit to be the language of the Lord, our representative and covenant Head.
When I have shown this, you will then see how we can use the self-same expressions, because we are in Him. Each believer becomes a mirror in which is reflected the experience of our Lord; but it would be ill for us to be so taken up with the mere reflection as to forget the express image by which this experience is formed in us. I shall ask you, then, at this time, to observe our divine Lord when in His greatest trouble.
Notice, first, our Lord’s behavior “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry”: then consider, secondly, our Lord deliverance, expressed by the phrase, “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay,” and so forth: then let us think, thirdly of the Lord’s reward for it “many shall see, and fear, and trust in the Lord”: that is His great end and object, and in it He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. We shall close, fourthly, by perceiving the Lord’s likeness in all His saved ones; for they also are brought up from the pit of destruction, and a new song is put into their mouths. He is not ashamed to call them brethren, since in each one of them his own experience is repeated though upon a smaller scale.
I. First, let us think of OUR LORD’S BEHAVIOR. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Here we greatly need the teaching of the Holy Ghost; may it be given us abundantly. First, our Lord’s conduct when He was under the smarting rod was that of waiting. He waited upon the Lord all His life, and this waiting became more conspicuous in His passion and death. He went down into Gethsemane, and there He prayed earnestly; but with sweet submission; for He said, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Complete submission was the essential spirit of His prayer. He rose up from prayer all crimson with His bloody sweat, and He went to meet His foes, delivering Himself up voluntarily to be led as a sheep to the slaughter. He did not unsheathe the sword as Peter did; much less did He flee, like His disciples, but He waited upon the will of the Most High, enduring all things till the Father should give Him deliverance. When they took Him before Annas and Caiaphas, and Pilate and Herod, hurrying Him from bar to bar, how patiently He kept silence, though false witnesses appeared against Him. Like a sheep before her shearers He was dumb, submitting Himself without a struggle. In the omnipotence of patience He held His Peace even from good, because it was so written of Him. When they led Him away to crucifixion through the streets of Jerusalem He did not even encourage the lamentations of the sympathizing women who surrounded him; but in His wondrous patience He said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me.” He did not refuse to bear His cross, or to let the cross bear Him. He did not complain of contempt and contumely, since these were appointed Him.
When they nailed Him to the tree, and there He hung in the burning sun, tortured, fevered, agonizing, the words that escaped Him were those of murmuring and repining, but those of pity, pain, patience, and submission. Till He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost, He bowed His whole being to His Father’s will, waiting His time and pleasure. He steadily took a long draft at the appointed cup, and drained it to the bitter end. His eyes were unto the Lord as the eyes of servants are to the hands of their masters; He waited in service, in
hope, in resignation, and in confidence. He knew that God would help Him and deliver Him, He knew that His head would be raised on high above the sons of men; but still He waited for the Father’s time, and meanwhile made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and as a servant yielded all His strength to the work which was given Him to do.
He was willing in the hour of His passion to be treated as the scum and scorn of all mankind, nor did He hurry the hour when all the shame and scorn should blossom into glory and honor. He went down in His waiting even to the utmost of self-denial, and truly proved that He came not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. Never man served and waited like this man.
Our text adds to this word “waited” the word “patiently.” “I waited patiently.” If you would see patience, look not at Job on the dunghill, but look at Jesus on the cross. Job, the most patient of men, was assuredly impatient at the same time; but this blessed Lord of ours gave Himself up completely, and showed not the slightest sign of repining. Not a speck of impatience can be detected in the crystal stream of our Lord’s submission. His soul was all melted, and it all flowed into the mold of the Father’s will: no dross was in or about Him, nothing which refused to melt and to run into the mold.
One would have supposed that He would have spoken an angry word to Judas,who betrayed Him; instead of which He gently asked of Him, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” It would not have seemed wonderful if He had upbraided the Jews who so falsely accused Him, or the rulers who so unjustly treated Him; but here is the patience of the saintly One, He was perfect master of His own Spirit. His answer to His murderers was the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” So meek and lowly in heart was He that to men He gave no sharp replies: His answers were all steeped in gentleness; take for example His word to the high priest: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?”
They sat down around the cross and mocked Him, jeered at Him, insulted over Him, and made mirth even of His cries and prayers; but He did not utter a single word of rebuke, much less did He leap from the cross to dash His mockers in pieces, and prove by their destruction that He was indeed the mighty Son of God. “I waited patiently,” saith He. No thought or word or deed of impatience can be charged upon Him; waiting, He waited, and waited still. We are in such a hurry when we are in trouble; we hasten to escape from it at once; every minute seems an hour, and every day an age. “Help me speedily, 0 my God!” is the natural cry of the child of God under the rod; but our Savior was in no ill haste to get from the chastisement which came upon Him for our sakes: He was at leisure in His woe.
So thoroughly was He resolved to do His Father’s will that even on the morning of His resurrection He arose with deliberation, and quitted the grave in order, folding His grave clothes and laying the napkin by itself. He steadily persevered in all His work of holiness and sorrow of sacrifice, never accepting deliverance till His work was done. Patiently He endured to have His ear bored to the door-post, to have His head
encircled with thorns, His cheeks disdained with spittle, His back furrowed with the lash, His hands and feet nailed
to the wood, and His heart pierced with the spear. In His body on the tree patience was written out in crimson
Now, this was needful for the completeness of His atonement. No expiation could have been made by an
impatient Savior. Only a perfect obedience could satisfy the law; only an unblemished sacrifice could put away our
sins. There must not, therefore, be about our Substitute a trace of resistance to the Father’s will, nor as a sacrifice
must He struggle against the cords, or turn His head away from the sacrificial knife. In truth, His was a willing,
patient doing and suffering of the divine will. “He gave His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them that
plucked off the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting.” “I waited patiently for the Lord,” saith He; and
you know, brethren, how true was the declaration.
But while the Savior thus waited, and waited patiently, we must not forget that He waited prayerfully, for the
text speaks of a cry which He lifted up, and of God’s inclining Himself to it. That patience which does not pray is
obstinacy. A soul silent to God is apt to be sullen rather than submissive. A stoical patience hardens itself against
grief, and asks no deliverance; but that is not the patience which God loves, it is not the patience of Christ. He
used strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death. Let Gethsemane tell of that wrestling
which infinitely excelled the wrestling of Jacob: Jabbok is outdone by Kedron. His was a wrestling, not to sweat
alone, but unto sweat of blood: he sweats who works for bread, the staff of life; but He sweats blood who works
for life itself. What prayers those must have been under such a fearful physical, mental, and spiritual agony which
were so fervent that they brought an angel from the throne, and yet so submissive that they are the model of
resignation. He agonized as earnestly as if He sought His own will, and yet He wholly resigned Himself to the
Father, saying, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God.” Our
Lord was always praying: there never was a moment in His life in which He was not in full communion with God,
unless we except the period when He cried, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” He did often go aside to pray a more
special prayer, but yet even when He spoke to the people, even when He faced His foes, His soul was still in
constant fellowship with His Father. But ah, when He came between the upper and the nether millstones, when
this good olive was ground in the olive press, and all the oil of His life was extracted from Him, then it was that
His strong crying and tears came up before the Lord His God, and He was heard in that He feared.
Now, brothers and sisters, look at your pattern, and see how far short you have come of it. At least, I will
remember with regret how far short I have come of it. Have we waited? Have we not been in too great a hurry?
Has it not been too much our desire that the Lord might make His will like our will rather than make our will like
His? Have you not had a will of your own sometimes, and a strong will too? Have you not been as the bullock
unaccustomed to the yoke? Have you not kicked against the pricks? You have not waited, but you have worried.
Can we say that we waited patiently? Oh, that patience! Every man thinks he has it until he needs it, but only let
his tender point be touched, and you will see how little patience he possesses. It is the fire which tires our
supposed resignation, and under that process much of our palace of patience burns like wood, hay, and stubble.
Old crosses fit the shoulder, but let a new cross be laid upon us and we writhe under it. Suffering is the vocation
of a Christian, but most of us come short of our high calling. Our Lord Jesus has joined together reigning and
suffering, for we read of “the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ”; He was the royal example of patience, but
what are we? Remember, again, that Jesus prayed importunately while He waited: “being in an agony, he prayed
more earnestly.” Have we not at time restrained prayer? Have we not pleaded as an excuse for our feeble petitions
the very facts which ought to have been a spur to our earnestness? “I felt too ill to pray.” Coldest thou not pray for
health with all the more fervency? “I felt too burdened to pray.” Shouldst thou not pray for help to bear thy
burden? Can we ever safely say to ourselves, “I may be excused from supplication now, for my sorrow is great.”
Talk not so. Here is thy balm and benediction, thy comfort and thy cordial: here is thy strength and succor, thy
constancy and confidence. Even in the midnight of the soul let us arise and pour out our hearts like water before
the Lord. O tried believer, get thee to thy knees, and from above the mercy-seat the glory of the Lord shall shine
forth upon thee. Pray even as Jesus did, and as all His saints have done, so shall you in patience possess your
soul. In due time the Lord inclined to the afflicted suppliant, listening to his moaning from the bottom of the pit; of
this it is high time for us to speak. Yet let us not leave this first point till we learn from the example of our Lord
that patience is seen in waiting as well as in suffering. To bear a great weight for an hour or two is nothing
compared with carrying a load for many a day. Patience knows its letters, but waiting reads the page, and praying
rehearses it in the ears of God. Let us add to our patience waiting, and to waiting prayer.
II. We come, secondly, to consider OUR LORD’S DELIVERANCE. In due time, when patience had had her
perfect work, and prayer had at last prevailed, our suffering Lord was brought up again from the deeps of sorrow.
His deliverance is set forth under two images.
First, it is represented as a bringing up out of a horrible pit. It is a terribly suggestive metaphor. I have been
in the dungeon in Rome in which, according to tradition, Peter and Paul were confined (though, probably, they
were never there at all). It was indeed a horrible pit, for originally it had no entrance but a round hole in the rock
above; and when that round hole at the top was blocked with a stone, not a ray of light nor a particle of fresh air
could possibly enter. The prisoners were let down into the cavern, and there they were left. When once the
opening was closed they were cut off from all communication with their fellow men. No being has ever been so
cruel to man as man. Man is the worst of monsters to his kind, and his cruel inventions are many. He has not been
content to leave his fellows their natural liberty, but he built prisons and digged pits in which to shut up his victims.
At first they would place a man in a dry well merely for custody and confinement, or they would drop him into
some hollow cavern in the earth in which corn or treasure had been concealed; but afterwards with greater
ingenuity of malice they covered over the top of these pits so that the prisoners could not be partakers of God’s
bountiful air, or the merciful light of the sun, or the silver sheen of the moon. Covered all over and shut in, the
captives were buried alive. Even in modern times we have seen what they call oubliettes, or dungeons in which
prisoners were immured, to be forgotten as dead men out of mind, buried so as never to come forth again. Such
unfortunates as were doomed to enter these tombs of living men bade farewell to hope. They were inhabitants of
oblivion, dwellers in the land of death shade, to remain apart from their kind, cut off from memory. These worst
of dungeons may illustrate our text “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit.”
In the original we get the idea of a crash, as when some mailed warrior in the midst of the battle stumbles into
a pit, and there he lies bruised and broken: and there is the thought of the fall of waters rushing strangely,
furiously, mysteriously. The Hebrew hath it, “The pit of noises,” or as some render it, “the pit of destruction.”
Such was the condition of our dear Redeemer when He was bearing our sin and suffering in our stead.
Just notice, first, that our Lord was like a man put into a pit, and so made to be quite alone. Imagine yourself
now confined in one of those caverns, with the big stone rolled over the mouth of it. There would be neither
hearing nor answering. Now will you know the dread solemnity of silence. You may speak, but no gentle whisper
of sympathy will reach your ears in return; you may cry again and again and make the dungeon’s dome echo to
your voice, but you are speaking as to brass no man cares for your soul. You are alone; alone in a fearful
solitude. Thus it happened to our Savior. All His disciples forsook Him and fled, and what was infinitely worse,
His God forsook Him too. He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Can any man tell me all
that was meant by that infinite lament?
Of course, a prisoner in such a pit as that was in total darkness. He could not see the walls which enclosed
him, nor so much as his own hand. No beam of sunlight ever wandered into that stagnant air; the captive would
have to grope for the pitcher of water and the morsel of bread which a cruel mercy would allot to him. Our Lord
was in the dark; midnight brooded over His spirit. He said “Now is my soul troubled.” “My soul is exceeding
sorrowful even unto death.” His was a pit of gloom, the region of the shadow of death, a land of darkness as
When a man is shut up in a pit he is, of course, full of distress. If you were, any of you, to go into one of the
solitary cells of our own jails, I warrant you a short sojourn in it would be quite enough. These cells some years
ago were thought to be wonderful cures for all sort of evil dispositions in men, but probably they have oftener
destroyed reason than conquered depravity. Go in, if you dare. Ask the warder to shut to the door, and leave you
in the dark all alone, that you may try the solitary system for yourself. No, I should not advise you to try it even
for five minutes, for you might even in that short pace inflict such an injury upon your nervous system as you
would never recover. I believe that many of the gentler ones here would be quite unable to bear total darkness and
solitude even for the shortest space. In the grim gloom the soul is haunted with phantom fears, while horror
peoples the place which is empty of human beings; the heart is worried with evil imaginations, and pierced with
arrows of distress; grief takes hold of the spirit, and alarm conquers hope. In our Lord’s case, the grief and sorrow
which He felt can never be described, nor need it be conceived. It was something tantamount to the miseries of
damned souls. The holy Jesus could not feel the exact misery which takes hold on abandoned rebels, but He did
suffer what was tantamount to that at the judgment seat of God. He gave a quid pro quo, a something which in
God’s esteem, reckoning the dignity of His mighty person, stood instead of the sinner’s eternal suffering. He felt
woe upon woe, night blackening night. Do not try to realize His agony; He wills that you should note, for He has
trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there we’re none with Him, as if to show that none could
understand His sorrows, and that we can do no more than speak of His “unknown sufferings.”
But I must add, to complete the figure, that shut up in such a pit there might be a great tumult above, like to
the tramping of armed hosts, or there might be a rush of waters underneath the captive deep in earth’s bowels. He
could not tell what the noise was, nor whence it came; and hence he would often be in terrible fear while he sat
alone in the thick darkness. Our lord had His fears, for we read that He was heard in that He feared. Torrents of
sin rushed near Him; floods of wrath were heard around Him, and cataracts of grief fell upon Him. Besides, there
was a mystery about this anguish which intensified it a mystery not to be written or explained. Our Redeemer’s
spirit was cast down within Him far beyond anything that is common to men; in that horrible pit, that pit of
destruction, He lay with none to pity or sustain.
But, Oh, change the strain, and sing unto the Lord awhile, as we read the verse, “He brought me up out of a
horrible pit.” The Lord Jesus Christ was lifted up from all sorrow of spirit at that moment when He said so
bravely, “It is finished,” and though He died yet was He lifted up from death, as it is written, “Thou wilt not leave
my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” His Spirit ascended to God, and
by-and-by, when the third day had blushed with morning light, His body rose from the tomb, to ascend in due
time to glory. He came up out of the pit of the grave, delivered from all fear of corruption, pain, or defeat. Now
His sorrow is ended, and His brow is clear from care. His visage is marred no more: He bears the scars which do
but illumine His hands and feet with splendor, but
No more the bloody spear,
The cross and nails no more,